In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2007
- South African churches seen as playing new role
- Islam in Germany faces pressure to organize
- Mother Teresa’s order thriving 10 years after her death
- New apostolic church feels winds of change
- Current Research: December 2007
- Christian reconstructionism — declining and rising?
- ‘Business as mission’ as the new frontier of evangelization
- Romney’s evangelical strategy weakening Mormon base?
- Liberation theology’s secular reincarnation?
01: For its 40th anniversary issue (#3, 2007), Faith & Form, a magazine on religious architecture, features an in-depth symposium on how the appearances and functions of congregations and the spaces surrounding them are changing in response to religious and social transformations. The lead article by Richard Vosko sees the shift away from organized religion so evident in Europe now taking place in the U.S. and increasingly evident in American congregational architecture.
For many congregations, the values of hospitality and community (particularly for evangelicals) outweigh the older stress on symbolism, although mainline and Catholic churches can still draw on the latter. Multi-use spaces are becoming more popular. A concern to draw new generations to organized religion is also leading to the design and building of new facilities for youth–not only educational facilities but also places where teens can hang out, such as snack bars and game rooms. But several of the clergy and architects spot conflicting trends: David Wilson sees a “creeping conservatism and less openness” to innovation in Catholic churches.
Annie Dixon sees a renewed appreciation for symbolism and beauty among Catholic churches, though not necessarily a return to tradition. Ellen Davis sees a growing trend among many world religions toward “green” worship space, where the sanctuary becomes a “microcosm” of the wholeness and interconnectedness of creation.
Meanwhile, Muslim architect Ashraf Salama sees several models in use among mosques, though most have tended to isolate the mosque from the surrounding community. Newer designs tend to reinterpret traditional Islamic themes into new forms that may be more accessible. Synagogues are making room for greater communal space, with “theater-in-the-round” designs especially popular, writes Maurice Feingold. As might be expected, the megachurch model is viewed as the most pervasive and challenging, leading to buildings that value function and multi-use capabilities as much as form.
For more information on this issue, write: Faith & Form, 1737 Kenyon St., NW, Washington, DC 20010
02: The recent emphasis on the religious economy and competition between religions is given special attention in the November 3 issue of The Economist magazine. The special section covers a wide range of issues through the lens of pluralism rather than one-sided scenarios of religious revival or secularization. One article makes the point that even atheism is being revived as it competes against other religions. Although many of the trends covered in this issue have been featured in RW and other publications, The Economist’s overview is wide-ranging–from science and religion conflicts to Korean Christianity to European secularity to Turkish Islam, Hindu nationalism, and culture wars and religious politics around the world.
03: The article that RW ran on the “new atheism” last April was part of a larger project on secularism that the editor has worked on over the years. One result of this research appears in the Winter issue of the journal Sociology of Religion in the article “Secular Humanism and Atheism Beyond Progressive Secularism.“ Co-authored by RW’s editor and Christopher Smith, the article examines how secular humanists and atheists have lost “faith” in the U.S. becoming a secular nation and have adopted various strategies to come to grips with this new situation: they have started competing and appealing to “secular seekers” searching for a community; have borrowed evangelical methods, even as they define themselves against these Christians; and, thirdly, have adopted minority and identity politics to make the case that they are being discriminated against.
For more information on this issue, visit:http://www.sociologyofreligion.com. RW readers can read a shorter version of this article on our website, at: http://www.religionwatch.com, by clicking on “Publications.”
South African churches, including the Dutch Reformed Church, are perceived as playing a greater social role since the fall of apartheid, even if they may be ill-equipped to serve such a function, according to recent research. South Africa has remained a strongly religious nation in the 13 years since apartheid was dismantled, with a recent survey showing that adherence to Christianity (79.1 percent) and religion in general (81.9 percent) remains high.
In a study of how the Dutch Reformed Church has responded to such national problems as poverty, crime, AIDS, and racism, it was found that congregations still largely focus on local problems, such as providing motivation and inspiration for members to work on these issues. The study, which was presented by Jan Bisschoff of the University of Pretoria at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Tampa in early November, found that poverty and unemployment and family issues were the most likely to be directly addressed by Dutch Reformed congregations. A major change is the growth of small groups where members come together and initiate projects themselves rather than relying on congregational committees to do the work.
