Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Nigerian women greet each other at St. Charles Catholic Church in Ngurore, Nigeria, on Feb. 17, 2019. AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
Gina Zurlo, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

At the start of 2019, Bill and Melinda Gates released a list of facts that had surprised them the previous year. Number four on their list: “Data can be sexist.”

“There are huge gaps in the global data about women and girls,” they explained.

My interest was piqued – not only as a demographer, but as a woman and mother of girls.

I research women in global Christianity and am frequently asked what percentage of the religion is female. The short answer is 52%. But the long answer is more complicated – women make up a much more substantial part of Christianity than that number makes it seem.

The goal of my research is to put the spotlight on Christian women’s contributions to church and society and fill in gaps in our data. Headlines about religion may be focused on the words and actions of Western male leaders, but the reality of the worldwide church is quite different. More and more Christians live outside Europe and North America, especially in Africa – and women are central to that story.

Measuring faith

Social scientists have shown for decades that women are more religious than men by a variety of measures – everything from frequency of private prayer to worship service attendance. Christianity, the world’s largest religion, is no exception. Data from the Pew Research Center show that, compared to Christian men, Christian women are more likely to attend weekly church services (53% versus 46%), pray daily (61% versus 51%), and say religion is important in their lives (68% versus 61%).

It’s not a new trend. In the Gospels, women were the last at the foot of Jesus’s cross, the first at his tomb. Research has shown they were critical to the growth of the early church, being more likely to convert to Christianity than men, and most of the early Christian communities were majority female. Throughout history, women were exemplars of the faith as mystics and martyrs, royal women converting their husbands and supporting convents, and founders of denominations and churches that are now all over the world. Women make up the majority of Christians today.

What researchers don’t have is comprehensive data on women’s activities in churches, their influence, their leadership or their service. Nor are there comprehensive analyses of Christians’ attitudes around the world about women’s and men’s roles in churches.

“Women, according to an old saying in the Black church, are the backbone of the church,” notes religion and gender scholar Ann Braude. “The double meaning of this saying is that while the churches would collapse without women, their place is in the background,” behind male leaders.

But there’s not much actual data, and without good data, it’s harder to make good decisions.

Two women wearing head coverings pray inside a church.
Christian women pray during a Christmas Mass in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2021. AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

At the center of the story

My current research is illustrating that women are the majority of the church nearly everywhere in the world, and that its future is poised to be shaped by African women, in particular.

Christianity continues its demographic shift to the global south. In 1900, 18% of the world’s Christians lived in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania, according to my research. Today that figure is 67%, and by 2050, it is projected to be 77%. Africa is home to 27% of the world’s Christians, the largest share in the world, and by 2050, that figure will likely be 39%. For comparison, the United States and Canada were home to just 11% of all Christians in the world in 2020 and will likely drop to 8% by 2050. Furthermore, the median age of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is just 19.

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One of the most common refrains about the church in Africa is that it is majority female. “The church in Africa has a feminine face and owes much of its tremendous growth to the agency of women,” writes Kenyan theologian Philomena Mwaura.

Or as a Nigerian Anglican bishop recently told me, “If anyone tells you a church in Nigeria is majority male, he’s lying.”

It’s clear that women have been a crucial part of Christianity’s seismic shift south. For example, consider Catholic sisters, who outnumber priests and religious brothers in Africa – and on every continent, in fact. Mothers’ Union, an Anglican nonprofit that aims to support marriages and families, has 30 branches in Africa, including at least 60,000 members in Nigeria alone. In Congo, women have advocated for peacebuilding, including through groups like the National Federation of Protestant Women. Next door, in the Republic of the Congo, Catholic sisters were at the forefront of providing shelter, education and aid in postwar recovery efforts.

Yet here, too, more precise data about African women’s contributions and religious identities is lacking. And beyond quantitative data, African women’s narratives have often been ignored, to the detriment of public understanding. As African theologians Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Rachel Angogo Kanyoro have stated, “African women theologians have come to realize that as long as men and foreign researchers remain the authorities on culture, rituals, and religion, African women will continue to be spoken of as if they were dead.”

