The Pew Research Center has recently released survey data about the small but perhaps significant push within the LDS Church (Mormons) to allow women to be priests. It’s important to note that this is nowhere close to equivalent to priesthood in the Roman Catholic or Anglican/Episcopal Churches. Rather, virtually all males in the LDS Church become priests. There was a big flap about it when Blacks (males) were finally allowed to also in about 1979. Mormons don’t have official “clergy” (paid professionals) in the way most Catholic and Protestant churches do.
I recommend the short article on the women-as-priests and related gender leadership and roles issues among Mormons, published by the Pew Research Center here. Think that women more than men would be wanting “liberalization” in this area? Don’t assume!
Among the things the article discusses is the interesting move to lower the female missionary qualifying age from 21 to 19… male age has been lowered from 19 to 18. This has greatly increased the number of women missionaries. They are far less visible (or known about) than the men, who, at least in my area, are very commonly seen in pairs on the streets around town.
What thoughts or observations have you?
The question whether theology is of any practical use is not quite what is posed in the important book, Transforming Christian Theology: for Church and Society, by Philip Clayton (“in collaboration with Tripp Fuller”). But it’s close.
This is a remarkable book. By a highly accomplished theologian (seminary professor and prolific author and speaker), backed by a research team. To mainly the Christian churches and Christians in America. Other folks are likely to find it fascinating as well. Academically sound without sounding academic. Ideas for applying basic, transformative theology to and in churches (and other settings). Not church “as usual”.
It has a 2010 copyright, so no longer new; but definitely still up-to-date! I’d have reviewed it back then had I known about it. (One of the problems for the best thinking by philosophers, theologians and other scholars is that it is hard to get it out to a broad readership, even when it is very readable.)
When I say “Transforming Christian Theology” is for churches, meaning church leaders, and (secondarily, but importantly) for church members, I don’t mean it will bore others. If you have any interest in what is happening with Christianity or religion in general in the last few decades, you should read this book! It is the distillation of a whole lot of knowledge and experience by one of our leading thinkers (not just theologically), though not many know the name Philip Clayton outside certain church or academic circles. And Tripp Fuller, collaborating, contributes from a youthful and very church-involved perspective.
The rationale (or “defense”) for writing a to-be-applied book around “theology” may be best expressed in the opening of chapter 3: “Why the Answers Must be Theological (and What that Means)”: “Every Christian has a theology. For that matter, so does every Jew or Muslim or Hindu. A theology, in the broadest sense, just means what you believe about God (theos)” (p. 19). Decrying the “professionalization of theology”, Clayton emphasizes that “doing” theology belongs with “…every believing person, and every person who would like to believe” (p. 20). Amen to that!
On the other hand, no one creates their theology all on their own. So the influence of people going before us who have thought long and hard, exercised faith, etc., is vital. The book is really about this complement: how a community of faith supports the individual, and the individual needs a certain freedom to doubt, explore, grow, express, and so on. Thus, the person contributes to the community as well.
And were do all of us (individuals) find ourselves? In a society… a culture that is broader than any church or “The Church”. All societies, especially in our “global village” world, are on the move. Western ones have been moving from a stage described as “modern” to a “postmodern” one. Actually, Clayton and numerous other leaders are beyond “postmodern” as well, but he doesn’t venture out that far, in terms of labels and their descriptions. What he does do is demonstrate a yet “higher” stance (yes, higher, for strict “no value judgment” people)…. A call to seekers, believers and all to engage one another across the typical dividing lines between “conservative” and “liberal” or “modern” and “postmodern”. It’s not just about “tolerance” but about engagement, understanding and cooperation.
Tensions are inevitable, especially between adjacent groups (e.g., modern and postmodern)… there’s a pull-and-push or push-and-pushback as people struggle between the perspectives and ways of organizing reality. Where, ideally, can this struggle for growth safely take place… with support and guidance? In a local and/or virtual community of faith. Clayton reminds leaders, and us all, that anymore, it may not have to only be a local congregation, meeting physically together. He calls on leaders of institutions (denominations, seminaries, etc.) to think creatively and support young emerging leaders in creative expressions of “transforming theology”. Theology is itself being transformed rapidly these days. And we are being transformed by its new expressions and the new forms or structures in which it is being lived out.