Another study presented at the conference by Johannes Erasmus of the University of Stellenbosch found that South Africans today tend to view the Dutch Reformed and other churches as more open institutions than in the pre-1994 period and that they are more likely to address social issues. The study, which focused on the town of Paarl and how its residents view its major churches (Dutch Reformed, Uniting Reformed, Anglican, and Catholic), found that most respondents agreed that the churches were more open and more likely to work with each other than they did before 1994.
Regarding welfare, respondents said that congregations were more likely to address this social issue now than before 1994, but it was noted that because of decreasing state subsidies, that issue has become a more common concern throughout the church and society. In contrast, the majority of public officials felt the social role of the churches since 1994 has declined, often citing the decline of religious activism generated by the issue of apartheid.
Expectations and pressure from German authorities and society are increasingly forcing Muslims in Germany to coordinate and create representative organizations, reports the Muslim newspaper Islamische Zeitung (November). This follows the pattern observed in several other European countries, though Islam in Germany is unique in several ways. According to some estimates, there may be up to 3.4 million Muslims in Germany, and . 84 percent of them express the intent of staying in Germany permanently. The period of temporary immigration is over; 600,000 already have German passports. Three-quarters of Muslims in Germany are of Turkish descent.
Nobody knows for sure the number of German converts; there are at least 60,000 of them. Muslims in Germany have some 2,000 prayer places. There are more than 159 mosques with all external features and more than 140 are in the planning. Up to now, Muslims have remained primarily organized along ethnic lines, but increasingly young people are feeling uncomfortable with such a situation. There are four main organizations that are increasingly becoming recognized partners of German federal authorities.
In order to present a somewhat unitary face, these four organizations have established a coordination council of German Muslims in April 2007, with its presidency rotating every six months. Its existence is presented as a major step forward in the face of growing challenges for Muslims. However, critical voices wonder how far such organizations can claim to speak for all Muslims in the country. Some also regret the lack of women in the leadership of “representative” structures.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Islamische Zeitung, Beilsteiner Str. 121, 12681 Berlin, German;http://www.islamische-zeitung.de)
The Missionaries of Charity is enjoying steady growth even though it was widely predicted that the order might shrink after the death of its founder Mother Teresa 10 years ago The Catholic World Report (November) notes that the number of Missionaries of Charity homes, which stood at 594 in 1997, now total 757, spreading to 134 countries (with Afghanistan being the latest country of entry). The number of MC nuns have likewise grown from 4,000 to 4,832, with another 800 novices in formation. There have been 7,500 children adopted from MC homes in India from 1997 to the present, compared to 2,052 orphans given in international adoption from India during the same period.
Even as the MC has been actively promoting the cause of Mother Teresa’s sainthood, the order has made some significant changes. The order now focuses on the rehabilitation of the disabled rather than just administering pallative care, as was the case previously. MC nuns are now sent to paramedical training courses. Writer Anto Akkara concludes that Mother Teresa’s dream of establishing the MC in China has yet to be fulfilled and will have to wait for the normalization of the relationship between the Vatican and China.
(Catholic World Report, P.O. Box 46, Bathgate, ND 58216-0046)
Since the 1990s, the New Apostolic Church (NAC) has initiated a cautious process of change and engagement with other Christians, writes a German Protestant scholar, Andreas Fincke, in a new report in the German publication EZW-Studien (No. 193). While it has been given relatively little attention by scholars, the NAC is the third largest Christian denomination in Germany (385,000 members), after Roman Catholics and Protestants. While its stronghold long remained in German-speaking countries of Europe, the church has developed rapidly in new territories during the last decades: only 5 percent of New Apostolic Christians live in Central Europe today. Membership worldwide doubled between 1988 and 1998.
The NAC now has 11 million followers worldwide (led by 360 apostles, under a Chief Apostle), with an amazing growth in Central Africa and India. According to Fincke’s analysis, those developments have raised new questions and encouraged different approaches. Criticism from former members in Germany in the 1990s is also reported to have had an impact. Moreover, the Internet, with its new ways of communication has played a significant role in blurring the boundaries between “inside” and “outside.” In 1999, the NAC established a working group on issues of ecumenism and relations with other Christians. Some dialogues with representatives of mainline Christian denominations have taken place in Germany at a regional level.
