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:
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.
Opinion by Joel S. Baden and Candida Moss, Special to CNN
(CNN) – The destructive force of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant Sunni movement, is epitomized in a video released Thursday of ISIS members smashing a tomb in Mosul, Iraq.
The tomb is traditionally thought to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, a holy site for Christians and many Muslims.
Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, is built on and adjacent to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, the setting for the biblical book of Jonah and once the most powerful capital of the ancient world.
Indeed, for most people familiar with the Bible, Nineveh is inseparable from the figure of Jonah.
In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one. Jonah’s descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.
Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – This past Sunday, six Israelis were arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Israeli officials admitted the likelihood—already acknowledged by many—that this killing was carried out in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Both sides have stepped up their aggression in the past few days, with rocket launches from Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.
It’s a familiar cycle: attack for attack, murder for murder. Such patterns are familiar from conflicts across the world, but they have a special resonance in the Holy Land.
After all, it was from Israel, nearly 3,000 years ago, that this famous concept spread.
The Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible says, “The penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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.”
Opinion by Randal Maurice Jelks, special to CNN
(CNN) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from South Africa, called one of his books “God is Not a Christian.”
He might have added a subtitle, “God is not a man, either!”
One of the great problems in our world is patriarchy. The late James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, put best in song, “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
Patriarchy assumes that men are made to lead and women are simply cooperative and reproductive subordinates.
These assumptions come to light in all kinds of ways, but especially through religion — the various faiths that treat women as though they are not equal to men.
We read it in the Quran and the Bible. We see it in iconic imagery, and religious taboos about sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality. And we see that around the world these days, from Salt Lake City to Sudan.
Men continue to dominate religious institutions, and use them to judge whether women can be in religious leadership or change faiths.
There is a direct link between Kate Kelly, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter day-Saints, who was excommunicated on charges of apostasy, and Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her supposed apostasy.
And the link is deeper than the charge of abandoning one's faith.
Opinion by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Special to CNN
(CNN) - The death penalty has been part of human society for millennia, understood to be the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes.
But, should Christians support the death penalty now, especially in light of the controversial execution Tuesday in Oklahoma?
This is not an easy yes or no question.
On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.
In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God.
In the simplest form, the Bible condemns murder and calls for the death of the murderer. The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.
Opinion by Joel S. Baden and Candida R. Moss, special to CNN
(CNN) - It seemed real; it seemed fake; it seemed real again; now we’re back to fake.
"It” is the controversial little scrap of papyrus, written in Coptic, that seems to have Jesus referring to “my wife,” in contrast to the traditional stance that affirms Jesus’ perpetual bachelorhood.
The quick backstory: In 2012, a Harvard professor, Karen King, brought this papyrus to the attention of scholars and the public.
Both the material and the script looked authentically ancient at first glance, and though the notion of Jesus having a wife was remarkable, these “lost” Christian writings, such as the Gnostic Gospels, are full of unorthodoxies.
It was good enough for King, who is widely respected in the scholarly world.
From the beginning, there were doubts, however, beyond the unlikelihood that the tiny scrap that survived the centuries would happen to be the one that contained the reference to Jesus’ wife.
The papyrus, along with a few other ancient papyri of lesser novelty, had been passed to King by an anonymous figure.
Anonymity, in the world of antiquities, is often a bad sign, compounding the inherent uncertainty when dealing with texts that are bought and sold rather than discovered in a firm archaeological setting.
Then there were aspects of the text itself that seemed suspicious.
Opinion by Drew Dyck, special to CNN
(CNN) - The 4-year-old boy sees angels floating toward him. They start out as stars, then slowly become more visible, wings flapping behind orbs of white light.
As they approach, they sing a melodious song. The boy cocks his head, squints into the sky, and makes a strange request. “Can you sing ‘We Will Rock You’?”
The angels giggle.
So do people in the theater.
The scene is from “Heaven is for Real,” the latest in a string of religious movies soaring at the box office. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the real-life story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who awakens from surgery with eye-popping tales of the great beyond. The film took in an estimated $21.5 million in opening on Easter weekend.
Even Colton’s religious parents (his dad, Todd, is a pastor) struggle to accept the celestial encounters their son describes: seeing Jesus and his rainbow-colored horse, meeting his sister who died in utero, and talking to his deceased great-grandfather, “Pop,” who, Colton exclaims, has “huge wings.”
The book and film are part of a larger trend. Depictions of journeys to heaven have never been more numerous or more popular. There’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “To Heaven and Back,” “Proof of Heaven,” and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just to name a few.
Does God have a prayer in Hollywood?
So what should we make of such accounts? And what does their popularity say about us?
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
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.