FaithWorld

Liberal U.S. religious groups launch “40 Days of Health Reform”

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Liberal U.S. religious groups launched “40 Days of Health Reform” on Monday.

You can see our coverage here and a video of their nationwide TV spot below.

The campaign aims to energize efforts by President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party to overhaul America’s healthcare system.

(PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting about healthcare at the Kroger Supermarket in Bristol, Virginia July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing)

First ACNA archbishop strikes evangelical tone

Robert Duncan, installed on Wednesday night as the first archbishop of the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), struck a decidedly evangelical tone in the sermon he delivered at his installation service. (You can see our coverage of the ACNA’s initial assembly here and here.)

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The ACNA is mostly composed of conservative dissidents who have left the Episcopal Church — the main U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion — over thorny issues like gay clergy. It says it has 100,000 followers in 700 churches in Canada and the United States.

Like other mainline Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church — which is estimated to have more than 2 million members — has been shrinking while evangelical Protestant churches often have seen explosive growth (though some like the Southern Baptist Convention are also facing decline. We blogged on that issue earlier today). The ACNA seems to be in some ways emulating the evangelical movement by sticking to conservative principles (it would argue this means scriptural authority) and by stressing a renewed drive of evangelism.

Impressions from Gaza: minority Christians and Hamas

gaza-sistersWhen Pope Benedict visited Bethlehem, in the West Bank, last week, he was less than 100 km (60 miles) away from Gaza. But for the 4,000 Christians in this crowded Palestinian territory along the Mediterranean Sea , he might as well have been on the moon. Like nearly all Gazans, they are barred from leaving the Gaza Strip by Israeli restrictions. An Israeli embargo on supplying many essential goods to them has left the impoverished area unable to repair buildings destroyed or damaged by an Israeli offensive in January. Added to all that, the tiny Christian minority has been living since June 2007 under the Islamist rule of Hamas. Faced with conditions like that, attending a papal mass is a luxury few would even dream of. (Photos: Sunday Mass at Holy Family Church, Gaza, 17 May 2009/Suhaib Salem)

Behind the altar at Holy Family Church in Gaza, paintings depict Gospel scenes that all took place within a few hours’ drive. There’s the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Nativity in Bethlehem, Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River and the Last Supper in Jerusalem — all places that Benedict visited. But the only place the Gazan Catholic faithful at Sunday Mass here could hope to visit anytime soon would be the route of the Flight to Egypt. Joseph and Mary would probably have brought Jesus through the Gaza region while fleeing Herod’s plan to kill all newborn boys in Bethlehem. The rest are all unreachable for them.

gaza-church-pews-2I made a quick visit to the Christian community in Gaza on Sunday to gauge the mood following the pope’s visit to Israel and the West Bank. My colleague and I had only a few hours until the border closed in mid-afternoon, so there was only enough time for some impressions and short conversations at the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and with a Hamas government minister.

Americans mark National Day of Prayer

Americans who are so inclined are marking their National Day of Prayer on Thursday — and, as with any event that evokes church and state in this country, it is not without controvesy.

President Barack Obama, who is a practicing Christian, signed a proclamation to declare the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, but unlike his predecessor George W. Bush did not hold an official service at the White House.

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This has predicatably angered and disappointed some of the country’s leading conservative Christians.

Jordan amasses evidence for claiming Jesus baptism site

bethany-pool-2 (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.

bethany-flagFor about a decade or so, Jordan has been contesting that claim with excavations at a site on the river’s east bank that it argues must be the real place. Following John’s Gospel (the others only speak of the river itself) and descriptions from pilgrims dating back to the fourth to twelfth centuries, Jordanian archeologists have uncovered ruins of five ancient churches and a wide array of other remains and artifacts pointing to the area’s use as a pilgrimage site. (Photo: Israeli flag on west bank across Jordan River and Greek Orthodox church on the east bank Bethany site, 6 May 2009//Jamal Saidi)

Pope John Paul’s visit to Bethany in 2000 was a coup for Jordan, which is keen to establish its site as a major centre for Christian pilgrims. But he also slipped in a quick visit to Qasr al Yahud, the west bank site across the river, to avoid any impression of partiality. Pope Benedict doesn’t seem to have the same concern — he’s coming to Bethany only and not planning any stop at the rival site. See our news story on this here.

U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield

U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.

Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.

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The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.

Pew Forum report details changing U.S. religious affilations

The folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have come up with a new bit of intriguing number crunching. This time round they have taken a more detailed look at how Americans change religious affiliations in a new report entitled “Faith in Flux.” You can see the report here. It is a follow-up to Pew’s huge U.S. Religious Landscape Survey which was conducted in 2007.

archbp-dolanAmong the highlights which underscore the fluid nature of American faith:

* It finds that 44 percent of the U.S. adults do not belong to their childhood faith.

* Among the 56 percent who belong to their childhood faith, one in six say there was a point in their life when their religion differed.

Biggest U.S. Lutheran group advances gay questions

The largest U.S. Lutheran church group is about to begin a detailed discussion at the grass roots level on a policy change that would enable people in same-sex relationships to become clergy. Between now and June the debate will spread over some 65 synods covering the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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These meetings will produce comminiques which will be sent to the church’s convention in August where a final decision will be made on issues that have nagged the church and other denominations for years.

The ELCA’s current policies allow gays to serve in the ministry but not engage in sexual relations outside marriage — and the church defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Amazon infanticide video and U.S. Christian missionaries

The video shows a near-naked Indian in a remote Amazon village as he digs a large hole. A terrified child is pulled out of a hut and placed in the freshly dug grave. Soon his body and face are covered in earth.

Is this a powerful indictment of the practice of infanticide by Indian tribes in the Amazon, or a distortion of the truth and an incitement to hatred by U.S. Christian missionaries?

indiansThe tribal rights group Survival International hit out this week at the “Hakani” video, which has several edited versions online,  calling it faked and a dangerous exaggeration of the problem of infanticide practiced by Indian tribes.  The video, made with the support of a U.S.-based evangelical missionary group Youth With A Mission, seems to be an attempt to rally support for a proposed Brazilian law that would ban infanticide and other harmful practices by indigenous tribes. When contacted by Reuters, Youth With A Mission said it wouldn’t comment on what it called baseless allegations.

GUESTVIEW: From “security” to compassion – a needed shift for Obama gov’t

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed is a senior advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and a leading signatory of A Common Word.

By Aref Ali Nayed

Being held in the early days of the Obama presidency, this year’s U.S.-Muslim World Forum in Doha last weekend was particularly luminescent with rays of hope. One was the very fact that its host, the influential Brookings Institution think-tank, invited faith leaders to discuss how to improve the dreadful state of relations between Washington and the Muslim world. The basis for discussion was A Common Word, an appeal by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders to join in a dialogue based on the shared commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor.

That a theological and spiritual initiative is of keen interest to policy planners is indeed a fresh ray of light.  Basking in that hopeful light, moreover, I had the rare privilege for a Muslim theologian of listening to the U.S. CentCom Commander General David Petraeus expound there on a “network of networks” that constituted a “security architecture” for our Middle East region.