In This Issue
- On/File: November 1998
- Findings & Footnotes: November 1998
- Pakistan’s government yields to Islamic revivalists
- Underground Chinese church turns activist
- Church of England schools re-find religion
- Current Research: November 1998
- The family’s favorable future?
- Nation of Islam dropping anti-White thrust?
- Conservatives rally to third world Anglicanism
- Reworked Catholic youth programs show growth
- Interracial Pentecostal unity facing obstacles
01: Track One is a new kind of denomination that’s designed by marketers and slated to go out of business in about 20 years.
Track One is an evangelical movement aimed at baby boomers and younger generations offering contemporary worship and comprising about 100 churches around the U.S. Because many studies have found that religious movements rarely keep up their “peak performance” beyond 15 or 20 years, the denomination will cease to exist after that time, according to its leader Rev. Doug Murren, who with Rev. Steve Sjogren, started the church body last spring (with the encouragement of pollster George Barna).
Most members are independent churches on the East Coast and hold their services in rented bars or basements. Congregations in the loosely-based denomination have no common theology and meet around tables, in close-knit circles. If congregants have a question about the sermon, they interrupt and ask.
(Source: Seattle Times, Oct. 28).
02: The growth of Freedom in Christ Ministries shows how such once-“underground” practices as spiritual deliverance and warfare have become popularized among evangelicals. Freedom in Christ is the brainchild of Neil T. Anderson, an evangelical teacher who holds that Christians can be possessed and oppressed by demons and that believers can attain sanctification through personal and disciplined warfare with such forces.
The ministry is rapidly growing in mainstream evangelical circles, such as Campus Crusade for Christ and the Conservative Baptist Association, and through conferences in charismatic and evangelical congregations throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. The movement is attracting criticism by evangelical counter-cult groups, particularly for its teachings on the presence of demons in everyday life and locations (such as living spaces), and that Satanic ritual abuse and multiple personality disorder are part of a satanic conspiracy.
(Source: Christian Research Journal, July-September)
03: The International Society for Islamic Secularization is among the first secular groups challenging Islam from within the Muslim world.
The society will promote human rights and secularism, present critiques of Islamic teachings, and unite skeptics of Islam. Among the leaders of the new organization are Arab philosopher Marvin Zeyed, and feminist writer Taslima Nasrin (who is under a death sentence in her native Bangladesh). The group has a web site (www.secularislam.org) and is also launching a journal called Separation of Mosque and State. The group has ties to secular humanist groups in the West.
(Source: Free Inquiry, Fall)
01: There has been a growing debate among scholars studying new religious movements over the issue of how objective and disinterested such research has been.
A large part of the current issue of Novo Religio, (October) the journal of new religions, is devoted to this question, particularly looking at the issue of academic integrity in studying NRM’s. The acceptance of support and sponsorship by controversial NRM’s comes under fire, with such critics as Stephen Kent claiming that many of these groups have made a deliberate attempt to gain the endorsements of scholars.
In another article, Massimo Introvigne doubts whether even those who have accepted sponsorship have been strongly swayed in their objectivity.
For more information on this issue, send to: Nova Religio, Seven Bridges Press, LLC, P.O. Box 958, Chappaqua, NY 10514-0958.
02: In recent years there has been talk about the emergence of an Eastern Orthodox brand of fundamentalism.
The current issue of the journal Religion, State and Society (Vol. 26, No. 2) is devoted to the growth of anti-Western and isolationist tendencies within Orthodoxy, particularly in former communist countries. A key subject examined in most of the articles is the Orthodox disenchantment with and often strong opposition to the ecumenical movement, as seen in several Orthodox bodies leaving the World Council of Churches as well as opposition to recent Catholic overtures for church unity.
An article by Vladimir Fedorov makes it clear that the anti-ecumenical attitudes of many Orthodox today is not the result of a change in theology as much as the intensification of views that were suppressed during the communist period when church officials were encouraged by their governments to participate in ecumenical activities (although church leaders also desired such outside contact).
Fedorov and other contributors claim that “ecumenism” is used as a code word for Orthodox attacks on the West, Zionism, freemasonry, Catholicism, as well as the growth of evangelical and new religious movements active in formerly communist lands.
For more on this issue, send to: Religion, State and Society, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford OX2 6SH, UK.
