In This Issue
- On/File: April 2007
- Findings & Footnotes: April 2007
- New interdependent Anglicanism emerging?
- Catholic-Muslim marriages grow and raise new questions
- Current Research: April 2007
- Calvary Chapel’s accountability and leadership dilemmas
- Redrawing the Jesuit map and agenda
- Evolutionary approach to religion evolves, diversifies
- Jesus scholarship popularized and speculative
- Socialism still drawing theologians
- Women priests revived in Hinduism
01: The New Wineskins Association of Churches joins other renewal groups in mainline denomination in straddling the line between schism and remaining in their church bodies. The association was started for evangelical churches within the Presbyterian Church (USA) unhappy with the liberal directions of their church (particularly on gay rights issues).
But at the association’s February meeting, dozens of church representatives voted unanimously to pursue possible exile within the 75,000-member Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The proposal is to establish a temporary, non-geographic presbytery for dissident PCUSA congregations. The proposed New Wineskins Presbytery would be self-governing and would allow pastors and staff to take part in the pension and medical plans of the EPC.
About 130 congregations voted for this measure, although not all might follow through and actually leave the PCUSA. The New Wineskins proposal follows other initiatives by mainline evangelical groups, particularly Episcopalians but also Lutherans and the United Church of Christ, to create alternative structures outside of the denomination even as they remain active in the work of renewal and reform. (Source: March 6, Christian Century).
02: Christian Churches Together has garnered little media attention, but the new ecumenical organization is up and running and approaching its goal of creating a more diverse kind of ecumenism. CCT has drawn together a broad coalition of Catholic, Protestant– including evangelicals and Pentecostals–,and Orthodox churches in the face of declining support for the “establishment” ecumenism represented by the National Council of Churches.
Although organizers assert that they are not competing with the NCC, the new organization will focus on fellowship, prayer and dialogue and avoid the NCC’s tendency to embrace controversial social issues (although in February, CCT did issue a statement calling for more personal and government involvement in fighting poverty).
CCT canceled a planned launch in 2005 because it was felt the group did not have enough participation of African-American denominations. The greater black participation has still not convinced the mainline Presbyterian and United Methodist to join as full members until their African-American counterparts, such as the African Methodist Episcopal church, also join.
(Source: Christian Century, March 6)
03: There are plans to create an international communion of churches built upon an episcopal structure. The Old Catholic Church (a breakaway group from the Roman Catholic Church) belonging to the Union of Utrecht has been in intercommunion with the Anglican Communion since 1931, and it has followed the divisions within world Anglicanism with concern.
Discussions have led to the idea of approaching various episcopal churches around the world, beginning with the Philippine Independent Church and the Mar Thoma Church in India, for the purpose of creating a common platform. If their responses are positive, a common consultation may take place later in 2007.
At the same time, the Union of Utrecht recently saw the need to revise its guidelines regarding the admission of new churches within the Union itself: it had accepted the Old Catholic Church of British Columbia in a probationary status last year, but the Union has now come to the conclusion that it was a mistake. In North America as in other places around the world, there are dozens of groups which call themselves “Old Catholic” without belonging to the Union of Utrecht.
(Source: Présence Catholique-Chrétienne, April)
— By Jean-François Mayer
04: Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda has drawn a worldwide audience to his message proclaiming him to be a messianic figure who has abolished sin and hell. DeJesus runs a wide network of satellite TV and radio programs along with 300 education centers in 52 countries.
As head of his Miami-based church, Creciendo En Gracia, De Jesus claimed in 1999 to be a “spiritual super-being” named El Otro (“The Other”) before designating himself as the both the anti-Christ and the second coming of Christ. De Jesus’ followers are said to engage in disruptive actions against churches refusing to recognize his divine status.
(Source: Charisma, April)
01: In recent years, the number of books on the presence of religion online has increased, from general overviews to collections of essays on mainstream or new religious groups and their use of the Internet.
The new book by Anastasia Karaflogka, E-religion (Equinox Publishing, $27.95) proposes “a critical appraisal of religious discourse on the World Wide Web.” Obviously well-acquainted with the literature and strong on issues of methodology, Karaflogka remarks that, since access to the Internet is still far from being universal (even much more so outside the industrialized world), e-religion reflects the religious expressions and activities of an elite.
According to Karaflogka’s observations, the most common cyberpractices are cyberprayer, cybermemorials, grieving support, meditation, cyberpilgrimages and some pagan rituals. Traditional religions are also increasingly considering the Internet as a space for many opportunities.
But the Web also challenges traditional religious authority, since it allows protesters or dissenters to raise their voices. Not every religious group has a web presence. Contrary to what many Westerners would expect, for instance, in China, there are repressed groups on which there may be information circulated on the Internet, but which do not have websites themselves.
Cyberspace has the capacity to be perceived as sacred space, not only as a space of expression for religious groups and individuals, but also as a possible place for new types of spiritual utterances, although the emergence of entirely new religious discourses is still a question for discussion – one needs to see if such attempts will be lasting ones.
—By Jean-Francois Mayer
Rather than fragmenting, the Anglican communion may be reconfiguring itself as a more interdependent and global structure after its recent meeting in Tanzania. The Tablet of London (Feb. 23) reports that there were widespread rumors and fears that world Anglican leaders would cut their ties with the Episcopal Church in the U.S. because of its support of electing a gay bishop, leading to further schisms and realignments. But the primates meeting in Tanzania issued a communique mandating that the American bishops must enact a moratorium on gay bishops and not authorize official same-sex unions.
“If the House of Bishops cannot provide the reassurances requested, the US church could be reduced to second-tier status or even be expelled by failing to abide by the global Church’s resolutions,” writes R. William Franklin. Such an approach “moves the provinces of the [Anglican] communion towards a greater interdependence than would have been imagined even a decade ago… So instead of a long-predicted schism, the Tanzania meeting helped create a different kind of Anglicanism of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The developing world is coming to the fore as a mature power within the Communion in this decade,” Franklin concludes.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
The issue of mixed marriages was at the core of the 7th meeting of the Presidents of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Southeast Europe, which took place in Romania in early March. Marriages “with a difference in worship” are reported to be on the increase in that area of Europe, especially with Muslims.
According to a report published by the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), there are no particular problems in marriages between Latin Catholics and Greek Catholics. But there are some problems arising with marriages between Roman Catholics and Orthodox or Protestants, due to a partly different understanding of the sacramentality of marriage, which may complicate matters such as divorce. Despite stronger theological differences, dialogue is reported to be more advanced with Protestant churches.
But the increase in mixed Catholic-Muslim marriages gives rise to the most concerns. While the bishops acknowledge that there are positive outcomes in terms of building bridges and intercultural relations, such unions also pose significant problems, especially since there are often differences in ethnic backgrounds and identity.
On a doctrinal level, the bishops see risks of religious indifferentism. It is likely that experiences in Southeast Europe will also contribute to deeper reflections on the issue, since the growth of immigration to other parts of the continent will lead to more interreligious marriages in areas where people of non-Christian origins had little or no presence a few decades earlier.
Italy may serve as a case study on the rise of Muslim-Catholic marriages, with many of these couples adopting Islam as the family religion, according to statistics. The Catholic charitable organization Caritas recently released figures showing that the number of marriages between Italians and foreign natives has risen ten-fold in the past 15 years.
The Catholic World Report (March) cites the study as showing that in 1991 there were 60,000 “mixed marriages” in Italy, compared to 600,000 such marriages last year. Italian men preferred women from non-Islamic countries, such as the Philippines, Peru and Romania. In contrast, Italian women tended to marry men from Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco.
The northern part of Italy leads the way in mixed marriages. About 10 percent of the mixed marriages involve a Muslim with a Catholic spouse. In the vast majority of such cases, the children are raised Muslim. If the wife is Catholic, statistics show that she is likely to convert to Islam. These marriages have been shown to be fragile, although much depends on geography. The average Catholic-Muslim marriage lasts just five years in the northern city of Milan, and 13 years in the Southern city of Lecce.–This article was written with Contributing Editor Jean-Francois Mayer
01: Despite divisions on the official level, there is widespread support for gay and lesbian rabbis among educators, leaders and seminarians in Conservative Judaism, according to a survey commissioned by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). The survey, conducted via the Internet, found that among 5,583 rabbis, cantors and JTS students, two-thirds of the respondents support openly gay rabbis and cantors.
Among the educators and other professionals, the approval rating was 76 percent. Support varied by gender: 86 percent of female respondents approved compared to 60 percent of males. The denomination is expected to make a final decision on the matter later this spring. Until now, the movement has accepted an amendment allowing for gay rabbis and same-sex ceremonies while retaining a ban on male homosexual sex, reports The Christian Century (March 6).
02: A new study finds that the American Jewish population is 20 percent higher than previously reported. The Brandeis University study estimated that there are 6 million to 6.4 million Jews living in the U.S., along with another million people with Jewish ancestry. The study disputes the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population study, which recorded a total of 5.2 million Jews. The Brandeis researchers add that the previous study underestimated the number of non-Orthodox Jews and those under age 55, according to the Christian Century (March 6). .
03: First time married couples who attend worship, even if only several times a year, have a 10 to 31 percent lower risk of divorce than those who never attend, according Statistics Canada. The data from 25,000 people and published in Canadian Social Trends, also found that choosing not to live together before marriage, avoiding teen marriage and accepting children were even more statistically important in reporting a low rate of divorce, reports the Canadian evangelical magazine Faith Today (March/April).
(Faith Today, M.I.P. Box 3745, Markham, Ont., ON L3R 0Y4 Canada).
04: Christians lead Hindus and Muslims in their level of patriotism in India, according to a recent survey by the BBC. Touchstone magazine (April) cites the survey as showing that 73 percent of Christians agreed with the statement “I am proud to be an Indian,” compared with 71 percent of Hindus and 60 percent of Muslims.
The magazine adds that Christians are the second-largest provider of health care and education after the government, with churches running more than 25 percent of the hospitals and health care centers and their schools educating over 20 million students.
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
Calvary Chapel, one of the most influential evangelical movements, is facing a crisis over the accountability of its pastors and its disciplinary practices, reports Christianity Today magazine (March). Calvary Chapel pioneered the Jesus movement of the early 1970s and developed much of the contemporary style of worship in evangelicalism.
From his base in southern California, founder Chuck Smith expanded his ministry to the counterculture into a dynamic network of 1,300 fast-growing churches across the U.S. Calvary Chapel’s decentralized structure created minimal oversight while pastors were often endowed with most of the authority in the congregation. It is these two dynamics that are posing most of the problems for the organization, writes Rob Moll. Sexual misconduct is lightly disciplined, with the mother church in Santa Ana, Calif. sometimes hiring pastors who have been removed from their congregations for immorality.
Because of Calvary Chapel’s lax policy of restoring pastors who violate sexual standards, there have been charges (and lawsuits) that the church allows repeat offenders back into churches. Observers say that loyalty to Chuck Smith is all that is holding the association together and once the 79-year-old leader passes from the scene, Calvary Chapel will break up or become a more conventional denomination. The solution to the dilemma is being able to “institutionalize in a way that corrects problems yet still maintain the dynamism it had during the Jesus movement, reports Moll.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188).
In seeking to stem the effects of continuing decline, the Jesuit order is redistributing its resources and members to meet global needs and stressing the involvement of laity, writes Raymond Scroth in the National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 23).
With a membership peaking in 1960 of 8,338 members, there are now only 2,991 Jesuits with an average age of 65. Scroth cites an observer as noting that the young men and women who would join an order such as the Jesuits 50 years ago now join lay communities, such as Sant’Egidio, an international group based on prayer, dialogue and service to the poor.
The most flourishing Jesuit ministries today, such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Nativity school system in the inner-cities, are largely lay-led. More Jesuit-lay partnerships are likely to increase in the future, though Scroth asks whether lay colleagues, especially those leading Jesuit schools, “will really want the demanding retreats, readings and workshops required to commit oneself seriously to the Jesuit heritage.”
Jesuits are currently redrawing their order’s national map to better distribute members and their work throughout the U.S. The move would decrease the number of Jesuit provinces from 10 down to five or six; for example, the New York Province would merge into the Blue Ridge Mountain Province stretching from New York to South Carolina.
Meanwhile, globalization is likely to hasten the internationalization of Jesuit university campuses. American Jesuit schools are already linked to Jesuit institutions in 100 countries. “While today’s students take their junior year in Paris, London, and Australia, tomorrow’s will go to Africa, Latin America, and the Far East,” Scroth concludes.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)
The evolutionary approach to religion is evolving itself, moving from the view that religion is a maladaptive feature carried over from primitive times to a more nuanced and varied look at faith and its role in the lives of believers. A cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine(March 4) reports that during the 1990s experts from the hard sciences, such as evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience, joined anthropologists and psychologists, in the evolutionary study of religion.
