In This Issue
- On/File: November 2004
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2004
- Evangelical AIDS activists starting to debate prevention
- Europe’s Catholics face new financial, secular challenges
- Current Research: November 2004
- Windsor — unlikely to heal Anglican divide
- Amish politically activated by Bush campaign?
- Faith-based social services falling short of promise?
- Help wanted — forensic theologians
- The rise of spiritual directors in Judaism
- Southern Baptists’ new postmodern urban strategy
- Postmodern churches — promise or challenge to mainline?
- Emergence — the next science-spirituality paradigm?
- Elections memo: The religious vote prevails?
01: ChristianExodus.org is part of a small separatist movement among conservative Christians who are opting out of the political system.
The group is seeking to get groups of 12,000 people to migrate to South Carolina in hopes of creating a Christian state that will be governed by the Ten Commandments. The group was formed because of disenchantment with the Republican administration in stemming legalized abortion, same-sex marriage and the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama judicial building.
ChristianExodus.org, co-founded by 28-year-old Cory Burrell, has only 600 participants but hopes to have 50,000 to 70,000 by 2016.
(Source: Charisma, October)
01: The fall issue of Theology, News & Notes, a publication of Fuller Theological Seminary reveals the rethinking taking place on the methods and goals of evangelism among American evangelicals.
Most of the articles claim that the older methods of preaching and decision-based evangelizing — pressing for a once-for-all acceptance of Christ–are being replaced by strategies often categorized under the concept of the “emerging” church. [See page 2 for more on this trend]. These include “contemplative evangelism,” stressing prayer and conversation between the believer and unbeliever, a return to the use of sacraments, liturgy and spiritual disciplines, and the importance of evangelization taking place in the context of a community that engages in works of justice and mercy.
Eddie Gibbs writes that with a growing percentage of society that has no knowledge of the gospel story, people “may need much more information before they can make a significant decision. For the majority, `conversion’ is more likely to be a process taking weeks, months, or even years. Rather than hearing a lone advocate, they will need to hear a number of people and see the impact of the gospel in the lives of people they have come to know and respect.
For more info on this issue, write: Theology, News & Notes, Fuller Seminary, 135 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91182
Evangelicals have become front-line leaders in AIDS prevention around the world in recent years, but there is growing division over how to prevent the disease without compromising their beliefs.
Evangelicals, with the support of the Bush administration, have increasingly stepped into the AIDS battle, often following the “ABC” approach modeled in Uganda [see March 2003 RW]. The plan, stressing abstinence, being faithful (monogamy), and condoms, had drastically lowered the AIDS infection rate in Uganda to the surprise of many health and relief organizations that stressed the importance of condoms.
Like the Ugandan plan championed by President Yoweri Museveni, evangelicals have stressed abstinence and monogamy, giving little place for condom use in prevention, writes sociologist Chris Hickey in the evangelical Brandywine Review of Faith and International Affairs (Fall). Hickey writes that evangelical relief and development workers and leaders are seeking to replicate the Uganda model worldwide.
But “in private, some evangelicals who have seen the ugly face of HIV/AIDS are rethinking strategies to create a vital place for contraception in the fight against this global killer.” He adds that such a strategy may have more success in a country such as Thailand, where “religious mores are not so strictly tied to ascetic lifestyle choices, and where a government-promoted condom campaign cut AIDS infections dramatically in the 1990s.
(Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044; http://www.globalengage.org)
Many French dioceses are experiencing increasing difficulties in meeting their expenses, reports the Paris-based Catholic daily La Croix (Oct. 3).
In 2003, resources of the French Catholic Church amounted to 446 million Euros (US $ 570 million), which corresponds to an increase of 1.92 percent (slightly above inflation rate of 1.59 percent). However, despite a rise in donations, many French dioceses have been in the red for years, explains La Croix‘s Bernard Jouanno. Those dioceses which manage to keep a balanced budget sometimes reach it only by special sources of income, such as legacies or sales of properties.
The Catholic Church in France owns many properties, but they can act more as financial drains than resources. Consequently, several bishops have launched plans to improve the situation. In the diocese of Dijon, several employees have been fired due to financial reasons. The diocese of Montpellier could not afford to renovate its centrally located diocesan house and sold it in order to build modern facilities. However, the French Bishops’ Conference seems confident: that despite severe difficulties experienced by some dioceses, there is greater willingness among the faithful to support their Church.
