In This Issue
- On/File: June 2002
- Findings & Footnotes: June 2002
- Religious minorities still repressed in Afghanistan
- Muslims in France: Thriving, but no unity in sight
- Current Research: June 2002
- Hispanic growth spurs parish competition, sharing
- Home ownership moves on to church agenda
- Dallas — another evangelical Vatican?
- Mormon public image mainstreamed after olympics?
- Chinese-American evangelicals take on life issues
- Purity, extreme faith drawing youth
- Anti-Catholicism in unexpected places
01: Interfaith Power and Light groups are being established across the U.S., in the attempt to convince congregations to adopt “green” or renewable energy sources and warn them about global warming.
The groups are a spin-off of the Episcopal Power and Light movement started five years ago to make the Episcopal Church a zero-emissions entity by powering every house of worship with “green energy.” Founders Rev. Sally Bingham and Steve MacAusland started the IPL groups to bring the message to congregations from Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths. There are now IPL groups in several states with fairly diverse participation; the California IPL includes the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento to the Southern California Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
The IPL asks participating congregations to sign a covenant to support the movement’s mission, including conducting an energy audit of their buildings, contributing to a wind turbine fund, and educating congregants about global warming.
(Source: Earthlight, Spring; for more information on the IPL go to: http://www.theregenerationproject.org)
01: Historians do not only look at the past, but at the future as well — a fact illustrated by Philip Jenkins’ new book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, $28).
According to Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, the face of Christianity is changing and, in the 21st century, it will no longer center around the West: the center of gravity of Christianity is shifting southwards, and this trend will continue and grow, in part due to new demographic realities. Jenkins rightly emphasizes that concepts such as “the Third World” or “the South” actually cover very diverse cultural situations and historical experiences.
However, in general, the “next Christendom” that is already vibrant in the South can be expected to be more conservative both on theological and moral issues. And this will have an impact in the West as well: in Great Britain, at the end of the 21st century, White people will be a minority.
The developments in the South might however also lead to serious conflicts, especially between Muslims and Christians. In the meantime, for readers living in the West, Jenkins’ book is a refreshing contribution which warns against projecting Western realities when attempting to imagine the future. What remains to be seen are still unknown changes: for instance, will Pentecostalism (the fastest growing expression of Christianity) remain the same with third or fourth generation members in 50 years?
And will technological developments such as the Internet — which Jenkins does not take into consideration — also contribute to unexpected turns? Historians can indeed look at the future, but prophecy is more difficult.
— By Jean-François Mayer
02: The Future of Religious Colleges (Eerdmans, $30), edited by Paul J. Dovre, provides a wide range of analyses on how these institutions of higher education walk the tightrope in maintaining their Christian identities while providing quality education and participating in mainstream intellectual discourse.
The book’s 20 chapters suggests that concerns about maintaining a distinct identity in these colleges trouble a wide range of churches–from the more familiar struggles in Roman Catholicism to the evangelical Church of the Nazarene. A theme running through the book is how the different traditions each provide different philosophies and resources for higher education.
Particularly interesting is Mark Noll’s overview of religious colleges that includes a section on the neglected topic of evangelical colleges burgeoning outside the U.S.) and a chapter on the little known but vast network of black United Methodist colleges. These colleges are somewhat unique in mainline Protestantism, as they are undergoing revitalization and recommitment in support by their denomination.
The fall of the Taliban has done little to end religious discrimination against minorities in Afghanistan.
The Boston Globe (May 6) reports that official government persecution, such as the wearing of colored badges to identify minorities as either Hindu or Sikh (the two largest minorities in Afghanistan), ended when the Taliban was defeated four months ago. But Muslims still are not allowed any education, access to government jobs, seats on the commission setting rules for electing the new government, or protection from warlords who seized their property.
The strict law-and-order atmosphere of the Taliban rule kept violent attacks against Hindus and Sikhs at bay; now local extremists have burned down homes and businesses. While other ethnic groups have received relief, the Hindus and Sikhs have largely been bypassed and they are too poor to flee the country, reports Indira Lakshmanan.
Because of their small numbers and similar faiths, the Hindu and Sikh communities have merged, sharing temples and residential compounds. They also hide distinctive dress that might bring them unwanted attention.
A recent conference of French Muslims reveals that this group is increasingly pressing for mainstream acceptance while experiencing divisions within their own ranks.
