In This Issue
- On/File: March 1998
- Findings & Footnotes: March 1998
- Middle class Indians religious in their own fashion
- A Dutch Catholic revival?
- Restrictions unifying Russian evangelicals?
- Class of 2001 — service-oriented, moderately religious
- Solutions to Christian Science ills pose new problems
- Protestant seminaries face major turmoil
- Litigation discouraging clergy counseling
- The religious right’s internal crisis
- UCC Evangelicals forging a post-denominational identity?
- A ‘nascent religious revival’ on campus?
- Eastern Orthodoxy in US — fragmented or just American?
01: Interfaith dialogue for young adults (those in their 20s and 30s) is the special concern of the Abrahamic Youth Forum, a new international organization based in Israel.
The project was launched by an international team of volunteers from all religious and political perspectives within mainstream Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The forum believes that dialogue is most necessary where it is most difficult. Its first meetings have drawn “not just `peace people,’ but also straight-down-the line Islamists, hard-line orthodox Israelis, opponents of the current peace process, and others who don’t believe in any peace process.”
For more information, contact, Dr. Dvora Ross, 9, Tzippora St., Jerusalem 93625, Israel, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Source: Fellowship, January/February)
01: The entire issue of the Review of Religious Research (December) is devoted to analyzing how the media portrays new religious movements.
Most of the scholars contributing to the issue are strongly critical of such coverage. In an opening essay, Stuart Wright of Lamar University asserts that the focus on abuse by leaders of new religious movements is the overriding image presented by the media on this subject. He asks how the “intents, beliefs and actions of diverse collectivities of groups representing a multitude of sundry religious traditions” can so easily “be reduced to a facile storyline or imbecilic made-for-TV movie.” John Dart of the Los Angeles Times, writes that the media’s focus on controversy and conflict, poor knowledge of religion among journalists, and a communications gap between reporters and social scientists, are more responsible for shallow coverage rather than any ingrained bias against NRMs.
For more information on this issue, write: Review of Religious Research, 108 Marist Hall, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 20064.
02: Those looking for updated research sources may benefit from a new web search engine produced by Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Known as “AlphaSearch” it directs users to topical gateway sites developed by scholars around the world. These gateway sites compile links to the best sites for each category. It has earned USA Today’s “Hot Sites of the Day” award.
The site can be contacted at: http://www.Calvin.edu/Lib_Resources/as.
— By Erling Jorstad
A middle class is emerging in India that is more religious that has generally been predicted, but not very orthodox.
Hinduism Today magazine (February) devotes a cover story to the beliefs and practices of the middle class Indians and finds that those of all faiths — Hindu, Christian and Muslim — do not largely discard their beliefs as much as adapt them according to a modern mind-set that disdains ritual and magic. In interviews with Indians throughout the various states, the reporters find that “to a significant extent, they have seen through and rejected the anti-religion beliefs of the communists, rationalists and secularists.”
Even in the communist state of West Bengal, an atheistic middle class has not emerged. One doctor explains, “I see that everybody, including doctors, are God-fearing people. We may not be observing all the rituals, due to shortage of time, nuclear family, working wife, etc., but we are religious.”
In Kerala, where there is a strong Christian and Muslim presence, there is more variation in religious belief. The emerging Christian and Muslim middle class “is enjoying an unprecedented improvement in their standard of living and becoming more religious too. Once Mass was conducted in the Catholic churches only on Sundays. Now it is done almost every day,” writes V.S. Gopalakrishnan. Middle class Hindus in Kerala “revealed religion to be much less important in their lives than it was in the lives of their Christian and Muslim neighbors.
They unanimously said they do not read any of the scriptures . . . they never recite hymns . . . Instead television provides the main activity . . . In fact, one can postulate that it is television which has replaced ritual observances in many Hindu homes.”
