Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Other News

When I went to bed last night, Barack Obama was president, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, and Democrats controlled the Senate. When I woke up this morning, Barack Obama was president, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, and Democrats controlled the Senate. More than a year of persistent hue and cry, an anticlimax, and now, with any luck, a swift denouement. Meanwhile, to the disinterested surprise of Americans, the rest of the world has continued to turn while they beat their heads against a political brick wall.

Copts have just selected a new pope at one of the most critical junctures in modern Coptic history. The new leader, Pope Theodoros II, has rejected the political activism of his predecessor and is encouraging the church to follow his lead:

“The most important thing is for the church to go back and live consistently within the spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work,” the bishop said, and he promised to begin a process of “rearranging the house from the inside” and “pushing new blood” after his installation later this month as Pope Tawadros II. Interviewed on Coptic television recently, he struck a new tone by including as his priorities “living with our brothers, the Muslims” and “the responsibility of preserving our shared life.”

“Integrating in the society is a fundamental scriptural Christian trait,” Bishop Tawadros said then. “This integration is a must — moderate constructive integration,” he added. “All of us, as Egyptians, have to participate.”

This seems to be fine by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood who have encouraged the new primate "to “support the Islamic Shariaa,” to “let go of the seculars”, and to “revoke the Church’s political role.”"

In other parts of the Muslim world, Christians are facing more direct challenges from the government. Christians in Malaysia are being "converted" to Islam without their consent on government roles simply because of their names.

Bumiputra Christians in Sabah continue to be “converted to Islam” by the National Registration Department (NRD) simply because they have “bin” and “binti” in their names. Sabah churches are seeking urgent solutions to the crisis but none seems to be in sight, Bob Teoh writes in My Sinchew.

The NRD has made it clear it would continue to list Bumiputera Christians in Sabah as Muslims as long as they are known by bin or binti. It would also not rectify past entry errors by way of changing the religion listing back to Christianity in the identity cards (MyKad) of those affected. The NRD would only act upon an order by a Syariah High Court to determine whether those Bumiputera Christians whom it had listed as Muslims are not Muslims indeed.

The implications of this are far ranging--not least because these "Muslims" are not legally allowed to marry the Christians in their own community--and the hurdles the government has thrown up to rectify the error are numerous. What makes this more serious than a minor bureaucratic foul-up, however, is that perennial problem of apostasy in Islam. There is no permissible way to cease to be a Muslim, a conundrum which has found itself institutionalized in the racial-religious identity cards of Malaysia.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sitting on the supposed burial site of Jesus, is the site of yet more controversy, this time over the more mundane matter of an unpaid water bill. The hub for Christian pilgrimage insists that it has never paid water bills as part of an unstated agreement with the utility company. Hagihon, the water company, is no longer content to receive nothing for something and has frozen the church's assests until the $2.3 million in back bills is paid.

"We trust God and hope that people will help us," [the General Secretary of the Patriarchate, Archbishop of Constantina Aristarchos] said, adding that the Patriarchate has sent letters to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tension in the Christian world comes home with still more revelations from the Orthodox Church in America. After much publicity and dutiful investigation, church officials have released their findings about the suspended bishop accused of sexual misconduct:

Text messages and emails sent by the bishop of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of the Midwest did constitute sexual misconduct, according to a letter posted to the church’s website Sunday...

“I wish that I could convince all of you what I am certain of in my heart — that conscious motives behind my interaction with this woman were not impure,” [the accused bishop] Matthias wrote. “But, I know that only active, demonstrated repentance — confession of my sins, pursuit of the means of changing, and a resulting change in conduct — will be convincing.”

Unlike the Catholic stereotype of furtive reshuffling, the OCA has embraced a more public but no less Christian program of rehabilitation and penance. Matthias will ask forgiveness from the victim directly, be admitted to a residential therapeutic program, and submit to a “focused period of time under the guidance of a peer bishop to examine, articulate and provide concrete direction in managing the expectations and accompanying spiritual, emotional and interpersonal challenges of exercising the office of the bishop.”

And more besides. If only we had directed that one billion dollars to affecting actual change in the world. But, as always, where our treasure is indicates where our heart is. Money is always hard to find except when it comes to war and politics. If that doesn't indicate their affinity, perhaps nothing will.

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