Saturday, April 30, 2011

Listening to the Bible

My friend Ben Curtis introduced me to this poem by Bill Collins titled “Introduction to Poetry”:

I ask them to take a poem   
and hold it up to the light   
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem   
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room   
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.

As I listened to and then read this poem about the perspective necessary to appreciate poetry, I was convicted of the fact that this is often the way that I have treated the Bible.  Too often I have approached a passage of scripture seeking to “beat it into submission” as I sought the kernel of truth contained therein so that I could teach or preach it.  Using the best tools that I had, I sought to wring something out of it that was new, fresh, and relevant---something that I could share with my congregation or study group.  In so doing, I failed to appreciate the real message embodied there.

I am not saying that hermeneutical studies are unnecessary or irrelevant, but I have come realize that scripture can speak to me if I give it the opportunity.  If I can suspend my presuppositions for just a little while, I may hear something that I need to hear at that moment in my life.  This means that I move beyond many of the traditional ways that we see scripture—rule book, sociopolitical document, the history of God’s revelation to God’s people—to the word of God for me.

 On most days, I am not sure that I am ready to do what it takes for that to happen.  Such a stance requires humility, vulnerability, and perception that I do not possess.  Perhaps that is where the Spirit of God intervenes and speaks through the Bible in such a way that I can hear.  I don’t think I have it in me to accomplish that on my own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Meeting People Where They Are

Consultant Eddie Hammett recently published an article entitled “Traditional Churches Responding to Busy Lives: Discipling Busy Adults” in which he acknowledges the busyness of the 24/7 connected world in which we live and challenges the church to respond to this opportunity in new and creative ways.  One of the lessons he notes is, “Meeting people where they are rather than where we would like for them to be is a Biblical model that is tough to practice for many in their church culture.”

Hammett is calling us to do that which is uncomfortable but necessary.  Where do we need to meet people today in order to get a hearing for Christ and encourage them in their growth as disciples?

First, we need to meet people where they are spiritually.  “One size does not fit all” when it comes to spiritual formation.  We must be discerning about where people are in their spiritual development.  This means not only comprehending what they know but what they have experienced—both positively and negatively--in their spiritual pilgrimages. 

Second, we need to meet them where they are geographically.  Sacred space is not limited to the church buildings.  If God is everywhere, then God can be encountered anywhere.  The church must be more creative in meeting people on their “turf”—home, marketplace, workplace, playing field, coffee shop, etc.  Getting outside of our cloistered walls often makes us uncomfortable, but it stretches us as well and forces us to be creative.

Third, we need to meet people where they are developmentally. People have different life experiences that must be considered.  They come from varied family and educational backgrounds, they have encountered successes and failures, and they have experienced joys and losses.  In addition to this, people learn in different ways.  They even pray in different ways and respond to different approaches to studying the scriptures.  We must take this into effect to communicate the faith effectively.

Fourth, we must learn to meet where they are culturally.  When Paul went to the Areopagus to engage in discussion about “the unknown God,” he went with knowledge of the people he would encounter there.  They were unlike him in many ways, but he spoke their language, had read their poets, and had wrestled with their philosophy.  He met them where they were culturally and shared the Gospel in a way that they could understand and make a considered response.

All of these things will take us outside our comfort zones.  They are not easy to do but if we attempt them, we can really engage people in the Christian faith.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Serving the Church

I was recently invited to lead a session with our church’s Deacon Body on “The Deacon as Servant Leader.”  The time was limited, but I tried to deal with the concept from three perspectives—biblical, historical, and contemporary—before turning to the “servant leader” aspect.

From the biblical perspective, the main idea we take away from the New Testament is that the role of the deacon or “servant of the church” (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:10) was to do just that—serve the church.  The passage that we usually turn to as the earliest expression of the role (Acts 16:1-6) does not use the term, but the Seven were appointed to “serve tables” or “wait on tables.”

I reminded the group that Paul and other leaders of the early church did not operate out of a church manual with detailed job descriptions.  They were more concerned that the function of service be carried out.  Those selected as deacons were not people who exercised authority but church members who served their brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were probably already servants and the church simply acknowledged that in a formal way.

