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Latinos in Pittsburgh

Written by Peter Smith on .

Post-Gazette photographer Nate Guidry and I spent months among Latinos in and around Pittsburgh -- documenting their lives at work, home, school, church and court -- during a time when they face heightened scrutiny and, for those without legal status, heightened immigration enforcement.

A link to the stories is here.

 

 

 

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Bishop on opioid crisis

Written by Peter Smith on .

The devastating opioid epidemic is grabbing the shocked attention of area religious leaders as much as anyone else.

Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic has joined a small but growing number of bishops calling on Catholics to respond with prayer, education and support for professionals working as recovery specialists, first responders and other medical caregivers. He issued a pastoral letter on the subject this week.

He wrote in part:

We need to show every person who is addicted to opioids that there is help and there is hope. We need to get the message out to every corner of our Diocese that those with an opioid addiction need not fear coming forward and seeking help; they need to know that we will not judge them, that we will not condemn them and that, above all, we care for them. We need to let every parent, child, sibling, friend or coworker struggling with the effects of dealing with an addicted person know that they are not alone. We need them to hear loud and clear that the family of the Church is here to walk with them and support them.



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Justice Gorsuch, as advertised

Written by Peter Smith on .

The quartet of religious-liberty-related decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court this week have proven that the sky is blue, the sea is deep and newly minted Justice Neil Gorsuch is as reliable a part of the court's right flank as everyone hoped, feared and denied he would be.

Whether it was on the travel ban that singled out certain Muslim-majority countries, the Lutheran school playground, the wedding-cake baker or the same-sex parents on the birth certificate, Justice Gorsuch joined the most conservative justices, Thomas and Alito. They deferred to the administration on the travel ban, despite lower-court rulings who found animus toward Muslims in it, and they echoed the arguments of conservatives (Christian and otherwise) on the other three cases.

Justice Gorsuch lacks the rhetorical flourish of his predecessor, Antonin Scalia. Otherwise he's in the same mold. So Sen. McConnell's unprecedented decision to bury the Merrick Garland nomination for a year continues to have the real-world consequences he wanted. Not only did the vacancy become a powerful motivator in prompting conservative Christians to hold their nose and vote for an uncivil, self-admitted philanderer and groper for president, on the hopes of getting the likes of a Gorsuch, but they also got Gorsuch.

So the state of church-state law is what it is today because of that.

Gorsuch is everything the Heritage Foundation expected when it put forth his name, among others, to Trump. And he's everything that liberals feared. Read this excellent analysis by the Washington Times, and this by church-state-law expert Melissa Rogers.

During the confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was criticized for offering bland non-answer answers to questions of substance and ideology. Democrats who spent their last attempt at a filibuster against Gorsuch were criticized as paranoid and alarmist for opposing the calm, affable, clearly brilliant Gorsuch. The defenders of Gorsuch said he shouldn't be asked to paint himself into ideological corners in the Q&A, that he should apply his renowned intelligence to the merits of each case.

Of course, that raises the question of why the brilliant Garland wouldn't have done just as well. Clearly Gorsuch, like Scalia, has a well-formed worldview, and he's not hesitating to apply it.

Oh, by the way: Be careful what you wish for. Whether you're a religious entity or not, be careful about those offers of playground rubber. Some say the stuff isn't good for kids.

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Why the Southern Baptist decline matters

Written by Peter Smith on .

For a decade now, the nation's largest Protestant denomination -- in some ways the U.S. evangelical movement's largest and best-organized force -- has had to admit it's in chronic decline.

The latest numbers are no different. Membership went down from 2015 to 2016 by half a percent to 15.2 million. Attendance is down nearly 7 percent (!) and baptisms are down 5 percent.

Baptisms are a key vital sign for a denomination that puts a premium on conversions, and which therefore only baptizes those old enough to make a profession of faith. Baptisms are at their lowest level since the 1940s.

As I've reported more than once, Southern Baptists are no longer just Southern, even though they're the closest thing to a state church that the Bible Belt has.

They have planted several churches just in the Pittsburgh area alone, as well as elsewhere across North America (not to mention their longstanding world-missions program).

So their health is of interest to all of us. It's a denomination that, a generation ago, went through a bruising revolution, purging moderates and liberals from official positions and configuring a far more conservative fleet of seminaries and agencies.

And here we have the paradox that the Southern Baptists keep expanding their numbers of churches, even as the numbers of people in them keep decreasing. 

You could argue that their mission and church-planting efforts are stemming off the massive declines experienced by more liberal Protestant groups such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In fact, people have made that argument. But the fact remains that Southern Baptists haven't kept pace with population growth.

In some ways, the white evangelical world is at a peak moment of its power. Its rank-and-file played a central role in delivering the White House to Donald Trump and Congress to Republican majorities. Southern Baptists themselves divided fiercely over this, but its #nevertrumpers are in retreat. Much of the evangelical support for Trump came from leaders of other denominations and movements, although a fair share of Southern Baptist megachurch pastors were among them. As for the rank-and-file, it seems that Southern Baptists were largely among the Trump voters.

One reason the Southern Baptists' numbers matter is that, not only are they the largest evangelical body, they're also among the most meticulous in reporting real statistics. So they're kind of a bellwether of the entire movement. 

So why is such a politically potent force so religiously anemic these days? 

 

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