In This Issue
- On/File: December 2004
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2004
- Latin America’s politics further limiting base communities
- Europe and Islam — how inevitable is the conflict?
- Anti-corruption activism finds place on international evangelical agenda
- Current Research: December 2004
- Healing, traditional medicine expands Daoist presence in U.S.
- Religious e-mail spam on the rise
- Elections show new denominational political allegiances?
- Jewish studies programs not just for Jews anymore
On/File: December 2004
01: The launching of the Center for Moral Clarity (CMC) last July by charismatic minister and televangelist Rod Parsley is one more sign of the growing charismatic involvement in social and public policy issues.
The center works to mobilize Christians around public policy issues that are said to have spiritual roots, such as abortion and same-sex marriage (pushing for the constitutional amendment limiting marriage only to heterosexual couples), and will likely have broader appeal among charismatics than other Christian political groups. Parsely says that the CMC will also champion issues on the other side of the political spectrum, such as racism, women’s rights, and poverty.
Another key concern of CMC is to raise awareness about the Houses of WorshipFree Speech Restoration Act, which would enable pastors to speak out about political issues without their churches’ tax-exempt status being threatened. The act passed in the House in July but must still be considered by the Senate. (Source:Charisma, December)
02: While there are many post-denominational” networks in the evangelical world, the Missions Catalyst Network is unique in that it has emerged from the Seventh Day Adventist Church and still maintains an Adventist identity.
MCN was founded by Ron Gladden, a Seventh Day Adventist church planting director who fell out with church officials over his view that the denominational bureaucracy was hindering new church formation and effective evangelism. The network, based in Vancouver, Washington, is Adventist in belief but no longer so in organizational structure and philosophy, particularly taking aim at the denomination’s practice of using the required tithes from members to absorb the costs of the higher level of the organization.
Gladden charges that outside of new ethnic churches, the growth of new non-Hispanic white churches is stagnant. MCN plans to plant congregations in roughly three hundred of the largest urban centers in the U.S.
(Source: Spectrum, Fall)
Findings & Footnotes: December 2004
01: The pioneering holistic health magazine Body & Soul, formerly called New Age, looks back on major issues and topics covered in its pages for its 30th anniversary and, in the process, provides a useful, if brief, glossary on New Age/alternative spirituality.
The special section in the issue provides historical sketches and definitions for everything from the different forms of “body psychotherapy” and Hatha Yoga to life coaches. The obvious conclusion is that the alternative has become mainstream, but it also seems that the New Age has become secularized, gradually moving from mysticism to health concerns (thus following the life stages of the aging baby boomers who founded the movement).
For more information on this issue, write: Body & Soul, 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472
02: The frequent, almost incessant, references to “red” and “blue” states and how they show the new religio-culltural faultlines in the U.S. leaves something to be desired in explaining either American religion or culture. Readers weary of such categorizations in this post-election season should catch up with the Alta Mira Press series “Religion By Region,” particularly its most recent offerings on the Midwest, Southern Crossroads, and New England regions. Midwest: America’s Common Denominator ($24.95), edited by Philip Barlow and Mark Silk, is similar to previous volumes (on the Pacific Northwest and the West) in showing how broad regions are made up of subregions with very different religious environments.
Far from representing “true” America or even having its own essence Midwestern religion is more like a patchwork of religious cultures which tends to “combine the pluralist religious ethos of the Mid-Atlantic with the churchgoing habits of the South,” writes Peter W. Williams.
Unlike the South, the mainline ethos, especially through Methodism and Lutheranism, is still in force in many areas along with Catholicism, new immigrant religions and a longtime evangelical presence. This can be expressed in the upper Midwest’s Catholic and Lutheran communal tendencies against the more evangelical individualism found in the central states, writes sociologist Rhys Williams in another chapter.
Other chapters include a study of how religious pluralism affects the urban space of Chicago, the distinct form of Catholicism (more lay-oriented and democratic) in much of the Midwest and interesting profiles of Lutheranism and Methodism. On the latter tradition, Mark Noll offers the intriguing speculation that today ‘s megachurch strength in the Midwest may be expressing a Methodist-like “impulse to subordinate partisan politics to community building.”
If there is a region where the designation of “red states” makes sense it is in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Louisiana, the subject of the second book Southern Crossroads: Showdown States ($19.95), edited by William Lindsey and Mark Silk. This region of border states is highly evangelical and politically activated. Historian Andrew Manis argues that in the last century this region has been the arena for both fierce theological and denominational battles — taking on issues ranging from Baptist identity to theological modernism — and now occupies center stage in the culture wars.
