In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: June 2006
- Morocco’s women preachers against fundementalism
- Christians in developing countries target Da Vinci Code
- Polish Catholicism and the spirit of capitalism
- Catholics and Orthodox united against secularism?
- Dissidents move toward Russian Orthodox unity
- Current Research: June 2006
- Disaffection in the Orthodox church in America?
- African-American Muslims take up new role in Islam in US
- Home churches becoming an accepted alternative?
- Evangelical campuses friendly to social activism
- The eclectic and communal new age movement?
01: The changing nature of music in the churches is the theme of the Spring issue of Theology News & Notes, the magazine of Fuller Theological Seminary.
While much of its coverage–such as on “emergent” and hip hop services– has been reported elsewhere (including in these pages), the issue does discuss some recent developments. Roberta King notes that in the evangelical churches of North America there is a “growing trend for hymnals to include global songs and indigenous songs that arise out of the burgeoning churches in the Southern Hemisphere.“ Likewise, musical instruments, such as the West African djembe (hand drum), have become standard components of many contemporary worship bands.
She adds that the popular 1990s choral anthem from South Africa, Siyahamba, “launched many choirs into searching for additional anthems from the burgeoning church in the Southern Hemisphere.“ Another article reports that while organs have declined in use with the adoption of contemporary music, there has been a recent revival of organ music. An informal survey of church leaders and musicians finds that even megachurches with contemporary bands have made room for or even added organs. For more information, visit the magazine’s website, at:http://www.fuller.edu/news/pubs/tnn
02: Emergent or emerging churches, stressing a “postmodern” non-dogmatic ministry, blending contemporary and traditional liturgies, has become a worldwide phenomenon. The International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church devotes its March issue to documenting just how different these new models of congregational life are from conventional churches.
Part of the problem of sociologically describing and analyzing these churches is their intentionally fluid and experimental nature. Yet these churches have distinctive traits that are often replicated by church growth specialists and mainstream churches. The “post-evangelical” strain in these ministries is one such trait, with churches seeking an identity critical of the evangelical churches for their failure to address postmodern concerns.
An article on the Zero28 and ikon community in Northern Ireland displays such a critical stance toward the evangelical community for stressing personal morality over social justice. Sociologist Glaydys Ganiel suggests that the community has helped loosen oppositional evangelical identities and expand the focus of the churches beyond parochial Northern Irish concerns.
Another article surveys emerging church blogs and literature in the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand and finds a common theme of “deconversion,“ the turning away from a particular religious identity and the move toward a more ambivalent identity, though this journey can also be commercialized. For more information on this issue, visit the journal’s website at: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
03: The new interest and remaining ambivalence among the left about the influence of religion in politics are both captured in a special section in the winter issue of the socialist journal New Politics.
Harvey Cox is the most positive about a religion-left alliance, even as he is disillusioned by the growth of the religious right and the loss of traditional allies, such as liberal Jews and blacks, to more conservative causes (Israel and faith-based social services, respectively). Cox finds the most hope outside of the U.S, not so much looking to Latin America anymore, but to Asia, such as in the new peace activist stance of the Buddhist group Soka Gakkai. In the U.S., Cox sees the best chance of reviving a leftist religious movement on the labor union front. The Chicago-based Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is sponsored by a wide range of religious groups and is rebuilding the old alliance between religion and labor, according to Cox.
But the two other articles in the section demonstrate how leftists are far from leaving secularism behind. An article by increasingly popular French philosopher Michael Onfray seeks to revive the work of 17th century atheist priest and philosopher Jean Meslier and in the process shows Onfray’s own militantly anti-Christian atheism. The concluding article by Chris Rhoades Dykema considers the possibility of a left-religion rapprochement but rules against it. Dykema views evangelical commitment as “flighty, a distraction from material realities for desperate people,” while leftist influence has been squeezed out of Catholicism under conservative popes and “patriarchal monotheism.”
He concludes that, unlike during the Civil Rights and disarmament movements, today the left has little need for religion, which is “essentially. male-dominant, ascetic misogynist, and anti-democratic.” Anyway, according to Dykema, the changing family structure is an agent of inevitable secularization, making religion a non-issue.
For more information on this issue, write: New Politics, 155 W. 72 St., Rm. 402, New York, NY 10023.
In May, beside 150 male imams, 50 female preachers graduated in Morocco after a 12-month long training course. While only males will continue to act as imams (i.e. to lead congregational prayer), female preachers (murshidat or guides) will especially turn their efforts toward women and children.
They are expected to focus on poor classes in areas seen as a fertile ground for extremism, reports AFP (April 28). In the context of the fight against radical Islamic trends, female preachers will receive a monthly salary from the State. They will lead religious discussions as well as give lessons and provide moral support. Most of them are reported to hold university degrees beside their religious training (AKI, May 15).
The emergence of female preachers has received mixed reactions from Moroccan religious and political Islamist circles: some are positive toward the initiative, while others see it as contrary to Islam and bound to have only a limited impact. The initiative should be seen in a wider context than the mere fight against extremism: it also reflects a trend of women finding a larger public role in Moroccan civil society, reports BBC (May 4). King Mohammed VI had already given indications of his intent to encourage such developments: during Ramadan 2004, he had invited a female academic to preach on family issues to members of the royal court and of government, according to Neue Zuercher Zeitung, (May 30).– By Jean-Francois Mayer
The release of the Da Vinci Code did not cause much of an uproar in the U.S. or Europe, but the reaction and protests among Christians in the developing world were much stronger. The New York Times (May 21) reports that in the U.S., “many churches regarded the [film] as a threat, but chose to try to educate the wayward,” through websites, books (46 different titles) and podcasts.
In developing countries where Christianity is a minority (if rapidly growing) faith, the reaction was far more confrontational. In India, hunger strikes were staged, while the movie was banned in the Philippines and Pakistan and given a disclaimer in Thailand. Historian Phillip Jenkins says that the different attitude toward the Bible in the developing world may explain the more intense protests. “In this country, even if you’re a fundamentalist, reading a book is just reading a book, whether it’s John Grisham or the Bible.
If you’re reading a book in India, you’re probably the first generation to read, and the book has more of a sacred quality, the message carries more weight.”
Catholicism and capitalism have struck up a close relationship in Poland, thanks largely to American influence, reports The Tablet (May 20).
Jonathan Luxmoore and Jolanta Babiuch write that “freemarket, neoliberal ideology” has prevailed in ruling circles in the church, often providing a unique interpretation of papal encyclicals. The writers cite a recent report noting that U.S. free-market think-tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute have gained “significant opinion-forming friends and collaborators in the Polish church.” It was to this quarter that Polish Catholics turned after the fall of Communism as they sought a way to blend religious faith with private enterprise and capital accumulation.
Also behind the alliance is Fr. Maciej Zieba, head of Poland’s Dominican order, who, with Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin, has hosted such American neoconservative Catholic thinkers as Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel. The influence of these three Americans have been extensive, as they have regularly sponsored courses and study programs on the “Free Society” for Catholics in Poland, focusing on Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus. Luxmoore and Babiuch argue that efforts at working for social justice and ameliorating the effects of a declining economy have been stifled in the Polish church.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
Citing the Da Vinci Code as an example, Moscow Patriarch Alexy II lamented the “erosion of Christian identity in Europe” (Pravda, May 30). Alexy added: “We have complete mutual understanding with the Roman Catholic Church on these issues.” Indeed, some wonder if such cultural concerns might drive both Churches to find common ground in order to resist such trends: the current pope’s criticism of liberalism is appreciated in Russian Orthodox circles. For some time already, an influential and still young Russian Bishop, Hilarion Alfeyev (Bishop of Vienna and representative of the Russian Church to the European institutions in Brussels) has been advocating a “strategic alliance” between both churches in order to confront secularism.
