Category : * Religion News & Commentary

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

(BBC) Faith in ruins: China’s vanishing beards and mosques

“The BBC has found new evidence of the increasing control and suppression of Islam in China’s far western region of Xinjiang – including the widespread destruction of mosques.

Authorities provided rare access to religious sites and senior Islamic officials to support their claim that their policies only target violent religious extremism, not faith itself.

But after his official tour was over, China Correspondent John Sudworth set out to investigate.”

Watch it all (about 5 1/3 mins).

Posted in China, Islam, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(NYT) A Muslim Family Sought Help at the Belgian Embassy in Beijing. The Police Dragged Them Out.

The last time Abdulhamid Tursun spoke to his wife, she was huddled in a Beijing hotel room with their four children, frightened after being evicted from the Belgian Embassy in the dead of night. Suddenly, plainclothes police officers burst into the room, cutting off the couple’s video call.

Mr. Tursun says he has not heard from her since.

His wife, Wureyetiguli Abula, 43, had gone to the Belgian Embassy to seek visas so the family — from the Uighur Muslim minority group — could be reunited with Mr. Tursun, 51, in Brussels, where he won asylum in 2017.

But instead of finding protection, Ms. Abula and her children, ages 5 to 17, were dragged away after the Chinese police were allowed to enter the embassy.

Now the case is raising alarms back in Belgium, where lawmakers are asking how it could have happened and where Mr. Tursun’s family has been taken. It illustrates how, two years after China began detaining Uighurs in a vast network of internment camps, the group has limited protections — even from Western democracies — against persecution by the Chinese government.

Read it all.

Posted in Belgium, Children, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(USA Today) David Curry–Global Christian persecution is worsening while American churches slumber

On May 18, extremists in Nigeria interrupted a church choir practice and abducted 17 Christians. They are being ransomed and might never see their families again. Some of the Christian women may be sold into slavery or raped and forced to marry the jihadist. It’s the latest attack in the escalating violent war on Christians within Nigeria, where 3,731 Christians were killed last year.

If such violence had occurred in Nashville rather than Nigeria, it would dominate nightly news broadcasts and saturate social media feeds. American churches would be launching fundraising campaigns for victims’ families and addressing it in their weekly gatherings. In this case, however, the American church has barely acknowledged it. Unfortunately, when violence occurs somewhere “over there” instead of in our backyard, it is often dismissed as just another story. American churches must do better.

I constantly bear witness to this sort of violence and the corresponding malaise by the nature of the organization I lead, Open Doors USA. We track such incidents of Christian persecution around the world through our annual World Watch List, a comprehensive ranking of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. To us, this is more than just “another story”; it is another data point in a global crisis of persecution. One of every nine Christians experience high levels of persecution and suffer for their faith, and it’s picking up pace.

It’s not just in Nigeria.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(BBC) Inside China’s ‘thought transformation’ camps

The BBC has been given rare access to the vast system of highly secure facilities thought to be holding more than a million Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

Authorities there insist they are just training schools. But the BBC’s visit uncovers important evidence about the nature of the system and the conditions for the people inside it.

Watch it all (just under 12 minutes).

Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(Tablet) Ashley Beck–Theology battles the nonsense of today

Those of us who teach or research in theology and related disciplines have a responsibility to try and support the whole Church – laypeople, clergy and bishops. Theological reflection about the world in which we live is constantly being deepened, and this can and should strengthen the faith of the People of God. The consequences of lacking theological literacy are serious. “The majority of those raised as Catholics find their way out of the Church, in part, I suspect, because the version of Christian faith to which they have been exposed has been so poorly articulated that it is not worth taking seriously at all,” the theologian John McDade has pointed out. “Good theology is necessary for the life of faith and the spread of the Gospel.”

Good theology is not always sought. In many places catechetical programmes are promoted that are intended to be “simple”, sometimes a shorthand for skirting around critical reflection. Some courses are offered because they are cheaper than those that are properly accredited; many programmes are imported. And there is a worrying decline in religious studies programmes in Catholic secondary schools. This has serious consequences for our future ability to provide RE teachers, and even more serious consequences for university departments. The new report from the British Academy alarmingly reveals that there were 6,500 fewer students on theology and religious studies degree courses in the UK in 2017/18 than there had been in 2011/12. In recent years, we have seen the closure of Heythrop College and the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury, and the possible closure of theology departments elsewhere, including in Catholic institutions.

