Lutheran Membership Grows
in Third World, Slips in West
utheran church membership soared in Africa and Asia between 2005 and 2006 but continued its steady decline in the modern West, according to the Lutheran World Federation, an international communion of Lutheran churches.
Global membership rose by 467,511, an increase of .71 percent, to just under 66.7 million, according to Lutheran World Federation figures released March 6. The Geneva-based LWF counts 140 member churches, 10 congregations, and one council in 78 countries.
Countries in Asia saw the largest growth, adding 900,000 Lutherans, bringing the total there to 8.2 million. European nations experienced the deepest drop in membership, where the number of Lutherans fell by
more than 566,000 to 37.4 million.
Membership in North American churches fell by 115,293, a drop of about 1.4 percent to just over 5 million. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the LWF's second-largest church with 4.85 million members, lost about 80,000 members.
The Church of Sweden, the world's largest Lutheran church with about 6.9 million members, saw its membership decrease by 99,000.
On the other hand, Africa's Lutheran churches grew by 221,000 members and now total 15.2 million. The Lutheran Church of Rwanda, which has 35,480 members, experienced the greatest growth.
California's Stark Named First `Non-theistic' Member of Congress
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark of California, is the first openly "non-theistic" member of Congress, the Secular Coalition for America announced March 12. The coalition said Stark, who has represented San Francisco's East Bay since 1973, acknowledged his atheism in response to a questionnaire sent to public officials in January.
In a statement, Stark said he is a "Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."
"I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military, and the provision of social service," he said.
Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, said "the only way to counter prejudice against non-theists is for more people to publicly identify as non-theists. Representative Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."
Only 45 percent of Americans said they would vote for a "generally well-qualified" atheist, according to a February Gallup Poll, ranking them lowest on a list that included Mormons (72 percent), candidates on their third marriage (67 percent) and homosexuals (55 percent).
The Washington-based coalition, which lobbies on behalf of atheists, humanists, and other non-theists, said that "few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a non-theist" in response to its survey. The coalition eventually offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist, "or any other kind of non-theist" in public office.
Only three other elected officials agreed to be identified: a school board president in Berkeley, California; a member of a school committee in Maine; and a town meeting member from Massachusetts.
Lori Lipman Brown, a spokesperson for the secular coalition, said her group tallies 30 million non-theists in the U.S. "We seem to be extremely under-represented in elected office," she said.
Canadian Anglicans Mull Gay Unions As Minister Loses License
An Anglican priest in Saskatchewan who faces the loss of his minister's license for performing same-sex marriages may have received an unexpected boost--from his own church.
Meeting over the weekend, the Canadian Anglicans' Council of General Synod, which sets ecclesiastical policy, agreed to present a resolution stating that "the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada."
The resolution, which is at odds with the global Anglican Communion's fight against same-sex marriage and gay clergy, will be submitted to this June's triennial General Synod, the Canadian church's highest decision-making body.
Even if passed, the measure would be too late for the Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck of Saskatoon, who has refused to obey a 2005 church moratorium on sanctifying gay unions.
"I felt unable to say no to those requests," he told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. "That goes against everything else I'm about in my ministry and everything else that the church stands for."
Saskatoon Bishop Rodney Andrews revoked Beck's license to minister in January and issued a temporary license that expires at the end of March. "Shawn has declared his intention to step outside the guidelines and requirements of our church at this time," Andrews said in a statement. "I have offered to extend his license beyond March 31 if he is willing to refrain from performing same-sex marriages."
If Beck's license is not renewed, he will remain a priest but may not preside over baptisms and Communion services unless he receives special permission. His civil license to perform weddings, which is issued by the province, will not be affected.