civil religion

A big news story: Scouting was a mainstream thing, embracing a vague faith. What now?

A big news story: Scouting was a mainstream thing, embracing a vague faith. What now?

If you grew up male in the 1950s and ‘60s — especially in the American heartland and the Bible Belt — the odds were good that you knew the following by memory: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

If you grew up as a Texas Baptist, as I did, then Scouting was another one of those church things, but it wasn’t totally a church thing.

You knew that the Boy Scout oath mentioned “God,” but not “Jesus,” and you knew that this meant Scouting was interfaith. You knew that when you went to big Scouting events you would meet boys from other flocks — Methodist, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, Catholic, etc. This was one of the first settings in which you met guys active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scouting was an “American” thing, a perfect example of what scholars would call “civil religion,” with a lowest-common-denominator creed that united as many people as possible. That was back when you could say “morally straight” without people flinching.

So Scouting was a religious thing — but not too religious. That’s the paradox at the heart of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), which grew out of my recent post: “Do generic Scouts have a future? (Wait! What was that about Latter-day Saints cutting ties?).” Here’s a key chunk of that post, focusing on basic Scouting math, religious groups and the movement’s attempts to survive the Sexual Revolution:

So, 71 percent of all Scout units were, at that time, linked to faith-based groups, with the LDS ranked No. 1 and the United Methodists No. 2. And what about the Baptists? As of two years ago — when the Boy Scouts decided to accept girls who identify as boys — the Association of Baptists for Scouting (ABS) reported that it had nearly 2.3 million members. At that time, about 60 percent of the association’s members were Southern Baptists.

It would appear that it is hard to ponder Scouting’s future without considering the impact of the movement’s policies on sex and gender and its standing among religious groups — especially the United Methodists and various kinds of Baptists. And the believers formerly known as Mormons?

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Make America grating again? That Donald Trump rally and those old American worship wars

Make America grating again? That Donald Trump rally and those old American worship wars

Hang in there with me for a minute or two, because I want to connect a few dots before we jump into troubled waters defined by the all-powerful words "Donald Trump."

A long time ago, an Episcopal bishop from the American South said something about his own flock that I thought was funny, but also insightful. When talking about issues linked to evangelism and winning converts, he said: "Episcopalians will do anything for God, as long as it's not too TACKY."

When he said the word "tacky," he added as much neo-British, aristocratic flair as possible. In other words, he was saying that some believers get very upset about religious activities that they see as beneath their perceived social status.

That brings me to this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) and to the opening of this week's On Religion column that served as the hook for my latest chat with host Todd Wilken.

Let me ask a question that I did not have room for in the actual column that went out on the wires. Consider the lyrics of the songs featured in the following two events, one in England and the other in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Which song does more to mix the worlds of church and state, the sacred and the political?

First, there is this familiar hymn, No. 578 in the Hymns Ancient and Modern volumes found in Church of England pews.

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Got news? A pastor, the American flag and a change of church flagpole symbolism

Got news? A pastor, the American flag and a change of church flagpole symbolism

During a recent social event linked to the 4th of July, I heard another Orthodox convert tell an interesting -- at times hilarious -- story about what happened the first time she took her children into a Baptist service in which there was, shall we say, an excessive amount of red-white-and-blue liturgical material in the music, decorations and even preaching.

This got me to thinking like a reporter. I wondered if, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 5-4 Obergefell decision backing same-sex marriage coast to coast, the patriotic July 4th rubrics might have changed in some conservative congregations.

All newspapers had to do was send a few reporters out to megachurches and see what happened. This could have been a timely story.

In other words: Got news?

Lo and behold, this broad category of stories -- the chance that conservative Christians doubting their loyalties to American civil religion -- may have life after the 4th. Heed the top of this news report from Baptist Press, which indicates that some newsrooms are aware of this television-friendly story:

North Carolina pastor Rit Varriale wants to see churches fly the Christian flag above the American flag as a biblical statement, reversing flag etiquette that calls for the American flag to be flown in the prominent position.

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At Obama inauguration, not all religion is biblical

Yesterday was a big day for the country, with the second inauguration of President Barack H. Obama. The president gave a very important speech and the media are, excitedly, poring over it. But how were the day’s religion angles covered?

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