Sandi Villarreal 09-12-2012

Christian leaders asked, and the presidential nominees answered. The poverty rate in America is still at a staggering 15 percent and 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty — what is your plan to address the problem?

The Circle of Protection, composed of Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, released President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's video responses today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

(VIDEOS from Obama and Romney after the jump.)

Christian Piatt 09-11-2012
Ground Zero on Sept. 20, 2001.

Ground Zero on Sept. 20, 2001.

I was home sick on Sept. 11, 2001. Amy had left for her grad school classes, so I was a little bit annoyed when she burst back in and woke me up.

“Turn on the TV,” she said. “Something bad is happening. Really bad.”

While watching the replayed video of the plane colliding with the first tower, the second tower attack came. And then there were the reports of similar attacks at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. At that moment, we had no idea when the bad news would stop coming. My first thought was for those loved ones I have in bigger cities, praying that they would not find themselves in harm’s way.

We watched the reports in silence for a few hours, trying to sort out what had just happened. Of course, there were no certainties about the attacks being over, but by now all planes had been grounded, and the American military was on high alert.

“I’m not sure how much more of this I can watch,” I told Amy, realizing it was nearly noon, and I was still sitting on the couch in my underwear. “We should try and do something.”

“Everything is closed,” she said. “Churches will probably have prayer services later, but not until tonight.” The zoo was the only thing we could find that was still operating, so we decided to go spend some time among some less self-destructive animal species. We settled by the gorilla habitat, where one lazy silverback leaned against the other side of the glass, just inches away from us. Though they usually tend to turn their backs to human observers, he was staring right at us. He seemed to be just on the verge of speaking:

What the hell is the matter with you people?

Derek Flood 09-10-2012
Photo: Statue of Jesus on the cross, HUANG Zheng /

Photo: Statue of Jesus on the cross, HUANG Zheng /

Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God's demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called "Good News?"

It's questions like these that make so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity.

Countless people filling our pews have adopted this hurtful view of God and themselves. It has led many to internalize feelings of shame and self-loathing, thinking this is what God desires. Others have lost their faith entirely because of it, unable to worship a God who seems to them to be a moral monster. Faith motivated by fear, threat, and feelings of worthlessness. How could things have gone so wrong? 

When did the good news become bad news?

Christian Piatt 09-10-2012
Courtesy Christian Piatt

Courtesy Christian Piatt

Gotta say I’m a big fan of this church sign at my father-in-law’s church.

It’s time to STOP:

  1. Using faith, Jesus, and the Bible as a political platform;
  2. Cherry-picking from the Gospel based on what polls well;
  3. Claiming Jesus would be so myopic to identify with either of our major political parties;


UDATE: (Posted 9/6/12)

Criticized by Republicans and some members of their own party, Democrats voted to restore the word “God” to the Democratic national platform late Wednesday (Sept. 5). The GOP had seized upon the omission as a failure of their opponents to appreciate the divine's place in American history.

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took to the airwaves early Wednesday to blast the change from the Democrats’ 2008 platform. “I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends.”

Ryan also attacked the Democratic platform’s initial failure to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an issue important to some American Jews and conservative Christians. After a voice vote at the party's convention in Charlotte, language about God and endorsing Jerusalem as the capital was added.

God is mentioned 12 times in the 2012 GOP platform. The 2008 Democratic platform made one reference to God: the “God-given potential” of working people. The 2004 platform had numerous references to God.

A court in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous "bodily harm." The court found that the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.

In response to the ruling, some Jews and Muslims who practice circumcision for religious reasons have protested vehemently. Subsequently, German politicians pledged to pass a law to protect ritual circumcision of young boys. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger even traveled to Berlin to defend Jewish circumcisions, and a complaint against a Bavarian rabbi for performing circumcisions drew the anger of the Anti-Defamation League. The legal and cultural dilemma inherent in the issue makes prompt resolution unlikely.

Most of Germany (and the world) does not circumcise. It is instinctively viewed as harmful. Here's why...

[Editor's Note: David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.]

Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?

A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.

Bob Smietana 09-04-2012

There aren't any white Protestants on the presidential ballot this year — a first in American history.

Instead, the race features two Catholic candidates for vice president, and a Mormon Republican and African-American mainline Protestant for president.

Perhaps lucky for all of them, voters care more about issues such as social justice or gay marriage than they do about denominational brands.

That's particularly true for Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, who hope to woo evangelical voters that share their values rather than their theology.

It's a situation that probably would have baffled famous evangelicals such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who used the issue of abortion in the 1970s and 1980s to turn evangelicals into a powerhouse voting bloc among Republicans.

