Tag Archives: evangelical Christians

Why Evangelicals Should Love the Pope (copyright The New York Times)

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SundayReview

Why Evangelicals Should Love the Pope
APRIL 4, 2015

ON Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate an event that inspires more than two billion of the faithful with eternal hope. Jesus spoke often about the life to come. Yet he also spoke about God’s will being done here on Earth. How best to live out one’s faith in this world has been a complicated issue throughout Christian history, and it remains so today.

Since the mid-1970s, one dominant strain of cultural engagement among Christian leaders in America has been to warn about God’s judgment on a disobedient, decadent nation. This approach assumes that the main task of the church is to call us back to moral righteousness. Among the most prominent representatives of this kind of Christian cultural engagement is the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham. Last month the younger Mr. Graham warned that our nation has “turned its back on God.” For nations that do this, he said, the “end is near.” The “tide of immorality has risen to new heights,” Mr. Graham said in 2013, with homosexuality and “all the anti-God people” being the main cause. He has gone so far as to praise the autocrat Vladimir V. Putin for his anti-gay policies.

These beliefs have a theological corollary: It is the duty of Christian leaders to fight on behalf of traditional values and to reprove sin. According to Mr. Graham, “We are locked in a war against the Christian faith.”

But this two-generations-long culture war is not going particularly well. The cultural influence of evangelical Christians is rapidly waning. As one religious leader put it to me: “We used to be the home team. Now we’re the away team.” The response from some Christian leaders, like Mr. Graham, is to ratchet up the condemnatory rhetoric. This has led to greater disaffection, especially among younger evangelicals who find this approach to be brittle, alienating and unforgiving. We are living through a moment of introspection and reconsideration, then, as Christians search for an alternative way to engage the culture that is both faithful and effective.

Enter Pope Francis. For those of us who are part of the evangelical movement, the popular leader of the Roman Catholic Church offers an archetype. He views the role of the church not as a combatant in the culture wars but “as a field hospital after battle.” He has also said, “Without mercy, we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.”

In 2013, the pope told a young audience in Rio de Janeiro, “Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.” Two weeks ago, Pope Francis did just that, meeting with gay, transgender and H.I.V.-positive prisoners during a visit to Naples.

Pope Francis criticizes the church not for its unwillingness to rebuke sinners but for ignoring the weak and vulnerable. He washed the feet of two women and two Muslims in juvenile detention — the first time a pontiff has included both women and Muslims in the rite. Without changing church doctrine, he has altered how the Catholic Church is seen. These are symbolic acts packed with theological content, reminding us that individuals are infinitely more valuable than moral rules, that failures don’t define us.

Of the two approaches — Franklin versus Francis — the one taken by the pope is not only more popular but also better reflects Christ’s example. Jesus confronted sin, not to be censorious but because it puts us at enmity with God, one another and our true nature. “Go and sin no more” were words meant to produce greater human flourishing. Yet time and again in the Gospels we read about Jesus embracing those denounced by the religious elite of his day.

The authorities were constantly at odds with Jesus because he hung out with the “wrong” people — the despised, the outcast, the ceremonially unclean — and he claimed the authority of God in doing so. Jesus was condemned for being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” and for consorting with prostitutes. His anger was directed most often against the proud, the hypocritical and the self-righteous. The powerful hated him, while those who were broken flocked to him.

Some of my fellow evangelical Christians may respond by saying they are called to stand against unrighteousness for the good of the whole. But Pope Francis is not reversing the teachings of his church; indeed, Mr. Graham’s and Pope Francis’ views align on matters of marriage and protecting unborn life. The difference has far more to do with tone, animating spirit and emphasis. In the words of the New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays, “What the Bible does say should be heeded carefully, but any ethic that intends to be biblical will seek to get the accents in the right place.”

That is where Mr. Graham and those evangelicals he speaks for have veered off track. He obsesses on some issues while ignoring others, speaks with stridency rather than mercy, and thereby creates a distorted impression of Christianity, one that is at odds with Jesus’ approach.

