Conservative critics of Ted Cruz are going after his tithing practices. According to recently released tax records, the Texas senator contributed less than 1 percent of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010. But many Christians believe that the Bible commands a charitable offering, or tithe, equal to 10 percent of one’s annual earnings.
This discrepancy could end up making a difference less than two weeks before the caucuses in Iowa, a state where a Republican politician’s faith matters. And this is exactly what a newly formed political group, Americans United for Values, is hoping for. Today, the group is launching a 60-second radio advertisement on news, talk, and Christian stations across Iowa that raises the tithing question and labels Cruz a “phony.”
The Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s American branch, was suspended on Thursday for three years for its willingness to consecrate same-sex marriages. But the punishment is not expected to dissuade Episcopalian leaders. As Jim Naughton, a communications consultant for the Episcopal Church said, “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back. We can’t repent what is not sin.”
But the denomination’s decision should not be interpreted as a theologically orthodox parent lovingly disciplining its rebellious child. Beneath the Anglican Communion’s actions against the Episcopal Church lies selective outrage, with the Episcopal Church being punished for its attempt to interpret doctrine, while unambiguous sins of other leaders have gone unaddressed.
If you think God is dead, you’re still welcome at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Minister John Shuck’s approach to God resembles that of a low-budget frat party — Bring Your Own God.
“While the symbol ‘God’ is part of our cultural tradition, you can take it or leave it or redefine it to your liking,” Shuck wrote earlier this year. “God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force.”
But Shuck isn’t the only religious leader dispensing of the sacred descriptor.
In 2012, Jefferson Bethke achieved every Millennial’s dream: he became “Youtube famous.”
His spoken word video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” went viral, garnered more than 30 million views, and spawned a New York Times bestselling book. Since then, Bethke has continued to use social media and the internet to build his brand and proclaim his faith. He has also written a new book, “It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die,” that seeks to inspire Millennial Christians by overturning modern misconceptions about Christianity. Here we discuss how technology–from the internet to social media–can be a force for good or evil in the hands of Christians.
Mark Twain once said, “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” Christians who’ve read the Bible’s first book know this true for it tells of two humans who ate fruit from a tree they were told by God not to touch. Humans naturally want what they cannot, or perhaps more to the point, should not have.
But Tim Chaddick, founding pastor of Reality LA and author of “The Truth About Lies: The Unlikely Role of Temptation in Who You Will Become,” says that many Christians have gotten temptation wrong. They have often trivialized it, failed to speak about its potentially positive results, and have overemphasized some temptations while ignoring others. Here we discuss how he thinks Christians can reclaim a biblical view of life’s forbidden fruits.
RNS: You suggest that temptation has been trivialized in popular culture, as well as the church. I’ll buy the first realm, but I’ve been in plenty of churches, and almost all talk openly and often about temptation. What am I missing?
Fifty-nine percent of Millennials who grew up in a Christian church drop out of it permanently or for an extended period of time, according to research by Barna Group. Among the most common reasons for leaving are Millennials’ beliefs that churches are shallow, anti-science, overprotective, and promote simplistic, judgmental views of sexuality. Some of these disaffected believers stay gone and others return later in life, but a large proportion of both end up bitter or jaded toward institutional religion. Now, thanks to Reba Riley, these Millennials have shorthand to describe what they are experiencing: PTCS.
In her hilarious and raw memoir, “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” Riley describes her struggle to heal from wounds inflicted by institutional Christianity. Her spiritual quest will doubtlessly make some Christian readers uneasy–Riley, for example, samples 30 different religions and ends up affriming beliefs and practices of several non-Christian faiths–but it will surely resonate with many. Here we discuss what PTCS actually means and what Riley learned about faith from her recent religious journey.
RNS: What is ‘post-traumatic church syndrome,’ and what are its common symptoms?
RR: Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (PTCS) is the term I made up to describe my spiritual injuries after I left my faith in my early 20s. I define PTCS as 1) A condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the losing, leaving or breaking thereof, 2) The vile, noxious and otherwise foul aftermath of said injury and 3) A serious term intended to aide serious spiritual healing, without taking itself too seriously in the process.
The only thing worse than a false story is a partial one.
That was the real lesson behind an article published on a conservative Christian website last week claiming that the Hillsong Church was allowing an “openly homosexual couple” to lead worship. The article, about the New York City campus of the Australia-based super-church where tens of thousands worship weekly, drew from a seven-month-old article about two Survivor contestants and Broadway actors, Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly from Playbill.com.
The post triggered statements from Hillsong’s senior pastor, Brian Houston, reaffirming the church’s belief that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and stating that neither man is serving in a leadership role any longer. But Houston also said that Hillsong wants gay couples like them to feel welcome.
Like many conservative churches, Hillsong holds a traditional view of sexuality, but wants to welcome and include all people. Josh and Reed, like many gay couples, disagree with the church’s view of homosexuality. But unlike some others, they say they want to stay with the church they love and work for change.
Their story — a story echoed by so many LGBT Christians — is one that needs to be told.
When Karen Hinkley decided to have her marriage annulled, she had no idea it would lead to a public shaming from one of the largest mega-churches in America.
After learning her husband was entangled in a decade-long child porn addiction that led to a pattern of lies and a heap of secrets, Karen decided to call it quits. But as a member of The Village Church (TVC), a congregation of more than 10,000 outside of Dallas, Texas, such action triggered formal disciplinary action that included sharing the details of her situation with their entire church body.
While no major religious polling organizations posses recent data on how many American churches utilize similar discipline procedures, many believe the number is growing, particularly among conservative congregations. As more cases come to light over time, they raise questions about the biblical basis and legal implications of such practices. Are these churches doing their best to care for their flocks or are crossing a ethical line?
Jonathan Leeman is author of “Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus” and editorial director of 9 Marks, a Washington D.C.-based ministry that believes rigorous church discipline is one of the nine central components that comprise a “biblical church.” He says that if a church member is found to be participating in unrepentant, outward, and significant sins, the congregation should enact discipline. This may include excommunication or public disclosure of their situation, but usually it only requires personally confronting the sinner.
“In one sense, 99 percent of the discipline that happens in the church never reaches the whole church. It should be two loving friends talking to each other,” Leeman says. “If you don’t have a culture of discipleship and transparency and relationships where it is normal to speak into one another’s lives, then you probably shouldn’t be pursuing public excommunication.”
The purpose of church discipline, according to Leeman, is to protect Jesus’ name, show redemptive love for the sinner, and warn the broader church against a greater judgment in the afterlife. But he also readily admits that church discipline can become authoritarian and abusive.
For examples of abusive situations, church discipline critics have more than a few prominent examples. Former Seattle-based pastor Mark Driscoll oversaw the public shunning of members who were deemed to be in sin, a practice that contributed to his later resignation. Chicago-area pastor James MacDonald was recently forced to apologize for harsh disciplinary actions that included slandering three church leaders as “false messengers.” Several popular blogs including “The Wartburg Watch” and Patheos’ Warren Throckmorton have compiled dozens of additional tales of abuse.
“The abuse of authority, we believe, is a particularly heinous sin because it lies about God and his good authority,” says Leeman. “[But] you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because someone has been a part of an abusive situation in the past….We should look to the bible and ask how to practice it in a healthy and balanced manner.”
But church discipline critics claim that abuse is the rule rather than the exception, and they argue that the Bible doesn’t teach church discipline as it is commonly practiced. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma says it looks more like helping alcoholics overcome addiction than heaping public shaming on those going through a divorce.
“Church discipline doesn’t mean kicking people out when they fail,” he says, “it means loving people enough to walk with them through their valleys.”
Burleson believes the trend in church discipline is the result of a growing misunderstanding about the kind of leadership Jesus taught—a type focused on service rather than power. As support, he cites Jesus’ words in Matthew 20.
A few decades ago, there were basically two options for people who wanted to follow Jesus but were attracted to the same gender: They could either throw off religion and embrace their sexuality, or they could remain in the faith and hide their sexual orientations. Today, there are other options. Some–like Matthew Vines and David Gushee–are attempting to make a biblical case for same-sex relationships. Others–such as Julie Rodgers and Wesley Hill–are leading a movement of celibate gay Christians.
Among the second group, Eve Tushnet has risen to prominence. She has a popular blog hosted by the Patheos Catholic Channel and has created a stir with her book “Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith.” Here we discuss why it is important to her to self-identify as a lesbian and whether she’s missing something about the uniqueness and importance of erotic intimacy.
RNS: You self-identify as a lesbian but some Christians say that defining yourself by your sexual orientation isn’t helpful. Why does this label matter to you?
ET: My deepest identity will always be “child of God.” But identifying as a lesbian is a succinct way to honor my experiences in gay communities. In these places, I learned a lot, confronted my own privileges, and met some amazing people. I don’t want to reject those people or experiences. I also always think of the teenager just starting to acknowledge his or her feelings. Almost everybody in that position is going to think in terms like, “Wait–when people say ‘gay’ I think they mean me….” I want those people to know that there’s a life and a future for you within Christianity.
RNS: Your book’s subtitle proclaims that you’ve “accepted” your sexuality. But you’ve decided to live a celibate life based on your faith. What do you say to people who might counter that this isn’t acceptance at all?
ET: Self-acceptance, to me, means being honest with God and (where possible) with those around you about who you are. It means honoring and serving God through your sexuality, rather than trying to repress it, deny that it exists, or “switch” to heterosexuality. Some people mostly serve God through sacrifice of their sexual desires, pouring those desires out like oil over the feet of the Crucified, uniting their sacrifice to Christ’s. Others mostly sublimate, “acting on” our sexual desires by translating them into other forms of devotion ranging from mystical relationship to God, to friendship with others, to artistic creation. I mostly sublimate, I think, but everybody has to sacrifice their sexual desires at some point–regardless of your orientation.