Category : Religion & Culture

(Guardian) Bishops pray for politicians’ integrity amid Brexit turmoil

Church of England bishops have said they are praying for “courage, integrity and clarity for our politicians” after a week of turmoil over Brexit.

In a joint statement issued on Saturday, the bishops also urged the country to “consider the nature of our public conversation” and called for more grace and generosity.

The statement echoes concerns raised by the archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords on Friday when he stressed the need for reconciliation after a “week of deep division” over Brexit.

Justin Welby said it was central to the country’s future that the divisions were healed.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Elya Brudny and Yisroel Reisman–New York State Targets Jewish Schools

Together the two of us have 70 years of experience in Jewish education. Yet nothing could have prepared us for what the New York State Education Department did last month. On Nov. 20, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia issued guidance empowering local school boards to evaluate private schools and to vote on our right to continue educating our students.

The state government now requires private schools to offer a specific set of classes more comprehensive than what students in public schools must learn. Our schools must offer 11 courses to students in grades 5 through 8, for a total of seven hours of daily instruction. Public schools have less than six hours a day of prescribed instruction. Private-school teachers will also be required to submit to evaluation by school districts.

At a press conference announcing the new guidelines, a reporter asked Ms. Elia what would happen if a yeshiva didn’t alter its Jewish-studies emphasis to conform to her mandate. She responded that parents “would be notified they need to transfer students” in as little as six weeks. And if they didn’t? “They’d be considered truant, and that’s another whole process that gets triggered.”

Government may have an interest in ensuring that every child receives a sound basic education, but it has no right to commandeer our schools’ curricula.

Read it all.

Posted in Education, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, State Government

(NPR) Iranians Are Converting To Evangelical Christianity In Turkey

In a hotel conference room in Denizli, Turkey, about 60 Iranians sing along to songs praising Jesus mixed with Iranian pop music. When the music stops, American pastor Karl Vickery preaches with the help of a Persian translator.

“I’m not famous or rich. But I know Jesus. I have Jesus,” he says, with a Southern drawl. The Farsi-speaking Christian converts shout “Hallelujah!” and clap.

Vickery, who’s part of a visiting delegation from Beaumont, Texas, then offers to pray for each person in the room.

Women with hair dyed blond and short skirts and clean-shaven men in slacks stand up to pray in unison. Vickery puts his hand on one woman’s head and speaks in tongues. One man closes his eyes as tears fall. Another woman raises her hand and shouts “Isa,” Jesus’ name in Arabic and Persian. The room smells of sweat.

Among the parishioners are Farzana, a 37-year-old hairdresser from Tehran, and her daughter Andya, 3, who runs around, taking photos with her mother’s cellphone.

“It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana says. She doesn’t want to give her last name because she says her family in Iran might face persecution for her conversion. Her family knows she is a convert and they’re scared for their own safety inside Iran.

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Immigration, Iran, Religion & Culture, Turkey

(TGC) Justin Taylor-Stop Saying 81 Percent of White Evangelicals Vote for Trump (It Was Probably Less Than Half)

No matter how many times people make the claim, it is simply wrong to say that 81 percent of white evangelicals in the United States voted for Donald Trump to become president.

First (and I know this is quibbling), the number that people are meaning to cite is actually 80 percent.

(Media originally reported 81 percent, but that was based on initial reports of the exit poll before the tabulations were complete.)

Second, the statistic was not purporting to measure the total percentage of all white self-identified evangelicals.

Rather, the number is supposed to indicate the number of white voters who self-identify as born-again or evangelicals and voted for Trump.

That sounds like mere semantics, but it actually represents a significant difference. Evangelical historian Thomas Kidd uses recent statistical analysis to estimate that 40 percent of white evangelicals didn’t vote in this election (see, e.g., this).

If we then grant the 80 percent figure for the remaining 60 percent who did vote ended up casting their ballot for Trump, then it would be the case that less than half (48 percent) of white self-identified evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

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

(FT) Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch on the rise of anti-Semitism and rebuilding Jewish life

[Charlotte] Knobloch is right to worry about time. Even the most cursory examination of her life would require days, not hours. Born in 1932, the year before the Nazis took power, she witnessed the pogroms of November 1938, and went on to survive — miraculously — the regime’s systematic attempt to murder the Jews of Europe, by hiding in a German village and pretending to be Christian.

While initially after the war she was determined to leave the land of the perpetrators, she stayed in Munich, raised a family, joined the board of the local Jewish community, and embarked on a late career of advocacy culminating in a stint as president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews. Above all, she became a builder: the cluster of constructions that grace the Jakobsplatz today are to a large extent the fruit of her vision.

“Sometimes I catch myself thinking this cannot be true. Every day, when I arrive here, I draw such happiness from seeing the synagogue, and the museum and the community centre,” she tells me as she spoons up her eggs. “What is amazing is not just that we have this, but that it has become so accepted. When the tourist buses stop here, I often hear the Munich guide say: ‘And here you can see our synagogue.’ I cannot imagine anything more beautiful.”

For Knobloch and many others, the decision to build a new temple in the city where Hitler plotted his rise to power was deeply significant. It was, she tells me, the moment she decided to “unpack her suitcase” — to finally admit to herself she had made Munich her home, despite the past.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Germany, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Pastor Charged With ‘Inciting Subversion’ as China Cracks Down on Churches

An outspoken Chinese pastor and his wife face up to 15 years in prison after being charged with inciting to subvert state power, a sign that Chinese authorities are intensifying a crackdown on religious groups, one of the most serious in recent decades. Wang Yi, 45, who runs the independent Early Rain Covenant Church in the southwestern city of Chengdu, was detained last weekend along with over 100 members of his congregation. As of Thursday, most of the group’s main leaders were still in custody and the police had sealed off the church, which occupies the floor of an office building. The move against the church comes as the authorities have gradually constricted religious rights and sought to eliminate independent places of worship. Read it all.
Posted in China, Religion & Culture

(Psephizo) Ian Paul–Wisdom and folly: the bishops’ guidance on transgender welcome

Why the collapse of Christian language of initiation into cultural memes? The problems with the guidance begin with its opening line:

The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ

Since when was the gospel of ‘repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1.15) reduced to ‘unconditional affirmation’? If the point is that trans people shouldn’t be treated as a different class of humanity, then that would be hard to disagree with—so why not simply say that? All the debates around sexuality become mired in impossible ambiguity because of different construals of what it means to ‘affirm’ people. Jesus welcomed the marginalised, and called them to repent along with everyone else (Luke 5.32) and so should we.

Why the misuse of biblical texts? In reading Scripture, context is everything, and the listing of passages where God’s redemptive action leads to a change of name, in the context of a service which appears to be celebrating the transition of name and identity, has strong echoes of Tina Beardsley’s proposed trans liturgy, misreads these texts badly, and overlays on the scriptural narrative a particular ideology of sex identity.

Why the complete absence of reference to biological reality? One of the heated debates around trans ideology and advocacy relates to biological reality—what is actually going on in the transition process? The medical journal The Lancet just this week made an impassioned appeal for proper engagement with biological reality:

Sex has a biological basis, whereas gender is fundamentally a social expression. Thus, sex is not assigned—chromosomal sex is determined at conception and immutable. A newborn’s phenotypic sex, established in utero, merely becomes apparent after birth, with intersex being a rare exception.

Distress about gender identity must be taken seriously and support should be put in place for these children and young people, but the impacts of powerful, innovative interventions should be rigorously assessed….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NYT Op-Ed) Ross Douthat–The Return of Paganism: is there actually a genuinely post-Christian future for America?

…lately I’ve become interested in books and arguments that suggest that there actually is, or might be, a genuinely post-Christian future for America — and that the term “paganism” might be reasonably revived to describe the new American religion, currently struggling to be born.

A fascinating version of this argument is put forward by Steven D. Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego, in his new book, “Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars From the Tiber to the Potomac.” Smith argues that much of what we understand as the march of secularism is something of an illusion, and that behind the scenes what’s actually happening in the modern culture war is the return of a pagan religious conception, which was half-buried (though never fully so) by the rise of Christianity.

What is that conception? Simply this: that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent.

This paganism is not materialist or atheistic; it allows for belief in spiritual and supernatural realities. It even accepts the possibility of an afterlife. But it is deliberately agnostic about final things, what awaits beyond the shores of this world, and it is skeptical of the idea that there exists some ascetic, world-denying moral standard to which we should aspire. Instead, it sees the purpose of religion and spirituality as more therapeutic, a means of seeking harmony with nature and happiness in the everyday — while unlike atheism, it insists that this everyday is divinely endowed and shaped, meaningful and not random, a place where we can truly hope to be at home.

