Follow the Episcopal PDFs

ArchbishopWilliams2Another meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops begins this week, and Neela Banerjee of The New York Times has written a concise preview of what is at stake. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will attend this meeting, and will bring the calmest voice to to the discussion.

Banerjee’s work is especially impressive here because she’s showing more creativity in finding good sources.

It’s easy enough to gather a few remarks from Integrity, the Episcopal Church Center and the Anglican Communion Network and call it a day. For the bigger picture, Banerjee turns to the Rev. William Sachs of the Center for Reconciliation and Mission, and the Rev. Ephraim Radner of Wycliffe College.

My one disappointment is that mainstream media have not yet picked up on the importance of a paper by six men who became lawyers before they became bishops. Stand Firm brought this document to light, and The Living Church has reported that Dorsey Henderson, one of the bishops whose name appears on the paper, has since distanced himself from it.

In short, the paper argues that the real threat to the Anglican Communion comes not from theological innovations in the United States, but from those Anglicans (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) who favor a covenant that holds Anglican provinces accountable for their actions. The bishops see such a covenant as violating an “unwritten and unenforceable but clearly recognized and anciently respected Anglican Constitution.”

The paper is not a formal proposal, but it will shape the bishops’ discussions, for better or worse, when they meet in New Orleans on Sept. 20-25.

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Spain’s mighty wind of Love

dc 2330 galleryThere just has to be a ghost in here somewhere, seeing as how this story is about the soul of the nation of Spain — which has to be some of the most religion-haunted soil on earth.

Here is the top of the story by Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times, to set the stage:

OROEL, SPAIN – When Spanish schoolchildren sing their national anthem, they particularly love the line about Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his “white rear end.”

OK, so those aren’t the real lyrics. Because there aren’t any.

Spain is one of the few countries that have a wordless national anthem. Popular culture, including the bawdy ballad that children famously sing to the anthem’s melody, has tried to fill the void.

As you would imagine, this puts Spanish athletes in an awkward position during awards ceremonies at the Olypics and elsewhere. How do they sing along?

OK, so the goal is to write appropriate lyrics for the Spanish national anthem, but this is taking place in the context of modern or postmodern, European Union Spain. What can you mention? What words can you use and what words are forbidden? In other words, what is the “civil religion” of Spain, in a land that is so Catholic in terms of history, yet now is so very secular or post-religion? And what about the history with Islam and Judaism?

So we return to the action, with the hammer falling near the end of the story:

… Telecinco, the television station, conducted an online poll and came up with its winning entry, by the poet and journalist Enrique Hernandez-Luike. It’s a piece of “simple metaphors and accessible musicality,” Telecinco said.

It opens with a paean to “Mother Homeland, arms entwined in a sign of peace,” and invokes the flag, freedom, the constitution, “an ensemble of cultures” and “the hand of Europe.”

One thing it does not mention: Spain.

The hand of Europe? As a creator? As a metaphor for Spain’s geography?

Thank goodness, the Times offers a sidebar with an English translation of the lyrics. As it turns out, the lyrics are not strictly secular, but offer a kind of Oprah-esque, foggy spirituality. You will need to sit down, if you like linear thought. Now read on:

Mother homeland, arms linked
in a sign of peace, our voices raised.

All your children at the foot of the flag
and in freedom, with the Constitution.

Art and strength, combination of cultures
firm pedestal of a triumphant people.

Hand of Europe outstretched to the whole world,
bow in the sea to the wind of Love.

The wind of Love? That’s with A. Big. L. Really?

Now there’s an interesting angle that should have been included in this nice feature story.

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Guidance from the Saudi Koran Kops

mhm muhammad  s tombAs longtime readers may have noticed, we GetReligionistas think it is rather important for basic religious facts to be included, from time to time, in stories about major religious events and trends.

It is, for example, rather important to help readers (even government officials) understand the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This topic has come up several times and, alas, I am sure that it will continue to do so. There is no way to round up all of GetReligion’s URLs on that subject, but here are a few.

At the same time, I have been interested in knowing what these sectarian differences look like when they are lived out in daily life, in public worship and in the doctrines that define them. If a reporter walked into a Sunni mosque instead of a Shiite mosque in Iraq, how would they know the difference? Baptist sanctuaries do not look like Catholic sanctuaries. Right? There are differences that can be described in words and even photographed (perhaps).

