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Anglican funeral for Chinua Achebe: The Church of England Newspaper, May 26, 2013 p 6. May 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Syncretism.
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Chinua Achebe

A tug-of-war over the body and reputation of Nobel laureate Chinua Achebe is underway Nigeria.

The Punch newspaper reports the Church of Nigeria has declined to turn over the remains of the author of Things Fall Apart — the most widely read book in modern African literature  – to the tribal leaders of the Ogidi community in Anambra State in the Niger Delta for burial.

The body of Prof. Achebe, who died on 21 March 2013 in the United States, is to be buried on 23 May 2013 in Ogidi.  President Goodluck Jonathan and other Nigerian leaders are expected to attend the ceremony at St. Philip’s Anglican Church. However Chief S. Okoli, the Regent of Ogidi, said that as Prof. Achebe was a “titled man” he would be buried according to Igbo customs, his body line state in a yam barn attended by “daughters of the clan” and buried at midnight.

However the novelist’s family said Prof. Achebe was a devout Christian and would have preferred a church burial. Nor would his wife be required to perform the tribal rituals for widow at the time of the death of her husband, the novelist’s niece Mrs. Ngozi Ezedum told Punch. The Church of Nigeria had abolished the “widowhood rites because they were repugnant to good conscience” she said, adding her aunt would not be required to shave her head, drink the water used to bathe her husband’s corpse, sit on the floor and sleep in the same room with the body until the funeral.

“She will not even wear any mourning clothes black or white. The Anglican Church doesn’t want that anymore,” Mrs. Ezedum said.

CNN’s Sonora satanists scare: GetReligion, April 3 2012. April 3, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Syncretism.
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Maaro maaro sooar ko… (“Kill, kill, kill the pig…”): Mola Ram.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

Black and white — that is the way Hollywood likes its movies. By this I do not mean film stock but story line. Nazis are cinema gold. They will always be with us on the silver screen as they represent unrepentant evil. Steven Spielberg has been able to work Nazis into two of his Indiana Jones films, while the third saw a less well known, but equally unambiguous evil — the Thuggees and their high priest Mola Ram.

Spielberg took the story of the thugees, an Indian cult who worshiped the goddess of death — Kali — by murdering travelers and other unsuspecting victims, and mixed in a good helping of Aztec human sacrifice and devil worship to come up with a wonderful hiss-worthy villain.

Reading an article in CNN International this week on the murders of three people by members of the Santa Muerte cult brought this film to mind. The CNN presentation of Santa Muerte I found to be as flat and over the top as Spielberg’s thuggees. But what is praise worthy in a children’s movie is not always so in reporting.

The CNN story entitled “Officials: 3 killed as human sacrifices in Mexico” opens with:

Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Sonora have arrested eight people accused of killing two boys and one woman as human sacrifices for Santa Muerte — the saint of death — officials said Friday.

The victims, two of whom were age 10, were killed and their blood was offered at an altar to the saint, according to Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for state prosecutors. The accused were asking the saint, who is generally portrayed as a skeleton dressed in a long robe and carrying a scythe, for protection, he said.

Santa Muerte is a favorite among criminals and the country’s drug traffickers. The saint, though not recognized by the Catholic Church, has taken off in popularity in recent years.

Details of the case were laid out in a statement from the Sonora State Investigative Police (PEI), which described the cult as a “Satanic sect.”

The CNN story gives a surface description of what images of the saint look like, but does not anchor it to any bottom in the Mexican religious and cultural mileu. For an American reader the language, the nouns and adjectives used in this story are Christian — saint, Satanic, Catholic Church, altar. Yet, CNN also says the “saint” is “not recognized by the Catholic Church.” Which means what, exactly? Is this another St Christopher or St George — popular saints removed from the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church in 1969 because their historicity was doubtful?

What I find more troubling, however, is the assumption in the CNN story that ritual murder is normative in Santa Muerte. Are all devotees of Santa Muerte bloodthirsty killers?

A confusion of language in the CNN story dulls this story’s impact. Compare it to the work of Adriana Gomez Licon and Felipe Larios of the Associated Press. They have done an outstanding job in reporting the facts, motives and police theories surrounding the ritual murders of two young boys and a middle-aged woman near the town of Nacozari. It avoids the sensationalism of the CNN lede by beginning its story with a look at the suspected murderers and then brings in Santa Muerte.

It was a family people took pity on, one the government and church helped with free food, used clothes, and farm animals. The men were known as trash pickers. Some of the women were suspected of prostitution.

Mexican prosecutors are investigating the poor family living in shacks outside a small town near the U.S. border as alleged members of a cult that sacrificed two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman to Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, a figure adored mostly by outlaws but whose popularity is growing across Mexico and among Hispanics in the United States.

The killings have shocked the copper mining village of Nacozari, on the edge of the Sierra Madre, and may be the first ritual sacrifices linked to the popular saint condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Known as “flaquita,” or “the skinny one,” the figure known as Saint Death is portrayed as a skeleton wearing a hooded robe and holding a scythe, much like the Grim Reaper.

In addition to developing the crime angle, the AP story, entitled “Mexican agents probe family in 3 ritual murders” in the version run in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, also brings in expert voices to speak about Santa Muerte.

Before last week, there have only been unconfirmed reports of human sacrifices related to the figure in Mexico in recent years, said R. Andrew Chesnut, chairman of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the book “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint.”

Chesnut said the 2007 shooting deaths of three men appeared to be related to Santa Muerte because the bodies were abandoned at a shrine to the figure outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo. But they showed no signs of being sacrificial killings.

He said that although most Santa Muerte devotees consider killing a “Satanic aberration of devotion,” and that books about the Santa Muerte don’t mention human sacrifice, some followers are extreme.

“With no clerical authority to stop them, some practitioners engage in aberrant and even abhorrent rituals,” Chesnut said.

The bottom line for this expert is that mainstream Santa Muerte believers would consider ritual murder to be an aberration.

When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released in 1984 it was briefly banned in India for what was perceived to be a “racist portrayal of Indians and overt imperialistic tendencies.” The CNN story does not rise to this level, but I am nonetheless troubled by its failure to distinguish between aberrant forms of Santa Muerte and the wider religious movement.

Would a story whose main characters professed a mainstream faith be treated the same way as this Santa Muerte story? When all Muslims are tarred with a broad-brush of being Islamist terrorists, or all Christians as intolerant fanatics by the antics of Fred Phelps — intelligent readers rightly complain that this is ludicrous. Yet CNN appears to be able to get away with this sort of hasty generalization about an unpalatable and somewhat far away religious movement.

First printed in GetReligion.

Santeria, Catholicism and Cuba: Get Religion, March 10, 2012 March 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church, Syncretism.
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What is a Catholic Cuban? Or, better yet, who can be a Catholic in Cuba? An Associated Press story that looks at the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba through the prism of his refusal to meet with Santeria leaders makes some claims on these points. But are they valid?

I’m not so sure. The article entitled “Cuban Santeros wary of Pope visit after JPII snub” in the version printed in the Seattle Times is confusing. It has an odd array of assumptions about how religion works. The story also has an anti-Catholic, perhaps I should say anti-clerical pro-regime tone — its choice of verbs and the sentence/argument structure makes clear the dislike the authors feel for the Vatican.

But it is the binary view of faith practices and of cultures in the first half of the story that does not strike me as being true to the Cuban experience. The second half of the story offers the voices of experts who see speak to the transcultural nature of religion in Cuba, but this is then followed by boilerplate language that could have come from Granma (the party newspaper.) There is a feel of a committee’s hand in the writing of this story — several minds (who do not agree) at work.

The story opens …

They cast snail shells to read their fortunes, proudly wear colorful necklaces to ward off illness, dress all in white and dance in “bata” drum ceremonies.

But although their Afro-Cuban Santeria religion owes much to Roman Catholicism, many are decidedly unenthusiastic about Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 tour of Cuba, even if it is being hailed as a watershed moment for a church seeking to boost its influence on this Communist-run island.

Santero priests still remember the last time a pontiff came to town – and flatly refused to meet with them. They are expecting no better treatment this time, and some are openly disappointed.

Their religion is by far the most popular on the island, with adherents outnumbering practicing mainstream Catholics 8-1.

The article offers some historical background noting that while John Paul II met with the leaders of other faiths during his 1998 visit to Cuba, he “never deigned to meet with the Santeria practitioners.”

The article goes on to report that:

Experts say as many as 80 percent of islanders observe some kind of Afro-Cuban religion, be it Santeria, which is more properly known as Regla de Ocha-Ifaor, or one of its lesser-known siblings. Practicing Catholics number fewer than 10 percent, and as elsewhere in Latin America, that share is under assault from conversions to Protestant and evangelical denominations.

The AP reports that the Catholic Church does not believe Santeria has an “institutional leadership” with which the Vatican could engage and quotes a statement made by the Vatican press office that Santeria “is not a church” in the traditional sense. The article adds that …

A decision not to meet with Santeros is in keeping with Benedict’s history of vehement opposition to any whiff of syncretism – the combining of different beliefs and practices – on the ground that it could somehow imply that all faiths are equal.

The article shifts its ground at this point. It notes there is no leadership structure in Santeria that could meet with the pope, and that Santeros are not excluded from the Catholic Church.

Scholars say Santeria, which was imported to Cuba through slaves brought from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, remains on the political margins due to its scattered, nonhierarchical nature, centuries of taboo and the latent racism that keeps Afro-Cuban faiths from being fully accepted in the fraternity of religions.

“Santeria is as much a religion as any other,” said University of Havana ethnologist Maria Ileana Faguaga Iglesias. But “its structure is not vertical; it does not have a maximum leader, it has no buildings and it has never been part of any political power.”

… “At the time of the 1998 visit, the official line of the cardinal, and I think the church generally, was that people who practice Santeria are Catholics,” said Quigley, a former Latin America policy adviser at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “They are just another – maybe deviant, but not absolutely heretical or schismatic – form.”

The article then closes on a grating note. John Paul II’s decision not to meet with Santeria leaders was:

just another sign that on an island with a white majority, some still see it as a slave-barracks faith, an idea that goes against Cuban ideals of respect for diversity.

John Paul’s decision to ignore the Santeros, Cuesta said, was a decision “to deny our national patrimony … brought to us by men in chains who arrived as slaves in this country.”

Let’s move from the minor to major points.

Language. The use of derogatory verbs and adjectives indicates a disdain for the Catholic position. The pope did not “deign” to meet with Santeros, or incredulity that Benedict would not believe that “all faiths are equal”, are just a few examples of this tone — as is the nasty close.

Racism. The charge of pervasive racism in Cuban society is tossed out twice, but the story closes with the statement about “Cuban ideals of respect for diversity.” Which is it? What is being implied? Is Cuba a racist society that promotes ideals of respect for diversity? How does that work?

The article would have been better served by offering discussion or the role of race rather than working from an assumption. Are the majority of practicing Catholics of European descent? Are Santeros of African descent? How many black or mestizo Catholic priests are there in Cuba? While racism may be understood by a Cuban reader, will an AP reader understand its importance?

Numbers. What is the source for the statement that 80 per cent of Cubans follow some form of Santeria? The numbers are defensible, but are not defended. The U.S. State Department in its 2011 religious freedom report on Cuba notes:

There was no independent authoritative source on the size or composition of religious institutions and their membership. The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 60 to 70 percent of the population is Catholic.

Some sources estimate that as much as 80 percent of the population consults with practitioners of religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River basin, known as Santería. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some even require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately total membership of these syncretistic groups.

… Catholic Church officials estimated that its membership was seven to eight million persons but that only 4 to 5 percent of baptized Catholics regularly attended Mass, while membership in Protestant churches was estimated at 600,000 to 800,000 (out of a population of 11.5 million).

The article should have spelled this out by reference to sources. The experts say, without saying which experts, doesn’t work when you are making a controversial point.

Syncretism. And the controversial point is the relationship between Catholicism and Santeria. By saying that 80 per cent of the population follow Santeria, but “practicing Catholics number fewer than 10 percent” of the population, the story is making an either/or statement about Cuban religion. This perspective comes from a Western ethnocentrism and European anthropology for Cuba.

There is a sense in this article that religions of African origin such as Santeria are amoral (not immoral), meaning they are deprived of regulatory values. While the article does not use the word “cult” to describe Santeria, but calls it a “religion”, the story frames Santeria as a fetish, not a faith.

Now I am making assumptions here which may be as dubious as those I see in the story. But I see this view as arising from the application of Western values to a culture that has an entirely different worldview. Santeria, and its related Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Caribbean faiths, has a system of values based on the balance of all forces of good and evil. Its cosmology focuses on life on earth and has little concern for eschatology.

I would argue that it is this balance of concerns — life on earth, the life to come — that allows 80 per cent of the Cuban population to practice some form of Santeria and for the Catholic Church to claim 60 to 70 per cent of the Cuban population as members. From a Western perspective lax religiosity implies religious indifference. Should this judgment be applied to Cuba?

Are mass-going Catholics the only true Catholics? Was the article justified in using religion observance statistics to advance an argument about faith? How can journalists report on a fluid religious scene for readers coming from a fixed religious landscape?

What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Ghost marriages split Sudanese diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2011 p 9. June 27, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Secession, Syncretism.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Tribal jealousies and theological tensions have split the Episcopal Church of the Sudan’s Diocese of Bor.  On June 13, the day after Archbishop Daniel Deng consecrated Bishop Ruben Akurdit Ngong, supporters of his defeated rival in the May 14 election announced they were quitting the Episcopal Church to form the Lutheran Church of Sudan.

In a letter given to the new bishop, five dissident clergymen protested the lack of spiritual and physical development in the diocese.  The five also denounced the diocese’s toleration of “Ghost marriages”, saying the Nuer tribal custom was incompatible with Christian teaching.

A form of levirate marriage, Ghost marriages among the Nuer tribe occur when a married male dies before he is able to produce a son.  Tribal custom dictates that an unmarried male relative of the deceased stand in as husband until a male heir is born.  No formal marriage ceremony is contracted, and the dead husband continues to be regarded as the head of the family—and any issue from the ghost marriage are recognized as being the children of the deceased.


Once a male heir is born, the ghost marriage ends and the man is freed to start his own family—but remains obligated to provide for the deceased’s family.


Anthropologists believe the custom serves economic and religious ends for Nuer.  The dead man’s wealth remain within his own family and his widow is protected from economic hardship.

The Nuer also believe that unless a man produces a male heir, his ghost will haunt his family bringing misfortune if no son was produced in his name.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has seen several schisms over the past 25 years.   In 1986 the first Primate of the Sudan, Archbishop Elinana Ja’bi Ngalamu, refused to step down when he reached the age of mandatory retirement.  The House of Bishops subsequently elected a new primate, Archbishop Benjamin Wani Yugusuk, but quickly split with bishops dividing on tribal lines in support of the two primates.

Archbishop George Carey was able to resolve the schism in 1992 and reconcile the two factions.  However, in December 2003, two deposed bishops led by the former Bishop of Rumbeck, the Rt. Rev. Gabriel Roric Jur formed the Reformed Episcopal Church of the Sudan (RECS).  In 2004 the RECS split and five of its bishops led by Bishop John Machar Thon of Duk Diocese formed the Anglican Church of the Sudan (ACS).

A further schism within the ACS occurred when the ACS Bishop of Rumbek Abraham Mayom Athian broke away to form his own Anglican Church of Sudan in Rumbek.  The newly styled Archbishop Mayon has consecrated at least ten bishops for his church, sources in Sudan tell The Church of England Newspaper.

This month’s schism in Bor is notable in that instead of forming a fifth Anglican Church in South Sudan, the dissidents are forming the country’s first Lutheran Church.

Controversy rages of Haiti’s ‘devil pact’ accusation: CEN 1.22.10 p 7. January 25, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Haiti, Syncretism.
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Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster and onetime presidential candidate, has sparked controversy in the United States for his comments blaming last week’s Haitian earthquake on the country’s pact with the devil.

Robertson, who in 2005 linked Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States to the country’s legalization of abortion and its moral decadence, suggested Haiti’s sufferings were self-inflicted.

Following a fund raising segment for victims of the Haiti earthquake broadcast on The 700 Club on Jan 14, Robertson said “something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French,” he said “and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story, and so the Devil said OK it’s a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they’ve been cursed by one thing after another and are desperately poor.”

Haiti is in “desperate poverty,” he said, and “we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy. I’m optimistic something good may come but right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable,” Robertson said.

While the theology behind Robertson’s observation has been roundly criticized, the “pact to the devil” he described was a reference to the Bois Caïman ceremony that took place at the start of the Haitian Revolution in 1791.

At a meeting in the Caïman forest outside the modern city of Cap Haitien a group of slave leaders gathered in 1791 to plan a revolt against the island’s white planters and free mixed-race population.

The conspirators closed their meeting with the invocation of prayers by a voodoo priest, Dutty Boukman, who allegedly urged slaves to “throw away the image of the god of the whites who thirsts for our tears and listen to the voice of liberty that speaks in the hearts of all of us.”

The ceremony was concluded by the sacrifice of a pig, whose blood was mixed with human blood and drank by the celebrants, who offered oaths of secrecy and loyalty. While over 95 per cent of Haiti’s population is Christian, a majority are said also to believe in Voodoo—and the imagery of Haiti’s curse through its pact with the devil is recounted in times of national turmoil.

The response to Robertson’s comments from American religious leaders was uniformly negative. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler observed that Robertson’s remarks were “theological arrogance matched to ignorance.”

Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay, who interviewed Robertson for Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, told Christianity Today the controversial broadcaster “continues to distinguish himself as American evangelicalism’s most flamboyant spokesperson. When tragedies strike, people naturally ask questions about why bad things happen to the innocent, and millions of Americans see the hand of God or the devil at work in natural calamities,” Lindsay said.

“But few religious leaders today draw the kinds of explicit connection as Pat Robertson has done with the Haitian earthquake. Robertson’s comments reflect as much his rhetorical flourish and skill as a ratings booster as they do his theology.”

African clergy go on strike as Archbishop sacked: CEN 6.12.09 p 6. June 13, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church, Syncretism.
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The Roman Catholic clergy of the Central Africa Republic (CAR) staged a one day strike last week to protest the removal by the Vatican of the Archbishop of Bangui, Msgr. Paulin Pomodimo, for violating his vow of chastity.

Appointed to oversee the country’s nine Roman Catholic dioceses in 2003, the 54 year old archbishop resigned on May 27 after he was found by the Vatican to possess “a moral attitude which is not always in conformity with his commitments to follow Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience.” The archbishop’s resignation follows that of the former president of CAR’s episcopal conference, Bishop François-Xavier Yombandje of Bossangoa, who stepped down on May 16 after a Vatican fact finding mission faulted him for having a common law wife.

Meeting at Bangui’s cathedral, the CAR clergy voted to strike in protest to a “lack of consultation” over the appointment of a new archbishop, prompting the closing of all parishes and the suspension of all religious services and sacramental acts.

In March the Rev. Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, toured the CAR and issued a scathing report on clergy discipline. The French language Bangui newspaper, Le Confident on May 20 published extracts of a letter written by Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to the CAR bishops stating that numerous “bad things” had been done to the Body of Christ through the clergy’s “poor and scandalous comportment.”

The cardinal’s letter said it was “pointless” to deny the accusations of widespread unchastity, nor was there a need to judge the motives or circumstances behind the “evil that has been committed.” Bishops, priests and religious in the CAR had “in one way or another” been accomplices in the scandal and each “shall assume his own culpability proportionally to his own responsibility,” Le Confident reported.

A majority of Roman Catholic parish priests in the CAR have common law wives, local news agency i.media reported and Archbishop Pomodimo and Bishop Yombandje were “reportedly suspected of frequenting women and having children.”

Clergy spokesman Fr. Mathurin Paze Lekissan said the strike was called off after one day to avoid “depriving Christians of the divine word and the body of Christ.”

The CIA World Factbook estimates the former French colony’s religious demography to be 25 percent Roman Catholic, 25 percent Protestant Christian, 15 percent Muslim and 35 percent animist. Anglican evangelists from the Congo are active among the tribe’s along the country’s southern and eastern borders, but no national church has yet been formed. Bangui however is home to Francophone Africa’s only higher Protestant school of theological education the Faculté de Théologie Évangélique de Bangui—a school supported by a number of overseas Anglican mission partners.

