President Barack Obama is greeted by Rev. Luis Leon as he arrives at St. John's Church. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

A presidential inauguration is by tradition the grandest ritual of America’s civil religion, but President Obama took the oath of office on Monday in a ceremony that was explicit in joining theology to the nation’s destiny and setting out a biblical vision of equality that includes race, gender, class, and, most controversially, sexual orientation.

Obama’s speech, his second inaugural address, repeatedly cited civic and religious doctrines — namely the God-given equality extolled by the “founding creed” of the Declaration of Independence — to essentially reconsecrate the country to the common good and to the dignity of each person.

It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.

Janice Lloyd 01-17-2013
 Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com

Syringe preparation by a female doctor. Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com

Unlike patients who have a choice about getting the flu shot, many health care workers didn’t have a say this year.

For the first time in Rhode Island, hospital and nursing home workers were told to roll up their sleeves, and hundreds of hospitals in other states have similar policies.

“No one likes to be coerced, and there were some people who objected,” says Virginia Burke, CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, which provides skilled nurses and rehabilitation workers to the state’s nursing homes. “My fear when the mandate came out was we’d lose workforce. To my delight, that hasn’t happened.”

But more than 1,000 workers filed a petition to oppose the directive.

Jim Wallis 01-17-2013

A membership card for the National Rifle Association. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday was the 84th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know about you, but I miss his words, so I offer a few. King said “people often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate, they cannot communicate because they are separated.” I would add to his words: ‘and in that separation they seek guns.’ As an evangelical Christian, I’m going to make this theological. 

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant. 

Daniel Burke 01-16-2013
Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Microphone stand where the President will swear his oath on Monday. Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.

When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.

His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.

Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.

“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”

Omar Sacirbey 01-09-2013
RNS photo courtesy Jennifer Bell.

Sadie Bell studies at a desk. RNS photo courtesy Jennifer Bell.

Worried about exposure to foul language, immodest dress, peer pressure, and other inappropriate behavior, Susan Brown didn’t want her two daughters attending public schools — even though she’s a substitute teacher in a public school in Minnesota.

Brown initially home-schooled her daughters until a friend told her about the Minnesota Virtual Academy, an online public school that is fully accredited. She liked the curriculum, and as a single mom relying on substitute teaching income, she preferred how the school provided the supplies instead of having to buy supplies herself as a home-school parent.

“You can’t give your kids an effective moral and religious upbringing if you only see them a couple of hours a day,” said Brown, a Catholic whose daughters, now in the 10th and 12th grade, started virtual school in the second and fourth grade. “When you’re at home with them, you can incorporate your beliefs into the day.”

Since Florida became the first state to try them in 1996, virtual public schools have enjoyed dramatic growth, with at least some of it coming from religious families. Like home-schooling parents, parents of virtual public school students like having their children home so they can integrate religion and values into the school day.

The Editors 01-08-2013

Spiritual growth through bread-making.

Martin L. Smith 01-08-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Tobias Winright 01-08-2013

Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth's Climate. New Society.

Daniel Burke 01-07-2013
 Jim Lopes / Shutterstock

Jim Lopes / Shutterstock

Despite a deep drop in the number of Americans who identify with a particular faith, the country could be on the cusp of a religious renaissance, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of The Gallup Poll.

Grounded in more than a million Gallup interviews, Newport's new book, God is Alive and Well, argues that the aging of the baby boomers, the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the links between religion and health could portend a bright future for faith in America.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tripp Hudgins 01-07-2013
Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

There will be, I assume, a thousand different ways to dismantle what it is that I am about to say. I get that. I respect it. I invite it. This is a conversation that we need to have and, thankfully, are having at a national level. That said, sometimes I wish we still lived in a time when talking about one's faith in public was considered inappropriate or rude. Sometimes, that is. Only sometimes.

Lillian Daniel has a new book coming out. I'll refrain from sharing my opinion about the book until after I have read it. You can read Robert Cornwall's review here. The book is entitled WHEN "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS" IS NOT ENOUGH: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. There are some handy quick reviews on the amazon.com page. My favorite is from Shane Claiborne. 

Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of.

Emily Stone 01-03-2013
 Marina Dyakonova / Shutterstock

Mother feeding her son at home. Marina Dyakonova / Shutterstock

I’m going to tell you something I do not do very well.  But, only if you will not tell the other mothers because I have listened to them talk, and apparently I am the only one not very good at this. Deal?

I'm not good at helping my children learn to feed themselves. I totally get in the way. Let me explain.

Well, actually, there isn’t much about it to explain.

I don't like messes. So, I feed my children … for too long. I sit a bowl full of spaghetti in front of them, and I get a little panicky.  I mean, have you ever found dried, crusted spaghetti noodles on the floor a week (or more) later when you're cleaning?  And what about the slimy, greasy residue left on the plastic tray attached to the high chair?  And then there's the highchair cover.  I did not realize you could take that thing off to clean it until my second child was two. Wow. That was amazing — what I found under it, I mean.

Never mind the fact that most of the food gets on the child and everything and everyone else … not in their mouths.

