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Evangelicals’ Nashville Statement ‘largely consonant’ with Catholic thought

August 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Nashville, Tenn., Sep 1, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Evangelical Christian coalition’s statement on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity is “largely consonant” with Catholic thought, according to one commentator.

“The language of the document is clearly Evangelical, but its articles are largely consonant with Catholic understandings of human sexuality and sexual morality,” Stephen P. White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA Aug. 30.

“I think Pope Francis would agree with virtually everything in the letter,” White continued. “When man forgets his Creator, he loses sight of himself as well. We see the result of this in the confusion over sexual morality, but in many other areas as well. It’s what most of Pope Francis’ last encyclical, Laudato si’, was about.”

The Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood after endorsement in Nashville by more than 150 Evangelical Christian leaders Aug. 25.

“As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being,” said the statement. “By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life.”

“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female,” it continued. “It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences.”

Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the statement aimed “to shine a light into the darkness – to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.” He said the council prayed that the statement might provide churches and Christian organizations with “biblical guidance on how to address homosexuality and transgenderism.”

The council aims to foster a coalition of like-minded Evangelicals and influence a new generation of Evangelicals who are being pressured to abandon their vision of Christian teaching.

Signatories of the Nashville Statement include Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World Magazine; K. Erik Thoennes, a theology professor at Biola University; and Jerry A. Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters.

The statement includes 14 articles which each include affirmations and denials. It affirms marriage as a lifelong union of a man and woman; sex differences and sexual equality as a part of God’s creation; “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage”; God’s forgiveness of sins; and salvation through Christ.

It rejects sexual immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The statement affirms “our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.” Another of its affirmations: it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism, on the grounds that “such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” It is not “a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

The Nashville Statement affirms the ability of people with same-sex attraction to live a life pleasing to God, encourages a self-conception as male or female “defined by God’s holy purposes in creation,” and rejects “a homosexual or transgender self-conception” as inconsistent with God’s purposes in creation.

For White, the statement’s language reflected “the absence of Catholic sacramental theology, for obvious reasons.” He also questioned an apparent failure to recognize that chastity is a virtue for both married and unmarried people.

“But the basic outline of Christian sexual morality is there: our sexuality is good and God-given, sexual intimacy belongs in marriage and nowhere else, marriage is between a man and a woman, no sin is insurmountable to God’s grace, etc.”

White predicted a mixed reaction, saying “many will be grateful for simple sanity in a time of widespread confusion; others will see the affirmation of orthodox Christian teaching on sex and marriage as disconcerting, perhaps even hateful.”

“The Gospel doesn’t please everyone,” he added.

White said that Americans’ views on sex and morality have undergone drastic change. These changes are more than a shift in morality, in his view. Rather, they reflect “a fundamental change in our understanding of human nature itself.”

“Whether it’s individualism, or affluence, our technological power, we often delude ourselves into thinking we can do as we please…and that doing as we please will make us happy,” White said, citing the Book of Genesis. “It’s the oldest temptation in the book, literally: to make ourselves like gods.”

“Unfortunately, when man forgets God, he loses sight of himself as well,” he said. “We see the result of this in the confusion over sexual morality, but in many other areas as well.”

Nashville mayor Megan Barry criticized the statement on Twitter, saying it “does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville”.


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Chicago archdiocese to receive relic of Saint Teresa of Calcutta

August 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Chicago, Ill., Aug 31, 2017 / 05:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sept. 5, Saint Mark’s Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago will receive a first class relic of Saint Teresa of Calcutta for public veneration, which will then be permanently kept in the church.

The relic, which consists of some of Mother Teresa’s hair, was requested from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity by St. Mark’s pastor Father Martin Ibarra, and parishioner Fernando Iñiguez.

Iñiguez said that they had asked for the relic to help promote the life and virtues of the recently canonized saint.

“Also, so that the parishioners will be inspired with fervor and a new prospect of evangelization on the parish level and that the will same occur throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Iñiguez told CNA.

On September 5, Fr. Ibarra will celebrate Mass at the parish at 7:00 p.m. to mark the one year anniversary of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and in thanksgiving for the arrival and installation of her relic. Missionaries of Charity sisters will be present at the celebration.

In the following days, the parish will organize pilgrimages, novenas, and other events at parishes that would like to have the relic visit.

Saint Mark’s Church will be the only parish with a relic of Mother Teresa in the archdiocese. It is also the only church that has a first class relic of Padre Pio, which consists of a vial of his blood.

“As the community of Saint Mark’s we feel blessed and happy to have the relic of such an important woman on the world level in every sense and aspect of life,” Fr. Ibarra said. “But especially in the power she conveys through her evangelization and humanitarian service to the most needy.”


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As State Department reorganizes, what will be the fate of religious freedom office?

August 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2017 / 05:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although the State Department plans to cut or consolidate certain senior positions as part of an ongoing reorganization, the international religious freedom office will reportedly be expanded.

“I am encouraged by this move,” Dr. Tom Farr, head of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA in a written statement on the agency moving religious “special envoy” positions into the Office of International Religious Freedom.

“Each of these religion-related envoys and offices are intimately connected to religious freedom,” he said.

“I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” Tillerson wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, “and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.” CNN first reported the letter.

Of 66 senior positions at the department which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed in his letter, 30 are planned to be kept in place, according to a department official. Nine will be cut, 21 will be consolidated into various bureaus within the agency, and five others will be “folded into existing positions.”

The moves are being made to consolidate positions within the agency in the name of efficiency, clarity, and concentration of resources, according to an official at State.

Certain senior religious positions at State – including their staff and functions — are now being assumed by the Office of International Religious Freedom, all of which will reportedly be expanded.

That office was created with the original International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), sponsored by former Congressman Frank Wolf. It was meant to establish a place at the State Department where promoting religious freedom would be a lasting part of U.S. foreign policy.

Daniel Mark, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department and promotes religious freedom abroad, did not take an official position on the re-organization.

However, he said that if it improved the effectiveness of the State Department’s mission of promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, then it obviously would be a sound move.

“For coordination purposes, it is helpful, we think, for the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom to be taking the lead and coordinating the activities of all those different groups and offices,” he said of the re-organization.

“The goal isn’t to have this many envoys or that many envoys. The goal, of course, is just to see all the issues that need to be addressed, addressed in an efficacious way.”

The end results may depend on how much of a voice the Office of International Religious Freedom is given within the State Department.

Some advocates have thought that the office was marginalized at the agency over the years, both in its physical presence within the building and in its diminished role in the hierarchy of offices.

However, the previous Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, who served during the last two years of the Obama administration, played an important role in increasing the voice of the office within the agency, Wolf said.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Governor and former Senator Sam Brownback for the position in July. He has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

And in the new State Department plan, the ambassador will report to “a higher-level official,” Mark told CNA.

The ambassador will now report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, a change which is “a step in the right direction” and one which will hopefully gain the office a more prominent voice within the agency, Mark said.

However, “we would look to see it be elevated even further,” he said, “to be a direct report, involved in the senior-level staff meetings and that sort of thing.”

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which is the most recent version of IRFA, passed by Congress in 2016, calls for the ambassador to report directly to the Secretary of State.

And now the office will absorb other religious positions within State: the U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, the U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia.

And by keeping the envoys and placing them within the International Religious Freedom office, State will be able to bring their expertise to the office’s mission of promoting religious freedom.

“For example, the Muslim-related envoys will strengthen the US capacity to advance religious freedom in Muslim-majority nations by, for example, presenting evidence that moving toward religious freedom will benefit Islam and their societies,” Dr. Farr said.

One of the positions – the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia – has been hailed by advocates for Middle Eastern Christians as vital to the mission of protecting them.

Knox Thames is the current Special Advisor, but a State Department official could not provide information as to whether specific staff members would remain in positions. Wolf praised Thames’ work as Special Advisor.

The Special Advisor position was created through bills passed by the House in 2013 and by the Senate in 2014 as a way to ensure that an advocate for persecuted religious minorities in the region would exist at State as part of a “one-stop special place” for leaders of those communities to share their concerns and requests.

Initially a “Special Envoy” position, it was changed to be a “Special Adviser” role under the Obama administration. The position is extremely important, Wolf told CNA, because of the dire plight of many religious minorities in the region.

These persecuted communities, he said, would include Coptic Christians suffering deadly terror attacks in Egypt, Iraqi Christian refugees, and Yazidis who suffered genocide at the hands of Islamic State, Baha’is imprisoned in Iran, and Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan.

“You can’t pick up the paper, and there’s not a story about persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East,” Wolf said. “You can’t get rid of the person who’s working on that issue at this very time. It would send a terrible message to the persecuted people in the Middle East.”

Not only must the position exist, he said, but the right person must fill it.

“Personnel is policy,” Wolf said. “You put the right person in, and things are going to happen. You put the wrong person in, and you can have nothing happen.”

The Special Envoy for anti-Semitism will reportedly be kept, but moved to the Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor. The Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan will be cut, with its functions and staff being transferred to the Bureau of African Affairs.


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Kansas City Royals’ manager says he warns his team about porn

August 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Kansas City, Mo., Aug 31, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As part of a new program to educate baseball players on the dangers of substance abuse, the general manager for the Kansas City Royals added pornography to the list of potential harms for his team.

