FaithWorld

Look who’s celebrating Reformation Day today

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and — this year for the first time — in Chile.

Chile? Isn’t that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don’t celebrate Reformation Day.

Yes, Chile is traditionally Catholic, but now only about 70% so. Like elsewhere in Latin America, Protestant churches — especially evangelicals and Pentecostals — have spread rapidly in recent decades. They now make up just over 15% of the Chilean population, up from 7% in 1970. It’s not a new story, but creating a holiday especially for Protestants is a symbolic step towards recognising the changes in the religious landscape in Latin America.

The holiday is not officially called Reformation Day but Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes — National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches. President Michelle Bachelet mentioned the Luther link in a speech (here in Spanish) about the new holiday, which she stressed was a sign of equality of faiths in Chile’s secular state. She also called it a form of recognition of the contribution made by the evangelical churches to national progress in all fields, of their preaching of values that enrich our existence and strengthen the culture of tolerance and respect.”

Do you think if other Latin American countries will follow Santiago’s example? Should they?

Churches take stock of Christian-Muslim dialogue

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.

“The idea was that we come together to share our different experiences with Islam and our different theological approaches to Islam to seek an ecumenical understanding,” said Rima Barsoum, the WCC’s person responsible for relations with Muslims. An “ecumenical understanding” does not mean a common understanding, as became clear at the meeting. Participants described various points of view that no two-day meeting could overcome. Orthodox and eastern churches that live as minorities in Muslim countries have a different perspective from those in the West that know Muslims as a minority. The Vatican’s approach is to focus more on the theological questions while the World Evangelical Alliance has stressed the issue of living together peacefully. “My feeling after Geneva is that there is such a wide spectrum of representation that a common stand would be very difficult indeed,” said David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

Green Bible stresses eco- passages, some may see red

The Bible has gone green.

HarperOne has published a Green Bible that highlights with green ink over 1,000 references to the earth and what the publishers say is a scriptural mandate to care for it. The inks are soy-based on recycled paper (of course!).

The Green Bible

The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God’s vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth,” HarperOne says on its web site about the publication.

The Green Bible is one new piece in the chain connecting the “creation care” movement, which has linked U.S. evangelicals across the political spectrum, Catholics who stress the social teachings of their church and Orthodox leaders, among others.

The 10 Commandments of blogging

The Ten CommandmentsThe London-based Evangelical Alliance has posted its “10 Blogging Commandments.”

1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.

2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.

3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.

4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.

5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.

6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.

7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.

8. You shall not steal another person’s content.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

Regensburg watch over, pope raps Biblical fundamentalism

Pope Benedict delivers speech on faith and culture, 12 Sept 2008/poolAs Pope Benedict delivered his major speech on faith and culture in Paris today, some of those listening in the medieval hall and in the press centre listened closely to hear what he would say about … Islam. The Muslim faith was by no means the subject of the lecture addressed to 700 French intellectuals. But two years ago to the day, the former theology professor gave a similar lecture in Regensburg and, seemingly out of nowhere, quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that Islam was violent and irrational. The reaction in the Muslim world back then was violent and irrational. So would he make another gaffe?

France is the European country with the largest Muslim minority. Eight Muslim leaders were especially invited to the speech because time constraints made it hard to fit in a meeting with them at any other time. It seemed so unlikely that Benedict would say anything controversial that it hardly seemed worth looking out for. But in the speech, he warned about “fundamentalism” and “fundamentalist fanatacism.” As soon as it was over, journalists wondered whether this referred to Islam. Editors checked with correspondents. Was this Regensburg redux?

No, it wasn’t — it was actually a B16 shot across a different bow. The context of the speech makes clear that his first reference to fundamentalism meant Christian fundamentalists. It was a clear statement that the Bible cannot be read literally, without any reference to its context and history. Why he chose to say this now is not clear. The Vatican has just announced it would hold a conference next March on Darwin and evolution, a subject it said has caused many “emotional and ideological reactions.” Could he be thinking of creationists?

