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Photos from Defying Extremism – 2014 Conference

Chinese government aims to eradicate all unofficial Protestant churches: News Roundup

In the news this week, China cracks down on House Churches, Myanmar’s Ethnic Minorities Grow Pessimistic About Peace, and other stories.

ChinaAid reported in February the Chinese government's plan to eradicate all unofficial Protestant churches across the country. Now, that plan appears to have been set in motion.

"The ruling Chinese Communist Party's ideological agency in Jiaozhou city called on township Party committees and neighborhood panels to investigate fully all unofficial venues of worship on their territory," according to a report from Radio Free Asia.

Pastor Zhan Gang, who leads the local Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance in Jiaozhou, said all of the houses in his district already have been investigated. That could signal the start of a broader, country-wide campaign, as pastors in Shenzhen and Guangzhou provinces report similar directives issued in their areas. Christianity Today

Ethnic conflicts have been described as Myanmar’s original sin, a legacy of hatred and mistrust that fueled more than six decades of intermittent civil war.

But the ferocity of deadly rioting between Buddhists and Muslims last week has further underlined how ethnic and religious fissures in Myanmar pose serious impediments to democratic change in the country.

“How can you have peace and democracy when one-third of the country hates you?” asked Tom Kramer, a researcher with the Transnational Institute, an organization based in the Netherlands that is seeking to promote reconciliation between the majority ethnic Burman, who make up two-thirds of Myanmar’s population, and minorities. The violence last week, he said, was a “reminder of how deeply rooted ethnic and religious divisions are in the society.” The New York Times

While popes have for centuries washed the feet of the faithful on the day before Good Friday, never before had a pontiff washed the feet of a woman. That one of the female inmates at the prison in Rome was also a Serbian Muslim was also a break with tradition.

“There is no better way to show his service for the smallest, for the least fortunate,” said Gaetano Greco, a local chaplain. 

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates aged 14 to 21, among them the two women, the second of whom was an Italian Catholic. Mr Greco said he hoped the ritual would be “a positive sign in their lives”. The Telegraph

A group of rabbis, reverends and priests has a message for President Barack Obama: stop the drone war.

In a video produced by the Brave New Foundation, a group that uses video and social media to protest against drones, Jewish and Christian leaders describe the practice as "assassination by remote control," which violates religious principles.

“From a New Testament point of view, drones are completely appalling,” the Rev. Paul F. M. Zahl, the retired Episcopal rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told CNN. “The whole idea of killing a guy without giving the guy a chance to surrender is preemptive. That for me was completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

The video criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences.  The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions. CNN

 

New Pope expresses his views: News Roundup

In the news this week, the new pope discusses his views from tango, to art, to gay marriage, Obama pushes expedited timetable on immigration reform in meeting with faith leaders, and other stories. 

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio surprised the world on Wednesday when he ended a run of nearly 1,300 years of European popes and greeted St. Peter's Square for the first time as Pope Francis.

This article provides a selection of the 76-year-old Jesuit's opinions on topics ranging from unmarried mothers,gay marriageglobalization and his own interests and life experience. Yahoo! News

President Barack Obama emphasized the need to get immigration reform accomplished this year in a meeting with a diverse group of faith leaders at the White House on Friday.

Religious leaders that attended the meeting said the president spent more than an hour with them, and after making a few remarks at the top of the meeting he let each group discuss their priorities and problems with comprehensive immigration reform. During the discussion, these faith leaders said, Obama made it clear that he wanted to see a bill on immigration reform in the next 60 days.

“I really sensed that this is a high priority for him,” Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, told CNN. “We are all looking at something being introduced this month and then the bill passing in May or June. We are all hoping that kind of time frame could work.” CNN

There is an advertising war being fought here — not over soda or car brands but over the true meaning of the word “jihad.” Backing a continuing effort that has featured billboards on the sides of Chicago buses, the local chapter of a national Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has been promoting a nonviolent meaning of the word — “to struggle” — that applies to everyday life.