And, I mean, I'm also very concerned about my child’s dietary needs. Seriously, I think that is the biggest reason I insist on feeding them well into their third year. (Did I just write that?) They need me. They need me to spoon that mouthful of spaghetti straight into their teeny little mouth. That way I know where it goes — there is no guesswork.

Yamiche Alcindor 12-17-2012
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

People attend a prayer service to reflect on the violence at the Sandy Hook School. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Dealing with the pain of the school shooting that claimed 28 lives will take faith, support, and joyous Christmas celebrations, church leaders said at the first Sunday services held since the tragedy.

At houses of worship around town, people gathered in pews, crying, kneeling, and hugging each other through services that focused on remembering the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, uniting the community, celebrating the meaning of Christmas and preventing similar disasters.

Yet even this beleaguered town's day of worship provided a moment of fear when congregants at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church fled the building, saying they were told there was a bomb threat. Police with guns drawn surrounded the church. No injuries were reported, but the church canceled all events for the day.

Earlier in the day, services at St. Rose, much like other places of worship in the area, were focused on the tragedy.

Brandon Hook 12-06-2012

Up-and coming-/singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen stopped by the Sojourners office to talk with our Brandon Hook about music, his new album Family, God, and creativity.

The Seattle-based folk artist was recently featured on Spotify’s Emerge app, which pits rising artists against each other based on play frequency, and is currently on a U.S. tour.

Special thanks to Noah for stopping by and being so open with us!

Jesse James DeConto 11-30-2012
Cross image, © Carsten Medom Madsen  / Shutterstock.com

Cross image, © Carsten Medom Madsen / Shutterstock.com

Radical monotheism. It sounds like a frightening term, when there are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims around the world and here inside our own borders, religious folk who want to turn our nation-states into theocracies under gods crafted according to their own images. When we think of radical monotheism, we hear, “My god is bigger than your god. No, wait: Your god’s a fake!”

But theologian H. Richard Niebuhr proposed a kinder, gentler, more generous idea of radical monotheism. He was writing between the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the clash between two “social gods” — capitalism and Marxism — bloodied the globe:

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Parishioners hold hands while praying the “Our Father’ during Catholic mass. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

After November’s presidential vote, Catholics could cite ample evidence for their renewed political relevance while dispirited evangelicals were left wondering if they are destined to be yesterday’s election news. Yet their roles in American spiritual life may be reversed.

New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of "strongly affiliated" followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith.

According to Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion.

By 2010, he said, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent.

Tom Ehrich 11-28-2012
Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock

Photo: Baby asleep on his father's chest, Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — In the afterglow, I give thanks for Thanksgiving Day.

It might be our most spiritual holiday, dealing as it does with that most spiritual of experiences: feeling gratitude.

Despite the commercial drumbeat for the aptly named "Black Friday," Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be about family, food, and free time. On Facebook, people shared recipes for stuffing, answered questions posed by nervous first-time cooks, told stories about traveling to be with family, and flooded the web with photos of people just being together.

I realize that those are ambiguous realities. Not everyone is blessed with healthy families, not everyone has enough food. Many work hard to prepare food and cheer for others to enjoy. But the promise is there — and unlike the promise of material hyperabundance that has come to dominate Christmas, the promise of Thanksgiving Day seems worth pursuing and attainable.

Martin L. Smith 11-27-2012

Reflections on the Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Melissa Otterbein 11-27-2012
Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com

Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”

I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of Half the Sky as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.

Sadly, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Christian Piatt 11-19-2012
Photo: Reaching hand, © Winthrop Brookhouse / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Reaching hand, © Winthrop Brookhouse / Shutterstock.com

I’ve wrestled for years with a Christian faith that focuses on personal salvation, on many levels, some of which I’m still excavating. First, the emphasis on individual salvation always seemed ironically selfish for a faith that seemed otherwise to be about putting yourself second to others. I also struggled with the idea that Christianity is about getting a certain set of beliefs right, articulating them before a group of peers through a statement of faith and then you were official. Is it really so rote? So didactic? So … human?

All my life, I’ve heard stories of people who felt utterly transformed by their faith proclamation, or at the moment of baptism, in the throngs of prayer or during some particularly stirring worship service. They spoke of these feelings for which I longed. I wanted the mountaintop experience, after which I would never be the same. I wanted to be turned inside-out by God, illuminated by the Holy Spirit with a fire that never subsided. I wanted to feel what all these other Christians claimed to be feeling.

I’ve been to literally thousands of worship services in my life. I’ve been back and forth through the Bible, taken communion more than a thousand times, was baptized, sang the songs, said the prayers, and yes, I’ve had moments when I felt as if God was so close I could nearly reach out and touch whatever it was that I sensed. 

Trevor Barton 11-13-2012
Photo:  IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd. / Getty Images

Photo: IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd. / Getty Images

We were walking up the beach, on the sand as the tide moved out toward the ocean. I was holding Zeke's hand, talking with him about sea things. "I didn't know jellyfish swam this close to the shore during the spring," he said in 5-year-old wonderment. "I bet that drift wood is as old as The Old Man and the Sea. I think a horseshoe crab's blood can be used to treat cancer."

"Look," I said.

"What is it, Dad?" he asked.

I picked up a shell out of the deep, hot sand and held it in my open hand.