No congregations, no justice

UCCLogoOn Pentecost Sunday, my mother’s youngest brother and his family joined a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This marked the last of my mother’s siblings to leave the United Church of Christ. She also has a Roman Catholic brother, a brother who I believe is a New Age spiritualist, and a Lutheran sister.

When my mother left the church, her parents were very upset. They were devoted members of their church in Denver and had been devoted members of their church in Missouri. Now it’s hard to find more than a few distant family members who remained in the church. My mother was baptized and confirmed in UCC congregations and has spoken highly of the religious training she was given. She has followed the church’s precipitous decline from mainline powerhouse to struggling social-justice outlier. When we would visit my grandparents’ Denver congregation, my mother would lament the replacement of the Christian creeds with modern interfaith statements, or sermons that refrained from biblical messages in favor of readings from other religions or secular traditions. In addition to my aunts, uncles, cousins and other extended family, the church has lost over a million members since my mother left in the 1960s.

Reader Ben Dubow sent along a fantastic article from the Hartford Courant about the UCC. It’s a wonderful example of how to localize a national story. Reporter Elizabeth Hamilton managed to be balanced, straightforward and informative about church politics and doctrine. It’s not very often you see that. Note this lede:

When more than 10,000 clergy and parishioners from the United Church of Christ converge on Hartford this week for their General Synod, at least half of the dozen resolutions they’ll consider will deal with issues of social justice — a more humane immigration policy, a worldwide ban on depleted uranium weapons, support of physician-assisted suicide.

In other words, bread and butter issues for a mainline denomination, known by most as the Congregational Church, that has come to be associated with its progressive — some would say liberal — stance on controversial topics like gay marriage and abortion rights.

But sandwiched between those resolutions is an almost equal number of proposals that illustrate the cost the UCC has paid for its strong social justice component.

These resolutions, which come from conferences in the Midwest and South, range from calls to “vehemently affirm” that marriage is a God-ordained relationship between a man and a woman to more measured proposals suggesting ways to keep conservative congregations from leaving the UCC.

Since the last General Synod, in 2005, when more than 80 percent of delegates voted to endorse gay marriage, at least 220 churches have left the denomination, according to Faithful and Welcoming Churches of the United Church of Christ, an organization whose stated goal is keeping estranged churches from bailing out of the UCC.

The UCC disputes these numbers, and said only 160 churches have left the denomination since 2005, and only 90 of those specifically cited the marriage resolution as their reason for leaving.

Whatever the number, it doesn’t change the underlying truth that the UCC, much like the Episcopal Church of America, is struggling to keep its family intact as it grapples with questions about its own identity.

The remainder of the story delves into concerns from a wide variety of viewpoints. One pastor notes the disconnect between the liberal leadership of the church and its less liberal laypeople. Church officials say the loss of congregations is sad but not as big of a deal as some think. One clergyman is upset that the media are even writing about the issue. Hamilton explains the history of the church — how it formed from a merger of two bodies that also are the result of a merger (my own mother’s church had been German Evangelical and Reformed before it became UCC). Hamilton quotes a church leader saying that Jesus would want Christians to be in communion even when they have doctrinal disagreements.

The reporter focuses on the issue of homosexuality but speaks with congregations that have left and finds that the areas of disagreement are much broader — those who left said they felt the UCC had strayed from caring about biblical authority. Hamilton looks at how various congregations have decided whether to publicly align themselves as embracing homosexual pastors and civil unions and finds, among those congregations with no desire to leave the UCC, quite a bit of disagreement.

At its heart the article is about those who have remained UCC. And while Hamilton doesn’t shy away from the hemorrhaging of members and congregations, to her credit she focuses on the struggles of those who remain. She ends with this analysis from the Rev. Matthew Braddock:

The social witness component is part of what drew Braddock, the pastor from Trumbull, to a UCC church after he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church.

