Academia

What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?

What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?

THE RELIGION GUY ASKS:

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, what’s ahead for religious believers in traditional man-and-woman marriage alone? (The Guy poses this timely topic now in place of the usual question posted by an online reader.)

THE ANSWER:

The historic June 26 legalization, by a one-vote majority of a deeply divided Supreme Court, demonstrates with stark clarity religion’s declining influence and stature in American culture.

The one aspect is obvious. Traditional marriage belief is firmly taught, with no immediate prospect of change, by the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, most other evangelical Protestants, many “historically black” Protestant churches, conservatives within “mainline” Protestant denominations, Eastern Orthodoxy, Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, Islam and others.

A massive 2014 Pew Research survey indicates those groups encompass the majority of Americans, something like 140 million adults.

Of course, not all parishioners agree with official doctrine or practice their faith. In a May poll by Pew, the 57 percent of all Americans supporting gay and lesbian marriages tracked closely with the 56 percent among those identifying as Catholic. That contrasted with only 41 percent of black Americans and 27 percent in the nation’s biggest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

The less-noticed aspect is the weakness of religions on the triumphant side, which generally followed the LGBT movement rather than exercising decisive leadership, unlike past church crusades that helped win independence from Britain, abolition of slavery, labor rights, child welfare, social safety nets, women’s vote, alcohol prohibition, civil rights laws, or withdrawal from Vietnam.

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

In a poignant New York Times Book Review piece, Leon Wieseltier said our hyper-networked culture creates journalism "in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability." And yet the Religion Guy insists that those covering our complex field must write on reflective, bookish themes, and thus passes along three tips that helped his career: obtaining a master's degree in religion (slogging through night classes while working full-time), trying to read a book per week, and investing in key reference works not available in newsrooms.
 
On the third point, note the valuable second edition of "The Jewish Study Bible" from Oxford University Press, which is about all you need to know given that publisher's reputation.

Why did a rewrite seem necessary a mere 10 years after the acclaimed first edition? The preface explains that Bible scholarship is "ever-changing." All 24 essays on Bible interpretation are new or revised, as are many annotations printed alongside the Jewish Publication Society's 1999 Bible text.
 
Chief editors Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) report that "Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship" with its "critical approaches" only really took off in the 1960s. They say even during this past decade Jews have become more sophisticated about "how the Bible came to be," the "many voices reflected (or suppressed)" in Scripture, and what later editors "imposed on" prior biblical materials.

The new edition shows journalists the ways liberal Protestant and secular thought is reshaping Judaism.

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Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Think of them as the three laws of spiritual physics when it comes to the demographics of faith. The bottom line is that religious groups thrive when:

* Believers have children.

* Believers pass their faith on to their children, the children retain that faith and some of these children even embrace vocations as clergy or workers with the faith.

* Believers reach out to others and spread the faith in service and evangelism.

As we like to say here at GetReligion: Demographics is destiny, and so is doctrine.

You could certainly see these factors at play in the recent "Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts"(.pdf copy here) conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The bottom line: Catholicism is on ice in Europe and on fire in Africa and Asia. You can read some of the details in my "On Religion" column this week, but here's the bottom line: It's hard for a faith to survive, let alone thrive, when it isn't producing children, clergy and new believers. Heed these thoughts from CARA's Mark Gray:

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Seeing patterns here? ISIS keeps smashing some priceless artifacts and selling others

Seeing patterns here? ISIS keeps smashing some priceless artifacts and selling others

The tragic bottom line these days is that it is rarely news when the Islamic State blows stuff up -- including priceless antiquities that predate the rise of Islam.

This fact of life has become business as usual, to the point that many mainstream journalists no longer feel the need to include material in their reports noting why this is taking place. This is tragic and, frankly, an affront to the vast majority of the world's Muslims. This is yet another classic case of journalists needing to cover the doctrinal details of what ISIS believes -- it's take on Islamic doctrine and history -- in order to let readers understand that this is not the only or even the mainstream Islamic point of view.

Once this hard work is done, journalists can move on to another topic looming in the background: Why do Islamic State radicals destroy some parts of the region's past, while allowing others to be sold off to collectors? In other words, does ISIS hate all parts of the ancient past equally?

