Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Networks and Religion: Which Congregations are the Most Politically Active?

In 2003 Kraig Beyerlein and Mark Chaves reported on the political activities of religious congregations. Drawing on a representative sample of religious congregations in the U.S. collected in 1998, they discovered that religious traditions tend to specialize when it comes to political activism. Conservative Protestants tend to do one thing, Mainline Protestants another, and Roman Catholics still another. A particular interesting result was that Black congregations are 7 times more likely than mainline Protestant churches, 24 times more likely than conservative Protestant churches, and 42 times more likely than Roman Catholic churches to invite a political candidate to speak at a worship service.

This led me (Everton 2007) to track where the 2004 candidates for President (and Vice-President) visited in the lead-up to the election in November. Consistent with Beyerlein and Chaves's findings, the Democratic candidates (John Kerry and John Edwards) visited and spoke at far more churches than the Republican candidates (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney). Specifically, Kerry and Edwards visited 19 churches; Bush and Cheney visited only one (see the figure above). Unsurprisingly, most of these appearances occurred at Black Churches. In fact, the one time that President Bush appeared and spoke at a church, it was an African-American one. Perhaps more interestingly, the only candidate to speak at a conservative Protestant church was John Edwards, who spoke at First Baptist Church, Canton, North Carolina.

Mark Chaves (Chaves and Anderson 2008, 2014) has conducted two additional surveys of religious congregations since 1998: one in 2006-07 and another in 2012. He is currently in the midst of a fourth, all of which raises the question if patterns of congregational activism have changed over the last 20 years. The short answer is, yes and no. The two most common forms of church activism are (1) telling people at worship about opportunities for political activity and (2) distributing voter guides. Both appear to be in decline, except among Roman Catholic churches. Voter registration drives and organizing groups to demonstrate or march are the next most common forms of political activism. The former were quite popular in 2006-07, but in 2012 this type of political activity fell back close to the 1998 level. There has been an increase in congregations organizing groups to march or demonstrate, but it largely reflects the efforts of Roman Catholic churches to express their concerns about abortion, same-sex marriage, and immigration (Everton 2015). Other forms of political activism are much less common. Less than 10 percent of congregations formed groups to discuss politics, lobby government officials, or invite elected officials or someone running for office as a visiting speaker. These low levels do not hold for all religious traditions, however. Black Protestant congregations still routinely invite individuals running for political office and government officials to speak at their worship services.

The graph below presents the percentage of politically active congregations (i.e., congregations that participated in at least one of the activities mentioned above) in 1998, 2006-07, and 2012. Although many assume that theologically conservative (i.e., evangelical) Christians are the most politically active religious group, that is not the case. Over the last decade and a half Roman Catholic and Black Protestant congregations have been the most active. In the late 1990s it was Black Protestant congregations, but since the mid 2000s, it has been Roman Catholic ones. Moreover, both Mainline and Evangelical Protestant church activism has declined in recent years although the drop in the latter’s has been more precipitous.

Why are some congregations more politically active than others? Beyerlein and Chaves identified a number of factors (e.g., size), as do I in my new book ("Networks and Religion: Ties that Bind, Loose, Build-up, and Tear Down"). Unsurprisingly ("Networks and Religion: Political Participation and Civic Engagement"), there's some evidence that the degree to which congregations are integrated into their local communities (that is, their congregational networks) is positively associated with their level of activism. For example, even after controlling for a number of factors, there's a strong positive correlation between the number of social services a congregation offers to the surrounding community and its level of political activism. Which way the causal arrow runs is difficult to discern, however. Sounds like an ideal topic for future research.


Beyerlein, Kraig and Mark Chaves. 2003. "The Political Activities of Religious Congregations in the United States." Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion 42:229-46.

Chaves, Mark and Shawna L. Anderson. 2008. "Continuity and Change in American Congregations: Introducing the Second Wave of the National Congregations Study." Sociology of Religion 69:415-40.

______. 2014. "Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study." Journal for the Scientific of Religion 53:676-86.

Everton, Sean F. 2007. "Whose Faith-Based Initiative? How Kerry and Edwards Wooed African American Churchgoers." Books and Culture: A Christian Review, January/February, pp. 42-43.

______. 2015. "Church Activism." Pp. 368-71 in The Sage Encyclopedia of Economics and Society, Vol. 1, edited by F. F. Wherry and J. Schor. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Networks and Religion: Political Participation and Civic Engagement

On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus and sat in the last seat open in the bus’s “colored section.” A few stops later, the white section filled up, and a white man was left standing in the aisle. The bus driver asked Parks and three other African Americans, who were sitting in the colored section’s front row, to move. All but Parks complied, and she was soon arrested.

