In This Issue
- On/File: January 2000
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2000
- Mideast’s security threatened by militant Islam?
- Growing anti-Western sentiments encouraged by Greek church
- Current Research: January 2000
- Canadian churches face problems that endanger their future
- Relations improve between new religions and headquarter cities
- Future of Jewish day schools threatened by finances, ideology
- New abolition movement aimed at African slavery
- Market grows for African-American religious books
- More mainline congregations take up Wiccan practices?
- Religion in politics stirs new debate for 2000 campaign
- 1999 religion — setting the stage for the new millenium
01: The Oranienburg Youth Center is among the few ministries reporting growth as well as social impact in the former East Germany.
The youth center, located in the suburbs of Berlin, is also unique in being one of the few charismatic Christian ministries in Germany funded by the government for its work among youth, particularly skinheads. The center, started by two pastors, Winfried Muller and Herbert Wiemar, in 1991, also includes an independent charismatic church that is unique in drawing mainly converts — made up of the youth stopping by the center for conversation and recreation, as well as, more recently, Russian immigrants.
While Lutheran and Catholic churches usually get the social service government funding in Germany, the youth center’s success among disillusioned and radical youth has brought it public support and recognition.
(Source: Charisma, December)
01: An important if little known trend in new religious movements is the transition of much of New Age spirituality into today’s Neopaganism.
The phenomenon is well explained in a recent bibliographical essay in the Books and Culture Series (located at this website: http.//www.christianityonline.com/ct/current9C14/9C141b.html), sponsored by the evangelical review Books and Culture. The author, Irving Hexham of the University of Calgary reviews eight recently studied scholarly works which demonstrates three trends: the New Age spirituality of the l980 has effectively run its course; the evangelical scholarly critique of that movement misunderstood its essence from the beginning and thus presented a faulty evaluation of it; and third, the energy and leadership of New Age religion is now moving in the direction of the unfolding Neopagan movement.
For instance, Hexham cites the findings of Prof. Graham Harvey’s work in showing how the transition is due to Neopaganisms’ more convincing views on earth spirituality, the role of gender, and goddess religious thought Hexham concludes by quoting one specialist who says the “academic study of esotericism and of New Religious Movements” has just begun.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: While there are a growing number of studies on conservative Catholics (and other Christians), the new book, What’s Left: Liberal American Catholics (Indiana University Press, $17.95) is something of a first.
The book, edited by Mary Jo Weaver, is the companion volume to Being Right, a study of the Catholic right. The previous book had the advantage of including both scholarly essays based on interviews and ethnographic research and “insider” essays by conservatives themselves. The new book is written by scholars mainly involved or sympathetic to liberal Catholic causes, such as feminism, gay rights and democracy in the church, and new forms of worship and social action.
Even if there is some bias interwoven into many of these contributions, the book does provide a valuable and candid mapping of the liberal Catholic world. The contribution on Womenchurch, a radical feminist group, by Rosemary Radford Ruether, suggests that this movement is heading in increasingly “post-Christian” directions where the “sacrality of the natural is primary.” A chapter on worship and the liturgy, meanwhile, shows that liberal Catholic influence, with its stress on community and lay participation, has in varying degrees shaped American parish life.
03: Journalist Richard Ostling’s Mormon America (HarperSanFrancisco, $26) is a comprehensive and interesting account of Mormonism in the U.S.
Ostling, who often reported on the LDS church as religion editor of Time magazine, recounts the history of the church, as well as current trends involving leadership, political influence, missions, finances, family life, scholarship (particularly the conflicts involving historical research of the church’s beginnings) and theology.
Ostling also looks at less well-known facets of Mormon life including dissident and anti-Mormon groups and the resulting growth of Mormon apologetics (or defense of the faith). Ostling is optimistic about continued Mormon growth and vitality, but cautions that secrecy in the leadership, membership retention problems, and an Americanized organizational culture in a growing world church may pose future obstacles for Latter Day Saints.
04: Readers interested in religious trends and how they may play out in the near future (we’re trying to avoid using the word “millennium” for a while) can still get a discount copy of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium by RW’s editor and Don Lattin, religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
The book is available for only $18 (regular price is $25) without any additional postage and handling charges. A CD-ROM that links readers from discussions in the text to pertinent web sites is included with each copy.
Make payments out to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.
Afghanistan and Pakistan may be the next major arenas of prolonged conflict due to new outcroppings of Islamic fundamentalism.
Most of the energy and leadership for the escalating crises comes comes from militant Islamic groups and leaders producing “economic meltdown and ethnic and sectarian warfare” So writes Ahmed Rashid in the November/December, issue of Foreign Affairs. Both countries are increasing their military prowess, preparing for the time when the leaders give the call, to root out all non-Islamic opposition.
In Afghanistan the battle is primarily over control of the national government, with the fundamentalists showing a readiness to declare war on all their opponents. In Kashmir, the struggle revolves around the Islamic forces in Pakistan arming to prevent any Hindu domination of the Kashmir people and their long-standing tradition of religious toleration.
In another article Jonah Blank reports that the same fundamentalism is at work in the decades-old struggle between India and Pakistan over control of nearby Kashmir The Islamic fundamentalists have found in their faith and national loyalty the momentum to establish the strictest form of Islam over against civil liberties, religious toleration, and human rights. The experts find little reason to think that major war will not soon break out, as the United States and other Western powers continue to ignore the powderkeg potential of this region.
— By Erling Jorstad
The hardening anti-Western stance of Greece is both reflected in and being strengthened by the positions taken by the Greek Orthodox Church, reports the New Republic magazine (Dec. 13).
Greek journalist Takis Michas writes that the support Greece gave Serbia during the Balkan wars was one indication of how religion and nationalism is tied up in the wave of anti-Western, and particularly anti-American, sentiment sweeping the nation. These attitudes were on display in early December when President Clinton was greeted by thousands of protesters brandishing stones and Molotov cocktails in Athens.
The current Orthodox leader, Archbishop Chistodoulos, has pushed the Greek church to see the West as the “source of all of Greece’s misfortunes.” In a recent sermon, Christodoulos thundered that the “powerful of the earth commit injustices against the Greeks and ignore the rightful claims of Hellenism.”
01: Are those Christians who believe in angels, the devil, and a six-day creation also more likely to accept UFO’s, ESP and astrology?
Most research has found no strong link between believers in conservative Christianity and those who accept paranormal phenomena. But in the Skeptical Inquirer magazine (January/February) sociologist Erich Goode argues that these two kinds of believers have more in common than might be expected. In a survey of nearly 500 students, Goode finds that the “relationship between fundamentalism and paranormalism was positive and significant.”
Eighty percent of the people who believe in angels are also ESP believers, while only a bit more than half (56 percent) of the angel disbelievers are also angel believers. The strongest correlation was found between believers in the devil as an actual being and belief that astrology is scientific. Two thirds of believers in the devil (69 percent) also believe that astrology is scientific; only one-half of the devil disbelievers (53 percent) agree astrology is scientific.
On the whole, the percentage of those who disagreed with the religion questions were an average of 18.1 percent more likely also to disagree with the paranormal statements than was true for respondents who agreed with the religion questions. Goode dismisses regional differences (he conducted his research among his State University of New York at Stony Brook) for the conflict between his findings and previous research. He notes that the previous studies were also conducted among students in less religious regions, such as the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.
(Skeptical Inquirer, Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226-0703)
02: A recent survey from the Barna Research Group finds that born-again Christians have a higher divorce rate than non-Christians.
In a survey of 4,000 adults, the poll shows that among born again Christians, 27 percent are currently or have previously been divorced, compared to 24 percent of adults who are not born again. The Barna press release (December 21) notes that most surprising in the survey was that it was not the baby boomers who were the most divorce-prone, but the generation preceding them — the supposedly more conservative “builder” generation. Thirty Seven percent of the adults from the builder generation (currently ages 53-72) have endured a divorce, compared to 34 percent among baby boomers.
Also somewhat unexpected was that divorce is much less likely in the Northeast than elsewhere (19 percent of Northeasterners compared to 27 percent of Southerners and Midwesterners). The Christian denomination with the highest likelihood of getting divorced are the Baptists (29 percent), and the denominations with the lowest are the Lutherans and Catholics. Jews have among the highest divorce rates (30 percent), while atheists and agnostics fall below the norm (21 percent).
While pollster George Barna says that the high rate of divorce among evangelicals has been a fact for the past half-decade, most disturbing was that many of those experiencing divorce feel their community of faith provides rejection more than reconciliation or support.
(Barna Research Group, 5528 Everglades St., Ventura, CA 93003)
03: Most Jews in Israel do not know when Christmas is celebrated, athough they have nothing against Christians, according to a Gallup poll.
The survey, sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, found that 75 percent of the 479 Israeli Jews polled were unaware that Dec. 25 is the date when Jesus’ birth is most often commemorated. But Israeli attitudes toward Christians and Christianity are generally positive, says the IFCJ, a group founded to foster understanding between the faiths.
