Category : * Religion News & Commentary

News and commentary from / about other (non-Anglican) Christian churches and denominations

(NYT) ‘It’s Not Getting Better’: Nigeria Braces for Election Day as Frustrations Boil

Nigeria is bracing for what could be a tight election this weekend. Threats of violence loom.

In the northeast of the country on Tuesday, a convoy heading to an election event and carrying Kashim Shettima, a state governor, was attacked by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group which operates in the region. At least three people were killed, officials said. Many of the governor’s entourage fled into the bush after militants dressed as soldiers and riding in stolen military vehicles attacked, local news media reported.

The incident drew attention to another of Mr. Buhari’s 2015 pledges: to destroy Boko Haram. Far from being crushed, Boko Haram has recently been gaining strength.

In the south, militants in the oil-rich Delta threatened to disrupt the economy, presumably by blowing up pipelines, if Mr. Buhari were re-elected. At a rally for the president in Rivers State this week, at least four people were killed in a stampede. Election officials reported fires in several sites where ballot materials were being stored.

Tensions have been so high that after the American ambassador to Nigeria called on both campaigns to carry out fair elections, Mr. Buhari’s party called his statements “implicit attacks against the government.”

Mr. Buhari and Mr. Abubakar, who each have pledged to accept the election results peacefully, wrapped up final appearances this week at rallies across the country, where thousands turned out wearing dresses, rings, hats and scarves plastered with their candidates’ photos.

Read it all.

Posted in Muslim-Christian relations, Nigeria, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

RNS profiles a Flourishing South Carolina United Methodist Church ahead of the upcoming Special General Conference

(Please note: you may find basic information about this meeting there–KSH).

In November, with the blessing of his leadership team, Kersey sent out a congregation-wide letter explaining the various plans that will be up for a vote at the special session and declaring his support for the Traditional Plan, which would keep LGBT restrictions in place.

Out of a membership of close to 5,000 people, Kersey said he received three emails from people who said they disagreed with him.

Martha Thompson, who chairs the church’s leadership team and is a delegate to the special session in St. Louis, said she welcomed the letter.

“This was new to a majority of our membership. So I was glad Jeff did it,” she said. “There were some who weren’t in favor. But the overwhelming majority of people I’ve spoken to were glad that he did it.”

Thompson cited the success of the monthlong Advent offering after the letter was sent as proof of the congregation’s support. The church raised $313,000 for that one offering — more than many small Methodist churches’ entire yearly budget.

Both Thompson and Kersey said they don’t want to exclude anyone.

Kersey said he recognizes that there are LGBT people attending the church and said he sees them like he sees everyone else — as people of sacred worth.

“On any given weekend here, we see people struggling with adultery, pornography, same-sex relationship,” he said. “We don’t ask questions. Everyone is welcome to come here with the understanding that we’ll share with them God’s best plan for their life, which is based on our understanding of Scripture.”

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Parish Ministry, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(1st Things) Charlotte Allen–Methodist Madness

….the fact that the UMC still officially considers homosexual conduct sinful (“incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to the Book of Discipline) is another surprise. All the other major mainline Protestant denominations—the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Church of Christ—have amended their canons over the years to permit gay and lesbian ordinations and same-sex weddings fairly freely (typically with a few hedges aimed at mollifying conservative churchgoers and clergy).

Nonetheless, anomalous as the UMC’s traditionalist stance on sexuality may seem when the other mainlines have capitulated to secular culture, it seems to have helped the UMC avoid the demographically catastrophic schisms that have plagued those other mainline churches. The Episcopal Church has seen breakaways of entire congregations and even dioceses over the past few decades, a trend exacerbated by the ordination of its first openly gay bishop in 2003. When the Episcopalians approved same-sex marriage in 2015, a still-unhealed rift opened in the worldwide Anglican Communion, 55 percent of whose 80 million members live in sub-Saharan Africa and hold highly traditionalist views on Christian sexual morality. The Lutherans and Presbyterians have also witnessed major hive-offs of their church’s conservative congregations into separate religious entities as their leaders have embraced increasingly progressive positions. One result has been a drastic and seemingly unstoppable decline in church membership for those mainline denominations. The PCUSA counted only 1.4 million active members in 2017, down from 2.3 million actives in 2005. The ELCA lost nearly a quarter of its membership between 1988 and 2016 (from 5.2 million to 3.5 million). The Episcopal Church’s number of baptized members fell from 2.3 million to 1.7 million between 2007 and 2017.

