“Scoring” at church?

MadonnaCemeteryI am not a frequent reader of the magazine Maxim, but it did carry a rather humorous article on how to “score in church.” While the article is quite crude in its advice and I would not encourage anyone to try “this at home,” or at church for that matter, it is an interesting look at how a different worldview sees Christianity and the American church scene.

The excellent Indiana-based blog In the Agora first tipped me off to the article, with writer David Darlington stating that the article was “creepy and funny at the same time.” I agree on both accounts:

1. Find Your Faith
Macking in a holy place is easier than almost anywhere else — the good girls never see it coming. Plus, “every girl wants to tell her father she met her boyfriend at church and not at a bar,” says God-fearing cutie Erin Howard, 25. Look for progressive sanctuaries that offer “contemporary” services (to attract a younger, hipper crowd) and coffee hours (so you can actually talk, as opposed to just ogling from afar).

2. Enter the Kingdom
Scope out the finest churchgoer, then snag the pew in front of her. You won’t appear too eager, yet you can make eye contact easily — and shake her hand if there’s a “sharing of the peace.” Avoid making moves mid-service. “You’re in a place of bloody worship; you have to be respectful,” notes Tracey Cox, author of Superdate. Instead, listen to the sermon, which’ll give you plenty to talk about later.

3. Get Religion
Despite the communion wine, forget your sloppy bar tactics. After the service, just introduce yourself and act genuinely curious about the church. Say, “I’m new here. Are you a regular?” This’ll transition to the coffee hour, where you can quiz her about the service and how she ended up there. If all else fails, say something about looking for a higher meaning in life. She may make it her goal to “convert” you.

4. Reach the Promised Land
At this point patience is key. “A lot of repressed religious girls are damn hot in bed,” notes Cox. “But you’re not getting a quick shag here.” Provided she’s sending positive signals (e.g., laughing, smiling, not making the sign of the cross), simply tell her you’d love to meet up, outside of church, and ask for her digits. And no matter where it goes from there, try to think like the Browns do: There’s always next Sunday!

If you attend a church that is largely made up of singles like mine is, reading this article can be quite a downer on first thought. The likely motivations of many of the young people attending church these days is probably not the most pure.

But then deeper thoughts hit me and I realize that the premise of this article — attending church in an attempt to “score” as if one is at a bar or a nightclub — is quite ridiculous. That said, this is Maxim and it’s not exactly known for great insights on how to live life. People have been attending religious services for the purpose of finding their life partner for centuries (see here for how the Mormons handle their single population).

Females, last time I checked, do not attend church with any notion of being “scored” on, and those females foolish enough to fall for even the smoothest of the smooth, well, I don’t know what to say. Sure there is a darker side of the church singles scene, in that some people do attend church with the primary motivation being the opportunity to meet singles of the opposite sex, but Maxim has not caught up on anything earth-shattering or even legitimate.

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An evangelist visits the Naval Academy

usnavalI ran into a minister the other day over at the Naval Academy, a man I’ve known for about 10 years. He was leading a really interesting project, one directly linked to a topic that comes up often on this blog — offensive free speech.

His goal, along with about 50 of his friends, was to do some one-on-one evangelism on the campus, attempting to win friends and influence people. In some cases, he even hoped he could convince people to change their religious beliefs and join his cause.

More than anything else, he hoped to change the hearts and minds of the leaders of the institution so that the leaders could then help change the hearts and generations of midshipmen to come.

It was, pure and simple, a case of religious activists offering a public witness for their faith and their own beliefs, hoping they could win some converts.

At first, academy officials planned to have this evangelist and his followers arrested if they entered the academy grounds and attempted offensive speech with visitors, staff, faculty and the students. After all, the activists were asking for changes in military policies. They were pushing the envelope.

No, this evangelist was not linked to the dangerous work of people like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — although he worked for both of those men a decade or so ago.

This was the Rev. Mel White, once an evangelical superstar and now one of the nation’s most articulate gay-rights leaders. He had come to the academy with about 50 other gay-rights activists to try to convince campus leaders to reject the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies that require gays, lesbians and bisexuals to be silent about their beliefs and sexual orientation. This was one of the Equality Ride protests organized by Soulforce, which is based in Lynchburg, Va. The main organizer of this rally was Jacob Reitan.

