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Bishops’ plea to vote against the BJP: The Church of England Newspaper, April 25, 2014 June 2, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Politics.
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The Moderator of the Church of South India has endorsed a joint pastoral letter with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hyderabad calling upon Christians in Andhra Pradesh not to cast their votes in support of sectarian political parties in the forthcoming elections for the state assembly and India’s federal parliament, the Lok Sabha. In a letter read in the states’ churches on 13 April 2013, Bishop Govada Dyvasirvadam and Archbishop Thumma Bala asked Christians to “elect leaders who are close to people and their needs, and only vote for those who uphold secular character and promote communal harmony.” Bishop Dyvasirvadam told the Times of India he had taken the unprecedented step of offering political advice to protect Christians. “We are worried about the communal carnage that happened in Kandhamal, Orrisa and what is happening now. There could be a repeat in the state, if the voters do not take an anti-communal stand. We need a strong government to protect us,” Bishop Dyvasirvadam said.

Nigerian plea to keep politics out of church: Church of England Newspaper, November 15, 2013 November 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Politics.
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A stampede that killed 28 people at the close of a vigil at a Catholic festival in South Eastern Nigeria has led to calls from church leaders to ban politicians from canvassing voters at church services.

Details as to the cause of the sudden rush of the crowd at the Holy Ghost Adoration Camp Ground in Anambra State remain unclear. But at approximately 6:00 am on Saturday 2 November 2013 the crowd of 100,000 began to rush towards the exits, trampling scores of worshippers and killing 28.

The National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor , urged the Anambra governor Peter Obi to launch an inquiry into the tragedy. However, the chairman of CAN in South East Nigeria, the Anglican Bishop of Enugu,the Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, said the federal government should investigate the disaster.

Leaders of the governor’s political party have called for the arrest of opposition candidate in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, Senator Chris Ngigie saying his comments to the crowd had caused the stampede – a charge the senator has denied.

Speaking to reporters after the disaster, Bishop Chukwuma said: “It is my own duty as CAN chairman, South East to ban all politicians from attending our churches with their teams for campaigns. The church should also steer clear of partisan politics because there are different kinds of people in the church that belong to different political parties.”

“So it is wrong to come into the church and begin to talk about manifestos. It is not going to be acceptable any more because it causes commotion and disrespect for one another.

“We appeal to bishops, priests, pastors and clergymen to please avoid politicians coming to use churches as campaign arena. This does not augur well for our spiritual growth.

“We therefore urge the Federal Government to set up a probe panel to find out what actually happened because we feel very much worried. Since the state government is involved, I think there should be a neutral body for the investigation,” Bishop Chukwuma said on behalf of CAN.

Why did Time fabricate a quote?: Get Religion, October 31, 2013 October 31, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics.
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“Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie if you believe it.” George Costanza, “The Beard”, Seinfeld, Episode 102, 9 Feb 1995.

Time Magazine‘s “Swampland” blog appears to have fabricated a quote in its story about the revision of the Air Force Academy’s honor code. While one may well assume mistake or malice lay behind the creation of a quote, there is the suggestion of deeper purpose.

In reporting on the contretemps over the Academy’s honor code, Time might well have been making a statement on the purposelessness of honor codes in general. Could it be asking the philosophical question: “What is truth?” — offering an answer drawn from deconstructionism that posits that truth exists only in the eye of the beholder?

Follow me through this tale and tell me if you see what I see.

When published on 28 October 2013 the article entitled “On a Wing, But Not On a Prayer” the article began:

While there may be no atheists in foxholes, the Air Force Academy has decided there will be no mandatory God in the heavens. The academy — at 7.258 feet above sea level, the closest of all the nation’s military schools to God’s realm — has long had a reputation as the most Christian of the nation’s military learning institutions. But the Colorado Springs, Colo., academy has decided to make the “so help me God” coda to its cadet oath optional after a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (not surprisingly, the Christian Fighter Pilot group denounced what it calls a “dramatic change” on its website).

The version that appears on Time‘s website as of 30 October 2013 is slightly different. The subordinate clause contained in the parentheses in the concluding sentence is absent. Perhaps this is due to the Christian Fighter Pilot group not having said what Time claims it said.

The Christian Fighter Pilot website noted:

After pointing out that this website did not “denounce” the decision (in fact, quite the opposite) and that the “dramatic change” comment was clearly facetious, [Time] deleted the reference.

Time corrected but did not note its error in the story. But the question how, or why, the error occurred remains. The Christian Fighter Pilot website suggested:

Given that [Time] clearly didn’t read the article, one wonders how he came to the conclusion that it was ”not surprising.”  It’s almost as if he has preconceived notions about Christians in the military.

That is certainly a possibility. It may well be that Time read the blog, but misunderstood what it read. Given the need for speed in preparing internet stories, misreading a source will happen. Or, the author relied upon information passed to him by a person whom he trusted — a form of the  “hat tip” [h/t] some bloggers use in citing the source of information in their posts (usually with attribution to the source), but often not confirming its veracity. Mistake rather than malice explains most sins.

The suggestion of bias raised by the Christian Fighter Pilot, however, finds support in the tone of the Time piece. On first reading I thought the Time piece somewhat heavy-handed in its approach to the story — “closest” to God, “no mandatory” God. To my ears these attempts at wit rang a false note. A wan smile was all that they elicited from me — juvenile, but not dreadful.

But other possibilities soon emerged.

The article stated:

The academy’s original honor code dates to 1959 and reads:

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.

But it was modified following a 1984 cheating scandal to read:

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.

The phrase “so help me God” was tacked on “to add more seriousness to the oath,” according to a former faculty member. Apparently, there was a subset of Air Force cadets who would cheat absent God as a wingman.

If you read this honor code extract against the knowledge the Time story violated such an oath when it fabricated the Christian Fighter Pilot quote, its cleverness is apparent. By using the ironic device of making a false statement in reporting on a code of conduct that condemns false statements, Time might well have been playing a language-game of the moral efficacy of honor codes. Why else would it suggest that morality is conditional?

Does not Time write: “There was a subset of Air Force cadets who would cheat absent God as a wingman” ? E.g., bad actions are not sinful in and of themselves. Lies are wrong when they are discovered to be lies, not before. And who has the authority to determine what is truth?

Time appears to be arguing for a post-modernist view of truth based not on Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, but on Jean-François Lyotard ‘s arguments that truth is inseparable from the age and system to which it belongs.

In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-games in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth. [Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition, 1994]

Or, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Is Time making the argument that as it believes the Christian Fighter Pilot would have denounced the revision of the honor code oath in view of Time’s opinion o the Christian Fighter Pilot’s thinking, that fact that it did not denounce it is irrelevant? Did not CBS follow this line in what is now called the Dan Rather theory of journalism? “Fake but accurate“?

Or perhaps I have spent too much time on airplanes of late? There comes a time when to every man’s mind when the breaking point is reached when listening to Europop. What say you Get Religion readers? Is a cigar sometimes just a cigar?; “fake but accurate”; a mistake, what?

First printed in Get Religion.

The NY Times misses the battle for Belarus; Get Religion, August 9, 2013 August 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I would like to draw your attention to a 28 July 2013 piece in the New York Times entitled “Putin in Ukraine to Celebrate a Christian Anniversary”. The article reports on the interplay of religion, politics and culture in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Yet the mention of religion in a story does not necessarily mean the reporter “gets religion.”

The article opens by focusing on what the Times sees as the political significance of the event, and then moves to an appreciation of the interplay of religion with politics.

MOSCOW — In an apparent attempt to use shared history to make a case for closer ties, President Vladimir V. Putin attended religious ceremonies in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of events that brought Christianity to Ukraine and Russia. At a reception in Kiev, the capital, Mr. Putin spoke of the primacy of the two countries’ spiritual and historical bonds, regardless of political decisions that often divide them. Relations have been rocky in part because of attempts by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, to formalize its political and economic ties with the European Union.

“We are all spiritual heirs of what happened here 1,025 years ago,” Mr. Putin told church hierarchs at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “And in this sense we are, without a doubt, one people.”

Mr. Putin’s trip was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The events last week commemorated Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s decision to convert to Christianity and baptize his subjects in 988, an event known as the Baptism of Rus, … The attention has also lent apparent endorsement to church criticism of Western democracy and secular culture, particularly homosexuality….

Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith. … The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

The article then looks at the church’s illiberal teachings, pulling quotes from Cyril made outside the Kiev celebrations.

The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.

Before I move to an analysis of the distortions to the story caused by the particular worldview of the Times, let me say a word about nomenclature beginning with names. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is called Kirill in this article and in other outlets is named Kyrill and Cyril. They are all the same name, but coming as I do out of an older style of journalism that anglicizes everything because that is how God intended it to be, I use Cyril — just as I call the pope Francis. And some regions of the world and nations are prefaced by “the” — the Sahara, the Arctic, the Sudan, the Ukraine — less frequently the Lebanon and the Yemen. I am not making a political statement when I call the host nation “the Ukraine”, implying it is a region rather than a nation state, or a mystical idealized place like la France of Charles de Gaulle, rather it is the style in which I was educated. That having been said …

The word “apparent” in the first line is problematic. It begs the question “apparent to whom?” The Times states this is Putin’s political goal and offers extracts from his speeches to illustrate this point, but spends little time in offering other views.

I am not saying the Times was incorrect in stating the trip for Putin was an opportunity to bring the Ukraine closer to Moscow. This theme was noted in the Russian press also. Moskovsky Komsomolets a Moscow-based daily with a circulation of approximately one million, called Putin’s Ukrainian visit “the second baptism of the Rus”, implying shared spiritual values make Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians “one people”.

The official text of Putin’s 27 July 2013 speech Putin makes this point clear.

The Baptism of Rus was a great event that defined Russia’s and Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural development for the centuries to come. We must remember this brotherhood and preserve our ancestors’ traditions. Together, they built a unique system of Orthodox values and strengthened themselves in their faith …

Putin then moves from spiritual unity to national economic solidarity, arguing the Ukraine’s strategic choice lies with the Eurasian and not the European integration project.

Competition on the global markets is very fierce today. Only by joining forces we can be competitive and stand a chance of winning in this tough environment. We have every reason too, to be confident that we should and can achieve this.

The stress placed on this point by the Times is not misplaced, but it is unbalanced. We are hearing only Putin and Cyril in this story — and what the New York Times thinks about them.

The article does not contrast Putin’s vision to the Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych’s administration’s goal of Kiev assuming a leadership role in bringing not only the Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus closer to Europe. It may well be the Moscow-based reporter’s job to write all-Putin all the time stories, yet the article’s emphasis on Putin clouds the issue.

The content of Putin’s speech is news as is the fact of the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of the East Slavs, but the significant event from a political and religious perspective is the boycott of the proceedings by the Premier of Belarus — a fact mentioned only by the omission of his name from the heads of state list given by the Times.

In other words, it is not new news the Russian Orthodox Church believes nationality, or Russianness is born from Orthodoxy. Nor is it news the Orthodox Church is opposed to gay marriage. Nor is it news that Putin is seeking to pull Kiev into Moscow’s orbit. Nor is the Times‘ comments about the rapprochement between church and state new news. Putin has been moving the state closer to the church for over a decade — and as the article states Putin revealed he had been baptized as an infant in the Leningrad during the Stalinist era. By focusing on the familiar — of how the ceremony relates to Putin, the Times missed in its coverage is the significance of the boycott of the ceremony by the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka.


Church backing for second Arab Spring in Egypt; The Church of England Newspaper, July 21, 2013 p 6. July 23, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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Christian leaders have welcomed the overthrow of Pres. Mohammed Mursi and his Muslim brotherhood government in Egypt. Following four days of nationwide demonstrations that saw an estimated 20 million Egyptians take to the streets on 3 July 2013 the Egyptian army seized power, arresting Pres. Mursi and suspending the country’s Islamist Constitution.

“At last, Egypt is now free from the oppressive rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” wrote the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, on 3 July.

At the start of the demonstrations, Pope Tawadros II – spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church tweeted his support, writing: “It’s wonderful to see the Egyptian people – through the idea of Tamarod and its youth – taking back their stolen revolution in a peaceful way.”

Shortly after the Army gave Pres. Mursi 48-hours to respond to the protestor’s demands, Pope Tawadros pleaded for a solution that “listens to the voice of the people” and gave his support to the opposition, tweeting “I ​​pay tribute to the big three of Egypt: the people, the army and the youth.”

Dr. Anis reported the army had “responded to the invitation of the people to intervene and force the President to step down at the request of the people of Egypt. Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi invited His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of Egypt Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyib, and other political leaders, to discuss the roadmap for the future of Egypt,”

“After this meeting, it was announced that the head of the constitutional court will be an interim leader of the nation. The current controversial constitution is now suspended. The new government will involve capable people from different backgrounds.”

“As soon as Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced this, millions of Egyptians on the streets went around rejoicing, singing, dancing, and making a lot of fireworks. I have never seen Egyptians rejoicing in such a way! They deserve this joy as they insisted to write their own history,” the bishop wrote.

“Since the Muslim Brotherhood ruled the country a year ago, we Egyptians experienced divisions, exclusions, sectarian clashes, fanaticism, a decrease in tourism, and a bad economy. This is an answer to the prayers of so many people from around the world who were praying for our beloved country Egypt,” the bishop said.

On 4 July Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom released a statement saying the overthrow of Mursi regime was the second wave of the Arab Spring.

“What has been seen in the streets of Egypt over the past week would have been considered by many as impossible, especially when set against the backdrop of two years which commenced joyfully, but became increasingly challenging through a state of fragmentation, a failing economy and a weakened state of law and order,” he said.

“With the age old scourge of illiteracy and poverty unaddressed and the development of a cohesive sense of national pride and unity unrealised, the people of Egypt took to the streets to follow their desire for dignity and social justice in the way that proved successful just over two years prior,” Bishop Angelos wrote.

The path ahead was not clear, Dr Anis warned, noting there could be a “violent reaction of the Islamists.”

Pray for Egypt, the Bishop wrote. Pray for “unity and reconciliation after more than one year of divisions.”

RNS cheerleading for gay marriage: Get Religion, July 21, 2013 July 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Marriage, Politics, Press criticism.
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A poor outing from Religion News Service this week in its article about the passage of the British government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. While it is a wire service story and cannot be held to the same standards of depth of reporting as a story prepared in house by a newspaper, it nonetheless should strive for accuracy and provide context — and refrain from cheer leading in support of one side of the story.

The version that appeared in the Washington Post under the title “Queen approves same-sex marriage bill in England, Wales” appears to be in trouble from the start. The Queen in the person of Elizabeth did not approve the bill — the Crown or the Sovereign did. This is a small thing, but it signals the direction of the story. It begins:

England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill. Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

The article walks back the headline, but what does RNS mean by saying England and Wales are two countries? Is this an eruption of Welsh nationalism on the part of RNS? Parliament in Westminster passed the bill — not the Welsh Assembly. While Wales has a cultural and linguistic identity and a devolved legislature that addresses some issues, it is not a country.

The article continues by quoting the government minister responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament and her political allies. It then states:

The bill’s passage saw many angry exchanges. It had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the consternation of many in his own Conservative Party. The leaders of two other main parties, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour, also backed it. But some political commentators predict Cameron’s gay-friendly attitudes will cost him at the next election in 2015.

Without seeking comments from opponents of the bill the article then moves to a negative response from the Catholic Church — glossing over the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs voted against the bill. The facile  comment about “gay-friendly attitudes” distorts the political facts. It fails to identify who believes the Conservatives will take a drubbing at the next election nor does it say why — other than alluding to hostility to homosexuals. The Coalition for Marriage — one group that fought the bill predicts Cameron will pay a political price for pushing gay marriage — but it is not likely to recognize its views being presented by this article.

The Telegraph and BBC were able to find political opponents of the bill — not just religious ones — to speak out. Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth was cited by the BBC as having told Parliament it was “astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted, has been bulldozed through both Houses”.

Its all there in Hansard for anyone to find — even his warning to the prime minister over his political folly. “I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it.”

The RNS article also offers this:

But to the delight — and relief — of most people in the United Kingdom, the bill was passed by landslide votes in both houses of Parliament.

