‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions

The preacher who glisten at the royal wedding has returned home to the progressive Reclaiming Jesus movement

Faith leaders working with Bishop Michael Curry to turn his sermons of love into a movement find his invitation to preach at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a moment of divine intervention.

” God use a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time ,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian leader and a founder of the Reclaiming Jesus motion.” My dear friend Bishop Curry was merely being himself in that pulpit. But God stimulated that happen in all kinds of humorous and miraculous ways .”

For 24 hours after the ceremony at Windsor Castle last week, Curry rivaled Pope Francis as the most recognizable faith leader in the world. He was interviewed by major networks on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans asked for selfies. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Then the first African American leader of the Episcopal Church returned home, to embark on a new mission. He wants to address what he and other clergy behind Reclaiming Jesus call” a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches “.

” My hope and prayer is that what we’re really doing is helping the average Christian person of faith find their voice ,” Curry told the Guardian.” We’re trying to find a way to bring people together and the values that we share is our starting place for doing that .”

The 65 -year-old, who was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother after his mother’s death, is the descendent of slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina. His presence at Windsor Castle, a reflection of Markle’s African American ancestry, was a symbolic moment for two countries riven by race and class. In his speech, Curry invoked Martin Luther King Jr and bondage, telling the couple:” Make of this old world, a new world .”

Bishop Michael Curry dedicates an address during the bridal of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Photo: WPA Pool/ Getty Images

That was the message he brought to Washington on Thursday, when he linked limbs with prominent progressive leaders and led hundreds of Christians in silent procession to the White House. On the sidewalk facing the seat of American power, the elders read from a declaration as hundreds raised votive candles.

The Reclaiming Jesus movement, like other progressive religion groups, is asking people of faith to reject public policies that banning refugees and immigrants from the US and equivocations on white ascendancy- without joining a political side.

” We don’t tell people how to vote ,” Curry said.” We don’t tell people exactly what policies they must stand for. We identify what are the values that will guide you in your life. But the rest? That’s between you and God .”

The lengthy founding document listings six core principles the co-signers hope will assist shift the conversation around what they believe are the core teaches of the Bible: a focus on the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. It does not mention Donald Trump by name but it does repudiate his policies and the forces unleashed by his election.

It bellows on Christians to denounce the” resurgence of white patriotism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership”, and repudiates Trump’s America First agenda.

The response from Trump’s most ardent evangelical supporters has underlined how deep divisions are carved- and how difficult it will be to find common ground.

” There is nothing incorrect with putting America first ,” Robert Jeffress, a clergyman at First Baptist Dallas and a prominent member of the president’s evangelical advisory board, told Fox News.” That is what a government is supposed to do. That is God’s responsibility for government. As individual Christians, yes, we set others before ourselves but government doesn’t do that .”

Jeffress told Curry was ” sincere” in his message but also” sincerely wrong” in his understanding of what the Bible tells about the role of government.

Curry said he had expected a strong reaction to the Reclaiming Jesus declaration.

” It’s a spiritual document and spiritual documents are moral and ethical statements so they have implications ,” he told.” We identify culture maladies- we’re not pointing the thumb at anybody. We’re not blaming anybody .”

Asked if he prays for the president, Curry responded without reservation:” I pray for Donald Trump, I do. He’s a child of God, just like the immigrant is a child of God .”

Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington. Photo: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

If Curry had an audience with the president, he said, he would tell him the same thing he tells himself and anybody else he prays for:” Live by the practice of love for your neighbor .”

” Selfish, self-centered living by any or all of us is what the Christian tradition has entailed by sin all along ,” he said.

Before the vigil, Curry returned to the pulpit to deliver a rising if brief sermon at the National City Christian Church.

” Love your neighbour ,” Curry said, in the magisterial cadence now distinguished around the world.” Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbours you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbour, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here !”

Among those listening were John Carr, who runs the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. He said what he saw on Thursday was not a political movement but the” rise of the religious middle “.

” In these incredibly polarizing and frankly demoralizing times ,” he said,” we need a moral message that’s anchored in religion not ideology and politics “.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of silencing victims of child abuse

Scores of alleged victims come forward and describe culture of cover-up in religious group in UK

More than 100 people have contacted the Guardian with allegations of child sexual abuse and other mistreatment in Jehovah’s Witness communities across the UK.

