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Worldscan

• John Arthur Nunes, 44, was named the fourth president of Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, on July 1. Nunes had served as assistant professor of theology at Concordia University, River Forest,Ill., and as pastor of Bethany, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod congregation in Chicago. Nunes succeeds Kathryn Wolford, an ELCA member who became president of the McKnight Foundation, Minneapolis, in October.

• The 40,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of France and the 300,000-member Reformed Church of France agreed to start discussions leading to a United Protestant Church of France by 2013. The unifying process was agreed upon in May, but the bridge-building began in 2002 when several congregations and regional synods asked their national committees to work toward a “stronger and more visible communion between our churches.” The process would lead to one church with “different confessional regions,” preserving Lutheran and Reformed identities in their historical regions.

• Peter Akinola, Anglican archbishop of Nigeria, oversaw the installation of the bishop of a breakaway group of U.S. Anglicans angry about the policies of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Martyn Minns was installed as head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary grouping with ties to Akinola’s Church of Nigeria, during a May 5 ceremony in Woodbridge, Va. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, Episcopal Church presiding bishop, had asked Akinola not to attend. “We are called to pick up a cross and follow our master,” Akinola said. “If we had not done this, many of you would be lost to other churches. If the Episcopal Church gets back in line with the rest of the Communion, I renew my pledge ... that we will cease from the ministry of CANA.” Akinola and other African and Asian church leaders have criticized the U.S. denomination in part because of the 2003 ordination of V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a same-sex relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire.

• Churches in Pakistan asked their government to protect a Christian community facing threats from Islamic fundamentalists. The Christians are being urged to either convert to Islam or to close their churches and migrate from villages in the North West Frontier Province. “Authorities in Pakistan have responded halfheartedly to the situation, sending only one police officer to protect the community,” said the National Council of Churches in Pakistan.

• Facing criticism after his comments in Brazil that Christianity was not forced upon the indigenous people of the Americas, Pope Benedict XVI referred to “shadows that accompanied the work of evangelism” in Latin America. “It is impossible to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous peoples, who often had their basic human rights trampled on,” Benedict said in Rome after his May trip to Brazil.

Christian groups in India hailed a federal commission’s recommendation that the government end discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits. The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities asked government leaders to stop excluding Christian and Muslim Dalits from free education and a special job reservation limited to Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh Dalits.

• Some members of the U.S. religious community are reviving the “sanctuary movement” of the 1980s. That movement offered protection in the U.S. to refugees fleeing wars in Central America. The new effort, based in local congregations, assists undocumented workers who face deportation because they don’t have the papers to work legally in the U.S. “We are responding to a broken system that is increasingly creating broken families and broken lives,” said Alexia Salvatierra, an ELCA pastor who serves as executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups are involved, with more than 50 congregations committed to the campaign so far.

• Zimbabwean authorities are withholding food aid from opponents of President Robert Mugabe’s government, a church coalition said. “The Zimbabwe Peace Project is appealing to the government to ensure that food and other aid are accessed by all citizens regardless of political affiliation,” read a statement from the Zimbabwe Peace Project—Churches Working for Peace. Zimbabwe faces a serious food shortage this year, with an expected 1.3-million-ton grain deficit. The U.N. World Food Programme feeds at least 1.5 million people in dire need. Zimbabwe also is reeling under an economic and political crisis with annual inflation currently running at 2,200 percent, widespread poverty and tensions between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, 94, a Protestant scientist and philosopher who worked on Germany’s atomic bomb program during World War II, died April 28. He later became an opponent of nuclear weapons, saying his inspiration was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “The human family has lost one of its most committed peace activists,” said Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. “In his outstanding fight against the development and production of nuclear weapons, von Weizsäcker set exemplary standards for entire generations.” Noko recalled that in 1984, when Germany was divided and new nuclear weapons were being deployed on both sides, von Weizsäcker called for “new political structures” to achieve peace during a keynote address at an LWF assembly in Budapest.

• The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom added Iraq to a “watch list” of countries requiring “close monitoring” due to the “alarming and deteriorating situation for freedom of religion and belief” within the war-torn nation. The list also includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria. The commission also released its annual list of “countries of particular concern,” a more serious category than the “watch list” because the following countries “engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief”: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

• Asian Christian leaders supported moves by Thailand to enforce the compulsory licensing of patented AIDS drugs to lower their cost by allowing the production or purchase of generic versions. “It is a basic human right to health,” said Prawate Khid-arn, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia. “Poor countries can’t afford the expensive AIDS drugs.” The U.S. administration and some pharmaceutical companies expressed doubts about the Thai government’s proposal.

• Despite more than 2,000 complaints filed through a Chinese-language Web site, a Hong Kong media watchdog refused to submit the Bible to a tribunal for classification as being obscene since it contains sexual and violent content and has references to rape and incest. “The Bible is a religious text which is part of civilization. It has been passed from generation to generation,” Hong Kong’s Television and Licensing Authority said in a May statement.

Eleven German denominations, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican, formally recognized each other’s baptism at an ecumenical ceremony in Magdeburg, Germany. “This mutual recognition of baptism is an expression of the bond of unity founded in Jesus Christ,” states the common declaration signed April 29. The leaders include Bishop Wolfgang Huber, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, and Cardinal Karl Lehmann, chair of the German Catholic Bishops Conference.
 