Since 1998, the NAC has refrained from calling its Chief Apostle “the Lord’s representative on Earth”, while retaining an elevated status for that role, including the possibility of delivering new revelations. In recent NAC documents, the presence of many elements of truth in other Christian denominations is also acknowledged, and salvation for other Christians is not excluded anymore. Although conservative trends should not be overlooked (and may contribute to somewhat contradictory statements from the NAC leadership), Fincke has no doubt that the ecumenical opening of the movement will continue.–By Jean-Francois Mayer
(EZW-Studien, Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany, http://www.ezw-berlin.de)
01: The U.S. is becoming a more secular country judging by the decreasing amount of time Americans spend on religious activities, including Sunday worship, according to a recent study.
Drawing on time-use data (which is obtained through respondents recording their own daily activities) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers Ariela Keysar, Barry Kosmin, and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi find that Americans show “very low levels of religiosity in terms of actual behavior.” In a paper presented at the early November meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) in Tampa, the researchers found that the average American spends a total of three minutes on “religious and spiritual activities” on a normal weekday, meaning that only 4.4 percent of the population actually reports participating in this form of behavior.
In ranking activities in terms of hours expended by the U.S. population, personal care, including sleeping, was first while religious and spiritual activities were last, even lagging behind telephone calls. More significantly, even on Sunday the amount spent on religious activities has changed. In calculating the total amount of time on Sundays devoted to work and religious participation, the former “far surpasses” religion (1.0 average hours for work versus 0.6 hours devoted to religious and spiritual activities).
Much of this change has come about as blue laws prohibiting work on Sundays have been eliminated in most states, creating a new “24/7” society. Sports and other volunteer activities surpass religion on weekdays and score the same on Sundays. In comparing participation rates, or the proportion of people engaged in an activity, the number of people attending church still exceeds those engaging in work, sports and volunteering but they “fall well short of those shopping on Sunday.” (40.4 percent for shopping and 26.5 for religious activities). Still, those attending services have tended to maintain a traditional “Protestant Sunday,” shopping and working less than other Americans. .
02: The commonly held view that bad economic conditions may increase religiosity may be more valid for evangelical rather than mainline Protestants, according to a new study. Texas State University economist David Beckworth presented a paper at the November meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) based largely on an analysis of Pew Research Survey data collected in 2001 during a nationwide recession.
The probability of weekly church attendance was calculated by an estimation based on the employment status of respondents. Beckworth found that while evangelical Protestants had an overall higher probability of attending church than other Americans, that probability increased by 11 percent if the evangelical respondents were unemployed.
Through analyzing additional studies of Seventh Day Adventist conversions, he further found that the expansion of converts and members related to a recession lasts for 1.5 years after a “macroeconomic” shock. Mainline Protestants were significantly less affected by recession, most likely due to their higher economic status. In fact, a good economy and a booming stock market pushes up the mainline membership growth rate by 0.21 percent, most likely because such conditions give higher income groups more leisure, including more consumption of religion. .
03: The potential for religious radicalization is higher in situations where socio-economic differences are also translated into religious terms, and is often hastened by trigger events in which religion has become the main mobilization force, according to a new study. An article on Christian militancy in Tripura (India), Northern Uganda and Ambon (Indonesia), published in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (November) makes it clear that while most recent attention has been given to radical Muslims, perpetrators of faith-based violence can be found in all religions, hence an interest in understanding the dynamics which leads to violence in some cases, while not in other ones.
The three cases are more different than similar; but in all three, Christian symbols and references are used to reinforce cohesion and encourage sacrifice. In Tripura, there is no official reference to Christianity in founding statements of a movement – the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) – which was primarily born out of a reaction to the huge influx of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, making the indigenous population a minority. Nevertheless, a militant form of Christianity has played an increasingly large role, the authors note. 90 percent of the NLFT leadership is Christian, primarily first-generation Baptist. According to the study, in a tribal culture undergoing rapid change, Baptist Christianity has served purposes of mobilization and nation-building beyond local tribes and sub-clan differences, creating a distinct religious identity that can resist assimilation into Hindu culture.
