Same God, Different Freedoms?

Ryan T. Woods reports on the case of Dr. Larycia Hawkins and the fraught

entanglement of religious freedom and academic freedom at a Wheaton College. Continue Reading →

In the News: Westboro, Paris, Haiti, and Beyond!

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

RT if u

Ashley Baxstrom: You’ve probably heard at this point about the Vatican’s statement concerning what it considers to be the wayward actions of its sisters in faith. You can refer to The Revealer’s “Radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” for the basics, including how nuns were “reprimanded for making public statements that ‘disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.’”

And then, you’ve probably heard about some of the reactions, people talking about Christian feminism, and hierarchy, and personal histories with the Church and faith. One major trend in the reactions has been people coming to the defense of the nuns for acting on behalf of social justice and the poor. But we all know a trend of movement hasn’t really gained steam until it’s gone viral, and that’s where we find ourselves today. Continue Reading →

The Russian Orthodox Church: Public Protest and Elite Politics

By Irina Papkova

The Russian Duma elections of December, 2011 contained many surprises, starting of course with the nature of the public reaction. On the eve of the election, almost no one anticipated that blatant falsification of electoral results would spark not just widespread indignation but also the largest mass protests the Russian Federation has seen since the early 1990s. Still less did anyone predict that prominent members of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) would add their voices to the social upheaval. For the larger part of the last decade, the ROC had garnered the reputation of an institution closely linked to the upper echelons of power. This image was cemented by frequent joint appearances by high-ranking bishops and politicians, most strikingly exemplified by the role played by the Patriarch in the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The perception of a church-state ideological juggernaut began to rapidly intensify in 2009, with the election of Kirill I (Gundiaev) to the post of patriarch. His predecessor, Aleksii II (Ridiger), had carefully cultivated an image of a religious leader above the political fray, and had in general steered a course meant to position the ROC as the most powerful social institution in the Russian Federation without necessarily transforming it into a virtual political party. Aleksii died in December 2008 and was replaced by Kirill, who was already well known as a public figure in Russia because of his long tenure as the head of the ROC’s Department of External Affairs. As patriarch, Kirill has waged a campaign to intensify what he calls the ROC’s “mission” in Russian society, through a strategy that has included among other things intense lobbying for legislation favorable to the ROC’s interests, constructing new churches, raising the profile of the church in the media, and fostering active religious mission at such untraditional venues as rock concerts and motorcycle rallies. Continue Reading →

Spice Up Your (Church) Life

Ashley Baxstrom: Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church is at risk of death by boredom. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has told priests they need to pump up their sermons with the scandalous parts of the Bible or face becoming “irrelevant.”  Because, you know, Catholics don’t have enough scandal to deal with already.

Speaking at an event in Rome, the cardinal emphasized the need for priests to keep up with modern media and communicative processes, admonishing them to remember that their congregants are “children of the television and the internet.”

While what that doesn’t means for Ravasi is that Catholics today are better informed, or more curious, or can take in more information faster, he does promote priests’ use of new media. “Communicating faith doesn’t just take place through sermons,” he says, “It can be achieved through the 140 characters of a Twitter message.”  But it seems that the digital age requires a kind of negative adaptation. Don’t challenge your followers – use simple stories to talk to them. In the fast-paced world of new media, he’s saying, there’s no time for thought or argument; rather, “cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour.” The Bible is full of stories and symbols – SCANDALOUS ONES, don’t forget – that excite listeners’ passions.  And that, apparently, is how you motivate the spirit. Continue Reading →

Dangerous Temptations

From Nidhal Guessoum’s “New Media and Islam” at HuffPo:

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times recently related the strong reactions expressed by some Iranian clerics and other opinion makers to the youth’s alarming addiction to the web. One cleric warned his students of the “dangers and temptations” of the Internet and advised them to “spend more time praying and less time clicking through cyberspace.” An opposing view, however, was expressed by “an activist and son of a well-known reformist cleric,” who saw no conflict between being a practicing Muslim and using Facebook and social networks; he insisted that “any practicing Muslim can embrace all kinds of modern tools and technology while maintaining his or her faith in Islam.” Continue Reading →

Lent in 140 Characters

Clint Rainey: Stephen Smith, at Bible Gateway, has for three years made an annual top-100 list and snazzy tag cloud with what Twitterers say they’re giving up for Lent. This year, he wrangled up 85,000 messages tweeted between March 7 and March 10. (March 9 was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten calendar for Catholics and the one Americans popularly conceive of as Day 1 of the fast.) The top vote-getter, you ask? Twitter. Followed by Facebook, with chocolate third, soda seventh, and the teenage troika of transgression—swearing, alcohol and sex—landing fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Smith does not say how many I’m-not-tweeting tweets came once fasting was underway. But to compute it misses the point anyway. Hashtag searches cannot differentiate sarcasm from sincerity, so besides depriving themselves of “Lent” (eighth), “giving up things” (12th), “stuff” (25th), “Catholicism” (26th), and “religion” writ simple (14th), Twitterers on Smith’s list also helpfully sacrificed “nothing” (46th), “school” (13th), their virginity (37th) and sobriety (44th), as well as “me” (63rd) and “you” (16th)—perhaps “You”?

As it happens, jokester posters flooded the list. For Lent to be so thoroughgoingly Americanized that a quarter of his top-100 entries seem to mock it is itself telling. Even wisecracking tweets promising 40-day renunciations of Christianity still focus discourse on the idea of redemption through self-denial, sacrifice, commitment, self-discipline, however it is we define those terms. What Christian objects to publicizing that message at Easter?

This year’s forgo-social-media push returned Twitter and Facebook, last year’s top vote-getters, as champ and runner-up, and it was again the pastoral blogosphere’s Easter meme. But as tech-savvy pastors in particular avail themselves of social media as tools of evangelism, pastor-converts, like San Francisco pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow (who’s taken his protests to NPR,, The Huffington Post, and of course Twitter), will speak out against conscientiously swearing them off. Instead, Web 2.0 is seen as a demystifying force that portrays the Christian walk as self-denying and sacrificial, yes, but also as approachable, normal, everyday. In a word: tweetable. Continue Reading →