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Religion News from Around the World: A Monthly Roundup by Rick Herrick

December 2020

 
What Jesus Means to Muslims
Omar Suleiman argues in a recent opinion piece in the Religion News Service that Jesus is special to Muslims and not in any superficial way. Jesus is pictured in the Quran as one of the highest prophets and messengers of God. He is mentioned 25 times in Muslim sacred scripture with an entire chapter devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. He is declared in the Quran as God’s chosen Messiah to return to earth in its final days. Stories of Jesus’s virgin birth and miracles are scattered throughout the Quran. Islamic scholars and sages often refer to moral stories about Jesus in their writings. The Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying, “I am the nearest of people to Jesus, the son of Mary, in this life and in the Hereafter.” With such a significant connection, you wonder why religious leaders from the two faiths cannot enter into a dialogue to ease the tribal tensions between the two religious groups. (religionnews.com/2020/12/24/what-Jesus-and-christmas-mean-to-me-as-a-muslim/)

Episcopal Diocese of Chicago Elects Rev. Paula Clark as its First Black, Female Bishop
Paula Clark became an Episcopalian when her family was unable to join a Baptist church in Washington DC. She earned a master of divinity degree in 2004 from the Virginia Theological Seminary. She served two churches in the DC area before becoming chief of staff of the Washington diocese, a position she currently holds. Rev. Clark was elected unanimously on the fourth ballot on December 12th to become bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. She is the first black woman to serve as bishop in the Episcopal church. (religionnews.com/2020/12/14/episcopal-diocese-of-chicago-elects-the-rev-paula-clark-its-first-black-and-first-female-bishop/)

US Churches Commit to Racism-Linked Reparations
Many long-established Protestant churches that supported slavery in the 19th century are looking for ways to make amends through financial investments and long-term programs to benefit African Americans. This effort is being led by the Episcopal and United Methodist churches. The typical response of these churches has been to acknowledge their responsibility for slavery and to contribute money to programs to aid black students with college tuitions, small black business owners, and nursing home residents. (religionnews.com/2020/12/13/more-us-churches-commit-to-racism-linked-reparations/)

Some Evangelical Leaders Waking Up to the Dangers of Trumpism
There are some evangelical leaders that are souring on Trump. These leaders include Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, Karen Swallow Prior, author and university professor, and author and columnist David French. Ms. Moore spoke for the group in condemning Christian nationalism as not of God. She claims that evangelicals are being manipulated and used for one man’s political gain. Jesus is our king she points out. We do not worship flesh and blood. Unfortunately, this condemnation is far from universal. Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and evangelical commentator Eric Metaxus spoke in defense of Trump at the recent “Jericho March” in Washington DC.
(religionnews.com/2020/12/13/evangelical-leader-beth-moore-trends-on-twitter-after-calling-trumpism-seductive-and-dangerous/)

Faith Leaders Promote Vaccine Use
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, leader of Washington DC’s Ohev Sholom synagogue participated in the Moderna vaccine trial last July. He made a video of his getting the shot, calling the video the best sermon he has ever given. He believes his participation in the study will save lives and demonstrate to Jews that science and religion are not incompatible.

Many religious leaders from across the country from a wide variety of faith traditions are following his example. They are promoting vaccine use in an attempt to counteract public skepticism and are also offering their places of worship to assist in the daunting distribution task. This is an important effort because 50% of white evangelicals are expressing a reluctance to get vaccinated as are 59% of black Protestants. One third of Roman Catholics as well as a similar number of mainline Protestants have also expressed some reluctance to getting vaccinated. (religionnews.com/2020/12/10/with-vaccines-on-the-horizon-faith-leaders-find-ways-to-promote-their-use/)

In his annual Christmas Day address, Pope Francis called on political leaders from all countries to make the covid-19 vaccines available to all their residents with the poor and most vulnerable being the first in line. The Pope commented that with the world suffering an ecological and an economic crisis along with the pandemic it is important that we acknowledge one another as brother and sister. So often when I read about something Pope Francis has said I think about him as one of us, a Progressive Christian.
(religionnews.com/2020/12/25/pope-on-christmas-vaccines-for-all-needy-vulnerable-first/)

