Syndicate content
Terry Mattingly's weekly column on religion and the media.
Updated: 50 min 52 sec ago

'Amazing Grace' tests faith in the modern Broadway marketplace

Monday, November 30, 2015

NEW YORK -- During his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pickney, one of nine worshipers killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., a visibly moved President Barack Obama paused as he pondered mysteries of grief and forgiveness.

"Blinded by hatred," he said, the gunman could not comprehend the "power of God's grace. … Amazing grace. Amazing grace." The president then began singing: "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

The congregation joined in during that June 26 service, which was not a surprise since researchers say believers worldwide sing the Rev. John Newton's classic at least 10 million times a year.

But the president's solo had an unexpected impact in New York, where the cast of the Broadway musical "Amazing Grace" was doing preview performances before its July 16 opening in a tough town for a show about sin, repentance and salvation.

Some theater insiders, for example, had suggested changing the show's name.

"When Obama sang the song it was like heaven for us. If the president knew this song, that meant it was acceptable, that it wasn't just something for church people," said veteran playwright Arthur Giron, who wrote the musical's book -- dialogue and many lyrics -- along with self-taught composer Christopher Smith.

"You see, many Broadway people didn't know 'Amazing Grace,' let alone what the song was about. They obviously didn't know the story of the song and that was the whole point of our show."

The musical was based on the life story of Newton, a rebellious and profane young Englishman who was forced into the Navy, only to escape into the slave trade. Then, in 1748, Newton cried out to God for mercy during a sea storm, a conversion that led him to become a hymnist and Anglican pastor whose work inspired opponents of slavery. The highly personal hymn "Amazing Grace" was published in 1779.

Giron said it took six years to bring "Amazing Grace" to Broadway, including a successful run in Chicago beginning in the fall of 2014. The goal from the start was to earn a Broadway label and the production ran for 114 shows, after 24 preview performances, in the 1,232-seat Nederlander Theatre -- closing on Oct. 25.

Critics were skeptical, at best, with Variety offering this blunt judgment: "Ye of little faith will find it tough sledding." The New York Times did applaud the show's attempt to deal -- live on stage -- with the brutal realities of slavery.

While "Amazing Grace" drew enthusiastic interracial audiences, Playbill noted that it took in "only $332,663 out of a possible $1,097,840" during its best week.

Still, the Broadway cast recorded a cast album on Nov. 2 and producer Carolyn Rossi Copeland, while expressing disappointment at box-office totals, officially noted: "I look forward to bringing this story of hope and redemption to audiences around the country with our upcoming national tour."

Giron said the "Amazing Grace" team always knew it was facing a cultural dilemma: "How do you tell a spiritual, moral story about redemption in the commercial context of modern Broadway? … We knew that we may have created a product that will sell better in Middle America."

In addition to its religious content, "Amazing Grace" faced questions about the wisdom of offering an epic historical production -- 91 people worked backstage with costumes, props and effects -- in a Broadway marketplace known for flashy shows recreating Hollywood hits.

"There was a cynical feeling out there that Christians would not show up en masse for anything on Broadway. … We knew we were trying to bring a new audience to Broadway," said Giron.

While the show's success on the Great White Way may have been limited, he said, it was thrilling -- night after night -- to see a very different kind of audience on its feet singing the final number with the cast.

"We knew that the audience would respond when, at the end, we finally got to the song itself. We knew there would be tears," said Giron. "But we had earned that moment. We told the story. We told how this man went on that journey to redemption and ended up writing that song. That was the point."

Categories: Main

C.S. Lewis on stage: Working to bring the DNA of life and faith to off-Broadway

Monday, November 23, 2015

NEW YORK -- To get to The Pearl Theatre, drama lovers visit the bright lights of Broadway and then turn West and head deep into Hell's Kitchen, where the off-Broadway marquees are smaller and the offerings more daring.

For the team behind "C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce," the road to The Pearl ran through halls in Chattanooga, Tenn., Tampa, Fla., San Diego, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere before reaching New York for a Dec. 3 opening night in the intimate 162-seat venue.

Theater's highest hurdle is still New York City, explained Max McLean, founder and director of the Fellowship for Performing Arts team and co-writer of this version of "The Great Divorce."

