Worship

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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Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Check out the byline on this Washington Post "Acts of Faith" analysis piece covering the long-expected Episcopal Church decision to approve same-sex marriage rites in its sanctuaries.

Well, actually, in some of its sanctuaries. Can you say "local option," as in a flashback to the early days of female priests? More on this angle in a moment, because this is a crucial element in this local, regional, national and global Anglican story.

The byline in question belongs to one George Conger, as in the Father George Conger who spent several years as the foreign-news analyst here at GetReligion and with the Global Media Project. The Post simply identifies him as a scribe who "reported on the Anglican/Episcopal world for almost 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in England, the United States and Australia. He also serves as an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida."

Now, that note states that this piece is a work of "analysis," which is appropriate, I think, since George has tons of experience in publications and websites -- like GetReligion -- that openly mix news and commentary. His work is followed closely by conservative Anglicans around the world. He is part of this story.

Ah. But here where things get interesting. Let's contrast Conger's "analysis" with the omnipresent hard-news report from the Associated Press. Which story actually gives more attention to the concerns and words of leaders on the ruling Episcopal Church left? In other words, which story provided the most hard-news balance and context?

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Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Journalists who took the time to dig into the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- all the way back into ancient times, as in the Clinton White House -- will have run into references to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

That case focused on this question: Did Native Americans -- in this case workers at a private drug rehabilitation group -- have the right to take peyote as part of a religious ritual linked to similar rites in their heritage dating back centuries? The conservative side of the court said "no," while liberals dissented and said the decision denied Native Americans the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

Justice Antonin Scalia famously said that this kind of religious liberty appeal would "open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

A nearly unanimous U.S. Congress begged to differ and passed RFRA, backed by a stunningly broad church-state coalition -- basically everyone from Pat Robertson to the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a law inspired by some strange and messy legal cases, but as my graduate-school mentor at Baylor University's Church-State Studies program used to say: Your religious liberty has been purchased for you by people with whom you might not want to have dinner.

In other words, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause is very powerful and, unless you are dealing with fraud, profit or a clear threat to life and health, courts are not supposed to mess with religious doctrines and practice, even when dealing with messy cases.

If you are following the news right now, you know where I am headed: Bill Levin and his First Church of Cannabis in Indiana.

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How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

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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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Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

You have to hand it to Al Jazeera America; they have the guts to send reporters to one of Pakistan's most backward districts to investigate one of the diciest topics you can bring up in polite conversation there: its draconian blasphemy law, the subject of a two-part package.

Published late last week, the first piece talks about the six years that have passed since Aasia Bibi, a Christian from the Punjab province, was thrown into prison. She is the only woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, and in spite of international appeals to release her, she’s essentially rotting there. When Al Jazeera sent a reporter to Aasia's hometown for an update, some of the interviewees were so hostile, she fled the area in fear for her life. A second piece, also based in Punjab, talks about the killing of a Christian couple last November by a mob that falsely claimed they were burning pages of the Quran. The headline brings up echoes of the American South by calling the murders “lynchings” although the couple in question were actually burned to death in a kiln.  It starts thus:

KOT RADHA KISHAN, Pakistan -- Walking through the quiet, empty streets of Chak 59, patrolled by stray dogs and the odd buffalo, one finds it difficult to tell whether the village is inhabited at all.
It is striking how silence can envelope a life, so as to all but erase it. Or, in this case, two lives: Shama and Shahzad Masih, a young Christian couple accused of blasphemy in this hamlet 31 miles from the big city of Lahore, but deep in the wilderness that dominates Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad (most Christians in Pakistan are known only by their first name) were killed by a mob, stirred up by false allegations that the couple had desecrated the Holy Quran, at the brick kiln where they lived and worked for the previous 18 years.
The mob first beat them with sticks and fists before dragging them to the kiln furnace to set them on fire. Witnesses say one or both of them were still alive as they burned.

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Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. 

Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern. 

Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write? 

As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks. 

But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.

The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:

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New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

What was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's ultimate goal in life? What drove him to do what he did?

One thing is clear, early on, in the recent New York Times news feature on the slain pastor of the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in the heart of Charleston, S.C. From the beginning, Pinckney was ambitious -- but saw his future through the lens of the church.

This figures into the simple, but touching, anecdote that opens the story. However, the story quickly takes this image and hides it behind a bigger vision -- Pinckney's work in politics showed that he was headed to "higher things."

Really now? Did the man himself see his calling in that way? Did he automatically assume that politics was a higher calling than the ordained ministry? Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

RIDGELAND, S.C. -- The morning worship had ended at St. John A.M.E. Church, and as Clementa Pinckney walked through the simple country sanctuary with its 10 rows of pews, he was startled to hear a disembodied voice. It was soft, almost whispery, and yet clearly audible. “Preach,” it said. “I have called you to preach the Gospel.”
He was only 13. But, in a story he often repeated, he discerned it to be the voice of God, and within months he stood before an audience of hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal pastors to present himself as a candidate for ministerial training. The bishop, the most powerful official in the state, asked what he hoped to become. The boy did not hesitate. “A humble bishop of the A.M.E. church,” he answered, with no hint of a smile.

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Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

BRAD’S QUESTION:

Why don’t Catholics have a problem with the graven images that surround them in church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Brad is obviously Protestant in his cultural outlook. That is, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches encourage religious art in church, seen as aids to devotion.

Protestants’ policies vary (as on most things!) but they broadly unite with Judaism in limiting visual images in worship settings to avoid any association with idolatry. Some Protestants prohibit all art in sanctuaries. Others allow abstractions and symbols but not human or animal forms. Some may depict Jesus Christ or saints, typically in stained glass, rarely in statues, and never as the objects of veneration. Further, some forbid flags in church to prevent idolatry toward the nation.

The discussion begins with this from the Bible’s venerable Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8 and summarized elsewhere, e.g. Leviticus 16:1). “Graven image” means a stature or carving, while “any likeness” covers any and all visual representations.

Jewish scholars say the ban applies to art only in worship contexts due to the “bow down” and “serve” phrasing along with the immediately preceding statement that “you shall have no other gods before me.”

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