01: When it comes to welcoming other races and ethnicities to church, evangelicals have it over mainline Protestants, according to a novel experiment carried out by University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright and reported in Christianity Today (July-August). Seeking to test the hypothesis that evangelicals have a higher rate of implicit racial bias than other Christians (as suggested by previous research), Wright and colleague Mike Wallace designed an experiment where a random sample of 1,830 evangelical, mainline and Catholic congregations were sent emails from supposed inquirers stating they were relocating and interested in visiting their services. The emails were designated with first and last names suggesting the senders were either white, African-American, Asian or Latino. Somewhat unexpected, they found that evangelical churches were significantly more likely to respond to inquirers from the four races/ethnicities in roughly equal proportions than their mainline counterparts [because fewer Catholic parishes were included in the sample, the tests for them were statistically weaker than for evangelical and mainline churches].
For every 100 evangelical churches that responded to white-sounding names, 97 replied to black names, 100 to Hispanic, and 94 to Asian names. In contrast, for every 100 mainline churches that replied to white-sounding names, 89 responded to black names, 86 to Hispanic, and only 72 to Asian. When replying to non-whites, mainline churches were also less likely to describe how their church worshiped; they sent the most informative and welcoming replies to whites, the least to blacks, and Hispanics and Asians were in between, according to Wright. He speculates that evangelicals are more outreach-oriented and thus more likely to welcome those of different ethnicities in their drive for evangelism, even if they distrust societal level programs for addressing racial inequality. “Conversely, mainline Protestants’ pursuit of racial justice at the societal level appears not to trickle down into interpersonal behavior,” Wright concludes.
(Christianity Today, 365 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, NY 60188)
02: The Tea Party movement has shown a decline in support among Republicans, although there is an uptick of growth among Hispanic Protestants, according to a study by Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Center. Jones presented a paper based on 30 surveys about the Tea Party from 2010–2014 at the Chicago meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in late August, which RW attended. There has been a one-third drop of support for the Tea Party among Republicans since 2010. Jones finds a thinning out of support among 39-49- year-olds, but there was slight growth among the youngest and oldest age groups. The Latino Protestant growth in support may be due to the “Ted Cruz effect,” the evangelical Republican candidate who has shown allegiance to the movement. Tea Party members are similar to the Christian Right in their oppostion to same-sex marriage. In fact, on most culture war questions, the Tea Party members are closer to social and religious conservatives. They are not necessarily more libertarian than the Republican Party, according to Jones.
03: Catholic and Protestant churches in Canada are moving from full-time to part-time staffing, and it is not just the result of declining institutional participation and contributions but also a growing acceptance of part-time in the wider society. An article in the current issue of the journal Studies in Religion (Vol. 44, No. 3) finds that part-time staffing has increased over a nine year period. Researchers found that the trend toward part-time staff is joined with a growing number of churches that have no full-time staff at all. Mainline churches are most likely to have part-time or no compensated staff in their churches, their participation rate has declined the most over time, though the trend is present in Catholic and evangelical churches as well. While women clergy tend to occupy lower status and thus part-time positions in churches, researchers Sam Reimer and Rick Hiemstra conclude that the pattern may be more likely due to the broader acceptance of part-time employment as the norm. In spite of the increased proportion of Christian congregations with part-time staff, actual compensation for part-time staff has not increased over time. Thus these positions will likely remain peripheral and considered “bad jobs” with clergy and other professionals suffering from “job incongruence.”
(Studies in Religion, http://sir.sagepub.com/)
04: A nation’s “religious climate” is a significant factor in determining its tolerance toward homosexuality, according to Amy Adamczyk of John Jay College. Adamczyk, who was speaking at a joint session of the American Sociological Association and the Association for he Sociology of Religion meeting in Chicago in late August, analyzed data from the World Values Survey (WVS), which included 68 nations and their levels of tolerance on homosexuality. She found that aside from rates of economic inequality and democracy, the predominant religion and the “religious climate” it set for the rest of the nation had a significant impact on its level of tolerance of homosexuality. Ranked by affiliation, Catholic and Jewish societies had the highest levels of tolerance, followed by Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Protestant and Muslim nations. Adamczyk found that as the overall religious belief increased in these nations, residents—even those not religious—tended to become more intolerant of homosexuality. She tested 70 other variables, such as levels of gender inequality, tolerance of foreigners, and education, and found that none of them had an independent effect on these tolerance levels.
05: Residents of the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, show high confidence in Pope Francis, once their hometown priest and activist, while voicing significant criticism of church teachings and policies, according to a survey conducted by Ana Lourdes Suarez of Catholic University of Argentina. In a paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Chicago in late August, which was attended by RW, Suarez conducted a survey of 460 residents in Buenos Aires slums on controversial issues in the church. She found that Catholics represented three-fourths of the slum population, with a growing Pentecostal proportion of almost 17 percent. Yet the Catholic Church was viewed with more confidence and trust than any other institution—even by non-Catholics.
There was high confidence in the pope expressed by a majority. When asked what in the church they would change, 26 percent said they were happy with the current state of the church, 21 percent said the church should do more on issues of helping poor people, 10 percent wanted change in controversial teachings about the church, and 35 percent would change matters dealing with liturgy. In a part of the survey where they could write their own concerns and questions, a large majority supported lifting the celibacy requirement for priests, allowing the divorced to receive the sacraments, permitting priests to marry, liberalizing on gay rights, and standing in favor of women in the priesthood. There was more division on the issue of abortion among respondents. Most also supported the view that the church and its priests should stay out of political matters.
06: While more Russians view religion as helping them in their personal lives, at the same time, they are more negative about its social effects and institutions, reports The Economist (July 31). A survey conducted by the Russian pollsters, VTSIOM suggests some double-mindedness about present-day attitudes toward religion in Russia since 1990. Although there is an increase (from 23 to 55 percent) in the share of people who say they are sometimes “helped” by religion in their own lives, the social effects of religion are viewed in bleaker terms. Russians agreeing that religion does more harm than good in society has grown from five percent to 23 percent. The magazine argues that religion has lost its counter-cultural appeal since Orthodox Christianity has become an increasingly politically privileged institution in Russia, and many are divorcing personal faith from institutional religion.