In This Issue
- On/File: February 1999
- Findings & Footnotes: February 1999
- Liberation theology survives in Latin American outposts
- Hindu right intensifies religious conflict in India
- Orthodox-Muslim harmony in Tartistan?
- Epiphany makes comeback in England
- Norway’s climate right for charismatic surge
- Current Research: February 1999
- Black Gen. X Christians looking for practical faith?
- Clinton scandal reveals new moral, religious divisions
- Evangelical intellectual upsurge reaching rank-and-file?
- Spirituality and community drive co-housing movement
- American Muslim leaders silent on terrorism?
01: A Taste of Judaism is a highly successful program introducing nominal and secular Jews to the Jewish religious life.
The course, started over 4 years ago by the Reform branch of Judaism, has been taken by 14,000 people around the U.S. The introductory course is offered at synagogues and was originally expected to be taken by non-Jews who were converting from interfaith marriages. But today “A Taste of Judaism” is split 50-50 between gentile converts and Jews who want to learn more about their faith.
A survey of the first 2,000 people to take the three-week course found that two-thirds of the students went on to take more Jewish educational programs. Nearly 1 out of 5 of those surveyed eventually joined a synagogue.
(Source: Boston Globe, Jan. 2)
02: Metafilmics is a new company that specializes in making “metaphysical” and spiritual films.
The most well-known of these films is “What Dreams May Come,” starring Robin Williams and concerning a husband and wife traveling through different “astral planes” of the next world. Metalfilmics, founded by producers Barnet Bain and Stephen Simon in 1996, plans to produce films with a “metaphysical undercurrent . . . We want to look at ancient mysteries, the myth of creation, Atlantis, Egypt, Mayan Civilization . . . The main messages I want to convey are that we create our own reality, and also that we take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives,” says Simon.
One forthcoming film is titled “Between Lives,” which depicts souls choosing the parents for their upcoming incarnated selves.
(Source: Hinduism Today, February)
01: For the first time in its long history, The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches will offer comprehensive online material.
Using a grant from the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, Indiana, the editors are offering CD-ROM and Web-based materials to supplement its annual volume due out on Feb. 1, 1999. The new software will bring together for the first time all the church membership and financial information of the 67 years of the Yearbook’s publishing history.
For more information, write: Dept. of Communications, National Council of Churches, 475 Riiverside Dr., New York, NY 10115-0050
— By Erling Jorstad
02: We are still offering the new book Shopping for Faith: Religion in the New Millennium to RW subscribers at the rock bottom price of $18 (the regular cost is $25).
While this price includes postage for U.S. readers, this is not the case for Canadian and foreign subscribers. Canadians ordering the book should include $3 for postage; foreign readers should add $7 for air mail delivery. All payments should be made out to Religion Watch through a U.S. bank or by money order.
Liberation theology is reported to be in decline throughout Latin America, but remnants of this theology that mixes radical politics and theology, still survive. In a report on the pope’s visit to Mexico, the New York Times (Jan. 21) reports that “although only a handful of bishops still espouse it, [liberation theology] has nonetheless left a powerful legacy.
Many of the human rights groups, poll-watching groups and other civic organizations that are the backbone of Latin America democracy today are led by Christians who a decade ago learned to read and think critically in the thousands of parish-level study groups that were the theology’s basic expression.”
Many of liberation theology’s classic texts are outlawed in seminaries or are met with disinterest by a new generation of conservative students, and many radical seminaries have been closed across Latin America. But some priests working in the slums still look to liberation theology texts for inspiration. The “base communities” (the parish-led groups that taught the theology) live on, “led mainly by middle-aged working class housewives . . .”
As one young priest said while studying an 800-page liberation theology tome, “These texts present the historic Christ who broke bread with the poor, but fail to emphasize the Christ of the Spirit…But we can’t ignore these works, because they teach us to minister to the poor.”
A growing and often violent conflict between Hindus and Christians have renewed concerns about the growth of Hindu nationalism.