The award-winning Christian author Philip Yancey once took to asking a question of strangers, when striking up a conversation: “When I say the words ‘evangelical Christian’ what comes to mind?” Mr. Yancey reports that he mostly heard political descriptions — but not once did he hear a description suggestive of grace. This is quite an indictment of a faith in which the concept of grace should be at the very center.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, understands that Jesus’ main mission was to persuade a world in need of God’s love and mercy. If the pontiff speaks of the church primarily as a field hospital, Mr. Graham sees it as a sentencing court.

Steve Hayner, one of the baby boom generation’s most respected evangelical leaders and my spiritual mentor, died earlier this year. The last time I saw him, he told me that the central characteristics of God are love and grace — and that therefore the central mission of Christians is to extend his hand of grace to others. What God has given to us, we owe to others. “If what you’re doing in your life is leading toward reconciliation and redemption,” he once told me, “then you’re most likely headed in the right direction.”

Pope Francis is heading in that direction. There are an awful lot of evangelical Christians ready to follow his lead.

Peter Wehner is a contributing opinion writer and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the last three Republican administrations.

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Change and Decay 3: The Religious Right

AlterNet / By CJ Werleman
Christian Right Has Major Role in Hastening Decline of Religion in America
Soon, there will be more atheists and agnostics than Christians.

March 22, 2014

Of those aged 18 to 35, three in 10 say they are not affiliated with any religion, while only half are “absolutely certain” a god exists. These are at or near the highest levels of religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the 25 years the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

As encouraging as this data is for secular humanists, the actual numbers may be significantly higher, as columnist Tina Dupuy observes. “When it comes to self-reporting religious devotion Americans cannot be trusted. We under-estimate our calories, over-state our height, under-report our weight and when it comes to piety—we lie like a prayer rug.”

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

Political scientists Robert Putman and David Campbell, the authors of American Grace, argue that the Christian Right’s politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. “While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics, the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction.”

Ironically, the rise of the Christian Right over the course of the past three decades may well end up being the catalyst for Christianity’s rapid decline. From the moment Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, evangelical Christians, who account for roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population, identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. Michael Spencer, a writer who describes himself as a post-evangelical reform Christian, says, “Evangelicals fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. Evangelicals will be seen increasingly as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.”

In light of the recent backlash against Republicans who supported the right-to-discriminate bills across 11 states, Spencer’s words seem prophetic. Republican lawmakers had expected evangelicals to mobilize in the aftermath of Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s veto of SB1062. Instead, legislatures in states like Mississippi, Kansas, and Oklahoma have largely backed down from attempts to protect “religious freedom” after a national outcry branded the proposed bills discriminatory.

Every denomination in the U.S. is losing both affiliation and church attendance. In some ways the country is a half-generation behind the declining rate of Christianity in other western countries like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France, and the Netherlands. In those countries, what were once churches are now art galleries, cafes and pubs. In Germany more than 50 percent say they do not believe in any god, and this number is declining rapidly. In the U.K., church attendances have halved since the 1970s.

A recent study into thebeliefs of people living in 137 countries concludes that religious people will be a minority in many developed countries by 2041. Nigel Barber, an Irish bio-psychologist, based his book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, on the findings. His book also debunks the popular belief that religious groups will dominate atheistic ones because they collectively have more children. “Noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve,” writes Barber.

Anthropologists have often stated that religion evolved to help early man cope with anxiety and insecurity. Barber contends that supernatural belief is in decline everywhere for the fact that ordinary people enjoy a decent standard of living and are secure in their health and finances. “The market for formal religion is also being squeezed by modern substitutes such as sports and entertainment. Even Facebook is killing religion because it provides answers for peculiarly modern narcissistic anxieties for which religion has no answer,” observes Barber.

