Pastors live busy and hectic lives. Most of them do their best to serve the spiritual needs of their congregations, but it is hard to shape the minds and hearts of the people God has trusted to their care when they are competing with Fox News, Newsmax, One America News, conservative talk radio, and a regular stream of links, tweets, and Facebook posts.
The Trump era brought a whole new level of anxiety to pastors. Their congregations are divided over Trump, COVID-19 protocols, and critical race theory. In a recent piece at Bloomsburg News, Francis Wilkinson reports that some of them are bringing in outside help in the form of professional conflict managers. Here is a taste:
On the first Sunday after the assault on the U.S. Capitol in January, the Rev. Bill Corcoran stood before his socially distant parishioners at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in suburban Chicago and finally, unambiguously, crossed the line.
“Over the past four years,” he said, “I have failed you by not speaking out when awful things were said and done.” He should have spoken up, he said, about Donald Trump’s abuse of women, his contempt for truth, his mocking of a disabled reporter, his denigration of political rivals, his disrespect for the parents of a dead soldier.
As everyone in the pews understood, Corcoran’s mea culpa implicated more than a lone parish priest. If Corcoran was wrong not to have denounced Trump’s bad words and deeds, what of the parishioners who had supported them, and then voted for more?
Reaction was swift. A dozen congregants walked out of 7:30 Mass, Corcoran told the Chicago Tribune. Nearly two dozen at 9:30. About 30 more at 11:30. Corcoran was “rattled” as he watched members of his flock turn away, he told me in an email.
America’s 380,000 churches have long managed political conflict. Issues such as abortion, capital punishment and government aid to the poor all have a religious valence. But as political polarization has grown more intense, the most sacred spaces have grown more vulnerable to it. Some churches have turned to professional moderators to help keep congregations together.
“I’ve been studying religion and religious congregations for 30 years,” said Michael O. Emerson, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of numerous books on American religion. “This is a level of conflict that I’ve never seen. What is different now? The conflict is over entire worldviews — politics, race, how we are to be in the world, and even what religion and faith are for.”
Read the rest here.