Category : * Economics, Politics

(Church Times) Hundreds of Christians in Nigeria ‘slaughtered’ by Islamist militia this year

More than 1000 Christians in Nigeria have been “slaughtered” by Islamist militia since January.

This is the key finding of a new report, Your Land or Your Blood, from the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), which was presented at the International Organisation for Peace and Social Justice (PSJ) crisis conference in London, last month. The PSJ promotes peace-building and social justice in Nigeria.

Since January, there have been five serious attacks in Kaduna State, in the centre of the country, resulting in an estimated 500 deaths. There were at least another five attacks in the counties of Bassa and Riyom, and more in Taraba State. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram remains in power around the Chad border region, including parts of Borno State in the north (News, 19 March).

More than 6000 people have been killed since 2015.

Baroness Cox, who founded HART to promote and support peace and development groups in Nigeria, has recently returned from a research trip to the country. She explained that the Fulani, a nomadic ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 West- and Central-African countries, were largely responsible for the new wave of violence. The terrorist group was listed as the fourth most deadly in the Global Terrorism Index in 2016 and 2017.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Nigeria, Politics in General, Terrorism

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked.

I came to realize that capitalism is really good at doing the one thing socialism is really bad at: creating a learning process to help people figure stuff out. If you want to run a rental car company, capitalism has a whole bevy of market and price signals and feedback loops that tell you what kind of cars people want to rent, where to put your locations, how many cars to order. It has a competitive profit-driven process to motivate you to learn and innovate, every single day.

Socialist planned economies — the common ownership of the means of production — interfere with price and other market signals in a million ways. They suppress or eliminate profit motives that drive people to learn and improve.

It doesn’t matter how big your computers are, the socialist can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops. The state cannot even see the local, irregular, context-driven factors that can have exponential effects. The state cannot predict people’s desires, which sometimes change on a whim. Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(Church Times) Gambling ‘is bad for your health’, says bishop Alan Smith of Saint Albans

GAMBLING should be treated as a “major health issue”, like smoking, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said. He was speaking after figures were published which suggest that most people in England gambled last year.

The Health Survey for England 2018, published on Wednesday, showed that 53 per cent of people had gambled in 2018, including buying lottery tickets. More men gamble than women: 56 per cent of men against 49 per cent of women.

For the survey, 8178 adults (aged from 16) and 2072 children were interviewed in England.

Dr Smith said: “With almost half the country gambling, it looks as if this is becoming a major health issue, which requires a response akin to tackling smoking in the last century.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Unherd) Ed West–Is a Form of Communism creeping into America?

Next year promises to be a bumper one for political books, at least on the Right, and in America. Ross Douthat has one out in February, The Decadent Society; before that in January Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement looks at the US since the assassination of JFK, while I’m looking forward to the reasoned, nuanced media debate that will follow Charles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class.

I can’t see any tripwires there!

Much later in the year is Rod Dreher’s as-yet-unnamed book, which delves into the psychological resemblance between life under Communism and developments in America since the Great Awokening began….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology, Young Adults

([London] Times) Rowan Williams–Step back from election chaos: the world is crying out for stability and dignity

In our response to and involvement in the election campaign, as in our actual voting, we should be prepared to look at these global realities as much as our domestic troubles – simply because there is no middle or long term security for us that is not also a secure future for the entire global neighbourhood. And so we need to recognise that planning has to be long-term and patient: the assurances of decisive, transforming action overnight are fantasies – though they are fantasies very much in tune with our feverishly short-term culture and all those pressures that make politics more and more a matter of advertising and entertainment.

Grown-up planning and negotiating take time. We have good reason to be sceptical of reckless promises. Churchill famously promised his electorate ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ – confident that the public he was addressing were strong and adult enough to see that a comprehensive victory would take time and would cost a great deal.

Who are the politicians who take the electorate that seriously? Who genuinely think that there is in this country a capacity for shared heroism in pursuing victory over what seems a massive, sluggish but inexorable destructiveness at work in the world economy, and victory over the deeply ingrained habits that still drive our ludicrous levels of resource consumption in the developed world?

Well, they don’t seem in abundant supply. But the national community is surely still capable of vision.

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Posted in --Rowan Williams, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–Debating the decline of wedlock, again, in the shadow of the baby bust

Over the last 10 years, however — and again, I acknowledge that this is impressionistic — I think we have reached a third phase in liberal attitudes toward marriage, a new outworking of cultural individualism that may eventually render the nuanced liberalism my colleague describes obsolete.

This new phase is incomplete and contested, and it includes elements — in #MeToo feminism, especially — whose ultimate valence could theoretically be congenial to cultural conservatives. But in general the emerging progressivism seems hostile not only to anything tainted by conservative religion or gender essentialism but to any idea of sexual or reproductive normativity, period, outside a bureaucratically supervised definition of “consent.” And it’s therefore disinclined to regard lifelong monogamy as anything more than one choice among many, one script to play with or abandon, one way of being whose decline should not necessarily be mourned, and whose still-outsize cultural power probably requires further deconstruction to be anything more than a patriarchal holdover, a prison and a trap.

The combination of forces that have produced this ideological shift is somewhat murky — it follows a general turn leftward on social issues after the early 2000s, a further weakening of traditional religion, the cultural ripples from Obergefell v. Hodges, the increasing political polarization of the sexes and, of course, the so-called Great Awokening.

But it does not feel like a coincidence that the new phase tracks with the recent decline in childbearing. If the new liberal hostility to marriage-as-normative-institution is not one of the ideological causes of our latest post-familial ratchet, it is at least a post facto ideological excuse, in which the frequent prestige-media pitches for polyamory or open marriages or escaping gender norms entirely are there to reassure people who might otherwise desire a little more normativity (and a few more children) in their lives, that it’s all cool because they’re in the vanguard of a revolution.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(PD) Nathaniel Blake–Outrage Mobs Might Be More Forgiving If They Believed in Hell

Belief in Hell might seem like the opposite of forgiveness. However, divine forgiveness is contingent on the possibility of divine punishment. Temporally, belief in divine retribution may also encourage human forgiveness, as believers recollect that they, too, need mercy. At the very least, they may overlook some wrongs on the basis that God will sort them out.

The prospect of Hell may allow for a moving-on even in cases of radical evil of the sort that Arendt deems unforgivable. Civil peace often demands leniency for horrific crimes. It is sometimes necessary that witnesses and informants be granted immunity for their crimes, that traitors and terrorists be offered amnesty, or that treaties be made with tyrants. In such cases, where reasons of state preclude justice in this life, belief that there will be an accounting after death may help restore and preserve peace, even without forgiveness. Belief in divine justice liberates humanity from the responsibility of administering perfect justice—an impossible effort that, because of human finitude and sin, itself produces injustice.

Recognizing the social utility of religious beliefs is not enough to preserve them. Still, such reflection aids in diagnosing the ills of a culture that abandons them. Declining belief in divine judgment may encourage some to indulge themselves, comforted by the belief that there will be no punishment. However, others will attempt to take the place of the absent divine judge.

Those who believe that the only justice to be had is that which they administer in this life will be neither proportionate nor merciful. And those who do not believe in Hell may attempt to create it themselves.

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Posted in Eschatology, Philosophy, Politics in General

(NYT) Suddenly, the Chinese Threat to Australia Seems Very Real

A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.

For a country that just wants calm commerce with China — the propellant behind 28 years of steady growth — the revelations of the past week have delivered a jolt.

Fears of Chinese interference once seemed to hover indistinctly over Australia. Now, Beijing’s political ambitions, and the espionage operations that further them, suddenly feel local, concrete and ever-present.

“It’s become the inescapable issue,” said Hugh White, a former intelligence official who teaches strategic studies at the Australian National University. “We’ve underestimated how quickly China’s power has grown along with its ambition to use that power.”

