An Episcopal Catch-22

One easy way to create fog is to bring together clashing fronts of lawyers and theologians. The soup got thick this week in Wilmington, Del., site of the heresy trial of Bishop Walter Righter, who stands accused of violating his vows by ordaining a noncelibate gay man. While homosexual issues took center stage, this complex trial pivots on another question: Does the Episcopal Church have a doctrine that says sex outside of marriage is sin? Today, this question leads directly to another: Will the … [Read more...]

The Church of Whatever

For years, Nashville has sort of played for Southern Baptists the role that Rome plays for Roman Catholics. The pastor of Nashville's 175-year-old First Baptist Church doesn't just lead a tall-steeple church -- he fills a symbolic role in America's largest non-Catholic flock. So it raised eyebrows at Nashville's "Baptist Vatican" when the news spread that the Rev. Dan Francis was leaving his 2,400-member church to start a mission. "The senior pastor of a First Baptist church isn't supposed to go … [Read more...]

Define ‘Christian College’ — Please

As the late Southern humorist Grady Nutt always said, you know you're in Baptist country when the preachers pronounce "dance" with four syllables -- as in "daaah-E-unce-uh!" Nutt was a graduate of Baylor University, so he knew all about hot-button issues in the Bible Belt. It seems like every few years, journalists can count on the world's largest Southern Baptist university to make headlines linked to drinking, dancing, sex or all of the above. Naturally, a recent chapel announcement that … [Read more...]

PK Reaches Out to Clergy

The agenda for next week's Promise Keepers clergy conference ends with a tiny note saying the "schedule is subject to change." That's interesting, since the agenda for the Atlanta gathering is sketchy to begin with. It opens with a Tuesday session on "Hope for the Church," ends with "Renewing Our Call" on Thursday and, in between, leaves organizers lots of room to maneuver. The program doesn't even nail down who speaks when. Strangest of all, Wednesday night is wide open. This is not standard … [Read more...]

Hell and the Church of England

It wasn't a firestorm, but British newspapers recently found a subject hot enough to compete with the Royal Family's sex life. "Hell hath no fury any more," said the Observer, responding to a Church of England report that included modernized language on heaven, hell and damnation. Another London headline said, "We believe in Hell, says the Church (but without the flames)." While "The Mystery of Salvation" does reject "universalism," the belief that everyone goes to heaven, it suggests that those … [Read more...]

The Religion of American Sports

Amid the tumult surrounding Super Bowl XXX, Americans will congregate to party, pray, swear, chant, eat, drink and bond. They will wear symbolic clothes, attend public rites, recall heroic deeds, consult oracles, hand down traditions and spend -- or risk -- millions of dollars. It's easy to see why many researchers now consider Super Sunday a pseudo-religious holiday. "The Super Bowl combines all the elements that America has always valued the most. It's a ritual that glorifies physical … [Read more...]

ABC: Adventures in Religion News

Hours before the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an ABC News colleague brought Peter Jennings a copy of "The Jewish Mourners Book of Why." "I found the explanation of Jewish burial so fascinating that I incorporated a good deal of it into my funeral commentary," said the veteran anchorman, in a recent address at Harvard University's Divinity School. "If my mail is a guide, the audience much appreciated it. Contrary to what many news executives have believed in the past, news of … [Read more...]

How Square is Your Church?

For the first half of the 1990s, Father Christopher Moore spent most of his Sunday mornings guest preaching in parishes across New Jersey. Each week, he stood in another pulpit, gazing at another set of Episcopalians in another set of pews. He quickly spotted trends. "I found an incredible similarity from church to church, even from service to service. It seemed like I kept seeing the same 20 people at 8 o'clock and the same 100 people at 10 o'clock," said Moore, who served as the Trenton-based … [Read more...]

’95 Trends II: Public School Wars

Each passing season brings dispatches from the church-state front lines in America's public schools. In New Jersey, students asked to list "Christmas characters" didn't receive credit if they named Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Out in Oregon, a public-school calendar for December listed Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice -- but not Christmas. And so it goes. Some students have been ridiculed for whispering prayers at lunch, disciplined for discussing faith or sent home for wearing religious … [Read more...]

’95 News and Trends I

Moments after he pulled the trigger, Yigal Amir announced that God told him to gun down Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The former seminarian later defended himself by quoting chapter and verse from ancient Jewish writers, while authorities investigated whether he had received guidance from rabbis on the right fringe of Israel's powerful, and some say paranoid, Orthodox community. Now, Amir's lawyers are suggesting that it all may have been a mistake. After shocks from Rabin's death will rattle … [Read more...]