Far from dead, African women live at the center of the story – and will continue to do so as healers, evangelists, mothers and the heartbeat of their churches.

The Conversation

Gina Zurlo, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Small oil producers like Ghana, Guyana and Suriname could gain as buyers shun Russian crude

Small oil producers like Ghana, Guyana and Suriname could gain as buyers shun Russian crude

A woman sells drinks on a street in Georgetown in Guyana, one of South America’s poorest countries, March 1, 2020. Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images
Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt, Augustana University

As the U.S. and Europe cut back purchases of Russian oil, and energy traders shun it for fear of sanctions, the search is on for other sources. Attention has focused on Iran and Venezuela, both of which are led by governments that the U.S. sought until recently to isolate. But emerging and less-developed producers could also play roles.

Among the world’s many oil-producing countries, a few are positioned to jump the list and become increasingly active. They include the West African nation of Ghana (No. 33), along with Guyana (No. 42) and Suriname (No. 69), two small adjoining countries on the north Atlantic coast of South America. All three nations have become oil producers within the past 12 years, working with large companies like ExxonMobil, Tullow Ltd, Chevron, Apache, Total and Royal Dutch Shell.

I study factors that influence levels of democracy and social justice within nations, especially as they relate to natural resources and economic structures. As I see it, these newer producers are in a unique position compared to other oil-exporting nations, such as Nigeria and Ecuador.

In too many cases, developing nations opening their economies to oil production have been expected to accept the terms companies demand, with little room for negotiation and continued exploitation of host communities. In contrast, Guyana, Suriname and Ghana are better situated to obtain favorable terms.

Social scientists coined the term “resource curse” to describe countries that are rich in natural resources such as oil, but have poor economic growth or development. One challenge for these nations is negotiating equitable deals with foreign investors.

Striking better deals

As world markets grapple with the current oil price shock, niche producers are in especially favorable positions to secure advantageous contracts and more favorable terms from international energy companies. For example, oil companies typically pay host countries royalties on their revenues that average about 16%. To date, Guyana and Suriname have accepted fees of less than 6.5% in an effort to attract investors. Under current conditions, they may be able to ask for more during new contract negotiations.

Oil production started in Guyana in late 2019, and currently the country produces over 340,000 barrels per day. Guyana learned from its first block contract with ExxonMobil to demand more “local content” – a key condition in oil negotiations that refers to hiring local workers and using locally made goods and equipment. Natural resources minister Vickram Bharrat has called that agreement, made by a previous administration, “one of the worst ever between a government and an oil company,” and Guyanese officials say they will seek more-favorable terms in future agreements.

Suriname’s new offshore oil discoveries offer potential. Small operations are currently producing about 20,000 barrels per day, and major projects are expected to start by 2025.

Suriname is demanding increased insurance from oil companies in the event of an oil spill, along with prepared emergency cleanup procedures. These processes are continually reviewed and criticized, keeping companies on their toes.

Ghana started oil development in 2007 and now produces about 163,000 barrels per day. However, ExxonMobil pulled out of the country in 2021, reportedly to focus on higher-value projects elsewhere, and depressed demand during the COVID-19 pandemic cut into Ghana’s oil exports.

Men on an offshore oil platform in coveralls and helmets, smiling
Ghanaian President John Atta Mills turns a valve to symbolically open oil production in the Jubilee field off Ghana’s west coast, Dec. 15, 2010. Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images)

Now, Ghana’s national oil company, Ghana National Petroleum Corp., is taking a larger role, buying shares in oil fields from companies like Occidental Petroleum. Greater state involvement is raising uncertainty about how much access Ghana will offer to foreign oil companies. Some, including Tullow Oil and Aker Energy, are producing there now, but Tullow’s shares have plummeted in recent years, and there has been speculation that it may leave Ghana.

