FaithWorld

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.

Dissecting the jargon of the conflict, Keizer sees parallels between the corporate world and the shifting currents of globalization. “What is ‘provincial realignment,’ at bottom, if not the ecclesiastical version of a corporate merger? What is ‘alternative oversight,’ if not church talk for a hostile takeover?,” he writes, seeing these comparisons in the methods rather than the motives of those involved.

He also chimes in on a theme that has been raised in different ways elsewhere by others in dicussions of America’s Religious Right: “How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson.”

Muslim scholar responds to “Sharia smear” against Obama

Obama speaks at First Congregation/Carlos Barriaal United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, 16 Dec 2007Two recent op-ed articles in the United States presented Barack Obama as a “Muslim apostate” according to “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” Since Muslims were bound to see him as an apostate, they argued, the potential next president could be seen as “al Qaeda’s candidate” because Islamists could whip up popular anger in the Muslim world by portraying him as a turncoat heading a Western war against Islam. He also risked assassination, one suggested, because Muslim law considers apostasy a crime worthy of the death sentence and bars punishment for any Muslim who kills an apostate.

There were many generalisations about Islam in these two articles, one by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times and the other by Shireen K. Burki in the Christian Science Monitor. There is no one code of Muslim law, as Luttwak (who is a strategic analyst not previously known for his mastery of Islamic jurisprudence) or Burki (who we’re told “studied Islam at school” in Pakistan) want unsuspecting readers to believe. Few Muslim countries have death for apostates on their books, and even fewer actually carry it out. This is not meant to defend any law about apostasy, which is an individual right, but just to state a few facts.

Most important of all, Obama never tires of saying that he is a committed Christian and has never practiced the religion that his father (who left his son when he was 2 years old) no longer practiced either. The fact these articles appeared amid an “Obama-is-a-Muslim” whispering campaign in an election year makes a good case for suspecting they may have been motivated more by political strategy than legal scholarship. A lot of the 368 comments on Luttwak’s article assume that’s the case. Call it the “Sharia smear.”

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”

Kissinger, Iraq and India’s Muslims – a new domino theory?

Henry Kissinger at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 21 Jan 2008/Wolfgang RattayIs Henry Kissinger trying to update the domino theory to fit what he fears in 2008? He had a “Lunch with the FT” interview in Saturday’s Financial Times and surprised his interviewer, historian Stephen Graubard, by linking the war in Iraq and Muslims in India. As Graubard wrote:

He believes the military “surge” is working and says the next question is when to start to move away from an exclusively military option. “This is not a war of states,” Kissinger says. “If we withdraw from Iraq, the radical elements in all the neighbouring Arab countries will be greatly encouraged.” We will, he fears, be unable to maintain ourselves in Afghanistan, or to retain our present position in Pakistan.

He fears a rapid withdrawal could radicalise the vast Islamic community in India. I am fascinated by this statement – I have never heard anyone else say it so robustly – and suggest that he argued in a similar vein about the dangers of a departure from Vietnam. “Not at all,” he says, adding that the collapse in Vietnam was partly compensated for by the almost simultaneous and fortuitous disintegration of the Soviet Union.

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:

New York imam forges close ties with city’s Jews

New York Islamic Cultural Center, 23 April 2008/Tom HeneghanNew York’s largest mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) on East 96th Street in Manhattan, is getting applause from an unexpected quarter — the city’s influential Jewish community … Much of the credit for the upbeat mood goes to Mohammad Shamsi Ali, the ICC’s Indonesian-born imam who arrived here only 12 years ago and has been rated by New York magazine as the city’s most influential Islamic leader.

At the end of my trip to the U.S. to cover the pope’s visit, I visited the ICC and interviewed Ali. After more research and interviews, I wrote the feature quoted above that just ran on the Reuters wire today. There is no Grand Mosque of New York, but the ICC unofficially plays that role. And Ali has emerged as one of the city’s leading Islamic personalities. As New York magazine put it, “Ali is the one imam who can mediate between the diverse and fractious elements of the 800,000-member Muslim community in New York … Since 9/11, he has become the community’s unofficial emissary to law enforcement and the mayor’s office.”

During our interview, Ali ranged over a wide number of topics. The strict format for our news features leaves little room for some of them, but I’ve posted more on page two of this post. Other links not included in the feature are the Jewish Week article quoted there, a New York Daily News op-ed article by Ali on Muslims, terrorism and the police and the attack on him by a tiny (“we are less than a handful…”) group of Islamists.

Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen – threat or benefactor?

Fatih College in Istanbul, run by Gülen followers, 16 April 2008/Osman OrsalPerhaps the most influential Islamic leader that most non-Muslims have never heard of is a Turkish preacher named Fethullah Gülen. Now living in the United States, he stands at the head of a broad movement that runs schools in Turkey and abroad as well as businesses and a publishing empire. His group also actively conducts dialogue with other religions. His supporters praise him as an important modern and moderate Muslim thinker, but some people in Turkey suspect he is trying to infiltrate the secular state there.

Alexandra Hudson, an Amsterdam staffer who was recently on secondment to Istanbul, has written a feature about the Gülen movement — you can read it here.

Gülen has an extensive website (in English and other languages) with his writings, videos and articles from conferences about his movement. The New York Times has also done an article on his movement recently, about its work running schools in Pakistan.

Sect raid raises questions about polygamy in U.S.

“Sister-wives” Valerie (L) and Vicki serve breakfast to their children in their polygamous house in Herriman, Utah, 12 June 2007/stringerFor most readers outside the United States, and probably many living there, the recent stories about the polygamous sect raided in Texas in early April raised several basic questions about multiple marriage and the law in America. Like any other Western society, the United States bans polygamy. Mainstream Mormons officially banned the practice in 1890, but several breakaway groups continued it. While informed readers may know that, it still came as a surprise to see there was a polygamous community of several hundred Americans living in a large compound right under the noses of the local police and politicians. And they were not the only ones — once-hidden polygamists are now pressing to have “plural marriage” decriminalised. What’s going on here?

Andrea Useem, author of the interesting blog Religion Writer, has come up with a fascinating look behind these recent polygamy headlines. She’s got links to blogs with names such as Polygamy Now and Introspection of a Plural Wife (at Heart). The most interesting part, though, is the long interview she has with John Witte, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta. As she puts it: “He explains why polygamy laws are rarely enforced, how “moral repugnance” is one of the last arguments against polygamy, and why having a concubine is still legal.”

Read it all here.

Useem also has a link to one of several interviews with women in polygamous marraiges on YouTube. Here it is:

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.

Polar opposites Bush and Clinton share Methodist faith

Bush the Methodist, May 1 2008What do George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton have in common, besides a shared address in Washington? (With dates that did not overlap of course).

They actually have a shared faith: The United Methodist Church.

This may surprise many people, given the fact that their politics are polar opposites. The anti-abortion rights Bush strikes many as a Southern Baptist in everything but name; the pro-choice Clinton is seldom associated with religion though she has been actively courting the faith vote as of late.

As its general conference in Fort Worth discussed issues such as its take on humanhillary.jpg sexuality, Scott Jones, the resident bishop for the Kansas area, said differences of opinion were in the church’s “DNA” but “We are united in our mission to transform the world.”