The Common Good

Life and Peace

Expecting New Love

Date: July 1, 2014
My husband and I are eagerly expecting our first child (a girl) on July 5—just a month away from the time I am writing this.

When Prayer Becomes Control

Andrew W.K. at the Village Voice received a question from someone whose brother was diagnosed with cancer. In his grief, he is frustrated by his grandma’s prayers and sees them as “superstitious nonsense.” Andrew’s brilliant response is a very worthwhile read, in which he positions prayer as a posture of humility, a deep realization of our smallness.

When senseless tragedy occurs, people of faith often rush to explain and control. As finite human beings, we are limited in our knowledge and power, which makes us uncomfortable. When we encounter something incomprehensible, we are driven to explain it. When a situation reels out of control, we long to control it. We invite God to fill those gaps of our discomfort, our lack of understanding and control.

We look for redemption stories, the ways God is bringing about good through a tragic situation. We do this to avoid letting the grief overwhelm us. Like grandma, we pray because we are hoping to claim some power in our helplessness. Our prayers end up being more beneficial for ourselves than the person we are actually praying for.

Unfortunately, what happens then is we cease to need God beyond the quick explanation. We’ve tidied up the situation with reverent prayers and spiritual meaning. We’ve quickly salvaged the ecosystem of our faith despite a tragic intrusive incident — our belief in the God of the gaps remain intact. Everything stays the same. When we do this, we are making God into an idol, one that explains and controls according to our sensibilities.

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Pondering Churches' Responses to Domestic Violence

Date: June 22, 2014
Most pastors these days are at least a bit wiser both theologically and practically in how they deal with someone facing domestic violence. That’s one result from a groundbreaking survey released last week by Sojourners, a national Christian social justice organization.

Christians Persecuted Worldwide

For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.

Baptists Join Others in Praising Nominee for Religious Freedom Ambassador

Date: July 28, 2014
President Obama has nominated law professor and Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will be charged with promoting religious freedom around the world.

Finding God on Death Row

One of my dear friends, Jim Wallis at Sojourners in Washington, told me something I’ll never forget: “Politicians are always going to hold up their finger and check the direction of the wind before they vote. What we have to do is change the direction of the wind.” That’s what we need to do.

Religious Leaders Must Break Their Silence

Date: July 24, 2014
Sojourners and IMA World Health (on behalf of the WeWillSpeakOut.US coalition) recently released a new report, Broken Silence: A Call for Churches to Speak Out, based on a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 U.S. Protestant pastors. According to the report, U.S. faith leaders seriously underestimate the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence experienced by people within their congregations. They also lack the tools to address it in constructive and helpful ways. The good news is more than 8 in 10 said they would take appropriate action to reduce sexual and domestic violence if they and the training and resources to do so.

Will the Catholic Church Change Its Stand on Marriage and Divorce?

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

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'All pastors are interim pastors'

When megachurch pastor Max Lucado greeted his successor at his San Antonio church, the two stood onstage and tried to put on each other’s shoes. They couldn’t.

The problem? Randy Frazee, Lucado’s successor, was six inches shorter.

The point, say co-authors William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird in their new book about pastoral succession, came through loud and clear: No leader can stay forever. And none will be exactly like the one who came before.

For congregations that haven’t thought about who will succeed their current pastor, the authors of the new book “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works” have words of warning: Be prepared.

Churches may not know the day or the hour when they need to have an interim or permanent replacement for the senior pastor.

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Many Church Choirs Are Dying. Here’s Why

James Merritt spent years as senior pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch that featured a mighty choir.

Then he changed his tune.

At 50, he left First Baptist Church Snellville to plant a new church — 200 people in a rented space at a high school 12 miles away — focused on reaching a young generation.

There was and is no choir. And that puts Merritt’s current congregation, Cross Pointe Church, right on trend.

The newly released National Congregations Study finds church choirs are on the downbeat in white Protestant churches across the theological spectrum.

Choirs stand strong in black Protestant congregations, where 90 percent of regular attendees say there’s a choir at the main service. The same is true for three in four (76 percent) Catholic worshippers.

But among white conservative evangelicals, only 40 percent of worshippers say they hear a choir at services, down from 63 percent 14 years ago.

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