In This Issue
- On/File: May 2002
- Findings & Footnotes: May 2002
- German protestants embrace liturgy, ritual
- Russian Orthodoxy Church a player in world affairs
- Church of Scotland ‘eased to the margins’?
- Muslims warming to brainwashing theory?
- Current Research: May 2002
- Gospel music expands, keeps church base
- Charismatic dream readings take new age on its own turf?
- Door-to-door canvassing gets new spin by evangelicals
- Sexual abuse crisis turning out independent laity?
- Christian right strengthens pro-Israel commitments
- Jewish solidarity, identification swell during current crisis
On/File: May 2002
01: On April 1, a new initiative to monitor religious and human rights abuses worldwide was recently founded. The new initiative, called First Step Forum, was founded at a gathering of ambassadors, religious liberty experts, members of parliaments from several European countries and members of the media in Berlin in January. The Forum is co-chaired by Mrs. Eija-Riita Korhola, member of the European Parliament, and Ambassador Richard Seiple, former US ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom.
It grew out of the work of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission. In 2001 the commission identified three phases in cases where religious liberty is threatened: first, disinformation; second, discrimination, and third, persecution. At every step, the State can play either a passive or an active role, according to the commission..The primary aim of the Forum is obviously to intervene during the earlier phases.
In answer to questions from RW, Rev. Johan Candelin, Executive Director of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission, explained that the Forum intends “to take the first step to stop” what could lead to future persecutions. It intends to act “proactively, behind the scenes in partnership with governments or organizations with a similar interest.”
For instance, it will “monitor public and media statements for evidence of ‘disinformation’ against any religious group” (i.e. information deliberately designed to mislead). Due to the nature of its work, the Forum won’t have a Website. Most of the information will come from the global network of churches connected with the WEA in 114 countries, said Candelin.
(Source: News release from the WEA, April 5; WEA website: http://www.worldevangelical.org).
— By Jean-François Mayer
Findings & Footnotes: May 2002
01: Last issue we neglected to mention the winter issue of Sociology of Religion, which was devoted to ” Religion and Globalization at the Turn of the Millennium.”
It may sound very academic, yet the articles discuss trends that will likely shape most religious institutions in the future. The issue features articles on Islam, civil religion, evangelical missions, Russian Orthodoxy and Brazilian Catholicism and how these faiths and institutions are changed and challenged as the world grows closer together.
Especially noteworthy is sociologist Jose Casanova’s opening and in-depth article which suggests that “transnational” religions, such as Islam, Catholicism and Pentecostalism, will play an increasingly prominent role in creating “collective identitites” in the new global world.
The issue costs $15 and is available from: Association for the Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Dr., Holiday, FL 34691-1239.
02: Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium, by RW editor Richard Cimino and Don Lattin, is now in paperback.
The book, which fleshes out many of the trends digested in RW through real life accounts, is also updated. The cover price is $15.95 but we are offering it to RW readers for only $12 (postage and handling included).
For a copy, make out your payment to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.
German protestants embrace liturgy, ritual
German Protestant churches are seeing a return to liturgical worship after centuries of eschewing ritual.
In a United Press International-based article (April 4), Uwe Siemon-Netto writes that in the homeland of the Lutheran Reformation, Protestant churches have long adopted a formal yet plain service, in part due to the influence of the Enlightenment. “By contrast, in Sweden, parts of Africa and America, Lutheran ministers often seem unabashedly Catholic. In many sanctuaries such as New York’s St. Peter’s church, Mass is celebrated colorfully, and with masses of incense on high holidays.”
The return of “smells and bells” in worship is evident at the Institute for Liturgical Science of the United Evangelical Church in Germany, where there is a conscious attempt to reconnect its future ministers with the church’s catholic heritage–a development “that has occurred in the United States years ago.”
Siemon-Netto adds that these changes are accompanied by an attempt to convince German Protestants away from being “mere consumers of sacred music,” often remaining seated and rarely singing during hymns, and to rediscover the joy of singing.
Russian Orthodoxy Church a player in world affairs
During the last week of March, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) headed by Metropolitan Kirill, chairman of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, visited Iraq, according to the Russian news agency RIA, March 25.
Such a visit — the first of its kind — may sound intriguing, since the Orthodox Christians in Iraq are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch, and there would not seem to be a reason for a Russian delegation to make a visit. An informative article by Andrew Evans on the Russian Orthodox Church and post-Soviet international relations, in the March issue of Religion, State & Society sheds some light on the matter.
The ROC had been active at the international level during the Soviet period, acting on behalf of state interests (peace campaigns, participation in international ecumenical meetings). Afraid of becoming marginalized in the new context, it seems intent “to continue to play its former Soviet role of peacemaker and diplomat” while developing an independent influence of its own.
There are agreements between the ROC and several ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Evans adds. In the former Soviet territories (i.e. the so-called “Near Abroad”), the ROC acts as a “symbolic advocate” of Russian minorities. It would like to see the Former Soviet Union as an “Orthodox-influenced ideological space”. Beyond Russia and the FSU, the ROC acted in the Balkans on the basis of religious and cultural links between Russia and Serbia.
According to Evans’ analysis, the ROC fulfilled in Serbia “its traditional Soviet role as peacemaker, while also promoting Russia’s international authority and redefining the former Soviet sphere of influence in religious terms”. This is compatible with its own aspirations in terms of ecclesiastical leadership (which not infrequently conflict with those of the Patriarchate of Constantinople). In its international activities, the ROC does not have the same constraints as state diplomacy. Countries as well as international organizations are becoming aware of the new, post-Soviet role of the ROC as a factor in Russian international relations, notes Evans, who is not only a former Mormon missionary in Ukraine, but also a former analyst for NATO.
While the European Union (EU) has not yet successfully developed relations with the ROC, some communication already takes place through the permanent mission of the Greek Church in Brussels. NATO is also seeking a dialogue with the ROC.
(Religion, State & Society, Vol. 30, No. 1. Address: Keston Institute, 38 St. Aldates, Oxford.OX1 1BN, England)
— By Jean-François Mayer
Church of Scotland ‘eased to the margins’?
The Times of London (April 9) publishes a report under the title: “Church of Scotland Facing Extinction.”
While an obituary is obviously premature, a new report from the Church’s Board of National Mission notices alarming trends, and describes a Church “on uncertain ground”, according to a Church’s news release (April 19). In 2000, the Church had 607,000 members — compared with 770,000 in 1991 and 1,133,000 in 1971.
It is losing up to 19,000 members every year. According to the report, “many people are so far removed from the Church that several generations have passed without any family member having seen the inside of a church building, far less having taken part in Christian worship.” And replacements are not enough for all the ministers due to retire.
In addition, there is a drop in capital: from more than £31 million at the end of 1999 to less than £25 million at the end of last year — a result of both stock market crashes and spending (stipend rises). Regarding parishes, however, the situation is more checkered: besides poor parishes being unable to maintain church buildings (especially in poor urban areas), other ones have vast reserves from legacies or sales of property.
Generally speaking, the report states that declining membership and related problems derive from “the lack of relevance of the Church in people’s lives.”
— Jean-François Mayer (Website for the Church of Scotland: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk)
Muslims warming to brainwashing theory?
Brainwashing has sometimes been used as an explanation for Osama bin Laden’s and Al Queda’s actions by Western experts and observers, but now the theory has found a home among Muslims.
In the wake of Sept. 11, psychologists, anti-cultists and some of the media claimed that the only way the terrorists could retain their resolve for their suicide mission for so long while living in the U.S. was if they had been subject to brainwashing or thought reform within the Al Queda organization. For instance, Pacific News Service (Nov. 8) cited the Al Qaeda Handbook — found in May of 2000 — as showing that members were isolated, never knowing what other members were doing, as well as subjected to the charismatic power of bin Laden. Yet in general brainwashing charges continue to be controversial and are questioned by many social scientists in the West.
On the Qatar-based moderate Muslim Website, IslamOnline (http://www.islam-online.net/english/Science/2002/04/article12.shtml), the brainwashing charge is given a new twist. Karima Burns writes that since Sept. 11, there are “massive brainwashing techniques and programs being employed by both Islamic extremists as well as the American government.” Burns cites the American media, with its subliminal messages, special sound and visual effects and sustained musical beats that induce trances, as brainwashing Americans to accept war propaganda.