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, China, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(WSJ) Melanie Kirkpatrick–Thanksgiving, 1789

It is hard to imagine America’s favorite holiday as a source of political controversy. But that was the case in 1789, the year of our first Thanksgiving as a nation.

The controversy began on Sept. 25 in New York City, then the seat of government. The inaugural session of the first Congress was about to recess when Rep. Elias Boudinot of New Jersey rose to introduce a resolution. He asked the House to create a joint committee with the Senate to “wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

The 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

([London] Times) Labour antisemitism: Corbyn not fit for high office, says Chief Rabbi Mirvis

Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism allegations makes him “unfit for high office”, the Chief Rabbi has said while warning that the “very soul of our nation is at stake” in next month’s general election.

In an unprecedented intervention into politics, which he describes as “amongst the most painful moments” of his career, Ephraim Mirvis says that “a new poison” has taken hold in Labour “sanctioned from the very top”.

In an article for The Times today, the Chief Rabbi says that the Labour leader’s claim to have dealt with all allegations of antisemitism is “a mendacious fiction” and the way that the party has handled the claims is “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud”.

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Posted in England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NI) Gordon Chang–Pro-China Forces ‘Annihilated’ in Hong Kong Election

Initial results from Sunday’s election in Hong Kong indicate that pro-democracy forces have handed Chinese ruler Xi Jinping a stunning setback. Pro-Beijing candidates are going down to defeat in District Council elections, the first real test of sentiment in the territory since protests began in April over the introduction of a bill authorizing extraditions to mainland China.

So far, pro-Dems have won 88.6 percent of the vote for 452 seats on 18 District Council boards. They have so far taken 351 seats versus 45 for the “establishment” forces. “Absolute political annihilation for the pro-Beijing camp” is how Stephen McDonell, a BBC China correspondent, described the result on Twitter. Tom Mitchell of the Financial Times called it a “Himalayan-sized avalanche.”

Turnout was a record 71.2 percent, well ahead of the previous high mark of 47.1 percent set in 2015, the year after the 79-day “Occupy” protests. A record 4.13 million people, in a region of 7.40 million, were registered to vote this year.

The District Councils, responsible for routine municipal services, have little power, but the Sunday elections took on significance, widely seen as a referendum on various matters because they are the only government bodies in Hong Kong whose members are elected by universal suffrage. “Sunday’s vote,” CNN noted on the eve of the election, “offers the first objective test of how people in the city feel about the protests and the government.”

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Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Hong Kong, Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Politics in General

(CEN) Civil partnership changes to become law next month

MPs were told that there are over three million opposite-sex couples that cohabit but choose not to marry for personal reasons. While these couples support a million children, they do not have the security or legal protection that married couples or civil partners enjoy.

The instrument extends civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples in England and Wales, by amending the definition of civil partnerships and the eligibility criteria for registering as civil partners in the 2004 Act, to remove the same-sex requirement.

It also amends Part 5 of the 2004 Act so that certain opposite-sex relationships formed in other countries, which are not marriages, can be recognised as civil partnerships in England and Wales.

The instrument also provides specific protections for religious organisations and persons acting on their behalf. The religious protections recognise the potential for diversity of religious views in this area, particularly whilst some religious organisations may choose not to be involved in any civil partnerships, others may be content to host only civil partnerships between same-sex couples, and others may prefer only to be involved in civil partnerships between opposite-sex couples, the paper explains.

The instrument also introduces a new ‘non-compulsion’ clause so that religious organisations and persons acting on their behalf cannot be compelled to do specified acts (such as allowing religious premises to be used for civil partnerships, or participating in civil partnerships on religious premises), where either the organisation, or the person, does not wish to do so.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Men, Other Faiths, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Theology, Women

(SA) The Diocese of Bristol and Swindon declares a climate emergency

The Diocese of Bristol and Swindon has declared a climate emergency after a unanimous vote at its last meeting.

In response to the emergency, the Diocese aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and has an ambitious policy to help achieve this goal.

It is the first diocese in the Church of England to announce this aim, with others expected to do so over the coming months.

