Hispanic Catholic renewal 101

OLguadalupeIt’s interesting, whenever the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life releases a new study, to watch the ripples from that data spread out into the work of mainstream newsrooms that take religion news seriously.

Thus, since the Pew team has recently released major studies on faith in Hispanic cultures and the worldwide growth of Pentecostalism, we should continue to look for think pieces on either of these subjects — or both at the same time since they are interconnected.

Take, for example, a Washington Post story by Anthony Faiola that ran with the headline “In U.S., Hispanics Bring Catholicism to Its Feet — The Church Offers Livelier Services for a Growing Constituency of Charismatics.” It isn’t every day that you get to see a feature story that offers both a classic, stereotypical photograph of elderly hands holding a rosary with chunks of prose like this:

Sonia Rodriguez, a 60-year-old Puerto Rican, spun in the aisles as she spoke in tongues. The crowd began frantically waving white napkins in the air to symbolically purify themselves while a preacher began calling down the Holy Spirit. Moments later, one young woman began spasmodically dancing as if in a trance while group leaders rushed to her side with outstretched hands. She finally collapsed into her chair amid a chorus of “hallelujahs” from the congregation.

For some, the charismatic prayer service offered a rare chance to unload their burdens and experiences in the company of compassionate ears. Juana Jaco, a 47-year-old Salvadoran maid, took the microphone to give one of many “testimonies” of personal experiences with God.

“Until last year, I thought I was worthless; my husband beat me, and I hated myself,” said Jaco, who came to the service alone. In tears, she continued: “But then my uncle came to me. He was sick and needed a kidney. I didn’t think twice; I offered him mine. After the operation, we began to pray together, and we both felt God come down and touch us both.”

This is a good piece and, if anything, it left me wanting more — especially on the complex nature of the interaction between Pentecostal beliefs and those of the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics are, after all, a rather orderly lot at the level of doctrine, faith and practice. The story, for example, makes references to the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the National Hispanic Committee of Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I laughed out loud when I hit both references. I would think it is rather hard to crunch the work of truly charismatic leaders down into the agenda of your typical bookish Catholic committee.

This is a hard subject to cover, because Pentecostalism is complex. Some of this may have filtered into the story, whether the reporter knew it or not.

hands raised upTake, for example, that language about the preacher “calling down the Holy Spirit.” That is pretty traditional Pentecostal language. There is another reference that doesn’t conflict with this, yet may show signs of Catholic complexity.

To be sure, not everyone in the church — from the leaders to the flock — is comfortable with that shift. Even at the 10 a.m. Mass … many parishioners in the back remained solemn as charismatics in the front pews expressed their faith with great animation. Some charismatic practices remain controversial, including a devotion known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The ritual, which varies greatly among charismatic groups, often starts with weeks of reviewing the gospel and culminates in a prayer to “release” the Holy Spirit from inside the soul. At that point, some participants express extreme joy and might begin to speak in tongues.

Pentecostal readers may correct me, but I have never heard charismatic or Pentecostal believers — at least not in a Protestant context — talk about prayers “to ‘release’ the Holy Spirit from inside the soul.” Most of the time, the Pentecostal people that I have known talk about the need to “receive” the Holy Spirit. However, Catholics (and other liturgical Christians) would believe that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their original baptisms, usually as infants. Thus, prayers to “release” the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit?

Yes, this is picky. Also, it would be interesting to explore whether there are tensions between the lay preachers who often drive Pentecostal cell groups and services and the formally trained, committee-friendly priests who are responsible for the official Masses and other rites in these parishes. Faiola hints at this.

Face it, there may be some very tense partners in this great liturgical dance. That’s a subject worth returning to in a future story.

I would also be interested in knowing how Hispanic charismatic Catholics compare with mainstream Catholics when it comes to the practice of the faith — take Confession, for example — and support for the church’s moral and social teachings. This is the rare mainstream story in which the reporter did not try to push the political questions out front, which is to be commended. Still, those questions are important and will be asked sooner or later.

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My truth is that I am a gay Episcopalian

NYPCover Professional team switcher Jim McGreevey is back in the news. He’s the former New Jersey governor who was forced to resign amid charges of sexual harrassment from a male subordinate. McGreevey was married at the time and had been married previously but somehow managed to turn the bad news into a celebration of his newly revealed homosexuality. Now that’s how you spin, kids. He and his wife are divorcing and he plans to get hitched to his live-in male lover. McGreevey claimed, by the way, that he began an affair with his aide while his wife was recuperating in the hospital from a particularly hard labor and delivery. Classy.

