MSU ‘Bias Busters’ sort out the mysterious realm of religion

Front cover MSU guide 100 Questions about Muslim Americans

CLICK this cover to visit our Bookstore and learn about ordering your copy.

By JOE GRIMM

The MSU Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence embarks on a new direction this week: We’re heading into the realm of religion.

The series, from the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Journalism, started in 2013 with 100 questions and answers to everyday questions about several groups. There are now guides for Indian Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, East Asian cultures, Arab Americans, Native Americans and, to help international guests, Americans.

Why did our MSU team decide to start this new series on religious minorities? Because such guides are needed by so many men and women, these days. Americans in countless neighborhoods and professions need to know how to interact with our neighbors and co-workers from minority faiths and cultures.

Why did we start this new series with Muslims? Because these men, women and children face the greatest misunderstandings right now, according to nationwide studies.

Recently, Pew researchers reported that prejudice against Muslim Americans is “rampant among the U.S. public.” The Pew team added: “We have a long way to go in dispelling prejudice against Muslims. Muslims were the group rated most negatively of all religious groups.”

Can our guide books really make a difference? Yes!

Here’s the goal of our overall series of 100 Questions & Answers guides: We answer the questions that real people ask every day wherever Americans gather. We answer the questions that no one else is answering in such a convenient and authoritative form. We have blue-ribbon readers across the country advise us as we answer these questions for readers—so you can trust what we’re telling you in these pages.

In your hands, these guides will help you get to know co-workers, neighbors or fellow students in your school. And that process of getting to know each other, concludes the Pew team, is the way to build healthier communities.

The Pew team used a thermometer chart to show Americans’ relatively warm vs. chilly attitudes toward minorities. The team’s report concludes: “Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. Those who say they know someone who is Jewish, for example, give Jews an average thermometer rating of 69, compared with a rating of 55 among those who say they do not know anyone who is Jewish. Atheists receive a neutral rating of 50, on average, from people who say they personally know an atheist, but they receive a cold rating of 29 from those who do not know an atheist. Similarly, Muslims get a neutral rating (49 on average) from those who know a Muslim, and a cooler rating (35) from those who do not know a Muslim.”

WHAT QUESTIONS DO WE ANSWER?

MSU Bias Busters Class works on 100 Questions about Muslim Americans

PHOTOS OF THE MSU BIAS BUSTERS: TOP PHOTO shows an MSU editing circle—clockwise from front: Arielle Rembert, Julia Gorman, Sarah King, Cheyenne Yost, Zhenqi (Bruce) Tan and Kate Kerbrat. MIDDLE PHOTO shows our editors Amanda Cowherd and Kyle Koehler collaborating on the new guide. BOTTOM PHOTO shows class members—front from left: Lia Kamana, Stacy Cornwell, Arielle Rembert and Julia Gorman. Second row, from left: Kate Kerbrat, Amanda Cowherd, Kyle Koehler, Zhenqi (Bruce) Tan, Cheyenne Yost and Sarah King.

The full title of our newest book, as listed on Amazon, is 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans with a Guide to Islamic Holidays: Basic facts about the culture, customs, language, religion, origins and politics of American Muslims.

These guides are designed to answer the everyday questions that people wonder about but might not know how to ask. The Muslim-American guide answers:

* What does Islam say about Jesus?
* What does the Quran say about peace and violence?
* What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
* Which countries are predominantly Shia and Sunni?
* Do Muslims believe in heaven and an afterlife?
* Do Muslims believe that non-Muslims are going to hell?
* Is the Nation of Islam the same as Islam?
* Are honor killings a part of Islamic teaching?
* What does Islam say about images of God?
* Do women who wear the hijab play sports or swim?

The guide’s Foreword is by John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and author of the popular book, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam.

Esposito wrote, “The Muslims of America are far from monolithic in their composition and in their attitudes and practices. They are a mosaic of many ethnic, racial and national groups. As a result, significant differences exist in their community as well as in their responses to their encounter with the dominant religious and cultural paradigm of American society.”

Esposito was one of 20 experts who helped MSU students in one way or another through the creation of our new guide. The students began by interviewing Muslims, and consulting with our experts, to determine the 100 commonly asked questions we would answer in this book. Then, the students researched the answers and, once again, consulted with our experts to verify the entire guide.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE …

Another new feature in this new book is a nine-page guide to Islamic holidays. Written by Read the Spirit’s Holidays & Festivals expert Stephanie Fenton, it explains their timing, meaning and significance.

The guide also has a recording with American Muslims pronouncing Arabic words such as Muslim, Islam and Allah. Muslims told students that these are often mispronounced and the audio addresses that. (Visit the ReadTheSpirit bookstore now to learn how to order your copy of this inexpensive new book. When you get your copy, the first thing you’ll want to do is listen to this helpful audio track. In most e-readers, the audio plays within the digital book; in the print edition, a QR code lets you click on that page—and play the audio on your smart phone.)

The series is evolving and becoming more elaborate.

The next guide will focus on Jewish Americans and is expected to have videos.

CARE TO READ MORE?

JOE GRIMM is visiting editor in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. In addition to the MSU series, Joe has written two books about careers in media. You can learn about all of Joe’s books in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore.

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Categories: HolidaysJewishMuslimPeacemaking

Miller Elementary School builds a ‘Fence of Friends’

Teacher Krista Jewett and Principal Aimee Bell at Miller school lead an anti-bullying assembly

USING VISUAL AIDS TO PREVENT BULLYING: At a Miller Elementary School assembly, teacher Krista Jewett (left in gray sweater) and principal Aimee Bell (at right) work with groups of children to discuss the best responses when bullying arises.

Hundreds of children agree:
Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

By DAVID CRUMM, Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“I was lonely, when I first came to Miller as a teacher. I didn’t know anyone! I was new here. I didn’t have any friends,” music teacher Mary Manier told hundreds of children in two assemblies at Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan. Behind her was a huge screen displaying the simple outline of a picket fence. Inside that outline were sketches of smiling people holding hands.

Miller teacher Mary Manier shows how to form a Fence of Friends

‘FENCE OF FRIENDS’ BEFORE & AFTER: In this photo, Miller Elementary music teacher Mary Manier talks about arriving at the school and meeting her first new friend. In the photo below, Mary Manier’s story ends with a long ‘Fence of Friends.’ (Photographs by Becky Hile for www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

“But do you know what happened on my first day? Someone greeted me and that made me feel a lot better,” Mary Manier said, inviting that first friendly teacher to walk to the front of the assembly, stand beside her and link arms to show their friendship. Then, Manier recalled a series of simple, kind actions by other teachers—and invited them to stand side by side. Soon, teachers had formed a long “Fence of Friends.”

Then, Manier turned to the hundreds of children sitting in rows on the gymnasium floor. “You all have people who care about you, too. You all have friends. Who is in your Fence of Friends?”

The school is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, posing an ongoing cross-cultural challenge to the school staff. This year, the entire school—children, teachers, office staff and even janitors—are helping the children to understand how to build safe relationships at Miller. A school-wide survey of students alerted the staff that some children were anxious about the possibility of bullying. No major incidents have surfaced, but Principal Aimee Bell and her colleagues want to be proactive.

In early October, Bell, Manier and 4th grade teacher Krista Jewett invited me, as the head of ReadTheSpirit Books, to brainstorm ideas for engaging children in the effort. ReadTheSpirit publishes two helpful books: Michigan State University’s The New Bullying (for parents and teachers) and also Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (for adults to use with kids).

