Second Coming

Daily Beast shocker: The Rev. Mariano Rivera is (#EndOfTheWorld) a Pentecostal minister

Daily Beast shocker: The Rev. Mariano Rivera is (#EndOfTheWorld) a Pentecostal minister

There are few people in the sports world who are universally acknowledged as the Greatest Of All Time at what they do. However, the pros who cast Baseball Hall of Fame ballots made it clear — with a first-ever unanimous vote — who is the GOAT when it comes to cutting down opposing batters in the ninth inning.

That, of course, would be Mariano Rivera, the legendary closer for the New York Yankees.

That would also be the man known as the Rev. Mariano Rivera, the Pentecostal minister who renovated a 107-year-old church sanctuary in New Rochelle, N.Y., to become Refugio de Esperanza, or Refuge of Hope Church. While his wife — the Rev. Clara Rivera — serves as pastor, the former Yankee great is also ordained.

If you know anything about Rivera, you know that he has never been shy about discussing his faith (see this New York Daily News piece in 2011). His Hall of Fame acceptance speech was not a sermon, but it was full of references to Christian faith.

This is where things get tricky. Truth be told, Pentecostal Christians believe many things that would turn a lot of elite-market journalists into pillars of salt (it’s a biblical thing). Quite a few Pentecostal beliefs are considered unusual, even strange, by middle of the road Christians. And some forms of Pentecostalism are seen as more extreme than others. Oh, and “Pentecostalism” and “Evangelicalism” are not the same things.

Are you ready for the shocking part of this equation? Some Pentecostal beliefs have political implications. For example, a high percentage of Pentecostal people can accurately be called “Christian Zionists,” as that term is now defined. Many people think Christian Zionists back Israel for all of the wrong reasons.

By all means, there are valid news stories to report about these topics — if the goal is to understand the life and work of Mariano Rivera. The question, today, is whether an advocacy publication like The Daily Beast can handle this kind of nuanced religion-beat work, especially in the Donald Trump era.

You see, for editors at the Beast, Rivera’s religious faith is only important to the degree that it is political. That belief led to this headline: “Inside Baseball Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera’s Far-Right Politics.” Here is the crucial thesis material near the top of this advocacy piece:

For countless fans, Rivera is baseball royalty — an idol, worshipped for his on-field dominance, deadly mastery of a cut fastball, and pinpoint control.

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Generic evangelicals working hard to build bridges between Israel and Syrians

Generic evangelicals working hard to build bridges between Israel and Syrians

As I have mentioned before, it was 20 years ago -- last weekend was Pascha, the anniversary -- that my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

In terms of the complex map of Orthodoxy, we became part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, with its historic ties to Damascus. It's still based on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11). From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the families came -- one or two generations ago -- from Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. I pray every day for the protection of the church of Damascus.

Suffice it to say, the wider Mattingly family includes other people who know a whole lot about life in the modern Middle East. We will leave it at that.

If I have learned anything about that region it is this: When it comes to the Middle East, religious ties are very specific. It matters what kind of "Christians" you are talking about. It matters what branch or movement within Islam you're talking about. Secular or religious or Orthodox Jews? That matters. There's very little generic religion in the Middle East.

I bring this up because of an interesting, but in the end frustrating, USA Today report about American evangelicals -- they are not called missionaries -- who are doing some tricky work in Israel, while cooperating fully with the Israelis. The headline: "These evangelicals in Israel are on a mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrians." The overture says:

ALONG THE GOLAN HEIGHTS -- In the no-man’s land between Israel and Syria, an unlikely group of Americans toil at a makeshift clinic to care for ill and injured Syrians trapped in their country’s seven-year civil war.
For Don Tipton of Beverly Hills and his group of evangelical Christian do-gooders, their border perch is a divine mission. For the Israelis, Tipton and his group are part of a deliberate defense mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrian civilians.

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The big question: What does Christianity say happens to believers after death?

The big question: What does Christianity say happens to believers after death?

PAULA’S QUESTION:

When people say their loved one went to heaven, why doesn’t the preacher tell them that no-one goes straight to heaven? If they did, what would be the reason for the resurrection?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Christian doctrine says that after death a believer’s soul enters the presence of God in the blessedness of heaven, and then in the end times will be reunited with a transformed body. Christianity contrasts with Eastern religions’ belief in reincarnation, a long series of rebirths into varied conditions and biological species based upon performance in the prior life.

With typical Presbyterian precision, the Christian teaching is spelled out in the 17th Century Westminster Confession, accompanied by citations of 14 Bible texts:

“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption, but their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.” Then at “the last day ... all the dead shall be raised up with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.”

The modern-day Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the same: “In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection” at “the end of the world” when Christ returns.

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Were Paul, and Jesus himself, mistaken about when Second Coming would occur?