Presiding Bishop … ‘Jesus is not the only way to God’: CEN 4.17.09 p 7 April 17, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Syncretism, The Episcopal Church.
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JESUS is a way, but not the only way to salvation, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori has told members of the Diocese of Quincy.

At a special convention called by the Presiding Bishop to reconstitute the diocese around the four congregations that did not secede to the Province of the Southern Cone last year, on April 4 Bishop Jefferts Schori spoke of her own theological views at a question-and-answer session.

Approximately 300 people gave the presiding bishop a “rousing greeting on her first visit to Peoria and the Diocese of Quincy. In stark contrast to the previous synod meeting, at which she was vilified as the chief architect of what former leaders claimed was the Episcopal Church’s departure from traditional Christian beliefs, [Bishop] Jefferts Schori received a warm and jubilant welcome,” Episcopal News Service reported.

In response to a question from the audience about her personal beliefs, the presiding bishop said that to insist Jesus is the only way to God is to “limit God.” She said that God was at work in the lives of other faiths. “God is, at the very least, a mystery,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said.

“God’s intention is for a restored relationship with all humanity. My job is to proclaim the good news of Jesus, but I cannot deny God is not at work in other ways,” she said, according to ENS.

While the presiding bishop’s views on the uniqueness of Christ are considered by evangelicals outside the mainstream, they have their antecedents in Bishop John AT Robinson’s Honest to God. In the preface to his 1963 book, Bishop Robinson stated that “it is going to become increasingly difficult to know what the true defence of Christian truth requires.”

While some sought to seek a “firm reiteration, in fresh and contemporary language, of ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’,” others felt “a more radical recasting” was demanded wherein the “most fundamental categories of our theology — of God, of the supernatural, and of religion itself — must go into the melting.”

The way forward for Bishop Robinson was an end to Christian Theism, replacing it with a modern form of Modified Monism, which called for a rejection of Christian exclusivism, seeing behind all religions a Monistic oneness.

In an Oct 18, 2006 radio interview Bishop Jefferts Schori stated, “Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. That is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through human experience – through human experience of the divine.”

“We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine,” the presiding bishop told Time magazine in its July 10, 2006 issue. “But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

Protestant and Catholic Church leaders have largely rejected these views, from the Council of Florence’s 1438 declaration that there was “no salvation outside the church” to the 1974 Lausanne Declaration by evangelicals that there was “no salvation outside a personal and explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ.”

In 1994 evangelical scholar JI Packer defended the exclusive role of Jesus in Jesus Christ the Only Saviour, while Cardinal Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI, in 1996 called interreligious relativism “the fundamental problem of faith in our time.”

In 2000, the Roman Catholic Church in Dominus Iesus stated “the thesis that the revelation of Jesus Christ is of a limited, incomplete, and imperfect character, and must be completed by the revelation present in other religions, is contrary to the faith of the Church…. This position radically contradicts the affirmations of faith according to which the full and complete revelation of the salvific mystery of God is given in Jesus Christ.”

“If Billy Graham or Pope Benedict” were asked the questions the presiding bishop were asked, they would respond that “Jesus is the way, the truth and light,” South Carolina theologian Canon Kendall Harmon said. In a time of doctrinal confusion, “good leadership claims its particular identity from the stability of its historical faith,” he argued.

“It’s the leadership of this church giving up the unique claims of Christianity,” Canon Harmon said. “They act like it’s Baskin-Robbins. You just choose a different flavour and everyone gets in the store.”

American Muslim-Anglican priest is deposed: CEN 4.02.09 April 2, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Syncretism, The Episcopal Church.
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The Episcopal Church’s “Muslim-Anglican” priest has been deposed from holy orders. In a statement released on April 1, the Diocese of Rhode Island said the Rt Rev Geralyn Wolf had “imposed a sentence of deposition” upon Dr Ann Holmes Redding as a “priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim.”

In a June 2007 interview with the Episcopal Voice, the Seattle-based Diocese of Olympia’s newspaper, the Dr. Redding announced she was both a Christian and a Muslim. “The way I understand Jesus is compatible with Islam,” she said. “I was following Jesus and he led me into Islam.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

American Muslim-Anglican priest is deposed

Muslim Priest and Buddhist Bishop-Elect Are Raising Questions About Syncretism: Christianity Today 3.27.09 March 27, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Christianity Today, Syncretism, The Episcopal Church.
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Jesus saves, the Episcopal Church teaches, but a growing number of its clergy and leaders believe other faiths may lead to salvation as well. Long divided and distracted by questions of sexual ethics, the Episcopal Church (along with most mainline Protestant communities) are facing a cultural and theological shift towards religious pluralism—the belief that there are diverse paths to God.

The debate is not just academic. In two current cases, Episcopal clergy are under scrutiny for practicing and promoting other religions. On February 12 a devotee of Zen Buddhism was elected bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Northern Michigan diocese. Meanwhile, a Seattle-area priest has been given until March 30 to decide whether she is a Muslim or a Christian as her bishop will not permit her to profess both faiths.

Read it all in Christianity Today.

