On/File: A Continuing Record of People, Groups, Movements, and Events Impacting Contemporary Religion

1) The After Party is seeking to become a leading publishing program to counteract the influence of Donald Trump and political polarization among evangelicals. Led by Duke Divinity consulting professor Curtis Chang, head of the program’s founding organization Redeeming Babel, and developed with two prominent “never-Trump” evangelicals, the New York Times columnist David French and Christianity Today editor-in-chief Russell Moore, the program offers pastors and small groups a curriculum “reframing Christian political identity from today’s divisive partisan options.” The curriculum initially found little interest among evangelical donors in funding an explicitly political Bible study. The three founders turned to secular and often progressive foundations, such as the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. While Chang has said their program doesn’t stress parties or policies, the Rockefeller announcement said it would launch the program in the “battleground” of Ohio, though none of The After Party founders call that state home. Other funders include the One America Movement, an ecumenical group whose board includes LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter advocates, as well as other groups seeking to promote the “leadership of rural LGBTQ+ people,” and fight for climate justice. Such foundations as Ford, Rockefeller and Tides have in the past contributed to efforts to mobilize evangelical support for amnesty legislation and liberalization on immigration. Chang and associates say they are mainly interested in counteracting politicization among evangelicals. But critics charge that by receiving such support, the program is in danger of being used in the culture wars and by the political left. (Source: First Things, January 22; The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory by Tim Alberta)

2) Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Congo is leading the pack of the “papabili,” those who are considered leading candidates for the next papacy. Ambongo led the African bishops in crafting a January 11 statement critical of the letter of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith approving of giving blessings to same-sex couples, Fiducia Supplicans. After soliciting the responses of African bishops’ conferences to Fiducia he flew to Rome to share them with Francis. The pope then asked Ambongo to work with Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez of the Dicastery of the Faith, giving the impression that the pope sympathized with some of the reservations of the African bishops about his own statement. Thus he has the respect of conservatives but also papal loyalists for the “dialogical way” he has handled himself. Ambongo has been viewed as a “troubleshooter and statesmen in national politics, the continental leader of a body of bishops, and papal adviser with insider’s knowledge of Vatican reform efforts.” (Source: Crux, January 31)