The Common Good

Blog Posts By Bob Smietana

Posted by Bob Smietana 9 weeks 1 day ago
The Rev. Jamie Coots, a serpent-handling pastor and co-star of the Snake Salvation reality television show, died Saturday after snakebite during a church service. He was 42.Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was found dead at his house around 10 p.m.Coots had been bitten at the church, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe told WBIR television in Knoxville, Tenn. Sharpe said emergency workers went to the church and to Coots’ home but he refused medical care.
Posted by Bob Smietana 9 weeks 1 day ago
A Tennessee pharmacist and a Baptist church deacon who lost his job after an ongoing dispute over selling Plan B contraception has sued his former bosses, claiming he was fired because of his religious beliefs.Lawyers for Philip M. Hall of Jamestown, Tenn., filed suit against the Walgreens drugstore chain in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Tuesday, claiming it discriminated against Hall’s religious beliefs.Hall was fired in August after working six years for Walgreens. He believes Plan B contraceptives cause abortions and refused to dispense them. Plan B is a form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Many medical experts say it does not cause a miscarriage or abortion and won’t work if the fertilized egg is already implanted.
Posted by Bob Smietana 12 weeks 5 days ago
Every time he goes to the doctor’s office, Daniel Eddinger takes a leap of faith.Eddinger, a 28-year-old father of two from Lexington, N.C., doesn’t have health insurance.But he’s not worried about the cost of getting sick.Instead of insurance, he says, he relies on God — and the help of other believers — to pay his medical bills.
Posted by Bob Smietana 22 weeks 1 day ago
The news that immigration reform may be dead—at least for this year—isn’t likely to sit well in many of America’s churches.A new poll from Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds nearly six in 10 senior pastors of Protestant churches support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.Many of those pastors hope reform will help them minister to more Hispanic Americans. But few say the current immigration system hurts current members of their flocks.The poll of 1,007 senior pastors of Protestant churches, conducted Sept. 4-19, comes as immigration reform has stalled on Capitol Hill.
Posted by Bob Smietana 23 weeks 14 hours ago
A Tennessee pastor’s dangerous spiritual practices made him a star of a reality TV series.Now they may make him a religious liberty crusader.Officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency raided the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollete last Thursday and seized 53 venomous snakes — including timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and several exotic breeds.They cited the Rev. Andrew Hamblin, the church’s pastor and co-star of the National Geographic series Snake Salvation, and plan to charge him with 53 count of violating a state ban on possessing venomous snakes at a court hearing on Friday. Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
Posted by Bob Smietana 25 weeks 1 day ago
Growing up Baptist, J. Dana Trent heard plenty of warnings about interfaith romance.Marrying the wrong person — known as being “unequally yoked” — could ruin your faith and your marriage.But three years after marrying a former Hindu monk, Trent says she’s a better Christian than ever.“I had become complacent in my Christianity,” said Trent, an ordained Baptist minister. “Now my religion and spirituality have become much more integrated in my life.”
Posted by Bob Smietana 34 weeks 6 days ago
The federal government wants to give Annie Laurie Gaylor a tax break for leading the Freedom from Religion Foundation.But Gaylor, an outspoken atheist from Madison, Wisc., wants to stop them — and she’s asking a federal judge for help.The standoff is the latest twist in a court battle over the parsonage exemption for clergy, a tax break that allows “ministers of the gospel” to claim part of their salary as a tax-free housing allowance.
Posted by Bob Smietana 36 weeks 14 hours ago
A Tennessee judge should not have barred a couple from naming their child “Messiah,” said the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.On Thursday, the parents of the child appeared in Cocke County Chancery Court in Tennessee because they could not agree on a last name.Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the mother, Jaleesa Martin, to change her son’s name to “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” It includes both parents’ last names but leaves out “Messiah.”“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew told the 7-month-old’s parents.
Posted by Bob Smietana 36 weeks 6 days ago
Fans of a beloved contemporary Christian hymn won’t get any satisfaction in a new church hymnal.The committee putting together a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God.The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”The song’s authors, Stuart Townend and Nashville resident Keith Getty, objected. So the committee voted to drop the song.
Posted by Bob Smietana 37 weeks 4 days ago
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the third time, Jesus is about to change Reza Aslan’s life.As a teenager, Aslan turned to Jesus in an evangelical youth group, where becoming a Christian made him feel like a real American.He later studied Jesus of Nazareth in college, which led Aslan to a doctorate in the sociology of religion.Now Aslan’s controversial new book about Jesus is about to make him a best-selling author. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has already reached No. 1 on Amazon.com. It’s expected to debut this weekend on The New York Times’ best-seller list, becoming the latest in a long line of controversial and profitable books about the so-called historical Jesus.Aslan said he wants to show the power of Jesus as a flesh-and-blood human being, rather than the savior of the world. That Jesus has gotten lost in 2,000 years of church history, he said.
