The Church and Society
The College for Bishops Leadership Institute was established to provide educational resources for new bishops as well as trending informational resources for all bishops. The Church and Society focuses on the following specific topics:
New items are added on a monthly basis. To comment or suggest additional topics or resources, please use the feedback form located at the bottom of this page.
Faith & Politics
Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. Unfortunately, the post-Christian West has come to believe in something we have called progress as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning.
With the passing of George H.W. Bush from this life, we will have the opportunity to be stirred once again by tales from his lengthy journey. We will hear of his early heroism at war and his storied political career. We will be touched anew by his tender 73-year marriage. We will be told of his mistakes, and of regrets of a kind familiar to us all. Yet we will likely hear little about his religious faith, and this is unfortunate because his brand of faith offers a needed antidote to some of the toxins of our time.
The debate gripping the country, about whether Brett M. Kavanaugh should have a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, was at its heart a question of morality. How should we as a nation treat women who tell us they have been sexually assaulted? How should we weigh a person’s past when we consider his future? What behavior disqualifies a person for a high honor? What do we do when our ethics and our politics collide? The Washington Post recently ran this sampling of quotes from sermons preached during this divisive debate.
Members of the media industry have shared their stories and demanded an end to systems that perpetuate sexual assault and harassment. Now that the pace of the #MeToo movement has slowed from shocking daily revelations, the real work, the true reckoning, begins. The church has secrets, too, and must change, writes the director of Duke Youth Academy.
Fewer than half (40%) of the public believes that the U.S. sets a good moral example for the rest of the world. Nearly six in ten (58%) believe we do not. The views of partisans have diverged sharply in the Trump era. Today, two-thirds (67%) of Republicans and only 20% of Democrats believe the U.S. sets a good moral example for the rest of the world, though in 2015, during the Obama presidency, the views of Democrats and Republicans were barely distinguishable with close to half (49%) of Democrats and 44% of Republicans expressing the opinion that the U.S. served as a good moral example.
What is the Christian way to manage borders? Strength does not require cruelty. Indeed, cruelty is a response rooted in weakness. Jesus was clear about what true strength is and it always is driven by love. There may be many policy prescriptions, but the prism through which we view them should be the same: does the policy treat people with love, acknowledging our common humanity? If the answer is no, it is not a Christian solution. Bishop Michael Curry wrote this editorial for The Guardian.
Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote this opinion editorial about the effectiveness of the universal outcry against immigration policies separating parents from their children and susggests that this might be an opportunity to examine some of our assumptions about entering the public square to pursue justice in the name of Jesus Christ. We do well to remember that first and foremost, our job in this life is to help people see and comprehend the love and power of Jesus Christ. Standing with a unified front on a particular issue goes a long way in that regard. But we also have to figure out how to help people see Jesus when we don’t agree.
For 24 hours after the royal wedding ceremony at Windsor Castle, Bishop Michael Curry rivaled Pope Francis as the most recognizable faith leader in the world. He was interviewed by major networks on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans asked for selﬁes. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live. This article from The Guardian discusses Bishop Curry’s return home to the progressive Reclaiming Jesus movement.
Achieving race equity — the condition where one’s racial identity has no influence on how one fares in society — is a fundamental element of social change across every issue area in the social sector. Yet the structural racism that endures in U.S. society, deeply rooted in our nation’s history and perpetuated through racist policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages, prevents us from attaining it. Equity in the Center created this publication in collaboration with over 120 practitioners, thought leaders, and subject matter experts on diversity, inclusion, and race equity in the social sector.
Architect John Cary traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, for the opening of the National Memorial to Peace & Justice, which recognizes the estimated 4,300 lynchings that have occurred in this country. He shares his impressions of the powerful monument to racial violence in this article from TED Ideas. View also Cary’s TED talk on the power of architecture to create dignity for all:
It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became deﬁned by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacriﬁce for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint.
Long before the current administration, Islamophobia has been building in the US, bubbling up like swamp gas from the depths. Often, racial conﬂict would manifest itself in small, seemingly isolated local planning ﬁghts over proposals to build mosques. The US Department of Justice, which staunchly defended the rights of Muslims during the Obama administration, noted a sharp increase in such mosque disputes between 2010 and 2016. Many took place in conservative rural locales but they also broke out in unexpected places such as in this story of Basking Ridge, a wealthy and well-educated community in the outwardly tolerant north-eastern US.
A group of progressive evangelicals and other Christians are planning a “revival” this spring to protest “toxic evangelicalism” and evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. who support President Trump. Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne announced the event on Twitter recently, saying he and others plan to host a “Red Letter Revival” on April 6-7 in Lynchburg, Virginia— the same city where Liberty University, a conservative Christian school led by Falwell, is located.
