26 April 2014

Baptisms mutually recognized in European and American churches

Baptisms mutually recognized in European and American churches (World Council of Churches, 17 April 2014)

On the day after Easter, a day on which many Christian traditions receive catechumens through the rite of baptism, the Swiss churches (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Methodist, Old Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran) will sign an agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism. The signing ceremony, the culmination of an intense ecumenical interchange sponsored by the Council of Christian Churches in Switzerland, will take place in Riva San Vitale, Ticino, site of the oldest Christian building in Switzerland. Among the many divisive historical issues about baptism have been the essential elements of the rite and its sacramental character, the baptismal formula, the validity of infant baptisms, and the question of rebaptism.

Anglican-Roman Catholic theological consultation releases landmark document

Anglican-Roman Catholic theological consultation releases landmark document (Anglican Communion News Service, 23 April 2014)

The Anglican-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the U.S.A. (ARC-USA) has released a keynote document, Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness. Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness was approved at the ARC-USA meeting February 24-25 at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA. The meeting was chaired by Bishop Bauerschmidt; the Roman Catholic co-chairman, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana, was unable to attend for health reasons.

23 April 2014

Evangelical Pastor Argues for Full LGBT Inclusion: "I Think It's Inevitable"

Evangelical Pastor Argues for Full LGBT Inclusion: "I Think It's Inevitable", by Candace Chellew-Hodge (Religious Dispatches, 22 April 2014)

It's a familiar story: A church is torn apart by a moral issue. On one side, a group is arguing for strict adherence to scripture; on the other side, members argue that biblical adages were meant for an earlier time. The story is so familiar, in fact, that it is actually in the Christian scriptures. Paul's ancient answers to congregational controversies inform a new book written by Ken Wilson, an evangelical pastor in Michigan. In A Letter to My Congregation Wilson argues that the ancient issues of food and Sabbath are analogous to today's moral struggle over the rightful place of LGBT people in both church and society.

As a pastor in a conservative denomination, Wilson's journey from a "consensus" approach to full acceptance for LGBT people has not been easy. But just as a lot was at stake in Paul's era, so too in today's culture wars. The answer Wilson offers is the same one Paul offered those in Rome: stop judging one another and live in peace.

19 April 2014

Palestinian Christians 'bitter and left out' of Easter celebrations

Palestinian Christians 'bitter and left out' of Easter celebrations, by Dalia Hatuqa (Al Jazeera America, 19 April 2014)

"It is not fair," said Rand Tawasha, a 21-year-old student from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, referring to Israeli restrictions on movement that often prohibit Christians' access to holy sites in nearby Jerusalem. The Holy City has been out of bounds for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967, when Israel defied international law to occupy and effectively annex East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sacred sites. Today, Palestinians’ only means to reach the city is through a special permit issued by Israeli authorities.

China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years

China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years, by Tom Phillips (The Telegraph, 19 April 2014)

It is said to be China's biggest church and on Easter Sunday thousands of worshippers will flock to this Asian mega-temple to pledge their allegiance – not to the Communist Party, but to the Cross. The 5,000-capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206ft crucifix that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a "miracle that such a small town was able to build such a grand church". The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China's breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest Christian congregations on earth.

Concern rises in Wenzhou as Christianity booms in capitalist fashion

Freshly daubed in red paint on the left façade of Sanjiang Church in Yongjia county, Wenzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang Province, is a large Chinese character chai, meaning "to demolish." A symbol of China's rapid urbanization in the past three decades, the same character has been painted on the walls of old neighborhoods, factory buildings and illegal structures all over China before they made way for new high-rises, highways and commercial complexes. But a province-wide controversy was triggered when the same fate befell the brand new Protestant church early this April, in a city where the large Christian population, about 15 percent of a total of 9 million, has provided the nickname "China's Jerusalem." The local government has ordered the gigantic church, rising over 50 meters from a stretch of farmland, and one-storey houses to be dismantled. Construction of the Gothic-style church, with its pointed arches, ornate façade, high spire and pinnacles, has already cost more than 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) over three years and is still ongoing.

