Pardon the yawn.
The 1.8 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) on March 17 voted to officially approve of same-sex marriage, an announcement that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the mainline Protestant denomination’s trajectory. Perhaps a more substantial but less widely reported story was the decision by City Church, San Francisco’s largest evangelical congregation, to affirm LGBT couples.
Evangelicals are among the most stalwart opponents to LGBT marriage, but a number of evangelical congregations have publicly shifted their stance in the last year. Among them are Seattle’s Eastlake Community Church, Nashville’s GracePointe Church, Portland’s Christ Church, and New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. Other prominent evangelical pastors tell me off the record that they are in the midst of similar conversations.
Churches aren’t the only evangelical factions inching left on matters of sexuality.
Before she and her husband adopted a son and daughter from Ethiopia, popular evangelical blogger Jen Hatmaker said she had a different view about race in America.
“A couple years ago, I would’ve said we’re moving to a post-racial society because I was so under-exposed to people of color and the issues they deal with on a daily basis,” said the white Christian author, whose home renovation to make space for their growing family of seven was recently featured on HGTV.
As evangelicals have turned their attention toward adoption in the past decade, families like the Hatmakers are grappling with race relations in a profoundly personal way, especially as national news spotlights racial tension in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.
And evangelicals aren’t alone: A new Gallup poll found that 13 percent of Americans believe racism is the country’s most important problem, the highest figure since the 1992 verdict in the Rodney King case sparked riots in Los Angeles.
And, as Gallup noted: “After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15 percent).”
While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.
Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.
“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Rodriguez planned to be with Obama on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas, where the President hopes to rally for his new steps.
God bless online media. Almost half of U.S. adults (46 percent) say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.
And one in five (20 percent) say they were part of the Internet spiritual action on social networking sites and apps — sharing their beliefs on Facebook, asking for prayer on Twitter, mentioning in a post that they went to church.
“The sheer number of people who have seen faith discussed online is pretty striking,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research for Pew Research Center.
Megachurch pastors have mega-followings online. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church streams his Houston services online. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1.8 million likes on his Facebook page. And Pope Francis has more than 4.6 million English-language followers, chiefly American, for his @Pontifex Twitter feed.
On Nov. 6, Wheaton, “the Harvard of Christian colleges,” is hosting a forum on the death penalty. But it’s not just any forum. It has potential to reshape the way evangelicals in America think about the topic.
In addition to Wheaton’s own ethicist Vincent Bacote and Mercer University scholar David Gushee, the panelists include Kirk Bloodsworth, who spent eight years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Also on the panel is Frank Thompson, former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary who witnessed executions. And finally, there is Gabriel Salguero, who heads up the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and is also a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, a Christian powerhouse representing 45,000 congregations from over 40 denominations.
This is big.
I’ll admit, part of me wished this monumental death penalty event was happening at my alma mater, Eastern University. After all, Eastern is well-known for its social justice edge, its progressive faculty — folks like Tony Campolo and Ron Sider. One Eastern alum, death penalty lawyer Bryan Stevenson, was recently called “America’s young Nelson Mandela” by Desmond Tutu and interviewed in Time magazine and The New York Times.
After I pouted a little while, I realized the significance of this forum.
An alliance of evangelical organizations has pledged to dramatically increase the number of church-based legal clinics across the country to assist immigrants with the complicated processes of seeking green cards, visas and family unification.
The Immigration Alliance, a network of 15 evangelical denominations and ministries, on Oct. 21 launched a plan to reduce the gap between the 22 million immigrant noncitizens and the 12,000 private immigration lawyers in the country.
“Churches are a trusted presence in immigrant communities that can — and should — help address this critical shortage of legal services,” said Noel Castellanos, the alliance’s board chair and the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, in announcing the new venture.
The alliance, which was formed in 2013, estimates that there also are 2,800 nonprofit attorneys and accredited staff in the country. The umbrella network includes the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, among others.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were not invited to a major gathering of social conservatives in Washington last weekend in what was viewed as a serious snub of two men considered prominent Republican presidential contenders for 2016.
