Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, participated in a conversation titled “Choosing My Religion”on HuffPost Live last night. Commentators discussed their experiences as members of faith traditions that held beliefs they personally disagreed with and their choice to remain a practicing adherent seeking reform rather than leaving.
The topic arose after Michelangelo Signorile wrote in Huffington Post about the phenomenon of religious ‘Nones,’ a segment of predominantly young adults who leave religious communities and remain spiritual, and the declining numbers in faith communities. (‘Nones’ refers to the fact that when asked in a survey what their religion is, these people check the option ‘None.’) Other participants included Mansoor Salam, author of Ten Years Older, Rabbi Levi Brackman, a Judaic scholar, and Tresa Edmunds, a feminist Mormon blogger.
Host Janet Varney asked DeBernardo about the state of Catholicism and those being driven from the Church, potentially due to LGBT issues, to which he responded:
“Here at New Ways Ministry our goals is to try to help build bridges between people who might be alienated from Church because of LGBT issues and the institutional structures.
“But, yes, it is a big problem. We are seeing a great exodus of people from Catholicism and it’s a terrible shame. In Maine, since 2009, there’s a figure that 50,000 Catholics have left the institutional church since that time. It’s a big problem.
“As the marriage equality debate and other debates get stronger, I think we’re going to see more people leaving organized religion.”
Other commentators spoke of their respective tradition’s challenges in contemporary society by the ‘Nones’ and by changing cultural trends that affect religion. Amid this conversation, DeBernardowas asked about the Catholic Church’s response to New Ways Ministry’s work. He responded by noting a vital difference in Catholic theology:
“Most people, when they say ‘the Catholic Church’, they think ‘hierarchy,’ but the Catholic definition of the ‘Church’ is ‘all of the People of God’. That’s the official definition…we get great support from grassroots Catholics and from people we call ‘middle managers’ – pastors, heads of Catholic colleges and universities, the women religious – they have been very supportive of our work for the past 35 years.”
Later in the conversation, DeBernardo referenced Vatican II’s call to read the signs of the times and linked it to one reason why people unable to stay in institutional church leave, namely they are impatient that the Church is not reading the signs of the times and responding quickly enough. However, he noted a trend among young adults who are responding to Vatican II’s call:
“It’s disappointing to see so many Catholics leaving…what I’m finding among young Catholics who are staying is that they’re making their own peace with the Church and finding their way within the Catholic Church.
“They’re not casual about justice issues and they are taking reading the signs of the times more seriously. I think it’s a good growing experience in the Church.”
If you would like to view the conversation in its entirety, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry