Reporting on Protestant Christianity

Creative commons image by John Wright via Flickr

Christianity is the largest religion in the United States and the most widespread religion throughout the world. It is predominant in the Western World and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in South Korea, the Philippines and among smaller communities worldwide. Even within the U.S., there is a great deal of Christian diversity, from strict fundamentalists to liberal Protestant branches. In the U.S. alone, there are dozens of Christian denominations — some of which have developed in the last couple hundred years, such as Mormonism and the ttecostal movement.

Although globally only 6 percent of the world practices Protestant Christianity, Protestants make up more than 50 percent of Christians in the United States. Protestantism emerged in Europe in the 17th century after a schism within the Catholic Church. Since then, it has evolved around the world to include a broad range of individual denominations. Protestantism is most prevalent in the United States, Australia, and parts of Western Europe.

This guide provides journalists with background information on Protestant Christianity and a brief guide to covering it in the United States.

Background

Following the death of Jesus Christ in the first century, Christianity grew out of Judaism and spread from Jerusalem. It is based on the fundamental belief that the prophet Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the three elements of the Holy Trinity — God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (a corporeal form of God on Earth) — are both unified and distinct. Judaism, Islam and those of the Bahá’í Faith recognize Jesus Christ as a prophet, but only Christianity recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.

Traditionally, Christians believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, was baptized by John the Baptist, grew to be a spiritual teacher, performed miracles and was eventually crucified for claiming to be the son of God. On the third day following crucifixion, it is believed that Jesus rose again and ascended into heaven. This marked the beginning of the apostolic age in which the direct followers of Jesus Christ produced the works of the New Testament, the primary religious text for Christians, as well as other works about the life of Jesus Christ. At this time, Christianity was considered a small sect of Judaism.

The Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament — were written around 60-90 CE and circulated with other writings of the apostles and disciples. It wasn’t until nearly 300 years later that a canon of texts was agreed upon by expanding Christian sects.

Christians were persecuted for many centuries, but in 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine’s signing of the Edict of Milan — a letter proclaiming religious tolerance — and his subsequent conversion to Christianity gave rise to the Roman Catholic Church.

Christianity is now the world’s largest religion, although it has splintered into many different branches and groups with considerably diverse beliefs.

Protestant Reformation

In 1517, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. The Ninety-Five Theses were a criticism of certain beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church which Luther saw as corrupt. The posting of Luther’s Theses was the catalyst for a Europe-wide revolt against the church.

The Protestant Reformation, as the revolt has come to be called, rejected the idea that the Catholic Church could define Christian practice. It regarded the Bible as the source and standard of Christian doctrine and called into question the authority claimed by the pope. The Protestant Reformation followed severe episodes of change and tumult, including the Black Death, which caused people to question the efficacy of the church, and the invention of the printing press, which allowed the ideas of the Protestant Reformation to be disseminated in an unprecedented way.

The ultimate result of the Reformation was a final schism between the church and the reformers. The Lutheran church, which took hold in Germany, the Baltics and Scandinavia, was the largest church to develop in the Reformation’s aftermath. The Reformation also spawned Reform churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England.

Example coverage

“Torgau: Political center of the Reformation experiences a renaissance” — Jan. 15, 2015, Simona Block, Deutsche Welle

Hartenfels Castle looks majestic on the bank of the River Elbe in Torgau. The Renaissance castle is an architectural jewel and a tourist magnet. But it’s also much more than that: The former residence of the Elector of Saxony was an important political center during the Reformation. From here, the rulers protected Martin Luther and supported the dissemination of his ideas.

From May to October 2015, Hartenfels Castle will provide the authentic backdrop for the exhibition “Luther and the Princes,” which is currently being prepared under the direction of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections).

“A forgotten location of the Reformation will be rediscovered,” said curator Dirk Syndram of the exhibition. — Read more.

Branches & groups

Protestant Christianity is diverse and beliefs can vary greatly within denominations. Take care with labels and ask questions about beliefs before leaping to assumptions. Here is an introduction to some of the largest branches of Protestant Christianity in the U.S.

Evangelicals

The term “evangelical,” is a difficult one to define. By definition, all Christians are evangelicals. The word evangelical is derived from the Greek word evangelion, which means “the good news,” or “the gospel.” But the term evangelical has generally come to mean Protestants who emphasize personal conversion; evangelism; the authority, primacy and inerrancy of the Bible; and the belief that Jesus’ death reconciled God and humans. Evangelicals tend to be conservative theologically, but the terms evangelical and conservative Christian aren’t synonymous, though they both might apply to some people. 

Fundamentalists, who say that the Bible is the literal word of God and generally separate themselves from what they see as a sinful culture, are distinct from evangelicals, who tend to embrace culture and use it to build up the church. Today, the term evangelical has become so popular that it has become almost trans-denominational, with some mainline Protestants and even some Catholics using it.

In the late 1990s, a movement called the emerging church appeared. Emerging evangelicals (also called post-evangelicals) value in particular social and political activism. Members of the emerging church focus on a deconstructed form of missionary work, one that rejects the prevailing hierarchical structure of the church. Dialogue is emphasized over proclamation and proselytizing. The emerging movement is seen as a response to post-modern Western life. It is important to distinguish between the term “emerging,” which refers loosely to the wider, informal movement, and “Emergent,” which refers to an official organization in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Example coverage

“Among young Christians, moral discomfort with birth control grows” — Feb. 4, 2015, Ruth Graham, Al Jazeera

Jessica Wilson got married five months before she graduated from an evangelical college in 2010. Because she believed that sex is reserved for marriage, it wasn’t much earlier that she had started thinking about what kind of birth control to use. No one in her family or her church had ever questioned the idea of contraception, but they hadn’t taught her much about it, either.

Eventually she came upon the writings of Randy Alcorn, an author and activist who promotes the idea that hormonal birth control, like the pill and some intrauterine devices, sometimes works as an abortifacient by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. Alarmed, she decided she couldn’t take that risk, especially since she had already heard horror stories from friends who said the pill made them gain weight, diminished their sex drive or caused depression. She began charting her menstrual cycles, haphazardly at first, and when she got married she used a diaphragm with spermicide when she thought she was ovulating. All three of her pregnancies, including those that resulted in a son and daughter born 15 months apart, were unplanned, but she says she has no regrets. — Read more.

Pentecostalism and Charismatics

Pentecostalism is a Christian movement that started with a 1906 U.S. revival in Los Angeles and has spread rapidly around the globe, becoming a dominant form of Protestantism in Latin American and African countries. Once regarded by many Christians as a marginal style of faith in which converts are “slain in the spirit” and adherents speak in tongues or perform miracle healings, Pentecostalism has become mainstream. Pentecostalism takes its name from the Christian feast of Pentecost, when Christians received the Holy Spirit. There are more than 60 U.S. Pentecostal denominations. Among the largest are Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the United Pentecostal Church Inc. and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Charismatic Movement is a term dating to the 1960s to apply to Christians in typically non-Pentecostal denominations who adopt beliefs and practices similar to Pentecostals. For example, Charismatic movements exist in Roman Catholicism and The Episcopal Church.

“Southern Baptists to open their ranks to missionaries who speak in tongues” — May 14, 2015, Greg Horton and Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service

(RNS) After decade-long resistance, the Southern Baptist Convention will admit missionary candidates who speak in tongues, a practice associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

The new policy, approved by the denomination’s International Mission Board on Wednesday (May 13), reverses a policy that was put in place 10 years ago.

Speaking in tongues is an ancient Christian practice recorded in the New Testament in which people pray in a language they do not know, understand or control. The practice died out until Pentecostalism emerged around the turn of the 20th century. In Pentecostal churches it is considered one of many “gifts” of the Holy Spirit, including healing and the ability to prophesize. — Read more.

Fundamentalists

The “fundamentalist” label has become common in everyday conversation, with Americans applying it with equal frequency to Islamic radicals, Christian conservatives, or even political ideologues of every stripe. Yet as use of the term has grown, its meaning has been obscured. 

That has important implications for understanding the turbulent dynamics of today’s religious and political landscape, especially as violence in the Middle East persists. Experts caution that fundamentalism has different characteristics and histories in different faiths.

As coverage of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s death showed, many conservative Christians are still considered fundamentalists, and some of them wear the label proudly, as Falwell did. Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., is perhaps the best-known fundamentalist college. But in recent years, the fundamentalist tag has become associated with many other religious and political phenomena. Some experts even detect fundamentalist attributes in the recent polemical writings of the so-called neo-Atheist movement. At the same time, increasingly negative associations with the word fundamentalist have led many Christians, particularly conservative evangelicals, to be more careful than ever to distance themselves from classic fundamentalism.

Journalists should use the term fundamentalist with care and generally should only use it when the individual or group labels itself that way.

Journalists should use the term fundamentalist with care and generally should only use it when the individual or group labels itself that way.

