Indian Christians upset with Prime Minister's conversion comments
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee over the weekend criticized Christian relief agencies and the media's reporting on religious persecution. At a book release party attended by leaders of the Hindu group RSS, Vajpayee began praising Christian social work agencies, then attacked their Christian witness. "Some have a conversion motive," he said, "which is not proper." He also accused the Indian media of devoting too much coverage to the persecution of Christians while ignoring attacks on other groups. Opposition party leaders, Christian organizations, and even newspaper editorial pages are infuriated with the remarks. "How can the prime minister make such a comment?" asked Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi of the Congress Party during a parliamentary session yesterday. "If Vajpayee has facts that Christians are engaged in forceful conversion, then he should put those facts before us." Otherwise, Dasmunshi says, such remarks destroy "the secular religious fabric of India." The All-India Christian Council similarly responded, "One stroke cast a dark shadow of doubt on the entire Christian endeavor in national development. … Remarks such as the Prime Minister's are seen as condoning the hate campaign and the canards, lies and half-truths that are being spread in many parts of the country. They encourage communal and extremist elements."
Ironically, Vajpayee's comments came just three days after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced it was "seriously considering" whether India should be listed as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) regarding religious persecution, saying there are "grave violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by" India's government, as well as by the leaders of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, which also may join Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.
Meanwhile, heads of the RSS met with Roman Catholic leaders for the first time in three years "to remove misunderstandings between us and to put an end to both sides making allegations at each other."
Speaking of religious persecution in India, the militant Hindus accused of the 1999 murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons are again on a hunger strike (an earlier hunger strike, in demand for a fan, ended unsuccessfully after nine days). Meanwhile, the trial of Dara Singh, the alleged leader of the mob that burned the Staineses alive, has been postponed again, this time until September 3.
Most victims of Philippine hotel fire were evangelicals attending conference
Most of the Filipinos who died in a Manila hotel fire had come to the capital for a Dallas pastor's conference, say various news reports. Charisma News Service says that 69 of the 73 killed in the blaze, as well as a majority of those seriously injured, were pastors and church workers. Of the Manor Hotel's 236 registered guests, 172 were attendees of the conference, which was organized by Pentecostal evangelist Don Clowers and featured Joyce Meyer. The four-day "Destiny Crusade," held at Manila's Araneta Coliseum, was expected to draw 40,000.
Newsweek's Ken Woodward attacks religious bestsellers
"Sociologists tell us that the United States is experiencing a religious revival—a third "great awakening" echoing those of the 18th and 19th centuries," begins Newsweek religion editor Kenneth L. Woodward in a rare opinion piece. "But if the best-seller lists are any guide, the revival looks more like a collective leaving of the senses." He singles out three recent bestsellers as particularly egregious examples of "how easily wispy spirituality passes these days as ancient wisdom": The Prayer of Jabez, Conversations With God, and Karen Armstrong's recent biography of Buddha. For each book, Woodward offers alternatives. Instead of Jabez, for example, Woodward suggests "any verse from the Book of Psalms, the prayers Jesus himself recited, which ask only for forgiveness and the grace to do God's will." In video clips only available on the magazine's Web site, Woodward continues his invectives, especially for Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations With God. "The books that sell well are in my judgment intellectually and theologically trashy," he says. "Most of it is pretty low-grade stuff."
Visual Bible has bled through $10 million in a year and wants $10 million more
Canada's National Post is strangely optimistic about the prospects for The Visual Bible, a $400 million effort to produce a word-for-word film version of the Bible. The facts, however, seem pretty dim, whatever the spin. "We are at ground zero and have nowhere to go but up," Doug McKenzie, the company's new CEO, tells the paper. In a brief overview of the company's history, the Post reports that a handful of investors ponied up $7.5 million during a reverse takeover by American Uranium. "That capital was used to start production on the Book of Mark. But those funds didn't last that long and earlier this year Hong Kong-based Pan Zone Inc., a new investor, kicked in another $3.6-million," the Post's Barry Critchley notes. But Visual Bible still doesn't have anything to show for all that money, and McKenzie is now trying to find $10 million in the next months. Meanwhile, the company is still promoting its two films by South African director Regardt Van Den Bergh, Acts and Matthew.
Syndicated columnist Robert Scheer's latest column is a hackneyed screed against religion. "The pretense that religion is inevitably an ennobling experience stands in absurd denial of a harsh reality reported in daily headlines," he writes. His list of religion's ill effects are so predictable you'd think it was written by a high school sophomore: Middle East terrorism, Northern Ireland's troubles, and the shooting of abortionists are as creative as Scheer's examples get before he then draws parallels to Bush's stem-cell decision. The article is lamentable, but rather than waste electricity with a response to such drivel, Weblog has instead found a silver lining: that the Los Angeles Times would print such a hackneyed column gives hope to bad writers everywhere. No matter how weak your arguments, you too can write for the country's fourth-largest newspaper.