If you’re a theologian, falling student numbers gives rise to anxieties about redundancy. And for a Catholic theologian there can be the added feeling that what you do is not really valued by the Church, either because some people think academic theology is highbrow or irrelevant, or because others don’t like your views and think you’re a heretic. If you feel under threat, it is hard to feel confident about offering yourself to the Church as a resource.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Seminary / Theological Education

(NPR) A Muslim In Rural, White Minnesota On How To ‘Love Thy Neighbor’

He had left a good job in a leadership position at a successful hospital in Harrisburg, Penn., in order to practice medicine in a rural, underserved area.

[Dr. Ayaz] Virji says he “had the BMWs, the nice house, but it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to do more.” Rural America faces a shortage of doctors, with many residents forgoing care and saying locations are too far away. “So I felt like I should do something about that. And it was back to the idea: If not me, then who?” he says.

He moved with his family to Dawson, Minn., in 2014. As far as he knew, they were the only Muslims in town. Virji describes the small city — population 1,500 or so — as filled with “very gracious” people who welcomed the family to the community.

“People there are kind, you know, many of them are far better than I am as a person.”

But something seemed to change when Donald Trump started whipping crowds into a frenzy with anti-Muslim rhetoric. For Virji, the 2016 election was a turning point. He wondered how his neighbors, who had been so welcoming, could vote for someone who said that “Islam hates us” and had proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Mandy France, who was training to be a local pastor at the time, invited Virji to give a lecture about his faith. He ended up giving a series of talks about Islam to his neighbors and people in surrounding communities in 2017. Virji wrote about the experience in the book Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America. He talked with NPR’s Michel Martin.

Read it all.

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

(Local Paper) Emanuel AME church, shooting survivors form bonds with other traumatized houses of worship

Monday will mark four years since an angry young man with murderous intent slipped into Emanuel and headed for 12 people settling in for Bible study. He sat with them for about an hour, not speaking, until they shut their eyes for closing prayer.

Then he pulled out a gun.

Nine people died that night, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator who was sitting beside the killer.

And the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., a retired minister who led the study most Wednesdays.

And Myra Thomson, who led it for the first time that night.

And Susie Jackson, at 87 the oldest among them to die.

And her nephew Tywanza Sanders, the youngest at 26.

And their cousin Ethel Lance, the church’s sexton, a mother of five.

And the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, mother of four.

And the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, mother of three.

And Cynthia Graham Hurd, mother of none but mentor to hundreds in her decades as a beloved librarian.

Nine families, the survivors and the church’s entire congregation found themselves thrust into a journey through what the Bible calls “the valley of the shadow of death.” Then they relived their losses anew with each mass shooting in America, including the Pulse nightclub massacre almost one year to the day after their loved ones died.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Judaism, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Violence

More Saturday Food for Thought–John Wenham on Liberal Theology

It needs to be re-emphasized that liberalism is the arch-enemy of the Gospel. Biblical theism stands for the clearest distinction between Creator and creature, for the absolute distinction between right and wrong, for the reward of well-doing and the punishment of wrong, for the unity and perspicuity of revelation. Liberalism is pantheizing, blurring the distinctions between God and man, between right and wrong, embracing contradictions and ambiguities within its system of truth.

When liberalism takes on the cloak of ecumenism, it is the enemy of clear doctrinal statement. It has no idea of the unity and perspicuity of revelation, so it never expects to reach doctrinal agreement. It finds contradictory beliefs within the Church, but is not worried by them and does not think that they are capable of resolution. It deliberately seeks unity by ambiguity. It sets no store by the value of a clear, united declaration of the one and only Gospel of God. It is this characteristic of the Theological Considerations of the Anglican Methodist Conversations which is so deeply distasteful to all who are looking for a clear statement of biblical principles. The whole statement is about as clear as mud, in marked contrast to the clarity of the dissentient statement.

