Smaller, But More Generous: According to the Lutheran Reporter, in 2007 the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) continued a 30-year trend of shrinking membership with the number of baptized members throughout the Synod decreasing by an estimated 34,913 to 2,383,084 and the number of confirmed members declining by 21,719 to 1,835,064. The average attendance at weekly worship services was also down in 2007: 165.7 vs. 172.5 in 2006.
Total contributions, however, rose by an estimated $44,316,144 over contributions for 2006. The average amount given during 2007, per communicant member, is estimated at $762.79, an increase of $32.79 from the previous year.
As of October 14, the web site for the LCMS Ablaze! movement reported that the number of unreached or uncommitted people with whom the Gospel has been shared and reported is 9,358,568. The objective of Ablaze! is to share the Gospel with 100 million "unreached or uncommitted" people by 2017.
Christians for Blasphemy: Sometime in December, the General Assembly of the United Nations will probably vote on the 2008 version of a non-binding resolution to encourage religious tolerance. The General Assembly has re-affirmed religious tolerance annually since 1965. The most recent version of this resolution is Combating Defamation of Religions (Resolution 62/154) adopted by the General Assembly on December 18, 2007 by a vote of 108 to 51 with 25 abstentions. Most nations in Europe and North America voted against the measure.
Perhaps in preparation for this year's vote on a similar resolution, news stories have begun to appear in which "Religious Freedom Experts," who all seem to be Christian, denounce the U.N.'s recent religious tolerance measures as "Anti-Blasphemy" resolutions whose real purpose is to silence critics of Islam. (The terms blasphemy and anti-blasphemy do not occur in the text of the resolution.) See for example the October 6 report "U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution Curtails Free Speech, Critics Say" from FOX News or Freedom Experts Criticize U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution from the Christian Post. Somewhere there is a common source for all this reportage: they all include a mistaken identification of the resolution in question as Resolution 62/145 (Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination).
An October 9 story in the Mission Network News is typical. Carl A. Moeller, CEO of Open Doors ("Serving persecuted Christians worldwide") speculates on the effect of the U.N. measure on evangelism:
This anti-blasphemy resolution is mostly seen to be putting a 'chilling effect' on Christian work and outreach around the world, and that is a very troubling development for us.
The slope is so slippery because everything that purports to criticize Islam is considered 'blasphemy.' Anything that promotes another religious viewpoint, like Christianity, is considered 'blasphemy.' It really becomes the ultimate weapon against free religious speech around the world.
[P]eople need to get involved with organizations that are standing up to draw attention to the anti-blasphemy laws...to make true religious freedom a hallmark of international religious liberty and not a sham of anti-blasphemy laws that the UN is passing.
Mr. Moeller is also quoted in the Christian Post article mentioned above, though in that report he is identified as Carol Moeller.
If you feel to brush up on the subject of blasphemy, we recommend Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History by David Nash.
Connecticut Says Yes: On Friday October 10, the Supreme Court of Connecticut, in a 4 to 3 decision, ruled that homosexual couples have the right to marry. The ruling will take effect on October 28. Sinfully Delicious: You'll be the envy of everyone in your lectionary study group, and your Fair Trade Coffee will be sinfully delicious because you're drinking it from the Official LutheranConfessions.com MUG! Be the Life of the Party:
Justice Richard N. Palmer, writing for the majority, argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples would create separate standards.
Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice.
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In response, the Connecticut Catholic Conference said the decision creates an “inevitable conflict between people of faith, the natural law and the authority of the State” and called for a Constitutional Convention to overturn the decision.
According to the Associated Press, the Connecticut court’s ruling marks the first time a state that had previously offered an alternative to marriage was instructed by a court that civil unions are not enough to protect the rights of same-sex couples.
Bishop Walks, Runs, Eats: We understand that the peripatetic bishop of the Central Great Lakes Synod (CGLS) Rev. Thorvald ("Wally") Noe-Effingway crossed synod lines last weekend to participate in Walk, Eat, Run in Madison, WI. The October 11 event was a fund raiser for Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools which works to achieve "safe middle schools and high schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youths and all students." It is not known if Bishop Noe-Effingway raced against South Central Synod of Wisconsin bishop Rev. Bruce H. Burnside. The official results for the 5K event do not list times for either bishop, perhaps by mutual agreement.
Fresno Priest Opposes Prop. 8, Loses Job: On Sunday October 5, Father Geoffrey Farrow told parishioners at St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno, California that he opposed Proposition 8, California's initiative to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.
On October 10, Bishop John Steinbock of the Diocese of Fresno suspended Fr. Farrow and sent an open letter to members of the congregation:
I do want to apologize for the actions of Fr. Farrow at the 11 o'clock service last Sunday. Without any previous notification, he has left the active ministry. I must correct his presentation of the teaching of the Church last Sunday. He was not in accord with the teaching of the Church handed down to us from the Apostles.
If You Can't Say Something Nice: The Lutheran Office of Public Policy-California has published recommendations for the propositions that will appear on California's November ballot and decide to issue no recommendation on Proposition 8 (Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry):
Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot by opponents of same-sex marriage in response to the recent California Supreme Court decision which recognized the right of individuals to form a family regardless of gender. The phrase on the ballot title, "eliminates right," itself is seen as illegitimate by the measure’s proponents. The ELCA Social Message, Sexuality—Some Common Convictions (1996), understands marriage to be a “lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman.” Nevertheless, there was no sentiment on the Policy Council of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy to support Prop. 8; many members are strongly opposed. The Policy Council encourages respectful dialogue and moral deliberation, public witness of individual and congregational stances on Prop. 8, an understanding that proponents and opponents both seek what is best for children in a marriage, a careful distinction between civil law and church policy and practice, and participation in the process leading to a new social statement on sexuality.
But If You Can Say Something Nice: The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), an interfaith network of leaders from pro-LGBT faith, spiritual and religious organizations will hold a press conference at 10AM on Monday Oct 20 at city hall in San Francisco. The event is an opportunity for religious leaders to express their opposition to Proposition 8 and we understand that the Lutheran contingent will feature Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Mark Holmerud and Lutherans Concerned (LCNA) Executive Director Emily Eastwood. Pastors who are able are invited to stand with the bishop as he delivers his statement.
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