October 20th, 2014
02:50 PM ET
(CNN) - As Catholic bishops in Rome began a major meeting on modern family life two weeks ago, Pope Francis encouraged them to speak candidly and "without timidness."
He certainly got what he asked for.
Bishops bickered. Conservatives contemplated conspiracy theories. Liberals lamented their colleagues' rigidity.
Through it all, the Pope stayed silent.
Even when a report emerged from the bishops' meeting that welcomed gays and lesbians in strikingly open terms, Francis didn't say a word.
By the midpoint of the meeting - officially called the Synod of the Bishops on Pastoral Challenges to the Family - conservatives were complaining that Francis had "done a lot of harm" by not making his own views known.
But if Francis had spoken, it would have shut down the very debate he wanted to spark, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a close ally of the Pope's, told reporters.
"Roma locuta, causa finita," Ravasi said. That's Latin for, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed." (The Pope is the bishop of Rome.)
Finally, as the meeting closed on Saturday afternoon, the Pope addressed the nearly 200 bishops he had summoned to Rome.
In a widely praised speech, he told them the church must find a middle path between showing mercy toward people on the margins and holding tight to church teachings.
What's more, he said, church leaders still have a year to find "concrete solutions" to the problems plaguing modern families - from war and poverty to hostility toward nontraditional unions. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for next October in Rome.
All of this may raise a few questions in people's minds. If the Pope is the head of the church, why can't he just make changes on his own? Why are so many Catholics resistant to revising church teaching? And what does all of this have to do with Jesus?
Here are some things to keep in mind.
October 15th, 2014
04:33 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Less than a year ago, Mark Driscoll, an evangelical pastor, was flying high.
His hometown Seattle Seahawks were in the Super Bowl, and the brash pastor scored a big, faith-fueled interview with five of the team's top players, including quarterback Russell Wilson.
But in a remarkably fast fall from grace, Driscoll resigned Tuesday as pastor of Mars Hill Church, a congregation he founded 18 years ago and turned into a force in the mostly secular Pacific Northwest.
In a statement, Mars Hills' board of overseers said Driscoll hadn't committed any acts of "immorality, illegality or heresy" - sins that have felled many a powerful pastor.
Instead, the board said, Driscoll is guilty of "arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner."
Driscoll was not asked to leave, the board added, saying they were "surprised" to receive his resignation letter.
October 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET
Opinion by Lisa Sharon Harper, Special to CNN
Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) – It seems every few months for the past few decades we witness fresh protests to push a prosecutor to indict the killer of a black man – especially if that killer is white.
In fact, these protests have become commonplace, even expected, as if protesters are stock characters in a national theatrical classic, revived in cities across the country every year.
When Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, it looked like Ferguson, Missouri, was going to serve as just one more stop on the national tour of this classic drama. But it didn’t.
We have seen the officer, security guard or vigilante assailant – protected from arrest and whisked out of the reach of the angry black people. We have seen indictments await grand jury approval. We have seen prosecutors bungle trials.
But when was the last time we saw the local police department turn on the crowd with the militarized force and vitriol demonstrated by Ferguson’s finest?
When was the last time that we saw a prosecutor and governor play political games to avoid a recusal?
October 14th, 2014
12:46 PM ET
Rome (CNN) - Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.
In a report Monday, the Vatican had said that gays and lesbians have "gifts to offer" the Christian community and acknowledged that same-sex couples can give "precious support" to one other.
The statement, an interim report from a closely watched meeting of Catholic clergy here, was widely praised by liberals. It is believed to be the first time the Vatican has said anything positive about gay relationships.
One longtime Vatican journalist called the statement a "pastoral earthquake."
But many conservatives complained that the statement watered down church teaching and did not accurately reflect their discussions here, where nearly 200 Catholic leaders are meeting to debate pastoral approaches to modern family life.FULL STORY
October 13th, 2014
03:07 PM ET
Opinion by Francis DeBernardo, special to CNN
(CNN) – I could hardly believe what I was reading as I saw the news Monday morning that Catholic clergy meeting in Rome said gay and lesbian people should be welcomed into the church more warmly.
After decades of hearing messages from high church officials that lesbian and gay people were a threat to humanity and a danger to children, I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure that I was reading this new, more positive language correctly.
Was this really coming from the Catholic Church?
Most significantly, the document calls on Catholic communities to be “accepting and valuing” of lesbian and gay people's sexual orientation, and to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.'”
Quite simply, this is a total reversal of earlier church statements that labelled such an orientation as "objectively disordered," and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons.
