01: Providence is a new quarterly magazine seeking to rehabilitate and reinvigorate evangelical engagement involvement in foreign policy. Published by the Institute for Religion and Democracy, the magazine has a distinct neoconservative orientation, arguing that evangelicals and other Christians have fallen into either isolationism or pacifism. The lead article illustrates the very different evangelical situation of today as compared to two decades ago, where the influence of the evangelical left was marginal to public life. Today, the evangelical left has become “mainstream in American Christianity,” especially in what the editors call “elite evangelicalism” and its “penchant for peacemaking at all costs,” which has been “accompanied by a rising ambivalence if not hostility towards Israel.” Another article by foreign policy writer Walter Russell Mead argues that the Baby Boomer and Millennial generation evangelicals have so often focused on NGOs in social change that they have overlooked the role of congregations in the generation of social capital. For more information, visit: www.providencemag.org
02: The movement of ex-Protestant, mostly ex-Episcopalian, married clergy into the Catholic priesthood is given in-depth treatment in Keeping the Vow (Oxford University Press, $29.95), by sociologist D. Paul Sullins. Based on surveys of married priests and Catholics, priests and bishops in general, the book covers both the motivations and attitude of these converts as well as the institutional barriers they continue to face in the church. Sullins, a married priest himself, argues that these priests’ trajectory into the church follows a classic conversion model, ironically breaking with the authority of their former denominations to find a true sense of authority in Rome. There are still a small number of married priests under the Pastoral Provision and the later Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, totaling only about 100 nationwide (mainly in the South). Sullins finds a range of factors behind such institutional reluctance to increase their ranks, ranging from the bishops’ concern with feeding resentment and dissatisfaction over clerical celibacy among celibate priests to a reluctance to financially support priests with families.
But the book shows that these married priests are exceptionally institutionally loyal, are much more conservative than other priests, and are happier and more committed in the priesthood than other priests, with their wives often serving as key sources of support and strength. Sullins sees the ranks of married priests not only coming from the Episcopal Church, but also from the many new splinter Anglican groups (and some non-Anglican churches). They will likely have a steady—although small—presence in the church and will have an impact in American Catholicism just because they circulate in the Latin-rite church (unlike Eastern-rite married priests). But, the fact that these priests largely defend the celibate priesthood suggests they are unlikely to be a force for change in Catholicism.
Sullins writes that the number of ex-Catholic priests traveling in the opposite direction to Protestant pastorates are far smaller than the married priests though, because of the size of the Catholic Church and the ex-Catholic pool, the former phenomenon is larger. In Stephen Joseph Fichter’s book From Celibate Catholic Priest to Married Protestant Minister (Lexington Books, $80), the percentage of ex-Catholic priests that have become Protestant clergy is estimated at under one percent; however, the trend is viewed as saying as much about the Catholic priesthood as about religious conversion and switching. Fichter’s sample of 133 ex-priests-turned-mostly mainline Protestant ministers, whose stories he intersperses with theoretical discussions and survey analysis, tend to have been strongly influenced by the aftershocks of the Second Vatican Council (a period marked by a high rate of priestly resignations).
They made the transition out of the church and the priesthood in their mid-30s, with the mid-1970s being the peak of such conversions. Thus these cohorts tended to face a mid-life crisis at about the same time that they faced societal and ecclesial upheavals. Another interesting finding concerned the fact that the large majority of these conversions or transitions took place among diocesan priests. Those priests based in religious orders were far less likely to leave and convert compared to diocesan priests, most likely because of the greater level of community and support found in religious orders. Celibacy was clearly a motivating factor in these switches, but Fichter finds that “while marriage was indeed the primary ‘pull’ factor throughout this past half century, the later cohorts [of Catholic priests-turned-Protestant ministers] manifested a growing inclination towards an ideological embrace of Protestantism first.”
03: Political scientist Elizabeth Shakman Hurd provides a revisionist and critical view of how religion itself changes as religious freedom becomes a globalized crusade in her book, Beyond Religious Freedom (Princeton University Press, $29.95). The first part of the book presents an engaging account of how religious freedom moved from a back burner issue fomented by activists to its current embrace by policy makers from a wide swath of the political spectrum. Hurd argues that the everyday or “lived religion” of practitioners clashes with the way religion is formulated and privileged in law and international public policy, often favoring a modern liberalized version of the faith. This is especially the case when American exceptionalism in matters of religious freedom (viewing the U.S. as the apex of religious freedom) is exported abroad.
She uses the example of the wars and killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda where the Christian-on-Christian violence makes it difficult to impose the cause of religious freedom on such cases. What Hurd calls “cornering religion” privileges certain faiths (minority over majority, or “good” versus “bad”) over others in the interest of designing foreign policy, but readers may wonder what the alternatives are in facing cases of actual violence and discrimination over religion? She argues that policy makers need to recognize religion for the local and unstable reality it is and to take into account the other identity markers involved in social conflict, such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, and custom.
04: Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia (Baylor University Press, $79.95) is a unique and in-depth study of how Baptists in the former Soviet Republic have contextualized their evangelical faith in an Eastern Orthodox society. Written by Malkhaz Songulashvili, the former Metropolitan Bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, the 508-page book serves as an extended case study of how a “free church” saw how “Orthodoxy has had an important impact on society and drew on its substantial symbolic capital in Georgian life and thought.” Much of the book looks at how the Baptists struggled to gain religious freedom, first in the USSR and then after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
It was only after Protestants were granted religious freedom that the Baptists made the singular choice to become a “church for all Georgians”, adopting Orthodox liturgical forms (including iconography, the Eucharist and pilgrimages) and social teachings (while rejecting religious nationalism), rejecting proselytizing Orthodox Christians, but also accepting such innovations as the ordination of women and social activism (such as in its work with Chechen Muslim refugees). These changes have given the church a following among professionals, intellectuals and artists, while also raising the ire of other Baptist groups across the former Soviet Union. Songulashvili concludes that through its various missions (or apostolates), the ECB has had some influence among other Baptists (such as in the African country of Burundi) and Christians on issues of liturgy as well as cultural and artistic renewal.