GetReligion is “emerging”?

solo candleWho knew?

The creators of the National Council of Churches’ 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches have decided that the two hot trends at the beginning of the 21st century are blogging and the “Emerging Church” and that one of the places that postmodern, hip, emerging church leaders do that dialogue thing they do is at GetReligion (honest).

I don’t think we need to define what a “blog” is for those who visit this site, but it is interesting to see how editors at Church Executive define that vague (yet very news-media-friendly) term “Emerging Church”:

The Emergent Church is defined by Yearbook Editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, as a “conversation” (some would say movement) birthed in 20th century Protestantism and “characterized by a robust, energetic and growing online and hardcopy literature” that attempts to shape responses to contemporary culture.

Common attributes of the EC, Lindner believes, are an emulation of the person and ministry of Jesus, a fondness for anecdotes and stories as means of discovering truth, a focus on mission, and a stress on the centrality of worship, even in experimental forms. … Emergent Church has become so popular among evangelicals that an EC track appears on the agenda of the National Pastors Conference sponsored by Zondervan and InterVarsity.

If you want to compare that with the Wikipedia materials on this movement (or anti-movement), then click here.

The NCC yearbook listed 25 blogs and websites as being crucial to the Emerging Church era and its emphasis on communicating ideas — old and new — and probing the roots of Christian worship (on the way to creating highly individualistic new forms that are ultimately very modern and “free church”). Here’s that link again to see the emerging blog list — check it out.

I have been writing about some of these trends for a long time, back to the days when people referred to “post-contemporary worship.” Here is a chunk of an interview I did in 1999 with one thoughtful observer of these trends, the Rev. Daniel Harrell at Park Street Church in Boston:

If the Baby Boomers shunned churches that they thought were pompous and boring, then their pierced, tattooed and media-numbed children appear ready to shun churches that feel fake and frivolous. The key, according to Harrell, is that worship services must feel real. Services are judged to be authentic when they feel authentic. …

“(People) are borrowing things from all of these traditions, often without realizing that some of these symbols and rites may even clash with each other,” he said. “It’s easy to be cynical about this, but they really are searching for something. They are borrowing other people’s images and rites and experiences, as part of their own search for something that feels authentic. They are trying to step into the experiences of others.”

So who is the closet emerging-church mole at GetReligion?

It goes without saying that Eastern Orthodoxy is about as premodern as one can get. The Divine Ms. M is a very traditional Lutheran and young master Daniel Pulliam is an old-fashioned Presbyterian. Ah, but does his church sanctuary have giant video screens that can show icons as well as Matrix clips?

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Weighty story about clergy stress

ChickenPlate JPGEvery now and then you see a news feature story that makes you slap yourself on the forehead and say, “Shoot, that story is so obvious, but I have never seen that story before. Why didn’t I think of digging into that one?”

That’s what I thought when a saw the “Special to the Washington Post” feature by Alison Buckholtz entitled “For Priests, a Weighty Matter — Hectic Schedules and Solo Living Make Weight Gain a Job Hazard for Christian Clergy.”

I would have mentioned this earlier in the week, but I’ve been having major email and connection problems during a three-day-plus conference in one totally over-the-top resort outside of Dallas. Go figure. Anyway, this is a story worth flashing back to.

The headline is very misleading. The story is broader than one study of “priests,” which would imply some hook to Catholicism, Orthodoxy or Anglicanism. Then you see “Christian Clergy” and, well, I thought to myself, “So rabbis don’t have weight problems?”

But the story covers most of the bases. It makes sense: Emotional burdens, long hours, stress and lots of people offering hospitality equal weight problems. Coffee or tea is not enough when you are trying to impress you know who. And, logically enough, there’s a supporting role for lawyers and insurance people.

There is no reason members of the clergy should face fewer weight-related problems than the nation as a whole. But several factors appear to make them more vulnerable.

“We laugh about all the potlucks … , but it’s a joke, not a reality,” says the Rev. Janet Maykus, a Disciples of Christ minister and principal of the College of Pastoral Leaders, an organization based in Texas. The group, with a grant from the Lilly Endowment, has launched a clergy health project involving ministers from several Christian denominations.

Clergy’s weight issues “have more to do with their sense of isolation because there has been a loss of status for clerical professions,” she said. “They are in a job without a great deal of respect, the pay is low, and there is a lot of depression among clergy. This is reflected in their bodies.”

There are more numbers and stats and the logical details about long days and, for the Catholic priests, nights alone.

And if you want holy writ and a small dose of spirituality, this story even offered all of that, too. That body and soul connection is

… (made) explicit throughout Christian literature, in which there is a long and significant link between spiritual piety and good physical health. St. Paul proclaimed, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?”

The 11th century Christian mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg advised, “Do not disdain your body. For the Soul is just as safe in its body as in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And, of course, there are the well-known biblical exhortations against gluttony. Solomon admonished to “put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite” (Proverbs 23:2).

Like I said, there’s a lot of meat (and mashed potatoes) in this one. Has anyone else seen a major MSM story on this? Something solid in a clergy journal?

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World goes after Ralph Reed

ReedCoverYou know you’re in trouble when you’re a conservative Christian and an unabashedly conservative Christian magazine goes after you for being linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. You know you’re in even deeper muck when the Washington Post points this out in an article headlined “From a Conservative, a Lack Of Compassion for Ralph Reed.”

The lame play on words in the headline withstanding, it’s a solid article that gives World magazine greater credibility, showing it is somewhat independent from the Christian, and mostly conservative, politicians it often covers:

Ralph Reed, candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, has a standard line when opponents link him to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “The Democrats, radical left, and dominant media have made numerous unfair personal attacks against Ralph,” his Web site declares.

Lately, however, it’s becoming harder for Reed to dismiss his critics as ideologically motivated. One of the toughest is Marvin Olasky, a close associate of President Bush who helped developed the administration’s faith-based initiative and the concept of “compassionate conservatism.”

Olasky, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, is editor in chief of World magazine, the mission of which “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Since Nov. 19, World has run 10 articles and essays describing the $4 million in gambling money Abramoff paid to Reed to lobby against casinos competing with Abramoff’s clients. The articles have highlighted incriminating e-mails and other disclosures that have raised doubts about Reed’s explanations of his activities.

Reed clearly has not come to grips with what he has done, and it was very important for World to pursue the Reed story (articles here, here and here).

That Olasky had to explain to his readers why World is “delving into the Ralph Reed scandal” is a bit disheartening, but not surprising. Olasky, an adviser to George W. Bush before the 2000 election, has the difficult job of guiding a news magazine that covers a White House now implementing some of his ideas about compassionate conservatism.

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In God’s name

immigration marchThe current immigration debate in Washington, D.C., is chock full of religion issues that are floating just under the above-the-fold stories on the legislative processes and debates. The religious angle in immigration cuts across political boundaries and shoots directly at the center of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

I have yet to see — and maybe I’m not looking hard enough — a solid story examining the theology behind the “love your neighbor” doctrine and how it relates to the immigration debate, but some religious leaders already know where they stand and they are looking to be heard as this debate rages.

A commenter on a previous tmatt post, coincidentally named Daniel, said the pro-immigration marches across the country are an interesting example of the religious left. Daniel appropriately notes that there has been a lack of coverage of religious leaders in Washington who staged mock arrests earlier this week to demonstrate what could happen if they help illegal aliens.

This Scripps-McClatchy wire story provides a solid summary of the religious issue in the current immigration debate:

DENVER — A wide range of religious groups have been serving a critical role in recent efforts to push Congress to pass what they call humane immigration reforms.

More than 200 religious organizations, including those associated with Catholics, evangelicals, Mennonites, Muslims and Jews, have conducted letter-writing campaigns to President Bush and Congress and encouraged congregation members to attend huge pro-immigrant rallies in cities across the country.

One of the most visible organizations in the debate, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been training clergy, parishioners and church employees on the religious principles of helping refugees and immigrants. Locally, members of the Denver Archdiocese have been conducting educational presentations on immigration reform about twice a week.

immigration logoAs the story demonstrates, the current immigration debate crosses into religious territory in many ways, including the fact that most immigrants (legal or illegal) come from Catholic backgrounds, the command to love your neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan, to name a few.

