The Buddhist Churches of America, one of the oldest American Buddhist denominations, is facing declining membership ranks, divisions over demands for doctrinal renewal, and a “simmering war” between the sexes, according to the Christian Century (Feb. 28).
The BCA has served as the cultural home for Japanese-Americans for 97 years and is distinct from other forms of Buddhism for its non-monastic and non-meditative faith based on ancestor veneration and the doctrine of salvation by grace. Membership has declined in the denomination as members have intermarried, died, or drifted from the faith. The church has declined from 50,000 in 1960 to 21,600 in 1977 to 17,755 families as of last year.
“Younger ministers blame the membership problems on the reluctance of the church’s aging leaders to update doctrines and policies to make them relevant to third- and fourth-generation Japanese Americans,” according to the article.
Female members have criticized the church for failure to change the male-dominated hierarchy and address women’s concerns. BCA ministers, such as William Masuda of Mill Valley, Calif., see openness to non-Japanese members as the key to denominational renewal. Aside from adding to BCA ranks, new, non-Japanese members would revitalize such church doctrines as salvation by grace and downplay the ritual commemoration of dead ancestors.
Today, as many as 70 percent of Japanese Americans are intermarrying, creating the opportunity for more pluralism in the BCA.
But the older generation of members still retain memories of internment during World War II and are reluctant to lose their place in church affairs to non-Japanese. Such reluctance was instrumental in squelching a 1984 plan to recruit 200,000 members.
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