Coptic Christianity

Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Four weekend reads

1. “The bishops simply do not have anyone looking over their shoulder. Each bishop in his own diocese is pretty much king.”

A massive story broke over the weekend in the Catholic Church’s ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal: a joint investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe concerning American bishops’ failure to police themselves.

The stunning finding:

More than 130 U.S. bishops – or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.

2. “It was an attack on America because it challenges our right to assemble and worship our God in the way we want. It has continued a downward spiral of hate, one that’s prevalent in all corners of the United States.”

After another hate-fueled shooting at a house of worship, an African Methodist pastor from Charleston, S.C., and a Conservative rabbi from Pittsburgh are bound together by “the unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations.”

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Yes, radical Muslims massacre Muslims: A crucial theme in persecution of religious minorities

Yes, radical Muslims massacre Muslims: A crucial theme in persecution of religious minorities

Allow me to take a dive, for a moment, into my GetReligion folder of guilt.

If you follow news about the persecution of religious minorities, then you know a basic fact we have stressed here at GetReligion since Day 1: Radicalized Muslims constantly terrorize and persecute Muslims whose views of the faith they consider "apostate." This is even true in terms of believers targeted by blasphemy laws (see this book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea: "Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide").

I looked at lots of coverage of the recent attack on the mosque in Sinai, in which 300-plus died, and was impressed how quickly journalists noted that this community included high numbers of Sufi Muslims (see this New York Times explainer). This was a case where many journalists saw the key religion angle but, I thought, were not quite sure what to do with it, since that would require discussions of doctrine, worship, etc.

The key: Once again we are talking about a division INSIDE Islam, more evidence of the crucial fact that more Americans need to understand -- that Islam is not monolithic. To cover Islam, journalists have to look at the beliefs of those who are being attacked, as well as those who are doing the attacking.

Now we have a deep-dive by the Times international desk that digs deeper on that Sinai massacre. This is a must-read story: "Motives in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack: Religion and Revenge." Try to stop reading after this overture:

CAIRO -- One day in early November, a small group of elders in a dusty town in the northern Sinai Peninsula handed over three people accused of being Islamic State militants to Egyptian security forces. It was not the first time -- they had handed over at least seven other people accused of being militants in the previous few months.
Three weeks later, militants stormed a packed mosque in the town, Bir al-Abed, during Friday Prayer, killing 311 people in Egypt’s worst terrorist attack.
While the attack was rooted in rising religious tensions between the local affiliate of the Islamic State and the town’s residents, Bedouins who largely practice Sufism, a mystical school of Islam that the militant group considers heresy, the motive appears to have gone beyond the theological dispute.
It was payback, residents and officials said, for the town’s cooperation with the Egyptian military, and a bloody warning of the consequences of further cooperation.

This was not an easy story to report, for obvious reasons.

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News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

Last year the Knights of Columbus sent Secretary of State John Kerry a 278-page report portraying in detail what the title called “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East (.pdf here).”

The media should be paying continual attention to this minority’s disastrous decline in its historic heartland under pressure from Muslim extremists and chaos otherwise.

The largest targeted group is the Copts, the original ethnic Egyptians with a heritage that dates to Christ’s apostles, making up perhaps 10 percent of the national population. In Syria, where “Christians” were first given that name, believers constituted a solid and generally respected 12 percent of the population before the ruinous civil war erupted. Numbers have plummeted there and in Iraq, where Christians constituted 7 percent until recent times. Conditions are also harsh in neighboring countries.

Western media coverage of the Christians’ plight should acknowledge that extremists also visit death and devastation upon legions of their fellow Muslims, including groups regarded as heterodox. Oddly, Syria has been ruled largely by members of one such off-brand minority, the Assad clan’s Alawites.  

Given the complexity of world religions, even a seasoned reporter can miss an important group. And The Religion Guy confesses he was essentially unaware of one, the Alevis, until they were treated July 23 in a comprehensive New York Times report by Turkey correspondent Patrick Kingsley. Foreign Affairs magazine says this religio-ethnic group claims up to one-fifth of Turkey’s 80 million citizens.

Syria’s Alawites and the Alevis are not to be confused, though both are offshoots of Shi’a Islam that developed into new, heterodox forms of Islam if not new religions altogether,  drawing elements from non-Muslim faiths.

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Location, location, location: What do Coptic leaders think, watching coverage of London attacks?

Location, location, location: What do Coptic leaders think, watching coverage of London attacks?

The journalism patterns are familiar by now when terrorists strike one of the important cities of Western Europe. At this point, I don't think the news protocols are as well established for attacks in North America -- because they have not become that "normal," yet.

