CULTURE DIGEST: Passion propels Tomlin to top of Billboard chart
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Chris Tomlin has become the fourth Christian music artist ever to garner the number one position on the Billboard 200.
Tomlin's "Burning Lights" sold 73,000 copies in its opening week, fueled in large part by Passion 2013 in Atlanta.
The conference for college-aged Christians, where the singer-songwriter led worship, had 60,000 attendees and more than 100,000 online viewers.
According to Billboard, 40 percent of the figures tracked by the music trade magazine were sales related to Passion or churches.
Tomlin's album, topping the Jan. 26 chart, follows tobyMac, who last September became the first Christian artist in 15 years to take the peak position with his latest album, "Eye on It."
"Burning Lights" was also Tomlin's fourth album to sit atop Billboard's Christian Albums chart.
The debut was the largest ever for Tomlin and the largest sales week for any Christian album since Casting Crowns' "Come to the Well" in 2011.
NATIONAL CATHEDRAL TO ALLOW SAME-SEX MARRIAGE -- Evangelical policy groups are not surprised by the Washington National Cathedral's announcement that same-sex wedding ceremonies would be allowed at the 106-year-old church.
"The Episcopal Church has been increasingly out of touch with Christian orthodoxy and the rest of the Anglican Communion worldwide for some time, and this only adds to that," Peter Sprigg of the Washington-based Family Research Council said.
Last November, Maryland voters approved a same-sex marriage ballot initiative, joining the neighboring District of Columbia in legalizing such unions. In the wake of the Maryland ballot result, National Cathedral officials decided to start hosting such ceremonies effective immediately, they announced Jan. 9.
"As a kind of tall-steeple, public church in the nation's capital, by saying we're going to bless same-sex marriages, conduct same-sex marriages, we are really trying to take the next step for marriage equality in the nation and in the culture," Gary Hall, the cathedral's dean, told the Associated Press.
The cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Church and its 2 million members in the United States. But it also serves as a place of celebration and mourning for the nation's larger faith community. It is where the national prayer service for this month's presidential inauguration will occur, and it has hosted the state funerals for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
With hundreds of thousands of visitors to the National Cathedral each year, pro-gay marriage groups herald the decision as a symbolic victory for their movement.
The National Cathedral will offer a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members that the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops authorized last year. The decision to use the new rite and the performing of same-sex marriage ceremonies is left to the discretion of the bishops overseeing each diocese within the larger church.
The bishop of Washington, in charge of a diocese that covers the District of Columbia and four counties in Maryland, decided in December to allow the new expanded marriage rite. Last year, the bishops also voted to allow the ordination of transgendered persons. Such decisions have led some conservative Episcopal congregations to leave the denomination.
The move by the National Cathedral comes one month after the first same-sex wedding was performed at Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. In November, voters in Maine and Washington joined Maryland to become the first three states to approve a ballot initiative legalizing gay marriage.
While same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases on the issue in March.
"We still have voter referendums in 30 states, including North Carolina last year, that define marriage as between a man and a woman," Sprigg said. "That's a very strong statement of public policy that will not be overturned anytime soon."
EVERS WIDOW FIRST LAYWOMAN TO GIVE INAUGURAL INVOCATION -- Myrlie Evers-Williams, the 79-year-old widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, will be the first laywoman to deliver the invocation at a presidential inauguration when she does so at President Obama's Jan. 21 swearing-in.
"I hope to express feelings that are true, that are honest, that are open and maybe a wee bit insightful in terms of what is happening in America today and in the world as a whole," Evers-Williams said of her upcoming prayer.
Evers-Williams was to share the podium with evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, whose selection to deliver the inaugural benediction was derailed after the pro-gay community objected to a biblical sermon he delivered on homosexuality nearly 20 years ago.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has replaced Giglio with Luis Leon, an Episcopal priest who ministers at a Washington, D.C., parish that has openly gay, non-celibate priests and announced this summer it would bless same-sex partnerships and ordain transgender priests, according to news reports.
