FaithWorld

Christians issue code of conduct for spreading faith without fanning tensions

(Evangelical pastor Marcos Pereira da Silva embraces a prisoner as his missionaries stand by at the 52nd Police Station jail in Nova Iguacu, near Rio de Janeiro, which they visited on October 29, 2009 to evangelize prisoners/Ricardo Moraes )

A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths. The pioneering code of conduct, under negotiation for five years, was unveiled by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which together claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.

It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”. Click here for the PDF text of the guidelines.

Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches. Tensions have also risen in recent decades as evangelical Protestants have stepped up efforts to convert Muslims, which is a capital offence in some Islamic countries. This also prompts retaliation against local Christians who do not seek converts.

“In spite of our divisions, we Christians have the duty to proclaim our faith without any compromise,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue. “Christian witness is facing new challenges which are putting accepted practices in question and are weakening our well-established ways of doing things. In a word, the situation is requiring Christian communities to consider, in a new way, how best to proclaim the Christian faith.”

Moscow’s “Holy Rus” religious art show spotlights sacred Russia

(A member of gallery staff passes an exhibit at the Holy Rus exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow May 25, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia opened an unprecedented exhibit of religious art pulled from across the country and abroad at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery on Thursday, in a show of Kremlin support for an Orthodox Church growing more powerful since the fall of Communism.

The state-sponsored exhibit “Holy Rus” displays art works from the Old Eastern Slavonic state, which existed in the middle ages and united the lands of modern Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia, with its capital in Kiev.

Syria’s Christians fear for their religious freedom

(A Christian woman lights a candle during a mass to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas at Saint Serkis church in Damascus January 6, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria’s minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. Sunni Muslims form a majority in Syria, but under four decades of rule by Assad’s minority Alawites the country’s varied religious groups have enjoyed the right to practice their faith.

Calls for Muslim prayers ring out alongside church bells in Damascus, where the apostle Paul started his ministry and Christians have worshipped for two millennia. But for many Syrian Christians, the flight of their brethren from sectarian conflict in neighbouring Iraq and recent attacks on Christians in Egypt have highlighted the dangers they fear they will face if Assad succumbs to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Russian Church: Ditch beer for books in nightclubs

(A man walks across Red Square near the GUM state department store (L) and St Basil's Cathedral on a rainy day in Moscow, November 26, 2007/Oksana Yushko)

Russian revelers can now swap vodka and dancing for tea and reading at new “spiritual nightclubs” being set up by Orthodox Church, media said quoting a top religious official. In the latest suggestion by the increasingly powerful Church, youths will be able to “have the opportunity for serious dialogue, reading, unhurried conversation so they can have a cup of tea,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.

“A nightclub does not have to be a place where debauchery, boozing and drug addiction reign,” said Chaplin, who added that the Church-inspired clubs will stay open till 5 a.m. like most of Russia’s drinking holes.

Jobless ultra-Orthodox Jews weigh on Israel’s economy

(Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a rally in Jerusalem June 17, 2010. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel on Thursday against the court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together. REUTERS/Ammar Awad )

(Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a rally in Jerusalem June 17, 2010/Ammar Awad )

Meir Gross is a Jewish ultra-Orthodox father of five who does not work. Despite warnings that Israel’s economy may be threatened by his fast growing, often unemployed, community, he does not want a job. Gross advocates a pious existence geared to study. He spends nearly his entire day learning Torah (Jewish law), which he says is the most important edict bestowed on the Jewish man, and it cannot be combined with a job.

“Torah study demands utter and complete devotion. We’re not interested in making money or in material luxury. We are content with very little and our true joy, and highest duty, is learning,” Gross said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or “Haredim,” are a devout tight-knit community who make up 8-10 percent of Israel’s 7.7 million population, with eight children per family on average. Many are supported by the state and live well below the poverty line.  A Bank of Israel report in March said about 60 percent of Haredi men don’t work.

