Top Ten Religion News Stories of 2012

Catholic bishops testify against Obamacare

According to the Religion Newswriters Association, the top religion news story of the year was the way that religious leaders responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. But they’d already voted on their Top 10 prior to that. So, here are the Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year, from the RNA:

1. U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Obamacare requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain, in the U.S. presidential race.

5. Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it

[Read more…]

The Emergent Church Isn’t Dead — Here’s Proof

I was in Dallas over the weekend (at the National Youth Workers Convention), and I had the good fortune to visit Union Coffee Shop. Union is the vision of Mike Baughman, whom I first met at Princeton. Mike is entrepreneurial and ambitious, the very characteristics that are so often mitigated against and even squashed in mainline denominations.

But Mike didn’t let that stultifying environment deter him. Instead, he’s rallied 12 Methodist church and numerous individual donors to chip in. His vision, which he’s in the process of realizing, is a coffeeshop adjacent to the SMU campus, that combines caffeine, a warm communal space, a commitment to causes of justice, and, eventually, a worshipping community.

The soft launch of the space was Friday. Brad Cecil and I stopped by on Saturday evening. I loved the feel of the space (photos here). At the center stands a sturdy wooden table, and it’s already become the gravitational center of the space. When we were there, most of the patrons at the shop were seated around that table.

When the (Tuesday evening) worship launches, that table will become the altar, from which the Eucharist is served. This, I think, is a perfect metaphor for what communion ought to be — this table will take on loads of meaning and memory before the communion elements are even placed on it.

I encourage you to visit Union when you’re in DFW. I encourage you to support it financially if you are looking to make a year-end donation somewhere. And I encourage you to take courage in Mike’s example that new life is possible in old denominations — I know I am.

The Denouement of Denominations

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to serve as the Scholar in Residence at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. You can listen to my sermon (on the Didache and what it has to teach the church today) at the bottom of this page.

My main public lecture was titled, “Why the United Methodist Church Is the Most Screwed Up Denomination,” a title that was chosen by the pastors! It was an interesting time. As seminarian and youth pastor Teer Hardy reports, he was surprised that so few of the parishioners at Aldersgate knew what happened at the UMC General Conference in May:

For me, a seminary student and candidate for ordination, this relationship between the congregation and denomination was an eye-opening moment in the conversation.  No wonder local congregations are not worried about paying their apportionments the same in which clergy are.  For clergy it can be a “career move” and for the local congregation there is no penalty.  Even appointments are based upon the overall success (or lack of) a pastor as they lead their congregation.  If congregations are not as “attached” to the denomination as their clergy are required to be does the congregation really understand what is required of UMC clergy (elders)?

Now, today comes a report from Gallup that Americans’ trust in “organized religion” is at an all-time low:

Watching Denominations Implode

It’s summertime, which means it’s the time for denominations to have their annual clusterf meetings.

The United Methodists already had theirs. At the 11th hour, a deal for new governance, allowing increased participation in denominational affairs for younger clergy, unraveled. They also reaffirmed their stance against gay clergy and gay marriage.

The Presbyterians are currently meeting (for 8 days — seriously, 8 days?!? — over the 4th of July(!)). They don’t seem to want young delegates, and the vice moderator resigned just a few days after her election, citing “pervasive, poisonous activity” in the PC(USA). You see, she solemnized the marriage between two women, in Washington, D.C., where that kind of thing is legal.

And now the Episcopalians have begun their meetings, and they’re arguing about the way that they come up with the budget. The same sex issues are on the agenda for later in the week. Steve Pankey has a valuable post on the generational divide that vexes his denomination, and I think the rest as well.

I’m watching all of this from afar, via the tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts of many dear friends — friends who are committed to these bureaucracies in spite of their sins. I don’t begrudge my friends their loyalties, and I take no joy in the inevitable in-fighting that these denominational meetings engender.

Honestly, I think it’s all pretty sad, and I know it really hurts many people involved. It also costs millions of dollars to have these meetings — money given by earnest church members. Money that could be spent on the mission of the gospel.