Christianity

Andrew Simpson 05-23-2012

This week is one of those weeks where everyone seems to be talking, tweeting and blogging about the same video. I received it from several concerned friends with commentary like, “More bad news from North Carolina,” or “How can a loving God hate so much?” The video, which has quickly gone viral in the past 24 hours, is a clip from a recent sermon by Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina.

Following President Obamas endorsement of same-sex marriage, pastor Worley took to the pulpit to rage against the issue of “queers and homosexuals”. However, it is his proposed “solution” to the “problem” (eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) that has the blogosphere abuzz (read: up in arms).

Worley proudly pronounces that he has found a way to get rid of all of the “lesbians and queers”: lock them all inside a fenced-off area and simply wait for them to die out on account of their inability to reproduce. In the video, his pronouncement garnered several hearty “Amens” from the congregation.

Unfortunately, this explosive video is just the most recent in a long stream of gay-marriage-related stories making headlines from my home state of North Carolina. After all, mine is the state that just passed the draconian amendment to its constitution, commonly known as “Amendment One”, banning same-sex marriage and all domestic and civil unions (never mind the fact that same-sex marriage is already illegal in our state). It seems that a day does not go by where I don’t hear a quote or read an article where another pastor has taken to the pulpit to remind his congregation that “homosexuality is wrong and against the Bible!”

This breaks my heart.

Eugene Cho 05-23-2012

http://youtu.be/d2n7vSPwhSU

No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.

Never.

Even in the name of free speech, some boundaries should never be crossed. Pastor Terry Jones crossed that line in burning the Koran and making a global media spectacle. Pastor Wiley Drake crossed that line in suggesting that he was praying for the death of President Obama. And then, of course, there are the folks of Westboro Baptist Church. 

But this…?!#@

Wow, this takes the prize for the most idiotic, insane, stupid, asinine, cruel, ungodly, foul, inexcusable, heinous, and disgusting comments by any person – let alone someone that calls himself a pastor and shepherd.

Christian Piatt 05-21-2012

Yes, kids, it’s that time again already. Seems it was only seven days ago when we posted our last batch of weekly church sign epic fails, and here we are again.

So let’s get to it: your weekly infusion of bad church signs.

Now that's my kinda Jesus (except you'd think the Messiah would go Microbrew, yes?)

Christian Piatt 05-11-2012
Walking on the beach, Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock.com

Walking on the beach, Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock.com

I hear people “brag” on a fairly regular basis about how little sleep they get, how many hours on end they work or how poorly they eat because of the demands of their schedules. Sorry, but this is not something to be proud of; it’s a sickness.

It’s no wonder, then, that on the rare occasion we actually slow down long enough to pray, worship, reflect or simply be in the moment, we have no idea how to do it. I watch people in church, and it’s clear from the body language that we don’t know how to slow down. I had a friend back in Texas who was so bad about overworking himself that he’d get sick every single time he took a vacation.

Some might argue this is a case for not taking time off in the first place, but that’s ignorant. Just because we can hold off the effects of frantic, disembodied living by pushing harder doesn’t mean we ever outrun the consequences.

Taken further, I think that such living is un-Biblical. 

Amanda Greene 05-09-2012

The sign outside the polling station at Devon Park United Methodist Church exemplified this state's struggle with a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"A true marriage is male and female and God," the church marquee read. All around the church sign were small campaign signs that read: "Vote Against Constitutional Amendment" and "Amendment One Harms Children Vote Against."

The amendment was approved Tuesday (May 8) by 61 percent of voters, with some counties endorsing it with more than 80 percent of the vote. Only seven counties voted against it.

"In some sense North Carolinians are voting against their own beliefs," according to the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling firm said. "Fifty-three percent of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, yet a majority also support the amendment that would ban both."

RALEIGH, N.C. -- With only a few days remaining before North Carolinians vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, the Rev. Earl C. Johnson took five minutes on Sunday (April 30) to give congregants 10 reasons to vote against the measure.

It was his only concerted effort to wade into a subject considered taboo in most African-American churches: homosexuality. Not wanting to risk his job as senior pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church, or upset his many older congregants, Johnson figured the best approach was to stick to the facts.

The state already forbids gay marriage, he told church members. The state's top Democrats, including the governor, oppose the measure. The constitutional amendment might strip unmarried heterosexual women of domestic violence protections.

None of the points he outlined touched on the central issue: how the church might respond to gays and lesbians.

"It's a traditional church," said Johnson. "When you get to be a certain age you don't budge on your point of view. It would take years of chipping away at it to change it."

Daniel Burke 05-03-2012

The Rev. Will Green calling for greater inclusiveness at the 2012 UMC General Conference. RNS photo by Mike DuBose/UMNS.

Despite emotional protests and fierce lobbying from gay rights groups, United Methodists voted on Thursday to maintain their denomination's stance that homosexuals acts are "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Two "agree to disagree" proposals were soundly defeated during separate votes by the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

One proposal would have replaced the "incompatible" phrase in the Book of Discipline, which contains the denomination's laws and doctrines. Both proposals sought to soften the disputed doctrine by adding more ambiguous statements about homosexuality.

Gay rights advocates in the UMC viewed the compromise proposals as the best chance to advance their cause at this year's General Conference, which convenes every four years. On Friday, delegates are expected to debate the church's bans on noncelibate gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

God's Politics 05-01-2012
Tim King, Communications Director for Sojourners.

Tim King, Communications Director for Sojourners.

Today, Sojourners' Communications Director Tim King talks with CNN's Lisa Desjardins about politicians and God-talk in this 2012 presidential election season.

From CNN.com:

Is Washington a holy city? It might seem that way, with all the talk about religion and morality in the 2012 election.

But all that God talk may be rubbing voters the wrong way.

"It's getting ugly out there," said Tim King, an evangelical Christian who works for the progressive religious group Sojourners. "There are a lot of Christians who are using their faith as a political weapon, which it's never meant to be."

Listen to Tim's comments on CNN Radio inside the blog.

Amanda Greene 04-13-2012
Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 -- his year of conversion.

But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

Christian Piatt 04-05-2012
Patrick Greene, via Christian Piatt

Patrick Greene, via Christian Piatt

Patrick Greene, a lifelong atheist known for his public stands against Christianity, recently announced that he has become a Christian.

There are lots of ways to look at this. Some Christians may take this as validation that they were right and atheists were wrong. Some might consider it a point for the good guys. But such attitudes further the divide between people with more in common than not. Aside from that, it misses the most important point.

 

Jack Palmer 04-04-2012
Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Duane Shank 04-04-2012

Forty-five years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his now-famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City, declaring his opposition to the war in Vietnam. One year later -- 44 years ago today -- he was murdered by an assassin.

It is fitting that these anniversaries occur this year during the week we commemorate the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Dr. King’s Riverside speech is frequently quoted, with his scathing political indictment of the war and the systems of exploitation and oppression that led to it. But how often do we remember that he began that speech by noting that while the Nobel Peace Prize was “a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before,” it was not the most important thing. He continued by saying that:

This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all … Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?

Dr. King was able to be the leader he was, take the risks he did, and ultimately make the final sacrifice, because he knew who called him and who he followed. He knew that the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus was a living presence in his life and gave him the hope to follow. 

For him, as well as us, believing in Jesus means being a follower and a disciple in bringing the kingdom he lived and taught. By raising Jesus, by vindicating his life and death, God vindicated his message – the kingdom he proclaimed has come and will come. And because God raised Jesus from death, his living presence continues among us and we are empowered to follow him and to live the kingdom. The resurrection is the event on which our faith and hope depends.   

That faith sustained Dr. King, and it can sustain us.

"The Agony in the Garden" by Paul Gaugin, 1889. Via Getty Images.

"The Agony in the Garden" by Paul Gaugin, 1889. Via Getty Images.

Holy Week and Jesus’ Ways for Peace

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday and the week that follows — Holy Week — are times for Christians to remember and share the biblical stories of Jesus’ teachings and actions for peace. These stories encourage us to pray and work for peace, especially in light of those who are now threatening a new war with Iran. “Nine Years of War in Iraq: A Sojourners Retrospective” is a powerful reminder that churches need to do more.

Last year Sojourners posted a new hymn for Palm Sunday with peace themes, “Lord, What a Parade!” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

This year the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina commissioned Carolyn to write a new hymn about Jesus’ nonviolent actions and compassion at the time of his arrest.

Christian Piatt 03-26-2012
Open church door photo by Nagel Photography/ Shutterstock.com

Open church door photo by Nagel Photography/ Shutterstock.com

I’ve written a couple of pieces recently that have gotten a lot of attention about why younger people tend to walk away from church.

If you haven’t seen them yet, here are the links:

Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church

Four More (BIG) Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church

Some readers suggested I might also post a piece about why young adults come back to church. Though I can’t say for sure why ALL young adults in church do so, I can share a few reasons why I, as a young adult, returned to church after an absence of ten years.

Anna Broadway 03-26-2012
Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

It’s been a mind-boggling fortnight at the Internet water cooler. Kony 2012. Mike Daisey’s dubious portrayal of Apple’s manufacturing practices abroad. Questions of whether the “Christian Movie Establishment” is “out to get” Blue Like Jazz … and an Amazon petition to let Rachel Held Evans use the word “vagina” in her forthcoming book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Running through each of these stories and the surrounding debate are similar themes: truth, storytelling, power, persuasion. The online conversation is often vicious and acrimonious, reflecting a trend that’s spurred some writers to leave reader comments unread.

Adding to the intensity of the discussions is that almost each of these controversies involves an effort to change something: the Ugandan geo-political scene; unethical manufacturing practices; ways of talking about religious experience; “Christian” expectations for women. That’s not to say these creators set out with those ends as their foremost goal, but their projects were certainly meant to be more than beautiful or useful.

Rebecca Cusey 03-21-2012
Photo by Heather Kennedy/WireImage

Director Steve Taylor and actors Don Miller and Marshall Allman speak at screening. Photo by Heather Kennedy/WireImage

Do not confuse the upcoming film Blue Like Jazz with Christian market movies like "Fireproof" or "Courageous."

"A Christian movie genre has formed. Our first goal with this movie is that we didn't fit into this genre," said director Steve Taylor.

Author Donald Miller, who wrote the 2003 best-selling book Blue Like Jazz, from which the movie was adapted, agrees.

"We wanted to show that movies about the faith struggle that millions of Americans deal with don't have to be cheesy," he said. "They don't have to have bad actors. They don't have to be low budget production. They can compete with other films at the box office."

Christian Piatt 03-15-2012

Here is a condensed version of a workshop I offer on the concept of “Church 2.0.” I talk in it about the popularity of things like the “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” video and Mark Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network of churches.

But while we can learn something from what these kinds of voices are saying and doing, we can also do this while still offering the world a more liberating theology and a radically inclusive community.

Watch the video of Christian's workshop inside the blog...

Cathleen Falsani 03-12-2012
 Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

A married couple on ABC's "GCB" attends a church-sponsored marriage workshop. Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.

As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)

Christian Piatt 02-29-2012
Old Time Prayer Meeting image via Shutterstock

Old Time Prayer Meeting image via Shutterstock

Everyone who calls me to speak somewhere, it seems, wants me to address the issue of declining church membership, and particularly how to connect with younger adults. The problem is that sometimes the invitation is built on a false premise. It’s the hope of many churches that if they can find a way to connect with younger people in a relevant way, those young adults will join the church and save the institution for future generations.

And while this is possible in some situations, it’s really the wrong question to be asking.

The explicit question I get asked, time and again, is “How do we better serve younger people?” And if the question really ended there, we could have a pretty productive conversation. But there’s an implied subtext in most cases that we have to tease out, and often times, the church isn’t even willing to admit that this footnote is married to their question. So although the words above are what are spoken, here’s what they really want to know:

“How do we better serve younger people (so that they will come back to our institutions and save them)?”

the Web Editors 02-24-2012

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