It was not the first time she had refused to give up her seat; in fact, the driver who had her arrested in 1955 had kicked her off the bus twelve years before, but for various reasons, this time was different. Parks's arrest set in motion a series of events that helped give birth to the Civil Rights movement. A local African American leader, E. D. Nixon, first posted bail for Parks and then called Jo Ann Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State University (a historically black university) and a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, to tell her what happened. Robinson, who chaired the church’s political affairs committee, called several other women who were both on the committee and the faculty at Alabama State, and together they printed a leaflet protesting Parks’s arrest and called on Montgomery’s African American community to not to ride the city’s buses the following Monday. Robinson called E. D. Nixon back and told him what they were doing. Dixon thought a boycott was a great idea and agreed to organize a meeting at her church on Friday, but he called her new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just to make sure that it was okay.

News of the Parks’s arrest and the upcoming meeting spread quickly. King phoned several of the ministers in town, Nixon reached out to many of Montgomery’s civic leaders, and rank-and-file African Americans called family, friends, and neighbors. And,
by early [Friday] afternoon the arrest of Mrs. Parks was becoming public knowledge. Telephones began to ring in almost rhythmic succession. By two o’clock an enthusiastic group had mimeographed leaflets concerning the arrest and the proposed boycott, and by evening these had been widely circulated. (King 1958:37)
Approximately 50 African American leaders attended the meeting, and they adopted a resolution that was essentially a condensed version of the leaflet drafted by Robinson and her colleagues. It urged Montgomery’s African Americans on Monday to not “ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place,” and if they worked, “take a cab, or share a ride, or walk.” The resolution also invited them to “come a mass meeting on Monday at 7:00pm, at the Holt Street Baptist Church for further instruction” (Branch 1988: 133).

The Montgomery Bus boycott illustrates the importance that social ties play in connecting people to various types of collective action. News of Parks’s arrest and the boycott spread primarily through social ties, most of which were church ties. As Rodney Stark (2004: 600-601) notes:
Jo Ann Robinson and her associates, who launched the initial call for a bus boycott, not only were friends and members of the same faculty but belonged to the same church. All served on the same political affairs committee of that church—and their pastor was none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. When E. D. Nixon organized a meeting of African American clergy at King’s church, not only did he know all of them, but they all knew one another well. And every one of those mentioned above was well acquainted with the secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—Rosa Parks. Moreover, for most African Americans in Montgomery, the decision to join the boycott was not an individual act so much as it was a collective action by members of closely knit church groups.
Scholars have long recognized the important role that social networks play in connecting people to various types of civic engagement and collective action. For example, Beyerlein and Sikkink (2008) showed that individuals who attend church regularly were more likely to volunteer for 9/11 relief efforts than were those who did not. Similarly, Lewis, MacGregor, and Putnam (2013) found that after controlling for religious tradition, religious attendance, number of friends, and sociability, religious social networks have a positive effect on volunteering, informal giving, attending public meetings, participating in a political activity, and the number of political activities in which people participate.


Beyerlein, Kraig and David Sikkink. 2008. "Sorrow and Solidarity: Why Americans Volunteered for 9/11 Relief Efforts." Social Problems 55(2):190-215.

Branch, Taylor. 1988. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. New York: Simon and Schuster.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1958. Strive toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Lewis, Valerie, Carol Ann MacGregor and Robert D. Putnam. 2013. "Religion, Networks, and Neighborliness: The Impact of Religious Social Networks on Civic Engagement." Social Science Research 42:331-46.

Stark, Rodney. 2004. Sociology: Internet Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How MLK read Romans 13

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has, quite rightly, been criticized for using the 13th chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans as justification for the separation of children from parents at the Mexican border. Sessions equates Paul's admonition to "subject oneself to the governing authorities" with obeying the law. Keep in mind, however, that Paul was abused, imprisoned, and probably martyred by Roman authorities for, presumably, not obeying Roman laws. Thus, Paul must have had something very different in mind than Mr. Sessions seems to think he had, as did other early Christians, who from time-to-time were put to death for not "worshipping" the Roman emperor. And what of the Christians who helped smuggle African-Americans out of the South on the Underground Railroad? Or, the European Christians who resisted the Nazis after their countries were overrun by Hitler's armies? Surely, Mr. Sessions wouldn't argue that they should've have obeyed Hitler's decrees just because he was in charge.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had an interesting take on subjecting oneself to the governing authorities. He argued that when he and other broke various laws using direct, non-violent action, they did so with the understanding that they would willingly accept the consequences (i.e., subject themselves to the authorities and their laws). They believed that in doing so they would help expose the immorality of the laws they were breaking. As he wrote in his letter from the Birmingham Jail:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Mennonites, who hail from the Anabaptist tradition which includes other traditions such as the Amish and Hutterites, hold a similar understanding to King's ("How Jeff Sessions reads Romans 13 and how my Mennonite Sunday school class does"). During the Protestant Reformation Anabaptists were persecuted by both Roman Catholics and Protestants for refusing to baptize their babies, insisting that they must undergo a conversion experience before becoming members. In today's world, that doesn't seem like a big deal, but back then, in a world where church and state were not separate, it was both a theological and political act. It was asserting that one's conscience was not the purview of either the church hierarchy or the state. Thus, it was seen as an act of rebellion. For good reason, although Anabaptists have been willing to subject themselves to the governing authorities, they had no intention of obeying them if asked to do something contrary to their beliefs.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The North Bay's Best Breweries

In a recent post, I posted rankings of craft breweries in the South Bay ("The South Bay's Best Craft Breweries") Here, I offer my rankings of the craft breweries in the North Bay. As before, the rankings are based on Untappd scores, which is probably the most popular app for rating a brewery's different beers. It's not a perfect approach since successful breweries are more likely to experiment, which increases the probability that they'll brew a bad beer. Still, Untappd's ratings are the best available, so below are the rankings of the North Bay's craft breweries. That Russian River sits atop of the rankings is no surprise. It's regularly ranked as one of the top breweries in the U.S., and its Blind Pig, Pliny the Elder, and Pliny the Younger are among the best IPAs, DIPAs, and TIPAs in the country. Not too far behind is Lagunitas, which has a great outdoor venue for enjoying good beer and food. And its tour of the facility can be quite entertaining:
  1. Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa (4.19)
  2. Mad Fritz, St. Helena (3.96)
  3. Cooperage Brewing Company, Santa Rosa (3.89) 
  4. Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma (3.86)
  5. HenHouse Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.85) 
  6. Bear Republic, Healdsburg (3.82)
  7. Shady Oak Barrel House, Santa Rosa (3.79) 
  8. Barrel Brothers, Windsor (3.77)
  9. Grav South Brew Co., Cotati (3.74 )
  10. Plow Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.73)
  11. Crooked Goat Brewing, Sebastopol (3.72) 
  12. Moonlight Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.71) 
  13. Baeltane, Novato (3.68)
  14. Fogbelt Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.68)
  15. Iron Springs, Fairfax (3.68) 
  16. Woodfour Brewery, Sebastopol (3.68) 
  17. Moylan’s Brewing, Novato (3.67)
  18. Sonoma Springs Brewing, Sonoma (3.66)
  19. 101 North Brewing, Petaluma (3.65)
  20. Mill Valley Beerworks, Mill Valley (3.64)
  21. Old Redwood Brewing, Windsor (3.64)
  22. Marin Brewing, Larkspur (3.63)
  23. Bloodline Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.62) (closed)
  24. St. Florians, Windsor (3.56)
  25. Petaluma Hills Brewing, Petaluma (3.55)
  26. Third Street Aleworks, Santa Rosa (3.49)
  27. Napa Smith Brewing, Vallejo (3.48)
  28. Warped Brewing Company, Sebastopol (3.47)
  29. 2 Tread Brewing, Santa Rosa (3.46)
  30. Dempsey’s, Petaluma (3.46)
  31. Napa Point Brewing, Napa (3.45)
  32. Calistoga Inn and Brewery, Calistoga (3.44)
  33. Carneros Brewing, Sonoma (3.41)
  34. Stumptown Brewery, Guerneville (3.38)
  35. Right Eye Brewing, Suisun City (3.30)
  36. Healdsburg Beer Company, Healdsburg (3.28)
  37. Broken Drum, San Rafael (3.25)
  38. Pizza Orgamisca, San Rafael (3.22)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Moral, Believing, and Storytelling Animals

Sociologist Christian Smith is a believer in believing. He argues that all of us, religious and secular, are believers. We all adhere to some set of assumptions about the world in which we live that provides our lives with a sense of direction and purpose. What's more, these assumptions can't be independently verified as "true."
What we have come to see is that, at bottom, we are all really believers. The lives that we live and the knowledge we possess are based crucially on sets of basic assumptions and beliefs, about which three characteristics deserve note. First, our elemental assumptions and beliefs themselves cannot be empirically verified or established with certainty. They are starting points, trusted premises, postulated axioms, presuppositions--"below" which there is no deeper or more final justification, proof, or verification establishing them... [Second], most of these starting-point assumptions and beliefs are not universal... They are thus neither intellectually self-evident to nor actually shared by the rest of the human race... [Third], there is no "deeper," more objective or independent body of facts or knowledge exists to adjudicate between alternative basic assumptions and beliefs. (Moral, Believing Animals, pp. 46, 48, 52)
Instead, we come to "know" what we believe to be true through our interactions with others, in particular, through the various social groups to which we belong. In fact, Smith argues that our primary drive in life is the search for meaning and belonging, and we satisfy this drive by joining various social groups (or subcultures). Most of us belong to one or more subcultures, and to a greater and lesser extent, they provide us with world views that help us make sense of our world and our place in it. I noted in an earlier post ("Networks and Religion: Changing Our Religion") that when people leave a faith tradition, seldom do we stop believing; instead, we typically trade in one set of beliefs for another. If Smith's account is correct, then it helps to explain why that is true.

Smith also argues that we tend not to think of our world views in terms of abstract concepts, but rather in light of an overarching narrative in which our own life story plays a small part. Smith argues that “for all our science, rationality and technology, we moderns are no less the makers, tellers, and believers of stories that make sense of our existence, history and purpose than were our forebears at any other time in human history” (Moral, Believing Animals, p. 64). As the sociologist Robert Bellah notes, it's easier for us to think narratively than conceptually:
That even the narratives of early childhood are organized through relationships that are in some sense logical warns us against assuming that narrative, or symbolic representation generally, is “irrational.” Art, music, poetry, and narrative are not just effusions of feeling. They are all forms of thought and are in principle as deeply rational as mathematics or physics. It is easier for adults as well as children (even for theoretical physicists) to think narratively than it is to think conceptually, so it is not surprising that logical relationships are often expressed in narrative form. (Religion in Human Evolution, pp. 36-37)
Of course, Smith and Bellah are not alone. Narrative plays a central role in the thought of scholars as diverse as philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricœur, psychologists Dan McAdams and Donald Polkinghorne, theologians H. Richard Niebuhr and Stanley Hauerwas, and social network analysts Harrison White and Paul McLean.

Smith is somewhat unique in that he actually crafts examples of "grand" narratives that help define (or perhaps construct) various world views. As Jonathan Haidt ("The Righteous Mind," pp. 283) notes, "Smith is a master at extracting these grand narratives and condensing them into single paragraphs. Each narrative, he says, identifies a beginning ('once upon a time'), a middle (in which a threat or challenge arises), and an end (in which resolution is achieved). Each narrative is designed to orient listeners morally--to draw their attention to a set of virtues and vices, or good and evil forces--and to impart lesson about what must be done now to protect, recover, or attain the sacred core of the vision." Consider, for example, the following narratives constructed by Smith:

The Capitalist Prosperity Narrative (p. 70)
For most of human history, the world’s material production was mired in oppressive and inefficient economic systems such as primitive communalism, slavery, feudalism, mercantilism, and more recently, socialism and communism. In eighteenth-century Europe and America, however, enterprising men hit upon the keys to real prosperity: private property rights, limited government, the profit motive, capital investment, the free market, rational contracts, technological innovation – in short, economic freedom. The capitalist revolution has produced more wealth, social mobility, and well-being than any other system could possibly imagine or deliver. Nevertheless, capitalism is continually beset by utopian egalitarians, government regulators, and anti-entrepreneurial freeloaders who foolishly seek to fetter its dynamic power with heavy-handed state controls. All who care for a world of freedom and prosperity will remain vigilant in defense of property rights, limited government, and the free market.
The Progressive Socialist Narrative (p. 70)
In the most primitive days, before the rise of private property, humans lived in communities of material sharing and equality. But for most of subsequent human history, with the rise of private property, the world’s material production has been mired in oppressive and exploitative economic systems, such as slavery, feudalism, mercantilism, and capitalism. The more history has progressed, the more ownership of the means of production have become centralized, and the more humanity has suffered deprivation and injustice. As the calamitous contradictions of capitalism began to intensify in the nineteenth century, however, a revolutionary vanguard emerged who envisioned a society of fraternity, justice, and equality. They proclaimed the abolition of private property, the socialization of production, and the distribution of goods not according to buying power but according to need. Right-wing tycoons and magnates who have everything to lose to the cause of justice fight against the socialist movement with all their power and wealth. But the power of workers in solidarity for justice will eventually achieve the utopia of prosperity and equality. Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lost but your chains!
The American Experiment Narrative (p. 67)
Once upon a time, our ancestors lived in an Old World where they were persecuted for religious beliefs and oppressed by established aristocracies. Land was scarce, freedoms denied, and futures bleak. But then brave and visionary men like Columbus opened up a New World, and our freedom-loving forefathers crossed the ocean to carve out of a wilderness a new civilization. Through bravery, ingenuity, determination, and goodwill, our forebears forged a way of life where men govern themselves, believers worship in freedom, and where anyone can grow rich and become president. This America is genuinely new, a clean break from the past, a historic experiment in freedom and democracy standing as a city on a hill shining a beacon of hope to guide a dark world into a future of prosperity and liberty. It deserves our honor, our devotion, and possibly the commitment of our very lives for its defense.
The Scientific Enlightenment Narrative (p. 71)
For most of human history, people have lived in the darkness of ignorance and tradition, driven by fear, believing in superstitions. Priests and lords preyed on such ignorance, and life was wearisome and short. Ever so gradually, however, and often at great cost, inventive men have endeavored better to understand the natural world around them. Centuries of such inquiry eventually led to a marvelous Scientific Revolution that radically transformed our methods of understanding nature. What we know now as a result is based on objective observations, empirical fact, and rational analysis. With each passing decade, science reveals increasingly more about the earth, our bodies, our minds. We have come to possess the power to transform nature and ourselves. We can fortify health, relieve suffering, and prolong life. Science is close to understanding the secret of life and maybe eternal life itself. Of course, forces of ignorance, fear, irrationality, and blind faith still threaten the progress of science. But they must be resisted at all costs. For unfettered science is our only hope for true enlightenment and happiness.
These aren't all of the narratives Smith constructs, but they are ones that most readers will recognize. Either we ascribe to one or more of these narratives ourselves, and/or we we know people who do. The last one should is striking in that many of those who ascribe to the scientific narrative are among those who deny the existence of such grand narratives. According to Smith, much of the debates that we witness today (e.g., over gay and lesbian rights, stem-cell research, policy toward Israel and the Middle East, etc.) are rooted in rival and not entirely compatible narratives.

