In This Issue
- On/File: January 2001
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2001
- Whirling dervishes face strife over including women
- Churches in Europe, Ukraine adopt show-biz style
- Current Research: January 2001
- Churches take advantage of growth of grassroots radio
- The Way encounters leadership scandal, more decline
- Kwanzaa faces commercialization
- American Muslim influence finds acceptance abroad
- Conservative believers band together to influence UN on family
- Despite millenial letdown, religion in 2000 holds its own
- Faith factor in medicine searches for legitimacy
01: The fledgling Institute for Global Engagement represents an attempt to bring the growing concern over religious persecution and conflict into the world of scholarship.
The institute is the brainchild of Robert Seiple, a former U.S. State Department official who was in charge of implementing the International Religious Freedom Act, a bill to protect religious minorities against discrimination. Seiple, an evangelical Christian, resigned from the State Department last September to start the institute, which will be based at Eastern College near Philadelphia. The center will conduct research as well as train leaders of religious and other nongovernmental groups the skills necessary to mediate differences between different religious groups and believers.
Although most of the staff members are Christian, Seiple says the institute will focus on countries marginalizing the different faiths and will begin work by examining the situations in Vietnam, Laos, China and Uzbekistan.
(Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 20)
01: Three recent issues of Center Conversations (No. 5, 7 and 8), a newsletter of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, serve as good introductions to recent trends in Catholic, evangelical, and Jewish communities.
Each issue features a main address on developments in each tradition followed by a roundtable discussion by journalists and scholars. Originally a series of seminars for journalists covering the religion beat, the freewheeling discussions focus on some generally undercovered issues, including: the problem of viewing American Catholicism through a “liberal versus conservative” lens; the almost universal use of therapeutic jargon and concepts in evangelicalism; and the growing polarization in the Jewish community, even over the issue of vouchers.
A set of the three issues is available for $7 from: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1015 Fifteenth St., NW, #900, Washington, DC 20005. The web site is: http://www.eppc.org.
02: Religion on the International News Agenda, edited by Mark Silk, is another publication designed for religion journalists but is recommended to anyone trying to grasp the international religious situation.
The 142-page book brings together eight specialists (from a conference at the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford) on issues of religion and society in India, China, Eastern Europe and the fomer Soviet Union, Iran, Indonesia, Africa and Latin America. Particularly valuable is the summary sections after each chapter that highlights emerging trends and issues that readers should keep an eye on.
The book is available from: Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106; http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl
03: Starting with this issue, the subscription rate to the print version of Religion Watch will be $28 per year ($30 outside the U.S. and Canada).
The electronic version will cost $20. The increase is due partly to the raise in postal rates (at least for the print version), but we are also offering readers more this year. Last summer convinced the editor that RW should come out monthly rather than skipping a month in August. The break in summer was partly due to a corresponding vacation that many publications took, considerably cutting the number of available articles to monitor and digest. No longer.
The Internet has multiplied our sources on news and trends. RW has functioned as much as a service as a publication, and such a service of monitoring trends in religion should be offered at least monthly.
We are also committed to giving subscribers access to at least 10 years of back issues in our archives, with the articles all searchable by subject. That task is taking longer than we thought, but the increase will help us reach that goal in the next few months. In other news, we happy to report that RW was nominated a semi-finalist in the “General Excellence for Newsletters” category by Utne Reader magazine.
If readers of the print version wish to switch over to the electronic version, please send your name and e-mail address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes, Muslims practicing mystical dances, are experiencing the same divisions existing between moderate and militant Islam throughout the world, particularly over the role of women.
The Washington Post (Dec. 25) reports that the dervishes, known for their whirling, trance-like dances which are seen as a way of communicating with God, have traditionally been for men only. But the formation of the Istanbul Foundation of Universal Lovers of Mevlana several years ago is causing controversy among the other dervishes and in Islamic Sufisim (the mystical branch of Islam) for accepting women dervishes.
When the women shed the traditional white robes for multi-hued garments, the foundation caused further waves among traditionalists. But writer Molly Moore notes that there are only seven surviving Whirling Dervishes in Turkey, some with just over two dozen active members and with few younger leaders to “step into the robes of aging leaders.” But the Modern Lovers of Mevlana have managed to attract dozens of new members; there are now more women than men members as of last year.
Even the most conservative dervish orders have modernized membership requirements in recent years. All organizations have abandoned the practice of requiring prospective whirlers to prove their abilities by making 1,001 rotations in bare feet atop a nail on a salt-covered floor.
A “radical” youth-oriented church movement in Europe is growing by using high tech entertainment-oriented services, reports Charisma magazine (January).
Membership at Zurich’s International Christian Fellowship (ICF) has grown sharply in the past four years, as it has branched out to seven other congregations in other parts of Switzerland, and neighboring Germany. The church’s services — which are called “events” — avoid outwardly charismatic behavior such as worshipping with raised hands, speaking in tongues and altar calls, and the style is targeted strictly to the unchurched, according to senior pastor Leo Bigger, a former printer who started ICF with 100 people.
Newcomers find high-energy presentations featuring live music, video clips, drama, smoke and light, and dancing. Six separate events at the church — which meets in a nightclub near the city’s business center — cater specifically to different age groups.
The pastor visited Las Vegas to learn more about “the latest in showbiz,” and believes that church services should not have “quality way below the world’s standards.” Bigger calls his churches a “a tougher version of Willow Creek [the suburban Chicago church pioneering the “seeker sensitive” approach] . . . You do not reach the Swiss by softness.” New converts are invited to join “workshops” — home-fellowship groups — for prayer, Bible study, and worship, and these “cells” form the actual church.
The magazine reports that young people in Ukraine also favor progressive over more traditional church styles. Over the last 18 months attendance at a series of Vybkuh-“explosion”-concerts in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has grown from 100 to 2,000. The events are put on by the Hillsong Church started by missionaries from the network of Hillsong churches in Australia. The lively outreach is setting a new pattern in a country where the churches are historically conservative, sometimes barring young visitors with jeans, make-up and earrings.
(Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
01: The new attention focused on exorcism by churches, as well as the re-release of the film The Exorcist, may well convince people that they have been involved in or have witnessed these rituals, according to a study reported in the Skeptical Inquirer (January/February).
The research, conducted by University of Washington psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and Giuliana Mazzoni of Seton Hall University, finds that almost one-fifth of those who previously said that demonic possession was not very plausible and that as children they had not witnessed a possession later claimed possession was more plausible and that they may have observed one. These changes in memory and belief took place after the subjects read several short articles that described demon possession and suggested that the phenomenon was more common than many presume.
The study, conducted among 200 students in Italy, first asked respondents to rate the plausibility of several events, with almost all responding that possession was highly implausible. A segment of the respondents was given the reading material on possession which promoted the idea that possession is common in Italy and that children have witnessed such events. While the control group — those that had not read this material — had shown no change in views, 18 percent of the “manipulated” group now believed that events involving possession had probably happened to them. Loftus concludes that if these few articles caused such a change in memory and beliefs, current films and other media on the growth of exorcism may have a more powerful effect.
(Skeptical Inquirer, Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226-0703)
02: Congregations that are multicultural in makeup are actually rare and tend to be Catholic, according to recent research by sociologist Michael Emerson.
Visions (September/October), a newsletter on religion and demography, reports that the study finds that about eight percent of U.S. congregations are “multicultural” (meaning that less that 80 percent of their members are from a single racial group). Whites were least likely to attend such heterogeneous churches (11 percent said they did) and Asians (particularly Filipinos and Japanese) were the most likely (44 percent) to worship in such congregations.
Emerson says the geographical nature of Catholic parishes keeps different members worshipping together while Protestant membership is more choice-based and non-geographical. Contrary to common assumptions, Protestants with greater multiracial makeups were no more likely to be Pentecostal or charismatic. Congregants of multiracial congregations tended to have previous multi-racial experience or connections (such as attending mixed schools). Emerson concludes that though these mixed congregations are thought to be unstable, they appeared to have no more internal conflict than single race parishes.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)
03: A new survey of pastors in Episcopal and Lutheran churches suggests that divisions over politics among laypeople do not necessarily stop clergy from delivering political sermons from the pulpit.
There has long been a split in mainline churches between clergy who are usually more liberal and laity who gravitate toward a conservative view of issues. The survey, conducted by Christopher Gilbert of Gustavus Adolphus College and Paul Djupe of Dennison University, finds that mainline pastors may be more politically oriented than they are thought to be. Church members interested in politics say their pastor is more political than the pastor thinks he or she is.
Christian News (Dec. 4) reports that the clergy are more likely to tackle controversial topics, such as gay rights and abortion, when their parishioners disagree with them, though church members who disagree tend to ignore those messages. When the congregations are a minority in their community, the pastors are the most likely to speak out on politics publicly. The survey was conducted among 60 congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and the Episcopal Church.
(Christian News, 3277 Boeuf Lutheran Rd., New Haven, MO 63068-2218)
04: An overwhelming majority of clergy say the Internet has helped congregational life, according to a survey sponsored by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dec. 28) reports that the project surveyed 471 rabbis and ministers and found that 83 percent of respondents agree that the Internet has helped them in their ministries. Most say they use the Internet as a vast library for retrieving educational material and information. In particular, the survey found that congregation members and clergy stayed in greater contact with each other via e-mail.
05: Evangelical groups are among the most efficient charities, according to a survey by Smart Money magazine.
ReligionToday.com (Dec. 29) reports that in a survey of the nation’s 100 largest charities, which is based on three years of financial data that considered how much money was allocated to programs, fund raising, and savings, the most efficient charities in the “Religion” category were Samaritan’s Purse, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ.
The most efficient in the “Relief” category were International Rescue Committee, U.S. Fund for Unicef, Catholic Relief Services, CARE USA, and Christian Children’s Fund.
06: While national church attendance is declining in England, there are new pockets of growth where vigorous evangelism has taken place, reports The Economist magazine (Dec. 23).
Across all denominations in England, adult church attendance has dropped from 10.2 percent of the population in 1980 to 7.7 percent today. In greater London, however, Anglican church attendance declined by 30 percent during the 1980s, but increased by three percent between 1989 and 1998. The evangelical wing of the Church of England boosted its attendance figures by as much as 18 percent. Other dioceses such as Wakefield show similar growth.
Robert Jackson, a former economist and now vicar, credits the new growth to evangelical outreach, particularly the Alpha course, an introductory seminar on Christian basics. Course managers estimate that 7,000 people are brought into the church in London every year through Alpha. Although coming out of the low church, evangelical wing of Anglicanism, the course has led other Anglicans to adapt it to their own needs and beliefs. That may be part of the reason the high church Anglo-Catholics managed to raise their numbers by 22 percent from 1989-98.
07: Almost 20 percent of those who left the Roman Catholic priesthood in the last 30 years have returned to the active ministry, according to the National Catholic Register (Nov. 26-Dec. 3).
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy reports that 9,551 priests who left the ministry between 1968 and 1992 worldwide eventually returned to priestly life. All together, 53,151 diocesan and religious order priests left the priesthood during this period. The Register notes that the rate of returns has increased under the papacy of Pope John Paul II.
When John Paul became pope in 1978, an average of 313 men a year were returning. In the 22 years since, the average has climbed to 396 per year. Marriage is the main impediment holding some back from returning, according to spiritual director Benedict Groeschel. Married former priests without children whose marriages were later ruled invalid by the church and who were given permission by the Vatican have been among the returnees.
The article notes that the total number of priests in the church — 263,521 as of 1997 — is almost back to the 1968 total of 269,607, though most of the growth has taken place in the Third World.
(National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514)
Many churches are forming new radio ministries through the growth of new low power FM stations.
Charisma News Service (Dec. 28) reports that about half of the first 255 new low-power FM (LPFM) licenses offered by the U.S. government’s broadcast licensing body have gone to churches and ministries. Operating at between 50 and 100 watts, the new stations will have a broadcast radius of just a few miles, operating on a shoestring budget and relying on volunteers.
The new licenses are being issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of an effort to enrich local communities with diverse programming. The 255 applicants eligible for licenses were chosen from 1,200 candidates, who also included educational and community groups.
The initiative was strongly opposed by commercial broadcasters, who say the small stations can interfere with their frequencies.
The Way International (TWI), a movement that gained many followers and notoriety in the 1970s, appears to be on an accelerated course of decline after sexual scandals involving leaders and law suits against the organization have recently been revealed.
The Christian Research Journal (Volume 23, Number 1), an evangelical countercult publication, reports that The Way, a group based around its study courses teaching non-Trinitarian Christianity, has been in a free fall since its founder Victor Paul Wierwille died in 1985. Rev. Craig Martindale, who succeeded Wierwille, revamped the group, substituting his own terminology and courses and establishing himself as a “the Man of God for our Day.”
But the recent revelation that Martindale was involved in a sexual affair and his abrupt resignation from TWI has hurt a group already weakened by many schisms. The admission plus a lawsuit (one of many by former members) filed last spring charging that the TWI kept members psychologically dependent on leaders has led regional coordinators to resign. Current statistics put TWI supporters (there was not an official membership) at 5,000, though at its peak, the group was said to have 50,000-100,000 course graduates and supporters.
(Christian Research Journal, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000)
Kwanzaa, the cultural and spiritual holiday for African-Americans, is being commercialized and is facing criticism by purists, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News (Dec. 27).
American blacks spend as much as $700 million on Kwanzaa-related merchandise. Such mainstream retailers as Target, Pier 1, and Borders Books are competing with stores catering specifically to blacks for Kwanza gifts and other merchandise, reports Charlee Oldham. The 34-year-old festival is celebrated by about 10 percent of African-Americans and is built around seven principles, which include spirituality, unity, self-determination and creativity.
