Protestants

Vatican Backs Plan to Name Rome Square for Martin Luther

REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS
Pope Francis leads the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the Colosseum in Rome on April 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

Why Routine Divorce is Now Inevitable, Even Among Christians

Image via graham tomlin/Shutterstock

A LifeWay Research survey released last week on the morality of divorce found that for most Americans, the reason an individual initiates divorce doesn’t matter in terms of how they morally evaluate the rightness or wrongness of that divorce. Pastors, though, still tend to draw moral distinctions between reasons for divorce.

Based on years of research on Christian tradition as it pertains to marriage and divorce, I can tell you what this finding means. The answer is not especially pretty: Routine divorce is now inevitable in American culture, including among religious people — with one possible exception.

Let’s take this problem apart.

Online, Offline Faith Go Hand in Hand

Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers a Facebook page, online sermons, and live chats . Photo via Christ Fellowship/RNS.

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.

Protestant Theologians Reconsider Purgatory

A painting from “Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry." Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“I got no problem praying for the dead,” Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

The dead are either in heaven or hell, they say. There’s no middle ground, and certainly nothing the living can do to change it.

Many Catholics don’t seem to take purgatory as seriously as they once did, either, viewing it as fodder for jokes or as the “anteroom of heaven,” an unpleasant way station that is only marginally more appealing than hell.

But Walls is a leading exponent of an effort to convince Protestants — and maybe a few Catholics — that purgatory is a teaching they can, and should, embrace. And he’s having a degree of success, even among some evangelicals, that hasn’t been seen in, well, centuries.

Immigration Isn't Dead

Supporters of immigration reform gathered near the U.S. Capitol on June 25, 2013. RNS Photo by Adelle M. Banks.

Yesterday was one of the craziest days in recent American political history. House Majority leader Eric Cantor fell to Tea Party economics professor David Brat in a primary upset no pundit saw coming.

While the early analysis suggested that support for immigration reform may have been what brought Cantor down, exit polling suggests his lack of attention to the concerns of his constituents and his inability to deliver on his promises were a greater factor than the immigration issue. Cantor never brought a vote on immigration to the floor and was never a strong ally on immigration.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released an immigration poll at the Brookings Institute. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans and nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants remain in support of immigration reform that includes a path towards citizenship or legal status.

Hispanics Increasingly Identify as 'Nones'

Graphic courtesy Public Religion Research Institute. Via RNS.

The number of Hispanic-Americans who say they adhere to no religion is growing and now rivals the number of Hispanic evangelicals, a new study has found.

The share of Hispanics living in the U.S. who say they are atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation has reached 12 percent, according to the 2013 Hispanic Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. That is double the rate reported in 1990 by the American Religious Identification Survey.

Researchers say Hispanic “nones” are now statistically equal to the number of U.S. Hispanic evangelical Protestants — 13 percent — and warn of a religious divide in the Hispanic community that will be felt for decades to come.

Can Online Communion Be a Substitute for the Real Thing?

United Methodist leaders asked their bishops to stop the practice of online Communion. RNS file photo by Lynn Ischay.

As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion.

About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion. Some nondenominational churches already offer online Communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination’s bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.

The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that Communion “entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.” Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.

What If U.S. Christianity Needs More Immigrants?

Sign at immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com
Sign at immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Evangelicals around the country are praying for Congress to bring fair and just immigration reform to a vote. Often, advocates within the Christian community voice concern for the “least of these” — the unauthorized immigrants who are living in the shadows. But churches shouldn’t view Congress’ critical immigration decision as simply a matter of compassion for the “other;” immigration might be the lifeline that American Christianity needs.

Much has been written about the way that growing numbers of “millennials” are walking away from the church. The music, programming, and even vocabulary of many Christian churches seems aimed at solving the puzzle of how to keep young people interested in faith and keep them sitting in the pews. Yet while it seems millennials are walking out the front door of U.S. congregations, another group is knocking at the back door: immigrant Christians.

The World as God Intends

THE LEADERSHIP of 12Stone Church, a multi-campus congregation based in Gwinnett County, Ga., became increasingly concerned about how home foreclosures, rampant unemployment, and other financial strains were impacting families in metro Atlanta. They set an ambitious goal of providing relief to 5,000 families in their church and community. Eventually they raised more than $550,000 through designated gifts, many from church members who were themselves unemployed.

Partnering with the HoneyBaked Ham Company, Kroger grocery stores, and other area sponsors, the 12Stone Church members distributed food to needy families, culminating with a day of giveaways in the parking lot of Coolray Field, home to the Gwinnett Braves, the local minor league baseball team. People began lining up hours before the event, jamming traffic on nearby I-85. Others slept in their cars overnight to keep from missing out.

Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., has mercy ministries built into the DNA of the church. They’ve adapted Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan: plant churches, evangelize the world, aid the poor and sick, care for the orphan and the oppressed, and equip leaders.

Working through the Raleigh-based nonprofit Help One Now, Imago Dei is partnering with an orphanage in Haiti and sponsoring children. Through this ministry, the church is providing basic needs, including food, clean water, and health care. They also support education programs so that the children will be equipped to one day provide for their own families.

Orphan care is an important element of Imago Dei’s ministry and mission. As a church, they desire to create and maintain a biblical culture of adoption and caring for the orphan and widow. The church recently launched the Imago Dei Adoption Fund to assist church members who desire to adopt domestically or internationally and who require some financial assistance.

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Who Would Jesus Execute?

RICHARD VIGUERIE is as responsible as anyone for the success of the conservative movement in this country. A pioneer in political direct mail, Viguerie has been involved from the radical edges of the Right in every Republican campaign from Goldwater to Romney; he's been called the "funding father of the conservative movement." He helped start hundreds of entities from Conservative Digest to Gun Owners of America, from the National Conservative Political Action Committee to the Moral Majority—spanning the political spectrum from Right to Far Right. Just before the 2012 election, he launched MyOwnSuperPAC because of "frustration at how weak and ineffective the Romney campaign's ads have been with its soft approach to Barack Obama—hardly ever mentioning Obama's radical, neo-Marxist vision for America's future," and insisting that "Obama is NOT failing. He's succeeding at doing exactly what he set out to do—and that's destroy capitalism and destroy the America you and I grew up in." So no one is going to mistake Viguerie for a squishy liberal.

And yet Viguerie's Catholic faith has led him to a surprising position on the issues of capital punishment and prison reform. The conservative icon talked with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis in September about why he thinks an unexpected Left-Right alliance might turn the tide against the death penalty.

Jim Wallis: As you and I both know, we're often stuck in political straitjackets. There are issues that we could work together on, particularly as people of faith, that would help politicians do better than they sometimes do. I'd like to start with this: You've said that, as a Catholic, you're against the death penalty. Why is your faith as a Catholic central to this, and how has that turned you against the death penalty?

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