Bangalore’s middle class, meanwhile, is more religious, with a home-based ritual combining religion and social life, known as “vrats,” becoming a fad. The editors conclude that the middle class is seeking a more “logical” and inward form of religion than their parents “They are unable, it seems, to feel the very real contact between the human world and God’s world which is facilitated by ritual.” While Hinduism has entire branches that accommodate such a “ritual-less” devotee, the religion also faces a major obstacle.
Unlike the Muslims and Christians, Hindus do not have the structures and comprehensive systems to educate their youths outside of the family, which is now too strained to provide such a function.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, HI 96746-9304)
There is a revival of interest in Roman Catholicism in Holland, and the secular media may be partly responsible for it, according to the Catholic World Report (February).
The Catholic Church in the Netherlands was once considered the most liberal in the world, as its theologians and bishops often clashed with the Vatican. More recently, a steady wave of conversions to more traditional forms of Catholicism has become the center of attention in Europe. There are only about 1,000 conversions to Catholicism in the Netherlands per year (as opposed to three or four times that number leaving the church), but these converts — known as the “new Catholics” — have sometimes been prominent intellectuals who have moved to parishes that eschew doctrinal experimentation.
When the respected young playwright Vonne van der Meer converted, the news was featured in a feminist magazine and that seemed to have started a media sensation, as journalists sought to explain the phenomenon. An older generation that was in the forefront of opposition to Vatican influence in Dutch Catholicism in the 1970s and 80s has “disappeared from the public scene”– evidenced in a new popularity for the pope (along with such figures as Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton).
Although the drop in vocations to the priesthood in the Netherlands is among the highest in Europe (about 35 percent), there has been a slight upward trend in recent years. The number of permanent deacons has grown from one million in 1978 to six million today. Today’s Dutch bishops are also less divided and now form a “united front.”
(Catholic World Report, P.O. Box 1328, Dedham, MA 02027)
While it’s still too early to know the impact of the new Russian restrictions against non-Orthodox and foreign religions, it appears that these laws are creating a new kind of unity among such unofficial churches.
Idea, (Feb. 10), the German evangelical news service, reports that as a result of the new laws, several independent Protestant churches in Russia established in the early 1990s are joining existing church associations or churches. Under the new law, churches recently established through the ministry of Western missionaries are not allowed to have their own publishing facilities or training institutes. Thus, in joining such larger — and registered — associations, these churches are finding more ministry opportunities.
For instance, independent charismatic churches are joining the Association of Pentecostal Churches. Vladimir Ryagusov, director of the Baptist Bible Institute in Moscow, says that, if nothing else, the law is decreasing the divisions amog Christians in Russia. The news service adds that so far there are about 200 registered cases of discrimination against Protestant churches, usually involving building restrictions on churches.
(Idea, Postfach 18 20, D — 35528 Wetzlar, Germany)
A recent survey of students from the first college graduating class of the new millennium has found this class of 2001 is learning-oriented, service-motivated, and fairly religious.
The survey, which was conducted by Lou Harris and Associates, found that these students, now in their freshman year, are conventional in its domestic interests, looks forward to marriage (96 percent by age 26) and children (91 percent). The class expresses a desire to do work that helps others (65 percent). That desire could come from a religious orientation. Nearly nine out of ten class members believe in God (89 percent), and 74 percent believe in life after death, according to a report from Sightings (Feb. 23), the computer newsletter of the Public Religion Project.
Even if the class is motivated by religious interests, none of them listed religion as a future profession. Among class members who have decided on a college major, business tops the list, followed by the natural sciences, engineering, psychology, and sociology. Medicine is the top career choice for the class. Other interests of this class include: preserving the environment; learning as a lifelong priority, and staying physically fit. Only 3 percent feel that “money buys happiness.”
When asked how they spend their time in a typical week (in hours), there is no reference to religious activities, even though to a question regarding church attendance, more than half indicate that they attend religious services, while 32% say they never attend services.
The Church of Christ Scientist is attempting to reverse its declining membership, which appears to be causing new divisions in the denomination, according to U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 16).