Anyway, McGreevey was also a former altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church he claimed frequently to be devoted to. He formally departed that church this past Sunday for, well, the Episcopal Church.

Okay, so the news in this tangled mess of decepion is that McGreevey wants to become a man of the cloth. Here’s how the Daily News put it:

He’s served as New Jersey’s governor, outed himself as a “gay American,” and now he wants to be Father James.

Raised a Catholic, Jim McGreevey has become an Episcopalian and will study at The General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, beginning this fall.

“We are pleased to confirm that he has been accepted to the seminary’s three-year Master of Divinity program,” school spokesman Bruce Parker said in a statement yesterday.

mcgreeveysI really hoped that an enterprising reporter would follow up with Bruce Parker or an Episcopal official about this statement. “Pleased to confirm?” I mean, I understand the Episcopal Church is going through problems, but I’m assuming the seminaries have some standards about who makes a good student or not. And I’m pretty sure that by almost any measure, the red bells of alarm are flashing about this man for this vocation.

Yes, there is a huge divide between the Episcopal Church and its dissidents. They have very different approaches to Scripture and what God has to say about sexuality, marriage and what support should be given to neighbors in their spiritual walk. But that’s why I have two problems with reporters’ failure to query Episcopal leadership about this latest news.

On the one hand, despite what the seminary spokesman says and the general lack of outcry from church leaders here, I suspect that Episcopalians who support their church’s drift might not be enthused about having — at best — a known liar and unrepentant oath-breaker as one of their shepherds. A few of my Episcopal friends said this was the last thing they needed or wanted, but no story I read had quotes from average laypeople.

On the other hand, if the seminary spokesman really is pleased to confirm that this man has been accepted to his program, that simply must be looked at in more detail. Is this really where the Episcopal Church is on the eve of Archbishop Peter Akinola’s visit to the United States? And, if so, that’s proof positive that reporters have been doing a crappy job on this larger story by making it be just about how evil those Northern Virginians are.

The Star-Ledger, which I believe broke the story, had better details than most. Reporters Josh Margolin and Jeff Diamant included more of Parker’s statement, such as his claim that McGreevey had met all of the seminary’s admission requirements and that his application was evaluated by a committee of faculty members, students and the Director of Admissions. They don’t have any details on whether there was any kind of morality requirement or even a requirement that one must have been a member of the Episcopal Church in order to begin the ordination process. On that note, the reporters also explained how the discernment process for becoming an ordained priest is lengthy and has several steps, such as discussions at the parish and diocesan level as well as graduation from seminary. That might shed light on why or how McGreevey was accepted.

mcgreevey bookA few other notes. I thought the Associated Press concisely summed up some of the religious issues at play at the end of its brief report. The New York Post had one article on the issue, which used the McGreevey news as a hook for looking at the larger Anglican divide over homosexuality. In an article about McGreevey’s parish, the Post also had some notable errors and missed opportunities, such as this:

St. Bartholomew’s spokesman Bob Johnson declined to speak directly about McGreevey’s bid for the priesthood, but he said the church first ordained an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, three years ago.

“In the faith, priests can be gay, they can be women, they can be married, they can be divorced,” Johnson said. “We’re viewed as more liberal. We’re welcoming to all.”

Sigh. Gene Robinson was ordained as a priest in the 1970s. He publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in the 1980s, around the same time he divorced his wife. He was elected a bishop — the first openly gay one on election — four years ago. That gay, female and divorced individuals can be priests in the Episcopal Church is not news. But is that really what is newsworthy about McGreevey? That he’s a twice-divorced man now living with a male partner? Are there any other moral issues at play? If not, why not? And why aren’t reporters asking these questions — at scandal rags, no less? A gay Catholic blogger noted some double standards with how McGreevey’s morality problems are treated by the media. He basically says the media give a pass to all of his moral problems because of his big “My truth is that I’m a gay American” speech. The blogger wrote the post over a week before this news broke, and it’s worth reading.

This story provides the perfect opportunity to look at what morality means in the Episcopal Church. It provides an opportunity to shed light on the larger Anglican divide. It also would be great to use it to look at what contrition means in the church’s postmodern environment.

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Where’s the forgiveness?

confession 01Reporter Jennifer Lebovich had a very interesting article in Sunday’s Miami Herald. She looked at the popularity of online confession websites where people anonymously post their sins or read about the sins of others. She looks at I’ve Screwed Up, GroupHug, My Secret, Daily Confession and the now-inactive Not Proud. Sexual sins are the most frequently confessed, with theft, lying and alcohol abuse following, Lebovich reports.

