converts

Cutting shrinking pies: The Baltimore Sun bravely looks into liberal pews seeking signs of life

Cutting shrinking pies: The Baltimore Sun bravely looks into liberal pews seeking signs of life

How long have journalists been writing stories about the decline of America's liberal mainline churches, both in terms of people in the pews and cultural clout?

I've been studying religion-news coverage since the late 1970s and I cannot remember a time when this was not "a story." For many experts, the key moment was the 1972 release of the book "Why Conservative Churches Are Growing" by Dean M. Kelley of the National Council of Churches.

You could argue, as I have many times on this blog, that the decline of the oldline left is a story that deserved even more press coverage than it has received. Why? Because the decline of the old mainline world helped create a hole in American public life that made room for the rise of the Religious Right.

Now we have reached the point, as "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I discussed in last week's podcast, where the story has become much more complex. While the demographic death dive has continued for liberal religious institutions (as opposed to spiritual-but-not-religious life online and elsewhere), we are now seeking slow decline in parts of conservative religious groups, as well.

What's going on? To be blunt, religious groups are growing or holding their own when they inspire believers to (a) have multiple children, (b) make converts and (c) live out demanding forms of faith that last into future generations. Yes, doctrine matters. So does basic math.

With this in mind, consider the brave attempt that The Baltimore Sun made the other day to describe what is happening in churches in that true-blue progressive city. Here is the overture and, as you read it, get ready for an interesting and, apparently, unintentional twist in the plot:

For a decade and more, Govans Presbyterian Church and Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church have labored in the manner of many mainline Protestant congregations: Working ever harder to provide spiritual resources for dwindling number of congregants.

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You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

Frankly, it's one of the biggest religion-news stories in America these days.

You are going to be reading these news stories over and over in newspapers from New York City to Los Angeles and every major urban area in between. Thousands of people are involved, along with millions and millions of dollars.

We are talking about prime urban real estate -- specifically the sale of land (and sometimes the reuse of facilities) belonging to dying churches, synagogues and other religious institutions.

News organizations have to cover these stories, of course. It's an old doctrine of news, as well as real estate: Location, location, location. The question is whether editors and reporters will be interested in the totally valid religion-news angles in these stories, as well as the financial ones.

Yes, it's valid to focus these stories on newsy questions like: What happens next, in terms of the people and the properties? Who gets the money? What happens to the art, pipe organs, pews, altars, burial chambers and other items inside these sacred spaces?

However, journalists may also want to ask these kinds of questions: Why are some urban churches -- take New York City, for example -- closing while others are not? Why are there thriving churches in urban areas, while others are dying? Why do some have lots of members, converts and new children, while others do not? Might there be religious factors at play here, as well as relevant "secular" factors? Might demographics and doctrine be linked?

OK, I'll ask another question that some readers may be thinking: Do your GetReligionistas plan to keep noting these faith-shaped holes in all these real-estate stories, over and over and over? Good question: I think the answer is still "yes."

The New York Times recently covered religious real-estate issues in a pair of unrelated stories that ran August 6-7. Here is the overture to the first one, that ran with the headline, "Struggling to Survive, Congregations Look to Sell Houses of Worship."

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New York Times explores Big Apple Sufism; it is real Islam, you see, only with big changes

New York Times explores Big Apple Sufism; it is real Islam, you see, only with big changes

There is much to compliment in the New York Times feature about one of the more mysterious and complex streams of Islam, a story that ran under the headline, "Sufi Sect of Islam Draws ‘Spiritual Vagabonds’ in New York."

The story clearly states, as fact, that many Muslims reject Sufism and its willingness -- in some settings, at least -- to edit or mold Islam into forms that appeal to spiritual seekers in the early 21st Century, even in some of the edgier corners of New York City.

The the big idea of this piece is perfectly obvious, as stated in this summary statement well into this long story:

... For all its liberal trappings, Sufism cannot be detached from Islam. “Sufism isn’t just a label you wear; it’s a state of being,” said John Andrew Morrow, an Islam scholar and author. “You can’t pick and choose parts of Islam, and you can’t mislead sincere people, drawing them into Sufism without telling them this is fundamentally linked to Islam.”

That's the big question: Can you pick and choose?

The story does not hide the fact that people are, in fact, picking and choosing. There are clear elements of Islamic doctrine that have gone missing, as the Sufi converts in New York City have embraced this faith.

Again, the story does not hide this. In fact, it celebrates it.

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Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

It’s not the first article out there about Muslim immigrants to German converting to Christianity but it’s almost certainly the most recent. But the Daily Beast, in reporting on the trend, predictably managed to link this trend to the U.S. presidential elections.

Which was unfortunate, in that the story of thousands of Muslims jettisoning their faith to become Christian is a continuing saga and a decent story in its own right.

Lots of outlets, ranging from the Daily Mail and the Times of Israel to Catholic World Report and NPR (click here for previous GetReligion posts) have reported on Muslims converting by the thousands, especially those from countries like Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan where conversions from Islam into another religion means an automatic death sentence. This is the first time these folks have been able to choose their own religion or no religion.

We’re talking statistics like 600 Persian converts descending on one church in Hamburg. So, the Daily Beast has waded in with the inevitable political angle:

AMSTERDAM -- Hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lining up at a local swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany, to be baptized as Christians. In the Netherlands and Denmark, as well, many are converting from Islam to Christianity, and the trend appears to be growing. Indeed, converts are filling up some European churches largely forsaken by their old Christian flocks.
All of which raises a question, not least, for the United States: If American presidential candidate Donald Trump gets elected and bars Muslims from entering the country, as he says he will, would the ban apply to Christians who used to be Muslims? How would one judge the quality of their faith?

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Did Aaron Alexis fall into a hole in 'American' Buddhism?

It’s a sad comment on our age that, in the first tense hours after the Navy Yard shootings (just over a mile down 8th Street from my office), discussions about cause and motive kept circling back to questions about religion. Everyone was waiting for the shoe to drop, especially during the hours when mainstream media outlets were reporting that there might have been three gunmen.

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