Tag Archives: Christianity

A Flood of Opinions

“From #hotjesus to Russell Crowe in Noah, Hollywood mines scriptures for scripts” reads the headline of an article on theStar.com. Many have talked about how 2014 is the year for biblical movies. From The Son of God all the way to Exodus premiering in December, the year is packed full of the Bible.

Many people would come to believe that, in general, Christians would enjoy this and love how biblical stories and themes are becoming major films with big names, but that may not be the case. As we have talked much about in class, and especially during our study of The Color of Christ, there are multiple depictions of religions and their stories. As one can see, with differing depictions come differing opinions – some modest and some not so much. This weekend the new movie Noah released and as one can imagine, the opinions of this movie span the spectrum.

In a Fox News video, Jonathan Morris comments on how the Noah Movie doesn’t mention the word “God” at all and instead uses the word “creator.” This has been a fairly large debate on Fox News recently. In a separate interview Director Darren Aronofsky talks about how this was a different time entirely in history where it is a “magical and fantastical world” which would produce different choices in many areas including language.

After the beginning of the backlash, some Christians began bringing up the other side saying that it’s a Hollywood adaption and that people should not be so uptight about it. In an article on Christian Post entitled “Noah Movie: Why Christians Should Stop Complaining About Biblical Movies and Watch Them,” Marty Duren writes about how the movie was never intended to be direct adaption of the story in the Bible. He says that instead of fighting it, Christians should be glad the that “cultural bridges” are being built for the gospel. He writes, “Why destroy the bridge rather than walking over it? The gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.”

While we are in the midst of controversy and people getting angry, why not throw in some satire, right? From the Christian Post Phil Cooke writes, “The Noah Movie Opened This Weekend. Christians: Run For the Hills.” This article includes quotes such as, “After Friday’s opening, be ready for millions of Christians to turn away from the faith,” and, “This movie will be the most catastrophic event since the crucifixion.” Again, obviously satire, but one individuals commented “Amen!” There is also a twitter account @FakeJDGreear which pokes fun at issues like this.

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Should a Christian, Jew, or Muslim look at this film and be appalled by its inaccuracy to the text? Should they be excited about the text being mentioned at all and take every ounce as a step towards others being enlightened? Or should they look at this film as a film and nothing else? Who knows?! All one can do is understand that the choice made by people will be determined by many different facets – religious background, views of his or her family, geographic location, etc.

People think differently. People see differently. People choose differently. And as we have seen in our studies of American Religion, this is not something new.

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Hobby Lobby takes their Religious Freedom Fight to the Supreme Court

If you have paid any attention to the political scene in America lately, you will proabably have heard about Obamacare, as it is colloquially known, or the Affordable Care Act.  It has been making waves for a number of political reasons, but a key religious freedom argument has arisen from it.  Hobby Lobby has sued the governement (or actually Kathleen Sebelius who is the Secretary of Health and Human Services) over being forced to provide contraception that they, and the FDA, have deemed could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall, which is “technincally” an abortion and against Steve Green, the owner of Hobby Lobby, and his family’s Christian beliefs.

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Hobby Lobby is a Crafts Company owned by Steve Green and his family.

In this article from Religion News Services, they discuss not only Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which is being heard by the Supreme Court this month, but also Steve Green’s religion.  The first oral arguments are scheduled to be heard March 25th.  For years, even before the mandate was sent out, Hobby Lobby has been providing 16 of the 20 FDA approved contraception methods as part of their insurance plan.  They merely have an issue with the others, specifically IUD’s and pills like the Plan B pill.  There grounds are that these could technically result in an abortion, and since abortion is against their Christian beliefs, they should not be required to pay for it.  What the case really boils down to, in my opinion, is does Hobby Lobby as a corporation have the same protection under the First Amendment as a person.

 

There is no doubt that Hobby Lobby, much like Chick-fil-a is an overtly Christian company.  Not only are they closed on Sunday, but on their Hours sign, for Sunday it says “Closed Sunday to allow employees time for family and worship”, but they also refuse to do business with companies that promote alcohol.  The Green Family Foundation is even opening a Bible Museum in Washington DC that will display thousands of ancient texts.  There is no denying that the Hobby Lobby Corporation as a whole is clearly an overtly Christian Corporation and should be afforded the same rights as a person. 

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Hobby Lobby is closed Sunday for “family and worship”

When we were reading Albanese’s book, we also discussed in class how the first amendment in America was unlike anything that had ever been done before.  There was to be a complete distinction between the religion in America and the government in America.  The question this case is raising, is how far does the protection given in the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.  Hobby Lobby is claiming that the government forcing them to pay for things that violate their religion is a breach of the Free Exercise Clause, specifically “Congress shall make no law […] prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

 

The reason Hobby Lobby might have a chance is that Hobby Lobby is filed as a Closely Held Corporation.  This means that they are owned by a few select individuals, which in the case of Hobby Lobby, and in most Closely Held Corporations, is almost entirely members of the Green family.  This basically means that even though it is a large corporation, it is still a family owned business, and since the family members are the people who are liable for the company, they technically are the company. 

 

No matter what way this turns out, it will be a landmark case in the religious freedoms in America at this time.  Be sure to look out in the coming future about the results of this case.

 

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Ash Wednesday and Public Christianity

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Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent on the Christian calendar, has been celebrated for centuries in many churches. As a representation of repentance and dependence on Jesus, Christians across America come together to be blessed with the words of Genesis 3:19 and marked with ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads. The ritual is not uncommon and widely practiced in American church culture, but what happens when it is taken to the general public, outside the confines of a strictly Christian sanctuary? Ashes To Go, a national organization that was started about seven years ago, has done just that: church officials bring ashes to public places, blessing people as they pass by and marking them with the symbolic cross of ashes.

We take ashes to the street corner because that reminder of need, humility, and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building.  We probably need it more when we are in the middle of our daily business! The ashes we receive are to remind us throughout the day of our need for God, and of God’s call to us.

Ashes To Go, as seen in the above quote taken from their national website, is all about the mission to remind people of their need for repentance, even if that reminder comes in the middle of a crowded urban street corner. On the national website for the organization, stories of joyful reactions and “smiles of gratitude” are described. But America is not a country of one-sided opinions, and in fact many negative responses have been shared in a number of articles about this national phenomenon since its beginning. One particular piece in The Washington Post by Michelle Boorstein features both sides of the argument, noting that even though the majority of people walking by Ashes To Go at Union Station would identify themselves as Christians, the reactions to being asked to represent this faith on their foreheads seemed to vary.

But why do so many people object to the idea of making this ritual public for those who would like to participate, and why are so many of those objecting people Christians themselves? According to Boorstein’s article, the many Americans who call themselves “unaffiliated” with any particular religious group include a portion of Christians. As the custom of wearing the ash cross for Lent is mainly associated with what the article calls “traditional Christian denominations,” it follows that people of the Christian faith who do not want to be associated with specified tradition would in fact not want to take part in such a conventional practice. But this simply cannot account for all the Christians passing by Ashes To Go at Union Station who were not willing to participate in what is widely accepted as customary for their faith. Why were people hesitant to proclaim their religion in such a way that it could literally be seen on their foreheads?

The answer may lie in American culture today. In a country that emphasizes religious and cultural freedom, it is not surprising to find that people are hesitant to show what they truly believe in such a straightforward fashion. Modern culture in America is seemingly geared toward imaging and outward appearance. How a person looks or what a person wears is paramount to the way that person is viewed by society. For example, someone sporting large, dark-framed glasses and colored, tight-fitting jeans might be labeled in American culture as a hipster. Outsiders may associate this identification with any number of characteristics and connotations, whether they are true or not. In the same way, many people, including Christians, could be opposed to being branded by a cross on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday. The implications that come with being publicly labeled as a Christian are enough to make some believers pass by the Ashes To Go station rather than receive the blessing.

In her book America: Religions & Religion, Catherine Albanese continuously returns to the theme of religious change brought on by an evolving environment and America’s “manyness.” The effect of national religious diversity and changing culture can be seen even today. The controversy of Ashes To Go and public labeling of faith illustrates just how much American culture can influence religious perception.

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Christian Denominations: One Faith or Separate Religions?

Throughout history, Christianity has been at the forefront of America’s religious culture, and that still holds true for the present. It is the most popular religion in the United States today—in fact, the PewResearch Religious Landscape Survey shows that nearly 78.4% of American adults identify themselves as Christians—but is this religion really one unified faith? There is something to be said about the fact that the poll lists major denominations as separate entities (even dividing Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants), and what is even more interesting is the sheer number of subcategories listed under each tradition. Many varying beliefs comprise most American religions (“Catholic,” “Jehovah’s Witness,” “Other World Religions,” and “Don’t Know/Refused” were the only traditions in the PewResearch survey that did not have subcategories listed), but Christianity’s ubiquitous differences are undoubtedly the most prominent.

Why is it that Christianity in America seems to be defined by contrasting theology? Can it really be classified as one unified faith, or are the differences enough to call the varying denominations separate religions? A great example of this concept is illustrated in this episode of Cheers, where a married couple fears for the sustainability of their relationship due to religious differences—specifically differences of denomination.

In this dramatized example of religious tension in America, Kelly and Woody are not even of different faiths. Not only are they both Christian, but they are also both Lutheran—they simply belong to different subsets within the Lutheran church. If the seemingly minor contrasts between the Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Church of America are large enough to cause inter-personal issues such as these, what is there to say about Christian denominations as a whole? Woody’s statement that he and Kelly are “from different religions” seems to be a comical exaggeration, but is there actually merit to this claim?

In America: Religions & Religion, Albanese defines a religious system in terms of four variables: creed, code, cultus, and community. A comparison of denominations of the Christian faith would in fact show that there are distinct differences in each of these categories. The creeds, or explanations about the meaning of life, vary if even by a small factor. This is illustrated humorously in the above Cheers episode. The codes, or rules for everyday living, are very distinct among denominations too. How often in Christian culture are people arguing about how others of the same faith are living? The cultuses, or rituals to act out the understandings of the creeds and codes, most certainly differ; each denomination has a different idea about baptism, communion, worship, prayer, and other church rituals. The variance in community is the most prominent, as tight-knit church culture is pervasive in Christianity today.

So if each category in Albanese’s definition of a religious system is different for each denomination in the Christian faith, does this make each one a separate religion? This is a possibility to think about, but the answer may be deeper than just generic characterization. According to studied definition, people of Christian faith may belong to many different religions; yet they identify themselves with each other, bonding over a sense of shared beliefs. It follows that this idea of common community and personal connection does not come from the strict categories that Albanese and other religious scholars put forth to attempt to define religion; it comes from the idea that they have unified faith. Many endeavors have been made to characterize and explain religion, but it seems that even ones as broad as Albanese’s fall short when it comes to conundrums like denominations within Christianity. Defining religion is a difficult undertaking; even the most prominent example of religion in America doesn’t seem to fit perfectly into a label. Maybe this is a result of identifying the term with the wrong definition. Perhaps faith and religion are two very different matters, or perhaps denominations are simply examples of “religion inception” (religions within the main religion of Christianity); either way, the lines appear to be blurred, and maybe they always will be.

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The Battle of Faith-Based Films

From left to right: Son of God, Heaven Is for Real, and Noah

From left to right: Son of God, Heaven Is for Real, and Noah

Hollywood is Hell on Earth. This is what some Christians, at least in the South, would have you believe. Many of these people view Hollywood as a place filled with celebrities whose views have long strayed from those of mainstream Americans. A place used as a scapegoat for the “downfall of America.” A place where Christianity is almost nonexistent. A place not to be looked up to in any way. Oh yeah, and that place where all your favorite movies originate.

For years, Christians have complained about the lack of Bible-related films coming out of Hollywood. That is not the case this year. In 2014, there will be four major, religion-themed movies coming to a theater near you: Son of God, Noah, Heaven Is for Real, and Exodus. One would think Christians might be satisfied with so many of these films being released soon, but that is not exactly the case. Seemingly every time a Bible-related film hits theaters, there are numerous religious organizations lining up to criticize the storyline or accuracy of the movie. Paramount, the studio releasing Noah, recently announced that the following clarification would be included with the film:

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

I mean, it’s not like Hollywood has a track record of embellishing the narrative of a “based on true events” movie.  Dr. Jerry Johnson, President of the NRB, summarizes the Christian viewpoint in his article about Noah as, “If the world made it, we are against it, and can provide the list to tell you why.” Instead of continually trying to pick a fight with Hollywood, Christians ought to embrace the fact that the film industry is spending millions of dollars to essentially tell the story of the Jesus and the Bible.

In a similar article, Phil Cooke makes the case for why Christians should support the movie Noah, and other comparable movies. For starters, the story of Noah written in the Bible is fairly short. As with many parts of the Bible, this story leaves many blanks unfilled and leaves the imagination with room to wander. This means that in order to create a feature film, some creative freedom must be left to the writers and producers. This does not discount the entire story as worthless, though. Instead, this introduces a new viewpoint, perhaps never considered by the person watching. Furthermore, I know it may be hard for some to fathom, but there are a seemingly infinite number of interpretations of the Bible. This could be embraced as a way to promote an open dialogue about Christ and the many forms that He takes in different cultures.

These movies are not intended to replace the Bible. Instead of complaining about trivial details, Christians should look to use these movies as a facilitator for nonbelievers. The art of filmmaking has the power to reach an audience untouched by the Christian community. These movies could lead to someone picking up a Bible for the first time in their lives. And, in the end, is that not what all Christians want?

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Grains of Salt and Degrees of Faith: What Makes a Miracle?

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Miracles in America.

How do you really know whether something is real? Espeically in the age of dime-store card tricks and photo shop, it seems we cannot even trust our own eyes half the time. Beyond that, though, there is also so much suspicion regarding such things.  With this in mind, where can miracles actually come into our lives? In his article, “The power of miracles: Naples’s prodigious blood,” BBC ‘Heart and Soul’ correspondent and former friar Mark Dowd tries to find a good answer.

Taking what he calls “a very large dose of salt to accompany [him],” Dowd explores the credentials of a few ‘miracles’ throughout the world and especially Italy, ranging from the Neapolitan feast of San Gennaro (or, Saint Januarius) in which a vile of the saint’s ancient blood can turn from a 5th century solid back into liquid form.  to the supposedly posthumously healing of Pope John Paul II, and even a comparatively much ‘smaller’ and substantially lesser-known miracle in an Italian suburb in which a man (Signor D’Alfonso) was brought out of a comma through the praying ferocity his sister-in-law, a nun, who organized prayers for him.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about these stories is that all of them are either confirmed or toted as real miracles not just by Dowd, but also by the Vatican and other faithful. The scope of the miracles ranges incredibly, as does their respective celebration and their acceptance. For example, while thousands gather in the streets to witness whether or not Saint Januarius’s blood will change and consider it a moving miracle if it does, many – including Dowd – would “like to [examine] the phials and their contents several hours beforehand” to be sure the change was not mere illusion.

On a similar note, although Signor D’Alfonso’s case has been holistically confirmed in the Vatican through multipe medical testimonies, he rarely speaks of the event in fear that it “will be misinterpreted as mere vulgar ‘magic’ rather than as an invitation to deepen one’s faith because of a sign.” In efforts to canonize Pope John Paul II, many must also sort through and investigate uowards of 3,800 claims of his extraordinary posthumous intervention in believers’ lives.

Ultimately, Dowd’s experience leads him to state that miracles much be viewed “through the eyes of faith” and while I agree, the term feels a bit overly-simplistic. Clearly what makes up a miracle (and how people should incorporate such miracles into their lives) varies tremendously depending on the person, like all ‘faith.’

To return once again to The Color of Christ, the face of God is ever-changing, both through how he is seen and shared. The original missionaries in America, Catholics appropriately enough, brought with them a god or god image of rules and statures, of colonizing rather than adaptive faith, much the same way the ritualistic observation of the saint’s blood in Naples  remains fairly uniform for decades at least. In contrast, the Moravians brought a more malleable interpretation of Christ and Christian faith, with more of a focus on the sacrificial and healing capacity of Jesus, which fit more easily into the lives and culture of Native Americans than the mission-based image given by the early Catholics the way that Pope John Paul II’s healings and the miracle for Signor D’Alfonso are significantly more individual. Rather than basing the variance of such miracles on the “eye of faith” then, we might also consider the lens of circumstance. After all there is a substantial difference between witnessing a miracle in the middle of a Church festival, and seeing one at home or in a hospital room.

Feast of San Gennaro in Naples

This of course, does not mean that any miracle is less important, or that any image of Christianity should be dismissed. Despite their differences after all, the Jesuits, Protestants and Catholics of old (and those to whom they witnessed) were brought to the same God. These miracles happened somehow and are real to someone.

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Looking For Answers: Christianity’s Dynamic Shape

As time changes, so does religion. As new questions are asked, many people search for answers through Christ. However, the “same” Christ, along with his teachings, can be viewed, imagined, and interpreted with vast differences, causing immense friction. Throughout American history, religion and Jesus have played a large role on both sides of wars and debates, each side claiming Christ as an advocate for their actions. As presented in The Color of Christ by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, during the Civil War, the voices of white supremacy claimed that the Golden Rule “only applied within one’s own race” and that it “should take into account status, power, and position.” The slaves and abolitionists, however, believed that it applied to all men and that, according to Christian religion, everyone should love their neighbors as themselves. No matter what the disagreement, having Christ and the Bible as support for opposing sides creates a lot of disagreement and a dynamic Christ, raising a lot of questions about the true meaning of Christianity.

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In singer/songwriter Noah Gundersen’s song “Jesus, Jesus” (cleanest version), a lot of modern confusion in the religious world is brought to light. For example, Gundersen questions certain Christian claims about judgment of others. He sings, “If all the heathens burn in hell, do all their children burn as well? What about the Muslims, and the gays, and the unwed mothers?” Matters regarding Muslims (especially in relation to the War on Terror) and homosexuality are modern topics in which religious interpretation plays a huge role. If one views Christ as a lover of all men and the Golden Rule as applicable to everyone, it seems as though these issues wouldn’t be issues at all. However, just as there was in the Civil War, there are opposing sides to each topic, along with substantial biblical claims gathered in support, causing tension and often times uncertainty among Christians.

When it comes to religion in war, it’s presence in the War on Terror reaches far beyond the United States borders. In the Civil War, the religious difference was merely in opposing views of Christ and Christianity in America. However, the Golden Rule in regards to the War on Terror deals not only with religious difference in America, but racial and religious difference with another country. So how does an American Christian interpret the Golden Rule in this situation? Does the Golden Rule only apply to one’s own people, one’s own religion? Or does doing unto others as they would to do unto you apply to everyone regardless of their actions, ethnicity, and belief system? In “Religious fundamentalism in the ‘War on Terror,’” Murtaza Hussain states that Chris Kyle, author of American Sniper, calls Iraqis “savages”, claiming that “the world is a better place without [them] taking American lives” and that he wished he had killed more. His reasoning for wanting to kill Iraqis is that they have killed so many Americans. As someone who “was deeply religious and saw the Iraq War through that prism,” the Golden Rule as the abolitionists during the Civil War had viewed it, is contradicted in his reasoning. If he is appalled by the Iraqis killing of Americans, killing the Iraqis is not treating them as he would like him and his fellow Americans to be treated. Kyle’s Christianity must take on a different shape for him, one that he believes is its true meaning and that advocates his actions.

In relation to the topic of other religions, Deuteronomy 13: 6-10 claims that anyone who entices you away from the Lord to serve other gods shall be killed. Perhaps passages like these are behind certain people’s condemnation of other religious beleifs. But some would say it is contradictory to and raises questions about other parts of Christianity, like loving your neighbor as yourself. But, then again, what defines a “neighbor”? It also raises the question of whether or not others, Muslims for example, are essentially worshipping the “same” god as Christians, but that is another topic entirely. This theme of contradiction, though, is also prevalent in the debate over homosexuality as a sin. In a clip of The West Wing, Dr. Jacobs states that the Bible (Leviticus 18:22) calls homosexuality an abomination. Her literal interpretation of the Bible leads her to believe that this is true. However, the President presents her with many contradictions by recalling other bible passages that are not followed literally in modern day. For example, one passage claims that people should be burned for wearing garments made of two different threads. While the clip takes an obvious side of the debate, I am using it in an objective sense, to raise the undeniable issue of contradiction in interpretation. Here, not only is there contradiction in the sense that some people interpret the Bible literally while others do not, but there is also contradiction within each interpretation as well. The lines become extremely blurred.

As time progresses, religion is molded in the face of modernity and the blurred lines that come with it. As new conflicts and questions arise, Christ and Christianity begin to take new, different, and often opposing shapes. But, to many, there is not a definite shape, only confusion. And to those people, people questioning Christianity like Gundersen, it seems that the only way to understand what it’s all about is to meet with Jesus for coffee.

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The Growing Diversity of African-American Faith

As a class, since we began reading The Color of Christ by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, we have spent a good amount of time talking about African-American faith. Typically, when talking about this subject most of the information we read covers African-American Christianity from slavery on, but a recent article from The Huffington Post and a follow up interview from NPR hosted by Mitchel Martin show that more African-Americans than ever are now choosing the create their own paths and explore the many faiths that are practiced in America. Many African-Americans, even those that were raised Christian, are now seeking new religions experiences for numerous different reasons. The article above touches on the diverse group of religions African-Americans now practice, but it does not and could not possibly on every different faith that is now practiced by the entire population of black Americans.

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In the Huffington Post article, the author states, “Considerable attention has already been given to the role of Christianity and Islam as religious influences, but the diversity of religious traditions practiced within the African-American community extends beyond those two traditions.” The author then backs up this statement by giving us nine examples of African-Americans that practice different religions. Hearing from African-Americans that are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Atheist, Hindu, Christian, and Pagan allows us to believe that the the effects from the christianizing of Blacks that occurred in during the times of slavery in America may have begun to wear off. One example provided is the story behind Black, Jewish, and Homosexual rapper Yitz Jordan (above). In his life, Jordan faced discrimination for sexual preference, skin color, and religious background, but despite the negativity, the Jewish community accepted Jordan into their religion in 2004. Jordan, like fellow black, Jewish rapper Drake, embraces everything that he is and is as proud to a part of the Black community as he is to be part of the LGBT community and the Jewish community. Jordan can be seen talking about his religion, his rapping, and his life below.

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African American Religious Association

The vast diversity of African-American faith is highlighted by the story of Timothy Conley who practices Baha’i religion. Growing up, Conley, just like a large amount of African-American children was a Christian that worshipped at an all black church. The way he grew up ultimately led Conley to seek a more diverse place to worship, “That’s what’s great about the Baha’i tradition, the promotion of this diversity. And being a part of a religion that promotes humanity and not such a focus on race, it is refreshing.” (Huffington Post). As you can see in the chart to the left, African-Americans truly are branching out when it comes to religious preference. Yes, Christianity is still the preference for most, but it is no longer the preference of an overwhelmingly large amount of African-Americans like it once was. As time goes on America is becoming more and more diverse. This growing diversity can be seen through: the acceptance of other races, the acceptance of the LBGT community, and now the acceptance of countless religions.

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The Racial Makeup of American Churches

After visiting a predominately African-American church as a child, I had a question: “Why is our church mostly white, and theirs mostly black?” Reverend Thomas Barclay, the new head of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God had a similar experience with Assembly of God churches.  Since being elected four years ago, he has now tried to bring the two denominations together. While they are not yet trying to merge, they still intend to try to bring the two denominations closer.  The UPCAG has around 70 predominately black churches in America and a couple other countries.  The Assembly of God operates over 360,000 worldwide churches with around 300 predominantly black churches in the US.  

Reverend Thomas Barclay, the man behind the coming together of the UPCAG and the Assembly of God.

Reverend Thomas Barclay, the man behind the coming together of the UPCAG and the Assembly of God.

While I am not Pentecostal, I can still relate to the racial differences in churches.  Growing up in South Georgia, I was raised in a very traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We had black members who attended regularly, however they were by far the minority, as 99% of the congregation was white.  However, being in South Georgia I had many friend who attended predominately African-American churches, and I visited with them on many occasions.  The style and feeling is so different between the two, that I was uncomfortable at their church and they were uncomfortable at mine.  It had nothing to do with race, it had to do with the style of worship and praise you grew up in.

A recent poll of Senior Pastors on diversity.

A recent poll of Senior Pastors on diversity.

A recent LifeWay Research poll shows that 85% of Senior Pastors when asked said that every church should strive to be racially diverse, but only 13% said their church had more than one predominant racial or ethnic group in their congregation.   Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research said that this is due, in part to human nature because, “Everybody wants diversity, but many don’t want to be around people who are different.”  While I do not agree with this statement entirely, I do think there is some truth to it.  While most people do prefer to be around people like them, I would like to believe that many other people are more comfortable with anyone that worships the same God being in the pew beside them.

In America: Religions and Religion by Catherine Albanese, we talked about historical churches during slavery, and how while many slave owners brought their slaves to church with them, there was also a large slave religion in the background, sometimes even unknown by the slave owners.  As the last blog post pointed out, most churches in Tuscaloosa were integrated before the Civil War and slave owners and slaves worshiped side by side, however today Tuscaloosa’s churches, like most around America are predominately one racial or ethnic makeup.  However, this time period in American history also divided lots of religions and denominations in America, because of the issue of slavery.  Segregation is the time period where, like the rest of America, the church you attended was decided by color.  Although in present day America, a black man and a white man can sit side by side at a diner, they are still most likely not going to sit side by side in church, even if they adhere to the exact same religion.

