October 2014

Survey: heaven, hell & a bit of heresy

October 29 2014 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research/Baptist Press

Most Americans believe in heaven, hell and a few old-fashioned heresies.
Those are among the findings of a new study of American views about Christian theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Americans also disagree about mixing religion and politics and about the Bible. And few pay much heed to their pastor’s sermons or see themselves as sinners, according to the online survey of 3,000 Americans commissioned by Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries.
Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, said the study was intended to “take the temperature of America’s theological health.”
Ligonier founder and chairman R.C. Sproul noted, “What comes screaming through this survey is the pervasive influence of humanism.”
Researchers asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife. They wanted to know how people in the pews – and people on the street – understand theology.
Many Americans get the basics right but are often fuzzy on the details, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines,” Stetzer said. “However, when we asked about harder beliefs – things that the church has [considered] and still considers orthodoxy – the numbers shift.”


Among the study’s findings:

  • Americans say heaven is a real place. But they disagree about who gets in.

 Two thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe heaven is a real place, according to the survey. That includes, following standard demographic categories, 9 in 10 Black Protestants (88 percent) and evangelicals (90 percent), three-fourths of Catholics (75 percent) as well as a third of non-Christians (37 percent).
Just under half of Americans (45 percent) say there are many ways to heaven – which conflicts with traditional views about salvation being linked to faith in Jesus.
Catholics (67 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are most likely to say heaven’s gates are wide open, with many ways in. Evangelicals (19 percent) and Black Protestants (33 percent) are more skeptical.
About half of Americans (53 percent) say salvation is in Christ alone. Four in 10 (41 percent) say people who have never heard of Jesus can still get into heaven. And 3 in 10 (30 percent) say people will have a chance to follow God after they die.

  • Hell is a real place, too. But you have to be really bad to go there.

 About 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say hell is real, according to the survey. Black Protestants (86 percent) and Evangelicals (87 percent) are most likely to say hell is a real place. Catholics (66 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are less convinced.
Overall, Americans don’t seem too worried about sin or being sent to hell. Two-thirds (67 percent) told researchers that most people are basically good, even though everyone sins a little bit – an optimistic view of human nature at odds with traditional teaching about human sin.
Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) say even small sins should lead to damnation, while about half (55 percent) say God has a wrathful side.

  • When it comes to faith, Americans like a do-it-yourself approach.

 Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation, the survey found. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.
That sounds right to many people, Stetzer said, especially in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture. But, he noted, it doesn’t reflect the Christian idea that faith is a response to God’s grace.
Many Americans also don’t mind being disconnected from a local church. About half (52 percent) say worshipping alone or with family is as good as going to church.
About 4 in 5 respondents (82 percent) say their local church has no authority to “declare that I am not a Christian,” according to the survey. More than half (56 percent) believe their pastor’s sermons have no authority in their life, while slightly less than half (45 percent) say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose.

  • Americans believe in the Trinity. But the details don’t reflect traditional views of orthodoxy.

 About 7 in 10 (71 percent) Americans believe in the Trinity. That’s the idea that one God exists as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But few – even those in evangelical denominations – seem to grasp the details of how Christians have historically taught the Trinity. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent), for example, say the Holy Spirit is a force -- not a personal being, according to the survey. Ten percent are not sure, while 31 percent agree the Spirit is a person. Overall, two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force.
More than 1 in 7 Americans (15 percent) say the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. A third (33 percent) believe God the Father is more divine than Jesus. One in 5 (19 percent) say Jesus was the first creature made by God. All of those run counter to Christian doctrine as found in historic creeds of the church.

  • Some Americans like the Bible. Others are skeptical.

 About half of Americans (48 percent) believe the Bible is the Word of God, the survey found. Four in 10 (43 percent) say the Bible is 100 percent accurate, while a similar share of Americans (41 percent) say it’s helpful but not literally true.
Evangelicals (76 percent) and Black Protestants (67 percent) are most likely to say the Bible is accurate. Mainline Protestants (50 percent) and Catholics (49 percent) lean toward the Bible being helpful but not literally true.
The Bible is not the only religious text Americans disagree on. About half (54 percent) disagree when asked if the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God. About 10 percent say the Book of Mormon was revealed by God, while another 36 percent say they are not sure.

  • Americans disagree about sex, God and politics.

 About 4 in 10 (42 percent) Americans – and more than half (55 percent) of non-Christians – say churches should remain silent about politics.
Among Christian groups, Catholics (47 percent) and Mainline Protestants (44 percent) want less politics in church. Black Protestants (31 percent) and Evangelicals (26 percent) are less likely to want their church to skip politics.
Less than half (48 percent) of Americans say sex outside of marriage is a sin. Christian groups are split on the topic, the survey found. Mainline Protestants (44 percent) and Catholics (40 percent) don’t see sex outside of marriage as sinful. Three-fourths of Black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (76 percent) believe it is.
The study’s overall results, Nichols said, show churches have a lot of work to do.
“This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological awareness throughout our nation, in our neighborhoods, and even in the seat next to us at church,” Nichols said.
Methodology: A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults. Three thousand surveys were completed from Feb. 25 – March 5, 2014. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed plus 1.8 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. Slight weights were used to balance religion and gender and remove constant raters.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Related Story:

Wall between churched, churchless growing

10/29/2014 1:04:55 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Russell Moore questions gay therapy

October 29 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore denounced reparative therapy at a conference, saying the controversial treatment that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation has been “severely counterproductive.”
Moore, who serves as president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), spoke to a group of journalists Oct. 28 covering the group’s national conference.
“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told journalists. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”
Moore said evangelicals had an “inadequate view” of what same-sex attraction looks like.
“The Bible doesn’t promise us freedom from temptation,” Moore said. “The Bible promises us the power of the spirit to walk through temptation.”
Moore gave similar remarks to an audience of 1,300 people at the conference. The same morning, the conference featured three speakers who once considered themselves gay or lesbian.
Moore joins a chorus of psychologists and religious leaders who have departed from the once-popular therapy.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution urging mental health professionals to avoid reparative therapy. Since then, California and New Jersey have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and several other states have considered similar measures.
Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics eliminating reparative therapy and encouraging celibacy instead.
John Paulk, who was once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, apologized in 2013 for the reparative therapy he used to promote. Earlier this year, Yvette Schneider, who had formerly worked for groups such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Exodus International, published a “coming out” interview with GLAAD calling for bans on reparative therapy. In addition, nine former ex-gay leaders have denounced conversion therapy.
“There were utopian ideas about reparative therapy that frankly weren’t unique to evangelicalism,” Moore said. “That was something that came along in the 1970s and 1980s about the power of psychotherapy to do all sorts of things that we have a more nuanced views about now.”
Some pastors, like John Piper, a respected Minneapolis preacher and author, still encourage the possibility of change for those who have same-sex attractions.
Exodus International, one of the most prominent ex-gay ministries shut down in 2013. While other ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network still exist, many religious leaders are now encouraging people with same-sex attraction to consider celibacy.
“The idea that one is simply the sum of one’s sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately,” Moore said. “And I think also we have a situation where gay and lesbian people have been treated really, really badly.”
Moore said the ERLC is working with parents of those who are gay and lesbian.
“The response is not shunning, putting them out on the street,” he said. “The answer is loving your child.”
For years, gay evangelicals had three options: leave the faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups such as Exodus became unpopular, a growing number of celibate gay Christians have sought to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.
A newer question among some Christians is whether those with same-sex attraction should self-identify as gay.
In his address Monday, traditional marriage advocate Sherif Girgis plugged the website Spiritual Friendship, intended for Catholics and Protestants who identify as gay and celibate. Some Christians are debating whether identifying as gay or having a same-sex orientation is itself unbiblical.
“It’s not the way I would articulate it because I think it puts on an appendage to a Christian identity,” Moore said. “So I don’t see them as enemies who are trying to be destructive; I just don’t think it’s the best way to approach it.”
Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who rejects the “ex-gay” label and the movement behind it, said Christians should not use “gay” as a descriptive adjective. Moore interviewed Butterfield, whose address at Wheaton College generated protests earlier this year, during Tuesday’s conference.
“There is no shame in repentance because it simply proves that God was right all along,” Butterfield told Moore.
Another conference speaker and Moody Bible Institute professor Christopher Yuan teaches a more traditional message of celibacy for those who, like him, are attracted to the same sex. He shuns labels, but he believes more younger Christians are self-identifying as gay and celibate.
“I’m kind of label-less,” Yuan said before his address. “I think I’m a dying breed, though.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.)