“Comfortable candor” at Yale Christian-Muslim meeting

NAE President Leith Anderson (l) listens to Shi’ite philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr speaks, 31 July 2008/Tom Heneghan“Comfortable candor” is the way Leith Anderson described the atmosphere at the Common Word conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue that ended at Yale University on Thursday. The term is as interesting for its image as for the person who used it. Anderson is president of the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals and one of several evangelicals attending the meeting. Among the mostly Protestant leaders who responded to the Common Word dialogue appeal in a letter launched by Yale Divinity School, evangelicals tended to be more cautious and more concerned about pointing out the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam. Even with those reservations , these participants faced some criticism in their own ranks for attending and came to the conference not knowing how open it would be.

Anderson told me on the first day that he appreciated how forthright the discussion was, with each side standing up for its beliefs while seeking common ground where they could. In his keynote address in the final session, he put his stamp of approval on the process: “Our differences are deep and real. Sometimes those differences are cultural or ethnic or racial. But I have been especially impressed this week with the comfortable candor with which Muslims and Christians have clearly stated their own doctrines to one another.”

Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, made the same point in his address. We can affirm the appropriateness of simply engaging in dialogue and conversation with each other at this critical time in history. It is right that we’re together. We can affirm the development of new and strengthened relationships. It has been good to sit together and build new friendships. We can affirm the genuine spirit of being willing to listen to each other and seeking to gain understanding into each others’ perspectives.”

Is the pope planning visit to cradle of Protestantism?

Is Pope Benedict planning a visit to a cradle of Protestantism? Should a Catholic pontiff tour the medieval castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German at the start of the Reformation? It’s far too early to get confirmations or denials from the Vatican or the German government, since the visit — still only in the rumor stage — is not due until the spring of 2009. But a local newspaper in the eastern state of Thuringia, where the Wartburg is located, says security planning has already begun.

Thüringer Allgemeine logoAccording to the Erfurt daily Thüringer Allgemeine, an advance team from the German president’s office in Berlin has already met local police. Dieter Althaus, the state premier who invited Benedict to Thuringia during a visit in Rome in April, has also met mayors from towns in the area “to discuss the emergency case of a papal visit. Also in Eisenach, the words ‘pope’ and ‘Wartburg’ are mentioned together more frequently.” An earlier German press report about a possible trip mentioned that Benedict would visit Eichsfeld, a nearby island of Catholicism in an otherwise Lutheran region, so he would be in the neighborhood.

Apart from the security, a visit by any pope to the Wartburg would need careful preparation to ensure it helps rather than hurts Catholic-Protestant relations. If that pope is Joseph Ratzinger, the task becomes even more tricky. Pope Benedict has studied the writings of Martin Luther — he’s probably the only pontiff who ever has — and impressed Lutherans with his knowledge and appreciation of his fellow German theologian. At the same time, he has also been blunt in describing Protestant denominations as “not proper churches.” In fact, he doesn’t refer to them as churches at all, but “ecclesial communities.” Not surprisingly, Protestant leaders feel offended.

Pope Benedict’s evolution book finally comes out in English

Creation and Evolution bookcoverAn English translation of Pope Benedict’s 2006 discussion of evolution with his former students has finally come out and I recommend it to anyone who’s confused about where the Roman Catholic Church stands on this issue. It’s called Creation and Evolution and is publised by Ignatius Press in the U.S. The discussion was held in German and the original text, Schöpfung und Evolution, appeared in April 2007.

I mention the confusion about this issue because a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece by Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn prompted supporters of “intelligent design” (ID) to think the Church was embracing their argument. He denied that to me in an interview a few months later. So when it became known that Benedict would discuss evolution with his former doctoral students — his so-called Schülerkreis — at Castel Gandolfo in September 2006, there was considerable interest in what he would say.

Schöpfung und Evolution bookcoverThe German publisher, Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg, sent me a PDF version of the book in German under embargo, so I wrote a news story the day it appeared. In the book, Benedict said science was too narrow to explain creation, which was not random as Darwinists insist, but has a rationality that goes back to God. He argued this on philosophical and theological grounds, not on the faith arguments that creationists use (“the Bible says so”) or the biology-based examples that ID prefers to argue that some life forms are too complex to have evolved.

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”