The diaconate was defined in many ways during the Patristic and Medieval periods, but a more biblical approach was revived by the Reformers and the early Baptists.  Charles Deweese points out that Thomas Collier in 1654 pictured the work of deacons as that of “serving tables: the table of the Lord, the table of the minister, and the table of the poor.”

Of course, later Baptists like R. B. C. Howell in the 19th century came up with the idea of deacons as a “board of directors” that took care of the secular matters of the church so that the pastor could deal with the spiritual.  This idea was not universally accepted, of course (little is “universally accepted” by Baptists).  In 1897, Edwin C. Dargan, professor of homiletics and ecclesiology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned of the tendency of deacons to act as "a sort of ruling presbytery"

In the mid-twentieth century, Southern Baptist leaders like Howard Foshee, Robert Naylor, and Jim Henry criticized the “board of deacons” approach and sought to picture deacons as co-workers with the ministers of the church in pastoral care, benevolence, and worship leadership.

So where are we today?  I think our church provides some examples.  We do not have elders (a trend in some churches) but continue to have a Deacon Body that works with the ministry staff. 
1.        We have a diverse group of deacons.  When our church agreed that women were qualified to be serve as deacons, it also made divorced people and ministers eligible (that’s how I got to be a deacon).
2.       Deacons are less involved as administrators.  The majority of administrative work is done by committees. The pastor will often ask the Deacons for their response to new initiatives in the life of the church, but this is primarily due to a concern for the spiritual and relational implications of these actions.
3.      The support and blessing of the diaconate is sought in the process of licensing and ordaining individuals to the ministry.
4.      Deacons work alongside (not under) pastoral leaders.  They are co-workers in the pastoral care of members.  Like most churches, we have used several structures for this: Deacon Family Ministry (which I really enjoyed); a joint ministry plan with Sunday School; and ministry teams (All of these focus on caring and spiritual ministries.)
5.      Deacons are once again seen as “servants” or “servant leaders” of the church. (In fact, when I was deacon chair several years ago, we presented a book on servant leadership to all new deacons.)
6.      I believe that increasingly our church members elect those as deacons that they would like to have minister to them.  They are selected for their qualities of caring, spiritual acumen, responsibility, and commitment rather than their community or secular roles.

The story does not end here.  As the church faces the challenges of contemporary life, I anticipate that the function of deacons in the life of the church will continue to evolve.

(A major source of citations for this blog was Charles W. Deweese, The Emerging Role of Deacons, Broadman Press, 1979.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Learning to Listen

On more than one occasion, I have talked with individuals who were asked to be part of “listening sessions” that turned out to be something else entirely.  As stakeholders in an organization, they were invited to give their opinions about how effective the organization was in achieving its goals and to make suggestions for the future.  Instead, they found their comments discounted and the facilitator of the “listening session” seeking to justify the prior actions and present practices of the organization.

The definition of “listen” is “to pay close attention to; to give heed to.”  There are two aspects to this definition.  First, one is attentive to the words that the speaker is saying.  Second, the words of the speaker lead the listener to take action.  (And I assume that action should be other than to defend oneself.)

Let me suggest some guidelines for those conducting “listening” sessions.

First, listen.  In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand . . . then to be understood.”  Listening involves suspending one’s own judgment and predetermined ideas enough to really hear what the other person is saying.  This takes not only patience but perception.

Second, be respectful.  You have asked the participants to give up some of their time to help you understand better the situation you find yourself in.  Be cognizant of the fact that they are investing their time in order to help you.  Of course, your learning may help you to serve them more effectively in the long term, but you are the one asking for help in the short term.

Third, be humble.  Admit that you don’t have all the answers.  In reality, you may not even know how to effectively frame the questions!  Realize that you are a learner and that the members of your audience are your teachers.

Fourth, take notes.  If possible, have someone else take copious notes of what is said without attribution of who made particular comments.  This is better than doing a video or audio recording which might discourage some folks from being completely candid.  The notes provide reminders and possible items for action.  If someone specifically asks for a response to a statement, ask them to either give you their contact information or provide a way that they can get in touch with you by e-mail or letter.

Fifth, leave the door open for further discussion.  In these types of sessions, people often think of things later that they wish they had said or they will respond more honestly when they are not part of a group.  Let them know how to get in touch with you.

Sixth, use what you discover.  When you initiate feedback opportunities, you are making a covenant with participants that you are going to use what they have provided.  If not, why bother?

We need more the opportunity for stake holders to speak but it must be more than a mere public relations ploy or meaningless exercise if it is to be an effective tool for change.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rules of Engagement

In a recent issue of The Baptist Times, editor Mark Woods addressed the motivations that will bring young adults to church participation.  Although I understand that church participation does not necessarily equal discipleship, bringing people into the faith community is certainly a first step in that direction.

Woods provides the following warnings as we present the case for Christianity to young adults:
  •  If we portray the benefits of faith as being all in the future, it is no wonder if younger people choose to live in the present.
  • If we portray faith as all demand and no blessing, it is no wonder if the attractions of the present trump the call to conversion.
  •  If we cannot give young people a cause they believe is worth living for now, it is no wonder if they dismiss us as irrelevant to their lives today: we are.

In order to present a faith that is beneficial, relevant, and challenging, we will have to engage young adults (and all people in this postmodern context) in several ways.

First, there must be an experiential element.   Worship must involve both the senses and the intellect; if we do the former we will gain permission to do the latter.  Worship can involve music, testimony, scripture, media, drama, the spoken word, and visual arts to build an experiential bridge that worshippers may cross to come before God.

Second, the faith must be participative.  This begins with worship but also means that those new to the church must be given opportunities both to serve and lead.  New participants with leadership gifts may not be ready to teach but they can organize ministry projects and community-building activities.  The challenge is to keep them from becoming spectators.

Third, we must be relational.  People will put up with a lot if they are loved and accepted.  Small group involvement continues to be the best way to do this.  New attendees will flourish if they know someone cares about them and support them.

Fourth, we must be authentic in our involvement with those who are new to our church fellowship.  This begins with the conviction that we care about them as persons made in the image of God rather than numbers to add to our roll.  We must maintain this stance even if they are reluctant to embrace “church activities” or only come on rare occasions.  We love them for who they are rather than what they can do for the church.

Fifth, most of all, we must keep in mind that we are inviting the unchurched and dechurched into a transformative experience.  If they truly encounter the Living God, their lives will be changed.  This may not happen overnight, but it will happen.  This is our central message and hope.

Are churches up to this task?  We will only find out if we try.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

The Insights into Religion web site recently shared an article entitled “Contemporary Worship A Boon to Churches.”   The writer of the article reported that “64 percent of churches with contemporary worship reported a 2 percent or more increase in attendance [between 2005 and 2008]. By contrast, only 44 percent of churches that kept traditional worship styles reported a 2 percent or more increase in attendance.

Mark Chaves, a sociologist of religion at Duke University, attributes the rise of contemporary worship to a culture that has grown more informal. “People don’t dress for work in suits and ties anymore, and they no longer address one another with formal titles.” In addition, he pointed out, society has lost faith in institutions. “The more formal kinds of religion needed denominations to keep them going,” Chaves says. “As institutions weaken, you’ll get more informality.”

Whatever the reason for the rise of so-called contemporary worship, the article states a clear trend not only among evangelicals, but also mainline Protestant churches. In the FACT2008 survey, 15 percent of mainline Protestant churches switched worship styles between 2005 and 2008.

I won’t address Chaves’ comment on the decline of institutions, but I will now walk on ground where angels fear to tread.  Few churches, whether low church or high church, have failed to engage in the discussion about new styles of worship.  Even as clergy leaders attempt to discern the best approach to pursue, they struggle to find the proper terms to use.  What is “liturgical” to you may be “traditional” to me.  What you may consider “contemporary” I might consider warmed-over Jesus movement.  A lot of it depends on where you stand.  I am not sure even applying the terminology cognitive versus expressive (as this article does) helps here.  Some see “expressive” worship as more attuned to the Spirit of God but God can be experienced through the mind as well.

For me, this discussion continues to be rather imprecise.  Projected words, a praise band, and worship leaders in jeans do not make a contemporary service.  “Creative” worship does not define the situation either; all true worship is creative in nature. 

Worship is constantly evolving.  People were shocked when Martin Luther put words to drinking songs and when Fanny Crosby’s gospel songs were introduced into churches.  Guitars are nothing new.  I seem to remember a story about “Silent Night” being sung the first time to guitar accompaniment.  Much of the “ancient-future worship” espoused by the late Robert Webber encompassed a variety of elements in developing a worship experience.  Is “emerging church” worship contemporary or traditional?  We cannot really talk about “contemporary” worship without addressing these questions.

Certainly we all have worship preferences based on our cultural experiences but let us not restrict the work of the Spirit to one particular style or culture.   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, NIV)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Connecting with God

Candles, art, textures, prayer, scripture—all are ways to experience God.  As part of our church’s Lenten observance this year, members have the opportunity to participate in twelve “experiential prayer stations” that utilize all of these.  Tucked away on a quiet upper floor of an educational building, the stations provide the chance for individuals to take a few minutes to reflect, pray, and experience the presence of God in the midst of the busyness of life.   Many of the experiences are rooted in ancient disciplines of the Christian faith.

As I participated in several of the prayer stations on Sunday morning, I was struck most of all by the process.  Although I had the opportunity to “pull away” for a time, the experiences not only connected me with God but reminded me of the value that God has placed on this world.  I came away with a new appreciation of how God has embraced humankind through Jesus Christ.

This look to the past is also a look to the future of the church.  In a wired, busy, and conflicted world, believers are seeking ways to connect with God.  There is a hunger, especially among young adults but also among senior adults, to find genuine and authentic experiences with others and with God.  Contemplation is an essential part of the church today even as it has been in the past.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Encouragement for Change

In a coaching context, encouragement plays an important part, but it must be done authentically in a way that the person can both receive it and use it for further growth.  Insincere or “canned” encouragement does little good and can, in fact, harm the client’s progress.  There are several ways that a coach can do this.

First, affirm who they are.  In the coaching relationship, the coach will often pick up something that is an innate part of the client’s personhood.  This may well be a reflection of the person’s core values whether he or she recognizes it as a core value.  When the coach has such an insight, there is the opportunity to affirm the client’s “human being” rather than “human doing.”  The coach is affirming the personhood of the individual rather than something they have done.  An example might be, “Bill, you have a wonderful ability to identify with people going through times of loss.”

Second, affirm their capabilities.  Rather than dwelling on where the client has failed to reach his or her goals, the coach recognizes and acknowledges the emerging skills the client is developing.  Positive steps bring out capabilities that can be named and reinforced.  For example, “Beth, your ability to use your time more effectively is really growing.  Look how much you accomplished this week.”

Third, affirm their successes.  When the client reaches one of his or her goals, the achievement should not only recognized but celebrated.  Tony Stoltzfus writes, “Celebrating progress involves changing perspective:  away from looking toward the top of the mountain we are climbing, and instead looking back and seeing how far up the hill we have come.”  This gives not only perspective but encouragement for the next leg of the journey.

The way that the coach provides encouragement can be either a stepping stone or a stumbling block for the person being coached.

Things are Going to Go Wrong

Over the weekend, author Jim Rasenberger was interviewed by NPR's Noah Adams on his book The Brilliant Disaster.   The new book deals with Bay of Pigs debacle 50 years ago when anti-Castro revolutionaries failed in their invasion of their homeland.  Rasenberger believes that the most important legacy of the Bay of Pigs may be to remember Murphy's Law:  "Things are going to go wrong."

President Kennedy was proud that his administration was composed of “the best and the brightest.”  Rasenberger suggests, “It would be wise for presidents to have a few people in their administration more acquainted with things not going well."

Perhaps this is something to think about when we pull together a team.  We always want to “get the right people on the bus” (as Jim Collins says), but the right people may include some who have tried, failed, and learned from their experiences.  We all will fail but the important thing is to learn from our failures.