More than finances, a major concern for the Roman Catholic Church in France as well as in other European countries seems to be the growth of a secular spirit often perceived as anti-Catholic. This has been brought to light by the recent controversies surrounding the proposed nomination of Christian Democrat politician Rocco Buttiglione as the next European Union’s justice commissioner. His statements about homosexuality being a sin and about traditional family structures were met by angry reactions, described by a Catholic cardinal as “secular Inquisition.” Some leading Catholics feel that their Church is becoming increasingly marginalized.
According to religion editor Henri Tincq writing in Le Monde (Oct. 20), Roman Catholicism has indeed lost much of its authority when it comes to pronouncements on issues pertaining to public life in Europe (October 20). The Catholic Church, Tincq observes, has not yet reconciled itself to the fact that it is increasingly seen as just one lobbying group among many others in a secularized context. However, Tincq considers the Vatican’s reactions as “disproportionate” The struggle between “clericalism” and “secularism” belongs to the past, and the future European Constitution — while not expressly mentioning the Christian roots of Europe — grants a quite favorable status to religious bodies, he concludes.
Not all Catholics will probably be convinced. Following the implementation of the new French law regarding the wearing of “ostentatious” religious signs in schools, five Roman catholic chaplains were forbidden to enter school grounds in the Department of Var (Southern France) because they were wearing a cassock, according to the news agency APIC (Oct. 10).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: The attempt to prove the healing efficacy of prayer is proving increasingly controversial among medical and scientific researchers, reports the New York Times (Oct. 10).
Findings in 2001 by a Columbia University fertility expert, showing that women undergoing fertility treatment who had been prayed for by Christian groups were twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy as those who had not, has drawn a recent flurry of criticism for being unscientific. Since 2000, at least 10 studies of intercessory prayer have been carried out by researchers, with two large trials of the effects of prayer on coronary health currently under review at prominent medical journals.
The debate about the value of such research cuts across the usual categories of skeptics and believers. Even those defending the studies concede that such research is difficult to conduct. No one knows what constitutes a “dose” of prayer, with some studies testing a few prayers a day by individual healers and others using entire congregations–from evangelical to New Age — praying together.
Another problem is that the studies measure so many variables that some are likely to come up by chance. The defenders often view prayer in non-traditional ways that would bother the prayer participants themselves, viewing it as a vehicle for “subtle energies” and “mind-to-mind communications.” Meanwhile, mainstream clergy and theologians are claiming that the studies cheapen religion and promote an infantile theology.
02: Americans have a mixed and somewhat contradictory view of Muslims and Islam, according to a recent marketing survey.
The survey, conducted by Genesis Research Associates, found that one in four Americans agree with at least one anti-Muslim statement, such as “Muslims value life less than other people,” or “Muslims teach their children to hate unbelievers.” Fifty one percent agreed — either somewhat or strongly — that Islam encourages the oppression of women.
But the poll also found that 64 percent agreed with the statement, “The people who use Islam to justify violence are misinterpreting its teachings.” The poll showed a correlation between those having exposure to Islam and Muslims and holding more favorable views of the religion.
03: Christian ministers in Canada may find encouragement in the latest book by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald W. Bibby, Restless Churches.
The book, a sequel to his 2002 book Restless Gods, finds increasing rates of church attendance among people in the age range of 18-34 across Canada. Those observations are supported by pollster Allan Greg, reports The Christian Post (Oct. 13). The poll finds that 26 to 30 percent of English-speaking Canadians go to church regularly, a sharp increase from the 1992 low of 18 percent. In fact, there seems to be a growth in attendance for all Protestant bodies in Canada, except the Anglicans in Quebec.
Indeed, Quebec offers a more complex picture. While weekly attendance is low, there are many more people still going to church on an occasional basis. Despite significant loss of support for institutional religion, 80 percent of the people in Quebec are still believers, Alan Hustak reports about Bibby’s findings in The Gazette (Oct. 12).
While there is a continuing loss of religious affiliation, Bibby warns that the statistical curve is not necessarily predictive of the future: mainstream Christian Churches have a long history and “recuperative powers.” The general trend in Canada shows that there may well be hopes of rejuvenation. Regarding Quebec, identification with Roman Catholicism still remains strong with many people: “If a renaissance occurs [in Quebec], it will be a Catholic renaissance”, Bibby told The Gazette.
According to Bibby, there is no evidence that Canadians are massively abandoning mainstream churches for evangelical congregations: “The vast majority of Canadians stick with the choices of their parents and grandparents.” — (The Gazette, http:// www.canada.com/Montreal/montrealgazette/index.html; The Christian Post, http:// www.christianpost.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
A document reprimanding the Episcopal Church for its advocacy of gay clergy and leadership has been held up as an attempt to keep the worldwide Anglican communion intact, but observers doubt the report can exert such a unifying force.
