Religion has had a strong impact on USA society and culture. The American colonies were the new promised land and its citizens the new chosen people.

(President George Washington, in an early nineteenth century paining, being carried up to heaven. Painter unknown.)

The first US president, George Washington, was seen as a Moses-like leader. Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were considered prophets. Many saw John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as American apostles. And of course we have holy days, like the Fourth of July; and our holy scriptures are The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Right from the beginning, the American character was a unique blend of nationalism and Christianity; and still is – for a while yet — even for people belonging to a religious tradition other than Christianity.

Looking toward Super Tuesday with great interest and fascination, and curious about how religious preferences might impact the elections, I decided to review some US religious data from the Pew Research Center.

In general Republicans tend to place more importance on religion than do Democrats. This also appears to be true across the twelve Super Tuesday states. Roughly 66% of Republicans, and those who lean toward the Republican Party, in these states say religion is very important to them. Only 53% of Democrats feel that way; but there are some big variations. In Vermont, 21% of Democrats say religion is very important to them. In Alabama 84% of Democrats say the same.

Evangelical Protestants make up huge shares of Republicans in most Super Tuesday states, including majorities in Tennessee (67%), Alabama (63%), Arkansas (61%) and Georgia (57%). Evangelicals also make up 56% of Republicans in Oklahoma and nearly half (46%) in Texas — the biggest prize of Super Tuesday, with 155 Republican Party delegates at stake.

Massachusetts, one of the five states outside the South to vote on Super Tuesday, is the biggest exception to this trend. Just 10% of Massachusetts Republicans are evangelicals, while fully half (50%) are Catholics. But even though 79% of Massachusetts Republicans identify with a religious group, only a third (33%) say religion is very important in their lives.

In several other Super Tuesday states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia – two-thirds or more of Republicans say religion is very important to them.

Going to church, reiterating that one is indeed a Christian – regardless what Pope Francis says or thinks – and convincing voters that one is a Christian is essential for Super Tuesday Republican success.

Looking beyond Super Tuesday, the religious affiliation of US voters is sure to impact the campaign strategy of the “official” Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

In the United States today, for instance, Mormons are the most heavily Republican-leaning religious group, with 70% support for the GOP. The two major historically black Protestant denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (with 92% Democratic support) and the National Baptist Convention (with 87% support), are two of the most reliably Democratic-leaning groups. And in a third group, the Church of God in Christ (another historically black denomination), 75% identify as Democrats.

So this week, some background information……..More information is found in this Pew Center chart:

Religion and Nationalism

In general I decided long ago that Another Voice would not get involved in partisan politics. While I have some strong feelings about the candidates and their qualifications, I don’t care to get involved in a discussion about US presidential candidates. I will stick to Christianity and religion..

Religion has always fascinated me. As a young boy I often played priest and my sister was the congregation. I remember very clearly when, in 1954, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and then again, in 1956, when “In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States. I understood that a flag belonged next to the cross.

As a young adult I became especially interested in the use of religion as a shaper of national identity. God, I learned, supported both sides in the Civil War. Union soldiers witnessed to “the glory of the coming of the Lord.” My relatives in Virginia saw things differently. Their song was “God save the South!” The pope in Rome wanted God to save the South as well. Pope Pius IX (“Pio Nono”) sent a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis assuring him of his prayers and his papal support for the cause of the Confederacy. Southern Catholic bishops were in agreement with Pio Nono: religion and nationalism. I still teach a university course titled “The American Way of Religion.”

One of my big interests these days is religion in post-communist European countries. The political and historical conditions of post-communist countries have created a specific and unique environment for looking at the role of religion in politics, nationalism, and domestic stability.

In a number of ways, religion can be seen as a potentially unifying force in post-communist society. An important question that arises, however, is whether or not the newly important religion is a sign of a newly important faith.

Between 1991 and 2008, for instance, the number of Russians who consider themselves members of the Russian Orthodox Church went from 32% to 72%; and the number of Russians indicating they did not belong to any religion dropped to 18%. Those figures are more or less accurate today. Russians remain, however, terribly ignorant about the meaning of Russian Orthodoxy, leading one to suspect that religion for them is more a matter of newly-important national identity than a lifestyle grounded in Christian spirituality.

Just over a year ago, I was invited to Moscow to give a lecture about religious fundamentalism and to participate in a conference about the growing power and importance of Russian Orthodoxy. Carefully phrased (everything at the conference was being secretly recorded and watched) there was a lot of conversation about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

The patriarch is a powerful fellow and leading, much to the delight of President Putin, a broad based Russian nationalistic and fundamentalist Orthodox movement. The alliance between Putin and Kirill is strong and close. Kirill not only supports Russia’s invasion of the Crimea and Ukraine but also Russia’s military actions supporting Syria’s President Assad.

Two years prior to my Moscow adventure, I was a speaker at a conference on Religion in Post-Soviet Countries in the little country of Moldova. There an Orthodox priest acquaintance told me that the Patriarch of Moscow was actively working to undermine the independence of the Republic of Moldova and wanted the citizens of Moldova to cease being “disobedient” and return to Mother Russia. Church and state in real time.