Surely you have spotted some of the guidelines that have been in effect for some time now.

It's more "conservative" to put references to "Allah" -- in quotes from eyewitnesses -- in ledes or, especially, in headlines. In early coverage, the higher journalists play the religion card, the more "conservative" the publication. For example, it is more "conservative" to state that attackers attempted to cut the throats of victims (because it calls to mind hellish Islamic State videos) than it is to say that victims were merely stabbed. It's easy, for example, to guess which British newspaper used this headline online: 

Terrifying moment three Jihadis were shot dead after killing seven and hurting 48: Gang yell 'This is for Allah' after mowing down crowd on London Bridge then going on stabbing frenzy

That would be The Daily Mail. The overture in its early report punched all the usual buttons: 

Police are today seeking the identities of three Jihadi terrorists who were shot dead by armed police after killing seven people and injuring dozens of others in a horrific van and knife rampage through central London last night. 
The men, described as being 'of Mediterranean origin', mowed down up to 20 revellers as they careered across London Bridge in an 'S shape' at 50mph before they began 'randomly stabbing' people in nearby Borough Market.

We will come back to coverage of this latest attack on and near London Bridge. Before we do, however, I would like to acknowledge that I have received reader emails, in recent weeks, asking this familiar question: Why do attacks in Europe receive so much more attention in American media than terrorist attacks in, let's say, Egypt, Nigeria or Pakistan?

In other words, readers are asking a variation on that old journalism question: How many Coptic Christians have to die in Egypt to equal the death of one urbanite in London (or one tourist from the United States)?

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A powerful, important read: Wall Street Journal on the 'epochal shift' of Christians from the Middle East

A powerful, important read: Wall Street Journal on the 'epochal shift' of Christians from the Middle East

I'm no expert on Christians in the Middle East, but this strikes me as a powerful, important read.

It's an in-depth report from the Wall Street Journal on the "epochal shift" of Christians from the Middle East.

TANTA, Egypt — Like the Jews before them, Christians are fleeing the Middle East, emptying what was once one of the world’s most-diverse regions of its ancient religions.
They’re being driven away not only by Islamic State, but by governments the U.S. counts as allies in the fight against extremism.
When suicide bomb attacks ripped through two separate Palm Sunday services in Egypt last month, parishioners responded with rage at Islamic State, which claimed the blasts, and at Egyptian state security.
Government forces assigned to the Mar Girgis church in Tanta, north of Cairo, neglected to fix a faulty metal detector at the entrance after church guards found a bomb on the grounds just a week before. The double bombing killed at least 45 people, and came despite promises from the Egyptian government to protect its Christian minority.

This story is packed with hard data and gripping detail such as this:

In northern Iraq, blue and white charter buses crisscross neighborhoods of recently liberated Mosul, returning Muslim families displaced by Islamic State. They drive through Christian areas without stopping. For the first time in nearly two millennia, Iraq’s second-largest city, once a melting pot of ancient religions, lacks a Christian population to speak of.
The Al-Aswad family, a clan of masons who built the city’s houses, churches and mosques and trace their lineage back to the 19th century, vow never to return. They’ve opted to live in the rat-infested refugee camps of Erbil in northern Iraq, where they await updates on their asylum application to Australia.
A Christian charity has given them a small apartment until June, at which point they will have to return to the refugee camps to live in a converted cargo shipping container.
“We call it the cemetery,” said Raghd Al-Aswad, describing how the cargo containers are covered with dark blue tarps to protect against the rain. “It looks like dead bodies stacked side by side with a giant hospital sheet on top of them.”

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Attacks on Egypt's Coptic churches: AP focuses on politics, more than suffering people

Attacks on Egypt's Coptic churches: AP focuses on politics, more than suffering people

Readers who know their history realize that the Coptic believers in Egypt are the largest surviving body of Christians in the Middle East, making up about 10 percent of the population of the land that has been their home since the birth of Christianity.

As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I have never understood why the plight of the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as other religious minorities in Egypt, has not received more mainstream press attention in America. I realize that we are talking about a somewhat mysterious church, for many news consumers, but I think most people know where Egypt is located and grasp that it's a major player in that troubled region.

Thus, I want to thank the Associated Press for its unusually long -- more than 1,000 words -- news report on the passage of a glass-half-full piece of legislation in Egypt that may, repeat MAY, help the Coptic Orthodox and others build churches and repair the ones that they have.

I do have a complaint, however, which I will explain in a moment. Basically, I think the editors who sent this out buried the lede, in part because they saw this as a political-process story rather than a story about human rights and the harsh realities of life in Egypt. Here is the overture:

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's lawmakers on Tuesday passed the country's first law spelling out the rules for building a church, a step Christians have long hoped would free up construction that was often blocked by authorities. But angry critics in the community say the law will only enshrine the restrictions.
Church building has for decades been one of the most sensitive sectarian issues in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population of 90 million are Christians but where Muslim hardliners sharply oppose anything they see as undermining what they call the country's "Islamic character."

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A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

Now, here is a very beautiful and unusual story set in Egypt, one describing an astonishingly ambitious work of public art in a highly unusual place.

When I saw the headline -- "Sprawling Mural Pays Homage to Cairo’s Garbage Collectors" -- I immediately wondered if foreign desk at The New York Times was going to nail down the obvious religion hook in this story. Yes, this story contains a powerful religion ghost.

The headline raises two questions right off, one very obvious and one not so obvious: Who are the garbage collectors of Cairo? The second question: The implication of this tribute is that there is some organized or even natural mass of people who collect garbage in one of the most important cities in the Muslim world. Why is this?

Sure enough, there is a strong hint at the religion content at the very top:

CAIRO -- The intricate mural took shape over the past few weeks, little noticed at first, spreading across a harried quarter of Cairo where Egypt’s garbage collectors live, amid overflowing bundles of this overcrowded city’s trash.
By the time the painting was finished two weeks ago, it stretched across more than 50 buildings, making it the largest public work of art here anyone can recall. The mural, a circle of orange, white and blue in Arabic calligraphy, quotes a third-century Coptic Christian bishop who said, “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.”
When the first photographs of the mural circulated, reactions ranged from astonished delight to disbelief. Some people, struck by its seemingly impossible scale, seemed convinced that the images had been digitally altered, according to the man behind the project, a Tunisian-French artist known as eL Seed.

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Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

No doubt about it, journalists really love Pope Francis. In many cases, they love the version of this pope that they have created through misquotes, partial quotes and by ignoring much of what he has to say. Hey, but who am I to judge?

Pope Francis had a lot to say during 2015 and, frankly, I thought that most of it was somewhat predictable, in terms of what we already knew about him. His sermons and addresses during the visit to Acela land in the media-rich American Northeast had lots of substance, but very few surprises.

So here is my question: Would Pope Francis think that he was the world's most important news story in 2015? I think not.

If you were looking for remarks by Francis that received little coverage, consider his steady stream of remarks about the persecution of religious minorities worldwide -- especially Christians in the Middle East. In the following quotes, drawn from a July sermon in a Mass with Eastern Catholics, he even comments on how the powerful have been ignoring this truly historic massacre:

“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I -- as is our end-of-the-year norm -- worked out way through the Religion Newswriters Association poll to pick the Top 10 religion-beat stories. Click here to tune that in.

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Their blood still cries out: Crux opens series investigating global presecution of Christians

Their blood still cries out: Crux opens series investigating global presecution of Christians

If you follow religion news carefully, and you have been on Twitter over the weekend, you are probably aware that John L. Allen, Jr., and the team at Crux -- a Catholic-oriented news site operated by The Boston Globe -- have published the first in what will be a series of occasional stories about the persecution of Christians around the world.

This is not surprising, in light of the fact that Allen (surely one of the most productive reporters working on the religion-beat these days) has produced a book entitled "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution."

It is also significant that a recent Pew Research Center study found, as Allen noted in his opening report in this series, that Christians were harassed either by the government or social groups (think militias or mobs) in 102 of 198 countries -- more than any other religious group. Under normal circumstances, Pew surveys on this kind of news topic tend to lead to bumps in mainstream coverage.

However, talking about the persecution of Christians is not your normal subject, for a variety of reasons. There are people on the cultural left who simply cannot see Christians as anything other than oppressors. For two decades, powerful forces in Washington, D.C., have fought attempts to promote religious liberty at the global level.

Meanwhile, there are also people on the cultural right who -- when looking at the Middle East in particular -- struggle to identify with the groups being persecuted and slaughtered because these ancient flocks are not the right kinds of Christians. (For more information on that topic, see this "On Religion" column that I wrote nearly two decades ago.) Focusing on human rights can also be bad for business, you know.

In light of this deep and diverse skepticism, it's crucial that Allen's main story -- The New Christian Martyrs: Globally, religious persecution is Christian persecution -- includes the following:

Christians are, of course, hardly the only community facing savagery and oppression.

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