India’s Christians Concerned about Growing Attacks on Religious Minorities

Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Women protest in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, after a nun was raped in Kolkata, West Bengal. Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Each day, children on their way to Mount Carmel School pass through gates under the watch of armed security guards, and now city police officers who stop there on government orders after a nearby Catholic convent and school were broken into.

The vandals stole money, tampered with security cameras, and ransacked the principal’s office on Feb. 13.

The crime itself was relatively minor, but it rippled through other Christian schools. The attack was the sixth this year in an ongoing series targeting Christian communities and schools across India.

U.S. Indicts FIFA Officials for Corruption

Photo via AGIF / Shutterstock.com

The FIFA World Cup trophy is lifted after the 2014 final. Photo via AGIF / Shutterstock.com

Nine FIFA officials and five business executives were arrested early Wednesday morning by Swiss authorities for “racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with … a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

According to the statement, bribes and kickbacks to obtain media marketing rights could amount to well over $150 million. Because many of the charges relate to CONCACAF, the regional confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States, the officials will be extradited to the U.S. on federal corruption charges.

 

Forget the Numbers. The Big Story Is that Religion Has Lost Social Influence.

Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

“Religion plays a less important role in American life.” Or maybe, “Religion declines as powerful source of American public authority.”

I doubt those headlines would have garnered the attention the Pew Center recently received with its subtitle “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population.”

This is no criticism of Pew. It gets full credit for bringing religious demographics to the public’s attention. And the story of Christian decline is an obvious hook, as is the story of the rapidly growing number of “nones,” people with no particular religious affiliation.

But behind the story of Christian decline and the rise of “nones” is a long-standing debate about what religion theorists call “secularization,” the broad process by which religion gradually loses its social influence.

What Might Tomorrow’s Faith Community Look Like?

Photo via MilanB / Shutterstock.com

Photo via MilanB / Shutterstock.com

It would be God’s incarnate presence in human life. Not the only presence, but one that many people could enter into. Not so much an institution with structures, rules, and layers of leadership, but rather a dynamic, ever-shifting community that gathered in various ways, ranging from small circles of friends to mass assemblies for special purposes.

It would look outward, unlike other human institutions that look inward. It would see people wanting to draw closer to God. It would see human needs such as grief and tragedy, hunger and hopelessness. It would see key moments in people’s lives, such as partnering and parenting. It would see the ways people hurt each other and the tendency of injustice to become systemic.

Jean Vanier: A Prophet for the 21st Century

Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

Jean Vanier and a resident of L'Arche named Kathy in L'Arche Bognor in Trosly, France. Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

The problems of the world can overwhelm us. When we are confronted by the Divine in the cries of human need, we may, like Isaiah, feel unworthy and ill-equipped to respond. However, if we allow this Divine experience to transform our human weakness, we can find the courage and strength to answer that call, as Jean Vanier has, with a bold, “Here I am!” What follows may be more difficult than we can imagine, but we can be confident in the knowledge that the work we do is Holy work.

 

Pentecostalism in a Postmodern Culture

Molodec / Shutterstock.com

Molodec / Shutterstock.com

“It’s a new form of Christianity,” explained Opoku Onyinah, “now also living in the West.” He’s the president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, and also heads the Church of Pentecost, begun in Ghana and now in 84 nations. Onyinah was speaking at a workshop on “How Shall We Walk Between Cultures,” and explaining how African Christianity is interacting with postmodern culture. It was part of Empowered21, which gathered thousands of Pentecostals in Jerusalem over Pentecost.

I’ve found this idea intriguing. Pentecostalism, especially as it is emerging in the non-Western world, is a postmodern faith. Often I’ve said, “An evangelical wants to know what you believe, while a Pentecostal wants to hear your spiritual story.” Perhaps it’s an oversimplification. But Pentecostalism embodies a strong emphasis on narrative and finds reality in spiritual experiences that defy the logic and rationality of modern Western culture.

'And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy'

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Christine Caine gave a passionate and prophetic call for the church to be continually changing, even while at its core, it is “the same.” That constant change is driven by God’s continuing call to be sent as witnesses in the world. “We want power,” she told the spiritually hungry Pentecostals gathered before her. “But we don’t know what it’s for.” It’s not for ourselves, not for our own spiritual ecstasy. The power of God’s Spirit is given for us to be witnesses to God’s transforming love. And one can’t change the world without being in the world, instead of running from it. “We’re not here,” Christine Caine proclaimed, “to entertain ourselves.”

You could feel how her words stuck a deep chord within the crowd of those listening. I walked over to sit by a friend who is bishop of a large Pentecostal church. “This is the best word that’s been spoken,” he said to me. And that’s after we had heard eight world famous Pentecostal preachers.

Author Phyllis Tickle Faces Death Just as She Enjoyed Life: ‘The Dying Is My Next Career’

Photo via Karen Pulfer Focht / RNS

Phyllis Tickle looks out the window in her home in Lucy, Tenn., just outside Memphis. Photo via Karen Pulfer Focht / RNS

Her once boundless energy starts to fail by midday. She started radiation treatment on May 21, mainly in an effort to forestall the possible collapse of her spine, which would leave her helpless and in intractable pain.

“That sounds a little formidable to me,” she says.

“I was never much for suffering.”

She goes on, her words carefully chosen. “Am I grateful for this? Not exactly. But I’m not unhappy about it. And that’s very difficult for people to understand.”

Who Said It: Fox News or Jesus?

During a broad conversation on how to overcome poverty at Georgetown University last week, President Barack Obama made a few comments about how Fox News talks about poor people. Here’s what he said:

“ … over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. … I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad … They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative … very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.

Restoring Dignity in the Midst of Poverty and Human Trafficking

Shirley, an employee at Dignity Coconuts. Photo courtesy of Dignity.

I love the story of Shirley. Her family was struggling to survive in the Philippines—a nation plagued with poverty and modern-day slavery. Her husband Ramir took whatever small jobs he could to help the family, but without land, his only options were to work helping on a rice farm or a fishing boat. The pay was irregular and unsustainable, so he made the tough choice to look for work in a bigger city and send money back to Shirley and their three kids. Shirley applied to work at Dignity. She was skeptical as she had never worked with a team and doubted her abilities. When Dignity hired her, it changed her life and her family. Shirley was able to make a consistent income from Dignity. The cycle of poverty and human trafficking was stopped in its tracks.

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