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Faith | jonmower.com

Faith

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Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

From an article of the same title by Laurie Goodstein in the NY Times:

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it "the 4 percent panic attack"), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers…

Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual "hooking up" approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.

Over and over in interviews, evangelical teenagers said they felt like a tiny, beleaguered minority in their schools and neighborhoods. They said they often felt alone in their struggles to live by their "Biblical values" by avoiding casual sex, risqué music and videos, Internet pornography, alcohol and drugs…

The phenomenon may not be that young evangelicals are abandoning their faith, but that they are abandoning the institutional church, said Lauren Sandler, author of "Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement" (Viking, 2006)…

The reality is, when it comes to organizing youth, evangelical Christians are the envy of Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews, said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in the study of American evangelicals and surveyed teens for his book "Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual lives of American Teenagers" (Oxford, 2005).

Mr. Smith said he was skeptical about the 4 percent statistic. He said the figure was from a footnote in a book and was inconsistent with research he had conducted and reviewed, which has found that evangelical teenagers are more likely to remain involved with their faith than are mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and teenagers of almost every other religion…

The 4 percent is cited in the book "The Bridger Generation" by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old…

Mr. Luce seems weary of criticism that his message is overly alarmist. He said that a current poll by the well-known evangelical pollster George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna's methodology, however, for defining "Bible-believing" so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

Vatican official: Pope to loosen restrictions on use of old Latin Mass

From an article of the same title by Victor Simpson of the Associated Press in the Detroit News:

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to loosen restrictions on use of the old Latin Mass, making a major concession to ultraconservatives who split with the Vatican to protest liberalizing reforms, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

The pope's intent is to "help overcome the schism and help bring (the ultraconservatives) back to the church,"…

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969 in opposition to the reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin. The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent. Benedict has indicated he wants relations with the St. Pius X group to be normalized…

The Tridentine Mass, the name of the old Latin Mass, can now only be celebrated with permission of the local bishop. In addition to the use of Latin, the priest faces the altar -- his back to the worshippers -- and there are no lay readers as in the modern Mass.

Iraq's Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens

From an article of the same title by Michael Luo in the NY Times:

BAGHDAD, Oct. 16 — The blackened shells of five cars still sit in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary here, stark reminders of a bomb blast that killed two people after a recent Sunday Mass.

In the northern city of Mosul, a priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church was kidnapped last week. His church complied with his captors' demands and put up posters denouncing recent comments made by the pope about Islam, but he was killed anyway. The police found his beheaded body on Wednesday...

Christianity took root here near the dawn of the faith 2,000 years ago, making Iraq home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities. The country is rich in biblical significance: scholars believe the Garden of Eden described in Genesis was in Iraq; Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Iraq; the city of Nineveh that the prophet Jonah visited after being spit out by a giant fish was in Iraq.

Both Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians, the country's largest Christian sects, still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

They have long been a tiny minority amid a sea of Islamic faith. But under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's million or so Christians for the most part coexisted peacefully with Muslims, both the dominant Sunnis and the majority Shiites.

But since Mr. Hussein's ouster, their status here has become increasingly uncertain, first because many Muslim Iraqis framed the American-led invasion as a modern crusade against Islam, and second because Christians traditionally run the country's liquor stories, anathema to many religious Muslims.

Over the past three and a half years, Christians have been subjected to a steady stream of church bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and threatening letters slipped under their doors.

Estimates of the resulting Christian exodus vary from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000, with most heading for Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

Unity discussion takes center stage at Freed-Hardeman

In an article of the same title, Bobby Ross Jr. in The Christian Chronicle reports on speakers from a cappella and instrumental churches discuss ‘What Will It Take to Be Together Again?":

In a year of high-profile events advocating closer ties between a cappella Churches of Christ and instrumental Christian Churches, speakers from both fellowships again shared the stage Oct. 14.

But the purpose this time was not to tout the common beliefs and heritage of two groups that split 100 years ago. Instead, organizers of a "Contemporary Discussion" on unity at Freed-Hardeman University made it clear their focus would be on what still divides the Restoration Movement churches...

Part debate, part Bible study, the discussion featured Ralph Gilmore, a Bible professor at Freed-Hardeman, and David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University, which is associated with independent Christian Churches...

Gilmore begged Faust to "lay aside the instrument" for the sake of unity.

But Faust said that would require Christian Church members to give up convictions and freedom in Christ. He likened the request to asking a cappella churches to give up multiple communion cups or Sunday school classes because some congregations object to them.

Faust highlighted similarities between the two groups that a 1906 federal census first reported as separate bodies.

Both groups — with a combined 2.5 million baptized members in the U.S. — believe that Jesus is Lord, baptize for remission of sins and offer the Lord's Supper each Sunday.

"Instrumental music is not the focus of my faith," Faust said. "Christ is."

Appealing for unity and a deeper love for lost people, he said, "Often, we are like two lifeguards who get in a fistfight on the beach while a swimmer is drowning."

Gilmore agreed that the Bible requires Christian unity. But he said, "There can be no genuine unity without truth."

The issue boils down to how one understands God when he's silent about something, Gilmore said. Ephesians 5:19 calls for "singing and making melody in one's heart to the Lord."

That verse "tells you where you're supposed to pluck the string — in your heart," Gilmore said. "It's a purely vocal reference."
The same logic that allows a piano in worship could lead to doughnuts and coffee in the Lord's Supper, he said.

Gilmore said the Bible does allow "expedients," such as songbooks, to help carry out specified actions, so long as the tool does not change the action or "involve swapping something in the category specified with something else."

Evangelicals Ally With Democrats on Environment

Interesting things are happening on the faith/politics front, and the news isn't good for the Republicans. David Kuo is making the rounds (I've seen him on The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher) promoting his book and its thesis that Christians are disrepected and used by some in the White House. Apparently, some Christians also think that the Republican tent is too big if it is big enough to include gay conservatives ("Some Seek 'Pink Purge' in the GOP", LA Times).

Global warming is also coming into the mix. From an article of the same title by Stephanie Simon in the LA Times:

Democratic strategists are joining forces with conservative evangelicals to promote a faith-based campaign on global warming, in an improbable alliance that could boost Democratic hopes of taking control of Congress.

At a news conference today, the president of the Christian Coalition and a board member of the National Assn. of Evangelicals — both groups closely tied to the religious right — will announce Call to Action, an effort to make global warming a front-and-center issue over the next three weeks for Christians in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado and several other states with pitched election campaigns.

Through ads on Christian radio, sermons from the pulpit, Bible studies, house parties and a documentary film, "The Great Warming," Christians will be urged to view protecting the environment as a religious and moral issue every bit as urgent as opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

"We're not abandoning our previous positions: We're still pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-morality. But one or two issues can't adequately express the Gospel," said the Rev. Joel Hunter, new president of the Christian Coalition of America.

Hunter is one of scores of evangelical leaders who have become convinced — often reluctantly, after months of study — that the planet is facing a crisis and that God expects Christians to act, in part by electing committed environmentalists to office. "I'm trying to make Christians ... look at candidates in a broader way, and look at individuals, not just parties," he said...

"The Great Warming" is heavy on science, but it also lays out the biblical case for acting on global warming, starting with God's command to Adam to be a good steward of the Earth. Faith leaders increasingly make a moral argument as well, saying that floods, hurricanes and other effects of global warming will disproportionately affect the poor — whom Christ commanded his followers to help.

In the long run, evangelicals leading the Call to Action say they hope, and expect, more Republicans to take up global warming as a priority cause.

"Evangelicals are in the best position to change the GOP's mind on this — a better position than any group in America, other than big business," said Cizik, the vice president of governmental affairs for the National Assn. of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million Christians.

But evangelicals are not united on the issue. Dissent is so pointed that Cizik did not sign his name to the Call to Action on global warming for fear of embroiling his group in controversy.

A small minority of Christians believes that environmental degradation and natural disaster may be a sign of the Second Coming. Many others hold that science has not proved global warming is a crisis — or that God simply puts a higher priority on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Some links:

Pirating Songs of Praise

Via boingboing, from an article of the same title by Geoff Boucher in the LA Times:

Surveys show that born-again Christian teens are just as active in stealing and swapping music as their secular peers…

"We are all conflicted, it's true," said John Styll, president of the Gospel Music Trade Assn. "This is not a business first, but it still must be a business at some point to keep going."

Styll's association was behind a campaign called "Millions of Wrongs Don't Make a Right," which used well-known Christian artists as spokespeople against piracy, but Styll said the perception lingers that all music stars are fabulously wealthy, and he wonders how effective they are as voices in the debate anyway…

Christian music sales, both on CD and via paid download, over the first six months of 2006 were 11% higher than during the same period in 2005. That double-digit surge stands in stark contrast to the rest of the music industry, which experienced a 4% decline during the same time period. And no other genre has a 2006 sales jump anywhere near the level of the Christian sector…

Take singer-songwriter Derek Webb, an up-and-coming Christian recording artist who has not only received good reviews for his tour but also a flurry of coverage in industry outlets such as Billboard magazine. The reason? He's opted to give away a full download of his new album for three months on the Internet. He had sold 17,000 copies (both as CDs and downloads) since its December release and has given away 50,000 more since the download offer began in September. In exchange for the free music, he asks only that fans give him the names of five more people to e-mail about his music.

The idea came to him after he sold enough copies to break even financially on the project. The free-music period will pay off in the long run, he says, by building his career and also spreading the spiritual message of his music. His concerts have, in recent weeks, jumped from audiences of about 100 to crowds of 500 and more, he said.

Cities opt for economics instead of religion to boost downtown areas

Via Slate.com's Today's Papers column, from an article of the same title by Emily Bazar in USA Today:

Churches are being turned away by cities and towns that hope to enliven a fading downtown or boost their tax base…

The Liberty Legal Institute, which represents churches in religious-freedom disputes, says more communities are tightening zoning codes or considering other ways to restrict church locations…

The communities with restrictions say they're not against churches, they just want a variety of services for their residents and businesses that attract customers seven days a week.

Vatican to review state of limbo

Ever heard of the theory of limbo? I hadn't. From an article of the same title on BBCNews.com:

For centuries many Roman Catholics have believed that the souls of babies who die before baptism remain in limbo. But the concept has never been part of official Church teaching, and it is thought Pope Benedict may be keen to do away with it…

The theory of limbo was expounded in the Middle Ages as a solution to the theological question over what happened to the souls of babies who had not been cleansed by baptism of the "original sin" Catholics believe is inherent in all humanity, but were too young to have committed any sins of their own.

Limbo has also been held to be the final destination for people who lived virtuous lives before the time of Christ. It is not certain whether this teaching is likely to be changed…

The Catholic Church is usually very tenacious about its beliefs and does not change its teaching lightly…

However, Benedict, who before he became Pope was the Church's top authority on doctrine, is known to be keen to tie up loose theological ends…

...some have suggested that the possible change is an attempt by the Vatican to prevent people in developing countries with high infant mortality rates turning to Islam - Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to paradise.

C.S. Lewis Vs Christianism

Today Andrew Sullivan blogged an interesting quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about whether or not Christians should try to bind their religious views on the rest of society:

The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question - how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammendans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.

My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, and the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought be to quite sharp, so that a man know which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

Speaking in Tongues Resurfaces as Southern Baptist Controversy

From an article of the same title by Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service on beliefnet:

The practice of speaking in tongues is again brewing controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Last year, the denomination's International Mission Board adopted a policy that forbids considering missionary candidates who use a "private prayer language."

Now, an Arlington, Texas, pastor and trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has written to Southern Baptist President Frank Page to request that the issues of "spiritual gifts, private prayer language and speaking in tongues" be addressed in the denomination's statement of faith.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic previously discussed the issue in a chapel sermon at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and criticized the mission board policy.

"I pray in tongues in my private prayer life and I'm not ashamed of that," he said on Aug. 29. "I'm thankful for that."

Traditionally, Southern Baptists have opposed Pentecostal practices, including speaking in tongues, but some pastors and churches have embraced a more charismatic worship style.

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