Churches

A church with a sign welcoming gay and lesbian members. Photo courtesy of Ivan Cholakov via Shutterstock/RNS.

U.S. religious congregations are marching to their own drums now more than ever.

The National Congregations Study‘s latest look at the country’s churches, synagogues and mosques — the third wave of studies that began in 1998 —  finds more congregations:

  • Open their doors to gays and lesbians in active membership and in leadership.
  • Show racial and ethnic diversity in the pews.
  • Encourage hand-waving, amen-shouting, and dancing-in-the-aisles during worship.
  • Disconnect from denominational ties doctrines and rules that might slow or block change.

The study, released Thursday (Sept. 11), draws on interviews with leaders at 1,331 nationally representative congregations and updates data from 1998 and 2006 studies.  Non-Christian congregations were included in the study but there are too few for statistical analysis by topics.

Tom Ehrich 6-24-2014

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7. Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what one pastor heard the other day: “Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can’t take working for a living.”

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don’t deserve, and you’re lazy. What do you do?

The Editors 5-14-2014

Follow the gripping story of a young girl taken from her home and placed into foster care.

5-12-2014
Beyond the NAE, signatories included Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; Charles Chaput, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia; and Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Other prominent supporters include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church; Johnnie Moore, senior vice president of Liberty University; and Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine.
Stephen Mattson 5-07-2014
Father and son, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Father and son, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Every mother and father know the struggles, frustrations, unrealistic expectations, horrific fears, and exhaustive drama associated with raising children, but let me just say this: Christianity adds an entirely new dimension to the chaos that is parenting.

Besides an assortment of play dates, sports activities, school classes, music events, and other social obligations, Christianity requires the additional burden of attending an endless array of church activities.

Mission trips, youth groups, service projects, summer camps, volunteer activities, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, evangelism outings, and church services require tons of time — it’s a huge commitment.

Christian culture goes out of its way to accommodate parents and their children, and while this is a good thing, it also adds social expectations that can often feel burdensome and frenetic — leading to burnout.

Stephen Mattson 2-21-2014
Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Our changing cultural values continually affect our spiritual lives and often shape our church experiences. Today’s churches aren’t immune from social trends and factors, and here are a few traditional practices that are becoming extinct within faith communities:

1. Discipline:

In a spiritual climate that’s extremely sensitive and wary of legalism, any type of authoritative action taken by a pastor or church can be highly explosive — often interpreted as aggressive, controversial, and hurtful.

Previous church models of authority and discipline have been so abused, and have such a bad historical reputation, that many Christian communities have simply abandoned the practice of church discipline.

Combine these factors with an overwhelming selection of churches to attend — where any type of discomfort can result in parishioners leaving to go elsewhere — and you can understand why spiritual leaders are reluctant to enforce any type of accountability.

 Unknown artist/Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Nursing Madonna (Madonna Lactans) Unknown artist/Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Jesus was breast-fed.

It’s a point often made by mothers who want to breast-feed in church, but know others would prefer that they retreat to the nursery, or find an out-of-the-way bench. Another point they make: Breast-feeding is part of God’s plan — so of all places, why not in church?

“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” said Misti Ryan, a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas whose business has a cross in its logo.

A mother can breast-feed modestly and should be allowed to nurse in church if she wants to, said Ryan, who has nursed five children in her Baptist congregation. “The church needs to go there.”

Pope Francis did go there last month, in his much-noted comment to a journalist about a young mother and infant who had come to a recent general audience:

“She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing,” Francis recalled. “I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”

Stephen Mattson 1-03-2014
Anneka/Shutterstock

Many Christians are tired of having others define their faith. Anneka/Shutterstock

Sentiments of frustration are growing among many followers of Jesus who admire Christ but despise certain things associated with him.

They look at the New Testament and are attracted to Jesus’s selfless acts of generosity, service, and love, but don’t see the same spirit in today’s “Christian” institutions, churches, communities, and faith leaders.

