This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week, it seems Rick Warren ended 2009 in much worse shape than he started it.

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren appealed to parishioners at his California megachurch Wednesday to help fill a $900,000 deficit by the first of the year.

Warren made the appeal in a letter posted on the Saddleback Church Web site. It begins “Dear Saddleback Family, THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER.”

Specifically, Warren said “the bottom dropped out” of the church’s budget when Christmas donations dropped. “On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive — leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year,” Warren’s letter read.

Whether Warren can expect to come anywhere close to filling that gap is unclear, but the financial struggles suggest the pastor’s California megachurch has been hurt badly by the recession, and is no longer the powerhouse it has been in recent years.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Colorado Springs Independent reported this week that Focus on the Family, one of the nation’s largest and most influential religious right outfits, is considering a plan to run a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl in opposition to abortion rights, at a cost of about $4 million. Citing an unnamed source, Focus chief Jim Daly has raised about $3 million to run the ad, and has dipped into the group’s general fund for the other $1 million. In light of the group’s recent financial difficulties — it’s laid off large chunks of its staff every year since 2005 — expect the ad to be controversial in more ways than one if the reports are accurate.

* The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report this week on state-by-state religiosity, based on four measures: the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God. Mississippi ranked first in every category and was easily the nation’s most religious state. It was followed by its Southern neighbors: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. On the other end of the spectrum, the least religious states are Vermont, New Hampshire, Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. (thanks to reader V.S. for the tip)

* And finally, the New York Times is scrapping its “Beliefs” column today, after a 20-year run. That’s a shame; I read it (ahem) religiously every Saturday.