Notebook > Religion

Uproar in Egypt

Religion | Hundreds of Coptic teenagers and young men formed a procession outside the church to protest police inaction

Issue: "Faculty follies," April 29, 2006

Thousands of Coptic Christians gathered April 15 at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city, to mourn the death of a worshipper, Nushi Atta Girgis, 78. He was stabbed to death there the night before by a man police said was mentally deranged. The assailant, they said, went on to attack people in two other churches, wounding more than a dozen, before he was caught and arrested.

But church leaders accused the police of a coverup. They claimed the attacks were the work of Muslim extremists who had attacked churches and Christians before, while police stood idly by. Several police sources and other witnesses acknowledged the authorities had taken other attackers into custody, too. Government officials told reporters the assailant wanted revenge on Christians for the recent Danish cartoon depictions of Muhammad.

Hundreds of Coptic teenagers and young men formed a procession outside the church to protest police inaction. Muslim crowds gathered to oppose them. Fighting broke out and spread, with police caught in the middle. By the time things calmed down, scores were injured, and a Muslim man reportedly had died in the melee.

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Coptic Christians account for more than one-tenth of Egypt's 73 million people. They complain of discrimination and occasional assaults, but generally have lived at peace among the Muslim majority.

All aboard

A new U.S. Navy policy for chaplains has been making waves. Some chaplains and their allies complain the regulation bans them from praying in the name of Jesus at almost any function except worship services. Indeed, the new rule says that "religious elements for a command function, absent extraordinary circumstances, should be non-sectarian in nature." It adds that these "religious elements" are subject to "the commander's guidance." A Navy spokesman said that nothing in the regulation "forbids anyone from praying to Jesus or praying in Jesus' name." But, he added, when chaplains give an invocation at a ceremony marking a promotion or retirement, "we ask that they be inclusive."

Religious-freedom advocate John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute objected to placing "the responsibility for determining what is and is not appropriate in such prayers on Navy commanders."

However, said Rev. Herman Keizer, chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces: "There . . . is a changing demographic within the military that makes us acknowledge the fact that we have to attend more to the differences that we have, and if we can find neutral language for our prayers that is not offensive, we can make the choice to use those."

Bulletin Board

Members of the Church of Christ and Mormons came out on top in a Gallup analysis of worship attendance between 2002 and 2005, with Episcopalians near the bottom. Percentage of members who attended services weekly or almost weekly, by denomination or group: Church of Christ, 68; Mormon, 67; Pentecostal, 65; Southern Baptist, 60; nondenominational, 54; Catholic, 45; Methodist, 44; Presbyterian, 44; Lutheran, 43; Episcopal, 32; Jewish, 15.

Catholic Church spending on clergy sexual-abuse-related lawsuits and therapy since 1950 has reached $1.19 billion, the bulk of it within the past few years, church officials announced last month. Altogether, nearly 5,000 accused priests and 12,537 alleged victims, most of them minors at the time of the assaults, have been identified.

Robert Reccord resigned under a cloud on April 17 as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. His departure followed a probe by NAMB trustees into financial and personnel management issues. They criticized, among other things, his awarding a $3 million no-bid media strategy contract to a company owned by a member of the church he formerly pastored. Rev. Reccord blamed his leaving on "philosophical and methodological differences." He said he will stay on as liaison between the NAMB and the Promise Keepers men's ministry.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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