Managing oil income

Nations and states that produce oil or other natural resources often put their royalties into sovereign wealth funds instead of simply adding them to general treasury funds. A sovereign wealth fund is essentially a rainy day pot that the government can use in times of economic stress to continue funding major priorities, such as infrastructure projects and social programs.

Some of these funds, notably in Norway and Alaska, have produced significant benefits for residents. However, some experts argue that they aren’t necessarily well suited for developing nations.

According to this view, the success of these funds depends on many hard-to-control variables, such as whether the country has a diversified economy, its level of corruption and global events like commodity price collapses. And managing the funds requires significant technical skills.

Ghana created an Oil Heritage Fund in 2011, and Guyana and Suriname are in the process of doing so. All three may need assistance to manage these funds effectively and maximize benefits for their citizens.

Transparency and peer support

Recognizing that it can be challenging for developing countries to negotiate with major corporate investors, a number of nongovernmental organizations have become active in this sector. One that’s particularly relevant to oil production is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which seeks to publicize information about extraction practices, contracts, taxing and spending processes, and more. This benefits the public by tracking where revenue goes and promoting accountability.

The New Producers Group works to help countries manage resources effectively through peer-to-peer relationships and knowledge exchange. Emerging producers can learn from other nations’ experiences and collaborate with other governments on issues that affect them all. For example, the organization has held several events recently, analyzing what the global transition away from fossil fuels means for emerging oil producers, and how these countries can manage the transition while working to end poverty.

As members of both organizations, Ghana, Guyana and Suriname have access to tools that many early producers did not. All three countries have participated in multilateral meetings and exchanges with peers and shared information with local citizens.

Keeping the public informed helps to hold government officials and corporations accountable and promotes public involvement. Citizens and civil society watchdogs criticized ExxonMobil’s first contract in Guyana for not including citizen feedback and being created behind closed doors.

Public involvement and transparency also reduce the potential for corruption, a common problem in resource-rich nations. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in nations worldwide. On a scale with 100 as the worst score, Guyana and Suriname scored 39 and Ghana scored 43, so all three states have significant room for improvement.

As the world slowly transitions away from fossil fuels, emerging producers are acutely aware of the need to seize the moment for development’s sake, but also seek to meet climate change pledges. Guyana and Suriname may have an asset in the fight against climate change: dense forests that can absorb large quantities of carbon, helping to offset emissions.

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Guyana has unveiled a Low Carbon Development Strategy for 2030 and has partnered with Norway to generate carbon credits for protecting its forests. I see partnerships like these as ways to advance environmental goals alongside the social and economic development that these nations desperately need.The Conversation

Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt, Assistant Professor of Government and International Affairs, Augustana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Evangelicals a rising force inside Argentine prisons

Evangelicals a rising force inside Argentine prisons

Prisoners pray before getting baptized inside an evangelical cellblock at the Penal Unit N11 penitentiary in Pinero, Santa Fe Province, Argentina, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Prisoners who want to be allowed in an evangelical cellblock must comply with rules of conduct, including praying three times a day, giving up all addictions and fighting. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

ROSARIO, Argentina (AP) — The loud noise from the opening of an iron door marks Jorge Anguilante’s exit from the Pinero prison every Saturday. He heads home for 24 hours to minister at a small evangelical church he started in a garage in Argentina’s most violent city.

Before he walks through the door, guards remove handcuffs from “Tachuela” — Spanish for “Tack,” as he was known in the criminal world. In silence, they stare at the hit-man-turned-pastor who greets them with a single word: “Blessings.”

The burly, 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) man whose tattoos are remnants of another time in his life — back when he says he used to kill — must return by 8 a.m. to a prison cellblock known by inmates as “the church.”

His story, of a convicted murderer embracing an evangelical faith behind bars, is common in the lockups of Argentina’s Santa Fe province and its capital city of Rosario. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers.

