In This Issue
- On/File: May 2006
- Findings & Footnotes: May 2006
- German church buildings for sale
- Lay Catholics make headway in British society
- Church of England, Methodists diversify worship menus to grow
- Current Research: May 2006
- Church-healthcare partnerships multiplying
- Covenant-marriage movement stalled at the altar?
- Activism, uncertainty sustain evolution conflict
01: The recent establishment of U2 Eucharists in the Episcopal Church is another example of the way mainline Protestants are adapting contemporary secular musical and artistic forms to the liturgy.
The services are somewhat similar to the “rave masses” and multimedia celebrations in the Church of England and Episcopal Church in the U.S. in the 1990s. But, as their name implies, these services use the music and lyrics of the rock group U2, as well as projecting pictures of “famous believers” such as Martin Luther King. The service is reported to be in use in Episcopal parishes from “California ot Maine,” and is the brainchild of Rev. Paige Blair of York Harbor, Maine.
(Source: The Scotsman, April 3)
01: The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition is a new monthly from the Jerusalem-based daily newspaper in partnership with The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
The magazine is clearly targeted to evangelical Zionists, reporting both on news of Israel and Christian activity around the world relating to the Holy Land. The editors and publisher stress that the magazine will not be a platform for Christian evangelism–a sore point for the Jewish community. Recent articles report on the change among evangelicals to discard “replacement theology”–the notion that the church has replaced Israel as the chosen people, the formation of the pro-Israel umbrella organization called Christians United for Israel and coverage of the recent Israeli elections.
A subscription is $48 and is available from: Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, P.O. Box 81, Jerusalem 9100, Israel.
Due to economic pressures and declining attendance, more and more church buildings in Germany will have to be closed or sold. However, the conversion of church buildings into alternative use sometimes leads to reactions even among secular-minded Germans, Joachim Guntner reports in the Swiss daily Neue Zurcher Zeitung (April 24).
The number of Roman Catholics going to church every Sunday in Germany was around 12 million in the 1950s and is now down to 4 million. Communities which become too small get merged with other ones, thus making additional buildings useless. In 2003, the German Bishops’ Conference released guidelines in order to help communities facing difficult decisions. When a church has to be sold, according to the guidelines, it should preferably go to public authorities rather than to fall into private hands; cultural purposes should be preferred to commercial use – although in practice this cannot always be avoided. Both Catholics and Protestants don’t want to have churches sold to Muslim and other non-Christian religious communities (except possibly Jews from the viewpoint of Protestants), due to the symbolical impact such a change of owners would create.
Among the alternative uses of church buildings, there are cases of conversions into centers for social work. But in some cases, there is no other route but for a parish owning two or three buildings than to tear one of them down; in most cases, the more recent buildings will be sacrificed, and the older ones kept for their historical value. Some architects warn about the risk that a significant percentage of church buildings from the postwar period might disappear in the long-run, because they do not yet enjoy protection granted to historical monuments.
When a church building disappears, the void thus created seems also to be perceived among people who are not otherwise involved in churches. According to Guntner, even secularized people may still remain attached to symbolic structures in the midst of a rapidly changing world and can appreciate a lasting reference to transcendent values in modern, functional cities. — By Jean-Francois Mayer
A listing of Britain’s top 100 lay Catholics by The Tablet magazine (March 18) shows the high degree of acceptance and prominence reached by Catholics in recent years. Among those heading the list of influential largely practicing Catholics (or “cultural Catholics” whose work and lives are still shaped by the faith) include: Mark Thompson, director of the BBC, Ruth Kelly, the 38-year-old Secretary of State for Education (and member of the conservative lay order Opus Dei), Cherrie Booth, prominent lawyer and wife of Tony Blair, Michael Martin, first Catholic Speaker of the House of Commons since the Reformation, Chris Patten, first Catholic Chancellor of Oxford since the Reformation, and film director Anthony Minghella.
The editor finds a number of patterns in this list: Irish immigrants have made notable headway among British Catholics, although the old original or recusant English Catholic families are still a force in the land The formative influence of Catholic schools is also still evident. While Catholics have succeeded in business, the law, politics and the arts (Catholics appear to have a corner in producing comedians), they appear not to have the same impact on science and medicine, which may mean a deficiency in Catholic schools teaching science or “even a prejudice against Catholics, given their clear ethical positions, particularly in controversial areas of medicine….”
Defying the dire predictions made above, Anglican and Methodist churches in England have joined forces to draw in the unchurched and reverse declines by diversifying their worship offerings. The Tablet (April 8) reports that an official movement called Fresh Expressions, sponsored by the Methodist Church and the Church of England, has drawn approximately 400 churches to offer the disaffiliated what the Archbishop of Canterbury called a “mixed economy” church that combines traditional services with new experimental models. Among the new worship expressions are a skateboard park church, services which adapt the music of the club scene, cell groups, and a “Rolling Church,“ with no fixed starting and ending times.
The Church of England has taken this path before, when it allowed the establishment of a youth church service based on the rave culture 10 years ago that became mired in sexual and leadership scandals. This time, the church has increased its monitoring of alternative services and groups. Victoria Combe reports that approximately 30,000 have been brought back into the fold through Fresh Expressions. Critics say that Fresh Expressions church participation would have to be multiplied many times over to make any dent in the steady decline of these churches. Combe concludes that the movement has injected hope and enthusiasm into these churches as well as relaxed the boundaries between Anglicanism and Methodism. “It will be interesting to see whether growth continues at such a pace and whether the churches’ methods of monitoring will allow such unusual innovations.”
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
01: The effort to scientifically measure the effects of prayer on medical outcomes was complicated by a new study showing neutral and even negative effects from prayer on recovery from heart disease.
The $2.4 million study supported by the John Templeton Foundation and presented in the American Heart Journal, randomly divided bypass patents from six hospitals into three groups. In the first group, 604 patients were prayed for by strangers after being told that they might or might not receive prayer; 597 did not receive strangers’ prayer after being told that they may or may not be prayed for; and 603 patients in the third group received intercessory prayer after being told they would receive it.
It was found that group 2, which did not receive the strangers’ prayers, fared the best, while group 1 (which received the prayers) fared worse. The biggest surprise was that 59 percent of patients in group 3–who knew of the strangers’ prayers– suffered from complications. It is conjectured that knowing that one is being prayed for by strangers may increase anxiety levels. The researchers, however, cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the study, noting that it did not include personal prayer or prayer by a patients’ relatives or friends.
02: While foreign policy issues, such as religious freedom and AIDS prevention in Africa, are receiving increasing attention in evangelical leadership, there is little evidence that the concern has reached evangelical activists long captivated by domestic concerns, according to a recent study. In the Review of Faith & International Affairs (Spring), political scientist Kevin den Dulk notes that evangelical elites and laity have clearly rejected isolationism in favor of a “foreign policy that is globally-focused…” Surveys show that most evangelicals support their leaders in addressing such concerns as religious freedom and often unilateral American engagement on global issues.
But in examining evangelical activist publications, such as from Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, den Dulk found that global issues command very little attention compared to domestic issues. For instance, from 1998 to 2004, CWA committed 17.3 percent of its releases to the issue of same-sex relations and 15.7 percent to domestic abortion policy, but only 6.7 percent of its releases to global issues of any kind. In Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine, only 5.7 percent of its articles were devoted to all global issues combined. The lack of a “mass movement” among evangelicals on global issues may be because “attention to domestic policy remains the primary way to meet the requirements of organizational maintenance” among such groups, den Dulk concludes.
(Review on Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044)
03: Among immigrants, men are more likely to be religious than women, according to a recent cross-national study. The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (March) notes that women, both immigrant and non-immigrant, have long been viewed as more religious. In analyzing 20 surveys of immigrants from eight Western countries, researcher Frank Van Tubergen of Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that while women were more often affiliated with a religion than male immigrants, they did not attend religious services more often than men.
On the contrary, once the percentage of immigrant men not affiliated to a religion is taken into account, immigrant men more frequently attended religious meetings than immigrant women. One explanation for this may be that Van Tubergen placed all religions into one category and past studies have shown that in Muslim communities, men attend services more than women.
04: The Boston area is experiencing a “quiet revival” of evangelical Christianity, according to research cited in Christianity Today (April).
Over the past 30 years, the number of Protestant churches in Boston has doubled while the population has remained stable. The recent growth marks the first time that since the 17th century that church growth has not mirrored population growth, with the number of churches in Boston growing from 300 in 1970 to 600 today. The Emmanuel Gospel Center, a Boston ministry seeking to strengthen inner-city congregations, has done research finding that 90 percent of all new churches are planted by minorities and immigrants.
While there are churches like the Park Street Church, which attracts a large professional membership (and is even known as one of Boston’s premier places to meet singles), the center’s research shows that Boston’s cultural elite of white professionals are the least churched segment of the population. Much of the growth in immigrant churches has been powered by the training and leadership of nearby Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60145)
05: Claiming an Irish heritage remains widespread among both American Catholics and Protestants because such ancestry serves to bolster both religious and national identity, according to sociologist Michael Carroll.