03: Last month we mentioned that readers can get a 20 percent discount on the book, Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium by RW‘s editor and Don Lattin.
While that issue of RW was at press, the publisher Jossey-Bass raised the discount to 30 percent off the original $25 price. Anyone who enjoys RW, will want to read the book, since it gives extended treatment to many of the trends regularly digested in the newsletter. Each copy of the book comes with a CD-ROM that links readers from discussions in the text to related sites on the Worldwide Web — from Mother Angelica’s conservative Catholic web site to the Buddhist Sokka Gakkai’s site.
The book can be ordered from Jossey-Bass’s web site, which is: www.josseybass.com or by phone:(888) 378-2537.
Since this discount is for RW readers, remember to use the special code S9831 when ordering.
Growing pressure from Islamic hard-liners to create an Islamic state in Pakistan appears to be working.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is pressing for a sweeping bill that would impose Islamic law, although hard-liners say his actions are just a ploy to consolidate power, reports the Associated Press (Oct. 23). The change could be seen in the way Islamic activists are being treated by the government. The last time the revivalist Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, tried to rally in the capital, the government, then led by Benazir Bhutto, resisted and hundreds of police stopped demonstrators at the city limits.
At a recent rally, however, Sharif’s government lent a helping hand, deploying extra traffic police and cooperating with organizers. One observer says the government is aware of the increasingly powerful religious lobby in Pakistan, which many people say motivated Sharif to try to amend the constitution to impose a new Islamic order.
The underground “house church” movement in China is becoming more outspoken about their situation both with Chinese leaders and the West, reports the evangelical newsweekly, World (Oct. 3).
The once largely silent evangelical house church movement is said to be the fastest growing segment of Christianity in China, as well as among the most restricted and persecuted by the government. The new assertiveness is evident in the recent communiqué sent to Western media by leaders of the underground movement, which called for a “dialogue” between house church leaders and the government and asked officials to release their members who are in prison.
The document also requested that house church Christians be dropped from the government’s list of cult leaders and requested a refined definition of the term “cult.” House church leader Zhang Rongliang says the communiqué is a way of applying direct pressure to the government and letting the outside world know of these Christians’ plight. They add that there are 80 million house church members in China — a figure that is double that of even the most generous estimates of this movement.
Nina Shea of Freedom House says that these leaders are also responding to “revisionist history” from their government and Western mainline Christians who support the government-supported churches. But many Western church leaders, including evangelicals, view the communiqué as only increasing government scrutiny on house churches and that such leaders represent a small minority of Christians in China.
(World, P.O. Box 2330, Asheville, NC 28802)
After a long period of downplaying the religious identity of its schools, the Church of England is seeking to reassert the Christian and Anglican nature of these institutions.
The British Catholic magazine The Tablet (Oct. 10) reports that since the late 60s, Church of England primary and secondary schools have emphasized serving the entire community and minimizing their Christian orientation. Today, “Increasing numbers of influential people within the Church” are working to expand the Anglican role in education.
Often re-introducing the Anglican factor into these schools means holding (often ecumenical) worship services and religious education, although many non-Christians (such as Muslims) attend them. But the high demand from parents for many of these schools is actually increasing the religious emphasis. In order to choose students from a large pool of applicants some schools pick those students whose parents attend church regularly.
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Clifton Walk, London, W6 0Q2 UK)
01: Conservative evangelicals tend to give more to the poor than religious liberals and others concerned about poverty, according to a recent study.
In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September), Mark Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink note that it has been the general wisdom that mainline Protestants and practicing Catholics are more generous toward the poor than politically conservative evangelicals. The researchers test this hypothesis by analyzing survey data (of some 2,500 respondents) on religious identity and social attitudes funded by the Pew Charitable Trust.
They find that in individual giving habits, liberal Protestants and devout Catholics are “virtually indistinguishable from other religious Americans,” and are not “clear leaders in protecting poor and needy people by giving more money to organizations that facilitate this.”
The researchers find not only an absence of “anti-poor” sentiment among conservative Protestant respondents (who have been associated with such groups as the Christian Coalition), but the “significant `pro-poor’ giving habits they appear to display.” (Mormons rated higher than the evangelicals in this study) The writers note that their analysis does not measure attitudes toward poor people or the welfare system, but they add that declaring those who agree with economic conservatism as being hostile to the poor “seems unwarranted.”
Their analysis also shows that the “13 percent of the American population which considers themselves nonreligious give less money to organizations which help the poor than does the rest of the population which holds religious beliefs to some degree.”
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1365 Stone Hall, Sociology Dept., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1365)
02: As welfare reform increasingly compels religious communities to provide new means of alleviating poverty, research continues to suggest that many mainline churches are not willing or able to significantly increase aid to the poor.
The Presbyterian Panel, a survey of laity and clergy of the Presbyterian Church (USA) finds double-mindedness on welfare reform among members. More than one-third of pastors, elders and lay members surveyed in August of 1997 believe that their own congregations have sufficient resources to increase help for the poor in their localities.
Yet majorities in all samples (ranging from 54 percent of members to 62 percent of specialized clergy) believe that such an increase is either “probably not” or “definitely not” an option.
The “near-consensus” view that religious bodies do not have sufficient resources to increase their aid to the poor was evident among pastors regardless of their congregation’s size. Again, however, when it comes to the matter of whether or not their own congregation is able to step up such efforts, more pastors in larger than smaller congregations report that they are able to increase services to the poor.
Majorities of members and elders (with 36 percent of pastors) also hold that it is “probably” a violation of the separation of church and state for religious groups and states to enter into contracts by which the former would provide welfare services paid for by the government.
(Presbyterian Panel, Research Services, 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202-1396)
03: Black Catholics in the United States are actually more attached to traditional Catholic styles of devotion than their white counterparts.
So concludes a study by Professors James C. Cavendish, Michael R. Welch and David C. Leege in the September issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September). By analyzing a survey of 2,667 registered Catholic parishioners, the researchers examine the complicated question of whether race differentiates Catholics in their devotional practices and spirituality.
The study shows that blacks in contrast to whites demonstrated higher levels of devotionalism in the traditional Catholic mode, such as the novena, the more conservative liturgies and the benediction. The scholars suggest this is the case because blacks find in traditional devotionalism “a deep sense of mystery, otherness, and sacredness” that is congenial with the black sacred cosmos. A case study cited showed deep black parishioner resentment to a socially activist diocese that had turned their church building into a community center during the week, hiding statues and the tabernacle behind screens.
Members stated this was a perversion of sacred space, space which had special meaning for them in their devotional life at the church. The authors conclude that Catholic leaders who wish to adapt the liturgical and devotional practices of the church to the cultural experiences of African Americans should be very cautious before doing so, as many registered black Catholics “clearly enjoy participating in the existing liturgical and devotional practices found in their parishes.”
— By Erling Jorstad
04: Beliefs and doctrine were among the most significant factors among Americans in looking for a new church, according to a Barna Poll.
The survey, conducted by Barna Research Group (October 7 news release), asked Americans who attend a Christian church what qualities they would prioritize if they moved to a different community and were looking for a church to attend. The three most significant qualities were the beliefs and doctrine of the church, how people in the church seem to care for each other, and the quality of sermons (45 percent of respondents viewed each of these elements as extremely important).
About one-third of the respondents rated denominational affiliation and how much the person liked the pastor as the most important qualities. The factors viewed as less important included worship music, convenience, and the presence of small groups. But Barna notes that the importance of these qualities varied among different types of people.
Those in their 50s and 60s were the most concerned about church doctrine. Catholics were substantially different than Protestants in that they were less concerned than Protestants about doctrine and theology and about the friendliness toward visitors. At the same time, Catholics were more concerned about denominational affiliation of the church (whether it was Catholic or not).
(Barna Research Group, 5528 Everglades St., Ventura, CA 93003)
05: Interfaith marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics are more likely to take place in areas where Catholics are in the minority, according to a study by Purdue University sociologist James Davidson.
The study, based on data from the Official Catholic Directory for 1997, finds a strong relationship between the interfaith marriage and the percentage of Catholics in a population. Interfaith marriage comprised about 30 percent of all marriages sanctioned by the Catholic Church during 1997.
Davidson’s study, cited in the CARA Report (Fall) from Georgetown University, found that dioceses with a high percentage of Catholics in their population in such areas as Brownsville, Texas (81 percent), had a correspondingly low intermarriage rate (six percent). In such a low Catholic population area as Biloxi, Mississippi (nine percent Catholic), there was a high percentage of intermarriages (52 percent).