Former and current members, including 41 alleged victims of child sexual abuse, described a culture of cover-ups and lies, with senior members of the organisation, known as elders, deterring victims from coming forward for fear of bringing” rebuke on Jehovah” and being exiled from the congregation and their families.

A Guardian investigation also heard from 48 people who experienced other forms of abuse, including physical violence when they were children, and 35 who witnessed or heard about others who were victims of child grooming and abuse.

The stories told to the Guardian ranged from events decades ago to more recent, and many of the individuals who came forward have now contacted the police.

They told the Guardian about:

An organisation that polices itself and teaches members to avoid interaction with outside authorities.

A regulation set by the main governing body of the religion that means for child sexual abuse to be taken seriously there must be two witness to it.

Alleged child sex abuse victims claiming they were forced to recount allegations in front of their abuser.

Young girls who engage in sexual activity before matrimony being forced to describe it in detail in front of male elders.


Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how do they operate?

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Jehovah’s Witnesses are members of a Christian religion movement. In 2017, different groups reported an average global monthly membership of approximately 8.2 million people, about 137,000 of whom are in the UK.

The organisation is governed by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania corporation, which has its headquarters in New York. It is the primary legal entity use worldwide to direct, administer and disseminate doctrines.

Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs merely on the text of the Bible and ignore” mere human suppositions or religious creeds “. Members reject what they see as the sinful values of the secular world and preserve a degree of separation from non-believers, whom they call” worldly people “.

The congregation is served by overseers, or elders. Only humen can serve in these positions and they are responsible for congregational governance, pastoral run and forming judicial committees to analyse serious sins.

If a Jehovah’s Witness experiences sexual abuse, they are advised to report it to the elders, who will take farther action if there is a second witness to the offence or if the accused acknowledges the abuse. The perpetrator will then be called before a judicial committee.

Someone who commits a serious sin can be “disfellowshipped”. This involves being shunned by the congregation, which for most members includes their immediate family.

Exorcists are back and people are getting hurt | Deborah Hyde

The rise of exorcism to Catholic and evangelical churches is like a new Inquisition, says Deborah Hyde, editor of the Skeptic magazine

Exorcism is intrinsic to Christianity. From driving possessed swine into a lake to expelling a spirit from a boy who foamed at the mouth, Jesus was reasonable to be considered a therapeutic exorcist. So it’s hard to tell some churches to get real and rational- although, regrettably, that message is as relevant as ever.

The Vatican has just set up a new exorcism training course, following an alleged increase in demonic possession. According to the Sicilian clergyman and exorcist Benigno Palilla, be talking about Vatican Radio, there are half a million instances reported in Italy yearly, and demand for assistance has tripled. To claim that such a great number of Italians have been inadvertently contaminated by Satan, like some paranormal STD, is a significant aspersion on a nation of 60 million people. Palilla lays the blame on people who visit fortune-tellers and tarot-readers. These practises” open the door to the demon and to possession “.

A quick breeze around the Catholic Herald website certainly confirms that exorcism is a live topic. And in 2014, the Vatican officially recognised the International Association of Exorcists.

So what’s the problem? The first is that people get hurt. Really hurt. Recent UK government statistics suggest that almost 1,500 child-abuse instances a year are linked to the idea of witchcraft and demonic possession. The Metropolitan police’s Project Violet was set up to explore child abuse connected to spiritual belief. I have written about Nigeria’s ” witch children “. And there was the recent horrific lawsuit in Nicaragua of Vilma Trujillo, who died after being burned alive. This all demonstrates that the hazard is neither localised nor irrelevantly ancient.

Second, those diagnosed as “demoniacs” often get spiritual rather than medical attention. The 2015 suit of a GP struck off for taking a mental health patient to church for an exorcism is probably unusual in this country. But it should go without saying that distressed people benefit more from an evidence-based intervention than a belief that the Dark One is tormenting them.

