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Worldscan

• Lutherans celebrated the induction of the United Church Council of the Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Representatives of the country’s Lutheran churches said that while they aren’t dissolving their existing structures, finances and personnel, the council will ensure that they speak for all Lutherans with a unified voice. The 15-member council will unite in running social projects funded by the churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia and the mainly German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia were divided for decades along ethnic lines.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he will visit the U.S. in September after Episcopal bishops declared an “urgent need” for a meeting. Williams said there has “never been any suggestion” that he would decline an invitation to meet with the bishops, despite suggestions he was too busy. The Episcopal Church is at odds with sectors of the worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues of homosexuality and the authority of Scripture. In February, Anglican leaders demanded that the U.S. church pledge not to appoint any more openly gay bishops or offer church blessings for same-sex couples. They gave the U.S. church until Sept. 30 to respond or face unspecified “consequences.” Williams said sanctions couldn’t be “imposed.” But some observers fear a reduced role for the Episcopal Church within the communion if it stays the course on homosexuality. Meeting in Texas in March, U.S. bishops rejected the ultimatum.

The killing of three Christians at a religious publishing house in eastern Turkey triggered condemnation by U.S. and international church and advocacy groups. Twelve suspects were charged with the deaths of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, both Turkish Christians, and Tilman Ekkehart Geske, a German national, in slayings that prompted concerns about the safety of the minority Christian community in Turkey. “The Bible bears witness to the word of life,” said Bishop Wolfgang Huber, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, a Lutheran World Federation member church. “Offering this word to others can never be a reason for people’s lives to be threatened.” The publishing house, Zirve, had distributed Bibles in the Turkish language and had been the focus of recent protests.

A U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on Darfur will put the troubled western Sudan region on the international human rights agenda, said Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. He welcomed the U.N. resolution passed in March, which calls on parties to the conflict to end acts of violence against civilians. Meanwhile a consortium of international relief agencies monitoring rights violations called for the protection of children in western Sudan, warning that their well-being is at a critical juncture. “Children are very much affected given the displacement, uncertainty and numbers of armed militias that are involved in Darfur,” said Karimi Kinoti, a representative of Christian Aid, a British agency.

The Lutheran World Federation called on the international community to end an economic blockade of Palestinian territories so infrastructure can be restored. “The core problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which if not solved, is a threat to peace not only in the Middle East but throughout the world,” the LWF Council, meeting in Lund, Sweden, in March, noted in a resolution. It welcomed “the fact that a Palestinian government of national unity has been established.” It said it expected that “the new government will respect all previous agreements concerning or relevant to the search for peace in the region.”

• Openly gay students who want to serve as rabbis or cantors are now welcome at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The announcement came three months after the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the conservative movement’s decision-making body, gave seminaries and congregations permission to ordain homosexual rabbis and bless same-sex unions. But the conservative Jewish movement’s main institution in Jerusalem, the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, decided not to follow its U.S. counterparts and will continue the ban.

Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod spoke out against a proposal for El Salvador to host a pilot project to produce ethanol fuel from sugarcane and yellow maize to combat escalating oil prices. “Since corn and sugarcane are the raw materials for the producing of ethanol for fuel in the country, we are opposed to it because its negative impact on the family economy will be greater than the benefits that it could bring about,” he said. El Salvador’s foreign minister, Francisco Lainez, said an agreement had been reached with the U.S. and Brazil for the development of biofuels. Brazil and the U.S. sent technical assistance and provided training during April in preparation for the installation of the plant.

Lutheran World Relief is providing aid to families affected by flooding in Zambia. This year’s rainy season has been characterized by record rainfall, leading to floods in several districts. Rains began in December and continued through April. The U.N. estimates that more than 1.4 million people have been affected. Rising waters have collapsed houses and schools and washed away infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Most fields have flooded, causing widespread crop damage that threatens to leave affected districts with scarce food.

The number of people in Britain going to church is falling rapidly and only one-in-10 adults attends church weekly even though 53 percent of adults—or 26.2 million people—in the United Kingdom identify themselves as Christian. “Churchgoing in the UK Today,” a survey by TearFund, a Christian relief and development agency, said this reflects a drop of 20 percent in weekly church attendance from similar research conducted six years ago. The survey shows that 7.6 million adults go to church each month. One in four (12.6 million) attend at least once a year.

The Lutheran World Federation urged the African Union to intervene in the crisis in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe’s government has cracked down on opposition protests as the country faces economic collapse. The LWF called on the international community to respond to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, and “to act to restore hope, and to promote peace.” Separately the World Alliance of Reformed Churches also urged action by the pan-African body, saying voices of dissent in Zimbabwe were being intimidated.

The Lutheran World Federation expressed grave concern at the many reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other human rights violations in the Philippines. A recent report issued by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines denounced “a culture of impunity practiced by the government and its security forces that traces its roots to the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s.” It identified more than 830 reported cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power.

• At the launch of the Krio language version of the Lutheran World Federation’s document “Churches Say ‘No’ to Violence Against Women,” Tom Barnett, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, said he particularly welcomed the use of this significant historical language to fight a societal evil. “Krio language was born out of the evil and inhuman slave trade in this subregion more than 200 years ago,” he said. “It is only logical that it should be used to fight another evil—violence against women.”

