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News and Reporting

News and Reporting is a section of Christianity Today that compiles the most urgent and interesting news from around the world that you need to know.
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Supporting struggling Christians, historic papal visit reveals the diversity and rivalry within an Islamic clerical tradition best known for theocracy.Pope Francis, a “pilgrim of peace” to Iraq, has made history by becoming the first pontiff to meet a grand ayatollah: Ali al-Sistani, whose hawza (seminary) in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, is considered the foremost center of learning in Shiite Islam.Two years ago, the pope met the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar, considered the foremost center of learning in Sunni Islam. With Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Francis signed the “Declaration of Human Fraternity,” calling on both Christians and Muslims to embrace religious diversity with freedom and respect.This weekend, Francis came to Iraq to support and encourage the nation’s beleaguered Christians, whose numbers have decreased from 1.4 million in 2003 to about 250,000 today.But he also wished to sign a similar document with the reclusive leading figure in Shiite Islam, which represents 1 in 10 of the world’s Muslims—yet 6 in 10 Iraqis.The result with Sistani was more modest than with Tayyeb, but Francis did secure a very important fatwa (religious ruling).“[Christians should] live like all Iraqis, in security and peace and with full constitutional rights,” said Sistani in an official statement. “The religious authority plays [a role] in protecting them, and others who have also suffered injustice and harm in the events of past years.”Francis removed his shoes upon entering Sistani’s modest home. And while the ayatollah usually sits to receive visitors, he stood to welcome the pope.Will the ruling make a difference? Will it have any impact in Iran, the neighboring theocratic Shiite state? And what really drives the conflict: religion or politics?In Muslim history, the answer is both.While differences exist ...Continue reading...
Author of ‘Effective Biblical Counseling,' ‘Inside Out,' ‘Shattered Dreams,' and ‘SoulTalk' taught that aching souls long for the Triune God.Larry Crabb, a popular Christian counselor who went looking for a deeper approach to spiritual care, died on February 28 at the age of 77.Crabb was a clinical psychologist who turned to biblical counseling and then to spiritual direction. He authored more than 25 books in the process, writing the popular textbook Effective Biblical Counseling and then more than a dozen titles, including Inside Out, Shattered Dreams, Pressure’s Off, and SoulTalk, teaching people to see their own brokenness as a longing for God and new creation.“An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity but of realism,” Crabb wrote. “Beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this.”Crabb popularized biblical counseling and then introduced many evangelicals to spiritual direction through his organization NewWay Ministries, weeklong summer seminars, and his extensive tenure at Colorado Christian University (CCU).“To know Larry Crabb was to know a man who wrestled honestly and often in messy ways with his interior world, and the world around him,” wrote Jim Cress, a Christian counselor mentored by Crabb. “He never knew what it meant to merely settle personally and professionally. … His calling, passion, integrity, and vision would not tolerate a shampoo bottle philosophy of ‘Wash. Rinse. Repeat.’”Continue reading...
COVID-19 accelerates ministry moves and shifts work arrangements. The sizable suburban Washington, DC, campus that headquartered Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship will soon belong to another evangelical nonprofit: the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ministries announced plans Friday to sell the 11.3-acre property in Lansdowne, Virginia.Back in 2005, Colson’s ministry—which then included Prison Fellowship, BreakPoint, and the Colson Center—built the campus for around $19 million, including a three-story office building, a two-story hospitality center for conference guests, recording studios, and event space.Of Prison Fellowship’s 245-person staff, 70 percent worked remotely before the pandemic, a part of an organizational strategy to move its workforce into the field. During COVID-19, the rest adjusted to work from home, with just around a dozen coming into the 90,000-square-foot office.Meanwhile, the Arizona-based religious liberty advocacy group ADF has been expanding and praying for years about adding another office, wanting to prioritize in-person collaboration for the sake of fellowship and the physical proximity required for its legal work.“When ADF came along, the heart of the board, if you will, leapt,” said Prison Fellowship president and CEO James J. Ackerman. “They thought, ‘This would be so awesome if God’s work could continue on the land dedicated to the Lord’s work by Chuck Colson himself.’”Ackerman declined to share the terms of the sale, but said that ADF made an offer within the range of the property’s appraisal value. Demand for commercial space—particularly for medical facilities—is growing in the Lansdowne area, about an hour outside DC.In advocating for conservative ...Continue reading...
Historic papal trip seeks peace between Christians and Muslims. Unregistered evangelicals say peace between Iraq's Christians is needed first. Pope Francis traveled to war-torn Iraq today “as a pilgrim of peace, seeking fraternity [and] reconciliation.”The trip’s official logo, written in three languages, comes from Matthew 23: “You are all brothers.” Iraq’s evangelicals, therefore, have asked for the pope’s help.“The other churches don’t want us, and accuse us of everything,” said Maher Dawoud, head of the General Society for Iraqi National Evangelical Churches (GSINEC).“But we are churches present throughout the world. Why shouldn’t the government give us our rights?”Dawoud sent a letter to the Vatican, asking Francis to intercede—on behalf of evangelical Christians—with the Catholic church in Iraq, and ultimately with the government in Baghdad.The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) had gone straight to the United Nations, long before.One year ago, the WEA filed a report with the UN Human Rights Committee, protesting the denial of legal recognition for Iraqi evangelicals. Fourteen other denominations are currently counted within the Christian, Yazidi, and Sabaean-Mandaean Religions Diwan (Bureau).Now estimated at less than 250,000 people, Christians are a small minority of Iraq’s 40 million population, 97 percent of which is Muslim. Evangelical numbers are even smaller.The Chaldean Catholic Church represents 80 percent of the nation’s Christians, with 110 churches throughout the country. Syriacs, both Catholic and Orthodox, constitute another 10 percent, with 82 churches. Assyrians, primarily through the Church of the East, have a 5 percent share, and Armenians, 3 percent. (Other estimates count 67 percent for the Chaldeans, and 20 percent for the Assyrians. Their ...Continue reading...
East African nation has no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines.Tanzania’s leader is finally acknowledging that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer.Populist President John Magufuli on February 21 urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks—but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic he has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including COVID-19 vaccines.Last month, the president called on his 60 million citizens for three days of prayer to defeat unnamed “respiratory diseases” amid warnings that the country is seeing a deadly resurgence in infections.“Maybe we have wronged God somewhere,” Magufuli told mourners at a funeral for his chief secretary, John Kijazi, on February 19. “Let us all repent.”Though officials in late February announced public health rules similar to other nation’s COVID-19 measures, Magufuli has repeatedly claimed that Tanzania defeated COVID-19 with God’s help. The government has not updated its official number of coronavirus cases since last spring, and the health ministry has promoted unproven herbal remedies.But the local Catholic church, the US Embassy, and others have openly warned of a resurgence in cases. On February 20, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, added his voice to growing calls for Tanzania to acknowledge COVID-19 for the good of its citizens, neighboring countries, and the world, especially after a number of countries reported that visitors arriving from Tanzania tested positive for the virus.And the death last month of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif ...Continue reading...
The new Global Methodist Church will leave the UMC regardless of the General Conference decision, which has been delayed until 2022. Conservative United Methodists have chosen a name for the denomination they plan to form if a proposal to split the United Methodist Church is successful: The Global Methodist Church.The Global Methodist Church unveiled its new name, logo, and website on Monday, days after the United Methodist Church announced it was once again postponing the May 2020 meeting that was set to consider the proposal to split.That puts the likely launch of the planned denomination at least a year and a half away.“Over the past year the council members, and hundreds of people who have informed their work, have faithfully and thoughtfully arrived at this point,” the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and chair of the Transitional Leadership Council that is guiding the creation of the Global Methodist Church, said in a post on the WCA website.“They are happy to share with others a wealth of information about a church they believe will be steeped in the lifegiving confessions of the Christian faith.”The United Methodist Church’s General Conference, its global decision-making body, is now scheduled to meet August 29 to September 6, 2022, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis.Delegates are expected to take up a proposal to split the denomination called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.The proposal, negotiated by 16 United Methodist bishops and advocacy group leaders from across theological divides, would create a new conservative “traditionalist” Methodist denomination—that’s the Global Methodist Church—that would receive $25 million over the next four years. Individual churches and annual conferences ...Continue reading...