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are the traditional nominees for a false diagnosis of demonic infestation. The Catholic church includes psychiatric experts on its exorcism panels for balance and information. But there are other confusing conditions. Mental health charities estimate that between 5% and 28% of the adult population hear voices, and that most are not mentally unwell. Sleep paralysis is another common experience that can alarm the individuals who don’t know about it. In both cases, the subject will probably be absolutely fine on finding out that they are neither at the beginning of a personal disintegration nor the target of demons. Superstition is simply not the most constructive therapy.

But another thing bothers me: the class of specialists produced by exorcism courses and professional bodies. These specialists derive status from the practice of their “skills”, in the manner of Maslow’s hammer: when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. An investment in the intellectual models of demonic possession and exorcism can bring catastrophic momentum.

A quick look at history demonstrates how only one trained yet gullible buffoon can wreak havoc: in the witch-hunts of Labourd, in France, in 1609, Pierre de Lancre brought at the least 70 people to the stake. There are many more career witch-hunters of whom similar stories can be told.

The burning of an Anabaptist by the Inquisition in 1571, in an engraving by Jan Luyken. Photo: UIG via Getty Images

Even more worrying is the creation of a whole organization- in which occurrence the momentum becomes harder to stop. The Inquisition started as a body to root out heresy, but soon became a witch-hunting machine with functional specialists workforce- the Dominican order– topic merely to the pope. It generated human misery on a grand scale before it was stopped from burning witches.

I detect some ambivalence within the church itself about possession and exorcism. It must function as a political body that accommodates a very wide range of views. That doesn’t mean that every rector or bishop agrees with all of them.

The formal Vatican decree that approved the International Association of Exorcists recognised it as an organisation of Catholics , not operating in the name of the church, but having some accountability to the Vatican. This would be one way- in the event you couldn’t make the exorcists go away- of maintaining some kind of discipline over them. I hope I’m right in that interpretation.These days the most egregious cases of abuse associated with exorcism are from evangelical churches. This may be because that kind of religiosity appeals to the most isolated, marginalised, often disadvantaged and inward-looking communities.

So how do we balance freedom of speech and faith against possibilities for harm? I would focus on professional exorcists and their fees. The Customer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations cover clairvoyant services, but not exorcism. Where exorcism is charged for, it should be against the law. You shouldn’t charge for fairy dust, and you shouldn’t charge to expel demons.

This wouldn’t affect Catholic services, but it could be used against independent, evangelical “pastors”.( This is where ” respectable ” religion gets off softly compared with “frivolous” superstition .) To stop the faith proliferating, you have to denature the specialists.

* Deborah Hyde is editor of the Skeptic magazine

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Gunmen kill 14 churchgoers after services in Nigeria

Killers reportedly operated at two locations in coordinated attack on Christians returning from churches

Gunmen killed at least 14 churchgoers returning from midnight services on Monday in Nigeria’s Rivers State, a police source said, after the most recent violence to make the oil-rich region.

” The gunmen opened fire on a define of worshippers at about 12.30 am on Monday ,” said Ugochi Olugbo, a relative of one of child victims who were attending a New Year’s Eve service.

The Nigeria Independent reported gunmen operated at two different locations, the Kirigani and Oboh axis of Aligu, Omoku, in a coordinated attack on Christians returning from church services.

” Fourteen persons died on the spot, while 12 who sustained gunshot meanders were rushed to the hospital and are receiving medical attention ,” said a police source who asked to remain anonymous.

Rivers State police public relations officer Nnamdi Omoni could not corroborate the number of casualties.” The commissioner of police, Ahmed Zaki, has furthermore launched a manhunt for the bandits to ensure they are arrested and prosecuted ,” Omoni said.

” The deputy commissioner of police in charge of operation and other tactical heads have been mobilised there to restore peace .”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Same-sex marriage and euthanasia mean annus horribilis Catholic bishop

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher says 2017 has been challenging for our world our country, and each of us individually

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said people of faith might describe 2017 as” annus horribilis because of euthanasia statutes in Victoria, the exposure of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage were failings that challenged” our Christian conceptions of life “.

” Like any year, this one has had its challenges for our world, our country and each and every one of us individually ,” Fisher said in his annual Christmas message.

” For people of faith you might say it’s been an annus horribilis, as our Christian conceptions of life and love have been challenged in the marriage and euthanasia debates; freedom of religion in Australia put in doubt; and shameful crimes and cover-ups in our Church uncovered by the royal commission.