New Questions over “Buddhist” Bishop: CEN 3.15.09 March 15, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Northern Michigan, Syncretism.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section

Questions of propriety and legality are being raised in the US Episcopal Church in the wake of the Feb 21 election of the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of Northern Michigan. While initial concerns centered round Dr Forrester’s claims to be a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and Christianity, subsequent questions have been raised over his role in the closed electoral process where he was the sole candidate.

In the Episcopal Church, diocesan bishops are elected either by the diocesan convention, or through an election organized by the House of Bishops or Province. While Canon III.11.1 permits each diocese to order its election according to local rules, it does require a “process of election.” Critics charge that in Northern Michigan no valid election took place as delegates to the special convention were asked to affirm the selection of Dr. Forrester by the Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team (EMDT) — led by Dr Forrester, and no other candidates were permitted to stand for election.

Following his selection last month, The Living Church magazine reported that the bishop-elect had received “lay ordination” as a Buddhist and according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the Rt Rev James Kelsey, “walk[ed] the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism.”

In an interview with the Diocese of Michigan’s The Record, Professor Fredrica Harris Thompsett of the Episcopal Divinity School, an advisor to the Northern Michigan discernment team, said there were already a “number of bishops in the current House [of Bishops] who engage in and have experience of Buddhist practices of mediation.”

In a prepared statement Dr Forrester clarified his relationship with Zen Buddhism, writing “lay ordination has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition. The essence of my welcoming ceremony, which included no oaths, was a resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to the truth of the reality of human suffering. Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ-the-healer.”

He also denied that he followed two faiths, telling the Marquette Mining Journal, “there’s one faith and it’s Christianity.” His Christian faith had been “deepened by my meditative practice and I’m eternally grateful to Zen Buddhism for teaching me that practice and receiving me as an Episcopal priest.”

While the bishop-elect’s Buddhist musings were a source of titillation and outrage on the right, others have raised concerns over the way the election process unfolded, and Dr Forrester’s fidelity to Christian doctrine.

At his parish, St Paul’s in Marquette, Michigan, Dr Forrester often substitutes home-made rites for the authorized liturgies. The Eucharistic prayer that the bishop-elect wrote for Easter season 2008 stated: “In the ancient days, at the dawn of time, You leaned over creation scooped it to your breast and breathed the moist breath of life. … The fire of your Spirit kindled a love between Mary and Joseph; a fire that became the roaring flame of eternal compassion—the heart of Jesus.”

On March 13, the annual convention of the Diocese of South Carolina urged Dr Forrester’s election be rejected arguing it was not “confident that this is someone who will preach and uphold the apostolic Trinitarian Faith.”

South Carolina urged the “Bishops and Standing Committees of all other Episcopal Dioceses,” a majority of whom must affirm the Northern Michigan election, “carefully and thoroughly to study especially those writings, statements, and sermons of the Reverend Kevin Thew Forester pertaining to the Doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of God.”

The Executive Board of the Diocese of Dallas on March 10 questioned the legality of the election, saying no valid election had been held.

In planning the election Northern Michigan said its new bishop would not be given the authority of a traditional bishop, but would be part of a 12-person Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST). “While the Bishop will carry out the roles designated by the Constitution and Canons such as ordination, confirmation, and attendance at the House of Bishops, other “episcopal/ apostolic/ oversight” roles will be fulfilled by members of the [EMST],” the discernment committee said.

The Northern Michigan discernment team stated it would choose a single candidate for bishop and present that person to the diocese. “It is the team’s hope that the people of this diocese will also discern and agree that this person is truly the best fit to share the ministry here in this diocese. At the election a yes vote would affirm the election of the new Bishop/ Ministry developer and ministry support team. A no vote would stop that process and we would have to go back to discerning once again.”

Such a process “raises significant concerns,” Dallas said. “There was no election in that diocese as Fr Forrester was the only candidate put forward. [Dallas] consented to an election in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, not the appointment of the bishop by a small committee.”

By asking the Diocesan Convention to “affirm the election of the new Bishop” chosen by the discernment committee, the Northern Michigan process on its face violates canon law, legal commentator AS Haley noted.

“Truly, it was an election designed by a Zen Buddhist,” Mr Haley wrote. “The choice was to vote for one: you may (a) choose the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester and the team of Ministry Developers, or (b) choose the team of Ministry Developers, including the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester. Such a choice is the electoral equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping,” he said.

New questions over 'Buddhist' bishop

Papua New Guinea schism healed: CEN 1.27.09 January 27, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Church of England Newspaper, Syncretism.
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Archbishop George Ambo

Archbishop George Ambo

First published in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Church leaders in New Guinea report that a schism led by retired Archbishop George Ambo has been healed and that the former archbishop reconciled with the church before he died.

The Bishop of Popondetta, the Rt. Rev. Joseph Kopapa reported that the “late bishop” was “reconciled to his Creator and the Church” on his deathbed last year, and issued a statement of contrition for his involvement with a ‘cargo cult’.

In 2007 The Church of England Newspaper reported that Archbishop Ambo had fallen away from the church and with a former Anglican nun, Sister Cora, had founded Puwo Gawe, meaning “come see”—one of four “cargo cults” operating in Oro Province of Northeastern New Guinea. Cargo cultists believe in the imminence of a new age of blessing and prosperity, whose sign will be the arrival of cargo from heaven.