Respondents had “overwhelmingly positive attitudes” toward Christians in general and favored Christians’ desires to visit Israel. In addition, almost 53 percent of those surveyed thought the pope’s Holy Land visit, scheduled for March 2000, signifies a positive development in Jewish-Christian relations, according to a report in ReligionToday.com (Dec. 22).
Churches in Canada are “grappling with formidable problems that threaten their very existence,” reports a cover story in Macleans magazine (Nov. 29), the weekly Canadian news journal.
Among other problems, specialists point to the most worrisome being that of a 50-year decline in attendance at Sunday services. In a society where 87 percent of the people state they are Christian, only 20 percent actually attend church on a weekly basis. In the 15 to 24 year old age group, only 12 per cent attend weekly. Specialists attribute this largely to the inability of the churches to redesign their programs to meet the major transformations in Canadian society: single-parent households, blended families, mixed marriages,
increasing affluence, new technologies and altered work habits.
The increasing number of wage earners who are required to work on Sunday by their employers has cut into attendance. Also rising maintenance costs have made huge dents in the budgets of urban and rural churches. Aware of the decline, Canadian church leaders are trying a variety of counterprograms, implemented within the existing denominations. The mainline bodies are increasing their emphasis on the ministries generally belonging to the evangelicals.
They accent personal devotions, Bible studies and door to door evangelism. They note that the Pentecostals and other independent bodies are attracting converts with their programs embracing more spiritual energy, personal witness, contemporary music, and less hierarchy. Mainline bodies also are tailoring sermons to attract younger audiences. So far, the article concludes, it is too early to tell whether the new programs among the mainline churches will turn back the decline in membership.
Everyone involved agrees the churches, Protestant and Catholic, can no longer take attendance or support for granted. New, innovative programs will remain for the foreseeable future at the head of all Canadian church agendas.
— By Erling Jorstad
The tense, often antagonistic relations between some new religious movements and their host communities appear to be moderating in the last few years.
The Cult Observer (No. 11) reports that Transcendental Meditation and its headquarter city, Fairfield Iowa have come to an understanding, if not neighborly concord, as the group has settled into the Midwestern city during the past 25 years. As devotees of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s TM have moved to the group’s headquarter, they have constructed homes and office buildings.
City Council member Neil Doyle says although locals don’t “swallow some fairly crazy philosophy,” the last quarter century shows that a small Midwestern town can absorb, if not integrate, a sizable immigration of rather unorthodox outsiders, particularly whey they bring money and jobs.
A truce between the Church of Scientology and city hall in its headquarter city of Clearwater, Florida appears to be developing after two decades of sharp conflict, reports another issue of the Cult Observer (No. 10). The new relations between Clearwater and Scientology was seen when the city recently listed the organization for the first time as an asset to the downtown area in a document that will go to prospective developers.
Much of the new atmosphere is attributed to arrival of City Manager Mike Roberto in 1997. For its part, the church is recruiting businesses in one of its buildings and defended Roberto in his conflicts with other town officials over spending issues and job performance. The church’s Los Angeles-based leader David Miscavige and other staff members met with Roberto close to a dozen times to discuss how the church’s growth can aid downtown development efforts.
(Cult Observer, Box 413005, Suite 313, Naples, FL 34101-3005)
Jewish day schools are finding growth while encountering new risks to their identity and survival, according to a recent report.
Among the several gains registered in the last 20 years for the Jewish community in America, the growth of Jewish day schools stands near the head of the list. In one generation, enrollment has gone from less than 20,000 in the l940s to some 200,000 pupils in some 700 schools across the country today, writes Jack Wertheimer in Commentary magazine (December).
Overall, the percentage of time given directly to Jewish studies within these schools has risen to around 40 percent, with the figure being close to two-thirds in New York. While enrollment continues as always to be the highest in the Orthodox schools, the number of students in Reform, Conservative and interdenominational schools has risen an impressive 20 percent.
Undergirding this rise has been the “grassroots character” of support and the stress on both American and Jewish identity. However, a major crisis now faces these schools involving both finances and ideology. As with public education, Jewish day schools are facing huge deficits in financing. As the new day schools have added more time for Jewish subjects to their curricula, they have had to employ more teachers. As they reach out to the larger Jewish communities, especially the families unable to afford tuition, they have found a diminishing amount of funding for these programs.
The ideological crisis, emerges from the long standing reluctance of the organized Jewish community to contribute more to day schools, partly out of the fear of recreating a Jewish ghetto mentality, writes Wertheimer. The philanthropic community also fears the rise of government assistance to support the general-studies education offered by religious schools, especially the controversial program of vouchers. It’s argued that to allow public funds to be given to religious schools, in this case the Jewish schools, brings on the risk of government regulation of their schools.
This ideological conflict is a major threat to the future of these schools, he adds. The Jewish community must take the opportunities it has today to strengthen Jewish learning, without compromising the student’s loyalty to their American identity. Unless these schools can find ways to continue their proven ability to instill in them a love of all things Jewish, the rate of intermarriage with those outside the Jewish community will continue to escalate, and Jewish day schools will be populated only by the most highly dedicated and the wealthiest.
(Commentary, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)
— By Erling Jorstad
A new anti-slavery movement with a strong Christian base is growing as it targets slavery practices in Africa.
Nat Hentoff writes in the Washington Post (Dec. 1) that this liberation movement aims to free Christian and animist slaves in Sudan. So far, 15,447 slaves have been freed, largely through the work of the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International and the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group. The latter organization has “begun a national campaign aimed at companies investing in Sudan, whose National Islamic Front government in the north is accused of encouraging the slave trade.
Aside from such influential groups as a national pension fund for professors and other college employees divesting in companies, a prominent leader in the movement is Rev. Chuck Singleton, pastor of the 10,000 member interdenominational Loveland Church near Los Angeles. UNICEF and others have charged that buying back slaves can encourage slave traders to capture more victims. But chiefs and elders from the villages involved in slave raids say there has been no increase in the slave trade and that raids have decreased.
In a move intended to fill a long-standing gap in the number of books reflecting the religion and spirituality of African-Americans, several national publishers are adding substantially to their lists in this area.
Finding a growing interest, publishers are bringing out books on Christian living, spirituality, specialty Bibles and other inspirational themes. Publishers Weekly (Dec. 13) states that this is a welcome change from the ‘gloom and doom’ criticism of the dearth of such titles in large numbers. Bishop T.D. Jakes has published “Maximizing the Moment”
(Putnam); African-American authors Linnie Frank and Andria Hall are finding wide interest in “This Far by Faith: How to Put God First in Everyday Life” (Doubleday). On-going problems for this genre include a continuing need for more capital investment and for increasing the ways in which marketing procedures are implemented.
Despite these matters, African-American religious titles continue to sell well, including William Key’s and Robert Smith-Johnson’s “From One Brother to Another: Voices of African American Men” (Judson), and E. Hammond Oglesby’s “Ten Principles of Black Self Esteem: Lessons of Heritage, Lessons of Hope” (Pilgrim).
— By Erling Jorstad
“As Wicca and goddess worship grows in popularity in the culture, elements of the practice also are appearing in Christian churches,” reports the news magazine Insight (Dec. 6).
Media attention on goddess spirituality in churches has focused on such events as the Re-Imagining Conference in 1993, where participants invoked the feminine aspects of God and criticized traditional Christian teachings. But there are more undocumented forms of Wiccan practice “gaining currency in many churches,” reports Catherine Edwards. One such practice is known as the “Croning ritual,” which is a Wiccan rite of passage. The goddess is said to take on three forms: maiden, mother, and crone. Two articles are cited from the now defunct Methodist clergywomen journal Wellsprings where Croning rituals are explained.
The articles are written by Rev. Nancy Webb, minister of education at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington– where the Clintons attend–and Rev. Mary Kraus, a United Methodist pastor in the same city. Webb and other clergy confirmed that they had either taken part in such rituals or knew of them taking place in other churches, according to Edwards. When distraught members notified their bishop about these practices, Webb and Kraus were called in for meetings last year.
They claimed that the croning ritual was just a birthday party and should not be scrutinized as a public church event. Webb maintains she was not practicing Wicca, and both clergywomen remain at their jobs. Edwards writes that while mainline denominations have withdrawn funding of the continuing ReImagining conferences, feminist churchwomen events regularly use goddess imagery — an issue that led to the formation of the Voice for Orthodox Women in the Presbyterian Church (USA) two years ago.
In a presidential election campaign not yet attracting voter interest in the major issues, a new and unexpected turn has emerged — the introduction of faith commitments into campaigns.
Where the traditional position has been to keep such statements general and vague, at least four major candidates for the Oval Office have chosen to make their personal beliefs explicit. This, according to Gustav Niebuhr of the New York Times (Dec. 19) is in direct conflict with an older tradition. Rather than search for common ground, as existed during the Cold War years, today’s office seekers are stating in explicit terms their commitment to the efficacy of personal conversion, a born again experience, and commitment to following Jesus. These references are coming from Albert Gore, George W. Bush, the obvious front-runners, as well as Orrin Hatch and Gary L. Bauer.
Observers are divided over the motivation of these candidates for being so explicit; some say the historical record of mixing politics and religion directly, as in the l928 and 1960 campaigns, does not auger well for the new frankness. Critics believe the candidates are responding to a new interest by voters in their personal lives and how they would blend politics and religion.
Church historian Martin E. Marty expresses puzzlement over the candidates’ seeming determination to be particularist about faith in a society which favors pluralistic statements when it comes to addressing religion and politics. Already the media is buzzing with strong protests over the new turn. Columnist Molly Ivins in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, (Dec. 20) believes dragging Christ into partisan politics is “a grave mistake;” she fears the “fanaticism that religious passion brings to the consideration of public policy making.”
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor.
The dawn of the new millennium has brought on an onslaught of predictions and forecasts.
While we’re not averse to venturing forecasts on the shape of religion in the new millennium, we thought we would stay with tradition and focus on the religious developments emerging from the news events of last year — those that show the most promise of influencing religion in the year 2000 and beyond.
When pertinent, we cite the issues of Religion Watch where these trends and events were first reported after each item.
01: Much of the talk of sensational millennial crises turned out to be a bust by New Year’s Day.
Many of those who saw the Y2K bug as a potential cleanser of ungodly influences in society through a prophesied attack on technology will be busy backtracking or revamping their predictions to apply to the “true” third millennium, 2001, or other possible dates. In response to the peaceful passing into 2000, members of religious groups that hunkered down in fear of Y2K chaos, may decide to leave such groups, particularly marginal members who joined only recently.
Others prone to religious inspired terrorism will not necessarily forsake their desire to instigate the breakdown of Western society in order to create a more godly culture and to strike against God’s enemies.
[December, 1999 RW]
02: The Christian Right was reported as faltering in the wake of the 1998 elections, and last year did not show things getting any brighter. The failure to impeach President Bill Clinton and the appearance of manifestos from religious right leaders sharply criticizing Christian involvement in politics gave the impression that the entire Christian right was on the downturn.
Whether this is actually the case will be seen by next November. In the meantime, religious politics is on an upsurge. Presidential candidates across the spectrum are increasingly outspoken about their faith and how it shapes their political views.
[December `98 and May `99 RW]
03: Ecumenism was more in the news in 1999 than in previous years.
The acceptance of a concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by the latter denomination (after it was earlier rejected) was hailed by some observers as a shot in the arm for the tired ecumenical movement The agreement entails that Lutherans will eventually adopt the historic episcopate (practice of consecrating bishops in an unbroken line of succession from Apostolic times). Observers note that this is the first time a non-episcopal denomination in the U.S. has adopted the historic episcopate and even claim that it may be a model for future ecumenical efforts.
But as often happens in ecumenism, the “full communion” agreement has intensified internal divisions within the ELCA. A reform group called the Word Alone Network has formed to protest the agreement, viewing it as creating a more hierarchical church structure in conflict with the Lutheran confessions.
04: Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the long awaited document on Catholic universities and their relation to the official church, is likely to have repercussions years beyond its late 1999 release.
The document calls for bishops to give their approval to the theology faculties of Catholic colleges and universities. The debate now is about what such approval means for academic freedom and the attempt to strengthen Catholic identity. Since the process of episcopal oversight and collaboration will be determined by local bishops, the results will be far from monolithic.
The conflicts will likely arise between aggressively conservative bishops — not all are aggressive in maintaining orthodoxy — and liberal theology departments under their jurisdiction.
05: The Columbine tragedy and then the shootings of members at a Baptist church in Texas months later were viewed with alarm and, in the long run, awe by many evangelical believers in 1999.
Martyrdom, a term frequently used more from the mission field and church history, found fresh currency among evangelicals in the aftermath of these events. Some evangelicals referred to these events as signaling a new trend of anti-Christian violence, although it has not been established how much these sentiments motivated the perpetrators.
The reports of heroic involvement of young people in these shootings led to a new outspokenness and spiritual concern among Christian youth, a trend that is worth watching in 2000.
06: Last year also saw the successful attempt by the laity and clergy, particularly a reform group known as GOAL, to force the resignation of Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S.
Spyridon was widely viewed as a hard-liner who was out of touch with American church procedures. What was most unique and revealing about the event was how the Internet was put to use by dissidents to energize protests across the whole church. (see the in-depth article on this subject in the fall issue of Religion in the News (available at: www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/)
— By RW’s editor and contributing editors