In This Issue
- New life appears in small church ministry
- On/File: March 1999
- Findings & Footnotes: March 1999
- Current Research: March 1999
- New participatory worship coming from pews
- Orlando — the new evangelical hub?
- Religious rights movement moves to state level
- Religious opposition to gambling crumbling
- Unconventional spirituality books top bestseller chart
- New evangelical theologians more practical, ecumenical
- Asian influence defining campus ministries?
- Sharing religious space spurs new Christian-Jewish ties
- Reform — traditional rabbis and liberal laity?
- Orthodox Jewish divisions and innovations emerging
There is new interest in promoting small-church ministry, even if megachurch-church models still seem to be winning the day.
Pointing out that roughly half of all churches in America are under 200 members, and two-thirds have fewer than 300, Loren Seibold writes in Christianity Today (Feb. 8) that today most church resource and growth programs are geared for the larger churches. Denominational leaders and many parish pastors accept the view that the “better” parishes are the large ones; they set the standards for all parish programs.
Some even believe small churches are “failed large ones” and should consider going under. Seibold adds that this is not the case. Small church ministry, both in villages, the rural areas and some suburban fringes, offer two major strengths not available in the “successful” large parishes: stability and continuity of relationships.
Members here are not caught up in pursuing the latest new programs, they conserve their values and beliefs, their relationships and friendships. Pastors of small congregations often become trusted members of nurturing communities, cultivating the virtues of friendship, enthusiasm and careful listening.
— By Erling Jorstad.
01: Focus is a new Catholic campus organization that is based on evangelization and Catholic orthodoxy.
The group, which recently held its first national convention, operates much like its evangelical counterparts, such as InterVarsity and Campus Crusade for Christ. Focus, which is a ministry of the conservative watchdog group, Catholics United for the Faith, plans to use small group Bible studies and student leaders to spread the Catholic faith on campus.
In fact, the growth of evangelical ministries on campus and their popularity among Catholic students is an important factor in the founding of the organization. Focus, which was co-founded by ex-evangelical convert Scott Hahn, plans to expand nationwide and is now mainly active in Colorado and Kansas.
(Source: News release; for more info: www.cuf.org)
02: The Institute for Religious Values intends to mobilize Jewish attitudes on abortion and foster Jewish-Christian dialogue.
The institute, founded in 1997, has particularly been in the forefront of organizing opposition to partial-birth abortion among Jews. It led in drawing together rabbis and Jewish professional women in petitions to the senate to pass the Partial Birth Abortion Act. A November conference co-sponsored by the institute at Catholic University of America has led to the formation of networks of rabbis and others interested in building a consensus among Jews on how to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.
Issues such as partial birth abortion and parental notification laws are the prolife issues most likely to find support among rabbis, says Gersten.
(Source: Our Sunday Visitor, Feb. 28)
01: As is evident in the study from The Lancet cited above, the issue of the relation of faith and spirituality to health is coming under increasing debate.
A good resource for understanding the subject is a symposium published in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Although the articles focus on mental health, their multi-disciplinary approach (including sociology and psychiatry), captures many of the themes of the wider religion-health debate.
An introduction to the symposium acknowledges the problem of “other factors” (as cited in the Lancet study) in determining the true relationship between religious belief and practices and health, while other articles deal with African-Americans’ religious involvement and mental health and the social role of congregations in influencing well-being.
For more information on this issue, write: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1365 Stone Hall, Sociology Dept., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1365.
02: The winter issue of the Israeli Jewish journal Azure is devoted to the future of Zionism and the Jewish state over the next 50 years.
A wide range of scholars address the identity of Israel in what one writer calls a “post-Zionist” situation. Many of the contributors contend that the question is no longer whether Israel should or can exist , but whether it should be a Jewish state. Most of the essays criticize the idea of a secular state but are divided as to what degree Judaism should define the nation.
