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June 6th, 2014
08:28 AM ET

Does Islam really condemn converts to death?

Opinion by Abed Awad, special to CNN

(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.

But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.

Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.

But is it really?

The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Belief • Death • Foreign policy • Islam • Islamic law • Muslim • Opinion • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Sharia

June 2nd, 2014
11:25 AM ET

China's latest crackdown target: religion

Opinion by William McKenzie, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?

At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.

As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China - even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.

Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square - where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists - freedom remains elusive.

In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.

The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:

"Practitioners of Falun Gong, as well as other Buddhist, folk religionist, and Protestant groups deemed 'superstitious' or 'evil cults' face long jail terms, forced denunciations of faith and torture in detention, and the government has not sufficiently answered accusations of psychiatric experimentation and organ harvesting."

In Shi's case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.

Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Asia • Belief • China • Christianity • Church and state • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Opinion • Persecution

Pope Francis to meet with sexual abuse victims
Pope Francis departs from Israel after his trip to the Holy Land. He spoke with reporters on the trip back.
May 26th, 2014
07:07 PM ET

Pope Francis to meet with sexual abuse victims

(CNN) - Pope Francis spoke out against sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Monday and said he plans to meet with victims in early June.

Stressing that such abuse constitutes a horrific crime, he told reporters aboard the papal plane that three bishops are under investigation.

It was not clear whether the bishops are under investigation for alleged abuse, or for purported involvement in some sort of cover-up.

A priest who abuses a child betrays the body of the Lord, the Pope said, according to pool reports. He called for zero tolerance.

Among the expected invitees to the meeting are abuse victims from Germany, England and Ireland, and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Pope Francis • Vatican

May 26th, 2014
08:27 AM ET

Pope: Come to the Vatican for peace talks

By Laura Smith-Spark, Ivan Watson and Delia Gallagher, CNN

Bethlehem, West Bank (CNN) - Pope Francis extended an invitation Sunday to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to travel to the Vatican for a "peace initiative," after earlier calling for a two-state solution to the intractable conflict.

The pontiff's remarks came at the end of an outdoor Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square on the second day of his three-day trip to the Middle East.

"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," Francis said.

"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer."

He added, "Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace."

The Palestinian side has accepted the invitation and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will go to the Vatican, a Palestinian Legislative Council member, Hanan Ashrawi, told CNN.

The Israeli President's office said that he welcomed the invitation. "President Peres has always supported, and will continue to support, any attempts to progress the cause of peace," his office said.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Interfaith issues • Israel • Mass • Middle East • Palestinians • Pope Francis

May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.

But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.

The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.

They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.

“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.

The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.

The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.

We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.

They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.

So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Black issues • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Internet • Lost faith • Nones • North Carolina • Prejudice • Religious liberty

May 20th, 2014
03:24 PM ET

U.S. to Sudan: release Christian woman

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - International pressure is mounting on Sudan to release a pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, with members of the U.S. Congress asking Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on her behalf.

On Wednesday, a bi-partisan group of four senators introduced a resolution condemning the sentencing of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim by a court in Khartoum on May 15.

The proposed resolution encourages Sudan to respect religious rights if it wants the United States to normalize relations or lift economic sanctions on the African nation.

“I am disgusted and appalled by the inhumane verdict Ms. Ibrahim has received, simply for refusing to recant her Christian faith," said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I also commend Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need," said Rubio.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma; Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware; and Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.

The proposed Senate resolution adds more voices to the international outcry over the situation of Ibrahim, a Christian wife and mother who is pregnant with her second child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Belief • Christianity • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Interfaith issues • Islam • Islamic law • Prejudice • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Sharia

Hollywood's religious revival
May 10th, 2014
04:00 AM ET

The next chapter in faith films: comedy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Contributing Editor

(CNN) - A new movie genre debuts at the box office this weekend: the Christian comedy.

"Moms’ Night Out" starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin is opening on more than 1,000 screens, and it aims to do something no other Christian major motion picture has endeavored to do: make you laugh. On purpose.

There has been no shortage of laughably bad Christian movies. "Left Behind," anyone?

From “The Passion of the Christ,” to “Fireproof,” to “Courageous,” the genre has historically leaned heavily on biblical epics and inspiration to stir the faithful, or evangelical fare designed convert the masses.

But "Moms’ Night Out" is entirely different, a PG-rated comedy about the hijinks of middle-class Christian families, ordinary folks living ordinary lives. Astin called the movie "ballsy" for focusing on this demographic.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Faith • Media • Money & Faith • United States

May 9th, 2014
08:34 AM ET

Were TV hosts' religious beliefs a problem?

(CNN) – Twin brothers David and Jason Benham have lost their opportunity to host their own HGTV show.

The brothers ran afoul of the network after the site Right Wing Watch published a post about the pair, labeling David Benham as an "anti-gay, anti-choice extremist" for reportedly leading a prayer rally in 2012 outside of the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The site posted a recording of Benham talking to a talk show host about "homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation" and "demonic ideologies" taking hold in colleges and public schools.

Benham also discusses the fight for North Carolina's Amendment One, which involved a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state constitution.

The Benham brothers were the planned stars of the HGTV show "Flip It Forward," set to premiere in October, in which they would have helped families purchase homes they otherwise could not afford.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • TV

May 8th, 2014
03:26 PM ET

A mother's prayer, a son's death and a song that lives on

Watch Laura Sobiech talk about faith, family and life after her son's death with CNN's Bill Weir at 9 p.m. ET on Friday. 

Opinion by Laura Sobiech, special to CNN

(CNN) - The nurse told us the doctor wanted to speak with us immediately.

The phone rang and my husband picked it up. I pressed my ear against the handle, trying to hear as Rob listened.

“… tumor … it’s bad … hard year ahead,” was all I could hear the doctor say.

It was enough to know life had changed forever.

Zach, my 14-year-old son watched intently from where he sat across the room; he knew something was up.

“What do I tell him?” I wondered as I walked to him, my legs going weak as my mind processed the news.

I wanted so badly to protect him, but I couldn’t protect him from his own body. He needed the truth.

I sat in the chair next to him and said, “You have a tumor.”

Zach held my gaze for a moment then turned his head and closed his eyes as he processed the news.

My heart was breaking. In that moment he looked so small and vulnerable - not like the tall, confident teenager who ran down a basketball court with ease, but like the little boy who once cried through stitches the doctor’s office.

That little boy had quieted his crying, pinched his eyes shut and turned away from me when he realized I couldn’t save him.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Content Partner • Death • Faith • Opinion • TV-CNN Tonight

Study: Young Latinos losing faith
Jose Luis Sedano prays during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles last March.
May 7th, 2014
11:58 AM ET

Study: Young Latinos losing faith

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country's fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.

Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don't belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.  That's a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.

While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.

The trends highlighted by Pew's Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.

According to other studies conducted by Pew in recent years, nearly a third of all millennials - Americans between the ages of 18-33 - are religiously unaffiliated, a dramatic and ongoing change from previous generations.

“One of the most striking recent trends in the American religious landscape has been the growing share of the unaffiliated, and this study allows us to see where Latinos fit into that story,” said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and one of the co-authors of the study.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • evangelicals • Faith • Latino issues • Lost faith • Nones • Polls • Protestant • Trends

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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