The largest Christian adoption agency is now calling on “Christians with diverse beliefs” as it aims to serve more children under a new inclusion policy. Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption agency in the United States, has changed a longstanding policy and will now place children with LGBT parents for foster care and adoption across its operations in 32 states.The news was announced today in a ministry-wide email and first reported in The New York Times. President Chris Pulasky told employees that “Bethany remains steadfast in its Christian faith,” and that the new practices will allow the organization to further its mission “to provide safe, loving, and stable homes to as many vulnerable children as possible.”The change comes two years after Bethany opted to allow LGBT placements in its home state of Michigan. Pulasky was “disappointed” with the outcome of a lawsuit there, but at the time said if Bethany didn’t comply with state requirements it would miss out on serving thousands of children in foster care.As legal fights over religious convictions on family and LGBT rights have continued to make their way through the courts and Congress, Bethany Christian decided to incorporate the move toward LGBT inclusion across the organization.“We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” Palusky said. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”Robin Fretwell Wilson, a legal expert and an adoptee, applauded the move as an example of a Christian organization finding a way forward in the culture wars.“I was pleased to see them talk about this as ‘all hands on deck’,” said Wilson, who directs University of Illinois’s Institute of Government and ...Continue reading...
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Political tensions and growing racial awareness have fueled interest in its message of social justice and biblical morality.The And Campaign—the organization rallying urban Christians to “faithful civic engagement”—is on track to quadruple its size in the span of a year, with chapters launching in three Southern cities in 2020 and scheduled to launch in another 10 cities in the first half of 2021.Last year’s convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and political and racial unrest in the United States catapulted organizations like the And Campaign, which were already addressing these complex issues, to a new level of prominence.“The pandemic had a huge impact on our growth,” said attorney and political strategist Justin Giboney, who cofounded the And Campaign with pastor Angel Maldonado and hip-hop artist Sho Baraka in Atlanta in 2015.In May, the group’s Statement on Racialized Violence went viral after the death of George Floyd, tripling its social media following.“When that racialized violence happened, and everyone had their full attention on it because there was nothing else to pay attention to, our executive committee got together and said, ‘Hey, we need to speak into this,’” said Giboney, referencing the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.“So many Christians are trying to find a way to process exactly what is going on in biblical terms. Some are ignoring it because their ideology is too far right. Some are getting too caught up in the moment and kind of changing their convictions because they have gotten too caught up on the left. I said we need to speak into this in a real way, and so we created a biblical statement on racialized violence.”The statement addressed racism and criminal justice reform—one of the core political issues for ...Continue reading...
Landmark trip will include Qaraqosh, where most families fled ISIS yet some are now trying to restore the Christian heartland of the Nineveh Plains.Nasser Banyameen speaks about his hometown of Qaraqosh in the historical heartland of Iraqi Christianity with nostalgia. Before Islamic State group fighters swept through the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. Before the militants shattered his sense of peace. Before panicked relatives and neighbors fled, some never to return.Iraq’s Christian communities in the area were dealt a severe blow when they were scattered by the ISIS onslaught in 2014, further shrinking the country’s already dwindling Christian population. Many hope their struggle to endure will get a boost from a historic visit by Pope Francis planned in March.Among the places on his itinerary is Qaraqosh, where this week Vatican and Iraqi flags fluttered from light poles, some adorned with the pope’s image.Francis’ visit, his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic and the first ever by a pope to Iraq, is a sign that “You’re not alone,” said Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz, the undersecretary of the Vatican’s development office. “There’s someone who is thinking of you, who is with you. And these signs are so important. So important.”The ISIS juggernaut and the long war to drive the militants out left ransacked homes and charred or pulverized buildings around the north. But the biggest loss perhaps has been the people. Traditionally Christian towns across the Nineveh Plains virtually emptied out and, by some of the widely varying estimates, fewer than half of the Christians who fled have returned.The Vatican and the pope have frequently insisted on the need to preserve Iraq’s ancient Christian communities and create the security, economic, and social conditions for those who ...Continue reading...