Example coverage

“Measles In Canada: Facts About How Outbreak Is Spread” — Feb. 3, 2015, Helen Branswell, The Canadian Press

Health authorities have a pretty clear picture of the people who refuse the measles vaccine.

A very small number can’t safely be innoculated because of problems with their immune systems.

Some parents refuse to vaccinate for religious reasons, including members of fundamentalist protestant churches with ties to several European countries. Last year’s B.C. outbreak started when someone from such a church returned from the Netherlands while infected and started a chain of transmission that led to more than 400 cases among families in the Lower Mainland. — Read more.

Mainline Protestants

This term refers to a group of moderate-to-liberal Protestant denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), the American Baptist Churches in the U.S., the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Predominantly African-American Methodist denominations are also sometimes associated with this grouping: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the AME Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The term “mainline” harks back to a time when this mostly white group was tied to the political and cultural establishment. Since the 1960s, membership in most mainline denominations has fallen precipitously, as has their influence.

Example coverage

“Percentage of Protestant Americans is in Steep Decline, Study Finds” — Oct. 9, 2012, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times

For the first time since researchers began tracking the religious identity of Americans, fewer than half said they were Protestants, a steep decline from 40 years ago when Protestant churches claimed the loyalty of more than two-thirds of the population.

A new study released on Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that it was not just liberal mainline Protestants, like Methodists or Episcopalians, who abandoned their faith, but also more conservative evangelical and “born again” Protestants. The losses were among white Protestants, but not among black or minority Protestants, the study found, based on surveys conducted during the summer. — Read more.

 

African-American

African-American Christians belong to many kinds of churches, including Pentecostal, Baptist, nondenominational, mainline, Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox. Whatever the brand, religion holds a prominent place in black communities. Surveys show that more African Americans describe themselves as religious than do other races/ethnicities, and they put a higher priority on religion in their life. Churches are central as places of belonging, spirituality and community, and predominantly black churches tend to reflect the issues that concern African Americans as a whole.

Example coverage

“Support for gay marriage up among black Protestants in last year, flat among white evangelicals” — March 17, 2014, Michael Lipka and Elizabeth Sciupac, Pew Research Center

The long-standing tension between religious beliefs and the idea of same-sex marriage has been a key factor at play behind recently proposed bills in several states, most visibly in Arizona, aimed at protecting business owners who have religious objections to same-sex marriage. At the same time, however, new Pew Research Center data from 2014 show that just within the past year, growing shares of some Christian groups favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The sharpest change has occurred among black Protestants, only 32% of whom favored same-sex marriage in our aggregated 2013 polling. A survey we conducted last month found that figure has now risen to 43%. — Read more.

 

Hispanic

The exploding number of Hispanics in America virtually guarantees that their religious choices will have a large impact on wider society. While most Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic, surveys show that many end up in Pentecostal, evangelical and other Protestant churches, and that second- and third-generation immigrants are not as committed to the Catholic Church as their forebears. Hispanics, who tend to be politically liberal but socially conservative, are heavily courted by both political parties, and their religious and political views are the subject of much research.

Example coverage

“Hispanic Catholics Increasingly Joining Protestant Churches Or Choosing ‘No Religion’: Survey” — July 5, 2014, Jaweed Kaleem, The Huffington Post

While immigration over several decades has driven up the share of Hispanics in the pews across U.S. Catholic churches, a new survey shows that Hispanic Americans are also quickly leaving the church for Protestantism or choosing not to identify with any particular religion at all.

The Pew Research Center’s survey on religion among Hispanic Americans, released Wednesday, found that nearly one-in-four Hispanics are now former Catholics, and predicted that “a day could come when a majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic, even though the majority of Hispanics might no longer be Catholic.” — Read more.

Asian

Asian-American Christianity is also expanding quickly in the U.S. and is the source for many as-yet-untold stories. Asians and Asian-Americans are joining churches of many traditions. 

They are also forming churches, associations, research centers and theological journals of their own. Some denominations — Presbyterians, Baptists and United Methodists — have aggressively reached out to Asians, starting churches that appeal to them. 

Asians also frequent Catholic, Pentecostal and evangelical churches. 

The resulting mix of cultures, religious beliefs and values is a rich source of stories.

Example coverage

“China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years” — April 19, 2014, Tom Phillips, The Telegraph

It is said to be China’s biggest church and on Easter Sunday thousands of worshippers will flock to this Asian mega-temple to pledge their allegiance – not to the Communist Party, but to the Cross.

The 5,000-capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206-foot crucifix that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a “miracle that such a small town was able to build such a grand church”.

The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China’s breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest Christian congregations on earth. —  Read more.

Black clergy seek to bridge ‘green’ gap

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
Feb. 28, 2014

(RNS) At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver. They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.

“By any greens necessary,”  the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.

The Rev. Otis Moss III is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. RNS photo courtesy of Dawn Stephens

The Rev. Otis Moss III is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. RNS photo courtesy of Dawn Stephens

When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule. Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”

Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.

Environmental matters have been a lower priority, said the Rev. Dianne Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.”

But although often reluctant to get on board, African-American churches are being encouraged to be advocates for conservation and environmental policy. And some have already answered the call. At a White House event this week (Feb. 25), three black clergy spoke at panel discussions on environmental justice and climate action.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, which works to engage young minorities on policy issues, takes part in marches on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that challenge the fossil fuel industry. As churches were once urged to stop divesting in businesses supporting apartheid in South Africa, he encourages congregations to divest from oil, gas and coal industries and invest in clean energy instead. In early March, he’s the speaker at a Washington church event linking climate change and civil rights.

“There’s always many African-American leaders who are vocal,” he said. “I think the question is how we get the base of the congregations as vocal.”

He and other experts — many who are in the younger generation that has followed civil rights veterans — say they are working to bridge a gap between environmentalists and African-American churchgoers. They counter notions about lack of money and time to deal with seemingly esoteric issues by emphasizing how attention to the environment can reduce energy costs and lead to healthier eating habits in neighborhoods with no grocery stores.

The Rev. Ambrose Carroll introduced a 10-minutevideo on black churches and environmental issues at his Berkeley, Calif., church in early February. It linked climate change to adverse affects on the black community, such as children with asthma. A fellow of Green For All, which fosters diverse networks to support green industries, Carroll hopes the video will be a tool to reach out to denominational leaders and seminarians.

He also plans to connect with environmental groups that have more successfully brought white churches on board with their efforts.

“They haven’t really been able to translate that message to why it’s important to people of color,” said Carroll.

That’s why GreenFaith, a national organization that builds environmental leadership through congregations, drafted Yearwood to lead a Black History Month webinar to discuss “eco-leadership and divestment” with African-American churches.

“We have found that the best ways to engage African-American congregations on these issues is through the lens of financial stewardship and health,” said the Rev. Fletch Harper, executive director of GreenFaith. His organization recently enlisted an African Methodist Episcopal congregation in New Jersey that it expects will be the first black church to complete its certification process, which includes making the buildings, worship and programs more environmentally friendly.

Rosalyn Priester, Pat Owens and Adrienne Wynn stand at the Earth Day display encouraging members at Trinity United Church of Christ to shrink their carbon footprint. RNS photo courtesy of Trinity UCC Photography Ministry

Rosalyn Priester, Pat Owens and Adrienne Wynn stand at the Earth Day display encouraging members at Trinity United Church of Christ to shrink their carbon footprint. Photo courtesy of Trinity UCC Photography Ministry

Since 2008, the Rev. Michael McClain, a National Baptist Convention, USA, minister, has worked in five Southeastern states, building black congregations’ awareness of climate change and its adverse effects on poor people and people of color. As the regional field coordinator of Creation Justice Ministries, a spinoff from the National Council of Churches, he’s organized trips to Capitol Hill so clergy can lobby for cleaner air and a reduction in carbon pollution.

At local, regional and national gatherings of black churches, he has sounded this warning: “An unhealthy congregation would soon be no congregation.”

Moss, the pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, said some are beginning to listen when he talks about the economic payoffs from connecting with farmers and reducing the costs of operating a church building.

Last year, the megachurch cut down on thousands of bulletins it prints for Sunday services by getting congregants to start using a mobile app instead.

“We’re trying to make all the connections,” Moss said. “Green is an act of social justice.” 

Celebrations

Overview

Most Christian denominations schedule worship around a liturgical calendar which includes holy days of celebration to commemorate events in the life of Jesus Christ or the saints. The degree to which these events are celebrated varies greatly depending on the denomination. Catholic and Orthodox denominations are more likely to commemorate the lives of the saints than Protestants.

Dates on the liturgical calendar vary annually and are largely determined by when Easter, the most important festival for Christians, happens to fall that year. Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday and commemorates when Jesus is said to have risen from the dead on the third day after crucifixion. For Christians, this resurrection not only established Jesus as the son of God but also sent a message that believers can be reborn into a new life with Jesus. As such, it is a day of hope and rebirth.