But it is the principle of cooperative economics, which encourages blacks to build and maintain their own business, that has caused purists to attack the new commercialization as diluting the holiday. Others, however, say they’re happy Kwanzaa is finding its way into the mainstream. Black critics are also unhappy that Kwanzaa is increasingly being celebrated as a multicultural holiday, since many people can relate to the seven principles.
American Muslims are increasingly influencing their fellow believers in other parts of the world, reports the Los Angeles Times (Dec. 29).
Although American Muslims are a small fraction of the one billion Muslims worldwide, they are wielding significant influence in business practices and economic development in their homelands “through a mushrooming number of non-profit organizations,” writes Teresa Watanabe. Aslam Abdullah of the Los Angeles-based Minaret magazine says that more than 300 such groups now raise about $50 million a year for such causes as education and health care.
Though Muslims in the U.S. see their situation as divided and lacking political clout, they are viewed with high expectationS by Muslims in other countries due to their education and high professional standing. Until now, the model for Muslims for modernization has been Turkey, which has excised Islam from the public square. With its pluralism that can permit a high level of observance, the U.S. is becoming the new model, says Sulayman Nyang of Howard University.
Through such ventures as the Iqra International Educational Foundation in Chicago, American Muslims are exporting books on Islam to other countries. Professors like Khaled Abou el Fadl of UCLA are producing scholarship that blends an Islamic critique of social issues with an appreciation for academic freedom. He has published critiques of Islamic divorce laws, abuses such as wife-beating, and even anti-apostasy teachings that are being noticed, if also criticized, abroad.
Conservative Christians are banding together and intensifying their activism in the global arena, particularly on family issues in the United Nations, reports the current issue of The Public Eye (Summer/Fall), a leftist newsletter monitoring the religious right.
“Frustrated with political defeats at the national level, the Christian Right is turning to the developing world as an innocent, unspoiled frontier, which might possibly be rescued from a morally bankrupt West,” writes Jennifer Butler. While pursuing the prolife agenda in the UN and other international arenas (even joining with Muslim groups) has been a staple of Vatican activism under Pope John Paul II, the newsletter notes that evangelicals, Mormons, and other believers are now also involved in such efforts.
Turning back pro-choice and feminist initiatives at UN conferences and agencies became a priority among conservative believers after the 1995 Beijing Conference, where “progressive feminist activism’ reached its zenith, writes Butler. Leading the new interfaith effort is the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (affiliated with the Catholic prolife group Human Life International), the Brigham Young University-based World Family Policy Center (WFPC), the Howard Center, the Mormon-based United Families International, and, to some extent, Focus on the Family. .
The WFPC and the Howard Center have sponsored World Congress of the Family meetings where Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others have strategized and targeted UN measures they see as undermining the traditional family. Conservative strategists seeking to block such measures are encouraging other conservative NGOs to apply for consultative status in order to observe certain UN proceedings. Though there has been progress at building an interfaith “conservative bloc,” new divisions have also resulted, as when most Latin American nations deserted a coalition crafted by the Vatican at the follow up meeting to the Beijing conference last June.
In the conservative ecumenical magazine Touchstone (November), Allan Carlson of the Howard Center writes that the Christian Democratic parties’ influence had made the UN strongly supportive of the traditional family in the 1940s. He adds “To succeed this time, though, such an intellectual construct must appeal to more than Western Christians, who no longer dominate the UN or the world; it must build on the idea of a common human nature; and it must embrace all religiously grounded family morality systems around the globe . . . I believe . . . that projects such as the World Congress of Families are taking steps toward encouraging and shaping such a vision.”
(The Public Eye, 1310 Broadway, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144; Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
The year 2000 was not what it was prophesized to be.
The Y2K crisis turned out to be a dud. Millennial and apocalyptic visions were few and far between. The most tangible millennial religious celebration was the Vatican’s Jubilee Year. While its many events may have repercussions in the years ahead — especially the massive youth meeting in Rome — they did not seem to engage the broad, ecumenical Christian participation for which the pope had hoped. But there were other news events that signaled broader trends that are likely to last beyond 2001. As in previous years, we cite the issue of RW where these trends are given fuller treatment after each entry.
01: The General Conference of the United Methodist Church last May showed that a liberal, mainline denomination can swing back in more conservative directions. The measures passed at the conference prohibited homosexual unions from taking place in congregations, firmed up of doctrine on Christ as savior of the world, and condemned partial birth abortion, representing a shift of voting power of delegates in the denomination from the northern liberal, social activist branch to the Southern evangelical wing of the church.
It is another matter whether the conservative influence will be reflected in the church’s national offices and bishops, and whether such a transition can be made without generating extensive division and resistance from liberals, which is already emerging.
(See September, November RW)
02: The main organization of mainline Protestants, the National Council of Churches, made overtures to evangelicals and Catholics in 2000, realizing that an infusion of new blood was needed for the moribund and financially struggling organization — an idea that evangelicals (as found in the National Association of Evangelicals) avidly supported.
Robert Edgar, head of the NCC, even signed a joint statement with evangelicals and Catholics last fall calling for support of the family and marriage. But Edgar soon reversed his support for the statement, largely under pressure by mainline leaders who said it could be viewed as gay bashing (as it defined marriage as the union of a man and woman). The incident suggests that building a broader organization for mainline and conservative Christians will be slow and difficult. [December ‘99].
03: The November elections were often viewed through the prism of a wide cultural divide, as analysts pointed to the map showing George W. Bush winning the votes from the South and the heartland, and Al Gore with the strongest support from the East and West coasts.
Post-election surveys did show conservative believers continuing to move toward the Republican Party. Just as significant, however, was the larger than usual Catholic vote (though far from a landslide) for a Republican candidate, suggesting that active Catholics may be trekking away from the Democrats just as their conservative Protestant counterparts did twenty years ago. [RW will have more on this topic in the February issue.]
There was also the emergence of a Muslim voter bloc that took its cues from U.S. Islamic organizations endorsing Bush. The nomination of Joseph Lieberman and his general acceptance by a majority of Americans was interpreted as the political coming of age of American Jewry, particularly because Lieberman’s observant Orthodox faith was a far cry from more assimilated, secular approach of other Jewish politicians.
While the movement linking spirituality and health has drawn generous media coverage, philanthropic funding, and impressive research results, the health care system has yet to recognize the “faith factor” in its everyday workings.
“We have to get this stuff paid for,” said Dr. Herbert Benson, pioneer of the spirituality in medicine field, referring to the lack of health insurers covering the new approach to health. Benson was speaking at the conference on spirituality and healing he runs every December in Boston, sponsored by the Harvard Medical School and his own Mind/Body Medical Institute. The conference itself, called “Mainstreaming Spirituality: The Next Step,” showed how far the field of spirituality in medicine has progressed.
When Religion Watch covered one of Benson’s earliest conferences, the idea of prayer and faith used in medical treatment was relatively novel, mainly confined to holistic and Eastern spirituality circles.
Throughout the 1990s, Benson and his colleagues — with substantial funding from the John Templeton Foundation — sought to buttress their claims with verifiable scientific data, such as in proving the effect of meditation and prayer on the treatment of such ailments as heart disease and arthritis. The effort to introduce courses on spirituality and health in medical schools has been successful.
The annual conferences also showed a concern to expand and translate the concept of healing for mainstream religious traditions — from Pentecostalism to Islam. Speakers at this year’s conference did acknowledge a degree of acceptance in the medical establishment. In one session, Phyllis Ann Solari-Twadell reported that parish nurses — nurses working with church members on health issues — have piloted a program to expand the nursing vocabulary to include such concepts as spiritual well-being and spiritual crises in their diagnoses and interventions.
But the central theme of the conference was that until health insurance companies pay for spiritual care in their coverage, the faith factor in medicine will not gain legitimacy in the health care system. Such major health insurance companies as Cigna and Aetna have refused to provide reimbursements for treatments involving spirituality and faith, as well as unconventional “mind-body” practices.
The cost-driven nature of health insurance that favors conventional and hi-tech treatments over controversial techniques, and the fact that the industry does not communicate well enough with consumers to know of their interests in such treatments all contribute to the marginalization of spirituality in medicine, according to Tom Wojick of the Mind-Body Institute of St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Va.
Benson said that his institute and others in the field are concentrating on changing the minds of the large purchasers of insurance — the companies that have the leverage to demand reimbursements for treatments when they buy coverage plans for their employees.
One of the few insurers to offer benefits for spiritual care is Sloans Lake Managed Care, a firm headed by speaker Neil Waldron. The company covers the services provided by chaplains, pastoral counselors and spiritual directors from all religious faiths. A recent company survey of those who have used Sloans Lake coverage found that females are the most likely recipients; that the cost of such coverage is very low (about $300 per year); that spiritual counseling to address specific needs is the form of spiritual care most often used (87 percent); the majority of users were satisfied with such care; and that physicians very rarely, if ever, referred patients for spiritual care.