Church and State (Again!): In a letter dated Feb. 20, 2008, the Internal Revenue Service notified the United Church of Christ's national offices in Cleveland, Ohio, that the agency was initiating a church tax inquiry "because reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status." The incident under investigation is an address by U.S. Senator Barack Obama to the UCC's 2007 General Synod.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president said: "The very fact of an IRS investigation is disturbing. When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities. We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated"
Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each speaker was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.
"The United Church of Christ took great care to ensure that Senator Obama's appearance before the 50th anniversary General Synod met appropriate legal and moral standards," Thomas told United Church News.
Before the senator's remarks, the 10,000 UCC members present were advised that Obama's appearance was not to be a campaign-related event and that electioneering would not be tolerated. No political leaflets, signs or placards were allowed.
Read the whole story.
We wonder if a similar investigation might not be pending for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) whose 2007 national convention received a brief video-taped address from President George W. Bush, a non-Lutheran.
More Lutherans Worldwide: The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has published an updated "Lutheran census." According to the latest LWF statistics, membership in the organization's 140 churches, 10 recognized congregations, and one recognized council in 78 countries worldwide rose by a total of 1,640,700, to reach 68,322,299, an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year. In 2006, LWF member churches had some 66.7 million members worldwide, up from 66.2 million in 2005.
Over the past year, the total membership of all Lutheran churches worldwide rose by 1,623,024 to approximately 71.8 million (71,823,423), an increase of 2.3 percent. In 2006, all Lutheran churches worldwide counted some 70.2 million members, up from 69.8 million in 2005. The number of Lutherans in non-LWF member churches fell by 17,676, or 0.5 percent, to reach 3,501,124.
With an increase of 368,861 members, or 8.2 percent, to 4,869,157, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, is now the second largest worldwide. The Church of Sweden remains the world’s biggest Lutheran church with 6.9 million members.
Over the past year, LWF church membership in Africa rose by 1,926,407 or 12.7 percent to reach a total of 17,129,230. The membership of non-LWF Lutheran churches in Africa remained unchanged at 56,069.
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The total number of Lutherans in Asia rose 101,439 in 2007, an increase of 1.22 percent. Of a total 8,415,776 Lutherans in Asia, 8,275,418 belonged to LWF member churches, which corresponds to a 1.24 percent increase or 101,258 members.
In Europe, the total membership of Lutheran churches declined by 292,117, or 0.78 percent, to reach 37,177,468. Membership in LWF member churches went down by 292,031, also 0.78 percent, to 37,137,374.
A slight decreases in total membership was reported by Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean. A drop of 2.34 percent among LWF member churches in the region put the total at 822,074. Non-LWF churches registered 5,633 new members, a 2 percent increase, to reach 282,120.
Membership totals for North American Lutheran churches fell by 98,652 or 1.23 percent in 2007. Of a total 7,940,686 Lutherans, 4,958,203 belonged to LWF member churches. The region’s LWF member churches registered a decrease of 75,248 members, or 1.49 percent.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the LWF’s third largest member church, recorded 4,774,203 members in 2007, a decrease of 76,573, or 1.6 percent.
Bold Women's Day, 2008: Bold Women's Day was celebrated in ELCa congregations on Sunday February 24, 2008, and we apologize for not letting you know ahead of time.
This year's observance featured certificates (in two languages, three colors, and three file formats) to honor bold women in local communities and a litany of thanks for the gift of bold, written by Valora K Starr. The litany makes the connection between contemporary bold women and Biblical examples of bold womanhood (Anna, Tirzah, Hagar, Esther, the unnamed woman in ill health who reached out to touch Jesus' robe, the daughter's of Phillip, Eunice and Lois, Mary and Mary Magdalene).
March is Women's History Month, and Women of the ELCA has made some special resources available to help local groups commemorate the contribution of women to the ELCA.
The Jens: We did a quick follow up on the Jens: Pr. Jen Rude (upper left in photo) and Pr Jen Nagel (lower right in photo). The Jens are both rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), both newly ordained, and both serving ELCA congregations. We wondered what, if any, acknowledgment might have been made by their synods (Metro Chicago and Minneapolis Area respectively). Alas, the Metro Chicago synod newsletter has not yet listed Pr. Rude as a newly ordained rostered leader in the synod, and the Minneapolis Area website still refers to synod council member Pr. Nagel as Ms.
To Resolve or Not to Resolve?: We hear that Bishops throughout the ELCA are suggesting to anyone who will listen that resolutions addressing "sexuality issues" not be brought to synod assemblies in 2008.
Some thoughtful observers have noted however, that postponing resolutions from synods until the 2009 synod assembly season (April - June) means that these resolutions would come too late to be considered by the ELCA Church Council which will do much of its 2009 Churchwide Assembly planning at its March, 2009 meeting.
No one wants to find out in August of 2009 that their proposals can't be acted upon because the Church Council wasn't given adequate notice.
We don't know if St. Paul Area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness is among the bishops discouraging memorials on sexuality issues this year, but on February 24 the South Central Conference of that synod approved three resolutions for this year's Synod Assembly, expecting that, if approved by the synod assembly, the resolutions would come to the ELCA Church Council in time to be considered for the agenda of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. The resolutions are:
A Memorial to Amend Policies on the ELCA’s Ministry Rosters would direct the relevant churchwide units to amend their respective policy documents to open the ELCA ministry roster to qualified people in committed same-gender partnerships.
A Memorial Encouraging Same-Gender Couples’ Promises of Lifelong Fidelity requests the development of churchwide resources to support pastors and congregations in affirming same gender partnerships and providing pastoral care for same-gender couples.
A Resolution Against Violence and Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity calls in part for the Church council
"...to amend Church Council Action CC93.03.37 so that it incorporates gender identity along with sexual orientation in terms of the ELCA’s (a) opposition to harassment or assault as well as (b) support for legislation protecting civil rights and prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment, and public services and accommodations..."
The St. Paul Area Synod Assembly will be May 30-31 at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville.
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