The six-week period preceding Easter is called Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, and marks the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and being tempted by Satan in the desert. Many Christians celebrate Lent by praying, fasting or giving up something meaningful as a form of self-denial and way of connecting with Jesus’ suffering. The last week of Lent leading up to Easter is called “Holy Week” and commemorates the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. It begins with Palm Sunday, which recreates the waving of palms to mark the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Good Friday is a day of fasting that commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion.

Christmas

Christmas, which marks Jesus’ birth, is the most celebrated Protestant holiday in the U.S. It is always celebrated on Dec. 25, following a month of preparation known as “Advent” in most Western Christian churches.

Christmas Day initiates the Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelve Days of Christmas are generally not celebrated in the United States, but they are still prominent in other Western nations such as Great Britain. 

The first few days of the Twelve Days of Christmas generally involve traditional feasting. Twelfth Night, the last night of the Twelve Days of Christmas, is traditionally the last day for Christmas decorations to be taken down.

In the United States, where Christmas has become highly commercialized and increasingly secularized, Dec. 25 is the only day on which Christmas is widely celebrated.

Example coverage

“Christmas Celebrations Go Forward In Iraq, Despite Ongoing Threat Of ISIS” — Dec. 24, 2014, Antonia Blumberg, The Huffington Post

In a Christian refugee camp in northern Iraq, a special tent stands out as a reminder of those keeping the faith alive in the midst of persecution.

Refugees erected a tent for Jesus in preparation for the Christmas holiday, the celebration of which will likely be tinged with sadness as the Islamic State continues its attack on Christians, Yazidis and others in its path in Iraq and Syria who disagree with its ideology.

Even so, Canon Andrew White, who leads St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, said in a recent HuffPost blog that there is still room for hope for Iraqi Christians celebrating the holiday. Despite the sadness and trauma imprinted on the hearts of many, Christmas offers a message about God’s love that not even the Islamic State can wipe out. — Read more.

Poll: Christmas is a commercial holiday, not a sacred holy day, for many

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service
Dec. 17, 2013

WASHINGTON (RNS) Nine in 10 Americans will celebrate Christmas this year, but a new poll shows that increasing numbers see the holiday as more tinsel than gospel truth.

This year more than ever, Americans prefer that stores and businesses welcome them with the more generic “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” than “Merry Christmas,” according to asurvey released Tuesday (Dec. 17) by thePublic Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

And for one in four American adults (26 percent), Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.

“The trend is in that direction, for sure,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI. The percentage of people who say the Bible’s Christmas story is historically accurate has fallen more than 17 percentage points since a 2004 survey reported by Newsweek.

Even so, almost half (49 percent) of those who do celebrate Christmas (including 80 percent of white evangelicals) believe that the Virgin birth is historically accurate, that shepherds really saw a star over Bethlehem and that three wise men truly visited baby Jesus in a manger.

Why the shift toward a more secular Christmas? One reason, Jones said, is that a decade ago, many more people identified as evangelicals, who (according to the poll) take the holiday most seriously. Today, they are 18 percent of Americans — outnumbered by the 20 percent who say they have no religious identity, Jones said.

The new survey finds a preference for the “Merry Christmas” greeting — perhaps the most contested cultural turf in the so-called “War on Christmas” — is a marker of someone’s religion, politics, and age:

  • Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) say they choose a nonreligious December greeting “out of respect for people of all faiths,” up from 44 percent in a 2010 survey by PRRI.
  • Nearly two in three evangelicals (62 percent) prefer a “Merry Christmas” greeting, while most people with no religious identity (58 percent) like a nonreligious greeting. Most other Christians are nearly evenly divided.
  • Republicans prefer the religious greeting by 61 percent, while 58 percent of Democrats say the opposite.
  • Selling to the under 30 crowd? Skip the religious greeting, say 66 percent of young adults. “They didn’t grow up with a stigma attached to being unreligious,” said Jones.

Even though 73 percent of adults say Christmas is either strongly or somewhat religious for them, among Americans overall:

  • Most (79 percent) will watch Christmas movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “A Christmas Story,” but a smaller number (59 percent) expect to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • People are equally likely (36 percent) to read the Christmas story from the Bible, as they are to read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
  • Those who read the Christmas story from the Bible are twice as likely to be white evangelical Protestants (68 percent) and minority Protestants (57 percent) than other Christians. Fewer than one in three white mainline Protestants (27 percent) or Catholics (28 percent) say they do so.
  • Just four in 10 adults says the biblical Christmas narrative is a “theological story to affirm faith in Jesus Christ.”
  • Most adults are about as religious about Christmas as their families were in their childhood: 70 percent celebrated it then as a strongly or somewhat religious day, but 26 percent had a cultural celebration.

Evangelicals are the exception, again, said Jones. While 97 percent say their celebrations today are primarily religious, 87 percent say it was so in their childhood. They also say they expect to spend more this holiday than any other group that celebrates Christmas.

Evangelicals “take the holiday more seriously than others,” both religiously and materially, said Jones.

In recent years, the cultural aspects of Christmas have overshadowed the religious ones. Creative commons image by Matt Kozlowski

In recent years, the cultural aspects of Christmas have overshadowed the religious ones. Creative commons image by Matt Kozlowski

PRRI found the overall average amount people say they would spend was $914. The thrifty (12 percent say they’ll spend under $100) are balanced by the extravagant (10 percent expect to spend more than $2,000). White evangelicals say they will spend an average of $1,153. However, 26 percent of the top spenders are white evangelical Protestants, higher than their share of the U.S. population.

Jones also pointed out that the biggest spenders are also the most generous with time and funds for the less fortunate. Among the 77 percent of Americans who say they will give to charity or volunteer during the Christmas holiday season, that includes nearly all (93 percent) of the $2,000-and-over spenders. 

Most of those who plan to spend the least this month — budgeting $100 or less — also look to others’ welfare. Nearly two-thirds of the thrifty (61 percent) will give to charity or volunteer.

The survey of 1,056 adults, conducted Dec. 4-12, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. 

Notes on coverage

Overview

Take care with labels — Christianity is diverse and beliefs can vary greatly within denominations. Ask questions about beliefs before leaping to assumptions.

Learn the correct terms — Many Christian denominations come with their own terms and titles for the structure or hierarchy of leadership within that denomination. Some congregations are governed independently within national guidelines while others embrace a strict hierarchy. Learn the correct titles and don’t try to generalize across denominations.

Consider stories on the major Christian holidays. The major Christian observances are Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent and Christmas.

Issues and notes on coverage by denomination

EVANGELICALS

There is rich diversity among evangelicals in belief and practice as well as in approaches to living out faith outside church walls. Evangelicals run Sojourners/Call to Renewal, organizations focused on social justice and poverty which call their agendas “progressive,” as well as very conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family.

Baptists make up a large portion of evangelicals and have more than 60 denominations. In recent years, Baptists have been marked by fierce debates concerning moderates and conservatives over doctrine and policies regarding women, evangelism of people of other faiths, missionary work, homosexuality, among other issues. Churches have chosen sides by leaving or joining different national Baptist organizations. These debates have been well-chronicled and play out in every state in the nation. Out of the spotlight, Baptists in the pews are active in a tremendous array of mission work and other activities that affect communities around the United States and around the world.

MAINLINE PROTESTANTS

Nationally, mainline denominations are mired in bitter battles over homosexuality; several have considered splitting after years of annual conventions dominated by votes on the issue. Only a few officially allow the blessing of same-sex marriages or ordain noncelibate homosexuals; some clergy have been defrocked for performing same-sex marriages or acknowledging their same-sex partner.

Mainline denominations remain predominantly white but are working to reach out to immigrants and other races and ethnicities, with mixed success.

Clergy shortages are increasing and, in some denominations, severe. Most pastors are older — only 5 percent are younger than age 35 — and many are on the brink of retirement. Many seminary graduates are not interested in pastoring churches, where pay can be low compared to mainstream employment.

The mainline denominations all ordain women and were among the first to do so. Today, women account for about half of seminary students. Still, male clergy far outnumber women, particularly in senior pastor and regional and national ministry positions. Many female clergy complain of unequal treatment, pay and opportunities and they eventually leave church work for other fields.

Mainline denominations continue their longtime advocacy of social justice issues, often by combining forces with other religions and sometimes secular groups. Common causes include poverty, civil rights, interfaith understanding, environment and church/state separation issues.

PENTECOSTALS

One of the primary challenges of covering Pentecostals is its seemingly-supernatural aspects, which include faith healings and speaking in tongues. 

Pentecostalism has been haunted by scandals —financial and otherwise — since its beginnings, and reporters might have reason to be wary. Reporters should become familiar with the tradition so they know where the people and congregations they’re covering fit in.They should describe what they see and what people say they experience, but seek verification, when possible, of faith healings.

