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INTERNATIONAL NEWS 21st May 2018

Sent: Monday 21/May/2018 Topic: International

PROTESTANT LEADER REJECTS COMMUNITY RECONCILIATION SYSTEM IN EGYPT

Source: World Watch Monitor

The head of Egypt's Protestant Church has said he urges clergy not to take part in "reconciliation sessions" that aim to resolve community conflicts without the involvement of the police and legal system. Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki said he "strongly" opposed the scheme because it renders the law "absent". The reconciliation scheme is often used to resolve tensions such as conflict between Copts and Muslims over the building of new churches, but it has been criticised by some Christian leaders. The scheme aims to restore good community relations without needing to involve law enforcement officials.

 

However some Christians, especially in small towns, have complained that they are pressured to simply drop their complaints. "The scheme does not always go in the right direction; sometimes it benefits those who have power. Sometimes they let the criminal escape and give them freedom to repeat what they did," Zaki said. "We are against community reconciliation; we want the law applied and a trial for all criminals, whatever their religion or background." Zaki, who is President of the Protestant Community of Egypt and also Director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, was speaking to a group of journalists in Cairo.

 

He said that there are around two million Evangelicals and Protestants across Egypt, represented by 18 denominations, and that they are the country's second-largest Christian community after the Copts. He said he believed the refusal by Protestant and Evangelical clergy to take part in reconciliation sessions has contributed to decisions to try cases in court, and cited murders of two Copts that had been brought before a judge and resulted in the death penalty in both cases, including for 19-year-old Ahmad Saeed Ibrahim al-Sonbati, who last year murdered Coptic priest Fr. Samaan Shehata in broad daylight in a suburb of Cairo.

 

Zaki said that church attacks, like the one in Tanta last year, have only increased attendance. "Our government does the maximum for our security," said Zaki, who met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in November. "If you go into the local churches, they're like military bases." Metal detectors and armed police are common sights outside many churches, and are believed to have limited the death toll of the suicide attack on Alexandria Cathedral last year. Some security officials, Zaki said, 'were killed on our behalf, so we should admire this too: our state is doing what they can do to protect the Christians".

 

Although Egypt's Evangelical churches have not been targeted by extremists, they too are being protected by armed police. "You can expect at any moment someone may come with a bomb, so every day we trust God," said Zaki. "The good news is, we never fear bombs or death. As long as we are committed to Jesus, every time they bomb the church you have double the attendance." Other Egyptian church leaders agree that after bomb attacks church attendance rises. One reform enacted by Sisi's government is the passage of a law in 2016 that makes it easier to acquire permission to build and renovate churches.

 

This is a sensitive issue that can inflame tensions with local Muslims. Some 4,000 churches are in the process of registering with the government. Zaki said that around 1,000 of them are Evangelical, and between 300 and 400 Evangelical churches have opened in Egypt in the last ten years. New members mainly come from a Coptic Orthodox background he said. The registration process, Zaki said, is "OK, it's not fast, it's not slow." It is, however, an improvement on the previous system in which Christians often had to rely on oral permission to build their churches. "In the past, to get a written licence was like a miracle," he said.

 

Thousands attend Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo each week. There are thought to be as many as two million Evangelicals in Egypt. Zaki said Egypt's churches are also facing challenges from a fundamentalist approach to Christianity spreading on social media, and from a "spirit of rebellion" unleashed following the 2011 revolution known as the Arab Spring. This week, for example, a youth conference was to take place focusing on hermeneutics, the discipline of interpreting Biblical texts. "One of the positives and negatives of social media is creating debate and issues," Zaki said.

 

"In the last two years there has been confusion, debate, criticism, judgment and disbelief of the other." Questions regarding whether stories in the book of Genesis should be read literally or metaphorically are creating "a lot of theological confusion", he said. A big issue for Egyptian Christians is the relationship between the Church and the state, he added. "The majority of middle-aged or old people will be pro the state; young people are divided; the majority against any military background in leadership; not all of them are pro-Sisi," he said, referring to the president's role as head of the armed forces before he took office in 2014.

