Doug LeBlanc

Will millennials decide to become nuns? NJ.com and RNS offer contrasting answers

Will millennials decide to become nuns? NJ.com and RNS offer contrasting answers

As nuns age, the huge question has been about who can be found to replace them. The future of Catholic religious orders in the United States is pretty dire at the moment. Two publications recently came out with stories on millennials and nuns, with very different conclusions.

One story is a splashy, detailed look at a handful of millennial women who entered Catholic religious orders in New Jersey and their reasons for doing so. Another is a Religion News Service story, datelined Grand Rapids, Mich., about older nuns who meet with agnostic/seeking millennial women and try to connect on a spiritual plane.

The New Jersey story, available on NJ.com (a group of news sources including the Newark Star-Ledger) follows three women who joined religious orders. There’s Anna, a Rutgers grad; Chiara, a one-time nursing student at Villanova; and Lauren, a former Australian actress now living with a contemplative religious order.

They’re millennial women who have chosen a path more popular for generations before them — one that involves kneeling before an altar, vowing to live in poverty, obeying God and abstaining from sex.

“I didn’t see a lightning bolt that fell out of the sky,” Sister Anna said. “I didn’t see an angel who told me what I was going to do in my life.”

In our hyper-connected, media-saturated age, it’s hard enough to get people to slow down and engage with the spiritual world, much less get them to consider a life lived in service to the church. Yet handfuls of millennial women across the state have taken that path. These women are serving as Catholic sisters or missionaries, many working through the process known as discernment to become “women religious,” commonly referred to as nuns. If the young sisters make it through the discernment process — which takes years and sometimes pulls them thousands of miles from family and friends — they are choosing something permanent, and forsaking the lures of marriage, kids, autonomy and material goods.

I know reporters may feel they have to dumb down religion stories for the masses, but the “kneeling before an altar”? Is that simple act so beyond the experience of most 20-somethings?

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Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Debates about Confederate monuments remain in the news and there is little sign that this story is going away anytime soon.

In fact, it could broaden. For example, there are now questions here in New York City (where I am teaching right now) about the majestic tomb of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, because of anti-Semitism. As president, Grant repented of his actions. Meanwhile, defenders of Gen. Robert E. Lee insist that he repented of his sins against the Union and took strong stands for reconciliation.

This brings we to the think piece for this weekend, which probes deeper into discussions among Episcopalians about Lee and his faith. Earlier this week I praised a Washington Post report that paid careful attention to voices on both sides of that debate in Lexington, Va., where a parish is named in Lee's honor, on the edge of the campus of Washington and Lee University.

That headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?" A key paragraph:

Church debates about the name have focused on the fact that Lee chose after the war ended not to continue -- as some Southerners wanted -- an insurgency, and instead to move on, “to try and rebuild and reconcile and repair damage he had no small part in creating,” said David Cox, a historian of Lee, a former rector and current member of the parish.

An independent journal for Episcopalians, The Living Church, took the discussion of some of these issues further with an interview with Father Cox. The byline on "Drowned Out by Outrage" will be familiar to longtime GetReligion readers, since Doug LeBlanc was the co-founder of this weblog nearly 14 years ago.

So who is Cox? He is the author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee," which was published in April by Eerdmans. Here is a passage that sets the tone:

When members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in a torchlit parade and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Cox said, “that had nothing to do with Lee.”

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US Catholics sort of hug ELCA: Why do liberal, oldline flocks always seem to make news?

US Catholics sort of hug ELCA: Why do liberal, oldline flocks always seem to make news?

If you walked the religion-news beat in the 1980s, and especially if you covered mainline Protestants and the Episcopal Church, then you probably knew Bishop William C. Frey.

At that time, he was the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and he eventually (a) was the symbolic evangelical/charismatic candidate to become U.S. presiding bishop, then (b) he became president and dean of the evangelical Anglican School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. He now lives in retirement near San Antonio, Texas, and -- it helps that he speaks fluent Spanish -- remains active in ministry in that region.

Among reporters (of all theological stripes), Frey was known as one of the most candid and, with his previous work in mainstream radio, sound-bite articulate figures on the national scene. His wit was legendary.

So what does this have to do with this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to listen) about that ecumenical document signed by U.S. Catholic leaders and the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? We are talking about the one that led to statements (see previous post here) that there were "are no longer church-dividing issues" between them.

Host Todd Wilken and I were curious as to why this document received so little attention in the mainstream press, since -- in the past -- this was precisely the kind of progressive, ecumenical event that drew banner headlines and then appeared in lists of the Top 10 religion-news stories of the year. Thus, we talked about why the oldline Protestant churches have always received so much attention and why, all of a sudden, that coverage may have faded.

This brings me to a classic Frey soundbite. Working on a column for the late, great Rocky Mountain News, I told the bishop about statements from several other local religious leaders who wanted to know why Colorado Episcopalians were always in the news. Some of them expressed what sounded like envy -- which made Frey laugh out loud.

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God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

It had to be Waco, right? It had to be a Sunday showdown in a shopping mall neo-Hooters on the edge of Jerusalem on the Brazos, the city where there are more Baptists than people, on the opposite side of town from the site of the Branch Davidians cable-TV firestorm.

Like or not, Waco is a kind of -- in the words of one police official on the scene -- "Anytown, USA." If suburbanites can end up in the line of fire during a bikers vs. bikers vs. police melee in Big Box shopping land in Waco, it can happen anywhere (or at least anywhere in the zip codes that draw bikers).

I'll be honest and admit that I was not looking for religion ghosts in this story, even if the drama unfolded near my old haunts in Waco.

However, the co-founder of this weblog -- the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc -- did more than his share of reading and sent me a URL to an interesting Sojourners commentary on the showdown between the dominant Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the emergent Cossacks, who were said to have ties to the national Hells Angels. The headline: "The Theology of a Biker Gang." The key passage:

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the U.S. And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:
God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

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