Lutherans

Mustachioed villain attacks brave theologian -- at least in St. Louis Dispatch story

Mustachioed villain attacks brave theologian -- at least in St. Louis Dispatch story

Remember the classic old-timey movie villain, twirling his mustache while laughing "Nyah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa"? Did you know he's Lutheran?

Well, no, he's not, as far as I know. That's just kinda the way Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, comes off in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Right in the first two paragraphs, we get this:

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod recently carried out what various members consider the equivalent of a modern-day heresy trial.
The Kirkwood-based church has 2.3 million members. The case pits two-term synod President Matthew Harrison — who is known for his bushy mustache and conservative views — against Matthew Becker, an outspoken pastor.

Hmmm. Maybe a little Grand Inquisitor there, too, judging by the "heresy trial" phrase.

Becker is a theology professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, a Lutheran school that isn't affiliated with LCMS. He has criticized the synod's teachings about creationism and women's ordination. In the latter, he even compared male-only ordination to slavery and racism, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Harrison also scolded Becker for his part in an interfaith vigil after the student shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a violation of the LCMS constitution, the newspaper adds.

But there's more. In a Facebook post -- which is linked in the newspaper story -- Harrison also accuses Becker of advocating homosexuality, the errancy of the Bible and communion with members of other faiths. Several panels investigated, then cleared Becker, the article says.

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Did NPR shortchange the religious left during its Obergefell coverage? Uh, yes

Did NPR shortchange the religious left during its Obergefell coverage? Uh, yes

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with a reader, someone with a long history of reading my "On Religion" syndicated column (my column has run in The Knoxville News Sentinel for 26-plus years) and now this blog.

To be blunt, this person (Catholic, by the way) was a bit upset about my recent column that went out on the wires with this suggested headline: "Triumphant day for the Episcopal Church establishment." In particular, this reader was upset that -- in lengthy quotations -- I let the openly gay, noncelibate retired Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire essentially do a victory dance celebrating (a) the 5-4 Obergefell decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court backed same-sex marriage and (b) the Episcopal Church's decision to proceed with same-sex marriage rites in its churches.

Why did I do this in my column? I responded: Because that was the essence of the story. Robinson and the Episcopal left won and, for readers to understand that victory, they needed to know what that meant to one of the symbolic figures in that long and painful drama.

I bring this up because several readers have asked your GetReligionistas what we thought of the recent commentary at National Public Radio on a related issue, one that ran under this headline, "Ombudsman Mailbag: On Staffing, Missing Information, And Religious Viewpoints." Settling up the crucial discussion, Elizabeth Jensen wrote:

I've heard from some Christians who feel NPR's coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage left the impression that all Christians oppose it. There's quite a bit of social media chatter on this, as well.

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Retired Playboy editor gets airbrushed treatment in newspaper profile

Retired Playboy editor gets airbrushed treatment in newspaper profile

Ever wonder about the morality or spirituality of a Playboy editor? Well, when you read a newspaper profile on one of them, you'll still be left wondering.

The Sunday feature, in the Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune, drops a hint or two in telling of Gretchen Edgren, who worked as an editor for 25 years in the Playboy empire. She's a "churchgoing mother of two." Now living in retirement in Holmes Beach, she was "brought up in a religious but open-minded household" in Oregon. But aside from those glancing blows, the article pretty much rambles for 800+ words.

The hook is apparently that this calm, silver-haired lady once edited a magazine and several books for Hugh Hefner's libertine realm. As a further paradox, although she's on nickname terms with "Hef," she never even visited his Playboy Mansion.

The Herald-Tribune takes pains to say that Edgren was a "serious journalist" whose first gig was at the The Oregonian before becoming an assistant editor for VIP, the magazine for Playboy Club members. She then edited annual collections of Playmates and a 40-year retrospect of the flagship magazine.

How did she regard the focus of her trade -- which one of her annual projects celebrated as The Year in Sex? No problem, says the Herald-Tribune, but it doesn't really say why:

“I considered myself a feminist, but the whole feminist thing about 'Playboy' exploiting women wasn't right,” says Edgren, whose first job was as a reporter for The Oregonian. “Women were not being rounded up and forced to pose. They were lining up at the door, and for a lot of reasons.”

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Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

  Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.

Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from  Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within  dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.

Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."

Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects.

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Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Lord have mercy. I have spent the past three days moving from Baltimore to the hills of Tennessee and, while no one can unplug completely from news in the age of smart phones, I have been packing in a house with no WiFi, at the wheel of a car and finally unpacking in a house with no WiFi. I have been as unplugged as I have been in ages.

