Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Spiritual direction outfitted for “nones”

Just as there is a growing number of nones…there is also a growing interest in spiritual direction both within and outside of the Catholic Church…Interestingly, as more Americans move away from participation in institutional religion, many seekers and nones are also seeking out places where they can have in-depth conversations about their spiritual lives,” writes Kaya Oakes in America magazine (November 25).

LDS stagnation: secularization or shortfalls in Mormon culture?

While the worldwide growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) may be stalling overall, its variations in membership loss and pockets of growth and the vitality of rival global faiths suggest that there is no easy explanation for this trend, according to papers presented at the mid-October meeting of the […]

Litigating and legislating against clergy sex abuse rises amidst mounting secular pressure

Church-state issues surrounding clergy sexual abuse are becoming a pressing concern to church bodies, even as they draw up new regulations to punish perpetrators and establish ministries to help victims, according to scholars speaking at a recent symposium on religious freedom in New York, which RW attended. The trend of more legislative attempts to require […]

How the mainline factor still shapes civic and international landscape

While mainline denominations and many congregations continue to decline, new research suggests that the distinctive cultures, beliefs, and practices of these mainstream Christian bodies are still playing an important social function—in the U.S. and abroad—especially in the areas of civic life and international development. This mainline effect was seen in a study of volunteering and […]

Political religion and European-style culture wars come under new scholarly scrutiny

At a conference better known for holding forth on the steady advance of secularization in much of Europe, it was striking how many of the papers at this year’s meeting of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion in Barcelona showed the growing political influence of religious groups and discourse on the continent. In […]

How safe are congregations and clergy from automation?

Judging by the fast pace at which technology is overtaking certain work tasks, clergy seem not to necessarily be exempt from the threat of automation, with several aspects of their work already being performed by artificial intelligence, writes William Young in the religion and science journal Zygon (June). Certain professions, such as medicine, law, journalism, […]

Megachurches trading relevance for liturgical reverence?

“Old-school Catholic practices and traditions” are being increasingly used in American megachurches, reports America magazine (May 13). The article focuses on New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a prominent non-denominational megachurch that has recently embraced traditional liturgies as well as social justice work without evangelization. The church now recites the Nicene Creed and has communion […]

American Southwest belatedly draws Catholic colleges

Even though Catholicism has a long history in the American Southwest and Latinos there are an influential demographic force in the church, Catholic colleges are just being established in the region, according to America magazine (May 13). Jonathan Malesic reports that while the few Catholic colleges that were established in the region in the past […]

Researchers find Catholic Church’s patterns of sexual abuse consistent across time and place

Recent reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the U.S. show similar patterns to those found in the period before 2002 as well as in other Western nations, according to researchers speaking at an April conference at Fordham University in New York, which RW attended. Researchers Margaret Smith and Karen Terry of John […]

Sizing up the impending schism in United Methodism

The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) recent decision at a special session of its General Conference in St. Louis to turn down a proposal that would have allowed congregations to ordain gay clergy and ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages is likely to lead to a schism, with liberals either starting their own body or departing for more congenial networks of like-minded mainline churches—it’s just a question of how much of a schism will take place. In the blog Religion in Public (February 26), political scientist Paul Djupe estimates that the United Methodists stand to lose more members and clergy than did the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in its schism of a decade ago, when conservatives comprising about 10 percent of its membership left the denomination, also over issues of gay rights. Djupe writes that United Methodists may lose double the amount that the ELCA did because the “liberal wing is larger in the UMC than was the conservative side of the ELCA. The liberal wing is also on the side of expanding rights, which is a dominant mode and powerful frame in American political life.” He adds that “churches with younger overall congregations will be more likely to depart. This decision also comes at a time when national ties are frayed as they have not been in a long time, national trust continues at a low point, and people are walking away from traditional ties like never before.”

Djupe speculates that there “is an outside possibility that all of those…United Methodists who are in favor of same sex marriage might depart. That may add up to something more like 40 [percent] of those in favor of same-sex marriage leaving. The total loss in that scenario would reach to something like 2.2 million members lost.” He cites a New York Times report that “pastors and bishops in the United States are already talking about leaving the denomination and possibly creating a new alliance for gay-friendly churches.” Djupe quips that such an organization “already exists, though people more often call it the Episcopal Church. It has some different ways of organizing the denomination and theology, but it’s welcoming even of Lutherans so it’s not far off.”

An article in The Atlantic (February 26) throws some doubt on the prospect of a massive schism, noting that while “the United Methodist Church is often described as a liberal, mainline Protestant denomination, in reality, the body is much more split, even in the United States. In a poll of its American members, the denomination found that 44 percent of respondents described their religious beliefs as traditional or conservative, 28 percent said they are moderate or centrist, and 20 percent identified as progressive or liberal.”