ATLANTA, Georgia. Getting down to business, Atlanta is as American as pecan pie with Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, CNN and Home Depot among many other big companies. But when it comes to values, global assumptions veer toward the Southern Baptist Convention, Civil War memories and conservative politics. While there’s some truth in all of those associations, Atlanta also is home to one of the nation’s most influential mainline religious voices: Day1.
“The explosion of self expression in our country is a good thing but it’s also a very alienating thing,” said the Rev. Louis Schueddig, head of the Alliance for Christian Media that produces Day1. “With so many loud voices competing with each other, our country no longer has a common story. We desperately need to find platforms for common beliefs we can share. The church is one of the few places remaining where people can gather and find a common story. At Day1, we give voice to mainline churches so that this voice can be heard over all the rest of the noise out there today.”
Peter Wallace, the on-air host of Day1, broadcasts from studios in downtown Atlanta to more than 200 radio stations nationwide and to American armed forces overseas. Each week, he hosts a different mainline Protestant preacher, who he interviews then invites to give a short sermon. Most recently, Wallace has been focusing on global progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, a list of targets United Nations members agreed to pursue by 2015. On Sept. 12, former President Jimmy Carter is the guest preacher.
Wallace argues that the Day1 series, which began in 1945 as “The Protestant Hour” but today is only 30 minutes long, is a message of truth about America. “I’m talking about a true expression of what life is like in most American communities. In my own neighborhood, people truly care about each other, but what disturbs and frightens me is that so much media is trying to scare people about the world around us.
“The state of talk-media in particular is raising a level of suspicion nationwide that I do think is dangerous. One outcome of all this angry talk-media about Ground Zero in New York is that people all across the country are asking themselves: ‘Well, gosh, then should I be worried about the mosque in our town?’ That kind of media is just not an honest reflection of American values and I know it’s not helpful to people.”
But do people really want to hear sermons anymore?
In fact, national surveys don’t show any drop in overall attendance at houses of worship. Our denominational choices are shifting, but about 4 in 10 of us still say we attend worship regularly. If anything, the Gallup Poll reports a slight uptick in attendance over the past year.
“Good preaching is not shallow entertainment,” Schueddig said. “From all we can tell, we’re finding that particularly younger listeners want authentic, biblical preaching.”
But what exactly does Day1 think “authentic, biblical preaching” is these days?
Wallace said, “We’ve boiled it down to what Jesus taught: Love God and love your neighbor. The difficult part for so many people today is: So, what does it mean to love a neighbor? That’s something Jesus was asked and it’s something people still are asking today. Daily decisions are a big challenge for all of us and that’s where we try to help.”
Schueddig said, “Right now in America, the waters are so muddy that we’re just trying, each week, to help people find their way back to common beliefs, to a common narrative we can share again.”
(Today’s photos and story are by readthespirit.com Editor David Crumm and his son Benjamin who are devoting 40 days and 9,000 miles to circling the United States and talking with Americans about what divides and what could unite us.)
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