Israeli organ donations soar after soccer star dies

organ donation

(The Israeli flag-draped coffin of Avi Cohen is seen during a special public memorial service at a football stadium near Tel Aviv December 29, 2010/Nir Elias)

Organ donations in Israel rocketed in January after the death of an Israeli soccer star prompted a religious debate on brain death into the headlines.

Former Israel and Liverpool defender Avi Cohen sustained severe head injuries in a motorcycle crash in December. He was pronounced brain dead and put on a respirator. Cohen had signed an organ donor card, but his family refused to give away his organs. Newspaper reports said rabbis had appealed to the family not to donate. Cohen’s widow said the decision against donation was her own.

Ecumenical news agency ENInews suspended, editors removed

genevaEcumenical News International, an award-winning agency reporting on religion and based at the World Council of Churches (WCC), has been temporarily closed and had its two top editors removed, one of them said on Monday. The decision, taken at a meeting of its executive committee last week, comes after the Geneva-based WCC cut the agency’s funding and its former head criticised its coverage.

The suspension and leadership changes led to the resignation of the ENInews president and its treasurer, both senior figures in Scandinavian Protestant churches, a report by the agency said. WCC officials said the agency was not being closed but would resume some time in 2011 with one part-time editor. (Photo: Geneva, April 29, 2008/Valentin Flauraud)

Earlier this year the WCC, which has been ENInews’s main funder and in whose headquarters the agency was based, said it was reducing its financial support for 2011 by over 50 percent.

Gas in the Holy Land: energy prospecting with the Bible as guide

israel gas 1Using the Bible as its guide, Texas-based energy company Zion Oil and Gas has searched for oil in the Holy Land for a decade. The company uses a map of the 12 ancient tribes of Israel and the biblical assertion – “the foot of Asher to be dipped in oil on the head of Joseph” – as an unlikely guide to help it decide where to drill. (Photo: A worker stands on an oil rig belonging to Zion Oil and  Gas in Karkur, northern Israel October 17, 2010/Nir Elias)

Sitting beneath an 18-storey rig in northern Israel, Zion’s CEO Richard Rinberg translates that reference by pointing to an area on the map where the territory of Asher – long and thin and shaped like a leg – once pushed into the land that belonged to Joseph’s sons.

“It’s exactly where we are,” said Rinberg, a good-humoured Orthodox Jew with a background in accounting and a belief that this biblical prophecy is backed by concrete scientific data. Founded by John Brown, a Christian Zionist who believes the Bible prophesied the discovery of oil in Israel, Zion is just one of a pack of energy companies that has spent years, even decades, surveying and drilling around Israel and its territorial waters. Like many, Zion has yet to find commercial amounts of oil or gas.

Qaeda threat to Egyptian Christians may stir militants

egypt 1 (Photo: Demonstrators at the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo claiming a Christian woman had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by a Christian church, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Militants may feel emboldened by an al Qaeda threat against Egypt’s Christians, even if the network itself might struggle to mount such an assault.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which launched an attack on a Baghdad church on Sunday that left 52 dead, has also threatened Egypt’s church.

While there are no signs of a re-emergence of a 1990s-style Islamist insurgency, Egypt remains alert to anything that could stir communal tension that sometimes boils up over issues such as cross-faith relationships and conversions.

Israeli students incensed by ultra-Orthodox benefit

israeli students (Photo: Students protest near Hebrew University in Jerusalem on October 27, 2010 against the bill to give more state funds to Torah students/Ronen Zvulun)

Israeli university students have demanded that the government drop plans to pay stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews who study the Torah but do not work.

Protests over the so-called Yeshiva bill in the past week highlight growing Israeli resentment of the 600,000 ultra-Orthodox “haredim”, who live almost entirely off state welfare benefits.

Several thousand students held a protest march in Jerusalem on Monday warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they were not “suckers” who would meekly accept what they regard as rank discrimination.