Modern faith is often a complex minefield of theologies, doctrines, practices, and expectations, where individuals carefully walk on eggshells to avoid a litany of “sins” and “heresies” that will inevitably attract the wrath from religious friends, strangers, and authorities. 

Evan Dolive 1-01-2014
Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Churches aren't doing enough Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different from the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world, or stop biting their nails.  New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.

Resolutions, however, are not just for people. I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014 if it is to thrive, grow, and be relevant in the 21st century.

Rebecca Kraybill 12-17-2013

Resources that help address the modern-day "orphans in distress" in our midst.

Anna Hall 12-16-2013
Digital Media Pro/Shuttertock

Powwow in California — church boarding schools taught Native Americans to be ashamed. Digital Media Pro/Shuttertock

The Native American narrative remains largely unknown in U.S. majority culture. It is glaringly absent in most school curriculums, and remains unheard in modern dominant politics. One crucial stream of Native culture I’ve recently come to learn about is the destructive legacy of Christian-run Indian boarding schools.

What began with genuinely good intentions (in those days, “European” norms were viewed as superior, “sameness” seemed like a good idea, and the threat of legitimate genocide lingered over tribes) rapidly deteriorated, with Christian boarding schools becoming institutions of forced assimilation and abuse.

Beginning in the 1800s and lasting into the 20th century, Native children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in boarding schools. Finding the task of “civilizing” Native adults beyond its ability, the federal government delegated the task of “normalization” to churches, which could educate, or, inculcate, children from a young age.

Juliet Vedral 12-11-2013

Christians step up for modern-day "orphans in their distress."

Some churches calling themselves Christian continue to act as if women are second-class citizens in the kingdom of God—despite what the Bible says.

Sara J. Wolcott 11-05-2013

In India, a church initiative helps promote sustainability and connect farmers with the dignity of their vocation.

Liz Schmitt 9-04-2013
Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

David vs. Goliath: Residents in a Colorado city are fighting their local coal monopoly for the chance to move their city to clean energy. The coal company has more money – a LOT more money – but the organizers have more heart. This short 6-minute video is well worth watching

40,000 jobs sound pretty good: According to the new 2013 second quarter clean energy report form Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), clean energy and sustainable transportation projects launched this year created close to 40,000 green jobs in the U.S.

QR Blog Editor 8-26-2013

Mary Priniski wrote in the August 2013 Sojourners magazine about churches responding in solidarity with garment workers, disproportionately women, after the terrible fires in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Now, a global church alliance has been established. Ekklesia reports:

[The alliance] provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

 

Photo courtesy RNS.

Sudan Church choir sings during a Sunday service at All St. Saints (Anglican) Cathedral Khartoum. Photo courtesy RNS.

Despite a promise by the Sudanese government to grant its minority Christian population religious freedom, church leaders there said they are beset by increased restrictions and hostility in the wake of the South Sudan’s independence.

In 2011, South Sudan, a mostly Christian region, split from the predominantly Muslim and Arab north, in a process strongly supported by the international community and churches in the West.

The two regions had fought a two-decade long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.

As demographics shift and migration brings global Christianity to the church down the street, how will U.S. congregations respond?

To confront climate change, we may need to first deal with our grief.

Karyn Wiseman 6-26-2013
 Photo by Katie Anderson / Sojourners

Woman holds up Supreme Court decision on June 26 outside the Supreme Court. Photo by Katie Anderson / Sojourners

In the Methodist tradition in which I was I raised, there is a concept of perfection. We “strive for perfection” in loving each other and loving God. It is not about avoiding all mistakes. It is about growing in love for neighbor and being hospitable to all we come in contact with. This is the point of our theology: as we grow in faith and love, we become closer to God. In the end, resisting God’s call to love others is pretty hard to do.

And yet we know not everyone we meet is irresistible. We all have moments when some folks are harder to love than others. Sometimes those we find difficult to love are members of our own families. Other times they are friends we’ve had a conflict with. And for some of us, they are hard to love simply because of whom the other person loves.

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