I tore a Stephen Schwartz article out of The Weekly Standard recently that offered some insights on issues of this kind, and then I lost it. I found it yesterday in the bottom of my shoulder bag, down under clips from the The Washington Post, The Washington Times, etc. The edgy headline said: “Saudi Arabia’s Koran Kops — The religious police run amok.”

We do not write about the political weeklies all that often, but this article contained information and images that religion-beat reporters will find interesting.

At the heart of the article is the fact that the religious militia, or mutawiyin, of Saudi Arabia have been cracking down on people whose worship they consider unworthy or even heretical. This is especially true when it comes to the Shiites, who offend the Wahhabi authorities in every way. But what does that look like? Consider this passage:

On August 10, according to Reuters, a group of eight Iraqi Shia men aged 16 to 26, holding American and British citizenship, accused the mutawiyin of assaulting them in Mecca a week before. The eight Shias claimed they had been detained overnight and beaten by the religious militia for praying in the Shia manner, which differs slightly from the Sunni prayer ritual. A member of the Iraqi parliament said that two of the men were sons of Iraqi political figures. One of the pilgrims, Amir Taki, 24, declared, “We were handcuffed and savagely beaten with chairs, bats, sticks, shoes and police radio communication devices.” They claimed to have been denied water, food, medicine, and toilet facilities, and to have been subjected to threats of murder. They escaped because one used a hidden cellphone to contact U.S. and British diplomats.

My colleague and coauthor Irfan al-Alawi … a British Sunni Muslim, had a similar experience to that of the Iraqi Shia pilgrims, on August 12. He writes, “I went to the prophet’s Mosque to read my prayers. I moved close to the sacred chamber where the prophet is buried, which is made of a green coloured metal grill and has a wooden wall surrounding it. The mutawiyin and police sit behind the wooden wall and stop people from looking inside, touching the grill for blessings and praying towards it.

“As I took out a book consisting of salutations for the Prophet, one of the mutawiyin had left to change duty. I was reading the salutations facing the sacred chamber when a police officer told me to move away. The mutawwa who had left to change his shift told me not to face the sacred chamber. I made a gesture indicating I needed only two more minutes to finish praying, but the mutawwa insisted that I leave the area immediately. I continued reading from my book while sitting for approximately five more minutes, and then got up to leave. As I walked around the sacred chamber towards the exit, another mutawwa grabbed me at the indication of the first one, and led me towards the first. The first asked me for my card, to which I replied, ‘Which card?’ in English. He repeated, ‘Card, card.’ A well-dressed old Saudi man told the mutawwa to leave me alone, to which the mutawwa replied, ‘Mind your own business and don’t interfere.’ He then asked me my nationality and when I replied that I was British he smirked.

“We then went to the head office of the mutawiyin. The one who arrested me reported the incident and told his senior that I ignored his instructions three times against praying facing the sacred chamber. I waited for ten minutes before a Pakistani dressed in the blue uniform of the Saudi bin Laden company came into the office and sat down next to me. He asked me in Urdu why I was there, and I repeated the incident, to which he replied, ‘Why were you facing the sacred chamber?’ He then asked me which book I was reading. He looked through it and then asked me whether I was a Shia to which I replied that I was not, but that I was a mainstream Sunni. He then said that the book I was reading was written by a Shia, which happens to be untrue.”

And so forth and so on. Don’t you want to know more, more about the actual teachings that shape these clashing traditions?

There are other factors at play here. But are the religious beliefs important? Of course they are.

Photo: The gates to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Global village hijinks

UgandaConsecrationSusan Hogan/Albach of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a wonderful article Sunday on how a conservative congregation, Resurrection Episcopal Church of West Chicago, separated itself from the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago without rancor or threats of lawsuits.

The article included this odd note, however: “The new worship space was a quarter mile walk from the church. As the worshippers processed, a guitarist strummed, while others yelled Nigerian warrior cries.”

What’s this? Nigerian war cries during what the Rev. George Koch, rector of Resurrection, referred to as a service of gentle separation?

“What she heard was ululation — praise — common in African (and Resurrection) worship,” Koch said by email. “We learned it from our Ugandan friends and travels.” (The photo shows Koch, third from left on the front row, at the consecration of the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey in Uganda.)

