Changing Confession

February 20, 2014

A couple of articles this week about the religious practice of confession suggest that some faith traditions may be grappling with changes. The Boston Globe ran a piece featuring an interview with John Cornwell, an author and former seminarian, talking about how the Catholic sacrament of confession changed over time and how it might change again. Cornwall provides an interesting take based on historical research. On a related note, author Jana Riess writes for Religion News Service about how Mormons no longer practice public confession in churches but many are airing secrets online. Although mostly anonymous, this new type of public confession could impact the confessor and those reading the confessions. These discussion are important because how we organize religious practices and life impacts how people live out their faith and even what they believe. Cornwell particularly makes this point as he notes how the creation of confessional boxes impacted people's theology. My latest book draws on similar arguments as I mixed French philosopher Michel Foucault's work on the Catholic confession with contemporary evangelical Christian efforts to create a public, reverse confessional (with some examples similar to the online Mormon confessions). Even though few U.S. Catholics today regularly attend confession and most other traditions do not officially treat confession as a sacrament, we still live in a society greatly impacted by the confession. Thus, I termed the religious-political rhetoric I analyzed "confessional politics." Perhaps additional confessional changes will continue to impact the nature of religion and politics in our culture.