Category : * Religion News & Commentary

News and commentary from / about other (non-Anglican) Christian churches and denominations

Samuel Zwemer–‘If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery’

“But Christian messengers of the good news cannot be silent about the cross. Here is the testimony of the American missionary Samuel M. Zwemer (1867–1952), who laboured in Arabia, edited The Muslim World for forty years, and is sometimes called ‘The Apostle to Islam’: The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling- block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission…. If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the gospel centres here. The Cross is the pivot as well as the centre of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure. The more unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering. We rediscover the apostolic emphasis on the Cross when we read the gospel with Moslems. We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.”

–John R W Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downer’s Grove, InterVaristy Press, 2006), page 41

Posted in Atonement, Books, Christology, Evangelicals, Holy Week

(CT) Peter Leithart–Taste and See That the Lord’s Supper Is Good

Evangelicals need to thicken our theology of the Lord’s Supper, first by drawing more of the Bible into the discussion of the Supper, and second by drawing more of the Supper into discussion of the Supper.

Even a fine recent treatment of Reformed sacramental theology, Todd Billings’s Remembrance, Communion, and Hope, is still too thin on both counts. Billings does discuss the key New Testament passages—the institution narratives, Jesus’ resurrection meals, 1 Corinthians 10-11—and makes passing references to Passover and other Old Testament passages, meals, and festivals. But the richness of Old Testament theology still feels lacking. Billings observes that Paul sees manna as a type of the church’s covenant meal, but he doesn’t follow up the clue. If manna is a type, might there be others?

Many examine the Supper through a “zoom lens,” focusing narrowly on the most disputed point in historic debates—the metaphysics of the bread and wine. Much to his credit, Billings pulls back the camera to give us a wider view. In several “congregational snapshots,” he reminds us that the Supper involves people gathered to say and do, eat and drink. He rightly shows that a theology of the Supper must be integrated with the theology of the church.

But we need an even wider angle. Communion bread doesn’t fall from heaven. Wine doesn’t come tricklin’ down the rock. As one Eucharistic prayer puts it, the bread and wine are “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.” Bread and wine represent nature transformed into culture by human action. A thick theology of the Supper needs to broaden beyond the theology of the church into a theology of culture. So, I offer a suggestive, not definitive, picture of what a thicker theology of the Supper might look like—a pencil drawing, not a portrait.

Read it all.

Posted in Eucharist, Evangelicals, Holy Week, Sacramental Theology

(Crux) Life and death with a Jesuit: Father James Schall on the important things

Lopez: What is best about life?

Schall: What is best about life? The first thing is having it, actually being in existence and knowing that we exist as this human being, that we do not cause ourselves to exist. We are given life. What is best about life is to know that it is a gift rather than some blind development with no internal meaning to itself as this, and not that, being.

Following on this realization of our own existence, what is best is knowing that we are not alone. We live among others and seek and rejoice in our friends. We discover in revelation that we are also to become friends of God. Our lives are often filled with sin and suffering, when we need others most, for forgiveness, for help, for understanding.

What is best about life is also the fact that we can walk this green earth, see things, and especially know what not ourselves is. We exist also that what is not ourselves in all its variety and complexity can be known to us. We are not deprived of the world or others because we are not they. Instead in knowledge, the world and our friends return to us. We know a world that is not ourselves; we are blessed.

What is most challenging about life?

Finding its order. My book, The Order of Things, goes into this issue. At first sight, the world seems a chaos, a disorder. But the earth and all in it reveal an order that is not there because we put it there. We find it already there. This is what we discover when we discover anything.

Modern (and Muslim) voluntarism will claim that nothing is stable (an old Greek view also). Everything can be its opposite. Therefore, there are no evils. But there are evils, due precisely to a lack of order. Moral evil is a lack of order that we put in our own thoughts and deeds because we reject that order that is given to us that constitutes our own real good. The challenge of life is to deal with the reasons for evil without despair or without affirming that evil is good.