Were Paul, and Jesus himself, mistaken about when Second Coming would occur?

NORMAN’S QUESTION (summarized and paraphrased):

The New Testament letter of 1st Thessalonians regards the coming of the Kingdom as imminent. But don’t 2nd Thessalonians and later New Testament letters indicate the church was coming to terms with the fact that Paul (and Jesus himself) were mistaken about this?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Experts say the first of the two letters Paul, Silvanus and Timothy sent to friends in the Greek city of Thessalonika was the earliest New Testament book to be written, dated only a couple decades after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Both that letter and 2nd Thessalonians (which some few think might actually have been written before 1st Thessalonians) demonstrate that from the very beginning Christians looked forward to the return of Jesus as the culmination of history. After 20 centuries, expectation of the “Second Coming” or “Second Advent” or “Parousia” (Greek for “presence”) remains a central belief.

The Religion Guy consulted numerous resources on this complex terrain and relies especially on the late F.F. Bruce of England’s University of Manchester, a clear thinker and writer and, significantly, a major evangelical Protestant scholar. That movement has focused muich attention on the End Times for a century and more. Bruce wrote a commentary on the two Thessalonian letters, and treated related material in the Gospels in his classic “Hard Sayings of Jesus” (1983).

Norman has a point because of one pronoun in 1 Thessalonians 4:15: “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep” (that is, have died).

Though the three letter-writers did not expressly say so, Bruce wrote, their first person plural pronoun “we” indicates that in the first blush of newborn faith -- yes -- they thought they and their contemporaries might well still be alive when Jesus returned.

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Some background for Godbeat pros: What is Seventh-day Adventism?

Some background for Godbeat pros: What is Seventh-day Adventism?

RUSSELL’S QUESTION:

Since Donald Trump brought Ben Carson’s religion to the forefront, can you tell us more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Presidential candidate Trump contrasted his own “middle of the road” Presbyterian Church (USA) with Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist Church as a religion “I don’t know about.” That suggested the SDA denomination is not just lesser-known but on the cultural margins and possibly suspect.

This born-in-America faith is indeed distinctive. It’s also a notable success story (while Trump’s “mainline” church declines). SDA global membership reached a million in 1955, 92 years after the founding.

Today the Maryland-based church boasts 18.7 million followers, 94 percent of them outside North America. It gains a million adherents a year through immersion baptisms of youths and adults. It operates 7,579 schools and colleges with 1.8 million students, and 627 healthcare institutions, among the largest such global networks. Members’ tithing is a major emphasis -- and strength. The notably diverse U.S. contingent is 37 percent white.

Carson is, yes, loyally Adventist, though he says that he regrets that his church doesn’t ordain women. Trump’s taunt provoked an article by Utah newsman and adult convert Mark "former GetReligionista" Kellner. Carson is a famed brain surgeon, Kellner noted, but SDA ranks have also included the first surgeon to implant a baboon heart in an infant, the originator of “Tommy John surgery,” and the inventors of proton therapy for breast cancer.

The faith’s 19th Century founders were disciples of self-taught Bible teacher William Miller who believed Jesus Christ’s Second coming would occur on Oct. 22, 1844, a non-event called the “Great Disappointment.” The Adventist faction said Miller was correct that God restored his “sanctuary” in 1844, calculated from biblical Daniel 8:14 with “days” meaning “years.” But they decided Miller was mistaken that Daniel predicted an earthly event.

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Increased press scrutiny of Ben Carson will involve his Seventh-day Adventism

Increased press scrutiny of Ben Carson will involve his Seventh-day Adventism

Four polls in Iowa give candidate Ben Carson a solid lead over his rival Donald Trump. “The Hill” observed October 26 that this now raises “the possibility of Ben Carson becoming the Republican presidential nominee,” although he “has not yet faced real scrutiny.”

Inevitably,  scrutiny will include Carson’s well-known and devout affiliation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church,  a topic the New York Times just examined. There will be more, of course, if his numbers stay high.

Of course, Trump pulled that part of Carson's into the spotlight, telling a Florida rally, “I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

Challenged about questioning a candidate’s religion, Trump said he had nothing to apologize for because “all I said was I don’t know about it.” But of course his words contrasted his “middle of the road” mainline Protestantism with   a faith people don’t know about, slyly suggesting there’s reason for wariness and relegating Carson’s creed to the cultural margins.

Note that SDAs number 1.1 million in the U.S. plus Canada, compared with 1.7 million in Trump’s Presbyterian Church (USA).

Actually it was Carson who started the religion warfare in September, saying his own devout faith is “probably is a big differentiator” with Trump, and that if Trump is sincere, “I haven’t heard it. I haven’t seen it.” Unlike Trump, Carson later apologized.

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