The New York Times (Jan. 23) reports that in the past year there have been more attacks on Christians than at any other time in India’s half century of independence. According to the Indian Home Ministry the numbers of attacks upon Christians — who make up 2.3 percent of the nation’s population — rose from 7 in 1996 to 24 in 1997 to 86 last year. Christians, who have banded together in the United Christian Forum for Human Rights claim that it is in those regions where Hindu Nationalists, represented by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that these attacks have been the strongest.
Militant Hindu nationalists, along with some government officials, accuse Christians of using foreign financial backing to proselytize Hindus, promising converts money, health services, and free education. Much of the conflict concerns the Christian missionaries’ success among tribal people. So far, Hindu leaders have played down the attacks, with Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, adding flames to the fire by calling for a national debate on religious conversions.
While Muslims and Eastern Orthodox are battling in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the Orthodox Church is in conflict with other Christian bodies around the world, the situation in the Russian Republic of Tartistan is markedly different.
An article in Religion, State & Society (September/December), a journal on religion in former communist lands, finds that in Tartistan, which is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, both Islam and Orthodoxy are peacefully co-existing and even cooperating. Sergei Filatov writes that both Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam in the republic have been highly receptive to the spread of democratic and Western values.
Islam in Tartistan was repressed and outlawed for centuries under Russian rule, and as a result, Islamic practices became internalized and based in the home rather than the mosque. In the 1990s, when the Tatars became free of communist rule, a strong nationalist movement emerged attempting to control independent religious activity, including Orthodoxy).
This government opposition has brought together the Orthodox Church and Muslim believers; one priest says: “We don’t have problems with Muslim; we have problems with atheists, both Tatar and Russian.” Arab Islam has tried to influence Tatar Muslims in more fundamentalist directions, but it has been largely resisted. The Orthodox diocese of Kazan in the republic is the most liberal in Russian Orthodoxy. Books of banned authors (such as the late ecumenical Orthodox priest Alexander Men) are on sale in every church, and relations with the Catholics and Lutherans are cordial.
An Orthodox nun Mother Mariya has formed a growing youth movement and has achieved notoriety for her opposition to compulsory religious education in schools and other forms of authoritarianism in Orthodoxy. This “conservative democratic alliance of Orthodox and Muslim believers”.is creating a long sought-after “Eurasian” reality, Filatov concludes.
(Religion, State & Society, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford OX14 3UE)
Epiphany, or the traditional twelfth day of Christmas, is making a comeback in England, reports the Washington Post (Jan. 6).
There is a concerted drive both by churches and others interested in reviving national traditions to reintroduce the Twelfth Day celebrations in England after a long period of neglect. The Feast of the Epiphany marks the account in the Gospels of the three wise men arriving in Bethlehem. The feast, at least in Britain, also borrowed from pre-Christian pagan traditions that involved parties and celebrations.
Aside from churches increasingly holding Epiphany services to draw in the unchurched, there is now a “whole network of organizations working to revive local and national traditions,” says Dan Keech of the charity group Common Ground. There were more Twelfth Day celebrations this year than “any other time we can remember,” he adds. The article adds that there’s a “chance that the new energized Epiphany will eventually make its way to the west side of the Atlantic.”
Charismatic and evangelical currents appear to be having a strong impact in Norway, according to an article in Charisma magazine (January).
There are growing charismatic ministries in the nation that are especially finding a following among Norway’s youth. A movement known as the Jesus Revolution is just two years old but the group has drawn crowds of up to 16,000 to its rock and dance concerts. The ministry uses high-tech rock concerts to break the ice among youth, and often conclude with an hour of “no-nonsense preaching about sin, holiness, heaven and hell, condemnation and salvation.”
Charismatic churches are reporting an influx of teens reached through Jesus Revolution concerts. The ministry is taking a page from the Mormons, forming what it calls a “Jesus Revolution Army,” and training young people in evangelism in Norway and eventually the rest of Europe.
Another ministry, New Generation, reaches high school students and has grown to 2,500 participants in two years. Popular revival preacher Ludvig Karlsen, pastor of the Pentecostal Berea Church in Oslo, the fastest growing congregation in the country, heads a nationwide ministry, the Gospel Center, that has gained government support for its work among drug addicts, alcoholics and the homeless. This fairly high receptivity to charismatic Christianity (at least within Europe) is attributed to Norway’s social climate.
The prime minister is a Lutheran pastor who has formed a cabinet with close to a dozen evangelical members. “…with a minister education advocating school evangelism; and with a minister of health encouraging doctors to pray for the sick, charismatic evangelical Christianity cannot be ignored in Norway.”
(Charisma, 600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, FL 32746)
01: In less than a decade, American women have become significantly more accepting of religious involvement and activism in politics, according to a survey by the Center for Gender Equality, a feminist group.
The survey found that respondents were divided 50-50 on the issue of whether politicians should be guided by religious values or whether “religion and politics shouldn’t mix.” A similar survey conducted in 1992 found that 63 percent of women said religion and politics shouldn’t mix. The 1998 poll showed 76 percent of women think religious leaders and groups have a “somewhat positive” or “very positive” effect on the country. Responding to questions about the influence of such groups on government, politics and public schools, respondents showed little worry that it was excessive.
The survey also suggests that American women are becoming more religious, with 75 percent viewing religion as “very important” in their lives — increasing six percent from 1996. Women who said they prayed daily increased 11 percent in the same time period. Those identifying themselves as “born-again or evangelical Christian” totaled 51 percent, a jump of 6 percent since 1996. On the issue of abortion, slightly over half of respondents said it should be illegal except for rape, incest and saving a woman’s life, or else forbidden in all cases. This is an 8 percent shift away from abortion rights in a survey conducted two years ago. An Associated Press report (Jan. 28) quotes Diane Colasanto of Princeton Survey Research — which conducted the survey–as saying that “The changes on abortion are pretty dramatic.”
02: Although Christian radio stations attract large numbers of evangelical Christians to their programming, such broadcasting also has a large non-“born-again” listenership. according to a recent Barna Poll.
A survey by the Barna Research Group (Jan. 25 Barna News Release) finds that one-third (36 percent) of the listening base for Christian radio is not born again Christians. Among all of the evangelical adults in the U.S., almost half (48 percent) listen in a typical week. There is a definite graying pattern to Christian radio listeners. People in their seventies and eighties are the most loyal audience (64 percent listen). Baby busters are the least likely to listen (23 percent).
(Barna Research Group, 5528 Everglades St., Ventura, CA 93003)
03: There has been a small but steady growth of giving by Protestant church members, and at the same time, a decline in offerings for programs outside the local congregation, according to a recent survey.
The study, conducted by Empty Tomb Inc., a Christian research organization, finds that among 29 Protestant denominations, there has been an increase in giving to 2.6 percent of members’ disposable income from 2.5 percent in 1994. On the downside, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of giving to “benevolences” beyond the local congregation.
Church members gave about 0.7 percent of their per capita income to such causes in 1968, but only 0.4 percent in the 1990s.
Like their white counterparts, African-American Generation Xers are tending to merge “innovation and traditionalism” in their search for spiritual connections, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper (Jan. 1).
Like the black baby boomers preceding them, Gen Xers show loose attachments to denominational labels and some of the other traditions of the black church and value spiritual experience over doctrine [see February `96 RW]. While much of this trend is based on anecdotal evidence, surveys also suggest a new mobility and consumeristic attitudes among younger blacks. One study finds that surveys conducted between 1973 and 1980 on more than 30,000 blacks showed that fewer than one percent considered themselves non-denominational. By 1996, the same study showed the percentage had doubled.
There is also an increase in the numbers of African-Americans worshipping in conservative churches — such as Church of God in Christ and other Holiness churches — and a decline in the older Methodist and Baptist bodies. Black Gen Xers often complain that the black churches are too family-focused and do not arrange activities to meet their busy schedules. Vanderbilt University’s Renita Weems says the “younger folk are more interested in teaching than in preaching” and desire practical and spiritual resources for managing their finances and building positive relationships.
The traditional black congregations are losing out to those presenting contemporary music–such as Gospel rap–as well as leaders with intense but non-sectarian spirituality. Dallas pastor T. D. Jakes’ “psycho-social-spiritual texts” are bestsellers and Juanita Byrum, whose tapes and videos showcase a style full of Pentecostal emotionalism, has a broad, crossover appeal.
As the controversy over the impeachment of President Clinton continues to swirl over the nation, respected observers and pollsters are finding a generation gap to be a major source of the conflict on the issue.
The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, (Jan. 11) reports that “deep divisions across social, political and generational lines” are brought on not so much by Clinton’s actions as by his baby boomer generation. The struggle within America is not over issues brought on by sexual misconduct and lying under oath but by the boomers’ commitment to a non-judgmental attitude with its roots in the 1960s.
Baby boomers often see morality as a private matter, evidenced by the fact that among those polled, only 11 percent had actually contacted their representative in Congress over their views of the hearings. The pollsters conclude that people believe that if no harm is done to the nation or the constitution, then officials as high as the President should be given freedom to choose their own private morality. Don Eberly, of the Civil Society Project in Pennsylvania is quoted as saying “the people just don’t see the answer to our moral condition coming predominantly from lawmakers . . . Americans tend to be generous towards sinners and hard on hypocrites.”
Meantime, in Washington, the House vote in December to impeach Clinton suggests the “growing influence of evangelical Christianity in American politics,” according to specialists on religion and politics. The Washington Post (Jan. 9) reports that evangelical House members are increasingly distributed in such mainline bodies of Presbyterian and Methodist churches as well as in Pentecostal, non-denominational backgrounds. These house members who identified themselves as “Christian” voted 11 to 3 for impeachment.
However, evangelicalism “is not as widely distributed” in the Senate as in the House (where it is approaching the national average), so it is difficult to predict how the former may vote on Clinton’s censure or removal from office, says political scientist James Guth. The Clinton scandal is not only showing evangelical and fundamentalist strength but also reviving divisions between these Christians and Catholics, writes Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 6). The scandal has re-established the “very partisan divides that [Clinton’s] centrist, New Democrat politics once promised to erase.”
This is true among blacks and senior citizens who have rallied strongly behind Clinton, mainly out of fear of a conservative Republican resurgence if he is ousted from office. But nowhere is the revived divide clearer than among evangelicals and fundamentalists and Roman Catholics. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll showed that “fundamentalists” (by which they mean conservative Protestants) are almost twice as likely to call for the president’s removal from office as are Catholics (47 percent versus 25 percent).
Seib concludes that “there are many reasons for this. But surely one is the fact that Christian conservatives have tended to call the Republican Party home, while Catholics, despite some wavering in the 1980s, have long tended to be more of a Democratic constituency.”
— This article was written with RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad.
American evangelicals are experiencing an intellectual renaissance, although it is uncertain whether it will reach most evangelical believers. In the Catholic magazine Commonweal (Jan. 15), James Turner writes that the publication of the bi-monthly journal Books and Culture signals the culmination of a “kind of evangelical Long March through American intellectual life.”
Evangelical intellectuals who write for the journal, such as historian George Marsden, literary critic Roger Lundin, and philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolsterstorff, are in “no sense confined within some narrow evangelical discourse; they speak to, and are heeded by, academics of all stripes in their various disciplines. And they strive as well to speak to a wider audience,” while maintaining their beliefs.
Turner thinks that the evangelical formation of learned societies, such as the Society of Christian Philosophers, have helped spread the evangelical intellectual influence. That these evangelicals cooperate with other Christians, such as Roman Catholics, is another factor in their success. The Calvinist factor (especially as found among the Dutch Calvinists around Calvin College) has propelled the intellectual movement, although there are also new stirrings in such non-Reformed places as Messiah College (Brethren in Christ), Pepperdine University (Church of Christ) and Baylor University (Southern Baptist).
Turner adds that whether the evangelical intellectual revival will make inroads among the American evangelical rank-and-file remains to be seen. In fact, the “overall effect will likely be to fortify other, nonevangelical approaches to scholarship, rather than to generate an original, distinctively evangelical life of the mind.”
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
A spirituality based on community life is one of the factors in the growth of the “co-housing” movement in the U.S. Co-housing, a form of living where residents have their own homes, but also create community through shared meals and other activities, first emerged in Denmark in the 1970s.
New Age magazine (January/February) reports that since the movement took root in the U.S. in the 1980s, co-housing feels “like home for a growing number of people in the United States. There are forty co-housing communities in the country, a dozen under construction, and at least one hundred more being planned.” Unlike communes, co-housing shows a greater diversity of people, ages, and beliefs, but there also seems to be a growing concern with spirituality in these new living arrangements.
The newly built Cambridge Co-housing, the first urban project on the East Coast, was co-founded by Quakers in 1998 and viewed as a spiritual calling. Although a multi-faith community, Cambridge Co-housing opens meetings with silence and governs itself by the Quaker concept of consensus. Other co-housing developments also show a high degree of spiritual interest, including another co-housing project in the works near Washington, D.C. also founded by Quakers, according to Gwen Noyes, an architect and co-founder of Cambridge Co-housing.
Noyes told RW in a phone interview that “most people who have made a commitment to co-housing have thought a lot [about] better ways of living and that often comes out of some kind of philosophy or spirituality.” But she doesn’t think that most co-housing projects in the future will necessarily be organized around common spiritual teachings. “It’s more like a secular religion; it’s about living in a community that’s healthy [from which] many Americans have become alienated . . .”
(New Age, 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472)
Are extremists “hijacking” the American Muslim community through its leaders’ complicity and silence regarding terrorism?
That’s the controversial view of the Islamic Supreme Council (ISC), a Muslim education group based in Washington, D.C. The Muslim magazine (January), which is published by the ISC, carries a statement from the council saying that “too often we see leaders of the community equivocating between implicit support for extremists and general condemnations of terrorism.” It adds that extremist organizations often operate in the U.S. under “assumed identities as non-profit organizations or corporate businesses, hiding their origins and affiliations.” The statement claims that American Muslim leaders are hesitant to criticize alleged terrorist Usama bin Laden or the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Islamic leaders don’t speak out because it may cause more divisions among Muslims and “fear for their own positions due to their connections with extremists around the world through their U.S. offices.” The statement adds that Muslims “have a right to know where their . . . relief donations are going . . . We therefore appeal to Muslim organizations to take a courageous stand regarding all that is going on and openly disclose their ties to foreign groups and movements, as well as the nature of these associations.”
Only such an action will “prevent the majority of Muslims from suffering by being detained or being viewed with suspicion because of the misguided actions of others.” The ISC statement stands out in the American Muslim community, especially since these views are more often voiced by such secular critics as journalist Steve Emerson. Mateen Siddiqui, an editor of The Muslim magazine, told RW that the statement did not name any organizations because these groups should engage in self disclosure.
But the majority of American Muslim organizations tolerate or propagate extremist views, Siddiqui added. “You just have to look on the Internet to see that the tone of the majority of Islamic groups — though not the American Muslim people themselves — is extremist; they’re always criticizing the U.S. and never [supporting] the country . . . These groups have the voice in the Muslim community and they impose their views on those that don’t have a voice.”
Aly Abuzaanouk of the American Muslim Council, another pan-Muslim education and advocacy group in Washington, says it is impossible to reply to the ISC’s charges, since no names or evidence are produced in the statement. “The ISC should prove its charges and hand in any such evidence to American security forces,” he said. He added that the American Muslim Council and other Muslim groups “have always condemned terrorism and they work for the betterment of the nation.”
(The Muslim, P.O. Box 391660, Mountain View, CA 94039-1660)