Shameless plug for a friend

Please pardon this shameless plug for the official grandmother of this blog, Frederica Mathewes-Green of Beliefnet, NPR and lots of other places. The Dallas Morning News just ran a very interesting Q&A with her — gentle and blunt at the same time — linked to the content of her recent lectures in an Episcopal church in Dallas. The title of the lectures was a flag-waver if I have seen one: “Sex and the City: Men, Women and the Future of Civilization.”

Here is a sample from the interview:

Question: Why is it important for you to speak out about social issues such as abortion, and feminism?

Answer: Abortion has always been the most important issue to me because of the numbers of the deaths. An issue that causes people to die is more important than one that causes them to live in poverty.

If soldiers are killed in a war, that’s a tragedy. But if it’s little children dying, that’s more urgent. The numbers now are about 40 million since Roe vs. Wade. And I think all other sexual issues are connected.

That Air Force train keeps rolling

I have been meaning to get back to this story the second half of the week, but many other things kept getting in the way. Over at the Los Angeles Times, reporter David Kelly continues to roll with the story of evangelical abuses at the Air Force Academy.

The big news is that there still is no sign of balance in all of this. It seems that 90 percent of the Air Force Academy’s cadets are Christians, but there is no sign of their side in the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps they are guilty as sin and not answering their telephones. Perhaps Kelly does not want to talk with them. Perhaps this is a railroad job at the government level and the Christians — the bright ones and the not-so-bright ones — are deep in their bunkers.

The bottom line: Readers have no way to know. The stories are so blindingly one-sided that it is hard to tell.

I tend to follow church-state issues rather closely, having done a master’s degree in the subject. I can tell you, from experience, that Americans United for Separation of Church and State is involved in a whole lot of valid cases. No reporter would ignore this group’s work, even if, in this era, it is as fiercely partisan as Focus on the Family.

You see, the more valid the church-state case, the more likely you are to see other groups get involved — on the left and the right. The best solutions to these kinds of problems almost always come from broad, broad coalitions. Look for efforts that involve the Southern Baptist Convention (right) as well as the Baptist Joint Committee (left), the Alliance Defense Fund as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

There is a great NPR series going on right now on many issues related to this story. Here are reports on culture-war lawyers, the Alliance Defense Fund and a health-class curriculum battle. This NPR series, on Christianity and the public square, is precisely what the Los Angeles Times series is not. It’s balanced American journalism, as opposed to European-style advocacy reporting.

Anyway, what we have going on out at the Los Angeles Times is half of a church-state debate. Where oh where is the other half? When will we get that side of the story? Check this out, from Kelly’s latest report about the formation of an official task force:

Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group based in Washington, released a report on cases of alleged religious insensitivity at the academy and sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that raised the possibility of a lawsuit. . . .

The Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, will head the group — which will include members of the chaplain service, the Department of Defense, military attorneys and possibly outside organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League.

So now we see the roots of the story.

Again, let me stress that it seems clear many of the issues being raised in this flap are valid. But so are the First Amendment rights of the Christian students on the campus and in the military. Free speech can cause tension. But I think it is one of those rights the military exists to protect.

Just another sad persecution story

Here we go again. I have been watching to see if the MSM notices this story. Sadly, I don’t think it’s on the radar. It seems that an Assemblies of God preacher in Iran may lose his head because of his faith and his voice. Here is a brief clip from Compass Direct, a Christian wire service:

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand, a former Muslim, faces possible execution, the first religiously motivated death sentence in Iran since 1990. Authorities said Pourmand was scheduled to appear before the Islamic court of Iran in Tehran, but they ordered him moved to stand trial in Bandar-i Bushehr, his hometown.

Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor faces charges of apostasy from Islam and of proselytizing Muslims. Both “crimes” are punishable by death.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a rather horrible violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which usually receives strong support from Western elites, bravely continues to state:

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

It seems that European Union authorities, way back in the fall, did file a formal protest with Iranian authorities about the arrests of Christian clergy and laity as an “infringement of the freedom of religion or belief.” Good for them. The White House ought to try that.

And news coverage? A quick Google on Hamid Pourmand yields precisely what you would expect it to yield — a variety of news reports at Christian web pages.

Sad. Tragic, even. Predictable.

More ripples in the news Force

textThe religion-beat pros at the project have read the signs of the Hollywood times and released a newsroom-friendly guide to the God-talk elements in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other similar summer flicks. So why do these movies matter? Preach it:

These and other science fiction films create alternate realities with their own belief systems. In the case of the Star Wars series, The Force — which contains elements of several real-world religions — has become a metaphor in popular culture for the life energy of the universe. Fans sometimes take these “invented” religions for their own, and occasionally it’s difficult to discern the line where fandom and genuine faith intersect.

Like I said the other day, may the sources be with you. If you want me to quit saying that, let me know. The flood still hasn’t hit.

Southern Baptists chilling out?

textNow here is a story that ought to be on page one in major newspapers across what some people still call the Bible Belt. Take The Dallas Morning News, for example, or The Atlanta Journal-Counstitution.

For years, conservative Protestants have chuckled in their Dr Peppers about the growth of their churches and the decline of the Oldline Protestants on the left. Now, Dr. Thom S. Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is coming out with a study that says the evangelistic fire seems to be fading, big time, in America’s largest non-Catholic flock.

There is much in this report to chew on, and I need to see the whole study. But here are two jaw-dropping — for those who have long studied the SBC — reasons that Rainer proposes for the decline.

• “The churches of the SBC are not evangelistic because they have many unregenerate members.”

