Protestant Reformation

Will diverse membership save Maryland's Lutherans? Baltimore Sun thinks so, with little backup

Will diverse membership save Maryland's Lutherans? Baltimore Sun thinks so, with little backup

It's one of those old truisms that apparently remains true, a declaration by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “We must face the sad fact that at the 11 o’ clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”

Although many congregations retain a majority from one ethnic group or another, there have been plenty of movements to bridge the gap over the past 50 years or so. And while much, if not most, of the "mainline" Protestant denominations remain dominated by what one wag called "persons of pallor," The Baltimore Sun informs us that local congregations in two branches of American Lutheranism have been revitalized by the influx of non-white members.

Of course, the Sun was not content to position this as just a church news story -- it had to be tied into the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, triggered by one Martin Luther, after whom King was named.

Creating this tenuous link, of which more in a moment, is but one of the journalism problems afoot here. But start with the headline, "500 years after Luther, Lutherans embrace growing diversity" and this lead-in to the story:

When the Rev. Martin Schultheis gazed out over the pews at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Catonsville on a Sunday 10 years ago, he saw about 200 faces. More than 95 percent, he estimates, were white.
Attendance has dropped since then -- these days, about 150 people attend Sunday services. But those who do go have a different look.
About one-fourth of the worshippers in the congregation are people of color -- a development that stands out in a branch of Christianity that has historically been slow to change.

We then are asked to see this as linked to five centuries of Lutheranism:

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#Reformation500: Washington Post tackles the modern Protestant Reformation happening in Brazil

#Reformation500: Washington Post tackles the modern Protestant Reformation happening in Brazil

When a former GetReligionista asks you to read her story, you do it.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a respected religion writer for the Washington Post, traveled to Brazil to report on "How the prosperity gospel is sparking a major change in the world's most Catholic country."

Yes, the in-depth piece is tied to today's 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Bailey wrote on Facebook:

I'm not kidding you, I've thought about this anniversary for at least the past 10 years.
I grew up in a family that didn't celebrate Halloween (have never been trick-or-treating!) but we DID have Reformation Day parties. Yes, it's true.
When I realized there was going to be a big anniversary, I plotted ways to get to Germany. I really, really wanted to go see the town where Martin Luther did his thing.
But I've been to Germany. Religion isn't exactly booming there right now. So I started to think about the question: where is a Protestant Reformation happening RIGHT NOW?
That led me to Brazil. As I mentioned a few months ago, I received a grant from The International Reporting Project to spend a few weeks in Brazil to write about Pentecostalism for the Washington Post. While I was there, I was stunned by the prosperity gospel's power, the immense influence they have, especially in poor areas of the country. I watched exorcisms, healing services, prophesies and donations pour in.
The same debates over money, power, authority that Germany saw 500 years go are happening now--just in another country with a very different twist. Check it out and please share with your friends.


1. I checked it out.

2. I'm sharing it with all my friends who read GetReligion.

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More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

The Religion Guy raised the above question and answers it with a few thoughts upon the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

This vast, ongoing split in Christianity involved theology and spirituality, but as a journalist The Guy [disclosure: a lay Protestant] will emphasize culture. The uproar originated on October 31, 1517 (All Saints’ Eve), when Martin Luther issued his “95 Theses.” Matters evolved from there into a sweeping assault on the papacy and the Catholic Church.

Historians debate whether the tempestuous Wittenberg professor actually posted this protest on the legendary door of the town church or simply distributed it. Whatever, Luther sent a copy to the Germans’ most powerful churchman, Archbishop Albrecht, who fatefully referred it to the Vatican for scrutiny.

The “Theses” decried lavish sales of “indulgences” from the church’s “treasury of merits” to lessen punishments due for sins of the living and of the dead in Purgatory. Rid of corrupt money-raising, indulgences still operate in 2017 (per “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1471 – 1479).

The indulgence money was supposed to fund construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But Albrecht skimmed off half the proceeds to repay a loan of 23,000 ducats he used to purchase leadership of Germany’s most lucrative diocese -- at age 23!  When Luther faced Catholic derision for violating his monk’s vows and marrying, he told Albrecht to end his unwed sexual partnership!

In other words, late medieval Catholicism had some problems. Nonetheless, was this split necessary?

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How fares Protestantism upon its 500th anniversary? Depends on where you look

How fares Protestantism upon its 500th anniversary? Depends on where you look

Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College (Illinois) furrowed many a brow with an April 28 Washington Post warning that “if current trends continue” without letup, Americans active in “Mainline” Protestant churches will reach zero by Easter 2039.

Talk about timing.

That bleak forecast -- mitigated by U.S. “Evangelical” Protestants’ relative stability -- comes in the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. This massive split in Christianity was sparked by a protest petition posted by 34-year-old German friar and professor Martin Luther on All Souls’ Eve (October 31) of 1517.

The Protestant scenario is rosy at the world level, however, according to anniversary tabulations by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a standard resource for statistics and trend lines from 1900 to the present (media contact here).  

Director Todd Johnson scanned the situation for Stetzer’s blog at with a 500-year infographic summary (.pdf here).

The CSGC anniversary report is especially useful because Pew Research Center’s comprehensive April update on world religions had numbers for Christianity as a whole but did not break out the Protestant segment. Pew does offer an estimate that 37 percent of the world’s Christians are Protestant if you include Anglicans and the burgeoning “Independents” in the developing world.

CSGC counts Anglicans as Protestant but treats the Independents, non-existent until the 20th Century, as a new, large, expanding and separate Christian branch from Protestantism. Despite some similarities, such churches lack direct ties with historic Protestant denominations.

From its 1517 start, Protestantism grew to claim 133 million followers in 1900, nearly doubled that by 1970, and more than doubled again to reach an estimated 560 million this year, with a projected 626 million by 2025. The faith exists in nearly all the globe’s 234 nations and territories.

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Why don't men like church? Sometimes a story is hard to see because it's just too common

Why don't men like church? Sometimes a story is hard to see because it's just too common

This week's "Crossroads" podcast is rather different from the norm. Please allow me to explain why.

You see, this podcast is not about a story that is in the news. It's a discussion of a larger trend that I am convinced is helping shape some major trends -- in culture, in the church and, yes, often in the news.

Like what? Well, it is relevant to the rise of the "nones," especially the departure of young men from pews. It's also, I have long been convinced, linked to several hot-button debates about the Catholic priesthood. You could make a case that this trend -- centuries old, actually -- is helping fuel the decline of liberal Protestantism in the West, while also causing problems (to a lesser degree, statistically) in evangelical and Pentecostal sanctuaries.

Oh, and then there is that whole "Jesus is my boyfriend" issue in modern church music, in megachurch Protestantism and even in some liturgical circles.

We are talking about the fact that lots and lots of men just don't want to go to church. Go to most churches -- especially struggling churches -- and look around. What is the ratio of women to men?

I wrote a pair of columns about this and, frankly, I have been getting some interesting feedback from readers. People are not neutral on this subject, for sure. They either think this problem is real or they think that people who want to discuss the issue are (a) way too liberal, (b) way too conservative, (c) anti-women, (d) anti-Catholic tradition or some combination of the above (and I could have added lots of other factors that folks put in that mix.)

The columns were based on a series of lectures by the conservative Catholic writer Leon Podles, author of the controversial 1999 book "The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity," that were delivered recently at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore. In a way, Podles -- a former federal investigator with a doctorate in English -- was updating the work in that book.

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