This week's religion charts: Are young folks the only problem in empty sanctuaries?

This week's religion charts: Are young folks the only problem in empty sanctuaries?

For the past 17 years, your GetReligionistas have written about a growing trend in religion polls (here’s the late George Gallup Jr., 15 years ago) that has obvious implications for American life in general.

Here it is: When looking at the spectrum of American life — in terms of religious beliefs, as seen in the practice of faith — the number of “traditional” believers is remaining remarkably stable, while the number of atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated has risen sharply.

What’s vanishing is sort-of believers in the middle of the spectrum.

Young people in that cohort tend to grab the headlines, since that is the future.

But check out this week’s charts from political scientist Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University (who is also a progressive Baptist pastor. Religion-beat pros and news consumers need to bookmark the Religion in Public website — especially to dig into the details of the General Social Survey data that he uses, along with other polling sources.

So, let’s ask fearful religious establishment leaders: Are the kids the only problem out there? Maybe the infamous Baby Boomers have something to do with all of this angst?

Read on.

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Amid bush-league PR operation, Houston Astros could use some good -- er, God -- news

Amid bush-league PR operation, Houston Astros could use some good -- er, God -- news

God and baseball.

Both are favorite subjects of mine, and sometimes, they intersect.

We eventually will get to the religion angle in this post, so please hang with me for a moment. But first, let’s set the scene with a little unfortunate background: It’s been a rough few days for the bush-league PR operation of the Houston Astros.

Even as attention should be focused on the team’s feel-good pursuit of its second World Series title in three years, a foul-mouthed, female-sportswriter-bullying assistant general manager named Brandon Taubman managed to rile even local Astros fans.

Major League Baseball is investigating what happened after the Astros’ pennant-clinching win on Saturday night, as CBS News notes:

The Houston Astros lost Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals, but it's drama off the field that's making headlines. Major League Baseball is investigating the expletive-filled celebration of a controversial player that an Astros executive apparently directed to a group of female reporters.

Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein wrote that Astros assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, turned to the female reporters, one of whom was wearing a domestic violence bracelet, and yelled: "Thank God we got Osuna! I'm so f— glad we got Osuna!"

He was referring to pitcher Roberto Osuna, picked up by the Astros after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2018 for allegedly assaulting the mother of his young child. The Astros had initially been criticized for acquiring Osuna after he had been accused of domestic violence. 

The Poynter Institute’s Tom Jones — in a daily briefing that highlights “The Astros’ sexist mistake” — runs down the team hierarchy’s bungling of Taubman’s tirade all along the way:

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When it comes to John MacArthur, Beth Moore and Russell Moore, let's ask tougher questions.

When it comes to John MacArthur, Beth Moore and Russell Moore, let's ask tougher questions.

By now, many of you may have heard of the harsh comment that the Rev. John MacArthur, an extremely conservative evangelical pastor, made about Beth Moore, possibly the most famous woman in Southern Baptist life today.

MacArthur, who is very old school even among evangelicals, has led Grace Community Church north of Los Angeles for 50 years. To say he dislikes women preachers would be an understatement.

There are a lot of people out there protesting his unkind comments, including Relevant magazine, which produced an article listing several leaders across the theological spectrum critical of MacArthur.

MacArthur, by the way, has been even more scathing about charismatics over the years, so the Beth Moore crowd may be getting an idea of what the Pentecostal/charismatic crowd has been putting up with for a number of years.

First, according to Religion News Service, here’s what MacArthur said.

During the “Truth Matters Conference,” held Oct. 16-18 at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he is pastor, MacArthur and other panelists were asked to give their gut reactions to one- or two-word phrases.

Asked to respond to the phrase “Beth Moore,” the name of a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher, MacArthur replied, “Go home.”

Sounds of laughter and applause could be heard in response during a recording of the session, which was posted online.

MacArthur — a leading proponent of Reformed theology and of complementarianism, the idea that women and men have different roles to play in the church and in society — was apparently responding to a controversy this past summer when Moore noted on Twitter that she spoke at a megachurch on a Sunday morning.

Her tweet led to accusations that Moore was undermining Southern Baptist teaching, which bars women from holding the office of pastor in churches.

One voice that has been absent on this latest flare-up has been the Rev. Russell Moore (no relation to Beth) who is the head of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The last interview with him that I saw occurred in August when Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh called him the “rebel evangelical.

It was a very weak, even clueless, interview. The questions were vapid and Moore, who is no fool, slid past them with little difficulty. Most of the questions were about racism and sex abuse within the SBC, but they weren’t tough questions by any chance.

Meanwhile, is Russell Moore really a “rebel evangelical?” For that matter, so is Beth Moore? Are we talking about doctrine here or politics?

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Washington Post keeps following 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick story -- into Newark and New York

Washington Post keeps following 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick story -- into Newark and New York

The Washington Post religion desk, to its credit, continues to dig into the long, complicated story of all of the sexual abuse accusations against former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

This is fitting, since he was a national media figure during his years as archbishop in Washington, D.C. You can get the gist of the latest revelations from the story’s long headline: “At least 7 more people told the Vatican they were sexually abused as boys by Theodore McCarrick, according to sources.”