–John Wenham, A Conservative Evangelical looks at the Ecumenical Movement, Churchman 79,3 (1965), p.192 [found there.]

Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), Ecumenical Relations, Evangelicals, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(EF) Age of first access to pornography falls to 8, study finds

The youngest Member of Parliament in Spain is leading an initiative to force porn websites operating in the country to install credible age verification systems.

The recently elected 26-year-old Andrea Fernández has called to end the “culture of porn” among young people which has lead in the last years to more than one hundred cases of so-called “manadas” (English: packs, herds) – groups of young men who plan to rape vulnerable women.

The limitation of pornographic contents online was included in the electoral programme of the the newly elected Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez (Social Democrats). The goal of the new government is to implement a new strict age verification system for these kind of websites. This has already been approved in the UK, with the support of 88% of parents.

The social debate about the role of pornography in the education of children becomes more important as new data of a research conducted by the Balearic Islands University among 2,500 people aged 16-29 showed a disturbing reality.

The report “New Pornography and the changes in interpersonal relationships” says some children are starting to consume pornography at 8. The average age for boys to start to consume pornography is 14, 16 for girls. The legal age required to access such contents is 18.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Evangelicals, Pornography, Religion & Culture, Spain

(NYT) China Frees Church Leader After 6 Months in Detention

A key figure in one of China’s best-known churches was released on bail this week, six months after she and dozens of other members of the congregation were detained and their church was closed.

The release on Tuesday of Jiang Rong, 46, still leaves her husband, Wang Yi, pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church, and four other church members in detention. According to a church news release posted on the church’s Facebook page, Ms. Jiang was reunited with the couple’s son, Shuya, who had been living without his parents since they were detained on Dec. 9.

News of the release of Ms. Jiang and another church member was confirmed by a human rights lawyer familiar with the case, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of government retribution.

More than 100 members of Early Rain, which is based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, were detained on Dec. 9 as part of a continuing crackdown on churches, mosques and temples not registered with the state. About half of them were quickly released, but 54 were held for a period of days or months.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(NPR) Southern Baptists Launch New Guidelines For Addressing Sexual Abuse In The Church

[MARY LOUISE] KELLY: Talk to me about the culture. I’m thinking of some reporting that our religion correspondent, Tom Gjelten, has been doing this week. He’s been interviewing Southern Baptist women. And they describe a culture that is resistant to change. Has that been your experience as you’ve interacted with church leaders?

[RACHAEL] DENHOLLANDER: You know, the honest truth is I think there’s a quite significant divide. Many of the leaders that I have interacted with are very committed to change. They recognize and understand the damage of sexual abuse. They are broken over what has taken place. That being said, there is certainly a faction within the SBC that remains resistant to change and that most importantly does not really understand some of the theological misinterpretations that so often lead church leaders to mishandle abuse, misunderstanding concepts of forgiveness and grace and dealing with abuse in the church instead of relying on outside experts to handle both the investigation and the counseling dynamics.

KELLY: What made you want to take this on?

DENHOLLANDER: You know, there are a lot of reasons. You know, the issue of abuse is obviously something that is very personal to me. I have lived the damage. I have seen the damage. In addition to that, I do come from a Christian perspective, a faith perspective. And so in many ways, this is part of my community. And you are most able to make change in the communities that you hold closest to you.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Baptists, Ethics / Moral Theology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence

The full Vatican Document– “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education”

Read it all (31 page pdf).

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Sexuality, Theology

([London] Times) Frances Whitehead RIP

[Frances] Whitehead was fast and focused: her typing speed perhaps 80-90 words a minute on a manual typewriter. Phone calls were always brief, some would say terse. Yet those who knew her well encountered warmth and laughter. She brought a genuine care for people expressed through a huge correspondence, some 30 personal letters a day, over her own name or John Stott’s. A seminary library in San Salvador was named after her in 2006 to mark 50 years of service.

[John] Stott and Whitehead ran global endeavours on a shoestring, with help only from a study assistant. Using Charles Simeon’s phrase, Stott named the three “the happy triumvirate”.

