CREEDE HINSHAW: Egyptian Coptic Christians endorse new constitution

FAITH COLUMN: The public stance on the constitution has made many Copts uncomfortable



News in the world of religion is endlessly fascinating. Here are a few items that have caught my attention lately:

COPTS SUPPORT NEW CONSTITUTION IN EGYPT: According to the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 17), the Coptic Church in Egypt threw its public support to approve the new constitution in Egypt’s recent national referendum. The Copts, who constitute almost 10 percent of Egypt’s population, may be the largest Christian minority of any nation in the Middle East.

This ancient church, comprising many of the poor Egyptians, has faced ostracism and endured violence over the centuries. The Copts had suffered under the previous constitution, having experienced heavy oppression under the government of the now deposed Islamist Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. Whether that oppression was part of an overall Islamist strategy or simply the result of a nation trying to find its moorings is uncertain, but the Copts, given the opportunity to vote for a new constitution strengthening religious freedom, took a public position of affirmation.

Reporters Matt Bradley and Tamer El-Ghobashy wrote that this public stance made some Copts, who want their church to eschew politics, very uncomfortable. From our tradition of separation of church and state, it is hard to imagine a church openly involved in political debates. But when one recalls the precarious position of the Copts over the centuries, one can understand their motivation.

Either way, the Coptic Church is taking a chance. Should they have continued to support a flawed constitution favoring the hard-line Islamists or cast their lot with a potentially more open democracy that might guarantee their religious freedom while returning to the days of brutal oppression of fundamentalist Muslims?

IS ALLAH’S NAME COPYRIGHTED? Minority Christians are in trouble with Islam in Malaysia, too, where Christians comprise 10 percent of Malaysia’s population. A Catholic priest there is in legal trouble for referring to God as Allah. As strange as it must seem to us for Christians to refer to God as Allah, the Christian Federation of Malaysia reports that somewhere around 1.5 million Malaysian Christians address God in this fashion.

But addressing God like this infuriates the Islamists who, insisting that Allah can only be used by those who are Islamic, are investigating the priest under Section 4 of the Malaysia Sedition Act. If found guilty, the priest can be imprisoned for up to three years.

BURN DOWN THE OUTHOUSE: National Public Radio reported last week that Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, La., bulldozed its 1959 outhouse. Built during its racist past, the tottering bathroom had separate doors for white and black people. The shameful structure stood long after the hateful practice was abandoned.

The current priest, Father Michael Miceli, burned some pieces of the outhouse during a Wednesday night mass, asked God for forgiveness for the church’s racist past and told his congregation that some of them were still racist, which created more heat than the fire from the burning wood.

Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.