“I love that they’re willing to take stands on these issues,” Braddock said. “But I think the church struggles with it. The UCC, for years, has been saying that the way to renewal is through justice. But there are a lot of churches who are very engaged in hands-on social justice issues that aren’t growing.

“Social justice needs to be linked with contemplation,” he added. “And when you do one without the other, we lack balance.”

Nicely done. As more and more reporters prepare for summer convention season, they would do well to respectfully look into substantive conflicts and struggles in each.

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  • Martha

    *eyes open wide in amaze*

    “Physician-assisted suicide” is a “bread and butter issue”? Moreover, a “social justice” issue?

    That’s – interesting.

    As is the quote that after 80% at General Synod voted in favour, 220 churches left. I don’t know how many churches are counted as part of the denomination, so how big/small a proportion would that be? Also, it does suggest that the delegates who attend the Synod were not, perhaps, representative of the broader denomination.

  • Gary Aknos

    There are two major issues the article didn’t cover:

    1) American’s United for the Separation of Church and State is investigating whether or not a $100,000 grant from the state of Connecticut to the UCC violated the constitution.
    http://www.ucctruths.com/Archive/2006OctoberArchive.html#au

    2) Just this week, every major Jewish group “rebuked” the UCC. A rather significant story that’s been avoided by the media in general. Can you remember the last time so many Jewish groups condemned one denomination?
    http://www.ucctruths.com/

  • Gary Aknos

    Martha:

    While 80% did in deed vote for the Equality Marriage resolution at the last General Synod, only 10% of UCC churches are actually “Open and Affirming” – the designation of churches who publicly welcome gays and lesbians into the full life of the church including marriage, civil unions and/or commitment ceremonies. The 10% number is probably the most accurate statistic that reflects the actual pulse of UCC local churches on gay marriage.

    The General Synod format is not designed to be a democratic or representative body… delegates are encouraged to think “independently” of their local church. As a result, most people and especially clergy don’t challenge the national office at these events… it’s bad for your ministerial standing.

  • Chris Bolinger

    “One pastor notes the disconnect between the liberal leadership of the church and its less liberal laypeople.”

    The phenomenon of denominational leadership being more politically and theologically liberal than most members is common across “mainline” denominations. I made that point in a reply to a different post, citing the dynamic at a local PCUSA church, but reporter Michael was quick to “correct” me…showing once again that many in the press think that they know more than those on whom and to whom they report. Looks like Elizabeth Hamilton did a good job of letting people who are on the front lines do the talking. Bravo.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The article seemed better than most. But I wish more pointed questions were asked. Like:
    Without the grounding of a firm belief in the Biblical or Christian moral Tradition on key issues, how do you know if you have not merely become the plaything of liberal, progessive political correctness?? (The liberal left-wing of the Democratic Party at prayer.)
    Instead of being prophetic (as most liberal, progressive Christians claim to be) how do you know the real prophets are not the millions of Christians which have left your church and other mainstream liberal congregations??? After all, many of them wind up in other churches– from Catholic to Orthodox to Evangelical– as very strong, active members defending the word of God as traditionally understood.

  • Eric G.

    I thought the article was informed, accurate (from what I know), balanced and fair. Of course, there are hundreds of issues that could have been addressed, but part of the job of a reporter also is to be concise!

    That said, if I were suggesting one issue that could have been discussed more it would have been the aging of the parishioners in many mainline deonominations, including (someone correct me if I’m wrong) the UCC. I’m on the upper end of middle age, and whenever I visit a mainline church I feel like I’m one of the young ones, just like the 47-year-old who was quoted. Such a demographic doesn’t bode well for many denominations.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The other huge mainline issue is the ratio of women to men in those same pews.

    At some point, you enter a spiral that cannot be broken.

    http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/2007/05/30/

  • Michael

    I think this was a fair, balanced story. In some ways, covering the disagreements inside the Mainline denomination are fairly easy to cover since the liberal/conservative divide illustrated by a hot button issue is easy to understand and explain.

