Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 18 weeks 3 days ago
Chris Kyle, often described as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, wrote in his autobiography that he prioritized his life in the following order: God, country, family.But God doesn’t make a central appearance in the film American Sniper, which opens nationwide on Jan. 16. The film offers a few similarities to Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s recent World War II epic about POW Louis Zamperini.Both stories focus on the dramatic stories of warriors who died before the movie versions of their lives came out. Both American Sniper and Unbroken include an early scene of their families sitting in church. Both men struggle with substance abuse after returning from war.And both films largely skirt the faith that Kyle and Zamperini said were key to their identity — and their survival.As a Navy SEAL, Kyle reportedly recorded 160 kill shots during his four tours in Iraq. His story drew national attention after the release of his 2012 autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, which enjoyed a 37-week run on The New York Times’ best-seller list.The Clint Eastwood-directed biopic starring Bradley Cooper debuted with a limited release on Christmas Day, the same day Unbroken opened nationwide.Kyle opened his book by probing the ethics of combat as he wrote about his first sniper shot, when he had to kill an Iraqi woman holding a grenade.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 19 weeks 5 days ago
Republicans will take full control of Capitol Hill when the 114th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 6, but even with a political shift, there will be little change in the overall religious makeup of Congress, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center.Here are seven ways the religious makeup of Congress will (and won’t) change.1) More than nine-in-10 members of the House and Senate (92 precent) are Christian; about 57 percent are Protestant while 31 percent are Catholic. The new Congress will include at least seven members who are ordained ministers.2) Protestants and Catholics continue to be over-represented as members of Congress than other Americans. As of 2013, 49 percent of American adults are Protestant, and 22 percent are Catholic, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.3) The biggest difference between Congress and other Americans is the number of people who say they are religiously unaffiliated. Just 0.2 percent of Congress say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 20 percent of the general public. In fact, the only member of Congress who publicly identifies herself as religiously unaffiliated is sophomore Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 21 weeks 4 days ago
Before she and her husband adopted a son and daughter from Ethiopia, popular evangelical blogger Jen Hatmaker said she had a different view about race in America.“A couple years ago, I would’ve said we’re moving to a post-racial society because I was so under-exposed to people of color and the issues they deal with on a daily basis,” said the white Christian author, whose home renovation to make space for their growing family of seven was recently featured on HGTV.As evangelicals have turned their attention toward adoption in the past decade, families like the Hatmakers are grappling with race relations in a profoundly personal way, especially as national news spotlights racial tension in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.And evangelicals aren’t alone: A new Gallup poll found that 13 percent of Americans believe racism is the country’s most important problem, the highest figure since the 1992 verdict in the Rodney King case sparked riots in Los Angeles.And, as Gallup noted: “After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15 percent).”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 23 weeks 2 days ago
An outside watchdog group hired to investigate sex abuse claims at Bob Jones University issued its 300-page report on Dec. 11, concluding that the conservative Christian school responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.Bob Jones, with about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, S.C., tapped Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.Some of those students claimed they were victims on campus; others said they were dealing with child sexual abuse but received a poor reception from campus officials as they struggled with their past.The school’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, discipline, and justice shaped how Bob Jones University responded to sexual assault, the report argues.“As a result of the school’s poor responses, many of these students were deeply hurt and experienced further trauma,” a press release from GRACE states.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 24 weeks 1 day ago
Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken” features the true story of an Olympian and World War II veteran who was only able to extend forgiveness to his captors after he encountered Christianity.The problem? The Christianity that is central to Louis Zamperini’s life is almost entirely absent from the film.That could prove a disappointment to Christian viewers who read the best-seller by Lauren Hillenbrand that spawned the film, or who have been courted by the filmmakers to see the film, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day.The question is whether Hollywood can lure faith-based audiences with a story that’s based on faith but doesn’t pay much attention to it, especially against the blockbuster biblical epic “Exodus,” which opens on Dec. 12.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 24 weeks 4 days ago
Rob Bell was once the evangelical It Boy, the hipster pastor with the thick-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans whose best-selling theology was captured in books with names such as “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”By 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times wondered aloud whether the Michigan megachurch pastor could be the next Billy Graham.And then he went to hell.In 2011, his book “Love Wins” pushed the evangelical envelope on the nature of heaven, hell, and salvation. Many dismissed him as a modern-day heretic, unwilling to embrace traditional evangelicals beliefs about the hereafter.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 25 weeks 4 days ago
