How far is too far?

ex·com·mu·ni·cate

1. to cut off from communion with a church or exclude from the sacraments of a church by ecclesiastical sentence.

2. to exclude or expel from membership or participation in any group, association, etc.: an advertiser excommunicated from a newspaper.

noun

3. an excommunicated person.

adjective

  1. cut off from communion with a church; excommunicated.

 

Imagine growing up in a faith community which you love, participate in, demonstrate leadership and find family. Now imagine that being ripped away from you. Not because of moral failure, or because you committed murder…No. It is taken from you because you value the created identity of women in equality with men.

That is what happened to Kate Kelly. A devout Mormon, Kelly has been the first person since 1993 to be excommunicated from the church due to her desire to see women ordained in the church.

In the article found on the Huffington Post Religion front page, Jan Shipps comments, “It does more than excommunicate Kelly,” said Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is a non-Mormon expert on the church. “It warns everybody.” Shipps said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is implementing “boundary maintenance,” using Kelly as an example to show people how far they can go in questioning church practices.

Kate Kelly could have easily left the Mormon church and aligned herself with a faith that does recognize the ordination and gifting of women in spiritual leadership. That would have been easier.  But she did not. She believes in the Mormon faith, so much so that she was willing to be the voice crying out in the wilderness….calling others to explore the teachings and to be willing to engage in the discussion.

This article highlights what can happen when boundaries are pushed, however, it also begs the question, How far is too far? Are we not allowed to challenge our faith communities in new directions? Can we encourage critical thinking without fear of drastic retribution?

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Heresy Will Become The Most Biggest Challenge to Christianity in China

A latest news reports that a young lady has been beaten to death in a McDonald store by some people of a heretic cult in a city named Zhaoyuan of Shandong province, eastern China. That city is famous for its gold mine in China.

 That emerging heresy – Lightening from the East – is derived from a former radical Chinese Christian sect – The Local Churches (another name is: Shouters) led by a Chinese in Taiwan. The belief of The Local Churches remains highly controversial and has once been condemned as a heresy by the Christian Research Institute in 1970s. One of the local chief worker of The Local Churches established an absolute heresy – The All Powerful Spirit – claiming that Christ has already returned as a woman. It has several other names to confuse people and seduce them to join. Such as: Lightening from the East. Even The Local Churches’ author admitted that it was a heresy. This is the most latest emerging heresy and is highly aggressive to both the three-self and the house churches in China. I always saw those people outside my church in China dragging and forcing Christians to talk with them about their belief after Sunday service. They also sent people to my mother in law’s family trying to convert her so as to convert everyone of her house church. The new Christians and the church leaders are their primary targets. Violence and sex seduce is their usual method as well. The tragedy of the young lady reveals how dangerous those heretic people are.

 Chinese culture is a good soil for heresy to grow. Even the communism of China had become somewhat “heretic” comparing with the teaching of Karl Marx. I grew up within the communism context and have a strange feeling of it. I used to be very sure that I understood it very well because I had been taught a lot about it and I had lived within it. But when I met a previous Soviet Union engineer in my early year of working in early 1990s, I got some totally different knowledge of how communism looked like in his country (claimed leader of world communism) when we compared our different lives as common people rather than politicians or scholars. Soviet communism is way more absolute than ours. Chinese communism is a distorted one which had been blended with lots of Chinese thinking. What I’m trying to portrait is how Chinese people adapt a foreign object. The strong and rigid culture will always try to change it into a thing that could be reasonably explained in its traditional logic and only those parts which is thought useful by the social elites will be accepted.

The atheism teaching during the past sixty years has a solid ground among Chinese people and make some people fear nothing, even God. The heresies could be established so quickly by those fearless people who actually believe in themselves and turn religions into ways of seeking wealth and power. The highly exaggerated story of Brother Yun is one example. As one of my close friend who is an economist and converted to Christian last year comments: Everything will taste differently after it has been immersed into the Chinese culture. To my perception, heresy would be a much troublesome problem to the future of Chinese Christianity than the persecution of the communist government.

 To confront this challenge, disciple building needs to be enhanced.