How does RNS know this? It could perhaps have made reference to polling data, but does not. The “delight” and “relief” quip appears to speak to RNS’s views — not the facts.

Little things are missing from the story — for example, when will the first gay weddings take place? (Answer: next Spring). The article tells us the Church of England does not permit same-sex weddings and the Roman Catholic Church is opposed — but are there faiths or denominations that support gay marriage? (Answer: Yes. Unitarians,  Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and some liberal Protestant groups). Are they banned too from offering church or synagogue weddings? No. They may opt in and offer gay weddings.

In sum, this article fails to present both sides of the story, contains inaccuracies and exaggerations, lacks context and important facts and engages in cheer leading in favor of gay marriage — confusing its own views with what it imagines to be popular sentiment. This is junk journalism.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Catho-style: Get Religion, May 21, 2013 May 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Marriage, Politics, Youth/Children.
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Let me draw your attention to this fascinating article in the Parisian weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur about the new generation of Catholics arising in France.

The article « Plongée dans la galaxie “catho-réac-décomplexée” » in Le Nouvel Obs(with a circulation of over 500,000 it is France’s most widely read general information weekly) asks the question who is leading the charge against the Socialist government’s gay marriage agenda — and finds that it is the “cathos 2.0″ generation. The 20-25 year old:

Enfants de Jean-Paul II et de Benoît XVI, … une nouvelle génération catho à la tête haute, grisée par la découverte de la militance, est née, très éloignée de la pudique discrétion de ses aînés.

Children of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, … a new generation of Catholic has arisen, intoxicated by their discovery of militancy that is  far different from the modest discretion of their elders.

Deconstructing this article has proven to be a hard task. On the surface the story of the Cathos 2.0 generation is so strong that it cannot be killed by a skeptical or hostile presentation. It is a French man bites dog story — student revolutionaries in Paris as ultramontane Catholics.

On the surface Le Nouvel Obs seems to have framed the story against the interest of the subject. While it allows the young Catholics to tell their own story, the analysis and commentary is drawn from the left — academics and liberal Catholics who bemoan the conservative political and doctrinal views of Cathos 2.0. Nor do we hear from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France. This packaging should have made the issues unattractive and painted the subjects in an unsympathetic light. But  by the end of the story these young people come off well. You like them.

The article starts off in a critical yet cinematographic mode – – were this a film the opening paragraph would be accompanied by an accordion and perhaps Edith Piaf.

Trois garçons arrivent à Vespa. Un jeune couple veste treillis-capuche-fourrure traverse la place depuis le Café de Flore, situé juste en face. Une grappe de caqueteuses s’approche joyeusement de l’entrée tout en échangeant bises et potins. Une retardataire en talons hauts et breloques diamantées aux oreilles les rejoint en trottinant. Un concert ou un spectacle ? Pas du tout. Comme tous les dimanches soir, la jeunesse chic et branchée de la rive gauche a rendez-vous avec… Jésus ! Le clocher bat le rappel, c’est l’heure de la messe à Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Dans une église bondée, les jeunes gens, moyenne d’âge 20-25 ans, s’agenouillent devant le saint sacrement comme les bigotes d’autrefois. L’encens brouille la vue, et le choeur entonne un chant latin repris par une assemblée sagement recueillie. Non, nous ne sommes pas chez les traditionalistes de la Fraternité Saint-Pie-X, mais à l’une des cérémonies dominicales destinées à la jeunesse francilienne.

Three boys arrive on a Vespa. A young couple wearing hooded fur jackets crosses the square from the Café de Flore, located just opposite. A cluster of prattling girls happily approaching the entrance while exchanging kisses and gossip. A latecomer in high heels and diamond earrings hurries in. A concert or a show? No. Every Sunday night the chic and trendy youth of the left bank have an appointment with … Jesus! The bell sounds. It is time for Mass at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In a crowded church, young people, 20-25 years of age, kneel before the Blessed Sacrament like the bigots of the past. Incense blurs vision and the choir sings a Latin chant taken up by a by the congregation.No, we are not in the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, but one of the Sunday ceremonies for Catholic youth.

The article continues with this skeptical, near derogatory tone. Traditional Catholic readers are likely to feel the bile rising in their throats as the read the story. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and act of « les bigotes d’autrefois »?

On les croyait effacés, et de fait ils nous étaient devenus invisibles. Depuis six mois, on les découvre par centaines de milliers battant le pavé sans relâche contre le mariage gay, veillant à la lumière des bougies sur les Invalides, créant happening sur happening grâce à la force de leurs réseaux, formant le gros des troupes de ces défenseurs acharnés de la famille dite traditionnelle.

Were not these people erased from French life? Had they not become invisible? But for six monthshundreds of thousands of them have pounded the pavement tirelessly protesting against gay marriage, lighting candles on the Invalides, creating event after event in the streets on the strength of their social networks, forming the vanguard of defenders of the so-called traditional family.

The presentation and the structure the first three quarters the story follows the conventional secular thinking of the French elites. Yet by the end of the piece you’re hooked by these kids – – their enthusiasm, their excitement, their faith. I cannot tell whether this was an accident or was calculated move to bring the reader on board. Perhaps what we are seeing here is a conscious bait and switch.

How do you get a middle-aged left-liberal secular audience to read a story about a youth movement that detests the values and agenda of the ’68 generation now in power? You do it by couching the story in tropes and phrases that are comfortable to the audience — and then you slip them a story about young attractive — chic — students at France’s elite universities whose faith is changing France and shaking up the French church.

Am I reading too much into this article? What say you GR Readers? For those whose French has faded away since High School, Worldcrunch has a shorter version of this article in English. Beware! The Worldcrunch version is not a translation but a re-write in English and has been de-Francofied for an American audience.

First published in Get Religion.

IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Bishops denounce Obama blackmail over gay rights: Anglican Ink. April 27, 2013 April 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of the Province of the West Indies, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Marriage, Politics.
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The Anglican bishops of the West Indies have urged their governments to hold fast and resist pressure from Britain and the United States to legalize gay rights and gay marriage.

In a statement released on 25 April 2013 following the House of Bishops meeting in Barbados, bishops of the Church the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) reiterated their belief in marriage “defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman.”

“The idea of such unions being constituted by persons of the same sex is, therefore, totally unacceptable on theological and cultural grounds,” the bishops said. The CPWI consists of eight dioceses: the Diocese of Barbados, the Diocese of Belize, the Diocese of Guyana, the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Diocese of the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago and the Diocese of the Windward Islands.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Paedophilia and the radical left of ’68: Get Religion, April 24, 2013 April 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come”

– Matt: 12:31-32

Is there an unforgivable sin in politics?

American voters, and not just those of Louisiana, have returned to office politicians of dubious moral and legal character. Wilbur Mills, Alcee Hastings, Buddy Cianci and Marion Barry were not punished at the polls (and I won’t open the door to discussing Bill Clinton). We will soon see if South Carolina’s First Congressional District has it in its heart to forgive Mark Sanford.

Bribery, adultery, perjury, corruption, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence have not barred a return to office for some politicians or for some church leaders and prominent pastors. My own denomination (The Episcopal Church) has even ordained a convicted murderer to the priesthood. But the unpardonable sin — in churches, politics and in just about every walk of life — has been paedophilia.

The Catholic Church has suffered its handling of the scandal, but is not alone in having experienced incidents of abuse by clergy and church workers committed against children. On Monday the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne told a Parliamentary committee that his church at one time had a culture of denial and cover-up concerning allegations of abuse. The Catholic Church in Europe has been particularly hard hit and has been excoriated by the press and rights activists for its handling of the scandal.

The opprobrium held by right thinking people against paedophilia in Europe does not apply, however to revolutionaries and left wing politicians. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on the fracas over the award of a prize to Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests a double standard is being applied to paedophiles in Europe. Those who molest children out of lust are criminals and beyond the pale — those who molest children out of revolutionary fervor to bring down the capitalist regime really aren’t so bad.

But first, who is Daniel Cohn-Bendit? A leader of the ’68 student uprising in Paris, Dany le Rouge has been a prominent left-wing politician and cultural warrior in France and Germany for the past forty years and presently leads the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. The Turtle Bay and Beyond blog notes:

Cohn-Bendit has for many years aspired to a role similar to that played by Maximilien de Robespierre during the French Revolution, holding everyone accountable for everything – including Czech President Vaclav Klaus for his Euroscepticism, or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for having given to his country a new Constitution that protects the family, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and (the worst of all imaginable actions against “European values”) mentions God!

The FAZ reports that the 68-year old Cohn-Bendit was given a award this week by the Theodor-Heuss-Foundation for his political achievements. However the awards ceremony was picketed by protesters and boycotted by the President of the German Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle who declined to add his voice to those honoring the Green Party leader.

The report from Stuttgart from the FAZ  opened with some local color.

Es spielen sich ziemlich unschöne Szenen auf dem Stuttgarter Schlossplatz ab, der guten Stube der baden-württembergischen Landeshauptstadt. Die Theodor-Heuss-Stiftung hat ins Neue Schloss geladen. Daniel Cohn-Bendit soll im Weißen Saal mit dem nach dem ersten Bundespräsidenten benannten Preis ausgezeichnet werden. Als er aus dem Taxi steigt, rufen einige der etwa siebzig Demonstranten: „Schämt euch!“ Die Junge Union und Missbrauchsorganisationen haben zu dieser Demonstration aufgerufen.

Roughly translated as:

An ugly scene unfolded on the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart, the Baden-Württemberg state capital, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit arrived at the Neue Schloss. The Theodor Heuss Foundation had invited him to receive an award in the White Hall named for the former German president.  As he got out of the taxi he was greeted by approximately 70 demonstrators from the Youth Union and anti-abuse organizations. “Shame on you!”

The reason for the outcry? According to the FAZ it was Cohn-Bendit’s accounts of his adventures in paedophilia while working in a pre-school.

In his 1975 book “Le Grand Bazar,” Cohn-Bendit justified pedophilia as a form of sexual liberation. “It’s happened to me several times that some children have opened my fly [Hosenlatz] and started to caress me.”

According to the FAZ, in a 1978 magazine article Cohn-Bendit stated:

„Letztes Jahr hat mich ein 6jähriges Genossenmädchen verführt. Es war eines der schönsten und sprachlosesten Erlebnisse, die ich je hatte. Vielleicht war es so schön, weil es so sprachlos war. Es war das einzige Mal, wo es mir nicht zu früh kam. Aber das war nicht wichtig in dem Moment, und es ist auch jetzt nicht wichtig, ein Traktat über das Für und Wider von Päderastie zu schreiben“, heißt es in der Zeitschrift.

“Last year I seduced a willing 6-year girl. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had and left me speechless. Maybe it was so wonderful because it was so speechless. … But that was not important at the moment, and it’s not important right now to write a treatise on the pros and cons of pederasty.”

The FAZ reports that Cohn-Bendit has since claimed these confessions were fictional and asks that he be judged not on what he said but what he did. The article states that in 2001 the Green Party cleared Cohn-Bendit of misconduct after a parent wrote a letter clearing the radical leader. However, the FAZ reported that its investigation found the parent exculpating Cohn-Bendit who wrote the letter did so out of political solidarity with “poor Dany” and did not have  a child in his class.

The judge said he would not attend the ceremony saying that he did not want to create the impression that the Constitutional Court approved of Mr. Cohn-Bendit’s utterances regarding paedophilia. However other political and cultural leaders who honored Cohn-Bendit sad they would not judge him.

Kretschmann, de Weck und Heuss begründen, warum sie Cohn-Bendit trotz allem für preiswürdig halten. Der Ministerpräsident sagt, es habe während der Achtundsechziger-Zeit Tabubrüche gegeben, die richtig gewesen seien. „Früher war Homosexualität strafbar“, heute seien bekennende Schwule Bundesminister und Ministerpräsidenten. Doch: „Bei Sex mit Kindern hört der Tabubruch auf.“ Es sei ein „elementarer Unterschied“, ob Cohn-Bendits Irrtümer verbaler Natur seien oder tatsächlich stattgefunden hätten.

In spite of everything, Kretschmann, de Weck and Heuss continue to justify their support for the award to Cohn-Bendit. The Prime Minister said that in 1968 many taboos were being challenged. “In the past, homosexuality was punishable,” but today there were gay political leaders. But: “sex with children, that taboo has not changed.” But there was, he said. a “fundamental difference” between Cohn-Bendit”s committing the acts and his writing about them.

Is there a distinction between bragging about having molested children and not having done so — and actually having done the deed? Is breaking the taboos of bourgeois society an excuse for molesting a child? Given the torrent of invective heaped on the church by the press and political leaders over its child abuse crimes — does not the tolerance, nay the celebration of Daniel Cohn-Bendit speak to a bigotry and hypocrisy among the European elite?

This is simply extraordinary. Yet, the rules of civil society do not seem to apply to the 68ers and their moral and political enablers. Hypocrisy — the war on terror — is rife in America too. Kathy Boudin can take part in a act of terrorism where a bank guard is killed and today teaches at Columbia. How is Cohn-Bendit’s conduct worse?

First printed in GetReligion.

Second Church Estates Commissioner rejects govt’s gay marriage bill: The Church of England Newspaper, February 8, 2013 February 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Marriage, Politics.
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The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, broke ranks with his party’s leadership this week and spoke against adoption of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

Rising to speak during the debate following the Second Reading of the Bill, Sir Tony stated that while he would vote against the bill, he wished to thank the government for their assurances that the legislation would protect religious freedom.

Speaking in his capacity as Second Church Estates Commission, Sir Tony said he wanted to “make clear to the House the views of the Church of England on the provisions that the Government have included to safeguard religious freedoms. Let me make it clear that I entirely accept the Government’s good faith in this matter and am appreciative, as is the Bishop of Leicester, who convenes the Bishops in the other place, and as are senior Church officials, of the attempts the Government have made.”

He noted the government was correct in ensuring that “every Church and denomination can reach its own conclusion on these matters and be shielded so far as possible from the risk of litigation” and he accepted the government’s pledge that the “quadruple locks” would protect the rights of the Church of England.

“The so-called quadruple locks are sensible and necessary,” he said, adding the “simple point” is that the Church of England and the Church in Wales “have not wanted anything different in substance from all other Churches and faiths—namely, to be left entirely free to determine their own doctrine and practice in relation to marriage.”

However, Sir Tony noted the Church of England was not a creature of Parliament. While it had a common law duties to marry all parishioners, the issue was rather “complex” as its “canon law remains part of the law of the land and it also has its own devolved legislature which, with Parliament’s agreement, can amend Church legislation and Westminster legislation.”

He noted that in changing marriage, the government was creating a “number of extremely difficult second-order issues. Although the failure to consummate a marriage will still be a ground on which a heterosexual marriage can be voidable, the Bill provides that consummation is not to be a ground on which a marriage of a same-sex couple will be voidable.”

“It also provides that adultery is to have its existing definition—namely, sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. It therefore follows that divorce law for heterosexual couples will be fundamentally different from divorce law for same-sex couples, because for heterosexual couples the matrimonial offence of adultery will persist while there will be no similar matrimonial offence in relation to same-sex marriage. The fact that officials have been unable to apply these long-standing concepts to same-sex marriage is a further demonstration of just how problematic is the concept of same-sex marriage.”

“There is an inevitable degree of risk in all this,” he said. While the “Government believe that this is a risk worth taking. The Church of England does not.” Sir Tony said.

Cry for justice for Ceylon: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2013, p 6. February 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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Shirani Bandaranayake

Sunday February 3rd will be a “day of lament” for Sri Lanka, the Bishop of Colombo told his clergy last week.

In a 23 Jan 2013 pastoral letter, Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey said “it is with a heavy heart that I write it, the reason being that in the past few days we have seen the complete collapse of the rule of law in our nation. We no longer appear to be a constitutional democracy.”

Sri Lanka’s government and the judiciary have been on a collision course since President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling party filed an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake on 6 Nov 2012. Last month a parliamentary panel found her guilty of irregularities after she ruled that a bill submitted by the president’s younger brother, Basil Rajapaksa, proposing an 80-billion rupee (£400 million) development budget must be approved by nine provincial councils.

