In This Issue
- On/File: March 2001
- Findings & Footnotes: March 2001
- Hindu-based schools flourish in India with help from nationalists
- Liberation theologians warm to charismatic renewal in Brazil
- Conservatives driving new church growth in the Netherlands
- Current Research: March 2001
- Christian internet companies face dot-com bust
- Moderate factor encouraged in new cardinal appointments?
- Psychotherapy finding home in Buddhist spiritual direction
- Mainline support for non-traditional families weak?
- Ex-Catholics women showing influence in Protestant pulpits
- Faith-based social service hits snag on alternative religions
- Young Catholics — Relativist and committed?
On/File: March 2001
01: The Community of the Beatitudes, a growing French Catholic movement that represents a different kind of religious order, has launched its first U.S. “pilot” community in Denver.
The community consists of priests, nuns, and laity — single and married — living together as they engage in contemplative prayer and ministry to the poor. The community was started in 1985 and now has over 1,200 members living in 70 communities in 29 countries on five continents. The group, one of several conservative movements that have emerged in France in the last two decades, was invited to start a community in Denver by the city’s Archbishop Charles Chaput because of its orthodox stance and innovative approach to community life.
In the year that the community has established a “house in Denver, it has drawn new recuits and inquirers and new houses are being considered for other U.S. cities.
(Source: Catholic World Report, February)
02: Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley is again testing the boundaries of seminary education by pioneering a new interfaith approach.
In 1962, GTU was the first institution to bring Catholic and Protestant seminaries into a working relationship. Now the new president of GTU, James Donahue, is calling for the institution to broaden its base to include non-Christian religions. Donahue is planning for GTU to expand its Jewish studies program, as well as include Buddhist and Hindu centers in its cooperative program. Donahue says that to be “ecumenical today is to be broadly interreligoius and interfaith.”
(Source: Religion Today, Feb. 22, San Francisco Chronicle)
Findings & Footnotes: March 2001
01: Habitat for Humanity is among the most well-known and respected of Christian charitable organizations in the U.S. But in his new book, Habitat for Humanity: Building Private Homes, Building Public Religion (Temple University Press, $24.95), Jerome Baggett investigates how the organization reflects and often encourages the tendency toward individualized religion divorced from denominational and congregational attachments.
Baggett, a sociologist, interviewed close to 100 leaders, staffers and volunteers with Habitat, a ministry that draws together Christians from a wide variety of churches to build homes for the poor. The first part of the book looks at how Habitat has become professionalized with its own bureaucracy, and is less community and grass-roots oriented.
In the more controversial second part, Baggett finds that participants and staffers downplay denominational differences and doctrine — including discussions of such matters — stressing an inclusive, non-dogmatic and practical faith that follows Christ as example. Participants tend to separate being spiritual from being religious. Alienation from and criticism of their congregations (for hypocrisy, for example) was also prevalent among volunteers and even some staffers.
The author concludes that the leadership is caught in the bind of having to find support from non-religious foundations and donors and also maintain the Christian base of the movement in order to draw volunteers, support and a sense of community and values.
02: Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions, edited by Dana Evan Kaplan (Routledge, $22.95) chronicles the fascinating changes this liberal Jewish denomination has undergone in the past few years.
The book deals with how Reform Judaism has adopted more traditional worship and observance patterns (wearing the yarmulke, more use of Hebrew during services, following a kosher diet) while also pushing the envelope on moral issues, such as recently approving gay marriage. The contributors make it clear that Reform’s new interest in spirituality and tradition does not necessarily mean a move toward Orthodox Judaism. Rather, Reform is expanding its repertoire of resources to include traditional elements that meet the needs of Jews seeking spirituality and community.
RW’s editor contributed a chapter on reform Judaism in today’s spiritual marketplace) Noteworthy chapters include a defense of “classical Reform” — the less ceremonial style of worship that emphasizes the ethical and universalist rather than the ritual dimensions of Judaism; and a study of the post-denominational trait of Jews moving to the sunbelt.
Hindu-based schools flourish in India with help from nationalists
The number of Hindu-based schools in India started by nationalists has grown sharply since they have gained power in the nation, reports the Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 16).
A growing network of k-12 schools teaching Hindu values and nationhood started by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak (RSS), the religious parent organization of the Hindu nationalist Dangh Parivar movement, has mushroomed across India. In the province of Rajasthani alone, some 200 RSS schools in the1980s “have become 600 schools today, a ratio repeated across India,” writes Robert Marquand.
