In This Issue
- On/File: February 2006
- Findings & Footnotes: February 2006
- The patriarchate wildcard in EU-Turkey debate?
- Islamism’s new friendliness to democracy?
- ‘Satanic cartoons’: Test boundaries of blasphemy, freedom?
- Current Research: February 2006
- Segment of evangelical activists broaden agenda
- Decline of the Catholic Church, rise of Catholic ideas?
01: Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East brings together mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy and laity to counter the “anti-Israel” views found to be growing within mainstream churches.
The organization, which includes United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches, was formed over the concern that Christian-Jewish relations could be reversed by increased criticism against Israel and activism on behalf of the Palestinians. One example of such activism is the drive to disinvest in Israel, most evident in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., national director of Fair Witness, says that the anti-Israel orientation growing in some American churches is driven by the Palestinian Christian group known as Sabeel. The group’s founder, Palestinian Anglican Naim Ateek has pointed to Israel as the sole cause of the conflict with the Palestinians. Fair Witness holds that “Israel’s right to exist within secure borders and to defend itself from attack are as fundamental as the dignity of Palestinian life and the need for Palestinian national self-expression.“ (Source: Ecumenical Trends, January)
02: Pooling resources and facilities has become increasingly common among seminaries, but Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College have taken the cooperation to a new level.
The schools collaborate on curriculum and course development, religious services and even fund-raising. Christian and Jewish students enroll in courses at both institutions and attend one another’s observances of holy days. The institutions continue to be financially independent of one another, but they plan to build a single auditorium and a non-denominational chapel to serve both schools.
The arrangement has created the Interreligious Center on Public Life, which brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars to deal with issues of religious pluralism and hot button political and policy issues. The experiment is even gaining national attention, with Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation giving the Hebrew College $100,000 for their interfaith programs. Some observers say the arrangement may serve as a test case for similar interfaith ventures in U.S. seminaries. (Source:Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 13)
03: The new Center for Atheism is the latest of several attempts by atheists, secular humanists and other freethinkers to press for equal rights and engage in political activism.
The Washington, DC-based center, founded by Kenneth Bronstein of the New York City Atheists, plans to lobby in the capital for the atheist cause and to engage in church-state battles.
(Source: U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 16)
01: Sociologist Kathleen Jenkins examines the rise and fall of the International Churches of Christ in her book Awesome Families (Rutgers University Press, $22.95).
While the movement’s strictness and control over members’ lives were its most publicized features, Jenkins focuses on how the ICC drew so many of its members–mainly from the middle and upper classes– because of its promises to build successful marriages and families, as well as create new family of church “brothers and sisters.”
Jenkins gained access to an ICC congregation, as well as interviewed leaders, members and ex-members across the U.S. up until the movement fell apart around 2004. Jenkins finds that the movement’s unique discipleship program, where more experienced members mentored new members in the faith, served as both the catalyst to its amazing growth during the 1980s and 90s (although it always had a high dropout rate as well as inflated membership rolls) as well as its eventual downfall a decade later.
The practice of discipling created close, family-like bonds with fellow members and also sought to therapeutically address dysfunctions in their natural families. It was the contradictions between these two visions, as well as between modern individuality and adherence to the ICCC institution, that broke up the unified movement, leading to weakened and competing breakaway groups. Jenkins does a good job of capturing a middle ground between noting the abusive, controlling aspects of the movement while discounting over-simplified theories of brainwashing.
02: Holland has often been seen as a leading example of how rapidly much of Europe became secularized during the past 40 years. But, as the new book The Dutch And Their Gods (Uiteverij Verloren, P.O. Box 1741, NL-1200, BS, Hilversum, The Netherlands) reveals, that characterization is contested even in the Netherlands itself.
The book, edited by Erik Sengers, makes the case that religious transformation and experimentation defines the nation as much as secularization. A historical overview divides modern Dutch history into a “high tide” of religious subcultures (1945-65), a period of religion translated into social action and solidarity (1965-1985), and a “return to the spiritual” since 1985.
The current stage is marked by the emergence of the New Age movement and a more generic interest in spirituality. In another chapter, Anton Van Harskamp writes that interest in religious belief does not seem to be declining and is actually increasing, but at the same time, the “meaning of religion for the individual is diminishing,” as it is squeezed out of the public square.
The rest of the book’s contributions attempt to show how this interplay between the secular and the spiritual is present in new organizations, movements and practices. For instance a chapter on Catholic liturgy reports on the decline of regular liturgical observance (although first communions have become popular form of rites of passage), but the growth of sporadic participation in Masses, pilgrimages and special liturgies (such as Taize).
Meanwhile, evangelical growth in such groups and phenomena as the Alpha course (never as successful as in the UK and US) and Pentecostalism has slowed in growth some since the 1980s and 90s, but its predicted death has not occurred. Evangelical music festivals and social agencies show a new appeal. A concluding chapter in the New Age movement suggests that it has been integrated into the Dutch mainstream, especially “New Age capitalism” and spirituality in the workplace.
The issue of the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and its freedom in Turkey has assumed a new prominence in deliberations on the nation’s admission to the European Union.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted on January 26 the draft of a strategy report regarding its relations with present and possible future candidates for membership. The amended article 10 of the report deals with issues of fundamental rights and freedoms, and also asks Turkey to recognize the “ecumenical title” of Patriarch Bartholomew, according to the Turkish Daily News (Jan. 27).
This represents one more indication of a growing emphasis on issues related to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with its headquarters in Istanbul. While there are only a few thousand Greek faithful left in Turkey, the Patriarchate puts emphasis on its universal (ecumenical) role serving the Orthodox diaspora in non-Orthodox countries. But Turkish authorities have always expressed the viewpoint that the role of the Patriarch is to take care of Orthodox believers in Turkey.
In recent years, Turkish nationalist groups have revived agitation against the Patriarchate (including demonstrations in front of the Patriarchate): they are now asking for the transfer of the Patriarchate to Greece and are collecting signatures on a petition for that purpose, despite the historical significance of the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch in a city which was once called Constantinople. At the same time, the Ecumenical Patriarch himself (who holds Turkish citizenship) has seized opportunities provided by the negotiation process between the European Union and Turkey to express much more publicly his concerns and expectations.
At a conference on the dialogue of civilizations in September 2005, he regretted lasting Turkish “prejudices” against the Patriarchate. In October 2005, at a meeting of Orthodox Churches with European Christian Democrat MPs in Istanbul, he has complained about the Turkish Education Ministry not giving permission to reopen the Orthodox seminary of Halki, which has been closed since 1971.
He also deplored the Turkish “allergy” toward his ecumenical title. A leading representative of the current ruling party (AKP, with Islamic roots) answered in conciliatory tones and assured that the current government would be willing to act – but nothing has happened since, remarks Austrian journalist Pia de Simony in an article published in the February issue of Glaube in der 2. Welt.
There is no doubt that the pressure from the European Union will grow, Simony writes. Religious freedom will be presented to the Turkish government as a key prerequisite for European integration. Pressure will not only come from Europe: on Dec. 5, 2005, a US State Department spokesman explained that the United States recognized the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul as having ecumenical status, Turkish NTV reported (Dec. 6).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Following the victory of Hamas at Palestinian elections, commentators, such as the Christian Science Monitor‘s Howard LaFranchi (Jan. 27), wonder if the campaign for democracy in the Middle East will actually serve to promote Islamists.
Such electoral results are however not only related to religious fervor, but also to the partial failure of secular regimes to deliver what local populations had expected. Hamas is known to have been a provider of free social services. Moreover, when looking at the ascendance of political Islam in the Middle East, one should remain aware that reasons for Islamist success vary from one country to another, writes Dilip Hiro in the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 25).
A special report in The Economist (Feb. 4) draws attention to a huge difference among trends of political Islam: while al-Qaeda and associates reject the division of the world into modern states, the Muslim Brotherhood (in which Hamas has its roots) has chosen a more pragmatic way. However, according to the respected weekly, western strategists would be wrong to think that the problems of the Islamic world may be addressed by a “divide and rule” policy (be it between al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood or between Sunis and Shias).
