Pope Francis' Visit to Philadelphia Won't Focus on Hot-Button Sex Issues

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia/RNS.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput says hot-button socio-sexual issues won’t be the central focus when the World Meeting of Families welcomes Pope Francis to the City of Brotherly Love next year.

Chaput told a Vatican conference on marriage and the family Nov. 19 that next year’s event comes “at a critical moment in global culture” and willaddress a broader scope of concerns.

“It will deal with a wide range of family issues where our religious faith is both needed and tested,” Chaput said.

“These are matters that affect all families, not only in the United States but on a world scale. So we want to focus next year not just on the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media.”

Reflecting the change in emphasis under Pope Francis that was evident at the recent Vatican Synod on the Family, the four-day event in Philadelphia will look at poverty and the family, marital intimacy, raising children, and the impact of divorce, as well as issues affecting the elderly and the disabled.

Gay Debate Challenges Traditional Definitions of ‘Evangelical’

Matthew Vines speaks at The Reformation Project conference in Washington, D.C. Photo via Rick Wood/The Reformation Project/RNS

It used to be that defining an “evangelical” was pretty straightforward: some version of a “born-again” experience, a deep appreciation for the Bible as the written Word of God and a conviction to spread salvation to the masses.

Opposing homosexuality wasn’t part of that holy trinity, but for most evangelicals, it was more or less a given that all sexuality outside of man-woman marriage is sinful. Not so much anymore.

Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality is leading many Christians to reconsider their historic opposition. As intractable as the debate itself can be, American evangelicals nonetheless are experiencing lively conflicts over maintaining boundaries. What can you believe about gays and still call yourself an evangelical? And who gets to decide?

In October, the Vatican’s Synod on the Family and a major conference of establishment evangelicals in Nashville both featured softer rhetoric on gays and lesbians while reaffirming the view that homosexuality is morally disordered.

Last week in Washington, however, a gay evangelical activist laid out a biblical argument for an affirming view.

Matthew Vines was raised in a conservative Presbyterian congregation in Wichita, Kan. Realizing and accepting that he was gay, Vines neither abandoned religion nor sought out a more affirming church. Instead, he delved deeply into the Bible and Christian teaching. He came away with the conviction that biblical Christianity could affirm same-sex relationships.

Cardinal Says Church Under Pope Francis Is a ‘Rudderless Ship’

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis who has emerged as the face of the opposition to Pope Francis’ reformist agenda, likened the Roman Catholic Church to “a ship without a rudder” in a fresh attack on the pope’s leadership.

In an interview with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva, published Oct. 30, Burke insisted he was not speaking out against the pope personally but raising concern about his leadership.

“Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said.

“Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”

Burke is the current head of the Vatican’s highest court known as the Apostolic Signatura, but he said recently he is about to be demoted. There is speculation he will be made patron of the Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial post.

“I have all the respect for the Petrine ministry and I do not want to seem like I am speaking out against the pope,” he said in the interview. “I would like to be a master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling a truth that many currently perceive.”

“They are feeling a bit seasick because they feel the church’s ship has lost its way,” he added.

Southern Baptists, LGBT Activists Happily Coexist, but for How Long?

Al Mohler speaks to conference attendees. Photo courtesy of Rocket Republic, via ERLC National Conference/RNS.

When Southern Baptists convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.

No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”

“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.

“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”

Houston Subpoenas Pastors’ Sermons in Gay Rights Ordinance Case

Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Photo courtesy of Zblume (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Evangelical leaders are angry after city officials in Houston subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance that provides protections to the LGBT community.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, led support for the ordinance. The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.

Under one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint.

The ordinance, which exempted religious institutions, was passed in June, though its implementation has been delayed due to legal complaints.

Vatican Shifts to Tone of Greater Openness Toward Gays and Lesbians

The dome of the palace of the Vatican. Photo via dade72/shutterstock.

