Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes for Religion News Service.
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Here’s the Faith in the ‘American Sniper’ You Won’t See in the Film
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.
7 Ways Religious Affiliation Will (and Won’t) Change in the New Congress
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.
How Adoption Has Forced Evangelicals to Grapple With Race Relations
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).”
New Report Reveals Poor Responses to Sexual Assault at Bob Jones University
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.
Will Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ Disappoint Christians? It Depends
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.
What Ever Happened to Rob Bell, the Pastor Who Questioned the Gates of Hell?
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.
Are #Christian Hashtags Rallying the Faithful or Just Luring Trolls?
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.
Southern Baptists, LGBT Activists Happily Coexist, but for How Long?
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.”
Evangelical Leader Russell Moore Denounces Ex-Gay Therapy
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.
Is California Forcing Churches to Pay for Abortions?
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.
Mark Driscoll Shares His Experiences After Resignation
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.”
Greek Orthodox Launch Rebuilding of St. Nicholas, the Only Church Destroyed on 9/11
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.
Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church
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.
Houston Subpoenas Pastors’ Sermons in Gay Rights Ordinance Case
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.
Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought
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.
Seminaries Awarded $1.5 million to Include Science in Coursework
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.
Stanley Hauerwas Drops Out of General Theological Seminary Lecture Series After Controversy
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.”
Interview: Marilynne Robinson on the Language of Faith in Writing
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.
Methodists Resolve Gay Marriage Complaint Against 36 Pastors Without a Trial
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.”
‘Left Behind’ and ‘The Good Lie’ Face Off During Hollywood’s Year of Faith-Based Films
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.