Houston Pastor Resigns Over Southern Baptist Leaders’ Criticism of Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory argues that racial inequality cannot be understood apart from social, economic, and legal systems that benefit white interests. In September President Trump issued an executive order banning the theory from government sponsored race and sex-based training. On November 30th six Southern Baptist seminary presidents denounced the theory. This action led the Rev. Ralph D. West, pastor and founder of Church Without Walls in Houston Texas to resign both from the church and from the doctoral program he was pursuing at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. (religionnews.com/2020/12/16/houston-pastor-cuts-ties-to southern-baptists-over-critical-race-theory-critique/)

Since Rev. West cut his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, the dispute has only intensified. SBC President J. D. Greear came out in support of the six seminary presidents’ criticism of the critical race theory. On the other hand, 230 leaders of the SBC, both black and white, recently signed a statement entitled “Justice, Repentance, and the SBC” which objects to the statement by the seminary presidents. As black churches continue to leave the SBC, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd has set a meeting for early January with all the relevant parties in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
(religionnews.com/2020/12/19/luter-greear-latest-southern-baptist-leaders-to-weigh-in-as-turmoil-over-race-theory-grows/)

Covid-19 Relief Bill Contains Provisions Related to Tibetan Buddhism
Americans often wonder about the operation of the United States Congress. Well things became even more mysterious in the week before Christmas when important provisions pertaining to Tibetan Buddhism were included in the 900 billion dollar Covid relief bill which the President recently signed with great reluctance.

The Covid relief bill as passed by Congress provides for sanctions on Chinese Communist officials if they attempt to name a successor to the Dalai Lama. Traditionally a successor to the Dalai Lama is chosen by disciples close to the previous holder of the title. The bill also instructs the State Department to deny any new Chinese consulates in the United States until an American consulate is established in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The two provisions are designed to protect Tibet’s cultural and political distinctiveness in the face of the longstanding Chinese campaign to destroy it. With provisions such as these, it becomes easier to understand why the Covid relief bill exceeds 5,000 pages in length.
(religionnews.com/2020/12/25/how-the-dalai-lamas-reincarnation-gets-included-in-congress-900-billion-relief-bill/)

Buddhist Temple Attacks Rise as Pandemic Rages
A few weeks after Thai Viet Phan was elected to the city council in Santa Ana, a town south of Los Angeles, her temple was vandalized. Fifteen Buddhas and bodhisattva statutes were spray-painted with Jesus emblazoned on one of them. Five other Buddhist temples in the surrounding area of Little Saigon were defaced in a similar manner in November. Asian American leaders blame President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about China being the cause of the pandemic for the rising number of hate crimes against their community. (religionnews.com/2020/12/10/buddhist-temple-attacks-rise-as-covid-19-amplifies-anti-asian-american-bias/)
 
Pandemic Creates Controversy over First Amendment to Constitution
Over the last two months I have read several articles on the Religion News Service website pertaining to the first amendment and its relation to the covid-19 pandemic. What follows is my opinion on the issues related to this dispute.

Under the first amendment, citizens are free to worship in any way they choose without the threat of government interference. The problem is that in the current environment of the covid-19 pandemic church attendance on Sunday mornings have become superspreader events. The state of New York placed restrictions on church services, arguing that they are no different than theatre, concert or lecture hall events. The Supreme Court in a recent 5-4 decision declared the state’s actions violated the first amendment.

In my opinion, the problem is not with the state of New York or with the Supreme Court. It is rather a problem with American culture that is obsessed with personal rights at the expense of the public good. Too many people seem to think they have the right to do whatever they want without considering the rights of others. All churches should be telling their members that until the pandemic is under control they will only meet virtually in order to honor Jesus’s commandment that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If Jesus’s commandment was honored in this way, there would have been no need for the state of New York to regulate places of worship; and, as a result, there would have been no case on this issue before the Supreme Court. (Comment: Dr. Rick Herrick)

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The above news items are summaries taken from the Religion News Service. Readers interested in pursuing a news item further should consult the RNS website by using the link listed at the end of the summary…

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