Jews began their Passover celebration and Christians concluded their holy week activities. Passover is an eight-day festival that celebrates the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, a story told in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. It is celebrated by religious Jews (orthodox, conservative, and reformed) and by many secular Jews. The observance entails sumptuous meals on the holidays that begin and end the festival with a strict removal of all unleavened bread from the home; and that means getting rid of all grains and their products (cakes, cookies, alcohol, and almost all processed foods). Christians celebrated Easter, generally with large worship services and smaller sunrise services. Nationwide, Roman Catholics welcomed an estimated 37,000 new members over the weekend.
Gallop polling company is reporting that church membership (as opposed to religious preference or attendance) has dropped from 70% of the population (where it has been for most of the 20th century) to 50% during the last 20 years. Only 63% of those who self-identify as Roman Catholics are members of a parish while 63% of Protestants say the same as regards a congregation. Scholars blame this decline on three things: the general trend for memberships in all social groups, the disgust people have toward the church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis, and the resistance people have toward the blending of religion and politics. Only 48% of Democrats are church members while 69% of Republicans are members.
Popular Christian writer Rachel Held Evans is in a medically-induced comma in a Chattanooga hospital as doctors seek to determine the cause of a series of brain seizures. Held, a native of Birmingham, lives in Dayton, Tennessee, with her husband. She began treatment for an infection, which quickly grew into a life-threatening crisis. Friends are seeking to raise $70,000 through a go-fund-me campaign to help pay costs. Held has written extensively about her move from southern Evangelicalism into the Episcopal church, drawing upon her background in fundamentalist churches and schools. Her books have been on the New York Times bestseller list.
The chaplain of the United States House of Representatives won a legal battle over who has the right to offer public prayer in the House chamber. A federal appeals court ruled that Fr. Patrick Conroy, House Chaplain, does not have to include atheists in the broad spectrum of people he chooses to lead the prayers. He had been sued by Dan Marker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The court decided that House rules require that the prayer be “religious” thus eliminating the “prayers” of atheists from consideration.
and Washington again!
Roman Catholics held their own National Prayer Breakfast this week and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney asserted from the podium that “the principles of our faith” are driving the public policy of the Trump administration. “The president has allowed us, Christians of all denominations, folks from all different faiths … to be very vocal about their faith … and to take their faith and work it into our policies.” The event is modeled after the National Prayer Breakfast, which is both older and has a more pronounced Protestant or Evangelical flavor. Abortion was a key issue at this years’ Catholic breakfast and included several other speakers besides Mulvaney who characterized the public resistance to faith-based opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage as “persecution.” Other popular persons attending were Abby Johnson, whose story is told in the recent film “Unplanned”, and the parents of Nick Sandmann of northern Kentucky, whose son Nick rose to public notice as the high school student filmed during the March for Life in January.