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December 29, 2009

ELCA member's fatal shooting, assembly decisions among top religion stories


The fatal shooting of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who performed "late-term" abortions, and the sexuality decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, were among the top 10 religion stories of 2009.

Active members of the Religion Newswriters Association voted Dec. 11 to Dec. 14 in an online ballot, according to a Dec. 15 news RNA release. The poll had a 36 percent response rate. RNA members are journalists who report on religion in general circulation media outlets, the release said.

The RNA members named President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo on Muslim-U.S. relations the top religion story of 2009, the release said.

Tiller's death appeared as the fourth story on this year's list. Tiller, 67, was gunned down May 31 as a worship service was about to begin at Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita, Kan., where he was a member. Tiller was a controversial figure because he was one of a few physicians in the United States who performed late-term abortions. Scott P. Roeder was arrested and charged with Tiller's murder. His trial is to begin Jan. 11, 2010.

Seventh on the RNA list was the decision of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to direct changes in ministry policies. Voting members created the possibility for people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers. The assembly also adopted a social statement on human sexuality by a two-thirds vote.

The RNA report also noted that the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal (CORE) was formed and began "to move toward forming a new denomination."

The eighth story on the RNA list noted that several "faith-related organizations" were forced into cutbacks because of the recession. The ELCA churchwide organization was among those affected by reductions. In March the ELCA Church Council reduced the 2009 current fund spending authorization for the churchwide organization by $5.6 million, and cut another $1.9 million from its 2009 World Hunger spending authorization. From November 2008 to March 2009, staff was reduced by about 35 full-time equivalent positions.

For 2010, the Church Council cut $7.7 million from the churchwide organization's current fund spending authorization and reduced staff by nearly 41 full-time equivalent positions.

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