To reach the most vulnerable, leaders say vaccine sites have to set up in hard-hit neighborhoods and let churches spread the word. As the nation passed 500,000 coronavirus deaths this week, government data revealed that the life expectancy for African American men dropped three years—triple the decline among Americans overall during the first half of 2020.In an effort to help reach minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 but less likely to get the shot, a coalition of 150,000 churches recently announced its plan for vaccinating over 100 million black and Latino churchgoers.The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), which represents historic black denominations and partners with Latino leaders, has been lobbying the federal government for a more comprehensive plan to address disparities in COVID-19 vaccine uptake. NBCI president Anthony Evans wants to see the government more deliberately use churches’ built-in trust and familiarity to make the vaccine more accessible for minority populations.Evans said at a press conference at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Washington, DC, last week that he supports Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for who should become vaccinated first but worries that African Americans and Latinos who qualify because of their age or underlying medical conditions aren’t getting the vaccine.A representative from Health and Human Services (HHS) has not responded for comment on the NBCI plan, though the CDC distribution plan intends to address health inequities and “remove unfair, unjust, and avoidable barriers to COVID-19 vaccination.”While black churches across the country have already opened their doors to help states and hospitals distribute the vaccine, Evans’s large network could add 300 church-based vaccination sites in the hardest-hit ...Continue reading...
The Saddleback Church pastor developed the popular Christ-centered 12-step program for “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.”Celebrate Recovery founder John Baker, who turned his testimony recovering from alcoholism into a biblical 12-step program used by more than 7 million people, died unexpectedly on Tuesday at age 72.Baker’s ministry began in 1991 at Saddleback Church in California and has spread to 35,000 churches nationwide over the decades. Celebrate Recovery is credited with helping destigmatize addiction among evangelicals and opening the church up as a safer place for recovery.“Thirty years ago John Baker turned the ruins of his life over to Jesus Christ and God transformed him from a driven businessman with an addiction to alcohol, a failing marriage, and alienated children to a Christ-follower with a passion to help others with their ‘hurts, habits, and hang-ups’ through the principles of recovery,” wrote Kay Warren, cofounder of Saddleback Church and a mental health advocate. “There is simply no way to put into words how I love John and will miss this kind, creative, brilliant and faithful man.”Evangelical leader Johnnie Moore, whose family previously belonged to Saddleback Church when living in California, remembered Baker’s commitment to “saving the lives of the people whom God loves.”“He became a doctor of hope for those whose lives were caught in vicious cycles of guilt, shame, and failure. With God’s help, he showed again and again that those cycles can be broken,” he said. “Pastor John was never content just to save souls. He wanted to also save lives, now. It isn’t just the impact he had on individual lives but on all of those who loved those who decided to walk into a Celebrate Recovery meeting.”Baker was raised in Collinsville, ...Continue reading...
When research looks beyond affiliation, the move away from religious institutions becomes more nuanced.I pastor an American Baptist church in a small town in rural Illinois. When the current building was dedicated in 1968, there were more than 300 members. By the last 1990s, there were about a hundred. When I became the pastor in 2006, just 50. Now, on a good Sunday I can look out from the pulpit and see 20 souls in the seats.Where did they all go? I became a social scientist, in part, to try to figure that out. In my forthcoming book, The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, And Where They Are Going, I document in detail how and why so many Americans are now counted among the ranks of religiously unaffiliated in the United States.What I discovered was that while many people have walked away from a religious affiliation, they haven’t left all aspects of religion and spirituality behind. So, while growing numbers of Americans may not readily identify as Christian any longer, they still show up to a worship service a few times a year or maintain their belief in God.The reality is that many of the nones are really “somes.”Nones by BelongingReligious disaffiliation is at an all-time high—claimed by nearly a quarter of the population—when measured through surveys on religious belonging. The General Social Survey, for example, asks a common version of the question: “What is your religious preference?” Respondents can choose from a long list of options, including “no religion.”In 1972, just 1 in 20 Americans had no religious affiliation. That share inched up only marginally for the next two decades, before beginning its climb in the 1990s. The unaffiliated jumped about 4 percentage points between 1993 and 1996, up to nearly 1 in 6 (nearly 15%) by ...Continue reading...
