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Southern Evangelicals: Leaving the Fold vs. the Power of Community

August 9, 2022

What happens when Southern white Evangelicals leave their churches? Do they become more politically progressive? Less literalist about the Bible? More inclined to the “common good” than their church-going friends?

According to a new study, apparently not. It has some interesting, important findings.

The article is by Daniel K. Williams, published by Christianity Today, here (thus not biased against Christians or churches).

Back to the opening questions: Williams’ analysis of extensive data finds that a significant percentage of white Evangelicals in the South rarely if ever attend church anymore. But they tend to remain Republican. They don’t become more progressive except on marijuana use and premarital sex (but remain anti-abortion).

They continue to view the Bible as the inspired Word of God, if not to be taken literally as well.

Their individualism seems to be accentuated relative to their churched counterparts (whether as cause or effect of leaving is not discussed). With this is a suspicion or distrust of virtually all institutions. However, trust in the military remains high. As one would expect, the media is on the distrust list.

I recommend you read the article for its deeper analysis and specifics of data. But from my very brief overview here, what might we glean as helpful information? For one thing, the effort to stay in and contribute to the kind of community that most churches represent is good for both the individual and society. That’s not to say that churches are necessarily the strongest or best type of community. (And the sticky issue of beliefs and their effects is a vital but separate concern for my purpose here.) Many clearly are not great communities, but rather are toxic. They are thus often guilty of inflicting trauma and scattering the flock, even when members have not made a change of beliefs. (The latter is my addition… Williams does not discuss church toxicity.)

Corollary to the benefits of being part of a community is that it appears many “leavers” either are uninterested in finding another type of formalized community or perhaps find it difficult to do so.

Something short of community life that can still contribute to growth and positive social interaction is participation in one form or another of structured, “safe” dialog about polarized issues of culture or public policy. One growing organization which organizes and runs such dialogs-across-difference across the country is Braver Angels, one of some 400 groups affiliated with the Listen First Coalition doing such work.

I also participate in an endeavor to bring further collaboration among these kinds of projects and advance the cause of broad-based, serious deliberation to empower more effective democracy in America,

The politics of Paul and the way of Jesus, part 1 [Peaceable Romans #6]

February 19, 2022

The explanations of the common principles and guidance of Jesus and the Apostle Paul in this recent post by Ted Grimsrud are very insightful and important. They are useful and valuable anytime, but especially so now, in a time when people are so divided and acrimonious in our country. Christians seem as much so as everyone else, failing to apply particularly nonviolence and love of enemies, as both Jesus and Paul taught, in different ways.

If you are not Christian–of another religion or none–I urge you, also, to read this article. It is applicable to anyone… not requiring belief in specifically Christian doctrines of any controversy.

In Ted’s typical manner, he goes deeper (and sometimes a different direction) than what is typically heard in sermons or Christian books dealing with Paul’s teachings on issues like submission to government or to one another in social structures. I think you may be surprised with some of his conclusions, as well as encouraged!

Thinking Pacifism

Ted Grimsrud—February 18, 2022

Christians have tended to hold Jesus and Paul in tension. On the one side, Christians of a more liberal persuasion have tended to take their cues from Jesus and see Paul as a supporter of the status quo. Others wouldn’t so much say there is a tension as assume (often without realizing it) that Jesus is not particularly relevant for their social ethics. His message is often seen to focus on personal ethics and the ideals of our future in heaven. For such conservatives, Paul teaches us more relevant political principles, especially about obeying the governing authorities and respecting the state’s police function.

Reasons not to dismiss Paul’s politics

Now, I definitely am on the Jesus-as-central side. Some years ago, I read a wide variety of Christian thinkers who reject pacifism. I was struck with how every single one of them—from evangelicals to Catholics to…

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What is Paul good for? [Rethinking salvation #3]

September 3, 2021

With so many crises and dire needs these days, I need to connect this good article to some of them. One in particular is the rancorous division we have in the US right now… with no signs of it improving. A great deal of this is among Christians and between certain Christians and others. In this context, those who seek to be sure religious freedom is not curtailed, or are “defenders of the faith ” have particular responsibility to understand both Jesus and Paul. And to grasp and FOLLOW their example in making the gospel truly good news for everyone, not just those who view things similarly.