While the cargo cults first arose in the mid-Nineteenth century when Melanesians first came in contact with the West, they spread quickly during World War II when the American and Australian armies established large supply depots. God’s failure to return discouraged many, but the cults survive led by charismatic leaders.

Returned missionaries from New Guinea tell CEN Sister Cora claimed to have received a vision of the spirits of the dead returning to Oro Province accompanied by large quantities of cargo. Their return was a sign of a the eschaton, and inequality, suffering, and death would now cease.

Archbishop Ambo was a dupe of Sister Cora, Bishop Kopapa said. The “late Father” had started Puwo Gawe “to help Anglicans who had drifted away from the Church.” This “very good intention had been abused” by the “coordinators” of the cult “who used the good name and reputation of this great man for their own ends to spread false messages and teaching such as ‘Cargo Cult’, in order to gain for themselves money and popularity.”

“The late Father was not aware that these followers of his were misrepresenting him and using him for their own selfish ends,” Bishop Kopapa said and had “asked for forgiveness from the Church of Papua New Guinea and the World-wide Anglican Communion.”

The bishop reported that “at his private confession with an Anglican priest” the former archbishop “received Absolution.”

The House of Bishops of the Church of Papua New Guinea urged the Puwo Gawe devotees to follow the archbishop’s example and also make “their private confession with their parish priest and returning to the Church.”

Northern Michigan Bishop Nominee Has Background in Buddhism: TLC 1.26.09 January 26, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Living Church, Syncretism.
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First published in the Living Church magazine.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan is set to elect as its bishop a priest who once received “lay ordination” in Buddhism. On Jan. 23, a diocesan search committee announced that a single candidate had been put forward to stand for election as bishop at the diocese’s special electing convention Feb. 21 at St. Stephen’s Church, Escanaba.

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.

In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey. In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

Fr. Forrester did not respond to requests for clarification or comments on how as presumptive bishop he would model the two faiths in his episcopacy.

The director of the Office of Pastoral Development, the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews told The Living Church that background checks for the nominee were “still in progress,” and “at this point” the question of Buddhist lay ordination had not been addressed. However, a “background check does not cover that sort of thing,” he observed.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan has a “particular theological process” that it has been using to call its bishop based upon the mutual ministry model, Bishop Matthews said. He had been “monitoring” the process, but said he had only “just heard” of the nomination. He added that he could not verify if what Bishop Kelsey said in 2004 was an accurate statement of the nominee’s current beliefs.

If Fr. Thew Forrester was an Episcopalian-Zen Buddhist, and if he was elected by the special convention as bishop, objections to his being seated in the House of Bishops would be raised, according to one senior diocesan bishop. That bishop said he hoped the House of Bishops was “still sufficiently faithful to recognize the total self-contradiction this would involve and deny consent.”

Archbishop hits out at rise in ‘repugnant’ child sacrifice practices in Uganda: CEN 1.02.09 January 3, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Uganda, Syncretism, Youth/Children.
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Child sacrifice is an abomination the church must eradicate through the preaching of the Gospel the Primate of Uganda declared in his Christmas letter to the nation, saying the greed for money and lust for power that lay behind witchcraft were repugnant to the Lord.

“Many are the crying mothers who have lost their children to child sacrifices,” Archbishop Henry Orombi said on Dec 11. “Some think: If I sacrifice human blood I shall have money – then have peace and happiness.”

“God is grieved by such ignorance,” he declared as the shedding of “innocent blood is a curse to the Nation and brings barrenness to social achievements.”

Reports of child sacrifice have played across the pages of Uganda’s newspapers this month, following the arrest of a prominent Kampala property developer, who allegedly engaged two witchdoctors to decapitate a 12-year old boy in a ritual ceremony. The head of the child was to have been buried under the foundations of a building under construction, providing magic protection for its owner, the Kampala press reported.

On Dec 4 Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo told reporters “child sacrifice has confronted the nation with its ferocity, barbarity as well as frequency,” and had “become a national danger.”

“Witchdoctors deserve special condemnation,” the government minister said.

Greed was the culprit, Archbishop Orombi said. The message of Christmas was one of peace, he said, but “many in our society have lost their peace because of greed. The desire to have more creates imbalance and those without resent those who have more than their fair share.”
God “never blesses corruption and stealing,” he said. “The Prince of Peace has been born that your hearts may know contentment and learn to give rather than take.”

For Uganda to break free from the grip of sin and pagan practices, “this country [must] face and deal with the ugly face of corruption if health should come to the nation.”

“There is need for change in the way we treat one another,” he said, as “we must pursue love and not violence in our streets.”

The Archbishop’s call for an end to the culture of corruption and repudiation of witchcraft and paganism, however, was not a call for the Anglicizing of Uganda. Archbishop Orombi has championed the inculturation of Anglicanism within the context of African worship, urging church leaders to take what is good from local cultures to help propagate the Gospel.

