Tensions in Global Anglicanism Surface during Meeting of Primates

While its viewership won’t come close to that other famous British drama Downton Abbey, we are about to begin a new season of the real life soap opera we’ve come to think of As the Anglican World Turns.

CHR Comment: Susan Russell’s opinion piece anticipated the tensions that are currently affecting the meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury this week. According to a Christian Today article (link below), a sizeable number of bishops are not attending worship sessions and are unhappy with the planned discussion. Key Issues involve homosexual rights advocated by Europeans and Americans in contrast with the conservative views of bishops in former colonial nations, who also sense that the “mother” church is manipulating them.

Source: ‘As the Anglican World Turns’ | Rev. Susan Russell



New Giant Jesus Statue

Move over, “Christ the Redeemer.” A new giant statue of Jesus is about to be unveiled in a Nigerian village. Dubbed “Jesus de Greatest,” . . .

CHR Comment: Nigerian businessman, Obinna Onuoha, commissioned the 28 foot statute to be placed outside of St. Aloysius Catholic Church, which is located in the southern, Christian portion of Nigeria. It will not be near the location of the numerous Boko Haram attacks that occur mostly in the north and east portions of the country. It will be the largest statue of Jesus in Africa.

Source: The world is about to get a new giant Jesus statue

Gas Tanker Truck Fire Kills Scores of Christians in Nigeria

A gas tanker truck ignited an inferno at a crowded industrial gas plant in Nigeria, killing scores of people lining up to refill their cooking gas cylinders.

CHR Comment: Member of the Nnewi community were lined up to refill their gas cooking cylinders so they could cook their Christmas meals when the truck exploded. More than 100 people died. Nnewi is in southeastern Nigeria.

Source: Gas tanker truck fire kills scores in Nigeria

2015 Global Events in Church Life

86839903_019414866-1Persecution of Christians in Africa and Asia was the most significant global story in 2015. Examples of martyrdom and persecution appeared throughout the year, coupled with reports about immigration, terrorism, and the demographic growth of Islam. Details about these events and many others are below.

Chinese Christians’ Setbacks and Opportunities

About 400 churches in China were partially or completely demolished when authorities designated them as illegal structures (Tom Phillips, London Daily Telegraph, March 25, 2015). Pastor Huang Yizi was sentenced to a year in jail for publically opposing the demolitions. The Chinese government recognizes three official Christian organizations: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China Christian Council, and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. House churches are illegal.

The last official Roman Catholic bishop of the Yicheng diocese (Hebei province) died in incarceration (Brice Pedroletti, Le Monde, June 8, 2015). Government police had abducted Bishop Monsignor Come Shi Enxiang and two other bishops in this Catholic area of China because the bishops would not take membership in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The three bishops were ordained as priests before China became communist in 1949. According to the report, villagers at Cunmoyu were awaiting opportunity to bury Bishop Shi who went missing in 2001.

In contrast, the Russian Orthodox Church ordained its first Chinese priest in 60 years, perhaps signaling new ties between China and Russia (Hannah Gardner, USA Today, October 22, 2015). Yu Shi’s ordination took place at a seminary in St. Petersburg. The priest will serve in Hardin. Adherents to Orthodoxy in China number in the thousands, including descendants of the Albazinian Cossacks who settled in China in the seventeenth century.

Ecumenical Apologies

In November 2015, the Global Christian Forum met in Albania, hosting 145 representatives from the World Evangelical Alliance, Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Vatican, and the World Council of Churches (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, Christianity Today, December 18, 2015). Together the delegates represented church bodies with membership numbering about two billion Christians. The theme of the conference was “Following Christ Together,” which sought to foster greater ecumenical cooperation during these difficult times of persecution. A press release from the meeting acknowledged that Christians persecuted one another as well as other religious persons. Forgiveness is the doctrine and practice by which the church stands or fails, making this a significant event.

Gay Marriage Approved in Ireland and United States

On May 22, Irish voters approved a referendum that allowed gay marriages. 62% of voters approved the measure despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. Ireland had only recently decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Reporters Danny Hakim and Douglas Dalby wrote that the Catholic Church had lost credibility in recent years due to scandals and due to changing attitudes among younger Irish citizens (New York Times, May 23, 2015).

On June 26, the United States Supreme Court declared gay marriages legal throughout the nation in a close vote of five to four. Such marriages were already legalized in 37 states and Washington DC (Dana Liebelson and Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, June 26, 2015). Conservative Christians opposed the changes and are questioning whether to divide civil and church roles more sharply by having couples marry in a civil ceremony before coming to the church for blessing. Christian institutions wrestled with policy changes due to the new law (Jeremy Weber, Christianity Today, September 21, 2015).

Interfaith and Interreligious Services Increase

In a year observing the fiftieth anniversary of the papal document Nostra Aetate (“In our time”), which fostered dialogue between Jews and Roman Catholics (Ron Kronish, Huffington Post Religion Blog, October 28, 2015), the news presented numerous stories referring to interfaith or interreligious services or dialogues. For example, on March 6, St. John’s Waterloo in London (Anglican) hosted a Muslim prayer service. Conservatives, such as Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council, soon questioned the decision (Current News, americananglican.org, March 2015). On March 18, Canon Giles Goddard apologized for hosting the service (Madeleine Davies, Church Times, March 18, 2015). Later in the year, Till-R. Stoldt reported about the policy document of Barbara Rudolph, head of the Ecumenical Department for the Rheinland region of the Protestant Church in Germany (Die Welt, October 15, 2015). Rudolph’s policy would prevent mission work of Christians among Muslims. On October 29, The Gulen Movement made headlines because it secretly funded hundreds of trips for U.S. Congressmen or their staff members (Paul Singer and Paulina Firozi, USA Today, October 29, 2015). The movement also sponsors interfaith talks with Christian, Jews, and Muslim groups. Although the group is openly committed to peaceful relations, its secretive practices are undermined trust. On November 1, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was installed during a service with ecumenical participants (other Christians) and also interfaith participants (other religions; Aaron Morrison, International Business Times, November 1, 2015). On November 4, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim clergy held an interfaith service on the island of Lesbos to remember refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea (Jeanne Carstensen, Public Radio International, November 3, 2015).

Muslim Migrants Converting to Christianity in Germany

A growing number of Muslim immigrants in Germany are converting to Christianity according to Kirsten Grieshaber (Associated Press, September 4, 2015) in an article describing the Baptism of an Iranian at the evangelical Trinity Church in Berlin. The converts are mostly from Iran and Afghanistan and are seeking asylum in Germany. Skeptics question whether the conversions are sincere or are meant to prevent deportation of those baptized to their Muslim homelands. This is one of many stories about the flood of immigrants headed into Europe from Asia and Africa.

Persecution of Christians in Africa and Asia

On January 3, Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” attacked the Nigerian village of Baga (Monica Mark, The Guardian, January 10, 2015). This was among the first of many attacks by the Jihadist group in 2015, which wants to establish an Islamic state. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, making them the most deadly terrorist group. Nigeria is commonly described as Muslim in the north and Christian in the south but adherents of both religions are found throughout the country. At Baga, which is in the north east, militants burned the community’s churches (Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post, January 9, 2015). More than 2,000 people were killed. Some were Christians, though perhaps not all were Christians since Boko Haram also attacks other Muslim groups. Religious, ethnic, and political differences stand behind the fighting in the country (Tolu Ogunlesi, New York Times, March 23, 2015).

On February 15, the Islamic State (ISIS) released a video showing the decapitation of 21 Coptic Christians whom they had captured in Libya. The Copts were apparently kidnapped the month before and executed for religious and propaganda purposes according to a Voice of the Martyrs post (March 18, 2015). In April a mob attacked a church in Al Our where Christians proposed to build a new church in memory of the martyrs (Steven Edwards, Fox News, April 16, 2015). Thirteen of the ISIS victims were from Al Our.

In late February, Islamic State gunmen took at least 70 Christians and other persons captive in northeastern Syria (Associated Press, February 24, 2015). The ISIS organization also destroyed churches and the shrines of non-Sunni Muslims. They especially targeted Yazidi people, whom they regard as heretics. In March, ISIS supporters tore down the crosses that topped Christian churches in Iraq (Clyde Hughes, NewsMax, March 17, 2015). Assyrian Christians experienced much of the persecution. In November, an Aid to the Church in Need representative predicted that the c. 260,000 Christians in the region could be martyred or forced to emigrate if the ISIS Caliphate continues to grow (Fox News, October 23, 2015). However, regional opposition to ISIS is gaining strength. For example, Christian troops were among those who participated in the liberation of Hol, Syria. They were part of the Democratic Forces of Syria, which formed in mid-October, 2015 (Susannah George, Associated Press, November 13, 2015). An ISIS attack in Paris, though not directed specifically at Christians, drove Parisians back to church as they struggled to discern why God was allowing such violence (Sarah Miller Llana and Jason Walsh, Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2015). Western states now show growing resolve to defeat the terror group, which sees itself in a crusade-like struggle (Jason Bacon, USA Today, November 19, 2015). There is no clear count of how many people ISIS has killed worldwide.

