Daniel Burke

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Beneath the Stereotypes, a Stressful Life for Preachers’ Kids

by Daniel Burke 05-03-2013

Jay Bakker, son of televangelists Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, identifies with Matthew Warren as a fellow PK. Photo courtesy RNS.

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

by Daniel Burke 04-17-2013
Photo courtesy Daniel Burke

Daniel Burke (second from left) with his wife and family after the Marine Corp Marathon in 2007. Photo courtesy Daniel Burke

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

by Daniel Burke 03-28-2013

Nicodemus and Jesus, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov c. 1850. Photo courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons

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

by Daniel Burke 02-27-2013

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

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’

by Daniel Burke 02-20-2013
RNS photo by Charles Peterson/courtesy PBS American Masters.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performs in Cafe Society in 1940. RNS photo by Charles Peterson/courtesy PBS American Masters.

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 MastersSister 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

by Daniel Burke 02-12-2013

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

by Daniel Burke 01-16-2013
Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Microphone stand where the President will swear his oath on Monday. Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

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

by Daniel Burke 01-10-2013
Seven deadly sins, © RTimages / Shutterstock.com

Seven deadly sins, © RTimages / Shutterstock.com

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

by Daniel Burke 01-07-2013
 Jim Lopes / Shutterstock

Jim Lopes / Shutterstock

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

by Daniel Burke 12-03-2012
Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

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.