The document, called the Windsor Report 2004, was called for by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as a way to prevent schism in the 77 million-member communion as the result of the decision of the Episcopal Church to consecrate an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, as the bishop of New Hampshire. Immediately after that event, conservative Anglicans around the world, particularly in the Third World, threatened schism and isolating of the American church for its actions.
The document criticizes both the American denomination (and Canadian Anglicans) for its unilateral actions that failed to consult other Anglican bodies, as well as conservative bishops who have disregarded church boundaries to generate new conservative support networks.
In the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 22), church historian David Steinmetz writes that liberals receive the strongest criticism, even suggesting that they apologize to other Anglicans and sign a covenant agree to ground rules in the communion. But Steinmetz adds that while liberals may regret the divisive consequences of their actions, they are unlikely to apologize, believing that to do so would “be a sin against conscience.”
He doubts that the report will end the “Anglican civil war,” largely because it relies “far too heavily on voluntary compliance with its recommendations. Such compliance works in an atmosphere of mutual trust. But mutual trust is currently in short supply.”
The Amish are attracting new attention for their potential voting power and, in turn, have become more politically involved. The Economist (Oct. 16) reports that Republicans have been courting the Amish in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The election boards in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio, have seen a surge in Amish names among those registering to vote. The article adds, “The Amish seem to feel that one of their own is in the White House. Mr. Bush’s foreign wars do not accord with Amish pacifism, but his religious conviction and his stance on social issues [such as on gay marriage and abortion] have got their hearts aflutter.”
Although some church leaders are still cautioning against voting, the matter is left up to each individual, and some Amish have even joined activist ranks, launching informal voter-drives. One danger of the Amish entering politics is that they may draw criticism for the privileges they have won to maintain their culture, such as exemption from Social Security taxes, as well as draw more unwanted publicity to themselves.
The faith-based social services program championed by the Bush administration has failed to evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives and may discourage charitable giving to such causes, reports the liberal Washington Monthly magazine (October).
This sober assessment made by writer Amy Sullivan charges that while the Bush administration initially argued that the faith-based groups would be judged on their results, there has been little evaluation of the organizations receiving government funds in the last four years. A Pew study recently found that the administration largely relies on anecdotal evidence to support the view that faith-based programs out-perform secular services (although several independent social scientific studies have been conducted on these initiatives).
President Bush has more recently stressed the argument that faith-based programs are discriminated against and deserve the same chance as secular organizations, setting in motion a process where “well-established organizations that have provided services for decades are now competing with–and being displaced by–unproven, often less successful groups…”
Another important aspect of the Bush faith-based plan. was a proposed tax break to make it worthwhile for individuals to contribute to charities. But Sullivan writes that the charitable deduction plan was thrown “overboard in favor of repealing the estate tax.” The repeal of the estate tax even hurt charities by depriving them of an estimated $6 billion each year from bequests, “a traditional way of getting around tax payments,” Sullivan adds.
(Washington Monthly, 733 15th St., N.W., Suite 520, Washington, DC 20005)
Experts with a knowledge of religion, particularly Islam, are playing an increasingly prominent role in battling terrorism, according to an article inThe Atlantic magazine (November).
Such experts engaging in a field the article calls “forensic theology,” have become key in authenticating terrorist documents, identifying and targeting perpetrators for surveillance and, most importantly, pinpointing groups that present the greatest threat. The French have pioneered in forensic theology, or what they call “ideological surveillance, at least since 1986 when Islamic experts teamed up with security services to identify the trademarks of extremist thought. The result has been the identification and disruption of a number of militant cells and the prevention of more than 25 planned attacks.
Last year, for example, religious experts listening to sermons in various mosques pinpointed three clerics as probable extremists. Police found that all three had links to a terrorist group led by a Turkish militant, and were subsequently ordered expelled from France. In the U.S., the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington, a group with an Israeli intelligence background, has poured over thousands of extremist Islamic texts and sermons and has become proficient in identifying authentic and fake al-Qaeda documents.
These specialists tend to focus on how militant Islamic groups interpret two key concepts: that of taqfir, or the idea of declaring a fellow Muslim an apostate, and that of self-defense, interpreted by al-Qaeda and other terrorists as justification for worldwide jihad. Using such criteria one such expert, Alastair Crooke, charges that many Western policy makers tend to lump groups opposing the call to jihad outside of what they regard as occupied territories, such as Hamas and Hizbollaha, into the same category as al-Queda, and thus “demonize almost the entire spectrum of political Islam.”
