Religion News

Being a bit burned out by the elections and nefarious Bushie plots, I searched for something else to write about and found an interview in Salon of the ever-dreary Amy Sullivan. Amy is once again lecturing us that white evangelicals might vote for Democrats if only Democrats could learn to talk about abortion correctly.

I don’t like the [pro-choice] label. I guess the reason I wrote about abortion the way I did in the book is because I have serious moral concerns about abortion, but I don’t believe that it should be illegal. And that puts me in the vast majority of Americans. But unfortunately, there’s no label for us.

If you don’t believe abortion should be illegal, the standard label for you is “pro-choice.” And wouldn’t it be nice if someone who gets as much attention on the abortion issue as Amy Sullivan actually had a bleeping clue what she was talking about.


Also at Salon, former evangelical John Marks predicts that more white evangelicals will be voting for Democrats in the future, anyway. Marks told interviewer Louis Bayard,

When George W. Bush came along, there were a number of issues — gay marriage, repeal of sodomy laws, the Ten Commandments on the courthouse — all those issues allowed activists to go to pastors and say, “Look, this is coming right into your own backyard. These new laws are going to change your world, and they’re going to lay the groundwork for the America your children will inherit. So either you vote or you let the country go and you lose your place it.”

It was a moment of both political awakening and political naiveté. Because all of a sudden there was a sense of power that the evangelists could have as one bloc. But then they began to look at what they got for their vote, and they began to look more closely at the policies of the president that they had rallied behind.

The war didn’t turn out well, and that had been seen, in some quarters, as an ordained venture. People said, “If we’re really going to look at the Bible and Jesus as a model for our political involvement, what are we talking about? Christ never talks about homosexuality and talks a great deal about poverty. What about that?” Rick Warren, the most influential evangelist in America right now, is talking about AIDS in Africa. That has to do with a whole different part of the teachings of Christ.

We’ll see.


I want to give a shout out to my brother Guide Austin Cline, who covers the agnosticism/atheism beat. He has an article up on “Barack Obama’s Religious Beliefs & Background” that I think, praised be, is accurate and unbiased. Wow.


Yesterday the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey that said nearly half of American adults leave the “faith tradition” they were raised in to either join another religion or drop out of organized religion altogether.

Some of this is old news. The old “mainline” Protestant congregations continue to shrink, while the membership of non-denominational churches and the ranks of the unaffiliated continue to grow.

This is new: The unaffiliated — people who say they are religious but don’t claim allegiance to any particular institution or tradition — are now the fourth largest religious group in America.

Also, from the report:

Groups that have experienced a net loss from changes in affiliation include Baptists (net loss of 3.7 percentage points) and Methodists (2.1 percentage points). However, the group that has experienced the greatest net loss by far is the Catholic Church. Overall, 31.4% of U.S. adults say that they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults identify with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points.

However, the number of Catholics in America remains fairly steady, mostly because of Latino immigration.

Neela Banerjee writes in the New York Times:

Prof. Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, said large numbers of Americans leaving organized religion and large numbers still embracing the fervor of evangelical Christianity pointed to the same desires.

“The trend is towards more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that,” Professor Prothero said, explaining that evangelical churches tailored much of their activities to youths.

“Those losing out are offering impersonal religion,” he said, “and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”

I’m not sure what Prothero says about smaller ministries makes sense, but I agree with what he says about “impersonal” religion. Someow just getting dressed up on Sunday morning and going to church just to hear a sermon and sing a couple of hymns ain’t workin’ for people.

But I think there are other factors. The time crunch experienced by two-income families with children might make “going to church” just one more burdensome thing on an already full plate. The breakup of communities possibly makes church attendance seem less compulsive. After years of televangelism, maybe people just expect church services to pack more of an emotional wallop, or at least be entertaining.

What Pew says about Buddhism is discussed on the other blog.

10 thoughts on “Religion News

  1. I’ve never particularly liked the “pro-choice” label myself. It sounds a bit flip, somehow. But I don’t see a good alternative to it.

    Basically, what we “pro-choice” people are is anti-prohibitionists. It’s the other side that wants to take government action, namely to criminalize a medical procedure. They should be called abortion prohibitionists. The “pro-life” label galls me every time I hear it, since it implies that the rest of us are anti-life.

    Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to come up with a snappy label for people who oppose the criminalization of abortion. There just isn’t a concise way of expressing this concept in our language. Think of those who opposed the prohibition of alcohol. They were invariably labeled as “pro-drink” or “wet” In fact, they were not necessarily in favor of drinking, they were simply opposed to outlawing it.

    When asked my postion, I don’t usually say that I’m pro-choice, but that I’m against outlawing abortion.

