FaithWorld

New WCC head aims at global issues, skirting some hot buttons

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WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 22 Feb 2010/WCC-Peter Williams

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.

“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.

The strength of the WCC, which has member churches in 110 countries representing some 560 million Christian believers, lay in in its power to combine resources from around the globe to move quickly to help people stricken by disasters — as it did in the wake of the Haiti earthquake on January 12, he said.

“I think it is important that the WCC has a strategic role, one of leadership, especially at the present time when we in the churches have a lot of unsolved issues between us,” he declared.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Comparing Pakistan’s Islamists to India’s Maoists

chhattisgarhOne of the more controversial arguments doing the rounds is the question of whether you can compare Pakistan's Islamist militants to Maoist insurgents in India. Both claim to champion the cause of social justice and have been able to exploit local grievances against poor governance to win support, and both use violence against the state to try to achieve their aims.

The differences are obvious:  the Islamist militants come from the religious right; the Maoists from the far-left. In Pakistan, the militants have become powerful enough to strike at the heart of the country's major cities. In India, the Maoists remain largely confined to the country's interiors, although their influence is spreading through large parts of its rural hinterland.

In Pakistan, the military initially nurtured Islamist militants to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - with U.S. and Saudi support - and later to fight India in Kashmir. In India, the Maoist movement has grown organically from its origins as a local 1967 uprising by communists over a land dispute in the village of  Naxalbari in West Bengal, from where its followers derive their name as Naxalites.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

Christian Coalition joins hunting group in climate change fight

Remember the Christian Coalition of America?

Under the political operative Ralph Reed in the 1990s it was an electoral force to be reckoned with as it mobilized millions of conservative Christians to vote for mostly Republican Party candidates and causes.

It has since lost influence and political ground to other “religious right” groups such as the Family Research Council. But it remains a sizeable grassroots organization and is still unflinchingly conservative.

So it will no doubt surprise some to see that this week it has joined with the National Wildlife Federation – whose 4 million members and supporters includes 420,000 sportsmen and women – to run an ad urging the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that among other things addresses the pressing problem of climate change.

U.S. Religious Left campaigns for climate change legislation

The U.S. “Religious Left” — which has been active at the grassroots level to support President Barack Obama’s drive for health care reform – has now launched a campaign in support his other major domestic initiative: climate change legislation.

Faithful America, a coalition of progressive evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant and Jewish groups, unveiled a video on Thursday urging viewers to “TELL CONGRESS: STOP CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS EFFECTS.” The campaign is called Day Six.

You can see the video below:

 

A climate bill aimed at reducing America’s emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming is being crafted in the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives earlier this year passed its own version.

Huckabee wins round one in 2012 Republican race

Former Arkanas Governor and Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee has won the first informal round in what will no doubt be a long race to head the party’s White House ticket in 2012.

The affable Baptist preacher, who won the hearts and minds of conservative evangelicals during his failed 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, topped other possible Republican presidential contenders in a straw poll at a summit of Christian conservative voters in Washington.

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Out of a field of nine, Huckabee garnered the most votes or 28.5 percent. Delegates to the convention were asked: “Thinking ahead to the 2012 presidential election and assuming the nomination of Barack Obama as Democtats’ choice for president, who would you vote for as the Republicans nominee for president?”

from Environment Forum:

Holy water!

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Are the residents of Fiesch and Fischertal in Switzerland particularly pious, desperate or both? I wonder after learning that villagers there want Pope Benedict's blessing to stop the melting of Europe's longest glacier. That, after hundreds of years of praying for it to stop growing. Researchers predict winter temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

You can track the fate of the Aletsch glacier here, but don't expect to see a repeat of Spencer Tunick's 2007 naked photoshoot.

Undoubtedly, Switzerland's tourism industry has suffered this summer, with 148,000 fewer foreign visitors bunking at chalets and the like in June compared to the same month last year. Of course it's not clear if the decline was due to melting glaciers or the credit crisis.

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.

White U.S. evangelicals most skeptical on climate change

Among U.S. religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the least likely to believe that human activities are contributing to climate change, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. You can see the numbers, based on a broader 2008 poll, here.

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Overall the Pew Forum found that a plurality, or 47 percent, of the adult U.S. population accepts that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming because of human activities. Most scientists have reached the conclusion that the planet’s climate is changing because of human-induced factors, notably the emissions from burning of the fossil fuels that drive the global economy.

Among religious groups Pew found that those who said they were unaffiliated with any faith tradition were the most likely to accept that humanity was warming the planet, with 58 percent of them taking that view.

Did climate change stoke past religious persecution?

A thought-provoking new book on Christianity’s “lost history” holds that one of the central causes of 14th century religious persecution may well have been climate change. You can read my interview with author Philip Jenkins about “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — and How It Died” on the Reuters website here.

“The Chronology of Christian sufferings under Islam closely mirrors that of Jews in Christian states,” he writes, noting that “Around 1300, the world was changing, and definitely for the worse.”

If we seek a common factor that might explain this simultaneous scapegoating of vulnerable minorities, by far the best candidate is climate change, which was responsible for many economic changes in these years, and increased poverty and desperation across the globe.”