Worship

In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

New England's tough winter is starting to make headlines — on the religion beat.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

BOSTON (AP) -- Religious leaders in snowbound New England are beginning to ask themselves how on Earth their houses of worship will make ends meet after all these acts of God.
Churches, synagogues and mosques report attendance is down at services, as poorly timed winter storms have hit on or close to days of worship. And getting the faithful to come out is challenging, with limited parking and treacherously icy sidewalks plaguing the region.
For many places of worship, that has meant donations are drying up just as costs for snow removal, heating and maintenances are soaring.
"You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs," says Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England.

The AP lede's emphasis on "churches, synagogues and mosques" drew this response from Ira Rifkin, one of my fellow GetReligionistas:

Hmmm ... just the big three, once again. I believe the Boston area has more Buddhist centers than any other city in the nation (needs fact checking). But even if not, it's just the big three. America's more diverse than that.

Interesting point, and honestly, not one that would have struck me on my own. Alas, Massachusetts does have more Buddhists than Muslims, according to a 2010 demographic report by the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Still, give AP credit for a timely, enterprising religion angle on the weather.

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Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

EDITOR'S NOTE: Veteran religion-beat reporter Julia Duin – now a journalism professor who is active writing books and in magazine journalism – is joining us here at GetReligion. She will focus her work on the American West, which is her home territory. Make her welcome, please. -- Terry Mattingly.

*****

You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.

While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication. 

I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich. 

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Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

This week's "Crossroads" podcast focuses on the Frankenstein question in American public life that has left journalists shaking their heads and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"

I am referring, of course, to the whole Gov. Scott Walker and the "Is President Barack Obama a Christian?" thing. Then that media storm -- click here for my previous post -- led into the silly "Does Scott Walker really think that he talks with God?" episode.

Then again, am I alone in thinking that some rather cynical political reporters are creating these monsters and trying to keep them alive? Whatever. I remain convinced that Obama is what he says he is: A liberal Christian who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism.

Anyway, host Todd Wilken and I ended up spending most of our time talking about the subject that I am convinced is looming behind the whole "Is Obama a Christian" phenomenon, especially this latest flap with Walker. Click here to listen in on the discussion.

Believe it or not, this brings us to a discussion of a question that quietly rumbled through the Southern Baptist blogosphere the other day: Forget the question of whether the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State should be declared as Christian martyrs? Were they actually Christians in the first place?"

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Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

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Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Wait, wait, wait. I am sure that I have read this news story before. This hot, sweaty New York Times news feature -- which just screams alternative spirituality at the top of its gray lungs -- sounds so familiar.

LOS ANGELES -- He is the yoga guru who built an empire on sweat and swagger. He has a stable of luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion. During trainings for hopeful yoga teachers, he paces a stage in a black Speedo and holds forth on life, sex and the transformative power of his brand of hot yoga. “I totally cure you,” he has told interviewers. “Whatever the problem you have.”
But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

Let's see, we have a story about a pseudo-guru whose teachings are handed on to this disciples, teachings (doctrines maybe) about sexuality (perhaps the word tantra is used), healing, spiritual transformation, philosophy, anatomy and the meaning of life.

Now there is trouble in paradise. Where have I heard this before?

Maybe it was back in 2012 in The Washington Post?

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Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

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What does it mean to ask: Is Islam a 'religion of peace'?

What does it mean to ask: Is Islam a 'religion of peace'?

DAVID ASKS:

Where is the Muslim peace movement? Put another way, if Islam is a peace-loving religion where are the Muslim voices for peace?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

“Islam is a religion that preaches peace,” U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS last September, and likewise President George W. Bush’s mosque speech after 9-11 said “Islam is peace.” Yet there’s continual violence committed in the name of Islam. Analysts are abuzz over a major article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood, who contends the bloodthirsty Islamic State Caliphate is thoroughly grounded in one understanding of end-times theology and “governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers.” Wood cites especially the research of Princeton University’s Bernard Haykel.

In this tangled discussion one point is obvious: This great world religion is embroiled in an increasingly dangerous internal conflict as an expanding faction of militant “Islamists” or “jihadis” works to abolish Muslim thinkers’ consensus across centuries about justifications for violence, the proper conduct of warfare, and who has the authority to decide such matters. John Esposito, a Georgetown University expert, calls it a “struggle for the soul of Islam.”

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Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Perhaps Gov. Scott Walker should have just said, "Who am I to judge?"

In a way, it appears that this may have been what he was trying to say, or at least that's one reading of his problematic remarks to The Washington Post.

Or perhaps he should have just said, "Of course Barack Obama is a Christian. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., confirmed that Obama was baptized in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago sometime during the early 1990s, although it doesn't appear that the church recorded the date. Some people think that it was in 1988, but no one is sure."

Republicans who are asked this gotcha question in the future will know that -- while the doctrinal specifics of Obama's faith remain a mystery, and he has never joined a church inside the DC Beltway -- this is a man who has testified, as follows:

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

As David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network candidly put it: "That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a conversion experience."

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New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

Before I get to a New York Times piece on efforts to counter Islamic State recruiting programs, let me respond to the many people who have sent me emails asking for my reaction to the massive piece in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood entitled "What ISIS Really Wants."

Well that piece is very long and very serious and, to be honest, I have not read all of it yet. I have been in a series of long meetings in New York City -- linked to my future work at The King's College as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion -- and I have not been able to give Wood's piece the attention that it deserves. I plan to buy a copy today and read in on the train back to Baltimore.

However, the thesis of the piece is clear in the online discussions that have surrounded it: Whatever the Islamic State is, it is a movement that is rooted in its own understanding of Islamic faith, practice and tradition. Thus, it is engaged in a bloody critique of other forms of Islam, as well as the modern and postmodern West. (Click here for a massive Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher post on Wood's piece, and others linked to it.)

Meanwhile, this same subject -- the debate INSIDE Islam about ISIS and its approach to the faith -- shows up in the very interesting A1 piece in the Times that ran under the headline "U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine."

This piece operates on two levels, with most of the content focusing on the ISIS process of "grooming" potential recruits online with attention and, later, even gifts. In this context "grooming," the story notes, is a term "more often used in relation to sexual predators."

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