Miller teacher Mary Manier completes her Fence of FriendsThe Miller team especially liked the “Fence of Friends” activity, based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip. That activity guide is one of many that we provide in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website.

Last week, Miller held two assemblies, separating the students by age. The assembly for older students was longer and involved more talks by teachers, student skits produced by Krista Jewett’s students and brief videos on the big screen. The assembly for younger kids was geared for a shorter attention span. The high point for both groups was Mary Manier—with help from the school’s faculty—demonstrating the Fence of Friends.

“In the next week or so, you’re all going to get a chance to draw your own Fence of Friends,” Aimee Bell told the students.

The staff has duplicated hundreds of fence outlines on 8-by-11 paper, awaiting these student drawings. Teachers know that some students immediately will fill their fences with sketches of friends. Other children will sit quietly with a nearly empty fence. That’s when teachers will encourage students to look at the drawings that are emerging around the classroom—and students will be invited to “draw themselves in” to those fences that are still quite empty. In doing so, children commit themselves to being good friends for others throughout the school year.

During the assembly, Aimee Bell and Krista Jewett often turned the microphone to the children to get their responses. They asked: “Why is this so important?”

A boy named James said, “If somebody wants to bully you—you have someone to guard you.”

A girl named Julia said, “You know someone will stand by your side—they’re part of your fence.”

Through their short talks, student skits and short videos, the Miller staff stressed the nationally accepted definition of bullying (that definition is included in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book), then they demonstrated several strategies kids can use for quickly responding, and also they emphasized the need to alert adults if bullying persists.

Aimee Bell closed the assemblies by encouraging the students: “We’re going to talk a lot about how to respond to bullying this year. Now, we all know what bullying is—and we all know what to do when we see it.”

As children make their own Fence of Friends drawings in coming weeks, Miller teachers plan to post those drawings side-by-side to form a very long Fence of Friends around the walls of the school.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With Groups

The Bud Heckman interview on building interfaith relationships

InterActive Faith cover of book by Bud Heckman and SkyLight Paths

Click the cover to visit the book’s page at SkyLight Paths Publishing.

BUD HECKMAN is an interfaith Frank Lloyd Wright. This pastor, scholar and author is a global architect designing the structures we all will need—if we are to transform religious conflict into interfaith cooperation that can benefit communities worldwide.

Most of our readers are meeting him for the first time, today, because the majority of Heckman’s work takes place behind the scenes. He works through foundations, universities, government agencies and nonprofits. For years, he has been tirelessly crisscrossing the U.S., and often circling the globe, encouraging the formation of new programs and professional best practices.

If you care about the future of interfaith cooperation in the world, ReadTheSpirit magazine strongly urges: Order a copy of his book, InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook, published by our friends at SkyLight Paths.

AUGUST 10-13 2014: Bud Heckman will be presenting one of the workshops at the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference in Detroit. ReadTheSpirit founding Editor David Crumm also will be participating in NAIN 2014 as will a half dozen of our authors and columnists.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH BUD HECKMAN
EXPERT ON INTERFAITH RELATIONS

DAVID: First, let’s tell readers about your own religious and professional base: You’re a Protestant minister from the Midwest, right?

BUD: I’m an ordained United Methodist clergyperson from Ohio and I work currently in Washington D.C. for the El Hibri Foundation. I’m the Director of Outreach and the Mosaic Initiative.

DAVID: The Mosaic Initiative is new and I think it’s fascinating. Among other things, that program provides grants to graduate students pursuing peace studies or conflict resolution and, as we publish this interview in early August, you’re still accepting applications through September 5, 2014.

Bud Heckman

Bud Heckman

BUD: The El Hibri foundation encourages respect for diversity specifically through interfaith cooperation. We are still developing the Mosaic Initiative, which is focused on interfaith cooperation, organizing events, webinars and meetings of “thought leaders” who can help in this effort. We’re also encouraging men and women in the philanthropic world to offer more funding in this area.

DAVID: We have published more than 350 author interviews since 2007, and that list includes a lot of men and women trying to inspire interfaith cooperation. Just in these seven years, we’ve seen this message take hold in new ways: A lot of professional groups now require people to take “cultural competence” training: professionals in law enforcement, medicine, education and many other fields. Our publishing house works with a team at Michigan State University School of Journalism that is producing short books about “cultural competence,” so we share your goal.

What impresses me about your work is that you’re really an architect, trying to design permanent structures that will encourage cooperation. You’re looking at the structures—large and small—that must be in place to ensure this effort is more than just a fleeting inspiration.

BUD: That’s the heart of this work for me. When I got into this enterprise in 2001, I found there wasn’t so much as a phone book for this movement. We didn’t have the kinds of guidebooks that were needed for training and for developing new programs. Of course, this has changed over the last decade. These priorities and practices are becoming more formalized now at universities, in many kinds of groups and organizations, and also in government agencies.

But there’s still so much more to do.

DAVID: One big area you support is university-level research into the psychology and sociology of human responses to diversity.

BUD: We need more research into the ways that we can help people to move past the barriers they have built up so that they can appreciate a religiously pluralistic world. There’s so much we need to know: We need research on how people’s attitudes change. We also need research on the kinds of words and phrases we might use in approaching people to talk about religious pluralism.

Right now, the leading organizations in interfaith work have found that storytelling is an effective way to encourage cooperation across religious lines. So, we’ve got a lot of groups working on storytelling and specifically on creating programs to facilitate storytelling across religious lines. This does create change. But we need to know so much more about how this process works—and what other experiences also help to overcome conflict.

BUILDING NEW STRUCTURES TO ENCOURAGE COOPERATION

DAVID: Many of the authors we interview work on the theology of cooperation and peacemaking—and on storytelling, just as you have described. What’s distinctive about your role, I think, is that you’re also looking at the nuts and bolts that connect this new architecture to ensure it will stand the test of time.

BUD: Yes, we need to put new structures in place. One example is that we now have 13 different federal agencies with officers who focus on the role of faith in the work that we do from the federal level. President Clinton originally envisioned having faith officers; President Bush expanded on that; and President Obama expanded this idea further. From the time this idea first was raised in the Clinton era, we’ve gone from zero faith officers—to more than a dozen now in place who lift up the value of religions working together on projects. Other countries also are stepping up and creating new kinds of programs: One example is Jordan stepping forward to create World Interfaith Harmony Week.

DAVID: Universities and academic researchers have gotten on board, too.

BUD: As recently as 2006, the American Academy of Religion just had a couple of references to “interfaith” among the hundreds of workshops at their annual conference. Now, they have formalized “interreligious and interfaith studies” as a theme within the academy and they offer so many different activities, workshops and conversations around interfaith issues that one could actually spend several days just focusing on these sessions. It’s important to see this established within the academy.

And we’re seeing some major funders focus on interfaith cooperation. One example: For a while, the Ford Foundation seemed to be stepping back from funding in this area. But now we’re seeing the Ford Foundation supporting interfaith cooperation again.

BUILDING A PERMANENT INTERFAITH MOVEMENT

Interfaith Peacemakers Yo Yo Ma Bono and Leonard Cohen

‘INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERS’ is an ongoing ReadTheSpirit project, produced by international peacemaker and author Daniel Buttry. Click on this image to visit the Interfaith Peacemakers website.

DAVID: As a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity for more than 30 years, I’ve participated in thousands of interviews, meetings and events. I’ve heard all kinds of messages about faith and diversity. What’s distinctive in your approach is the bigger picture you paint for audiences. Yes, you’re interested in inspiring individual men and women, but you’ve got a much larger goal.

