The World Wide Religious Web for Friday, January 20, 2012


ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE PRICE OF LIBERTY: Is the “War on Religion” a Myth?

I would disagree, however, with Sessions and others who point to Hosanna-Tabor and say that it proves all is well with religious liberty here. Concerns about religious liberty in America are not hysterical. To demonstrate this, all you have to do is look at the radical position taken by the Obama Department of Justice in Hosanna-Tabor. Normally, lawyers before the Supreme Court lean heavily on precedent, but the DOJ in Hosanna-Tabor argued for a sharp departure from precedent. The DOJ recommended that the court abandon the notion of a “ministerial exception” entirely, or that they restrict it to employees whose duties are “exclusively religious.” Under that rule, Cheryl Perich would not have counted as a ministerial employee, even though she was called to her position by the congregation, she prayed daily with students, and she taught religion, among other subjects. Indeed, the DOJ was setting a standard almost no religious employee would meet—even pastors and rabbis have to take care of mundane tasks like paying the bills!

FREEDOM OF RELIGION = POSSIBILITY OF OFFENSE. Polish pop singer found guilty of insulting Bible. The polish criminal code states: “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by outraging in public an object of religious worship or space for the public performance of religious rites, shall be subject to a fine, restriction of liberty or imprisonment for 2 years.” Look, I think the pop singer’s remarks were dumb, but freedom of religion means both freedom to practice or not practice religion, to affirm or critique it. I cannot—in good conscience or logical consistency—complain when a Muslim nation restricts the right of minority Christians to practice their faith, and then remain silent when a Catholic nation restricts the right of non-believers to vocalize their disbelief. Can you?

OUR ENEMY, THE STATE: When the State Took Away My Life: North Carolina Grapples with Sterilization Practice.

According to the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation website, “Between 1929 and 1974, an estimated 7,600 people were sterilized by choice, force or coercion under the authority of the N.C. Eugenics Board program.” Those targeted for sterilization in hopes of ridding the population of “inferior” genes included people who were sick, epileptic, “feeble-minded,” or otherwise disabled. At least 33 states had involuntary sterilization programs, but North Carolina was the only state that gave social workers the power to petition for the sterilization of members of the public, subject to approval by the state’s Eugenics Board. Over 70 percent of North Carolina’s victims were sterilized after 1945, when most other programs waned, and as of 2010, 2,944 victims were estimated to be living. Surviving victims will receive the reparation payment if the taskforce’s recommendation is approved by the state legislature.

“SEISMIC CULTURAL SHIFT”: A Spanish Service Is Not Enough: It’s Time to Feed the ‘Hellenized Latinos.’

While the overwhelming majority of U.S.-born English-dominant Latinos are still Latinos at heart, many embrace values and attributes of the dominant group in the United States, culturally alienating their foreign-born parents and grandparents. In the midst of this seismic cultural shift, it is possible to teach and equip the Hispanic evangelical church to fulfill its God-given mission in a way that strengthens Hispanic families and communities across the country.

Here is the main challenge: Conventional Spanish-speaking ministry models are unintentionally designed to preserve the language and cultural preferences of foreign-born Latinos.

RELATED: Will Immigration Slowdown Prompt a Bilingual Ministry Bust?

BUT IS IT GOOD TEACHING? Is There Enough Teaching in the Church?

I understand that our century is much different from the early centuries of the church’s history. Back then few people could read. People were used to listening to speeches. There were no Bibles in every home, no sermons on their iPods, Amazon to deliver boxes of books whenever you want. I don’t expect us to go recreate the world that called for these instructions in the Didache. But surely there are some lessons for us from Paul, from the early church, and from the Reformers. What would it look like for people and preachers to have this kind of hunger for the public exposition of the word?

FALSE DICHOTOMY: Who’s Despicable? Gingrich or the Media?

Some observers have rightly noted that we are not electing a moralist or a husband-in-chief but a commander-in-chief, and it is entirely possible a person with flaws would still make a great president. But the issue again here is not just that Gingrich appears to have behaved in a swinish fashion to both of his first two wives but the level of his public hypocrisy about it. He clearly thought and obviously still thinks those who espouse morality and indeed, seek to hold others accountable for their failings as he did President Clinton, need not necessarily practice what they preach.

WHAT OUR CHOICES REVEAL ABOUT OUR POLITICAL JUDGMENT: Better to be an adulterer than a Mormon? Evangelicals, Gingrich, and Romney.

This is why I am not at all surprised–as my fellow Patheos blogger, David French, reports–that a group of Evangelical leaders who met privately to discuss which presidential candidate to endorse did not even consider Mitt Romney. Apparently it was a contest exclusively between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, with the former Pennsylvania Senator receiving the nod with an 85-29 vote. Amazingly, Gingrich was in the running, despite the former Speaker’s propensity to engage in questionable conduct when in the pursuit of political power. It seems, then, that a Mormon Newt without the history of moral foibles occasioned by political ambition would have received the same lack of consideration these Evangelical leaders gave Governor Romney.

IN RE RON PAUL: One evangelical asks, Christian, why Ron Paul? Another responds, Christians and Ron Paul: A counterpoint.

GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER: Faith as Small as a Peanut: What One Black Christian Scientist Taught Me About My Work.

This stands against two particular images we have about religion and science during Carver’s time. Among white conservative Christians, the Scopes Monkey trial had been a legal victory but a massive public loss, marking them as uneducated and hostile to scientific endeavors. Not surprisingly scientists at faith-based colleges and universities were circumscribed on what they could teach and research given the intervening efforts of religious activists in the communities that funded these schools.

Dr. Carver seems to have been protected from these battles at Tuskegee Institute and perhaps it is part of the experience that African American Christian scientists faced: his concerns for the plight of African American farmers were not on the radar of white Christians and their concerns over the teaching of evolution were not on his radar (after all, which African American Christian children were attending the schools at the center of this battle?). And yet the work before him, in solving the problems of black agrarian workers kept him busy enough it seems.

FAITH & (SOCIAL) SCIENCE: Same-Sex Science.

As the late theologian Don Browning noted, psychology “cannot avoid a metaphysical and ethical horizon.” Meaningful consideration of the nature of personhood always involves moving beyond the analysis of human life to the broader valuation of this or that characteristic, this or that phenomenon, this or that outcome. The social sciences do not contain within themselves adequate resources to adjudicate among conflicting ways of understanding the good. Individual scientists, stepping beyond their professional bounds, may declare homosexual orientation positive, normal, and legitimate, but such science cannot make this judgment. Such judgments are the domain of religion, theology, and philosophy. The twin claims that science conclusively establishes that sexual orientation grounds human identity and that psychology as a science establishes the legitimacy of such a claim are too far a reach.

WHITHER THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE? Belmont & Fishtown.

America has never been a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship.

DRISCOLL IS CHAUVINISTIC, AND EGOTISTICAL TO BOOT: Driscoll & Brierley on Women in Leadership.

Let’s grant for the sake of argument that [Mark] Driscoll’s views on gender roles in the church are correct. Does the growth of Driscoll’s church follow from the premise that there is a man’s man in the pulpit (that just happens to be him)? That seems to be the assumption behind his statement about “the variable that’s most obvious” that makes a difference between his megachurch in Seattle and a fledgling congregation in Britain.  Being a Calvinist, I would think he would attribute his church’s growth to God’s sovereignty in salvation. No matter what your views on gender roles are, this is a bizarrely pragmatic and ironically literal “man-centered” view of the church that no one should accept. After all, didn’t New Testament writers like Paul “feminize” the church, calling her Christ’s bride? If young men can’t handle that, then so much the worse for them.

The World Wide Religious Web for Thursday, January 12, 2012


PERSECUTED IRANIAN CHRISTIANS: Wood personally requests release of Iranian pastors, church members.