In 2001, Archbishop George Carey conferred on Whitehead a Lambeth MA, for which she donned the Oxford gown and red silk. When news of this honour was announced in All Souls, it was greeted with a standing ovation.

Frances Whitehead was born in 1925 in Bovey Tracey, in Devon, the second child of Captain Claude Whitehead, and his wife, Evelyn Eastley. Her older sister, Pamela, died of leukaemia, aged eight. She would go on to Malvern Girls’ College, where she was head girl of Summerside House.

During the war she worked as a mathematician at the Radar Research and Development Establishment (RRDE) in Malvern and then, from 1951, she worked at the BBC, under the producer Mary Treadgold. She was a good horsewoman, and enjoyed the BBC riding club, hiring horses in Victoria, and riding up to the barracks of the Household Cavalry in Knightsbridge.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Ministry of the Laity, Parish Ministry

(CT) A Visit with Luis Palau, Still on Fire for Christ in the Sunset of Life

As our time drew to a close, I felt compelled to ask Palau how he faces the sunset of his life. In A Life on Fire, he deals quite candidly yet encouragingly with his illness. I wondered what he might tell Christians in similar circumstances who might be tempted to fall into despair.

With a slight laugh, Palau said, “Now that I’m sick, I have more authority. I tell people I’m dying, and suddenly they listen to you.” A short while later, he addressed the issue head-on. “Every campaign, I always talked about heaven. So, to me, it is as real as flying to New York, only better. But the fact is that Satan attacks, and he’ll use all his stratagems to make you feel guilty or lose faith or despair. Be ready for that. I went back to Hebrews 8, 9, and 10 … all of those passages about this intercession for us, the assurance. Go back to that. Don’t read too many other books about heaven. Just read what the Bible says. Underline those passages. Take it to heart. Make notes to yourself that the One who is seated in heaven covered all your sins. Don’t let Satan lie to you that some sins are unforgiven. They’re all forgiven. They’re all cleansed.”

Perhaps it was cliché to ask, but I couldn’t resist: “It’s one thing to be passionate, starry-eyed, and eager in your 20s and 30s. But as you’ve aged and are now facing this possible closing of your life here, do you still feel that you are living a life on fire?”

“Yes. I am,” he said confidently. “The only regret is that the body won’t respond.” Ever the evangelist, Palau takes to the airwaves if he can’t be somewhere in person. For him, media interviews are “a chance to speak these wonderful truths one last chance [while] alive.”

“I’m still on fire, praise the Lord,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Evangelicals, Theology

(LC) Will debate over embracing a New Sexual Ethic Affect Episcopal-Methodist Communion?

Nearly a century of ecumenical dialogue between Episcopalians and Methodists is approaching a crossroad. In May, United Methodist bishops cleared the way for a 2020 General Conference vote on a full communion agreement that would allow the two churches to share clergy. If the Methodists approve the proposal, the Episcopal Church could take it up at General Convention in 2021.

But the proposal faces new obstacles in the wake of the Methodists’ bitterly contested Special Conference in St. Louis in late February. At that meeting, the UMC reaffirmed its stance barring “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordained ministry and toughened sanctions for clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings.

Some now worry full communion could become a casualty of tense, politically charged times in churches at risk of breaking apart. But others say it is time to keep building on ecumenical momentum and not let sexuality debates interfere with a larger witness.

“There will have to be a great educational plan for people to understand it and to not let the one discussion derail the other discussion,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, cochair of the Episcopal Church–United Methodist Dialogue Committee, which moved full communion forward at an April meeting in Austin.

Read it all.

Posted in Ecumenical Relations, Ethics / Moral Theology, Methodist, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(Wash Post) Ajay Verghese–Is India becoming a ‘Hindu state’?

So what does the BJP’s victory mean for Indian secularism?

First off, the term “secularism” is quite different in Indian politics — it’s not what U.S. audiences imagine it to be: a separation between church and state. Instead, it refers to religious neutrality (dharmnirpekshta): the equal treatment of all religious communities, irrespective of size, by the government.

