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Ex-worldwide head of Anglican Communion visiting Detroit says: Christianity is vital for democracy, rights

Visiting Detroit, a former head of the biggest Protestant group in the world, the Anglican Communion, says that human rights and democracy comes out of Christianity

Published in Detroit Free Press, May 14, 2015

By Niraj Warikoo

— One of the world’s most prominent Protestant leaders is in Detroit this week, preaching that Christianity is vital for democracy, human rights and fulfilling the human soul. But in order for the Christian faith to survive in the West, it needs to reach out and help society or face continued decline, he said.

Lord George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, was once the nominal head of about 80 million Anglicans worldwide, the third-largest Christian group after the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Known for his conservative views, Lord Carey on Wednesday delivered the opening prayer to the state Senate in the Capitol and will speak this weekend at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, the house of worship near Comerica Park that is hosting him.

Speaking to the Free Press, Carey called for Christian churches to be more responsive to the needs of communities to remain relevant. His visit comes the same week that a major new report by Pew Research Center was released, showing that the number of Americans identifying as Christian dropped eight percentage points, from 78.4% to 70.6%, since 2007 – or about five million people.

The drop was especially sharp among mainline Protestants, which include Episcopalians, an American denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. In the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Sunday attendance has declined more than 35% since 2000.

“I would look at a church and say, what do you offer young people, what are you offering elderly people, what are you offering young married couples, offering homeless people?” Carey said in an interview. “It’s about responding to the needs of the society … If your church were to disappear overnight, would your community miss you?”

For a church to remain relevant, it has to be “responding to the needs of the society.”

The fading of Christianity concerns Carey, once described as the Pope Emeritus of conservative Anglicans all over the world.

“Christianity is integral to our democracy” and human rights, said Carey, who led the Church of England from 1991 to 2002. “People make the assumption that Western democracy is based upon the principles of the Enlightenment,” but it comes from Christianity.

“Human rights, parliamentary democracy … flows out of a firm conviction in which God is central … the value of an individual,” he said. “If we leave Christianity behind, where will our moral system end up? I don’t know. I’m slightly worried about that.”

Carey will speak at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic church that has made a comeback over the past dozen years under the Rev. Steven Kelly, who does a more traditional liturgy. Their spike in membership at a time of Episcopal decline shows that traditional views could help stem the decline of Christianity, say church members. While mainline Protestants suffered the greatest loss in membership over the past seven years, evangelical Christians grew by two million, according to the new Pew report.

“Traditional liturgical churches with a solid theological grounding are growing,” said Dennis Lennox, a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who helped organize Carey’s visit. “At St. John’s, our fastest-growing demographic are 20s and 30s, which defies the conventional wisdom and statistics.”

Lennox said that “if mainline Christianity – and specifically Anglicans and Episcopalians – had more Lord Careys, then more churches wouldn’t be scratching their heads, wondering why the pews are empty.”

Carey is also expected to talk about the increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and the importance of religious liberty, two issues that concern many Christians. While he opposes same-sex marriage, he says that “the church ought not to be seen talking so much about sexuality and homosexuality.”

Instead, churches should be engaging people where they are: from sports to community affairs to every day activities.

“The church is relevant to society in a big way,” he said.

“Each one of us has a spiritual dimension,” he said. He said he often hears people say: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. But can you have a spirituality that’s not religious? … People often don’t realize what they’re looking for. And the church has to be there to capture that, give them hope, and be available for them.”

The Rev. Kelly said: “People are seeking meaning in sexuality, they’re seeking meaning in sports, they’re seeking meaning in all sorts of things, but that doesn’t fill the God-sized hole” in people’s souls that religion can.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo


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Interview with Rev. Gary Hall, Episcopal priest who’s new dean at Washington National Cathedral

Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington National Cathedral. Photo credit: Washington National Cathedral

The new dean of Washington National Cathedral, Rev. Gary Hall, made headlines in recent weeks with his calls for gun control and announcing that the cathedral – considered America’s house of worship – will perform gay marriages.

His previous position was rector of the biggest Episcopal church in Michigan, Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. Before he left, Rev. Hall spoke with Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press on a range of issues.

Cranbrook rector bound for D.C. talks religion, politics

 By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Published in Detroit Free Press on Sunday, 10/7/2012

Page: 7A

     Raised in Hollywood amid celebrities as the son of a noted actor, Rev. Gary Hall wasn’t into church during his early years.  But that changed after he learned about the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. He remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visiting southern California and hearing Malcolm X speak when he was a teenager. He once wrote jokes for TV host Steve Allen, who influenced his social views. And during his freshman year at Yale, the university’s chaplain was arrested on the steps of the Pentagon, another act that drew Hall to liberal Christianity.

