Growing churches vs. declining churches: Canadian study says 'Theology Matters'

Growing churches vs. declining churches: Canadian study says 'Theology Matters'

Talk about the revenge of the "tmatt trio"!

Regular readers of this blog may remember the set of questions that, since the dawn of GetReligion in 2005, we have referred to as the "tmatt trio." We are talking about three questions that, in the 1980s, I discovered always yielded interesting and often newsworthy content when I used them as journalistic tools to probe the fault lines inside Protestant denominations.

Now, two of the three questions have shown up in a study by researchers in Canada of patterns of growth, and decline, in oldline Protestant congregations in church-friendly southern Ontario. Hold that thought, because that was the hook for my Universal syndicate column this week, then the latest Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in).

Here's the basic trio set, as articulated in one of my earlier "On Religion" columns:

* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

Now, that 2014 column focused, in part, on conversations with the late George Gallup, Jr., that addressed issues of private and public faith in American life. When I shared my "trio" questions with him, Gallup said the key was that I was asking doctrinal questions, not political questions. The goal, he said, was to find out how these beliefs revealed themselves in the daily lives of real people. That was the link he kept trying to explore in his work. (The trio questions also were embedded in a LifeWay Research survey in 2014.)

That brings us to the current news in Canada, which centers on an academic paper by sociologist David Haskell and church historian Kevin Flatt, published in the peer-reviewed Review of Religious Research. The full title sets the stage:

Theology Matters: 
Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy

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New York Times editor: We just don't get (a) religion, (b) the alt-right or (c) whatever

New York Times editor: We just don't get (a) religion, (b) the alt-right or (c) whatever

You know what, your GetReligionistas did hear something about an interesting quote from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet during yesterday's Fresh Air program on National Public Radio. We have also seen the blitz of Twitter reactions to his words.

It was something about elite journalists struggling to "get religion," right?

The headline for this interview was highly relevant, in light of the ongoing mainstream media meltdown in the wake of the White House win by Donald Trump. That would be: " 'New York Times' Executive Editor On The New Terrain Of Covering Trump." (That link includes the transcript and a link to the audio file.)

The interview includes all kinds of interesting material, including Baquet's take on the "fake news" phenomenon and life with a president-elect who is overly fond of Twitter. 

The Times editor also explains why he believes that it's a recent phenomenon for journalists to feel obligated to cover both sides of heated public debates, especially when journalists believe they already know the key facts. Thus, they should just print what they believe is true and that's that. Is Baquet advocating a return to the candid advocacy (often called the European Model of the Press) that dominated American journalism until late in the 19th Century?

But we are, of course, primarily interested in the quote that launched waves of emails and tweets in this direction. That would be the section in which Baquet addresses a particular news beat that has given his newspaper problems:

I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she's all alone. We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives.

You can see how some folks would think that we'd be interested in that. However, I think it's crucial to see the wider context of where that quote appeared in this interview.

Baquet and host Terry Gross are talking about Trump and his link to truly dangerous elements in American life, over on the fringes with racists and nationalists. That, for Baquet, links directly to anger in the American heartland and that links directly to, yes, religion.

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Are millennials leading the way in rejecting Gideon Bibles? Los Angeles Times says yes

Are millennials leading the way in rejecting Gideon Bibles? Los Angeles Times says yes

A few weeks ago, a spokesman for Gideon Bibles spoke at my church and the need was great, he said, for younger people to join up with a group that’s usually connected –- in the public eye –- with older men in business suits. (Membership is limited to evangelical Protestant men 21 years or older).

I went up to him afterwards and he said their chief need is for funds to continue the work. Seems that the organization hasn’t been in the public eye like better-known charities and that the popular culture has changed since the first Bibles were placed in a Montana hotel room in 1908.

 A century later, when more people than ever are objecting to any sign of religion in the public square, a well-known hotel chain has decided that allowing Bibles even hidden away in a drawer is too religious. As the Los Angeles Times tells it:

When the ultra-hip Moxy Hotel opens in San Diego next year, the rooms will be stocked with the usual amenities — an alarm clock, hair dryer, writing desk and flat-screen TV.
But you won’t find a Bible in the bedside nightstand.
Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, supplies a Bible and the Book of Mormon in the rooms of every other hotel in the franchise. But the company has recently decided that no religious materials should be offered at two of its newest millennial-oriented hotel brands, Moxy and Edition hotels.
“It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” said Marriott spokeswoman Felicia Farrar McLemore, explaining that the Moxy and Edition hotels are geared toward fun-loving millennials.

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Oh my ... British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be a serious Anglican Christian

Oh my ... British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be a serious Anglican Christian

As the world continues to reel from the populist shocks of 2016, here's another stunner for which I hope, dear reader, you are sitting down.

Seated? Good.

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is -- an Anglican Christian, who dares to let her faith influence her politics. Maybe.

This stunning insight comes via Foreign Policy magazine's website and a first-person piece by one Andrew Brown, who is said to cover religion for Britain's Guardian newspaper. 

Behold, the headline proclaims: "Theresa May Is a Religious Nationalist." A key passage adds this:

One of the least understood, yet most important, things about British Prime Minister Theresa May is that she is the daughter of a Church of England vicar. The fact that she is personally devout, by contrast, is well-known. I have heard several anecdotes about her time as a member of Parliament and minister when she would turn up at local parish initiatives that could offer her no conceivable political advantage. Such devotion to the church is unusual if not unknown among British politicians. Gordon Brown remains a very serious Presbyterian; Tony Blair went to Mass most Sundays.

Holy condescension, Batman! A politician who clings to her childhood faith and uses it in her daily life. And despite May's personal opposition to "Brexit," the referendum that decrees the U.K. should exit the European Union, she is poised to try and carry that out because leaving the EU is in parallel with Henry VIII's departure from the Roman Catholic faith to set up the aforementioned Church of England. Brown explains:

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Discuss please: Sarah Pulliam Bailey's letter to evangelicals who are mad at mainstream press

Discuss please: Sarah Pulliam Bailey's letter to evangelicals who are mad at mainstream press

There are several obvious things that need to be said about the rather brave opinion piece that Sarah Pulliam Bailey -- yes a former GetReligionista -- has published at The Washington Post, where she works as a full-time religion-beat professional.

First, things first: About that headline, which proclaims, "Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous." Why address this open letter to evangelicals?

During my years in the Washington, D.C., area I had to look like crazy to find traditional religious believers of any stripe who still subscribed to the major newspapers in Beltway-land. For those who did, talking about the tone-deaf or biased coverage of moral and social issues produced in those newsrooms was something they let me hear about on a regular basis. Hearing D.C.-area people talk about media bias (on moral and social issues more than on politics alone) helped inspire the creation of the weblog.

So why focus on evangelical anger at mainstream news, in a year in which Gallup numbers show that distrust of the journalism establishment is at an all-time high among Americans, period?

Yes, the anger and even hate is real. I know that because of my quarter of a century of work in Christian higher education, primarily teaching journalism and mass-media studies to young evangelicals. Way too many conservative evangelicals have written off journalism -- period. That's really bad theology if one believes that all of God's creation (even journalism) is both glorious and fallen. Meanwhile, many progressive evangelicals (often in higher education) view journalism as a shallow, anti-intellectual, merely "professional" trade that is not worthy of serious attention. Both stances are deadly, if the goal is educating young people to work in the mainstream press, perhaps providing some intellectual diversity there in the process.

Still, Bailey addresses her letter to people in her own culture, which is mainstream evangelicalism. Let's look at this a bit, and then open the comments pages for dialogue. Here is the overture:

Dear evangelicals,
You tease about the mainstream media being “Satan’s newspaper.” When I tell you I’m a journalist, I hear your cynicism.
Listen, I was raised in an evangelical home. I know the media is supposed to be the butt of many jokes and the source of many of our problems.

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False balance: As New York Times reports on divided campuses, only left has 'real' concerns

False balance: As New York Times reports on divided campuses, only left has 'real' concerns

In the wake of Donald Trump's stunning election as president, the political divide between right and left has hardened on campuses nationwide, the New York Times reports.

At first glance, the Times seems to put aside Kellerism for a day and provide an evenhanded account of what college-age Republicans and Democrats are feeling and saying.

The Old Gray Lady even opens with an anecdote featuring a young Trump supporter:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Amanda Delekta, a sophomore at the University of Michigan and political director of the College Republicans, was ecstatic when her candidate, Donald J. Trump, won the presidential election.
But her mood of celebration quickly faded when students held an evening vigil on campus — to mourn the results — and her biology teacher suspended class on the assumption, Ms. Delekta said, that students would be too upset to focus.
She was outraged. “Nobody has died,” Ms. Delekta said. “The United States has not died. Democracy is more alive than ever. Simply put, the American people voted and Trump won.”
She circulated an online petition and accused the university president of catering to the liberal majority by suggesting that “their ideology was superior to the ideology of their peers,” as she put it, when he sent out an email publicizing the vigil and listing counseling resources for students upset by the election. Three days later, she was invited to meet with the president in his office.

But read a little closer, and the piece's "balance" becomes less impressive.

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In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

The big news out of the Vatican today really isn't all that surprising, if you know anything about the Catholic Catechism. However, grab your local newspaper and look for this story anyway, because I will be surprised if you find coverage of it there.

The Washington Post online headline proclaims: "The Vatican reaffirms its position suggesting gay men should not be priests."

Yes, we are returning to Pope Francis and the most famous, or infamous, quotation, or sort-of quotation, from his papacy. I am referring, of course, to the 2013 off-the-cuff airplane press conference in which he spoke the phrase, "Who am I to judge?"

The pope said many things in that historic presser and news consumers have had a chance to read about 90 percent of what he actually said. Click here for previous GetReligion material about this media storm. By the way, here are the latest search engine results for these terms -- "Who am I to judge" and "Pope Francis." There are currently 7,520 hits in Google News and 140,000 in a general search.

So what did the Vatican say that is, or is not, in the news? Here is the top of a Washington Post "Acts of Faith" item, which is one of the only major-media references I could find to this story. I would be curious to know if this appears in the ink-on-paper edition:

People who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests in the Catholic church, the Vatican said in a new document on the priesthood.

The document said the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.

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Assyrian Christian hostage thriller: The Associated Press gets this persecution story right

Assyrian Christian hostage thriller: The Associated Press gets this persecution story right

Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with northern Iraq knows there’s several ancient people groups who’ve been there for millennia.

The Kurds descend from the ancient Medes. There were Jews there –- sent to the region by the Chaldean monarch Nebuchadnezzar in the fifth century BC to join earlier deportees -- who lingered there until very recently. And then there are the Assyrians who came to the fore in the ninth century BC.

It’s the ancestors of the latter that concerns this fascinating Associated Press story that recounts the tale of these latter-day Assyrians imprisoned by ISIS and the bishop who raised about $11 million to free them.

It was written by AP’s “international security” correspondent (didn’t know there was such a beat) and it’s a winner.

Start reading how an ancient Christian community took action, after governments around the world refused to help them.

SAARLOUIS, Germany (AP) -- The millions in ransom money came in dollar by dollar, euro by euro from around the world. The donations, raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, and the diaspora of Assyrian Christians on Facebook, landed in a bank account in Iraq. Its ultimate destination: the Islamic State group.
Deep inside Syria, a bishop worked around the blurred edges of international law to save the lives of more than 200 people — one of the largest groups of hostages yet documented in IS's war in Syria and Iraq. It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed.
Paying ransoms is illegal in the United States and most of the West, and the idea of paying the militants is morally fraught, even for those who saw no alternative.

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A classic Paul Simon song for scribes to hum when covering religious freedom issues

A classic Paul Simon song for scribes to hum when covering religious freedom issues

"Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."  

Paul Simon included that line in his emotionally moving song, "The Boxer." The words have long rung true for me.

These days, I find them particularly relevant when thinking about religious freedom issues -- both domestic and international -- and much of what journalists write about them.

Which is to say that too often, respect for religious freedom comes down to whose ox is being gored.

On the domestic front, Simon's words spring to mind when reading many of the stories written about the successful -- for the moment, at least -- Standing Rock Sioux protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

His words also seem blindingly appropriate when considering these two international stories, one from Indonesia and one from China's ethnic Tibetan region, both published by The New York Times.

Please read both stories to better understand this post and to keep me from having to stuff this column with critical but wordy explanatory background -- as might have been necessary in the long-ago world of pre-links journalism. It's a new world. Make use of the links. The photos accompanying both stories alone are worth your time.

Click here for the Indonesia story. And click here for the China story.

Notice how sympathetic both stories are toward the religious and social views of the indigenous tribe, in the Indonesian case, and toward Tibetan Buddhism, in the China story.

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