American politics more religious than American voters

(RNS) Has America gotten more religious, or just American politics? The country has grown less religious since the 1970s, while frequent churchgoers are now much more likely to vote Republican or support the Tea Party, according to recent studies. As a result, faith-filled rhetoric and campaign stops make Americans appear more Christian than they really are, according Mark Chaves, a Duke University professor of sociology and religion. The rise of megachurches, with their memberships in the thousands, also fuels the misperception that most Americans attend services weekly, when only one in four Americans actually do, he added. “The Michele Bachmanns and Rick Perrys of the world are playing to a base that’s much smaller than it was in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Chaves, whose new book, “American Religion: Contemporary Trends,” analyzes trends based on data from the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Pope Benedict XVI concluded a “glitch-marred” World Youth Day in Spain on Sunday, after searing heat and thunderstorms played havoc with the weekend’s schedule, according to the AP. The next WYD will be in Brazil in 2013, the Vatican announced. Church attendance among white Americans who did not go to college has fallen more than twice as quickly as it has among whites with fancy-pants degrees, according to a new study. Americans have lost faith in their religious leaders, argues a new book by a Duke University sociologist. WaPo profiles a founding father of American Islam and finds that while supporters say his rights have been trampled by overzealous investigators, others doubt his loyalties and motives.

Interfaith understanding remains elusive 10 years after 9/11

(RNS) In a post-9/11 bid to better relations with local Muslims, pastor Bob Roberts invited Muslims to his NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, for Q-and-A sessions, a cooking club and to help on a few home remodeling projects. The result: Roberts lost “a bunch of church members,” he said. In Denver, pastor Max Frost asked volunteers from his Roots Vineyard church to help paint a local mosque. Friends and family told him it was a bad idea. And at Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., the Rev. Nancy McCurley started an interfaith Scripture study with local Muslims, only to be told by a critic that “in a year’s time, this church will be a mosque.”

Illinois Catholics lose fight over adoptions, foster care

(RNS) An Illinois judge has ruled that the state can terminate adoption and foster care services with Catholic Charities, saying the church-run agency has no “recognized legal right” to a state contract. Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday (Aug. 18) that state officials can cancel contracts with Catholic Charities after church officials said they could not comply with a new civil unions law that could require them to place children with same-sex couples. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government,” Schmidt ruled, lifting a July 12 temporary injunction that maintained the annual contracts dating back 30 years. Schmidt said the church had failed to show a “recognized property right” entitling them to maintain the contracts.

Religious leaders battle Alabama immigration law

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Alabama religious leaders have filed statements in federal court expressing their concern that a new immigration law would interfere with the practice of their religion and Christian mandates to minister to all people. Bishops in the Episcopal, United Methodist and Roman Catholic churches and 17 other church ministry leaders on Wednesday (Aug. 17) filed affidavits in the federal court lawsuits that seek to block enforcement of the new law. Their lawsuit was consolidated with those filed by the U.S. Justice Department and Hispanic advocacy groups that also sought to void the new state law.

Congregations go for `Creation Care,’ one barrel at a time

WASHINGTON (RNS) It was the time in pre-marriage counseling when the groom has to leave so the priest and the bride can talk alone. So Jamal Kadri stepped outside Holy Name Catholic Church that rainy day in Washington, D.C., and watched water pour from the church gutters and seep into the sanctuary. The idea hit him like a tidal wave: “My church needs a rain barrel.” Kadri, a water expert at the Environmental Protection Agency who had recently converted to Catholicism, asked the priest if his contribution to Holy Name’s building fund could be a rain barrel to catch the water, and channel it to a church garden. He installed the 275-gallon barrel — salvaged from his father-in-law’s farm — last summer.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Texas Gov. Rick Perry says the earth is “pretty old,” but isn’t sure just how old, and thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution, because Darwin’s theory “got some gaps in it.” And news flash: there’s now a Jewish candidate for president, at least according to Vogue, which calls Jon Huntsman closer to a Reform Jew than a Mitt Romney-style Mormon, the kind of believer “who honors the spirit rather than the letter of his faith.” Out in Illinois, the long-running drama over adoptions and foster care between the state and the Catholic Church took another turn: a judge said the state is within its rights to sever those contracts if the church won’t abide by the state’s new civil unions law. Up in Philadelphia, Catholic priests are organizing against the hierarchy as officials begin to address the status (and future) of 26 priests who were suspended earlier this year for possible sexual abuse. Over in Staten Island, remember the Muslim group that wanted to open a mosque in a shuttered convent, only to see the deal go south?

