Monthly Archives: January 2008

Egyptian court rules against religious liberty


In a blow to religious freedom in Egypt, a Cairo court has ruled against a Muslim convert to Christianity who requested that his religious affiliation be changed. Judge Muhammad Husseini said in a verdict on Tuesday (January 29) that it was against Islamic law for a Muslim to leave Islam, a legal representative for convert Muhammad Hegazy said. “He can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert,” Husseini told the administrative court, according to the member of Hegazy’s legal team. Husseini based his decision on Article II of the Egyptian constitution, which makes Islamic law, or sharia, the source of Egyptian law. The judge said that, according to sharia, Islam is the final and most complete religion and therefore Muslims already practice full freedom of religion and can not return to an older belief (Christianity or Judaism). “What happened is a violation of my basic rights,” convert Hegazy told the US Copts Association following the hearing. “What does the state have to do with the religion I embrace?”

-Compass Direct News

Video clips of Episcopal Presiding Bishop’s deposition


Now available online: Video excerpts of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori giving a deposition in a trial over 11 churches leaving the Episcopal Church USA to affiliate with a Nigerian archbishop. Click here.

‘Church discipline’ has potential of hiding authoritarian, even cultic leadership


The Wall Street Journal recently published a story about “shunning,” in which a pastor or congregation pushes out a church member for sinning.

The problem is that some of the sins involve moral errors as simple as questioning a pastoral decision. Here’s a portion of the WSJ article:

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P.”

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey’s real offense, in her pastor’s view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he’d charged her with spreading “a spirit of cancer and discord” and expelled her from the congregation. “I’ve been shunned,” she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders. . . .

 A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church’s lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking “action against the church and your preacher.” ….The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church’s charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church’s quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church’s bylaws. “She’s one of the nicest, kindest people I know,” says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. “But she won’t be pushed around.”In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. “This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread,” it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church’s constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal.

The article goes on to point out that Allen Baptist is an independent church, so Mrs. Caskey cannot appeal her case to a church hierarchy.

Malaysian Islamic leaders allow Buddhist to bury his wife according to Christian rites


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – After 18 harrowing days of battling with Islamic religious authorities, Ngiam Tee Kong on Friday finally won the right to bury his wife according to Christian rites. She died December 30.

 High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan made the decision to allow the Christian burial of Wong Sau Lan after Islamic religious authorities from the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) dropped the claim to her body, saying that her alleged conversion to Islam was not in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).

Zulkifli Che Yong, who represented MAIWP, told the Sun newspaper that the Council decided to drop the claim after taking into account the views of the mufti (Muslim clergy) and testimony from traditional healer Siti Aishah Ismail, from whom Wong had sought treatment. Ngiam’s tussle with Islamic religious authorities began when his wife died of kidney failure at the Malaysian National University Hospital (Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia).

Following her death, MAIWP directed the hospital through the police not to release her body to her husband unless he admitted that she had converted to Islam on December 24, 2007. The Islamic religious authority claimed that Wong had converted to Islam by reciting Arabic verses during a session with a traditional healer a week earlier. Ngiam, who is a Buddhist, challenged the claim and decided to take the matter to court. Ngiam maintained that his wife was a Christian and was baptized in November 2007.  

Following the court decision, Ngiam’s lawyer, Karpal Singh, told reporters outside the courtroom that the body would be cremated according to Christian rites after a two-day wake. Though relieved at the outcome of the court case, Ngiam has indicated that he will file a suit against MAIWP for negligence. His lawyer, Singh, underscored the seriousness of the case.

“It [MAIWP] must ascertain that any conversion is [made] according to Islamic law, not snatch a body and refuse to release it on the ground there is a conversion when there is not one, and later admitting that there was no lawful conversion,” he said. Dr. Ng Kam Weng, research director of Kairos Research Centre, called for Islamic religious authorities to be more sensitive to those in grief. “There have been too many cases where families of the deceased have felt traumatized by such hasty actions,” he told Compass.

In the last few years, there have been at least two other cases in which families of the deceased have had to battle Islamic religious authorities in court over the right to bury their loved ones. In December 2006, the widow of Rayappan Anthony was involved in a nine-day dispute with Islamic religious authorities over whether her husband was a Muslim at the point of death before she was granted the right to bury him as a Christian.  In 2005, the widow of Mount Everest climber Moorthy Maniam lost the legal battle to bury her husband as a Hindu when the civil court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over decisions made by the sharia court. Islamic religious authorities gave her husband a Muslim burial.

