John 3:21

John 3:21
"It is the nature of all hypocrites and false prophets to create a conscience where there is none, and to cause conscience to disappear where it does exist." Martin Luther

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Survey: Many Americans Know Little About Religion

Survey: Many Americans Know Little About Religion

Published September 28, 2010
| Associated Press
A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.
Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.
More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.
The survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.
Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.
Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15.
Not surprisingly, those who said they attended worship at least once a week and considered religion important in their lives often performed better on the overall survey. However, level of education was the best predictor of religious knowledge. The top-performing groups on the survey still came out ahead even when controlling for how much schooling they had completed.
On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest, with an average of about eight correct answers out of 12, followed by white evangelicals, with an average of just over seven correct answers. Jews, along with atheists and agnostics, knew the most about other faiths, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Less than half of Americans know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and less than four in 10 know that Vishnu and Shiva are part of Hinduism.
The study also found that many Americans don't understand constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools. While a majority know that public school teachers cannot lead classes in prayer, less than a quarter know that the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature.
"Many Americans think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are tighter than they really are," Pew researchers wrote.
The survey of 3,412 people, conducted between May and June of this year, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, while the margins of error for individual religious groups was higher.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Anita Hill, 2 other lesbians in committed relationships welcomed as ELCA pastors

Anita Hill, 2 other lesbians in committed relationships welcomed as ELCA pastors

September 20, 2010
In a ceremony that started with a public mea culpa and ended with a prolonged standing ovation, three lesbian ministers were officially embraced Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
The three were the Rev. Anita Hill, pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, and two Minneapolis chaplains: the Rev. Phyllis Zillhart at Fairview Home Care and Hospice and the Rev. Ruth Frost at the Hospice of the Twin Cities.
Although they never had been officially recognized by the ELCA, the three of them have a combined 60 years of service as Lutheran pastors.
"This is both a historic and an insignificant day," the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the ELCA's St. Paul synod, said shortly before he and the Rev. Craig Johnson, the Minneapolis bishop, jointly oversaw the ceremony.
It was historic because it "opens doors to new possibilities," Rogness said. But it was insignificant in that "next week, next month and next year, they will be doing the same thing they did last week, last month and last year: pastoring to people."
Officially called a Rite of Reception, the ceremony began with an unusual litany of confession in which it was the church rather than the congregation admitting to wrongful behavior.
"We have fallen short in honoring all people of God and being an instrument for that grace," the statement said. "We have disciplined, censured and expelled when we should have listened, learned and included."
When St. Paul-Reformation installed Hill as a pastor in 2001, it was stripped of its synod vote. A church in San Francisco that Zillhart and Frost co-pastored before moving to Minnesota in 2005 received a harsher penalty: It was kicked out of the ELCA.
The official recognition of the three was set in motion a year ago when the denomination's general assembly voted to drop its ban on gay and lesbian preachers who are involved in committed relationships.
Other than the applause that greeted the official blessing of the pastors, the biggest reaction came at the start of the sermon. The Rev. Barbara Lundblad, who teaches preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York, began by saying that she was going to ignore the guidelines that she insists her students follow.
Then she added with a wry smile: "I think there are people here today who realize that sometimes rules have to be broken."
The ceremony was held at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul, the same sanctuary where Hill was ordained.
"We have come a long way in 9 1/2 years," said the host pastor, the Rev. James Erlandson, as he greeted the crowd.
Even though Hill's church was put under sanctions when it appointed her as pastor -- they were lifted 16 months later by Rogness shortly after he was named bishop -- now the congregation is touted as one of the ELCA's bright spots. Its average Sunday attendance has grown from 100 to 200 under Hill's leadership, defying the nationwide trend toward the atrophy of inner-city churches.
She could have applied for official designation earlier but decided to wait in deference to associates who were ordained before her. She also wanted to go through the process with Zillhart and Frost, who were among the founders of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (now known as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) in California in the 1990s.
"I stood on their shoulders," she said in an interview before the service. Likewise, she now expects to be one of those providing shoulders for others. Despite her change in official status, she doesn't think that she's heard the last of the controversy over gay and lesbian clergy.
"The Lutherans have been ordaining women since 1970, but there are still congregations that don't feel comfortable with a female pastor," she said. "I think we're doing this for future generations of GLBT preachers."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not Your Smallest Lutheran Church

Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 7:00 PM
It is very hard to swallow yet another Lutheran church body in America but that, following a two-day August 26-27 convocation in Columbus, Ohio, is what America has: the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). “North America” sounds rather expansive and that is only because some few congregations of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada will be part of the new denomination.
And I say “yet another” because in 1930 there were perhaps twenty to twenty-four Lutheran groups in America. Following nearly seventy years of fervent consolidation and church merger leading to the 1987 formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Lutherans have successfully reduced their synodical groups down to, hmm, some twenty to twenty-four church bodies.
Every merger has left a splinter, a micro-synod among the ruins, and some of the micro-synods have in turn spawned their own splits. One split occurred within a synod comprising maybe some twelve congregations on whether the King James Version is the only translation properly used in public worship. I forget whether it was the larger or smaller portion that went off with the KJV under their arms, not that it much matters. It is hard keeping an exact count of Lutheran church bodies because not that many people—Lutherans included—really bother. But it does say something about Lutherans, if not about their nature then at least about how seriously they take their finer points of doctrine and practice.

The best estimate for the eventual membership of the NALC doesn’t top 200 parishes until the end of 2011. Five hundred congregations over the next six years is also tossed around. Compare that to the 10,000 parishes with a combined membership of 4.8 million remaining in the ELCA and in any tilting contest, the windmill wins. Still, 200 parishes—that figure would make the NALC the fourth largest Lutheran synod in United States (depending on whether you are counting “associations” or “synods”—never mind, Lutherans know the difference). Fourth place prompted at least one wag to suggest a synodical motto: “Not Your Smallest Lutheran Church.”
Micro as it is, the NALC, was formed in direct response to ELCA actions a year ago voting to permit the ordination of pastors in homosexual liaisons—albeit liaisons characterized by mutuality, same-sex monogamy, and lifelong commitment. Though the first ordinations included one or two self-identified bisexuals and at least one transgendered individual (all in San Francisco this past July), the ELCA neglected to provide for any rite of union or blessing or marriage suggesting any sort of accountability for the gay clergy admitted to the ELCA roll. As for the transgendered person, best as I can dope that out, this is a guy who wants to be a woman attracted to other women. Or woman; that monogamy thing, remember?
But it isn’t all about sex. That is a hard thing to remember and it doesn’t much help when the media report only that, nor does it help when Herb Chilstrom, the first ELCA presiding bishop, says it must be about sex and traditionalist hang-ups. But as I posted a year ago, approval of homosexuality
. . . is merely the presenting issue following a long, long line of revisionist propositions that have found a home with the Christian left. The authority of Scripture, the reality of sin, the name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all these and other critical expositions on God’s revelation to humanity have been under sustained attack. When these go, well, only sex is left and here we are, [blessing] what Scripture, natural law, and common sense itself condemns. (See: An Ecumenical Moment for One)
As micro-synods go, NALC doesn’t look half bad. Of course my judgment is not without self-interest. The NALC is the off-spring of the Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) and I was briefly a member of CORE’s steering committee and later an advisory member to the board. I was not unimpressed by the convocation.
I attended worried about the tone and tenor of things. The prospect of hearing angry Lutherans denouncing the ELCA wasn’t a pleasant one. Yet remarks against the ELCA were few, and when they did come up they were respectful. Thoughts of leaving the ELCA are painful, daunting in fact. These are folks who did once literally ache for the unification of Lutherans in North America. There was little chance, of course, that the far more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod would ever consent, but even here there was hope that, given time, okay, maybe a lot of time, something nonetheless might be done that would bring the two largest Lutheran bodies together. Dreams fade, but most of NALC’s leadership, especially the new NALC bishop, the Rev. Dr. Paull Spring (a former bishop in the ELCA), had once spent themselves in creating the ELCA. The conversation on leaving was somberly poignant, even melancholic.
The NALC’s formation brought Tanzanian Bp. Benson Bagonza, Kanagwe Diocese, to Columbus, who participated in Spring’s installation. Several bishops of the new Anglican Church in North America attended as observers, along with Fr. James Massa, executive director of the USCCB secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Also present, several pastors of the Ethiopian Lutheran Mekane Yesus Church. African Lutherans might be best described as incensed by ELCA actions. The Lutheran World Federation just completed a recent international assembly where acrimonious debate on human sexuality and the rule of Scripture was barely avoided; Africans see the NALC as someone they can do business with.
Where this all goes, of course, is anyone’s guess in the moment, yet in the same moment, the NALC is betting that genuinely disaffected ELCA Lutheran congregations will find themselves a new home.
Russell E. Saltzman is pastor of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Missouri.