The latest news is that this battle as moved to Egypt, with some militants there pledging allegiance to the ISIS caliphate. Does this have anything to do with Islam? The Washington Post simply does not want to go there:

CAIRO -- Militants with explosives battled Egyptian security forces outside the famed ancient Karnak temple in Luxor on Wednesday, injuring at least four people in an attempt to strike another blow on Egypt’s fragile tourism industry.

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Stay tuned: The New York Times probes sex debates and the quiet evangelical left

Stay tuned: The New York Times probes sex debates and the quiet evangelical left

One of the hot social-media stories right now, in the world of religion news, is the New York Times piece that ran under this headline: "Evangelicals Open Door to Debate on Gay Rights." Note, in particular, that the word used is "debate" rather than the omnipresent liberal Protestant word "dialogue."

There really isn't anything new in this story, for those who have covered the evangelical left for the past quarter century or so. The news is that this debate is now in The New York Times, the bible of our culture's principalities and powers (that be). Even though there is little news content here, this piece does offer a fascinating update on three issues that we have been discussing here at GetReligion ever since we opened our cyber-doors a decade ago.

I. The news media consistently show a lack of interest in covering the actual beliefs -- doctrinal, not political -- of believers on the religious left. The assumption seems to be that their views are so obviously correct that there is no need to cover the fine details or let leaders in these pews and pulpits discuss why they believe what they believe.

For example, it will be interesting to watch mainstream media coverage of the long-expected announcement by the Rev. Tony Campolo, one of America's best known evangelical progressives, that he -- in the words of the Baptist News Global report -- now "supports the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church." Reporters should also watch what is said, and not said, by those hailing Campolo's decision, such as retired Christianity Today editor David Neff. Again, it is crucial to look for what they are actually saying about Christian doctrine, not U.S. laws or public policy.

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Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Try to imagine the mayhem that would be created in the religion blogosphere if a major controversy hit the news that involved gay rights, Mormonism, atheism and (wait for it) the Latin Mass. I think you'd need to call in the online equivalent of the U.S. Marines to control it.

Everyone who covers religion news knows that the Latin Mass is a hot-button topic, a Maypole around which a number of other emotional Catholic issues dance. As the old saying goes: What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

So the folks at Crux just ran a massive on-site report about the recent Sacra Liturgia USA meeting. To say this is a colorful piece would be a great understatement.

This is, on one level, a classic example of the neo-National Geographic feature in which the tiniest details of life in an exotic tribe are placed under the microscope in order to contrast these folks with normal people. Yes, think trip to the zoo. In this case, "normal people" are the progressives in the post-Vatican II academic establishment and their journalism friends. Here's the view of one faithful GetReligion reader of the Crux feature:

In this article and the accompanying photos it seems to me as if Crux Now is treating this like they were reporting on and taking pictures at a zoo. "Oh, look! There's the scarlet Cardinal with flocks of admirers around him! Oh, and see over there? That's the white-hatted, red-breasted lionheart with an old-fashioned chasuble on!"

I can see some of that, in this coverage of the Cardinal Burke show. However, I was impressed with two elements of this story, which we will get to in a moment. There is one major wince moment at the very end for the suddenly old new Catholic left.

My problem with this piece?

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The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

JOHN’S QUESTION:

I understand there is currently a debate between orthodox and progressive theologians on the doctrine of the atonement. I always considered this a cornerstone of Christian theology. Can you encapsulate the arguments?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A tough one, and this mere journalist has long pondered how to reply. Tough because the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion stands right at the heart of the Christian faith -- indeed the cross is its universal symbol -- and so is vitally important, sensitive,  a highly complex concern of many great minds the past 2,000 years, and ultimately beyond human comprehension. But here’s a rough attempt at an answer.

Like many people, Christians see the reality of good and evil, believe this awareness tells us God is holy, seek to live morally, yet admit they fall short due to an inherent sinfulness in themselves and humanity in general. Theologians call this “original sin.” Finally, they believe  Jesus’ agonizing death by crucifixion somehow overcame humanity’s sin problem and offers salvation.

That belief originated with the Bible. Jesus himself said the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28), and that the Christ should suffer and “repentance and forgiveness should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

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