(CARA Report, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1203)
06: Longevity may be another benefit of religious practice, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health (October). Previous studies have shown that those involved in religious activities and practices tend to have lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, and fewer symptoms of depression.
The new study of 2,000 aged 55 and older, conducted by the Buck Center for Research in Aging in California, found that those who attended religious services were 24 percent less likely to have died during a five year interval than those who did not attend services. This was the case even after differences in age, health, physical functioning, psychological well being and social support were taken into account.
Even among those with the highest levels of social support, religious activity was still associated with a lower risk of death, suggesting that such involvement is not just a substitute for social support.
07: Irrelevance seems to be the main complaint among many evangelical churchgoers in England when it comes to rating their pastor’s preaching, according to a recent study.
In interviews with over 400 members from 87 evangelical congregations in Britain, Mark Greene found that most considered the sermons to be of reasonable quality and agreed with their teachings on the Bible. But nearly 50 percent said the preaching and teaching was marked by a lack of relevance and challenge. In Quadrant (November), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association, Greene notes that there was the widespread perception that the preacher was out of touch with people’s day-to-day lives.
This is reflected in the finding that 50 percent of those interviewed had never heard a sermon on work. Greene adds that the British training of preachers has traditionally carried little emphasis “on developing a deep understanding of the audience.”
(Quadrant, Christian Research, Vision Building, 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)
Despite setbacks and opposition from critics and ex-members, the Family (formerly the Children of God) appears to be passing on leadership to the second generation and keeping its distinctive identity, according to a report in Nova Religio, (October) a journal on new religious movements.
The Family has courted controversy since its beginnings in the Jesus movement during the late 1960s for its mix of evangelical Christianity with the liberal social mores of that time. For almost a decade, the group has dismantled some of its most controversial aspects — authoritarian rule, encouraging women members to engage in sexual relations with potential converts, and cases of child abuse. John Bozeman writes that the move toward more openness to American society continues. The group, which has about 14,000 members, has published a charter outlining its beliefs and practices, aimed both at critics and members to inform them of their rights.
The Family has also taken a less stigmatizing stance toward ex-members and those members not involved in the communal segment of the group. The more marginal members are now given “Fellow Member” status where they are not expected to follow the full charter. Ex-members have been sent apologies for past intolerant behavior. Bozeman adds that the group is “going through a period of internal renewal.
A rising second generation is in the process of making [founder] Father David’s message their own . . . The family has welcomed it and encouraged their youth to occupy positions of responsibility within the Family community.” The Family still practices extra-marital relations among members, called “sharing,” while holding an “extremely literal” understanding of the Bible — thereby not likely to form many ties with either liberal or conservative Christians.
(Nova Religio, Seven Bridges Press, LLC, P.O. Box 958, Chappaqua, NY 10514-0958)
The Nation of Islam is shedding much of its anti-white rhetoric and beliefs, according to the newspaper In These Times (Oct. 4).
Last month RW noted the unusual alliance between Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan and New Age visionary Jose Arguelles. It appears that this development may be part of a broader change in the NOI toward orthodox Islam and away from its “foundations in anti-white racism.” This change was evident during the recent Million Youth March in New York’s Harlem, which stirred controversy in its call for black militancy. Organizing the march was Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a former NOI leader who was dismissed because of his strongly anti-Semitic and anti-white message.
Farrakhan and his regional representative Benjamin Muhammad (formerly Benjamin Chavis, head of the NAACP and United Church of Christ activist before his conversion) had little or no role in the New York march and have actively “bad mouthed” the event. Instead, Farrakhan gave his support to an Atlanta Million Youth Movement, an outgrowth of the Million Man March of 1995 that attempts to work within the African-American mainstream.
Farrakhan has also been moving away from the “fundamentals of [founder’s] Elijah Muhammad’s message in his recent visits to non-black Muslim nations (where he was accorded head-of-state status). In 1997 he convened an International Islamic Conference in Chicago as “part of a larger attempt to gain theological legitimacy.” He notes that Khalid Muhammad denounced this event as caving into “Arab Islam.”
(In These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60647)
The new unity and strength among conservative Third World Anglican bishops is likely to have repercussions on churches in the U.S. and other Western countries, according to the Christian Challenge (September/October), a traditional Anglican magazine.
