Faith

Evangelical Author Sees 'Mormonizing' of America

Stephen Mansfield, an evangelical author who has written widely about the faith of politicians, turns his attention to Mormons in his latest book, The Mormonizing of America.

He talked with Religion News Service about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — has progressed from persecution to prominence.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You’ve written “The Faith of George W. Bush” and The Faith of Barack Obama. Why did you write “The Mormonizing of America” instead of “The Faith of Mitt Romney”?

A: I thought that the story of Bush at the time was bigger than the story of evangelicals and the religious right at that time. I thought the story of Obama personally was bigger then the story of the religious left that he was sort of the champion of. But in this case I think that the story of the Mormon moment or this Mormon ascent is a bigger story than Mitt Romney. There’s something broader going on and he’s not so much the champion of the movement, maybe just at the vanguard of it....

Is Alabama Shrine the Next Catholic Pilgrimage Site?

Alabama Virgin Mary shrine photo courtesy of Caritas of Alabama via RNS.

Alabama Virgin Mary shrine photo courtesy of Caritas of Alabama via RNS.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Could a Virgin Mary statue under a pine tree in the middle of a cow pasture in rural Alabama one day become an officially recognized international pilgrimage site of the Roman Catholic Church?

Yes, it could, said Michael D. Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department and a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama who has specialized in studying the role of Virgin Mary apparitions in the Catholic Church.

“Without a doubt,” Murphy said. “Some very unusual places have ended up becoming pilgrimage sites.”

Marija Lunetti, the visionary who has been reporting daily visions of the Virgin Mary since she was a teenager in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, had two outdoors apparitions in a field under a pine tree in Shelby County, Ala., during a highly publicized “five days of prayer” July 1-5 at Caritas of Birmingham.

Lunetti was one of six Medjugorje youths who began reporting apparitions of Mary in 1981. She was 16 at the time and known as Marija Pavlovic. Now 47, married with four children and living in Italy, Lunetti continues having daily visions.

She has been visiting Alabama since 1988, when she came to donate a kidney at UAB Hospital for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic. She had apparitions in the hospital and at the home of Caritas of Birmingham founder Terry Colafrancesco.

Faith in the Heavens, and Beyond

A fascinating piece from The Atlantic looks at faith and spirituality amongst those who have travelled across our universe:

"For many people, space represents its own religion, a spiritual experience on its own, secular terms, with no help from the divine or ancient rituals. But for those who believe and travel into space, the experience can endow their faith with greater significance. There is awe in science because, simply, there is awe in reality. We use science to discover that reality, and some use religion to understand it, to feel it deeply."

Read the full article here

A Higgs Boson Walks Into a Church ...

Image via QuickMeme.com.

Image via QuickMeme.com.

Thanks to Steve Knight for alerting me to this joke, which has become one of my instant favorites. After all, it combines two things I dig: nerd humor and theology (also nerdy).

Yeah, yeah, you may be groaning, but you’re smiling while doing it. Admit it.

There’s plenty of chatter lately about the so-called “God Particle,” recently discovered , with some in the scientific field actually calling it the “goddamn particle,” because (at least as I understand it) the discovery opens up the possibility of something without detectable mass actually giving mass to other particles.

Kind of like: In the beginning there was nothing, and then…

Sound familiar?

Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat

Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass

In recent days, conservatives have attacked the Episcopal Church. The reason? The church has just concluded its once every three-year national meeting, and in this gathering the denomination affirmed a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Conservatives assert that the Episcopal Church's ever-increasing social and political progressivism has led to a precipitous membership decline and ruined the denomination.

Many of the criticisms were mean-spirited or partisan, continuing a decade-long internal debate about the Episcopal Church's future. However, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat broadened the discussion, moving beyond inside-baseball ecclesial politics to ask a larger question: "Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?"

The question is a good one, for the liberal Christian tradition is an important part of American culture, from dazzling literary and intellectual achievements to great social reform movements. Mr. Douthat recognizes these contributions and rightly praises this aspect of liberal Christianity as "an immensely positive force in our national life."

Despite this history, however, Mr. Douthat insists that any denomination committed to contemporary liberalism will ultimately collapse. According to him, the Episcopal Church and its allegedly trendy faith, a faith that varies from a more worthy form of classical liberalism, is facing imminent death.

