At the end of October, members of Brazil’s Catholic black lay associations gathered in the northern port city of Salvador to discuss their centuries-long history and the challenges facing the new network they have formed — an association of associations — in a country where the Catholic Church itself is questioning its future.

Created by slaves and emancipated black men and women in colonial times, when they were not allowed to attend the same churches as their white masters, the black lay associations were once refuges of solidarity and resistance against slavery. Most made efforts to buy freedom for their enslaved members. “Our brotherhood functioned as an important center in the abolitionist struggle,” said Antônio Nicanor, a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Men in Salvador.

But the existence of the black Catholic groups is threatened by the same societal forces that are draining all established religions of members and energy, chiefly the loss of young people. “The average age in our brotherhood is 55,” Nicanor told Religion News Service. “In most of the organizations all over Brazil, there’s no effective renewal.

“Since 2017 we’ve been working to reunite all brotherhoods and communities in Brazil, in an effort to grow stronger,” said Nicanor, referring to the network that is meant to bolster brotherhoods like his. “Our organizations are aging, and we have to fight against their end.”

Some of the decline has to do with problems particular to Brazil’s complex religious landscape. The lay associations have long been concerned with the conservation of African culture in the church, and many members are loyal both to Catholicism and to Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. These allegiances have caused some Catholic clergy to regard them with suspicion.

“We still suffer with the prejudice of some people in the Church,” said Analia Santana, a member of Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men and an academic researcher specializing in its history.

“Many priests say they don’t know anything about the black brotherhoods. Seminaries don’t talk about us. What happens if a priest like this is suddenly appointed as our chaplain?” asked Vanilda Silvério, vice-director of the Brotherhood Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men, in São Paulo.

Members of black brotherhoods, which include both men and women, attend a service at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men in Salvador, Brazil. Courtesy photo by William Justo

(In Portuguese, the term for these communities, “irmandade,” encompasses both men and women, though it is often rendered as “brotherhood” in English, and many specify black men in their titles. Even so, women such as Silvério have only served in leadership roles since the early 2000s.)

Her association has existed in São Paulo since 1711 and counted more than 400 members a few decades ago. Now there are 62 brothers and sisters. “My grandfather joined the brotherhood in the 1920s. Now one of my daughters is also a member,” said Silvério.

Her younger daughter, however, resists the idea of taking part in the group. “I’m 57. I’m worried about the future. I don’t see many young people joining the brotherhood. They don’t have time to contribute — they have to study and work.”

Like many shrinking institutions, Brazil’s lay Catholic associations both benefit from an infrastructure built up during their high times and pay dearly to maintain it. Most of the black fraternities own their churches, cemeteries and other historical buildings and are responsible for their conservation.

They also manage investment funds set aside for these properties’ preservation, for association activities and to pay a few employees, but the members generally lack the financial expertise to do so, according to the Rev. Lázaro Muniz, who was chaplain of the Brotherhood of the Black Men for seven years until early 2019.

During his tenure, Muniz created an archdiocesan commission in Salvador in order to keep up with the brotherhoods’ activities. “They’re independent entities, but we struggled to help them reform their bylaws and make several changes for their own good. Several fraternities had to close due to management problems. Our struggle is to preserve them,” he explained.

He was also one of the proponents of the national network of black Catholic lay associations founded three years ago.

“We hope very much this network will strengthen the brotherhoods. The meetings were very successful, and many of them are already in the process of reorganization,” he said. He added that they are forging bonds with the Afro-Brazilian pastoral commissions in their dioceses that deal with black churchgoers.

Over 500 years, the lay associations have weathered changes in the Church and the larger culture. Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men, probably the oldest black brotherhood still active in Brazil, shows up in official records in 1685, but there’s evidence it was created in 1604, according to Santana. Their staying power gives current members hope.

“Our brotherhood was always able to dialogue with the changing times and to renew itself. Many other entities had to close their doors throughout the centuries,” Santana explained.

They also have the advantage of being deeply rooted in the lives of rural communities. Though many brotherhoods originated in Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city and still its premier archdiocese, they soon spread across the country. They have long organized annual festivities in honor of their saints of devotion — black saints like Saint Benedict the Moor, Saint Elesbaan, Saint Ephigenia of Ethiopia and Saint Anthony of Carthage, who incorporated elements of the residents’ original African cultures.

