Indonesian Christians under attack by Muslim militants
Thousands of Christians on the island of Sulawesi are fleeing for their lives as Muslim militant groups swarm and raze their villages. "Thousands have fled," Langgino Sangkide, a Roman Catholic priest, tells the Associated Press. "What could they do? Their houses have been burned. The police came yesterday, but it was too late." News is only trickling out of the area, but it seems that groups like Laskar Jihad are bringing in Islamic radicals from all over the area to drive the Christians out, even sending in bulldozers to destroy homes, churches, and schools. At least eight people have died this week, but the history of the area suggests there may be many more. At least 1,000 have died in religious fighting in the last two years.

Senate doesn't ban human cloning
The Senate had a chance to ban human cloning yesterday, but didn't. There was some healthy debate over the merits of a six-month moratorium on cloning, but eventually it didn't matter. Reports The New York Times, "The bill failed overwhelmingly on a procedural motion, in part because it was bundled with another contentious but unrelated measure that would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Republican leaders had hoped to force a vote on the issues by packaging them into an amendment to an unrelated bill governing retirement benefits for railroad workers." Why on Earth did Republicans tie a cloning moratorium to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? A resolution congratulating the National Zoo on its baby elephant wouldn't have passed if it had been tied to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Expect another vote after the Senate holds hearings. They start today, with Mike West, president of the company that made the big cloning announcement last week. The Los Angeles Times gives a preview: "As a young evangelical Christian, Michael D. West would protest outside abortion clinics, urging women to consider the value of life growing within them. Today, he will tell a Senate panel why he is now a leading advocate for a far different proposition: cloning humans as a way to cure disease, even if it means destroying human embryos."

Elsewhere, Britain has banned reproductive human cloning, and the European Union voted 316-37 against a cloning ban.

Military says rescue of Burnhams very risky
"The challenge is how to rescue the Burnhams without them getting injured," Philippine military Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan told reporters yesterday. "The risk of a rescue is very high. No matter how many troops we deploy in the jungles of Basilan, he is literally chained to one of the terrorists. … The report we received from one of the hostages we have recovered is that once they start moving and once they get a report that soldiers are around, they immediately chain Mr. Burnham to one of them and drag him along."

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Meanwhile, family and friends of the Burnhams are trying to put pressure on Washington to do more to free the hostages. Kansas City churches are circulating petitions. Late last week, the family watched the videotaped interview of the Burnhams. "[Mom] looked like she was in pain," Mindy, 12, told The New York Times. "No matter if they die or come home, I prayed not to let them suffer anymore. … I get mad at [God] a lot. I know that Mom wouldn't want me to be mad at God. And Dad wouldn't either." Martin Burnham's father, Paul, expressed similar feelings. "We don't know what God is doing, we just know we have to trust him," he said. "Maybe somehow or other, God has a better plan than we know about."

There's still no video available of the interview, but some photos have been posted on the site of the Philippine channel that ran it.

Civilization has its side effects
Critics have long accused Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International of damaging indigenous cultures even as they create written forms for native languages. They have also been (falsely) accused of being a cover for the CIA and American oil operations in Latin America. (The most strident criticisms can be found in out-of-print books such as David Stoll's Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire: The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America and Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett's Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil.) Their main purpose is to translate God's Word into the "heart language" of the people.

This week The New York Times Magazine joined earlier critics as Ron Suskind chronicled Wycliffe-induced cultural changes among the Ibitan people on tiny Babuyan Claro, separated from the Philippine mainland by 100 miles of choppy sea. Suskind writes with a much lighter touch than some earlier Wycliffe critics. But he resorts to the Rousseauian myth of the bon sauvage.

The Ibatan passed the decades in a kind of serenity. Though they did dispense with a few unlucky visitors, they were otherwise peaceful. They wore clothes of pounded bark and found herbal remedies in python gallbladders. Their world evolved with a gentle, premodern rhythm—until the day, in 1977, when a 29-year-old missionary named Rundell Maree slipped off a boat into the water, carrying his shortwave radio overhead …

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Of course, everything is downhill from there. Rundell Maree brought them a clean water system (which destroyed the communal interchanges at the island's springs), he brought them their own history in writing (which destroyed their peaceful sense of timelessness and turned some of them into driven achievers), and he brought them the material things of civilization (which created a division between the haves and have-nots). Oh yes, he brought them the Bible, too. Suskind barely mentions the main reason for Wycliffe's work.

Suskind pads his prose with references to Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Alexis de Toqueville. With jaundiced eye, he interprets the creation of wealth into the makings of class struggle. Curiously, he never produces any evidence of actual class struggle beyond garden-variety covetousness.

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Church & state:

Christianity and Islam:

  • My view of Islam | I do not believe Muslims are evil people because of their faith. I personally have many Muslim friends. But I decry the evil that has been done in the name of Islam, or any other faith - including Christianity. (Franklin Graham, The Wall Street Journal—requires subscription)
  • A call to convert Muslims divides Christian groups | At first, the Ramadan observance was meant as a gesture of solidarity (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Gaza Muslims dig up their Christian roots | Palestinian archaeologists have unearthed an undamaged fifth-century mosaic in the Gaza Strip at a site believed to be the location of the oldest monastery in the Middle East (The Daily Telegraph)
Jerusalem mosque controversy

  • Israel denies sowing religious rift | Christians, Muslims battling over construction of mosque near Nazareth church (Associated Press)
  • Churches step up mosque protest | Heads of the 13 main Christian churches in Jerusalem urged Israel to revoke a decision to let the mosque be built near the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (The Times, London)
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The battle for Accokeek:

African churches and the Internet:

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