In This Issue
- On/File: March 2000
- Findings & Footnotes: March 2000
- Growing non-Christian immigration changes Israel’s welcome policy
- European politicians gravitating to Christian left?
- Current Research: March 2000
- Clergy shortage affecting Jews, Catholics, Protestants
- Support for faith-based programs expands along ecumenical lines
- Conservatives threatening or reshaping Anglican unity?
- Catholic marketing’s (and the Rosar’s) moment
- Orthodox scandals — more than self-inflicted wounds?
01: The rapidly growing independent Pentecostal congregation in South Dallas, Texas, Potter’s House. is now attracting considerable national and scholarly attention.
Led by Pastor T.D. Jakes, whom the New York Times in 1999 included as one of five preachers likely to succeed Billy Graham, the multi-program congregation has over 23,000 members. At the age of 42, Jakes is considered a major force for demonstrating how his “new paradigm” ministry may well suit the needs of other inner city congregations across the country. Ministering directly to the Black community, Jakes’ programs has also bridged ethnic differences.
Analysts speculate that the huge success of Potter’s House stems from its many outreach ministries Jakes himself launched and currently directs. These include his bestseller books, and his popular program, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed”, which is aimed at restoring self esteem among women.
Beyond that, he sponsors national conferences on personal renewal which attract large audiences (such as 84,000 last year in the Georgia Dome). Specialists attribute his new paradigm model success to his ability to tap into the recovery movement enhanced by Pentecostal fervor. Some observers such as the evangelical countercultist Christian Research Journal have vigorously criticized several doctrinal teachings of Jakes. The Dallas leader has shown little interest in entering into doctrinal discussion, continuing to emphasize his message of ”inner healing and empowerment.” [Jakes is also from a “oneness” Pentecostal background that teaches baptism in Jesus’ name rather than in the name of the Trinity.]
Spouse Serita Jakes has developed the many-sided women’s movement into another force of the Potter’s House ministry. She has a program aimed at teenagers intended to enhance their pride in their femininity and role as “young ladies” equipped with advice on keeping their chastity and studying their gifts of the Bible.
Aware also that critics have sharply denounced his spectacular wardrobe, a Mercedes-Benz, and a $1.7 million house, Jakes calls on listeners to take pride in their appearance and to use their financial resources to further kingdom work in the larger community. Along side these are expanding prison ministries and what the reporter calls “the crown” of his social ministry, the City of Refuge program.
Recently started, the long-range plans are to provide food, shelter, and economic opportunities for the poor and marginalized, with a minimum amount of attention given to evangelizing for conversions. Plans are underway for recreation facilities, a home for senior retirees, a youth ministry center, and a fine arts program.
(Source: Christianity Today, Feb. 7)
— By Erling Jorstad
02: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is becoming a leading figure in presenting Jewish teachings and traditions to the gentile world.
Boteach was originally a Lubavich Hasidic Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn sent to Oxford, England to recruit nominal Jews to the faith in 1988. But Boteach ended up drawing more gentiles than Jews to his program; today he believes that non-Jews are going to save Judaism. Boteach’s L’Chaim Society at Oxford — which was cut off from the Hasidic movement because of his work with non-Jews — became the second most popular club at the university drawing many gentiles to its soft-sell approach to Judaism.
After writing Kosher Sex, a 1999 bestseller extolling the virtues of the Jewish approach to monogamy, the rabbi is now back in the U.S., trying to bring his outreach program into the mainstream of American life. Boteach doesn’t so much invite gentiles to become Jewish as much as he tries to extend Jewish teachings and sensibilities to the non-Jewish world.
For instance, he teaches that Jewish concepts about wealth make more sense in this age of prosperity than Christian views, as they allow people to enjoy material success as long as they give to charity. With his connections to the celebrity world (he advises Michael Jackson), Boteach is convinced that “Judaism is going to be to American culture what Buddhism was in the eighties,” meaning a belief system that nonbelievers borrow bits and pieces of philosophy and customs to meet their own needs.
(Source: New York magazine, Feb. 28)
03: The King’s College in New York City is breaking new ground in providing an evangelical liberal arts college for urban minorities.
Originally based in suburban Westchester County, The Kings College closed its doors due to financial troubles in 1994, only to reopen six years later in the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan. Many of the city’s minorities and new immigrants have enrolled, groups that have “felt excluded” from Christian colleges in the past, says college president Friedheim Radandt.
Another unique aspect of The Kings College is that it is part of Campus Crusade for Christ. In what is said to be a “paradigm shift in Christian education,” Campus Crusade is planning to open similar colleges in large cities in the U.S. and around the world.
(Source: ReligionToday.com, Feb. 4)
04: An online journal known as TASTE, or the Archive of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences, documents spiritual and mystical experience that may not find favor in the scientific community.
The journal, edited by philosopher and scientist Charles Tart, has become known as a “safe place” for scientists to report their findings on mystical and spiritual experiences that may be susceptible to academic ridicule. The experiences reported are of a vague yet mystical variety. One post, for example, reads, “Without warning, I suddenly had a felling of complete peace and of complete unity with the universe.” Tart is curious about how many scientists who may have once experienced spiritual wonder, perhaps when they were children, turned to technical work where they now distrust their more intuitive sides.
The web site (at: www.issc-taste.org/index.html), which displays about 30 accounts of transcendent experiences at a time, stresses hard data and strict documentation of facts. But Tart hopes the journal will rekindle spiritual impulses among scientists.
(Source: Spirituality & Health, Spring)
01: The long-awaited updating of a landmark study of Catholic seminary education has recently been published.
Under the editorship of Sr. Katarina Schuth, the book, Seminaries, Theologates, and the Future of Church Ministry; An Analysis of Trends and Transitions (Michael Glazier, Liturgical Press) builds on a l989 study she edited.
A symposium in Commonweal magazine (February 11) brings together Fr. Robert P Imbelli, now teaching theology at Boston College; Sr. Doloros Lecky of Woodstock Theological Center; and Dr. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools to discuss the book’s findings.
Imbelli’s large-picture review examines the methods, scope, and purpose of the study and draws special attention to four issues: the declining number of seminarians and its impact on the schools and the church; the visible decline among new seminarians in intellectual preparation for advanced study; the mounting polarization over ideology and theology among students and between faculty and students; and the overwhelming need for more collaboration among ordained and lay ministers.
All of this must be done without sacrificing the unique sacramental role of the priest. Lecky focuses directly on the growing importance of lay ministerial education and parish leadership, as identified by Schuth’s research and from her own experience. She comments on such areas as: spiritual formation, intellectual formation; formation for collaborative ministry, and the issues of finances Given the crises over declining number of priests as well as revenues, Leckey offers a guide to how these issues can be directed into constructive channels with, among other things, the increase of lay ecclesial ministers.
Aleshire critiques the study from the vantage point of his position within Protestant seminary education to discuss the need for further reform within Catholic schools, particularly in such areas as the need and opportunities for seminaries to continue to lead the Church in constructive theology; the complicated issue within all seminaries of the problems of authority and certainty among theologates committed to their strong confessional heritage; and finally, how Protestants and Catholics can learn from one another in reformulating governance within their schools.
An interesting sidebar to the symposium is William Porter’s account of how the students at Mount. St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland have not so much become conservatives as much as “evangelical Catholics.” The seminarians don’t invest much time in thinking about Vatican II, as they practice a personal yet vigorous faith that stresses witnessing to Catholicism in a pluralistic society.
For more information on this issue,write to: Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: The new book Surveying the Religious Landscape (Morehouse, $17.95) by George Gallup Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay contains a wealth of survey material on the religious beliefs and practices of Americans in a compact format.
Drawing on decades of Gallup Polls, Gallup and Lindsay cover everything from church attendance (likely to be the most contested subject in the book due to revisionist research during the past few years which has challenged Gallup’s higher figures) to Catholic spirituality to giving patterns of Americans. Preceding each section of survey data are helpful general accounts of religious history and current events that relate to the trends under discussion.
The flood of non-Jewish immigrants into Israel in the last few years is leading the government to engage in Jewish education for prospective newcomers.
Inside Israel newsletter (February) reports that in the earlier years of immigration into Israel from Russia and other post-communist countries, at least 85 percent of those entering Israel were Jews according to Jewish law. “In 1995 this began to change to the point that this past year it is estimated by the government that over 50 percent of this incoming group are non-Jews…[A] Jewish journalist visiting Belarus said that he found that 80 percent of participants in a youth program sponsored by the Jewish Agency were not Jews.”
