Generally, as religion goes, so goes the family and as the family goes, so goes society

16 Oct

From Sociologist Brad Wilcox (original link from First Things):

ll the attention devoted to the first Roman Catholic Synod on the Family, which wraps up this week at the Vatican, is but one sign that the ties binding hearth and altar to one another can still be the subject of considerable concern. That’s in part because the fortunes of the family in the West have largely ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of religious faith over the centuries, as scholars like Peter BergerRobert Wuthnow, and Mary Eberstadt have noted.

Here in the United States, the increasingly secular cast of American society has gone hand in hand with a retreat from a family-focused way of life that prioritizes marriage and parenthood. As Americans have become less likely to defer to religious authorities—from the Pope to the pastor—and less likely to darken the door of a church on any given Sunday, they have also become less likely to tie the knot and have that third or fourth child. The figure below is indicative of how closely marriage trends in the U.S. track trends in church attendance.

What accounts for the close relationship between hearth and altar in the West? As I noted in First Things:

Churches and synagogues give symbolic and practical support to family life. In such rites as a baptism and a bris, congregations erect a sacred canopy of meaning over the great chapters of family life: birth, childrearing, and marriage. Rabbis, pastors, and priests . . . offer concrete advice about marriage and parenthood. Congregations also have disproportionately high numbers of families who put family-centered living high on their list of priorities. These families offer moral and practical support to adults adjusting to the joys and challenges of married life and starting families.

Religious traditions also supply family-specific norms, like the importance of marital fidelity, as well as more generic norms, such as the Golden Rule. And they tend to endow these norms with transcendent significance. More generally, Berger has argued that, given their shared concern with meaning, solidarity, and the transmission of culture from one generation to the next, and their social proximity to one another in the private sphere, religion and family in the West have been inclined to work together, and reinforce one another. This is why religion is often a force for family in the modern world.

But does the close connection between religion and family life long observed in the West apply around the globe? I set out to answer this question by looking at fifty-two countries—from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Sweden and Singapore—around the globe, using data from the World Values Survey and the Population Reference Bureau.

When it comes to fertility, the answer is yes. The scatter plot below indicates that countries who have more citizens indicating that religion is important to them (from “not at all important” to “very important”) also tend to have higher fertility rates. Moreover, statistical analyses indicate that the link between religious salience, at the country level, and the total fertility rate (TFR), at the country level, is positive (p<.05), even after controlling for region, urbanicity, gross national income per capita, and income inequality in these countries. (Note, of course, that correlation does not necessarily equal causation here, and higher fertility might also predict greater religiosity.)

Indeed, the countries with the highest levels of religious salience in the sample—Nigeria and Yemen—also have the highest fertility rates: respectively, 5.6 and 5.2 children per woman in 2012. Certainly other factors are at play here, from low levels of education to strong kinship systems, but it’s likely that Christian and Muslim teachings celebrating the generation of life and customs and rituals honoring the sacrifices of fathers and mothers play a role in accounting for the close connection between fertility and faith around the globe.

When it comes to marriage, the connection between religion and family life is also positive. In most regions of the world, countries that are more religious typically have more adults aged 18–49 who are married. Indeed, there is a statistically significant (p<.05) association between religious salience, at the country level, and the percent of adults who are married, at the country level, even after controlling for region, urbanicity, gross national income per capita, and income inequality in these countries. The premium placed on marriage as the ideal site for lifelong love and childbearing by most of the world’s major religious traditions, the social value attached to the wedding rite, and the support accorded a wide range of marriage-friendly norms by most religious traditions all probably help to explain the religion-marriage connection found across much of the globe. (Again, the correlation shown here does not necessarily indicate the link between religiosity and marriage is causal, and it’s also likely that higher marriage rates predict greater religiosity in a country.)