Supporters say jihad is a spiritual concept that has been misused by extremists and inaccurately linked to terrorism, and they are determined to reclaim that definition with the ad campaign, called My Jihad.

“My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” says a woman in a head scarf lifting weights in an ad that started running on buses in December. “What’s yours?” The New York Times

The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found.

Sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed results from the General Social Survey and found that the number of people who do not consider themselves part of an organized religion has jumped dramatically in recent years.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of "nones" — those who said they were religiously unaffiliated — hovered around 5 percent, Claude Fischer, one of the researchers with UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990. The Huffington Post

Texas Mother writes blog about raising her children without God: News Roundup

In the news this week, a godless Texas mother strikes a chord with parents, Dalai Lama says gang rapists should not be executed, religious tensions over prayers cast shadow on President Obama's inauguration, and other stories. 

Mitchell, a mother of two teenagers in Texas who feels “immersed in Christianity,” started a blog about raising her children without religion because she felt frustrated and marginalized. She didn't want to feel so alone, she says.

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she's not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, "Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform. CNN

One of the world's most respected spiritual leaders has asked that mercy be shown in the case of the men accused of last month's brutal gang rape and murder of a woman on a bus in New Delhi. During a panel discussion this week at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama touched on the controversial trial that began Thursday in the bustling Indian city.

The five men on trail could be hanged if they are convicted, according to the Associated Press. The family of the 23-year-old victim, who succumbed to her injuries two weeks after the attack, have called for the execution of all the accused. But the Dalai Lama, during his apperance at the Jaipur festival, demurred.

“I do not like the death sentence,” he said, adding that there are other ways to deal with the alleged perpetrators, according to English-language Indian news outlet the Hindu. The Huffington Post

There may be no clearer reflection of this moment in American religious life than the tensions surrounding prayers at President Barack Obama's inauguration. Efforts by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to bridge the conservative-liberal divide by including an evangelical failed. Atlanta preacher Louie Giglio, known for his work to end human trafficking, withdrew from giving the benediction after the liberal group ThinkProgress found a sermon he gave in the 1990s, condemning gay relationships.

Meanwhile, the first lay person has been asked to give the invocation, at a time when the number of Americans with no formal religious ties has hit a high around 20 percent. The prayer will be delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights hero Medgar Evers. The ceremony Monday falls on the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Huffington Post

LISTS have a terrible resonance for Hungary’s Jews. When the Nazis invaded in March 1944 they used the lists of members of the Jewish community to organise one of the swiftest and most efficient episodes of the Holocaust. With the ready assistance of Hungarian officials and the Gendarmerie 430,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz in a few weeks, most to their deaths. On some days the gas chambers and crematoria processed more than 1,000 people an hour.

So when Márton Gyöngyösi, a member of the far-right Jobbik party, called in parliament for Hungarian Jews to be catalogued and screened as potential national security risks, it triggered a wave of revulsion and condemnation. “I think now is the time to assess…how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk for Hungary," said Mr Gyöngyösi. In his point of view the screening was necessary as Hungary had sided too readily with Israel during the recent conflict in Gaza. The Economist 

Hurricane damaged Houses of Worship denied grant from FEMA: News Round Up

In the news this week: Houses of worship seeking FEMA grants face constitutional barrier, first Hindu American Congresswoman takes oath on Bhagavad Gita, and other stories.

Hurricane Sandy flooded and battered St. George Malankara Orthodox Church of India  in New Dorp, Staten Island, ruining its basement, windows and doors. Yet, when its vicar contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ask for a grant to help with the estimated $150,000 rebuilding cost, he said he got a clear answer: No. 