Living and working in the neighborhood defined by Broadway and off-Broadway, he said, means "being surrounded by hundreds of artists of every kind. They may not be as well known as people in Hollywood, but they are producing art that's exported to the whole world. This community in New York City still has tremendous influence. …

"The goal is for our work to be taken seriously. We want to tell stories that engage the moral imagination and push people to take faith seriously -- right here."

Ironically, one way for a modern company dedicated to faith and the arts to find cultural credibility is to look to the past, focusing on the work of legendary writers who are not part of the modern evangelical subculture.

Lewis remains one of the world's most popular writers and the Oxford University don was an articulate atheist before his turn to Christianity, a conversion that took place with the help of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. In addition to "The Great Divorce," McLean has produced, directed and starred in the four-year national, and off-Broadway, run of another Lewis classic, "The Screwtape Letters."

"Lewis called himself a dinosaur" in the 1950s, said McLean. "But for me, he remains the model for how to bring the Christian imagination into the mainstream. He remains a relevant dinosaur -- along with Tolkien -- and he points us to the work of G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers and others."

The key, McLean explained, is to find the "universal DNA" in these stories and communicate it while working within the creative and financial realities of mainstream theater. "The Great Divorce" is, literally, a parable about eternal life.

In this off-Broadway show, the three-person cast performs against an electronic backdrop of changing images, including the glowing bus that regularly carries souls from hell up to heaven. The damned are welcome to stay in heaven if they can resolve the issues that caused them to choose hell in the first place.

Heaven looks like a bright, surreal version of Scotland, with snowy mountains in the distance. Hell is a rainy, gray industrial city in which people can have whatever they want, but what most want is to fight about the shabby choices that define their afterlives. It's the kind of place, one spirit quips, "where people like advertising."

These ghosts find it hard to stay in heaven because that would mean facing old sins, such as cynicism, greed, lust or the will to dominate others. In one agonizing scene, a mother returns to hell rather than forgive God for her son's death. Can she take her child back with her?

She tells one of the redeemed: "Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don't care about all your rules and regulations. I don't believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. ... No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to his face. I want my boy and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, forever and ever. … I hate and despise your God. I believe in a God of love."

The play's bottom line: Some people tell God, "Thy will be done." With others, God has to tell them, "THY will be done."

Yes, big issues on a small stage.

"If Christianity is true, then it has to be true because it hits the universal themes that touch all of human life," said McLean. "Can we tell those stories onstage, here in New York City? That's what we're trying to do."

Categories: Main

Concerning sex, marriage, babies, pews and the rise of he 'nones'

Monday, November 16, 2015

Researchers studying religion in America have long observed a kind of faith-based law of gravity: While young people often stray, most return to the pews after they get married and have children.

But something new is happening, especially among the "nones" -- the growing ranks of individuals who declare themselves "unaffiliated," when it comes to religious life. While researchers have dissected their political views, now it's time to focus on their actions linked to marriage and children.

"We have always known that family size is related to religiosity. The more devout people are the more likely they are to get married and have a higher number of children," said John Green of the University of Akron, a veteran researcher on faith and public life.

But Americans born after the 1960s have been shaped by storms of change linked to sexuality and marriage. For them, noted Green, contraception and abortion are normal parts of the American way of life. Cohabitation rates keep rising and people tend to marry later than in the past. Thus, they are older if and when they choose to have children.

It's time to probe the impact of these trends on religion, said Green, in a telephone interview. He was reacting to the Pew Research Center's massive 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, released on Nov. 3.

"You used to be able to say that the young would drift away from the faith of their youth, but then they would get married and have kids and that would pull them back … or maybe they would choose some other faith," he said. "The assumption was that marriage and family change people and they get more religious as they get older.

"Maybe what we're seeing now is that it's the faith component that is actually driving the actions of the young people who are choosing to get married and to have children in the first place. … Turn that around and maybe more and more Americans are never going to get married and they're never going to have kids and settle down."

In other words, noted Green, if people who have strong religious beliefs are more likely to get married and have children, then it may be just as natural for many of those who reject religious traditions on sex and marriage to join the growing niche of atheists, agnostics and the "religiously unaffiliated." Thus, many of these "nones" may never experience the family-centered impulse to return to faith as they age.