Read it all.

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

(AM) Andrew Symes–Transgender liturgies and the secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

I was alerted to a major new development in the Church of England: the publication of liturgies to mark ‘gender transition’. (Press release, and my comment here.) Well that wasn’t such a surprise, as this was accepted by General Synod last year, and then agreed again in February 2018. What is alarming is that the new services, which have been developed by clergy who are transgender activists, have been commended for use by a leading evangelical Bishop. No doubt he will argue that while he believes that God created us male and female, this is a way of offering welcome to those who don’t feel they fit into the traditional gender categories. But in speaking about ‘trans people’ and supporting the liturgies in this way, this Bishop has inevitably accepted the validity of the new ideology of gender, which is incompatible with Christian anthropology, colluding with a fiction which cannot ultimately be pastorally helpful, and based on propaganda and fake science rather than evidence.

Should faithful Christians just accept the decisions of their leaders in these matters, and keep quiet, perhaps focusing on evangelistic courses and foodbanks? Or can we counter this trend? If so, perhaps our challenge is to tell a “better story”. We know that heterosexual marriage and sexually abstinent singleness, living within the physical sex God gave us, are the most effective ways of living a flourishing life as individuals and communities, and for our future. Numerous studies prove that stable marriage and family life, and sexual self-control are beneficial for individuals and society; likewise it is clear that family breakdown is linked to crime and mental health issues, and immorality to sexually transmitted disease. The Judaeo-Christian ethic is commanded and explained in Scripture and has been taught by Christians and Jews for millennia. It makes sense. It is the truth. Surely, if the church demonstrates an attitude of love, and tells a positive and exciting counter-story, society will be convinced of the truth of the gospel and how we are supposed to live our lives?

In this paradigm, ‘truth’ is contained in God’s word, backed up by scientific research based on observation of an ordered world. Truth must be communicated clearly, imaginatively, winsomely with love, but it exists as an entity in itself, like a Platonic ideal, or indeed God himself. God exists and his word is true whether or not we communicate it effectively with love. One plus one equals two, regardless of how effectively and relationally it is taught, or how I feel about it and about myself.

But in the secular postmodern paradigm, things have changed. God, and truth, do not exist outside of the reality which is the interweaved matrix made up of millions of human beings’ individual consciousness and experience. The personal story, and the emotions it evokes, is not just a method of communicating truth. It is truth. If feelings of same sex attraction or gender dysphoria lead someone to embrace a gay or trans identity, this is a discovery of truth, and the church’s job is to affirm it through liturgies. To suggest that someone with these feelings might be able to explore a different direction is seen as hurtful, even abusive, and should be suppressed by law. 

Because of this tendency in us to be drawn to personal constructions of reality and reject Reality, the biblical writers insist that it’s not enough to simply repeat God’s true message, and to find better ways of communicating it, including demonstrating God’s nature through acts of love and mercy. It’s also necessary to enable the faithful community to reject the false messages they are being fed constantly in the world around them.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(PRC from 2017) Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life

As long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past – even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays.”

Not only are some of the more religious aspects of Christmas less prominent in the public sphere, but there are signs that they are on the wane in Americans’ private lives and personal beliefs as well. For instance, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story – that Jesus was born to a virgin, for example – reflect historical events that actually occurred. And although most Americans still say they mark the occasion as a religious holiday, there has been a slight drop in recent years in the share who say they do this.

Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday.

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

(CaPC) Kaitlyn Schiess–Advent Is Actually Quite Political

One of my favorite hymns, “O Holy Night,” for example, has explicit political implications: it connects the arrival of our Savior with these deeply political actions:

“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

This is the version we’ve sung since 1847, when the original song was altered slightly by American writer John Sullivan Dwight in order to reflect abolitionist beliefs during the Civil War. What once focused merely on Christ’s view of humanity—“He sees a brother where there was only a slave”—the updated lyrics reflect a more active role of Christ’s work of redemption. Yet when we gather together during this season and sing this song, once used in the deeply political fight against slavery, the churches that “don’t get political” try to convince themselves that being apolitical is (and had always been) the proper orientation of the church. But nothing could be as perpetually relevant or beautiful than the radical and eschatological idea that Jesus came to end oppression. In his book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Dr. Matthew Kaemingk asks, “What should we the church do in the emerging age of fear and reactionary politics? We should sing old hymns and wrestle with their subversive political implications.”

