There are some generalizations from the survey that are useful in the sense that they offer solid social reasons why pastors should be in touch with today's unmarried parents, in order to provide services for them outside their attendance for Sunday sermons: one, unmarried parents are "twice as likely to live below the poverty line as married parents"; two, unmarried parents are "twice as likely to have dropped out of school as married parents"; three, unmarried parents are "twice as likely" to have reported being in some degree of trouble with alcohol or with illegal drugs; four, unmarried parents "are younger than married parents" by an average of 7 years; and five, forty-three percent of unmarried mothers "have children with at least two men," while just 15% of married mothers "have children with different fathers."
In conclusion, Parke writes that the data from the research helps to dispel the myth that the "children of unmarried parents" are "the products of casual sexual liaisons." On the contrary, she asserts - and this is germane to pastors training for the roles as spiritual leaders - "at the time of birth, many unmarried parents think highly of marriage..." And further, the birth of a child provides a "magic moment" for intervention with unmarried parents, and that "policies and programs should build upon the commitment that unmarried fathers articulate at that time." Those policies and programs could very well be spearheaded by pastors, as a tool to encourage the unmarried couples to become part of the community of church activities.
Martin P. Copenhaver - Growing Up Liberal (Good News in Exile)
In his essay, Martin P. Copenhaver - a minister's son born into a liberal community in 1954, the year "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance - remembers sermons he heard growing up that were "sprinkled with quotes from virtually every human endeavor" (Copenhaver 8-9). His dad, and other preachers he heard, quoted poets, sociologists, scientists, journalists, to "support the sermon's point." And yes, there was Scripture, but "often these references were made as if they were a summary...the gospel was treated as the capstone of human experience," and he remembers thinking, "how could we not listen to Jesus when other authorities from a variety of disciplines seemed to be saying the same thing in their own ways?"
That approach to the gospel - more philosophical than theological - "was always rather thin," Copenhaver writes, "lulling us into the notion that the world would somehow do our work for us."
But now he says there has been a "seismic shift" in how the church functions; and today's "secular culture makes not the slightest apology for defying or simply ignoring the challenges of the gospel." So, "we need to take up the job that was always ours, the job of becoming a community in which Christian lives can be formed."
What Copenhaver is offering to readers is simple: his experience as a youth taught him the philosophical stance that he carried into adulthood and his own ministry; but today, churches must gather their strongest leaders together, roll up sleeves, and do the work in the community that ties Christianity together with real-world needs by real-world citizens. In other words, we should use what we once believed (our idealism) to build on what we must now believe in - a more worldly, less ethereal, approach to Christianity.
Anthony B. Robinson - Making of a Post-Liberal (Good News in Exile)
Robinson (16) explains in his essay that he once advocated a "civic faith" policy for churches: "civic faith" fellowship meant to Robinson that the church is "the center of civic life," and that the mission of the church is "to ameliorate the human suffering of the city," and moreover, the church should become "the moral conscience of the community." However, Robinson began to see that "the world for which [civic faith] was an appropriate model no longer exists." Christianity, he continues, has been "disestablished" and now exists in a social environment "that is somewhere between indifferent and hostile to it."
The church can no longer think of itself as "the conscience of the community" Robinson asserts, nor can it think it is "the carrier and embodiment of religious meaning for civil society" (16-17). As to why the church is no longer the community's conscience, he explains, several reasons are behind it: a) church is no longer necessary for "members of the social elite to be church members"; b) recent social policies have resulted in the least fortunate (homeless, AIDS victims, mentally unstable) being concentrated in the inner cities, and urban churches often provide food and assistance for these unfortunates, hence, the needy are no longer "out there" to be sought out and "saved," but in fact they are often on the doorsteps and in the hallways of the church, not as worshippers, but as receivers of charity; c) many people seeking a church to belong to are "spread thin and exhausted by the demands of work and family," and so, for them the "civil society" is not relevant, because they give all week at home and work, and come Sunday, they wish to receive something to replenish their weary minds and spirits.
Because "so much Protestantism has been focused on accommodation," Robinson writes on page 24, and "on adjusting the faith to us, to so-called modern sensibilities," that some of the bottom line goals of Christianity have been lost, and "we have made the faith and the church awfully boring." Moreover, "too much worship in mainline churches today is just trivial" (25), he continues, and "too often we clergy seem to construe our role as that or protecting our congregations from this God, from God's holiness and grace." His approach now, he says, in light of the need for the "civic faith agenda" to get an "overhaul," is to talk less of "peace and justice," to participate less in "do-gooderism," and instead get into the full-time ministry of converting people to Christianity.
And when people in his congregation say they have "trouble" understanding Easter, he doesn't try to "fix it for them by explaining it..." Instead, he says thing like, "Gee, that's great. Easter is tough. it's troubling, all right. It may require change...but don't worry, with God all things are possible." These changes in approach to his ministry can be, and should be, instructive and/or inspirational to new pastors seeking knowledge about the careers they are launching.
William H. Willimon - Up from Liberalism (Good News in Exile)
The essay by Willimon describes his upbringing in the South and his view now that churches were dishonest, because churches in the South looked the other way at the segregated society they worshipped in, which was "a vast social evil." Not only did the church tolerate racial inequality and repression, Willimon wrote, but the church also "defended" segregation; "daily you see otherwise good people do some dreadful things and call it right."
As a lesson for pastors who are learning about strategies for powerful sermons to offer congregations in 2005, it is worthwhile to note that Willimon said that "most" of the sermons he heard in the Sixties "took a superior, arrogant attitude toward the tradition of the church." Many of the "notions of church" which he was steeped in during the Sixties were "imperialistic and anachronistic." The church then, he writes (30), "was a gathering of like-minded people who are seeking to live vaguely better lives," of people committed to certain "amorphous values" such as "justice" and "affirmation." Churches - "stable, secure-looking fortresses" - often seemed more like "banks" than a "House of God."
And though as a young minister, he thought he would be "an agent of change," he believes now he did not offer his people "resources that were adequate for them to change." The depth of people's needs made a huge impression on him (31), he continued, and as time went by he realized people didn't need "more rules" or moralizing, to become better Christian citizens. "They needed God," he explains. They didn't need any "improvement," but rather they needed "salvation."
In conclusion, one can relate to Willimon's view (looking back) that "the mainline church seemed rather pitiful...[and was] still acting as if it enjoyed a monopoly in American religious life, still adapting itself to a world it thought it controlled." It did not - nor does it today - control that world; it was deceiving itself, Willimon believes.
But because new thinking was - and is - required, that progressive style of thinking offers a new time for the church to seek relevancy as a way of "making sense of loss and disestablishment while at the same time daring to dream of a new world where God is," he writes.