Baptists

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

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Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

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Note to journalists: When reporting on charismatics, please try to get details right

Note to journalists: When reporting on charismatics, please try to get details right

Pentecostals and charismatics are the world’s fastest-growing form of Christianity. On a trip to India years ago, I was interviewing evangelical Protestant leaders when I asked them which churches were growing the fastest. Without hesitation, they all responded: Pentecostals. And they didn’t even agree theologically with those folks.

On this side of the pond, most denominations – which were initially opposed to charismatics (who are essentially Pentecostals who’ve stayed in mainline denominations), have made their piece with such groups. Not so with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Years ago, pastors who got caught up in the charismatic renewal got kicked out of their churches. More recently, the opposition was more subtle; in 2005 the SBC’s International Mission Board ruled that none of its missionaries could pray in tongues. That is, candidates would be asked when applying to be a missionary if they did so, even in their private prayers. An affirmative answer was an automatic disqualifier. The spiritual gift of tongues, mentioned in some detail in 1 Cor. 12-14, along with several mentions scattered through the book of Acts, is the most controversial of the gifts. But the Apostle Paul specifically said not to forbid it (at the end of 1 Cor. 14), so the Baptists’ decision in 2005 was a contested one, to say the least.

Which is why I did a double take when RNS broke this story announcing that after 10 years of  forbidding the gift of tongues, the IMB had done a 180 and was allowing its missionaries to do so. 

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Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

By now, many GetReligion readers will have already seen some or all of the video at the top of this post, the one in which Toya Graham of Baltimore offered some blunt guidance to her son as he was poised to throw rocks at police during the Baltimore riots.

In online coverage and commentaries, the 42-year-old Graham is often known as the "Hero Mom" and police and civic leaders have praised her for trying to control her child, while noting that they wish there were more parents around who would do the same.

The Baltimore Sun did a very interesting and complex profile of Graham and covered almost all of the bases relevant to this story, including some interesting material about her church ties. Still, by the end, I was left asking a familiar question: What would the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a giant of the Democratic Party in the late 20th Century say about this sad urban scene?

I suspect that, like many readers in commentary boxes on reports about this incident, he would ask a basic question linked to faith, family and culture -- Where is this young man's father? Moynihan, of course, is famous for producing a 1965 report (50th anniversary news feature alert) in which he argued that in the future the key factor in poverty in America would no longer be race, but whether children were raised in intact homes, with a father as well as a mother.

Is that a question with religious and moral overtones? I suspect that many, but perhaps not all, leaders in the black church would say that it is.

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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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Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Way back in the early 1980s, when I was working at The Charlotte News (now gone, alas), I heard the Rev. Billy Graham make a very interesting statement about American religion. It was much easier, he said, to do an evangelistic crusade in a highly secular city like New York or Los Angeles than in a Bible Belt location such as Atlanta or Dallas.

Why? The problem with the Bible Belt, he said, was that most of the people like to think they are Christians, when they are actually nominal Christians who don't take the faith very seriously. It's like they have had an "inoculation of faith" that makes it harder for them to embrace the real thing. People In the big, secular cities were much more honest, he said, about what they believe or don't believe.

No, I don't think he used the word "nones" in that press session. But he could have.

I share this flashback, of course, because the Pew Research Center has released another blast of newsworthy information about one of the most important trends in the past quarter-century of so in American life -- the rising number of people openly identifying as atheists, agnostics or as "unaffiliated," when it comes to claiming a specific religious tradition. This new study -- click here for the full .pdf text -- follows the famous "Nones on the Rise" study in 2012 that generated a tsunami of headlines and coverage.

Once again, the big action in this study is on the doctrinal and cultural left, as well as in the muddy middle of American religious life, the sector I have long called "Oprah America."

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Remembering Jim Jones: Star-Telegram does thoughtful obit on its longtime Godbeat writer

Remembering Jim Jones: Star-Telegram does thoughtful obit on its longtime Godbeat writer

"Absolute integrity."