Even in the worst circumstances, we strive to see what is in order. But when it is our responsibility to affirm or allow that order, we can prefer our own ideas. In doing so, we implicitly reject the being that is. Thanks to the redemption, this rejection can be repented and reordered, but even here, we are required to act in a way that confronts what is really wrong. We are responsible for our own lives. In the end, the story of our personal existence will be told in terms of how we lived and understood the gift of life that we have been freely given.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Philosophy, Roman Catholic, Theology

(Aleteia) Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., noted political philosopher, dead at 91

He was a member of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace at the Vatican, 1977-82; and of the National Council on the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1984-90.

“The most remarkable feature of Fr. Schall as a thinker is the way he has internalized the Catholic intellectual tradition,” said V. Bradley Lewis, Associate Professor in the School of Philosophy and Fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. “He has often seemed to me to be that tradition incarnate. His erudition is enormous, and his powers of synthesis are extraordinary. He has always been one of the first persons you wanted to hear discuss any significant development because you knew he would be able to think about it in the context of his command of the tradition.”

That was true especially of political matters and issues of political theory, Lewis said. Fr. Schall was “one of the very few really deep explicitly Catholic political thinkers around because he has such a deep knowledge of the history of political philosophy itself, but also of the specifically Catholic political thinkers.”

“Even in retirement, books, columns, and articles have continued to come at a dizzying pace,” said Bradley Lewis.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Philosophy, Roman Catholic

Anglicans and Catholics make joint submission to Foreign Office review on persecuted Christians

From there:

The Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have made a joint submission to the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians.

In a joint letter accompanying the submission, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that in many places “our Christian sisters and brothers face persecution of an intensity and extent unprecedented in many centuries.”

However, the Archbishops added that these threats to freedom of religion or belief are not restricted to Christians alone, but are a widespread experience of the followers of other faiths.

“We ask Her Majesty’s Government to take note of the practical recommendations offered by our Churches in this Submission and to take meaningful action not only in protecting Christians facing persecution but also in promoting freedom of religion and belief more widely,” they said

(follow the link to see the 2 full letters).

Posted in Church of England, Ecumenical Relations, Globalization, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Roman Catholic

(BBC) Anti-Semitism threatens Romania’s fragile Jewish community

Ugly scenes of smashed and toppled headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Romania have shocked the country’s dwindling Jewish community and prompted international condemnation.

Vandals badly damaged 73 gravestones in the north-eastern town of Husi earlier this month, amid a surge in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe.

“It’s a very disturbing event, but it’s nothing surprising,” said Maximillian Marco Katz, founding director of the Centre for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism in Romania.

“It shows that anti-Semitism is alive, it doesn’t matter who did it,” he told the BBC.

“They didn’t knock down two or three gravestones, they knocked down 73 gravestones – that takes some determination and it takes time.”

A criminal investigation has been opened.

Read it all.

Posted in Judaism, Religion & Culture, Romania

(CT) The Gospel of AI: Evangelicals Want Tech to Remain Good News

As artificial intelligence (AI) makes its way into social media and smart devices, markets and health care systems, military and public policy, evangelicals are raising big questions about its revolutionary potential.

“We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care,” state the authors of the new Evangelical Statement of Principles on Artificial Intelligence, unveiled today in Washington, DC. “We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities.”

The statement was initially endorsed by about 65 leading evangelical voices, including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president J. D. Greear; pastors Matt Chandler and Ray Ortlund; professors Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, and Richard Mouw; as well as leaders of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which released the document. (CT’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, also signed the statement.)

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(ABC Aus.) Civil celebrants ‘doing it for love, not money’ amid calls for sector review

Wayne Rees will wear just about anything to a wedding, although he draws the line at going nude.

In his 25 years as a marriage celebrant in far north Queensland, he has wed couples while dressed in budgie smugglers, as Santa Claus and even as a Jedi knight.