These highly ritualized festivities, known as congadas, included the coronation of a king and a queen of the brotherhood. Although many of the urban fraternities don’t organize congadas anymore, they still can be seen in the countryside.

It is this kind of local religious culture that got favorable attention at the recent Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region, where Pope Francis urged bishops to reflect on “enculturation,” as the Church calls adaptation of Christianity to local contexts. Muniz believes this kind of thinking may be helpful in renovation of the Brazilian brotherhoods.

“This moment invites the fraternities to search for news ways, assuming a path of evangelization and offering possibilities for the youth to assume their traditions.”

For Nicanor, the black lay associations still have a contribution to make for a church that, guided by Francis, is looking for more lay involvement. “The church needs to feel that it’s the lay people who make Catholicism and not the clergy,” he said.

At the end of October, members of Brazil’s Catholic black lay associations gathered in the northern port city of Salvador to discuss their centuries-long history and the challenges facing the new network they have formed — an association of associations — in a country where the Catholic Church itself is questioning its future.

Created by slaves and emancipated black men and women in colonial times, when they were not allowed to attend the same churches as their white masters, the black lay associations were once refuges of solidarity and resistance against slavery. Most made efforts to buy freedom for their enslaved members. “Our brotherhood functioned as an important center in the abolitionist struggle,” said Antônio Nicanor, a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Men in Salvador.

But the existence of the black Catholic groups is threatened by the same societal forces that are draining all established religions of members and energy, chiefly the loss of young people. “The average age in our brotherhood is 55,” Nicanor told Religion News Service. “In most of the organizations all over Brazil, there’s no effective renewal.

“Since 2017 we’ve been working to reunite all brotherhoods and communities in Brazil, in an effort to grow stronger,” said Nicanor, referring to the network that is meant to bolster brotherhoods like his. “Our organizations are aging, and we have to fight against their end.”

Some of the decline has to do with problems particular to Brazil’s complex religious landscape. The lay associations have long been concerned with the conservation of African culture in the church, and many members are loyal both to Catholicism and to Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. These allegiances have caused some Catholic clergy to regard them with suspicion.

“We still suffer with the prejudice of some people in the Church,” said Analia Santana, a member of Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men and an academic researcher specializing in its history.

“Many priests say they don’t know anything about the black brotherhoods. Seminaries don’t talk about us. What happens if a priest like this is suddenly appointed as our chaplain?” asked Vanilda Silvério, vice-director of the Brotherhood Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men, in São Paulo.

Members of black brotherhoods, which include both men and women, attend a service at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men in Salvador, Brazil. Courtesy photo by William Justo

(In Portuguese, the term for these communities, “irmandade,” encompasses both men and women, though it is often rendered as “brotherhood” in English, and many specify black men in their titles. Even so, women such as Silvério have only served in leadership roles since the early 2000s.)

Her association has existed in São Paulo since 1711 and counted more than 400 members a few decades ago. Now there are 62 brothers and sisters. “My grandfather joined the brotherhood in the 1920s. Now one of my daughters is also a member,” said Silvério.

Her younger daughter, however, resists the idea of taking part in the group. “I’m 57. I’m worried about the future. I don’t see many young people joining the brotherhood. They don’t have time to contribute — they have to study and work.”

Like many shrinking institutions, Brazil’s lay Catholic associations both benefit from an infrastructure built up during their high times and pay dearly to maintain it. Most of the black fraternities own their churches, cemeteries and other historical buildings and are responsible for their conservation.

They also manage investment funds set aside for these properties’ preservation, for association activities and to pay a few employees, but the members generally lack the financial expertise to do so, according to the Rev. Lázaro Muniz, who was chaplain of the Brotherhood of the Black Men for seven years until early 2019.

During his tenure, Muniz created an archdiocesan commission in Salvador in order to keep up with the brotherhoods’ activities. “They’re independent entities, but we struggled to help them reform their bylaws and make several changes for their own good. Several fraternities had to close due to management problems. Our struggle is to preserve them,” he explained.

He was also one of the proponents of the national network of black Catholic lay associations founded three years ago.