    Harder–and an untold God beat story–is explaining the divisions inside conservative denominations. How do you explain disagreements between conservative and more conservative factions? What if there isn’t a hot button issue involved, yet intense division? Look how difficult it is to explain the leadership battles in the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Or look at the divisions inside the LCMS. How does a reporter cover the upcoming LCMS convention that will likely be rocked by significant disagreement between Evangelical and Confessing branches? How do you explain a decline in membership that rivals what you see in the “liberal” denominations and runs completely counter to the “conservative churches are growing” meme? How do you cover a dispute where the two sides hire lawyers to dispute elections and votes and dates back as far as the 1970s, yet it isn’t about homosexuality and not even really about women ministers? How do you cover churches leaving the denomination on both ends of the spectrum, but there isn’t an African bishop around?

    Those stories are the big challenge for God-beat journalists because it requries talking about nuances in theology and not hot button sexy issues.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael,

    AMEN! I just had a conversation with my mother about this. Because the fights in the LCMS are anything but political, no reporters “get” them. Nobody even begins to get them. Both the “confessional” Lutherans (like me) and what I call the “generic American Protestant/Evangelical” types in control of the bureaucracy should post some resources for reporters. Of course, if past is prologue, we’ll see about 1-2 substantive stories on the entire convention.

    Also, while the LCMS’stagnant statistics are nothing to brag about, they are in no way comparable to the precipitous declines facing mainline churches. But I get your underlying point as well.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    One of the major themes of this blog’s coverage of the mainline/oldline world is that the essential issues are rarely about sexuality.Also, even the essential issue linked to sexual morality is doctrinal, not political. There are plenty of political progressives who are traditional Chrisitans when it comes to these doctrines, and plenty of political conservatives who are liberals/Libertarians on moral and cultural issues.

    Glad that you agree.

    Also, the stagnation theme is very important. I agree with you. That is even true in the majority of, oh, Southern Baptist churches. The growth areas are in the whole non-denominational megachurch world.

    All of the most interesting stories of growth vs. decline are WITHIN the various denominations.

  • Michael

    See, we can agree. :)

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  • Ron

    ALL actions of a UCC General Synod are ONLY advisory for UCC churches. The General Synod and the “national office” has NO power to make decisions for or to compel a member church to do (or NOT do) anything at all.

    Also, I was interested in the utter lack of balance in the article as it completely failed to mention anything about the growing number of churches and individuals who have come into the UCC in the past 5 years, pretty much balancing the losses.

  • Jessica

    No, Ron, there is not a growing number of churches and individuals who have joined the UCC. It DOES NOT “pretty much balance the losses”. The UCC is on a downward spiral to destroying itself. Members are leaving in droves. After Synod this weekend, take a look-see at what the numbers will be. A lot of members are waiting to see what the outcome of Synod will be.

    Counting the addition of the gay church in Texas does not make up for the losses of 220+ churches and thousands of members who are no longer attending UCC churches. But, of course, to some, this is a plus, because the sooner the conservative Bible believing members are gone, the better.

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  • Ron

    A half-truth is no truth at all. The author of this article upon which we are commenting would have readers believe that the tide is moving all one way. It is not. According to the most recent report, only about 160 churches have actually processed their actions and have left the UCC. During the same period 65 or more churches have been received into the UCC and the actual numbers of members entering as opposed to those leaving are a lot closer than the author would have readers believe.

    There is also some truth to the statement about the “conservative Bible believing” members being gone, the better, because then, the Bible believing members who remain can get back to their true call of living faithful productive lives for Jesus, rather than being embroiled in unholy controversy.

  • Camassia

    According to the ARDA, the number of both churches and members in the UCC has been drifting downward since 1965.

    http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_1463.asp

    Meanwhile, another survey using a phone sample asking people to identify themselves by affiliation actually found the number actually went up between 1990 and 2001. See page 12 here:

    http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_1463.asp

    The difference may be partly due to the fact that they lump UCCers with other Congregationalists, and also that they use self-identification rather than membership. The number of people identifying as generic “Protestant” took a huge dive at the same time, suggesting people are identifying more with specific churches.

