In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: July 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: July 2005
- China and Vatican on the road to diplomatic relations?
- Greek Orthodox crisis straining Middle Eastern peace?
- Current Research: July 2005
- The ‘New Paradigm’ factor in missions
- Science, alternative spirituality embraced by Children’s books
- Evangelical-Catholic partnerships stress ‘Mere Christianity’
- Most popular Catholic websites tend toward conservatism
- Christian-Muslim dialogue raising new questions in Europe
Findings & Footnotes: July 2005
01: Circles of Support And Accountability is a fledgling Canadian Mennonite ministry that has already gained an international reputation for its work with sex offenders.
Circles is part support network and part neighborhood watch, volunteers work both with released offenders, finding them housing and health care while meeting with police, media and angry community members. The circles help solve offender problems while holding them accountable for any actions that might lead them back into old patterns of thought or behavior.
Today there are 100 circles across Canada run by 20 organizations and the concept is being replicated in Ireland, the Netherlands, the U.S., and the United Kingdom. A 2004 study showed that high-risk offenders who have the support of a circle are up to 70 percent less likely to offend again; the recidivism rate for sex offenders is 17 percent.
(Source: Utne Magazine, July/August)
02: With the papacy of Benedict XVI, Father Joseph Fessio has emerged as a key figure in American Catholicism.
Fessio is founder of Ignatius Press, which has published most of Benedict’s (the former Joseph Ratzinger’s) writings in English, and is provost of the new Ave Maria University in Florida (founded by Domino‘s Pizza billionaire Thomas Monaghan). Fessio was a student of Benedict in the 1970s and became part of a powerful European network of conservative church officials and theologians.
As a Jesuit, Fessio had been under pressure from his largely liberal order for his conservative publishing and activism, but now with Benedict’s rule, the Jesuits have been feeling the heat (seen in the resignation of the editor of the Jesuit magazine America). Fessio’s new influence have led some to speculate that he will be appointed archbishop of San Francisco.
(Source: The Tablet, June 25)
03: Ziad Silwadi, a Palestinian Koranic scholar, has become a popular oracle in much of the Islamic world for his prophecies of destruction to the U.S due to massive tsunamis in 2007.
Silwadi has become convinced that passages in the Koran dealing with divine punishment of serious sins are actually about the U.S. In recently publishing his findings, Silwadi has found a worldwide readership for his often esoteric and arcane interpretations of the Muslim holy book. Silwadi, who uses calculations involving Koranic “verse counting” to arrive at the 2007 date, believes America will be punished for its sins of genocide, slavery and the use of atomic weapons.
(Source: Reason, August/September)
Findings & Footnotes: July 2005
01: The new book Church, Identity and Change (Eerdmans, $36), edited by David Roozen and James R. Nieman, focuses on the changing nature of American denominations, suggesting that most church bodies, whether mainline or evangelical, are facing serious challenges in ministering to their memberships.
The book is unique in examining denominations both from a structural-sociological and a theological perspective. The chapters include contributions on the Assemblies of God, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Episcopal Church, Vineyard Fellowship, the National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ.
All the denominations face what are considered the “postmodern” challenges of localism, internal pluralism and decentralization. Even those bodies with the most hierarchical and centralized structures seem to be moving toward new structures, whether they are aware of it or not; for instance; the Episcopal Church is moving from a traditional authority-based hierarchy toward an “autonomy-oriented network” (though this chapter was written before the current crisis in the Episcopal Church, which may complicate these models).
The editors conclude that denominations are most likely to be able to deal with internal pluralism and fragmentation (for instance, conflict between liberals and conservatives) if they have a strong theological identity and are able to avoid the politicization of issues found in weaker identity denominations.
Among other interesting findings (in a 650-page book full of noteworthy findings) are that both liturgical and Pentecostal denominations, with their more non-cognitive dimensions, tend to be more adaptive than Calvinist, cognitive- and “task-oriented” bodies; and how clergy play a new role in fostering denominational identity due to decentralization and the destabilizing of larger organizations (such as seminaries) that once served this function.
02: As in other religious traditions, there has been a long history of Muslim interpretations of the end-times.
However, in recent decades, new types of understandings of the expected turning point in the history of mankind have emerged. This is the topic of a new and quite unique book by David Cook (assistant professor of religious studies at Rice University), Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse University Press, $34.95).
Cook pays attention to a popular literature which few other Western scholars before him have cared to study. Although there is no field research to prove how influential this literature is among contemporary Muslims in the Middle East (at this stage, Cook has limited his research to the Arab, Sunni world), there are indications that it has indeed a real impact.
A number of the authors under consideration are actually children of the globalization of religious ideas: some of them have gone as far as looking for evidence not only in traditional Islamic literature and in the “signs of the times,” but have also quoted from the Bible or even borrowed from evangelical authors as well as other non Muslim sources.
Generally speaking, the new Muslim apocalyptic thinking is closely connected with traumatic experiences in the Muslim world and contemporary developments in the Middle East. Zionism – equated with malevolent forces of the end-times (e.g. the apocalyptic beast) – and its alleged worldwide domination is a cornerstone of the scenario. Muslim apocalyptic authors have also had to make sense of U.S. influence, for which they can obviously find no clues in traditional Muslim material.
Cook’s research brings into light a striking renewal and transformation of Muslim apocalyptic thought, incorporating anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. There is little doubt that recent events, especially since 9/11, make the field even more fertile for such speculations, especially in a context in which traditional figures of religious authority have been increasingly challenged by competitors across the Muslim world.
Even in the West, visits to islamic bookshops show the increase in treatises on the endtimes and related topics. Not only scholars, but diplomats who have to deal with the Middle East would do well to read Cook’s book and to keep in mind the kind of ideas, theories and speculations currently circulating in that area of the world.
— By Jean-François Mayer
China and Vatican on the road to diplomatic relations?
While few people expect prompt changes, the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate seems to be marked by renewed attempts to solve the problems between China and the Vatican and to establish diplomatic relations.
While there were diplomatic relations between 92 states and the Holy See in 1978, there has been a dramatic growth during John Paul II’s papacy: diplomatic relations now exist with 174 countries. However, there are still some missing countries, such as China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia. The new pope, Benedict XVI, has made no mystery of his desire to fill those gaps, especially regarding China.
According to the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, difficulties are not insurmountable, but care is needed for moving ahead (Associated Press, June 23). China continues to stipulate that the Holy See must sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan (where the Holy See moved its embassy in 1950) and not interfere in Chinese affairs, a difficult issue, since it would mean that the Pope should refrain from appointing bishops in China (Xinhua, July 2).
Taiwan is “closely monitoring developments” (Taipei Times, May 18), but its ambassador to the Holy See said “there is a long way to go” before the Holy See can normalize ties with China (DPA, May 25). The Vatican is the only state in Europe that maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Contacts between the Holy See and China had been broken following controversial moves in year 2000 (the ordination of five bishops in the “official Church” in Beijing and canonization of the 120 martyrs of the Church in China by the Pope), but there are indications that contacts have now resumed. Issues related to religious freedom — cases of harassment of the Vatican-faithful “underground” church continue in several places across China.
The problems surrounding the appointment of bishops also need to be solved before diplomatic ties can be established.
(Eglises d’Asie, July 1)
— By Jean-François Mayer
Greek Orthodox crisis straining Middle Eastern peace?
Intensifying conflict in the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem could jeopardize a Middle East peace accord, as well as strengthen Arab nationalism in Orthodox churches in the region, reports The Tablet magazine (June 25).
Much of the recent turmoil stems from the allegations that Patriarch Irineos had been selling off valuable parcels of land and property belonging to the patriarchate of Jerusalem. That the buyers of these properties have been Jewish settlers seeking to reclaim the ancient Christian section of the city has outraged Orthodox and other churches, writes Victoria Clark. Israeli settlers have long focused on buying properties in the Old City of Jerusalem as a way to create “facts on the ground” before any final peace settlement is drawn up.
