Canadian researchers are revisiting a hotly debated sociological question: Why do some churches decline while others succeed?
Since the 1960s, overall membership in mainline Protestant Christian churches has been dropping in both the U.S. and Canada.
But some congregations have continued to grow, and a team of researchers believes it now knows why. It’s the conservative theological beliefs of their members and clergy, according to researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario.
Still, it’s rarely easy being a woman and a minister. We lean on one another, finding community in person and online in dedicated groups such as The Young Clergy Women Project and Rev Gal Blog Pals. And, occasionally, we rely on the cathartic release of a snarky internet meme, shared among fellow “Reverend Nasty Women.”
We keep at it, decade after decade, because God continues to call us to bring our stories, our gifts, and our whole selves to serve the church. And if progress is slow, it is nevertheless making a difference.
In another example of Christian discord over gay inclusion, Presbyterian churches in Brazil and Peru have ended their partnerships with the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the U.S. denomination changed its constitution in March to allow clergy to celebrate same-sex marriages.
The loss of the South American partnerships comes on top of the 50 U.S. congregations that formally split from the 1.8 million-member denomination since the church policy changed, PCUSA officials say.
Mexico stopped partnering with the denomination after it allowed the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians in 2011.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed from its website a booklet that many Jewish groups have criticized as hostile to Israel and denigrating to Judaism.
“Zionism Unsettled,” published in January by the church-chartered Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is a history and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that paints Israel as the aggressor and describes Zionism as inherently racist and theologically flawed.
The booklet played a role last month in the denomination’s debate on divesting from three American companies that, divestment proponents say, profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?
Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.
The question now is whether these breakaway groups signal a seismic shift in American Protestantism, or just a few fissures in the theological terrain.
In some ways, the rifts are nothing new. American Protestants have been splintering since Roger Williams left Plymouth Colony in the 1630s, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.
Yet the schisms counter a 20th-century trend in which ethnic and regional Protestant groups merged to form big-tent denominations such as the ELCA and PC(USA).
"What we may be experiencing at this point is the limit of that movement to draw a lot of diversity under one umbrella," said Ammerman, author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners.