When the internal report on the NYTs came out the other day one of the suggestions was to increase its religion coverage to reach out. You just know these attempts at reaching out will be as laughable as the mini-series Revelations reaching out to red state viewers. I just know the type of articles that will result will be very similar to the following one in Slate.
The Power of the Mustard Seed, Why strict churches are strong.
It isn’t easy to explain why some people submit enthusiastically to religious law, especially when you’re talking to people who have never had the slightest desire to do so. Why limit yourself to a "theology of the body," as the late Pope John Paul II called it, when birth control and stem-cell research promise relief from two of the most painful vicissitudes of bodily existence, unwanted pregnancy and degenerative disease? Why restrict yourself to kosher food, when kashrut relies on zoological classifications that went out of date thousands of years ago?
‘Are you pregnant? No I am having a painful vicissitudes of bodily existence’
…The example Iannacone gives for a church whose strictness may have backfired is the Catholic Church, which has been having a hard time holding on to followers in Europe and attracting men to the priesthood in America. Traditionalists blame the church’s difficulties on the reforms of Vatican II, when the Mass began to be said in the vernacular and priests and nuns shed their otherworldly clothes. Would-be reformers blame church officials’ refusal to yield to popular opinion on contraception, homosexuality, and priestly celibacy. Iannacone says both are right. "The Catholic church may have managed to arrive at a remarkable, ‘worst-of-both-worlds’ position," he writes, "discarding cherished distinctiveness in the areas of liturgy, theology, and lifestyle, while at the same time maintaining the very demands that its members and clergy are least willing to accept."
The article is mainly trying to advance the thesis that strictness and rigidity in itself is the reason for the continued growth of some churches compared to others. As if just being strict is sufficient. This really worked in the case of the Manicheas and I have not noticed any neighborhood Albigensian churches either. There is some truth in the claim though. People are more drawn to a church that believes the same thing from week to week. What they miss is that more liberal churches are just as dogmatic and rigid as those that teach a more traditional moral ethic. A very rigid set of beliefs regarding sexual morality and abortion is preached. Go into some mainline Protestant congregations believing that fornication and homosexuality are sinful and you will soon find out how welcoming they are (as long as you consider being called a Neanderthal welcoming). A more rigid lifestyle is demanded in regards to environmental concerns. SUVs and logging are the modern version of the anti-Christ. Non-free range chickens are to be abstained from everyday and not just Fridays in Lent. Miracles are to be accepted since you must believe that embryonic stem-cell research will result in curing everything. Constant acts of faith are required in that you must believe that socialism as a system can work despite the history of the world. The fact is that there is strictness in all churches it is just that what they are strict on is different. The writer just don’t understand that what is strict upon is important. Moral relativism has caused a similar blindness in many.
The article suggests that "liberal churches" must build their own rituals to use as theater to send the message they want. What is considered most important is presentation. In previous elections when Democrat lost they normally blame it that there message did not get out. Again the same excuse is basically being made here that some churches are not growing because they don’t have attractive rituals and a form of piety that makes them feel invested. Externals are seen as the problem and not that the message is what is wrong.
I’m having painful vicissitudes just trying to pronounce it.
Liturgy is not “theater.” It does more than convey “a message.” Christianity is not a set of propositions.
I’m naturally sympathetic to your response, but am at a loss to otherwise explain the success of Mormonism. My impression is that despite the untruth of their religion it is growing wildly in part because of the demands they make.
I find that in uncertain times, some people tend to be drawn to movements/churches that offer some kind of certainty.
I also find that some people need more of a sense of the personal than many liberal churches offer. I remember back when I was a Catholic journalist I did an article on some local fundamentalist congregations that were growing. Yes, the more lively style of music and worship was one reason given. But another big reason was that these churches made people feel accepted. I recall one church in particular. The congregation was large – numbering in the hundreds – yet when I walekd in one Sunday I was welcomed by a number of people, from members of the congregation to an assistant pastor. They recognized that I was new, and made me feel welcome. I never experienced that at any Catholic church I visited in a 12 year- career with a Catholic newspaper. But as bad as those some Catholic churches might have been, the two coldest churches I ever attended were traditional “liberal” ones, an Episcopalian and a Unitarian. – Lee
Finally, our society seems to be increasingly inclined to mocking religion, or at least treating it in a sappy way. i have found people inclined to attend liberla churches are also inclined to being in tune with the cultural waves, hence I think they are more likely to find less interest in chruch attendance.
Wow, that author managed to be offensive to Catholics and Jews all in the space of three lines. See! There is unity!! The “promise of relief” of which the author speaks is soley rooted in technological advances. We accept many technological advances, as long as they do not defy natural law which is passed down through Divine law. Why do Jews keep kosher? Why do we go to attend weekly and Holy Days of obligation? They aren’t merely exercises in discipline. Both faiths have a long history of suffering when we discard them.
Wait! This isn’t a parody? … Really?
A mild agreement, Mr. Strong, on the “welcome” thing, though I have never appreciated being welcomed in that weird, superficial way that people often do at the beginning of a worship service or liturgy, though that may be more a personal attitude. It just doesn’t strike me that those things are anything other than a superficial imitation of welcome.
Real welcome would involve noticing someone who’s on the edge of your community and inviting him to help out with real church projects (and if he’s single, inviting him in the late afternoon riiiiiight before it’s time for dinner). It would be about training these outsiders to take part and do real work in the church.
(In my experience, most converts of goodwill will joyfully submit to training. Think of any political/ideological movement and their training and use of people who are all excited to be joining up. It makes the converts feel “welcomed” to be so used.)
In other words, people must invite these outsiders to become part of the real life of the church, part of the lives of their families, etc, not in some pseudo-“how nice to see you” sort of way (which is useful, but only mildly so).
Jon, I agree with your assessment of genuine welcoming.
The Catholic Church is the largest community service organization (to put it secularlly). Indeed we Catholics contribute to and work with our hospitals, orphanages, shelters and soup kitchens for the poor. We require our children to participate in visiting nursing homes, daycare centers for poor children, etc. Here’s a big problem in the U.S. though: we who are motivated by our faith to contribute in all these areas are simultaneously insisted upon by our government to strip away any Catholic identification. Additionally, as Jeff often points out, we have internal forces who confuse and defy our authentic Catholic identity.
If I’m correct that you are expressing a welcoming on a domestic level (hey Jon, let me help you fix your lawnmower for instance) perhaps this is the linkage we need to form closer ties to faith filled Catholics to help fight the above mentioned forces.
Any good, or am I niave?