Practical Piety


Roman Catholic Church

Founder: Jesus Christ, who gave unique authority to Saint Peter the Apostle, first head of the church.

Date: First century A.D.

Membership: U.S.: 61.5
million. World: 976 million.

Top Management: Pope John Paul II, bishop of Rome and a direct spiritual descendant of Saint Peter.

The Word: The Bible; the Apostles’ Creed; the Athanasian Creed; and the Nicean Creed.

The Big Picture: Led by the pope (who is infallible when speaking on matters of faith and morals), with special rites known as the seven sacraments— baptism, reconciliation, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, ordination, and anointing of the sick and dying (unction).

God: Holy Trinity or one God as three: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Path to Salvation: Through Christ, who died for our sins.

On Women in the Church: Women cannot be ordained as priests. “That is not the church that Christ established,” says Joseph Zwilling, director of communications, Archdiocese of New York. Laywomen hold several top official positions formerly held by priests.

On Homosexuality: “Sexual activity is only moral within the confines of valid marriage between a man and a woman. Homosexuality doesn’t bar you from the church; it’s how a person lives his or her life that’s important.” Homosexuality is accepted, but homosexual activity isn’t.

On Birth Control: Encourages “natural family planning.” A woman’s ovulation can be calculated with “outstanding accuracy,” observes Zwilling. Artificial forms of birth control are prohibited, including condoms and pills.

On Abortion: According to Zwilling, the church believes “all life is sacred and must be protected from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.” A new and distinct human life forms at conception.

On Euthanasia: Since life is sacred and must be protected until the moment of “natural death,” euthanasia and assisted suicide are prohibited.

On Interfaith Marriage: Roman Catholics may marry outside the faith, but special preparation is needed: counseling and dispensation from the traditional Roman Catholic marriage ceremony.

On Millennialism: Believes in a Second Coming, or that Christ will come again at the end of time, but doesn’t predict when.

Recruiting: Does not actively proselytize but accepts converts. “We do reach out to those who don’t practice any faith and [Roman Catholics] that have fallen away from the church,” says Zwilling.

Scandal Sheet: This past
October, the Roman Catholic Church and Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, settled a 1993 lawsuit filed by Jason E. Harkins, who claimed that former priest Gilbert Gauthe molested him in 1978. The details of the settlement are secret. The case ignited a
nationwide scandal involving allegations of pedophilia by clergymen.

Web Address:


Founder: L. Ron Hubbard

Date: 1954

Membership: U.S.: 3 million, including those who maintain dual affiliations or have taken up studies in Scientology. World: 8 million to 9 million.

Top Management: Reverend Heber Jentzsch, president, Church of Scientology

The Word: The writings and recorded spoken words of Hubbard, more than 500,000 pages total, including Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health; a small portion of the scriptures are kept confidential.

The Big Picture: Humans, who have unlimited capabilities, are immortal spiritual beings, or “thetans,” whose experience extends beyond a single lifetime. The physical universe, or MEST (matter, energy, space, time), encumbers the thetan, causing it to act contrary to its true spiritual nature. Through “auditing” (counseling) and “training” (to audit), humans can discover their true spiritual selves and achieve total spiritual freedom.

God: The “Eighth Dynamic,” or urge toward existence as Infinity. Via auditing, humans can know infinity and God.

Path to Salvation: Complete salvation of the thetan (who is basically good), or “Total Freedom,” is attainable through Scientology religious services.

Rendezvous Point: Ministers and chaplains within churches and missions provide religious services to parishioners,
including auditing and training. Religious retreats provide
upper-level spiritual auditing.

The Money Trail: Parishioners make donations for the auditing or training they wish to receive.

On Women in the Church: Women hold executive and ministerial positions in the church. “We don’t have a glass ceiling,” says Janet Weiland, vice president of the Church of Scientology International.

On Homosexuality: According to John Carmichael, president of the New York chapter, the church is concerned with self-respect, freedom, and survival of self and family. Asked if there are homosexuals in the church’s ministry, Carmichael replies, “I don’t have that answer.”

On Birth Control: “We expect that people are going to take responsibility for the consequences [of their actions],” says Carmichael.

On Abortion: See Birth Control.

On Euthanasia: Scientologists believe in the sanctity of life and, according to Carmichael, see “danger in letting someone else decide whether a person’s life is not worth living anymore, especially the state.”

On Interfaith Marriage: Scientologists are free to marry outside of the faith.

On Millennialism: “We don’t see the year 2000 as a magic number,” says Carmichael.

Recruitment: According to Scientology literature, “The Church wants more people to know and apply the works of L. Ron Hubbard and actively and vigorously promotes this.”

Scandal Sheet: A wrongful-death suit against the Church is currently being heard in the state of Florida. The family of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 from a blood clot due to dehydration while at a church retreat, filed the suit. The church denies involvement.

Miscellany: According to the charges of ex-members, the cost of Total Freedom is in excess of $300,000.

Web Address:

Southern Baptist Convention

Founder: Originally part of
an older Baptist movement with a leadership base in the North.

Date: 1845

Membership: U.S.: 15.8

Top Management: The Southern Baptist Convention meets annually and debates issues that shape the program and ministries; 10 “messengers” are sent from each local church.

The Word: The Bible, “a perfect treasure of divine instruction.”

The Big Picture: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” whose members are associated “by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel.”

God: The Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Path to Salvation: “Anywhere, anyone,” explains Dr. William Merrell, vice president for convention relations, “who repents of their sin through belief in Christ will be saved.”

On Women in the Church: Although “husbands and wives are equal before God, leadership in the church is restricted to males.”

On Homosexuality: According to Merrell, “homosexuality is a condition of the fallenness of men and women. It is a sinful condition of the human state, sinful and destructive.” However, the blood of Christ is sufficient in cleansing this sin, through repentance and turning away from homosexuality.

On Birth Control: Devices or pills that have the effects of an abortifacient, destroying fertilized eggs, are prohibited.

On Abortion: The “unauthorized taking of human life,” says Merrell.

On Euthanasia: See Abortion.

On Interfaith Marriage: Although in Christian theory Christians should marry other Christians, in practice believers marry unbelievers. Interfaith marriages can be problematic; “they are not forbidden, but not encouraged either,” explains Merrell.

On Millennialism: Jesus Christ will himself return to earth, and “the unrighteous will be sent to hell; the righteous will dwell forever in heaven with the Lord.” The church doesn’t profess when this will happen: “God in his own time is in charge of that.”

Recruitment: With about 10,000 missionaries working at home and abroad, the church believes that the “Lord has assigned churches to proclaim the gospel of his son and save people from sin.”

Miscellany: This past October, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. proclaimed on Larry King Live that “I firmly believe that the best friends homosexuals in this country have are conservative Christians who love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth about what the Bible says.”

Web Address:

Unification Church

Founder: Rev. Sun Myung Moon

Date: 1954

Membership: U.S.: 20 to 30,000. World: 1 to 2 million.

Top Management: Rev. Sun Myung Moon, True Father; Hak Ja Han Moon, True Mother— both of whom represent the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The Word: The Divine Principle

The Big Picture: Because Adam and Eve did not fulfill God’s ideal and Jesus was crucified before he could
marry, the True Parents are finishing Jesus’s work: marrying couples and establishing pure, God-centered families free from original sin.

God: God, a mixture of male and female qualities, is the high point of a four-position foundation that includes a man and woman in marriage and their children. The result: a “school of love” where all levels of God’s love can be received.

Path to Salvation: In the spiritual war between God and Satan, humans align themselves with either. Salvation is attained through an unselfish and loving character, and an understanding of God as a parent.

The Money Trail: Members tithe; projects supported by overseas donations, usually from Japan.

On Women in the Church: Women may serve as pastors, and Mrs. Moon, True Mother, is on the same spiritual level as Rev. Moon, True Father.

On Homosexuality: Although “we don’t like that, we love the sinner.” According to The Washington Post, in a May 1997 sermon Moon compared homosexuals to “dirty dung-eating dogs.”

On Birth Control: An option, that demands a prayerful
approach. Moon encourages large families: “it is very pleasing to God to have children born free from original sin.”

On Abortion: Since all life is precious, the church “tends to be against abortion.” An accepted instance is if “a child has no hope of living [past birth].”

On Euthanasia: With prayer and the spiritual guide of a pastor, a person who is “very sick and in a hopeless situation may have the right to go the way of euthanasia, but not for depression or escapist reasons.”

On Interfaith Marriage: Marriages personally arranged by Moon for church members are recommended, but a member may marry outside of the faith. Heterosexual couples from other faiths can now
receive Moon’s blessing.

On Millennialism: Rev. and Mrs. Moon represent the Second Coming prophesized in the Book of Revelations. “It’s a great time to be alive,” exclaims Corcoran.

Recruiting: True Parents
believe in “kingdom building and impacting culture in a Godly fashion.”