The question, of course, becomes how do we resolve debates if the positions we take are embedded in world views that are incompatible with those of others? Unfortunately, there isn't a simple answer to this question. However, the fact there are competing and somewhat incompatible narratives suggests that a necessary first step is gaining an understanding of world views we don't embrace. Doing so, won't resolve any debates, and it will require a bit of empathy on everyone's part, but doing so may set the stage for meaningful and fruitful discussions that open up avenues for reconciliation.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The South Bay's Best Craft Breweries

Previously, I've compiled rankings of the best craft breweries in the U.S. ("Best Craft Breweries in the U.S., 2017"), but let's face it, it's basically impossible for the average craft beer aficionado to visit most of these. Thus, with this post I'm beginning to pull together rankings of Bay Area craft breweries. The rankings are based on Untappd scores, which are probably the most popular app for rating a brewery's different beers. It's not a perfect system since successful breweries are more likely to experiment, which increases the probability that they'll brew a bad beer. Still, Untappd's ratings are probably the best available, so here are the rankings for the top craft breweries in the South Bay (with the Untappd scores in parentheses). I'll be back with rankings from other Bay Area regions (e.g., San Francisco, East Bay, etc.):
  1. Floodcraft Brewing Company, San Jose (3.84) (Whole Foods Brewer on the Alameda)
  2. Bellpenny Brewing, San Jose (3.77) (a Nano brewer -- you can find their beer at Uproar Brewing)
  3. Camino Brewing, San Jose (3.76)
  4. Hermitage Brewing, San Jose (3.69) (has ties to the Tied House)
  5. Santa Clara Valley Brewing, San Jose (3.68)
  6. Hapa’s Brewing, San Jose (3.64) (my favorite, hence the graphic above)
  7. Clandestine Brewing, San Jose (3.62)
  8. Loma Brewing (3.62) (replaces Los Gatos Brewing Co. and much better)
  9. Golden State Brewery, Santa Clara (3.60)
  10. Uproar Brewing (3.56) 
  11. Rock Bottom, Campbell (3.51)
  12. El Toro Brewing, Morgan Hill (3.48)
  13. Strike Brewing, San Jose (3.45)
  14. Gordon Biersch, San Jose (3.42) (apparently closing soon if it hasn't already)
  15. Firehouse Grill & Brewery, Sunnyvale (3.41)
  16. Faultline, Sunnyvale (3.40)
  17. Campbell Brewing, Campbell (3.36)
  18. Tied House, Mountain View (3.35) (has ties to Hermitage Brewing)
On a related note, a friend from church (Patrick Campbell) has just started an excellent blog on Bay Area craft breweries, appropriately called "Bay Area Beers." It's unique in that rather than just writing about breweries, Patrick films (he's a film maker) local brewers making beer and offers commentary along the way. It's worth checking out.