The pope and the Pentecostal smartphone

The image projected onto the giant screen above the recent Kenneth Copeland Ministries conference was not your typical clever smartphone video. Still, the crowd of Pentecostal Protestants was mesmerized because the shepherd vested in white who addressed them -- in Italian, with subtitles -- was one of the last men on earth they would have expected to warmly bestow his blessing on them. Pope Francis stressed that they "must encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together. ... These … [Read more...]

Duck! Elderly patriarchs discussing doctrine!

This elderly patriarch's image is certainly striking, with his stern face and a gray beard that flows over his chest, contrasting with the colorful clothing typical of his flock and his unique line of work. Just before Christmas, he raised eyebrows with a blunt statement on one of today's most controversial issues. No, this wasn't the Duck Commander in Louisiana. This patriarch resides in the city his followers formally refer to as Constantinople-New Rome. "The Lord appointed the … [Read more...]

What would Pope Francis pick as top 2013 news story?

Popes come and popes go, with a new pope elected every few years or decades. Thus, when viewed through the lens of history, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was a stunning event in the history of Roman Catholicism and, thus, all of Western Christianity. He was the first man to resign St. Peter's throne in 600 years. Surely this was the most important religion-news story of 2013? But when seen through the lens of the mainstream press, the bookish Benedict's exit was a mere ripple in the … [Read more...]

Unusual challenge from a Greek Orthodox bishop

It happens all the time: Church leaders stand at podiums and urge members of their flocks to go and share their faith, striving to win new converts. These speeches rarely make news, because they are not unusual. But something very unusual happened earlier this month in Brookline, Mass. "You will surely agree that our mission ... is to lead our brothers and sisters -- both inside and outside the church -- to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," said the featured speaker. "This is becoming … [Read more...]

A growing hole in the middle of American Jewry

There is a Yiddish saying about the mysteries of faith, family and fellowship that, loosely translated, proclaims: "You cannot make Shabbat by yourself." "The point is that you need the presence of other Jews around you to live out the dictates of your Jewish beliefs," said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, of the Jewish Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College. Shabbat creates that circle of support. Beginning minutes before sundown on Friday, it involves a day of rest, prayer, ritual … [Read more...]

Hellish flashbacks on the Christian persecution front

Churches were burning in Pakistan, while African Christians died and radical forms of Islam threatened monasteries, sanctuaries and villages in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. That was 1997. Human-rights scholar Paul Marshall kept hearing one question over and over when he addressed this rising tide of persecution: Why didn't more American Christians protest as their sisters and brothers in the faith were jailed, raped, tortured and killed? Some Christians, he said, were distracted by apocalyptic … [Read more...]

The pope, the media and balance on pro-life ministries

It was the telephone call heard around the world, because the pope made the call. On the other end of the line was a single woman in central Italy, who mailed Pope Francis a confused, anguished letter after learning she was pregnant by a man who turned out to be married. The man demanded that she have an abortion and she refused. Then a strange telephone number appeared on her caller ID screen. It was the pope, who called to say that she made the right decision because the "child was a … [Read more...]

The evil the church already knows in Syria

For days, Christians with ties to Syria waited for news about the fighting in Maaloula, a village near Damascus that is famous for being one of three still in existence in which locals speak ancient Aramaic, the language of Jesus -- International reports were sketchy and American media reports were all but nonexistent. Then the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group critical of President Bashar al-Assad and his government, reported that the village had fallen on Sept. 7th … [Read more...]

The Anglican wars roll on (and Holy Communion for dogs)

The German Shepherd's name was Trapper and he came to St. Peter's Anglican Church with his owner, a newcomer at the historic Toronto parish. At the end of the Mass, Trapper went forward with everyone else for Holy Communion. That's when the vicar, in what she later described as a welcoming gesture, served the dog some of the consecrated bread that Anglicans believe has -- in a mysterious manner -- become the body of Jesus Christ. So one parishioner complained to the bishop and, in a flash, … [Read more...]

Sobering words for Brazil’s bishops

If Roman Catholicism can be compared with a fleet, then the Brazilian church has long been it's largest aircraft carrier -- with an estimated 123 million Catholics, more than any other country on earth. But that isn't how Pope Francis described this church during one of the less-publicized addresses during his epic World Youth Day sojourn in Rio de Janeiro. Instead of a rich and powerful vessel for the old establishment, he told Brazil's bishops that their church is now a humble sailing ship … [Read more...]