Except for most of the Orthodox, there is strong resistance against changing the Law of Return (a law allowing all Jews to emigrate to Israel) to prevent non-Jews from obtaining the benefits of entering Israel. Such a change might encourage “religious extremists” and threaten Israel’s democratic standards.
One official says that the change must come from the Jewish Agency (the organization in charge of encouraging and facilitating emigration to Israel) changing its work from “searching out Jews to being searched out by Jews who truly want to become a part of the nation of Israel because of their Jewish heritage.”
(Inside Israel, Box 22029, San Diego, CA 92192-2029)
Christians of a leftist political perspective are finding their way into top government positions in several European countries, reports the German news service Idea (Feb. 1).
Whereas in the past, European politicians on the left often were secular or excluded their religious affiliations from their public life, today’s politicians seek to combine their Christian roots with their political philosophies. Left-wing and outspokenly Christian politicians include Tony Blair of England, French President and socialist Lionel Jospin, and the Italian President of the European Commission (EC), Romano Prodi. Jospin is an active member of the Protestant Reformed Church, and is said to encourage dialogue with “critical social ethics.”
Blair is an Anglican who has close ties to the Catholic church, which may be partly explained by the leftist tendencies of British Catholicism. Prodi openly professes to be a “believing Catholic,” and, like the other officials, tries to combine democratic socialism with Christianity. The news service reports that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder may be similar to the others in his political views, but he is the most secular, even omitting the statement, “so help me God,” from his inauguration ceremony.
He is also somewhat distant from both the Protestant and Catholic churches.
(Idea, Postfach 18 20, D-35528 Wetzlar, Germany)
01: A study of new religious communities in the Catholic Church shows that orders that focus on evangelism draw the most new recruits, with those centering on prayer and contemplation also drawing new members.
The study, conducted by sociologist Sr. Patricia Wittberg, looked at 157 new communities across the U.S. The CARA Report (Winter), a newsletter on research in American Catholicism, reports that Wittberg found communities specializing in evangelization were larger and more appealing than the other communities. Fewer than nine percent of these communities reported having no one in formation compared to 43 percent of the apostolic groups, and 22 percent of the monasteries.
Communities focused on prayer and contemplation are receiving a larger percentage of new members than in earlier periods, according to Wittberg. When asked to describe their “charism” or special gift and inspiration, the most frequent responses were Franciscan (22 percent), Carmelite (12 percent) and Benedictine (11 percent).
Twenty-eight percent did not cite any of the established charisms as their inspiration and claimed to have developed their own vision. Wittberg concludes that the “Catholic Church may be on the threshold of another cycle of rebirth in religious life,” after a period of steep decline. One thing is clear; these new communities are not the institution-builders of earlier years; very few reported running or opening parochial schools, colleges or hospitals. Most prefer giving hands-on service to those in need.
(CARA Report, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1203)
02: Considered by many to be cultic, or Satan-worshipping, or leftover New Age esotericism, the Neopagan movement is continuing to add new adherents, according to recent research.
“Today, there are at least 200,000 American Neopagans and estimates of twice that number are not implausible,” write Professors Danny L. Jorgenson, and Scott E. Russell of the University of South Florida in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (January). The authors show the Neopagans are not the stereotypical “under-rewarded status discontents” believed by many. Rather, as the article suggests based on self-administered questionnaires, those studied participate in a movement which is” exceptionally fluid, diverse, and eclectic.”
Their religious ideas reflect an overwhelming preference for feminist, ecological, occultism, anti-patriarchal synthesis not readily definable by contemporary standards. On social characteristics, the Neopagans reflect much of current American religious life; most have dropped out of participation in Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish groups. They are more highly educated than Americans in general. Indeed, most stated that their rejection of traditional religion was “the principal reason for their involvement ” with Neopaganism. They practice their faith both individually and in groups, which are constantly being reorganized and recreated.
The authors conclude that the participants are neither reactionary nor revolutionary, but reformist in their response to traditional religions. They see themselves as freed from certain aspects of scientific rationality and technology. They are, the authors conclude, highly individualistic, preferring experience over doctrine, pragmatic on governance and authority, relativistic and syncretistic. They are, in brief, people who are living on the edge of current religious life.
