Baptists

Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s April hearing and June ruling on same-sex marriage will be historic for the nation’s religions as well as for partisan politics, law, and society. There’s sharp division in this case among faith groups, and sometimes within them, so reporters will want to carefully monitor the inflow of religious and moral arguments as “friend of the court” briefs are filed in coming weeks.

The court defines two issues: Does the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause require that all states issue same-sex marriage licenses? Does the same clause require that a state recognize all marriages lawfully licensed by other states?

An implicit issue: whether judges or state legislatures and voters have power over contested social policies.

Religious proponents of marriage change are confident of Supreme Court victory and likely to file briefs. They include liberal Jews, Unitarian Universalists, and the Metropolitan Community Churches (whose primary ministry is with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered), along with organizations of atheists and humanists.  Defending traditional marriage  are the the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, evangelical and conservative Protestants, some African-American Protestants, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

But what about the so-called “Mainline” Protestants who’ve lately been shifting -- especially at the level of pulpits and church boards -- in favor of gay couples?

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How can this seeker manage to find the 'right church' in this day and age?

How can this seeker manage to find the 'right church' in this day and age?

KEVIN ASKS:

I have been struggling for some time now searching for the right church for myself and family. . . . Please help me sort my understanding of truth and find a place to congregate and worship. I feel as though I have been absent too long.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This request characterizes the church-shopping by many would-be returnees and is worth some attention. Kevin says family members share his ideas as discussed below. The Religion Guy e-mailed for further information but Kevin didn’t respond, so the following combines his original posting with some guesswork.

The family is obviously Protestant in sensibility, and one point greatly helps the process of elimination. Though Kevin has “strayed” from a Baptist boyhood he still believes children who “don’t understand both good and evil” should not be baptized, and that the ceremony is “a symbol only, as a public display of your choice to accept salvation.” So he needs a baptistic kind of church, whether or not it carries a “Baptist” label.

Further narrowing the field, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches mostly agree with Kevin about baptism but they’re out because, though he thinks speaking in tongues is “possible,” he dislikes “the way it is displayed today.” He didn’t mention any interest in African-American solidarity and culture so we’ll assume the National Baptist denominations wouldn’t be his preference.

Now, not this: The posting didn’t say whether he cares about a church’s “worship style,” socio-political involvements, or policy on U.S. Protestants’ troublesome gay issue.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Here is a question for reporters covering the big story down in Atlanta, where Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Rescue Department Chief Kevin Cochran after he published a book in which it appears that he affirmed centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine on sex and marriage.

There are several issues to examine in some of the main reports, but let's start with the headline in The New York Times: "Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views."

This raises a crucial question linked to the labeling of religious believers in this day and age. For example: Is Pope Francis "antigay"? This is, of course, the leader of a church that affirms, in its most bulletproof volume of doctrine:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. ... Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Is that statement officially "antigay," which would make those who affirm the Catechism officially "antigay"? Ditto for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who embrace traditional, orthodox versions of their faiths.

In other words, at the level of headlines, when are believers being "anti" one thing, as opposed to being "pro" something else?

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RNS on Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and a Los Angeles tent revival that changed history

RNS on Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and a Los Angeles tent revival that changed history

It's a question I have heard outsiders ask quite a few times during my 40 years or so in the news business: How do journalists produce those long, deep feature obituaries so quickly after the death of a major newsmaker?

The answer, of course, is that these lengthy obituaries are written far in advance and then quickly updated when the subject of the profile passes away. This puts reporters in an awkward position, since they often need to call experts and insiders for comment on the meaning of a famous person's life and work, even though this person is still alive.

So when do journalists start producing this kind of feature package? Basically, the more famous the person the earlier newsroom prepare for their deaths. I am sure that The Los Angeles Times already had something ready when superstar Robin Williams died, because of his stature and his history of struggles with drugs and depression.

All of this is to say that major newsrooms have had obituary features ready about the Rev. Billy Graham since -- oh -- 1955 or so. I know that I worked on some Graham obit materials for The Rocky Mountain News (RIP) back in the 1980s. I have known, for several decades, the basic outline of the "On Religion" column I plan to write about his legacy.

