In This Issue
- Catholic retreats face competition and pluralism
- On/File: June 2007
- Findings & Footnotes: June 2007
- Head coverings a barometer of new Islamic conflicts
- Russian orthodoxy gains strength through new unity
- Europe’s ‘New Atheists’ gain momentum
- Current Research: June 2007
- Women pentecostal and charismatic leaders mentoring new generation
- SBC daring to discipline clergy and church members?
- Anthropology’s Christian problem
While there has been a growth of Catholic and Protestant retreat centers, the impact of religious individualism and experiential spirituality is challenging their traditional functions. The National Catholic Reporter (April 27) notes that in the case of the Catholics alone, there are over 600 retreat centers in the U.S. and Canada. But they are facing new competition from Catholic parishes and from a trend of smaller “bed-and-breakfast retreat centers,” many of which are run by Protestants. Parishes are offering a wide variety of programs on spiritual formation. One such parish-based retreat program called Christ Renews His Parish is facilitated by trained fellow-parishioners.
Retreats based around preaching to large groups of mainly priests and nuns are now a thing of the past. Today it is mostly laypeople who are usually looking for “holistic” retreats or spiritual counseling. These can range from Jesuit centers offering popular Ignatian Spiritual Exercises to retreats offering “cutting edge” topics such as feminist, Native American and ecological spirituality, many of which are attended by Protestants. The article cites a 2004 study sampling 128 Catholic retreat houses and found that a key reason for lower attendance is the overwhelming activity options that people have today that they didn’t have in the past, whether social, cultural, religious or spiritual.
The study found a 40-50 percent increase in highly individualized spiritual direction and directed retreats. Only a quarter to a third of the centers reported growth in group retreats. It also found that while prominent retreat houses have closed, the overall number of these centers have increased. The problem is that these centers cater to a small number of so called “early adapters” who embrace innovative programs (usually run by nuns) and bypass the majority of Catholics drawn to more conventional programs.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)
01: Writer Donald Miller has become a spokesman for evangelicals frustrated with evangelical culture while still trying to maintain their beliefs. Miller, whose best-selling books include Blue Like Jazz and To Own A Dragon, delivers his thoughts on Christianity in a personal, highly informal manner that candidly discusses the problems of being an evangelical.
Miller speaks to mainstream evangelicals and rarely challenges evangelical touchstones, yet he serves as a bridge to a more bohemian and secular culture, (for instance, questioning taboos on alcohol or cursing) and stressing spirituality and a narrative approach to faith
(Source: Christianity Today, June)
02: Creation Spirituality Communities, Inc. represents the next chapter in the unconventional ministry of Matthew Fox. He started out as a Catholic priest who came under fire from the Vatican for his blending of ecology and alternative and mystical spiritualities.
Fox subsequently became an Episcopal priest while his work with creation spirituality became increasingly ecumenical and interfaith. Now he has taken what he calls the “second Reformation” further, as he plans to establish a network of ecumenical churches and spiritual communities around the world to promote his vision of a global creation spirituality.
(Christian News, April 30)
01: The current issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Winter) is devoted to fundamentalism and democracy. Although tomes have been written on this subject, the issue carries some interesting articles on conservative (not necessarily fundamentalist) religion and politics. An article by economists David Chen and Jo Thori Lind looks at the relationship between social and fiscal conservatism. They find that attendance at religious events predicts opposition to welfare in the US and among those in other countries without state churches; in European state churches, however, religious attendance predicted support for welfare.
Chen and Lind argue that church/state separation and increased secular welfare also increases “theocratic tendencies.” But at the same time, in a foreign policy context, economic sanctions can also increase theocratic tendencies. A lack of access to international capital markets may move elites in the direction of greater reliance on religious welfare and give them less incentive to separate church and state. Other articles in this issue include examinations of Jewish fundamentalism, George Bush’s use of religious references in his speeches and how it differs from his predecessors, and the tactical (and uneasy) alliance between neoconservatism and the Christian right. For more information on this issue, write: Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Temple University, 1114 W. Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122-6090.
02: Contemporary Islam is a new quarterly journal offering a much-neededplatform for discussion of contemporary aspects of Muslim life. it provides an active forum for the discussion of new ideas, fieldwork experiences, challenging views, and methodological and theoretical approaches to Muslim lives. The journal, which is published in electronic and print formats, seeks to be broad-based and wide-ranging, exploring the relationship between Islam and its contemporary cultural, material, economic, political, religious, and gender-based expressions throughout the social sciences.