What the Numbers Say About Losing Our Religion

Statue of bishop photo, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Statue of bishop photo, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Among the list of U.S. institutions—banks, the medical system, the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress—where would you pin organized religion?

According to a recent Gallup poll, it comes in fourth, falling behind the military, small business, and police. Only 44 percent of Americans have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the church—a downward fall that has been the trend since its height in the 1970s. 

Drilling down, Protestants tend to have higher confidence—56 percent—in their churches than Catholics, who fall in at 46 percent. (Commentary is linking this to the child abuse scandals.)

Organized religion isn't alone in this. The overall lack of confidence in American institutions is evident across the board, with television news at 21 percent and Congress at an abysmal 13 percent. Even public schools come in at 29 percent. 

But is this at all surprising? 

Public Jesus: How Churches Can Talk about Politics in an Election Year (Without Killing Each Other)

Photo by Chris Maddaloni CQ-Roll Call Group /Getty Images.

Photo by Chris Maddaloni CQ-Roll Call Group /Getty Images.

Learning to speak as a Christian is one of the most important and often ignored aspects of our discipleship. Nowhere is this fact more obvious than when churches try to talk about politics. When the small group leader makes a disparaging comment about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, or a car rolls into the church parking lot with a “NOBAMA” bumper sticker proudly displayed, what do we do?

Is bumper sticker propaganda and negativity the best we have to offer?

Admittedly it can be risky to talk about politics in the local church. All it takes is one idea or statement that flies in the face of someone’s deeply held convictions and that could be the end of our influence and the end of that person’s involvement in our ministry.

Still, the upcoming presidential election will be the defining cultural event of the next six months. If we completely ignore it we are missing a golden opportunity for discipleship.

How can churches have a healthy conversation about politics in the middle of a national election without demonizing the opposition and causing disunity?

I’ve been working on this question for months now, and as part of my preparation I wrote a book called Public Jesus. Here’s a little bit about what I’ve learned in the process:

1) Love the One You’re With

Church No More: Part 3 — The 'C' Word

I have a confession.

(That's rich, right? A minister confessing.)

I have a hard time telling people I'm a minister. Yes, really. I actually tend to handle it this way:

Person: “So, what do you do for a living?”

Me: “I'm a minister... (appropriate pause)... but not the kind you just pictured in your head.”

Sad, I know.

Honestly though, it's worse than that. I'm even very resistant to calling myself a “Christian.” And I'm not even close to the only Christian who feels that way! It's so bad that I have this very conversation with people all the time. There seems to be some kind of “Believer-like-me Radar” which tells people it's safe to talk to me about not liking the“C” word — CHRISTIANITY.

Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

"I DON'T PUT GOD IN A BOX." Illustration by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

"I DON'T PUT GOD IN A BOX." Illustration by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners with image from Shutterstock.

The response to this series of articles has been pretty overwhelming, and generally, very positive. For the handful of folks who label me an apostate, atheist, anti-Christian or what have you for stepping on some rhetorical toes, it’s fine if you feel the need to cast stones. But do bear in mind that, when you do, you are living into a stereotype of Christians as knee-jerk reactionary, judgmental people. Something to consider.

And for the hundreds who have written with thanks for helping them feel their pain, alienation, confusion or resistance is heard and understood, thank you.

In that spirit, I have compiled a third (and most likely, final) list of Cliches to avoid because, frankly, there were still so many worth noting that have yet to be addressed. Thanks to those who have submitted suggestions for additional lists. And because I’ve had some emails and comments asking for more clarity on what to do or say instead of leaning on these cliches, I’ll offer a closing piece for this series tomorrow about what I’d suggest Christians focus on instead of well-worn rhetorical scripts.

Enough prologue. Here are the final nine cliches to strike from the Christian lexicon if we’re interested in reaching people on a deeper, more personal level.

Take From Me These Myths: A Prayer

Good and gracious God,

Today, like the rest of the world, 
when I woke I wrapped myself in myths. 
They are comfortable and warming in what can seem like such a cold world. 
Yes, they are old and worn but they are familiar 
and even the most fashion forward find comfort in this thread-worn garb. 

They tell me that while it may not be fair
that 1,600 children die from hunger everyday,
I can do nothing about it.

They silence my own judgment of myself
when I put a quarter in the cup of a homeless man
as I walk on by the lack in his life
to live into the abundance of mine....

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