 

One of the positive outcomes from the 2011 revolution is greater scope for self-expression, Zaki said. But he said the consequent "spirit of rebellion" has extended from rejecting leadership to rejecting the Bible. "This is why atheism is emerging in Egypt," he said, and it is a phenomenon among "Muslims and Christians equally". Official figures do not exist, but the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in Cairo has described atheism as "one of the many challenges facing the country". "You need to deal with it in a wise way. We don't want to push people in the opposite direction, we want to include people," Zaki said.

 

 

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BOMB ATTACKS ACROSS INDONESIAN CITY OF SURABAYA

Source: Compiled by APN from media sources

A wave of blasts, including a suicide bombing, struck churches in Indonesia recently, killing at least nine and wounding dozens of others in the deadliest attack in years to strike the world's biggest Muslim-majority country. The Southeast Asian nation, which has begun the holy fasting month Ramadan this week, has been on high alert over attacks by home-grown militants, including some incidents claimed by the Islamic State group. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the Sunday bombings in Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya.

"Nine people are dead and 40 are in hospital," East Java Police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told reporters, adding that two police officers were among the injured. The official death toll climbed from an initial two killed and may include those who succumbed to injuries in hospital. Three separate locations were hit by the bombings around 7:30am in what appeared to be co-ordinated attacks that included suicide and possibly vehicle bombings. Television footage broadcast by major networks appeared to show a motorcycle driver entering the grounds of a church before a bomb was detonated.

Other images displayed a vehicle engulfed in flames at one location. Police bomb experts were called in to disarm still active explosives at the Gereja Pantekosta Pusat Surabaya (Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church), with an AFP reporter at the scene hearing two loud explosions. Images from one scene showed a body lying outside the gate of Santa Maria catholic church and members of Indonesia's bomb squad poring over the rubble. At least one of the attackers was killed when they detonated their bomb at Santa Maria. It was not clear if any other perpetrators were among those killed or injured.

"I was frightened and many people were screaming," 23-year-old witness Roman said after the blast at Santa Maria church. Police guarded a Sunday mass at another church in the city of Bandung, between the capital Jakarta and Surabaya where the bombings happened. Witnesses there described three consecutive blasts which shattered church windows and a metal roof canopy, and burned cars in the adjacent carpark. The bomb was suspected to be planted in one of the cars parked outside the church. President Joko Widodo, who rushed to the city, described the attacks as "truly savage and beyond tolerable" and said he there were "no words to express the sorrow we feel for the loss of lives".

"This is a crime against humanity and has nothing to do with religion. We must unite to fight against terrorism." The attacks come several days after 5 Indonesian police officers and a prisoner were killed in clashes that saw Islamist inmates take a guard hostage at a high-security jail on the outskirts of Jakarta. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for that incident. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued a joint statement saying Australia condemned the "cowardly terrorist attacks" on the churches as well as Wednesday's attacks at the Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade Headquarters.

"We stand in solidarity with the Government of Indonesia and offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of those killed and injured," the statement said. "Australia remains committed to our close security partnership with Indonesia to combat terrorism, including cooperation between law enforcement and security agencies." Indonesia's 260 million people includes significant numbers of minority Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. There are concerns over rising sectarian intolerance and militancy. Indonesian police shot and wounded a man who attacked a church congregation in the town of Sleman with a sword during a Sunday mass in February.

The archipelago nation of some 17,000 islands has long struggled with Islamic militancy and has suffered a series of attacks in the past 15 years, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, in the country's worst-ever terror attack. A sustained crackdown weakened the most dangerous networks but the emergence of IS has proved a potent new rallying cry for radicals. Hundreds of Indonesians have flocked to fight with IS, sparking fears that extremist outfits back home could get a new lease on life.

