By Joe Morris Doss, At the Threshold President

Have you wondered why Pope Francis intervened to become the keystone for building renewed international relations, relations that might seem independent of his office and institution? If you have, the question being raised regards the dynamic between religion and politics. It is a question that seems to be constantly confused and confusing. This may be especially so in a democratic system that places a firm wall between church and state. The founders of The United States of America recognized that church has to be protected from the state and that the state has to be protected from the church. This is one crucially important way that each is supported by the other.

Cuba is entering into a new era, undefined and exciting to contemplate. Part of what that nation has to figure out for its future is the relationship between church and state. One feature of that question, important for international relations as well as for people of faith, is how best to allow support of the Cuban churches from outside the country.

This points to the first reason: even if the Pope’s interest had been limited to support for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, without consideration of justice, peace, and the welfare of its citizens, he would be on firm ground in engaging the political developments of the country and in its international relations. The head of an international church will want the support of that church by government and the freedom for its members to exercise their belief, worship, and ministries. One of the primary changes occurring in Cuba is the increasing tolerance and active support being offered to the various churches. The Pope will want the opportunity be as fully supportive of the Roman Catholic Church as possible, and to see the proper relationship between church and state. This Pope will also feel genuine responsibility for all Christians and all of its faith communities. Read More…

By Jennifer M. Phillips

I’m a veteran of the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s and the expansive language debates of that era. There were numerous conversations in which my male colleagues said, “We understand God does not have gender and that our pronouns are metaphorical.” When some of us read favorite chunks of Scripture about Christ, the Creator and the Spirit using female pronouns, those same colleagues erupted with anger, saying, “That’s a perversion. That’s a heresy.” It became obvious that the Three Persons of the Trinity are VERY gendered in their minds, because while an occasional neutral phrasing raised no complaint, using female pronouns caused visceral and loud protest.

Jennifer M. Phillips

Jennifer M. Phillips

This was heartbreaking to many of us women engaged in these conversations back then. It became clear that some gender-neutral language would be a sop to our requests for change, but any equal use of gendered language about God — even quoting Anselm or Julian — came under attack. I remember hearing a couple of my more conservative male colleagues coming right out and saying that the whole debate was valueless since God does not include the female in “Himself.” The female divine was what Egyptians and Canaanite pagans believed in, they said. No one ever suggested that it might be heretical to use language “of the people” about themselves and that God does not include and may purposefully exclude some of the people from their relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.

There has not been a single Sunday, not a single Eucharist in my life in parishes — 30 years — in which I have not felt a pang of pain at the still mostly exclusive language of the Book of Common Prayer. I have used less exclusive Bible translations, EOW as permitted, new Psalters, and gender-neutral preaching when I can, but there has not been a single service where I haven’t had to work at inserting myself and womankind mentally into the language of liturgy. Read More…

Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

A theological consensus has been formed: Almost all Christian Churches, even in the United States, are clearly and vigorously opposed to the death penalty — for reasons that go to the heart of the Gospel. This is the most ecumenically agreed upon issue still at controversy in society, and a highly significant example of the way the church can reform its theology from within. However, this is also an instance in which it is only the teaching of the church that has changed — not the belief of Christians. The members themselves do not always accept, and they certainly do not necessarily obey, the teachings of their leaders or any sort of magisterium. Regarding this particular issue most American Christians, the proverbial persons in the pew, are still in favor of executions. 
A prime example is Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Scalia is a faithful Roman Catholic who insists that capital punishment is consistent with the traditional Christian position, one that was held through many centuries. He believes that the church is simply incorrect in taking a new position in opposition. Perhaps he would rationalize this with a claim that the reformed teaching of the church leaves just enough of a crack in the door to allow the possibility for executions, and he feels free to swing it open. This is not merely an academic distinction; his theological opinion counts. 

By Joe Morris Doss

Has anyone heard Justice Scalia say “Oops?”

At least 317 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence since that forensic science has become available.

According to an August 21 report released by The University of Virginia, nearly 20 percent of defendants who have been exonerated by DNA evidence were convicted on evidence of a confession to the crime — false confessions in each case.

In 1994 the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal to the conviction and sentence to death in the case of Mr. Henry McCollum. He had been subjected to hours of tortuous, isolating, and manipulative interrogation to which he had finally succumbed with a false confession. Largely on the basis of that confession, McCollum had been convicted of the brutal rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun noted that Mr. McCollum had the mental age of a 9-year-old and concluded, “…this factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.” He voted to hear the case. Blackmun had, in fact, already renounced the death penalty in each and every case, explaining that he would, “no longer tinker with the machinery of death.” He said that decisions involving the death penalty were too subjective and too prone to human error for the death penalty to be administered constitutionally. Read More…

By Marcus Borg

Not quite a year ago, Joan Chittister, Dom Crossan and I spoke at a  lecture event in Houston whose theme was the same as the title of this blog: “Does Christianity Have a Future?” None of us tried to predict the future of Christianity, even as we all spoke about our hopes for its shape in the future.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

The question whether Christianity has a future is interesting to think about. And the answer is greatly affected by the time span, short or long. Will Christianity still be around a hundred years from now? Yes. Five hundred years from now? Probably. A thousand years from now? Maybe. Five thousand years from now? The further into the future we imagine, the less likely it seems that Christianity will be part of that present.

For many Christians, the notion that there will come a time when Christianity will no longer exist except as past history is a thought that has not been thought.

Christians who think that the second coming of Jesus and the end of this world are near are not at all worried by how long Christianity will last. It doesn’t need to last much longer. Moreover, to those and many other Christians, the thought seems alien. Most of us learned as we were growing up that the Bible and Jesus were the ultimate revelation of God – and thus that Christianity was the exclusive and only revelation, or at least the best. How then could there come a time when it would be no more?

But the realization that there will come a time when Christianity is not (assuming that humans and our descendants are still here a thousand and five thousand years from now) has pedagogical value. It leads to reflecting about what Christianity is, and what its foundational document, the Bible is.

Are the Bible and Christianity the final revelation of God and thus destined to last until time is no more? Or are they humanly-constructed historical products – the fruit of our spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel, early Christianity, and subsequent theological interpretations of what it means to be Christian? Are the Bible and Christianity the revelation of God, and thus exclusive and absolute?

Or one of many revelations in many and perhaps all cultures, great and small, with all of them articulated in the language of their time and place? Is it not obvious that all religions are historical products? They had a beginning and they will have an ending. Just as most ancient religions are no more, so it will be some time with Christianity, whether five hundred or a few thousand years from now. Read More…