The Diocese of Northern Uganda last week reported that Archbishop Orombi upbraided Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng, asking why the royal bwola dance had not been performed during his visit to several rural archdeaconries. Performed only on the orders of a chief, the bwola dance is one of the highpoints of the culture of the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. The dance is performed at state ceremonies, funerals of local dignitaries and during the visit of important guests to the region.

The bishop responded that his archdeacons had declined to authorize the dance, as they thought it would be disrespectful to offer “pagan” dances at Christian worship services.

Archbishop Orombi told the Northern Uganda clergy that it not only was permissible, but desirable to used “sanctified local songs and dances to worship the Lord,” the diocese said.

Nigerian call to put the Gospel first: CEN 9.07.07 p 6. September 7, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Syncretism.
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The Church of Nigeria has condemned religious syncretism, calling upon its members to put the Gospel ahead of culture.

In his Aug 21 pastoral letter, Archbishop Peter Akinola warned Nigeria’s fast growing Anglican Church not to emulate the decadent social practices of the West, and to put its faith first in Christ.

The Church has also spoken out strongly against enculturation of pagan tribal rituals into the life of the Church. Speaking to the 27th synod of the Diocese on the Niger on Aug 20, the Rt. Rev. Ken Okeke condemned the shaving of the heads of widows in “honour of their dead” as being foreign to the Christian faith.

The ritual shaving of the heads of widows amongst some tribal groups in the Niger Delta is akin to the one-time Hindu practice of shaving widows as a symbol of renunciation of the world and of any ideas of remarriage.

Bishop Okeke condemned the practice as an “idolatrous vice” and “completely unchristian” and included the custom amongst a list of sinful behaviours including dishonesty, false religion, indiscipline, a lukewarm faith, and failing to forgive.

Christians are to show they have caught a glimpse of God’s heart by manifesting a loving and caring attitude in their everyday lives, the bishop told his diocese according to a report published by the Church of Nigeria News.

Church Leaders Speak Out After Rise of Violent Cults: CEN 7.19.07 p 6. July 19, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Syncretism.
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Church leaders in West Africa have called for a suppression of violent religious cults and warned Anglicans not to succumb to their lure.

The Nigerian Bishop of Egbu Emmanuel Iheagwam warned members of his diocese on Saturday of the evils of religious cults and secret societies. Some “profess to be Christians and yet go to the shrines of lesser deities to swear or take oaths of allegiance to individuals or political parties” Bishop Iheagwam said.

Those who sought to mix their Christian faith with cultic activities or who dabbled in witchcraft or sorcery were denying Christ, he said. “I charge every one of us to declare for God and only God through Jesus Christ our Lord”, the Bishop said.

No witch hunt for occult worshippers: Southern Cross 12.17.04 December 17, 2004

Posted by geoconger in Pennsylvania, Southern Cross, Syncretism, Wicca/Druidism.
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First published in The Southern Cross.

There would be no “witch hunt” for Druids, the Anglican Bishop of Pennsylvania declared following revelations that two of his clergy were active in the occult.

On October 29 Bishop Charles Bennison stated allegations that two rectors, the Rev William Melnyk and his wife, the Rev Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk, were “practicing druids and in violation of their ordination vows are extremely serious and merit further inquiries to establish the facts”.

The allegations have shocked conservatives around the world who are already critical of the US Church over the consectration of a gay bishop.

Charges of occult practices against the two were first raised when a staffer at the Washington think-tank, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), noticed that a liturgy entitled “A Celebration of the Divine Feminine” published on the website of the Office of Women’s Ministries of the Episcopal Church was identical to a “Eucharist to our Mother Goddess” posted on a pagan website.

Investigations revealed that the authors of the pagan liturgy submitted to the Episcopal Church were the Melnyks, and that they had written under the Druid and Wiccan names and conducted rituals evoking pagan gods and goddesses including some condemned in Scripture.

In an internet chatroom, under the pseudonym “Druis”, Mr Melnyk wrote in May that he was “57 and has been a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids since 1998. My spouse and I are both Druid graduates of the training course. We are also both priests in the Episcopal Church. Between us, we lead two groves, some call them ‘congregations’, of Christians.”

Last month the Melnyks “recanted and repudiated” their connection with Druidism in a letter to Bishop Bennison.

The reason for their involvement with the occult, they explained, was to “help others who had lost connection to the Church to find a way to reconnect.”

Mr Melnyk resigned the next day after the parish vestry determined it would not be possible for him “to continue effectively as the Rector”.

Mrs Ruppe-Melnyk continues in her post. They declined to respond to queries about their involvement in pagan worship.

While warring with traditionalist Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical clergy in his diocese, Bishop Bennison has taken a softer line with pagan clergy, issuing a letter of admonition to the Melnyks saying they “assure me that [druid worship] has never been used in liturgy or in their prayer life.”

Bishop Bennison gained notoriety after stating that while Christ forgives sins he “acknowledged his own sin [and] knows himself to be forgiven.”

Mr Bennison blamed right wing agitators for the Druid fracas, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer the IRD sought “to intimidate people in our church who would exercise theological imaginations, who would think out of the box.”

Sydney’s Anglican Church League called the move a ‘staggering celebration of paganism’.

Christianity Today accused US church leaders of diverting attention from the crisis over homosexuality by promoting pagan deities.