So, first, a word of thanksgiving to the other GetReligionistas for carrying on during two amazing days of religion news at the national and global levels. And much of my personal email, of course, has come from friends and colleagues concerned, and praying, about the vision of heaven and hell that unfolded in that Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Of course I have questions and, yes, the word "theodicy" in relevant.

Most of my questions concern the actual content of that Bible study, the hymns, Bible talk, prayers and fellowship that, briefly, made Dylann Roof think twice about his mass-murder "mission." What was the religious content of this nearly one-hour gathering? At the very least, what was the Bible passage or passages they were studying? Wouldn't that add context and details to his stunning drama?

it's clear that the press, so far, has been -- understandably -- locked in on the basic, human details of this scene, with hints of spirituality. The top of a new Washington Post story shows this approach, starting with the Bible study itself -- in vague terms -- and its leader, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney:

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500 years later, how do Protestants and Catholics view each other?

500 years later, how do Protestants and Catholics view each other?

GORDON’S QUESTION:

Is the divide between Protestants and Catholics growing or shrinking?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Will Pope Francis Break the Church?” 

The Atlantic attached that overwrought headline to a sober analysis of internal Catholic tensions written by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

No, Francis won’t, despite weighty issues the article surveyed. But a dramatic “break” did actually happen, beginning in 1517 when Martin Luther posted what history calls the “95 Theses.” The German Catholic priest protested sales of indulgences to help the pope build St. Peter’s Basilica “with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” (Text here.)

Thus began the Protestant Reformation, which quickly raised many other church issues, defied the papacy, split European Christendom, changed the course of civil society and government — and echoes loudly to the present day.

The big 500th anniversary upcoming in 2017 will feature academic confabs and many other observances. The Religion Guy has already received a glossy brochure mailed by the German tourist agency titled “Luther 2017: 500 Years Since the Reformation.” A subhead reads “In the beginning was the Word.”

Indeed, Luther’s Bible translation shaped the modern German language and inspired many other popular translations that supplanted Catholicism’s authorized Latin version. Sadly, Luther’s own devotion to the Bible and its teachings has a diminishing hold on the nominal Protestants of his homeland.

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NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast the results of their recent road trip through North Dakota, one of a decreasing number of states (currently at 13) with laws opposing same-sex marriage. (Many more states had them, but courts have struck them down). In interviews around the southeastern corner of the state, reporters talked with people who were pro and con on homosexual marriage.

NPR pitched this series as “People thinking out loud about gay rights and same sex marriage.” In other places on their web site, they said it was about “religion and gay rights in North Dakota.”

In their intro, NPR quoted a Gallup poll as saying North Dakota is the ‘least gay’ state in the country at 1.7 percent of the population identifying themselves as homosexual. Washington, DC, by the way, was the ‘most gay’ in terms of people who self-identify as such at 10 percent.

The series explains itself as follows:

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What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What are the major Christian denominations in the U.S.?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers.

The Pew Research Center snagged some headlines April 2 with projections on world religions as of 2050 that are worth pondering. Among other things, we’re told high birth rates will make world Islam almost as large as Christianity, India will surpass Indonesia as the nation with the biggest Muslim population, Muslims will constitute 10 percent of Europeans, and will surpass the number of religious Jews in the U.S.

Rachael’s question brings us back to the present day, to just the United States, and to Christians only. This has long been an easy topic thanks to the National Council of Churches and its predecessor, the Federal Council, which since 1916 issued yearbooks stuffed with statistics and other information. These annuals became more vital after 1936 when the U.S. Census stopped gathering data from religious groups.  Unfortunately, the N.C.C. hasn’t managed to issue its “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” since 2012 due to shrinking staff, budget, and program, and has no firm plans for any future editions. Any volunteers out there to produce this all-important reference work?

Some data were outdated or rough estimates, but it’s what we’ve had and, on the whole, reasonably representative. Here were  “inclusive” memberships for U.S. groups reporting at least 2 million members in that latest and perhaps last yearbook from 2012:

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How will its doctrinal shift on gay marriage affect the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

How will its doctrinal shift on gay marriage affect the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

DUANE’S QUESTION:

What do you think will happen to the Presbyterian Church (USA) now that it has voted to officially sanction gay marriage?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Maybe not much.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) announced March 17 that a nationwide referendum among regional bodies (“presbyteries”) has redefined marriage as “between two people, traditionally a man and woman” so same-sex couples can wed in church. This historic change will be very upsetting for a sizable minority but eruptions could be muted, for three reasons.

* First, some who consider Bible-based tradition a make-or-break conscience matter have already quit the PC(USA).

* Second, conservatives who remain risk loss of their properties if they leave.

* Dissenting clergy and congregations are told they won’t be forced to change their stand or conduct gay nuptials.

But Carmen LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, is wary.

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