The issue costs $5 and is available from: Azure, 1140 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 801, Washington, D.C. 20036.
01: Although Americans believe in the importance of religion, their ties to congregations are more shaky, according to a new study.
In mid-February, the MacArthur Foundation released the findings of a major new survey of religious life in the United States. In a survey of 3,302 Americans, over seven out of 10 said religion was important in their lives and spirituality was a part of their daily lives. Yet About fifty percent attended religious services less than once a month or never, according to an article in USA Today (Feb. 16).
The same article interviews several experts in American religious life who offered their capsule summaries of the research.
David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group of California said “Spirituality in the United States is a mile wide and an inch deep.” He pointed to the new hybrid, “mix and Match” tendencies so popular among many today. Professor Nancy Ammerman of Hartford Seminary (Connecticut) pointed to another recent study showing that only 40 percent to 45 percent of Protestants in churches on a given Sunday were raised in that denomination.
The MacArthur statistics show that 12 percent attend religious services more than once a week, 25 percent attended once a week, 13 percent one to three times a month, 29 percent less than once a month, and 21 percent never. Asked how closely they identified with being a member of their religious group, 22 percent said very close, 49 percent said somewhat close, 21 percent said not very close, and eight percent said not at all close.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: There is a sharp increase of American workers accusing their employers of religious discrimination, according to a new survey.
The Futurist magazine (March) reports that the Chicago employment law group Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom and Moritz found that in 1991 there were 1,192 charges of religious discrimination filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission. In 1997, that figure jumped to 1,709, a 43 percent increase.
One factor in this trend is the globalization of the economy, pressuring companies to operate seven days a week, thereby upsetting the observances of Christians and other believers. Another reason may be the growing number of non-European immigrants in the U.S. workplace, according to Michael D. Karpeles, head of the Chicago firm.
(The Futurist, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bathesda, MD 20814)
03: American Catholics defining themselves as “strong” in the faith are steadily dropping, according to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
The survey found that the percentage of Americans calling themselves Catholic has remained the same at 26 percent over the past 30 years. But the Catholic magazine America (Feb. 13) reports that the center finds that in its 1998 General Social Survey, 37 percent said they were strong Catholics and 29 percent said they attended Mass each week. In the 1970s, 46 percent said they had a strong attachment to the church and 48 percent reported going to church.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
04: The many studies drawing strong connections between religious beliefs and practices and health are flawed both in methodology and conclusions, according to a new study.
Richard Sloan and other researchers write in the British medical journal The Lancet (Feb. 19) that even the best studies that attempt to show the health benefits connected with such practices as prayer and other forms of spirituality contain serious methodological problems. Sloan and his colleagues reviewed hundreds of studies and identified several dozen flaws that characterize much of the literature.
The web site Science Daily (Feb. 23) cites the journal as saying that many religion-health studies often involved small numbers of subjects and failed to control for other factors that could account for the findings, such as age and health behaviors and status. The researchers add that other studies failed to present the findings fully or failed to make appropriate statistical studies.
These studies, the authors claim, provide “no empirical justification for the introduction of religious activities into clinical medicine.” The article notes that many medical schools and doctors have recently called for religious interventions in medical practice.
(Science Daily: wysiwyg://272/ http://www.scienceda.com)
05: The growth rate of Christianity in Ethiopia may be the highest in the world and is tied to the persecution Christian believers have received in that country, reports Religion Today (Feb. 17), an on-line news service.
Evangelical believers have doubled from four million to eight million since 1984, according to AD 2000 and Beyond, the international evangelization network. Evangelicals make up 14 percent of the population, up from less than one percent in 1960.
Much of the growth was generated through small cell groups that spread throughout Ethiopia when churches were shut and Christians arrested during the 16-year rule of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The report adds that there is also a growing evangelical movement in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, numbering about 200,000, although church leaders oppose this group.
