The Church of England has voted to use more accessible language during baptisms to help it connect better with congregations, especially non church-goers. Members attending the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in London, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.
(Photo: Orthodox Christian nuns stand in the muddy Jordan River with two pilgrims at the Qasir al-Yahud baptismal site near the West Bank city of Jericho, March 31, 2010/Darren Whiteside)
Christian pilgrims alarmed by claims that baptism in the River Jordan could make them sick are being urgently reassured by Israeli officials that the water poses no health risk.
(Photo: Bethany baptismal pool with ruins of ancient basilicas in rear, a staircase to the water and, at right, two of the four massive pillars that used to hold a church above the baptism site, 6 May 2009/Tom Heneghan)
In John’s Gospel, verse 1:28, it says that John the Baptist used to baptise people in “Bethany beyond the Jordan” and Jesus went there for his own baptism. Seen from the perspective of Jerusalem, “beyond the Jordan” means on the river’s east bank, in present-day Jordan. Those words were added to distinguish that Bethany from the village near Jerusalem where Jesus was said to have raised Lazarus from the dead. Despite that, pilgrims have long visited a spot on the river’s west bank, now in an Israeli military zone in the Palestinian territories, and considered it the true site where Jesus was baptised.
American atheists are holding a “Coming Out Party” in Westerville, Ohio, this Saturday in a bid to encourage non-believers to publicly declare their conviction that God does not exist.Frank Zindler, president of American Atheists, told me many U.S. atheists felt marginalized in a country where levels of religious belief are high and that the social and family pressures to profess a spiritual faith were huge.”I get an enormous amount of e-mails on our Web site from young people asking me ‘how do I tell my parents?’ It causes a great deal of anguish,” he said.Saturday’s events will include a “De-Baptism” ceremony, which organizers say “will be a fun way for people who feel under pressure to conform to religious orthodoxy to make a statement about their newfound intellectual independence.”According to a comprehensive nationwide survey conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, only 1.6 percent of U.S. adults identified themselves as atheists, while 2.4 percent said they were agnostic, or do not know if God exists.Just over 12 percent of adults surveyed said they “were nothing in particular” and atheist activists believe many fellow non-believers are in this group. They also maintain that many Americans who claim a religious affiliation are in fact secret atheists.”I think there are a lot of people who may say that they are religious, who in fact are not,” said Ashley Paramore, a board member with the Secular Student Alliance, who is organizing Saturday’s event. What do you think? Do you think there are lots of “closet atheists” in America? And are Americans under pressure to profess a belief in God? Or are these pressures minimal and complaints on this score overblown?
America’s largest evangelical denomination, the 16-million strong Southern Baptist Convention, is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday against the backdrop of a decline in the number of yearly baptisms.
The issue of Mormon proxy baptisms has resurfaced with the news that the Vatican has written to Catholic dioceses around the world telling them not to provide parish records to the Genealogical Society of Utah. As the Catholic News Service reported last week, the letter calls proxy baptism using these records “detrimental” and says the Vatican did not want Catholic parishes “to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. Mormons use genealogical data to find names of people to baptise posthumously, a practice the Roman Catholic Church rejects on theological grounds.
The Magdi Allam baptism and debate about Catholic-Muslim relations in its aftermath continue to make waves. Here are a few interesting points that have come up in recent days:
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 nascent Catholic-Muslim dialogue sparked by the “Common Word” initiative was never going to be easy, even under the best of circumstances. There is a lot of suspicion, misunderstanding and different agendas to deal with. And then there are the surprises that can come seemingly out of nowhere and blow the effort off course, at least temporarily. One of these was the baptism of the Egyptian-born Italian journalist Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict that popped up by surprise on Saturday evening and highlighted some of the twists along the path of inter-faith dialogue.