In This Issue
- On/File: May 1998
- Iraq’s religious revival more than official
- Current Research: May 1998
- Informal dress for religious services finds wide acceptance
- Practical spirituality finds wide public interest
- Christian men’s movement retains momentum
- New women’s groups find their own identity and thrive
- Taize drawing youth with its free-style approach
- Catholic priests are hitting the road in growing numbers
- Foundation funds changing denominations — a Lutheran case study
- Faith factor for at-risk youth finds hearing and scrutiny
01: The “common ground” approach to reconciling conservative liberal groups in the Catholic Church and the abortion issue is now finding a hearing among Baptists in the U.S.
Former President Jimmy Carter recently convened meetings of 20 Baptist leaders to sign a declaration expressing mutual respect for each other and common concerns on racial reconciliation and religious persecution. The signers included leaders of the conservative Baptist movement that has taken over the reigns of leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention as well as SBC “moderates.”
Mainline and black Baptist representatives also signed the document, which also called on Baptists to former partnerships with congregations of different ethnic groups and cultures. Carter stressed that the document does not attempt to broach theological issues which have divided Baptists in the U.S.
(Source: Christian Century, April 22-29)
02: The Church of England is increasingly marketing itself thanks largely to the work of Rev. Bill Beaver, the church’s new communications director.
Beaver, an American who worked in commercial advertising and marketing for 20 years, has drafted a 12-page strategy document for the C of E bishops that includes plans for the church’s first market research, using focus groups across the country, training bishops in media relations, and engaging in a parish-based poster campaign.
Beaver wants the bishops to stop clashing with each other in public on a wide range of controversial issues and present a united front, assigning them only certain topics they can discuss with competence with the media. Most controversial, though, is Beaver’s withholding of Sunday church attendance figures– another attempt to put the church in a positive light and take attention away from its steady membership declines.
(Source: Spectator, April 18)
03: The convening of a recent conference in the Japanese city of Kyoto of Asian Buddhist leaders is one sign of growing Buddhist’ fears that their faith is coming under challenge by Christian missionaries.
The conference focused on the twin challenges of Christian growth in Asian Buddhist countries and the current threat of totalitarian regimes in China and Southeast Asia in suppressing monasteries and loyalty to the religion. Internal renewal, especially in the midst of allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct among Buddhist monks, was viewed as the most important factor in a Buddhist revival by such leaders as the Dalai Lama.
(Source: National Catholic Register, April 26-May 2)
A “religious revival,” as well as a new burst of religious freedom for Muslims, is growing in Iraq, according to the Washington Post (April 5).
Under orders from Sadam Hussein, the long-time secular country has rescinded restrictions against Shiite Islam, the sect accounting for the majority of Muslims in the nation in order to build morale and discourage unrest. The public revival of Islam first emerged in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when Iraq attempted to forge new links with Muslim nations for support. The difficult times and uncertainty since the war has only intensified religious devotion and state endorsement of Islam.
The government is placing an emphasis on Islamic symbols (with Hussein spending large amounts for maintenance of Holy sites). Both Sunni and Shiite mosque and church attendance has risen as a result of what an ambassador calls a “kind of group therapy” to relieve despair.
It has been in the last six months that the curbs on religious liberty have been lifted, serving as a kind of “moral immunization drive,” says one Shiite intellectual.
01: While the computer and the Internet does not seem to have taken the place of real life congregations, the possibility of “virtual faith” is popular among youth, according to a Barna Poll.
A survey of American teenagers by the Barna Research Group (as reported in the group’s April 20th news release) finds that one out of six teens (16 percent) said that within the next five years they expect to use the Internet as a substitute for their current “church-based religious experience.” Interestingly enough, this view was most common among youth who currently attend church regularly.
African-American teens were four times more likely than white teens to say they expect to rely on such computer-generated religious services (31 percent vs. eight percent, respectively). While Barna expected the younger generation to use the computer more for secular and religious purposes, less expected was that non-white adults are 60 percent more likely to use the Internet for faith matters than white adults.
