Laudato Si

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

A bit of U.S. “mainline” Protestant history was made May 11. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches announced that its 70-year-old executive minister, American Baptist Donald Anderson, will take three months off for an unspecified “process of transitioning” to female identity.

The council’s board is “totally supportive,” stated its  president, a United Church of Christ pastor, and anticipates Anderson’s September return under the new name of Donnie. The council sponsored an April 24 “merciful conversation on gender identity and expression” at an Episcopal church.

By coincidence, the April 25 edition of The Christian Century, a prototypical “mainline” voice, published a noteworthy article on “nonbinary gender” as part of God’s good creation.

The piece was an excerpt from a new release by the Presbyterian Church (USA) book house, “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.” Author Austen Hartke, creator of the youtube series “Transgender and Christian,” is a recent graduate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he won an Old Testament prize.

This frontier in modern moral theology confronts many U.S. religious groups head-on, and just after legalized same-sex marriage, causing religious-freedom disputes the news media will be covering for the foreseeable future. 

The transgender cause contrasts with the heavily “binary” and “cisgender” culture throughout the Bible and the Quran that shapes the beliefs of traditional Christians, Jew and Muslims.

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For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.

Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.

The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.

That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.

Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.

The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:

For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.
He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.

Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:

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Is capitalism biblical? You don't have to be a pope to ask that question

Is capitalism biblical? You don't have to be a pope to ask that question

JOHN’S QUESTION:

It has always been my understanding from Proverbs (condemning the “sluggard”), and Paul’s instruction that missionaries earn their keep and not be a burden, that the Bible encouraged hard work and a responsibility to give of our blessings to the poor — personal responsibility vs. government responsibility. The trend toward government socialism seems to discourage that. Is capitalism biblical?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

In America, it’s springtime for socialism. A Harvard survey of those ages 18–29 showed 33 percent support socialism compared with 42 percent for capitalism, and socialist support reached 50 percent among Democrats. A poll of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers found 43 percent considered themselves socialist vs. 38 percent capitalist. Sliding regard for big business accompanies the related success of Socialist-plus-Democrat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sanders is arguably the most secularized candidate ever to wage a major presidential run (can you name any competitors?). Even so, he was the only U.S. politician the Vatican invited to speak at an April economics conference (Sanders cited no Bible verses), where he briefly met Pope Francis. That was called a courtesy, not endorsement, but the pontiff appears soft on socialism, which sets conservative Catholics abuzz.

Francis joins previous popes in teaching biblical tenets of concern toward the needy and against the sins of greed and materialism. But he’s more outspoken than his predecessors in assailing free markets and urging government redistribution of wealth.

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RNS reports ferment over Vatican slideshow, but may project a few of its own views

RNS reports ferment over Vatican slideshow, but may project a few of its own views

When the Vatican lit up St. Peter's Basilica with a colorful slideshow on the environment, reactions swelled like the rising oceans. And the Religion News Service aptly covered extremes of anger and delight, including various shades in between.

Up to a point, at least. RNS added a shade or two of commentary that was all its own.

The context was the opening of Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy, a time for the faithful to rededicate themselves to lives of charity, devotion and reconciliation. They can also gain "indulgences," for the forgiveness of sins, by passing through designated Holy Doors at all cathedrals worldwide -- including St. Peter's, which Francis opened on Tuesday.

That night also saw Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home, a dazzling light-and-sound show with landscapes and animals projected onto the façade of the Catholic Church's mother church. As RNS observes, the three-hour show was aimed also at publicizing, once again, Laudato Si', Francis' encyclical last June on caring for the environment, just as world leaders were meeting in Paris to discuss climate change.

But objections to Fiat Lux were often fierce, as RNS reports:

"This has gone beyond ridiculous," fumed a conservative blogger, the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, who called it "irreverent" to use a sacred space for a secular purpose. "Why not rent out the Sistine chapel too, while they’re at it?"
"The Vatican profaned," Antonio Socci wrote at the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. "The symbolic significance of the event is a Church immersed in darkness, but illuminated by the world, by the new climatist-religion-ideology."
"Sickening" and "embarrassing" were among the reactions on a Twitter thread started by Raymond Arroyo, a popular host on the conservative Catholic cable network EWTN. "Someone should be fired for this. Actually, several people should be," wrote another.

RNS goes beyond mere slings and arrows, classifying the types of objections and looking up answers as well. Among those objections (the summaries are mine):

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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