What is really interesting, at least to me, about this must-read Post story is the degree to which it tells a story that centers on events in Uncle Ted’s career in and around New York and New Jersey.

For me, this raises an interesting question. Readers with detailed memories will recall that the McCarrick meltdown kicked into overdrive with a story in The New York Times. Remember this Gray Lady headline from July 16, 2018? “He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal.” That story was driven by accusations filed with investigators, including laypeople, with the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

So here is my question: Why are readers seeing chapter after chapter of the McCarrick drama unfold at The Washington Post, if the key events took place in zip codes near The New York Times?

Just asking.

So let’s go back to praising the Post. Here is the overture of the latest story:

Theodore McCarrick, a former D.C. archbishop and cardinal who was defrocked this year amid allegations that he sexually abused two minors and sexually harassed seminarians, is facing new accusations that he abused at least seven boys from about 1970 until 1990, according to three sources, including a person with direct knowledge of the claims U.S. church officials sent to the Vatican in January.

In addition, six allegations of sexual abuse by seminarians and former seminarians also were sent to Rome, according to this last person.

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Liberal professor enters a classroom in Appalachian mountains, and this is not a joke

Liberal professor enters a classroom in Appalachian mountains, and this is not a joke

Thank God for Evan Mandery and professors like him.

Mandery, the author of A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, sought a better understanding of conservatives in America, and that led him to apply to teach somewhere other than the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he is a professor. He has written about the experience in “What Teaching Ethics in Appalachia Taught Me About Bridging America’s Partisan Divide,” published online Oct. 13 by Politico Magazine.

Other than a quick introduction to a classroom exercise of Mandery asking his students to sacrifice one of their classmates for a guaranteed A, he begins on a self-effacing note: “Finding a place to teach ethics in the South was more difficult than I had imagined. My initial idea was to go to the most remote school that would have me, but most don’t even offer an ethics course. … When I stumbled upon Appalachian State, the school immediately seemed like a good fit — open to me and the kind of conversation I wanted to foster.”

Mandery escalates the theoretical stakes with his students by presenting the trolley dilemma, which has elsewhere morphed into a lesson in Christian apologetics.

Mandery has not come to Appalachia to teach students what to think, but how to listen carefully and, as a result, how to think with greater empathy. This teacher wants to learn as well:

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I read widely — and somewhat unsatisfyingly — to try and understand the root causes of polarization. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy moved me, and it’s impossible to read George Packer’s The Unwinding, which takes place largely in North Carolina after the Great Recession, without being unsettled by the coming apart of bedrock American institutions. But nothing I read fully explains the mistrust — daresay hatred — that has evolved between liberals and conservatives.

Coming in, I assumed some of my students would reflect the conservatism of the surrounding region and others the liberalism generally prevalent among college students. What I didn’t know is whether my students — and young people generally — are predestined to sort themselves into those mutually loathing tribes, or if a shared conversation about foundational ethical beliefs could alter their views of people with whom they disagree.

I will leave most of the narrative to Mandery, largely because he tells the story so well.

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Chick-fil-A culture war goes international: What's the real story in plans to close British location?

Chick-fil-A culture war goes international: What's the real story in plans to close British location?

Remember the furor stirred up by — to borrow the New Yorker’s description — ”Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City?”

Now the culture war over the fast-growing chicken-sandwich chain has gone international.

To England, to be precise.

The New York Times reports:

Just days after Chick-fil-A’s first restaurant in the United Kingdom opened and amid protests by activists about the company’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the chain said on Saturday it will close the site in six months.

The Oracle, the shopping mall where the restaurant leases space, told the BBC it would not allow Chick-fil-A to stay beyond its “initial six-month pilot period” and that it was the “right thing to do” after a call to boycott the chain by Reading Pride, a local lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender advocacy group.

Chick-fil-A said it had planned to stay for a limited time anyway.

“We have been very pleased with the lines since opening Oct. 10 and are grateful for customer response to our food and our approach to customer service,” the company said on Saturday. “We mutually agreed to a six-month lease with the Oracle Mall in Reading as part of a longer term strategy for us as we look to expand our international presence.”

What’s the big deal over Chick-fil-A anyway (besides the amazing chicken biscuits and sandwiches)?

The Times offers this background:

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Yes, Russian interests in Syria are political, but there are centuries of religious ties as well

Yes, Russian interests in Syria are political, but there are centuries of religious ties as well

As a rule, the foreign desk of The New York Times does high-quality work when covering religious stories that are clearly defined as religion stories, frequently drawing praise here at GetReligion.

However, when an international story is defined in political terms — such as Donald Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish communities in northern Syria — editors at the Times tend to miss the religion “ghosts” (to use a familiar GetReligion term) that haunt this kind of news.