Secularism in India is less concerned with religion interfering in politics (as in the United States) than with the state interfering in religion. As Rajeev Bhargava argues, Indian secularism is about maintaining a “principled distance” between the state and religion.

To get a better understanding of secularism in India, I conducted research in villages in the northern Indian state of Bihar in late 2017, and in February 2018, I conducted a survey of 900 Hindus across the state on religion and politics.

My preliminary findings show that Hindus in Bihar overwhelmingly support many of the ideals of Indian secularism — even government support for mosques. Critically, however, this is not true for more pious Hindus: The more religious voters are, the more they subscribe to the tenets of Hindu nationalism, especially the idea that Hindus deserve preferential treatment over Muslims.

Read it all.

Posted in Hinduism, India, Religion & Culture

(NPR Codeswitch) The Ramadan Podcast Where Muslims Take It Up A Notch From ‘Islam 101’

In a media landscape that can still be pretty awful for Muslims, Tell Them, I Am, a new podcast from KPCC, aims to give Muslims a space to define their own identities outside of stereotypes and broad generalizations.

Over the course of the series, host and producer Misha Euceph interviewed 22 people, all Muslims, about the defining moments of their lives. While the show dropped episodes every weekday of Ramadan, “Tell Them, I Am” doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday. “If somebody released something during Christmas time or during Hanukkah,” Euceph says, “they wouldn’t necessarily be asked about like, what are important aspects of Christmas or Hanukkah.”

It’s in each guest’s hands how much they want to talk about culture or religion; for some it’s a central part of their story, for others it’s mostly incidental. Tan France of Queer Eye talks about his first big “I told you so,” which involved his older brother and a metal fan. Ramy Youssef, creator of the Hulu show Ramy, talks about the medical condition that catalyzed his acting career. Alia Shawkat talks about the extremes of her stoner-y teenage rebellion, including borrowing urine to cheat a drug test (Spoiler: It didn’t work).

And every episode of the podcast offers glimpses into Euceph’s story: the fashion she endured to be more popular in middle school; the glamour she didn’t quite inherit from her mother; the drive to prove people wrong that sent her up actual mountains.

Read it all.

Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture

(Independent) Humanist weddings rise by 266 per cent across England and Wales

They are weddings that are, officially speaking, not even legally recognised.

But such a small detail, it seems, is not stopping increasing numbers of couples from opting for humanist marriage ceremonies across England and Wales.

Such weddings have risen by more than 250 per cent in the last 15 years, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The massive rise makes it the fastest growing type of wedding in the country – and comes as the number of faith-based ceremonies fell in the same period.

While humanist weddings went up 266 per cent between 2004 and 2016, Church of England weddings fell by 28 per cent, Catholic by 34 per cent and Baptist by 42 per cent.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(BBC) The man who might have stopped Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings

In March, just over a month before the Easter attacks, a gunman quietly entered [Mohammad Razak] Taslim’s house in the early hours of the morning. He was lying in bed, next to his wife, and his youngest son. The gunman shot him once in the head.

“At first I thought the phone charger had exploded, but I looked and it was fine,” Taslim’s wife told me. “Then I tried to wake him up, and I could smell gunpowder… I reached out to him and I realised he wasn’t conscious. I thought he was dead.”

Taslim was rushed to hospital. He survived the attack, but it’s not clear if he will ever fully recover.

Sri Lanka’s army commander, Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake, is now playing a leading role in the investigation into the Easter Bombings. He told me it had been confirmed that the “same network” was also responsible for the desecration of the Buddhist statues, the explosives hidden in the coconut grove, and the shooting of Taslim.

He admitted that the previous incidents should have made the authorities more alert to the dangers of a jihadist attack. Instead, warnings by the Indian security services in the days and hours leading up the bombings weren’t followed up, due to what the army commander referred to as problems with “intelligence sharing” between different departments.

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Politics in General, Sri Lanka, Terrorism

(Guardian) All Germans urged to wear kippah in protest against antisemitism

Germans of all faiths and none are being urged to wear kippah skullcaps on Saturday as a symbol of solidarity with the Jewish community, after a steep rise in antisemitic attacks.