• To strengthen relationships among Lutheran churches and institutions, scholars and students worldwide, the ELCA created the Global Sabbatical Awards Program. It was developed as a response to seminaries outside the U.S. requesting faculty and administrators from ELCA seminaries to teach and train students, pastors and administrators. The ELCA also seeks to be enriched by international mission stories through the program. “Our communities and congregations are being challenged and transformed by globalization, by the accelerating migration of people, cultures and ideas,” said Jonathan Strandjord, director for theological education, ELCA Vocation and Education. “In order for our seminaries to prepare leaders for mission in this time, it is vitally important that the already deep connections among ELCA seminaries and partner schools and churches around the world grow even richer. The new Global Sabbatical Awards Program has tremendous promise to spur this growth.” The program is a collaboration among Global Mission, Vocation and Education and the ELCA's eight seminaries and two extension centers.
 
• Two (Lutheran) Church of Norway bishops visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in mid-April said they were appalled at the way Israelis treat Palestinians, who hugely outnumber them in the West Bank city of Hebron. “This is apartheid,” Bishop Ernst Baasland of Stavanger told the Norwegian daily newspaper VG. Baasland was part of a Church of Norway delegation that included Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien of Borg and four other church leaders. “I do not believe the majority of Israelis know how bad the situation is here in Hebron. That’s the way it was also in South Africa. Most whites knew little of the harassment of the black majority [while living under the apartheid system],” Baasland said.

• Pope Benedict XVI endorsed an April 20 Vatican report offering hope that unbaptized infants can reach heaven. The International Theological Commission concluded that the medieval concept of limbo (an intermediate zone between heaven and hell whose denizens enjoy natural happiness but not the “beatific vision” of the Creator) represents an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.” The report reaffirmed that “there is no salvation which is not from Christ and ecclesial by its very nature.” But it explained that God can “give the grace of baptism without the sacrament being conferred,” particularly in cases when conferring it is impossible. Addressing this question was urgent due to the rising numbers of infants born to non-Roman Catholic families and the widespread practice of abortion, the report said.

• Church representatives in Estonia urged a return to calm after a government decision to relocate a Soviet war memorial sparked riots in the capital, Tallinn, in which one person died and more than 150 people were injured. “Although it’s peaceful in Estonia now, the situation has not stabilized and we expect more disturbances,” said Kadri Poder, the foreign relations secretary of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Trouble flared April 27 when the government relocated the bronze statue of a Russian soldier and surrounding graves of 14 Soviet soldiers away from the center of Tallinn to the city’s military cemetery. Many ethnic Estonians consider the memorial a painful reminder of the hardship they endured under Soviet rule and wanted it removed from the city center. But Estonia’s ethnic Russians—roughly one-third of the country’s 1.3 million people­—see the statue as a tribute to Red Army soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany and had vowed to protect it.

• Religious activists and citizens’ groups are furious about a new law allowing for a referendum to seek an amendment to Japan’s peace-favoring constitution, which was passed by the upper chamber in Japan’s parliament, the Diet. “I am enraged by this [enactment],” said Toshimasa Yamamoto, general secretary of the national Christian Council in Japan. The council said the law was aimed at changing Article 9 of the constitution, a war-renunciation clause, to “make Japan a country that can make war.” Japan’s constitution hasn’t been amended since it came into effect in 1947 after the allied victory in World War II.

• Four days of services marking the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church and an émigré church that broke away in 1927 after the Bolshevik Revolution culminated in a liturgy held at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. “Even in those years when the church in the Fatherland and the church abroad were not in full communion, we never forgot that we have one faith, one tradition handed down from the holy fathers, one homeland, one history,” said Moscow Patriarch Alexei II.

• As legislators negotiated the federal budget for fiscal year 2008, Mark Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, along with leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ, sent a letter May 10 to members of Congress calling for the budget to be just and compassionate. The group applauded congressional resolutions making fiscal responsibility a priority while providing needed funding for children’s health insurance and nutrition programs. The group also expressed appreciation for the Senate’s resolution that restored $2.2 billion of international assistance funding, which had been cut from the president’s budget request.

• Churches in East Africa urged warring groups in Somalia to respect humanitarian efforts as reports indicated relief workers and installations were increasingly becoming targets. “We condemn any attack on humanitarian workers or installations,” said Fred Nyabera, executive director of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa. “We urge [fighting groups] to desist from targeting these agencies that are helping the people.” African Union troops were patrolling parts of northern Mogadishu that had been engulfed in fighting. AU spokesperson Paddy Ankunda, who was in a convoy of more than 20 trucks, said Ugandan peacekeepers were prepared to protect humanitarian teams. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres appealed for the respect of medical facilities after one of its clinics in Mogadishu was hit by a mortar fire.

• Latinos are radically altering the religious landscape of the U.S., in large part because of their strong affiliations with Pentecostal and charismatic movements, a new study concluded. “Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion,” a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center, notes that because of their increasing numbers in the U.S., Latinos are likely to bring about “important changes” in the Roman Catholic Church, the single largest U.S. religious denomination.


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