Guess the winner: Woodstock vs. religious liberty

Blame it on Woodstock. Cultural changes unleashed by the sexual revolution are affecting how millions of Americans understand religious liberty, according to University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, speaking at a recent Newseum symposium marking the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It doesn't help that disputes about the free exercise of religion have increasingly turned into bitter partisan battles pitting Republicans against the majority of mainstream … [Read more...]

Classic Billy Graham, at 95 years of age

The Rev. Billy Graham has been worried about the state of America's soul for a long, long time. So it wasn't surprising that -- when preaching what could be his final sermon -- the 95-year-old evangelist looked straight into the camera and talked about sin and tears, repentance and salvation. And the cross. "Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times when I've wept as I've gone from city to city and I've seen how far people have wandered from God," said … [Read more...]

‘The Exorcist’ — Taking incarnate evil seriously for 40 years

In the middle of a New York Magazine dialogue on heaven and hell, damnation and salvation, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia offered this theological zinger: "I even believe in the Devil." The Devil is a major player in the Gospels and faithful Catholics know that, he said, before adding: "Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history." The principalities and powers of elite America were shocked, shocked by his confession. But one veteran Hollywood scribe pounded out a … [Read more...]

‘Backsliders’ and the ‘unchurched’ equal the ‘Nones’?

Old-school preachers used to call them "backsliders," those folks who were raised in the pews but then fled. Sociologists and church-growth professionals eventually pinned more bookish labels on these people, calling them the "unchurched" or describing them as "spiritual, but not religious." Pollsters at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and similar think tanks are now using a more neutral term to describe a key trend in various religious traditions, talking about a sharp increase in … [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...]

Military chaplains on Sexual Revolution front lines

It was in 1775 that General George Washington authorized chaplains in the Continental Army. "Purity of Morals," he wrote, three years later, provided the "only sure foundation of publick happiness in any Country" and thus was "highly conducive to order, subordination and success in an Army." "Purity of Morals" might have provided unity during the American Revolution, but chaplains face more divisive issues decades after the Sexual Revolution. "No Catholic priest or deacon may be forced by … [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...]

Concerning God, sex, worship and babies

Pollsters have been asking Americans questions about God, sex and babies for a long time and the answers used to be pretty predictable. Early in the 20th Century it was easy to predict which flocks of believers would produce the most children -- with Mormons reporting the highest numbers, followed by Catholics, then Protestants and so forth as fertility rates declined. But things changed as the century rolled on and America became more pluralistic and, in elite zip codes, secular. After … [Read more...]