(Religion Today, http://www. religionnewstoday.net)
Charismatics are raising participatory worship to a new level, as worship leaders are being sidelined in many churches, reports Charisma magazine (February).
The distinguishing characteristic of this trend in less formal worship is that the people in the pew are central to the worship experience rather than only the musicians and other leaders on the platform. Praise and worship pioneer LaMar Boschman says that worshippers want to determine the outcome of their worship experience.
“Basically, on Sunday mornings we’ve had `concerts of praise.’ The worship team steps on the platform and off they go…It never ends until its time for the pastor [to] preach,” he says. Boschman sees the `Vineyard-type’ of revival worship (coming from the independent charismatic Vineyard Fellowship) as influencing this “more of folk-based, casual, nonmanipulative kind of worship.” Boschman founded the Worship Institute in Dallas and holds annual seminars for pastors.
(Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Orlando, Florida is the most recent city to become a magnet for evangelical organizations and individuals, reports the Star-Telegram newspaper (Jan. 29) of Fort Worth, Texas.
In recent years, Colorado Springs has been considered the evangelical mecca, drawing denominations and prominent organizations such as Focus on the Family to relocate there. Now it appears that Orlando is becoming a similar evangelical enclave, attracting such groups as Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Timothy Plan, a mutual fund company that targets religious investors.
Reformed Theological Seminary first established an Orlando branch of the school in 1989, and now Geneva College, a Reformed Presbyterian school near Pittsburgh, and Asbury Theological Seminary of Wilmore Kentucky are starting satellite schools in the area. Aside from the climate and family-friendly environment provided by Disney, the evangelical influx is also explained by the large population of retirees who provide a steady flow of financial support to these ministries.
Central Florida is also a Republican bastion with a tradition of conservatism that appeals to Christian groups, adds reporter Mike Schneider.
The battle over religious freedom is reverting to the statehouses since the Supreme Court struck down a federal law two years ago guaranteeing freedom of worship, reports the Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 30).
There are currently 11 states considering adopting a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which would protect religious expression from state intrusion. A federal version of the RFRA was signed by President Clinton in 1993, only to have it ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1997.
RFRA supporters representing a wide range of religious and secular groups — from conservatives to liberal secularists — are going to key states to pass the bill, such as Texas. So far, RFRA laws are on the books in five states. But passing the bill has been difficult, with a “chorus of critics — including city officials, prosecutors, and even pediatricians — fretting that such a law could spur countless lawsuits,” writes Scott Baldauf.
Texan Republican senator David Sibley thinks there may be a two-pronged approach to church state issues: the states, under the RFRA, can be the “guardians of free exercise of religion,” while the federal government will guard the separation of church and state.
Opposition to legalized gambling and state lotteries seems to be a lost cause among Christian churches.
In his on-line newsletter Sightings (Feb. 18), church historian Martin E. Marty comes to this conclusion after watching the results of the gubernatorial inaugurations in Southern, Bible Belt states. Governors who waged pro-lottery campaigns gained decisive victories over anti-gambling forces. Marty writes that “Many conservative Protestants must have switched rather than fight. There are enough of them in the states in question — North and South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee — to defeat pro-lottery measures if these evangelical voters believed enough in and worked enough for their cause. They evidently don’t.”
Marty adds that mainstream Protestants who are numerous in the South also battled the pro-gambling interests. But Christians may have been swayed by the fact that gambling proceeds help support public education, and that politicians who do not like to tax everyone welcome relief and support from gambling. The voice of religious groups is further muffled when gambling interests in surrounding states attract parishioners, thus depleting their own coffers.
Religious anti-gambling activists still point to the social disasters, the increase in poverty, the family strife, the problems of addiction, the criminal and business interests that surround the gambling industry. “But antigambling is going the way of churchly causes early in this century, antiliquor and anti-No-Fault divorce,” Marty concludes.
Books on religion and spirituality are few and far between in a review of the top 100 best-sellers between 1994 and 1998.