One exception to the generally positive religion-marriage link is Latin America, as the figure above indicates. In many countries in this region, cohabitation, single parenthood, and family instabilityare high, according to data from the World Family Map. And, yet, so too are forms of the Catholic and Protestant faith. Marriage is comparatively weak, and religion is comparatively strong, in countries like Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. In these countries, religious faith may be a lifeline for women, children, and families in communities where the family is weak and poverty is common, places where—as political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart have argued—“existential insecurity” is high.

So, perhaps it’s no accident that Pope Francis has been making waves with his untraditional approach to tackling the issue of marriage. He may be less likely to associate strong families with strong faith, and more likely to see the ways in which religious faith can be a balm for fragile families. After all, in Francis’s native Latin America, the ties between hearth and altar are attenuated at best.

Still, the data tell us that the Latin American experience is exceptional, at least when it comes to marriage. In general, the fortunes of faith and family seem to operate in synchronicity. This is a lesson that the church leaders now meeting in Rome would do well to keep in mind.

W. Bradford Wilcox directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. This article is co-published with Cornerstone and First Things.

A story of redemption from homosexuality; review of the Dennis Jernigan documentary, Sing Over Me

16 Oct

From Professor Amber Stamper:


Here’s a not-so-very-pleasant place to start: I have nine gay friends, and every single one of them has been hurt by the Church.

And by “the Church” — lest we overlook ourselves in the term’s abstraction — I mean they have been hurt by individual Christians.

Having spent the last decade of my life in academia’s liberal and affirming circles, I have, of course, met dozens more than these nine professors, staff, and students — and quite a few of them have shared with me tales of some not-so-First Corinthians 13 encounters with Christians. But those nine are ones I’d call real friends.

“Sing Over Me opens up a safe space for homosexuals who feel — as Jernigan did — in need of rescue.”One — after agonizing for years over coming out to her family — was asked by her grandfather, a pastor, to never set foot in his house again. Another overheard his Christian roommate (half-)joking about him on the phone, saying he needed to “turn or burn.” Another was asked to stop participating in the church choir until he had gotten his sinful nature “under control.” Several others were just slowly “phased out” of their Christian friendships after coming out: texts went unanswered, calls went unreturned, profiles on Facebook were suddenly “limited,” and pretty soon they were being excluded from important life events like marriages and births with no uncertainty as to the reason why.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this really isn’t such a hot track record. And I seriously doubt my friends’ experiences are unique.

What got me thinking about this in the first place was the documentary Sing Over Me, the testimony of popular Christian singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan. I’d never heard of Jernigan, but some Google searches revealed that I’ve heard many of his songs. When I saw that his testimony centered on redemption from a life of homosexuality, though, I got nervous. I began anticipating all the possible ways a film like this could be trouble: preachy, judgmental, simplistic, aggressive, presumptuous — there were any number of land mines it could step on. Also, I was concerned about the medium. As a student of media and rhetoric, I know that the trouble with a format like film is that it’s not reciprocal. The audience sits and watches, the final credits roll, and viewers are left to think about what they’ve learned. There’s no conversation or chance for questions or clarification. This is fine for some subjects, but for others, lines of communication need to be open. I feared this was one of those subjects.

 So I was, to be quite honest, really surprised when, ninety minutes after suspiciously clicking “Play,” I found myself sitting calmly and thoughtfully in front of my computer screen feeling simultaneously motivated and meditative, provoked and inspired, challenged and hopeful.

Read the rest

Christianity is a religion, not just a relationship

15 Oct

I’ve offered my thoughts on this before, but I’m happy to see I’m not alone.  From William Boekestein:

“Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a _______________.” If you need help filling in the blank, the missing word has twelve letters, starts with “r,” and has become modern policy speak for describing the New Testament faith. And, yes, Christianity is about relationship. But it’s the contemporary church’s reluctance to call it a religion that ought to be disconcerting.

This kind of thinking is ubiquitous today. Darrel Evans’ popular worship song “Field of Grace” speaks longingly of heaven as the place “where religion finally dies.” Jefferson Bethke’s 2012 viral video called “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus,” declares that “Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one is the work of God, one is a manmade invention. One is the cure, the other the infection…Religion is like spraying perfume on a casket…Jesus hated religion.” With less colloquialism but similar confidence, in his excellent series “Gospel in Life,” Tim Keller identifies “religion” as self-righteous moralism.

Perhaps Christians have eschewed religion in favor of relationship in response to strong atheistic condemnation of religion. And surely people have been hurt by misapplications of Christianity. Yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, “Religion vs. Relationship” might be one of the worst messages we could communicate today. Perhaps most obviously, it suggests that we must settle either for a religion-less relationship with Christ, or a Christ-less relationship with religion.

In an effort to reevaluate the issue, here are four propositions (with a little help from sixteenth century reformer Ulrich Zwingli).

1.  Religion Can be Good or Bad

Religion is a neutral term for an “institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Beyond reasonable doubt Christianity is a system, the ideals of which are institutionalized by the standard of Scripture and by the organization of the church.

In his letter to pilgrim believers, James reflects on two faiths, from which incurably religious people (Acts 17:22) must choose (1:26-27). “Useless” religion flounders from a desperately deceived heart. “Pure and undefiled” religion flourishes through rituals of kindness, and in a rigorous pursuit of holiness.

Zwingli argued (in his 1525 Commentary on True and False Religion) that religious disagreement is between those who think “it not worth while to have God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:28), and…those who do.” True religion is a heart-relationship with God which pervasively affects Christian piety; “faith, life, laws, worship, [and] sacraments.” By contrast man-made religion ought “more properly to be dubbed ‘hypocrisy, impiety, and superstition.’”

Sadly, moralism sometimes masquerades as true religion. Zwingli compares teaching a man-centered religion with “setting un-cracked nuts before little children.” “Being unable to reach the meat they lick the shell till finally in disgust” they throw it all away. Is it possible that those today who feel fed up with religion have never known a robust Christianity that connects every human experience to the cross? If hirelings are setting un-cracked nuts of moralism before God’s children, the solution is not to dispense with religion but to promote one that is rooted in the gospel.

2. The Bible Combines Religion and Relationship

If religion outlines duties, and relationship is about love, the Bible actually joins the two in strong and simple terms. When Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15), he’s calling those in relationship with him to join him in being religious! As Kevin DeYoung has pointed out, “If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion.”

Zwingli was convinced that “religion took its rise when God called runaway man” back to his good grace. Religion begins with the God who has revealed himself to man as creator (Rom. 1:19), and to believers as heavenly Father. Our great hope is to know and be known by God and to rest in his perfect providence. Says Zwingli, God has “this one thing in view, that He may belong to those things which were made by Him.” To know God religiously, as the self-created one who gives being to everything else (Heb. 11:6), is to structure our lives around him.

3. Relationships Need a Religious Structure


It seems those most likely to cry “separation of church and state!” assume that principle is a one-way street

15 Oct

Case in point (from Fox News Tom Starnes):

The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

ADF, a nationally-known law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” Holcomb said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”

The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa.  The city council approved the law in June.

The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot.

However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities.

After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.

The pastors were not part of the lawsuit. However, they were part of a coalition of some 400 Houston-area churches that opposed the ordinance. The churches represent a number of faith groups – from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley.  “This is designed to intimidate pastors.”

Mayor Parker will not explain why she wants to inspect the sermons. I contacted City Hall for a comment and received a terse reply from the mayor’s director of communications.

“We don’t comment on litigation,” said Janice Evans.

However, ADF attorney Stanley suspects the mayor wants to publicly shame the ministers. He said he anticipates they will hold up their sermons for public scrutiny. In other words – the city is rummaging for evidence to “out” the pastors as anti-gay bigots.

Among those slapped with a subpoena is Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church. He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity.

The mega-church pastor was also ordered to hand over “all communications with members of your congregation” regarding the non-discrimination law.

“This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Riggle told me. “The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”

Rev. Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, also received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by the mayor.

“We’re not afraid of this bully,” he said. “We’re not intimidated at all.”