DiIulio's resignation and Bush's faith-based initiative:
- Defense of John DiIulio | That the Bush administration is about to lose its most vocal advocate for the poor sends exactly the wrong signal. (Samuel K. Atchison, Religion News Service)
- DiIulio's loss poses test for Bush initiative | Prospects for passage of President Bush's faith-based initiative in new peril (The Boston Globe)
- Falwell to Bush: Pick director with care | New leader of faith-based initiatives should 'know the clientele,' he says (The Dallas Morning News)
- DiIulio's good-faith effort | DiIulio was an honest body slammer rather than a charming fraud. Too bad that he is leaving. (Sebastian Mallaby, The Washington Post)
- When church and state collide | The President's faith-based community-service initiative could end up hurting the cause it intended to help — just ask the Salvation Army (Ciro Scotti, Business Week)
- This partnership of government and faith succeeds | The Nehemiah program has rebuilt shattered neighborhoods, erecting 4,430 homes in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and suburban Washington, with hundreds more under construction (Samuel G. Freedman, USA Today)
Abuse in the church:
- Church settles suit, toughens policies | Man who says O.C. priest abused him gets $5.2 million; dioceses will create program for victims. (Los Angeles Times)
- Also: Dioceses settle case of man accusing priest of molestation (The New York Times)
- Catholics are shaken by molestation allegations | Clergy and church community respond with outrage and sadness to news of $5.2-million settlement to man who says a priest abused him. (Los Angeles Times)
- The Church's duty | It is a hopeful sign that the Catholic Church no longer opposes a bill requiring clergy to report suspected child abuse in Massachusetts. (Editorial, The Providence Journal)
- A trail of secrecy and deception | You might say this has not been a great week for the Catholic Church in Southern California (Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times)
America's spiritual diversity:
- One nation, many faiths | The United States has become the most religiously diverse country in the world (USA Today)
- America's landscape now a rich tapestry of diverse religions | Our challenge is to sustain and expand this extraordinary experiment in religious freedom even as we grow more and more religiously different. (Charles Haynes, Freedom Forum)
- Taliban denies envoys access to detainees | Signed receipt offered as proof of health of foreign aid workers (The Washington Post)
- Diplomats leave Kabul empty-handed | Taliban still not allowing anyone to see arrested Christians (BBC)
- Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy | Physiology teacher Younus Shaikh said Muhammad had not become a Muslim until age 40 and that before then, he had not followed Muslim practices concerning circumcision or removing his underarm hair (The New York Times)
- Conviction in blasphemy case adds to 'negative' Pak image in U.S. (The News International, Pakistan)
- Also: Pakistani appeals over death sentence (BBC)
- Lebanese court releases Christians | Military court fines 75 $2,000 on charges of threatening national security and belonging to outlawed political parties (BBC)
- Church bombs spread fear, rage in Venezuela | No arrests have been made in connection with the incidents, but everyone is pointing fingers (The Miami Herald)
- Macedonia blast hits monastery | Western monitors say it is not clear who is to blame (BBC)
- Also: State dept. condemns rebel attack | "This is an ancient monastery, there's no place in this world for this type of destruction," says deputy spokesman (Associated Press)
- Deadly sin of pride led cleric to disgrace | Some see Milingo as an emotionally disturbed man unable to handle his own celebrity, who fell into the clutches of a cult canny enough to exploit his vanity and resentment against the church (Rod Dreher, New York Post)
- Vatican says Archbishop Milingo to meet his wife | Archbishop will tell her of his decision on whether he's leaving (Reuters)
- Earlier: Pastors want Milingo, wife to meet | American Protestant pastors with ties to Moon ask for audience with Pope to to ensure that "this black man who is unique in the Catholic Church is receiving the justice that is due and is treated fairly." (Associated Press)
- Episcopalians withhold grants to Africa | Longtime contributions to some African dioceses cut off over disputes on homosexuality, Scripture and internal turf wars (The Washington Times)
- Bishop looks beyond the clouds for rain | He urges West Texans to pray, sacrifice for relief from drought (Associated Press/The Dallas Morning News)
- Church backs 'Jerusalem' despite wedding protest | Nationalistic hymn "not about God" but popular among couples (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Also: Lyrics of Jerusalem (Cyberhymnal)
- Money woes halt renovation of MLK church | Work stoppage on church may mean no King birthday service in Ebenezer Baptist Church next January (USA Today)
- No static in message from God | Struggling church sees antennas as manna (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Europe's empty pews | Great cathedrals and Christendom's traditions notwithstanding, churches in Britain and the continent stay largely vacant (The Washington Post)
Religion and politics:
- A believer's rude reward | Eugene Rivers is a sadder and—we can only hope—wiser man today, after the way his faith in Bush has been rewarded (Adrian Walker, The Boston Globe)
- African-born mayor faces challenges | Cleveland's Emmanuel Onunwor is also the associate minister at East Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church (Associated Press)
- The fodder of their commentary | George W. Bush has been very, very good for the conservative magazine World and the liberal American Prospect (Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post)
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