Speaking in tongues is usually either “glossolalia” (speaking in extra-human, mystical language that requires an interpreter who is also in a state of ecstasy) or “xenoglossia,” also known as “zenolalia” (speaking in a foreign language that the convert never knew before). Pentecostals and charismatics know the distinction, and journalists should, too.

Example coverage

Does megachurch ‘high’ explain their success?

By Chris Lisee, Religion News Service
Aug. 20, 2012

(RNS) Maybe religion really is the opiate of the masses – just not the way Karl Marx imagined.

A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented Sunday (Aug. 19) at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

Large gatherings of shared experience like concerts and sporting events also trigger feelings of euphoria, said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the paper. 

But, she said, “churches seem to be somewhat unique in that these feelings are not just experienced as euphoria but as something transcendent or divine.”

Megachurches, such as City Harvest Church in Singapore, have redefined worship and what a church experience looks like. Creative commons image by Adrian Hermann

Megachurches, such as City Harvest Church in Singapore, have redefined worship and what a church experience looks like. Creative commons image by Adrian Hermann

The authors theorize the spiritual high from megachurch services is experienced as an “oxytocin cocktail” of shared transcendent experience and the brain’s release of oxytocin, a chemical that is thought to play a part in social interaction. Emotion and group experience have been shown to raise levels of oxytocin.

One congregant reported, “God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.”

Another said “you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game,” Corcoran said.

Megachurches create this high through their unique style of worship, Corcoran said. Megachurches use technology and appeals to emotion to create a shared experience in congregations that number in the thousands.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” Corcoran said.

The pastor functions as an “energy star” who engages the congregation through an accessible, informal and emotional sermon. Rather than being analytical or theological, the message “just feels right” or “just makes sense” for congregants, Wellman said.

To extend the spiritual high beyond Sunday, churches feature small group activities such as Bible study, book clubs, and volunteer activities, the researchers said. But it is Sunday worship that brings people back.

The study bucks the idea that larger churches produce weaker member commitment; nearly 80 percent of congregants said church size did not hinder their spiritual growth.

An estimated 10 percent of American Protestants — 6 million worshippers — regularly attend one of 1,600 megachurches.

Researchers observed services and conducted 470 interviews and about 16,000 surveys at 12 megachurches for the University of Washington study.

Scripture

Although there are numerous scriptures used by Christians, the Bible, including 39 books from the Old Testament and 27 books from the New Testament, is the central religious text.

The Old Testament consists of Hebrew Scripture about the covenant God had with Israel. The New Testament forms the basis of Christian faith and recounts the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Boling holds a Bible open while participating in a Bible study group in Gallatin, Tenn. RNS photo by Jeff Adkins

Bruce Boling holds a Bible open while participating in a Bible study group in Gallatin, Tenn. RNS photo by Jeff Adkins

Most Catholic Bishops in the United States use the New American Bible translation. Many Catholics also use the Catholic Study Bible or the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. The Catholic Church includes books of the Apocrypha in the biblical canon. (The Apocrypha, from the Greek word that means “things hidden,” is made up of religious writings included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but not the Hebrew Bible. Roman Catholics and Orthodox accept them as divinely inspired, but Protestants do not.)

The New International Version is popular among evangelicals, but many refer to the King James Version when quoting Scripture. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is generally preferred by mainline Protestants.

Eastern Orthodox Christians include most parts of the Apocrypha in the biblical canon. 

The Greek Orthodox Church collaborated on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published by the National Council of Churches USA, which includes the Apocrypha. However, the Eastern Orthodox canon includes different Apocrypha books than either Protestants or Roman Catholics do. The variations are based on which books were present in the Septuagint and its early manuscripts. (The Orthodox omit 2 Esdras from the Protestant Apocryphal but add 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151.)

The Mormon church uses four books of scripture: the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon (subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”), Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s translation and revision of the Bible. This church teaches that Mormon, an ancient American prophet, inscribed what’s known as the Book of Mormon on golden plates that his son Moroni buried on a hill in what’s now upstate New York. 

Moroni was later said to have returned as an angel and led Smith to the plates, which Smith translated and published in 1830, after the golden plates were taken away from him. The Book of Mormon describes God’s interaction with the people of ancient America and recounts the visit of the resurrected Jesus to the New World.

Scripture resources

  • Audio Bible

    Hear the King James Bible narrated by Stephen Johnston.

  • “Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology”

    See Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology posted by StudyLight.org. It shows how names, themes, and ideas have developed throughout the Old and New Testaments.

  • BibleGateway.com

    BibleGateway.com provides passage lookup and word search in various versions of the Bible.

  • “Bible: King James Version”

    See a resource on the King James Bible hosted by the Humanities Text Initiative, a unit of the University of Michigan’s Digital Library Production Service. It allows users to browse the Bible by individual books or phrases.

  • “Easton’s Bible Dictionary”

    See Matthew George Easton’s Bible Dictionary posted at BibleStudyTools.com.

  • “Hitchcock’s Bible Name Dictionary”

    See “Hitchcock’s Bible Name Dictionary,” taken from Roswell D. Hitchcock’s 1869 book Hitchcock’s New and Complete Analysis of the Holy Bible, posted at BibleStudyTools.com

  • “King James Dictionary”

    BibleStudyTools.com posts the “King James Dictionary”–a reference webpage for words found in the King James Version of the Bible.

  • “New International Version Bible”

    See a page on the New International Version Bible hosted by the International Bible Society. The site features passage lookups, word searches, and a tool that allows for comparisons of a single verse over nine different Bible versions.

  • Online Bible

    The Online Bible website allows users to look up and search the Bible in five different languages. Contact through the website.

  • “Unbound Bible”

    The “Unbound Bible” has 10 English versions of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew versions, four ancient versions and 42 versions in various other languages. Allows users to set up a personalized account with places for study links and customized search tools. It is hosted by Biola University.

  • “Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”

    See an online adaptation of W.E. Vine’s 1940 Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

Example coverage

“Minnesota church women count words in Bible spoken by women” — Feb. 2, 2015, Jean Hopfensperger, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman began scouring the Bible three years ago to do something that apparently had never been done: the cataloging of every word uttered by every woman in the more than 2,000-year-old holy book.

Meeting in a church library, Freeman and an unlikely research team systematically pored over every Bible chapter, documenting the words on spreadsheets and inserting context and highlights. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year.

The results give surprise insights into the lives of women ranging from Abigail to Zipporah. Eve, for example, may be the Bible’s most well-known woman, but she utters only 74 words. Yet an unnamed “Shulamite woman” in the Song of Solomon holds forth with 1,425. — Read more.

Bible survey: Many Americans scramble their Scripture

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service
April 24, 2014

(RNS) The Bible encourages the “repression of women,” and it’s silent on such fraught topics as war or slavery. At least, that’s what about one in five U.S. adults believe. But they’re wrong.

The American Bible Society’s annual “State of the Bible” survey reveals “the people of the book are not people of this book,” said Geof Morin, chief communication officer for the society.

“We know 88 percent of people say they have a Bible. They think: ‘I have a Bible. I have had one for a long time. I must know what’s in it.’ But people overestimate their knowledge,” Morin said.

The ABS survey of 1,012 U.S. adults, conducted by Barna Research, found that 82 percent of U.S. adults consider themselves at least somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible.

However, he said, “43 percent can’t even name the first five books of the Bible.”

When it came to assessing what the Bible says on several critical social issues, many showed fuzzy knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors addressed in Scripture.

The frontispiece to the original 1611 King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top, with Moses and Aaron flanking the central text. In the four corners are evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 
RNS file photo

The frontispiece to the original 1611 King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top, with Moses and Aaron flanking the central text. In the four corners are evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. RNS file photo

Most Christians correctly say the Bible discourages prostitution, gambling and pornography; that it encourages generosity, forgiveness and patience; and that it is most certainly not silent on issues such as slavery, war and homosexuality. 

However, there were distinct divides between “practicing Christians” — those who consider their faith important, attend church regularly and believe they are born again — and “notional” Christians who wear the label but disengage from practice.

The “notionals” roughly aligned with people who said they had no religious identity on several questions, including what the Bible says about war or on women.

Morin acknowledged that “repression is strong language. But we wanted to address that within every religious denomination there’s some sense of male headship. That can be framed positively, as a view that all are called to serve one another. Or it can be seen negatively, as (setting up) first- or second-class citizenship.”

While 91 percent of evangelicals say the Bible discourages “repression of women,” that figure drops to 61 percent for other practicing Christians, such as mainline Protestants.

“Notional” Christians — nearly half of all participants in the survey — have a grimmer picture of the Bible’s view on women. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) say the Bible either encourages repression or is silent on women’s status (28 percent). Among those who claim no religious identity (nones), 46 percent see the Bible advocating repression of women and 22 percent say it’s silent on the matter.

