Change of Heart: Who says American churches can’t change?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Change of Heart
Radio Priest Father Charles Coughlin

At his peak, Father Charles Coughlin reached up to 30 million Americans each week. In the 1930s, he preached in favor of Adolf Hitler as a bulwark against Communism and he railed against Jews who he said were behind the Russian Revolution. Even after Kristallnacht in 1938, Coughlin went on the air still backing the German regime and suggesting that Jews themselves bore some guilt in the violence against them. He was not forced off the airwaves until after Germany invaded Poland in late 1939.

In 5 parts, this special OurValues series examines American churches’ changing attitudes on homosexuality and same-gender marriage. Many readers have asked us to gather in one place the latest findings on these issues by researchers and scholars, including the Pew Research Center, the Barna Group and the Public Religion Research Institute. In response, we are pulling together the latest data from these groups and other scholars. We invite you to read along and especially urge you to share these columns with friends.

We begin by looking at the basic question: Can American churches make major changes in the basic values they preach?

Answer: They can. And, they have many times. Here are a few examples—

SLAVERY—At the eve of the Civil War, about 150 years ago, pastors nationwide preached that slavery was entirely consistent with the Bible. After all, hundreds of Bible verses seem to approve of the practice. Even among the majority of Northern congregations, before the Civil War, abolition was not a popular cause. But today? No legitimate church in America preaches in favor of slavery and evangelical churches are active in popular campaigns to end modern-day slavery in the world.

RACIAL-ETHNIC PURITY—At the start of American involvement in World War I a century ago, some of the most famous preachers in America supported the eugenics movement and called for the forced sterilization of millions of Germans to wipe out their population (as documented in Philip Jenkins new book). Now, after the Holocaust and other genocides, no church in America would stand for such preaching that encourages wiping out entire populations.

ANTI-SEMITISM—On the eve of World War II about 80 years ago, anti-Semitism was common in American churches and leading preachers, especially the infamous Catholic “radio priest” Father Coughlin, whipped up so much anti-Jewish feeling that U.S. policy slowed the flow of Jewish refugees trying to escape the Third Reich. Even a written plea by Anne Frank’s father to escape to America was held up in the prevailing American antipathy toward European Jews. Anti-Semitism remains a problem around the world, but no legitimate American church preaches this hatred—and evangelical churches have become some of the strongest American supporters of the state of Israel.

ANTI-CATHOLICISM—Fifty years ago, anti-Catholicism was so rampant in America’s Protestant churches that a household name like the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, founder of Guideposts magazine, could feel confident leading a national coalition of pastors opposing John Kennedy’s election because he was Catholic. Peale warned the nation, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.” Since then, anti-Catholicism hasn’t entirely vanished, but evangelical leaders now widely embrace Catholic allies nationwide.

What other basic values have changed in American churches?

What has changed in your lifetime?

What has changed in your church?

Care to read more?

Bias Busters: Some surprises about our largest minority group

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Bias Busters
Hispanic front cover web res

Click the cover to visit the bookstore.

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome Joe Grimm, editor of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s series of guides to cultural competence.

You probably already know that Hispanics are America’s largest minority group. They surpassed blacks in 2003.

And Hispanics keep passing milestones. Some recent changes, several of which are covered in 100 Questions and Answers About Hispanic and Latinos:

  • Most American Hispanics and Latinos are not immigrants. They were born here.
  • In 2014, Hispanics and Latinos surpassed whites as the largest ethnic group in California. New Mexico claimed that distinction first, but California is a far larger state.
  • Hispanic children now make up more than one quarter of all pupils in public elementary schools.
  • According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, Hispanic high school graduates are now more likely to attend college than their non-Hispanic white peers.
  • In June, Pew reported that for the first time in nearly 20 years most U.S. Hispanic workers are native-born, not immigrants.

These are important statistical benchmarks, but numbers do not add up to understanding. That requires personal investigation, engagement and conversation with people.

When journalism students at Michigan State University contemplated a Bias Busters guide on Hispanics and Latinos (both terms are used, though neither has a strong preference), this was the first question: If so many Americans are Hispanic, do we even need a guide? Some research into what people are searching for on Google said that we do.

These are some questions for you:

How do you keep up with rapidly changing dynamics?

Do you read, and if so, what? Do you have sources who keep you informed? How do you stay current?

JOE GRIMM is visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism and editor of the Bias Busters guides to cultural competence. He spent more than 25 years at the Detroit Free Press, 18 of them as its recruiter. You can read more about the series on its website at:

Bias Busters: Is diversity America’s new Manifest Destiny?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Bias Busters

Three MSU covers of cultural guides

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome Joe Grimm, editor of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s series of guides to cultural competence. Here is Joe’s first of five columns …

MSU 100 Questions International students guide front

Click this cover to visit the bookstore.

