September 21st, 2014
09:44 AM ET
Opinion by Amy-Jill Levine, special to CNN
(CNN) – It was once said, “religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
Jesus’ parables – short stories with moral lessons – were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.
These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners – first century Jews in Galilee and Judea – heard much more challenging messages.
Only when we hear the parables as Jesus’ own audience did can we fully experience their power and find ourselves surprised and challenged today.
Here are four examples of Jesus’ teachings that everybody gets wrong:
July 22nd, 2014
08:53 AM ET
Opinion by Craig Detweiler, Special to CNN
(CNN) – It is understandable why Breanna Mitchell’s sunny tweet from Auschwitz as “PrincessBMM” would spark a viral outcry.
A tour of a concentration camp, where so many Jews lost their lives, may move us to take photos or post responses – but few would include smiles, or selfies.
But Mitchell is not the first teenager to generate Internet outrage by her response to the Holocaust.
When Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House last year, he wrote in the museum guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully, she would have been a Belieber.”
While many have ripped into Mitchell and Bieber for their insensitivity, I don’t think they intended to be disrespectful to the dead.
Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices (mobiquity!), adolescent mistakes and hard lessons that used to be learned in private can quickly devolve into public drubbings.
This is what happens when new technologies clash with ancient understandings of the sacred. The problem is so pervasive that a Tumblr site, “Selfies at Serious Places” is dedicated to such faux pas.
We have very few spaces that our culture considers sacred, where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence. Death may seem especially abstract to young people who haven’t been shown how to grieve, mourn or respect the dead.
So how might we help the emerging generation to develop a digital decorum that accounts for sacred spaces? Can we incorporate electronic ethics into religious instruction?
June 29th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
Washington (CNN) - For the Greens, the Christian family behind the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, their battle with the Obama administration was never really about contraception. It was about abortion.
After all, the evangelical Greens don't object to 16 of the 20 contraceptive measures mandated for employer coverage by the Affordable Care Act. That puts the family squarely in line with other evangelicals, who largely support the use of birth control by married couples.
Like other evangelicals, however, the Greens believe that four forms of contraception mandated under the ACA - Plan B, Ella and two intrauterine devices - in fact cause abortions by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in the womb. (The Obama administration and several major medical groups disagree that such treatments are abortions .)
“We won’t pay for any abortive products," Steve Green, Hobby Lobby's president, told Religion News Service. "We believe life begins at conception.”
June 25th, 2014
08:51 AM ET
(CNN) – The Pennsylvania minister who was defrocked for officiating his son's same-sex wedding was reinstated Tuesday by the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, had his credentials restored and is now entitled to lost salary and benefits since his defrocking in December, according to a written decision released by the church.
Church changes its marriage definition Ten years of same-sex marriage
Schaefer was waiting for a phone call to inform him of the church's verdict, when he received the happy news as an e-mail attachment.
He opened up the PDF.
"I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to find out what the verdict was, and the verdict was that I am reinstated as an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church," he told a group of people.
They broke into applause.
Schaefer was suspended for 30 days following his initial trial, with the condition that after his suspension he was to deliver a written report assuring the judiciary board that going forward he would never officiate another same-sex wedding. When Schaefer refused to do so, he was defrocked.
Schaefer told CNN then that he could not commit to a statement like that because he has two more children who are gay.FULL STORY
June 21st, 2014
02:04 PM ET
By Delia Gallagher, CNN
(CNN) - Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members Saturday that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
“Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the Mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated," Francis said.
It is the first time a Pope has spoken of excommunication for the Mafia.
Excommunication, which excludes Catholics from the church, can be imposed by church authorities or incurred automatically for certain grave offenses.
The Pope’s remarks will resonate strongly in this part of southern Italy, where the Mafia attempt to portray themselves as upstanding religious men in good rapport with the Catholic Church, in order to maintain local credibility.
During a one-day visit to Calabria, in southern Italy, the Pope denounced the local mafia, called ‘Ndrangheta, as an example of “the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”
June 20th, 2014
10:18 AM ET
(CNN) - The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted Thursday to allow pastors to marry same-sex couples in states where it is legal.
The church also voted, by an overwhelming majority, to change the language about marriage in the church constitution to "two persons" from a "man and a woman," according to More Light Presbyterians, a group that supports gay rights.
To take effect, that change would need to be approved by a majority of 172 local presbyteries, which have a year to vote, the church said in a statement.
However, starting Saturday, pastors can go ahead and begin marrying same-sex couples in the states that allow it, according to Toya Richards Jackson, a church spokeswoman.
"The church affirmed all its faithful members today. This vote is an answer to many prayers for the Church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples," said Alex McNeill, executive director at More Light Presbyterians.FULL STORY
June 19th, 2014
11:17 AM ET
(CNN) - An alleged former Nazi camp guard who has lived in the United States since the 1950s is facing possible extradition to Germany following his arrest in Philadelphia, authorities said Wednesday.
Federal authorities are moving to extradite Johann (John) Breyer, an 89-year-old U.S. citizen, who is wanted in Germany for war crimes committed during World War II.
Breyer was arrested in Philadelphia, where he has long lived, on Tuesday. Federal Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice on Wednesday ordered him held without bail, pending an extradition hearing in late August.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, German authorities have charged Breyer with complicity in the murder of over 216,000 European Jews from Hungary, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, who were forcibly deported to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp on 158 trains between May and October 1944.FULL STORY
June 18th, 2014
12:37 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) A Vatican spokesman denied reports on Wednesday that Pope Francis is ill, saying that the curtailment of his public summer schedule is common for popes.
"There is no sickness whatsoever," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office. "If there was, we would be open about that and asking people to pray for him."
But the Pope will curtail public appearances in St. Peter's Square during July, as he did last year, and will scale back his daily celebration of Masses at Casa Santa Marta for the summer.
It is customary for popes to vacation during the summers months. Francis, 77, will continue working, Rosica said, while limiting public appearances.
June 3rd, 2014
01:02 PM ET
(CNN) - While some churches are struggling to attract younger members, 20 and 30-something-year-olds are waiting in long lines to get into Hillsong's services.
Pastor Carl Lentz is the main attraction. He spoke to CNN's Poppy Harlow about the church's success and where he stands on several major issues.
June 2nd, 2014
11:25 AM ET
Opinion by William McKenzie, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?
At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.
As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China - even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.
Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square - where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists - freedom remains elusive.
In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.
The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:
In Shi's case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.
Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.
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.