By contrast, the UMC, while not immune to declining membership, has held fairly steady at 7 million U.S. members (down from about 11 million in 1968), and there have been no major Methodist schisms. The UMC is currently America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination. Perhaps Charles Wesley’s beautiful hymns have kept the church reasonably intact, but another key factor may have been its willingness (so far) to allow religious conservatives and religious liberals to abide side by side in uneasy peace under a traditional ethos. The status quo is also maintained thanks to avid Methodist missionary work in Africa and elsewhere during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The UMC now boasts an additional 5 million overseas members, most of whom are theologically conservative like the overseas Anglicans and thus disinclined to support relaxations of traditional Christian ideas about sexuality. Proposals to modify the “incompatible with Christian teaching” language in the Book of Discipline have regularly surfaced at UMC General Conferences since at least the year 2000 but have been decisively rejected, thanks largely to overseas votes.

All of that seems poised for change, however….

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Other Denominations, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(NYT) Sharp Rise in Anti-Semitic Acts in France Stokes Old Fears

Swastikas drawn on portraits of a women’s rights champion and Holocaust survivor in Paris; the word “Juden” (Jews, in German) spray-painted on a bagel bakery; a tree planted in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death, chopped down in a Paris suburb.

A spate of reports in recent days illustrates what the government officially confirmed on Tuesday: Anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply in France. Such episodes jumped by 74 percent in 2018, to 541, up from 311 in 2017, the interior ministry reported.

“Anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison, like a bile,” the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Monday as he visited the site of the felled tree.

The tree was a memorial to Ilan Halimi, a Jewish man who was kidnapped and tortured to death after being held captive for three weeks by members of a French criminal gang in 2006. The authorities and Jewish institutions were preparing to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Mr. Halimi’s death, which falls on Wednesday, when the tree was found destroyed.

Read it all.

Posted in France, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(Houston Chronicle) Abuse of Faith 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms

Read it all.

Posted in Baptists, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence

(GL) Carrie Boren Headington on Michael Green as a Hero of the Faith

“Excuse me. May I ask you a question? Is that man a preacher?” asked the nurse at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital.

“Yes. Why do you ask?” I said.

“Well, after a long day, when all visitors have left, he gets out of bed and goes from room to room. I think he is preaching and praying with people. Frankly, we cannot keep him in bed at night. We say, ‘Mr. Green, you must rest and get back into bed.’ He did just have a heart attack you know. He politely agrees but in no more than five minutes he is back up with the IV machine in tow going from room to room. We cannot keep him down.”

I knew what compelled him. He had just called me (along with a stream of students) to his bedside, unsure if he would make it out of hospital this time. He said, “Whatever you do with your life Carrie, share the gospel at every turn. Tell everyone. This is the greatest thing you can do with your life. Follow Jesus, love Him and share Him.”

I went home that night and prayed, “Lord, please heal Michael Green. And if possible, may I please learn from him.” I knew I had met a modern-day Paul. I knew right away Michael Green was a man compelled by life in Jesus Christ! Compelled to share! Compelled by joy!

Two weeks later, Michael Green was back at our theological college, Wycliffe Hall, in perfect health. I knocked on his office door and there opened my soon-to-be mentor. Shorter in stature, eyes piercing and electric, smile wide, and palpable energy seeming about to combust. How to even describe this man… feet steady and deeply rooted in faith like a fully leafed live oak tree planted by streams of living water combined with the courageous, nimble posture of a boxer. A soldier with shoulders back, chin up, ready to defend with a low strong voice alongside a warmth, sense of humor, bubbling laugh that reached high pitch, and abounding joy.

He literally bounces when he walks. He is a man on mission.

I asked him if I could learn from him. Thankfully, he agreed and this began a mentorship that changed my life….

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Parish Ministry, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

(Telegraph) Canon Michael Green, leading Evangelical theologian who taught Dr George Carey and whose adoption of charismatic forms of worship caused some surprise – obituary

Canon Michael Green, who has died aged 88, was in his time one of the Church of England’s leading Evangelicals and was known and valued worldwide as an outstanding preacher and teacher.

He had much in common with Billy Graham, the American evangelist, but had not quite the same charisma, and lacked an organisation that would mobilise huge crowds to hear him.

None the less, his influence was considerable since be combined evangelical gifts with those of a scholar and, besides training many future clergymen, one of whom, George Carey, became the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was, from 1975 to 1987 Rector of St Aldate’s – the most dynamic church in Oxford, attracting to its life several generations…

Read it all (registration).

Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth

(UMNS) An Interesting Moment in Church History–Shaped by tragedy and grace: Wesley’s rescue from fire

With no time to find a ladder, a couple of quick-thinking neighbors did the next best thing. One stood on the other’s shoulders and pulled Jacky through the window “just as the roof fell into the chamber [his room],” Susanna reports.

His improbable rescue was quickly declared a miracle.

“I could not believe it,” his father wrote a week after the fire, “till I had kissed him two or three times.”

While the family lost nearly every possession they had, they all were saved. John Wesley remembers his father calling out from the garden as the fire continued to consume the family home, “Come, Neighbours! Let us kneel down! Let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight Children: let the house go: I am rich enough!”

The fire was not God’s will, but by God’s grace all had survived.

After the fire, Susanna sometimes referred to her Jacky as a brand plucked from the burning, a reference to Zechariah 3:2. She believed God saved her young son for a reason, a lesson Jacky learned well.

Nearly 45 years later, Wesley remembered his mother’s words. Lying in bed sick with consumption—a generic term used at the time for any illness that caused a person to waste away—Wesley wrote an epitaph for himself to be used if he didn’t recover.

The would-be inscription he penned in his journal began, “Here lieth the body of John Wesley, a brand plucked out of the burning” (November 26, 1753). (Wesley lived another 37 years and this epitaph was not used.)

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Methodist

(WSJ) Quebec Muslims Seek to Transcend Trauma of Mosque Shooting That Took Six Lives

The attack, a rare mass shooting in Canada, shocked Quebec’s Muslim community and showed that the country wasn’t immune to the sometimes violent backlashes that have accompanied growing immigrant populations elsewhere.

Two years later, many are still trying to come to terms with what happened and their place in a province where tensions over religion and assimilation persist.

Those tensions revived in Quebec’s October election. The conservative Coalition Avenir Québec won the provincial vote after a campaign in which it pledged to curb immigration and make newcomers take tests to prove their knowledge of Canadian Quebec values and French language.

The new Quebec premier, François Legault has also promised to bar certain public servants—including teachers, police officers and judges—from wearing visible religious symbols, such as the Muslim head scarf and the kippah worn by some Jewish men, and sparked criticism last week when he suggested Islamophobia didn’t exist in the province. Mr. Legault’s office later said he misspoke.

“It’s a difficult time for Muslims in Quebec,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Read it all.

Posted in Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Islam, Religion & Culture, Violence

(RNS) Kristin Kobes Du Mez–There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

It’s worth noting that [Anthea] Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. [David] Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.

Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.

When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?

Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.

If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

Read it all.

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

(NYT) A Canadian Preacher Who Doesn’t Believe in God

Although as a child, she claimed Jesus had taught her to skate, she never considered herself a devotee. Instead, she says she has always understood God obliquely, as love.

After graduating from college with an arts degree and in search of adventure, Ms. Vosper moved to the far north of Canada, where she was married and had a daughter. After her marriage broke down, she returned to Kingston as a single mother and enrolled in divinity school.

“I wanted to learn how to make the world a better place through it,” said Ms. Vosper, who is sprightly, with short salt-and-pepper hair, chunky glasses and a penchant for bubbling over with language.

By then, the United Church of Canada was propelled more by social justice than theology, according to Kevin Flatt, author of “After Evangelicalism: The 60s and the United Church.” The first church to ordain transgender ministers, its leadership supported abortion and same-sex union before either became legal in Canada.

Divinity school cemented her metaphorical views of God, Ms. Vosper says. But once she began preaching, she realized many congregants thought she was talking about an all-knowing, all-seeing spirit who answered prayers and called some to heaven and others to hell.

“I realized how little of what I said got through to anyone,” said Ms. Vosper….

Read it all.

Posted in Atheism, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

The Rev. Canon Dr Michael Green RIP

Here is the notice from Wycliffe Hall:

It is with great sadness that I pass on the news that Michael Green went to be with the Lord yesterday Wednesday 6th February at around 3pm at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
His passing was peaceful and he was surrounded by Rosemary and his immediate family (including his son, Tim who’d just managed to get there from SE Asia).
As we grieve with hope (1 Thess 4:13) we give thanks to the Lord for the privilege of being associated with such an amazing man of God and for his incredible legacy.
I’ve just spoken to Rosemary on the phone and prayed with her and she is feeling at peace and grateful for the many messages of support and love that she has received from around the world.
Details of the funeral/memorial service will be released in due course but for now lets continue to hold Rosemary and the immediate family in our prayers.

