Category : Religion & Culture

(Christian Today) Churches are playing a ‘key role’ in the fight against human trafficking

Churches and faith groups are making an important contribution to efforts to eliminate the global scourge of human trafficking, a UN human rights committee has heard.

Jack Palmer-White, the Anglican Communion’s Permanent Representative to the UN, outlined the many anti-trafficking initiatives being led by churches in a submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this week.

The CEDAW is considering submissions on the issue of human trafficking as it prepares to make a ‘general recommendation’ to UN member states.

In his report, Mr Palmer-White asked that the general recommendation ‘reflects the key role that churches and other faith actors can, and do, play in the fight against trafficking of women and girls in the context of global migration’.

Examples of anti-trafficking work detailed in the report include a partnership between the US Embassy to Ghana and the Diocese of Accra which has led to the creation of a community shelter called Hope Village that rehabilitates rescued children, while holding the government of Ghana to account on its progress in eliminating trafficking.

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Ghana, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence, Women

(NYT) Murders of Religious Minorities in India Go Unpunished, Report Finds

The Indian authorities have delayed investigating a wave of vigilante-style murders of religious minorities, with many instead working to justify the attacks or file charges against some of the victims’ families, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.

The 104-page report said that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, attacks led by so-called cow protection groups have jumped sharply.

Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people have been killed, Human Rights Watch found. Most of the victims were Muslims accused of storing beef or transporting cows for slaughter, a crime in most Indian states. Many Hindus, who form about 80 percent of India’s population, consider cows sacred.

Data cited in the report from FactChecker.in, an Indian organization that tracks reports of violence, found that as many as 90 percent of religion-based hate crimes in the last decade occurred after Mr. Modi took office. Mobs hung victims from trees, frequently mutilated victims and burned bodies.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, India, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Deseret News) Why the United Methodist Church seeks to end the decades-long battle over whether to change the standards of Christian behavior for leaders

Members of the United Methodist Church don’t agree on biblical teachings about homosexuality. More than that, they don’t agree on whether it’s necessary to agree about homosexuality in order to remain a unified denomination, church members and leaders said.

Participants in this special session of general conference on sexuality are tasked with determining whether it’s possible to avoid a denominational schism. They’ll debate policies on LGBTQ ordination and same-sex marriage, seeking to understand God’s will for the church.

“Our hope is not that this is an argument, but rather a way for followers of Jesus to develop empathy for each other and to listen to disagreements,” wrote Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, in an email.

Conference delegates will vote on multiple potential paths forward, weighing whether to change church teachings stating that homosexual acts are sinful or provide an exit plan for those who don’t share this belief. Even creating room for pastors and congregations to hold a range of views on LGBTQ rights could lead to a schism, said Mark Tooley, author of “Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century” and president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

“This could potentially rip apart thousands of congregations,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Methodist, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology, Theology: Scripture

Stephen Lynas on what will be discussed this week at the Church of England General Synod

Officially, the chief focus of the week is evangelism. But, as ever, there are other, unofficial currents flowing through the week, and so the other prominent thread will be human sexuality – both the work under the title ‘Living in Love and Faith‘ (long-term, official) and the ongoing rows about liturgy to be used with people who have undergone a gender change (current campaigning, unofficial).

We’ll get to the transgender row in a minute. But first of all, note the time being given to evangelism-related debates this week:

  1. On Wednesday, three contributions from Anglican leaders from elsewhere – North India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya.
  2. Thursday is an evangelism-free day. But on Friday we have three major items – Evangelism and Discipleship, evangelism on estates, and the Growing Faith debate on ministry among children and young people.
  3. On Friday we return to the subject with a Private Members Motion from Church Army’s Mark Russell about encouraging youth evangelism.

Read it all (and follow the links). Also, there is a good link to the General Synod papers there. As ever, the main General Synod page is there.

Posted in - Anglican: Commentary, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Evangelism and Church Growth, Religion & Culture, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

(CEN) Peter Brierley–Understanding midweek attendance figures

The Church of England publishes both its Usual Sunday Attendance (USA) across its 15,600 churches and also the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) which is higher (5 per cent in 2017). It also publishes the weekday attendance across a church’s various activities, and, since 2013, separately the number who attend weekly school services in church. All are broken down between adults and children.