“We hope very much this network will strengthen the brotherhoods. The meetings were very successful, and many of them are already in the process of reorganization,” he said. He added that they are forging bonds with the Afro-Brazilian pastoral commissions in their dioceses that deal with black churchgoers.

Over 500 years, the lay associations have weathered changes in the Church and the larger culture. Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men, probably the oldest black brotherhood still active in Brazil, shows up in official records in 1685, but there’s evidence it was created in 1604, according to Santana. Their staying power gives current members hope.

“Our brotherhood was always able to dialogue with the changing times and to renew itself. Many other entities had to close their doors throughout the centuries,” Santana explained.

They also have the advantage of being deeply rooted in the lives of rural communities. Though many brotherhoods originated in Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city and still its premier archdiocese, they soon spread across the country. They have long organized annual festivities in honor of their saints of devotion — black saints like Saint Benedict the Moor, Saint Elesbaan, Saint Ephigenia of Ethiopia and Saint Anthony of Carthage, who incorporated elements of the residents’ original African cultures.

These highly ritualized festivities, known as congadas, included the coronation of a king and a queen of the brotherhood. Although many of the urban fraternities don’t organize congadas anymore, they still can be seen in the countryside.

It is this kind of local religious culture that got favorable attention at the recent Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region, where Pope Francis urged bishops to reflect on “enculturation,” as the Church calls adaptation of Christianity to local contexts. Muniz believes this kind of thinking may be helpful in renovation of the Brazilian brotherhoods.

“This moment invites the fraternities to search for news ways, assuming a path of evangelization and offering possibilities for the youth to assume their traditions.”

For Nicanor, the black lay associations still have a contribution to make for a church that, guided by Francis, is looking for more lay involvement. “The church needs to feel that it’s the lay people who make Catholicism and not the clergy,” he said.

At the end of October, members of Brazil’s Catholic black lay associations gathered in the northern port city of Salvador to discuss their centuries-long history and the challenges facing the new network they have formed — an association of associations — in a country where the Catholic Church itself is questioning its future.

Created by slaves and emancipated black men and women in colonial times, when they were not allowed to attend the same churches as their white masters, the black lay associations were once refuges of solidarity and resistance against slavery. Most made efforts to buy freedom for their enslaved members. “Our brotherhood functioned as an important center in the abolitionist struggle,” said Antônio Nicanor, a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Men in Salvador.

But the existence of the black Catholic groups is threatened by the same societal forces that are draining all established religions of members and energy, chiefly the loss of young people. “The average age in our brotherhood is 55,” Nicanor told Religion News Service. “In most of the organizations all over Brazil, there’s no effective renewal.

“Since 2017 we’ve been working to reunite all brotherhoods and communities in Brazil, in an effort to grow stronger,” said Nicanor, referring to the network that is meant to bolster brotherhoods like his. “Our organizations are aging, and we have to fight against their end.”

Some of the decline has to do with problems particular to Brazil’s complex religious landscape. The lay associations have long been concerned with the conservation of African culture in the church, and many members are loyal both to Catholicism and to Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. These allegiances have caused some Catholic clergy to regard them with suspicion.

“We still suffer with the prejudice of some people in the Church,” said Analia Santana, a member of Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men and an academic researcher specializing in its history.

“Many priests say they don’t know anything about the black brotherhoods. Seminaries don’t talk about us. What happens if a priest like this is suddenly appointed as our chaplain?” asked Vanilda Silvério, vice-director of the Brotherhood Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men, in São Paulo.

Members of black brotherhoods, which include both men and women, attend a service at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men in Salvador, Brazil. Courtesy photo by William Justo

(In Portuguese, the term for these communities, “irmandade,” encompasses both men and women, though it is often rendered as “brotherhood” in English, and many specify black men in their titles. Even so, women such as Silvério have only served in leadership roles since the early 2000s.)

Her association has existed in São Paulo since 1711 and counted more than 400 members a few decades ago. Now there are 62 brothers and sisters. “My grandfather joined the brotherhood in the 1920s. Now one of my daughters is also a member,” said Silvério.

Her younger daughter, however, resists the idea of taking part in the group. “I’m 57. I’m worried about the future. I don’t see many young people joining the brotherhood. They don’t have time to contribute — they have to study and work.”