  2. I’ll tackle a few of these issues that you raise.

    Prothero is actually dead-on. I have family members in three different mega-churches in three different parts of the country, and the “small-group inside the big-group” facet is exactly what draws them. My sister is a single mother; one of her church’s single mom’s groups (about thirty women of varying ages) is a crucial support group for her. My brother-in-law is in corporate sales; his church has a group of sales people who meet on a regular basis to encourage each other. My brother is really into tech issues; he meets with a group of like-minded geeks, who also bring new ideas for how to use the Web and A/V stuff to the church staff.

    The break-up of communities is a great boon to the mega-church movement, because the church becomes the community. Saddleback, Warren’s church, is in Orange County and there’s a high rate of transfer and movement among the residents. Most residents have long commutes, so their work and family lives are segregated. Churches like Saddleback provide a ready-made, familiar community.

    A lot of two-income families (like my brother-in-law) love their churches because of the highly-programmed, 24/7 youth ministries that provide activities for their daughters while demanding minimal involvement from the parents. When the parents do volunteer, they simply have to follow a schedule rather than plan and be responsible for the whole outing.

    Add in the fact that mega-churches (and evangelicals in general) tend to be located in wealthy or upper-middle-class suburbs, and are large enough to offer some sort of cachet to the business-minded, and you can see most of the draw.

  3. Regarding Amy – I would not be inclined to trust anyone who is FOR abortion. The fact is – terminating a pregnancy is a disaster that is warrented only to prevents a greater tragedy. The decision SHOULD be the result of a lot of soul-searching, and I don’t think I could tell anyone – including my wife – what she must do. So it goes without saying I do not think the government can tell her, either. Thus the label – pro- c h o i c e.

    To look at church affiliation and attendance with a much bigger frame: Back when the fouding fathers created a wall between church & state, it threatend the entire industry of religion. No longer could the state be used to strong-arm the populace. So the clergy had to sell the product on it’s own merits, and the churches who survived – to some degree – had to rely on the appeal of the messge of Jesus. I am not Christian, but I agree, the message of love is a salable comodity. Of late, some of the clergy were seduced by the dark side, setting aside the message, in the quest of political power. This has a short-term attraction, particularly if the spiritual needs of the congregation are neglected. Ergo – a decline of attendance.

  4. A lot of two-income families… love their churches because of the highly-programmed, 24/7 youth ministries that provide activities for their [kids] while demanding minimal involvement from the parents.

    Free babysitting, often with a heaping side order of brainwashing thrown in. For me, that still begs the question of the megachurch congregants’ actual “faith.”

    As for the abortion-labels question, “pro-choice” remains less of a misnomer than “pro-life.”

  5. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to come up with a snappy label for people who oppose the criminalization of abortion.


  6. Amy Sullivan: “Many [pastors] might have been Republicans, but you would never have heard that from the pulpit. . . . Church was all about what was going on with your soul. They focused on saving your soul. That changed probably sometime in the mid-’80s. And tragically, it went along with the rise of the religious right.

    Y’know, I do think she says some good things, but this seems remarkably vacant, though perhaps it got edited somewhere betwixt brain and screen, or just phrased poorly (I’m not one to talk!). The impression is suddenly pastors turned into political partisans, and churches into party rallies, and – just coincidentally, tragically, freakily, the rise of the religious right somehow happened at just the same time – like, weird.

    It must just be poor phrasing, right?

    I have serious moral concerns about abortion, but I don’t believe that it should be illegal.

    Hey, I have serious moral concerns about abortion too, although I’m not sure their the same as Amy’s – that many women don’t get to choose, all along the chain – whether they don’t get the tools to avoid unwanted pregnancies, can’t plan the families they want, can’t get an abortion they need, or because of inequality and injustice feel compelled to get an abortion that they wouldn’t otherwise choose in less harsh circumstances . . . (That’s one reason I’m a liberal). But if you think these decisions must ultimately rest with the sister/friend/ mother/ daughter/ aunt/ niece/ cousin/ lover/ wife / women who they most intimately affect, then “pro-choice” describes this. You don’t have to embrace it,you might decide it’s not useful for one or another reason, but it’s there.

  7. I would like to second this whole theme of the challenges facing two income parents and people commuting. This is what Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone about. The point is that American communities have migrated to their televisions rather than going out and behaving like a community. This problem is at the root for the success of these evangelical mega churches for the past few years.

  8. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to come up with a snappy label for people who oppose the criminalization of abortion.
    -In comments over at Pandagon, gil has “pro-abortion rights” (maybe abortion-rights supporter would be better?) choice vs. rights thingy.

  9. I stopped going to church in my late 20s because it seemed that a woman was not considered a whole person if she wasn’t married. I got tired of being set up with all the single men in the church. Lord knows, I had already learned that just because a man went to church did not make him a man of character. I also believed that despite my singleness, I was a whole and worthy person, and, I grew tired of the church trying to tell me I wasn’t. I don’t believe much has changed regarding that attitude.

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