Although the social scientific research on Muslims and Islam has been on the increase, such work tends to be spread among a variety of academic publications. Most journals in Islamic studies have also tended to take a historical, political and comparative approach rather than one based on social scientific research. The current issue includes articles on “Islamophobia” on the Internet, how Islam has been reframed post 9/11, and reports on Islamic movements in Egypt and Somalia. The first issue is available free online at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/1872-0226?sortorder=asc&v=condensed
The issue of head coverings for women is becoming increasingly contentious in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, with even the manner in which such Islamic attire is worn revealing trends in worldwide Islam.
The Economist (May 12) reports that the controversy covers the spectrum–from Turkish secularists protesting the possibility of a Muslim candidate being elected because his wife wears a head scarf [see MayRW], to Iran enforcing stricter enforcement of head coverings and attire (for men as well as women). In Iraq, a fissure has opened in the Sunni resistance between “al-Queda-minded” militants who want women to wear gloves and the niqab (which is similar to the burqa but has slits for the eyes) and those more “moderate” who allow for the simpler hijab covering the hair and neck.
Among most Muslims who live between the extremes of Turkey and Iran, two broad trends have emerged. The first is a general movement toward overt signs of piety, including “Islamic” attire. Modern forms of head covering have become standard fashion in such Islamic countries as Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen, “replacing both traditional country scarves, and the exposed coifs that were inoffensive to an earlier generation of city dwellers…wearing the hijab is now so popular that it has ceased to be a statement.”
The other trend is an “undercurrent of rebellion against sartorial rules of any kind,” the article adds. This can be seen among trendy women in Saudi Arabia who sport their traditional black overcoat with flashy strips of color, or the use of heavy makeup in cities as far apart as Casablanca and Damascus.
On May 17, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia officially reestablished communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The move has been hailed by some as finally marking the end of the Russian Civil War (Russia Profile, May 17). As reported by RW (June 2006), a Council of the Church Abroad had accepted unity as a matter of principle a year ago, leaving to its Synod of Bishops the task to solve remaining problems and set the date. The final step came earlier than some had expected.
During the period before and immediately after May 17, some groups have left ROCOR in order to join Russian or Greek traditionalist groups. They include several clerics and a few parishes in the USA and South America, two monasteries in England, one monastery in France and one in Canada. In the FSU, Bishop Agafangel of Odessa and his clergy have also refused to accept the Act and see themselves as the true continuation of ROCOR. But a large majority of ROCOR’s clergy and flock seem to have remained with their bishops.
Most media comments focused on the meaning of the event rather than on its impact within ROCOR. While Russian journalists emphasized the meeting of “two Russias” (Interfax, May 22), foreign journalists and analysts paid special attention to the active role played by President Putin in the merger. Putin was present on May 17 and described the event as a “moment of rebirth.” Time‘s Yuri Zarakhovich (May 17) writes that nationalism on Orthodox foundations is developing into a major ideological resource for the current Russian regime. A reunited Orthodox Church should also contribute to reinforce Russia’s position in the Orthodox world (in competition with Constantinople). However, ROCOR’s communications director, Nicholas Ohotin, has answered such comments by remarking that the first overtures to the Church Abroad came as early as 1990 from the Moscow Patriarchate itself, long before Putin came to power (Wall Street Journal, June 2).
Some liberal orthodox circles in the West have expressed mixed feelings about the consequences of the event: they are afraid that “conservative” trends within the Moscow Patriarchate could be reinforced. It makes it also more likely that some Russian circles in France – currently in their own Archbishopric under Constantinople – will increase the pressure for union with Moscow, a move which other members of their group are reluctant to accept.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
There is a resurgence of atheist activism on the European continent, reports Alexander Smoltczyk in the German weekly Der Spiegel (May 26). The trend of a “new atheism’’ mentioned in the March issue of RW now appears to have crossed the Atlantic. Why “new”? Because the new wave of atheists seem driven by a previously unknown missionary zeal. “Time is ripe for new atheist thinking,” states British biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins, who complains about an alleged privileged status gained by religions over the last two decades.
Unbelievers feel that religion is becoming fashionable again, and there is a need for counter-offensive. When asked if he thinks there is any chance for religious beliefs to be wiped out, Dawkins answers in the affirmative: the religious revival is about to end, and there is a “flood of skepticism” on the Internet. Beside Dawkins, French philosopher Michel Onfray and Italian mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi figure prominently on the list of the new European atheists. Onfray explains that the problem with religions is their drive to control the lives of people. Moreover, says Onfray, while all religions claim to preach love, they actually act as catalysts for violence. Onfray says he has no desire to become “a leader of masses.” And here lies the weakness of new atheism in its challenge to religions: its organizational base is small.
One out of three Germans has no religious affiliation (which does not necessarily mean being an atheist). But the largest atheist association in Germany has barely 10,000 members; there are more Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany than the total number of members of all atheist associations taken together. Atheist activists make up a small circle of people. In such circumstances, it is difficult for them to claim the same status as major religious groups.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
01: American Muslims have a generally positive view of the U.S., seeing little conflict between Islam and being an American citizen, and they are more likely to reject Islamic extremism than their counterparts in Europe, according to a new survey. The survey by the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of respondents (53 percent) said that it has become more difficult to be a Muslim since the September 11 attacks, but most also express satisfaction with the U.S.
Only 21 percent of foreign born and 38 percent of native born Muslims said they should try to remain distinct from American society and 63 percent do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. The native born Muslims–half of whom are African-American– and representing 35 percent of American Muslims– tended to take a more negative view of American society. Very few–just one percent– of American Muslims say suicide attacks against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam. An additional seven percent of most younger American Muslims say that such attacks may be sometimes justified.
Native born- African American Muslims were more likely than foreign born Muslims to have favorable views of Al Queda (9 percent versus 3 percent). The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are also highly assimilated into American society. With the exception of very recent immigrants, most report that a large proportion of their friends are non-Muslims. (The full report can be found at:http://www..pewresearch/pubs/483/muslim-americans)
02: Latin Americans “entering the US are not only changing the face of traditional Catholicism; the immigration process itself may be stimulating the shift to charismatic religion,” writes Andrea Althoff in the e-newsletter Sightings (May 24). In analyzing a recent survey of Latino Catholics from the Pew Hispanic Center, Althoff writes that the most striking finding of the survey was that half of Latino Catholic respondents identified themselves as charismatic.
This finding undercuts assumptions that Mexican Catholics–both in Mexico and the U.S.–hold to a strongly traditional Catholicism based around the saints and a passive relationship with the church hierarchy. Because the charismatic movement is not as large as in other Latin American countries, Althoff surmises that the shift to charismatic religion takes place in relation to the immigrant process itself. This is also supported by the fact that immigrant Latinos are more likely to be charismatic than those born in the U.S.
Althoff’s own research in Latino parishes in Chicago suggests that the charismatic turn is ruffling feathers among some church leaders. Conflicts between laity and the church hierarchy are “especially poignant in parishes staffed with priests who are opposed to the renewalist movement.” These priests, schooled in liberation theology and the Catholic Social Action movement, fear that charismatics will downplay social justice and immigration issues. Yet both the Pew survey and Alhoff’s research show that few Latino charismatic Catholics plan on leaving their parishes or Catholicism. In contrast, they are nearly twice as likely than other Latino Catholics to serve their parishes in leadership roles.
03: Contrary to popular stereotypes, clergy report more job satisfaction and happiness than those in other occupations. The eighteen-year-long study on job satisfaction and general happiness was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The position of clergy members at the top of these categories was found to be anomalous within the context of the other results, which show that both job satisfaction and happiness are strongly linked to the prestige associated with an occupation.
But NORC survey director notes that “a number of very high prestige occupations do not finish at the top of either list.” Sightings (May 5) reports that an overwhelming 87.2 percent of clergy described themselves as “very satisfied” with their jobs; in contrast, only 47 percent of the general population described themselves this way. In related NORC findings, clergy reported that they were “very happy,” in great numbers — 67.2 percent against 33.3 percent among the general population. Among the people who reported the least satisfaction with their jobs were roofers, waiters and servers, non-construction laborers, and bartenders. Those who reported the least amount of happiness overall also tended to have what Smith describes as “low-skill, manual and service occupations.”
04: The growing research on the health benefits of religious belief and practice seems to have convinced many doctors, according to a new study. A University of Chicago survey of 1,000 doctors finds that 56 percent of them believe that religion and spirituality have a “significant effect on health.“ About the same percentage say that such influence is attributable to “divine intervention,” according to the study, which was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine and cited by the National Catholic Register (May 6)
Women evangelists and church leaders are finding expanding roles in charismatic and Pentecostal bodies and are creating new mentoring networks for younger women, according to Charisma (June) magazine. Women clergy have generally found more acceptance in Pentecostal and charismatic churches than in other conservative bodies, usually serving as co-pastors with their husbands (though also including such famous leaders and evangelists as Katharine Kuhlman and Aimee Semple McPherson). Today there are more women heading their own ministries and churches, such as Paula White, Beverly Crawford and Joyce Meyer, writes Maureen Eha.
