Year in Review 2013
Five "Sleeper" Stories from 2013
Editors' Note: This article is part of a Public Square conversation on 2013 in Review. Read other perspectives here.
1) A Mounting Religious Critique of Economism
This year saw considerable under-the-radar discussion of religion and the Occupy movement. Much of this was prompted by books published in 2012. There was Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude, by Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-Lan. There was also Susan Thistlethwaite's Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (And Did) About Money and Power. Some might consider books of this kind to be "lagging indicators," inasmuch as the Occupy movement had subsided dramatically by the time of their publication. I would rather think of them as leading indicators, inasmuch as there is now growing and sustainable religious involvement in the Moral Mondays movement and in direct support for the David vs. Goliath struggle of fast food workers to earn a decent wage. As it becomes ever more obvious that the desperate struggles of people at the economic bottom are not unrelated to the accelerating accumulation of wealth at the top, we should not be surprised to see that at least some religious leaders seem ready to name and attack systems of oppression and not merely salve the wounds of the oppressed.
2) First Rumblings of Tectonic Shift in Church-State Law?
Another leading indicator that surfaced in 2013 (albeit also as a sleeper story): the first stirrings of what I fear will become a much greater—and misconceived—accommodation of "religious liberty" on the part of the courts. There is every indication that the Supreme Court is looking for an opening to upend settled law in this area. And there is no shortage of aggrieved litigants—led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—who are eager to argue that government overreach threatens religion's "right to exist." Reporter Sarah Posner provides an excellent overview of this panic-driven landscape. One almost-funny example of where things are going: the appearance of a new official statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that decisively renounces and condemns polygamy at the very same time that a federal district judge has challenged Utah's anti-polygamy statute as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom.
3) Latino Catholics Shrug Off Culture Warfare
According to a 2013 report from the Public Religion Research Institute, a much higher proportion of Latino Roman Catholics take a relaxed view of same-sex marriage and think such marriages should be legal (62 percent) than do mainline Protestants (47 percent), the cohort of American Christians that is often thought to be the most "liberal" on social issues. And although far fewer Latino Catholics take the same relaxed view of abortion, the percentage of same who agree that "abortion should be legal in most or all cases" is notably greater than the percentage of mainline Protestants who agree with that statement (47 percent vs. 41 percent). Finally, a remarkably high proportion of Latino Catholics (65 percent) think that they can disagree with Church teaching on contraception "and still be a good Christian."
Rev. Peter Laarman is executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, a network of congregations and individuals in Southern California. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, he previously served as senior minister at New York's Judson Memorial Church and worked in communications for the U.S. labor movement. He is a contributing editor at Religion Dispatches.