Over the past 20 years, Argentine prison authorities have encouraged, to one extent or another, the creation of units effectively run by evangelical inmates — sometimes granting them a few extra special privileges, such as more time in fresh air.

The cellblocks are much like those in the rest of the prison — clean and painted in pastel colors, light blue or green. They have kitchens, televisions and audio equipment — here used for prayer services.

But they are safer and calmer than the regular units.

Violating rules against fighting, smoking, using alcohol or drugs can get an inmate kicked back into the normal prison.

“We bring peace to the prisons. There was never a riot inside the evangelical cellblocks. And that is better for the authorities,” said the Rev. David Sensini of Rosario’s Redil de Cristo church.

Access is controlled both by prison officials and by cellblock leaders who function much like pastors — and who are wary of attempts by gangs to infiltrate.

“It has happened many times that an inmate asks to go to the evangelical pavilion to try to take it over. We need to keep permanent control over who enters”, said Eric Gallardo, one of the leaders at the Pinero prison.

___

Jeremias Echague shows his tattoo from inside his cell within the evangelical cellblock he joined at the Correctional Institute Model U.1., Dr. Cesar R Tabares, known as Penal Unit 1 in Coronda, Santa Fe province, Argentina, where the 19-year-old waits for his final sentencing for homicide, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Rosario is best known as a major agricultural port, the birthplace of revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara and a talent factory for soccer players, including Lionel Messi. But the city of some 1.3 million people also has high levels of poverty and crime. Violence between gangs who seek to control turf and drug markets has helped fill its prisons.

“Eighty percent of the crimes in Rosario are carried out by young hit men who provide services to drug gangs, whose bosses are imprisoned and maintain control of the criminal business from jails,” said Matías Edery, a prosecutor in the Organized Crime Unit in Santa Fe province.

Anguillante says that his life as a contract killer is behind him; God’s word, he says, turned him into “a new man.”

In 2014, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing 24-year-old Jesús Trigo, whom he shot in the face. Anguillante says that face haunts him at night, and he tries to chase the memory away by praying in his small prison cell.

___

Jeremias Echague shows his tattoo from inside his cell within the evangelical cellblock he joined at the Correctional Institute Model U.1., Dr. Cesar R Tabares, known as Penal Unit 1 in Coronda, Santa Fe province, Argentina, where the 19-year-old waits for his final sentencing for homicide, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

About 40% of Santa Fe province’s roughly 6,900 inmates live in evangelical cellblocks, said Walter Gálvez, Santa Fe’s undersecretary of penitentiary affairs, who is also Pentecostal.

As in other Latin American countries, the spread of evangelical faith in Argentina took root especially in the “most vulnerable sectors, including inmates,” said Verónica Giménez, a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina.

In Pope Francis’ home country, the Roman Catholic Church is still the dominant religion. But a survey by the council found that the percentage of Argentine Catholics fell from 76.5% to 62.9% between 2008 and 2019 while the share of evangelicals grew from 9% to 15.3%.

“This increase in the faithful took place even more in prisons,” Gálvez said.

Gimenez, the researcher, said that is echoed in other parts of Latin America, such as in Brazil, where the huge Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has 14.000 people working with prisoners.

The growth is remarkable in a country where Catholics had a near-monopoly on prison chapels until a few decades ago.

“There are still Catholic chapels inside prisons but their priests are almost without any work to do,” said Leonardo Andre, head of the prison in Coronda, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Rosario.

Catholic priest Fabian Belay, who runs the Pastoral of Drug Dependence, said that priests are indeed active, but use “different methods” than the cellblock strategy.

“We disagree with the invention of religious cellblocks because they create ghettos inside prisons,” he said. “We bet on integration and not a religious segregation.”

Deacon Raul Valenti, who has been working in the Catholic pastoral for three decades, said, “The evangelicals do their work in the religious cellblocks, while we do them in the other ones, the ones that are called hell.”

He insisted they are not in conflict: “We just have different views. We share, a lot of times, religious activities inside the prison.”