Questions about same-sex relationships and about war show similar divisiveness. Strong majorities in every category say the Bible discourages homosexuality. But 24 percent of “notional” Christians, and 33 percent of nones, say the Bible is silent on this topic.

About two in 10 (18 percent overall) also said the Bible is silent about war. However, this time the responses divided very differently: Only 11 percent of non-evangelical practicing Christians saw nothing in the Bible on this subject.

The American Bible Society’s survey differs from a 2010 national survey by the Pew Research Center on overall religious knowledge. That survey focused on core teachings, history and leading figures in five major world religions. It found the most knowledgeable were atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons, who outperformed Protestants and Catholics on most questions.

The ABS survey, meanwhile, was specifically focused on the Bible. Its purpose, said Morin, is to give the Bible society ideas for areas where it can work to strengthen biblical literacy and help make Scripture the foundation in believers’ lives.

“The American Bible Society wants to track what is happening in the culture and why people are less and less connecting the moral and political issues of the day with their Bibles,” he said. 

International sources

Africa

  • John Kobia Ataya

    Ataya teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Kenya Methodist University. He specializes in Biblical literature and religious linguistics.

  • Victor Agina Counted

    Counted is based in the Cape Town area of South Africa. He has taught sociology of religion courses and is the author of THINK UP — The Church in Africa Engaging Plurality and Church in Cyberspace.

  • Eunice Karanja Kamaara

    Kamaara is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Moi University. Her research focuses on religion, gender and sexuality.

  • Katrina Korb

    A professor of educational psychology at the University of Jos in Nigeria, Korb’s research interests include the fusion of religion and education. She is the author of Christian Religious Education: Building Capacity Through a Growing Philosophy and The Exodus from Rote Learning: Teaching Christian Religious Education for Meaningful Learning.

  • Sampson Nwaomah

    Nwaomah is dean of the Theological Seminary at the Adventist University of Africa. He serves on the editorial board of several religious journals and researches New Testament theology, missions, Biblical ecology and religion and society.

Asia

  • Zainal Abidin Bagir

    Zainal Abidin Bagir is executive director of the Center of Religious and Cross Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He is principal investigator for the Pentecostal Growth and Social Relations in Indonesia. The project is funded by the University of Southern California’s Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative.

  • Miguel Luna

    Luna is dean and principal lecturer for the Department of Religious Studies at Asia-Pacific International University, Thailand. He has taught seminars on ministerial ethics and theological education.

  • Marthen Tahun

    Tahun is a research staff member at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and a research partner for the Christianity and Freedom Project, sponsored by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

Members worship at the Sophienkirche (Queen Sophie Church) in Berlin. Germany's Protestant (Lutheran) church is concerned about dismal demographic trends that could eventually mean less state funding for church operations. RNS photo courtesy German Evangelical Church Photo Service

Canada

  • Phyllis Airhart

    Airhart is an Associate Professor of History of Christianity at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. Her interests include North American Christianity, Methodism, religion and public life, and the history of spirituality.

  • William H. Brackney

    Brackney is a professor of Christian Thought & Ethics at Acadia University, Wolfville, NS, Canada.  He researches Amish religious practice and culture. He also does research on human rights and global ethics, as well as Baptist theology and history.

     

  • Canadian Evangelical Christian Church

    The Canadian Evangelical Christian Church works to spread the word of Christ through scripture and resources for leadership and ministries.

  • Heather J. Coleman

    Coleman is an associate professor of history and classics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. She studies religion in Russia. Her current research is based on a book project, “Holy Kyiv: Priests, Communities, and Nationality in Imperial Russia, 1800-1917,” which explores the ethno-religious diversity of Kyiv diocese its relationship with the pastoral mission of the Orthodox clergy there. She also has expertise on Russian Baptist history and theology.

  • Douglas Cowan

    Douglas Cowan is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He is an expert on the neo-pagan community and has written about the community’s use of the Internet to communicate and share ideas about faith and rituals. He has also published about Mormonism and evangelical practice in North America and on religion and film.

  • Claude Cox

    Cox is an adjunct faculty member at McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.  He is an expert on Disciples of Christ.

    Contact: 905-525-9140 ext. 24401.
  • Douglas John Hall

    Douglas John Hall is author of The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, in which he examines whether Christianity teaches some a love of consumption and waste. He is emeritus professor of theology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. He has written extensively about neo-Orthodoxy.

  • D. Bruce Hindmarsh

    Hindmarsh is a professor of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has published and spoken widely to international audiences on the history of early British evangelicalism. His articles have appeared in respected academic journals such as Church History and the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, and has authored of two major books on evangelical traditions.

  • Darren Marks

    Marks is a lecturer in the theology department at the University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada. He is also the author of over a dozen articles in systematic theology and the author/editor of several texts in theology. His primary research area is contemporary systematic theology, although his doctoral work dealt with nineteenth-century German Protestant theology. Dr. Marks is currently the North American Review Editor for the Journal of Anglican Studies and has forthcoming works on Global Theology and his Justifying God: A Theology of Sin.

  • Tim Perry

    Tim Perry was an associate professor of theology at Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. He is the author of Mary for Evangelicals, Pope John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment, Blessed Is She and Radical Difference: A Defense of Hendrik Kraemer’s Theology of Religions.

  • Ephraim Radner

    Radner is a profession of historical theology at the University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. He specifically researches Anglican/Episcopal theology. He was previously a rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado.

     

  • Sam Reimer

    Reimer is a professor of sociology at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada. Evangelical movements and subcultures in North America, especially Canada, are his expertise area.

     

  • Christopher Ross

    Ross is an associate professor in the department of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada. A focus of his is Lutheran theology and Evangelicals. He also studies religion and social change and new religious movements.

  • Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada provides educational resources on leadership, support and beliefs.

  • Jewel L. Spangler

    Spangler was an associate professor in the history department at the University of Calgary in Canada. She has published on Baptist theology and history in the U.S. She is also knowledgable in Anglican and evangelical theology.

  • James Stayer

    Stayer is a professor emeritus in the history department at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada. He studies Lutheran theology in the context of early modern European history. Evangelicalism is also a specialty of his.

  • Mark Toulouse

    Toulouse is a professor in History of Christianity at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, in Toronto, ON, Canada. He is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This allows him to regularly conduct workshops for ministers and lay people on North American Christianity, Disciples of Christ history and theology, religion and public life, and theological education.

  • Marguerite Van Die

    Van Die is a professor of history and theology in the department of History at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada. Her specialization is in Methodist tradition and history in Canada, 19th century religion, gender and class.

  • Jonathan R. Wilson

    Jonathan R. Wilson is the Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology and Ethics at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has written about evangelicalism and environmentalism.

Europe

  • Mark D. Chapman

    Mark D. Chapman teaches church history, Catholicism, ecclesiology and Anglicanism at the University of Oxford. Chapman researches Anglican theology and church history.

  • Iglesia Evangelica Espanola (Spanish Evangelical Church)

    The Iglesia Evangelica Espanola (Spanish Evangelical Church), founded in 1869, is a member of the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council. It is an administrative organization for Spanish evangelical churches.

  • Iglesia Evangelica Methodista Unida

    The national headquarters for the United Methodist Church in Barcelona, Spain.

  • International Baptist Theological Seminary

    IBTS is a leading centre of post-graduate theological study for Baptist Christians and other evangelical believers. They emphasize environmental and eco-friendly study.

  • Alister McGrath

    Alister McGrath is a former atheist and now an evangelical Christian and a theology professor at the University of Oxford’s Harris Manchester College. He is a prolific writer and public apologist for Christianity and is author of several books, including The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern WorldIn the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture, and The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, with Joanna Collicutt McGrath.

  • Kenneth Newport

    Newport is a professor of Christian Thought in the department of Theology and Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, England, United Kingdom. His main interests include New Testament Studies and the use of the New Testament in various later contexts. An instance of this is its use by millennial groups or in the works of Charles Wesley.

  • Ivana Noble

    Ivana Noble is an associate professor of the Ecumenical Institute of ETF UK at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. She has taught fundamental theology, systematic theology, and philosophy at The Institute of Ecumenical Studies, Protestant Theological Faculty and International Baptist Theological Seminary. Her main interests are the relationship between theology and culture, ecumenism and sacramental theology. She was an ordained priest in the Czechoslovac Hussite Church.

  • Oliver O’Donovan

    O’Donovan is a professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom. He was ordained as a priest of the Church of England and has been on the General Synod, and specifically is known for his expertise on Anglican/Church of England issues. Ethics is another major area of his research.

Latin America

  • Ari Pedro Oro

    Oro is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. His research interests include the intersection between religion and politics.

  • Eloisa Martin

    Martin is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Her research interests focus on sociology and popular religiosity.

U.S. sources & resources

Evangelicals

Major organizations

Some of the most influential evangelical leaders are pastors of megachurches or lead parachurch ministries.

