In This Issue
- Religion aids search for peace in Sudan
- Turkey: Islamists soon back to government?
- On/File: August 2002
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2002
- Missionaries at cutting edge on e-books
- Outreach to tourists find place in British churches
- Evangelical increase in Mexico worries Catholics
- Current Research: August 2002
- Evangelicals and Catholics sharing ministries
- Funding religious scholarship — sometimes with agendas
Religion aids search for peace in Sudan
In a breakthrough to find a solution to the lasting war in Sudan between the government and Christian and animist secessionist forces in the South (2 million victims over the past 20 years, many of them dying from war-related famine), a framework for peace talks signed on July 20 agreed that the constitution would be rewritten to ensure that Islamic sharia would only be applied in the North.
The agreement should not be overestimated, since it is not the first deal, and rebels claimed ten days later that governmental forces had launched an offensive. It is however worth noticing that religious forces might also become increasingly involved in efforts toward peace. However, according to a news update on July 23 from Douglas Johnston of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy [ICRD] in Washington, who is himself involved in peace efforts in Sudan, “there appears to be a willingness to compromise on important issues, where there has been no give whatsoever in the past.”
The war in Sudan cannot be reduced to a Christian-Muslim conflict, as it is sometimes presented; a number of other major factors are involved, including a war for the control of resources. But religion plays a role too. Christian and Muslim leaders met in Khartoum in July under the auspices of ICRD, the Sudan Council of Churches, and the Sudan International People’s Friendship Council, with participation of government’s representatives.
“Thus far, preliminary agreement has been obtained from the government of Sudan to involve religious leaders in the peace process. The next step will involve securing similar agreement from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for this same initiative,” Johnston reports. There will also be efforts to obtain from both sides the guarantee of freedom of movement for religious leaders to perform their duties in the zones of conflict and the protection of holy sites.
— By Jean-François Mayer
(International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, 1156 Fifteenth Street, N. W., Suite 910, Washington, D. C. 20005, http://www.icrd.org)
Turkey: Islamists soon back to government?
According to several observers of the Turkish political scene, the current crisis might lead to an unprecedented success of Islamist parties, due to the fragmentation of the secular political groups and to peculiarities of the Turkish electoral system.
Long-time politician and ailing Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit clings to power and refuses to leave his position to a successor, despite his obvious inability to continue to lead the country. On July 11, foreign minister Ismail Cem resigned. Several other ministers did the same, and a number of MPs left Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP). They have founded another political party, New Turkey, under the leadership of Cem. Those developments take place in a context of economic crisis (soaring interests rates, heavy debt), and early elections are now planned for this fall.
Interestingly, Cem has signaled that he would seek to defuse tensions around issues related to Islam which have plagued Turkish politics for years. Faithful to Kemal Ataturk’s policy, secular elites in Turkey — among them the top military and the influential National Security Council — are extremely suspicious of Muslim activism. However, Cem has told Turkish newspaper Sabah that he intended to be tolerant of Turkish women who wear Islamic headscarf (banned for university students and public sector workers) (Associated Press, July 14).
Supposing Cem would come to power – which seems still far from certain at this point – it remains to be seen if there would indeed such a change in governmental policy. But Cem’s statement definitely reflects an awareness that Islamist parties might be those who have the most to benefit from early elections. Under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a popular former Istanbul mayor, the Justice and Development Party (AK) is leading the poll with around 20 percent support (BBC, July 16).
Although this does not seem much, it comes to mean much more when one knows that a recent survey shows that 30 percent of the voters in the capital, Istanbul, would not vote for any existing party and that 54 percent are still undecided (Chicago Tribune, July 31). Moreover, only one of the three parties in the current ruling coalition seems likely to win more than 10 percent of the votes. The Turkish system requires party to reach a 10 percent threshold for gaining seats in parliament. This means the AK party — one of the two parties derived from the Virtue Party (Fazilet), banned in 2001 — might actually get many more seats in Parliament than its 20 percent share would indicate, as a consequence of electoral dispersion.
Unsurprisingly, Ecevit has warned that AK’s possible victory would create trouble for Turkey at a time it urgently needs stability and might provoke the military to block a pro-Islamist government, as they already did in the past (The Scotsman, July 22). However, in the long run, the question might rather be how far the military can prevent Islamist parties to be full participants of the political system, which might then develop into a kind of Muslim political sector similar to what Christian Democratic parties have been in the West.
Several observers consider that such a development in Turkey, if it would be allowed without interference, might have a positive impact on other countries with a Muslim heritage.
— By Jean-François Mayer
On/File: August 2002
01: Ergun and Emir Caner have emerged as the leading authorities of Islam in the conservative evangelical world.
The Caner brothers’ views on Islam were instrumental in Southern Baptist Convention’s President Jerry Vines’ recent publicized statement that the Prophet Mohammed as a “demon-possessed pedophile.” The brothers were brought up Muslim until they converted to evangelical Christianity in their teens and have gradually gained notice in the SBC and evangelical world, co-authoring the book “Unveiling Islam.”
Vines’ comments gave the Caners’ work a stamp of approval, leading to media interviews, a place on the lecture circuit and sales in the range of 30,000 copies of their book. Muslim groups, as well as the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Churches have condemned the book for its anti-Islamic prejudice.
The book’s contention that Islam is inherently violent and that Mohammed was influenced by evil spirits has become more common among some evangelicals, charismatics and fundamentalists, especially since Sept. 11.
(Source: Religion News Service, Baptists Today, July-August)
Findings & Footnotes: August 2002
01: Although the secularization theory, holding that the world is becoming less religious, has come under fire in recent years, the new book God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Blackwell, $24.95) finds much of value in the concept, even in a modified form. Author Steve Bruce, a Scottish sociologist of religion and leading proponent of the theory, explains that secularization doesn’t have to mean total disbelief in God; religious indifference is more the case .With that caveat in mind, Bruce looks at a wide range of topics to drive home his point that trends proclaiming religious revival and growth may show just the opposite.
Far from disproving secularization, the interest in the New Age and Eastern religion suggests that Western Christianity has declined only to be replaced by a diffuse, noninstitutional spiritualities that by their very nature can’t create the durable communities and future generations of their predecessor. Bruce levels most of his arguments against sociologists holding to “rational choice” theory, which, in part, teaches that pluralism can aid religious growth.
Bruce asserts that even areas of religious growth and revival, such as the charismatic movement and the general vibrancy of American religion, do not necessarily disprove his thesis: The charismatic movement (at least in Britain) is a vehicle for those seeking a more worldly, less demanding faith. Bruce argues that religion flourishes more in the U.S. not because of the nation’s pluralism but because religious subcultures are allowed to function to a greater extent than in European society.
02: Osho Rajneesh (Signature Books, $12.95), by Judith M. Fox, is the latest in a series of small books on new religious movements issued by Signature Books and CESNUR, an Italian research center on new religions. The 51-page book traces the evolution of the Indian guru known as Rajneesh, then as Bhagwan (famous in the U.S. for leading a controversial Oregon commune marked by leadership abuses), and finally by the name of Osho before his death in 1990.
Osho-Rajneesh, as he is called by Fox, drew large followings in all of his incarnations through a synthesis of psychotherapeutic techniques, Eastern spirituality and a religious style stressing overturning traditional sexual mores. Fox finds that Osho-Rajneesh has an enduring appeal among followers, evident on the many sites on the Internet, the commune in Poona, India (which was his first) and in various schools, such as a “multiversity” in Holland.
In fact, Osho is being rehabilitated as memories of abuse in his communes have receded, receiving new recognition in India as well as in 300 information and meditation centers worldwide.
Missionaries at cutting edge on e-books
E-books may not have caught on in most segments of publishing, but missionaries are rapidly trading in their paper books for the electronic versions.
Religion Today.com (July 7) reports that with the “growing trend toward mobility in ministry,” both foreign and domestic missionaries are looking for alternatives to lugging hundreds of books to far-flung places. With e-books, high airfreight charges are avoided (not to mention the damage to books in tropical climates) and the technology can easily be transported on the ground.
Missionaries based in remote locations can get new books almost instantly by unlocking them from CD or downloading them via the Internet. The search capabilities of new software, allowing users to hunt through hundreds or even thousands of books in a short time, also makes them valuable research tools. The article concludes that when “it comes to digital books, missionaries are ahead of the technology curve . . . not lagging behind as some people might expect.”
Outreach to tourists find place in British churches
If churches in England are losing committed members and worshippers, many congregations are drawing tourists and are even making a ministry of it.
Quadrant (July), the newsletter of the British Christian Research Association, reports that 30 million visits are made annually to churches and cathedrals — making for more visitors than regular worshippers. “More and more churches are realizing the opportunities that are offered in the ministry of welcome. Some Anglican dioceses have tourism officers” who raise funds to preserve church buildings and introduce visitors to British church life.
At the same time, those who shape Britain’s tourism strategy are only just coming to recognize the significance of the interest in churches as places of history, culture, architecture and faith.” A recent survey of 13,000 visitors to 165 churches by the Churches Tourism Group is also serving to alert churches on the role of tourism in introducing people to Christianity.
The survey finds that 70 percent of these visitors — many of whom are British — say prayer is something they would like to do in those churches. More than 40 percent look for an opportunity to make a donation, with this expectation particularly high among teenagers.
(Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ)
Evangelical increase in Mexico worries Catholics
Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to Mexico revealed the church’s resolute concern to preserve and win over the nation’s Indians’ devotion to Catholicism and the difficulty in achieving that goal.
The pope ended his trip to the Americas on August 1 in Mexico, by addressing the Indians and appealing for greater respect toward them. He proclaimed the first Mexican Indian saint. But none of the 132 Mexican bishops is an Indian, and few priests can speak to their followers in regions with an Indian majority in their native languages, according to the Associated Press (Aug. 1).
This contrasts with the growth of Evangelicals in Mexico, especially among Indians.
Mexico remains the second largest Roman Catholic country (after Brazil and before the United States), with approximately 75 million Roman Catholics above the age of five, reports the Catholic news agency Zenit (July 28). But although the Catholic part of the population has grown in absolute numbers, the percentage has come down in 10 years from 91 percent to 87 percent.
Those are the results of a research conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INEGI). There has been a steady rise of evangelical Protestants since the early 1970s, to the extent that Mexicans (and Guatemalans) are no longer only recipients of foreign evangelism, but “are now setting up their own and exporting their evangelism abroad,” reports The Economist (July 27).
Evangelicals have been particularly successful in the southern, poorer parts of Mexico. Chiapas is now 14 percent Protestant. The Economist quotes Mexican sociologist of religion Roberto Blancarte, stating that the rise of Protestantism in those areas has become the Catholic Church’s “major worry” in Mexico.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Current Research: August 2002
01: American confidence in religious institutions is at a 30-year low, down to 45 percent, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
The annual Gallup Poll on confidence in institutions reveal that while the Protestant confidence rate of 59 percent is about the same as a year ago, Catholic trust dropped to 42 percent. Although this year’s poll broke down respondents into Protestant and Catholic for comparison, it usually does not make that division.
Yet a Gallup poll on confidence in religion in 1991 found that Catholics and Protestants were virtually the same in how they ranked religion.
02: Forecasts that the upcoming generation of evangelical college students were likely to liberalize their faith have not materialized, according to a recent study.
In the magazine Books & Culture (July-August), James M. Penning and Corwin E. Smidt present a new study that updates and contradicts James D. Hunter’s groundbreaking book “Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation,” in which he found that students at evangelical colleges were losing hold of the orthodox teachings of evangelicalism and gradually moving toward a “progressive” worldview.
Penning and Smidt compare Hunter’s 1982 study with a survey they conducted in the late 1990s among students at nine evangelical colleges and universities. The authors, who have cowritten “Evangelicalism: The Next Generation” (Baker), find more continuity than slippage on evangelical basics:
More than 85 percent strongly agreed that there is no other way of salvation than through Christ. The same was true for evangelical practices, with relatively high rates of participation in prayer and Bible study. Hunter’s view that the growing diversity he found among evangelicals (including the dropping of certain social taboos, such as dancing) means a move toward secularization doesn’t necessarily follow, since there has always been a great deal of diversity in evangelicalism, the authors write.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
03: Regular church attendance is likely to raise the prospects of marriage for urban women, according to a University of Pennsylvania study.
The study, conducted by the university’s Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, analyzed data from 3,886 married and unmarried mothers and found that urban mothers who attend church several times a month are 100 percent more likely to be married at the time of giving birth compared to their counterparts who do not attend services regularly. Those church attending mothers who give birth out of wedlock are 90 percent more likely to marry compared to urban mothers not attending frequently.
The relation between church attendance and marriage was particularly strong for African-American mothers. Yet there is not a consistent connection between marriage and churchgoing. Researcher Bradley Wilcox found that one-third of all unwed, urban mothers are frequent churchgoers. This could mean that “many unmarried mothers are more integrated into the social fabric of their communities than we once thought.”
(Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, http://www.crrucs.org)
04: A study by Ellison research finds lukewarm support among Protestant clergy for faith-based social service initiatives as well as the belief that some religious groups should not be eligible for such programs.
In a survey of 567 Protestant clergy, only 20 percent of respondents strongly supported President Bush’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives Act, which permits federal funds to be used by religious organizations to offer social services. Another 47 percent say they “somewhat support” the program. Twenty three percent “somewhat oppose” it. Most of the concerns about the initiative revolved around which religious groups will be eligible for funding and about whether their own religious freedom might be jeopardized.
A majority of pastors (62 percent) agree that “Certain religious groups should not be eligible for funding through this program, although no groups were identified by name.
05: A comparative study of 21 countries reveals that those nations with a Protestant heritage are far more likely to have embraced environmentalism than the others.
In the current issue of the Hedgehog Review (Spring), sociologist Robert Bellah cites the unpublished work of David Vogel of the University of California at Berkeley, who created a rating system for 21 of the richest nations regarding their involvement in the environmental cause.
The nations were divided into two groups: “light green,” those countries mainly involved with the quality of air and water that directly affect their own populations; and “dark green,” countries concerned with the ecosphere, including endangered species, rain forests, ozone holes and “all the rest.”
Vogel finds that all but one of the dark green countries (the exception is Austria) are of Protestant heritage, and none of the light green countries are. The latter include six Catholic countries, one Greek Orthodox country (Greece), one Jewish country (Israel), and three Confucian/Buddhist countries (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). Vogel argues that it is not so much a direct connection with the doctrines of Protestantism (he notes that evangelical Protestants are among the groups least involved in environmentalism).
Rather, “dark green” environmentalism functions as a secularized version of Protestantism in these countries. Both environmentalism and Protestantism share a relatively pessimistic view of the world, they tend to make strong moral judgments, and share a romantic and “aesthetic appreciation of nature” (partly because much of Protestantism does not have a strong sense of liturgy and sacramentalism), and stress responsibility in dealing with nature.
(Hedgehog Review, P.O. Box 400816, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816)
06: In the post-Cold War context, religion in Europe may now acquire a new credibility, due in part to a disenchantment with ideologies, according to a new study. Since 1981, the European Value Survey (EVS) has been conducted three times, and the results of the 1999 survey have now been analyzed.
A perspective of inevitable secularization is revealed to be inaccurate in describing the European reality: the situation is now completely open and makes the prospects quite unpredictable. The 1999 survey covered no less than 34 countries (i.e. most of Western and Eastern Europe). In its July-August issue, the French journal Futuribles analyzes the results, with the focus on Western Europe. Among the different domains of life, family, work and leisures rank as more important than religion to Western Europeans in most countries: religion takes precedence over leisure only in Portugal, Italy, and Greece. In 11 selected European Union countries, an average of 17 percent consider religion as “very important.”
However, politics gets significantly lower grades (8 percent). There are also strong variations from one country to another (48 percent of Greeks consider religion as “very important”, but only 8 percent of Danes). As with several other results, such a finding suggests that one should beware of lumping together even those countries belonging to the European Union.
Seventeen percent of Western Europeans consider agreement on religious issues as “very important” for a successful marriage. However, one should notice that the percentage is much higher among older people and decreases among younger people (only 11 percent of those under 35 deem it to be “very important”).The percentage of non-practicing Christians and — most of all — of people claiming to have no religion has increased over the past twenty years.
Interestingly, however, the public image of Christian Churches has improved: while 44 percent of Western Europeans believed that Churches could answer spiritual needs in 1981, 52 percent shared that opinion in 1999. So there are obviously conflicting tendencies.
According to French sociologist of religion Yves Lambert, three main trends can be identified: a continuing move away from religion; a revival of Christian commitment (practicing Christians becoming more involved, and more of them now affirming orthodox Christian doctrines such as a personal God, sin or hell); and the growth of alternative beliefs among agnostics “in the form of individualized, unfocused ideas not related to Christianity.”
Regarding the last point, Lambert notices an increase in the percentage of people without a religious affiliation who feel themselves to be “religious,” and pray from time to time or believe in eternal life. Consequently, the image of religion in Europe appears to be more diversified than ever, and certainly cannot be reduced to monolinear secularization.
