01: A survey of religious political action groups and their effectiveness in influencing state legislatures finds that the use of lobbyists and building a strong membership base are more important than holding a specific ideology. The study, presented at the meeting of the ASR, is based on a survey of 15 Indiana legislators (exactly 10 percent of the Indiana General Assembly), and on research of and interviews with Indiana-based religious political action organizations and their leaders. Joe Micon, an Indiana State Representative who conducted the survey, found that the most effective and successful organizations were the Jewish Community Relations Council, followed by the Indiana Catholic Conference, the Lafayette Urban Ministry and Advance America. The groups are spread out across the liberal-conservative spectrum (Advance America is the most conservative of these groups). Irrespective of whether a group was conservative or liberal in theology, it was the presence of lobbyists and such pragmatic measures as providing “talking points” to their members, and helping them communicate with legislators that mattered in their level of effectiveness.
02: Mainline Protestants tend to be most socially involved when there is a close fit between the social values of their communities and their congregations, according to recent research. In a paper on the differences between worshippers in liberal “blue states” and conservative “red states” delivered at the ASR, Cynthia Woolever of Hartford Seminary found that this divide extends to local community involvement as much as to national politics. In an analysis of data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey of 2001, Woolever found that mainline Protestants in blue (or liberal) states and particularly in blue counties tend to be the most involved in their communities. For instance, 43 percent of mainline Protestants in blue states and counties focused on the community compared to 36 percent in a red county.
While evangelical congregations in red (or conservative) states and particularly red counties were shown to have the most overall vitality in their faith (50 percent), there was not much of a difference whether they were in a red or blue state or county in their level of community involvement (falling around the 28-30 percent level). Whether or not a church was in a red or blue state and county was not as influential for the community involvement of worshippers at Catholic churches, according to Woolever.
03: Evangelical teens are just as or even more sexually active as their non-evangelical counterparts. That is only one of the findings noting little difference between evangelicals and non-evangelical teens when it comes to sexual behavior in sociologist Mark Regnerus’ new bookForbidden Fruit (Oxford). Regnerus found that evangelical teens had their first sexual experience at a younger age (16.3) than liberal Protestants (16.7). Young evangelicals are far more likely to have had three or more sexual partners (13.7 percent) than non-evangelicals (8.9 percent). The abstinence pledges that have made so much news tend to work for a while, delaying sex on an average of 18 months, but 88 percent of pledgers eventually give up on their vows to remain virgins until marriage. It is not the case that evangelicals disagree with teachings prohibiting premarital sex; about 80 percent of teens who say they have been “born again” agree that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Yet over two-thirds of these teens violate their beliefs by their own behavior.
04: Married convert Catholic priests, usually from the Episcopal Church, have been generally regarded as more conservative than other Catholic priests, but a new study suggests that the differences may be greater than assumed. The study, presented by D. Paul Sullins of Catholic University of America at the ASR meeting, found the differences between married convert priests and other priests particularly sharp on sexual issues . There are about 70 married men who have become Catholic priests in the U.S,. since 1980. The divide between married convert priests and other priests was especially strong on the question of whether it is “always” a sin to have premarital sex (84 percent of convert priests versus 57 percent of other priests), engage in homosexual behavior (89 percent of convert priests versus 53 percent of other priests), and to use cloning in research (52 percent versus 95 percent). Married convert priests were also more likely to oppose allowing priests to marry as a general rule (61 percent versus 28.8 percent) and define themselves as “somewhat” or “very” conservative (97 percent versus 29.4 percent). Married convert priests were also more likely to see ordination as giving them a distinct and permanent status in the church (92 percent versus 77 percent).
05: A faith-based civil rights organization’s effectiveness during a notorious drug sting operation stemmed from the way the group worked across racial and class lines and transformed the social identity of those charged with the crime, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, Lydia Bean of Harvard University examined the role of the faith-based group Friends of Justice in the Tulia Drug Sting, which occurred in Texas in 1999. Bean argues that the interracial faith-based group incorporated a religious oriented discourse that advocated for those detained under drug dealing charges.
Her research shows how, by drawing on biblical authority, the civil group characterized themselves as a distinctively religious community opposing the sting and its social consequences, rather than as a left-wing radical group standing against governmental actions. By working through a worshipping community and highlighting its religious identity, Friends of Justice was able to work across both racial and class lines. Also, Friends of Justice created an alternate narrative enhancing the status of the defendants; and challenging the dominant narrative that casts policemen as “heroes” and poor, black men as dangerous and potential criminals (the Tulia drug sting arrested 20 percent of the black adults in the town of about 5,000 people). These differentiations can account for the success of the group in bringing attention to the sting, creating a major scandal and eventually making possible the liberation of the 46 imprisoned men (forty of whom were African Americans), while creating an opening for liberal reforms in Texas.–By Marisol Lopez Menendez, a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
06: The number of Muslims in a country is negatively correlated to the incidents of HIV/AIDS infection. This is the main finding of a scientific paper recently published by the open-access journal, PLuS ONE. The paper is authored by John R. Talbott of Africans Against Aids, and was cited by the Turkey-based news service Yunus. The study examined the number of HIV/AIDS patients in different countries and compared that to the number of prostitutes in that country. The rate of the HIV/AIDS infection in prostitutes is usually higher than the general population’s and is said to be a good indicator for predicting the rate of future HIV/AIDS infections.
The study found that as the population share of Muslims increases in a country, the number of prostitutes decreases. This, the author attributes, is the major factor for the impact of the presence of Muslims in negatively affecting the rate of HIV/AIDS infection. However, the paper does not go into detail as to why the increase in the Muslim population leads to a relative decrease in the number of prostitutes or whether the drop could be due to other factors, such as prohibitions on certain sexual behavior and alcohol use, as previous studies have suggested. (http://www.yunusnews.com)