In the face of a sharp decline of Christian Science congregations and official healers or “practitioners” (dropping from 8,000 in the early 1960s to about 2,000 today) the leadership has embarked on a campaign to renovate the denomination. Church officials are now frequent participants in medical-spirituality conferences exploring mind-body connections (which was once discouraged) and a new mass-market edition of founder Mary Baker Eddy’s manual, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” is being marketed toward spiritual seekers with some success. Annual sales of the new edition have hit 100,000, making it a bestseller among religious books.
Some leaders believe that new readers of Eddy’s book are finding their way to Christian Science churches, although there are not yet any solid signs of growth in the church, reports Jeffrey Sheler. Yet the new approach of appealing to the spiritual marketplace has intensified divisions in the church. One “loosely knit network of dissenters” has protested that the new strategy effectively waters down Christian Science teachings to attract “dabblers in spirituality.”
Even friendlier critics say that the denomination faces tough competition in the drive to reach spiritual seekers, especially as many New Age and alternative spirituality groups and books offer similar teachings but without the Christian Science demands of personal piety and adherence to a Christian worldview.
Both evangelical and mainline American Protestant seminaries are caught up in major internal struggles, which could possibly change their long-standing position of leadership within the religious community.
Recent books by evangelical leaders and critics are questioning the efficacy of formal training, reports Christianity Today (Jan. 12). These critics ask why seminary education is even necessary when such ministries as Prison Fellowship, Focus on the Family, and Willow Creek Community Church were founded by leaders who “never spent a day in seminary.”
Robert W. Patterson writes that evangelical seminaries need to revamp their programs in order to gain greater support in the evangelical world. Seminaries also should become more selective in their admissions; heretofore almost anyone with a bachelor’s degree could be admitted. Seminaries also should subsidize the candidates’ work to a far greater degree than is done now; they should assist candidates in obtaining calls to congregations; and they should increase the funding of residency programs allowing for more full time study towards a seminary degree, Patterson writes.
Within mainline seminaries, there is a declining commitment of young faculty to the life of the institutional church. In the Christian Century (Feb. 4-11), Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary and co-coordinator of the recently completed study of seminary education supported by the Lilly Foundation, states that much of seminary life and study is healthy and secure. But, “all is not well”. As the budgetary crises and shifting graduate level education programs continue to impinge on seminary life, an increasing number of young faculty are not showing long-standing commitment to congregational life and growth. Instead, they are concerned with their own academic specialization.
To remedy this, seminaries can take steps such as having a high proportion of full time tenure track positions. Today’s heavy use of part time and adjunct teachers only detracts from the need for commitment to permanent appointments. Secondly, seminaries can nurture their teachers’ sense of vocation by giving them meaningful faculty responsibilities and appointments early in the junior faculty’s first years.
The seniors should set junior teacher assignments with great care, pointing them to the larger calling of service and involvement in the church, Wheeler writes.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; Christian Century, 465 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
— By Erling Jorstad
A surge in malpractice suits against clergy in their counseling practices has led to a sharp decrease in such forms of consultation with their members, reports the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 5).
Since the early 1990s when a series of lawsuits on cases ranging from sexual abuse to malpractice (such as counselees who committed suicide) found their way through the courts, clergy began to limit their counseling hours, and make more referrals to psychological professionals. Although the denominations involved in such litigation nearly always won these cases, they set in motion a tendency for church hierarchies to issue strict guidelines to their clergy in their counseling work.
The main way clergy have limited their counseling hours is to refer people to outside counselors. David Kelly of Kenwood Psychological Services in New York says referrals have surged 20 percent since 1990. Another psychotherapist in Virginia says her referrals from clergy have increased by 50 percent. Another way pastors try to avoid litigation is to limit their conversations as much as possible to faith and God.
Some churches are taking a more direct approach. In Maryville, Tenn., trustees of the First Baptist Church plan to recommend that congregants sign a statement promising they won’t litigate in the event of a dispute.
After achieving a position of enormous influence within the ranks of American politics, the Christian Coalition in recent months is undergoing new divisions and decline.
From commanding contributions of a record $26.4 million in l996, its collections a year later totaled only $17 million. Over twenty percent of the total staff were released, and coalition support for its Catholic and minority outreach programs stopped, as did publication of its national magazine. According to the U.S.News & World Report (Feb.16), the organization faces that financial crisis, and an escalating, bitter ideological crisis over its aims and principles.
At stake is the role the coalition should play in trying to influence the national Republican party agenda. Former director Ralph Reed helped produce the huge financial support, but did so by broadening out Coalition involvement with moderate Republicans who differed on some key social issues, such as abortion and privately financed social security.
Now, with Reed no longer in charge, the coalition faces a major identity crisis: Should it continue its alliance with the moderate Republicans or should it return to its early highly doctrinaire commitment to economic and social conservatism? Complicating the dilemma is the rise to great prominence in Christian Right circles, of Gary Bauer, the CEO of the Family Research Council.
He is attracting rapidly growing support for his no-compromise, commitment to the conservatives’ social issues agenda. In fact, Bauer, like Pat Buchanan in the 1996 campaign is seriously considering running for the Presidency of the United States, and his proposed candidacy is being taken with full seriousness by long range party strategists.
As startling as that may have sounded a year ago, Bauer’s prospects of winning the endorsement of the conservatives, including many Christian Right activists, is now being taken as an almost sure reality. There are signs his supporters are planning to enter him in such early primaries as in Iowa and New Hampshire. Analysts say that the religious right is looking for ways to keep alive the momentum that brought them to great influence within the GOP, but at the same time remaining loyal to their deeply felt moral and social convictions. At the same time, Republican strategists are weighing the costs of keeping their ranks open to the Christian Right.
Complicating the situation is the sharp criticism of Christian right cooperation with the moderates by .James Dobson of Focus on the Family. One of the most influential Christian right spokesmen in the nation, Dobson recently told a group of conservative leaders at a meeting of the Council for National Policy that should this cooperation continue, (he called it a ‘betrayal’) he would abandon the GOP and “do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible,” reports the New York Times (Feb. 12).
— By Erling Jorstad
There is a good deal of talk about churches entering a “post-denominational” era, but evangelical congregations in the United Church of Christ (UCC) are doing more than talking about this prospect. Many of the evangelical UCC churches are increasingly finding many of the services once provided by their liberal denomination elsewhere — from hymn books to ordination committees, according to The Witness (Winter), the newspaper of the Biblical Witness Fellowship, an evangelical UCC renewal group.
Popular interdenominational evangelical hymn books, such as “Praise and Worship,” have replaced the need for denominational hymn books. New organizations that bring churches together, such as the Evangelical Association of New England, and Churches United in Global Mission, are providing such connective services as pastoral recognition, education, pension or health insurance options and referral networks.
The article makes it clear that while these associations may be replacing denominations for many conservative UCC churches, they do not usually provide these congregations with a new identity. “In fact, most if not all of these associations will assume that participating churches will retain their historic denominational affiliation. It will be a both/and rather than an either/or alternative.” While the UCC churches may be most involved in creating new ties because of their strongly congregational nature, these alliances are creating a new kind of ecumenism. The Evangelical Association of New England (now called Vision New England) has 3,000 member churches from 80 denominations increasingly working together in mutual ministry.
The organization is facilitating a new alliance between evangelicals and Catholics in New Hampshire, as well as convening multi-denominational “ecclesiastical councils” of respected pastors throughout New England for mainline churches to ordain members of their own congregations. Churches that participate in such movements as Promise Keepers have formed new “strategic alliances.” In Modesto, Calif., churches and individuals involved in Promise Keepers started to call themselves the “Church of Jesus Christ at Modesto.”
Some churches in that city even began to change their signs to read, for example, “First Baptist — The Church at Modesto.” The “Modesto model” has been widely circulated and discussed in many other areas,” the article says.
