In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2001
- Christian democratic parties push for moral renewal
- China taking notes from France in cult control
- Current Research: August 2001
- Unificationist alliance with black clergy raises concern in churches
- Edgar Cayce’s following dwindling?
- Faith-filled vacations gain favor among Americans
- Census figures suggest retuning, relocating ethnic ministries
- Summer conventions show old divisions, new directions
Findings & Footnotes: August 2001
01: The relation of new religious movements (NRM’s) to society is now a concern in most parts of the world — from Africa to Japan.
The current issue of Nova Religio (Spring), a journal on NRM’s, looks at this phenomenon in 14 nations, particularly focusing on the legal contexts of the interaction between minority religions and governments. An in-depth article on Africa by Rosalind I.J. Hackett suggests that the pluralism of religious groups on that continent is leading to more government monitoring and, in some cases, control of minority religions, even though countries such as Russia, China and now France lead the way in “cult control.”
An article by sociologist Daniele Hervieu-Leger on the latter country notes that the growth of so many new religious movements — including Islam — is challenging the traditional secular-Roman Catholic church-state arrangement, leading to a stringent system of control. Ian Reader finds that Japan’s new mood of intolerance and vigilance toward NRMs (approved by the public) stems directly from the trauma over the Aum Shinrikyo affair.
Meanwhile, the flurry of protests and alarms surrounding Germany’s treatment of “cults,” such as Scientology, has drifted to other targets, namely France and China. Writer Brigitte Schoen finds that the German approach has proven to be relatively moderate in that there have been few restrictions against NRMs and little influence from anti-cultist groups on the government. Italy also has witnessed few attempts at government restriction of NRMs, as Massimo Introvigne writes that traditional Italian academic and political sympathy with underdogs prevents a strong anti-cultist position.
An article on Hungary is among the most comprehensive, dealing with the unique proliferation of NRMs in the country. Laszlo Kurti writes that a “cultic milieu” has developed in Hungary, with occult, New Age, and other alternatives (such as “neoshamanism” and UFO cults) gaining a popular following as well as substantial coverage in the media.
For more information on this issue, write: Nova Religio, 135 Fifth Ave., 9th Fl., New York, NY 10010-7101)
02: The summer issue of Public Eye, a newsletter of the liberal Political Research Associates, provides an in-depth listing of religious right, left and civil liberties groups that are involved with religion in the public square.
The labels and descriptions the newsletter uses to categorize the different groups may lack nuance and objectivity. For instance, The charismatic magazine Charisma is described as a “glossy monthly of the Christian Right,” while left-of-center organizations are described as “Groups Defending Democracy and Diversity from Right-Wing Attack.”
Still, this issue provides contact information for each entry and its listings cover the many kinds of conservatives and liberals dealing with religion and politics today.
For more information on this issue, write: PRA, 130 Broadway, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144-1731; http://www.publiceye.org
03: Two new books Excellent Protestant Congregations (and Excellent Catholic Parishes (published by Westminster/John Knox and Paulist presses, respectively), by Paul Wilkes, represent a novel attempt to write a Michelin Guide-style handbook of “above average” churches throughout the U.S.
Wilkes, a journalist, found 600 Catholic and Protestant churches that fit the bill and in these books he profiles 18 of them as well as outlines the common traits that explain their effectiveness. These qualities are what one might expect: Each church has vision and a high rate of lay participation, a strong sense of community, and a vibrant social outreach program.
In the book on Catholic parishes, Wilkes focuses on the churches that are not driven by “hierarchy” or “dogma,” and give a large role to women’s leadership (while Wilkes avoids polarizing “conservative” versus “liberal” terminology, he doesn’t cite more conservative parishes as very innovative, even though many priests and bishops appear to be moving in that direction).
The Protestant book covers more diverse ground–from charismatic Vineyard churches to mainline social activist landmarks–although the accent is on big churches. The main profiles are detailed and engrossing, and Wilkes’ list of all his selections in the back of the books carry interesting thumbnail descriptions.
04: Diana Eck’s book A New Religious America (Harper-Collins, $27) is a thorough survey of the new religious pluralism in the U.S. and its implications both for American society and the transplanted religions themselves.
The book, the result of an extensive Harvard University project mapping the world religions in the U.S., is especially good at giving the reader a feel for the rituals, community life and teachings of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in new transplanted surroundings–from North Dakota to Texas. Eck sketches out the new religious dynamics that are transpiring as mosques and temples find a place on American soil: Hindus are creating a more unified religion — with different traditions coexist and cooperating as minorities in the U.S. — than was ever the case in India; American Buddhists have a strong lay base as the religion has shed much of its monastic hierarchy in the move from Asia.
Eck’s thesis is that the growth of world religions is creating a new multicultural reality in place of an older Christian America. As most of her case studies focus on interfaith cooperation, especially in the book’s final chapters, Eck tends to brush over internal conflicts and more militant minority expressions within each tradition.
Christian democratic parties push for moral renewal
As Europe’s Christian Democratic parties are removed from the corridors of power today, there are signs that these once religious-based parties are reviving moral, if not faith, concerns in Europe.
The Public Justice Report (Vol. 23, No. 3), the newsletter of the Association for Public Justice, an evangelical political action caucus, notes that Christian Democratic parties’ new outsider role in European governments has served as an impetus for these groups to re-orient themselves toward their original principles and ideals.
The climate change is evident among the parties in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as in a new document called “A Union of Values.” Adopted at the congress of the European People’s Party (a coalition of Christian-Democrat, Centrist and Conservative parties) in Berlin, the document calls for the “right to life and the uniqueness of each human being from the moment of conception to death.”
The statement is meant to set a common legal standard for the protection of the human person throughout Europe rather than leaving these questions for national governments, especially as European unity becomes a reality. The document also states that experiments on human embryos should only be conducted if they seek to protect the life and health of the specific embryo that is the subject of the experiment.
(Public Justice Report, P.O. Box 48368, Washington, DC 20002-0368)
China taking notes from France in cult control
China is looking to France as a model for dealing with “cults,” such as Falun Gong, the persecuted Chinese meditation movement.
The Washington Post (July 10) reports that Chinese officials hold up the recent French law passed that made “mental manipulation” a crime as a way to control such groups as Falun Gong. The French law, passed in late May, has ignited a hailstorm of criticism in Europe and the U.S. for violating religious freedom.
The June issue of RW reported that Chinese officials have courted American academics seeking their support in the anti-Fulan Gong drive, and now the same officials are “touting the French law as partial vindication for China’s much-criticized human rights posture. They delight in noting that France’s National Assembly passed the measure unanimously and with widespread popular support,” writes Joseph A. Bosco.
Hong Kong’s leader Tung Cheehwa indicates that he is studying the French law for possible use against Falun Gong because it has “more or less the characteristics of an evil cult.” Meanwhile, CESNUR, an Italy-based study center on new religions, notes that Chile is also citing the French case in its attempts to ban and regulate “dangerous sects and/or cults.”
Current Research: August 2001
01: Silicon Valley and other hi-tech centers are showing a loss of community life and religious participation, according to a recent study by political scientist Robert Putnam.
American Enterprise magazine (July/August) reports that Putnam’s Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey confirms that Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix and other “tech meccas” show weak social and interpersonal connections. On a scale where 100 equals the national average, Boston only scored only 81 for “religious leadership,” 71 percent for “giving and volunteering,” 78 percent for “membership in charities and other groups,” and 81 in social trust. The magazine notes that San Francisco and Silicon Valley had similar patterns.
(American Enterprise, 1150 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036)
02: There has been a 20 percent increase in employee requests for religious accommodations since 1997, according to a new survey.
The 2001 Religion in the Workplace Survey, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, found that 49 percent of companies surveyed said they now treat religion in the workplace issues in their handbooks. Only one-third of the 535 companies surveyed, however, said they have an official written policy dealing with religious diversity, reports Religion Today.com (July 18).
Big companies tend to address religious issues company-wide, while smaller firms handle them case-by-case, said Cornelia Gamlem of SHRM. She adds that the biggest request is for time off to celebrate religious holidays.
03: A recent Gallup poll on denominational preferences shows a leveling out, and in some cases, an upturn in the appeal and strength of mainline Protestant denominations.
Emerging Trends (May), the Gallup newsletter on religion, notes that its audits of denominational preferences have been conducted since 1967. Back then, six percent of adults gave their religious preferences as Presbyterian. By 1984, this figure had fallen to two percent. Based on multiple Gallup surveys in 2000, the number is back up to five percent. Likewise, Episcopalians went from three percent in 1967 to two percent in 1978 and then back to three percent in 2000.
Lutherans declined from seven percent in 1967 to five percent and then rebounded to seven percent. However, 14 percent identified themselves as Methodists in 1967, but by 1984, the percentage had dropped by more than a third to nine percent, where it remains in the latest audit.
(Emerging Trends, 47 Hulfish St., Suite 215, P.O. Box 389, Princeton, NJ 08542)
04: There has been some debate and uncertainty about accurate figures in describing the extent of the Christian products industry.
As in book publishing, there is no centralized system for tracking retail sales. At its annual convention in July, the Christian Booksellers Association released the results of a recent survey of member suppliers, which showed sales through all retail channels at just more than $4 billion — an increase from the $3 billion to $3.5 billion figures the CBA has used for several years.
The e-newsletter Publisher’s Weekly BookLine (July 23) reports that figures from 539 companies — which include book publishers, and companies that produce music, gifts, apparel and other goods–provide the new data for the industry.
The survey data shows that $2.5 billion of the total is being sold through Christian retailers, $1 billion through general retailers, and $500 million direct to the consumer and channeled through Christian ministries. The breakdown by product category is $1.77 billion for books and Bibles, $822 million for various kinds of gifts, $747 million for music and $661 million for other items, including stationery, apparel, church supplies, curriculum, software and miscellaneous products. CBA reported a 4.4 percent overall annual sales gain for the industry in 2000.
05: While people in the knowledge professions, such as teachers and social workers, are often considered more secular than those in business and the skilled trades and production, the reverse seems to be the case in Australia, according to a recent poll.
Pointers (June), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association (CRA) in Australia, reports that a survey conducted in 2000 of those attending the mainline Uniting Churches found “very few business people or people involved in the technical professions, skilled trends or production in the churches. Among employed people, most were professionals working with people.” The same finding among people of other denominations turns up in the Australian Community survey (1998).
The largest occupational group in all the major denominations were people in professions working with people (consisting of 42 percent of Anglicans, 33 percent of Catholics, and 35 percent of Pentecostals under 60 but only 22 percent of the wider population under that age). In comparison, those in skilled trades or technical professions were considerably under-represented among these church attenders. While many women (who attend church more than men) are in professions working with people, the gender factor did not play a part in the findings; there are actually fewer business women in the church than there are business men.
It may even be that churches encourage people to take up knowledge class (or, more accurately in this context, people-oriented) professions: Those who attended church as children were more likely to move into professions oriented toward people.
(Pointers, CRA, Locked Bag 23, Kew, 3101, Australia; http://www.cra.org.au)
Unificationist alliance with black clergy raises concern in churches
The close involvement of black clergy in Unification Church-sponsored activities is prompting a backlash of opposition in black churches, reports the Washington Post (July 25).
As increasing numbers of black clergy have participated in activities sponsored by the Unification Church, there have been a rash of firings and threats of dismissal of ministers involved in these events, particularly in the South, writes Hanna Rosin. Some clergy have been called to denounce Moon and his claims of being the messiah. As many as 35 black ministers have been voted out of office by church boards that object to any affiliation with Sun Myung Moon and the U.C.
Much of the furor is over black clergy’s involvement in a clergy association involved with Moon’s recent tour of the U.S. The association, called the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC), is independent of the UC, but its formation appears to have aroused suspicion of Moon’s influence in the ranks of the clergy.
Edgar Cayce’s following dwindling?
Apologia Report (July 9) an evangelical newsletter on cults and apologetics, notes that the late psychic Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) has lost nearly 80,000 members in the past 10 years and $4.5 million in the past two.”
Citing a report in the Virginia Pilot newspaper, the newsletter adds that the organization also faces a multimillion-dollar lawsuit by former leaders who were accused of trying to transform the ecumenical organization into a bastion of conservative Christianity. Most of the controversy started when Gerald L. Martin and Michael L. Dempsey were named the executive directors in 1999. Former staff and leaders say they were wrongfully terminated during the transition in part, “because of their religious beliefs.”
Martin and Dempsey are being charged by critics and former leaders of trying to turn A.R.E. into a fundamentalist Christian organization. What turned many members against Dempsey and Martin began with their proposal for a new mission statement, calling for the group to be Christ-centered” and including frequent references to God, Jesus and Christ.”
Faith-filled vacations gain favor among Americans
Americans are increasingly meshing their vacations with their faith, reports Beliefnet, the religion web site.
While visits to shrines, retreat centers and other spiritual sites have been growing in recent years, more recently the travel industry — from religious tour books to Christian travel agents — is propelling the trend even further. Irving Hexham, the editor of Christian travelers’ guides to Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France, says that the number of Christians traveling abroad has grown from one million to 2.5 million in 20 years time.
Soluna Tours Sacred Journeys, which runs tours to both New Age and classical religious locations accompanied by scholars, organized three tours in 1995 and in 2001, it will send 30 tours. Christian camping has benefited strongly from the trend: In 1996, about 5.5 million people attended Christian camps and conference centers.
In 2000, nearly 7.5 million attended. The popular evangelical Mount Hermon family camps in California has seen its revenue jump from 1.5 million in 1996 to 1.9 million in 2000. Writer Gerald Zelizer ventures that these vacations’ combination of physical and spiritual enrichment appeals to materialistic Americans.
Census figures suggest retuning, relocating ethnic ministries
Metropolitan and urban areas are becoming so diverse in the U.S. that the old models of urban and even suburban ministry don’t have much relevance.
That is the major lesson that the recent Census figures suggest to religious organizations, according to the current issue of Visions (March/April), a newsletter on demography and religion. The data on changes in the number of people living in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and their ethnic backgrounds suggest that “there is no single course of change occurring in metropolitan areas on which to plan comprehensive urban ministries, new church developments, or the revitalization of existing churches,” writes editor Anthony Healy.
The manner in which ethnic ministry is conducted is changing, as ethnic enclaves are as likely to be located in the suburbs as they are in the center of cities. Many ethnic groups also no longer form enclaves but are rather dispersed throughout the city and suburbs. Those enclaves in the city are usually more marginalized and may be in need of more ministry than those in the suburbs, but Healy finds that suburban churches also need to reach out to poor residents from the new ethnic groups.
Of the major metropolitan regions, Healy adds that “less than half a dozen have the growth rates, and the apparent kinds of population influx, to support the model of establishing large new, primarily white suburban churches that are common among some mainline denominations. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence of major flops is surfacing among these kind of churches.”
More than three-fifths of whites live outside these large metropolises. Healy concludes that congregations may have to learn to switch courses and adapt. Some central city congregations “are finding themselves with affluent, professional neighbors; and some plateaued suburban bodies are finding themselves with ethnic neighbors.”
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)
Summer conventions show old divisions, new directions
The denominational conventions held so far this summer have signaled both revived conflicts and new directions among U.S. church bodies.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues on a course of conflict after its recent General Assembly. In the last few years, liberals claimed they were being shut out of the church through legislation that prohibited same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexuals. After the June assembly, it was the conservatives who were claiming a “liberal takeover,” according to an article in the conservative Presbyterian Layman (July).
The assembly voted to lift the ban on ordaining gays and lesbians. The legislation will not go into effect until local presbyteries vote on the proposal next year. The newspaper notes that equally or even more disconcerting to evangelicals and other conservatives is the assembly’s adoption of a statement that says Jesus is “uniquely Savior,” while stopping short of affirming that he is alone “Lord of all.” One delegate who voted for the new statement said an alternate statement affirming the singular saving work of Christ was “exclusionary . . .”
The end of the 61st regular convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, held in St. Louis from July 14-20, found partisans on all sides in the highly politicized church body declaring partial victory. In the words of one delegate, “it was a decidedly mixed bag.” Due to the death of its highly conservative president, A. L. Barry, in March, the most contested part of the convention was the election of a new leader.
Delegates elected Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the synod’s Texas District, chair of its Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and a moderate, to a three-year term as president. Kieschnick defeated the more conservative Dr. Dean Wenthe, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, on the fourth ballot.
By far the most contentious action of the convention came with passage by a vote of 706-343 to affirm the judgment of the late president Barry that the 5.2 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] “cannot be considered an orthodox Lutheran church body” due to its acceptance of altar and pulpit fellowship with Reformed churches, Episcopalians, and Moravians.
Additional controversy was provoked by the comments of outgoing president Robert T. Kuhn, who complained of “noisy minorities, both to the right and the left,” in a synod that he believed was “far more united than it is divided.” Post-convention reality questions Kuhn’s analysis, as the various political camps in Missouri each claim cautionary victory and begin to lay plans regarding the future direction of the synod.
Meanwhile, one segment of Eastern Orthodoxy has moved one step further to creating a unified and independent Eastern Orthodox church. The Los Angeles Times (July 28) reports that at its conventionin late July, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America petitioned the Patriarch of the Holy Synod of Antioch to become an autonomous church body. It is not clear if the patriarch will accept the petition; it took the Russian Orthodox Church 140 years to win autonomy from the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Although the Antiochian church would not become fully independent under the declaration (the Patriarch of Antioch would still have final word on electing its top bishop), observers say the action is likely to move other North American Orthodox bodies that are still considered diaspora branches of the mother church in the new direction, such as the Greek Orthodox Church.
(Presbyterian Layman, P.O. Box 2210, Lenoir, NC 28645-2210)
— Mary Todd, assistant professor of History at Concordia University, wrote the section on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Todd is author of “Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod” (Eerdmans)