In the book, Clayton gets much more specific than this, dealing, sometimes by name, with key change leaders and the movements surrounding them. I will go further into some of that in an additional post on that, probably next week. But don’t wait! If you have any inclination to, go and purchase (or borrow) the book and dive in yourself.
If you have read the book or have comments on what I’ve shared about it above, let us hear from you!
A married man has been ordained in the Maronite Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri… with blessing of the Pope. What may it mean?
The story of this ordination can be found in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found here. According to the article, the Maronite Catholic Church is one of 22 churches of the Eastern rite who “recognize the authority of the pope and are in communion with Rome.”
In Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, many priests in these churches are married, but this is the first one in the United States for this particular church, and according to the article, allowing Eastern rite married priests in the US has “generally been banned” since the 1920s.
Apparently this exception is a pretty big deal. I have heard elsewhere that other married priests do exist in the US, but they have been unique and unusual cases such as a few Episcopal married priests who converted to Roman Catholicism and desired ordination. Actually, I wouldn’t expect any major changes in practice or a flood of new married priests in the near future, but this could perhaps be significant.
What do you think? Is this perhaps an indication of a sea change and that this pope may begin or support a series of significant changes in things like a celibate priesthood?
If so, what practical effects would you expect, beyond the potential impact on the sexual abuse problem? (And don’t forget that Protestants have a major problem there as well – just not as much known or publicized.)
Here is some Roman Catholic news worthy of note for everyone, Catholic, Protestant or non-Christian.
I seldom post about things specifically Roman Catholic, as I have no personal background there and relatively little knowledge, despite significant study of Church History from its beginning. But I like to follow at least major news and trends and this just popped into my “radar”. Look here for an article from Pew Research Center explaining (with graphs) the appointment of Francis’ first set of new cardinals.
What is of significance is that there is a clear change in trend from earlier times, including that of Pope Benedict, as to where the cardinals are from. Just 8 of Francis’ 19 new appointees are from Europe, and 6 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, home of 39% of the world’s Catholics. So this seems, if nothing else, to make statistical sense.
But it probably also signals a shift in attitudes and power balance between regions of the world… “globalization”, in a nutshell, and among other factors. The election of Francis himself seems to indicate such a shifting.
What the implications of more non-Western power and/or representation will prove to be, I’m not sure. Consonant with Francis’ own priorities, maybe more emphasis on service to the poor and needy, both among us and throughout the world? Maybe some return to simplicity in Catholics’ ways of following Jesus? Maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of movement on equality of opportunity in gender roles, especially in official leadership?
What do you see?
When and why should something be a matter of faith? When do you tend to see your view of God or the Bible, etc., as a “matter of faith” more than of rational evidences, and, most importantly, why?
Each of us “decides” on what we take “on faith”, usually subconsciously. For many, this means without a lot of systematic thought or digging for reasons. And what we hold “faithfully” to can make a big difference in our daily lives and our mental/emotional health. I’m among those who do give it a lot of thought and believe both societies and individuals are better off when they do the same… as long as abstractions don’t become an obsession.
Because of individual personalities, social surroundings, etc. (a host of other factors), we each approach this a little differently. But there are general principles we can see and apply to tighten up our own categories of faith and create a more realistic and healthy belief system. I mean a “faith” in God or ultimate reality about life, whether we consider that part of our religion, our non-religious spirituality, or whatever. There is a different element to faith, as we often use the term, than to intellectual belief, to be sure. But for now, I’m using them basically interchangeably.
One of these “principles” or processes by which we decide where and why to put faith in an idea about God or what we believe God has communicated to us (as in the Bible or nature) is this: How we look at the interaction of science and religion. Are we particularly suspicious about the “facts” or the methods of one or the other?
Many Christians are highly skeptical about at least some aspects of science because they believe it (especially in biological specialties) is working from an anti-God assumption and is simply wrong on key points of data! Similarly, a great many (but not all, by any means) scientists are understandably anti-religion, in part because of this very reaction and a genuine mistreatment of science. So we end up with a good amount of unfortunate, detrimental opposition and wasted emotion (in my view) between “science” and “religion”.