(Barna Research Group, 2487 Ivory Way, Oxnard, CA 93030-6290)
02: American youth are more conservative than they are often portrayed and show about the same rate of belief in God as the adult population, according to a new poll.
The New York Times-CBS News poll of 1,048 teens, shows 94 percent claiming a belief in God. Strong majorities say they never drink alcohol and never smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Almost half say sex before marriage is “always wrong,” and 58 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls say homosexuality is “always wrong.” Fifty percent of teenagers said you could trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time; only 26 percent of adults agreed with that statement in a January poll, reports the New York Times (April 30).
03: A recent survey shows that 57 percent of American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a greater threat than intermarriage to Jewish life in America today.
The survey, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, found that 38 percent of respondents cite intermarriage as the greatest threat. It was found that two-thirds of respondents believe that remembrance of the Holocaust is “extremely important” or “very important” to their Jewish identity. The study also showed that American Orthodox Jews may be somewhat more liberal than their Israeli counterparts.
On whether non-Orthodox Jews (such as Reform and Conservative) should serve alongside Orthodox on religious councils in Israel, 41 percent of Orthodox agreed.
(American Jewish Committee, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)
04: There has been a dramatic growth and revival of tribal religions around the world, according to the 1998 statistical report on global missions by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson.
The report, published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (January), notes that it was once assumed that tribal religionists in the developing world would lose their faiths, especially in their encounter with the religions brought to such lands by colonialists.
Up to 1997, Barrett and Johnson have shown that contrary to such views, tribal religionists — such as polytheists, animists, and shamanists — maintained their total of 100 million strong throughout the entire twentieth century. They add that “This year comes a startling new discovery: analysis of these new censuses results in a global total of 244 million tribal religionists today. located among 5,600 distinct ethnic groups.”
The reason for this spurt in numbers has to do with the reassertion of traditional faiths in the aftermath of the fall of communism and among the generation that has emerged since the independence of former European colonies, Barrett and Johnson write that “millions of people who were once classified as adherents of their countries’ majority religions or anti-religions — chiefly Hinduism and Islam, as well as Marxist atheism — have thrown off these labels and are asserting that instead they are followers of their own traditional local religions . . . It thus appears that in the last decade the total number of local tribal religionists in the world has risen to 240 percent of what it was in A.D. 1900.”
From a Christian missionary perspective, the writers add that this is not all bad news. The history of missions has demonstrated that tribal believers have always been far more responsive to Christianity than the “resistant great world religions.”
(International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 490 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511)
Casual dress is becoming more common during religious services in congregations — both Christian and Jewish — though not without resistance, reports the Wall Street Journal (April 7).
The practice of “dress-down Fridays” has changed the workplace and many people are asking “why can’t churches and synagogues follow suit on Saturdays and Sundays,” write Angelo Henderson and Robert McGough. Many congregations have taken the casual approach in order to be more user-friendly and people-centered, as well as less materialistic, even on holidays such as Easter — traditionally the most “dressed-up” Sunday of the year.
The dress-down approach — whether by design or just changing habits — has been taking place for several years in many congregations, but the trend’s appearance in black churches is raising the most controversy. Older members are being pitted against younger ones on the issue, with the former arguing that dressing down shows the lack of reverence growing among the younger generation.
Books holding to a “can-do,” practical spirituality are replacing New Age spirituality for many readers, reports Publishers Weekly (April 13).
Continued sales in spirituality and personal growth books shows on all the charts. But by contrast to a few years ago when the more esoteric themes of reincarnation, crystal healing, and channeling were popular, what clearly attracts readers now is what is called “can-do spirituality.”
Drawing on the older themes of wisdom, love, happiness, harmony, balance, and simplicity, the new genre of titles embrace global religious practices and give them a daily, down-to-earth spin. One observer noted, “You don’t have to be a Buddhist or even do any of these activities within a religious context.”
Popular titles include how to use yoga for dieting or body building; or how to meditate when walking; how to find serenity in everyday life is another popular theme as found in Mark Epstein, “Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness.” A similar best-selling work is “In Your Life’s Work: A Guide to Creating A Spiritual and Successful Work Life” by Tami Coyne. The biggest surprise on the charts was the huge popularity of James van Praage’s “Talking to Heaven,” with sales over 635,000 copies. PW believes the market for can do spirituality has only begun and shows no signs of being saturated. Editor John Duff summed up the new opportunity” “Our goal is to do very concrete, very pragmatic books. We take esoteric subjects and make them really accessible.”
Meanwhile, a major roundup in Publishers Weekly (March 9) locates the widest interest in three areas: Eastern religious traditions, holistic medicine, and the healing power of prayer and meditation. Interestingly, the review suggests, these three areas often overlap and enhance one another, a major factor accounting for their success at the sales counter. Among the most influential of these new works are those of Dr. Larry Dossey on intercessory prayer, Carolyn Myss with new mind-body medicine, and Dr. Dale Matthews with explicit Christian teachings.
Also suggestive of the new spirituality is the popularity of a new work by Ron Roth, “The Healing Power of Prayer” (Harmony). He presents readings and meditations encouraging the reader to draw on higher healing energies. An Asian connection is spelled out by Maggie Oman in “Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, and Meditations from Around the World” (Conari Press) with an introduction by the Dalai Lama and a forward by Dossey.
— By Erling Jorstad
A clear indication that the religiously-allied men’s movement is continuing its growth is found in the increasing sales of books on that general subject and the rapidly growing popularity of Christian retreats centering on rites of passage and initiation.
Although the Promise Keepers was written off by much of the media as a dying revival movement when the organization laid off most of its employees in February, it seems the prognosis was premature — PK has already rehired many of its employees. Although it is too early to forecast PK’s future, the Christian men’s movement continues to find a hearing, as well as take on diverse expressions. Robert T. Morley s book, The Man in the Mirror has sold now over 300,000 copies, and Promise Keeper head Bill McCartney has his book Sold Out: Becoming Man Enough to Make a Difference reaching beyond 150,000 copies sold, according to Publishers Weekly (May 13).
The founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, Fr. Richard Rohr, reports in Sojourners magazine (May-June) a solid increase of attendees of fathers (and sometimes godfathers) and early teenage sons seeking passage into adulthood through specific religiously oriented rites. Rohr’s program consists of a four-day gatherings in rural surroundings with small groups on a one-to-one basis.
Participants bring only survival items plus a journal for reflection. Much of the organized program revolves around story-telling, the sharing of past wisdom as an initiation rite into adulthood. Time is left for meditation and group recreation.
(Sojourners, 2401 15th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009)
— By Erling Jorstad
Even as the male-led Promise Keepers draw national attention with their rollercoaster financial operations, a significant number of church-related women’s groups are quietly attaining new strength.
Groups such as Women of Faith, Aspiring Women, Renewing the Heart (of Focus on the Family) and Time Out are drawing women by the tens of thousands. Largely evangelical in leadership, these women’s organizations are finding success not by imitating Promise Keepers but by bringing women together for relaxation, renewal and revival.
Mostly avoiding the PK focus on repentance, and rededication, the women’s groups aim at programs focusing on specific needs of women, reports Christianity Today (April 6). These include overcoming low self esteem, improving coping skills and offering practical advice on finances and household management.
The statistics show the burgeoning interest among these women. In 1997 some 197,000 women attended 15 regional conferences sponsored by Women of Faith; for 1998 leaders have projected at least doubling that total in 29 planned programs. Time Out and Aspiring Women gatherings are also finding growing interest.
Writer Mary Cagney, suggests that some 600,000 women in 1998 will be attending the rallies of these groups. Most meetings start on a Friday, and run through Saturday with admission being anywhere from $25 to $60. Attendees find choices in plenary sessions, smaller workshops focusing on specific programs, and a wide variety of merchandise displays with books, clothing, and bookstore items.
The author suggests the key to the movement’s success resides in a happy blend of several ingredients. These include borrowing from the popular, secular, self-improvement movements, a good deal of humor, featuring jokes with special meaning for females (“gynecological humor”), and planning for follow-up on the local level after the conference has concluded. To date, participation is encouraged by local churches in the evangelical world, with little involvement among Catholics or mainline Protestants.
However, it is altogether possible that the success of these endeavors will spark activity within the mainline, such the popularity of PK has done with the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its new Lutheran Men in Mission program.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
— By Erling Jorstad
Many Catholic and Protestant churches are adding prayer and chant practices from the ecumenical Taize community to draw in young people, according to the Wall Street Journal (April 3).
The Taize services, imported from the ecumenical community in France, are loosely structured and take place in dark rooms illuminated by candles. “A small group usually leads the roughly one-hour service of readings, periods of silence and repetitive songs in many languages.
People can come and go as they please, and they do . . . The market-research take on Taize is that its elements of chanting and contemplation make it a quintessential nineties mix of spirituality and individualism. Indeed, these days it is characteristic of 18-29-year-olds to customize their religious identities, drawing from several disparate sources . . .” writes Lisa Miller.
While young adults have journeyed to the Taize headquarters community in France for decades, there has been a recent surge of interest in making such pilgrimages, as well as customizing Taize services to college campus ministries. Young adults are drawn by the international feel of Taize, according to campus ministers.
Some clergy says the surge of interest in Taize is a cultural backlash against certain features of evangelical worship services, such as the “praise music” popular in megachurch and seeker-based churches. Praise music consists of highly emotional songs, usually accompanied by an electic band and rock-style vocalists; “Taize songs, in contrast, are introspective, sung in harmony, and accompanied by classical instruments or organs,” and are often based around one sentence or phrase repeated over and over, such as “Lord have compassion.”
A growing number of Catholic priests are taking up the role once identified with frontier Methodist preachers as they “circuit-ride” to locations without clerical leadership, according to USA Today (April 14).
The number of active priests has declined from 35,070 in 1965 to just an estimated 21,030 in the year 2005, according to a study sponsored by the U.S.Catholic Conference. The crisis stems from the rapidly increasing number of new Catholics, due to a high birth rate and immigration. As of now there are some 6l million Catholics in 19,677 parishes, up from 4l million in 17,637 parishes in 1965. In that year there was one priest for every 775 Catholics; by 2005, according to present trends, that figure will be up to 2,193.
Without having women as ordained priests, Catholic leaders are turning more to priests traveling by car to needy parishes, and to relying more on laypeople for parish ministry. The statistics tell the story: circuit-riding priests in 1997 covered 2,393 parishes,, up from 549 in l965, and l,051 in 1985.
Priests are spending their days riding up to 36,000 miles a year, spending their nights in empty rectories and serving as little as once a month in isolated parishes. The circuit-riders are most common in small towns. A growing number of city parishes where ethnic groups hold on to their traditions are hiring the itinerant priests.
In one city, for instance the church has assigned one priest to three city churches — one Polish, one Italian, and one French, all located only a few blocks from one another. Researchers studying this change have found dozens of priests expressing increasingly higher levels of exhaustion and job dissatisfaction. Some of those interviewed by the newspaper, however, tell of how they enjoy their new roles.
— Erling Jorstad
How influential are donors and private foundations in influencing American religious denominations?
That question may become more pressing as American denominations are increasingly being funded by individual donors, such as in last wills and testaments, and foundations [see February `97 RW]. This change in funding is coming at a time when offerings from congregation members are being targeted to local rather than national ministries. The Forum Letter (April), an independent Lutheran newsletter, reports that in the case of the 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, substantial gifts from a foundation may be moving the denomination in a more conservative direction. The Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation has donated millions to the synod and other conservative Lutheran causes, and usually requests anonymity on the source of such gifts.
