Southern Baptist Numbers Are Shrinking

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Southern Baptists are holding their annual meeting in Phoenix today and tomorrow.  And this largest Protestant denomination in America is  having to face up to the fact that their numbers are dwindling.

From 16.3 million members in 2003, the church body is down in members (to 15.2 million), worship attendance, and baptisms of new converts.  This has been happening over a number of years, so it constitutes a trend.

The problem isn’t that the country is turning away from conservative Christianity.  The trend documented over the last several decades that conservative churches are growing, while liberal churches are declining still holds true.  But not all conservative churches are growing, as Missouri Synod Lutherans and now the Baptists well know.  The Assemblies of God denomination is still booming, for example.

Not that numerical growth should be the sole criterion for assessing how a denomination is doing.  Integrity and faithfulness are far more important.  But the question is, if conservative churches are growing–as Dean Kelley documented in his important study back in 1972–why are some growing and some are not?

Some are blaming the Baptists’ association with the Christian right as part of the reason for their decline.  But Pentecostals went all in for Donald Trump and they are doing fine.

Any ideas for why the Baptists are having trouble?

And are there any lessons for us Lutherans?

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What conservative churches & liberal churches have in common today

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More from Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama. . . .

Movements take place outside of denominations, so one legacy of the dominance of “movement religions” over “embedded religions” is the erosion of denominational distinctives.  There is thus a new ecumenism among both liberal and conservative churches.

In contemporary Christianity, liberals have their ecumenical movement; conservatives have their para-church organizations.  Both of which minimize the differences between theologies and denominations, creating a least-common-denominator, de facto  type of Christian unity.

There are other areas in which conservatives “both countered and paralleled” the liberals (p. 141).  Both invested heavily in politics.  The liberal churches have been promoting liberal and leftwing politics.  (See the mainline denominations’ convention resolutions.)  The conservative churches have been promoting conservative and rightwing politics.  (And getting criticized for it by people oblivious to how the liberal churches have become far more politicized and were doing it long before there was anything like a “Christian right.”)   [Read more…]

LCMS judge is censured for following her church

We blogged about (here, here, and here) the case of Judge Ruth Neely, a municipal judge in Pinedale, Wyoming, who mentioned to a reporter that, as a Lutheran Christian, she would not be able to preside at a same-sex wedding.  Uproar ensued.

Never mind that no gay couples have ever asked her to do their wedding, so that she never discriminated against gay couples.  Never mind that Wyoming law does not require judges to do weddings of any sort.  But the enforcers of the new morality complained to the Wyoming Supreme Court, demanding that she be removed from office.

The court has now issued its decision:  Judge Neely will be censured, but she will be allowed to keep her position.

After the jump, an AP story about the decision, as well as the reaction of the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Matthew Harrison.

The title of his message puts the case in vocational terms:  “Living Out Vocation under the Cross.”

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LCMS president on immigration issues

Cuban immigrants head to Ysleta Lutheran Mission in El Paso, Texas

Cuban immigrants head to Ysleta Lutheran Mission in El Paso

When it comes to immigration issues, there is the obligation of the State to enforce the law.  But, for the Church, there is also the obligation to minister to those in need.  Now that President Trump is cracking down on immigration–rightly so, many of us would say–our Lutheran Hispanic congregations and our various Hispanic ministries are dealing with a sense of panic and insecurity among many of those to whom they are ministering.  LCMS president Matthew Harrison has written a letter of encouragement and support to synod members in Hispanic ministry.

The letter has a lot of nuance, but it is full of sympathy for the immigrants’ plight.  Read it after the jump.

Note the reference to an official study of the issue from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, written back in 2012:  “Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues.”

 

Photo by Erik M. Lunsford, LCMS News & Information

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“Conscientious objection against the state”

Hillsdale professor and LCMS member Korey Maas has an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod convention action to allow women facing combat and registering for the draft to claim conscientious objector status.  He goes into the legal implications of this decision, as well as the larger phenomenon of how the state has been picking fights with religious people and their institutions over issues of conscience.

He closes by quoting LCMS president Matthew Harrison, who said last year after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision that Christians will soon  “begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state.”

Prof. Maas’s article is excerpted and linked to after the jump. [Read more…]

Lutherans have a confessional convention

Conservatives/confessionals feel very good about the triennial convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which concluded last week in Milwaukee.  They passed virtually all of their resolutions by big margins, elected virtually all of their candidates, and won some big victories.

The convention voted to ensure that everyone engaged in Word and Sacrament ministry be ordained.  (Lay ministers may still serve in various church functions, but not they may not function as pastors, preaching and administering the sacraments, as many have been doing.  The convention also approved a path for getting lay ministers ordained.)  This lines up the 2.5 million member synod with the Augsburg Confession, Article 14.  For other actions, go here.

After the jump, Aaron Wolf, an editor with Chronicles Magazine, rhapsodizes about the LCMS, of which he is a member, saying that with the convention, “the LCMS officially embraced a conservative ethos.” [Read more…]