In This Issue
- On/File: April 2000
- Findings & Footnotes: April 2000
- Catholic-Evangelical accord in Britain
- Current Research: April 2000
- Sikhs finding political muscle
- Storefronts not welcome in new urban south
- Religious giving shows influence of women, decentralization
- Situation improving on AIDS and the priesthood
- Eastern themes used in beauty products to lure young
- High cost Buddhism preventing growth?
- New research questions post-denominational future
- The religious right re-energized for campaign 2000?
01: The New Media Bible is the result of a decade-long attempt to redesign scriptures to meet the needs and interests of today’s technological society.
Published by the American Bible Society (ABS), the ongoing project includes video productions of major New Testament stories, and fresh versions of the Bible using secular market strategies. Long the recognized leader in scriptural education, the ABS has brought to the public five videos openly drawing on verbalization, intonation, oral performance, rhythm and visual material. Following the popular MTV format, the ABS’s productions are in separate videotapes, each lasting l0 to 12 minutes.
Stories include the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, Mary’s trip to see Elizabeth, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and the Resurrection. The settings are in today’s world as is the language and music. Leaders report a strongly enthusiastic response by many users, with some criticism by others as to whether these technological innovations might change the message.
(Source: USA Today, March 16; America, March 11)
— By Erling Jorstad
01: Although a relatively recent movement (despite its allegiance to ancient traditions and deities), Neopagans often show a good deal of concern and speculation about their future.
The winter issue of the magazine PanGaia carries several articles attempting to chart “paganism in the 21st century.” Some of the forecasts have been made before — how liberal Christian faiths are assimilatingpagan concepts about the feminine side of the sacred through inclusive language, and how Neopaganism is becoming more organized. Some more noteworthy observations found in the articles concern how Neopagans are increasingly involved in interfaith efforts (particularly in England) and are finding more positive treatment in the media after a long period of misunderstandings and prejudice.
Although there is concern about the divisions among Neopagans, Jonas Trinunkas of Lithuania points to the 1998 formation of the World Congress of Ethnic Religion (of which he is the leader) as indicating a desire for more unity.
This issue costs $4.95 and is available from: PanGaia, P.O. Box 641, Point Arena, CA 95468.
02: Americans will be hearing a lot about census figures in the upcoming years, but the January/February issue of Visions, a newsletter of religion and demography, takes a special look at how census projections may impact religious trends.
The newsletter examines the population projections issued in January by the federal Bureau of the Census, which forecasts, among other things, dramatic differences in ages among Americans and a slower pace of immigration. Editor Anthony E. Healy writes that these trends may mean that American churches may have much older congregations, and that the opportunities to establish new immigrant congregations will also diminish.
Healy analyzes these and other demographic trends and their possible impact on religious institutions (such as recent Census figures showing how Americans are moving less than ever) throughout the issue.
The issue costs $5.95 (with $1.25 for shipping) and is available from: Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377.
03: In a highly provocative, well researched essay, Professor Dennis Hiebert of Providence College, Manitoba, Canada, suggests that those church bodies surviving and expanding in today’s world do so by emulating the management program of McDonalds.
They stress efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. Writing in the Christian Scholar’s Review (vol.29:2) Hiebert writes that these points are being taught in seminaries, and new publications often extol their value. Hiebert writes that the McDonald’s model is catching on because it speaks in the language of today’s society.
For more information on this issue, send to: Christian Scholars Review, Hope College, 41 Graves Place, Holland, MI 49422-9000.
— By Erling Jorstad
The closer ties between evangelicals and Catholics in the U.S. and Canada on theological and social issues is also taking root in Britain, according to the Catholic magazine The Tablet (Jan. 29).
Elaine Storkey writes that the old posture of separatism between Catholics and evangelicals in Britain of 20 years ago has given way to a new mood of cooperation between these believers. The recent Joint Declaration on the doctrine of justification by faith between the Vatican and the Lutherans has served to convince evangelicals that Rome is changing, as well as to assure Catholics that evangelical beliefs are not in basic conflict with their church. This is especially true for the movement of “evangelical Catholics” in Ireland who have stayed in the RC church to work for unity even as they have embraced many evangelical teachings.
Storkey adds that joint Catholic-evangelical involvement in the charismatic movement and the Alpha programs (a course on Christian basics held in many churches) has also helped create this new unity. The evangelicals desire for greater engagement in social issues, particularly those coming from the house church movement started in the 1960s, has steered them in the direction of Catholic social teachings and activism.