You can hear the ticking of this clock in a new Religion News Service feature written by Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman, which focuses on the 1949 event when Graham's path cross that of another major figure who is currently in the news -- Louis Zamperini.

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Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Veterans on the religion beat know that there are Baptists, Baptists, Baptists and then there are other kinds of Baptists.

There are Southern BaptistsAmerican Baptists, several kinds of National Baptists (not to be confused with the Progressive National Baptists), Free Will BaptistsReformed (Calvinist) Baptists, various Conservative BaptistsPrimitive BaptistsCooperative Baptists and legions of others. Then, of course, there a kazillion totally independent Baptist congregations with no ties that bind them to anyone.

So the Rev. Pat Robertson, last time I checked, is a Baptist and so is the Rev. Bill Moyers. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist, as is the Rev. Billy Graham. Former President Bill Clinton remains a Baptist and the same is true for former President Jimmy Carter, although he famously dropped his Southern Baptist ties.

What's my point? When journalists write about Baptists it helps to provide a bit of context. Take, for example, the very interesting Huffington Post story the other day that -- in the midst of #Ferguson shock waves -- ran under this headline: "Two Florida Churches Merge With Hope Of Bridging A Racial Divide." Here's the top of the report:

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Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Small but increasingly connected knots of conservative Christians are advocating a new approach to homosexuality, says a well-done feature from the Associated Press.

Well done, as in more than 10 quoted sources and nearly 1,400 words. Well done, as in talking to educators and institutional leaders, not just aggrieved activists. And well done, as in showing a variety of approaches to church leadership, and the variety of responses from gay activists.

The article, by veteran religion writer Rachel Zoll, is less confrontational than suggested by the headline: "Evangelicals with gay children speaking out against how churches treat their sons & daughters." You could get that impression if you stopped after the first four paragraphs. If you continued with the other 22 paragraphs, you'd get a different view.

It does start by retelling the case of a 12-year-old dying of a drug overdose when so-called "reparative therapy" failed to quell his gay impulses. But it adds some qualifiers, starting with the parents of the suicidal boy:

"Parents don't have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child," said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. "They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child."
It's not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.

The article shows a lot of research in piecing together the various trends and incidents related to gays and evangelicals. It does include the headliners like the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who won his case in a Methodist church court case. Also Alan Chambers, who closed his Exodus International and apologized for pushing reparative therapy, a psychological process that claims to cure homosexuality.

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Are they crazy? Despite Ebola threat, Texas missionary couple planning return to Sierra Leone

Are they crazy? Despite Ebola threat, Texas missionary couple planning return to Sierra Leone

The Ebola threat can't keep Tom and Becky Brockelman, a Baptist missionary couple from Texas, from returning to West Africa.

That was the theme of a fascinating Dallas Morning News feature over the weekend:

For months, Ebola had been a faraway worry, a concern but not a threat to the Brockelman family.
Then, one by one, relief workers started to leave Sierra Leone. Medical workers. Support staff. Other missionaries.
When Ebola finally landed near their home in a rural part of the Freetown peninsula, the Brockelmans decided it was time to return to Texas.
“We love Sierra Leone. It is our home,” Becky Brockelman said recently at her mother-in-law’s house in Sherman. “But as this thing began to spread, the rumors began to flare.”
The deadly Ebola virus was erupting throughout West Africa, with Sierra Leone and neighboring Liberia and Guinea the hardest hit. The disease was virtually uncontrolled and thousands of people were dying across the region. The meager medical centers were overwhelmed by the disease, and the Brockelmans realized they would have few options if they became ill.
The couple, Baptist missionaries, came back to Texas in early August with the Sierra Leonean boy they are adopting. They isolated themselves for 21 days, to ensure they had not contracted the deadly disease, and tried to wait out the epidemic.
But their hearts won out. Not even Ebola can keep them from their life’s work in West Africa.

But why?

Why do they feel such a strong calling to return to Sierra Leone? That was my question as I kept reading. 

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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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