Bob Smietana 08-04-2014

A unique faith-based training program in Memphis gives new teachers the skills and community they need to survive and thrive.

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino on July 28, 2014. CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

Bo Lim 07-21-2014
Courtesy of Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society

Courtesy of Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society

In my pastoral counseling class in seminary, the professor played a video of a counseling session of a black couple. He intended for us to learn some lessons on marriage counseling from it, but it turned out to be a laugh fest for the mostly white class. Repeatedly the husband and wife cut each other down with witty insults. My sense is that the couple reminded the students of George and Louise Jefferson from the TV show The Jeffersons. I sat next to an African American student that day and during the break I turned over to him and asked, “Do you find this funny?” He said, “I’m glad you asked,” and proceeded to tell me that he witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand in his own home since his parents are divorced. Needless to say he did not find the video amusing. I encouraged him to voice this to the class, which he courageously did when we returned from break. It seems while the professor intended to communicate one thing from showing the video, it communicated another because of the manner in which the students were racialized. 

I share this story as an analogue to the recent controversy surrounding the production of the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s The Mikado — a comic opera written in 1885 as a critique of British politics and institutions, set in distant, mysterious, and mostly made-up Japan. It began with Sharon Chan writing an editorial to the Seattle Times, calling the current production of it by an all-white cast as “yellowface” and “open[ing] old wounds and resurrect[ing] pejorative stereotypes.”  Since then, Jeff Yang has also written an editorial for entitled, “Yellowface staging of ‘The Mikado’ has to end.”  I will not rehearse their arguments here; I write to address why this incident matters to North American evangelicals. 

Obama ranks lowest among Mormons, according to a new Gallup poll. Image courtesy of Gallup.

Most Christians don’t approve of President Obama right now, but he gets high ratings from Muslims and other minority religious groups.

It’s not because of their religion, though.

Obama’s level of popular approval matches Americans’ political party ties, not their religious identity, age or almost any other demographic characteristic, said Jeffrey Jones, managing editor of the Gallup poll.

The newest Gallup tracking poll shows the president’s approval rating in June averaged 43 percent for Americans overall. However, his ratings sank with Catholics to 44 percent, down from 54 percent in June 2013.

The Editors 07-10-2014

A study guide for engaging Muslim-Christian relations.

Image courtesy of Ibrahim Hooper via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.

It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.

First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.

A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.

QR Blog Editor 05-16-2014

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese Christian woman, was sentenced to be flogged for adultery and to be hanged to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man. Ibrahim, 27, is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son, according to Fredrick Nzwili of Religion News Service.

United States' National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden released this statement in response to the sentancing.

We strongly condemn this sentence and urge the Government of Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law.  We call on the Government of Sudan to respect Ms. Ishag’s right to freedom of religion, a universal human right enshrined in Sudan’s own 2005 Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its ongoing, egregious, and systematic violations of religious freedom.  We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.

Women standing outside the All Saints Cathedral in Sudan. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili.

Sudanese Christians have condemned the sentencing of a Christian woman to death by hanging after she married a Christian man.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, refused to recant her Christian faith as ordered by the court.

A doctor who is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son, Ibrahim was charged with adultery last year. Recently, the court added an apostasy charge when she declared her Christian faith in court.

“This is very disturbing,” said Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum.

Stephen Mattson 05-15-2014
Natalia Sheinkin/

Natalia Sheinkin/

Christianity is full of labels.

Does caring about the environment make me a Liberal Christian?

Does opposing to the death penalty make me a Leftist Christian?

Does believing that women can preach make me a Christian Feminist?

Does believing in anti-violence make me a Christian Pacifist?

Does taking an anti-war stance make me an Anabaptist Christian?

Stephen Mattson 04-16-2014
Image via

Image via

Many people exploit the Bible to furiously cast judgment on others — sinfully using condemnation, guilt, shame, fear, and hatred to abuse others — all under the guise of “accountability” and the false premise of “Christianity.”

But according to the Bible, various people were used by God to do amazing things, and these individuals were often described as righteous and holy … even though they were dramatically flawed.

To be human is to be imperfect, and although we shouldn’t glorify sin or purposefully live in sin, we need to be careful about labeling others at “heretics,” “unbelievers,” and “sinners.” Because in reality, contrary to everything we assume, those whom we detest just might be favored by God.

Sinful attributes and misdeeds don’t disqualify you from a life of holiness, righteousness, and Godliness, but we often treat people as such — and condemn them to an eternity in hell. But according to the Bible, you might be a ‘Christian’ even if …

Tyler Francke 04-11-2014

I’m seeing that the issue is not doctrine; it’s attitude. It’s not theology; it’s posture. ArtFamily/

“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”

It may not quite be at the level of Captain America’s vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.

It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.

Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.

Don’t worry, though. This is not a whiny column about how mean the conservatives are to us open-minded, forward-thinking progressives. Instead, it’s about how messages like this are helping me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.

