South Sudan

Remember the Church Page? RNS story on churches aiding South Sudanese refugees will take you back

Remember the Church Page? RNS story on churches aiding South Sudanese refugees will take you back

The Republic of South Sudan is one of the world’s misery portals. Since its independence in 2011, (it's the globe’s youngest fully-minted nation) South Sudan has known little else but war, poverty, hunger and political infighting among its power elites.

The result of which is ongoing misery for the north-central African nation’s ordinary people. This BBC backgrounder tells the tale -- though, curiously, it fails to mention that South Sudan sought to secede from its northern neighbor, Sudan, in large part over religion. Sudan is staunchly Muslim while the people of what is now South Sudan largely practice traditional African tribal faiths, though Christianity is also a major force.

A newly brokered power-sharing agreement could change things for the better. However, those in the international media paying close attention to South Sudan note that we’ve been here before. Al Jazeera English reported that this is the 12th ceasefire and second power-sharing arrangement between the current civil war’s rival parties. So don’t start clapping just yet.

All I’ve said so far is meant as a prelude to dissecting this recent -- and troubling -- Religion News Service story about an upsurge in South Sudanese refugees in Uganda seeking “healing” in Christian churches.

Here’s the top of it. This is long, but essential:

BIDI BIDI REFUGEE CAMP, Uganda (RNS) -- Every morning when Achol Kuol wakes up, she borrows a Bible from her neighbor and reads a verse to comfort herself before she meets others in an open-air church rigged from timber. They sing, dance and speak in tongues during the service. Some who feel filled with the Holy Spirit scream and jump -- not with joy, but remorse.

Confessions flow as they recall the ones they killed in the civil war back home in South Sudan. They cry out, lamenting ordeals they endure at night. Others weep in prayer as they ask God for forgiveness.

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Sam Brownback has lots of friends and enemies: Reporters need to talk to both, right now

Sam Brownback has lots of friends and enemies: Reporters need to talk to both, right now

Sam Brownback has had a log and quite complicated political career and now it has taken another turn. On Capitol Hill, he has served in the House and the Senate, then he returned to Kansas as governor, where his stay was stormy, to say the least. He briefly ran for president in 2008.

On the religious side of things, he made headlines by converting from evangelical Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. He would make any observer's list of the top 20 or so cultural conservatives in American politics.

That's the kind of career that earns someone a long list of enemies, as well as friends.

All of that came into play when Brownback was nominated by the Donald Trump administration to be the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom. That brings us to the top of this Associated Press report (as circulated by Religion News Service):

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved Sam Brownback’s bid to be U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, setting the stage for him to resign the governorship in Kansas after seven contentious years in office.
With two Republican senators absent, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Capitol Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion. The vote was along party lines, 50-49, underscoring the narrow margin Republicans hold. Pence’s vote also was needed earlier in the day to get Brownback’s nomination over a procedural hurdle.

Now, it's obvious -- with that cliffhanger vote -- that Brownback's enemies came loaded for bear. You can also see, in the AP wording, that the battle over this nomination was fought along culture-wars lines. Note this: He is a "favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion."

Noted. Thus, it is going to be crucial, in this story, to cover the reasons that the cultural and religious left opposed him so strongly. That's part of the story.

However, it would also be crucial to note why Brownback was nominated for this particular post in the first place. What actions did he take, what causes did he support, during his long career that caused his supporters to support this nomination? I would add: Were all of his supporters on the right?

Anyone want to guess which side of this equation AP all but ignored?

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Roadmaps should guide us, including through Sudan

Sudan may be hard for geography-challenged Americans to find on a map, but Reuters — one of the largest news organizations — is an old hand at world coverage. Unfortunately, Reuters presents more of a puzzle than a map in its update on the case of Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, who has been desperately trying to escape Sudan with her husband, her child and her life.

As you may remember, the militantly Islamic government of Sudan accused Ibrahim of deserting Islam for Christianity and for marrying an American Christian man. Her original sentence was 100 lashes for “adultery,” then execution for “apostasy.”

On June 23, an appellate court overturned the decision, and the family prepared to leave the country — only to have security agents re-arrest her at the airport in Khartoum. Now let’s see how well Reuters follows up.

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Pope addresses world peace AND persecution (again)

Pope addresses world peace AND persecution (again)

Covering speeches is tricky, I tell the students in my reporting classes.

A good public speaker says all kinds of interesting things before he or she gets to The Big Idea, the point to which they have been building all along. A good reporter, on the other hand, has to find a way to take The Big Idea -- especially if it is truly newsworthy -- and plant it right at the top of the story, while maintaining a sense of context.

The reporter can add the other important details later, I tell students. The key, as every journalist knows, is not to "bury the lede." And may the journalism gods have mercy on a reporter who misses The Big Idea altogether.

This brings us to one of the most symbolic moments in the annual cycle of the Catholic liturgical year -- the short message delivered by the pope at Christmas that is called “Urbi et Orbi,” which is Latin for “to the city and the world." This is not the sermon in the Christmas Mass, but an address that is, to be blunt, aimed at the public square.

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