Those ties that bind and divide

GAY BISHOPIt may be time for that old, old Episcopal joke, again. This is the version that I heard in the mid-1990s.

The year is 2012, as the joke goes, and two Anglo-Catholic priests in the back of National Cathedral are watching the Episcopal presiding bishop and her incense-bearing lesbian lover process down the aisle behind a statue of the Buddha, while the faithful sing a hymn to Mother Earth.

“You know,” one traditionalist whispers, “ONE more thing and I’m out of here.”

You can tell that the joke is very old, because the Episcopalians who told in a decade or more ago did not anticipate the advent of same-sex union rites. Thus, the joke should say that presiding bishop and her lesbian spouse processed down the center aisle. Times change.

Across the Atlantic, journalists are being a bit more blunt about the decision by the Episcopal Church to allow dioceses to openly make the decision to ordain gays and lesbians who are in committed, same-sex unions. This “local option” policy has been the norm for many years, but not with the details affirmed in a public vote.

Here’s the top of the BBC report, which is mild by British standards:

Bishops of the Anglican Church in the United States have voted to overturn a three-year moratorium on the election of gay bishops.

The decision seems likely to lead to the Episcopal Church’s eventual exit from the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Communion has been fighting to avoid disintegration since the Episcopal Church consecrated the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

Yes, there is that timeline issue again, with a reference that, at the very least, fails to take into account that Southern Cone bishops began consecrating alternative missionary bishops for North America in 2000. Actually, that fails to take in account a whole lot of things. But we can’t linger there.

As you would expect, Ruth Gledhill’s story in the Times is a bit more blunt and global:

A worldwide Anglican schism now seems inevitable after Episcopal bishops in the United States today backed the consecration of gay bishops.

Episcopal bishops approved a resolution passed earlier this week by the laity and clergy that allows “partnered gays” full access to ordination. … They took the step towards schism in spite of a plea by Dr Rowan Williams, who addressed the General Convention in Anaheim, California, last week.

But as you would expect, the language was much calmer in the hallowed pages of the publication that matters the most to the Episcopal Church hierarchy, which would be the New York Times. Here’s that lede, which stresses that the liberals have not completely won the day (thus sharing quite a bit in terms of tone and quoted material with the official release from the Episcopal News Service.

In this telling, the old joke remains highly relevant:

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.

The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.

In terms of the timeline issue, it is interesting that veteran Laurie Goodstein of the Times found a way to keep the focus on the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Robinson (photo), without being inaccurate. Thus, note the “broken ties” language in the next quotation.

washington-national-cathedralThis focus on an event in 2003, and its aftermath, clears out the wider world of doctrinal fights over salvation, the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth and other basic, creedal issues — making this a fight strictly over sexuality. Read carefully:

The battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church has been watched closely by other mainline Protestant churches that are also divided internally on the issue. Many are looking to the Episcopal Church as a bellwether that could foretell whether their denominations can survive the storm over homosexuality intact.

Conservative provinces in the Anglican Communion, especially some in Africa, have broken off their ties with the Episcopal Church in recent years after the church consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the communion, who was elected in the diocese of New Hampshire six years ago.

The entire report is set up in journalistic fashion, switching back in forth between two camps of believers who simply read the Bible differently on this one issue. The mood is properly Episcopal, with an emphasis on compromise and dialogue between people of today and people of the past.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the global clock is ticking, as traditionalists in the Global South get their act together in North America and elsewhere. This passage is especially blunt.

The debate before the House of Deputies voted on Sunday to overturn the moratorium on gay bishops sometimes grew emotional. Sally Johnson, a lay delegate from Minnesota, who had supported the moratorium three years ago, proclaimed that she had decided now to support D025, the measure to overturn the moratorium, because it is a more accurate reflection of where the Episcopal Church stands.

“I stand before you now asking us to give D025 to the church and the communion as a gift, reflecting our messiness in our church but an authentic, truthful statement about who we are as the Episcopal Church,” she said.

But speaking in opposition, the Rev. Ralph Stanwise, from the diocese of Quincy, said, “If we overturn the B033 moratorium we will in effect be urging many remaining conservatives and moderates among us and in our home dioceses, especially our most fragile ones, to search for the exit signs.”