The Washington Post led the rather low-key media stampede that surrounded the event, producing some nice quiet photo opportunities during the misty day before a football weekend on the Annapolis campus. Here is a lengthy chunk of reporter Ray Rivera’s main report:

The protesters wore bright pastel t-shirts printed with the words, “Equality Ride,” which organizers have dubbed the roving protest. The Naval Academy was the second stop in what organizers hope will be a nationwide bus tour to visit college campuses where homosexuality is either prohibited or discouraged.The rally began with a few tense moments. The protesters, mostly students from the Washington area, held hands forming a line along the brick wall outside the academy’s main gate. After a brief news conference, they walked single file through the gate. Reitan was first and, met by two Marine guards, he gave his name and showed his driver’s license. …

(After) a few moments of discussion at the gate today, the guards let Reitan and the rest through. A horde of television cameras and reporters followed close behind. Academy officials insist they did not back down from the arrest threat but that organizers agreed to their terms.

“They came to the gate, they were asked what their intention was and they said they were there as private citizens, and that’s when the decision was made to the let them aboard,” said Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy spokesman.

I ran into White later, while he was working the crowds in the academy visitor’s center and bookstore. He was glad that officials backed down and let people talk. He was very pleased with the heavy media turnout, of course.

At some point, government officials have to realize that people have a right to talk to one another and even to argue and disagree, he said. This doesn’t mean that people — on the right or the left — need to be loud or rude. If you start talking to someone about religion and they don’t want to talk, then you just say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you” and walk away, said White.

“It’s like all the people who want to censor television,” he said. “You keep trying to tell people like that, ‘Don’t censor us. Just change the channel.’ That’s what this is all about, too. We just want to talk to people and let them know what we think. What’s so scary about that?”

Precisely. The problem, of course, is that one person’s free speech is another’s evangelism or even worse — proselytizing. This is why it’s hard to write speech codes without affecting the left as well as the right.navy chapel int

Rather than talk about something really dangerous — like sex (the Naval Academy) or salvation (the Air Force Academy) — let’s look at another issue. Consider this a parable.

Let’s say some people in authority at a military academy, like teachers or deans, decide to use their clout to change hearts and minds about the environment. Let’s say they show movies about the environment and use standard academy media, bulletin boards and email to publicize the films. Let’s say that, on their own time, they organize meetings — with equal standing to other voluntary assemblies on campus — to discuss environmental issues. Let’s even say that they talk with students about environmental issues and urge students to talk with one another. Perhaps, when students express interest, they even urge students to change their beliefs about environmental issues.

So far so good. Right?

But let’s say that these officials go further and require students to attend these sessions. Let’s say they test students to make sure they have the right beliefs. Let’s say that they even push students to talk during off hours on campus and refuse to back away when students decline to dialogue.

That would be wrong. Right? You bet it would. That kind of behavior is bad — on the left or the right. I would even say it’s wrong in newsrooms.

But what is wrong with talking? What is wrong with free speech and debates about public issues? What’s wrong with people changing their minds on topics, after debates and dialogues in which they are free to take part or to walk away?

I’m glad that White and his associates were allowed to visit the Naval Academy. I don’t think it would have hurt for them to talk to students, if the students had the freedom to walk away. Soulforce teams are planning to visit a number of Christian college campuses later this year. I hope that honest conversations and forums can be held during those visits, without people on either side turning things into tense media events. I hope the press quotes people on both sides accurately.

Free speech is a messy thing and so is religious liberty. But it beats all the other alternatives.

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Rome and the death penalty, again

execution tableSome of you will recall that we recently had a lively thread here at GetReligion on “cafeteria Catholicism” and Rome’s teachings on the death penalty.

The key point: Many journalists have asked why the Vatican keeps flirting with Eucharistic discipline for Catholic politicians who have openly rejected the church’s teachings on abortion, but has not threatened to take action against those who favor — to one degree or another — the death penalty.

The question looming behind the headlines is this: Why is Rome leaning toward the GOP, by ranking abortion above the death penalty?

Now, please understand that one of my goals as a journalist is to find liberal religious voices who make liberals sweat and conservatives who do the same for those in their own camp. I am prejudiced in favor of candor, as well.

In that spirit, let me point readers toward a column by a conservative Catholic leader, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, titled “What does the Church teach on the death penalty?”

I realize that this archbishop’s pro-Vatican stance will turn some readers off.

But Chaput has been saluted in some camps on the Catholic left because he has openly supported the stance taken by the late Pope John Paul II (as opposed to the stance that many insist the pope took on this issue). Thus, reporters have often quoted this statement from another Chaput column in the Denver Catholic Register last March.