    On another point, here are the LCMS stats:

    http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_887.asp

  • Michael

    I love that website.

    An interesting point is to compare the LCMS data to the ELCA data. Over the same period, they have almost identical drops in membership. Yet, the LCMS is called “stagnant” while the ELCA is described as “hemorrhaging” I think it is part of the meme–I would even argue bias–in how the Mainline churches are covered that we’ve accepted a specific script–as defined by religious conservatives–in how we talk about membership declines.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael,

    I have never heard of the ELCA as hemorrhaging. Who referred to them as such? They’ve only been around as a denomination for a brief period of time but during that time their membership drop has not compared with, say, the UCC.

    Mollie

  • Camassia

    Whoops, my link to the phone survey didn’t work — here it is:

    http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_studies/aris.pdf

  • Chris Bolinger

    Michael, why do people in the press accept a script defined by religious conservatives? Have you folks in the press lost the power to control your own use of language? Are so-called religious conservatives THAT influential in how the press reports on mainline denominations?

    Does anyone else in the press concur with Michael’s assessment?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael wrote:

    Yet, the LCMS is called “stagnant” while the ELCA is described as “hemorrhaging”

    Michael, yesterday I asked you who had described the ELCA as hemorrhaging. What was your basis for the statement?

    Mollie

  • Michael

    The Mainline denominations–which includes the ELCA–are routinely referred to as “hemorrhaging” members. It’s a routine throw-away assumption in many stories about the Mainline denominations and I would argue an assumption pepetuated for political and strategic reasons by religious conservatives who do influence the media.

    While I don’t have a specific example in reference to the ELCA, the ELCA is clumped in with the Mainline denominations.

    In contrast, the LCMS loses a comparable percentage of members over the same period of time as the ELCA but there are not stories in the media about “conservative churches losing members.” You can, however, find stories discussing the ELCA’s declining memberships and allusions to the fact that it is related to the denomination’s differences over homosexuality. Same numbers, completely different media coverage.

    Maybe the reality is that LCMS is off the media radar and, as you and TMatt acknowledged, the media has a hard time explaining membersbhip “stagnation” (or decline) when you can’t blame it on homosexuality or women or some other political issue.

    But I also think religion reporters have accepted the spin that Mainline churches are in decline while conservative churches are growing without bothering to look behind the curtain and asking why religious conservative pundits and groups are feeding the spin (and why so much membership data from conservative denominations appears to be so suspect).

  • Chris Bolinger

    Religion reporters sound easily led by those big, bad conservatives. Next time you are chiding Larry or someone else for crying wolf about the liberal bogeyman, you might try yanking that big ol’ log out of your own eye.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael,

    So you don’t have any basis for saying that the ELCA has been described as hemorrhaging? No links? No stories? No examples of mainstream media using that term?

    It seems if this happens “routinely” as you describe it, it shouldn’t be hard to find at least a few examples . . . right?

  • Michael

    Here are four stories from the mainstream press where Mainline denominations generally are described as hemorrhaging members. It was a quick google. While they don’t specifically list the ELCA, they don’t separate out big decliners and “stagnating” churches (the GetReligion term for declining membership in conservative churches).

    The last story, by RNS, is actually a great story that dissects the membership decline stats and raises the point that Mainline denominations may actually be more honest in reporting while other denominations may play fast and loose with numbers for PR purposes.

    http://lohud.com/mainline/main01.htm

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,957726,00.html

    http://www.biblebeltblogger.com/biblebelt/2006/09/christianity_fo.html

    http://religion.beloblog.com/archives/2007/05/cooking_the_books_1.html

  • Michael

    BTW, for another great example of how a script is sort of assumed, look at the ARDA’s membership data on this blog’s favorite punching bag, Episcopal Church, and the LCMS from the mid-1980s to 2003 in the ARDA. The decline is almost EXACTLY the same, yet the Episcopalians are routinely described as being in a severe decline and, yes, hemorraghing members.

    Here’s the Episcopal Church

    http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_849.asp

    and here’s the LCMS

    http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_887.asp

    Both denominations peaked in their membership around 1971. While the fall of the Episcopal church has been more dramatic than the LCMS, the decline since the mid-1980s is almost identical.

    The denominations have also have had similar growths in the number of clergy (by percentage).

    Can you honestly say that the Episcopal church’s membership problems and the LCMS membership problems are treated the same by the media? How often has this blog talked about the losses in membership and attendance at the Episcopal church,. usually in the context of homosexuality? Now, how often has similar language been used to discuss your denomination which has decilnes rivaling TWO mainline denominations?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Okay, Michael, let’s look at your proof.

    The first example you cite is a story written by one of my favorite religion reporters, Gary Stern. It is a local news story that *does* look at the ELCA as well as four other denominations with churches in the area and finds, statistically, a drop of 45 percent. This might not be the best example for you to use since a) it doesn’t use the word hemorrhaging and b) in fact is a hard look at pretty precipitous decline in membership. Here are the portions that deal with the ELCA:

    A Journal News review of the five most prominent mainline denominations shows that their membership in New York City and the surrounding suburbs has fallen by 45 percent since the heyday of 1960, when the spiritual descendants of Luther, Calvin and Wesley composed the white-bread religious mainstream.

    But evidence that the New York jurisdictions face a highly uncertain future is plain: . . .

    More than one-third of churches in the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are “at risk,” with 75 or fewer members.

    “Numbers are important, but we can’t buy into the cultural focus on success and glory,” said Bishop Stephen Bouman, who leads the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “In the Bible, it’s OK to be vulnerable and small. But it’s not OK to not have a mission or not be welcoming. If our congregations can answer the question ‘Who is my neighbor?’ we can experience a renaissance. If the Lutheran church doesn’t love the poor and all those who God loves, Jesus will find a church that will.”

    2) The second example you cite does use the word “hemorrhaging” in the following graph. But since it doesn’t mention the ELCA, it’s probably not a good example to use:

    During the past two decades, however, that center has dropped away. The central fact about mainline Protestantism in the U.S. today is that it is in deep trouble. This stunning turnabout is apparent in the unprecedented hemorrhaging of memberships in the three major faiths that date from colonial times. The United Church of Christ (which includes most Congregationalists) has shrunk 20% since 1965, the Presbyterian Church 25%, and the Episcopal Church 28%. As for two related denominations that mushroomed in the 19th century, the United Methodist Church has dropped 18%, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 43% after a de facto schism. Together, these five groups suffered a net loss of 5.2 million souls during years when the U.S. population rose 47 million.

    3) The third example you cite is from a blog post. While the author is a journalist working in mainstream media, the example is not FROM mainstream media. The blog post doesn’t mention ELCA specifically and only says the following note which would or could include LCMS as well:

    Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal and American Baptist churches have also suffered heavy losses.

    4) The fourth example you cite is from RNS and it groups all Lutherans together (so it’s not a good example) and it also brings up the hemorrhaging charge IN ORDER TO REFUTE IT. So again, not the best point.

    So that leaves us with the first story which, while not using the word hemorrhaging, does refer to a collective 45 percent drop in membership among churches including the ELCA in the New York region. I’m not sure that’s the best example for you to use since in this case, it looks like the ELCA did suffer some serious drops.

    Now, as to your second post where you complain that the drops in membership in the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod track together in a similar fashion, you are wrong on many counts.

    1) Both denominations did not peak around 1971.

    The Episcopal Church peaked in 1959 with 3.4 million members. It has had a 32.64 percent decrease in membership since that time.