” But the Christmas story insists there is a star in the dark sky, light amidst the anxieties and failures. Christmas speaks of new hope .”

There was a need for renewed hope to unite people, Fisher said. He said the Australian Catholic Youth festival had been a highlight of the year.

” The concourse of young people standing up for religion and ideals says to us that whatever the past failings, we can have hope for ourselves, our families, our church, our nation, our world ,” he said.” Our young person are not naive about the shames in our past or the trials in our future. But they want to be part of the answer to both .”

The Archbishop of Melbourne Dennis Hart had a similarly dark Christmas message.

” We live in a world and a church that is rapidly changing ,” he said in a video.” Every morning we seem to wake up to more bad global news of hurricanes, inundates, drought, flames and even the frightening prospect of the use of nuclear weapons. The gloomines of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, but within our reach, is joy .”

Meanwhile the Anglican Dean of Hobart, Richard Humphrey, gave a nod to Donald Trump in a politically-themed Christmas video in which he wore a red Make Christmas Great Again cap, a play on Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.

He told the ABC that people needed to turn away from fake news and towards” the really good news of Christmas “.

But he also exhorted Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman to tackle pokies-related harm. With the nation due to head to an election in May, the state’s opposition leader Rebecca White said if elected Labor would commit to removing poker machines from saloon and clubs, and would give notice that the present deed letting poker machines in venues other than casinoes would not be extended beyond 2023.

” It is all very well for our premier to be went on to say that we should be able to celebrate Christmas, but we need to make room in the hostel for there to be no pokies as well, these kind of things are related ,” Humphrey said.

” We guess the damage that is being done by pokies in some of our poorest and most needy suburbs needs to be addressed .”

Dr Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, turned to Twitter to deliver his Christmas message this year.

” In short- a newborn born in a shed saves the world #canyoubelieveit ,” his message said.

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How the Queen the last Christian monarch has made faith her message

Over the 65 years of her annual Christmas broadcast, the Queen has begun to take a deliberate turn towards religion

To the royal household, it is known as the QXB- the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. To millions of people, it is still an essential feature of Christmas Day. To the Queen, her annual broadcast is the time when she speaks to the nation without the government scripting it. But in recent years, it has also become something else: a declaration of her Christian faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen’s messages have followed the opposite trajectory.

A survey of the broadcasts made during her 65 -year reign reveals that for most of the time the Queen has spoken only in passing of the religion implication of Christmas. There have been references to presents connecting contemporary Christmas to the three wise men, for example, alongside trips to Commonwealth countries, household events such as weddings and funerals, and there were observations about contemporary society. In 1966, for example, she spoke of the progress of women, and in 1972, she commented on Britain to intervene in the European Community in speech that would make any Remainer proud.

But for the past 17 years, her messages have taken on a different tone, with the Queen explaining her own personal faith-” the anchor in my life”, as she described it in 2014.

Last year she said:” Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for “peoples lives”. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me insure the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe .”

The turning point in the content of the broadcasts was the millennium. Her broadcast in 2000 was devoted to an account of Christ’s life and teaching which, she said,” provide a framework in which I try to lead my life “.

The Queen’s broadcast in 2000. Photograph: Alpha Photo Press Agency

This personal commentary has continued ever since. According to Ian Bradley, professor of cultural and spiritual history at the University of St Andrews and the author of God Save the Queen- The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy ,” this truly attains her Defender of the Faith”- a reference to the title that all monarchs have used since it was first bestowed on Henry VIII in 1521 by Pope Leo X before he violated with Rome. Indeed, Elizabeth II’s faith impresses the papacy today, so much that one senior Vatican official described her to me as” the last Christian monarch “.

Explanations for these overtly Christian messages differ. Some royal watchers suggest that it was the Queen’s decision to use the 2,000 th anniversary of Christ’s birth as an opportunity to speak openly about Christianity. Others saw the hand of George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury. Bradley watches the influence of Prince Philip at work.” After her very personal account in 2000, she was encouraged to continue because I’m told she received 25 times more letters than usual from the public in response to that Christmas message than others, and she had huge support from the Duke of Edinburgh .”

