01: Conservative evangelicals tend to give more to the poor than religious liberals and others concerned about poverty, according to a recent study.
In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September), Mark Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink note that it has been the general wisdom that mainline Protestants and practicing Catholics are more generous toward the poor than politically conservative evangelicals. The researchers test this hypothesis by analyzing survey data (of some 2,500 respondents) on religious identity and social attitudes funded by the Pew Charitable Trust.
They find that in individual giving habits, liberal Protestants and devout Catholics are “virtually indistinguishable from other religious Americans,” and are not “clear leaders in protecting poor and needy people by giving more money to organizations that facilitate this.”
The researchers find not only an absence of “anti-poor” sentiment among conservative Protestant respondents (who have been associated with such groups as the Christian Coalition), but the “significant `pro-poor’ giving habits they appear to display.” (Mormons rated higher than the evangelicals in this study) The writers note that their analysis does not measure attitudes toward poor people or the welfare system, but they add that declaring those who agree with economic conservatism as being hostile to the poor “seems unwarranted.”
Their analysis also shows that the “13 percent of the American population which considers themselves nonreligious give less money to organizations which help the poor than does the rest of the population which holds religious beliefs to some degree.”
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1365 Stone Hall, Sociology Dept., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1365)
02: As welfare reform increasingly compels religious communities to provide new means of alleviating poverty, research continues to suggest that many mainline churches are not willing or able to significantly increase aid to the poor.
The Presbyterian Panel, a survey of laity and clergy of the Presbyterian Church (USA) finds double-mindedness on welfare reform among members. More than one-third of pastors, elders and lay members surveyed in August of 1997 believe that their own congregations have sufficient resources to increase help for the poor in their localities.
Yet majorities in all samples (ranging from 54 percent of members to 62 percent of specialized clergy) believe that such an increase is either “probably not” or “definitely not” an option.
The “near-consensus” view that religious bodies do not have sufficient resources to increase their aid to the poor was evident among pastors regardless of their congregation’s size. Again, however, when it comes to the matter of whether or not their own congregation is able to step up such efforts, more pastors in larger than smaller congregations report that they are able to increase services to the poor.
Majorities of members and elders (with 36 percent of pastors) also hold that it is “probably” a violation of the separation of church and state for religious groups and states to enter into contracts by which the former would provide welfare services paid for by the government.
(Presbyterian Panel, Research Services, 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202-1396)
03: Black Catholics in the United States are actually more attached to traditional Catholic styles of devotion than their white counterparts.
So concludes a study by Professors James C. Cavendish, Michael R. Welch and David C. Leege in the September issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September). By analyzing a survey of 2,667 registered Catholic parishioners, the researchers examine the complicated question of whether race differentiates Catholics in their devotional practices and spirituality.
The study shows that blacks in contrast to whites demonstrated higher levels of devotionalism in the traditional Catholic mode, such as the novena, the more conservative liturgies and the benediction. The scholars suggest this is the case because blacks find in traditional devotionalism “a deep sense of mystery, otherness, and sacredness” that is congenial with the black sacred cosmos. A case study cited showed deep black parishioner resentment to a socially activist diocese that had turned their church building into a community center during the week, hiding statues and the tabernacle behind screens.
Members stated this was a perversion of sacred space, space which had special meaning for them in their devotional life at the church. The authors conclude that Catholic leaders who wish to adapt the liturgical and devotional practices of the church to the cultural experiences of African Americans should be very cautious before doing so, as many registered black Catholics “clearly enjoy participating in the existing liturgical and devotional practices found in their parishes.”
— By Erling Jorstad
04: Beliefs and doctrine were among the most significant factors among Americans in looking for a new church, according to a Barna Poll.
The survey, conducted by Barna Research Group (October 7 news release), asked Americans who attend a Christian church what qualities they would prioritize if they moved to a different community and were looking for a church to attend. The three most significant qualities were the beliefs and doctrine of the church, how people in the church seem to care for each other, and the quality of sermons (45 percent of respondents viewed each of these elements as extremely important).
About one-third of the respondents rated denominational affiliation and how much the person liked the pastor as the most important qualities. The factors viewed as less important included worship music, convenience, and the presence of small groups. But Barna notes that the importance of these qualities varied among different types of people.
Those in their 50s and 60s were the most concerned about church doctrine. Catholics were substantially different than Protestants in that they were less concerned than Protestants about doctrine and theology and about the friendliness toward visitors. At the same time, Catholics were more concerned about denominational affiliation of the church (whether it was Catholic or not).
(Barna Research Group, 5528 Everglades St., Ventura, CA 93003)
05: Interfaith marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics are more likely to take place in areas where Catholics are in the minority, according to a study by Purdue University sociologist James Davidson.
The study, based on data from the Official Catholic Directory for 1997, finds a strong relationship between the interfaith marriage and the percentage of Catholics in a population. Interfaith marriage comprised about 30 percent of all marriages sanctioned by the Catholic Church during 1997.
Davidson’s study, cited in the CARA Report (Fall) from Georgetown University, found that dioceses with a high percentage of Catholics in their population in such areas as Brownsville, Texas (81 percent), had a correspondingly low intermarriage rate (six percent). In such a low Catholic population area as Biloxi, Mississippi (nine percent Catholic), there was a high percentage of intermarriages (52 percent).
(CARA Report, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1203)
06: Longevity may be another benefit of religious practice, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health (October). Previous studies have shown that those involved in religious activities and practices tend to have lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, and fewer symptoms of depression.
The new study of 2,000 aged 55 and older, conducted by the Buck Center for Research in Aging in California, found that those who attended religious services were 24 percent less likely to have died during a five year interval than those who did not attend services. This was the case even after differences in age, health, physical functioning, psychological well being and social support were taken into account.
Even among those with the highest levels of social support, religious activity was still associated with a lower risk of death, suggesting that such involvement is not just a substitute for social support.
07: Irrelevance seems to be the main complaint among many evangelical churchgoers in England when it comes to rating their pastor’s preaching, according to a recent study.
In interviews with over 400 members from 87 evangelical congregations in Britain, Mark Greene found that most considered the sermons to be of reasonable quality and agreed with their teachings on the Bible. But nearly 50 percent said the preaching and teaching was marked by a lack of relevance and challenge. In Quadrant (November), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association, Greene notes that there was the widespread perception that the preacher was out of touch with people’s day-to-day lives.
This is reflected in the finding that 50 percent of those interviewed had never heard a sermon on work. Greene adds that the British training of preachers has traditionally carried little emphasis “on developing a deep understanding of the audience.”
(Quadrant, Christian Research, Vision Building, 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)