FaithWorld

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?”

Naughton, a veteran journalist who is spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, added: “One thing I’ve picked up in conversations with reporters is how weary they are of covering this story, and what a difficult time they have in determining the significance of any given event. Many of them fervently wish the story would go away.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 19 Feb. 2007This story is difficult to cover and some journalists might wish it would go away. But there’s no sign it will. The Lambeth Conference, a 10-yearly meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world, is coming up next July. We can probably expect more disputes over openly gay clergy and blessings for same-sex couples, more defections from the Episcopal Church and more warning declarations from the Global South as it approaches. If that weren’t enough, Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, plans to marry his partner only a few weeks before Lambeth begins. “I always wanted to be a June bride,” the University of Miami news service reported him as saying last month.

Adding context to the Vatican- Muslim dialogue story

Context is such a help. My report that the Vatican is due to respond positively and very soon to the dialogue appeal by 138 Muslim scholars was based on several conversations these days in Rome with cardinals and Vatican officials. Our news stories have to pare comments down to the essential quote to keep the story to a manageable length. Adding more context to some of those comments can give a better feel for the way these leading Catholic figures view the Muslim letter.

Catholic cardinals at the Vatican, 24 Nov. 2007The cardinals discussed the issue on Friday. The Vatican said: “Some speakers dealt with relations with Jews and with Islam. There was discussion of the encouraging sign represented by the letter of 138 Muslim personalities and of the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to the Holy Father.” So we had a fact (“discussion”), a hint (“encouraging”) but nothing more than that.

Asking around, I got three cardinals who spoke about this on the record. Each deals with Islam in one way or another. Senegal is 95-percent Muslim, France has Europe’s largest Muslim minority and mostly Hindu India’s Muslims are a minority (13 percent of the population) but a larger one than its Christians (2 percent).

Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Bates article in New HumanistStephen Bates, who recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, has just published an account of his seven years on the beat in an article entitled “Demob Happy” for the New Humanist magazine. Bates followed the crisis in the Anglican Communion for several years and even wrote a book on it, A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

“Now I am moving on,” his article concludes. “It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”

Muslim scholars press Pope Benedict to go public

The 138 Muslims scholars who recently invited Christian leaders to a high-level inter-faith dialogue feel their unprecedented step of uniting so many different Islamic representatives has created a momentum that must not be lost. The responses from Christian churches have shown varying levels of urgency in taking up the challenge. muslimspray2.jpgMany denominations, most notably the Anglicans and Lutherans, responded promptly and positively to their appeal “A Common Word Between Us And You.” The Roman Catholic Church has been more cautious, and its provisional response has gone from vaguely positive to cautiously critical.

The Muslim scholars have responded with a direct appeal to the Pope to speak publicly about their initiative. Sheikh Izzeldin Ibrahim, a signatory who is a cultural adviser to the United Arab Emirates government, made a verbal appeal to that effect to Benedict when they lunched together in Naples on Sunday at the Sant’Egidio community’s annual inter-faith meeting. He told him the Muslim scholars were disappointed not only at what they saw as the Vatican’s hesitant response to their appeal but also to the lack of a Catholic response to the letter of 38 scholars last year to his controversial Regensburg speech. And, as signatory Aref Ali Nayed of the Cambridge Interfaith Program in Britain told Reuters, they made it official with a letter handed to Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told Vatican Radio on Monday that he has been discussing with other Christian leaders in Naples what the churches should do next. “I’d like to start exploring what kind of common Christian response there might be to the ‘Common Word’ document that’s come from the Muslim leaders,” he said. Christian leaders were “looking at various theoretical possibilities” and would like to have “proper face-to-face discussions with some of these people. But how to do that is quite a logistical challenge,” he said.

Europe circles the wagons against creationism and intelligent design

Europeans are circling the wagons to keep creationism and intelligent design out of their schools. The latest development came on Monday when Sweden announced it wanted to tighten rules governing private religious schools to ensure they do not teach creationism. This is a new twist. Private schools across Europe usually have to follow some kind of national curriculum but can add other elements such as religious views. Creationism is certainly a religious view and a very large majority in Europe says ID is too.

An exhibit on evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, February 2007“This is naturally brought about by the fact that different viewpoints are being discussed, for instance about the creation of the world – one based on science and one on religious views,” Swedish Education Minister Jan Bjorklund said while announcing the new policy. “Teaching in school must have a scientific basis.”

The Council of Europe made the headlines two weeks ago with a resolution firmly opposing these views and urging member countries to keep them out of their science classes. It defined ID as a form of creationism. That resolution entitled “The Dangers of Creationism in Education” was based on a long report with an interesting country-by-country list of cases where creationism has become an issue in Europe (see report pages 9-14). This was a non-binding resolution but it expressed the widespread mood of lawmakers who until recently thought creationism and ID were such simplistic U.S. religious views that they would never cross the Atlantic.

Ball in Vatican’s court after Muslim dialogue appeal

Pope Benedict prays with Muslim clerics in IstanbulAn unprecedented call from 138 Muslim scholars for better Christian-Muslim understanding had a Warholesque 15-minutes-of- fame in most media last week. Their letter to world Christian leaders got covered widely in English-speaking media (including by Reuters) and much less so in many European countries, possibly because the news conferences presenting it were in London and Washington. Some reactions from Christian leaders were included in the reporting that day. The following day, the reaction from the Vatican — the main addressee of the letter that represents more than half of Christianity — made for another story (here is our report and the original Vatican Radio report in Italian).

The story has now faded from the headlines but it’s one of those developments that cry out for a next step. The Muslim scholars invited their Christian counterparts to a dialogue, so the ball is in the Christians’ court. More specifically, it’s in the Vatican’s court. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most centralised branch of the Christian family. The Muslims also have a bone to pick with Pope Benedict, who just over a year ago gave his famous Regensburg speech that implied Islam was violent and irrational. That sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world and, in turn, inspired 38 Muslim scholars to write a first letter in October 2006 that denounced that violence, asked for a dialogue (which Benedict had suggested in Regensburg) and questioned his understanding of Islam.

The latest letter is a follow-up, with a far larger group of signatories and the more ambitious goal of engaging in a theological dialogue with Christians. The wealth of Koran and Bible quotes cited and the argument that Islam agrees with the heart of Christian teaching — to love God and neighbour — showed these scholars want a long and serious theological discussion with Christianity.