Some leaders use trending topics or hashtags to build momentum around a certain conversation. The idea is that by pointing followers to a catchy hashtag, activists can spark conversation and rally supporters around a cause. On Nov. 24, for example, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #PrayForFerguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager.One of the earlier noteworthy mobilizing campaigns included #KONY2012, a movement founded by a Christian, who launched a campaign to try to capture African Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. First Lady Michelle Obama famously participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign after more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.But everyone on Twitter is learning that a hashtag cuts both ways — it can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages or what some might even call hate speech.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 28 weeks 5 days ago
When Southern Baptists convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 29 weeks 4 days ago
Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has denounced reparative therapy, the controversial idea that people who are gay or have same-sex attraction could become straight.Joining a chorus of other religious leaders who have departed from a once-popular therapy, some evangelical attempts at reparative therapy have been “severely counterproductive,” Moore told a group of journalists during a press conference at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference in Nashville on Oct. 28. He also gave similar remarks to the conference of about 1,300 people.“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told journalists. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”Moore said evangelicals had an “inadequate view” of what same-sex attraction looks like.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 30 weeks 1 day ago
Religious groups are battling the state of California over whether employee health insurance plans require them to pay for abortions and some forms of contraception that some find immoral.So is the state forcing churches to pay for abortions? It depends on who you ask.The issue gained traction after Michelle Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross and several other insurance firms in August warning providers that state law requires insurers to not deny woman abortions. “Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” she wrote.Rouillard wrote that state law provides an exemption for religious institutions.“Although health plans are required to cover legal abortions, no individual health care provider, religiously sponsored health carrier, or health care facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstance to participate in the provision of or payment for a specific service if they object to doing so for reason of conscience or religion,” she wrote.“No person may be discriminated against in employment or professional privileges because of such objection.”However, two legal groups have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging the California rule puts faith-based organizations in a position to violate their conscience.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 30 weeks 4 days ago
Mark Driscoll is back. Kind of.The controversial founder of Mars Hill Church who stepped down last week offered a brief address at the Gateway Conference on Oct. 20. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him…” he trailed off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers.Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked Morris, teasing him about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 30 weeks 5 days ago
Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11 Memorial.The new domed building is scheduled to open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary. The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a dispute with the Port Authority of New York, which is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under an 2011 agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.On Oct. 18, government and church leaders joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.Patrick J. Foye, who was named earlier this year as executive director of the Port Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,” comparable to the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 31 weeks 3 days ago
Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who had been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego, resigned from his Seattle church Oct. 15, according to a document obtained by Religion News Service.The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.Driscoll was not asked to resign, according to a letter from the church’s board of overseers. “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter,” the overseers wrote.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 31 weeks 3 days ago
Evangelical leaders are angry after city officials in Houston subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance that provides protections to the LGBT community.Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, led support for the ordinance. The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.Under one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint.The ordinance, which exempted religious institutions, was passed in June, though its implementation has been delayed due to legal complaints.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 31 weeks 5 days ago
A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 32 weeks 2 days ago
