01: On the hotly debated subject of whether Catholicism among the laity is in serious decline in vitality, numbers, and appeal, new research suggests a more positive reading of the situation.
According to an analysis of Fr. Joseph Claude Harris in America magazine (June 3-10), the church’s membership rolls are rising at the rate of the general population growth. Catholics continue to observe the major events in life by participating through the sacraments. And, thirdly, much of the growth is due to the Hispanic influx in the last several years, a feature which the author says is adding new life and strength to the faith.
While American mainline Protestants lost 22 percent of their members between l970 and l997, Catholic rolls increased some 27.7 percent in those years. Adult Catholics now account for 53 percent of the total combined number of Catholics and members of the l8 largest Protestant denominations. Sacramental participation has increased slightly more than the general population rise. Infant baptisms are on the increase, as is the number of baptized teens who stay active in the churches after confirmation.
On average, the author cites, some 59 percent of the baptismal group participated in confirmation services, a figure higher than the common wisdom concerning teen dropouts would allow. On Hispanics, Harris agrees that the great majority of those in the United States are ‘culturally’ Catholic; the huge numbers joining independent Protestant bodies attests to that.
However, recent studies show a clear increase of Latinos in southern California congregations, a trend the experts see as indicating a new resurgence of loyalty to Catholicism among this bellwether group.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
— By Erling Jorstad
02: More white teen-age malesboys are becoming Christians and taking more conservative social attitudes on issues such as abortion.
A study published in Family Planning Perspectives found that 24 percent of males age 15-19 agreed in 1995 that it was all right for a woman to have an abortion “for any reason,” down from 37 percent in 1988, reports ReligionToday.com (June 27).
At the same time, more whites identified themselves as born-again Christians, according to the study. The proportion of young white males identifying themselves as born-again increased from 18 percent to 24 percent, while the proportion saying that religion was very important to them increased from 28 percent to 34 percent from 1988 to 1995.
03: The welfare reform provision known as Charitable Choice has created a “notable, albeit modest, number of new financial relationships between religious social service providers and government,” writes researcher Amy Sherman in American Enterprise magazine (June).
Sherman conducted a survey of nine states (CA, IL, MA, MI, MS, NY, TX, VA, WI) and identified 84 new partnerships involved in helping welfare recipients move into jobs. Three-quarters of these projects involved a direct financial relationship between a government entity (such as a state or county department of human services) and a religious organization.
The other quarter involved indirect funding mechanisms (usually government contracts with non-profit groups). Sherman writes that even these small numbers of initiatives are significant for two reasons. First, they represent hundreds of congregations and engage the lives of thousands of welfare recipients. “Second, over half of these financial relationships involve churches and religious bodies that have not previously cooperated formally with government — including some evangelical Protestant organizations historically worried that government collaboration would squelch their religious identity. The upshot is that welfare recipients in some localities now have a more diverse array of service providers to choose from.”
(American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036)
04: Evangelical Christians are just as likely to use modern entertainment and communication technology — from Cable television to cell phones — as non-evangelicals, according to a recent poll from the Barna Research Group.
A news release from Barna (June 12) finds that in evaluating the rate of adoption of modern technology of ten electronic and equipment items, “there was not a statistically significant difference in ownership levels” between evangelicals–or born again Christians–and non-born again. Seventy-one percent of born again Christians and 74 percent of non-born again have cable TV; 94 percent of evangelicals and 93 percent have VCRs, 59 percent of evangelicals and 57 percent of non-evangelicals have cell phones; and 48 percent of evangelicals and 52 percent of non-evangelicals have Internet access.