Russia

Pope Francis Should Take a Tough Tone with Vladimir Putin, Says U.S. Diplomat

Photo by Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis greets Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Photo by Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

In the wake of international criticism over Moscow’s role in ongoing violence in Ukraine, the U.S. on June 10 called on Pope Francis to take a stronger stance on the conflict in his meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

“We think they could say something more about concern on territorial integrity, those type of issues,” U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth F. Hackett, told journalists in Rome ahead of Putin’s arrival.

Russian Pastor Reflects on Religious Persecution

Victor Ignatenkov, left, with Ellen Smith, a Presbyterian missionary and translator. Photo courtesy of Ellen Smith/RNS.

A Russian pastor whose grandfather was killed for being a Christian toured the U.S. recently, studying church ministries and providing a rare, first-person look at Russia’s complex religious landscape after widespread persecution ended.

During Victor Ignatenkov’s youth under the Soviet regime, Christians could meet only for worship.

No Sunday school.

No midweek Bible study.

And definitely no proselytizing.

Today, Ignatenkov, 59, said he’s free to lead whatever activities he wants as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown of Smolensk — a city situated between the capitals of Russia and Ukraine — and as regional bishop for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist. The union is a group of evangelical Protestant churches that began emerging in Russia about 150 years ago as an alternative to the Russian Orthodox establishment.

ON Scripture: A Strange Summer Vacation

Candles lit at temple. Image courtesy Galyna Andrushko/shutterstock.com

Candles lit at temple. Image courtesy Galyna Andrushko/shutterstock.com

“What did you do on your summer vacation?” 

Even now students may be answering that question in essays at the start of this new school year. Maybe you wrote such a paper years ago. No matter what you did or where you went this past summer, it was almost impossible to escape the heaviness of the headlines. #BringBackOurGirls has become a distant refrain, almost forgotten beneath the crush of summer tragedies: 

Thousands of children traveled alone from Central American countries to enter the U.S. as refugees. Ebola deaths spread to more West African nations killing hundreds including many health workers. The forces of ISIS, intent on carving out an Islamic caliphate, took over major Iraqi cities and beheaded a U.S. journalist in SyriaRussia usurped Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency announced in late August that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Gaza has been reduced to rubble while Hamas rockets still fly toward Israeli cities. Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African American man who might have started college this week, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the waning days of August.  

After such a summer, how can we do anything but scoff at Paul’s words from Romans? 

Michael Brown, Iraq, Putin, Gaza: How to Reconcile the Brokenness?

qvist / Shutterstock.com

qvist / Shutterstock.com

A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.

Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.

Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.

As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”

Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.

What’s happening to us?

Holy Eucharist: How We See Jesus in the 'Other'

Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com

Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com

When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.

This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.

Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.

Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"

Let's Tell the Truth About This International Madness

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Refugees Fleeing ISIS Offensive Pour Into Kurdistan, Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth. And unfortunately, we seem to mostly have political leaders who are unwilling to admit the truth of what’s happening, deal with root causes instead of exploiting symptoms, and then do everything possible to prevent the escalation of violence and further wars. Instead we have politicians who are mostly looking for opportunities to blame their political opponents, boost their own reputations, and protect business interests. As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth in love.

It’s time for some truth telling.

World War I at 100: New Books Examine the Battle of Beliefs Behind the 'Great War'

Communion services on the battlefront is the Nov. 12, 1914 cover of "Christian Herald." RNS photo courtesy Julie Maria Peace.

Some called it “The Great War.” Others called it “The War to End All Wars.” History proves it was neither.

As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I — a conflict that left 37 million dead or wounded and reshaped the global map — a number of scholars and authors are examining a facet of the war they say has been overlooked — the religious framework they say led to the conflict, affected its outcome and continues to impact global events today.

More than that, they argue, today’s religious and political realities — ongoing wars, disputed borders and hostile relationships — have their roots in the global conflict that began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.

Franklin Graham: Putin Is Better on Gay Issues than Obama

Evangelist Billy Graham, right, with son Franklin Graham, at a crusade in New York in 2005. Photo by Michael Falco.

Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.

Graham, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started by his famous father, praises Putin in the March issue of the group’s Decision magazinefor signing a bill that imposes fines for adults who promote “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

The Russian law came under heavy criticism from gay rights activists, and from Obama, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In response, Obama included openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.

“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham writes. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

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