"He brought no spin."

"Jim always tried to present both sides."

Every reporter would value those kinds of accolades in his obit. But especially, perhaps, in Jim Jones' specialty of religion news, a beat laced with minefields.

Jim served for 22 years on the godbeat at the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, then freelanced in the same specialty until his death last week at 79. Its obit on him is warm, thoughtful and instructive on the career of someone who did it right.

I didn't know Jim well, but I crossed paths with him now and then in my own job as religion editor for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.  He was a tall, lanky, mannerly Texan who would have fit well on the set of a 1950s western movie.

I saw him also as a friendly, moderate man with an extreme eye for detail. When we shared a media tour of Jordan in 2000, he wasn't content with writing that Pope John Paul II arrived with a military jet escort; he asked what kinds of jets they were.

And by the 11 quoted sources in the Star-Telegram obit -- family, sources, colleagues, longtime friends -- many others saw him the same way.

"He was a great, solid reporter and a prince of a guy to be around," says Toby Druin, the retired editor of the Texas-based Baptist Standard. "He brought no spin."

Says Russell Dilday, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention: "I think Jim always tried to keep his partiality out of his reporting. He had convictions. He had his own ideas, but he wanted to report fairly."

The obit runs an amazing 1,700 words -- amazing when many lede articles are shorter than that. And in the many details on Jim's life, it shows that it deserves the length.

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While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

Movers and shakers from the realms of media and politics can’t get enough of those five Sunday morning TV news gabfests from Washington. Meanwhile, millions of churchgoers ignore the weekly action, unless they religiously remember to set their DVRs.

It’s an important season for these influential shows due to the upcoming  presidential campaign, tight competition for ratings, and three big changes in the cast of characters.

On behalf of his fellow geezers, the Religion Guy is tickled that spry Bob Schieffer, 78, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” regularly grabs more viewers than the younger hosts.  This summer he retires to be replaced by John Dickerson  (a former colleague at “Time” magazine). After last year’s tumult over David Gregory, NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press” is gaining ground with replacement Chuck Todd. In the third switch, CNN cable has tapped Jake Tapper as Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” successor come June.

The other two personalities: Chris Wallace, Son Of Mike and a onetime “Meet the Press” anchor, has led “Fox NewsSunday” the past dozen years. It’s much the ratings also-ran on broadcast but nears audience parity due to Fox News cable reruns.  Onetime Friend Of Bill George Stephanopoulos continues on ABC’s “This Week.” (Religion beat veterans know his father Robert as the longtime dean of Greek Orthodoxy’s archdiocesan cathedral in New York, and his mother Nikki as the Greek-American church’s news director.)

Here’s what we got in the entirety of the five shows for May 10, chosen because there was no one commanding news story gobbling up air. That would have allowed for a timely little roundup on religion and the 2016 race.

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Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Having worked as both a copy-desk editor and as a reporter, I am well aware of the fact that the scribes who write news stories rarely get to write the headlines that, for many angry readers, define the heart of what the stories say.

However, experienced reporters do get to write the vast majority of their own ledes.

So that's what I was thinking the other day when I read the top of that Washington Post news feature about Dr. Ben Carson that angered several GetReligion readers, who sent me emails containing the URL. For starters, there is that headline: "As Ben Carson bashes Obama, many blacks see a hero’s legacy fade." The vague word "many" is always a bad place to start.

Raise your hands, cyber-folks, if you are surprised that scores of black Democrats are upset with Carson. Ditto, of course, for the leaders of African-American churches that march under the banner of progressive politics, progressive doctrines, or both.

Carson is a person who, in addition to his excellence as an world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, is best understood in the frame work of his religious and cultural beliefs, rather than his political views, strictly defined. Yes, this is one reason that some people -- including some admirers -- think he should not be running for president (as opposed to running for vice president or a chair in the cabinet). Hold that thought.

It is significant, this time around, that the story's lede and summary material has the exact same tone as the headline:

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