“They were not invited this year because they just weren’t on the top of the list in terms of what they are doing right now and whether or not it was relevant to the values voters and who they want to hear from,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council and chief organizer of the Values Voter Summit, which opened on Friday and ended Sept. 28.
“They shouldn’t take it the wrong way,” Perkins told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview taped on Friday.
But in his report, Brody said the two men had been “snubbed” and that’s not good news for any presidential aspirations they may harbor.
The Values Voter Summit is the pre-eminent venue for GOP candidates who hope to showcase their bona fides to the crucial conservative Christian bloc, and Christie and Bush — the elder brother of former President George W. Bush — are seen as Republicans who could appeal to the center of the electorate but who have not won the hearts of social conservatives.
When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.
But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.
And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.
SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.
Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.
According to a new survey, white evangelical Christians feel a lot of warmth toward Jews.
As for Jews, they feel colder toward evangelical Christians than they do about any other religious group.
Cue the Taylor Swift ballads: We have here a serious case of unrequited love.
The Republican National Committee on Friday launched its first web-based effort to rally conservative believers behind the party, a sign of how crucial voter turnout will be in this fall’s close-fought midterm elections and an indication that the GOP cannot take its evangelical Christian base for granted.
“This shouldn’t be outreach, this should be who we are — it is who we are,” said Chad Connelly, director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee and the force behind this new initiative, GOPfaith.com.
Evangelicals, Connelly said, “are our biggest, most reliable voting bloc.”
The problem, however, is that even though evangelicals identify more closely than ever with the GOP, they have not been turning out at the polls in sufficient numbers to carry Republican candidates to victory.
How many voters know that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Roman Catholic? Or that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist, not a Latino Catholic? Or that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worships at both a Catholic parish and an evangelical church?
More importantly, does it matter?
Actually, it does in today’s Republican Party, where a number of factors have forged a new religious identity that supersedes familiar old categories.
These prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost insurmountable. Look no further than the stunning Virginia primary victory of Dave Brat, a Catholic with degrees from a Reformed Protestant college in Michigan and Princeton Theological Seminary, who took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week.
When evangelicals and Catholics set aside centuries of mutual suspicion 20 years ago, the idea was fairly simple: Even if we can’t always work together, at least let’s not work against each other.
Now, two decades after the launch of the group Evangelicals and Catholics Together , relations between the two groups appear stronger than ever, forged by shared battles over abortion, same-sex marriage, religious freedom, and immigration.
A new pope is finding crossover appeal among evangelicals who share Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelism and his distaste for the fancier trappings and authoritarianism of the papacy.
WASHINGTON — Trying yet again with new voices, more than 250 evangelical pastors came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to push for immigration reform.
“I didn’t want people to think this was only a Hispanic issue,” said Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, at a news conference before meeting with dozens of mostly Republican members of Congress. “This is impacting a lot of people, including Asian-Americans.”
Cho, who is of Korean descent, was among the new faces demonstrating support for immigration reform across racial and ethnic groups and denominations. He pointed out that one out of five Korean-Americans are undocumented.
When facing a crisis, silence is certainly easiest. But silence isn’t best. As we face some very challenging environmental issues, evangelicals must learn to begin to discuss the environmental crisis with creativity and integrity. Whether it’s because we know we play an integral role in the healing of the world, in agreement with Wendell Berry, who says our fate is “mingled in the fate of the world.” Or, because we’ve come to see our responsibility to care for God’s creation as a central aspect of our love of Jesus Christ. Regardless of our reason — silence can’t be our policy.
In a very real sense, the easiest way for us to deal with the realities of the 21st century ecological crisis is practicing a kind of mutual pretense. That’s the easiest thing to do. Despite the humming knowledge that hard things await, we will talk about anything without actually talking about what is going on. More than many, I know that this can be the practice of evangelical Christianity in which I am rooted. We’ll talk about the return of Jesus, about theology, about church practice, anything but what’s actually going on in our world.