“If the impeachment motion is passed in parliament in defiance of decisions of the country’s judiciary, it will signal a massive breakdown in the rule of law and checks and balances,” warned Sam Zarifi, the International Commission of Jurists Asia director.

However, a government spokesman told reporters in Colombo the chief justice had politicised the judiciary and her actions were “very unbecoming of a chief justice.”

Bishop Canagasabey disagreed. “The rule of law means that we as a nation are governed by a system of laws to which the lawmakers themselves are subject. This is a way of ensuring that power is not concentrated in the hands of one person, or group of persons and exercised arbitrarily.”

“The breakdown of such accountability is a process that has been building up for the past several years. It has now climaxed in the recent events that have seen both the Executive and the Legislature disregarding the provisions of the very Constitution which they swore to uphold and defend, giving the appearance of a country ruled on the principle that ‘Might is Right’.”

The bishop said that warnings from the church and “civil society bodies repeatedly issued have been ignored. There is currently a climate of fear and helplessness, where people remain silent rather than speak out against rampant injustice, intimidation, violence and falsehoods.”

Bishop Canagasabey asked members of the diocese to fast and wear white clothing on 3 Feb 2013 as a sign of their prayers and “to grieve over the state of our country today.”

Anti-Semitism inquiry launched by Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2013 p 6 February 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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John Mann MP

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPGAS) has launched an inquiry into electoral conduct in the U.K.

The member for Bassetlaw, John Mann (Lab.) the chairman of the APPGAS said the group would “investigate and evaluate the effectiveness of existing lines of responsibility and accountability in managing elections and specifically, charges of misconduct during elections with a particular focus on racism and discrimination.”

The member for Northeast Derbyshire, Natascha Engel (Lab), will chair the all-party inquiry. “I am convinced that in both learning from existing good practice and bringing new ideas to the fore we can change electoral conduct for the better. In doing so, we will give confidence to constituents, clarity to candidates and we will establish a British model of electoral best practice.”

The vice-chair of the group, the member for Ealing Central and Acton, Angie Bray (Cons.) said:Maintaining best practice in electoral conduct by preventing racist and anti-Semitic campaigning and literature is a crucial aspect in the fight against intolerance and I look forward to working with colleagues across many parties in both Houses to see how best we can join together to provide sensible solutions to these problems.”

Britain has come under criticism in recent months from Jewish leaders and civil rights activists for the growing culture of public anti-Semitism. The member for Bradford East, David Ward was disciplined by the Liberal Democrat Party last week after posting comments about Jews and Israel on his website to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Mr Ward wrote he had “signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day” and describes Auschwitz as “the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history”.

But he added: “Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

The comments have subsequently been taken down. A party spokesman told the Telegraph: “This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable.”

The inquiry will not be restricted to anti-Semitism, however, and “will focus on discrimination more broadly and is being supported by the APPGs on Equalities and Race & Community,” the announcement said.

Al-Azhar meeting to head off civil war in Egypt: Anglican Ink, February 1, 2013 February 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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Egypt’s warring political factions sat down with the country’s religious leaders on Thursday and endorsed a joint declaration pledging an end to the political violence that has left over sixty dead in the past week.

On 31 Jan 2013, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar University and the country’s leading Islamic scholar, convened a meeting of top officials of President Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood party and the secularist opposition. Egypt’s leading religious and social leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, attended the conference at the 1000-year old university in Cairo in a bid to halt Egypt’s slide toward anarchy.

Sheikh al-Tayyeb told the politicians that a national conversation “in which all elements of Egyptian society participate, without any exclusion, is the only tool to resolve any problems or differences.”

“Political work has nothing to do with violence or sabotage and the welfare of everyone and the fate of our nation depends on respect for the rule of law,” the sheikh said, according to Egyptian press accounts.

The unprecedented intervention by the al-Azhar follows two weeks of political tensions in the wake of the second anniversary of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Last week President Mursi declared a “state of emergency” for Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, placing them under martial law.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Bill to give religious institutions presumptive charitable status presented to Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2013 January 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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A Conservative MP has put forward a bill in Parliament seeking to expand religious freedom in Britain.

On 19 Dec 2012 Peter Bone, the member for Wellingborough, presented a Ten Minute Rule Motion in the House of Commons seeking leave to bring a bill to amend the Charities Act 2011 to “treat all religious institutions as charities”.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, Mr. Bone said the bill would clarify the law to give religious institutions a presumptive status as institutions providing a “public benefit”, therefore eligible for charitable status. The Charities Act 2006 introduced the requirement that all charities, including those advancing religion, education and the relief of poverty, should demonstrate public benefit.

The National Council for Voluntary Organizations, however, said it opposed Mr. Bone’s motion. It “risks downgrading religious charities in the public mind,” Elizabeth Chamberlain of the NCVO said. “Public benefit is what makes a charity a charity, and most are keen to demonstrate the value of their work.”

Mr. Bone said his motion would “not mean an automatic renewal of charitable status, but an acknowledgement of the role religious institutions play in our society.”

“The liberal, secular elite of the Charity Commission are on a very dangerous path of restricting religious freedom,” wrote the Conservative backbencher. “If this government truly believes in religious freedoms then respecting the advancement of religion as a public benefit should be acknowledged, as before, and the Charities Act 2011 amended.”

Mr. Bone cited the case of Preston Down Trust, a Plymouth Brethren congregation, as an example of the Charity Commission’s restricting religious freedom, after it declined to give the congregation charitable status.  On 18 Dec he delivered a letter signed by 113 MPs to 10 Downing Street to “express their deep concern at the Charity Commission’s current posture on registering religious institutions as charities.”

Tibet is burning: Get Religion, January 18, 2013 January 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, China, Get Religion, Persecution, Politics.
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Let me commend for your reading this AP article by reporter Gillian Wong on the military crack down in Tibet. Entitled “As Tibet burns, China makes arrests, seizes TVs” this article reports on the wave of self-immolations that have swept across Tibet in protest to the Chinese regime’s occupation of the region.

It opens with a strong lede, provides the facts in a straight forward – balanced way, offers good comments from knowledgeable experts, provides the principle points of view — all while being written under a Beijing dateline (which means the reporter can find herself severely discommoded by the government for reporting unpalatable truths.)

The article opens:

Chinese authorities are responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by clamping down even harder – criminalizing the suicides, arresting protesters’ friends and even confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes.

The harsh measures provide an early indication that the country’s new leadership is not easing up on Tibet despite the burning protests and international condemnation.

For months, as Tibetans across western China doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves alight, authorities responded by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, but those efforts did not stop or slow the protests. The self-immolations even accelerated in November as China’s ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.

There is a strong religious component to the story:

Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Speaking technically, (e.g., removing the subject of the story and looking at its construction, language and the reporter’s craft) this is a superior news story — it has all the elements of good journalism. And when you add in the compelling subject matter of religious freedom and political self-determination for Tibet you have a great story.

Where I to add anything to this story, it would be a paragraph or two on what the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has to say about self-immolation. Buddhism holds that human life is sacred — how does suicide as political/religious protest stand in light of these teachings?

My sense is that a reporter writing from Beijing can only go so far down this path before they find their visa cancelled. One telephone call to a leader of the Tibetan exile community in a story might pass police muster — direct quotes or a response from the Dalai Lama would be too much. An informed reader should look at the dateline of an article — the location where the story was written often placed in parentheses at the beginning of an article — so as to understand how to read the story. A dateline of Beijing as opposed to Hong Kong or Tokyo for this story says very different things. Let the reader understand.

Informed Western readers of this article are likely to come to this story with the knowledge the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Older readers will remember the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war in protest to the South Vietnamese government’s policies. Is this the tradition in Tibet?

Not according to the Tibetan government in exile. They released a You-Tube video this past summer that looks into this question — noting the first Tibetan self-immolation took place in 2008.  The video received little news attention when it was released, and I do hope that it is picked up by the press now that the Chinese government has pushed this issue into the limelight with its crackdown.

What say you GR readers? Is an extra sentence or paragraph necessary to explain the religious “why” question behind this story? Or, given the threat of censorship from Chinese government that hovers over all Tibet or religion (think House Churches, Falun Gong) stories, is it incumbent upon the reader to approach these stories with a modicum of wisdom — knowing that he will only hear part of the story?

First printed in Get Religion.

Sydney Morning Herald has a problem with religious freedom: Get Religion, January 17, 2013 January 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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It is only two weeks into the new year, but I believe we may have a winner in the worst newspaper article of 2013 contest. A Sydney Morning Herald story entitled “Anti-gay rights to stay” is so awful, I am just about at a loss for words. Were I to say this story was anti-Christian, boorish, ignorant, and aggressively offensive I would only be scratching the surface. It takes a non-story — Prime Minister Julia Gillard will maintain religious freedoms in the new bill of rights under construction — and turns it into a gay bashing extravaganza.

It begins:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has assured religious groups they will have the ”freedom” under a new rights bill to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners, according to the head of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Under current law, faith-based organisations, including schools and hospitals, can refuse to hire those they view as sinners if they consider it ”is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.

Notice the quotation marks around the word “freedom”? What is that telling us? Read further into the story and you will find that there is nothing here other than the reporter’s indignation. There is no story. The prime minister has assured the leader of a lobbying group that the current rules governing the “freedom of religion” will not be changed. The SMH finds this deeply offensive, writing:

Discrimination by religious organisations affects thousands of Australians. The faiths are big employers, and the Catholic Church in particular is one of Australia’s largest private employers. They rely on government funding but because of their religious status are allowed to vet the sexual practices of potential employees in ways that would be illegal for non-religious organisations.

The story flow resumes with assurances given by two government ministers that there will be no change in religious freedom laws, followed by comments from church groups. (As an aside, I find the comments somewhat suspect. Knowing some of those who have been quoted, I believe their words have been misconstrued such that the issue of providing services has been conflated with hiring decisions. E.g., they do not discriminate in the provision of services but do reserve the right to employ like minded people.)

The article then brings forward a voice to support its editorial slant, and closes with a quote from the Attorney General that is crafted so as to make her look the fool. She is quoted as being in favor of expanding gay rights at the very end of the story after she states at the top of the piece she supports religious freedom expemptions– or in the SMH’s worldview — condoning anti-gay practices. This is a journalist’s way of calling someone a hypocrite without having to use the word.

Where do I begin? This article is so bad, so puerile, it could appear in The Onion or other comic websites as a farce — a caricature of biased hack journalism. Let’s take the word “sinner”. An emotional word not used by the prime minister or the Australian Christian Lobby spokesman but one inserted by the SMH into the narrative. It may give the story a crackle, but it also reveals the ignorance of the author of the words he is using.

Need I explain that religious organizations hire sinners every day? Yes, the SMH may have meant to say that religious groups do not want to hire particular types of sinner, but having decided to be clever, the SMH must take responsibility for its failure to intelligently use words.  Any editor who has half a brain should have known better than to allow such junk to go out under the newspaper’s name.

On a deeper level, however, the stridency of this article — its eagerness to defame and demean religious groups — suggests the decision to push a non story was deliberate, or the newspaper has been captured by a gaggle of gormless hacks unable to grasp the distinctions between unlawful discrimination and making hiring decisions based upon criteria shaped by church doctrine and discipline.

The sad thing about this SMH story is that it is not an outlier. A well written article entitled “The future of the press” by Keith Windschuttle in this month’s issue of The New Criterion looks at the reasons for the decline of the major newspapers in the English speaking world. Drawing upon William McGowan’s 2010 book Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, Windschuttle reports the collapse of the newspaper has been economic, political and existential.

McGowan makes it clear that the Times’ shift to the left was actually led by its publisher since 1991, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who enshrined within his organization the ideology of the 1960s generation which he shared: radical advocacy, identity politics, and New Age management theory.

Windschuttle explains the decline as the result of “staff capture”.

But even on newspapers without a countercultural proprietor, there is an underlying problem. The bureaucracies needed to run daily newspapers are susceptible to staff capture. In the last thirty years, on those newspaper companies not controlled by traditional owners but run by boards composed mainly of the biggest stockholders, the autonomy that is essential for journalists and editors to do their job has been exploited by the Left. Once they reached a critical mass in an organization, leftists recruited others sharing their political and cultural beliefs. They proceeded to impose the cultural values of the Left onto the entire editorial output. This did not prove to be a successful business model because it estranged at least half their potential readership—the conservative half—guaranteeing their circulations would continue to fall.

What has been true for the Times has also been true of Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald. He writes:

One of its former journalists, Miranda Devine, who is from a well-known newspaper family and who was employed on The Sydney Morning Herald for ten years until 2011, has described her experience: “When I arrived at the Herald it was controlled by a handful of hard-left enforcers who dictated how stories were covered, and undermined management at every turn.” A former executive of Fairfax said the worldview of the collective was “inarguably Left-leaning, and anti-business. It was also anti-religion—especially anti-Christian—and hostile to bourgeois family values. The tragedy was that [Fairfax’s] core audience was a conservative audience. You’ve never seen a paper more disengaged from its core audience, particularly the [Melbourne] Age.”

Windschuttle’s article is behind The New Criterion’s pay wall, but I do encourage you to find a way to read it — even [heaven forfend] buy the magazine!

Sadly, the article “Anti-gay rights to stay” is an example of the decline and fall of a once great newspaper.

First published in GetReligion.

God Save the Tsar: Get Religion, December 31, 2012 December 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Corruption, Get Religion, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

So reads the second stanza of what may be the most politically incorrect poem in the English language. Interpretations of what Rudyard Kipling meant by his 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden“, written in the wake of the American annexation of the Philippines, have differed sharply. From Henry James and Mark Twain to the denizens of Lit-Crit faculties today, many have objected to the poem as racist and condescending. Others, especially as of the time of its writing (Theodore Roosevelt for example) saw in it an expression of a Christian duty to bring the light of civilizations to the darker corners of the world.

The era that produced “The White Man’s Burden” also formed the tenets of classical Angl0-American journalism. Motivated by many of the same moral imperatives that under girded Anglo-American imperialism, the liberal school of journalism sought to civilize the newspaper profession, replacing  partisan, hysterical, “yellow journalism” with an impartial, scientific, and honest retelling of the news of the day.

The mission of classical liberal journalism was summarized by the editor of the Manchester Guardian C.P. Scott in 1921. “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” While on the editorial page he said: “It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair”.

Scott’s dictum guides the writers at GetReligion. Yet this view is not universal. It is disappearing within the American newspaper guild and is all but gone in Europe. Yet not all agree that this approach to journalism is possible or ideal. Seeking balance and fairness in reporting is viewed (charitably) as being quaint, and (more commonly) as naive. It exhibits, the critics say, the same sort of condescension that makes Kipling’s poem so execrable. When truth is relative, this line goes, claiming to possess the sole truth is illusory — or an arrogant manifestation of a journalist’s “White Man’s Burden”.

This philosophical conflict can be illustrated by my critique of an article in the Observer, the Sunday edition of the Guardian. The article entitled “Church backs Vladimir Putin’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children” tells the story of the Russian Orthodox Church’s response to the passage of a law by the Duma that prevents Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Here we have a formidable caste of bogeymen — Vladimir Putin, Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox patriarch Cyril — playing off against orphans, Pussy Riot, and liberal democracy. What right thinking person would back KGB hacks and creepy clergy against orphans?

Before answering the question, let’s look at the article. It begins:

The Russian Orthodox church has been attacked for supporting a new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, at the end of a year that saw it plagued by scandal and accusations of collusion with an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest and a spokesman for the church, said the law was “a search for a social answer to an elementary question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?”

Speaking to Interfax, a state news agency, last week, Chaplin said the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life, in God’s kingdom,” he said.

This is a strong opening. It asserts church has been “plagued” by scandal and is in bed with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin before moving to a second hand quote from a church spokesman that is wonderfully awful (to Guardian readers). It then introduces a voice offering an opinion in line with the editorial slant of the story.

Critics say the church’s support for the law is the latest example of its submission to the Kremlin, in which it acts more like a government ministry than an independent spiritual body. “Everything is repeating – it’s like the 19th century, when the church lay completely under the state,” said Valery Otstavnykh, a theologist and Kremlin critic. “Everything was calm and fine until churches started getting blown up in 1917 and they all asked, ‘Why’?”