Protests across the country have been called by the government’s antisemitism ombudsman after he triggered a heated debate when he warned Jews last week not to wear the kippah because of the increasing likelihood of being attacked.

The German tabloid newspaper Bild has been one of the most vocal supporters of the protests, even publishing a cut-out kippah for readers to download and print.

Felix Klein, who was appointed as antisemitism ombudsman a year ago, told German media last week: “I cannot recommend that Jews wear the kippah whenever and wherever they want in Germany, and I say this with regret.”

Read it all.

Posted in Germany, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(CEN) Church leaders welcome Modi victory, but concerns remain

Church leaders have welcomed the re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, but campaigners warned that his nationalist stance could leave Christians vulnerable.

The recent election, which took place in seven stages, saw 900 million people eligible to vote. The turnout at 67 per cent was the highest ever in an Indian general election and it also saw the highest participation by women.

The main opponent of Mr Modi and his BJP party, Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress and the United Progressive Alliance failed to secure the 10 per cent of the seats needed, meaning that India is without an official opposition party.

Archbishop Joseph D’Souza, on behalf of the Good Shepherd Churches in India and All India Christian Council has congratulated His Excellency Shri Narendra Modion his historic landslide win.

The Archbishop said that the members of the All India Christian Council and their churches would be praying for Shri Narendra Modi and his government ‘as he governs the nation with challenges ahead of him’.

However, other Christian groups were more circumspect.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, India, Other Churches, Politics in General

(CT) Mark Galli–How We Have Forgotten God–Evangelical faith is no longer characterized by its initial passion

[My friend]…concluded, “When it comes down to it, I’m a practical atheist. I’ve learned to live most of my life as if God is a nice add-on—when I have time and when I really want him—but otherwise I’m content with living as if he is not a living presence.”

As I noted in the introduction, I deeply identify with my friend’s dilemma. (That phrase “practical atheist” is from Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray). In talking with many friends, I’d say we’re not alone. So it’s not quite true that we’ve completely forgotten God. But our spiritual Alzheimer’s has progressed to dangerous levels.

To let grace have a word: This is a common human condition and certainly no surprise to God, who is still willing to work with us despite our attempts to use him for our ends. It is not remarkably evil that we are so distracted by life and responsibilities and earthly desires that God takes a decided back seat. We needn’t whip ourselves with guilt and shame over this. This essay in particular and this series is intended not as wholesale condemnation but as a wake-up call, or at least the start of a larger conversation.

I think it is incumbent on evangelical Christians to take this with special seriousness. We have rightly prided ourselves in practicing a form of faith that emphasizes the personal relationship with Jesus one can enjoy. And among us are many who can be characterized in just this way. But overall I believe our movement has degenerated in ways I have described above, with the vast majority of us falling into patterns that emphasize the horizontal at the expense of the vertical.

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Theology

(CT) Churches Outnumber Pubs in the UK

The three biggest UK denominations—Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians—are all declining quite quickly. Overall, their numbers have gone down 16 percent in just the last five years, Presbyterians the fastest (down 19%). Two other major groups are also declining, Baptists and Methodists, but they are much smaller in size.

The three major denominations form 60 percent of church members, and the smaller two another 16 percent. The remaining members often belong to the types of churches that are seeing the most growth right now—many of which have a Pentecostal bent, ranging from immigrant-founded denominations to Hillsong campuses.

Their increase, although significant, is unfortunately not enough to compensate for the drop among the bigger churches, but has moderated the overall decline. I’ll share below which kinds of churches are growing the fastest amid demographic shifts in the UK.

London is the epicenter for growing churches. Between 2005 and 2012, overall church attendance (not membership) in London went from 620,000 people to 720,000, a 16 percent increase. The number of churches increased by two a week, from 4,100 to 4,800. During this time, the city welcomed immigrants both from Europe and the rest of the world, its population growing from 7 million to 8 million in 10 years.

