The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• In a Jan. 22 statement Christian leaders from the Holy Land urged Israel to put control of Gaza’s borders under Palestinian responsibility. Signers included Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas militants, Gaza residents faced food, fuel and medicine shortages. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sealed the borders in order to force Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. With the borders closed, fuel shortages led to a shutdown of Gaza City’s main power station—leaving hospitals and some 800,000 people without electricity. Under international pressure, Olmert allowed fuel and some aid past the borders. The Christian leaders urged Israel, President George Bush and the international community to “put an end to this suffering” of Gaza residents. They also urged Hamas and Fatah to stop fighting each other and firing rockets into Israel, which they said encourages “public opinion outside this land to feel there is a justification for this siege.”

• A court battle over property continues between 11 congregations and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The congregations seceded from the diocese after the national church’s decision to uphold the consecration of a New Hampshire bishop in a committed same-sex relationship. By the end of January, total legal costs had passed the $2 million mark. The Episcopal Church maintains that congregational assets are held in trust for the national church; the congregations say they own their properties. The breakaway congregations joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, headed by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Lutheran World Relief welcomed a $150 million cut in U.S. military aid to Colombia, part of the 2008 Foreign Aid Bill that President George Bush signed into law. LWR spokesperson Rebecca Phares called the bill, which includes $236 million in support for economic development (43.4 percent of total U.S. aid to Colombia), “a first step toward U.S. support for sustained peace in Colombia.” More than half of the U.S. aid package goes toward military spending, yet it falls below the administration’s original request of 81 percent.

• Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, urged leaders of Kenyan political parties to engage in dialogue to end violence in the country. Since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election, more than 800 people have been killed, tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, and one Lutheran church was burned. “There can be no political justification for the loss of life, senseless destruction of homes and property, and insecurity that have resulted from this violence,” Noko said.

• Climate change could be devastating “especially on poor people,” warned the director of an alliance of 24 Protestant and Orthodox church bodies in India. Sushant Agrawal of the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action said all of humanity must “take the issue seriously, with huge responsibility resting with the global bodies, governments and civil society to act urgently.” A recent CASA report warns that India could be especially vulnerable because of its growing population and an economy closely tied to natural resources. At a recent CASA meeting on climate change, Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of Delhi, India, told participants that no government could handle climate change without civil groups like CASA. “We have vandalized the world for our own comfort,” she said.

• A panel of U.S. scientists published an 88-page book, Science, Evolution and Creationism, asserting that believing the theory of evolution and having religious faith “can be fully compatible,” but creationism has no place in science classes. The book, an update of two previous versions from the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, is directed toward clergy and school board members. “Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith ...,” the book says. “Teaching non-scientific (such as creationism) in science class will only confuse students about the processes, nature and the limits of science.”

• Nearly three-quarters of Americans who are non-Christians or haven’t been to church in the last six months think it’s “full of hypocrites,” according to a survey by LifeWay Research, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources. Of those surveyed, 79 percent said Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and people. And 44 percent agreed that “Christians get on my nerves.” Seventy-two percent agreed that God “actually exists,” and 86 percent said they could have a good relationship with God outside of church involvement. Yet 78 percent said they were willing to listen to someone tell them about his or her Christian beliefs.

ELCA members provided $50,000 through the church’s International Disaster Response to support humanitarian work in Darfur, Sudan, and $50,000 to support continued recovery from an August 2007 earthquake in Peru. Belletech Deressa, director for international development and disaster response, said Darfur “has become a protracted emergency with a need to focus on provision, not only of life-saving services but also on short- to medium-term livelihood solutions for those who are still unable to return home safely.” Working with international ecumenical partners, funds provide food, medicine, clean water and emergency shelter. At presstime, income was low for the church’s International Disaster Response, Deressa said, emphasizing “the financial challenge we face in responding to international disasters.” To help, send checks to ELCA International Disaster Response, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764; call 800-638-3522; or give online.

The United Church of Christ — a church body that has a full communion relationship with the ELCA — is reaching out to scientists through ads on 30 popular science blogs. The messages are part of the church’s “God is still speaking” identity effort. Two such new messages read: “God makes room for quantum mechanics. (And regular ones, too.) — The United Church of Christ.” and “Who said God doesn’t like science? Join the experiment. — The United Church of Christ.” UCC leaders also sent the denomination’s 5,700 congregations a pastoral letter and resources for further study, asked congregations to honor those who work in science-related jobs on Sunday, May 18, and announced two $500 prizes for the best sermon related to science and technology.

• Some Malaysian Christians protested after their government banned the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. Paul Tan Chee Ing, a Jesuit bishop who heads the Malaysian Christian Federation, said, “ ‘Allah’ is a pre-Islamic word used by Arab Christians before Islam came into being. ... We maintain and we have always told the government that we have the right to use the word ‘Allah.’” The ban came after a long-running government campaign against a Roman Catholic newspaper whose Malaysian-language section uses Allah as a synonym for God. Malaysia is about 60 percent Muslim, 28 percent Christian and Buddhist, and 10 percent Hindu.

• Citing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, a religious freedom advocacy group, urged Congress to vote down a proposed $20 billion arms sale to the oil-rich kingdom. “According to our State Department, Saudi Arabia is a country with innumerable violations of human rights,” said Joseph K Grieboski, the institute’s president. He said the proposed sale was a “flagrant violation” of President George Bush’s earlier statements, including a 2005 inaugural address where he said the U.S. would not ignore the oppression of those living in “tyranny and hopelessness.” Grieboski said the arms sale “not only ignores those ‘who live in tyranny and hopelessness,’ but actually arms and strengthens their oppressors.” The Bush administration said the sale is needed because of regional security threats.


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