Wikipedia’s entry on ululation provides a few other amusing possibilities:

Ululation is found in some singing techniques and ritual situations. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used by women to express celebration or grief, especially at weddings and funerals. It may also be used to encourage belly dancing. … Ululation appears in many films set in the Middle East, such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Battle of Algiers. Sometimes it is depicted as a battle cry, for example in Xena: Warrior Princess. Even the animated feature GI Joe: The Movie featured the ululation “Cobra-la-la-la-la-la”. It appears as comic relief in The Simpsons episodes “The Last Temptation of Homer” and “Midnight Rx”; as well as Family Guy in the episode “E. Peterbus Unum” where Stewie is curious about the sound Achmed “makes when you’re about to assassinate an infidel.”

They sure know how to party out in West Chicago.

Photo: By Kevin Kallsen of AnglicanTV (from this slideshow).

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Stone from which a church was made

14You don’t see many mainstream newspaper stories focusing on architecture, let alone one that digs into what church architecture might say about the people who worship under a particular roof.

That’s why it was a pleasure to read Deborah Schoch’s story in the Los Angeles Times about the new stone sanctuary built in Pasadena, Calif., by members of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church. The one thing the story didn’t do that I, as an Orthodox Christian, wanted it to do was dig into the ancient Eastern roots of the traditions and Traditions that shaped this flock and its sanctuary.

But the story gets so many details right and then follows them up with nice connections to other modern trends. Here is the opening of the story:

In an age when new churches can be as boxy and boring as shopping malls, the members of St. Gregory the Illuminator longed for arches.

They craved warm-hued stone dug from quarries in their ancestors’ Armenia. While other growing parishes settled for former banks or castoff older churches, this parish housed in a former Coca-Cola distribution center wanted a building all its own — a brand-new structure but one that would look centuries old.

Now, the graceful dome of their new stone-walled church rises 85 feet above the auto parts stores of Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, a silhouette that recalls the skyline of Athens or Cairo.

Or Jerusalem, or Antioch, or Constantinople.

This story gets the locals and it gets the ethnic connection to the old country. What it misses are the actual Christian traditions that serve as the bridge. Who are these priests? What is the history of all of this beauty?

And why did these people go to so much expense and trouble to build this temple?

The stone itself becomes the symbol:

As those members put the finishing touches on the new St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church, they are rejoicing in the triumph of tradition: a marble-framed baptismal font, jewel-toned stained-glass windows and particularly the rounded arches both outside the church and setting off its glowing cream interior.

“We didn’t want a box. We wanted arches,” said project manager Hampo Nazerian, motioning at the windows and dome.

“They’re inviting, they’re warm, not squared or cold. Arches are like arms outstretched,” said longtime volunteer Marguerite Hougasian, whose father helped start the Pasadena parish in 1947. The new church’s Old World style reflects the importance of tradition in the 1,700-year-old Armenian faith, she said. “It’s a way of strengthening and holding to the faith, keeping us bonded to our belief.”

This is where the story takes off into some interesting American territory.

What about the glass-and-steel boxes of the modern megachurch? Why are Roman Catholic churches beginning to wonder if they have drifted too far from traditional architectural forms? Why do some people yearn for stone, stained glass, icons, marble and beauty while others turn away into modern forms of one kind or another?

The story raises good questions. Enjoy.

Photo: Inside an ancient Armenian church dome.

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Indy: Odd coverage of Islamic conference in Chicago

isna conventionMy old new local paper, The Indianapolis Star, took the effort to send reporter Robert King to the suburbs of Chicago to cover the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention. Reporter Robert King’s initial story in Saturday’s newspaper surprised me a bit since it seemed somewhat random. Then I realized that the organization is based in another suburb, this one near Indianapolis.

The story amounts to an explanation of why this organization feels like the U.S. government generally doesn’t get the great work the ISNA is doing in America as the supposedly largest Muslim umbrella organization in North America. The allegations of financing terrorists are unfair and unproven, and the group represents moderate Muslims — in other words, the good guys:

Nowhere is the strange and sometimes strained relationship between the Islamic Society of North America and the federal government more evident than at the Plainfield-based organization’s annual convention, going on this weekend near Chicago.

The Justice Department is here talking about civil rights, even as federal prosecutors in Texas have labeled ISNA an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a terrorism financing case.

The Defense Department is talking up its chaplain programs and business opportunities in Iraq, even though Muslims overwhelmingly oppose the occupation in Iraq and the military’s views on torture.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is here, too, asking Muslim charities to apply for grants that could pay for projects overseas. This comes as Muslim charities have been under government scrutiny for any links to terrorist groups, scaring off donors who don’t want to become targets if their favorite organization falls under suspicion.