Evers-Williams, who told Religion News Service she has worshipped God at times as a Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian, expressed joy that she's still on the inaugural program.
"I'm simply delighted that I was not so controversial that I would step down or be asked to step down," Evers-Williams said. The scholar at Alcorn State University in Mississippi also is an author and civil rights and political activist.
"I have been on the lecture circuit since the day Medgar was assassinated. I delivered my first speech that night," she said in a Huffington Post article. "I have never been shy in mentioning my relationship with what I call God, a Spirit, and there certainly have been times over the years that I have called on him -- or her, if you wish -- in public. I deeply believe that there is a Supreme Being that sees us through."
PTC HAILS AX OF 'ALL MY BABIES' MAMAS' -- The Parents Television Council is applauding Oxygen Media's decision to nix production of the "All My Babies' Mamas" reality TV special, a program the council had called "grotesquely irresponsible and exploitive."
"We applaud the decision by Oxygen to shut this project down. It's the right thing to do. But the reality is that we never, ever, should have gotten to this point in the first place," PTC President Tim Winter said. "Those in the executive suites at Oxygen, and at its parent companies NBC Universal and Comcast, need to take a serious look in the mirror and question how such an abject program could ever be considered for air."
The show was to feature African American rapper Carlos "Shawty Lo" Walker and the 10 women with whom he has fathered 11 children. Oxygen was developing the show as a one-hour spring special and had indicated it might become a reality series.
The PTC objected to the show in early January, following the launch of a Change.org petition calling for the show's cancellation, which had garnered more than 37,000 signatures, as well as a petition by the civil rights group ColorOfChange.org that also drew around 40,000 supporters.
Winter said programmers should learn from the experience.
"Not only should this serve as a shot across the bow for Oxygen; indeed it should serve as clear notice for every cable and broadcast programmer in the country that the children of America deserve better. Americans are becoming more united against content that only serves to undermine our children and our society," Winter said. "The entertainment industry simply must do better."
Winter thanked PTC members and leaders who worked to end the show.
"We applaud the unrelenting and laser-focused efforts of a coalition of activists whose determined efforts resulted in the death knell of this program even before it aired," Winter said.
The PTC, a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment, has 1.3 million members and 56 chapters nationwide.
STANFORD ADDS ATHEIST TO OFFICE OF RELIGIOUS LIFE -- Although it may sound like a contradiction in terms, Stanford University has appointed an atheist "chaplain" to serve its non-believing students.
Stanford's independent Humanist Community technically employs John Figdor, but he is an officially recognized chaplain under Stanford's office of religious life.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Harvard Divinity School graduate Figdor explains his work by saying that "atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students -- deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. -- and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to."
Scotty McLennan, the dean for religious life at Stanford, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the author of books including "Jesus Was a Liberal," eagerly welcomed Figdor as a campus chaplain, saying the hire made sense because Stanford itself had been founded on inclusive principles.
The Stanford family, who founded the university in 1885 in California, did explicitly prohibit the school from aligning with any particular denomination.
But Stanford's founding grant also called for the university to teach students the doctrines of "the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all-wise and benevolent Creator, and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man."
And the family established the campus' Memorial Church for nonsectarian worship and so that "all those who love Our Lord Jesus Christ may partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper."
Figdor originally entered Harvard Divinity School with the aim of becoming a religion journalist, but along the way he met Harvard's own humanist chaplain and became his assistant. Stanford's Humanist Community hired Figdor in July.
He recently led students through a program he calls "The Heathen's Guide to the Holidays" in which he suggested alternatives to celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah. Among the options was singing John Lennon's "Imagine" and observing "Festivus," the holiday "for the rest of us" made famous in an episode of TV's "Seinfeld."
Compiled from reports by Aaron Earls, a writer in Wake Forest, N.C.; Edward Lee Pitts and Thomas Kidd of World News Service; and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).