As an aside, I do not care for the word “theologist” — it is an uncommon word that is most often used in a pejorative sense. That may not be the case here as the statements of the theologist are in line with the views of the article, but it nonetheless is an ugly word.

The article then lays out the 2012 church scandals: Pussy Riot, the wandering watch, hit and run priests driving BMWs, church involvement in politics and suspect financial dealings. It then closes with a gratuitous unsubstantiated accusation and a plea by the outside commentator for the church to clean up its act.

Two weeks later, the state news agency RIA-Novosti cited an anonymous source as saying that a bordello was uncovered in a Moscow monastery.

“The church has also done a lot of good,” said Otstavnykh. “But the church as an organisation must change.”

There is no balance to this story. No facts are offered in mitigation nor voices in defense or explanation of the church’s actions. It may well be these actions are indefensible, but the reader cannot know this from this story. Throwing in the bordello line without further corroboration was improper.

The quote offered by Fr. Chaplin, who is a character about whom I have written, is taken from a Russian language story and is abbreviated in such a way by the Observer as to not allow for any nuance. The tail end of the first quote in the Observer story — “why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?” — continues in the original with a statement by Chaplin that Russia must take care of their own at the level of the family as well as at the local, state and national levels.

I would translate the second passages as:

As he noted, the adoption of children by foreign couples in most cases means “they can not get a truly Christian education, and thus fall away from the Church and from the road to eternal life in God’s Kingdom.”

“Orthodox people should remember and take seriously the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘He who has faith and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not have faith will be condemned’.”

The shading of the Observer’s version may leave the impression that children taken from Russia will go to hell because they have been taken from Russia. However Chaplin’s meaning is they may wind up raised in homes where the Christian faith is not practiced.

Chaplin’s views about the necessity of a Christian upbringing do not find favor with the Observer. In a Twitter exchange about the article, the author of the story responded to a critic who defended Chaplin by writing:

Your attempts to justify his statement as holding any logic or good will confound me.

The author may well think that, but should she have commented in public? If this article was in the op-ed section, I would say it would be appropriate for her to make this statement. But is it appropriate for a news story?

From a journalistic perspective, the critique offered by Mr. Otstavnykh should have been matched with a defense of the church’s actions. And it also would have helped the reader to know that Mr. Otstavnykh spoke in court on behalf of the Pussy Riot defendants, saying their actions did not constitute blasphemy.

Please note I am not speaking to the issues under examination. I am commenting on the professionalism and journalistic craft exhibited by this article. As a hit piece, the story is well done. As journalism, it is junk.

While many of the ideals expressed by Kipling in “The White Man’s Burden” are passé, “By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain”, is not. There is a story to be told from Russia on the interplay of the church, state and society. Mr. Otstavnyk’s concerns the Russian Orthodox Church is returning to the days when church and state were one is an important one. Is the Orthodox Church returning to the bad old days of the Nineteenth century, updating its prayer and priorities from God Save the Tsar to God Save the President? That story needs to be told.

The story told in this article, however, is neither plain nor simple, frank nor fair. And that is a shame.

First printed in Get Religion.

Gay church wedding ban for Wales a “step too far”: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2012 p 6. December 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church in Wales, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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The Archbishop of Wales has denounced the government’s plans to impose a “quadruple legal lock” that would exempt the Church in Wales from performing gay marriages, saying Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s promise was a “step too far.”

However, Dr. Barry Morgan’s protestations the Church in Wales was being treated in the same way as the Church of England over same-sex marriage appears to place him at odds with the formal position of his church.

On 12 Dec, the government announced its gay marriage legislation would explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that canon law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply. Like the Church of England, the Church in Wales has a legal obligation to marry couples where there is a link to the parish.

Dr Morgan responded that “excluding the Church in Wales and the Church of England from the legislation so that it will be illegal for them to have gay marriage. I think that is a step too far.”

“It does not leave it to the governing bodies of the two churches to decide whether they want to opt in or out as other churches are allowed to do. It curtails our freedom of choice and seems to close the door on even the possibility of doing so in the future without a change in law.

“It makes these churches seem exclusive and I think that is unfortunate,” Dr. Morgan said.

However, in its March 2012 response to the government’s consultation on marriage, the Welsh bishops said: “The Church in Wales is in an almost identical position to the Church of England with regard to the solemnisation of marriages.   The Church in Wales’ concerns about the legal implications are therefore the same as those of the Church of England.  We have taken note of these, and would seek assurances that the Government would specifically include the Church in Wales in any provisions for the Church of England under the proposed legislation.”

The bishops stated they did not see the need for the legislation. “It is not at all clear in what ways same-sex marriage will be different in substance from existing arrangements for civil partnerships.  They already appear to be in all respects the same, in the rights and responsibilities conferred on the parties; and with only very minor distinctions in the methods of registration, or the reasons for dissolving the relationship.  Nor is it clear what will be the purpose of retaining the category of civil partnership alongside same-sex marriage, especially since it is not proposed that heterosexual couples be allowed to enter into a civil partnership.  In the context of equality of access to registered relationships, this appears to create a new inequality.”

“Recognising and supporting” same-sex civil unions “are to be welcomed” the bishops said, but as “such provision already exists” they saw no need for gay marriage. “Beyond raising the dangers of significant confusion and debate, the current proposals do not add to these provisions,” the March statement said.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

First round win for Islamists in Egyptian constitutional referendum: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2012 p 6. December 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in the first round of voting to introduce a Sharia Law-based constitution for Egypt.  Unofficial returns after Saturday’s vote released by President Mohammed Mursi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) show 56.6 per cent of ballots cast were in favour of the new constitution, while 43.5 per cent were opposed.

However, the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections said in a statement after the polls closed on Saturday there were “cases of voter intimidation, delaying the voting process, and early closure of some voting centers with no clear reasons,” while the Egyptian Independent newspaper reported that in some polling places Coptic Christians were not allowed to vote.

In a pastoral letter released on the eve of the vote, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis warned the political battle between Islamists and moderates may push Egypt into civil war.

“I cannot tell you how much I am heavy-hearted because of what is going on in my beloved country Egypt,” Dr. Anis said, as “many Egyptians were expecting that after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 there would be no exclusion for any citizen or groups because of their political or religious stance. Sadly, we are still groaning for this equality.”

The new constitution posed significant problems for Christians, women and moderate Muslims, the bishop said as the constitution would empower religious vigilante groups to impose their views on society. “We have already seen some groups such as ‘The Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ who, in the name of Islam, punish others without resorting to the legal authorities,” the bishop wrote, noting the language of the new constitution would give their actions the force of law.

“Another example would be how Article 2 mentions that ‘the principles of the Islamic sharia is the source of all legislation’ while Article 219 defines ‘the principle of the Islamic sharia’ in a vague way which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the different Islamic sects,” the bishop wrote.

This breakdown of public trust in the government over the constitutional reform process had led to street fighting between the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-democracy activists.  “The two demonstrating groups became violent and more than 450 people were injured and 8 people were killed. The demonstrations continue now and the fear is that another wave of violence and bloodshed may happen tomorrow.”

The bishop said that those who opposed the new constitution believed it should be a document that fosters national unity, not the sectarian interests of one political-religious party.  The document was “dividing the society into Islamists and non-Islamists (moderate Muslims and Christians),” the bishop warned.

Ten provinces, including Cairo and Alexandria voted on 15 December and 17 rural provinces are scheduled to vote on 22 December. “It is heart-breaking to see Egyptians against Egyptians,” Dr. Anis said. “We don’t want to see Egypt in a civil war.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Belfast flag protests prompt calls for peace and prayer: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2012 p 5. December 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland, Politics.
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The Anglican bishops of Belfast have urged calm in the wake of a City Council vote restricting the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.

Last week the City Council voted to restrict the flying of the flag to set days of the week, prompting protests from loyalist groups.  The Police Service of Northern Ireland reported that 34 people had been arrested over the weekend following protests in the city centre. Death threats were also reported to have been made against some members of the council.

On 4 Dec 2012, Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore and Bishop Alan Abernathy of Connor released a statement condemning the “violence which took place in different parts of Belfast last night during and after the meeting of Belfast City Council. Whether we agree with the decision to fly the Union Flag on designated days or not, no one has a right to react in ways which abuse or harm other human beings. The awfulness of the situation was heightened by the beauty of the Christmas lights and market on the other side of the City Hall.”

Bishop Miller also released a statement last week in support of Naomi Long, the Member of Parliament for East Belfast, who was reported to have received death threats.

There can be “no moral justification for such a threat or acts of violence in the name of ‘protest’, however strongly held one’s views are on any symbols of identity or allegiance,” Bishop Miller said on 7 Dec. “ To resort to intimidation and attack is an affront to the high values of democratic freedom within the United Kingdom and to its flag and offers nothing to our society in Northern Ireland.”

The two Anglican bishops said the “vast majority in Northern Ireland want this province to be the kind of place where all people and traditions are respected, and where there is a good future for our children.”

The urged Ulster to take the path of peace and pray that “healing would come into all the fear, bitterness and uncertainty which lies only just below the surface in our society.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Guardian does not get Tim Scott: Get Religion December 18, 2012 December 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, South Carolina.
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Amongst your GetReligion correspondents I was the last to board the twitter train. Now I knew about this micro-blogging tool and had heard of tumblr and instagram — and I even had a Facebook page. But I was slow to utilize these communication tools in my reporting. I cannot explain this reticence, for since I was a child I have been fascinated by these tools.

One of my memories of childhood was accompanying my father to his club in the city. I would wait for him in the smoking room where amidst the smell of strong cigars I would sit by the stock ticker and teletype machine and read the news as it came over the wire. I still remember the thrill of hearing the bell ring three times and the machine begin to chatter as it printed a breaking story.

Half a life time has passed since those days. Stock tickers, teletype and Telex machines are gone and I expect fax machines will soon pass away. Yet the thrill they gave me of instant access to a wider world I find in Twitter. This item from Byron York of National Review caught my eye.

Scott begins with moment of silence for Newtown and then says of appointment: ‘Thank you to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.’

12:15 PM – 17 Dec 12 ·

York was tweeting the press conference where South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced that she was appointing Rep. Tim Scott to serve out the term of Sen. Jim DeMint. Approximately 45 minutes earlier I had read a breaking story from the Guardian on the news of the appointment.

Printed on the Guardian‘s website at 11:26 AM, the article entitled “Tim Scott appointed to fill Jim DeMint’s Senate seat for South Carolina” was a introduction of the new senator to Britain — the first African American Republican Senator in 30 years and the first from the old Confederacy since Reconstruction. The 700-word story was thorough. It reviewed his political career in Charleston and Congress, support from the Tea Party movement and speculated on his future prospects.

The Guardian also spoke to Scott’s personal story.

Some in the Republican party have drawn parallels between Scott and Barack Obama; his rise has been nurtured in recent years by the Republican party’s leadership, impressed by the carefully spoken and deeply conservative Charleston native, raised, like Obama, by a single mother. … Born in Charleston, Scott’s parents divorced when he was seven, and he attributes his belief in conservative values to his mother, a nurse.

“By the time I entered high school, I was completely off track. My mother was working hard, trying to help me to realize that there was a brighter future, but I really couldn’t see it,” Scott wrote in 2010 at the launch of his congressional campaign.

Then, he says, he had the good fortune to meet the owner of a Chick-fil-A fast food franchise next door to the movie theatre where he worked. “He taught me that if you want to receive, you have to first give. Embedded in that conversation, I came to realize, was the concept that my mother was teaching me about individual responsibility.”

The article closes with Scott’s decision not to join the Congressional Black Caucus.

Thanking the Democratic-dominated caucus for its invitation, Scott said: “My campaign was never about race.”

All in all this was nicely done, up to a point. It gives British readers some flavor of the newest American Senator and rising star of the Republican Party. Yet, the story is only half told of Tim Scott.

What role has faith played in Scott’s life? What were the values taught to him by his conservative mother? Should not the mention of Chick-fil-A have rung some bells in the Guardian reporter’s head? Taken in conjunction with Scott’s avowal of his Christian faith at the press conference, the absence of faith from the Guardian story about Tim Scott leaves the story half finished.

Now the article is not faith free. It mentions Scott’s work as a county commissioner in having the Ten Commandments publicly displayed outside the council chambers. But the Guardian describes this action as being a regional political affectation. And curiously it describes his appointment to the Senate seat in the lede of the article as a “remarkable turnaround”. Yet it also notes:

In 2012 he was elected unopposed, winning 99% of the vote, with policies mirroring those of his party in the South: deep opposition to tax increases, Obamacare, unions, abortion and immigration reform.

In what way was Scott’s appointment a turnaround? Winning reelection with 99 per cent of the vote speaks not to political misfortune. The bottom line with this article is that although it has most of the facts, it misses the story. The Guardian does not understand American politics as seen by its discussion of the Republican Party of the South and in the role faith plays in the life of Tim Scott (and for many Americans for that matter.) Not the best outing from the Guardian, I’m afraid.

First published at GetReligion.

Bishop warns of civil war as Egypt heads to the polls: Anglican Ink, December 14, 2012. December 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Politics.
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Tahir Square, Cairo

The political battle between Islamists and moderates may push Egypt into civil war, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis has warned.

In a pastoral letter released the day before first vote on a national referendum to ratify a constitution drawn up by the Islamist-dominated parliament, Dr. Anis writes the democratic hopes that lay behind the “Arab Spring”, the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, have faded away.

“I cannot tell you how much I am heavy-hearted because of what is going on in my beloved country Egypt. Many Egyptians were expecting that after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 there would be no exclusion for any citizen or groups because of their political or religious stance. Sadly, we are still groaning for this equality,” the bishop wrote on 14 Dec 2012.

In his letter, Dr. Anis described the background to the new constitution, noting it had been crafted by Islamists with little meaningful input from Christians, moderate Muslims or secularists. The lack of consultation spelled troubled, he warned.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Egypt’s parliament endorses Sharia law: Anglican Ink, November 29, 2012 November 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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President Mohammad Mursi of Egypt

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly has endorsed Article 2 of the country’s proposed constitution making Sharia law the basis for the country’s civil legal code.

On 29 Nov 2012 members of the Egyptian parliament began voting on each of the 234 article proposed by a constitutional committee chartered by President Mohammad Mursi. However, representatives of Egypt’s Christian communities and the opposition walked out of the talks last week after the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated drafting committee refused to compromise over Sharia law.

The Egyptian Independent reported there was uncertainty until the start of voting as to whether a quorum would be reached.  The 100-member chamber requires 67 members to be present to vote on the constitution and 22-members had announced they would boycott the proceedings.  However, the ruling party was able to call upon reserve members of Parliament, elected as alternates at the last election, to fill seats deemed to have been vacated.  At the start of the vote on Thursday afternoon 85 members answered the roll call.

Article 2, Sharia Law, which states that “the principles of the Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation,” remains unchanged from the 1971 constitution. However a new clause, Article 221 states that these principles are to be deduced from its fundamental rules and its Sunni sources.  The constitution also gives religious scholars at the Al-Azhar University the right to consult on the interpretation of Sharia law and its relation to the civil code.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Buddhism compatible with democracy, Tibetan leader says: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 7. November 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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Lobsang Sangay

Democracy and Buddhism are compatible social institutions, the leader of Tibet’s government in exile declared last week, but they can only survive in East Asia if Western governments engage with China over Tibet.

In a statement released on 14 Nov 2012 and subsequently published in the Wall Street Journal, Tibetan political leader Lobsang Sangay, said U.S. President Barack Obama’s forthcoming trip to Asia was a hopeful sign for Buddhists in the region’s fledgling democracies.

The tour will “attract a lot of attention throughout the region, but especially in Tibet. Mr. Obama will visit Cambodia and Thailand, two predominantly Buddhist countries, and will be the first sitting American president to visit Burma, also a majority Buddhist nation,” he said.

The American President “should use his trip in part to make a broader point about the compatibility between Buddhism and democracy,” said Mr. Sangay, who holds the title of sikyong, and serves as the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people and the political successor of the Dalai Lama. Like their Burmese counterparts, “Tibetans in exile have worked to build a democracy. Indeed, as with the upsurge of the Saffron Revolution in Burma, Tibetan monks have been at the forefront of a non-violent struggle for freedom in Tibet for the last 60 years.”