Jordan Farrell 04-03-2014
Courtesy Pure Flix Entertainment

Courtesy Pure Flix Entertainment

From the opening scene to its closing postscript, God’s Not Dead tells a story of persecution and courage, focusing on a young white man named Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper). “Mr. Wheaton,” as he is referred to in various parts of the movie, finds himself in a predicament on the first day of his Philosophy 150 course. In a scene that echoes Rome’s historic persecution of Christians, the powerful intellectual Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) stands before his class of impressionable students and tells them they can skip the section of the course that discusses the existence of god, if each of them signs a piece of paper that says “god is dead.” The professor makes it clear that this proposal is more of a threat when he slowly and emphatically informs his students that the section on god’s existence is where “students have traditionally received their lowest grades of the semester.” This is Mr. Wheaton’s unexpected predicament: can he sign a piece of paper that proclaims god, as a philosophical category and concept, is dead? And if he decides not to sign that paper, can he have the courage to face the consequences?

Jim Wallis 04-01-2014

As a Christian, I grieve over the unspeakable violence wrongly done in the name of faith.

Shane Claiborne 03-14-2014
giulio napolitano /

Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square in the Pope mobile. giulio napolitano /

A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world. 

He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached. 

Cindy Brandt 03-10-2014
Courtesy Summit Entertainment

'Enders Game' provides good insight into how to win a battle. Courtesy Summit Entertainment

The classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was adapted on to the big screen in November 2013. The story tells of a brilliant boy, Ender, who trained to battle in a world threatened by a formidable alien race. In the final battle sequence, Ender skillfully devises the perfect strategy, carrying it out ruthlessly to achieve victory against his enemy, effectively wiping out the entirety of the opposing army. Just as the audience exhales from his display of incredible wit and meticulous execution, the chilling plot twist dawns: what Ender assumed to be the final simulation exam was indeed a real, flesh-and-blood battle. Ender had inadvertently committed genocide. 

Enraged by having being manipulated into killing, Ender glowers at his commander, the emotion in his voice drenched with the incomprehensible weight of his new realization, he says,

The way we win matters.

Todd Deatherage 03-04-2014

Todd Deatherage is the executive director and co-founder of the Telos Group. Photo courtesy of the Telos Group. Via RNS

Secretary of State John Kerry brought his argument for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace to the annual AIPAC conference this week, and whatever else we might know, we know this: Many evangelical Christians didn’t like it.

Or at least that’s what we’re told by some Christian leaders and their political allies. Supporting Israel’s government by opposing compromise with the Palestinians is a permanent plank in American evangelical political thought. “God told Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and the nation of Israel,” the thinking goes, “and curse those that curse Israel.”

But could it be that the truth is more complicated?

What if the loudest evangelical voices don’t represent the complexity of our community? I raise these questions as an evangelical who is fully committed to supporting the struggle for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. And I’m not alone.

Cindy Brandt 02-17-2014
Courtesy One Wheaton

Wheaton students coordinated a sit-in demonstration before a chapel speaker. Courtesy One Wheaton

We may not all be rich. We don’t all have successful careers. We aren’t all healthy. But the one thing we all have are stories. From the beginning of time, we have thrived on connecting via stories. We consume stories for leisure, speak our stories for sanity, and create stories to capture our imagination.

We are swayed by stories. Stories can compel others in ways propositions and facts statements cannot. Our attention wanes at statistics and exegesis, but perks at vivid characters in an engaging plot. Stories have been proven to be an effective rhetorical device. They draw people’s attention in and leaves them satisfied upon conclusion.

You cannot debate a story. While it may be tempting to try and deconstruct the reasoning behind stories when it goes against your agenda, the genius of stories is that it can’t be used as an argument. The story of a chain smoker’s longevity sits uncomfortably in the presence of someone advocating the ills of nicotine. The story just is. We cannot alter it, the only thing we can control is how we choose to respond to it. Any attempts to dishonor or discredit someone’s story is an assault to their humanity.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 02-05-2014
marekuliasz and bigredlynx/Shutterstock

Let’s all speak of God and faith and community in clear, simple, and meaningfu language. marekuliasz and bigredlynx/Shutterstock

Earlier this morning, I saw a tweet from @JesusofNazareth316: Blessed are they who stop using the word “‪#missional," which caused me to post something on Twitter and Facebook asking people what their favorite church jargon is — mine being “Missional Imagination.” The response was unbelievable and also quite interesting.

I realized upon reading the #meaninglesschurchjargon tweets that the responses tended to fall into several categories:

1. Mainline Protestant church consultant/bad seminary class lingo. (“Missional imagination”; congregations as “centers for evangelical mission”; pastors as “transformational leaders”; referring to members as “giving units”; and churches “doing life together”) this language has a commonality with corporate jargon and like corporate jargon, refers to the culture and practices related to an organization.

IDEA: Let’s make sure that in seminary classrooms and at church conferences and in congregational life when we use a term or a phrase, that it points to an actual thing or person or event and is not just a string of words that sound like something meaningful but, in fact, lack real meaning. There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional. Try it at home. Go ahead. Type that shit and see.

Robert G. Duffett 01-31-2014

The peacemaking bomber pilot (and son of the evangelical church) offers a model political vision for young Christians today.

Emilie Teresa Smith 01-31-2014

Gold and silver mines in Guatemala are wreaking havoc on local communities. But the people, using nonviolent Christian action, are fighting back.