A broad range of private nonprofit organizations qualify for federal disaster assistance grants, including zoos, museums, performing arts centers and libraries. Houses of worship, however, are not on the list, even though in recent years the federal government has ruled that some religiously affiliated institutions like schools and hospitals can get grants. The New York Times

Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii has created history by not only becoming the first Hindu ever to be sworn in as a member of the US House of Representatives, but also being the first ever US lawmaker to have taken oath of office on the sacred Bhagavad Gita. Tulsi, 31, was administered the oath of office by John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

"I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country," Gabbard said after the swearing in ceremony yesterday. The Indian Express

At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.

“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”

Prayers begin Thursday (Jan. 3), the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration. Religion News Service

The Pakistani schoolgirl activist, Malala Yousafzai, 15, who was shot in the head by the Taliban has been discharged from a Birmingham hospital as an inpatient.

She was being treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEHB) after being transferred following the attack in October. Yousafzai will continue rehabilitation at her family's temporary West Midlands home.

The Taliban said it shot Malala, a campaigner for girls' education, for "promoting secularism". The shooting, in a school bus, sparked domestic and international outrage. BBC News

Survey Results: Did religion play a part in the 2012 election?

Thanks to all who took the time to complete our first online survey!

Nearly 70% of you said that religion played a role in the election, yet almost 90% stated that the candidates’ faiths did not influence your voting decision. But while the candidates’ religion did not have substantial sway among respondents, what they had to say on the topic did have an impact. Sixty-six percent of you reported that what the candidates said about religion influenced your voting decision.

What was perhaps most interesting is what you had to say to us in the final question of the survey, where we asked if you’d like to elaborate. We received great responses. Here’s a sampling:

  • I would consider voting for a candidate of any faith group if I believed that s/he shared and would officially uphold values I believe in. I would, however, choose against any candidate, even one who shared my faith, if s/he expressed exclusive and religiously xenophobic views.
     
  • Religion is important; however, more important is the aspect of freedom of religion. No one has the right to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, lest they forget what our country is all about.
     
  • Obama's disdain for "those that value their guns and religion" surely had some effect.
     
  • It was not what was said specifically about religion that influenced my choice. It was other topics that are influenced by religion that influenced me.
     
  • I think religion became a secondary issue to political ideology.
     
  • Religion has no place in government. It is an intimate relationship between an individual and his/or her god(s).
     
  • I was deeply offended by the Republican attempts to suggest that Mr. Obama was Muslim, as if that would be a negative!
     
  • I'm a Roman Catholic & some of our bishops tried to make religious freedom & health care – i.e., contraceptives – an issue, but their arguments did not resonate with the faithful.
     
  • Separation of "church" and state is very important to me. When a political party wants to mandate things that fall into the religious realm, I'm alarmed.

In addition to our survey, the Pew Forum recently released a preliminary analysis of how the faithful voted.  We also found interesting stories about religion and the presidential election, including a Huffington Post story about both candidates’ appeal to religious voters during the final days of the campaign and a CNN story that raised questions about the Christian right’s influence on the electorate.

Again, thank you all of your responses.  And, although we only printed a small sample of the comments, we are using every response to inform our work. We look forward to hearing from you in our next survey. 

If you have a suggestion for a survey topic or question, we’d love to hear it!  Please send your ideas our way.

SURVEY: Religion and the 2012 Election

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Religion looms large in election: News Roundup

In light of tomorrow's election, the news roundup this week will be focused on religion and politics: a look at Mitt Romney's faith journey, Obama's evolving Christian faith, Mike Huckabee tells Christians to "stand the test of fire", religious voting groups could determine the next president, and other stories. 

Romney hopes the nation is ready to embrace a president who happens to be Mormon. But he has faced questions about his faith since first getting into politics in 1994, when he ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy’s nephew, Joe, attacked Romney’s Mormonism, the insult drew a strong public response from Romney’s father – a former governor of Michigan who’d himself run for president – and failed to gain traction.