Responding to a real or perceived gap between science and faith, 10 U.S. seminaries will receive a combined $1.5 million in grants to include science in their curricula, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Oct. 8.A diverse set of Christian seminaries will be awarded grants ranging from $90,000 to $200,000 provided by the John Templeton Foundation, which has funded various efforts to bridge science and faith, including $3.75 million to AAAS for the project.“Many (religious leaders) don’t get a lot of science in their training and yet they become the authority figures that many people in society look up to for advice for all kinds of things, including issues related to science and technology,” said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.Indeed, evangelical Protestants are more than twice as likely as other Americans to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader or people at their congregation if they had a question about science, a study released by AAAS earlier this year suggested.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 32 weeks 2 days ago
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.On Oct. 8, the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 32 weeks 2 days ago
What are you afraid of? That’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson asks writers who shy away from writing about faith.The beloved author has won accolades after writing so openly about belief, but it remains a subject few other writers take on.“It’s courageous of Robinson to write about faith at a time when associations with religion are so often negative and violent,” Diane Johnson wrote in her New York Times review of Robinson’s latest book, Lila, which was released Oct. 7.Like its predecessors Gilead (2004) and Home (2008), the new novel takes place in a 1950s Iowa town and focuses on minister John Ames and his family. The story is told from the perspective of his wife — and later, widow — Lila.Robinson has been able reach varied audiences. A member of the liberal United Church of Christ, she is far from holding up ideals put forward by the religious right, but that hasn’t stopped conservative Christians from engaging with her writing. Earlier, she spoke with Religion News Service about guns, gay marriage, and Calvinism.Before giving an address at Union Theological Seminary last spring, Robinson also spoke about the tensions between faith and writing. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 32 weeks 4 days ago
United Methodists in Pennsylvania have agreed to resolve a complaint filed against three dozen clergy who blessed a gay wedding without taking the case to trial.A complaint was filed against 36 United Methodist pastors who officiated at a Nov. 9, 2013 wedding for two men at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. On Oct. 3, Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson announced that the complaint had been resolved.The resolution calls for the officiating clergy to acknowledge that they violated rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which includes the denomination’s constitution. In return, the complaint will be withdrawn.“Though I may sympathize with the pastoral concerns of the respondents, it is unacceptable to disregard and disobey the Book of Discipline,” Johnson said. “I pledge that, in future cases where clergy within my jurisdiction officiate or host a same-gender ceremony, any complaints that I receive will be handled swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences, which may include a trial, involuntary leave of absence without pay, or other significant consequences, in accordance with the Discipline and in consultation with the Board of Ordained ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 32 weeks 5 days ago
Two new movies that aim to attract a faith-based crowd join a glut of biblical films for 2014, testing the limits of Hollywood’s appetite for religion.The two films, “The Good Lie” and “Left Behind,” both opening Oct. 3, reflect two different filmmaking strategies: One is geared for a wider audience that could attract Christians, while the other produces a movie clearly made for the Christian base.With a number of films targeting a faith audience this year, it’s unclear whether Hollywood is oversaturating the market with faith-based films — a revolutionary idea 10 years after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shocked the industry by raking in $611.9 million worldwide.“The Good Lie,” starring Reese Witherspoon helping four young “Lost Boys” from Sudan adjust to life in the U.S., has underlying faith themes. The refugees rely on their faith as they try to leave homeland strife behind, and Witherspoon’s character works closely with a faith-based agency to place refugees with families.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 33 weeks 2 days ago
When Americans aren’t busy praying for themselves or their own needs — and most of them are — many are seeking divine intervention on behalf of a favorite sports team or the golden ticket in the lottery, according to a new survey.About 13 percent of Americans who pray say they pray for sports teams, compared with about one in five (21 percent) who say they have prayed to win the lottery, the new survey from LifeWay Research suggests. A survey earlier this year from Public Religion Research Institute suggested that more Americans (26 percent) pray for their sports team, while more than seven in 10 (73 percent) say they have never done this.Some of LifeWay’s new survey’s main findings include:
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 33 weeks 4 days ago
Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 33 weeks 5 days ago
He’s been crowned the “new hip-hop king” and his newest album, “Anomaly,” topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He’s been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with host Jimmy Fallon.It’s the kind of mainstream success that has eluded most Christian rappers. Then again, some people are still trying to decide if hip-hop star Lecrae is a Christian rapper, or a rapper who happens to be Christian.It depends who you ask, including Lecrae himself.“God has also raised up lowly, kind of insignificant individuals to do miraculous and incredible things,” Lecrae, 34, said in an interview. “We’re the Gideons, we’re the Davids. Even Jesus himself made himself of no reputation. It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves. He’s not a megalomaniac, he’s deserving of glory and honor, and to use individuals that demonstrate that it was him, and him alone, it accomplishes his mission and that’s success.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 34 weeks 4 days ago
