In This Issue
- Mainline clergy leaving middle class?
- Findings & Footnotes: October 2001
- Chabad’s Messianic views grow more radical, influential
- Alpha impacts Canada with a difference
- Sunday schools — the hidden factor in church decline, growth?
- Current Research: October 2001
- Buddhism changing after terrorist attacks
- Faith-based peace movement taking shape
- Judgment theme makes a comeback post-Sept. 11
- Attacks spur religious revival or temporary comfort?
- Muslim websites cover the spectrum on attacks
- Muslim organizations as fronts for terrorism — fear or fact?
Mainline clergy leaving middle class?
Protestant male clergy are falling below middle class status, a trend bringing new models of the ministry to the surface, writes Matthew J. Price in the Christian Century (Aug. 15-22) magazine.
Until fairly recently, clergymen belonged to the middle class in income along with other professionals who came out of graduate schools. But in the past 20 years, clergy income has remained relatively flat while others in graduate schools, have seen salary rises. The average mean salary for a married clergyman was 11 percent higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s, but salary levels rose by 25 percent for all married males with similar graduate-level degrees.
The cost of college education for children and retirement especially makes it difficult for clergy to retain a place in the middle class. Clergy average income for those between 45 and 55 was $54,044, while the average mean income for those with graduate level degrees was $105,359.This lower income contributes to higher stress levels for clergymen, as well as longer hours and reduced time for family (the total household income for women is 20 percent higher for women clergy).
Price writes that the emergence of the popular megachurch and marketing methods has meant less support given to clergy who are pastors of smaller congregations. In place of the middle class pastor of small or moderate size congregations, two models are emerging. One is the church planting-entrepreneurial model, where pastors “grow their own” congregations and receive salaries commensurate with their success.
Price believes that another motif will increasingly dominate mainline Protestantism. In this “meaningful vocation” model, the pastor is called to the ministry after a defining experience in mid-life. This trend will leave out young ministers and others wanting to embark on a middle class career while catering to those willing to step down a class level or two and those with independent means or spousal support.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
Findings & Footnotes: October 2001
01: Korean churches have been seen as the most dynamic of immigrant churches, as they have often eclipsed American white congregations with their large memberships and fast growth.
The recent book Korean Americans and Their Religions (Penn State Press, $19.95) edited by Ho-Youn Kwon, Kwang Chung Kim and R. Stephen Warner, gives the reader a comprehensive account of where these churches are headed, along with the less well-known Buddhist groups. In an engaging introductory chapter, Warner writes that much of what the Korean Protestant churches (Korean Catholic churches are unfortunately not included in the book) have experienced in the U.S. serve as a case study for other new immigrant ethnic groups, particularly concerning the shift from first generation to second generation membership.
The second generation has been active in creating alternative worship services and even congregations that use English and yet retain Korean ethnic ties and fellowship. Several chapters address the tension of younger Koreans attempting to retain ethnic ties while also being a part of the evangelical world that stresses outreach to all people.
A concluding chapter looks at Korean Buddhism, which has more problems keeping the second generation , though there are good numbers of “returnees” from Christian churches at some temples, as well as growing numbers of non-Korean converts.
Chabad’s Messianic views grow more radical, influential
The growing acceptance of Menachem Schneerson as a messiah , even a divine being, among Lubavitch Hasidic Jews is having a deep impact on Judaism the world over, writes David Berger in Commentary magazine (September).
Belief in Schneerson as messiah has grown from a minority position to one embraced by a “substantial majority” of Lubavitchers, or Chabad, Jews, writes Berger. What makes this noteworthy is that these Jews hold important positions in the wider Orthodox community that has not shared these views, not to mention in their own Chabad organization that actively recruit Jews to their cause.
“These [positions] range from the offices of the Israeli rabbinate to the ranks of mainstream rabbinical organizations to the chairmanship of the rabbinical courts in Israel and elsewhere.”
Even non-Hasidic Orthodox leaders now tolerate the new messianic fervor, although Berger claims that the teachings and theories surrounding Schneerson clash with traditional Judaism. The main issue of contention is that Judaism has not traditionally recognized a view where the messiah might come back from the dead with followers hoping for his resurrection. Added to that, Schneerson is increasingly viewed as a divine being rather than a mere mortal — another sticky issue in Judaism.
Berger writes that some messianists take the divinity language figuratively, but it is not difficult to find those who hold a literal understanding of this belief among Chabad teachers and students. Berger concludes that the new teaching may serve to legitimize Christian belief in Christ as the messiah and well as do damage to the “classical messianic faith of Judaism.”
(Commentary, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)
Alpha impacts Canada with a difference
Canada, as well as many other Western nations, is experiencing a mushrooming of churches using and drawing unchurched through the Alpha program, a Christian basics class.
The evangelical Faith Today magazine (September/October) reports that Alpha, started by charismatic Anglicans in Britain, has spread so widely in Canada that three-quarters of the churches using Alpha are not Anglican. Baptists are the group most commonly using Alpha, although 60 denominations — including mainline, evangelical and Catholic — also use the program. Close to 1,500 courses are running in Canada, compared to 240 three years ago. About 220,000 Canadians have taken the class since 1997. Writer Marianne Meed Ward notes that most of the people who attend Alpha are already Christian.
But this pattern tends to change the more times Alpha is offered at churches. “The more traditional churches are using [Alpha] as an in-reach with a view to renewing their own population, but with a longer term view to evangelize their communities. Smaller churches tend to look at this as a Bible study,” says Sally Stuart, national director of Alpha Ministries Canada.
(Faith Today, MIP Box 3745, Markham, Ont., Canada L3R 0Y4)/
Sunday schools — the hidden factor in church decline, growth?
Recent reports on denominational decline and growth in countries as disparate as England, Egypt and Canada all cite the common factor of busting or booming Sunday school ministries.
Touchstone magazine (September) reports that the steep decline in the fortunes of the United Church of Canada are more dramatic when examining the loss of Sunday school students in that denomination. While the population of Canada grew from 20 million in 1965 to 30.5 million in 1999, membership in the United Church declined from 1,064,033 to 668,549. Sunday school membership fell from 609,583 to 140,129 — more than a 75 percent drop.
The same issue of the magazine notes in passing that in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, “Sunday school is a major force…” Pope Shenouda III, head of the church, reports that there are more than 30,000 Sunday school teachers in Cairo alone. Some of the larger churches have 300 teachers.
The Church of England’s decline and lack of ability to hand down the faith to succeeding generations is in no small part due to the disintegration of its church education programs, including Sunday schools and day schools, according to sociologist Norman Dennis. The Tablet (Sept. 1) cites Dennis’ study as showing that these losses happened “more by muddle than by malice.” In the 1940s, the state cooperated with the Church of England in preserving its vast network of church day schools.
Boosters of these Anglican schools thought Christian education was now secure. For this reason, one segment of the church saw no reason to continue with Sunday schools. Meanwhile the Anglican schools were becoming increasingly secular, replacing education in the Christian faith with an objective and comparative approach to teaching religion. The magazine notes, however, that there has been a recent attempt to reinject Anglican theology in the teaching at day schools.
(Touchstone, 4125 W. Newport Ave., Chicago, IL 60641)
Current Research: October 2001
01: Although the inflicting pain on oneself for spiritual purposes has decreased around the world, those who engage in the practice report a complex interplay between self-control, neurology and spirituality that accounts for its effects, says a recent study.
The study, conducted by Georgetown University professor Ariel Glucklich for his book Sacred Pain: Hurting The Body for the Sake of the Soul, found that regulated and controlled pain sends the nervous system into a frenzy, reducing the mind’s awareness and allowing a spiritual experience to take place. In interviewing mystics who engage in the practice, such as Catholics engaging in self-flagellation (hitting oneself with ropes), Glucklich finds that “They control their own pain, and the more they hurt, the more they become otherworldly.
They say they become empty, and something else floods in.” In an interview in Washington City Paper (Sept. 28), Glucklich finds the element of self control crucial, since torture does not bring the same sensation. The most common form of religious pain today is the pilgrimage, where participants have to walk on hot days with their bare feet.