He accused the city of violating the law with the subpoenas and vowed to stand firm in the faith.

“We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights,” Welch told me. ‘This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.”

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said pastors around the nation should rally around the Houston ministers.

“The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state,” Perkins told me. ‘Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I’d like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities – to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons.”

Perkins called the actions by Houston’s mayor “obscene” and said they “should not be tolerated.”

“This is a shot across the bow of the church,” he said.

This is the moment I wrote about in my book, “God Less America.” I predicted that the government would one day try to silence American pastors. I warned that under the guise of “tolerance and diversity” elected officials would attempt to deconstruct religious liberty.

Sadly, that day arrived sooner than even I expected.

Tony Perkins is absolutely right. Now is the time for pastors and people of faith to take a stand.  We must rise up and reject this despicable strong-arm attack on religious liberty. We cannot allow ministers to be intimidated by government thugs.

The pastors I spoke to tell me they will not comply with the subpoena – putting them at risk for a “fine or confinement, or both.”

Heaven forbid that should happen. But if it does, Christians across America should be willing to descend en masse upon Houston and join these brave men of God behind bars.

Pastor Welch compared the culture war skirmish to the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, fought in present-day Harris County, Texas. It was a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution.

“This is the San Jacinto moment for traditional family,” Welch told me. “This is the place where we stop the LGBT assault on the freedom to practice our faith.”

We can no longer remain silent. We must stand together – because one day – the government might come for your pastor.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join hisFacebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”


Russell Moore and Joe Carter have commented on this story as well

Thousands immigrate to join ISIS, but from where?

14 Oct

Thanks for admitting that atheism, like Christianity, is a worldview involving faith. But that doesn’t mean all worldviews are irrational

14 Oct

Two cheers. I can appreciate the recognition from the atheist author that all worldviews, including atheism, are based on a priori assumptions (non-provable presuppositions that amount to faith). But that doesn’t mean that the necessity of faith in worldviews is necessarily unsupported by or unrelated to reason and evidence. It doesn’t mean that all belief systems are hopelessly irrational exercises or mythology trips. For instance, “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an [a]utterance as this was [b]made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this [c]utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter) and ” Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

So while I agree that atheism reduces to irrational belief, it’s not because atheism is a worldview.

Excerpt from the article in The Atlantic by Crispin Spartwell:

Religious beliefs are remarkably various. But sometimes it can seem that there is only one way to be an atheist: asserting, on the basis of reasoned argument, that belief in God is irrational. The aging “new atheists”—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, for example—pit reason against faith, science against superstition, and declare for reason and science.

It pictures the universe as a natural system, a system not guided by intelligent design and not traversed by spirits; a universe that can be explained by science, because it consists of material objects operating according to physical laws. In this sense, atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.

Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.

I’m an atheist because I think of the universe as a natural, material system. I think of it, on the basis of my own extremely limited experience, as an infinitely replete but morally indifferent thing. It isn’t bent on saving me, or damning me: It just is. I find comfort in that, as well as pain; wonder as well as loathing. That’s my experience, and my atheism is a reflection of that experience. But it’s not an argument; it’s an interpretation.

I have taken a leap of atheist faith.

Whole article 

Belgic Confession: (Holy Trinity) One in Essence, Yet Distinguished in Three Persons

13 Oct


According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God,1 who is one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.2 The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible.3 The Son is the Word, the wisdom, and the image of the Father.4 The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might who proceeds from the Father and the Son.5 Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has His personal existence, distinguished by Their properties; but in such a way that these three persons are but one only God.

It is therefore evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed our flesh and blood, neither has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son,6 or without His Holy Spirit. For these three, in one and the same essence, are equal in eternity. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

1. 1 Cor 8:4-6. 2. Mat 3:16-17; Mat 28:19. 3. Eph 3:14-15. 4. Prov 8:22-31; John 1:14; John 5:17-26; 1 Cor 1:24; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3; Rev 19:13. 5. John 15:26. 6. Mic 5:2; John 1:1-2.

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