900 Muslim Refugees Take Shelter In One Central African Republic Church

Story: 900 Muslim Refugees Take Shelter In One Central African Republic Church

By: Krista Larson (AP, June 5, 2014)

http://wwrn.org/articles/42621/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2014/jun/05/muslim-refugees-shelter-at-catholic-church-in-central-african-republic-in-pictures

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/central-african-republic-ethnic-cleansing-sectarian-violence-2014-02-12

Since early January 2014, Muslims residing in the western part of Central African Republic (CAR) have been the targets of “ethnic cleansing” by a militia organization known as the anti-balaka. They have been single-minded in their purpose of displacing Muslims and forcing them out of the country. Showing no mercy or leniency, members of the anti-balaka have killed and wounded men, women, elders, and children alike.

Amnesty international has been documenting and collecting first hand reports of the attacks on Muslims occurring in towns such as Bouali, Boyali, Bossembele, Bossemptele, Baoro, Bawi, and the capital, Banqui. One of the deadliest occurred in Bossemptele on the 18th January 2014, where at least 100 Muslims were killed.

These ‘crimes against humanity’ are the result of a large-scale tragedy developing in the CAR. It began in March 2013 with the Muslim Seleka coalition seizing power in the CAR. The Seleka unleashed a campaign of violence mostly focused toward the Christian community.

The Seleka killed thousands of Christian civilians, looting and destroying their homes in the process. The Seleka left power in January 2014, but not before the abusive and lawless nature of their rule gave rise to horrible sectarian hatred and violence. In turn, this gave rise to the formation of the primary Christian militia organization called the anti-balaka.[1]

The news article essentially picks up the situation six months into the conflict. The UN authorized the deployment of peacekeeping forces into the country, but they have been slow to deploy to the regions urgently requiring their protection.

Carnot was fortunate enough to have Cameroonian peacekeepers in the area to help keep the anti-balaka away from the 900 Muslims who, since early February 2014, sought the safety of the Carnot Catholic church compound. The Reverend Justin Nary and his colleagues have been helping ever since the town was attacked.

Food and water are available, as well as access to medical care, thanks to Doctors Without Frontiers, who run a clinic there. Local merchants come to the compound and sell food and goods to those trapped in the church compound. Peace Keepers will escort the young children as they walk the cattle and animals brought to the church by those families seeking protection.

However, the question remains: how much longer will the Muslims remain in the compound? There have been calls for the Peace Keepers to provide safe escort for the trapped Muslims to the borders of the country, but the military maintains that its mandate is to provide protection and not to provide escort duty.

In the meantime, while political wills maneuver and search for solutions, the future of Carnot, if not the whole country of CAR, remains for the moment uncertain and dark.

[1] Contents of this portion of the story taken from: ETHNIC CLEANSING AND SECTARIAN KILLINGS IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR19/004/2014/en/5d24015d-fb4e-4bdb-85f8-687e7751872b/afr190042014en.pdf, accessed 23 June 2014.

 

Get Out! We Don’t Want You…

The Huffington Post Religion section is filled with articles written about the recent excommunication of Kate Kelly from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her crime? Apostasy. Kate Kelly is one of the founders of Ordain Women (www.ordainwomen.org), an organization that is rallying support for the equality and ordination of women in the Mormon Church. As you might expect, there has been an outcry of support for Kate Kelly on the website, in social media, and in person as was evidenced by a vigil held while the excommunication was decided. Here are three highlights of the article:

Boundaries
One real issue here has to do with boundaries. In fact, to quote the church, they are calling it “boundary maintenance”. Essentially this is the church leadership’s line in the sand. They have accused Kelly of apostasy because her actions have led them to believe that she is going against church doctrine and leading others astray. The church defines apostasy as “repeated and public advocacy of positions that oppose church teachings.” In Kelly’s letter of response to the church, she urges that her actions have given space for others to come forward with their questions. Further, she has tried to have open face-to-face conversations with her accusers to which there was no reply. You can read her response here.  

Questioning
The interesting thing is that article also states that the church encourages questioning and that their website is filled everyday with people who ask questions. It is puzzling as to why the church did not respond to her requests to meet about her questions of gender inequality. So if questions are welcome, why the excommunication? It seems as though they don’t like the way Kelly has taken up her cause. Questions are welcome, but you’re not allowed to act, or think for yourself. Worse yet, they have played the god card in claiming its not their decision as leadership, they’re simply doing what the scriptures state. Yet, Kelly maintains that the scripture has room for female leadership other than a couple higher up positions. 

Actions
Thus, Kelly’s act goes against church doctrine because it is a public expression and sparked a movement. It seems detrimental that the church leadership allows questions and even encourages them, but when you do not take their answer, or no answer is given at all that you can be removed from the church.

Kelly’s cause has opened the flood-gates for thousands of others to express their own stories, all of which are a stand of solidarity for her and the Ordain Women movement. These stories come in the forms of letters submitted to www.ordainwomen.org and also on Twitter, which has exploded with support for Kelly. After her excommunication, Kelly stated that she plans to continue her cause, not only for her, but those women who also have questions.

The church trying to make an example of Kate Kelly and the Ordain Women movement is only fuel to the fire for the battle of gender equality. What happens next?

What do you think of the excommunication? What do you think should happen?

 References:

http://huff.to/1jksM5P – Mean Girls
http://huff.to/TyGL1c – Standing with Kate
http://huff.to/1lqP7mT – Warning to others
http://huff.to/VppnO8 – Ordain Women Founder Excommunicated
http://huff.to/1jPMSoH – excommunication 101

 

Is the Internet Killing Religions?

According to Allen Downey, a computer science professor in Massachusetts believes that internet usage is responsible for more Americans having no religion (5 million more) than there would be otherwise (original article: http://bit.ly/PRX5sA)

The article further comments that the held belief that the internet would make us better people is false. It is true that the internet has made the retrieval of information easier as compared to previous generations, but the unfortunate side-effect is that the information is sometimes inaccurate such as the case of using Wikipedia.[1]

I do not see the internet as the medium that is killing religions, but I do see the internet killing something far more important and in my opinion, destroying the telos of what God has intended for His creation: relationships. If we define religion as “the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices” then it begs the question, “What is the ‘glue’ that binds or adheres the beliefs and practices of the body of persons?”  I see this glue in the form of relationships.

I believe that the internet (or technology itself) has weakened or in some cases damaged human relationships and interactions.  Difficult or even painful human interactions such as a break up which would have required personal interaction i.e. face to face or even a phone call can now be achieved with an anesthetized mode of delivery such as a text message or even an email. On the flip side, joyous events such as birthdays, weddings, a new baby arrival can be achieved by a “like” on Facebook.

Recently, I witnessed a sad example of the family structure in the age of the internet/technology. I saw a family of four having dinner together in a restaurant. The mother, son and daughter were on their smartphones and the father was on his tablet.  This was all done as they were eating. The most interesting observation was the fact that the father had on a pair of noise-cancellation headphones.  The reason someone would use noise-cancellation headphones is to block out distractions. I would have never considered family members at a dinner table as distractions.

It would be hypocritical for me to deny that I don’t use the internet and technology for my pastoral work.  To be able to communicate with my flock (youths), I need to speak and use the same grammar as them i.e. communicating through emails, texts messages and Facebook.  I use the internet in my sermon preparation and listen to sermons on podcasts.  But I would never consider the convenience of the internet to replace the personal relational aspects of my pastoral duties and responsibilities.

If we are to ask ourselves whether the internet is killing religions or not, we must evaluate how we are using it.   If it is a tool to help communicate with leaders and members, to create community and to conduct worship experiences, then I do not think so.  But on the other hand, if relationships are damaged due to the mentioned purposes, then I think it is.

[1]http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/education/2010/march/The-Top-10-Reasons-Students-Cannot-Cite-or-Rely-on-Wikipedia.html

A Marketed People

In an article for Arutz Shiva 7 (israelnationalnews.com) Ronn Torossian addresses an issue facing the American Jewish diaspora. The existence of the state of Israel is a controversial thing among many different people in the world, and apparently this is true within the Jewish population as well. Is the shrinking support among American Jews a symptom of a much deeper problem? I do not wish to comment on Israel as a nation in this article, I would rather like to focus in on the insights of Mr. Torossian about the importance of reestablishing Judaism in the Jewish community.

