In This Issue
- On/File: July/August 2000
- Findings & Footnotes: July/August 2000
- Pakistan exports militant Islam through schools
- Evangelical-Catholics team up for outreach in France
- Current Research: July/August 2000
- Far right religions gravitating to Ozarks
- Any prayer beads will do for generic spirituality?
- Yogic battle between traditionalist and newcomers?
- Future science-religion dialogue less Western, de-Christianized?
- Court decision signals return of strict church-state separation
- Bush campaign takes on Catholic edge
- Bible courses center of new church-state rifts
01: Until now the co-housing movement has mainly consisted of secular and liberal religious people wishing to balance a sense of community with personal privacy [see February 99 RW].
But the Temescal Cohousing Project in Oakland, Calif., is one of the first evangelical Christian expressions of this new living arrangement. Like other co-housing projects, Temescal residents live in a multi-unit dwelling that includes a common building with a dining hall and meeting space. The project grew out of the Rockbridge United Methodist Church when several members wanted a “living faith community” that brought members together and helped them serve their neighborhood. As of March, 2000 there are 23 residents in the project, which also includes a “transition home” for people coming off welfare.
(Source: Re:Generation Quarterly, Spring)
02: A movement known as 24-7 is catching on among Generation Xers seeking prayer in unconventional places.
Participants meet in designated rooms where they pray in shifts for a week or a month, asking God to bless their families, friends, heroes, and peers. Groups agree to pray around the clock, registering with the 24-7 web site, The site features testimonies of past events, inspirational stories, and prayer needs from around the world. There have been 24-7 prayer rooms in Australia, Ecuador, England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, and Wales.
24-7 prayer rooms aren’t just in churches. They are in skate parks, deserted buildings, farmhouses, even nightclubs. Participants sometimes paste written prayers, poems, artwork, and “spiritual graffiti” on the walls. An observer says the “extreme” nature of 24-7, with participants praying at 3 am in non-church settings, appeals to youth in much the same way as extreme sports and risky entertainment, such as raves. The movement was started by several British evangelical ministries, including Youth with a Mission.
(Source: Religion Today, June 16; www.24-7.com)
03: The Network of Mainstream Baptists is the most recent attempt of moderates” in the Southern Baptist Convention to resist the conservative ascendancy in the denomination.
The network, more than the moderate organizations such as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, seeks to actively prevent “fundamentalists” (or conservatives) from gaining complete control of SBC life rather than building alternative institutions. The network will educate others regarding Baptist issues, “get votes at state conventions” to prevent conservative control, and stress the Baptist hallmarks of the autonomy of the local church, priesthood of all believers, ethical decision-making, and separation of church and state.
(Source: Baptists Today, June)
04: A major source of concern between the academic study of religion and the world of applied public policy is that the former’s contributions have seemed too vague and disconnected from the realities of improving people’s lives through its scholarship.
A program at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, seeks to bridge the gap through the use of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholarship aimed at finding common ground on social policy questions concerning the environment, poverty and justice. This has led to policy proposals for renewed health care, for preserving native Aboriginal fishing rights, and in improving the rehabilitative education programs for offenders in public prisons.
In the program, religious studies scholars work together on a day- by-day basis with researchers in other fields; the humanities, the social sciences, and natural sciences.
— By Erling Jorstad
(Source: Studies in Religion, Winter, 1999)
01: Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way (Rutgers University Press, $20) by Kimon Howland Sargeant, is one of the first sociological treatments of the megachurch-seeker service phenomenon.
Sargeant focuses on the congregations and work of the Willow Creek Association (WCA), the seeker church organization started by the pioneer megachurch Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. Based on surveys of pastors connected to WCA using seeker sensitive worship — services that use contemporary forms of music and other elements that are seen as culturally relevant — he finds that such congregations do not attract their target audience of the unchurched, non-believing seekers as much as Christians with loose institutional ties.
Some of Sargeant’s other findings might be expected; both the pastors and congregants see little value in traditional denominational doctrine and identity. He finds that the longer seeker-based churches and pastors are involved with Willow Creek, the less denominational attachments they have, even as the WCA takes on the traits of a “postmodern” decentralized denomination.
Sargeant concludes that the blend of innovation and evangelical content will give these churches a place in the future but at the same time makes them vulnerabe to the whims of a feelings-based, therapeutic culture.
