China

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

As a goodly number of sentient beings are by now surely aware, the Roman Catholic Church is mired in yet another near-global, clerical sex-abuse and institutional cover-up meltdown. How it unfolds will undoubtedly alter the church’s future trajectory. Whether that will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

But this post is not primarily about the Catholic hierarchy’s serious and pervasive failings. Rather, it's my attempt to remind readers that such failings are far more about the human condition than any particular faith group.

I know this because, though I am not Catholic, I was also a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In my case, it happened when I was about 11 in the basement of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the New York City borough of Queens, where I grew up.

This was the synagogue that my parents trusted to provide me with a grounding in religious Judaism. Instead, the trauma of my experience distanced me from the faith — actually, all faiths — for decades to come.

I never told my parents about any of this, out of shame and fear, so they went to their graves ignorant of what happened. All they knew was that I refused to ever return to that synagogue, not even for my needed Bar Mitzvah lessons. (Both the lessons and the actual Bar Mitzvah took place elsewhere.)

Synagogue clerical sex was most likely one of my earliest experiences of adult hypocrisy — not counting what I experienced in my own family, of course. Who knows? Perhaps it was the trauma that led me to become a journalist.

Because if adult hypocrisy angers you, where better to uncover it than in the arenas of human endeavor — politics, the so-called justice system, the business world, and as I now know, institutional religion and even journalism — that one continually encounters as a reporter?

I'd say working as a journalist is a damn good way to learn about the world as it truly is, warts and all.

Before preceding further, let me state that sharing my experience here is in no way meant to provide comfort to those many Catholics desperate for such institutional comfort. That’s for you to find, or to cease searching for, on your own.

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Journalistically speaking, however, each case may be reduced to a “story,” each competing for press attention at a time when shrinking industry resources and an ominous uptick in American political chaos make grabbing international media coverage increasingly difficult.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is one such religious minority. The Kremlin has come down on Russian members of the faith like a ton of bricks.

The situation, from time to time, gains some coverage from western media elites. That attention soon fades, however, which prompts the following question: Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?

I’ll try to answer that question below. First, though, let’s get current on the plight of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.

This Los Angeles Times piece about their seeking refuge in neighboring Finland is a good place to start. Here’s a snippet from it:

In the 16 months since Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group on par with Islamic State, raids and arrests of the religion’s estimated 175,000 members in the country have increased rapidly. The ruling criminalized practicing the religion and ordered its 395 branches closed. Members face prosecution for doing missionary work, a fundamental part of the faith.

There are now an estimated 250 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum in Finland. They wait out their asylum applications in several refugee centers across the country, including the Joutseno refugee center outside Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland.

How has this impacted individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Read on.

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China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

The title of the article seemed to be a joke: “A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag.”

Appearing in ForeignPolicy.com, the piece was about a Uighur student, called Iman, who was studying in the United States. He knew his homeland was a dangerous place to visit, but he had a mother he’d not seen in years.

So, he had no sooner stepped off the plane in eastern China than he was thrown into jail for nine days, then -– still shackled -– put on a 50-hour train ride to Xinjiang, his homeland in western China. He got to the city of Turpan.

The stress intensified as he was taken to the detention center, or kanshousuo. “I was terrified as we approached.” (As we talked, for the first time Iman directed his gaze at the ground, avoiding eye contact.) “The compound was surrounded by towering walls. Military guards patrolled the metal gate. Inside, there was little light. It was so dark,” he continued.

He was immediately processed. An officer took his photograph, measured his height and weight, and told him to strip down to his underwear. They also shaved his head. Less than two weeks before, Iman was an aspiring graduate at one of the top research universities in the United States. Now, he was a prisoner in an extrajudicial detention center.

Still in his underwear, Iman was assigned to a room with 19 other Uighur men. Upon entering the quarters, lit by a single light bulb, a guard issued Iman a bright yellow vest. An inmate then offered the young man a pair of shorts. Iman began scanning the cell. The tiled room was equipped with one toilet, a faucet, and one large kang-style platform bed -- supa in Uighur -- where all of the inmates slept. He was provided with simple eating utensils: a thin metal bowl and a spoon.

He endured 17 days of imprisonment for crimes he did not commit and then, unexpectedly, was released and allowed to go home and eventually to return to the United States to finish his studies. Not surprisingly, he’s not planning to return to China any time soon, plus his mother herself is imprisoned in the same kind of “re-education center.”

China’s barbaric treatment of its Muslim minority (represented by the blue flag with a crescent and star with this piece) doesn’t get any protests from the worldwide Muslim community, unlike the anger that’s released toward Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Foreign Policy makes that point in a piece published last week. A sample:

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Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

What’s the biggest religion news story currently percolating in China?