While some polls show roughly 9 in 10 Americans still maintain belief in a god or gods, the trend of religious young Americans is toward a mish-mash of varied religious beliefs. A 2010 USA Today survey revealed that 72 percent of the nation’s young people identify as “more spiritual than religious.”

With an increasingly majority of younger Americans accepting evolution as fact, Christianity for many under 35 is becoming a watered-down hybrid of eastern philosophy and biblical teachings. “The turn towards being ‘spiritual but not religious’ points at the decreasing observation of doctrine and strict rules and a broader relationship to sentiment and ‘Jesus and me’ on the one hand alongside the rise of yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and a blend or smorgasbord of eastern practices with the idea of being loosely/broadly spiritual—yet not in any specific context or foundation of the Trinity, Seven Deadly Sins, Karma, Nirvana or any of the pillars or branches of belief,” writes Alan Miller, moderator of a “spiritual but not religious” event.

Young people are turning away from the church and from basic Christian beliefs. While a number of non-denominational mega-churches continue to thrive, their teachings are less dogma and more self-help. Eventually, Christianity-Lite will be replaced with Spirituality-Full Strength.

Certainly, pro-secular groups have been largely successful in removing Jesus from the public square, workplace and classroom.

All of which leaves only one self-evident conclusion: that despite the Christian Right’s well-funded and well-organized effort to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy, Christianity will inevitably mirror the days of its origins i.e. something that is only whispered about in secretly guarded places. And that may happen sooner than you think.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America,” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

 

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Noah – No Way!

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Studio cut of Noah ‘featured religious montage and Christian rock song’ Paramount’s desperate efforts to market Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic to Christians appear to have failed

Paramount Pictures Studio executives tested an alternate version of Darren Aronofsky’s forthcoming biblical epic Noah that opened with a montage of religious images and ended with a Christian rock song, it has been revealed.

More on this film Aronofsky said recently that he had won a battle with executives to screen his own version of Noah in cinemas after around half a dozen alternate cuts failed to find traction with evangelical filmgoers.

Now a new profile of the film-maker in The New Yorker details the desperate lengths to which Paramount went to court religious audiences in the US, who had earlier turned their noses up at a test screening of Aronofksy’s edit.  “In December, Paramount tested its fifth, and ‘least Aronofskian’, version of Noah: an 86-minute beatitude that began with a montage of religious imagery and ended with a Christian rock song,” reveals the profile.

Fortunately for cinemagoers, the new cut scored lower than Aronofsky’s own version had with Christian audiences. The New Yorker piece also reveals why executives felt they had to move forward with (now abandoned) alternate cuts in the first place: the Black Swan director, who gave up final cut on his film in exchange for a reported $160m (£96m) budget, was seemingly in no mood to compromise.  “Noah is the least biblical biblical film ever made,” Aronofsky is quoted as saying. “I don’t give a fuck about the test scores! My films are outside the scores. Ten men in a room trying to come up with their favourite ice cream are going to agree on vanilla. I’m the rocky road guy.”

The New Yorker piece suggests Noah is far from the successor to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which took $611m worldwide in 2004 after evangelicals flocked to see it, that Paramount had apparently been hoping for. Aronofksy’s movie is said to feature a segment showing how Darwinian evolution transformed amoebas into apes, as well as what the director describes as “a huge [environmental] statement in the film … about the coming flood from global warming”.

Earlier reports suggested religious audiences at test screenings for Aronofsky’s cut disliked “dark” scenes in which Russell Crowe’s Noah gets drunk and ponders taking extreme measures to wipe mankind from the face of the Earth. Many complained that the film inaccurately represented the biblical story upon which it is based, despite the fact that a scene in which Noah has one too many after finding land with his ark does appear in the Bible.

Paramount now appears to have given up on its efforts to market Noah to Christians, with the studio issuing a statement last month making clear that the movie is not intended as a direct translation. It also looks likely to be banned across large swaths of the Middle East and parts of north Africa for contravening Islamic rules on the depiction of prophets.

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

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March 17, 2014 · 11:20