"If you had told Jerry Falwell back in 1980 that by 2012 that there would not be a white Protestant on the ticket — he would have died right there," said Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

Religion News Service photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

A giant cross-shaped window at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. RNS photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc.

The host city for the Democratic National Convention is not a particularly political place. Charlotte, N.C., is known for three things: banking, NASCAR, and religion.

And when it comes to religion, Billy Graham’s spirit looms large.

America’s most famous evangelist of the 20th century was born on a dairy farm just outside of town and was raised in Charlotte, home of his ministry.

For the Democrats – labeled disparagingly by some Republicans as the party of secular humanism – Charlotte is not a bad place to try and raise their religious profile.

Daniel Burke 09-04-2012
(Date unknown) RNS photo by Chris Sheridan

Gesturing enthusiastically, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon delivers a sermon. (Date unknown) RNS photo by Chris Sheridan

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, revered as a messiah within his Unification Church but regarded by many others as a vain and enigmatic man who blessed mass weddings, built a sprawling business empire and presided over a personality cult, died on Monday in South Korea. He was 92.

Moon had been in intensive care at a Seoul hospital since Aug. 7, according to his church. The cause of death was complications from pneumonia, including kidney failure.

Moon was born in 1920 in what is now North Korea, and rose from a home in which five siblings starved to death to become an ambitious man who harbored a lifelong hatred of communism, craved respect from the rich and powerful and professed a divine mandate to restore a fallen world. 

Mark Sandlin 08-14-2012
R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat /

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat /

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.

A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three-month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.

From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.” 

“No!” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”

More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am. 

Tripp Hudgins 08-13-2012
Wooden crucifix photo, cosma /

Wooden crucifix photo, cosma /

Tony Jones has asked some of us progressive Theobloggers to chime in on God, you know, perhaps some kind of definition or doctrine (that word many of us progressives despise). You can read his invitation here. Tony doesn't want us to talk about Jesus, per se, but about God. I get that. He's in his evangelical context and he gets tired of all the Jesus talk. Lately it seems that the Emergent conversation has been all Jesus all the time. Now, that doesn't bother me, but then again I feel that in my end of the progressive mainline (free church progressive) we don't talk about Jesus enough. We talk about God all the time. Jesus, well, he's a bit of an enigma. What else is there to say? Nevertheless, Tony's invitation is an interesting one and I'm willing to chime in.

One caveat: I'm doing this as a way to speak of one Person of a Trinity. To speak of the One is, in many ways, to speak of the Three and the Unity. But this is just a blog post and not a 20-page essay. So ... yeah.

My answer: If you want to know God, get Religion. (Have you got good religion? Certainly, Lord!) Religion is a combined set of activities embodied by people. These activities are not limited to but may include the following behaviors: liturgy, charity, politics, and even theology (mystical and systematic), and doctrine. Religion can be communal or individual. Religion is the principal craft by which we know (cognition) and understand (hermeneutics) God.

QR Blog Editor 08-07-2012

Souad Mekhennet writes for The New York Times on the growing hostility toward religious minorities as election season approaches in the United States: 

Muslims in Western countries say they have gotten used to the fact that as elections get closer, politicians pump up the volume of accusations against them, whether they are Sunni, Shiite or of another sect. In some European nations, it was the debate over women wearing the veil that set off the attacks. Now in the United States, where pivotal elections are looming, accusations against Muslims have reached a new level. It seems to some that the days of McCarthyism are back.

Read more here

Chris Lisee 08-03-2012
Facebook image: 1000 Words /

Facebook image: 1000 Words /

Meet the social media “nones.” A new survey finds that Americans, while mostly religious, generally do not use social media to supplement worship and mostly keep their faith private online.

The Public Religion Research Institute survey found about one in 20 Americans followed a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. A similar number belonged to a religious or spiritual Facebook group.

The results seem to defy the familiar story of prominent religious leaders using social media to build a following – and a brand.

“We were surprised when this turned up really low levels of people engaging religion and faith online,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.

Daniel Burke 08-03-2012
Rob Kim/ WireImage / Getty Images

Snoop Lion aka. Snoop Dogg attends Snoop Lion Special 'Reincarnation' record release event. Rob Kim/ WireImage / Getty Images

Back in in 1993, Snoop Dogg scored a huge hit with the hip-hop anthem “What’s My Name?” Announcing his conversion to Rastafarianism on Monday, the rapper unveiled a new answer to that lyrical question.

“I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion,” he said at a press conference

So, did the onetime gangsta rapper have to drop the "d-o-double-g" when he became a Rasta? Yes, and no, said Ennis Edmonds, a scholar at Kenyon College and an expert on Rastafarianism. 