    The LCMS peaked in 1970 with 2.8 million members. It has had a 10.78 percent decrease since that time.

    2) Even if you use the 1971 numbers (3.2 and 2.8 million members, respectively), the decline in the Episcopal Church is almost 28 percent compared with just over 10 percent in the LCMS.

    3) The decline in the ECUSA since 1985 is over 15 percent compared with 5.66 percent in the LCMS. You referred to that as “almost identical.”

    This is so much my pet peeve about journalists. There is NO COMPARISON in these numbers. NONE. You are a working journalist. You should know this.

    In other words, I find nothing compelling about anything you wrote in either of your last two comments.

  • Michael

    This is so much my pet peeve about journalists. There is NO COMPARISON in these numbers. NONE. You are a working journalist. You should know this.

    Mollie, before you go around scolding me, you should know I picked 1987 as the comparison date, since that’s the date that the ELCA data began. Using 1987-2002 (and a pure 15 year data point), the decline in the ELCA, the LCMS, and the TEC is all around 5 percent. This is a pure comparison with each denomination evaluated from the same start date.

    One of my pet peeves is how data can be used in specific ways, which is why I used the same date for all three denominations to make my comparison. While I could have used an earlier comparison date, it would not have allowed the use of the ELCA data. I even acknowledged that that the LCMS had a much smaller overall decline.

    I’ll leave the unwarranted scolding aside since I didn’t give the exact date of my comparison point, but merely said mid-1980s. You are correct I picked the wrong peaking date.

    As for the four stories, all describe the Mainline denominations–in general–as having declining membership or “hemmoraghing” which was my point about how the media uses a specific script to describe the Mainline denominataion. Each involved a mainstream story or journalist following a specific script in describing the membership challenges, so prevelant a script that the RNS used it as an example to refute it.

    It’s fine you don’t find the information compelling. I find many of the example of bias discussed on this blog less than compelling; trivial and often completely unsupported would be the word would come to mind. As you know, bias is really in the eye of the one using the word and that ones self-interest clouds the perception of bias. I acknowledge my participating in a Mainline denomination clouds my view, and I imagine your former spot on the LCMS PR committee probably clouds yours.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Michael, you have made repeated claims that there is a script, defined by conservatives, that mainstream religion reporters follow when describing the declining membership of mainline denominations. If such a script is so prevalent, you should be able to point us to it or at least to an irrefutable reference to it. If you can’t, then you must provide more than a handful of questionable examples that such a script even exists.

    If such a script exists, and if members of the press are so naive and easily led that they just can’t help following such a script, then my opinion of the press just sank to a new low, if that’s even possible. Why should I read anything written by such people? Shall we change the masthead to read “The press…just doesn’t get reporting”?

    Your claims about the script and your goal of proving that mainline denominations are no worse than “conservative” denominations is another example of how most press folks see everything through the lens of politics. Shall we all clap our hands in glee if “conservative” denominations are losing membership as fast as “progressive” denominations? Shall we beat the brush for a “conservative” bogeyman who is trying to ensure that “progressive” denominations look bad? Is there ultimately a winner in such a battle? Of course not. The sad reality is that all Christian denominations are losing the real battle. But you can’t wrap a neat political bow around that.

  • Chris Bolinger

    By the way, my answer to every one of your questions in #8 is simple: Do your job. Apparently, you believe that the job of a religion reporter is unbelievably difficult, especially if it “requires talking about nuances in theology and not hot button sexy issues.” Cry me a river.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael wrote:

    Mollie, before you go around scolding me, you should know I picked 1987 as the comparison date, since that’s the date that the ELCA data began.

    Two problems with this. 1) In your previous comments attempting to prove the mainstream media is biased you didn’t compare the ELCA to the LCMS. You compared the EPISCOPAL CHURCH to the LCMS and said:

    BTW, for another great example of how a script is sort of assumed, look at the ARDA’s membership data on this blog’s favorite punching bag, Episcopal Church, and the LCMS from the mid-1980s to 2003 in the ARDA. The decline is almost EXACTLY the same, yet the Episcopalians are routinely described as being in a severe decline and, yes, hemorraghing members.