He called upon the Obama administration to press the cause of Tibet with China’s new leaders appointed this month at the 18th Party Congress. “Tibetans in Tibet are crying out for justice, including the autonomy and freedom to worship they have been promised by Beijing over the years. Some 72 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, 70 of them since March 2011, and five in one day this month alone. The common cry of all self-immolators is the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.”

Western engagement with the Chinese government over Tibet would be applauded by the world’s Buddhists, he said, the “millions of Indians, Nepalese, Bhutanese and Mongolians who at one time looked upon Tibet as the source of their culture and home of their faith. Today there are reportedly more than 300 million Chinese Buddhists.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church of Sweden backs Israel boycott campaign: Anglican Ink, November 21, 2012 November 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of Sweden, Israel, Politics.
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Archbishop Anders Wejryd addressing the Swedish Church Assembly on 21 Nov 2012

The Kyrkomötet  –  the Church Assembly of the Church of Sweden — has asked its government to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for membership at the United Nations and called for a boycott of Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria.

On 21 Nov 2012 the annual synod of Sweden’s state Lutheran church adopted a series of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel resolutions during its annual meeting in Uppsala.  A longtime critic of Israeli policies, the Kyrkomötet today also gave its backing the Kairos Palestine Document and called for Israel’s withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the “occupied” territories.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

U.S. Supreme Court allows public schools to give credit for private religious instruction: Anglican Ink, November 13, 2012 November 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Education, Politics.
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The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Moss v. Spartanburg Cty School District letting stand a Fourth Circuit decision allowing students to gain academic credit by attending off-campus religion classes during the school day.

In 2009 the Freedom From Religion Foundation brought suit against South Carolina’s Spartanburg County School District No.7 over its “released time” program. The Foundation claimed allowing public school students to attend religious instruction classes at private schools during school hours violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The South Carolina District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Foundation’s arguments. In a unanimous decision the Fourth Circuit held: “[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Reporting on gay marriage in Spain: Get Religion, November 9, 2012 November 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Marriage, Politics, Press criticism.
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Laying out the front page of the November 7 issue presented a few problems for the Madrid daily El País. Journalists at Spain’s largest circulation newspaper (345,000) began a walk out this week after management announced that it was cutting 139 of the paper’s 460 posts. Those who still had jobs would see their pay cut by 13 per cent.

Management has had to fill in to keep the paper going and Wednesday presented them with two major stories: the U.S. presidential election and the decision by the country’s constitutional court upholding the country’s gay marriage laws.

Under the headline “El matrimonio gay es constitucional” El País reported that on 6 Nov 2012 eight of the Constitutional Court’s 11 judges rejected a legal challenge to Spain’s gay marriage law introduced in 2005 by the Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The law had been challenged by the People’s Party (PP), which recently took power under its leader Mariano Rajoy.

The article reported that 11 of the court’s 12 justices took part in the decision, and that support for gay marriage was voiced by the 7 liberal judges and 1 of the 5 conservatives – one conservative judge recused himself.

The first few paragraphs of the story are fairly straight forward, recounting the legislative background to the case and summarizing the legal arguments. Paragraphs that indicates the newspaper’s view of the issue round out the story.

El PP prefería amparar legalmente la unión de parejas homosexuales sin darle el nombre de matrimonio para “no generar confrontación social”. Pero la única confrontación social conocida hasta ahora, la única protesta masiva que ha habido en la calle desde la aprobación de la Ley por el Gobierno socialista en 2005 ha sido la de miles de ciudadanos que protestaron contra el recurso del PP y exigieron a Rajoy que lo retirara.

The PP had preferred a law that would give legal protections to gay couples without giving it the name of marriage so as to “not generate social confrontation.” However, the only social confrontation known so far, the only mass protest that has been on the street since the adoption of the Act by the Socialist government in 2005 has been the thousands of protestors who have called upon the PP and Rajoy to withdraw their legal challenge.

The article also has a side bar that discusses the Popular Party’s reactions. However, it does not quote Rajoy or supporters of traditional marriage, but the minority within the PP who support gay marriage. An American analogy would be having a discussion of the Republican Party’s reactions to the gay marriage vote in Maryland through quotes from the Log Cabin Republicans.

What also is missing is any reaction or comment from the Catholic Church – the primary opponent of the gay marriage law.  The following day El Pais ran a story that summarized the comments of the bishop of San Sebastián, José Ignacio Munilla on behalf of the Spanish Episcopal Conference – but that was it. There was no attempt in the main story to speak to the objective moral truth claims made by the church about the nature and value of marriage that lay behind the PP’s challenge to the 2005 law.

I should say that such an omission would be deadly for an newspaper article written in the classic liberal style, but El País is not that sort of paper. It follows the European advocacy model — in this case its news is written, unashamedly, from a a left-liberal point of view which espouses the European anti-clerical line.

Religion has no business in the public square, El Pais and most European newspapers believe. This argument is not unknown in the U.S. also. In the Proposition 8 case in California, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker invalidated the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Judge Walker held the “moral and religious views” behind Proposition 8 were not “rational,” hence it was unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama, a former law professor, has argued that “What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.”

While the secularist demands this, democracy does not – nor should journalism. Ignoring the religious arguments in public policy disputes, or dismissing them out of hand is an attack on freedom – religious freedom and democratic freedoms. It is also poor journalism as it omits one of the essential elements of the story.

The solution to this problem in Europe is to take more then one newspaper — El Pais is left liberal and you know what you are getting when you hand over your Euro. ABC and El Mundo  are Madrid’s two other quality papers. ABC is conservative and El Mundo center-left. Taken as a job lot a reader gets all sides of the story. Unfortunately in the U.S. newspaper market few if any newspapers acknowledge their biases, and two newspaper towns are few and far between.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is it fair to say that the American press has adopted the European advocacy style — but without admitting its bias? Is El Pais without ABC America’s future?

First printed in GetReligion

Anglican Unscripted Episode 56, November 9, 2012 November 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Politics, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
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The Crown Nomination Committee has found a new leader for the Anglican Church and his name is Bishop Justin Welby. Peter Ould and Kevin Kallsen talk about his uniqueness for this solemn role and the challenges every Archbishop of Canterbury meet. George Conger and Kevin talk about the challenges the Communion will offer it’s new leader and the excitement it has for someone who is willing to take accept the call. Comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU56

Democracy not enough, Bishop Nazir Ali warns: Anglican Ink, October 30, 2012 October 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali

Democracy can kill a society unless it is tempered with a respect for human rights and equality, the former Bishop of Rochester told a London audience last week in a forum devoted to “Christianity at a Crossroads in the Middle East.”

Speaking at All Souls Langham Place on 25 October 2012 at an event sponsored by the Middle Eastern Christian satellite television broadcaster SAT-7, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali warned “democracy can mean the tyranny of the majority.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Kenya’s bishops warn of election violence threat: The Church of England Newspaper, October 6, 2012, p 7 October 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Kenya, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Kenya has warned the East African nation it risks tribal and religious civil war over the forthcoming March 2013 General Elections if its political leaders do not pull back from hate speech.

In a statement read at the close of the House of Bishops meeting in Nakuru on 28 September 2012, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala said some politicians were guilty making “offensive political utterances with impunity” that strained “fragile inter-ethnic relations”. By appealing to race and religion, politicians were priming the country for an explosion akin to the violence that followed the 2008 elections, he warned.

The church called for the immediate appointment of a national Inspector General of Police before the elections, and urged the government to implement the reforms of the police services proposed by a blue ribbon commission. The bishops urged President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to act now in preparing the security services to ensure a peaceful, free and fair General Election.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Lies, Damn Lies and Polls: Get Religion, October 6, 2012 October 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”, the voice of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz tells Dorothy and her companions amidst the clap of thunder, clouds of smoke and frightening images of power and omniscience.

Yet all things come to an end, and the wizard’s unmasking soon follows as Toto (a dog) pulls aside a curtain, revealing the great and powerful wizard is but a humbug. “I’m a good man,” he tells Dorothy, “but a very bad wizard.”

Fox News commentator and political analyst Dick Morris has a story out that pulls aside a curtain, telling his readers not to pay any attention to a slew of recent battleground state polls that show President Barack Obama leading challenger Gov. Mitt Romney. His story “Swing State Polls Are Rigged”  states that:

From noted Republican pollster John McLaughlin comes a clear and convincing exposé of the bias of media polls in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.

Citing recent polls in Virginia, Florida and Ohio, Mr. Morris explains the pollsters’ error (bias?)

McLaughlin reviewed exit polls in each state for the past four elections. From this data about who actually voted, he found that the party divisions manifest on election day have little to do with the samples upon which the media is basing its polling. And, coincidentally, it is always the Republican vote that tends to be undercounted. … Things are no better in Ohio. Here, McLaughlin finds a 2 point Democratic edge in the past four elections (38% Dem, 36% Rep). But the media polls show vastly more Democrats and fewer Republicans in their samples:

9-26: CBS/NY Times = 35% Dem / 26% Rep; 9-23: Wash Post = 35% Dem / 27% Rep; 9-11: NBC/Wall St Journal = 38% Dem / 28% Rep

Interesting stuff this, but why, you might ask, is this a GetReligion story? Because, the man conducting the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, Dr. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, along with his colleague Dr. Barbara Carvalho gave a briefing to the lunchtime session of the Religion Newswriters Association meeting.

This is my first RNA meeting and to my surprise I have enjoyed it greatly. My experience of mass gatherings of reporters has been filtered through my work for English and other overseas newspapers. British press “culture” is very different from that found at the RNA. More yoghurt, less alcohol — there is a reason why they call Fleet Street reporters “hacks”.

Meeting at a hotel in suburban Washington, over a hundred religion reporters (among whom are all the GetReligion team members) are participating in an assortment of briefings, seminar discussions and presentations on religion and the media. In a fascinating talk sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, Drs. Carvalho and Miringoff presented some of their research on the current campaign. Among their findings was a disgust for the negative politicking among the electorate, a sense of alienation between the issues the candidates are discussing and issues of concern to voters, along with data showing that attempts to describe the moral issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) in black and white terms — forcing the answer to are you against or for abortion to be a yes or no — does not faithfully paint a true picture of America.

The presentation, which was recorded by C-Span along with a panel discussion entitled “Whose First Amendment?”, are well worth watching for you political junkies out there. And it will also give you a glimpse of me asking Dr. Miringoff to respond to Dick Morris’ criticism of his polling.

When I was asking the question, Dr. Miringoff began to smile at me. Now I am a likeable fellow, all told, but his smile was not of bonhomie nor of Freemasons exchanging secret signs, but that of a cat who has a canary in his sights. Dr. Miringoff pounced on Dick Morris’ story — see the video for his full comments unfiltered by my note taking skills — and argued that 1) this was sour grapes on the part of a Republican strategist whose man was lagging in the polls. In 2004 the Democrats charged the polls were under reporting their voters — and now it was the Republicans’ turn. 2) Party identification is not a fixed component akin to age, race, or economic status as party affiliation changes over time and also at the whim of the voter. Comparing the exit poll data from discrete points of time with something as amorphous as party identification was not as straight forward as Dick Morris had claimed. And 3) new polls will be released this Sunday in the wake of the first presidential debate that will likely cause the Democrats to complain.

Dr. Miringoff and Dr. Carvalho discussed the methodology of their polling, but also spoke to some of the unique circumstances pollsters are facing in this election. Youth turnout is likely to decline relative to the 2008 election. Will the absence of young people at the ballot box next month spell defeat for Barack Obama? One can speculate, but Dr. Miringoff suggested it would be wise for the president if he spent some more time on college campuses.

So, should we pay no attention to the man behind the curtain as Dick Morris suggests, or are the polls showing the president leading in the battleground states a fair approximation of voter sentiment a month out from election day? What say you, GetReligion readers?

Archbishop’s warning to Britain’s “unreformed elites”: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 5. October 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland, Politics.
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Dr Alan Harper (center) at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh before the start of his final service as Primate of All Ireland

The Archbishop of Armagh celebrated his last Eucharist as Primate of All Ireland last week with an attack on the moral failure of British and Irish political leaders.

On 21 September 2012 civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries from across Ireland joined Dr. Alan Harper in his final service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. In his sermon Dr. Harper noted “contemporary society” has been confronted by a “perfect storm of moral ambivalence, and that powerful people ruined the lives of others whilst assuming their own invulnerability through a culture of impunity.”

The Scriptures taught that “moral ambivalence and a culture of pragmatism and expediency within the body politic or among major organs of society visit disastrous consequences upon the nation, and especially upon the poor and the powerless,” Dr. Harper said. And “by contrast, moral and spiritual integrity in high places leads to the flowering of both the nation and individual citizens at every level.”

“So, what of today? People talk of the threat to society posed by moral decline. The Prime Minister speaks of a ‘broken society’: feckless parenting, feral children, moral indifferentism, marital breakdown, benefit dependency and fraud, the growth of a disenchanted, disengaged under class. He called the Tottenham riots a ‘wake up call’. He mentioned banking, MPs’ expenses, phone hacking, greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.”

“If it is the case that our society is broken, with the boundaries of moral rectitude dissolving into ambivalence, blame cannot be heaped solely on the poor and the powerless: it was the Liverpool families who told the truth, not the police! An unreformed elite cannot impose probity on a struggling underclass.

Dr. Harper said “probity must be modelled at the top and begin with the elite, otherwise there subsists no moral authority on the part of governors to justify an intent to restore the moral and social health of the governed. The governors – leaders in the political, institutional, commercial, and spiritual life of our nations, including those holding authority within the media, must address first and with the greatest urgency the poverty of their own moral precepts and the fragile state of their own moral condition.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Interview: Issues, Etc., September 24, 2012 September 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Politics, Press criticism.
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on Sept 24, 2012.

2. Media Coverage of the Cairo and Behghazi Attacks, and Mohammad Cartoons in a French Magazine – George Conger, 9/24/12

Righteous Religious Indignation in Cairo: Get Religion, September 11, 2012 September 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Politics.
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There are conflicting reports coming out of Egypt and Libya tonight on the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, drawing upon reports from Reuters and AFP, stated one U.S. official was killed and a second injured in the attack on the Benghazi consulate,while the Washington Post, citing the Associated Press, reported that no one was inside the Benghazi consulate when the attack occurred.

The protests, coming on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, are being described in most press accounts as being driven by religious fervor. The New York Times reported:

The protest was a result of outrage over a movie being promoted by an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States, clips of which are available on YouTube and dubbed in Egyptian Arabic. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, and shows him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad at all, much less in an insulting way.

And the ABC noted:

Reports suggest both incidents were sparked by anger over a film which was produced by expatriate members of Egypt’s Christian minority resident in the United States.

Reports said the Cairo protesters, numbering nearly 3,000 were mostly hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement.

A dozen men scaled the embassy walls and one of them tore down the US flag, replacing it with a black one inscribed with the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

The New York Times added a bit of context about this black flag, stating: “The flag, similar to Al Qaeda’s banner, is popular with ultraconservatives around the region.”

Religion, then would seem to be one of the forces driving the attack — though some Egyptian Christians with whom I was in contact via email today suggested the attacks were driven by Egyptian domestic political considerations. Their argument was that the Salafist parties — the hardline Islamist groups that are junior coalition partners with the Muslim Brotherhood government — are seeking to incite the “Arab Street” to pressure the government to adopt a stricter Sharia law-based government. Religion, this line of thinking believes, is a tool for political ends.

I have no knowledge as to the truth of these assertions, but the first day reports out of the Middle East have noted the religious and political nature of the protests.

The Washington Post reported:

Many of the protesters at the U.S. Embassy Tuesday said that they were associated with the Salafist political parties Al Nour and Al Asala. Salafism is an extremely conservative branch of Islam.

Protesters condemned a video clip that depicted the prophet Mohammed in a series of humiliating scenes. A controversial Cairo television host, Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, aired clips from the video on an Islamic-focused television station on Saturday, and the same video clips were posted to YouTube on Monday. Depicting Mohammed at all is considered deeply offensive by Muslims. Some protesters said that the movie had been created by Egyptian-American Coptic Christians, though its provenance online was unclear.

