Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

What's More Riveting Than Clergy Surveys?

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been getting plenty hairy around here.

Actually, let me clarify: 1. It hasn't been hairy at all, and 2. If you caught the pop culture reference in the above paragraph, first award yourself thirty points, then feel mildly guilty for how worldly you are. Not me, man. I just read The Onion so I can "engage culture."
Or something.

But it has been a while and for that I apologize. My Google Analytics for the last period pretty much looks like a chart of the stock market over the past--oh, let's say seventy--days. So why the absence? Well, I had been working on my new website http://www.calvinati.com/, but I kind of dropped the ball on that too. In fact, if you're reading this, you've got nothing overly pressing going at the moment; so do me a favor and register for the message boards over on Calvinati. Help a reverend out.

At any rate, I'm back on the blog with a vengaence! Bringing those blow-your-skirt-up, knock-your-socks-off, break-your-shin-bones items of intense interest that get the masses fired up (this parenthetical is just here to keep the sentence from ending with a preposition). And what is more riveting than clergy surveys? And I'm not talking just any clergy surveys, but clergy surveys....waaaaait for it....by the University of Akron?! The answer, to quote Nigel Tufnel, is none.

Last year, I was asked to take part in a study called Clergy Voices: Mainline Protestant Clergy Survey. The enclosed absract explained that the study was centered around how mainline clergy view a variety of social, religious, and political issues. I get such requests in the mail somewhat frequently and generally just recycle the heck out them, because I haven't the time. But when something says "mainline," I can't resist. As a theologically conservative pastor, smitten with the doctrines of grace and disgusted by the market-driven antics of Evangelicaldom, I'm a rare specimen to find pastoring a church in a mainline denomination (the Amercian Baptist Churches-USA, or ABC-USA). Yet here I am. And it feels good to throw my sense/two cents in to affect the outcome in my own little way.

Last week, the results of the survey were released. I wrote "BLOG" on the outside of the envelope in Sharpie and threw it in my inbox. When I opened it up this morning, I expected to find bullet after bullet of depressing information about apostate clergy, adding to my already moderate-to-heavy apostasy funk. I was planning on blogging about why I remain in this denomination. [BTW, the answer is that I love the American Baptist Churches-USA. Like a mother. I also love the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church of America, and all the rest. And I'd rather stay here and shine my light than pull out with so many others, leaving the landscape that much darker. I often draw a parallel to the Netherlands, a country that was once marked by a vibrant and orthodox church that spoke volumes to a culture that actually listened (can you say Abraham Kuyper?). Then many (most?) of the pillars of the Dutch church--some of them my ancestors--left the Netherlands for West Michigan. Look at the ol' Netherlands now. I think you can legally marry your Christmas turkey while smoking your Christmas weed and shooting up your Christmas herion (only I'm sure they don't call it Christmas anymore) and I understand that it's smart to have "Please don't euthenize me!" tattooed on your forehead in case you skin your knee and an over-zealous Dutch EMT decides to "help you out."]

The findings, though, weren't nearly what I feared. There was one horribly-depressing chart which reported that only 44% of ABC-USA pastors would describe themselves as "born again" (what does that mean about the other 56% in light of John 3:3?) The really sad thing was that, of the eight denominations covered, the ABC was the highest with 44%. The ELCA was lowest with 6%! What's more, only 35% of the same pastors would call themselves "evangelical..." despite all being pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Hey, the last shred of consistency vis–à–vis your religious identity called; bad news--it wants out.

Most of the findings, though, were about as unremarkable as Carrot Top using props. The "highlights:"

  • There was the normal stuff about how the mainlines are shrinking (especially the PC-USA) and the none-too-shocking news that mainline clergy are overwhelmingly white, old, and male (despite all the noise about inclusiveness and diversity).
  • Mainline clergy are far more likely to identify as liberal (48%)and Democrat (56%) than conservative (34%) and Republican (34%). I was admittedly surprised that only 32% of ABC clergy identify themselves as liberal--the lowest of the eight denominations.
  • A vast majority of mainline clergy believe that government should be fixing the problems of unemployment, poor housing, poverty, health care, and the environment. As far as I'm concerend, how pastors view the role of government is completely unrelated to their sacred calling as ministers, but I fear that most in that majority thought they were answering "out of" that sacred call. In other words, if man's problem is evil systems, not the evil and sin in his own heart, then the solution is, of course, fixing systems.
  • Two thirds of those surveyed believe in some legal recognition for same-sex couples and employment non-discrimination for gays. It may surprise you that I am part of the two thirds. (It's called the doctrine of two kingdoms; learn it, live it).
  • Speaking of which, only 65% of mainline clergy respondants think the U.S. should maintain a strict separation of church and state. Let me just say that, after what our Baptist forebears went through, any Baptist who was part of the minority on that issue should be defrocked. And by defrocked, I mean have an actual frock placed on them and then beaten with lengths of rubber hose until said frock comes off.

It doesn't really get much more interesting than that. It's my experience that surveys usually wind up unfulfilling a la those "100 Random Things About Me" e-mail forewards. If you have any thoughts on mainline denominations and remaining in them, then hit "Comment" below.

In a couple days, I'll have a sermon twofer for ya. And a picture of a rooster. A rooster. Yeah--I'm back.

-Z

8 reader comments:

David Marvin said...

Your Christmas turkey comment was the funniest thing I have read in a long time.

I am curious about your statement about same-sex couples. Being fairly conservative politically, I break with many of my contemporaries and have no big issue with civil unions. I also oppose workplace discrimination of gays or any group for that matter. However, I wince a bit at the concept of gay marriage in the context of involving the church. Granted, the state is still involved with the act of getting married in a church with the requirement of a marriage license. We have never really discussed this issue and I do not want to put you in an awkward position answering in this forum, but what do you think about gay marriage from a church sanctioned perspective?

ZSB said...

It's no secret that I believe in the plainest readings of Romans 1, Jude 7, 1 Cor 6:9, etc. Unless we bring some pretty hefty presuppositions to God's Word, I believe it teaches clearly that marriage involves a man and a woman and that sexual intimacy was intended exclusively for a man and a woman in a lifelong commitment. That said, homosexuality is certainly not THE SIN above all sins (as some have tried to make it)--the one that magically can't be covered by Christ's blood and dooms the sinner to hell. I also recognize that along with slavery and the role of women, this is an issue that does involve cultural considerations and, therefore, good Christians differ on it.

I rarely preach about homosexuality because Scripture rarely brings it up. And given the climate of the church today, I'd say our main position when it comes to homosexuals should be to LOVE THEM.

That said, God defined marriage like he defined gravity. No state or church can redefine it; not with any authority anyway.

E. said...

First, I have to say with glee that the word I'm to type in to make sure this comment isn't spam is "bripp." :D

Second, as someone who grew up in the Lutheran church (Missouri Synod until high school, then it was ELCA) and as someone who attended many services and youth group at a PCUSA church, then married a conservative ABC pastor, there's a refreshing difference. Even if a lot of American Baptists have liberal leanings, it seems like most of them believe the Bible is God's Word and preach it like it has some authority over us, rather than the other way around. While I still feel the need to "explain" when I tell someone I'm Baptist (simply because of all the highly visible, highly bigoted, loud Southern Baptists on TV speaking for the so-called Religious Right) I'm more comfortable with it than I used to be. It's a shame that the denomination that brought you the separation of church and state, and has agreed to disagree and remain friends when differing on nonessentials, now has a reputation for exclusivism and self-righteousness.

ZSB said...

One of the things I love most about being Baptist and Mainline is that I CAN be very ecumenical without my church strenuously objecting. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday will be wonderful worship services with Christians of other stripes with whom I differ on many things (including, with most of them, the aforementioned homosexual issue). In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity. I was wooed by some Fundie, decidedly NON-mainline Baptist churches upon being ordained, and believe me--they wouldn't have stood for this kind of inter-denominational worship (not even on a night devoted to the New Commandment: LOVE one another). That's another reason I will probably stay ABC for life.

E. said...

Maybe THAT should be your next tattoo: ABC 4 LIFE

:)

(Ugh, just shoot me.)

VRM said...

I have to say that I am slightly mortified that the ABC came in rather conservative on the survey. Not because I have a problem with being conservative...I'm just remembering my spouse telling me that he couldn't imagine going to an ABC church, because they are so liberal.

Raymond Nearhood II said...

Two thirds of those surveyed believe in some legal recognition for same-sex couples and employment non-discrimination for gays.

Was this one question or two?

The reason I ask is because I do support equal employment opportunity regardless of sexual orientation, however I do not support legal recognition of gay couples.

I suppose what I don't understand is how my position would be a violation of the 'doctrine of two kingdoms' or how your position honors it.

Luther, in On Secular Authority wrote:

We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters

Granted, in it's full context Luther was referring to monarchies and similar governments. But, in a country where the "rulers" are the citizens - which requires a direct or representative vote of its citizens to recognize 'gay marriage' or 'gay civil unions' - how is it that the voting Christian can support giving equal standing to marriage as defined by God and a sexual sin? How is the Christian not binding his own conscience?

There was one horribly-depressing chart which reported that only 44% of ABC-USA pastors would describe themselves as "born again" (what does that mean about the other 56% in light of John 3:3?) The really sad thing was that, of the eight denominations covered, the ABC was the highest with 44%.

My guess (and I hope I'm right) is that this result has less to do with actually considering oneself born again than it does with the popular understanding of the term "born again" in post-Billy-Graham-Crusade America. I consider myself, yea, I know that I'm born again, however I have often found myself caveating that in conversations to explain that I was saved at 15... not that I had some emotionally ellicited response to a Third Day song at a CIY event back in '94.

The same is probably true for evangelical v. "Evangelical" (ELCA's recent problems notwithstanding.)

ZSB said...

Raymond,
I'm not saying that to be politically opposed to the recognition of gay marriage (which I am) or civil unions of some kind (which I am not) is a violation of the doctrine of two kingdoms, only that the knee-jerk Jim Dobson "if-you-love-Jesus-you'd-better-sign-my-petition-against-gay-marriage" Evangelical approach does. (Or the opposite-but-equivalent Jim Wallis approach). Those silly Jims. I suppose I could have made that clearer, but having recently written and preached on the topic pretty extensively, I thought some ellipsis was in order.

Granted, the "we ARE the government, so all bets are off" card can be played with some effectiveness, but at the end of the day, our country was founded on the notion of a right to live freely and pursue happiness without the government imposing a religious agenda overtop of that pursuit that limits one to the government's idea of moral. Granted, this is a political, not a theological, position of mine. I don't want anyone telling me if I can get family insurance for me and another dude, buy a jet black fuel-guzzling SUV, smoke my cigars in my own back yard, or use words that offend others' sensibilities.


I too hope that the numbers re: evangelical and born again are just people not wanting to be associated with particular social/religious movements/phenomenon. I suppose I can relate, as I often refer to my self as "lower case-e-vangelical."

-Z