The Pew Research Center team noted that, "in the seven years since the first Religious Landscape Study was conducted, no generational cohort has become more religious as measured by self-assessments of religion's importance in their lives, frequency of prayer or frequency of church attendance. Indeed, older Millennials -- adults who were between the ages of 18 and 26 when the first Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007 and who today are in their late 20s and early 30s -- are, if anything, LESS religiously observant today than they were in 2007 in these important ways. The share of older Millennials who say they seldom or never attend religious services has risen by 9 percentage points."

While a rising number of Americans are becoming less religious, the 2014 study noted that there is no evidence of declining commitment among Americans who actively practice their faith. This belief vs. unbelief chasm is growing.

The study noted, "religiously affiliated people appear to have grown more religiously observant. …The portion of religiously affiliated adults who say they regularly read scripture, share their faith with others and participate in small prayer groups or scripture study groups all have increased modestly since 2007." In fact, the rising share of adults who engage in these practices has helped many traditional religious groups hold their own, "despite the rapid growth of the religious 'nones.' "

Still, Green said it's obvious that religious leaders must "consider whether there is something essentially different about this Millennial generation when it comes to matters of faith." In fact, sweeping changes in behaviors linked to sex and marriage may signal the "creation of a something new and important -- a large, separate, truly secular subculture in the American population. …

"That will affect all of American life, including the lives of traditional religious believers."

Categories: Main

The legacy of a faithful pioneer in mainstream media and sports

Monday, November 9, 2015

GREENVILLE, Ill. -- Two decades ago, Bob Briner made a radical decision as he edged away from his 35-year career in pro sports and global media: He sold his homes in Dallas, Texas and Paris, France, and moved to a quiet town in southern Illinois.

The goal was to pass on what he had learned while mentoring students at his alma mater, Greenville College. He hosted Bible studies, helped students find jobs and spent time hanging out and talking sports.

But Briner kept hearing one awkward question over and over, after the release of his book "Roaring Lambs," a bestseller urging believers to get more involved in mass culture. People kept asking if he was going to start producing "Christian media."

Briner always tried to change the subject. Truth is, he once told me, most of his fellow evangelicals would not appreciate his answer. Many would be offended.

"I decided I wasn't tough enough to work in Christian media," he said, a few weeks before he died of cancer in 1999.

"You see, it never offended me when secular people acted like secular people," he explained. "What I couldn't understand was why so many Christians I did business with didn't act like Christians. I found that things were actually worse -- in terms of basic ethics -- in the Christian media than in the mainstream. That really hurt. So I decided I wasn't tough enough for Christian media."

Anyone who knew the man would recognize those words as "quintessential RAB," said retired Greenville College President Robert "Ish" Smith, using the initials that formed Briner's nickname. Smith and Briner met at age 12 on a church baseball team in Dallas, and were friends for life, including during college.

That combination of faith and candor is part of Briner's legacy, said Smith during events this week to open the Briner School of Business at Greenville College.

"I would say that RAB was my best friend, but he was also my worst enemy," said Smith, laughing. "He was super critical, especially of the people and institutions he loved the most -- like the church and the media and this college. He had very high standards and he always wanted you to be your best. ...

"That toughness was rooted in how much he cared about people. He was a tough friend, but once he was your friend, he stuck with you."

Those high standards grew out of Briner's work in the hyper-competitive world of professional sports. He was a media professional for the Miami Dolphins and then general manager of the pro hoops franchise that would become the San Antonio Spurs. He helped build the Association of Tennis Professionals, then became a global media trailblazer by starting ProServ Television. He won an Emmy with tennis legend Arthur Ashe for the documentary "A Hard Road to Glory."

The bottom line: Briner refused to applaud when Christians produced safe Christian products sold to Christian consumers in a Christian niche marketplace.

Briner spoke his mind throughout the 1990s, producing seven books in six years and, at the time of his death, was finishing another. On the manuscript he showed me, it was called "Christians Have Failed America: And Some of Us are Sorry." It was released as "Final Roar."

"Actually, the title RAB wanted pretty much says it all," said Smith. "He didn't get milder with age."

During the years I knew him -- from 1993 through 1999 -- Briner's views kept evolving as he dug into the work of religious believers in television, movies, popular music, journalism and the fine arts. At first, he feared that there weren't enough Christian artists who "really had what it takes" to make competitive, mainstream products. In the end, he decided that this was not the real issue.

