FaithWorld

Beijing “house church” faces eviction in tense times in China

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing's Haidian district October 3, 2010. Shouwang is a "house church", a church that is not officially sanctioned by the government and houses smaller congregations. These churches are reported to be getting increasingly popular in the Chinese capital. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic)

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing in this file photo from October 3, 2010/Petar Kujundzic)

Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “house” churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip. The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant,” with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.

Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police.

“This is the cross that the church has to bear,” Pastor Jin Tianming told the worshippers about the prospect of worship outdoors. Some of them wiped tears from their faces. “We need a formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indoor meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshipping outdoors.”

French religious leaders warn against divisive Islam debate

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(Abderrahmane Dahmane displays green star to protest against France's Islam debate, March 29, 2011/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The leaders of France’s six main religions warned the government on Wednesday against a planned debate on Islam they say could stigmatise Muslims and fuel prejudice as the country nears national elections next year. Weighing in on an issue that is tearing apart President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, the Conference of French Religious Leaders said the discussion about respect for France’s secular system could only spread confusion at a turbulent time.

The UMP plans to hold a public forum on secularism next week that critics decry as veiled Muslim-bashing to win back voters who defected to the far-right National Front at local polls last week and could thwart Sarkozy’s reelection hopes in 2012.

Frictions seen easing in troubled U.N. human rights body

(Delegates observe a one-minute silence during the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(Delegates at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.

U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe said emerging accords on tackling religious hatred, Iran’s rights record and unusual cooperation across mutually suspicious regional blocs on Libya could mark a turning point for the forum.

Handouts dash Saudi king’s reformer reputation

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(Saudi King Abdullah addresses the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi King Abdullah’s lavish social handouts and a boost to security and religious police, but no political change, leaves his prized reputation as a reformist in tatters, analysts say.

The king, believed to be 87, has carefully crafted an image as a cautious reformer in a country ruled by a single generation of his brothers as absolute monarchs for nearly six decades. But faced with unrest rocking much of the Arab world, he is playing the old game of buying support from key sectors of society to keep family rule as it is.

Tibetan monk burns to death in China protest, support group says

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A Tibetan Buddhist monk burnt himself to death in western China Wednesday, triggering a street protest against government controls on the restive region, a group campaigning for Tibetan self-rule said. The self-immolation appeared to be a small repeat of protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

The 21-year-old, named Phuntsog, was a monk in Aba, a mainly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese control three years ago. The monk “immolated himself today in protest against the crackdown,” said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a London-based organisation.

“He shouted some slogans about freedom when he did it,” said Zorgyi, a researcher for the organisation, who is based in northern India, where many exiled Tibetans live. “We’ve also received widespread information about a protest with nearly one thousand monks and lay people that came after,” Zorgyi said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

rehman malikAfter two assassinations, Pakistani politicians are finally beginning to address tensions over the country's blasphemy laws.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in an interview politicians should be able to reach a cross-party consensus on preventing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) religious party. "Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman ... and I hope this matter can be thrashed out, whenever this meeting takes place." 

Two senior politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated this year after they called for amendments to the blasphemy laws, which critics say are often misused to settle personal scores.  The row over the blasphemy laws has become one of most incendiary issues in Pakistan, highlighting the dominance of the religious right which has been able to bring out thousands into the streets to protest against any changes to the laws.  Taseer's self-confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was celebrated as a hero by many.

Erdogan urges Turks in Germany to integrate, not assimilate

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(Confetti is released as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan leaves the stage following a speech to some 15,000 Turks living in Germany at an arena in Duesseldorf February 27, 2011/Wolfgang Rattay )

Turkish immigrants in Germany should integrate into society but not assimilate to the point where they abandon their native culture, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Germany on Sunday. Speaking to some 10,000 members of Germany’s large Turkish community in the wake of last year’s heated debate over the place of foreigners in the country, Erdogan took up the theme of integration amid what he sees as persistent European xenophobia.

“You must integrate, but I am against assimilation … no one may ignore the rights of minorities,” he said, adding that individuals should have the right to practice their own faith.

Saudis want more science in religion-heavy education

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(Secondary students sit for an exam in Riyadh June 15, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

Saudi teenager Abdulrahman Saeed lives in one of the richest countries in the world, but his prospects are poor, he blames his education, and it’s not a situation that looks like changing soon. “There is not enough in our curriculum,” says Saeed, 16, who goes to an all-male state school in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “It is just theoretical teaching, and there is no practice or guidance to prepare us for the job market.”

Saeed wants to study physics but worries that his state high school is failing him. He says the curriculum is outdated, and teachers simply repeat what is written in text books without adding anything of practical value or discussions. Even if the teachers did do more than the basics, Saeed’s class, at 32 students, is too big for him to get adequate attention. While children in Europe and Asia often start learning a language at five or six, Saudi students start learning English at 12. Much time is spent studying religion and completing exercises heavy with moral instruction.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of the globe’s oil reserves and thanks to high oil prices it has almost tripled its foreign assets to more than $400 billion (248 billion pounds) since 2005. The region’s thinkers had a profound influence on the evolving western science of the Middle Ages. But from kindergarten to university, its state education system has barely entered the modern age. Focussed on religious and Arabic studies, it has long struggled to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers that Saudi needs.

Bless me iPhone for I have sinned — an app for Catholic confession

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(Religion apps for the iPhone, photographed in New York, July 21, 2010/Tom Heneghan)

An iPhone app aimed at helping Catholics through confession and encouraging lapsed followers back to the faith has been sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States.

Confession: A Roman Catholic app, thought to be the first to be approved by a church authority, walks Catholics through the sacrament and contains what the company behind the program describes as a “personalized examination of conscience for each user”.

Russian Orthodox Church clergy allowed to enter politics

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(President Dmitry Medvedev (C, bottom row), Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill (2nd R, bottom row) and Russian Orthodox Church hierarchs at the Kremlin in Moscow February 3, 2011/Alexander Nemenov)

Russia’s Orthodox Church has allowed its clergy to enter politics in certain cases, in the latest sign of its growing presence in Russia’s secular society. Endorsed by Kremlin leaders as Russia’s main faith, the Church has grown increasingly powerful since communism fell two decades ago. Its role has drawn criticism from human rights groups who say it undermines Russia’s constitution.

On Thursday, President Dmitry Medvedev backed a decision by the Church to allow clergy to enter politics in certain cases. “The Russian Orthodox church is the largest and the most respected social institution in the modern Russia,” Medvedev told top clergy visiting the Kremlin.