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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

• Two Nordic relief agencies, DanChurchAid and Norwegian Church Aid, called for an immediate freeze on cluster bombs, as an international conference aimed at banning the use of the weapons opened in Oslo, Norway. “Cluster munitions maim and kill indiscriminately,” the agencies said in a joint appeal. “As church-related agencies we are driven by our faith that life is sacred, because we believe that all people are created and loved by God.”

• Zimbabwean police were accused of abusing their power after the arrest of eight church leaders, including a blind pastor, for holding a meeting without seeking approval. “The use of armed police to disrupt a religious meeting is a clear abuse of power and authority by the police,” said the Christian Alliance, a group of churches, opposition political groups, human rights organizations and civil society in the south African country.

• A Japanese Christian Women’s leader joined opposition political groups in urging health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa to resign from the cabinet and parliament after he said women are “birth-giving machines.” Junko Matsuura, chair of the Women’s Committee of the National Christian Council in Japan, said: “We Christian women cannot tolerate the idea that life is produced with machines. We believe that life is created by God and that we receive it.”

• Lutheran Disaster Response is expending $8.3 million more in response to the 2005 hurricane season, which caused widespread destruction in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Recipients are Lutheran Social Services of the South Inc., Austin, Texas, which serves Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi; and Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri, St. Louis, which serves Alabama. In 2005-06, LDR provided $7.2 million to more than 20 Lutheran social ministry organizations that assisted survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

• Religious groups, including the World Council of Churches and the U.S. National Council of Churches, joined international companies and civic groups in backing what has been hailed as a major statement on climate change. “Global warming is an urgent problem that is not only affecting God’s planet but also God’s people,” said Robert Edgar, NCC general secretary, at a conference in New York to launch the initiative. Air France, Citigroup, General Electric and Volvo are among the companies endorsing the statement.

• A report released by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children details “disturbing” conditions at two U.S. Department of Homeland Security facilities that house families undergoing immigration proceedings. The report lists several key problems with the treatment at T. Don Hutto Residential Center, Taylor, Texas, and the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility, Leesport, Pa.: Families are detained in “prison-like condition” for days, months and sometimes years while awaiting resolution of the immigration proceedings. Many experience widespread psychological trauma and are subject to inadequate medical and mental health care, food service, recreation and disciplinary practices. “As a country that supports family values, we should not be treating families who have not committed a crime like criminals, particularly children,” said Ralston Deffenbaugh Jr., LIRS president.

The National Association of Evangelicals chose W. Todd Bassett, the former national commander of the Salvation Army, as its executive director. Bassett, a member of the NAE’s Executive Committee for four years, succeeds Ted Haggard, who resigned last November amid a sex and drug scandal. Bassett’s role will include oversight of the association’s administrative, communications and financial activities.

• Using the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a platform, a U.S. commission called for increased international pressure on China to end its intolerance of religious expression. Felice Gaer, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, asked Congress to give the subject of religious freedom the same priority as trade and security when dealing with China. The U.S. State Department has included China on its list of “severe” religious freedom violators for the past seven years.

• After being separated for decades along ethnic lines by a history of colonialism and apartheid, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia and the German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia are moving toward unity by establishing a unified church council. “We are now looking for ways of joint activities and strengthening a unified Lutheran voice in matters of common concern. The ultimate aim is to become one Lutheran Church in Namibia,” said a statement signed by the bishops.

• Poland’s Roman Catholic nuns withstood pressure from the communist-era secret police far more robustly than male clergy, new research shows. “It’s obviously hard to make comparisons,” said Jolanta Olech, president of Poland’s Conference of Superiors of Female Religious Orders. “But the documentation shows nuns proved much tougher than priests. We can certainly say that, in this very difficult situation, the sisters passed the test.” The report comes after the resignation of Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, who was accused of acting as an informer for 22 years for Poland’s former communist secret police.

• Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation, and Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, joined other Christian leaders in asking the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to drop its lawsuit challenging the patent laws of India. “This case is about commitment to the right to health,” Hanson said. “It is about the responsibility of governments to protect the health of their citizens and the right of countries to give priority to public health over the private interests of corporations.” India refused Novartis’ patent application for a cancer medicine, Gleevec, on the gounds that the medicine was simply a new form of an old medicine. Where Novartis has a patent for Gleevec, it sells for $2,600 per patient per month. In India, generic versions of the drug sell for less than $200 per patient per month.

