Christians

Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

The Measure of a Christian

skyfish/ Shutterstock.com
skyfish/ Shutterstock.com

We met over email in the spring of 2012. I had just co-launched a literary blog and our mutual friend introduced us as fellow writers. Stephanie and I immediately hit it off. Not only was she a gifted writer, Stephanie and I shared a similar sense of humor and sensibility. As we got to know each other and began to write with each other, we discovered a ridiculous number of similarities and common points of interest, including and especially, our shared Christian faith. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it was as though every other email was a “you too?” moment.

Then one day I wrote a piece that indicated my progressive political leaning. The 2012 presidential election was heating up and though the piece was not overtly political, it revealed my beliefs. Stephanie, it turned out, was a conservative.

This news wasn’t really a big deal to me — I am used to have friends and family who have different political beliefs, and I even got my first start in the blogging world as the token “progressive” Christian through a conservative friend’s blog. But things were getting heated with the election and we didn’t know each other that well.

Stephanie and I began to email back and forth about politics through the lens of faith, which tested whether we were Christians or ideologues first. We shared two things in common in holding our different political beliefs because: 1) we had both thought a lot about them, and, 2) shockingly, neither of us had an interest in destroying America. Eventually Stephanie and I decided to co-write a bipartisan series for our website, looking at partisanship through the lens of faith (summary: love for Jesus makes for fertile common ground).

After the election it was hard to ignore the mix of apocalyptic expressions of woe and the tone-deaf exclamations of victory. Each came with its own vilification of the other party. I found myself at parties with fellow progressives defending conservatives because the caricatures of them were plainly wrong, and I would be hurt if Stephanie didn’t defend me against caricatures of progressives.

Ted Cruz Booed Off the Stage When He Touts Israel-Christian Solidarity

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed “Christians have no greater ally than Israel." Photo courtesy of Senator Ted Cruz/RNS.

After he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was heckled off the stage at a Sept. 10 gala to raise awareness of beleaguered Mideast Christians.

Cruz, the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., dinner, sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a new organization spearheaded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, prompted boos and cries of “stop it!” and “enough” and “no!” as an increasingly louder crowd told him to get off the stage.

The incident, first reported by the online news organization The Daily Caller, was captured on video by EWTN, the Catholic television network. The video shows that Cruz tried to continue speaking, but many in the audience, in a hotel ballroom, expressed anger when he included Hamas in the list of militants out to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.

Is Anyone Answering Iraqi Christians' Cries for Help?

Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kirsten Powers.

Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?

Since capturing the country’s second largest city of Mosul in early June, the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay taxes levied on non-Muslims, or die. The extremist Sunni group is also persecuting and murdering Turkmen and Shabaks, both Muslim religious minorities.

Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “[The Islamic State] took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”

“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”

For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against the Islamic State’s purging of Christians and was executed.

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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