In early May about 75,000 people — the highest number ever — visited the annual gathering of Muslims in France near Paris. There are today some 17 million Muslims in Western Europe, possibly more than 5 million of them living in France. An increasing number of these are second or third generation residents, holding French citizenship.
While their parents and grandparents had not planned to stay in France for life, they now see it as their home. Especially among younger people, French is increasingly used as the main language of communication. Moreover, Muslim organizations represented at the gathering strongly insisted on the compatibility between their Muslim faith and French political order. There was an obvious concern to show that Muslims want to become citizens like other immigrants. Yet the wider Muslim world was not lost from sight; the Palestinian issue was present everywhere.
The gathering offered several indications of the vitality of Islam in France. One of them was the dozens of new books published by French Muslim publishing houses since the beginning of the year. The thirst for a better knowledge of Islam can also be seen in the creation of several institutes teaching Islam (often in the form of week-end courses) over the past ten years. The increasing number of girls wearing the Islamic scarf — in a country where this is opposed in the public school system — represents as well an affirmation of Muslim identity.
Le Monde newspaper (May 12-13) reports that research by two French sociologists finds that Islam has become the primary form of identity among young French Muslims, though this does not necessarily involve a strong Islamic practice or knowledge. Worth noticing too is the growth of Muslim student associations: the Etudiants Musulmans de France (Muslim Students of France), with branches in a dozen French universities, has seen a marked increase in the percentage of votes received at student elections (around 7 percent at the national level at the last elections of student representatives).
However, Islam is still far from presenting a united front in France. The Union of Islamic Organizations in France — which organized the gathering — has been leading an effort for more unity and consultation among Muslims. Elections of a representative body of Muslims who could function as partners in discussions with French political authorities was postponed twice (once not to interfere with French legislative elections), with no new date being set at the time of writing this report.
The Great Mosque of Paris and some other Muslim institutions in France consider the elections as premature and claim that “fundamentalist” groups could take advantages of those elections. The Union is seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, while the Great Mosque of Paris is said to maintain good relations with authorities in Muslim countries such as Algeria.
The rivalry between different tendencies in Islam is complicated by the interference of foreign powers as well as of French political interests. However, it is highly likely that considerable changes will take place among French Muslims in the years to come, possibly playing a crucial role in the emergence of what some have called a Euro-Islam.”
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and director of The Website Religioscope, http://www.religioscope
01: An analysis of recent surveys showing a sharp rise in unchurched Americans during the 1990s reveals more of a disenchantment toward churches’ involvement in politics than a loss of faith.
The analysis, conducted by Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, cites surveys showing that the proportion of Americans who claimed no religious preference as rising from about seven percent in 1990 to about 14 percent by the end of the decade– a noteworthy change since the rate had remained unchanged for the previous two decades. Hout and Fischer, whose analysis is reported in the Los Angeles Times (May 18) and which first appeared in the American Sociological Review, find that the increase does not mean a growth in agnosticism and atheism.
Hout adds that “most people who have no church still are likely to say things like `God is real. Heaven and hell are real. Me and my kids will go there when we’re dead.” The authors hold that the alienation of moderates and liberals from conservative Christian political positions, such as on abortion and gay rights, and their influence in churches is a key factor for these individuals’defection from organized religion.
02: A demographic shift of Americans toward less mobility and a return to small towns is likely to encourage, at least indirectly, religious faith, reports American Enterprise magazine (April/May).
The magazine carries two articles that spot the trend of Americans and job growth gradually moving from the most densely settled regions of the country to less dense areas. Joel Kotkin writes that despite talk of an “urban renaissance” in the 1990s, the movement toward smaller communities continued during the last decade. For every three suburban households that moved to the city, five urban households departed for the suburbs, with the fastest growth rates in the most peripheral suburbs.
It is not only destinations that are changing, but the impulse to move itself, as the rate of Americans relocating has dropped from 20 percent in the 1970s to barely 15 percent today. Kotkin writes that these changes, especially the growth of “New Traditionalist”-style developments in some suburban areas and the revival of smaller towns, are likely to reverse the “nomadic characteristics of anonymity, restless careerism [and] lack of faith . . .”
In another article, demographer William Frey writes that the 2000 census suggests a “new kind of suburbanization” is taking place, as people chose to move to different states rather than to the established suburbs within large metropolitan areas. Although Americans are moving less, those relocating are going to Southeastern and Western states though not to the older fast-growing sunbelt destinations of California, Texas and Florida.