President Mahmoud Abbas sets their quota at 7 seats in first elections in West Bank and Gaza since 2006.President Mahmoud Abbas has guaranteed that at least seven seats of a new legislative council will go to Christians in the next elections in the Palestinian territories.Planned for May 22, the elections are hoped to be the first since the militant Hamas movement won the last vote over Abbas’s Fatah party in 2006.The measure would give Christians, who make up about 1 percent of the population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, an outsized representation on the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).Palestinian Christians are ambivalent about the quota, which would allow the seven Christians with the most votes to sit on the 132-member council.Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian who recently resigned her position on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, told Religion News Service that she is uneasy about reserving seats for specific communities."When it comes to Christians, I don’t see that they are excluded or marginalized,” she said. “They have been extremely active in political, social, cultural, and economic life, and many of them would be able to gain seats on merit without the quota.”She added that a quota for women members on the council made sense, “because they were discriminated against and they have historically faced a huge challenge.”Bernard Sabella, another former member of the PLC, said the Palestinian electorate should vote on the basis of geography. “We need to have a new vision and a holistic plan that addresses our needs. We need our representatives to represent their nation and not a religion,” he said.But Bassem Khoury, a former minister, said there would likely be no Christian representation on the council without a quota.“It ...Continue reading...
Top leaders address divides in the denomination at the first in-person Executive Committee meeting in a year. At its first in-person meeting since the pandemic took off a year ago, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee decided to cut ties with two churches whose pastors had been convicted of sexual offenses as well as two LGBT-affirming churches. But it was leaders’ concerns over ongoing tensions within the denomination that stirred Southern Baptists during the two-day gathering at its Nashville headquarters.“Southern Baptists in large part are ready to walk into the future. But we are spending a lot of time tolerating those who would rip us apart,” said SBC president and Executive Committee member J. D. Greear during remarks Monday night. “Brothers, let’s just call it: These things are demonic.”During his presidency, Greear led the charge to stand by abuse victims in the wake of a watershed 2019 Houston Chronicle investigation, but some advocates are still disappointed that the denomination has not been more proactive in disaffiliating with pastors who mishandle abuse allegations or compiling a database of abusive leaders.Though the disfellowshipped congregations represent a tiny proportion of a denomination with over 47,000 churches, it’s the biggest batch to be considered “no longer in friendly cooperation” with the SBC since it launched new efforts to improve its response to abuse.This is the second year that the denomination’s repurposed credentials committee has been tasked with making recommendations about churches’ status in the SBC. In 2020, the committee recommended one church lose its place in the convention due to past abuse by its pastor. This year, the committee recommended four. The SBC does not make public how many churches were ...Continue reading...
With a Christian activist in jail and a grandmother humiliated, religious freedom advocates weigh the value of progress in church legalization and public rhetoric.Egyptian Christians have long struggled to build their churches.But now, they can have Muslim help.Last month, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam issued a fatwa (religious ruling) allowing Muslim paid labor to contribute toward the construction of a church. Conservative scholars had argued this violated the Quranic injunction to not help “in sin and rancor.”The ruling is timely, as the governmental Council of Ministers recently issued an infographic highlighting the 2020 land allocation for 10 new churches in eight Egyptian cities. An additional 34 are currently under construction.Prior to this, two prominent examples stand out. In 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in al-Our, a village in Upper Egypt, to honor the Copts beheaded by ISIS in Libya. And in 2019, he consecrated the massive Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in what will become the new administrative capital of Egypt, alongside its central mosque.This is in addition to restoration work at 16 historic Coptic sites and further development of the 2,000-mile Holy Family Trail, tracing the traditional map of Jesus’ childhood flight from King Herod.And since the 2018 implementation of a 2016 law to retroactively license existing church buildings, a total of 1,800 have now been registered legally.Persecution has long been a term applied to Copts in Egypt, ranked No. 16 on the Open Doors 2021 World Watch List of nations where it is hardest to be a Christian.But shortly after the mufti’s fatwa, which restated a ruling last given in 2009, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar gave a pronouncement of his own.Representing Sunni Islam’s most prominent religious institution, Ahmed al-Tayyeb ...Continue reading...
