01: There is a clear growth of conversions by adults into the Roman Catholic faith, according to church statistics cited in the Boston Globe (April 23).
Using data gathered by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the oldest denomination in the Western hemisphere which had witnessed some sharp decline of conversions in recent years, Catholic leaders are pointing to the figures showing a reverse of this trend. Across the nation, the number of adults now being baptized into the faith is up by about 10 percent this year. Along with this trend is a growth of members who had been baptized as Catholics, but were just now receiving First Communion.
But as this is happening, an increase in attendance by cradle Catholics is not visible. In so unexpected a development, observers find several different explanations to account for the growth. Clergy point to a revitalization of how the church has been interacting in recent years with non-Catholics. Across the nation leaders find markedly new energy connected with this Jubilee Year.
Another factor has been the change in teaching seekers about the faith. Eschewing the older methods of book learning and rote memorization, today’s programs are much more centered on group discussions and class participation. Finally, to explain the growth, leaders point to a more appealing outreach of the church toward divorcees, or “messy marital histories,” and those baptized as Protestants. Officials have also found that the congregations attracting adult converts usually are those directed by charismatic priests, nuns or laity, or those needing help in speaking English, or are single parents.
A second set of explanations comes from the lay leadership. There the conversions result largely from a major experiential change in a person’s life such as the death of a child or a life-changing accident.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: Many atheists and agnostics are graying and come from strongly religious backgrounds.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist and free thought organization, conducted a poll of 1,300 members and found that only 3.5 percent of respondents were in their 20s, compared to 22 percent in their 70s. The National Catholic Register (April 2-8) reports that nearly half of the respondents are retired.
The survey found that 17 percent were raised in “free thought” homes, while almost three quarters came from religious backgrounds (29 percent came from Catholic backgrounds, 19 percent were Methodist, 14.5 percent Baptists, 12 percent Lutheran, and nine percent Presbyterian). [While the other findings of the survey — an overwhelming majority of men with graduate degrees are atheists and agnostics — support previous research on belief and unbelief among Americans, the Freedom From Religion Forum may not be representative of today’s atheists The forum is an old-line “free thinkers” group that has not made the strong outreach toward young people found in the newer “secular humanist” organizations, such as the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Council for Secular Humanism.]
(National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514)
03: Mainstream socioligists are increasingly challenging the scenario of widespread secularization in the world judging by the February issue of the American Sociological Review.
Over the last several decades, one of the most influential interpretations of the role of religion in global society has been the ‘secularization thesis”; that with the coming of industrialization and urbanization, society has steadily pushed aside traditional religious values, leading to today’s secularized, rationalist worldview.
Now, two leading scholars in the field, Professors Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E.Baker of the University of Michigan, have carried out a major reconsideration of that interpretation. Using data from the World Values Survey, embracing 65 nations and 75 percent of the world’s population, they call for a major reconsideration of the place of religion in today’s world and for the future.
They write in the American Sociological Review (February) that religious values endure despite industrialization and the other secular forces. Those values have not been replaced; in fact evidence shows they are taking deeper root in all parts of the world. The scholars state that these values remain alive because they provide a sense of security in a rapidly changing universe and add that “spiritual concerns will probably be part of the human outlook” in the future.
They survive because they reflect each nation’s cultural heritage, a legacy and stabilizing force which has and will continue to resist a homogenized, secularized world society. They conclude that organized religious expression is in a transitional stage of reworking its forms and structures, as seen in the parallel trend of many people’s looser attachments to religious institutions But the inherent quality in human nature that responds to the religious impulse will continue to resist secularization.
— By Erling Jorstad
04: At a time when many adults may question the depth of religious faith expressed by many American teenagers, a new study shows a strong base of religiosity among the young.
The federally financed National Longitudinal Study of Attitudinal Health surveyed 90,000 teens since l994 and found widespread religious faith in this age group in both Jewish and Christian expressions. As reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (April 23) the young people understand the importance of faith to help guide them through those years. The study, conducted by Search Institute of Minneapolis, found that two-third of those interviewed in the last five years consider themselves “religious” or “very religious.”
Search Institute director Gene Roehlkepartain explained that depending on how the questions were asked, 40 to 60 percent of young people say religion is “a big part of their lives.” Gallup Polls for the last three decades show that about half of the teens polled state they attend religious services at least once a week. The survey also produced additional anecdotal evidence about the teens’ commitment.
They believed religion helped them avoid “bad decisions”, because religion helped keep families close, encouraged service to others, and put forward a moral code that assured them “some reason to the vicissitudes of life.” Faith also helped connect the teens with their respective group identities, helping create pride in their traditions. Commentators suggested that with these findings American religious life in the near future may not be as dominated by Generation X-style seeking as is now currently believed.
— By Erling Jorstad
05: The use of multiple church services seems to be among the strongest factors in congregational growth, according to a study by Charles Arn of Church Growth Inc.
From a five-year study of multiple worship services, Arn found that among growing churches (those seeing a ten percent increase in worship attendance), 41 percent were currently offering multiple services, and 61 percent said they planned to add a new service in the next 18 months. Arn writes in the evangelical digest Current Thoughts & Trends (April) that about a quarter of congregations that had plateaued in growth offered multiple services, with only 14 percent expecting to do so. Arn also found that eight of the 10 churches offering multiple services showed a 15+ growth in attendance, giving, and/or conversions.
Arn concludes that these different services offer worshippers choice and recognize the diversity in their surrounding communities.
06: Christians should try to change both people’s hearts and their institutions, according to a survey by the National Association of Evangelicals.
