Global Issues

Image via Markovka /

World map painted with watercolors. Image via Markovka /

If religious conservatives are truly awakening to the need to dialogue with global Christians, they need to be consistent. It doesn’t make sense to exploit non-Western perspectives on LGBT rights but refuse to hear those same voices on matters such as nationbuilding, war, immigration, environmental policy, and foreign aid.

The inconsistency leads me to believe that these calls are more about political posturing than a desire to really listen to our global brothers and sisters.

Jim Rice 05-11-2015

Church bodies in the U.S. are removing financhial support for the occupation of Palestinian territory—but some Jewish groups still see divestment as delegitimizing Israel itself. 

Rose Marie Berger 05-11-2015

Tackling their finances is perhaps the most effective way of restricting terrorist groups. 

Photo via Julu Swen / UMNS / RNS

Members gather in front of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo via Julu Swen / UMNS / RNS

In the United States, United Methodists are fighting about whether to allow clergy to marry gay couples. In Liberia, divorce is on the line.

The United Methodist Church in Liberia recently voted to uphold a long-standing provision barring divorced clergy from running for the office of the bishop.

The church’s leaders say the ban brings moral credibility to the office and guides the conduct of those who want to be bishop.

Valerie Plesch 05-06-2015
Photo via Valerie Plesch / RNS

Catholics attend Christmas Eve Mass at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo. Photo via Valerie Plesch / RNS

Under the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Kosovo from the early 15th century until 1912, most Albanian Kosovars converted to Islam.

But today, Jakaj and others are on a mission that they say reflects a renaissance of Catholicism in the country. Muslim Kosovars are supporting the effort, too, even though most of Brod is now Muslim.

“This is our history of our nation,” said Ademi, whose forefathers were Catholic.

“These are our first steps toward reclaiming our cultural heritage.”

Christian Piatt 05-06-2015
Image via Suzanne Tucker/

Image via Suzanne Tucker/

How does this kind of mentality take hold of a state of nearly 30 million, at least to the point that the governor himself would take official action?

One word: fear. Actually two words: fear and ignorance.

Though it comes off as cartoonish and ridiculous to the typical onlooker, fear and ignorance are, in fact, powerful tools. And using fear based on a broadly shared perception — regardless of actual evidence — is something all too familiar to modern-day Christianity in the United States as well. And the reason it hangs around like heartburn after a double bean burrito is because it works.

Here’s how.

Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

A man in the Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.

Photo via Public Domain / RNS

ISIS' flag incorporates the shahada and the seal of Muhammad in its design. Photo via Public Domain / RNS

The Islamic State claimed responsibility May 5 for the attack outside a Texas art show showcasing cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

A statement read in a bulletin on the group’s Al Bayan radio station said “two soldiers of the caliphate” carried out Sunday’s attack, the jihadist monitoring service SITE Intel Group said.

The statement from the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, said: “We tell … America that what is coming will be more grievous and more bitter and you will see from the soldiers of the Caliphate what will harm you, God willing,” the Associated Press reported.

Catherine Woodiwiss 05-02-2015
Image via Lokesh Todi.

Image via Lokesh Todi.

Lokesh Todi, born and raised in Kathmandu, moved home to Nepal nine months ago to be an entrepreneur. When the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit last Saturday, he and a cousin started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help connect concerned givers with local NGOs.

“We thought we could get some supplies to local groups. Our goal was to get $20,000 — that’s a lot of money in Nepal," said Todi, a recent graduate of Yale University's M.B.A program.

Thanks to their concerned networks, including thousands of shares from Todi’s Facebook page, the campaign has now raised $120,150 — more than six times the amount they expected. 

“I’m really hoping to make sure that all this money goes to right channels, and make sure that every dollar is spent properly and wisely. My goal is to help the community build back stronger and a little bit more prepared,” said Todi.

Photo via REUTERS / Navesh Chitrakar / RNS

A monk carries chairs out from a damaged monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo via REUTERS / Navesh Chitrakar / RNS

In one minute, the April 25 earthquake in Nepal toppled, destroyed,and damaged a millennium of religious history. What religious buildings were damaged, and which ones are gone? What religious significance did these buildings have and to whom? Will they be rebuilt? Can they be? Let us explain …

Q: What religions do the Nepalese people follow?

A: About 80 percent of Nepalese are Hindu, making it the second-largest Hindu nation outside of India, with about 2 percent of the global total. But the small, mountainous country is also the birthplace of the Buddha and home to Muslims and Christians, too.

Q: What religious sites are in Nepal and who are they sacred to?

A. The most important religious site in Nepal is Lumbini, west of Kathmandu, just outside the Indian border. Lumbini is sometimes called the “Buddhist Bethlehem” because it is the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian nobleman who became the Buddha, in 623 B.C.

Siddhartha’s mother, Queen Maya Devi, is said to have given birth on the site now marked by Lumbini’s Mayadevi Temple and to have bathed her infant son in its adjacent pool. The ancient part of the site — there are many new temples and monasteries surrounding it — also includes a sacred Bodhi tree, the same type of tree the Buddha is said to have sat under when he attained enlightenment. Archaeologists have found evidence of worshippers at this site as early as 1000 B.C., perhaps members of a pre-Buddhist tree-worshipping sect. The extent of the damage at Lumbini is not yet known because of the difficulty of getting in and out of the area.

ISIS online. Image via aradaphotography/

ISIS online. Image via aradaphotography/

The arrests of six Minnesota men accused earlier this month of attempting to join the Islamic State group highlights an unprecedented marketing effort being waged by the militant group in Iraq and Syria, U.S. law enforcement officials and terror analysts said.

It’s a campaign that is finding resonance from urban metros to the American heartland.

“This is not so much a recruitment effort as it is a global marketing campaign, beyond anything that al-Qaida has ever done,” said a senior law enforcement official.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the Islamic State’s slick multimedia productions, its use of social media, and personal “peer-to-peer” communication are proving to be effective parts of a sophisticated program aimed at the West.

“I don’t think there has been one case in which we haven’t found some connection to the videos or other media the group has produced,” the official said.

Federal authorities have identified more than 150 U.S. residents who have sought to join the ranks of the terror organization or rival groups in Syria. There is evidence that about 40 of those have traveled to the region and returned to the U.S. Most have been charged; an undisclosed number are free and subjects of intense surveillance, the senior official said.

The smallest subset of the group, an estimated dozen, represents those who have actually joined the fighting ranks.

Tania Karas 04-23-2015
Photo via Tania Karas / RNS

The Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, Lake Van in Turkey. Photo via Tania Karas / RNS

This tiny Kurdish village outside the city of Van in Turkey’s southeast is home to the ruins of a once-famous 11th-century Armenian Christian monastery.

Known to Armenians as Varagavank, it thrived as a place of worship until Turkish forces looted it and murdered parishioners in the mass killing sprees of 1915.

Today, the roof is collapsing. Toppled stone columns lie nearby. And with no signage, there is no acknowledgment it was once a celebrated church for Armenians.

Varagavank is one of hundreds of disappearing physical reminders of a community whose history in present-day Turkey goes back more than 2,000 years. Over the past century, the Turkish government — in writing its own narrative of what Armenians call genocide — has destroyed many Armenian churches, homes, schools, and cemeteries, or allowed them to fall into ruins. They are sites other countries might consider valuable antiquities.

“The term we use for this is ‘cultural genocide,’” said Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, a historian at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

“We consider what is happening to many churches a continuation of the genocide which started at the beginning of the 20th century. It is painful, utterly painful.”

Historians and visitors have noted holes in the ground of Armenian historical sites throughout Turkey, evidence of widespread rumors that Armenians buried their riches before fleeing.

Hermine Sayan, an Armenian who lives in Istanbul, said her heart was broken when she visited what remained of a destroyed church in Malatya, a city in eastern Turkey, a few years ago.

“We stood together saying our prayers, and we were crying,” said Sayan, whose grandparents survived the genocide.

On April 24, Armenians worldwide will commemorate 100 years since almost 1.5 million of their ancestors died in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, in massacres, by starvation or during forced death marches into the Syrian desert.

Heather Adams 04-22-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Mike Theiler / RNS

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Mike Theiler / RNS

The World Bank is teaming up with global religious leaders in a 15-year effort to end extreme poverty by 2030.

About 35 religious groups worldwide, including Bread for the World, Islamic Relief International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Sojourners, endorsed the call to action. Supporters include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, and others.