“This couple were Star Wars fanatics and they said they always wanted to be married by a Jedi knight,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Secularism

(Tennessean) Why John Perkins, a leading voice on racial reconciliation says evangelicals aren’t focusing enough on unity

The book emphasizes biblical reconciliation, which it describes as “the removal of tensions between parties and the restoration of loving relationship.” Perkins, who has dedicated his life to reconciliation work, sees his latest book as a manifesto of sorts.

“The problem of reconciliation in our country and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin in the minds of men,” Perkins writes. “This is a God-sized problem. It is one that only the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal.”

While there is still much work to be done, Perkins has seen signs of unity in the American church, especially in the past 15 years or so. He has been encouraged by the inclusive attitudes and determination of young people and by congregations successfully starting new multi-ethnic and multicultural churches.

“I praise God for that,” Perkins said.

He pointed to a successful Memphis church as an example, saying that its congregation also has gotten involved in trying to heal some of the city’s wounds, too.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ecumenical Relations, Evangelicals, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Finding a new equilibrium after Christchurch won’t be easy

In response to all this, Muslim representatives frequently stress that the problem of Islamophobia (a term that remains contentious in many countries) is by no means confined to a far-rightist fringe. They insist that an anti-Muslim climate has been created by politicians much closer to the respectable centre-right, or in the French case by zealous advocates of the century-old doctrine of laïcité, or strict secularism.

At Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the leading places of Islamic worship in Britain, the initial reaction to New Zealand’s horror was one of inter-faith solidarity. Representatives of all local creeds gathered to offer sympathy and support. But mosque leaders say their people live daily with abuse, spitting, jostling and in the case of women, attempts to grab their scarves. Nassar Mahmood, a mosque trustee, says social peace in the city is challenged on many fronts. Reduced levels of policing (because of budget cuts) lead to a rise in petty crime that, he fears, may be blamed on Muslims. “We could very easily face attacks similar to those in New Zealand that would destabilise our social harmony,” he says. In the early hours of March 21st, five mosques in Birmingham were attacked with sledgehammers.

Salma Yaqoob, a local politician of the left who may be Birmingham’s best-known Muslim woman, has been adamant that the problem goes far beyond an extremist white-nationalist fringe. Her response to the New Zealand massacre was to “call out” mainstream Tory politicians who in her view played to the gallery with anti-Muslim innuendos.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Australia / NZ, Blogging & the Internet, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Violence

(PRC FactTank) The countries with the 10 largest Christian populations and the 10 largest Muslim populations

“Top 10” lists can often be helpful in displaying and illuminating data. For example, the two tables of countries with the largest Christian and Muslim populations featured here reveal differences in the concentration, diversity and projected changes in the world’s two largest religions.

The two lists show that the global Muslim population is more heavily concentrated in Islam’s main population centers than the global Christian population is for Christianity, which is more widely dispersed around the world. Indeed, about two-thirds (65%) of the world’s Muslims live in the countries with the 10 largest Muslim populations, while only 48% of the world’s Christians live in the countries with the 10 largest Christian populations.

Read it all.

Posted in Globalization, History, Islam, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

(CT’s The Exchange) Ryan Burge–Race, Religion, and the Future of American Evangelicalism

Evangelicals are having a branding problem. When I searched Twitter in December of 2018 for tweets that contained the word “evangelical,” I was surprised to see that one of the most popular words that appeared in those tweets was the word “white.” In fact, I looked back over a number of different sets of tweets going back to 2017 and the term “white evangelical” comes up frequently among those discussing evangelical Protestants on social media. That means that at least one vocal portion of the population sees that evangelicalism has become strongly linked with a white racial identity. That’s bad news if you are concerned about the future viability of American evangelicalism. In this article, I want to outline three important trends regarding race and faith that we should consider as we try to lead evangelicalism through this period.

First, Evangelicals are not keeping pace with America’s racial diversity

It is a widely accepted statistical fact that the racial makeup of the United States is rapidly changing. In 2018, about seven in ten people living in the United States are non-Hispanic whites. However, that will dramatically change over the next 30 years. The United States Census Bureau now projects that somewhere between 2045 and 2050, the share of the population that is white will drop below fifty percent.

