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What is the truth about the number of Christian martyrs? Top 5 news stories

Have 100,000 Christians died as martyrs? • Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools • Woman Turned Away From Blood Center Because She Won’t Remove Hijab • Jewish man awarded $900G over Nazi gas chamber ‘jokes’ • Praying Bus Driver Fired For Religion On School Bus

Last week’s top news, from our perspective (on Tuesday because we were closed for Veteran’s Day yesterday):

Have 100,000 Christians died as martyrs?

Is there a global war on Christians? It is claimed that an average of 100,000 Christians have died because of their faith every year for the past decade – and that this is an ‘unreported catastrophe’.

The Vatican has called it a credible number. But is it?

Ruth Alexander and Wesley Stephenson fact-check the widely-quoted statistic.

Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.

A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.

For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Woman Turned Away From Blood Center Because She Won’t Remove Hijab

Memphis mother Keajuana Allen said she gives blood regularly at Tennessee Blood Services at 807 Poplar, but she was turned away Wednesday.

“She told me I had to remove my scarf and I told her, ‘Well you know I can’t.’ I said, ‘Why today, do I have to remove my scarf?’ I said, ‘Due to religious purposes, I am not to be uncovered,’” said Allen after she was asked to remove her hijab before giving blood Wednesday.

Jewish man awarded $900G over Nazi gas chamber ‘jokes’

A delivery man for the midtown (Manhattan) restaurant Mangia 57 has won a $900,000 jury verdict, payback for the anti-Semitic harassment heaped upon him by three supervisors at the eatery.

Nightshift manager Artur Zbozien often “passed gas” in front of Wiercinski, and would then joke that the gas was Zyklon B, the poison used in Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust, according to the Brooklyn federal court lawsuit.

Praying Bus Driver Fired For Religion On School Bus

School bus driver George Nathaniel III was fired last week for inviting the children on his routes to pray with him each morning, despite being repeatedly asked by his company to stop, reports CBS Local.

The school district of Burnsville, Minnesota complained to his employers, Durham School Services, who proceeded to give Nathaniel a warning and assign him two new bus routes serving Edward D. Neill Elementary School and Metcalf Junior High School. However, Nathaniel refused to comply with their direction and said, “I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray,” reports the Star Tribune.

A scary week of hate and violence: Top 5 News Stories

Scores Are Killed by Suicide Bomb Attack at Historic Church in Pakistan  Kenya: 'If You Were Muslim They Let You Go Sikh Columbia Professor, Attacked In Possible Hate Crime Navy Yard shooting puts Buddhism in spotlight: Column Virginia GOP Official Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Pope Joke

Last week's top news, from our perspective:

Scores Are Killed by Suicide Bomb Attack at Historic Church in Pakistan

A suicide attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.

The attack occurred as worshipers left All Saints Church in the old quarter of the regional capital, Peshawar, after a service on Sunday morning. Up to 600 people had attended and were leaving to receive free food being distributed on the lawn outside when two explosions ripped through the crowd.
 

Kenya: 'If You Were Muslim They Let You Go

Witnesses to the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi say gunmen executed anyone who could not recite an Islamic prayer.

Saadia Ahmed, a radio presenter from Nairobi, said: "We heard three explosions outside the building then all of a sudden we heard gunshots and people ducked down.

"A lot of people were shot while they were trying to escape.

"I saw one of the gunmen with an AK-47 and later two of them were talking and it sounded like Somali or Arabic."

Ms Ahmed said the attackers released people who were able to prove they could speak Arabic. The current death toll stands at 68.

Sikh Columbia Professor, Attacked In Possible Hate Crime

A Columbia University professor was assaulted on Saturday night in what police say is being investigated as a hate crime.

According to a New York Police Department source, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who is Sikh and wears a turban and a beard, was attacked at 8:15 p.m. while walking along 110th Street near Lennox Avenue in upper Manhattan. An unknown suspect or suspects shouted anti-Muslim statements, knocked the professor down and punched him numerous times in the face.

