Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rwanda closes thousands of churches in bid for more control

From The Washington Post-

Rwanda’s government has closed thousands of churches and dozens of mosques as it seeks to assert more control over a vibrant religious community whose sometimes makeshift operations, authorities say, have threatened the lives of followers.

President Paul Kagame has said he was shocked by the high number of churches in this small East African country. “700 churches in Kigali?” he said of houses of worship in the nation’s capital in March. “Are these boreholes (deep wells) that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? This has been a mess!”

Kagame said Rwanda doesn’t need so many houses of worship, claiming that such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them.

More here-

Climbers scale the tower at 90-year-old St. Paul's Episcopal Church

From North Carolina-

The last time anyone scaled the 90-foot bell tower of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Winston-Salem was nearly a century ago when it was built.

And they surely weren’t doing it with iPads in hand, like rappellers did Tuesday at the property on Summit Street.

“While rappelling, they’re identifying types of damage and how severe and marking it on the tablet,” local architect Joe Oppermann said. “We’re giving this building a physical, to use a medical analogy. We’re looking carefully at the masonry and the mortar joints to see how it’s all holding up.”

Oppermann’s firm prepared digital drawings of the building’s structure, based on the original blueprints, so that experts could use the iPads to map places in the stone that were problematic.

More here-

Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute but a devoted disciple who supported Jesus financially and spiritually, scholars say

From The Independent-

If there’s a feminist figure from the Bible for the #MeToo era, it could very well be Mary Magdalene.

The major character in the life of Jesus was long maligned in the West and portrayed as a reformed former prostitute. But scholars have adopted a different approach more recently, viewing her as a strong, independent woman who supported Jesus financially and spiritually.

The New Testament tells how Jesus cast demons out of her. She then accompanied Jesus in his ministry around the Galilee, before witnessing his crucifixion, burial and resurrection in Jerusalem, which is being commemorated by Christians this week and next. The Roman Catholic Church and Western Christian churches observe Easter on Sunday, Eastern Orthodox Christians a week later. 

More here-

What makes A Wrinkle in Time Christian?

From Christian Century-

Works of art can become holy to people, and these “sacred texts” are miracles. A book, a song, a film, an image created by someone decades or centuries ago, is picked up and read or heard or seen—and in this encounter, something opens up for us. Something in the world makes a little more sense; we make a little more sense. As our life goes on we refer back to that text again and again, and with each reference it becomes more and more holy. Perhaps we believe that this holiness is intrinsic to the text, to the artist, to some faith or hope we share with them—and that, somehow, we swim in the same pool of faith or hope or truth or knowledge.

Such texts also have a way of becoming the property of a dominant culture, signifying cultural and theological values and assumptions. Interpretation of the symbols in these texts, from the Exodus to Bilbo Baggins, are then filtered through ideas of fidelity to the authoritative text. Some of us who read those texts, imagine ourselves within them, and then interpret them in ways that draw outside the lines of these dominant discourses can find ourselves perceived as lacking in spiritual or intellectual depth, or accused of importing our cultures into something alien to us.

More here-

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter 'surprise' greets members at St. Paul's Episcopal Church

From Lansing-

Members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church had an Easter surprise waiting for them when they walked into the century-old building on Sunday morning.

They expected to see the reception hall set up for Sunday service, as it had been over the past year while work continued on the elegant worship space rendered unsafe by a wind storm.

Instead, the Rev. Karen Lewis ushered them into the stained glass-adorned sanctuary that had been off limits since March 8, 2017.

"It was quite the surprise; very few people were aware," said Joseph Lehning, a member of the church's facilities task force. "They came in and saw the hall set up for a reception. Just seeing the reaction of people when they came in (was gratifying). You could see it on their faces – the jubilation, the surprise."

The church received an occupancy permit for the renovated sanctuary on Thursday, nearly 13 months after the wall of the church facing West Ottawa Street began pulling away from the rest of the building amid strong winds.

More here-

Democrats Are Christians, Too

From The New York Times-

Now that Stormy Daniels has confirmed on national television that Donald Trump initiated sex with her just months after his third wife gave birth to their child, at least half the country is asking: Surely this is a porn star too far for white evangelical Christians, right?


As we celebrate Easter Sunday, nearly 18 months after Mr. Trump won the presidency with about 80 percent of the white evangelical vote, surveys show him retaining nearly all of that support. In contrast, white evangelicals re-elected George W. Bush in 2004 with 78 percent of their votes, but by May 2006 their approval had slid to 55 percent. And that was after Mr. Bush had delivered, in late 2005 and early 2006, the Supreme Court appointments of both John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

The resilient support for Mr. Trump is hard to square with a constituency best known for trumpeting “family values” and proclaiming the nation’s moral decline. It also belies the idea that a record-high percentage of white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 simply because they could not bring themselves to cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.

More here-

Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God

From The Atlantic-

When I first told my mother—a liberal, secular New Yorker—that I wanted to cross an ocean to study for a bachelor’s degree in theology, she was equal parts aghast and concerned. Was I going to become a nun, she asked in horror, or else one of “those” wingnuts who picketed outside abortion clinics? Was I going to spend hours in the Bodleian Library agonizing over the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin? Theology, she insisted, was a subject by the devout, for the devout; it had no place in a typical liberal arts education.

Her view of the study of theology is far from uncommon. While elite universities like Harvard and Yale offer vocational courses at their divinity schools, and nearly all universities offer undergraduate majors in the comparative study of religions, few schools (with the exceptions of historically Catholic institutions like Georgetown and Boston College) offer theology as a major, let alone mandate courses in theology alongside other “core” liberal arts subjects like English or history. Indeed, the study of theology has often run afoul of the legal separation of church and state. Thirty-seven U.S. states have laws limiting the spending of public funds on religious training. In 2006, the Supreme Court case Locke v. Davey upheld the decision of a Washington State scholarship program to withhold promised funding from an otherwise qualified student after learning that he had decided to major in theology at a local Bible College.

More here-

Why good Christians must disavow Trump

From NY Daily News-

Back in 2017, when asked if he wanted the President to embody the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress replied unequivocally, "Absolutely not."

Fast forward several months, and on this Easter weekend, the question must be asked again — only this time, to everyone who claims to revere the teachings of Christianity and believe in the power of personal moral responsibility, as embodied by the world's most powerful individual.

A picture recently surfaced of porn star Stormy Daniels taking a lie detector test. The results support her claim that she had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006. Last week, her attorney reported that other women have contacted him, claiming to have similar stories about sexual relationships with Trump.

Former Playboy model Karen McDougal has filed a suit that would allow her to discuss her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. And reality television star Summer Zervos's defamation suit against Trump is being allowed to proceed. She alleges that he kissed and groped her against her will. The issue is not merely one of personal sexual ethics, but of misogyny and assault.

More here-

Sunday, April 1, 2018

How Easter became a #MeToo moment

From CNN-

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense."
-- Luke 24:11

The men refused to listen to her story. She was publicly smeared as a whore. And when she emerged as a celebrated advocate, powerful men tried to silence her because she threatened their status.
Nevertheless she persisted.

The woman we're talking about, though, is not a leader in the #MeToo movement -- the viral

campaign raising awareness about sexual assault and harassment against women. She is Mary Magdalene, the first person Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, according to the New Testament, and the first person to preach the good news that he had been raised from the dead.

For billions of Christians around the world, Easter Sunday is a celebration of a risen savior. Yet what happened to Mary Magdalene shows that Easter can also be seen as something else -- a #MeToo moment, some pastors and biblical scholars say.

They say Easter is also a story about how charismatic female leaders such as Mary Magdalene -- and even Jesus himself -- were victimized by some of the same behavior that sparked the #MeToo movement: the sexually predatory behavior of men, the intimidation of women and an orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up.

More here-

The Easter Effect and How It Changed the World

From The Wall Street Journal-

In the year 312, just before his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge won him the undisputed leadership of the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great had a heavenly vision of Christian symbols. That augury led him, a year later, to end all legal sanctions on the public profession of Christianity.

Or so a pious tradition has it.

But there’s a more mundane explanation for Constantine’s decision: He was a politician who had shrewdly decided to join the winning side. By the early 4th century, Christians likely counted for between a quarter and a half of the population of the Roman Empire, and their exponential growth seemed likely to continue.

How did this happen? How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries? The historical sociology of this extraordinary phenomenon has been explored by Rodney Stark of Baylor University, who argues that Christianity modeled a nobler way of life than what was on offer elsewhere in the rather brutal society of the day. In Christianity, women were respected as they weren’t in classical culture and played a critical role in bringing men to the faith and attracting converts. In an age of plagues, the readiness of Christians to care for all the sick, not just their own, was a factor, as was the impressive witness to faith of countless martyrs. Christianity also grew from within because Christians had larger families, a byproduct of their faith’s prohibition of contraception, abortion and infanticide.

More here-