Even though Irineos was ousted in May by fellow bishops, the situation still has implications for the “larger struggle that Israelis and Palestinians are waging over land in the Old City sacred to Islam.” The expulsion of Irineos has also fed a growing Arab nationalist movement in the Greek Orthodox Church.
The 200,000-strong Orthodox community in Israel and Palestine has long argued that its largely Arab membership has been excluded from positions of leadership reserved for Greeks. Although Orthodox leaders in Greece hold the power, in the current shuffle, the Arabs are pressing for Arab archbishops and 50 percent Arab membership in the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcre, an influential group of senior clergy.
Current Research: July 2005
01: Evolutionary theory is met with disfavor by the registered voters in the state of Kansas, the epicenter of a national controversy on the teaching of science and religion in the public schools.
The poll, conducted in the mid June by The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle, asked 625 registered voters what they think about the teachings of evolution in public schools. One-fourth of them believe that evolution is the sole theory that should be taught in public schools, while 31 percent think that “theories other than evolution should be offered;” and 24 percent say that evolutionary theory should be allowed to be criticized.
The Kansas Board of Education has draw attention by its controversial decision in 1999 to restrict teaching evolutionary theory in the public schools, and to eliminating evolution and the Big Bang theory from the standard tests offered by the state.
The board literally mandated the teaching of evolutionary theory in 2001, after having received wide criticism from outside of the state. The aforementioned poll reveals that 39 percent of Kansas residents think that creationism best describes the origin of life, and 19 percent support “Intelligent design” (evolution which allows the interventions of a designer to best explain the complexity of the universe), while 26 percent chose evolutionary theory.
The State Board of Education is again reviewing the science curriculum of public schools, and will probably vote on the issue in August.
— By Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher.
02: There has been a sharp increase in spirituality and belief among young Seventh Day Adventists over the past 10 years, although their identification with their denomination has weakened, according to a recent survey.
The independent Adventist magazine Spectrum (Spring) cites a study of young people in Adventists schools, grade six through twelve, known as ValueGenesis, conducted in 2000, which replicated a 1990 survey. Respondents claiming a faith based on a relationship to Christ that has played a major role in their lives increased markedly; ten years ago, about half of the youth responded positively to this view, while 10 years later more than half (58 percent) gave the same answer.
Personal spirituality increased even more: 73 percent reported praying once a day, while 10 years ago, only 53 percent prayed at least once a day. There was also an overall decrease in the importance assigned to being Adventist. The percentage claiming an Adventist identity is not important has grown from nine percent to 26 percent.
(Spectrum, P.O. Box 619047, Roseville, CA 95661-9047)
03: There are strong variations in belief in God across European countries, while a new type of religiosity associated with a vaguer concept of God is developing in several countries, according to a report based on a survey conducted in January-February 2005 and released in June by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer.
This research on European attitudes relates to social values, science and technology of the 25 European Union member states, the candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey) as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Fifty-two percent of EU citizens believe in God, 27 percent in “some sort of spirit life or force”, while 18 percent have no such beliefs. However, there are strong variations across countries–95 percent of the citizens of Malta and Turkey, and 90 percent of the citizens of Cyprus and Romania, believe in God. Percentages are also very high in Greece (81 percent), Portugal (81 percent), Poland (80 percent), Italy (74 percent) and Ireland (73 percent).
At the other end, only 18 percent of the Estonians, 19 percent of the Czechs, and 23 percent of the Swedes believe in God. On average, females are more likely to believe in God, as well as the older age groups and less-educated people. However, people with a higher level of education have also more philosophical concerns. People whose upbringing was strict (54 percent) are more likely to believe in God than those brought up in a household without rules (39 percent).
Beside marked differences across Europe, one should note the strength of religious beliefs in some of the post-Communist countries and the development of a new kind of religiosity characterized by the belief that “there is some sort of spirit or life force”: in all countries except Germany and France; this intermediate group is more numerous than the percentage of self-described atheists.
(The Eurobarometer reports are available as PDF files from:http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/index_en.htm)
— By Jean-François Mayer
04: The number of Catholics have been growing in Korea, where they now make 9.3 percent of the population.
Korea is the third-largest Asian country regarding its percentage of Catholics, after East Timor and the Philippines. However, reports the French bimonthly Eglises d’Asie (July 1), Catholic leaders in Korea are paying close attention to the number of non-practicing Catholics. While their percentage has only slightly grown in comparison to 2003, they now make up 36 percent of the Korean Catholic population.
(Eglises d’Asie, MEP, 128 rue du Bac, 75007 Paris, France – http://www.mepasie.org)
— By Jean-François Mayer
The ‘New Paradigm’ factor in missions
The model of congregations partnering with each other to plant churches around the world rather than working through mission agencies has become popular with such “new paradigm” churches as the Vineyard Fellowship.
The charismatic Vineyard churches have pioneered in building decentralized networks of churches that avoid many denominational trappings, and increasingly these congregations are interested in mission work, reports Cutting Edge (Spring), a Vineyard publication. The usual model has been for churches to support denominational or parachurch mission agencie, but in the last ten years…as the Vineyard began to grow in size and momentum, it was debated: whether to develop a “sending organization” or rethink the church’s role in missions.
The new strategy of mission partnerships is seen when a group of congregations (not necessarily in close proximity) join together to intentionally plant churches in other areas of the world. “Sometimes churches divvy up responsibilities (such as communications or finances); other times, they all share equally in the responsibilities,” writes Jason Chatraw.
Under this new model, missionary involvement is no longer an isolated ministry of a congregation but rather “becomes part of the very fabric of the church.” As in the U.S., the Vineyard partnerships vary according to their context. But many are interested in forming “micro-business enterprises,” as a way of working in development as well as ensuring that mission workers and pastors can be self-supporting early on in their work.
(Cutting Edge, http://www.vineyard.org)
Science, alternative spirituality embraced by Children’s books
A new genre of children’s books combines naturalistic science with alternative and Eastern philosophy and spirituality, reports the magazineWhat Is Enlightenment (June/August).
Such new children’s titles as “Born With A Bang,” and “All I See Is Part of Me,” represent “what must be the latest defensive tactic of `spiritual but not religious’ parents everywhere– inculcating children in the ways of Carl Sagan and Eastern philosophy before they even have a chance to learn about Noah’s Flood. Spanning epic tales of cosmic evolution and esoteric explanations of God, it is a genre that encompasses both scientific naturalism and nondual mysticism — usually seen as two opposing currents in the philosophical stream,” writes Tom Huston.
But these books all express visions of “universal Oneness” or “panentheism” and are clearly aligned in a fundamental aim to “awaken children to a sense of the sacred in the midst of a secular world.” Books such as “Becoming Me,” look at evolution from the vantage point of “consciousness,“ showing the process of evolution from God’s perspective, “as an enormous playing-with-possibilities.“
(What Is Enlightenment? P.O. Box 2360, Lenox, MA 01240)
Evangelical-Catholic partnerships stress ‘Mere Christianity’
The burgeoning Catholic-evangelical alliance has attracted attention due to both churches’ common activism on “culture war” and pro-life issues, but the partnerships are taking shape on other levels as well, write Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom in Books & Culture (http://www.Christianity today.com/bc/2005/004/1.10.html).
In reviewing evangelical-Catholic relations of the past few decades, the writers note that the evangelical camp is still strongly divided on such an alliance when it comes to reaching accord on matters of doctrine and practice. The documents produced by the group Evangelicals and Catholics Together have gradually touched on such key teachings as salvation, but they are still met with wariness by much of the evangelical rank-and-file,-as well as by scholars.
Noll and Nystrom locate a growing number of evangelical-Catholic partnerships (sponsored by evangelicals) that go beyond theological agreements and political alliances. First, there is the retrieval of ancient Christian practices, forms of prayer such as the lectio divina (a prayerful way of reading scripture) among evangelical spiritual writers, such as Richard Foster.
The notion of “mere Christianity,” that there is a common adherence to orthodox Christian teachings, drives new evangelical-Catholic projects such as the San Diego Christian Forum, drawing speakers from both traditions to address theological issues. The large evangelical campus organization, InterVarsity, has addressed Catholic-evangelical themes at its annual theological conference, holding a joint prayer meeting at its conclusion.
Partnerships on youth ministry, with the evangelical Young Life adapting its programs to Catholic settings, are more common. While missions have long been resistant to the evangelical-Catholic alliance, that is now changing. Such international parachurch ministries as Campus Crusade, Youth With A Mission, and World Vision have Catholic personnel and joint programs.
The phenomenon of evangelical missionaries teaming up with local Catholic churches may not be the norm, “but it has become so common in so many places as to demand deliberation, not on whether it should take place but on the protocols to govern such activity as it occurs,” the writers conclude.
Most popular Catholic websites tend toward conservatism
Although Catholics have a broad presence on the Internet, the most popular Catholic websites and services are highly orthodox, often with a conservative political slant, writes Jeffrey J. Guhin in America magazine (June 20-27).
The top five Catholic sites are Catholic Exchange, EWTN, Catholic Answers, Catholic Online and New Advent, according to a December, 2004 report from www.catholicrankings.com. Catholic Exchange’s goal is to be a “Yahoo for Catholics,” providing everything from e-mail to stock quotes. But much of the site is both “catechetical and conservative,” markedly so in doctrine, but also in politics.
Both the EWTN, launched by the Eternal Word Television Network, and Catholic Answers sites are also staunchly conservative. The latter group received a good deal of media coverage for its “Voting Guide for Serious Catholics,” which listed five “non-negotiable” issues Catholics must consider in the 2004 elections. Like Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online is a Web portal offering a variety of services, but it also has a political action arm, Your Catholic Voice, which espouses both conservative (anti-gay marriage) and liberal positions (the state’s role in social justice).
The fifth site, New Advent, functions as a Catholic encyclopedia, but its reliance on pre-Vatican II texts (such as on the non-validity of Judaism) has proven controversial. Guhin adds that the greater popularity of these conservative sites (and many more like them) as compared to more liberal sites runs against the general rule that Internet users are generally more liberal than the general population ( for instance, the Democratic National Committee’s Website does far better than the Republicans’).
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
Christian-Muslim dialogue raising new questions in Europe
It is becoming more difficult for the churches to remain at the forefront of dialogue with Islam in the West, according to a recent, unpublished report. From May 18 to May 21, the 25th meeting of the “Journées d’Arras” took place in Moscow.
The name “Journées d’Arras” refers to a French town in which a group originally gathered upon invitation of the local French catholic bishop 25 years ago. The unofficial group (participants come on their own, not as delegates of any church) deals with Muslim-Christian relations in Europe. A copy of the unpublished report (in French) of the May 2005 meeting made available to RW observes an increasing polarization at several levels around Islam in Europe.
This polarization also occurs within the Muslim community. There are Muslims who would like to reproduce Islam in Europe as it is found in their home countries; Muslims who would like to see a type of Euro-Islam (often “Arabized”); and Muslims who reject Europe and its values. The time does not yet seem ripe for Muslims in European countries to accept being represented by one single body.
Where there is an “official Islam” (for instance, in Austria, where Islam has been recognized as a religion for a century), it has to compete with a variety of other Muslim groups not under its control. European societies and churches are growing increasingly impatient toward very conservative imams and a lack of self-critical evaluation. But the report emphasizes that established mosques only represent a minority of Muslims in Europe. According to data gathered in several European countries, most Muslims do not visit mosques frequently.
A growing number of Muslims seem more interested in engaging in a dialogue with “the West” rather than with Christianity. Civil authorities are increasingly playing a key role in dialogue with Muslims, while the role of churches is becoming less significant. However, the report also sees interest in sustaining and intensifying dialogue as religious communities are all challenged by a secularized environment. Multi-religious” facilities are being established in public buildings (jails, hospitals…) that require a coordination between different religious bodies.
Tensions and controversies also offer new opportunities for dialogue. For instance, in the Netherlands, following the murder of Theo Van Gogh and the heated debate on Islam which it generated, one could see the creation of new groups for dialogue and visits of Christian parishes to local mosques. All this indicates that religious bodies can contribute to deflecting interfaith tensions.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)