With love in Christ

Greg

The Revd Greg Downes
Director of Ministerial Training
Dean of the Wesley Centre for Missional Engagement

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry

Preparing for the Upcoming Major Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference (IV): An Article in the Star-Telegram

Dr. David Grant, a professor of religion at Texas Christian University, said the outcome of the conference will have a ripple effect on the entire church.

“The impact on the United Methodist Church will be great,” Grant said. “Whatever is decided, the chances are that a significant number of United Methodists will depart the denomination.”

Dr. Elizabeth Oldmixon is a political scientist at the University of North Texas who studies the intersections of religion, politics and LGBTQ identities. She said it’s too early to say how deep the effects of the issue will be on the United Methodist Church.

“This is the only issue where the language of schism has been elevated to this level,” Oldmixon said. “I don’t know how widespread it would be but it’ll definitely happen.”

She explained that it will be difficult to cater to everyone’s beliefs with the current plans, even if they are amended.

“If you’re a traditionalist, you don’t like that language will be taken out and changed,” Oldmixon said. “If you’re progressive, you’re not satisfied because there’s nothing new that affirms any other sexualities.”

Bishop Mike Lowry is the resident bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and oversees more than 300 churches. He noted that whichever plan is voted on will be debated and amended, and whatever decision is made will not take effect until January 2020, at the earliest.

However, he said he stands behind the current practices of the church, which say “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

“I’ve been clear that I do not endorse any of the three plans,” Lowry said. “I support the current stance of the United Methodist Church. Our understanding that love is for all, and Christian marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Read it all and there are comments by Bobby Ross on the article there.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

Preparing for the Upcoming Major Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference (III): Martin Davie

The first problem, which emerges in the statement by the Commission about its vision for its work, is the way the report uses the concept of ‘contextual differentiation.’ What it means by this concept is allowing people the freedom to adopt different approaches to the issue of human sexuality in different contexts for the sake of the Church’s mission.

What the report never explains, however, is why it is the case that undertaking mission in different contexts may require different approaches to the issue of human sexuality. The historic Christian view point has been that what it means for humans to live rightly before God as sexual creatures is determined by God’s creation of the human race (as described in Genesis 1-2) and that for this reason there is one sexual ethic that applies to all human beings at all times and everywhere. The Commission seems to disagree with this historic approach, but it never says why its preferred approach, of allowing there to be different approaches to sexual ethics among different groups of people, is preferable.

What the report also fails to explain is what it thinks the limits of contextual differentiation should be. It declares that it wants to allow for ‘as much contextual differentiation as possible,‘ but it never spells what the limits of differentiation should be. The furthest the report proposes going is to say that the Christian sexual ethic requires sexual relations to be within marriage, but that marriage can be between two people of the same sex. However, it never says why the possibility of contextual differentiation should stop at that point. Why shouldn’t the Christian sexual ethic be extended to include polyamory, or extra-marital sexual relationships, if that is what is appropriate in particular cultural contexts? If the contextual adaptation of the Christian sexual ethic is appropriate then at what point does such adaptation cease to be appropriate and why? The report does not say.

A second and very similar problem is raised by the Commission’s suggestion that those in the UMC should ‘recognize all contextual adaptations and creative expressions as valid expressions of United Methodism.’ This is problematic because it seems to imply that anything anyone claims to be doing as a ‘contextual adaptation’ or ‘creative expression’ for the sake of mission has to be accepted as legitimate. This would mean accepting that Christian belief and practice are infinitely adaptable.

However, if Christian belief and practice were infinitely adaptable this would mean the concept of Christian belief and practice was meaningless. If any form of belief and practice could be called Christian then there would be nothing that was not Christian and so the term Christian would have no meaning. In addition, for something to be rightly called Christian there has to be some connection back to the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ and this puts limits on the forms of belief and practice that can be regarded as Christian. For these two reasons the report’s idea that all forms of contextual adaptation or creative expression should be accepted valid needs to be rejected.

This problem is not just a problem with what is said in a particular part of the Commission’s report. It is a problem with the argument of the report as whole….

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

Preparing for the Upcoming Major Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference (II): Ben Wetherington

There has been a lot of talk of late in my church, the UMC, about schism. How it is a sin, etc. etc. etc. This talk has usually come up in conjunction with the discussion of the ironically titled One Church Plan to resolve our difficulties, which rather than resolving them devolves them down to the Conference and local church level. So, perhaps it would be useful to talk about what the term schism actually means, theologically and ethically speaking. First, a little historical perspective.