The political/religious bombshell of the week was Sen. Hilary Clinton’s invocation of biblical themes in her opposition to a bill passed by the House in December that would criminalize undocumented immigrants:

Surrounded by a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates, Clinton blasted the House bill as “mean-spirited” and said it flew in the face of Republicans’ stated support for faith and values.

“It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures,” Clinton said, “because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.”

Clinton did not specifically endorse any competing legislation, including a bill co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and another by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), saying she hoped the Senate Judiciary Committee would produce a compromise incorporating the best elements of all the bills and would remove the harsh penalties contained in the House measure.

Immigration2One can disagree with Clinton’s reading of Scripture and question her religious sincerity, but one cannot deny that the junior New York Senator gets the importance of religion when it comes to the country’s cultural/political mindset. And the press is eating it up. While Republicans won’t likely win many votes in 2008 by raising theological issues with Clinton, journalists should do so — because it matters.

I don’t have the expertise or the time to thoroughly parse Clinton’s statement (I’m sure you all will help me). But just as good journalists would never let a public official get away with making this bold a statement regarding policy or history, the same journalists should examine the theology behind Clinton’s statements, as they did when George W. Bush said in his 2000 presidential campaign that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher.

Clinton’s Methodist background is hard to miss these days, and she’s certainly not shy about letting it shine. But how will that play with evangelicals, many of whom believe that denomination represents everything that is wrong with mainline American Christianity?

On a related note, did you hear that Christians in this country feel persecuted? To read the predictably snarky view of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, click here. Check back with us later for more on this.

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More than “holy hotties”

jcsgirls2 737850At first glance, it seemed like the story of ex-stripper Heather Veitch and her friends in the JC’s Girls Girls Girls ministry to women in the sex industry was destined for exclusive coverage on Geraldo at Large and other television shows that need punchy one-liners and lively images.

To my shock, the Los Angeles Times took this story pretty seriously and ended up with a feature — by reporter Stephen Clark — that offers some insights into the sex trade as well as into one born-again woman’s journey out of it. This is more than a novelty story for winking headline writers.

Yes, there are references to the fact that Veitch still likes to strip — for her husband. You also knew that if she showed up on The 700 Club, someone was going to call her a “holy hottie.” So be it. But, as a rule Clark just tells the story. Here is the basic description of the ministry:

Every month, JC’s Girls (JC is for Jesus Christ) and a few female volunteer church members visit strip clubs, where they pay for lap dances. While alone with a stripper in a booth, they forgo the dance and share the Gospel. In January, JC’s Girls went to Las Vegas for the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, regarded as the nation’s largest trade show in the porn business, and handed out more than 200 Bibles wrapped in “Holy Hottie” T-shirts. Veitch, 31, who was a stripper for four years, founded the outreach ministry last March.

A crucial element of the story is that this unconventional ministry is, in fact, part of a mainstream church — the 1,700-member Sandals (Southern Baptist) Church in Riverside, Calif., and is in the annual budget. The Rev. Matt Brown offered this rather understated quote: “Some people in our church were concerned that some of their offerings and tithes were paying for lap dances.”

Clark raises some serious questions linked to the role of beauty and sex appeal in a ministry of this kind. Meanwhile, Veitch understands — because of the life she has lived — that many of the women trapped in the sex industry have endured rape and abuse. They feel trapped by the big bucks and the rapt attention of men.

So, how can conservative church people reach out to people who are living lives on the wrong side such a gigantic cultural divide? As California Southern Baptist spokesman Terry Barone bluntly states:

“These women are doing what Jesus did,” he said. “He ministered to prostitutes and tax collectors. He had a penchant for going to the people who needed his message — not the religious people.”

Clearly, this kind of ministry makes many church people terribly uncomfortable. At the same time, the theological issues that Veitch and her friends are raising are serious. Many of the women who try to flee from the nightclubs into the church get caught halfway in between. They feel trapped on several levels.

Thus, this surprisingly sobering story ends this way, with questions that must be taken seriously by churches of all kinds. I am glad that the Los Angeles Times played this story straight, low-key and factual:

Veitch … continues doing interview after interview. She recently held her ground on “Hannity & Colmes” on Fox News. “Can you be a stripper and a believer at the same time?” Alan Colmes asked.

