It's Time for Evangelicals to Speak up for Animals

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Barrett Duke didn’t grow up with pets and never gave the welfare of animals any serious thought. Then he met Rusty — the golden retriever who stole his heart.

Duke discovered what most animal lovers know: that Rusty was more than just a random assortment of cells wrapped in fur. He had a personality and intelligence and a will that was all his own. When he lost Rusty to cancer, it was like losing a family member.

“Rusty was such an incredible animal, it changed my perspective on God’s creation,” Duke told me.

#PopeinDC: This Evangelical’s Zacchaeus Moment

Image via Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

Evangelicals don’t have a pope, or even a single spokesperson. We’re not a single denomination like the Catholic Church, so we lack a comparable hierarchical structure. Particular denominations have presidents or general secretaries, but no one human being serves as the representative figure of God on earth within the evangelical faith. Rather, following the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27, evangelicals believe all humanity bears the image of God. In fact, one of the functions of the early evangelical movement was to democratize the faith — to proclaim all humanity’s equal access to God through Jesus.

So, why did my heart shake with anticipation at the thought of being in this pope’s presence? Here’s why: More than any other person, since St. Francis of Assisi (his namesake), this pope has embodied the values and priorities of Jesus. He has shown us what it might have been like to walk the earth with Jesus himself — what it might have been like to watch him embrace the leper, to watch him defend the adulterous woman calling the Pharisees not to judge, to watch Jesus challenge the values and priorities of the religious establishment of his day. He has been a vision to watch.

America Welcomes Christians, Jews; Atheists, Muslims Not So Much

LIfeWay Research / RNS

Graphic via LIfeWay Research / RNS

Americans are all for religious freedom — but disagree on who can claim it.

Diverse religious groups are recognized — but Christians and Jews are significantly more welcome than atheists, and many don’t see a welcome mat for Muslims. And not everyone means the same thing when speaking of a “Christian” nation.

So finds a new look at Americans’ religious self-image, detailed in a LifeWay Research survey released July 29.

Like It or Not, Most Expect Gay Marriage Will Sweep the U.S.

Photo via Public Religion Research Institute / RNS

Legal status of, and support for, same-sex marriage in each state. Photo via Public Religion Research Institute / RNS

Most Americans — including people from every major religious group — predict gay marriage will be legalized nationwide when a hotly anticipated Supreme Court ruling is announced later this month.

Among those who favor legalizing same-sex marriage, 80 percent think the high court will rule their way, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released June 11. And among those who oppose gay marriage, 47 percent say that’s the likely outcome, too.

Latino Evangelicals Say No to the Death Penalty

THE NATIONAL LATINO Evangelical Coalition announced in March that it would no longer support the death penalty, making it the first U.S. evangelical association to take this stand. Coalition president Gabriel Salguero announced the change at a press conference in Orlando, Fla., and urged NaLEC’s 3,000 member congregations to work toward ending capital punishment nationwide.

“As Christ-followers, we are called to work toward justice for all. And as Latinos, we know too well that justice is not always even-handed,” said Salguero.

This groundbreaking move by Latino evangelicals puts them at odds with the pro-death penalty stance of the National Association of Evangelicals, although “sources within the NAE say that leadership is considering a change in the months ahead,” according to Religion News Service.

NaLEC did not come to this new position lightly. It came after two years of prayer and reflection accompanied by intensive dialogue between NaLEC’s leadership and Equal Justice USA and the Constitution Project, two leading anti-death penalty organizations. In addition, coalition members met with a number of wrongly convicted former prisoners such as Fernando Bermudez, who spent 18 years in prison in New York for a murder he did not commit.

According to Salguero, selecting Florida for the announcement was intentional. Florida was the first state to reintroduce capital punishment after the Supreme Court struck down the 1972 moratorium. Since executions were resumed, 25 people on Florida’s death row have been exonerated. This record of mistaken convictions is the highest of any state. It is particularly disturbing that Florida has on its books the so-called Timely Justice Act that mandates a swift execution process. With 394 people currently on Florida’s death row and the prevalence of mishandled cases and inadequate defense, especially for minorities, this law exacerbates existing problems in a system plagued by errors.

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July 2015
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Reimagining the Bible Belt

IF YOU'RE A Christian who cares about social justice, you can’t afford to ignore Texas.

In his book Rough Country, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow puts it bluntly: “Texas is America’s most powerful Bible-Belt state.” Texas has the second largest population in the country, home to more than 26 million people. In 2014, Texans led six out of 21 congressional committees. And more than half of Texans attend church at least twice monthly.

No other state has more evangelical Christians than Texas. Many national Christian media companies, parachurch ministries, and influential megachurches are based in Texas. That’s why Texas is called the Buckle of the Bible Belt: It’s the most populous, wealthy, and politically powerful part of the country where evangelical churchgoing is still a dominant force.

But what if we reimagine the Bible Belt? In 2005, Texas officially became a “majority-minority” state, where traditional minority racial or ethnic groups represent more than half of the population. A majority of Texans under 40 in the pews are people of color. This creates an opportunity: Demographic change could lead to cultural change. What if we cast a new vision for faith in Texas public life that puts working families and people of color at the center?

But demographic change will not translate automatically into cultural change. The dominant historical Bible Belt narrative has influenced and shaped the identities of all Texas Christians, including in the African-American and Latino faith communities.

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July 2015
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Crossing the Globe in Search of Authentic ​Evangelicalism

pio3 / Shutterstock.com

pio3 / Shutterstock.com

The center of Christianity has dramatically shifted, and that means the agenda was very different from the northern and western agendas of the older white evangelicals in America and the issues they think most important. Korea could play a particular and convening role as a bridge between the churches of the global north and south.

In sharp and grateful contrast to the old ideologies of global North evangelicals, these global South evangelicals spent their time together wrestling with issues of global economic inequality, the realities of climate change, the imperatives of racial justice, and the need for Christians to wage peace instead of war. Since these are the issues that global evangelical and Pentecostal constituencies are facing in their own lives — and of course, the Bible addresses all of them as the central issues Christians need to confront today — the narrow, white American evangelical agenda had no interest in this global evangelical and Pentecostal forum. The fact is that they represent a different evangelical world.

Christians Lose Ground, ‘Nones’ Soar in New Portrait of U.S. Religion

St Roch Church in the Staten Island borough of New York. Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

The United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.

That’s the top finding – one that will ricochet through American faith, culture, and politics – in the Pew Research Center’s newest report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” released May 12.

This trend “is big, it’s broad, and it’s everywhere,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.

5 Faith Facts about Carly Fiorina: ‘What You Make of Yourself Is Your Gift to God’

Photo via REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. Photo via REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Carly Fiorina formally launched her 2016 presidential run on May 4. But she’s long been working the Christian talk and radio circuit appealing to a traditional Christian voter base.

Here are five faith facts about the former Hewlett-Packard CEO turned business consultant.