(Futuribles, 55 rue de Varenne, 75341 Paris Cedex 07, France. http://www.futuribles.com)
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor who edits the Website Religioscope, http://www.religioscope.com)
07: A study of Muslim refugees from the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo finds that maintaining optimism and postitive attitudes during such trauma was related to religious coping and high religiosity.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan, surveyed 138 war refugees who had undergone war-related terror and massive dislocation. The magazine Research News & Opportunities In Science And Religion (July/August) reports that the respondents, mainly Muslims (along with some Catholics) used “positive religious/spiritual coping” more than “negative religious coping” in a similar way to that of Christians previously studied.
Positive religious coping, which involve finding hope and divine purpose through one’s plight, is contrasted with negative religious coping, such as blaming God or seeing one’s situation as divine punishment. Such positive religious coping was also correlated with increased religiosity and higher education.
(Research News & Opportunities In Science And Religion, 415 Clarion Dr., Durham, NC 27705; http://www.researchnewsonline.org)
Evangelicals and Catholics sharing ministries
The closer relations between American evangelicals and Roman Catholics that have developed in the last few years appear to be entering a new stage that involve joint evangelism and ministry projects, according to America magazine (July 15-22).
Evangelical-Catholic relations have been strengthened through coalitions on social issues (such as abortion) and joint statements on doctrine and practice (agreements on teachings on salvation). Thomas Rausch writes that a recent conference at evangelical Wheaton College on evangelicals and Catholics revealed that these believers are increasingly working together, and not just on social or culture war-type issues.
For instance, the evangelical campus ministry InterVarsity Fellowship is working together with the Catholic campus ministry in San Diego. A new effort called Emmaus Ministries — which was founded by a Catholic Wheaton graduate — brings together evangelicals and Catholics in outreach to men involved in prostitution. The fact that Wheaton (along with InterVarisity Press) sponsored the conference may be significant in itself.
The premiere evangelical college has long precluded welcoming Catholics as faculty or staff, but Rausch reports that Wheaton may be “moving in a more open direction.”
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
Funding religious scholarship — sometimes with agendas
In recent years, charitable foundations have played a large role in both spurring research and supporting ministries in American religion.
Both conservative and liberal religious groups are at the receiving end of generous donors who might have different and sometimes conflicting religious outlooks and ideological goals. Christianity Today (July 12) reports that a primary factor in the resurgence of evangelical scholarship has been the warming of large foundations to their projects.
Some of the foundations have no particular religious viewpoint or founding agenda, such as the Lilly Endowment, which is based on the fortunes of the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical firm (the makers of Prozac and other drugs). The endowment funds the research of a wide range of groups, more recently including evangelical scholars, reports Michael Hamilton and Johanna G. Yngvason.
In contrast, the Pew Charitable Trusts started out as a strongly evangelical-friendly foundation, funding missions and evangelism, due to the sympathies of J. Howard Pew, head of Sun Oil Company. Today, the foundation is more leery of directly supporting evangelical mission and evangelism work and has shifted to funding evangelical scholarship, such as the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College and a flourishing movement of academic Christian philosophers.
Other foundations have a clear religious philosophy, but they are now realizing the importance of funding scholarship rather than only groups and projects that propagate their particular visions. One increasingly influential foundation is the Fieldstead Institute. Fieldstead founders Howard and Roberta Ahmanson have long funded conservative political and Christian groups. Today Fieldstead is seeking funding initiatives that wrestles with secular ideas from a Christian perspective.
These include: the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia under sociologist James Davison Hunter (pledging $1 million) and the Intelligent Design movement, which seeks an alternative to evolutionary theory ($2.8 million). Another evangelical foundation that has moved from supporting evangelism to funding scholarship (including such conservative think tanks as the Discovery Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center) is the Maclellan Foundation.
The Templeton Foundation, founded by financier John Templeton, has funded a wide range of religion projects, particularly involving science and religion. Yet evangelicals and other conservative believers may chafe at John Templeton’s admiration for the Unity of School of Christianity, which teaches that all great religions embody part of the ultimate truth and move toward the same goal. The Templeton Foundation Press recently published a sympathetic history of the Unity Church.
The church’s president Glenn R. Mosley is also the only denominational leader on the foundation’s board of trustees. Templeton’s concepts of “progress in religion” (that religions evolve and only have a small grain of the truth) and his connecting prosperity and spirituality have been strongly influenced by Unity teachings, reports the July 6 Long Island newspaper Newsday
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)