Displaying items by tag: Religion
The Church of England has released a Christmas single as part of a campaign to encourage more people to hear the real Christmas story through their local church. The single, a new carol version of In the Bleak Midwinter by one of the country’s top young composers, Rebecca Dale, will form the soundtrack to this year’s CofE Christmas campaign. It was released on all streaming platforms on Wednesday 1 December and can be downloaded online. All royalties from the digital streams and downloads of the track will be donated to charity, helping people experiencing homelessness in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that we often dress Christmas up with trimmings, but they are not the heart of Christmas. The only thing that makes Christmas perfect is Jesus, and the only thing we need to give him and each other is our hearts.
Former first minister Arlene Foster has spoken out against those who say that religion and politics should never mix. When speaking at the St Patrick Centre to a live audience, she discussed her own faith as well as her political career. Expressing her frustration she said, ‘Christianity doesn’t call you to be neutral. It calls you to be salt and light about what you believe in. It does annoy me when people say you have to take religion out of politics and leave it at the door, or like it only happens at the weekend. It is part of who you are. Your Christianity and your faith is something that is with you all the time. You can’t just leave it at home on Sunday night and go out without it on Monday.’
India has the second-largest Christian population in Asia, but a recent report states that over 300 attacks on Christians took place in the first nine months of 2021. 169 of them were in four states: BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, tribal-dominated Jharkhand, and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. At least nine states have planned anti-conversion laws, including Chhattisgarh which has emerged as a ‘new laboratory’ for anti-Christian hatred in India. Over 1,000 people recently gathered for a Stop Religious Conversions rally - one in a series of events organised in the garb of anti-conversion protests. Addressing the gathering, a far-right Hindu leader urged the people to ‘arm themselves with axes to teach Christians indulging in conversions a lesson’.
Luka Binniyat, a Christian journalist, faces three years’ imprisonment after reporting on attacks against Christian communities and critical assessments of the government’s response. He was arrested on 4 November and charged with electronically transmitting information ‘known to be false’. Many believe his arrest is aimed at silencing dissenting voices and intimidating Luka and Kaduna communities. Luka has persistently challenged the government on issues of security and killings in southern Kaduna. This charge follows his report on police failing to make any arrests after gunmen killed 35 people in two separate attacks on churches. He said, ‘In Nigeria, police decry massacres as “wicked” but make no arrests’. Pray for Luka’s release and for an end to criminalisation of journalism. Meanwhile bandits invaded Emmanuel Baptist Church, service killing two, seriously injuring three, and kidnapping 66. Rev Joseph Hayab said, ‘The abducted worshippers are in danger and require urgent government intervention.’ The insecurity in Kaduna state has grown beyond imagination and is threatening Nigeria’s peace.
On 25 November prime minister Scott Morrison introduced a controversial Religious Discrimination Bill, which will allow faith-based organisations to prioritise hiring and enrolment of people from their faith. The bill, tabled just months before next year’s election, is seen as an attempt to woo votes from religious citizens, as Mr Morrison is a Pentecostal Christian. When introducing the bill to parliament, he said it would protect those who expressed their religious faith outside the workplace as long as it did not cause financial damage to their employer. ‘People should not be persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s. Australians shouldn’t have to worry about offending an anonymous person on Twitter.’ The bill will be put to vote in the lower house next week, but is unlikely to pass into law before the elections.
Two Christian nurses accused of blasphemy received bail and were released from prison in September. The decision was kept secret for almost two months to avoid backlash from Islamists. Mariam Lal and Nawish Arooj were granted bail by a sessions court in Faisalabad. Those charged with blasphemy in Pakistan usually languish in jail for years until the appeals process is exhausted. This is an unprecedented decision by any sessions court in a blasphemy case. Both women are currently in a safe location. They are very happy and relieved after their release, and are optimistic that the court will absolve them of the charge once the trial concludes. In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Emmett Chang grew up with mostly female friends and was bullied by males his age; he grew to hate his masculinity. ‘I medicated, pacified, and drowned myself in homosexuality. I hated myself as a man. I didn’t feel like a man.’ But somebody talked to him about God and gave him a booklet. He read it because he wanted to see if God hated him. He found out God didn’t. Emmett said, ‘It said all sins are bad; they’re all worthy of death, including homosexuality. But that same sin was covered by grace.’ Next, a pastor prompted him indirectly by asking if God ever said he was gay? Emmett said, ‘It was a million-dollar question. It took 21 years for God to answer me in that fashion.’ After giving his life to Christ his transformation has been progressive. He now attends the Door Church in Tucson.
A renowned and well-established research institution found only 5% of pastors/priests in every worldwide Christian tradition have theological training with a recognised degree. 90% of pastors only have some kind of informal or non-formal theological education. Formal theological education has a clearly defined programme, curriculum, exams, degrees, and associated accreditation processes. The thousands of informal programmes have nothing similar; there are no guidelines, no standards, and no outcomes that could be globally accepted. Each one does what it considers best. Often the concepts and beliefs of the founders or leaders of each denomination or mission agency determine how the various training programmes are carried out. One teacher and missionary leader stated publicly that he had personally trained more than 15,000 pastors for ministry; each pastor received about six weeks of training, and were then ordained as pastors. He and his board believe that such training is sufficient.
500 Hindu nationalists accused 60+ Christians of forcible conversion. The mob harassed them, searched their belongings, including women’s undergarments, physically assaulted them, and vandalised their vehicles. But when the police came they arrested the Christians, not the Hindus. Violence and hate incidents against Christians are increasing. An intervention specialist commented, ‘These include disrupting or stopping Sunday services, physical attacks, vandalising churches, social boycotts, false accusations of religious conversions and as in this case arrests on the basis of false charges. Many attacks remain unreported and unrecorded through fear of further victimisation’. Also, on 6 November, fifty radical Hindu nationalists went from house to house in Metapal village, attacking Christians, to make it a ‘Christian-free’ village. Wielding fists, clubs, and other objects, they beat everyone including women and children leaving nine seriously injured. Six were hospitalised and remain in a critical condition. Without significant government intervention, 2021 will be the worst year on record for Christian persecution in India.
After Arlene Foster stood down from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), her replacement only lasted three weeks. Then Sir Jeffrey Donaldson took over the leadership at a significant moment for NI, as it has come to terms with the effects of Covid and battled the repercussions of Brexit. There have been significant changes on things like abortion and same sex marriage. Although the Church spoke out against changing legislation, Donaldson is concerned over the diminishing church voice. He said that church leaders now find it difficult to speak out in public to give a faith-based perspective on social issues and are not being salt and light in our society. He also believes prayer is the most important thing that the church has available to it: ‘I often encourage Christians to intercede and to give prayerful support to those of us who are involved as Christians in the political process’.