Bishop of Bristol Viv Faull said: “Care for God’s creation is key to our Christian faith. Climate change hits our poorest global neighbours first and worst, exacerbating migration, conflict over resources and the spread of disease.

“As Christians we are driven to urgent action by love for our neighbour, our world and our creator God. Many of us are already involved in activity to halt the destruction of God’s creation and bring about climate justice….”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stewardship

(Seattle Times) Recompose, the human-composting alternative to burial and cremation, finds a home in Seattle’s Sodo area

One evening last week, around 75 people gathered in a vast Sodo warehouse for an event that may have been the first of its kind in human history: a housewarming party for a funeral home where bodies would not be burned or buried, but laid in individual vessels to become clean, usable compost.

It was an eclectic group (doctors, architects, funeral directors, state legislators, lawyers, investors), but they had come together to celebrate the first site for Recompose, the fledgling Seattle company that hopes to change the way people think about what happens after we die.

“You all have one thing in common,” Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, told the crowd beneath the mammoth, curved wood ceiling. “You are all members of the death-care revolution.”

But for some at the party, it took a little time to get there.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology

(FT) Tough new global standards on mining waste storage under consideration

Some of the mining majors have already publicly released their own stringent standards but say implementation and assurance of stakeholders needs improving. There is also a wider challenge of getting smaller miners that do not belong to the ICMM to sign up to the standards.

The disaster in Brazil was the second major accident involving tailings dams within almost four years and has made some investors wary of owning mining shares and raised uncertainty among insurance companies. It is estimated there are about 3,500 active tailings dams globally and a recent review estimated one in ten have stability issues.

The draft noted investors have a role to play in limiting their financial support only to projects that fulfil the standards proposed and insurance companies should insist mining companies minimise the risk from tailings dams.

Adam Matthews from the Church of England Pensions Board representing PRI said “we are mindful that zero harm to people and environment has to be the objective and the standard has an important role to play to achieving a mining sector whose tailings facilities are operating to such a standard.”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stock Market

Time to ‘leave our echo chambers’ and listen to others, say Archbishops of Canterbury+York in General Election message

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Politics in General

(Mirror) Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says Jesus would not have got a UK visa

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says Jesus would not have got a UK visa under the points-based system being proposed by the government.

The clergyman, who has been outspoken about social justice, said there would have to be a “shortage of carpenters” in Britain for Jesus to be granted entry during an event at the CBI conference in London.

He said: “Our founder Jesus Christ was of course not white, middle class and British – he certainly wouldn’t have got a visa – unless we’re particularly short of carpenters.”

The Archbishop was talking as part in a discussion on social inequality chaired by the BBC Business Editor Faisal Islam who shared a clip on his Twitter feed.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General

(1st Things) Matthew Schmitz–God’s Garbage People

Fr. Botros Roshdy, a priest who serves there, tucks an iPhone into his black cassock. He has a social media presence and is known across the country. He is more willing than most to discuss the persecution faced by the zabbaleen and Egypt’s other Christians. “Neither the church leaders you have met, nor those you are going to meet, are speaking freely,” he says after we sit down. “If they could speak freely, they would discuss the discriminatory laws, the infiltration of the judicial system by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Roshdy notes that little has changed for the Copts over the last decade, despite the hollow promises of freedom that came with the Arab Spring and current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s self-presentation as a defender of Christians. “We are still being used as a playing card in political games. When the government wants to win the support of Copts during the elections, they offer to let us build a church.” But these overtures have not changed the landscape. “Take the blasphemy law,” ­Roshdy says. “It has been applied only against Christians.”

Roshdy mentions some typical incidents of persecution. One involved an elderly Coptic woman in Minya who was attacked, stripped naked, and dragged through the streets. “Everyone knows who did this crime, but there has been no punishment.” A group of Coptic students in Bani ­Mazar filmed a video in which they mocked ISIS. “People in their town accused them of blasphemy for mocking Islam. So these young children were arrested and jailed. . . . They were finally freed and received asylum in ­Europe.”

Despite the persecution, Egypt’s Christians are winning converts. The number and names of converts must be carefully guarded, however, because conversion from Islam carries a high price. “Some of them are kicked out of their houses, some of them are fired, some of them have their kids taken away,” Roshdy says. “But they consider all of these troubles nothing for the sake of Christ. Their faith is so strong, they see him.” Cast out by their families, these men and women are adopted into the household of God.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Coptic Church, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(WSJ) Kristina Arriaga–Congress May Set Back Religious Freedom

Cuban Communist Party official Caridad Diego comes to the U.S. regularly to shop and visit relatives. When she returns to Cuba, she resumes her 9-to-5 job as director of Havana’s Office of Religious Affairs. The title sounds bland, but Ms. Diego oversees the repression of independent Cuban religious leaders. Like many bureaucrats in corrupt regimes, Ms. Diego arbitrarily enforces the law against her political enemies while flouting the same rules as she pleases.

Officials like this operate around the world, often in relative anonymity. But a small U.S. government organization, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, helps change that. When a Cuban Methodist pastor was detained in Havana last month, USCIRF called on the U.S. Embassy in Havana to ban Ms. Diego from visiting the U.S. until Cuban religious leaders can travel abroad to attend conferences. Pastors on the island tell me she was so rattled by USCIRF’s call for a visa ban that change may soon come.

This kind of direct action has been at the core of USCIRF’s mission since its creation in 1998. Its architects knew that the enemies of religious freedom aren’t only tyrants. They include simple bureaucrats who share their rulers’ desire for control. Believing that a bureaucracy can’t be defeated by creating another bureaucracy, Congress ensured the nine USCIRF commissioners were unpaid, independent volunteer voices selected from both political parties. They were to answer to no one, apart from the American people whose principles of liberty they represent abroad. This is part of why I accepted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s appointment to the commission in 2016.

But now USCIRF may be changing. In September the Senate introduced a bill that would shift its stated purpose and burden commissioners with new bureaucratic hurdles. The bill was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, Cory Gardner, Dick Durbin and Chris Coons, who say the reforms are necessary for transparency and accountability. Whatever their intentions, the damage would be real.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, House of Representatives, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Senate

(The Point) Bad Infinity–The endurance of the liberal imagination

“In the United States at this time,” Lionel Trilling wrote in 1949, “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.” These words are strange to read today. One cannot imagine someone writing them now and, in retrospect, they suggest a dangerous hubris. And yet it is not clear that, applied either to Trilling’s time or to ours, they are wrong.

Since the global political unraveling in 2016, liberalism has lost its voice. From the “basket of deplorables” to the “#resistance” pins to the eat-pray-love liberalism of “a thousand small sanities,” public defenses of the West’s regnant political ideology ring hollow and desperate. Read the Times or the Post, listen to politicians, sit for a second and catch the mood in the airport: the absence is in the air, not just in our language. Max Weber called twentieth-century governance the “slow boring of hard boards”: they have been bored, and so are we.

To literary critics and political theorists—those whose job it is to front-run the zeitgeist—liberalism now seems not so much an opponent to battle as a corpse to put to rest. It is something to be, at most, anatomized, if not simply buried and forgotten. The new right tends toward the former: Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, published in 2018 and blurbed by everyone from David Brooks to Cornel West, blames the very idea of America, with its manic commitment to a radical and spiritually empty freedom. For millennial socialists and fully automated luxury communists, liberalism is, instead, a kind of dad joke, a boomer blooper: faintly embarrassing and best ignored. Maybe we grew up believing in Obama, but that’s all over; now we’ve grown up and moved out.

Wake up! critics seem to say; Get Real. Liberalism is dead. All you have to do is look around: the world we live in is one our old categories can’t explain. Liberalism envisions the tools of reason—science, public debate, law—liberating individuals, tempering passions and leading, however slowly and unevenly, to a world felicitously governed, in harmony with itself. It is very hard to square such a vision with the present world, in which governments have been captured by grifters and demagogues, algorithms move markets and ambient anxiety reigns.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General

(Wash Post) Europe has resisted taking back citizens who joined ISIS. Now, it may not have a choice.