She adds that “In the world of bin Laden and also in the world of the Palestinian `suicide bombers,’ followers are often carefully groomed at educational institutions where the first impressions fed to the students are of an evil Western society attacking and undermining innocent and pure Islamic nations.”
In explaining how monotonous voice patterns can have hypnotic, brainwashing effects, Burns charges that in the “Middle East or in mosques around the world, unscrupulous users of this technique can even use the rhythmic cadence of the Qur’an to serve their purposes.”
Current Research: May 2002
01: Because church leaders and laity come out of atypically large churches they are often unprepared for ministry in the more common small congregations that dot the U.S. The National Congregations Study (NCS), one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, finds that although most congregations are small, most people go to large congregations.
The average congregation has only 75 members, but the average person attends a church with at least 400 regular attenders. In the Lilly Endowment’s newsletter Initiatives in Religion (Winter), Mark Chaves, head of the project, explains that the disparity means that most seminarians and prospective clergy come from large churches and may be unprepared to serve in congregations that are much smaller than their home churches. .
Another finding from the study concerns the differences between newly established congregations and older ones. Newer congregations are more likely to use contemporary services than older institutions and they are also less likely to build bridges between the congregation and groups in the wider community. Newer congregations are less likely to engage in social service and are more inward looking than older ones. A more worrisome finding from the study is that the vast majority of congregations have a hand-to-mouth existence, with only five percent having an endowment or savings that total twice their operating budget.
(Initiatives in Religion, Lilly Endowment, 2801 North Meridian St., P.O. Box 88068, Indianapolis, IN 46208-0068)
02: Recent figures from Germany suggest that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are losing members in that country.
In 2001 the number of active JW members (or missionaries) decreased by 1,500 to 161,440, according to the German evangelical newsletter Idea (April 23). The Protestant Church’s Information Center for Ideologies (EZW) in Berlin cites the official Jehovah’s Witness’ bulletin, the Watchtower as showing the number of baptisms has likewise gone down by 320 to 3,177. The EZW concludes that with an assumed death rate of one percent, about 3,000 members must have left the community in the past year.
“There is probably no other community in Germany that has lost so many members, compared to its total numbers,” according to the EZW. The center also notes that the decrease in Germany is becoming typical of other industrialized nations. In “most all West European countries,” but also in Japan, Canada and the U.S., membership is either stagnating or decreasing.
(Idea, P.O. Box 1820, D-35528 Wetzlar, Germany)
Gospel music expands, keeps church base
Although long outshined by Contemporary Christian Music, traditional Southern gospel music has kept its fans and has even grown as it has moved closer to its evangelical roots.
In his new book Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel (University of North Carolina Press, $24.95), historian James R. Guff Jr. writes that the gospel music tradition, as represented by such vocal quartets as the Blackwood Brothers and the Statlers, pioneered the Christian music industry in the early 20th century adapting folk and country music to traditional Christian lyrics. But by the 1970s, traditional gospel music — Guff is not referring to black gospel music — was pushed to the margins as Christian musicians wedded Christian lyrics to rock and other contemporary sounds.
Today, Southern gospel music is a separate genre from Contemporary Christian Music. It still resonates strongest with Southern white Pentecostals and Baptists (although African-American groups are now accepted in Southern gospel circles), who see the music both as entertainment and a source of faith and solace. A sign of the new interest is seen in the flagship magazine of the industry, Singing News, which doubled its circulation to 200,000 during the 1990s.
Guff notes that gospel music is tied to the fortunes of evangelicalism in the U.S. and, if anything, the various groups have intensified their commitment to presenting a Christian message through song. Throughout the 1970s, only 17 percent of annual performances took place within the walls of churches. By the mid-1990s, that average had soared to a remarkable 65 percent. As evangelicals involved themselves in conservative politics in the last two decades, Southern gospel songs and lyrics have likewise taken up such themes as patriotism and pro-life issues.
Charismatic dream readings take new age on its own turf?
The spiritual or religious interpretation of dreams has been a staple of New Age spirituality, but now “dream readings” are being used by charismatics as a way to bring Christianity to the alternative spirituality community.
Charisma magazine (April) reports that the phenomenon was seen during the recent Winter Olympics, where teams of dream interpreters held “readings” around Salt Lake City, including at two secular bookstores.
Although receiving spiritual messages in dreams is as accepted as other forms of direct revelation and spiritual gifts in Pentecostalism (such as speaking in tongues), the new approach to reading dreams is more low key and removed from the context of churches and preaching to make them non-directive and suggestive, (although the readings are often still run by churches). “We say, ‘This is what we believe the dream means,'” explains John Paul Jackson, whose Stream Ministries International has trained around 2,000 people in dream interpretation. The readings tend to stress God’s love and concern for the individual and have been received favorably by inquirers, according to Jackson.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Door-to-door canvassing gets new spin by evangelicals
Although most modern evangelicals have disdained the practice of door-to-door evangelism, this aggressive method of recruiting has been revamped to stress building relationships with prospective converts, according to Christianity Today (April 22).
Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants had long practiced door-to-door evangelism, but making “cold calls” (knocking on random doors) fell into disfavor among evangelicals by the mid 1960s. In the belief that intruding on strangers was counterproductive, churches and parachurch evangelism ministries have used home visits as follow ups after a
newcomer attends a service or Sunday school. Today’s successful strategies have changed with the times, giving priority to relationship-building and ministry to prospective and current members A growing program called Faith, administered by Lifeway Christian Resources, sends out team members to visit church visitors, referrals, members, and Sunday school absentees with a focus on encouraging membership and baptism.
Southern Baptist Seminary has started a program encouraging Sunday school members to pray for and then contact referrals and visitors. Because “going door-to-door seems beyond the pale of American culture now,” Tuvya Zaretsky of Jews for Jesus says the best place to do evangelism is in public places, such as coffee houses or beaches.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr. Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Sexual abuse crisis turning out independent laity?
While the sexual abuse crisis continues to unfold within the Catholic Church, a trend toward greater activism and independence among the laity — whether conservative and liberal — is already visible.
Polls taken during the crisis show that American Catholics’ faith in basic church teachings have not changed drastically since the scandals have come to light. The change, though still largely anecdotal, is more evident in laypeoples’ views on the importance of accountability and openness in the church hierarchy. The New York Times (April 28) reports that U.S. Catholics see the crisis as a turning point for change in the church. The prescriptions for change vary, but among those interviewed for the article there is the common demand for laity to confront the hierarchy to become more accountable.
The call to accountability is dovetailing with a new drive to open the church toward more democratization by liberal reform groups, such as Call to Action and Corpus, a group pushing for married priests. The Christian Science Monitor (April 4) points out that these demands are not only coming from the usual liberal activists, but also from those speaking out on the issue for the first time. Jim Mueller, leader of the new group Voice of the Faithful, says, “We are completely mainstream Catholics– we are almost all new at this.”
While conservative spokesmen, such as the pope’s biographer George Weigel, charge that liberals are attempting to take advantage of the crisis for their own ideological purposes, it is also clear that conservatives are taking a more critical stance toward the hierarchy. In the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis (April), writer Ralph McInerny blames the bishops for permitting a permissive culture to flourish in church institutions that bred clergy sexual abuse. McInerny hails the strict approach of several Midwestern bishops and ventures that “Perhaps in the future, missionaries will be sent out from Lincoln and Omaha and Denver and Lacrosse to evangelize the lost sheep in our coastal cities.”
The conservative newsletter Catholic Eye (March 28) goes even further, seeking to override the U.S. hierarchy altogether (much of the same conservative hierarchy the pope hand-picked and which the right has applauded). The newsletter editorializes that “We are ashamed, mortified by the hierarchy’s complicity in child sexual abuse. But we needn’t be afraid of scandal. The traditional American hierarchical structure is but one road to Rome . . . new movements like the Legionaries of Christ and Opus Dei are nourishing scores of disenfranchised, orthodox-minded souls.
Lesser known groups like Focolare, Communione e Liberazione, and the Neo-Catechmens are putting down U.S. roots. This is a globalism provincial Catholic elites have yet to discover.”