Your answer probably depends upon your religious worldview.

If you're evangelical Protestant -- or any other sort of Christian, for that matter -- it's probably the rapid spread of Christianity across China, and Beijing’s effort to control the phenomena.

This piece from The Atlantic makes clear that Chinese authorities have their hands full maintaining the smothering control they prefer to have over all nongovernmental groups, religious or otherwise.

If you’re Christian and Roman Catholic, the Vatican’s effort to reach some sort of recognition compromise with Beijing may be your preferred story. Here’s a recent piece from Crux on the issue.

If you're a Buddhist, you're likely focused on China’s effort to suppress Tibetan-style Buddhism so as to limit international support for Tibetan independence, or even limited self-rule. A major part of China’s effort is to try to undercut support for the Dalai Lama, the global Buddhist religious celebrity who leads Buddhism’s Vajrayana wing, the form dominant in Tibet and other areas of Central Asia.

This recent New York Times story details how China’s campaign to maintain its imperial hold on Tibet bleeds into its political and economic dealings with India, though India is far from alone in this.

If you're Muslim, however, the following story about the forced and brutal reeducation of Chinese Muslims is likely to be the religion story in China that most concerns you. (In case you don’t know, both pork and alcohol are banned in traditional Islam.)

Muslims were detained for re-education by China‘s government and made to eat pork and drink alcohol, according to a former internment camp inmate.

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Was Buddha God or human? Small 'g'? Capital 'G'? One of many?

 Was Buddha God or human? Small 'g'? Capital 'G'? One of many?

THE QUESTION IN HEADLINE:

It's a headline at the Website of Tricycle, a U.S. Buddhist magazine.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Tricycle magazine is “unaffiliated with any particular teacher, sect, or lineage” and spans all forms of Buddhism with authority and style. The question above that it poses is quite pertinent since the online buddhanet, among others, states that Buddhists do not believe in any god because the Buddha “did not believe in a god” and he himself “was not, nor did he claim to be,” a god.

This agnostic or atheistic version of Buddhism is popular among seekers in western countries. But is it authentic?

Tricycle turned to two noted authors to jointly address this important question: Professors Robert E. Buswell Jr., director of UCLA’s Center for Buddhist Studies, and Donald S. Lopez Jr. at the University of Michigan. The article was part of their online series about the top 10 “misconceptions about Buddhism.” What follows is largely based on their explanations.

Without question, Buddhism does not believe in the capital-G God, that is, the one unique and all-powerful Creator of the universe who is worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

However, the two scholars assert that it’s wrong to say “Buddhism has no gods” because “it has not one but many.” The religion believes in an elaborate pantheon of celestial beings designated by the same root word as the English “divinities.” Also, hosts of advanced spiritual beings called “bodhisattvas” and “buddhas” exist in the 27 sectors within the realm of rebirth.

Buddhist divinities lack the attributes of those other three religions’ one God, and are not regarded as eternal. But, importantly, they exercise powers beyond those of mere humans, are beseeched for favors, and “respond to the prayers of the devout.”

Turning to the Buddha himself, he was a human being named Siddhartha Gautama.

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AP story on secret North Korean missionaries should be of interest to all

AP story on secret North Korean missionaries should be of interest to all

It seems like just another story about missionaries to North Korea. Then you realize that this Associated Press story is about North Koreans who somehow escape their country to take refuge in China, then return to their native land to secretly convert other North Koreans to Christianity. That's a new angle.

These stories are not easy to get. First, you have to have contacts in an obscure corner of northeast China who will talk with you. You also need decent translators who understand religious terms.

Then you need to connect the dots between the North Korean government and a group of determined Christians just across the Chinese border. So as you read this, look for signs of research, the sources for facts and insights.

Also, notice the life-and-death stakes. This is dangerous territory. The further you read on, the better the plot gets.

SOUTHERN JILIN PROVINCE, China (AP) -- To the North Koreans gathered beneath a crucifix in an apartment in this northeastern Chinese border region, she is known as “mom.” She feeds them, gives them a place to stay and, on occasion, money.
In return, the 69-year-old Korean-Chinese woman asks them to study the Bible, pray and sing hymns. She also has a more ambitious, and potentially dangerous, goal: She wants the most trusted of her converts to return to North Korea and spread Christianity there.
Along the North Korean border, dozens of such missionaries are engaged in work that puts them and their North Korean converts in danger. Most are South Koreans, but others, like the woman, are ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in China for generations. In recent years, 10 such front-line missionaries and pastors have died mysteriously, according to the Rev. Kim Kyou Ho, head of the Seoul-based Chosen People Network, a Christian group that runs a memorial hall in the South Korean capital for the victims. North Korea is suspected in all those deaths.