In a sentence, these various numbers may be summarised as “Sunday attendance is dropping; weekday attendance is increasing.” The increase in weekday just about compensates for the decrease in Sunday attendance, though the change in total attendance between 2013 and 2017 is slightly down, having dropped -2 per cent. It is also true that the total number of adults attending church is declining while the total number of children is increasing!

It may readily be seen that the total adult numbers at school services increased a little between 2013 and 2015 but has been much the same between 2015 and 2017. Adults at the weekday services have dropped a little since 2015, down from 121,000 to 115,000. Children’s school services participation, however, has increased very markedly in this period, weekday total rising from 103,000 in 2013 to 151,000 in 2017 – a 50 per cent increase.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Children, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(60 Minutes) The Chibok Girls: Survivors of kidnapping by Boko Haram share their stories

Rebecca: Yes, they say if you didn’t convert to Islam you wouldn’t get home alive. That’s what they say.

Here are some of the girls two years ago right after they were released, alive but looking like concentration camp survivors, haunted and numb. This is Rebecca, skin and bones.

Lesley Stahl: I heard you were eating grass.

Rebecca: Yeah. Some of us eat that. And we are just be patient and live like that. No food. No anything.

Look at them today, in their 20s. They’re healthy and full of spirit at a school created just for them, paid for by the Nigerian government and some donors, where they are making up for lost time.

They’re from Northern Nigeria, where life can be hard and opportunities for women are limited. Now, in their Wi-Fi-equipped dorms, they have smart phones, and lap tops and their own beds.

They go back to Chibok to see their parents twice a year; over Christmas and during the summer.

Read it all (video highly recommended).

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Nigeria, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Teens / Youth, Terrorism, Theology, Women, Young Adults

(PBS Newshour) Pope sends ‘signal’ by defrocking ex-cardinal for sexual abuse

Rev. James Martin:

But you know my faith in God hasn’t changed. It’s it’s my sort of disappointment and anger. You know certain people in the church at abusers certainly some of whom I know people who covered this up. But I think it’s also important to say that this happens in all sorts of institutions you know families schools places like that. But in the church what we need to do is really address that and be sort of forthright about it and be as transparent as possible so frankly I am really in favor of the release of these lists that have been happening that’s pretty controversial because it’s it’s necessary for transparency it’s necessary for us to understand how these things happen and enable us to move ahead and reconcile.

Hari Sreenivasan:

Well what are you looking for this week? What helps the church survive this?

Rev. James Martin:

This desire to confront it without any sort of fear. You know that you know we have of the truth the truth sets us free. I mean that that really should be kind of what we’re focused on.

Hari Sreenivasan:

You think the Pope’s doing enough?

Rev. James Martin:

I think the pope could always do more. I think that this meeting in the end of this week is really helpful it’s the heads of all the bishops conferences. There are still countries where bishops have said well it doesn’t happen in our country it doesn’t happen and are part of the world. And I think one of the reasons for this meeting is to teach in a sense those bishops the facts about sex abuse. So I think that’s a really good step forward.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Sexuality, Teens / Youth, Theology, Theology: Scripture, Violence

(The Local) The yellow vests and France’s new wave of anti-Semitism

For 30 years or so, there has also been a radical muslim and ultra-leftist strand of anti-Semitism in France, born from support for Palestine and hatred of capitalism (seen as dominated by wealthy Jews). The revival of anti-Semitic acts, and violence, in the 1990s and the 2000’s was mostly due to this new phenomenon.

The figurehead of this “new anti-Semitism” is M’bala M’Bala Dieudonné, the stand-up comedian who has been convicted of anti-Semitic hate-speech. His emblem is the “quenelle”, an arm gesture which may or may not be a perversion of the Hitler salute. It has certainly become a widespread means of deniable, anti-Semitic behaviour.

The kind of graffiti which appeared in Paris last weekend – the swastikas and the word “juden” – bear the finger-prints of the older, rather than the newer brand of anti-Semitism. Increasingly, however, it is difficult to tell them apart.

Anti-Semitic slogans can be found on Gilet Jaunes banners and anti-Semitic arguments in Gilets Jaunes sites on the internet. “Macron once worked for a Rothschilds bank. He is a tool of ultra-liberal, globalist forces, controlled by Jews….”

This is not something that you hear from “ordinary” yellow vests on roundabouts. Anti-Semitism has specifically been decried in several lists of Gilets Jaunes positions and demands.

