By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) - If the Rev. John DeBonville could preach a sermon to lift the souls of churchgoers across America, his message would be simple:
Stop dressing so tacky for church.
DeBonville has heard about the “come as you are” approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but he says the Sabbath is getting too sloppy. FULL POST
(CNN) – He looked like a “red-faced pork butcher in shabby tweeds,” lived secretly with a woman for years and was so turned on by S&M that he once asked people at a party whether he could spank them.
We’re talking, of course, about C.S. Lewis, the Christian icon and author of classics such as “Mere Christianity” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
It’s tempting to remember Lewis only as the self-assured defender of Christianity who never met an argument he couldn't demolish. His death 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963, was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He has since become a patron saint of American evangelicals.
But the actual man whom friends called “Jack” had a “horrible” personal life, thought he had failed as a defender of Christianity and spent so much time in pubs that his publishers initially struggled selling him to a religious audience, scholars say.
(CNN) – The Rev. Timothy McDonald gripped the pulpit with both hands, locked eyes with the shouting worshippers, and decided to speak the unspeakable.
The bespectacled Baptist minister was not confessing to a scandalous love affair or the theft of church funds. He brought up another taboo: the millions of poor Americans who won’t get health insurance beginning in January because their states refused to accept Obamacare.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger.
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside. Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
(CNN) –"Yo mama..."
Whenever I heard those two words while growing up in inner-city Baltimore, I knew something bad was about to happen. Trading insults was a childhood ritual. But everyone understood that one subject was off-limits. You didn’t talk about anybody’s momma unless you were prepared to start swinging.
Now that I’m all grown-up, I’ve discovered a new arena for combat: The reader’s comments section for stories about religion.
When I first started writing about religion for an online news site, I eagerly turned to the comment section for my articles, fishing for compliments and wondering if I had provoked any thoughtful discussions about faith.
I don’t wonder anymore.
When I look at the comment section now, I see a whole lot of “yo mamas” being tossed about. Readers exchange juvenile insults, condescending lectures and veer off into tangents that have nothing to do with the article they just read.
For years, I’ve listened to these “holy trollers” in silence. Now I’m calling them out. I’ve learned that the same types of people take over online discussions about faith and transform them into the verbal equivalent of a food fight. You may recognize some of these characters.
You might even recognize yourself.
Atlanta (CNN) - There is a secret about Bernice King that not everyone close to her wants you to know.
"She has a shoe fetish," says Angela Farris-Watkins, a cousin. "She has shoes to go with every outfit. She likes all kinds of shoes: sandals, heels, open-toed and different colors. She buys shoes like bread."
It's not surprising that the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would care so much about what she puts on her feet. She has been walking in the footsteps of one of history's greatest moral leaders all of her life.
With the nation poised to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the daughter of the dreamer seems to be stepping out of his shadow.
“God, help me!”
Eben Alexander shouted and flailed as hospital orderlies tried to hold him in place. But no one could stop his violent seizures, and the 54-year-old neurosurgeon went limp as his horrified wife looked on.
That moment could have been the end. But Alexander says it was just the beginning. He found himself soaring toward a brilliant white light tinged with gold into “the strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen.”
Alexander calls that world heaven, and he describes his journey in “Proof of Heaven,” which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks. Alexander says he used to be an indifferent churchgoer who ignored stories about the afterlife. But now he knows there’s truth to those stories, and there’s no reason to fear death.
“Not one bit,” he said. “It’s a transition; it’s not the end of anything. We will be with our loved ones again.”
Heaven used to be a mystery, a place glimpsed only by mystics and prophets. But popular culture is filled with firsthand accounts from all sorts of people who claim that they, too, have proofs of heaven after undergoing near-death experiences.
Yet the popularity of these stories raises another question: Why doesn’t the church talk about heaven anymore? FULL POST
(CNN) - When Peter Sprigg speaks publicly about his opposition to homosexuality, something odd often happens.
During his speeches, people raise their hands to challenge his assertions that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but no Christians speak out to defend him.
“But after it is over, they will come over to talk to me and whisper in my ear, ‘I agree with everything you said,’" says Sprigg, a spokesman for The Family Research Council, a powerful, conservative Christian lobbying group.
We’ve heard of the “down-low” gay person who keeps his or her sexual identity secret for fear of public scorn. But Sprigg and other evangelicals say changing attitudes toward homosexuality have created a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot. FULL POST
(CNN) – An angry outburst at a mosque. The posting of a suspicious YouTube video. A friendship with a shadowy imam.
Those were just some of the signs that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, accused of masterminding the Boston Marathon bombings, had adopted a virulent strain of Islam that led to the deaths of four people and injury of more than 260.
But how else can you tell that someone’s religious beliefs have crossed the line? The answer may not be as simple you think, according to scholars who study all brands of religious extremism. The line between good and evil religion is thin, they say, and it’s easy to make self-righteous assumptions.
“When it’s something we like, we say it’s commitment to an idea; when it’s something we don’t like, we say it’s blind obedience,” said Douglas Jacobsen, a theology professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.
CNN examines the tumultuous early years of Christianity in a special narrated by Liam Neeson. Watch “After Jesus: The First Christians,” Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
(CNN) – She walked into the Roman arena where the wild beasts awaited her. She trembled not from fear but from joy.
Her name was Vibia Perpetua. She was just 22, a young mother singing hymns as the crowd jeered and a lion, leopard and wild cow encircled her.
One of the beasts attacked, hurling her to the ground. She covered an exposed thigh with her bloody robe to preserve her modesty and groped in the dust for her hair pin so she could fix her disheveled hair.
And when a Roman executioner approached Perpetua with a sword, her last words before collapsing were aimed at her Christian companions: “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.”
Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.
By John Blake
(CNN) – There’s been a lot of debate about the Republican Party’s need to rebrand after the 2012 presidential defeat, but could evangelicals face the same challenge?
The evangelical community, too, has been involved in some collective soul-searching. Evangelical leaders constantly warn that young people are deserting churches; pastors struggle to address changing views on homosexuality; and others wonder how evangelicals can remain relevant when a growing number of Americans refuse to identify with any religion.
Relevant magazine, an evangelical publication, tackles these issues head-on in its latest issue with an article titled “10 Challenges Facing Us in The Next Decade."
“The future is coming faster than ever," the article says, "with the tectonic plates of society, church, culture, technology, economy and environment shifting beneath us.”
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.