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10/29/2014 12:55:15 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Iranian pastor’s arrest ‘a serious blow’

October 29 2014 by Staff/Morning Star News

ISTANBUL, Turkey – In what was deemed an effort to silence house-church leader Behnam Irani, Iran has sentenced him and two other Christian leaders to six years in prison for their involvement in house churches, human rights groups have learned.
Irani, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Reza Rabbani, all leaders in the Church of Iran, were sentenced Oct. 19 for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system” – what human rights defenders say are catch-all terms the Islamist government uses to suppress Christians and political opponents it perceives as threat.
The sentence was “a serious blow” for the family of Irani, lead pastor of the group, a pastor in direct contact with members of Irani’s family said. When the verdict was handed down, Irani was already serving a prior five-year sentence for his involvement with house churches.
Irani’s wife Kristina is resolute in her faith and in her devotion to her husband but needs prayer, the pastor, who cannot be identified for security reasons, said. Irani won’t be eligible for release until 2023, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).
As part of their sentences, the three Christians will be transferred from their current locations to other prisons in remote areas around the country, according to human rights groups. Ali-Haghnejad and Rabbani were to be transferred within days to Minab Prison on a remote island in the Persian Gulf. Irani was to be transferred to Zabol Prison on the Afghanistan border.
There was some confusion however, as to when Irani would be transferred. Some human rights groups said the transfer would take place within days, but others said he would be transferred sometime in 2017, when his prior sentence is complete.
Charges were leveled against Irani in part because he contacted family members and others by mobile phones that had been snuck into prison, Rob Duncan, a researcher at MEC who specializes in Iran, said. The sentence amounts to a form of exile to put him “out of the way” from any support networks or family, Duncan said.
“He was certainly contacting people, and they basically want to remove him as far away as possible from opportunities for visits,” Duncan said.
Jason Demars, president of Present Truth Ministries, an evangelical group that works in Iran, agreed with Duncan’s assessment.
“Basically they want to silence them – they want to move them away to a place that is tough to get to, for their family to get to,” he said. “With no one on hand to know what is going on, it’s easier to mistreat them.”
Once he is transferred, Irani’s wife will have to take a two-day bus ride to see him.
Demars said there are other concerns about the prison selected for Irani.
“This prison that Behnam is going to be transferred to is on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, so it’s a place that is filled with drug dealers and drug smugglers who are bringing opium into the country over the border of Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s an extremely dangerous place.”
The three converts from Islam had originally been charged with “Mofsed-fel-arz” or “spreading corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty. But those charges were reduced on Oct. 2, according to MEC. Demars said the capital charges were filed and then reduced as part of a ploy by the Iranian government to avoid international scrutiny for the six-year sentences that followed.
“The Iranians are chess players,” Demars said. “They always pride themselves that they play chess, so I believe they were bringing these higher-level crimes in order to make it more digestible that they gave a six-year sentence, and also to test the waters on how the international community would respond to these types of charges.”
All three Christians have experienced longstanding conflict with the Iranian government because of their faith.
Irani, lead pastor of the church in Karaj, was first arrested in 2006 for evangelizing and holding house-church meetings. He was released on bail in January 2007. In February 2008 a court sentenced him to five years in prison but immediately suspended the sentence, essentially giving him five years of probation.
Irani continued his work and was arrested again on April 14, 2010. Authorities charged him with spreading Christianity, attending house-church meetings and committing other crimes against “national security.” He was released on bail in June 2010.
In January 2011, Irani was convicted and ordered to serve a one-year sentence in prison. But on May 31, 2011, when he showed up to start serving his sentence, he was informed that the suspension on the five-year sentence had been revoked.
Iranian officials raided Ali-Haghnejad’s home in Bandar-Anzali on July 5 and arrested him and two other Christians. Authorities also confiscated Christian materials, including Bibles and a computer. Ali-Haghnejad is a leader in the Church of Iran movement in Karaj. The two others arrested at his home are now serving sentences previously ordered in court.
Like Irani, Ali-Haghnejad has a longstanding history of arrests because of his faith dating back to 2006. He has faced numerous charges, including actions against national security, blasphemy and, in 2011, a charge of propaganda against the state for drinking communion wine.
Little is known about Rabbani, an assistant pastor in the Church of Iran group in Karaj. Agents from VEVAK, Iran’s internal security agency, arrested him on May 5. He was then transferred to Gohardasht prison, also known as Rajai Shahr, where he was tortured, human rights activists said.
Activists also reported that three converts, Shahram Ghaedi, Heshmat Shafiei and Emad Haghi, were all arrested on Sept. 27 during a raid on Ghaedi’s home in Isfahan. Ghaedi, an actor, is well known for his depiction of Jesus in the Iranian version of the Jesus Film. According to MEC, all three men have been taken to Dastgerd prison.
Iranian officials recently released three Christians arrested during two days of raids in Ifshan that started on Sept. 1. Moluk Darvishi, Hamidreza Borhani and his wife Zainab Akbari were released in late September, but Mohammad Taslimi, a worship leader, and Parsa Dadkhah remain detained in Dastgerd prison, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The location of Sepideh Morshedi, Moluk Darvishi’s sister, who was also arrested in the raids, remains unknown.
Recently released on bail were two converts, Mehdi Vaziri, 28, a graphic designer, and Amir Kian, 27, a musician. On Aug. 12, security officers arrested the two at a house church in Tehran. They were being held in Ghezal-Hesar prison, in Karaj, according to MEC. The terms of their release are unknown.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)