In Azerbaijan, by way of another example, 93% of the population claim Muslim identity, with 60% to 75% connected to Shiite traditions. Their religious and spiritual knowledge, however, is rather poor; and a recent survey puts the number of active believers at between 4% and 6%.

After the collapse of communism in Poland, one of the significant features of Polish Catholicism has been a discrepancy between those who say they belong to the church yet have a remarkable ignorance about Catholic life and teaching. Poland seems to be yet another example of “belonging without believing.” Various studies indicate that about 90% of the society claims membership in the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, only about 50% say they believe in God and eternal life.

Last year one of my MA students, a young woman from Poland, got into a discussion about Roman Catholic holidays. She said her favorite holyday/holiday was Assumption (August 15). When a Muslim classmate asked her what the Assumption celebrated, she replied that it was “the day when the Angel Gabriel came down from heaven and made the Virgin Mary pregnant with baby Jesus.” I chuckled and said that was quite an assumption!

Well what is the point of all of this?

The point is that we need to remember what we are about. Examples of religion in post-communist countries are invitations for deep reflection about religion, national identity, and public life everywhere. Religion is not the same thing as faith. (Some religious people actually contradict faith.)

Faith is our relationship with the Divine: our relationship with God who is intimately connected to us and at the heart of all reality. Religion is a systematic institutional approach to interpreting our faith experiences and expressing them in symbol, ritual, and creeds. Healthy religion is always in process, always seeking better ways of expressing what cannot be completely captured in word or symbol; and it must always be open to critical evaluation and reform.

From time to time – if there are no prophetic reformers — institutional religion can assume an existence and importance all its own. Then religion begins to exist for its own sake. Criticism of religious leaders becomes disobedient and disloyal.

Then interpreting the faith experience becomes secondary and institutional influence, power, arrogant self-protection, and maintaining the socio-cultural status quo become the real religious mission. God becomes a convenient tool for promoting particular socio-cultural agendas and specific political or national priorities. “God bless America” becomes simply a bit of political rhetoric…..

Then….“In God we trust” invites a follow-up question: “Does God trust us?”


For further reading: Greg SIMONS and David WESTERLUND, eds. Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate, 2015.


Vertical Management – Horizontal Leadership

Some accidents of history distort Christian behavior for a very long time. The only way to resolve the problem is to enact a program of serious institutional enlightenment and structural change.

Even in these days of the “Francis effect,” the institutional church is still very much a vertical management pyramid. People at the top protect themselves, protect their friends, make decisions with little or no consultation, and fear and denigrate change-makers. It happens each day of every week. Much of it often goes unreported. A lot of people don’t want to rock the boat, especially when the captain gets positive international press reviews.

We inherited the vertical management church from Imperial Rome. Certainly not from Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity is not about power over people but about empowering people.

First a bit of personal managerial history: A long time ago, in the 1970s, when I was thin and had hair, I was director of a parish catechetics /religious education team in Michigan. We were two women and three men. We were creative and loved our ministry. The parish was happy with us.

The local bishop became very concerned that our team was moving the parish toward “extreme theological liberalism.” To safeguard the faith, he imported and imposed a conservative tyrant as our pastor. Shortly after the new pastor’s arrival, we were called together, by Father X, for the first “parish staff” meeting. He had arrived in the conference room ahead of us, that day. Sitting on a big chair with a row of smaller chairs in front of him, he welcomed us, asked us to sit down, said a brief prayer; and then pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and read his agenda for the meeting. That happened twice.

At our third “staff” meeting, a young woman, our youth minister, and I arrived early. We arranged the chairs in a circle and I invited her to sit in the big chair. Then everyone arrived. The pastor was grumpy that the youth minister wouldn’t leave the big chair. She then invited the pastor to say a prayer and each person to add a petition. The pastor then pulled out his little paper with his agenda. At the same time (it was perfect timing!) everyone else pulled out his or her little piece of paper with agenda items. The pastor now had a grumpy red face. The youth minister smiled and calmly said to him: “Father, in this parish we practice Vatican II collegiality.”

And that is how the horizontal church should work…. empowering everyone. Not overpowering them.

The early Christians understood the horizontal ministry and leadership style very well. They were an ekklesia, correctly translated not as “institutional church” but as “an assembly of citizens”: a community of faith, inspired by Jesus Christ and animated by his spirit. They gathered often in house churches, under the leadership of the man or woman in charge of the household. These men and women presided at Eucharist as well. It all seemed so normal. One faith, one life on Christ, shared by all, with differing gifts, differing roles, and a variety of responsibilities. It was not a uniform nor monolithic reality. It was charismatic and creative.

Jesus, we know today, gave his followers no institutional blueprint and no institutional structure for a “church.” His followers created and adapted appropriate structures, as needed. It made good sense. By around the year 100, there were: presbyteroi, the elders or pastors in charge of the local communities of faith; episkopoi, the “overseers” or supervisors. Today we call them bishops. And then, entrusted with a variety of concrete outreach ministries, there were diakonoi, the deacons.

