Academia

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

For the past 20-plus years, the overwhelming majority of my students have come from schools that could, to one degree or another, accurately be described as part of "evangelical" Protestant life here in America.

Yes, there are quotes around the word "evangelical," not because the word is scary, but because many people, including journalists, are not sure what it means.

Early on, most of my students -- when asked what kind of church they attend -- would have described themselves as part of flocks that were "independent," "nondenominational" and "evangelical." A few would have added the word "charismatic." The common denominator, however, was the word "evangelical."

Then, about six or seven years ago, that totally changed. Oh, most of my students still come from schools that can be called "evangelical." Most grew up in "evangelical" churches and most still attend churches that can be called "evangelical" to one degree or another. However, many if not most students are now backing away from that word -- "evangelical."

The reason why is pretty obvious: "Evangelical" has become a political term in public discourse.

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The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

THE RELIGION GUY:

Nobody has yet posted a question about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon” or “LDS”) acknowledging delicate details about founding Prophet Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but The Guy decided he ought to examine the classic matter of how the Bible views polygamy.

Smith declared that God was simply using him to restore “plural marriage” (the church prefers that term to “polygamy”) that was divinely inspired in the Old Testament. A major interpretive question affects such Old Testament issues, including slavery.

Did God command, or commend, a practice, or did he merely avoid punishing what humans were doing on their own? If the Bible recounts an action without tacking on moralistic criticism, does that signal divine endorsement, or only recording of facts that may be problematic?

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Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with a complicated topic.   

The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon" reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a 16th Century warlord who converted to Christianity. 

Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why -- and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.

The article opens:

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Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

When your family is full of Baylor University graduates, there is a very good chance that someone is going to send you a link to an A1 piece in The New York Times about the president of the school that many refer to as "Jerusalem on the Brazos."

Baylor's current president is one Kenneth W. Starr, a name familiar to people here in DC Beltway-land and a name that may show up in Google searches more often as Hillary Clinton makes a run at (returning to) the White House. Yes, there is a religion ghost in this fine story about Starr.

This particular story focuses on Starr's role in current NCAA debates about the amateur status of the athletes whose skills bring millions of dollars into the bank accounts of American colleges and universities. I love the fine details and close connections in this summary passage near the top of the story:

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Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

It's interesting -- "ironic" may be a better word -- how many people sent me emails asking if I saw the New York Times "Beliefs" column this week focusing on the work of Marvin Olasky and World magazine, the one with the headline: "A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians."

"Ironic"? We'll get to that.

Columnist Mark Oppenheimer later noted, on Twitter, that many readers didn't seem to realize that the word "muckraking" is -- among real journalists -- a word that can be used as a compliment. That was the point of his column, in a word.

Before we go further, please understand that Olasky is I friend of mine, yet a friend with whom I have enjoyed many years of debates over very important questions about faith and journalism. You could not ask for a more interesting man with whom to have a meaningful and productive argument.

It is very old hat that many people on the political and religious left (liberal evangelicals, in particular) really, really, do not like Olasky's brand of advocacy journalism, which is interesting since he is a convert to Calvinist Christianity who was once a Jewish atheist and a member of the Communist Party. Oppenheimer focused -- note the headline -- on the fact that Olasky also gets under the skins of many people on the political and religious right because he is not a PR man for the Republican establishment. Ditto for the evangelical establishment, come to think of it. The typical World issue contains few, if any, ads from evangelical book publishers.

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Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

It's an experience that most journalists have had, at one time or another. You have just interviewed someone who is really interesting and, perhaps, an important leader in their field. The interview eventually turns into a conversation, usually about the topics linked to the topic being discussed or the details of the person's work.

I had several chances -- over the space of a decade or two -- to talk to the late pollster George Gallup, Jr. It is not surprising that he enjoyed talking about trends in American religion. Me too. He enjoyed talking about interesting questions linked to religious issues. Me too.

This brings us, of course, to the "tmatt trio" -- the three basic doctrinal questions I have long used to probe fault lines among Christian leaders and their followers. The goal is to ask the questions and then listen to the content of the answers, which are almost always highly nuanced and are often revealing.

Gallup and I discussed these questions on several occasions.

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Heavens above! Doing a good job of covering a British religion survey

Heavens above! Doing a good job of covering a British religion survey

Reporting on religion surveys can be a perilous business, but journalist Jonathan Wynne-Jones shows how the job can be done well.

His article in The Independent titled “Two per cent of Anglican priests don't believe in God, survey finds” invites the reader into the story with a catchy lede, yet it offers a sober and balanced interpretation of the results.

Some expecting a story bashing the Church of England might cry foul, and claim Wynne-Jones was engaging in a bait and switch -- offering a story that appeared to confirm the pottiness of the local vicar. But he reports the situation has improved -- that the Church of England clergy are becoming more robust in their faith, not less.

The story opens with a strong rhetorical flourish:

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A biblical oldie, but goodie: So who was Cain's wife?

A biblical oldie, but goodie: So who was Cain's wife?

LIBBY ASKS:

If human origins began with one couple, Adam and Eve, how did Cain find a wife?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

The famous biblical story of Cain, history’s first murderer, includes this old Bible head-scratcher about who his wife could have been. Genesis 4 tells of Cain’s birth, agricultural vocation, rivalry and killing of his younger brother Abel. God curses Cain to wanderings and hard toil in the fields, yet mercifully grants a mysterious “mark” for protection against those who might want to kill him. Cain enters exile “in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Only then do we learn that Cain is married (verse 17). John Calvin’s classic commentary from 1554 thought the context indicates Cain married in Eden, though others say a wife from Nod is possible.

In the strictly literal reading, after Abel died there would have been only three true human beings, Adam, Eve, and Cain. So, skeptics demand, who was the wife? 

At the 1925 “Scopes Trial,” pro-evolution lawyer Clarence Darrow used the wife to ridicule his opponent William Jennings Bryan as he quizzed him about Bible details on the witness stand. (Darrow: “Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?” Bryan: “No, sir. I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.”) Similarly, scientist Carl Sagan’s novel and movie “Contact” employed Cain’s wife to undermine conservative belief in the Bible.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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