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Beneath the Stereotypes, a Stressful Life for Preachers’ Kids
The day Franklin Graham was born, he received a telegram.
“Welcome to this sin-sick world,” the Western Union message said, “and to the challenge you have to walk in your daddy’s footsteps.”
It didn’t take long for Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, to realize that being a preacher’s kid would be both a blessing and a burden.
“I love my parents,” Graham said in a recent interview, “but there came a time where I couldn’t let my parents live my life.”
Boston Marathon’s Holy Ground and Sacred Bonds
When it comes to running, America often looks like a country divided between apostles and apostates.
For true believers like Olympian Ryan Hall, marathons assume an almost-biblical importance.
“I have heard stories and had personal experiences in my own running when I felt very strongly that God was involved,” Hall, an evangelical Christian, has said.
Other Americans — athletic atheists, you might call them — roll their eyes and see marathons as a painful waste of a perfectly nice day.
In the Church of Running, I sit somewhere in the back pew.
Nicodemus, the Mystery Man of Holy Week
He came to Jesus at night, sneaking off to see the man behind the miracles.
He was a powerful Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He wasn’t supposed to mix with the motley lot that followed Jesus.
But Nicodemus had to know: Was the charismatic Galilean for real?
What Pope Benedict XVI Shares With His Notorious Namesake
You won’t find many Catholic churches named after Pope Benedict IX.
Benedict IX squandered the papacy’s moral and financial riches in bordellos and banquet halls. His violence and debauchery “shocked even the Romans,” said philosopher Bertrand Russell, which is kind of like being busted for lewdness in Las Vegas. He was a puppet pope, installed by his powerful family at a time when rival clans ruled Rome. The young man seemed uninterested in religious life, rushing through ordination only after his election to the Throne of St. Peter in 1032.
St. Peter Damian called Benedict IX a "demon from hell in the disguise of a priest." The Catholic Encyclopedia labels him a “disgrace to the chair of St. Peter.” He was the first Pope Benedict to resign, selling the papacy for gold in order to marry. He later tried to reclaim the holy office and served three stints as pope between 1032 and 1048.
Nearly a millennium later, the pious and bookish Pope Benedict XVI seems completely contrary to his notorious namesake. Even if his papacy has stumbled at times, by all accounts the current Benedict has led a chaste life devoted to serving his church.
The Gospel Roots of the ‘Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll’
Before Elvis and Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash. Before Aretha and Whitney and Beyonce. Before the blues met gospel and conceived rock ‘n’ roll, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
The first gospel superstar, Tharpe was a guitar hero in a flower-print dress whose bluesy chops and strutting style would be mimicked by countless acolytes, both white and black.
“I mean, she’s singing religious music, but she is singing rock ‘n’ roll,” said one such devotee, Jerry Lee Lewis, of “Great Balls of Fire” fame. “She’s hitting that guitar, playing that guitar, and she is singing. I said, ‘Whoooo. Sister Rosetta Tharpe!’”
Though no longer a household name, Tharpe gets the star treatment in a new documentary for the PBS series American Masters. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll will be broadcast Friday on PBS in honor of Black History Month.
Pope Benedict’s American Fan Club Full of Evangelicals
Not all Catholics appreciated Pope Benedict XVI’s staunch defense of Christian orthodoxy, traditional marriage, and life from conception to natural death. But American evangelicals sure did.
As word spread on Monday of Benedict’s resignation, many evangelicals lamented the impending loss of a powerful spokesman for their conservative causes.
“Pope Benedict XVI has exemplified moral courage and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel message,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian political group.
“We honor him for his lifelong service to the Lord and his inestimable intellectual contribution to Christian orthodoxy.”
The high praise — “evangelical Benedictions,” you might say — extended beyond U.S. borders as well.
Obama’s Use of Scripture Has Elements of Lincoln, King
President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.
When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.
His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.
Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.
“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”
Virtual Vices Show Shift in American Morality
The seven deadly sins have new partners in crime.
Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride still attract a lot of attention. But as the Internet and other media invade American life, our vices have also gone virtual, according to a new study.
Nearly half of Americans say they are tempted to idle the hours away on the Internet, video games and television, according to Barna Group, a California-based Christian research organization.
God is Alive and Well in America, Says Gallup Chief
Despite a deep drop in the number of Americans who identify with a particular faith, the country could be on the cusp of a religious renaissance, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of The Gallup Poll.
Grounded in more than a million Gallup interviews, Newport's new book, God is Alive and Well, argues that the aging of the baby boomers, the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the links between religion and health could portend a bright future for faith in America.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Poll: Most Americans Say Employers Should Cover Contraception
Most Americans say that employers — even religious ones — should provide birth control coverage to their employees, according to a survey released on Monday.
The poll by LifeWay Research also showed that almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) believe businesses should be required to provide the coverage for free, even if contraception conflicts with the owner’s religious ethics.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law, President Barack Obama issued regulations that require most employers, including some religious ones like Catholic colleges and hospitals, to provide birth control coverage. The administration has said it may expand the policy to accommodate additional religious organizations.
‘Two and a Half Men’ Star Becomes Christian, Blasts Show
Another star of the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” has gone rogue — but in a decidedly different direction than notorious carouser Charlie Sheen.
Actor Angus T. Jones — the “half” in the sitcom’s title — says in a new online testimony that he’s become a Seventh-day Adventist and loathes the “filth” produced by his raunchy show.