The new generation of women leaders have created groups and networks to mentor younger leaders. Mentoring conferences, such as Apostolic Women Arising and more individualized networks founded by women leaders provide continuing leadership training to women pastors and heads of ministries. “The current emphasis on mentoring is an encouraging sign to many that women who have paved the way in church leadership will not be the last of their breed. Besides training up their own replacements, they are equipping a large number of other women leaders to fulfill their unique calls,” Eha concludes.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
The practice of discipline, whether of clergy charged with sexual abuse or of unrepentant members, is receiving new attention in evangelical churches and particularly the Southern Baptist Convention. Recent cases involving clergy sexual abuse among Protestant congregations are also reviving the debate about which kinds of church structures enable or discourage such crimes. The SBC is the most recent American denomination to feel the fire over clergy sex abuse, with several well-publicized cases being fought over the role of leaders in not protecting victims from abuse by pastors.
The Tennesseean newspaper (April 23) reports that SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is accusing Baptists of not taking strong enough steps to protect children and has called on the SBC to create an independent review board to act on reports of child abuse. Much of the criticisms center around the SBC’s congregational policy that lacks the central structure to impose procedures to deal with clergy sex abuse. Southern Baptist leaders say they are considering policy changes to deal with this problem, including creating a database of convicted perpetrators. While not directly related to sex abuse, there is also a trend toward enforcing greater discipline on the congregational level in the SBC.Baptists Today magazine (May) reports that increasing numbers of Southern Baptists have instituted a process of correcting and, if necessary, eventually dismissing members for public sins. The practice is taken from the New Testament, where the church was advised to reprove offending Christians for their sin in the hope of restoring them while those unrepentant would eventually be expelled.
The growth of Calvinism in the SBC seems to be the main factor in restoring disciplinary practices, with the Southern Baptist Seminary and its president Albert Mohler being its main proponents. Mohler blames the lax standards and worldliness of today’s churches on the loss of disciplinary practices. The manner in which the process is carried out varies, but usually offending members are confronted by other members privately; if the member refuses to repent the matter is taken before the whole congregation.
The offenders are publicly identified as is their sin, and then the church votes on whether they should be dismissed. In most cases, discipline never advances to the point of dismissal, because most people repent earlier in the practice. [It will be interesting to see how the many megachurches in the SBC, which stress non- confrontational ministry to the unchurched and seekers, will respond to this development and whether it will add to the divisions in the denomination]
(Baptists Today, P.O. Box 6318, Macon, GA 31208)
The discipline of anthropology may be facing something of a paradigm shift as older models that neglected or disdained the importance of Christian beliefs are being challenged. The ferment can be seen in the February issue of Current Anthropology which features a special section on anthropologists and their problems in studying Christianity.
The lead article by Joel Robbins of the University of California at San Diego argues that until very recently there have been few studies on the religious lives of Christians and that anthropologists have often “airbrushed” Christianity out of their accounts of native cultures. Citing the work of prominent anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff, Robbins writes that they discount Christianity by claiming that natives may accept the form of the colonizers’ dominant religion but not actually accept its content.
More importantly, anthropology has traditionally stressed that symbols, rituals and meaning have an enduring quality while Christianity preaches radical change, particularly leading converts to claim they have made a clean break with their pasts. Robbins concludes that even if traditional contexts play a role in conversion and subsequent Christian living, a small number of anthropologists are beginning to recognize that Christian beliefs are important to converts and have real implications that need to be studied.
In the magazine Books & Culture, sociologist David Martin writes that in his own work on global Pentecostalism, he encounters the anthropological criticism that such a form of Christianity is either an “archaic primitive religion in disguise,“ or a “colonial intrusion of American-inspired modernity.” But he notes that it is especially in studies on African Christianity and those on the role of women in Pentecostalism where Christian beliefs are now taken seriously.
Such new books as The Anthropology of Christianity (edited by Fenella Cannell) and Christian Moderns (by Webb Keane) also challenge the dominant anthropological models. They provide accounts of the “global reach of Christianity as a universal religion which is owned and propagated by non-Western peoples, and does indeed help bring about a shared modernity,“ Martin writes.
(Current Anthropology, University of Chicago Press, 142 E. 60th St, Chicago, IL 60637; Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)