Posts tagged with: christian

in-the-land2In what is another book that points to America’s cultural divide, Gina Welch decides to go undercover at the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. An atheist, Yale and University of Virginia liberal graduate from Berkeley, California, Welch declares her undercover ruse was needed to better understand evangelicals.

In the Land of Believers, Welch decides to fake conversion, become baptized in the church, immerse herself in classes, and even goes to Alaska on a mission trip to evangelize the residents of Anchorage. But an exposé of apish Christian neanderthals never emerges. What does emerge is the authentic depth to the people she writes about deeply contrasted with her counterfeit self, and to a degree a larger secular culture that lacks authenticity. The relationships that emerge for her at Thomas Road are heartwarming and sincere. Her friends and acquaintances at Thomas Road even offer to get her a job teaching at Liberty University. They are sincerely concerned with her life and well being.

Evangelicalism is widely diverse, and members of Thomas Road represent a brand of Christian fundamentalism far different than that practiced by many evangelicals. Falwell of course was a favorite whipping boy not just among the secular left, but by many evangelicals as well. This point is often unknown by those unfamiliar with evangelicalism. In my evangelical seminary, Falwell bashing was standard fare. But the Southern Baptist Church, despite theological differences one may have with that denomination, has faithfully served as a giant thorn in the side of religious pluralism and moral decay. While some protestant denominations seek to better reflect a secular world in the name of relevancy, Southern Baptists stand against this dangerous stream.

One aspect Welch touched on nicely in her account was addressing the anti-intellectual streak of some believers at Thomas Road and also questioning the effectiveness of some of the ways the Gospel was presented to non-believers. But this was of course not a book about theological debates, but more about a church community. And the book slowly devolves more and more into an inner struggle, where the author feels guiltier about the illusion she has crafted. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the hurt she will dole out when her friends and fellow members find out she is a fraud and has been aping belief to write about their lives. Adding to the compassion and sincerity of her subjects, when after a year she finally tells two of her closest church member friends she is a fake, one who is a pastor, and she is going to write a book about them, they only offer forgiveness and grace.

Welch comes out of her undercover episode as she did when she came in, as an unbeliever. She of course has a more open mind now, and is able to have friendships with evangelicals. Bridging the cultural divide is one of the stated purposes of her account.

Welch also makes a lot of sweeping generalizations about evangelicals and pokes fun at their prayer language and beliefs. There was one statement she made though that caught my attention, although she meant it somewhat derisively. It was one of the few statements I highlighted in my reading of the book when she said “Evangelicals are a little obsessed with the crucifixion.” She offers up examples about their “obsession” with the cross which includes The Passion of the Christ film and animated preaching on the crucifixion. Last week I was talking to Jordan Ballor, a colleague here at Acton, about an individual who live tweeted their abortion, and we were discussing the sadness of the situation. After a long silence Ballor said, “but this is the world that God has seen fit to redeem.” Welch even provides a quote from a young preacher who says “We are never more like Jesus when we are forgiving the unforgivable.”

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” If we ever wonder if God has abandoned us, if we wonder if God loves and adores us we only have to look to the cross of Christ. In our many dark nights of despair and anguish we are awakened with the truth that God has made us acceptable in Christ. The reconciliation of God and humanity is perhaps the most vivid and basic theme of Scripture.

While Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple is a much more entertaining account in the undercover evangelical sagas, Welch’s account has value as well. Welch befriends a little girl on her missionary trip to Alaska and even reads a salvation tract to her, albeit reluctantly. The girl professes faith and later comes up to Welch and says she is going to write about God and draw a picture of her new friend, who is Welch. This account is rife with contrast and the greatest contrast of all is Welch’s unbelief with a childlike faith that Jesus commands of us. This is well depicted when Welch writes about several children and their openness to the Gospel. While Welch’s judgment, skepticism, and unbelief is at the forefront of this account, perhaps she is unaware just how much she presents the Gospel through her many contrasts of faith and unbelief, and an emptiness that encompasses a life outside of the Triune God.

Blog author: jwitt
Thursday, January 14, 2010
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If you are looking for a Christian relief organization working in Haiti, let me recommend WFR Relief, located in Louisiana. Led by Don Yelton, WFR has a solid track record for effective compassion in times of disaster, having “provided humanitarian aid and disaster relief in 50 countries since 1981.” They distinguished themselves, for instance, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

An article about Yelton and WFR is here. WFR’s donation page is here.