___

Ruben Munoz, an evangelical pastor from the church Puerta del Cielo, or “Heaven’s Door,” who served two years in prison for robbery, baptizes an inmate in a kiddie pool, at an evangelical cellblock inside Penal Unit N11 in Pinero, Santa Fe province, Argentina, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Over the past 20 years, Argentine prison authorities have encouraged the creation of units effectively run by evangelical inmates. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Puerta del Cielo (“Heaven’s Door”) and Redil de Cristo (“Christ’s Sheepfold”) congregations are among those that exert strong influence in Santa Fe’s prisons. They began to evangelize inmates in the late 1980s and today have more than 120 pastors working inside prisons.

During a recent service at the Redil de Cristo church in Rosario, the Rev. David Sensini asked those who had been imprisoned to identify themselves. About a third in the room raised their hands. They then closed their eyes and lowered their head in prayer.

Víctor Pereyra, who was wearing a black suit and tie, served time at the Pinero prison. Today, he owns a produce shop and also works maintenance jobs.

“I don’t want to go back (to prison). Today I have a family to look after,” he said.

Pop-style hymns blared from loudspeakers while three TV cameras recorded the ceremony for other worshippers watching at home via a YouTube channel.

“No one else is going to jail. Not your children, not your grandchildren,” the pastor shouted to the crowd. “Change is possible!”

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: father of South Africa’s ‘rainbow nation’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: father of South Africa’s ‘rainbow nation’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: father of South Africa’s ‘rainbow nation’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Epa/Ian Langsdon
P. Pratap Kumar, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu has died at the age of 90.

Archbishop Tutu earned the respect and love of millions of South Africans and the world. He carved out a permanent place in their hearts and minds, becoming known affectionately as “The Arch”.

When South Africans woke up on the morning of 7 April, 2017 to protest against then President Jacob Zuma’s removal of the respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Archbishop Tutu left his Hermanus retirement home to join the protests. He was 86 years old at the time, and his health was frail. But protest was in his blood. In his view, no government was legitimate unless it represented all its people well.

There was still that sharpness in his words when he said that

We will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us.

These words echoed his stance of ethical and moral integrity as well as human dignity. It is on these principles that he had fought valiantly against the system of apartheid and became, as the Desmond Tutu Foundation rightly affirms,

an outspoken defender of human rights and campaigner for the oppressed.

But Archbishop Tutu didn’t stop his fight for human rights once apartheid came to a formal end in 1994. He continued to speak critically against politicians who abused their power. He also added his weight to various causes, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia.

His fight for human rights wasn’t limited to South Africa. Through his peace foundation, which he formed in 2015, he extended his vision for a peaceful world “in which everyone values human dignity and our interconnectedness”.

Archbishop Tutu with the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Children’s Village school in Dharamsala, in 2015. EFE-EPA/Sanjay Baid

He also became relentless in his support for the Dalai Lama, whom he considered his best friend. He condemned the South African government for refusing the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to deliver the “Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture” in 2011.

Early years

Archbishop Tutu came from humble beginnings. Born on 7 October, 1931 in Klerksdorp, in the North West Province of South Africa where his father, Zachariah was a headmaster of a high school. His mother, Aletha Matlare, was a domestic worker.

One of the most influential figures in his early years was Father Trevor Huddleston, a fierce campaigner against apartheid. Their friendship led to the young Tutu being introduced into the Anglican Church.

After completing his education he had a brief stint teaching English and History at Madibane High School in Soweto; and then at Krugersdorp High School , west of Johannesburg; where his father was a headmaster. It was here that he met his future wife, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane.

It is interesting that he agreed to a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony, although he was Anglican. This ecumenical act at the very early stage in his life gives us a hint of his commitment to ecumenical work in later years.

He quit teaching in the wake of the introduction of the inferior “Bantu education” for black people in 1953. Under the Bantu Education Act, 1953, the education of the native African population was limited to producing an unskilled work force.

