In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2003
- Christian missionaries find uneasy place in Central Asia
- Current Research: December 2003
- Jewish Philanthropy no longer strictly Jewish
- Muslim political candidates still down but upturn ahead?
- Smart kidnapper reveals growth of Mormon underground
- Orthodoxy’s move toward pacifism raises concerns, controversy
- The Capuchin moment in the Catholic church?
- Religion coverage cut back in US weeklies, epxanding in Europe?
- Realignment reshaping Anglican churches
- Clergy playing renewed role in American politics?
01: Most people glancing at the newly-published volume Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, edited by M. Hakan Yavuz and John L. Esposito (Syracuse University Press $24.95), won’t know who the man is pictured on the cover of the book, but perhaps they should.
Fetullah Gülen (b. 1938) is an important figure in Islam far beyond his Turkish base. The book is a welcome and well-informed introduction written by Western and Turkish experts on the Gülen movement — a movement which sometimes looks more like a network. This movement is one of the eight major groups derived from the work of reformer Said Nursi (1873-1960). Its impact is not limited to Turkey: Nursi’s educational ideals have put into practice in some 300 modern, high-quality schools (including high schools) in several other parts of the world (primarily Central Asia, Balkan, etc.).
Those schools do not have any explicit Islamic content. Gülen aspires to create an educated elite and does not see any conflict between reason and revelation. The schools also contribute to the development of Turkish influence abroad. At the end of two remarkable introductory chapters which put the movement into context, co-editor Hakan Yavuz (University of Utah) claims that “this movement opens new venues for the radical reimagination of tradition.”
Interestingly, explains Berna Turam (McGill University), Gülen’s community combines Islam and Turkish nationalism; moreover, it is “secularization-friendly”. And also American-friendly, which is not very common in the Muslim world today. Indeed, the Nur movement (i.e. the different groups derived from Said Nursi’s thinking) “has been the major pro-NATO and pro-American Muslim group in Turkey”, stresses Yavuz. Gülen considers friendly relations with the USA as imperative, and also sees American hegemony as more preferable for Turkish interests than a rise in power of Russia or China.
— Reviewed by Jean-François Mayer
Evangelical missionaries s in Central Asia are having a modest rate of success and facing fewer restrictions in some states, according to recent research conducted by French scholar Sébastien Peyrouse.
At the conference of the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) in Anchorage, Alaska in early November, which RW attended, Peyrouse presented research from his recently published doctoral dissertation on the evolution of the Christian presence in Central Asia. According to Peyrouse, Gorbachov’s perestroika marked a turning point in religious liberalization in Central Asia, although it came somewhat later than in other parts of the Soviet Union, due to Soviet fears of resurgent religion in the area.
Once the former Soviet republics of Central Asia became newly independent States, legal developments at first continued on the path of religious liberalization. Quite soon, however, there were reactions toward the influx of new, missionary movements, which led to a more restrictive policy since the mid-1990s.
However, Peyrouse remarks that these policies have not been uniform across Central Asia. Those states which tend to be most repressive politically, such as Turkmenistan, are also the least tolerant of religious diversity, while -despite pressures from Muslim and Orthodox believers – proselytism is generally unrestricted in Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan.One of the fastest growing movements in those two republics are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had already been present (albeit clandestinely) during the Soviet period. Among evangelicals, Baptists remain the most widespread denomination: Western Baptist missionaries benefited from already existing networks of Baptist congregations which had existed throughout the Soviet period.
To a lesser extent, the same can be said of Seventh-Day Adventists.The missionaries to Central Asia are coming primarily from North America, South Korea and Germany. Although they were welcomed at the beginning by local Christians who had been without outside contacts, a lack of knowledge of local languages and customs often led to problems. They have now often become more sensitive to cultural issues and local sensitivities. However, it should be noted that, despite successes by missionary movements, the total number of converts remains small in comparison with the total population.
Peyrouse insists that countries of Central Asia should not be seen as “Muslim” countries in the same sense other parts of the world are; “Islam” or “Quran” are not mentioned in any Central Asian constitution. Beside the policies of authoritarian states in the area, negative reactions mainly come from “traditional religions,” such as Islam and the Orthodox Church, who see a common interest in opposing proselytization.
