Communion of the Saints

A few days ago, Ed Kilgore over at Beliefnet’s Progressive Revival lamented that the old-time creedal beliefs no longer define the body of the faithful the way they used to. These days, a “conventionally orthodox Protestant” like himself is likely to considered a bad Christian in many conservative Protestant circles because he supports abortion rights and favors gay marriage. No doubt he’s right. This is not the first time in American history that social issues have become the dividing line among believers. Slavery split many a denomination prior to the Civil War.

COMMENTARY: An inspired choice, even with his uninspiring theology

(UNDATED) Whenever I lead a communications workshop, I show church Web sites that miss the mark: out-of-date designs and content, a “provider driven” and not “customer driven” focus, too many photos of buildings and clergy and not much apparent thought to what a visitor might be seeking. Then I show the Web site for Saddleback Church, a four-campus megachurch in southern California whose pastor, Rick Warren, will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. His selection has ruffled some feathers because of his conservative theology. “This Web site is the `gold standard,”‘ I say, not because it espouses a certain theology, but because its methodology is superb.

N.J. says complaint over civil union can proceed

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) New Jersey officials said Monday (Dec. 29) that a lesbian couple can move forward with their discrimination complaint against a Methodist group that refused to let them use an oceanfront pavilion for a civil union. Since the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association regularly made the pavilion available for public use, including weddings, it was bound by the state Law Against Discrimination from barring civil unions, said J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the state’s Division on Civil Rights. The use of the pavilion was not dedicated solely to the practice of religion, so applying the anti-discrimination statute would not impair the association’s “free exercise of religion,” Vespa-Papaleo added. The division rejected a similar discrimination claim by a second gay couple, because they applied for a permit for the pavilion two days after the association banned all weddings at the site.

Architect of ELCA merger dies at 90

(RNS) The Rev. Robert J. Marshall, who led the former Lutheran Church in America and helped lay the groundwork for the church’s merger with two other denominations to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died Dec. 22. He was 90. Marshall, a dedicated ecumenist, was elected president of the Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., in 1968, according to the ELCA. He served as president for a decade, helping prepare the LCA to merge with the American Lutheran Church and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in 1987 to form the 5 million-member ELCA.

Poll: No evidence that recession pulls people into pews

WASHINGTON (RNS) The economic recession has not led to an increase in attendance at U.S. houses of worship, according to Gallup pollsters. Despite anecdotal evidence cited in high-profile media outlets, Americans’ worship patterns have held steady in 2008, the Gallup Poll reports. Since mid-February, Gallup said, it has asked 1,000 adults a day how often they attend church, synagogue or mosque. About 42 percent have said they go weekly or almost weekly, with no increase in September through December, when the recession tightened its hold on the U.S. economy. Gallup also said there have been no significant change in the percentage of Americans who say they attend church about once a month, seldom, or never.

2009 Calendar of Religious Events

Note: Holidays that begin at sundown continue through sundown the next day, unless otherwise noted. Jan. 5-14 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Conference of Bishops, Jerusalem. Contact John Brooks at 773-380-2958; e-mail: jbrooks(at); Web site: Jan. 6 Feast of the Epiphany (Christian celebration of the arrival of the Magi to visit the infant Jesus.

A bible for every taste (and for those with none)

Defying the publishing industry’s doldrums, Bible sales remain robust, thanks in part to niche versions like the comic book Manga Bible. Other options include hot pink fake-leather binding, and a “Soul Surfer” edition featuring “tips on catching a good wave.”

Pray to stay

Fascinating Wall Street Journal piece on a German housing development for low-income residents, built in the 16th century and still in operation. Tenants live virtually rent-free-as long as they pray for their benefactors’ souls.

Still At It

The two Dans are still mixing it up over religion and the Dems, God & Country Dan here and and here, and Pastordan here, the latter enlisting enough in the way of comments to suggest that the discussion has generated more than a modicum of interest, at least at the corner of Street and Prophet. I don’t have anything much worth adding, so I’m happy to let the two duke it out to their hearts’ content. Except this: The election’s over, the Dems are in power, and the issue at hand is how the Obama White House decides to deal the religion deck. Rick Warren was the first card played, and it suggests that the incoming president sees white evangelicals as the force to be reckoned with, enlisted if possible, or if not defanged. Gilgoff believes that Obama’s actually managed the last of these; while I think that’s highly unlikely, the effort’s noteworthy.

Clash of ideas

Samuel Huntington, the controversial political scientist who popularized the idea of a clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity, died Wednesday. Read the NYT obit here.

Beer & now

  The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn has for years advocated the practice of “mindful eating” in which we take care to notice each moment in the eating experience. In fact, he says its one of the most important Buddhist practices.   Stands to reason, then, that mindful drinking is also important. So, before you quaff away 2008, be sure to check out this essay on Zen and the art of drinking beer. By the way, I should admit that many, many Buddhist sutras frown upon drinking alcohol.

10 ways to count the year’s 10 best stories

In case you haven’t gotten your fill of the annual year-in-review stories (ours ran in the Washington Post this weekend), the guys over at Religion Dispatches have created their own Top 10 list of their favorite Top 10 lists … My personal favorite: The Onion’s Top 10 list. Why didn’t we think of that?