Daily Archives: August 18, 2008

Scott Thumma: Misunderstood megachurches

Most outside observers might think it is commonplace to mix religion and politics in megachurches (which are defined as Protestant Christian congregations with 2,000 or more weekly attendees). After all, much of the religion coverage in this election has centered around two high-profile megachurch pastors ”” Jeremiah Wright with Obama and John Hagee with McCain ”” who no doubt created long, nagging headaches for both nominees. (I’m guessing Obama’s was closer to a migraine.)

But such high profile incidents distort the reality of the role of politics in a majority of America’s megachurches. My national research and experiences with these very large churches since the late 1980s tell a very different story. The research data refute a number of myths that are prominent in society’s perception of political activity in megachurches. Here are three doozies….

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, US Presidential Election 2008

A USA Today Editorial: Falling oil prices present mixed blessing for consumers

High gas prices have prompted automakers to shift to more efficient cars and new technologies. Toyota’s Prius hybrid has been a runaway success. And General Motors has been pouring resources into its Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid expected in about 2010 that will run entirely on electricity for drivers going less than 40 miles per day.

Wind and solar energy are becoming more competitive as the result of advancing technology and the fact that prices have risen for coal and other traditional sources of electricity. And Americans are turning to public transit in record numbers.

These changes are much more dramatic than anything resulting from proposals borne of political expedience. To be sure, high prices cause hardships, and the worst could come this winter from painfully high home heating oil prices; Congress and the president should look hard at increasing funds to help the poorest through a tough winter. But if oil prices continue falling, much of the recent momentum could be slowed, to the delight of those who profit from feeding the nation’s addiction.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Energy, Natural Resources

Filling backpack a burden for more families

Demand for free school supplies is up across the USA, reflecting deepening hardships caused by the weak economy, social service groups say.

Shepherd Community Center, an inner-city Indianapolis ministry, dispensed 2,500 backpacks stuffed with supplies last year. This year it’s giving away 3,200.

“There’s more of a demand than we can fill,” says executive director Jay Height. “The economy is hitting us hard.”

Donations were down for this year’s school supplies giveaway at Lake Cities Food Pantry in Texas. The pantry chipped in $500 to cover costs, says coordinator Renee Grems. “Everybody’s feeling a little stretched.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Education

Libby Purves: Richard Dawkins, the naive professor

Professor Dawkins met a class of children, some of them indoctrinated by that crazily literal minority who think the world began 6,000 years ago on a divine drawing board. Instead of explaining natural selection and letting them work out that maybe the Creator works in more mysterious ways than the Genesis myth, he offered them a choice as stark as any bonkers tin-hut preacher from the Quivering Brethren shouting: “Repent or burn!”

Evolution or God – take your choice, kid! The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism. OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists. Some are scientists. They reckon that an omnipotent being capable of giving humans free will is equally capable of setting a cosmic ball rolling – Big Bang, abiogenesis, all that – and letting it proceed through eons of evolution, selection and struggle. One of the oddest aspects of Dawkins’s TV programme, rich in antelope-mauling and gobbly snakes, was his emotional implication that, gee, Nature is too cruel to have been invented by God! A wet, mawkish, bunny-hugging argument.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

Rosie Boycott: Living in the moment

Our consumer society is greatly to blame here: if every advert promises you success if you’d only buy this car, wear this watch, acquire this handbag, then dissatisfaction with what you have and what you are is an inevitable outcome. Putting your life on hold, in the belief that this job, this thing, this event, will magically make it all right, holds no chance of peace. Noticing what is right under your nose ”” which is the wonder of being alive in a world already full of possibilities ”” brings riches no material item ever can.

Martha Gellhorn, the war correspondent and one-time wife of Ernest Hemingway, was a close friend of mine. By the time she died in 1998, Martha was in her late eighties, but she was still as alert and fiery as a woman of 30. Her body, which finally betrayed her, had aged, but her mind never did, and I think her secret was that she always lived in the present. Not for her harking back to better times, complaining that things today weren’t as good as they had been; not for her complaining that if only this or that would happen, then her life would be magically transformed.

Most of us don’t live like this. Our mental chatter, or the civil war in our head, as Bob Geldof once memorably described it to me, goes something like this: “If only I hadn’t done that, then everything would be all right.” If you think like that ”” and most of us do ”” you end up doing things not for their own sake, but for the result you hope they will have. So, when you go to a party and manage to strike up a conversation with a hot director, you’ll be missing what he says, because what you’re actually thinking is: “Perhaps he’ll give me a job.” The party passes you by as you’re too busy concentrating on some future goal to appreciate what is going on around you.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK

SMH: A religious divide, but students find common ground

STUDENTS from Moriah College and Punchbowl Boys High approached each other with trepidation when they came together in the morning, but by the end of the day they had discovered they had more similarities than differences.

