theology

On not sweating due to evangelicalism's 526th death rattle (as discussed in The Atlantic)

On not sweating due to evangelicalism's 526th death rattle (as discussed in The Atlantic)

G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man  (1925): “At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.”

No two sentences better capture my response each time there’s a new essay about evangelicalism facing a new life-threatening crisis, or a report about a trendy ex-evangelical counting evangelicalism as unworthy of allegiance or a former official from either Bush administration who has been sent around the bend by a Donald Trump tweet.

For the sake of clarity: I do not consider evangelicalism the sum total of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. As Alan Jacobs writes in his new essay for The Atlantic, “Evangelical Has Lost Its Meaning,” tthe nondenominational force identified as “evangelicalism” is a “complex and fluid movement dedicated to the renewal of Christianity, largely among Protestants, though its efforts have occasionally reached into Catholicism.”

Jacobs in in pain, and I sympathize, but not enough to share that pain. Writing in The Atlantic, Jacobs grieves what he discerns as evangelicalism’s deep cultural captivity:

By now, God-and-Country believers are so accustomed to voting Republican — and to being disdained or mocked by Democrats — that few of them can remember doing anything else. And God-and-Country Believers are what most Americans, whether religious or not, now think that evangelicals are.

Those white evangelicals who voted for Trump? They and only they are the true evangelicals, no matter what shelves of church-history books say.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Thinking about married priests: Has this issue outgrown old 'left' vs. 'right' framework?

Thinking about married priests: Has this issue outgrown old 'left' vs. 'right' framework?

Long ago — in the mid-1980s — I covered an event in Denver that drew quite a few conservative Catholic leaders. There was lots of time to talk, in between sessions.

During one break, I asked a small circle of participants to tell me what they thought were the biggest challenges facing the Catholic church. This was about the time — more than 30 years ago — laypeople people began talking about the surge in reports about clergy sexual abuse of children and teens.

Someone said the biggest challenge — looking into the future with a long lens — was the declining number of men seeking the priesthood. At some point, he added, the church would need to start ordaining married men to the priesthood. Others murmured agreement.

I made a mental note. This was the first time I had ever heard Catholic conservatives — as opposed to spirit of Vatican II progressives or ex-priests — say that they thought the Church of Rome would need to return to the ancient pattern — with married priests as the norm, and bishops being drawn from among celibate monastics. Since then, I have heard similar remarks from some Catholics on the right.

That hot button term — “married priests” — is back in the news, with open talk in the Amazon region about the ordination older married men, drawn from their local communities, to the priesthood.

Could this happen? Let’s look at two think pieces by well-known Catholic priests, one on the left side of the church and one on the right. The conservative priest — a former Anglican pastor — is married, with a family.

First up is the omnipresent — in U.S. media circles — Jesuit journalist Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior analysts at Religion News Service. He used to be the editor at America magazine. Here is a crucial chunk of a recent Reese commentary for RNS:

Celibacy is not dogma; it is a legal requirement that can be changed. … Although Pope Francis places a very high value on celibacy, he is also a pragmatist who recognizes that indigenous communities are being denied the Eucharist and the sacraments because they don’t have priests.

After all, which is more important, a celibate priesthood or the Eucharist? At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” not “have a celibate priesthood.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Big theology news: Pope Francis agrees that various world religions were 'willed' by God

Big theology news: Pope Francis agrees that various world religions were 'willed' by God

Believe it or not, the language of theology can make news, every now and then. This is especially true when the person speaking the words is the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter.

However, this goes against one of the great unwritten laws of journalism, which appears to state something like this: Whenever the pope speaks, even in a sermon, the most important words are always those that can be interpreted as commentary on events or trends in contemporary politics. This is consistent with this journalism doctrine: Politics is the ultimate reality. Religion? Not so much.

For a perfect example of this law, please see this story in The New York Times: “Pope Francis Breaks Some Taboos on Visit to Persian Gulf.”

The taboos that make it into the lede are, of course, political and, frankly, they are important. This is a case in which Times editors really needed to insist on a difficult and rare maneuver — a lede that lets readers know that the story contains TWO very important developments.

The political angle raised eyebrows among diplomats. But there was also a theological statement linked to this story that will trouble many traditional Christians, as well as Muslims. Then again, Universalists in various traditions may have every reason to cheer. Hold that thought. Here is the political overture.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Pope Francis used the keynote address of his roughly 40-hour stay in the United Arab Emirates to breach delicate taboos on Monday, specifically mentioning Yemen, where his hosts are engaged in a brutal war, and calling on countries throughout the Gulf region to extend citizenship rights to religious minorities.

The remarks by Francis were exceptionally candid for a pope who as a general rule does not criticize the country that hosts him and avoids drawing undue attention to the issues that its rulers would rather not discuss. …

But on Monday, during the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam was born, Francis was blunt in a speech before hundreds of leaders from a broad array of faiths on a day used to underscore the need for humanity to stop committing violence in the name of religion.

“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war,’” Francis said at the towering Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi.

“Let us return it to its miserable crudeness,” he added. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes. I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

Yes, the reference to Yemen was big news. Yes, that had to be in the lede.

So what was the theological news?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

At some point, the hot story of the moment -- the latest wave of the multi-decade Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal -- will demand in-depth think pieces on a number of subjects branching out of its central, horrifying core.

GetReligion readers, of course, know that I am convinced that -- so far -- this news story has three angles:

I. The abuse of young children (pedophilia).

II. The abuse of teens, almost all of them male (ephebophilia).

III. The abuse of seminarians and young priests, usually by powerful homosexuals at seminaries and in the church's local, regional, national and global power structures.

What ties them all together? That's the overarching story, which I have described in several posts

The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders -- left and right, gay and straight -- have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

Now, in the near future, one of the valid angles that I hope mainstream journalists will cover is this: How do victims of abuse recover from these hellish events in their lives?

You can write that story focusing on secular experts, and that would be valid. At the same time, it would also be valid to look at how traditional Catholics view abuse recovery, often focusing on spiritual disciples and healing.

If reporters want to write that second angle they can start by placing a call to former rock journalist, headline writing superstar and GetReligionista Dawn Eden Goldstein. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

There was a fascinating piece by Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service last week about how more people in seminary are opting for two-year master’s degrees instead of three-year master’s of divinity degrees.

To most people, this may sound like an ecclesiastical yawner but stay with me. There’s some really interesting trends in there, trends that have been building up since the 1980s and the rise of pastoral counseling.

Back in 1992, I got a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry, one of 11 Episcopal seminaries. I always felt the seminary favored the MDiv folks, while we MA students were definitely second class. This was beyond annoying in that the MA'ers were paying the same tuition amounts per year as the MDiv’ers.

But the three-year degree folks were seen as the real reason a seminary exists -- to get people into positions as priests and bishops in our denomination. The master’s degree earners were all laity whose callings weren’t held in the same esteem. So I was surprised to hear RNS saying that the MA degree is actually preferred these days.

This excerpt starts a few paragraphs into the article:

The gold standard for church leaders -- the Master of Divinity -- is losing some of its luster to its humbler cousin, the two-year Master of Arts.

“People are trying to get the training they need and get out,” said (Sean) Robinson, 28, who graduated Friday (May 11) from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It all boils down to time and convenience and the culture and lifestyle we see today.

A new projection from the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for seminaries in the U.S. and Canada, finds that the number of seminary students enrolled in various Master of Arts degrees will likely exceed the number of Master of Divinity students by 2021.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Over the years, I have read many news stories about men finding their way into the priesthood.

As you would expect, I hear about many of these features because of emails from GetReligion readers. It is extremely common for these emails to include a comment that sounds something like this: Ah, come on! How can journalists write about men becoming priests (or women becoming nuns) without including a single mention of Jesus?

That's a good question. This is one kind of story in which a person's religious experience is a crucial part of the news equation. I think it's safe to assume that having some kind of mystical relationship with Jesus -- also known as "The Lord" -- does play a role in these career choices. The word "God" often shows up in these news reports, but rarely, well, the "J-word."

That brings me to a recent "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: "Fired by ESPN for a racist headline, he’s finding his second chance as a Catholic priest."

To cut to the chase: This is a very fine story and, yes, Jesus does get a shout out. My only complaint about this story is that it was not accompanied by some kind of longer Q&A feature. This is a man with a unique story to tell and, with his journalism background, an interesting skill set to bring to the priesthood.

To set the stage, Anthony Federico's life in journalism changed because he accidentally wrote a racist headline about Jeremy Lin, whose meteoric rise at the New York Knicks was one of the hottest sports stories of 2012. Federico's job in the editorial process included writing headlines and he didn't have a safety net. He clicked "save" and the flawed headline went live.

That set up this amazing sequence of life changes.

Then the barrage of social media outrage started, and he saw what he had done.
“I went to the bathroom and vomited,” he said at the time, describing the sickening realization that he had inadvertently made a racist pun that was now circling the world. What came next was predictable: As angry emails poured in from readers all over the world, Federico was fired from his dream job in sports media.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein has landed in her new theology gig -- in England

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein has landed in her new theology gig -- in England

At last, we have an official update on the status of former GetReligionista Dawn Eden -- by which we mean the former rock music journalist and headline writer superstar turned Catholic theologian Dawn Eden Goldstein.

