The Christmas message
The president's Christmas message reads like a statement of faith. After speaking of "a greater good" in a time of "great evil," he lays the story on the line: "According to the Gospel of Luke, two thousand years ago, the savior of mankind came into the world. Christians believe that Jesus' birth was the incarnation of God on earth, opening the door to new hope and eternal life. At Christmastime, Christians celebrate God's love revealed to the world through Christ. And the message of Jesus is one that all Americans can embrace this holiday season—to love one another."
Someone ought to tell Andrew Furlong that this is at the core of what Christians believe. The Church of Ireland dean used his Christmas message to attack everything that Christmas is about. "I believe God is a God of infinite love and that human beings are of sacred and ultimate worth," he said. "But I don't believe Jesus is his son or that he is divine or savior." Speaking more specifically of the Christmas story, Furlong said, "I believe in a God of love who cradles the world in all its trouble but not in a God who came as the babe of Bethlehem to be cradled in a stall." In a shocking display of a European church actually taking action against such comments, the Church of Ireland withdrew his authority as a priest withdrawn for three months "to facilitate a period of quiet during which the Dean may reflect on his statements." If he still wants to preach that Jesus was just "a self-effacing man who pointed people to God," he may lose his authority altogether.
Salvation Army loses Moscow appeal, but refuses to give up
The Salvation Army's legal battles for survival in Moscow—a story even odder than the church's recent battles here in the United States—reached another turning point this month as the Appeal Court upheld a lower court's decision to liquidate the church and ban it from the city. Supposedly, Moscow officials' beef with the Salvationists is that they call themselves an Army. "The Salvation Army has all the attributes of a military organization," Vladimir Zhabankov, deputy head of the Moscow city Justice Ministry, complained to the BBC. It's a totally insane argument. Army officials, meanwhile, say the real reason they're being persecuted is that they won't pay bribes. (Check Stetson University's Russia Religion News for updates.)
Peggy Wehmeyer: 9/11 is the biggest religion story of the millennium
In an online chat with readers of The Christian Science Monitor, former ABC News religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer called the September 11 attacks "the biggest religion story of the millennium." "I don't think it [is] the aftermath that makes it the biggest story," she said. "I think the fact that a group of people, totally devoted to their God, who are trying to practice their religion, would do it by killing thousands of innocent civilians, makes this the biggest religion story of the millennium." Really? In 1054, Western and Eastern Christian churches split in the Great Schism. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Even by Wehmeyer's body-count standards, September 11 doesn't hold a candle to the siege of Jerusalem in 1099. Wehmeyer must mean it's the biggest religion story of the third millennium A.D. so far. Even in the last few years, however, clashes between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and Nigeria have both come pretty close to the death toll of September 11. Hmm. Maybe the biggest religion story of the millennium—in a grand sense—is the last thousand years' clashes between Christians and Muslims.
No Weblog until Wednesday
Merry Christmas, everybody. Christianity Today assistant online editor Todd Hertz will be filing Weblog next week. Ted Olsen will return New Year's Eve.
- A girl on a hillside | Little is known about the Virgin Mary (ABCNews.com)
- Ol' St. Nick's home is a very long way from the North Pole | Turkish town struggles to save church where 'Santa' served (The Washington Post)
- HUD: Symbols shouldn't be banned | Religious symbols for faith-based events okay in public housing, says government (Associated Press)
- Winter break | There are many thoughtful ways schools can handle these cultural and religious conflicts so as to actually advance student knowledge. Removing Christmas from a school calendar is not one of those ways. (Editorial, The Denver Post)
Martin and Gracia Burnham:
- Burnhams wrap up their trip to capital | The couple meets with a White House aide and FBI officials, among others, on their kidnapped son and his wife. (The Wichita Eagle)
- The Abu Sayyaf-Al Qaeda connection | Officials see bin Laden ties to Abu Sayyaf, but do the ties remain strong? (ABCNews.com)
Cathedral of St. John the Divine fire:
- N.Y. fire damages largest U.S. church | Gift shop gutted, 17th-century tapestries marred at Cathedral of St. John the Divine (The Washington Post)
- Also: Cathedral is bruised, but remains sacred haven (The New York Times)
- Also: 2 of cathedral's baroque tapestries lie in a soggy, charred pile (The New York Times)
- The cathedral fire | This fire comes as a reminder of a place where all the cacophonous brashness of secular life suddenly grows silent amid the interior echoes (Editorial, The New York Times)
- Also: Power strip sparked fire at St. John (New York Post)
Church and state:
- School prayer developments | The courts are confusing the issue with inconsistent decisions (Editorial, The Kansas City Star)
- Louisiana school board OKs Bible course | High school juniors and seniors can take "The Bible as History and Literature" as elective (Associated Press)
- Virginia defends military college's dinner prayers | Evening dinner prayer is intended for development of military leaders, not for religious indoctrination, says lawyer (Associated Press)
New York's homeless:
- Judge orders end to rousting of homeless near church | A federal judge ordered the police to end its policy of ejecting the homeless from the grounds of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. (The New York Times)
- Also: Ruling favors church, homeless (Newsday)
Islam and Christianity:
- No offense, but Muslims love Jesus as much as Christians do | Taking note of The Muslim Jesus, by Tarif Khalidi (John Casey, The Daily Telegraph)
- Is Bush too nice to Islam? | So says a growing group of conservative Christians. (Beliefnet)
Billy Graham goes to Texas:
- Graham crusade planned | Evangelist's first event in area since 1971 to be at Texas Stadium (The Dallas Morning News)
- Graham to preach at Texas Stadium (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
- Rev. Graham to hold Dallas crusade (Associated Press)
- Billy Graham accepts invitation to hold October 2002 mission at Texas Stadium (BGEA press release)
- Connecticut attorney general probing divinity school | State investigation follows internal audit, dean's resignation (The Hartford Courant)
- Teen charged with nun's killing | 19-year-old Dubliner allegedly murdered 68-year-old nun in broad daylight (Associated Press)
- Nigeria angry over human rights report | Officials say they tried to stem violence (Voice of America)
Other stories of interest:
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