Faith and terror

Giles Fraser asks what is to be learned from recent terrorist attacks in the UK: "Perhaps this: that the most dangerous people in the world are those who are absolutely convinced of their own moral virtue and innocence. It is not the scoundrel who is responsible for the darkest moral evil in the world, but the person who is assured of his or her own virtue."

He writes:

The man who tried to blow up the airport was reported to have emerged from the car, covered in flames. As the fire melted his flesh, he kept repeating the name of God, punching anyone who tried to put his fire out. Here was a man thoroughly convinced that he was doing the right thing. Make no mistake: it was faith that provided him with his moral alibi.


This is why the people of faith need more epistemic humility, a great deal more self-awareness, a longer pause before answering the big questions of faith, a more open reflection upon our less flattering motivations. It might be difficult to find the confidence to develop self-critical vigilance when so many others want to disparage faith. But develop it more we must.

"On Faith" focuses on Islam

The Washington Post "On Faith" blog this week will focus on Islam. Editors Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn explain why:

Put bluntly and broadly, many people today wish to portray Islam as a peaceful faith with a violent few, arguing that “jihad” (literally, “struggle”) is a spiritual term encompassing the Muslim’s daily religious life and that it can only be used for armed struggles that are defensive. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe Islam is a violent faith in which jihad is a perpetual militaristic element. The truth, it seems reasonable to say, lies somewhere in between. Believers of all kinds have killed in the name of their conception of God, or of the gods. Historically, some of the blood has been shed in what some traditions think of as “just wars,” some in unjustifiable atrocities, some in battles of conquest. And yet believers of all kinds have done great good in the name of their conception of God, or of the gods, in acts of mercy, charity and liberation.

How do we make sense of these contradictions and complexities in an age of enduring fear about terrorism? The question is essential, and is arguably the central one of our time, for if totalitarianism was the great problem of the 20th century, then, so far, religiously inspired violence is its 21st century successor.

All of which brings us to the project at hand. Over the next six days, On Faith will host “Muslims Speak Out,” a forum in which about twenty leading Muslim clerics and thinkers from around the world will engage in what we believe is an unprecedented online dialogue about the Islam and its intersection with politics and culture. We reached out to fifty such clerics and scholars; twenty agreed to participate. The list is geographically and theologically diverse.

The questions we will pose in the coming days touch on controversial and problematic issues. What would you tell suicide bombers who invoke Islam to justify their actions? What are the rights of women in Islam? Is it permissible for a Muslim to convert to another faith? Does Islam’s view of male-female equality differ from the Western view? Under what conditions does Islam sanction the use of violence? How can laws against apostasy be reconciled with the Qu’ranic injunction saying “there is no compulsion in religion”?

Read it all here.

In the same context, Karen Armstrong's op-ed, "An inability to tolerate Islam contradicts western values," is also worth a look:

In the past Islamic governments were as prone to intellectual coercion as any pre-modern rulers, but when Muslims were powerful and felt confident they were able to take criticism in their stride. But media and literary assaults have become more problematic at a time of extreme political vulnerability in the Islamic world, and to an alienated minority they seem inseparable from Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the unfolding tragedy of Iraq.

On both sides, however, there are double standards and the kind of contradiction evident in Khomeini's violation of the essential principles of his mentor, Mulla Sadra. For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists' depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others. Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice.

US churches speak out against torture of prisoners

Ekklesia reports that, "the church-backed US National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is speaking out against a new executive order from President George W. Bush that broadly outlines the limits of how suspects may be questioned in the CIA's terror interrogation programme."

The order, which Bush signed in July 2007, bans torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, sexual abuse, acts intended to denigrate a religion or other degradation "beyond the bounds of human decency." It pledges that detainees will receive adequate food, water and medical care and be protected from extreme heat and cold.

It does not, however, say what techniques are permitted during harsh questioning of suspects.

That has become a matter of debate in the United States and elsewhere, including with NRCAT, a coalition of more than 125 religious organizations, which has called on the US government to forswear the use of torture without exception.

"At the same time the executive order says it prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, it allows the CIA to continue to use undefined and undisclosed 'alternative interrogation techniques,' thereby calling into question whether the prohibition is real," said Linda Gustitus, president of NRCAT's board of directors, in a recent statement issued by the anti-torture group.

The statement said that as people of faith, "who value our common humanity and our religious responsibility to treat all people with decency and the due process protections of civilized law, that we urge" President Bush to:

* Immediately stop the use of interrogation techniques that are "cruel and inhuman."
* Disclose what alternative interrogation techniques are used. * Close all secret prisons.
* End the rendition of suspects to countries thought to use torture; and
* Provide the International Red Cross access to detainees held in US custody.

The statement also called on Congress to prohibit the use of any CIA funds for programmes or activities that fail to treat all persons detained with "decency and the protections of due process."

Read it all here

For membership and information on NRCAT click here

For more on Ekklesia click here.

Churches failed in Rwanda's genocide

Ethics features commentary by Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the film, Hotel Rwanda. His comments on that period of Rwandan history came at a convocation at Middle Tennessee State University. The silence of the churches during that time contriibuted not only to the killing but left Rwandans feelng abandoned by God.

Rwanda's genocide was in part a failure of the Christian church, a former hotel manager whose efforts to save the lives of more than 1,200 of his countrymen inspired the Academy Award-nominated movie "Hotel Rwanda," said in a Sunday interview.

Prior to 1994, Rwanda was described as the most Christianized country in Africa. Ninety percent of its citizens professed to be Christians. But that didn't stop tribal violence from breaking out that resulted in the wanton murder of 800,000 people in 100 days.

Like other foreigners, American missionaries were evacuated when the killing started, Paul Rusesabagina told

"The Rwandan genocide took place in a hidden way, without any eyewitnesses from the international community," Rusesabagina said. "When it comes to churches, all the churches kept quiet."

"Silence, as we all know, is complicity," he said.

Instead of opposing the violence, Rusesabagina said, churches were often complicit. People fled to churches for sanctuary, as they had in earlier conflicts. This time those same churches turned into death traps, as ministers either stood by or assisted in ethnic cleansing.

A Belgian court convicted two Benedictine nuns in 2001 of participating in the massacre of more than 7,600 people at the Sovu convent in Butare.

An Anglican bishop was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the crime of genocide, specifically "for killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the Tutsi population with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a racial or ethnic group."

Accusations were also documented against clergy of the Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist churches.

Read the whole article

The New Anti-Semitism

Denis MacShane, member of the British House of Commons and former Europe Minister writes in the Washington Post of a new upsurge of anti-semitism in Europe:

Hatred of Jews has reached new heights in Europe and many points south and east of the old continent. Last year I chaired a blue-ribbon committee of British parliamentarians, including former ministers and a party leader, that examined the problem of anti-Semitism in Britain. None of us are Jewish or active in the unending debates on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Our report showed a pattern of fear among a small number of British citizens -- there are around 300,000 Jews in Britain, of whom about a third are observant -- that is not acceptable in a modern democracy. Synagogues attacked. Jewish schoolboys jostled on public transportation. Rabbis punched and knifed. British Jews feeling compelled to raise millions to provide private security for their weddings and community events. On campuses, militant anti-Jewish students fueled by Islamist or far-left hate seeking to prevent Jewish students from expressing their opinions

He writes that criticism of Israel is not considered anti-semitic as some of the strongest critics are Jewish. The new anti-semitism is that which threatens democracy and free speech. He concludes:

Today there is still denial about the universal ideology of the new anti-Semitism. It has power and reach, and it enters into the soft underbelly of the Western mind-set that does not like Jews or what Israel does to defend its right to exist.

A counterattack is being organized. My own House of Commons has led the way with its report. The 47-nation Council of Europe, on which I sit as a British representative, has launched a lengthy inquiry into combating anti-Semitism in Europe. The European Union has produced a directive outlawing Internet hate speech originating within its jurisdiction.

We are at the beginning of a long intellectual and ideological struggle. It is not about Jews or Israel. It is about everything democrats have long fought for: the truth without fear, no matter one's religion or political beliefs. The new anti-Semitism threatens all of humanity. The Jew-haters must not pass.

Read it all here

When you are in jail, watch what you can't read

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has directed the departments chaplains to purge their libraries of all religious books which are not on list approved developed by the Bureau. According to a New York Times report by Laurie Goodstein, the move is supposed to prevent inmates from getting relgiously-based terrorist ideas.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

The list, which has reduced religious libraries to a list of 150 approved books and 150 multi-media for each of 20 religions or religious categories, does not ban liturgical texts, prayer books or scriptures.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

Chaplains already watch out for materials that promote violence or disparage groups or classes of people, so, they say, the effort is unnecessary. The department has not provided funds for Chaplains to purchase the approved materials. This means that many prison library have simply been cleared of materials.

This effort has managed to displease nearly everyone: evangelical Christian groups have found their materials banned as well as Jewish and Muslim groups. Already some prisoners have filed suit.

If bureaucrats are concerned about radical ideas that are infectious, they may want to have another look at those Gospels.

Read the rest here including a multi-media description of the banned materials.

Worshippers in hiding

NewsOK reports on the effect of the Oklahoma immigration reform law on church attendance.

When the Rev. Leonel Blanco looks out into the pews of his south Oklahoma City church on Sundays, he sees only half the number of his predominantly Hispanic congregation Attendance at Blanco's Santa Maria Virgen, called the fastest-growing church in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, has dwindled sharply — a 50 percent decrease that Blanco blames on the Oklahoma immigration reform law that goes into effect Thursday. "Four months ago, this church was very full, but now the people are nervous. They don't like going out,” Blanco, a native of Guatemala, said in Spanish through an interpreter.

Read about the situation and what the churches in Oklahoma are doing here

Fears of Christians in Pakistan

Ekklesia is reporting that Pakistani Christians are expressing concern about the public order situation in their country, and the security of minorities, following President Pervez Musharraf's widely criticised suspension of consitutional government and his declaration of a state of emergency over the weekend.

The General's move, which has embarrassed his Western allies and outraged democracy and human rights advocates, comes ahead of a Supreme Court decision on whether to overturn his recent election victory. The signs are that Musharraf, and his 20 per cent poll righting is likely now to slip to single figures.

"This move is not about law and order primarily, it is about Musharraf's desperate attempt to survive politically", a leading analyst, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons,told Ekklesia. The army loyal to General Musharraf has been arresting lawyers, opponents and civil society advocates in a widespread clampdown.

There are signs of public protest, but widespread fear. Churches now fear that the situation will be exploited by those who wish to carry out more attacks on the minority Christian community.

Read the rest here

Religious freedom and 'pious cruelty'

Ethan Fishman in The American Scholar:

For much of its history, the United States has largely avoided the religious conflicts that have cost other nations countless lives. Our ability to escape such conflicts is grounded in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which requires government to maintain as neutral an attitude as possible toward religion. Fortunately for Americans, past presidents as a rule have sought to honor this neutrality. Today, however, the Bush administration, working with certain religious denominations, seeks to repudiate it.