China denies church ‘demolition campaign’ but says Christianity’s growth ‘excessive’

Communist officials in China have denied waging a “demolition campaign” against churches in the country’s most Christian regions, after reportedly ordering a dozen to be destroyed. The churches - in the eastern province of Zhejiang - are currently facing demolition or having their crosses removed, activists claim. Other churches are said to have been ordered to make themselves “less conspicuous” by turning their lights off at night. Local preachers accuse Party officials in Zhejiang, a wealthy coastal province, of “gross interference” in Church affairs and have urged them to abandon what they believe is an orchestrated campaign.

18 April 2014

These Haunting Photos Capture The Daily Reality Of A Dark Episode In U.S. History

In 1942, still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered thousands of Japanese Americans to leave their homes behind and take up residence in remote detainment camps. About two thirds of them were U.S. citizens. The most famous of the camps, located in California's Owens Valley, was called the Manzanar War Relocation Center.

Starting in the fall of 1943, photographer Ansel Adams chronicled the day-to-day existence of the people held at Manzanar. He was distressed that the lives of American citizens had been uprooted in such a way, and strove to capture on film the humanity of the detainees as they faced dehumanizing circumstances. "Nothing is more permanent about Manzanar than the dust which has lodged in its tar-papered barracks, except the indelible impression incised on the lives of thousands of its inhabitants," Adams wrote.

Justin Welby: the hard-nosed realist holding together the Church of England

Justin Welby now looks like the best archbishop of Canterbury the Church of England could possibly have, but when he was appointed he was almost unknown, and had only been a diocesan bishop for nine months. What got him the job – after he had made the shortlist – was that he was the only candidate who did not deny or flinch from the internal research suggesting that the church would dwindle, on existing trends, from about one million committed members to 150,000 by 2050. His first year in the job has been marked by tremendous energy and rather more physical and moral courage than is expected of an archbishop, but there is a tremendous sense of urgency underlying this display.

Rome and Tokyo close in on agreement over Missal translation

For years work has been underway to revise the Japanese Missal, but the task of updating the 1978 edition has proven to be a thorny problem. The work is daunting. The goal is not so much a word-for-word, literal translation as one based upon a close examination of the cultural background and the particular linguistic characteristics of Japan. The actions and gestures used in the liturgy require equally painstaking care. Perhaps the biggest complication has been that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, whose approval is required for any new translation, has until now requested translations that adhere closely to the Latin original.

Recently however, “the atmosphere in the Congregation has changed dramatically,” said Bishop Masahiro Umemura of Yokohama, president of the Committee for the Liturgy at the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Japan (CBCJ). On March 18, Bishop Umemura visited the Congregation with fellow committee member Fr Franco Sottocornola of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers and committee secretary Toshimitsu Miyakoshi to submit revised editions of liturgical documents including “The Order of the Mass and Eucharistic Prayers 1 – 4” and “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal.” They also gave a report on the current state of affairs in Japan.

17 April 2014

101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices

“I’m just tired of only hearing white, mainstream evangelical voices,” a good friend lamented to me recently. “Why aren’t voices from other backgrounds listened to in the same way as the white voices?” I heard the weariness of consistent exclusion in his question, and frankly, wondered the same thing myself.

When I saw Rachel Held Evans’ list of 101 Christian Women Speakers a few months ago, I was struck most by their lack of representation and recognition in the mainstream white evangelical Christian culture. Looking at the speakers at so many Christian conferences and gatherings, it would appear that white males are the only people qualified to speak from a place of faith. Rachel’s list showed us that this was not so.

As I researched this list, I was struck by how many great voices from diverse backgrounds are speaking in the public sphere through all sorts of mediums – writing, music, art, speaking. It is my hope that this list will broaden the conversation even further and be a resource to help distribute the collective voice beyond only one dominant cultural perspective in the public Christian sphere.

Anti-Colonial Anarchism vs. Decolonization

Many forms of resistance to colonialism and empire are necessary and important, and this poster should not be interpreted as dissuading those forms of solidarity and resistance. Nor should anti-colonial consciousness and decolonization be thought of as mutually exclusive forms of action. They often co-exist as “named” movements side by side. This poster seeks to point out that they may not be equivalent, and there are some critical differences between the two.