The Dominionist Challenge

What to make of Dominionism, Christian Reconstruction, and other variants of the theocratic project the derive from the singular mind of Rousas John Rushdoony, the Calvinist theologian who died ten years ago? As Michelle Goldberg scolded recently over at the Daily Beast, both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have connections to dominionists, and for that reason it behooves us mainstream types to take it seriously for a change.Dominion-alarmism is analogous to the pre-millennium-alarmism that warns that evangelicals only support Israel because the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land fits into a prophetic scenario that undergirds their expectations of the Second Coming. It turns out to be the case, however, that evangelicals also support Israel because in Genesis God gives the Holy Land to the Jews. Disentangling the relative importance of that promise and End Times theology is not easy. But of course, those who would urge American Jews to keep evangelicals at arms length stress the latter, not the former.

Pope, in Spain, laments hedonism, greedy economy

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI lamented the “superficiality, consumerism and hedonism” of contemporary society on Thursday (Aug. 18), while offering a message of Christian hope to young Catholic pilgrims gathered in Madrid. Benedict made his remarks upon landing at the Madrid airport for the start of a four-day visit, during which he will take part in Catholic World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations that are expected to draw some 500,000 young people. The pope said WYD participants have seen the need for divine help in facing challenges such as a “widespread banalization of sexuality,” corruption, drug use, environmental pollution and the persecution of Christians. Arriving in a country with an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, the pope also acknowledged economic concerns, noting that “many young people look worriedly to the future, as they search for work, or because they have lost their job or because the one they have is precarious or uncertain.”

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

On his way to Madrid for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI said God “sows silently,” and the spiritual harvest from events like WYD often isn’t immediately apparent. More apparent, judging by these Reuters photos, is the vitriol WYD’s high price tag has stirred among Spaniards, many of whom seem to be graduates of the Christopher Hitchens School of Religious Tolerance. Eleven people were injured in the protests, and a young Mexican chemistry student was arrested on suspicion of plotting a gas attack on the protesters. Maybe he can confess his sins under one of the 200 surfboard-like confessionals Catholic officials have erected in a Madrid park. In other Catholic news, the Archdiocese of Dublin is on the brink of financial collapse following payouts to abuse victims, according to an internal report, and a Dutch Catholic institute for disabled girls says it will review 40 deaths at the children’s home in the early 1950s.

Civil rights veterans say MLK monument long overdue

WASHINGTON (RNS) At age 93, the Rev. Gardner Taylor never thought he’d live to see the day when his friend Martin Luther King Jr. would be honored with a national memorial. “I think it is singularly appropriate and long overdue,” said Taylor, who helped found the Progressive National Baptist Convention 50 years ago to support the civil rights work of the friend he called “Mike.” “Mike King was minister and leader not only of black people,” he said, “but he was leading the nation to what it ought to be.” Ahead of the memorial’s Aug. 28 official dedication, the men and women who worked and marched alongside King said it’s important to remember that before he was in the vanguard of the civil rights movement, he was a preacher of the gospel.

COMMENTARY: The new missionary position

(RNS) “Missionary” is one of those words where the meaning depends entirely on who’s saying it — and who’s hearing it. For Christians, it’s a word that conjures up images of selfless believers carrying life-saving religion to faraway places. Yet for many Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans and others, it recalls overzealous Christians who were (or are) intent on converting the entire world to their faith. To be fair, some Christian missionaries have done a ton of good, establishing hospitals, colleges and universities, clinics, schools, hospices, and orphanages. But others, in their fervent quest for converts, have used deceptive or coercive proselytism that trampled on the traditional religious traditions of their targets.

Senators probe politics and piety in new books

WASHINGTON (RNS) Truth be told, when asked to name a spiritual role model, few people would likely pick a sitting U.S. senator. In fact, with congressional approval ratings at record lows, few lawmakers — Democrats or Republicans — would seem to qualify as a profile in righteousness. But two new books this summer, Sen. Jim DeMint’s “The Great American Awakening” and Sen. Joe Lieberman’s “The Gift of Rest,” are trying to push back against the image of a godless Senate. To be sure, DeMint and Lieberman have differences both political and religious: DeMint is a Tea Party Republican from South Carolina and a self-described “follower of Christ,” while Lieberman, an observant Jew from Connecticut, is a sometimes unpredictable Independent. But their books offer equally intimate glimpses into the spiritual lives of America’s elected officials.

Priests in Madrid allowed to lift excommunication for abortion

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Catholic priests at this week’s World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations in Madrid will be specially empowered to lift the excommunication of anyone who seeks forgiveness for having undergone or assisted in an abortion. The special authorization from Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco of Madrid applies to “all priests lawfully approved to hear sacramental confessions” who are present in Madrid through Aug. 22. Priests will be able to readmit “truly penitent” Catholics who are guilty of the “crime of procured abortion,” according to the archdiocese. Abortion is among several grave sins, including desecration of the Eucharist and violation of the seal of confession, that result in automatic excommunication.