Navy Yard shooting puts Buddhism in spotlight: Column

Aaron Alexis allegedly shot and killed 12 people in cold blood before being killed himself by police on Monday at the Washington Navy Yard.

Alexis was a government contractor and former Navy reservist. But was also a Buddhist who, according to news reports, chanted frequently, wore an amulet of the Buddha around his neck, and regularly attended services at Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center in Fort Worth, Texas. How are we to make sense of this anomaly — a follower of the Buddha who shoots to kill?

Our stereotype of Buddhists as peacemakers is not unfounded. The Buddha was by all accounts a man of peace, and ahimsa (non-violence) has long been a Buddhist value.

Virginia GOP Official Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Pope Joke

A GOP official in Virginia refused to apologize for an anti-Semitic joke, although the party’s candidate for governor called it inappropriate.

“I did not tell an anti-Semitic joke,” John Whitbeck, the Republican Party’s chairman in its 10th Congressional District, in northern Virginia, told the Free Beacon on Wednesday. “I told a joke I heard from a priest at a church service.”

Whitbeck, introducing Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general and GOP candidate for governor, at a rally on Tuesday related a joke with a punchline that had Jews seeking payment from the Vatican for the Last Supper.

Christians Among the Main Losers of the Egyptian Coup

In the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution and amid the ongoing turmoil, there are many losers. But Coptic Christians have been at particular risk and are being singled out as convenient scapegoats. The result? A frighteningly violent toll on this beleaguered minority. One that the international community must not ignore.

News reports are alarming. In one part of Egypt, mobs have set upon Christians with machetes, hacking them to death. In another, a rampaging mob set fire to over 30 homes and businesses. And in Minya, a mob has essentially driven the entire Christian community out and destroyed all of the property that was left behind.

Sectarian divisions have a long history in Egypt and, indeed, the Middle East generally. But these crimes are being driven by the ouster of Morsi.

Many Egyptians sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood believe that Copts are primarily responsible for the overthrow of the Morsi government. But while important representatives of the Christian community did support the coup and Copts were among the street protesters who helped bring down the government, this belief is not true. The protesters who brought down the Morsi government represented many sectors. Christians are being blamed primarily because their religious identity makes them an easy and identifiable target in Egyptian society.  

It is important to note that it is not the Muslim Brotherhood itself that is calling for violence against Christians. In fact, under the Morsi government, though the number of blasphemy cases prosecuted against Christians increased, President Morsi also appointed Christians to government posts and took a relatively conciliatory tone toward the community.

It is the Salafist contingents who tend to have a much more hardline approach to the Christian community in the country, and many of the articles about recent violence perpetrated against Christians, identify Salalfists as leaders or participants.

The crux of the situation is that Egypt’s largest Salafist political party, the Nour Party, supported the recent coup and is now playing an important role in the transitional government. But this party power has come at a cost. Some more radical party members have resigned their posts, leaving the party in a weakened position viz-a-viz its base. And this likely will mean even more scapegoating of the Christian community, as sectarian hatred is used as a tool to coalesce the Salafists.

Over the next weeks and months, multiple players in Egypt will be vying to solidify their power. The army will presumably focus on establishing legitimacy for the interim government and quashing the Muslim Brotherhood. The Nour Party try to walk the fine balance between placating it’s base and influencing the critical decisions being taken for the future of the country. And the Muslim Brotherhood will struggle to keep its prospects alive. None will be positioned to control anti-Christian elements in the country, either by force or by persuasion. And some may actually stir anti-Christian sentiment for their own ends. 

So while the conflict unfolding in Egypt is and undoubtedly will be terrifying for all Egyptians, the Christian community is facing a period of real danger. Until stability is restored to the country and the political dust from the coup has cleared, the situation is not likely to improve.

It is up to our leaders to stress to their counterparts in the Egyptian Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Nour Party, that violence against Egyptian Christians must not become “collateral damage” to the nation’s current evolution. The U.S. still has a strong voice in Egypt, and we should use it to remind all centers of power that we are watching. 