Now I’m neither a professional in “religion” nor in “science” currently or recently. (Part of my earlier career spanned both.) I have high interest and education in both arenas (mostly psychology on the science side, but with interest in many areas of science). Lately, I’ve taken to studying the area of “science and religion” as a special category…. It is nearly a “discipline” in itself.
One of the things I’ve seen illustrated in this is that most people have a distorted view of just how religion and science, as distinct ways of knowing that sometimes do come into conflict, actually have interacted over the last four centuries (since about the time of Galileo and the late Renaissance). We tend to exaggerate the kind and amount of conflict or contention between the arenas.
Perhaps we are reading backwards from conflicts of our own time, primarily the one between creation beliefs based on a literal reading of Genesis, and evolutionary theory. The heated early period of this conflict subsided some after the famous Scopes trial of 1925, but seems to have grown in intensity again in the last few decades. A very recent expression of the conflict was the amount of interest shown in a debate between creationist Ken Ham and “The Science Guy”, Bill Nye. (See my brief comments and the discussion about this “Ham on Nye” debate here.)
The issues are about more than just personal beliefs, it should be noted, as they often play out in practical and controversial policy areas such as local or state school curricula, for just one example. In other words, the matters of conflict between a religious and a scientific approach to key areas of interest and study are indeed important. Still, these may overshadow how science and religion have actually affected each other in beneficial ways and could be said to have cooperated more over the long term than they have impeded one another.
I will use just one example to illustrate this… from a pivotal figure at or near the beginning of the main “scientific revolution” that propelled, in the late 1600s, much of what we think of as “modern science”. That figure is Isaac Newton, famous for his “laws” of gravitation, motion, optics, etc.
Many people know that Newton was also a devout Christian and a serious student of theology, as were most “scientists” of his day (not yet called that… what we call science fell within “natural philosophy”). In a chapter (18) in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006), John Hedley Brooke points out a common misconception of the type I’ve referred to above – an oversimplification of the relationship between science and religion as it tends to be worked out by its top leaders. What we call the “scientific revolution” is thought by many to have, he says, “… emancipated [science] from religious concerns. It would be more accurate to say that Newton reinterpreted theological concepts, such as divine providence and divine omnipresence, through the categories of his science…. The unity of nature presupposed the unity of the divine mind…” (pp. 295-96, emphasis mine). Still, for Christians who too quickly “use” Newton to validate their orthodoxy, they should note that he did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity; and perhaps for that reason, refused ordination in the Church of England. He was “deeply suspected of heresy” (as above, p. 296).
Science has been influencing theology in a similar way ever since Newton and other “natural philosophers” and mathematicians of his general era. Conversely, people have made the case that Christianity, specifically (as the predominant religion of especially the earlier developers of “Western” science), has heavily influenced science and that there is no “final conflict” between the two arenas. Though this case is often overstated or oversimplified, the basic idea seems incontestable. The two approaches to an understanding of “truth” or “reality” do play back and forth on each other, with mutual influence, as much as some religionists and some scientists make it look like there is an absolute chasm and a “battle to the death” around key issues like the origins of life.
It should go without saying (to all but the most rigid of scientists and science buffs) that most people have some spiritual or religious faith and probably always will. They will take things on “intuition” or “revelation” or other means of authority than just the methods and theories of science. What is both legitimate and important to ask ourselves and each other is, “Do you follow the better observers and thinkers of the world, such as Newton, Einstein, Schweitzer, Whitehead (mathematician and philosopher) and many others to the present, in seeking to let your science inform your faith and your faith hone and enliven your science?”
How do you, as a reader here, see this issue and process it in your own life?
There has been quite a stir over the recent “Ham on Nye” debate. If you’ve not been following, the debate question was, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” (as posed by moderator Tom Foreman of CNN at the debate). It was held at the Creation Museum (in Kentucky) of Answers in Genesis, started by Ken Ham, the debater on the “yes” side of the question.
Now actually, I only watched the introduction, not the debate itself. However, I have high interest in issues surrounding religion and science and related areas. So I’ve checked in on how the debate generally went, how it’s been responded to, etc. I imagine, as I’ve seen noted, that this debate (or any similar one) has done little to change people’s minds. But that doesn’t mean it is unimportant. At the least, it is an interesting glimpse into the American scene and how the perpetual tensions between religion and science are being played out in one large segment of our society. There are practical implications, among them the nature of the science education your kids or grandkids will get (particularly involving evolution and potentially the biblical literature or “creationist” views about evolution and creation).
One objection from the evolution side (represented by Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”) to the debate itself is that even holding it might lend undeserved credibility to the creationist side. It should be noted here, for those unaware, that Ham’s and the museum’s version of creationism is the “young earth” variety, requiring an interpretation of both Genesis and all scientific data that fits with an age of the earth and universe of only 10,000 years or less. This is not as fringe a belief as many might suppose. Gallup polling seems to indicate, over many years, that 40-some percent of the American public holds to it. (I’ve seen estimates that whittle down the actual likely percentage to around 10, but regardless, it is a large enough minority to be of note, and of at least some local if not state or national political significance.)So, did you watch the debate, or do you plan to? (just “Google” it.) Your impressions? Interesting observations? To me, perhaps as important as anything is that such a debate was staged and that it had a sizable following, either watchers or interested parties such as reporters, bloggers like me and other “second-hand” observers. Many of us are discussing it on blogs and social media… and probably around the metaphorical water cooler. I’m sure it’s a big church topic in certain circles as well. But… Does it really matter? Does a debate that involves a clearly “matter of faith” view of important science subjects (age of the earth, e.g.) that does run counter to mountains of evidence in any way advance productive discussion? Does it lead to anything positive, either for Christian faith or for the advancement of our understanding of the world and life? I also wonder whether it advances understanding and mutual respect between people on the “sides” of the debate. This, I believe is a core issue, and my tentative answer is yes, at least in this case, it may have. If you saw the debate, please chime in, but from summaries of it, it sounds like both debaters were respectful and generally polite. It did not have a spirit of acrimony. If true, it hopefully will decrease rather than increase hostility and polarization around this important issue. If so, it could be at least a small help in decreasing the sense of being embattled and threatened that fundamentalists tend to live within. Do you agree? What else do you see?
Are you keeping up on research into religion and spirituality?
I don’t mean the popular kinds of books or blog articles that merely, and often validly, criticize religion (and sometimes all aspects of “spirituality”), or seek to “explain it away” psychologically or as an illusory by-product of evolution, etc. I mean the carefully controlled, exploratory kind of real science… that which seeks to discover and explain so that we all learn and can apply new understandings for our own benefit, and society’s.
Well, I didn’t realize just how much is being done in this realm that was not on my personal radar! I’m setting out to correct that, and I’ll share one key resource with you in a moment.
Meanwhile, I’ll share that my main passion is the application of knowledge toward overall human advancement, which must include religion and spirituality. I appreciate certain aspects of the critiques of skeptics and atheists — I have a lot of beefs with religion myself. But I believe they are seriously misguided when they try to talk people out of any kind of belief in God or participation in communities of faith (organized around a religion or spiritual practices)…. Ain’t gunna happen (on a widespread basis)!!
So, regardless how much we love or resent systems that promote particular approaches to what we might call a “spiritual orientation” to life, we owe it to ourselves or to the majority of the population (in the US and most of the world) which is involved, to understand them…. Help ourselves/them mature and function more productively. Ken Wilber, author of many great books and founder of the Integral Institute, makes this plea repeatedly. He calls religions and “wisdom traditions” the great “conveyor belt” to potentially carry cultures and societies to higher levels of positive functioning.
I strongly encourage reading of Wilber and his associated thinkers and (importantly) practitioners of meditation or other “disciplines” and the various “lines” of development they describe in depth. I’ve spoken about Wilber and “Integral” theory before… so something else is today’s featured resource.
I can’t easily tell you how much I appreciate and resonate with what they are doing… their interdisciplinary approach, their posture toward understanding religion and spirituality better, combine with their mission to share both the sensible things we already know and what so many researchers continue to discover. Their set of linked sites includes ExploringMyReligion.org which includes a number of sophisticated inventories you may find interesting, as I have, or personally helpful. By participating (for free) you also help them extend their research and build a broader database.
Now… I’ve got to get back to exploring, there and elsewhere myself… and preparing my next post! It will probably include more detail about this set of wonderful sites and the work of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion.
Please share any resources from the sciences or from interdisciplinary studies or comments on religion/spirituality that have been helpful to you!