Category : Religion & Culture

(CT) John Inazu: Why I’m Still Confident About ‘Confident Pluralism’

The premise of confident pluralism is that we can make room for our differences even as we maintain our own beliefs and practices. Doing so requires both legal and personal commitments. When it comes to the law, we must insist that those in power protect our ability to disagree. We must have a shared commitment to allowing for dissent, difference, and divergent beliefs. That means strengthening First Amendment freedoms for everyone.

The personal argument focuses on civic practices rooted in three aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance acknowledges that people should generally be free to pursue their own beliefs and practices. This is not the same as approval; it is much closer to endurance. We can usually respect people even if we don’t respect their ideas. Humilityrecognizes that we will sometimes be unable to prove to others why we believe we are right and they are wrong. Patience asks us to listen, understand, and empathize with those who see the world differently.

The American experiment in pluralism depends upon legal commitments and civic practices. And we have usually found ways to maintain a modest unity against great odds. We have always done so imperfectly, and too often our political stability has been purchased at the cost of suppressing or silencing those with less power. But in acknowledging our country’s shortcomings, we can also remember some of its successes. The disagreements between white Protestant men at the founding of our country may seem trivial today, but those differences meant widespread killing in other parts of the world. Our debased and dehumanizing political rhetoric leaves much to be desired, but unlike many other societies, we usually stop short of actual violence. In the midst of deep disagreements with our neighbors, we still find creative partnerships in unexpected places. These examples of our modest unity are important reminders that we can live together across deep differences. On the other hand, they do not suggest that we have or will overcome our differences. As I write in the book’s conclusion, confident pluralism will not give us the American dream, but it might help avoid the American nightmare.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

He attended last year’s deadly Charlottesville rally. Then a black pastor changed his life.

One year ago, Ken Parker attended the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has made a significant transformation after accepting an invitation to a black church. His story is featured in part in the Emmy-nominated Fuuse film ‘White Right: Meeting the Enemy’ on Netflix.

You need to take the time to watch it all.

Posted in Baptism, Evangelism and Church Growth, Parish Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Soteriology

(The Exchange) Brian Stiller–Secularism and Diversity: Lessons from Canada and its Supreme Court Decision about Trinity Western

…Second, it makes short shrift of the model that within a diverse society a plurality of ideas and beliefs can exist together. This is a huge loss. And when Canada, known for its democracy and public fairness, takes this road, we lose an important example of how pluralism functions.

In today’s cultural, religious, and ethnic stew, to respect and get along with each other is as basic a formula as I can imagine. Justices opposing the majority noted,

The state and state actors [and in this case, provincial law societies] – not private institutions like TWU – are constitutionally bound to accommodate difference in order to foster pluralism in public life. . . . Canadians are permitted to hold different sets of values.

Third, it keeps faith from being public. I hear the justices saying something like, “Live out your faith within your churches, institutions, and private communities, but if you try to bring it into civic life, if we don’t see your beliefs as being inclusive with our values, we will prevent your faith from influencing our public spheres….”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Nic Rowan–Rejuvenation at Trinity Church

For years, the Episcopal Church and its decline into secularism have been the butt of many a joke in the conservative Christian communities through which I’ve drifted. Membership is down—if baptism rates continue their decline, it will never recover—as the church concedes ever more beliefs in order to accommodate the modern world. Already, many of its members practice in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from the spiritual-but-not-religious folks who visit The Met on Sundays in lieu of a liturgy. Soon they may become like those who spend Sundays at MoMA.

It’s easy to be cynical about the state of the Episcopal Church. But everyone hungers for some salvation. When I entered the chapel, I found ten chairs set up in a ring behind the nave. In front of the chairs, ten flower-embroidered cushions formed an inner ring. Six middle-aged women sat in the chairs. A seventh woman wearing a scarf that looked like a tallit stood in the middle of the ring.

She introduced herself as Ellen and said she would be leading today’s meditation. “Now take a nice deep breath,” she said. “We’re centering ourselves for the exercises. Once you’re in your center, take one more deep breath and then exhale. Take one more big inhale, lift your arms up, and then exhale….”

Ellen addressed my singularity when she sat down on one of the flower cushions.