But there is undeniably a sickening anti-Semitic obsession in one section of the yellow vests movement. It is tempting to attribute this influence to Dieudonné’s political mentor, Alain Soral.

Read it all.

Posted in France, Judaism, Religion & Culture

[Oxford] Bishop Stephen Croft–Rethinking Evangelism

Over 400 people assembled in the Vatican over three weeks. The initial work of the Synod was to listen to five-minute contributions from every part of the world. There was widespread agreement that we live in a time when the passing on of Christian faith is challenging and difficult everywhere.

There was widespread agreement around two further themes. The first is that the Church therefore needs to reflect more, not less, on the reasons for this and our response. The second is that as a Church we need to begin not with techniques or methods but with Christ: dwelling deeply, seeing the face of Christ afresh, exploring again the joy of the gospel.

There have been very significant shifts in our culture and the place of the church within our culture. We understand them only in part. But I believe more and more of the Church of England recognises now that technical solutions are not the answer. I have found more and more over the last three years that when I speak about church growth and how to do evangelism the energy leaves the room.

If I show even a hint of a downward sloping graph, I lose my audience completely. But when I speak of Christ and the wonder and character of Christ and the need to begin from a place of hope and love and nurture the Church as the Body of Christ in very simple ways, the energy levels rise and there is fresh hope and vision.

This is not because people are unwilling to face reality. I think our congregations and communities understand the reality of our situation very well indeed. I think we recognise together that technique or finance or strategies cannot of themselves “solve” the problem. We need as a Church to gather again around Jesus Christ and his gospel and find there renewal and healing and life for us and for the world. These convictions undergird the vision and call we are exploring in the Diocese of Oxford, to be a more Christ like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Evangelism and Church Growth, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

(WSJ) John Miller–Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Daily Treasure’

But Lincoln certainly read the Bible and read it well. Lots of eyewitness accounts say so. More important, his rhetoric often drew from it in both obvious and subtle ways. One of his best-known lines—“a house divided against itself cannot stand”—is a plain reference to Mark 3:25 and Matthew 12:25. The famous opening words of the Gettysburg Address—“Four score and seven years ago”—echo Psalm 90:10. To explain the connection between the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the framework of the Constitution, Lincoln turned to Proverbs 25:11: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” He meant that the purpose of the Constitution is to preserve the ideas in the Declaration.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address bursts with biblical quotes and allusions. “It sounded more like a sermon than a state paper,” wrote Frederick Douglass, who attended the 1865 speech. One of its lines, from the Gospel of Matthew, also shows up in “The Believer’s Daily Treasure” as the entry for May 13: “Let us judge not that we not be judged.”

Every biography involves acts of judgment, and Lincoln scholars have taken various stances on Lincoln’s faith, from claims that he was a lifelong skeptic who hid his unbelief to the more conventional view that his Christian convictions grew over time. Whatever the truth, there’s a good chance that Lincoln once read what a little devotional book offered for April 14, a simple admonition from John 5:39: “Search the Scriptures.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Office of the President, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(Church Times) Government too soft on gambling ads, warns Bishop of St Albans

Dr Smith said, however, that there were insufficient penalties for companies who ignored the new standards. “With little consequences for companies flouting the rules, and few teeth to enforce these new directives, the Committee of Advertising Practice needs to step up their approach.

“With so many of the proposals relying on betting firms to self-regulate, I sadly have little hope for major changes to the way gambling advertises.

“This endless barrage of adverts has normalised gambling, and we now have 55,000 children who are problem gamblers and it is time for the gambling industry to take this issue seriously.

“It is our moral duty to protect young people from gambling-related harm, and I hope the Committee of Advertising Practice will support my General Synod motion demanding tighter regulation around gambling advertising.”

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Corporations/Corporate Life, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Media, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NYT) ‘It’s Not Getting Better’: Nigeria Braces for Election Day as Frustrations Boil

Nigeria is bracing for what could be a tight election this weekend. Threats of violence loom.

In the northeast of the country on Tuesday, a convoy heading to an election event and carrying Kashim Shettima, a state governor, was attacked by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group which operates in the region. At least three people were killed, officials said. Many of the governor’s entourage fled into the bush after militants dressed as soldiers and riding in stolen military vehicles attacked, local news media reported.

The incident drew attention to another of Mr. Buhari’s 2015 pledges: to destroy Boko Haram. Far from being crushed, Boko Haram has recently been gaining strength.

In the south, militants in the oil-rich Delta threatened to disrupt the economy, presumably by blowing up pipelines, if Mr. Buhari were re-elected. At a rally for the president in Rivers State this week, at least four people were killed in a stampede. Election officials reported fires in several sites where ballot materials were being stored.

Tensions have been so high that after the American ambassador to Nigeria called on both campaigns to carry out fair elections, Mr. Buhari’s party called his statements “implicit attacks against the government.”

Mr. Buhari and Mr. Abubakar, who each have pledged to accept the election results peacefully, wrapped up final appearances this week at rallies across the country, where thousands turned out wearing dresses, rings, hats and scarves plastered with their candidates’ photos.

Read it all.

Posted in Muslim-Christian relations, Nigeria, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(CC) Peter Boumgarden–Christian humanism in a technocratic world: Alan Jacobs’s biography of T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain, and C.S. Lewis

What unites these thinkers is a burning desire to build an alternative to the demonic powers made manifest within the war and to house that vision within the university. The protagonists of 1943 worried that a technocratic ideology fails to see individuals as moral persons whose vocation extends far beyond that of a citizen or worker. In his Terry Lectures, Maritain offered one of the most direct explanations of the alternative model, arguing that “the prime goal of education is the conquest of internal and spiritual freedom to be achieved by the individual person, or, in other words, his liberation through knowledge and wisdom, goodwill, and love.”

For these individuals, even the secular humanist project had its problems. Though also suspicious of technocracy, secular humanism too easily elevated the human to an almost cult-like status. A Christian humanism must decenter this anthropocentric model with an equally deep understanding of human evil.

Jacobs’s narrative is not one of social change. However ambitious, each of these reformers moved away from institutional reform. Lewis, after a time, migrated into fiction. Auden and Eliot renewed their focus on poetry. Only Maritain ended the war in something close to a political posture, working to build his personalist views into laws and institutions. Jacobs concludes:

Their diagnostic powers were great indeed: they saw with uncanny clarity and exposed with incisive intelligence the means by which technocracy has arisen and the damage it had inflicted and would continue to inflict, on human persons. Few subsequent critiques of “the technological society” rival theirs in imagination or moral seriousness. But their prescriptions were never implemented, and could never have been: they came perhaps a century too late, after the reign of technocracy had become so complete that none can force the end of it while this world lasts.

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Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(C+L) Stanley Hauerwas–Taking The “Risk Of Education”

From [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s perspective, the fragmentation of the curriculum makes it all the more important that Catholic universities recognize the significance of philosophy for any serious education that has any pretense to inculcate in students the skills necessary for those who would love the truth. According to MacIntyre, philosophy is the discipline committed to the inquiry necessary to understand how the disciplines that make up the university contribute to, but cannot themselves supply, an understanding of the order of things. So a Catholic University cannot be such if it does not require students to study philosophy not only at the beginning of their study but also at the end.

Yet of equal importance, according to MacIntyre, is the study of theology. Catholic teaching rightly maintains that the natural order of things cannot be adequately understood by reason if reason is divorced from the recognition that all that is has been brought into being by God and is directed to the ends to which God orders creation. What is learned from nature about God, MacIntyre notes, will always be meager as well as subject to the human limitations and distortions resulting from our sinfulness. Yet it remains the case that “universities always need both the enlargement of vision and the correction of error that can be provided only from a theological standpoint, one that brings truths of Christian revelation to bear on our studies.”

I am fundamentally in agreement with MacIntyre’s account of the challenges facing us if we are to think seriously about what it means to reclaim education as a Christian enterprise. So I have nothing but sympathy for Giussani’s attempt to help us see why and how Christians must reclaim education as a task of the church.

The story he tells in the introduction to the 1995 edition of The Risk of Education, about his first confrontation with students that did not believe matters of faith had anything to do with reason, is a wonderful example of why education matters and it matters for moral formation (p. XXXVI). I think Giussani, moreover, is right to insist that faith is “the supreme rationality” (p. XL). But to so argue means you have to confront, as Giussani did, the deceits of modernity represented by people like Professor Miccinesi; that is, the teachers of the students who think faith has nothing to do with truth or this world. I fear Professor Miccinesi, moreover, is a prime example of the challenge Christians face in education today. The problem quite simply is that the secular have become so stupid that they do not even recognize they do not and, indeed, cannot understand the commonplaces that make the Christian faith the Christian faith.