“We are speaking out and will never be tolerant toward any curses for our prophet,” said Moaz Abdel Kareem, 37, who had a long beard typical of followers of the Salafist movement and was carrying a black flag.

Congratulations to the Post — and the wire services — for being on the scene and doing  a great job in explaining what is taking place.

I would note that the prohibition against the portrayal of Mohammad is a Sunni Muslim tradition and not practiced by the Shia.  My colleagues and I at GetReligion have written extensively about reporting on images of Mohammad. Articles on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, South Park, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons have raised questions about the quality of reporting and unwarranted suppositions about Islam. I hope we will not see these same mistakes in this news cycle.

While the press has done a great job so far, I would not say the same about the U.S. embassy press people in Cairo. There response to the violation of American sovereignty, the raising of the al-Qaeda flag at the U.S. embassy and destruction of the American flag by the Salafist protestors on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was to send out this tweet:

We condemn the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims

An extraordinarily feckless statement — even by the standards of the State Department.

I do hope that in the days to come the press continues pushing this story, seeking to unravel the political and religious dimensions of this story.

First printed in GetReligion.

Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Catholic: Get Religion, September 1, 2012 September 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics.
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Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been invited to give the closing prayer at this week’s Democratic Convention in Charlotte. The New York Times reports the New York cardinal will be one of matched pair of high profile Catholics to appear on the podium before the Democratic faithful, with Sister Simone Campbellof “Nuns on the Bus” fame completing the set.

Religion reporter Laurie Goodstein’s story “At Democratic Convention, a Cardinal and an Outspoken Nun” sets the scene and offers a bit of the “why” — but I’ve seen little so far on the “how” — and outside of the religious press, not much on whether this is a good idea at all.

The Times reports the news the:

Democrats are giving a convention speaking slot to Sister Simone Campbell, an outspoken advocate for the poor and elderly, according to an aide with President Obama’s campaign who would speak only on background.

In doing so, the Democratic Party has balanced its own Catholic ticket by showcasing both Sister Campbell, who pushed for the passage of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is suing the White House over a provision in the health care overhaul that requires employers to cover birth control in their employee insurance plans.

The article is framed in good cop/bad cop terms, but seeks to balance the piece by positing a degree of moral equivalence between the Dolan and Campbell’s political activities.

Cardinal Dolan, who says he is a personal friend of Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate. has been perceived by many Catholic commentators as being too cozy with Republicans, while Sister Campbell has been seen as being too supportive of Democratic causes. In June, she led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour to call attention to cuts affecting the poor and elderly in the budget proposed by Mr. Ryan.

The two will have different roles at the convention:

Cardinal Dolan will give the closing prayer at the convention, and Sister Campbell will speak but not offer a prayer.

And the story then r0unds off with a few paragraphs about Sister Campbell. All in all a solid story with an editorial voice that favors the nun over the cardinal. The theme of the article is that the liberal Campbell is balanced by the conservative Dolan.

What would have made the story stronger would have been a development of the why and how themes. We have surface story of the Democrats playing “me too”, inviting Dolan because the Republicans did. The import being the Democrats are seeking to curry favor with Catholic voters in the same way the Republicans have. But Campbell?

The Times article notes her support for the President’s healthcare initiative and suggests she is an alternative Catholic voice. Yet is there more? In an Aug 24 story in the New Yorker — before the invitation from the Democrats was given to Dolan, Hendrick Hertzberg wrote:

Dolan, as you may also have heard, heads up the male hierarchy’s drive to portray Obamacare as an attack on freedom of religion and is a leading enforcer in the Vatican-ordered crackdown on women religious who regard ministering to the poor and the sick as more urgent and more admirable than railing against contraception and homosexuality.

He then cites with approval the Aug 24 edition of the Carville – Greenberg Memorandum, where James Carville argues the Democrats should invite Campbell to spite Dolan and exploit the social justice agenda of the church for their political advantage.

And now, a week later, we have Campbell speaking and Dolan praying in Charlotte.  How did we get to this point? Do Dolan and and Campbell represent different wings of the same church, different views of what it means to live a Catholic life? Is it wise for the Catholic Church to allow individuals to become symbols of the conflicting views of its teachings?

Should the Catholic Church allow itself to be used by the national political parties in this way? I am not speaking of separation of church/state issues, but whether the integrity of the church, any church, is damaged when it comes in contact with secular politics. The assumption here is that it is social good for religious organizations — as opposed to religious individuals — to take a stand in the public square. Is that a valid assumption?

And should these issues be raised in the reporting on these questions? Not every story need be an essay on the merits of the marriage of politics and church leaders — but should there not be a voice offered from time to time that sees the arrangement differently? What say you GetReligion readers? Have I strayed into editorializing here by suggesting that clergy might be seen, but not heard at political conventions? Am I pushing my interpretation ahead of the simple facts of who is doing what in Charlotte — or is there a deeper truth that has yet to be revealed in the reporting of these issues?

And the title to this post? It comes from the Carville video –his mangling (deliberate?) of the old saw, “Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Democrats.”

First printed in GetReligion.

Michelle Obama as Political Art: Get Religion, August 31, 2012 August 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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Is this Spanish news magazine cover of Michelle Obama art or porn? Is it racist and sexist? Or is it a political fantasy of the noble savage, an incisive commentary on the centrality of Mrs. Obama’s sexuality in the presidential election campaign? Is it Granada I see or only Asbury Park in this profile of the First Lady?

The cover ignited a firestorm of controversy and prompted accusations of racism in the “black blogosphere”, the Huffington Post reported. But behind the fun over the racy cover lay an article that exemplified a secular worldview — a philosophical construct about the meaning and purpose of life that sees the acquisition of power as the chief aim of life and where God is absent (or far off on the margins.)

But before I become too airy fairy let’s start with the fun. On 9 Aug 2012 Fuera de Serie, a weekly magazine insert of the Madrid business daily Expansión published a profile of Michelle Obama. The article “Michelle se como a Obama” was illustrated by a cover painting of the First Lady draped in an American flag and posed in the style of a famous 19th century painting — Portrait d’une Négresse on exhibition at the Louvre by French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1800).

On 29 August the magazine published the full text of the story and some background to the cover in an online piece entitled “La polémica desnudez de Michelle Obama”.

The initial controversy was missed by the American press, but animated African-American publications and blogs.  The Huffington Post put the story into play within the mainstream press, shortly followed by Le Monde and other American and European publications. But their coverage focused on the cover, not the content of the article.

The Huffington Post was not pleased. It quoted one blogger as saying:

“By choosing to use such a jarring image to tell the story of how America’s first lady “seduced the people of the United States” and “stole the heart of Barack Obama,” as Fuera de Serie describes her,” writes Brande Victorian of Madame Noire, “it’s clear the magazine agrees with that mentality and wants to spread the message loud and clear: todavía estamos esclavos. We are still slaves.”

It cited other black interest publications who voiced similar objections, and likened the furore to the 2008  New Yorker cover that portrayed Michelle and Barack Obama as afro-centric terrorists.

Some European observers saw this negative reaction as an example of America’s lubricious Puritanism — a sentiment best summarized by Pascal Bruckner in last year’s Dominique Strauss-Kuhn affair.

It’s not enough though to describe [America] as puritanical because what governs [America] is a twisted puritanism which, after the sexual revolution, talks the language of free love and coexists with a flourishing porn industry.

Le Monde was less censorious than the Huffington Post and suggested the cover might not be so bad. It said the Portrait d’une Négresse was a celebration of the abolition of slavery and a symbol of liberation, of modernity, of freedom.  It also gave the artist, Karine Percheron Daniels, space to deny charges of racism.

In my eyes, the image I created is of a beautiful woman with a beautiful message. For the first time in history the First Lady of the United States is a black woman who proudly displays her femininity (nudity), her roots (the slave) and her power (first lady of the United States embraced by the American flag). … I’m not racist. I’m trying with my art to show the beauty not the dirt.

So what is going on here? And where is the GetReligion ghost in all of this? Let’s go inside the story and see.

Like the cover painting, “Michelle se como a Obama” and “La polémica desnudez de Michelle Obama” are artistic interpretations of the meaning of Michelle Obama. Facts are present, but the meaning of these facts are a construct of the author who frames the article from the very beginning as a hagiography. Michelle Obama is a secular left-liberal saint, whose:

popularity ratings exceed those of her husband, President Barack Obama. Experts even suggest that she will be the key to the reelection of Democrat in November elections. But how the first lady has managed to [steal the hearts] of the American people?

The article answers this question by contrasting Saint Michelle with the Wicked Witch of the West: Sarah Palin. While “attractive” and “quintessentially America” the former Alaska governor was also “vulgar, predictable, uneducated and arrogant.”

Mrs. Obama in contrast is “sleek, friendly, outgoing, direct, sometimes irreverent, and mother of two daughters.”  A woman whom nine out of ten voters believe “shares their values and understands their problems,” Fuera de Serie said. The article continues along these lines before moving to the heart of the story — the “why” of Michelle Obama.

Michelle is the daughter of Fraser Robinson, a worker who earned her living scrubbing floors in a water treatment plant in the city of Chicago, at the rate of $ 479 per month.

And it was this solidarity with the workers that drove the young Michelle to go on to Princeton and Harvard Law School and with Barack champion the cause of the poor and oppressed and right the “injustices” of the Bush Administration.

From the humble streets of their city [Chicago] emerged a community spirit, the spark that drove her husband to pursue his presidential dream …  even though politics was “a waste of time” that would detract from [Barack Obama’s] responsibilities as a father and husband.

And like any good story from the Lives of the Saints, the article recounts tales of the miraculous and promises of divine intervention through the invocation of the saint’s name. For you see Michelle Obama is a better campaigner than her husband, one expert voice told Fuera de Serie, and her “passion and drive have triggered fantasies” that if her husband loses to Mitt Romney in the Fall, Michelle can carry forward the banner of change.

Let me step back a moment and say I am not denigrating or advocating the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, nor am I slighting the First Lady. My target is this dreadful news profile of Mrs. Obama that is so over the top, so ludicrous, so one-sided that it is more likely to lead to ridicule than to admiration of its subject.

And absent from this entire story is any sense of what lay behind the family values and ethics of the parents that reared the young Michelle Robinson on Chicago’s South Side. Belief in God? Belief in history? We have snippets and slogans that hint at solidarity with the masses, but nothing else. The Michelle Obama in this article is identical to the artists portrait on the cover — a stylized fantasy that represents a cause, but is not representative of a person.

So GetReligion readers, tell me, is this racist, sexist, or vulgar? Is it beautiful, ennobling, a celebration of hope and change for a better world? Or am I taking a shovel to a souffle — seeing shadows and specters where none exist? What say you?

First printed in GetReligion.

Where have all the foreign correspondents gone?: Get Religion August 22, 2012 August 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics.
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“Truth is true only within a certain period of time,” observed a spokesman for the Burma’s military junta in the aftermath of that country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, reported Emma Larkin in her 2004 political travelogue-cum-biography “Finding George Orwell in Burma”. “What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”

My mind turned to Burma and these musings on the nature of truth after reading Thomas Fuller’s solid story in the New York Times on the end of press censorship in Burma. Reading this piece also brought home the importance of having a correspondent in place that knows the territory, the players, the culture – a reporter who not only is in place, but who “gets it”. Compare the coverage in the New York Times with its story datelined Bangkok with that of the Los Angeles Times article written from California and you can see what I mean.

The LA Times opened its article with:

Journalists in Myanmar will no longer have to send their articles to state censors before publication, a landmark step announced Monday toward lifting restrictions on the press.

But reporters in the changing country still fear being punished for what they write. Free speech activists say other rules that clamp down on government criticism or touchy topics are still in place, inhibiting journalists from writing freely.

It followed with analysis, drawing quotes from scholars and Burmese activists outside of the country. On its face a nice, but thin story.

Compare it to the New York Times piece which opened with:

BANGKOK — The government of Myanmar said on Monday that it would no longer censor private publications, a move that journalists described as a major step toward media freedom in a country where military governments have tried for decades to control the flow of information.

The announcement was made to editors on Monday and posted on a government Web site. “All publications in Myanmar are exempt from the scrutiny of Press Scrutiny and Registration Department,” the government said in a terse statement.

It then moves to an analysis of the event, quoting Burmese journalists in Burma before moving to the close with context and further detail.

Like the democratization process itself in Myanmar, the government has scaled back censorship gradually. In June 2011, articles dealing with entertainment, health, children and sports were taken off the list of subjects requiring prior censorship. In December, economics, crime and legal affairs were removed. Education topics were taken off the list in March. The only two topics remaining on the list — religion and politics — were freed from censorship on Monday.

Like the New York Times, the Telegraph’s South Asia editor took an upbeat tone, but what the Times put in its last sentence the Telegraph put in its first:

Until yesterday all political and religious news had to be submitted to the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department for prior approval, but the requirement was dropped in what was hailed as another significant step in Burma’s fast-moving democratic reform process.

In the past twelve months, since democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi met former military leader President Thein Sein, the government has relaxed censorship and controls on trade unions, freed hundreds of political prisoners, and held a series of by-elections which were almost all won by the Nobel Laureate’s National League for Democracy and hailed as ‘free and fair.

Given that there has been a gradual relaxation of press restrictions over the past year, it makes sense that politics would be one of the last taboos. But why would religion reporting be banned?

The LA Times article does not mention the topic of religion at all, while the New York Times does not explain why religion reporting and not economics, for example, was banned. Why would a report on Burma’s parlous economic state be less of a threat to the regime than a report on a religious topic?

My assumption is that as Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of the pro-Democracy movement news about religion would be controlled by the state – but I have no knowledge on this point, and none of the articles address this. Nor is this likely to be something that falls within the catch-all of conventional wisdom about Burma – for until recently foreign reporters were banned from the country and its citizens were threatened with jail if they spoke with foreign reporters.

Why was religion so dangerous to the military junta? I can guess, but after reading these articles I do not know.

The New York Times however did a good job in capturing the excitement resident Burmese journalists felt. A joke current in Myanmar during the year Emma Larkin researched her book about George Orwell, who served as a colonial policeman in Burma during the 1920’s, was that “Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of ‘Burmese Days,’ ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.”

Larkin saw some truth in this joke noting that Orwell’s 1934 novel “Burmese Days” savaged British colonial rule; “Animal Farm” (1946) prophesied Burma’s “miserable experiment with socialism,” which transformed the country from one of the richest in Asia at the time of the left-wing military coup in 1962 to the one of the poorest today; while “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) foresaw the transformation of the country into a society dominated by informers, doublespeak, political repression, torture and censorship.

In “Nineteen Eighty-Four” the protagonist Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, redacting history to conform to the party line of the present. Just as Winston Smith would “vaporize” dissidents from memory, until last year it was a crime in Burma to write the name of someone held to be an unperson, like pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The tone of the New York Times piece better states, to my mind, the freedom felt by the Burmese, as does the Telegraph story. While skill in the craft of journalism plays its part, I also credit the high quality of these stories to the presence of Western reporters in the region.

This is now to often the exception rather than the rule. In an article entitled “How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News” published by the Gatestone Institute, the Istanbul-based American journalist Claire Berlinski argues:

In-depth international news coverage in most of America’s mainstream news organs has nearly vanished. What is published is not nearly sufficient to permit the reader to grasp what is really happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. The phenomenon is non-partisan; it is as true for Fox News as it is for CNN.

Do look at this great piece by Ms. Berlinski — whose work I long have admired. It speaks to the reasons and consequences of the collapse of overseas reporting. Focusing on overseas religion reporting for GetReligion, I feel at times that I am working under a double disadvantage. The quantity and quality of international news coverage in U.S. and British newspapers has declined — and on top of that the few remaining foreign correspondents sometimes do not “get religion”.

First published in GetReligion.

Hindu state prayers draw protests from church leaders: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 August 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Hinduism, Politics.
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A Hindu priest in Karnataka performing an abhishekha by pouring libations on the image of the deity being worshiped, amidst the chanting of mantras.

Government plans to pay Hindu temples to offer prayers to propitiate the gods and ask for rain for the drought stricken Karnataka State in Southern India have prompted outrage by Church leaders and secularists. The BJP-led state government’s funding for Hindu rituals violates India’s secular constitution, critics charge, and will inflame sectarian tensions.