Rather, such states as Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee are attracting the new suburbanites. Frey adds that these newcomers–both whites and blacks — are drawn to the smaller towns and non-urban areas in such states because of their “old-fashioned values.” In their exodus from more cosmopolitan, liberal urban areas on the coasts, the participants in this new suburban flight are sharpening the differences — cultural, political, and demographic — between various U.S. states and regions.” [Frey doesn’t cite the religious factor — though his mention of traditional family values implies this influence. The tendency of newcomers to take on the regional characteristics of their new location also suggests that these exiles from more secular areas may become more religious.]
(American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036)
03: A new study on the Jesuits is raising controversy for its findings showing a fragmented and weakened religious order as well as for its methods of research.
The book, Passionate Uncertainty (University of California Press) by political scientists Eugene Bianchi and Peter McDonough, is based on interviews with over 400 Jesuits and former Jesuits, using “snowball” sampling, a method where interviewees are chosen through referrals from other subjects rather than randomly.
The authors find that the order is strongly divided by age, with older Jesuits seeing themselves as more liberal on moral/sexual issues and those younger taking more conservative positions. In fact, Bianchi and McDonough find that such questions as the celibate priesthood serve as hinge issues that determine these Jesuits’ faith in the credibility of the church and the priesthood. Those dissenting from the church have formed subcultures defined by sexual orientation and other causes, such as Eastern spiritual practices. The authors conclude that another major challenge for the Jesuits is that their unique ministries in the church are increasingly being filled by laypeople. making the priestly calling in such work redundant.
Critics in several publications, including the May 3 issue of Commonweal magazine, have claimed that Bianchi’s and McDonough’s lumping together current with former Jesuits in their sample does not allow an accurate portrayal of either group to emerge. They also charge that snowball sampling produces a homogeneous in-group not representative of the population. In the May 17 issue of Commonweal, McDonough responds to the criticisms, saying that snowball sampling is a respectable research method, particularly in the case of former Jesuits, “about whom virtually nothing is known.”
The author note that their samples lined up with available data on the geographic distribution of Jesuits and former Jesuits. Concerning combining current and former Jesuits in the study, McDonough notes that the method was justified in that the similarities “between generations, for Jesuits and former Jesuits alike, tend to be as strong as differences between Jesuits and former Jesuits.”
04: There is mounting anti-Muslim prejudice across the continent of Europe, according to a report by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
The British Guardian newspaper (May 24) reports that the Vienna-based organization found a significant increase in violent assault, abuse and attacks on Muslim property. Increases in such activity were also reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, where common incidents involved verbal abuse of women wearing the hijab or head covering.
The center cites the events of September 11 for the increase. The study, which covers the period from Sept. 11 to the end of 2001, singled out the British media for giving “disproportionate” coverage to “extremist Muslim groups and British Muslims who declared their willingness to join an Islamic war against the West,” while overlooking less sensationalist Muslim voices.
As Latino immigration becomes more diversified, Catholic parishes are experiencing competition and new borrowing between different Hispanic and other ethnic traditions.
The New York Times (May 27) reports that the large Mexican immigration in New York in recent years has particularly brought new devotional practices, such as veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to many parishes, creating turf skirmishes over sacred space. Parishes may hold special Masses for Guadalupe as well as celebrations for the Puerto Rican Virgins of Providence and the Filipino Baby Jesus. Along with the new rivalry, these changes are increasing borrowing and crossing of lines between the different traditions.
The current Religion & Ethics Newsweekly viewer’s guide, a publication of the TV program of the same name, reports that nationwide Latinos other than from Mexicans have gained an appreciation for Guadalupe and other apparitions and titles for “Our Lady.” The celebration of Guadalupe in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has been expanded to honor diverse Marian devotions.
Timothy Matovina of Notre Dame concludes that “Interest in each other’s feasts is a growth area for Latino Catholics and a challenge for the future.”
(Religion & Ethics Newsweekly‘s website is: http://www.pbs.org/religion)
Churches in cities are increasingly taking an active role in helping residents and members buy homes in their vicinity, reports the Christian Science Monitor (May 23).
The new involvement has as much to do with self-preservation as serving the community, writes Mark Sappenfield. “Years of blight and crime have taken a toll on the size and vitality of some urban congregations, as residents have fled to the suburbs. Yet for most churches, the work is also seen as a natural extension of their reason for being: to lift the communities they serve.”