(Journal for the Society of the Scientific Study of Religion, 872 SWKT, Sociology Dept., Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602-5388)
— By Erling Jorstad
03: As some specialists were finding evidence that Protestant evangelicalism had somehow run out of the steam it utilized in the last two decades, others such as the respected statistician David Barrett have discovered something else — evangelical Christianity remains the world’s most rapidly-growing religious movement.
Recently released statistics show that some 645 million evangelicals are now practicing their faith, constituting about 11 percent of the world’s population. Barrett, and associate Patrick Johnstone state that the movement is growing 3.5 times faster than the world population.
Pentecostal and charismatic churches, which are subdivisions within evangelicalism, are growing actually 4.5 times faster. This is the only religious movement growing significantly through conversion, according to Johnstone’s book, The Church is Bigger than you Think.
(U.S.Center for World Missions, 1999)
— By Erling Jorstad
A clergy shortage is impacting synagogues as well as Protestant and Catholic churches, reports the New York Times (Feb. 14).
The problem is most acute in the Jewish denominations and the Catholic Church. In Reform Judaism, about 200 out of 895 congregations are without a full-time rabbi. The modern Orthodox branch has a similar shortage, though the shortage in Orthodoxy is largely due to the growth of new and small congregations.
The shortage in the ranks of the Jewish clergy started about five years. Before that time, there was a glut of rabbis, which resulted in a de-emphasis on clergy recruitment. For Catholics the number of parish priests declined by 12 percent from 1992 to1997. The article notes that clergy recruitment is particularly difficult in the Episcopal Church (which is the only Protestant denomination mentioned).
An official estimates that the church has under 300 members of the clergy out of 15,000 who were born after 1964. The church is feeling the shortage in both urban as well as in rural parishes. While some say that the robust economy is the reason for the lull, one specialist views the declining appeal of the ministry more a result of the rejection of authority.
Churches are increasingly engaging in coalition-building and other forms of unity in their involvement in faith-based public programs.
As church-based programs move into place for prisons, inner-city youth ministries and job training, cooperation seems to be growing. In mid-February a major stride forward was taken by 57 religious leaders of all denominations as they met on the steps of the nation’s Capitol to proclaim their “Covenant to Overcome Poverty.”
As reported in ReligionToday.com, a broad coalition of policy makers and spokespersons met after two days of conferences on social ministry to show their unity in starting a ten-year program for affordable health, good education, affordable housing, a livable income, and related goals.
In preparation for five years by Jim Wallis, Editor of Sojourners, the coalition will start with leaders organizing town meetings in 17 major cities. Among the signs were the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches several African-American churches and representatives of several Roman Catholic groups.
— By Erling Jorstad
A service consecrating two bishops on January 29 in the Anglican Church in Singapore has raised fundamental questions for the Episcopal Church in the U.S. about Anglican unity and the limits of dissent.
The normal procedure in the worldwide Anglican Communion allows each national church to regulate its own ordination of bishops, with the Episcopal Church presiding over the American scene. But in Singapore two American Episcopal priests, the Revs. Charles H. Murphy III and John H. Rodgers, Jr. were ordained by six bishops, none of whom reside in the United States.
The newly ordained bishops, allied with the conservative renewal group First Promise, headed by Bishop Murphy, explained the consecrations were intended as a response to the “failure” of the Episcopal Church to “defend the truth of the Bible” against ordination of homosexuals and acceptance of rituals for same-sex couples. The bishops who performed the act were from the Third World, a conservative region gaining increasing influence in the worldwide Anglican communion.
The most influential of Anglican leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George L. Carey called the ordinations “irresponsible”, and warned they “only harm the unity of the communion.” Religion writers Gustav Niebuhr and Richard Ostling point out in Beliefnet.com (see beliefnet.com/story,9/story_947_.html) that unless major compromises or concessions are made by the conservative bishops and their Third World counterparts, the already-strained threads of unity in the Anglican world communion will be tested as never before, perhaps to the breaking point.
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor
A new interest in Catholic products — from rosaries to videos — is propelling the growth of Catholic marketing, reports the National Catholic Register (Feb. 13-19).
