In This Issue
- On/File: May 2001
- Findings & Footnotes: May 2001
- Central Asia increasingly moving toward religious repression
- Cooperation, evangelism grows from north to South Korea
- Western media bias strong against Hinduism?
- Church of England bishops orthodox on resurrection
- New generation of Chile’s priests taking notes from evangelicals
- Current Research: May 2001
- Evangelical culture and legal clash in Canada
- Easter facing Christmas-style commercialization?
- Mikvah bath revived and reworked for non-orthodox Jews
- Internet creating worldwide prayer chains
- Tim LaHaye — evangelical trend-setter?
- Reimagining more interfaith than Christian?
- How religious colleges keep the faith
01: In heavily Protestant western Virginia, Southern Virginia College is becoming the Brigham Young University of the east for Mormons.
The college has no official ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but its curriculum is tailored to the Book of Mormon, and 98 percent of the student body of 420 is Mormon. SVC has grown sixfold since it was reopened under its new administration in 1996 after being bought by Mormon businessmen.
The school has been particularly effective in drawing students who grew up in communities with few Mormons and are hungering for support and a sense of community. The goal is to become a university with full accreditation in a few years time.
(Source: Washington Post, April 26)
02: Bishop John Richard Bryant is breaking new ground in the black church as he challenges the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) to broaden its base beyond African-Americans.
Bryant, the new bishop of the church’s fifth district (covering churches west of the Mississippi) says the changing demographics in cities, with Asians and Latinos outnumbering blacks, should challenge black churches to be outreach oriented and multiracial. While the AME is largely black, some clergy in California are learning Spanish and drawing whites and other minorities to their congregations.
Bryant says that most black churches don’t fight to stay black, and that the problem has often been the difficulty of Americans, particularly whites, in joining “anything that is black-led.”
(Source: Los Angeles Times, April 14)
01: Richard Kew’s Brave New Church (Morehouse Publishing, $15.95) has a distinctly Anglican tone in its forecasting of trends that will impact churches in the near future.
But Kew, an Episcopal priest, also covers wide terrain in his trend-watching (he has written two previous books on trends in the churches in the late 1980s and 90s that were often on target). He sees globalization and the failure of centralized denominations to hold things together for congregations as radically reconfiguring religious organizations. Churches are developing links and mission opportunities with congregations from other countries that largely bypass denominational headquarters and missions agencies Historic structures, such as the historic episcopate (where bishops are seen as being consecrated in a historic succession allegedly down from the apostles) are downplayed while common beliefs and practices create new bonds.
Other trends Kew discusses include growing ethnic diversity in the churches; the approaching “gray wave’ of baby boomer seniors and the lack of volunteerism in the churches to meet new needs; and the importance of Christianity forming new ties with Islam.
02: Readers can still obtain a copy of RW editor Richard Cimino’s Trusting The Spirit: Renewal and Reform in American Religion for only $17 (postage and handling included).
Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow says “Renewal movements are as much a part of American religion as church buildings and synagogues, and yet it is difficult to stay abreast of the latest in these developments. Which movements are most successful and why? Are they revitalizing all traditions or only some?
Should the leaders of established organizations embrace them or fear them? Combining journalistic and sociological methods, Richard Cimino has written an excellent book that helps us answer these questions.”
Send payment (made out to Religion Watch) to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.)
Due to fears of Islamic extremism encroaching on its borders, the central Asian nations of Kazakhistan and Kyrgystan are tightening the reigns on religious freedom, reports Frontier (No. 2, 2001), a newsletter of the religious freedom organization Keston Institute.
Kazakhistan and Kyrgystan have been the most tolerant of religious pluralism in the region, but recent legislation passed by its governments bring these nations closer to neighbors Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in repressing religion. With the militant Afghan Taliban movement on its border and extremist Muslim terrorists active in nearby Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz authorities pushed through a bill making registration of religion compulsory. Unregistered religious activity is banned, including making “propaganda” that seeks to convert others and using public places for worship.
“Extremist faiths will not be registered, although extremism is not defined. A hint of what that may mean is that conscientious objection is defined as a threat to the nation. Kazakhstan officials are likewise issuing a crackdown targeting the “radicalization of the religious consciousness of Kazakh citizens.” The government is issuing amendments to its 1992 law on religion which would make the state the judge of which religious groups are “fundamentalist” as well as the granter of permission for groups — especially foreign ones — to conduct evangelism and missionary activities.
Although the crackdown is intended to prevent the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, other minority groups are feeling the chill. The article reports on one Hare Krishna community that has experienced increased harassment from local authorities since the decree was issued in February of 2,000.
(Frontier, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford, OX2 6SH, UK)
North Korea is gradually becoming more accessible to foreign influence and Christian groups in South Korea are using the opportunity to smuggle in Bibles and aid a network of underground Christians in the north.
The Washington Post (April 10) reports that the food shortage in North Korea is leading Christian groups in the south to send in supplies and seek a variety of ways to penetrate the communist and isolated country. Estimates vary on the number of Christians in the country. There are official Protestant and Catholic churches in the north that mix Christianity with the veneration of Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder, but most Christians — anywhere from 10,000 to 300,000 in a nation of 22 million — function secretly. Human rights reports continue to find many cases of repression and imprisonment against believers.
South Korean Christians groups have set up secret way stations in China to minister to North Koreans trying to escape their homeland. But South Koreans also seek influence with the official churches. They are cooperating in church building projects with the north, realizing that they may be helping the government’s propaganda effort, but also hoping for gradual change.
Since North Koreans realize that most of the aid from the south is coming from churches, they have taken such steps as opening a seminary, though mainly to get more helpers to deal with the aid projects, according to Methodist leader Eun Hi Gon.
Media coverage of Hinduism in India still tends to reflect a Western perspective that views the religion as pagan, primitive and irrelevant to the modern world, according to Hinduism Today magazine (May/June).
The magazine monitored coverage of the recent Maha Kumbha Mela, an annual worldwide pilgrimage to such Hindu holy sites as the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and finds the focus on the sensational. Little is made of the fact that the Mela is the single greatest gathering of humanity, drawing over 70 million Hindus from around the world, while most reporters featured naked pilgrims and holy men bathing in the river and smoking ganja [marijuana, and sometimes hashish].
The magazine adds, “It was at times as if the Western press was reflecting the images of a colonial India: mysterious Pagan rites, naked sadhus, teeming masses praying to an alien God. Very few foreign newspapers cared to say that it is extraordinary that in the 21st century tens of millions of people endure endless travels, hunger, cold and discomfort to pray to That which is beyond us.”
The naked Nagas sadhus (holy men), whether smoking ganga or not, that are featured so prominently in the media are a small group of ascetics outside of mainstream Hinduism. Indian newspapers did not do any better; India Today, which has a large American readership even captioned one of the photos of a ganga smoker with “literal evidence of religion as opiate” — a slur going back to Karl Marx’s dismissal of religion as “the opiate of the people.”
Even when Westerners focused on the Hindu religion in their Mela coverage, they often got the facts wrong or continued to focus on the exotic. The usual knowledgeable reportage of the BBC devoted much of its coverage to an interview with a “stoned British pilgrim.”
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholaele Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746-9304)
Belief in Christ’s resurrection remains strong among the Church of England’s bishops, according to an unscientific poll conducted by The Spectator, (April 14), a British weekly.
The magazine polled every diocese in the Church of England the week before Easter, asking the local bishop, or bishops’ office, if he or she believed in the physical resurrection of Christ. The responses usually came from the dioceses communications’ director or chaplain to the bishop and were sometimes evasive. The Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich replied, through his communications officer, that “It’s immaterial whether Christ was resurrected in body or spirit.”
Yet most of the dioceses — as much as 75 percent — answered a definite “yes” to the question of Christ’s physical resurrection, while 25 percent provided more ambiguous answers. Eleven bishops have yet to be heard from.
The phenomenon of priests taking up popular styles of music and ministry to fight the influence of evangelicals is becoming more common in Chile, as in the rest of Latin America.
Catholics adapting the style of evangelicals and Pentecostals as a strategy to counter evangelical growth in Latin America may have started in Brazil, as priests donned the styles of performers and stressed charismatic practices The Tablet (April 14) a British Catholic magazine, reports that a new generation of Chilean priests is breaking with tradition and evangelizing people where they find them — in their homes, even on the beach.
Fr. Andres Vasquez walks the beaches of the resort city of Las Cruces in his swimming suit talking to parishioners and hearing confessions.
Most of these priests were ordained in the 1990s, after the era of church activism against General Augusto Pinochet, and tend to concentrate on religious rather than social issues. But they are often found in the poorest parishes, where the popular approach — such as using electric guitars or holding services outdoors — is seen as the best way to cope with the rapid growth of evangelicals and non-Catholic groups.