SOURCES

Guardian Express

The New York Times

Haaretz

BBC News

Morning Star News

Associated Press

 

 

Reza Aslan defends right to be a scholar on Jesus

A well-known news network recently interviewed Reza Aslan about his new book on Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. The interview has gone viral and is well worth a look (there’s a link at the bottom of this post).

There is much we could say about the interaction between Reza and the correspondent, Lauren Green. Two thoughts stand out:

  • Reza demonstrates an ideal that is at the foundation of Tanenbaum’s philosophy: respectful curiosity. We’d like to say to Reza, "Thank you for answering the questions directly, speaking respectfully and for being open to those who have academic beliefs that are different from your own."
     
  • Green is primarily interested in Reza’s religion, Islam, rather than the merits of his work. It is reasonable to ask about an interviewee’s background in order to frame a story, but Green’s incessant line of questioning communicated the notion that a Muslim is not capable of writing a book about Jesus.

Scholars from every tradition (and none) have the right to share perspectives about their areas of expertise and to be questioned vigorously about their findings –  not their background or religion.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/2568059649001/zealot-author-reza-aslan-responds-to-critics/

Full disclosure: Reza Aslan is on Tanenbaum’s Advisory Board and was recognized at our 2013 annual gala.

Brewing Up a Controversy: Tanenbaum’s Top Five News Stories

Samuel Adams unnecessarily brews controversy • Was the American Revolution a holy war? • Egypt's Christians face arson, beatings and forced conversions amid upheaval • Swedish sisters skip 'sinful' dance class • Religious freedom is under attack in the military

Last week's top stories from Tanenbaum's perspective:

Samuel Adams unnecessarily brews controversy
Over the past couple of weeks, Samuel Adams has been brewing up a little bit of controversy with an advertisement they unleased to the airwaves right before the Fourth of July holiday. In the ad, their spokesperson recites the Declaration of Independence except for four words the copyrighters cut: "endowed by their Creator." Although the company cut the lines from the quote to adhere to alcohol advertising guidelines, some consumers are outraged. Click here for Religion News Service's analysis

Was the American Revolution a holy war?
Speaking of the American Revolution, an opinion piece in The Washington Post asks the question "Was the American Revolution a holy war?" Read it and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Last week, Haaretz reported Egypt's Christians face arson, beatings and forced conversions amid upheaval. From the article: "Since the beginning of the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, they have suffered constant harassment, and dozens have lost their lives to violence. Their churches have been torched. Coptic women have been beaten, forced to wear hijabs, or forcibly converted to Islam, according to human rights organizations." Read the whole article here.
 
In Sweden, Laestdianism, a branch of the Lutheran denomination of Christianity, dancing is consideed to be a sin by some members of the church. Learn about the parents of three girls who claimed that their daughters were exempt from the dancing in physical education. 
 
Conservatives are saying that religious freedom is under attack in the military. In fact, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., added an amendment to a military spending bill that states, “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech” of service members."  Read more here.

Tanenbaum’s Top Five New Stories

Popes headed toward sainthood • Transgendered minister opens up about his experiences • Jimmy Carter speaks out against the abuse of women • Faith healing parents’ homicide conviction upheld • Muslims & Jews gather in Sarjevo to combat religious prejudice

Last week's top stories from Tanenbaum's perspective: 

Popes headed toward sainthood
The Washington Post
Last week, good news rained upon popes named John. Pope Francis approved John Paul II for sainthood and decided to canonize John XXIII. According to the article, “Francis approved a decree that a Costa Rican woman’s inexplicable cure from a deadly brain aneurism was the ‘miracle’ needed to canonize John Paul.” Pope Francis also deemed that only one miracle attributed to John XXIII’s intercession was sufficient for his canonization. Read more…

Transgendered minister opens up about his experiencesThe Huffington Post
What if one Sunday, you attended a service at your church and your minister – after 28 years of service – decided to reveal that he was born a female? For Rev. David Weekly, a United Methodist minister, “There was a lot of support, but a lot of push back.” Learn more…

Jimmy Carter speaks out against the abuse of womenReligion News Service
At “Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity,” President Jimmy Carter opened his remarks by calling the abuses of women “the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violations on earth.” Discover more about Carter’s thoughts on the intersection of religion and women’s rights.