BUD: There are too many examples of rising religious conflict around the world. When I talk to people, I can provide many examples domestically and internationally. There are new headlines every day. But, I’m interested in showing people, instead, how religion can become more of an asset in our world. We cannot ignore religious differences. And, we have to involve religion in the answers that will help us resolve these conflicts we face.

DAVID: That’s a tall order: Recognizing the explosive nature of religious conflict—and at the same time recognizing the value of religion in resolving conflict.

THE  FOUNDATION STONES …

BUD: We need to “actualize” the interfaith movement. When I talk this way about the development of a movement toward better interfaith relations, people wonder if this is possible. I point out that, at one time, the environmental movement that has reshaped our world wasn’t a movement at all. There was a time when civil rights wasn’t a movement. There was a time when no one at the university level was studying the environment or civil rights. There was a time when nonprofits weren’t supporting these movements. But now? We all know the success of the civil rights and environmental movements.

We need to see a similar movement in interfaith relations. The academy needs to conduct more research and help us develop a rigorous discipline for developing these relationships. Nonprofits need to understand how to advance this movement and how to set measurable outcomes and to expect results that people can understand. These are the building blocks that can establish a successful interfaith movement. Governments are now taking a keen interest in learning how religions can work together for peace. Now, we need to consciously be designing and building the capacity so that the interfaith movement can become well established.

DAVID: We are strongly recommending your book, today. I’ve got shelves in my library packed with books on religious diversity, but I can say: Your book is unique in the practical advice it packs between these covers. In fact, your book is the only one on my shelf that tries to describe more than a dozen different types of interfaith groups that people have organized across the country. If our readers want to start a group or develop an existing group, your book concisely explains the different models that are emerging.

BUD: When I started this work more than 10 years ago, I couldn’t even find a phone book or directory that described the structure of this movement. So, I hired an army of interns and began collecting information. We collected more than a thousand different organizations and, now, other groups like the Pluralism Project list a lot of the organizations we found and they are now adding hundreds of others to the list.

DAVID: The problem we all face today is providing people with concise, accurate and trustworthy information. You and SkyLight Paths Publishing have accomplished something important in producing this book. Yes, the Internet is full of millions of pages of information about religion, but a lot of that material amounts to junk—or worse, in many cases.

DEVELOPING EYES FOR … ACCURATE INFORMATION

BUD: That’s true. We have tons of information at our fingertips. The problem is the quality of the information varies widely. We have to develop eyes, ears and minds that can discern good from bad information. There are people out there using all of this connected technology in very negative ways. We must help people to find the best sources of accurate information.

What we have learned over the years is that it’s more important to develop accurate, positive, helpful information about religious communities, rather than trying to run around the Internet and fight fire with fire. Yes, sometimes we do need to counter negative information line by line—when there’s an offensive post by a public official, for example. But the larger question we need to ask is: How can we help Americans find and share positive information? How can we develop new relationships that encourage appreciation of diversity and reconciliation between people?

DAVID: How can readers follow your work? Much of what you do is invisible to the public. Can you suggest a way that our readers can keep track of your work?

BUD: You’re right. Much of the work I do is behind the scenes, but I try to put interesting things I’m finding on Twitter. I do write occasionally for Huffington Post and other websites, but I don’t write for any of them all that regularly. The easiest way for people to keep in touch is to follow me on Twitter.

Care to read more?

Get Bud’s book! You can buy it on Amazon or through other online retailers, but we suggest that readers visit the SkyLight Paths website to buy the book. That gives you a chance to browse other titles by this important publishing house.

Also, ReadTheSpirit Books publishes a wide array of books about religious and cultural diversity.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

The Matthew Vines interview on ‘God and the Gay Christian’

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines book cover

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Think of Matthew Vines as a young Gen. George S. Patton. At 24, Matthew Vines is organizing a tough, smart, highly trained force of young evangelicals who are prepared to go toe-to-toe with traditionalist Christians on the issue of whether the Bible allows LGBT inclusion. Through videos, public talks, his new book and a series of national conferences, Vines is determined to martial wave after wave of young men and women, equipped with enough biblical scholarship to crack through the evangelical front still holding that the Bible flat-out condemns homosexuality.

Want to see how he makes this argument? Buy his book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. We recommend a lot of inspiring books at ReadTheSpirit online magazine, but this particular volume is different. This one is going to be a classic—a milestone at this historic turning point when more and more American churches are welcoming gay and lesbian men, women and their families. (Read the OurValues series this week, which summarizes recent research on this change.)

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, I can glance at the shelf in my library where other milestone volumes in this movement are stored. There is Yale scholar John Boswell‘s bombshell in 1980, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, which won the National Book Award. Next to it on my shelf is the equally stunning book Boswell published just before his death in 1994, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. I remember interviewing Boswell about that book, which reports historical evidence of same-sex Christian marriage in the early centuries of the church. Also on my shelf is What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, a courageous 2005 book by two respected evangelical scholars: Hope College psychology professor David Myers (the man who writes psychology textbooks used in universities nationwide) working with co-author Letha Dawson Scanzoni.

Compared with those giants in scholarship, Vines’ book seems thin. In his detailed analysis of Vines’ book in Christian Century magazine, Tony Jones concludes that Vines’ scholarly sources in this new book are thin enough that evangelicals will try to discount them. But, anyone who dismisses this book misunderstands Vines’ savvy strategy.

If the opening comparison to Gen. Patton in this column seems overblown, consider that Vines already has launched a winning international media campaign. While still in high school, Vines created one of the most successful Harry Potter fan sites and soon found himself traveling the world with the official press corps covering the movie.  His new mission was prompted when he began studying as an undergraduate at Harvard, came out as both gay and evangelical—then decided he should drop out of college to help other gay evangelicals defend themselves. That led to a 2012 talk he gave at a Wichita church that went viral as a YouTube video, shared and re-posted countless times. (Don’t care to watch an hour-long video? Matthew also provides a transcript.)

To be fair to Matthew, he doesn’t call his trained followers soldiers. He calls them “ambassadors” and he urges them to conduct their “discussions” with traditional Christians in “love and compassion.” But—that’s not how evangelical power brokers see his mission. They’re already throwing up barricades against Matthew’s formidable strategy. As Tony Jones put it in Christian Century, they are “incensed” at what Matthew is doing. They’re already firing their biggest guns and are sending their best general, Albert Mohler, after Matthew.

Mohler published a lengthy rebuttal of Matthew’s book that argues: “Matthew Vines demands that we love him enough to give him what he desperately wants, and that would certainly be the path of least cultural resistance. If we accept his argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world, and move on. But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the Church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures, and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners. Biblical Christianity cannot endorse same-sex marriage nor accept the claim that a believer can be obedient to Christ and remain or persist in same-sex behaviors.”

The_Reformation_Project___Training_Gay_Christians_and_Allies_to_Change_the_ChurchMohler and his allies understand that Matthew’s new book really is a field manual for a new nationwide movement. Matthew calls his movement The Reformation Project and the next national “training conference” is in November, 2014, in Washington D.C. Matthew calls these events “training conferences” because they aren’t like any conventions most of us have attended. These are intellectual and spiritual boot camps, drilling participants in close-quarter evangelical debate.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I spent more than an hour interviewing Matthew about his fascinating work. Today, we are publishing …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH MATTHEW VINES ON
‘GOD AND THE GAY CHRISTIAN’

Author Matthew Vines God and the Gay Christian

Click this photo to visit Matthew’s website.