Although the source of such gifts has now become an “open secret,” officials on the regional and national level are worried that Schwan funding may mean that the “donor tail will begin to wag the donee dog.” Gene Brueggemann writes that “Questions get asked privately, what happens to one or the other of the LCMS seminaries if the Schwan Foundation smiles more kindly in one direction or the other?
Has the overwhelming preference of the foundation for work in Russia tipped the balance which the LCMS board for mission services tries to maintain among its many programs? Would the foundation ever fund any program involving inter-Lutheran cooperation?”
Schwan funds have fueled a recent series of pamphlets from President A.L. Barry’s office which deal sternly with such controversial issues as the ordination of women and intercommunion and church relations with the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ruling out any dissent on these issues.
Brueggemann asks whether the suppression of debate on these issues is related to the significant influence of an “anonymous” donor, and if so, whether such a trend bodes ill for the democratic structure of the denomination.
(Forum Letter, P.O. Box 327, Delhi, NY 13753-0327)
While the “faith factor” has been cited in cover stories and popular books as contributing to physical and mental well-being there has been less attention paid to the effect of religious beliefs and practices on social problems, particularly concerning at-risk youth.
Recently, however, a spate of reports from think tanks and academic conferences are starting to address this issue. A recent conference at Columbia University’s School of Journalism also dealt with the question of why there has been a dearth of reporting on faith-based ministries’ beneficial effect on at-risk and criminal youth.
The first part of the Columbia conference, attended by RW in early April, looked at the secular dimension of the issue of at-risk youth, such as the social and political roots of such problems as unwed pregnancies, teen violence, crime, and drug abuse, and how the media covered them. The few references to religion were usually to non-Judeo Christian faiths, such as American Indian traditions and Tibetan Buddhism. James Gabarino of Cornell University was more forthright on the importance of the religious factor in working with at-risk youth.
A pilot project on which he is working for the State of New York is attempting to change the orientation of violent offenders’ programs from that of a “boot camp to a monastery.” The “boot camp approach does it the wrong way — it tries to threaten youth to change. A youth prison that takes a contemplative approach works for spiritual development inward and upward,” Gabarino said. Such an approach would work with faith-based programs which have shown the most progress in dealing with troubled youth.
The second half of the conference, sponsored by Columbia’s new Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and Spiritual Life, brought together religious leaders and social scientists to deal more openly with the faith factor. The fact that all of the panelists discussed Christian approaches to the issues raised some objections from the audience.
One reporter’s remark during the question and answer session showed the difficulty the media has in reporting on religion’s impact in promoting social well-being. She said that the media’s belief in the “secular nature of society” often means that journalistic “coverage tends to downplay the Christian element in such work.”
Distinctly Christian teachings are often an important part of the mushrooming faith-based programs for at-risk youth, acknowledged John DiIulio, a political scientist at Princeton University. DiIulio has been in the forefront of studying and promoting faith-basproaches to poverty and crime issues. He said that while the research is still preliminary, studies in cities across the U.S. show that “children fare better” in faith-based programs than in others.
Such networks of inner-city clergy as Boston’s “Ten Point Plan,” or Philadelphia’s independent Catholic Gesu Elementary School excel among at-risk youth because they drive home the point that “God loves you, and so do we,” DiIulio says. The congregations involved in such ministries display such common characteristics as: they are usually small and medium-sized congregations; the pastors live in the community and often run “youth chapels” that deal directly with this age group; the congregations tend to be non-ideological and not very political, although the pastors may hold “progressive” views.
Most importantly, DiIulio finds that these congregations are deeply involved in serving youth and other people who are not members of their congregations. “Many are evangelical or Pentecostal, but really don’t preach at people or push people out [if they don’t respond]. They never turn people away.”