So I find myself in profound sympathy not only with the general argument about education Giussani makes, but also with the finer grained arguments he uses to sustain his overall perspective. That may seem strange because I am a Protestant; that is, a representative of that form of Christianity that according to Giussani separates “faith from following.” Yet unfortunately, I fear Giussani’s characterization of Protestantism, at least the Protestantism that now exists, is correct. Put differently: Protestantism now names that form of Christianity that in the name of reform tried to separate the “essentials” of the Christian faith from the contingent. The result was to turn Christianity into a belief system available to the individual without mediation by the church. As a consequence of this separation, Protestants found themselves in modernity without resources to shape a way of life that can resist the forces that threaten to destroy any robust account of Christian “following” necessary for the education of young people as Christians. I fear this is particularly true of the most Protestant country yet founded; that is, the United States of America.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Sharp Rise in Anti-Semitic Acts in France Stokes Old Fears

Swastikas drawn on portraits of a women’s rights champion and Holocaust survivor in Paris; the word “Juden” (Jews, in German) spray-painted on a bagel bakery; a tree planted in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death, chopped down in a Paris suburb.

A spate of reports in recent days illustrates what the government officially confirmed on Tuesday: Anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply in France. Such episodes jumped by 74 percent in 2018, to 541, up from 311 in 2017, the interior ministry reported.

“Anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison, like a bile,” the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Monday as he visited the site of the felled tree.

The tree was a memorial to Ilan Halimi, a Jewish man who was kidnapped and tortured to death after being held captive for three weeks by members of a French criminal gang in 2006. The authorities and Jewish institutions were preparing to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Mr. Halimi’s death, which falls on Wednesday, when the tree was found destroyed.

Read it all.

Posted in France, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(NR) David French–A Court Case in Iowa Shows the Reality of Religious Discrimination in America

Take, for example, a story that should have made headlines last week. Federal district-court judge Stephanie Rose (an Obama appointee) delivered the University of Iowa a humiliating defeat in court, granting a small Christian student group called Business Leaders in Christ a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the university’s so-called Human Rights Policy — a policy that the university had selectively enforced to privilege favored speakers and punish theologically conservative Christians.

The facts of the case are simple — and have been replicated on college campuses across the land. The university “de-recognized” the Christian group because it screens its leaders to make sure that they “agree with and can represent the group’s religious beliefs” — which include a standard statement of faith and the orthodox belief that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. In other words, a traditional Christian group wants to be led by people of traditional Christian faith.

This was intolerable to the University of Iowa. And lest you think it was even-handedly enforcing a neutral nondiscrimination policy, think again. Here’s the court:

The University has approved the constitutions of numerous organizations that explicitly limit access to leadership or membership based on religious views, race, sex, and other characteristics protected by the Human Rights Policy. These groups include Love Works, which requires leaders to sign a “gay-affirming statement of Christian faith”; . . . House of Lorde, which implements membership “interview[s]” to maintain “a space for Black Queer individuals and/or the support thereof”; [and] the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which limits membership to “enrolled Chinese Students and Scholars.” [Internal citations omitted.]

When asked to justify this blatant favoritism, the university claimed that the privileged groups existed “for reasons which support the University’s educational mission.” For example, the university argued that some groups “provide safe spaces for minorities which have historically been the victims of discrimination.” As a result, “the University allows groups to speak about religion, homosexuality, and other protected traits through their leadership criteria,” but it denied the Christian group the same right.

That is textbook viewpoint discrimination, and it’s blatantly unconstitutional.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(NPR) ‘Church Of Safe Injection’ Offers Needles, Naloxone To Prevent Opioid Overdoses

A woman in the apartment, who also didn’t want to be identified, chimed in: “I understand, but what are you supposed to do? If someone isn’t able or ready to go to treatment — should they die?”

Even the founder of the Church of Safe Injection, Jesse Harvey, 26, acknowledges that he’s struggled with the same questions. But he says working in addiction recovery has made him frustrated by the deaths and barriers to treatment. He says there are criteria to becoming a legitimate syringe exchange program that he’s not likely to meet, so he started this church.