“Since we have a gentleman among us, I’ll be a little more modest,” she said as she draped the scarf over her legs. “Okay, now let’s just focus on our breath. As you breathe, focus on that breath and when your mind wanders—as it will do—get back to the breath. We’ll do this for about three minutes. Notice your breath. Notice your nose, your lungs….”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, TEC Parishes

(Barna) The Ups and Downs of Parish Ministry

Pastoral ministry certainly has its peaks and valleys, but overall, most pastors are very satisfied with their vocation and feel energized and supported in their work. They particularly love preaching and teaching—a task most feel they are good at—but are regularly frustrated with the lack of commitment among their parishioners. In partnership with Pepperdine University, Barna conducted a major study—The State of Pastors—of how Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. navigate life and leadership in an age of complexity. In this infographic, pastors weigh in on the best and worst parts of their job.

Read it all.

Posted in Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sociology

Revisiting Alexander Solzjenitsyn’s 1978 Address ‘A World Split Apart’

‘A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance….

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal frames, especially in the United States, are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature….’

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Religion & Culture, Russia

(RG) Learning to sustain community in a setting characterized by rapid turnover

Can you give me an example of a student or worker who has been strongly shaped by community?

Ben: At L’Abri, we believe that the Christian belief should be worked out and modeled—in very tangible ways. Students deserve to see us living like it’s true and part of this is played out in what we call “institutional weaknesses. ” An example is that we choose not to fundraise, advertise, or recruit staff. Instead, those are all items of continual prayer, and they have been huge shaping influences for people who work in L’Abri. Just take the finances: the fact that we would be able to turn on the lights [demonstrates] that for years and years and years God has provided. The students who come, even for a short time, see that—and they are quite moved by it.

How has living in community over a long period of time changed each of you?

Nickaela: I think one thing for me is the use of time. I am so motivated by efficiency, to see results of my day. There is that place in C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters when Screwtape says, “Just tell them that time is their own.” I see how indignant we become when our time is “taken.” For me, [it’s important to find] the space to be okay with the interruptions, [to see] that our calling really is the interruptions—the shaping of our lives to see that God sees us.

Ben: For me (and Nickaela will laugh because I haven’t changed that much), well, my tendency is toward conflict avoidance. One of the things living in community has taught me is, with the other workers in particular, you can’t sit on things and have relationships be healthy. You have to have those difficult conversations, and then see the good things that come of it.

Nickaela: One more thing. Gregory Boyle in his book Tattoos on the Heart talks about, “the duty to delight.” Whether that is working hard outside or cooking a meal or eating a good meal, God delights. We have a duty to delight in those things.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Apologetics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(PewR FactTank) Americans are far more religious than adults in other wealthy nations

In 1966, Time magazine famously examined whether the United States was on a path to secularization when it published its now-iconic “Is God Dead?” cover. However, the question proved premature: The U.S. remains a robustly religious country and the most devout of all the rich Western democracies.

In fact, Americans pray more often, are more likely to attend weekly religious services and ascribe higher importance to faith in their lives than adults in other wealthy, Western democracies, such as Canada, Australia and most European states, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

For instance, more than half of American adults (55%) say they pray daily, compared with 25% in Canada, 18% in Australia and 6% in Great Britain. (The average European country stands at 22%.) Actually, when it comes to their prayer habits, Americans are more like people in many poorer, developing nations – including South Africa (52%), Bangladesh (57%) and Bolivia (56%) – than people in richer countries.

As it turns out, the U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth. In every other country surveyed with a gross domestic product of more than $30,000 per person, fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Sociology

(Psephizo) Ian Paul–The Church of England teaching document on sexuality

One of the great reliefs of the last sessions of General Synod in York (on July 6th to 10th) was the absence of any acrimonious debates about sexuality in the main chamber. The Business Committee had taken the bold and commendable decision that, in the light of the planned teaching document on sexuality, any private members’ or diocesan motions on related issues would not be taken until after the document was produced and discussed. The teaching document was announced after the ‘rebellion’ in February 2017 when Synod decided ‘not to take note’ of a report from the House of Bishops’ report on the state of play in discussions following the long and drawn out (and expensive!) process of ‘Shared Conversations‘.

There had already been an announcement that there was going to be a change in name for the document.

Living in Love and Faith: A new name for the Episcopal Teaching Document

As the work of the Episcopal Teaching Document has progressed it has become clearer that the word ‘document’ does not do justice to the emerging vision for the resources that the groups working on it envisage. Furthermore, ‘teaching’ does not reflect the working groups’ aspiration to produce teaching materials that will invite active engagement in mutual learning. So, after several months and the participation of many people, a new title for the project has been agreed by the Archbishops: Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage.

This provided plenty of fuel for the suspicious, that there was a retreat from the idea that the Church of England might actually have a clear position on sexuality that needed ‘teaching’. But Justin Welby had said from the beginning that this was going to be a ‘mapping’ exercise, highlighting areas of agreement, the areas of disagreement and possible ways forward—which in itself suggests that this, another costly process, would not lead to any clear resolution. Personally, I was intrigued at the idea that ‘teaching’ on its on does not ‘invite active engagement in mutual learning’, but in fact in Higher Education it is common to talk about a ‘teaching and learning strategy’, recognising that the focus needs to be not simply on what is offered, but also on the effect that it has in enabling learning to take place.

So instead of any debate, the Saturday afternoon of Synod was given over to a series of workshops and seminars, some of which focussed on other topics (including digital evangelism) but which included presentations on the work of the different groups involved in the process (Bible, theology, biological and social sciences, history and a slightly separate Pastoral Advisory Group). I attended the ones on Bible, theology and science, and what emerged was a rather mixed picture of what we might expect from the process….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology

(PewR FactTank) Populist views in Europe: It’s not just the economy

Ethnocentrism also plays a role in this wave of populist views. About six-in-ten (61%) AfD supporters in Germany, a majority (56%) of National Front backers in France and nearly half (47%) of Party for Freedom (PVV) adherents in the Netherlands say their people’s culture is “superior to others.” This sense of national cultural pre-eminence is far less prevalent among the rest of the publics in their countries.

Another sentiment strongly expressed among those who support right-wing European populist parties is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their country’s culture and values: 75% of Germans with a positive view of AfD, 66% of Dutch PVV supporters and 63% of French National Front backers say Islam is “fundamentally incompatible with our culture and values.” About four-in-ten or fewer adults with unfavorable views of populist parties in these nations agree.

Old-fashioned nationalism is still evident in modern European right-wing populism, too.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

‘A New Settlement Revised: Religion and Belief in Schools’ – A Church of England response

In response to the report published yesterday by the Westminster Faith Debates, by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead, The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Revd Nigel Genders, said: 

“Church of England Schools provide education for the whole community. This includes those of other faiths and those of no faith, as well as Christian families. Around one million pupils attend our schools every day, each receiving a high-quality education, and our approach to education remains extremely popular.

“The report from the Westminster Faith Debates continues an important conversation about religion and belief in schools, and the type of education we want for our children.

“The report recognises that in today’s world there is an increasing need for religious literacy. While the recommendations will need to be read in the light of the publication of the Commission on Religious Education’s report, expected in the autumn, we welcome the recognition of the importance of religious education in schools.

“The report raises the question of collective worship. Collective worship provides a vital opportunity for children to pause and reflect on the big questions of life and develop spiritually, and we are pleased to see a significant ground-shift in this revised report away from any call to abolish it, which would be to the detriment of children’s wellbeing.

“We have consistently argued that the issue of school admissions is complex in a system where parental choice is valued….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Church of England (CoE), Education, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CEN) New survey reveals what Britons think of Christians

Only 38 per cent of UK adults disagree that being an atheist or non-religious is more normal than being a Christian, according to a Com-Res survey.

The survey on perceptions of Christianity in the UK found that 28 per cent of respondents believe that being an atheist or non-religious is more normal than being a Christian, while 48 per cent of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed.

The survey showed that while 22 per cent of those aged 65 or over agreed with the statement, the figure rose to 34 per cent of 18-24-year-olds, the highest figure between the age groups.

Some 33 per cent of people who never go to church agreed with this statement, the highest among the categories, while the next biggest (31 per cent) was among those who go three to four times a week, compared with 20 per cent of regular churchgoers and 9 out of 12 (72 per cent) of those who attend services every day.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in England / UK, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(LA Times) Avram Mlotek–Google could use a little godliness

Whether they realize it or not, technology leaders are writing a virtual universal constitution. What they’re doing is important to humanity. With a little spiritual guidance, maybe it’ll be easier for them to pause the emoji barrage and hear the human voice.