A gun attack in the capital Jakarta which left four attackers and four civilians dead in January 2016, was the first assault claimed by IS in Southeast Asia. The attack on a district packed with malls, embassies and United Nations offices left 20 others injured. Previous incidents have included a 2004 suicide car bomb that killed 10 outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, twin bomb blasts that killed 22 in a market in the Central Sulawesi town of Tentena, and a suicide bombing in 2005 that left 20 dead in Bali. Seven people were killed and more than 40 were injured when suicide bombers targeted the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta in July 2009.


 

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CHURCHES URGED TO RETHINK MISSION TRIPS OVER ORPHANAGE TRAFFICKING CONCERNS

Source: Premier News Service

There's concern that short-term mission trips to orphanages around the world could be doing more harm than good. Krish Kandiah, the founder of Home for Good, a fostering and adoption charity, wants the UK to adopt a law which is being brought in in Australia which would limit the often unintentional funding of orphanages where children may be exploited. He said: "One of the things the Australian government has been really revolutionary on is taking the modern day slavery bill that was here in the UK and adding to it a clause around orphan trafficking."

 

Explaining what orphanage trafficking is, Rebecca Nhep from ACCIC international relief, an aid agency in Australia, said: "It's a type of human trafficking that involves the recruitment and movement of children, primarily from their families into institutional care for the purpose of exploitation, which can look like harbouring children in situations which are detrimental to their care and detrimental to their development, or it can also look like for the purpose of orphanage trafficking." Rebecca said many churches don't know that it is "a business model, whereby children are being used as the commodity in order to illicit and attract funding and donations."

 

These orphanages are funded by generous donations, foreign aid budgets and visits from church groups. Rebecca added: "Not every orphanage is exploiting children, but there is certainly an industry that has been created. The church has become a key player in this place because we have been very involved in supporting children's care in overseas countries and in overseas mission trips as well." Particularly in countries where the care system is privatised, there is less regulation and there is more likely to be orphanages in which children actually have parents but are in homes because of poverty. in Cambodia, 80% of children in orphanages have parents.

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BRITISH GPs ARE THE NEW CLERGY STUDY FINDS

Source: Premier News Service

A new study has found GPs are feeling they have become the "new clergy" with more and more patients looking to them to "heal their souls". Alistair Appleby, a GP who wrote the report published in the British Journal of General Practice, had noticed how many of his patients needed spiritual questions answered. Alex Bunn, a GP from the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), told why people are seeking help from GPs over vicars. He explained: "In a previous age people would have gone straight to a pastor when their souls ached and would have recognised that kind of spiritual element. But now, we tend to want a medical label for some of those issues."

 

Interviews with 19 Scottish GPs found some doctors are dismissing the idea of spirituality because they don't believe in organised religion. However Bunn warned GPs not to ignore the spiritual needs of their patients. He added: "I believe we should up-skill and I recommend that Christian healthcare workers get in touch with CMF. We do offer training in how to deal with spiritual enquiries. "We should be better equipped to deal with patients who are asking how can they deal with what are often existential or spiritual problems." Bunn urged GPS and spiritual leaders to continue working with each other to meet the needs of patients.

 

 

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PEERS CALL FOR FAITH SCHOOLS TO COMMIT TO BRITISH VALUES

Source: Premier News Service

A House of Lords committee wants the Government to require faith schools to promote citizenship policies. The Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement would like the Government to put greater emphasis on a need for "shared values of British citizenship", especially in faith schools. The Committee says that the government has associated promoting British values with the Prevent strategy, which aims to prevent radicalisation and terrorism, when these values: "should be taught as important in their own right, not simply as part of a counter-terrorism policy."

 

The values peers want to promote are "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person." Chairman of the Committee, Lord Hodgson, said: "There are British values which we all need to accept, share and defend. Equality before the law is one cornerstone. These are the red lines which govern acceptable behaviour in modern Britain." Lord Hodgson added: "Our values have been insufficiently promoted across Government departments and appear not to be upheld in some communities. "Government action has made these values needlessly toxic by linking them to counter-extremism rather than arguing for them in their own right."

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