Bint Dahlia was 33 when she left Germany with her husband and children to start life in the Islamic State’s newly declared caliphate.

She is one of thousands of Europeans who did — and, five years later, one of hundreds trying to come back.

European governments have resisted repatriating their nationals since the caliphate crumbled. Leaders fear domestic attacks and public backlash and have argued that trials should take place regionally.

But now Europe’s hand is being forced. Although Turkey has said it is starting to deport people in its custody with suspected Islamic State links, even more significant are landmark court cases giving governments little choice.

Last week, an appeals court in Berlin ruled that the German government should repatriate Bint Dahlia alongside her three children from al-Hol, a squalid Kurdish-run camp inside Syria. (The woman’s real name was redacted in court documents shared with The Washington Post, and her relatives have asked that The Post use a family nickname for her safety.)

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(AI) Trinity School for Ministry expands campus, purchases local church

In the small town of Ambridge, PA, a renewal is taking place. Storefronts are being updated, old buildings are being refurbished to house new tenants, and new sidewalks have been poured. Trinity School for Ministry has a desire to support this renewal in a way that is helpful to the town and also helps to build community. To that end, Trinity School for Ministry is thrilled to announce that we have just purchased the Presbyterian Church of Ambridge, located just a few blocks from Trinity’s campus. “When the pastor from the church approached me to inquire whether we would be interested in buying the church, I knew that I had to explore this option,” stated the Very Rev. Dr. Henry L. Thompson, III (Laurie), Dean and President of Trinity School for Ministry. “We knew we needed a larger chapel/meeting space and we had been praying that God would help us to discern whether or not to build a brand new building,” Thompson added. “We received our answer— not surprisingly, this existing church met every one of my criteria that I had identified for a new building. God has given us such a tremendous gift.”

Opened in 1976, Trinity has a long history of working with the Ambridge and surrounding communities. Of interest is the fact that Trinity’s current chapel was a Presbyterian church, and when Trinity purchased it, half of the congregation began attending down the street at the church that was just purchased. “We feel like God has taken us full circle,” said Thompson, “and once again we are able to put new life into an older building.”

The recently purchased building will allow Trinity to move forward into the future as its residential student population continues to grow and its partnerships reach even further globally.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Housing/Real Estate Market, Seminary / Theological Education, Stewardship

(CT’s The Exchange) Another Way for Immigration Reform? How Evangelicals Can Help Lead It

As I speak in evangelical churches on a regular basis, I find most evangelicals are desperate for an approach to immigration that respects biblical principles. That means keeping families together whenever possible, being fair to taxpayers and insisting that our government fulfill its God-ordained responsibility to secure our borders and protect citizens from harm.

It also means respecting the law – the point on which evangelicals feel most conflicted. While they don’t like raids and mass deportation, amnesty – which means dismissing and forgiving the violation of U.S. law – is also a non-starter.

The solution lies in the middle.

This week in Washington, D.C., the Evangelical Immigration Table unveiled an Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform.

Dozens of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country – leaders of evangelical denominations, presidents of Christian colleges and seminaries and pastors of prominent churches – voiced their support for a process that would require undocumented immigrants to get right with the law by paying a significant fine.

If they could pass a criminal background check and meet other requirements, they would be given the opportunity to gradually earn permanent legal status. Most immigrants I know would be thrilled to make things right and stay lawfully with their families.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Elisabeth Braw–The Stasi Spies in Seminary

East Germany’s Communist government opened the Berlin Wall and thus the country 30 years ago Saturday. Geopolitics and economics drove this outcome, but East Germany’s religious communities played a complicated, significant and far too often overlooked role.

The Stasi, East Germany’s secret police agency, understood that the country’s congregations presented a major threat to the existing order. Lutherans were East Germany’s largest denomination, and many actively opposed the regime. Undermining them became a thorny task for a ruling class that disdained the brutality of the Soviet Union and its other satellites.

