Archives For faith and politics

The Briefing

Southern Baptists to launch sexual abuse advisory panel
J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced July 26 the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group. The working group will consider how Southern Baptists can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse. It will also make recommendations for creating safe environments in churches and institutions.

Turkey moves Andrew Brunson to house arrest
Wednesday, a Turkish court ruled that Brunson should be moved from Kiriklar prison to house arrest at his home in Turkey. Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina has lived in Turkey for 23 years, pastoring a church in Izmir. He has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges and was detained nearly two years ago.

Sessions announces religious liberty task force
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced July 30 the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to ensure the Department of Justice implements the Trump administration’s approach to religious liberty. Sessions said the goal of the task force will be protecting religious groups from persecution. 

Study: US churches unwelcoming to autism, ADD/ADHD
America’s religious communities are failing children with chronic health conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders. The odds of a child with autism never attending religious services were nearly twice as high as compared to children with no chronic health conditions. The odds of never attending for children with developmental delays, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, and behavior disorders were just as high. 

Churches may have to pay taxes
Some in Congress want to tweak a portion tax bills that will now force nonprofits, including churches, to pay a 21% tax on the value of certain employee benefits. But most others downplay the problem or deny it needs to be addressed.

Sources: ERLC, Christianity Today (2), Religion News Service, McClatchy

The Briefing

Church’s roll purge incites media ‘circus’
Cave City (Ky.) Baptist Church, some 90 miles north of Nashville, sent a letter July 16 to nearly 70 members it alleges were not attending “habitually,” giving “regularly” or sharing in the congregation’s “organized work” as required of members in the church’s bylaws. The letter stated, “Cave City Baptist Church cherishes you as a member of this fellowship,” but “your name has been removed from the membership roll,” according to a photo of the letter published on Facebook. Within two days, newspapers and television stations had reported on the letter in Nashville; Louisville, Ky.; Lexington, Ky.; and Bowling Green, Ky.

First State Dept. Ministerial on religious freedom will be ‘More than talk,’ Pompeo says
The US State Department is gearing up to host what is being described as the first-ever three-day ministerial to promote and advance religious freedom in Washington, D.C., which will be attended by delegations and leaders from over 80 countries. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expects to host nearly 40 of his counterparts from countries around the world for the event taking place from July 24 to July 26.

Adoption agency protection moves forward in Congress
The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee included the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) in a spending bill it approved July 11. The proposal, H.R. 1881, would bar the federal government — as well as any state or local government that receives federal funds — from discriminating against or taking action against a child welfare agency that refuses to provide services in a way that conflicts with its religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Turkey keeps American pastor behind bars
A Turkish court ordered 50-year-old American pastor Andrew Brunson to remain behind bars until at least his next hearing Oct. 12. On July 18, the court heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against him. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Most US faith groups say country is on the wrong track
A new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic shows when it comes to politics, white evangelical Christians stand apart from every other religious group. The poll found 61% of evangelicals say the United States is headed in the right direction. By comparison, 64% of the overall public — including majorities of other Christian groups — believes the country is seriously off track.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service

Pence to take SBC stage Wednesday
The announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 met with some pushback from Baptists who say his appearance ties the denomination to a particular political party, and to divisive rhetoric that goes against the mission of the church. But a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer failed on the convention floor Tuesday.

Related:

  • At a panel discussion in Dallas, former SBC President James Merritt said the #metoo movement is a “wakeup call” for pastors.
  • Christianity Today reports that women—and the church’s response to abuse—are garnering “unprecedented attention” at this year’s annual meeting

Masterpiece baker: ‘My religion can’t be hidden’
Back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips views his faith in a new light after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips says he’s learned his faith—while deeply personal—can’t be hidden from view.

Ex-LGBTQ Christians rally against bill criminalizing same-sex change
California Assembly Bill 2943, which would ban faith-based efforts to counsel members of the LGBTQ community, will be up for debate before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, the bill will criminalize “sexual orientation change efforts” by making it illegal to distribute resources, sell books, offer counseling services, or direct someone to a biblically-based model for getting help with gender confusion and homosexuality. Ex-LGBTQ activists and ministry leaders are working to make sure the bill is voted down.

Jockey praises ‘Lord and Savior’ after win
After winning the Belmont Stakes, Mike Smith, the jockey riding Justify in Saturday night’s race, told reporters, “First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Justify led all the way in New York’s Belmont Stakes on his way to becoming racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith, 52 and a devout Christian, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Colorado Public Radio, CBN (2)

Some events from last year offer insight on issues facing evangelicals and church leaders

If evangelicalism is having an identity crisis, as some religious and cultural observers posit, the issue is whether “evangelical” means a person’s theological beliefs and practice, or is it adherence to a conservative political movement. It has at times meant both, and at points in 2017 we saw the movement struggling with itself over which is “the main thing.”

In this short collection of news stories from last year, we see how evangelicals balanced belief and practice. We witnessed the thumb-wrestling of “Big-E Evangelicalism,” inheritors of the socially conservative political force Moral Majority and keepers of its dwindling flame, and “little-e evangelicalism,” the smaller group who are not merely self-identified evangelicals, but whose core-group of beliefs about Scripture, Jesus, and their relationship to him directly affect their behaviors and drive their moral decision-making.

Donald Trump would not be president without evangelicals, more specifically Big-E Evangelicals, and the presence of some in his administration serves as a reminder of that. There is a group of cabinet leaders and others who meet weekly for Bible study. Spokeswoman (and preacher’s daughter) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is possibly the most visible Evangelical in the White House through her daily televised press briefings.

Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as a hoped-for advocate for religious freedoms was hailed by church leaders. And Southern Baptists were present on several occasions in 2017 when President Trump signed legislation affecting religious liberty.

But the December loss of a U.S. Senate seat by Republican Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Ten Commandments champion, to a pro-abortion Democrat has caused some pundits to wonder if the Big-E political/Republican alliance has weakened, and what that might mean for President Trump in the future. Given the special circumstances in that Senate race, moral accusations against Moore, another conclusion is that the biblical beliefs of little-e evangelicals trumped the Big-E political machine in the privacy of the voting booth.

Similarly, a Democrat easily won the governor’s race in Virginia, whose considerable Evangelical population had previously supported a string of GOP governors. Conservative analyst Stephen Mansfield wrote in a new book that the loss can be attributed partly to the disaffection of evangelicals.

“The young, probably in reaction to Trump and to some of the machinations on the Right, went strongly for the Democrat. I think that is an indication of future trends,” Mansfield said in an interview. “It will probably settle down, but I think that the social consciences of the young are raising some important questions.”

But can those assumptions be applied to the President himself, who a year ago got 81% of the white, evangelical vote? “He’s had about a 10-15% drop-off in support from the evangelical community since taking office,” Mansfield summarized. “So while there may be a sort of exaggerated self-reporting around the time when an evangelical casts a vote, there is some indication that there was never really that depth of devotion. I don’t think their support was ever very deep, and it seems to be weakening quickly.”

One conclusion is that little-e evangelicalism—personal, biblical belief and practice—is being separated from its Big-E political counterpart in this generation.

“Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement,” writes conservative Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread cooperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found…. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.”

Issues in Illinois
Governor’s race: Evangelicals disappointed by Gov. Rauner’s support for HB 40, which allows state-funding of abortions involving state employees and aid recipients, will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate to support in 2018.

Pro-life advocate Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she would run against Rauner in part because of his signature allowing the abortion legislation. Ives handily won a January straw poll against Rauner among Chicago-area Republican leaders, but she faces an uphill climb against the well-funded incumbent. Seven Democrats are on the March 20 ballot with J.B. Pritzker the apparent leader.

The general election is in November.

Social issues: After successfully moving legalization of same-sex marriage through the Illinois General Assembly, State Senator Heather Steans and some other representatives are preparing to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use in Illinois. Steans is using economic growth as an argument for legalization, citing a prediction that 250,000 jobs will be created in the “cannabis industry” by 2020. “As many of you may have heard, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he was rescinding an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting operations in states that legalized marijuana,” Steans wrote to supporters. “This change will not diminish our efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois.”

A public hearing is scheduled for late January.

The Briefing

SBDR Irma response to begin; Harvey relief work continues
Preparations are being made by the Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York and Virginia Baptist conventions to respond to the needs of hurricane survivors as Irma continued to crawl up Florida and into Georgia and S. Carolina. As of Sept. 11, Hurricane Harvey SBDR response has witnessed 29 professions of faith and initiated 508 Gospel conversations; provided 444,765 meals, 7,240 showers and 4,534 loads of laundry; and completed 109 construction jobs including 47 roof repairs.

Justice Dept. backs Christian baker
Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding has a major backer as his case heads to the US Supreme Court this fall: the Trump administration. The Department of Justice has sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, arguing that governments “may not … truncate the First Amendment by compelling a person to create a piece of artwork—particularly one that violates the artist’s conscience.”

Churches no longer face overtime pay increase
Just before Labor Day, a federal judge in Texas struck down a US Department of Labor (DOL) mandate that full-time, salaried workers—including church and parachurch staff—who earn up to $47,476 must be paid time-and-a-half for any overtime they work. This week, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue the matter.

Tillerson decries ISIS genocide
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom Tuesday, highlighting the Islamic State as one of the biggest threats to liberty around the globe. “ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death,” he wrote.

Senator criticized for religious questions
Senator Dianne Feinstein is coming under criticism from prominent academics and university leaders for her “chilling” line of questioning of a Roman Catholic judicial nominee last week during a Senate hearing.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), World Magazine, Christianity Today

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

Trump-religious-liberty-EO

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect faith beliefs and practice in a ceremony May 4. Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov. Courtesy Baptist Press

On May 4 – The National Day of Prayer – President Donald Trump, signed an executive order promising to provide churches, non-profit organizations, and Christian-owned business greater religious liberty. Reaction among Christians, especially evangelicals has been mixed. Here’s a round-up of some of those reactions:

Baptists cautious on Trump executive order
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House. Not only that, but many federal agencies are working already to ensure that the executive and administrative violations of religious freedom from the Obama administration are being rolled back.” Read more from Moore and other Southern Baptists.

Concern Trump’s order doesn’t address key issues
Some evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words for the president’s religious liberty executive order. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

What Trump understands about religious liberty in America
There is a war on religious liberty in America – and this war is targeting people of the Christian faith. An Army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. That’s why President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday in the Rose Garden – to protect Americans who have been targeted by a politically correct lynch mob.

Reaction mixed on order targeting birth control, churches, politics
Trump’s executive order targeted the Johnson Amendment, a provision of tax law which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. But it stopped short of his vow to “totally destroy” the amendment, instead instructing the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law consistent with how it’s done so in the past — allowing speech on political and moral issues as long as it doesn’t advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Analysis: Trump order unlikely to alter sermonizing
Many Americans want religious leaders to be clear about their values and how those values impact every aspect of life, including politics. And they want churches to be free to practice their faith, which includes discussing politics without any government intervention. But few want their preacher’s advice on which candidate to vote for.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, Baptist Press