In 1955 Tutu entered the service of the church as a sub-deacon. He got married the same year. He enrolled for theological education in 1958 and, after completing his studies, was ordained as a deacon of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1960, and became its first black dean in 1975.

In 1962 he went to London to pursue further theological education with funding from the World Council of Churches. He earned a Master of Theology degree, and after serving in various parishes in London, returned to South Africa in 1966 to teach at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice, Eastern Cape.

One of the lesser known facts is that he had special interest in the study of Islam. He had wanted to pursue this in his doctoral studies, but this was not to be.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife Tutu at the Youth Health Festival in Cape Town in 2016. EFE-EPA/Nic Bothma

The activities he was involved in in the early 1970s were to lay the foundation for his political struggle against apartheid. These included teaching in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland and, thereafter, a posting to London as the Associate Director for Africa at the Theological Education Fund, and his exposure to Black Theology. He also visited many African countries in the early 1970s.

He eventually returned to Johannesburg as the dean of Johannesburg and the rector of St. Mary’s Anglican Parish in 1976.

Political activism

It was at St Mary’s that Tutu first confronted the then apartheid Prime Minister John Vorster, writing him a letter in 1976 decrying the deplorable state in which black people had to live.

On 16 June Soweto went up in flames, when black high school pupils protested against the forced use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and were mowed down by apartheid police.

Bishop Tutu was thrust deeper and deeper into the struggle. He delivered one of his most passionate and fiery orations following the death in detention of the black consciousness leader, Steve Biko in 1977.

His role as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, and later as the rector of St. Augustine’s Church in Orlando West in Soweto, saw him become an ardent critic of the most egregious aspects of apartheid. This included the forced removals of black people from urban areas deemed to be white areas.

A target

With his growing political activism in the 1980s, the Arch became a target of the apartheid government’s full scale victimisation and faced death threats as well as bomb scares. In March 1980 his passport was revoked. After much international outcry and intervention, he was given a “limited travel document” two years later to travel overseas.

His work was recognised globally, and he was awarded Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984 for being a unifying leader in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.

He went on to receive more distinguished awards. He became the Bishop of Johannesburg in 1984, and the Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. In the following four years leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison, the Arch had his work cut out for him. This involved campaigning for international pressure to be brought on the apartheid through sanctions.

Archbishop Tutu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Obama in 2009. EFE-EPA/Shawn Thew

Democracy years

After 1994, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its primary goal was to afford those who committed human rights abuses – for or against apartheid – the opportunity to come clean, offer legal amnesty to deserving ones, and to enable the perpetrators to make amends to their victims.

Two greatest moments in his personal life took his theological outlook beyond the confines of the Church. One was when his daughter Mpho declared she was gay and the church refused her same sex marriage. The Arch proclaimed

If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.

The second was when he declared his preference for assisted death.

South Africa is blessed to have had such a brave and courageous man as The Arch, who truly symbolised the idea of the country as a “rainbow nation” . South Africa will feel the loss of the moral direction of this brave soldier of God for generations to come. Hamba kahle (go well) Arch.The Conversation

P. Pratap Kumar, Emeritus Professor, School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Israel to allow 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate

Israel to allow 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate

Jerusalem Temple Mount

Jerusalem skyline photo credit Allen Reynolds

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s government on Sunday approved the immigration of several thousand Jews from war-torn Ethiopia, some of whom have waited for decades to join their relatives in Israel.

The decision took a step toward resolving an issue that has long complicated the government’s relations with the country’s Ethiopian community.

Some 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Community leaders estimate that roughly 6,000 others remain behind in Ethiopia.

Although the families are of Jewish descent and many are practicing Jews, Israel does not consider them Jewish under religious law. Instead, they have been fighting to enter the country under a family-unification program that requires special government approval.

Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish lineage to Israel within five years.

