Richard Flory

Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

When you live in a near-rainforest climate as I do, the chance to spend a few January days in the sunshine is irresistible. That (plus the fact I got some scholarship money) is why I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles for a few days to attend “Reimagining Religion 2018: New Stories, New Communities,” a conference co-sponsored by the Religion News Association and the Religion Communicators Council.

I was one of 225 people (a mix of students, journalists, ministers, writers, activists and educators) who spent a day in the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism building. We listened to a parade of folks tell us how or why so many religious groups are reinventing themselves or “reimagining” their faith in different ways. There was quite a bit devoted to how the “nones” -- people who are spiritual but practice no organized religion -- see the divine.

One problem covering the latter, said Jason DeRose, the West Coast bureau chief for NPR News, is that reporters don’t know how to ask questions to “nones” and the “nones” have not figured out how to articulate the answers.

Also: Are the “nones” a movement or lack of a movement? And is a lack of doctrine actually a kind of doctrine?

So there was a lot of thinking through of the what-will-the-future-of-faith-look-like question at this conference. Which made for some really intriguing panels plus some discussion on the present state of the religion beat. 

I arrived at the meeting 15 minutes late, thanks to the really nasty LA traffic on Interstate-5. (Must say, if you’re not a person who prays before coming to LA, you will become one.

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Is this the 'fastest-growing Christian group in America,' and perhaps the world?

Is this the 'fastest-growing Christian group in America,' and perhaps the world?

Back in August, a memo by The Religion Guy outpointed the value of the “Ethics + Religion” section at theconversation.com, where scholars reconfigure their  research in terms lay readers can grasp.

A good example is an October 11 item about what two professors claim “is the fastest-growing Christian group in America and possibly around the world.” The authors are Biola University sociologist Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, senior research director at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Their label for this is the “Independent Network Charismatic” or “INC” movement, described in detail in their recent book “The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape” (Oxford University Press).

Props to colleague Bob Smietana for grabbing the importance of this for an August 3 interview with the two authors at christianitytoday.com, which interested writers will want to peruse.

INC is a particular subset of the independent, non-denominational congregations that are the growing edge of U.S. Protestantism. The authors calculate that over four decades ending in 2010, regularly attending Protestants of all types declined by an average .05 percent per year, which is “striking” since the U.S. population was growing by 1 percent per year.

Meanwhile, adherents of “independent, neo-charismatic congregations,” the category that includes INC groups among many others, grew an average 3.24 percent per year. So INC is a distinct sub-category within an already thriving segment of U.S. Protestantism that shuns traditional forms and provides a particularly intense form of Pentecostal-flavored experience.

The movement has expanded for the most part under the radar. Have you seen many news stories about such influential INC personalities as Che Ahn, Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson, Cindy Jacobs or Chuck Pierce, or about Bethel Church, Harvest International Ministries (HIM), or International House of Prayer (IHOP)?

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Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

You know how it is. A newswriter comes across a really interesting item and sets it aside for a serious second look.

Then the pile of other goodies continues to grow and said item disappears amid the clutter on your desk. Weeks or months go by, you force yourself to clean up, and there it is. At this particular weblog, the GetReligionistas like to talk about finding things in their "Guilt Files." Well, we all have them.

In just such a cleanup, The Religion Guy unearthed three set-aside articles about U.S. culture with solid story potential for fellow writers on the beat:

One more time, “Nones” explained: Writing last January 23 for the scholarly theconversation.com, Richard Flory of the University of Southern California culled current research for the five chief factors behind the recent rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans (“Nones”):

(1) With widening access to knowledge, “everyone and no one is an authority,” which “reduces the need for traditional authorities” of all types, including religious ones.

(2) Fewer Americans think important social institutions have “a positive impact in society,” again, religious ones included.

(3) U.S. religion developed a “bad brand” from things like sex scandals or “political right” linkage that turns off moderates and liberals.

(4) Increased “competition for people’s attention” from work, family, social media, whatever, making religious involvement “yet another social obligation” that clogs schedules.

(5) More young adults were raised to “make up their own mind about religion” and end up without any.  

Flory doubts the increase in “nones” will have much impact on U.S. politics, since they register and vote less often than others. But he sees serious problems ahead in finding enough volunteers “to provide important services to those in need.” Long term, how will non-religious Americans create the necessary “infrastructure” and  “communities of caring”?

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Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

How many barrels of printer’s ink (it's a metaphor these days) have been expended on the rise of the “nones,” Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious identification?

The following material may not be worth a story in itself, but provides perspective as reporters continue to interpret this important phenomenon. What are the patterns that suggest where this story came from and, thus, where it might be going next?

Pew Research surveys show “nones” have increased from 16 percent of American adults in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, and are fully a third of young adults. (Young adults have always drifted away from religion, so the significant point is indications they’re not returning as they mature.)

Writing in the conversation.com, University of Southern California sociologist Richard Flory advises us that, first, “nones” are a mishmash of very different types and, second, most aren’t really anti-religion and often reflect certain religious traits. Those who call themselves flat-out atheists who reject gods and the supernatural, or devout agnostics, are very small segments.

From ongoing research by USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Flory sees such variants as the familiar “spiritual but not religious,” marginally interested non-attenders, occasional attenders, those generally open to the supernatural but uninvolved, and those vaguely spiritual but not devoted to any specific content.

We get much the same from Philip Jenkins of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in a patheos.com blog written by historians.

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