Scandal Sheet: Nansook, the True Parents’ former daughter-in-law, recently published a tell-all book about the family and her marriage to the Moons’ eldest son and assumed successor, Hyo Jin. Moon has been married twice and has fathered out-of-wedlock children.

Miscellany: Moon is in charge of a multibillion-dollar business empire, including News World Communications, parent of the Washington Times. Moon is also linked to the 1995 financial bailout of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

Web Address:

Unitarian Universalist Association

Founder: The preexisting Universalist Church of America (organized in 1793; belief that all will be saved, denial of eternal hell) merged with the American Unitarian Association (organized in 1825; roots are in a unitary God, not a trinitarian).

Date: 1961

Membership: U.S.: 210,000. World: 600,000.

Top Management: Congregations are autonomous entities; no church hierarchy exists.

The Word: Readings are drawn from diverse collections, from the Bible to Buddhist texts.

The Big Picture: A noncreedal faith tradition— of Judeo-Christian heritage— that stresses personal experience, conscience, and reason.

God: No singular conception of God.

Path to Salvation: The UUA’s roots in universalism guarantee salvation to all. God is viewed as benevolent although some UUs deny the
existence of God.

Rendezvous Point: Churches house local congregations with diverse approaches and bents.

The Money Trail: The central association of the UUA requests donations from congregations based on membership size in order to provide services, including accrediting ministers.

On Women in the Church: Women compose about half of the UUA ministry.

On Homosexuality: A matter of individual conscience. The UUA strongly supports gay and lesbian marriage and ordains bisexual, gay, and transgendered persons into the ministry.

On Birth Control: A matter of individual conscience. Strongly supports reproductive rights.

On Abortion: A matter of individual conscience. The UUA fully supports a woman’s right to choose.

On Euthanasia: Supports death with dignity.

On Interfaith Marriage: “We have a reputation of marrying anyone anywhere,” says John Hurley, director of information, including interfaith and gay and lesbian marriages.

On Millennialism: “We have no views on millennialism,” says Hurley, except for “what Y2K is going to do to our computers.”

Recruitment: “You become a member of a congregation,” explains Hurley, “you don’t join UUism.”

Web Address:

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Founder: An outgrowth of
religious debates in Germany.

Date: Germany, mid 19th century; U.S., late 19th century.

Membership: U.S.: 1,500,000. World: 2,000,000.

Top Management: The United Synagogue, Rabbinical Assembly, and Jewish Theological Seminary (Ismar Schorch is the current chancellor).

The Word: Torah or Bible, Jewish literature, and legal literature, including the Talmud.

The Big Picture: Initially known as “Positive Historical” Judaism, the Conservative movement examines the fundamental roots of Judaism— what is positive or good, and its relation to other disciplines like science and philosophy.

God: According to Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, “God is the source of all beings, a creator, the essence of the universe, close to people who want that closeness.”

Path to Salvation: “Judaism has no dogma,” explains Rabbi Meyers. There’s a “general sense that there is an afterlife, but what that is is not definitively written down.” The afterlife could be the memories one leaves in this life, a place near God where souls reside, etc.

Rendezvous Point: Structurally congregational, all Conservative synagogues belong to the United Synagogue umbrella.

On Women in the Church: Since 1985, women have
had complete equality, becoming rabbis, cantors, officers, and professors. Rabbi Meyers explains that the movement is still in transition— in some synagogues women still do not participate in religious services.

On Homosexuality: Although homosexuals are treated the same within congregational and communal life, they cannot study to be rabbis or cantors.

On Birth Control: The traditional minimum is two children for married couples, although generally, birth control is viewed as acceptable. As for premarital sex, “if faced with that issue, if that’s the choice, by all means practice birth control,” explains Rabbi Meyers, citing disease transmission prevention and personal responsibility as major reasons.

On Abortion: Prohibited except when a mother is endangered. This includes mental, physical, and other radical extenuating circumstances that might harm the mother’s well-being.

On Euthanasia: Absolute opposition. When a person is suffering they should be made comfortable but not put to death. But, the answer “really depends upon the situation.” On Interfaith Marriage: No Conservative rabbi will officiate a marriage that involves a party from an outside religion.

On Millennialism: A Messianic Age, when all souls will be united, will occur at some future time. “[Our] goal is to make this life a better life,” says Rabbi Meyers, “[that]
will hasten the coming of the Messianic Age.”

Recruiting: Since the fifth century there has been no proselytizing in Judaism. Although now there is a “feeling of being more open to conversion, it certainly is not encouraged.” Web Address:,,