The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


February 7, 2007

Lenoir-Rhyne receives $5.1 million gift

John and Marilyn Moretz have given Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, N.C., $5.1 million, the largest gift in the college’s history. Announced Feb. 6, it is given to the college through the Piedmont Educational Foundation. The donation will create the Moretz Sports Center, a venue that will be used by numerous varsity sports and will benefit all of the college’s students.

It also creates the Steven Harris Moretz Scholarship for nursing students, the largest nursing scholarship gift ever received by the college. This scholarship is given in memory of their son Steven Harris Moretz.

“This gift from John and Marilyn Moretz will have a lasting impact on Lenoir-Rhyne students and this community,” said Wayne Powell, president of the college. “We are indebted to them for partnering with us to ensure that our students have the finest educational experience anywhere.”

The Moretz family has a long association with Lenoir-Rhyne College, dating to its earliest history. In all, a total of 17 family members are counted among L-R alumni. John Moretz, CEO of GoldToe Moretz, is a 1972 graduate of the college and his wife, Marilyn, graduated in 1973. A former member of the school’s Bears Football Team, John has been a lifelong supporter of Lenoir-Rhyne College and its athletic programs. He is currently on the Executive Board of the Piedmont Educational Foundation/Bears Club, which provides support to Lenoir-Rhyne’s athletic programs.

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January 29, 2007

An unlikely merger

I heard a great story on NPR the other day about two ELCA congregations in Evansville, Ind. that will likely merge this spring.

Peace Lutheran Church, a predominantly white congregation, and Grace Lutheran, a mostly African American congregation, had both fallen on hard times in recent years with declining membership. After Timothy Linstrom, Grace’s pastor, began filling in as visiting pastor for Peace, the councils of the two churches met and decided to try a joint worship service last summer. They tried it again a month later, and a month later, and have been worshiping together on a full-time basis ever since.

Members acknowledge a merger can’t take place without some contention and that “inevitable conflicts may arise.” But members say the churches will meld together the same way American society does, and will become “a grassroots multiracial Lutheran church.”

With so many ELCA congregations struggling today, it’s great to hear how some are moving beyond their comfort zones to create something new and different from what we typically see in Lutheran America. I think Martin Luther King Jr. would be pleased to see “11:00 on Sunday” not being the “most segregated hour in Christian America,” at least not in Evansville, Indiana.

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January 22, 2007

What can we learn from Japan?

I listened to a segment on Chicago Public Radio Jan. 16 about disturbing social trends in Japan, some of which stem from Japan's economic collapse in the early 1990s.

Michael Zielenziger, an American journalist who worked in Japan for eight years, and who wrote Shutting Out the Sun, a book about these trends, spoke about Japan’s high suicide rate (the highest of all industrialized countries), growth in untreated cases of depression, young people committing group suicide together, and “fine art” of bullying, which he said is deeply embedded in Japanese society.

Zielenziger described one young man who was bullied when he was in 6th grade, his classmates suddenly refusing to talk to him for reasons he could not explain. As the bullying/isolation continued, he became so traumatized that he quit school and stayed in his room for one year. When he finally got the courage to return to school, the mistreatment resumed. No longer able to cope, he quit school again and sat in his room for more than a decade.

Today there are more than 1 million young Japanese men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawn from society, called hikikomori. Many hikikomori are so afraid of the outside world that they isolate themselves for years, suffering from “social isolation syndrome,” a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, Zielenziger explained. The problem is not limited to men, though. There is a growing number of “parasite singles,” single women who refuse to leave home, marry or bear children.

Zielenziger said bullying in Japan occurs for a number of reasons, like failing a school entrance exam, being seen in public going to a clinic, or having a minor conflict with someone. In Japan it’s important to keep up appearances and to maintain a sense of pride. Ironically, the Japanese rarely discuss the topic of hikikomori because it would be impolite to do so.