Besides July 4 parades, picnics and fireworks—this week will feature citizenship ceremonies in many cities. These inspiring civic ceremonies, where men and women from around the world become Americans, are reminders that we are a nation of immigrants. (And, here’s one immigrant’s story.)

The elasticity of the noun, “Americans,” has been coming up a lot at Michigan State University. Consider this: Michigan became a state in 1837.  MSU was organized to fulfill a mandate in Michigan’s 1850 Constitution that called for the creation of an “agricultural school;” and the first class of 63 young men were almost exclusively farmers.

Today? Now, MSU is a community of 50,000 students from countries all around the world studying nearly every academic discipline offered at major universities. The campus welcomes every race and ethnic group in the U.S., and MSU’s Office for International Students reports more than 7,000 students arrive each year from other countries, including China (our biggest international group at more than 4,000 students) plus Brazil, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and dozens of other nations. As part of the faculty of MSU’s School of Journalism, I just returned from a week of teaching classes held in Saudi Arabia.

As American Independence Day rolls around this year, I’m thinking that, as Americans, we need to rethink our vision of Manifest Destiny. In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny meant that America should stretch from sea to sea. It was one pressure that led to the acquisition of a large part of Mexico by the United States. That old Manifest Destiny also gave American leaders an excuse to conquer many of the native peoples living on this continent.

I’d like you to join me this week for a five-part series about diversity in America. And our first question is: In the 21st century, could America’s new Manifest Destiny be that of becoming the most diverse nation on Earth?

At MSU, we’re already laying the groundwork so that diverse communities can peacefully embrace these many cultures. I teach a series of classes in which MSU journalism students become “Bias Busters” and rigorously research guidebooks to understanding various aspects of our nation’s growing diversity. Professionals refer to this as achieving “cultural competence”—and that goal already is encouraged in major corporations, health-care systems, schools and other public institutions.

This series of Bias Busters guides we are publishing answer the simple, everyday questions we hear in coffee shops and at work. But the guides and this week’s holiday also surface some big truths. Here are two of them:

  1. While we may look different, sound different and have different traditions, our basic values, needs and hopes are fundamentally the same. We all want to live in peace, to be clean and safe, to go where we wish and to do as we like. We want this for others, too. Understanding this makes it much easier to ask the questions and hear the answers in a way that draws us together and not apart.
  2. Several of the 10 core values in Wayne Baker’s book, United America, really resonate this Fourth of July week. They include symbolic patriotism, critical patriotism, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Come back each day, through Friday! In the next four parts of this series, I will look at four of our most intriguing minority groups. You may pick up some fascinating facts to share at your own Fourth of  July party.

Divided America: Is Edward Snowden hero or traitor?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Divided America

Edward SnowdenWhat was your reaction when you first learned about National Security Agency (NSA) warrant-less surveillance of Americans? Did you feel the program was justified in the name of national security? Or, were you outraged by the invasion of privacy and the trampling of individual freedom?

The tradeoff of freedom and security is a theme that has endured since the nation’s founding. And, it’s a tradeoff that can’t be resolved, only managed, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between  security and freedom.

A good litmus test to gauge your feelings about these values is the way you responded to Edward Snowden’s release of a wide range of NSA secret documents as he fled around the world, finally landing in Russia. If you’re among those who view Snowden as a traitor, then you are likely to place national security over individual freedom. If you’re among those who see him as a hero, then the opposite is likely to be true. (The extreme length of the Wikipedia page about Snowden attests to the vigorous partisans on both sides—some jeering and some cheering.)

Back in the era of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin had a firm opinion about the tradeoff: “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

A few years after 9/11, almost half of Arab Americans (47 percent) and a majority of the general population (55 percent) in the Detroit region said they were willing to trade freedom for more security from terrorism. My team and I wrote about this in our book, Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11.

Nationwide, how do Americans feel about the tradeoff? This is one of the issues I explored in my national surveys, and the results reveal a clear division of opinion. Over a third (35%) of Americans say they are willing to give up any freedom the government asks them to give up in order to protect the country’s safety.

But just over half (51%) disagree. They aren’t willing to give up any freedom the government asks them to give up for the sake of more security. Only 14% are neutral on the issue.

Are you willing to trade freedom for security?

What is your reaction to the government’s once-secret surveillance program?

Do you consider Edward Snowden to be a traitor—or a patriot?

Millennial Adults: Leaving religion due to LGBT conflicts?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Millennial Adults
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) research chart on LGBT issue as a factor in leaving religious groups

CLICK THIS GRAPHIC to visit the Public Religion Research Institute website and read this entire PRRI report.

EACH generation
is unique; each has characteristic values.

The values of the Silent Generation were shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. Baby Boomers came of age during the feminist and sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. The youngest adult generation—the Millennials—were the last to be born in the 20th century. They are the first “digital natives,” growing up with computers, the Internet, and social media.

Their unique views include rejection of organized religion and strong support for same-sex marriage. Is one related to the other?