As the Times stresses, all of the momentum is on the left in this General Convention. Many members of the church’s leadership are being very honest and candid — a stance that many conservatives will actually cheer behind closed doors.

Thus, the stress now is on the people who want to do everything they can to slow the train down, in the name of helping the Church of England keep the global institution together. They need another way to compromise, to give some traditionalists to hang on and wait for “one MORE thing” to happen.

Stay tuned.

Photos: The 2003 consecration. The center aisle of Washington National Cathedral.

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A really dark shade of a dark form of very black magic

pal-occultSo I was wandering around the internet, as one does, and came across a couple of stories involving curious goings on at a couple of grave sites. Some of the stories were really poorly written.

Take this one, for instance in Norwalk, Conn.’s The Hour:

New evidence in the case of a toddler who was exhumed from her grave and dumped in a New Jersey river this week leads police to believe the body was taken for ritualistic purposes.

Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Detective Bureau said Wednesday that police are targeting people of African, Central American, Haitian, Cuban or Caribbean decent who practice satanic rituals as potential suspects in the grave robbing.

Come again? The article doesn’t even come close to alleging “satanic” rituals and it doesn’t even have a good handle on the religion angles, non-satanic though they may be, the police are pursuing.

Or check out this section:

They now believe that a person, or persons, practicing a dark form of black magic known as Santeria or Palo Mayombe may be responsible.

“Because the baby had some mysticism to it, we believe that it was targeted,” Conklin said.

According to Columbia University adjunct professor, Daniel Dawson, who has written extensively on the subject, Palo Mayombe originated in the Congo of Cuba.

Palo Mayombe is rooted in the use of elements from the natural world and is based on the belief that all natural elements have distinctive powers that can be harnessed for protection and for healing, Dawson has written.

So it’s not just black magic, it’s a dark form of black magic. What does that even mean? And what the heck is the Congo of Cuba? Palo did develop in Cuba and it has its roots in the Congo of Africa. And because of the poor writing or proofreading, I’m not sure if the writer intentionally or unintentionally conflates Santeria and Palo Mayombe. These are distinct religious expressions.

And while it’s helpful to have information from Dawson, perhaps the reporter could interview someone who could discuss whether there’s any relationship between Palo and the facts of the case in question.

The Advocate did better with its related story. Staff writer Michael Mayko looked at three local incidents involving human remains. It’s written in a riveting but not too sensationalistic manner. Particularly considering it involves alligator skulls and blood-stained paper and stolen remains.

But the reporter also asks decent questions. Are the three scenes related? There’s no evidence to suggest they are. He contacts a number of academics and other experts to discuss which religions might be involved:

“I can tell you this,” said Leslie G. Desmangles, a professor of religion at Trinity College in Hartford, about the incidents. “It is not Santeria.”

He bases his decision on the absence of flowers and pictures of saints.

“It doesn’t sound like Santeria at all,” adds Margarite Fernandez Olmos, a Brooklyn College professor who co-authored “Creole Religions of the Caribbean.” She suspects Regla de Palo (which also goes by many different names), a religion which works with spirits.

“While this is not the usual practice, some may search for skulls of persons they believe can help them in their quest,” she said.

As for the Stamford incident, her research uncovered no religion that involves transporting a whole body to a river.

The story makes heavy use of Amy Blackthorn, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and is a Wiccan high priestess. She helps the paper with a sidebar distinguishing the various religions. After a police captain says the investigations have been a learning experience, the reporter adds:

That’s why Blackthorn said, “Every police department should have reference material. My choice would be ‘A Cop’s Guide to Occult Investigations: Understanding Satanism, Santeria, Wicca, and Other Alternative Religions’ by Tony M. Kail. Police are too quick to attribute everything to Voodoo, Satanism or Santeria.”

I kind of want that book. If that first story is any indication — and it is — the media could also use a helpful guide. Just because these religions aren’t terribly prominent in the United States isn’t an excuse to wildly misrepresent them. There’s a lot of work to be done increasing the accuracy and de-sensationalizing the reporting on these minority religions.

While Jason Pitzl-Waters hasn’t yet analyzed the latter story, he has some interesting thoughts on the former one as well as a few other related stories. As always, go check The Wild Hunt for more.

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Canadian virus: Mass confusion

You gotta admit, this has been a strange week for the media.

It began with Alaskan governor Sarah Palin’s resignation, which fueled an epidemic of stories and columns. Speculation about Palin hadn’t even reached a crescendo before it was overtaken by the genuine grief and public antics around the service held for Michael Jackson.

And yesterday, a picture flying around the Internet appeared to show Mssrs. Obama and Sarkozy admiring a young G-8 summit participant’s rear end.
Check this video, by the way, and I think you’ll agree that Sarkozy seems more suspect than Obama — but I digress.

Ah, but this isn’t the only episode in which a video may, or may not, provide a clue as to what really happened. Given the torrent of attention paid to these events, you might have missed the flap over what Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper did, or didn’t do, with a communion wafer at a funeral service for a colleague.

To my mind, there are two stories here. One is the blatantly silly one: the possibility that a politician known to be a devout churchgoer (albeit Protestant) would put a Communion wafer in his pocket! As a souvenir? Do you agree with Harper’s assessment that it was a “low moment in journalism?”

It probably didn’t help that a local Catholic official asked whether Harper consumed the host — or that Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella, a Catholic, was quoted saying in an Agence France-Presse story on Yahoo.com how appreciative he was that Harper consumed the wafer as a gesture of “solidarity and communion with all those present in the sanctuary.” Kinsella’s command of Catholic policy on intercommunion might be a little shaky.

It’s fascinating how, abetted by Canadian satirists, the alleged “blasphemy” went viral. Given that our business here is looking at how the press covers religion, it’s also interesting to see how what seems to be a clear policy about who and who isn’t welcome to receive communion can become the subject of speculation and misinformation.

A story from last week by Charles Lewis of the National Post leads with the breach of protocol, rather than what Catholics might see as the more serious problem.

The conduct of Stephen Harper at a funeral mass has ignited a religious controversy over the intricacies of proper decorum during a Catholic Communion service — a “scandal” that features Zapruder-like video footage, personal testimonials of witnesses and even an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The controversy revolves around whether Mr. Harper, a Protestant, ate the Communion wafer or pocketed it while attending the funeral of former governor-general Romeo Le-Blanc at a Catholic church in Memramcook, N. B., last week.

Of course, the problem wasn’t solely, or even mainly, one of decorum. It would be, as I understand Catholic doctrine, one of vastly different understandings of what the eucharist means. In addition, Lewis notes that “most Protestants see Communion as a symbol of the Last Supper.”

I think you’d get a rather heated debate on that point from many of the world’s 70 million plus Anglicans, or from various branches of the Lutheran tradition — while they don’t subscribe to a doctrine of substance and accidents, they do believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. How it happens, and what happens, is the subject of much debate. The further you get from the liturgical churches, the more correct his statement becomes.

I had thought that most journalists and, er, Prime Ministers, know that non-Catholics aren’t supposed to receive communion in a Catholic church . Some journalists do — or get half the story right. For example — look at this editorial by Barbara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun.

As with other journalists, Yaffe seems to miss why this might be a bigger deal. The wafer, according to Catholic doctrine, doesn’t only “symbolize” the body of Christ. Through transubstantiation, it becomes the body of Christ. (I also wondered why Yaffe had to rely on a statement from U.S. bishops to back up her correct statement about who may receive and who isn’t supposed to receive — haven’t the Canadian bishops said anything?).
Again, an earlier story from the Telegraph-Journal didn’t explain why putting a consecrated wafer in one’s pocket might be a “scandal” in the eyes of the church.

All of this being said, I recall the first time my daughter attended communion at her parochial school — and went right to the altar with her classmates. Did her teachers send her to the priest for a little remedial instruction on the differences between Catholics and Protestants? After we brought it to their attention, they told us that they were sure it wasn’t the first time. Charity prevailed. At this point, I’m guessing everyone involved would like “Wafergate” to go away — and that next time the Prime Minister will make sure to keep his hands crossed on his chest, and ask for a prayer .

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Bigger than Jesus, indeed

I can’t believe I’m doing another post about Michael Jackson, but a reader sent this along and I had to share.

Go about 1 minute, 35 seconds into this interview of Jackson family spokesman Ken Sunshine by the Today show’s Meredith Veira to see it, but here’s what he says:

Talk about a worldwide figure of love. MJ is the biggest figure and person emitting love … ever!

And what does Meredith Veira say in response? Nothing. This is a woman who last week went out of her way to inexplicably trash the outfit of one of her guests — and yet she doesn’t have the journalistic chops to ask whether, say, Jesus, or Mother Teresa, or Nelson Mandela, or SOMEBODY, might be a worldwide figure of love more than The Gloved One?

So bizarre.

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Heralding the King … of Pop

Associated Press music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody praised the “poignant and serene” memorial service for Michael Jackson:

It was a deeply emotional moment, the most profound part of a memorial that accomplished what Jackson could not in life: humanizing a man who for so long had seemed like a caricature.

How could someone who moved like he moved, sang like he sang, and reached musical heights no person has ever touched be as human as the rest of us? How could a man who threw a wedding for Elizabeth Taylor, had a chimpanzee as a companion, and wore masks to cover his surgically altered face be any part normal?

How can a man who admitted he shared his bed with boys — though he maintained it was never sexual, as others suggested — be a decent man, closer to saintly than devilish?

It’s a fine framework for the story, though I sort of feel that Moody watched a different memorial than the one I, briefly, did. But here’s the part that’s intriguing:

Lionel Richie, Jackson’s collaborator on the anthem “We Are the World,” sang a gospel classic, “Jesus is Love.” Another gospel hymn heralded the arrival of Jackson’s casket when a choir sang the lines, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, we’re going to see the King.”

The reader who sent this in recognized the lyric as Andrae Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon.” Indeed it is. This famous Gospel song is about dying and eternal life. You can read the lyrics here. But the way the story is written up is as if the song was about Jackson rather than about Jesus Christ. And what’s more, that it was sung to herald the arrival of Jackson into the sacred space. As critical as I’ve been about this memorial service, I’m not sure it’s fair to characterize the use of the song in such a way.

On the other hand, the choir did omit the verses that make the hymn overtly Christian. And the crowd did erupt with cheers when the casket arrived at the same time as the choir sang these lyrics. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure what the reporter meant by phrasing it the way he did. Perhaps the writer was merely noting the irony without comment.

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Worshiping the King of Pop

I came so close to being able to avoid the Michael Jackson worship service held at the Staples Center. But I caught a few minutes while feeding the world’s hungriest baby. (Seriously, I think I gave birth to Otesanek.) I caught the “We Are The World” group sing and a couple of teary eulogies.

The New York Daily News had reported that the Jackson family couldn’t agree on which religion would guide the service. So they went without one. And yet there were many religious elements in the service. During my brief watching experience, the screen was filled with interfaith symbols. According to the eleventy billion news reports out there, a few people sang “Gospel” and sometimes “Gospel-tinged” renditions of Michael Jackson hits.

Lionel Richie, viewable above, sang a beautiful rendition of “Jesus is Love.” But by and large the service was more vaguely spiritual than anything else. The Associated Press described it well in their lede on the memorial service:

Michael Jackson’s public memorial started out more spiritual than spectacular Tuesday, opening with a church choir singing as his golden casket was laid in front of the stage and a shaft of light evoking a cross as Lionel Richie gave a gospel-infused performance.

Pastor Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena gave the invocation, followed by Mariah Carey singing the opening performance with a sweet rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad “I’ll Be There,” a duet with Trey Lorenz.

“We come together and we remember the time,” said Smith, riffing off one of Jackson’s lyrics. “As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us.”

The service began with Smokey Robinson reading comments from Nelson Mandela, Diana Ross and other friends of the King of Pop. Following a long silent period inside the venue, piano music and a gospel choir kicked things off with a stained-glass motif in the background.

A quibble: Other stars gave Gospel-infused performances. Jennifer Hudson, for example, sang “Will You Be There” in a Gospel style. But “Jesus is Love” isn’t Gospel-infused so much as just Gospel. It’s a devotional song, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described it.

But everything else in that lede is best described as straight-up civil religion. We usually think of civil religion as a political phenomenon. But it’s a cultural phenomenon as well and this memorial had it in spades. The sanctification of Jackson’s lyrics and the deification of Jackson — in that one pastor’s invocation alone — are good examples of the phenomenon.

I think the writer could have mentioned the larger-than-life image of Jackson, arms outstretched, on the screen behind the stage. Others caught it. Here’s The Guardian critiquing the “adulation, hyperbole and showbiz razzle-dazzle tinged with more than a hint of religious symbolism”:

Throughout, the symbolism of Jackson as a Christ-like figure – misunderstood, persecuted and snatched away from his fellow humans before his time – was subtle but unmistakable. The opening gospel number, sang as the gleaming gold coffin adorned with roses was laid at the foot of the stage, featured the refrain “one more time we are going to see you,” a clear reference to both Jackson and the son of God.

Later, as John Mayer launched into a blues instrumental version of the Jackson hit Human Nature, a concert image of Jackson with arms raised in a pose straight from a crucifixion painting, and light pouring out from behind him was projected on the overhead screen.

Precisely. Not bad for these immediate write-ups. And while I would love nothing more than to never again see, hear or read another story about the Gloved One, it would be nice for some reporters to explore a little bit about what all this civil religion means.

As a Lutheran (and we’re sort of known for our funerals), I was rather mortified by this memorial service. For us, the funeral is a time to talk about what God has done in Christ for the deceased — not how awesome and Messiah-like the deceased was.

The problem with such eulogistic services is compounded when the sins of the deceased are so, well, public. So even with the few minutes I saw, this memorial and the amazing and widespread reaction to it made me want some much meatier coverage. People talk about how Jackson tried and/or failed to find meaning in his life. But what about all these fanatics — what are they searching for? And what is the media searching for when it does this 24/7 news coverage? Rather than the silly navel-gazing I know we’re going to get, it would be nice to see some coverage that asks some more difficult questions than the obvious ones about the news cycle going overboard.

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Cell to soul

Call me a dinosaur. While I don’t blink an eye anymore at sanctuary screens and televisions in the parish house, I’m still not convinced that cell phones and computers in the sanctuary aren’t a huge distraction, another manifestation of our ADHD society gone techno-nuts.

Even I have to admit, though, that it’s clear on the surface why some congregations are allowing tweeting and texting from the pew. They want to reach potential new members, spread their messages, and stay in contact with members who might not get to church, synagogue or mosque for services.

As New York Times writer Paul Vitello wrote in an article posted this past weekend, we’re still in the early days of experimenting with the mixture of ancient faith and new media. The actual effect, as his opening paragraphs demonstrate, can be hilariously (or heretically) unpredictable. Broadly scanning multiple denominations and congregations, Vitello ably describes some of the challenges facing religious groups as they try to integrate street technologies into sanctuary praise. They range from privacy concerns to unpredictability, to the possibility of obscene language and insults. Vitello describes some of the questions now being debated online and in person:

In online debates and private discussions, leaders of all faiths have been weighing pros and cons and diagramming the boundaries of acceptable interactions: Should the congregation have a Facebook page, or should it be the imam’s or priest’s? Should there be limited access? Censoring? Is it appropriate for a clergy member to “friend” a minor?

Some recoil at the informality and unpredictability of the crowds marshaled by social media, and at their seeming immunity — even hostility — to the authority of established institutions. More deeply, some in the clergy see a basic tension between the anonymous world of online life and the meaning of religious community.

Immediately after this paragraph, Vitello follows with a really incisive quote from Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik, who comments that in Judaism, “God resides in the community.” That’s not solely a practical concern. That’s a theological one.

Some of these other faith leaders must be asking profound questions also. How does the use of new social media impact the core of the message? Can you really reconnect with your faith via Twitter? How do you know if anyone is listening and if their practice or faith has been changed?

Including some of the answers to these questions — or even finding out if anyone is asking them would have given the article a mooring, instead of leaving readers with the impression that religious leaders are making it up as they go. Which may be in fact, the case.

In an article posted last week on the Jacksonville.com website, Jeff Brumley writes about the same topic, but focuses more on how new media affects worship — and whether incorporating it works as a marketing tool. Although Brumley only has a few quotes focused on the theological issues, I thought this one from rabbi Hayim Herring summed up the dilemma that many congregations seem to be finding themselves in.

It’s also too early to declare if the practice even works, said Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of a Minnesota-based consulting group that helps synagogues reach out to unaffiliated Jews.

But Herring said he encourages some congregations — at least those whose observance doesn’t preclude the use of electronic devices on the sabbath — to at least consider how the process could “expand their reach.”

“Because we don’t know where social media is taking us it is worthwhile to try some limited experiments,” Herring said.

Not only do they not know if it works, but what “works” for one religious group might not work for another. Journalists covering these stories might want to ask faith leaders: what is the ultimate purpose of endorsing the use of social media in your pews?

How do you measure success? The answers might be different among religious leaders, but they would be illuminating.

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Southern Baptists in brief

religionMapIt’s time to take a trip deep, deep into the tmatt folder of GetReligion guilt. You see, with the Iran explosion and a bunch of other major news, I don’t think we made a single reference to coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention meetings in Louisville.

As anyone knows who has ever covered one, SBC gatherings are big sprawling affairs, even though they are no longer the must-cover events that they were in the 1980s during the civil war for control of America’s largest non-Catholic flock.

When you are there, the daily stories go marching by, from the election of the present to some resolution about this or that political issue. This year, the mainstream press stirred a bit about the Southern Baptists voting to celebrate the election of the nation’s first African-American president, even while stressing the many, repeat many, issues that divide Southern Baptists and President Barack Obama.

As you cover those daily stories, it is often easy to lose sight of the big-picture issues that are looming in the background. Then, if you decide to write about one of these larger stories, it’s hard to crunch it into the small amounts of space that reporters are working with these days.

So let’s pause to celebrate one such effort, by veteran scribe Bob Smietana of the Tennessean in Nashville, home of the SBC headquarters that many call the “Baptist Vatican.” I know, I know, that nickname makes no sense in terms of church polity, but relax.

In the middle of a feature about the convention, Smietana dove into a very complex subject — which is why the Southern Baptists, after decades of growth, have finally suffered some slight membership declines. This, of course, stands in contrast to the demographic earthquake that has hit the “Seven Sisters” of liberal Protestantism. If you are interested in a longer, insider’s take on this SBC issue, see these two essays — here and here — by Will Hall, the head of Baptist Press.

But here is the heart of Smietana’s crisp mini-look at this huge subject:

Three major factors derailed the Southern Baptist system.

First, the birth rate among white Americans fell. That was a problem because most Southern Baptists are white and because they found most of their converts among their children. …

Second, Americans moved from rural areas into cities and suburbs. That’s a problem because almost half of Southern Baptist churches are in rural areas. And Baptists have, until recently, started few new urban churches. Hall disagrees with some critics who think the decline in membership and baptisms is a spiritual problem.

“The problem is not a lack of evangelistic fervor,” he said. “It’s location, location, location.”

The third factor? New churches that don’t act like Southern Baptist churches. Those churches have often exchanged their choirs for rock bands, met in nontraditional places, and have preachers who dress casually and give edgy sermons. And many new churches also have dropped Baptist from their names as denominational loyalty fell.

Now there is a lot going on in there and, yes, there’s a lot more that could be said. The keys, however, are the hard facts about demographics and the reality of the post-denominational age. However, when I was reading up on the decline issue — I plan to write on it myself, sooner or later — one thing stuck out.

When it comes to racial diversity, Southern Baptists are actually seeing a tremendous amount of success. Mainline church leaders may struggle to grasp this, but the most ethnically diverse churches in America are found in these three bodies — the Roman Catholic Church, the Assemblies of God and, yes, the Southern Baptist Convention.

The SBC has been opening many Hispanic and African-American congregations and seeing increases in its ethnically mixed congregations. The Tennessean article notes:

There are signs that the Southern Baptist Convention may be able to reverse its decline. From 1998 to 2007, the number of ethnic minorities in the faith doubled, to 8 percent.

In other words, they have had success — but not enough. Southern Baptists are not keeping up with the rising tide of ethnic diversity in modern America, even though they are doing better than most other denominations. That’s the largest of the larger realities, especially when combined with the issue of declining white birth rates.

This is a very big story. I hope the Tennessean lets Bob return to it and dig much, much deeper.

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