The new language recognizes for the first time the reality that I have witnessed in more than 20 years of ministry with lesbian and gay Catholics: “they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home.” FULL POST
October 13th, 2014
11:09 AM ET
By Delia Gallagher, CNN
ROME (CNN) – Using strikingly open language, a new Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
At a press conference on Monday to present the report, Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said Catholic clergy meeting here have largely focused on the impact of poverty, war and immigration on families.
But the newly proposed language on gays and civil marriages represents a “pastoral earthquake,” said one veteran Vatican journalist.
“Regarding homosexuals, it went so far as to pose the question whether the church could accept and value their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine,” said John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.
The Rev. James Martin, an author and Jesuit priest, called the report's language on gays and lesbians "revolutionary."
“This is a stunning change in the way that the Catholic Church speaks about gay people.”
"The synod said that gay people have 'gifts and talents to offer the Christian community.' This is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable," Martin added.
October 10th, 2014
12:03 PM ET
By Sara Grossman, Special to CNNFollow @saragrossman
(CNN) – On Sunday, pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in California stood before his congregation of more than 2,000 and told them he would be making an unusual announcement.
The pastor proceeded to warn his audience against voting for a candidate in the upcoming midterm elections who supports gay marriage and abortion, even if that candidate, Carl DeMaio, is a Republican.
Garlow, an outspoken evangelical who played a major role in organizing Christian groups in support of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, spoke plainly: He would not be supporting the Republican in this race.
“I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation,” he preached. “One will win, and one will lose.”
Instead, Garlow told his followers he would be endorsing DeMaio’s rival, Democratic incumbent Scott Peters, representative for California’s 52nd District, to send a scathing message to Republican leadership that candidates who back abortion and gay rights are unacceptable to the party’s Christian base.
Garlow is one of a growing number of Americans who say that religion should play a greater role in politics, according to the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Forum's Religion & Public Life Project.
The study found that almost three-quarters of the American public — 72% — believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years.
And many Americans say that trend is a bad thing, the study found.
“A growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics,” the Pew study authors write.
What kind of role?
October 6th, 2014
05:25 PM ET
Opinion by Emily Hardman, special to CNN
(CNN) – I’m not a Muslim. I’ve never been imprisoned. And I don’t want to grow a beard. But I’m defending the rights of someone who is and does.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Holt v. Hobbs, a landmark case cutting to the heart of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
At issue is whether refusing to allow a prisoner to peacefully practice his religion violates a federal civil rights law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, known as RLUIPA .
In this case, Abdul Muhammad (formerly named Gregory Holt) is an Arkansas inmate who wants to observe the Muslim command to grow a beard, in his case a half-inch in length.
Arkansas already allows inmates to grow beards for medical reasons and Muhammad’s beard would be permissible in 43 state and federal prison systems across the country.
The remaining outliers, including Arkansas, attempt to justify their bans in the name of security. However, Arkansas has not identified a single confirmed security problems resulting from beards.
October 3rd, 2014
12:04 PM ET
By Delia Gallagher, CNN
Rome (CNN) – More than 200 Catholic bishops, priests and laypeople from around the world gathered in Rome this weekend to begin discussing Catholic teachings on a range of hot-button topics, from contraception and same-sex unions to polygamy and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
The issues, which the Vatican places under the heading of “pastoral challenges of the family,” were chosen based on the results of a worldwide survey of Catholics in 2013.
Pope Francis called the meeting, known as a synod, to address modern issues facing families today – a topic that he has made a priority since the beginning of his pontificate.
The Catholic Church, the Pope has said, must make sure “it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people.”
In his short time as Pope, Francis has reached out to those who previously might have felt shunned by the church because of their family circumstances.
October 2nd, 2014
10:15 AM ET
Editor’s note: Jill Strasburg is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a wife and a writer who muses on life, love and faith in her blog The Strasburg Family. The upcoming episode of "This is Life With Lisa Ling" explores the scourge of prescription drug abuse in Utah and within its Mormon community at10 p.m. ET/PT Sunday on CNN.
Opinion By Jill Strasburg, special to CNN
(CNN) – I became deathly ill two months into my marriage and during my long recovery, I could barely eat or drink. I certainly couldn’t do daily chores around the house, and I would stay in my pajamas throughout most days.
During this time, something remarkable happened: Women from my congregation whom I had never met began showing up at my house.
I was new to the area, had just joined the local Mormon church, and here were these women at my house with a gift, a meal for my husband, a smile, a hug and a sympathetic ear. They expected nothing in return. I could feel the love they had for me as it radiated from them.
That wasn’t the only thing I felt though.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.