The world’s Catholic bishops on Oct. 13 signaled a move toward greater tolerance of gays and lesbians, an about-face so unexpected that leaders of the church’s right wing called it a “betrayal.”

Noting that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church, the mid-point assessment reflected the impact that Pope Francis seems to be having on the two-week Synod on the Family as he pushes for a more open, less doctrinaire approach.

“Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?” said the communique from the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates. “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.

“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Weekly Wrap 10.3.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. The Strange Nostalgia of ‘Left Behind’
The rapture movie (out in theaters today) is—to borrow a phrase—neither hot nor cold. So why the re-make? We take a crack at answering.

2. Lipstick and Seminary
“During seminary, I paid close attention to ways men acted in and outside the classroom. Playing by their rules helped me fit in…I guarded what I considered feminine-seeming parts of my personality — creativity, emotion, and relational ways of perceiving and acting. I got A’s, but my soul was wilting.”

3. WATCH: A Million Ways to Die in the U.S.
Jon Stewart puts concerns over ISIS and Ebola in perspective. “The American government has a sacred obligation to do whatever it takes to save American lives…unless it’s stopping the things that are actually killing Americans.”

4. The Meditations of Europe’s Last Brewmaster Nun
Says Sister Doris: “As Saint Benedict wrote, ‘in all things God may be glorified,’ and that is also true of beer.” Say we: "Amen."

Mormons Embrace Social Media to Push Back Against Official Church Teachings

Mitch Mayne, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Wendy Montgomery, and Diane Oviatt during the screening. Photo via Mitch Mayne/RNS.

It was a gathering that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.

On a cool summer evening, in a borrowed classroom overlooking San Francisco Bay, about 150 men and women gathered to screen a short documentary about a Mormon family whose 13-year-old son came out as gay.

The Montgomerys, who accepted their son and his news, were ostracized by church members, some of whom refused to accept Communion distributed by the young man in church. Like many conservative Christian denominations, the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bans homosexual activity and considers it grounds for exclusion from Mormon rites, rituals and even the afterlife.

Christian Group Denied Recognition at Two Dozen College Campuses

A group of student involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Sonoma State Star/RNS.

A well-established international Christian student group is being denied recognition at almost two dozen California college campuses because it requires leaders to adhere to Christian beliefs, effectively closing its leadership ranks to non-Christians and gays.

California State University, which has 23 campuses, is “de-recognizing” local chapters of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters in the United States. The university system says InterVarsity’s leadership policy conflicts with its state-mandated nondiscrimination policy requiring membership and leadership in all official student groups be open to all.

“For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy,” said Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the California State University system. “We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not.”

6 Monumental Questions Facing Every Church In America

diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Churches continue to struggle with big questions, diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning new things, growing in wisdom, and interacting with a wide array of difficult topics. Boldly asking tough questions is essential to spiritual development.

Today, few questions are as important, impactful, meaningful, or divisive within Christianity as the following six:

1. Is homosexuality a sin?

While much of society continues to accept homosexuality as being a culturally and morally acceptable practice, many Christian institutions, organizations, and communities still consider it sinful.

Increasingly, Christians who publically denounce homosexuality are perceived as homophobic, bigoted, and on the completely wrong side of a major human rights movement. This results in the Christian faith being wholeheartedly rejected by a modern population that sees this type of fundamentalism as incompatible with modern ethics and conventional wisdom.

But other churches, denominations, and spiritual communities are changing — and some have fully embraced and supported gay rights.

Christianity currently finds itself facing four basic responses: 1) support homosexuality, 2) reject it as sinful, 3) accept it but still claim it’s sinful, and, 4) ignore the issue as much as possible.

Believers are deeply divided on the issue, and ultimately your stance on homosexuality defines much of what you think about God, theology, church, sin, and salvation.

This is one of the defining question facing today’s Christians, and many are still processing through what they believe and struggling to come up with an adequate answer.