See that thinning flock of pew sitters with gray hair? That's a big religion-beat trend

See that thinning flock of pew sitters with gray hair? That's a big religion-beat trend

If you are interested in the future of American religion, then you have to be willing to talk about these kinds of topics — birth rates, conversions and, increasingly, the average age of people in the pews.

In other words, it’s time, once again, to discuss that old saying: “Demographics are destiny.”

GetReligion readers: How often have you seen posts that discuss questions of this kind? The reason we keep bringing this up is that reporters have to be willing to ask questions about issues rooted in demographics — that is, if they want to anticipate future news trends.

That’s true in politics, for sure. You know Republicans are worried about younger voters right now. You also know that savvy Democrats are starting to pay attention to the rising number of Latinos who are worshiping in evangelical and Pentecostal pews.

All of this is, of course, leading up to this week’s thought-provoking graphic offering from political scientist Ryan Burge, who is also an ordained Baptist progressive. Journalists who cover religion need to follow this guy on Twitter and bookmark this website: Religion in Public.

Here’s the Big Idea for this week:

“The average Muslim in America is nearly 22 years younger than the average Mainline Protestant.”

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Los Angeles Times writes nice story about jail chaplains, with a few eyebrow-raising word choices

Los Angeles Times writes nice story about jail chaplains, with a few eyebrow-raising word choices

There’s a lot to like about a recent Los Angeles Times feature on jail chaplains.

But there also are strong hints of holy ghosts as well as a few eyebrow-raising word choices. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.

Let’s start, though, with the positive: This is an in-depth piece that offers a helpful primer on the state of jail chaplaincy in Los Angeles and even quotes experts such as Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The specific Times angle is that some religious groups have enough chaplains — all volunteers — while others, including Jewish and Muslim groups, have a shortage.

The narrative-style lede sets the scene:

There are days when Rabbi Avivah Erlick sits in her car outside Men’s Central Jail, too afraid to go in. She’s counseled hundreds of inmates, but sometimes she arrives downtown only to drive back home, not ready to face the sudden lockdowns, the stale air and the stories about violence and loneliness.

When she does go in, Erlick feels overwhelmingly behind. She used to be a part-time jail chaplain supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation, but it wasn’t renewed. Now she volunteers whenever she can. She spends hours updating her list of inmates to visit, which includes dozens more than she has time to see.

The work is too important to stay away.

“I listen — I’m the only person who does,” she said. “I went into chaplaincy because I feel so drawn to help people in crisis.”

Then comes this generalization:

The chaplains in the Los Angeles County jails, some of whom were once behind bars themselves, are united by a simple mission: remind inmates of their humanity. It’s a job they often do in one-on-one visits. They’ll tell jokes, share a prayer, teach a religious text, or simply listen.

I’m torn on that description of the simple mission: “remind inmates of their humanity.” I suspect a number of the chaplains — particularly the evangelical Christian ones — would be more specific and say their goal is to save the inmates’ souls.

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Oriole Chris Davis makes $3 million gift to help at-risk children, for some vague reason

Oriole Chris Davis makes $3 million gift to help at-risk children, for some vague reason

Consider this a rare GetReligion hot-stove season baseball report. The shocker is that it is not written by our resident baseball fanatic, Bobby Ross, Jr. I guess that’s because this story concerns a member of the Baltimore Orioles, a team currently in a radical-rebuild mode (that could use a miracle or two).

This is another Baltimore Sun story about the troubled slugger Chris Davis, whose struggles at the plate have made many national headlines. It doesn’t help that Davis is (a) aging, (b) holding a first-base slot that blocks younger players and (c) a few years into a massive seven-year, $161 million contract.

I have written about Davis before. At some point in time, some powerful judge in media land appears to have made a ruling that it is out of bounds to include references to his evangelical faith in stories about his life, values, family and career.

Davis recently made big news with his pen and a checkbook and, I would argue, journalists needed to ask some faith questions in this case. But first, let’s look at a hint of faith language in a different Sun story that ran the other day: “I have hope now’: Orioles’ Chris Davis carrying confidence early in offseason.” The key is that Davis is feeling better — physically and mentally — and already getting ready for 2020.

Jill Davis noted that her husband normally takes October off, but she said Davis has been ramping up his activities to the point it won’t be long before he spends his days working out, running and hitting, all while balancing the scheduling quirks their three daughters bring. The Davises have a family trip planned for early December, plus a mission trip in January.

OK, I’ll ask. What kind of “mission trip”? A generic one?

This leads me to some big news in Baltimore, $3 million worth of news that’s totally consistent with the life that the Davis family lives: “Orioles’ Chris Davis and his wife, Jill, make record donation to University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.” Here is the overture:

Chris and Jill Davis made their way from room to room at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit. A visit in July inspired how the Orioles’ first baseman and his wife spent their Monday morning. This trip in the afternoon was made by choice.

They stopped by rooms of little girls who, like their three daughters, love princesses. They met two boys who, like their two youngest children, were twins. They brightened the days of families who had children, like their own once had, facing congenital heart defects.

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Bible study during school time? Tennessee paper explores pros and cons — and what Satanists think

Bible study during school time? Tennessee paper explores pros and cons — and what Satanists think

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is back in the news.

But this time the story is actually pretty good.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports on a pilot program in a local school district that allows elementary-age children to leave their public school — with parental permission — to study the Bible at a church.

The newspaper’s lede covers the high points before the story delves into more specific details:

Once a month, some 70 students from Sterchi Elementary miss an hour of school to go to a nearby evangelistic church for a Bible lesson.

Third- through fifth-graders miss music, art or library. Second-graders miss language arts.

If parents sign a release, state law allows this — as long as the school district’s Board of Education has approved a policy.

Knox County's school board hasn’t approved a policy. Sterchi’s Bible Release Time program, approved earlier this year, is intended to be a “pilot” that board members could observe to determine if they want a countywide policy.

The Sterchi program has raised a lot of questions — and heated voices — in Knox County about the separation of church and government. That includes a slew of letters from parents to school board members, and one social media post from a Satanic organization.

That description up high of the church as “evangelistic” made me wonder if perhaps the reporter meant “evangelical.” At the same time, a church teaching the Bible to public school students no doubt would fall under the heading of “evangelistic.”

Later, the News Sentinel notes that the church didn’t return its calls, so maybe it’s not surprising that the information provided about the church seems rather sketchy. A few references are made to Christian parents complaining that the church doesn’t share their brand of beliefs.

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Trump, same-sex parents and religious charities: News coverage mostly predictable and left-leaning

Trump, same-sex parents and religious charities: News coverage mostly predictable and left-leaning

It’s the same old, same old, so I promise I won’t take up much of your time with this.

But I did want to acknowledge — for those still paying attention to such things — the news late last week that the Trump administration will allow faith-based foster and adoption ministries to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Of course, that’s not the way you saw the story presented if you read it in a typical major media outlet.

Yes, as always, most mainstream news outlets treated this as a case of #discrimination — and not against the aforementioned religious charities.

Instead, this was the headline and subhead at the New York Times:

Adoption Groups Could Turn Away L.G.B.T. Families Under Proposed Rule

The Trump administration seeks to roll back an Obama-era rule that classified sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination.

The Washington Post put it like this:

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Thinking along with Douthat and Burge: Where are the empty pews and why are they empty?

Thinking along with Douthat and Burge: Where are the empty pews and why are they empty?

I have been traveling the last few days — a national college media conference and a baptism involving family — and I failed let GetReligion readers take a look at some interesting Ryan Burge graphics linked to two of the dominant religion-news stories of our time.

One of the stories is, of course, the collapse of the safe, vague ground in the middle of the marketplace of American religion. It’s an equation that comes up at GetReligion all the time, with traditional forms of religion holding their own (signs of slow decline and slight growth in some sectors) while the rise of the religiously unaffiliated gets lots and logs of ink (with good reason).

In the middle of all that is story No. 2, which is the demographic death dive of the old world of mainline, liberal Protestantism.

So take a look the chart at the top of this post — especially that dramatic “X” created by the rise of the nones and the fall of the mainline middle.

So, some will say: This is just a projection, not a set of carved in stone facts. True, that. However, Burge is only attempting to project trends 10 years into the future. That’s not a giant leap, when you are using trend lines dating back four decades. (I’d like to see that chart enlarged to 1960 or so, which would give us the true peak of old Mainline power and cultural prestige.)

Now, keep that chart in mind while reading the following column by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat — “The Overstated Collapse of American Christianity.” Here’s a crucial piece of the intro:

… (The) new consensus is that secularization was actually just delayed, and with the swift 21st-century collapse of Christian affiliation, a more European destination for American religiosity has belatedly arrived. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” ran the headline on a new Pew Research Center survey of American religion this month, summing up a consensus shared by pessimistic religious conservatives, eager anticlericalists and the regretfully unbelieving sort of journalist who suspects that we may miss organized religion when it’s gone.

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Friday Five: Kanye, Joe Biden, Pachamama statues, Tree of Life, Paula White, advice for journalists

Friday Five: Kanye, Joe Biden, Pachamama statues, Tree of Life, Paula White, advice for journalists

A big “story” in the world of religion has been Kanye West.

Except — and here’s a sincere question — has anybody seen any actual reporting on the West/”Jesus is King” story in the mainstream press?

Every headline that I’ve come across falls into the category of reviews and opinions. For financial and other reasons (read: opinion is cheap; reporting is not), we live in an age where news organizations often will cover a story by having someone write a column about it.

Religion News Service, for example, has run op-eds headlined “Is Jesus king of Kanye’s bank account?” and “Why Trump — not Jesus — is at the heart of white Christian love for Kanye.” But has there been any actual news coverage at RNS or elsewhere?

Maybe I’ve missed the news stories. And if so, please share links in the comments section.

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

1. Religion story of the week: A story that did draw a lot of news coverage this week was a South Carolina Catholic priest denying Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden because of his political stance on abortion.

I wrote about that earlier in the week and highlighted some of the major coverage.

Some readers have commented and asked if the media went to the priest — or vice versa. I do not know the answer to that question. Anybody seen that question answered in any coverage?

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Reporters: Forget the evangelicals. Will white Catholics dump Donald Trump in 2020?

Reporters: Forget the evangelicals. Will white Catholics dump Donald Trump in 2020?

The following assumes that President Donald Trump will be impeached by the Democratic House, kept in office by the Republican Senate and then will appear on the November 2020 ballot.

The key is that are are already some hints of softening support for him in a Public Religion Research Institute survey released October 17.

To be blunt, 27 percent of those who identified as Republican or leaned Republican would prefer a different nominee. Only 39 percent of Americans approved of his job performance as president in this poll, though he did notably better with white (non-Hispanic) Catholics (48 percent) and white mainline Protestants (54 percent) -- and of course white (non-minority) evangelicals (77 percent).

Just under three-fourths (73 percent) of Americans wished Trump’s speech and behavior followed the example set by prior presidents and so did 70 percent of all Catholics and 72 percent of white mainline Protestants.

PRRI provoked the usual commentary about why-oh-why all those white evangelical Protestants favor the president. Certain evangelical thinkers fret that association with his embarrassments is damaging the Christian witness for years to come. That’s an important topic for journalism, since evangelicals are the nation’s largest religious bloc.

But just now reporters are necessarily consumed by 2020 and PRRI reports that white evangelicals favor Trump.

Ho hum. They vote for Republicans, period. By Pew Research data, in 2004 they voted 78 percent for the born-again George W. Bush. In 2008 they slipped to 74 percent for the less overtly pious John McCain, who had tangled with “religious right” preachers. In 2012 they went 78 percent for the devout Mitt Romney despite aversion toward his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith. In 2016 they gave 81 percent to the secularized Donald Trump, a proud vulgarian.

But The Guy keeps emphasizing that white Catholics gave Trump 59 percent support, and similarly for Romney.

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Pastor in Columbia, Mo., trashed by local paper for preaching about gender dysphoria

Pastor in Columbia, Mo., trashed by local paper for preaching about gender dysphoria

I’ve only been through Columbia, Mo., once and that was in 2013 — at night — and I remember it as being kind of hilly. It’s best known as the home of the University of Missouri, which has one of the best journalism schools in the country, many of whose graduates no doubt work at the Columbia Daily Tribune, one of two newspapers in town.

A few weeks ago, the Tribune made a foray into religion coverage with a piece about the city’s largest megachurch, The Crossing, and its pastor’s decision to preach on the transgender issue.

As you may imagine, that sermon did not go over well in a college town. And, as you would imagine, the newspaper’s coverage devoted zero effort to understanding what this church believes and why its leaders defend these doctrines. You were expecting basic journalism?

Many in the local LGBTQ+ community are outraged this week over what they say was a transphobic sermon delivered Sunday at a Columbia church, which has since apologized and stated the message was not intended to be discriminatory.

Pastor Keith Simon of The Crossing delivered a sermon on gender dysphoria where he referred to transgender people as “broken,” compared intersex individuals with eunuchs and in one instance displayed Nazi propaganda imagery, comparing the Third Reich to LGBTQ+ “culture.”

His oration has so far caused a local art gallery to cut ties with the church and spurred a petition calling on another nonprofit to do the same. Simon could not be reached at the church on Friday and a staff member suggested emailing him, to which he did not respond.

The art gallery has been receiving donations from the church for some time, by the way. In a statement, the gallery objected to the preacher’s backing of “heteronormative philosophy.”

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