In an Aug. 29 statement, Royals general manager Dayton Moore explained that the team’s leadership formation program discusses the problems surrounding drug and alcohol use, and also “pornography and the effects of what that does to the minds of players.”

Moore expressed hope that team formation program might focus on the development of players beyond the early years of their careers, into the “next part of their journey – what type of husbands [and] what types of fathers [the players may become].”

He also linked pornography to the damage it has on family life and other relationships, saying that it can lead to the domestic “abuse of women.”

Moore’s comments came in response to questions about Danny Duffy, a Royals pitcher who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on Sunday Aug. 27, shortly after the Royals lost 12-0 to the Cleveland Indians.
Moore isn’t the first sports figure to speak out openly against the dangers of porn.

In 2016, former NFL player Terry Crews revealed that pornography had been destructive in his own life, saying that the addictive habit had cost him his first marriage. He also said pornography fed a sense of entitlement, which made him believe that his needs were more important than his wife’s.

“When you believe that you are more valuable than another person, you kind of feel like they owe you, and if they don’t do what you tell them then, you know, [they’re] not good enough,” he said on one of the three anti-porn videos he released on Facebook.

In the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis urged parents to equip children to deal with the “flood of pornography” available on the internet.  In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” a pastoral letter addressing the problem of pornography.


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Sci-fi, fantasy – and faith? A look inside the ‘Christian ComiCon’

August 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Inside a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the middle of Washington, D.C., self-described “geeks” decorated the meeting hall to look like the “Lantern Waste” of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Over the course of a weekend, the hall’s snow-covered tabletops and frosted windows were replaced with flowers and bright colors, as springtime came for Narnia.

In the meantime, a group of video game characters, Star Trek crew members, Marvel heroes and villains from Narnia itself hustled back and forth to talks on Christian themes in horror films, the brokenness of the world, and the meaning of death in the Doctor Who series.

Neither the topics of the talks nor the importance of the shifting scenery were lost on attendees of Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention Doxacon – a gathering its organizers jokingly refer to as “Christian ComiCon,” when not lauding its “Geek Orthodox” credentials.

Like the warming of Narnia occasioned by Aslan’s sacrifice, the sci-fi and fantasy fans hope that Christian reflection on the greatest stories and fictional worlds of today  can shed light on the good, the beautiful, and the enchanting truths reflected in these works.

“Great stories are just something everybody loves (and they) go deeply into the humanity that a lot of the culture can’t do,” Edmund Lazzari, a Doxacon attendee, told CNA.

He said that many of the authors, TV shows and films discussed during the weekend point to “something deeper,” and that questions like “can aliens be saved,” or considerations surrounding liturgy and worship in space or on other worlds, can lead to fruitful reflection on the Gospel.

“I love these sorts of conversations and I’m so glad to be in a place where we can have these conversations.”

Lazzari said that Christians have something important to bring to all aspects of the world – even stories as fantastical and strange as these. “You can see everything in the light of theology,” he said. “There’s nothing authentically human that’s alien to the Catholic faith.”

“Looking at these stories that have aspects of humanity in them – the good and the bad all in display – we’ve definitely got something to say.”

Lazzari joined about 80 other fans of science fiction and fantasy at Doxacon, held this year in Washington, D.C. The fourth annual event gathered a crowd of just under 100 people to St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, with various talks and discussions held throughout the building.

The conference, put on by a team of local science-fiction and fantasy fans incorporates a Christian worldview while looking at topics within the genres. This year’s Doxacon talks spanned topics such as beauty within fantasy, mortality within the Doctor Who series, the authority of faith and of people on the margins within horror films, and loving one’s enemies in stories like Beauty and the Beast. Since the first conference held in Washington, D.C. in 2013, other Doxacon conferences have also been held in Toronto and Seattle.

The exploration of science fiction and fantasy through a Christian perspective was something, Father David Subu, found lacking both at other science-fiction meetings as well as within many Christian spaces. Fr. Subu is an Orthodox priest in Fairfax, Virginia and one of the founders of Doxacon. He told CNA that one day, he found himself talking to other Christians about some of their favorite sci-fi series and wishing they could have the same kind of deep conversations about these topics on an openly Christian setting.

“We were lamenting one year how they have these amazing conventions like ComiCon, but there’s not really a venue that existed to explore those ideas from a Christian point of view,” he said. “For so long, Christians were told from both sides that these worlds can’t mix.”

In his experience, he said many Christians can be distrustful of some elements of science fiction and fantasy, or discount an entire genre because of problematic elements within one book or show. Meanwhile, many fans of these works try to prove they’re the “smartest person in the room,” by promoting explicitly atheistic readings of various stories or themes.

This apparent disconnect between sci-fi fandoms and Christianity is all the more concerning given the genre’s audience, he pointed out. “The majority of people consuming fantasy fiction and sci fi are like the rest of America: they’re Christian.”

Daniel Silver, another one of Doxacon’s founders, said the presumed tension between fandom and faith is part of what inspired him to help put the conference together. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian home, “I had been told by my church that these genres were not for me.” After converting to the Orthodox faith, he discovered that “there are other people like me who enjoy these things who are geeks and nerds” – but also devout Christians.

Silver said that the conferences have also been an opportunity to both share some of the life of the faith as well as to reach out across denominational lines. Since its inception, the group has brought together speakers and attendees from a variety of Christian traditions: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

Still, Silver added, the conference makes sure to incorporate elements of the Orthodox tradition its founding organizers.

At the beginning of the conference, attendees gathered to sing an Akathist prayer: a chanting song of praise focused on the goodness of God and of all creation. The melody resounded in the main dining hall, a reminder that God has already enchanted this world and blessed it with an abundance of beauty and goodness. Before dinner at the end of the conference, the busy schedule was stopped so that everyone could gather to pray Vespers: one of the traditional hours of the Church and a marker of time in both the Eastern and Latin Churches. These two breaks for prayer bookended a busy schedule of discussions and debates.

While prayer was a core of the convention weekend, so was discernment. One of the keynote talks by Catholic writer Leah Libresco focused on the idea of brokenness within different magical worlds. In the “Young Wizards” series by Diane Duane, magic is used to help heal the brokenness and chaos in this world – an analogy for the Christian approach to sin that Libresco said was a helpful touchstone during in her conversion. Meanwhile, in “The Magicians” series by Lev Grossman,  magic serves as an extension of its characters’ pain, hurt and anger, and Libresco heartily encouraged all to stay away from the series.

Stephanie Subu, another one of the conference organizers, said that this kind of differentiation of themes within seemingly similar books is also an important aim of the conference. She admitted that not every story is appropriate for Christians to engage with – some stories have elements that promote worldviews or actions that challenge Christian faith and life. “There’s stuff out there that yes, really is not good to read and unless you have the tools and the spiritual eyes to know the difference.”

Several talks at the event aimed at parents and children continued this conversation, focusing more explicitly on what themes and examples of goodness to look for in good fiction and fantasy – and how to know is something is worth putting back on the shelf.

Still other attendees appreciated the philosophical depth and seriousness speakers brought to these stories  – some of which can be brushed off as fanciful or even childish.

Felix Miller, an attendee who heard about the event from a friend, said that it was this seriousness he appreciated the most.

“I really liked the idea of fantasy/sci-fi/pop culture and more rigorous philosophical and cultural considerations. One of the things I’ve liked is that the presenters have done a really good job of not presenting the conversation in a shallow way.”

“They’re doing a really good job of taking the texts seriously and engaging with them in a theological bent,” he told CNA.

Miller said he hoped some of what he heard this weekend could lay the groundwork for further discussions about some of his favorite shows and books after Doxacon.

“People are dealing with a lot of these same questions, but maybe aren’t dealing with them in the same way with careful philosophical distinctions,” he noted.

Erin Gillaspy – who wore a shirt emblazoned with the words “Ask me about Space Catholics” – also appreciated the opportunity to talk about philosophy and theology – as well as the chance to discuss the difficulties of setting liturgical calendars for astronauts.

She commented that, while some fictional worlds might have elements that are dark, fantastical or ridiculous, these stories provide the opportunity to speak to a wide audience about the truth of the human condition. This truth, Gillaspy said, is something that Catholics can dialogue with, no matter the context.

“The truth is not going to stop being true. Just because you happen to put that truth on a rocket ship or in deep space or on Mars or on Pluto or on the Moon, they’re not going to stop being true – they’re immutable truths,” she said.

However, she also said that while a Catholic can see the enchantment and truth within a number of stories, Christians also need to be actively engaged not only in interpreting these worlds, but creating them too.

“The only major players in science fiction and fantasy these days who are Catholic are JRR Tolkien and Gene Wolfe – and Gene Wolfe is not super well-known,” she pointed out. “I mean this lovingly, but there’s gotta be more representation.”

Lazzari – who joined Gillaspy in explaining the challenges and opportunities facing “Space Catholics” – agreed.

“A lot of times what happens in our culture is that Christianity is one aspect of our society. You’ve got economics, you’ve got politics, you’ve got religion, you’ve got the arts, but really, the great thing here is that our view is a whole worldview.”

“[Christianity] is not a box you check, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of seeing the world.”