Recognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen’s post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia’s Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there, McCain’s reaction statement noted that Georgia was “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said “the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.”
Blogging takes time, which I didn’t have on Friday after finishing an analysis for the Reuters wire about religion in Turkey posted here. I went to Istanbul to research several religion stories. The main impression I left with was that the prospect for religious policy changes raised by the “post- Islamist” AK Party government in recent years has mostly evaporated. The current political crisis that could end up banning the party and barring Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from belonging to a political party means the end of any liberalisation. In fact, the steam went out of the reform drive a few years ago after Ankara got the green light to negotiate Turkish membership in the European Union.
I’m in Istanbul this week for a few stories. The first one, about how Turkey’s political crisis has put a trend towards a more liberal stand on religious freedom on hold, has just run on the Reuters wire (click here for full text).
The gloves are off in the election campaign for a new primate of the Greek Orthodox Church following the death of Archbishop Christodoulos last week. At least four metropolitan bishops are openly vying for the powerful Greek Church’s top post, some of them making their intentions known literally minutes after Christodoulos was buried last Thursday. The election is set for Feb. 7 and mud-slinging and accusations of blackmail are on the daily agenda.
The Roman Catholic Church statement about evangelisation last Friday was one of those classic Vatican documents that are short on news but long on content. We covered it in a news story from Vatican City, but it was not top news that day (“Christians should spread the faith” is not exactly a new message). The document also avoided the blunt tone that sometimes comes out of the Vatican — an angle journalists were watching out for — and dealt with a sensitive issue “softly, softly,” as one theologian put it.
You’ve probably seen on TV how reporters swarm around leaders coming out of closed-door meetings and the politicians step up to deliver their soundbites for the cameras. The Vatican held a big closed-door meeting on Friday and a wave of cardinals — the “princes of the Church” who rank among the most prominent leaders of Roman Catholicism — emerged at their lunch break to find a pack of journalists eager to pounce on them with questions. I’m in Rome for a few days and was out there waiting for them in a parking lot between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pope Paul VI Hall where they were meeting. The scene was quite different from those “normal” media scrums.
We reported on Wednesday that Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been making very positive comments about relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw,” he told journalists in Moscow on Tuesday.
Recent high-level contacts between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are starting to show some results. It’s still in the atmospheric stage, but the comments from Moscow are now much more positive than they used to be. The latest came on Tuesday from Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, in a very Russian turn of phrase — “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw.”
The Russian Orthodox Church has published an embargoed statement from a Catholic- Orthodox dialogue session that it walked out of in protest this month. The Web site of the Church’s representation to European institutions in Brussels posted the text along with a commentary saying it would give its opinion of the statement later. The statement was not due to be released until November 15. According to the French Catholic news service I.Media, its early publication evoked surprise and disappointment at the Vatican department for ecumenical relations, as well as concern this could compromise the continuing talks.
One of the fascinating aspects about reporting on religion is that the timeframes are far longer than most topics news agencies cover. Experts debate the fine points of little-known issues and progress can be slower than a snail’s pace. But it’s sometimes interesting to take a look at where they’re going.