Last month the Karnataka Department of Revenue released a circular to 34,000 Hindu temples asking it to conduct “abhishekha”, “varuna mantra”, “jalabhishekha and other rituals on 27 July and 2 August as it was “convinced” that it was necessary to conduct these rituals in view of the seveare drought, and “for the welfare of people and cattle”. Upon performing the prayers, the government led by Jagadish Shettar would give each temple Rs 5000.

India’s monsoon June to September monsoon season began late this year and has so far provided inadequate rains, leading to fears of famine. The northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, which produce over 60 per cent of India’s grain crop has seen 65 per cent less rain this year than the long-term average, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi reports.

Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 percent below its average, sparking fears of drought. “Lack of rain is a worry for everyone … Let everyone pray for rain. But we cannot approve of the government spending money to conduct prayers in temples,” the Rt. Rev. John S. Sadananda, Bishop in the Karnataka Southern Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI), told ENI.

“The government should have spent that money to help farmers” affected by the drought the bishop said.

Writing in Mainstream magazine, Fr. Ambrose Pinto SJ of St Joseph’s College in Bangalore said the state’s support of one religious faith violates the Indian constitution.

Article 27 of the Indian Constitution “rules out public funding of religion,” he noted, but the Karnataka government “has extensively funded religious groups.”

Fr. Pinto added the constitution’s “Article 15(1) states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion. With the grant of money to temples and issue of circular to conduct rituals there to bring down rain from heavens, the State has violated all these norms.”

Indian secularism is committed to the idea of “principled distance” from all religions and strict neutrality in matters of religious practices, he argued. “It is only when the state maintains an equal distance from all religions, the state can put an end to inhuman practices of religions like untouchability, child marriages and devadasi system and initiate progressive changes by framing laws towards communities oppressed and suppressed sometimes with the legitimacy derived from religion.”

The BJP government in Karnataka has abandoned the progressive principles of a modern democratic society and was “taking people back into superstitions, encouraging beliefs and myths. It is in the interest of the secular state therefore citizens irrespective of religions may have to come together to defeat the sinister designs of the State Government,” Fr. Pinto said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Balancing quotes on Amendment 2: Get Religion, August 9, 2012 August 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics.
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I write with some disappointment about the report from the Religion News Service (RNS) on Missouri’s Public Prayer Amendment (Amendment 2).  Entitled “Missouri prayer amendment passes” in the version printed in USA Today, the article is rather thin. It does not provide quotes from the amendment but seeks to summarize its language.

Given the nature of the beast — a wire service article with limited space to tell a story — the absence of direct quotes is not a defect. The defect comes in the author’s choice to frame the story in an unbalanced manner. It reverses the quote ratio — providing more responses from voters who voted “no” even though it was overwhelmingly endorsed.

The reader comes away from this article knowing little more than the Amendment passed. The “why” and “how” questions are not properly addressed.

The article begins:

Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved a “right to pray” amendment to the state’s constitution on Tuesday, despite concerns about the measure’s necessity and legality.

Amendment 2, which supporters said would protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools and other public spaces, received nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The editorial voice of the article is made clear from the start. Amendment 2 is overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate, but was unnecessary. After a quote from the Amendment’s sponsor, the article recounts which religious groups supported and opposed the bill and then offers the views of unnamed experts.

…  Legal experts almost unanimously predict that the amendment will wind up in court.

Critics also argued the amendment is redundant — the U.S. Constitution already protects religious freedom. And some warned that it would spark countless lawsuits and bring unintended consequences.

Who are these experts and critics? One is:

… Greg Grenke, a 22-year-old voter from Columbia who voted against the amendment. He said he’s not against prayer — he just doesn’t think the amendment was necessary.

This is followed by:

Pediatrician Ellen Thomas, 48, said the amendment seemed like propaganda.

“I really just think it’s designed to stir up angry sentiment.” She added, “There’s no infringement on people’s right to pray as it is.”

And then we have:

Kathy Rowland, 55, of Columbia, Mo., said the amendment seemed “well-intentioned,” but unnecessary.

A contrary view, representing the 80 per cent is then offered:

“I was glad to see it,” said Margie Cravens, 87, as she left her Columbia polling place. “And we need prayer now more than ever before.”

The “man in the street” comments may provide color, but they do not answer basic questions. What was the legislative/political journey that led to the vote? Why was the vote so lop-sided? Why did liberal religious groups reject the amendment? Why did other religious groups back it? What do constitutional law professors say?

I would also ask, what was the thinking behind the selection and number of color quotes? Was it appropriate to have three no comments and one yes, when the vote was 80 per cent yes and 20 per cent no? I am not saying that the proportion of quotes should match the vote tally — but I find it odd that the ratio is reversed in this story between the quotes and the vote.

There are wire service religion reporters who consistently do an excellent job in providing solid information and strong quotes in a limited space. I’m afraid that this story is not one of those occasions. My verdict: “Needs work. Could do better.”

First published in Get Religion.

‘No reprisals’ Nigerian archbishop tells embattled Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2012 August 4, 2012

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The Archbishop of Kaduna has called upon Christians in Northern Nigeria to “stay and pray” in the face of sectarian attacks by Islamist militants and not respond to violence with violence.

In an interview published last week in the Sunday Tribune, Archbishop Edmund Akanya urged Christians “to pray. We are against the issue of reprisal and attacks because that would not lead anybody anywhere. Two wrongs don’t make a right. What we preach is peace; we do not preach violence. We do not encourage it and we are telling our members not to join in that kind of reprisal. That is the stand of the church on this issue.”

On 7-8 July, Muslim Fulani herdsmen reportedly attacked Christian Berom farmers in Plateau state killing more than 100 people including two government officials.  While clashes between migrant herdsmen and farmers have taken place in the past, the Muslim militant group Boko Haram has claimed involvement in the latest clashes.

Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa, told Nigerian reports his group “wants to inform the world of its delight over the success of the attacks we launched…in Plateau State on Christians and security operatives, including members of the National Assembly.  We will continue to hunt government officials wherever they are; they will have no peace again.”

Security experts have questioned the Islamist terrorist group’s involvement in these latest attacks, but former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell writing on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations stated “whether Boko Haram was actually involved or not, Abu Qaqa’s rhetoric looks, indeed, like he is trying to incite all-out religious war.”

Reprisal attacks have also been launched against Muslim targets, and on 17 July a Muslim school was bombed in the state capital of Jos killing a boy.

Archbishop Akanya said churches in Northern Nigeria were taking steps to defend themselves.  “We are encouraging our churches to put fence and gates; they should disallow cars from entering. They should get security men who can man the place. In many churches that I have visited, the bombers were not able to get access because of these barricades that are there.”

Those carrying out reprisal attacks were not true Christians, the archbishop said.  “These boys that even carry out these reprisals do not go to church.  That is the truth. I know what I am saying because those who go church will put their succor and relax their case in the hands of God and not going to fight back because they went to fight outside of the church environment. If it is self-defense, it would not have been outside of the church environment.”

Christians must not take the law into their own hands. “I do not think, by my conviction and the Bible I read that we have that instruction to go and be fighting people as a church or Christian. If anything, we should all cry to God to forgive our iniquities. Who knows if God is using this to warn us and to turn our hearts back to him. We should look at those facets and begin to think of how to cry unto God. We have seen cases that were worse than this in scriptures and how God delivered the people and it is still the same God. He can still do it for us,” Archbishop Akanya said.

Is Reuters denying Holocaust denial? — Get Religion August 4, 2012 August 4, 2012

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Finding the line between sensation and responsible reporting can be a difficult task. There are times when the subject of a news story will say something outrageous that causes a reporter to lay down his pen and ask, “Did you really mean that?” Over the top quotes can make a story pop — providing better placement in a newspaper and a brief “buzz” for the story. It can also distort the narrative, changing the story from the issues under discussion to comments about the issues.

I’ve played this game. When writing for the Jerusalem Post a few years back I submitted a story about a call for divestment from Israel made by the General Synod of the Church of England. The article moved from the back of the newspaper to the front page after the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey told me the vote made him “ashamed to be an Anglican” — this comment ensured the story was a three-day wonder.

On another occasions I have omitted comments from a story that were equally strong — but would have distorted the story by changing the focus from the issue to offensive or dumb comments made by one of the subjects of the story.

A recent Reuters story on comments made by a Hamas spokesman following the visit to Auschwitz by an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas brought this issue to mind. Should Reuters have given the complete quote? Should Reuters have mentioned the religious angle lying beneath the story? Let me show you what I mean. “Hamas slams Palestinian visit to ‘alleged’ Holocaust site” begins:

The Hamas Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday denounced a Palestinian official’s visit to the site of a Nazi death camp in Poland, and called the Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews perished an “alleged tragedy.”

Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who governs in the occupied West Bank, had made a rare visit by a Palestinian official to the site of the Auschwitz death camp late last month.

“It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas. Hamas rejects Israel’s existence and interim peace accords reached by Abbas’ more moderate Fatah group with Israel.

Barhoum further called Bandak’s visit to Auschwitz, a camp where the Nazis killed 1.5 million people, most of them Jews but also other Polish citizens, during World War Two, as “a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy.”

He said he saw this as coming “at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy,” alluding to Israel’s control over territory where Palestinians live and seek to establish a state.

The article continues with mention of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and the political split within the PA between the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah controlled West Bank. The story closes by saying:

Bandak’s visit to Auschwitz, where he laid a wreath at the invitation of a group working for tolerance in Poland, was a rare one by a Palestinian to the death camp site. Muslim officials from other countries have also paid respects there.

Last week the AP reported on plans for the trip and included the detail that Bandak was a Christian.

Ziad al-Bandak, a Christian who advises Abbas on Christian affairs, visited prisoner blocs, gas chambers and a crematorium in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, which the Germans built and operated in southern Poland during their World War II occupation of the country.

Does this nugget advance the story, or does it polarize it by adding a faith dimension to Holocaust denial and Anti-Semitism?

And, the invaluable MEMRI news service provided the full quote from the Hamas spokesman, which was much stronger than the version printed by Reuters. The report entitled “PA Official’s Auschwitz Visit Evokes Enraged Responses from Hamas” said:

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “The visit helped Israel to spread the lie of the Holocaust, and does not serve the Palestinian cause. It has been clearly proven that the Israeli narrative [of the Holocaust] is fraudulent. [The Israelis] exaggerate what happened in order to garner international sympathy, which for years has come at the expense of the Palestinians.”

The “lie of the Holocaust” quote is extraordinary. Its omission lowers the temperature of the story. But does the omission change the story?

The traditional school of Anglo-American journalism seeks to present the world as it is, seeking to separate the reporter’s worldview from the narrative. But is that possible? In the example I offered from my own work, I demonstrated how I sought to exercise editorial judgment in preparing a story. I led with the ashamed quote in the  JPost story because I did not believe it was dumb — but others might say that it was a foolish statement that distracted from the underlying story.

Omitting mention of the Christian faith of the Palestinian statesman and downplaying the severity of the Hamas quotes, Reuters chose to exercise its editorial judgment — letting us know what it believed was important. I disagree with this judgment. To my mind the faith of Ziad al-Bandak and his position as an adviser on Christian Affairs is significant to the story as it sets up the underlying split between Hamas and Fatah — Christians are under the gun in Gaza and reports place the blame on Hamas.

I would also argue that Reuters sanitized Barhoum’s words. A story about reactions to the visit would not have been distorted by Barhoum’s extraordinary, delusional — some would say evil — comments. What say you Get Religion readers? Did Reuters let down its readers? Should it have led with the “lie of the Holocaust” or was it right to downplay these sentiments? Is Reuters denying Hamas Holocaust denial?

First printed in Get Religion.

Somber celebrations in Sudan on the 1st anniversary of independence: The Church of England Newspaper, July 22, 2012, p 6. July 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Persecution, Politics.
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Anglican and Roman Catholic Church leaders in the Sudan have warned that relations between the National Islamist Front government in Khartoum and the SPLM government in Juba have “deteriorated to an unacceptable level” and that full scale war may soon erupt between North and South Sudan.

“We reject war as an option to resolve disputes, and we call on all parties to respect the cease-fire and to withdraw their forces from the border region,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, and Anglican Archbishop Daniel Deng of Juba on 9 July 2012 – the first anniversary of independence for South Sudan.

While the archbishops noted the blessings that peace and independence had brought to South Sudan, they voiced concern over tribal conflicts in South Sudan and the on-going civil wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as well as the persecution of Christians by the Khartoum government.

The archbishops also called upon the Khartoum government to honor its commitment to allow a referendum for the oil-rich Abyei state, and stated the unresolved disputes over territory had grave economic repercussions for the two countries.

“Oil is a God-given resource that the two Countries should benefit from,” said the two Archbishops.

“We call for a settlement based on international standards for the transportation of crude oil and to recognize the damage caused by the current impasse to the populations of both States. Prices are rising and there are shortages of essential goods, including fuel, which make life difficult for ordinary citizens.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Retired bishops named in UN report on Congo civil war: The Church of England Newspaper, July 22, p 6. July 23, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Rwanda, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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A report submitted to the United Nation’s Security Council claims two retired Anglican bishops have served as go-betweens for the Rwandan government and the Congolese rebel group M23.

In a report dated 26 June 2012, the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and Bishop John Rucyahana had facilitated talks between the government and rebel leaders.

The Group of Experts reported that the Rwandan Government had broken the arms embargo by providing “material and financial support to armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the recently established M23, in contravention of paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 1807 (2008).”

The 48 page report detailed numerous violations of the U.N. embargo citing.  It accused the Rwandan Government of providing “Direct assistance in the creation of M23 through the transport of weapons and soldiers through Rwandan territory; Recruitment of Rwandan youth and demobilized ex-combatants as well as Congolese refugees for M23; Provision of weapons and ammunition to M23; Mobilization and lobbying of Congolese political and financial leaders for the benefit of M23; Direct Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) interventions into Congolese territory to reinforce M23; Support to several other armed groups as well as Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) mutinies in the eastern Congo; Violation of the assets freeze and travel ban through supporting sanctioned individuals.”

The Group of Experts stated two Anglican bishops had convened a meeting organized by the Rwandan Defence Forces for leaders of the CNDP – the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, CNDP  is a political armed militia established by Laurent Nkunda in the Kivu region in 2006 that under the terms of the recent peace accord is to be integrated into the Congolese army.  The Group of Experts further identified the two bishops as “senior members” of Rwanda’s ruling government party.

Paragraph 29 of the report stated in part:

“Another similar M23 meeting with Rwandan authorities took place on 26 May 2012 in Ruhengeri, Rwanda, at Hotel Ishema. According to intelligence sources and to politicians with close ties to Kigali, the RDF organized the meeting for CNDP politicians, which was chaired by Bishops John Rucyahana and Coline, both senior RPF party leaders. The aim of the meeting was to convey the message that the Rwandan Government supports M23 politically and militarily. All Rwandophone politicians and officers were instructed to join M23, or otherwise leave the Kivus. In particular, CNDP politicians have been asked to resign from the North Kivu Governorate and to withdraw from the Presidential Majority.”

On 27 June the Rwandan Foreign Minister refuted the assertions of collusion between her government and Congolese rebel groups.  Louise Mushikiwabo said that it was deeply regrettable that the “media frenzy over Rwanda’s alleged involvement in the DRC”  had forced the “hasty publication of an interim report without giving the government the opportunity to analyse its contents and respond in a systematic fashion.”

“This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification,” she said, adding the “UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda’s own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November.”

Bishops Rucyahana and Kolini did not respond to our email requests for comments or clarification to the claims made in the Group of Experts report.  However, the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR) told The Church of England Newspaper that it was not involved, nor aware of the incidents cited in the report.  PEAR was a church for all the people of Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus, a spokesman said and was committed to staying out of politics.  To link the church with state politics was “untrue” and “unfair”.

Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje said: “We were not aware of the UN report or any involvement of our retired Bishops as contained in the report. PEAR is in the Proclamation of the Gospel and not in politics between two countries or simply put in politics. We are not able to comment on the report or the names therein.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christians afraid in Egypt: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 6. July 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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Dr. Mouneer Anis

The Anglican Church in Egypt accepts the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Mohammed Mursi as president, but prays that he will honour his pledge to abide by the country’s secular constitution.