The unindicted co-conspirator label from the DOJ draws a lot of heat from the sources King talks to, but little attention is given to whether there is any factual basis for that charge other than the group’s president denying any involvement in illegal activities. Are the accusations really so unconvincing that King didn’t bother to explore the matter beyond that?

The final section of the fairly short story, considering the subject matter, deals with the group’s efforts to pay “attention to the possibility that radical elements could arise among American Muslims.” Here’s where King could have asked more questions:

A convention panel discussion today titled “Not in the Name of Islam” will explore the history and causes of terrorism, as well as solutions. A discussion Sunday will look at the results of a recent survey. Among the findings: 15 percent of American Muslims younger than 30 said suicide bombing could be justified at least “sometimes.”

“Even if you have a fraction saying that is justified,” [Louay] Safi said, “that is a source of concern.”

By including the concerns raised by Safi, an ISNA official involved in training imams and other leaders, King leaves an opening to ask about the charges from the DOJ about financing terrorism: Can people be assured that all the funds distributed by ISNA stay out of the hands of groups labeled as terrorists by the government? King rightly acknowledges that the terrorist group Hamas supports social welfare programs as well as suicide bombings.

It’s a complicated, thorny story that King is covering, and kudos to him for stepping out and giving it his best shot. The whole world of international financing and fundraising is a tricky business that requires a ton of expertise to understand. It is right of King to question rather flimsy “unindicted co-conspirator” charges from the government, but that doesn’t mean ISNA should receive a free pass from scrutiny.

In Sunday’s paper King writes about a national Jewish leader who spoke at the convention on Friday:

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie said the Plainfield, Ind.-based Islamic Society of North America has not always had a reputation of openness toward Jews.

But Yoffie, leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in America, is convinced the ISNA has changed.

The latest proof came Friday when Yoffie became the most prominent Jewish leader ever to address the group’s annual convention.

And it came when his remarks were repeatedly interrupted with applause and his Muslim audience gave him a standing ovation.

This, even though Yoffie made pointed remarks about the pockets of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the unyielding interest Jews have in preserving Israel as a Jewish state.

I always hated covering conferences. I found it very difficult to come out with anything but a feel-good story that says little of substance (see Monday’s story on Muslim marriages). That is what these stories often amount to: A bunch of head honchos saying nice things about everyone and discussing little of substance. Generalities, such as the lede mentioning ISNA’s lack of openness toward Jews in the past, aren’t followed up on and vast statements of brotherhood and a desire to work together aren’t put through much of a reality check.

For a paper on a tight budget like the Star to send a reporter three hours north to cover a conference is an attention-grabbing decision, but it will only be worthwhile if the story is followed up with more serious coverage.

Photo from ISNA’s Web gallery.

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Who, what, when, where

There is an irony in the story of South Korean missionaries taken hostage by the Taliban. Dr. Leroy Huizenga sent us a note about this CNN story on the Taliban’s statement that the hostages will be released. Here’s the key section:

Under the terms of the agreement, South Korea agreed to stick by its previous decision to withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan, which work mostly in an engineering and medical capacity.

In addition, Seoul will halt all Christian missionary work in Afghanistan.

Dr. Huizenga is wondering why the issue of the South Korean government controlling the actions of the missionaries isn’t receiving more scrutiny.

Does the South Korean government sponsor missionaries? I don’t think so. Does the government have much power over South Koreans going out to do missionary work around the world? … I’d like to know how the government would live up to that end of the bargain.

Buried in a New York Times report is this:

South Korean church groups said Wednesday that they would abide by their government’s pledge that they would stop working in Afghanistan. They also said the kidnappings had led them to review their evangelical zeal.

About 17,000 full-time South Korean missionaries, as well as numerous volunteers on short-term aid missions, operate in more than 160 countries, some of them predominantly Muslim. That number is second only to the estimated 46,000 American missionaries.

“Through this incident, we will look back on the Korean churches’ overseas aid and missionary work and take this as an opportunity to make our work more effective and safer,” the Rev. Kwon Oh-sung, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, said in a statement.

This is all well and good, but we’re still not told how the South Korean government was able to convince the churches to reconsider their missionary work. (For some background on South Korean missionaries and some hints on why the churches may be reconsidering, see this post.)

Here’s the irony: While the South Korean government and its church groups are all reconsidering the nature of missionary work, the church that sent out the hostages still holds that the hostages were doing aid work, not evangelizing. Why isn’t South Korean reconsidering its aid work? Here’s the Times:

The Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to which the hostages belong, said its volunteers were providing aid, not spreading the Gospel.