The newspaper reports that the expansion is evident in the four-year-old Catholic Marketing Network,, a Dallas-based firm that holds trade shows for Catholic store owners and other suppliers of religious goods from around the country. The network recently increased its trade shows to two per year, one of them moving outside of the strong East Coast Catholic circuit.
One merchandiser cites statistics showing that while 25 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic, less than five percent have ever been inside a religious bookstore, indicating a good deal of room for growth and exposure of Catholic products.
While some of the Catholic products are modern and updated, following the trend in non-Catholic Christian gift items, such as videos and CD’s of Catholic performing artists, other items run in the more traditional direction. The Boston Globe (Feb. 2) reports that the sales of rosaries have skyrocketed after going into decline after the Second Vatican Council. Two Northeast manufacturers of rosaries say their sales have quadrupled over the past 15 years.
The sales of high-end rosaries (costing as much as $4,500) are up, and even two untapped markets, men and Protestants, are showing an interest. Practitioners often cite a mix of duty and desire, as well as a return to the Catholic faith, as prompting the revival of praying with the rosary.
(National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Drive, Hamden, CT 06514)
A spate of highly publicized scandals in the American Orthodox Jewish community has “touched off a campaign of intense soul-searching among American Jews” concerning ethics.
Moment magazine (February) reports that in the last few years, prominent Orthodox, particularly Hasidic, Jewish leaders and sometimes whole communities have found themselves mired in scandals involving allegations of corruption and fraud. One well-known case involved a Brooklyn Hasidic rabbi using his bank account to launder $1.75 million of what turned out to be Colombian cocaine money. Other recent cases include welfare fraud by an Orthodox community, Hasidic rabbis allegedly involved in kidnapping a teenager, witness tampering, and even attempted murder.
The scandals have been enough for sermons and articles in the Hasidic world to argue that their immersion in politics is misguided and that there needs to be a return to insularity and isolation. Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress calls many of these cases part of a “hangover from Europe,” when Jewish communities viewed their anti-Semitic regimes in prewar Poland, Hungary and Stalinist Russia as the enemy. “An attitude developed that whatever we can get from them is giving them back their due,” he adds.
The attitude of Jewish law is also sometimes ambiguous about the value of secular law. There are some halachic and talmudic passages that give the law of the Torah priority over the laws of the land, such as in teaching that stealing from the government is less serious than stealing from an individual. Many of the cases of fraud and corruption involves politicians who tend to “fall over themselves to throw aid at Hasidic communities,” thus tempting the often financially strapped, and sometimes impoverished, Hasidic Orthodox community to cut corners to receive such funds.
A double-standard can’t be ruled out, since many of the offenses committed by these rabbis and splashed across newspapers also regularly involve secular institutions and figures who receive little press attention. Many Orthodox leaders feel that the non-Orthodox world amplifies and publicizes their offenses because they dislike the “air of self-righteousness that Orthodox carry about them in the pursuit of their distinctive lifestyle,” according to the article (Moment).
Another article in the same issue of Moment finds that prejudice against Orthodox Jews is common in both the secular and Jewish press. The coverage of such events as men and women non-Orthodox Jews praying at Jerusalem’s Western Wall [separate areas for men and women are designated at the Wall] and coming under attack by the ultra-Orthodox are played up by the media. But the fact that these efforts by the non-Orthodox are meant to be provocative and garner political attention and that the majority of Orthodox at the Wall do not participate in the attacks is not reported.
Also glossed over is the fact that Orthodox religious authorities have regularly forbidden violence against any groups. Another widely reported story involved an Orthodox-inspired plan for gender segregated buses The news raised outrage against the Orthodox in Israel and in the West, although it was later found out that the program was voluntary and limited to the back sections of buses in strict Orthodox neighborhoods.
A widely publicized and baseless recent story in the Jewish and secular press about the trend of Orthodox men using concubines was the most recent case of misinformation involving this religious group. Even more legitimate stories, such as the Orthodox rejection of the validity of other Jewish groups’ conversion rituals, are given slanted treatment, according to the article. There is little media treatment of Conservative Judaism which rejects most Reform conversions, nor criticism of Reform’s refusal to include Humanistic Judaism or Hebrew Christians under its umbrella.
(Moment, 3000 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008)