01: While religious freedom has become a publicized and politicized issue among Christians, most denominations have not given it high priority, according to a recent study. In their recent book The Church and Religious Persecution (Calvin College Press), political scientists Kevin den Dulk and Robert Joustra find that nearly half of prominent American and Canadian denominations have issued statements on religious liberty and/or persecution. Yet beyond that, less than one-third of these church bodies have committed any substantial resources to the issue, such as appointing staff or establishing an office, and less than one-fifth provide liturgies, prayer guidance, adult education materials, or other means of raising awareness among its congregations and members. Evangelical denominations are more likely to commit resources to the issue of religious freedom than are mainline Protestants. In contrast, mainline bodies are more likely to focus on interfaith relations. Den Dulk and Joustra conclude that the low percentage of most denominations devoting resources to religious freedom may be because the issue does not provide measurable indicators of “success” in the way that missions or development efforts do.
02: Americans as a whole are growing less religious, but those who still consider themselves involved in a religion have maintained, and in some areas increased, their commitment to their faiths as in the past, according to the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center. Belief in God has decreased by about 3 percent, driven mainly by the rise in the number of “nones” who say they don’t believe in God. Even among the 98 percent of Christians who say they believe in God, fewer believe with absolute certainty (80 percent seven years ago compared to 76 percent in 2014). The study finds that affiliated adults read Scripture regularly and participate in small religious groups than seven years ago, and that 88 percent of religiously affiliated adults said they prayed daily, weekly or monthly (the same percentage from a 2007 study). There has also been an increase of 7 percent in those reporting a greater sense of “spiritual peace and well-being.” The study also finds growing acceptance of homosexuality, even from conservative groups such as Mormons, although they are now at the level of evangelicals for being least accepting.
(Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)
03: A preliminary study of Asian and Pacific Islander Catholics in the U.S. finds that most attend multicultural parishes where their ethnicity comprises less than 80 percent of the parish. The study, presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in late October by researchers Jerry Z. Park, Tricia C. Bruce and Stephen M. Cherry, also finds that first generation Asian Catholics have weekly attendance patterns that are nearly as high as Asian evangelical Protestants (81 percent versus 73 percent), but then the attendance rates for the second and third generations move closer to the 30-40 percent range of whites and other ethnics. While most (eight in 10) Asian and Pacific Island Catholics speak a language other than English at home, 73 percent say they “never” feel uncomfortable because there is no one at the parish who shares their same ethnicity or race. But when Park, Bruce and Cherry conducted qualitative interviews they found a greater level of discomfort among these ethnic Catholics about American parish life. In such interviews, there was criticism that American parishes don’t hear the concerns of Asians and Pacific Islanders and are not welcoming. In the survey of these parishioners at Mass, more than eight in 10 agree at least “somewhat” that their parish should be more involved in providing assistance to immigrants.
04: Although they are not all megachurches by U.S. standards, Canada’s large churches are growing even in secular cities, especially those congregations that focus on serving children and youth, according to a new study. The study was conducted by Leadership Network in collaboration with several Canadian evangelical ministries and scholars. About one-in-eight active Protestant churches attend these large churches, which range from 1,000 to 10,000 in weekly attendance. Most of them (79 percent) have grown over the last five years, with 29 percent of the growth coming from new Christians (16 percent) and those renewed in the faith (13 percent). Slightly over half of these congregations have “birthed” or planted separate churches in the last 10 years, with another 16 percent considering it. Forty percent of respondents said their church was multisite, with one congregation meeting in two or more different locations. Of these churches, 62 percent are multiethnic meaning that there is not more than 80 percent of one race. More than half of the congregations cited youth and children’s ministry as a key factor in their growth.
05: Since the late 1990s, it had been claimed that the New Apostolic Church (NAC) had passed the threshold of 10 million members, and it had even been claimed to count more than 11 million at some point. However, revised data released on Oct. 22 “has arrived at a more realistic worldwide membership of approximately 8.8 million,” the denomination’s news service nac.today reports. For the past few years, there had already been several revised estimates downwards. But revisions had never been as massive as the one reported now. Previous revisions had invoked the fact that many deaths had remained unreported in countries where the Church had strongly expanded. This reason is mentioned again, but it is obvious that the explanation is not sufficient: a more general explanation provided is that “the systems in place to keep track of the membership figures could often not keep up with the rapid growth in membership.”
A German-speaking independent website reporting on the NAC, Glaubenskultur, suggests that other reasons played a role too. Some apostles and missionaries reportedly engaged in a “statistical war of the superlatives,” and some local leaders gladly obliged. For leaders in the West, facing stagnant or declining membership, such good news was welcomed. The revisions are massive for Asian statistics — instead of 1.45 million in 2005, slightly more than 600,000 in 2015, i.e. a reduction of 57 percent. Similar revisions regarding North and South America: from 438,000 to 225,000 (49 percent drop). Africa, where the largest number of members is found now, is less affected — less 11 percent, but still nearly 7.4 million. Moreover, all members are not necessarily active. In its anniversary brochure released for celebrating the 150 years of the Church in 2013, it had been stated that approximately one in three New Apostolic Christians regularly attends the divine services in Europe and Africa, while this number drops to one in five in the Americas, and one in 10 in Asia.
(n.a.c. today, http://nac.today/en/a/289643; Glaubenskultur – http://glaubenskultur.de/)
06: While there have been many reports of the revival of Islamic parties and politics since the Arab Spring in 2010 and 2011, Islamic political parties have actually not done well at the polls, write Charles Kurzman and Didem Turkoglu in the Journal of Democracy (Oct.). During and after the Arab Spring, elections did bring Islamic parties into office across North Africa, and many Muslim communities witnessed the growth of conservative Salafi movements. But since then, only a handful of these parties were able to win pluralities of the vote, with most receiving less than two percent of seats in parliament. Kurzman and Turkoglu write that the “Islamic political sector as a whole—that is, the proportion of seats won by all Islamic parties in each election—has remained virtually unchanged, with a median figure of 14 percent both before and since the Arab Spring.”
Most of the countries where Islamic parties did win a quarter or more of parliament seats, such as in Tunisia, Indonesia, Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey, did so in breakthrough elections after long periods of authoritarian rule. But the overall trend, both for parties and for the Islamic political sector as a whole, has curved downward in recent years. The researchers also look at Islamic party platforms and find that while support for democracy, often in an Islamic framework, has become more prominent since the Arab Spring, support for enacting shari’a law and support for “liberal rights” (such as for minority religious groups) has declined. Yet support for jihad has continued falling since well before 2000.
(Journal of Democracy, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/)