Like many shrinking institutions, Brazil’s lay Catholic associations both benefit from an infrastructure built up during their high times and pay dearly to maintain it. Most of the black fraternities own their churches, cemeteries and other historical buildings and are responsible for their conservation.

They also manage investment funds set aside for these properties’ preservation, for association activities and to pay a few employees, but the members generally lack the financial expertise to do so, according to the Rev. Lázaro Muniz, who was chaplain of the Brotherhood of the Black Men for seven years until early 2019.

During his tenure, Muniz created an archdiocesan commission in Salvador in order to keep up with the brotherhoods’ activities. “They’re independent entities, but we struggled to help them reform their bylaws and make several changes for their own good. Several fraternities had to close due to management problems. Our struggle is to preserve them,” he explained.

He was also one of the proponents of the national network of black Catholic lay associations founded three years ago.

“We hope very much this network will strengthen the brotherhoods. The meetings were very successful, and many of them are already in the process of reorganization,” he said. He added that they are forging bonds with the Afro-Brazilian pastoral commissions in their dioceses that deal with black churchgoers.

Over 500 years, the lay associations have weathered changes in the Church and the larger culture. Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men, probably the oldest black brotherhood still active in Brazil, shows up in official records in 1685, but there’s evidence it was created in 1604, according to Santana. Their staying power gives current members hope.

“Our brotherhood was always able to dialogue with the changing times and to renew itself. Many other entities had to close their doors throughout the centuries,” Santana explained.

They also have the advantage of being deeply rooted in the lives of rural communities. Though many brotherhoods originated in Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city and still its premier archdiocese, they soon spread across the country. They have long organized annual festivities in honor of their saints of devotion — black saints like Saint Benedict the Moor, Saint Elesbaan, Saint Ephigenia of Ethiopia and Saint Anthony of Carthage, who incorporated elements of the residents’ original African cultures.

These highly ritualized festivities, known as congadas, included the coronation of a king and a queen of the brotherhood. Although many of the urban fraternities don’t organize congadas anymore, they still can be seen in the countryside.

It is this kind of local religious culture that got favorable attention at the recent Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region, where Pope Francis urged bishops to reflect on “enculturation,” as the Church calls adaptation of Christianity to local contexts. Muniz believes this kind of thinking may be helpful in renovation of the Brazilian brotherhoods.

“This moment invites the fraternities to search for news ways, assuming a path of evangelization and offering possibilities for the youth to assume their traditions.”

For Nicanor, the black lay associations still have a contribution to make for a church that, guided by Francis, is looking for more lay involvement. “The church needs to feel that it’s the lay people who make Catholicism and not the clergy,” he said.

At the end of October, members of Brazil’s Catholic black lay associations gathered in the northern port city of Salvador to discuss their centuries-long history and the challenges facing the new network they have formed — an association of associations — in a country where the Catholic Church itself is questioning its future.

Created by slaves and emancipated black men and women in colonial times, when they were not allowed to attend the same churches as their white masters, the black lay associations were once refuges of solidarity and resistance against slavery. Most made efforts to buy freedom for their enslaved members. “Our brotherhood functioned as an important center in the abolitionist struggle,” said Antônio Nicanor, a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Men in Salvador.

But the existence of the black Catholic groups is threatened by the same societal forces that are draining all established religions of members and energy, chiefly the loss of young people. “The average age in our brotherhood is 55,” Nicanor told Religion News Service. “In most of the organizations all over Brazil, there’s no effective renewal.

“Since 2017 we’ve been working to reunite all brotherhoods and communities in Brazil, in an effort to grow stronger,” said Nicanor, referring to the network that is meant to bolster brotherhoods like his. “Our organizations are aging, and we have to fight against their end.”

Some of the decline has to do with problems particular to Brazil’s complex religious landscape. The lay associations have long been concerned with the conservation of African culture in the church, and many members are loyal both to Catholicism and to Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. These allegiances have caused some Catholic clergy to regard them with suspicion.

“We still suffer with the prejudice of some people in the Church,” said Analia Santana, a member of Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men and an academic researcher specializing in its history.

“Many priests say they don’t know anything about the black brotherhoods. Seminaries don’t talk about us. What happens if a priest like this is suddenly appointed as our chaplain?” asked Vanilda Silvério, vice-director of the Brotherhood Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men, in São Paulo.