The growth and influence of conservative Anglicanism in the Third World has been taking place for a number of years (with the number of bishops outside Europe and the U.S. predominating in Anglicanism), but their emerging leadership was most strongly felt at last summer’s Lambeth Conference, a worldwide Anglican gathering, as they passed a measure that opposing gay rights in the church.
The magazine notes that conservative laity and clergy in the West have “swiftly allied themselves with the global South’s moral leadership.” Before the gathering, conservative Anglicans had been forming new relationships with Third World bishops as a way of circumventing their own liberal bishops in the U.S. [see June RW]. During Lambeth, conservative caucuses, such as First Promise, organized pre-conference meetings for non-Western bishops.
British and American orthodox Anglican theologians also served as consultants and advisors for these bishops on the sexuality debate. The decisions of Lambeth have no binding authority on Anglicans throughout the world, such as the Episcopal Church in the U.S. But the magazine says the conference has given “Episcopal conservatives a major edge,” as liberals in the U.S. church are likely to feel increasing challenge from the new Third World power bloc.
(Christian Challenge, 1215 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003)
In the last five or so years, rapidly increasing numbers of Catholic teenagers are participating in revitalized youth programs in all parts of the country.
The Catholic World Report (October) find growing numbers of young people drawn to church-directed programs based on strongly orthodox Catholic teachings in the context of socially oriented outreach. Some five years ago, Catholic youth ministers may have seen little if any reason to believe such a turn-around could occur. But now convincing evidence exists showing such a revitalization.
The number of young people participating in Life Teen Ministries has doubled to 40,000 in this time period. Subscriptions to the Catholic teen magazine YOU! has gone from l0,000 to 40,000; the attendance at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, meeting every other year, has grown by 143 percent; some 17,000 young people attended its meeting last year in Kansas City, and Catholic colleges, such as Franciscan
University of Ohio, have added substantially to the number of youth oriented retreats in their ministries. Observers suggest the single most important cause for the boom came from the hugely enthusiastic welcome teens gave to Pope Paul John II in Denver in l993. Critics suggest the boom is due mostly to young peoples’ enthusiasm for meeting other peers in a socially safe environment. Proponents acknowledge that may be part of the attraction, the other being a reawakened desire to learn the Catholic fundamentals that their parents hadn’t taught them.
An informal opinion poll taken at a youth conference at Franciscan University shows 84 percent say they attend Mass weekly, 74 percent go to confession once a year. More than 75 percent state they “love the Church” and 69 percent claim they “love the Pope.” Equally large numbers say that priests should remain celibate, that Mass is not boring, and that receiving communion while in a state of mortal sin is wrong.
Promising as these signs are, leaders of youth programs note the major obstacles to further growth that are facing the participants. Youth today do not see a significant Catholic presence in their daily lives; they still encounter lackluster teaching in their parishes, as well as the pervasive influence of popular teen culture. Yet, the movement is much farther along today than just five years ago. More seminarians are entering youth ministry careers, experts on youth culture are working more closely with diocesan leaders, and bishops are giving high priority to expanding youth ministries.
— By Erling Jorstad
Despite recent attempts at interracial unity, divisions based on race are still stirring in American Pentecostal churches, according to Charisma magazine (October).
Pentecostals made headlines in 1994 when the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, which represented mainly white denominations (such as the Assemblies of God), voted to dissolve itself and form a new multi-racial entity called the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA). It was called the “Memphis Miracle,” (as the founding of the PCCNA was in Memphis, Tenn.) but today blacks and whites view the effects of this development differently. White Pentecostal leaders tend to “view the event with glowing optimism, and they report that their denominations are adding minority clergy and lay members.”
Black Pentecostal leaders interviewed in the magazine say they still feel isolated from their white colleagues and shut out from positions of leadership. For instance, while the Church of God has a large contingent of black congregations, in such a state as Florida, whites and blacks still maintain separate structures. White denominations are slowly becoming more multi-racial. The Assemblies of God has 169 black churches, all headed by black clergy, as compared with 141 in 1994.
However, it is still rare to find a white congregation led by a black minister. Prominent black charismatic televangelist Fred Price has stirred the flames of controversy further on this issue, recently preaching a series of sermons contending that white Christians still bring racist baggage to church with them on Sundays and that little is being done to confront such attitudes.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)