By 1954 the Stasi had built a Soviet-inspired agency to monitor churches, later named Department XX/4. It gradually perfected the art of subversion. The group’s officers came from the proletariat, as most top officials did. The Stasi recruited farmhands and factory workers and sent them to the Potsdam College of Jurisprudence, its officer training school.

To weaken faith communities, the department cultivated believers, including pastors, as spies….

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Posted in Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education

(NYT) Michael Bloomberg Is Expected to File for the Alabama 2020 Presidential Primary

Michael R. Bloomberg is actively preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary and is expected to file paperwork this week designating himself as a candidate in at least one state with an early filing deadline, people briefed on Mr. Bloomberg’s plans said.

Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman, has been privately weighing a bid for the White House for weeks and has not yet made a final decision on whether to run, an adviser said. But in the first sign that he is seriously moving toward a campaign, Mr. Bloomberg has dispatched staffers to Alabama to gather signatures to qualify for the primary there. Though Alabama does not hold an early primary, it has a Friday deadline for candidates to formally enter the race.

Mr. Bloomberg called a number of prominent Democrats on Thursday to tell them he was seriously considering the race, including former Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the retired majority leader who remains a dominant power broker in the early caucus state.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Office of the President, Politics in General

(BBC) The shareholders fighting to make oil firms greener

They can also convince firms to stop lobbying that is “inconsistent” with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change globally.

One of the most successful activist groups has been Climate Action 100+, a global network of institutional investors that targets the world’s 100 largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters.

Its 370 members, which have $35tn (£27tn) of assets under management, include well-known names such as Aberdeen Standard, the Church of England Pensions Board and HSBC Global Asset Management.

In March, the group, working with others, forced the oil giant Shell to make a legally binding commitment to use a broader definition of greenhouse gas emissions in its carbon-reduction targets.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stewardship, Stock Market

(Channel 7 Denver) Pueblo white supremacist arrested in ‘domestic terrorism’ case after plans to bomb synagogue

A white supremacist from Pueblo was arrested Friday when he met up with three undercover FBI agents in an attempt to bomb the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo as part of what he called a “racial holy war” and to wipe the synagogue “off the map” in what the FBI says amounts to “domestic terrorism.”

Richard Holzer, 27, made his first court appearance at 2 p.m. Monday at the U.S. District Court of Colorado. Court records show he faces one count of attempting to obstruct religious exercise by force using explosives and fire.

According to a criminal complaint , undercover FBI agents had been talking with Holzer since September and had been tracking multiple Facebook accounts of his in which he talked to other white supremacists through private messages about attacking Jewish people and other minority groups.

Among the messages he wrote was one in which he said, “I wish the Holocaust really did happen,” and another in which he said he was getting ready to shoot people while showing pictures of him holding guns and white supremacist regalia.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Judaism, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Terrorism, Violence

(OUP Blog) Heretics to demigods: evangelicals and the American founders

As political conservatism became more secular and more wedded to classical liberal principles at the close of the nineteenth century, evangelicals left behind some of these theological scruples and lent their voices to laudatory hymns to the Founders. Their approach to the Founders became less nuanced and indistinguishable from the generic civil religion espoused by political conservatives by the mid-twentieth century.

This historical backdrop helps illuminate the bizarre spectacle of best-selling evangelical author David Barton recently maintaining that Jefferson was a bona fide evangelical. In short, two developments (among other factors) help explain the evangelical change of heart regarding Founders like Jefferson and Paine. First, evangelicals came to embrace uncritically the minimalist, laissez-faire model of the state championed by many Founders. Second, theological commitments became less important to conservative Protestants as pragmatic concerns about securing and protecting their political influence prevailed.

Uncritical nationalism and partisanship have long been temptations for Christians of every sort. Still, reflecting on their past critical engagement with the Founders can bring greater clarity to how evangelicals envisage their role in the public square today and their distinctive contribution to the larger American experiment.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Evangelicals, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture