JASON COOPER LOOKS out at the audience gathered in Restoration Church and asks, “Is it God’s will to heal?”
The former art school classroom, where the Pentecostal Dover, N.H., congregation meets, is nearly full, even though it is a Thursday evening in April. In addition to the 70 or so regular members who have come to hear Cooper preach, there are nearly a dozen visitors. One woman leans heavily on a cane. Another can’t turn her head from side to side and needs neck surgery.
They are casualties of slow research and expensive health care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health-care policy think tank, health expenditures have increased 10-fold in the past 30 years. Though some health- care increases can be attributed to longer life spans, the high costs of drugs, hospital stays, and doctor visits have been compounded in the wake of the recession.
A young woman tensely watches Cooper as if he might explode at any minute. No one knows exactly what he will do. The audience fidgets in response to his question. Cooper, with his soul patch, slick black haircut, white button-down shirt, and stone-washed jeans, looks a little like a Vegas magician.
But Cooper is a traveling faith healer.
Restoration Church is a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that believes faith healing is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to all Christians. It is a modern church of about 170 members, with a worship team that includes electric guitar players, a bassist, and a drummer. Its logo, a stenciled yellow “R” on a black background, is as trendy as an Apple icon.
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When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the strongest levels of patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.
That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.
White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).
Such were the chants heard outside the United States Supreme Court yesterday when it was announced that the highest judicial body in the nation voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That’s right. As of yesterday, there is no longer a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Of course, not every American is roundly rejoicing. Responses from the Christian community, which has become more divided over the issue in recent years, are mixed. Conservative Christians seem mostly despondent while the progressives among them are mostly celebrating. I spoke with several prominent Christians from across the political spectrum today to get their reactions to the Court’s decision:
Why would evangelical Christians want anything to do with public schools? Judging from decades of culture war rhetoric, these are bastions of secular humanism where God and his fearers are unwelcome. School prayers — not allowed. Teaching creationism — verboten. Abstinence-only sex education — few to be found. Sharing the gospel openly — forget about it.
Little wonder, then, that many evangelicals withhold their support, and kids. And through their support of conservative politicians and policies, evangelicals have been, broadly speaking, part of a political dynamic that has shrunk support, financial and otherwise, for public schools.
But there is a serious problem with this flight from public education. Evangelicals are realizing there are real human beings in those left-behind schools who are struggling to teach and learn against difficult odds, and the future well-being of those kids and our communities depends on their success. Shouldn’t Christians with hearts full of love and compassion be helping them?
DRAPER, Utah — As young brothers, Kris, and Kourt McGuire often spent hours chasing the shimmering dragonflies that floated above a lush, green pasture behind their house.
One day, when their mom told them to come inside to clean their room, they silently obeyed — or so she thought. After a time, she went to check on the two youngest of her four sons. She found their bedroom alive with dragonflies, which they had tied with strings hung from the ceiling.
She smiled, and they all broke into laughter.
It’s one of Lyn McGuire’s favorite recollections of the two boys — a memory that predates the heartache of losing them both.
Kris died at age 8 in 1986, when a car hit him on the way to school. Kourt died about 10 years later, at age 17, killing himself amid depression and the still-stinging absence of his older brother.
Evangelicals haven't always been part of the pro-life coalition. Prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting abortion in certain circumstances. After Roe allowed any abortion for any reason, evangelicals began to change their stance and with Catholics formed the pro-life coalition we know today. The Washington Post reports:
The reality of abortion on demand and exposure to the logic of the abortion rights movement led to a fundamental shift in the evangelical conscience. By 1976 the Southern Baptist Convention would declare every abortion to be a “decision to terminate the life of an innocent human being.” Similarly, the large evangelical movement would develop an overwhelming pro-life consensus, seeing abortion as a great moral evil and a threat to the dignity of all human life.
Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?
Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Recently Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talked with Religion News Service about why more evangelicals should adopt.
At the level of the common good, this is something that all people should be concerned about. But it’s consistent for evangelical Christians to be pro-orphan.
What most churches want, when they start to think about this issue, is a preprogrammed initiative, a set of instructions. I don’t think this issue works that way. It has to be organic. It has to be flexible. It has to create a culture within a congregation.
It will be congregational cultures that start to change with the inclusion of the families who are adopting and fostering and caring for orphans. I think that’s a long-term project over a generation, not something short-term.
After November’s presidential vote, Catholics could cite ample evidence for their renewed political relevance while dispirited evangelicals were left wondering if they are destined to be yesterday’s election news. Yet their roles in American spiritual life may be reversed.
New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of "strongly affiliated" followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith.
According to Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion.
By 2010, he said, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent.
The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, “I think this was an evangelical disaster.”
Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party — which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right’s leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term “evangelical.”
During this election, much of the media continued to use the word as a political term — as a key constituency of the Republican conservative base. But what the media really means when they use term “evangelical” is “conservative white evangelical.” All other kinds of evangelicals are just never counted.
Just as the 2012 electoral results finally revealed the demographic transformation of America — which has been occurring for quite some time — it also dramatically demonstrated how the meaning of the word “evangelical” is being transformed.
Evangelical can no longer be accurately used to mean “white evangelical.”