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Devil in the details

Religion | The Church of England waters down baptism

Issue: "The Battle for Africa," Feb. 8, 2014

The Anglican Church has introduced a revised version of its baptismal service that replaces language deemed “inaccessible” to unchurched people. In particular, the new ceremony removes promises that parents and godparents had previously made to repent of sin and to “reject the devil.” The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, supports the change.

Even though attendance at British Anglican congregations is generally quite low, many unchurched parents still wish to have newborns baptized. “In some instances,” the Anglican Liturgy Commission notes, “there are few people present [at a baptism] who have any real understanding of the Church’s language and symbolism.”

The current liturgy, which dates to 1998, has Anglican ministers ask parents if they “repent of the sins that separate us from God,” as well as renounce the devil and “rebellion against God.” The new text simply asks them, on behalf of the baby, if they “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises.” The bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, the Liturgy Commission chair, calls the older reference to the devil “theologically problematic.”

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Conservative Anglican critics, such as Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, have decried the change. “Rather than the constant ‘dumbing down’ of Christian teaching,” Nazir-Ali says, “we should be spending time preparing people for these great rites of passage.”

Schoolhouse Islam

ASSIMILATING? Timur Kumlu teaches Islamic religious education in Frankfurt Main, Germany.
Roland Holschneider/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP
ASSIMILATING? Timur Kumlu teaches Islamic religious education in Frankfurt Main, Germany.

German public schools have begun offering classes on Islam, in an attempt to help assimilate the country’s Muslim population. Islamic organizations had provided similar classes before, but the new courses feature state-developed curriculum taught by teachers who work for the schools. The classes stand alongside ethics-focused curricula on Protestantism and Catholicism, effectively putting Islam on the same level as Christianity. Schools are piloting the program in the state of Hesse.

Germany’s population of Muslims has grown quickly in recent decades, even as the native German population has stagnated under low birth rates. Estimates place German Muslims at about four million people, or 5 percent of the population. Officials have worried about the radicalization of Muslims after repeated exposures of German terrorist cells since the 9/11 attacks. The Hesse courses advocate a peaceful and tolerant version of Islam for Muslim schoolchildren, hoping to counteract jihadist voices the youths might hear elsewhere.

German school leaders have regularly debated how best to integrate conservative Muslims. A court ruled in a 2013 case in Hesse that traditionalist Muslims must allow their daughters to participate in coed swimming lessons, but conceded that the girls can wear “burkinis,” the full-body swimsuits preferred by Muslim traditionalists. —T.K.



A recent exchange hosted by the Religion News Service raised questions about whether evangelicals’ opposition to Obamacare’s contraception mandate might signal growing evangelical resistance to contraception itself. Georgetown University doctoral student Jacob Lupfer, a liberal critic, suggested that religious liberty was not the real reason behind many evangelicals’ stance against the HHS mandate, which requires employers’ health plans to cover contraceptives and abortifacients. Instead, he charged, many evangelicals wish to increase their influence by having more children than irreligious families, and that less birth control would mean fewer women in the workplace and fewer female clergy.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to Lupfer by asking, “Are evangelical protests rooted in concern about religious liberty or about birth control? The answer,” he said, “is yes.” In addition to creating legitimate concerns about religious freedom, Mohler argued, the mandate controversy was also pushing evangelicals toward more mature reflection on contraception and Christian sexuality. Mohler has previously contended that while evangelicals may ethically use contraceptives, they should be wary of adopting a worldly “contraceptive mentality.” —T.K.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.


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