Friday, May 22, 2015

More commentary on Fountains Church

About the coordinated effort of 8 conservative Christian churches to discredited Fountains Methodist Church,  John Shore:
What is neither fair nor benign, however, is the Gang of 8's pastors calling pastor Felten a tool of Satan, a hypocrite, an apostate and reprobate and comparing what he preaches to Naziism....

Name-calling and the casting of harsh dispersions is typical of bullies and those feeling threatened.

And if there's one message the Gang of 8 is successfully communicating, it's that they're feeling threatened.

Threatened they are, and threatened they should be. For the Christianity they represent is, in a word, ruinous. It holds that the "unrepentant" LGBT person is destined for hell, that wives must be subservient to their husbands, that Christians alone can enjoy a heavenly afterlife.

The Christianity they preach and teach feeds off fear, exclusivity, anger and victimizing "the other."
Erin Wathen has a theory
With more and more evangelical Christians (especially the younger variety) coming around in support of marriage equality, fundamentalist pastors are wondering—‘if our people aren’t afraid of the gays any more, then who are we supposed to protect them from?” .....So then it hits them—Other Christians! Those people who CLAIM to believe in Jesus and scripture, but really think that evolution is a thing. And also are not quite sure about the virgin birth. THEY are the new foil to our ownership of all things holy.


But, it is important to acknowledge that the intent behind this ‘fact or fiction’ message—and others like it, coming soon to a suburban mega-church near you! —is not just to diminish or silence. It is to set apart yet another group of people as outsiders; and, as such, as a threat to the ‘real and actual truth’ as it is perceived within a certain institution. This is what gives power to said institution–establishing an adversary, and then selling yourself as the only protection from that danger.

How that equates to ‘gospel’ for anyone, anywhere, is beyond me. But it’s worked for centuries.

Eric Scot English:
The debate between progressive and conservative Christianity is not new. Most of the time these kinds of conversations are hashed out in blogs, classrooms, and churches. However, what is unique about this situation is the way in which these churches are choosing to address the issue. Namely, in an aggressive ad campaign and public forum. The publicity surrounding this series is growing and has caught the attention of many around the country.

Based on what I can already observe by the series agenda, it is likely that these forums will fail to fairly communicate both sides and, thus, allow the townspeople to make up their own minds on these issues. Instead, it’s far more likely that these forums will be an exercise in providing propaganda in order to persuade congregants that the progressive worldview is completely false and ultimately evil.

If you cannot properly articulate what others believe, then you have nothing to argue against. This does nothing, but perpetuate stereotypes and ultimately provides no benefit to anyone. The purpose of this article is to provide what will more than likely be absent in these seminars- clarity, rationality and truth about the progressive worldview.
Fountains UMC sees opportunity.  From on their blog,
Friends of The Fountains like nationally-known author Diana Butler Bass (and others who keep a finger on the pulse of the national religious scene) say that they’ve never seen anything like this before: a coordinated smear campaign/attack by a majority of the churches in one town against a single other church.....

Far from being a bad thing, we believe that in the long run, this is a wonderful opportunity for The Fountains. The outpouring of support from literally around the world has already overwhelmed our office email and Facebook page. Visits to our website have increased a thousand-fold and various organizations and bloggers are picking up our story. ..

While this all may seem scary, it has already proven to be tremendous publicity for our church that “Prays Well With Others” with Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors. Our strategy is to not be defensive or argumentative, but to keep articulating the positive attributes of Progressive Christianity and always err on the side of grace as we move ahead. There are many who are hungry for the message The Fountains offers – we look forward to this situation helping us reach more and more of them!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Correlating faith with science

Blogger Josh Rosenau created this neat graphic, showing a striking correlation between support for environmental regulation (basically, as a proxy for believing in climate change)  and evolution, associated with religious belief.  The size of the circle represents the population associated with that belief group.  Rosenau explains,
I examined two questions. One asked people which of these statements they most agreed with:
Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; or Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost
The other question asked people to agree or disagree with the statement:
Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth
He goes on,
First, look at all those groups whose members support evolution. There are way more of them than there are of the creationist groups, and those circles are bigger. We need to get more of the pro-evolution religious out of the closet.

Second, look at all those religious groups whose members support climate change action. Catholics fall a bit below the zero line on average, but I have to suspect that the forthcoming papal encyclical on the environment will shake that up.

Chris Mooney in the Washington Post comments,
One possible way of interpreting the figure is that as with political parties themselves, people at least partially self-sort into faiths or denominations that seem more consonant with their own worldviews. And thus, a cluster of issue stances may travel alongside these choices of affiliation. “People are choosing what religion they want to associate with,” suggested Rosenau. “If people feel alienated from a church, they’re switching.”