About 20 students from each school met in Punchbowl last week as part of a program called Together for Humanity, which aims to promote cross-cultural understanding and tolerance between religious groups.

Up to 250 students from seven schools representing children from Islamic, Jewish, Catholic and Anglican backgrounds met to ask each other questions about their beliefs and to plan future sporting activities and projects together.

Tascale Greenberg, a 13-year-old year 8 student from Moriah College at Queens Park said she was surprised to find the students at Punchbowl Boys High, which has a large population of students of Islamic background, shared so many common interests.

“We came to the school and we learnt about how at the end of the day we are the same people and just kids,” she said. “I thought it was going to be very awkward and scary to come. I thought they’d just look at us.

“But they were just normal and friendly to talk to.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Australia / NZ, Education, Religion & Culture

The Nation Is “Adrift” Says Archbishop Gomez

A prominent religious leader known not to mince words declared on Sunday that the Bahamas is presently “drifting” and he is not entirely optimistic about its future.

“I am ambivalent and sometimes I am not optimistic,” said Archbishop Drexel Gomez. “I think that we are just ambling along and making our way. At present I think we are drifting a bit. I don’t really see any clear signals in terms of going in a certain direction and certainly this whole question of empowering people and creating a situation in which Bahamians feel that this is their country and they have a say in what happens, I don’t see that happening.”

The Anglican Archbishop for the West Indies and Diocesan Bishop of the Bahamas, was a special guest Sunday on the Jones & Co. radio talk show hosted by Wendall Jones and Godfrey Eneas.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Anglican Provinces, Religion & Culture, West Indies

Pervez Musharraf resigns as Pakistani President

Pervez Musharraf, a key Muslim ally in the US-led War on Terror, resigned as President of Pakistan today to avoid impeachment by a hostile parliament, nine years after he seized power in a bloodless coup.

Mr Musharraf, who stepped down as army chief last year, announced his resignation in a rambling and sometimes emotional one-hour address to the nation following a dramatic slump in his popularity over the last 18 months.

The ruling coalition, which trounced his allies in a parliamentary election in February, had drawn up impeachment charges yesterday and warned him that it would present them to parliament this week if he did not resign.

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Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, Pakistan

Food price rises push 14m to the brink of starvation

Rapidly rising global food costs have contributed to the worst hunger crisis in East Africa for eight years, with at least 14 million people at risk of malnutrition, aid agencies said yesterday.

In Ethiopia, the worst-affected country in the region, the Government said that 4.6 million people faced starvation, but aid agencies claimed that the true figure was closer to 10 million.

Drought has worsened food shortages, and Oxfam said that the number of acute malnutrition cases had reached its highest level since the droughts of 2000, when mortality rates peaked at more than six people per 10,000 per day. The official definition of a famine is more than four deaths per 10,000 per day.

Ethiopian farmers said that the crisis was caused by the absence of the Belg rains, which were due in February and March. “It’s really hard. People are eating whatever they can find,” said Gemeda Worena, 38, the tribal head of Fendi Ajersai, a village in southern Ethiopia where six children died in one week this month. “We hadn’t had rain for the last eight months. We had to buy water to save our lives, but now we have nothing.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Globalization

U.S. Sees New Missile Move From Russia in Georgian Fight

Even as Russia pledged to begin withdrawing its forces from neighboring Georgia on Monday, American officials said the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, a step that appeared intended to tighten its hold on the breakaway territory.

The Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers and supply vehicles to South Ossetia on Friday, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. From the new launching positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the missiles can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.

The Kremlin announced Sunday that Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, had promised to begin the troop withdrawal in a conversation with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who negotiated a six-point cease-fire agreement. Mr. Medvedev did not specify the pace or scope of the withdrawal, saying only that troops would withdraw to South Ossetia and a so-called security zone on its periphery.

The United States and European leaders reacted with wariness, and Russia’s recent military moves appeared to add an element of frustration.

“Well, I just know that the Russian president said several days ago Russian military operations would stop. They didn’t,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This time I hope he means it. You know the word of the Russian president needs to be upheld by his forces.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Europe, Russia

Seeking Pastoral Wisdom for those who have been Layed Off

From Martin Marty:

Here are some compensations in the situation:

First, you don’t have to explain your situation to anyone, including family and friends … Your enemies, if you have any, won’t care, and your friends will understand. Speaking of friends, here is where they come in. More than offering shoulders to cry on, they can help you in coping, imagining, and networking. It’s time to cash in the friendship chips-and ready yourself to help out colleagues and friends.

Adapt, is counsel No. 3. When autos killed the Studebaker buggy business, Mr. Studebaker started making autos, and thrived for decades. I say to the laid-off: your education, training, and experience made, or should have made you into an adaptable sort … I hope that the many who suffer in the period of “creative destruction” in this period are surrounded by and aware of people of prayer, who care.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Pastoral Theology, Theology

Ryan the Soothsayer Sees Great Things for the Cubs

Ryan Dempster cradled the card deck as deftly and lovingly as he does baseballs. He took the ace of spades from the top, shuffled it into seeming oblivion and removed a two of clubs off the top as proof.

“But I can make it come back,” Dempster said coyly. He tapped the deck and flipped over the top card.

Bingo.

“See?” he said. “There’s your ace.”

A fine amateur magician, Dempster’s best trick this season has been turning himself into an ace ”” of the Chicago Cubs. His next stunt? Trying to make 100 years disappear.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Sports

A Church Times Editorial: The story of Lambeth ’08

This is part of the bigger problem identified by Dr Wil­liams in his final address. As he put it, the question emerging from Canterbury was not “What is Lambeth ’08 going to say?” but “Where are we going to speak from?” Not only do we not know who is to resolve the Com­munion’s problems ”” if not the Lambeth Conference, then the Primates’ Meeting? ”” we do not know who can define them with any authority. The Windsor Con­tinua­tion Group attracted atten­tion during the Conference because it articulated the problem with candour. The group func­tions as something between a Select Committee and a think tank, however, and the uncer­tainty of its status adheres also to its pro­nouncements. Its remit is merely to submit recommenda­tions to the Anglican Consultative Council next spring, taking into account the bishops’ views as expressed in Canterbury.

Thus the weight given to the group’s resurrection of mora­toriums as the solution to gay consecrations, same-sex blessings, and territorial incursions seems disproportionate. The Episcopal Church in the United States will be uneasy with the request, especially as it is open-ended. When would such a moratorium end? When half the Communion embraces a more tolerant atti­tude? When Muslims in North Africa stop taunting Christians with belonging to a “gay Church”? Similarly, conser­va­tives behind plans to create an alternative US hierarchy have not been im­pressed by attempts to put extra-provincial interventions on the same footing as same-sex blessings. Nothing suggests that they have changed their view.

All this is to say that the Anglican Communion is in a bigger fix than any conference could sort out. On the other hand, the effort and expense of the Lambeth Conference justify the expectation that it will have done something to draw Angli­cans into a more coherent body. This is why the Reflections are so irritating. Where, indeed, are they speaking from? Whether for logistical reasons, or from a desire to avoid clause-by-clause wrang­ling, they were not available to bishops before they were issued. The result is a rich field for the higher criticism. To take a trivial instance, how many bishops asked for a Lambeth Conference every five years? A handful of enthusiasts, or the majority?

This uncertainty must colour any reading of the remarks about sexuality and suggested revisions of the Anglican Covenant ”” a consequence of holding these discussions at the end of the Con­ference, without time to achieve any corporate ownership of the suggestions. Some of the propo­sals would take the Communion back to the drawing board, and there is no sense of the relative weight that the bishops gave to them. The Covenant remains the only game in town. It is note­worthy that it was not dismissed by the bishops, most of whom have reservations about it; but it would have been good to have more than a disjointed set of suggestions.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Lambeth 2008

Dwight Longenencker: What happens when one church is really three?

Beneath these particular quarrels are two deeper problems within Anglicanism, and these problems shed light on the deeper problems within every ecclesial body derived from the Protestant Reformation.

The first problem is one of identity. Just what is Anglicanism? Before it went global, Anglicanism was the Church of England, with all its genteel and lovely customs. The Anglican Communion was the Church of England transplanted.

Things have moved on. Now, most Anglicans live in Africa. Anglicanism is uncertain about itself. Is it English or African? Is it Protestant or Catholic? Is it essentially liberal? It used to be that no one much cared. Now the Anglicans in all three groups are entrenched and are increasingly adamant about their own stance — and are prepared to fight the other two sides for the heart of their church.

The second foundational problem is the one of church authority. When I was an Anglican priest, thinking through the problem of womenÂ’s ordination, I listened to both sides. They both had their experts. They both had arguments from Scripture. They both had arguments from tradition. They both were made up of prayerful, sincere people who believed they were being led by the Holy Spirit. How to decide?

This question led me to realize that Christians need an external authority structure to make the final call, and of course, that question led me to the banks of the Tiber.

As Catholics, it is important to understand the problems facing Anglicanism because the underlying fault lines can expand into our own church if we are not careful.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, - Anglican: Analysis, Ecclesiology, Other Churches, Roman Catholic, Theology

The Bishop of Malaita, Terry Brown, offers his Lambeth Reports

Another resource which is worth the time.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Lambeth 2008