In This Issue
- Current Research: July 2004
- Findings & Footnotes: July 2004
- Hindu political loss and new Christian optimism in India
- Shi’a revival key factor in greater Middle East’s future?
- Growing third world Christian universities reach ‘aspiring poor’
- Buddhism’s anti-materialism reaching Germans
- Current Research: July 2004
- Media interest in world religions spurs group, personal study
- Apologists spread new intellectual approach in Mormonism
- John Kerry and the promise and problems of the Catholic vote
01: For The Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call for Civic Responsibility, a statement by the National Association of Evangelicals, has sparked controversy over the question of how involved evangelicals should be in activism.
In an early draft given to the press, the statement was reported to call for evangelicals not to ally themselves with any one political party. After a flurry of news stories reporting that evangelicals were on the retreat from political involvement, the NAE quietly jettisoned the language that seemed to discourage the close tie between evangelicals and the Republican Party. Much of the document had sounded traditional conservative themes, stating that “Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy.”
The statement also reiterated evangelical positions on abortion and gay marriage. While not signaling the retreat from Republican activism as first reported, the statement does try to balance an exclusively rightist agenda with more liberal evangelical elements. Left-leaning evangelical Ron Sider was chosen as co-chair of the drafting committee, and the document uses the liberal language of “economic justice” and calling for “legal remedies for the lingering effects of our racist history.”
(Source: World, July 3)
02: While there has been a steady stream of TV programs and movies on religious subjects, such as The Passion of the Christ, far less common are films depicting religious institutions and movements.
Saved! is one such production, satirizing contemporary evangelical youth culture. While the satire is relatively mild, the film colorfully records the staples of contemporary evangelical life — megachurches, contemporary Christian music, ex-gay “reparation therapy,” prolife activism, and creationism — to the point of overdoing it.
The film carries a typical teen plot, with the rebels — a pregnant teen, the skeptic and the lone Jewish student — taking on an evangelical establishment marked by hypocrisy and judgmentalism, mostly over sexual issues.
The movie tries not to be anti-Christian, but it seems that evangelicalism provides one of the few settings left in American culture where rebellion can take on a daring nature.
(Source: RW Editor’s review of Saved; The Revealer, http://www.therevealer.org/archives/feature_print.php?printed= 411)
03: God’s Man in Texas is a fictional play that has struck a chord among clergy and church leaders for its critical portrayal of the megachurch. The play, among the most successful of productions in regional theatres nationwide, is inspired by the ministry of the late Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell, who led a Dallas congregation of nearly 30,000.
The play is about a minister who is called to a church in the midst of revamping its ministry to draw in new people, adding buildings designed to entertain and inspire: a dinner theater, a bowling alley, and a gym. Then he discovers he has strayed from God’s will by becoming a salesman — a theme that audience members say touches on core issues for pastors during an era when the very definition of the church is changing.
(Source: St. Petersburg Times, June 17)
04: FaithfulAmerica.org is similar to other grassroots left organizations seeking to defeat George Bush in November.
Yet the group is one of several groups with a distinct religious left message. In mid-June, the group gained notoriety for taking out ads in two Arab TV networks apologizing on behalf of “Americans of faith” to Muslims for the “sinful and systemic abuses” committed at Abu Ghraib prison. Although FaithfulAmerica.org bears some similarity to secular protest groups such as MoveOn.org, it is not funded by such philanthropists as George Soros, instead relying on small donations.
The group, along with such organizations as the Center for American Progress and Clergy Leadership Network, is part of an attempt to push more religious Democrats into political involvement and activism.
(Source: The Economist, June 19)
05: Abdullah Gymnastiar has been described as more of a self-help guru than Muslim scholar, but the 42-year-old broadcaster has created an Islamic media empire in Indonesia Widely known as Aa Gym, he has built a following unrivaled among his fellow Muslim clerics by “marrying soft, sonorous words of counsel and tearful prayer delivered in Indonesian rather than the traditional Arab.
He estimates that he reaches 60 million people weekly through television and radio, not including his books, cassettes, videos, newspaper, management seminars and aphorisms printed on the soft drink he markets, Qolbu Cola. Trained as an engineer, Gymnastiar plays down an inevitable conflict between the West and the Islamic world (while condemning the U.S. for the Iraq war) and claims that imposing sharia, or Islamic law, is not his priority. It is his playful, humorous and at times bawdy preaching along with a self-help message that has won him a large audience.
(Source: Washington Post, June 2)
01: The tensions and cooperation between religion and politics are as relevant as ever, and not only due to the highlighted concerns about developments in the Muslim world and its relations with the West.
As Paul Griffiths writes in one of the essays in The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics (Georgetown University Press, $26.95), the tension is inherent, since religious allegiance tends to perceive itself as unsurpassable. “The sacred” has both legitimized and limited state power, notes J. Bryan Hehir in his own essay. All this has consequences not only for national, but for international politics as well.
The volume, edited by John Carlson and Erik Owens, is the result of a conference which took place in October 2000, but the contributions were revised in light of the events of 9/11. The subtitle of the book is misleading: as much as a book analyzing the role of religion in international politics today, it is a work of political philosophy. Several chapters deal with the implications of the concept of just war or humanitarian intervention and several others with issues of human rights.
Contributors argue that it is important to consider the current implications of non state actors — including religious organizations — for the nation states. True, transnationalism is not a new feature in the field of religion, but what is new is that state sovereignty faces a number of challenges today. Yet there is the continuing need of statehood in order to ensure some level of justice, since international organizations have not reached the point of becoming substitute for state power when action is required (Erik Owens).
Other authors ask if it is wise to set human rights above all other values and to pursue dreams of universal justice in an unperfect world. The acknowledgement that the final judgement belongs to God may help to temper yearnings toward “universal punishment.” The concept of “limited justice” (leaving final judgement for another time) might be more realistic and constructive, especially since so many cases will never be fully assessed (while still upholding the universality of the principles of moral law), observes John Carlson in an insightful chapter on crimes against humanity.
But there are competing readings of history and visions of justice: the conceptions of bin Ladin and his associates are not those of the USA; but one could still insist that all sides respect standards of justice in conducting war, writes John Kelsay, who sees in bin Ladin’s arguments a break with the tradition of Islamic political thought.
Even if “organized religion in general has a mixed record in the defense of human rights” (R. Scott Appleby), religious traditions have a long tradition of reflecting on related issues. The editors acknowledgement that the role of religion should be recognised “as an imperative conversation partner for politics” is an argument that most RW readers are aware of, but for a long time this was not the case among most political scientists. This book is one more piece of evidence on the importance given today to the religious dimensions both in the forefront and in the background of international politics.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
The defeat of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India signals the loss of political power of Hindu nationalism as well as renewed Christian hopes of relaxed restrictions against evangelization.
The victory of the secularist Congress Party and the marginalization of the BJP primarily means the loss of political influence of Hindu nationalism, reports India Abroad newspaper (June 22). During the election the BJP downplayed its ties to Hindu Nationalism, as represented by such hard-line groups as the National Volunteer Corps (known as the RSS). The BJP suffered in areas where the RSS was especially strong, such as in the state of Gujarat, where Hindu-Muslim violence had been intense.
The RSS now accuses the BJP of “pussyfooting” on Hindu nationalist issues and thus losing the election. Praful Bidwai writes that the BJP is at a fork in the road, having to choose between a more pragmatic identity that accepts the reality of religious and ideological pluralism or a “communal” or Hindu approach that would lead to marginalization.
The Christian press, at least in the U.S., was quick to note the political change in India, particularly as it relates to the promise of renewed missionary activity. The first ever non-Hindu Indian Prime Minister, Manmouhan Singh, an Oxford-educated Sikh and economist, will bring about a “wind of change,” especially in regard to restrictions against evangelistic activity, according to the evangelical Missions Network News.
Christian News (June 14) cites the news service as reporting that the Christian organization, Bibles For The World, plans to open 3,000 Christian schools around India’s capital of New Delhi. An official from the organization is quoted as saying that schools are “one way” of reaching out to the community and that churches and hospitals are expected to follow.
(India Abroad, http://www.rediff.com; Christian News, 684 Luther Lane, New Haven, MO 63068-2213)
Despite divisions among themselves, Iraq’s Shi’a will shape Iraq’s future, and Iraq will be the first Arab country to become openly Shi’a, according to an article by Vali Nasr in the Summer issue of the Washington Quarterly, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Shi’as number around 130 million people globally, most of them living in the area between Lebanon and Pakistan, and making up the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. But their influence is not commensurate with their number, and the Iranian revolution was not able to threaten Sunni dominance in a lasting way. Saudi Arabia has been very active in a strategy of containment against Shi’ism through networks of Wahhabi ulama; for years, Western powers remained sympathetic, since they saw Shi’a militancy as a more serious threat than Sunni activists.
The fall of Saddam Hussein has opened the door to a sea change in Iraq, where Shi’a are experiencing a cultural revival and are growing increasingly prominent. This will affect the relations between the Shi’a and Sunnis not only in Iraq, but in the entire region. The Shi’a will also be demanding their rights and greater place in society, including in Saudi Arabia, where militancy is on the rise among members of the Shi’a minority, remarks Vali Nasr, who is a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian politics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
This means that the Shi’a revival will be one of the factors threatening Saudi stability; at the same time, the Kingdom can no longer support those fighting for Sunni predominance without supporting forces that directly challenge the USA in Iraq. The Sunni-Shi’a balance appears as the key to future regional stability. It will be central to the political outcome “not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia,” Nasr concludes.
(Washington Quarterly, CSIS, 1800 K Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006; http://www.twq.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)
Christian universities are multiplying worldwide and represent a new stage in the development of Christianity in the Third World, writes Joel Carpenter in the Lutheran magazine The Cresset (Trinity, 2004).
He writes that in the three years he has been researching the rise of the new Christian universities in Latin America, Africa and Asia, their numbers have only increased. For instance in 2001, Carpenter noted six new evangelical universities in Central America. But in a visit to Costa Rica in March, he found out there are now a half-dozen such universities in San Jose alone. “Every month I learn of more such endeavors, from Malawi to Haiti to Irian Papua.”
Carpenter points out that these endeavors are far from modest. Handong Global University in South Korea plans to become an “evangelical MIT,” assembling a strong Korean faculty on a gleaming new campus with about 3000 high-achieving students. The university is also replicating itself in two other Asian sites, Uzbekistan and Manchuria.
These schools, as well as global Christianity itself, may grow most rapidly among those whom sociologist David Martin calls the “aspiring poor,” as a university education and a job become worthy Christian aspirations. Already, these universities are taking on issues of social action and responsibility. Carpenter concludes that the founding of these universities may mark a new stage in the development of nonwestern Christianity.
“With revival fires no longer flaring and in need of some tending, institutions or `fireplaces’ are being built. There is a rising generation to equip, and a surrounding society in which to minister for the longer term.”
(The Cresset, Huegli Hall, Valparaiso University, 1409 Chapel Drive, Valparaiso, IN 46383)
Buddhism is “enjoying an unprecedented boom in Germany,” reports the German newspaper Deutsche Welle (June 9).
The number of Buddhist groups is rising along with Eastern religious teachings being popularized by best-selling books and even in the secular media. Although the German government does not keep statistics on Buddhism, the German Buddhist Union estimates that there are 100,000 Buddhists of German origin and an additional 120,000 immigrants–mainly Vietnamese and Thai–practicing the religion.
“What is clear, however, is that the number of Buddhist communities in the country is steadily rising: from 15 groups at the beginning of the 1970s to over 600 today,” reports the newspaper. German celebrities, such as actor Ralf Bauer, singer Nina Hagen and soccer player Mehmet Scholl, have embraced Buddhism. Hamburg-based German indologist Hans Gruber says that “Buddhism is becoming increasingly attractive as an alternative to materialism.
It is the subtle unease about a culture, about a progressive economic and lifestyle system that has conclusive answers to everything, but can’t do anything about inner turmoil.”
01: A significant majority of Protestant pastors believe the separation of church and state has gone too far or in directions in which it was never intended to go, according to a new poll.
The survey, by Ellison Research, found that 78 percent of the clergy agree that separation of church and state has “gone too far or in ways it was never intended to go,” while just eight percent say that church/state separation has not gone far enough. The poll of 700 senior pastors throughout the U.S. found that only 13 percent agreed that the “current separation of church and state is right where it should be.”