There may also be a substantive point here that links together the ideas. A view of the world that thinks of human beings as having evolved, as being part of the natural world and having emerged through the same process as other organisms, may also be related to a manner of thinking that puts great overall emphasis on the value of nature and one’s connectedness with it.

In any case, while the pattern above may require more analysis, one clear punchline of the figure is that it really doesn’t make sense to say that religion is at war with science. You can say that for some people, religion is clearly linked to less science acceptance — especially on evolution. But for others, clearly, religion presents no hurdle at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Going after Progressive Christians

By now you have heard that 8 conservative Christian churches in Arizona have started an unprecedented coordinated campaign to impugn a progressive Methodist church in their vicinity.
"... when you have an effort collaborated by multiple churches in one community to try to discredit one other way of thinking, that's when it becomes alarming," said Rev. David Felten, head of The Fountains Progressive Christian Church.
"That lets people know there's a choice out there, they don't have to deny science, they don't have to hate their gay neighbor, they don't have to read and take the bible in a way that causes them to abandon their rational mind," he said.
So his conservative neighbors find this sufficiently threatening that they are planning a coordinated series of sermons to attack the beliefs of Progressives as "insufficiently Christian".

Jonathan Merrit puts this in the context of the Pew Survey, which shows continued decline of Christianity and a huge increase in the unaffilitated:
Triumphalist evangelicals have missed the point. The biggest threat to evangelicals is not some form of liberal faith, but rather faithlessness itself. Most people aren’t leaving evangelicalism for more liberal expressions, but rather for nothing at all.

While conservative Christians were crusading against their more liberal brothers and sisters in the mainline, the real growth has been in neither camp—the share of religiously unaffiliated individuals in America skyrocketed by a whopping 6.7 percent.

Rather than taking pot shots at more liberal strains of Christianity, evangelicals would do well to focus on the threat that all Christians are now facing: the growing number of people who are apathetic or antagonistic to the claims of Christianity.

If evangelicals continue to treat current trends as a race to the bottom, they shouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly where they end up.
 Religion Dispatches comments,
It shows a basic flaw in Christianity in the United States: the conservatives don’t believe the liberals are actual Christians, and the liberals think the conservatives are flaming judgmental assholes.

In faith as as in politics, the nation seems to be growing ever more polarized along ideological lines. The net effect is roughly analogous to when campaign ads go negative: the base is kept strong and in line, but the majority of people say “to hell with the both of you, I’m staying home.”

The only discernible difference between the civil declension is that one takes place on a Tuesday and the other on a Sunday. It may work often enough for political campaigns, but I can’t recommend it as evangelism. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fewer Christians in the US

The news today is a new poll from Pew Research identifying a significant decline in the number of Americans who call themselves "Christian".  Strikingly, the rate of decline is just as high for the catholics as for the Mainline.  The Evangelicals are more or less holding their own, but the "unaffiliated" which includes atheists, agnostics, spiritual-but-not-religious, and whatevers, is now nearly 23%.  The younger and better educated you are, the more likely you are a "none". 

The New York Times comments,
The decline has been propelled in part by generational change, as relatively non-Christian millennials reach adulthood and gradually replace the oldest and most Christian adults. But it is also because many former Christians, of all ages, have joined the rapidly growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated or “nones”: a broad category including atheists, agnostics and those who adhere to “nothing in particular.”
What explains this?  One possibility:
The report does not offer an explanation for the decline of the Christian population, but the low levels of Christian affiliation among the young, well educated and affluent are consistent with prevailing theories for the rise of the unaffiliated, like the politicization of religion by American conservatives, a broader disengagement from all traditional institutions and labels, the combination of delayed and interreligious marriage, and economic development. 
The article continues,
Nearly a quarter of people who were raised as Christian have left the group, and ex-Christians now represent 19 percent of adults.

Attrition was most substantial among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, who have declined in absolute numbers and as a share of the population since 2007. The acute decline in the Catholic population, which fell by roughly 3 million, is potentially a new development. Most surveys have found that the Catholic share of the population has been fairly stable over the last few decades, in no small part because it has been reinforced by migration from Latin America.
There's a wealth of information here and you can break it out by denomination.  For example, check out the demographics of the Episcopal/Anglican group here. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Resolution in Orlando

The incredible grace-filled parents of Baby Jack met with the Bishop of Central Florida and agreed that Jack will be baptised this summer.

