FaithWorld

Sydneysiders refuse to turn the other cheek for Pope Benedict

Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1 Jan 2008/Tim WimborneSydney is not a city famous for protests. In fact, people usually only get angry at traffic congestion, if their football team loses on the weekend or if rain stops them hitting the city’s sandy beaches. But Sydneysiders have become angry and many are aiming to vent their spleen at Pope Benedict and pilgrims attending the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day here this month.

Except for a handful of people promoting the safe sex message of using condoms, nobody was publicly planning to protest during the Pope’s first visit to Australia. Australians mostly come from a Christian background and Catholics make up the biggest congregation.

But now every man and his dog seems to be planning to take to the streets in protest. What changed?

Sydneysiders believe their civil liberties have been crushed with police introducing tough new anti-protest powers for the papal visit that allows them to arrest and fine people A$5,5000 (US$52,885) for annoying or disturbing Catholic pilgrims. Wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Catholic message or handing out condoms can break the law. Police have asked anyone planning to protest to send them photographs of their banners and what they will be wearing so they can be approved.

Sydney meeting of NoToPope coalit, 24 June 2008/Tim Wimborne“I’ve had it up to my rosaries with my city…Thou shalt not annoy or trespass on World Youth Day,” Bianca Nogrady wrote in protest to the Sydney Morning Herald. “This is religious oppression. Despite being a contented heathen, I am driven by sheer outrage to take up the mantle and T-shirt of every other religion and march proudly through the streets of my secular city.”

Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference

Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.

Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 28 Oct 2005/Antony NjugunaWell, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.

Southern Baptists hold meet amid falling baptisms

SBC President Frank Page and President George Bush, 11 Oct 2006/Larry DowningAmerica’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.

This is serious stuff indeed for a group that places much emphasis on the conversion experience, the acceptance of Jesus as a person’s savior and the rite of passage that goes with this acceptance: a public immersion in water or baptism.

In April the SBC released its latest baptism numbers — figures it tracks closely, underscoring the importance attatched to them.

Provocative Harper’s essay on Anglican split over gays

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola (with Bishop Martyn Minns), 5 May 2007/Jonathan ErnstThe June issue of “Harper’s Magazine” has a provocative essay by Garret Keizer called “Turning Away From Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church.”

The split in the global Anglican Communion over the consecration of the openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and the broader issue of the church’s take on sexual orientation and other social issues in general has been extensively reported on.

These fault lines are partly but far from exclusively geographical, dividing more traditional churches in the developing world — especially Africa — from those in the developed world. It threatens to undermine Anglican provinces like the Episcopal Church in the United States by creating competing authorities within them, one for a more liberal majority and another for a conservative minority.

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

U.S. Religious Right reacts to “Evangelical Manifesto”

Tony PerkinsA group of mostly centrist U.S. evangelicals released a lengthy manifesto on Wednesday which called for the movement to pull back from explicit partisan political activity, saying faith was being used to express “political points that have lost touch with biblical truth.”

Leading figures on the conservative Religious Right, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, were pointedly not asked to sign the document — a reflection of some of the divisions emerging in the U.S. evangelical movement, which numbers over 60 million by some estimates.

“I agree that evangelical Christians have become too aligned with the Republican Party which has taken them for granted,” Perkins told Reuters, adding that he saw some good stuff in the manifesto.

Move over U.S. Religious Right, here’s the evangelical center

Gushee book/Christa CameronMove over Religious Right: you’re getting squeezed by the evangelical center.

That is one of the central points of a new book by David P. Gushee entitled “The Future of Faith in American Politics”.

To Gushee, the evangelical center combines much of the theology of the Religious Right with the social concerns of the left, give it a broad engagement in many of the pressing issues of our day.

New book charts fresh course for U.S. Religious Right

Tony PerkinsTony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is well known as one of the leading activists of the Religious Right in the United States. Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr, founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, is one of the most influential voices of the black conservative movement.

The two have come together to chart a future course for conservative Christian political activism in a just published book entitled “Personal Faith, Public Policy”. The issues they discuss include the value of life, poverty and justice and rebuilding the traditional family unit.

They argue that conservative Christians need to speak out more on issues like poverty and racial reconciliation while maintaining their opposition to abortion and gay rights. They say no one political party – i.e., the Republican Party – should assume to command evangelical support unless it delivers the goods and that born-again Christians should also woo Democrats.

Gay Orthodox Israelis click on new religion Web site

HOD logIt’s been less than a month since an underground movement of gay Orthodox Jews in Israel went online and already tens of thousands of people have visited their Web site.

The site is called HOD (for Homo’eem Dateem or Religious Homosexuals), a play on the Hebrew word hod for glory. It’s the first to cater to gay men living in Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish minority, where homosexuality is viewed as a sin and people are often scared to admit publicly they are gay, fearing harassment or banishment.

Protesters at Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, 21 June 2007/Yonathan Weitzman

Of course, not all of the online visitors fit into that category, said Rabbi Ron, one of the site’s creators. The site was flooded after local media reported on its inception and Ron, a gay Orthodox rabbi who asked that his last name not be mentioned, was interviewed on Israeli radio.

Rowan’s response to Anglican crisis has something for everyone

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 25 Feb. 2005Reporters are often accused of “pack journalism” when they essentially write the same story from an event. So what should we call it when they write different reports about the same thing? That happened on Friday when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams issued his Advent message. This was the long-awaited statement of his views on the crisis tearing away at the Anglican Communion. It turned out to be a grab-bag with something for everyone.

Jim Naughton over at The Lead blog on Episcopal Café noticed the problem and highlighted it in a quick review of the stories about the Advent message. The list shows how the same text can spawn different articles. For example, our story’s lead went for a broad overview, the AP story stressed a U.S. angle and the British papers highlighted details of the Anglican disputes.

“Reporters had their hands full yesterday trying to figure out how to pull a “lede” out of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter about the state of the Anglican Communion,” Naughton wrote. “He dumped cold water on everybody, so how to determine which side was wetter?”