In a statement given to The Church of England Newspaper on 24 June 2012, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis said Christians are “praying for Mursi, and we hope that he will fulfill his promises.”

On 24 June the head of the Higher Presidential Election Commission, Farouq Sultan, said Dr. Mursi had won 13,230,131 votes (51.73 per cent) former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s 12,347,380.

In a nationally televised speech, the new president said: “Today I am a president for all Egyptians, wherever they may be.”

“I call on you, great people of Egypt,” he said, “to strengthen our national unity.”

The uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak will carry on “until all the objectives of the revolution are achieved and together we will complete this march. The people have been patient long enough,” Dr. Mursi said.

Dr. Anis noted that Dr. Mursi had “promised to be a president for all Egyptians, to appoint a prime minister who is not from the Muslim Brotherhood, and moreover he promised to appoint a Christian vice-president.”

“He made these promises to calm the widespread anxiety of the moderate Muslims and the Christians, who were hoping for a secular government. It is worth mentioning that over the last eight months, the Muslim Brotherhood has lost a lot of support because when they became the biggest party in the Egyptian parliament, they tried to dominate the committee which was responsible for writing the constitution. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood promised that they would not nominate a presidential candidate; however they changed their mind and nominated Mursi. They also did not give any attention over the last year to the hardships of the Christians in Egypt. All of these reasons were behind the narrow margin in today’s election results,” the bishop said.

The “fear now” is the new president will not honour his promises, the bishop said.  “If Egypt became an Islamic state, this will mean that Christians will be marginalized” and “some writers express their fears that if the Muslim Brotherhood gained control of Egypt, they will stay in power for more than 100 years.”

“The High Military Council, being aware of this anxiety, took several decisions last week to limit the authority of the incoming president, and to ensure that Egypt stays as a secular state,” the bishop said.

“I am aware that some Western governments are critical of these decisions; however we see them as important measures to guarantee a secular state,” Dr. Anis said, noting the church “will continue to speak out if there is any deviation in our democratic journey. We trust in God and His promises in the middle of this uncertainty and anxiety. He promised that the gates of Hades will never overcome His church. Please pray for our beloved country Egypt.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishops’ ‘no’ to gay marriage in Australia: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012 p 5. June 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Marriage, Politics.
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Peter Jensen

The Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox archbishops of Sydney have urged Christians to reject gay marriage. The “revolutionary re-definition” of marriage was not “inevitable”, Dr. Peter Jensen said in his 17 June 2012 letter, but those “who wish to stand for marriage, as instituted by God, would thoughtfully and courteously let their views be known to their Federal parliamentary representatives.”

In separate letters read to congregations last Sunday, Dr. Jensen, Cardinal George Pell, and Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis called for the rejection of two private members bills that will amend the Marriage Act introducing same-sex marriage.  A social policy and legal affairs committee inquiry report was presented to Parliament on 18 June, but declined to endorse or reject the bills introduced by Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt and Labor MP Stephen Jones.

Archbishop Stylianos urged Orthodox Christians to lobby their representatives in government to vote against the bill.  The proposed legislation was ”diametrically against” the teachings of the Christian faith and Greek Orthodox tradition and must be stopped, he said.

Cardinal Pell told Catholics that said same-sex relationships were “contrary to God’s plan for sexuality.”  The proposed amendments to the Marriage Act would harm Australia.  “Instead of removing discrimination and injustice, [it] will cause them.”

A spokesman for Australian Marriage Equality Alex Greenwich responded the churches’ views were behind the times.  ”With polls showing a majority of Australian Christians support marriage equality and with prominent Christians … and a growing number of clergy endorsing the reform, I don’t expect many people will be influenced by their priest this Sunday,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

In his letter, Dr Jensen urged Anglicans to “oppose this move as out of keeping both with the word of God and also of the best interests of our community.”

The Anglican archbishop opened his letter by saying it was important that the debate must be civil.  “God’s love for all teaches us that we must not be glib or unfeeling as we discuss, pray and act according to our convictions.”

But civility should not be construed as weakness.  “Christians are led by the word of God itself to bear witness to our strong commitment to marriage understood as the public joining of two persons of the opposite sex from different birth families through promises of enduring, sustaining and exclusive love, consummated in sexual union.”

Marriage “is one of God’s blessings upon us as a race” the archbishop said, for “through it God allows for the pure expression of our sexual natures, for the faithful companionship of one we love and the opportunity for the nurture of children.”

It was a “tragedy” he said that “marriage is so little understood or honoured and that so many people are denying themselves or others the experience of a public commitment and life-long union.”

“The education of children must not be distorted by the state-imposed idea that a family can be founded on the sexual union of two men or two women as a valid alternative to that of a man and a woman,” Dr. Jensen said, as the call for changing the law “only adds to the confusion by taking a God-given social institution for the creation and nurture of families and extending it to those who by God’s design and by nature cannot be married to each other.”

“This is not a matter of ‘marriage equality’ nor of human rights, since the right to be married extends equally, but only to those who are qualified,” he said.

Debate on the bills is not expected until year’s end, however, as its supporters concede they do not have sufficient support to pass the amendments to the Marriage Act at this time.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Think twice about a republic, Jamaican bishop warns: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 6. June 15, 2012

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Dr. Howard Gregory

The Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands has urged Jamaicans to think carefully before backing the Caribbean island government’s plans for a republic.

In a service at St. Andrew’s Parish Church in Kingston marking the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen on 10 June 2012, the Rt. Rev. & Hon. Howard Gregory stated the “zeal” to become a republic would not solve the country’s political problems.

“Today, our nation now finds itself at the crossroads as we seek to continue the historical process of self-identity and self-definition, which was consolidated in our attainment of Independence in 1962. Fifty years later, we now seek to take a further step by taking the inevitable step towards becoming a republic.”

“I believe that in our zeal, we run the real risk of discrediting the monarchical system of governance which has brought us thus far. While we do so in a political culture, which is increasingly cynical and despairing of political leadership and governance, we need to be extremely careful that we do not evaluate the system which has brought us thus far with such negativity, if not impoliteness and ungraciousness,” the bishop said.

Drawing upon middle class fiscal discontent the People’s National Party (PNP) led by Portia Miller-Simpson trounced the ruling conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the 29 December 2011 election.  While the swing toward the PNP was only 3.7 per cent, with only 60,000 votes separating the parties out of 800,000 cast, the PNP won the majority of closely contested districts, giving it 42 seats to the JLP’s 21 in parliament.

Among its campaign pledges, the PNP promised to break its current ties with the UK and establish a republic in time for the 50th anniversary of independence celebration.

Speaking at a beacon lighting ceremony in downtown Kingston last week in celebration of the Jubilee, Mrs. Simpson-Miller affirmed her government’s desire to become a republic.  But she added that Jamaica will always hold the monarchy in high esteem and valued its membership in the Commonwealth.

However, in his Jubilee sermon Bishop Gregory questioned the moves toward a republic, and lauded the Queen’s service to her subjects.

“Having assumed the throne, which was thrust upon her by circumstances that were not of her making, … she has brought to the monarchy … singleness of purpose, dedication and sensitivity to her people, often a resounding theme in her Christmas messages and on the occasion of her visit to various nations. She has also brought a level of humanity and public engagement as much as the office has allowed as head of a royal household and of a realm,” the bishop said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop warns of unmet expectations in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper, May 27, 2012 p 7. June 4, 2012

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The loosening of restrictions on civil liberties by the Myanmar government may prompt a social and spiritual crisis for Burma, Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo said last week while on a visit to London.

While he welcomed changed, the archbishop said it was creating expectations that could not be met.

The archbishop welcomed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma’s parliamentary victories last month, but have warned that a great deal of work lies ahead for the new government and the Burmese people.

In just the third election the country has held in the last 50 years the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested. NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the vote as a “new era” for Burma.  Since October 2011, the regime has released several hundred political prisoners, relaxed press restrictions and opened space for civil society groups.

However, there several hundred political prisoners remain in jail, repressive laws remain in force and the Constitution has not yet been amended to allow political freedoms. Although the government has negotiated some cease-fire agreements with some ethnic groups to end fifty years of civil war, no national political dialogue with Burma’s ethnic nationalities has yet been initiated.

The NLD will be a minority party in a parliament that is dominated by representatives of the military junta and its political allies.  Of the 664 seats in parliament, the military is allotted 25 per cent of the seats and the junta controls a further 55 per cent of the seats.

“We want change, but it’s happening too fast,” the archbishop said.

“Many people are coming into the country – business people in search of profits, tourists, and many others – and restrictions are opening up. This will change the lifestyle of the Burmese people,” the archbishop said during a visit to the USPG.

“Over the years our people have acquired a peaceful mind; we are used to a simple lifestyle and have learned to cope with limited opportunities. We have been able to stand up to pressure and poverty, but now I worry that we won’t be able to stand up to western values,” he said, adding that the “new lifestyle coming into the country is based on individualism, consumerism, modernism, liberalism and competition for jobs and resources. The poverty gap will become bigger.”

The archbishop also warned of a clash of agendas of aid agencies entering the country and Burmese society.

“There are many NGOs that want to work with us on health and education. They do similar work, but their agendas are different, which is difficult for us. The way they approach development is new to us and we don’t understand which approach is best. We are confused. We need help,” the archbishop said.

“Myanmar is at the crossroad of big change. It is more important than ever that people remember us in prayer,” Archbiship Myint Oo said.

He also thanked the USPG for its on-going support for the church in Burma. The foundations of the Church of the Province of Myanmar were laid by SPG missionaries who first came out to Burma in 1854. The Diocese of Rangoon was formed in 1877 as part of the Province of Calcutta.

In 1966 the seventh Bishop of Rangoon, the Rt. Rev. Victor G. Shearburn along with all foreign missionaries were expelled by the Burma’s ruling military junta, and Suffragan Bishop Francis Ah Mya became the first ethnic Burmese diocesan bishop. Bishop Mya oversaw the move to independence from the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon and became the first Archbishop of Rangoon and Primate of Burma in 1970.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop closes Kenya’s pulpits to politicians: The Church of England Newspaper, May 27, 2012 p 7. May 31, 2012

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Archbishop Eliud Wabukala

The Primate of Kenya, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala has asked the country’s Anglican clergy to eschew partisan politics in the run up to the country’s General Elections and close their pulpits to politics.

Speaking at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi on 20 May 2012, Archbishop Wabukala said the Anglican Church of Kenya will “remain non-partisan.”

“Politicians who want to divide Kenyans on tribal lines should be discouraged at all costs,” and not be allowed to speak from church pulpits in support of their political agendas as “we are aware that some of them may not mean well.”

In March the Kenyan electoral commission set 4 March 2013 as the date for the next presidential and parliamentary elections.  It will be the first general election since the 2007 vote that triggered factional and ethnic fighting that left 1,220 people dead, and triggered indictments of several prominent Kenyan political figures by the International Criminal Court.

It will also be the first election since the east African country adopted a new constitution.

President Mwai Kibaki, who is barred from seeking a third term of office, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, had been at loggerheads over the date of the election.  In January the country’s High Court ruled the next elections should be held in 2013 and not in August 2012 as required by the constitution.  However, if the coalition government formed by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga collapses, an early vote may be held.

During the 2007 elections, a number of ACK bishops gave their public support to political groups – which are predominantly tribal based.  This prompted sharp criticism from the wider Kenyan church and soul searching over the role of bishops, tribe and politics.

“We must embrace humility and become wiser as the country nears the General Elections,” Archbishop Wabukala told the congregation of All Saints Cathedral on Sunday,” and “we will not allow the church pulpits be used by politicians to attack each other.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Gay marriage and the French Catholic vote: Get Religion, May 17, 2012 May 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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In light of the media’s fascination with interplay between sex, the Catholic Church and politics, I am always surprised at its lack of curiosity when these worlds collide overseas.

The 6 May 2012 French presidential election is a case in point. Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande captured 18 million votes to incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 16.8 million: 51.64 per cent to 48.36 per cent. The role religion played in the election has received little play in the U.S. save for conservative bloggers, who reported that 93 per cent of France’s 2 million Muslim voters went for Hollande.

Some liberal blogs are warning of the resurgence of a Catholic far right. Writing in the Huffington Post, Eric Margolis argued the National Front was one of the winners in the election, as a Socialist government would invigorate the conservative fringe parties at the expense of Sarkozy’s center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party.

But the National Front — xenophobic, racist, violently anti-Muslim and anti-Europe — is poison to moderate French and many members of the UMP. To no surprise, UMP may split, or disintegrate, over the issue of joining forces with the National Front, seen by many French as a reborn fascist movement. In fact, it’s not really fascist, but an avatar of the old 1940 far-right, ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic movement.

It may very well transpire that a Socialist victory will empower the parties of the far right, but I believe Margolis is off the mark in lumping the far-right with the ultra-Catholic movement (and what exactly is the ultra-Catholic movement anyway?). As I noted in a pre-election post, the French Catholic Church did not endorse any one candidate for the election, but it made it clear that the policies of the National Front were not supported by the Church.

The first article I have seen that looked into how Catholics voted came in the Catholic weekly, La Vie — and its results were a surprise as they closely matched observations made by the editor of GetReligion Terry Mattingly about the American Catholic vote.

Roman Catholics who “go to mass as least once a month” voted 4 to 1 in favor of Sarkozy: 79 per cent to 21 per cent, according to a poll commissioned by Le Vie and conducted by the Harris Institute. Catholics who went to Mass less than once a month, voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent for Sarkozy. Those who self-identified as Catholics but who did not attend mass showed the same voting patters as the French population at large. Those who identified themselves as atheists voted 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favor of Hollande.

In an odd twist to the conventional media wisdom, Sarkozy increased his margins among mass-going Catholics in this election form 70 per cent in 2005 to 79 per cent this month. What was odd about this increase was that Hollande campaigned on a theme of personal probity — fostering a dour frugal image in contrast to the flamboyant Sarkozy.

Gay marriage was one of the reasons for the Catholic rejection of Hollande, the survey found. In an interview with the French gay-oriented glossy magazine TÊTU Hollande stated he would honor the PS’s campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and gay adoption — measures rejected by the UMP-dominated French parliament in 2011. The Harris survey found that mass-going Catholics were not keen on France’s new Socialist President because he was “in favor of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.”

Last month the LA Times reported that:

A recent poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that 64% of French disapproved of Sarkozy. That’s higher even than the rating for the unpopular Valery Giscard d’Estaing during his tenure. Giscard was the last president to lose his reelection bid, in 1981.

The truth is that Sarkozy, 57, has never succeeded in shaking off the negative impression he made at the beginning of his five-year term, that the conservative leader was the “president of the rich.” That image plays badly, especially given that a few months after he took office, the global recession hit, leading to belt-tightening measures.

Before the 2007 election, he had hinted that he would go into retreat in the days before the transfer of power to consider how to lead France. Instead, he threw a party at Fouquet’s, one of the most ostentatious restaurants in France. Then he spent a few days vacationing in the Mediterranean on the yacht of a billionaire businessman friend.

Sarkozy, the French were told, had no hang-ups about celebrity or money; instead of reassuring them, however, the flashy watches and aviator sunglasses simply cemented his reputation as the “bling-bling” president.

Distaste among French voters concerned with social values — the segment were most mass-going Catholic voters can be found — for Sarkozy’s lifestyle appears not to have translated into more votes for Hollande.

La Vie explained the “massive” move to the right by practicing Catholics by stating:

Among the many factors to consider – sociological, economic and cultural – should undoubtedly include anthropological and ethical convictions of these strong Christians.

And for French Catholics gay marriage appeared to be key amongst these convictions. The American Catholic voter matrix created by Tmatt — with the Catholic vote divided amongst Ex-Catholics, Cultural Catholics, Sunday-morning American Catholics and “Sweats the details” Roman Catholic — appears to hold true for France also.

It may be that the sort of article that looks at the big picture of values voters is beyond a newspaper and lies in the realm of a monthly. However, I would welcome an acknowledgement in the American press that the issues that animate our political debates are not unique to these shores.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is this merely interesting ephemera, or a news angle that should be developed further?

First published in GetReligion.