“Our approach to this staggering need must be holistic, rooted in the spiritual visions of our respective faiths, and built on a shared recognition of the intrinsic dignity and value of every life on Earth,” the call said.

Observers say it’s the first time the World Bank has tapped the reach and resources of religious groups in combating extreme poverty — partly out of a realization that the work is too big for any one institution, and also in hopes of limiting unnecessary duplication between the World Bank’s ideas and those of various religious groups.

“There’s a real convergence between these dual goals of the bank and many of the commitments and convictions of religious institutions and organizations,” said the Rev. Adam Taylor, a Sojourners and World Vision alum who now oversees faith-based initiatives at the World Bank.

During an April 9 teleconference, Wold Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the number of people living in extreme poverty — living on less than $1.25 per day — has fallen from 2 billion in 1990 to 1 billion today. And he strongly believes that with enough support, that figure could be eliminated in another 15 years.

But Kim said that in order to reach the goal, there will be two important aspects to the fight to end poverty: gathering evidence on what works and what doesn’t work in combating poverty, and enlisting the aid of religious communities.

“I believe that some of the most important leaders in the movement to end extreme poverty will be people of faith, people who are motivated fundamentally to help the most vulnerable among us,” Kim said.

Photo via Philip Chidell /

Photo via Philip Chidell /

Pope Francis will visit Cuba before arriving in the United States in September, the Vatican said April 22.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed the news to reporters in a statement made in Italian, Spanish, and English.

“I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States for the trip announced some time ago,” Lombardi said.

The pope is scheduled to visit Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia starting around Sept. 23.

Francis would be the third pope to visit Cuba, after St. John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.

Photo via Miriam Alster / Flash 90 / RNS

Women of the Wall celebrate with the Torah scroll during their prayer at the Wall. Photo via Miriam Alster / Flash 90 / RNS

For the first time in its 26-year history, the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall managed to read from a full-sized Torah scroll April 20 after one of its members surreptitiously borrowed one from the Western Wall’s men’s section.

The scroll’s procurement, which was facilitated by the group’s male supporters standing on the other side of a partition, was a bold move by a group that has continuously challenged the ultra-Orthodox establishment’s sole authority over the holy site.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, has long prohibited women from wearing prayer shawls and reading from a Torah. He based his prohibition on a regulation that forbids any religious ceremony “not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshippers at the place.”

Although a 2013 court ruling confirmed Women of the Wall’s right to pray at the Wall, Rabinowitz has continued to ban anyone from bringing a Torah into either the men’s or women’s section and has placed all 100 of the holy site’s Torahs in the men’s section alone.

Although the group recently smuggled a tiny Torah into the women’s section, “you needed a magnifying glass to read it and we had to return it to its owners in London,” said Anat Hoffman, WOW’s chairwoman.

But on Monday morning, the group’s male supporters held a Torah reading service at the Wall, next to the gender partition. Once their service finished, the men opened an unlocked gate leading to the women’s section and a female WOW activist stepped into the men’s section and picked up the Torah.

A sweeping coalition of Catholic leaders is calling on lawmakers to embrace Obama’s proposed deal with Iran to scale back the country’s nuclear program, insisting the plan is a good one and asking Congress to back off attempts to kill the agreement.
Over 50 Christian leaders voiced their support for the recently agreed framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the Group 5+1.
More than 50 Christian leaders voiced our support for the framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) concerning Iran's nuclear program.
Kim Hjelmgaard 04-15-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Charles Platiau / RNS

A woman lights candles in front of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris. Photo via REUTERS / Charles Platiau / RNS

The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks around the world surged nearly 40 percent last year, according to a report released April 15 by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

The report found there were 766 recorded incidents against Jewish people in 2014 — the worst year for attacks since 2009. It was released ahead of Israel commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began April 15 at sundown.

The attacks were “perpetrated with or without weapons and by arson, vandalism, or direct threats against Jewish persons or institutions such as synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries, and monuments as well as private property,” the authors of the report, based at the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, said.

In 2013, there were 554 registered incidents.

Four dozen Christian leaders voiced support for a framework agreement for a peaceful path to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons in a full-page ad in Roll Call paid for by Sojourners, a Washington-based social justice ministry founded and led by author and public theologian Jim Wallis.