In This Issue
- On/File: April 1999
- Findings & Footnotes: April 1999
- Old Catholic churches liberalizing
- Current Research: April 1999
- Black churches responding to AIDS ministries
- New programs help disables move into congregational life
- Catholic factor marketable for colleges
- Perks for religious donors draws criticism
- List of century’s top stories minimizes religion
- Wicca for a new generation?
- Video games imbibe on occult themes
- Sacred not admitted to museums?
- Church growth movement seeking tradition?
- Religious groups eye alternatives to state support
On/File: April 1999
01: The creation of a reformulated program known as CEB (Comuinidades Eclesiales de Base — or Basic Ecclesial Communities) has moved out from its source at Dolores Mission Catholic Church in Los Angeles seeking to provide a model for community action though parishes across the region and the country. Headed by Mario Fuentes and influenced by liberation theology, the CEB is an independent agency set up to promote social justice within the framework of Christian outreach.
It trains its people, sets its agenda, provides its own funding and makes its own program evaluations. What is unique is that CEB works directly with the established parishes of the region. It avoids overlap and duplication by careful planning with the existing parish leadership of ordained clergy. It has the advantage of being comparatively free from ecclesial structures, thus able to respond quickly to immediate problems in education, housing, substance abuse, and ministry.
(Source: America, Feb. 27)
— By Erling Jorstad
02: Near Debek, Syria, an ancient monastery Mar Musa (Saint Moses) is attracting wide interest for its program of inculturation, bringing together Christian and Islamic teachings and practices.
Thousands of visitors annually find the Christian staff there dedicated to discovering the Christian kinship with Muslims and to serve them with voluntary programs of education and economic livelihood. The priests accent those liturgical practices which harmonize with Islamic practices: the use of carpets and the absence of pews in the sanctuary; worshippers take off their shoes and make four full bows of prayer with the head touching the floor.
The priests point out they are not appeasing Muslims but are expressing the commonality between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
(Source: Commonweal, March 12)
— By Erling Jorstad
03: Those who abandon the faiths in which they were brought up have a greater chance of suffering from depression as they grow older, according to a Dutch study.
The study, reported in the bulletin Ecumenical News International (March 3), focused on 3,000 elderly people in three different regions of the Netherlands and was conducted by Arjan Braam of the Free University of Amsterdam.
The percentage of elderly people suffering from depression was about eight percent in areas — mostly small villages — where most people stayed in the Reformed churches. In Amsterdam, the city with the highest percentage of people who had left the church, there was a 20 percent rate of depression. Braam said that those making a conscious decision to leave the church still felt some bitterness as they grew older, and had little experience of comfort.
Findings & Footnotes: April 1999
01: Christel Manning’s new book, God Gave Us The Right (Rutgers University Press, $19.95) provides an interesting look at the struggles conservative religious women are undergoing in their quest to return to traditional religions.
Manning interviewed women in conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities about their efforts to negotiate modern secular ideas with the demands and rewards of traditional religious communities. Many, particularly those converting or returning to conservative evangelical traditions, are rejecting what they see as feminism’s deliberate denigration of women’s proper role as wives and mothers.
Yet while many of the women decry that belittlement, and the pervasive influence of feminism on society, they themselves have been influenced by feminism in the sense that they realize that woman’s proper role may depend on the particular gifts God has given her.
This realization can provoke intense conflict and ambivalence for conservative women who find that they have benefited from the gains many women have made in wages, careers, and increased attention to health issues — gains produced by the feminist movement they dislike and distrust. Although Manning found that evangelical Protestant women were most often vehemently anti-feminist, there were a number of women in that community who expressed some support for feminism.
This was even more the case in the Catholic and Orthodox Jewish communities she visited. Orthodox women in particular voiced a great deal of support for feminism even as they feared the impact feminist ideals might have on their traditions . The only quibble to be found with this worthwhile book is that Manning ascribes more influence to conservative religious organizations, such as the Christian Coalition or Promise Keepers, than they may in fact have, in view of both organizations’ recent serious financial troubles.
— By Lin Collette, an RW contributing editor and researcher based in Pawtucket, R.I.
02: Shopping For Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium, by RW’s editor and Don Lattin, is still available to RW readers for the low cost of $18 (regularly costing $25).
A CD-ROM comes with each copy of the book linking readers from discussions in the text to related web sites.. We also call readers’ attention to the April issue of American Demographics magazine, where Shopping For Faith’s co-authors take a closer look at what has been called the “experience industry.” The article looks at how the emphasis on personal experience is driving not only spirituality, but also trends in health, education, and community life. We will include a free copy of this article for anyone purchasing the book.
Make out payments to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710 (Canadian orders should include an extra $3 and foreign orders an extra $7 for postage and handling; all payments should made out through a U.S. bank or by money order).
Old Catholic churches liberalizing
The Old Catholics, a movement of European churches that retained many Roman Catholic practices and teachings while opposing papal authority, appear to be moving toward Protestantism, particularly the Anglican church.
The current issue of the conservative journal Touchstone (January/February) reports that the issue of women’s ordination is moving the various Old Catholic (OC) churches away from their Catholic heritage and into the Anglican orbit. Most Old Catholic churches, which broke away from Rome after Vatican I’s pronouncement of the doctrine of papal infallibility, are part of the Union of Utrecht, a 400,000-member communion of OC churches in Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the Polish National Catholic Church in the U.S. and Canada.
OC churches in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands have recently voted to allow women into all levels of leadership. Only the Polish OC church and the 250,000-member Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) have opposed the measure. Writer William Tighe concludes that the Old Catholic support of women’s ordination will likely lead Rome to end its traditional recognition of OC orders, while moving the former church into closer relations with the Anglicans.
The PNCC has been distancing itself from OC churches since the decisions to ordain women and has been drawing closer to Rome. The next issue likely to be much more divisive for the Old Catholics is gay rights in the church. The Austrian church voted to bless same sex unions in 1997 — although no such ceremonies have yet taken place.
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
Current Research: April 1999
01: Enrollment in evangelical Christian colleges and universities is outpacing the average increase at secular institutions, according to a report in Religion Today, (March 11).
Enrollment in evangelical schools increased by 24 percent from 1990 to 1996, says the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities. At public and private colleges and universities, the enrollments grew by 4 and 5 percent, respectively, during this same period. Part of the reason for this growth is that “demographics are working in the schools’ favor . . . Students are pouring in from church-run schools and home schools to mix faith and learning, and to avoid the lifestyles found at many secular institutions.” These schools’ greater academic respectability and quality, as well as more sophisticated marketing, are also responsible for the swelling enrollments.
02: A recent ranking of the freedom within nations throughout the world finds that those with a Christian majority registered the most liberty.
In their annual survey of freedom around the world., Freedom House, a human rights monitoring organization, find that of the 88 countries rated “Free”, 79 have a Christian majority. The remaining countries include Buddhist (Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Thailand), Hindu (India, Mauritius, Nepal) and Jewish (Israel), according to a report in Liberty magazine (April).
Among Islamic countries, only one, Mali, is rated Free, 14 are Partly Free and 28 are Not Free. Among Islamic countries, those in the Arab world were the most restrictive. Yet things can change rapidly: it is noted that 25 years ago, most Catholic countries (such as Argentina, Poland and the Philippines) were dictatorships.
(Liberty, 1018 Water St., #201, Port Townsend, WA 98368)
03: A high rate of Seventh Day Adventist pastors have left the ministry, and their motivations in departing have as much to do with bureaucracy as belief, according to a new book on the subject.
The evangelical online newsletter Apologia Report (March 22) cites the book “Leaving The Adventist Ministry” (Prager), by sociologist and ex-Adventist pastor Peter Ballis, as showing that in some regions, such as Australia and New Zealand, the rate of clergy attrition has been as high as 40 percent of the ministerial work force.
Ballis finds that the Adventist leadership’s “popular image of the ex-pastor as a young, disgruntled convert who has been studying in non-Adventist institutions, and drinking from polluted secular fountains, and who thus become corrupted and confused by secular thought, fails against the complex portrait that has emerged.”
Instead, he finds that among the most common reasons given by the departing Adventist pastors is a breakdown in social relations largely attributed to the Adventist bureaucracy and politics. Ironically, Ballis sees a similarity between Adventist structures and that of the church’s historic nemesis, Roman Catholicism. Both organizations have “singular control over decision making, are slow to make essential changes, and allow personnel who are critical of the system to exit rather than deal with their criticisms.”
(Apologia Report: www.apologia.org)
04: Researchers recently found that the Reformed tradition is more fragmented or diverse than might be expected.
The Church Herald (April), the magazine of the Reformed Church in America, reports that when researchers Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer began compiling a handbook of Reformed denominations three years ago, they expected that the final list would include between 450 and 500 churches. In fact, their final product, the 740-page book entitled The Reformed Family Worldwide, found 746 separate Reformed bodies in 149 countries.
Korea topped the list with 99 Reformed denominations. The two editors expressed surprise at the “scope, diversity, disunity and potentials of the Reformed family worldwide.”
(Church Herald, 4500 60th St., SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512)
Black churches responding to AIDS ministries
The reluctance and silence in addressing issues relating to AIDS in many black churches is changing with the emergence of special ministries dealing with the disease in African-American congregations and denominations, reports Sojourners magazine (March/April).
Issues surrounding AIDS, such as homosexuality and drug use, were often seen as problems beyond the walls of the church, write Marion Brown and Lori Hunter. But the mounting toll of AIDS-related deaths among African-Americans has forced congregations to form AIDS ministries and to join forces with others in prevention programs.
The Progressive National Baptist Convention has implemented a national program of AIDS/HIV education for its member churches. The Balm in Gilead is a leading organization providing training to church leaders and producing liturgical literature on the subject. The group also holds a national week of prayer for the healing of AIDS and has worked with churches to create quilt panels that memorialize family and friends who died from the disease.
(Sojourners, 2401 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009)
New programs help disables move into congregational life
Starting within the Jewish and Christian communities in Los Angeles, a fresh initiative to bring disabled persons into full participation in congregations is spreading across the country.
Headed by The Arc (formerly Association of Retarded Citizens), thousands of copies of materials for Sabbath Sunday worship are being distributed. According to the Los Angeles Times (March 6), the Arc and other locally based organizations are also providing materials for Sunday School, for adult forums, and small group, to spread awareness of disability matters.
The National Organization on Disability has started a program enlisting 2,000 congregations by the year 2000 to launch programs removing attitudinal barriers and provide physical resources for those in need. These include ramps, large print books and parking improvements. Seminars sponsored by The Arc and NOD offer materials on improving understanding of disabled people’s needs and ways in which they can bring their witness to their congregations.
— By Erling Jorstad
Catholic factor marketable for colleges
For several years, the Vatican and U.S. bishops have called for a reassertion Roman Catholic identity and teachings at Catholic colleges and universities, but they may not have to worry much about it.
Catholic schools are re-emphasizing their identities as they discover that these qualities are marketable, reports the National Catholic Register (March 21-27). “In general education circles, it began to be apparent that there was an appeal for Catholic education. It’s seen as attractive and safe,” says Linus Ormsby of Niagara University in New York. Schools are finding that their religious identity is a point of differentiation that draws students and keeps alumni support going strong.
While the Catholic tag does not always attract, especially in graduate education and commuter schools, more colleges and universities are up front about their affiliations in their advertising. In a survey of 1.1 million college-bound 1998 high school seniors, it was found that 32 percent of those who want a denominational college want one that is Catholic (about 19 percent would choose a Baptist college).
The Catholic-seeking population has grown during the 1990s. In 1991, it measured only 26 percent, according to the survey conducted by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions.
(National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514)
Perks for religious donors draws criticism
Givers to religious causes are receiving gifts and other perks by religious fund-raisers — a practice that is drawing criticism from theologians and ethicists.
The Wall Street Journal (March 10) reports that religious fund-raisers and prominent ministries have taken a page from secular charities that award finacial donors with gifts of anything from plaques with their names on them to papal audiences. Such organizations as Campus Crusade for Christ and World Vision have given wealthy donors super bowl tickets and safari trips to Africa.
Campus Crusade used to offer donors about four trips a year a decade ago; last year it orchestrated 150 trips, reports Lisa Miller. The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation — a group of 51 donors that include Domino’s Pizza Inc. founder Thomas Monaghan — get the chance to meet the pope.
Other religious charities, such as the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, have shepherded donors into special fraternities with their own activities and privileges. All this has led some religious leaders and theologians to ask “if the poor are supposed to be blessed, why are the rich getting special treatment?”
Others charge that the trend could stratify congregations in a similar way to the practice of prominent members renting pews before the turn of the century. One thing is certain: the new “sweet sell” by religious charities is paying off in getting and keeping donors. More than a fourth — $80 million — of Campus Crusade’s 1998’s $303 million in U.S. donations came from 2,000 donors who gave $5,000.
In 1997, the donors gave just $56 million.
List of century’s top stories minimizes religion
Religion doesn’t figure highly in history or the news judging by a list ranking “the Top l00 Stories of the Century.”
The list project was sponsored by Newseum of Arlington, Va, and was compiled by 67 journalists and scholars As pointed out by Charles C. Haynes, director of the First Amendment Center, only seven of these stories had anything remotely to do with religious people or convictions. Those included focus on Nazi anti-Semitism, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches on civil rights, Ghandi’s movement for independence in India, the Scopes trial of the l920s, and the establishment of Israel in l948.
Not included were stories of Latin American liberation, the religious feminist movement, the transformations within Protestant and Catholic structures, among many others.
Haynes suggests this happened because such specialists view religion with some suspicion, and generally know little of its many expressions around the globe, reports the Scottsdale Tribune (March 13).
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor
Wicca for a new generation?
North American teenage girls are increasingly drawn to witchcraft, though observers are uncertain whether this is a teen fad or actually a matter of genuine spiritual interest.
The Toronto Sun newspaper (March 22) reports that television shows and movies depicting witchcraft or “wicca” such as Charmed, Sabrina and The Craft are appealing to youth, particularly girls. “In a poll of the top 60 interests of teenage girls, witches are No. 1. It’s the fastest growing spiritual practice in the United States,” says Phyllis Curott, a Wiccan high priestess and New York City civil rights lawyer. Wicca seeks to recover the worship of the godess through magic and other Neopagan practices.
The evangelical counter-cultist SCP Newsletter (Winter) cites reports of witchcraft book sales and other demographics showing a movement toward a younger audience. In the late 1980s, sales of Wicca titles averaged about 3,000 to 4,000 a year at Carol Publishing Group. But in the past two years sales have increased, with popular titles selling up to 40,000.
The most popular book is “Teen Witch,” published by Llewellyn. More than half of the 100 titles published by Llewellyn revolve around Wiccan themes. A recent cover of Publisher’s Weekly and four following pages presented new Wicca books under the headline “Witchcraft for a New Generation . . .” The Llewellyn sales director says that based on readers’ letters, their typical reader is changing from the baby boomer who grew up in the 1960s to “a very young woman in her teens.”
(SCP Newsletter, Box 4308, Berkeley, CA 94704)
Video games imbibe on occult themes
The Tolkenian role-playing typified by the game Dungeons and Dragons during the 1980s has given way to popular virtual reality-based video games that utilize occult and other mystical themes, reports the conservative Christian newsweekly World (Feb. 27).
Concerns about the apparently occult nature of Dungeons and Dragons and other similar games are likely to pale in comparison with such games as Heresy, which takes place in a “post-apocalyptic” world of religious and social transgressions or In Nomine, which portrays the struggle between angels and demons.
The major video company FASA has issued Vor: The Malestrom, where evil energies have “broken the Earth up into a twisted shell.” What is called “surreal conspiracies” is a popular theme in the new games. The industry leader Steve Jackson Games has pushed this concept with their Illuminati games and settings. Writer Mark Wegierski writes that these games cater to a “thoroughgoing nihilism,” with their notion of “surrounding powerful dark forces.”
(World, P.O. Box 2330, Asheville, NC 28802)
Sacred not admitted to museums?
Religious works or art, particularly in the contemporary expressions, often are excluded from museum collections, according to Sightings (March 17), the online newsletter of the Public Religion Project.
Church historian and editor Martin E. Marty reports that a Public Religion Project conference on religion and art, attended mainly by artists and museum curators and scholars, examined the question of why “If museums are at ease showing historical evidences of the religious (most Asian, African, Native American, Hispanic-American, and medieval European art is explicitly religious and boldly shown), why are they wary about encouraging and showing twentieth-century examples?” Conference participants spoke about the dearth of artists who devote themselves to religious themes — even as they observed that more artists are introducing spiritual subjects.
Among other discouraging factors, participants cited a certain “tone-deafness” to religion on the part of consultants who overlook the role of sacred expression in architecture, monuments, memorials, sculpture, dance, and painting. Many museum trustees also may personally lack interest in sacred art. Marty adds that it was also noted that the public has difficulty in knowing how to classify art called “religious,” “spiritual,” or “sacred,” who have not been exposed to it. A theme running through the conference was that religious people complain about a secular culture but contribute to it by their criticism and protests of works of artists who tend to be “free spirits.”
Marty concludes that “If the religious get their act together, show some tolerance, and become patrons for works directed to other communities, exhibition planners might return to the sacred scene.”