How sad that so many Japanese needlessly suffer, resorting to suicide as a way to escape their pain. It’s also sad that they stigmatize getting psychiatric or psychological help (something Americans do, too). Although the hikikomori phenomenon seems limited to Japan, isolationism runs rampant around the globe.

Learning about all of this has me wondering how we, as a church, can better reach out to those who are suffering. How can we overcome stigmas? How can we stand up for those who are isolated, bullied or unjustly treated? Please feel free to share your comments below.

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January 16, 2007

New Orleans crime victim

Helen Hill, 36, a renowned independent filmmaker with life-long ties to the Lutheran church, was fatally shot Jan. 4 in her New Orleans home. Her husband, Paul Gailiunas, a 35-year-old Canadian physician, was injured in the early morning shooting and is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds. The couple’s 2-year-old son, Francis, was not injured in the random shooting. The homicide occurred during a spate of murders in New Orleans, in which six died violently in less than 24 hours.

Hill and Gailiunas were devoted to peace-making and humanitarian efforts, including Doctors Without Borders. Gailiunas dedicated his career to treating the poor, and Hill offered filmmaking workshops at a local coffee shop. Hill also helped her husband run Food Not Bombs, a group that handed out food to the needy.

Hill’s films included: “The Florestine Collection” (2005), an animated movie reflecting on handcrafted work as well as race issues in New Orleans, garnering her a $35,000 fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation; “Bohemian Town” (2004), described as a “love letter” to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Hill and her husband lived in the 1990s; “Madame Winger Makes A Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century (2001), and “Mouseholes (1999).

Hill’s funeral took place at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C., a congregation her great-great grandfather helped found, and where Hill was raised and confirmed. Her funeral overflowed with “an eclectic group of Helen’s colorful friends” from New Orleans, said her brother, Jake Hill. “Holding the funeral at St. Paul, and singing the hymns and hearing the readings brought us great comfort. During the funeral, the pastor said Helen was spiritual ‘in her own way,’ not by talking about Jesus, but by living out her faith.”

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January 10, 2007

Action by Churches Together assists Somalians in Gedo region

As fighting in Somalia intensifies, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) is mobilizing staff and resources to respond to the displacement of people in the Gedo region. NCA is the only ACT member and international aid agency present in Gedo region. ACT is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies, of which the Lutheran World Federation is a member.

NCA has been reinforcing its operational capacity from Mandera (north east of Kenya) and Garbaharrey in the Gedo region of Somalia to respond to the worsening humanitarian situation during which thousands of people have been displaced by recent clashes between Ethiopian forces and the Islamic Courts Union. Relief items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, cooking utensils and household items, as well as water containers for up to 1,000 families are being purchased and sent from Nairobi this week. Inside Somalia, thousands of people fleeing the conflict are reported to be caught in a desperate situation.

NCA field staff in Garbaharrey report that some 10,000 people have been displaced after fleeing the fighting further south. People continue to arrive in the area and are setting up camp in surrounding villages - a situation that is overwhelming for the host communities. There are also reports of several thousand people displaced in the Bay, Hirann, Mudug, Juba and Shabelle regions.

Although no large-scale refugee movements from Somalia have yet been recorded in neighboring countries, ACT members in Kenya continue to monitor the situation. NCA has so far allocated $40,000 from its emergency fund and plans to request additional support through the ACT Rapid Response Fund. NCA has also applied for emergency funding through the Norwegian Ministry of Home Affairs to respond to this crisis.

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January 8, 2007

Who really cares?

I read a Chicago Tribune review of Arthur Brooks’ book, Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth about Who is Charitable, Who Isn’t and Why it Matters for America. Brooks, professor of public administration at Syracuse University, argues that how much a person gives of their time or money is usually considered an important indicator of character.

He concludes that liberal secularists are the least charitable, favoring the state to meet societal needs, while religious political conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to give to charity in a given year. Interestingly, the most generous Americans, measured as a share of their income, are the working poor, followed by the rich and middle class.

