Near Madison, Wisconsin, 23 women living a cloistered life of prayer and service are raising money to build a 54,000 square foot monastery. The small but vibrant order of Cistercian sisters is an outlier in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States where most such organizations for men and women are declining. “Less than a handful of monasteries have been designed and built in the last … 50 years,” says architect Kevin Clark of Lincoln, Nebraska. Meanwhile, half way across the country in New York City, donations are pouring in to help the Middle Collegiate Church recover from the fire that gutted the 19th century sanctuary a week ago. The fire spread from a five-story vacant building behind the church in lower Manhattan.
Joel Olsteen’s megachurch in Houston with an annual budget estimated at $90 million took $4.4 million of taxpayer money in the CARES Act earlier this year. American churches took in as much as $10 billion through this loan-to-forgiveness program, including 400 evangelical churches taking at least $1 million. It is estimated that the Catholic Church around the country borrowed as much as $3.5 billion. To make these loans, the Small Business Administration had to suspend numerous rules that normally prevent taxpayer funds from flowing to churches. Meanwhile, author and philanthropist Mackanzie Scott announced she has given away this year $4.2 billion, mostly to historically black colleges and universities and organizations that serve the poor.
Evangelical superstar Beth Moore took to Twitter to condemn Trumpism and the Christian Nationalism that supports him. “I have never seen anything … I found more astonishingly seductive and dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism.” These sentiments were echoed by other conservative leaders like Karen Swallow Prior and David French. They may have been responding to the “Jericho March” last Saturday in DC where thousands of Trump supporters gathered to hear Eric Metaxas, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, and My Pillow founder Mike Lindell urge continued support of Trump’s claim to victory.
The Supreme Court continued its swing to the right as it reversed lower court rulings on restrictions placed by local authorities on religious assemblies in Colorado and New Jersey. The Court ruled on appeals from two district courts in the on-going battle between houses of worship and elected public officials (mayors and governors, especially) on how to manage the COVID crisis. The Court did not throw out such restrictions but sent the cases back to the district courts and directed them to rethink their decisions in light of the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision regarding a church in New York City that struck down attendance restrictions.
As Christians continued their celebration of the Christmas season with the third Sunday of Advent, Jews launched their annual Hannukah festivities. The Jewish festival celebrates the miraculous burning of candles in the Jerusalem temple during conflict several hundred years before the birth of Jesus, in the time of the Maccabees. This year, Jewish celebrations known also as the Festival of Lights, are highly restricted and largely relegated to the home and family, similar to those of Christians. This falls more naturally to the Jewish tradition as Hannukah normally involves prayers, candles, and food, especially fried food, in the home.