The challenges for the future of Christian missions in Central Asia will depend from a variety of factors: political evolution, developments of Central Asian Islam, diplomatic and economic relations between the Central Asian republics and countries from which most missionaries come, but also the ability of Christians to develop a truly indigenous Central Asian Christianity.
— By Jean-François Mayer.
01: A new survey finds that a majority of college students say religion and spirituality are important in their lives but they also show a sharp drop-off of religious involvements as they move through their college years.
The survey, conducted by UCLA among 3,680 students at 46 colleges and universities, found that 73 percent say their religious or spiritual beliefs helped develop their identity. Seventy seven percent say they pray and 71 percent say they find religion to be helpful in their lives. The survey confirmed previous findings showing a drop-off of church attendance as students progressed toward graduation–52 percent reported frequent attendance before entering college and only 29 percent did the same by their junior year.
The percentage of students saying it is “very important” or “essential” to integrate spirituality into their lives climbed from 51 percent in the 2000 poll to 58 percent this year. Over half of the respondents said neither professors nor the classroom encouraged or discussed their spiritual development.
02: The Catholic Church is the only growing religious body in the U.S. with a declining number of clergy, according to a study conducted by Purdue University sociologist James D. Davidson.
In testing the assertion that many denominations are experiencing a decreasing number of clergy, Davidson reviewed the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches for 1983, 1993 and 2003. He selected seven mainline Protestant bodies and three conservative churches. These churches were further divided into those whose membership has increased or decreased over the 20-year period.
The CARA Report (Fall) notes that Davidson found that the Catholic Church is the only growing body with a declining number of clergy (showing a 22 percent decline). He adds that “This fact suggests that sources of the priest shortage are more likely to be found in the Church itself than in societal conditions adversely affecting churches in general.”
03: One of the first scientific polls of Iraqi public opinion finds less devotion to Islam than expected and a majority against the idea of an Islamic theocracy. The poll, conducted by Zogby International and published in The American Enterprise magazine (December), was conducted last August among 600 respondents.
The survey finds that 43 percent of respondents said they “never” attended Islam’s Friday prayer services over the previous month. Only one-third of respondents said they favored an Islamic government, with 60 percent saying “no” to such a possibility. A noteworthy finding was that Shiite Muslims–who are often reported to be the most fervent Muslims in Iraq — are least receptive to the idea of an Islamic government, saying “no” by 66 versus 27 percent. It is only among the Sunnis that there is interest in such a prospect, and they are about evenly split on the question.
(The American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036)
04: According to a survey conducted in Spring 2003 in Germany, the number of Muslims has slightly declined, down to 3.1 million, with many claiming liberal and unorthodox forms of the faith.
The decrease is due to a number of war refugees from the Balkan returning home. Included in the total number of Muslims in Germany are more than 400,000 Alevis from Turkey (which hardly can be considered as “orthodox” Muslims in the usual meaning of the word) and 50,000 members of the Ahmadiyya movement, a group born in the late 19th century and rejected by mainstream Muslims due to the messianic claims of its late founder, reports the German magazine Materialdienst der EZW (October).
The survey, conducted by the Islam-Archiv-Deutschland, makes it clear that most Muslims in Germany don’t belong to organized Islam. Less than 10 percent of the Muslims in Germany are affiliated with any of the six largest Muslim organizations/federations active in that country. Interestingly, while authorities are mostly in touch with organized groups, a large segment of the remaining 90 percent are reported to tend toward a “modern Islam”, perceiving itself “as a part of secular society.” Sixty three percent consider the German Constitution as compatible with the Quran, while 16 percent see it as a problem; 732,000 Muslims hold German citizenship, but only 12,400 are of German descent.
Sixty two percent of the Muslims in Germany sympathize with the Social Democratic Party, 17 percent with the Green Party, and 10 percent with the Christian Democrats. Many Muslims still meet in prayer places which are built for worhsip; there 2,380 such places in Germany. However, increasingly, mosques are being built and will come to dot the German landscape beside churches: there are already 141 “classical” mosques, and 154 more currently under construction.
(Materialdienst der EZW, Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany; website: http://www.ezw-berlin.de)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Jewish philanthropy is gradually shifting to serving non-Jews as well as Jews, reports Moment magazine (December). In the new landscape, American Jews and American Jewish organizations are funding “programs to eliminate suffering of all kinds in their own communities, donate to groups that protect the environment, and feed, clothe and find jobs for the poor all over the world.”
But the more significant shift is in the patterns of individual Jewish philanthropy. More wealthy Jews today give money to non-Jewish causes than to Jewish charities, according to a 2001 study conducted by the Institute for Jewish Community & Research.
Some find this drift away from giving strictly to Jewish causes troubling, believing that Jewish institutions may be hurt by the shift. But the change has been expected; as Jews become more assimilated , their philanthropy is assimilating as well, says Gary Tobin of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. It is mostly the younger Jews who give to non-Jewish causes, but Tobin adds that since their average income is higher than other ethnic groups, many Jews can afford to donate to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes.
Two of the most popular Jewish philanthropies today are the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and Mazon, which deals with worldwide hunger.
(Moment, 4710 41st St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016)
Since Sept. 11, there has been a significant drop in American Muslims running for political office, but there are signs that this may be changing.
The Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 7) reports that Muslims only began running for office in significant numbers in the 1990s, hitting a peak in 2000, when about 700 candidates ran and 153 were elected. But by 2002, the number of candidates declined to only about 60 candidates. Although exact figures are not in for the 2003 elections, Agha Saeed of the American Muslim Alliance noted only a handful of Muslims running, though that may be because it was an election off-year.
But observers see a rebounding of Muslim candidates for next year. Part of the reason for the renewed political interest is a concern to counter the suspicions and Muslim stereotypes surrounding September 11. Another factor may be the growth of new organizations stressing Muslim political and civic involvement. For instance, the recent formation of the political action group PACE (the Platform for Active Civic Engagement) came in the wake of government raids on Muslim organizations.
PACE is different than other Muslim advocacy groups in that it focuses on local issues rather than Middle Eastern concerns and that it will endorse non-Muslims.
The seemingly bizarre religious views and practices surrounding the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart by the street preacher Brian David Mitchell (known as Immanuel) are not so uncommon in the ultraconservative subcultures existing on the margins of Mormonism, according to an article in the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone magazine (October).
John-Charles Duffy writes that although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints disassociated Mitchell’s views from official Mormon teachings, the kidnapper holds beliefs common in the ultraconservative LDS subculture. These beliefs include nostalgia for personal supernatural occurrences and revelations, devotion to alternative health teachings, far right politics, and an impulse to separate from the world.
All of these beliefs were part of early Mormonism which have been revived or reconstructed by ultraconservatives. Mitchell follows other ultraconservatives who were marginalized (often excommunicated) by the church during an alleged purge in the 1990s, such as Bo Gritz, a far right activist who recently started the Fellowship of Eternal Warriors, a white supremacist group, and James Harmston, who claims personal revelations and has also started his own church.
There are even cases of ultraconservatives who, like Mitchell, embrace homelessness as a lifestyle. Duffy concludes that Mitchell may be mentally ill, but he also is a “dramatic sign of unresolved tensions between Mormonism’s past and present.”
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)
The growing anti-war views of Eastern Orthodox leaders may be causing new tensions in these churches.
Although not featured in much of the media, there was almost unanimous agreement among Orthodox leaders that the war with Iraq was immoral with anti-war pronouncements issuing from the high level of the partiarchates of Moscow and Constantinople to the bishops of the various jurisdictions in the U.S. The churches’ position on the war prompted Frank Schaeffer, an Orthodox lay activist and father of a Marine in combat, to challenge the bishops in various media, claiming that Orthodox leaders were withholding spiritual comfort from him and others in the same situation.
Touchstone magazine (November) reports that Schaeffer’s views prompted letters of support in Orthodox periodicals, though clergy tried to quiet criticism of church leaders. But when the Orthodox Peace Fellowship circulated a petition on its web site to protest the war, the action generated a firestorm of protests. Critics charged that the OPF’s position went beyond its normal neutral and ascetic condemnation of all armed conflict by its use of a petition and its attacks on U.S. foreign policy (claiming, for instance, that the slaughter involved in the war “could only be regarded as murder”).
Writer Patrick Reardon notes that there was no poll of Orthodox members, but it is likely that they were more critical of the war than most other Americans. The traditional Orthodox coexistence with Islam along with a fear of encroaching Western (non-Orthodox) power may help explain such attitudes. But the growing tendency among Orthodox leaders and thinkers to oppose all armed conflict, with little allowance for a “just war,” is leading more conservative members to fear, that the Orthodox Church, “committed to an ethics of pacifism, will remain forever on the fringes of American life, along with other pacifist groups, like the Amish,” Reardon concludes.
The Capuchin order is exercising increasing influence in Catholicism, and it is hoping to offer its innovations and ideals of community life and participatory leadership to the wider church, according to the National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 14).
The Capuchins broke away from the Franciscan order in the 16th century as they sought to recover the movement’s original ideals of poverty and simplicity. Although traditionally existing in the shadow of the Franciscans, today they are showing new growth, reversing a 30-year downward trend, and expanding in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
The recent canonization of Capuchin mystic Padre Pio and the appointment of the monk Sean O’Malley as Archbishop of Boston (to replace Cardinal Bernard Law after the sex abuse scandal) have given the order a new visibility.
With now about 85 Capuchin bishops worldwide (including Denver’s influential and conservative Charles Chaput) as well as many parishes and schools in its orbit, the order is aiming for wide influence. The order’s recent reorganization to recapture its ideal of fraternity–sharing a life with a minimum of three brothers under the same roof — has meant the closing of some parishes, schools and social services. But this paring down is seen as offering the wider church an alternative model of organization. A renewed emphasis on participatory leadership–with no decisions being made by one person — and “transparency” regarding the disclosure of financial matters are key elements in such a model, writes John Allen.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)
News magazines in the U.S. are cutting back their religion coverage even as European media is showing a new interest in the subject.
In his e-newsletter Sightings (Nov. 9), Martin Marty cites a report by the Religion Newswriters Association that the three major news weeklies,Time, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek have either recently cut back or phased out specialized reporting on religion. While Time still has a religion reporter, such coverage is no longer has a regular, guaranteed slot in the magazine. When Kenneth Woodward recently retired from his post at Newsweek, the magazine did not hire a replacement.
Likewise, Jeff Sheler often had best selling religion cover stories in U.S. News & World Report, but he was recently phased out at the magazine. One reason given for the cutbacks is that American news weeklies increasingly run short articles and reach for the more sensational news [the trend is not yet strongly evident in the religion coverage in daily newspapers].
French-speaking Europe is definitely not the most religious place in the world. However, coverage of religious news in the French media has been on the increase in recent years, and sometimes the increase has been a qualitative one too. Moreover, even a growing number of people in the “secular camp” have become aware that religious factors should not be ignored in the contemporary world — hence the debates on how to teach about religion in the schools.
One significant indicator that religion is gaining attention has been the launching in September of an 80 page magazine titled Le Monde des Religions by the reputed Parisian daily Le Monde, a secular newspaper. In 2002-2003, Le Monde bought a majority of the shares of a Catholic media group which owned among its publications a magazine devoted to religion news, Actualité des Religions. It decided to transform it into a new magazine: thus was Le Monde des Religions born, with a launching budget of more than $600,000.
Hopes are to reach a paid circulation of 50,000 copies within two years. Le Monde des Religions will be published every two months. Its second issue (November/December) covers a variety of issues and news in different religious traditions. Its central article is devoted to American fundamentalism, an issue often perplexing to French audiences. It is encouraging to notice that two of the articles are authored by Sébastien Fath, a leading French expert on evangelicalism .
— This article was written with Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)
“Realignment” has become the new buzzword among observers and participants in the current struggle of the Episcopal Church over the recent election of gay bishop Gene Robinson.
The term seems to mean that conservatives and liberals will, in one way or another, part ways and realign with like-minded Anglicans from other churches and parts of the world. But so far, there have been few actual splits from the Episcopal Church, nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hinted that the U.S. denomination will be expelled from the worldwide Anglican communion [See September RW for background article].
What has taken place is that the conservative Anglican churches of the “global South” and U.S. conservative groups are both distancing themselves from the American church on an informal basis. For instance, the diocese of Pittsburgh recently declared that it will bypass the national church in its decision-making, and there are many cases of parishes and dioceses withholding funds from the national office. Overseas, several Anglican bishops and churches, most notably Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola of Nigeria, have broken off relations with the ECUSA.
Writing in The Tablet (Nov. 8), Ruth Gledhill, a religion reporter forThe Times of London, notes that before an actual schism occurs “it is likely that various schemes of alternative oversight…will be tried. This could in effect create a parallel jurisdiction.” A commission has been established to piece together a policy, based on British common law, whereby the Archbishop of Canterbury could exercise oversight in extraordinary circumstances. But Gledhill acknowledges that such a policy would carry no weight if the Episcopal Church ignored it–something not unlikely as the church has passed over recent overtures from Canterbury.
A more likely scenario for the near future is informal realignment between conservatives, according to the news service Kairos (Nov. 24). Already, conservative Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney has proposed shifting his archdiocese’s allegiance from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a more orthodox leader such as Akinola. Jensen would not officially pull out of the Anglican communion, but the money and allegiance would be channeled to these new informal networks.
It is not only the Anglicans who are turning to the realignment model. Lutherans in Europe and the U.S. are finding a new level of feedback and advice coming from their conservative counterparts in the global South, and, at the same time, showing interest in the orthodox forms of oversight these new global ties may provide. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) is paying close attention to the deliberations taking place in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over its upcoming sexuality statement on the ordination of homosexuals and same-sex unions.
The independent Lutheran Forum Letter (November) reports that one ELCT leader expressed “horror” at the prospect of the statement supporting gay rights, believing it would put the American denomination in a state of apostasy. He would support the withdrawal of his church from a popular program that pairs together regional synods of the two denominations if the ELCA takes that course. The ELCT has considerable influence in Lutheran circles through Africa and the ELCA’s actions would be viewed as negatively affecting the work of the conservative church on the continent.
Meanwhile, a conservative dissenting diocese of the Church of Sweden has approached Kenya’s senior Lutheran Bishop Walther Obare about the prospect of ordaining its priests and consecrating its bishops. The diocese is non-geographical and was created by those opposing women priests in the church, reports Ecumenical News International (Nov. 14).
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Clifton Walk, London W6 0Q2, UK; Forum Letter, P.O. Box 327, Delhi, NY 13753-0327)
Political scientists are discovering that clergy may be more influential in American politics than previously assumed, especially when it comes to the impact that women, “postmodern” ministries and evangelicals are making in the churches.
Those are a few of the findings from a special section of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December) that brings together recent surveys conducted on the political involvement of clergy. The surveys, part of a project of the Henry Institute at Calvin College, cover most of the American denominations and the involvement of their clergy in political activity leading up to the 2000 elections.
On the whole, most clergy express an interest in politics and address such concerns in their sermons, but there is more variation in the political activity these clergy engage in–both between and within denominations. Clergy from evangelical denominations were found to be just as politically active as their counterparts in the mainline churches. They vote overwhelmingly Republican, but it is those evangelical clergy who hold a “clear set of moral reform issues” and are involved in New Christian Right organizations who are the most involved; the level of doctrinal orthodoxy has little effect in such involvement.
Most mainline clergy tended to be politically involved, but there was some unusual variations. Clergy from the Presbyterian Church (USA) were the most likely to express a high level of political interest, but they showed the lowest level of participation. Clergy from the Reformed Church in America were the least likely to express political interest yet showed the highest rate of political activity.
The more unexpected findings (largely because they have not been surveyed much) came from the pastors connected with the postdenominational, or postmodern, churches connected with the Willow Creek Association. These “new paradigm” churches (often megachurches) stress contemporary approaches to reaching out to seekers and include mainline as well as evangelical churches. The survey conducted by Lyman A. Kellstedt and John C. Green, found that these pastors are almost as Republican as those clergy from evangelical denominations. The Willow Creek clergy are highly involved in politics — as much as other mainline clergy — and their churches have among the largest number of social programs, which, the researchers write, “can add depth and staying power to such political efforts.”
A study on the political differences between male and female clergy finds that women are far more likely to embrace democratic politics. To the surprise of the researchers, women were no more likely to be involved in traditional church social work than men. They conclude that as women clergy embrace a liberal feminist approach to politics, often with a concern for gay rights, they may hold considerable influence both in politics and in their denominations as they wrestle with related issues.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)