Thinking Pacifism

Ted Grimsrud—September 1, 2021

When I read Fleming Rutledge’s book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus, I was struck with how much she focused on the thought of Paul the Apostle (as she interpreted it) and how little she paid attention to the life and teaching of Jesus. She presented her theology of salvation, in my opinion, in a clear and persuasive way. And I would say that she quite definitely takes her place square in the middle of the Christian tradition—Catholic and Protestant—that may broadly be categorized as Augustinian. That tradition, going back to the fifth-century Bishop of Hippo (the second most influential Christian theologian ever, after Paul himself), has been by far the dominant shaper of Christian theology in the West. Rutledge echoes the theological line from runs from Augustine through Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and down to Barth.

Christian faith with Jesus at the center


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Ecology and Well-Being Online Conference -Starting May 21!

May 18, 2021

This “Eco Forum”, on every aspect of creating a ecological civilization for our survival and thriving, from poor to rich, is more than worth the time:

Sorry for the short notice, but if you are a leader in any of these (or other) areas, you should at least look over the topics and high-level presenters and moderators (for the substantial break-outs):

–Sustainability (farming and beyond)

–New Economic Models

–Education for Change

–Community Development

–Law and Governance

–Youth (advisement, education, etc.)

You may quickly realize that all six subject areas covered in the forum are interconnected. Significant advancement in any one or two requires advancement in all. THAT is our major challenge: Gaining momentum in multiple arenas simultaneously. Otherwise the inertia of other parts of the system overwhelms and will greatly impede progress in any segment.

This provides another reason to participate as many evenings as possible! (5 to 8 p.m. Pacific… sorry for the lateness if you’re Central or Eastern time.) Learn what’s happening broadly and how your mission can more fully support others’, meet lots of exciting leaders.

The link again:

Review of “Discovering the Essence”

April 11, 2021

The descriptive subtitle of this delightful, practical book is “How to Grow a Spiritual Practice When Your Religion is Cracking Apart”. I’ve not read another book that blends the disruption of changing one’s beliefs (often while losing, for practical purposes, friends or even family members) with the calming, grounding effect of building up a meditative practice. I’ve not heard of such a sustained thematic weave in another book, either, though it may well exist.

The author, Jeff Campbell, is giving us an extended story of his own experience … finding himself adrift and anxious in the midst of his changing theology and relationships with his friends and church community. This is a situation familiar to tens of thousands of people, or more, in recent years. I went though that kind of situation myself around 25 years ago (gradually in my case, with relatively little trauma – I know it’s more intense for many, as it was for Jeff).

Campbell starts off immediately bringing reassurance to his readers that, if they are deeply disturbed, they will get through their “deconstruction” period and things will become calmer and clearer eventually. He rightly points out that deconstruction is more than a merely academic term… it has caught on widely. I read it used often when Christians (or former Christians, as self-labeled) speak of their process of doubt and revision of beliefs. However, I know of no precise definition for when questioning or changing certain beliefs becomes “deconstruction” and potential “reconstruction”. But the author shows well how it generally involves revision of relationships also, which can be the most emotionally challenging aspect.

Such a structure, as he skillfully applies it, makes the book valuable for virtually anyone… settled Christian, transitioning Christian (or person of other faith), or non-religious person. I doubt readers will be put off by Campbell’s sections discussing his own inner and community-of-faith challenges. And those reading mostly for those sections should not be put off by the meditative practices he copiously spreads throughout the book. There are 31 of these, and they are set apart from the main text plainly.

Thus they can be skipped for those not caring about them and preferring the rest of his story and insights. Reading this way, one will still learn about the role such positive habits of the mind and heart played in his healing and development. This includes life circumstances not related to religious beliefs or affiliations. There is some real drama to some of the on-the-job challenges Campbell faced, as a newcomer particularly, to the world of special education with older, sometimes violent kids.

The approach of Discovering the Essence is to interweave the theme of faith shifts with that of building a spiritual practice which has very little to do with theology – with one’s beliefs. Rather, the kind of practice Campbell guides readers to and significantly into is one of inner quieting and allowing peace (or even guidance) to enter. One can attribute the fruits of such a practice to God or some other source but that won’t change the results.

The detailed, specific guidance on the use of meditative practices and Campell’s wise advice not often found fills a significant need not being adequately covered by similar books, to my awareness. You will also be guided to the website he continues to add further practices and advice to…. the book and this are resources well worth a good look. You may find yourself using and benefiting from his examples. If you happen to be in a “faith shift” process but not much interested in meditative practice, there is good support and wisdom for you as well in Discovering the Essence.

If you have read or yet read this book, please come back and comment here; and I know the author will appreciate positive reviews posted to the publisher or any sales site featuring reviews.

Updated Review of “Destiny of Souls” by Michael Newton

March 10, 2021

I’ve added a concluding paragraph to my book review of the fascinating findings of the late psychologist, Michael Newton, found here. It includes thoughts on his methods and references to related research by prominent people.

Review of a Timely Book: “A House United”

June 13, 2020

I’ve recently posted a review of an important book for our highly divided times on my newer blog, I encourage you to click on the link below and read this short review. See whether the book might deserve to be on your “read next” list:

For church leaders, lay or clergy, I think it does deserve that designation, followed by getting and reading it, and then by pursuing a “coming together” in any of numerous ways the author illustrates.

New Year, Where is Your Faith Journey Headed?

January 12, 2020

I find it difficult to adequately promote my own work. Well, one new thing for my New Year is working on changing that. But enough on my own “issues”….

The work I’m promoting right now is one you may benefit from. And I’m making it very easy to look into and potentially obtain. (It’s my ebook pictured and linked [to the right] where it can be gotten for under a buck; with a link in my headings area to a synopsis if you’d like to read that first.)

What I want to reiterate from other summaries is that this is a book based heavily on my own faith journey but also what I’ve learned about that of others. My inter-related areas of formal study, plus ongoing interactions online and offline tell me that, if you are thinking through your own spiritual pilgrimage, you probably have a lot in common with me and with many others. (We tend to move through similar growth processes, though the paths in going there are totally individual.)

Here’s to a rewarding, “growthful” year of spiritual exploration!

Oh… If you find the “Spiritual Growth” book helpful, please do me the favor of even a very brief review of it on its marketplace (and here as well).

My readers and I would love to also hear what you are currently exploring or intend to in the upcoming year. Please share!

Christmas: “Peace on Earth” (and Between Evangelicals and Atheists)

December 24, 2019

At Christmas time, we’re reminded of the perpetual human hope of “peace on earth” and goodwill toward one another.

Toward this, one thing we need to keep in line, within ourselves, is undue fear of the “other”. Unfortunately…

Perception often trumps reality…. and has real world consequences.

Some fascinating research shows an important aspect of this in current American society.  It involves perceptions back and forth between white evangelical Protestants and atheists/agnostics.  The study was a large 2019 survey and research comparison by Paul A. Djupe and Ryan Burge.  It is found here, titled, “The Inverted Golden Rule: Are Atheists as Intolerant as Evangelicals Think They Are?”

Spoiler alert:

The simplified answer the data tells them is “No”… with some interesting twists.  (It is worth a good look though the article and at the full picture, involving aspects I won’t go into here.  It does get a bit complex.)

They had my curiosity with “Inverted Golden Rule”.  The article author, Djupe, says it means “expect from others what you would do unto them”. In other words, you perceive in someone else the intentions that are actually yours, and may not be theirs.  I’d call it a form of what is often called projection… projecting onto the “screen” of others what comes from inside ourselves.

We have this tendency strongly already.  As Djupe points out, it can then be amplified by the voices of pundits.  In this case, they either have stronger-than-average fears of not being tolerated or are merely happy to use the fears of others to their advantage in gaining (or keeping) a large audience.

Now, this can work on either side of a religious or political divide.  However, the survey numbers in the article note a significantly stronger fear among evangelical Protestants of being “shut down” (particularly on first amendment rights) than would clearly seem to be warranted.  At the same time, atheists and agnostics are not as concerned, even though white evangelicals express relatively less political tolerance of them than vice versa.

At the end, Djupe draws the political conclusion that this dynamic is part of why this sub-set of Christians feels strongly about the need for “… keeping Trump and his party in power”.

What do you think? Does this make sense to you? If not, why not? 

Review of “The Universal Christ” by Richard Rohr

September 30, 2019

The Universal Christ is subtitled How a Forgotten Reality can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe.  Both title and subtitle are strongly descriptive of the book. It deals with a broad range of issues from Christian history, particularly of its mystical thread, to personal spiritual development – from personal to community and inner to outer life.