While there are numerous reasons for this change, it appears to be due to two key factors. First, the average age of the white population is steadily increasing, while the ages of other racial groups are staying much lower. Second, the fertility rate of racial minorities is far outpacing the number of children that are born to white Americans. This is already evident in the data. In the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), just 57% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 were white.

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(Touchstone) Jacob Fareed Imam–Not Merely Islam: C. S. Lewis Assesses the Religion of Mohammed

Living in Christian Oxford as he did and dying in 1963, C. S. Lewis never directly witnessed the growing scale of Islamic immigration to the United Kingdom in the years after World War II. His exposure to Islam was more literary and intellectual than personal and actual.

Daily interactions between Muslims and Christians in Britain (and throughout the West) have increased vastly since Lewis’s time, yet mutual understanding has not grown with the same rapidity. Particularly now, as Islamic extremism threatens the West with yet another holy war, Christians must understand Islam apart from polemical analyses. Samuel Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996) that both of these world religions grew markedly in the twentieth century in large part because many tried to escape modernity and secularity in tradition-dependent claims to truth. Given that so many settled within these traditions, it would be interesting to examine what a major religious thinker of the time thought about the other religion.

Lewis, as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century and somewhat ahead of his time in his familiarity—albeit literary and intellectual—with things Islamic, may assist us in understanding Islam from a Christian perspective.

Read it all.

Posted in Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Theology

(America) John Conley–U.S. Catholics don’t think much about life after death. Here’s why we should.

The manifesto concisely summarizes the Catholic conception of eternal life in a lapidary paragraph:

Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead. Death makes the human person’s decision for or against God definitive. Everyone has to face the particular judgment immediately after death. Either a purification is necessary, or the person goes directly to heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face. There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end…. The punishment of hell is a terrible reality.

This reiteration of the Catholic belief in heaven, hell and purgatory might appear a recitation of the obvious, a reminder of simple truths learned in grade-school catechism classes. But it is no longer obvious in the contemporary approach to death and judgment operative in American Catholicism and elsewhere.

Catholic funeral services increasingly have little to say of the judgment the human person faces at the moment of death and at the end of time. It is as if the free choices we make in this life no longer have eternal consequences.

Read it all.

Posted in Eschatology, Roman Catholic

(ACNS) Senior ecumenical panel to discuss Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

Read it all.

Posted in Ecumenical Relations, Theology

Terry Mattingly–After wars over Bible, marriage and sex: is Union possible for Reappraising Episcopalians and Methodists?

So far, leaders on the United Methodist left haven’t announced plans to leave. But that doesn’t mean that Episcopal clergy and other liberal Protestant leaders shouldn’t be prepared to help United Methodists who come their way, said the Rev. David Simmons of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, Wis., a leader in several regional and national ecumenical efforts.

“We have to start with the fact that lots of United Methodists are really hurting,” he said, in a telephone interview. “What we should be doing is providing a safe harbor. Our primary motivation shouldn’t be to grab members from other churches. … If we do that then we’re not being a safe harbor. We can’t go around saying, ‘United Methodists hare having trouble, so let’s recruit them.’ ”

Thus, Simmons recently posted an online essay entitled, “How to Deal With Methodists at your Red Church Doors” – referring to the front doors at most Episcopal parishes. His subtitle was even more blunt: “Don’t be a Jerk.” His suggestions to Episcopal leaders included:

* Remember that Methodists have their own traditions and history. It’s wrong to hand them a Book of Common Prayer and try to instantly “make them Episcopalians. … ANY language about ‘Coming Home’ or ‘Returning to the Mother Church’ is harmful, insensitive and historically inaccurate, since American Methodism and the Episcopal Church are both technically equal children of the Church of England.”

* “Lay off the smugness!” Episcopalians, for example, should not brag about “how much further ahead we are” on LGBTQ issues, noted Simmons. Some United Methodist congregations have “been way ahead of us in this in spite of the discipline of the UMC. … Don’t attempt to score cheap points….”

