On Free Market Faith

4 07 2009


Picked this one up over at Owen’s blog, from the editor of Commonweal, Paul Baumann. Some excerpts:

…Where once it was widely assumed that modernity and its handmaiden “secularization” would kill off religion, the reports of God’s death turn out to have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assure us, “the very things that were supposed to destroy religion—democracy and markets, technology and reason—are apparently combining to make it stronger.” Europe was wrong, and America right. Irreligion in Europe is the anomaly, and the “hot religion” (namely Evangelical Protestantism) of the United States is the future. “American-style religion” is very much here to stay, and on the whole that is a good thing—especially for business…

God Is Back traces this church model to the revivals or “awakenings” of the nineteenth century as well as the pragmatic outreach and organization of the Methodist Church, once the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. We follow Evangelical Protestantism’s ups and downs like a stock price, from Prohibition and the Scopes trial to George W. Bush and right up to the current moment. (The crestfallen reaction of conservative evangelicals and Catholics to Barack Obama’s election gets little attention, however.) Faced with the challenge of marketing faith in a postindustrial society, contemporary American “pastorpreneurs” have turned to sophisticated business models for inspiration and instruction. As God Is Back notes, Willow Creek Community Church, the famed Illinois megachurch, boasts two MBAs on its large administrative staff, and an operation that caters to virtually all the needs of its members, from food courts to addiction counseling. “Willow Creek,” the authors write, “is based on the same principle as all successful businesses: putting the customer first.” It is a principle they see being followed by Evangelical, Pentecostal, and even some Catholic churches around the world.
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