Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes for Religion News Service.
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What Do Americans Pray for? Themselves. And Maybe a Sports Team
When Americans aren’t busy praying for themselves or their own needs — and most of them are — many are seeking divine intervention on behalf of a favorite sports team or the golden ticket in the lottery, according to a new survey.
About 13 percent of Americans who pray say they pray for sports teams, compared with about one in five (21 percent) who say they have prayed to win the lottery, the new survey from LifeWay Research suggests.
A survey earlier this year from Public Religion Research Institute suggested that more Americans (26 percent) pray for their sports team, while more than seven in 10 (73 percent) say they have never done this.
Some of LifeWay’s new survey’s main findings include:
Tensions at Episcopal Church’s Oldest Seminary Reflect Larger Crisis in Future of Theology Schools
Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.
General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.
The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.
“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”
The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.
How Lecrae Mixed Rap and Theology to Find Huge, Mainstream Success
He’s been crowned the “new hip-hop king” and his newest album, “Anomaly,” topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He’s been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with host Jimmy Fallon.
It’s the kind of mainstream success that has eluded most Christian rappers. Then again, some people are still trying to decide if hip-hop star Lecrae is a Christian rapper, or a rapper who happens to be Christian.
It depends who you ask, including Lecrae himself.
“God has also raised up lowly, kind of insignificant individuals to do miraculous and incredible things,” Lecrae, 34, said in an interview. “We’re the Gideons, we’re the Davids. Even Jesus himself made himself of no reputation. It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves. He’s not a megalomaniac, he’s deserving of glory and honor, and to use individuals that demonstrate that it was him, and him alone, it accomplishes his mission and that’s success.”
Episcopal Church’s Katharine Jefferts Schori Will Not Seek Re-Election
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.
Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.
“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”
Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.
Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.
Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.
Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to Launch NYC Campus
Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of the most influential evangelical churches in the country led by author and speaker Tim Keller, has partnered with a Mississippi-based school to form a seminary campus in New York City in 2015.
The partnership between Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary fits in with the desire of evangelicals to plant their flag in large cities such as New York. It also reflects the influence of Reformed theology on evangelical thinking, as well as the impact of megachurches on theological education.
And while many seminaries are still suffering declining revenues since the economic crisis of 2008, the model of building campuses in major cities has proved successful for the Mississippi flagship seminary.
Students in the New York City campus will be trained to start churches by pursuing a two-year master’s of arts degree in biblical studies at $430-450 per credit hour before receiving another year of pastoral church planting education from Redeemer. The campus will likely launch in Redeemer’s offices near Herald Square in Manhattan.
Why Same-Sex Marriage is Expected to Heat Up This Election Among Evangelicals
As more states affirm same-sex marriage, U.S. evangelicals continue to wrestle with homosexuality, setting boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not, and setting the stage for a heated fall election season.
This week, things got hotter.
A new group called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality launched Sept. 9 and is collecting signatures from evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory board includes author and speaker Brian McLaren, former National Association of Evangelicals vice president Richard Cizik, and former USAID faith adviser Chris LaTondresse. Cizik resigned from his NAE position over his support for same-sex civil unions.
“Our organization is not taking a theological position on the issue of the sacrament of marriage,” said spokesman Brandan Robertson. “We just want evangelicals to see that it is possible to hold a plethora of beliefs about sexuality and marriage while affirming the rights of LGBTQ men and women to be civilly married under the law.”
Pastors’ Letter on Mark Driscoll: Step Down From All Aspects of Ministry and Leadership
A letter from nine Mars Hill Church pastors to their fellow elders offers the most trenchant criticism yet of controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who recently stepped down for at least six weeks amid a series of accusations.
The pastors did not mince words in their lengthy Aug. 22 letter [full text] concerning Driscoll, who has been caught up in allegations that include plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds, and abuse of power:
- [W]e direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
- He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
- He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.
The letter was posted within a Mars Hill online network and provided to Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging updates about Mars Hill.
The 4,000-word letter suggests there were insufficient layers of accountability at Mars Hill, a congregation of an estimated 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states, and that power was consolidated at the top with Driscoll given free rein to do what he wanted.
Mark Driscoll to Step Down While Mars Hill Reviews Charges
Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while church leaders review formal charges lodged by a group of pastors that he abused his power.
The 43-year-old pastor has been under fire in recent months for plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds, and improper behavior toward subordinates.
Returning from vacation Sunday, Driscoll addressed Mars Hill worship services through a pre-recorded message.
“I want to say to my Mars Hill family, past and present, I’m very sorry. I genuinely mean it,” Driscoll said in his address. “I’m very sorry for the times I’ve been angry, short or insensitive. I’m very sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”
Driscoll said he will not do any outside speaking for the foreseeable future and postpone the publication of his next book.
Mark Driscoll's Books Pulled from the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Stores
The nation’s second largest Christian book retailer has pulled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.
Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, informed stores on Friday to stop selling books by the Seattle pastor who has been in hot water.
Last week, leaders of the church planting network Acts 29 removed Driscoll and his churches from the group he helped found and asked that he “step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”
Driscoll has been an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years. His Mars Hill Church attracts some 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. He has been provocative, occasionally profane, and has faced allegations of plagiarism and inflating book sales.
The mushrooming set of allegations led the publishing arm to suspend sales while it “monitors the developments of his ministry,” said LifeWay media relations manager Marty King.
“It was a cumulative effect,” King said. “The Acts 29 leadership asking him to step down was certainly a part of that.”
Ebola Treatment Prompts Criticism from Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Ben Carson
Prominent conservative voices are criticizing the decision to bring two medical missionaries who contracted Ebola back to the United States for treatment.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were both critical of bringing the infected missionaries back to the U.S. Columnist Ann Coulter went further, questioning why the missionaries were working in the “disease-ridden cesspools” of Africa.
Dr. Kent Brantly, with Samaritan’s Purse, and Nancy Writebol, with Service in Mission, are medical missionaries who were infected with Ebola while working with patients in Liberia. They are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
“If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia,” Coulter wrote in a column.
But the professional provocateur is facing a backlash from the mainstream Christian establishment, especially evangelicals, for whom overseas missionary work is an article of faith.
Gay, Christian, and … Celibate: The Changing Face of the Homosexuality Debate
When Julie Rodgers came out as a lesbian at age 17, her mom responded by taking her to an ex-gay ministry in Dallas. Rodgers had grown up in a nondenominational evangelical church where she assumed being gay wasn’t an option.
“With ex-gay ministries, it gave me the space to be honest about my sexuality,” said Rodgers, now 28. Yet that same honesty eventually led her away from ex-gay ministries.
Rodgers spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.
When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.
For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.
Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.
But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.
See the First-Ever 'Papal High-five'
What does it take to produce the first-ever papal high-five? A meeting with American televangelists, apparently.
The gesture came during a three-hour meeting of Pope Francis and Texas televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, just weeks after the pontiff met with televangelist Joel Osteen and other religious leaders. At the June 24 meeting, Robison said he was so moved by Pope Francis’ message of the gospel that he asked the translator to ask Francis for a high-five. The pope obliged, raised his arm, and the two men smacked hands.
Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer Gay? A New Biography Raises Questions
A new biography is raising questions about the life and relationships of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi dissident whose theological writings remain widely influential among Christians.
Both left-leaning and right-leaning Christians herald the life and writings of Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for his involvement in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Bonhoeffer was engaged to a woman at the time of his execution, observing that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin.
The new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from University of Virginia religious studies professor Charles Marsh, implies that Bonhoeffer may have had a same-sex attraction to his student, friend and later biographer Eberhard Bethge.
“There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh’s claim,” Christian Wiman, who teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, wrote in a review for The Wall Street Journal. But there’s been no bloodbath yet, at least considering a few initial reviews.
Meet the 'Evangelical' Catholics Who Are Remaking the GOP
How many voters know that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Roman Catholic? Or that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist, not a Latino Catholic? Or that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worships at both a Catholic parish and an evangelical church?
More importantly, does it matter?
Actually, it does in today’s Republican Party, where a number of factors have forged a new religious identity that supersedes familiar old categories.
These prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost insurmountable. Look no further than the stunning Virginia primary victory of Dave Brat, a Catholic with degrees from a Reformed Protestant college in Michigan and Princeton Theological Seminary, who took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week.
Union Seminary Pulls Investments from the 'Sin' of Fossil Fuels
New York City’s venerable Union Theological Seminary plans to pull all investments in fossil fuels from its $108.4 million endowment, casting it as part of a bid to atone for the “sin” of contributing to climate change.
Union’s portfolio has been investing 11 percent (or about $12 million) of its endowment in fossil fuels. Jones did not mince words in condemning the school’s contributions to fossil fuel, quoting “the wages of sin is death” from Scripture.
“We have sinned, and we see this divestment as an act of repentance for Union,” Jones wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine. “Climate change poses a catastrophic threat. As stewards of God’s creation, we simply must act to stop this sin.”
Is Pulpit Plagiarism on the Rise? Some Blame the Internet
Thou shalt not steal another pastor’s sermon?
Recent cases of high-profile pastors who have been accused of lifting others’ material are raising questions about whether pulpit plagiarism is on the rise — and whether it has become a more forgivable sin.
Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was accused last year of plagiarism in material he wrote with Tyndale House Publishers and InterVarsity Press. “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for,” Driscoll said in a statement. Most recently, popular Oklahoma City-based megachurch pastor Craig Groeschel has been accused of plagiarizing the work of writer and comedian Danny Murphy.
On his blog, Murphy suggested Groeschel used material that Murphy wrote in the now-defunct magazine The Door in 2000. The material was later used by Groeschel in a sermon and in a book now titled Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After, printed by Multnomah Books. Murphy’s name never appeared with it.
Survey: Four in 10 Americans Support Controversial Contraception Mandate
More than four in 10 Americans support the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate, which requires nonprofits and businesses to provide birth control even if they have religious objections.
The poll from Public Religion Research Institute comes as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its decision in a challenge to the contraception mandate filed by the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and a Mennonite-owned wood cabinetry business.
Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but nearly 100 nonprofits, colleges and universities, and businesses run by people with religious objections to various forms of contraception have filed lawsuits over the mandate.
The poll found majority support for requiring publicly held corporations (61 percent) and privately owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby (57 percent) to provide contraception coverage at no cost to their employees. In addition, majorities of Americans said religiously affiliated hospitals (56 percent) and religiously affiliated colleges (52 percent) should be covered by the mandate.
Conservative United Methodists Say Divide Over Sexuality Is 'Irreconcilable'
Will the United Methodist Church soon have to drop the “United” part of its name?
A group of 80 pastors is suggesting that the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination is facing an imminent split because of an inability to resolve long-standing theological disputes about sexuality and church doctrine.
But more than lamenting the current divisions, the pastors indicated there is little reason to think reconciliation — or even peaceful coexistence — could be found. Like a couple heading to divorce court, the pastors cited “irreconcilable differences” that can’t be mended.
“We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a retired president of evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, who joined the statement.
Megachurch Pastors Leave Reformed Evangelical Network Amid Child Abuse Scandal
Two pastors are no longer listed on a Reformed evangelical group’s leadership after a different pastor from their church confessed to covering up sex abuse claims. Pastors Joshua Harris and C.J. Mahaney have left the Gospel Coalition council after a trial involving child abuse in the church they have both overseen.
Nathaniel Morales, 56, was convicted Thursday of sexually abusing three young boys between 1983 and 1991 when he was a youth leader.
Former Covenant Life pastor Grant Layman suggested while testifying about allegations against Morales that he withheld information from the police about the abuse.
“Did you have an obligation to report the alleged abuse?” public defender Alan Drew, who represented Morales, asked during cross-examination. “I believe so,” Layman said. “And you didn’t,” Drew responded. “No,” Layman said.
Q&A: Marilynne Robinson on Guns, Gay Marriage, and Calvinism
Pulitzer-Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson draws a wide fan base that spans lovers of serious literature, including many conservative Christians. This fall, she will release “Lila,” a follow-up to her earlier novels “Gilead” (2004) and “Home” (2008) about a 1950s-era Iowa town that won her many accolades.
Robinson’s diverse fan base was described in The American Conservative as “Christian, not Conservative.” As the author noted, Robinson is far from holding up ideals put forward by the religious right. But that doesn’t stop conservative Christians from engaging with her writing.
Before giving an address at Union Theological Seminary this spring, Robinson spoke to Religion News Service about a variety of social issues. In the interview, Robinson explained why she thinks Christians are fearful, why she loves theologian John Calvin and whether she’ll join Twitter.