Churches

Help! I Love Jesus but Hate Christianity!

Anneka/Shutterstock
Many Christians are tired of having others define their faith. Anneka/Shutterstock

Sentiments of frustration are growing among many followers of Jesus who admire Christ but despise certain things associated with him.

They look at the New Testament and are attracted to Jesus’s selfless acts of generosity, service, and love, but don’t see the same spirit in today’s “Christian” institutions, churches, communities, and faith leaders.

Modern faith is often a complex minefield of theologies, doctrines, practices, and expectations, where individuals carefully walk on eggshells to avoid a litany of “sins” and “heresies” that will inevitably attract the wrath from religious friends, strangers, and authorities. 

14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock
Churches aren't doing enough Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different from the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world, or stop biting their nails.  New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.

Resolutions, however, are not just for people. I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014 if it is to thrive, grow, and be relevant in the 21st century.

Foster Care Resources

In “Foster Care for a New Millennium,” (Sojourners, January 2014), Juliet Vedral describes foster children as the modern-day “orphans in distress,” with more than 102,000 children nationwide waiting to be adopted. DC127, a movement started in Washington, D.C., is hoping to reverse the foster care list by encouraging church congregants to become foster families or adopt.  

Everyone can do something to care for children in foster care, whether by fostering, adopting, or supporting those that are doing so. The resources below help engage foster care at a personal and community level. What can you do to help the thousands of children who seek a loving and stable home?

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Time for Acknowledgement: Christian-Run Native American Boarding Schools Left Legacy of Destruction

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Powwow in California — church boarding schools taught Native Americans to be ashamed. Digital Media Pro/Shuttertock

The Native American narrative remains largely unknown in U.S. majority culture. It is glaringly absent in most school curriculums, and remains unheard in modern dominant politics. One crucial stream of Native culture I’ve recently come to learn about is the destructive legacy of Christian-run Indian boarding schools.

What began with genuinely good intentions (in those days, “European” norms were viewed as superior, “sameness” seemed like a good idea, and the threat of legitimate genocide lingered over tribes) rapidly deteriorated, with Christian boarding schools becoming institutions of forced assimilation and abuse.

Beginning in the 1800s and lasting into the 20th century, Native children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in boarding schools. Finding the task of “civilizing” Native adults beyond its ability, the federal government delegated the task of “normalization” to churches, which could educate, or, inculcate, children from a young age.

Foster Care for a New Millennium

I WAS 7 years old when my family first opened our home to foster children. My parents were in their early 40s and already had four children at home. They were somewhat typical for foster parents at that time: married, established, often people of faith. We had a total of 10 children in our home—two of whom were adopted—from 1988 until 1997. Fostering children was a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment and calling. As my mother would say, “God sets the lonely in families—but am I willing to let him set them in mine?”

This is a question that more Christians—particularly the oft-maligned Millennials—are asking themselves. They are examining both the sheer number of children growing up without families and scripture to see what it says about their faith. Taking their cue, and often their names, from James 1:27 (“look after orphans and widows in their distress”), groups in Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently the District of Columbia have committed to looking after these modern-day “orphans in their distress.”

According to the Administration for Children and Families, in 2012 there were 400,000 children in foster care nationwide. Of that number, 102,000 were waiting to be adopted. Only 52,000 children were adopted in 2012; at the end of 2011, 15 percent of youth in the system lived in group homes or institutions. What is most troub-ling is the number of youth who “age out” of the system every year without the support of a family. At the end of 2011, 11 percent, or 26,000 youth in the system, aged out. These youth are much more likely to experience homelessness, health problems, unemployment, incarceration, and other trouble later in life.

In Washington, D.C., there are about 1,300 children in the foster care system; 300 of them are on the waitlist for adoptive homes. Many are siblings, and many more are adolescents, past the ages when most families typically want to adopt.

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Breaking the Habits of Machismo

FOR CENTURIES Christians have pondered what it means to be created in the image of God. Throughout my own academic career, I’ve been haunted by the mystery of Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (CEB).

What does this passage reveal about us, and consequently, what does it reveal about God? The second half of the passage is equally contentious and challenging. Does “male and female God created them” imply that men and women reflect the image of God equally?

While Genesis 2 to 3, with its narrative of sin and betrayal, is captivating, there is something about the simplicity, mystery, and implications of Genesis 1:27 that resonates even today. I would argue that Genesis 1:27 is the foundation of an egalitarian anthropology where male and female are at the center of theological reflection, where they reflect the image of God without hierarchy or preference. The existence of distinctive genders in humanity does not imply any sort of sexuality within God. Instead, the metaphor retains the unknowability and mystery of God. It reminds us that there are similarities and great differences between the created and Creator. The metaphor “image of God” both reveals and conceals something about the nature of God—and the nature of humanity.

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'A Sower Went Out to Sow'

“WE WANT FARMERS to rediscover the sacredness of farming,” says Rev. Daniel Premkumar. Premkumar’s respect for farmers and farming grew from his experience of serving for nearly 40 years as a Lutheran parish priest in Andhra Pradesh, the “rice bowl” of India. “We have forgotten that the people who grow our food play a critical role in the care of creation,” he says. “That is why we are creating a farmers’ Bible.”

We sat in his office at the Synod of the Church of South India, the largest Protestant church in the country, in Chennai. The church includes 10,000 Protestant congregations (Presbyterian, Congregational, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist) across South India. Rev. Premkumar is now director of diaconal concerns for the church, and he is advancing the concept of agri-ministry, which views agriculture as a form of ministry and upholds the need for church ministry to directly address the concerns of farmers. He created the Agricultural Workers Fellowship (AWF) in 2011. A small AWF workshop where theologians and farmers came together to discuss agricultural perspectives on biblical passages led to the idea of a book offering a reading of the Bible from the farmers’ perspective. They hope this book and a farm workers’ devotional guide will be finished by 2014.

The initiative to spur the church to explicitly integrate faith and agriculture comes at a time when food and farming in India—and globally—is at a critical juncture. Will India follow the United States in relying on genetically modified crops, monoculture, inorganic and unsustainable farming practices, and the corporatization of agriculture? Or will it restore farming as a livelihood, emphasizing safe food and healthy soil and water?

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Energy News: What’s Happening This Week

Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com
Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

David vs. Goliath: Residents in a Colorado city are fighting their local coal monopoly for the chance to move their city to clean energy. The coal company has more money – a LOT more money – but the organizers have more heart. This short 6-minute video is well worth watching

40,000 jobs sound pretty good: According to the new 2013 second quarter clean energy report form Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), clean energy and sustainable transportation projects launched this year created close to 40,000 green jobs in the U.S.

Global Churches Alliance for Bangladesh Garment Workers

Mary Priniski wrote in the August 2013 Sojourners magazine about churches responding in solidarity with garment workers, disproportionately women, after the terrible fires in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Now, a global church alliance has been established. Ekklesia reports:

[The alliance] provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

 

Christians in Sudan Face Increased Hostility

Photo courtesy RNS.
Sudan Church choir sings during a Sunday service at All St. Saints (Anglican) Cathedral Khartoum. Photo courtesy RNS.

Despite a promise by the Sudanese government to grant its minority Christian population religious freedom, church leaders there said they are beset by increased restrictions and hostility in the wake of the South Sudan’s independence.

In 2011, South Sudan, a mostly Christian region, split from the predominantly Muslim and Arab north, in a process strongly supported by the international community and churches in the West.

The two regions had fought a two-decade long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.

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