The new informality coexists with a concern for tradition, adds journalist Owain Johnson. There has been a return to traditional clerical vestments–such as the dog collar and cassock–that were de-emphasized by priests involved in social action.
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London, W6 0Q2 UK)
01: While there has been wide public support for government funded faith-based social services, approval for such programs drops significantly when the groups administering such services are out of the Jewish-Christian orbit, according to a recent poll.
The poll of 2,041, the most extensive yet to measure support for President Bush’s initiative to support faith groups administering social services, was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. There has been an increase of people supporting government funding of faith-based groups — from 67 percent last September to three out of four people in the recent poll.
But majorities of those polled were opposed to funding non-Western and new religions, such as Muslims and Buddhists (38 percent in favor) and Scientology (26 percent). There were also widespread concerns about forcing religious practices on others (60 percent) and government interference in religion (68 percent).
02: The number of mosques in the U.S. has increased by about 25 percent in six years, according to a study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
There are now more than 1,200 mosques in the U.S., about 250 more than reported in 1994. The number of Muslims in the U.S. has been hotly contested, with figures ranging from two to over six million. The new study, entitled “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” finds a total of between six million and seven million Muslims. The figure is taken from calculations based on the average number of Muslims with whom mosques reported some connections.
The study also finds that 20 percent of mosques have Islamic schools, and 70 percent provide charitable assistance for the poor. The New York Times (April 27) reports that the study, conducted with three other Islamic groups, was done through telephone interviews with mosque representatives.
(The study is posted on the council’s web site: http://www.cair-net.org)
03: Strict communitarian religious groups show a high rate of keeping their children in the faith, according to a new survey.
A 10-year study of “old order” Anabaptist groups carried out by Donald Kraybill and Carl F. Bowman, finds that the Amish keep more than 75 percent of their children in the fold. The Hutterites, the oldest communal Protestant order in the U.S., persuade more than 95 percent of their young to remain in their large agricultural communities in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada.
In an article in the Washington Times (April 20), Kraybill says, “Simply making babies will not ensure growth. Children must be persuaded to stay with the church as adults. And the surprise is that they are.” The study, found in the recent book, “On the Backroad to Heaven” (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press), also finds that these groups make it difficult for children to leave because they create for them a total culture, with their own dress, customs, and sometimes even language.
04: The age of ordained clergy continues to rise, with mainline churches registering the fewest young pastors, according to a report in the Christian Century (April 11).
Figures by the Alban institute show the lowest number of clergy age 35 or under are found in the United Church of Christ (four percent of the total number of ministers are 35 and under); Disciples of Christ (3.7 percent), and the Episcopal Church (3.9 percent). The figures were slightly higher among American Baptists (5.8 percent), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (6.1 percent), the United Methodists (6.7 percent) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Twenty five years ago, nearly one quarter of Presbyterian pastors were 35 or under, and almost one-fifth of Episcopal priests were that young. Another article by Barbara Wheeler finds that the mushrooming growth of older seminarians today holds mixed signals for the ministry. In an Auburn Semnary study, she finds that young seminarians are better equipped academically than older students. Yet older seminarians demonstrate stronger commitment to ordained ministry and more interest in serving in congregations.
05: Attendance at religious congregations among Canadian teenagers has rebounded to the high levels found 20 years ago, according to a new survey by sociologist Reginald Bibby reported in the Dallas Morning News (April 21).
In his study, “Canada’s Teens: Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow,” Bibby says he was surprised to find that teens’ weekly attendance rates is now at 22 percent, close to the rate of adults. In 1992 teen attendance had dropped to 18 percent from the 23 percent figure recorded 10 years earlier. Bibby adds that these figures contradict the three out of four Canadian adults who say that today’s teens are no longer interested in religion.
Evangelicals in Canada are increasingly coming into conflict with laws and charging that they face discrimination for their views, reports Christianity Today (April 2).
The growth of anti-evangelical attitudes and a growing cultural and religious divide was revealed in the wake of the defeat of Stockwell Day for Prime Minister. Day’s candidacy “became a lightening rod for criticism and religious ridicule” among politicians and opinion makers, and the fact that the “attack evangelical” strategy did not hurt the ruling Liberal Party now deeply concerns the evangelical community, writes Denyse O’Leary.
Recent court cases have highlighted the problem. Individuals and institutions holding evangelical positions against homosexual behavior have faced new restrictions. For instance, a Toronto printer refusing to print literature for a homosexual group was fined for violating the rights of others.