Posted by Bob Smietana 39 weeks 18 hours ago
Russell Moore, the new chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention, has Jesus in his heart, Wendell Berry on his bookshelf, and Merle Haggard on his iPod.His first few weeks in office have been a kind of baptism by fire.The 41-year-old Moore took over as president of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on June 1, just as prominent Southern Baptists were calling for a boycott of the Boy Scouts. Then came the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which landed Moore in the spotlight as an opponent of same-sex marriage.
Posted by Bob Smietana 39 weeks 4 days ago
Following Pope Francis’ Twitter feed may be good for your soul — both in this life and the next.The spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church plans to grant plenary indulgences by Twitter during the World Youth Day, which will be held July 23-28 in Brazil.The indulgences, which Catholics believe can reduce the time a soul spends in purgatory, will be available to Francis’ nearly 7.5 million Twitter followers in all languages — if they tune in to World Youth Day broadcasts or take other spiritual actions. To get an indulgence, Catholics must have already had their sins absolved by a priest.
Posted by Bob Smietana 46 weeks 18 hours ago
For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.
Posted by Bob Smietana 50 weeks 1 day ago
The Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was getting ready to work in the yard in the fall of 2009 when the phone rang. His daughter was on the line.Daddy, I love you, she said. Tell Mama and the girls I love them, too.Then she was gone.Melissa Page Strange, 32, took her own life just after hanging up the phone with her dad.“I do not want you to imagine what that is like,” he said.For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa’s death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.But that may be starting to change.
Posted by Bob Smietana 51 weeks 14 hours ago
Most songwriters in Nashville want to get their songs on the radio. Keith and Kristyn Getty hope their songs end up in dusty old hymnbooks.The Gettys, originally from Belfast, Ireland, hope to revive the art of hymn writing at a time when the most popular new church songs are written for rock bands rather than choirs.They’ve had surprising success.One of the first songs that Keith co-wrote, called “In Christ Alone,” has been among the top 20 songs sung in newer churches in the United States for the past five years, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International. It is also a favorite in more traditional venues — including the recent enthronement service for Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.Hearing that hymn sung by a boys’ choir with a brass ensemble and thousands of worshippers was a thrill for Keith Getty, a self-described classical nerd.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 25 weeks ago
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eric and Ruth Brown believe nothing about daughter Pearl Joy's life is a mistake.They say God gave Pearl her bright red hair and wide blue eyes, as well as the genetic disorder that created a cleft in her upper lip and caused her brain's development to stall in the first weeks in the womb."Things didn't go wrong," Eric Brown said. "God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good."That belief has sustained the Browns during the past six months, ever since a routine ultrasound revealed that the couple's third child has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that's almost always fatal. A specialist told the Browns she would probably die in the womb and advised them to end the pregnancy early.It's one thing to talk about God's will when life is good. It's another when a doctor is saying your baby won't live.The Browns were forced to consider religious, medical and ethical issues most parents never will. And nobody could make their decision for them.The Browns never considered abortion. They believe that Pearl is "fearfully and wonderfully made," as Psalm 139 puts it, and God alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.Seeing Pearl's beating heart on the ultrasound also persuaded them to continue the pregnancy, even if the odds were stacked against her."If there is a chance, you say yes to that chance," Eric Brown said. "The only thing I know about parenting is that you say yes."So far, Pearl has beaten the odds.Few babies with Pearl's disorder make it to term, and of those who do, only 3 percent survive birth, according to the Dallas-based Carter Centers for Brain Research in Holoprosencephaly and Related Malformations. Pearl has a particularly severe form of the condition, which means her brain never divided into two hemispheres.She turned 11 weeks old Oct. 12, a milestone that the Browns celebrated by lighting 11 candles and singing "Happy Birthday."
