ecumenicism

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

"The same God? That's for a school to say?"

That comment atop a Facebook post by my friend Jim Davis, a former GetReligion contributor, caught my attention.

Davis linked to a story from The Courier-News, an Elgin, Ill., hometown newspaper that is a part of the Chicago Tribune family. The story concerned a protest by some Christians over an assignment at a local public school.

The lede:

Dozens of people spoke out Monday against a homework assignment made at an Elgin-area U46 school in which it was asserted Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths all believe in the same God.
One month after the assignment was criticized by U46 school board member Jeanette Ward, people who identified themselves as part of the Christian community attended the school board meeting Monday to add their opposition.
Several people attacked the assignment, quoting Bible and Quran verses to support their argument that Christians do not follow the same God as Muslims. Some of those who spoke live outside the U46 boundaries, including one person who came from Florida.
"To say that Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same is simply absurd," said Art Ellingsen, a church pastor from Arlington Heights.

Last month, the same school board heard from religious leaders with a different perspective, as the newspaper noted then:

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US Catholics sort of hug ELCA: Why do liberal, oldline flocks always seem to make news?

US Catholics sort of hug ELCA: Why do liberal, oldline flocks always seem to make news?

If you walked the religion-news beat in the 1980s, and especially if you covered mainline Protestants and the Episcopal Church, then you probably knew Bishop William C. Frey.

At that time, he was the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and he eventually (a) was the symbolic evangelical/charismatic candidate to become U.S. presiding bishop, then (b) he became president and dean of the evangelical Anglican School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. He now lives in retirement near San Antonio, Texas, and -- it helps that he speaks fluent Spanish -- remains active in ministry in that region.

Among reporters (of all theological stripes), Frey was known as one of the most candid and, with his previous work in mainstream radio, sound-bite articulate figures on the national scene. His wit was legendary.

So what does this have to do with this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to listen) about that ecumenical document signed by U.S. Catholic leaders and the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? We are talking about the one that led to statements (see previous post here) that there were "are no longer church-dividing issues" between them.

Host Todd Wilken and I were curious as to why this document received so little attention in the mainstream press, since -- in the past -- this was precisely the kind of progressive, ecumenical event that drew banner headlines and then appeared in lists of the Top 10 religion-news stories of the year. Thus, we talked about why the oldline Protestant churches have always received so much attention and why, all of a sudden, that coverage may have faded.

This brings me to a classic Frey soundbite. Working on a column for the late, great Rocky Mountain News, I told the bishop about statements from several other local religious leaders who wanted to know why Colorado Episcopalians were always in the news. Some of them expressed what sounded like envy -- which made Frey laugh out loud.

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Was this big news or not? U.S. Catholics share a symbolic hug with the Lutheran left

Was this big news or not? U.S. Catholics share a symbolic hug with the Lutheran left

Long, long, ago -- back in the 1980s -- an evangelical Presbyterian pastor in the Denver area asked me an interesting question. It went something like this: If the old mainline Protestant churches are shrinking and losing power, why do they keep getting so much news coverage in the mainstream press?

I think he was talking about the Episcopal Church, but the conversation ended up being about all of the famed "Seven Sisters" of the oldline Protestant world. And who are the "Seven Sisters"? Historians and sociologists have grouped these flocks under that label -- the United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA); American Baptist Church; and the Disciples of Christ.

There are lots of reasons that these churches receive so much attention in the news, starting with the fact that for decades their leaders have spent large amounts of time debating issues that journalists think are important, such as sex, war, economic justice, race, gender and the environment. While doing so, they have consistently steered to the cultural, political and doctrinal left. For journalists, that's the very definition of news.

In my experience, most -- not all -- of the religious believers found in American newsrooms are liberal Protestants or progressive Catholics. Long ago, I put it this way:

Walk into a meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association and say, "The Lord be with you,'' and a large number of the reporters in the room will say, "And also with you.'' A few will say, "And with thy spirit.''

The "Seven Sisters" still make news, but their impact seems to be fading. If you want to see an example of this, consider the short, short, short recent Religion News Service piece with this headline: "US Lutherans approve document recognizing agreement with Catholic Church."

Then there is this rather earth-shaking lede:

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Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

First things first: Click play on the above YouTube. Now begin reading.

As you would expect, I have received quite a bit of email during the past 24 hours linked to my GetReligion post -- "What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq" -- about the mainstream media coverage of the stunning announcement of a Feb. 12 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church of All Russia.

As you would expect, much of the press coverage has stressed what this all means, from a Roman Catholic and Western perspective.

This is understandable, since there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and Francis is the brightest star in the religion-news firmament at the moment. People who know their history, however, know that this meeting is also rooted in the life and work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in a Polish Catholic culture that shares so much with the churches of the East, spiritually and culturally.

I updated my piece yesterday to point readers toward a fine Crux think piece by the omnipresent (yes, I'll keep using that word) John L. Allen, Jr. Let me do that once again. Read it all, please. Near the end, there is this interesting comment concerning Pope Francis:

... His foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.

This morning, my email contained another essay by a Catholic scribe that I stress is essential reading for those starting a research folder to prepare to cover the meeting in Havana. This is from Inside the Vatican and it is another eLetter from commentator Robert Moynihan.

This piece is simply packed with amazing details about events -- some completely overlooked by the mainstream media -- that have almost certainly, one after another, contributed to the logic of the Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill.

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Missing half of America's changing ecumenical landscape

A long, long, long time ago I covered a press conference featuring leaders of the various bodies linked to the Colorado Council of Churches. The key was that the organization — in support of an essentially liberal political cause of some kind — was claiming that it spoke for the vast majority of the state’s churches.

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