O’Leary cites a recent article in the University of British Columbia Law Review, which states that the expansion of civil rights for minorities, such as gays, has encouraged the view that religion is a private matter, particularly when believers bring their faith to bear on public questions. Critics of Day say that he and his supporters have a hidden agenda to turn the multicultural and multifaith reality of Canada back to an era when Christian values were dominant.
O’Leary notes that whereas evangelicals often existed in a cultural ghetto, they became more involved in politics (such as Day and his New Alliance Party), the media and the arts during the 1980s, causing increasing friction with a secularizing elite in the country. Gerald Vandezande, a veteran Christian social activist, counsels evangelicals to treat “attack politics” as a way of talking about their values and concerns more aggressively.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Easter is being increasingly commercialized, with merchandisers hoping to make the holiday second only to Christmas for gift- and toy-buying, according to the New York Times (April 13).
While the “commercialization of Easter has a long way to go before it comes close to matching the Christmas frenzy, toymakers are finding the spring holiday as a desirable time to launch new products, both as a test for Christmas and to create a new market. As David Niggli of F.A.O. Schwarz says, “I think people are making Easter a gift-giving season.”
Some products, such as stuffed animals, card games and craft supplies already have their best sales for the first half of the year right before Easter, according to the marketing firm NDP. Writer Julian Barnes adds that whether the toymakers will “succeed is unclear, but parents beware: advertisements for new toys in the spring could lead to demands not just for chocolate eggs and jelly beans but for electronic clams and robots as well.”
The Mikvah bath, once the sole preserve of Orthodox Jews, is being adopted and changed by Conservative and Reform synagogues, reports Moment magazine (April).
The bath’s primary function is to ritually purify converts to Judaism, and is also used by Orthodox Jewish women at the end of menstruation as taught by Jewish family purity laws. Reform and Conservative synagogues that have recently taken up traditional rituals have built their own baths to welcome converts because Orthodox rabbis don’t allow the non-Orthodox to use their facilities.
But increasingly, the non-Orthodox are adapting the baths to non-traditional uses. Jewish feminists use Mikvah baths to celebrate life cycle events, such as marriage, or for healing after divorce or abortion. Thus the traditionally impure status given to menstruating women is being turned on its head, says Tamara Cohen of the Jewish Women’s Project in New York.
(Moment, 4710 41st St., N.W., Washington, DC 20016)
Prayer chains that were once confined to a congregation or a close circle of friends are now being circulated throughout the world over the Internet, causing new concerns about privacy in the process.
The Dallas Morning News (April 30) reports that prayer requests that are posted on religious web sites are easily circulated to other web sites through links and also via e-mail reaching a global following. Those doing the praying, and some of the prayed-for, praise the cyber-prayer chains, saying that the more people praying the stronger the effect.
But others say these chains are “whipping the most private aspects of people’s lives from site to site around the World Wide Web, often without their consent,” writes Barbara Carton. Such popular prayer sites as are found on Beliefnet.com list the full names of those making the requests.
Who has been the most influential evangelical in the U.S during the last 25 years?
The answer to that question tends to bring up the usual candidates: Billy Graham, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, or perhaps Pat Robertson. The Evangelical Studies Bulletin, (Winter) the newsletter of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals throws in the wild card of Tim LaHaye, and it may not be too far-fetched. LaHaye pioneered and helped popularize creationism in the early 1970s, and then was instrumental in translating therapeutic ideas into an evangelical context with his books on the “Spirit-controlled temperament” in the mid-1970s.
By the late 1970s, LaHaye wrote the widely popular evangelical sex manual “The Act of Marriage,” the first of its kind. Around that time, his book, “The Battle for the Mind,” and “The Battle for the Family set the stage for the rise of the Moral Majority. Since 1979, LaHaye and his wife Beverly (head of Concerned Women for America) have been key players of the religious right.
As co-author of the spectacularly popular “Left Behind” series in the late 1990s, LaHaye conveys pre-millennial, end-times teachings into an entertaining style that even Hal Lindsey and his “Late Great Planet Earth” could not achieve. The newsletter concludes that LaHaye was “influenced by all the changes swirling around evangelicalism, rose out of the ranks of the movement, and then in turn played a strategic role at key points that have cemented — for good or ill — the direction [evangelicalism] will be taking in the next few decades.
(Evangelical Studies Bulletin, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187-5593; http://www.wheaton.edu/isae).