Faith healing parents’ homicide conviction upheldNational Public Radio
Did you know that 303 children have died since 1975 after medical care was withheld on religious grounds? In 2008, one 11-year-old diabetic girl died on Easter Sunday because her parents refused to bring her to the doctor. The parents preferred prayer and were convicted of homicide one year later. Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 6-1 “that the state's immunity provisions for prayer treatment parents protect them from child abuse charges but nothing else.”  After the decision was announced, the father’s lawyer said, “"If I was advising a parent on faith healing, I'd say there is no privilege," Miller said. "They pretty much gutted it." Read more…

Muslims & Jews gather in Sarjevo to combat religious prejudiceThe Huffington Post
A group of Muslims and Jews gathered in Sarajevo to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The goal of the conference, organized by The Muslim Jewish Conference in Vienna, “"is to provide the next generation with a learning experience for life and a positive outlook for establishing intercultural relations and sustaining Muslim-Jewish partnerships." Learn more…

Syrian War Affecting Sunni-Shiite Relations: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Syrian war is growing more sectarian – and the conflict is springing up in more countries, plus other news stories.

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.

“The longer this conflict goes on the more chances it has of spilling over,” said Vali Nasr, dean of John Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.  Washington Post

Security forces on Wednesday struggled to bring peace to a northern city in Myanmar after Buddhist mobs set fire to a mosque, a Muslim school and shops, the latest outbreak of religious violence in Myanmar and a sign that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading to a wider area of the country.

The violence afflicting the city, Lashio, in the north near the border with China, is hundreds of miles from towns and villages affected by religious violence this year.

One Muslim man was killed and four Buddhists were wounded in the clashes, said U Wai Lin, an official with the Information Ministry in Lashio.  New York Times

He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology. He has left Vatican officials struggling to keep up with his off-the-cuff remarks and impromptu forays into the crowds of tens of thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square during his audiences. He has delighted souvenir vendors near the Vatican by increasing tourist traffic.

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has been in office for only two months, but already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.

“It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”  New York Times

More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

"It may be happening, but Americans don't like it," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said of religion's waning influence. "It is clear that a lot of Americans don't think this is a good state of affairs."

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans' perception of religion's power has never been lower.  CNN

Laws repressing religious freedom worldwide: News Roundup

Countries around the world, including allies of the United States, have used laws on blasphemy and apostasy to suppress political opponents, the State Department said on Monday in an annual report chronicling a grim decline in religious freedom that has resulted in rising bigotry and sectarian violence.

The report singled out eight countries for particularly egregious and systemic repression of religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In China, the report said, religious freedoms declined in the last year, highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation last year.

Proliferating laws against blasphemy or apostasy, including in several countries undergoing political transitions after the Arab spring, are not protecting religions, as officials often claim, but rather targeting other faiths, at times selectively.  New York Times

Leaders of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims reacted with horror and anger following Wednesday’s (May 22) slaughter with knives and machetes of an off-duty British soldier in the streets outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in south London.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the slaughter of the soldier by two men – both believed to be Christian converts to Islam – as “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.”

Abdullah al Andalusi, a spokesman for the Muslim Debate Initiative, which brings together Islamic scholars and researchers in the U.K., said: “These people claimed they killed the soldier in the name of protecting others from UK foreign policy. But if what they claim is true, they have acted no differently from the crimes they claim they wish to see stopped.”  Religion News Service

Even with some legal protections in place, Afghan women, and sometimes even little girls, can be sold to pay family debts. In the country’s vast rural areas, just talking to a man who is not a close relative can be punishable by death. And in some places, girls are routinely married at puberty.

