Global Issues

Evangelicals Want to Follow the Global South on Gays. They Should Be Careful What They Ask For

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.

Divest from Occupation: 'We Think Israel Can Do Better'

WHITE HOUSE Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told an audience this spring that “an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”

McDonough decried the illegal construction of settlements in Palestinian territory, under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors, as intentionally seeking to divide Palestinian communities. He added, “like every administration since President Johnson, we will continue to oppose Israeli settlement activity since it undermines the prospects for peace.”

But many activists refuse to continue to merely decry the occupation, year after year, decade after decade, while facts on the ground worsen and a just peace grows seemingly more elusive. For these activists—and they include many U.S. churches, peace groups, and humanitarian organizations—the time has come to put teeth into efforts to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and thereby impel progress toward a just peace in the region.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been debating various divestment measures since 2004, and last year the denomination voted to divest from three companies that supply equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory.

“We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,” said Rev. Gradye Parsons, the denomination’s stated clerk, after the vote to remove church funds from Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions. The church said it has communicated directly with the companies to urge them to stop profiting from the occupation by supplying Israel with surveillance technology, bulldozers, and other products.

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Divest from Terrorism: The Achilles' Heel of Terror

THE SO-CALLED WAR on terror has dangerous and shifting financial front lines. Since the 9/11 attacks, a series of “anti-terrorism financing laws” have been enacted that allow the government to designate certain charities as “terrorist” organizations or as financing terror. The government can effectively shut down organizations without ever bringing criminal charges or providing evidence against them, according to the ACLU. “As a result,” it reported, “American Muslim organizations and individuals are unfairly targeted.”

In addition to fostering Islamophobia in the larger society and fear within Islamic and other faith communities, overzealous application of these laws can actually inhibit the war on terror. It risks crippling the very Islamic charities that can effectively combat radicalization in places vulnerable to extremists. Stephen Bubb, head of a charity network in Britain, where financial terror laws are similar to those in the U.S., has emphasized “sensible, credible, proportionate regulation” of Islamic charities. “I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by organizations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life, and for a better future for our children,” said Bubb.

Yet defunding terror groups can be an important strategy in combatting violence. A broad spectrum of groups in the U.S. today is finding ways to “divest from terror.”

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Liberia’s United Methodists Keep Ban on Divorced Clergy Becoming Bishops

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.

Muslim Kosovars Rediscover Their Long-Forgotten Roman Catholic Roots

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.”

How Fear and Ignorance Keep Working

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.

5 Takeaways from the New Report by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

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.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Texas Attack

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.

Local Efforts to Rebuild Nepal — And How You Can Help

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.

Understanding the Religious Sites that Were Lost or Damaged in the Nepal Quake

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.