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Methodist, Religion & Culture, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology

(Crust Old Dean) Tom Ferguson’s take on the recently Concluded United Methodist Special Conference

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(WSJ) After Mass Detentions, China Razes Muslim Communities to Build a Loyal City

In this old Silk Road city in western China, a state security campaign involving the detention of vast numbers of people has moved to its next stage: demolishing their neighborhoods and purging their culture.

Two years after authorities began rounding up Urumqi’s mostly Muslim ethnic Uighur residents, many of the anchors of Uighur life and identity are being uprooted. Empty mosques remain, while the shantytown homes that surrounded them have been replaced by glass towers and retail strips like many found across China.

Food stalls that sold fresh nang, the circular flatbread that is to Uighur society what baguettes are to the French, are gone. The young men that once baked the nang have disappeared, as have many of their customers. Uighur-language books are missing from store shelves in a city, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region, that has long been a center of the global Uighur community.

Supplanting the Turkic culture that long defined large parts of Urumqi is a sanitized version catering to Chinese tourists. On a recent morning in the Erdaoqiao neighborhood, the once-bustling heart of Uighur Urumqi, nang ovens were nowhere to be seen—but souvenir shops sold nang-shaped pocket mirrors, nang bottle openers and circular throw pillows with covers printed to look like nang.

Read it all.

Posted in China, Islam, Religion & Culture

Archbishop of Canterbury: “Hatred of Muslims is blasphemy”

Much of what I was going to say has already been said. The killings in New Zealand are monstrous. The response of New Zealand, all its people, with Muslims in the forefront, is beautiful and inspiring. What they say to each other we say to you. Those who attack Muslims in THIS country or elsewhere attack every human being. You are not “the other”, you are us. Those who act out of hate for Muslims act out of hate for all here. Those who acted or supported the actions in New Zealand attack all of us.

For British Muslims who are feeling under threat, we are with you. Hatred of Muslims denies and blasphemes Christ. Those who co-opt Christian language and history for hatred commit blasphemy.

We will work with Bishops in the Church of England to see how we can be more effective in visible signs of togetherness.

We educate one million children in Church of England schools and have 8000 clergy. We will renew what we do in our Near Neighbours scheme. We will work with bishops to see how we can be more effective in dioceses.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Australia / NZ, Islam, Terrorism

(Post-Gazette) Pittsburgh Area Jewish group creates relief fund following massacre of Muslim faithful in New Zealand

With the shock still fresh and hearts still mending some five months after the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Squirrel Hill, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has set up a relief fund to help the Muslim community in the wake of another deadly hate crime.

The group is soliciting donations to the New Zealand Attack Emergency Relief Fund following Friday’s terror attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that killed 50 people and injured dozens more.

“Show New Zealand and the world how we are all stronger together,” the federation said on its website.

The Jewish Federation is the charitable organization for the Jewish community around the world and has aided many people in crisis — from the earthquake in Haiti to the wildfires in California.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Australia / NZ, Islam, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Terrorism, Violence

(NYT) W.S. Merwin, Poet of Life’s Evanescence, Dies at 91

Stylistically, Mr. Merwin’s mature work was known for metrical promiscuity; stark, sometimes epigrammatic language; and the frequent use of enjambment — the poetic device in which a phrase breaks over two consecutive lines, without intervening punctuation.

“It is as though the voice filters up to the reader like echoes from a very deep well, and yet it strikes his ear with a raw energy,” the poet and critic Laurence Lieberman wrote, discussing “The Lice,” a collection whose bitter contents were widely understood as a denunciation of the Vietnam War. He added:

“The poems must be read very slowly, since most of their uncanny power is hidden in overtones that must be listened for in silences between lines, and still stranger silences within lines.”

The themes that preoccupied Mr. Merwin most keenly were those that haunt nearly every poet: the earth, the sea and their myriad creatures; the cycle of the seasons; myth and spirituality (he was a practicing Buddhist); personal history and memory; and, above all, life and its damnable evanescence.