DAVID: At ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are closely watching the events unfolding around your work and also Ken Wilson’s work with A Letter to My Congregation. In our latest roundup of news items, I see that Southern Baptist heavyweight Albert Mohler is accusing you of not being a Christian, let alone an evangelical.

Despite what he thinks, you do proudly define yourself as evangelical. Explain what you mean.

MATTHEW: My orientation to scripture and the Christian tradition is theologically conservative in line with a lot of the governing norms of evangelicalism today. I grew up in an evangelical church in Wichita—and I imbibed evangelical theology as I was growing up. Today, that term “evangelical” is still pretty accurate in describing my theology. At the same time, that word comes with all sorts of political baggage that I’m not thrilled about. That’s why I tend to say I’m theologically conservative.

On this issue, what matters most to those who identify themselves as evangelicals is the big question: When it comes to scripture, are you saying that we are going to disagree with the biblical authors because we now know better? Are we saying the Bible is wrong? Or, are we saying there is room for a kind of life-long monogamous same-sex relationship within Christianity, a kind of relationship that is not in view in those Bible texts.

DAVID: In other words, as an evangelical, you don’t simply want to say: The Bible is wrong in these half-dozen brief references to homosexuality—just ignore them. You follow the Bible so closely that you’re saying something different: People are incorrectly reading that handful of passages—and, in truth, the Bible doesn’t condemn monogamous same-sex relationships. In your view, you’re not rejecting the Bible.

VINES: Yes, I come down on the side of Christianity that is very much committed to upholding the authority of scripture.

DAVID: If our readers do watch the hour-long video of your now-famous talk in Wichita (or if they read the transcript), give them some context. What are they watching?

VINES: That video captures the beginning of a two-year-long journey. By the beginning of 2010, I had come out to my parents. At first, my parents did not agree with my perspective, but my parents were open to learning more. That’s why I took off a semester from school in 2010 to dive into scripture and study. After several months of doing that, I felt I had a much better grasp of the issues. I came out to more friends including some friends at church.

It was in 2011 that I felt more comfortable talking to a broader audience. I spent eight months that year working as hard as I could to continue to study and to try to engage people on the topic. I tried to talk to people at our church. It was very difficult because nobody had ever come out in our church before and then stayed and tried to engage people in this way. People weren’t rude but that was the first time many people in our church had even been aware that there were other viewpoints on the scripture. Churches operate very locally and our church had simply not been a part of these long discussions in the mainline denominations.

Not surprisingly, most people weren’t willing to go 180 degrees after first hearing this kind of argument.

I felt I needed a platform to be able to speak and get more of a hearing. I was not able to get that kind of open hearing at my own church. At the end of 2011, I began looking around at other churches that might be more receptive to my message. Some were receptive but were reluctant to let me give a public talk. College Hill United Methodist in Wichita said yes.

DAVID: Your family church had been a very conservative Presbyterian congregation, which once was affiliated with the mainline Presbyterian denomination but now has gone off on its own. So why did you give the talk and make the video at this particular United Methodist church?

MATTHEW: It’s one of the more progressive mainline churches in Wichita. And they let me speak one evening. It was a Thursday night, March 8, 2012. We had about 150 people. The goal that night was to give the talk, record the video and post it online. And, as we now know, the response to that video was very inspiring.

TALKING ABOUT THE BIBLE WITH OUR FAMILIES

DAVID: One of the crucial steps in your journey, which readers will learn more about in your new book, is your recommendation that families study the Bible together. Clearly, that’s a core part of evangelical culture. But what you discovered is something that the pollster George Gallup used to say: Faith in America is miles wide and an inch deep. You discovered that even the staunchest evangelicals have big gaps in their understanding of the Bible.

MATTHEW: That’s right. Dad knows a lot about the Bible and studies the Bible regularly. He has throughout his life. But he acknowledged early in our conversations about this: “I’ve never actually studied this issue.” In fact, he couldn’t even identify the main scriptural references. There aren’t many verses and they do seem negative about this.

DAVID: I like Tony Jones’ way of describing this handful of verses that mention homosexuality. He calls them the “clobber verses,” because conservative Christians use them to beat up gay men and women.

MATTHEW: What I learned from studying and discussing the Bible with Dad is that it’s a really important first step we can take: Acknowledging that there might be something we can learn. And if that message is coming from someone who is a fellow believer and has a close existing relationship with the person—then we can come at this with a tone of respect and love and discuss this out of a shared reverence for scripture. That can bear a lot of fruit.

We know that when someone we love comes out, then that person can change a family’s attitude toward this. We’ve seen that over and over again. But, what that process misses is that evangelicals, even if they love people who are coming out, they still feel their hands are tied by scripture. They don’t see how they can change their understanding of same-sex relationships without having their broader faith in the Bible unravel.

So, the ideal reader for my book is a Christian who knows someone who is gay and then the arguments I present in this book can help those readers shift their belief system.

CREATING A NEW FORCE FOR INCLUSION:
THE REFORMATION PROJECT

DAVID: That’s why we’re recommending this book. Tony Jones calls it “a go-to book” for Christians to share with friends who are struggling with this issue. But you’ve also got a much larger force in mind. You’re creating waves of Bible-equipped evangelicals to go toe to toe on this issue. Tell us about the Reformation Project.

MATTHEW: We’re just getting started. Basically what I’ve tried to do in the video and in this book is to mainstream a biblical argument on behalf of same-sex relationships. Then, through the Reformation Project, we are equipping people—we say that we are creating ambassadors—for the widest reach of this approach in congregations.

In September 2013 we had our inaugural conference. We brought together 50 Christians from across the United States and Canada. I had them prepare for this by reading more than 1,500 pages of academic literature about these issues.

DAVID: Wow. A real boot camp. This is heavy-duty training.

MATTHEW: This is a step we need to take. Many gay Christians have been very good about talking about our lives and our relationships and experiences—but when it comes to discussing the Bible, the conversation stalls. We don’t have enough people fully equipped to talk in depth about scripture and the history of this issue in the church. Our conference had a laser-like focus on how to have these conversations about scripture and same-sex relationships. In that first conference, we were building our training model. What we’re doing this year in Washington D.C. is expanding that model. Some of our trained reformers from last year will be helping us.

In November, we’re expecting hundreds of LGBT-affirming Christians to arrive wanting us to help them learn about the biblical tools they need to shift the thinking of families, friends and congregation members on this issue.

We’re meeting at the National City Christian Church just a 10-minute walk from the White House.

DAVID: What’s the capacity? Is there still room to sign up if some of our readers care to take part?

MATTHEW: We can accommodate up to 900 Christians at this conference. Even if you aren’t Christian, you can come and experience this—but we are framing this conference specifically to train people who are already LGBT-affirming Christians and have relationships with people who are not affirming Christians. We’ll be focused on giving them a theologically conservative LGBT-affirming framework to go back home and help us all shift this conversation.

CARE TO READ MORE?

LEARN HOW MATTHEW AND KEN WILSON ARE CHANGING AMERICA—ReadTheSpirit magazine also is publishing an overview of news events as our own author Ken Wilson, as well as Matthew Vines, are changing this conversation nationwide.

CAN AMERICAN CHURCHES CHANGE? The simple answer is: Yes. Read this five-part OurValues series that brings together the latest research from pollsters, including the evangelical pollster George Barna, documenting this dramatic shift.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleChurch GrowthPeacemaking

The Adam Hamilton interview on ‘Making Sense of the Bible’ while growing the church

Book

TO BUY THE BOOK, click on this image for the book’s Amazon page. At the end of this interview, you will find more links and information on ordering the accompanying DVD and Leader’s Guide.