• Members of the Christian gay rights group Soulforce were arrested outside the office of a seminary president who said he would support medical treatment to change the sexual orientation of a fetus from homosexual to heterosexual. Twenty-two members of Soulforce tried to visit R. Albert Mohler Jr. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Twelve were later arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. In a March 2 entry on his blog site, Mohler said he would support the idea of changing the sexual orientation of a fetus inside its mother’s womb if such a treatment were to be developed. “Where President Mohler sees distortion, we see diversity,” the protesters said. “As it stands, his voice is terribly misguided in believing that God does not affirm the identities of gay and transgender people.”

• A city in southern Japan approved plans for the country’s first “baby hatch,” or “baby post,” as it is known at a local Roman Catholic hospital, where parents can drop off unwanted infants anonymously, as is already the case at similar European institutions. “We have approved the plan by the hospital,” said the mayor of Kumamoto, Seishi Koyama. He added, “There is no legal basis to say a baby hatch violates any existing law.”

• A European Court of Human Rights ruling against Russia could strengthen the ability of the Church of Scientology to claim official legal status throughout Europe. According to the court, the church filed its complaint against the Russian government after officials refused several times to process a registration application. The church has been registered in Russia since 1994 but needed to re-register under a 1997 law. In its unanimous ruling, the court found that Russia, by withholding official registration, was keeping the church from “exercising the full range of its religious activities.” That constitutes violations of freedom of assembly and association and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Scientology members greeted the verdict not only as a victory in Russia but also as a sign that other European countries will be forced to give the church greater legitimacy.

• With its numbers sharply reduced by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ Jewish community is about to launch a rebuilding campaign to recruit as many as 1,000 families to New Orleans with offers of moving grants, loans and other economic incentives. The initiative is part of an aggressive, multipronged effort by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans to repair and perhaps even expand the Jewish community beyond its pre-Katrina members.

Increasing interest in Christianity among Chinese intellectuals is transforming the country’s religious landscape, said Edmond Tang, an academic and consultant on China for British and Irish churches. “Today it is an open secret that Christian fellowships, a new kind of ‘house church,’ run by Chinese professors and students are active in most Chinese universities.” More than 30 academic faculties and research centers in China are now dedicated to the study of a “once-maligned religion,” whereas a few years ago there were only three, Tang said.

• After eight years of preparation, the Lutheran World Federation Council, which met in Lund, Sweden, in March, adopted a historic statement on the Episcopal ministry, titled, “Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church ....” It was developed to clarify how Lutheran churches understand the character and purpose of the ministry of oversight in the church, paying particular attention to how this ministry serves the church’s apostolicity—its continuity with Christ and the apostles. According to the statement, Episcopal ministers shall “provide forms of leadership that are truly shared, facilitating collaborative styles of ministry.” They are called to “demonstrate humility and simplicity of life. The profile of their ministry is not one of domination but of service, showing clear awareness of those on the margins of society.”

• The government of Kosovo approved plans for a Roman Catholic cathedral in the territory’s provincial capital, dedicated to the ethnic Albanian charity worker, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Mother Teresa is like a family member to us—she’s a very good symbol for everyone living here,” said Bishop Dode Gjergji of Prizren in southern Kosovo. “Her parents were Albanians from Kosovo, so the building of a cathedral dedicated to her is the desire of our whole nation, Muslims included.”

A Roman Catholic nun in South Africa was posthumously hailed as a heroine after dying while trying to rescue patients from a burning AIDS hospice. Sister Anne Thole, 35, had helped save five patients at the Catholic Church’s Maria Ratschitz Mission near Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal province when she went in again, saying, “We can save one more life,” a local newspaper reported.

Austria’s Lutheran church could elect its first female presiding bishop following the nomination of four women for a upcoming election. “The list isn’t finalized yet, but there are certain to be several female names,” said Thomas Dasek of Austria’s Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. “It’s too soon to say whether our church will show the way to others in this area. But it’s a sign already that women really have the same rights as men here.”

A judge in Frankfurt, Germany, was removed from a divorce case after arguing that physical abuse in a Muslim marriage is acceptable under the Quran. The case was filed by a 26-year-old Moroccan woman in May 2006 after police forced her husband to move out of their apartment because of spousal abuse complaints. German law requires a one-year waiting period between filing a divorce and the dissolution of the marriage. Because of the history of abuse, the woman and her lawyer sought an expedited decision. But in January the female judge refused to allow the motion. Citing the couple’s Moroccan and Muslim background, she ruled that “the husband has a right to beat his wife” in that culture. Furthermore she argued the couple had married in Morocco, meaning they are bound by the strictures of the Quran, which, she argued, allows the husband to discipline his wife however he sees fit.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, head of Poland’s Roman Catholic Church, supported calls for a drastic cut in the state pensions paid to former communist agents. “Unworthy people should not have privileges,” he said. “From the documents so far revealed, I’ve no doubt these people did evil things, and evil should not be rewarded. High pensions are a privilege, not an acquired right.” Glemp’s comments come after the resignation of Archbishop of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus, who was accused of being an informer for Poland’s former communist secret police for 22 years.


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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