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:
September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET
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.
September 16th, 2014
03:50 PM ET
Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNNFollow @JesusNeedsNewPR
(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.
September 10th, 2014
11:45 AM ET
Opinion by Russell D. Moore, special to CNN
(CNN) – The country collectively winced as we watched an NFL running back punch his fiancee in the face on an elevator, captured by security video.
The horror in the country crossed all the usual ideological and political divisions. Consciences intuitively knew this was wrong and shocking.
The video brought to light for many Americans what every church and religious institution in America must deal with on an ongoing basis: violence against women.
As a Christian, I believe it’s important to see this issue through the dual lenses of both the responsibility of the state and of the church.
The state, and the larger culture, has a responsibility to work against such violence. The Scripture says that the state is delegated a “sword” of justice to be used against “evildoers” (Roman 13:4). That clearly applies in these horrifying cases.
Often, men who abuse their wives or girlfriends will seek to hide under the cover of therapeutic language, as they seek to “deal” with their “issues.”
There is no question that a man who would abuse a woman is socially and psychologically twisted, but we should not allow this to in any way ameliorate the moral and public evil involved in these cases.
September 6th, 2014
06:00 PM ET
Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNNFollow @JesusNeedsNewPR
(CNN) – The majority of America’s churches teach that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But considering our country’s near-400-year history, can we honestly say that our concepts and perceptions about God haven’t evolved?
Is our contemporary American God the same as in 1629, when the Puritans began organizing a mass exodus toward their “Promised Land”?
Is our modern God the same as in 1801, when Christians at a revival in Kentucky became so filled up with God’s spirit that they got down on all-fours and barked and howled like wild dogs?
More recently, is our God the same as in 2000, when born again George W. Bush won (sort of) the presidential election by rallying America’s then thriving evangelical electorate with a Jesus-tinged GOP rhetoric he called “compassionate conservatism”?
The truth is, no. God is likely not exactly the same as God was yesterday, not here in the United States, not among America’s faithful. Here, God changes.
Our making God into our own image isn’t a new trend. We’ve been changing God since Anglo Saxons first stepped foot onto these shores. Here are five examples.
August 23rd, 2014
07:14 PM ET
Opinion by the Rev. Fred D. Robinson, special to CNN
(CNN) – On day five after the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of police, I was on the phone with a white Christian and fellow preacher concerning the racial cauldron that has become Ferguson, Missouri.
During our conversation, he spent more time decrying rioting and calling for calm and prayer than lamenting the modern-day lynching by law enforcement of innocent black bodies that are piling up across the nation.
But most frustrating was his solution to the racial powder keg that has produced the Fergusons across the nation: a call for more racially diverse churches.
I get tired of that one. His unrelenting insistence reminded me — in the most stark terms — of James Baldwin’s prophetic quip: “Racial progress in America is measured by how fast I become white.”
Simply having diverse congregations without addressing the weightier matters of social justice and structural racism is not better church practice. It is possibly subterfuge.
During Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2014 Black Theology and Leadership Institute, of which I was a fellow, Dr. John Kinney, a professor of theology at Virginia Union, offered this stinging indictment:
If one is not careful, that is exactly what will be achieved in today’s climate of multiracial churches.
August 22nd, 2014
07:00 AM ET
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) – Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.
In a clip (see above) for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.
She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why.
Fact: Atheists are still political outcasts.
“It seems like there’s this idea perpetuated by atheists that atheists are somehow disenfranchised or left out of the political process,” Cupp says. “I just don’t find that to be the case.”
Survey data contradict Cupp.
For instance, a 2014 Pew Research study found that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist presidential candidate than any other survey category—even if they share that candidate’s political views.
Faring better than atheists: candidates who have engaged in extramarital affairs and those with zero political experience.
And unless she recently had a change of heart, Cupp herself falls in line with the majority of Americans. In 2012 she said, “I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever.”
While atheists are making political inroads, we’re also still on the margins in a number of ways. Cupp concludes the clip by saying, “I think our atheists are better than yours.”
Apparently they’re still not good enough to be president.
August 12th, 2014
05:08 PM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNNFollow @CandidaMoss
(CNN) – When Pope Francis arrives in South Korea on Wednesday for a five-day visit, he’ll get a look at just the kind of church he’s been trying to create worldwide.
The trip, planned to coincide with Asia Youth Day, marks the first time a pope has visited the country since 1989, and is part of a new papal focus on globalization in general and on Asia in particular. (Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Japan in January.)
The time has long passed that the Catholic Church is elderly white men and women in European enclaves.
The last papal conclave and the election of the first Latin American Pope raised awareness of the Catholic Church’s growing presence in Africa, but Asian Christianity was hardly mentioned at all.
Even if it is rarely discussed in the media, Korean Catholicism is among the most vibrant in the world.
Here are five reasons South Korea might be the future of Catholic Church.
August 5th, 2014
12:13 PM ET
Opinion by Jeremy Courtney, special to CNN
(CNN) –We had no idea what we were doing, so we helped everyone.
My wife and I moved to Iraq in 2007 to assist in relief and development. We have since made friends on all sides, deep behind “enemy lines.”
Since the fall of Mosul to Sunni militants in June, the world has struggled to accept the failure of the American project in Iraq, the rise of “political Islam” and the marking of Iraqi Christians and other minorities for death or expropriation.
The world may watch from afar and denounce all Iraqi Muslims as militants bent on conquest. But up close, the reality is very different.
It was a Muslim cleric who may have saved this Christian's life. And I'm not the only one.
Even as jihadists justify their atrocities in the name of Islam, millions of Muslims are standing in solidarity with Christians who have been expelled from their homes.
July 30th, 2014
09:26 AM ET
Opinion by Jay Parini, special to CNN
(CNN) – I've just been watching the trailer for "Black Jesus," a show that will premiere on August 7 on the Cartoon Network during its child-unfriendly late-night spot, which they call Adult Swim.
Already at least one Christian group has begun to lobby the network to cancel the show, regarding its contents as blasphemous. (Cartoon Network is owned by Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN.)
From what I can tell, the series is a bit of a spoof, with some foul language. The general notion seems clever: A guy who thinks he is Jesus, who might even be Jesus, lives in a poor neighborhood of Compton, California. He's got a ragged band of followers - they look like winos and potheads - who follow him around with lots of bantering.
The scenes shown in the trailer seem relatively funny, and it appears that nobody is quite sure whether this is a madman who thinks he is Jesus or maybe the Lord himself come back in a strange outfit and, indeed, black skin.
Is this offensive? The jury will have to be out until we see whole episodes, but in concept—particularly if the rest of the show is like the trailer—it does not seem so.
Let me explain.FULL STORY
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.