In a chapter of a book newly published by the World Council of Churches,Orthodox Witness Today, Hilarion deplores the lack of any common Catholic-Orthodox forum. He would like the official representatives of both Churches “to elaborate a common position on all major social and ethical issues.” According to him, this would strengthen the impact of such positions. He writes that this alliance should form in Europe, since it is the continent most prone to deny its Christian heritage and where secularism takes its most aggressive forms. Moreover, he sees a numerical balance between Catholics and Orthodox in Europe, which is lacking elsewhere.
The head of the Department of External Relations of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Kirill, says that cooperation is “absolutely necessary,” according to an interview published in the magazine Inside the Vatican(May). But he prefers not to speak of an “alliance,” which he sees as being too political a term. Not only secular ideologies, but moral issues, such as the increasing acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, and pornography, might encourage both Churches to cooperate. But observers warn that deep-seated suspicions of the Vatican persist among Orthodox clergy and faithful. All analysts interviewed by Brian Whitmore for a Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty news report (May 29) doubt that there will be a significant breakthrough. Despite what Forum 18‘s Geraldine Fagan describes as “an alliance of convenience,” Russian Orthodox leaders are in no haste to see Benedict XVI visiting Moscow.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) is on the track toward reconciliation and unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, thus ending a 80 year old rift.
The decision was made at the All-Diaspora Council meeting of the ROCOR in San Francisco in May, which gathered representatives of dioceses and church-related organizations, both clergy and laity. Following the turmoil of the communist revolution and the emigration of a large number of Russians, ROCOR had been formed as a temporary administration of Russian bishops in exile, based upon provisions made by then Patriarch Tikhon. ROCOR’s founders had hoped to return some day to Russia and carefully kept all the traditions of the Russian Church. Following the fall of the Communist regime in Russia, the question of restoring links with Moscow soon emerged, since canonical justification for the continuation of a separate existence seemed to have disappeared. And an increasing number of newly-arrived Russians are now attending ROCOR parishes in the West.
Long-held suspicions do not disappear overnight, however. Some within ROCOR continued to consider the Russian Church as a “Soviet Church”. Moreover, moves by the Patriarchate in order to take control of ROCOR properties (e.g. in the Holy Land) gave rise to new questions about Moscow’s intents. Another point of contention was the fact that ROCOR accepted within its ranks some clergy and parishes within Russia. A few years ago, as then reported in RW (January 2002), a split took place within ROCOR over the issue of the rapprochement with Moscow, while negotiations with the Patriarchate were undertaken by the main ROCOR group (RW, June 2004)
Participants at the Council–the fourth meeting of its kind since 1921–held widely different views on the pace toward unity. However, following sometimes heated debates among the 134 delegates, a resolution was adopted nearly unanimously, expressing the hope for unity with the Russian Church “in the appropriate time” – thus leaving in fact the decision on the timing to the bishops. ROCOR would become a self-governing part of the Russian Church, with its own bishops and administrative structure. The resolution did not ask the Patriarchate to repent of its collaboration with the Soviet State, but it expressed a desire (though not making it a precondition for unity, since it was not one of the original issues) to see the Russian Church leave the World Council of Churches. Such a view is reported to be widely shared among Orthodox in Russia, but not by the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate.
While no date has yet been set by the bishops, it is expected that unity might be achieved soon, although persisting reluctance within some parishes and sectors of ROCOR will have to be dealt with in order to prevent a new schism. The move should be put into the wider context of adjustments in the Russian diaspora. Following a “clash of cultures” with the Department of External Relations and newly-arrived Russians, some parts of the Russian Diocese under the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain (which was developed largely as a missionary diocese) are currently making a move to switch jurisdiction to Constantinople. In Russia, decisions of the ROCOR Council and bishops seemed to be widely welcomed — and not only in church circles. Some observers have interpreted the move in strategic terms, for instance Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Fund think tank, claimed that church unification would “strengthen Russia’s international position,” reports Interfax (May 12).
(The documents of the Council are available on a bilingual website:http://www.sobor2006.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
01: The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in the U.S. caused little decline Mass attendance and contributions to parishes, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The study, based on 10 polls of self-identified Catholics from 2001 to 2005, and found minimal downturns in attendance and giving at the parish level. But the survey did find that contributions to annual diocesan fundraising campaigns have suffered significantly. An overwhelming majority of Catholics also said the crisis has hurt the church’s credibility on political and social issues.
02: Atheists continue to be the least accepted social group in the U.S., according to a national survey by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The study, published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, is based on a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households. Researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.
She adds that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism. The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation—with more educated East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.
03: The “Christian ministry is in crisis” in Canada, with the majority of Protestant pastors saying they feel “isolated, stressed out, and spiritually spent,” according to a new study. The study, conducted by the University of Toronto among Ontario clergy from the Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and United churches, found that 77 percent of pastors say they felt more like a CEO than a pastor. Eighty percent said they felt guilty if they took time off, despite working 50 to 60- hour work weeks, and eighteen percent said they didn’t have a close friend in their church or community.
04: A survey of Spanish young people finds for the first time that fewer than half consider themselves Catholics. The study, titled Spanish Youth 2005 and sponsored by the Santa Maria Foundation, found identification with Catholicism declined from over three-quarters just 10 years ago. The survey also found that only one in ten consider themselves committed Catholics. Touchstone magazine (June) cites the foundation as commenting that “young people do not find attractive models of religiosity,” and react to the church’s excessive wealth, its interference in politics and its conservatism in sexual matters.” Spanish youth are said to show a “pluralism in their appreciation of what today constitutes a family…”
The Orthodox Church in America, the largest non-ethnic Orthodox church in the US., is experiencing a drop in attendance and other problems, according to a candid report by one of its leaders.
Official membership figures of Orthodox churches are often unreliable, making it difficult to track increases or declines in attendance and other membership trends. In a letter to the Metropolitan Council of the OCA cited in Touchstonemagazine (June), theologian and senior priest Thomas Hopko lists problems that include financial scandals; alienation between bishops, priests and laypeople; “the virtual reduction of church life among many clergy to liturgical services and ritual practices” and “of supra-parochial church life to liturgical services, ecclesiastical celebrations and social events;” and a confusion about how to deal with social, political, military, economic, sexual and bioethical issues. The church reports having 400,000 members, “when less than 30,000 identify themselves as members and some dioceses have fewer members than their cathedral churches alone had 50 years ago [to] the point where a church of 200 people is considered to be large.”
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
The division between Muslims of African-American background and those from South Asian and Middle Eastern background may be narrowing as the concern for civil rights has become a concern of Islamic communities after 9/11. African Americans say they have been marginalized in mosques and Islamic organizations by South Asian and Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants.
Concerns about surveillance, wiretaps and other potential civil rights abuses has become a going concern of Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). They have started consulting African-American Muslims and such black groups as the NAACP who experienced similar monitoring during the civil rights movement. “With their civil rights experience and knowledge of American society to offer, more African-American Muslims are slowly filling leadership roles in mosques and advocacy groups,” reports the article from the Pew Forum (May 16).
One such Muslim, Mahdi Bray, head of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, has risen to prominence, in part for his oratory skills and ability to articulate common concerns faced by blacks and American Muslims, such as profiling. Yet one critic maintains that the new cooperation does not go very deep and is mainly about immigrants protecting their economic status in the U.S.
A combination of controversy and denominational action seems to be increasing the presence and influence of home churches. Charismamagazine (June) reports that the house church movement is “exploding across North America.”
Pollster George Barna is cited as estimating that eight to nine percent–22 million to 24 million people–are now involved in some form of house church. Whether or not those figures are inflated, it does seem that house churches have recently gained new evangelical acceptance. As Southern California author James Jacobsen notes, “Twenty years ago anybody outside a traditional congregation was highly suspect. I think there is much more freedom for people today.”
Much of the credit for the new visibility of house churches goes to Barna himself. Barna’s study, which found a large number of what he called “revolutionaries” dissatisfied with traditional churches, publicized a little noticed movement and created a controversy, particularly when the pollster himself dropped out of his own congregation and became involved in a house church. To considerable criticism, Barna has taken off his pollster’s hat to become a fervent advocate of the alternative church movement.
At the same time, conservative denominations such as the Free Methodists, Grace Brethren, and the Assemblies of God are either warming to house churches or are actively involved. The efforts of Grace Brethren missionaries in Southern California have sparked the creation of more than 700 house groups worldwide. House church organizers say the online environment is “propelling the movement forward at breakneck speed.” Among the traits of the new house churches are greater acceptance of women in leadership than in traditional congregations, charismatic-evangelical interchange and bridge-building, and a greater willingness of pastors to start house churches as extensions of their own congregations.
(Charisma, 106 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
A growing network of students at evangelical campuses are “becoming politically active in combating world poverty and hunger, the AIDS epidemic, debt relief, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and global warming,” reports Stan Friedman in the Christian Century (May 30).
Evangelical social activists report unprecedented activity on social issues among evangelical students, even from relatively conservative and small schools. “For many of these schools, this is the first time that students are seeking to organize on campus even as they focus on issues of social justice in their chapels.“ Organizations and efforts, such as the evangelical Micah Challenge and the secular One campaign (calling on governments to give one percent of their gross national product to eliminate hunger and poverty) connect students and direct them to e-mail addresses, Web sites conferences and events such as the G8 Summit.
Larry Eskridge of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals says that participation in short-term missions have “sensitized” students to economic differences between the West and other nations. Other observers trace the dramatic rise in evangelical student activism to three years ago “when the Republican Party’s allegiance with the Christian right stimulated a backlash among younger evangelicals angered by the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies.”
Some of these networks are small and receive criticism and even stigma from their colleges for their relatively liberal social positions. Other activist groups find wide acceptance, especially at schools such as Calvin College in Michigan. Because the new evangelical activists don’t focus on abortion and, in some cases, press for a less conservative position on homosexuality in their churches, some critics charge that they are liberalizing their schools.
The New Age movement has often been seen as a highly individualistic and ephemeral phenomenon by sociologists, but recent studies suggest that the picture is more complex than that. Articles in the May issue of theJournal of Contemporary Religion note that New Age practitioners are socialized into New Age groups and teachings just as one is socialized into an established religion. British sociologist Paul Heelas writes that New Age participants are involved in a “shared culture” with similar values and problems that they seek to solve. “Whether one looks at publications or holistic milieu [New Age] activities, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which basic themes appear and reappear,” he writes.
Dutch sociologists Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman write that the New Age movement is definitely eclectic, with various groups and teachers borrowing from a wide range of sources But the New Age, or as they term it, “self-spirituality,” also has well-defined doctrines usually involving the concept of the sacralization of the self that creates common language and practices even among groups and teachings as disparate as yoga, Reiki and shamanism. Aupers and Houtman find that it is particularly in the use of spirituality in corporations for motivational and productivity purposes where the group and even communal dimensions of the New Age are most evident. In a case study of a Dutch company, the promotion of self-spirituality tended to break down the separation between private and public life. Employees learn the importance of “rejecting external authorites and making contact with their `deeper selves.’” Yet those who choose not to participate in these programs feel pressure to conform to the group.
A third article, however, still finds differences between older notions of community and social belonging and New Age social values. In surveying groups of Catholics, non-believers, and New Age believers, Miguel Farias and Mansur Lalljee find that the latter group was more likely to stress individualistic traits, such as hedonism and self-mastery and direction along with the general concept of universalism. While the Catholics stressed concrete social self-definitions (for instance, being a neighbor, a citizen, a mother), New Age practitioners used more abstract, universal metaphors, such as “I am connected,” or “I am part of the universe.”
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Institute of Education, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL UK)