Even today these states make up much more of a religious frontier than the traditional South, as new style megachurches and Pentecostal and Holiness groups thrive. Even Catholics, Episcopalians and black and Hispanic churches are influenced by the conservative evangelical atmosphere, through the various chapters on these subcultures suggest that they serve as a counterweight to the strong Republican and individualist tone of the region.
New England: Steady Habits, Changing Slowly ($19.95), edited by Andrew Walsh and Mark Silk, reveals a region less outspokenly religious (often to avoid historic tensions between Protestant and Catholic) but no less distinctive than other areas. New England is the most densely Catholic region in the country (although there is some slippage in this area) and there are more mainline Protestants than evangelicals, as well as a good deal of “nones, or unaffiliated individuals.
Sociologist Michelle Dillon writes that Catholicism in the region is changing due to the sex abuse crisis (with some sharp decreases in parish attendance) and demographics, although she does not see a major shift away from a relatively liberal political identity [she was writing before the 2004 elections; see page 1]. Other chapters include an examination of mainline Protestantism, where a strong tradition of civic involvement and interfaith cooperation survives, although the tradition faces shrinking and aging memberships, particularly in the northern reaches of the region. Evangelicals may be more of a minority in the region but are showing fast growth rates as well as new cooperation with each other and, just as important, with Roman Catholics against the secular tide.
03: The Children of God ($13.95) is the most recent book in Signature Books’ series on the Studies in Contemporary Religion.
Written by J. Gordon Melton, the 100-page book provides a brief historical sketch of the group, now known as “The Family,” from its roots in the Jesus movement of the 1960s to its many legal troubles and controversies in the 1980s and 90s, involving its sexual practices (such as flirty fishing, which used sex as a recruitment tool, and permissive sexual relations among youth and adults).
Melton discounts the charges of widespread sexual abuse by the Family, and argues that their sexual practices have been modified if not rescinded (still practicing open marriage as well as a new teaching that views Christ as a sexual lover). Melton also finds that the Family’s North American and European presence has fallen drastically as it has expanded into the Third World in the late 1990s.
Latin America’s politics further limiting base communities
The continuing decline of base communities in Latin America is tied more to the changing nature of politics and peoples’ movements than internal church policies or conservative leadership, according to the National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 12). Base communities, small groups based on social action and Christian reflection, were seen as the embodiment of liberation theology and the radicalization of the Latin American church two decades ago.
Since the early 1990s, many of the communities have either stagnated or declined, with many supporters blaming the flank of new conservative bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II. But the decline and malaise in the communities was experienced in other popular or peoples movements as military regimes were defeated while economic problems increased. Throughout the region, those who report a decline in the base communities often note that yesterday’s leaders are no longer present. In Brazil, much of the communities’ leadership was lost to secular popular movements.
“The decline in the communities came not as a result of ecclesiastical repression, but rather from history moving on, leaving the base communities…behind as a now obsolete nursery of the current crop of leftist political leaders,” write Barbara Fraser and Paul Jeffrey. This is particularly true of the ascendancy of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Workers Party to power, which “in a certain sense means that political hope has displaced eschatological hope and that has had a negative impact on the [base communities],” says Brazilian sociologist Jose de Souza Martins.
The communities in rural areas do seem stronger, attracting both men and women, than those in cities, according to research by sociologist Madeleine Cousineau. Activism continues to be generated by base communities; in Nicaragua they are involved in ministry to sex workers and anti-corruption campaigns. In Honduras, where leadership takes the form of lay pastors and shows a more stable structure, the communities have been important in the country’s environmental movement.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 41928, Kansas City, MO 64141)
Europe and Islam — how inevitable is the conflict?
Recent violence in the Netherlands has revealed the tensions and divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims over the place of Islam and free speech in secular European societies.
The killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in early November by an extremist Muslim over the former’s derogatory public comments and critical work on Islam ignited a firestorm of anger and violence both among Muslim immigrants and native Dutch. The killer, who slit van Gogh’s throat and then impaled a note on his body threatening politicians critical of Islam, was Dutch-born but alleged to be tied to a terrorist network. The killing, which is being called the “Dutch September 11th,” led to the vandalism and burning of 20 mosques and several churches bombed in apparent retaliation, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer(November 22).
The violence is the latest of several “flash-point incidents” between conservative Muslims clerics and freethinking Dutch, including anti-gay statements by clerics and charges of police brutality against Moroccans, the main Muslim immigrant group. The center-right government rolled out a series of antiterror initiatives more severe than the U.S. Patriot Act. But aside from the problem of how to root out terrorists in their midst, the killing “highlights a thorny culture clash over free speech and civil discourse,” writes Ken Dilanian.
