Belief Beat

I’m back in Seattle after my whirlwind trip to Durham, N.C. for this year’s Religion Newswriters Association conference. Those of you who followed #RNA2011 on Twitter got a preview of the breaking news and upcoming trends that will now make their way into religion news stories around the country, but the speed and repetition of tweets was confusing at times. (Next year’s conference is in Bethesda, Maryland – Oct. 4-6, 2012 – if you want to follow in person!)

From my notes:


    • -Dearborn’s mayor has bragged about city’s strip clubs to appease conservative Christians concerned about sharia & Muslims!
    • -Faiz Shakir: Islamophobia in U.S. is a “concerted political campaign to divide Muslims from their non-Muslim neighbors.”
    • -Shakir’s top 5 Islamophobes: Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson & David Yerushalmi. (Pam Geller dissed?)
    • -Muslims use social media more than the public. (I bet the difference is having more family/friends abroad, and interest in global news.)
    • -Debate among U.S. Muslims over how hard to fight for every civil right, vs. recognizing that it’s “tone deaf” to do things like pray in airports.


  • -Darger family, inspiration for HBO’s “Big Love” and authors of new “Love Times Three” book, explained that plural marriage works financially by having one mom stay home with (24!) kids, two moms work part-time and dad works full-time.
  • -Polygamy is felony in Utah, but state won’t prosecute if it’s consenting adults? What about w/federal marriage act?
  • -Dargers, polygamous independent Mormons, wife say gov’t should stay out of bedroom – including with gay marriage.

Congregation/Faith Trends:

  • -With some exceptions, US congregations are less healthy now than a decade ago.
  • -Congregations, like rest of America, are getting more racially and ethnically diverse.
  • -Acceptance of LGBT issues, like gay marriage and adoption, is increasing, but still lower among evangelicals  and black Christians than other groups.

Faith in Politics:

  • -We always hear conservative Christians want pols to help poor & environment, but don’t votes still come down to social/sex issues?
  • -Rick Perry has broader appeal than Michele Bachmann, who is too tied to religious views. (So much for my theory that Bachmann and Perry would split white evangelical vote, helping Mitt Romney?)
  • -Most Americans don’t know where their religious leaders stand on political issues.
  • -Mitt Romney & Jon Huntsman are very different kinds of Mormons – Romney has served as clergy, talks about it more.


  • -Buddhism’s 5 don’ts: killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, intoxication.
  • -American converts are putting their own spin on Buddhism, with things like mohawked Buddha statues.
  • -Buddhism’s appeal to U.S. converts – not just hippies anymore – includes flexibility to practice it with other faiths (Judaism, Christianity) and in different ways.
  • -Josho Pat Phelan, Buddhist abbess, says that in Asia, Christianity is fresh and alive & Buddhism seems stale. (In contrast to Buddhism’s “cool” factor in the U.S.)

Evangelicals & Adoption:

  • -Evangelicals see foreign adoption in two ways: adopting child into their family, and adopting child into family of God.
  • -There are Bible passages that support and encourage adoption.
  • -Some appeal of foreign adoption is also that the process can be easier than domestic adoption.
  • -Unanswered questions: How do evangelicals who see adoption as a sacrament feel about IVF & fertiilty treatments (instead of adopting)? What about cultural conflict of adopting from different cultures/races?


  • -Reason Rally, gathering of secularists, scheduled for National Mall in Washington DC on March 24, 2012.
  • -Atheists are “coming out” more now, though it’s still almost impossible to get elected if a politician admits being an nonbeliever, and some organizations (even local ACLU chapters) are wary of accepting donations from a public atheist.
  • -Expect more coverage of atheists this year – several story ideas got tossed around in sessions and hallways.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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