LGBTQ

Are standard theories about the decline of religion in United States crumbling? 

Are standard theories about the decline of religion in United States crumbling? 

The Religion News Service column “Flunking Sainthood,” as the title indicates, expresses the outlook of liberal Latter-day Saints. But author Jana Riess, who comes armed with a Columbia University doctorate in U.S. religious history, is also interesting when writing about broader matters.

Her latest opus contends that two standard theories about big trends in American religion are too simple and therefore misleading. Her focus is the rise of religiously unaffiliated “nones” to constitute 39 percent of “millennials” from ages 18 to 29. The Religion Guy more or less agrees with her points but adds certain elements to the argument.

So, theory No. 1: Though Riess doesn’t note this, this concept was pretty much the creation of the inimitable Dean M. Kelley (1927–1997) in “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.” This 1972 book was electrifying because Kelley was a “mainline” United Methodist and prominent executive with the certifiably liberal National Council of Churches. (His expertise on religious liberty gave the NCC of that era a major role on such issues.) 

Under this “strict churches” theory, religious bodies that expect strong commitments on doctrine and lifestyle from their adherents will prosper because this shows they take their faith seriously, and  they carefully tend to individual members’ spiritual needs. By contrast, losses characterize more latitudinarian (Don’t you love that word?) denominations such as those that dominated in the NCC.

Kelley’s scenario proved keenly prescient, since white “mainline” and liberal Protestant groups were then just beginning decades of unprecedented and inexorable declines in active membership and over-all vitality. The Episcopal Church, for one example, reported 3,217,365 members in 1971 compared with 1,951,907 as of 2010. So much for left-wing Bishop Jack Spong’s 1999 book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Statistics have been even more devastating with groups like the United Church of Christ and the Church of Christ (Disciples).

Now comes Riess to announce that scenario is “crumbling” because some strict conservative groups like the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have also begun declining in recent years while others, e.g. her own Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormon Church, still grow but at more sluggish rates.

That’s accurate, important, and yes it tells us factors other than strictness are at play.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Seattle Weekly looks at Namasgay: An attempt to corral some form of LGBTQ spirituality

Seattle Weekly looks at Namasgay: An attempt to corral some form of LGBTQ spirituality

In a blog devoted to religion news coverage, every so often I like to delve into reporting about what is happening among people who are at the edges of faith. This is the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd that longs for some transcendence in life.

I found such a story in the Seattle Weekly, an alternative publication that has a fair amount of coverage of the local gay community.

In its March 14 issue, we hear about an unsuspecting gay newcomer to the Queen City (Seattle’s nickname from 1869-1982) who goes to what he thinks is a Saturday-morning brunch, only to find only alcohol being served as a precursor to an orgy.

The newcomer, business coach Frank Macri (who is the guy dressed in pink in the front of the above photo), realizes that his companions were searching for something, albeit not in the wisest fashion.

He declined (the invite to the orgy) and returned home to ponder the opportunities for people like him in the LGBTQ community to connect. “I noticed that a lot of people feel like they need to have drugs in order to open up to someone and be vulnerable, or they need to have sex in order to feel connected to someone,” Macri said. “And I thought, what if there is a community out there of others who are mindful, compassionate, and wanting to have deeper connections with themselves and other people.”
So shortly thereafter, Macri founded Namasgay, a group for spiritually-minded LGBTQ people who are tired of only connecting with others in clubs or on dating apps. Since its creation last October, the Seattle-based group has expanded to include thousands of members in Oakland, New York, and Chicago. Members meet through a couple of events each month, including meditations, dinners, single mixers, hikes, and yoga sessions.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

I know we’ve been running a lot about bakers of wedding cakes, gay customers and court cases, but I wanted to draw your attention to a related case I've written about that’s been dragging through Oregon’s legal system for the past few years.

It’s the “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” case that began when a chance comment from a baker infuriated two lesbians to where they filed a lawsuit alleging all sorts of emotional harm. Oregon’s labor commissioner, who’s never hid his LGBTQ-friendly sentiments, slammed the bakers with a $135,000 fine that the defendants are still fighting to this day.

It’s become a running sore of a case to both sides of the argument. After the Oregonian ran the latest news on an appeals court verdict, there were 4,413 comments attached to it by the time I saw the piece several days later. Obviously there’s lots of strong feelings about this case on both sides.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by Oregon's labor commissioner that forced two Gresham bakers to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for whom the bakers refused to make a wedding cake.
Melissa and Aaron Klein made national headlines in 2013 when they refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian beliefs. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.
An administrative law judge ruled that the Kleins' bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, violated a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places that serve the public. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, affirmed heavy damages against the Kleins for the Bowman-Cryer's emotional and mental distress.

