Some stuff I have been reading and pondering the last week or so....
As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, it is instructive to remember that religious freedom being under assault in America didn't start with Obamacare. This is a great time to remember Joseph and Michael Hofer, two Hutterites imprisoned, tortured and eventually martyred for refusing to be soldiers. Two other Hutterites, a third Hofer brother named David and Jacob Wipf were also mistreated and tortured but survived their imprisonment despite treatment that sounds like something done by a medieval inquisitor rather than American servicemen. You can read their story here: The Martyrs of Alcatraz and recall that misguided nationalism has cost many innocents their lives in America.
The "pope" has been vocal in calling for a "poor church" but the vestiges of wealth and privilege are hard to overcome. CNN, no friend of religion (or at least not of religion that takes religion seriously) ran a story on The lavish homes of American archbishops. In contrast to the often very humble living quarters of mere parish "priests", many "archbishops" live in lavish homes valued at over $1 million and with amenities like hot tubs and wet bars. It must be an increasingly tough sell to get parishioners to donate their hard earned money to pay for sexual abuse lawsuits and lavish homes for clergy. Of course Protestants have plenty of the same silliness in their own ranks to be sure.
I had some conversations on Facebook regarding the proper role of Christians, the church and the state. I am contintually amazed at the unwitting acceptance of Constantinian Christendom by so many believers when everything about it is anathema to the church. I went back to an oldie but a goodie from Dave Black, The Anabaptists and State Religion. It is worth your while to read to get a flavor for how Constantine changed the church for the worse and how the Anabaptists modeled a different way that we can learn a lot from in a post-Christendom environment. I disagree with his conclusion about the appropriateness of Christians engaged in lethal violence on behalf of the state but otherwise the essay is quite good.
The Atlantic takes a look at the shifting environment for paid pastors, Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy. As the religious culture changes at breakneck speed, more and more clergy are taking on "secular" employment to make ends meet. Being bi-vocational is nothing new but it always seemed like a stepping stone until a pastor could find full-time employment. Now we are seeing this shift the other way as fewer churches can afford to pay a man enough to support his family. I don't think this is a bad thing, it seems to be far more healthy to have elders in the church, no matter their title, out in the world working for a living just like the rest of the church rather than being cloistered in their office expecting the congregation to earn money to support him.
Timothy Paul Jones penned an interesting article that proposes a new name for those who subscribe to the so-called Five Points of Calvinism and yet do not belong to a historical Reformed tradition and reject some of the secondary issues that are commonly associated with Reformed theology. As I fall into that camp I was interested to read his piece Naming The New Calvinism. He comes up with the name "Neo-Dortianism" which I think makes some sense. Now the last thing we need in the church are more dividing labels but I appreciated his thought process.
More recent news has the IRS agreeing to monitor some sermon content from 99 suspect churches. I guess this is not unexpected but it still has ominous undertones not just for religious liberty but for liberty in America in general. Check out The IRS's God Complex.