Social drinking, Wednesday night youth sports and Southern churches' waning influence

Social drinking, Wednesday night youth sports and Southern churches' waning influence

Not everybody drives a truck. Not everybody drinks sweet tea. Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans. Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race. "Southern Comfort Zone," song by Brad Paisley

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I'm not sure what to make of a just-published Associated Press story making the case that the once-dominant influence of churches in the South is waning.

On the one hand: Duh.

I mean, haven't we all read enough about the "Rise of the Nones" to know that a societal shift has occurred?

On the other hand: I'm not certain that the small town of Sylacauga, Ala., allowing Ruby Tuesday's or O'Charley's to sell beer on Sunday afternoon is a sign of the End Times — or the best example of churches losing their dominance.

The top of the AP story:

SYLACAUGA, Ala. (AP) -- Prayers said and the closing hymn sung, tea-drinking churchgoers fill Marble City Grill for Sunday lunch. But hard on their heels comes the afternoon crowd: craft beer-drinking, NFL-watching football fans.
Such a scene would have been impossible just months ago because Sunday alcohol sales were long illegal in Sylacauga, hometown of both the actor who played TV's Gomer Pyle and the white marble used to construct the U.S. Supreme Court building. While the central Alabama city of 12,700 has only one hospital, four public schools and 21 red lights, the chamber of commerce directory lists 78 churches.
Yet few were surprised when residents voted overwhelmingly in September to legalize Sunday alcohol sales. Churches lacked either the heart or influence to stop it.
That shift is part of a broad pattern across the South: Churches are losing their grip on a region where they could long set community standards with a pulpit-pounding sermon or, more subtly, a sideward glance toward someone walking into a liquor store.

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Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

I imagine that faithful GetReligion readers noticed that in the past I have paid very close attention to the story of the DUI Episcopal Bishop in Maryland -- now simply Heather Elizabeth Cook, after she was defrocked.

It was, after all, a local story since I was living in Maryland at the time. This was also a story with the potential to have a strong impact on regional and national leaders in the Episcopal Church, even if Baltimore Sun editors didn't seem all that interested in that side of things.

With the trial ahead, it is also clear that this story is not over. Several Maryland Episcopalians and former Episcopalians kept raising an interesting question: If it is true that Cook was drunk AND texting, might she have been doing church business on a work cellphone when she struck and killed that cyclist? If so, what are the implications for the shrinking Maryland diocese?

Then there is the issue of the Episcopal Church and its love/hate relationship with alcohol. This is the stuff of cheap humor (insert joke about four Episcopalians here), but it is also a serious topic linked to substance abuse and people in power looking the other way. 

So during the recent Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City, the Cook case made it impossible for church leaders not to talk about alcohol. To their credit, it appears that they took this issue fairly seriously. With gay-marriage rites in the news, however, the coverage of the topic was light.

Thus, I want to point readers toward a major feature story on this topic that ran in The Deseret News. It is somewhat awkward to do this because it was written by former GetReligionista Mark Kellner, who now works on that newspaper's national religion desk. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Besides, how can you pass up a story with an anecdotal, on-the-record lede as devastating as this one?

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Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

I don't know about you, but I am still thinking about that soft, disturbing voice inside the haunted head of superstar Robin Williams. That's why Todd Wilken were still talking about that topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

As I discussed in my first post on the actor's suicide, Williams was very open -- during his entire adult life -- about the troubling nature of the voices he heard that made his improvisational genius possible, along with the voices that urged him to end it all -- either slowly, through substance abuse, or quickly, through suicide. Remember the quotes that were included in so many of the mainstream obituaries?

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump!' " he told ABC News.

Or maybe this one:

 "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

Now, one does not need to leap into religious talk-radio land, where some people oh-so-compassionately suggested that Williams was possessed by demons, to recognize that Williams was being quite candid about the presence of evil and temptation in his life. It appeared that he took that very, very seriously.

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These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

Nice lede. Interesting subject matter. Variety of sources.

I enjoyed a recent San Jose Mercury News feature on health care sharing ministries. (Hat tip to the Pew Research Center's daily religion headlines email for highlighting the story this week.)

Let's start at the top:

Go to church, be faithful to your spouse and shun tobacco, booze and drugs.

Promising to adhere to that "biblical lifestyle," more than 300,000 Americans are taking advantage of a little-known provision in the nation's health care law that allows them to avoid the new penalties for not having health insurance.

Long before Christian groups and Obamacare opponents cheered last month's Supreme Court ruling that allows many private businesses to stop offering certain types of birth control they find immoral, the 4-year-old law gave its blessing to Americans to opt out of the insurance mandate if they object on religious grounds.

So many instead are enrolling in "health care sharing ministries" that spread medical care costs among people of similar beliefs. Participants make monthly contributions to help cover each other's major health care costs, but forgo coverage for most routine care.

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