Denominationalism is a post-Reformation notion, largely conjured up by the Protestant movement. It is not a Biblical idea, nor will you find its equivalent in the literature of the early Church Fathers. And when there has been talk about schism in the early church (for instance when the Orthodox and Catholic traditions went their separate ways), the issues were mainly theological (the filoque clause), rather than ethical by and large.

Schism was, and is caused, when one group within a church decides that it can no longer adhere to the orthodoxy or orthopraxy that is the de facto official position of a church. On this showing, those who are advocates for gay marriage and the ordination of self-avowed, openly gay persons would be the persons creating the schism today in the UMC. They simply refuse to accept what the Bible says about the nature of marriage and appropriate sexual behavior for various reasons, and as a result refuse to accept what the UMC Discipline says on these same matters.

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

Preparing for the Upcoming Major Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference (I): John Lomperis

(Please note: you may find basic information about this meeting there–KSH).

At a press conference earlier today, outgoing Council of Bishops President Bishop Ough said that they would not publicly share the exact numbers of how the Council voted on matters related to this report. But in any case, the report that the majority of active United Methodist Bishops [approved it] confirms what many have long suspected about the liberal biases of our Council of Bishops as a whole. So while there are a number of individual faithful bishops we can appreciate, this report makes clear that at this point we cannot trust majority of the Council of Bishops, as a collective group, to offer much in the way of doctrinally, spiritually, or morally helpful leadership for our denomination.

But traditionalist United Methodists should not worry. This plan should be dead on arrival at next year’s General Conference. Under the leadership of the aforementioned Bishop Ough, the Connectional Table already tried submitting a multi-piece plan with the same basic idea to the 2016 General Conference, and this was defeated in committee after committee. And the delegates to the 2019 General Conference will largely be the very same people as the delegates who already rejected this idea in 2016.

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(Vatican Radio) Pope and the Grand Imam: Historic declaration of peace, freedom, women’s rights

The “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed on Monday afternoon in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imama of Al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb, is not only a milestone in relations between Christianity and Islam but also represents a message with a strong impact on the international scene. In the preface, after affirming that “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved”, this text is spoken of as a text “that has been given honest and serious thought”, which invites “all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together”.

The document opens with a series of invocations: the Pope and the Grand Imam speak “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity”, “in the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill”, “in the name of the poor”, “orphans, widows, refugees, exiles… and all victims of wars” and “persecution”. Al-Azhar, together with the Catholic Church, “declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard”.

In the document, “we… call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing”.

Read it all.

Posted in Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Pope Francis, Roman Catholic, UAE (United Arab Emirates)

(The Monthly) James Boice–What do we know about the Australian prime minister’s Pentecostalism?

The unsurprising truth is that an informed understanding of the PM’s political career is impossible without considering his religion….

On October 28, 2018, as Scott Morrison’s nascent prime ministership was descending into unholy chaos in the wake of the Wentworth by-election, one of the pastors of Horizon Church, Jackson Moore, preached an unusually frank sermon entitled “Stand and Watch God Fight”. Moore invoked one of the favourite Pentecostal passages, Ephesians 6:13, to call his congregation to put on “the full armour of God”. His theme was that the true follower of Christ must be ready for the “perfect storm” when everything will seem lost and “the Enemy” appears triumphant. What is asked of the believer when the Evil One seems to be in control? Just to “stand firm and see the deliverance”. The only possibility of defeat comes from succumbing to the Enemy’s attempt to “intimidate” and “distract”. If a believer resists Satan’s assault, God fights not just with you but for you.

The polls suggest that Scott Morrison will not survive his perfect storm. But if he pulls off a victory so improbable, there is little doubt that he will also believe that the miracle came because God delivered him victory.

If for no other reason than this dangerous delusion, Australians deserve to know more about what the leader of our country believes. Pentecostalism might not be a cult, but in terms of what ordinary people have been told about its true teachings, it may as well be. Those charged with scrutinising our politicians should put aside the national discomfort about discussing religion, and do what they would if a political leader subscribed to any other little-known ideology. Morrison must be made to tell us more about the faith that has shaped his life: What does he really think of the Devil?

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Australia / NZ, Pentecostal, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NYT) Washington State Weighs New Option After Death: Human Composting

Katrina Spade, the founder and chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle company that hopes to build the first facility to use the new method and conduct funeral services based around it, said the movement toward cremation — now used in more than half of deaths in the nation — has led to an erosion of essential rituals. Remains are often just picked up from a crematory, she said, and that’s that.

“This is not simply a process to convert bodies to soil; it’s also about bringing ritual and some of that ceremony back,” Ms. Spade said.