Harvey says there are now 18 chapters of the Church of Safe Injection in eight states — all of them funded by private, anonymous donations. Each one is independent but must abide by three rules: to welcome all people of all faiths, to serve all marginalized people and to support harm reduction.

But he says the group is not supporting legalizing drugs.

“We’re not saying it’s our religious belief to use heroin. No, not at all,” Harvey said. “We’re saying that it’s our sincerely held religious belief that people who use drugs don’t deserve to die when there are decades of solutions.”

Read it all.

Posted in Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

(Houston Chronicle) Abuse of Faith 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms

Read it all.

Posted in Baptists, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence

(FT) Britain’s burial crisis – and how to solve it

On a wet, windy Thursday in December, Bicester Village swarms with shoppers. The Oxfordshire retail complex receives about seven million visitors a year, lured by designer clothes at discount prices.

Across the road, there’s a sports field. Beyond that, in view of the shopping centre, is Bicester’s cemetery. It’s a pleasant, simple space: a long path runs through it, flanked by lines of trees. The oldest of the weathered gravestones I saw dated back to 1865.

Above ground, at least, the cemetery doesn’t look particularly crowded. But almost all the 5,000-plus plots are occupied. When it ran out of space in the past, it just kept growing. It took over one field, then another. To clear space for more graves, workers removed benches and dug up trees — a practice known in the burial industry as cramming.

Now, however, the cemetery has expanded as far as it can. As of last April — the most recent date for which Bicester council provides figures — it only has 36 unreserved burial plots left, and another 23 for cremated remains. In a town of 30,000-plus, that’s enough to get it through the next couple of years, provided there aren’t any severe flu outbreaks.

Bicester is not alone. At a time when, each year, 140,000 people in the UK still choose to be buried, cemeteries around the country are running out of space. In 2013, a BBC study found that a quarter of England’s local authorities — which oversee the overwhelming majority of cemeteries — expected those they managed to be full by 2023.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Eschatology, Religion & Culture

(CT) David Briggs–Who Worries About Hell the Most

Hell matters to a lot of us.

About half of Americans are absolutely sure of their belief in hell, while the percentage who believe rises above two-thirds when some degrees of uncertainty are included.

[Editor’s note: Last year, a LifeWay Research survey similarly found that just 45 percent of Americans agree hell is a real place. The Pew Research Center reported that a vast majority of highly religious and somewhat religious Americans (at least 8 in 10) believe in hell, while barely any non-religious Americans do (fewer than 5%). In the Pew study, each group was more likely to profess a belief in heaven than hell.]

Earlier research into supernatural evil such as hell, Satan, and demons has found both positive and negative outcomes.

Belief in supernatural evil has been linked to results such as increasing religious resourcesand promoting greater cooperation and less selfish behavior.

Read it all.

Posted in Eschatology, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Quebec Muslims Seek to Transcend Trauma of Mosque Shooting That Took Six Lives

The attack, a rare mass shooting in Canada, shocked Quebec’s Muslim community and showed that the country wasn’t immune to the sometimes violent backlashes that have accompanied growing immigrant populations elsewhere.

Two years later, many are still trying to come to terms with what happened and their place in a province where tensions over religion and assimilation persist.

Those tensions revived in Quebec’s October election. The conservative Coalition Avenir Québec won the provincial vote after a campaign in which it pledged to curb immigration and make newcomers take tests to prove their knowledge of Canadian Quebec values and French language.

The new Quebec premier, François Legault has also promised to bar certain public servants—including teachers, police officers and judges—from wearing visible religious symbols, such as the Muslim head scarf and the kippah worn by some Jewish men, and sparked criticism last week when he suggested Islamophobia didn’t exist in the province. Mr. Legault’s office later said he misspoke.

“It’s a difficult time for Muslims in Quebec,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Read it all.

Posted in Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Islam, Religion & Culture, Violence

(RNS) Kristin Kobes Du Mez–There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

It’s worth noting that [Anthea] Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. [David] Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.

Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.

When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?

Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.

If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Religion & Culture

(CEN) Peers bid to make clergy conduct same sex marriages

The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell stated that ‘the Church of England seeks to welcome all people’, including those in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages but explained that ‘the reason we are having this discussion is that there are questions about how this welcome can be expressed’.

