01: Unlike many Protestant and Catholic churches, there are few sharp divisions over such issues as the ordination of women in Eastern Orthodox churches in the US, according to one of the first major studies of Orthodox laity.
The survey, conducted by the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute of Berkeley, California and presented at the late October meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), studied 1,000 parishioners in 103 parishes of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the largest Orthodox bodies in the US.
The lack of wide differences between clergy and laity is most likely related to the basic unity on Orthodox doctrine and practices. The vast majority of both clergy and laity identify their approach to church life as either “conservative” or “traditional.” Only a small percentage (about four percent) described themselves as “liberal,” and anywhere from 19 to 28 percent of clergy and lay respondents called themselves “moderates.”
Yet very few (seven–eight percent) believed that the Orthodox Church was the only path to salvation. On the issue of women priests, only 14 percent of the Greek Orthodox laity and six percent of the OCA laity would agree with such an innovation. On the status of the priest, the laity were even more likely than the clergy themselves to recognizes the special status of the priesthood, preferring such a hierarchical model to that of a more egalitarian “servant–leader.” The laity and the clergy almost equally agreed that the priest should have final authority in a parish.
The laity valued the priesthood to the extent that three-quarters of respondents would encourage their sons to become priests. At the same time, a majority of laity (53 percent) said it was okay to disobey the priest on some matters. The survey did not find a wide “generation gap” on doctrine and practice, nor much differences between cradle or convert members (who represent as much as 60 percent of the OCA membership).
02: Science undergraduates rate themselves as more religious than other groups and engage in prayer and attend religious services significantly more frequently than the majority of undergraduate groups, according to a paper presented at the SSSR conference.
Researchers Jennifer Storch and Christopher Ellison of the University of Texas found that these students are significantly more committed to biblical inerrancy than social/ behavioral science majors. They emphasize the importance of religion in life decisions significantly more than nearly all other major groups. Storch and Ellison were surprised that business majors are the least religious of any undergraduate group on many measures.
This could indicate that “materialism is the worldview which is most irreconcilable with religiosity,” they added. In line with previous research, social and behavioral science majors demonstrate significantly less religious behaviors and attitudes in multiple measures when compared with science majors.
Storch and Ellison concluded that early in the education process, science students do not show irreligious attitudes and hypothesized whether socialization throughout undergraduate science education may affect religious beliefs and behaviors, since professional scientists are less religious. They speculated that it could also be the case that religious science students are choosing to pursue graduate degrees less frequently than their non-religious counterparts.
03: Congregations have not deserted American cities, although the memberships of urban churches have shown a steady decline, according to a recent study.
A paper presented at the meeting of the SSSR by Dale Jones of the Research Center of the Church of Nazarene challenged the common view that most congregations followed their members to the suburbs, with a subsequent loss of ministry in US urban centers. In congregational studies conducted from the 1950s up to 2000, which asked US religious groups to identity their congregations and the people associated with them by county, it was found that the number of congregations in nine large cities (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, DC, St. Louis, Denver and New Orleans) had not declined at nearly the rate of population loss.
This means that it would be easier for residents of America’s large cities to find venues for religious involvement now than was the case in 1952. However, the drop in membership exceeds the loss in total population. In all, there was a two percent congregation increase, a 29 percent population decline and a 23 percent membership drop in these cities. Since New York showed an unusually high congregation growth (34 percent—probably due to outside church planters targeting the city), removing that city from the totals showed a 14 percent congregation loss, which was still lower than the population decline.
Much of the stability in the number of congregations is due to a growth of African-American and evangelical congregations in cities; Catholic churches have held steady and mainline churches and Jewish synagogues have declined since 1952, according to Jones.
04: The growth of Calvinistic beliefs among evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, tends to encourage a more patriarchal attitude toward women and the issue of women in the ministry, according to a new study conducted by Dennis J. Horton of Baylor University.
Horton, who presented a paper at the meeting of the SSSR, surveyed 2,604 ministry students from 35 different schools in the US and Canada, from 28 different denominations (including non-denominationalism). In placing respondents in the two categories of “egalitarian” (agreeing that God calls women to serve in all types of leadership ministry) or “complementarian/patriarchalist,” it was found that those who are egalitarian are much less likely to be Calvinistic than those strongly patriarchal in their view of women in the ministry.
The strongly patriarchal participants were generally three times more likely to hold to the tenets of Calvinism than were the strongly egalitarian participants. This finding was evident within the four different groups with some affinity for Calvinistic beliefs (Baptist, Nondenominational, Presbyterian and Reformed). Students affiliated with churches more likely to be Wesleyan (or Arminian), such as the Pentecostal and Methodist, were more likely to be open to women serving in all types of ministry leadership.
05: Contrary to expectations, the young Catholic pilgrims who traveled to the World Youth Day (WYD) in Australia last summer attended more for devotional than social reasons, with the more devout Catholics tending to view their participation as a “rite of passage” into a more personalized faith experience, according to a new study.
Every time there is a WYD pilgrimage, sociologists have set out to find the motivations behind young Catholics venturing near and far to attend the crowded events presided over by the pope. At the recent meeting of the SSSR, sociologists from the Australian Catholic University presented preliminary findings showing that there was a diversity of orientations of the young pilgrims. The researchers’ early hypothesis that a high number of WYD pilgrims would be “social Catholics” (attending for social reasons) did not hold true.
As might be expected, those from the host country of Australia were the most likely to have attended largely for such reasons as sightseeing and camaraderie; those coming from further away were more likely to select or “self-select” as an elite of the most committed Catholics (except for those from Ireland and England, which, for some reason, contained a high number of “social Catholics”). But even though there was not much change among the social Catholics attending the event, quite a number did experience positive results (more interest in the faith and attending mass).
Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the large worship and catechesis events drew strong interest from participants. A key idea behind WYD is to help young people move from a familial to a personal Catholic faith—a pattern that was evident among those who came to the event from strongly religious families. Returned pilgrims of all orientations also showed an increase in awareness of the ethical dimensions of social issues and in compassion.