Medieval Islam (Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine)

Islamic cultures are among the most interesting, complex, and dynamic in the world. At the same time, they are among the least known in the West. From its dramatic rise in the seventh century A. D. to the present, Islamic civilization has covered a large part of the globe, incorporating many subcultures and languages into its orbit, and vigorously engaging the peoples around it.

Medicine was a central part of medieval Islamic culture. Disease and health were of importance to rich and poor alike, as indeed they are in every civilization. Responding to circumstances of time and place, Islamic physicians and scholars developed a large and complex medical literature exploring and synthesizing the theory and practice of medicine. This extensive literature was not specialized in the sense that modern medical literature is. Rather, it was integrated with learned traditions in philosophy, natural science, mathematics, astrology, alchemy, and religion.

15 April 2014

Statue of a Homeless Jesus Startles a Wealthy Community

Statue of a Homeless Jesus Startles a Wealthy Community, by John Burnett (NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, 13 April 2014)

A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church. The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban's Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes. Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away. The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn't.

Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders

Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders, by Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy (Religion Dispatches, 11 April 2014)

Several times, I have encountered folks who wanted to host their own Passover seders. Their logic is that since Jesus was celebrating Pesach during the week when he was arrested, tried, executed and resurrected, in a desire to be more Christ-like, they too should celebrate the holiday. Christians may desire to become more Christ-like or to develop deeper understanding of Christian roots, but hosting a Jewish Passover outside of the context of Jewish relationships does more harm than good. Christians celebrating their own Passover do unwitting harm to the Jewish people because they ignore centuries of persecution of Jews—and they do harm to themselves by ignoring their real-life Jewish neighbors, treating them as relics rather than people.

13 April 2014

No "Christian Seders," Please!

No "Christian Seders," Please! (Sicut Locutus Est, 11 April 2014)

To hold a Seder as a way to commemorate the “background” meal Jesus shared with his disciples and which he “turned into” a Communion meal (as I have heard some Christians say) is anachronistic—it is a tradition Jesus did not know. More precisely and significantly, however (as I said above), it is a tradition that developed into its present forms after Jews and Christians had taken separate religious paths—a tradition, therefore, that Jews and those who became Christian never shared in the first place. It belongs to Jews only and distinguishes them as Jews in ways that make any Christian usage of it seem presumptuous, especially given the fraught and violent history of Christian usurpation and replacement of all things Jewish that we call “supersessionism.”  Given this history and this ongoing supplanting of the Jewish covenant, I wonder if we would do better to spend our time reflecting on what often befell Jews in Holy Week in many places in medieval Western and Eastern Europe—the pogrom—than to spend time appropriating one of their characteristic rituals and making it our own.

The Next America (Pew Research)

The Next America, by Paul Taylor (Pew Research, 10 April 2014)

Demographic transformations are dramas in slow motion. America is in the midst of two right now. Our population is becoming majority non-white at the same time a record share is going gray. Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era. The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.

The Pew Research Center tracks these transformations with public opinion surveys and demographic and economic analyses. Our new book, The Next America, draws on this research to paint a data-rich portrait of the many ways our nation is changing and the challenges we face in the decades ahead.

Global Religious Diversity (Pew Research)

Global Religious Diversity (Pew Research, 4 April 2014)

Comparing religious diversity across countries presents many challenges, starting with the definition of diversity. Social scientists have conceived of diversity in a variety of ways, including the degree to which a society is split into distinct groups; minority group size (in share and/or absolute number); minority group influence (the degree to which multiple groups are visible and influential in civil society); and group dominance (the degree to which one or more groups dominate society). Each of these approaches can be applied to the study of religious diversity. This study, however, takes a relatively straightforward approach to religious diversity. It looks at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, as of 2010.2 The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on a 10-point Religious Diversity Index.

Confucian Comeback: An Interview with Fenggang Yang

Confucian Comeback: An Interview with Fenggang Yang, by G. Wright Doyle (China Source, 13 March 2014)

Professor Fenggang Yang provides insightful answers to questions about Confucianism. His comments address topics such as the groups of people among whom Confucianism is growing, the influence of New Confucianists from overseas on Chinese society and thought, and concrete signs that Confucianism is growing in China.