What compelled the government and the church council to concede that the hostages were proselytizing?

Is the church lying? Is there any way to determine whether the missionaries were engaged purely in aid work and not evangelizing? Rather than simply mentioning the difference between the sending church and everybody else (hostage-takers, government and church groups), maybe reporters should be more explicit about the disagreement because it seems to be a pretty key element of the whole hostage situation.

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God’s Warriors wraps it up

Armor of GodMuch of my writing on CNN’s God’s Warriors has focused on the promotion for the series. Many of you readers have agreed that lumping all religious extremists together with a term that implies violence is not very good journalism. While this is very likely a decision of CNN’s marketing department, not the journalists behind the three-part series, it’s still bad journalism.

That said, one of the things CNN has done well in its marketing and portraying of the subjects — religious extremists in Islam, Judaism and Christianity — is that society at large has generally failed to understand God’s warriors. Can I get an amen?

A reader of ours, Dennis Colby, left this helpful link and commented on a Q&A the show’s host, Christiane Amanpour, did with readers of

It makes me reluctant to watch. Amanpour apparently subscribes to some version of newsroom universalism:

“But as far as I’m concerned, as long as people believe that only their holy book or only their holy word matters and is relevant, then there will be no solution. And that’s why it takes committed and courageous leadership to provide an answer and solution that addresses the greater good for all.”

Her political beliefs seem incoherent and sophomoric. She says over and over that the only thing that can help the world is “committed leadership” but also laments, “that unfortunately the very vocal minority often dominates the political stage.” What do you think a “leadership” consists of if not a vocal minority?

She basically comes off as an ill-informed Universalist with what are commonly called liberal beliefs, and as someone who doesn’t, ahem, get religion. This is why I hate these “journalists should disclose their biases” exercises: the CNN series is produced by a lot of people, and from what I’ve read seems to be fairly well done. But after reading this Q&A, I really have no motivation to watch a minute of it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that Amanpour did all the work on this series, but as anyone who has any experience in broadcasting knows, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people behind the scenes doing research, shooting film, prepping questions and even doing the interviews. Amanpour is the glorified star of the show.

Another thing about the show that’s noteworthy is its ratings. Here they are courtesy of Matt Drudge:

Total Views 8/22/07

CNN AMANPOUR 2,201,000
FNC SHEP SMITH 1,308,000
FNC BRIT HUME 1,286,000
FNC GRETA 1,031,00
CNN DOBBS 813,000

Now that the recap is complete, here’s a well-timed article in this week’s issue of The Economist that focuses on D. Michael Lindsay’s book on how “evangelicals have joined the American elite”:

“Faith in the Halls of Power” is not a perfect book. Mr Lindsay’s prose style suggests that he spends too much time reading his fellow sociologists. His failure to discuss the American armed services is bizarre given the number of Evangelicals there. But he has nonetheless written an impressive and admirably fair-minded book: anybody who wants to understand the nexus between God and power in modern America should start here.

I write this before the final episode, “God’s Christian Warriors,” airs. I wonder if it will be mentioned at all.

Now for my review of tonight’s show

The Jerry Falwell segment was nicely done and probably the best way to introduce the issue. There was little effort made to explain the theological differences within American Christianity until the very end of the show. There was little news out of Amanpour’s interview with Falwell. One interesting tidbit was Falwell’s statement that 2008 could set a new standard for GOP presidential candidates that are acceptable to the religious right.

There was little violence in the episode, unlike previous evenings. The abortion clinic bombings of the 1990s got a little attention, but there’s only so much you can do with that. Would it have been appropriate for CNN to explain how these Christians are for the most part not warriors in the violent sense? It was interesting how many interviewed claimed to be God’s warriors.

The segment in which CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin spoke was pretty bad from a legal standpoint. He said that if the Republican Party gets a couple of new Supreme Court justices, the law would be transformed beyond recognition. Toobin should be aware that law evolves constantly and the law today doesn’t look like the law last year. That’s just the nature of our system. He could have made the point that if conservative Christians got their way the law might look like it did 40 to 50 years ago — and to some that would be a setback — but he didn’t.

As for President Jimmy Carter, I think he’s officially the costar of this show. I found his claim that he didn’t express his Christian faith more than others kind of loopy and untrue. The show didn’t explicitly show this, but it was there.

The final segment on Battle Cry was tremendously well done. Overall this series has given its subjects the chance to answer the question: Why do you believe that? That’s a huge plus that made the show worthwhile.

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