Little Rock Talking to someone yesterday who wanted to do a series of reports for KABF community radio about religion, caught me up short and forced me to actually think for a minute about the strange and interesting stirrings within religious denominations that might just indicate that in the face of declining membership, some of them may be moving towards peace with their parishioners rather than standing simply as a rock in raging rivers.
The Boy Scouts announced that by a vote of 60-40, their advisory council had voted to accept gay scouts as a half-step towards equality in the scouting ranks. Earlier reports reminded everyone that religious denominations were the overwhelmingly numerous sponsors of scout troops with the Mormons, Baptists, and Catholics in the lead ranks. The Mormons, surprising many, had announced that they were encouraging their folks to vote for gay acceptance. It is impossible to believe that this measure would have passed without a lot of very conservative religious denominations joining ranks with the Mormons to meet the shifting views of the American public way more than halfway on this measure.
Other reports have marveled at the critical role that evangelical churches are playing in pushing for immigration reform, once again surprising many observers who count such local churches as central to the social conservatism of many on these kinds of issues. This is actually not news, just something that it took a while for the mainstream to notice. Five years ago when I worked as a consultant to the National Immigration Forum and Casa de Maryland, it was common to see many evangelical leaders in the ranks and Rev. Slim Coleman from Chicago and others were untiring in their advocacy of progressive reform.
Finally we even read that some priests and nuns are organizing as whistleblowers to stand finally with their parishioners in exposing abuse of children by priests. Certainly it is past time for an institution that has now been seen covering up such scandals all over the world, even while asking for institutional forgiveness. Nonetheless, hearing that some are breaking ranks finally is good news for the declining number of regular participants at mass.
Organizations, even huge mass-based institutions like religious denominations, are still ruled by the organizational laws of man, even while they advocate the laws of their gods, and the law of organizations is that they either change or die. Maybe these are only small signs, but they are encouraging whiffs that the winds of change may finally be coming to American religions before their membership leaves them talking to themselves rather than counseling the people in the pews.