Read it all.

Posted in Buddhism, Death / Burial / Funerals, Poetry & Literature

(NPR) After New Zealand Attacks, Muslim Americans Call For Action Against Rising Bigotry

As New Zealand grapples with the aftermath of the attack on two Muslim congregations in Christchurch, the mass shootings on the other side of the world have struck fear through Muslim American communities and renewed calls for action against the rise of bigotry in the U.S.

Muslim Americans urged political leaders, local officials and tech companies to confront the alarming spread of hate and racism that in recent years has led to scores of worshippers being slaughtered in religious institutions.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Friday, Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad demanded President Trump unequivocally condemn the attacks, saying his words and policies “impact the lives of innocent people at home and globally.”

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Islam, Religion & Culture

Church leaders offer prayer and solidarity after New Zealand mosque attacks leaves 49 dead

Anglican archbishops in New Zealand, Australia and England have spoken out after gunmen attacked two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. At 9 pm Friday NZDT (8 am GMT), the official death toll from the terror attacks stood at 49 people with another 39 being treated in Christchurch Hospital. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told a press conference that 41 people were killed at the al-Noor mosque on Deans Avenue; and seven at the Linwood Islamic Centre on Linwood Avenue. Another person died at Christchurch Hospital.

The City of Christchurch was put on lockdown after news of the attacks emerged at around 1.40 pm NZDT (12.40 am GMT). Four people have been arrested. One, a man in his twenties described as a white supremacist, has been charged with murder and will appear in court tomorrow (Saturday). One armed man arrested near the scene has been ruled out of involvement. Police are continuing to investigate whether two other people arrested at the scene with firearms were involved in the attacks.

The Bishop of Christchurch, Peter Carrell, issued a statement on behalf of the leaders of churches in Christchurch city and Canterbury province. “Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon and our hearts and prayers go to all involved,” the statement said. “No religious organisation or group deserves to be the target of someone’s hate – regardless of beliefs.

“We stand for an Aotearoa New Zealand which will never condone such violence. So across the churches of Christchurch and Canterbury, we are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for those injured and those who have lost loved ones, for the police, ambulance and other emergency services, and for all in the city of Christchurch who are feeling distress and fear due to this event.

“We are upholding you all in our prayers. We pray too for the shooter and their supporters, because for any person to do this, they must have such hatred in their hearts, such misalignment of the value of human life, that they too, need our prayer. We thank many others from around our nation and the world who are praying for peace in Christchurch.”

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Islam, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer, Terrorism, Violence

(NZ Herald) Terror Attacks on New Zealand Mosques; 49 Dead

A horrific shooting at a Christchurch mosque was livestreamed for 17 minutes by the gunman.

Australian police have identified the shooter as Brenton Tarrant – a white, 28-year-old Australian-born man. Twitter has shut down a user account in that name.

The gunman published an online link to a lengthy “manifesto”, which the Herald has chosen not to report.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed an individual taken into custody was an Australian-born citizen. He called him “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”.

Sky News reported that the man’s home town of Grafton was in shock, trying to come to terms with how a “polite, well-mannered young man” came to find himself on a path that led to Christchurch.

He was a student at the local high school and went on to work at a gym, where his former boss said he regularly volunteered his time to train kids for free.

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Islam, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(WSJ) The Free-Form Funeral–Led by baby boomers, families are turning to personalized and symbolic memorials to bid farewell to loved ones

There are new ways to say goodbye.

While many still turn to the funeral rites that have comforted generations, others, led by baby boomers, are taking a different approach than their parents and grandparents. They are instead choosing individualized and symbolic memorials: a party with a punk-rock band for a tattoo artist, or a gathering at an airport hangar for the devoted mechanic.

“It’s more about a life lived than a ritual of religion,” says Jimmy Olson, a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association.