"We have people who can tell stories, write songs and be funny," he said. "We have lots of talented people. I've decided that this isn't the problem. Our biggest problem is that we don't have enough people who know how to handle the money, so that the talented people can do what they need to do."

When it comes to doing business in the real world, he concluded, "We simply haven't been doing our best. We haven't been getting the job done. We have failed to show up when it counts."

Categories: Main

Dark Halloween nights vs. bright All Hallows' Eve rites

Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Halloween in suburbia and most of the houses are decorated and glowing, waiting to serve treats to Disney princesses, superheroes, movie pirates, zombies. Minions and tiny people disguised as puppies, pumpkins or other innocent options.

But a few houses are dark because, for reasons of safety or theology, their inhabitants have made the countercultural decision to avoid contact with a season they believe has grown too dark and dangerous. Others believe "pagan," evil influences have shaped Halloween, deep into its roots.

"It's hard to know precisely what people mean when they use a word like 'pagan.' For many people it means anything that's ungodly or disturbing. … That's what some Americans think Halloween has become -- a clash between good and evil," said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.

A recent LifeWay telephone survey, he said, found that 21 percent of Americans have decided to avoid Halloween altogether, while another 14 percent specifically try to avoid "pagan" elements of the festivities. Nearly 60 percent said Halloween is "all in good fun," while 6 percent of survey participants were "not sure" what they thought.

While some people are worried about ghosts, goblins, devils and other images of death and decay, Americans are much more likely to see Hollywood symbols of "good and evil" arrive at their doors shouting "trick or treat."

Even when people are "acting out their fantasies with iconic images from pop culture," these choices still hint at what they value in life, said McConnell. "Some want to be cartoon heroes and some want to be villains," he said. "Some people want to be princesses and some prefer to have a more slutty alter ego on Halloween."

Religious beliefs and practice affect this discussion, with Americans who attend church once a week or more being the least likely -- at 44 percent -- to say Halloween is "all in good fun." Those who identified as nonreligious were the most likely -- at 75 percent -- to embrace Halloween and the least likely to avoid it.

Among Christians, Catholics were more likely to choose the "all in good fun" option than were Protestants, with 71 percent favorable as opposed to 49 percent. Church history almost certainly plays a role in those numbers since Halloween is actually All Hallows' Eve, a festival the night before the liturgical celebration of All Saints Day.

Thus, while parents face decisions about how to handle Halloween, church leaders also face questions about whether to shun or embrace the modern version of this holiday that, according to the National Retail Federation, has turned into a nearly $7 billion juggernaut. There's plenty of future growth potential, with eight in 10 members of the trendsetting millennial generation planning to party.

Catholic leaders need to find a way to affirm what All Hallows' Eve meant in the past, while rejecting the "violent, macabre" themes that dominate -- along with waves of pop-culture images -- today's secular holiday, according to Father Steve Grunow, CEO of the Word on Fire Catholic ministry based near Chicago.

"People are going to give you back what they know. If all modern Americans know is secular superheroes and zombies, that is what you're going to see at Halloween," he said. Rather than hiding from the holiday's Christian roots, Catholics need to "celebrate them and offer something different to the secular world."

Yes, this would require priests to talk to their flocks about "what it really means for Catholics to party" and, perhaps, offer some suggestions for how participants in these festivities should and shouldn't dress, he said. Digging into their own traditions, people could dress as saints, kings, queens, bishops, martyrs and other heroes of the faith.

Rather than "locking our churches up and going dark on Halloween" Catholics could return to the streets in festive parades and processions with candles, incense and religious art, said Grunow. These festivities would then flow into the liturgical rites of All Saints Day, building a positive bridge between "reverie and the reverence."

"We used to be good at this. We were really good at this for centuries," he said. "Rather than being trapped in all the negatives that we see in the secular Halloween all around us, why don't we start doing something positive and then offer that to the public? We could try."

Categories: Main

'Conscience' became a key fighting word at Vatican synod on family

Monday, October 26, 2015

Want to start a fight? Just ask this question: How many Protestant denominations are there in the world?

Estimates start as high as 40,000 and most sources put the number above 20,000, citing the United Nations, the World Christian Encyclopedia or some other authority. The key is that various Protestant groups have their own concepts of biblical authority and the role played by the conscience of each believer. Fights often cause splits and new flocks.