The book review got me thinking more about the important role we all have, whether we are liberal, conservative or somewhere-in-between, in helping those in need by giving generously of our time and treasure. The review also reminded me that our government has a responsibility in providing a more just society.

If giving generously indicates character, I wonder what giving generously plus working for justice might mean. I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be great if we all strived for that in 2007?

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January 1, 2007

Happy New Year!

I'd like to wish you a happy and blessed 2007! How are you feeling about the next 12 months…pessimistic, optimistic? If you’re feeling positive about the new year, you are not alone. A recent Associated Press-AOL News Poll indicates that 72 percent of Americans feel optimistic about what 2007 will bring for the country, and an even larger 89 percent feel good about the new year for themselves and their families.

I think we all tend to look at the new year as if we have a clean slate, resolving to make dreams and aspirations come true. That’s true for our family, as we await the arrival of our niece’s baby this April and my sister’s baby this June. My husband and I have started college funds for our kids, and we hope to purchase a new home this year. We have so much to look forward to in 2007.

Optimism aside, I still am troubled about the war in Iraq, the violence in Darfur, HIV/AIDS, and poverty right here in the U.S. I am not alone. The AP-AOL poll shows that while Americans are positive about some things, they still have concerns. For example, most expect the situation in Iraq to stay the same or to worsen; 60 percent think the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack; 70 percent predict a major natural disaster in the country and worsening global warming; 71 percent think it unlikely that the U.S. will withdraw troops from Iraq, and 35 percent predict the military draft will be reinstated. To add to the mix, 25 percent anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ and 19 percent think scientists are likely to find evidence of extraterrestrial life.

I thought it was interesting that amid our optimism, we still have our fears, concerns and interesting predictions. What are your hopes and dreams, your fears, even your forecasts for the new year? Feel free to comment below.

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December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

By the time you read this, I will be celebrating Christmas with my family, and later with my extended family at my Aunt Lois’ home. We have our traditional grab bag exchange, which always turns into a competition match in who can steal the most creatively decorated or most intriguing-looking gift. When we finally open our gifts after the grab bag match is over, it’s always a surprise to see what we get. Some people get gag “white elephants,” while others get pretty useful things, like the pair of oven mitts and accompanying brownie mix I received one year.

Wacky traditions aside, I feel blessed to share this day with my family. Going to church on Christmas Eve was especially meaningful, singing Christmas carols, hearing the choirs sing, and enjoying the beautifully decorated, candle-lit sanctuary. For the first time, we read Luke's account of Jesus' birth before opening our gifts, an idea we got from Sonia and Julie (see previous blogs). And even though waiting to open presents was a challenge for our kids, hopefully they will learn to appreciate our new Christmas tradition in the years to come.

How have you managed to make your Christmas meaningful, amid crazy family customs and seasonal commercial trappings? Please comment below. I’m always looking for new ways to make this time of year even more significant.

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December 18, 2006

Making a difference one animal at a time

A few nights ago, my husband, David, and I were looking at the ELCA Good Gifts catalog together with our 9-year-old son, Sam. In case you haven’t seen it, the catalog has a variety of vignettes to illustrate how donations to the ELCA make a difference domestically and abroad through five areas: congregations, leadership, witness (ELCA World Hunger Appeal), evangelism and global mission.

Sam enjoyed hearing the different stories, especially the ones involving animals. For example, the catalog’s Global Barnyard section describes how a $25-50 donation can buy a family a goat, or how $30 can buy a pig to help a family break the cycle of poverty.

The next day Sam told us he wanted to help buy a pair of rabbits for the Global Barnyard animal project of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. He gave us $2 from his piggy bank (a sacrifice for him), and we pitched in the rest to make the needed $5 donation. That experience reminded me that we can all make a difference (at any age or with any amount) one donation - even one animal - at a time.