The Oregonian knew all about the latter, as it had run a nearly 4,300-word piece in August 2016 about the two women with the headline: “The hate keeps coming: The pain lingers for lesbian couple denied in Sweet Cakes case.” It went into great detail. 

But why wasn’t there similar treatment accorded the Kleins? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

The Church of England and its leader, the Rt. Hon. and Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I've observed close up, command a sizeable presence in the global Christian world. Welby is front and center in a new controversy, guidelines for Church of England schools on how to treat transgender children.

But if one recent news story is to be taken at face value, no one in the Church of England could be found to go on record as disagreeing with some of these new pronouncements.

The journalism question is: How far did the newspaper in question go -- or, perhaps, NOT go -- to find an opposing voice.

Atop a large photo of Welby, we see how The Independent headlined the story: "Church of England tells schools to let children 'explore gender identity.'" Let's dive in:

Children should be able to try out “the many cloaks of identity” without being labelled or bullied, the Church of England has said in new advice issued to its 5,000 schools.
The Church said youngsters should be free to “explore the possibilities of who they might be” -- including gender identity -- and says that Christian teaching should not be used to make children feel ashamed of who they are. ...
Guidance for Church of England schools on homophobic bullying was first published three years ago, and has now being updated to cover "transphobic and biphobic bullying" – which means bullying people who consider themselves to be either transgender or gender fluid.

However, as we'll see in a moment, there are Christians in England, and, presumably, elsewhere, who might disagree with Welby's endorsement, as reported. He condemned bullying, but then went further:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post skips key questions in covering doctor's transgender surgery dissent

Washington Post skips key questions in covering doctor's transgender surgery dissent

Pullman, Washington, doesn't get much attention: Trivia buffs might know the city was named for railroad industrialist George Pullman, in the hope that he'd run a rail line through the city. (It went to Spokane instead.) Those deep in the weeds of President Donald Trump's cabinet might know that Secretary of Defense James Mattis was born in Pullman. Apart from those who know that Washington State University is there, Pullman is pretty much under the radar.

Comes now The Washington Post to help change that. Pullman, you see, has jumped into the vanguard of sex-change surgery, technically known as "Vaginoplasty," in which a male's genitals (and nerve endings thereof) are rearranged into a, well, you know.

I'll cut to the journalistic chase: The Washington Post has effectively decided who's right and who's wrong in this story. We can tell from the headline: "A small-town doctor wanted to perform surgeries for transgender women. He faced an uphill battle." Read the opening paragraphs, and the "angle" should be clear:

The surgeon had spent several years preparing -- reading medical journals, finding someone to train him, practicing on cadavers -- until only one hurdle remained: getting permission for the medical procedure he wanted to bring to this small community on the Washington-Idaho border.
“Vaginoplasties,” Geoff Stiller remembered telling the CEO of Pullman Regional Hospital, referring to the surgical construction of vaginas for transgender women. “I want to do them at your hospital.”
Nine months later, Stiller looks back on that conversation as a final moment when his request still seemed like an easy one. Nobody yet had cited Bible verses or argued that culture was blurring the line between men and women. Another doctor at Pullman hadn’t yet sent an email to eight co-workers, who forwarded it around the hospital, with the subject line “Opposition to Transgender Surgery at PRH.” The hospital hadn’t yet received hundreds of letters from the community. Stiller hadn’t yet lost 20 pounds from the stress, nor had he yet anticipated that his request might turn for him into something more -- a fight not just over a surgery, but over what he’d later call a “moral issue.”

This is a long article, even by Post standards.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

"Advance Australia Fair," the national anthem of our friends Down Under, refers to the goodness of the land (click here for video).

But since the larger meaning of "fair" means, well, fair, perhaps it's time to question whether or not Australia, should it advance towards state recognition of same-sex marriage, will remain a "fair" land where all opinions are tolerated. If you look at some of the news coverage of a recent story, this question has implications for journalism ethics.

In mid-September, a church in the suburbs of Brisbane drew rhetorical fire -- and threats of literal burning -- over a message board reading "God Designed Marriage Between A Man and A Woman."

Britain's DailyMail.com picks up the story from there:

An evangelical Christian church has been threatened with a petrol fire for displaying a billboard message which said God created marriage between a man and a woman.
The Bellbowrie Community Church in Brisbane's leafy western suburbs put up a billboard in early September outlining Biblical teachings on matrimony. ...Senior pastor John Gill said the church, which has 150 parishioners, received a vile Facebook threat over that billboard.
'On Facebook, a lot of the stuff has been quite vicious at times,' he told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday. 'I mean quite physically threatening. That's been scary for some in the church.
'One of the comments, for example, was a suggestion that people bring petrol down and set the church on fire.'