After paying respect to the country of Iran through recognizing its prominent reference in the Bible, Wood states his letter is born out of concern for followers of Jesus who are being detained for reasons that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Iran has signed. He then requests the release of Rev. Farhad Sabok Rouh; his wife, Shahnaz Jizani; and two other members of the Assembly of God in Ahvaz, Iran, who were arrested on December 23, 2011. Wood follows this request by asking for the release of Rev. Youcef Nardarkhani, who has been held since October 2009 and faces execution.

RELATED: With the Help of God They Dare… by yours truly.

HAITI, TWO YEARS LATER: God and Suffering: Remembering the Haitian Earthquake of January 2010. And you can do something to feed Haitian children by donating to Convoy of Hope.

UNANIMOUS DECISION: Church Wins Firing Case at Supreme Court.

“This is a huge win for religious liberty,” said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor who represented the church at the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in October. “The Court has unanimously confirmed the right of churches to select their own ministers and religious leaders. It has unanimously held that the courts cannot inquire into whether the church had religious reasons for its decisions concerning a minister. The longstanding unanimity in the lower courts has now been confirmed by unanimity in the Supreme Court.”

See also What Comes After Hosanna-Tabor, The Administration’s Embarrassment.

IN OTHER RELIGIOUS FREEDOM NEWS: Court Deems Sharia Law Ban “Unconstitutional.”

This fight over the Oklahoma Sharia law ban isn’t over by a long shot, but this decision definitely highlights its futility. If Sharia opponents can’t name a single instance of Islamic law being used in the state courts, what exactly is the point of banning it — beyond vague and unsubstantiated fears?

THE SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND? Service Is Not Scandal: Responding to Mark Noll.

Instead of taking a tradition-building approach to intellectual life, I hope we evangelical scholars celebrate and deepen our current practices: teaching undergraduates, popularizing academic insights, working directly to change the world through service and applied research, and offering institutional and personal support to the small number of evangelical scholars who excel at theoretical and basic research. And along with all this, we should continue to worship and serve through our churches, provide hands-on care to our loved ones, and do good works in the world. From the vantage point of the modern academic prestige structure, this may not look like an exemplary life of the mind, but it may be one way to enjoy “the life that truly is life” (1 Tim. 6:19). In a time in which work tends to overtake life, an approach that both relishes the intellect and keeps it in its place is a pearl of great price, and we should display it readily even in settings where it is not recognized as such.

PENTECOSTALS & THE NATURALISM BIAS: Counting Christian Noses. (By the way, what’s up with the photo of snake handlers? These people aren’t representative of Pentecostals.)

Behind all the numbers collected so assiduously by Lugo, Johnson et al. looms a vast challenge to the taken-for-granted naturalism in Europe and North America: The majority of global Christians (and, needless to say, the majority of all religious people in the world) question this naturalism, and behave accordingly. Will this challenge diminish with greater affluence and higher education?  Possibly.  Thus far it doesn’t look like it. Thus it would seem that an important dialogue is still outstanding.

PROBABLY NOT, BUT IT’S STILL BAD: Presidential Politics at Its Worst?

Just because American politics has always been uncivil and negative does not mean that we have to like it. Toxic political discourse and personal attacks might help candidates win elections, but it will not solve the multitude of problems that we face as a nation.

I am growing increasingly skeptical about whether a Christian can win a national election without compromising his or her faith. Humility, charity, and a commitment to the common good will not get anyone elected in our present political culture. Yet this is precisely what our culture needs. Unfortunately, such an approach to politics would probably come across as quite foolish to most Americans, including many Christians.

YEP: Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual.

TEBOWMANIA MEETS PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION: The Tebowological Argument.

RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS MEETS SURPRISED BY JOY: The Case for “Sense of the Heart” Apologetics.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY 10 YEARS MAKES: Ten Years of Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage.

DON’T TELL MY MOM: Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church.

BUMMED I DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST: Top Ten Sermons of 2011.

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