rise of the nones

Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

After taking off last week for Labor Day, we're back with another edition of the Monday Mix.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, we focus in this space on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "We will be a better city once we know the truth and once we come together and heal." The Dallas Morning News is providing in-depth coverage of the police-involved killing of Botham Jean, 26, a black man shot by a white officer who entered his apartment after mistaking it for her own.

That coverage includes the strong religion angle, as Jean was a beloved church song leader and Bible class teacher.

I ran into Morning News journalists both Saturday and Sunday at the Dallas West Church of Christ as I reported the story for The Christian Chronicle. In fact, the Dallas paper's photographer — in his first week on the job — confused me for his own reporter. We both enjoyed a chuckle over that while covering this terrible tragedy.

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Happily God-less clergy say this time, it really is their year; Washington Post uncritically says, 'Amen'

Happily God-less clergy say this time, it really is their year; Washington Post uncritically says, 'Amen'

Back in the dim recesses of history, I wrote for several information technology publications.

A running joke in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was that this year, whichever year that was, would be the "Year of the LAN," or local-area network, that had long been prophesied. My colleagues and I would smirk a bit whenever some conference speaker declared this, and go back to our reporting.

The "Year of the LAN" did eventually arrive. Anyone who has a home network, wired or wireless, could be said to have ushered it in. But it came gradually, without the fanfare many in the industry sought to attach to this trend.

I had similar emotions when looking over a story in The Washington Post proclaiming the advent of a growing coterie of humanist clergy. Though posited as an oxymoron, the article noted that humanists -- who say there is no God and declare they can live ethical lives without a deity or scriptures to guide them -- need leaders, too. From the article:

These clergy without a God say that their movement is poised to grow dramatically right now, as American young adults report a lack of religious belief in higher numbers than ever before, but also yearn for communal ties and a sense of mission in a tumultuous time.
“Even more since the election, we have folks say, ‘I’m really looking for a way either to feel hope or to do justice,'” [conference organizer Amanda] Poppei said. The Sunday after the presidential election, dozens of distressed liberal Washingtonians showed up at her service, and many have gotten involved in the congregation. Now, Poppei sees an opportunity for not just her community but humanists nationwide. “To me it’s just about, how can we maximize what we’re doing to allow us to take advantage of the moment right now? I believe really strongly that being a person in a community makes you a better person. America needs it.”
Fueled especially by the millennial generation, the portion of Americans who say they don’t ascribe to any particular religion has increased dramatically, from 5 percent in 1972 to 25 percent today. A small portion of those 25 percent identify as atheist or agnostic. The rest tend to describe themselves using terms like “spiritual but not religious” or just “nothing in particular.”

The Post item is resonating in other quarters, it appears. Maine's Portland Press-Herald picked it up, and perhaps other papers have or will do so. It has the "man-bites-dog" quality of many click-worthy news articles.

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Whoa, prepare to be surprised by this media treatment of home schooling and religion — with a twist

Whoa, prepare to be surprised by this media treatment of home schooling and religion — with a twist

Here at GetReligion, we love tips and feedback from readers.

So when Kevin McClain tweeted us a link, we checked it out.

Now, that sound you heard when I read the headline — "Homeschooling Without God" — was fear, trembling and gnashing of teeth. Before I clicked the link, I called my friend Linus of "Peanuts" fame and asked to borrow his blue security blanket.

Seriously, I braced myself for the kind of snarky putdowns of faith-driven home-schoolers that I've seen in some past narratives. In case you missed them, see my January 2014 post "Wait, not all home schooling is stupid and harmful!?" and my August 2013 post "WPost: Virginia law highlights stupidity of home schooling."

But against my better judgment, I went ahead and opened The Atlantic story. Then I saw the byline. That next sound you heard was me whooping and pumping my fist. Suddenly, I was in a much better mood. 

When I saw the name of the writer — Jaweed Kaleem — I knew I was in for an insightful, respectful treatment of the subject matter. 

In case you're not familiar with Kaleem, he is the vice president of the Religion Newswriters Association and spent the last several years as an award-winning national religion writer for the Huffington Post. In 2014, I did a 5Q+1 interview with him on reporting inside Pakistan.

Kaleem recently announced that he's joining the Los Angeles Times as its national race and justice correspondent — but he plans to keep tackling religion issues, too:

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Where 'rise of the nones' meets liberal appeal of 'feeling the Bern': a smart take on Sanders

Where 'rise of the nones' meets liberal appeal of 'feeling the Bern': a smart take on Sanders

1. Are you a millenial?

2. Do you steer clear of organized religion?

3. Are you feeling the Bern?

Folks who answer "yes" to all three questions help explain Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' surprising level of support.

That's the smart take of a recent Christian Science Monitor think piece exploring what the international news organization characterizes as "The unseen side of Bernie Sanders's young voter revolution."

The lede of the piece, published before Sanders' upset win over Hillary Clinton in Michigan this week, seems a bit outdated.

But the overall thesis merits consideration:

NEW YORK — By the measure of the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign appears to be on the wane.
But from the vantage point of Fayna Pearlman’s Brooklyn apartment, it is only the first glimmer of a change that could one day reshape American politics.
Last year, the Hunter College student helped found what she calls LUC, or“little urban community.” It is a group of diverse but like-minded Millennials who rent out all four floors of a pre-war apartment in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, sharing a common vision to transform American society, both socially and spiritually.
Recommended: How well do you know Bernie Sanders? Take our quiz.
With a sensibility that vibrates in a way that seems neither traditionally religious nor secular, Ms. Pearlman says that “we’re all starting to feel more and more connected to the fact that ‘we’re all in this together,’ ” she says.
She could be quoting the self-described democratic socialist senator, a Brooklyn-born Jew.
Sanders’s appeal to young liberals through his views on inequality, health care, and college tuition are well known. But less examined is his connection to young Americans’ faith.