We’re then told why this secret missionizing might be of interest to the greater world at large.

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Why no news coverage of Trump silence on China's destruction of evangelical megachurch?

Why no news coverage of Trump silence on China's destruction of evangelical megachurch?

One reason elements of the Christian Right are said to strongly back President Donald Trump is because of their, and supposedly his, deep concern for global religious freedom issues -- in particular the persecution of Christians in nations such as China.

Yet, as of this writing (Jan. 15), the White House has yet to utter a peep about last week’s destruction by the Chinese government of a massive “underground” evangelical church facility that housed a huge congregation of 50,000 or more, according to reports.

Moreover, no one in the mainstream or Christian media, as far as I can ascertain, has publicly asked the administration for an answer as to why it has remained mute. Not Trump’s media supporters or opponents (of which I am one).

Nor have we heard anything from members of the president's personal religious advisory committee. And certainly not from anyone from the State Department or the largely punchless United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- which did see fit to issue a statement last week marking the death of Mormon Church leader Thomas S. Monson.

Has the Trump coverage bar dropped so low, has it been so overwhelmed by endless questions about crises seemingly of the president’s own making, that there simply is no room left for routine questions as to why the administration failed to issue so much as a pro forma response to the church demolition?

Clearly, I'm afraid, the answer is “yes.”

But that doesn't mean that religion-beat writers, in particular, should simply acquiesce to the current state of affairs.

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Not really new news: Immigration has affected churches in Canada (and elsewhere) for years

Not really new news: Immigration has affected churches in Canada (and elsewhere) for years

"There is no new thing under the sun," the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us in chapter 1, verse 9. While it's doubtful that said author was also a newspaper editor, it's a handy point for editors to remember, I believe. Too little of what is reported as "news" is, actually, "new."

These thoughts came to mind as I read a story in the Globe and Mail, Toronto's flagship paper whose reporters cover the whole of Canada as well as the rest of the world. "Immigrants providing a boost to declining church attendance in Canada," the headline reads.

Take a look at this longish excerpt to get a flavor of the piece:

Eli Wu brought his wife and teenaged son to Vancouver this past summer, emigrating from China in search of a better education for his child. He wasn't searching for God, but after arriving in Canada he found himself drawn in an unexpected direction.
In China, he said he didn't pay too much attention to Christianity, although some of his family members attended church. Organized religion was prohibited in China during the Cultural Revolution, but there was a revival of Christianity at the beginning of 1980s, when the government lifted restrictions on religion. Still, the Chinese government maintains some control over worship.
"In China, [things like] getting baptized and accepting legitimate Christianity are controlled by the government," Mr. Wu said. "When the gospel is discussed in China, because of some political factors, it cannot be [considered] too real."
The decline in the number of Canadians identifying as Christian is a well-documented and persistent trend. But among the people who will file into the pews for Christmas services are a growing number of immigrants, many of whom have converted to Christianity after arriving here, often from China.
New congregants such as international students come because church offers them support and community and an escape from loneliness. Others, like Mr. Wu and his son, come after experiencing Canada's religious freedom.

Here's the journalism problem: The fact of churches welcoming and accommodating immigrant populations is nothing new.

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South China Morning Post covers church split over democracy movement

South China Morning Post covers church split over democracy movement

Three years ago, we covered the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and how many Christians were involved in those protests. Three years later, churches are still split over it and the South China Morning Post provides the latest update.

As you read it, think of the similarities between the stories of these Chinese and the more familiar (to us in the States) stories of Americans who likewise got involved in politics during last year’s elections.

In both cases, the questions are the same. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar?

It was a Sunday in late September and Reverend Philip Woo was enjoying his day of rest, taking afternoon tea with a friend at the Admiralty Centre, blissfully unaware of the higher plan God had for him that day – to play his part in a movement that would go on to shape Hong Kong’s political history.
Across the road from Woo, a founder of the civil disobedience movement Occupy Central, Benny Tai, was preparing to rally protesters outside the Central Government Complex, setting in motion a 79-day demonstration in which tens of thousands of Hongkongers would block roads in the business district to demand the right to democratically elect their leader, the chief executive. It was a demonstration that would polarise Hong Kong, strain the city’s relationship with the mainland Chinese government, and leave a question mark for years to come about the political future of the famously free-wheeling former British colony.
Back in 2014, from his table on the second floor at the Admiralty Centre, Woo could not see Tai and the protesters gathering – any more than he could have foreseen the countless twists and turns the political saga would one day take. But he could hear them, and a little voice inside him told him to investigate.
Once on the street, he could see clearly. He could see the crowds forming, and he could see the mounting ranks of riot police. And when he saw those same policemen firing tear gas into the assembled masses one thing became clear in his mind: that his faith in God demanded he act.

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