Adam Hamilton wants to help congregations grow.

Within his United Methodist denomination, he already has proven himself a master of church growth. Now, he is breaking out to a wider audience in his first book for HarperOne (his earlier books are from Abingdon, his denomination’s publishing house).

Now, he wants to show congregations nationwide how to fuel revival and outreach—by starting with the Bible.

But, this isn’t your grandfather’s revivalism. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today is equal parts an evangelical return to the Bible as the foundation of Protestant Christianity—and a scholarly, inclusive approach to understanding scripture that draws on themes familiar to readers of Brian D. McLaren, Rob Bell and Marcus Borg. Most importantly, for the millions of men and women who have been avoiding churches for years, this is a faithful and intelligent orientation to the Bible.

Adam Hamilton’s congregation was dubbed the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection when he and a handful of families founded it in 1990. “Resurrection” seemed like a good name because the only space they could afford at the time was a local funeral home. Today, the church’s “main campus” is in Leawood, near Kansas City, Kansas, but the church is spread across multiple “campuses,” including some sites in other states with video feeds. Adding to that growing list of physical locations is a rapidly growing online church that attracts thousands each week. The church’s digital team regularly sees men and women logging into online worship from Michigan to Florida and from New York to Los Angeles—often including sites overseas.

How big is the Church of the Resurrection?

Church of the Resurrection lobby

One entryway to just one campus of Church of the Resurrection. Photo by Paul McDonald provided for public use.

Writing as Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine with many decades of experience as a journalist covering religion in America, I can tell you: Claims of church membership and attendance are as slippery as eels and there is no regulated national reporting on numbers. Nevertheless, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is widely respected as a neutral center observing these trends. Based on Hartford’s rankings …

AMONG ALL CHURCHES:
The largest American congregation is Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston with a weekly attendance of more than 40,000. Next are about a dozen churches claiming weekly attendance of 20,000 or higher, including two of the most famous megachurches: Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Next are more than a dozen claiming weekly attendance of 15,000 or higher and among the famous congregations in that strata are T.D. Jakes’s The Potter’s House in Dallas and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church in Georgia. Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection currently is listed in the next group claiming weekly physical attendance of 10,000 and higher. Hamilton’s online congregation isn’t reflected in these totals and, if counted, would push Church of the Resurrection up into the Jakes and Dollar range.

Heatmap of Online Worship

This sample “heatmap” shows the geographic spread of online worshipers at Church of the Resurrection on one Saturday. On Sunday mornings, the heatmap expands further.

AMONG UNITED METHODISTS:
No question—Church of the Resurrection is the largest within the 12-million-member denomination with roots in the movement founded by John and Charles Wesley before the American Revolution. Next in ranking, at about half of Church of the Resurrection’s size, is Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, where pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell has made a name for himself in befriending presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama. (Adam Hamilton also is dabbling in national leadership; he preached at the Inaugural Prayer Service held at the National Cathedral in Washington in January 2013.) Caldwell’s church is followed by Granger Community Church in Indiana, Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio—and then Highland Park United Methodist Church and The Woodlands United Methodist Church, both in Texas.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Adam Hamilton in …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ADAM HAMILTON ON
‘MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE’

DAVID: On July 12, you’ll turn 50. You’re only six years older than Rob Bell. And, already, you’re a long way toward your life’s goal of leading a revival within mainline Protestant churches, specifically within your own United Methodist denomination.

Adam HamiltonADAM: We care deeply about wanting to see the United Methodist church revived and revitalized.

DAVID: As a journalist, it’s hard to keep up with everything you’re doing with your huge team of colleagues. I hadn’t realized until recently that you’ve got a satellite program called Partner Churches that now lists eight congregations from Maryland to California. This is for small churches, often served by part-time pastors, who want to use Church of the Resurrection resources—including your sermons in a video feed, right?

ADAM: Yes, we know that all of the things we are trying to do won’t work the same way everywhere. There have to be many different approaches to ministry. Remember that the majority of our United Methodist congregations are small. Many of them have local pastors in some cases part-time at the church. Some of our small churches are led by lay people who serve as excellent pastors in their communities in many cases. Some of these men and women are excellent shepherds; they’re great at hospital visitation and other areas of ministry—but perhaps they don’t feel they can preach very well, or at least not every week. So, that program, Partner Churches, provides a high-quality sermon from Resurrection and other resources.

DAVID: Readers may think that sounds like something out of the “prosperity preaching” movement—Creflo Dollar and others have tried video feeds. But what you’re doing here stems from the very roots of Methodism more than 200 years ago. Methodism was an incredible grassroots, pack-it-up-and-move-it movement. Circuit Riders crisscrossed America. Wesley himself was a pamphleteer widely using the latest technologies for rapid print distribution of his texts.

ADAM: The example I use is a 1789 edition of John Wesley’s sermons that was published while he was at his City Road chapel in London. I hold up my copy of that book and I say, “In America, when the Circuit Riders started a church, they would get it going and then they would leave to work in another town and they’d say, ‘Here is a book of Wesley’s sermons; read one each week until I return to you.’ And they would. We’re just adapting Wesley’s model for the 21st Century.

DAVID: That pattern spread like wildfire in the era of Francis Asbury. Wesley’s assistant before the American Revolution and later one of the first Methodist bishops. The more I’ve researched Wesley’s life myself, the more impressed I am with his courageous innovations. The book of sermons reflects his roots in the Church of England where there was a tradition of publishing sample sermons. So, it was natural for him to carry this idea much further. For Asbury and his team, sample sermons were a great help. Most United Methodist leaders, even today, have copies of Wesley’s numbered sermons.

ADAM: We’re constantly testing what we can do to help small- and medium-sized churches, especially those that are struggling. Partner Churches is just one example. We’re trying all kinds of things. In our online worship, last Sunday, we had 3,600 people actually logging in during the worship services. The online participants register their attendance; they can turn in their prayer requests; they can make donations. That’s the fastest growing segment of our congregation.

They visit us from many places. Recently I was out of town, so I worshiped online myself. What’s interesting is that out of 3,600 men and women we have online on a Sunday morning, about 2,000 of them are Resurrection members, but they choose to worship online with us—for many reasons. Many people can’t make it to the church on a Sunday, for example, but this gives them an opportunity to be with us.

FAITH VS. SCIENCE?

Inaugural Prayer Service

Adam Hamilton preaching the sermon at the National Cathedral’s Inaugural Prayer Service in January 2013. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral. Photographer: Donovan Marks.

DAVID: Right now, you’re speaking to a larger national audience through this new book and events like last year’s sermon at the National Cathedral as a part of President Obama’s inauguration. But, many of our ReadTheSpirit readers are meeting you for the first time today. So, I want you to describe this passion that drives you: Your goal isn’t political influence or riches. You’ve said you’re donating any proceeds from this new book back to your church. You really do want to see mainline Protestant churches start to thrive again, right?

ADAM: There were two things I had in mind as I was finishing this new book: One is the person who has been turned off to Christianity because of things they’ve heard or experienced in the past. The most vocal Christians we see in America today are conservative evangelicals and Fundamentalists—and I know those are two different categories, but the two groups do overlap. I don’t regularly watch Bill Maher, but I happened to see him on TV the other day ridiculing Christians because of this new Noah movie. Maher was pointing out that  a large portion of Americans tell pollsters that we need to take these Bible stories literally—and Maher also was pointing out how absurd the Noah story seems, if we have to take it literally. He pointed out that it’s obscene to think that God wanted to kill virtually every man, woman, child and animal on the planet.