Under Sunday’s decision, an estimated 3,000 people will be eligible to move to Israel. They include parents, children and siblings of relatives already in Israel, as well as orphans whose parents were in Israel when they died.

“Today we are correcting an ongoing injustice,” said Pnina Tamano Shata, the country’s minister for immigration and herself an Ethiopian immigrant. She said the program was a response to people who have waited “too many years to come to Israel with their families” and to resolve a “painful issue.”

In a joint statement with Israel’s interior minister, she said the decision came in part as a response to the precarious security situation in Ethiopia, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past year in fighting between the government and Tigray forces.

It was not immediately clear when the airlift would begin. The government appointed a special project coordinator to oversee the effort.

Kasaw Shiferaw, chairman of the group Activists for the Immigration of Ethiopian Jews, welcomed Sunday’s decision but said there was still a long way to go.

“On one hand, this decision makes me happy. Three thousand people are realizing a dream and uniting with their families,” he said.

“But it’s not a final resolution. Thousands are still waiting in camps, some for more than 25 years. We expect the government to bring all of them,” he said.

 

Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Some churches in Kenya have barred politicians from addressing their congregations, saying campaigning during services disrespects the sanctity of worship.

The national Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches have all issued bans, as many of the politicians begin early stumping for next year’s general elections. The Methodist Church, however, is keeping the church doors open for all.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has said his church is not dissenting from the effort but is taking a different approach. The bishop said shutting the doors to politicians would mean discriminating against some of its members.

“The church is for all people,” Ntombura told Religion News Service in a telephone interview. “Human beings are political, so there is nothing wrong with inviting the politicians in church.”

According to the bishop, congregations need to hear the views of politicians on issues of national interest, such as the sharing of resources. In the past, Ntombura said, the church has invited other experts to speak to congregations on important matters, and politicians are no different.

“Some of the politicians are our pastors,” said Ntombura.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, with microphone, presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, prays over former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, left, in Nov. 2015. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Kenya is about 85% Christian. About 33% of that group are Protestants and 20.6% are Catholic. The rest belong to evangelical, Pentecostal and African denominations. Muslims make up 11%  of  the population.

In issuing the bans on politicking in church, denominations have said they feared that church services would become campaign rallies and that candidates would use language bordering on hate speech in an attempt to win votes or sway the views of congregations. In the past, politicians hijacked church services to sell their agendas or criticize their opponents. Some have appeared in the churches with huge sums of money as offerings or as funds for church projects.

The no-politicking effort gained momentum this month when Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the Anglican primate of Kenya, announced his church’s ban.

“Everyone is welcome in the churches, but we have the pews and the pulpit,” said Ole Sapit on Sept. 12, during the ordination of Kenya’s first Anglican woman bishop. “The pulpit is for the clergy and the pews for everyone who comes to worship.”

On Sept. 15, the Roman Catholic bishops said their places of worship and liturgy were sacred and were not political arenas. They urged politicians to attend Mass just like any other worshippers.

Analysts say the churches are seeking to reclaim their position as “honest arbitrators” in a country where elections often generate violent conflicts.

The most deadly came in December 2007 and January 2008, when two months of ethnic fighting left at least 1,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. Among them, 30 people, mainly ethnic Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, were burnt alive in an Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa Village in Eldoret.

Henry Njagi, program and information manager at the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said resistance to church guidelines on political speech risks a repeat of the events of 2008.

“When things went wrong, they turned around and accused the church of being silent and abandoning Kenyans,” said Njagi. “So right now is a call on political actors, aspirants and other stakeholders to listen to the church … and stop toxic politicking.”

Though the politicians have not been as present at mosques, Muslim leaders say they are supporting the ban on toxic politicking in the churches.

“I support the Christian leaders. Such a ban is long overdue,” said Sheikh Hassan Ole Naado, national chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

He added that Muslims were not facing the issue at the moment.

“When you go to a place of worship, you know what you are supposed to do. They are taking advantage of people who are gathered for worship. It should not happen in the first place,” said Ole Naado.