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
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Rev. Robert Sirico delivered a sermon titled “Whistling Past the Graveyard” at Mars Hill mega-church in Grand Rapids, Mich on September 20. You can listen to his sermon in its entirety by clicking on the sermon title above. Mars Hill was founded by Rob Bell in 1999.

Rev. Sirico addressed Christology, mortality, atonement theology, and the problem of evil. In his remarks Rev. Sirico declared:

And the vision of that hill, there on Golgotha’s bloody mount, is the answer to the riddle of human existence. There in the crucified Christ, we see one who not only suffers for us…but he suffers with us. He enters our grief, our solitude, our pain. And because the one who is suffering so is innocent, he has the capacity to subsume into himself, into his divine person, all of humanity’s suffering, all the history of limitation and death.

Vladimir Berezansky, Jr., a U.S. lawyer with experience in Russia and former Soviet republics, recalls an interview with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II in 1991. Like many Russians at the time, the Patriarch was coping with a “disorienting change” following the fall of the Soviet Emprie, Berezansky writes.

At the time, he seemed overcome by the changes taking place around him, and he did not know where to begin.

“For our entire lives, we [clerics] were pariahs, and now we are being called on to do everything: chaplains for the military, ministries to hospitals, orphanages, prisons,” he said.

He even voiced regret about taking the time to travel to the United States. But he had gambled — correctly, as it turned out — that he could do more for his flock by seeking foreign assistance than by staying home to manage the Russian Orthodox Church’s destitution. His plate was full and overflowing, and he seemed keenly aware of the ironies of his situation. The Russian state was returning desecrated, gutted, largely useless ecclesiastical structures to the Orthodox church — a gesture at once desperate, empty and to some degree remorseful.

Berezansky then points to the Patriarch’s rapid rise through the Church hierarchy:

During and after the chaos of World War II, he probably could have emigrated and been numbered among the millions of so-called “Second Wave” exiles from Soviet Russia. But he chose to remain and to serve his church and people in circumstances that could not fail to compromise his own reputation.

“Our choices were cooperation or annihilation,” he told me in 1991.

And like so many other religious and cultural leaders of his generation, he repeatedly expressed regret and remorse for having accepted that Faustian bargain. Even today we continue to learn of the choices of conscience made by the famous names of that generation, including Nobel-winning German writer Günter Grass and Czech novelist Milan Kundera.

Patriarch Alexy’s legacy will undoubtedly include two elements that have been assessed negatively, and one major — indeed, overarching — achievement. In inter-church relations, his refusal to meet Pope John Paul II or his successor, Benedict XVI, was seen as churlish. Whether welcome or not, the patriarch’s position was that specific issues of contention between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches needed to be ameliorated before any “photo op” could take place. But he consistently referred to Roman Catholicism as a “sister” church.

Read “A Transitional Patriarch” on the Moscow Times site.

Cross-posted from The Observer.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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Patriarch Alexy II

The Moscow Times reports on the funeral of Russian Patriarch Alexy II:

Candles flickered and white-robed elders chanted prayers as the country bade farewell Tuesday to Patriarch Alexy II, who guided the country’s dominant Russian Orthodox Church through its remarkable recovery after decades of Communist-era repression.

Nuns, believers and government officials looked on as prayers filled the soaring Christ the Savior Cathedral at a six-hour funeral service for Alexy, who died Friday at age 79. He was buried later Tuesday at the Epiphany Cathedral across town in a ceremony closed to the public and media, the church said …

“We are burying a great man, a great son of our nation, a beautiful holy fruit grown by our Russian church,” Reverend Dmitry Smirnov, a Moscow archpriest, said in an address at the funeral, which was broadcast live on state-run television. “Our whole nation has been orphaned.”

The BBC has a clip from the very moving funeral service here.

I published an Acton commentary today on the Russian Church:

With the death last week of Patriarch Alexy II, Russian Orthodox Christians lost their first “post-Soviet” leader. The patriarch presided over the resurrection of the world’s largest Orthodox Church, a faith community that had been targeted for annihilation by communist regimes that would brook no rival to their own promises of salvation through “world revolution.”

While Alexy led the Church out of the rubble of the Soviet Union, his own history has been clouded with allegations that he worked with the secret police — was even decorated by them. In this, his career reflects the recent history of the Church, which after the first vicious period of persecution was openly criticized by many Russians for being too pliable, too accommodationist with its old adversaries in the Kremlin. In some cases, critics said, the Church had even assisted the authorities in the suppression of believers and their communities.

When its Holy Synod meets next month to choose a new patriarch, the Russian Church will have an opportunity to come to grips with this past, and with other questions: nationalism, the status of minority ethnic and religious groups, secularization and consumerist materialism. Will the new patriarch lead the Church into a future of growth and spiritual renewal, or will he strike another “Faustian bargain” with autocratic leaders?

Read “The Church and the Terror State.”

Colonel Robinson Risner 1973 – Retired as Brigadier General in 1976

“I want to show that the smartest and the bravest rely on their faith in God and our way of life,” was Robinson Risner’s answer to why he wrote The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of American prisoners of war from North Vietnam and the publication of Risner’s often horrific but ultimately triumphant account.

Many books written by and about American military prisoners during the Vietnam War focus on the deep Christian faith of many of these captives. Their prayers and cries to God depict desperate circumstances, but also a sustaining and unwavering faith in the face of horrendous torture and cruelty. Risner’s account expresses a beautifully simple faith. By simple I mean he absolutely believed in the power of prayer and for God to give him strength to endure his dark trial. He notes in his book:

To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.

Finally, though, the pain and aching increased to where I did not think I could stand it any longer. One day I prayed, ‘Lord, I have to some relief from this pain.’ I quoted the Biblical verse that He would hear us and that we would never be called upon to take more than we could bear.

Risner was shot down twice over North Vietnam. He was captured the second time in September of 1965 and taken to the Hanoi Hilton. As a senior ranking officer Risner was marked for additional torture and solitary confinement while in prison. Eventually he would spend a number of years in solitary confinement.

Risner was also featured on a Time Magazine Cover in April of 1965 as an American pilot serving in Vietnam. Risner’s picture on the cover of Time undoubtedly contributed to his abuse and the resolve of the North Vietnamese to break his spirit and beliefs. The North Vietnamese felt he was a celebrity figure in America, and breaking him would lessen the resolve of others who looked to him for leadership. Senator John McCain, the most well known prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, credited Robinson Risner as one of the leaders who helped sustain him and that Risner would always be a hero to him.

Risner and other senior officers orchestrated a campaign of resistance to limit and sabotage the use of military prisoners for propaganda purposes and to maintain a military posture and morale all despite continued torture. Risner showed his resolve after spending 32 days in stocks attached to his bed, and forced to lie in his own waste. When he was brought to his first torture session his arms were bound and his shoulders were pulled out of his sockets. Then his feet were hoisted up behind him, and his ribs were separated. Risner tried to slam his head against the cement in order to knock himself out because the pain was so unbearable. Risner describes the pain as incredibly horrific and the screams were so deep and vicious he did not think they were his own.

He discusses a time when he was in stocks for so long he had to get out and by prayer he says he was able to unlock them. Another time he prayed for the annoying prison speaker to stop its incessant noise and it ceased. Risner’s book is full of fascinating stories and the will of so many American fighters to always resist in whatever way they could. He talks about the importance of communication, the tap code, and how it saved lives.

Risner was especially adroit at showing little emotion when the North Vietnamese tried a carrot and stick approach. In fact, when American prisoners finally felt like they were going to leave for real after being informed, they showed no emotion. They would not give their captors the satisfaction. (more…)

My blog post titled “Toward a Theological Ethic for Internet Discourse” has been recognized in the 2008 EO/Wheatstone Academy Symposium. Here is a full list of the top five posts (along wtih an honorable mention):

First Place: Mark Fedeli at A Deo Lumen

Second Place: Jordan J. Ballor at The Acton Institute Power Blog

Third Place: Mark Stanley at Digital Reason

Fourth Place: Jeff Nuding at Dadmanly

Fifth Place: Letitia Wong at Talitha Koum

Honorable Mention: Donnell Duncan at The Cracked Door

This year’s symposium question was: If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media? Be sure to check out all the posts linked above for the responses judged to be the best.

Normally I don’t celebrate coming in second in anything (it’s not “runner-up,” it’s “first loser”), but in this case I’m honored to share the company with these other worthy authors.

The Roman Catholic Church’s authoritative reference source, the Annuario Pontificio (Papal Yearbook), is published in March of every year. It is a weighty book in more ways than one: It comprises of over 2,500 pages, has a very limited print production of 10,000 copies, and contains just about every bit of information you would want to know about the make-up of the Church.

The publication of the 2008 Annuario made news earlier this week when, in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the editor announced that for the first time in history there are now more Muslims than Catholics in the world. Read Acton’s translation of the article below.

According to Msgr. Vittorio Formenti, in 2006 the Muslim population became the single largest segment among world religions, surpassing Roman Catholicism by 1.8 percentage points: 19.2 percent compared to 17.4 percent.

It should be noted, however, that the Church is only sure of its own numbers; the Muslim statistics come from the United Nations. Comparing two sets of numbers gathered with different methodologies does not necessarily result in an accurate picture.

It is not, however, all that surprising to those who are aware of current demographic studies. The Church has also issued widely-documented warnings on diminishing family size among Catholics as the result of widespread use of contraception, public advocacy of non-procreative and delayed marital unions, and unfriendly fiscal policies on the family. These negative trends are particularly evident in Catholic Western nations such as Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal.

It would be a mistake to read Msgr. Formenti’s interview as alarmist, however. He notes that when Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants are also taken into account, Christians remains a much larger segment of the world’s religious population, totaling about 33 percent, nearly double that of all Muslims.

Catholicism has also experienced a modest upward growth trend in three areas: the total number of faithful (+1.4 percent); ordained diocesan priests (+0.023 percent); and seminarians (+0.9 percent). These percentages are small but demonstrate growth in areas that had been in decline in the last few decades.

And finally, despite what the statistics say, Catholics are prohibited from giving in to the sin of despair. “The gates of hell shall not prevail….” (Matthew 16.18-19) (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
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Vladimir Solovyov

Towards the end of his life, the 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov published his “On the Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy” (1897). In this book, wrote historian Paul Valliere, Solovyov abandonded his vision of a “worldwide theocratic order” in favor of the more concrete demands of building a just society. With “Justification of the Good,” Solovyov (1853-1900) presented a general theory of economic and social welfare based on the idea that all human beings have “a right to a dignified existence.”

The following excerpt is from the chapter, “The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View” in Solovyov’s “On the Justification of the Good.” Translated by Nathalie A. Duddington; annotated and edited by Boris Jakim; foreword by David Bentley Hart. Wm. B. Eerdmans (2005). Cross posted from The Observer.

For the true solution of the so-called ‘social question’ it must in the first place be recognized that economic relations contain no special norm of their own, but are subject to the universal moral norm as a special realm in which they find their application. The triple moral principle which determines our due relation towards God, men, and the material nature is wholly and entirely applicable in the domain of economics. The peculiar character of economic relations gives a special importance to the last member of the moral trinity, namely, the relation to the material nature or earth (in the wide sense of the term). This third relation can have a moral character only if it is not isolated from the first two but is conditioned by them in the normal position.

(more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, February 15, 2008
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Bartholomew I

My commentary this week looked at “Encountering the Mystery,” the new book from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox Church.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The Turkish Daily Hürriyet is reporting today on a proposed government revision of the “insulting Turkishness” law.

The European Union has been calling Turkey to amend the article 301, which has been the basis for charges against past cases against Turkish intellectuals such as Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, and Orhan Pamuk.

[Justice Minister Mehmet Ali] Sahin, also said the deputy parliament leaders of AKP will decide when to send the proposal of the amendment to the parliament.

According to Sahin’s statement, the article’s new status would be as follows:

Article 301: The insulting of the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, as well as the institutions and organs of the state

1-A person insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, the State, the Turkish Parliament, the government of the Turkish Republic, the justice organs of the state, as well as the military or policing organizations of the state, will receive anywhere between 6 months to 2 years prison sentence.

2-Statements explaining thoughts which are expressed with the purpose of criticism are not to constitute a crime.

3-Any prosecution based on article 301 is to be tied to specific permission from the office of the President of the Turkish Republic.

Read “A Patriarch in Dire Straits” here.