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 34 weeks 5 days ago
Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of the most influential evangelical churches in the country led by author and speaker Tim Keller, has partnered with a Mississippi-based school to form a seminary campus in New York City in 2015.The partnership between Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary fits in with the desire of evangelicals to plant their flag in large cities such as New York. It also reflects the influence of Reformed theology on evangelical thinking, as well as the impact of megachurches on theological education.And while many seminaries are still suffering declining revenues since the economic crisis of 2008, the model of building campuses in major cities has proved successful for the Mississippi flagship seminary.Students in the New York City campus will be trained to start churches by pursuing a two-year master’s of arts degree in biblical studies at $430-450 per credit hour before receiving another year of pastoral church planting education from Redeemer. The campus will likely launch in Redeemer’s offices near Herald Square in Manhattan.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 35 weeks 5 days ago
As more states affirm same-sex marriage, U.S. evangelicals continue to wrestle with homosexuality, setting boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not, and setting the stage for a heated fall election season.This week, things got hotter.A new group called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality launched Sept. 9 and is collecting signatures from evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory board includes author and speaker Brian McLaren, former National Association of Evangelicals vice president Richard Cizik, and former USAID faith adviser Chris LaTondresse. Cizik resigned from his NAE position over his support for same-sex civil unions.“Our organization is not taking a theological position on the issue of the sacrament of marriage,” said spokesman Brandan Robertson. “We just want evangelicals to see that it is possible to hold a plethora of beliefs about sexuality and marriage while affirming the rights of LGBTQ men and women to be civilly married under the law.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 38 weeks 2 days ago
A letter from nine Mars Hill Church pastors to their fellow elders offers the most trenchant criticism yet of controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who recently stepped down for at least six weeks amid a series of accusations.The pastors did not mince words in their lengthy Aug. 22 letter [full text] concerning Driscoll, who has been caught up in allegations that include plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds, and abuse of power:[W]e direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.The letter was posted within a Mars Hill online network and provided to Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging updates about Mars Hill.The 4,000-word letter suggests there were insufficient layers of accountability at Mars Hill, a congregation of an estimated 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states, and that power was consolidated at the top with Driscoll given free rein to do what he wanted.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 38 weeks 5 days ago
Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while church leaders review formal charges lodged by a group of pastors that he abused his power.The 43-year-old pastor has been under fire in recent months for plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds, and improper behavior toward subordinates.Returning from vacation Sunday, Driscoll addressed Mars Hill worship services through a pre-recorded message.“I want to say to my Mars Hill family, past and present, I’m very sorry. I genuinely mean it,” Driscoll said in his address. “I’m very sorry for the times I’ve been angry, short or insensitive. I’m very sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”Driscoll said he will not do any outside speaking for the foreseeable future and postpone the publication of his next book.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 40 weeks 5 days ago
The nation’s second largest Christian book retailer has pulled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, informed stores on Friday to stop selling books by the Seattle pastor who has been in hot water.Last week, leaders of the church planting network Acts 29 removed Driscoll and his churches from the group he helped found and asked that he “step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”Driscoll has been an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years. His Mars Hill Church attracts some 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. He has been provocative, occasionally profane, and has faced allegations of plagiarism and inflating book sales.The mushrooming set of allegations led the publishing arm to suspend sales while it “monitors the developments of his ministry,” said LifeWay media relations manager Marty King.“It was a cumulative effect,” King said. “The Acts 29 leadership asking him to step down was certainly a part of that.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 41 weeks 2 days ago
Prominent conservative voices are criticizing the decision to bring two medical missionaries who contracted Ebola back to the United States for treatment.Real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were both critical of bringing the infected missionaries back to the U.S. Columnist Ann Coulter went further, questioning why the missionaries were working in the “disease-ridden cesspools” of Africa.Dr. Kent Brantly, with Samaritan’s Purse, and Nancy Writebol, with Service in Mission, are medical missionaries who were infected with Ebola while working with patients in Liberia. They are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.“If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia,” Coulter wrote in a column.But the professional provocateur is facing a backlash from the mainstream Christian establishment, especially evangelicals, for whom overseas missionary work is an article of faith.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 41 weeks 5 days ago
When Julie Rodgers came out as a lesbian at age 17, her mom responded by taking her to an ex-gay ministry in Dallas. Rodgers had grown up in a nondenominational evangelical church where she assumed being gay wasn’t an option.“With ex-gay ministries, it gave me the space to be honest about my sexuality,” said Rodgers, now 28. Yet that same honesty eventually led her away from ex-gay ministries.Rodgers spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 45 weeks 3 days ago
What does it take to produce the first-ever papal high-five? A meeting with American televangelists, apparently.The gesture came during a three-hour meeting of Pope Francis and Texas televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, just weeks after the pontiff met with televangelist Joel Osteen and other religious leaders. At the June 24 meeting, Robison said he was so moved by Pope Francis’ message of the gospel that he asked the translator to ask Francis for a high-five. The pope obliged, raised his arm, and the two men smacked hands.The televangelists are among some wealthier U.S. evangelicals who have recently met with Francis, who has called for a focus on the poor and a simple lifestyle for clergy.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 46 weeks 2 days ago
A new biography is raising questions about the life and relationships of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi dissident whose theological writings remain widely influential among Christians.Both left-leaning and right-leaning Christians herald the life and writings of Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for his involvement in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Bonhoeffer was engaged to a woman at the time of his execution, observing that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin.The new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from University of Virginia religious studies professor Charles Marsh, implies that Bonhoeffer may have had a same-sex attraction to his student, friend and later biographer Eberhard Bethge.“There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh’s claim,” Christian Wiman, who teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, wrote in a review for The Wall Street Journal. But there’s been no bloodbath yet, at least considering a few initial reviews.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 48 weeks 4 days ago
How many voters know that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Roman Catholic? Or that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist, not a Latino Catholic? Or that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worships at both a Catholic parish and an evangelical church?More importantly, does it matter?Actually, it does in today’s Republican Party, where a number of factors have forged a new religious identity that supersedes familiar old categories.These prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost insurmountable. Look no further than the stunning Virginia primary victory of Dave Brat, a Catholic with degrees from a Reformed Protestant college in Michigan and Princeton Theological Seminary, who took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 49 weeks 3 days ago
New York City’s venerable Union Theological Seminary plans to pull all investments in fossil fuels from its $108.4 million endowment, casting it as part of a bid to atone for the “sin” of contributing to climate change.President Serene Jones said Union is the first seminary in the country to take such a step, which came from a unanimous vote from its board.Union’s portfolio has been investing 11 percent (or about $12 million) of its endowment in fossil fuels. Jones did not mince words in condemning the school’s contributions to fossil fuel, quoting “the wages of sin is death” from Scripture.“We have sinned, and we see this divestment as an act of repentance for Union,” Jones wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine. “Climate change poses a catastrophic threat. As stewards of God’s creation, we simply must act to stop this sin.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 50 weeks 2 days ago
Thou shalt not steal another pastor’s sermon?Recent cases of high-profile pastors who have been accused of lifting others’ material are raising questions about whether pulpit plagiarism is on the rise — and whether it has become a more forgivable sin.Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was accused last year of plagiarism in material he wrote with Tyndale House Publishers and InterVarsity Press. “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for,” Driscoll said in a statement. Most recently, popular Oklahoma City-based megachurch pastor Craig Groeschel has been accused of plagiarizing the work of writer and comedian Danny Murphy.Groeschel is the pastor of Lifechurch.tv, a tech-savvy megachurch founded in 1996 that has quickly grown to one of the nation’s largest churches, with 80 weekly “worship experiences” across 19 campuses in five states.On his blog, Murphy suggested Groeschel used material that Murphy wrote in the now-defunct magazine The Door in 2000. The material was later used by Groeschel in a sermon and in a book now titled Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After, printed by Multnomah Books. Murphy’s name never appeared with it.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 50 weeks 5 days ago
More than four in 10 Americans support the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate, which requires nonprofits and businesses to provide birth control even if they have religious objections.The poll from Public Religion Research Institute comes as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its decision in a challenge to the contraception mandate filed by the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and a Mennonite-owned wood cabinetry business.Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but nearly 100 nonprofits, colleges and universities, and businesses run by people with religious objections to various forms of contraception have filed lawsuits over the mandate.The poll found majority support for requiring publicly held corporations (61 percent) and privately owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby (57 percent) to provide contraception coverage at no cost to their employees. In addition, majorities of Americans said religiously affiliated hospitals (56 percent) and religiously affiliated colleges (52 percent) should be covered by the mandate.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 51 weeks 4 days ago
Will the United Methodist Church soon have to drop the “United” part of its name?A group of 80 pastors is suggesting that the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination is facing an imminent split because of an inability to resolve long-standing theological disputes about sexuality and church doctrine.But more than lamenting the current divisions, the pastors indicated there is little reason to think reconciliation — or even peaceful coexistence — could be found. Like a couple heading to divorce court, the pastors cited “irreconcilable differences” that can’t be mended.“We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a retired president of evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, who joined the statement.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 4 days ago
Two pastors are no longer listed on a Reformed evangelical group’s leadership after a different pastor from their church confessed to covering up sex abuse claims. Pastors Joshua Harris and C.J. Mahaney have left the Gospel Coalition council after a trial involving child abuse in the church they have both overseen.A criminal trial that concluded last week has raised questions about which pastors at Covenant Life Church, a megachurch in Gaithersburg, Md., knew what about the abuse in which years.Nathaniel Morales, 56, was convicted Thursday of sexually abusing three young boys between 1983 and 1991 when he was a youth leader.Former Covenant Life pastor Grant Layman suggested while testifying about allegations against Morales that he withheld information from the police about the abuse.“Did you have an obligation to report the alleged abuse?” public defender Alan Drew, who represented Morales, asked during cross-examination. “I believe so,” Layman said. “And you didn’t,” Drew responded. “No,” Layman said.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 1 week ago
Pulitzer-Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson draws a wide fan base that spans lovers of serious literature, including many conservative Christians. This fall, she will release “Lila,” a follow-up to her earlier novels “Gilead” (2004) and “Home” (2008) about a 1950s-era Iowa town that won her many accolades.Robinson’s diverse fan base was described in The American Conservative as “Christian, not Conservative.” As the author noted, Robinson is far from holding up ideals put forward by the religious right. But that doesn’t stop conservative Christians from engaging with her writing.Before giving an address at Union Theological Seminary this spring, Robinson spoke to Religion News Service about a variety of social issues. In the interview, Robinson explained why she thinks Christians are fearful, why she loves theologian John Calvin and whether she’ll join Twitter.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 2 weeks ago
When evangelicals and Catholics set aside centuries of mutual suspicion 20 years ago, the idea was fairly simple: Even if we can’t always work together, at least let’s not work against each other.Now, two decades after the launch of the group Evangelicals and Catholics Together , relations between the two groups appear stronger than ever, forged by shared battles over abortion, same-sex marriage, religious freedom, and immigration.A new pope is finding crossover appeal among evangelicals who share Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelism and his distaste for the fancier trappings and authoritarianism of the papacy.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 5 weeks ago
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, widely considered a rising star in the Republican Party and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, will be the commencement speaker at Liberty University on May 10.“Many believe [Jindal] could hold the highest office in the land someday,” Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday.In an interview, Falwell was hesitant to give his personal opinion of Jindal since the two men have never met. Instead, he deferred to Liberty’s law school dean, Mat Staver.“He’s a committed Christian,” Falwell said. “Mat Staver said he heard him speak and he sounded like a Baptist preacher.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 5 weeks ago
Could a series of “blood moon” events be connected to Jesus’ return? Some Christians think so.In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the moon slid into Earth’s shadow, casting a reddish hue on the moon. There are about two lunar eclipses per year, according to NASA, but what’s unusual this time around is that there will be four blood moons within 18 months — astronomers call that a tetrad — and all of them occur during Jewish holidays.A string of books have been published surrounding the event, with authors referring to a Bible passage that refers to the moon turning into blood. “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord,” Joel 2:31 says.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 6 weeks ago