The case of Northern Uganda is different, since it incorporates elements from the local Acholi tradition and even from Islam since 1994, in recognition of Sudanese support; and thus falls outside of mainstream Christianity. But the movement was fed by feelings of marginalization of the Acholi community. Regarding Christian militias in Ambon, they have never been a unified movement. Christian symbols and prayer sessions served to strengthen the internal cohesion of the militias. What had started as a conflict between Protestant Moluccans and Muslim migrants became a conflict between the entire Christian and Muslim communities, with both experiencing a massive turn to religious practices and identities. The authors conclude that the trend in Ambon of insert local issues into a global context is typical of developments worldwide since 2001.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and director of the Religioscope Institute.
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.)
04: A new report finding a connection between religious liberty and capitalism is also seeking to challenge older paradigms of religious freedom, reports Touchstone magazine (November).
The report, “Religious Freedom in the World 2007,” will be published by the conservative Hudson Institute’s Center on Religious Freedom next year, but some of its findings were released on its website. The report found that the most religious freedom was in the U.S., Estonia, Hungary, and Ireland, with the second highest ranking found in countries such as Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Botswana, Japan, Mali, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine. The least religious freedom was found in Burma, China-Tibet, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Although some countries may have official policies of religious freedom, such as India and even France and Germany, their treatment of religious minorities (such as Muslims) puts them in a lower ranking than previous religious freedom surveys have done. Such a broadening of the definition of religious freedom has partly been the result of new indexes created to measure these liberties [such as found in Brian Grim’s work on the largely non-governmental social regulation of religion, which is featured in the new report].
But the report also makes the more controversial move of correlating religious freedom with free markets, using Europe as its main case study. Although it is noted that such Muslim countries as Senegal and Mali outrank Germany and Belgium, on the whole, Catholic and Protestant nations are rated the freest. The report argues that religious freedom allows for the growth of personal responsibility and “moral purpose” that can encourage “every kind of capital,“ including the free market, to flourish.
The authors hope the report will move governments and corporations to press for improved human rights in countries seeking foreign aid and investment. However, writer Joan Frawley notes that the link between religious freedom and prosperity is more questionable for religious systems and ethics that view the free market with “wariness rather than glee. Policymakers who implement these proposals may be disappointed when their `investment’ in religious tolerance doesn’t yield quantifiable results.”
(Touchstone, P.O Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641).
Although Christian reconstructionism has declined as a movement, it is still having influence on a new generation of evangelical activists, according to the Public Eye (Fall), a left-of-center newsletter monitoring the Christian Right. Christian Reconstructionism, which teaches that America should be a Christian nation run by biblical law, has often been cited by critics of the Christian right as a source of “Christian nationalism” devoted to the Republican party.
But Michael McVicar, who is writing his dissertation on the movement for Ohio State University, writes that such a portrayal is far from the truth. For one thing, most Reconstructionists oppose George Bush and the Republican Party, particularly his foreign policy on Iraq and instead gravitate to a “libertarian perspective that [looks] outside the boundaries of popular conservatism for answers to the problems facing the United States.” McVicar also points out that Reconstructionism has been fragmented and weakened as a political movement since the 1980s. The faction led by theologian R.J. Rushdoony has never recovered after his death in 2001, with donor support drying up. Even before his death, Rushdoony was increasingly pessimistic about Christian right political action. The other faction led by Gary North has been too preoccupied with doomsday and catastrophic scenarios (including his forecasts of A worldwide breakdown due to the Y2K crisis in 2000) to engage in politics.
In contrast, McVicar sees Reconstructionist ideas still flourishing among networks of local conservative evangelicals. Such thinking is evident in the Exodus Mandate, led by Southern Baptist E. Ray Moore Jr., which as recently as 2007 called for Christian children to leave public schools, as well as for the formation of a K-12 school system administered by Christian churches. Another example is the recent Worldview Super Conference, which gathered some 800 participants, led by the Atlanta-based American Vision, drawing on Reconstructionist ideas while advocating political action.
(The Public Eye, 1310 Broadway, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144-1837)
Missions and business are forming an alliance as Christian-based companies around the world are seeking to play a new role in evangelization. Christianity Today (November) reports that the phenomenon has gone by different names–from Business as Mission (BAM) to marketplace missions–but such mixing of businesses with Christian proclamation is seen as the “next great wave of evangelization.” BAM practitioners use their business ventures not only to make money but to spread the Christian gospel and plant churches. In this way, BAM is different than the movement of companies seeking to integrate spiritual or religious values into the workplace. The BAM model holds that business is a Christian calling, but are “piggybacking on a broader trend known as `social entrepreneurship,’ which advocates using capitalism instead of using charity to address social problems like poverty,” writes Joe Maxwell.
The movement is led by “kingdom professionals” who see themselves as having access to nations and peoples that are denied to traditional missionaries. There are three kinds of BAM firms: small companies (often called micro enterprises) usually started by small loans, such as a small jewelry-making business in Thailand consisting of ex-sex workers; larger capital-based companies use their resources to engage in international outreach and gain favor with local and national governments. One example of this kind of company is AMI, an Asian technology manufacturer. Finally, outsourcing companies target particular groups, such as disabled people in India, paying for their training. The major drawback to BAM is that these companies’ freestanding nature, makes them unaccountable to any mission agency or denomination. In some cases, “hybrid” efforts are underway, where a church or mission, such as the Presbyterian Church in America‘s Peru Mission, will cooperate with BAM, planting churches as well as developing business enterprises.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
As Mitt Romney is making some headway in appealing to evangelical Protestant voters, he may be weakening his own Mormon base in the process, reports The New Republic magazine (Nov. 19).
Romney has already angered a vocal minority of Mormons who protest that he is soft-pedaling his faith in the hopes of currying the favor of the much more powerful evangelical vote. One example of this came earlier this year when Romney said the Mormon and evangelical belief in the second coming of Christ to Jerusalem are the same; he neglected to mention that Mormons also believe that Christ will establish his kingdom in Jackson County, Missouri.
He has also seemed embarrassed by or downplayed important Mormon practices, such as baptism for the dead, and has adopted evangelical language (such as claiming Jesus as his “personal savior”) that has “soured” a minority of Mormons on his candidacy, writes Josh Patashnik. While Romney is still supported by the majority of Mormons that could change if Mormons (like a segment of Catholics during John F. Kennedy’s campaign) feel that he is “giving away the store” in pursuit of evangelical votes. Says one Mormon observer: “…I think more and more people are starting to realize that he is going to do whatever it takes to get elected– whether it’s good for the church or not.”
Liberation theology may have been forced out of the front door of the Catholic Church in Latin America only to make an appearance at the back door, influencing the region’s political culture.
In fact, “wherever the left has come to power in Latin America,” one finds a connection between liberation theology and secular politics, writes John L. Allen Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 23). This is most clear in the case of Paraguay, where Fernando Lugo, a radical Catholic bishop who has tendered his resignation but who is officially still on the books, is making a bid to form the country’s next government. Lugo has been ordered by the Vatican not to run for public office in the national elections, an order he has defied, with the support of at least one other Paraguayan bishop. In Venezuela, a group of priests inspired by President Hugo Chavez have accused their bishops of reactionary opposition –and have caused enough concern for a delegation of Venezuelan bishops to meet with Pope Benedict [though suspicions are likely to be quieted by Chavez‘s recent defeat at the polls].
Meanwhile, Ecuadorian President Correa, a Catholic socialist, recently appeared at a conference sponsored by the Saint Egido lay movement calling for a “new Catholicism” which would challenge global capitalism and offer a rebuke to what he called the “anti-immigrant U.S. Christians.” In Bolivia, President Evo Morales’ own police chief is an ex-Jesuit and a staunch liberation theologian. Allen writes that “what’s happened over the last decade is that some of those Catholics most committed to liberation theology have gravitated out of the church and into secular politics. In a number of Latin American countries, the electoral success of leftist populists has given the liberationists a new lease on life.”
Allen adds that the “secular reincarnation of liberation theology” has arrived at a time of new challenges and opportunities for the church in Latin America. Competition with burgeoning Protestantism may have moved the church into a new stage of growth. Overall, seminarians in Latin America have increased 440 percent in the last two decades, according to Fr. Edward Cleary. “This new social capital intersects with a new spirit among the Latin American bishops, who in the main seem determined to avoid the ideological fractures of the past and strike a more pastoral and evangelical tone,” Allen writes. This new stance may also “allow churches in Latin America to work out a modus vivendi with Latin America’s new leftist governments, focused on pragmatic social policy and economic developments that favor the poor.”
(National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncr.org)