There are now two camps in the evolutionary study of religion: the byproduct theorists and the adaptationists. The first group, led by such scientists as Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, and Paul Bloom, tend to see religion as an unrelated byproduct of adaptive traits. This could include certain cognitive tools that were once used to distinguish friends from enemies but are now applied by the brain to explaining supernatural agents or causes.
Adaptationists, such as David Sloan Wilson, argue on behalf of primary benefits of religion–such as hope in the face of death– and the survival advantages such adaptation may have originally brought, even if they may no longer serve such a purpose for the individual or the group. Writer Robin Marantz Henig notes that both of these theories can be used to dismiss or support religious beliefs.
Professional atheist Richard Dawkins counts himself as a byproduct theorist (harshly criticizing the adaptationists) but then so does the observant Christian Justin Barrett of Oxford University. He argues that “Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people. Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?“
The recent controversy about the documentary on the tomb of Jesus reveals less about an archeological breakthrough than about the growth of speculative biblical scholarship and the attraction of alternative readings of Christianity, reports Time magazine (March 12).
The Jesus Family Tomb, aired on the Discovery Channel in early March, which claimed to uncover the bones of Jesus and his alleged wife and child, was only one of a series of projects and books by recognized scholars on alternative biblical narratives. Such a book as The Jesus Dynasty, by University of North Carolina professor James Tabor, “enmeshes a plausible story of early church strife in speculative material suggesting that Jesus had a human father and hoped for an earthly kingdom,“ writes David Van Biema.
Other authors, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, have books out claiming to derive new insights from the rediscovered Gnostic Gospels of Judas. Ehrman says that the “generation that trained us would spend many hours honing their discipline until they felt they could write their seminal work, maybe in their 50s. This generation is different.
You publish as quickly as possible, create a sensation and get known [academically] that way.” Lynn Garrett of Publisher’s Weekly argues that the Da Vinci Code served merely to prime the pump of scholars who were already tuned into alternative and unorthodox versions of Christianity since the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and translation of the Nag Hammadi “library.”
There is a renewed interest in socialism among Christian theologians, writes Stephen H. Webb in First Things magazine (April). It is particularly theologians associated with the “Radical Orthodoxy” movement who have sought to develop ties with the economic left. Radical Orthodox theologians such as John Milbank and Graham Ward have sought to revive the role of Christian metaphysics and the tradition of the early church fathers in their work.
At the same time, writes Webb, they have built on the work of anti-globalism theorist Antonio Negri and neo-Marxist Slavoj Zizek, viewing capitalism as an ideology diametrically opposed to Christianity. Milbank claims that Christianity can “redeem socialism by incorporating economics into a vision of transcendence that promises social cohesion without threatening violence,” writes Webb.
He adds that such prominent theologians are missing out on contributing to new conversations about the importance of religion and values in market economies. Recent theories, such as those of the New Institutional Economics, have, according to Webb, gone beyond the “reduction of human behavior to self-interested calculations of utility during the reign of rational-choice theory.” Such prominent economists as Douglass C. North is leading this initiative with an inquiry into the necessary cultural conditions, including religion, for economic growth.
(First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010):
Women priests are being reintroduced in Hinduism, in India as well as in the diaspora. In the current issue of the magazine Hinduism Today (April-June), Lavina Melwani reports on four US-based women pujaris, who perform the same ceremonies as their male counterparts. There once were women priests among Hindus in ancient times, but they had disappeared by the first millennium.
In India, an organization called Shankar Seva Samiti has been training women priests since 1975. Developments outside of the religion have also played a role: priests have become less respected in India today, and males who would have become priests in earlier times now sometimes leave for more lucrative careers.
There was much controversy when a woman got ordained in Trinidad in 1992. But, according to one observer interviewed by Hinduism Today, Neelim Shukla-Bhatt (both a part-time pujari and the holder of a PhD in comparative religion from Harvard), women priests are becoming more common in India without causing great controversy; they are especially numerous in the state of Maharashtra. Their motivation, commitment and concern for community needs, are appreciated.
Those in America, at least, do not consider their work as a job but more as a calling, especially since they have good jobs or are retired. In the diaspora, some emphasize the essential role of women for the transmission of religion: thus it becomes essential for the passing of Hinduism to future generations that they know the practices well. Obviously, in Hinduism as in other religions, the change in the position of women in society has an impact and trends toward “depatriarcalization” are felt. — By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, Hawaii 96746-9304 –http://www.hindu.org)