The bottom line: It’s hard to write a religion-free story about news with obvious implications for Turkey, Syria, Russia, the United States, the Islamic State and a complex patchwork of religious minorities. The Times has, however, managed to do just that in a recent story with this headline: “In Syria, Russia Is Pleased to Fill an American Void.

Included in that complex mix is the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, based in Damascus. Let me state the obvious here: Yes, part of my interest here is rooted in my own faith, since I converted into the Antiochian church 20-plus years ago. Click here for my 2013 column — “The Evil the church already knows in Syria” — about the plight of the Orthodox Church in a region ruled by monsters of all kinds.

This brings me to this particular Times feature. One does not have to grant a single noble motive to Russian President Vladimir Putin to grasp that secular and religious leaders in Russia do not want to risk the massacre of ancient Orthodox Christian communities in Syria. And there are other religious minorities in the territory invaded by Turkish forces. This is one of the reasons that American evangelicals and others have screamed about Trump’s decision to stab the Kurds in the back.

How can the world’s most powerful newspaper look at this drama and miss the role of religion? Here is the overture:

DOHUK, Iraq — Russia asserted itself in a long-contested part of Syria … after the United States pulled out, giving Moscow a new opportunity to press for Syrian army gains and project itself as a rising power broker in the Middle East.

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New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

With President Donald Trump facing everything from impeachment to plummeting poll numbers, many Democrats are no doubt thinking this is their moment.

One huge gap in their 2020 strategy is how to pick off adherents to the GOP, most notably the religiously devout, who voted in huge numbers for Trump in 2016.

The New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold set out to cover an activist from the evangelical left who can speak fluent Democrat, yet at the same time offer up pointers on how to nab some of America’s evangelicals, who are one-quarter of the U.S. electorate. Candidate Barack Obama did a decent job of that in 2007.

Fellow GetReligionista Bobby Ross looked at some coverage of this effort a year ago. Since then Democrats have gotten more, not less polarized on religion. The big elephant in the room? That would be Beto O’Rourke’s promise to remove tax exemptions from houses of worship if leaders don’t embrace modernized doctrines on LGBTQ issues.

Her piece begins:

On a Tuesday afternoon this past summer, Doug Pagitt, a fifty-three-year-old pastor in a blue straw hat and glasses, stood in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Committee’s office in Washington, D.C., laying out sandwiches. Pagitt was preparing to lead a training session for Democratic members of Congress on how to speak to evangelicals. A table was littered with blue-and-orange lapel pins reading “Vote Common Good,” the name of an organization that Pagitt launched last year to make the religious left more visible. “We want people to know that it exists, and they can join it,” he said. Last year, the group’s members spent a month traveling the country in a tour bus, campaigning for roughly forty progressive candidates on their religious message, but this was their first time speaking to politicians in Washington…

Robb Ryerse, a self-described former fundamentalist pastor and the political director of Vote Common Good, opened the meeting with a tip. “Trying to memorize John 3:16 in the car on your way to the event and then quote that is probably not the best way to connect with faith-based voters,” he said. He had seen a candidate try this trick on the way to a rally in Kansas and then struggle to remember the phrase onstage.

Here is a snapshot of a pastor from the ranks of the “emergent church” trying to help Democratic politicians succeed among voters who are active in traditional forms of religion. As tmatt has written previously, Republicans in recent years have increased their clout with religious voters and Democrats are increasingly made up of the unaffiliated “nones” a growing demographic.

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What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?


What should U.S. college graduates, and high school graduates, know about religion?


A Gallup poll for the Bible Literacy Project 15 years ago found only about a third of U.S. teen-agers knew about Islam’s holy month of Ramadan or that the Quran is the religion’s holy book. The youths generally did better on Christian questions, though only a third could identify the significance of the “road to Damascus” and a tenth couldn’t say what Easter is.

The Religion Guy guesses that, if anything, teens in 2019 would do worse, due to the increase of religiously unaffiliated “nones” in the younger generation. Meanwhile, religious illiteracy becomes a more important problem for cohesion and understanding among the American people as diversity reaches beyond the Protestant-Catholic-Jew triad of times past.

Concerned about this, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (established by the late industrialist, a Congregational preacher’s kid) sought help from the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of some 8,000 college-level religion teachers. The result was a three-year study that concluded Oct. 3 with the release of “AAR Religious Literacy Guidelines: What U.S. College Graduates Need to Understand about Religion.” Click here for the .pdf document.

What we do not get in this AAR booklet is answers to the question The Guy poses above, what information people should know by the time they have earned a two-year or a four-year degree. That’s not surprising, given the complexity of the field of religion.

Instead, we’re informed on what grads need to “understand.” Two major points from the AAR team are that religion is central for every human culture that has ever existed, and that therefore people need to have a good grasp of reliable, non-sectarian information in this field. It distinguishes academic study of religion, which is “descriptive,” from the “prescriptive” education that people receive from their faith groups.

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