(The Witness, P.O. Box 102, Candia, NH 03034-0102)
Among the many signs that religious life in America is currently undergoing profound transformations, none is more clear than the nascent but increasingly evident signs of spiritual interest on college campuses.
Not like the kind of the l950s revival at evangelical colleges nor that of the l960s for civil rights and peace, today’s expression reflects the escalating interest in eclectic, trans-cultural spirituality of the larger society. In an analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 16), Diane Winston of the Center for the Study of American Religion cites growing evidence that collegians today are enthusiastically embracing a wide variety of religious practices with little regard for creedal, communal and traditional faith.
Evidence comes from a recent study led by a research team at Indiana University of religion on four campuses: a state university, a small liberal-arts college, a historically black college, and a Catholic university. Today’s students are concentrating on spiritual growth and experience rather than theology and history. They explore opportunities in native American practices, Jewish spirituality, Buddhist meditation, Oriental medicine and similar practices.
Winston suggests that most older academicians and religious leaders have either dismissed this revival as the latest fad, or as “cotton candy” spirituality (sweet but not substantial), or as just young adult initiation rites into adulthood. However, such attitudes overlook the long tradition of major changes in American religious life first occurring on campuses among society’s next generation of leaders. Perhaps the most important long range effect of the new interest will be revealed in how these new believers get along with those from totally different faith commitments, such as Sikhs, Jains, Hindu, Buddhist, and others.
Winston concludes that religious life is undergoing huge transformations, but it is now diffuse, rather than monolithic; it is `trans-religious’ as it seeks to find common ground among the many traditions now accessible to the new generation of seekers.
If religious life on campus is a kind of laboratory for unorthodox theologies and liturgies that have not yet found official approval within denominations and most congregations, then same-sex weddings seems to be a popular experiment being undertaken. There are a growing number of university chapels conducting same-sex unions, reports the Christian Challenge magazine (January/February). Princeton University’s United Methodist chaplain recently married two gay men in the chapel for the first time, even though the United Methodist Church disapproves of such ceremonies.
Church officials have not moved to discipline the minister, who plans to conduct more of such services. The UM faces a similar situation with Emory University, a church-affiliated school. Although same-sex ceremonies were at first forbidden by UM officials, the university’s board ruled that same-sex weddings can occur in campus chapels if they involve clergy and others from denominations that approve of the practice (such as the United Church of Christ). Stanford and Harvard University chapels (which are non-denominational) have also recently changed their policies to allow same-sex ceremonies to be conducted.
Another dimension of campus life is the growth of interest in traditional religion. The Cincinnati Post newspaper (Jan. 2) reports on a “revival” of traditional Catholic spirituality taking place at the city’s Xavier University. Large groups of student are attending a new evening Mass, and some students are starting to pray the rosary and have vigils before the Eucharist.
Some are also criticizing the Jesuit university for not being Catholic enough. The American Enterprise magazine (January/February) reports that in 1996, a Duke University professor “provoked a campus furor” when he called for the closing of the college chapel. Angry students from Christian and non-Christian faiths bitterly denounced the idea. Meanwhile, at Jesuit Georgetown University, students are protesting the plan to remove crucifixes from classrooms.
(Christian Challenge, 1215 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003; American Enterprise, 1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036)
— This article was written with RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad
Observers say Eastern Orthodoxy is becoming part of the American religious mainstream — not a difficult thing to believe judging by the growing number of church splits and divisions among these churches.
New conflicts between ethnic members and converts, and activists and traditionalists are likely to intensify the fragmentation of Orthodoxy in the U.S., according to Eye on the Commonwealth (Winter), a newsletter of Orthodox Christian Laity, an independent church organization. Events in 1997 were enough to indicate such troubles: such mainstream Orthodox denominations as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Antiochian Archdiocese (AA) lost parishes and clergy to more traditionalist Orthodox groups; Greek Orthodox were protesting the old world management style of the newly enthroned Archbishop Spyridon; and SCOBA, the council attempting to unite the various jurisdictions, and other pan-Orthodox groups working for unity, were and continue to be in limbo, writes Nicholas Gvosdev.
Fanning the flames of such divisions are the formation of new pressure groups and a “veritable explosion of alternative media sources within the church apart from the `official’ publications, including magazines, web sites, newsletters and conferences,” writes Nicholas Gvosdev.
He takes a critical look at four major groups within Orthodoxy that will clash in the future.
01: “Ethnic Protestants” have their primary tie to Orthodoxy through their ethnicity rather than through assent to doctrine or practices. They are primarily in the “Mediterranean” communities (Greeks and Arabs) and are strong supporters of the practical nature of the church — charities, schools, fraternal groups. They accept many American innovations (such as organs), though not an English liturgy.
02: “Chauvinists” can be either cradle Orthodox or converts who disapprove of any plans for unity and mixing of traditions, such as using Russian traditions in Greek parishes.
03: The “Reformers” want a united and de-ethnicized Orthodox church, while pressing for such changes as the diaconate for men and women and many want greater contact with Western Christianity.
04: The “traditionalists,” once largely confined to declining ethnic Greek and Russian parishes, are newly visible and even burgeoning.
A growing number of converts are entering such traditionalist bodies as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, broadening their approach and visibility. These groups, “unlike more mainstream Orthodox bodies, present a very consistent, sometimes fundamentalist approach to Orthodox belief and tradition . . . ecumenism is shunned . . . [they] feel that any change in the fabric of Church life . . . will weaken its witness.” Gvosdev adds that “some traditionalists display an almost Protestant attitude in terms of Church authority, bolting from jurisdiction [an Orthodox denomination] to jurisdiction should a bishop of a diocese not `live up’ to self-created standards of Orthodox purity.”
The growth of traditionalism is also taking place within the mainstream Orthodox bodies, such as the Orthodox Church in America. “There’s a rise of a new breed of traditional priest” in the OCA, says Fr. Christopher Calin of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection in New York. The cathedral has become a magnet for converts in the city. Those who have joined most recently (young adults in their 20s and 30s) have enthusiastically embraced traditional practices — such as women wearing head coverings during liturgy and an emphasis on ascetic practices, such as fasting. “They don’t want compromised, easy listening stuff. That’s why we succeed. We don’t water it down, we offer them everything Orthodoxy has to offer,” Calin told RW in an interview.
When a stream of converts started coming into Orthodoxy in the 1980s, some church leaders feared that these newcomers might “Americanize” the faith.The patterns of switching churches to find the most pure expression of Orthodoxy does resemble the consumeristic church shopping of many Americans. Yet a conflict taking place at St. Peter’s and Paul’s Orthodox Church, Ben Lomond, Calif., shows how the concern with recovering “authentic” Orthodoxy has collided with American Orthodox leadership and structures.
St. Peter’s and Paul’s originated from the movement of evangelicals (formerly with Campus Crusade for Christ) that converted en masse to Orthodoxy in the late 1980s, and has since become a center for American converts. In February, leaders of the Antiochian Archdiocese expelled over 20 priests and deacons associated with the parish for “defiance of the Holy Canons.”
Shocked members of the Orthodox Christianity computer discussion group, where the letter from Antiochian leader Metropolitan Philip and subsequent letters from Ben Lomond clergy were posted, viewed the incident as having as much to do with Orthodox identity as leadership problems. It seems the parish was attempting to transfer its membership from the Antiochians to the Orthodox Church in America, after a long period of turmoil with church leaders over their liturgical practices.
The parish was restoring rituals that had been modernized and “abbreviated” by the AA, borrowing chanting practices from the Russian Orthodox, and resisting the installation of a parish lay council. The resistance of the Ben Lomond parish and other Orthodox converts to these “American” innovations (such as the parish lay council) puts a new twist on the question of who is Americanizing Eastern Orthodoxy.
(Eye on the Commonwealth, 2001 North Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33311; Orthodox Christianity, e-mail: ORTHODOX@LISTSERV.INDIANA.EDU.