Along the way Fr. Rohr says he purposely incorporates insights from psychology, science, history, anthropology (and I’d add Buddhism, with other worldview systems)…. fields he is clearly conversant with though admittedly not the major focus of his fifty-year career (as a Franciscan priest), as are philosophy and spiritual theology.  This conscious integration is important.  Everyone believes or teaches from some form of integration, but when it is unconscious and unexamined, it may actually be detrimental to oneself or others. It may come from the distortions of one’s own inner wounds, insatiable drives or teaching received.  These are aspects of our “shadow side” which Rohr repeatedly reminds us must be faced. For him, contemplative practice is part of this process, engaging ourselves while also engaging God.    

Out of Rohr’s in-depth education, guidance of others, and his own lifelong contemplative practice, emerge jewels of wisdom.  They take the form of many quotable phrases and sections.  A notable early one:

If my own experience is any indication, the message in this book can transform the way you see and the way you live in your everyday world.  It can offer you the deep and universal meaning that Western civilization seems to lack and long for today.  It has the potential to reground Christianity as a natural religion and not one simply based on a special revelation, available only to a few lucky enlightened people. (page 6)

Shortly after this statement, Rohr gives us a good summary of his main point about the effects of his, and others’, understanding of the concept of Christ (taken from a Jewish title, “anointed one” or “messiah”, not a name):

A cosmic notion of the Christ competes with and excludes no one, but includes everyone and everything (Acts 10:15, 34) and allows Jesus Christ to finally be a God figure worthy of the entire universe.  In this understanding of the Christian message, the Creator’s love and presence are grounded in the created world, and the mental distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” sort of falls apart. (page 7)

Shortly into the first of two major “parts” of the book, Rohr makes clear what will be a repeated point – that he thinks “Christ” refers not to mere abstract “ideas and concepts”, which “might well communicate the Christ Mystery [italics his]… but “‘Christ’ for me refers  to ideas that have specifically ‘become flesh’ (John 1:14)….” (page 13, including footnote) 

Let me fast forward all the way to the second appendix of the book, on “The Pattern of Spiritual Transformation”. It might have been good to have this as part of an introduction given that I see the book as primarily about the process of growth for  individuals, for Christian communities and for broader society, even globally.  Now, the author does address points of resistance and important processes in our spiritual growth throughout the book, but this 5-page section is particularly clear, significant, and I believe helpful (as one who has studied and written a short book on spiritual growth myself).  I fear that at least some readers may skip any appendix, not realizing it (or the two of them, in this book) may be integrally tied to and important for the full message of the book.  If you get this book, either read this early or read to the end – Rohr saved some of the best for last!

Between the early and ending material I’ve highlighted, The Universal Christ covers a lot of deep waters.  Some I’m sure would argue that Rohr has betrayed the orthodox positions of his Roman Catholicism. This may be a valid charge, and something he seems to take seriously but is unafraid about, either in terms of his reputation or the effects on his readers.  I’ve not read full books by Rohr for many years (though read articles and heard him speak), but I gather that he has put forward points similar to those in the book in previous books and other expressions.  Given his long ministry of counseling and providing spiritual direction, he seems quite aware of the thinking patterns and emotional reactions of people at various levels of growth or in positions of authority.  He addresses these repeatedly, seeking to draw others beyond binary, black/white, absolutist thinking.  He realizes his concepts about the meaning of Jesus’ life and death and how the “universal Christ” is connected are not simplistic.  They require a certain breadth of perception and maturity of thinking process, whether or not they are “correct”.

I have some concern that he may be hoping for a good number of readers who are mainly binary-thinkers, and I hope he gets at least some.  However, I fear it is unlikely many of them will either pick up the book, or, if so, read very far into it.  This is one reason I mentioned it may have helped some to put the appendix on the growth process close to the front of the book, perhaps stimulating a bit more self-awareness and openness to where one might be headed, and why.

My only other critique of the structure and content of the book is that I feel it could have communicated its basic messages in half or two-thirds the length, and thus been an easier read, especially for the merely curious or those he clearly seeks to draw into a more contemplative and less rigid approach to their faith.