Even when a church is multi-racial in America, they do not tend to stay that way.  In this slightly dated, but still relevant CNN Article, some stories from interracial congregations are shared.  Pastors of interracial churches share that, when preaching and even talking in normal conversation to their congregation, they have to pay careful attention to what they say, because one slip of the tongue could start a firestorm.  They share that it is like being in a campaign.  The article says that, just like in normal culture, skirmishes can still arise over who’s in power and racial issues like interracial dating.  Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of United by Faith, which examines interracial churches, was once the pastor of an interracial church in Minnesota but as he puts it, “I left after five years, I was worn out from the battles”.  The church he was a pastor at eventually went all black.

This raises a question in my mind.  While yes, most people believe that all churches should strive to be interracial as the poll pointed out, is it really a bad thing if they are not? Shouldn’t people be allowed to worship wherever they feel comfortable?  As long as no one is forbidding people to worship in interracial setting, is it such a bad thing if people don’t?  I just feel that people should worship where they feel comfortable, and if that is in a small intimate sanctuary full of people exactly like them or a mega church with many races and ethnicities represented, they are free to do so.

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Gaga Over Gaga

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In America: Religions and Religion, Catherine Albanese defines ordinary religion as “the religion that is more or less synonymous with culture.”  Each culture has its own style of music, and most people would probably consider music a part of their ordinary religion. Furthermore, many religions also use music as a form of worship in their extraordinary religions, or “the religion that helps people to transcend, or move beyond, their everyday culture and concerns.”

Lady Gaga intertwines music as a part of extraordinary and ordinary religions by singing songs that are played on the radio for people of every religion to hear, but she also sings about a Christian God who loves all people. Gaga focuses on painting an image of a God who accepts all sexualities, including lesbians, gays, transgenders, and bisexuals. For example, in her song “Born This Way,” Gaga sings “There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are, ’cause he made you perfect, babe.” These lyrics are a prime example of Gaga’s actions that are angering conservative Christians, who believe that the Bible teaches relationships should be strictly between a man and a woman. Furthermore, Gaga pushes the boundaries of the extraordinary religion that she identifies herself with. In her music video to the song “Judas,” Lady Gaga sexualizes Jesus Christ, bathes with him, and suggests adultery. Again, this video is shockingly offensive to Christians that believe that Jesus was able to die for our sins because he lived a sinless life. The Jesus in Lady Gaga’s music video clearly gives into temptations.

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In Idol Worship: The Beatitudes of Gaga, Xarissa Holdaway describes how Lady Gaga has become a sort of idol to people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. Holdaway says, “Her act, living at the intersection of camp’s sheer excess, queer theory’s rejection of heteronormative gender roles, and Christ’s admonishment to love our neighbor and the stranger equally, goes well beyond style and stagecraft.” This is where her music transcends that of ordinary religion into extraordinary religion. Catherine Albanese states that extraordinary religions must have creeds, codes, cultuses, and communities. For Lady Gaga, her creed would be that of all Christians: Get to Heaven. But, Gaga believes in a very accepting God that allows all types of people into Heaven, and that is where her creed speaks to her followers who she labels “monsters.” Next, the creed would simply state “love yourself,” because Lady Gaga believes that is of utmost importance. The code for Gaga’s monsters  in this hypothetical religion has looser rules than that of conservative Christianity, as Gaga disregards normal gender roles. Whether or not Gaga’s followers have all of the components required to be considered an extraordinary religion, they certainly have cultuses. Gaga’s concerts give monsters a feeling of freedom in a place where they feel they can truly be themselves because Lady Gaga has given them permission to do so. Lastly, the community in this case consists of those people who see Lady Gaga as their idol. This community centers around her and her openness  and acceptance. Whether or not Lady Gaga and her followers can actually be considered an extraordinary religion, this example proves how people today are willing to turn to almost anyone or anything to feel accepted into that community that Albanese mentions.

Lady Gaga and her concerts remind me of the sacramentalism Albanese mentions in her chapter on Catholicism. She says, “A sacrament is a place where a divine world is experienced as breaking into the human one.” Moreover, Roman Catholics believed that any object could become a sacrament and would allow them to experience God’s grace. Gaga’s followers seem to have turned her concerts into a sacrament. In that open environment, people of all kinds are able to experience the grace of God that Lady Gaga sings about.

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