But Stephen Bates, a former royal correspondent and author of Royalty Inc : Britain’s Best-Known Brand , believes it was the death of the Queen Mother that changed her.” She loosened up after her mother’s death. The Queen Mother kept a beady eye on her and now she is more relaxed ,” he said.” She expresses more of what she feels. I think this openness about her own commitment is an example of it as well .”

Before 2000, the Queen’s most explicit commitments of religion were made during a 1947 radio broadcast, when she spoke of dedicating her life to service, and ended it by saying,” God help me to make good my pledge” and at her coronation service.

Accession to the throne also meant she became supreme governor of the Church of England, the established church, and since then her public life has been inextricably shaped by religion occasions: being ensure by TV audiences at church at Christmas and Easter, distributing Maundy money on Maundy Thursday and attending the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph.

But it is the Christmas broadcast where the personal, as well as public, is evident. No government officer is involved. Instead, the individuals who cast an eye in advance over what she has written will be her private secretary , now Edward Young, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh. Lord Chartres, the recently retired bishop of London, has long been the go-to theological adviser to the royal family and is believed to proffer advice as well. Regular themes include forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion and, most often, service.

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, who, as Dr Rowan Williams, served as archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, said that at times Lambeth Palace was consulted.” We were occasionally asked for any believes we might wishes to throw in .”

Last week, the BBC admitted that it has been reflecting a secular version of Britain and needs to do more to hold up a mirror to faith in Britain. According to Williams, the Queen has been bridging the divide.” I think that as there has been less overt Christian’ messaging’ in the general culture surrounding, the Queen has deliberately decided to fill the gap ,” he said.

The recent messages always refer to Britons of other faiths, too. Williams also insures a is connected with the recent Christmas messages and a landmark speech the Queen made in 2012 at Lambeth Palace at the start of her diamond jubilee year, when she described the Church of England as, in fact, an umbrella under which other religions could shelter.

” I think it is related to her posture as supreme governor and in line with her speech at Lambeth in 2012 about the Church of England’s responsibility to be a positive gatekeeper for faith at large in the nation, without sacrificing its particularity ,” he said.

At her desk after devoting the first broadcasted Christmas Day broadcast in 1957. Photograph: Popperfoto/ Getty Images

The tradition of the royal Christmas message was begun in 1932 by the Queen’s grandfather, George V, and continued under her parent, George VI.” George V wasn’t especially devout but the Queen’s father was ,” said Bradley. They began as radio broadcasts but became televised in 1957 and have been recorded at Buckingham Palace- once, famously, by David Attenborough in 1986 in a stable at the Royal Mews -Windsor Castle and Sandringham in Norfolk.

With the Queen now 91, believes turn to the succession. The Prince of Wales has become more public in confessing his own religion in recent years. Last week, at a service for persecuted Syrian Christians, he said:” We must do what we can to support our fellow Christians .” It looks likely, then, that as king he will follow his mother and attain his Christmas message a personal credo.



‘Let us set out to build a truer knowledge of ourselves and our fellowmen, to work for tolerance and understanding among the nations and to use the tremendous forces of science and learning for the betterment of man’s lot upon this earth.’


‘In the modern world the opportunities for women to devote something of value to the human household are greater than ever, because, through their own efforts, they are now beginning to play their full part in public life.’


‘Britain and these other European countries see in the Community a new opportunity for the future. They believe that the things they have in common are more important than the things which divide them, and that if they work together not only they, but countries around the world will benefit. We are trying to create a wider family of nations and it is particularly at Christmas that this family should feel closest together.’


‘To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great consolation in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.’


‘For Christians, as for all people of religion, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.’


‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever religion or none.’


‘Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for “peoples lives”. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me ensure the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.’

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Christmas violence and arrests shake Indian Christians

There has been a surge in anti-Christian attacks following the election of Narendra Modis Hindu nationalist government

The strains of Hindi carols have rung out in the Aligarh Church of Ascension every Christmas since 1858. Armed police on the grounds is a most recent tradition.

This year the officers will be out in force. On Thursday night in the north Indian city, Rahul Chauhan was playing tabla drums while the rest of his Seventh-Day Adventist choir sang Christmas songs in the home of a follower.

Outside, a small group of men had met. One forced his route into the room.” He kicked the musical instruments before trying to assault my brother with a knife ,” said Jitesh Chauhan, a singer in the group.

He claims the men cast anti-Christian slurs and injury the instruments. Rahul and the 30 carollers were unharmed but shaken.

A group of carol vocalists perform in a Christian locality in Aligarh the day after a carol group was attacked with knife by a suspected Hindu activist in Aligarh. Photo: Shaikh Azizur Rahman for the Guardian

Days earlier in Aligarh, hardline Hindu activists distributed letters warning Christian schools in the city against involving Hindu students in Christmas activities. In nearby Mathura, seven Christians were arrested by police while praying inside a home. In Satna, Madhya Pradesh state, an entire choir was detained while going door to door.

Worries about religious persecution in India usually centre on the country’s 180 million Muslims. Lynchings of Muslim dairy and cattle merchants by” cow protection” vigilantes have become increasingly frequent. Hindu groups including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party( BJP) openly hall to stop Muslims buying property in Hindu neighbourhoods.

The series of Christmas incidents has turned the spotlight on another minority. More quietly, Indian Christians are also feeling the walls close in, says John Dayal, the secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, following a surge in attacks last year.” Anything that impacts the Muslims in a different way impacts the Christians ,” he says.

In 2014, Indians elected a Hindu nationalist government in a landslide. Its leader, Narendra Modi, is a lifelong adherent of “Hindutva”, the conviction that India’s culture and institutions ought to reflect an inherent Hindu nature. Religion minorities- regarded as Hindus led astray by foreign influence- are tolerated, provided they acknowledge Hindu hegemony.

Modi has repeatedly emphasised his government will promote” complete freedom of faith”, but his altitude has been a green light for radical Hindutva groups, says Dhirendra K Jha, an author whose latest volume studied these” darknes armies “.

” After Modi became “ministers “, these groups started supposing they have assumed power, it is their government ,” Jha says.” So they have gone amok. They don’t fear law and order or any democratic institution. They are on a rampage .”

Christian clergyman Rajpal Samuel with a first generation Christian family. Hindu groups claim that pastors, are forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. Pastor Samuel said such charge is baseless.” If people are embracing Christianity they are doing it strictly of their own free will .” Photograph: Shaikh Azizur Rahman for the Guardian

A” perfect parallel”, he says, is the growing boldness of white nationalist groups in the US under Donald Trump.

” Modi would never come out and openly help them ,” Jha says.” But he rarely criticises them. Because of his stillnes, the message goes to the state machinery that they don’t have to take action against them .”

One popular calumny is that Muslim humen are trying to woo Hindu women as part of a” love jihad “. The dread is regularly fanned by senior BJP leaders. Two weeks ago, a Rajasthan state man, Shambhu Lal Raigar, raved about love jihad as he use a pick-axe to murder Mohammed Afzarul, a migrant labourer, in an attack filmed and posted online.

For Christians the primary charge is of” forced conversions “.” It means putting pressure on people to convert, sometimes physically ,” says Dayal.” But according to[ Hindutva groups] it is unable to mean anything from praying for Jesus to mend you, to offering to put you in a Christian hospital or school, to paying a person American dollars or British pounds .”

In practice, any kind of public prayer in the presence of Hindus- particularly the downtrodden Dalits, formerly “Untouchables”, whose leaders regularly threaten to abandon Hinduism- can attract police attention.

One morning in October, a group including Hindus and Muslims arrived at the Faith Assemblies of God Church for a workshop on accessing government welfare. The mob piqued the mistrust of neighbours, who tipped off local hardliners.

” Around 20 or 30 people of this group came into the church and started threatening people ,” says Joel R George, who assists his disabled parent to operate the ministry.

A village church in a Hindu-dominated village of Asroi in Aligarh district. In 2014 Hindu activists stormed into the church and installed Hindu idols on its pulpit aiming to convert it to a Hindu temple. Photo: Shaikh Azizur Rahman for the Guardian

Police arrived in their aftermath and detained several people including George, releasing them after it was clear no religious ceremony had taken place.