Ms. Christian, the woman who is hoping recomposition will be an option after she dies, says she has long been uncomfortable with the other choices. She has ruled out burial. And she does not like the idea of cremation because of environmental costs — emissions and climate impacts of fossil fuels used in the burning process. But her friends remain divided on the issue.

“The vast majority are like, ‘That is so cool,’” she said. “And then the other response is, ‘Oh, gross.’”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Good News) Rob Renfroe on the Upcoming Methodist General Conference–Through a Glass Darkly

What will happen at the special General Conference this February? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess. We see through a glass darkly, not able to predict with confidence what the delegates will do and knowing that God can always surprise us and provide a solution to our problems that none of us imagined. Frankly, that’s what I’m praying for.

However, there are a few options that, at this point, seem most likely. Two that we can take off the board are the Simple Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

The Simple Plan goes too far. It redefines marriage as two adults, condones sex outside of marriage, prevents conservative annual conferences from refusing to ordain practicing gay persons, and allows pastors throughout the connection to marry gay couples. Whenever similar proposals have come before General Conference in the past, they have been defeated by a wide margin. The majority of the UM Church has not yet moved this far in a progressive direction.

The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) creates three jurisdictions, each one with a different sexual ethic. No coalition has formed to support it and no group is doing the hard work of promoting it to the rest of the church. The CCP requires numerous constitutional amendments and there is little likelihood that a super majority of both General Conference delegates and then later of annual conference delegates around the globe will support it.

The plan with the greatest likelihood of passing is the Traditional Plan (TP). It maintains our present position of affirming the worth of and welcoming all persons to the ministries of the church without allowing for practicing gay persons to be ordained or for our pastors to marry gay couples. The Traditional Plan has several provisions that would allow the church to enforce the Book of Discipline more effectively when pastors and bishops violate our policies. Each of these provisions will need to be approved individually.

Why is the TP most likely to pass? Because it is most in line with what delegates have supported at every General Conference since 1972. It was the plan that the majority of the delegates supported less than three years ago in Portland – most of whom will be voting again in St. Louis. Whether all of the enhanced accountability measures can be passed remains to be seen. But it is most likely that a Traditional Plan of sorts will prevail. And a Traditional Plan provides the most hopeful path to a faithful future for The United Methodist Church.

It is also possible that no plan will be approved. If General Conference begins to approve a Traditional Plan, it is very likely that some progressives will move to keep the conference from passing a plan. Some will do so surreptitiously. There will be countless “points of order,” amendments, and substitute resolutions coming from the floor, bringing work on a Traditional Plan to a standstill. Others will be more blatant. In the past, scores of pro-LGBTQ supporters have entered the bar of the conference without permission and have brought deliberations to a halt with their chanting and protests. The bishops have been reticent to remove the demonstrators and the better part of a day has been lost before the protesters have been convinced to leave the conference floor.

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(UMNS) Seeing a Way Forward: The Rev Forbes Matonga on the Upcoming Methodist General Conference

The Rev. Forbes Matonga, a pastor at the Nyadire Mission in Zimbabwe, discusses possible implications that decisions made at the special 2019 General Conference could have for The United Methodist Church in Africa.

Matonga spoke with UM News as part of “Seeing a Way Forward,” a video series featuring different perspectives of church leaders on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.

Way Forward discussions feel misleading to Africans
The Rev. Forbes Matonga feels the original discussion on The United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality has now morphed into a broader discussion of unity.

Traditional Plan is the only “legal” option for African delegates
As same-sex marriage is illegal in almost every African country, says the Rev. Forbes Matonga, the Traditional Plan submitted to the special 2019 General Conference is the only culturally acceptable option for African United Methodists to support…

Read it all.

Posted in Methodist, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

(Guardian) Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt launches review into how UK can better support Christains under threat

Postcolonial guilt about Britain’s imperial past has held the country back from addressing the deepening persecution of Christians across the world, the foreign secretary has said.

Jeremy Hunt was speaking at the launch of an independent review into how the government defends the rights of persecuted Christians. The review, which will be led by the bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, will study the scale, causes and geography of persecution and what more the UK may be able to do to raise the profile of the issue in its diplomatic network.

Hunt, a committed Christian, said: “We wanted to do this not just because freedom of worship is a fundamental human right, but because also freedom of worship is the invisible line between open societies and closed societies.”