The hands-on church activism in housing is one of the “untold stories of the past decade’s home ownership explosion.” The trend can be seen across the country. In San Francisco, a cooperative of five churches are teaming up to construct 20 town houses where a parking lot used to be. In Miami, St. Agnes Episcopal Church is putting up 85 single family homes. In New York, pastor and former U.S. Rep Floyd Flake has made a name for himself for his ambitious home building projects.
Less heralded programs involve congregations holding home-buying workshops, or helping to pool members’ resources and form cooperatives to attract lenders. Many of the churches active in these programs are located in the most blighted urban areas, as it is clear to them that unless the neighborhood is revitalized, the congregation stands little chance of survival. Lenders, developers and faith-based groups are convening in Los Angeles this fall in a national conference to examine how to better serve this growing niche.
American evangelicals have created several enclaves and headquarter cities in the last two decades. Wheaton, Illinois has long been viewed as the evangelical Vatican, but then in the 1980s many large parachurch organizations moved to Colorado Springs, and then some relocated again to Orlando, Florida.
Now Dallas is becoming a new center due to the proliferation of another distinctive evangelical institution — megachurches. Christianity Today (May 21) reports that the rapid growth and large size of such congregations as First Baptist Church in Dallas, Highland Park Presbyterian, the African-American Oak Cliff Bible Church and the Potter’s House; the presence of seminaries like Dallas Seminary and Criswell College, and the establishment of prominent parachurch groups all point to an evangelical groundswell with significant national influence.
The reasons for such a concentration of evangelicalism in Dallas are legion, but most scholars cite the entrepreneurial style of religion in the city as accelerating the evangelical growth. Although Dallas is still not recognized as an evangelical center in the way that Wheaton and Colorado Springs is, Darrel Bock of Dallas Seminary calls the city the “stealth capital of evangelicalism. It represents a conglomeration of several movements . . . if you actually measure the influence of the leaders, churches and institutions it has produced, it would certainly belong among those other towns.”
The Dallas Morning News (April 20) weighs in on the Dallas phenomenon and notes how non-evangelical churches — from the large gay and lesbian Cathedral of Hope to the thriving Hispanic Catholic cathedral and Temple Emanu-El, one of the five largest U.S. Reform Jewish synagogues, are also part of the unique Dallas scene. Church historian Bill Leonard thinks Dallas’ remaining “frontier culture” explains the religious growth.
“It remains a place where immigrants — and those may be immigrants from Michigan — come in and find religion as a way to connect with the culture.”
The media coverage of Mormonism that accompanied the reporting on the Olympics games in February “created a new picture of the LDS Church and its members that is unlikely to be ephemeral,” writes Jan Shipps in Religion in the News magazine (spring).
Shipps, an expert in Mormonism, writes that older images of Mormonism as a peculiar and exotic religion based in the American West and of “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as spooky clean-cut zealots whose main goal is making converts” were shattered during the two weeks of the games. LDS leaders took advantage of the Olympics to show the world that Mormonism could deal with pluralism, as seen in the decision of the church and its members not to proselytize tourists, and be seen as a mainstream religion.
The latter point was driven home by the church in a year-long campaign to show how Mormonism is “Christian but different,” and that it is a practical religion “specializing in health, longevity, and the quality of family relationships.” Shipps notes that the media openly accepted that view, with as much as 95 percent of the stories featuring Mormonism as either “positive or fair,” according to Michael Otterson, LDS media relations director.
(Religion in the News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
Chinese-American evangelicals are taking a more activist stance on such issues as abortion, challenging traditional ethnic attitudes that put a stigma on having handicapped children, reports Christianity Today magazine (May 21).
Writer Tony Carnes reports that until very recently, “Many Chinese-American churches have often avoided prolife activities as too political, worldly, or culturally embarrassing.” While ethnic Chinese embrace conservative values (only six percent of 1998 births among this group were to unmarried mothers), abortions have been more accepted while having children with birth defects are generally not.
Chinese Americans are beginning to speak out about their experiences of covering up abortions and abnormal births– sometimes resulting in sheltering handicapped children from society–and the resulting pain they have caused .These changing cultural attitudes are influencing the burgeoning Chinese American evangelical movement to take up the pro-life cause.
The conservative Focus on the Family has launched a Chinese family ministry. In Northern California, Sunset Chinese Baptist Church is the leading fund-raiser for an annual Walk For Life, while Chinese American evangelicals are active in the annual gathering of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
A youth movement based on “extreme” spirituality and religious practice and striving for purity in lifestyle is finding a following, according to two reports.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 11) reports that the drive for purity is part of many young people’s spiritual search. Until recently, purity often meant sexual purity, as upheld by the teen chastity movement (and such evangelical groups as True Love Waits). But Michele Melendez writes that purity is also “starting to mean unsoiled in all respects in an emerging, largely Christian movement toward straight-edged youth.” [Straight-edge is largely a secular youth movement of youth eschewing alcohol promiscuity, drugs, and meat-eating].
“Purity jams” are held by Christian teens where role playing, rapping and dancing take place. In the St. Petersburg, Fla., area, teens are taking the “Purity Power Pledge.” Cindy Collins, director of the New Orleans-based group Passion4Purity said that many in the sexual abstinence movement of the 1990s realized the focus was too narrow. Such issues as violence, prejudice, peer pressure and their relation to personal purity are addressed by groups cutting across the denominational divide.
Time magazine (May 13) reports that in the rising demand for spiritual books geared to teens, the association with extreme sports (such as snowboarding) is often played up. The Extreme for Jesus series, published by Thomas Nelson, is the largest brand of Christian teen books and is based on the premise that “church has been made too easy. Kids are looking for something they might fail at initially, but eventually get.”
Anti-Catholicism may still be around today, but such bias has not been a strong factor in shaping public attitudes and media coverage on the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
That was about the only agreement that RW could glean from most of the speakers at a late May conference at New York’s Fordham University. Early on, participants at the conference, sponsored by Fordham and Commonweal magazine, made the distinction between religious and cultural anti-Catholicism. Religious anti-Catholicism may have been strong half a century ago but no longer. Sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College noted, for instance, that the response of evangelicals to the sex abuse crisis was generally sympathetic with little Catholic-bashing.
Historian John McGreevy of Notre Dame University said that the current phenomenon of cultural anti-Catholicism has its roots in the anti-hierarchical and individualist tendencies of U.S. society. Sociologist-priest Andrew Greeley presented some new research indicating that anti-Catholic attitudes will be difficult to eradicate. Greeley conducted what he called a “pre-test” survey of 550 respondents shortly before the conference and found that preconceptions about Catholics “differ very little from those of the 19th century.”
More than half of the respondents believe Catholics worship idols (in their veneration of Mary and the saints). Greeley added that after years of educational and ecumenical efforts, non-Catholics still don’t understand the “analogical” imagination” of Catholicism, which sees God lurking in everyday reality Most surprising to Greeley was the finding that 52 percent agree that Catholics are “not permitted to think for themselves.” He concluded that anti-Catholicism may well be an intractable part of American life.
Several of the speakers singled out specific institutions as bastions of anti-Catholicism. For Greeley and others it is the New York Times. Kenneth Woodward, religion writer at Newsweek cited the New Republic and Vanity Fair magazines, as well as the New York Times’ “excessive [and] gleeful” coverage of the sex abuse scandal in the church in comparison to that of other newspapers. Woodward added that, for better or worse, the media will pay more attention to Catholicism than other religions.
Out of 750 articles Newsweek has published on religion, only four percent covered mainline Protestantism, with the overwhelming majority reporting onCatholic news and trends. William Donahue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is usually a sharp critic of the entertainment and news media’s anti-Catholicism. But he joined most of the others in applauding the media for their uncovering of the clergy sex abuse scandals. “The hard news coverage has been pretty good. It was put into context and was sympathetic,” Donohue said.
Mark Silk of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life said that a lot of the anti-Catholicism in society is perpetrated by Catholics themselves. Silk, a non-Catholic, cited the recent controversies over supposed anti-Catholic art as often pitting offending Catholic artists against offended Catholic protesters. He also challenged some of Greeley’s conclusions, noting that the Eastern Orthodox share a similar “analogical imagination” with Catholics yet hold some of the most virulent anti-Catholic attitudes today.
Silk said that such media as the New York Times tend not to go after big institutions that have the allegiance of many people who might be offended by such coverage. Much of the feeding frenzy among the media over the sexual abuse scandals was the result of newspapers “covering their own backyard” from out-of-towners trying to scoop them on the story.
Another dissenter from the anti-Catholic theme of the conference was Alan Wolfe (also a non-Catholic), who concluded that anti-Catholicism is likely to decrease because of the tolerance coming from the high rate of religious switching and intermarriage in the U.S. Add to that a general ignorance of religion and a concern to be non-judgmental among many Americans and it is likely that anti-Catholicism will continue to wane in the future, Wolfe added.