Church growth movement seeking tradition?
In the drive to be contemporary and relevant to the younger generations, church growth specialists are beginning to sound somewhat traditional.
Next (February), the newsletter of the megachurch think tank, Leadership Network, reports on a recent forum to reevaluate ministry in a “postmodern culture.” The 500 participants in the forum — mainly young church leaders — targeted several key features of church life that are currently unfolding, including:
01: Community — The 21st century church will serve as a communal alternative to the fractured families and structures of society
02: Experience — churches will introduce people to experiences of God, doing it in the “context of church history and scripture”
03: Participatory ministry is appealing to people’s desire to “take part in all areas of life including church”
04: Multi-sensory worship is also being rediscovered by churches; “everything in the service needs to preach — architecture, lighting, songs, prayer, fellowship, the smell . . .”
05: Mysticism and mystery is appealing in a society “less dependent upon a scientific and rationalistic way of thinking.” An appreciation of wonder and mystery is expressed in more liturgical worship; “churches are returning to the `old’ and using guided meditative prayer . . . incense, candles and historical Christian rituals”
06: Since spirituality is increasingly found in wider culture, churches will have to use such yearnings as starting points for conversation
07: The arts, especially visual arts, are making a comeback in churches, as churches are seeking to “return beauty to our worship.”
(Next‘s web site is at: www.leadnet.org)
Religious groups eye alternatives to state support
In the midst of the debate about whether the government should help faith-based social services and schools, religious groups themselves are expressing reservations about such arrangements and looking around for alternatives.
The reserve that some religious groups have regarding new church-state partnerships is in evidence in Wisconsin, a test state for vouchers for religious and other private schools. Policy Review magazine (January/February) reports that many religious educators in the state find the victory of vouchers not so much a victory as a “Trojan horse for government meddling in private education.” Because schools are saddled with a “hodge-podge of federal and state regulations,” there is a “growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of government vouchers on sectarian schools,” writes Joe Locante.
Such state policies, for instance, stipulate that participating schools must loosen up their admission policies and allow voucher students to opt out of religious activities. A 1998 Department of Education survey confirms the unease of many Wisconsin religious educators about such an “opt out” law. Drawing from 22 urban areas nationwide, the study found that few sectarian schools would join voucher programs that allowed exemptions from religious activities or instruction.
The Milwaukee School Choice Program is the one to watch in regard to satisfaction among religious schools about vouchers. So far, few students have acted on the “opt-out” clause. But government-imposed conditions on admissions–such as lotteries run to determine where students are placed — is another obstacle to wide acceptance of vouchers in schools. Schools that are closely tied to congregations or having a distinctive religious identity balk at having to admit students and families that don’t fit in or agree with their ethos or philosophy.
The American Enterprise magazine (March/April) notes that traditionally, religious charities have “taken one of two routes where government funds are concerned.” Either they accept government funds, whereby they tend to de-emphasize their religious side, or, like some of the schools cited above, they refuse such aid in fear of compromising their religious mission and identity. But increasingly, many faith-based organizations are pursuing a third path — cooperating with the government while not taking tax dollars for such work.
Joe Locante cites the example of Prison Fellowship. In one prison outside Houston, Texas, prison officials let the evangelical ministry operate a wing of the prison where evangelism and Bible studies are emphasized. Prison Fellowship’s arrangement is carefully designed so that the ministry receives no government subsidies; prisoners are free to leave the program at any time, and their participation has no effect on the length of an inmate’s sentence.
These restrictions have kept the ministry from being attacked by the ACLU. In Michigan the religious charity Kids Hope USA sends over 700 tutors from 35 congregations into troubled elementary schools. The tutors don’t evangelize students and parental permission is a requirement for participation.
But there appears little conflict in the case of ministries and charities working abroad in accepting public money, according to a recent study. The Newsletter of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (Winter) reports on a study of 23 faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by Pepperdine University scholar Stephen Monsma which found that their religious integrity and independence have not been seriously compromised. Monsma explains that two factors may be at work in this unexpected finding: the indifference of watchdog groups for the separation of church and state in this realm of state funding and the fact that these groups, such as the relief agency World Vision, do “work that no one else is eager to do.”
Monsma concludes that faith-based groups working abroad need to bolster their shaky legal position by insisting that the constitutional basis on which the government distributes these funds is one of “even-handedness” or “neutrality” toward both religious and secular organizations.
(Policy Review, 214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002; American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1015 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005)