10/29/2014 12:45:53 PM by Staff/Morning Star News | with 0 comments

Mission:Dignity payouts increase to recipients

October 29 2014 by Judy A. Bates, GuideStone/Baptist Press

Mission:Dignity recipients received a welcome increase in their October assistance payments with the neediest among them seeing their monthly grant amounts grow by 12 percent to $450 for singles and $600 for couples.
Qualified individuals receiving the largest payouts must have at least 25 years of Southern Baptist ministerial service and must meet guidelines for income and assets. Eligible recipients with at least 10 years of full-time, salaried Southern Baptist service receive $225 per month, if single, and couples receive $300.
“Since 1918, GuideStone has been on a mission to help retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows in meeting their basic needs,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “This step helps ensure that these dear soldiers of the cross will have the comfort and dignity they’ve earned in their declining years.”
The increases are possible as more and more Southern Baptist churches and members have embraced and supported the program, GuideStone noted.
Mission:Dignity will now pay out a little more than $7 million annually to more than 1,800 recipients. GuideStone receives no Cooperative Program funding for Mission:Dignity, and no GuideStone Funds underwrite the ministry. All proceeds come from the gifts of individuals, local churches and Sunday school classes; 100 percent of all gifts go directly to the aid of recipients.
Additionally, individuals and churches who purchase either of O.S. Hawkins’ recent books, The Joshua Code: 52 Scripture Verses Every Believer Should Know and The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer, support the ministry. All royalties benefit Mission:Dignity. Both books are available at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and many other bookstores.
John Ambra, director of development for Mission:Dignity, said he invites new and currently participating churches, groups and individuals to grow with Mission:Dignity by increasing their donations to reflect the increased amounts.
“Through the years, many donors have chosen to fully underwrite the support for an individual or a couple by sending a donation each month that matches the payout amount,” Ambra said. “Of course, gifts of any amount are welcome, and 100 percent of contributions still go to those in need with nothing ever used for operating costs.
“Those monthly gifts sustain the ministry throughout the year and are so appreciated. We’re encouraging donors to prayerfully consider updating their budgets for the coming year. By growing with us now, Mission:Dignity will be well-positioned to care for the needs of those on whose legacy we stand today.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Judy A. Bates is department head of Mission:Dignity.)

10/29/2014 12:39:11 PM by Judy A. Bates, GuideStone/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marriage, homosexuality focus of conference

October 28 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity convened a national conference Monday afternoon in Nashville with the goal of helping a capacity crowd of more than 1,300 people bolster marriage within the church and protect marriage outside it.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) kicked off the event – titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” – by considering in the opening address how Christians are to minister in a “post-marriage culture.” The conference, which continues through Oct. 29, comes at a difficult time for the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and a woman:

  • The percentage of American adults who have never married is at an all-time high.

  • Court rulings have set the stage for same-sex marriage to be legal in 35 states.

  • Cohabitation and divorce plague the culture and sometimes the church.

The ERLC’s hope for the conference “is that attendees will be equipped to defend marriage in the culture and strengthen marriage in the church,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the entity’s executive vice president. “We want to motivate them to see marriage as a part of God’s good design that is worth fighting for in a culture that is shifting all around us.”

The speeches and panel discussions will address such topics as:

  • Building healthy marriages.

  • Evangelizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

  • Helping Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction.

  • Resolving the clash between religious liberty and “sexual freedom.”

  • Handling singleness.

Christians will not escape dealing with these issues, said ERLC President Russell D. Moore.
“[I]n reality, every single church, every single family will need to equip the next generation to be able to think through these questions from a framework of the Bible and gospel,” Moore said in a video previewing the conference.
The “strategic conversation” represented by the event “simply needs to take place,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a pre-conference video.
“It’s really important that we gather to think clearly so that we will think faithfully, so that we will minister authentically as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler, who gave the opening address, said.
Many pastors and other Christians clearly agreed about the importance of the conference. After initially booking a venue that would have handled 700 people, the ERLC moved the event to the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in response to the “surge in interest,” Bethancourt told Baptist Press in an email interview. He said the ERLC is “pleasantly surprised by the great turnout.”
The interest is understandable, he said.
“This conference resonates with people because marriage challenges are not an abstract issue,” Bethancourt said. “They are ministering to marriages in crisis in their communities and in their churches all the time. People also want to understand how to apply the gospel to issues related to same-sex marriage.”
In addition to Moore and Mohler, speakers at the conference include David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board; Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Sherif Girgis, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife; Sam Allberry, British pastor and author of Is God Anti-Gay?; Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation; and poet Jackie Hill-Perry.
The conference is being live streamed online at http://live.erlc.com/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