A changing society is fueling this trend. Nearly a quarter of adults in the U.S. aren’t affiliated with any organized religion, according to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center. A rise in cremations, which now outnumber burials, gives leeway on when and where to hold memorials. Although there are some laws about where ashes can be scattered, many people spread them surreptitiously in especially meaningful places. In the past year, more than half of around 1,000 people surveyed had attended a memorial in a non-traditional place—in a backyard, atop a mountain, aboard a boat—according to the NFDA.

These non-traditional events have given rise to funeral celebrants, who custom design memorials for anywhere from $250 to $1,000. Pam Vetter, a certified funeral celebrant in Los Angeles, says she decided to go into the field after her sister died of cancer and the pastor at their church refused to show a farewell video. Ms. Vetter has a podium, speaker system, and CD player that she brings to hold memorials in gardens, homes and on board yachts….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Church Times) Archbp Justin Welby–Good news — without coercion

In one large city in the UK, numbers of Muslim asylum-seekers have become Christians in recent years. There was no improper pressure to convert at the cathedral they went to for advice, friendship, and other essentials. Local Christians, who wanted only to help and serve, did so with grace and charity.

Curious questions were asked — “Why do you do this? Why would you help strangers?” — and feet were shuffled in a typically English fashion as slightly embarrassed volunteers explained why they were called to act like Christ.

Those asylum-seekers now make up 40 per cent of the volunteers at the cathedral’s foodbank, as they seek to pass on the love and generosity which they themselves were so freely given.

Our evangelism must be deeply rooted in Christian ethics: above all, the call of Matthew 7.12 to “do to others as you would have them do to you”. We must start by putting ourselves in the shoes of others, understanding and respecting that other traditions offer people community, solace, and even deep wells of spirituality. In our conversations, we must seek to speak of our faith without belittling or ridiculing the faith of others. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, “If you value faith, then you value the faith of others.”

Monologuing, manipulation, and marketing can be smelt a mile off. Engagement with others needs to meet them as, when, and where they are, like the volunteers at the cathedral whose witness was rooted in care and concern for those whom they helped.

Indeed, we can be born afresh in our faith, and gain a deeper understanding of our own tradition, when we converse with the religious other.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Evangelism and Church Growth, Inter-Faith Relations, Parish Ministry

More analysis on the United Methodist Special General Conference–Riley Case

One would wish a report of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis February 23-26 could be made that would go something like this:

The United Methodist 2019 special called General Conference is over. Charged with directing the church on a Way Forward and after nearly three years of discussion, meetings and prayer, the conference debated several options and finally chose the Traditional Plan as its directional path for United Methodism’s future. The plan calls for reaffirming the church’s historic stance on marriage and human sexuality but added several accountability features that should help to reinforce the church’s connectionalism in matters of faith and practice. The final decisions were painful for numbers of persons who wished the conference might have taken a different direction but there was a sense that because this conference was bathed in prayer, the decisions made represented God’s will for the church at this time. The conference closed with the singing of the Doxology and a commitment that United Methodism was now ready to walk in unity and direct its energy toward its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

That report, unfortunately, is not the one being made. It is true the conference was held after nearly three years of discussion, meetings and prayer. It is true the Traditional Plan was chosen. But It is also true that the General Conference decisions were not the decisions preferred by bishops nor Mainstream UMC nor the Association of UM Theological Schools nor the presidents of UM-affiliated colleges nor a number of church agencies nor various progressive caucuses nor the several thousand visitors recruited by gay advocate groups who were in the stands to celebrate what they believed would be the church’s new movement toward sexual permissiveness. These people and groups were (and are) unhappy. The unhappiness was expressed on the final day when progressives sought to create as much confusion as possible in hopes that the Traditional Plan would not be able to come to the conference floor for a vote. The unhappiness was also expressed at the close of the conference when, instead of singing the doxology at the close of the final session with a prayer of blessing on the church, the chair of the session honored an earlier request by the “leadership team” of the Western Jurisdiction to be given the floor of the conference. It was at that time the “leadership team” basically announced as a Jurisdiction they did not intend to abide by the decisions of the conference. With that the conference ended.

Time for reflection.