Growing numbers of Jews are training to become “spiritual directors,” reports Uriel Heilman in an article published on October 5 by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Halfway between therapy and counseling, this practice borrows from the Christian model of spiritual guidance as well as from psychotherapy, in order to help clients to discern God’s presence in their lives.
There are reported to be around 100 Jewish spiritual directors in North America, most of them trained in Christian programs, since Jewish programs are still very recent and offered only at three Jewish institutions. Besides conversation, monthly sessions may offer prayer, meditation, and chanting, at a cost of $60 to $80 per hour.
Only a minority of Jewish spiritual directors are rabbis. There seem to be no Orthodox Jews among them. The movement is attempting to find a place in the Jewish tradition, despite its aspects of New Age spirituality. However, Heilman reports, a number of Jews are critical and feel that the practice has more to do with catering to narcissism than with commitment to Judaism. (http://www.jta.org)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, Contributing Editor to RW and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
In an attempt to reach urban elite professionals and reverse sagging membership, the Southern Baptist Convention has also adopted a postmodern strategy that downplays much of the denomination’s conservative social agenda. In New York magazine (October 18), Franklin Foer writes that in the last few years the SBC has experienced membership loss and has responded by attempting to “reach a long-neglected market: cities. Southern Baptists have sent experienced urban missionaries to Chicago, Phoenix, Boston, and Las Vegas and given them two years to spiritually make over the cities.”
But the SBC has invested the most heavily in New York, an area that has seen less conservative evangelical activity, aside from burgeoning ethnic outreach. In New York, the SBC has established several congregations as part of its New Hope New York campaign, with unchurchly names like Mosaic, Journey, and Graffiti. The strategy uses visiting lay missionaries who pray and evangelize residents, particularly targeting the influential sectors–such as those in entertainment and the media.
Foer writes that the new missionaries are heavily influenced by the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, Calif.and its pastor Rick Warren (author of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life). With Warren, the missionaries have embraced New Age and therapeutic rhetoric, blanketing “Hell’s Kitchen with postcards promising `holistic growth’ and `lives transformed.'”
To further “win over believers in the urban north,” the SBC missionaries have “checked their politics at the door,” and eschew focusing on such hot button issues as abortion and homosexuality. So far, the SBC groups have gained a following among three subgroups: Asian-Americans who grew up in evangelical homes, Southern expats looking for some comforting reminders of home, and a “good number of longtime city dwellers,” (including the “NPR-listening antiwar variety”). Many in the latter subgroups are lapsed Catholics seeking a new spiritual home.
Mainline churches are adopting “postmodern” models of ministry to suit an increasingly pluralistic constituency, a process that may challenge traditional denominational structures.
The Reformed Church in America (Dutch Reformed) has been in the forefront of attempts to adapt congregations from coast to coast to “provide itself a niche among bigger mainline churches,” reports the Christian Century (October 5). Often these postmodern ministries, which stressing community and informal worship, are found within traditional congregations. The Third Reformed Church near Kalamazoo, Michigan hosts The River, which uses hard-driving, amplified music, a casual dress code and draws minorities. Parishioners from Third Reformed also started Within Reach Ministries, a collection of cell-group congregations that gathers once a week for prayer and praise in a former church sanctuary.
Mainline postmodern ministries are largely similar to their evangelical counterparts, which started the phenomenon [see May 2004 RW]. If anything, the more liturgical denominations, such as Episcopal and Lutheran, are less wary of postmodern approaches than the earlier seeker-oriented megachurch style, mainly because the former leaves greater room for–and sometimes stresses– traditional practices, such as communion and other rituals. This can be seen in such Lutheran postdenominational ministries as All People’s Church (http://www.allpeopleschurch.com) in Phillips Ranch, Calif., and the Church of the Apostles in Seattle (http://www.apostleschurch.org).
The latter church, which is affiliated both with the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and founded by a black women pastor, uses the trademark concepts and methods of postmodern ministries: stressing community, “justice,” small group intimacy and the idea that “faith is not a set of beliefs but a way of life to be lived.” The church’s website states that the Church of the Apostles is “neither traditional (50s) nor contemporary (60s-80s) but ancient-future,” drawing on both chant, candles and communion and on “techno-modern” alternative rock, art and video.
This postmodern movement among Lutherans started informally and is expressed in the “Emerging Leader Network,” although organizationally based at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa. But the main source of identity and community among these mainline postmodernists is drawn not from the denomination or tradition but rather from other postmodern ministries and networks, such as Hothouse in the Pacific Northwest (http://www.hothouse.org) and the international Emergent Village (http://www.emergentvillage.com).
