Beliefnet
Beliefnet News

Basilica_of_the_National_Shrine_of_the_Immaculate_ConceptionThe Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is finally complete. Construction of the massive church was finally completed on December 8, 2017, nearly a full century after building first began. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also called the Trinity Dome, is now the largest Catholic Church in North America. The church is located in Washington, D.C. next to the Catholic University of America.

Even before the church was completed, the National Shrine was visited by nearly one million people every year. Many of these people were undoubtedly there to see the mosaic that decorates the ceiling of the Trinity Dome. The enormous masterpiece is the largest of its kind and is comprised of more than 14 million individual pieces of glass. The artwork depicts the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the four evangelists and a procession of angels. A number of saints are depicted as well, several of whom are important to the United States. The first canonized Native Americans, St. Juan Diego and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, are represented as well as the first American citizen to be canonized, St. Francis Cabrini, M.S.C. St. Junipero Serra, whose canonization was the first to take place on American soil, also appears in the design. The Nicene Creed is written out in the mosaic as well.

The Trinity Dome’s incredible artwork was a challenge to create for Viggo and Martin Rambusch, the artistic designers of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception’s now famous mosaic. The dome is a deeper curve than others in the basilica which made for unique opportunities and challenges when the Rambusch’s designed the mosaic. The Trinity Dome’s icon scheme was patterned after the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice with the ceiling area of the shrine meant to be a succession of decorated domes.

The mosaic itself was created in Italy, and the Rambusches made roughly ten trips to Italy in order to work and consult with the mosaicists. Both Rambusches are pleased with the final result. Martin Rambusch commented that the new dome has “a strength of its own” while still managing to be “harmonious with everything else” in the National Shrine. Viggo Rambusche added that the mosaic on the Trinity Dome ceiling was deliberately designed to look “like the whole thing [had] been [in the National Shrine] forever.”

In addition to the elaborately mosaiced Trinity Dome, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is home to over 80 chapels and oratories that honor the Virgin Mary. The mammoth church is one of the ten largest churches in the world and has been described as a “hymn in stone.” Now that the church is complete, Barcelona’s  Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is now the largest unfinished Catholic church. As for the National Shrine, the church is looking forward to celebrating its upcoming 100th anniversary two short years from now, the first anniversary where the church is truly complete.

Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com

Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com

Are President Trump’s recent actions yet another promise fulfilled to evangelicals?

Last week, President Donald Trump made a historic move with the announcement that the U.S. would officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and prepare to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

American evangelicals, especially those close to President Donald Trump are praising Trump’s Jerusalem decision, hailing his announcement that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room. “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Best-selling author Stephen E. Strang believes this is yet another promise fulfilled to evangelical Christians and the Jewish community.

In “God and Donald Trump,” Strang touches on this very prophecy. He gives an inside look at the journey to the Trump White House through firsthand interviews and perspectives from those who were directly involved.

“Some say declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is actually more important than moving the embassy, but it certainly must be a precursor to it,” the “God and Donald Trump” author writes. “We must help our evangelical friends understand this, especially those who are only focused on the embassy and not thinking about the significance of Jerusalem. Going forward, it’s important believers pray for the peace of Jerusalem as the implications of these decisions are realized.”

Strang also writes in “God and Donald Trump,” that only a strong leader like Trump could make such a bold declaration.

“There are ministry leaders and prophetic voices who are convinced God brought Donald Trump, who had said for many years that he was not at all interested in running for public office, to this place for this time,” Strang wrote. “It may well be that Trump was sent by God as a bull in a china shop to break up the globalist agenda and interrupt the left’s campaign to remake America in their own image. A man with a milder, gentler, less aggressive personality could never hope to take on the forces within the political establishment and prosper, which explains why Donald Trump was the perfect choice for this hour.”

With the recent announcement regarding Jerusalem, Trump continues to persist against global voices, standing with Israel and many of his evangelical supporters, Strang said.

Christians United for Israel founder Pastor John Hagee believes the move was not only bold, but also brave.

“What Trump is doing is one of the most courageous political things that’s been done in Washington in a long time,” Hagee told CBN News.