02: Church attendance stimulates voting and political participation as congregations serve as vital meeting places where members can deliberate about elections, according to a study published in First Things magazine (October).
In an extended analysis of the 2000 elections, James Guth, Lyman Kellstedt, John Green and Corwin Smidt find that congregation participation both creates social capital, such as voter participation and wider political involvement, as well as reveals continued division between the Democratic and Republican parties. The authors confirm their earlier findings that the Republican Party is increasingly drawing more active and traditionalist elements — particularly evangelicals and conservative Catholics, while the Democrats now represent more secular voters, as well as black Protestants and other religious minorities.
But within all these religious groups, Guth, Kellstedt, Green, and Smidt find that attending religious services stimulated voting. Scholars have traditionally observed this pattern but have not been sure why this is the case. The authors find that attendance gives members the opportunity to discuss elections, particularly for the evangelical and mainline Protestants.
Political talk was less common for Catholics, though strong parish connections also stimulated political activities.
(First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010)
Buddhism changing after terrorist attacks
Stephen Prothero of Boston University even sees the state of Buddhism in the U.S. changing in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.
Like other pop icons in American culture (such as the David Letterman show), the “cool” and ironic style of Buddhism in the U.S. is losing its currency and persuasive power in the face of the attacks, Prothero said at a recent conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Boston last month. He added that the passing of “cool culture” clears the way for more attention to be paid to the strengths of immigrant Buddhism, which, among other things, has a stronger monastic tradition.
Although issued before the attacks, the 10th anniversary issue of Tricycle magazine (Fall) wrestles with Prothero’s diagnosis, particularly looking at how the various movements will mature and survive Buddhism’s fashionable phase.
An article on Zen Buddhism, perhaps the most publicized and “cool” of the Buddhist movements, says that leadership issues will preoccupy this branch for the next decade, as a lack of oversight and intervention is still evident (a decade after misconduct and abuse charges of several Zen leaders). There is no central authority in Zen, nor clear answers about how much power priests or laypeople hold. In one way, this is creating a new blending of lay and monastic practice, with Zen Buddhists leading strongly devotional lives while balancing family and career. But in the near future, “Steadiness will be the watchword, not fashionableness or visibility,” says one Zen leader.
The same goes for Vipissana Buddhism, though its specialty of insight and mindfulness meditation has been increasingly adapted to a wide range of religious and secular settings (such as pain and stress management). But the growth of Vipissana retreat houses, meditation centers and even retirement centers may channel some of that interest back to the movement. Additionally, new translations of the ancient discourses of the Buddha and a greater range of traditional practices flourishing at these centers will also provide more roots for the movement. For instance, the practice of lovingkindness, the meditative cultivation of goodwill toward oneself and others, has become a cornerstone of Vipissana.
Prothero’s forecast of a greater interchange between ethnic Buddhism and “white,” convert Buddhism is evident in the Shin movement and the changes it has recently undergone. The Japanese-based movement was once strictly ethnic and paid far greater attention to a Protestant-like, faith-based spirituality than meditation or contemplation. But increasingly, the “ethnic Buddhist temples have rejected the earlier service formats and emphasize sutra chanting,” as well as incorporating ethnic rituals and activities not normally part of the Shin tradition in Japan.
The recent publishing of Shin founder Shinran’s writings is leading to the realization among cradle and a new stream of converts that the movement is similar to meditation-oriented Mahayana Buddhism, teaching impermanence, the bodhisattva ideal and other classic doctrines. Soka Gakkai has meanwhile cut its ties with its Japanese mother body, Nichiren Shoshu, and distanced itself from its controversial practices and history. Known for its practice of chanting for spiritual and material benefits, Soka Gakkai is now de-emphasizing the “material goods” prominent in the U.S.
The movement’s strongly multicultural thrust as well as its non-meditative nature may help bridge the gap between white and ethnic Buddhists, writes Hamilton College professor Richard Hughes Seager.
