Recent Posts

Islamic State militant ‘Jihadi John’ named by media

Jane Onyanga-Omara Feb 27, 2015

The Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John,” who has been seen in videos of hostages’ beheadings, was identified Thursday (Feb. 26) by the BBC and The Washington Post.

Mohammed Emwazi, who is in his mid-20s, is believed to be a Kuwaiti-born British man from west London. The BBC said he was known to British security services, who chose not to disclose his name for operational reasons.

“Jihadi John” has appeared in videos showing the killings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, U.S. medic Abdul-Rahman Kassig and Britons David Haines and Alan Henning. The black-clad militant also appeared in a video last month with Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, who were later killed.

The militant was given the name John by hostages who nicknamed him and three other British militants after the Beatles.

"How often do you consume Christian-based media in the following formats?" graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

Who’s watching all that Christian media? Christians, but not many others

Cathy Lynn Grossman Feb 25, 2015

All the preaching, teaching, music and entertainment beamed by Christian TV and radio is primarily consumed by evangelicals and weekly churchgoers — the folks most often found in the pews. Meanwhile, 2 in 3 Americans are tuned out, a new survey finds.

But Ed Stetzer, executive director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which released the data Wednesday (Feb. 25), sees good news in the numbers

“Most people would be surprised that 1 in 3 of their neighbors is watching Christian TV. Do 1 in 3 watch the nightly news? I don’t think so. It’s an overlooked segment of society that is larger than most people think,” he said.

Erskin Anavitarte, a Southern Baptist pastor-turned-musician. Photo courtesy of Tate Music Group

Southern Baptists try to diversify churches — but will it work?

Heidi Hall Feb 24, 2015

How tough is it to create a racially diverse denomination? Consider a recent luncheon organized by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

About 100 Nashville-area evangelical leaders accepted invitations to a lunch hosted by the denomination’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On the agenda: a pitch for a spring summit and a short discussion by ERLC President Russell Moore about the need for churches to become more racially diverse.

The number of African-Americans who showed up for the lunch? Four (two of them denomination employees).

ERLC leaders originally planned a summit on bioethics. They quickly shifted gears after grand juries in November and December failed to indict police officers for the deaths of young unarmed black men. Moore’s social media remarks condemning the New York City jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner were met with an angry backlash, some from people filling Southern Baptist pews and pulpits.

Justin Taylor runs the blog Between Two Worlds, hosted by the Gospel Coalition. You can find him on Twitter at @BetweenTwoWorlds. Photo by Josh Dennis

Is President Obama a Christian? It depends what you mean by ‘Christian’ (COMMENTARY)

Greg Perreault Feb 23, 2015

Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker made headlines for the second time this month regarding worldview and religion. The first was when a journalist asked him during a trade mission to London whether he is comfortable with or accepts “the idea of evolution.” Walker declined to answer, protesting that it’s “a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.”

Last week he was asked whether he believes that President Obama is a “Christian.” The first three words of Walker’s response — “I don’t know” — made all of the headlines. He went on to complain about gotcha questions that are out of touch with what voters want to know.

As an evangelical with conservative political inclinations, I am simultaneously empathetic with Walker’s complaints about these questions and also frustrated at his flat-footedness in answering them.

On the one hand, it is increasingly clear that the press treats Republicans and Democrats differently when it comes to moral and public policy issues related to religion. It took a pastor to ask Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama when human rights begin for human beings (he responded that the answer would be “above his pay grade”), and it took a reporter from a conservative opinion magazine to ask House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about the moral differences between Kermit Gosnell’s widely condemned late-term abortions and legal late-term abortions that she supports (she refused to answer the question).

When evangelicals are asked these sorts of questions, there are at least two rules to follow in formulating a clear and compelling response: (1) speak the truth, or at least say nothing untrue, and (2) clarify the terminology, which often involves making distinctions.

Regarding evolution, I have suggested some ways Walker could have answered the evolution question: the term “evolution” means several distinct things; many aspects of it are supported by overwhelming scientific evidence but the “blind watchmaker thesis” is not one of them; and public schools should teach more about evolution, not less, including the scientific questions raised about the theory in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The Washington National Cathedral is finishing its first $10 million phase to repair damage sustained in a 2011 earthquake. The second phase, expected to cost $22 million and take more than twice as much time, has yet to begin. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

Washington National Cathedral finishes first stage of earthquake repairs

Lauren Markoe Feb 19, 2015

The Washington National Cathedral, which sustained heavy damage in a 2011 earthquake, has finished the $10 million first phase of its repair work and intends to embark upon a more daunting and expensive second phase.

