The Evangelical 99 Percent

A guest post by Richard Flory

Last week I spent a day at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Francisco. My entree to the event was an invitation from some colleagues who are working on an project linking theological reflection and California culture, which allowed me to get a closer look at a gathering of several hundred evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, pastors and political interlocutors–in effect, the brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.

I went fully expecting to hear the working out of the theological and philosophical arguments that underlie the strident voices that emanate from the religious right. While there was a bit of shrill posturing (apparently some religions–one in particular–could legally be outlawed, according to one point of view), most of the sessions amounted to earnest attempts to uncover and present deeper thinking and reflection about the Christian scriptures, how Christians should live in the world and how they might have a positive influence in American culture.

I wasn’t surprised to see that most (85 percent or more) of the participants were white men. Still, there was what appeared to be a good number of blacks in attendance (in addition to a scattering of other minorities). But like the phenomenon described in the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? the non-whites gravitated toward one another in the conversations between sessions. This in itself isn’t too surprising, given the isolation that many people of color experience at evangelical colleges and seminaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly white.

Equally unsurprising was the assertion that [Read more...]

CCM: Contemporary Catholic Music?

My wife is a big fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM), and has listened to it as long as I’ve known her—about 22 years. I’m a fan, too, I suppose, although at a much more “socially acceptable” level than she is. (I just had to say that.) Basically, she introduces me to new songs, albums, and musicians—some of which I wind up enjoying, others not so much.

Our transition from evangelical to Catholic has shed light on the role of music in one’s faith tradition. (It’s also gratefully revealed little that’s distinctively Protestant about most CCM.) For many evangelicals, CCM is a hallmark of their cultural consumption patterns. Sure, there are different tastes and preferences, from the cheesy to the edgy, from the very to the barely (Christian). But one fact seems pretty clear: most performing artists in the CCM world run with evangelicals, so far as I can tell. Very few are Catholic. Why is that?

My best guess at an answer is three-fold. First, CCM’s origins are evangelical, and thus—speaking sociologically—there probably weren’t many “cross-cutting social circles” in its development. That is, when a brand new—or in CCM’s case, a hybrid—cultural form emerges among one group of people, it won’t likely emerge similarly among a different group if social ties between members of the two groups either don’t exist or aren’t strong. So the first part of the answer is rooted in older patterns of sociality; that is, historically evangelicals and Catholics haven’t socially interacted all that much, curbing the likelihood of diffusing cultural forms between them.

This is similar to the reason why country music is a largely Protestant thing as well. If you look at a map of religious affiliation distinctions across the US, Nashville—the CCM and country music capital of the world—is smack in the middle of a very Protestant state (and region). This is probably the primary reason behind the lack of diffusion of CCM.

A second (more interesting) part of my answer/guess is rooted in [Read more...]

What Asian American Religion Tells Us About Religious Incongruity

So as you’ve probably figured out, I am fascinated by Asian Americans and their religions. And wherever possible I try to find the best examples that can shed light on this population because they help us to learn about how we know anything about religion today, and how we need to improve what we know. I mentioned earlier that sociologists are struggling over how to identify Asian Americans and their religious preferences in surveys. And I alluded to the problem that people with “no religion” might in fact be religious .

What makes someone religious? In the minds of many it could simply be belief in God, or it could be praying, reading a sacred text, or attending a religious service on a regular basis. Sociologists describe this as measures of religiosity. We tend to think of religiosity in two forms: beliefs and behavior. Note: you can believe all kinds of things, and practice all kinds of rituals and say that you’re a Christian or that you have no religion. It’s what Brad Wright summarized in a recent argument made by sociologist Mark Chaves: most religious people experience incongruity between what they say they are, what they believe, and what they do. Asian Americans are no exception. To get an idea about how incongruity might look like we can examine the connection between one measure of religiosity, church attendance, and religious affiliation (how someone identifies their religion) among Asian Americans. [Read more...]

Whatever Happened to “Unequally Yoked”?

My research team and I are waist-deep in interviews of twenty-somethings for my next book project. Among the 90-some interviews we’ve conducted are about 15 (so far) with evangelicals. Between what they’re telling us and my own listening and reading, I’m detecting a subtle—yet significant—shift in how evangelicals talk about ideal mating scenarios. When I was a younger man, Christians of all stripes were counseled pretty straightforwardly to avoid marrying an unbeliever—that is, someone who didn’t share the basics of Christian doctrine. The logic, of course, is that the unbelieving spouse would foster the same in you and your (future) children, and that that would be a bad outcome. The advice arose, I presume, as an extension of 2 Corinthians 6:14, which itself need not be interpreted as applying primarily to marriage, but it often has been.

But that’s not what I’m hearing today from evangelical quarters. At some point this advice seems to have morphed into a much higher bar for an optimal mate, which seems (to me, at least) a problem, since fewer Americans are marrying today than ever before. When demand (for marriage) drops, I’m not sure restricting supply is the smart thing to do.

The narrative we heard from several respondents—and I myself heard it back when I briefly dabbled with the Baptists before swimming the Tiber—goes something like this: [Read more...]


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