Contemporary Confucian Revival and Its Interaction with Christianity in China

Chinese society today has turned fairly religious with Protestant Christianity and Confucianism experiencing the most growth in recent decades. As these two traditions interact more and more, the tension and rivalry between them intensifies. Dr. Yao looks at the roles that each plays in today's China along with the place of the so-called New Confucian Movement. As the current Confucian revival represents an attempt to regain Confucian dominance in Chinese society, what is the response of Christianity?

One of the most significant consequences of China's remarkable reform and liberalization of social life since the 1980s is a massive revival of religion. All the religious traditions existing prior to the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) have been making a comeback and once again have become the shaping forces in the spiritual life of Chinese people. It is so much so that Chinese society today has turned fairly religious. Among all the religious traditions, Protestant Christianity and Confucianism have experienced the most spectacular growth in the recent decades.

Global Catholicism: The Church is Changing, But Not How We Might Think

Global Catholicism: The Church is Changing, But Now How We Might Think, by Jeremy Zipple (The Jesuit Post, 24 February 2014)

After the conversation with Ignace, I resolved to poll every non-Western member of my community regarding the most urgent problems confronting the church in his home country. I polled them all – Japanese, Indonesian, Singaporean, Nigerian, Kenyan, Chilean, Brazilian, Tanzanian, Turkish, Mexican, Syrian, Rwandan, Filipino. Poverty made the top #1 or #2 of all but three lists. Other top vote-getters among the Africans included: tribal tensions, HIV/AIDS, reconciliation after genocide, the rise of an aggressive form of evangelical Protestantism. Central and South Americans often mentioned evangelicals, drugs, and lack of educational opportunities. Many of the Asians mentioned poverty, too, as well as interreligious issues, i.e., the challenges of co-existing in multi-religious societies in which Catholic Christians were minorities. Clericalism and lay-cleric tensions were mentioned by nearly everyone I talked to.

All this polling took several days, and led to several other late-night conversations with community mates. It wasn’t until a week or so later, in a quiet moment of reflection, that I began to realize this exercise was affecting me in ways I’d not anticipated. Frankly, the whole thing had depressed me, and also left me feeling guilty at my ignorance. From the men I lived with, I heard anecdote after anecdote of personal and communal hardships, of Catholics navigating problems so much more pressing than those I faced, in parts of the world I’d struggle to locate on a map. What shook me again and again was how removed their concerns were from the ones I spend most of my time debating on Twitter and at the dinner table. There was not a single mention of contraception (except obliquely, in relation to the HIV/AIDS question) – nor women’s ordination, abortion, liturgical disputes, or religious liberty (a few mentions of all-out religious persecution though – of the death-threat variety.)

Why Pope Francis is going to South Korea

Why Pope Francis is going to South Korea, by John L. Allen, Jr. (Boston Globe, 11 March 2014)

Although Pope Francis has said he doesn’t really like to travel, he’s set to log some serious miles in 2014. He’s already bound for Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan in late May, and on Monday the Vatican announced the pontiff will also visit South Korea August 14-18. Popes receive more invitations to travel than they can possibly accommodate, so they have to be selective. They make outings which underscore their priorities or allow them to make specific points. In the case of Korea, the trip provides Francis a chance to accomplish three things at once.

Meet the Philippine Pope Francis

Meet the Philippine Pope Francis, by John L. Allen, Jr. (Boston Globe, 15 March 2014)

Before last year’s papal election, Tagle was known as the face of a distinctly Asian form of Catholicism. He rejects ostentation in dress and manner, preferring to be called by his nickname “Chito” rather than formal titles. He emphasizes the need for the church to listen as much as it talks, and he exudes a sort of slow-burn charisma that doesn’t smack you in the face so much as it gradually envelops you. Today, there’s an easier way to say all that: He’s the Asian Pope Francis. Francis clearly likes what he sees in the popular Philippine prelate, who at 56 is the fourth-youngest cardinal in the world. The pope recently appointed Tagle one of three copresidents for a critically important summit of bishops in the fall. Francis also reaches out informally.