The last time we checked in, Dawn had just received her doctorate in sacred theology -- magna cum laude -- from the University of St. Mary on the Lake (Mundelein Seminary). This caught the attention of The Chicago Tribune, since it was the first time in the university's history that a woman had earned a canonical (i.e. pontifically licensed) doctorate in theology.

We've known for some time now that Dr. Dawn had some kind of academic post pending, teaching in an official Catholic seminary, but couldn't talk about it since it was outside the United States and there were work-permit issues, etc.

Recently, Goldstein offered a long update, via her weblog. Here's the top

The Doctor is in ... England!
"I am currently awaiting confirmation of a job offer -- prayers, please!" Until now, that plea, posted on The Dawn Patrol last April, was the last bit of news I shared on my blog concerning my plans upon becoming the first woman to receive a canonical doctorate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake.
Today it is my joy to write of answered prayers. Since October, I have been a resident lecturer in theology at St. Mary's College, Oscott, which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. It is the largest seminary in the English-speaking world outside the United States (not counting the U.S.-operated North American College in Rome).

Although Oscott has long had women on staff and recently awarded the title of Professor to Church History lecturer and Director of Studies Dr. Judith Champ, my hiring marks the first time that the seminary has ever had a female theologian in residence.

Who is she teaching? That's a really interesting wrinkle in this story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A fairytale wedding, the New York Times and a couple that just might be Catholic

A fairytale wedding, the New York Times and a couple that just might be Catholic

The New York Times has this wonderful “weddings” feature where a staff reporter writes up the backstory of one of the couples featured on their wedding announcement page. At least, I think that's how the Times finds these stories. In the case of a story that ran last week, the groom was the great-grandson of Maria and Georg von Trapp of “The Sound of Music” fame.

The tale of how he met and wooed his bride is such a romantic story, not the least because the two were graduate theology students at Boston College. Yes, that word was "theology."

Thus, the groom comes up with quotes like, “We are people who enjoy lots of books and investigating particular questions having to do with the human existence, or God, or the nature of beauty.”

The chance of the Times ever finding, much less writing about such a couple, got me interested in reading more. We learn:

The two had met briefly during the summer of 2012 at a mutual friend’s wedding and he remembered her as quiet and thoughtful. ”There was an introverted loveliness about her,” he said. (By contrast, Jon Petkun, a friend, said Mr. Peters possessed an “ear-piercing loveliness.”)
That fall, Ms. Sloan and Mr. Peters got to know each other better. She wore Warby Parker eyeglasses that were almost identical to his. She appreciated both liturgical music and Ella Fitzgerald, as he did.
Growing up in Carmel, Ind., she was a bookworm with an early curiosity about God. “When she was small, she’d say things like, ‘This summer, I’m going to read the Bible,’” said her father, Dan Sloan.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Will Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein touch a third rail in Catholic doctrine? Of course not ...

Will Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein touch a third rail in Catholic doctrine? Of course not ...

First things first, to update our recent former-GetReligionista watch post, congratulations to Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein today as she receives her doctorate in sacred theology -- magna cum laude -- from the University of St. Mary on the Lake (Mundelein Seminary).

And congratulations, as well, on that A1 Chicago Tribune story that managed to cover quite a bit of Dawn's complex and fascinating life -- from rock-beat journalist to teaching seminarians -- up to this rather historic moment in Catholic higher education.

The story, for example, mentioned that her faculty appointment -- which still has not been announced -- will be overseas. Interesting. Does Dawn speak Italian?

As you would expect, there are some interesting editorial nuances in a mainstream news report about a person as complicated as Dawn. For example, even though (a) her journey into this work began in the Pope Benedict XVI era and (b) women have been appointed to interesting leadership posts (for several decades, actually) in conservative as well as progressive dioceses, the hook for this story (it's a news-media law) must be linked somehow to the current occupant of the chair of St. Peter.

She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," in which he praised some aspects of women's liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests.
Goldstein is not calling for women's ordination. She's not condemning celibacy, and she voluntarily took a vow herself. She's simply pursuing an education to shape the church's ministers of tomorrow and mentor women who feel called to serve the church.

Of course, there is a reason this pope didn't "go so far" as to support female priests. There is, after all this document from St. Pope John Paul II called "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" in which he ruled that church teachings on this subject are "definitive," and part of the church's ancient "deposit of faith."

As is customary in most news coverage of Catholicism, the story -- over and over -- discusses contemporary issues in language that hints that they are (a) personal opinion, (b) political or (c) both.

Please respect our Commenting Policy