Since the Church of the Apostles and other similar ministries frequently criticize denominations as “modernist organizations” that are the opposite of the “organic, networked community,” the postmodernists’ relation to mainline structures is likely to be an uneasy one.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
Quantum physics, chaos theory, and the big bang have all been utilized by theologians to elucidate religious and philosophical concepts. In recent years, the evolutionary theory of emergence has become the most recent scientific concept to make the rounds of the spirituality and science conference and publishing circuit and become the next “new paradigm,” reports the Science & Theology News (October).
Emergence refers to the theory that cosmic evolution repeatedly includes unpredictable, irreducible and novel appearances. For instance, computer game simulations have been shown to produce highly complex automata that move, interact and even reproduce as the game progresses.
Philosophers such as Michael Silberstein argue that mental properties, such as thoughts and feelings are emergent properties in natural history which exercise causal influence on the brains that produce them. Phillip Clayton writers that “If [such thinkers] are right, religious thoughts and ideas can actually transform the physical world that produces them.” But the use of emergent theory for religious and spiritual purposes has gone much further.
Clayton writes that such books as Emergence, Linked, andEvolution’s Arrow see signs of emergence in anything from sexual relationships, the Internet, and larger and larger cooperative organizations and the global integration of mankind. More radical are the views of computer science guru Marc Pesce, who argues that the Internet is a “self-organizing system of intelligent parts” that is “driving us to its own ends.”
Ken Wilbur, called the “Hegel of emergent holists,” argues that cosmic evolution is producing new spiritual forces and entities, which includes and yet transcends earlier levels of reality. While Clayton doubts some of these thinkers’ predictions of a synthesis of science and religion under emergence, he adds that this theory might suggest the world is more “upwardly open” than has been previously considered and provides an “important new field for religious reflection or theology.”
(Science & Religion News, P.O. Box 5065, Brentwood, TN 37024-5065;http://www.stnews.org)
Religion Watch was going to press as the U.S. elections unfolded, so readers should expect more in-depth coverage and analysis on this topic in the December issue of the newsletter. Yet early on, the elections’ results revealed developments that we would be amiss not to note in this issue.
The solidification of the Christian right and religious conservative influence in general has been the main news story in the wake of the election. AsRW and other observers have observed throughout the years, the decline of religious right organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, did not so much signal the fall of this movement as much as its integration into the Republican Party. But as a Beliefnet article by Steve Waldman and John C. Green notes, the Bush victory benefited as much from the impressive showing among regular church going Catholics and mainline Protestants in pivotal states as from the strong support of evangelical Christians.
Waldman and Green write that “Just as in 2000, roughly 42 percent of total votes were cast by people who attend church once a week or more. Those voters went overwhelmingly for Bush. Voters who went to religious services a few times a year or less went for Kerry by similar margins. The 14 percent who said they went a few times a month, went for Kerry 51 percent to 45 percent they went for Gore last time.” Nationally, roughly 22 percent of the electorate was comprised of “White evangelicals” or “Born again” Christians, according to exit polls.
Last time, the “religious right” made up 14 percent. They note, however, that it is not yet known whether this represents an actual increase or is just a result of the change in terminology. Yet the importance of the religious vote is evident in the fact that 21 percent of voters said “moral values” was the most important issue to them — right on a par with the economy, terrorism, and Iraq.
The Bush campaign, under the direction of Karl Rove, intensified its strategy of targeting practicing, more traditional Catholics in 2004 and it seems to have paid off: Nationally, Catholics who attended church weekly voted 53 percent to 45 percent for Bush. In Ohio, the margin was 62 percent to 38 percent Waldman and Green conclude that “In a way, the significance of the overwhelming victory Bush had among evangelicals is obscured by the media focus on battleground states in recent weeks. Bush’s strength among conservative Christians put huge swaths of the country simply out of reach for Kerry, requiring him to carry a high percentage of northeastern and Midwestern states.”
Meanwhile, as might be expected, several religious right leaders are anticipating a “revolution” from their electoral victories, reports the New York Times (Nov. 4). Conservative religious leaders such as James Dobson and Richard Viguerie see a four-year window for implementing their agenda, particularly enacting a ban on same-sex marriage and overturning abortion rights.
But the article notes that Republicans are already fighting over the spoils from the elections, and no doubt the next few months will reveal similar fissures and battles taking place between religious conservatives themselves. Stay tuned to RW for more on these developments.