So whenever two or more church folk are gathered these days there is not only typically coffee, but there is often a sense of anxiety.
Putting a name to that source of anxiety is difficult at best and nearly impossible to voice at its worst. Is it about politics, income inequality or simply just worry over declining numbers in the pews as the number of ‘nones’ is on the rise?
The Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church (ERT), gathered late last month at the ELCA churchwide offices, had all of these pressing issues on their minds, on top of concerns over the impact science and technology are having in the world we all live in, and the challenge of finding a united ‘scientific’ voice to address the impact science is having in relation to our shared religious life.
The three main barriers that emerged among others were: lack of acknowledgement by church members that religion and science are perceived to be at odds with one another as an issue; lack of scientific understanding within the church; and last but not least the inability to lift up the work of scientists in our pews and across church bodies.
The constructive discussion of how to tackle these issues is ongoing and in many ways has its roots three decades earlier in discussions led by John Mangum, director for planning at the Lutheran Church in America (predecessor to the ELCA) for World Mission and Ecumenism at a well-attended meeting in Cyprus.
He had the vision that these problems of being the church in an ever changing scientific and technological world was not the effort of one Christian denomination alone.
In 1987, 45 young scientists, technologists, and theologians from five continents and 17 countries gathered in Larnaca, Cyprus for a consultation, “The New Scientific/Technological World: What Differences Does It Make for the Church?” The meeting, sponsored by the LCA and organized by Mangum was part of the genesis of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, as well as similar groups in other denominations.
We will be taking a closer look at this historic meeting in a future edition of Covalence.
Other denominations that have shared in the ERT efforts historically have included the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA in addition to the ELCA, which hosted this year’s meetings in Chicago. This year’s festivities included about 20 participants mostly from the ELCA and Presbyterian denominations.
Together these men and women have aimed to help scientists and technicians to understand that their work is a sacred calling that should not be mischaracterized or demonized. They also hope to help church members to become more conversant in the languages of both religion and science.
The outcome has been public conferences, discussion papers, articles, social statements, assembly affirmations on scientific topics, new liturgies, among other things.
While the methods have evolved to include discussions of websites and social media initiatives, the commitment to the crucial task of elevating the conversation on faith and science has not wavered with new generations embracing the possibilities.
What will these voices bring to the table? Only time will tell.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.