By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Notice the tenses in Wikipedia’s entry on “Exodus International” posted only a day or two after events necessitated a change from the word “is” to “was.” Quote: “Exodus International was a non-profit interdenominational ex-gay Christian organization that sought to help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires. . . Exodus International formerly asserted . . . [it] was an umbrella organization which grew to include. . . over 150 ministries in 17 other countries.” Etc.

One does not expect instant revisions of encyclopedias, whether of the on-line or other-line sorts. Give the religious world a week or two before anything about theology draws notice from a few. But anything to do with “Sex,” not “God,” is the splitting agent of denominations. Hundreds of congregations in numerous church bodies have broken away since words like “same-sex” came to prime time in church and world.

We can’t fault the media for giving so much attention to last week’s news about the “Closing Shop” sign posted by Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International. Quite remarkable is his avoidance of the pop-penitence so often practiced today. Not content with “if we offended or hurt anyone,” or “we made a mistake,” he went on to speak for the organization as he apologized for the pain, hurt, and all that went with the Exodus approach. He acknowledged that Exodus-type policies and strategies could lead to suicide and to church, family, and friends turning away. That’s quite serious. Read More…


Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

By Martin E. Marty

Demography, “the science of vital and social statistics,” can help trend-spotters discern and explain many trends in American religion. A rule of concerned participants in religious groups where trends are more often “downward-” than “upward-” pointing is: knowledge of demographic trends can help explain, but it cannot excuse those who are coping or trying to cope with trends which mark “downwardness.”

Stunning news on the demographic front grabbed headlines and blog-attention with stories like this stunner in the Wall Street Journal (June 13, 2013), “More White Americans Dying Than Being Born,” or The New York Times (June 13, 2013), “Census Benchmark for White Americans: More Deaths Than Births. A majority of births in the U.S. now are to “Hispanic, black and Asian mothers.”

According to the U.S. Census figures released last week, the majority (50.1%) of children under age five are still white, but that huge majority figure, one-tenth of one percent(!), will disappear in a year or so. These trends surprised demographers since they were not anticipated until 2020.

Neil Shah, in the Wall Street Journal, says that his paper’s headline refers to something that has occurred “for the first time in modern history.” That suggests noteworthiness. Sam Roberts in the New York Times observes that the slight edge of non-Hispanic whites is simply the result of immigration and cannot help the old majority hang on any longer. Read More…


By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

The names of Catholic theologian Hans Küng and Pope Francis are both in the news because Küng was sighted saying friendly things about the Pope and the Pope was apparently saying friendly things about God and atheists. Such stories demand or evoke in this “sighter’s” mind some historical recall which helps set the news in context.

Background: in June, 1966, one year after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, when there were still many Catholic priests in Canada, hundreds of them gathered in Montreal for four days at then Loyola, now part of Concordia University. On stage were Catholic Küng, Baptist Harvey Cox, Lutheran M.E.M., and host Father Elmer O’Brien, S.J. We guests were evidently competing for the Chutzpah-in-Theology Guinness record by agreeing to appear on stage for four hours with no texts, scripts, or notes. O’Brien and members of the audience made up of priests were free to ask questions or bring up topics of any kind. I ran through all the theology I knew, but learned much by listening. (Chutzpah? We were 38-years-old!).

While we two Protestants did not have anything personal at stake with respect to the papacy, Küng did. A star peritus (adviser) at the Council, he had dreamed dreams inspired by John XXIII and was seeing them dimmed by Paul VI, about whom he was ambivalent. Those dreams turned into nightmares for Küng as John Paul II and Benedict XVI — the latter, had earlier been a friend of Küng’s from Tűbingen, Germany — countered much that the Council had achieved. Or so, at least, it appeared to Küng. Read More…


By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Almost always Sightings takes off from the sighting of a particular recent news event. This week, for fun and games, we’ll make an exception and address a generic theme: the religious left.

Several weeks ago we commented on Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourners (a progressive, Christian social justice organization), who is often cited as being a long-time advocate of causes marked “Left.” He sees himself as a bridge-builder across religious camps separated by the divides and poles that disrupt discourse and creative action in “secular” and “sacred” America. Among responses to that Sojourners column, some asked why Sightings did not more frequently treat the Left, the subject of so much criticism by the easily-identified Right.

Some Internet word-checking suggests that through the years we have pointed to and analyzed the Right four times for every three notices of the Left. In the public media, the Right, the Religious Right, and the Christian Right draw far more attention than does the Left. Why?

First, because the Religious Right is more noticeable than the Religious Left. The Westboro Baptist Church, that independent Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, whose tiny but noisy membership disrupts military funerals, knows how to snag media coverage, as more liberal or moderate causes and movements do not. Read More…