Many of those newcomers were Christians and sought a church that spoke their language.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Evangelism and Church Growth, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pentecostal, Religion & Culture

(CWR) A story of one Anglican community finding a home in the Roman Catholic Church

When Father Christopher Pearson and some of his flock at St. Agnes Church in Kennington, South London, made the decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, they had to leave quite a lot behind. A church they loved, with its own particular story—destroyed by bombing in World War II and then rebuilt—and a comfortable role in the local community. The congregation and its networks of friends had a strong sense of belonging. No Remembrance Sunday was complete without Father Christopher in cope and cassock arriving the take the traditional service at the local War Memorial. The church’s annual round of celebrations and processions was well known and appreciated locally.

Leaving all of this was not easy—but the call of Peter was not one that they felt, in conscience, could be resisted. When Benedict XVI issued the invitation, in Anglicanorum Coetibus, to “groups of Anglicans” to join the Catholic Church, Father Christopher invited members of his flock to join him on Sunday following the main service, to pray and ponder.

The result was a decision to follow Peter—which meant, in effect, leaving everything that had become comfortable and venturing ahead in faith. Father Christopher became a Catholic layman—entering the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham carried no guarantee of ordination, but only meant that he could submit an application and apply for training and ordination. The “South London Ordinariate group”—as he and his flock became known—met each Sunday at a local Catholic church for Mass, and during the week for instruction. Good humour and a sense of sharing this whole venture together meant that they simply took things stage by stage.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(CT) Mark Galli–The Heart of the Evangelical Crisis–It’s more fundamental than we’ve been led to believe

I was skeptical at the time [Michael Spencer]…wrote this, and said so in print. But today I admit that Spencer was more right than he was wrong. Recent events and surveys bear out many of his predictions. We truly are in a moment of crisis in the American evangelicalism.

To be clear, I have no money in this game, meaning it doesn’t matter to me if, as many predict, the movement known as American evangelicalism fades away with the sunset. God has raised up many reform movements since the day of Pentecost, and has seen many die—some of which I suspect he has killed off. If evangelicalism fades away, he will in his mercy raise up another movement that will revive his people. The future of the church in America does not hinge on the health of evangelicalism; it hinges on the power of God. I’d say we’re in good hands.

That being said, American evangelicalism has had a unique beginning, one that energized it and carried it along for two centuries and more. And it has been one of the most revolutionary movements in church history, changing the face not only of North American Christianity, but with the 19th century missionary movement, the entire globe. This history has many troubling elements, as many have pointed out. This is not surprising, because it is a movement full of sinners. But God has been good and has nonetheless used it to enable people from all walks of life and every corner of the world to know the unsurpassable grace of Jesus Christ.

Still, contemporary evangelicalism is in serious trouble. Actually, its crisis is the same one that afflicts all Christianity in America. At the risk of hubris, and the risk of merely adding one more item to the seemingly endless list of crises, I believe that the crisis lies at the heart of what ails large swaths of the American church. Alexander Solzhenitsyn named it in his speech upon receiving the Templeton Prize in Religion in 1968. He was talking about Western culture when he used it. I apply it to the American church, evangelical and not:

We have forgotten God.

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

(WSJ) David Molton–My Jewish Family’s American Life Almost Wasn’t–They were turned away 80 years ago but made their way to the U.S. eventually

Left alone with three children, my grandmother formed a plan to reunite the family. She spent much of her dwindling savings on a voyage to Cuba aboard the St. Louis. The ship was filled with hundreds of Jews with similar stories. In what should have served as a warning of trouble ahead, the passengers were required to purchase return tickets.

As the ship neared Havana in May 1939, the Cuban government announced it wouldn’t honor the Cuban landing permits sold to passengers by a corrupt Cuban minister. Most passengers weren’t concerned, since they held immigration quota numbers committing the U.S. to grant them entry when their turn came over the next few years. They assumed Washington would move up the timetable and let them enter right away.

Yet the St. Louis was anchored in Havana harbor from May 27 to June 2. A representative from the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief group, negotiated with the Cuban government to allow the passengers to disembark. Dinghies carried separated family members, including my grandfather, for temporary reunions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt remained silent, and the negotiations failed.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Cuba, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Germany, Immigration, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(CP) Liberal UMC leaders promise ‘wide variety of resistance tactics’ against the Church position which refused to embrace 21stc Pagan anthropology

During a press conference held Wednesday on the final day of UMC Next, Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church of Washington, D.C., told those gathered that there would be a “wide variety of resistance tactics” to the Church’s official position.