10/28/2014 10:32:17 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wall between churched, churchless growing

October 28 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” – people who claim no particular religious identity – brace yourself.
How does 38 percent sound?
That’s what religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.
He calls his new category “churchless,” the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”


Graphic courtesy of Barna Group
“Unchurched Adults Are More Likely To Be…” 

If asked, the “churchless” would likely check the “Christian” box on a survey, even though they may not have darkened the door of a church in years.
Kinnaman, president of the California-based Barna Group, slides them into this new category based on 15 measures of identity, belief and practice in more than 23,000 interviews in 20 surveys.
The research looked at church worship attendance and participation, views about the Bible, God and Jesus, and more to see whether folks were actually tied to Christian life in a meaningful way or tied more by habit or personal history.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, once called nominals – people attached by name only – “survey Christians.” They don’t want to cut ties with their parents or go all the way to atheism, Stetzer said, “so they just say ‘Christian’ since it is the default category from their heritage.”
Kinnaman now has the numbers to back that up.
“We are far from becoming an atheist nation,” he said. “There are tens of millions of active believers in America today. But the wall between the churched and the churchless is growing higher and more impenetrable as more people have no muscle memory of what it means to be a regular attender at a house of worship.”
How these people think, pray and use their time is shifting away from a faith-based perspective. As a result, a churchless or secular worldview “is becoming its own social force.”
When political scientists burrow into election results, they may find that church attendance is less and less useful for predicting or evaluating political social and cultural attitudes. If you are not around people of strong belief, there’s not a lot of spillover impact.
Stephen Mockabee, an associate professor of political science at University of Cincinnati, has compared church attendance to medication: “It’s not only the drug but also the dose that matters.”
The churchless come in several tribes, according to Kinnaman.
About a third (32 percent) still identify as Christian. They say they believe in God but they’re wobbly on connections. Kinnaman calls them “Christianized but not very active.”
That might include Katie West of Mount Sterling, Ky., or Mike Wilson of Webster City, Iowa.
West keeps the Christian label because, she said, “I follow or at least try to follow the teachings of Christ.” She avoids religious services “unless roped into a wedding or funeral,” but considers herself “a spiritual person without looking at a Bible.”
Wilson is the paid webmaster for a Lutheran church but he can’t recall the last time he attended a worship service or read the Bible. He checks the Christian box if asked in a survey, even though he resonates more with Buddhist and other Eastern philosophies.
“Religion is the starting point to enlightenment, but at some point you have to take that leap of faith and make your personal relationship with God exactly that – personal,” Wilson said. “So if you can find a religion that encompasses that better than Christianity, I will call myself that.”
Other “tribes” among the churchless include:

  • 25 percent are self-identified atheist or agnostics. Kinnaman calls them “skeptics.” And their ranks have changed in the last two decades. The percentage of women is up to 43 percent from 16 percent since 1993. Highly educated and more mainstream than before, “this group is here to stay,” he said.

  • 27 percent belong to other faith groups such as Jewish or Muslim or call themselves spiritual but not religious.

  • 16 percent are Christians – people with a committed relationship with Christ, Kinnaman said – who don’t go to church anymore.

Kinnaman predicts no change in direction. He concluded: “The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is”:

  • Millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) – 48 percent

  • Gen X-ers (born between 1965 and 1983) – 40 percent

  • Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) – 35 percent

  • Elders (born in 1945 or earlier) – 28 percent

Karen King, 52, a dispatch scheduler for a local transit agency in Mount Vernon, Wash., knows her state is among the least churched in the nation. Yet among the secular crowds, there are plenty of churchgoers.
“I know because I schedule people to get to churches through Dial-A-Ride. There must be 40 or 50 churches between Mount Vernon and nearby Burlington.”
And King goes to none of them.
The granddaughter of a Presbyterian pastor, King says she hasn’t been to church for a worship service in more than 30 years. Her daughter, a millennial and a pagan, doesn’t go either.
Although King still thinks of herself as a Christian, she has stepped back from denominational brands. Instead, she says, she just tries to show love.
“I do random acts of kindness. I talk to God when I think I need to. I think I have a good connection to Mother God and Father God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

10/28/2014 10:21:28 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

N.M. Baptists stand with Houston pastors

October 28 2014 by John Loudat, Baptist Press

The Baptist Convention of New Mexico has taken a stand with five pastors in Houston who have had their sermons and other communications subpoenaed following their opposition to a homosexual-transgender rights ordinance passed in May.
“... whereas we believe that this attempt to subpoena their sermons and church communications is a violation of First Amendment rights and of the separation of church and state, we thus resolve to state our belief as such,” reads the resolution unanimously approved during the convention’s Oct. 21-22 annual meeting.


