Sunday, June 02, 2013

Looking for News In All the Wrong Places?

I went looking for "religious" news on Yahoo! this morning. There were a lot of little things about what Pope Francis did or said. There were some analysis pieces about the waning impact of the Catholic Church in state legislatures on the issue of gay marriage.

I decided to do some more surfing and was able to find the average and the not so average. I discovered that the news is pretty much the same in religion as  in politics. The stories can be irrelevant outside of a small circle of friends or potentially dramatic. Sometimes it may even be in the same story.

Over at the Huffington Post there were some opinion pieces and such. One headline was both a surprise and an "Of Course!"

Muslim and Jewish Leaders Unite to Combat Hatred
Religion New Service had it's headline story:
Cancer diagnosis gives second life to Carman’s music career
(RNS)-Once one of the biggest names in Christian music, Carman had been rejected by every Christian music label in the last 12 or 13 years. It was only after he went public about his terminal illness that the 57-year-old singer-songwriter discovered he still had an audience.
Worldwide Religious News had the following headline links on their homepage. They are perhaps the best example of the important, the disturbing and the "who cares!":
  • Americans see religion in decline yet want more of it. What's up with that?
  • Southern Baptists Move To Cut Ties With Boy Scouts Of America Over Inclusion Of Gay Scouts
  • Myanmar Mosque, Muslim Orphanage Burned After Alleged Immolation Of Buddhist Woman
  • 'Japanese Jesus' Legend: Christ Escaped Jerusalem, Lived In Japan With Family As Rice Farmer
  • Italian professor says has found world’s oldest complete Torah in Bologna
A number of places, of course, had the news of author Fr. Andrew Greeley's death.

But arguably the biggest piece I found anywhere was this one:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America [ELCA] elected its first openly gay bishop to a six-year term on Friday at an annual assembly in Southern California, officials said.

The election of Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin comes after the church's controversial rule change in 2009 that allowed gays and lesbians to be ordained in the nation's largest Lutheran denomination.
From a very basic, cultural perspective this barely ranks a note when compared to state legislatures (Way to go, Minnesota!) and their advancement of Gay marriage. It will be ten years next week since the Episcopal Church elected Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. As most religion news headlines show, the "news" of religion is not all that high on the exciting scale. This one seems like news that only the family would care about.

While I don't think it is earth-shattering, I do believe it shows the direction of our society toward more openness and a shift among at least some religiously-inclined individuals in the same direction.

My small denomination is wrestling with the ordination of gay individuals prior to the next national meetings in a year. The connection with this story is also that my denomination has "full communion" with both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA. So for our leadership the question is on the agenda: What if a "legally" ordained gay person from either of these other churches wanted to become a pastor in our denomination?

[Side note disclaimer: In retirement my wife and I are now members of an Episcopal Church.]

No, that is not tsunami-generating movement, either. But I think it illustrates how some of these issues move forward like they do- a little bit at a time- with a lot more connections than we realize. In the great scheme of the Christian timeline the approval of the ordination of women is more like a few moments ago- the early- to mid-70s in the mainline denominations. I graduated with, and was ordained only a few months before our first ordained woman pastor. Forty years is only 2% of Christian history. Yet it was in that movement that the movement to accept and ordain Gay individuals took root.

Each start as small movements. Not the kind that at first make news. But that is how change works. While there re the "black swans" that shatter all preconceptions and make us shift, long-term social change works much more slowly than that. Christianity itself was not a legal religion for 300 years. That's 15% of its history. But it was the slow movement, the incrementally small changes that brought about significant, cultural shifts.

That's why it is important not to be blinded by the big stories. They may tell us a lot about where we are, but it isn't very often they can tell us with any certainty about where we are going.

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