FaithWorld

Monthly church attenders swing Obama’s way

Americans who attend church once or twice a month have become a sought after “swing vote” — and they are swinging to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the run-up to the Nov 4. presidential election.

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That is one of the key findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that, based on religious service attendance, the biggest shift in candidate preferences between 2004 and 2008 was among those who went once or twice a month. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 49 percent of their vote in 2004 while Obama is now pulling 60 percent.

But in a reflection of the 2004 race, Obama’s Republican rival John McCain “maintains a significant advantage among voters who attend more frequently, while Obama has a nearly identical advantage over McCain among those who attend less than a few times a month or never,” the survey says.

Among those who attend religious services more than twice a week, the survey found McCain leads Obama 60 percent to 34 percent. Kerry in 2004 garnered 35 percent of that vote.

The 10 Commandments of blogging

The Ten CommandmentsThe London-based Evangelical Alliance has posted its “10 Blogging Commandments.”

1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.

2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.

3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.

4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.

5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.

6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.

7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.

8. You shall not steal another person’s content.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

Gutsy pastor opens megachurch in world’s biggest Muslim nation

Pastor Stephen Tong, 20 Sept 2008/Enny NuraheniStephen Tong is one gutsy pastor. On Saturday, the head of the Indonesian Reformed Evangelical Church opened a multimillion dollar megachurch in Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. “This proves that there are no restrictions from the Indonesian government to build religious centres,” the Chinese- Indonesian preacher said. “It gives the world a new impression of Indonesia: it is not a messy country or full of troubles.”

Indonesia has traditionally been a tolerant country, but this tolerance is under pressure from Islamist radicals who want to drive wedges between the country’s Muslim majority (86%), Protestants (6%), Catholics (6%), Hindus (1.8%) and other faiths. Just last month, an evangelical seminary was forced out of a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Jakarta. The annual U.S. State Department freedom of religion report released on Friday reported radical pressure on Christians and on the Ahmadis, a non-orthodox Muslim sect:

Inside the Jakarta megachurch, 20 Sept 2008/Enny Nuraheni“Some groups used violence and intimidation to force at least 12 churches and 21 Ahmadiyya mosques to close. Several churches and Ahmadiyya mosques remained closed after mobs forcibly shut them down in previous years. Some Muslim organizations and government officials called for the dissolution of the Ahmadiyya, resulting in some violence and discrimination against its followers. Some perpetrators of violence were undergoing trials during the reporting period. However, many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice.”

Vatican sees “urgent” need to review Darwin and evolution

Darwin dolls for sale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, 15 Nov 2005/Shannon StapletonThe Vatican famously “thinks in centuries”. It’s useful to remember that when reading the announcement from its Pontifical Council for Culture about a conference it plans to hold in Rome on Darwin and evolution. Pope Benedict has shown a keen interest in the issue and debated it in a closed session with some former doctoral students in 2006. The Vatican now wants to hold a week-long public conference next March entitled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories — A Critical Evaluation 150 years after the The Origin of Species“.

The announcement (translated from the original and more florid Italian) said: “150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is difficult to find a scientific sphere entirely free from direct or indirect influences of the theory of evolution. Especially in recent decades, this theory has experienced so many changes, and such significant changes, that a critical reflection is very urgent. Moreover, there are obvious philosophical and theological problems raised by the theory of evolution that cause many emotional and even ideological reactions.”

STOQ logoThe conference from March 3 to 7 will be organised by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in the United States, as part of a wider project called STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest). It will be attended, the announcement declared with a flourish, by “luminaries of science and famous philosophers and theologians”.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

Does McCain see real faith factor in Russia-Georgia conflict?

Russian tank rolls through Georgian region of South Ossetia, 10 August 2008/Vasily FedosenkoRecognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen’s post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia’s Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there,  McCain’s reaction statement noted that Georgia was “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said “the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.”

John McCain and Rick Warren, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryHistory is fascinating but McCain’s use of it here begs the question whether there is an actual faith factor in this conflict or just in his presentation of it. Russia, after all, is also a traditionally Christian nation, but he made no mention of that. After the fall of communism there, the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed its traditional role there — as has the Georgian Orthodox Church in the Caucasian republic after state-sponsored atheism lost out there too. There are no obvious doctrinal disputes that divide them.

Church-to-church relations also seem reasonable. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, senior officials of the two churches spoke by telephone last week and “declared their common peacemaking position and readiness to cooperate in this field.” Patriarchs of both churches have called for a ceasefire and condemned the violence among fellow Christians. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love confront each other,” Russia’s Primate Alexiy II said. “What is most important (is that) we (are) united with Christian faith and must live peacefully without blood,” Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II said.

“Comfortable candor” at Yale Christian-Muslim meeting

NAE President Leith Anderson (l) listens to Shi’ite philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr speaks, 31 July 2008/Tom Heneghan“Comfortable candor” is the way Leith Anderson described the atmosphere at the Common Word conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue that ended at Yale University on Thursday. The term is as interesting for its image as for the person who used it. Anderson is president of the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals and one of several evangelicals attending the meeting. Among the mostly Protestant leaders who responded to the Common Word dialogue appeal in a letter launched by Yale Divinity School, evangelicals tended to be more cautious and more concerned about pointing out the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam. Even with those reservations , these participants faced some criticism in their own ranks for attending and came to the conference not knowing how open it would be.

Anderson told me on the first day that he appreciated how forthright the discussion was, with each side standing up for its beliefs while seeking common ground where they could. In his keynote address in the final session, he put his stamp of approval on the process: “Our differences are deep and real. Sometimes those differences are cultural or ethnic or racial. But I have been especially impressed this week with the comfortable candor with which Muslims and Christians have clearly stated their own doctrines to one another.”

Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, made the same point in his address. We can affirm the appropriateness of simply engaging in dialogue and conversation with each other at this critical time in history. It is right that we’re together. We can affirm the development of new and strengthened relationships. It has been good to sit together and build new friendships. We can affirm the genuine spirit of being willing to listen to each other and seeking to gain understanding into each others’ perspectives.”

“Common Word” Christian- Muslim talks kick off at Yale

Yale Common Word conference sign, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanAnd they’re off!

Readers of this blog will know we have been following the “Common Word” initiative for Christian-Muslim dialogue from its beginning last October. We already have a long list of blog posts about how the 138 Muslim scholars invited Christian leaders to a new dialogue, how some churches responded promptly and positively while others (especially the Vatican and some evangelical Protestants) were more wary but came around, how the preparations for their dialogue have progressed, etc. Now the first in their series of dialogue conferences, with a Christian side made up mostly of United States Protestants (including some evangelicals), has kicked off at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

The conference started with a closed-door meeting among theologians from Friday to Monday for an initial round of discussions of how Christianity and Islam view what the Common Word says are the two core principles they hold in common, i.e. that love of God and love of neighbor are the foundations of both faiths. This is one of the novel aspects of the Common Word initiative, identifying core concepts that many Christians and Muslims did not think they shared so closely. This half of the meeting is partly a getting-to-know-you session, since most of the Muslims come from the Middle East and Europe while most of the Christians come from the United States. But it is also a forum to test out some theological ideas in debates without television cameras or journalists hanging on every word. The journalist in me would like to be in there following the debates, Sign outside Yale Divinity School, 25 July 2008/Tom Heneghanbut it’s obvious the participants need a little time warming up before they can discuss these issues in public. The second session, from Tuesday to Thursday, will be open to the public.

Since I’ve been in New York all this month at Union Theological Seminary attending a research colloquium run by CrossCurrents magazine, I was able to dash off to New Haven for the start of the conference and will be covering it this week. Here is my opening report on the meeting.

Americans sharply divided on Hollywood influence– Pew survey

oscars-2.jpgAmericans are sharply divided on the influence of Hollywood — for good or bad — and unsurprisingly this “culture war” division tends to follow religious faultlines.That is one of the many findings of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s massive “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” The second part of this detailed survey, based on interviews with over 35,000 U.S. adults last year, was released on Monday.

For our story on its “culture war” findings look here.

The survey asked Americans if Hollywood “threatened” their values: 42 percent said it did, 56 percent said it did not.

Hollywood has long been a target of U.S. conservatives, many of whom regard its main movers and shakers as hardcore liberals (or worse) and its movie industry as corrupting.

Are U.S. atheists from Venus and Mormons from Mars?

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressIs the Democratic Party really “Godless” and are Republicans really righteous?

Far from it, though there are findings from the monumental U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which could be used perhaps to make such arguments. You can see our main story on the survey here and the survey itself, which was released on Monday, here.

On partisan affiliation for example, the survey found that Mormons were the most staunchly Republican religious group in America with 65 percent of those polled indentifying with or leaning towards that party.