Photo by John Loudat of the Baptist New Mexican
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter voices a prayer following passage of a resolution in support of Houston pastors by Baptist Convention of New Mexico messengers during their annual meeting Oct. 22. Also pictured are Adam Hughes, resolutions committee chairman, left, and BCNM President Tar Henderson.


“... we further resolve to support them in their fight against this action; we further resolve to pray for them in this fight and aid them in any other way as is possible and appropriate; we resolve, finally, to stand in like fashion in the event that similar legal action be taken against pastors or ministers in the state of New Mexico,” the resolution stated.
Fred Luter, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) immediate past president, voiced a prayer for the pastors following the resolution’s passage.
Luter, who is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the SBC’s first African American president, was the convention’s guest preacher, bringing sermons related to the convention’s theme, “Standing Strong,” in each of the meeting’s three sessions.
The subpoenas had been issued in September to the pastors by a law firm assisting in fighting a lawsuit opposing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). City lawyers targeted the pastors because of their leadership in opposing the new ordinance.
Opposition to the ordinance is based in part on concerns it will violate the religious freedom of business owners and others who disagree with the measure. Also, foes think it will make women and children vulnerable to sexual predators by permitting people to use public restrooms of the gender they identify with rather than their natural gender.
After foes collected 31,000 signatures during a petition drive to place repeal of the ordinance before Houston voters, nearly 14,000 more than required to qualify for a referendum, Houston’s city attorney, David Feldman, disqualified enough of the signatures to prevent a vote.
HERO opponents then filed suit, seeking court approval for a referendum. On Oct. 17 Feldman struck the word “sermons” from the subpoenas. Attorneys for the ministers, though, maintained that nothing short of a complete withdrawal of the documents would suffice.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Loudat is editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, and Bonnie Prichett, a writer for the Southern Baptist Texan, contributed to this story.)

10/28/2014 9:49:40 AM by John Loudat, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Idaho city: Chapel owners exempt from discrimination law

October 28 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Husband-and-wife Pentecostal ministers who own a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, refused to marry same-sex couples after a recent court ruling, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that’s OK – as long as the chapel only operates as a religious establishment.
The couple’s conservative attorneys insist that Donald and Evelyn Knapp’s Hitching Post wedding chapel remains a for-profit business, and they should be able to turn gay couples away.
In fact, they already have, including twice in the last week.
The dispute is the latest front in an ongoing debate over whether for-profit wedding businesses must cater to same-sex couples in accordance with local anti-discrimination laws. In recent days, that fight just got more confusing.
On Thursday (Oct. 23), the ACLU of Idaho unexpectedly sided with the Knapps. Leo Morales, the group’s interim executive director, said he won’t pursue legal action because the Hitching Post only provides religious services and is exempted from the local ordinance.
Morales said the ACLU would reconsider its stance if the chapel were to offer secular services, such as providing flowers or cakes, or holding nonreligious ceremonies.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative group representing the couple in a lawsuit against the city, said the Hitching Post is not a nonprofit religious organization like a church, but rather is a religious for-profit limited liability company like a Bible publisher.
Greg Scott, an ADF spokesman, said police in Coeur d’Alene called the couple on Thursday to investigate a possible violation of the city’s 2013 anti-discrimination ordinance.
City police received a call from a married individual in Massachusetts complaining that she wanted to have a ceremony at the Hitching Post but was refused, according to a police report. Police called the owners as part of their standard procedure, said Keith Erickson, a city spokesperson.
“As a religious organization, they are exempt from our anti-discrimination law. They are for-profit.” Erikcson said. “We’re asking them to dismiss this federal lawsuit. It has no merit because the ordinance doesn’t apply to them.”
City officials deny that the couple have been threatened with legal action. “We have never threatened to jail them, or take legal action of any kind,” Erickson told the Coeur d’Alene Press.
But confusion has rested on whether or not the chapel operates as a for-profit or non-profit operation.
“If they are operating as a legitimate not-for-profit religious corporation then they are exempt from the ordinance like any other church or religious association,” City Attorney Mike Gridley wrote to the ADF earlier this month.
Calls placed to the city attorney’s office were forwarded to a voicemail, saying that the office is receiving an influx of calls related to the lawsuit and calls would not be returned.
Scott said the couple fully expects to face legal action for their stance against same-sex marriage, which became legal in Idaho earlier this month.
As more states allow same-sex marriage, tensions between religious institutions and nondiscrimination laws will likely continue to arise. From florists to bakers, several courts have ruled that businesses that provide a service to the public must be provided to all, including same-sex couples.
ACLU staff compared the case to chapels in Nevada, which are now required to perform same-sex marriages because they do not provide just religious services.
At least one Las Vegas chapel owner has said she will continue to decline to officiate at same-sex weddings. She plans to either hire ministers to perform same-sex marriages at the chapel, fight the issue in court or close her business down.
According to the ADF’s lawsuit against the city, for each day the Knapps decline to perform the ceremony, the couple could face a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. “Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000,” the lawsuit states.
Warren Wilson, a city official, told the local newspaper that might be the case, if it was a “continuing violation.” He said if a business declines to serve someone because “we don’t serve your type,” and then several days later, it does it again, that would be two incidents, not a continuing violation.
“This is not intended in any way to be a harsh or overly punitive ordinance,” Wilson told the newspaper.

