Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Decline of Southern Baptist Baptisms and Rural Life

There was interesting article up at the Associated Baptist Press by George Bullard All denominations should care baptisms are down among Southern Baptists . Let me add that Catholics might want to take a look at this also.

As Bullard points out one reason for concern is that Southern Baptist are not exactly sitting on their duffs in getting converts. Yet we still see this decline. There are many reasons for this but let me hit on an aspect of this that is a issue for all. That is the decline of rural American .

The backbone of the Southern Baptist Church has often been it's presence in rural communities. The problem partly is rural America is in a bunch of trouble. The once proud football team is struggling. There is not enough  kids to get a band together. The Walmart has left and people are forced to travel 30 miles to the the Super Walmart . It has been replaced by a rather sub par Freds or Dollar General that now are doing a booming business . Community festivals and events that once were packed are on their last legs.

The issue is that many people have abandoned their rural communities for the city. A huge part of this exodus were the areas best and brightest and best wage earners. They were the folks that often made things happen in business, civic , church , and cultural life.

In the Deep South the Southern Baptist Church was  often at the center of spiritual and social life in the community. It had competitors in its doctrinal orbit but the Southern Baptist Church was supreme. Part of this was funding . It could often fund  very competent minister , a competent director of music ,  and most importantly it had a Youth Group that did things.

The problem is for Southern Baptist once the kids move to the city their competition becomes more intense even within their doctrinal orbit. The issue of why perhaps Southern Baptist seem to be having a brand loyalty problem when this happens is something I am not competent to address.

Returning to the rural areas despite the exodus we have seen it is not quite a barren wasteland. There are still a great number of " unchurched " . In fact that number has increased in my opinion  .

The problems  see happening to the Baptist Church is happening the to UMC , the Presbyterian Church , and even my Catholic parish in my hometown.

The problems are complex. With various secular and civic outlets in rural life breaking down spreading the Word takes a hit . It is hard to spread the Gospel if opportunities to know your neighbor break down.

However I see the biggest problem as a general malaise that sinks into Church life . The town is not doing well which means business is not doing well . This leads to problems with funding schools which leads to further problems in attracting industry. It seems a vicious cycle.  The Church is very infected by this on a local level sadly . There are again many un churched  in the area but the critical lay leadership that gives the energy to reach them seem to be lacking. It seems we are just paddling in midstream not going anywhere hoping for some miracle to happen.

There are many reason for denominational decline that we see in the United States. I just hope that any plan to reverse this does not rely totally on an urban blueprint  and thus forget the rural Churches a. There are still some significant numbers out here that really add up. How to meet the challenges of rural life needs to be part of any endeavor to stop the decline .

I am not saying this dynamic is the only reason for the decline in Southern Baptist Baptisms but I think it plays a part and plays a part in other Faith communities problems

George Bullard
George Bullard
George Bullard

Friday, May 16, 2014

Not A Redneck Joke - The Catholic Nuns That Live In A Trailer Park

And in a double wide at that ! There are so many inspiring things happening in the Archdiocese of Atlanta . See this very good story Sister Margarita Martin in Athens: Bringing ‘church to the people’

Can A Student At Liberty University Believe in First Amendment Values

One of my favorite Louisiana reporters and columnist  Mark Mosley has a rather scathing piece on Governor Bobby Jindal's Religious Liberty speech at Liberty University . See Jindal dances around the truth, disguising anti-gay bigotry as freedom of speech .

My main purpose here is not to talk about the gay discrimination issue but something else. However I think I need to address a few points.

I am a little frustrated that I have not seen the entire speech yet or a link to it. Most critics are focusing on certain excerpts that were released  last week . I suspect with the wide range of attacks on religious liberty the " discrimination " against gays was not the only topic. See HHS mandate cases and other matters .

Let me say that as to " discrimination " I think a lot of Christians and others that think that homosexuality is wrong are also against unjust discrimination.  However these same Christians , and in fact many that support the civil right of same sex  marriage , have trouble with cases of compelled speech. Such as a wedding photographer or a baker being forced to service a same sex wedding and other similar cases that we see in the courts nowadays.

Mosley is perhaps right that Jindal needs to be pushed into what he sees as just or unjust discrimination and state it on the record. However Mosley I think is guilty as Jindal in not stating the complexity of the situations and the collision of rights.

What struck me however  was Mosley 's assertion that these folks at Liberty University could not believe in First Amendment values because of the schools honor code among other things  . In fact MY GOD they don't even allow dancing !

I have to agree there are certain things I don't agree with at Liberty University . Still I think his assertion is false or the leap he seems to be making is false

I am big advocate of First amendment freedoms on the college campus both public and private .  As to public universities I hold them to the highest standards. As to private universities it largely depends on how they sell themselves.  In fact how a private college has sold itself to a student is critical in the inquiry .

A private college  , whether religious or not  , has I argue a moral and indeed a legal obligation to perform by the promises they made in the student handbook. So if a private university has promised to be a bastion of freedom of thought , ideas , and expression they better perform on it .

Needless to say Liberty University does not sell itself as Wake Forest that has a much more lose Baptist affiliations nowadays . Student know what they are getting into and in fact have purchased the right  ,with a lot of money usually ,   to be in that environment . In the end I give a Liberty University a lot more rope than lets say a place like Tufts  . See Can Tufts Handle Religious Pluralism?

I have no doubt that at Liberty University  there are many  libertarians that have strong feelings on the the freedom of speech and First amendment values. Mosley seems to be making  a leap that Liberty University students would be happy with how their campus treated expression and speech to be in the public square. I find that rather doubtful on a whole range of matters . Especially among American  Baptist where religious liberty is often in their DNA .

We can look at other situations. For instance many people that go to military academies have all sorts of the First amendment expression curtailed. But it would be silly to say that because of that they are can't respect the First amendment.

Look at my views. If I ran Catholic Colleges  I would be cracking the whip more on student groups and other activities that run very contrary to the Catholic Faith. A Pro Choice group on a Catholic college campus are you kidding ?  Of course one problem is the lack of Catholic ID on campuses. Also some Catholic Colleges via their student handbooks seem to not to have laid down what is expected . That problem needs to be addressed there.

However those views do not stop me from advocating for the right of pro choice groups on public campuses  from  not having their speech curtailed .  I don't think I am alone in that and those views I suspect are at places even like Liberty University.