    So the comparison was between the Episcopal Church and the LCMS, which I think we’ve already seen is not comparable. Now, 2) it is true that if you use — inexplicably — 1987 data through 2002 data then it would show a 5.8 percent decrease for the Episcopal Church versus a 4.8 percent decrease for the LCMS. But I think the broader data is more representative. Somehow I don’t think you’ll be able to see that.

    One of my pet peeves is how data can be used in specific ways, which is why I used the same date for all three denominations to make my comparison.

    Maybe you did that in your head, but you didn’t do that here on GetReligion. See the previous comment.

    Remember, I’m the one who is saying that I would never use the word hemorrhaging to describe the ELCA.

    The onus was on you to show that the mainstream media DOES describe the ELCA as hemorrhaging — something I never did and wouldn’t do!

    You have failed to show an example of the mainstream media using that word to describe the ELCA. You DID provide an example of a local regional news story that would have had every right to use the word — but didn’t — even though it showed a collective decline in mainline churches of 45 percent. Which kind of negates your point. Not that I expect you to learn from this or change your tune.

    You incorrectly state the following about your four citations:

    Each involved a mainstream story or journalist following a specific script in describing the membership challenges, so prevelant a script that the RNS used it as an example to refute it.

    1) the mainstream Gary Stern story hardly followed a script. It looked at regionally-specific data and found a 45 percent decline in membership. It was well-researched, well-reported and went out of its way to explain the decline in a way that shed light on the story.

    2) The second example didn’t mention the ELCA AT ALL. REMEMBER WHAT THIS WHOLE DISAGREEMENT WAS ABOUT?

    3) The third example was not a mainstream news story and

    4) The fourth example was about how the hemorrhaging nomenclature is inappropriate.

    Again, these facts don’t seem to sway you so I will not bother trying to convince you.

    However, you have hurled a hurtful allegation against me without providing any supporting evidence YET AGAIN:

    I find many of the example of bias discussed on this blog less than compelling; trivial and often completely unsupported would be the word would come to mind.

    It is so easy to throw slurs around, Michael, but you seem congenitally unwilling to substantiate them. That is a very serious charge you levy, one I take very seriously. Both times you spoke against my writing and character in the last month, I have gone out of my way to engage you and use facts (note all the times I’m quoting and referencing?) to respond.

    The simple fact that you hurl allegations and then forget what they were makes such argumentation not even fun. I mean, the whole thing here was that you claimed the mainstream media accuses the ELCA of hemorrhaging members. Other than the Gary Stern story, which didn’t use that term but did show a 45 percent decline among mainline churches in the region (so presumably you wouldn’t mind him using the term), you have failed to prove that point.

    You then moved onto another point about how the Episcopal Church and the LCMS had almost identical losses in membership, which I showed wasn’t true — so you switched gears again to say the ELCA and LCMS declines were almost identical. Which was something I never even debated!

  • Michael

    Okay we’re done. You win. This has stopped being fun or interesting and has now turned into condescending and rude. You’ve picked up Terry’s infamous habit of being dismissive and pedantic with commenters and it’s just not worth the effort it to have my journalistic and intellectual integrity questioned.

    I’m not going to persuade you and I don’t have the time or desire to continue going back and forth.

  • http://www.uconnchurch.com/blog Ben Dubow

    Wow… Michael seems a bit crazy and dogmatic.

    Otherwise, a great post and great (and insightful) discussion. I really appreciate the use of solid data in the discussion –so often we just throw ideas around (like Michael) with no sense that data matters.

    Thanks!

    Ben Dubow

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    MZ has responded TWICE to your specific points. That is the opposite of being dismissive.

    She is more willing to answer your questions than you are willing to answer her questions.


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