Students are taught classes in Hindu moral science and memorize lines from the Veda, the Hindu sacred text. “Hindutva” values are stressed, which argue for the superiority and preeminence of India’s 5,000-year-old civilization. Although girls attend the schools, they are mainly taught to prepare for marriage and motherhood rather than a career.
Liberation theologians warm to charismatic renewal in Brazil
An “unlikely” alliance is being sought by Brazil’s liberation theologians to the charismatic and other spiritual renewal movements, reports Alejandro Bermudez in the National Catholic Register (Jan. 21-27).
Since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s, liberation theology, which links salvation to social activism, has often scorned the charismatic movement, claiming it is escapist and too individualistic in its theology and social vision. But as liberation theology and its base communities — groups that link social action to theological reflection — have declined and the charismatic movement has mushroomed in Brazil, these theologians are taking a much friendlier attitude to the more conservative renewal groups, Bermudez writes.
The change was seen during a liberation theology conference last summer when theologian Joseph Comblin called for a less negative reappraisal of charismatics. More surprising was a recent article by theologian Clodovis Boff, brother of the leading liberationist Leonardo Boff, who wrote that charismatic movement has to be considered one of the main renewal movements in the history of the church. (Boff added that his brother likewise sees these lay movements as a “new valid expression of the Church.”)
Boff added that the renewal can become “truly liberating” if wedded to liberationist concerns. He noted that a group of young militants in the base communities have suggested the creation of “Charismatic Liberationist Renewal.” For their part, renewal leaders have shown no interest in taking up Boff’s offer of a “strategic alliance.”
Conservatives driving new church growth in the Netherlands
While mainline churches continue to decline in the Netherlands, evangelical and charismatic and even Catholic churches are showing new growth in this liberal and secular nation. Quadrant (March) the newsletter of the British Christian Research Association, reports that the smaller Protestant denominations, such as the various conservative offshoots of the Dutch Reformed Church, are showing an average growth of 20 percent in 10 years.
Five of these denominations publish their annual membership data and it shows that these bodies are growing faster than the national population by 6.2 percent. Abram J. Krol writes that their growth is mainly biological since they only lose a small percentage of their young people. But they are also more evangelistic now. Since 1995, Krol writes that the various evangelical streams in all the churches are showing new influence and vitality.
There is also a “hidden” development of the conservative Reformed League’s influence within the liberal Dutch Reformed Church. This conservative Calvinist caucus comprised 12.5 percent of all church members in 1950; today the league accounts for over 20 percent of the membership of this denomination. Together with other “orthodox pockets” of the DRC, the conservatives represent over two-thirds of the churches. Krol finds that two percent of all Reformed church members attend the liberal churches.
The Dutch Mennonites have likewise abandoned liberal positions and moved to a more conservative stance. In churches that are uniting with the Reformed, such as the Lutheran churches, there is also evangelical renewal taking place. The Alpha course, a seminar in Christian basics which started in Britain, was introduced by the Reformed League of the DRC and is drawing many unchurched into church life.
Krol adds that the Catholic Church in Holland, long one of the world’s most liberal, is changing. Under orthodox bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II, the numbers of new priests have increased during the last 10 years and the membership declines are less dramatic than found in the Protestant churches.
(Quadrant, Christian Research Assoc., Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ England; e-mail: email@example.com.
Current Research: March 2001
01: Spiritual and practical living concerns outweigh social activism for the overwhelming majority of black pastors and congregations, according to Gallup polls.
The Gallup religion newsletter Emerging Trends (December/January) reports on polls conducted among nearly 2,000 African-American pastors and lay leaders, finding they report a strong spiritual emphasis in their congregations. More than eight out of 10 pastors (83 percent) said that their sermons “always focus on God’s love and care, while 66 percent said “always” in the case of “practical advice for living. But those saying social activism was always a focus of sermons were only 25 percent; black liberation theology and womanist (black feminist) focus was cited by only 12 percent.
In describing their churches, the characteristic of spiritual vitality was cited far more (68 percent) than that of “working for social justice” (43 percent). While Bible study and youth programs were the most popular among respondents, the social outreach of congregations was also seen in such activities as voter registration, food pantries and health and housing programs. Sixty four percent agreed that churches should express their views on social and political issues.
When it came to support for women pastors, there was only a 40 percent approval rating among the pastor respondents. The pastors tended to be upbeat about the health of their congregations; two-thirds describe the financial health of their churches as “good” (64 percent), while only 30 percent said things were tight. Only three percent said their churches were experiencing serious financial problems.
