Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest protestant denomination, reported a 12th straight year of declining statistics. Membership is down 192,000 and baptisms also down 7,600. The national office reported that baptisms have declined in eight of the last 10 years, down more than 100,000 a year since 2009. One sympathetic researcher wrote, “There are more evangelicals in the U. S. today than 10 years ago, but there are less Southern Baptists. Part of that is demographic … and part is, at the end of the day, they have a real challenge with their own reputation” (Ed Stetzer). Southern Baptists have been embroiled in a very public spat about white nationalism and women in ministry and also an ugly revelation about sexual abuse throughout the denomination.
Buffalo and San Antonio
The Federal Aviation Authority is investigating two airports suspected of denying vendor space to Chick-fil-A restaurants because of the public stance against LGBTQ rights of their founding family. The FAA issued a statement which says, in part: “The Department of Transportation has received complaints alleging discrimination by two airport operators against a private company due to the expression of the owner’s religious beliefs.” Those on the receiving end of this initiative are the San Antonio International Airport and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Such legal initiatives ramp up the stakes in the so-called “religious freedom” struggle in which people who wish to discriminate against those whose behavior they dislike claim the right to do so as part of their deeply held religious beliefs, something the U. S. Supreme Court gave credence to with its Hobby Lobby decision in 2014.
They built a full-scale replica of the biblical ark, 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high, based on their best estimate of the ancient measurement known as a cubit. It is a tourist attraction, halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington, complete with exhibits, videos, and merchandise. What was overlooked, it seems, is the damage to the enterprise caused by, can you believe it, rain! A recent storm washed away a road leading to the exhibit, a situation which the non-profit’s insurance company refused to cover. The owners of the Ark filled a lawsuit, demanding compensation for flood damage. Just writing that last line makes me chuckle!
The Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Illinois, has issued a decree to all of his dioecian clergy not to admit to communion or last rights any person who has married a person of the same sex. Thomas Paprocki is his name, and he is the same bishop who said publicly in 2012 that voting for Democrats puts “the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” This recent directive states, furthermore, no person in a homosexual marriage should be allowed a Christian burial “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death,” he wrote. The current legal climate has created the “serious obligation” to assert the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage between members of the same sex. He may be the only Catholic cleric in the country who has put such prohibitions in place.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Evangelist and political organizer Franklin Graham has issued a call for Christian congregations to pray for President Donald Trump. He has set aside Sunday June 2 for this special prayer. “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency,” Graham wrote in a post on his website. “In the history of our country, no President has been attacked as he has…. We are on the edge of a precipice. Time is short. We need to ask God to protect, strengthen, encourage, and guide our president….” Graham, along with what he says is more than 250 other Christian leaders, is asking pastors to pray for the President in their Sunday services and also in Bible classes and other small groups.