The list of books, as reported in USA Today (Feb. 11), confirms the preference for non-traditional and generic spirituality over more traditional titles. The bestsellers in unconventional and generic spirituality include the fictional Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield, Embraced By Light, Betty J. Eadie’s book on near-death experiences, and Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success.
Other similar titles include Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God: Book 1, Care Of The Soul by Thomas Moore, and the long-time bestseller The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. The few titles of a more traditional Christian perspective are: Crossing The Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II, and the devotional book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
Christianity Today magazine (Feb. 8) looks at the new breed of evangelical theologians and finds that they are more ecumenical, more concerned about how theology affects life rather than theory, and are less tied to older views, such as biblical inerrancy.
Writer Tim Stafford profiles five evangelical theologians who are both modeling new ways of “doing theology” and biblical studies as well as having increasing impact in the wider academic world. These scholars are biblical scholars N.T.Wright of England, Duke University professor Richard Hays and theologians Ellen Charry of Princeton, Miroslav Volf of Yale, and Kevin Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Stafford writes that these scholars feel more at home in a pluralistic world than older evangelical scholars and no longer see the intellectual world “dominated by a liberal-conservative polarity, with liberalism holding all the intellectual forts and conservatives shooting arrows from the outside . . . Rather, they see open space. The demise of modernism has knocked down most of the forts.”
These scholars have problems with the standard evangelical theories of biblical authority, such as inerrancy and accept methods of historical criticism that are controversial in the evangelical community. Yet they also challenge liberal scholars’ ingrained skepticism about the claims of Christianity. Another commonality is that these new theologians view themselves as existing between the church and the academy as they focus on writing theology that is helpful to congregations and the laity.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Asians are increasingly filling the ranks of participation and leadership of Christian ministries on American campuses, particularly Ivy League and other prestige institutions.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Feb. 2) reports that such long-established Christian clubs and ministries as InterVarsity and Campus Crusade are experiencing a dramatic ethnic shift. For example, last year at Stanford, Berkeley and Yale, about 85 percent of students who attended multiethnic Christian fellowships were Asian, reports David Cho. Over the last 15 years, InterVarisity saw the number of Asian Americans in its ranks increase by 267 percent nationwide, from 992 to 3,640, and by 605 percent at colleges in New York and New Jersey (from 97 to 684).
During the same period, all-Asian Christian fellowships grew more than multiethnic Christian groups. When fellowships reach a point of attracting a largely Asian following, the group takes on a cultural flavor that serves as a magnet for attracting other Asian students–some coming into contact with Christianity for the first time. When this happens, white students tend to feel out of place in the group and leave, says Jim Om, a Korean pastor New York’s predominantly white Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
But many of the Asian fellowships have a contemporary feel to them — praise songs and rock bands have often replaced traditional hymns. Cho adds that this new yet strong Christian voice has brought increased opposition and criticism of Christianity on campus. The end result of this resurgence may be that the business and “professional world will soon experience” an influx of conservative Christian Asians.
A growing number of Christian and Jewish congregations in different parts of the country, are sharing their physical facilities with each other and strengthening interfaith ties, reports USA Today (Feb. 16).
In a move that Rabbi Gerald L. Zeilser calls “unprecedented in American life,” individual congregations are using their indigenous spaces and resources to support the ministry of one-time antagonists. In Edison, N.J., Jewish and YMCA leaders have connected their separate facilities on the same property. Members have access to both institutions, including recreational programs.
In Niles, Ill., the after-school and pre-school programs of the YMCA includes religious symbols and teachings of Christianity and Judaism and are taught in a shared building. In Waterloo, Ontario, Jews and Christians together built a worship/service facility to demonstrate their determination to improve relations. Rabbi Zeliser points out a possible limitation to the movement.
He says that such shared space may inadvertently create the illusion of shared doctrine. Diversity, not amalgamation, should be the goal of such programs.