Some of my coach friends would counter, “There is no such thing as failure.”  I would have to differ because I have been involved in some whoppers!  These projects involved major investments of time, people, prayer, and money but they failed to achieve their goals.  Did I learn from those experiences?  Yes.  Will I ever make the same mistakes again?  Maybe so, but not in exactly the same way.

When I was in my thirties, I was being reviewed by my supervisor and felt compelled to tell him all the things that I had tried that had failed.  I was surprised when he said, “No problem.  Keep trying.  It’s the only way you are going to learn anything!”

When you put together your team, don’t be afraid to include some people who have stumbled.  If they have picked themselves up and learned why they stumbled, they can be a valuable part of your team.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Avoiding the Misuse of Valuable Insights

After I led a recent group training based on the Peoplemap Communication System, a participant expressed his appreciation.  This was the second time he had taken the profile.  He went on to say, “The last time I took this, and my supervisor held it against me.”  When I asked for clarification, he explained that the last time he had completed the Peoplemap in a group setting that included his supervisor and another person on the staff.  In subsequent conversations, the supervisor evidently used the results as a “club” to point out that my friend was deficit in certain areas, was too often blinded by his strengths or natural tendencies, and was unable to change his actions or behaviors.

This is not the first time that I have heard someone say that their results on a profile have been turned against them.   I have also heard of people who used their results on a personality profile to excuse their behavior with the comment, “That’s just the way I am.”  Both approaches illustrate a failure to understand how such information should be handled.

When I administer the Peoplemap, I make it a point to state that it is grounded in the Positive Psychology movement.  The basic idea of Positive Psychology is to help healthy, normal human beings discover and affirm their natural traits and abilities and to maximize them in such a way to make life more fulfilling. This approach recognizes that when people know more about themselves, they can learn to function more effectively as a person and as part of a team.  Mike Lillibridge has verified the validity and reliability of the Peoplemap instrument, but he states that if someone doesn’t agree with the outcome, he or she should feel free to try on some other personality types that seem more appropriate.

Personality profiles like Peoplemap, DiSC, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and others are meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive.  They enable the individual to understand himself or herself better and to take responsibility for their behavior as a result of what they have learned. Rather than limiting one’s options such understanding expands them.  The tool in itself is less important than the debriefing and the applications of one’s insights.

The more we know about ourselves, our interactions with others, and the way that others perceive us, the healthier and happier we will be.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A New Path

The Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held its General Assembly at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Maryville this past Saturday.  This was the first meeting since Terry Maples became Field Coordinator of the organization and reflected well the priorities that he and the Coordinating Council have adopted to ensure the future of this organization:  faith formation, mission opportunities, next generations and networking.

Rob Nash, Global Missions Coordinator for CBF, spoke at the closing worship service.  Nash is an articulate and visionary leader.  I first learned of him when I read his book  An 8-Track Church in a CD World (I think it is time for a sequel—A CD Church in an MP3 World).  Nash pointed out that this is a time of rapid change in missions and church life but he shared his optimism about the church’s ability to adapt. He appropriately cited Albert Einstein’s statement that “The kind of thinking that will solve the world’s problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created them in the first place.”

Monte Vista Baptist Church was a good host, but the attendance at the meeting points out the challenges faced by TCBF in the coming days.  Most of the participants (including myself) were over 60.  A number of friends that I have enjoyed seeing at previous meetings were not there; they can no longer travel or have gone on to be with the Lord.   Participation by members of the host church was limited. Fortunately, there were some young faces and some new leaders present.  The Nominating Committee (or team) did a good job in finding new leadership.  This attests to the fact that there is a younger generation that wishes to become part of the CBF community.  I enjoyed the opportunity meet some of them and absorbing a bit of their enthusiasm.

Others who need to be involved were not there and for some there were good reasons.  First, I know of at least four moderate churches that were doing mission immersion experiences on Saturday and one doing a visioning process.  These are good things and attest to both the health of those churches and an awareness of what involves younger Baptists.  Second, at this late date in the CBF movement, only a few pastors are willing to challenge their churches to embrace the fact that they are progressive congregations and need to find compatible partners in missions and ministry rather than clinging to the old ways of doing things.