About a decade ago, when surveys and historical studies revealed that more Americans of Irish descent are Protestant rather than Catholic it caused a good deal of surprise. Carroll, writing in the journal Religion and American Culture (Vol. 16, No. 1), finds that most of the Irish who settled in the U.S. before the Famine were Protestant. But, contrary to most popular history, these Irish were not devout Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who had maintained their faith intact from Northern Ireland. In fact, most of the pre-Famine Irish of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds were unchurched and were culturally more similar than different from each other.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, many of these Irish-Americans staunchly supported the American revolution and likewise participated in its religious counterpart, the evangelical revivals, becoming Baptists and Methodists. Eventually these Irish evangelicals gravitated to the South, where today they represent about 20 percent of all Southerners (whereas the later post-famine, largely Catholic immigrants stayed in the North). But since most of these Southern Protestants are by now of mixed ethnicity, why do they still claim a primary Irish identity? Just as claiming an Irish heritage for Catholics is a way to demonstrate that one is a strong Catholic, the Southern Protestant claim to being Irish supports a cultural identity, Carroll writes.
The Irish or Scotch-Irish support of the Revolution and the related evangelical revivals and their reputed values of independence and patriotism makes the Irish designation important for many Southerners, Carroll concludes.
(Religion and American Culture, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Cavanaugh Hall 341, I.U.P.U.I., 425 University Boulevard, Indianapolis IN 46202-5140)
06: Orthodox Judaism is likely to become a more influential force in the coming decades, reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (April 27). The survey, released by the American Jewish Committee, finds that Orthodox Jews – who comprise 11 percent of all American Jews – rose to 16 percent among 18 to 29 years olds; the percentage might be even higher among people under the age of 18.
Similarly to conservatives in other religious traditions, Orthodox Jews have more children (and they also tend to marry at a younger age).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
07: Orthodox Muslims are more likely to support the idea that the state should help the poor than reformist Muslims, according to a recent study. In the study of seven Muslim countries published in the American Sociological Review (April), researchers Nancy J. Davis and Robert V. Robinson found that orthodox Muslims, like their counterparts in the Christian and Jewish faiths, tend to have a “theologically communitarian” worldview (which they call “moral cosmology”) that inclines them toward enforcing divinely mandated moral standards on family and sexual matters.
This communitarian position also applies to economic issues. Davis and Robinson hypothesized that orthodox Muslims support for Sharia law would naturally make them more favorable to Islamic practices, such as zakat, where the state provides for the poor than liberal or reformist Muslims.
In analyzing results from World Values Surveys in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, the authors found that the reformist Muslims were likely to support measures taking a pro-market even libertarian position. However, the orthodox Muslims went beyond the tenets of their faith in supporting such measures as the “equalization of incomes and nationalization of businesses and industries.“ Such support “cannot be attributed to Islam per se but rather to the economic commutarianism that we have argued characterizes the orthodox of all the Abrahamic faith traditions.“
08: According to figures released by the statistical office of the Roman Catholic Church on April 29, the number of Catholics in the world has grown by 45 percent from 1978 to 2004, which is on par with the global growth of the world’s population. The newspaper Le Monde (May 3) reports that there were 757 million Catholics at the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate and now are 1.098 billion.
The Catholic population in Africa has nearly tripled (from 55 to 149 million). But there has also been a significant increase on the American continent: 79.6%. Only in Europe has the development been below demographic growth. Roman Catholics represented 40.5 percent of the European population in 1978, compared to 39.5 percent in 2004.– By Jean-Francois Mayer
09: Even significantly reducing membership losses may not be enough to prevent the extinction of liberal Protestant denominations in England, reports Quadrant (May), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association. Mathematician John Hayward writes that if a church’s reproduction potential falls below a certain threshold, the church heads for extinction. Growth depends not only reversing losses but producing enough “enthusiasts” who convert and bring in unbelievers or renew lukewarm believers. The Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are all below the “extinction tipping point,” but only the first two denominations are not producing enough enthusiasts to survive, and “even if their losses were reduced extinction will be reached well before the middle of this century.”
Hayward cautions that there is a natural inertia in the system and there will be a significant delay in the starting of growth for all of these declining denominations. So, for instance, even if The Church of England, produces enough enthusiasts and moves into a “revival growth” mode, it will not be until 2020 before the growth is actually evident and 2030 before it is back to its current levels. Because of this inertia, Hayward adds that the current growth of charismatic and evangelical churches may be the “result of the 1970s working through.”
(Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)
Healthcare ministries are increasing, with the fastest growing creating partnerships between congregations and established clinics and medical personnel, reports Advance, the online newsletter of Leadership Network (April 11).
There are four models of healthcare ministries that churches have embraced: the traditional clinic, which uses the church structure or separate building to house an actual health clinic; parish nursing, where nursing professionals provide medical support for the congregation and community.
The “clinic without walls” model is the fastest growing, as actual physical space is not needed. Rather, the churches coordinate the treatment of clients in doctors’ offices, while the healthcare ministry provides patient management, transportation and clerical support. The fourth model that is becoming popular is the “navigator” approach. This model is used by churches with few health professionals and it focuses on helping people in their communities navigate the paperwork and variety of healthcare services that may be available through federal, state or local government, or through other charitable sources.
Although the covenant-marriage movement has gained wide support among conservative churches, the national effort to safeguard marriages against easy or no-fault divorce has stalled, according to Chronicles magazine (May).
The covenant-marriage movement began in the late 1990s under the leadership of Southern Baptist pastor Phil Waugh. The movement sought to encourage churches to promote extralegal covenant-marriages in their own congregations and denominations–largely through premarital counseling and eventually couples signing a covenant-marriage contract–as well as calling on Christians to exert pressure on state legislatures to enact laws that would make covenant-marriage legally binding While 50,000 couples have joined the covenant-marriage movement, with the support of 65 pro-family ministries and organizations, the movement has so far failed to gain much momentum on a political level.
Only Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana were able to get covenant-marriage laws on the books. Similar bills were unsuccessfully introduced in 21 other states. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has championed covenant-marriages, attempted to jumpstart the effort by sponsoring a national made-for-television event on Valentine’s Day in 2005.
While Huckabee claimed that the event brought in more covenant- marriages to Arkansas in one month than had occurred in the previous four years, it was more complicated than that, writes Aaron Wolf. Over the three-plus years preceding the event, less than one percent of Arkansans had opted for covenant-marriage. While the figure is slightly higher in Louisiana and Arizona, the divorce rate has not dropped in any of these states. Wolf adds that Waugh has attempted to “cement the identity of the Sunday nearest Valentine’s Day as `Covenant Marriage Sunday,’” where congregations will be supplied with literature as well as a ledger of covenant-marriage certificates.
(Chronicles, 928 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103)
Far from winding down, the controversy over evolution and intelligent design appears to be intensifying and spreading into new areas of American society, according to recent reports. The intelligent design movement suffered a significant loss after a court in Pennsylvania ruled against the public school’s curriculum citing the theory. But the movement is still alive because school districts across the country have recently ruled that it is permissible to allow students to hear alternatives to Darwinism, reports World magazine (April 8). School districts in California, Kansas, New Mexico and Minnesota have adopted science policies that allow teachers to discuss problems in Darwin’s theory. The pro-intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, now endorses a strategy of trying to expose the holes in Darwinism rather than offering alternative theories. The reasoning is that true scientific research will acknowledge inconsistencies or gaps in the data, but when intelligent design is taught in the classroom, the public often perceives this as religious indoctrination.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10) reports that the intelligent design movement is also forging new ties with academics in neuroscience, medicine, and other fields. It is in neuroscience that both proponents and opponents of Darwinian evolution, such as the Discovery Institute see as the next battleground, particularly over the claim that brain chemistry explains religious experience and even the existence of the soul [see March RW]. The intelligent design movement is also spreading to higher education, with the San Diego-based Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center starting 24 chapters at colleges and universities around the U.S., including at Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley.
The article adds that the pro-evolutionist movement, once mainly consisting of academic scientists, has been seriously trying to enlist churches in the cause. This was most clearly seen with the organization of a petition in support of evolution signed by over 10,000 clergy as well as the creation of an “Evolution Sunday” observance in February in churches. Its founder Michael Zimmerman says that enlisting religious organizations and leaders has already demonstrated far more weight in easing anti-evolution restrictions in schools than the voices of academics.
Whether it’s due to the rise of intelligent design or not, the American people are if anything more uncertain about the theory of evolution than anything else. The Skeptical Inquirer (May/June) reports that Northwestern University scholars have found over the years a strong belief in the role of science in improving life; 92 percent agreed the “world is better off because of science,” an increase from 88 percent who expressed the same view after Sputnik 50 years earlier. Yet 50 percent agree that “we depend too much on science and not enough on faith.” Those accepting the idea that humans developed from earlier species of animals declined from 45 to 40 percent in the past 20 years. Those who disagreed with the idea declined even more. But those who are not sure increased the most dramatically– from seven percent in 1985 to 21 percent in 2005. If the adjective “definitely” is added before each question, only 12 percent say evolution is definitely true, and 32 percent say evolution is definitely not true, according to researcher Jon Miller.
He concludes that this is largely an American phenomenon. Among 34 countries, only Turkey, which has its own brand of Muslim creationism, shows lower rates of acceptance of evolution. Seventy percent or more accept evolution in Japan, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Britain, Belgium, Spain and Germany.
(Skeptical Inquirer, P.O. Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226-0703)