(Emerging Trends, 47 Hulfish St., P.O. Box 140, Princeton, NJ 08542)
02: Televangelist ministries’ involvement with politics increased significantly during the recent election, according to a new study.
Of the 21 major TV ministries surveyed, evangelical and fundamentalists focused most on politics, compared to charismatics. Charisma News Service (Feb. 13) reports that the study, conducted by Stephen Winzenburg of Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa, found that D. James Kennedy focused most on the election, devoting 13 percent of his airtime to political programming between September and November.
Also high in political messages was Jack Van Impe (10 percent), James Robison (9 percent) and Jerry Falwell. (7 percent). Charismatics such as Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn and Oral Roberts devoted none or only one percent of their airtime to political issues. Overall, ministries devoted 77 percent of their time to spiritual issues and 4 percent to political matters.
03: Religion and spirituality are compatible and connected for most Americans, according to a new poll.
The magazine Spirituality & Health (Spring) commissioned a poll by Blum and Weprin Associates on whether Americans consider themselves spiritual or religious and how these terms are defined. The survey finds that 59 percent describe themselves as both religious and spiritual. Sixty five percent view the word “religion” positively while 15 percent think of the term negatively.
A higher percentage (74 percent) find the word “spirituality” positive. Twenty percent view themselves as solely spiritual, and among this group, 47 percent view religion negatively. The poll finds that 23 percent view spirituality as a broader concept that embraces religion; seven percent say religion is the broader term; 19 percent say the two are identical. But 13 percent see religion and spirituality as entirely different.
Eighty percent of those calling themselves spiritual say that spirituality influences every aspect of their lives. Only 42 percent say that religion plays a central role in their lives, while 36 percent say it plays some role. Another noteworthy finding was that parenting (80 percent) was considered a spiritual activity to the same extent as was attending a worship service (81 percent). A walk in the forest was considered spiritual by 67 percent, while 52 percent of adults viewed sex as a spiritual activity, with men more likely to take this view than women.
(Spirituality & Health, 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006-2088)
Christian internet companies face dot-com bust
The dramatic downturn felt by secular Internet companies has affected the once-booming Christian dot com world, reports Christianity Today (Feb. 16).
Companies, such as iBelieve.com, i.Christian.com and Lightsource.com (which provided Christian audio programs on the web) have crashed, while Crosswalk.com is losing support and revenues. Most of the closings and losses are tied to the same general dot-com problem of not having the long term assets to build a customer base. Those sites that sought to function more as a ministry or to enable other ministries to navigate the Internet (rather than as a destination) have done better.
Christianity.com, for instance, has assembled a diverse group of ministries, such as Prison Fellowship, under one umbrella. Then there is the highly eclectic Beliefnet.com, which is flourishing (though no revenues are revealed) and entering into new partnerships, such as with America Online. Some thought the company’s multi-faith approach might be its downfall, but Beliefnet’s eclectic offerings (featuring teachings and commentary from all the major religions, as well as Neopagans and Scientologists) has been its strength, creating a wide base of support.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188).
Moderate factor encouraged in new cardinal appointments?
The appointment of 44 new cardinals by Pope John Paul in February suggests a moderating influence among this body of papal electors as well as new Latin American influence.
The liberal National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 9) notes that analysts are puzzled by the selection of such moderates as German Archbishops Karl Lehmann and Walter Kasper. Lehmann in particular has criticized Vatican actions, such as prohibitions against divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments, and called for greater democracy in the church. With other moderates already appointed, including Italy’s Cardinal Martini, the “moderate faction seems to have gained new life” after a long period of conservative appointments, writes John Allen.
Observers say that John Paul may have moved against the counsel of his advisors in a desire to transcend church politics. Others say that the election of the German cardinals was made under pressure since Germany is the Vatican’s largest donor. Inside the Vatican, (February) a conservative monthly, notes that Lehmann, who was the last appointment made, is a “mystery,” but adds that there were other puzzles in the recent appointments.
The pope, who is eager to reconcile with Eastern Orthodox churches, selected two Eastern Rite Catholic patriarchs from the former Soviet Union for red hats. This move may unintentionally intensify Orthodox tensions with Rome, since they see Eastern Rite Catholics (who retain Orthodox practices while accepting the authority of the pope) as encroaching on their territory. Since one-quarter of the new appointments are from Latin America, some see the idea of a Latin American pope as no longer far-fetched. Also surprising, there were few other Third World or Eastern Europe appointments.