He said that the amendment introduces ‘a discordant note into your Lordships’ consideration of a Bill which is otherwise uncontentious and likely to receive clear support’.

He said that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 ‘seeks to strike a balance between the right of individuals to marry a person of the same sex, and the rights of churches and other religious bodies — and of their ministers — to act in a way consistent with their religious beliefs’.

“No religious body or minister of religion is compelled to solemnise such a marriage,” he said.

He pointed out that in its second report on the then Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that ‘religious liberty, as granted under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a collective as well as individual right’.

It stated that religious organisations have the right to determine and administer their doctrinal and internal religious affairs without interference from the state.

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Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality

(NYT) A Canadian Preacher Who Doesn’t Believe in God

Although as a child, she claimed Jesus had taught her to skate, she never considered herself a devotee. Instead, she says she has always understood God obliquely, as love.

After graduating from college with an arts degree and in search of adventure, Ms. Vosper moved to the far north of Canada, where she was married and had a daughter. After her marriage broke down, she returned to Kingston as a single mother and enrolled in divinity school.

“I wanted to learn how to make the world a better place through it,” said Ms. Vosper, who is sprightly, with short salt-and-pepper hair, chunky glasses and a penchant for bubbling over with language.

By then, the United Church of Canada was propelled more by social justice than theology, according to Kevin Flatt, author of “After Evangelicalism: The 60s and the United Church.” The first church to ordain transgender ministers, its leadership supported abortion and same-sex union before either became legal in Canada.

Divinity school cemented her metaphorical views of God, Ms. Vosper says. But once she began preaching, she realized many congregants thought she was talking about an all-knowing, all-seeing spirit who answered prayers and called some to heaven and others to hell.

“I realized how little of what I said got through to anyone,” said Ms. Vosper….

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Posted in Atheism, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(NYT) When Religion Leads to Trauma–Some churches “weaponize scripture and religion to do very deep damage on the psyche,” one pastor says.

Brett Higbee, a retired land surveyor who attended the ranch during the late 1970s, said that he was routinely beaten for religious infractions like failing to memorize Bible verses. These experiences made him religion-phobic for years, he said, his pain triggered by entering a church or even hearing Christmas music on the radio.

The gap between religious teachings on compassion and the ways that faith sometimes gets misused inspired Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist, and his colleagues at Duke University to develop “religious cognitive therapy” in 2014. The therapy uses “positive scriptures that focus on forgiveness, God’s love and divine mercy to challenge the dysfunctional thoughts that maintain trauma,” says Dr. Koenig.

The Duke team has developed workbooks that accentuate this positive content for each of the world’s major religions. Clinical trials, published in 2015, showed that religious people who received the therapy had lower rates of depression and reported more positive emotions like gratitude and optimism than those who did not receive it.

The best cure for religious trauma may be a deeper dive into the spiritual core of religious teachings, Dr. Koenig says.

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Posted in Anthropology, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(PA) Why are social media firms facing a crackdown?

Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said he was “deeply moved” by Molly’s story and acknowledged his platform was “not yet where we need to be” on the issues of suicide and self-harm.

Images that encourage the acts are banned, but the boss admitted that Instagram relies on users to report the content before it is purged.

“The bottom line is we do not yet find enough of these images before they’re seen by other people,” Mr Mosseri added.

But he said the Facebook-owned firm would introduce “sensitivity screens” making it harder for users to see images showing cutting.

The issue is not simple though.

He argues a key piece of advice from external experts is that “safe spaces” for young people to discuss their mental health issues online are essential, providing therapeutic benefits.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Suicide, Teens / Youth

(CC) Philip Jenkins–The moral authority of Congolese churches

The DRC’s Christian leaders have become outspoken defenders of human rights. In 2016, Joseph Kabila’s unilateral decision to extend his elected term as president sparked pro-democracy pro­tests, mainly led by Catholic clergy. Protests segued directly from religious services, as legions of mass-goers surged out into the streets, singing hymns as they followed robed clergy. The most active centers of anti-Kabila militancy were Kinshasa’s parish churches and the cathedral itself.

Besides engaging in street activism, Catholic churches regularly rang their bells to remind the regime that its time was up. That in turn inspired a cacophony of whistles, pan banging, and horn honking by enthusiastic lay supporters. Throughout the crisis, the de facto leader of the democratic opposition nationwide was Kinshasa’s Cardinal Laurent Mon­seng­wo, who has now been succeeded as archbishop by the equally determined Fridolin Ambongo Besungu.

Protesters remained undaunted de­spite the regime’s efforts to suppress them by means of shootings and beatings and the arrest of priests. The church has combated antichurch propaganda campaigns launched by regime followers, who seek to demonize and intimidate the leading prelates. In such a propaganda war, the Catholic Church enjoys vast advantages in its own networks of preaching and information distribution. At the height of the struggle over the past two years, Catholics were joined by evangelical Christians as well as Muslims. It is not that the country lacks a secular sphere but rather that the churches (and mosques) have an overwhelming claim to credibility and popular respect.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Republic of Congo

(TES) Need to know: What are schools supposed to do about character education?

Character-building and resilience are once again back on the agenda. But what will this mean for schools?

Here is everything you need to know.

This week the issue will return to the fore as education secretary Damian Hinds give a keynote speech at a Church of England conference on Rethinking Resilience.

Organisers of the conference say that resilience is one of the most common education buzzwords of our day. They say: “It is a word too often reduced to simplistic ideas of grit, determination, getting through tough times or simply coping.”

The Church Of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, has suggested that the education system should look at resilience as a way of rising to the challenges of budget, staffing, recruitment of leaders and mental health

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Education, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(CT Women) Jen Michel–Move Over, Sex and Drugs. Ease Is the New Vice.

According to recent research, teens are starting their sex lives a lot later. Despite shifting cultural norms and new sexual freedoms, our youngest and most virile are apparently having less sex—at least for now. Sociologists and social commentators debate whether the trend is temporary and whether it marks a healthy or unhealthy societal shift. But it’s possible that the so-called sex recession offers evidence of a wide, disturbing trend that has nothing to do with sex—one that is particularly endemic to our cultural moment. The trend bears witness to the ways that we’re increasingly finding embodied life “tiresome.” (In Japan, that’s the word many younger Japanese people to describe intercourse: mendokusai.)

Our apparent fatigue with bodily living extends to other areas, as well. Two years ago, in response to declining cereal sales, market researchers went looking for answers to why younger people were opting out of the convenience food that had fed their parents and grandparents. According to The New York Times, researchers found the reason: Breakfast cereal—with the whole bother of bowl and spoon—involved far too much work. “Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.”

The decline in sexual activity and cereal sales hardly seem correlated, but both seem to point to one of the most seductive promises of a technological age: that ours should be an unbothered life. As our lives (at least in the developed world) get easier, we are increasingly formed by the desire for ease. Of all the cautions we raise about technology—its distractions and temptations, its loneliness and superficiality—this promise of unencumbered living is perhaps the most insidious danger and also the one we talk the least about.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(The Monthly) James Boice–What do we know about the Australian prime minister’s Pentecostalism?

The unsurprising truth is that an informed understanding of the PM’s political career is impossible without considering his religion….

On October 28, 2018, as Scott Morrison’s nascent prime ministership was descending into unholy chaos in the wake of the Wentworth by-election, one of the pastors of Horizon Church, Jackson Moore, preached an unusually frank sermon entitled “Stand and Watch God Fight”. Moore invoked one of the favourite Pentecostal passages, Ephesians 6:13, to call his congregation to put on “the full armour of God”. His theme was that the true follower of Christ must be ready for the “perfect storm” when everything will seem lost and “the Enemy” appears triumphant. What is asked of the believer when the Evil One seems to be in control? Just to “stand firm and see the deliverance”. The only possibility of defeat comes from succumbing to the Enemy’s attempt to “intimidate” and “distract”. If a believer resists Satan’s assault, God fights not just with you but for you.

The polls suggest that Scott Morrison will not survive his perfect storm. But if he pulls off a victory so improbable, there is little doubt that he will also believe that the miracle came because God delivered him victory.

If for no other reason than this dangerous delusion, Australians deserve to know more about what the leader of our country believes. Pentecostalism might not be a cult, but in terms of what ordinary people have been told about its true teachings, it may as well be. Those charged with scrutinising our politicians should put aside the national discomfort about discussing religion, and do what they would if a political leader subscribed to any other little-known ideology. Morrison must be made to tell us more about the faith that has shaped his life: What does he really think of the Devil?

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Posted in Australia / NZ, Pentecostal, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology