A letter from Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA to Intervarsity Staff
Last month, the Federal government mandated that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities must provide – and pay for – contraceptives to their employees and students. The mandate may also — depending upon interpretation – include the provision of sterilization services and the morning-after pill. (There appears to be some disagreement amongst scholars regarding the potential scope of the new Health and Human Service mandate.)
Why should I care? I am not Catholic. Nor do I agree with Catholic teaching on contraception, though I do have grave concerns about the morning-after pill.
Politically, I am a moderate and hence not prone to condemn every governmental edict.
I care because this matter touches upon the religious freedom of us all. I care because InterVarsity is engaged in a parallel struggle. Over the past 18 months, our status as a recognized student organization has been challenged on 41 campuses.
Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus is a true Internet phenomenon, garnering more than 18 million views and sparking a global debate.
As with most internet phenomena, the viral video has given birth to dozens of similar videos from folks around the world, each adding a different (sometimes serious, sometimes not) perspective to the debates.
Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos.
See a roundup of some of the most interesting responses inside the blog...
When Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney released his federal tax returns for the past two years, he disclosed that he and his wife, Ann, gave about 10 percent of their income to their church, a well-known religious practice called tithing.
In that way, the Romneys are typical Mormons, members of a church that is exceptionally serious about the Old Testament mandate to give away one-tenth of one's income.
But compared to other religious Americans, the Romneys and other Mormons are fairly atypical when it comes to passing the plate. Across the rest of the religious landscape, tithing is often preached but rarely realized.
Research into church donations shows a wide range of giving, with Mormons among the most generous relative to income, followed by conservative Christians, mainline Protestants and Catholics last.
Over the past 34 years, Americans' generosity to all churches has been in steady decline, in good times and in bad, said Sylvia Ronsvalle, whose Illinois-based Empty Tomb Inc. tracks donations to Protestant churches.
Ronsvalle's research shows that since 1968, contributions have slowly slumped from 3.11 percent of income to 2.38 percent, despite gains in prosperity.
In her view, churches have failed "to call people to invest in a much larger vision." She believes that explains why giving to missions, distant anti-poverty programs or faraway ministries has sunk faster than giving for the needs of local congregations.
During her brief career as star of stage and screen in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dolores Hart won a Theater World Award, was nominated for a Tony Award and gave Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss (in the 1957 film Loving You) when she was just 19 years old.
Now 73-year-old Hart — better known for most of the last 40 years as Mother Dolores, Prioress of the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. — has a new claim to fame: Oscar nominee.
Last week, God is the Bigger Elvis, a short documentary film about her journey from Hollywood starlet to cloistered Catholic nun, received an Academy Award nomination for best short documentary film.
One of the U.S. Constitution's difficult balances is found in the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
What happens when those two values conflict?
That is the issue with the controversy over whether religiously-affiliated organizations should be required to offer free coverage for contraception in health insurance plans made available to employees. Those opposed — most notably Catholic organizations — claim that this requirement would violate their freedom of conscience. Those who support it claim that exempting religiously-affiliated organizations would establish a religion over the rights of individuals.
Huffington Post: An Interview with United States 39th President Jimmy Carter, Religion News Service: Romney’s Evangelical Problem Starts with Theology, Huffington Post: On Scripture: Mark 1:4-11: Does Baptism Make for Better Presidents?, Huffington Post: Obama Fails on Minimum Wage Pledge, Slate: NAACP Condemns Rick Santorum’s “Black People” Gaffe, TPM: Defense Secretary Panetta: Defense Cuts Come With ‘Additional But Acceptable Risk’, CNN: Controversial Catholic program for gays begins in Connecticut, CNN: What happens when candidates called by God drop out?
"Where my feminists at?" on #OccupyWallStreet. Test your global hunger knowledge. Race and OWS. Poverty in your backyard. How to be a "1 Percenter." OWS to march on banks. Romney embraces climate change denial. Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as little more than "hocus-pocus." Catholic University sued by Muslim students. And faith, political leaders find out how far food stamps actually go.
The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.
The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.
Albania was perhaps the most closed society in the world during the Cold War, with absolutely ruthless persecution of all religion. Churches were destroyed in every corner of that country. Clergy were eliminated. Worship was outlawed. And enforcement was brutal.
When Communism fell, and the country opened for the first time in decades, the Albanian church began a miraculous process of rebirth. We heard the moving story of the Albania Orthodox Church, rebuilding countless church structures, but even more importantly, restoring faith in the hearts of its people. I've known its leader, Archbishop Anastasios, from past encounters at the World Council of Churches, and he surely is a saint. The revival of religious faith in Albania and its compassionate service to those in need is a magnificent story of the church's witness, and the Spirit's power.
The Christian world is broad and spacious, and within its circumference, like a large bowl holding a variety of colorful fish, swim a surprisingly diverse spectrum of believers. The secular media mistakenly seem to view "the evangelical movement" as a sort of monolithic structure akin to a well fortified garrison ranged to repel the attacks of "liberals" or "progressives" or "mainline churches." Or a right-wing political force often equated with Republicanism.
The compelling story of the Global Christian Forum, shared with the more than 300 forum attendees (many of them new), was told in moving testimonies from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, and historic Protestant members of the forum's steering committee. ... It's remarkable to hear how an Egyptian surgeon became a Coptic Orthodox priest, or how a woman Anglican Bishop from New Zeland heard her calling to the priesthood as a teenager, long before her church ordained women. Story after story simply puts you in awe of God's grace.
USA Today's religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman has a great post this morning looking at coverage of the spiritual import of the #OccupyWallStreet protests from the perspective of several religious commentators, including Catholic writer/professor Tom Beaudoin and Jewish writer/actor Jake Goodman.
The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.
"I have no interest in megachurches with jocular millionaire pastors," Ebert writes. "I think what happens in them is sociopolitical, not spiritual. I believe the prosperity gospel tries to pass through the eye of the needle. I believe it is easier for a Republican to pass through the eye of a needle than for a camel to get into heaven. I have no patience for churches that evangelize aggressively.
"I have no interest in being instructed in what I must do to be saved. I prefer vertical prayers, directed up toward heaven, rather than horizontal prayers, directed sideways toward me," he continued. "If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect our own deserve."
Most of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.
After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.