… (The) deeper problem — the death penalty itself — remains with us. Here’s a simple fact: If the defendant in a murder trial is financially well off and white, he has a much lower chance of receiving the death penalty than if he’s poor or a person of color. In some states, the inability to hire a private attorney can amount to a death sentence. …

Experience shows that, quite apart from the serious flaws built into the death penalty in too many states, capital punishment simply doesn’t work as a deterrent. Nor does it heal or redress any wounds, because only forgiveness can do that. It does succeed though in answering violence with violence — a violence wrapped in the piety of state approval, which implicates all of us as citizens in the taking of more lives.

Having read that column, those who favor and oppose the death penalty are ready to read what Chaput has to say in his current column. Neither side will cheer. Hopefully, those on both sides will read carefully. By the way, it does not appear that this Chaput column has drawn any coverage in the Colorado media. It should.13 1 Electric chair

People really need to read the whole thing, whether they agree with Chaput (and Rome) or not. Nevertheless, here is a key passage:

Catholic teaching on euthanasia, the death penalty, war, genocide and abortion are rooted in the same concern for the sanctity of the human person. But these different issues do not all have the same gravity or moral content. They are not equivalent.

War can sometimes be legitimate as a form of self-defense. The same can apply, in extraordinary circumstances, to the death penalty. But euthanasia is always an inexcusable attack on the weak. Genocide is always the premeditated murder of entire groups of people. And abortion is always a deliberate assault on a defenseless and innocent unborn child. It can never be justified. It is always — and intrinsically — gravely wrong.

What Catholic teaching on the death penalty does involve is this: a call to set aside unnecessary violence, including violence by the state, in the name of human dignity and building a culture of life.

Yes, there are no quote marks around the phrase “culture of life.”

Yes, the archbishop ends by calling for the United States to end the death penalty.

But reporters must read the Catholic documents on these various issues — especially the teachings on abortion and public life — before we head into the next round of news coverage of Catholics, Communion and the ballot box. The goal is to cover the debates — inside the church and outside — as accurately as possible.

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Exalting the Mormons

mormon templeNewsweek magazine splashed a story on the growth of the Mormon Church on its cover last week. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints keeps receiving more and more media coverage, and it is handling it quite well, considering some of its more controversial teachings.

Nothing extremely shocking in this piece (and GetReligion has covered some of these issues here, here, here and here), but this is one of the country’s major newsweeklies and an article that will gather quite a number of eyes should not be ignored.

The author, Elise Soukup, seems a bit transfixed by the polygamy issue, but it’s clear that LDS leadership abandoned that teaching a long time ago. It’s old news.

The news too me is LDS teaching on exaltation, but the following few sentences are all that is mentioned on the issue:

However, LDS doctrine holds that some polygamist marriages will exist in the celestial kingdom, the highest tier of heaven. Smith taught that humans (who were spirits in a “pre-existence”) come to earth to get a body and to be tested. After death, everyone is placed into one of three kingdoms, depending on his level of righteousness. Those in the highest degree will dwell with God, their families will be eternal and they’ll even become gods themselves — as God did. Lorenzo Snow, fifth LDS prophet, articulated doctrine when he said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be.”

Tmatt tells me that the big question is whether it is prejudice to even write about Mormon doctrine. I see it as quite necessary, if it is indeed an essential holding of the Mormons. And as tmatt showed us, last month this issue could blow up in the face of many conservative Mormon politicians.

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A church recognizes a design genius

UtzonThe October 17 issue of The New Yorker features an extended profile of Jørn Utzon, the Pritzker Award-winning architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. The profile, written by Geraldine Brooks, focuses on how Utzon was dismissed from the Sydney project because of tensions with a minister of public works who was elected midway through the building project.

The profile is not available online, alas. Much of the story is a tragic narrative of an architectural genius who can’t find his niche. One of the sweetest moments occurs here:

Utzon, meanwhile, had found his reception back in Denmark distinctly chilly. The president of the Danish Association of Architects told him that, having abandoned one job, he couldn’t expect to get work from the government there, and he never did. His one really significant Danish commission came in 1969 from a church congregation in a Copenhagen suburb, and for once Utzon had a client willing to trust him on all details. The site is an unprepossessing strip of busy highway, so Utzon has created his own topography within. The building has few external windows but is saturated with light that falls from skylights set in a remarkable surging ceiling that rises like a wave.

After Sydney, Utzon worked on only one commission of a scale similar to that of the Opera House. In 1971, he designed the Kuwait National Assembly, on a site on the Persian Gulf. The design incorporated many ideas from Arab and Islamic tradition: a vast concrete form that swoops upward from the entrance, recalling the old billowing tents of the Bedouin, and providing a majlis, or meeting place, where the emir can receive his subjects. Offices and departments are arranged along an internal “street,” evoking a souk, or bazaar. Along with early drawings, Utzon sent his assistant a picture of the Esfahan mosque, torn from a newspaper, with the words “arches as beautiful as these” scribbled on it.

Beautiful images of the church are available from two sources: Utzon’s firm, and arcspace, an architecture and design magazine.

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Idol word haunts copy desk

olnmI am still catching up after the Tennessee tour, so here is another quick post saved from earlier in the week.

I need to offer a mega-hat tip to Amy Wellborn on this next one, pointing to the blog of her husband, Michael Dubruiel. It seems that someone at the Herald News copy desk in suburban Chicago messed up — big time.

If you click here, you will see the story and a repaired headline that says:

A visit from Our Lady

* Virgin Mary: Local parish is host to 33-foot statue for 2 weeks

The story is a pretty plain description of strange goings-on among the exotic local Catholic natives. Nothing really spectacular.

Our Lady of the New Millennium, a 33-foot, 8,400-pound statue of the Virgin Mary[,] began a two-week stay at St. Mary Immaculate parish. … The statue, commissioned in 1984 by Carl Demma, who has since passed away, is meant to be a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The statue was completed in 1999 and by Oct. 2003 had visited over 170 parishes.

There’s one strange phrase there: “is meant to be.” But what caught the eye of Welborn and Dubruiel was the original headline for this story, which now exists only in Catholic bloggerland. Hang on, because it was a doozy.

A visit from Our Lady

Statue of Virgin Mary: Local parish is host to 33-foot idol for 2 weeks

Dubruiel thought this failed the “objective reporting” test, for reasons that are rather obvious. But just in case readers missed it, he added:

Notice how the statue is referred to as an “idol”. If you have a second you might want to drop the suburban Chicago news an email that’ll point out that Catholics do not worship statues or idols but God alone!

Actually I am sure — as a former headline writer — that the red telephone at the copy desk rang a few times and the headline was changed rather quickly.

GetReligion readers will notice that Dubruiel assumed this was a case of media bias. In this case, I believe someone simply messed up.

That said, I can find no indication that the newspaper humbled itself and published a correction. The editors simply replaced the headline. However, that word “idol” was a real slap in the face for the traditional Catholics who would been drawn to this story. A correction would have been nice. Did I miss one somewhere?

P.S. Welborn’s blog is a great place to keep up on an interesting Holy Grail trial involving everyone’s favorite gnostic Catholic theologian — Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown. Click here for more details.

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Dobson, Miers and Ted Olsen (once again)

He’s baaaaaaaccccckkkkk. Meaning Ted Olsen over at the Christianity Today blog. He collected several hundred HHGR links (OK, OK, I didn’t count them all) so you don’t have to. Now, I call that servant leadership. Greater love hath no blogger …

Also, note that the Air Force is being asked to ban religious conversions at the academy, in the name of free speech and religious liberty of course. Forget all about the United Nations and that Universal Declaration of Human Rights thing (especially Article 18). Some forms of free speech are more equal than others.

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Coven and state clash, yet again

ALTAR2Maybe it’s just my church-state studies background, but this case about Wicca and public prayer strikes me as a major story and a sign of things to come. We may have heard the last of a witch named Cynthia Simpson at the U.S. Supreme Court, but the splintering of the old Judeo-Christian (and now Islamic) civil religion will continue. Here’s the lead from the Richmond Times-Dispatch story, the only MSM coverage that really mattered.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal yesterday from the Wiccan priestess who was excluded from giving the opening prayer at meetings of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. Cynthia Simpson, who calls herself a witch as do others of the Wiccan faith, sued because the county limits its list of clergy invited to pray at meetings to those of Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions.

And I loved this final detail:

Simpson is now studying for a master’s degree in divinity at a Pennsylvania seminary and hopes to be ordained in the Unitarian Universalist Church. She said that church’s beliefs are compatible with the Wiccan faith, which is based on unity with the Earth and the idea that humanity and all things are part of the deity.

A note to newcomers on the religion beat — I heard about this case (more than once, in fact) through journalists operating on the Baptist left. If you care about religious liberties issues, it pays to read Associated Baptist Press on the left and Baptist Press on the right.

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