Judaism in a religious context is to be understood not as creedal but instead wholly as a way of life.[1] Judaism is the means by which a nation without land has been preserved through the centuries. As a people they have lived differently than the people of the land they are in. This has at times brought persecution upon them which in some ways served to build the the powerful sense of togetherness that they felt. Torossian perceives, and rightly so from my perspective, that the real problem that is facing a future Israel is the increasing separation of people of Jewish decent from Judaism.

I believe that Torossian is seeing the power of a liturgical life. “We are what we love,” rings similar to the words of Jesus who said “where your treasure is that’s where your heart will be found.” And what I think is being witnessed is that this people group is not learning to love in the direction that has been loved and lived for generations before them. It is not surprising that this phenomenon is being spotted by someone in the world of marketing. If you have ever listened to the radio show Under the Influence on CBC you know that the desire of marketers is to get people to love stuff.

If they succeed at this it is profitable for them. Marketers understand the power of liturgy and ritual in a profound way, which is why things like “you deserve a break today.” and “it’s Miller time.” worked so well over the years. Repeated exposure to commercials and easy access to products has slowly been acquiring more and more of our attention to the point that it is becoming a religious experience.

James K. A. Smith lays this out well in his book Desiring the Kingdom, where he sites the powerful combination of patriotism, sports and military or the image of the shopping mall cathedral. With an absence of Judaism in the lives of American Jews it is no wonder that they fail to love Israel. Without it they are instead bombarded with the same commercialism that all other North Americans are and so have no reason to be less North American than anybody else. What are your thoughts on this? Does the idea of marketing as liturgy make sense? Should religious organizations stay away from marketing or are marketing businesses simply being better at doing what religion has done?  

[1]   Irving Hexham, Understanding World Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pg. 271.

In an article for Arutz Shiva 7 : http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/15158#.U6o2EptOWUl

Trading Spaces

For some, the high level of spiritual openness has been a trend and is a mark of our current Western cultural landscape.  But for others, and understandably so, the tides of that openness seem to ebb and flow. The sense of spiritual openness is partly why in this article by Dr. Andrew Skilton, a Senior Research Fellow at Kings College in London asks the question, “Why is Buddhism so Hip?” Briefly, here are three thoughts that could summarize his article.

 

Established Religion is Old

Buddhism is hip because it offers a seemingly freer experience from what some have grown up with. Skilter uses words like “…passive and stuffy…” or that some people are looking for “…freedom from stifling conformity…”. (see: http://bbc.in/1mIapeT). Further he says,  “…established religion has diminished as a source for authoritative guidance about how to live and what to live for…”. It means that some are seeing Buddhism as an alternative to the established religions they feel like are not allowing them live fully.

People are Thinking Differently

There are three things that seem to draw people to Buddhism says Skilter. First, “the absence of elaborate hierarchies or involvement in politics…”. Many in today’s culture are fighting for equality and thus established religions use of hierarchy and power no longer fits the bill. Second, “…people seek out a form of spirituality that is compatible with their non-religious beliefs…”. It would seem from this statement that those attracted to Buddhism for this reason are searching for ways to be at peace with themselves and the world. Third, Skilter says that the majority of familiar religions have a beginning and an end (“…a finite timeline…”) whereas Buddhism is “cyclical” and that some find that cyclical understanding of the world “more compatible” with the way they think.

I Don’t Need God

Part of many people’s experience in growing up in traditional religious settings is shame theology. Thus, for Skilter, it makes sense that people would turn to Buddhism because it is “not dependent on a deity”. Generally, we do not like feeling bad about ourselves and we certainly do not like being in a place where we can be judged or held accountable for our actions. In this, the author writes, “Buddhism offers seemingly practical ways of developing wisdom and compassion, free from guilt and obligation”. Furthermore, it seems that those attracted to Buddhism for this reason are soul searching to be a better version of themselves for themselves and for the world. Largely, it simply seems that those who are doing this soul searching “like the idea of being in control and taking responsibility for their lives that can come with this”.

In closing, it should be noted that those who are rejecting established or traditional religion in the West because it is old, or that people are thinking differently and do not need God, are exploring Buddhism in a rather “idealized light” without looking into its history.

What do you think? Are established religions losing their influence in today’s cultural landscape in the West because it is viewed as old, no longer fits our worldview, and because people do not need God?

http://bbc.in/1mIapeT