Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana
Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is a senior writer for Nashville-based Facts & Trends magazine. He lives in Nashville, Tenn.

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Baptist-Hindu Couple Write How-to Book on Interfaith Marriage

by Bob Smietana 10-28-2013

Baptist minister J. Dana Trent and her husband, Fred Eaker, a former Hindu monk. Photo via RNS/courtesy McClure Muntsinger PR

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.”

Feds Offer Atheists a Clergy Tax Break That They Don’t Want

by Bob Smietana 08-21-2013
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion F

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. Photo via RNS.

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.

ACLU Says Magistrate Can’t Order ‘Messiah’ Name Change

by Bob Smietana 08-13-2013
Screenshot from USA Today video report on the case.

Screenshot from USA Today video report on the case. Video courtesy USA Today

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.

Presbyterians Stir Theology Debate by Rejecting Popular New Hymn

by Bob Smietana 08-07-2013
 Photo courtesy Getty Music

Songwriter Keith Getty, shown with his wife Kristyn, is the co-author of “In Christ Alone." Photo courtesy Getty Music

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.

Reza Aslan Defends Controversial New Book on Jesus

by Bob Smietana 08-02-2013
Reza Aslan, Photo courtesy Malin Fezahai.

Reza Aslan, Photo courtesy Malin Fezahai.

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.

The Evolution of Southern Baptist Ethicist Russell Moore

by Bob Smietana 07-23-2013
Photo courtesy RNS.

Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Photo courtesy RNS.

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.

Tweet Your Way Out of Purgatory (But There’s Work Involved)

by Bob Smietana 07-19-2013
Photo courtesy RNS.

La Divina Commedia di Dante (Dante and the Divine Comedy). Photo courtesy RNS.

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.

The Power of Partnership

by Bob Smietana 07-01-2013

Memphis' Congregational Health Network has become a model for how hospitals and faith communities can work together.

Churches Move to Cut Ties to Scouts After Gay Policy Change

by Bob Smietana 06-04-2013

Boy Scouts of America uniform and flag. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.

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.

Church Leaders Tackle the Stigma of Mental Illness

by Bob Smietana 05-06-2013
'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko / Shutterstock.com

'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko / Shutterstock.com

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.

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