The Momentum of Peace

Cross and Crescent, symbols of Christianity and Islam

THE VIOLENCE AND kidnappings in Nigeria are more than a religious conflict: They are a political manipulation of religion.

Before the 2011 Nigerian election, northern politicians (who are mostly Muslims) threatened to make the country ungovernable if Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, became president. Jonathan was vice-president for Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north, who died before completing his eight-year term. Jonathan assumed power after Yar’Adua’s death, as is allowed by the constitution. However, northern Muslims claimed that since Yar’Adua did not finish his term, they should be allowed to place someone of their own choosing in power. Jonathan’s refusal angered the north.

In response, the Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram began intensifying its attack on Jonathan’s rule in order to discredit his presidency and his pursuit of the 2015 election. If Boko Haram succeeds in pushing Jonathan out, southern militia groups are likely to commence their own violent campaign. These terrorists are trying to manipulate people by making them think that it is a religious fight, when in reality it is about political power.

People, however, are beginning to reject the violence. In April, as the world is well aware, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a community that is said to be about 90 percent Christian. The outcry of rage and pain about this incident transcended religious lines. In a May market bombing in the city of Jos, both Christians and Muslims lost their lives. After the bombings, Muslims and Christians on the streets of Jos tried to work together in finding a way through the situation. People no longer want to fight and are starting to value peacebuilding and interfaith efforts. This is a sign of hope.

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The Holy Common Ground of Wild Goose

via Wild Goose on Facebook

via Wild Goose on Facebook

We’re headed home from Wild Goose Festival, a gathering of artists, activists, musicians, and theologians, in Hot Springs, N.C. It was hot, rainy, and messy. My suitcase smells like my fifth grade gym locker.

I can’t wait to go back next year.

The speakers are remarkable; many of them are walking the talk they’re offering, which is an unfortunately rare phenomenon. The music is fresh and exciting, the art is created before your eyes, and there is an energy of hopeful expectation that renews your soul, flushing out the broken-down-ness of daily life.

But the most important part of the whole four-day event lies in the unexpected moments. Sometimes I would walk along the main dirt road in the middle of the grounds, lined with tables, tents, and makeshift gathering spaces, until I saw something interesting going on and just joined in.

In one moment you’re debating the theological implications of the American food-industrial complex. Half an hour later, you’re laughing with new friends in the beer tent. And then, just when the sun sets and you’re sure you lack the fortitude to go one any more, the music on the main stage cranks up and the very earth beneath you vibrates.

175 Leaders Urge U.S. Support In Christianity's Historical Heartland; Egyptian Churches Not So Sure

Beyond the NAE, signatories included Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; Charles Chaput, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia; and Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Other prominent supporters include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church; Johnnie Moore, senior vice president of Liberty University; and Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine.

A Call For Help For Mideast Christians

Signers of the statement include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, Secretary General Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe of the United Methodists, and Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan. Among lay civic leaders, signers include Robert George of Princeton University, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, journalist Kirsten Powers, George Marlin, chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, and Lynne Hybels of Global Engagement of the Willow Creek Church.

Survey: Most Americans Say Fighting Global Poverty Is Futile

Scott Todd of Compassion International. Photo courtesy Compassion International/RNS

Despite progress in defeating extreme global poverty, most Americans see no end in sight, according to a survey sponsored by Compassion International.

Christians who attend church at least monthly and consider religion very important in their life overwhelmingly (96 percent) expressed concern about the world’s poorest people. But they were skeptical that global poverty could be ended in the next 25 years. Only 41 percent of the group said it was possible.

And yet Scott Todd of Compassion International, the Christian nonprofit agency that sponsors 1.5 million children abroad, remains upbeat. He sees hope in the numbers of “practicing Christians” who express concern about poverty and a willingness to do more.

A Turning Tide

I WORK ON the frontlines of the movement to end the death penalty in the United States. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home and my faith has led me to this work. In 2008, I had the opportunity to hear stories from murder victims’ family members, death row exonorees, and corrections officials who participated in executions—all of whom believe the death penalty should be abolished. At that point I felt called to do this work and to begin engaging with other evangelicals.

I will confess, it was a lonely job when I started. I wondered who else would join me. So you can imagine my excitement at seeing what has today become a nationwide chorus of Christian voices questioning capital punishment.

A recent poll by the Barna Group showed a majority of Christians in the United States now oppose capital punishment and that young Christians oppose it by a large majority. More than two dozen evangelical leaders from around the country and across the political spectrum recently made their voices heard by publicly requesting a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias, for a Texas death row inmate. Even conservative political leaders are speaking out against the death penalty.

As one who has been in the trenches on this issue for years, I can confirm that Christian engagement is helping to transform the death penalty debate, and I can tell you that it is being driven by the same forces that moved me—faith and cold, hard facts.

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A Watershed Moment

OUR HISTORY IS increasingly hostage to a deep and broad ecological crisis. Stalking us for centuries, it is now upon us in the interlocking catastrophes of climate destruction, habitat degradation, species extinction, and resource exhaustion. Some call it “peak everything.”

“All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren,” concluded environmental policy analyst James Gustave Speth in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, “is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today ... to release greenhouse gases ... impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won’t be fit to live in.”

Our Christian faith and practice now unfold either in light of or in spite of this crisis. Our choice is between discipleship and denial.

Two trends among thoughtful Catholics, evangelicals, and other Protestants in North America over the last quarter century are helping awaken us to “response-ability” in the face of these inconvenient truths. One is the spread of contextual theology, which demands both analysis and engagement with social realities around us. The other is how “creation care” has gained broad traction among churches.

But these trends need to be integrated. Contextual approaches have tended to address social, economic, and political issues apart from ecological ones. And environmental theologies are not contextual enough: often too abstract (debating “new cosmologies”), focused on remote symptoms (tropical rain forests or polar ice caps), or merely cosmetic (“greening” congregations through light bulb changes while avoiding controversies such as the Keystone XL pipeline).

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Christians in the Sudan Face Travel Restrictions, Cardinal Says

A Sudanese Christian woman carries a cross. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

For Christians living in predominantly Muslim Sudan, travel restrictions are making life more difficult each day, a Roman Catholic cardinal said.

Sudanese Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako highlighted the challenges at a Catholic Bishops Conference in Juba, the Republic of South Sudan’s capital. His auxiliary bishop could not attend the Jan. 21-30 meeting because his passport was seized by security agents, along with those of eight priests.

“Christians in the two countries are facing difficulties,” Wako told the gathering. “We [bishops] must focus on serious matters and come up with strong messages.”

Christian and Muslim Dalits Beaten in New Delhi Protest

Photo by John Dayal

Protestors gathered in New Delhi to demand equal affirmative action for Christian and Muslim Dalits. Photo by John Dayal

NEW DELHI — Police in India’s capital used water cannons and canes on peaceful Christian and Muslim leaders Wednesday while they were demanding equal constitutional protections.

Organized jointly by confederations of churches and Muslim groups in India, the demonstrators demanded affirmative action for Dalits (formerly “untouchables”) who have converted to Christianity or Islam.

Only Dalits who have converted to Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism are entitled to affirmative action slots in jobs and educational institutions, among other protections.

'Jerusalem,' a Tribute to the Holy City, Comes to the Giant Screen

An IMAX camera films the Western Wall during Pesach. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society

It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.

The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.

Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.

“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”