Meanwhile, the Church of Rome has the Throne of St. Peter and the Catechism. This is why eyebrows were raised when progressive theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette, amid tense debates about marriage, divorce and gay rights, wrote to The New York Times to argue that Catholicism is "going the way of its parent, Judaism" and dividing into three streams.

"In Judaism there are Reform as well as Conservative and Orthodox communities. This arrangement is not yet formalized in Catholicism, but the outlines of a similar broadening are in place," said Maguire. While the Vatican may tweak some procedures, such as streamlining the annulment process, "reform Catholics don't need it. Theirconsciences are their Vatican."

The tricky word "conscience" crept into news about the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome -- focusing on marriage and family life -- when the leader of the giant Archdiocese of Chicago told reporters that he thought many Catholics who under current teachings cannot take Holy Communion should be able to do so, if guided by their consciences.

"In Chicago I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they're elderly or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples," said Archbishop Blase Cupich, who was personally invited to the synod by Pope Francis. His remarks were recorded and featured in secular and religious publications.

"I try to help people along the way. And people come to a decision in good conscience," said Cupich. "Then our job with the church is to help them move forward and respect that. The conscience is inviolable."

Asked by a reporter from the conservative LifeSiteNews if this approach includes gay couples, he said, "gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point."

Others sharply disagreed with this kind of approach -- especially leaders of the growing churches of Africa, Asia and the Global South. In a speech text released to the public, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea -- who leads the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments -- warned that Catholics are wrestling with two "apocalyptic beasts." One, he said, is the "idolatry of Western Freedom" and the other is "Islamic fundamentalism."

"To use a slogan, we find ourselves between 'gender ideology and ISIS,' " he said. The subtle threat is the "temptation to yield to the mentality of the secularized world and the individualistic West. ... The Gospel that once transformed cultures is now in danger of being transformed by them." Some of the 2015 synod proceedings, he added, seemed to "promote a way of seeing typical of certain fringe groups of the wealthiest churches. This is contrary to a poor church, a joyously evangelical and prophetic sign of contradiction to worldliness."

Catholics, he said, must dare to "proclaim the truth without fear, i.e. the plan of God, which is monogamy in conjugal love open to life."

Nevertheless, argued Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, conservative Catholics who are currently hurling "lemon-lipped diatribes this way and that" need to realize that it's acceptable to change a few details "not so much of what the church teaches but of what her pastoral practice has been." Synod debates will not cause the "whole edifice built up over 2000 years" to "come tumbling down," he added, writing online.

Change is coming, despite Catholic "voices of fear" and "even panic," he stressed. It's clear that "those voices, clinging desperately to some imagined or ideologised past, cannot point the way into the future. History will have its way, however much we try to cling to illusions of timelessness."

Categories: Main

A case for having some doctrines affecting smartphone use in pews

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's a typical Mass in an American parish in which the kneelers contain a mix of teens, single adults, young families and church stalwarts with gray hair.

Near the end of a sermon about family life, during this hypothetical Mass, the priest makes a pithy observation that is both poignant and slightly ironic.

A young-ish parish council member smiles and posts the quote to Twitter, since he is already using his smartphone to follow Mass prayers in a popular Catholic app. This infuriates a nearby grandmother, who is already upset that her daughter is letting her kids play videogames in church, to keep them quiet.

The Twitter user, of course, thought he was paying the priest a compliment by tweeting the sermon quote while, perhaps, engaging in a bit of social-media evangelism to prompt discussions with friends at work. But this gesture also infuriated a nearby worshipper and destroyed her sense of sacred space.

"Everyone used to know the worship rules and now we don't. It's that simple, which means that things are getting more complex," said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at the Pew Research Center. He is also the co-author of the book "Networked: The New Social Operating System."

Every venue in public life "has its own context and you can't write a set of social-media rules that will apply in all venues," he said. "Using technology to enrich our own spiritual experiences is one thing, while interrupting corporate worship is another. … People are going to have to ask if that phone is pulling them deeper into worship services or if they're using it to disengage and pull out of the experience."

This storm has been building in the pews for more than a decade and religious leaders will not be able to avoid it, according to fine details in new work by the Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel. A survey found that 92 percent of adults own cellphones and 90 percent carry them most of the time. Nearly half say they rarely turn off these devices and nearly a third said they never turn them off -- period.