Is evangelicalism actually a tribal identity? Bearings Online Resident Scholar Lyz Lenz says yes, it has been that way for years but it took the 2016 presidential election for people to actually see it. This article is from the 2018 Evangelical issue from Collegeville Institute, a series on evangelicals and their understanding of faith in the era of President Donald Trump.
James Forman Jr’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America explores the role black leaders played in enacting the laws and policies that led to ballooning of America's prison population. The unique contribution of Forman's book is the way he centers on black decision-makers, intellectuals, prosecutors, police offices, and legislators. In a lecture on the book, Forman said, "I felt like somebody needed to write a book that grounded the experience in black communities."
The models of Jewish movement-building are also changing: Gone are the days when the president of the Union of Reform Judaism or the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly are the only voices who can speak for American Jews. A new generation of rabbis, working outside of traditional, hierarchical structures, are building followings and deﬁning a new, often politicized, way of expressing Judaism.
On any other Sunday, Frank Pomeroy, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex., would have been in the pulpit. He would have seen the gunman, his steely gaze familiar, barge in mid-sermon. He would have heard the gunfire break out. But he was hundreds of miles away. And so Mr. Pomeroy, reflecting in his first extensive interview on the mass shooting that took place inside his church, can only imagine the awfulness of it. And ponder whether he could have made a difference had he been preaching that day.
From the U.S. Senate race in Alabama to the tax debate in the U.S. Congress, the role of religion in American politics is once again front and center. Many politicians base their votes and actions in large part on their religious beliefs, but Christian nationalists take that idea a step further. This article from NPR explores the different sides of the current debate: to what extent should there be an explicit Christian direction in the U.S. government?
For more on Christian nationalism, see "A Spiritual Battle:" How Roy Moore Tested White Evangelical Allegiance to the Republican Party.
In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in a church, Ministry Matters offers this article from Rev. Derrek Belase, a former certified police officer turned pastor, with two degrees in criminology. He is now the Director of Discipleship of the Oklahoma Annual Conference. His current portfolio includes coordinating the Safe Sanctuary Training. Derrek believes that you can’t completely prevent gun violence from erupting. How can a church adequately protect itself? Here are seven practical tips that can help any church prepare for the unexpected.
Every disaster brings out human irrationality. When there’s a plane crash, we fear flying; when a rare disease emerges, we fear we will be infected. And when there’s a mass shooting in a church, we think we should bring more guns into churches. Or at least some people think so. This is a completely irrational response to the tragedy in Texas this week, but it’s being pushed by people for whom “more guns” is always the right answer to gun violence.
They’re both Christian football players, and they’re both known for kneeling on the field, although for very different reasons. Both have made a public display of their faith. Both are prayerful and devout. This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one of whom is the darling of the American church while the other is reviled. And their differences reveal much about the brand of Christianity preferred by many in the church today.
In this article from Time Ideas, Brian McLaren proposes that white nationalism isn’t simply an extremist political ideology. It is an alt-religious movement that provides its adherents with its own twisted version of what all religions supply to adherents: identity, community, and purpose. If faith communities don’t provide these healthy, life-giving human needs, then death-dealing alt-religions will fill the gap.
According to Rod Dreher, author of “The Benedict Option,” the most pressing problem Christianity faces today is not in politics. It is instead in parishes and with pastors and, most of all, it’s among an increasingly faithless people. In this editorial from the New York Times, Dreher encourages Christians to step back from the sake of building up orthodox belief, learning the practices of discipleship and strengthening our communities.
In the treasure trove of Augustine's letters, you'll find a remarkable, ongoing correspondence with a man named Boniface, a Roman general and governor in North Africa. At one point in his career—embattled, bitter, despairing—Boniface is tempted to abandon his post, withdraw from public responsibility, and take up a kind of monastic life. Boniface probably expected his plan to receive an encouraging reply from the aging bishop in Hippo. Instead, Augustine counsels him to remain in his post as a matter of divine calling. What might Augustine counsel about Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”?
A recent study found that Methodism is one of America’s most politically divided denominations, with both congregants and their pastors roughly split between the Democratic and Republican Parties. That makes rising partisanship a particular challenge for pastors like Adam Hamilton, of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Hamilton seeks to challenge his congregants to address pressing social challenges, despite their partisan divisions. “I’d like for them to look at the news every day, and think: ‘I wonder how the Gospel calls me to respond to this,’” he said.
We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power. When a large proportion of the population votes for politicians and political efforts that explicitly use racism as a campaigning tool, we tell ourselves that such huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters. But this isn’t about good and bad people.
You can read the Bible through and you will never find anything about guns or gun violence. But Scripture is rich with resources that speak to those issues, says Lisa L. Thompson, assistant professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary. Thompson was a featured speaker last fall at “God and Guns: Faith Leaders Address Gun Violence,” a conference at The Riverside Church in New York. Faith & Leadership presents this interview with Thompson.
Frances FitzGerald’s “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” is a 700page historical overview of the conservative Protestantism that has become so omnipresent in our public life, including its offshoots in fundamentalism and Penticostalism. It is, simply put, a page turner. According to this book review from the New York Times, we have long needed a fair-minded overview of this important religious sensibility and FitzGerald has now provided it.
We are living in a time of tremendous change and upheaval, yet in the midst of this, pastors find themselves in a very familiar position. People are looking to us for answers we don’t have. They are asking for assurances that we can’t make. And they are projecting desires on us that we can’t fulfill. President Trump may be a very different kind of leader but nothing about that changes the nature of the pastoral vocation.
How to Have Better Political Conversations
Robb Willer studies the forces that unite and divide us. As a social psychologist, he researches how moral values — typically a source of division — can also be used to bring people together. Willer shares compelling insights on how we might bridge the ideological divide and offers some intuitive advice on ways to be more persuasive when talking politics.
What does it mean to be a refugee?
About 60 million people around the globe have been forced to leave their homes to escape war, violence and persecution. The majority have become Internally Displaced Persons, meaning they fled their homes but are still in their own countries. Others, referred to as refugees, sought shelter outside their own country. But what does that term really mean? This brief video from TED-Ed explains.
To learn more about global forced displacement, a good place to start is the website of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This includes plenty of information and resources; including a basic explanation of the Refugee Convention and this annual report on patterns of forced displacement. The website also looks at individual stories, trying to match the statistical data with more personal accounts of displacement. To further investigate the challenges faced by those who seek to begin a journey from war to safety, the missing migrants project looks broadly at those—both migrants and refugees—who have died along migratory routes (both at land and at sea).
For many Americans, recent immigration restriction is a clear case of religious discrimination since it singles out Muslim-majority countries and gives preferential treatment to non-Muslim refugees, apparently sorting people based on faith. For other Americans, the executive order might not seem like religious discrimination—not because the policy doesn’t differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims, but because they are skeptical that Islam is actually a religion at all.
The insurgencies of our time, including Brexit and the rise of the European far right, have many local causes but it is not an accident that demagoguery appears to be rising around the world. Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swath of territory. Hate-mongering against immigrants and minorities has gone mainstream; ﬁgures foaming at the mouth with loathing and malice are ubiquitous on old and new media alike. Where do we go from here? We can barely see where we are headed, let alone chart a path. But even to get our basic bearings we need, above all, greater precision in matters of the soul.
We inhabit a strange, tumultuous political moment. In this On Being conversation with David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, Krista Tippett takes public theology as a lens on the larger moral dynamics we will all be reckoning with as citizens. Brooks and Dionne are renowned as journalists, authors, and commentators for The New York Times and The Washington Post respectively — and they’re known together as liberal vs. conservative sparring partners on public media.
Nearly 225 years after the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the cause of conscience protected by the principles of “no establishment” and “free exercise” may be losing support in the minds and hearts of the American people. Appeals by religious individuals and groups for exemption from government laws and regulations that substantially burden religious practice are increasingly unpopular and controversial. Now the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights appears to be recommending that we make it official: Our first freedom is first no more.
White Privilege: Let’s Talk is a free downloadable adult curriculum from the United Church of Christ that's designed to invite church members to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold conversations on race. This is a resource that can be used by any church regardless of size or budget. Divided into four focused parts, each one introduces a different aspect of the dynamic of white privilege. In all four parts, each author contributes a different view of the subject matter presented based on their unique personal experiences. The materials include questions for discussion and reflection.
As the calendar turned from spring to summer and the political season transitioned from the primaries to the general election campaign, many American churchgoers were hearing at least some discussion of social and political issues from the pulpits at their houses of worship, a new Pew Research Center survey finds. Religious liberty, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and environment and economic inequality are just a few of the topics included in weekly sermons.
What's life like without a home?
People experiencing homelessness face a unique array of challenges and obstacles. This video was produced in solidarity with the #SFHomelessProject, a coordinated effort by more than 70 media organizations to cover the causes of and solutions to homelessness.
There are complex, hand-wringing-worthy problems in our social life: deficits and debts and climate change. According to Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker, gun violence and the work of eliminating gun massacres in our schools and public places is not one of these complex issues. Rather, studies have shown that making crime even a little bit harder makes it much, much rarer.