Cathleen Falsani 05-31-2012
Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Ah, the life of the church. So many arguments, so little time.

The list of subjects about which the saints disagree is seemingly endless, encompassing both the profound and the woefully mundane.

The ordination of women. The proper role of religion in politics. Climate change. Homosexuality and same-sex unions. Pre-, Post-, or A-millennialism. Biblical translation.  Gender pronouns for God. How best to aid the poorest of the poor. How best to support the sanctity of marriage. Hell. Heaven. Baptism. Which brand of fair-trade coffee to serve in the fellowship hall. The use of “trespass/es” or “debts/debtors” in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Whether to use wafers, pita, home-baked organic wheat, gluten-free or bagels at the communion table. What color to paint the narthex.

It should come as no surprise to most Christians that the world outside the church looking in sees it rife with conflict, bickering, arguments and castigation — of the “unbeliever” and fellow believers alike.

Frankly, it also should come as no surprise to the rest of the world that the church — by virtue of being a community of humans — naturally would have such disagreements and discord.

The Naked Pastor 05-23-2012

Paul Simon says there must be 50 ways to leave your lover. The Naked Pastor figures there must be at least three ways to leave your church.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 05-15-2012
"Agape." Image by 	 Marcelino Rapayla Jr./Wylio (

"Agape." Image by Marcelino Rapayla Jr./Wylio (

This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.

In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?

We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 04-30-2012
Gym image by Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

Gym image by Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

I can’t lift my arms.

They scream in muscle soreness after 3 weeks of CrossFit workouts. At the age 43 I’ve found myself in poor physical condition; my career having taken over my usually fit body. But a block behind our house in a slightly ghetto strip of businesses along a sidewalk dotted with empty gin bottles and crushed packs of generic cigarettes is a little white building with red trim. Inside this vintage garage which 2 years ago was where most of the neighborhood dope slinging happened, is now a CrossFit gym.

When walking my dog I’d pass by the crazy people lifting weights and stepping up and down on giant tractor tires and pulling themselves up over steel bars and I thought I surely was not in good enough shape to show up.

But three weeks ago I did just that. I hauled my out of shape middle-aged ass over to the gym and have worked out four days a week for the last three weeks.

Now I can’t lift my arms.

I was talking to my husband about why I am loving CrossFit and it made me realize that it is for some of the reasons I love church.

Duane Shank 03-27-2012
Photo by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Photo by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

While I believe in the principle of church-state separation, there are times when it is taken too far. Today’s example is a food pantry in Seymour, IN.

Peggy McGlone 03-26-2012
"Leaving." Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

"Leaving." Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

TRENTON, N.J. — As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.

The bishop would have gotten an earful.

Their reasons ranged from the personal ("the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all") to the political ("eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing") to the doctrinal ("don't spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control").

In addition, they said, they didn't like the church's handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

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

Open church door photo by Nagel Photography/

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.

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...

Sandi Villarreal 03-13-2012
"Meet the Millennials," photo by TheeErin/Wylio (

"Meet the Millennials," photo by TheeErin/Wylio (

There has been a lot of talk lately — both in the public sphere and most definitely here at the Sojo offices—about young people leaving the church.

I would argue that--while some of my fellow millenials are jumping ship on Christiainity--many are not so much leaving the big-C “Church,” (see my post on the definition of the word), as they are leaving established churches. The surveys show a migration from a particular denomination to “no religion.” To me, that doesn’t say atheist/agnostic; it just says that this generation of Christians doesn’t want to be labeled.

If you look at the numbers, millenials are quitting the church, not quitting Jesus. Unaffiliated does not necessarily mean unChristian.

My generation doesn’t want the “Southern Baptist,” “Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” “Roman Catholic” affiliations thrust upon us. Not only do we disagree with some of the tenants of said denominations, but each title carries all sorts of baggage left at our feet.

We’ve seen post after post listing possible catalysts to twenty-somethings turning away from the religion of our fathers in droves. Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum blames college. The reasons listed here on God’s Politics, in books and by church leaders themselves each probably factor in to some degree.

But I do want to dismiss some of them.

Christian Piatt 03-12-2012
Young male photo, Maria Sauh,

Young male photo, Maria Sauh,

There has been a surprisingly positive response to the article I published yesterday called “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church.” And as I noted, it was hardly a comprehensive list. There were several others I thought were worth noting if I’d had the room, so I thought I’d continue with the same theme today.

And as I said in yesterday’s article:

  • Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases, and;
  • In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.
Christian Piatt 03-11-2012
Dezhaviu /

Photo via Dezhaviu /

From time to time I revisit the question: Why are young adults walking away from religion?

Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases. (In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.)

Charles Gutenson 03-01-2012
Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.

Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.

“Church folks are just too political!”

When people are asked why they have decided to leave the church, this has become an increasingly popular response. And, sadly, it is a particularly popular response for those in the 18-29 year old demographic. That we Christians have allowed ourselves to become too political and too partisan is a major contributor to the decline of the church.

Partisanship and its corrosive effects are not a new thing to the culture at large. However, more and more that cultural partisanship is infecting the church and gnawing away at the bonds which are supposed to hold them together. In the process, the church gets hijacked and redeployed for partisan ends, leaving those expecting better from the church disappointed. 

Cathleen Falsani 02-21-2012
Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.

Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

NEWARK, N.J. — Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy for Whitney Houston during her funeral Saturday (Feb.  18) at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the church pastor said Tuesday night.

Houston’s family rejected a public final farewell to the pop icon, choosing instead to hold a private, invitation-only funeral at New Hope, the singer’s childhood church, which seats about 1,500. The Rev. Joe A. Carter, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, said he will officiate the service, scheduled to begin at noon. Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange.

Winans, who also serves as the lead pastor at Detroit’s Perfecting Church, told the Detroit Free Press that he felt like he had lost a sibling when he learned the 48-year-old singer had died Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Houston’s mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, her cousin Dionne Warwick, and other family members gathered at Whigham Funeral Home in Newark well into the early morning hours Tuesday to shape plans for the service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham said.

Christian Piatt 02-14-2012
Red blood cells. Image via Wylio,

Red blood cells. Image via Wylio,

Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Yeah, right.

I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.

But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.


Eugene Cho 02-09-2012

Imagine this scenario occurring in your workplace. It’s your company’s annual corporate retreat, and in a misguided attempt to inject humor into the event, your leaders present a skit in which they all pretend to be disabled in some way.

They hobble around with awkward positions, as if paralyzed or unable to use particular limbs; they exaggerate their speech and behavior to grossly characterize those who have communication difficulties, and all these representations are done in a mocking and demeaning way, to garner a few laughs.

No modern-day corporation would do this. And yet, in the context of Christian organizations and churches, similar situations still occur.

We recently witnessed a sermon video in which the pastor of a large, multi-site church in Minnesota brought an Asian man on stage representing a “samurai” and had him sit before the congregation, stone-faced and silent, while the pastor flailed his arms in a cartoonish imitation of karate moves while yelling random Asian-sounding gibberish, then banged a loud gong in an attempt to rattle the “samurai’s focus.”

Julie Polter 02-01-2012

Widow, Queen, Lover, Warrior; Faith in the Struggle; The Message; ‘Do Not Cast Me Away.’

Bill McKibben 02-01-2012

There are many things they seemed to hold in common, not least an instinctive nonviolence, contrasting so sharply with the police, who so often let the logic of force drive their actions (they found out, as often in history, that the logic that works with criminals doesn’t really apply to idealists).

Jarrod McKenna 01-12-2012
The author visits with children in India, 2010. Image via Facebook.

The author visits with children in India, 2010. Image via Facebook.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the reality of climate change are both victims of western culture’s remarkable capacity to accommodate and neutralize that which is most critical of it.

Early in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin said to King, “I have a feeling that the Lord had laid his hand upon you. And that is a dangerous, dangerous thing.” Similarly, the FBI once described Martin King as the “most dangerous man in America” – and yet, as Martin Luther King Jr day rolls around again in the United States, we are often presented with a figure that seems more like a cheerleader for the status quo rather than a prophetic challenge to it. Somehow, it seems we have made this dangerous figure very safe.

For instance, in a speech at the Pentagon commemorating King’s legacy, the Defense Department’s general counsel Jeh C. Johnson remarked, “I believe that if Dr King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

But to claim that Dr King would be pro-war today is as likely as him being pro-segregation. After all, this is the Dr King who said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” And this is the same Dr King who said in his speech on 4 April 1967 (a speech that turned three quarters of American public opinion against him), “To me the relationship of the ministry [of Jesus Christ] to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war.” And this is the same Dr King who said, the night before he was murdered on 4 April 1968, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Matthew Santoro 01-11-2012
Jeff Bethke

Spoken Word poet Jeff Bethke, via Twitter @JeffuhsonBethke.

Are you a Christian who spends a lot of time online? Then perhaps you've heard of Jeff Bethke. Bethke, aka bball1989, is a spoken word poet whose rhymes and videos are capturing the attention of thousands of Christians across the web.

His latest video is going viral among online Christian communities. Provocatively titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the poem is a unique fusion of prophetic criticism, personal testimony, and a call to action.