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 28 weeks ago
 For Nathan De Lee, going to church as a kid was an ordeal.De Lee, a Unitarian Universalist, grew up in rural Kansas, where members of his faith were few and far between. Attending services meant an overnight trip to Kansas City, Mo., where the nearest Unitarian Universalist congregation was.Today, getting to church is easy for De Lee, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University. He's a regular in the choir on Sundays at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, which has a congregation of about 500.De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 32 weeks ago
There aren't any white Protestants on the presidential ballot this year — a first in American history. Instead, the race features two Catholic candidates for vice president, and a Mormon Republican and African-American mainline Protestant for president.Perhaps lucky for all of them, voters care more about issues such as social justice or gay marriage than they do about denominational brands. That's particularly true for Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, who hope to woo evangelical voters that share their values rather than their theology. It's a situation that probably would have baffled famous evangelicals such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who used the issue of abortion in the 1970s and 1980s to turn evangelicals into a powerhouse voting bloc among Republicans. "If you had told Jerry Falwell back in 1980 that by 2012 that there would not be a white Protestant on the ticket — he would have died right there," said Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 37 weeks ago
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that has frequently drawn fire from conservatives, has regained its tax-exempt status.The Washington, D.C.-based CAIR and its related foundation were two of about 275,000 nonprofits that lost tax exempt status last year for not filing tax returns for three years in a row. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service sent a letter to the CAIR-Foundation Inc., saying the nonprofit had regained its tax-exempt status."We are obviously pleased that all the paperwork issues have been resolved and our tax-exempt status has been restored," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. Hooper did not know the details of what paperwork, including tax returns, had been filed.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 39 weeks ago
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Pulsipher's first day as a working missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board began at 6:30 a.m. with prayer and exercise, followed by breakfast and study. Then he put on a black suit, white shirt, and red tie, along with his official name tag, and headed out to knock on doors and tell people about Jesus. In doing so, he became the latest of 20,000 Mormon missionaries in the United States.Every year, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend tens of millions of dollars to spread their takes on Christianity. They rely heavily on thousands of faithful volunteers willing to spread out across the country to share their faith.The two groups are among the four largest denominations in the United States -- Southern Baptists are second and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fourth, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches from the National Council of Churches. The Catholic Church is No. 1 and the United Methodist Church is No. 3.They are also competitors for converts, says Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.''Methodists are not out knocking on doors. Mormons are,'' he said.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 43 weeks ago
An outspoken supporter of a planned mosque that has sparked opposition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has switched sides and joined the anti-Islam movement.Eric Allen Bell, a documentary filmmaker, was a fixture at court hearings and protests over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in 2010. Back then, he was making a movie called Not Welcome, which depicted mosque critics as Southern Christian bigots.Now he says the mosque is part of a plot to destroy America. He claimed the mosque is "built on a foundation of lies" in a recent op-ed piece at the anti-Islam site Jihadwatch.com.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 45 weeks ago
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Andrew Hamblin's Facebook page is filled with snippets of his life. Making a late-night run to Taco Bell. Watching SpongeBob on the couch with his kids. Handling rattlesnakes in church.Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., is part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee.While older serpent handlers were wary of outsiders, these younger believers welcome visitors and use Facebook to promote their often misunderstood — and illegal — version of Christianity. They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. And they hope eventually to reverse a state ban on handling snakes in church.
Posted by Bob Smietana 1 year 46 weeks ago
For the past 24 years, Richard Land has used his folksy charm and fiery rhetoric to become one of the leading voices of the religious right and the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group.Now Land's future is in doubt amid an investigation over his remarks about the Trayvon Martin shooting and for alleged plagiarism.A church committee is scheduled to issue its report by Friday (June 1), and there's a possibility that Land could lose his job as president of the Southern Baptists' Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Posted by Bob Smietana 2 years 4 days ago
The name Jesus Christ doesn't appear in "The Voice," a new translation of the Bible. Nor do words such as angel or apostle. Instead, angel is rendered as "messenger" and apostle as "emissary." Jesus Christ is "Jesus the Anointed One" or the "liberating king."That's a more accurate translation for modern American readers, said David Capes, lead scholar for "The Voice," a complete edition released this month by publishing company Thomas Nelson. Capes says that many people, even those who've gone to church for years, don't realize that the word "Christ" is a title.
Posted by Bob Smietana 2 years 2 weeks ago
One of the largest student religious groups at Vanderbilt University is leaving campus in a dispute over the school's non-discrimination policy that bars student groups from requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs.Leaders of Vanderbilt Catholic, which has 500 members, says the rule make no sense. P.J. Jedlovec, the group's president, says the group's meetings are open to all students, but only people who share the group's beliefs can be leaders."If we were open to having non-Catholics lead the organization, we wouldn't be Catholic anymore," Jedlovec said.
Posted by Bob Smietana 2 years 10 weeks ago
The saga of the Anglican Mission in the Americas sounds like the words to an old country song: "Why have you left the one you left me for?"Founded by breakaway Episcopal priests who left their former denomination because they felt it was too liberal, the Anglican Mission is now in the middle of another ugly church feud.Last time the fight was over sex and salvation. Now the fight is over money and power, between the Anglican Mission's U.S. leaders and the overseas Anglican group that adopted them."It's like my mom and dad just told me they are getting a divorce," said the Rev. Brian Hardin, pastor of the Four Winds Mission in Spring Hill, Tenn., which is a member of the Anglican Mission.
Posted by Bob Smietana 2 years 35 weeks ago
Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor. Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order. A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read. That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world. Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years. When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.