Tennessee CBF has started down a promising path.  We can only hope that Tennessee Baptists will recognize this and come along for the journey.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Welcome to Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Photo from The Daily News Journal
CNN has been broadcasting a “news” special entitled “Unwelcome:  The Muslims Next Door” this past week.  With Soledad O’Brien as reporter, the program recounts the negative response on the part of some citizens to the building of a new Islamic Center (mosque) in my town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  I am not a native of Murfreesboro, but I have lived here for thirty-seven years as a matter of choice not chance.

In commenting on this program, I have to point out that this is not really a news program or a documentary.  This is the way that it is done in the national (and sometimes local) media.  Although I am a fan of Ms. O’Brien, she and her producers have attempted to distill a very complex event into a “story” with clearly defined protagonists and a predetermined point of view.  Unfortunately, events in Murfreesboro provide all the ingredients—colorful players (on both sides), elevated emotions, demonstrations, and courtroom proceedings.  In order to provide a cohesive one hour production, they have simplified the situation so much that it has become almost cartoonish. 

Here’s what they missed.  Murfreesboro is a city that has experienced tremendous growth over the past fifty years, primarily due to citizens who have displayed good sense and charity to others.  Although racial issues still come up from time to time, Murfreesboro integrated its schools, city leadership, and business community with wisdom and much earlier than many other communities in Tennessee.  Differences between African-Americans and Anglos are articulated and addressed rather than avoided.

 In the 1970’s, Murfreesboro and Rutherford County provided a sanctuary for many Laotians displaced from their country due to America’s war in Indochina.  There is a well-established Buddhist Temple northwest of the city of Murfreesboro.  A Laotian was recently elected as a county commissioner.  There is a thriving Laotian business community.

With the arrival of a large number of Hispanics, both government and business have been very receptive and provide services in Spanish for these new arrivals.  Several churches have established Spanish-speaking services.

Our county is home to one of the first Nissan plants built in the United States.  We not only have Japanese business people living in our community, but a number of local people have traveled to Japan for training and to develop business partnerships.

My grandchildren attend schools that include African-Americans, Laotians, Indians, Hispanics, and those whose parents come from the Middle East.  My neighborhood includes Anglos, African-Americans, and Laotians.  Our churches have attempted to foster good relationships among all ethnic groups.   Saleh Sbenaty, one of the lay leaders in the Murfreesboro mosque, was a guest in my Sunday school class several years ago to talk about his faith.  Local Muslims have even protested some of America’s involvement in the Middle East without provoking violence.

None of these facts was made clear in the CNN special due to a narrow focus and limitations of the format.  The truth is that there is a certain segment of individuals with varied motivations who have provoked this confrontation.  If CNN had been willing to address the issue, they would have found that much of this dissension is politically motivated.  Some individuals are playing on the fear and lack of knowledge of many citizens in order to pursue a political agenda.  A little investigative reporting might have provided a different focus.

These people do not speak for all of the citizens of Murfreesboro or Rutherford County.  There is another segment of the population who has been very supportive of their Muslim neighbors.  By and large, these people were ignored in the CNN project.  Rather than going to a northeastern university to find a professor to comment on Islam, CNN could have found any number of scholars at Middle Tennessee State University (a local university with the largest undergraduate enrollment in the state) who would have given an objective interview.  The impression was left that such were not available locally.

The largest segment of the population is made up of those who don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  They recognize that Muslims like Saleh Sbenaty have been hard-working, responsible members of our community for years.  These citizens recognize that our Constitution guarantees freedom of (and from) worship.  They are not afraid of Shariah Law.  This part of our community was well represented by most of our elected officials shown in the program.  These officials recognized that the building of a Mosque in Murfreesboro is no different than the building of a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, or Pentecostal church.  Most of the people in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County like their community, are civic minded, and want to get along with others no matter what their ethnic or religious background might be.  They are Americans.   I wish that CNN would have talked to some of those folks.