World body challenges North African nation over its treatment of Christians, while local evangelical leaders take heart in renewed protests.Algeria’s Christians hope that a one-two punch may reopen their churches.Last December, a letter from the United Nations asked the North African government to give account. And this week, popular protests resumed after crackdowns and a pandemic-related hiatus.Two years ago, Protestants cheered when the Algerian Hirak (Arabic for movement) forced the resignation of then 82-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika following his announcement that he would run for a fifth term in office. Protests continued, however, as the ruling clique was slow to make changes.“Hirak supports human rights, and I have no doubt they will help the churches,” said Youssef Ourahmane, vice president of the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA). “And the letter from the UN shows something else is wrong, and now they will have to deal with it.”The seven-page missive’s language reads like a teacher scolding a recalcitrant student.“Please explain in detail the factual and legal basis that justified the closure of the 13 places of worship and churches,” stated the letter, written in French. “Please provide information on the re-registration procedure of the [EPA], and explain the reason why this has not been finalized to date.”Signed by three UN experts specializing in the freedom of religion and belief, peaceful assembly, and minorities, the now-open letter represents the latest chapter of international advocacy for the persecuted Protestants of Algeria.The nation ranks No. 24 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the most difficult countries for Jesus followers. Only three years ago, it ranked No. 42.“2020 was a very difficult year for us Protestants, who have been deprived of our places of ...Continue reading...
With new president, Atlantic churches seek fuller reckoning with complicated history.Rhonda Britton typically gets invited to preach at white churches one month of the year—February.She’s happy to accept those invitations during Canada’s African Heritage Month, but it’s also clear to her that annual sermons from one black person are not enough to address the problems of racism in the country or in the church.“My job is to prepare the hearts of people who have been wounded. People have been traumatized, and people are living with trauma,” said Britton. “You can’t just deliver one sermon a year.”Now Britton, a black woman who pastors a historically black Baptist church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is going to be doing a lot more than an annual black history sermon. She has been elected the first black woman to serve as president of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (CBAC).Canadians have not been as divided as their neighbors in the United States about police violence and racism, and Canadian Baptists are not as caught up in quarrels over critical race theory as their southern counterparts. But Britton’s election nevertheless comes at a time when the more than 450 CBAC churches in the Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland are turning a critical eye toward their own history.The Baptists hope to reckon with past racism, address continuing systemic issues, and work toward an equitable and inclusive future. Britton will do her best to help lead the way.Britton said she’s already seen progress since she moved to Nova Scotia from Florida in 2002. She didn’t expect to find many major differences between the United States and Canada, but she noticed one right away.“I’ve never been ...Continue reading...
New leader of Middle East Council of Churches says the quality of believers preserves their witness, if not their numbers.Pope Francis will make the first papal visit ever to Iraq in March to encourage the dwindling faithful. War and terrorism have hemorrhaged the nation’s Christians, but he hopes they might return.Meanwhile in Lebanon, Michel Abs, recently selected as the new leader of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), agrees with the pontiff. But in an interview with CT, he said that schools and hospitals have distinguished Christians, who he hopes might even increase in number—and quality.And Protestants, he said, have a lever effect that raises the whole. Representing only 7 percent of the regional Christian population, they have a full one-quarter share in the council.The MECC was founded in 1974 by the Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox denominations. Catholics joined in 1990 to complete its diverse Christian mosaic.According to the Pew Research Center’s 2010 Global Christianity report, Orthodox believers represent 65 percent of the Middle East’s Christians, with Catholics an additional 27 percent.But it was the Protestants who helped give birth to the ecumenical movement that joined them together. The 1934 United Missionary Council became the Near East Christian Council in 1956, and the Near East Council of Churches in 1964.It was renamed the Middle East Council of Churches when the Orthodox joined 10 years later. Today it includes Protestant church associations in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan, Iran, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tunisia.Council leadership rotates between the four denominations. Last September, Patriarch John X. Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church nominated Abs for the Eastern Orthodox four-year term. (Protestants are next in line.)“Despite the difficulties ...Continue reading...