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5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

Melissa Binder is rocking the Godbeat in one of the unlikeliest of places -- Portland, Ore.

"Who else is going to tell you what religion in the rest of the United States might look like in 50 years?" The Oregonian writer responds when asked about covering faith and values in America's least-religious city.

Binder's journalism talents earned her prestigious national awards even before her graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Besides gaining photography, writing and digital news experience on campus, she interned for major news organizations such as the CNN Wire, the Charlotte Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After graduation, she joined The Oregonian as a neighborhood news reporter covering parts of Portland before transitioning to the newspaper's newly revived religion beat less than a year ago. 

In introducing herself to Portland readers, she cited her own faith:

I'm interested in this beat for reasons beyond intellectual curiosity. Belief is central to individual identity for many of you. As a person of faith, I get that. I grew up in a North Carolina church (quite literally — I attended a Christian elementary and middle school in the same building where my family attended regular services). You can find me with my husband in the front row at Imago Dei Community in Southeast Portland almost every Sunday morning.

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Hey, enjoy some pretend journalism on 'a fake church in a real church'

Hey, enjoy some pretend journalism on 'a fake church in a real church'

The lede read likes something straight out of a farcical newspaper:

As the chandeliers dim against the vaulted ceiling of the Chapel in the Mission, women wearing Baptist-size hats fan themselves while men balance heaping plates of eggs and biscuits on their chino-clad knees. A soloist emerges from the be-robed gospel choir and sings:
“When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer.”
The Madonna hit rings through the former funeral parlor and current performance venue: “Just like a prayer; you know I’ll take you there.” The choir and crowd join in.
The “there” is Sunday’s Finest, host, organizer and reverend-for-the-day Mustafa Khan’s “nonreligious” church service. Khan, who previously worked for Facebook in operations and marketing, has developed a loyal following among the new Mission scenesters with his events, including April’s Silicon Valley Fashion Week, San Francisco’s Daybreaker dawn dance parties, and the recently launched Midnight Brunch. For $30 to $40, guests at Sunday’s Finest get a comfort-food buffet, seats to the show/church service and a sense of small-town closeness in the big city.
“Brothers and sisters,” Khan, decked out in a black-and-gold brocade faux vestment with shimmering lamé pants, greets the guests, “Welcome to Sunday’s Finest. We’re a fake church in a real church.”

But the source of this story is not The Onion.

Rather, it's a piece from the San Francisco Chronicle.

As a Christian, I take my faith seriously and try to be respectful of other people's sincere beliefs — even if I don't share their beliefs.

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Who wants a boring religious funeral when you can be remembered with a cocktail and a band?

Who wants a boring religious funeral when you can be remembered with a cocktail and a band?

Here at GetReligion, we've been talking about putting the "fun" in funeral since at least 2011.

So of course we were interested in a front-page story in Tuesday's Orlando Sentinel on how unique services are livening loved ones' tributes to the dead.

Let's start this funeral party at the top:

Before he died, a longtime Central Floridian asked to be remembered simply: with a cocktail party and a jazz band. That's exactly what he got.
To honor the dead, many now opt to have vibrant and distinct memorial services, whether it involves a film festival's stage or bringing a plow into a funeral home.
Jim Semesco, president of the Florida Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association and area general manager of a Leesburg funeral home, said he has seen the change in services.
"Baby boomers, millennials, Gen Xers are not as traditional as their parents and grandparents," Semesco said. "I think for quite some time they weren't getting a lot out of funerals."
In his Leesburg funeral home, Semesco has seen many examples. To honor a farmer, loved ones surrounded themselves with fresh vegetables in the chapel, alongside a plow. To pay homage to a painter, 50 pieces of her artwork were displayed. To acknowledge a "Star Trek" fan, memorabilia was brought in for a themed service.
"You use it as a time to really get to know the person," Semesco said.

But why are many opting to go this direction when it comes time to remember a loved one? Is there — just possibly — a religion angle in this trend? Or, given the rise of the nones, an "absence of religion" angle?

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Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you’ve heard of this week’s biggest religion story:  "America’s Changing Religious Landscape," the Pew Research Center’s once-every-seven-years report. Click here for the full survey in .pdf form. And here is our own tmatt's first post on the topic.

Most mainstream reporters took their cue from the report’s headline: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow. They seemed unaware there’s been a ton of books out in the past seven years about increasing numbers of disaffected Christians -- especially the young -- who are leaving church. More on that old-news angle later.

To sum it up, the "nones" (2012 study found here) are still growing, other religions are up a bit or holding their own and mainline Protestants and Catholics are declining very, very fast. Evangelical Protestants, now the dominant stream of the nation's Protestants at 55 percent, went down by less than 1 percent, hardly a “sharp” decline. But it took some scribes awhile to arrive at that important distinction.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times looked at the survey through a political lense:

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How many atheists does it take to form a 'megachurch?'

In pitching a trend story for a national audience, a headline-friendly catchphrase goes a long way.

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