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.
Current Religious Trends
How will the United Methodist Church treat its LGBTQ members and pastors? That’s a question the denomination has been fiercely debating for years -- and what’s at stake at the February special session of the UMC General Conference, the denomination’s governing body. Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, who serves as bishop of the Florida Conference and president of the UMC Council of Bishops, is in the midst of that debate.
A fascinating article in the November 2018 edition of The Atlantic that explores the various ways in which virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri have begun to occupy more and more important spaces in our lives. The author notes that virtual assistants frequently turn into confidants and therapists as we reveal intimate and private matters to them that we would hesitate to raise in a faceto-face conversation with a human being. Our natural human affinity to open and reveal ourselves to something we hear rather than see, our desire to connect deeply with something that we know is not human and may not even be real in any familiar sense sounds a lot like prayer.
With the rise of non-denominational churches with slick branding and a hip, contemporary aesthetic, it isn’t always clear what churches believe, especially on issues of gender and sexuality. Far too many LGBTQ+ people have become involved in churches only to discover months or years later that they were forbidden from being in leadership or that their pastor would not perform a same-sex wedding. For these reasons, the group behind Church Clarity has sought to get churches to clarify their actively enforced policies around gender and sexuality.
On the first night of Hanukkah, author Beth Kissileff returns to the synagogue where her husband is a rabbi for the first time since the October shooting. Hanukkah is a holiday of spiritual resistance. Lighting a candle may seem like a small thing, but a tiny light can illuminate a much larger area. Or, as the Lutheran pastor Andrew Wendle of Montana said at an interfaith service in Whitefish in April, “Light can bind and unify. It can draw us in so we can see what we can illuminate together.”
Evan Moffic is a rabbi in the Chicago area who leads Congregation Solel, a synagogue of 500 families. He blogs regularly for Beliefnet.com, Huffingtonpost.com and MichaelHyatt.com. This article from Ministry Matters is an excerpt of his upcoming book, First the Jews: Combating the World’s Longest-Running Hate Campaign (Abingdon Press, 2018).
When a gunman entered The Tree of Life Synagogue and killed 11 worshippers, he also struck at the heart of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community — the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. Squirrel Hill, in eastern Pittsburgh, has been the center of the city’s Jewish life since the turn of the 20th century. While the Jewish communities of other cities have moved neighborhoods or migrated to the suburbs in the ensuing century-plus, Squirrel Hill and its environs have remained the home of Pittsburgh’s Jews.
Border crossing: the Baptism
Ministry Matters offers Border Crossing, a series of stories and essays from people who are serving in ministry at the US-Mexico line. These reflections are presented to help church people discuss boundaries, borders, and border crossings. This episode is entitled The Baptism. It describes events that took place thirty years ago when Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, was a young pastor.
Americans worship differently according to the faiths to which they belong, but a new report grouping people by their beliefs on a wide spectrum of topics rather than their religion affiliations offers a fresh take on what the country’s faithful have in common. The “Sunday Stalwarts,” “God-and-Country Believers” and “The Solidly Secular” are among the seven new religious typologies in a nearly 100-page report released recently by the Pew Research Center. The typologies are not intended to replace religious affiliations, but rather to offer a new lens through which to examine religion in America and what unites and divides the country religiously.
Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception. Western Europeans are deeply secular people—and Christians are no exception. These twin statements are generalizations, but they capture the essence of a fascinating finding in a new Pew Research Center study about Christian identity in Western Europe.
In recent years, the percentage of U.S. adults who say they regularly attend religious services has been declining, while the share of Americans who attend only a few times a year, seldom or never has been growing.A new Pew Research Center survey finds that the main reason people regularly go to church, synagogue, mosque or another house of worship is an obvious one: to feel closer to God. But the things that keep people away from religious services are more complicated.
In the United States, religious congregations have been graying for decades. Recent surveys have found that younger adults are far less likely than older generations to identify with a religion, but this is not solely an American phenomenon. Lower religious observance among younger adults is common around the world, according to this new Pew Research Center analysis pf surveys which were conducted in more than 100 countries and territories over the last decade.
So many Christian churches in the United States do so much good — nourishing the soul, comforting the sick, providing services, counseling congregants, teaching Jesus’s example, and even working to fight sexual abuse and harassment. But like in any community of faith, there is also sin — often silenced, ignored and denied — and it is much more common than many want to believe. It has often led to failures by evangelicals to report sexual abuse, respond appropriately to victims and change the institutional cultures that enabled the abuse in the first place.
Recently, Vatican officials agreed to lend 41 items from the Sistine Chapel sacristy to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met would have been grateful for even six. The items on loan, which include papal robes and accessories never viewed outside the Vatican, debut May 10 as a part of Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Organized by Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Costume Institute, the exhibit has drawn attention for its seemingly provocative juxtaposition of religion and fashion.
Dilshad D. Ali, managing editor of Patheos Muslim, writes about growing up Muslim in North Dakota during the 1980’s and 1990’s and the differences faced by Muslim children today. In this article from The Atlantic, she says: “It’s different today. I am teaching my children to be unapologetically Muslim and American. That they have as much right to be who they are outwardly and inwardly as anyone else in this country.”
At a time when young Jews see synagogue affiliations as less of a social obligation, one synagogue’s non-membership, ticketed model has offered a way to be spiritually self-structured, to come and go, to pay by the activity. Sixth and I’s High Holy Days services sell out to over 3,000 people, part of the 80,000 who visit every year — a staggering number for a small space that is just over a decade old. “What it is today is really the story of the inordinate amount of change we’re seeing in American Jewish life,” says Rabbi Bruce Lustig.
As Protestants recently observed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, new Pew Research Center surveys show that in both Western Europe and the United States, the theological differences that split Western Christianity in the 1500s have diminished to a degree that might have shocked Christians in past centuries. Across Europe and the U.S., the prevailing view is that Protestants and Catholics today are more similar religiously than they are different. Both Protestants and Catholics across the continent now overwhelmingly express willingness to accept each other as neighbors and even as family members.
More than 80 countries favor a specific religion, either as an official, government-endorsed religion or by affording one religion preferential treatment over other faiths, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data covering 199 countries and territories around the world. Islam is the most common government-endorsed faith, with 27 countries (including most in the Middle East-North Africa region) officially enshrining Islam as their state religion. By comparison, just 13 countries (including nine European nations) designate Christianity or a particular Christian denomination as their state religion.
The line of locals and tourists stretches about 400 people long, and one might think they are waiting to get into a play, a museum or even for ice cream. But these people want to go to a church service. In Britain, where churchgoing is mostly in decline, what has drawn the crowd on a late afternoon in August is evensong, the hymn-heavy evening service of the Anglican church taken from the Book of Common Prayer.
When Marty Baker, pastor of the Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Ga., first installed two ATMs in the church lobby, donations doubled by the second year. He took it one step further, by introducing the “automatic tithing machine” that took cash out of the giver’s account and deposited it directly into the church’s coffers. This new ATM was beginning to virtualize the all-important collection. Some users responded by placing their receipts in the plate at the appropriate time in the service. The tithe, of course, refers to the tenth of one’s income that conservative Protestants are largely taught to pay to the church in gratitude for what God has done. It is a sacred obligation, and the cash money is a serious matter.
As churches across Minnesota try new ways to accommodate the hectic lives of the faithful, Wednesday night services have emerged as a popular option. For churches that already offered religious education on Wednesdays, added a worship service was a logical fit. For others, a Wednesday service helps folks who travel on weekends, hold down jobs, or schlep children to hockey, soccer, and other events. The on-demand culture has affected church people as much as society.
About half of U.S. adults have looked for a new religious congregation at some point in their lives, most commonly because they have moved. And when they search for a new house of worship, Americans look first and foremost for a place where they like the preaching and the tone set by the congregation’s leaders. This Pew Research Center study explores why people look for a new church and what factors influence their decisions.
According to a recent national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 52 percent of Americans know a Muslim and far fewer can claim any as friends. Since most Muslim communities are in urban areas, many who live in small towns and rural communities simply haven’t had the opportunity to build these kinds of interfaith relationships. And because so many of us don’t really know our interfaith neighbors, it is then no surprise that unfair and inaccurate stereotypes take root, fueled by our divisive politics and the secular media. This study guide from the Wisconsin Council of Churches is available with many additional resources on their website