“The question,” she answered, “is can you be a glutton and a believer at the same time? Can you be a liar and a believer at the same time? Yes.”

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Tmatt, in Texas, with iffy WiFi (and a GOP jab)

Bluebonnets 01In a few hours, I am headed out the door on a long trip into my home state of Texas (I am a prodigal Texan) to visit several campuses in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (see a new trend story here) on behalf of the journalism program that I lead here in Washington, D.C.

The big event during the trip is the CCCU’s global forum on Christian higher education, which may or may not draw press attention.The forum will include a visit by the Soulforce Equality Ride bus, which will almost certainly draw press attention. I hope to have another chat with the Rev. Mel White.

I will spend several days on the long and flat highways of the state so I, for one, am hoping that I have my timing right for some bluebonnets (see photo). The divine Ms. M and young master Daniel (and perhaps even the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc) will, I hope, keep things buzzing during the next week or so because my Internet access may be iffy, other than during the Dallas forum.

But before I go I wanted to draw a connection between three very different stories in three very different publications that all point, in a way, to the very same theme that comes up quite frequently at this site.

So click here for the omnipresent Democratic strategist Amy Sullivan, writing in Washington Monthy about the factors that may, sooner rather than later, cause many evangelical Protestants to bolt the Republican Party.

Then click here to skip over to the Weekly Standard website to read Allan Carlson’s sobering “Social conservatives and the GOP: Can this marriage be saved?”

JesusLand2 01Wait! Before you settle in and read those two articles, read this quotation and ask yourself this question: Who wrote the following, Carlson or Sullivan?

… (All) is not well within the existing Republican coalition. Indeed, there are other indicators that the Republican party has done relatively little to help traditional families, and may in fact be contributing to their new indentured status. Certainly at the level of net incomes, the one-earner family today is worse off than it was thirty years ago, when the GOP began to claim the pro-family banner. Specifically, the median income of married-couple families, with the wife not in the paid labor force, was $40,100 in 2002, less than it had been in 1970 ($40,785) when inflation is taken into account. In contrast, the real earnings of two-income married couple families rose by 35 percent over the same years (to nearly $73,000). Put another way, families have been able to get ahead only by becoming “nontraditional” and sending mother to work or forgoing children altogether. As the Maternalists had warned, eliminating America’s “family wage” system would drive male wages down and severely handicap the one-income home. So it has happened.

Despite the economic pressures, though, such families are not extinct. They still form core social conservative constituencies such as home schooling families and families with four or more children. But again, they have little to show from the years of the Republican alliance.

Can you guess? I point this out simply to note the ongoing political irony of our age. The middle class, for the most part, continues to vote (some would say against its economic interests) for the Republican Party — primarily because of moral and social issues. Meanwhile, a rising percentage of the rich, especially along the coasts, has been voting (against its economic interests) for the Democratic Party — primarily because of moral and social issues.

No matter what some people say, these issues are not going away. To see why, click here and read Janet Hook’s “Right Is Might for GOP’s Aspirants” in the Los Angeles Times.

My question remains the same: Will editors in top-flight newsrooms allow their religion-beat specialists to help cover this story?

They should.

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The Times tweaks its credo

BillKeller 01This is one of those rare weeks when I think that GetReligion readers may want to read my “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

In a way, it is a sequel to an earlier column about the New York Times and its internal theological debates about journalism and religion. This column also blends in a reference to executive editor Bill Keller’s must-read memo entitled “Assuring Our Credibility,” which was the subject of a classic GetReligion post by the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc that ran with the spiffy headline “The creeping menace of diverse voices.” That post includes some pretty important links, for those of you who want to dig deeper. I will include a few links in the body of the following column, as well.

Special thanks to Bill Keller himself, who sent me the full text of the speech that I heard him deliver at the National College Media Convention. I had good notes, but it is always better to have the full text. I will watch to see if the text goes online anywhere.

NEW YORK – The New York Times has for generations printed its credo on Page 1 to inspire the faithful: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

But times changed and the high church of journalism was challenged by radio and television news, which was followed by a tsunami of news, rumors, opinions and criticism on 24-7 cable news networks and the Internet. The result has been a subtle change in doctrine at the Times, although the Gray Lady’s motto has stayed the same.