The conference from the evangelical or traditionalist perspective.
The church has reaffirmed its historic stance. It was under great pressure to go in a different direction but the center held. The secular press and others may even pronounce the conference as a victory for conservatives. In the church we ought not to be talking about victories and defeats. We want the church to unite and be Christ’s presence in the world. We do not wish to be known for our infighting. Having said that, it can be said that the historic moral and doctrinal teachings of the church are still intact. And that is a positive.

Also a great positive; we are demonstrating that we are a global church. United Methodism outside the United States is growing and is in the process of assuming more leadership in the connection. The African presence had much to do with the outcome of the conference. In that respect the future for United Methodism is bright.

The conference from what should be a general unbiased perspective.
If the truth be known; the conference never had a chance to fulfill its purpose to bring together the church in unity. The expectations were unrealistic. There was good talk about A Way Forward and finding a solution that all groups in the church could live with but the goal was an impossible goal given the present divisions in the church. The one solution that might have promised some hope was one that would involve some form of amicable separation, but the bishops would not allow that solution even to be considered. It is premature to assess the General Conference as a failure (despite the cost of 6 or so million dollars and much time and effort) since it is quite possible that out of the ashes of St. Louis there may now be a willingness to consider options that previously have been ruled off-limits. But that is not apparent at the moment.

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Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

A CNA Article on the recently concluded United Methodist Special General Conference

A major gathering of the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed its teaching on homosexuality, rejecting same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals, prompting predictions that some American congregations who reject this teaching will leave the denomination.

The international gathering, called a Special Session of the General Conference of the UMC, drew over 800 ministers and lay leader delegates to St. Louis Feb. 22-26.

The debate drew out different approaches to the authority of Scripture, marriage, and sexuality, but ultimately left the ecclesial community’s official teaching unchanged.

Scott Jones of the Methodists’ Texas Conference said the decision resolves a longstanding debate and is consistent with the ecclesial community’s teachings on human sexuality, which it has listed in its Book of Discipline since 1972.

That teaching states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.

“We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth,” said Jones, according to the United Methodist News Service. “I pray we, as a denomination, can now move forward, working with each other in the spirit of Christian love and joining together as one. We are stronger together in serving God’s mission as a diverse body of Christ.”

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Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

More on the recently Concluded United Methodist Special General Conference (IV)–Thomas Lambrecht’s summary of the main points

  • By a vote of 438 to 384 (53.3 percent), adopted the Traditional Plan, parts of which will not be able to go into effect because they are unconstitutional. Parts that willgo into effect are:
  • Expanded definition of “self-avowed homosexuals” to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or union or who publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing homosexuals
  • Explicitly prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops, ordaining or commissioning clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals
  • Requires all persons nominated to serve on the annual conference board of ordained ministry to certify that they will uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline’s standards for ordained clergy
  • Establishes a minimum penalty for clergy convicted of performing a same-sex wedding of a one year suspension (first offense) and loss of credentials (second offense)

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Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

More on the recently Concluded United Methodist Special General Conference (III)–a UMNS postscript article

United Methodists tried to come to terms with a General Conference that was meant to unify but instead underscored divisions and had all sides acknowledging a high level of pain.

“Catastrophic” was the summary judgment of the Rev. James Howell, a Western North Carolina Conference delegate.

“The church as we’ve known it will not be. It’s going to fracture in ways — different ways,” he said.

Patricia Miller served on the Commission on a Way Forward that bishops appointed to help come up with legislative options for addressing the denomination’s impasse on homosexuality, and the Traditionalist Plan she supported prevailed.

“There is no joy for any of us in this whole debate,” said Miller. “It’s painful for all of us.”

The special legislative session was called by bishops to try to deal with the denomination’s long conflict over how accepting to be of homosexuality. General Conference is The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly, comprising delegates from around the world.

In the end, delegates passed by a 438-384 margin the Traditional Plan, which retains church law restrictions against…[homosexual practice] and seeks stricter enforcement.

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Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)