Posts Tagged ‘Volume 33 No. 8’

Mainline church activism reviving mission or risking its base?

While mainline churches in the Trump era see a new opening to renew their social activist mission, the results of this engagement so far have often been as much conflict and congregational divisions as vitality and growth, writes Ian Lovett in the Wall Street Journal (May 5). “Political activism is reshaping what it means to go to mainline Protestant churches in the Trump era, with tensions bubbling between parishioners who believe the church should be a force for political change, and those who believe it should be a haven for spiritual renewal.” As some congregations have turned themselves into hubs of activism on issues ranging from immigration to anti-racism, they have seen their numbers increase, especially among young people—once the most alienated segment of the church. Clergy are also seeing a more prominent role for themselves in public life—something they had not witnessed since the 1960s. The resulting mood of alienation and fear of politicizing the churches among more conservative members is acknowledged by the clergy, yet they believe this may be their last chance to have influence and be a force for change.

Lovett adds that the many denominations haven’t yet released membership figures but that there are anecdotal reports of increased church attendance. The United Church of Christ reported a decline in 2017, but at a slower pace than in recent years. Lovett notes that a number of individual congregations in the UCC—including 14 of 18 that were surveyed in the Southwest—said that attendance had increased during the first year of the Trump presidency. Mainline churches in the South are still seeing the fallout from the clash in Charlottesville last summer as well as the ongoing conflict over displaying confederate statues and symbols. Activist clergy say such efforts of resistance are worth the prospect of further decline. Diane Butler-Bass, an Episcopalian author, said that “fights over how and whether to engage politically are ‘taking place in every congregation at this moment.’” Citing the waffling of mainline white churches in the civil-rights era, she said that those churches that took a stand for civil rights often shrank or closed.

But there is the persisting question of whether mainline congregations can draw many committed members who share these liberal activist views in the way that more conservative churches have drawn the politically active. In the Religion in Public blog (May 29), political scientist Ryan Burge looks at figures on frequent attenders across the conservative-moderate-liberal church spectrum and their social and political preferences. Overall, Trump won 83.2 percent of frequent attenders (attending multiple times a week) among white church members. Evangelicals, who voted for Trump in large numbers, have the largest share of frequent attenders, but even frequent attenders identifying themselves as liberal tended to vote for Trump at 14.5 percent, as opposed to six percent for liberal adherents in general.

Evangelical-Catholic alliance shows fissures in the era of Trump and Francis

Roman Catholics and evangelicals have shared social and political priorities over the past three decades “but now find their agendas diverging in the era of President Trump and Pope Francis,” according to a National Public Radio report by Tom Gjelten (May 25). In recent decades their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and common […]

Designing rituals minus the religion targets “nones”

Rituals, like spirituality itself, are increasingly being separated from their communal and religious contexts and being designed for and in some cases marketed to the non-affiliated (or “nones”). In The Atlantic (May 7), Sigal Samuel reports on the work of the Ritual Design Lab in Silicon Valley, where a small team of “interaction designers” is […]


Most Protestant churchgoers define and practice tithing—giving 10 percent of one’s income for religious purposes—in a variety of ways, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. About 50 percent of respondents said they could give their tithes to a Christian ministry instead of a church, and one in three said tithes could go to […]

Catholic Poland charting its own path from Ireland’s liberalization on abortion?

Ireland’s vote to overturn its constitutional ban on abortion was not only another sign of the country’s weakening Catholic identity but has also been seen as pointing to a pattern that may be followed by another European country, namely Poland, according to the Wall Street Journal (May 29). Ireland’s vote on abortion last month “echoed […]

Church and sports find close harmony in Russia

As the FIFA World Cup is about to start in Russia and attract football aficionados from around the entire world, Regina Elsner (Center for East European and International Studies, Berlin) looks at the way the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is approaching sports from a position quite similar to that of the Russian state—as an important […]

Quietist Salafism shows resilience in post-Arab Spring world

Rejecting revolutionary protests as well as jihadism, quietist Salafism has proved until now remarkably resilient and has been able to preserve its position in post-Arab Spring environments, writes Laurent Bonnefoy (Sciences Po, Paris) in the Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions (January–March). The perception that the turmoil starting in 2011 has led to a worse […]

Changing image of Sufism in Turkey’s religious education program

Previously presented as an historical phenomenon and an instance of reactionary Islam in textbooks used for religious education in Turkey, Sufi orders (tarikat) are now described in a positive light, writes Manami Ueno (Kyoto University) in Turkish Studies (June). This does not mean that the currently ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is willing to […]

Findings & Footnotes- June 2018

Placed under the editorship of the well-known and prolific Italian scholar Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions, CESNUR), Bitter Winter is a new, free online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China that was launched in mid-May. Its content is available in English, Chinese and Korean. Concerns about the fate of […]