Southern Baptist and Pentecostal/ charismatic clergy were particularly likely to complain about church/state separation going too far (93 and 92 percent, respectively) with Methodist (70 percent) and Lutheran clergy (66 percent) showing smaller majorities. The clergy were divided on the issue of religious displays on government property, although both mainline and evangelical clergy supported keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
02: The presence of women in positions of leadership in churches does not significantly alter men’s feelings of being appreciated in congregations, although there is considerable ambivalence on this issue among older men.
In the Review of Religious Research (June), Adair Lummis writes that the concern over the lack of involvement of men in mainline churches has long been an issue. In analyzing a 2002 study of 2,200 laypeople in the Episcopal Church, she notes that a majority (over 80 percent men and women) disagreed that congregational and diocesan leadership positions should be filled by men. At the same time, about half of the lay men and women were ambivalent about the statement “If women move into more of the leadership roles in the church, men’s participation will drop further.”
Lummis finds that the fear that an increase of female lay and clergy leaders will reduce the participation of men is unfounded; the proportion of women on parish governing councils reported by respondents had no impact on whether either laymen or laywomen believed that an increase of women in leadership would impact men’s participation.
But the survey did find that younger laypeople and those already involved in various parish activities personally felt more appreciated by their congregations than did older men; by age 75, only 50 percent of men, compared to 67 percent of women, feel appreciated by others in their churches. The fact that older men were more ambivalent about the impact of women leaders on men’s involvement may also lead to their lack of involvement in parish activities, Lummis notes.
03: The gender split in religion is particularly likely to make itself felt during the upcoming presidential elections, writes John Green and Mark Silk in Religion in the News magazine (Spring).
There is the tendency for religious Americans to vote Republican while those more secular vote Democratic, but Green and Silk write that this split is complicated by gender. “The critical gap in partisan preference turns out to be between men who report attending services once a week or more often…and women who report attending less than once a week.” Thus in 2000, three-quarters of regular attending men voted for Bush, while three-quarters of the less attending women voted for Gore.
The gender gap in voting is most apparent in evangelical and mainline Protestantism. While 90 percent of regular attending male evangelicals voted for Bush, only 77 percent of their female counterparts did. Regular attending mainline Protestants showed an “astonishing” gender gap of 36 percent (92 percent for Bush among men versus 56 percent among women).
Even among the less frequent attenders, the gender gap was substantial: 21 percent for Catholics, 20 percent for evangelicals and 34 percent for mainline Protestants. Silk and Green conclude that value conflicts, such as abortion, cut across differences in gender and religion and are likely to create swing voters. Thus, regular attending white Catholic and mainline Protestant women and less attending white Catholic and evangelical men “are likely to be up for grabs in 2004.”
(Review of Religious Research, 618 SW Second Ave., Galva, IL 61434;Religion In The News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
04: Christians are more likely to buy lottery tickets than non-Christian in the U.S., while evangelicals are among the least likely to recycle, according to a recent Barna Poll.
Researchers found that 15 percent of born-again Christians and 23 percent of “notional” Christians–those who claim the Christian label but have not made a profession of faith in Christ–bought lottery tickets in a typical week. This is compared to 10 percent of adherents to non-Christian faiths and 12 percent of atheists and agnostics.
It was also found that evangelical Christians were the least likely to recycle (only a half of them did so). More than six out of 10 non-Christians, notional Christians, atheists and agnostics engaged in recycling.
Books and movies on world religions and their ancient texts are drawing individuals and groups into study and dialogue between different faiths, reports the e-newsletter Religion Bookline (June 1).
Feeding much of this interest are productions such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, as well as semi-scholarly and popular books by Karen Armstrong, Dan Brown (author of the best-selling Da Vinci Code) and Bruce Feiler, author of books on the Old Testament and Abraham.
Feiler finds that discussion and study groups have been formed among these readers and moviegoers. He himself has organized 5,000 “Abraham salons” in the last year, drawing people to discussion about the biblical figure and his relevance to interfaith cooperation and tolerance. The book series, “The Great Religions: Essential Questions,” published by the French publisher Assouline, has gained wide appeal because it is conversational in style, growing out of questions that people ask of each faith rather than taking a dogmatic approach, according to Feiler.
A growing apologetic movement in Mormonism is helping to create a more “progressive” wing of the church that increasingly seeks intellectual respectability, according to the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone(May). Groups seeking to intellectually defend Mormon teachings, such as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), have gained mainstream acceptance in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Their effort to debate critics (usually evangelical Christians) and reassure the faithful that Mormonism is intellectually respectable competes with a traditional “anti-contention” school that shuns arguments with non-Mormons or the attempt to prove the faith by rational argument.
Duffy finds that the Mormons’ democratic culture is rife with both professional and amateur apologists, often “zealous but undertrained researchers who self-publish their works.” Professional orthodox theologians often try to maintain some distance from the amateur apologists as they try to gain academic credibility for Mormon teachings. But Duffy thinks the new shift toward apologetics and intellectual argument will not so much have impact in the non-Mormon world as much as within the LDS fold itself.
Even evangelical critics note that these apologetic-oriented Mormons are carving out a new “progressive” wing in the church even if it differs from the revisionist Mormon approach that seeks to redefine the faith. They tend to be more accepting of mainstream Christian churches and are willing to change their interpretations of the faith in the face of new evidence and challenges [See May RW for more on the apologists’ influence in the debate on Mormon origins]. Duffy concludes that the anti-intellectual tendency encouraged by the anti-contention camp is on the wane.
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)
Religion will likely be an issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential campaign, but it still remains to be seen if candidate Senator John Kerry and his fellow Democrats can address such concerns in a persuasive way, particularly gaining the support of Catholic voters. Writing in Commonweal magazine (June 4), Amy Sullivan notes that Kerry and other liberal Catholic politicians show both promise and problems in reaching American Catholics.
The attempt to target and pressure liberal Catholic politicians for their pro-choice stands–such as in refusing them communion in their dioceses and parishes– may have reached a limit. Surveys show that the willingness of ordinary Catholics–due to the sex abuse crisis– to obey and trust their leaders “is as low as it has ever been” according to surveys. ”
At the same time, pro-choice Catholics in both the House and the Senate have reached their tipping point. Fed up with being targeted as heretics by groups like the American Life League, tired of being told that they’re not good Catholics because they support abortion rights, these politicians have begun to fight back.” Such Democrats as Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill) have responded with impassioned speeches about their Catholicism. This year, a group known as Catholic Democrats in the House have made the claim that their stance on social issues is more in keeping with Catholic social teaching than their Republican counterparts.
These efforts will not convince strongly pro-life Catholics, but they may help sway `persuadable Catholic voters. ‘But Sullivan adds that “Before he can start persuading anybody, however, Kerry needs to significantly rework his stock answer when questioned about his faith…Kerry’s fellow Democrats have so misused the phrase `separation of church and state’ over the years that many religious Americans consider its invocation a code for `I’m not really religious and I don’t want to talk about it, so let’s just assert that it has no place in politics and move on to another topic.’
It is indeed essential to protect the separation of church and state, but Kerry will have to find a way to talk about it while also taking ownership of his Catholicism.” She suggests taking a page from Southern Baptist Bill Clinton, who was able to speak to Catholics about the impact of Catholic social teachings on his political views.
Yet a recent poll suggests that inactive as well as active Catholics may be wary of supporting Catholic candidates who are pro-choice and support embryonic stem-cell research. A Zogby International Poll of 1,388 Catholics shows John Kerry only receiving 20 percent of Catholic voters’ support on issues where he disagrees with church teachings, particularly abortion and stem cell research. Likewise, if a candidate said he would appoint only supporters of Roe v. Wade to judicial positions, 65 percent of Catholics polled would not support him. The National Catholic Register (June 6-12) cites the survey as finding only 16 percent being more likely to support such a candidate.
The poll found that both churchgoing Catholics (71 percent) and Catholics who attend church infrequently (57 percent) held these opinions. It was found that 53 percent of Catholic voters would be less likely to support a candidate who advocates embryonic stem-cell research, whereas only 23 percent said they would be more likely to support such a candidate.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)