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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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May 2001 Worldscan

  • •More than 5,000 Christians took part in a March 15 protest in Jeypore, India, after a group believed to be Hindu fundamentalists demolished Asumoti Behera Memorial Lutheran Church, Jeypore, India, apparently for "illegally occupying" state land. Bishop Purno Prokash, Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church, said the incident was another example of the growing persecution of India's Christians, who tend to speak against India's deeply rooted caste system and help the poor, particularly "dalits" (the untouchable caste) and tribal people. Ninety-five percent of Jeypore's Lutherans are dalit and tribal people.

  • An Associated Press survey shows that only Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Texas have been aggressive users of "charitable choice," the 1996 legislation allowing them to compete for governmental welfare funds. Thirty-one states haven't awarded welfare contracts to religious groups. In a related poll by New York Times/CBS, 66 percent of those surveyed thought the provision was a good idea, but only 29 percent said it was good for government money to go to the Church of Scientology, the Nation of Islam and the Hare Krishnas.

  • Nearly 7 percent of former missionary children said they were sexually abused during their elementary school years, found a 1993 study by eight major missionary organizations (results were released this year). The Journal of Psychology and Theology reported in 1995 that sexual abuse by missionaries can be found in almost every country where missionaries are working, but mission agencies tend "to deny the possibility or to bury the problem" out of fear that sponsors might withdraw money.

  • The Church of England and the Evangelical Church of Germany are exploring clergy interchangeability. At issue is the role of bishops, since the 24 Lutheran, United and Reformed members of EKD don't share the English church's historic episcopate.

  • Pope John Paul II encouraged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. He also asked Christians to not let the conflict drive them from the Holy Land. "I deeply hope that the negotiations will be resume rapidly, placing at the center of every concern respect for the dignity of every man in his own territory and the right to live in peace and in security," he said.

  • An Ohio appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the state motto's "With God All Things Are Possible," reversing an earlier ruling from a three-judge panel. "The motto is merely a broadly worded expression of a religious/philosophical sentiment that happens to be widely shared by the citizens of Ohio," wrote Judge David A. Nelson in the 9-4 majority opinion for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • For the second time in seven years the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected a ban on clergy performing same-sex ceremonies. Although the denomination's General Assembly approved the measure, it wasn't ratified by a majority of its 173 presbyteries. Joe Rightmyer, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, said that although most Presbyterians opposed same-sex unions, they "found elements of this amendment as problematic, and consequently voted against it." The church doesn't approve of same-sex unions, but "union ceremonies" aren't specifically barred by the constitution as long as they "are not considered the same as a marriage ceremony."

  • The World Council of Churches asked its 342 member churches, including the ELCA, to study the ethical implications of international intervention where armed conflict threatens civilians. The WCC also asked churches to study and reflect on ways to protect civilian populations in situations involving armed violence. The report cited conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia as recent examples of this problem.

  • The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offered to repay as much as $10,000 of seminary debt for new pastors who take calls at congregations with fewer than 150 members and with an annual budget of less than $100,000.

  • Following the lead of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Vatican and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met March 20-21 to discuss broadening that the consensus to Presbyterians. Church leaders sought theological agreement on justification, mutual recognition of each other's baptisms, and a dismissal of Reformation-era condemnations of each other. Meanwile, a Vatican issued statement cautioned that while "the Lutheran conception is no longer condemned by the Catholic Church," significant doctrinal differences still exist. Only when these differences are resolved, the statement reads, "can we celebrate the eucharist in truth, as an expression of our unity with Christ and with each other."

  • George Carey, Anglican archibishop of Canterbury, told bishops of the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) that conservatives overseas and liberals in the United States must embrace each other in honest dialogue over issues of sexuality. "It's not the presence of conflict that's unhealthy for communal life, but the premature suppression of conflict in the interest of an inauthentic unity," Carey said. Earlier, the Anglican Communion had opted not to discipline the Episcopal Church for unofficially allowing local dioceses to ordain practicing homosexuals and to bless same-sex unions. The 70 million-member Anglican Communion, comprised of 38 member churches, officially condemns homosexuality.