The religious movement doesn’t require converts to change their names. But the faith was born in Jamaica, where calling someone a dog is deeply insulting, Edmonds said.

“Rastas would probably see calling yourself a dog as an indication of lack of self-knowledge,” Edmonds said.

Henry Brinton 08-02-2012
Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

When the Summer Olympics opened in London, there was a version of a religious ritual in the Olympic oath, procession of athletes and lighting of the flame. This was no accident because the modern Olympics have religious roots, though they appear to have largely secular fruits.

I'm reminded of this fact because it was in London in 1908 that Anglican Bishop Ethelbert Talbot first said, "The most important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part" — a phrase that became part of the Olympic creed. He was following in the footsteps of the Rev. Henri Didon, a Catholic priest who gets credit for the official Olympic motto "citius, altius, fortius" (faster, higher, stronger).

The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was educated by Jesuits. "The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion … above and outside the churches," he said. He was influenced by proponents of "muscular Christianity," who turned away from traditional Christian contempt for the body and used sports as a method of strengthening faith and morality.

Muscular Christianity became popular in Victorian England and spread to the U.S., where it shaped the programs of the YMCA and Boy Scouts of America, as well as church sports leagues. Although it declined in mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, it remained strong in evangelical organizations, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Promise Keepers. Today, muscular Christianity is alive and well in professional athletes such as Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.

Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics.

Americans cheered when Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition, but at least some American Jews likely cheered a little louder.

“For people who are part of a minority, to see one of your own have this international recognition gives you enormous satisfaction and pride,” said Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where Raisman has worshipped since childhood. “It lets you say, ‘Look at what we’ve managed to do.’”

Members of minority faiths in the U.S. — Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — are rooting for U.S. Olympians and also saving a few extra cheers for their co-religionists, both Americans and athletes from other teams. Before they go to bed or when they wake up, they scan lists of medal winners and competition results, looking for names that might sound Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

But why?

In a sense, religion isn't supposed to matter in who a fan roots for, said Harold U. Ribalow, author of three books about Jewish athletes, trying to answer that question. But, he added, the evidence was overwhelming that people like to see those from their own groups do well, especially in the root-for-the-underdog world of sports.

QR Blog Editor 07-30-2012

Writing for The Huffington Post, Eric Sapp takes a closer look at a recent Pew Forum poll:

Here's a key point in the poll that didn't get much attention: 82 percent of those who know Obama is Christian say they are comfortable with his religion. So voters are basically twice as comfortable with Obama's faith when they know what it is. This is why faith outreach is so important (but more on that later).

Why does the fact that most voters are not comfortable with Obama's religion matter? More than two-thirds of voters (and seven-in-10 women voters) say they want a president with strong religious beliefs. As one might imagine, these numbers are even higher with religious populations. Eight-in-10 Protestants and three-in-four Catholic voters want a president with strong religious beliefs. And let's be honest, they aren't talking about wanting Obama to have strong Muslim beliefs (so the fact that 17 percent of voters think he's Muslim doesn't add to the plus column)!

Read more of Eric's analysis here

For the second time in less than a year, the Gallup poll reports that a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president.

The latest survey, from June, found that 54 percent of those asked said they would vote a “well- qualified” atheist into the Oval Office — the highest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1958, when only 18 percent said they would back a nonbeliever.

On the other hand, the survey showed that those who do not believe in God still come in behind every other group polled for, including gays and lesbians (68 percent) and Muslims (58 percent).

Still, an imaginary atheist candidate passed the 50 percent threshold for the first time when Gallup asked the question in August 2011, so the trend is upward.

“We have seen an enormous change over time in the willingness to vote for an atheist,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which reports the numbers in its current newsletter.

“But I think the numbers also remind us that this is a deeply religious country. That doesn’t mean we are all going to church on Sunday, but that having religion in your life is valuable to most Americans and I think that explains the resistance.”

Chris Lisee 07-26-2012

A 600-foot footrace was the only athletic event at the first Olympics, a festival held in 776 B.C. and dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god.

For the next millennium, Greeks gathered every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices and hymns. The five-day festival brought the Greek world together in devotion to one deity.

What began in ancient Greece as a festival to honor a single god, Zeus, has now become an almost Olympian task, as organizers of the games navigate dozens of sacred fasts, religious rituals and holy days. 

The London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village.

Athletes at the ancient Olympics believed their training honored the gods, and victory was a sign of favor from a deity. As contests like wrestling, boxing, and horse racing were added to the Olympic roster, they supplemented devotional sacrifices, hymns, and ceremonies.

“The idea was that you were training to please Zeus. But part of the festival would be to visit the temple, visit the cult statues, making offerings, celebrating and seeing your family,” said David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona.

The combination of Greek sport and worship led the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D.