Christians have often been at the forefront of communication technology—from Martin Luther’s use of the printing press to make religious texts accessible to the masses, to religious radio programs, televangelism, and Bible apps. In April Pope Francis recorded a TED Talk to communicate his “revolution of tenderness” message, and many houses of worship have turned to technologies like blogs and social media to share religious messaging with broader congregations.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global risk and a topic where religious actors have the potential to play significant roles. Partly due to the over- and improper use of antibiotics, AMR contributes to the development of resistant strains of diseases that can lead to longer and more complex illnesses, frequent doctor visits, the need for stronger and more expensive drugs, and potentially more deaths. The World Health Organization 2015 action plan highlights AMR as a deepening global crisis. In response, Georgetown University helped organize a conference at the Vatican in December 2016 where experts met to develop plans for religious NGOs, scholars, and policymakers to help combat the spread of AMR. Historically, faith-linked organizations have been integral in providing health services around the world, such as administering vaccines, facilitating health education, and bridging gaps between government health structures and local communities. Thus, they are on the front lines of battling AMR.
Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, more than 11,000 non-governmental organizations in the nation have been barred from accepting foreign funds. This crackdown curtails the flow of foreign aid to activities the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the regulation of foreign charities, deems “detrimental to the national interest” of India. Few NGOs have been as vocal as Compassion International, a Colorado-based Christian charity, which was forced to close after 48 years on suspicion of religious conversion. Compassion International, India’s largest single foreign donor, donates $45 million annually and provides tens of thousands of impoverished children with meals, medical care, and tuition payments via local church-affiliated service centers. Numerous secular civil society organizations, particularly those involved in human rights and empowerment, such as the Open Society Institute have suffered restictions and closures similar to Compassion International.
Every five minutes a child somewhere dies a violent death. Speaker after speaker cited this and other horrifying figures relentlessly during a three day event organized by the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Panama City last week. The sobering realities of violence take many forms: child marriage, child soldiers, bullying, abuse, gang pressures, female genital cutting (FGM/C), sexual exploitation and trafficking, and on and on. Even listening to the litany is painful.
Katherine Marshall recently spoke with John Allen Jr. of Crux ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign, an annual push to raise awareness of and increase appreciation for religious liberty around the world. During the interview, they touched on the diversity of definitions and understandings of religious freedom that exist. Conversation then turned to the timely issue of proselytism, and particularly, ethical concerns about any conditionality in humanitarian situations. Katherine also spoke about perceptions of the religious dimensions of conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria and highlighted the key roles that faith actors played during the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
In an effort to more effectively articulate the need to uphold religious freedom in the international sphere there is a growing need to more clearly articulate just what it is that is being defended. Having written previously in the Berkley Forum about the need to significantly enhance the religious literacy of foreign services in western liberal democracies, I would like to expand on one particular aspect of what religious freedom is and also what it is not.
In a country that has been in an official state of emergency since November 2015 following a series of violent incidents, the upcoming (now settled) French presidential election is causing deep divisions on issues like immigration and terrorism. Some candidates have deployed anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric in their campaigns, while others have condemned Islamophobia and defended French Muslims. Far-right Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron will likely progressed from the first round of voting on April 23 to the May 7 runoff between the two.
A family member asked in some bewilderment why on earth I posted a photo on Facebook showing an officer of the Fairfax County Police Department looking intently at a figure holding a Hindu holy book. The answer? I was fascinated by an event where I was speaking earlier this week: the 11th Annual Inter-Agency Chaplains Conference at Fort McNair in Washington DC. It brought together a mix of military chaplains from each of the military branches as well as public safety chaplains (police, fire, EMS) and other civilian chaplains from around the National Capital Region and beyond. My photo showed an opening Hindu prayer.
Since the Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte took office 10 months ago, nearly 8,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed in the nation’s “war on drugs.” Despite these allegations of extrajudicial executions, polls indicate that Duterte still has the support of majority of the country. This support does not come from many leaders of the Catholic Church, which has launched a resistance movement against the government’s recent actions. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released a statement in February, which urged “elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests.” Two weeks later, thousands of Catholics marched in the capital city of Manila to call an end to the bloodshed.
The mountaineering bug bit me while I was exploring the Scottish Highlands, and I have been looking for a new adventure ever since. Most recently, I jumped at the opportunity to hop on a plane leaving Edinburgh behind to tackle the world’s largest volcano (with the exception of those that Hawaii boasts). At 12,198 feet above the Atlantic, my friends and I, deprived of oxygen but basking in the welcoming rays of a blood-red sunrise, looked down upon the clouds shrouding the island of Tenerife. While we returned to our sea-level accommodations, adjacent to the Canarian parliament, we could have sworn that our minds were still suffering from the thin air, as what appeared to be St. Andrew’s cross fluttered above us. One Google search later and, lo and behold, we realized that it was the provincial flag of Tenerife itself, a near carbon copy of that which flies above Scottish parliament. While the origins of this shared signage remain murky at best, this emblem has taken on new meaning since the creation of devolved parliaments within the United Kingdom in 1998, which transferred varying levels of power from the U.K. parliament to those of its constituent member nations.