Part of the problem is that there is no common definition of what it means to "use" a smartphone in public settings, such as in restaurants, mass transit, classrooms or business meetings. However, Pew researchers found clear agreement on digital etiquette in two settings -- with 5 percent of Americans approving the "use" of cell phones in movie theaters and a mere 4 percent endorsing their use in worship services.

But would that include using a smartphone to discreetly take pictures during baptism rites or choir performances? What if the pastor asked parishioners to tweet questions during a sermon? What if a denomination produced an app to help children understand symbolism in Holy Week rites?

At that point, the rules seem to change. The Pew research, for example, found that 45 percent of those polled said they use their phones to post pictures from public gatherings, while 41 percent share quotes or anecdotes and 38 percent believe it's acceptable to go online to "get information" related to group activities.

"If the pastor is actually encouraging something, then that seems to make it OK for most people, but maybe not all," said Rainie, in a telephone interview. "Clearly that is not the same thing as sitting in church checking out your Facebook page."

Posting at the Catholic APPtitude website, blogger Jennifer Kane offered some modest guidelines, urging the faithful to silence their mobile devices (even buzzing vibration settings), to dim the screens to be less distracting and to find essential sites before worship, rather than surfing the Web during Mass. It also helps, she added, to enlarge texts so screens can be discreetly held at waist level.

"As an optional courtesy before Mass begins, you may wish to inform those around you that you will be using your mobile device to read the missal texts," she suggested. "Keep your device out of sight until needed. Put your device away the moment you are finished using the app."

The bottom line? "For the love of God," she added, "unless you really need to read the text of the Consecration, make sure your device is put away by then." 

Categories: Main

Pope, global conference see threats to family and 'human ecology'

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pope Francis has been preaching on marriage and family for a year, describing in increasingly vivid terms a global threat to what he has called "human ecology."

"We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable," he said last fall, at the Vatican's Humanum Conference on marriage.

"The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection."

In his historic address to the U.S. Congress, the pope concluded with this same point: "I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family."

As a result, he warned, many young people are growing up "disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. … We might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family."

Ironically, while the world's attention was locked on Pope Francis during his U.S. visit, the event that brought him here -- The World Meeting of Families -- unfolded quietly in Philadelphia with 20,000 people in attendance, drawing little media attention.

There were some hot topics discussed during its many sessions. Gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics critical of church doctrines, for example, protested that they could not respond to the "Homosexuality in the Family" session, which featured a celibate gay Catholic who supports Catholic teachings on sex. There were presentations on divorce, interfaith marriages, the trauma of infertility, online threats to children and a host of other subjects. In one session, one of the 12 apostles atop the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hierarchy shared "techniques of family unity" practiced by Mormons.

In the final keynote session, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor -- invited to speak by Pope Francis -- shared the stage with the Franciscan friar who leads the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, while serving as one of the pope's key American advisors.

Responding to the pope's words to Congress, the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, shared a handwritten list of current threats to modern families.

"Materialism is idolized, immorality is glamorized, truth is minimized, sin is normalized, divorce is rationalized and abortion is legalized. In TV and movies, crime is sensationalized, drugs are legitimized, comedy is vulgarized and sex is trivialized," he said, reading from a notecard. "In movies, the Bible is fictionalized, churches are satirized, God is marginalized and Christians are demonized. … The elderly are dehumanized, the sick are euthanized, the poor are victimized, the mentally ill are ostracized, immigrants are stigmatized and children are tranquilized.

"Then I wrote, our families now live in a world where manners are uncivilized, speech is vulgarized, education is secularized, advertising is sensualized and everything is commercialized. Unfortunately, Christians, you and I, we are often disorganized and we are demoralized, our faith is compartmentalized and our witness it compromised."

In response, Warren and Cardinal Sean O'Malley stressed that church must learn to be positive while celebrating strong marriages and families, offering future generations a chance to learn wisdom and skills from those whose faith has been proven by fire.

"Our task is to turn consumers into disciples and disciple-makers. We need to prepare men and women who witness to the faith, and not send people into the witness protection program," said O'Malley.

In real life, he added, the way "most of us become real Christians is by looking over someone else's shoulder, emulating an admired older member of our family or parish, saying yes and taking up a way of life that was made real and accessible through the witness of someone else. We learn to be disciples the way we learn to speak a language, by living in a community that speaks that language."

Categories: Main
The Media Project
Customize This