In the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire; and the institutional church began to pick up the language, public style, and ritual elements found in the older imperial religion. Ordained ministers became “priests.” Christians began worshiping around “altars” rather than the table of the Lord. Women were moved to the periphery.

In the fifth century, the Roman Empire in the West collapsed and the Christian Church took over and filled the imperial administrative void. Bishops became regional civil judges…even ordering the execution of criminals. Altars were pushed against the front wall, facing East if possible. Priests, with their backs to the people, celebrated the “sacred mysteries.” Women were no longer welcome in the “sanctuary” except for washing altar linens and scrubbing the floor. The Bishop of Rome (the pope) took over the emperor’s dress, titles, ritual, and pageantry. The emperor had been pontifex maximus and now the pope was given that title and position: the man at the top of the pyramid and the greatest bridge-builder between God and humanity, the Vicar of Christ on earth. The old Roman administrative pyramid was crowned with a cross.

Authoritarianism became a church virtue: there was no need to study or inquire because the authorities possessed the truth; far too often church management became blind to its own hypocrisy and shortcomings; and unchanging dogmatism became the unquestionable rule for belief and moral behavior.

“Yes” you can say “’thanks for the history lesson but times have changed.”

Times have changed but the old management style is still there. Really, I am not anti-church. I have spent my entire professional career working for and within church-connected educational institutions; but I am an old guy who has truly seen and understands how the system works.

There is still too much of the old vertical management imperialism in today’s church:

(1) There is not just a reluctance but a refusal to examine and take to heart the findings of biblical scholars and historians who know our tradition. Many church leaders are convinced they have a unique kind of grace and they know it all. A year ago, by way of a small ample, I was amazed when, while chatting at JFK airport with a bishop, who like me was on his way to Baltimore, the bishop told me he had read “some of that contemporary biblical stuff” but he was still convinced that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

I wanted to ask him what his thoughts were about contemporary research into women’s ordination and women deacons. When I said the words “women in ministry,” he rather nervously stood up, and said he had to make a phone call before getting on the plane. He was up and away, before one could say “woman priest.”

(2) There is still today in the church not just a reluctance but a refusal to deal in depth and effectively with clerical sexual abuse. The problem is not over. There is much talk – even from Pope Francis — but little action. There are bishops and priests who are deviant criminals. They should be defrocked and put in prison.

(3) Our institutional leaders are very good at critiquing personal immorality – usually focusing on sexual and genital issues – but are far too blind to institutional immorality: institutional immorality when it comes to allowing sexual abuse (rape) of children and young people to continue, institutional immorality that discriminates against and denigrates women as well as gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender people. Institutional immorality that even tolerates, in some parts of the globe, the use of women religious as sexual playmates for the male clergy. Celibacy after all is a special gift to the church….

(4) There is a great reluctance to acknowledge and confront institutional immorality when it’s comes to church finances and investments. Here financial transparency is often praised but remains a fantasy.

(5) Earlier I mentioned the great need for institutional enlightenment. Sorry to say, far too many of our leaders are grossly ignorant about human development, human sexuality, an historical understanding of natural law, and (of course) the necessity of a horizontal understanding and approach to church leadership.

If there is to be life for the Christian church tomorrow, and I hope there will be, a number of transformations must be implemented. We need to say goodbye to Imperial Rome. We need decentralization, shared decision-making, and putting all the old regalia in a museum where it belongs.

In a vertical church one speaks about granting mercy. In the horizontal church, people demonstrate compassion for each other.

In a vertical church, a bishop or a pastor is the boss, and gives directives.

In a horizontal church, the bishop or pastor is a leader; who says: I trust you. Thank you. What do you think? How can I help? And….I am proud of you!


Some see the Millennials as a challenge. Others see them as a sign of hope. They are certain to have a big impact on the US presidential election of 2016. 
Some of the most significant changes to our world are going on right now and will continue as Millennials become our future leaders. 
This week an advertisement/announcement. As Vice-Pressident of ARCC, and coordinator of the event, I am happy to report that……

ARCC  Announces a Special Conference for October 2016 in the Baltimore / Washington DC area
“Changing the Conversation — The Millennial Generation: Their Values, Belief, and Thoughts about Church.”

October 29, 2016 — 1:00 to 3:00 PM

Location: Best Western at BWI — 6755 Dorsey Rd, Elkridge, Maryland
Our Presenter is Todd Salzman — Professor of Theology at Creighton


Todd has a PhD in Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven. He completed his dissertation in 1994, taught at the University of San Diego from 1995-1997, and came to Creighton in 1997. He has published six books and over 50 scholarly articles, and presented numerous papers at national and international conferences.

One of his special interests is the belief and ethical values of the Millennial generation.

He is married to Katy Salzman, and they have identical twin boys and a daughter.

For conference information:


For more information about ARCC