This would only lead to more animosity and suspicion toward Western countries. Many Sunnis suspect the US of promoting Shias in order to weaken Sunnis. Following developments in Iraq, America has dangerously come to being seen as “the main arbiter in the balance of power between the different components of the Islamic world.”
— By Jean-Francois-Mayer
The controversial issue of 12 anti-Muslim cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has taken unexpected social and religious dimensions. Ambassadors have been recalled, Danish (and Norwegian) embassies have been torched in Arab capitals, and thousands of angry Muslims have demonstrated from the UK to Yemen, from Indonesia to Afghanistan. If there are people still doubting the impact of emotions potentially created by religion in international affairs, the ongoing controversy is proof to the contrary.
In an interview granted on Feb. 1 to Al Arabiya and reproduced on his website (http://www.stm.dk), Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that his government cannot interfere with the press and cannot be held responsible for what the media publishes, although “everybody has a responsibility not to stimulate conflict.” The cartoons were meant to provoke: cartoonists were invited to contribute after an author had complained that nobody dared illustrate his book about Muhammad. By publishing the 12 cartoons, the conservative newspaper wanted to make a statement, but its editor issued a (partial) apology on January 30 for having “offended many Muslims.”
Some non-Muslim journalists now feel that the Danish newspaper acted irresponsibly, comparing it to children playing with fire, according to the newspaper, NZZ am Sonntag, Feb. 5. The US government criticized the cartoons, the Vatican stated that freedom of thought and expression ” cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers,” and the South African high court banned the publication of the cartoons following a request from a Muslim organization. While several politicians have condemned “outrageous cartoons,” The Economist (Feb. 2) observed that it is unclear “how democracies can discourage conflict without clamping down on free expression of opinion.”
Consequences drawn from the controversy vary strongly from one source to another. Preaching at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Friday Feb. 3, a leading imam rejoiced to see “A great new spirit is flowing through the body of the Islamic nation” (Reuters). Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott observed (Feb. 4) that “If vastly different worldviews can find no accommodation on a subject, then perhaps it’s too early, in human history, to have the conversation.” Some wonder if Muslims – including Muslims living in the West – are becoming inclined to redefine the boundaries of a Western consensus according to which “poking fun at religious figures is acceptable.”
The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League would like to have the issue discussed at the United Nations and to have it pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs (which may lead to unusual political alliances if such a discussion indeed takes place). Beside current post-9/11 debates, the controversy appears also as a witness to the rise of modern transnational media, with a significant impact still to be fully revealed in the religious and political fields: “A local Danish dispute is thus quickly elevated to the level of a global conflict.” (BBC, Feb. 4).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: Protestants still tend to harbor pro-market attitudes, “indicating the lasting legacy of the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism,” according to a recent study.
The study is based on a survey in the Detroit area conducted by sociologists Wane Baker and Melissa Forbes and published in Society magazine (January/February). The researchers found that overall, “moral absolutists” tend to hold pro-market attitudes (emphasizing the importance of work, personal responsibility, and holding that the U.S. is a land of opportunity) while those with secular and relativistic values tend to be anti-market.
This split was evident even when controlling for the alternative factors of socioeconomic class interests. Protestants did not believe that less emphasis on work is a good thing nor that income differences in the U.S. are too large. But while pro-immigrant attitudes are generally considered pro-market, the Protestants tended not to believe that immigrants are good for the economy. Since most immigrants today are not Protestant, this opinion could also indicate their preference for an identification with the Protestant heritage of America, according to Baker and Forbes. (Society, 390 Campus Dr., Somerset, NJ 08873)
02: Megachurches hold stricter beliefs than commonly thought, and they are growing without heavy marketing and evangelistic programs, according to a new study.
Megachurches Today 2005 is the latest report from the Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network, updating findings on these congregations with attendance of over 2,000 from five years ago. The report finds that there are now 1,210 Protestant churches in the U.S. with weekly attendance over 2,000, nearly double the number that existed five years ago. Many of the patterns of megachurches have persisted. Their greatest concentration continues to be in the Sunbelt, though they have spread to most states since the last survey. It was also found that 50 percent of megachurches are now found in the new suburbs.
Researchers Scott Thumma, Dave Travis and Warren Bird found that none of the many evangelistic and marketing efforts have had a strong influence on the variable growth of these mega churches. “If anything the increased rates of growth seem to be more due to the characteristics of worship and the active involvement of the membership in recruitment.” The researchers conclude that most megachurches are not based around spectator worship and entertainment; the data shows they demand a lot, have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs and preaching.”
03: A new survey finds that the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. who are Catholic has remained steady at 70 percent.
The study, conducted by the Hispanic Churches and American Public Life Survey, found that the continued immigration flow from Latin America compensates for the losses to other churches. The study found that Latino Catholics in the U.S. are more numerous than all mainline Protestants, with the former representing 29 million and the latter 22 million, reports Americamagazine (January 16).
04: China scores high on a new index of governmental regulation of religion but is relatively low on social regulation.
That is one of the unexpected findings from a newly developed index that allows researchers to examine the impact of regulating religion throughout the world. China is shown to score a high 9.2 (on a scale between 0 and 10) on the government regulation index, but falls to 4.8 on the social regulation index. Vietnam falls even further, going from 7.8 to 3.0 Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, remain high on both indexes.
While there have been attempts to measure government regulation and favoritism (usually in the form of state subsidies and privileges for selected religions), unofficial social actions that may also restrict religion have been largely ignored. Social regulation may take the form of pressure on one religion by another religion or from the wider culture.
The indexes are presented in a new study by Brian Grim and Roger Finke in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Volume 2, 2006). The lifting of religious regulations has been shown to sharply increase the supply and activity of religion in Latin America, Asia, the United States, Europe, and in Muslim countries, write Grim and Finke. They add that the indexes should stimulate research on such questions as the relationship between religion and social conflict and on how religious regulation may be related to violence and armed conflict.
Grimm and Finke found that the annual International Religion Report, issued by the U.S. State Department, offers comprehensive and largely non-biased information on religious restrictions and abuses of freedom unavailable to Western researchers. Since such material is mostly qualitative, the researchers converted its findings into statistical codes, using a 243-item coding instrument for 196 countries.
05: By 2005, the proportion of all Christians who were from Europe and North America had dropped to under 45 percent, according to recent figures compiled by global Christianity specialist Todd Johnson.
The growth of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere has been well-documented and discussed, but Johnson provides updated figures on the evangelicals–the main source of Third World Christian growth (ranging from 250 million to 688 million). While evangelicals continue to grow globally, in the U.S, they are declining as a “raw percentage of the population.” In a breakdown according to denomination, Baptists are found to represent the largest number of evangelicals, and independent immigrant churches were the fastest growing.
(The study is available at:http://www.lausanneworldpulse. com)
06: American Shiite Muslims are less likely to report discrimination than other Muslims, reports a recent study. The survey, conducted by the Quinoot Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit group, found that nearly 80 percent of American Shiites who were victims of “post-9/11 discrimination,” reported these incidents either only to their families or to no one.
The survey also found that few Shiites reported such incidents to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national advocacy group that seeks to represent all American Muslims.
07: According to data presented by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, in a few years Israel will have become home to the world’s largest Jewish community. Based upon research by leading demographer Sergio DellaPergola, the study found that there are at this point only 45,000 more Jews in the USA than in Israel.
Globally, the diaspora gathers 7.75 million Jews, which means it is 2.25 million smaller than it used to be 35 years ago. Reporting these trends, the Jerusalem Post (January 19) suggests that the survival of the diaspora is vital for Israel and that the next Israeli government should consider the revitalization of the diaspora as a strategic aim.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope
08: There are currently some 150,000 evangelical believers in Switzerland, representing about 2.2 percent of the Swiss population, according to a new study.
There are 1,500 congregations and two-thirds of these belong to an evangelical federation, according to Swiss evangelical minister and sociologist of religion Olivier Favre, who submitted his doctoral thesis at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, on January 30. RW attended the public discussion preceding the granting of the doctoral title. The research was based upon the results provided by detailed questionnaires answered by 1,100 evangelicals belonging to 60 local churches.
According to Favre, there are three main camps among Swiss evangelicals: Pentecostal (about one third of evangelical believers), “moderate” (50 percent) and conservative (around 10 percent). Although there are no significant differences between evangelicals and their fellow citizens, their marriage rate are higher and divorce rates lower. Similarly, the evangelical birthrate is higher compared to other Christian groups in the country – which is not surprising, since the rate of evangelical women devoting themselves entirely to their family is also higher.
Half of the Swiss evangelicals vote for one of the two openly evangelical political parties (which together have a total of 5 MPs in the Federal Parliament.) Favre remarked that evangelical political orientations are not determined by a right-or-left choice, but rather for moral reasons. Pentecostals have grown most: 50 percent of Pentecostals had no evangelical parent and are converts, while the percentage falls down to 25 percent if one considers all evangelicals taken together.
Beside evangelical churches, there are also evangelical believers within the established Reformed Churches. And much research remains to be done on another, relatively recent element: the development of ethnic evangelical churches among immigrants. In the meantime, Favre’s doctoral thesis is one more addition to a recently emerging body of sociological literature on evangelicals in French-speaking Europe.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Evangelical social activism of a more liberal bent appears to be gaining ground, even if its impact seems uncertain, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jan. 22).
The new evangelical activism remains committed to pro-life and traditional family causes, but these “activists believe that serving God also means acting on a `biblically balanced agenda’ that would, among other things, erase poverty, trim tax cuts for the rich and protect the environment,” writes Bob Kemper.
Behind much of the new interest in taking on more liberal causes is the National Association of Evangelicals’ recent manifesto called “An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” The new movement is evident nationwide. In Alabama, an attempt to overhaul the tax system that would raise taxes of the wealthy evangelical professor at the University of Alabama’s Law School. In South Carolina, Republican and Democratic civic groups fighting for more state money for poor rural public schools found a key ally among the state’s conservative Christians despite the Religious Right’s longtime pursuit of voucher-financed private schools.
[The Alabama initiative was not passed, and the results of the South Carolina activism are unclear]. While the new evangelical activism is distinct from the evangelical left, such as represented by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, it does set itself apart from the old guard of the religious right, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Already, evangelical groups such as Focus for the Family have criticized the movement for diluting the evangelical concentration on abortion and other family issues.
While the influence of the Catholic Church is declining in the U.S., the impact of Catholic ideas seems to be on the rise. That is the contention of Joseph Bottum, writing in the Weekly Standard (Jan. 23).
Bottum cites the priest sex abuse scandal and the general low public profile now taken by most American bishops (partly as a result of the scandal) as showing how the church’s institutional influence is in decline. The loss of a distinctive Catholic vote and the loss of a Catholic political base in the Democratic party has also drained the church of its influence.
But at the same time there is a “rising rhetorical influence” of Catholicism, as “its ability to take a moral impulse born from religion and channel it into a more general public vocabulary and philosophical analysis…[has] come to dominate conservative discussions of everything from natural law accounts of abortion to just-war theory,“ Bottum writes.
Many of these Catholic ideas have been aided and disseminated by the political energy of evangelical Protestants, who, like George Bush, are now drawing on aspects of the church’s social teachings. Bottum adds that it is the “shared ideas” rather than appeal to the “shared membership” of Catholicism (such as made by such Democratic candidates as John Kerry when he spoke of his youth as an altar boy) that carries the most impact today.
One gauge of this impact is the way abortion now occupies the center stage of the moral agenda for a wide range of Catholics and other Americans. Bottum adds that it was abortion that generated this new “rhetoric in which to talk about public affairs in a modern democracy. You can see it among an increasing number of journalists and professors. You can see it, perhaps most of all, among lawyers and judges. You can even see it among nominees to the Supreme Court.”