Immigration

Religion ghosts? New York Times says America's biggest economic issue is demographic decline

Religion ghosts? New York Times says America's biggest economic issue is demographic decline

Things were looking good for the Episcopal Church in 1966, when its membership hit 3.6 million — an all-time high. Then the numbers began to decline, year after year and decade after decade. At the moment, there are 1.6 million or so Episcopalians.

Why is this happening? Episcopal Church leaders have been asked that question many times, because it’s a valid and important question.

No one has ever given a more concise — bold, even — answer than the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, when she said down for a “State of the Church” chat with the New York Times Magazine soon after her 2006 election as national presiding bishop. Here is the crucial exchange:

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children? 

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

In other words, her critics said, Episcopalians are too smart to have lots of babies (unlike Catholics and Latter-day Saints) and, besides, most members of this flock have theological reasons not to procreate.

What we have here is a classic example of the formula that I keep writing about here at GetReligion, which I state this way, offering a third factor to a familiar equation: Doctrine equals demographics equals destiny.

That brings me to this new headline at the Times:

America’s Biggest Economic Challenge May Be Demographic Decline

Slower growth in the working-age population is a problem in much of the country. Could targeted immigration policy help solve it?

Here is the rather sobering overture:

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Reflecting on prayer rugs and presidential tweets, Islamophobia and factual religion reporting ...

Reflecting on prayer rugs and presidential tweets, Islamophobia and factual religion reporting ...

Amid all the attention on the weekend’s big brouhaha, here’s a (sort of) religion story that you might have missed.

OK, maybe story is putting it a bit too strongly. Let’s try this instead: Here’s a religion-related item that might have escaped your attention.

I’m talking about President Donald Trump’s recent tweet in which he referenced a Washington Examiner report with this headline:

Border rancher: 'We've found prayer rugs out here. It's unreal'

Here is the lede:

LORDSBURG, N.M. — Ranchers and farmers near the U.S.-Mexico border have been finding prayer rugs on their properties in recent months, according to one rancher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by cartels who move the individuals.

The mats are pieces of carpet that those of the Muslim faith kneel on as they worship.

"There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico," the rancher said. "People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across."

Her comments were part of a larger conversation about how many in the region believe migrants are coming to the U.S. illegally from all over the world, not just Central America.

A GetReligion reader shared the link with me and noted:

Got press because of the President's tweet. But no one asks the question, in the follow-up, “So What?’ What's wrong with prayer rugs?"

Good question.

My Googling didn’t turn up much in the way of straight reporting on the issue. But I did find several commentary and “fact check” pieces from major media delving into the question. Welcome to journalism, 21st century style!

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Political reporters take note: There are Catholics on both sides of hot immigration debates

Political reporters take note: There are Catholics on both sides of hot immigration debates

The country is divided. You already knew that.

People are going to argue like crazy about whatever President Donald Trump says no matter that he says. You already knew that, too.

Why America is divided and the issues and people that drive that division on both sides is key to understanding our present situation. Consider, of course, immigration — and specifically the construction of a border wall — that not only shut down the federal government last month, but continues to be a source of debate between Trump and his allies (who want a wall) and Democrats (who do not).

The religion angle? The immigration debate, on the whole, has lacked adequate mainstream media coverage when it comes to how various faiths play a policy role.

Aside from the occasional message from Pope Francis calling on wealthy nations to open their arms and stop the policy of separating families, you don’t see much mention of Catholics — or religion in general — when it comes to this polarizing issue. After all, many of those in Congress who favor and oppose the wall are Catholic and a great many of those seeking asylum share those same religious beliefs. While the border wall remains a thorny issue that has recently dominated news coverage, the media has largely been on the fence when it comes to committing resources that actually looks at the issue from a faith-based perspective of those who favor stricter border enforcement.

The unreported story here is that there are many good Catholics (both politicians and voters) who support efforts to build a wall along the southern U.S. border in order to keep out other (mostly Central American) Catholics.

The truth is there are fissures within the church, the clergy and everyday Catholics (voters to politicians) when it comes to the issue. Those internal debates are a big reason why the overall electorate in fractured on the immigration debate and why Republicans and Democrats have been battling one another for months. This has led to a partial government shutdown and stalemate with Trump over border enforcement funding. Remember when some Democrats mangled the Christmas story to make a point on the issue?

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Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Most weeks, Friday Five wraps up the week in religion reporting.

But here’s a secret about this week: I’ve been mostly away from my computer screen, celebrating Christmas with my family.

So there’s an excellent chance I’ve missed important and/or interesting news in the world of the Godbeat. In that case, please don’t hesitate to share links in the comments section or by tweeting us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed it in the midst of your own holiday festivities, I wrote earlier this week about the New York Times’ front-page Sunday feature on a national trend of Baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes.

I particularly loved the story’s dateline, which I thought was brilliant: Bethlehem, Pa.

In related coverage, McClatchy had this intriguing headline on the day after Christmas:

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Call the police: Baby Jesus has been stolen — and The New York Times has a compelling story about it

Call the police: Baby Jesus has been stolen — and The New York Times has a compelling story about it

I’m in Texas at my Mom and Dad’s house as I type this — about to enjoy a festive Christmas Eve breakfast with chocolate syrup and pancakes, white gravy and biscuits, sausage, bacon and assorted other fixings.

My wife, two of my children, my brother, sister, my sister-in-law and various nephews and a niece will join me in line as we start our Christmas celebration by eating way too much.

I mention the above mainly because it’s all I can think about at the moment, but also because it may help explain why this post will be pretty quick and to the point.

I’ve got somewhere else to be, don’t you know.

Seriously, I want to highlight two New York Times stories real briefly this morning — both about nativity scenes, but one a much more compelling read than the other.

The first story was featured on Sunday’s front page with the headline “Cameras, Bolts and an Elusive Goal: To Sleep in Heavenly Peace.”

It’s a creative, timely piece about a national trend of baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes nationally, and the dateline — the setting for the story — is pure brilliance:

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Away in a manger on Bethlehem’s public square, a woman approached a statue of the baby Jesus one dark, December night. Then she stole it.

The theft, from a Nativity scene outside City Hall, raised alarm in this eastern Pennsylvania city that shares a name with the real Jesus Christ’s birthplace.

When the missing baby Jesus was found, it had been damaged, and Bethlehem’s police chief had to glue its leg back on. Then the city took action, positioning a concealed security camera exclusively on baby Jesus and assigning police officers to monitor the footage. In the two years since, the statue has been left at peace, asleep on the hay as the camera, nicknamed the “Jesus cam” by some residents, rolls.

“If anybody looks real close, they’ll see a crack in his leg,” said Lynn Cunningham, a leader of the local chamber of commerce.

Such manger larceny, in glaring violation of the Eighth Commandment, is also part of a sad national trend. This year, thieves have raided Nativity scenes in Tennessee, West Virginia, Minnesota and plenty of other places, and made off with Jesus figurines (and sometimes Mary and a donkey, too).

In terms of clever writing, there are nice touches throughout. As for religion, the reporter doesn’t neglect it, including lines such as this:

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Unitarians in the desert: A few basic facts go a long way in explaining religious freedom lawsuit

Unitarians in the desert: A few basic facts go a long way in explaining religious freedom lawsuit

I’m shaking my head.

The answer was easy. So easy.

Why then didn’t NPR bother to include it?

Here’s what I’m talking about: Back in October, I wrote about an NPR piece with a compelling title of “Deep In The Desert, A Case Pits Immigration Crackdown Against Religious Freedom.”

I offered lukewarm praise for parts of that report, but mostly I questioned the lack of specific facts concerning the lawsuit and, more precisely, the religion angle. I noted that NPR mentioned a humanitarian aid organization called No More Deaths and quoted a volunteer named Scott Warren.

But I complained:

Is it too much to want to know the specific nature of Warren’s religious beliefs? Does he belong to an actual faith group? Or are his beliefs purely personal in nature?

Such information would be extremely helpful and enlightening to know.

Fast-forward to today when the Wall Street Journal published a story on the same lawsuit.

And guess what? The Journal nails the crucial details that NPR missed. I love it when that happens!

Let’s start at the top — and see if any vital information that NPR missed doesn’t grab you up high:

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For reporters looking ahead: How politics will impact the Catholic church in 2019

For reporters looking ahead: How politics will impact the Catholic church in 2019

Elections matter. That’s the mantra you hear from both Republicans and Democrats — usually from the side that won said election — every time a piece of legislation being pushed finds legislative obstacles and serious opposition.