(Crisis, 1814 1/2 N Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; Catholic Eye, 215 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016)
Christian right strengthens pro-Israel commitments
Conservative Christians stressing the importance of Israel in biblical prophesy and Christian right political leaders who are pressing the U.S. to maintain a strong pro-Israel stance are joining forces and becoming a powerful presence in the Middle Eastern political struggle, reports the Christian Science Monitor (April 16).
The Christian right has long counted among its own ranks conservative Protestants viewing Israel as the stage for the unfolding of biblical prophecy. But this “biblical prophesy” wing of the Christian right has stepped into the limelight during the Israel conflict, with such organizations and leaders as the Religious Roundtable and Gary Bauer becoming “a new pro-Israeli voice” in the “traditional Jewish-Arab political dynamic in Washington.”
Bauer and others are applying pressure on the White House to show greater support for Israel by increased lobbying efforts. The Christian Coalition is e-mailing “action requests” to its 2 million members. This may be one reason why growing numbers of Republicans who have few Jewish constituents but many strong conservatives are tilting toward Israel, according to Bauer. Activists also send open letters to Bush and then “blast-fax” them to the media.
Christian right leaders such as Bauer are also taking to the airwaves (particularly cable TV, which is beamed into the White House and Congress) and debating pro-Arab spokesmen. Bauer also notes that “a lot of people who worked on my [presidential] campaign now work at the White House.”
Meanwhile, an article in the April 23 issue of the Christian Science Monitor suggests that the divide between conservative Christians and Middle Eastern Christians is growing increasingly wide. The situation at the besieged Church of the Nativity, with priests, nuns and monks trapped between Israeli soldiers firing on the ancient holy site and Palestinian gunmen hiding inside, has “become a defining moment in terms of their Palestinian identity,” writes Danna Harman.
Prior to the event, relations between Palestinian Muslims and Christians were strained, with the latter charging that they were discriminated against. These voices are quiet now as Christians claim that Israelis are attacking common Arab land and identity. From the Muslim side, the spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas publicly joined Christians and Muslims in demonstrations against the Bethlehem standoff. Peter Qumri, a Palestinian Christian leader charges that the “support of the Christian right in the U.S. for Israel has embarrassed us and forced us to prove our identity and become even more nationalistic.”
Jewish solidarity, identification swell during current crisis
A transformation is underway in Jewish attitudes and identification due to the intensification of the Middle East conflict and the growth of anti-Semitism.
Last month RW reported on the growing “hawkish” attitudes of Reform rabbis during the escalation of violence in the Middle East. The crisis “has inspired more of a coming out than a run for cover [regarding their Jewish identity]. Jewish leaders nationwide report a spike in synagogue attendance and fund-raising — as well as a 46 percent increase in applications for aliyah, with 236 families seeking to immigrate since Jan. 1, up from 162 at this time last year,” reports the New York Times (April 22).
The suicide bombing at a Passover Seder in Israel served as a rallying call for many Jews to revive their support of Israel (seen in the growing crowds at many pro-Israel meetings in the U.S.) and Jewish solidarity in general. The events in the Middle East and the resulting Jewish solidarity are also having an impact on interfaith dialogue. Following an April 5 statement of Anglican Archbishop Michael Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, on “Israel and Palestine”, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) announced on April 10 that it was pulling out of the inter-religious Canadian Christian Jewish Consultation (CCJC), after a participation of 30 years.
The message was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, said Manuel Prutschi, the CJC’s national director of community relations, who accused the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada of being “one-sided,” according to Ecumenical News International (April 23). The Primate’s “Message to the Canadian Anglicans” actually made an attempt to be balanced and took care to emphasize the longing for peace of many people on both sides.
But its reference to the Israeli occupation as the “heart” of the current violence apparently irritated the CJC. The Jewish Congress accused the statement of completely “ignor[ing] the perspective of Israel, and the Jewish people, who seek peace with security”. But the CJC’s reaction represents the culmination of a growing uneasiness of the part of the CJC relating to a series of statements and other documents from Canadian Christian groups “that have betrayed a clear anti-Israel bias”.
Such a development can be seen as an indicator of wider issues– and also of the difficult situation into which the current crisis brings many in the Jewish diaspora around the world.
— Written with Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and director of Religioscope (http://www.religoscope.com)