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December 11, 2006

Reaching out to suburban poor

For the first time, more poor live in suburbs than cities, the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. reported this week.

The report had some interesting findings:

• In 1999 large cities and their suburbs had nearly equal numbers of poor individuals, but by 2005 the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by at least 1 million.
• Poverty rates rose significantly in Midwestern and Southern metropolitan areas, but remained steady in the West and Northeast.
• In cities and suburbs where overall poverty rates rose from 1999 to 2005, child poverty rates rose faster.

The news struck me. I, myself, am a suburbanite. I live in the Midwest, a few blocks away from Naperville, Ill., recently named the second “best place to live” by Money Magazine, and ranked the third “kid-friendliest” city in the nation by Population Connection. With all of those accolades, it’s easy to forget that my neighbors, and likely some of my children’s friends and classmates, are struggling day to day.

While the report surprised me, I wasn’t completely taken aback by it. Just over a month ago, our church, Our Saviour’s Lutheran, Naperville, hosted a one-day free health clinic for the elderly, uninsured, jobless, homeless – anyone in need. The clinic provided free physicals and screenings, dental exams, clothing, haircuts, manicures, food, and even free family portraits.

About 650 individuals from the surrounding area came that day. I don’t know who was more blessed – the families and individuals served, or the volunteers who worked hard to make the day a success. It was gratifying to see people leave with a smile, armed with bags of food, clothing and other necessities to sustain them for a while. And even though some of those supplies likely have been depleted by now, hopefully clients will long remember the love of Christ shown to them that day.

Whether living in the suburbs, inner city neighborhoods or in rural America, opportunities abound to help others. If hosting a free clinic interests you or your congregation, contact Touched Twice United, which describes itself as a “Christ-centered, faith-based organization that strives to bring peace and healing to the community.” Our congregation did, and we are planning a clinic for next year. As the Brookings Institution report confirms, needs will continue.

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December 4, 2006

For the voiceless

I helped out in my daughter’s church school classroom this weekend. We talked about the coming of John the Baptist - how the angel, Gabriel, announced to Zechariah the miraculous news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I had forgotten that Zechariah was not able to speak until after John’s birth: You have not believed what I have said. So you will not be able to say a thing until all this happens. But everything will take place when it is supposed to (Luke 1:20). I thought about how difficult it probably was for Zechariah, not being able to talk about his joy - and astonishment - with his beloved wife, Elizabeth.

Later, I began to think about those in our society who don’t have a voice or public forum – like children, the poor – and how the ELCA speaks on their behalf through advocacy. The ELCA has a variety of ongoing advocacy issues in which it is involved, including children and young people, civil rights, Darfur, the environment, HIV/AIDS, rural concerns, and hunger and poverty.

Why does the ELCA do advocacy? According to the ELCA websiteAdvocacy is one way we seek to love our neighbor in response to God’s love given us in Jesus Christ. We are caring for, standing with, and serving people who are living in poverty and who are suffering when we work for public and corporate policies that advance justice, peace, human dignity, and care for the earth.

I thought I’d take a closer look to see how I can get involved in ELCA advocacy and related programs. I invite you to do the same.

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November 27, 2006

Advent in April?

Yesterday, I went to the park with my husband, David, and our children, Sam and Emily. The kids had a blast running, swinging and sliding. We saw other parents out with their kids, too. With temperatures hovering in the 60s it felt like a balmy spring day – something unusual for late November in the Chicago area.

Prior to our outing, we donned our house with lights, and decorated our tree, which we cut down ourselves at a nearby Christmas tree farm. I felt like we were in a scene reminiscent of Currier and Ives, minus the snow, parkas and boots.

The juxtaposition of these two scenes reminded me of the anticipation we will have this Advent season: our yearning for the Christ child – just as we long for the freshness of spring during those dreary, cold winter months.