You'll recall from earlier this week that  one of Jack's fathers reported on Facebook that Jack's scheduled baptism was cancelled 3 days before it was to happen:
The Dean shared there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism and although he hoped to resolve the conflict, he was not yet able to ...After probing further the Dean said “the issue is with you and Eric being the first two men who will baptize their child at the Cathedral.
Well, after a furore on Facebook, it's back on:
The Bishop acknowledged he learned the Cathedral set a firm date of April 19 for the baptism, but did not support postponing the baptism. He genuinely wanted to learn about us and expressed his apologies for how it had been handled. Most importantly, he was clear he is supportive of Eric and I, two dads, baptizing our son at the Cathedral and offered to be a part of it. We are appreciative and are looking forward to the baptism to take place this summer.
The Orlando Cathedral's notice is a little less grace-filled:
"It is important to note that the Dean and Cathedral have always intended to baptize this child. No one, including the Bishop, "denied" this baptism. We regret the delay, apologize for it and are working with his family on a revised date that will accommodate their schedule and respect the sacrament of Holy Baptism of their child. " 
Regret the delay?  There didn't have to be a delay, just some courage to do the right thing.  Nothing changes that they cancelled (or postponed indefinitely) because some people didn't approve. All in all, much egg on face.

Interestingly, the Facebook page of the Diocese of Central Florida has managed to allow discussion of this quite civilly allowing posts to its page and comments on its posts.  The hard working and also grace-filled moderator reports that the only posts s/he had to block were those from opponents of Jack's baptism who became intemperate or abusive.  By contrast, the Cathedral of St Luke's facebook has removed comments and blocked the ability to post on the page. 

Interesting  differences in how to manage social media in a media crisis.

Here's how Jack's dad finished:
I close with one more lesson for Jack – Aspire to live your life with grace and forgiveness. You will be better for it.
I tell ya, that's a great family Jack's got.

Update:  Bishop Gene Robinson writes,
What troubles me most is that for many unchurched people, and for those who have left the institutional church, this situation underscores their own experience of what a judgmental and hypocritical place the church can be. Though now solved for the McCaffreys’ and Jack’s sake, my prayer is that this situation will continue to be a teaching moment, not just for the couple, but for members of the cathedral, its dean, and the bishop. It can be. It ought to be. 
I'm not sure it will be. The Cathedral's Sunday's sermon by a conservative canon excoriated "west coast activists" for the whole problem.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Death Belt states

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  From the NCRonline:
The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., finds in its new study, "Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror," that "an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching" remains in the communities where this form of racial terror was most prevalent.

Most astonishingly, this includes our churches. Forgetfulness of lynching and the death penalty in America demonstrate an appalling apostasy on behalf of Christians who tolerate this evil.

This legacy endures in the states of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and my home state of Louisiana.

Scholars call these "Death Belt" states because of the high correlation they find between the history of lynching against African-Americans and today's disproportionate arrests, prosecution, and sentencing to death of African-Americans. We deem these unworthy of life along with the economically poor and people who are mentally or psychologically disabled.

The correlation between the practice of lynching and the death penalty goes down to the parish/county level.
Cry, cry.....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

I'm looking at you, Orlando

Most of the time here we are pretty happy with the direction of the Episcopal Church. Oh yeah, there are still issues (hello, women bishops, where are you? and what the heck is going on at General Theological Seminary?) Like any human institutions TEC can have a tin ear and a lead foot, too regularly. But frail and fallible as it is, things have been going mostly in the right direction.

But social media is doing a face palm over a facebook post by a man in Orlando whose infant son was scheduled for baptism in the Cathedral in Orlando, only to be called 3 days before and told, er, no.
The Dean shared there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism and although he hoped to resolve the conflict, he was not yet able to (the Bishop of Central Florida, Greg Brewer, was also involved). After probing further the Dean said “the issue is with you and Eric being the first two men who will baptize their child at the Cathedral.” He offered his apologies and further explained this was a bigger deal because of the exposure that comes along with the baptism taking place at the Cathedral. In essence “this is not no forever, just not now.” Three days before our son was to be baptized he was turned away. At that moment, he was unwelcomed by the church, and denied his rite to be recognized as a Christian. I was speechless, angry, and heartbroken.
ExCUSE me? "members of the congregation" oppose baptism of an infant? Because, why, exactly? Go on, we're waiting.

And the Dean caved? We don't know more than that, but I'm sure we are all cynics enough to think the protestors have a large checkbook. I hope the Cathedral Deans I've known would have told the complainers to get over their fat selves and proceeded on schedule with the service. In fact I know  they would have.

The original poster behaves in a far more Christian way than many of us would. Later word is that the Bishop says he did NOT block the baptism and is seeking a way forward.

But this is a shameful act that shows TEC has yet to attain the position it claims to have reached.  Listen, when you say all are welcome, well, all means ALL.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Higher Law? Not so much.

Mike Huckabee and other professional conservatives who are upset about marriage equality (and the 60% of Americans who support it) are trying to arrogate unto themselves the mantle of civil rights and Martin Luther King.  They are calling for civil disobedience to resist marriage equality (even as they struggle to articulate how my marriage affects them in any way all).

Ed Kilgore nails it:
In claiming to emulate King's prophetic stance, people like Huck and the other signatories of yesterday's Pledge of Solidarity to Defend Marriage are engaging in a huge act of bad faith. They are not pointing to a constitutional anomaly, but are instead arguing for a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution that sneaks in conceptions of divine and natural law that happen to justify their particular policies. They are not appealing to the consciences of the majority, but claiming those are irrelevant. And most of all, it's insanely laughable that they imagine themselves as self-sacrificing heroes like those of the civil rights movement; they struggle constantly to come up with a single way in which same-sex marriage actually affects them.

Beyond the phony civil rights parallels, what's most annoying about the new "religious liberty" line is that it purports to represent a defense of freedom of conscience when it is actually an assertion that the "higher law" should trump the civil law for all of us.....

"Higher law" appeals are perverse coming from someone running for President of the United States. If Huck wants to stand in the courthouse door and defy a Supreme Court decision declaring marriage equality a constitutional right, he should let his freak flag fly and suffer the legal consequences of following his conscience. Using such arguments to troll for the votes of people upset by social change isn't in the spirit of Martin Luther King, but is entirely consistent with the thinking and behavior of the scofflaws on the other side of the firehoses at Selma claiming a God-given inalienable right to discriminate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Evangelical challenge on women's roles

Biblical conservatives are generally not happy with women's equality.  We see it in the battle over women's ordination (won in the Episcopal church, ongoing in the Roman Catholic church) but it is particularly prominent in the Evangelical conservative community.  

However, it's harder and harder in modern life to keep women pregnant at home in the kitchen or in the homeschool room, when women want legitimate careers of their own.  From Religion Dispatches
Some evangelicals’ complementarian commitments appear to be influenced more deeply by nostalgia for 1950s suburbia than by the Bible itself. The gulf between leaders’ wishes and women’s lives reveals how tone-deaf, incomprehensible, and inconsistent elite preferences have become....

Traditionalist evangelical elites may have overreached. Now, in light of the preferences and necessities that undergird evangelicals’ egalitarian family arrangements, leaders will have to concede that people can interpret scripture according to shifting cultural realities. Of course, this interpretive malleability and liberty of conscience isn’t extended to people who think differently about homosexuality.
Of course it is no coincidence that opposition to gay rights is linked to  rigid gender norms.
Conservative evangelical elites are expending a great deal of energy to keep acceptance of homosexuality out of their churches and institutions. But when it comes to enforcing patriarchy, they simply aren’t fighting as hard. As they battle on two fronts—often against their own people—evangelical leaders may have to decide whether homosexuality or egalitarianism is the greater evil.

They will struggle to argue that marriage is non-negotiable as they concede that gender roles are very much up for debate.
The re-definition of marriage, as Associate Justice Ruth Bader GInsberg reminded us yesterday, is not over same sex couples.  It's already occurred, when we acknowledged the fundamental equality of the partners in a marriage.

Now, we wait

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard the marriage equality cases from the 6th circuit, which will determine whether or not marriage is legalized across the country, by what means, and potentially whether LGBT people qualify for heightened scrutiny and greater protection from discrimination.

Most people think we will get some form of marriage equality, but it may be found on narrow grounds.  We are hoping for 5-4, but it might be 6-3.  There is no way that we can get Alito, Thomas, or Scalia, all conservative Catholics.

If the court found against equality, there would be chaos as bans were re-instated, and potentially, marriages annulled.

We went through that worry as we waited, after the passage of Prop8, as the first court case played out in California and the pro-H8 side argued that the 18,000 marriages that occured in that brief window should be annulled.  It was a like a kick in the stomach.

Even though our marriage is safe now, it is still a degrading feeling to be talked about and argued about. We are people, with a real life and a real marriage, not a theoretical construct.  And as the opponents of equality lose, they become more shrill and hate-filled against LGBT people.

And in this time of hope, we are still afraid.