Pentecostalism

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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Al-Jazeera piece on Native church in Vancouver has the right mix of information and analysis

Al-Jazeera piece on Native church in Vancouver has the right mix of information and analysis

Here’s another story that proves that Al-Jazeera gets religion.

Most stories one reads about Native Americans in either Canada or the U.S. concentrate on how they’re into peyote, dumping all traces of their colonizers’ faith or were on the short end of abuse from some religious order.

A year I spent living close to the immense Navajo reservation that straddles New Mexico and Arizona showed a more complex story. Many Natives belonged to established denominations that set up mission churches on the reservation. Every summer, revival tents would pop up everywhere. The same is true for Alaska. When I asked a professor in the Native studies department at the university in Fairbanks to get me a speaker who’s into Native religions, she said most Natives attend church.

Which is why this piece about Canadian Native converts to Christianity rings true. It only took a little bit of effort to add some complexity to the reporting.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Inside a cramped, run-down loft in one of this city's poorest neighborhoods, Cheryl Bear Barnetson sits at a communal drum, leading a group of people in song.
The sharp beating of the drum grows louder and faster. She and the other aboriginal singers surrounding it begin to chant.
“Jeeee-sus, Jeeee-sus, Jeeee-sus …”
Although it doesn’t look like a typical house of worship, this place is a church. Bare brick walls surround small coffee tables and chairs. A large wooden cross is all that distinguishes the space from a 1920s speakeasy.

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Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Like many of our readers, I have been digging into tons of coverage of the new Pew Forum study (full .pdf document here) offering an update on the growth of the "nones" and the cultural-left coalition of religious liberals, agnostics, atheists, "spiritual but not religious" believers and simple unaffiliated people.

As our own Julia Duin noted the other day, the basic theme in the mainstream coverage is that the number of self-proclaimed "Christians" in America is falling, quickly. That's a totally valid, if a rather old and much-reported story.

Also, I noted another old story, which is the fact that the number of religious believers who say they are actively PRACTICING their faith seems to be rather stable. The numbers are level in some pews, slightly down in some (think Southern Baptists), way down in others (think liberal Protestantism and cultural Catholics) and actually rising in a few (think Pentecostalism). The importance of growing ministries to Latinos, African-Americans and Asians is another news story, at the moment.

This was, as you would imagine, the subject of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. However, after host Todd Wilken and I talked -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that there is another way to frame this debate. In part, Christian leaders are arguing over whether churches grow when they are (a) culturally modernized and less doctrinally demanding or (b) when they hold firm to ancient doctrinal standards and, in many ways, reject trends in the modern world. Then, after that, it hit me that many modern churches -- think evangelical megachurches -- seem to be striving to look and sound modern, while claiming to stay orthodox at the level of morality and doctrine. So that is, kind of, a (c) approach, in their eyes.

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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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In the wake of Ebola, New York Times explores Liberia's 'crisis of faith'

In the wake of Ebola, New York Times explores Liberia's 'crisis of faith'

This was the top headline on the front page of Sunday's New York Times:

Liberia Conquers Ebola, But Faces a Crisis of Faith

The Times reports on churches, which helped spread the virus by laying hands on victims during prayers, fighting to come back:

MONROVIA, Liberia — It decimated hospitals, schools, families, fortunes and, for many, even their faith.
Now, it is officially over. The Ebola outbreak has ended in Liberia, the World Health Organization announced Saturday, an enormous milestone that seemed impossibly far off last year when dead bodies blocked roads and the sick prayed for ambulances that never came.
Desperately, the country is trying to rebuild just about everything, from its health and education systems to its economy and international image.
But in the dim hall of the United God Is Our Light Church, its generator turned off to shave costs, the congregation has been trying to repair something more fundamental: its spirit.
“Some of you are thinking that this church will die,” the church secretary, Joseph Vayombo, recently shouted in the small Pentecostal church here, no longer able to contain his frustration at all the empty seats around him. “There are people here who want this church to die.”
The large circle of plastic chairs inevitably drew attention to the low attendance at Friday morning prayer, a monthly gathering intended to bring together a church torn asunder by Ebola. Three, four, sometimes half a dozen empty seats separated the attendees from one another.

In Ebola's wake, the faith angle is certainly important.

Credit the Times for recognizing that and giving this story prominent attention.

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What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

I'm going to dig into my GetReligion file of guilt for this post, in part because it's another weekend of NBA playoffs action and I have hoops on my mind.

The New York Times recently ran an interesting feature story about one of those new old trends that may have been around for many years but, once it's in the pages of the Times, its relevant again. In this case, we are talking about something controversial -- NBA players meeting for Bible study and prayers, as opposed to staying out late at night enjoying the bright lights and the other pleasures common among multimillionaire sports stars.

The headline: "N.B.A. Pregame Routine: Stretch. Tape Ankles. Join Hands in Prayer."

At the heart of the story is Andrew Lang, a former NBA player who now serves as a team chaplain -- which makes me wonder if he is now actually the Rev. Andrew Lang, an ordained minister. Why does Lang not receive a clergyperson's title, under Associated Press style? I don't know for sure, but I have noticed that this seems to happen more often with African-Americans than with white clergy, for some reason. Here's the opening:

ATLANTA -- Like so many of his N.B.A. peers, Andrew Lang chose to stay close to the game when his playing days came to an end. But the second act of his career did not relocate him behind a front-office desk or onto a coach’s chair or inside a broadcast booth.
It brought him, instead, to a small auxiliary locker room at Philips Arena, bare except for some padded folding chairs. There, before every Atlanta Hawks home game, Lang fulfills his responsibilities as the team’s chaplain, taking prayer requests and imparting a prepared message to players before they step onto the court.
Some nights, Lang might sit there alone. Some nights, he might find himself holding hands and praying with nearly a full N.B.A. squad. Whether or not anyone shows up, Lang has made it his duty for the last 14 years to be there, ready to help.

Truth be told, this story is surprisingly positive and well researched. But there are important holes in it.

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Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

As you would imagine, I am receiving quite a few emails from friends and readers who are asking variations on this question: What is going on in Baltimore?

A few personal comments: First of all, I have very little experience covering politics and the police beat, the two subjects that, for better and for worse, are currently at the heart of the coverage of this story. Second, I live on the Baltimore beltway south of downtown (in a blue-collar, interracial suburb with roots back to Colonial times) and I am not an expert on urban life in this complex city. I do know that -- as some journalists are noting -- there is a special poignancy to seeing smoke and flames rising from neighborhoods that still haven't recovered from the 1968 riots after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many locals, I spent hours yesterday watching the news and trying to keep up with the social-media hooks in this story. As of this morning, talk radio is full -- as it was yesterday -- of reports of another wave of "purge" notices calling for more violence this afternoon. True?

Of course, I have been watching and listening as a religion-beat specialist and there has been much to note. Another question people keep asking me is why embattled Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake didn't call for a curfew LAST night. Well, the locals can tell you that Baltimore is a city that doesn't have massive resources and they were stretched to the total limit last night. There weren't enough police and firefighters to go around, on a night with about 140 car fires and major action in neighborhoods in the west and east. Could a curfew have been enforced?

So who was there to respond, until the National Guard and back-up firefighters rolled in from outside of town? If you watched CNN, Fox and other networks last night, you know the answer to that -- clergy and activists from black churches, that's who.

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Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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