Lebovich begins with one of the confessions she read about a woman who regrets an abortion she had 18 years ago:

Finally ready to confess, she turned not to a minister, but to her computer.

“I am sorry God for not keeping that baby,” her anonymous confession reads. “I had an abortion and had kept that secret for over 18 years. I feel so ashamed. Please forgive me!”

The confession appears at ivescrewedup.com, a website launched by the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City. It’s one of a growing number of such sites across the country — some secular and others church-sponsored — that offer a place to spill out ugly secrets or just make peccadilloes public.

“I think it helps people understand . . . that we’re not here to point out people’s screw-ups, that we’re here to help them,” said lead Pastor Troy Gramling, whose nondenominational church launched the site on Easter weekend. “The church is made of skin and flesh and people that have made mistakes.”

The 6,500-member church created the site as part of a 10-week series on the ways people mess up — in marriage, parenting, finances and more. The goal of the series is to help congregants learn from their mistakes.

As I said, very interesting and well-written story. That last line — and many others from the story — gave me pause, however. In churches like mine where private confession is taken very seriously, the reason why people do it before a priest is not primarily to “learn from their mistakes” or confide in someone therapeutically or reveal some past transgression. The primary purpose is to be absolved. When I confess my sins to my pastor, he forgives me in Christ’s stead. Other churches have variations on this, but in the whole “confession and absolution” structure, the emphasis is on forgiveness. As Luther said:

Now mark well what I have said often, that confession consists of two parts. The first is our work and doing, that I lament my sins and desire comfort and renewal of my soul. The other is a work which God does, who absolves me from my sins through His Word spoken by the mouth of man. This is the most important and precious part, as it also makes it lovely and comforting.

Now I know that this is an area where many Christians, particularly many Protestants, have a different understanding of the role of the pastor or priest in regard to forgiveness from God. But as I read the story, the question kept popping up for me: Where or how does forgiveness come into play, if at all? In other words, are these online confession sites more like what you might get from a traditional church’s confession mechanism or more like what you might get from watching Oprah? Does the confessing individual forgive himself? Does the community forgive? Does the magical internet forgive? Here the reporter approaches the question:

The church has received some criticism, Gruenewald said, from people who think that “we’re trying to encourage people to confess to a computer instead of God. We just believe it is a catalyst to have people open up to family and friends and God. I think sometimes it can be misunderstood.”

A recent redesign gave readers the option to post prayers or responses to the confessions.

The Catholic Church is among those who reject the idea of confessing online.

Confession is “the opportunity to confess sins to someone ordained as a priest who is a representative of Christ,” said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

That quote from Agosta is rather weak in terms of how well it conveys beefs the Roman Catholic Church might have with online confession. It’s hard to know if that is a reporter error or a missed opportunity on the part of Agosta.

But the article goes on to say that the Web sites make people feel better about their own behavior and moral values. I have no doubt that’s true. But that also is a huge dissimilarity to historic Christianity’s private confession and absolution. I’m sure I’m not alone among penitents in being absolutely mortified when I speak my sins out loud and have to confess the same things over and over and over again to my pastor. In traditional churches, the practice of private confession and absolution reminds the penitent how sin separates the believer from God and how merciful God is to forgive us — it isn’t supposed to make us feel better about our sin.

This wasn’t an article about traditional churches but the comparisons being made — from the first lines to the last — were to the practice of private confession and absolution. I wonder if the contrasts between the two aren’t more interesting — particularly how or whether God’s mercy is distributed through the online forum vs. the traditional practice. Perhaps some better questioning of online confession’s proponents or its detractors is in order.

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A scandal in St. Louis

toiletpaper2Singer Sheryl Crow has been in the news recently for her confrontation with Karl Rove and her thoughts that we all need to use less toilet paper. But it was a local story out of St. Louis that caught my attention. Religion reporter Tim Townsend writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a trip the singer was making to St. Louis to raise money for a Catholic hospital that helps children with cancer.

Crow, a Show-Me-State native from Kennett, is also a political activist. She supports abortion rights and stem-cell research that destroys embryos. That position meant her appearance posed problems, according to St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke. After asking — unsuccessfully — that the invitation be rescinded, he resigned as chairman of the hospital foundation board and told area Catholics to think before attending.

