All Catholics oppose death penalty and all Baptists favor it?

In the wake of the nation’s first executions since Oklahoma’s botched lethal injection, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interesting story on a young Republican concerned about the death penalty:

Late Tuesday, as the clock approached midnight, Marcus Wellons rode to oblivion on a state-inserted needle, his punishment for the rape and murder of a young Cobb County neighbor 24 years ago.

That same day, Marc Hyden, a 30-year-old confirmed conservative Republican from Marietta, hopped a plane for Washington D.C. Today, he will open a booth at the fifth annual gathering of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Hyden is a national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a two-year-old, GOP-based group that carries tea party suspicion of government into a new but highly logical arena:

If you don’t trust your government to deliver a piece of mail to your doorstep, how can you trust it to competently decide who lives and who dies?

To its credit, the Journal-Constitution recognizes that religion plays a role in this debate:

An extensive national survey conducted last year by Barna Group showed that 42 percent of Christian baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, agreed that “government should have the option to execute the worst criminals.”

But among those born between 1980 and 2000, the approval rate dropped to 32 percent among self-identified Christians. Among actively practicing Christian millennials, only 23 percent approved of the death penalty.

Then comes this:

The religious connection is important, especially in terms of Georgia politics. An alliance between Southern Baptists and Catholics has been a large part of the success enjoyed by religious conservatives at the state Capitol when it comes to issues such as gay marriage or abortion.

But the death penalty divides the two denominations. Catholics oppose executions. Southern Baptists do not.

That last sentence assumes a lot. Is it really true that Catholics oppose executions, while Southern Baptists do not? Technically, the answer is probably yes.

From a Pew Research Center primer on religious groups’ official positions on the death penalty:

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#SBC14: Race, sex, Muslims make Baptist headlines

Race. Sex. Muslims.

As Southern Baptists convene their annual meeting in Baltimore — home of editor tmatt — all could make headlines. In fact, they already are.

Sunday’s front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune featured a 2,500-word farewell profile on the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who is wrapping up two years as the convention’s first black president.

A big chunk of the top:

A few blocks from where he grew up in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, in a wet and rising wind, Rev. Fred Luter Jr. is pacing behind a microphone. In his last weeks as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leader of the United States’ largest protestant denomination is here in an official capacity, to speak at the dedication of a non-profit health clinic. But the event also marks a homecoming of sorts.

Here are the streets Luter walked as a boy. He can point to where his mother went to church, and to the barber shop where he honed a gift for speaking. Those buildings are now boarded and the streets marred by blighted homes, by empty lots — evidence of deep racial inequalities that Luter has seen as his life’s work to resolve.

The first African-American president of the Baptist branch that broke from the church to retain its pro-slavery stance, Luter has served a whirlwind two years. His term ends Wednesday. As president, Luter has traveled the globe, preaching in mud huts in Uganda, in the freezing February of an Alaskan winter. He speaks of his sympathy for human suffering, a sympathy that extends outward in every direction, to everyone he meets.

But he has retained a special sympathy for the problems facing his hometown. For the April 28 dedication of Baptist Community Health Services Inc., he spoke not of what he has accomplished abroad but of what he would like to do here. Embarking on a biblical anecdote of those who once doubted Christ, he said skeptics, upon hearing that Jesus was born in the backwaters of Nazareth, asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Fred Luter Jr. in the Lower 9th WardThe first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor Fred Luter grew up blocks away from a new health clinic in the Lower 9th ward. He speaks at its opening ceremony.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Luter said, his voice gaining vim, “Washington D.C. one time asked. Baton Rouge one time asked. All over Louisiana, the question was one time asked: ‘Can any good thing come out of the Lower 9th ward? Can any good thing come out of Tennessee and St. Claude streets? Can any thing come out of the Lower 9th Ward area?’”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “We know there are good things to come. We’ve seen it ourselves.”

Luter standing there was the only answer that was needed. His life could answer the question he asked.

It’s an interesting, insightful story by a newspaper to which I haven’t paid much attention since Godbeat veteran Bruce Nolan’s layoff in 2012.

As Southern Baptists prepared to choose Luter’s successor, The Associated Press’ Monday advance on the annual meeting touted the possible election of a Korean-American:

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Boy, you got a prayer in … the drive-thru lane

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I’ll never forget a sermon I heard as a young boy — mainly because I found the message extremely humorous.

In Churches of Christ, we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. But some folks were showing up and quickly leaving after the communion service. So the minister got up one week and proposed distributing the grape juice and crackers through a drive-through so people wouldn’t even need to get out of their cars.

Fast-forward 35 years, and the idea of a drive-thru faith connection isn’t theoretical.

This story (which I came across via the Pew Research Center’s daily religion news email) caught my attention this week:

Drive-thru at church: The easy-pray lane

As a journalist who once wrote a national Associated Press story on 1-800 prayer lines, I found the headline intriguing. Honestly, though, I expected to find “shallow” and “cheesy” on this story’s menu. Instead, the Philadelphia Inquirer treated the subject in a thoughtful, meaty — and yet still interesting — way:

Have it your way.

No, not your fast-food burger. Your prayer.

In an age when convenience is king and religion is often ridiculed, some churches looking to widen their outreach efforts are embracing what community banks and pharmacies have utilized for decades: the drive-through.

The latest to offer a bit of spiritual uplift in the comfort of your car is Hope United Methodist Church in Voorhees.

“People go to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee, not because it’s the best coffee, but because it’s the most convenient,” reasoned Hope’s lead pastor, Jeff Bills. “In a similar way, this is a port of entry for somebody to begin to connect with God in an intentional kind of way.”

(Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t get a chance to respond in this story. Call me old school, but they should. Surely a Dunkin’ PR person could come up with a nice quip about coffee and prayer that fits with the story’s tone. But I digress.)

Back to the story: Three things I liked about this piece:

1. It considers the big picture: The Inquirer provides details both about the trend involved and the context in which drive-thru prayer has a chance to thrive.

The trend:

In Lancaster, there are drive-through hours Wednesday afternoons from the steps of Lancaster First Assembly of God during spring, summer, and fall months, when it’s not too cold to sit outside. Sonrise Worship Center in Lutz, Fla., extends coffee with its comfort the third Saturday of every month. Other drive-through churches have opened in Wichita, Kan.; Richmond, Va.; Aurora, Ill.; and Modesto, Calif..

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Putting a real face on Pew’s Latino religious identity survey

The Pew Research Center released a report Wednesday titled “The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States,” based on a nationwide survey of 5,000 Hispanics, and it’s making headlines.

As always, it’s interesting to see the specific angles taken by major news organizations.

From The New York Times:

By all accounts, Hispanics are the future of Catholicism in America. Already, most young Roman Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, and soon that will be true of the overall Catholic population. But the Hispanicization of American Catholicism faces a big challenge: Hispanics are leaving Catholicism at a striking rate.

It has been clear for years that Catholicism, both in the United States and Latin America, has been losing adherents to evangelical Protestantism, and, in particular, to Pentecostal and other charismatic churches. But as an increasing percentage of the American Hispanic population is made up of people born in this country, a simultaneous, competing form of faith-switching is also underway: More American Hispanics are leaving Catholicism and becoming religiously unaffiliated.

The seemingly mind-bending result: Even as a rising percentage of American Catholics is Hispanic, a falling percentage of American Hispanics is Catholic.

From CNN’s Belief Blog:

(CNN) - Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country’s fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.

Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don’t belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.  That’s a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.

While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.

The trends highlighted by Pew’s Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.

From The Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — Latinos in the United States are abandoning the Roman Catholicism of their childhood in increasing numbers to become evangelical Protestants or leave organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

Only 55 percent of the nation’s Latinos consider themselves Catholic, a 12 percentage point drop since 2010. Of those who remain in the church, slightly more said they could imagine leaving than they have in previous years. At the same time, the share of Hispanic evangelicals rose from 12 percent to 16 percent, while Latinos with no religious affiliation increased from 10 percent to 18 percent.

While all three of those reports tackle the important news, I found the Wall Street Journal’s lede most compelling (tip: if you get the subscriber-only version when you click the Journal link, Google the first paragraph and the full story generally will show up):

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Public esteem for journalists sinking. Why?

I’m not ashamed to say that I love journalism. I’m elated that I get to work in this field and I love the work I get to do. I have high regard for the good that journalists’ accomplish, this week providing just one example. You can’t be a media critic without being aware of the downsides. Heck, it’s my job to look at problems with media coverage. And yet still, I am so very thankful for newspapers and media outlets that tell us about the world around us. When I read a story about an event or an interview, I try to remember what a blessing it is that someone was there and took the time to tell me about it.

But the fact is that public esteem for journalists is sinking. The Pew Research Center asks Americans about the contributions to society of various groups:

While there have been modest declines in public appreciation for several occupations, the order of the ratings is roughly the same as it was in 2009. Among the 10 occupations the survey asked respondents to rate, lawyers are at the bottom of the list. About one-in-five Americans (18%) say lawyers contribute a lot to society, while 43% say they make some contribution; fully a third (34%) say lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.

Compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38% in 2009 to 28% in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). About as many U.S. adults now say journalists contribute “not very much” or “nothing at all” to society (27%) as say they contribute a lot (28%).

The change in public perception of journalists is particularly noticeable and Pew looks into it:

The decline in public views about journalists’ contribution to society since 2009 is more pronounced among women than men. Roughly three-in-ten women (29%) say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being, down 17 percentage points from 46% in 2009. Men’s views on this are about the same today as they were in 2009.

The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

Unfortunately, we don’t know why the public holds journalists in such low esteem. I have my own theories, but I wonder what you think? And what are your own views on journalists’ contributions to society? What are some highs and lows you’ve witnessed?

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