On April 2, seven Al-shabaab Islamic terrorists attacked Christian students at Garissa University in Kenya (Tonny Onyulo, USA Today, April 2, 2015). The gunmen held hostages for 15 hours and killed 148 people. For staging their attacks, the terrorists used the Dadaab refugee camp, which is the world’s largest refugee camp, populated with 350,000 Somalis (Tonny Onyulo, USA Today, May 2, 2015). On April 5, Easter Sunday, Our Lady of Consolation Church held a memorial service for those killed (Associated Press, April 5, 2015). Armed security guards surrounded the worshippers.

Polish Election Influenced by Conservative Catholics

In October the conservative Law and Justice Party won 235 seats out of 460 in Poland’s lower house of parliament as well as a majority in the senate (Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, October 27, 2015). Roman Catholic views are an important influence for Law and Justice. 90% of Poles are Roman Catholic and, unlike other nations in Europe, 40% of poles attend church weekly (Tom Heneghan, Reuters, October 29, 2015).

Synod on the Family

From October 4–25, the Vatican hosted a Synod of Bishops on the Family that erupted in controversy due to topics such as allowing divorced Catholics to receive communion and becoming more welcoming toward homosexuals. On October 3 Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared his homosexuality openly in an effort to influence the synod (Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today, October 3, 2015). Also, early synod drafts of a statement about homosexuality appeared to change the church’s teaching on homosexuality. However, observers noted the growing influence of African bishops who spoke strongly against changing the church’s teaching on homosexuality (Daniel Gibson, Religion News Service, October 25, 2015). In the end, the synod adopted a more traditional and conservative statement. Charamsa was removed from the priesthood (Rosie Scammell, Religion News Service, November 12, 2015).

Kenyan Muslims Shield Christians in Mandera Bus Attack

A group of Kenyan Muslims on a bus attacked by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, witnesses say.

CHR Comment: Many Muslims of Somali descent live in this area of Kenya, while the rest of the nation is rapidly becoming Christian. The article includes a list of attacks in Kenya, most of which are attributed to the Muslim terrorist group Al-Shabab.

Source: Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack – BBC News

A Pastor and an Imam Bridge a Religious Divide

They were once bitter foes. But two Nigerians, a Christian and an Muslim, are now preaching unity.

CHR Comment: Terrorism has been most deadly in Nigeria in 2015 due to the activities of Boko Haram, which persecutes Christians but also Muslims and other religious persons that disagree with them. The pastor and Imam pictured here run a mediation center together in an effort to foster peace and understanding in their nation.

Source: A pastor and an imam ‘programmed to hate one another’ bridge a religious divide | Public Radio International

Pope Francis Visits Ugandan Shrine Amid Gay Rights Debate

Pope Francis traveled to Uganda’s holiest shrine on Saturday, paying tribute to 19th century Christian martyrs killed for their faith.

CHR Comment: The 47 Ugandan martyrs were burned by King Buganda Mwanga II. One issue was the king’s homosexual advances toward boy pages in his court. Martyr Charles Lwanga was killed for trying to protect these boys. The story of this martyr intersects with current issues of homosexuality. Uganda has passed strong laws against homosexual acts, though western officials have regarded such laws as repressive.

Source: Pope Francis Visits Ugandan Shrine Amid Gay Rights Debate – NBC News

Christian Militias in Central African Republic

Shocking probe by UN human rights investigators comes days ahead of visit by Pope Francis.

CHR Comment: The anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias are fighting with Muslims Seleka rebels over power in Central African Republic. Government troops make up a third force in the nation. People in this region are superstitious about witchcraft. According to a United Nations report, Christian groups have extorted money from people by accusing them of witchcraft, then gathering a bribe from them. Some who cannot pay are burned. A local clergyman who intervened was likewise injured. However, according to a Voice of America article from 2014, the anti-balaka groups may have Christians or practitioners of native religion. Their actions are not so much religious as political and vigilante. The nation is supposed to have an election of new leaders in December.

The second and third links give further information about Central African Republic.

Source: Christian militias in Central African Republic ‘burnt witches at stake’, says UN report – Telegraph




Religion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Pope Francis celebrates Mass with many thousands of people in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on his first visit as pontiff to Africa.

CHR Comment: The segment and video on the changing demographics in Africa and Catholicism is helpful. You will find it near the end of the article. Otherwise, the report is about the enthusiasm of Africans for the Pope’s visit.

Source: Pope Francis celebrates rain-soaked Mass in Kenya – BBC News