There are hundreds of parachurch ministries — nonprofits organized outside of the church — ranging from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Focus on the Family to Campus Crusade for Christ. The Baptist Missionary Association of Texas posts a list of more than 50, with web links.

Individual denominations have extensive websites with background and contact information.

  • American Baptist Churches USA

    American Baptist Churches USA is an organization that encourages its members to dedicate themselves to church-planting, evangelizing communities and spreading the word of God.

  • Bible Fellowship Church

    The Bible Fellowship Church is an organization dedicated to accomplishing a number of missions, including church-planting, children’s discipleship ministry, family retreats and conferences and care for senior citizens.

  • Cru

    Cru (the Campus Crusade for Christ) is an interdenominational Christian organization that promotes evangelism and discipleship in more than 190 countries around the world.

  • Christian Cowboys and Friends

    Christian Cowboys and Friends is a Christian, non-denominational and inter-denominational ministry with an evangelistic outreach at Rodeos and Cowboy Churches.

  • Church of the Nazarene

    The Church of the Nazarene is a Protestant Christian organization to “spread the message of scriptural holiness (Christlike living) across the lands.” Submit inquiries through the form on their website.

    Contact: 913-577-0500.
  • Evangelical Covenant Church

    This Chicago-based denomination works to fight against human trafficking with its ”Break the Chains” project. The church also has prepared a 40-page booklet to help congregations combat the problem at the local level.

  • Fellowship of Christian Cowboys

    Fellowship of Christian Cowboys uses “cowboys, cowgirls, and our rich western heritage to reach across this great nation spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Contact: 719-275-7636.
  • Global Missions Network

    Global Missions Network is a connecting place providing exposure, inspiration, and identity to New Testament Missions, Ministries, and Church growth in southeast Asian countries.

  • Harvestime International Network

    Harvestime International Network is a non-denominational Christian organization committed to recruiting, training, motivating, and mobilizing a network of international harvesters.

  • Moments with the Book

    Moments with the Book is non-profit organization whose purpose is to spread God’s Word to the world through the printed page and other media.

    Contact: 814-623-8737.
  • National Association of Evangelicals

    The National Association of Evangelicals is an organization that includes 45,000 congregations from 40 member denominations, individual congregations from an additional 27 denominations, and 250 parachurch ministries and educational institutions. Its mission is to gather, strengthen and expand the evangelical community. Galen Carey is vice president for government relations.

    Contact: 202-789-1011.
  • National Network of Youth Ministries

    National Network of Youth Ministries is an organization that serves as a neutral umbrella of cooperation linking youth workers, denominations and organizations in order to expose every teenager to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Contact: 858-451-1111.
  • National Coalition of Ministries to Men

    National Coalition of Ministries to Men is a network of parachurch/servant ministries and denominational men’s ministries representing over half of the churches in America.

    Contact: 407-472-2188.
  • No Regrets Men’s Ministries

    No Regrets Men’s Ministries is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to preparing the local church to equip, empower, and deploy men in Christian service to their family, church, community, and the world.

    Contact: 800-919-9059.
  • Pocket Testament League

    The Pocket Testament League is an organization with a goal to “read God’s Word each day, carry God’s Word with them wherever they go, and share God’s Word with others as He gives opportunities.”

  • Promise Keepers

    Promise Keepers is “dedicated to igniting and uniting men to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ through the effective communication of the 7 Promises.”

    Contact: 866-776-6473.
  • Proverbs 31 Ministry

    Proverbs 31 Ministry is a non-denominational, nonprofit organization, dedicated to “glorifying God by touching women’s hearts to build godly homes.”

    Contact: 704-849-2270.
  • Ron Hutchraft Ministries

    Ron Hutchraft Ministries in Wayne, N.J. equips “believers to become spiritual rescuers” and provides men and women with educational resources to become leaders to spread the word of Christ.

    Contact: 870-741-3300.
  • Southern Baptist Convention

    The Southern Baptist Convention, with about 16 million members, is the largest group within the evangelical world, as well as the second-largest faith group in America (behind Catholics).

    Contact: 615-244-2355.
  • Truckstop Ministries

    Truckstop Ministries is a non-profit, trans-denominational ministry aimed at the trucking industry that works “to fulfill the God-given vision.”

  • Vineyard USA

    Has network of over 1,500 churches worldwide. They work alongside existing local churches to help reproduce and plant new Vineyard churches. Michael Gatlin is the national church planting director.

Riverside Church in New York City. RNS photo by Michael Falco

Resources

Evangelicals are the topic of many of books. Good primers include the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism by Randall Balmer and books by Mark A. Noll, including The Rise of Evangelicalism and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals also offers a wide range of resources.

  • American Theological Library Association

    The American Theological Library Association is a research organization that studies theology and religion by promoting and supporting the development of theological and religious libraries and librarianship.

  • Apostolic World Christian Fellowship

    The Apostolic World Christian Fellowship is a global organization that provides resources on the word of God and the apostle’s doctrine.

    Contact: 812-464-1175.
  • Associated Baptist Press

    The Associated Baptist Press is an independent news service about Baptists.

    Contact: 800-340-6626.
  • Baptist Press

    The Baptist Press is a news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • Center for the Study of Global Christianity

    The Center for the Study of Global Christianity by the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is a research organization dedicated to analyzing data on church membership, evangelistic activities and other nondenominational, Christian-related practices around the world. Todd Johnson is executive director.

  • Christianity Today

    Christianity Today is a nonprofit media ministry and magazine for the evangelical church. Its website maintains a list of staff experts available for interview on different subjects.

  • Ethics and Public Policy Center

    The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., works to “clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.” Brian Walsh is executive director.

  • Evangelical Theological Society

    Evangelical Theological Society is a professional, academic society of Biblical scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others involved in evangelical scholarship. 

    Contact: 502-897-4388.
  • Zondervan ChurchSource

    Zondervan ChurchSource equips church leaders with relevant, field-tested resources for effective ministry.

Mainline Protestants

Major organizations

Individual denominations have extensive websites with background and contact information.

  • Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

    The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is a conservative, evangelical Christian organization that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ and provides educational resources on Christianity. It is based in Greenville, S.C.

  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

    The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) organization provides resources on evangelistic leadership for congregations and individuals to spread the word of God through the Gospels and scriptures.

    Contact: 317-635-3100.
  • Episcopal Church USA

    The Episcopal Church USA has a mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

    Contact: 212-716-6000.
  • Lutheran World Federation

    The Lutheran World Federation is a global organization that works to “put faith into action within and beyond the communion, and seek God’s Word and Spirit to guide us.” 

  • Mennonite Church USA

    Mennonite Church USA is an Anabaptist Christian organization dedicated to providing leaders with resources to spread the word of God.

  • Moravian Church in America

    The Moravian Church in America is one of the oldest Protestant denominations with strong missionary work and belief in traditions. The website offers resources on faith beliefs, congregations, news and publications.

  • National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

    The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is an umbrella organization of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and Living Peace denominations. The NCCC frequently files amicus briefs in religious and civil liberties cases. Philip E. Jenks is press contact.

  • United Church of Christ

    The United Church of Christ has an official website that provides resources on the Christian beliefs and news.

Resources

  • Anglicans Online

    Anglicans Online is an organization that provides resources on all things Anglican such as beliefs, practices, churches, traditions and other characteristics of the religion.

  • Center for Congregations

    The Indianapolis Center for Congregations works with congregations in Indiana to provide resource counseling, educational events, and grants. The Center has four offices throughout the state. The Rev. Timothy Shapiro is president.

  • Churches Uniting in Christ

    Churches Uniting in Christ a collection of 11 Christian communions who have formed a covenant relationship. The Rev. Robina M. Winbush is president.

  • Conservative Mennonite Conference

    The Conservative Mennonite Conference is an Anabaptist, conservative, evangelical organization that provides a list of resources on practices and beliefs, a directory of churches and ministries and more.

  • Friends United Meeting

    Friends United Meeting (Quakers) is an international organization that works to provide educational resources for evangelism, global partnership and leadership and communication development. Colin Saxton is general secretary.

  • The Christian Century

    The Christian Century is a progressive ecumenical Christian magazine based in Chicago.

    Contact: 312-263-7510.
  • The Interfaith Alliance

    The Interfaith Alliance is the national non-partisan advocacy voice of the interfaith movement. Press inquiries can be submitted through a form on their website.

    Contact: 202-265-3000.
  • Wabash Center

    The Wabash Center for teaching and learning in theology and religion, in Crawfordsville, Ind., offers many online resources. Nadine Pence is the center’s director.

Pentecostals

Major organizations

Some of the highest-profile Pentecostals lead nondenominational churches or ministries, usually in combination with television, radio and publishing efforts.

