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The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Peter Kenny is the former editor-in-chief of ENInews.
By Peter Kenny
Maintaining editorial integrity at ENInews, a Geneva-based world-wide news agency run by Ecumenical News International that covers global Christianity and other religions, is hard work. Although church groupings and their partner organizations founded ENInews, editorial independence is often linked to that which is the root of all evil -- money. (Photo: Financial freeze puts squeeze on ENInews at Geneva Ecumenical Centre/Peter Kenny)
And that was one of the root causes of ENInews being forced to suspend production for a time at the beginning of the year. It has resumed services and now has an interim editor and is looking for an editor/manager for a one-year term, who will have no office. In 2011 it will also likely face another big cut from its biggest sponsor.
When in May 2010 the biggest founding member of ENInews, the World Council of Churches, suddenly said it would drastically cut funding due to a budget deficit of millions of dollars it was trying to fend off, the news agency was already running with little room to manoeuver.
Ecumenical News International, an award-winning agency reporting on religion and based at the World Council of Churches (WCC), has been temporarily closed and had its two top editors removed, one of them said on Monday. The decision, taken at a meeting of its executive committee last week, comes after the Geneva-based WCC cut the agency's funding and its former head criticised its coverage.
The suspension and leadership changes led to the resignation of the ENInews president and its treasurer, both senior figures in Scandinavian Protestant churches, a report by the agency said. WCC officials said the agency was not being closed but would resume some time in 2011 with one part-time editor.
The Greek Orthodox Church is gearing up to provide relief supplies and psychological help when the country's financial crisis really hits ordinary people after the summer, a senior churchman has said.
Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options. It's unlikely we'll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.
Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world's Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.
Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. (Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)
Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been "living in a state of fear and terror ... and many innocent people have lost their lives," the WCC said in a statement.
Christian churches have been taking stock of where they stand on dialogue with Islam. With so much interfaith discussion going on, they're not all singing from the same sheet and wonder whether they should (or even could). So about 50 church leaders and experts got together near Geneva last weekend to exchange information on their approach to, and experiences concerning, dialogue with Muslims. "With such a succession of meetings where we get together with Muslims, we wanted to have a meeting among ourselves and ask whether we have 2,000 different answers and what that might say about us," said Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
The World Council of Churches (WCC) said the idea for the meeting"emerged from an ecumenical process of response to the Common Word" initiative on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Held outside Geneva, it brought together representatives from the WCC, World Evangelical Alliance, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheran World Federation, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, World Methodist Council, several Orthodox churches and other Christian groups. I have spoken to a few of the participants and received some texts since the meeting to get an idea of how their exchange shaped up.
Recognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen's post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia's Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there, McCain's reaction statement noted that Georgia was "one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion." In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said "the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century."
History is fascinating but McCain's use of it here begs the question whether there is an actual faith factor in this conflict or just in his presentation of it. Russia, after all, is also a traditionally Christian nation, but he made no mention of that. After the fall of communism there, the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed its traditional role there -- as has the Georgian Orthodox Church in the Caucasian republic after state-sponsored atheism lost out there too. There are no obvious doctrinal disputes that divide them.
There seems to have been a silver lining to the Dutch anti-Islam film "Fitna" that far-right PVV party leader Geert Wilders released in late March. We noted already the strife that many people feared didn't materialise. Now the country's National Coordinator for Counterterrorism says the long debate about the film actually brought Christian and Muslim groups closer together.
"The commotion surrounding the Fitna film appears to have resulted in overtures* between Christian and Islamic organisations. Several organisations with a Christian foundation have strongly criticised standpoints of the PVV parliamentary party chairman with respect to Islam and, together with Muslim organisations, are taking initiatives to reduce the social tensions in the Netherlands and abroad. Remarkable in this context is a collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestanse Kerk in Nederland, PKN) on the one hand and the Muslims and the Government Liaison Committee (Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid, CMO) and the Islam Contact Group (Contact Groep Islam, CGI) on the other hand. In March 2008 these organisations conducted a ‘reconciliation mission’ to Muslim organisations in Egypt to neutralise any detrimental effects of the film."
Nearly two weeks after ordained bishop Fernando Lugo was elected the next president of Paraguay, the Roman Catholic Church is still trying to figure out what do about him. The Vatican doesn't want to have a bishop donning the presidential sash -- mixing the priesthood with politics -- but it also believes that once a bishop always a bishop, since ordination is a lifelong sacarament. The Vatican is dropping signals that it wants to find a non-controversial solution, and pundits doubt it will return the "bishop of the poor" to a lay state.
But there is no modern precedent to guide the Holy See. One Italian media outlet turned back to Talleyrand, the French bishop-turned foreign minister under Napoleon, even though the case bears no resemblance to modern Paraguay. The Vatican already suspended Lugo from his priestly duties after his entry into politics, and the Vatican envoy to Paraguay Orlando Antonini (pictured smiling with Lugo above) was quoted by Vatican Radio saying the next move was up to the pope.
The dust had hardly settled from the Magdi Allam baptism story when Saudi King Abdullah announced he wanted to promote dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews. The World Council of Churches came out with its endorsement of the Common Word dialogue appeal after consulting member churches (many of which have already responded positively). And the World Economic Forum issued a study that says, among other things, that fewer than 30% of Muslims and Christians polled thought the other faith was sincerely interested in better understanding and cooperation. What's going on?
The first thing to say is that these all seem to be different developments. We've already covered the Magdi Allam baptism story. That incident looks like a bit of unexpected turbulence that should calm down now that Common Word signatory Aref Ali Nayed criticised the Vatican for it and L'Osservatore Romano said the baptism was not a hostile act towards Islam. For more on this, see Nayed's statement, his El Pais interview today (English, Spanish) and the L'Osservatore Romano editorial (Italian).