World Vision found itself testing the evangelical boundaries in March when it announced it would recognize employees’ same-sex marriages. Within 48 hours, it reversed itself.At its core, the reversal raised a stark question: Can you be an evangelical and support same-sex marriage?Reverberations from the policy flip-flop continue to unfold. Last week, Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving at Google, resigned from the international relief organization’s board. Faithful America, an online Christian community focused on social justice, had gathered 16,000 signatures calling for Fuller and John Park, another Google employee who sits on the World Vision board, to step down.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 6 weeks ago
Florida megachurch pastor Bob Coy has resigned from his 20,000-member Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale congregation over a “moral failing.”A statement on the church’s website reported the news: "On April 3, 2014, Bob Coy resigned as Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, effective immediately, after confessing to a moral failing in his life which disqualifies him from continuing his leadership role at the church he has led since its founding in 1985."A call to Coy on Sunday was not returned. But it appears extra-marital affairs may have been one reason.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 7 weeks ago
Days after discussing the U.S. Catholic bishops’ fight over contraception with President Obama, Pope Francis met Monday with members of the Green family, the Oklahoma billionaires whose company, Hobby Lobby, took their challenge to Obama’s contraception mandate to the Supreme Court last week.The pope met with Obama on Thursday for the first time, touching on some hot-button disputes between the White House and U.S. Catholic bishops.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 8 weeks ago
Nearly two years ago, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan T. Cathy caused a backlash when he said he supported marriage between a man and a woman. Gay groups announced boycotts, and Christian consumers rallied around the fast-food chain’s chicken sandwiches.In a recent interview, however, Cathy said that while he still holds the same position, he regrets “making the company a symbol in the marriage debate.”Similarly, when Phil Robertson was suspended from his popular reality TV show Duck Dynasty for making controversial comments about homosexuality to GQ magazine, gay groups cheered the decision as evangelical fans swamped the A&E network with complaints. Within a week, Robertson was reinstated.So it was much the same this week when the evangelical relief group World Vision announced that it would allow employees who are in same-sex marriages. Within 48 hours, the $1 billion Christian organization reversed course, saying on Wednesday that it had made a mistake.
Q&A: World Vision President Rich Stearns on Sponsors, Staff Lost Over Same-Sex Marriage Announcements
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 8 weeks ago
In an attempt to create unity, World Vision managed to create a hornet’s nest around the issue of same-sex marriage. Its president Rich Stearns openly acknowledges the mistakes the relief organization made while flip-flopping on the issue.Earlier this week, the World Vision announced that it would allow employees to be in same-sex marriages. Within 48 hours, the $1 billion Christian organization reversed course, saying on Wednesday that it had made a mistake. The backlash illustrated how evangelicals will continue to wrestle with a growing cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage.In an interview with RNS on Thursday, Stearns suggested that the number of sponsors lost was under but around 5,000. Those who sponsor a child pay $35 each month, so the loss could have tallied up to $2.1 million a year.Stearns also spoke with RNS on how the decision and its reversal has impacted the organization, the number of staff who have resigned and the regret he has had this week. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 8 weeks ago
Christian relief organization World Vision has reversed its decision after announcing this week that it will no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee conduct manual.The earlier decision was a groundbreaking change for the Christian institution that came with heavy criticism from evangelicals. After its initial announcement, the Assemblies of God had urged its members to consider dropping support.Ryan Reed tweeted on Wednesday (March 26), “My wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2000 kids dropped.”World Vision’s child sponsorships are $35 a month, which means the organization could have lost at least $840,000 in revenue over the longterm.About $567 million of World Vision’s $1 billion budget comes from private contributions, according to the 2012 annual report, according to Christianity Today.“We’ve listened,” World Vision president Stearns told reporter, to supporters who were concerned about the conduct change in policy. “We believe we made a mistake. We’re asking them to forgive and understand our poor judgement in the original decision.”
Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey 1 year 8 weeks ago
Christian relief organization World Vision has announced that it will no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee conduct manual, a groundbreaking change for an evangelical institution and a signal that gay marriage continues to affect religious organizations.The organization’s U.S. branch will recognize same-sex marriage as being within the norms of “abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage” as part of its employee conduct code.“I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue,” said World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns in a letter to employees .World Vision is the second-largest organization listed with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, behind Salvation Army. It also ranks among America’s top 10 charities, with revenue around $1 billion.