“You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that,” says Jones, 19, in a video posted online by Forerunner Chronicles. “I know I can’t. I’m not OK with what I’m learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show.”
“Please stop watching it,” says Jones, who reportedly earns $350,000 per episode and has starred in the show since he was 10. “Please stop filling your head with filth.”
Episcopal Leader Says S.C. Diocese Can’t Secede
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on Nov. 15 that the Diocese of South Carolina can't unilaterally secede from the national church, as she urged conservatives to stay despite sharp disagreements over theology and homosexuality.
“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed,” said Jefferts Schori, who heads the 1.9 million-member denomination.
Leaders in the Diocese of South Carolina announced Oct. 17 that disciplinary actions taken against their bishop, Mark Lawrence, triggered their disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church. On Sept. 18, the denomination's Disciplinary Board for Bishops found Lawrence guilty of abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing its rules.
Buddhist, Hindu Make History in New Congress
Congress will become a shade more religiously diverse this January, after Tuesday’s election of the first Hindu representative and first Buddhist senator.
Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, will become the first Hindu-American congresswoman, after defeating her Republican rival on Tuesday.
Looking For Undecided Voters? Check the Pulpits
Pollsters and politicians hunting for the rare and elusive undecided voter might want to train their sights on the pulpit.
A whopping 22 percent of Protestant pastors haven’t settled on a presidential candidate, according to a survey released earlier this month by LifeWay Research. By comparison, just 4 percent of all likely voters remain undecided, according to Gallup.
The undecided pastor trend doesn’t appear to be a one-time fluke. A similar survey conducted in October 2008 also found that 22 percent of pastors hadn’t chosen between Obama and then-GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.
The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 3 by LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, which was founded by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pursued by politicians, mocked by "Saturday Night Live" and barely tolerated by partisans, undecided voters get a bum rap. But there are good reasons for pastors to remain ambivalent until Election Day, experts said.
After Romney Meeting, Billy Graham Website Scrubs Mormon ‘Cult’ Reference
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed language labeling Mormonism a “cult” from its website after the famed preacher met with Republican nominee Mitt Romney last week and pledged to help his presidential campaign.
The removal came after a gay rights group reported that the “cult” reference remained online even after Graham all but endorsed Romney, a Mormon, on Oct. 11.
Ken Barun, the BGEA’s chief of staff, confirmed the removal on Tuesday.
“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Barun said in a statement. “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”
Majority of Protestant Pastors Back Romney, But Many Still Undecided
A majority of Protestant pastors plan to vote for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to a new survey, but nearly a quarter are still undecided less than a month from Election Day.
Just 17 percent of Protestant pastors said they would vote to re-elect President Obama, with 57 percent favoring Romney and 22 percent undecided, according to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research.
Based in Nashville, Tenn., the research firm is a branch of LifeWay Christian Resources.
The results are remarkably similar to a LifeWay survey conducted in October 2008, which found that 55 percent of Protestant pastors planned to vote for then-GOP nominee John McCain, 20 percent for Obama and 22 percent were undecided.
Biden-Ryan Debate: Battle of the Catholics
When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.
A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”
Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.
Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.
“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.
Campaigns’ Faith Outreach Centers on Economy
BETHESDA, Md. — With voters focused intently on pocketbook issues, both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are framing their faith-outreach efforts around the economy as the presidential campaign enters its final weeks.
That marks a shift from previous election cycles, campaign advisers say.
“That’s a major difference between this election and the last. The economy is the single issue that transcends every demographic, every coalition, every interest group,” said Mark DeMoss, an evangelical who has led Romney’s efforts to rally conservative Christians — a key Republican voting bloc — around the GOP nominee, who is a Mormon.
“Evangelicals are no less interested in the unemployment rate and the cost of living than non-evangelicals,” DeMoss added.
Romney Courts Evangelicals With `Judeo-Christian’ Values
Mitt Romney angered evangelicals during his first White House run in 2008 by blurring the theological lines between their faith and his Mormonism. Lurching in the other direction, he irked them again by scarcely mentioning religion at all during this year’s GOP primaries.
But Romney has finally found some middle ground, evangelical leaders say, by sidelining theology and stressing the “Judeo-Christian values” that he shares with social conservatives.
“He’s made it very clear not to gloss over the theological differences that his faith has with evangelicals,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council in Washington. “As long as he talks about the shared values of our religious traditions, I think he’s good.”
Romney did exactly that during a Sept. 9 Meet the Press interview, saying that religion inspired him to run for president — without mentioning the word “Mormon.”
“The Judeo-Christian ethics that I was brought up with -- the sense of obligation to one’s fellow man, an absolute conviction that we are all sons and daughters of the same God and therefore in a human family — is one of the reasons I am doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Conservative Christian leaders are taking the same approach, urging evangelicals to focus on Romney’s policies and principles, not the particulars of his faith.
Obama Surges Ahead Among Catholic Voters
President Obama’s support among Catholic voters has surged since June, according to a new poll, despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.
On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49-47 percent), according to the Pew Research Center. Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54-39 percent, according to a Pew poll conducted on Sept. 16.
Among all registered voters, Obama leads Romney 51-42 percent, according to Pew.
Obama and Romney are essentially tied among white Catholics, which some pollsters call the ultimate swing group.
On Sept. 24 Romney unveiled his Catholics for Romney Coalition, which includes numerous politicians, beer magnate Pete Coors and Princeton University intellectual Robert P. George. The Obama campaign also has a Catholic coalition.