“Many presidents have promised to move the embassy and declare Jerusalem as the eternal capital, but they have promised without performing.”

Christians should care about Israel because the entirety of the Bible beginning at Genesis all the way to the end is God’s position paper on the Jewish People, Hagee explained.

“God found a man by the name of Abraham and He made a covenant with him,” Hagee said. “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, recorded in the book of Genesis, that He was going to give them a strip of real estate in the Middle East, and that piece of real estate would be theirs forever.”

“And Israel is the gateway to God’s blessing in the Bible,” Hagee continued. “Genesis 12: ‘I will bless those who bless you.’”

Many pundits still ask, “How did Donald Trump win?” and many American evangelicals believe God was involved in this victory. There were Christian leaders who prophesied before the election that God had raised up Trump to lead the nation through a time of crisis. Now that the billionaire reality-TV star convinced many voters that he was for real, many wonder what God is doing now not only in Trump’s life but also in the nation?

Trump described the move as keeping a campaign promise that other presidents had failed to fulfill.
According to a recent survey, a plurality of American evangelicals, 45 percent said the Biblical is the biggest influence on their opinion about Israel. Just 41 percent of evangelicals said Jews not only have a “biblical right” to the land of Israel but also a responsibility to share the land with Palestinian Arabs.

But other religious leaders, including Pope Francis and Christians living in Israel expressed dire concerns that the move by Trump would incite unrest in the volatile region.

“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days and, at the same time, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations,” Pope Francis said during his general audience at the Vatican.

“I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and the wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”

American Muslims expressed nearly universal dismay at the move.

“In an already violate religion, Mr. Trump’s actions will be akin to dousing gasoline on a burning fire,” said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame. “The US will also sign itself into irrelevance in Mideast matters. Without a two-state solution the very future of Israel might be in jeopardy.”

Boy Scouts of AmericaBucking over a century of tradition, the Boy Scouts of America’s scouting board of directors voted unanimously to allow girls to join the organization. The decision followed years of requests from both girls who wanted to join and families who wanted their daughters to join the Boy Scouts. Part of the reasoning for the decision was based on the increased number of single-parent households who want to be able to take their children of both genders to the same activity.

According to a statement by Michael Surbaugh, the Boy Scouts of America’s Chief Scout Executive, the decision to allow girls to join the Boy Scouts stays true to the core values and mission of the Boy Scouts. “The values of Scouting–trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example–are important for both young men and women,” said Surbaugh. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best–developing character and leadership for young people–to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The addition of girls to the ranks of the Boy Scouts will allow teen girls to obtain the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout beginning in 2019 while younger girls will be able to start in the iconic Cub Scout program. The decision of how to integrate girls into the ranks will be left to existing packs. Packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, a pack that consists of both girl and boy dens or remain a pack of all boys. Regardless of how each pack chooses, Cub Scout dens will remain single-gender.

The lack of a clear program for female Eagle Scouts has earned some wariness from families who are still waiting to see what that program will look like. The decision to allow girls into the Boy Scouts has also drawn fire from those who feel that the decision was based not on a true desire to welcome girls into the fold, but on a need to be politically correct after the organization was criticized over the last few years for its views on gay and transgender leaders.

The Boy Scouts of America have also faced push back from the Girl Scouts. A letter from Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts, claims that the Boy Scouts were running a “covert campaign” to gain female members and thus undercutting Girl Scout participation. The letter requested that the Boy Scouts work on recruiting the boys who were not members of the Boy Scouts instead of working to gain female Boy Scouts. The letter also questioned the Boy Scouts’ ability to achieve the same result with girls as boys given the Boy Scouts’ plan appears to simply take their current program tailored to grooming boys to be leaders and apply it to girls. Hannan’s letter went on to point out that the Girl Scouts were well practiced in training women leaders and mentioned research that pointed to the benefits of a single-gender environment.

Despite all the press surrounding this decision, girls have actually been involved in the Boy Scouts since 1971. While not eligible to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, girls have participated in mixed gender opportunities offered by the Boy Scouts such as the Exploring and Venturing programs. Venturing works with youth ages 14 to 21 and emphasizes adventure, leadership, service and personal growth. Exploring has two age groups, Explorer Clubs and Explorer Posts. Explorer Clubs serve middle school youth, ages 10 to 13, while Explorer Posts works with older boys and girls, aged 14 to 20. Both age groups are modeled on the same program, which involves “hands-on and interactive character and career activities [facilitated] by trained business leaders in [the] local community.”

