Several American-based religious denominations remain defiant in the face of new laws that would ban them from proselytizing in Russia.
The so-called “Yarovaya laws” make it illegal to preach, proselytize, or hand out religious materials outside of specially designated places. The laws also give the Russian government wide scope to monitor and record electronic messages and phone calls.
In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, I visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II.
These leaders and their top advisers were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the “Cold War” was underway soon after.
A religious summit last held more than 1,200 years ago suddenly risks being downgraded or postponed because of Syria’s four-year civil war. This unexpected twist has come as the world’s Orthodox churches, the second-largest ecclesial family in Christianity, were supposed to be only months away from their first major council since 787.
Now it is no longer clear when or where the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, a summit first proposed at least as far back as 1961 and provisionally scheduled for May in Istanbul, will be held.
With its traditional icons and complex liturgies, Orthodox Christianity can seem like an unchanging remnant of a long-lost era. But it lives very much in today’s world and its 14 autocephalous (independent) member churches can be wrapped up in its politics and subject to its pressures.
The Syrian crisis is escalating in unnerving ways with the arrival of Russian troops and the beginning of direct Russian military intervention. What had been a local and regional humanitarian disaster now risks becoming a superpower confrontation between Russia and the United States. Undoubtedly the introduction of Russian firepower on the scene will bring more civilian suffering, dislocation, and death.
If I were looking for handles for prophetic preaching on the Syria situation, I might select the following.
In the wake of international criticism over Moscow’s role in ongoing violence in Ukraine, the U.S. on June 10 called on Pope Francis to take a stronger stance on the conflict in his meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
“We think they could say something more about concern on territorial integrity, those type of issues,” U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth F. Hackett, told journalists in Rome ahead of Putin’s arrival.
A Russian pastor whose grandfather was killed for being a Christian toured the U.S. recently, studying church ministries and providing a rare, first-person look at Russia’s complex religious landscape after widespread persecution ended.
During Victor Ignatenkov’s youth under the Soviet regime, Christians could meet only for worship.
No Sunday school.
No midweek Bible study.
And definitely no proselytizing.
Today, Ignatenkov, 59, said he’s free to lead whatever activities he wants as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown of Smolensk — a city situated between the capitals of Russia and Ukraine — and as regional bishop for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist. The union is a group of evangelical Protestant churches that began emerging in Russia about 150 years ago as an alternative to the Russian Orthodox establishment.
“What did you do on your summer vacation?”
Even now students may be answering that question in essays at the start of this new school year. Maybe you wrote such a paper years ago. No matter what you did or where you went this past summer, it was almost impossible to escape the heaviness of the headlines. #BringBackOurGirls has become a distant refrain, almost forgotten beneath the crush of summer tragedies:
Thousands of children traveled alone from Central American countries to enter the U.S. as refugees. Ebola deaths spread to more West African nations killing hundreds including many health workers. The forces of ISIS, intent on carving out an Islamic caliphate, took over major Iraqi cities and beheaded a U.S. journalist in Syria. Russia usurped Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency announced in late August that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Gaza has been reduced to rubble while Hamas rockets still fly toward Israeli cities. Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African American man who might have started college this week, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the waning days of August.
After such a summer, how can we do anything but scoff at Paul’s words from Romans?
A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.
Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.
Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.
As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”
Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.
What’s happening to us?
When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.
This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.
Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.
Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"
The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth. And unfortunately, we seem to mostly have political leaders who are unwilling to admit the truth of what’s happening, deal with root causes instead of exploiting symptoms, and then do everything possible to prevent the escalation of violence and further wars. Instead we have politicians who are mostly looking for opportunities to blame their political opponents, boost their own reputations, and protect business interests. As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth in love.
It’s time for some truth telling.
Some called it “The Great War.” Others called it “The War to End All Wars.” History proves it was neither.
As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I — a conflict that left 37 million dead or wounded and reshaped the global map — a number of scholars and authors are examining a facet of the war they say has been overlooked — the religious framework they say led to the conflict, affected its outcome and continues to impact global events today.
More than that, they argue, today’s religious and political realities — ongoing wars, disputed borders and hostile relationships — have their roots in the global conflict that began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.
Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.
The Russian law came under heavy criticism from gay rights activists, and from Obama, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In response, Obama included openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham writes. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
The news coverage of international conflicts can be very disappointing from a mimetic perspective. When conflicts escalate into violence as in Syria or the Ukraine, news outlets rush to cover the hostilities. They give us the facts on the ground, or rumors thereof, accompanied by an almost mindless report of what each side is saying by way of self-justification. However, if you listen to their rhetoric with mimetically tuned ears, which happens after spending time here at Raven, you realize that their rhetoric is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Unfortunately, it is this “nothing” that usually makes the headlines.
Major outlets like the New York Times rarely give as good an analysis as my colleague Adam Ericksen did last week. Speaking of the crisis in Ukraine, Adam said that we often think conflict is the result of differences. But the truth is that rivals resemble each other in often surprising ways. They are in conflict because they share the same desires and so are locked in a competition for something that they cannot or will not share. In the case of the conflict over Crimea, the “thing” is not the region but power and prestige. Adam explains:
Russia’s desire for power is mimetic, or imitative, and modeled on its rival for power, the United States. Russia wants what the United States has — the prestige of being a global super power — and Russia is willing to use the same methods that the United States has used to gain and sustain that prestige — violence.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Seriously, Jesus? Have you even met some of us? Have you seen the depths of our jealousies, the breadth of our greed? Have you noticed how insatiable our egos are? How deeply insecure we all are?
You cannot mean what you seem to mean.
What then do we do with this seemingly impossible call? For many of us, this is one of those passages in the Bible we seek to explain away. Jesus can’t possibly mean what he says here. We reckon that he must be calling us merely to aspire to perfection. Or we conclude that in calling us to perfection, we realize how very far we are from it and thus lean on God’s grace. But certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, Jesus cannot be calling us to be perfect like God is perfect.
I stopped drinking Coca Cola years ago — not in protest but in a bid for health. But I want to applaud their presenting "America the Beautiful" sung in seven languages.
In a 60-second Super Bowl ad, and now a 90-second version at the bizarre Sochi Winter Olympics, the soft drink company showed people of different ethnic backgrounds singing in English and six other languages.
I found it charming and warming. It spoke eloquently to the America that I know today — and the America that my ancestors knew when they arrived many years ago speaking German and Norwegian.
Like everyone else, I’m addicted to the Twitter photos, Facebook posts, and litany of other social media feeds that are exposing Sochi’s unappealing shortcomings — but am I being fair?
It’s easy for me to forget that I live in one of the richest and privileged countries in the world, and although I consider myself a blue-collar employee working hard to make a living — I’m a citizen of one of the wealthiest and exclusive populations in existence.
I own a car (and a minivan), I have a house (with heating and central air), I buy a cup of coffee every morning, and spend lots of free time watching Netflix on my TV (a modest flat screen). These are just a few of the “normal” things that are luxuries I continually take for granted.
While much of humanity is engulfed in poverty, famine, war, and struggling to develop their society and better themselves — or just simply trying to survive — I’m complaining about the connection speed on my laptop (I may have to use my tablet instead).
Yes, the Olympics spent A LOT of money to create a party-like atmosphere filled with the comforts of Westernized society, but in many ways I’ve become a victim of my own comfort — accustomed to my ethnocentric American lifestyle.
I’m used to clean bathrooms, functional sewer systems, spectacular hotels, and glitzy restaurants — but much of the world isn’t. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a bubble detached from the reality of the rest of the world.
It’s easy to laugh at how others live, especially when we don’t have to face the same struggles. We assume our wealth and standard of living actually make us better — we become elitist and exhibit a superior sense of self-righteousness.
Two weeks ago, it seemed that any minute the United States would begin bombing Syria. On Aug. 27, NBC’s top headline ran: “Military Strikes on Syria ‘as Early as Thursday,’ U.S. officials say.”
So our Quaker lobby did what all of us peace and security groups do when our country’s decision makers decide to bomb another country and we have long odds and little hope of success from stopping them: we flooded our network — including many of the inboxes of readers of this blog — with pleas to join us in writing, calling, and lobbying members of Congress and the Obama administration to stop this new war.
The pressure worked to postpone U.S. war plans. The groundswell of grassroots opposition to this war persuaded President Obama to go to Congress before launching Tomahawk cruise missiles into Damascus. A vote was expected in days, and then it was delayed, as an unprecedented outpouring of public opposition from Americans of every political stripe pushed Congress to pursue alternatives to military force.
I have been literally disgusted at how “politics” has dominated the media’s response and coverage of the Syria crisis. Millions of lives are at stake, as is the security of one of the most critical regions of the world. But all many of our media pundits can talk about is how this affects politics — i.e., how this could weaken President Obama’s second term or what this might mean for Obamacare.
I heard the same media blathering when I was in London last week when the Syria chemical weapons crisis broke through. “Does the vote in Parliament hurt the Prime Minister and help his opposition?” “Is the Labor Party now up, and the Tory down?”