In This Issue
- On/File: February 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: February 2005
- Charismatic hotspots in Asia, Africa
- Buddhist NGO’s expanding in Japan
- British religious schools lacking in tolerance teaching?
- Current Research: February 2005
- New crossover appeal for Orthodox Jewish music
- Dissenting Orthodox and conservative Jews form prayer groups
- Media, politics mark ‘most influential evangelicals?’
- ‘Muslim apostasy’ new concern in West?
01: Youth churches, comprised solely of adolescents, are a growing phenomenon in Great Britain.
The movement got its start in the late 1990s, when an attempt to integrate a youth church plant in London failed to integrate into the larger church. Youth churches (in contrast to youth congregations) are usually not affiliated with any denomination and do not include any children or adults. The most prominent feature of the youth churches is worship, with a heavy use of rock music and “sensory laden.”. The churches tend to be conservative evangelical or charismatic.
A goal of the movement is to attract unchurched youth (only 10 percent of British youth attend services), but there is little proof that non-Christians are attending these churches and evangelism is not a major emphasis. Most of the British denominations, including the Church of England, have youth churches in some form and are considering adopting this strategy as a youth ministry.
A handful of youth churches exist in the U.S., though the greater involvement of American youth in their parents’ churches may make the British movement unique.
(Source: Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January)
01: Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Wordwide (Cambridge University Press, $24.99) by political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, represents a major attempt to chart the rate of secularization on a global level.
Relying on the World Values Survey, the European Values Survey, longitudinal data, and a large collection of sociological literature, the authors break new ground in examining religion beyond the West and Christendom. In reworking the secularization thesis, Norris and Inglehart find that the rich nations are becoming more secular while the world as a whole is becoming more religious.
This is because rich nations produce fewer children while poorer nations have more children, thus contributing to a larger religious population. This is related to their thesis that “human security“ drives secularization; those societies, such as in Western Europe, that have a high degree of economic, health, welfare and income security show decreasing rates of institutional and personal religiosity.
When it comes to the U.S. things are more complex., but Norris and Inglehart argue that the entrepreneurial and thus less secure nature of American society generates a higher degree of religiosity than in other Western societies.
Other related but distinct chapters cover: the gap between Islamic and other nations, suggesting that it is not so much democracy but sexual and gender issues that are the dividing factors; how the historic Protestant countries now have among the “weakest” work ethics in the world; and how involvement in religious organizations apart from congregations generate the most civic involvement and social capital.
02: There have been several books on religious colleges and the effects of secularization on their identities within the last few years. As it’s subtitle implies, Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book God On The Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America, (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95) turns the tables on this approach, examining how these schools impact secular society.
Riley visited 20 colleges across the U.S., interviewing faculty, administrators and students. The schools are mostly conservative and represent, according to Riley, “Red America– a questionable generalization, since several of the schools are in “blue” states and few of them fall easily into a predictable, politically conservative slot.
The colleges profiled include fundamentalist Bob Jones University, evangelical Baylor University, conservative Catholic Thomas Aquinas College, Brigham Young University, Jewish Touro College, and Buddhist Soka University. It is the schools most recently established, such as evangelical Patrick Henry College, the independent Mormon Southern Virginia University and Catholic Ave Maria University, that tend to be the most aggressive in pressing for the integration of faith and learning.
While acknowledging problems of isolation from the wider society (especially with growing ranks of home-schooled students), lack of real racial diversity (though no more so than at secular schools) and confusion about the faith-learning connection, Schaefer maintains that these schools are turning out a new class of educated Americans intent on injecting ethical and moral concerns into their work.
Most of the students seek to negotiate between their faith and modern life, particularly the women (whom outnumber the men at such institutions) who question feminism but (even at a fundamentalist institution such as Bob Jones) are moving beyond traditional roles.
Charisma (January) magazine looks at the 10 “spiritual hot spots,“ or places where evangelical, particularly charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity, is growing the fastest and finds most of them in Asia and Africa.
Researcher Justin Long writes that Christianity is growing most rapidly in those places “considered unreachable [in terms of Christian missions] a few decades ago. In the isolated Himalayan nation of Nepal, the Christian presence has grown from just 25 believers in 1960 to more than one million today. Although Christians are represented at three percent in this predominantly Hindu nation, they are growing twice as fast as other faiths. Although the numbers of Christians have long been in dispute in China, Long estimates that their numbers have increased from 64 million to 90 million todayl with charismatics numbering at 60 million.
