The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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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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December 21, 2005

Top religion stories of 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI headed a list of top religon stories in 2005, released Dec. 13 by the Religion Newswriters Association (www.rna.org). The list is compiled each year by association members—U.S. journalists who write about religion. The RNA lists the top stories of 2005 in this order:

1. Pope John Paul’s death.

2. The Roman Catholic cardinals’ election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.  

3. National controversy in the U.S. around the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died amid debate about the removal of her feeding tube.

4. Religious efforts to respond to such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. and the December 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia and parts of Africa.

5. Continuing debate over homosexuality within Protestant churches, including the ELCA’s defeat of a recommendation for ordination of gays.

6. Debate within the U.S. on the merits of evolution and the theory of “intelligent design.”

7. The U.S. Supreme Court’s approval of posting the Ten Commandments outside the state capitol in Texas and disapproval of posting them inside Kentucky courthouses.

8. Religious reaction to President George W. Bush’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, including evangelical opposition to the nomination, later withdrawn, of Harriet Miers.

9. The Vatican’s release of a statement on homosexuality.  

10. Evangelist Billy Graham’s last crusade in New York City.

11. Various faith-based groups praising Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a major step toward Middle East peace. Jews and conservative Christians criticizing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ for moving toward divestment from companies said to be contributing to Israeli acts against Palestinians.

12. Church leaders call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other troops from Iraq, and reports of Quran-trashing by U.S. troops, later found inaccurate, spur riots in Afghanistan.

13. Same-sex marriages are approved in Canada, while moves are made in several U.S. states to ban such marriages within state constitutions. While the governor vetoes a bill to approve them in California, a ban on same-sex unions fails in Massachusetts. Connecticut OKs civil unions.

14. California megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, takes the spotlight, especially after Ashley Smith uses his book to help her escape from an accused quadruple-killer in Atlanta.

15. Catholic dioceses continue to struggle with clergy sex abuse payments. A report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, indicates 5,000 priests abused nearly 12,000 minors, with estimated costs topping $1 billion. The Portland Diocese (the first to declare bankruptcy) releases its reorganization plan.

16. Stem-cell research continues to be debated in Congress and two-thirds of the state legislatures.

17. The U.S. Air Force develops guidelines on religious activity after complaints about evangelizing by staff at its academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

18. Brother Roger, 90, founder of the Taize community in France, is stabbed to death by a woman during an evening prayer service.

19. Democrats, looking to 2008, hold conferences on rethinking how to reach out to people of faith.

20. Interest in C.S. Lewis’ life and thought rises with the release of the Disney film The Chronicles of Narnia.

Elizabeth Hunter edited this article for The Lutheran.

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December 21, 2005

Lutheran Disaster Response receives $6 million

Lutheran Disaster Response has just received a $6 million grant from Katrina Aid Today, a national consortium of service organizations.

Read more at LDR's Web site > >

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December 20, 2005

LWF President responds to Iranian president's remarks

The Lutheran World Federation has posted an article in which ELCA Presiding Bishop and LWF President Mark S. Hanson responds to remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

An excerpt:

In a statement dated 19 December 2005, Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), affirms the historical record of the Holocaust under legal and scholarly scrutiny. "We know and grieve the awful truth of the Shoah. No reasonable person can stand by while any nation’s leader makes such outrageous and unacceptable claims," he says.

Read the entire article at the LWF site > > >

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December 19, 2005

ELCA presiding bishop thanks members of Congress

Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, sent a thank-you letter Dec. 6 to members of Congress who voted against spending cuts to human services programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid in the budget reconciliation process.

David Beckmann (left), an ELCA pastor and president of Bread for the World; Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and Mary Nelson, ELCA member and retired president of Bethel New Life Inc., Chicago, protest what they consider an immoral budget and tax agenda that cuts spending on the poor and provides tax breaks for the rich.

The action was convened in front of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., by Wallis and Call to Renewal, a group of national faith leaders, clergy and faith-based providers of services to the poor. Bob Edgar, President National Council of Churches, also participated. During the event, 114 religious leaders were arrested while kneeling in prayer.
“I wish to thank you for not closing your ears to the cries of the poor during this Advent season,” Hanson wrote.

The budget reconciliation process is comprised of House and Senate bills for spending and tax cuts. Tax cuts for the wealthiest 3 percent of U.S. taxpayers are being proposed by Congress along with spending cuts in human services programs for the next 5 to 10 years. The spending cuts have passed in both the House and the Senate, and differences in the bills are currently being resolved in conference committee. The tax cuts have passed in the Senate, but have not been voted on in the House.

The federal budget is “a concrete expression of our shared moral values and priorities,” Hanson said. “As the number of people living in poverty and without insurance continues to climb at an alarming rate, I believe it is absolutely inexcusable to cut vital programs and services for them in order to leave more money in the pockets of those who need it least.”

Hanson, with all ELCA 65 synod bishops, signed a letter sent last month to senators and representatives, urging members of Congress to vote against the spending cuts and tax cuts proposed in the budget reconciliation process. “Programs such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families help to keep struggling families together and assist low-income working families in moving to higher economic ground,” the November letter said. “This is not the time to cut such important programs while using the cuts to pay for tax breaks for those who don’t need them.”

To those who voted against the proposed spending cuts, Hanson said in his thank-you letter, “In this season of Advent and Christmas, Christians are called to joyfully welcome the Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world anew. This Savior was brought into the world to bring Good News to the poor. Your opposition to these cuts shows your commitment to also bring good news to the poor.”

“I trust I can count on your continued support for the most vulnerable citizens of our society as this process continues,” Hanson concluded the letter.

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