Hundreds killed by Eritrean soldiers, alleges deacon at the Church of St. Mary of Zion, which Ethiopian Orthodox believe hosts the Ark of the Covenant.[Updated with denial from Eritrea’s information minister]Bodies with gunshot wounds lay in the streets for days in Ethiopia’s holiest city. At night, residents listened in horror as hyenas fed on the corpses of people they knew. But they were forbidden from burying their dead by the invading Eritrean soldiers.Those memories haunt a deacon at the country’s most sacred Ethiopian Orthodox church in Axum, where local faithful believe the ancient Ark of the Covenant is housed. As Ethiopia’s Tigray region slowly resumes telephone service after three months of conflict, the deacon and other witnesses gave The Associated Press a detailed account of what might be its deadliest massacre.For weeks, rumors circulated that something ghastly had occurred at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in late November, with estimates of several hundred people killed. But with Tigray cut off from the world and journalists blocked from entering, little could be verified as Ethiopian and allied fighters pursued the Tigray region’s fugitive leaders.The deacon, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains in Axum, said he helped count the bodies—or what was left after hyenas fed. He gathered victims’ identity cards and assisted with burials in mass graves.He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. The killing continues: On the day he spoke to the AP last week, he said he had buried three people.“If we go to the rural areas, the situation is much worse,” the deacon said.The atrocities of the Tigray conflict have occurred in the shadows. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize ...Continue reading...
Authorities found his church continued to meet as normal over months rather than comply with capacity, mask, and distancing regulations. A Canadian pastor arrested for violating public health orders remains in police custody after refusing the conditions of his bail: that he stop holding services that defy COVID-19 regulations.The case of GraceLife Church pastor James Coates has reignited a religious freedom debate over worship gatherings during government lockdowns.GraceLife Church in Edmonton, after shifting to livestream for the first few months of pandemic, resumed worship over the summer and has met every Sunday “without incident,” it says.But authorities repeatedly flagged the church for not capping attendance at 15 percent of capacity, requiring masks, or social distancing, as required by health regulations in Alberta.GraceLife had been fined $1,200 in December, and this month officers found the church again in violation and issued an undertaking requiring Coates to comply. When the church met as usual last Sunday, they called for his arrest. Coates was preaching on Romans 13:1-4, a message titled “Directing the Government to Its Duty.”Ultimately Coates turned himself in on Tuesday and was arrested on charges of contravening the Public Health Act and refusing the undertaking, the CBC reported. He has twice refused to agree to the conditions of his release, the network said.The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing Coates and Grace Life, said the pastor “could not, in good conscience, agree to” stop holding church services, as ordered.The commander of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the county said in a statement that it has escalated from “education, an opportunity for compliance, and lastly, enforcement” in regards to GraceLife and its objective “is not to interrupt ...Continue reading...
British Christians seek to learn from past Windrush mistakes in their nation's largest planned migration in 50 years.Last Sunday, a local Chinese church’s multilingual service was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4, the United Kingdom’s most popular radio station, for the first time in history—a gesture of welcome to the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents expected to migrate to the country under a new visa provision.“This feels like a watershed moment for the Church in the UK,” wrote Mark Nam, an Anglican priest in Bristol. “I never dreamed I would be alive to hear Chinese songs and voices broadcast across the nation for Sunday Worship like this.”Nam is among hundreds of pastors, ministry leaders, and laypeople who are preparing local churches for what could be the largest planned migration to the country in over half a century.As of January 31, nearly three million British overseas nationals in Hong Kong are said to be eligible for this new passport program, which will allow them and their families to live and work in the UK and to apply for British citizenship within six years. The UK government expects over 300,000 to register and estimates that at least 130,000 will arrive in 2021 alone.Political tensions are high in Hong Kong, particularly for pro-democracy activists—including Christians—who have become the target of a crackdown from Chinese authorities in the region. While the government has committed to open the door for everyone who applies, Christian leaders believe the church should be waiting on the doorstep to welcome them.“It’s in our DNA; it’s in our doctrine,” said Krish Kandiah, a former pastor, missionary, and adoption reform advocate who has rallied local Christians around the Hong Kong Ready initiative. “The welcome is an important ...Continue reading...
The Christian and Missionary Alliance finds “pattern of predatory behavior” but defends handling of previous accusation.Ravi Zacharias was best known for the apologetics ministry that bears his name, but he spent his 46-year career licensed as a national evangelist with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). The denomination has now revoked the ordination of its highest-profile minister after its own limited investigation confirmed a “pattern of predatory behavior.”Zacharias is believed to be the only person in the CMA’s 134-year history to be posthumously expelled from ministry.The decision was announced to all CMA ministers in a February 12 email from vice president Terry Smith, sent the day after Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)—which is not affiliated with the denomination or any CMA church—released the findings of its independent investigation.The CMA did its own investigation, but the results are not being made public. Two investigators hired by the CMA spoke to 15 to 20 people, but that total includes massage therapists who declined to be interviewed and the CT news editor. However, the limited findings corroborated RZIM’s report, Smith said.In a public statement, the CMA acknowledged “with great sorrow” that Zacharias “engaged in a pattern of sinful behavior that has caused enormous pain to many and undermined the witness of Christ’s Church.” The CMA also announced that itinerant ministers will now report to a district office rather than be licensed nationally, a move intended to offer more accountability.Because Zacharias maintained his license as an Alliance worker and was considered a minister in good standing from 1974 until his death in 2020, the recent revelations around his abuse raise questions—particularly among victims and advocates—over ...Continue reading...
Hundreds killed by Eritrean soldiers, alleges deacon at the Church of St. Mary of Zion, which Ethiopian Orthodox believe hosts the Ark of the Covenant.Bodies with gunshot wounds lay in the streets for days in Ethiopia’s holiest city. At night, residents listened in horror as hyenas fed on the corpses of people they knew. But they were forbidden from burying their dead by the invading Eritrean soldiers.Those memories haunt a deacon at the country’s most sacred Ethiopian Orthodox church in Axum, where local faithful believe the ancient Ark of the Covenant is housed. As Ethiopia’s Tigray region slowly resumes telephone service after three months of conflict, the deacon and other witnesses gave The Associated Press a detailed account of what might be its deadliest massacre.For weeks, rumors circulated that something ghastly had occurred at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in late November, with estimates of several hundred people killed. But with Tigray cut off from the world and journalists blocked from entering, little could be verified as Ethiopian and allied fighters pursued the Tigray region’s fugitive leaders.The deacon, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains in Axum, said he helped count the bodies—or what was left after hyenas fed. He gathered victims’ identity cards and assisted with burials in mass graves.He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. The killing continues: On the day he spoke to the AP last week, he said he had buried three people.“If we go to the rural areas, the situation is much worse,” the deacon said.The atrocities of the Tigray conflict have occurred in the shadows. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, announced the ...Continue reading...
Dove nominee encouraged Latin American Christians with simple but profound lyrics.Panamanian gospel singer Jaime Murrell, who helped Latin America worship God in music that reflected the diversity of the region’s culture and history, died of COVID-19 on February 4. He was 71.Murrell, along with American singer Marcos Witt and other pioneering worship leaders in Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil, brought Caribbean styles and influences into worship music. His 2000 album Prometo Amarte was nominated for the Dove Awards’ best Spanish-language album in 2001. He also contributed to La Oracion de Jabes (the Prayer of Jabez) album, which was nominated for the same award in 2003. Today, Murrell’s music is sung in churches across Latin America.“Jaime Murrell was a minister whose goal was to exalt the name of God,” said César Forero, a pastor at Centro de Restauración Familiar Nueva Vida in Panama City who first met Murrell in the ’90s. “It was clear that his goal was not the number of records, awards, or concerts, but to comply with the will of God and give glory to his name.”As news spread of Murrell’s death, Christian artists and pastors from around Latin America mourned their loss and celebrated his life and accomplishments. “Panama is a small Latin nation and sometimes, when we’re from small countries, sometimes we believe we don’t have potential and that we don’t matter,” said Serafin Contreras Galeano, a Venezuelan pastor who spent 18 years in Panama. “We forget that God chooses the small to glorify ...Continue reading...

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