10/28/2014 9:42:40 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Bordeaux calls for united stand on Nov. 2

October 27 2014 by K. Allan Blume

C.J. Bordeaux, the outgoing president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), is heralding a “clarion call” to the state’s pastors and church leaders. He is joining the invitation of Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and others who recently called Southern Baptists to join forces with “I Stand Sunday” on Nov. 2.
The call was launched in response to the subpoena of five pastors’ sermons and internal communications by Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas, and the Houston city attorney. The action set off a national firestorm among church leaders across denominational lines. In spite of protests the city leaders have not backed down.
The event will stream live from Grace Community Church in Houston – one of the affected churches – and will focus on the city’s challenge to First Amendment rights, as well as other threats to religious freedom around the country. The aim is to demonstrate how Christians nationwide can stand together for religious liberty.
Bordeaux said this is not just a concern in Texas. “This issue is not something that is just ‘out yonder,’ It is here,” he said. “Everyone is aware of the story, but I want to underscore the issue, I want to end my presidency with this kind of challenge.”
He not only calls for churches to unite Nov. 2, also believes the convention could be a great rallying point for pastors. “We need to take a stand. I will weave some of this emphasis into my convention sermon on Monday night at the annual meeting at the Koury Center,” Bordeaux said. 
Referring to the theme of the Nov. 10-11 annual meeting, he added, “It is certainly a time for us in North Carolina to awaken. My sermon on Monday night will be on the challenge to do greater things. I want to call North Carolina pastors to be bold, to be firm. ... We are labeled the hate mongers because we stand by scripture and on Christian convictions. We try to approach issues with the love of Christ, but the whole rhetoric has changed. The belief is, ‘If you don’t agree with me, then you hate me.’”
Bordeaux advises churches of every size to carefully evaluate the wording of the church’s constitution and bylaws. “These issues will be coming into our churches. I’m afraid many will be confronted with this in some of our small, country churches and in our larger churches, who are not at all prepared to deal with it,” he said.
“We are seeing government overreach beyond our wildest imaginations,” Bordeaux said. “The separation of church and state has become a very blurred line. We need to pay attention. Be strong, be firm, be faithful, but be graceful. Let’s be prayerful and encourage each other.”
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, is one of several speakers scheduled to speak at the “I Stand Sunday” simulcast hosted by Family Research Council and other partners. Other speakers include Ed Young, senior pastor of Second Baptist in Houston; Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson; Erik Stanley, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom Pulpit Initiative Project; FOX News contributor and author, Todd Starnes; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; and former Arkansas governor and FOX News personality Mike Huckabee.

The free live simulcast is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. (EST) from the Houston church. The website istandsunday.com says the event will “... focus on the freedom to live out our faith free of government intrusion or monitoring. We will stand with pastors and churches in Houston, Texas, who have been unduly intimidated by the city’s mayor in demanding they hand over private church communication.”

10/27/2014 1:11:36 PM by K. Allan Blume | with 2 comments

Ark. LGBT law 'runs against' 1st amendment

October 27 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists in an Arkansas city are working to overturn a homosexual-transgender ordinance in what apparently is the opening salvo in a new campaign to enact such legislation in the South.