Since then Romney, who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003, has played down his faith on the campaign trail. But he did  address it in a December 2007 speech, hoping to stem voter concerns about his religion and how it might influence him as a president. It was a speech he likened to John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 address, when Kennedy was running to be America’s first Catholic president. CNN

Whether or not Obama has been spiritually “reborn” in the evangelical sense, his spiritual counselors say the president’s faith has helped shape his first term in ways that haven’t been appreciated by voters or the news media. And they say the presidency is bringing Obama to a new place in his faith – building on a system of belief and practice that helped bring him to the White House in the first place. CNN

Mike Huckabee has a dire warning for Christians: When you vote on Nov. 6, hell's fire awaits, and a vote for President Barack Obama will not stand up to the flames.

In a new ad, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Southern Baptist minister warns Christians that their votes "will affect the future and be recorded in eternity" and they must cast a ballot that will "stand the test of fire." The Huffington Post

President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney have mostly avoided any mention of their own religious identities and, to the extent that they have engaged in religious-based discourse, it has been of a very general nature regarding their commitments to belief in God and to how faith guides their personal and public lives.

Each candidate recognizes the downsides of emphasizing his own faith tradition, as surveys show substantial-sized minorities of voters expressing discomfort with Romney’s Mormon faith or not accepting the authenticity of Obama’s identity as a Christian. Religious identity nonetheless remains a key factor in the election. The Washington Post

Hindu Americans have run America's major companies and universities, won Nobel prizes and Olympic gold medals, directed blockbuster movies, and even flown into space. But one profession has so far been out of reach: Member of Congress.

That may change next week in Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, where Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is poised to win an out-of-nowhere bid over Republican opponent Kawika Crowley. Gabbard was leading Crowley 70 percent to 18 percent, according to an Oct. 12 poll by the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The heavily Democratic district also elected one of two Buddhists to have ever served in Congress, Mazie Hirono, who won her seat in 2006 but is now running for the U.S. Senate. Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii when she was 2. In 2002, at age 21, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature. The Huffington Post

A right-wing Super PAC is running attack ads against a Syed Taj, a Democratic congressional candidate in Michigan, in an attempt to portray the Muslim doctor as un-American and tied to terrorism. The 30-second ad charges that Taj "wants to advance Muslim power in America," has ties to Hamas, and is "too extreme for America."

The race to represent Michigan's 11th congressional district was already unusual—the seat became open when five-term Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter failed to qualify for the primary ballot last spring and was subsequently investigated for allegedly submitting election petitions with fraudulent signatures. McCotter, who also pursued a bizarre and short-lived campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, abruptly resigned from Congress one month before the primary. The New Republican

 

Obama at the U.N.- A New Religious Doctrine: News Roundup

In the news this week: Obama challenges assumptions about free speech and religion, Egypt and Yemen presidents issue rebuttals against Obama's speech, religious groups denounce anti-Muslim subway ads, and other stories. 

President Obama on Tuesday (Sept. 25) gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world’s assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we’ve seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

2. Religious respect is a two way street

3. Turn the other cheek

4. One Nation under God

5. The Danger of Extremism

The Washington Post

The new presidents of Egypt and Yemen — both of whom were swept to power by uprisings demanding democratic rights — issued clear rebuttals on Wednesday to President Obama’s ardent defense of Western values at the United Nations, arguing that cultural limits on rights like freedom of speech had to be respected.

President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who billed his 40-minute speech to world leaders as the first by a democratically elected leader of his country, condemned the violence stemming from a short online video that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and led to numerous deaths, including that of the American ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members.

But Mr. Morsi rejected Mr. Obama’s broad defense of free speech a day earlier at the United Nations, saying “Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone.” The New York Times

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks to CNN's Piers Morgan about people of different ethnic backgrounds and religion. CNN

Religious leaders are rallying against controversial ads placed in 10 New York City subway stations that insinuate that Muslims are savages.

The ads, purchased by the American Freedom Defense Initiative say, “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ads, citing a policy against demeaning language. However, after AFDI filed suit, a federal court upheld the ads. The Washington Post

Law enforcement is increasingly teaming up with faith groups to combat sex trafficking around the country. Some are calling the faith-based push against human trafficking the newest “Christian abolitionist movement.”

