Andy’s Legacy

FrGreeleyThe first time I ever saw Andy Greeley’s name was on the cover of a book resting on my Irish-descended grandmother’s coffee table. It was not a work of sociology.

Two decades later, during graduate school at the University of Arizona, I encountered some of Andy’s sociological work, which Carol has nicely highlighted.  I encountered Andy, too. (When I first mentioned meeting Andy to my mom, she smiled–Andy had been her graduation speaker at Mercy College some decades before. His influence spanned generations).

Despite his advanced years, and his “snowbird” identity of arriving in Arizona each year when the weather worked in his favor, Andy had a warm reputation inside the department. I occasionally heard rumors of weddings and baptisms he had done for students in past decades. This is no small thing, given that Andy’s sociology of religion had nearly as much verve aimed at the secularization theory of social scientists as that aimed at the tin-eared attitudes of Catholic bishops. I once saw Andy give a paper on Chicago’s ethnic tribes to our department’s weekly “brown bag,” a no-holds-barred forum for sociological work in progress. Andy was still on his game, and still held the audience’s interest, albeit using transparencies instead of the now-ubiquitous Powerpoint. Continue reading

Church and State Rolls On

The past twelve months have seen a number of conflicts within the realm of what Americans often call “church-state issues.”  The contraception mandate argument in healthcare reform gave way to last summer’s “Fortnight for Freedom.” Last week, as I was writing this post, breaking news suggested the Obama administration has shifted course, providing an exemption from contraceptive coverage for religious non-profits.

Church and state seem to spend a lot of time interacting.  Why? And what does it mean for church, and state?

For many Americans, it might be a surprise to know that the familiar phrase, “separation of church and state,” is not in the Constitution. It comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists. By the middle of the 20th Century, this phrase had become a powerful metaphor, shaping both the Supreme Court’s view and the mindsets of many, if not most, religious persons. Over 200 years, the pattern of interaction between church and state has drastically changed, with different phases along the way. Continue reading

Why We Should Think About What We Buy and What We Drive

One of the most difficult tasks a pastor, pastoral associate, or director of religious education faces involves dealing with social justice topics. Objections quickly multiply to their inclusion in congregational life: “It’s all too political!” “Everyone has their own personal opinion!” “It’s too hard to respond to such issues.”

And if social justice is difficult to embrace when we are discussing local concerns, it can be even harder when we try to speak of global concerns involving “distant others.” These are the people who make our clothing, pick our fruits and vegetables, and immigrate as economic changes eject them from their countries. Continue reading

Homosexuality and the Local Catholic Church: More Open Than You Might Think

By now it is clear that sexuality is one of the most controversial issues facing religious organizations. The Vatican has promulgated a theological teaching, rooted in one stream of the natural law tradition, which mandates sexual abstinence among homosexuals. Much has been, should be, and surely will be written about this theological teaching of the Catholic Church.  However this is dealt with by the Vatican, in this instance, official teaching cannot inform us as to how Catholic life is being lived at the local level in the United States.

How are homosexuality and homosexuals a part of the local life of the Catholic Church?

Earlier this month I published research studying whether Christian congregations are open to gays and lesbians. My research used the National Congregations Study, a representative survey of American congregations. Continue reading

Does the Cafeteria Ever Close?

Everyone knows the phrase “cafeteria Catholics.” It is used pejoratively to categorize one way that Catholicism is lived: as a series of opinions that are picked willy-nilly based on the superficial feelings and unguided judgment of an individual.

But does the cafeteria ever close? Are all American Catholics, in some way, “cafeteria Catholics”? This thought came to mind with the recent controversy over the denial of communion in Washington, DC. The priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman has issued a statement recounting the details of the incident as well as his rationale for acting the way he did. Continue reading

Religion’s Place

These past few weeks have been something of a church and state wrestling match:

  • Obama administration begins the match with interpretation of contraception rules. (Bad Guy Wrestler strutting around an empty ring).
  • Then, a wide array of Catholic institutions and politicians respond with theological, political, and ethical argument about over-reach. (Good Guy Wrestler and posse enter the ring, knock Bad Guy wrestler out with a clothesline move).
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Alinsky for President?

Saul Alinsky is all over the presidential election this year. This despite the fact that he’s not running or consulting with any campaign—he died forty years ago, after all.

But Alinsky’s name has a particular symbolic meaning in American politics. The power of Alinsky’s reputation, decried by some Catholics, is only possible because of Alinsky’s outsize success sponsored by—you guessed it—Catholics. His early organizing work was made possible through financial and vocal support of Catholics in Chicago and his followers helped train Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

The Alinsky that critics object to is a stereotyped image in which power-at-any-costs disregards a concern for humans at the root of social structures, sacrificing a concern for a robust common good for a tactical win in the arena of politics. (This is the not-so-subtle message that is meant to be attached to Barack Obama, given his background in community organizing.) This version of Alinsky might exist in some organizations and movements, but then again these same organizations might not last or be effective for long with this style. Alinsky, his legacy, and his importance to the Catholic Church is a bit (actually a lot) more complicated. Continue reading

Where can I find out about the current state of religion in America?

Besides the obvious answer (“read this blog!”), it is helpful to know where to turn for accurate, concise, and well-presented information about religion in America.

The most recent book to do this is Mark Chaves’ American Religion: Contemporary Trends. This is the sort of book that casual readers would like, but so too would church study groups and college students. Even members of the Church hierarchy could learn something from this book (see pages 78-80). Continue reading

Travelling Faith: Do Congregational Trips Matter?

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Written by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings over a half-century ago, these words catch the mindset of the short-term international travel phenomenon that has likely swept a congregation, high school, or college campus near you.

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