This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, focuses on a high-profile religious ceremony involving the royal baby that could remind people to focus on the importance of dedicating children to the Lord and raising them in Christian teaching. Also, violence in Egypt continues to be of concern to Coptic Christians there, and a wedding attack is an instance in which individual people, instead of church buildings, were targeted. And, the top story involves 4 key words at the end of an Air Force Academy oath that have been made, or declared to be, optional.
3 - Archbishop of Canterbury christens royal baby, Prince George
A traditional religious ceremony made world news this week as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican church worldwide, baptized the 3-month-old royal baby, who was christened and ritually welcomed into the Church of England as Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, in a private ceremony for close family and friends. The website, ReligionToday.com had this report.
The ceremony took place in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace as a small scarlet-and-gold-clad choir sang hymns.
The ceremony was short, less than 45 minutes, and took place in private, as is typical for royal christenings. Not typical was the venue: Most royal babies, including William, Charles and the queen, were christened in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace. The last royal baby to be christened in the Chapel Royal was Princess Beatrice, William’s cousin, in 1988.
For the service, the duke and duchess chose two hymns, two lessons and two anthems, the palace said. The hymns were Breathe on Me, Breath of God and Be Thou My Vision. The lessons were from the Gospels of Luke and John and were read by Pippa Middleton and Prince Harry.
According to the report, baptism is especially important to British royals: Since the monarch is the head of the Church of England, eventually Prince George will take on that role, so it’s critical that he be raised as an Anglican.
The Archbishop had said in public remarks several days before the ceremony that he planned to baptize the baby with a few drops of water, rather than the immersion custom of some Protestant faiths. Welby also said he hoped Prince George’s christening and the attention it attracted would be good for the Anglican church and inspire other parents to do the same with their newborns. Even for those who do not embrace the concept of infant baptism, we can admit that this does create a sacred moment and can illustrate the importance of dedicating children to the Lord and pledging to raise them in the teachings of the Scriptures.
2 - Wedding attack in Egypt highlights dangers to church in the nation
There is still concern in Egypt over the safety of Christians there, and Christianity Today reports on an attack on a wedding in the industrial neighborhood of Cairo known as Wassaq this past Sunday. The wedding party stood outside the church, eagerly awaiting the ceremonious arrival of the bride. But instead, drive-by shooters killed four people, including two children and the groom's mother. 18 were injured.
The piece points out that the attack was significant for being one of the first to target Egypt's Christians specifically, versus the now-common attacks on their church buildings.
Mina Magdy, general coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed in response to church burnings in 2011 after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, said that, "Since the revolution, this is the first instance Coptic people were targeted randomly in a church, with weapons."
Since then, sectarian incidents have escalated, most severely in the period following the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins after the military responded to massive demonstrations to remove the Islamist president from power. Human Rights Watch documented 42 attacks on churches and numerous assaults on shops and homes.
And, as CT points out, Coptic Christians are conflicted. The government is being challenged for failing to protect the church, but the Copts have been supportive of the military government, so any sign of protest against it would be interpreted by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood as a decline in support for the Brotherhood's opponents. Magdy explains: "We called for a demonstration against the government, but many pro-Brotherhood sites on social media interpreted this as our protest against the so-called coup, saying Christians also are against it.
"So we told people not to come, and held only a symbolic demonstration instead."
Michael Nabil, a Coptic accountant explains it succinctly, saying, "We should push the government to give us our rights. But we should have protested earlier because the attacked churches have not been rebuilt, despite promises.
"Most Copts are accepting the rule of the military so as to avoid the rule of the Brotherhood."
We continue to be reminded of the plight of believers in Egypt and in other tumultuous areas around the world, where Christians are endangered because of their faith practices. And, in some cases, such as Egypt and Nigeria, the government is being challenged to provide Christians with the level of protection they need - that's not to say that officials are not committed, but there are a number of mitigating factors that prevent the level of security that some Christians would desire or feel they deserve.
1 - Air Force Academy makes "So Help Me, God" optional at end of oath
It was expected that this week the Air Force Academy would change its policy toward the 4 words, "So Help Me, God", at the end of the cadets' oath. According to the Air Force Times, the Superintendent of the Academy, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, in announcing that it will now be optional for cadets to recite “So Help Me, God” at the end of its honor oath, said, “Here at the academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, airmen and civilian airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not. So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the honor oath with ‘so help me God.’ ”
This was apparently in response to a protest by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, headed by Mikey Wienstein, himself an Academy graduate. He said the academy’s decision isn’t enough.
“The Air Force Academy took the cowardly route,” Weinstein said after the announcement. “From our perspective, it still creates a tremendous amount of unconstitutional turmoil ... for anyone who is a religious objector.”
Weinstein pledged earlier in the week to bring a lawsuit against the academy if the religious language is not dropped entirely from the oath.
The phrase appears in several oaths sworn by military service members and federal government employees, such as Navy midshipmen, newly commissioned Army officers, civilian federal employees, justices and judges, senators and congressmen, and presidents.
The Christian Post reports that the American Center for Law and Justice wrote a letter to the Academy this week, stating the AFA did not discriminate against students who did not believe in God and also did not deny commission to students who currently did not include "so help me God" in their oaths. It warned that appeasing the MRFF might cause the school to "become unwitting pawns in Mr. Weinstein's strategy to eviscerate religious freedom in the Armed Forces" and suggested that he was receiving a disproportionate amount of attention as an alumnus of the school.