  • Assemblies of God USA

    Assemblies of God is a national and international organization that makes up the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination of some 66 million members and adherents worldwide, and over 3 million members in the U.S. The organization works to promote religion itself and aspects of practice to its members. The church’s four-fold mission is expressed through evangelism, discipleship, worship and compassion.

  • Church of God in Christ

    The Church of God in Christ is the largest organization in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition in the United States. Its members are predominately African-American.

    Contact: 901-947-9300.
  • Benny Hinn

    Benny Hinn is the leader of Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas. His “This Is Your Day” program is seen throughout the United States and in nearly 200 foreign countries. His ministry took in $60 million in 2001 and now exceeds $90 million annually, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. Contact through the form on his website.

  • Bishop T.D. Jakes

    Bishop T.D. Jakes is head of the 30,000-member Potter’s House in Dallas. He was named “America’s best preacher” by Time magazine and in 2001 was the subject of a Time  cover story, “Is this man the next Billy Graham?”

  • Joyce Meyer

    Joyce Meyer heads Joyce Meyer Ministries based in Missouri and was selected by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. Her program Enjoying Everyday Life is carried on television and radio stations around the world. 1-800-727-9673  Media inquiries are handled via the website.

  • Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America

    The Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America is made up of over 480,000 congregations. Its website lists member churches.

RESOURCES

African-American

MAJOR ORGANIZATIONS

RESOURCES

Hispanic

MAJOR ORGANIZATIONS

The Roman Catholic Church has numerous Hispanic initiatives.

Most denominations have Hispanic outreach programs, from the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual Hispanic National Church Planting Celebration to the National Association of Evangelicals’ Hispanic Commission.

RESOURCES

Asian

Many denominations and organizations have ministries focusing on Asian-Americans.

  • Korean Emerging Ministries Office

    The Korean Emerging Ministries Office is part of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It works to increase the population of Korean American Presbyterians. The Rev. Dr. Sun Bai Kim is the association for Korean Ministries.

Christian media sources

  • American Baptist News Service

    The American Baptist News Service is the media arm of American Baptist Churches USA.

    Contact: 610-768-2000.
  • American Family News Network

    The American Family News Network is a Christian news services that works to present current events through a biblical perspective. Contact through the website.

  • Anglican Communion News Service

    Anglican Communion News Service is a media service for the Anglican community. It highlights news regarding the Anglican Christ in Communion church, seeking to educate its members on the global community. It is based in London.

  • Anglicans Online

    Anglicans Online is an organization that provides resources on all things Anglican such as beliefs, practices, churches, traditions and other characteristics of the religion.

  • Assemblies of God News Service

    The Assemblies of God News Service is the media arm of the Assemblies of God USA, which also has a video service. It is based in Springfield, Mo.

  • Associated Baptist Press

    The Associated Baptist Press is an independent news service about Baptists.

    Contact: 800-340-6626.
  • Associated Church Press

    The Associated Church Press is the oldest interdenominational press association in North America. It provides news from a Christian perspective. It is based in Oviedo, Fl.

  • Awake!

    Awake! is a publication of the  Jehovah’s Witnesses via  Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York.

    Contact: 718-560-5000.
  • Baptist & Reflector

    The Baptist & Reflector is the official publication of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. It is based in Brentwood, Tenn.

  • Baptist Press

    The Baptist Press is a news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • Baptist Trumpet

    The Baptist Trumpet is the official newspaper of the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas. It is located in Little Rock. Diane Spriggs is editor and business manager.

  • Biblical Recorder

    The Biblical Recorder is a news journal for North Carolina Baptists. It is based in Cary, N.C. K. Allan Blume is editor and president.

  • Christian Broadcasting Network

    The Christian Broadcasting Network is a “global ministry committed to preparing the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ through mass media.” It reaches 139 countries and its U.S. office is located in Virgina Beach.

    Contact: 757-226-7000.
  • Christian Examiner

    The Christian Examiner is the largest Christian newspaper group in the United States. It is published in four regions in California and in the Twin Cities. It is published by the Keener Communications Group.

  • Christian News Northwest

    Christian News Northwest is a monthly evangelical newspaper. It is based in Newberg, Ore.

  • Christian Newswire

    Christian Newswire is a distributor of religious-content news releases. It is based in Washington, D.C.

  • Christian Standard

    Christian Standard is a resource magazine for Christian congregations and faith leaders. It is based in Cincinnati.

  • Christianity Today

    Christianity Today is a nonprofit media ministry and magazine for the evangelical church. Its website maintains a list of staff experts available for interview on different subjects.

  • Commonweal

    Commonweal is a politics and ethics journal edited and managed by lay Catholics.

  • Episcopal Digital Network

    The Episcopal Digital Network is a Christian media service that delivers news, entertainment, and information to church leaders and congregations. Contact through the website.

  • ELCA News Service

    ELCA News Service is the media arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is based in Chicago.

  • EWTN News

    Eternal World Television Network collects Catholic headlines from around the world.

  • Gegrapha

    Gegrapha is a network of global journalists who follow Jesus Christ. It works to “build a fellowship of Christians in newsrooms around the world.” David Aikman is founder.

  • K-LOVE

    K-LOVE is a Christian radio program and is operated by the Educational Media Foundation. It is broadcast in 47 states.

    Contact: 800-525-5683.
  • Moody Radio

    Moody Radio is one of the largest Christian radio networks in the United States. It is based in Chicago.

    Contact: 800-356-6639.
  • Nazarene Communications Network

    The Nazarene Communications Network is the media arm of the Church of the Nazarene. It posts news relevant to the faith from across the world. It is based in Lenexa, Ks.

  • Presbyterian News Service

    The Presbyterian News Service is part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It gathers and disseminates news about the Church. It is based in Louisville, Ky.

    Contact: 800-728-7228 ext. 5495, 502-472-5106.
  • Reformed Worship

    Reformed Worship is the quarterly magazine of the  Christian Reformed Church in North America.

  • Sky Angel

    Sky Angel is a Christian multi-channel television provider. It specializes in Faith and Family television. It is based in Naples, Fl.

  • The Baptist Courier

    The Baptist Courier is the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. It is based in Greenville, S.C.

    Contact: 864-232-8736.
  • The Baptist Messenger

    The Baptist Messenger is a weekly Baptist newspaper published in Davis, Okla. Contact through the website.

  • The Baptist Record

    The Baptist Record is the weekly journal of Mississippi Baptists. It is the third-largest newspaper in the Southern Baptist Convention. It is based in Jackson, Miss. Jim Futral is executive director.

  • The Baptist Standard

    The Baptist Standard is the Baptist General Convention of Texas’s news outlet. Marv Knox is editor and publisher.

  • The Baptist World Alliance

    The Baptist World Alliance is a network of 228 churches in 120 countries that works to promote the church’s ministry and works around the world in various aid areas.

  • The Evangelist

    The Evangelist is the official publication of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Albany, N.Y. Media contact is John Salvione.

    Contact: 518-453-6696.
  • The Presbyterian Outlook

    The Presbyterian Outlook is a publication of the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation. It is based in Richmond, Va.

  • Trinity Broadcasting Network

    The Trinity Broadcasting Network is the world’s largest religious network and the most watched religious channel in America. It includes programming appealing to Christians and Messianic Jews. It is based in Santa Ana, Calif.

    Contact: 714-832-2950.
  • United Methodist Reporter

    The United Methodist Reporter is a Methodist newspaper founded in Dallas. Send news inquiries through the form on the website.

  • Watchtower Magazine

    Watchtower Magazine is a monthly magazine published by Jehovah’s Witnesses via  Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. It is distributed door-to-door.

    Contact: 718-560-5000.
  • Worthy News

    Worthy News is a daily Christian news service. It is a product of Worthy Ministries, which is based in Maryland. Contact the Ministries through the website.

Style guide

abortion: When choosing terms to describe a person’s stance on abortion, journalists should remember that abortion is a nuanced issue, with many people supporting or opposing abortion in some, but not all, circumstances. Take care to describe a person’s view rather than relying on terms popularized in the heated public debate. For example, journalists should use pro-abortion rights or a similar description instead of pro-choice, and opposed to abortion or against abortion rights instead of pro-life. The AP Stylebook advises using anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. See pro-choice and pro-life.

Adventism: A Christian doctrine that emphasizes the imminent return of Jesus Christ. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, for example, is known for this belief.

Adventist: See Seventh-day Adventist Church.

apostolic church: Historically, the term refers to the whole Christian church in the era of the Twelve Apostles or to any of the ancient local churches founded by one of the Apostles. In theology, the term means a church faithful to the beliefs of the original Apostles and/or linked to them through historical continuity. A number of denominations use this as part of their title, but they are often quite different from one another. Be certain which “apostolic” church you are dealing with. Lowercase unless part of an official title.

Assemblies of God: A denomination that arose in the 20th century out of the Pentecostal movement. It emphasizes the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues. It is the second-largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States and is quickly growing worldwide with an estimated 60 million followers outside the U.S.

