Century Marks

Century Marks

Long, hard road

Close to 10 percent of the 2,586 artifacts in the inaugural exhibitions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture are related to faith and religious history. “There is no way you can discuss, talk about, or understand the African-American journey without understanding the very real role faith played in its history,” said Rex Ellis, a Baptist minister and associate director for curatorial affairs. Some of this history is shown in objects—from the piano bench of Thomas Dorsey, the “father of gospel,” to a red and gold prayer rug used by a Sunni imam in Baltimore. The museum, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is set to open Sep­tem­ber 24 (RNS).

Diversity and decline?

Religious diversity may be making America less religious. Although religious pluralism is not necessarily the cause of declining religiosity, it does expose people to ideas and practices that challenge their faith. Increasing religious pluralism also dilutes any notion of America having a Christian heritage—a theme that in the past has reinforced Christian faith. Mississippi, where “it’s hard to swing a dead cat without hitting a Baptist,” is both the most religiously uniform state and the most religious state in the country. Conversely, Oregon is highly diverse and one of the least religious states (FiveThirtyEight, August 23).

Attitude adjustment

An Angli­can study, Church Growth in East Lon­don, concludes that church growth is more about attitude than theological or liturgical tradition. It challenges the notion that only evangelically oriented congregations using contemporary forms of worship can grow. The churches that engaged in the most social action attracted the largest number of new Christians. “The degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth,” the report says. Willingness to adopt new leadership forms and structures and the congregation’s ability to reflect on what faithfulness means in its context were also key variables (Church Times, September 2).

Two firsts

There are two First Baptist churches in Macon, Georgia, one black and one white. Until 1845 they were one congregation made up of slave owners and slaves. The pastors of each congregation met two years ago to explore ways their congregations could become friends. Their first joint activity was an Easter egg hunt in the park that separates their properties, followed by a book drive, a Thanks­giving Day potluck, and a trip to Orlando for black and white youth. Congregants were surprised to discover that their sanctuaries have nearly identical designs. The congregations next plan to hold conversations about racism (Post Register, August 29).

Conflict of interest?

Presi­dential candidate Hillary Clinton has been criticized for a potential conflict of interest with the Clinton Founda­tion, started by her husband Bill. While she served as secretary of state, the foundation received contributions from foreign governments and domestic donors. Bill Clinton has said he’d step away from the foundation if Hillary wins the election. That still leaves the door open to having their daughter, Chelsea, run it or to some backdoor involvement by the Clinton family. Bloomberg View columnist Albert Hunt suggested that the Clintons turn the foundation over to the Carter Center, which does similar philanthropic work (Chicago Tribune, August 25).