The official admission of girls in the Boy Scouts may help boost participation in the organization which has been declining in recent years. In the early 2000’s, the Boy Scouts of America had a membership of roughly 4 million, but membership had dropped to 2.3 million by 2016. At a minimum, the historic vote has generated a great deal of press for the Boy Scouts and put the organization in the spotlight once again.

 

Guest post by Stephanie Hertzenberg. Stephanie  is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she received her degree in Religious Studies and Creative Writing. She currently works as a freelance writer from her home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Saudi Arabia has long been the only country in the world that legally bars women from driving.

But now, that’s about to change.

On September 26th, Saudi King Salman ended an internationally-criticized conservative tradition when he issued a decree allowing women to obtain drivers licenses in his country.

The birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a king whose decrees must comply with Islamic Sharia law. The Quran—Islam’s sacred text—is the country’s constitution and the beating heart of its government, cultural norms, and social policies.

The interpretation of the Quran lies at the heart of the enormous gender divide in the country. Many laws which bar women from certain activities are meant to avoid free mixing between men and women in order to maintain modesty and minimize what is considered inappropriate or obscene contact.

Arguments from Islamic clerics and government officials against female driving privileges have, over the years, ranged from the idea that men would not know how to handle seeing women in cars next to them in traffic, to fears of rising promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family structure, to the idea that the female brain is “smaller” than that of a man.

For these reasons, women in Saudi Arabia do not enjoy many of the same legal and social freedoms as men. Many spend a large portion of their salaries on the country’s large number of foreign chauffeurs, or are forced to ask male relatives to drive them to work. Otherwise, they’re stranded.

But the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, casually known as “MBS,” has brought a wave of change rippling through the country, thanks to his efforts to revitalize its economy through a program called Vision 2030. This program’s goal is to bring Saudi society more in line with the rest of the modern world.

“We are trying to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” bin Salman told the press. “In order to change women’s participation in the workforce, we need them to be able to drive to work.”

This change has come with a host of others. In recent years, women in Saudi Arabia have been allowed to run for positions on the kingdom’s municipal councils, and have, for the first time, been allowed to enter a sports stadium.

But the path to the independent travel hasn’t been easy for the women of Saudi Arabia. Since 1990, women have protested the driving ban, driving around the Saudi capital, Riyadh or posting photos of themselves driving on social media. These activists have been met with lost jobs, travel restrictions, and jail time.

The lifting of the ban, which will be carried out by June 24th, 2018, has caused a wave of international support to pour in over social media channels, congratulating Saudi women on their newfound freedom and encouraging them to keep pushing for further reform.

The US state department called the move “a great step in the right direction.” The White House, too, signaled its support, releasing a statement saying that “We will continue to support Saudi Arabia in its to efforts to strengthen Saudi society and the economy through reforms like this and the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030.”

The licensing of Saudi women isn’t without its opponents, and tensions are rising amongst influential conservative clerics in the country. There has been pushback on social media, with one critic accusing the Saudi government of “bending the verses of Sharia.” Another wrote that “As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram for women to drive. How come it has suddenly become halal?”

Amongst fears of inappropriate male and female interaction, cultural pushback stands only to increase as the date of the actual legislation nears.

But with this change has also come louder calls for further positive reform. Saudi women still can’t get a passport, open a bank account, get a loan, divorce, or marry without the approval of a male guardian. They also cannot socialize outside of their immediate families or receive equal inheritance. All of these customs and laws are now in the crosshairs of Saudi activists.

The ability to legally drive may just put Saudi Arabia’s women on the road to equality as the country strives to change some of its most engrained customs. This may represent a baby step in terms of equality, but it is a step in the right direction.

“It is amazing,” one Saudi university professor—a woman who participated in the first protest against the ban in 1990—told the New York Times. “Since that day, Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, and finally it arrived. We have been waiting for a very long time.”

That time has finally come.