  • The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom asked President Bush to mount a "comprehensive, sustained campaign" that is "commensurate with the Sudanese government's abuses." In a March report, the commission said abuses by the Sudanese government had reached "genocidal proportions." Since 1983 more than 2 million people have died in fighting and war-induced famines during the conflict between the Islamic government in Sudan's north and groups in the predominantly animist and Christian south. The U.S. already has economic sanctions in place against Sudan because of its alleged support of terrorism and persecution of Christians.

  • ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson and 285 other U.S. religious leaders sent a letter urging the U.S. Senate to approve the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill. "Respect for public service is being further eroded by the current campaign finance system, which gives the appearance that political access and favors are for sale to the highest bidder," the letter said.

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark will join the Leuenberg Fellowship, a 20-year-old full communion partnership between European Reformed and Lutheran churches.

  • A report from Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger group, for $1 billion annually — less than what Americans spend each year in videotape rentals, jewelry or liquor — the United States could prevent hunger in 512 million of the world's 800 million hungry people. Americans spend $7 billion a year on videotape rentals, $20 billion at jewelry stores and $24 billion at liquor stores, the report noted, adding, "Compared to these expenditures, $1 billion a year is a modest sum. It is morally unimaginable that we wouldn't respond generously to the needs of our global neighbors." In sub-Saharan Africa, the area in most need, one out of three people is chronically malnourished.

  • The Church of England appointed a task force to study theological and practical implications of having women serve as bishops. In 1994, the church began ordaining women as priests, which has divided its membership. Currently, women priests cannot become bishops in the church. A task force's report is due by July 2002.

  • Gloria Rojas Vargas is the first woman to head the 3,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile. She succeeds Martin Junge who took an appointment with the Lutheran World Federation. Vargas is the second woman leader of the 14 LWF members churches in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

  • Luther, an opera by Finnish composer Kari Tikka on the life of Martin Luther, premiered at the National Opera of Finland in Helsinki. An Engish version of the opera will be performed in Minnesota this October.

  • Most ELCA congregations report that Scripture is "absolutely foundational " as a source of authority for congregational worship and teaching, while God's love and care is likely to be part of a sermon, according to a survey of 832 congregations. Other findings: 80 percent agreed their congregation clearly expresses its Lutheran heritage very well or quite well, while only 18 percent said they were doing very well or quite well in trying to increase the racial diversity of their congregation.

  • Human remains discovered in a shallow grave in Texas are those of atheist activist Madalyn Murrary O'Hair, one of her sons and her adopted granddaughter, the FBI says. The remains were found after David Roland Waters, O'Hair's office manager, struck an agreement to plead guilty to extortion but not to murder, and promised to reveal the location of the bodies. Prosecutors believe Waters and an accomplice killed the trio after taking money and other items, then killed another accomplice they believed they could no longer trust.

  • Pope John Paul II chastised Germany's cardinals for "confusion" and "abuses" of doctrine. A German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reported that the letter was aimed directly at Karl Lehmann, bishop of Mainz and president of the German Bishops Conference, who has differed with the Vatican over abortion counseling and the position of divorced and remarried Catholics in the church.

  • Small congregations of the Church of England are increasing while those with memberships of more than 50 are declining, according to a study by two of the church's clergy. Factors that appear to aid the increase in smaller congregations include a good mix of generations and ethnicities, special services for young people and courses to introduce people to Christianity for at least three years.

  • The American Bible Society is co-sponsoring Opportunity 21, the largest Scripture distribution project in history. The $90 million project will provide Scriptures to more than 60 million people from 75 countries.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints asked its 28,000 congregations to discontinue their Internet home pages and not start new sites until the church can develop a policy governing Web use. Church officials said it was important that information "represent a single, unified church voice."

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