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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

May 27th, 2014
01:48 PM ET

Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her Christianity gives birth in prison

By Faith Karimi and Mohammed Osman, CNN

(CNN) - A Sudanese woman sentenced to die for refusing to renounce her Christianity has given birth to a girl in prison, her lawyers said Tuesday.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, delivered her baby Monday at a women's prison in Khartoum, but her husband was not allowed to be present for the birth, sources told CNN. They asked not to be named for safety reasons.

Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith, about two weeks ago while she was eight months pregnant.

A Sudanese lawyer filed an appeal last week to reverse the verdict by the lower court.

She is in prison with her 20-month-old son, but Sudanese officials have said the toddler is free to leave any time, according to her lawyer, Mohamed Jar Elnabi.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen who uses a wheelchair and "totally depends on her for all details of his life," her lawyer said.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Christianity • Church and state • Courts • Islam • Islamic law • Sharia

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 22nd, 2014
07:04 PM ET

Pope Francis in the Holy Land: 5 things to know

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - So, a rabbi, a sheikh and a pope travel to the Holy Land…

It might sound like the start of a trite joke, but it’s actually the entourage for one of the most highly anticipated papal trips in recent history.

As Pope Francis heads to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem this weekend, he’s bringing along two old friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the Pope, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina’s Muslim community.

The Vatican says it’s the first time that a pope’s official entourage has included interfaith leaders.

In a region roiled by competing religious and political visions, Francis’ chosen companions communicate an unmistakable message, church officials said.

“It’s highly symbolic, of course,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

“But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it’s possible to work together - not as a system of checks and balances but as friends.”

The visit to the Holy Land is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.

With so much at stake - the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the plight of Christian refugees - the Pope’s every word, gesture and photo-op will be microscopically examined.

Already, some conservative Israelis are advocating against the Pope’s visit, scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on Catholic buildings in Jerusalem and planning  protests outside papal events in Jerusalem.

While the protesters form a fringe minority, they underscore the tensions that simmer around the Pope’s short but substantial trip.

With those challenges in mind, here are five key things to pay particular attention to.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Foreign policy • Islam • Israel • Jerusalem • Judaism • Leaders • Mass • Middle East • Palestinians • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Vatican

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

The worst places in the world to be religious
Rohingya Muslim children at a refugee camp in Burma, where authorities have incited violence against them, according to the State Department.
May 15th, 2014
10:56 AM ET

The worst places in the world to be religious

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world's worst abusers of religious rights. 

As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.

Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are "authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion."

In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these "countries of particular concern." But the designation can come with some teeth.

Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.

In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department's "countries of particular concern." You might call them "The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious."

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Africa • Baha'i • China • Christianity • Church and state • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Interfaith issues • Iran • Islam • Islamic law • Middle East • Muslim • North Korea • Persecution • Prejudice • Religious violence • Saudi Arabia • Tibet • Tibet • Violence

May 12th, 2014
10:05 AM ET

Update: Harvard's satanic 'black Mass' cancelled

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - A Harvard club's plans to stage a satanic "black Mass" were abruptly cancelled Monday after drawing fire from the Archdiocese of Boston and condemnation from the president of the Ivy League school.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the New York-based Satanic Temple, told the Boston Globe late Monday that the event was called off because no venue was available.

“Everyone involved, outside of the Satanic Temple, got really scared,” Greaves told the newspaper. “And I don’t necessarily blame them, because I understand that they were getting a lot of vitriolic hate mail, and I don’t think they expected it."

Greaves was not immediately available for further comment.

A petition to stop the black Mass had garnered 60,000 signatures, according to Aurora Griffin, president of the Harvard Student Catholic Association.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had planned host the two-hour ceremony at the Queens Head pub in Memorial Hall in on the school's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is unclear why the building was no longer available.

The history of black Masses is murky, but Catholics say the intent of such ceremonies is obvious: to mock their rituals and beliefs. The Masses often parody Catholic sacraments, such as Communion, and liturgical vestments.

“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes," the Harvard student group had said in a statement, "but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.”

The cultural club said it also plans to host a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibit and a presentation on Buddhist meditation.

But Harvard University President Drew Faust called the plans to reenact a black Mass "abhorrent."

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Mass • Pope Francis • Satanism

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

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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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