The Bible does seem absurd to many people, today. And misunderstandings about the Bible lead to all kinds of confrontations. I think of people in my own congregation: One woman is studying biology at the university level and she told me, “I’m in a Bible-study group and people are telling me I can’t be a Christian if I believe in evolution. Modern biology rests on the assumptions of evolution.”

There are so many issues that arise if we try to take everything in the Bible as literally true. What do we do with all the violence in the Bible? What do we do with the passages in which God seems to be ordering overwhelming violence against men, women and children? There are lots of people wrestling with these issues inside and outside of churches all across America. I write about these issues in the new book.

I want people to know that there is room to interpret scripture in light of modern science and that we don’t have to accept that God intentionally ordered this overwhelming violence we read about in some passages. But we have to properly understand the Bible. I’ve been saying this repeatedly within the United Methodist Church.

DAVID: Now, through HaperOne, you’re saying this to a much broader audience. Clearly, you want to revive “mainline Protestant” churches. You’re also known as fairly evangelical among United Methodists. Crossing over into the national arena now, one big question is: Where do you stand on interfaith relationships? In my own research into your work, I’m finding very positive examples of cooperation with diverse communities. You were honored, at one point, with a B’nai B’rith award in social ethics.

ADAM: We’ve tried hard to develop positive relationships with the Jewish community here in our own area. We’ve shared some worship services together. That’s important here because, in the very area where our church sits today—until the 1960s, Jews were not allowed to purchase homes in this community. We regularly talk about this. I have friends, rabbis, who I bring on the screen with me to share in certain sermons where their insights are valuable. I’ve taken a trip to the Holy Land with a rabbi friend. We’ve also met with and talked with Muslims. We’ve sponsored forums here where we bring Christians, Muslims and Jews together to talk.

‘BIBLE 101’ CLEARING UP MISCONCEPTIONS

DAVID: You point out that, in today’s world, the religious challenge really is not between faith groups—it’s between religion and secular culture. Americans are distinctive in the world because of our intense interest in religion nationwide. In the UK and across Europe, there’s a stark contrast: Very few people go to church anymore. Even in America, people really need a crash course in “Bible 101” to understand the Bible.

ADAM: Yes, that’s how to understand my new book. There are so many folks out there who know very little about the Bible. If they read my book, I hope it will clear up some of their misconceptions; then I hope it will lead them to read the Bible itself; and maybe they will decide to visit a church where they can find out more. In the first half of my book, I lay out the Bible: how it came to be, the sweep of the Bible and so on. Then, in the second half of my book, I address some of the very difficult issues that still spring from the Bible today.

A lot of times pastors are nervous about sharing what they’ve learned in seminary and through scholarship with lay people in their churches. They fear this might undermine people’s confidence in scripture. So, we end up with a lot of pastors letting unquestioned assumptions continue and accumulate out there. In this book, I tried to put about a year’s worth of graduate study of the Bible into a book that general readers will find interesting. I find that too many people—including Christians inside the church—have an inadequate understanding of the Bible.

DAVID: I know enough about you to tell readers: You love the Bible. Your own daily reliance on scripture is described in the opening page of your new book.

ADAM: I really do love the Bible, yes. The Bible contains the defining story of my life. As you just noted, I do regularly tell people how I wake up in the morning: I drop to my knees and pray and then the very next thing I do is read the Bible. And, before I go to bed at night, no matter how tired I am, I open my Bible and read. I carry a Bible with me everywhere I go; I carry a Bible on my phone, too, but I always have an actual Bible with me. We encourage Bible reading here. We prepare a daily Bible reading for people to encourage them to read more of the scriptures. Every day, I’m doing all I can to encourage more people to spend more time with the Bible.

GENESIS, SCIENCE & ROB BELL

DAVID: Before I left newspapers in 2007 to form ReadTheSpirit, I covered Rob Bell’s launch of his Everything Is Spiritual tour in which he barnstormed the country, talking to people in theaters and clubs about the Genesis creation story and science—and how the two realms are not in conflict. When I read your section on the Creation Stories, I immediately thought: There’s a lot of similarity here between your approach to these issues and Rob’s.

You and Rob both love the Genesis stories and find them profoundly true, but not as some kind of scientific report on creation. As you both describe it: Genesis opens with some of the world’s most famous poetry, talking about God’s ongoing role in our cosmos. There is no reason to regard this as a war with modern science.

ADAM: The Bible represents the people of God coming to understand how the order of creation came to be. Genesis wasn’t intended as a science lesson, as we understand science today. The Bible is making profound claims about the connection between God and the world—and this is profoundly true. It wasn’t intended as a science lecture.

I encourage people to read the opening of Genesis. The first chapter is beautiful poetry with the refrains coming back—”evening and morning” and this beautiful liturgical language about the nature of creation as it unfolds. People need to understand that this is an archetypal story that was repeated down through the generations around campfires and in homes and the Genesis stories do express deep truths. We need to understand the great value of these stories.

If we free ourselves from all this noise from some of the Fundamentalists about this somehow conflicts with science, then we can begin to appreciate again the deeper truths here. Did a snake appear and speak in a garden in the literal way the scene is described in Genesis? That’s not the point. The point is the real truth of such an experience: Who among us hasn’t heard a serpent speaking to us at some moment in our lives? We’ve all faced temptation—haven’t we? And, often, that temptation feels as real as a serpent speaking to us.

HOMOSEXUALITY: ‘WE MUST BE COURAGEOUS’

DAVID: You have organized this book in a masterful way. You begin with an overview of the Bible and, in the middle of the book, you’ll have a vast majority of readers with you when you talk about the hundreds of verses in the Bible that seem to indicate that God wants us to wreak overwhelming violence in the world—or the hundreds of verses in which the Bible seems to approve of slavery—or the many verses in which Bible treats women as second-class humans or, even worse, as possessions.

Christian churches today have completely rejected slavery or mass killing as something God wants us to be doing. Many churches have come a long way toward recognizing women’s rights. Then, you come to the small handful of verses that seem to condemn homosexuality.

Cover A Letter to My Congregation by Ken WilsonYou point out in this section that you are bound, as a United Methodist pastor, by the denomination’s strict rules on this issue. If you tried to bless a gay couple, you’d be brought up on charges and banned from the church. But, in this section late in your book, you make it clear that gay marriage is not a threat to our faith. And you make it clear that you want to see your church move toward inclusion. Your language in this part of the book reminds me very much of the language in Ken Wilson’s new A Letter to My Congregation.

Let me read from page 278 in your book, Adam: “My own views on this issue changed as a result of thinking about the nature of scripture, God’s role in interpreting it, the meaning of inspiration, and how we make sense of the Bible’s difficult passages. As I came to appreciate the Bible’s humanity, I found I could at least ask whether the passages in scripture about same-sex intimacy truly captured God’s heart regarding same-sex relationships. But what really prompted me to look seriously at this issue and to wrestle with it were the gay and lesbian people I came to know and love, including children I had watched grow up in the church I serve.”

That’s Ken Wilson’s story, too. Truly pastoral Christian leaders do seem to be leading this change in Christianity, right now. The major reason, which you point to in your book, is the enormous generational shift going on across America on this issue. You’re focused on reviving the church and, frankly, that’s not going to happen with large numbers of young Americans staying away from church because of the way churches treat their gay and lesbian friends. The Public Religion Research Institute just released a major new study on this. And, Pew just took a look at the trends as well.