The poll found that 64 percent said affecting individuals and institutions is important, while 30 percent said they should focus only on changing people. Only six percent view changing institutions, such as the government, as most important .On the issue of whether evangelicals should pull out of politics to concentrate on other things as some leaders have recently claimed, only nine percent agree with such a statement.
In fact, 48 percent say they should stay focused on politics, and 43 percent agree that politics and other efforts are needed. Fifty-one percent say evangelical political action in recent years has been productive, and 41 percent think it has had mixed results; only 8 percent say it has been unproductive.
The survey suggests that evangelicals are not “monolithically Republican.” More than a third are independents or Democrats. While 63 percent say they are Republicans, only about 26 percent are “strong Republicans.” Sixty-nine percent would vote for George W. Bush for president, 11 percent for Al Gore, and 17 percent are undecided, the survey said. Three percent supported other candidates.
Meanwhile, 39 percent support a constitutional amendment on school prayer, the same percent oppose it, and 22 percent are neutral on the matter The survey also found more evangelicals support affirmative action for minorities (38 percent) than oppose it (36 percent), and 59 percent said the federal government has a responsibility to help poor people. The survey was sent to subscribers to NAE’s Washington Insight newsletter and distributed at a conference, which resulted in 425 responses.
07: A recent Gallup poll finds that one-fourth of Americans have a negative view of Catholicism, although not many of these sentiments are held by evangelicals.
The extent of anti-Catholicism has become an issue surrounding the recent primaries, particularly when George W. Bush spoke at fundamentalist Bob Jones University. But the poll, cited in the National Catholic Register (April 23-29) finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans view the Catholic Church favorably. Only 29 percent of evangelicals, compared to 30 percent of Protestants generally, described Catholicism as “unfavorable.”
One of the biggest predictors of negative attitudes toward Catholics is an overall lack of personal religious faith. For instance, among those who say that religion is not important in their own life, 44 percent said theri opinion of Catholicism was unfavorable. The poll also found that Democrats and independents are slightly more likely than Republicans to view Catholicism negatively.
08: Although Sabbath observance has fallen sharply among Presbyterians, most would like to more fully observe this day of rest and religious devotion, according to a recent denominational survey.
The Presbyterian Panel, a continuing poll of members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) by the denomination’s research office, finds that more than eight in 10 of the respondents agree that Presbyterians once took Sabbath observance more seriously than they do today. Yet most agree that regularly practicing Sabbath keeping is “very important” or “important.” A majority of both clergy and laity report that they are “very interested” or “generally interested” in increasing their time of Sabbath observance (among pastors, those under the age of 50 are more interested in increasing their time for Sabbath keeping than are the clergy over the age of 50).
It should be noted that the concept of Sabbath keeping, at least in the Presbyterian church. is now being applied to any spiritual quiet time or devotional activities, regardless if they are on Sunday or a particular time of the week. Seventy six percent of the female clergy and 59 percent of the male clergy are comfortable separating Sabbath keeping from Sunday, but only 29 percent of members and 24 percent of elders are comfortable with such a practice.
(Presbyterian Panel, 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202).
09: The amount of religion coverage in the major media doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s, as well as the religiosity of journalists, according to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The study, conducted from a random sample of 2,365 stories appearing in the major print and television media, found the coverage increase mostly centered around subjects of religion and politics, clergy misconduct, and the growth of non-Christian and new religions. By contrast, the Washington Post (April 20) reports that stories on church governance and the role of women fell by roughly one-half. It was also found that journalists at major media outlets who regularly attend religious services more than doubled, from 14 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 1995.
10: The religious situation in the postcommunist world is divided between countries showing a rebirth of religious faith, those showing rapid “de-Christianization,” and others that are more polarized, according to a recent study.
The National Catholic Register (April 23-29) cites a study of 1,000-1,200 individuals in each of 10 Eastern European countries which shows how unbelief and belief are co-existing in the postcommunist situation. The study, conducted by the Vienna-based, ecumenical group Pastoral Forum, found that in the former East Germany and Czech Republic secularism reigns, with just over 20 percent declaring themselves religious. Poland, Croatia and Transylvania (the only area of Romania studied) are on the other end of the spectrum where religious faith is clearly evident (although the frequency of church attendance varies).
Countries that are polarized on religion include Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. The people in these countries tend to be either very religious or atheists. For instance, in Hungary, nearly 50 percent of those interviewed say they are religious in some sense, and 30 percent they are not religious at all. As other studies have found, those least religious are the generation brought up under communism (now 40-55). The researchers found confidence in the church re-emerging among the younger generations in all the countries surveyed except Hungary and the Czech Republic.
11: Africa’s increasingly influential and conservative bishops within the world Anglican communion are more educated than their critics have implied.
When Africa’s (and other Third World countries’) bishops’ took the lead in opposing changes in traditional church teachings on sexual morality at the last Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of the worldwide Anglican communion, Western critics charged that these church leaders were out of sync with modern thinking and the latest Western research on these matters.
But statistics from the latest Lambeth Directory finds that African bishops are often largely better educated than their counterparts in the U.S., Canada and England. As cited in the magazine First Things (May), the directory shows that, for example, in Nigeria, of the 43 bishops for whom education information is available, six hold a research degree (Ph.D.) and two hold doctorates of ministry (D.Min.).
Of the 139 American bishops, three have research degrees and fifteen have a D. Min. At least 14 percent of Nigerian bishops and 22 percent of Indian bishops hold research degrees, compared with two percent of American bishops. The lowest level of academic qualifications is found among American female bishops.
(First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010)