Drawing on the thinking of Roger Williams, who was exiled from Puritan Massachusetts and founded the Rhode Island colony, he writes:

The Bush administration has ignored Roger Williams’s warning about the corrosive effects on both church and state of the lethal combination of national arrogance and religious self-righteousness. That contrasts with the reactions of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison at the turn of the 19th century when North African Muslim pirates were seizing American ships and capturing their crews. The pirates were fond of using quotes from the Koran to justify their criminal activities, and the United States responded in a variety of ways to protect its political and commercial interests in the Mediterranean: they sent in the Navy and the Marines, paid protection money, and ransomed the crews. But these presidents never considered their war against the Muslim pirates to be religiously motivated or to have any religious significance at all.

Since the attacks of September 2001, Bush has insisted on calling America’s reaction a war on terror, and his statements have contained religious imagery comparable to that used by Osama bin Laden. University of Chicago religion professor Bruce Lincoln observes in Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11 that both Bush and bin Laden use language that refers to “a Manichean struggle, where Sons of Light confront Sons of Darkness, and all must enlist on one side or the other, without possibility of neutrality, hesitation or middle ground.” The implication of both leaders’ rhetoric is that God supports what may be called a war of “pious cruelty.”

Read it all.

Pakistani Christians mourn Bhutto's death

Ekklesia reports that church leaders in Pakistan have joined the widespread strong condemnation of the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who they saw as a voice for greater equality and freedom - including religious freedom.

In a statement issued yesterday, the president of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Mr Nazir S. Bhatti, recalled a meeting with Ms Bhutto - who held office twice, but was removed on both occasions following accusations of corruption which mired her attempst to be a political spokesperson for social justice.

Bhatti said Ms Bhutto had expressed concern about Pakistani Christians and vowed to “pull them into mainstream politics” in terms of rights and responsibilities for both minority and majority communities.

He also pointed out that Benazir Bhutto had a Catholic nun as a home teacher in Pakistan. She was also a friend of Anglican Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, a former Bishop of Raiwind.

“Benazir Bhutto was a great leader, a symbol of moderate Islam and a challenge for the militants,” declared Mr Bhatti following her murder on Thursday 27 December 2007.

He added: “Pakistani Christians express [their] grief concerning the death of Benazir Bhutto and demand the immediate arrest of culprits and justice.”


Bishop Michael Nazir Ali told Times Online in the UK: "Benazir Bhutto has been a personal friend for many years. Her murder by extremists is a body blow for freedom and democracy in Pakistan. It raises serious questions about the government's ability to provide security for its citizens when even one as eminent as she can be killed in this way."

He continued: "I do hope the general elections can still be held and that the cause of democracy can survive this catastrophe."

The Bishop added: "My prayers are for her husband, children and family that they will be comforted at this time of grief. She will always be remembered for her commitment to Pakistan and her courage in public life."

Read: Ekklesia- Christians in Pakistan mourn the loss of Benazir Bhutto

Pakistani Christians seek international support after assasination

Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Pakistan condemned the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and appeal for international help in eradicating terrorism in their country.

According to Ecumenical News International, the National Council of Churches in Pakistan issued a statement saying,
"We earnestly appeal to the national and global communities and specifically churches to pray for the welfare of the State of Pakistan which is passing through a very difficult period of its history and to encourage the nation to bear such a big loss."

The grouping of four Protestant churches strongly condemned "the brutal assassination" of Bhutto, who was killed on 27 December near Islamabad while campaigning for national elections. Voting has been postponed from 8 January to 18 February 2008 following the violence triggered by the assassination.

The council further urged the "global communities to help the Pakistani nation and its government machinery to eradicate the terrorism which is playing havoc with the lives of the innocent people and disturbing the peace of Pakistan and a great hurdle in the restoration of true democracy in Pakistan".

The National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human-rights body of the Roman Catholic Church, called Bhutto's death as "a national loss" and said the assassination "raised questions about the effectiveness of the so-called war against extremism".

"The re-occurrence of suicide bombing manifests the impunity available to terrorists to take lives of the innocent people," said the commission.

Calling for respect for "a soul who fought courageously to bring down hatred and division", the commission stated that "the tragedy should be properly investigated without delay and the culprits behind this should be brought to justice".

See Ecumenical News International: Pakistan churches urge international support after Bhutto's death

Also: Ekklesia carries the same release.

Civilians in War

Hugo Slim, chief scholar at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland, has published,Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War , a very timely book on the history of the treatment of civilians in wartime. The Economist offer this review:

THE idea of a limited war, in which certain groups of people should be protected, is not new. In the fourth century St Augustine was already advocating the doctrine of a “just war”, based on civilian protection, proportionality and restraint. The same principles were enshrined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and in the mandates of the various international tribunals set up over the past 15 years. Yet the moral ideal of civilian protection remains very much a minority view.

As Hugo Slim explains in “Killing Civilians”, marking out a special category of people called “civilians” from the wider enemy group in war “is a distinction that is not, and never has been, either clear, meaningful or right” for many perpetrators of war—nor even for many civilians themselves. A former humanitarian field-worker, Mr Slim is now chief scholar at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland. In this book he begins by examining in great and gory detail the appalling ways in which civilians have suffered in wars down the ages—by rape, massacre, torture, mutilation, famine, disease, trauma and so on. He goes on to look at why unarmed, supposedly harmless civilians so often turn out to be the victims in war.

The reasons, he suggests, include a desire to exterminate an entire group of purportedly inferior beings (genocide); a lust for power and domination (Genghis Khan); a thirst for revenge (as in so many of today's African wars); necessity (claimed by Palestinian suicide-bombers in their “asymmetrical” war against Israel); or plunder (common in the past, but rarer today). Civilians may also be killed or wounded through calculated recklessness (as when Israeli bulldozers raze Palestinian homes) or the inevitable accidents that are associated with inaccurate weapons (“collateral damage”).

But who qualifies as a civilian? International law provides only a negative description: someone who is not a member of the armed forces, who does not carry a weapon, who does not take part in hostilities. This is clearly inadequate. An estimated 60% of the world's weapons-bearers are civilians (hunters, for example). On the other hand, many of those who do not carry arms (or wear uniforms) may be very much part of the war effort—ammunition workers, porters, victuallers and the like. And what of the ideologues whose hate-filled doctrines fuel the conflict, the newspaper editors who disseminate the propaganda or the taxpayers who pay for the war? Should they be afforded special protection when the unwilling teenage conscript is not?

As Mr Slim himself concedes, there are rarely totally innocent bystanders in wartime. Osama bin Laden deems all the citizens of any democracy that goes to war to be “non-innocent”—and therefore legitimate targets—because their political systems allow them to choose their leaders and thus to choose their wars. Although Mr Slim would not go that far, he agrees that it is a “fallacy” to suggest that all civilians are equally harmless in wartime. But, he argues (not totally convincingly), “it is a necessary fallacy if we are to try to limit the killing in war.”

Read it all here.

Gunman kills 8 at Jerusalem seminary

A gunman entered a Jewish yeshiva library in Gaza tonight and opened fire, killing at least eight and wounding several more. News reports are all over the place (some say two gunmen, and casualty counts vary), but according to the New York Times relating information from the Israeli police, a lone gunman was killed by a part-time student and some passing security guards.

The gunman, who has not yet been identified, was thought to be either a Palestinian or an Israeli Arab living inside Jerusalem. The dead were all thought to be between 20 and 30 years of age.

It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in nearly two years and the first attack inside Jerusalem in four. It occurred at the start of the Hebrew month in which the Purim holiday occurs, and many of the witnesses at first thought the gunfire was firecrackers in celebration.

The story is breaking across all news outlets; world leaders are condemning the attack even has Hamas praises it, without taking responsibility for it.

New York Times story is here.

Ignoring moderate Muslims

Ebo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. He was recently a guest on a radio call-in show:

One caller said, “I was raised a Catholic and we were taught love and acceptance. You were raised a Muslim … and you were taught hatred which leads to violence.”

The producer said there were several other callers from different religious backgrounds with basically the same format question.

I answered each question pretty directly. I effectively said there are many moderate Muslim voices. You just heard one of them – mine – speak for about thirty minutes. Instead of continuing to ask that question, please tell your friends about me. I cited several other such voices.

I expanded on many of the points that I had made in the initial conversation with Marty Moss-Coane – that the dominant ethos of Islam tends towards compassion and pluralism, values that Islam shares with other traditions.

But I admit, there was a little voice inside my head that wanted to say to some of these callers, “Don’t you feel a little embarrassed revealing that level of ignorance and bigotry on Public Radio? Do you know nothing more about the religion of one-fifth of humankind for over 1000 years but the violent bits? Isn’t that a little like knowing nothing more about the United States Constitution than the clause which states black people only count as three-fifths of a human being”.

Read it all.

Being on the side of the crucified

Savitri Hensman of Ekklesia, in her latest essay, discusses complicity by clergy in human rights violations and violence and asks how church communities can offer hope in the midst of human rights abuses by the governments where they are based.

When governments are responsible for human rights abuses, how members of faith communities respond may be influenced by various factors.

How highly do we prioritise the preservation of the current order and protection of existing patterns of wealth and privilege, which may benefit us individually and institutionally? In providing pastoral care to the privileged and powerful, are we able to remain detached from their outlook and encourage them to seek a higher good? Do we tend to adopt society’s values, dismissing as unimportant the hardship and injustice endured by the poor and marginalised, or are we bearers of good news even in bleak situations?

When conflict escalates, can we resist the ‘militarization of the mind’? How willing are we to be transformed by a God of love, to look with unflinching compassion on those who suffer and seek to identify and address the causes?

And how willing are we to risk losing what we have in order to gain what is incomparably better? Even when destruction and death seem to hold sway, can we trust in the new life which is to come and be heralds of hope?

Read it all here.

Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities and is a respected and widely published writer on Christianity and social justice.

Putting an end to scapegoating

Giles Fraser writes at Ekklesia on the meaning of the cross in a modern setting:

Somewhere in the Middle East, Jesus Christ is strapped to a bench, his head wrapped in clingfilm. He furiously sucks against the plastic. A hole is pierced, but only so that a filthy rag can be stuffed back into his mouth. He is turned upside down and water slowly poured into the rag. The torturer whispers religious abuse. If you are God, save yourself you fucking idiot. Fighting to pull in oxygen through the increasingly saturated rag, his lungs start to fill up with water. Someone punches him in the stomach.

Perhaps this is how we ought to be re-telling the story of Christ's passion. For ever since the cross became a piece of jewellery, it has been drained of its power to sicken. Even before this the Romans had taken their hated instrument of torture and turned it into the logo of a new religion. Few makeovers can have been so historically significant. The very secular cross was transformed into a sort of club badge for Christians, something to be proud of.

Citing the work of Rene Girard, Fraser continues:
The crucifixion turns this world on its head. For it is the story of a God who deliberately takes the place of the despised and rejected so as to expose the moral degeneracy of a society that purchases its own togetherness at the cost of innocent suffering. The new society he called forth - something he dubbed the kingdom of God - was to be a society without scapegoating, without the blood of the victim. The task of all Christians is to further this kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven".

Read it all here.

Iraqi youth disillusioned by religious violence

The New York Times reports that youth in Iraq are becoming disillusioned by religion in the wake all the violence:

After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

“I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” said Sara, a high school student in Basra. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.”

Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.”

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religious practice among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology.

Read the article here.

Archbishop of Capetown plea for people of Zimbabwe

The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba of Capetown, South Africa has released a statement on Zimbabwe pleading for help from the world for the people of that country.

Statement from the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba

The plight of the people of Zimbabwe is heart-breaking. Already bruised, broken and crushed by oppression and economic hardship before the elections, they are now even more divided, despondent and, in many cases, hopeless than they were before. At a time of growing global hunger, their situation is particularly acute – four million Zimbabweans depend on food aid and NGOs are reporting that in some areas political violence is making it difficult to supply food.

After the March 29 elections we were told that if there had to be a second round of voting in the presidential election, it would be held within 21 days. That date has now passed, and every day that goes by without the release of presidential election results erodes yet further any remaining trust people may have in the electoral process.

From the church in Limpopo Province, we receive reports that the influx of Zimbabwean refugees is steadily growing. Within Zimbabwe, those who have benefitted from Zanu PF rule are locked in fear of what may happen to them; those who support the opposition live in fear of retribution for voting against the government.

It is distressing to South Africans that our rulers, whom we know to be compassionate people, currently appear to many beyond our borders as heartless and unmoved by the suffering of Zimbabweans. We recognise that the imperatives of acting as honest brokers in a mediation impose constraints on our leaders. However, our failure to communicate our reverence for the dignity of every individual threatens the success of our diplomacy just as surely as would the perception of bias. I appeal to President Thabo Mbeki urgently to seek creative ways of reaching out to our neighbours to reassure them that we care about them deeply.

As a church committed to fighting the arms trade in Africa and the world, we strenuously oppose the sale and transport of weapons to Zimbabwe. We commend the successful efforts of the Bishop of Natal, the Right Revd Rubin Phillip, and the Diakonia Council of Churches to prevent a consignment of weapons for Zimbabwe from being offloaded in Durban, and I intend consulting with my brother bishops in Namibia and Angola on ecumenical action to prevent the shipment from being transported through their countries.

On the basis that a heavily-armed Zimbabwe would threaten peace, security and stability in southern Africa, we call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on its government. We appeal to the South African Government to support such an embargo. We will ask our sister churches in countries which are also members of the Security Council to urge their governments to do likewise.

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town

April 22, 2008

All churches are asked to pray for Zimbabwe on April 27th, more here.

Bishop Rubin Philips and the arms shipment story is here.

More here - Archbishop talks to South African president and will take his concerns to Lambeth Conference this summer.

A Sunni-Shiite fatwa against suicide bombing?

Gregg Zoroya of USA TODAY writes:

High-ranking Shiite and Sunni leaders are preparing to issue a religious decree condemning suicide bombings and other forms of violence, according to an Anglican minister who has led efforts to bring the two Muslim sects closer.

The draft decree, also called a fatwa, cites Quranic verses and says, "The prophet Mohammed prevents the spilling of blood, Muslim against Muslim, and thus suicide bombings are totally prohibited," the Rev. Canon Andrew White said during a dinner Monday with Pentagon officials. The draft calls on Iraqis "to reject and forsake all violence, forsake all killing and provocation," White said.

"What is new is that this will be a fatwa from Shiite and Sunni," White said in an interview. "It's not going to solve all of our problems, but it's the beginning of the process toward the reduction of violence."

Read it all.

Bronx rally against gun violence

St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, New York City, is a center or work against gun violence. Episcopal Life reports on a Mother's Day rally led by Gloria Cruz of St. Ann's and supported by her rector, the Rev. Martha Overall and Bishop Mark Sisk of New York.

Chanting "Save our children; No more guns," hundreds marched on the eve of Mother's Day in the Bronx, New York to honor the victims and families of gun violence and bring about awareness for change.

"It is true that 'it takes a village'," said Gloria Cruz, founder and organizer of the annual 'Walk Against Gun Violence.' "In order to change your community, you have to be active in it."

For the third consecutive year, Cruz gathered family members, the community, fellow advocates and elected officials in the Bronx, at the playground where the life her 10-year-old niece Naiesha Pearson was abruptly ended by a bullet at a Labor Day picnic in 2005.

Cruz, a member of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx, said the senseless event compelled her to do something.

The featured speaker at the rally was the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune spoke out for education as an antidote to violence.

Noting that 40 percent of the inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, in Ossining, New York cannot read or write, and that 75 percent do not have a high school diploma, the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune, protestant chaplain at Sing Sing, said that the "antidote to violence is education."

"The reality of all of this is that we either get them on this end and prevent them from committing a crime, or get them on the other end in prison," he stated.

Sabune, the keynote speaker at the rally, said several members of his family "have died due to some form of violence."

While serving as dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Newark, New Jersey, Sabune said he gained further insight into violence which allowed him to organize families and local faith communities to respond when an 8-year-old boy named Terrell James was killed in a drive-by shooting.

"Today's gathering is important because I believe every diocese, bishop, and parish across the country needs to declare peace on this issue," he said. "The Episcopal Church has had a clear unequivocal message against gun violence."

Read it all here.

Reclaiming the word "jihad"

Omar Sacirbey of Religion News Service writes:

The end to Ani Zonneveld's "jihad" on "jihad" came during an episode of "Desperate Housewives," when Lynette (Felicity Huffman) discovers she has cancer and throws a stone at a possum.

"Look at yourself," replies her husband, Tom. "You've declared jihad on a possum."

"At that point," said Zonneveld, the co-director of the advocacy group Muslims for Progressive Values, "I think it is too late to redefine the true meaning of jihad."

Strictly speaking, "jihad" is supposed to mean an inner struggle toward holiness. But for many Americans, the term connotes holy war, especially when militant groups like al-Qaida vow to wage jihad against the United States.

Zonneveld's frustration with how "jihad" has come to be associated with violence reflects a broader concern among many Muslim Americans who believe various Islamic terms are being misused by the media and politicians, and co-opted by Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim critics.

Read it all.

Zimbabwe update

The Rt. Rev. Sebastian Bakare has issued a pastoral letter revealing the harassment, assaults and beatings Anglicans are experiencing in Zimbabwe as they try to gather to worship. He encourages them to join house groups for prayer and support. His letter via Anglican Information follows below.

ENI reports the Zimbabwe police have banned open air prayer meetings as well.

Read more »

Ad removed because of terrorist charges

According to news reports, Dunkin Donuts has pulled an ad that featured spokesperson Rachel Ray, a Food Network personality, because of concerns that her outfit was communicating a message of sympathy or support for Islamic terrorists.

The primary voice raising these concerns has been Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin.

According to news reports:

"Dunkin' Donuts has pulled [the] ad featuring the Food Network star after concerns grew about a scarf she wears during the commercial, the pattern of which bears resemblance to a keffiyeh, the traditional headdress that Arab men wear. The scarf has enraged conservative Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin and some others. [The keffiyeh], popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons,' Malkin wrote in a column, claiming the keffiyeh 'has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.'

[...]Malkin took the removal of the ad as a chest-thumping victory for herself, and terrorist-hating Americans. 'It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists.'"

According to Dunkin Donuts, the scarf pictured in the ad was a black and white paisley design that unintentionally appeared to be a keffiyeh.

Read the full report here.

Threatening calls received by immigrant advocacy group

Police are investigating three threatening telephone calls received by an immigrant advocacy group in Montgomery County, Maryland, including a voice-mail message that warned one official that he could be shot for "being stupid and helping illegals." According to the Washington Post:

One was left in a voice mail to [the Rev. Simon] Bautista on a Washington number he uses for his work as the Latino missioner of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC). "Don't be surprised when there's a [expletive] bullet in the back of your [expletive] brain," the caller said, according to a recording made available by CASA staffers.

CASA of Maryland runs five Maryland day-labor centers where workers can gather while waiting to be picked up for jobs. The centers in Montgomery have generally avoided the level of controversy that has affected some facilities, particularly in Herndon.
Read it all here.

Not in our name

From Episcopal News Service:

More than 275 congregations of a wide variety of faiths in all 50 United States and the District of Columbia will display an anti-torture banner on the exterior of their buildings during June, which religious and human-rights organizations have designated as Torture Awareness Month.

In an effort organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), most of the banners say "Torture is a Moral Issue" or "Torture is Wrong." ....

The Episcopal Church is an endorsing member of the organization. Other NRCAT members include representatives from the Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Quaker, and Sikh communities.

The Episcopal Church has taken a stand against U.S.-sponsored torture. The 75th General Convention, meeting on June 21, 2006, agreed to Resolution D020 which, in part, called on the Episcopal Church to "to acknowledge and confess that our government's participation in the war in Iraq has resulted in…illegal confinement without representation or formal charges and torture."

The Church of England today is also questioning bending and breaking civil rights in the name of fighting terror. It announced it will oppose legislation that would extend detention of persons without charge from 28 days to 42 days. See its news release here.

Imagining the apocalypse

End-time thinking - the belief in a world purified by catastrophe - could once be dismissed as a harmless remnant of a more superstitious age. But with the rise of religious fundamentalism, prophets of apocalypse have become a new and very real danger, argues Ian McEwan in The Guardian:

Throughout recorded history people have mesmerised themselves with stories which predict the date and manner of our wholescale destruction, often rendered meaningful by ideas of divine punishment and ultimate redemption; the end of life on earth, the end or last days, end time, the apocalypse.

Many of these stories are highly specific accounts of the future and are devoutly believed. Contemporary apocalyptic movements, Christian or Islamic, some violent, some not, all appear to share fantasies of a violent end, and they affect our politics profoundly. The apocalyptic mind can be demonising - that is to say, there are other groups, other faiths, that it despises for worshipping false gods, and these believers of course will not be saved from the fires of hell. And the apocalyptic mind tends to be totalitarian - which is to say that these are intact, all-encompassing ideas founded in longing and supernatural belief, immune to evidence or its lack, and well-protected against the implications of fresh data.

It's all here.

Olympics shine light on religious repression in China

On Sunday, The Washington Post wrote that while China was allowing Olympic athletes freedom of worship, the policy did not extend to its own citizens.

In this Olympic year, government officials have sharply tightened restrictions on religion, arresting leaders of unregistered "house churches," stepping up harassment of congregations, denying visas to foreign missionaries and shutting down places of worship, church members and religious activists said.

Now it turns out, that the interfaith center in the Olympic village are "woefully" in adequate according to some athletes.

The quality of the religious services center came into sharper focus on Saturday after the fatal attack against Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of the coach of the U.S. men's volleyball team, at a popular tourist spot in Beijing. To help athletes with their grief, the U.S. team had to scramble for official permission to get a chaplain who spoke English fluently into the village.

Phelim Kine, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, said the ban on foreign chaplains runs counter to the Olympic charter's "dedication to fundamental ethical principals and freedom of expression." He also said the International Olympic Committee shares the blame.

"This is yet another example of IOC's failure to enforce and to stand up to China's efforts to roll back basic freedoms that have been taken granted at previous Olympics," Kine said.

The saint of 9/11

A good day to remember the late Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan chaplain of the New York Fire Department who died when the twin towers fell. Judge was gay, a fact that writer Mike Kelly says aroused little concern--or even interest in the Fire Department. The Vatican, however, is not equally enlightened. Can the Church accept a gay saint?

Hat tip: Mad Priest

Evangelicals and torture

A new poll of 600 Southern evangelicals finds that they do not rely on the Bible when making decisions about torture:

A new survey suggests the very Americans who claim to follow the Bible most assiduously don’t consult it when forming their views about torture and government policy.

The poll of 600 Southern white evangelicals was released Sept. 11 in Atlanta in connection with a national religious summit on torture. It shows not only are white evangelical Southerners more likely than the general populace to believe torture is sometimes or often justified, but also that they are far more likely—to tweak a phrase from Proverbs—to “lean on their own understanding” regarding the subject.

. . .

While a recent Pew survey showed 48 percent of the general public believes torture sometimes or often is justified in order to obtain information from suspected terrorists, the new poll shows 57 percent of white Southern evangelicals hold that belief.

Among that demographic and despite their high levels of religious belief and practice, the survey found, “white evangelicals in the South are significantly more likely to rely on life experiences and common sense (44 percent) than Christian teachings or beliefs (28 percent) when thinking about the acceptability of torture.”

Meanwhile, among the minority who pointed to the Bible and Christian doctrine as the primary influences on their view of torture, more than half—52 percent—oppose government use of such tactics.

“This is a spiritual crisis, I suggest, that should alarm all Christian leaders regardless of what we think about torture,” said Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a Baptist minister and human-rights activist from Nashville, Tenn., at a press conference announcing the survey’s results. “This bad news for the church is a plus for any special interest who wants to take advantage of us.”

Read it all here. The poll was released as part of a conference in Atlanta on torture:

Starting today, Atlanta will host a simmering ethical and religious debate about the United States’ use of harsh methods such as waterboarding in the war on terror.

David Gushee, a Mercer University professor and Baptist preacher, has put himself at the center of that debate. He is leading a push among Christians, and especially among evangelicals, to ban the methods, which he believes are torture.

. . .

“From the moral perspective, to hear that one-fifth of evangelicals think torture is often justified, and that one-third think it is sometimes justified is extremely distressing. It shows we have a lot of work to do,” said Gushee, who also helped found Evangelicals for Human Rights in 2006.

Today and Friday, more than 200 U.S. religious, legal and political leaders will attend the conference that Gushee helped organize at Mercer’s Atlanta campus.

Keith Pavlischek from the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, also an evangelical, will not be there.

He has countered Gushee’s articles on torture in the evangelical flagship publication “Christianity Today.” Pavlischek does not rule out harsh treatment in extreme cases where lives could be saved, and he criticizes Gushee for not defining exactly what torture is.

“I want to push up against the boundary of that. Why, because I am sadistic? No, because I want to protect innocent people,” Pavlischek said.

Painful interrogations ought to be rare, but neither should suspects be simply jailed, he said.

“In between are a continuum of interrogation techniques that I believe are morally and legally permissible, that are aggressive, that are short of torture,” he said.

Gushee has responded to Pavlischek’s criticism, saying quibbling over what qualifies as torture is unseemly in the face of the golden rule and the Bible’s teachings on the sacredness of life. He defines torture as those things we would not want done to Americans and those forbidden by the Army Field Manual.

Read it all here.

Legitimately scary

Is it possible to express concern about religously-motivated bigotry and violence in the Islamic world without stoking the fires of Islamophobia? Here's hoping:

From The Washington Post:

Iranian students have released a book containing cartoons of the Holocaust, including some depicting hospitalized Jews on respiratory machines attached to canisters of Zyklon B, the gas used to exterminate Jews during World War II.

The students, members of a state militia, unveiled "Holocaust" in Tehran's Palestine Square on Friday in the presence of Education Minister Ali Reza Ali-Ahmadi, during annual demonstrations calling for the retreat of "Zionists" from "occupied Palestine."

From The New York Times:

LONDON — Early this month, Gibson Square publishers here announced that it would publish “The Jewel of Medina,” a novel about the early life of A’isha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a bold decision: the book’s United States publisher, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, had canceled its publication in August amid fears that it would offend and inflame Muslim extremists. (It has since been bought by another American publisher, Beaufort Books.)

For his part, Martin Rynja, Gibson Square’s publisher, said that it was “imperative” that the book be published. “In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear,” he said. “As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.”

Early Saturday morning, Mr. Rynja’s house in North London, which doubles as Gibson Square’s headquarters, was set on fire. Three men were arrested on suspicion “of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” the police said.

No one was injured in the arson, in which a small fire bomb was apparently pushed through the house’s mail slot. The police were already on the scene as the result of what they described as “a preplanned intelligence-led operation,” and, helped by firefighters, broke down the door and put out the fire.

(Tom Heneghan of Reuters' FaithWorld blog has a comprehensive look at this incident.)

None of which excuses incidents like this one in Dayton :

Njie was one of several affected when a suspected chemical irritant was sprayed into the mosque at 26 Josie St., bringing Dayton police, fire and hazardous material personnel to the building at 9:48 p.m.

Someone "sprayed an irritant into the mosque," Dayton fire District Chief Vince Wiley said, noting that fire investigators believe it was a hand-held spray can.

Christians in Mosul under attack

Violence against Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has reached a five-year high:

Iraq deployed around 1,000 police in Christian areas of Mosul on Sunday as thousands of members of the minority group fled the worst violence against them in five years.

"Two (national police) brigades were sent to Christian areas in Mosul and churches were surrounded and put under tight security," interior ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf told AFP.

He said the reinforcements had been deployed from midnight in the restive northern city, considered by US and Iraqi commanders as the last urban stronghold of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Khalaf added that two investigation teams, one security and the other criminal, had also been deployed to probe a spate of attacks on Christians in Mosul since September 28, in which at least 11 people have been killed.

An AFP correspondent said police had set up checkpoints at churches in the city's four heavily Christian areas and were patrolling the streets on foot.

Nearly 1,000 Christian families have fled their homes in the city since Friday, taking shelter on the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province, according to provincial governor Duraid Kashmula.

He said the violence was the worst against Christians in five years.

"(It) is the fiercest campaign against Christians since 2003," Kashmula told AFP on Saturday. "Among those killed over the past 11 days were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person."

At least three homes of Christians were blown up by unidentified attackers on Saturday, security officials said.

. . .

The flight of Christians from Mosul came as Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako last week called on the US military as well as Prime Minister Maliki's government to protect Christians and other minorities in the face of a rash of deadly attacks.

In an interview with AFP, Sako called on US forces to do more to protect Christians and other minorities.

"We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence. The objective is political," Sako said.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians had been killed and a string of churches attacked, with the violence intensifying in recent weeks, particularly in the north, he added.

There were around 800,000 Christians in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, a number that has since shrunk by around a third as the faithful have fled the country, the archbishop said.

Read it all here.

Convert or flee

Christians in eastern Indian state of Orissa are being told “Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished, otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village." reports The New York Times. Economic conditions are also a large factor in this attack.

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.
Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.

Read the rest here.

Previous Lead items on persecution of Christians around the world are here and here and here.

Christians in Iraq

In this time of extreme violence against Christians in Iraq, the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, The Anglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, whose diocese includes Iraq, has expressed his strong solidarity with all Christians in Iraq

The bishop recently visited Baghdad, where he met religious and political leaders, including major Shi'a and Sunni figures, as well as diplomats.

Speaking from Nicosia, Cyprus, he said:

"I am in close touch, as always, with our priest in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, and with leaders of our congregations, especially at St George's church in the north-western suburbs. The threats, injuries, and deaths in the Mosul area are a deep grief to all Christians in the nation of Iraq and throughout the world, and fly in the face of centuries-long coexistence and toleration in the land, where Christian families have lived and prospered from near the very beginnings of our faith.

"I am glad to hear that key figures in both the Christian and the main Muslim communities are united in condemnation of the violence and are soon to meet.

Read the letter here.

Canon Andrew White, priest in Baghdad, writes in his weekly letter that the head of the Baghdad City Council came to church with some of the Council. Although all are Muslim, he wanted to come to the biggest church in his city to express solidarity with the Christians.

Dear Friends,
Blessings from Baghdad. It all should be awful here: we may be in the most dangerous place in the world and we have indeed seen terrible things happening to the Christians here in the past few days but today has been wonderful. The day started with the service in the US Embassy which was alive and passionate. Chaplain Causey was leading the worship and he has truly spiced up our praise. I used to say that the Episcopal service in the Embassy was my most boring service. It is no longer.

St George's today was simply incredible. The head of the Baghdad City Council came to church with some of the Council. They were all Muslim but he wanted to come to the biggest church in his city to express solidarity with the Christians. He spoke to us all and amazingly showed great support and assured us that he was with us and would do anything for us. He has even agreed to build a large hall with a kindergarten. The drawings are being worked on and they will go to our Embassy- they own the land- and to our Diocese to seek permission. So despite all the problems things have been very positive.

Blessings and Peace from Baghdad,


Night of broken glass

Seventy years ago last night the Holocaust formally began in Nazi Germany during an organized riot since known as "Kristallnacht." On the night of November 9-10, 1938, 92 Jews were murdered and as many as 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. More than 200 Synagogues and thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were ransacked or destroyed. reports on the observance taking place in Germany:

Germany will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht on Sunday, through a series of events aimed at ensuring a new generation of Germans, too young to have known anyone connected with those events, about the horrors that flowed from the racism of the German past, in the hope of guarding against any future recurrence.

Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to mark the anniversary by speaking alongside the head of Germany's Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, in the Ryke Street synagogue in the old eastern part of Berlin. Although the synagogue had been torched on Kristallnacht, or Reichspogromnacht as some German Jews now prefer to call it, its structure remained intact and it was reopened last year for the first time since World War II. The ceremony will include the screening of a documentary on the night itself, and another on the Jewish community in Germany today.

Elsewhere in Berlin, a Mozart requiem and concert for violin by Felix Mendelssohn will be performed by the Philharmonic chamber orchestra. The mayor will accompany a ceremonial procession from the old city hall in Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin to the so-called "new synagogue" in the center of the city, where an exhibit of rare photographs of the event entitled "Fire! Anti-Jewish Terror on Kristallnacht" is being shown.

"The questions that these exhibits continue to raise is how was this possible in a democracy? Why didn't the fire department put out the fires?" says Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror Foundation, an independent research foundation that is sponsoring the Kristallnacht exhibit. The mass circulation Bild newspaper set aside its usual fare of crime and sports to show one of Berlin 's largest synagogues in flames under the headline "The night that the Synagogues burned!" while German TV is carrying documentaries about the pogrom.

Read more »

Alleged child witches abused in Nigeria

The Telegraph reports on the danger to children who are named witches by religious leaders in their villages.

Ostracised, vulnerable and frightened, she wandered the streets in south-eastern Nigeria, sleeping rough, struggling to stay alive.

Mary was found by a British charity worker and today lives at a refuge in Akwa Ibom province with 150 other children who have been branded witches, blamed for all their family's woes, and abandoned. Before being pushed out of their homes many were beaten or slashed with knives, thrown onto fires, or had acid poured over them as a punishment or in an attempt to make them "confess" to being possessed. In one horrific case, a young girl called Uma had a three-inch nail driven into her skull.

Yet Mary and the others at the shelter are the lucky ones for they, at least, are alive. Many of those branded "child-witches" are murdered - hacked to death with machetes, poisoned, drowned, or buried alive in an attempt to drive Satan out of their soul.
[They] are "identified" by powerful religious leaders at extremist churches where Christianity and traditional beliefs have combined to produce a deep-rooted belief in, and fear of, witchcraft. The priests spread the message that child-witches bring destruction, disease and death to their families. And they say that, once possessed, children can cast spells and contaminate others.

Some Nigerians are trying to help the children find safety, shelter and a future:
The children's shelter was started five years ago when Sam Itauma, a Nigerian, opened his house to four youngsters accused of witchcraft. Today, he and his five staff are caring for 150 youngsters. "Every day, five or six children are branded as witches," he says "Once a child has been stigmatised as a witch, it is very difficult for someone to accept that child back. If they go out from this community... there is a lot of attacks, assault and abuses on the children." Children often arrive at the shelter with severe wounds, but few clinics or hospitals will treat a child believed to be a witch.

The government has passed laws about the treatment of children but they are widely ignored. Churches do not seem to be in leadership against this practice.

Read it here.

President-elect accused of being the anti-christ

Newsweek reports on the far edge of religion where fear and racism combine to accuse the President-elect of being the anti-christ. This rhetoric supports those who would make threats to the family and office of the President. This activity is hopefully under close scrutiny by hate-watch groups and the Secret Service.

Read more »

Rick Warren: it's okay to assassinate foreign leaders

Can we please stop pretending that Rick Warren is some sort of moderate?

Last night, on Fox News, Sean Hannity insisted that United States needs to "take out" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Warren said he agreed. Hannity asked, "Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?" Warren responded, "Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."

Hat tip:Andrew Sullivan.

A report from Zimbabwe

Anglican-Information has been asked to circulate the following report from Zimbabwe, a country whose people’s sufferings are being quietly forgotten at the moment.

NEWSFLASH FROM ZIMBABWE - It’s the women who suffer most

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Al Ahli Hospital: after the ceasefire in Gaza

Reports from the Anglican hospital in Gaza, Al Ahli, tell of exhaustion and increased numbers of people coming for help now that the cease-fire is in place. The need for funds to support the efforts of healing is great.

“We are exhausted, but we must begin to resume normal operations at Al Ahli Hospital. We must continue the services that the people of Gaza expect of Al Ahli. We cannot rest yet.”

With these incredibly unselfish words, Al Ahli Hospital Director, Suhaila Tarrazi, described her work in the first days of ceasefire in Gaza. Ms. Tarrazi states that the cessation of military operations and activity is a tremendous relief from the recent “nightmare” but that in fact the hospital’s work remains very busy. Since the ceasefire began, the hospital has actually seen a slight increase in the numbers of patients because many who were afraid or unable to come to the hospital before are now able to come to receive care.

Washington Post on the silence of the ceasefire and taking stock here.

Read more below:

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Religious leaders praise torture ban

Religious leaders are celebrating President Barack Obama's executive order banning torture. Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe is on it.

Tutu asks for justice in Sudan

The Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu writes an OpEd in the New York Times today:

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Living the Five Marks of Mission

Henriette Thompson, director of The Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod Partnerships Department, attended the recent Americas Conference on Mutual Responsibility and Mission. There she had an opportunity to hear and record the story of a fellow delegate, Enrique Espinosa Bentancor.

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America's Conscience?

Diana Butler Bass for Beliefnet:

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Torture leaves a long shadow

Iranian-American political scientist Darius Rejali tells Kirsta Tippett on American Public Media's Speaking of Faith about the emotional and spiritual costs of torture.

Most people are unaware of the incredibly long shadow that torture casts, not just for a government but for society and lastly, I think, for the families that are involved in this process. The cases of atrocity-related trauma that are tied to torture are the domestic abuse, alcoholism, suicide rates. None of these things are calculated when people think about torture.

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Confronting gun violence in church

The LA Times reports on churches preparing for gun violence in church:

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Mourning a life lost in Uganda

In 1976, the Sabune family lost their idealistic brother to the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports how the family came together to mourn and remember these many years later:

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Remembering 9/11: Time Colors the Artist's Response

Each year on September 11, McSweeney's publishes "Welcoming Remarks Made at a Literary Reading," a brief speech made by John Hodgman, the then toiling writer and literary type who eventually became known as "PC" in the Macintosh commercials, as well as a capable "Daily Show" reporter. The remarks were made just two weeks after the towers fell in Lower Manhattan's World Trade Center eight short and sharp years ago.

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Brides' March against domestic violence

The Eagle Tribune North Andover, Massachusetts, reports on a seventh annual Brides' March against domestic violence.

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Don't ask. Don't tell. Doesn't work.

You know that society is moving toward the acceptance of gay relationships when Joint Force Quarterly , a prestigious journal published by the National Defense University Press for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gives the top prize in its 2009 essay contest to a systematic dissection of the U. S. Military's policy of Don't Ask. Don't tell.

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Uganda to enact prison or death laws for GBLT persons

Cynthia Black writing at Walking with Integrity reports on proposed new anti-gay laws in Uganda:

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Bishop of Wyoming to attend signing of Hate Crimes Prevention Act

The Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell, Bishop of Wyoming, long time supporter of federal hate crimes legislation will be present when President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

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Christian leaders oppose proposed Ugandan law

Pew Forum reports that a broad coalition of Christian leaders have signed a statement opposing the death penalty for gays and lesbians.

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Hate begets hate

The New York Times editorial calls for sanctions of Uganda if the anti-homosexuality law passes in its current form:

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Fatwa issued against terrorism and suicide bombings

The BBC reports that an influential Islamic scholar has issued a fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings:

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Kenya: another gay hate campaign from the U.S.?

GayUganda reports on another hate campaign supported from the US, this one in Kenya. Terrifying and possibly illegal websites from the U.S. call for death to gays and lesbians. They provide posters with photos and addresses of people to target. One of the Americans behind this is an anti-gay and anti-abortion activist and sometime candidate for governor of Georgia.

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Assasination attempt on Bishop Barahona, El Salvador

From the Rev. Lee Alison Crawford's blog Caminate:

Bishop of the Anglican Church of El Salvador victim of an assassination attempt

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Art has no borders

The Sierra Vista Herald reports on an Arizona church that is standing for justice in the midst of all the anti-immigrant sentiment by the state legislature and governor:

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Zimbabwe: stop harassing opponents of Mugabe

Ekklesia reports that Amnesty International has asked Zimbabwe to stop harassing opponents of Mugabe:

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Are gay exorcisms child abuse?

From Religion Clause: The June issue of Details Magazine reports on exorcism rituals practices by some Pentecostal and Evangelical churches across the country aimed at driving out demons which are deemed by them to be the cause of homosexuality.

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Clergy sexual abuse common and pervasive

... if the cases of reported abuse were spread evenly across the country, every average-sized congregation with 400 members would include seven women in their midst who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct at some time since they turned 18.

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Anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard

Today is the 12th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, young gay man who belonged to the Episcopal Church in Wyoming. His mother speaks out on CBS News about the current deaths by suicide of victims of bullying.

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Sexual abusing priests placed in low income or minority parishes

Religion Clause reports on a new study from Voice of the Faithful that shows Chicago priests accused of sexual misconduct and abuse are often assigned to parishes in zip codes that are predominantly African-American and/or low median household incomes.

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Episcopal women partner against gender violence

16_days_logo.gif A unique partnership of Episcopal/Anglican women's groups is offering resources for work against gender violence.

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Terror threat saddens LGBT-friendly congregation

One of the two explosives-packed parcels recently intercepted was likely bound for Or Chadash, a Chicago-based Jewish congregation that's known for its openness to the LGBT community, CNN's Belief Blog reports.

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Clergy abuse victims rally at Vatican

Victims of clergy sexual abuse gathered at the Vatican on Sunday. NPR reports on this historic gathering to show victims around the world that they are not alone. The rally asked the Pope to listen to the stories of those who suffered and act to prevent abuse in the future.

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Global report on gay (in)equality

The website Foreign Policy reports on the leading gay rights battlefields around the world.

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Suspected terror violence against Christians mars Christmas

The toll from violent explosions in Nigeria and the Philippines is still being counted today. Coordinated attacks on churches and in other areas were Christians were gathering in Nigeria killed at least 38 people in total so far with many more critically wounded. In the Philippines a bomb exploded at a chapel during Christmas Mass and wounded a priest and 10 members of the congregation.

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Bomb attack on church in Egypt leaves 17 dead

Following a New Year's Eve service at a Coptic Church in Alexandria Egypt an bomb (apparently a car bomb) exploded outside the church. Latest reports list 21 people as killed in the attack.

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Assorted updates from abroad

New developments in three stories we have been following:

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What can we learn from tragedy?

Jon Stewart on learning from tragedy:

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Churches respond to domestic violence: webinar

Growing Safe and Healthy Congregations and Families in the Church is a webinar series designed to increase the capacity to effectively respond to and prevent domestic and sexual violence and abuse in the life of our churches and communities.

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Episcopal Women's Caucus:
Stand Against Gender Violence

Received by email on the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day:

Episcopal Women’s Caucus marks 100th International Women’s Day
with Plea to Church Leaders to Stand Against Gender Violence

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Silent No More: ending sexual violence

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior church leaders pledge to end sexual violence:

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Osama Bin Laden is dead. How should Christians receive this news?

Numerous news outlets are reporting that President Barack Obama will soon announce that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. How should Christians receive this news? It seems wrong to find pleasure, or even relief in the death of any human being. Yet ...

Let's think this through together. What are your thoughts?

In the aftermath of Bin Laden's death, reflections, judgments and prayers

The killing of Osama Bin Laden by U. S. forces has sparked an outpouring of reaction, and reaction to the reaction, which we will try to keep up with for you this morning here on Episcopal Cafe.

From a spokesman at the Vatican:

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On rejoicing, or not, when an enemy falls

Continuing our coverage of the religious world's reaction to the killing of Osama Bin Laden...

Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches reports:

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Episcopalians blogging: Death of bin Laden

Bishops, clergy and lay leaders reflect on the death of Osama bin Laden:
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane, Maine:

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More responses to killing of Osama bin Laden

More thoughtful responses to the killing of Osama bin Laden:

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Spain indicts Salvadoran military officials

Spain has indicted 20 Salvadoran military officials for the 1989 murders of 8 Jesuits and 2 women according to

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The phony sharia threat

Writing for USA Today, Amy Sullivan explains what sharia is, how it is used in U. S. courts, and why it is not the threat that every one of the top Republican presidential candidates claims it to be:

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Survivors of clergy abuse say Parry resignation is not enough

The Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has issued a press statement calling for more action by the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada and others to be more proactive in searching for victims of Episcopal priest and admitted child abuser, Bede Parry:

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Residential school students speak out to heal

Survivors of Canadian Anglican residential school abuse of native children are speaking out to heal from all they suffered. The Anglican Journal writes:

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Is Anders Breivik a Christian Terrorist?

Mark Juergensmeyer, writing for Religion Dispatches, discusses Christian terrorism and wonders about all terrorism in the name of faith:

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London riots: actions and reactions

UPDATED: Churches are responding as the riots in Tottenham have spread to 3 cities in England.

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Sexism in the church

The Rev. Lesley Crawley calls out the Church for its sexism in The Guardian today:

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9/11 commemorations

Many churches, especially around the New York City and Washington DC areas are planning special services for Sunday, September 11, which is the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. Here are some resources. What will your church be doing?

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The effect of 9/11 on the perception of religion

Cathy Grossman of USA Today is covering Templeton-Cambridge seminars on Science and Religion convened by the Templeton Foundation. A recent article focuses on a presentation by R. Scott Appleby, a Catholic scholar at the University of Notre Dame, who who directs, "Contending Modernities," a program examining the interaction of Catholic, Muslim and secular forces in modern world.

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Cynthia Zarin remembers 9-11 with this essay in the New York Times:

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Chaplains bear witness

Five chaplains who served first responders, loved ones and the community in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks tell their stories to the Huffington Post.

The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs, BCC wrote:

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Abuse victims case filed at The Hague against Vatican

National Catholic Reporter Online reports breaking news seeking justice from the Vatican for victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests.

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Archbishop Chama explains Zimbabwe church struggles

From Trinity Wall Street:

Four Anglican Archbishops, including Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently met with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on behalf of church members who have been prohibited from using their sanctuaries for worship. One of them, Archbishop Albert Chama, of the Province of Central Africa, visited Trinity Wall Street to explain the dispute.

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President Obama announces LGBT protection worldwide

Updated: 4:30 p.m. EST. Video of Secretary of State Clinton's speech below.

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ABC on Holocaust Memorial Day

From the Anglican Communion News Service, a video of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams speaking about Holocaust Memorial Day. Williams asks who will speak for the stranger, the neighbour, and those in danger?

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Praying for New Orleans one block at a time

Praying for New Orleans, one block at a time by Bruce Nolan for Episcopal News Service:

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Archbishop of York on Ugandan anti-gay bill

The Archbishop of York has issued statement on the murderous anti-gay bill currently before the Ugandan legislature:

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Love, hope, courage in the midst of tragedy...

In the aftermath of the shootings and deaths at Chardon High School The Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, many have gone beyond themselves to reach out to others:

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Missouri priest investigated for child sexual abuse

The Rolla Daily News reports that an Episcopal priest, often called "the cookie monster" by children, is under investigation for sexual abuse of children.

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Roman Catholic Church seeks to silence S.N.A.P.

New York Times reports that Roman Catholic bishops are trying to cripple and silence Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP):

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PB criticized for postion on Israel, Palestine and divestment

Sabeel, leading organization for justice, peace and reconciliation in Palestine-Israel has posted an open letter to the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church:

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Churches in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin

The Rev. Charlie Holt, whose church is less that two miles from the site of the shooting, gives us a behind the headlines look at how the churches in the area are coming together to build up the community in this time:

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Forgiveness and anger

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton writes on forgiveness in The Washington Post. Following the murder of a priest and administrator at St. Peter's Episcopal Church of Maryland Sutton comments on a country that votes down programs for those who find themselves hungry and homeless and votes up easy access to guns:

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Church shooting reminder that forgiveness is necessary

Derek Olsen, frequent contributor to Daily Episcopalian, writes in the Washington Post.

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Video depicts alleged abuse at W. KS Episcopal school

Associated Press reports:

The mother of a 14-year-old boy says a cellphone video depicting her son struggling to stand on two broken legs is proof that her son was harmed while attending a Kansas military school and supports claims in a federal lawsuit that the school encouraged a culture of abuse.

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Boy Scouts and Chick-Fil-A oppose gays

Today's news reports that the Boy Scouts and the chicken sandwich purveyor Chick-Fil-A confirm their anti-gay stances.

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Prayers for the victims of the shooting in Colorado

Prayers ascend in the wake of the mass shooting at a multi-plex in Aurora, Colorado early this morning.

Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus bear that pain with us and bless all who suffer at others' hands. Hallow our flesh and all creation; with your cleansing love bring healing and strength to the victims of this shooting; and by your justice, lift them up, that in the body you have given them, they may again rejoice. Amen

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Letter from Bishop O'Neill of Colorado

From the Rt. Rev. Rob O'Neill of the Diocese of Colorado

Dear Friends,

Like many of you I awakened this morning to the news of the tragic shootings that took place overnight in Aurora, and as the morning has progressed I have followed with sadness the various news reports coming in as this tragedy continues to unfold.

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Guns in the US: the myth of protection

A 2009 study shows correlation between carrying a gun and getting shot or killed. From New Scientist:

People who carry guns are far likelier to get shot – and killed – than those who are unarmed, a study of shooting victims in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has found.

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UPDATED: St George Cathedral children injured in Baghdad

UPDATED with a full report from ACNS below.

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"An American Tragedy"

Naunihal Singh, in The New Yorker, has written a powerful op-ed on the Oak Creek shootings. Singh's entire article is complete and compelling, looking closely at the media coverage and the failure of both campaigns to fully incorporate the tragedy into necessary healing as a nation, but what follows is the most troubling part of his insight:

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Inclusive church torched in southern Ohio

The Logan Daily News writes a story on a small Ohio church that was destroyed by fire:

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Tutu: Bush and Blair should face trial at The Hague

From AP:

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu called Sunday for Tony Blair and George Bush to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq

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Reflections on 9/11

Wendy Dackson writing at Layanglicana reflects on the anniversary of 9/11. Used with permission:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Liturgy for Ash Wednesday)

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Nigerian primate warns government to confront Boko Haram

The Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, Primate of Nigeria is appealing to the government to confront the violent Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. Okoh's rhetoric is significantly more temperate than that of his predecessor Peter Akinola, but he makes it clear that religious violence may spin out of control in his country.

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Kenya Archbishop condemns attacks on Sunday school

From Anglican Communion News Service:

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City crime linked to self hatred

Professor James Cone of Union Theological Seminary proposes that self hatred is a root cause of urban violence and suggests a role for churches. From WXXInews in Rochester, NY:

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Reparations: listening

From the PBS station KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, an interview with Katrina Browne and Juanita Brown about the documentary Traces of the Trade, slavery in the northeastern U.S. and the story of a slave-trading family.

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Ending violence against women and children

The Rt. Rev. Thabo Makobi, Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa led a march of over a 1000 people to begin "16 Days of Activism" for no violence against women and children according to Episcopal News Service:

Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba on Nov. 25 led one thousand people in a Procession of Witness to kick-start South Africa’s 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children.
Through joining the act of public witness — from Keizersgracht Square to St. Georges Cathedral, Cape Town — Makgoba underlined his backing for the annual, government-supported campaign.

The international theme for 2012 is From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women. Makgoba is firmly committed to increasing awareness of abuse and to developing effective support for victims and survivors of abuse, according to a press release from HOPE Africa, the social development department of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town.

You can participate in the US by calling for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Download fact sheets here.

This time around, Warren silent on draconian Ugandan law

Faithful America is urging evangelical preacher Rick Warren to speak out against a horrific law in Uganda which would sentence gays and lesbians to life in prison or even the death penalty. From the group's Web site:

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Ministry and prayers for Sandy Hook, Newtown CT

Update on Sandy Hook shootings.

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Bishops of Connecticut issue new update

The latest from the Episcopal bishops of Connecticut includes news of a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown who was killed in the shooting. They write:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

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In the wake of Newtown, what should Christians do?

In the aftermath of a massacre such as the one that occurred Friday in Newtown, is it helpful for Christians to do anything other than pray and offer comfort to those who have been affected by the violence?

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How do we make sense of the Sandy Hook tragedy?

The Rt Rev Ian Douglas comments on the religious questions in the face of the horror of the Sandy Hook killings. Sunday School Director Sue Vogelman speaks to CNN about answering children's questions and praying with them. From Episcopal News Service::

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More on God in the Newtown tragedy

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, writes on these 6 things he's sick of hearing concerning the Sandy Hook massacre, describing them each in a paragraph:

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Bishops urge petitions against gun violence

The Rt Revs Jon Bruno of Los Angeles and James Curry of Connecticut are asking people to sign online petitions to end gun violence:

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2013: year without fear?

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writing in the Washington Post looks at an underlying issue fueling the proliferation of guns and gun violence in the USA:

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Prayer for an end to violence in East Belfast

From the Anglican Communion News Service - a request of prayer for Northern Ireland:

From The Rt Revd Harold Miller, Bishop of Down and Dromore

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Diocese of VA files gun resolution for annual Council

The Executive Board of the Diocese of Virginia has filed the following resolution: A Response to Gun Violence for consideration at the diocese's Annual Council Meeting:

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Evangelicals divided over how to control gun violence

CNN Beliefblog notes the appearance of evangelicals supporting legislation to control gun violence:

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Dean Hall preaches on MLK & opposing gun violence

Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall preached on Martin Luther King, Jr and opposing violence:

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Bishop James Curry of CT testifies on gun legislation

The Rt. Rev. James Curry, bishop of Connecticut testifies before the CT legislature. He says in part:

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Episcopal Church Washington Office on NRA enemies list

Think Progress reports that the NRA has published an enemies list. Among the names on the list are former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning and the Washington Office of the Episcopal Church Center.

See list below:

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Dallas Mayor: violence is men's fault

KERA News reports a statement by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on violence against women and children:

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Holocaust death toll found to be much higher

The Huffington Post reports that researchers have concluded that the death toll in the 1933-1945 holocaust is much higher than previously thought :

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Christian fundamentalism in the military

State of Belief explores the role of Christian fundamentalism in the US military:

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Desmond Tutu: 'God is weeping' over the plight of Syrians

Desmond Tutu today issued an impassioned plea to the international community to take action on behalf of Syria. From the Elders Blog:

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Drone protest

Religious leaders protest the use of drones. CNN reports:

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Prayers for Boston


The Episcopal Café offers prayers for all affected by the explosions today at the Marathon.

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After Boston: finding your people, saying prayers

The Episcopal Church can feel like a place of only one or two degrees of separation on those days when a tragedy strikes, and everyone is frantically trying to find out if the people to whom they feel a special connection are okay. Episcopal News Service did the church a service yesterday by getting on top of the Episcopal connection to the Boston Marathon bombing quickly. Here is Mary Frances Schjonberg's story:

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Boston backstory: the man in the cowboy hat

Tasneem Raja of Mother Jones has the story of one of the heroes of the finish line. Carlos Arredondo--the man with the cowboy hat--lived a life scarred by violence and anguish, event before the bombs went off. :

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Boston backstory: A day in the life of the Old North Church

The Rev Stephen T. Ayres of Christ Church, Boston, otherwise known as the Old North Church writes of his experiences yesterday:

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Non-partisan panel: US engaged in torture post-9/11

Scott Shane of The New York Times reports:

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Obama: 'God has not given us a spirit of fear'

At a prayer service in Boston today, President Obama told mourners: "We come together to pray and mourn and measure our loss. But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace -- to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed."

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An Easter People in the Boston Lockdown

The Rev Cameron Partridge, Episcopal chaplain at Boston University describes a day spent in lockdown.

One of my family’s favorite books, The Napping House begins, “there is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping.” I may be the only one awake here on this bizarrely quiet late Friday afternoon. Our three year old son has fallen asleep on the floor of his room with the light on, my spouse and our three month old are asleep on the couch, and our guest is napping at least in name—that was the condition under which our son released him drawing endless pictures of our family as a collection of pterodactyls.

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Will you pray for bombing suspect?

The Huffington Post asks, "will you pray for the bombing suspect?" Over 50% of people (as of Saturday morning) say yes:

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Across the street in Watertown MA

The Rev. Amy McCreath, priest of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown MA:

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Religious groups meet Sunday to pray at Marathon site

Religious groups will join in worship Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the site of the Boston Marathon barricades. Boston Globe reports:

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Angry. Young. Men.

Lisa Miller has written a provocative column for New York Magazine dilating on the fact that whatever their motives and whatever their mental conditions, the perpetrators of mass bloodbaths tend to be angry, young and male.

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Aleppo bishops kidnapped

UPDATE: Unconfirmed but Twitter is reporting the bishops have been freed. (Still unconfirmed 4/25/13

BBC Breaking News ‏@BBCBreaking 3m
Two bishops abducted in northern Syria on Monday are released - Church official

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Historic perspective on violence and religion

Interesting thoughts on terrorism and religious affiliation from Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan, whose blog focuses on the Middle East, history and religion:

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Priest reflects on personal experience as bombing victim

Father Michael Lapsley, founder of the Institute for Healing of Memories, talks with Ethan Vesely-Flad about his own experience as the victim of bomb attack in South Africa and what challenges face survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing. Lapsley lost both arms and the use of an eye and and ear in a 1990 letter bomb attack. At the Huffington Post:

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Cemeteries refuse to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev

From the New Hampshire Register

A Yale Divinity School graduate says he is willing to donate one of his burial plots at a Mt. Carmel cemetery to the family of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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Boston Strong :: Boston Vulnerable

The Rev. Tim Schenck reflects on the Biblical theme of power in weakness following the bombings in Boston. From Wicked Local:

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Burying Tamerlan

A Methodist woman credits her Christianity with her decision to seek a burial place for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the man who allegedly killed and wounded many with bombs during the Boston Marathon. From AP:

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Prayers for Oklahoma and all suffering from tornadoes

Devastating tornadoes have touched down in Oklahoma and other parts of the US. News reports show damage and loss of life. From the Washington Post:

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Sexual violence and the church

Catherine Woodwiss writes in Sojourners about how images of God and Bible stories that support power and masculinity lead to manipulation, devaluation, and sexual abuse of women. From her essay In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and ‘Masculine Christianity Woodwiss writes:

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The Rev. Richard Helmer, on sabbatical in Japan, reflects on the 2011 tsunami and life there today. From his blog Caught by the Light:

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Assets protected from abuse lawsuits by Cardinal Dolan

Abuse victims and church members hoped that Cardinal Timothy Dolan would be the new face of a more compassionate church but the New York Times reports that he was hiding assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse:

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1200+ mourn families killed in Alaska plane crash

USAToday reports on the memorial service for the two Greenville, SC families who died in a plane crash in Alaska:

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What does it mean to truly love our neighbor

From Episcopal Café on Facebook:
This sermon was preached Sunday by Fr. Charlie Holt of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lake Mary ( the community adjacent to Sanford) FL. Fr. Charlie was present in the courtroom during much of the trial, and was and continues to be part of a group of local clergy who began meeting shortly after Trayvon was killed.

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Cameroon LGBTI activist dead, tortured

Human Rights Watch reports that Eric Ohena Lembembe, rights activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities has been found tortured and dead in his home:

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ABC condemns attacks on Muslims

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has condemned attacks on Muslims in the UK and calls for solidarity with minority communities who suffer attacks. The Telegraph has the story:

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The evil within...

Rachel Held Evans writes at CNN on the TV series "Breaking Bad" and sin and our own ability to be evil:

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A crime to feed the homeless?

North Carolina and South Carolina are experiencing an economic boom but fears that the homeless will drive away business are resulting in some heartless policies:

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Churches launch campaign for garment workers in Bangladesh

A campaign to support Bangladeshi garment workers will be launched next week by churches around the world and led by the Church of Bangladesh, a part of the Anglican Communion, according to Anglican Communion News Service

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Welby urges Christians to repent of 'wicked' attitude to gays and lesbians

Speaking to an audience of born-again Christians the Archbishop of Canterbury called them to repent of their treatment of gays and lesbians. The Telegraph reports:

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At least 75 dead in suicide bombing of Anglican Church in Peshawar

The Independent: At least 56 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a double suicide blast attack outside an historic church in Peshawar – one of the deadliest assaults in years on Pakistan’s long-persecuted Christian minority.

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Titus Presler reports on Peshawar Anglican Church bombing

UPDATE: Presiding Bishop calls for prayers - see below
A report on the bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar from Titus Presler, Principal of Edwardes College in Peshawar, Pakistan:

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Violence against women shockingly common

What is your church doing about violence against women? Often violence is justified by religious teaching of all faiths. Can church be part of the solution? NPR reviews a current report on violence against women:

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Ghanaian Poet killed in Nairobi attack

Professor and poet Kofi Awoonor was killed in the attack in Nairobi. This is one of his last poems. +Rob Hirschfeld, bishop of New Hampshire read this poem to the bishops meeting in Nashville.

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Update on Pakistan church bombing

Thinking Anglicans updates the reports from Pakistan via Titus Presler:

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Matt Shepard film premiered at National Cathedral

The Washington (DC) National Cathedral announces: "To mark the fifteenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death after a brutal hate crime, Washington (DC) National Cathedral hosts a weekend of events to honor and remember lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBGT) youth who have suffered hate-inspired bullying, discrimination, and violence."

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The right to remain silent but should you?

The Rev. Martha Hubbard writes in the Newburyport (MA) News:

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Welby welcomes Amnesty International report on Egypt

From Lambeth Palace:

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has welcomed a new Amnesty International report calling on Egypt to prevent “deeply disturbing” attacks on Coptic Christians.

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Throwing hardballs at God

The Rev. Becky Gettel reflects on the Bible's Laments and Psalms at Wicked Local Concord (MA):

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From the streets to being the best mom

Nicholas Kristof reports on sex trafficking and how it is a modern day form of slavery. He profiles Thistle Farm and its successes with helping people return to wholeness and life in the New York Times:

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Bartolmé de las Casas Day?

Today is holiday for the U.S. called Columbus Day. It is hard to believe that we celebrate him. From Huffington Post:

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Dealing with the "Poor Father" syndrome

Mark Silk at Religion News Service writes about clergy sexual abuse and misconduct in Dealing with the "Poor Father" Syndrome:

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Is your church prepared for disaster? Are you?

Episcopal Relief & Development offers a free Preparedness Planning Guide for Congregations and Parishes and an accompanying facilitator’s guide to walk congregations through the process of preparing for a disaster. It can be downloaded for free from the resource page of its website.

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Speak out against gender violence

November 24, Episcopal Relief and Development is urging churches to join in speaking out against gender violence:

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The power of neighbors

Comparing response to disasters in Ghana and the U.S. by Barbara Ballenger for Episcopal Relief and Development:

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Turning grief to action

Veronique Pozner was consumed with grief after the murder of her son in the Newtown rampage. But she turned her grief into action, in a model for us all. From The Jewish Daily Forward:

Security threat closes Denver Episcopal Cathedral

From the Bishop's Office via KDVR-TV:

“Unfortunately, these situations do occasionally arise, and we feel a responsibility to take necessary measures to keep our staff and the public safe,” said Larry Hitt, Chancellor for the Diocese of Colorado. “All those involved are in our prayers, and we will work to return to business as usual as soon as possible.”

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Police make arrest in Denver Cathedral case

The Denver Post reports that police have arrested a 60-year-old man in connection with threats that led to the closure of offices and cancellation of events yesterday at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral. Read more.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance is being held today through November 20, remembering all persons who have been killed in anti-transgender violence. A virtual remembrance is online on Facebook. Believe Out Loud notes:

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Living without fear in Pakistan

From Episcopal News Service

On Sept. 22, 2013, two suicide bombers targeted All Saints Anglican Church in Peshawar at the end of a Sunday worship service, killing and injuring several hundred Many of the victims were women and children.

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The Philippines: church focusing on long term recovery

Anglican Communion News Service reports that the Anglican Communion and its member churches are planning for long term recovery as well as immediate needs:

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NJ bishops urge tighter gun purchase background checks

New Jersey and Newark bishops Mark Beckwith and William Stokes write to New Jersey legislators urging them to support tighter background checks for purchasers of guns. carries their open letter:

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What else did we expect? Guns and violence

The Very Rev. Gary Hall's, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, sermon on John the Baptist and Sandy Hook school shootings and all the death that continues. From Huffington Post:

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Sad Christmas for Anglicans in Peshwar

Christians in Pakistan are feeling both desolate and vulnerable in this holy season. Many are still mourning the loss of the 82 people who were killed by a double suicide bombing at All Saint Church on September 22. AFP has the story:

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UN: Uganda anti-gay law violates human rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says that Uganda's new anti-gay law violates the rights of bisexual, transgender, gay and lesbian (LGBT) persons. Ekklesia reports:

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Contraception challenge: "Little Sisters" have no case

Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has been covering the challenge by the Roman Catholic Church order, Little Sisters of the Poor, to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act:

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Churches offering refuge from freezing temperatures

Many churches are offering shelter to people who do not have a warm place where they can stay out of the bitter cold challenging much of the U.S. Is your church open for those who would otherwise have to sleep outside or in unheated buildings?

From WKMS Murray KY:

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Newark clergy propose anti-bullying by laity resolution

Four clergy from The Diocese of Newark have submitted a resolution to Diocesan Convention, asking the bishop to convene a Task Force to develop a policy to address the bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy by lay persons.

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Human Trafficking at the Super Bowl

As New Jersey prepares for next week's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark reflects on the Super Bowl as a hub of human trafficking. Bishop Beckwith also highlights what religious communities are doing in partnership with law enforcement to educate and prevent sexual exploitation:

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On the eve of the Olympics: being gay in Russia

Jeff Sharlet investigates life in Russia and the persecution of anyone the state believes support people of any orientation other than heterosexual. GQ carries the story, "Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia." Some excerpts:

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The Philomena Project: Reconciling Forced Adoption

Philomena Lee, the real-life woman of the Oscar-nominated "Philomena," was recently invited to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis. At 18 years old, Lee entered an Irish home for unwed mothers and was forced to give up her son, Anthony, after three years:

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Uganda leader to sign anti-gay bill

Basing his decision on alleged "medical experts" the Ugandan president says he will sign the bill which will give life imprisonment to gays and lesbians. The Washington Post has the story:

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Bishop Mouneer Anis: End violence against Muslims

Bishop Mouneer Anis joins call for an end to violence by Christians against Muslims in the Central African Republic. Anglican Communion News Service has the story:

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How to be an ally for Uganda's LGBTQ community

After detailing the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons in countries with anti-gay laws. Justin Adkins gives ideas about how to help the oppressed communities in countries where it dangerous to walk down the street. From Huffington Post:

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Bombs target cathedral in Zanzibar

Homemade bombs exploded next to the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Reuters reports:

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Bishops Against Gun Violence

Episcopal bishops against gun violence have a new web site according to a Tweet from Bishop Nick Knisely

The Bishop’s against Gun violence website has gone live! Please take a look. This is important.

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In Uganda: Stealing our pride

How the photos of gays in Uganda were used in the tabloids after the draconian anti-gay laws were enacted. From the New York Times:

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Church disaster team responds to Oso WA mudslide

UPDATE: video from The Guardian

The Rt Rev Greg Rickel writes on the status of the mudslide near Oso, WA and what we can do to help:

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Hobby Lobby case before Supreme Court today

UPDATE: Arguments made today at Supreme Court reported by SCOTUSblog

The Hobby Lobby anti-contraceptives case is being heard by the Supreme Court today. Religious leaders who oppose the Hobby Lobby position are speaking out:

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Trinity Wall Street, Guns and Walmart

A letter from the Rector of Trinity Wall Street:

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A church responds to hate in Overland Park

An Overland Park Episcopal Church responds to hate as reported in Time. The Rev'ds Benedict Varnum and Gar Demo write:

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Sex offenders-in their own words-and the exploitation of trust

At the Rhymes with Religion blog on Religious New Service Boz Tchividjian, former child abuse chief prosecutor, breaks down his experiences with sex offenders. His work, which includes working with pastors convicted of molestation, reveal four common exploitations: 1) exploitation of faith terms, 2) exploitation of needs, 3) exploitation of authority, and 4) exploitation of trust. In his interviews, one convicted child molester stated:

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Anglican Communion network works for peace in South Sudan

Episcopal News Service reports on a "network" of dioceses, bishops, other church leaders around the Anglican Communion who are supporting and advocating for the people of South Sudan:

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Georgia bishops say no guns in church

In the aftermath of Georgia's loosening of gun possession and carry laws, the bishops of the dioceses of Georgia Episcopal News Service have said no to carrying guns in church (except on-duty law enforcement personnel):

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Jefferts Schori, Welby & Episcopal schoolgirls join outcry over Nigerian kidnapping

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church are among those speaking out against the abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Archbishop Justin Welby issued this statement:

“This is an atrocious and inexcusable act and my prayers and thoughts go out to the young people and their families at this upsetting time. I appeal to those who have taken these schoolgirls to release them immediately and unharmed. This is in a part of Nigeria I have visited and in a country whose people are close to my heart. Let your hearts be open in compassion and mercy to those who have suffered so much.”

And from the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori:

The Episcopal Church is horrified at the violence perpetrated against innocent schoolgirls in Nigeria, and the willingness of those who should be addressing this to look the other way. The unfortunate truth is that girls and women are still deemed dispensable in much of the world, or at least of lesser value than members of the other sex. The necessary response is education – of girls and boys, in equal numbers and to an equal degree, that all might take their rightful place in societies that serve all their citizens with equal respect and dignity. I pray that all Episcopalians, and all people of faith and good will, will pray and plead with their political leaders to find the kidnappers, liberate these girls, and restore them to the safety they deserve. May God have mercy on us all.

In Memphis, Tenn., students at St. Mary's Episcopal School are rallying in support of the kidnapped schoolgirls. From the school newspaper:

It has been nearly four weeks since Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, kidnapped almost 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria. What should we do now to help our sisters?

Connect: Sign the following petition to show your support and help give a voice to every Nigerian schoolgirl that was kidnapped:

Show: Bring awareness to this situation by making your “I Am A Nigerian Schoolgirl” picture your profile picture on all social medias, or use the red Bring Back Our Girls poster. Be sure to use the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to spread the message.

Share: Donating helps. You can help girls’ schools in the same region in Nigeria by donating to

Telling the difference between danger and fear

James Fallows notes: Bathtubs should be 365 times more frightening than sharks. So why aren't they? From The Atlantic:

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Elizabeth Dias of Time is monitoring an intriguing hashtag. She writes:

The shooting spree in Santa Barbara, Calif. on Friday–and suspect Elliot Rodger’s manifesto against women that appears to have been behind it–prompted an online conversation critiquing the beliefs society instills in men about women.

But alongside the #YesAllWomen hashtag cropped up another one–#YesAllBiblicalWomen–as people began imagining the way the women of the Bible would contribute to the #YesAllWomen conversation if they could speak today.

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Conservative Christianity and Pickup Artist Culture

In the wake of the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara and the #YesAllWomen movement on social media, Dr. Kevin Kuhn-Choi, Assistant Professor of Religion at Cal State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, CA, examines some of the cultural and religious forces undergirding the tragedy. For Kuhn-Choi, understanding conservative Christianity is part and parcel of knowing the broader cultural framework of American masculinity that creates the ground for Pickup Artist culture and a rigid definition of gender roles:

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When a child dies ...

The death of a child is a terrible event and we hope to offer comfort to those who were closest to the child. Here is an essay on 23 things not to say. And perhaps there is nothing but our presence that we can offer.

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The spiritual crisis behind gun violence, and the church's response

In the wake mass shootings recently in Oregon, Nevada, Washington and California, Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada asks what is at the root of these spasms of violence and how the church should respond:

In the aftermath of gun violence, we reflexively say we need better regulation of firearms and we need more mental health services. Yes, obviously true. I am 100% for both those technical responses.

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Church reviving sanctuary to protect undocumented

Buried in what the Eric Cantor defeat means for passing immigration reform are the growing numbers of children detained at the borders, along with one church's work to protect people.

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Help and prayers for Christians in Iraq

The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf and Anglican Vicar Andrew White plead for prayers and help for Christians in Iraq. From ENS:

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Turning back immigrant children: the shame of our era

President Obama has asked for $3.7 million to address the crisis on the Mexico-US border. From NBCNews:

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Nicholas Kristof on violence against Christians by Islamic fundamentalists

Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times about the troubling rise of violence against Christians by Islamic fundamentalists:

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Fasting for Peace today

In the face of continuing bombing and counter attacks, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are fasting for peace today. July 15 is a Jewish fast day (17th of Tammuz) and this year coincides with the Muslim observation of Ramadan. Religion News Service reports:

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Just Terrorism?

For centuries, Christians have supported "Just War" theory. But what about "Just Terrorism?" Giles Fraser explores this question in his weekly column from the London Guardian:

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Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out on Gaza, UN Anti-trafficking Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has issued statements on the war in Gaza and on the UN Anti-Trafficking Day:

Gaza (excerpt):

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The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker

Esquire Magazine features Dr. Willie Parker who sees his offering abortions as a ministry regardless of the danger to himself:

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Radical Empathy in Gaza

As the world watches the situation in Gaza crumble day by day, Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for 'radical empathy' as a way to bridge the divide.

She defines radical empathy as opening oneself up to the pain and suffering of the other, at the moment when you have the most fear of them. As examples, she offers the Palestinian and Jewish parents who comforted each other upon the loss of their children, and Jews and Muslims who fasted together for peace.

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Why Central Americans are fleeing their homeland

"Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — has risen steadily as violence has increased. Mary Small of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and Shaina Aber of the United States Jesuit Conference explain what is driving people to flee for their lives." Jesuit Refugee Services

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Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan call on world for help

The Episcopal Church of Sudan and SouthSudan call for aid in face of famine. Anglican Alliance urges assistance from the world:

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How are preachers preaching about Ferguson?

Did you preach on Ferguson today? Time Magazine reports on what preachers are saying:

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Conservatives make mockery of religious oppression

"How conservatives make a mockery of the oppression of religious minorities. Some Christians equate not getting their own way in the political sphere with brutal and unjust persecution." From The Guardian:

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Trayvon Martin's mother writes to Michael Brown's family, NCC adds support

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin has written to the family of Michael Brown

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young.

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Giles Fraser: How to rid the world of religious violence

Giles Fraser notes in the Guardian that "the history of religious belief is a history of horrendous violence: intolerance of others, burnings and lynchings, religious wars in which millions have died, torture, persecution." He writes:

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James Foley and prayer

As we learn more about the life and faith of James Foley following his execution at the hands of ISIS, Alana Massey at Religion Dispatches writes about Foley's prayer life:

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Theology in Ferguson, as Michael Brown is laid to rest

Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old boy who was shot by a police officer sixteen days ago, is being laid to rest today, in an overflowing homecoming service. Last week, his stepfather requested that the protests cease for this one day, out of respect for the family, a request that seems to be being heeded by most.

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Plunged into chaos

Virginia Theological School seminarian, Broderick Greer, writes about baptism and Ferguson at Huffington Post:

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10 Ways White Christians can respond to Ferguson

Troy Jackson writing at Sojourners gives 10 practical ways White Christians can respond to the events in Ferguson:

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Calling for genocide

Two publications published items this weekend calling for genocide against Muslims. One was a blog post in The Times of Israel and the other an item in Charisma Magazine. Patheos reports:
From The Times of Israel:

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Can we learn to love our enemies, even ISIS?

Can we learn to love our enemies, even the evildoers who are part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?The Rev. Philip DeVaull, rector of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Costa Mesa Calif., argues that with God's help, we can. He writes in the Orange County Register:

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Muslim cleric believes religion can defeat ISIS

From the Huffington Post:

Countering extremist groups like the Islamic State will require “not less religion but more,” according to a prominent Muslim cleric who President Barack Obama referenced in his United Nations address earlier this week.

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Kristof: When criticizing a religious group, speak carefully, but speak

In his latest column, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times warns against making sweeping statements about the nature of any religion, whether it is Islam, Christianity or another faith.

In an indirect way, the column calls out many of the participants in our current debate about religions persecution.

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Hope in the midst of tragedy in St Louis

Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman offers a story of hope in the midst of tragedy:

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Nearly 50 arrested in Ferguson

release.jpgNearly 50 protestors were arrested, including the Rev. Anne Kelsey (retired rector of Trinity, St. Louis), interns at Deaconess Anne House Episcopal Service Corps (see Twitter feed below), director of the house the Rev. Jon Stratton and the Rev. Rebecca Ragland (interim pastor of Church of the Holy Communion, University City) . Scholar Cornel West, was also arrested. The Patriot News reports.

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Bp Rickel and the Marysville-Pilchuck HS shootings

The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington) writes following the shootings at the Seattle area high school:

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Israeli Chief Rabbi calls on Jews to stay away from the Temple Mount

Back in September, the Rev Bruce Shipman, who had been the Priest-in-charge at the Episcopal Church at Yale resigned after allegations of anti-semitism were levelled against him in response to an op-ed he had written linking an increasing anti-semitic violence around the world to government policies in Israel. In a letter to the editor of the Yale Daily News in response to the controversy, Shipman wrote:

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