B

baptism of the Spirit: Christian Pentecostal and Holiness groups use this phrase to refer to a believer being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Pentecostals associate it primarily with speaking in tongues, others with empowerment to faithfully serve God. Most non-Pentecostal Christian groups believe that the baptism of the Spirit happens at conversion or water baptism.

bishop: In Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches and some Protestant denominations that have an episcopal or hierarchical form of government, bishop is the highest order of ordained ministry. The distinction between a Catholic bishop and an archbishop is an honorary one, and an archbishop has no authority over a neighboring diocese. Some groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Amish and some Pentecostals, use the title bishop for someone who is the pastor of a congregation. Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. On second reference, use only the cleric’s last name. Lowercase bishop in all other uses.

C

creationism: In the United States, creationism usually refers to the belief that the Bible’s account of creation is literally true and accurate. That generally means Genesis 1-2:4a, where God creates the Earth and all its life forms in six consecutive 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. (Genesis also tells a second creation story, in 2:4b-24, in which man is created before the Earth’s vegetation, and specific days are not described.) See intelligent design.

Christ: The word means anointed one or messiah in Greek. For that reason, Christians refer to Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ or simply Christ.

Christian Science: A denomination founded in 1879 based on interpretations of the Bible found in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures. The church’s official title is the Church of Christ, Scientist, and its headquarters are in Boston. Christian Science teaches a practice of spiritual healing, and teaches that Jesus was primarily a spiritual healer. It claims that sin, sickness and death are illusions that will be destroyed by a complete understanding of the divine principles of Jesus’ teaching and healing. Christian Scientists sometimes refuse medical treatment and generally deny death, saying instead that it is a “passing over” into the realm of spirit. The Church of Christ, Scientist is not recognized as Christian by the Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox churches for a number of doctrinal reasons including its rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. Christian Science has no clergy, but its leaders are called readers, practitioners and lecturers. Capitalize these titles before a name and on second reference use only the last name. Do not use the Rev. in any references. The church also subsidizes the international newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor. The terms Christian Science Church or Churches of Christ, Scientist are acceptable in all references.

church: Has multiple meanings. It can mean a building, a gathering of people, a civilly incorporated body, the sum total of all Christians on the planet, or an idea in the mind of God. When reading formal documents of the Catholic Church, it is especially important to figure out which one of these definitions is operative. Capitalize as part of the formal name of a building. Lowercase in phrases where the church is used in an institutional sense, as in separation of church and state.

Church of Christ, Scientist: See Christian Science.

Church of God in Christ: The largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. The majority of its members are African-American, in contrast with the Assemblies of God, the second-largest Pentecostal denomination, in which a majority of the members are Anglo. COGIC is acceptable on second reference.

E

end times: Lowercase. Generally refers to the time of tribulation preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, though it has parallels and roots in all three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Sometimes also called the “End of Days.”

exorcise, exorcism: The ritual of ridding a supposedly possessed person or thing of demons. Popularly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, which has a formal exorcism ritual, with each diocese allowed to designate a priest as an exorcist. However, the church’s use of the ritual has diminished due to a greater understanding of medicine and psychology. Some Christian churches, such as Pentecostals, also perform exorcisms, although the rituals are not as elaborate and formal as the Roman Catholic ritual. Islam also has traditions that speak of exorcisms.

exorcist: One who performs exorcisms.

F

Friends: This can be either a reference to Quakers or a term that Jehovah’s Witnesses commonly use for each other. Capitalize when referring to Quakers. The formal name of the Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends. See Quakers.

G

gay: Term used to describe men who are sexually attracted to other men. For women, lesbian is the preferred term. When referring to both, say gay men and lesbians, though gay is acceptable for referring to both in headlines. Avoid references to a gay, homosexual or alternative “lifestyle.”

glossolalia: Pronounced “glos-uh-LAY-lee-uh.” A form of speaking in tongues. Mentioned as a practice in the New Testament, and a hallmark of contemporary Pentecostal and some charismatic Christians. It is most commonly viewed as a private, heavenly language given by the Holy Spirit to communicate with God. Xenoglossia, also called zenolalia, is another form of speaking in tongues; it involves uttering a foreign language previously unknown to the speaker. Some conservative Protestant groups believe that the gift of tongues ceased after the first century and that current practices are a spiritual counterfeit.

God: Capitalize in reference to all monotheistic religions. Also capitalize such references as God the Father, Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. However, lowercase personal pronouns, such as him and he. Many Christians consider God to be beyond gender, so be sensitive to the context of the story and avoid gender-defining pronouns when appropriate. Orthodox Jews write G-d to avert the sin of erasing or defacing God’s name. Journalists should respect these Jews’ practice by using G-d in quotes of written material, but otherwise should refer to God.

golden rule: Variations on the golden rule, which can be succinctly stated as, “treat others as you wish to be treated,” are found in the texts of every major religion, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Great Commission: Jesus’ instruction to his disciples (as told in Matthew 28:16-20) to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This exhortation has provided the motivation and justification for Christianity’s missionary activities around the world from the time of the early church.

H

heaven: Lowercase in all references.  

M

meeting, meetinghouse: Worship gatherings are called meetings in some traditions, including by Quakers and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

megachurches: Generally defined as a Christian church that has a weekly sustained attendance of 2,000 or more. Although megachurches existed in some form in the United States throughout the 20th century, in recent decades they have flourished. Megachurches are often Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Pentecostal, and many are theologically conservative. Many are also nondenominational or Southern Baptist.

N

neo-Pentecostal, charismatic: These terms apply to a movement that developed in the 1960s and 1970s within mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. It is characterized by emotional expressiveness in worship, speaking or praying in “tongues” and healing. Unlike the Pentecostal movement of the early part of the 20th century, the new movement did not result in the creation of new denominations. Instead, its adherents operate within their original denominations.

New Testament: The part of the Christian Bible written after the death of Jesus Christ. The name traces back to the Greek term meaning new covenant. There are 27 books in the New Testament, including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as the letters of the Apostles and early church leaders.

O

Old Testament: Also known as the Hebrew Scriptures or Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament makes up the first part of the Christian Bible. Jews do not use this term, and many consider it disrespectful because it implies that the Hebrew Bible is “old” and unnecessary compared with the Christian Scriptures. Use Hebrew Bible in stories solely involving Judaism. The 24 books of the Hebrew scriptures are the same as the 39 books in the Protestant tradition, only organized differently. They are divided into categories of law, history, poetry and prophecy. All of the books were written before the birth of Jesus. The canonical books used differ among Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, although there is much overlap. Old Testament is capitalized in all references. See Apocrypha.

P

Pentecostalism: A Christian movement that started with a storefront revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 and has spread rapidly around the globe. Once regarded by many Christians as a marginal and almost embarrassing style of faith in which converts are “slain in the spirit” and adherents speak in tongues or perform miracle healings, Pentecostalism has become mainstream. A 2006 survey estimated that one in four Christians in the world is Pentecostal. Pentecostalism takes its name from the Christian feast of Pentecost, when Christians received the Holy Spirit. There are more than 60 Pentecostal denominations. Among the largest are Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the United Pentecostal Church Inc. and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. There are dozens of Pentecostal denominations as well as many nondenominational churches that are Pentecostal, so titles vary greatly. Common titles are bishop, minister, elder and superintendent; capitalize them before a name. Evangelist is another common title, but do not capitalize it, even with a name. Some clergy use the title of the Rev., but some do not.

prophecy, prophesy: The first is a prediction viewed as a divine revelation; the second is a verb meaning to make such a prediction. The principal theological definition of prophesy, though, is not to foretell the future but to speak the word of God. Some Christian traditions – especially Pentecostals – use it primarily to refer to revelation of future events involving the return of Christ. Other churches, however, use it primarily in references to biblical teaching about social justice and concern for the poor.

Q

Quakers: This group’s formal name is the Religious Society of Friends, but Quakers can be used in all references. Members typically refer to themselves as Friends. Historically, Quakers are considered Christian; some Quakers today consider themselves nontheistic. Their worship and business gatherings are called meetings. Although there is no recognized ranking of clergy over lay people, meeting officers are called elders or ministers, and these terms should be capitalized when used before a name. Many Quaker ministers in the Midwest and West use the Rev. before their names.

R

Religious Society of Friends: See Quakers.

S

savior: Always capitalize when referring to Jesus Christ.

Seventh-day Adventist Church: A Christian denomination that traces its origin to William Miller, who predicted that the world would end in the mid-1840s based on his reading of the Book of Daniel. When that failed to occur, Miller’s followers split into smaller groups, one of which eventually became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Seventh-day Adventists observe Saturday as their Sabbath. Ministers use the title pastor or elder, which should be capitalized before a name on first reference. The honorific the Rev. is not used.

Society of Friends, Religious: See Quakers.

W

Word of God: Capitalize when referring to the Bible.

Related source guides