Last week, Hall, 62, became dean of Washington National Cathedral, the national seat of the Episcopal Church and considered America’s house of worship. The move came after he served as rector at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, the biggest Episcopal Church in Michigan. He was also the chaplain at Cranbrook’s high school.

“There are people in this parish that think I have dangerously, crazy ideas about things, ” he jokes about his progressive beliefs.

Hall’s new position will put his liberal views on the national stage at a time when religion and politics are hotly contested issues. He wants to make the cathedral a place of interfaith dialogue and “conversation about the role of religion in public life, ” Hall said.

There are churches that “show you a kind of angry, not welcoming Christianity, ” Hall explained from his office. “We want to be the other side of that, to show there’s a humane, hospitable, inclusive, tolerant Christianity.”

Hall, who received a doctorate in English, spoke with the Free Press on a range of topics, from marriage to politics to other religions.

Among the conversation topics:

On religion and public policy: “I’m a believer in the separation of church and state. The First Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof…. It’s a very hard case to make that America ever was a Christian nation. I think it’s naïve to say the founders were Christian, that biblical values are behind the Constitution…. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean (religious people) shouldn’t have a voice in public policy. Faith communities taking positions on public policy matters is an important and established part of our public life.

“What I don’t think is appropriate is for one tradition to try to impose its own moral point of view on the populace.”

On the role of religion in presidential politics: “I get nervous when certain religious groups want to make religious faith a sort of litmus test. The religious affiliation of any candidate is unimportant to me. And whether or not God is mentioned in (either) party platform is unimportant to me. What’s important to me are the social values that are being advocated in that platform.”

On non-Christian faiths: “I do believe there is truth in every tradition. I’m not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me….

“I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians. The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism….

“I taught at Cranbrook a class (this year) where I had to teach the Quran, which I read for the first time in my life. I was stunned by how beautiful it was.”

On gay marriage: (Hall edited and contributed to a 2009 book used by Episcopalians: “Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, ” which supports gay marriage.) “I don’t understand the argument when people say: ‘Gay marriage threatens your marriage.’ I want to say to them: ‘No, Britney Spears being married for a day and a half threatens your marriage. Or these reality TV shows. The gay and lesbian people I know take marriage as seriously as straight couples….

“I think straight people have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian families, about what real mutuality and real sharing is. (With gay couples), things are much more mutual and shared and equal. And I think that’s a powerful witness that straight people like me can learn from.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter.com/nwarikoo

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150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda is celebrated in metro Detroit, where he spoke several times

Swami Vivekananda

Statue of Swami Vivekananda stands inside the Bharatiya Temple in Troy, Michigan. Photo taken in 2011.

The 150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda is being celebrated this month in metro Detroit and around the world. This Sunday, Jan. 19, 2013, at 10 a.m. there will be an event marking his birthday at Troy Community Center in Michigan. Here’s a story written last year about Vivekananda’s connection to metro Detroit.

A message of peace

19th-Century spiritual leader inspires metro Detroiters

By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Published in Detroit Free Press:
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Draped in saffron robes, a 9-foot statue stands in a corner of the Bharatiya Temple in Troy of Swami Vivekananda, the 19th century spiritual leader from India who gave birth to the modern interfaith movement.
It’s a symbol of his continued influence as his 150th birthday is commemorated this year with events in metro Detroit and around the world.

At the Hindu center in Troy, Vivekananda’s message will be discussed today at a lecture, one of several such events the temple is holding to remember the man who introduced Indian philosophy to the West. During his life, Vivekananda lectured often in cities such as Detroit, Boston and New York.

As Hindu practices like yoga, meditation and vegetarianism rise in popularity in America, so does the interest in Vivekananda.A Newsweek writer is working on a biography of Vivekananda that examines his influence on a range of thinkers in the West. In January, the University of Chicago announced it was creating a $1.5-million academic chair in his name.

And with religious tensions rising today, his message of peace and tolerance is needed more than ever, his admirers say.

Vivekananda is most well-known for his speech at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago, where his message of universal brotherhood and diversity was praised. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., called Vivekananda’s talk “the most definitive statement of religious tolerance and interfaith unity in history.”

“Though they were uttered a century ago, Vivekananda’s words ring with a clarion relevance for our times, ” she wrote on the 100th anniversary of the speech. Continue reading

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Episcopal Church losing members as it strives for inclusion

Some conservatives say the Episcopal Church is losing members because it has gone too far left on political and social issues, such as same-sex unions. But the Church’s highest ranking lay leader Bonnie Anderson (in photo) said the church isn’t too liberal and regardless, won’t shift its views because people are leaving.

July 7, 2012, Detroit Free Press


By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

As the highest ranking lay leader in the Episcopal Church for the past six years, Bonnie Anderson has had a hectic schedule, traveling across the U.S. to be a voice for the Protestant denomination’s 2 million members.

But, despite her long days, the Bingham Farms woman sets aside time for “prayer and meditation every day … or I could get out of whack.”

It’s a daily routine that has helped guide Anderson, who plans to step down next week at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, held every three years. Along with Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori, Anderson is one of the two top leaders in the church. As president of the Church’s House of Deputies, Anderson, 69, said she has accomplished her goals of promoting democracy, diversity and social justice.

Anderson said she is stepping down to spend more time with her family, especially her 42-year-old son, who became physically challenged 20 years ago after a car accident.

“He’s like living with a miracle,” Anderson said at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pontiac.

Anderson’s leaving comes at a time of challenges for the Episcopal Church, a denomination rooted in the Church of England. Traditionally part of the Anglo upper class, members of the Episcopal Church have the highest incomes and percentage of those with a college degree among all Christian denominations, according to Pew surveys.  Continue reading

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Bio of Niraj Warikoo

Niraj Warikoo is the religion reporter for the Detroit Free Press.  He graduated from Columbia College at Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism with a masters degree in journalism.  Over the past decade, he’s written extensively about the domestic war on terrorism and its impact on metro Detroit’s diverse communities. In 2005, he was one of ten journalists selected to be a fellow at the University of Southern California, where he studied national security and civil liberties in the post 9-11 era.   In 2008, he was invited to give a presentation on the relationship between American Muslims and the U.S. government at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London in England for an international conference on Islam in the West that featured experts and leaders from Europe, the U.S., and Arab world.

Warikoo has been an invited speaker or panelist at universities such as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan State, and Wayne State; and at the national conventions of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors), AAJA, SAJA, UNITY, and Poynter’s National Writers Workshop.   He’s appeared on local and national TV and radio programs such as MSNBC’s Hardball Show with Chris Matthews, and with MSNBC hosts Alison Stewart and Contessa BrewerC-SPAN, CNN Headline News with Jane Velez-Mitchell , and NPR’s Tell me More with Michel Martin (National Public Radio.)  In previous years, he wrote often about workplace safety issues, including investigative reports that exposed corporate negligence in the deaths of six workers at the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Warikoo also has examined the environmental destruction of Michigan’s wetlands in a special report based on new data he obtained.   In 2005, he visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. to write about U.S. soldiers who became amputees after serving in Iraq; the story examined how new technology has improved survival chances, but also brings recovery challenges for victims. In 2006, he traveled across Lebanon to write stories for the Detroit Free Press on the aftermath of the war between Hizballah and Israel, which affected communities in metro Detroit. 

Warikoo has written often about Michigan’s immigrant communities, from the lives of Mexican-Americans to Vietnamese Catholics, as well as  the region’s Arab-American and Muslim population —  the highest concentration in the U.S.   His work was profiled in a Poynter story after the Sept. 11 attacks and he became a resource for other journalists seeking to understand the region’s Arab and Muslim communities.  He covered the case of a Michigan man detained on terrorism suspicions; after the government banned him and other reporters from attending court hearings, his newspaper filed a lawsuit on his behalf that was eventually won in an appeals court.  In the run up to and during the Iraq war, he interviewed top leaders in Iraq’s government and political parties on their frequent visits to metro Detroit, including Iraq’s future Prime Minister. 

In recent years, he’s written about a wide range of religious issues, including: the Dalai Lama’s lectures in Michigan, men and masculinity in churches, splits within the Episcopal Church, Catholic natural family planning, the growing rate of Jewish interfaith marriages, and religious belief in the end of times.  In 2010, he wrote a special report that revealed the use of secret informants in the counter-terrorism case of a Muslim leader killed in a shootout in Dearborn with FBI agents.  Also this year, he was the lead reporter on the FBI raid and arrests of members of a Christian militia in Michigan called Hutaree allegedly plotting against the U.S. government.  Outside of work, Warikoo enjoys listening to music; he played the piano and trumpet for 10 years.

Reach him by email: nwarikoo@freepress.com or on Twitter.com/nwarikoo @nwarikoo

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Jews in metro Detroit mark Purim with eye on Iran

Click here to read my story about how the ancient story of Purim still resonates today for many Jewish people as they worry about Iran.

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Cardinal: Detroit’s conditions similar to those during time of Christ’s birth

Click here to read a story by Niraj Warikoo about the midnight mass in a Detroit cathederal.

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