He added he wanted “to banish any hesitation to look into this issue without fear or favour that may exist because of our imperial history, because of the concerns that some people might have in linking the activities of missionaries in the 19th century to misguided imperialism”.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Other Churches, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Violence

(The Conversation) Katie Gaddini+Linda Woodhead–Brexit shines light on Church of England rift between leadership and Anglican majority

In sharp contrast to the evangelicals, other Anglican voters in England cited immigration as a major issue persuading them to vote Leave, as they wanted to preserve England’s cultural-ethnic identity. Most important of all, however was their concern about excessive EU interference.

For now, the archbishops and and like-minded bishops are in power at the top of the Church of England, but without the support of most grassroots Anglicans. Their stance on Brexit makes this very plain. Traditionally the Church of England has been “the Tory party at prayer” and, in terms of votes cast, it still is.

But the “old guard” of mainline Anglicans is slowly dying out and the new breed of enthusiastic, charismatic-evangelical clergy are having more success in winning over some young people. Supporters of their approach – like the archbishops – say that speaking in tongues and other charismatic practices are the best way to revive the dying Church of England. Opponents say that they are likely to drive out the last remaining Anglicans and alienate their children. Either way, it will affect the political complexion of England as a whole.

Read it all.(Please however note that the authors sadly repeat the completely fallacious idea that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. For why this statistic is just wrong see here,there, and here among many places).

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Europe, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Patheos) Philip Jenkins writes good piece on the history of Anti-semitism in America–The American Dictator and the Lone Ranger

…[William Dudley] Pelley formed a new political-religious movement, the fascist and anti-semitic Silver Legion of America, the Silver Shirts. This was “a great Christian Army fortified by the inviolable principles of the Christ.” Pelley was the “beloved Chief,” a term which could equally well refer to his role as American Führer, or as the living Secret Chief, a not-yet-Ascended Master.

The Silver Shirts were explicitly modeled on the German Nazi Party, and Pelley claimed that he was inspired to form his movement on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became German Chancellor. But Pelley also drew ideas and images from the popular media, as this day marked the first broadcast of the radio western series, The Lone Ranger, with its heroic Rangers and the recurrent silver themes. Pelley’s followers were also Silver Rangers, and that was the title of one of his newspapers.

Whatever the origins of the idea, Pelley now focused on the Jews as the source of most evils and problems in the world, and he offered a solution based on the formation of a Christian Commonwealth, a Christ-Democracy. Pelley became the nation’s best-known figure on the paramilitary far Right, and he inspired Sinclair Lewis’s imaginary American dictator Buzz Windrip in the 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here.

The Silver Shirts boomed in the mid-1930s, and the movement may have had up to twenty thousand members nationwide at its height in 1933-34. Support was heavily concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington, though other centers of strength were scattered across the Midwest, in Chicago, Cleveland and in the Ohio steel districts. Pittsburgh was another major center of organization, where it spawned leftist and Jewish counter-protests. Though the movement looks like a classic fascist sect, it never lost its strong occult motivation, and some adherents claimed to be less interested in the anti-Semitic rhetoric than in Pelley’s mystic revelations.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Violence

(BBC) Student cracks Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller’s baffling religious code

While…[Andrew Fuller] wrote a number of influential works before his death in 1815, his early sermons and other documents have survived only as shorthand notes.

They remained inaccessible until Dr Steve Holmes, head of the School of Divinity at St Andrews University found one headed in longhand “Confessions of Faith, Oct. 7 1783”.

He recognised this as the date of Fuller’s induction into the pastorate of a church in Kettering and knew that he would have been required to give a confession of faith as part of that service.

Dr Holmes then wondered if a copy of the confession printed in a biography might help him crack the code.

After discovering that the two texts were the same, he recruited Jonny Woods through the university’s undergraduate research assistant scheme to help.

Read it all.

Posted in Baptists, Church History, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(OUP Blog) Archaic and postmodern, today’s pagans challenge ideas about ‘religion’

Several people chuckled when they walked past Room 513B during the 2009 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, held in Montréal. The title of the session within was simply “Idolatry,” held by the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, papers such as “Materiality and Spirituality Aren’t Opposites (Necessarily): Paganism and Objects” were presented.

The nervous laughter at the session’s title shows that even among scholars of religion, topics of polytheism and idolatry seem quaint, antique, and even trivial. Do people still even take them seriously?

Indeed, they do. Pagan religions, both newly envisioned and reconstructed on ancient patterns, are growing throughout the world. In addition, followers of these newer Paganisms, such as Wicca, Druidry, and reconstructed Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Greek, and other traditions, have begun to reach out to people attempting to maintain other indigenous or tribal traditions.

In the English-speaking world, the best-known new Pagan religion is Wicca, which is one form of Pagan witchcraft. Arguably rooted in Romantic ideas — appreciation of nature, an idealization of the “folk soul” and the countryside, a great appreciation of feminine principles — it was created around 1950 by a retired civil servant and spiritual seeker named Gerald Gardner (1884–1964). Gardner did not seek a mass movement but more of a “mystery cult” in the classical sense — small groups of initiates who would meet according to the lunar calendar to worship a goddess symbolized by the Moon and a god symbolized by (among other things) a stag or goat or the Sun, and to perform magic.

Wicca, as the British historian Ronald Hutton has noted, is the “the only religion that England has given the world.”

Read it all from 2016.

Posted in History, Religion & Culture, Wicca / paganism

(RNS) After police foil terrorist attack on Islamberg, New York Muslims push for justice

In 2015, the FBI issued an alert after an Arizona man affiliated with militia groups allegedly threatened to attack Islamberg in a Facebook video. And for several years, a group of anti-Muslim bikers and right-wing activists led by American Bikers United Against Jihad drove past Islamberg in their annual Ride for National Security.

“The lies about Islamberg have been proven wrong countless times,” The Muslims of America’s chief executive, Hussein Adams, told media. “But what speaks volumes is that after 30 years there have been no instances where members of our community have done anything related to these accusations.”

TMOA said the new alleged plot sent “shock waves” of fear through the community, giving residents flashbacks to the “panic and unease” they endured after previous incidents. “And each time it happens, these grave tragedies compound the trauma of the previous instance,” Islamberg attorney Tahirah Clark said.

After the Doggart case, in which he was released to his family on $30,000 bail, TMOA officials were shocked to learn that domestic terrorism is not always considered a federal crime, and they are now pushing for a change in policy.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Religion & Culture, Violence

(RNS) Tara Burton–If God is dead, is it OK if we save ourselves?

…what we’re seeing is not a substitution of one kind of faith for another. As a culture we’re putting our faith in ourselves. Salvation has been relocalized; the new secular faiths think humans have the potential to save ourselves.

You can see this as communities across the United States actively attempt to remake and remap human nature. Transhumanists are attempting to radicalize cryogenics and reverse aging. “Intentional polyamorists” and “relationship anarchists” subvert “toxic monogamy culture.” They’re seeking out blueprints to rewire our bodies, our minds and our social relationships – exploring new avenues of what it means to become our “best selves.”

It’s possible, as Sullivan does, to read these quests as doomed attempts to override what we can never overcome. Maybe they are. But the increasing prominence of these “new utopian” groups represents more than the collapse of traditional religion. It also tells us about the collapse of traditional notions of human frailty.

Fewer and fewer of us may believe in God or spirits. But now, more than ever, we’re willing to put our trust in the better angels of our own nature.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Local Paper) Berkeley County church fixes hundreds of homes, spreads Gospel through repair ministry

In Goose Creek, Carnes Crossroads is bringing 4,500 new homes to a community that also features coffee shops, an ice cream parlor and a pretzel store. In Moncks Corner, developers are planning a 250-unit subdivision on Stony Landing Road.

But several miles north in the county, in communities like Bonneau, St. Stephen and Alvin, many residents live in dilapidated trailers where rain trickles through cracked ceilings into living rooms.

Many homeowners choose between maintenance or paying the electric bill.

That’s when Hope Repair steps in.

For the past nine years, the ministry — operated by Pointe North Church in Moncks Corner — has repaired more than 600 Berkeley County homes for residents who couldn’t afford to repair cracked floors or holes in roofs.

“We believe we ought to spread the Gospel everywhere,” said David Ensor, an associate pastor at the church. “There is such a critical need to help our brothers and sisters in Berkeley County. Especially when you get to the upper part of the county.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Stewardship

Thorneloe University appoints the Rev. Canon Dr. John Gibaut as its Next President

A priest of the Diocese of Ottawa, Gibaut is well known in ecumenical circles, having served on national and international dialogues and commissions.

He has been a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada, the Faith and Witness Commission of the Canadian Council of Churches, the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

Gibaut earned a doctorate in theology from Trinity College, University of Toronto, and has honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from the Montreal Diocesan Theological College and Trinity College, Toronto. He has served as canon theologian of the Diocese of Ottawa.

He has lectured in the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College as well as academic institutions in Australia and the United States. He has an impressive list of publications and presentations to his credit, reflecting his deep and diverse perspectives on theology. He is a highly regarded scholar in the areas of ecumenism, liturgy, church history, historical theology and Anglican studies.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Canada, Ecumenical Relations, Education, Religion & Culture, Uncategorized