Interestingly, Storkey does not see abortion and what may be seen as the “conservative” social issues uniting British evangelicals and Catholics as they have in the U.S. “Evangelical-Catholic alliances are no longer confined to the old moral or sexual issues; they are interested in the attempt to bring about a more just, human and socially concerned world,” as reflected in their work with the British Movement for Christian Democracy. Storkey concludes that there is a limit to the new alliance.
The attempt by Anglo-Catholics to consider a role for papal authority in church unity, as seen in the recent Anglican-Catholic document “The Gift of Authority,” has been unwelcome among British evangelicals.
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0Q2 England)
01: A new study of congregations involved in social service shows that such involvement is widespread and targeted more to the unchurched than to members.
The study, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Ram Cnaan, is said to be the most extensive of its kind, using a representative sample of clergy and volunteers from 401 Philadelphia congregations (out of approximately 2,000 congregations). The Wall Street Journal (March 17) reports that the study reveals that 91 percent of the city’s congregations provide at least one community service. Most provide two or more services. Food pantries and summer day camps ranked highest (48 percent and 40 percent respectively) followed by prison ministries (21 percent) and substance abuse prevention (17 percent).
On average, each of these reaches 135 people, 99 of whom are not congregation members. The main beneficiaries of these services are “unchurched” teens and children. Cnaan estimates that for the government to provide the same services, it would cost at least $200 million per year, which doesn’t include the indirect social benefits created by these ministries.
02: Are women “burning out” from their traditionally high rate of participation in congregations?
George Barna raises that question after a recent poll he ran showed a sharp decline in church attendance and volunteering among women during the 1990s. The online religion site Beliefnet (March 7) reports Barna found that women’s attendance has dropped 22 percent since 1991. There has also been a 21 percent decrease in women volunteering to help at church over the same period of time. Barna adds that the “intense levels of involvement” women still show as compared with men are evident in the fact that their church involvement rates higher than men in 12 out of 13 religious activities, including church attendance, leadership, giving, and evangelism.
l Religious television is not viewed favorably among a majority of Americans who call themselves believers. A poll of 1,000 randomly selected viewers by the New York firm Zoetics finds that one-third of those who call themselves evangelical Christians don’t like Christian TV.
Among those who are non-evangelical but consider themselves religious, the percentage disliking these programs increased to 60 percent. ReligionToday.com reports that Ken Waters of Pepperdine University says most Christian TV is “preaching to the choir. There’s not enough variety.”
03: A significant number of people say their near-death experiences have not been wholly positive, though even these incidents have served to strengthen the recipients’ religiosity and spiritual lives, reports a new book.
The book Blessings In Disguise (Llewellyn Publications, $12.95) by Dr. Barbara Rommer, finds that 17.7 percent of near-death experiences (NDEs) have elements of terror, fear, and judgment. Rommer, a strong promoter of the NDE phenomenon, interviewed over 300 people with near-death experiences for her study. She finds that the most prevalent type of negative NDEs (involving 41 percent of these respondents) contained “graphic hellish landscapes and entities,” such as demons and devilish imagery.
But these “less than positive experiencers” subsequently tended to have a greater belief in life after death than those with positive NDEs (67.7 percent versus 56.6 percent). They also were more likely to report that their experience significantly and positively changed their religious beliefs (58.3 percent for the negative experiencers versus 51 percent for the NDEs). Rommer writes that one reason for the higher level of spiritual interest may be that these negative experiencers are more likely to start a spiritual search to gain an understanding of their experiences.
04: Recent statistics released on Hispanic Catholics suggest that the church has made progress in ministering to this community while failing to keep up with changing realities.
A study sponsored by the U.S. bishops, called “Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the Century,” finds that since 1985 enormous progress has been made: There are now 21 Hispanic bishops and Hispanic ministry offices in 150 dioceses. At the same time, there is a serious shortage of resources in the areas where Hispanic growth is now the fastest, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.
In Atlanta, possibly only 15 percent of these newcomer Catholics are known to the church. The National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 11) cites the study as suggesting that existing programs are geared to the older generations of Hispanics settled in the U.S. while those new arrivals say they can’t gain a foothold in the parishes.
In places like Long Island, N.Y., there is new movement of these disenchanted immigrants into Protestant churches, says Stewart James Lawrence of the research firm Puentes, Inc., which conducted the study. Other findings include: a lack of “cultural sensitive” programs for Hispanics; Christian base communities (groups reflecting on social and spiritual matters influenced by liberation theology) “no longer are, if they ever were, the quintessential expression of the Hispanic small group faith experience;” charismatic groups are the main Hispanic form of small group fellowships; there are few Hispanic youth programs; Hispanic men are not significantly less likely than Hispanic women to participate in church activities; and that there is limited collaboration between Hispanic ministry and other diocesan ministries.
(National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111):
05: Involved but non-Orthodox Jewish women are more likely than men to be studying their faith, according to a new study.
The Boston Globe (March 13) reports that a new Brandeis University study of American Jews finds a “real sea change in attitudes toward girls and women studying traditional texts, so that for the first time in 2,000 years of Jewish history girls and women now have access to the basic tools for [Jewish] cultural literacy.”
The survey of 1,302 American Jews, conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, finds that the rate of adult Jewish learning is equal among men and women, but that if the Orthodox and the unaffiliated are excepted, women take the lead. Cohen says, “This is significant in that it points to the central role of women in Jewish life.” Erica Brown of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston stated: “As women became more educated secularly, you had rabbis understanding that if you didn’t educate women Jewishly, they were going to leave the fold.”
06: Eighteen years after a famous mass marriage blessing ceremony for 2, 075 couples in the Unification Church, a new study finds that most of the couples have remained together.
The survey by Unification Church staff member Michael Inglis is said to have been conducted independently of church supervision. The survey, conducted among a representative sample of 294 individuals who were married at the mass ceremony in New York’s Madison Square Garden, found that 82.99 percent of the marriages have been successful. This is compared to the national average of 60 percent for first marriages. The number of children per couple is 2.52 percent; the national average is 1.60.
(The study is found at the Unifcation web site: www.unification.net/news/news20000328.html)
American Sikhs are becoming increasingly involved in political life, according to the Los Angeles Times (March 21).
The paper reports that the new Sikh participation, termed a “political coming out,” includes “contributing to political campaigns as never before, with an estimated $7.7 million in donations to federal candidates in the last three elections,” the rising number of Indian American legislative aids, and a number of potential candidates for high office.
The article adds that “The ability of Indian Americans to rise in politics may well be tied to their success in making ethnicity a footnote,” as success will require the votes of a diverse population.
The traditional desirability of having a church, even a storefront congregation, next door in many Southern towns is no longer the case as this region undergoes an economic rebound and many downtown areas are being revitalized, reports the Wall Street Journal (March 15).
These “sanctuaries, once considered beyond anyone’s reproach in the Bible Belt, are now targets for eviction and subjects of `no rent’ laws. The acrimony is a matter of simple economics. Storefront churches, typically start-up operations that can’t afford to build fancy structures or steeples, began to go up in old downtowns decades ago. For landlords, they were a godsend, filling space left vacant by stores.”
But as downtown areas transform themselves into quaint shopping districts seeking to draw professionals away from the malls, the storefronts are being viewed as “glitches” in these developers’ plans; they don’t generate weekday traffic, don’t pay taxes, or add revenues, writes Lucinda Harper. In one such city, Selma, N.C., banning the rentals to churches three years ago has seemed to improve the economic climate.
In the past two years, 25 new shops have opened and the rents have increased, while the number of churches dropped from six to two. One lawyer, however, says storefronts have their own function: they help turn prostitutes and drug addicts into viable community members. After that, “they have jobs and are paying taxes.”
The growth of parachurch institutions and other networks outside of denominations and the new influence of women in churches will have significant effects in religious giving.
A recent roundtable panel on the present and future of religious giving, particularly among evangelicals, highlighted these and other trends, according to leadExplorer (March 13), an online newsletter of Leadership Network. Since men formed many parachurches (organizations existing outside denominations and congregations), their concepts of organizational vitality and giving will be challenged by the increase of giving among women.
The different patterns of giving among women will change some organizations and phase out others. Another major trend is an increase of individuals capable of funding their own ministries (Tom Monagham of Domino Pizza fame building his own Catholic law school is one such example).
Other trends include: new funding opportunities in education among evangelicals, such as home school associations, colleges for home schooled children, charter schools, private schools, and voucher programs (an example of this is J.C. Huizenga, who started his own charter school chain in Michigan); an increase in specialized staffing to train congregations in stewardship; new kinds of congregation-based foundations (especially among megachurches) with their focus on ministries outside of the congregation rather than on endowments relating to internal matters; the creation of local and national cooperative Christian Community Foundations that pool funding for local ministries; an increase in family foundations among evangelicals; a decrease in the historic competition between parachurches and congregations as decentralized giving patterns and new cooperative networks take hold.
(Leadership Network, www.leadnet.org)
The Catholic Church in the U.S. has significantly improved its ministry to priests with AIDS and the rate of new cases of the disease may be on the decline, writes Jon Fuller in the Jesuit magazine America (March 18).
A late January report that American Catholic priests are dying with AIDS at a higher rate than that of the general U.S. population was a front page story across the country. The report by the Kansas City Star first found that the death rate was four times that of the general U.S population, but in a later revision the newspaper said the rate was about double the death rate of the adult male population. Fuller writes that the Star’s numbers seem plausible, but adds that the church’s response to priests with AIDS has changed over the last 20 years, leading to a downturn of reported new infections with the disease..
Fuller, a doctor who was founding president of the National Catholic AIDS Network, writes that where shame and avoidance marked most workshops and other programs concerning priests with AIDS in the 1980s, today there is a widespread acknowledgment of this situation. He adds that the avoidance of sexual issues among priests actually led to some acting out of sexual feelings that “erupted after years or decades of being submerged,” leading to greater chances of contracting AIDS.
Part of the “sea change’ that has occurred on the issue is the “vastly increased attention given to the area of psychosexual development in the training of clergy and religious.” Rather than avoiding any talk of sexuality, today there is more of a “proactive, systematic treatment of integrating sexuality with celibacy.” Fuller concludes that we are “recognizing the absolute necessity of dealing openly, realistically and respectfully with the fact that orders and dioceses are made up of human beings who share the same spectrum of sexual orientations as the population at large.”
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
The use of Eastern religious themes and terminology in marketing cosmetics and other beauty products is growing in American culture, although observers are not sure how much the trend has to do with religion.
Beliefnet.com (March 24) reports that companies such as Cover Girl and the Body Shop “have given Far Eastern civ a makeover, using some common, and some rather complex, religious concepts to name products for their spring campaigns.” Ellen Leventry writes that Cover Girl’s “sheer Karma” collection uses terms like “reincarnated,” but company officials deny that there are any religious aspects to the ad campaign.
The French perfume maker Guerlain has brought out a new scent called “Samsara,” apparently uninformed that the term means the endless cycle of death and rebirth that is the root of all suffering. The cosmetic company Shiseido recently released a fragrance which the company’s web site says is “inspired by Eastern spiritual thinking.”
Whether or not there is much thought, Eastern or otherwise, behind these ads, Leventry notes that they demonstrate how Eastern influence is no longer alternative. One marketing analyst with a youth-focus says that “We’ve seen Eastern influences gradually going mainstream, and teen girls are jumping on the bandwagon.”
One of the reasons Buddhism may have difficulty spreading beyond upper- and middle class white Americans is the high economic cost of Buddhist spiritual practice, writes Joe Parker in Turning Wheel (Spring), the magazine of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
In Asian countries, most Buddhist practices, such as meditation retreats, are offered free to practitioners. In the U.S. retreats and other intensive practice periods are relatively expensive, not to mention the paraphernalia that goes along with Buddhist practice, such as meditation cushions, robes and altars. Parker conducted an informal survey of recent American Buddhist center publications and web sites, and found a “clear difference in the fee structures and other costs of practice between centers that serve a predominantly Asian population and those that serve mostly non-Asians.”
For instance, a North American Buddhist center catering to a largely white population charges an average of $50 for a one-day retreat. For membership at a center, it could be $10-$120 per month or $100-$2500 per year. In contrast, U.S. Buddhist centers serving Asian immigrants “showed a consistent pattern of offering retreats for free or, more commonly, for a voluntary donation.” This pattern may have been brought over from Buddhists in Asian countries who “have a long history of meeting the religious needs of individuals from a broad spectrum of economic means.”
Parker adds that the lack of Bi-lingual material at centers and the way regular spiritual practice may not yield to the demands of a household with children and working parents are also factors in the class gap in American Buddhism.
(Turning Wheel, PO Box 4650, Berkeley, CA 94704)
In the wide-ranging discussion among church leaders and scholars over the wavering future of denominational loyalty, new research shows such loyalty is indeed alive and growing.
In the Christian Century (March 15), sociologist Nancy Ammerman reports on research by her and others at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research that included interviews with people in 549 congregations in eight denominations.The Hartford researchers found several significant forces at work; many church people do want to continue their unique denominational features, especially those in the more traditional regions of the South and Midwest.
Also, the congregation’s understanding of identification stems largely from the leadership of those who grew up in that respective tradition. The researchers found that the loyalists understood how many new and potential members might not have the long-time identification with their respective “cradle” churches.
Yet such conscious loyalty is occurring, in a time and society buffeted by major social and cultural changes. The researches found that these more loyal church people intentionally work at staying committed to their traditions; if clergy and laity assume that denomination isn’t important, than this usually becomes a reality for a congregation. The loyalists focus on three key aspects of congregational life — worship, mission, and education.
They use their own denominations’ educational materials, eschewing that of non-denominational, generic publishers. They carefully nurture their denominational patterns of worship, with their hymns, liturgy and prayers closely allied with their larger traditions. The loyalists tend to identify their denominational mission with that of the larger church. They are involved in supporting global programs sponsored largely by their own mission and relief agencies.
In sum, “rather than disappearing, their boundaries have been reconstructed in ways that seem to keep them open and connected to a larger world.”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
— By Erling Jorstad
In this highly contentious spring season of Presidential candidate primaries, some unexpected events unfolded, leaving the ever-present religious right bloc a crucial but unpredictable force for the November election.
At least three developments bear attention; the impact of the Senator John McCain attack on Bob Jones University (BJU) and Governor George W. Bush; the decline, perhaps collapse of Gary Bauer as a prominent leader in religious right circles, and the long-hoped for but rarely realized energization of religious right voters as the key bloc to electing a Republican President and Congress.
First, the double-barreled criticism by Senator McCain of BJU produced several unpredicted results. It revealed, according to Andrew Sullivan in the New York Times Magazine, (March 12) the extent of anti-Catholic feeling in the United States. Pointing to the vitriolic rhetoric of official BJU teaching on Catholicism, Sullivan shows that Black bigotry (for example, Louis Farrakhan) is sharply denounced across the nation, while white bigotry in calling Catholicism a cult, for example, is “merely regrettable.”
Sullivan claims that the recent trend of Catholics voting Republican nationally, may well disappear in light of Governor Bush’s decision to speak at BJU. In the New Republic (March 20) Benjamin Soskis goes even further to suggest that the much-touted entente between Catholics evangelicals over secularization, abortion, school prayer, and gay rights was nothing more than a media event. Culturally conservative Catholics realized again in this primary, the author concludes, they have little in common with the religious right on national issues.
Meanwhile, the endorsement of Senator McCain by Gary Bauer, ex-leader of the Family Research Council, and a major voice in religious right circles, caught observers by surprise. Having been tutored by the powerful James Dobson of Focus on the Family and supportive of the anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-school prayer agenda, Bauer caught the likes of leaders such as Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed unprepared for the defection. Ryan Lizza writes in the New Republic (March 12) that Bauer’s move has left a deeply emotional rift among religious rightists, who had hoped for a unified front against Al Gore.
Lizza suggests Bauer’s move may well encourage a religious conservative to “pick up McCain’s reform mantle” which would divide the religious right along class lines. In the wings waiting for that call is Pat Buchanan. Finally, several observers believe that this year, in contrast to the Reagan, Bush and Dole candidacies, the religious right will get directly involved and thus be the pivotal bloc to bring Governor Bush to the Oval Office. Most surprisingly, the Rev. Jerry Falwell announced in March his program “Calling Ten Million New Voters to Political Action” as his re-entry step into national politics.
Having eschewed in the l990s his once major role in religious right leadership as he focused on directing Liberty University, Falwell surprised everyone by saying that under new banners, the Moral Majority is back, according to the online religion magazine Beliefnet.com (March 21). The centerpiece will be an initiative to bring ten million “people of faith” who have never voted before to the election polls in November.
Beyond that, observers such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention find convincing evidence the “born again” vote this time will put the conservatives in control of the White House. Suggesting that the anticipated criticisms of the religious right by Gore will be the final unifying force to bring this once disparate bloc into unity, Land calls on Governor Bush to stay with the religious right in the campaigns ahead.
— By Erling Jorstad, an RW contributing edtior and author of several books and other works on the religious right.