The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

How Should Churches Address the 'Nones?'

OK, church folks. Fasten your seat belts. But don’t hunker down.

There’s a new study out this week that shows that one-in-five Americans has no religious affiliation. Not Baptist, not Catholic, not Lutheran, not Jewish, not Muslim. 

For those of us in the world of organized religion, this just adds more data to a trend we have seen accelerating over the last decade.

In 2007, about 15 percent of the adult population in the U.S. described itself as unaffiliated with any religion. In a comparable survey done this summer and released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number hit 20 percent.  And if you just focus on those under 30, the religiously unaffiliated constitute one third of that group.

Among those of us who are professional religious types, this is the kind of data that can prompt a lot of gloomy introspection about relevance and a lot of finger pointing at those who are not interested in the same kinds of religious expression that we are. 

Let me suggest there’s a less gloomy and less judgmental way to think about this data.

+Continue Reading

Meeting the Demands of a New Generation of Christian Leaders

The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has been a powerful force for Christian social action over the past decade. CCDA's leadership development, resources, and vision have been powerfully focused on helping pastors and community leaders facilitate the restoration of communities all over the country and around the world.

Born out of the traditions of the civil rights movement, CCDA is now engaging a new generation of pastors, prophets, and ministers. This next generation of CCDA will naturally look somewhat different from previous generations as they respond to the ever-changing landscape of our society. As it turns out, one major difference is a hunger among leaders for a more robust and powerful theological foundation from which to pursue ministry.

Practics has long dominated the field of Christian social action. What works? What strategies and techniques will actually bring about change in our community? These have been the central questions of past generations. However, among a new generation of church and community leaders, practical questions are not the sole concern, and in some cases not even the primary concern.

+Continue Reading

Biden-Ryan Debate: Battle of the Catholics

When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.

A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”

Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.

Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.

“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.

+Continue Reading

50 Years Ago, Vatican II Changed the Catholic Church — And the World

Fifty years ago hundreds of elaborately robed leaders strode into St. Peter's Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It signaled the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the way members of the world’s largest Christian denomination viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.

It was the first day of the Second Vatican Council, more popularly known as Vatican II, which was designed to assess the church’s role in a rapidly changing world. Leading the prelates was Pope John XXIII, who said frequently that he convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let in some fresh air.

For many Catholics, the air came in at gale force.

As a result of Vatican II, priests started celebrating Mass in the language of the countries in which they lived, and they faced the congregation, not only to be heard and seen but also to signal to worshippers that they were being included because they were a vital component of the service.

“It called for people not to have passive participation but active participation,” said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who chairs the Committee on Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Prayer is not supposed to be a performance. We’re supposed to be actively participating.”

+Continue Reading

Meet the Nones: Words Are Unnecessary

Editor's Note:  Melissa Otterbein tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular."Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

A "recovering Evangelical," author Melissa identifies with the "nones" after church experiences in the non-denominational Church, Lutheran Church, Church of God, United Church of Christ, and the kind of Church that happens when you have hour-long conversations with people who are materially poor yet rich in spirit. Each of these "Churches" (and those not mentioned) depict Christ in beautiful ways, she believes, but feels that solely identifying with a denominational designation hasn't seemed to fully capture her faith experience. Though "none" might seem like a shocking response to "which religious tradition do you closely identify with?" it's one that, "offers freedom in Christ that brings me to closer to the Kingdom of God in the here and now."

I am tired of explaining away my faith.

I am tired of defending, “proving,” withholding my true feelings for fear of religious retaliation.
I’m tired of watching some people argue their faith, trying to “win people to Christ” with their cogent, convincing “answers.”
I’m tired of watching Jesus be sold, marketed, put on display.

I’m tired of watching certain people try to convince the world why their God is the right God.
I’m tired of listening to people deify their Bible by retorting this verse and that verse when our God is so much bigger than the sole medium of Genesis-Revelation.
I’m tired of platitudes about the Word and faith and sin and grace that I’ve heard over and over again; for every time I hear these trite remarks, I question if we’ve lost the unadulterated beauty behind such venerable passages.