02: While there are renewal groups in every mainline Protestant denomination, the diversity and number of these conservative caucuses and fellowships pressing for evangelical renewal in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is unique.
The new book A Moment to Decide (Institute for Democracy Studies, 177 E. 87th St., New York, NY 10128, $25), by Lewis C. Daly, looks at evangelical Presbyterian renewal and reform efforts from a strong left-of-center perspective. Yet the fact that the book has been published in response to the “threat” of these groups attests to their influence in mainline Presbyterianism.
The book provides interesting detailed histories and profiles of such renewal groups as the Presbyterian Lay Committee, the Presbyterian Coalition, Presbyterians for Renewal, and the Presbyterian Forum and finds that social and political issues figure highly in their work; several of their leaders are involved in New Right-Republican political causes. The study tends to view any conservative association and activity by these groups (from pro-life activism’s to missions) as a distinct pattern of “right wing mobilization against democratic pluralism and social justice in the United States.”
Readers may also question the book’s tendency to view even moderate renewal efforts (the book does a better job at pointing out the differences in strategy and emphasis among these groups) as providing “mainstream political cover for extreme political goals.” The institute plans to issue similar studies on the influential renewal movements in the United Methodist and Episcopal churches.
03: A different perspective on evangelicals and their political impact is found in the book Christian America: What Evangelicals Really Want (University of California Press, $27.50) by Christian Smith.
He eschews focusing on the pronouncements and politics of Christian right leaders and opinion polls and instead turns to in-depth interviews with evangelicals to gauge the strength and diversity of the movement. The University of North Carolina sociologist looks at how evangelicals are divided among an array of subgroups and traditions that do not lend themselves to monolithic social or theological positions. For instance on political involvement, most evangelical interviewees showed themselves divided between acknowledging the importance of political involvement while opposing the use of government coercion to achieve Christian-based measures.
The same ambivalence was found on matters of education and gender issues; respondents blended equality themes with those of headship (the spiritual leadership of husbands in marriage), especially when it comes to women’s roles outside the home.
Pakistan is the new leader in exporting Militant Islam around the world, largely through its network of Koran-based schools, reports the New York Times Magazine (June 25).
Some of the 100,000 or so schools, known as madrasas, are local efforts, while others are sponsored by religious parties and mujahdeen groups “waging jihad (struggle) against India in the disputed province of Kashmir,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg. From conducting interviews, attending classes at a madrasa and talking with Pakistanis at all social levels, Goldberg states that the world capitals — Washington,, Moscow, Jerusalem, New Delhi, and Jerusalem err grievously if they continue to think that the motivating factor behind Pakistani terrorism around the globe comes solely from the religious teachings of Islam.
Rather, the author concludes, the tens of thousands of young Pakistani males now being trained in these schools are being molded into warriors for future conflict out of a blending of three influences and teachings.
First, most of the emotional quality to Pakistani opposition and militancy is actually anti-Semitic, believing a world wide Jewish conspiracy is aimed at destroying them; second, those now in the schools are “poor and impressionable boys kept entirely ignorant of the world . . .” being taught only that the Islamic faith requires military imperialism by war and by terrorism; and, third, Pakistani people glorify the atomic weapons in the possession of their leaders and are willing to risk a nuclear war in the area to see that their interpretation of Islamic teachings is extended throughout the Mideast.
Goldberg sees the Pakistan factor in the Middle East as being close to producing a destructive conflict of major proportions.
In a time of increasing government pressure on minority religions and churches, evangelicals in France are finding growth through cooperation in outreach with Catholics.
The British charismatic magazine Renewal (June) reports that evangelical churches are facing restrictions and harassment under a new government effort to monitor groups that are considered cults. Churches that have operated for decades face disruptions and restrictions in using meeting space and other forms of public discrimination, writes Catherine Butcher. A group of churches along Britain’s southern coast have been particularly active in organizing prayer groups and engaging in evangelism in this new environment.
British churches known as c:net congregations have been in the forefront of encouraging a new model of evangelism based on working with Catholics as allies in mission, Butcher writes. These Christians hold conferences and prayer groups that include both Catholics and Protestants. Many of these prayer groups, which are charismatic, are viewed as embryonic churches. Other events, such as Embrace Nos Coeurs (“Light the Fire”) bring together Catholics and Protestants with the goal of demonstrating unity and praying for revival.
The Alpha courses — introductory courses in charismatic Christianity — that have been so popular in Britain and other parts of the world are also finding a following in France. In the last 10 months, 3,000 French people, including 500 priests, have been trained to run Alpha courses.
(Renewal, Broadway House, The Broadway, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 1HQ England)
01: On the hotly debated subject of whether Catholicism among the laity is in serious decline in vitality, numbers, and appeal, new research suggests a more positive reading of the situation.
According to an analysis of Fr. Joseph Claude Harris in America magazine (June 3-10), the church’s membership rolls are rising at the rate of the general population growth. Catholics continue to observe the major events in life by participating through the sacraments. And, thirdly, much of the growth is due to the Hispanic influx in the last several years, a feature which the author says is adding new life and strength to the faith.
While American mainline Protestants lost 22 percent of their members between l970 and l997, Catholic rolls increased some 27.7 percent in those years. Adult Catholics now account for 53 percent of the total combined number of Catholics and members of the l8 largest Protestant denominations. Sacramental participation has increased slightly more than the general population rise. Infant baptisms are on the increase, as is the number of baptized teens who stay active in the churches after confirmation.
On average, the author cites, some 59 percent of the baptismal group participated in confirmation services, a figure higher than the common wisdom concerning teen dropouts would allow. On Hispanics, Harris agrees that the great majority of those in the United States are ‘culturally’ Catholic; the huge numbers joining independent Protestant bodies attests to that.
However, recent studies show a clear increase of Latinos in southern California congregations, a trend the experts see as indicating a new resurgence of loyalty to Catholicism among this bellwether group.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
— By Erling Jorstad
02: More white teen-age malesboys are becoming Christians and taking more conservative social attitudes on issues such as abortion.
A study published in Family Planning Perspectives found that 24 percent of males age 15-19 agreed in 1995 that it was all right for a woman to have an abortion “for any reason,” down from 37 percent in 1988, reports ReligionToday.com (June 27).
At the same time, more whites identified themselves as born-again Christians, according to the study. The proportion of young white males identifying themselves as born-again increased from 18 percent to 24 percent, while the proportion saying that religion was very important to them increased from 28 percent to 34 percent from 1988 to 1995.
03: The welfare reform provision known as Charitable Choice has created a “notable, albeit modest, number of new financial relationships between religious social service providers and government,” writes researcher Amy Sherman in American Enterprise magazine (June).
Sherman conducted a survey of nine states (CA, IL, MA, MI, MS, NY, TX, VA, WI) and identified 84 new partnerships involved in helping welfare recipients move into jobs. Three-quarters of these projects involved a direct financial relationship between a government entity (such as a state or county department of human services) and a religious organization.
The other quarter involved indirect funding mechanisms (usually government contracts with non-profit groups). Sherman writes that even these small numbers of initiatives are significant for two reasons. First, they represent hundreds of congregations and engage the lives of thousands of welfare recipients. “Second, over half of these financial relationships involve churches and religious bodies that have not previously cooperated formally with government — including some evangelical Protestant organizations historically worried that government collaboration would squelch their religious identity. The upshot is that welfare recipients in some localities now have a more diverse array of service providers to choose from.”
(American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036)
04: Evangelical Christians are just as likely to use modern entertainment and communication technology — from Cable television to cell phones — as non-evangelicals, according to a recent poll from the Barna Research Group.
A news release from Barna (June 12) finds that in evaluating the rate of adoption of modern technology of ten electronic and equipment items, “there was not a statistically significant difference in ownership levels” between evangelicals–or born again Christians–and non-born again. Seventy-one percent of born again Christians and 74 percent of non-born again have cable TV; 94 percent of evangelicals and 93 percent have VCRs, 59 percent of evangelicals and 57 percent of non-evangelicals have cell phones; and 48 percent of evangelicals and 52 percent of non-evangelicals have Internet access.
The Ozark mountain region straddling Missouri and Arkansas has become a Mecca for far right religious groups seeking privacy, reports the Detroit News (May 28).
While the Pacific Northwest has long been thought to draw white supremacist and far-right religious groups, the Ozarks’ isolation, Bible belt identity, and relative freedom from law enforcement appeals to these groups. One such group in the news was the Our Savior’s Church, an anti-Semitic congregation in Gainesville, Mo., whose pastor Gordon Winrod was charged with kidnapping his grandchildren, believing their fathers were Jewish.
Both Springfield and Branson, Missouri have seen national and regional white supremacy conventions in the last year. Last February, some 225 people gathered in Branson for the third annual convention of the Identity group, Songs for His People. Devin Burghart of a Chicago-based Identity watchdog group says the Bible belt location draws these groups.
“These guys come strolling along singing songs and holding Bibles, which allow them a certain degree of legitimacy in the area.”
Prayer Beads are finding widespread appeal, even apart from the spiritual traditions in which they originated, reports the New Age Journal (July/August).
New interpretations of beads used for mediation and prayer, such as Rosaries and Buddhist and Muslim prayer beads, “are becoming popular. Web sites and workshops are springing up. Both artists and spiritual practitioners are even creating large prayer-bead wall hangings,” writes Maggie Oman Shannon. Some of the beads are of the traditional variety found in Catholic or Eastern religious traditions, while others are original creations or use features from a variety of traditions.
Most use them for prayer and meditation, serving as a connection to and reminder of God. Others believe that the beads carry a spiritual value in themselves in a somewhat similar to crystals. “The vibrations of prayer remain in the beads and I am able to retrieve energy from them when I desire,” says one practitioner.
(New Age Journal, 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472)
The popularity and commercialization of yoga has led to conflict among leaders of this spiritual practice, with those of the “old school” claiming that the new wave of practitioners are lacking in authenticity, reports the Wall Street Journal (June 23).
Yoga’s appeal has spread from its countercultural following after it was introduced in the U.S. in the 1950s to a mainstream popular fad driven by celebrities and, more recently, Madison Avenue. One result of this popularity has been conflict among leading yogis, who are celebrities in their own right.
Bikram Choudhury of Beverly Hills, who calls himself the “guru to the stars,” with initiates ranging from Richard Nixon to Magic Johnson, loudly denounces his colleagues. He says that “yoga is crucified in America.” His scorn is often directed at his protege Baron Baptiste, a Cambridge, Mass.-based yogi who created “power yoga,” which blends aerobic exercises with the spiritual practice. For his part, Baptiste claims that he is making yoga relevant to people who can’t join ashrams.
“The culture clash goes both ways. Just as yoga traditionalists deride the cell-phone crowd, mainstream devotees can easily get freaked out by yoga’s more mystical side,” writes Andrea Petersen. Mainstream practitioners are put off my the long hours of practice and chanting to the idols that the traditionalists practice. Still, Sivananda yoga, the original school imported to the U.S. in the 1950s, is among the largest yoga movements, with more than 31 centers and 12,000 teachers around the world.
The expanding dialogue between science and religion is still in its infancy and will likely include more non-Western religious concepts and involvement in the near future, writes Kevin Sharpe in Science & Spirit magazine (May/June).
Sharpe, a proponent of challenging traditional religious views with scientific insights, sees signs of non-Western interest in the dialogue between these two fields, as.science and religion conferences sprouting up in Africa drawing many Third World participants, as well as in Alaska for the Innuit people. This new participation will shift the approach away from trying to understand or spell out received theological doctrines in the light of science (what he calls “apologetics”) to one that “may not emphasize as strongly the separation between God and the world ([such questions] already differ between western and Orthodox Christian perspectives).”
The Internet will likely accelerate the encounter between believers and scientists from other cultures. The apologetic approach to science and religion will “gradually die as the pressure to defend and explain received doctrine wanes. The barriers upholding the unquestioned power of religion will come down, replaced by an acceptance of a questioning attitude, with ever-deeper delving into the historical and political backgrounds of `holy traditions,’” writes Sharpe.
He adds that the “emphasis on wholeness, so characteristic of the new approaches to spirituality, will continue to increase in importance in the science-religion dialogue and will be closely tied to environmentalism.” On the other side of the dialogue, science will change as “new scientific methods such as journaling, case study reporting, and biographical accounts will present a more emotional or subjective side to science. The science and religion field will gradually move out of the “academic and physical sciences niche and into the realm of politics and the social sciences,” particularly as government agencies will increasingly see how “religious beliefs have links to the causes of poverty and social unrest. It will change social science because it provides scientific reasons why certain behaviors occur — biological pressures not moral depravity.”
(Science & Spirit, P.O. Box 1145, Concord, NH 03302-1145)
In one of its most far-reaching decisions on church-state relations in over a decade, the Supreme Court’s decision to disallow the student-led prayers before football games is being interpreted as a major victory for holding to strict separationism.
For several years, the “accomodationist” position of allowing more cooperation between organized religion and the state seemed to be gaining ground in high court rulings. But the Texas decision, as understood by both its supporters and its critics, is clearly a return to the strict separationism of the l970s concerning school prayers and biblical readings.
Across the nation, the leading media interpreters such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, as reported on Christianityonline.com pointed out the timing of the decision was a reaffirmation of the more traditional position that prayers should be the personal choice of individuals, removed from multi-religious audiences, and freed of any suggestion of coercion of non-participants. On the other hand, conservative media commentators argued with Chief Justice William Rehnquist that the decision “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”
Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council argued that the decision “proves a majority of the court is at war with the religious tradition of America.” The American Center for Law and Justice called the decision “censorship.” The Freedom Forum offered the conclusion that church/state relations in 2000 are now back to where they had been at least forty years ago. All commentators agreed the Court would not likely take up another case of this far-reaching magnitude in the near future.
— By RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad
Despite criticism for being tolerant of anti-Catholicism, George W. Bush has gathered a small group of Catholic advisors around his campaign and readily employs Catholic terminology in his discussions of social policy, reports the New Republic magazine (June 5).
Bush’s speech to fundamentalist Bob Jones University last spring led to wide criticism that he took a hands-off position when it came to that school’s anti-Catholic teachings. But Franklin Foer reports that even Bush’s evangelical mentor Marvin Olasky, who formulated the concept of “compassionate conservatism,” says he took many of his ideas from Catholic social thought, particularly the idea of subsidiarity. This concept teaches that social problems are best understood and solved by the organizations and people closest to them. Subsidiarity has meant different things to different Catholics, but Bush is closely associated with the neoconservative version of this teaching.
Represented by such thinkers as Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel, this school of thought seeks to reconcile papal teachings with the free market and democracy, while arguing that church teachings provide a moral anchor in a consumerist society. In facing “pressure to shake his party’s reputation for cold-hearted libertarianism,” Bush incorporated Catholic themes even before the Bob Jones incident. In his first major stump speech last July, Bush invoked “solidarity” and the “common good, two phrases right from Catholic social teaching.
Around this time, key Bush advisor Karl Rove said that churchgoing Catholics would be this year’s “soccer moms — the essential swing voters to whom rhetoric must be tailored . . . Bush has explicitly rejected the `leave us alone’ libertarianism that is thought to drive away the socially conservative Catholics who voted for Ronald Reagan but against Bob Dole,” writes Foer.
Educators and special interest groups are increasingly in conflict about the role of teaching the Bible in public schools, reports the Washington Post (June 4).
While courses on the Bible are not yet widespread, they are growing in popularity, particularly in the southeastern U.S. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which is leading the push for such courses, reports that there are elective Bible classes in 116 school districts in 29 states. The issue of contention concerns how these classes are being taught — whether they teach about the Bible or from the Bible.
Much of the conflict can be seen in classes where students and teachers view the Bible teaching as a source of moral and spiritual wisdom and any critical views are discouraged. When this happens, groups pressing for church-state separation usually report such cases to school officials.
The National Bible Association and the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University issued a report on Bible teaching in the schools to prevent abuses, but observers point out that it is difficult to teach this subject within constitutional bounds (courses on the Bible as literature tend to have less problems than classes on the Bible as history). Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center says that “Most Bible electives being taught in the South right now are probably unconstitutional. There hasn’t been a strong tradition in most of these states of doing it right. Evangelicals don’t want kids to know there’s all this scholarly debate about things that they consider revealed truth.”
For their part, students and some teachers see the opposition to their classes as anti-Bible and anti-Christian sentiment. For this reason, there is fear of unwanted publicity for the schools involved in Bible teaching, as it may lead to these courses being shut down.