This week, we’ve discussed the Millennials’ disengagement with religious and political institutions, their use of social media and the phenomena of the selfie (and we saw the world’s first selfie), the Millennials’ reluctance to get married, and their distrust of others.

Today, we consider their attitudes about LGBT issues and religion: Over three of ten Millennials (32%) are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percent of any generation. Most of these Millennials were raised in a religious tradition, reports the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). A big reason for rejecting their religious tradition is their perception of how organized religion treats LGBT people, according to the latest PRRI survey.

Here’s the question PRRI asked: “Thinking about the reasons you are no longer affiliated with your childhood religion, how much a factor, if at all, were negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people?” Thirty-one percent of Millennials who disaffiliated with their religious upbringing said this was an important or very important reason why.

LGBT issues were less of a factor for the members of older generations who disaffiliated from their childhood religions. For example, only 19% of Baby Boomers who disaffiliated said that negative religious teachings about or treatment of LGBT people were a factor; the figure is only 17% for the Silent Generation.

If you are religiously unaffiliated, were you raised in a religion?

If yes, what was your reason for disaffiliating?

How much of a factor were LGBT conflicts?

Volunteering: Religious volunteers…in prison?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Volunteering
Religious Accommodation in Pew survey results

WHAT KINDS OF RELIGIOUS RESOURCES ARE PERMITTED FOR INMATES? While “religious accommodation” is a right in America, there is no uniform set of religious rules. Pew asked chaplains to answer these questions. (To read the entire Pew report, click on the graphic.)

We usually don’t think of volunteering in a prison context, but volunteers are often used in state prisons to meet the religious and spiritual needs of prisoners. Religious volunteers supplement the work of prison chaplains, leading worship services, providing religious education classes, running prayer or meditation groups, and more.

Do you know any religious volunteers who serve the prison population?

To learn about the role of religious volunteers, the Pew Research Center surveyed prison chaplains in all 50 states. These chaplains reported that they have too few—and too many—religious volunteers. They have more Protestant religious volunteers than they need, and too few Muslim, Wiccan, and Native American religious volunteers.

How well do religious volunteers perform? Overall, almost all prison chaplains say that volunteers are excellent or very good at leading worship services or religious rites, at leading religious education classes, at leading prayer or meditation groups, and mentoring prison inmates.

Volunteers don’t do as good a job at providing services to the families and children of prison inmates. This is especially true when it comes to mentoring the children of inmates. They do a somewhat better job when it comes to helping inmates’ families by giving food, clothing, or holiday gifts.

There are no official records of the religious affiliations of the incarcerated population, so the prison chaplains were asked to describe the religious composition of their prison populations. Pew researchers note that these estimates are impressionistic at best, but it is interesting to note that the religiously or spiritually unaffiliated appear to be less frequent among prisoners than the general population.

Did you know that religious volunteers regularly supplement the work of prison chaplains?

Are you, or someone you know, a religious volunteer who works in prisons?

If so, what has the experience been like?

Media Sex & Violence: What’s at stake for young adults?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Media Sex & Violence

PENTAX ImageThis week, we are looking at reporting by religion newswriter David Briggs on the role of media sex & violence in eroding religious values among young adults. On Monday, we acknowledged that this may sound like a strange topic to raise in OurValues—because, of course, most young adults don’t attend churches, synagogues or mosques.

So, what’s at stake?

Plenty, say the trio of researchers behind the first study Briggs includes in his reporting. There is a very complex relationship between behaviors and values among 18-to-26-year olds. That’s the age range of the 500 young adults studied across five American universities. When consumption of violent or sexy media rises, Briggs reports, “It is more complex than a simple ‘content in, action out’ principle where young people emulate the behavior they see on screen.”

Here is why the three researchers say this issue matters: First, they say in a journal article about their research—faith matters among men and women in this age range because strong religious values offer a lot of benefits to young adults. Stronger religious values tend to protect against depression and alcohol abuse—and lead to greater feelings of life satisfaction, various recent research studies indicate.

Then, here’s the key first question the researchers suggest we ask: What does it mean when we describe strong religious values among 18-to-26-year-old adults? Does it mean they attend worship regularly and engage in other typical religious behaviors? In fact, we won’t see much visible action, the researchers write. On the contrary, young adults hold their religious values as an important internal anchor in their lives. When lots of sexy and violent media is added to a young person’s life—that anchor line begins to erode. Most young adults don’t have much regular religious activity—only their deep anchors from earlier experiences with family and community. If these young people, then, saturate their lives with movies and video games that eat away at their internal religious values, then the result may lead to other problems in their lives.

At least that’s the case the researchers lay out in their journal article.

But: What do you think? In reporting on this body of research, Briggs admits there are many questions still to be answered in future studies.

Does this rationale make sense to you?

Do you think young adults have much of an interior set of religious values?