(Tricycle, 92 Vandam St., New York, NY 10013)
Faith-based peace movement taking shape
It is still too early to discern the shape of a peace movement in response to the terrorist attacks, but mainline Protestant and Catholic groups are already in the forefront of protests against American use of force and retaliation in the conflict, according to reports.
The National Catholic Reporter (Sept. 21) reports that faith-based peace groups showed a range of responses to the attacks, but were united in the call against military action for the attack as well as a concern about vengeance against Muslims and others of different cultures. Like other peace activists, there is more ambivalence about a strict anti-retaliation stance, since the American response would be largely defensive rather than aggressive, according to an article in Time magazine (Oct. 8).
In a report on the mainline response to the attacks in the Catholic newspaper The Wanderer (Sept. 27), Mark Tooley of the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy finds an emphasis on peace and interfaith understanding but little attention to justice. He cites statements from the National Council of Churches, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and Episcopal Church where the stress is on avoiding further violence and retaliation.
Lacking is any “alarm about the possibility of further terrorist attacks and more American lives lost…They do not express alarm about the rise of radical Islam that likely fueled the terrorism. Instead, they are concerned about prejudice aimed at Arab-Americans.” Tooley says the mainline churches are employing a sort of “psychoanalysis” in their concern for the attackers’ anti-American grievances.
“Note the Presbyterian desire to `understand the pain, frustration, and sense of powerlessness’ that supposedly fueled the attacks of terrorism.. Is `frustration’ a legitimate cause for annihilating thousands of strangers?”
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141; The Wanderer, 201 Ohio St., St. Paul, MN 55107)
Judgment theme makes a comeback post-Sept. 11
The sense of biblical judgment and even prophesy have also been revived by the terrorist attacks.
The Washington Times (Sept. 21) reports that other Christian leaders and commentators beside Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have seen the events of Sept. 11th as much a judgment on American sins as a symptom of world unrest and unfolding prophetic events concerning the Middle East. Julia Duin writes that “Several commentators have brought up a mysterious passage in Revelations 18 that tells how `Babylon,’ a fabulously rich seaport city famed as a trade center, is destroyed in an hour.”
Meanwhile, the conservative evangelical newsweekly World (Sept. 22) put much of the blame for the attacks on the “gods of nominalism, materialism, secularism and pluralism.” Pentecostal writer and pastor David Wilkerson has been in the forefront of warning that by denying God had anything to do with the attacks, many religious leaders are missing the message of judgment and that worse things are in store if Americans don’t repent of such sins as abortion and materialism.
Alan Carlson, publisher of the Religion & Society Report, says there is a precedent to the idea that world events are heralding divine judgment. Martin Luther viewed the invasion of Turks into Europe as a judgment against the corruption of Western Christians.
World magazine also led the way in covering the response of Americans as well as the attack in terms of the culture wars. The September 29 issue of the magazine says the attack pulled Americans back from multiculturalism and its concepts of “intellectual, moral and religious relativism . . . Now all of the academic left’s slogans seem frivolous and irrelevant. National leaders are quoting the Bible and calling for prayer. People are praying for each other and asking for prayer, and the media are treating faith with respect.”
At least as represented by Falwell, Robertson and World magazine (an influential magazine among politically active conservative evangelicals), evangelicals and fundamentalists publicly viewed the attacks as a judgment on American sin as well as an outside assault on American values (Billy Graham was the most notable exception).
This portrayal of the event was criticized not only by secular and liberal voices but also by evangelicals. Relevant (Sept. 25), a Christian Internet magazine for Generation X, editorialized that “The last thing we need during this time is leaders pointing the finger of blame to anyone other than Satan and the terrorists who performed these acts . . . I’ve noticed that during these last two weeks when the news covers a service, it’s usually Catholic mass.
When they want the Christian view in an interview, it’s usually a Catholic priest they call. Why is that? Maybe the networks don’t want Protestant leaders on their shows because they’re afraid they’ll use the platform to spit hate rhetoric or point fingers.” The magazine also notes that while major Hollywood studios are delaying or even scrapping violent films out of respect the catastrophe, the Christian network TBN was an exception. TBN decided to press forward with the release of its violent end-times movie Megiddo.