And now, preserving any protections long-term appears to be in question, as the country’s tiny women’s rights movement faces an unenviable decision: leave intact the only law that attempts to halt such abuses, or continue to present changes to Parliament and run the risk that a growing conservative bloc could dismantle the law entirely.  New York Times

Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday’s (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet.

In a private homily, Francis described doing good not as a matter of faith, but of “duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Then, referring to non-Catholics and nonbelievers, he said, “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”  Religion News Service

Laws repressing religious freedom worldwide: News Roundup

Countries around the world, including allies of the United States, have used laws on blasphemy and apostasy to suppress political opponents, the State Department said on Monday in an annual report chronicling a grim decline in religious freedom that has resulted in rising bigotry and sectarian violence.

The report singled out eight countries for particularly egregious and systemic repression of religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In China, the report said, religious freedoms declined in the last year, highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation last year.

Proliferating laws against blasphemy or apostasy, including in several countries undergoing political transitions after the Arab spring, are not protecting religions, as officials often claim, but rather targeting other faiths, at times selectively.  New York Times

Leaders of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims reacted with horror and anger following Wednesday’s (May 22) slaughter with knives and machetes of an off-duty British soldier in the streets outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in south London.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the slaughter of the soldier by two men – both believed to be Christian converts to Islam – as “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.”

Abdullah al Andalusi, a spokesman for the Muslim Debate Initiative, which brings together Islamic scholars and researchers in the U.K., said: “These people claimed they killed the soldier in the name of protecting others from UK foreign policy. But if what they claim is true, they have acted no differently from the crimes they claim they wish to see stopped.”  Religion News Service

Even with some legal protections in place, Afghan women, and sometimes even little girls, can be sold to pay family debts. In the country’s vast rural areas, just talking to a man who is not a close relative can be punishable by death. And in some places, girls are routinely married at puberty.

And now, preserving any protections long-term appears to be in question, as the country’s tiny women’s rights movement faces an unenviable decision: leave intact the only law that attempts to halt such abuses, or continue to present changes to Parliament and run the risk that a growing conservative bloc could dismantle the law entirely.  New York Times

Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday’s (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet.

In a private homily, Francis described doing good not as a matter of faith, but of “duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Then, referring to non-Catholics and nonbelievers, he said, “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”  Religion News Service

A new approach to banning Sharia: News Roundup

In the news this week: a new approach to banning Sharia in the US, anti-Semitism battled by churches in Hungary, and other news stories.

When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.

But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted. Why the change?

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom. Religion News Service

When Hungarian radical right-wingers rallied against a Jewish conference in Budapest in early May, a well-known Protestant pastor hid behind the stage while his wife stepped up to the podium to denounce Jews and Israel.

With anti-Semitism on the rise here, Christian churches are working with the Jewish community to counter the provocations against Jews and the Roma minority that have won Jobbik support among voters fed up with the country's economic crisis.

The Hungarian Reformed Church has begun proceedings that might end up defrocking Hegedus and depriving him of his high-profile base at the Homeland Church on the upscale Freedom Square, near the central bank and the United States embassy.

Hungary's small community of 80,000-100,000 Jews appreciates the Christian support. "We're satisfied with the actions of the churches," said Peter Feldmajer, who stepped down as head of the community on Sunday.  Reuters

Pope Francis has denounced the global financial system, blasting the "cult of money" that he says is tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods.

In his first major speech on the subject, Francis demanded Thursday that financial and political leaders reform the global financial system to make it more ethical and concerned for the common good. He said: "Money has to serve, not to rule!"  Associated Press

The number of Catholic priests in Africa and Asia has shot up over the past decade while decreasing in Europe, mirroring trends in the numbers of Catholic faithful that helped lead to the election of Pope Francis as the first non-European pope in over a millennium.

The Vatican on Monday released statistics on the state of the Catholic Church in the world, showing a 39.5 percent increase in the number of priests in Africa and a 32 percent hike in Asia from 2001 to 2011. The number of priests in Europe fell by 9 percent, while remaining stable in the Americas. Worldwide, priest numbers were up 2.1 percent.  ABC News