(Inside The Vatican, via delle Mura Aurelie, 7C, Rome 00165, Italy)
Psychotherapy finding home in Buddhist spiritual direction
While psychotherapy and Buddhism may appeal to the same people, the effort to merge the two fields into one form of spiritual practice is becoming more common.
The Utne Reader (March/April) reports that Buddhist spiritual teachers are now taking their students on as paying clients for psychotherapy, erasing the boundaries between therapy and religion that have already been blurring in recent years. “As recently as a decade ago, most Asian teachers had their doubts about whether the two paths” (psychotherapy and Buddhism) could be practiced at the same time since Buddhist insights are more about dissolving one’s ego rather than building one. That changed as popular books came out seeking to bring Buddhist insights to personal and emotional growth.
But the new practice of Buddhist teachers also functioning as psychotherapists is causing more controversy in this spiritual community, according to writer Anne Simpkinson. Aside from challenging the traditional rule that a therapist should have no outside involvement with clients, the new trend also ignores the informal rule of a practitioner completing therapy before starting a spiritual quest.
Other critics say that playing the role of therapist and spiritual teacher is too much for most clients, perhaps creating a strong reliance and attachment among clients for the therapist (known as transference). But proponents of the new approach are taking the view that emotional healing is part of the spiritual path.
(Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403)
Mainline support for non-traditional families weak?
Although mainline Protestants have emphasized inclusiveness and have criticized traditional family initiatives, their churches have attracted fewer non-traditional families than evangelicals who espouse more conservative family views, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in the Christian Century (Feb. 21).
Wilcox looks at the articles, sermons and programs of mainline churches and finds that they may speak of the plight of children in social injustice and poverty, but they have offered little in the way of concrete support and advice on family matters. The paradox is seen in a mainline periodical such as Christian Century. Between 1980 and 1995, 32 percent of the articles in the magazine dealt with social justice issues while only five percent concerned family- and sex-related topics. Surveys of mainline clergy and laity has shown high tolerance of changes in the family (divorce, remarriage, and same-sex couples), but have not addressed moral concerns about the effect of divorce on children.
This tolerance of new family patterns combined with a distaste for the “family values” approach of evangelicals have tended to make mainline churches shy away from offering any clear guidance on family issues. Wilcox cites the National Congregational Survey as showing that conservative Protestant churches are more than twice as likely to offer nontraditional family ministries, such as support groups for divorced and single adults, than mainline churches. “Even more ironic is that mainline congregations actually have slightly more formal programs for conventional families” — such as marriage programs — than do conservative Protestant churches, writes Wilcox.
Also surprisingly, mainline churches were less likely to attract members from non-traditional families than were conservative churches. Wicox concludes that mainline churches are still tied to the conventional family pattern despite their tolerant rhetoric and views. To cope with the future such churches need to develop more programs to deal with non-traditional families while also addressing the “mounting evidence that divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing pose serious threats to children.”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
Ex-Catholics women showing influence in Protestant pulpits
Women who are former Catholics have been increasingly moving into the ranks of mainline Protestant clergy, although the journey is difficult and they tend to carry some of their Catholic background and mind-set into their new roles.
The influx of ex-Catholic women into the Protestant ministry has been underreported by the press and underresearched by academia, but an article in the Boston Globe (Feb. 4) suggests that the trend may have an impact in mainline churches. Although no figures are provided, the prohibition against women priests in Catholicism has propelled a number of women into Protestant churches, spanning the theological spectrum from Unitarian to Baptist. The journey to the ministry for these women is often “long, unexpected and emotional,” writes Michael Paulson.
Although most women interviewed in the article reported feeling a call to the ministry early in life, they only considered that possibility after they had left the Catholic Church and started attending Protestant congregations. The reasons for leaving involved the church’s stance on birth control, abortion, papal authority and the hierarchy, homosexuality and the ordination of women.
Most reported living in a “spiritual wilderness” after leaving Catholicism, not attending any church before they found a denomination in which they felt at home. But these Protestant women also report missing elements of Catholicism, such as the weekly Eucharist and the richness of Catholic sacraments. Some still kept reminders of the faith with them, such as statues on their desks, or make gestures such as the sign of the cross.
Faith-based social service hits snag on alternative religions
A segment of the Christian churches has long viewed the idea of government support for faith-based social services warily, believing accepting public funds will compromise their religious mission.