The network ran commercials for the movie that spliced footage of the actual carnage of the attacks with footage from the movie to make the film seem more “timely.” The ad was eventually nixed because of viewer backlash that saw the promotion as being in bad taste.
Attacks spur religious revival or temporary comfort?
Interest in spirituality and religious observance have been on the upturn since the attacks, and religion has found a new place in the public square, but for how long?
Time magazine (Oct. 8) reports that churches, synagogues and mosques were packed the weekend after Sept. 11. Sixty percent of all Americans attended some kind of memorial, and Bible sales rose 27 percent. Yet Gallup polls taken September 21 and 22 find that weekend church and synagogue attendance rose only six percent (compared to about 20 percent after President Kennedy was shot).
Still, the amount of religious activity generated after the attack may endure longer than jumps in attendance. David Van Biema writes that “Muslims and others have been doing furious research on the concept of jihad. Traditional antiwar denominations like Quakers and the Church of the Brethren are challenging the more common Christian concept of just war. Some mainline Protestants, Buddhists and religious liberals have begun peace initiatives. Many conservative Christians are speculating about the Apocalypse, and sales of the apocalyptic book series `Left Behind’ are booming.”
On the revival of public religion, Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 18) that “Just one year after a presidential campaign in which the question of whether religious beliefs should be mingled in public life was heatedly debated, Americans have accepted virtually without question a very public turn to religion by their nation and its leaders in a time of grief.
The fact that the first public gathering of the nation’s full political leadership took place in a cathedral rather that he halls of Congress was one such sign of the return of public religion, according to Seib. He adds that the “most remarkable thing about this development is how unremarkable it has been. Howls of protest aren’t being heard. There is no suggestion of a constitutional crisis. The nation seems relieved by the turn to religion. All told, it’s clear that America can handle more religion in public life than cynics and critics contend.”
Muslim websites cover the spectrum on attacks
Immediately after the terrorist attacks, websites sponsored by major Muslim organizations in the West expressed strong condemnation and sympathy for the victims, as could be seen on http://www.icna.com (Islamic Circle of North America), http://www.mcb.org.uk (Muslim Council of Britain), http://www.islam.de (Central Council of Muslims in Germany) or http://www.uoif-online.org (Union of Islamic Organizations of France).
The online condolence registry opened by http://www.islam.de filled with hundreds of names. This was similar to non Muslim websites, except for the fact that it was coupled with an obvious fear that the attacks would give rise to unpleasant consequences for innocent Muslims residing in Western countries. Muslim websites also asked their readers to report “incidents of harassment, threats or violence.”
The attitude was a defensive one: Islam should not once again become associated with terrorism. Muslims were called to remain calm and patient in case of verbal attacks. As part of that defensive attitude, the Islamic Circle of North America, http://www.icna.com, emphasized that there were Muslims (including one member of their team) among the victims too.
But not only moderate Muslim voices are found on the Internet. According to Gary Bunt, author of “Virtually Islamic” (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), “an individual’s first experience of Islam in cyberspace is as likely to be a so-called ‘schismatic group’ or a ‘radical’ organization,” as a mainstream orthodox one There are Muslim websites highly critical of the West (including websites based in Western countries) and openly calling for jihad.
Some even proudly supported Osama Bin Laden, such as http://www.supportersofshariah.org, mouthpiece of a group based in London, or http://www.azzam.com, a site “for Jihad and Mujahideen”. Expectedly, those websites became the focus of attention from media and other parties. After a few days, several of them disappeared from the Web (temporarily or permanently). Pro-Bin Laden sites still operational in early October, such as http://www.al-haqq.org, seemed to be based in non-Western countries.
Several cases of hacking were reported, actually targeting not only “radical” websites, but moderate ones as well. A hacker managed to get the entire mailing list (about 500 names) of a German website supporting jihad in the Caucasus, and posted it in several newsgroups. Among the first subscribers, the name of one of the suspected hijackers was found. Although some radical Muslim websites did not hide their satisfaction to see America struck, none seemed ready to approve unreservedly what had been done (if only from the viewpoint of negative political consequences) or to accept that Osama Bin Laden could be the man behind the attack.