Just as clergy offer counsel to their congregants, the users, let’s bring chaplains into tech offices, the providers. Sure, it may be hard to envision the Pope giving a talk on sexuality at Tinder, but it’s a new dawn. Anything is possible and this rabbi is ready for the unexplored frontier. Google, you know where to find me.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) John Waters–Choosing to refuse

Sometimes, digesting the latest news of the unhinging of the world, one is tempted to fall into despair. I experienced this feeling acutely recently, reading a report of a conservative commentator who had been questioned by the FBI because he posted a one-liner on Twitter mocking the Human Rights Campaign for seeking to persuade businesses to put rainbows in some visible place about their premises, presumably as an indicator of acquiescence in the LGBT agenda.

“That’s a nice business. Too bad if something happened to it,” tweeted Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights. It was an obvious riff on Mafia-style protection methodologies, but you can count on social-justice-warrior types not to get jokes. Ruse was reported by the Human Rights Campaign and as a consequence received a visit and later a phone call from an FBI officer. Luckily, the officer knew a joke from a shakedown and that was the end of it.

Ruse subsequently observed that the HRC has made a habit of attacking Christians who defend traditional sexual morality. He elaborated:

It works like this: A local restaurant is owned by a faithful Catholic who objects to the gay agenda. … Gays notice he doesn’t have the gay rainbow affixed to his window. “Why don’t you have the rainbow on your window?,” they ask. “Are you homophobic? Do you really want the local community to know about you?” You can see it spooling out from there. He is targeted by the local bully boys who proceed to make his life miserable, perhaps harming and even shuttering his business.

This kind of thing is escalating at a rate that begins to be very ominous indeed. Not only do these people brook no dissent from their agendas, but they do not rest until anyone who questions them is badly burnt toast. And officialdom everywhere plays along and treats them like jolly pranksters….

Ruse’s experience brought to mind Vaclav Havel’s story, in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” about the greengrocer who put the sign in the window with the slogan, “Workers of the World Unite.” Havel draws us into the mindset of the greengrocer, who places the sign essentially as a gesture of obedience. The sign might as easily read, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”—but this would cause the greengrocer to lose face. The “Workers of the World” sign serves both the needs of the greengrocer and the needs of the regime. So it is with rainbow stickers. The sign or sticker thus becomes another kind of sign: of the operation within a culture of an ideology. This is its true function.

Read it all and make sure to read the full article in Stream from which he is quoting.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, The U.S. Government

(R+P) Gene Zubovich–The Christian Nationalism of Donald Trump

Without a clear stand on questions of nationalism, religious groups sway from one extreme to the other with the changing times, unable to offer much resistance to the general mood of the country and the machinations of politicians. That was certainly the case during the Cold War, as religious folks celebrated America and its war against godless communism. Many of the same churches changed their tune in the 1960s, when widespread protests took place against the Vietnam War.

The fight goes on even today. In thinking about Christian nationalism, I am reminded of a visit I made to a North Carolina church in 2006. It held about 500 people, and it had two large screens on either side of the pulpit. The service was just before the Fourth of July and sounded much like Trump did in his Independence Day address. The pastor reminded congregants that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Then the choir began singing:

“Off we go into the wild blue yonder / Climbing high into the sun / Here they come zooming to meet our thunder / At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun!”

It was the “U.S. Air Force” song and as it played, a veteran walked between the pews toward the pulpit waiving the Air Force flag and the two screens played footage of bombers dropping ordinance on Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. The scene repeated for the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and finally the Coast Guard. After the nationalist display, the service ended with a few hymns, including, without any obvious irony, “Down by the Riverside” (“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield down by the riverside / Ain’t gonna study war no more”).

I imagine that ten years later, in the age of Trump, the president enjoys widespread support at this church, since he enjoys broad appeal with white evangelicals across the country. And I imagine the minister would cheer the president’s militaristic rhetoric. In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the Christian nationalism I witnessed in 2006 paved the way for today’s politics.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Theology