” The men constructed videos and interrogated people ,” George says.” They asked: are they devoting money to you? Are they converting you ?”

The roots of Christianity on the subcontinent stretching as far back as AD52, writes the historian William Dalrymple. For centuries, western wanderers in south India returned with tales of Christians who traced their origins to the arrival of Saint Thomas in Kerala state nearly two decades after Jesus’ death.

The seeds of the contemporary backlash were sown centuries afterwards, when British evangelists fanned out across colonial India to win souls for Christ, inspiring several princely states to institute statutes restriction conversions.

In recent decades, Hindutva ire has focused on evangelical campaigns such as the AD2000 project, which sought to deluge north India with American missionaries and money, aimed especially at Dalits trying to shed the burden of their caste.

Critics such as Arun Shourie, a journalist and former BJP politician, say such efforts largely rendered” rice Christians”- shallow converts swayed by offers of food and welfare.” They join out of necessity, and when necessity obligates them they will join something else ,” Shourie says.

Today, at the least eight Indian nations prohibit conversion by force, fraud or incentive, with BJP leaders repeatedly pushing to take the bans nationwide.

India’s largest international donor, the Christian charity Compassion International, was forced to cease its Indian operations in March after the governmental forces cut off its foreign fund over concerns it was using the money for proselytisation.

In contrast, Hindutva groups freely conduct mass conversions of Muslims and Christians in ceremonies they call ghar wapsi , or “homecoming”.

In this charged atmosphere, pastors and priests in Aligarh assiduously avoid the C-word.” We don’t convert. We induce followers for Jesus ,” George says.

” I haven’t converted anyone in five years ,” says Rev Jonathan Lal.” People come to us, sometimes they’re non-Christians, and I pray for them .”

” People assure the miracles, they watch the healing ,” says an elder at the Ascension Church, Vincent Joel, his voice rising.” They want to come. What should we do? Chase them away ?”

Children are busy cleaning and decorating a church for the Christmas in a small Christian locality in Aligarh for Christmas celebrations. Photo: Shaikh Azizur Rahman for the Guardian

However many new adherents can be persuaded to file past the police for Christmas mass on Monday, Christian numbers in India will remain small.

The faith has relatively few adherents to show for its two millennia on the subcontinent, and the millions of dollars and hours its champions have spent trying to sway Indian hearts.

” Our population in India is merely 2.3% ,” says Joel, in the church courtyard.” If we did so many conversions we should be increasing. But “weve been” shrinking .”

Not so, says Dayal. Venerating” sometimes in the dead of night”, rarely registering new converts with the nation, flocks in the Indian hinterland are holding steady, he says.

” Christians will survive, even as an underground church ,” he adds.” We have survived here for 2,000 years .”

Additional reporting by Shaikh Azizur Rahman .

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Why Christmas is for everyone | Julian Baggini

An atheists Christmas celebrates hospitality and generosity just like a Christians, says Julian Baggini

Although I’m a card-carrying atheist, I have some pity with those who argue that a Christmas without Christ or a mass is as meaningless as celebrating a birthday without a birth, or a jubilee without a coronation.

However, traditions have a habit of violating free from their roots. Nobody is calling for Saturday or Wednesday to be renamed because we no longer worship Saturn or Woden, the Roman and Norse deities who gave the working day their names. The fact that hundreds of years ago our pagan midwinter celebration was refashioned and renamed after Jesus does not give Christianity ownership of it in perpetuity.

Disgruntled Christians would do better to seek common cause with anyone else, including thoughtful atheists, who are interested Christmas to stand for more than only shopping and overeat. If they did so, they would see that a good atheist Christmas looks a lot like a good Christian one.

The nativity myth centres on the birth of a child, but you don’t need to believe in the narrative of the manger and the Magi to utilize Christmas as a time to celebrate the family, in spite or perhaps even because of its strains. The distasteful consumerism of Christmas today is simply an excess of a laudable desire to set extra resources into a once-a-year coming together.

This should promote gratitude, which in turn describes our attention to those who lack family support or the material resources to push the boat out. So Christmas is also a day of hospitality and generosity. Many will be inviting people outside their families to share their Christmas lunches, while seasonal charity appeals( including that run by this newspaper) show that splashing out on ourselves is not incompatible with caring for others.