+Continue Reading

Immigration Court: Broken but Fixable

"A photograph of bikini-clad pop superstar Katy Perry gets more legal protection in our courts than a Chinese rice farmer trying to avoid deportation back to a totalitarian regime that may kill him."

As a journalist I covered state and federal civil and criminal cases for more than 30 years and only occasionally did I find myself in the U.S. Immigration courts. So when I read California attorney Peter Afrasiabi's book, Show Trials: How Property Gets More Legal Protection in Our Failed Immigration System, I found his comparison to the laws protecting property rights to the immigration laws particularly alarming.

Afrasiabi's book is an eye-opening account of his personal experiences as a lawyer representing men, women and children — families — in some of the most confounding cases one can imagine.

Although the names of his clients have been changed to protect their identities, Afrasiabi bases his analysis of the failure of the immigration system on actual cases that he personally handled.

+Continue Reading

As Hateful Ads Expand to D.C., So Does Sojourners’ Response

Responding to attacks on Muslims, Sojourners has been placing ads around the country with a simple reminder of Jesus' command regarding how we treat others. The billboards and subway ads read: “Love Your Muslim Neighbors.”

Now, the attacks have reached our nation’s capital. Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s hateful ads that refer to Muslims as “savages” were placed in Washington, D.C., Metro stations this week following a lengthy court battle. Sojourners was ready for this development and has purchased “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” messages that will be going up in the some of the same Metro stations targeted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative and should appear by the 15th of October.

The ongoing attacks against religious minorities both in the United States and around the globe are saddening and disturbing. You can help respond to the latest developments in DC by clicking here.

+Continue Reading

Remind the AP That People Aren’t 'Illegal'

The words we use are powerful, especially when it comes to talking about people created in God’s image. Word choice shapes how people perceive events and respond to the arguments made by people in the public arena. As Christians, we are called to speak up when our society uses language that dehumanizes and degrades our brothers and sisters.

Journalists and others in the media should be the first to understand this phenomenon. Unfortunately, reporters from TV stations and newspapers still label undocumented immigrants as “illegal.” This dehumanizing term robs people of their dignity and prejudices readers against the real needs of immigrant communities.

These reporters often follow the standards set by the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the authoritative guide for journalists across the country on everything from punctuation to word choice. &Nbsp;

+Continue Reading

Is the British Monarch the ‘Defender of the Faith’ or ‘Faiths’?

 

LONDON — As Britain awaits the appointment of the next archbishop of Canterbury to lead both the Church of England and the far-flung Anglican Communion, there's renewed attention on the woman who officially gets the final say: Queen Elizabeth II, the "Defender of the Faith."

The current archbishop, Rowan Williams, ends his 10-year tenure in December. A Church of England committee is sifting through candidates — two of whom will be submitted to Prime Minister David Cameron, whose top choice will be submitted to the queen for final approval.

When he announced his retirement last March, Williams, 62, famously said his successor will need "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”

Politicians and religious leaders say the next archbishop will need those qualities and more to handle deep divisions in the British church over female bishops and North/South divisions among his 77 million-member global flock over sexuality.

But he'll also need something else: the ability to envision life when Elizabeth — who turns 87 next year  is no longer on the throne, and when Britain is no longer a Christian-majority country.

+Continue Reading

The Story Behind the Dalai Lama’s Chair

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Lots of rock stars expect cushy perks at the venues where they perform. Requests can include special food and drink, music, video games and even a puppy to play fetch.

For the Dalai Lama, it’s all about the oversized chair.

Syracuse University requested the special seating for the spiritual leader of Tibet who spoke on campus Monday, and it’s obvious he enjoyed the spacious accommodations.

As he should. The red leather and wood Stickley chair was made especially for him — three times.

+Continue Reading