Population growth is the main source of Christian expansion in the largely Muslim African nation of Burkina Faso, where from 1983 to 2000, Christians churches have doubled and the number of charismatics doubled to 900,000. The western African nation of Benin is likewise showing sharp growth rate of 3.1 annually, with nearly 120,000 new members joining churches annually. About half of the country’s Christians are Catholics and charismatics number about 650,000.
Singapore is now showing about 500,000 Christians organized in everything from small house churches to mega churches. India, meanwhile, is showing a Christian growth of nearly double the rate of the overall population, with 60 million, half of which are charismatic. The largest mission agencies are based in the country. Vietnam is still officially communist, but the churches are growing at roughly 1.2 percent per year, slight ahead of the population Vietnam missionaries are now being sent abroad.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Partly as an attempt to express Buddhism’s relevance in today’s Japanese society, a number of Buddhist NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have emerged and are expanding following the events of 9/11 and the developments in Iraq.
In a report on Buddhist NGOs in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (Vol. 13, No. 2, 2004), Jonathan S. Watts (Jodo Shu Research Institute, Tokyo) stressest NGOs in Japan in the latest issue of the the specific meaning of the NGO in the Japanese context: it refers to groups involved in international cooperation activities, and not on domestic Japanese issues.
Japanese Buddhist NGOs originally were a response to the crisis in Indochina (boat people, refugees at the Cambodian border). Not only critical questions were asked about what Buddhism was doing practically for the well-being of fellow human beings, but Japanese priests who visited Indochina were embarrassed to see that mostly Christian groups were active in humanitarian relief there.
In a second step, the Hanshin earthquake saw a number of “international” Japanese NGOs helping in their home country following the disaster. Then, in 1998, the Non-Profit Organization law was introduced and allowed Japanese taxpayers to deduct donations to humanitarian efforts from their taxes.
Over the years, Japanese Buddhist NGOs have also become active outside of Asia (Middle East, Africa). A Buddhist NGO Network was formed in 2002. The impact of the Iraq crisis is still difficult to assess, observes Watts, who is also the coordinator of a Buddhist think tank, “Think Sangha”. People from many corners – religious and secular – speak much of peace, but Buddhist organizations seem rather to be attempting to catch up with the general movement in society than to lead it.
(Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 18 Yamazato-cho, Showa-ku, Nagoya 466-8673, Japan. Website:http://www.nanzan-uc.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religoscope (http://www.religion.info)
Many Muslim and independent Christian schools in England are getting failing grades for their narrow curricula and teaching civic concern and tolerance to their students, according to a recent British government report.
The Economist (Jan. 22) reports that independent religious schools are growing rapidly in England; there were 170 in September of 2003 and now there are 276, of which 118 are Muslim. While these schools do not have to stick to the national curriculum, they do have to meet new requirements on curriculum and citizenship, including tolerance of “non-traditional lifestyles” (largely meaning homosexuality).
While most have managed to pass, 88 of them have yet to meet the requirements on breadth of curriculum, 50 of which are Muslim. Of that number, 18 have been advised to improve their teachings on citizenship or risk being closed down. Some of these Muslim schools are small seminaries that mainly teach the Koran.
There are also state-funded Muslim schools but they have raised little objection. Both Muslim and Christian parents are worried that their schools are facing an “imposed secular standard” by the educational establishment.
01: A recent survey comparing religious Americans in 2000 and 2004 finds a decreasing willingness to support political compromise.
The survey, conducted by the public policy group Public Agenda, found a smaller number of Americans who believe that devout elected officials sometimes have to compromise in the political arena, with “major decreases among those who attend services weekly. In 2000, 84 percent of Americans agreed that “Even elected officials who are deeply religious sometimes have to compromise and set their convictions aside to get results while in government.”
By 2004, that percentage had dropped to 74 percent, with significant decreases among weekly attenders (82 percent in 2000 versus 63 percent in 2004).
02: A new study finds that the percentage of Southern Baptist churches that can be described as declining has increased in the last two decades.
The Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary found that 23.9 percent of SBC churches in the period ending 2003 were declining in comparison to 17.6 percent in the period ending in 1983. With the percentage of plateaued churches decreasing (from 51.9 percent to 45.8 percent) and growing churches unchanged (about 30 percent), the researchers conclude that the “passion for conversion growth appears to be fading at every level of the SBC. [The denomination] is moving from plateau to decline,” reports Baptists Today newspaper (January).
(Baptists Today, P.O. Box 6318, Macon, GA 31208)
03: A poll from Ellison Research finds a significant gap between large churches and small ones in the use of various kinds of technology, particularly involving the Internet.
The poll, conducted among a sample of 700 Protestant pastors in the U.S., found that while the majority of pastors (91 percent) have internet access, the larger churches (over 200 attenders) are more likely to have web sites. Only 28 percent of small churches, and 60 percent of mid-sized churches have websites compared to 88 percent of larger churches. The size of a church was the most important factor when clergy rated the importance of using technology in their congregation’s ministries over the next five years.
For instance, communicating with the congregation via e-mail will be important to 42 percent in large churches but only important to 13 percent in small churches. Using graphics in worship will be important to 36 percent of large churches but only important to 16 percent in small churches. There were few denominational factors in the differing uses of technology, although Lutherans were significantly less likely than other pastors to value such innovations.
04: The main differences between the French and the Americans may stem from conceptions of God, according to Baylor University sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.
In the Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Fall/Winter), Froese and Bader write that significant differences emerge in examining the images of God among Americans and the French. When Americans speak of God, they tend to be much more literal about the activity and attributes of the deity (for instance, the view that God takes an active interest in the world and in them personally). They also find that those with views of a less active God tend to have more liberal attitudes on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and sexual activities outside of marriage.
It was found that individuals of the same age, sex, income and education levels and religious affiliations will act differently and hold different moral attitudes based on their perception of God. An active and judgmental God will inspire conservative attitudes regardless of one’s religious denomination or nationality. Froese and Bader theorize that to the extent that individuals imagine God to be a judgmental and watchful deity, they will be more obedient and alert to what they believe God wants, resulting in differing church attendance levels and moral attitudes.
(Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 45 Francis Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138-1911) .
Orthodox Jewish musicians are finding growing “crossover” appeal in the secular world and even encouragement from their own rabbis, reportsMoment magazine (February).
Jewish-themed pop music has been gaining popularity in the last decade, with such bands and musicians as Neshama Carlebach, Moshav Band, Pey Daled and Beis Groove, gaining a hearing among mainstream secular audiences. The most recent addition to such crossovers is Matisyahu, a 25-year-old convert to Hasidic Judaism who once sang reggae and rap.
Today, Matisyahu has gained nationwide press coverage for his blending of reggae and Hasidic-influenced music, largely written by late Jewish folk singer Schlomo Carlebach. Matisyahu, who performs in trendy New York clubs in his Hasidic garb of black hat and coat, views his music as an outreach. The Orthodox crossover artists have “held onto their hip tastes and status,”with Matisyahu’s rabbis using his “hipness to attract too-cool-for-shul young Jews who hang out in New York’s clubs,” writes Dave Gordon.
(Moment, 4115 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 102, Washington, DC 20016)
A movement of alternative minyanim, or prayer groups, ?has emerged among young American Jews who want a middle ground between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism.
Touchstone magazine (January/February) reports that young Orthodox Jews unhappy with the male-only leadership of their synagogues, and young Conservative Jews believing that their denomination is not traditional enough, have joined forces to create their own minyanim. These prayer groups, traditionally constituted by ten men now include women, who often lead the prayers.
Though all of the groups are lay-led, often in apartments or borrowed spaces, some are sponsored by Conservative congregations to serve as alternatives for their young people, slightly over half of whom are leaving the denomination, most for no other religion.
Political viability and media sophistication mark those who are considered the most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine (Feb. 7).
The magazine composed a list of the 25 most influential evangelicals with input of preachers, politicians, scholars and activists. Number one is Rick Warren, megachurch pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, a best-selling book that has become a phenomenon among pastors and churches. Warren is said to stand next in line after Billy Graham as “America’s minister.“
The political cast of the list of influential evangelicals is seen in the choices for runners-up: James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and family values activist, is listed second, followed by conservative Christian financiers Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Diane Knippers of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, and then neconservative Catholic Richard John Neuhaus. The latter was chosen because of his strong influence on Bush as well as for his work in forging an evangelical-Catholic coalition on issues of public life (another Catholic on the list is Republican Senator Rick Santorum).
Among the other influential evangelicals chosen were Billy and Franklin Graham, Charles Colson, J.I. Packer (the only theologian of the 25), historian Mark Noll, Stephen Strang of Charisma magazine and Stuart Epperson, founder of Salem Communications which owns 104 radio stations blending Christian music and teaching with talk radio.
Yet Billy Graham remains the most trusted spokesman among American Protestant church leaders, according to a recent Barna Poll. The poll, taken among 614 senior pastors, found that Billy Graham was chosen as their greatest influence by 34 percent of respondents, followed by Rick Warren (26 percent).
The only other leaders listed by at least 10 percent of the pastors was President George Bush (14 percent) and James Dobson (11 percent). Evangelical leaders were the “top influencers,” rating 59 percent among all pastors. In contrast, only six percent of the top influencers were associated with mainline Protestant denominations and five percent were Catholic.
Restrictions and punishments against those converting from Islam to other faiths are common in Muslim countries, but increasingly the issue is being played out in the U.S. and other Western countries, reportsCommentary magazine (February). “Muslim apostasy” is forbidden both by religious and political authorities in most Islamic nations, sometimes under penalty of death or imprisonment.
Those who convert to other faiths (often through intermarriage) often face strong family and community pressure, especially from Islamic radicals, writes Daveed Gartensein-Ross. “Converts from Islam, especially those who become involved in Christian ministries, often use assumed names, or only their first names, in order to protect themselves and their families.”
Pressure coming from the family are the greatest for Western converts, Ross writes. Some immigrant converts have had their lives threatened by relatives still living in their home countries. Family ostracism, common for converts from all faith backgrounds, exerts a special toll on immigrants who depend on family networks for their livelihood. Some North American Muslims are even trying to make the case that Muslim apostasy should be discouraged by law.
In Canada, Syed Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, has argued that Canada’s policy of granting multicultural group rights to ethnic groups should allow Muslims to sanction apostasy and blasphemy in their communities (although Mumtaz adds that recognizing Islamic law does not necessarily entail enforcing the “Islamic punishment” of death for blasphemy and apostasy within the Canadian jurisdiction.) Washburn University (Kansas) professor Ali Khan has likewise argued that Islam has the “right of integrity“ in safeguarding the “protected knowledge [of Islam] from…repudiation, internal disrespect and external assaults.”
The strong opposition to Christian conversion from Islam stems largely from Muslims’ encounter with missionaries from colonial times– a fear that, if anything, has increased in recent years. In the British journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (January), H.J. Sharkey writes that the use of the term “crusader” to describe Western and American power in Islamist literature is often still directly tied to the fear of past and present missionary influence, even though these efforts have yielded few converts. Although Muslim apostasy has been an age-old taboo in Islamic societies, the current evangelical interest in Muslim evangelism may well be intensifying this concern.
A look at the figures of actual Christian mission efforts to convert Muslims suggests that cases of “Muslim apostasy” are far from widespread both in the U.S. and abroad. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research(January) found that only 13 percent of the world’s missionaries work in Muslim areas. Of this percentage, the majority of missionaries work mainly with non-Muslim tribal groups or with existing Christian communities, not with the 95.9 percent of the population who are Muslim.
Todd M. Johnson and David R. Scoggins add that social betterment projects are more essential to missions in this region rather than planting Christian churches (often because of anti-proselytizing laws). Additionally, the country sending the largest number of missionaries to Muslim nations today is the Philippines, challenging the perception that Christianity is a Western religion in opposition to Islam.
Johnson and Scoggins adds that Muslims are not doing much better in missionary work among Christians and other non-Muslims. They estimate that 85 percent of the Muslim efforts to extend their faith are directed toward other Muslims, particularly those in the Diaspora. Missionary groups sponsored by multiple foreign governments (or by usually the Saudi government) and by voluntary independent groups are often the most influential.
Johnson and Scoggins conclude that “Christians and Muslims both send the bulk of their missionaries to people of their own faiths. In this sense, the foreign missionary enterprise of the world’s two largest religions is largely an attempt to renew their own traditions.”
(International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 490 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511; Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations, 325 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106)