I think of all the ways a story like this could have been written and I think that Townsend did a great job of fleshing out the underlying theological views:

For the archbishop, the matter was simple. He had a moral responsibility to avoid the appearance of entangling church teaching and the views of a public figure who supports abortion rights. Burke said he could not allow someone who “publicly espouses the mass destruction of innocent human beings” to raise money for a Catholic hospital.

“What if, for instance, there were someone appearing who we discovered was openly racist and who made statements and took actions to promote racism?” he said at his first news conference in years. “Do you think that I would let that go on?”

Townsend speaks with the chairman of the planning committee for the fundraiser. He slams Burke:

“This event is about helping sick kids,” [Allen Allred] said. “I’m disappointed and saddened there are people in our community who are attempting to use this event to further a political agenda. If we go down that road, do we start asking doctors for their positions on abortion? Do we quiz every single donor what they think of embryonic stem cell research before accepting their money?”

I could be wrong, but I think that many reporters would have approached the story with the same viewpoint as Allred’s, presenting the story as an either/or option of helping innocent, sick children versus upholding church dogma. But Townsend takes the time to get Burke’s response to such accusations:

Burke described the decision as painful. “I have to answer to God for the responsibilities which I have as archbishop,” he said. “For me to remain silent in this situation would be the gravest scandal, because people would get the impression that their spiritual leader also thinks this is just fine.”

The Catholic definition of “scandal” is conduct that incites others to act immorally or do evil. It is a major source of concern for Burke, who has said before that politicians who support abortion rights cause scandal by their positions.

St. Louis readers can agree or disagree with the positions taken by the Catholic hospital’s foundation board or Burke — but a story like this helps encourage understanding of opposing sides, rather than taking cheap shots at piety.

Image from Brandon Blinkenberg via Wikipedia.

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Return of the Know-Nothings?

anticatholicscotusSometimes readers wonder why we look at mainstream media coverage of abortion. A few have suggested it’s not a religious issue. Yet many religion reporters routinely cover both the pro-life and pro-choice movements and cover abortion regularly. Well, the losing side of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act has been noticing religion. Readers have sent along various anti-Roman Catholic opinion pieces — most notably The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s cartoon and Rosie O’Donnell’s screed on The View. But we don’t care whether editorial writers or pundits have opinions on religious issues. That’s just what makes for an exciting editorial page. Although even Rosie O’Donnell’s crazy conspiracy theories don’t salvage The View, do they?

But it’s worth noting a few mainstream media dips into this story pool. Robin Toney is a news analyst for The New York Times. Or at least I think she is. She used to be a regular reporter. Anyway, she wrote a column for the Times — which I see is also being published as a news story in the International Herald Tribune — about how all five of the justices who upheld the federal law are Roman Catholics. I feel this is a good time to mention that I tried to convince friends that Chief Justice William Rehnquist should be replaced by a Lutheran since he was Lutheran. Nobody seemed convinced.

Anyway, Toney says that Catholics typically held only one or two seats on the Supreme Court and this is the first time they hold a majority of seats (because they stole one from us Lutherans!). She says that during the confirmation hearings for Justice Alito and Roberts, their religion became a proxy way to assess how they would rule on contentious issues. But she provides another perspective:

Some legal scholars say the Roman Catholicism of the five justices, in and of itself, means less than their conservatism. Yes, the church hierarchy denounces legalized abortion, but many Roman Catholics in government, over the years, have drawn a bright line between their private beliefs and their public duties (memorably, John F. Kennedy seeking the presidency in 1960 and Mario Cuomo in his campaign for governor of New York in 1982).

Scholars also note that Justice William Brennan, who was carefully appointed to the “Catholic seat” by President Dwight Eisenhower, turned out to be one of the key supporters of the constitutional right to abortion.

“There can be no greater proponent of a pro-choice vision of the 14th Amendment than William Brennan,” said David Yalof, an associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut and a scholar of the judicial selection process.

Religion in the public square has a complicated and subtle role, she concludes.

ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg also weighed in on the topic at her Legalities blog. She covers the Supreme Court, is a graduate of the University of Chicago’s law school and is a member of the New York bar.

She notes that the federal law was passed into law by a broad bipartisan congressional coalition, including 17 Senate Democrats and 47 Senate Repubicans. She doesn’t think they’re all Catholic. She also notes that 30 state legislatures voted for similar laws. Ditto on their lack of religious unanimity. She derides the “growing anti-Catholic backlash” and particularly criticizes Geoffrey Stone, former law school dean and provost at her alma mater:

“Ultimately, the five justices in the majority all fell back on a common argument to justify their position. There is, they say, a compelling moral reason for the result in Gonzales,” Stone writes. “By making this judgment, these justices have failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality.”