Members of black brotherhoods, which include both men and women, attend a service at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men in Salvador, Brazil. Courtesy photo by William Justo

(In Portuguese, the term for these communities, “irmandade,” encompasses both men and women, though it is often rendered as “brotherhood” in English, and many specify black men in their titles. Even so, women such as Silvério have only served in leadership roles since the early 2000s.)

Her association has existed in São Paulo since 1711 and counted more than 400 members a few decades ago. Now there are 62 brothers and sisters. “My grandfather joined the brotherhood in the 1920s. Now one of my daughters is also a member,” said Silvério.

Her younger daughter, however, resists the idea of taking part in the group. “I’m 57. I’m worried about the future. I don’t see many young people joining the brotherhood. They don’t have time to contribute — they have to study and work.”

Like many shrinking institutions, Brazil’s lay Catholic associations both benefit from an infrastructure built up during their high times and pay dearly to maintain it. Most of the black fraternities own their churches, cemeteries and other historical buildings and are responsible for their conservation.

They also manage investment funds set aside for these properties’ preservation, for association activities and to pay a few employees, but the members generally lack the financial expertise to do so, according to the Rev. Lázaro Muniz, who was chaplain of the Brotherhood of the Black Men for seven years until early 2019.

During his tenure, Muniz created an archdiocesan commission in Salvador in order to keep up with the brotherhoods’ activities. “They’re independent entities, but we struggled to help them reform their bylaws and make several changes for their own good. Several fraternities had to close due to management problems. Our struggle is to preserve them,” he explained.

He was also one of the proponents of the national network of black Catholic lay associations founded three years ago.

“We hope very much this network will strengthen the brotherhoods. The meetings were very successful, and many of them are already in the process of reorganization,” he said. He added that they are forging bonds with the Afro-Brazilian pastoral commissions in their dioceses that deal with black churchgoers.

Over 500 years, the lay associations have weathered changes in the Church and the larger culture. Nicanor’s Brotherhood of the Black Men, probably the oldest black brotherhood still active in Brazil, shows up in official records in 1685, but there’s evidence it was created in 1604, according to Santana. Their staying power gives current members hope.

“Our brotherhood was always able to dialogue with the changing times and to renew itself. Many other entities had to close their doors throughout the centuries,” Santana explained.

They also have the advantage of being deeply rooted in the lives of rural communities. Though many brotherhoods originated in Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city and still its premier archdiocese, they soon spread across the country. They have long organized annual festivities in honor of their saints of devotion — black saints like Saint Benedict the Moor, Saint Elesbaan, Saint Ephigenia of Ethiopia and Saint Anthony of Carthage, who incorporated elements of the residents’ original African cultures.

These highly ritualized festivities, known as congadas, included the coronation of a king and a queen of the brotherhood. Although many of the urban fraternities don’t organize congadas anymore, they still can be seen in the countryside.

It is this kind of local religious culture that got favorable attention at the recent Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region, where Pope Francis urged bishops to reflect on “enculturation,” as the Church calls adaptation of Christianity to local contexts. Muniz believes this kind of thinking may be helpful in renovation of the Brazilian brotherhoods.

“This moment invites the fraternities to search for news ways, assuming a path of evangelization and offering possibilities for the youth to assume their traditions.”

For Nicanor, the black lay associations still have a contribution to make for a church that, guided by Francis, is looking for more lay involvement. “The church needs to feel that it’s the lay people who make Catholicism and not the clergy,” he said.

The Future Has Arrived: Election Reveals America’s New Reality

The Future Has Arrived: Election Reveals America’s New Reality

YES THEY DID: Supporters of President Barack Obama celebrated his election night victory at the McCormick Place rally in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2012. Obama defeated his Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win a second term in the White House. (Photo: Zhang Jun/Newscom)

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office for a second term sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the white male in America is over.

The long drive for broader social participation by all Americans reached a turning point in the 2012 election, which is likely to go down as a watershed in the nation’s social and political evolution, and not just because in some states voters approved of same-sex marriage for the first time.

On Tuesday, Obama received the votes of barely one in three white males. That, too, was historic. It almost certainly was an all-time low for the winner of a presidential election that did not include a major third-party candidate.

“We’re not in the ’50s any more,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. “This election makes it clear that a single focus directed at white males, or at the white population in general, is not going to do it. And it’s not going to do it when the other party is focusing on energizing everybody else.”

How Obama Won

Exit-poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was four percentage points lower than 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was two percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young, undocumented immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign.

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian-American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly three-to-one. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Although a far smaller group, gay voters went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

“Obama lost a lot of votes among whites,” said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist. “It was only because of high black turnout and the highest Latino turnout ever for a Democratic president that he won.”

Obama planted his base in an America that is inexorably becoming more diverse. Unchecked by Republicans, these demographic trends would give the Democrats a significant edge in future presidential elections.

But, despite opposition from conservative religious movements, President Obama captured the votes of 30 percent of white evangelicals. What’s more, he once again won the Catholic vote — which some attribute to his strong support among Hispanic Catholics.

The Latino Effect

GOP SAVIOR: The Republican Party is counting on emerging superstars like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to broaden its base. Rubio is a Latino conservative who supports immigration reform.

Latinos were an essential element of Obama’s victories in the battlegrounds of Nevada and Colorado. States once considered reliably Republican in presidential elections will likely become highly competitive because of burgeoning Latino populations, sometimes in combination with large black populations. North Carolina, where Obama won narrowly in 2008 and came close this time, is one. The Deep South state of Georgia is another. Texas and Arizona in the Southwest are future swing states, by 2020, if not sooner.

Besides demography, Obama had another edge: the superiority of the voter-tracking operation that his campaign built over the last six years, which generated increased turnout on Tuesday among young people and unmarried women.

“That was pure machinery. Hats off to them,” said Republican strategist Sara Fagen, a former Bush White House political aide. “Our party has a lot to learn and needs to invest very serious resources in improving our own machinery.”

But Democrats Have a White Problem

The election was not an unblemished success for Democrats, who face a potentially serious threat from the loss of white votes. “I don’t think you can be a major party and get down to support approaching only a third of the white population,” said demographer Frey. “In some ways, maybe, Obama dodged a bullet here. If the Republicans had made a little bit of an effort toward minorities and kept their focus on whites, they might have won.

Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster, said that with Obama having run his last race, “we’ll have demographics working for us, but it is not going to be so easy to keep it patched tight. It’s going to fray.”

Without Obama on the ticket, socially conservative black voters might have been more inclined to follow the urgings of their ministers, who asked them to stay home to protest the Democrats’ endorsement of gay marriage.

But the Republican Party’s problems are more immediate, and much tougher to solve. Some GOP strategists have been warning for years about the risks of hitching the party’s fortunes to a shrinking share of the electorate.

What Should Republicans Do?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who combines a tea-party pedigree with Latino heritage, said in a post-election statement that “the conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”

Al Cardenas, a leading Republican fundraiser, said his party is “out of step with the demographic challenges of today.” Like Rubio, the Cuban-born Cardenas is close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has long sought to broaden the party’s appeal to Latino voters and will be a prominent voice in the debate over the party’s future.

Romney’s chances ultimately depended on his ability to turn out a bigger white vote against Obama than Republican nominees received in earlier races. Eight years ago, Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, defeated Democrat John Kerry by 17 percentage points among white voters and won re-election. Romney took the white vote by 20 percentage points and lost.

The difference: despite an aggressive voter-mobilization effort, the white share of the electorate has fallen to 72 percent, from 74 percent in 2008 and 77 percent in 2004.

What It Means

Viewed narrowly, this week’s election essentially left Washington untouched. A Democratic president will continue to battle a divided Congress. Within the halls of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate, the balance of partisan power scarcely budged at all.

But pull back and a very different picture emerges. The civil rights, women’s and gay rights movements, designed to allow others to reach for power previously grasped only by white men, have made a real difference, and the outlines of 21st century America have emerged.

For more on how shifting demographics are changing the church, check out “The Culture Clasher,” our earlier interview with author Soong-Chan Rah, and “The Future Is Mestizo” by Duke Divinity School scholar Chris Rice. 

© 2012 Tribune Co. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Used by arrangement with  Newscom. Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Is Black Church Culture Unhealthy?

Is Black Church Culture Unhealthy?