Ironically, those gray days will soon be upon us here in the Midwest (our unusually warm weather snap will come to an end this week, forecasters say). I’ll try my best to remember this day – and the true meaning of the season – amid the busy-ness I think we all share this time of year.

Until then, you can find me sipping ice cold lemonade on my patio, savoring what is likely to be one of our last really nice days in a long time. I already am longing for the arrival of spring.

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November 21, 2006

St. Olaf College ranks No. 1 in number of students who study abroad

St. Olaf College, an ELCA school in Northfield, Minn., retained its position as the No. 1 baccalaureate institution in the United States in both number and percentage of students who studied abroad in 2004-05, according to an Open Doors 2006 annual report. ELCA schools Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., ranked 7th on the list; Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, ranked 11th, and Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minn., came in 17th.

In 2004-05, 657 St. Olaf students studied abroad, participating in more than 120 International and Off-Campus Studies programs at universities in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Central America, North and South America, and Australia. Concordia College had 461 study-abroad students, Luther College had 430, and Gustavus Adolphus had 397.

The number of students studying abroad for academic credit increased by eight percent in 2004-05, bringing the total number to 205,983 students, according to Open Doors’ annual report on international education, which is published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“International study should be a part of every student’s education,” said Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of the IIE, noting that American students are increasingly studying in countries such as China and India, which can provide useful language and cultural skills for their future careers. “American colleges are providing more opportunities for students to have an international experience, and are beginning to address some of the barriers to participation in study abroad, in order to prepare their students to be global citizens,” Goodman said.

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November 20, 2006

Augustana College receives $1.7 million grant

Augustana College, an ELCA school in Rock Island, Ill., received a $1.7 million grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine, Iowa, to convert Carlsson Hall from a residential facility to an academic building. The renovation is scheduled for completion in time for the 2008-09 academic year.

The project will create new classroom and office space for five of the college’s largest academic departments: accounting, business administration, economics, education and psychology. Comprised of 27 full-time faculty members, these departments serve more than 500 students, roughly one-fifth of Augustana’s student body.

The renovated facility also will be home to administrative offices for Augustana’s Senior Inquiry program. Under the program, students complete a research, service or creative project with close support from a faculty mentor during the student’s senior year. Through Senior Inquiry, students develop competence within their major field of study and also reflect on the project’s impact on themselves and the greater community.

“I am truly grateful to the Carver Trust for the confidence it has shown in Augustana College and our strategic plan,” said Steve Bahls, Augustana president. “While our students and faculty will benefit substantially from this gift, the ultimate beneficiaries of the Carver Trust’s generosity will be the communities served by our graduates.”

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November 20, 2006

Lutheran-Orthodox statement adopted

The Church Council of the ELCA adopted “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity” and suggested the statement be used for guidance and conversations throughout the church and in ecumenical settings.

The statement affirms a common commitment to and understanding of the theology of the Nicene Creed, and represents a breakthrough on one of the major theological controversies that contributed to the split between the Eastern and Western churches during the 11th century.

The phrase in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" has been the source of division between the churches of the West and Eastern Orthodox churches since the formal break between them in 1054. The statement says it is appropriate in ecumenical conversations to confess the Nicene Creed without the phrase ‘and the Son,’ because the creed was originally adopted without it.

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November 20, 2006

Men's Fitness: ELCA schools among "fittest"

ELCA schools Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn., and Roanoke College, Salem, Va., were named some of the “fittest” colleges in America by Men’s Fitness magazine, with Gustavus ranking 6th, and Roanoke 19th.

In the November issue, the magazine compiled what it called the “dean’s list of the 25 fittest” colleges. The magazine consulted with The Princeton Review on the survey, which asked 12,500 students across the country about their diet and exercise habits and the availability of campus food options, fitness facilities and resources.

The recognition didn’t surprise Kerry Peterson, a senior at Roanoke. “We have such flexible gym hours and amazing food selections in the cafeteria,” she says. “Having the school surround us with all these benefits, it’s hard not to adapt to healthy habits.”

Scott Allison, athletic director and 1979 Roanoke graduate, credits the college’s Belk fitness center, which he says is the most-used facility on campus, and the dining services, which provide healthy options. “Basically, we’re promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Allison says. “When students graduate, they realize the importance of having a healthy life.”

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November 6, 2006

Thiel College receives $1.8 million grant

Thiel College
, an ELCA school in Greenville, Pa., received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education – the largest single grant or gift in the history of the college.

The five-year Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant will be used to develop a new advising center.

“The Title III grant will provide Thiel College with resources to improve retention and graduation rates by enhancing the advising component of our college experience,” said Lance A. Masters, Thiel College president and CEO. “Our goal is to be more responsive to the developmental, discernment, career preparation and placement needs of our students.”

The grant also will allow the college to hire a specialist who will assist faculty in curriculum redesign.

The Strengthening Institutions Program was established by Congress as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to strengthen colleges’ capacities to make substantial contributions to the higher education resources of the nation.

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December 27, 2005

ELCA scholars comment on 'intelligent design'

On Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled against a Dover [Pa.] Area School Board policy that required intelligent design theory in biology curriculum.

One of the problems with Jones’ decision was that he based it on a negative assessment of religion, says Ted Peters, professor of systematic theology, Pacific Lutheran Seminary, Berkeley, Calif., and co-author of Evolution from Creation to New Creation (Abingdon Press).

Jones wrote: “We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.”

“It was unnecessary to treat science as anti-religious,” Peters says. “To have simply said that intelligent design fails to meet the criterion of good science would have sufficed. It added nothing to dismiss intelligent design because it was contaminated by religion.”

Yet Peters agrees with Jones that the Darwinian evolutionary theory—not intelligent design theory—should be part of students’ biology curriculum. “If Lutherans want only the best science taught to our children, then Darwinian evolutionary theory is the best,” he says. “Lutheran schools should not cave in to alternative or inferior science.”

Peters says neither intelligent design nor scientific creationism have fertile research programs that can match Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian models of evolution. “The Darwinian models have led to progressive research and new knowledge,” he says. “They also have proven themselves fertile for predicting what we would find in the fossil record, and for predicting random variation in genes that have led indirectly to research on new medicines. The Lutheran understanding of God’s creation leads us to commit ourselves to the best science. ... Nothing less than hard-earned empirical truths about the natural world will measure up.”

Discussion on intelligent design and creationism can take place, not in the science classroom but in humanities and social science classrooms, says Roger Willer, associate director for studies, ELCA Church in Society.

While the ELCA has no official position on evolution as the reigning theory of biological science, it does have positions on matters related to the debate, including the Creed, which states God is creator of heaven and earth, Willer says. “That’s our way of affirming that whatever else we might say about creation and nature, we believe God is at work creating,” he adds.

Willer says we are free to respect the integrity and proper distinction between religion and science. “That means whenever scientists say believing in evolution means you can’t believe in God, we would say, ‘you are not speaking as a scientist,’ ” he says. “On the other hand, if someone says we have to teach the creation story or the idea that there is intelligent designer, that is not respecting the limits and integrity of science.

“There’s a notion that religious people can’t affirm science and scientists, but that is not the understanding of the ELCA."

Peters says it’s a mistake to associate the Christian faith with anti-Darwinism. “We need to cultivate throughout the Lutheran tradition a high regard for authentic science so our young people will want to become scientists,” Peters says. “Because Martin Luther celebrated secular vocations, we need to encourage young people to envision what it would be like to dedicate themselves to a career as a scientific researcher. This, too, can be a Godly vocation.”

The Dover, Pa., lawsuit is among a handful of cases that have focused on the teaching of evolution. Policymakers in at least 16 states are currently examining the controversy. To see what is happening with intelligent design, state-by-state, visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story/php?storyId=4630737

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