But it's Australia's Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, that raises some questions in reporting on this. From the headline, "Same sex [sic] marriage supporters critical of Brisbane church billboard," we sense which side the News Corp. outlet is on.

Read this rather lengthy, but important, excerpt to see what I mean. The church's message sign was:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), please think about this scenario in the news.

Let's assume that a symbolic group of Christian leaders, representing a traditional form of the faith, got together and released a concise statement affirming 2,000 years of orthodox Christian teachings on sex, marriage and gender. What kind of press coverage would such a hypothetical statement receive, under "ordinary" news conditions?

Of course, that's a joke right there. What are "ordinary conditions" in the crazed age of Twitter and a reality television presidency?

But let's take this statement at face value. Let's say that these Christian leaders affirmed that:

* " ... God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. ..."

*  "... [A]ll intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin. ... "

* " ... God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin. ... "

* "Marriage can only be between two people whose birth sex is male and female."

You get the idea. This assembly also affirmed that churches should not cooperate with activities that violate these principles, including allowing church properties to be used/rented for events of this kind -- like weddings  

So what kind of press coverage would this statement receive? Would there be an explosion of news reports and online commentary?  Click here to find out.

Maybe the bishops in the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America should have called this 2016 document the "Rives Junction Statement"? Maybe then the mayor of Rives Junction, Mich., would have released a press statement condemning it, which would have told reporters that this was big news? What if it was called the "Byzantine Statement"?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Big question looming over Catholic news: What would it take to pop this pope's media bubble?

Big question looming over Catholic news: What would it take to pop this pope's media bubble?

As a rule, I post "think pieces" -- posts pointing readers toward essays about trends on the religion beat -- on the weekend. I'm going to make an exception because I can't imagine waiting a few more days for readers to see this one.

I mean, we're talking about a John L. Allen, Jr., analysis piece at Crux with this headline: "Can anything burst Pope’s media bubble? Nah, probably not."

Prepare to chat away.

The piece starts off with a complicated drama in the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria, where -- as Allen puts it -- Pope Francis has "thrown down one of the most authoritarian gauntlets we’ve seen any pope fling in a long time."

It's the kind of move, literally threatening the status of every priest of the diocese, that would freak out mainstream reporters if attempted by any other recent pope. But it's not the kind of thing that sticks to Pope Francis, because everyone knows what he is a friendly, populist kind of man who is gentle and kind, etc., etc. As Allen kicks things into gear, he writes:

What all this got me thinking about is the following: Had any other recent pope done such a thing, howls about abuse of power and over-centralization probably would have been deafening, especially from the press, where the rebel priests likely would have become folk heroes. Francis, however, gets more or less a free pass. ...
Yes, some coverage has been more critical of late, especially Francis’s handling of the sexual abuse scandals in the wake of the criminal indictment of one of his top aides, Cardinal George Pell, in Australia. Even then, however, the tone tends to be, “Francis is such a great guy, so why is this area lagging behind?”

The heart of the essay is a bit of speculation about what it would take to pop this amazing papal media bubble.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

It would appear first UK 'same-sex Muslim wedding' featured nice clothes and that's that

It would appear first UK 'same-sex Muslim wedding' featured nice clothes and that's that

If your GetReligionistas have said it once, we have said it a thousand times since we opened our digital doors 13 years ago: There is no one, monolithic Islam.

Thus, there is no one Muslim "Tradition," with a big-T. There is no Muslim Vatican or college of cardinals. There is no conference that speaks with one voice, like the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no Islamic equivalent of the global Anglican Lambeth Conference (which, come to think of it, doesn't speak for all Anglicans these days).

With that in mind, let's ponder this: What makes a "Muslim wedding" a real Muslim wedding?

This question is not easy to answer, since in Islam weddings do not have the same kind of sacramental significance that they have, let's say, in Christianity. But two things appear to be clear and they create a kind of creative tension linked to this subject.

(1) When people talk about Islamic wedding traditions they often discuss fine details -- clothing, rituals, social events, even the amount of religious content -- linked to the culture in which the rite is taking place.

(2) In Islam, weddings have strong legal, as opposed to sacramental, implications. The key is that the rite creates a relationship that is viewed as legally binding in a Muslim community. Thus, it is a Muslim wedding.

With that in mind, consider this Time magazine headline: "This History-Making Couple Just Had One of the U.K.'s First Same-Sex Muslim Weddings." Here is the heart of this short story:

Newlyweds Jahed Choudhury and Sean Rogan are helping make history in the U.K., which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.

Please respect our Commenting Policy