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20

It is well known that blacks live sicker and die younger than any other racial group. Look no farther than the church with the pastor battling hypertension and diabetes or the congregation with several obese members sitting in the pews. It would seem that the black church in America would be the leading ally supporting the nation’s first black president in the debate over access to affordable healthcare. It would seem that the black church would lead the way toward healthier eating and living.

Could it be that black church culture is leading us astray?

I thought about this during a recent conference in Baltimore on black global health. The International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora, hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, brought together healthcare professionals and researchers, from across the Western Hemisphere to discuss common health problems among the descendants of African slaves. Black Arts Movement icon Sonia Sanchez set the tone as the keynote speaker July 4, inspiring the crowd with a special poem for the occasion. The award-winning author participated throughout the weeklong conference.

Listening to a sister from Brazil and a brother from Peru discuss high rates of obesity, diabetes, infant deaths and the spread of HIV/AIDS among blacks in their countries sounded like the health crisis of black New York, Chicago, or the Mississippi Delta. Modern racism and the legacy of slavery haunt all of us. Participants also shared solutions and pledged to work together. In fact, according to Dr. Thomas LaVeist, a book and curriculum addressing these health themes are being created for the public and for high school and college educators. Thomas, who happens to be my brother, directs the Hopkins center and is the mastermind behind the conference, which is scheduled to take place every two years.

Solutions are basically what government and institutions can do to end racism and ensure all people have access to quality affordable healthcare and what blacks can do themselves to care for their “temples of the Holy Spirit.”

The black church should be more outspoken in support of increased access to quality affordable care. Our cousins from Canada and Central and South America, who for the most part receive varying degrees well-executed and poorly-executed universal healthcare, are puzzled as to why we richer Americans are debating what the rest of the industrialized world has long settled — that healthcare access is a God-given human right, not a privilege to be determined by profit-seeking private insurance companies.

After the conference, Thomas told me that the Catholic Church (obviously many Catholics are also black) has been the most vocal Christians on healthcare, mainly around the debate on whether Catholic organizations should be mandated to support abortions for employees (some evangelical Protestant organizations have recently joined that fight, too). Thomas suggested the traditional black church denominations could find their unified voice by calling for all Americans to be insured (Obama’s Affordable Care Act would still leave 20 million people uninsured). However, regardless of what the government does, black churches should lead by example with healthier eating and living, he said.

BAD FOR THE SOUL? Black churches are routinely feeding their people unhealthy soul food staples such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Is that biblical?

“Black church culture is out of alignment with some biblical teachings, particularly when it comes to how we eat,” my brother said. “Church culture has got us drinking Kool-Aid, eating white bread, fried chicken, large servings of macaroni and cheese and collard greens drenched with salty hog maws (foods that are high in sugar, salt, calories, and carbohydrates that trigger health problems). We’re eating this in the church basement at dinner and at church conventions! Meanwhile, the Bible teaches against gluttony.”

Don’t judge or condemn those who are obese, but encourage and show everyone how to eat healthy, Thomas added. He cited Pastor Michael Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in the Mississippi Delta as pushing the healthy eating message that all black churches should adopt. The Delta is one of America’s poorest areas and leads the nation in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates. In 2011, Pastor Minor, known as “the Southern pastor who banned fried chicken in his church,” banished all unhealthy foods and insisted soul food meals be prepared in healthier ways; many of his members are losing weight and improving their overall health. Other churches across the country such as, First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, are on similar missions.

Ask yourself, when it comes to health, what is the black church best known for?

What might the state of black health in America (and the African diaspora) be if your answer was healthy eating and living?

Obama’s Healthcare Mandate: Redefining Religious Freedom?

Obama’s Healthcare Mandate: Redefining Religious Freedom?

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER FIRE?: Supporters of religious freedom and against President Obama's HHS mandates on faith institutions rallied in front of the HHS building on March 23. New protest rallies led by Catholic and conservative groups are taking place around the nation. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Newscom)

Last Friday at noon, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Capitol Hill and at rallies across the nation to protest President Barack Obama’s health-care law and, specifically, the law’s mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Conservative politicians and activists led the charge, with leaders such as Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann declaring, “This is about, at its heart and soul, religious liberty. … We will fight this and we will win.” Bachmann’s battle cry represents a growing movement of religious conservatives who contend that the president’s plan violates their freedom and beliefs.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend a Catholic school until my senior year. As a result, I know first-hand the strong commitment to pro-life causes that many Catholics hold. For instance, as a choir member, it was an annual tradition for us to sing at the youth mass that occurred before the Right to Life March, a protest against Roe v. Wade. Abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty were topics that came up regularly in religion class. So it came as no surprise when I heard that 34 Catholic organizations have filed 12 federal lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”).

Under the mandate, employers are required to provide access to contraceptive services as part of their health plans at no cost. However, as President Obama stated during a February 10 press conference, “[W]e’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here — and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and a Christian, I cherish that right.” Knowing that many religious institutions oppose the use of contraceptives, originally all churches were exempted from the requirement. Now, that exemption is extended to any religious organization that has an objection to providing contraceptives; in those cases, the insurance company is responsible, not the organization.

To many people, including Christians, this sounds reasonable. So, why are Catholic organizations complaining?

The problem, they argue, is in the definition of “religious organizations.” In a lawsuit filed by Catholic organizations in Washington, D.C., the plaintiffs state that the mandate requires religious organizations to satisfy four criteria.

• First, the organization’s purpose must involve teaching and sharing religious values.

• Second, employees must subscribe to the same faith.

• Third, the organization must primarily serve those that subscribe to the same faith.

• Finally, the organization must be a non-profit.

“Thus, in order to safeguard their religious freedoms,” the lawsuit continues, “religious employers must plead with the Government for a determination that they are sufficiently ‘religious.’ ” Failure to adhere to the mandate could lead to penalties and fines. Since many Catholic organizations, such as hospitals, charities, and schools, employ and extend services to people of different faiths (and many people who claim no faith at all), it would be difficult to prove they are exempt from the mandate based on religion.

“If a group isn’t perceived as ‘religious,’ then they will be forced to provide drugs that violate their doctrine,” says Chieko Noguchi, the Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, one of the plaintiffs. “If the government can order us to violate our conscience, then what comes next?”

But don’t think that this is just a Catholic issue. According to the mandate’s opponents, it affects all Americans who profess to believe in God.

“One of the central missions of any church is supporting the less fortunate in our communities,” writes Lutheran pastor Joe Watkins in a June 3 editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With this mandate’s redefinition of a religious institution, many charitable operations will effectively be driven out of business. Under the new law if you are a Lutheran charity and you provide help to or hire non-Lutherans, you cease to be a religious institution. The same goes for Catholics, other Protestant denominations, and all other faith-based organizations.” He also argues that this will not only impact all religious groups, but also those who are either influenced or helped by these groups, since more time would be dedicated to religious background checks for potential employees and clients.

“It is distressing that our government would opt for a coercive and unfair regulation that requires us to make such an impossible choice,” Watkins wrote. “As a church, we have always opposed the use of drugs and procedures that are abortion-inducing. … Under this new governmental regulation, though, just by simply following our beliefs, we will face penalties under law.”

Watkins isn’t alone in his critique of the mandate. Back in February, some 2,500 Catholic, evangelical, Protestant, Jewish, and other religious leaders signed a letter asking the President to “reverse this decision and protest the conscience rights of those who have biblically based opposition to funding or providing contraceptives and abortifacients.” Also, the Catholic Church is planning to invite evangelicals for their upcoming event “Fortnight for Freedom,” which will take place the two weeks between June 21 and July 4 in order to bring attention to religious freedom issues.

In his speech announcing changes to the mandate, President Obama reflected on his first job in Chicago working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhood. “I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I know how important the work that faith-based organizations do and how much impact they can have in their communities.”

I am living proof of the positive effects of the faith-based organizations that President Obama described. I’m a proud, non-Catholic alumna of a Catholic school who understands why Catholics and their supporters are upset and concerned by the Affordable Care Act’s implications for religious freedom. By defining what a religious organization is, the HHS mandate could potentially hinder Christians from living out their faith with integrity. We, as Christians, are called to serve others no matter what. As a self-professed believer, President Obama should’ve recognized this.

What do you think?

Are Catholics and their conservative allies overreacting to the mandate or do they have a point?