Texas Baptists suffered three deaths of note this past week. James Leo Garrett, famed scholar, professor, and author died at his home at the age of 94. William Robert O’Brian was an influential scholar, missionary, organizer, and professor; he died at his home at the age of 86. And in Abilene, Baptist-affiliated Hardin Simmons University announced the closing of its Logsdon Seminary, a graduate division of the Logsdon School of Theology. The seminary was launched in 2004; the School of Theology will continue to offer other course and degree work.
President Donald J. Trump was one of several speakers at the National Prayer Breakfast last week in Washington DC. His comments challenging a prior speaker’s commendation of Jesus’ command to forgive our enemies drew cheers of support from many attendees but widespread condemnation from others. Some described the event more like a campaign rally, with the President gloating about his impeachment acquittal and lambasting those who participated in the congressional action. Influential Catholic priest and writer James Martin S.J. tweeted “the President’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast was disgusting. Self-serving, mean-spirited and targeting his ‘enemies’, it was the opposite of prayer.” He called for Catholics to decline further invitations to participate in future “prayer breakfasts”.)
Yale Divinity School received the largest gift in the school’s distinguished history and one of the largest even given to any seminary in the United States. George and Carol Bauer, lay benefactors of the seminary, have given $15 million to the seminary to construct its green-building residential complex that is designed to produce zero waste, using only the water that falls on the site and capturing all the energy it needs form the sun. It is hoped that the site, to be known as the Living Village, will become an international model for sustainable living. The 127,000 square foot village will house 155 students, offering them first class housing at below market rates.
President Trump has signed into law provisions for $375 million for houses of worship to respond to the security issues emerging out of the growing gun violence targeting religious establishments. This continues a growing trend of authorizing government money (local, state, and national) for use by religious groups, creating a steady push-back against the traditional “separation of church and state” prohibitions. Another episode in this widening struggle played out in a federal court in New Orleans this week, as a judge heard oral arguments in a lawsuit pitting the Southern Baptist Convention against a terminated church executive in Maryland. And looming over all of this is the behind-the-scenes deliberation of the Supreme Court—now dominated by Catholics—on whether it is constitutional for states to refuse to support primary and secondary schools because they are religious.
The national research and reporting firm The Barna Group released the initial findings of its State of the Church report on the “social and spiritual trends in the United States”. The survey by the California-based Christian research firm found that Protestant pastors are worried less about hot topics like religious liberty, women’s roles, and marriage than they are about the decline of religion in America. The report is based on interviews with 547 Protestant pastors. Barna plans to release elements of its research each month, with on-line webinars scheduled for March 10 and April 28. Among the new tools being released are metrics for measuring how specific local churches are flourishing or not.