The feminist Re-Imagining movement is experiencing tensions over whether to confine its work within Christian boundaries as well as how to reach out beyond its middle-class, white constituency, reports Faith & Freedom (Winter), the newsletter of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The Re-Imagining movement gained headlines and notoriety in mainline denominations eight years ago for its invocation of the feminine nature of God. In a report on a Re-Imagining Conference held in late 2000, Abigail Noll writes that a plethora of special interest groups and caucuses marked the event. There were caucuses for Re-Imaginers in all the mainline denominations, as well as those for non-theists, African-Americans, Benedictine nuns, younger women, and bi-sexuals.
Noll adds that “Some Re-Imaginers began to ask whether `interfaith’ is now a more accurate adjective than `ecumenical’ to describe their movement. Many of the speakers did not profess any Christian faith — much less an orthodox one. [Such speakers as] Rebecca Walker is a practicing Buddhist. Mary Daly is a “post-Christian” who left the church 30 years ago . . . Perhaps Re-Imagining no longer sees itself as a reform movement within the Christian churches; it may be evolving as a separate religious community.”
Noll also found tensions between veteran feminists such as Daly and a new generation who claim that standard feminism is not relevant to young women today. The 500 older middle class white women who gathered at the conference contrasts with the broad coalition of different classes and races envisioned by the organizers. Noll concludes that “It remains to be seen whether the promised new efforts to start Re-Imagining chapters at the local level will remedy this deficiency.”
(Faith & Freedom, IRD, 1110 Vermont Ave., NW, Suite 1180, Washington, DC 20005)
Is the loss of faith inevitable for religious colleges and universities?
In the past few years there have been several studies and books detailing how many of the leading U.S. colleges — from the Ivy League to Catholic schools — have lost their religious identities, making such a transition seem almost like a natural process. In his new book Quality With Soul (Eerdmans, $19), Robert Benne believes the secular drift is far from inevitable.
Benne, a religion professor at Roanoke College, even holds that reversals can occur, as secular schools regain at least a measure of their religious ethos and vision. Benne presents six case studies of colleges and universities that have maintained their Christian identities after more than 50 years: Wheaton College (evangelical), Baylor University (Southern Baptist), Notre Dame University (Catholic), Calvin College (Christian Reformed), Valparaiso University (Lutheran), and Saint Olaf College (Lutheran).
Benne chose these schools because they are able to balance academic respectability and vibrant Christianity, with varying degrees of interchange between faith and learning. These schools hold on to their religious identity through two strategies. Schools such as Wheaton and Calvin have an explicit statement of faith that faculty and students must agree upon. The others maintain their identities through a “critical mass” of students, administrators, and faculty who belong to a specific tradition.
Benne finds that the most important ingredient for religious colleges in “keeping the faith” is a close connection between the institution and a specific and vital tradition. Generic Christianity just doesn’t bring in the students, support and commitment that schools of a specific denomination or tradition are able to generate. In fact, these schools hold religious identity and involvement as a major criterion for hiring and admissions (Benne holds that one-third of the student body should belong to the host tradition).
Other factors Benne found in his case study include: a charismatic and guiding figure (from the past or present), usually the president, was important in articulating the theological vision of the school; the theology departments tend to represent and defend the tradition and most of the rest of the faculty are supportive or sympathetic to the tradition (though this wasn’t the case in the Lutheran schools, where there was less unity); public worship opportunities (such as chapel services) and extracurricula religious activities are encouraged by the administration.
Most importantly, the colleges Benne profiles were confident that their traditions and Christianity in general should be applied to, or exist in dialogue with, the whole range of academic disciplines. These colleges and universities have established numerous institutes, such as Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business, to further such connections.
Benne believes it is also possible to reverse the secularization of once-religious colleges, and in a follow-up article in the Christian Century (April 18-25) he provides the example of his own school. Roanoke is the second-oldest Lutheran college in the U.S.but by the 1960s, it had stopped hiring faculty in regard to religious faith and discontinued required chapel services and religion courses. By the 1970s, Roanoke was listed in Playboy’s catalog of top party schools. Things started to turn around in the 1980s when a new president sought to strengthen Lutheran connections by endowing a religion chair and starting a center for church and society.
Other faculty became more outspoken in their faith and were able to amend the college statement of purpose to include a concern for “nurturing a dialogue between faith and reason.” (though not without opposition from some faculty). Though far from a strongly religious college, Benne says that Roanoke demonstrates how a “determined but patient group of leaders who believe that the Christian account of the world is publicly relevant to all facets of the college’s life and mission can move such a college toward a new relation to its religious heritage.”
(Christian Century, 407 Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)