Around-the-clock competition has “caused us to shift our emphasis from information as a commodity and play to different strengths — emphasizing less the breaking facts than the news behind the news, writing more analytically,” said executive editor Bill Keller, speaking at last week’s National College Media Convention.

“We long ago moved from ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print,’ to ‘All the News You Need to Know, and What It Means.’”

Keller’s address blended confessions about the newspaper industry’s sins with a litany of praise for journalistic virtues. Journalists at the Times, he insisted, still practice what they preach, remaining “agnostic as to where a story may lead” and maintaining standards of accuracy and fairness that prevent the “opinions of our writers and editors from leaching into our news pages.”

However, he also said he believes that “information is not what people crave. What they crave, and need, is judgment — someone they can trust to vouch for the information, dig behind it, and make sense of it.”

The question is whether critics, especially those in religious sanctuaries, will trust Keller’s team to provide an unbiased take on the news and then, as a finale, pass judgment on “what it means,” said former New York Daily News reporter William Proctor, author of “The Gospel According to the New York Times.”

“This intentional change in the motto — even if it won’t be printed by the newspaper — suggests to me that editorializing is being placed on an equal footing with straight news,” he said. The new motto seems “to be saying, ‘We’re recognizing that opinion has a larger role than the editorial or op-ed pages. In fact, opinion now has a place in the news itself.’”

200px The new york times building in new york cityMeanwhile, critics may remember Keller — who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in the Soviet Union — as the Times columnist who once called himself a “collapsed Catholic” and lashed out at Pope John Paul II and the Vatican for rejecting female priests, gay rights, legalized abortion and the sexual revolution in general.

The struggle within Catholicism, he wrote, is “part of a larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism. … This is, after all, the church that gave us the Crusades and the Inquisition.”

However, as executive editor, Keller produced a 2005 manifesto (PDF) urging his staff to improve religion coverage, avoid the misuse of loaded labels such as “religious fundamentalists” and hire qualified journalists who offer a diversity of “religious upbringing and military experience, of region and class.”

Journalists at the Times, he said, must strive to escape “our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. … This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.”

This candor is refreshing, said Jay Rosen, who leads New York University’s journalism program and has written a provocative essay entitled “Journalism is Itself a Religion.” The problem is that many journalists want to escape old-fashioned straight news, but they don’t know what to call their new product. It’s hard to distinguish between news “analysis” and “opinion” writing that reflects the beliefs of the writer.

“If I gave you a passage from the Bible and said, ‘Analyze this,’ you’re not going to know what to do with that unless you have a perspective from which you can do your interpretation,” he said.

Keller’s reference to his newspaper’s “urban, culturally liberal orientation” is a candid first step toward “identifying a worldview,” Rosen added. “But when he says that the Times needs to tell us what the news means, does that mean that it’s going to tell us what the news means from that particular perspective — that view of the world — or from some other perspective?”

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Be afraid, be very afraid

07Oh no. Are we now going to face Easter Wars (inspired by the thumping media success of the Christmas Wars)?

Here’s the news.

St. Paul City Office Boots Easter Bunny

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Easter Bunny has been sent packing at St. Paul City Hall.

A toy rabbit, pastel-colored eggs and a sign with the words “Happy Easter” were removed from the lobby of the City Council offices, because of concerns they might offend non-Christians. A council secretary had put up the decorations. They were not bought with city money.

St. Paul’s human rights director, Tyrone Terrill, asked that the decorations be removed, saying they could be offensive to non-Christians. But City Council member Dave Thune says removing the decorations went too far, and he wonders why they can’t celebrate spring with “bunnies and fake grass.”

OK, I guess that Christians are supposed to be offended that the wretched bunny and the fake eggs are getting the boot. But what if citizens were, as Christians with some sense of history, offended by the bunny in the first place?

Is that a news story? And has anyone else out there seen signs of Easter War coverage?

Meanwhile, let me post this little advertisement in a shameless display of pre-Pascha public relations. Anyone tired of bunny world can wait another week this spring and celebrate Pascha with the Orthodox. Here is a nice, simple Indianapolis Star piece on the Lent and Easter traditions in the East. Some of you have written me emails asking if I was going to mention the Orthodox traditions on these seasons.

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