The recent midterm elections saw a split decision (Dems took the House, while the GOP held the Senate), leaving the nation polarized as ever heading into the what is expected to be a political slog heading into the 2020 presidential race. With the Catholic vote split down the middle again following these recent elections, it’s worth noting that Catholics, as well as the church itself, will be tested starting in January with the start of a new legislative session from Congress down to the state level.

Indeed, elections matter. Here are three storylines editors and journalists at mainstream news outlets should look out for that will impact the church in the coming year:

Clergy sex abuse: As the scandals — that mostly took place in past — continue to trickle out in the form of grand jury reports and other investigations, look for lawmakers to try and remedy the situation for victims through legislation on the state level.

With very blue New York State voting to put Democrats in control of both the state Assembly and Senate (the GOP had maintained a slight majority), look for lawmakers to pass (and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, to sign) the Child Victims Act. The Empire State isn’t alone. Other legislatures in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey and New Mexico are considering similar measures.

The New York legislation would allow victims of abuse suffered under the age of 18 to seek justice years later as adults. Removing the statute of limitations on cases involving private institutions, like the Boy Scouts and Jewish yeshivas, is at the heart of the battle.

New York law currently prevents victims from proceeding with criminal cases once they turn 23. As we know, many victims don't come forward until years later. The church has opposed past attempts at the legislation — along with the GOP — after successful lobbying efforts by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The ability to sue the church, even many years later, could bankrupt parishes, while public schools would be immune to such penalties. Another source of contention in the legislation is the one-year “look back” window that would allow victims to bring decades-old cases to civil court.

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Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: 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. “The Catholic Church has proven that it cannot police itself. And civil authorities can’t let the church hide child sexual abuse allegations as personnel matters. They’re crimes. We need a full accounting of the church.”

The Washington Post rounds up the wave of state and federal investigations spurred by the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

The explosive report about sexual abuse by Catholic priests unveiled by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August has set off an unprecedented wave of investigations over the last several months, with attorneys general in 14 states and the District of Columbia announcing probes and demanding documents from Catholic officials. Those efforts have been joined by a federal investigation out of Philadelphia that may become national in scope.

The swift and sweeping response by civil authorities contrasts sharply with the Vatican’s comparatively glacial pace. While some U.S. dioceses have published lists of priests they say have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and two cardinals have been ousted, the Vatican this month put on hold a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on measures to hold bishops more accountable until after a global synod in early 2019. In the meantime, Rome has done little to address the crisis.

2. "It totally sucks you away from all other aspects of your life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy your life.”

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'Geographic solution' for predators? Hide bad priests in parishes with lots of immigrants

'Geographic solution' for predators? Hide bad priests in parishes with lots of immigrants

Back in my Denver days in the late 1980s, I started work on a large project that, at first, was viewed with great favor by my editors at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP).

The starting point: The city included several growing Protestant churches, evangelical and Pentecostal, that were attracting many, many Hispanic believers. As you would expect, it didn’t take long to realize that most of them were former Roman Catholics or were the children of former Roman Catholics.

The goal was to report (a) why this was happening and (b) how this affected life inside large, extended families of Hispanics who now worshipped in radically different sanctuaries.

After a week or two of work, we dropped that first goal — because one of the most common answers was raising lots of questions that made editors uncomfortable.

Yes, many people were leaving the Catholic church for predictable reasons, from their point of view. They thought the preaching in evangelical/Pentecostal churches was stronger and “more biblical.” They liked the thriving Sunday schools for their children and youth programs for teens. They liked the contemporary church music, blending folk, pop and Latino themes.

But I kept hearing one more thing in many interviews: They wanted married pastors.

I would ask: “Married? Why was this so important?” Some were reluctant to discuss the details, but some were blunt: Their parishes were being sent too many gay priests. There were rumors and tensions. People were not sure they could trust the church. I kept hearing: Pastors should have wives and children of their own.

I wrote the divided-families story, but editors shied away from the “married” pastors angle.

I thought of that story when I heard about this strong National Public Radio report: “Immigrant Communities Were the ‘Geographic Solution’ to Predator Priests.”

Let me stress again (see this recent post) that there is fierce debate among Catholics over whether these two hot-button topics — large numbers of gay priests and decades of scandals linked to the abuse of teens and also prepubescent children — are connected. Many activists on the Catholic left and right salute the work of priests who wrestle with same-sex orientation, while living celibate lives and defending church doctrines on sexuality.

Here is the NPR overture:

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