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October 15th, 2014
04:33 PM ET

Mark Driscoll, top megachurch pastor, resigns

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.

FULL STORY

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • evangelicals • Leaders

October 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET

Why I got arrested in Ferguson

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?

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Discrimination • Guns • Opinion • Prejudice • Protest • Race

October 13th, 2014
03:07 PM ET

A new welcome for gay Catholics in the church

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

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Opinion • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Pope John Paul II • Same-sex marriage • Virgin Mary

October 13th, 2014
11:09 AM ET

Vatican proposes 'stunning' shift on gays, lesbians

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.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Pope Francis • Same-sex marriage • Vatican

Study: Americans want more religion in politics
A growing number of Americans want closer ties between church and state, a poll found.
October 10th, 2014
12:03 PM ET

Study: Americans want more religion in politics

By Sara Grossman, Special to CNN

(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?

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church and state • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Houses of worship • Politics • Polls • United States

Why you should care about a Muslim inmate's beard
Abdul Muhammad (formerly named Gregory Holt) will have his case heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
October 6th, 2014
05:25 PM ET

Why you should care about a Muslim inmate's beard

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.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized

Confessions of a Mormon housewife
Jill Strasburg, here with her husband, Dave, blogs about her family, faith and the challenges and wonders of everyday life.
October 2nd, 2014
10:15 AM ET

Confessions of a Mormon housewife

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.

FULL POST


The irony of the Air Force's anti-atheist oath
Cadets take the oath of office during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET

The irony of the Air Force's anti-atheist oath

Opinion by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) – The Air Force has reversed course again and will allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase "so help me God” from its oath, the military branch said Wednesday.

“We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said.

Earlier, the Air Force said the unnamed airman would not be allowed to re-enlist unless he recited the entire oath, including the disputed "God" section.

It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily Christian Air Force, but this particular issue has ancient and somewhat surprising roots: In the early days of Christianity, it was Christians who refused to swear by powers they didn’t believe in.

The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force: Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff, which Wednesday's announcement seemed to solve.

"The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now," the Air Force said.

"Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so."

The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the fraught relationship between faith groups and military service.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Opinion • Prejudice • Religious liberty

September 16th, 2014
03:50 PM ET

Adrian Peterson and the false gospel of spanking

Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNN

(CNN) – There’s one detail about the Adrian Peterson child abuse charges that no one seems to be noting: his alleged crimes didn’t happen simply under the guise of “parenting” but rather “Christian parenting.”

But the NFL star's Christianity shouldn’t be missed or undervalued in the sharp debate about his actions. Those of us who grew up in conservative Christian churches know all too well the culture that shapes the parenting beliefs of people like Peterson.

Today, the most notable proponents of spanking are American evangelicals. They not only preach the gospel of corporal punishment, they also impart messages that lay the foundations for abuses against children and the protection of such abuse by our legal system.

We have books about spanking. Popular Christian talk shows promote the benefits of spanking. Pastors preach and theologize spanking. Organizations like Focus on the Family offer parents resources about how and when to spank.

The ties between Christianity and corporal punishment are so strong that a large number of conservative Christians parents simple deny studies that suggest spanking does more harm than good.

Now, I’m not saying that evangelical churches are to blame for what Peterson did to his son. But the church isn’t innocent in the matter, either.

Without the church, the popularity of spanking would have dwindled. Stricter laws would probably be in place to protect the rights and livelihoods of children. And people like Peterson would not feel as though he has a license to do whatever he wants to his child.

For decades, American evangelicals have fiercely fought any legal or cultural limits on parents’ “rights” to discipline their children.

As a result, American children are some of the least protected people in the world. They are often innocent pawns to the vile disciplinarian doctrine of folks like Michael and Debi Pearl, pro-spanking theologians who suggest that corporal punishment should begin when a child is only 6 months old.

But spanking theologies are not simply the teachings of Christian extremists.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Crime • Culture wars • Ethics • evangelicals • Opinion • Violence

September 16th, 2014
09:10 AM ET

Chinese Christians scramble to save cross

Wenzhou, China (CNN) - At a gray church on the outskirts of Wenzhou in eastern China, Christians from across the county keep a nervous watch.

Some stand behind the iron gate; others sit just inside the church door. For more than two months they've waited, preparing themselves to protect the cross on top of their church.

"If I have to, I am going to hold it in my arms and protect it," one elderly man says. "They have no right to tear it down, that is why we have to defend our church."

Wenzhou is known as the "Jerusalem of China" and throughout this year the local Communist Party authorities have demolished scores of churches and forcibly removed more than 300 church crosses.

Chinese church leaders say it's the worst anti-Christian crackdown in decades.

"What the government here is doing is so barbaric, they're like bandits and we are furious with them," says Chen Zhi'ai, a respected church leader in the Wenzhou area. "Today we've seen the fundamental symbol of our faith violated and it hurts us deep inside our hearts."

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • China • Christianity • Church and state • Persecution • Religious liberty

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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.

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