-Jasmine Kay, Compass Direct News

Malaysian government confiscates books


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Adding to the furor over whether non-Muslims have the right to use the word “Allah” in their publications and religious practice, on January 11 online news agency Malaysiakini reported that officials confiscated English-language Christian children’s books because they contained images of prophets. 

The government reportedly said Internal Security Ministry officials confiscated the books because their illustrations of prophets offended the sensitivities of Muslims. Islam, which shares some prophets in common with Christianity, prohibits the portrayal of prophets.  

Enforcement officials of the Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Department under the Internal Security Ministry, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, reportedly confiscated the books from three MPH bookstores in Johor Bahru, Senawang and Ipoh in mid-December.  The books have been sent to the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya for investigation. Managers of the MPH bookstores reportedly said they will wait for the Internal Security Ministry’s decision on the books. 

In a statement released yesterday (January 17) , the Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia questioned how the books could be offensive to Muslims when they were not meant for them.  

In the strongly worded statement about the seizures, Shastri said government officials “have no right and have overstepped their bounds by confiscating Christian literature.”  He urged the prime minister and his Cabinet to take immediate action to put a stop to such seizures and to “amend administrative rules and regulations especially in the Internal Security Ministry that give a free hand to enforcement officials to act at their whim and fancies.”  

At the same time, the debate over whether non-Muslims can use the word “Allah” in publications and religious practice was stoked when the Internal Security Ministry told the Sun on Wednesday (January 16) that it had confiscated a total of 163 publications comprising 18 titles from bookshops nationwide.  A ministry official told the daily that the seizures were made because the word “Allah” was used in the books. But Deputy Internal Ministry Minister Johari Baharum reportedly said that the ministry did not target Christian books. 

“We do routine checks all year long,” he said. “We don’t only seize Christian books, but other [religious] books as well.”   

The deputy minister said use of the words, “Allah” (Arabic for God), “baitullah” (mosque in Mecca), “solat” (prayer) and “kaabah” (Islamic shrine in Mecca) are exclusive to Islam, according to Gazette PU (A) 15/82 and circular KKDN S.59/3/6/A dated December 5, 1986.  In a letter to the press, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, argued that “seizing more than the needed copies for investigation while the titles are not banned, denies the right of the people to access the book and is clearly high-handed.” 

The right of non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in their publications and practice of their religion is being tested in two court cases by the publisher of the Herald, a Catholic newspaper, and the Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo).

 -Jasmine Kay, Compass Direct News  

Also see: 

http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news.php?id=203457 

 http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=11354 

Episcopal Church news: Why Bishop Wimberly did not ‘inhibit’ Bishop Duncan


Bishop Don Wimberly of Texas released this statement:

“Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked me along with the other two most senior bishops (Peter Lee of Virginia and Leo Frade of Southeast Florida) for consent to move forward with two inhibitions, one for John-David Scofield, Bishop of San Joaquin and Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburg, for abandonment of the Communion of the Church. We consented to Scofield because the Diocese of San Joaquin had recently voted to leave the Episcopal Church. We did not consent to the request for Bishop Duncan because the Diocese of Pittsburgh has not held their annual convention yet and therefore has not formalized any change to their membership within the Episcopal Church, as the Diocese of San Joaquin had. Even though waiting postpones the issue coming before the House of Bishops, I believe it is prudent to take every precaution and afford Bishop Duncan the opportunity to remain in the Episcopal Church. “

Source: Religion News Service blog

My daughter’s new t-shirt


 

Have you seen our parent site? Check out LiturgicalCredo.com.

Upcoming at LiturgicalCredo.com


We’ve taken a few days off for graduate work, but we’ll soon be back with fresh content.  

We have a review of Frank Schaeffer’s new book, which discloses quite a bit about his father, Francis Schaeffer, and his alliances with key figures in the religious right.

Also, later this month, a look at the music of an up-and-coming band.

LiturgicalCredo.com is refining its mission: “Exploring the dialogue between liturgical tradition and culture.” What do you think? Let us know. As one infamous comedian used to scream, “Say it! Say it! Say it!”

Malaysian government threatens censorship


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Catholic newspaper and an evangelical church have brought lawsuits against the government after authorities ruled against use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications. The government had threatened the Herald, a 13-year-old Catholic weekly, with closure. Following protests by the Christian community, the Herald’s printing permit was renewed just two days prior to expiration. At the same time, the Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo, or SIB) has challenged a government decision to prohibit importation of Christian educational materials for children containing the word “Allah.” A court hearing on the case scheduled for December 27 was postponed until January 16 pending efforts by outside parties to resolve the matter. In its lawsuit, SIB argues that Christian use of “Allah” predates Islam, as the word is used for God in the old as well as modern Arabic Bibles.

-Compass Direct News