There have been increasing incidents of Dutch public figures making disparaging public comments about Islam, setting off protests among Muslims, who represent 5.8 percent of the population. After the van Gogh murder, the Dutch justice minister, Piet Hein Donner, was concerned enough about the extreme rhetoric to propose a stepped-up enforcement of an anti-blasphemy law to curb “hateful comments.” But the proposal was criticized by other cabinet ministers, with an immigration official claiming that Muslims were too sensitive about criticism. Even those Muslims condemning the killing in the article, claim van Gogh had crossed the line and that there should be a law against insulting religions.
The tension between Muslims and secular society has been threatening enough for France to reinforce its church-state separation and secularism to the extent that any public display of religion, such as the wearing of veils, is forbidden. But that has not stopped the violence between religious groups or terrorist threats in French cities, leading journalist Claire Berlinski to ask if there is another way to foster tolerance and societal unity. In the Israeli journal Azure (Winter), Berlinski writes that Marseille, France’s second largest city, has become a model of interreligious and ethnic peace and harmony while violating many of the nation’s secularist policies.
Marseille has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe and has experienced its share of ethnic violence between Jews, Arabs and neo-Nazis in the past. But Berlinski concludes that the easing of this problem was not just due to better policing methods. In 1990, the city started a program known as Marseille Esperance–the Hope of Marseille–that unites the city’s religious leaders around the mayor in a regular discussion group. As soon as there is an incident of violence or another crisis, the group issues communiqués and make a public display of solidarity.
When a synagogue was burned down, Islamic leaders were present for the burial of the charred Torah scrolls and were photographed comforting Jewish religious leaders. “This occurred in no other French city… The organization is so widely held to be effective that government delegations from Brussels, Anvers, Sarajevo, Barcelona, Naples, Turnin and Montreal have come to study it.” Berlinski did not expect such symbolic gestures to be effective, but almost all the residents she interviewed place great faith in the program.
It works because it recognizes immigrants who will not assimilate and officially represents them as a religious community (something Berlinski calls “ethnicity by proxy,” since French law forbids the recognition of ethnicity), allowing their respective leaders to “bring the members of those communities into line.” In the process, Marseille Esperance is doing an “end run” around France’s secularist and anti-communitarian policies.
(Azure, 5505 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 1140, Washington, DC 20015;http://www.azure.org.il)
Anti-corruption activism finds place on international evangelical agenda
Along with religious liberty and AIDS relief, anti-corruption activism is being added to the evangelicals internatiional agenda, reports Christianity Today magazine (November).
In the Second and Third Worlds, “Revulsion against corruption is drawing people to Christ and inspiring Christian leaders to launch campaigns against bribery, scamming, and misappropriation of funds. More and more missions agencies say that robust anticorruption preaching and action must accompany social development,” writes Tony Carnes. In June, President Bush and other leaders of the economically influential G-8 nations announced plans for a series of anticorruption initiatives in Peru, Nicaragua, Nigeria and the Republic of Georgia.
A senior staffer for the National Security Council said that the anticorruption initiatives fit with Bush’s faith-based foreign policy. Nigeria, Nicaragua and Peru, all nations with high rates of corruption, have strong evangelical anticorruption movements. The evangelical relief agency World Vision and the World Bank have both made controlling corruption top priorities. The concern was behind the World Bank’s controversial hiring of a staffer to bring religious and moral considerations into its lending and economic development efforts.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Current Research: December 2004
01: The line between members and non-members is blurring in congregations, as regular attenders are found to have similar patterns of attachment to their church and religious devotion as those on church rolls, according to a recent study.
The first comparative data of active non-members, collected by John Marcum of the Presbyterian Church (USA), finds that one-fourth of all active nonmembers in mainline churches declined to join for at least six years, and 14 percent still resisted after a decade or more of activity in a church. These “holdout” figures are almost the same for evangelical congregations, reports John Dart in The Christian Century (Nov. 30).
Marcum found that mainline congregations have a greater percentage of members and those in the process of becoming members (86 percent) than evangelical congregations (80 percent). Those tending to be active nonmembers are usually younger and less likely to be married. They also give far less money to their churches as compared to members (in mainline churches, 28 percent of nonmembers report giving five percent of their income, compared to 52 percent of members).
In activities, the active nonmembers are far less involved in Sunday school, study and community outreach than members. But they value sermons, contemporary worship and community social justice activities almost as much as members. The nonmembers in mainline churches also have similar views of the Bible and practice of daily prayer as members.
More surprisingly, the nonmember regulars in mainline churches are almost as likely to invite friends and relatives to services as do members (50 percent of members versus 44 percent of nonmembers). Dart adds that scholars suspect such “freeriders” financially overburden churches, though some hold that even more marginal givers and participants assist congregational life.
(The Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
02: Most American Catholics believe that the sex abuse crisis is still the most serious issue facing the church, although the scandal has not undermined their faith, according to a new survey.
James D. Davidson of Purdue University and Dean R. Hoge of Catholic University of America interviewed a random sample of 1,119 self-identified Catholics and found strong agreement (85 percent) that the sex abuse crisis is the most serious issue facing the church. Sixty-two percent said the bishops are “covering up the facts,” with younger Catholics more likely to say that the reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, reports Commonwealmagazine (November 19)
But Davidson and Hoge find that in the wake of the scandal there has only been a slight reduction in religious participation and contributions. Generational differences on the effects of the scandal turned out to be minor, though those least connected to the church were likely to have the hardest time with the scandal.
The study confirmed earlier findings that younger Catholics are less traditional in doctrine and practice than those raised in the pre-Vatican II church, questioning anecdotal claims that the younger generation of Catholic laity are becoming more orthodox.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
Healing, traditional medicine expands Daoist presence in U.S.
Although some scholars doubt that authentic Daoism is present in the U.S., a recent study finds that the traditional Chinese religion has made extensive inroads in the country, usually adopted and shaped by Euro-American converts to stress self-help and healing. In Nova Religio(November), a journal of alternative and emergent religions, Louis Komjathy writes that it is difficult to know how many Daoists there are because many of the teachings associated with the religion, such as those found in the Tao Te Ching, are borrowed and repackaged by other alternative spiritual groups.
He estimates that there are approximately 10,000 Daoists in the U.S. who are roughly divided into ritualists, which include priestly hierarchies, formal initiations and regular prayers to the gods, and “self-cultivation” practitioners who focus on personal health, peace of mind and “immortality.”
Most of the Daoist schools and organizations were founded by Chinese immigrants who then either indirectly or directly passed on leadership to American converts. Prominent Daoist organizations include the International Taoist Tai Chi Society, Healing Tao USA, the American Taoist & Buddhist Association, and the Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a Los Angeles-based center on healing and Daoism. Komjathy concludes that the “landscape of Daoism in North America is dominated by male teachers who tend to have primary control over their organizations.”
American Daoism is patriarchal and hierarchical. Furthermore, Daoism in North America tends to emphasize and teach systems based on health and healing.” The majority of converts come to Daoism via the study of traditional Chinese medicine and other healing schools such Qigong, while the ritual model exists mainly in Chinese immigrant communities.
(Nova Religio, University of California Press, Journals Div., 2000 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94704-1223)
Religious e-mail spam on the rise
Spam messages, or unwanted e-mail asking for donations or selling services, are increasingly religious in nature, according to CNET News (Nov. 19). Message Labs, an antispam security company, has recently intercepted a large number of spiritual e-mails. They are legal because they don’t plug products, just religious ideals.
It’s on the rise for a number of reasons, said Matt Sergeant, antispam technologist for MessageLabs. “It is exempt from spam laws, and it’s legal according to most national laws …It’s not commercial, and that’s interesting in a way, because there is a cost, yet no financial return.
But they may believe there is a spiritual return.” Some of the e-mail only delivers a religious message, such as evangelizing non-Christians, and asks for nothing in return. However, other religious spam preys on victims’ gullibility. One sender sought a “better Christian individual” to receive $18.6 million for religious purposes, so long as the recipient of the mail could put some money up-front. It is believed users will see more religious-oriented bulk e-mail in the run-up to Christmas.
“It’s been around for a long time but has tended to be below the radar,” Sergeant said. “This time, there’s been a large spam run, so we can expect to see more of the same. It’s becoming so cheap to do; even if you have little money, you can still send millions of messages.”
Elections show new denominational political allegiances?
Although much is made of how the reelection of President George W. Bush revealed the cultural divide between secular and religious Americans, the 2004 elections also showed new political allegiances and patterns taking shape within religious traditions and denominations. The Catholic vote for Bush was generally underplayed in the media and in many polls, but it was as important a factor in the election results as the evangelical vote, writes Kate O’Beirne in National Review (Nov. 29).
As reported last month, in swing states such as Ohio, Bush’s increased margin among Catholics was larger than his increase among all voters. In fact, the Catholic vote led the national shift to Bush, increasing the share by five points, compared to three points by all voters. The state that showed the largest increase in Catholic support for Bush was heavily Democratic Massachusetts, where it was up by a significant 17 points over 2000. O’Beirne adds that Bush’s support from Protestants in the state was down by six points. But Massachusetts Catholics gave Bush 49 percent of their votes
Not only was there the national Republican effort to woo Catholic voters (setting up the website KerryWrongforCatholics.com and mobilizing 55,000 volunteers to help build Catholic support for Bush), but local efforts, such as the one in Massachusetts, may have had the strongest impact. Boston’s former Democratic mayor Ray Flynn, at the request of Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley, launched a statewide campaign to register Catholic voters and educate them on their moral responsibility to be “faithful citizens.”
A coordinator was hired for each diocese in the state and Flynn traveled from parish to parish urging support for policies consistent with church teaching on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research. While acknowledging dissent over issues such as taxes and the Iraq war, Flynn urged voters to “do something different and take our Catholic values into the voting booth.” The gay marriage court decision in the state may have mobilized the Catholic voters who provided Bush with such a boost, but other states also saw significant Democratic defections, leading Flynn to believe his model of activism can be exported.
Moral issues also gained George W. Bush the support of a greater share of Black evangelical votes than in previous elections, reports Long Island’sNewsday (November 14). The “Republicans’ steady drumbeat against gay marriage helped erode black support for Kerry in key states and hand the White House to Bush,” writes Martin C. Evans. Exit polling showed that 27 percent of black voters in northern Florida–known as the “Bible belt of the state– said they voted for Bush.
That was in strong contrast with black voters in Miami where only four percent said they supported Bush. While Kerry did get the lion’s share of black votes, beating out Bush by an 88 percent to 11 percent edge, he did not do as well as Gore in 2000. In close contests in Ohio and Florida, “Bush’s ability to turn larger number of black voters his way drained critical support from Kerry,” Evans writes.
The move to the Republican right during the recent elections can also be seen in smaller groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists. The independent Adventist journal Spectrum (Fall) featured a new survey of church members predicting that they would elect Bush by a landslide– with only 16 percent saying they would vote for John Kerry. This pattern is not a surprise, since Adventists are traditionally conservative and elected Bush in a landslide in 2000.
But sociologists Roger L. Dudley and Edwin I. Hernandez write that in 2004 the divisions between those whom they call “literalists” and “contextualists” in the church are wider and more significant. Literalists are defined as those Adventists who hold that the Bible and the writings of founder Ellen White should be taken literally, while contextualists believe that both writings should be interpreted in the setting of one’s own time and place. Both are active members who tend to uphold church teachings, though the literalists are generally more conservative (even though they were more likely to oppose the Iraq war than the contextualists).
Dudley and Hernandez find that in candidate preference there were not significant gaps between the literalists and contextualists in 2000. But in 2004, the contextualists were more likely to vote for Kerry while the majority of literalists said they would vote for Bush. There is also differences between these two groups on gay rights and abortion, “creating a wedge or a cultural divide within Adventism.” The writers conclude that over the years there has been a subtle shift among Adventists, particularly literalists, to support positions that conflict with their strict church-state separationist tradition, such as on vouchers and faith-based social services.
The Democrats also found a new source of support in 2004. While the majority of Muslims gave Bush their support in 2000 (with U.S. Islamic organizations officially endorsing him), early polling data suggests a “dramatic political shift among Arab and Muslim Americans,” reportsAljazeera.Net (Nov. 11).
A pre-election survey conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that 80 percent of Muslim Americans planned to vote for Kerry, yet the final total might have been as high as 90 percent, according to the organization’s election-night exit polls. Another poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute indicated that 63 percent of Arab Americans in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania voted for Kerry, while 28.5 percent voted for Bush.
(Spectrum, P.O. Box 619047, Roseville, CA 95661-9047)
Jewish studies programs not just for Jews anymore
Jewish studies programs at American universities are increasingly appealing to gentiles, including active Christians, reports the New York Times (Nov. 3). The more than 100 colleges and universities offering Jewish studies include such Catholic institutions as Fordham and Scranton, the Quaker-based Earlham College in Indiana, and public ones like the University of Kentucky and Portland State in Oregon that are far from any sizable Jewish community.
At City College in New York, some 95 percent of the 250 students majoring and minoring in Jewish studies are not Jewish. Jewish studies was originally started to make Jewish students conscious of their own heritage and to demonstrate that it was a legitimate field of inquiry in the secular academy.
The “third wave” increasingly flocking to these courses are non-Jewish students interested in Jewry and Judaism for a host of reasons. “The kids see Jews as a successful immigrant group and are interested in what happened,” says a professor at City College. Ardent Christians come to these classes seeking the Jewish roots to their faith. Others are curious because of the stereotypes and anti-Jewish sentiment they have witnessed.