Now a related concern of unpopular and alternative religious groups receiving such support is adding another obstacle to widespread acceptance of this program. This is seen in how Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has criticized President Bush’s plan to pay churches and other organizations to provide social services. Charisma News Service (Feb. 22) reports that Robertson warned that making more government money available for faith-based programs could open up a “Pandora’s box” that would aid fringe religious groups. In a commentary on his “700 Club” show, Robertson said that groups like the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna movement and the Church of Scientology could all apply for government grants under Bush’s plan. Robertson said that the program “gets to be a real problem,”
He added that The Unification Church has been “proscribed for brainwashing techniques, sleep deprivation and all the rest of it that goes along with their unusual proselytizing . . . The Hare Krishnas [do] much the same thing.” Both the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology already have announced their intention to apply for federal money from the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives (OFBCI).
Unification Church spokesman Phillip D. Schanker said that “You will see us deeply involved in any area where we can partner in practical projects with government.” Under the program, groups can receive federal money for social service projects that have a religious dimension, as long as they do not force their beliefs on clients. Bush said that the OFBCI would welcome “all religion,” and that their programs would be judged on results, not beliefs.
Robertson’s opposition may signal “enormous political trouble” for Bush’s plan among conservatives, says Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups been among the chief critics of Bush’s plan, partly for church-state separation concerns and due to fears of anti-Semitic groups receiving support.
The Washington Post (Feb. 27) reports that Jewish leaders meeting with an official of the new program voiced concern that the Nation of Islam and other groups expressing anti-Semitic views can receive government support under the new arrangement.
Young Catholics — Relativist and committed?
A new study of young American Catholics suggests religious relativism doesn’t necessarily weaken commitment to a faith, that there is not a large influx of Hispanics out of the church, and that GenX Catholics are not much different than baby boomers.
The current issue of Visions (November/December), a newsletter on demography for churches, discusses the findings of the forthcoming “Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice” (University of Notre Dame Press), and notes that they challenge several widespread assumptions about today’s religious landscape. The book, by Dean Hoge and a team of researchers, is based on a survey comparing confirmed young Catholics with older generations. They find that Catholics are unlike mainline Protestants (Hoge previously studied Presbyterian baby boomer confirmands in the book Vanishing Boundaries) in their stronger commitment to the church.
Compared to Presbyterians, who had a 75 percent dropout rate, about three-fifths of Catholic young adults, had left the church — usually at around age 20 — and almost half of them became active later.
When individuals come from stable families where both parents are practicing Catholics, the young adults tend to remain Catholics as adults, although they may deviate from their parents’ style of devotion and are more liberal on moral teachings and how the church should be run. There has been much written on the deviation of younger, particularly GenX Catholics from baby boomers, but Hoge and company find less of a generation gap.
Few differences in attitude and behaviors were found between the two age groups. The study also found few young Latinos who have left the church for other congregations (although those surveyed were more loyal and more assimilated than most Hispanics). In fact, more Hispanics (two-thirds) than non-Hispanics said the Catholic church was the“one true church.” Hoge and colleagues find that their tolerance toward many religious groups and a relativism in these young Catholics’ own beliefs regarding whether other religions could also possess the truth did not affect their commitment to their own churches.
A trend that suggests that young Catholics are turning more to tradition than to the spiritual marketplace is the popularity of adoration of the Eucharist found in many Catholic campus chapels. The National Catholic Register (Dec. 24-30) reports that Eucharistic adoration, where worshippers pray before the consecrated communion host, is on the rise nationally. College chapels that have introduced eucharistic adoration — from Georgetown University and Catholic University in America to the University of Dallas — are finding their pews filled with enthusiastic worshippers.
The practice is drawing students to chapel who never thought of attending before. The Catholic University service is marked by “praise and worship” singing followed by a homily and silent prayer before the consecrated host. Hoge’s study of young Catholics found that one-quarter of them had attended eucharistic adorations. Yet it is a mistake to label such a practice as a traditionalist revival, says sociologist Mary Johnson, one of the researchers with Hoge. In the National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 23), Johnson says that when young Catholics attend eucharistic adorations, hardly any of them refer to a theology of the Eucharist.
Instead, they describe the experience of quiet and stillness in contrast to their hectic lifestyles. Johnson says this is part of the new “weavings” in religious life where old symbols are imbued with new meanings.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377; National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514; National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)