Geoff Stone (and Rosie and the cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer who illustrated similar thoughts last week) is saying that the five justices voted to uphold the law only because of their religious beliefs. It’s only because they are Catholic–Stone, Rosie, et al, argue–that they could possibly interpret the Constitution to allow a federal law Congress passed with broad, bipartisan support. It’s only because the five are Catholic, Stone and Rosie argue, that they could possibly vote to uphold a law that banned an abortion procedure Congress found to be “gruesome” and “inhumane.”

No, the five couldn’t possibly have legal views that that the Constitution doesn’t protect the right to a partial birth abortion.

Here’s a different way of thinking about it: The five justices took a more restrained approach to the law than their colleagues and declined to substitute their own policy preferences for the will of the people.

As Crawford Greenburg points out in another recent post, the conspiracy theory fails to explain much when it comes to Justice Kennedy:

He’d gone along with O’Connor and David Souter in Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992, when the three joined forces and refused to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In Casey, Kennedy initially had cast his vote with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who’d written an opinion that would have overturned Roe. At the last minute, he changed his mind and teamed up with O’Connor and Souter, providing the critical fifth vote that instead saved Roe.

Maybe Kennedy wasn’t Catholic in 1992. Anyway, I think that the religious views of justices and politicians and anyone else who makes decisions is more than fair game for reporters. They just need to do a good job of understanding religious motivations and seeing when they matter and when they don’t.

What do you think? What are the appropriate boundaries for discussing the religious views of decision makers? How do reporters investigate religious views? When does it smack of religious bigotry?

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Cheating is in the air

ringsEvery now and then, you read a feature story in a major newspaper and, as you read and read, you think to yourself: “OK, at some point, the reporter just has to raise a moral or religious question about all of this. Don’t they?”

That’s what happened to me last weekend as I flew across America and finally got around to reading the USA Today business page feature by reporter Gary Stoller titled “Infidelity is in the air for road warriors.”

Here is the opening of the piece.

Melissa cheats on her husband on business trips but not in her hometown. “That would be lethal,” she says.

Like many frequent business travelers, she uses the protection of the road to live a secret life of romance far from spouses or partners. Their affairs range from one-night stands to relationships that last for years. They’re usually with a co-worker, a business associate or someone they encounter often during repeat visits to a city.

“Business travel creates an opportunity to cheat away from prying eyes,” says infidelity expert Ruth Houston, author of Is he Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs.

This is a pretty basic moral question and there are several ways to answer it. Here is a short list.

(1) Infidelity is wrong, but we don’t really know why.

(2) Infidelity is wrong, for a very specific, some would say “eternal,” reason.

(3) Infidelity is not wrong or, perhaps, not always wrong.

(4) Infidelity is wrong — especially with business associates or those under your supervision — if your business says that it is.

(5) Infidelity close to home is stupid and we really can’t talk in terms other than that unless the lawyers say that we can. What’s the big deal?

You can probably tell which angles the business page of a national newspaper would emphasize in this story. What amazed me — call me naive — is which angle hardly appeared at all, in a nation with Judeo-Christian DNA in its system.

Here is the closest we get to a chat with Moses.

Infidelity studies show that extramarital sex occurs in up to 25% of heterosexual marriages in the USA, according to Adrian Blow, a Michigan State University professor who is a marriage and family therapist. The studies show that more men than women are cheating, but none have specifically looked at business travelers.

That group is likely to have a higher infidelity rate, Blow and other experts say, because many factors make cheating easier. Among them: freedom from a spouse’s scrutiny and home responsibilities, more opportunities to meet new people, and the near-constant availability of alcohol at after-hour meals and social events.

Chris Arnzen of the National Institute of Marriage, a non-profit Christian counseling service, says business travel often involves competition for a sale or contract, and some people view sex as “a way to celebrate a success or soothe a defeat.” If that’s their outlook, “It sets them up for infidelity,” she says.

So the religious counselor is an expert in ways to celebrate victories and recover from defeats. But that’s about it. Does this “ghost” in USA Today seem strange to anyone else?

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Church-hopping is news?

Compucorp344BSurveys are tricky things to report, especially when the data is sole sourced, to use a bureaucratic term. Sometimes I get the feeling that those doing the research are stretching a bit to reach their conclusions with the aid of supposedly scientific numbers, and you always have to question to motives of those commissioning the survey.

USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman writes that a survey from the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, LifeWay Research, shows Protestant churchgoers are restless with their Christian fellowship and are seeking other religious bodies. Now is this really news? Grossman writes that it is:

Most of the switchers who changed their house of worship without making a residential move (58%) say their old church failed to engage their faith, or put their talents to work, or it seemed hypocritical or judgmental.

But 42% of the people say they switched because another church offered more appealing doctrines and preaching or the preacher and church members’ faith seemed more “authentic.”

“We may believe in the same doctrine, the same God and study the same Bible, but we are also imperfect human beings who mess up, who are not always living out those beliefs,” says Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. He adds in the rise of “consumerism and narcissism” — when people expect to customize every experience to personal taste.

More than half (54%) of switchers changed denominations as well. Fewer than half (44%) said denomination was an important factor in choosing a new church.

The survey is the result of interviews with 632 Protestant adults who said that they switched churches. But of those, only 415 people said the switch was not the result of a residential move. I am not a statistician (though I have taken classes), but I question how these broad conclusions can be made on the basis of 415 Americans (the margin of error is 3.9 percentage points, according to the story).

The other problem I have with the story, which contains some decent analysis once you get past the sketchy numbers, is that it suggests this is a new thing. But there is nothing that event remotely shows that Protestants used to stick with their churches in any greater or lesser numbers, other than this guy:

Says Brad Waggoner, LifeWay’s vice president of research and ministry development: “There’s no simple answer why people are so restless.”

Decades ago, American culture supported church loyalty out of respect for the church, obligation to family, or social expectations. Now, he says, that culture has shifted.

Waggoner also sees other factors at work, such as increased skepticism or cynicism in the wake of clergy sexual abuse or financial scandals. And some are turned off by divisiveness in denominations over doctrine and practice, he says.

The other major problem I had with this story was Grossman’s statement that the Roman Catholic Church sees similar trends. First, you haven’t convinced me that this is a trend among Protestants. Second, Grossman cites little evidence that Catholics are leaving their faith, just that it’s hard to track and that their gains have leveled off:

The number of new converts to Catholicism leveled off at about 150,000 a year for the past decade, while immigration from Catholic countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa has pushed the tally of U.S. Roman Catholics to 64 million. But the church has no mechanism for tracking who washes out of the pews unless they’ve died, been excommunicated or publicly renounced their faith.

“Catholics are very sticky. They may not go to church but they still stick to that identification,” Gautier says.

This survey provides a news hook for a compelling look at current American religiosity, but I feel that Grossman overplayed the survey results and failed to support many of the article’s statements with facts.

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If it was good enough for St. James …

KJV 02There are GetReligion readers who believe that we praise the Los Angeles Times too much. So let’s poke the left coast giant just a bit this morning (as I sit here in a hotel lobby in Southern California).

The story in question is about Carl Amari, a media guy whose goal is to create another Passion-style evangelical wave with his The Word of Promise project, a gigantic, high-quality word-for-word dramatic reading of the Bible. So far so good. Here is one of the key paragraphs in the entertainment-section report:

The Christian consumer market has tight circuitry, and Amari knows that, depending on whether his project clicks there, it could become a hugely lucrative pop-culture phenomenon, a la Mel Gibson’s “Passion,” or a largely ignored curiosity piece, such as the film “The Nativity Story.” A team of Bible scholars was brought in to fret over every inflection and pronunciation and to ensure that every line is true to the New King James Version of the Bible.

“When it comes to the Bible, you really can’t get it wrong,” Amari said. “You’ll have people burning down your building. You don’t want to get these people mad.”

That sounds really good.

But there’s a problem. The only version now includes this correction.

FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Bible edition being used in a new audio-book project as the St. James Version. … The Bible being used is the New King James Version.

Absolutely amazing. As Frank “Bible Belt Blogger” Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette put it:

I can’t believe this error found its way into a major American newspaper. I really truly can’t. But the Los Angeles Times has managed to mangle the title of the most famous book in English literature.

Yes, friends, it appears the urban legend that the King James Version is uniquely blessed because it is linked to a biblical King James or to St. James has soaked into the copy desk of the entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times. Who knew there would a pack of old-fashioned fundamentalists (word used accurately) working in such a hip, edgy place?

Actually, I don’t think that’s the problem that led to this error.

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