01: Charismatics, even more than their Pentecostal counterparts, comprise a growing percentage of the world’s Christians, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The study is the largest of its kind, including surveys of 10 countries with sizeable Pentecostal and charismatic populations. The study distinguishes charismatics from Pentecostals in that the former, whom they call “renewalists,” either do not belong to formal Pentecostal denominations or claim the charismatic label while engaging in such practices as speaking in tongues. In every country except Nigeria and Kenya, renewalists outnumbered Pentecostals. The largest charismatic populations were in Brazil (34 percent of the population), Guatemala (40 percent) and the Philippines (40 percent).
The study found that speaking in tongues is not as common among either Pentecostals or charismatics as commonly perceived. In six of the 10 countries surveyed, at least four-in-ten Pentecostals say they never speak or pray in tongues. Pentecostals are more likely to say they have experienced or witnessed divine healing.
In nine of the countries, at least half of the Pentecostals and charismatics said Christians should be involved in politics. While in seven of the 10 countries, Pentecostals supported separation of church and state, there were significant minorities (and majorities in Nigeria) who say the government should take special steps to make their country a Christian nation. Fewer than half of charismatics in every nation expressed this view. (For a copy of the report, visit: http://pewforum.org/docs/print.php?DocID=160)
02: Faith-based social service initiatives are more likely to gain a foothold in states with a strong evangelical presence rather than states where the welfare burdens are the greatest, according to new research.
Faith-based social services initiatives began at the federal level in the late 1990s but have had an uneven reception at the state level, according to Rebecca Sager of the University of Arizona. In her unpublished research, Sager focuses on the growth of state legislation on faith-based initiatives and on state conferences and liaisons mediating between religious organizations involved in social services and state governments. Laws passed regarding faith-based social services tend to occur in states with a strong evangelical presence rather than states that “show the most need for improved social services,” she writes. The same goes for liaisons. 34 states have liaisons who either directly fund faith-based groups or focus on bringing these groups information in order to obtain funding.
Sager found that most of these liaisons tend to be evangelical Protestants, about half of whom are African-American, and they are strongly tied to like-minded church networks. Sager writes that religious groups with less liaison representation and information may be left out of the faith-based funding loop. The states also sponsor faith-based conferences that are often tailored to black religious leaders. Sager found that “religious exhortations are used by the leaders of the conference to engage the audience and inspire religious responses, and [that] religious expression in the small groups at the conferences is encouraged.” Since only a few states have allocated any substantial funding to state offices of faith-based initiatives, Sager concludes that the end result of this activity may be creating a permanent role for religion in state governments and creating new allies and actors for the movement rather than actually assisting the poor and needy.
03: The longtime gap between liberal clergy and conservative laity on politics may be widening but in the opposite direction, according to a recent study. Baptists Today magazine (October) cites a survey by Ellison Research that finds that 62 percent of all senior pastors in Protestant churches describes themselves as politically conservative, while 23 percent are moderate, and 15 percent are liberal. Among all adults who regularly attend Protestant churches, 38 percent describe themselves as politically conservative, 45 percent as moderate, and 17 percent as liberal.
As might be expected, the new gap between conservative clergy and liberal laity is most clearly seen in evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and various Pentecostal groups. In the SBC, 47 percent of the laity are conservative, 39 percent moderate and 14 percent liberal. Meanwhile, 86 percent of Southern Baptist pastors are conservative. In Pentecostal churches, 49 percent of the laity is conservative compared to 73 percent of the clergy.
The old divide between liberal clergy and conservative laity still holds in the Lutheran and Methodist churches. Twenty nine percent of all Lutheran clergy are liberal compared to 14 percent of the laity. Just 12 percent of the Methodist laity are liberal while 35 percent of the clergy are liberal. Presbyterians are the only major denomination where the clergy and laity are equally divided between liberals and conservatives. However, a majority of all clergy believe their views are about the same as the views of their congregations.
04: The rate of decline in churchgoing in Britain is slowing as immigrants are helping to replace some of the dropouts, reports The Tablet (September 23).
The English Church Census conducted by Christian Research found that the steep declines of the 1990s have leveled off. The Church of England registered an 11 percent decline between 1998 and 2005, a smaller loss than earlier in the decade, while black Pentecostal churches grew by 34 percent. But the United Reformed Church showed a sharp drop of 43 percent (from 121,000 to 69,900 between 1998 and 2005) and the Catholics suffered a loss of 28 percent in Mass attendance. Most churches showed a growth in immigrants and non-white church-goers.
05: The decline in church attendance in Britain is matched by a significant drop in Christian organizations, according to Quadrant(November), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association.
From a peak of 5,500 Christian agencies or organizations in 1995, the number has slowly dropped to 5,000, a decline of 10 percent over 10 years. The newsletter adds that the “actual movement, however, is greater than these numbers suggest, since over the last two years 524 agencies have closed while 474 new ones have opened.” The agencies, 57 percent of which are registered charities, tend to close when they are in the process of finding a successor to their founders. While there are fewer agencies, more staff is employed by them. (Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)
06: Eighty percent of Russians describe themselves as Christians, but only 14 percent adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity, according to a recent survey conducted by the Sociology Department of the State University of Moscow.
Novosti news service (October 31) reports that only 23 percent of the sample (of more than 6,000 people) consider rituals as important and 69 percent do not see attending church as important. Family, health and friends are the three most important values. The number of Russians who say they are religious has grown significantly since the 1980s, but few of them seem to be practicing: Orthodox Christians who regularly go to confession and communion remain around two percent, writes Novostipolitical commentator Vladimir Simonov (October 8).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)