“Is it possible that we have significant numbers of non-Christians who have membership in our 43,000 churches?” Rainer asks. He answers, “If our research approximates eternal realities, nearly one-half of all church members may not be Christians. This issue may very well be a major factor in the evangelistic apathy in many churches.”

• “Only a small number of churches in the SBC have any significant evangelistic efforts.”

Rainer finds that 82 percent of all SBC churches baptized 12 or less persons during 2003. (The study was concluded before the recently released 2004 statistics were available.) He concludes, “Frankly, most Southern Baptist churches today are evangelistically anemic. The bulk of baptisms in the denomination is taking place in a relatively few churches.”

A nice twist. I ran into this Baptist story over at Amy Welborn’s Open Book, one of the blogs of holy obligation for Catholics and those who like to follow Catholic trends. Is she more hip to Baptist news than the editors of major papers in the Southern Kingdom?

Changes in the Godbeat Force

That rumble you heard a day or so ago was a disturbance in the Godbeat — or in this case, perhaps, the gods-beat — Force. There was this announcement over at The Revealer, our lively counterpart on the left side of the aisle in the religion-and-press sanctuary.

Jeff Sharlet:

The Revealer will be taking a short break from blogging for a few weeks, but we’ll continue to publish longer features above. With the end of the school year, we’re winding down the original grant the Pew Charitable Trusts that gave us life. The Revealer will continue, but in somewhat different form. I’ll be thinking about what that’ll be and how to do it in the coming weeks. I’ll also be writing syllabi — as of this fall, I’ll be teaching two Revealer-related graduate courses for New York University’s Center for Religion and Media, through the Department of Journalism and the Religious Studies Program. The future shape of The Revealer will be linked to those courses.

Please know that we will still be right here, if we survive our latest attempt to smooth out our software. At the moment, it does not appear that the comments section is working. I just got nailed with an error message saying that I had not filled in my required name and email address (which does NOT publish online), when, in fact, I had filled in those fields. Readers! Try the comments and, if they don’t work, send us email to let us know! You can reach me through

Meanwhile, there is big news at this blog, as well. In the very near future, GetReligion will semi-officially — and we are still working on officially — reside in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Young master Jeremy Lott already lives and works there and the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc is just down the Virginia rail line in the Richmond area.

Now, I am moving back to Beltway-land after accepting a teaching post at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Basically, the Summer Institute of Journalism that I have helped lead for 11 years is turning into a full-semester program. I am excited about the move for several reasons, not the least of which is getting to base my Scripps Howard column in the same city as my editors at the D.C. bureau. The Mattinglys will also return, with great joy, to our former church home south of Baltimore, Holy Cross Orthodox Church, home of Father Gregory and Frederica Mathewes-Green and all kinds of wonderful folks.

By the way, please check out Blog Heaven over at Beliefnet every now and then. I am happy to report that we have been doing quite well in that forum. As always, thanks for your support!

". . . with the notable exception of Poland"

Altar-in-Notre-Dame.jpgI have been meaning, for the past day or so, to point GetReligion readers toward a withering Boston Globe report by Charles M. Sennott on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in postmodern Europe. (Hat tip to Amy Welborn, of course.)

The statistics on the collapse in the pews are amazing, even without taking into account the fact that church attendance numbers are always inflated.

And then there is this amazing paragraph about the crisis at the altars: “The decrease in the number of men entering the priesthood across Europe, with the notable exception of Poland, is equally dismaying for Catholics. In Ireland, for example, the Archdiocese of Dublin ordained only one priest last year. This year, for the first time in what historians say is hundreds of years, the diocese says it does not expect to ordain a single priest.”

Has anyone seen a quality MSM report with a less bleak point of view?

Once again, this is an angle of the Benedict XVI papacy that is going to be fascinating to watch. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was known for his candor, when it came to discussing the dark side of the modern Catholic Church. I always agreed with the critics who said Pope John Paul II struggled to grasp the icy reality of Europe, because he viewed it through the lens of his experience in Poland.

Echo chamber: Democrats get religion?

UCClogo.jpgWe could have started an entire blog during the past six months on the subject of the Democratic Party and religion. Check out this package at The Dallas Morning News — in the new weekly Points section edited by Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher — on the theme “Can the Democratic Party be fixed?”

Then there is this piece by columnist Andrew Ferguson at Bloomberg. As you know, we don’t do much here with opinion columns, but, hey, don’t you think this is a snappy headline? — “Can Democrats, Like Republicans, Get Religion?”

We like the sound of that.

By the way, if you Google the words Get Religion right now, we are nearing the 100,000 mark for use of the phrase. Then there’s nearly 16,000 for GetReligion (without the space, the way we use it in the URL). Coming soon — GetReligion T-shirts, mugs and (according to young Jeremy) lunch boxes. We will pass on the Air America-style thong.

Meanwhile, here is one of the money quotes from the Ferguson column, focusing on the recent life and times of one John Podesta and the Center for American Progress:

Many Democrats have been awed by the success of the conservative movement within the Republican party. So over the last two years, Democratic activists have created a series of mirror-image institutions and initiatives — their own talk radio network, quasi-academic think tanks (Podesta’s center is the most prominent), media watchdog groups, ideologically motivated lobbying firms. It worked for conservatives, why not liberals?

Podesta’s faith initiative shows the delusion at the heart of this mimicry. There’s no doubting that religious conservatives have been one of the great engines of Republican electoral success. Yet this part of the conservative movement has been what a progressive might call “organic,” a spontaneous coming-together of like-minded people in the face of intolerable offenses (so conservatives believed) from the larger secular culture.

The religious right, in other words, is a bottom-up movement, bound together by a sense of grievance. Podesta’s initiative, on the other hand, looks like an attempt to gin up an artificial movement that otherwise shows no independent signs of viability.