In California, an Underground Church Network has formed to help U.S. trafficking victims. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has developed a human trafficking curriculum. And the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian arm, World Relief, told CNN in February that its North Carolina offices had seen a 700 percent rise in reports of human trafficking last year.

Religious groups have also rallied against Backpage.com, which is owned by Village Voice Media, which they say is a haven for pimps and traffickers. The issue drew the attention of President Obama at former President Bill Clinton's Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday (Sept. 25), where Obama said the estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking would become a major focus of his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Religion News Service

Bangor Township man who assaulted two men because he thought they were Muslims and was then ordered to write a report on the cultural contributions of Islam has a new assignment before him — to write a report on the history of Hinduism.

The judge rephrased his statement to say that Bell had been convicted of attacking two men he wrongly assumed were Muslims. He added that the victims in the case were actually Hindus, a religion that, rather ironically, differs vastly from Islam in its beliefs.

When Bell entered his plea, Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran, ordered him to write a 10-page report on “the greatest accomplishments of Muslims.” mlive.com

 

SCOTUS Upholds Health Care Law: News Roundup

 In the news:  Obamacare survives, a shortage of American Imams, a German court rules against circumcisions, and other news stories.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld President Obama’s health care overhaul law, saying its requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congress’s power to levy taxes. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members.   New York Times
 
A new Gallup poll released Friday shows that just 34% of Americans can identify Obama as a Christian or, more specifically, as a Protestant. Eleven percent remain convinced that he is Muslim, and 44% say they don't know.
 
That is striking, because few presidents have spoken and written as much about their faith as Obama. His Christianity, in fact, ignited the biggest controversy of his 2008 campaign when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, went viral on the internet. Obama eventually severed ties with Wright, and since then has attended a variety of Christian churches. He uses Christian language and imagery often in speeches.  Los Angeles Times
 
Congressman Al Green (D-TX9) has said that Rep. Peter King (R-NY3)'s hearings on the radicalization of Islam in America were justified only if such hearings were to take place on the radicalization within every religion.
 
“If you agree that radicalization exists within all religions to some extent, would you kindly extend a hand into the air,” Green asked witnesses and, as reported by The Raw Story, all hands were raised.
 
Green told The Raw Story that if all religions have some tendency to be radical, then all of them should have radical hearings, especially Christianity.
 
“I do not, not — N-O-T — oppose hearings on radicalization. I do oppose hearings that don’t focus on the entirety of radicalization. And if you agree that we have Christians… who become radicalized, they become part of Islam and they become radicalized as is being said, why not have a hearing on the radicalization of Christians?”  Huffington Post
 
According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of America’s estimated 2.75 million Muslims are immigrants — with as many as 90,000 new Muslim immigrants arriving each year. Experts say it will be years before the pool of American imams becomes large enough to meet demand from mosques.
 
While a few Islamic chaplaincy programs and educational institutes have been established in the last few years in the United States, there are no similar programs to help newly arrived imams acclimate to America.
 
American mosques continue to rely on foreign-born imams for their religious knowledge and fluency in Arabic. But they also want Americanized imams who can speak English and serve as competent communicators with an ear for interfaith events, civic engagement and engaging the media.  Worldwide Religious News
 
A German court in Cologne ruled on Tuesday that circumcising young boys represents grievous bodily harm, a decision that could have significant repercussions for religious groups.
 
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the decision as “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the self-determination of religious communities” and called on the German Parliament to pass legislation protecting circumcision as a religious practice.
 
The case centered on a 4-year-old boy whose Muslim parents had him circumcised by a doctor, which led to medical complications. Although both Muslims and Jews circumcise infant boys as a religious practice and many other people do so for health reasons, the court found that the child’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity” was more important than the parents’ rights.  New York Times