Cathedral officials said the work to come, which will focus on the exterior of the building — repairing twisting pinnacles, damaged gargoyles and other masonry that suffered during the 5.8-magnitude quake — will cost $22 million and could take a decade.

Speaking from a scaffold 65 feet above the cathedral floor on Wednesday (Feb. 18), Jim Shepherd, director of preservation and facilities, said he sees the havoc wreaked by the earthquake every day but is reminded of its severity when he takes visitors to the cathedral’s heights.

“They’re just shocked as to the level of damage,” he said. “You don’t see it from the ground. It helps them understand why there’s $22 million of work yet.”

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hingham, Mass., under snow. Photo courtesy of Tim Schenck

In the face of unrelenting snow, New England churches soldier on

Lauren Markoe Feb 18, 2015

If God brought all this snow, he also made it very hard to get to church.

New Englanders, clobbered by four major storms in the past month and bracing for a fifth, are finding it difficult to travel anywhere, including to services on Sundays.

And the Rev. Andrew Cryans of Durham, N.H. — where more than 45 inches of snow fell in the past week alone — can’t help but notice that most of these meteorological whoppers have arrived on weekends, so that churchgoers might have a harder time getting to church than, say, school or work.

But the liturgy goes on, no matter how many show up, or how creative a pastor may have to get to connect with the flock. That can mean a priest snowshoes to work, or delivers a sermon via Facebook.

“I always tell parishioners that I live in the house behind the church, so it’s easy for me,” said Cryans, of St. Thomas More Catholic Church. “I’m here if you come and we will have Mass no matter how few of you there are.”

The Rev. Adam Phillips celebrates Communion at Christ Church: Portland. Photo by Kaitlyn Winn, courtesy of the Rev. Adam Phillips

Evangelicals pull support for Portland church over LGBT stance

Kevin Eckstrom Feb 17, 2015

(RNS) An up-and-coming evangelical pastor has been told his denomination will no longer support his new church in Portland, Ore., because of his support for gays and lesbians.

The Rev. Adam Phillips arrived in Portland in 2013 to start Christ Church, a new congregation sponsored by the Chicago-based Evangelical Covenant Church. Phillips, 35, had previously worked in Washington with a number of advocacy groups, including as director of faith mobilization for the ONE Campaign, the relief and development group started by U2 front man Bono.

On Feb. 4, Covenant officials told Phillips they were dropping support for Christ Church because of his “personal convictions and advocacy for the full inclusion and participation of LGBT Christians in the church at all levels of membership and leadership,” he said in a statement.

Phillips said he agrees with the denomination’s position that calls for “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage,” but said the same standards should extend to LGBT members. Since 2004, the Covenant’s official position has been to not allow gay marriages, and the group’s leaders have told pastors’ individual beliefs “must never overshadow” denominational policy.

Nicole Been of Chicago receives ashes during “Ashes to Go” near the Foggy Bottom Metro station in Washington, D.C., on Ash Wednesday (March 5, 2014). RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The ‘Splainer: Ash Wednesday and dirty Christian foreheads

Kimberly Winston Feb 16, 2015

The ‘Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do”) is an occasional feature in which RNS staff give you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at a cocktail party.

Chances are you’ll see a bunch of folks walking around with shmutz on their foreheads this Wednesday (Feb. 18). The ‘Splainer asks what having a dirty forehead has to do with being a Christian and why this ritual is gaining in popularity.

Q: Excuse me, but why do you have dirt on your forehead?

A: Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” For use with RNS-50-SHADES, transmitted Feb. 6, 2015. Photo courtesy Universal Picutres and Focus Features.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ gets black marks from bishops, pastors

Cathy Lynn Grossman Feb 13, 2015

The film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which opens in theaters next week (Feb. 13), has movie morality guardians armed and heading for battle.

The Catholic bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., has warned fellow prelates to step up preaching on the true beauty of sex-within-male-female-marriage — and do it pronto.

“Remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation,” wrote Bishop Richard Malone, in a letter Wednesday (Feb. 4) to fellow clergy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His letter came with multiple links to resources, some 15 to 20 years old, showing the church’s consistent stand against domestic violence and pornography.