“For some of us, resisting the Traditional Plan means violating the Book of Discipline. For some persons in their context, it might not,” said Gaines-Cirelli.

“There will need to be a wide variety of resistance tactics all leaning into and seeking to help accomplish the commitments that we have made together here.”

Gaines-Cirelli added that “others will risk other kinds of things, but not for a variety of reasons be able or willing at this time to break the rules of the Plan, of the Discipline.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(Atlantic) The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East

The call came in 2014, shortly after Easter. Four years earlier, Catrin Almako’s family had applied for special visas to the United States. Catrin’s husband, Evan, had cut hair for the U.S. military during the early years of its occupation of Iraq. Now a staffer from the International Organization for Migration was on the phone. “Are you ready?” he asked. The family had been assigned a departure date just a few weeks away.

“I was so confused,” Catrin told me recently. During the years they had waited for their visas, Catrin and Evan had debated whether they actually wanted to leave Iraq. Both of them had grown up in Karamles, a small town in the historic heart of Iraqi Christianity, the Nineveh Plain. Evan owned a barbershop near a church. Catrin loved her kitchen, where she spent her days making pastries filled with nuts and dates. Their families lived there: her five siblings and aging parents, his two brothers.

But they also lived amid constant danger. “Everybody who was working with the United States military—they get killed,” Catrin said. Evan had been injured by an explosion near a U.S. Army base in Mosul in 2004. Catrin worried about him driving back and forth to the base along highways that cross some of the most contested land in Iraq. Even after he stopped working for the military, they feared he might be a victim of violence. That fear was compounded by their faith: During the war years, insurgents consistently targeted Christian towns and churches in a campaign of terror.

The Almakos had watched neighbors and friends wrestle with the same question: stay, or go? Now more and more Christians in the region were deciding to leave. The graph of the religion’s decline in the Middle East has in recent years transformed from a steady downward slope into a cliff. The numbers in Iraq are especially stark: Before the American invasion, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in the country. Today, fewer than 250,000 remain—an 80 percent drop in less than two decades.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Other Churches, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(CEN) Richard Bewes RIP– A man with a Bible in his pocket and Jesus in his heart

Christian leaders from across the world responded with warm tributes to the news of Prebendary Richard Bewes’ peaceful release from months of suffering from cancer at 6.25pm on Friday 9 May at his home in Virginia Water, surrounded by Timothy, Wendy, Stephen and his wife Pam.

A child of the East African Revival in the 1930s, he treasured his African roots and was the UK chairman of African Enterprise for 32 years. The son of missionary parents, Canon Cecil and Mrs Sylvia Bewes, he was born in 1934 in Nairobi and spent his first five years in what became (over 40 years later) the library of St Andrew College of Theology and Development in Kabare, founded by Archbishop David Gitari in 1977.

The family moved then to Weithaga where — along with his two brothers and sister — he had ‘the most tranquil upbringing a child could have’ on the lower slopes of Mt Kenya.

He told the story of how he first experienced revival as a child to the sound of thousands of African voices singing, in his most recent and final book Under the Thorn Tree – when Revival comes.

Coming to England at the age of 13, he was educated at Marlborough College, (and Iwerne Minster Camps), Emmanuel College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He was ordained by Bishop Chavasse of Rochester in 1959 and served a six-year curacy under Herbert Cragg at Christ Church, Beckenham. Then successively he was vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood, Emmanuel, Northwood and finally successor to Michael Baughen as vicar of All Souls, Langham Place.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry

(AP) Washington is 1st state to allow composting of human bodies

Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday making Washington the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains.

It allows licensed facilities to offer “natural organic reduction,” which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks.

Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated — or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree.

“It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death,” said Nora Menkin, executive director of the Seattle-based People’s Memorial Association, which helps people plan for funerals.

Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air, and conventional burial, in which people are drained of their blood, pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can pollute groundwater, and placed in a nearly indestructible coffin, taking up land.

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