Perhaps we should even take a cue from abolitionist Christians and be unafraid of writing political hymns and sermons for our own era. It is easy to look back on past political issues and claim that they were merely “moral” or “theological,” but in the midst of the controversy, they were deeply political. Our theological convictions have political weight, and holy indignation is an appropriate response to chains that enslave and systems that oppress. By acknowledging the injustices of our own day, we can mourn the state of our fallen world and confess the ways we have been complicit in them. Awareness of what’s broken is the first step toward subverting it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Advent, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Religion & Culture, Theology

Do not Take yourself Too Seriously Department–Virtual Reality Church!

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(FT) Anti-Semitism prompts 40% of European Jews to consider emigration

Close to 40 per cent of European Jews have considered leaving their home countries over the past five years because of rising anti-Semitism, according to a poll released on Monday. Of those who said they had considered emigration, two-thirds said they had considered moving to Israel. One in 10 had considered the US and another tenth had considered a move to a different EU country. The survey, which was conducted by the EU agency for fundamental rights (FRA), highlights growing concern among Jewish communities in Europe, with almost 90 per cent of respondents saying that anti-Semitism has increased since 2013.  The Jewish community in France — which has suffered a number of high-profile deadly attacks in recent years — appears to have been especially shaken: almost 80 per cent of French Jews told pollsters that anti-Semitism in the country had “increased a lot”, the highest proportion in Europe. But there was also a marked deterioration in Germany, where 44 per cent of Jews said they had thought about emigrating, up from 25 per cent five years ago.

Read it all.

Posted in Europe, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Helen Andrews-Shame Storm

After a lifetime of impeccably correct opinions, Ian Buruma found himself on the wrong side of the liberal consensus in September 2018, when he was forced to resign as editor of the New York Review of Books for having commissioned a piece called “Reflections from a Hashtag” from the disgraced Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. One does not get to be editor of the NYRB without having filament-like sensitivity to the boundaries of acceptable opinion. Buruma’s virtuosic handling in 2007 of the controversy over his New York Times Magazine profile of Tariq Ramadan, in which he wrote indulgently of his subject’s radical Islamic views—and scathingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s secularist opposition to them—was a model of politically correct equipoise. If Buruma was caught flat-footed this time, it must be the times that have changed.

Unlike Leon Wieseltier, Lorin Stein, ­Garrison Keillor, John Hockenberry, Ryan Lizza, Glenn Thrush, or any of the other editors and journalists who have lost their jobs in the last twelve months due to the movement known as #MeToo, Buruma was not accused of any sexual misconduct. His crime was to give space in his magazine to a man who had been accused (but not, in any of four court cases, convicted) of sexual harassment and non-consensual roughness during sex. Buruma told Slate in an interview five days before his resignation, “I think nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like his, where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last.”

Too true, as Buruma found out to his cost. No one has yet figured out what rules should govern the new frontiers of public shaming that the Internet has opened. New rules are obviously required. Shame is now both global and permanent, to a degree ­unprecedented in human history. No more moving to the next town to escape your bad name. However far you go and however long you wait, your disgrace is only ever a Google search away. Getting a humiliating story into the papers used to require convincing an editor to run it, which meant passing their standards of newsworthiness and corroborating evidence. Those gatekeepers are now gone. Most attempts so far to devise new rules have taken ideology as their starting point: Shaming is okay as long as it’s directed at men by women, the powerless against the powerful. But that doesn’t address what to do afterward, if someone is found to have been wrongfully shamed, or when someone rightfully shamed wants to put his life back together.

In the essay that got Buruma fired, Ghomeshi claims to have been a pioneer in online shaming. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now. But I was the guy everyone hated first.” Actually, a better candidate for original victim is Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted to her 170 Twitter followers before getting on a plane to Cape Town, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” It was during the Christmas holidays when news is always slow, so a Gawker post about the tweet quickly went viral. People around the world were soon enjoying the suspense of knowing Sacco was on a plane with no Internet access and no way to know that she had become an object of global ridicule. That was in December 2013, almost a year before the Ghomeshi story broke.

And before that, in the Precambrian era of online shaming, there was me….

The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(Star-Telegram) Hundreds of sex abuse allegations found in fundamental Baptist churches across U.S.

Read it all. (Please note that this is a long and painful article whose content may not be suitable for some blog readers–KSH.)

Posted in America/U.S.A., Baptists, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence