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."
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.