01: The college years are often viewed as a period when many young adults lose or minimize their faith, but college can also serve to strengthen religious life, particularly for evangelicals and Catholics, according to recent research.
At the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Toronto, M. Richard Cramer of the University of North Carolina (UNC) presented findings from a survey he conducted of 600 students on Christian commitment at the UNC in 1996 and in the spring of 1997. He found that Catholic and evangelical Protestant students displayed a common pattern in their faith lives: Both groups of Christians tended to move into two polarized camps of low and high commitment as they made their way through their college careers.
Among Catholics, 36.4 percent expressed a high religious commitment during their first year of college. Yet by their senior year, 52.9 percent showed a high commitment. On the low commitment end of the spectrum, 17.1 percent of first year Catholics showed such a tendency; by their senior year this low level of commitment had grown to 41 percent.
Meanwhile, mainline Protestants became significantly less committed as a group during their college years. While 61.1 percent showed a high level of commitment in their first year, that rate dropped down to 22.9 percent by their senior year. “The mainline Protestants were the most vulnerable to higher education. But the reaction of many of the other [students to college education] is to reinforce their faiths,” especially for Catholics who are a minority on campus (representing 12 percent of the student body), Cramer said.
02: A mainline church movement pressing for the full involvement of gays and lesbians in congregations and leadership is steadily gaining members.
Second Stone (July-August), an ecumenical gay and lesbian newspaper, reports that the Reconciling Congregation Program, a movement that has emerged within mainline Protestant denominations over the past 20 years, has grown by 25 percent over the past year. As of February 1, 1997, 735 congregations, 36 campus ministries, and 29 regional associations in ten denominations have publicly stated that they support the full involvement of gays and lesbians.
The “welcoming church movement” is growing at a pace of two new congregations every week. The expansion of the movement has taken place due to the beginning of new welcoming programs in more denominations.
(Second Stone, P.O. Box 8340, New Orleans, LA 70182)
03: Home-schooling continues to grow among Americans, although the movement has remained largely white and Christian, according to a recent study.
Christianity Today magazine (July 14) reports that the growth rate of those being schooled at home is 15 percent, with a total of 1.2 million home-schooled children during 1996-97. The study, issued by the National Home Education Research Institute, found that 95 percent of those who participate in the home schooling movement are white and 90 percent are Christian. The religious affiliations included: independent fundamentalist or evangelical — 23 percent (down from 26 percent in 1990); Baptist — 19 percent (up from 18 percent) and nine percent independent charismatic (down from 14 percent).
04: Results just coming in from a comprehensive survey of Australian church life shows similar conservative patterns of laity on many sexual issues to that of America.
The Australian evangelical magazine On Being (August) reports that the 1996 National Survey of Church Life — which covers attendees from 23 Protestant denominations — found that 57 percent of respondents feel sexual relations are always wrong before marriage. Around 56 percent of Uniting Church attendees believe it is always or almost always wrong compared to 48 percent of Anglicans.
Across the churches there is little support given for accepting homosexuals into leadership positions on the same basis as heterosexuals; in no denomination did support rise above 20 percent. The survey, which polled 2,000 persons, also found that 43 percent of Uniting Church attendees feel that gays should be accepted on the same basis as heterosexuals. A greater percentage (45 percent) do not give unconditional acceptance, saying that homosexuals should not be accepted on such a basis or stipulating that they should be non-practicing.
The Uniting Church — consisting of most former Presbyterian and Methodist churches — has taken a strongly liberal position on gay rights and, as with the mainline the U.S. and Canada, is meeting increasing protests and threats of leaving the denomination by conservatives. The recent denominational assembly gave a high profile to the gay caucus in the church, with the director of mission publicly “coming out” during the gathering.
Actions taken locally that were critical of the ordination of gays and gay marriage were never brought to the floor, causing the Aboriginal delegates (along with evangelicals) to declare they may leave the denomination should it endorse homosexual relations. Critics claim that unrepresentative nature of the denomination was demonstrated at the assembly. It was found that 143 out of 261 voting members represented the bureaucracy.
(On Being, P.O. Box 434, Hawthorn, Victoria, 3122 Australia)