Voters in Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, will have the opportunity Dec. 9 to vote on whether to rescind a measure that provides civil rights protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Fayetteville's city council approved the ordinance in August, and opponents of the law gathered more than 5,700 signatures within a month to place the measure on the ballot for a special election.

Religious freedom is a major concern for opponents of the ordinance, said a Southern Baptist leader in Fayetteville.

"This ordinance puts those with religious objections to homosexuality within the prosecution powers of the ordinance as they exercise their faith," Ron Lomax, director of missions for the Washington Madison Baptist Association, said. "A pastor would have to prove to the [government] that his act of 'discrimination' was based on a 'bona fide' religious or denominational preference and that his act was 'a necessary result of such a bona fide condition.'"

The city council's 6-2 vote made Fayetteville, located in the northwest part of the state, the first Arkansas city to adopt LGBT civil rights legislation. Three southern states – Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee – have no cities with such ordinances, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country's largest political organization that promotes LGBT rights. About 200 cities and counties in the United States have non-discrimination laws that include transgender rights.

Passage of the Fayetteville ordinance appeared to mark the first win in a new southern campaign that HRC launched in April. HRC's Project One America is an effort with an $8.5 million budget over three years to expand equality for the LGBT community in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. "It's long past time that the country stopped treating the South like the 'finish line' for equality," Chad Griffin, HRC's president and a native Arkansan, said in a written statement.

The Fayetteville ordinance includes real or perceived "gender identity, gender expression" and "sexual orientation" among a list of reasons for which discrimination is prohibited in employment and housing. It also bars discrimination by establishments that provide "goods, services, accommodations and entertainment to the public," which would include hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

In addition, the measure creates a new post, civil rights administrator (CRA). The CRA would investigate complaints brought under the ordinance, mediate disputes and recommend prosecution, according to the Arkansas Baptist News.

Southern Baptist pastors joined others in opposing the ordinance in city council meetings and are among those supporting the repeal effort.

If a pastor is prosecuted, Lomax, the Fayetteville DOM, told Baptist Press in an email interview, the CRA and the judge "will determine whether his religious belief is bona fide and whether the action he took due to that religious belief was 'necessary.' For us, this runs against the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religion."

Under the ordinance, churches and other religious organizations would no longer be free in their hiring practices for non-ministerial positions, Lomax and others said.

Before a vote on final passage, the city council approved an amendment that barred requiring a religious institution to make its "tax exempt property or place of worship" available for a meeting or ceremony. The amendment, however, excluded activities supported by government funds.

The amendment is insufficient, not only for churches but certainly for Christians and other religious adherents, Lomax said.

"Businesses and people of faith still face the threat of criminal prosecution under this ordinance," he told BP. "Even with those last minute amendments, the ordinance is still bad. You can't amend something that is so flawed and make it acceptable."

Among other concerns Lomax and others have regarding the ordinance are:

  • It would force those with Christian convictions to violate their consciences by providing goods and services to support same-sex weddings.

  • The safety of women and children may be at risk because the ordinance allows males who identify as transgender but may be sexual predators to use women's restrooms and dressing rooms.

  • No exemptions are included for private schools and daycare centers, though they exist for public schools.

No one "should dictate terms, policy, procedure, ceremonies, traditions, doctrine or preferences to religious institutions – and certainly not coerce and criminalize people of faith if they don't agree with someone else's opinion or lifestyle or reserve the right to not participate in an offensive ceremony," Lomax told BP.

While he is hopeful Fayetteville's voters will overturn the ordinance in December, he said, "If nothing else, this ordinance has woken up a sleeping giant, the church of God, and has brought Christians together in our city like nothing else has done."

The battle over the Fayetteville ordinance comes amid controversy surrounding actions by Houston's government regarding a similar measure approved by its city council. After opponents challenged that law in court, lawyers for Houston issued broad subpoenas to four pastors and a ministry leader for their sermons, speeches and other communications regarding homosexuality, gender identity, the ordinance, a referendum effort and the mayor, who is a lesbian advocate of the law. The city removed the word "sermons" from the subpoenas Oct. 17, but religious liberty advocates said the action was inadequate.

Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, objected to the subpoenas in an Oct. 22 letter to Houston Mayor Annise Parker and asked her to order their withdrawal. "These discovery requests threaten to have a chilling effect on religious and political speech that is protected by the First Amendment," Kirsanow wrote.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in the Fayetteville area, will be among the speakers Nov. 2 at the "I Stand Sunday" simulcast hosted by the Family Research Council and other organizations to support Houston's pastors and churches and to defend religious liberty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

10/27/2014 12:40:28 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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