— By Erling Jorstad
Another type of split is emerging in the more liberal Reform wing of Judaism.
While the divisions in many Christian bodies often take shape between more liberal church leaders and clergy and conservative laity, the opposite is the case in Reform. The Jerusalem Report (Feb. 1) notes that the split is taking place between an increasingly traditional Reform rabbinate and a liberal lay membership.
Much of the conflict was brought to a head when a draft of a new denominational platform, entitled “Ten Principles of Reform Judaism,” was released that endorsed Torah study, Sabbath and Kosher observance and other ritual practices such as the use of the mikvah bath.
Heated opposition to the document from laity and some rabbis pressing for maintaining the classic Reform emphasis on universalistic ethical practice (rather than ritual observance), has probably shelved the platform for now. But the division is likely to remain, largely because the traditional movement has found a strong following among many seminarians. Hebrew Union College in New York is the “undeclared headquarters” of the traditional movement.
HUC students keep kosher and other rituals and their demand for “traditional text courses” are forcing administrators to consider changing the curriculum. Lay leaders are reported to be shocked by this development. One lay person was reported to say, “If this (the new Reform platform) is going through, I’m joining a Unitarian church.”
In recent months, observers of the American Jewish community are finding a steady deepening of divisions among the various groupings, especially the Orthodox.
Rabbi Jack Wertheimer of the Jewish Theological Seminary writes in Commentary magazine (February) that the numerically smaller Orthodox (totaling just over 6 percent of Jewish households) are making a significant impact on the religious practices of the larger Reform (38 percent) and Conservative (35 percent) communities. The Orthodox are likely to exert greater influence in the future because they are having larger families. They give maximum attention to maintaining the larger Jewish infrastructure, through their observances, such as keeping a kosher diet, and ritual baths (mikvahs), as well as through day schools and philanthropic and volunteer activities for Jewish causes.
Much of the Orthodox revival is being fed by young adults in their 20s and 30s–often including “returnees” from liberal Jewish branches — who are strongly observant and enthusiastic in their faith and more critical of the “accommodationist” stance of their parents’ generation. The more confrontational stance is seen in the case now in the courts of Orthodox students enrolled at Yale University who refused to accept the Yale requirement that all first and second year students live in mixed-sex dormitories.
At the same time, there is a strong push for liberalization in Orthodox Judaism, at least in its “modern” wing, as compared to the right wing or “haredim” movement. A group pressing for liberalization known as Edah held its first international conference in New York in early February. Edah emerged out of the current push for women’s rights in modern Orthodox Judaism, although the group has a broader agenda. At the conference attended by RW and 1,500 participants, Edah director Rabbi Saul Berman said the group wanted “maximum integration with American society while preserving observant Judaism.”
Modern Orthodox leaders, such as those represented by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, criticized the formation of Edah as adding to the polarization in the Orthodox community. Feminist concerns occupied much of the conference’s program, such as the formation of women’s prayer groups; the more contested issue of women rabbis is supported by some participants but not officially by Edah. Historical criticism of the Torah was also the subject of several sessions. It seems that scholarly questioning of authorship of the first five book of the Old Testament and a literal creation account may prove as controversial and divisive in Orthodox Judaism as in conservative Christianity.
But, unlike many greying liberal and progressive movements in Christian denominations, there was youthfulness evident at the conference that suggests that Edah may have a strong future; about 30 to 40 percent of the attendees were under 40. Other sessions dealt with the growth of right-wing Orthodoxy. At one session on Orthodox day schools, scholars and Jewish leaders bemoaned the fact that the teachers are increasingly right-wing, partly because modern Orthodox Jews are opting for more lucrative careers than teaching.
Both Wertheimer and speakers at the conference noted that the divisions and tensions extend even to synagogues, where rabbis are castigated for approving of such innovations as women’s prayer groups by ultraorthodox members.
(Commentary, 165 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)
— Erling Jorstad contributed to this article.