Most plainly, Christmas is in effect a gala of the winter solstice, four days late. Christians might think this is impious paganism, but all human cultures mark the passage of the seasons, whether they worship deities, nature or nothing at all. We can all be cheered by the lengthening of the working day and the prospect of spring.

Much of the value of Christmas is the same for anyone, irrespective of religious faith, or lack of it. But just as Christians bring their own distinctive religion to the holiday, so atheists appreciate an facet of it that remains inaccessible to believers.

Atheists are not just people who don’t believe in God. Put positively, our belief is that the natural world is all that there is. Merely by fully accepting this fact can we live good lives that are true to our nature. The commemorate of midwinter brings these truths home. It reminds us that the cycle of life and death turned for aeons before we were born and will continue its rotations for aeons after. It exemplifies the legitimate hope that darkness can be followed by illuminate but not the false hope that we can ultimately escape the fate of all living things. In our feasting, we are asserting the value of appreciating the very best things while we have them, while remembering that nothing is meant to last, for good and for bad.

These faiths are not for the most component shared with Christians. But the solemnity with which we meditate on them and the elation with which we act on them very much echoes their blend of moral seriousness and gala at Christmas. By recollecting we’re all just trying to work out how to live good lives in the harshness of a sometimes cruel and perplexing world, we can share the Yuletide hope for peace on earth and goodwill to all.

A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World by Julian Baggini is published by Quercus at PS9. 99. To order a transcript for PS8. 33 going to see bookshop.theguardian.com

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Pope Francis: fake and sensationalised news ‘a very serious sin’

Pontiff bellows on journalists to report precise, complete and correct information , not one-sided reports or old news that has been dealt with

Pope Francis has criticised journalists who dredge up old scandals and sensationalise the news, saying it’s a” very serious sin” that hurts all involved.

Francis, who plans to dedicate his upcoming annual communications message to” fake news”, told Catholic media on Saturday that journalists perform a mission that is among the most “fundamental” to democratic societies.

But he reminded them to provide precise, complete and correct information and not to provide one-sided reports.

The pope said:” You shouldn’t fall into the’ sins of communication :’ disinformation, or dedicating simply one side, calumny that is sensationalised, or libel, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today .”

He called those actions a” grave sin that hurts the heart of the journalist and hurts others “.

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Christians should pray for Prince George to be gay, says minister

Very Rev Kevin Holdsworth says C of E will be forced to support same-sex marriage if the Lord blesses George with the love of a fine young gentleman

Christians should pray for Prince George to be homosexual to force is supportive of same-sex matrimony in the Church of England, a senior Scottish Episcopal church minister and LGBTQ campaigner has said.

The Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, stimulated the comments in a blog he reposted about LGBTQ inclusion in the Church of England following the announcement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s involvement.

In the post, he writes that Christians should pray” for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, where reference is grows up, of a fine young gentleman “.

A former chaplain to the Queen, the Rev Gavin Ashenden, has described specific comments as “unkind” and” profoundly un-Christian”, and said the prayer was the” theological equivalent of the curse of the wicked fairy in one of the fairytales “.

Speaking to Christian Today, Ashenden said:” To pray for Prince George to grow up in that route, particularly when part of the high expectations he will inherit is to produce a biological heir with a woman he loves, is to pray in a way that would disable and undermine his constitutional and personal role.

” It is an unkind and destabilising prayer. It is the theological equivalent of the curse of the wicked fairy in one of the fairytales. It is un-Christian as well as being anti-constitutional. It is a very long way from being a blessing for Prince George .”

The full post by Holdsworth about Prince George is part of a list of nine suggestions to force-out LGBT inclusion in the Church of England.

” If people don’t want to engage in campaigning in this way, they do in England have another unique option, which is to pray in the privacy of their hearts( or in public if they dare) for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, where reference is grows up, of a fine young gentleman ,” it reads.

” A royal bridal might sort things out remarkably easily, though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen. Who knows whether that might be sooner than things might work out by other means ?”

* The headline on such articles was revised on 1 December 2017 because an earlier version referred to the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth as a C of E minister. He is a minister with the Scottish Episcopal church. This has been corrected.

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