01: Holding to a “wrathful” image of God and a literal reading of the Bible tends to correlate with political intolerance, write Baylor University sociologists Christopher Bader, Paul Froese and Buster Smith in the journal Sociology of Religion (Spring).
Past studies have long suggested that political intolerance is linked to religious affiliation or church attendance, but Bader, Froese and Smith argue that individuals’ religious worldviews may be even more significant. The researchers introduced the variables of views on the Bible and images of God in predicting intolerance of fringe groups (including limiting free expression), specifically atheists, racists, homosexuals, militarists and communists, in their analysis of data from the General Social Survey.
Only three variables were consistently significant predictors of political tolerance and intolerance: those with higher levels of education are more tolerant of fringe groups, while “People who believe the Bible is the word of God are significantly less tolerant. And images of a wrathful God are also significantly predictive of intolerance for every fringe group.” Frequent church attendance only affected the likelihood of intolerance toward some groups, such as atheists, racists and homosexuals.
(Sociology of Religion, 618 S.W. Second Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
02: Contrary to popular wisdom, mainline Protestant clergy are more concerned with politics today than they were in the 1960s, though church members do not express much dissatisfaction with such involvement, according to a recent study.
In a study of clergy from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church, researchers Paul Djupe and Christopher Gilbert argue that the level of clergy concern with political matters, shown in the time they address such concerns in sermons and other speech, has increased by 33 percent over their careers compared to studies of clergy in the 1960s (from two-thirds of clergy in 1968 to 90 percent in 1998. In their study, Djupe and Gilbert find that even though there is still a gap between laity and clergy on these political issues (with laity usually holding more conservative views), the former do not express strong levels of dissatisfaction about such activity.
The researchers find that both clergy political involvement and levels of opposition have not increased among the laity, largely because these churches have been able to satisfy the worship needs and development opportunities of members, thereby allowing clergy the space and time to devote themselves more to politics. They add that “Whether by conscious assent or indifference, ELCA clergy and Episcopal clergy may gain latitude to undertake political activities due to their effective actions in other spheres of congregational life.” This finding offers a credible explanation for why mainline Protestant clergy have become significantly more political than they were in the 1960s.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Commerce Pl., 350 Main St, Malden, MA 02148)
03: American perceptions about the pope have turned significantly more favorable since Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the U.S., according to a survey by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum.
After the visit, just as many Catholics express “very favorable” opinions of the current pontiff as they did of Pope John Paul II (both 49 percent). The very favorable rating went up from 31 percent last August to 36 percent shortly before the visit in March. The current pope’s image improved the most among the less observant; 41 percent of those not attending church very often have a favorable image of the pope, up from 25 percent in March.
Views of the pope’s outreach to other Christians and those of other faiths have shown substantial improvement, especially among evangelical Christians (32 percent of evangelicals rated Benedict’s relations with other faiths good or excellent in March compared to 57 percent after his visit ). Catholics are more or less evenly split about the pope’s handling of the sex abuse scandal—the less observant are the most critical. Overall, however, there has been little change in the public’s (including Catholics’) view of the pope as being conservative, though more Protestants are of this view after the visit (going from 34 percent to 42 percent).
04: Religious organizations, including congregations, have the lowest “mortality rates” of any type of organizations, though that is not necessarily good news, according to a new study.
A new analysis and updating of the 1998 National Congregations Study, which examined how many of the congregations under study were still recently active, found that only 1 percent of U.S. congregations go out of existence each year. The rate of dissolution in secular institutions usually has been higher, according to Mark Chaves and Shawna Anderson, coauthors of the study, which is to appear in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and is cited in the Christian Century (May 6).
Chaves adds, however that a low mortality rate does not necessarily signal organizational health. “We think that it means that whereas in other arenas the weakest organizations shut down, the weakest churches have ways of staying alive for a longer time.”
(The Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605)
05: Black churches that use rap music tend to be oriented to liberal social activism while also showing a growing membership, according to a recent study by Sandra Barnes of Case Western Reserve University.
The study, published in the Review of Religious Research (March) finds that the use of “gospel rap” in church services is increasing in black churches, although 46.5 percent of congregations surveyed never use this musical form. Those that do use it tend to belong to the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion churches. The Church of God in Christ is the least likely to use it (54.4 percent). Barnes also found a direct relationship between churches that use rap and those congregations drawing new members, and among those pastors stressing social justice and preaching on political issues and “liberation themes.”
She concludes that churches attracting diverse new members, including males, professionals and college graduates, may be more receptive to nontraditional ways of worship, including the use of rap.
(Review of Religious Research, 618 S.W. Second Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
06: A new study by Barna Research finds that evangelicals are less likely than the overall population to divorce.
In the past there have been studies finding that citizens of states with large evangelical populations are more likely to be divorced than those of states with more religiously pluralistic populations. The Barna study also finds that one out of every four evangelicals who are or have been married nevertheless have gone through at least one divorce.
But the telephone survey found that while 33 percent of U.S. adults who have been married have been divorced at least once, 26 percent of married evangelicals have divorced. The poll did not ask whether the divorce occurred before or after their conversion experience.
07: Media representations of Buddhism over the last half century have tended to dispel more unfavorable views of the religion—a far different situation from that of Islam, writes Thomas Tweed in the journal Material Religion (March).
Tweed writes that since 1945 Buddhism has “been interpreted as individualistic and pacifist and in harmony with shared cultural values, whereas Islam been imagined as communal and violent and in tension with all that Americans say they cherish most.” Especially since the late 1950s, the “solitary meditator” has been the prevailing image of the Buddhist practitioner, although in reality meditation was historically practiced by groups of monks and was rarely isolated from other rituals such as offerings and chanting.
This image tended to fit in with American ideals of individualism. In contrast, it is the communal elements of Islam (such as prayer in the mosque) that are often represented in the media, along with the negative connotations of crowds and submission to authority, even though Islam has individual as well as communal components. The link between Islam and violence was reaffirmed with the widely circulated images of the Iranian hostage crisis and 9/11. But Buddhism also has also been portrayed in the media as having violent associations. Between 1968 and 2005, there were 142 evening broadcast news stories involving Buddhism, of which more than half (79) dealt with violence, conflict and disaster.
The most well-known Buddhist media image was of Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire in Vietnam, subsequently shaping attitudes about the Vietnam war. But these acts were interpreted as violence produced by the solitary meditator, as well as a “public action turned toward the self, not others,” which is in line with American notions of religious-based democratic protest. While some Muslims may have viewed the hostage crisis and even 9/11 in similar terms, the media did not buy that interpretation.
Tweed concludes that “Buddhism has been able to loosen its association with public violence in ways that Islam has not,” and the image of the solitary meditator and “righteous protestor” played a significant role in this change.
(Material Religion, Berg Publishers, 1st Fl., Stratton Business Park, Pegasus Drive, Biggleswade, SG8 8TQ, U.K.)