The website http://www.azzam.com (named after Bin Laden’s late mentor) published a picture of the damaged Pentagon under the title: “The Monumental Struggle of Good Versus Evil”, but it was immediately followed with a quotation attributed to Bin Laden: “The terrorist act is the action of some American group. I have nothing to do with it. The United States had invited Allah’s wrath because it is trying to control the entire world by force.”
The tone of a number of comments on these sites were similar: the USA reaped what they had sowed, but Muslims did not do it. Chechnya’s Shamil Basayev expressed condolences and claimed that Russia was probably behind the attack (http://www.dagestan.org). More widespread, however, were conspiracy theories claiming that Israel was behind the attacks and that “4,000 Israeli employees in WTC [were] absent on the day of the attack” (http://www.manartv.com).
The issues also became mixed with a debate which has been raging for months among Muslim clerics, regarding the permissibility of suicide attacks (called “martyrdom operations” by those who support them, while other ones consider them as suicides, which lead straight to hellfire). Some Muslim scholars who had spoken approvingly of the “martyrs” in the context of the fight against Zionism in Palestine, condemned the attacks in the United States.
“There is a big difference; in Palestine it is a question of self-defense, being the only way Palestinians can drive the Israelis into a security impasse,” commented the Lebanese Sayeed Fadlullah in an interview with the Al-Liwaa daily (http://www.bayynat.org.lb).
— By Jean-François Mayer, a lecturer in religion at the University of Fribourg who has researched and written on religious violence.
Muslim organizations as fronts for terrorism — fear or fact?
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 has raised delicate questions about the ties of American Islamic organizations to groups that support or condone terrorism.
The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 25) reports that the attempt by President George W. Bush to trace and freeze the funding of terrorism has not only turned up actual terrorist organizations, such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but also “some of the thousands of Islamic charities in the U.S. and around the globe.” It is believed that these organizations may have served as fronts that funded terrorist groups, but proving that and then determining how such funding took place is difficult.
These charitable organizations often display two faces. For instance, one of the group’s named Al-Rashid Trust is a welfare organization feeding some 300,000 people in Afghanistan. Yet the group also supports the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and uses extremist language on its web site, such as charging that “Jews and anti-Islam powers challenge” the world’s Muslims.
Those groups being investigated included the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas, the Islamic Association of Palestine in Illinois, and Human Concern International in Canada. Although officials from these groups say they are being unfairly targeted, law-enforcement officials say there are links between some of their chapters and terrorist groups.
For instance, International Islamic Relief Organization, with offices in Canada and the U.S., was at the center of an immigration case in Canada when one of its workers was a suspected Osama Bin Laden lieutenant. The investigation and targeting of these groups may trigger fears among Muslims of a witch hunt. Charitable giving is a pillar of Muslim practice, and the crackdown on charities could also may cause a chill on giving among Muslims
The whole issue of U.S. Islamic groups sympathetic or tolerant of terrorism has been a growing concern since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The issue has even divided American Muslims. A case study of this conflict surrounds the Islamic Supreme Council, a small Sufi-influenced educational group. The council has long taken the position that Islamic leaders need to speak out against terrorism and those American groups and individuals who condone it. Head of the council, Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, testified before the U.S. State Department in 1999 on the threat of Islamic extremism to national security [see February ’99 RW for more coverage on this topic].
At the time, Kabbani even warned of thousands of “suicide bombers being trained by Bin Laden in Afghanistan who are ready to move to any part of the world and explode themselves.” The overwhelming response of American Islamic leaders and groups, such as the American Muslim Council, was to censure Kabbani, issuing a statement condemning him and the council for encouraging “Islamophobia.”
The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 28) reports that a coalition of “progressive pastors” is telling U.S. Muslims not to “talk to the FBI.” Meanwhile Kabbani has toured the country on a media blitz, calling for Muslims and others to cooperate with authorities in order to apprehend the people and groups who have defamed the Islamic faith.