ADAM: You’re right: There is a trajectory in this book. Homosexuality is the most divisive issue in mainline churches and it really is the natural conclusion of the book. By the time you reach this issue, we’ve already talked about the era in which the scriptures were written, the way in which they came to be written and we’ve understood the complexity of the canonization of scripture. And we’ve helped people to set aside their overly simplistic views of the Bible.

So once I’ve established that in the first half of the book, I run through these topics that build on each other: the hundreds of verses about violence, slavery, the way we regard women. Finally, we reach homosexuality and hopefully readers will have a much more nuanced understanding of how we should approach these 5 short passages of scripture that seem to talk about homosexuality. We realize that some things in the Bible don’t capture God’s heart as much as they refer to issues that presented themselves in the era when the scriptures were written.

At the very least, I hope that people will realize that thoughtful and committed Christians can come out at different places on this question—and still be committed Christians.

I know this is a very difficult issue for many people. I have had people leave our church over the way I am talking about this issue and so this is painful for me, too. Some of the people who have left us were people I once baptized. But, right now, the spirit is moving. Of course, we all recognize today that slavery isn’t the will of God, even though hundreds of verses in the Bible seem to take slavery for granted and even encourage it. We’ve moved beyond that issue. We will move on this issue, too.

DAVID: There is only so much you can do, right now. You make that clear in your book. You’re bound by your church law. Still, you can talk about this movement toward change. And talking like that is courageous.

ADAM: I have this deep fear that, one day, I’m going to stand before the Lord and the Lord is going to say: “I put you in a position to speak to great numbers of people. Why didn’t you dare to say something courageous on behalf of people who are so marginalized and who so very much need to be welcomed?” I don’t want to face such a question someday.

Hopefully readers will see how deeply I love the Bible and how much I want people to start reading the Bible every day. I’m doing everything I can, every day, to see that this happens. I believe we can revive the church. But we must be courageous.

DAVID: Well, returning to the life of John Wesley, he courageously published a booklet completely opposed to slavery—about a century before the American Methodist church finally settled that issue.

ADAM: My next big project is about the life of John Wesley. We’ve got video segments in which I take people to many of the places that were important to Wesley. What we can learn about John Wesley and his faith can shape our own faith today and can help us in this revival of the church.

Care to read more?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Rethinking Facebook: Hospitality in your living room

Facebook decline and growthEVERYWHERE we go, the ReadTheSpirit team is asked: “What are you doing about Facebook?” That’s a natural question. As innovative publishers, we are reshaping the way media is building positive communities—so men and women nationwide are interested in our advice in light of dramatic changes within Facebook.

Today, three of our experts respond.

How dramatically
is Facebook
changing?

This is an enormous shift! Since Friday (April 11), headlines in nearly all of the leading business publications are proclaiming, as Bloomberg Businessweek asks in a headline: Is this “The End of Free Facebook Marketing?” The biggest change is that, unless companies and other groups start paying Facebook to distribute their recommended links—those popular social media channels will be shut down to a minimal distribution. As few as 1 percent of your followers will actually receive what you are broadcasting in the “old” way so many Facebook pages have been operating.

Want even more bad news? (“Bad,” that is, if you are pushing “old” Facebook broadcast-style marketing.) News reports also are highlighting a second major change at Facebook. In an effort to weed out spammy manipulators of social media, Facebook now will search for and will punish those Facebook pages that explicitly tell followers and friends to go “like” and share their postings. In other words, if you try to work around the new limitations on distribution by aggressively and pointedly telling your audience to go spread your message—Facebook will even further reduce your reach. With the cap already heading toward 1 percent, this second reduction amounts to silencing activity on your Facebook page. In TechCrunch online magazine, Josh Costine’s current headline is “Facebook’s Feed Now Punishes Pages That Ask for Likes.” If you’re doing “old-school” Facebook promotion—ouch!!

And even more limits! On Friday, WIRED magazine’s latest headline is: “This is the End of Facebook as We Know It.” Ryan Tate—author, business analyst and one of WIRED’s senior writers—reports on yet another Facebook change. Depending on how widely you use Facebook on a daily basis, this may (or may not) be bad news for you: Facebook is shutting down the chat feature on its mobile app. Instead, you’ll be prompted to get another Facebook app just for messaging. Writes Tate: “Facebook, the company that makes billions from connecting people to each other, is about to make it harder to have a conversation. … In mature markets like the U.S., Facebook’s user base has essentially stopped growing.” In the future, Facebook will become more of a family of related apps, each with a specialized function.

RETHINKING FACEBOOK:
HOSPITALITY IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

Today at ReadTheSpirit, we are sharing this advice from three of our leading followers of social media …

MARTIN DAVIS

Martin Davis Sacred Language Communications

Click on this snapshot of Martin Davis’s website to visit Sacred Language Communications.

Martin Davis, based in the Washington D.C. area, consults with businesses, nonprofits and congregations through his company and website: Sacred Language Communications. He also is a contributing writer at ReadTheSpirit. Two of his most popular columns focus on revamping church websites and church newsletters.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! We’re still learning how to use Facebook, because you’ve been telling us that everyone needs to get on Facebook. You’re confusing me!” To be clear: We are not reversing our long-standing advice. Facebook still rules all forms of social media.

Now, we’re advising, first: Don’t worry. Much of the high anxiety in headlines this week is coming from media marketers who have built their bottom line on coaching clients to drive Facebook marketing campaigns in ways that worked very well in recent years. If you are a member of a congregation or another community group, primarily using Facebook for its intended purpose—friendly contact with others—then you’ll be fine in the midst of these huge shifts in the business world.

If you are reading this column, today, as the sole person charged with using Facebook as a bullhorn to blast information to your congregation or community group—then you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. This approach to evangelism is a pathway to … well, toward a rapid decline in your effectiveness.

Social media is truly social connection. Meaning you have to spend time cultivating people, talking with them, and nurturing them. This is what Facebook at its best does—and will continue to do. It allows you to engage your members and those in your community by sharing photos and video clips, offering up thoughts and articles for discussion or spiritual growth. Continue to easily share that information with others—and really get to know one another more personally.

The good news? That’s what congregations and community groups do best!

DAVID CRUMM

About ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

Click on this snapshot of our ReadTheSpirit “About” page to learn much more about our background and the scope of our work so far.

David Crumm is the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. To learn more about David and our work so far, visit our “About” page.

I agree entirely with Marty’s analysis. These huge changes in Facebook can actually benefit congregations and community groups—if you are focused on real hospitality, the ancient value that runs through all of the Abrahamic faiths and nearly all other global religious traditions as well. As Marty says, stop thinking of Facbook as a bullhorn.

Think of Facebook as your living room. When friends stop by, what do you? Offer a drink of some kind—and often food. You sit and chat, catch up on the news of the day—usually about what your kids are doing, the fun you had a local event the other night, what you’re planning this coming weekend. You talk. You listen. You show off your latest photos. At its best, that’s both classic hospitality (which is another term for the best forms of evangelism, or sharing good news). Facebook remains the most powerful network in America for doing that!

Be a good host—just as you would in your living room. For example, pay attention to the optimal times when your friends want to sit down with you and share the latest news. Did you know that recent studies of social media show that between 1 and 4 p.m., each day, is the optimal time for Facebook sharing nationwide? That’s different than the optimal time range for Pinterest (8 to 11 p.m.), Twitter (1 to 3 p.m.) and Instagram (5 to 6 p.m.). Warning: These times may not be optimal for your friends, though. Ask around. When are your friends online? Be a good and timely host and conversation partner.

Rather than assigning one person in your congregation or community group to “do Facebook,” look at all the ways your organization can be offering material to help with the person-to-person hospitality. One of the biggest ways you can help: Make sure that someone attending each of your significant events is snapping photos and uploading to your website a wide-ranging album of their pictures. Get friends in the habit of looking through your latest albums for photos they are eager to share on Facebook.

Encouraging real hospitality—a major goal in so many groups today—is a pathway to lively sharing on Facebook.

PAUL HILE

Paul Hile is a writer, editor and project manager with ReadTheSpirit magazine and books. He also is charged with keeping a close eye on changes in social media and advising our authors on the best use of these online tools.

These changes at Facebook are not ideal for most organizations who have been using pages to promote links back to their website or to their events and products. But, it is important to note: The biggest changes only affect “pages.”  Most of our authors aren’t in jeopardy of exceeding their “friend limit” on their personal Facebook accounts, so I am advising them to make better use of their personal Facebook activity.

This is all the more reason to encourage writers to use Facebook and engage with friends in a natural, regular way. The more people talk and interact with us on a daily basis online, the more we’re in front of people. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to get attention on Facebook. One, of course, is to post content. The other is to have people talk about you. The more that happens, the better.

As Martin and David have pointed out: This is social media.

In my research, I am convinced that successful social media strategies depend on human, person-to-person interaction. When our public presence on Facebook is “just another page,” then we’ve lost the human relationships that are the real arteries of social media. When followers of “just another page” don’t have any sort of personal interaction—attachment and investment in whatever is being shared—the results of that sharing fall off sharply.

People want to to interact, explore and invest in real relationships. If we pay attention to that core value, then Facebook continues to be a vast and friendly public square for lots of healthy sharing.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Church Growth

Ann Morisy Interview: Hope always … springs up.

Theologian Ann Morisy and the train station at Streatham on London's south side. Photos courtesy of Ann Morisy and Wikimedia Commons.

Theologian Ann Morisy and the train station at Streatham on London’s south side. Photos courtesy of Ann Morisy and Wikimedia Commons.

“HOPE has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”
Studs Terkel

That’s the final line in theologian Ann Morisy’s manifesto for discouraged congregations, Bothered and Bewildered: Enacting Hope in Troubled Times. Her books are loaded with research drawn from sociology, political science, economics and theology. From that solid foundation, she raises her call to arms: The revival of Christianity—and the accompanying revival of communities—begins with small circles of men and women unleashing the power of their faith, their compassion and their creativity.

If you have never heard of Ann Morisy’s name until today, you should know that she stands in a long line of prophetic British writers whose appeals to conscience have crossed the Atlantic and built huge followings in America. That line certainly includes Charles Dickens (ReadTheSpirit is starting a Dickens reading group this week) and includes C.S. Lewis (see our earlier cover story on Lewis’ enormous legacy). That prophetic line also includes writers, teachers and musicians who have sprung from Scotland’s Iona Community (as examples, see these profiles of John Philip Newell and John Bell).

Care to read more on UK-US connections? All this week, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is writing about our up-and-down trans-Atlantic relations in his daily OurValues.org columns.

Care to see and hear Ann Morisy? She occasionally comes to the U.S. and will appear March 21-23 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor adjacent to the campus of the University of Michigan. Sorry—yes, we know that most of our readers don’t live in Michigan, where ReadTheSpirit’s core staff is based, but we couldn’t resist heralding Ann’s visit with this interview.

DICKENS, LEWIS, IONA and MORISY

There are echoes of Dickens, Lewis and the Iona writers in Morisy’s work. She preaches that congregations should not wallow in their anxieties about the future. Congregations are not poor, besieged outposts waiting for some do-gooder to come save them. In fact, every congregation is made up of men and women, and the truth is that each person can contribute in an “economy of abundance,” one of Morisy’s favorite phrases.

Ann Morisy cover of Continuum book Borrowing from the FutureIn other words, even if your options in life are extremely limited—perhaps you are wheelchair bound in an assisted living community—you still have a lot you can share with the rest of the world. Your contribution to abundance may amount to your compassionate smiles and encouraging words to others. There is no excuse for refusing to share, she argues. And, in fact, the vast majority of men and women are not so extremely limited—and can give far more on a daily basis.

The problem, Morisy argues, is that our societies—especially in the UK and the US—are tragically out of whack. Most Americans, today, know about the yawning wealth gap between the “rich 1 percent” and the rest of us. But Morisy’s preaching and writing doesn’t let the 99 off the hook. She asks audiences: Are you a Baby Boomer? Then, to those in that generation, she says: You’re contributing to the imbalance. Aging Baby Boomers—and she is one of them, she admits—are demanding that the majority of the world’s resources flow toward them. In other words, even if you’re among the “99 percent,” you’re not free of a moral responsibility to share.

“I write as a Baby Boomer, and on reflection it does indeed seem as if I have had an uninterrupted stream of benefits throughout my life,” Morisy writes in her book, Borrowing from the Future: A Faith-Based Approach to Intergenerational Equity. “But maybe I and my fellows are in for a shock. Our confident expectation of financial security rolling steadily into deep old age is threatened. The collapse of banks and the ensuing unsustainable mountain of debt that nations face mean that the future is going to be tough—even for the blessed generation of Baby Boomers. All the components are lining up for an intense bushfire as Baby Boomers and younger generations have come to terms with their—oops, I mean our—hampered desire to acquire and consume.”

OUR UNUSUAL INTERVIEW

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I have conducted many of our Cover Story author interviews via long-distance connections with other countries, including the UK. However, Ann is based in Streatham on London’s south side, working out of a home office that runs on an intentionally modest budget. Her own telephone connection is via the Internet and has such limited capacity that our 90-minute interview was interrupted dozens of times. Eventually, Ann turned off all the lights and other electrical devices in her office in the hope that it might improve her connection. It didn’t. So, in the end, it was impossible to publish a typical ReadTheSpirit Question-and-Answer transcript.

Ann Morisy cover of Continuum book Bothered and BewilderedHere are some of the things Ann did say, between Internet disconnects.

She is proud to be part of the laity in the Church of England; although she is a theologian, she is not ordained as a priest. She says: “To distinguish myself from academic theologians, I call myself a community theologian because I like theology that grows from the ground up.”

Ann is 61 and teaches a lot, these days, about the need for older men and women to keep learning—and contributing to the larger community. “As Baby Boomers are getting older, we are a pioneering generation entering this very long old age that people are experiencing today.” She works across the UK training communities in multi-generational dialogue. “We try to encourage churches not just to respond with pastoral care in relation to older people—but to encourage older people to think and reflect—and do their damnedest—not to be a pain in later life. … If we fall prey to being a pain in later life, we can really wreck the lives of those around us—for decades.”

That kind of in-your-face preaching and teaching is guaranteed to spark some anxious responses, and Morisy says she has not been eager to establish a personal website or other online column. Shifting to slang, she chuckles and says, “I like me privacy. I like to keep me head down.”

Fortunately, although she values her privacy, Ann isn’t shy and chooses when to emerge with her best shots—sometimes in book form and often in public workshops and talks, usually across the UK. This week, she brings her prophetic ministry to Michigan. We encourage our readers to find out more about this remarkable teacher. No, we won’t see most of you in Michigan—but you can sample Ann’s books and you can seek her out in the future.

This report is by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. You are free to repost and quote from this column.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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