• As Congress debated its response to the dispatch of additional troops to Iraq, Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, sent a message to ordained and professional lay leaders of the denomination, asking them to engage congregations in dialogue on the war and to continue to pray for peace. In his letter, “A Call to Conversation on Iraq,” Hanson encouraged ELCA members to engage in the national debate on the nature and direction of the Iraq war with “intentionality, seriousness and vigor.”

• A retired missionary for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was killed along with her daughter after a carjacking in Kenya. Separately, Geoffrey Chege, the regional director of the aid agency CARE International was fatally shot in a carjacking attempt near one of Nairobi’s most upscale suburbs. He was returning from a prayer meeting with his wife, who was not hurt.

• The Norwegian government minister responsible for church affairs said changes will be needed to the nearly 500-year-old system that stipulates the (Lutheran) Church of Norway is the state church. “If we are to reach a broad solution that the government parties and the opposition can agree on, some changes will be needed in the present system,” said Trond Giske, the minister for culture and church affairs. He was presenting the results of a survey by his ministry on whether the Church of Norway should cease to be a state church.

• A French newspaper went on trial in the latest fallout of the Muhammad cartoons that stirred international furor last year. The case involves the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, which is being sued by two French Islamic organizations for publishing three drawings of the Islamic prophet. “Criticizing religion is necessary for democracy, for things to advance,” Charlie Hebdo’s publication director Philippe Val said. “Some fundamentalist Muslims want to take the place of lawmakers and produce laws that restrict free expression. That’s not their place.” The three drawings, including one of Muhammed sporting a bomb in his turban crossed the boundaries of free expression, the Muslim groups said. “These are three drawings that go beyond caricature and amount to injury for Muslims,” said Francis Szpiner, lawyer for the Paris Mosque and the conservative Union of French Islamic Organizations.

• The floods that affected large parts of Jakarta, Indonesia, have started to recede. But many parts of the city remained under heavily polluted water, especially in low-lying areas close to rivers, which hampered cleanup efforts. Church World Service distributed mineral water and instant noodles to approximately 125 households. Tents and blankets were distributed by CWS to about 250 families. In addition, 50 families living in the vicinity of the CWS office received mineral water and blankets. The agency is planning to provide an additional 5,596 flood-affected households with drinking water, food and hygiene kits, mattresses, mosquito nets and mud-cleaning tools.

Four Muslim organizations in Germany called off a meeting with Protestant leaders, saying there is a need for “considerable explanation” about recently published church guidelines urging greater clarity in Christian-Muslim relations. Germany’s top Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber, said in comments to Musim leaders: “I was particularly surprised that your justification for canceling the meeting was the need for further discussion.”

• The Vatican’s announcement that the Roman Catholic Church will step up its efforts for diplomatic ties with China highlights the delicate nature of the relationship between the world’s smallest state and the most populous nation. The Vatican honored the bishops, priests and faithful of China who have, “without compromise,” maintained full communion with the pope, “even in times when the cost is grave suffering.” Its statement also said that Pope Benedict XVI will soon write a letter to Roman Catholics in China. Beijing was quick to express its appreciation to the Holy See’s willingness to have “constructive dialogue” when the foreign ministry spokesperson, Liu Jianchao, said China had always seen the improvement of ties with the Vatican as important.

• One of three women serving as Anglican priests in Cuba was named a bishop in her church, becoming the Anglican Communion’s first female bishop in Latin America. The announcement of the appointment of Nerva Cot Aguilera, 69, a former schoolteacher, as a suffragan, or auxiliary bishop, was made in Cardenas, a city east of the capital of Havana and the site of an interdenominational Christian seminary.

The Latin American Council of Churches, known under its Spanish acronym CLAI, elected Panamanian Episcopal Bishop Julio Murray as its first black president in a tightly contested election. “This is a new day for CLAI,” the 48-year-old Murray said after his election. “Son of the world, man of God, man of Panama. You are going to find a new direction here.”


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September issue

SEPTEMBER issue:

Reinventing Sunday school

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