In This Issue
- Featured Story: Ultra-Orthodox rabbis offer uneasy embrace of Internet
- Mormon dissenters finding home in liberal sister denomination
- Most American evangelicals unlikely to bend on sexual issues
- Megachurches embracing ethnic small groups and multicultural services
- Current Research: October 2015
- Burgeoning house church movement in Cuba built on socialist values?
- European churches conflicted on migrant crisis
- Islamic State drawing on Balkans’ instability and homegrown extremism
- Militant Buddhism gains political clout in Myanmar
- Syrian Orthodox Christians caught between government and rebellion support secular regime
- Samaritans continue to struggle for survival
- China and the Vatican keep the dialogue going
- Findings & Footnotes: October 2015
- On/File: October 2015
Haredi rabbis continue to fight a losing battle against the spread of digital tools within their communities, reports The Economist (Sept. 5). In late June, the Council of Torah Greats, a gathering of respected ultra-Orthodox rabbis, enjoined pious Jews to stop using the smart phone application WhatsApp as well as to buy only smart phones programmed with filters able to keep out any service that has not been rabbinically approved. Those persisting in using non-kosher devices would see their children expelled from ultra-Orthodox schools. As the report notes, modern media present many challenges for religious leaders wanting to keep their community immune from mundane influences. While it was relatively easy to ban television, the rapid development of the Internet raised new issues; computers were reluctantly approved, because they are necessary for work. Now it seems that prohibiting Internet connections has become impossible with the advent of smart phones.
There are two consequences to this development. On the one hand, mobile-phone providers have agreed to market “kosher connection” smart phones with filtered apps and information, as well as their own group of phone numbers and ringtones in order to make sure that Haredis will use them. On the other hand, many young people are not eager to obey such edicts; they may buy two mobile devices, one for contacts within the community and another one for connecting with the outside world. There have been other cases of religious groups attempting to insulate their followers from the Internet, but it has proved impossible in the long run for most of them; accommodations or concessions had to be made, which shows even the power of modern technologies affect the way of life of conservative religious groups.
Mormon dissenters from church teachings on women and gay rights have been switching to their liberal sister denomination, the Community of Christ, reports the Guardian (Oct. 1). Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, the 250,000-member denomination changed its name in 2001 to reflect its increasingly traditional Protestant identity. The church accepts women pastors and has recently made steps to the full participation of gay members, writes Garnet Henderson. The denomination has yet to have a woman leader, known as a prophet. Such a prominent Mormon feminist as Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated for her activism on women’s rights in the church in 2014, points to the Community of Christ as becoming attractive particularly in the Mormon heartland of Salt Lake City.
The change has been relatively recent. By 2012, the Community of Christ congregation in Salt Lake City had dwindled down to about six active members. Today, the congregation has a “full slate of classes and worship every Sunday, and our numbers are running between 50 and 100 at each service,” says Robin Linkhart, a church official. While both the LDS and the Community of Christ share foundational texts, including the Book of Mormon (although Mormons also use the Pearl of Great Price, a collection of writings by founder Joseph Smith), the decentralized nature of leadership that provides for more doctrinal change might be the sharpest difference from the hierarchical LDS.
Contrary to media reports, evangelicals are unlikely to change their attitudes on sexuality any time soon, writes Russell Moore in the magazine First Things (October). With the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and the growing public acceptance of gay rights and other liberal positions on sexuality, several commentators have reported liberalization in some quarters of evangelicalism. Polling data of Millennials in general support for gay marriage and the acceptance of gay rights by some prominent evangelical congregations have encouraged such speculation. But Moore writes that surveys of Millennial evangelicals shows little softening of attitudes upholding a conservative sexual ethic. He adds that the same group of “megachurches” are often presented as being in the vanguard of progressive change. But these congregations are often outliers in the evangelical world and number less than a half a dozen. For instance, a church in Franklin, Tenn. is often cited as a prominent congregation that has change its mind on homosexuality, but it is far from being a megachurch by Nashville standards.
Some see the influence of evangelical feminists as foreshadowing evangelical liberalization on sexuality. Moore himself previously thought that evangelical feminism would earn wide support in evangelical circles, but the movement never gained traction. “It is now hard to find leaders of evangelical feminist organizations who are recognized by the rest of the movement as solidly conservative and orthodox…The largest evangelical denominations and church planting organizations and conferences are now complimentarian [teaching different roles between men and women].” In fact, it is the evangelical feminists who have shown the greatest likelihood of moving toward progressive change on homosexuality. Moore acknowledges that older ways of resisting “secularization and sexualization” are no longer viable. Evangelicals can no longer depend on national or even regional culture to support them in their positions on “traditional family values.” In this case, he argues that evangelical churches will likely operate in a “missional” context where conservative family teachings are preserved for eventual rediscovery.
(First Things, 35 E. 21st St., Sixth Fl., New York, NY 10010)
A segment of megachurches are experimenting with ethnically homogenous small groups as a way to actually grow more diversity on the wider congregational level, reports Christianity Today magazine (September). These churches combine maximal inclusiveness in major Sunday worship services with smaller groups meeting during the week to allow members of various ethnic groups to worship in their own languages. These groups may consist of Latinos, Filipinos, South and East Asians, and Indonesians. Morgan Lee reports that this practice is spreading, including such prominent megachurches as New Life Fellowship in New York and Christ Fellowship Church in Miami.
At New Life, the ethnic groups are seen as entry points into the multiethnic church, while Christ Fellowship uses weekly volunteering programs that bring the members of the different subgroups together. But there is little desire to forsake the large multi-ethnic Sunday services, since leaders believe they are important in witnessing to Christian unity. Also, the children of immigrant families like the large services; they enjoy the many programs for children and they have no problems with English. Their parents often attend, and even if they do have a language problem, they can have the opportunity later in the week to meet with other adults who “look like me.”
(Christianity Today, 365 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
01: The growing secularization of the American elite classes may be evident in the fact that there are more atheists and agnostics entering Harvard than Protestants and Catholics, according to a new survey. Writing in the Washington Post (Sept. 9), Sarah Pulliam Bailey cites the Harvard Crimson poll of the university’s class of 2019, showing that Harvard’s combined number of atheists and agnostics among its incoming class exceeds the number of Catholics and Protestants. The “number appears to be a striking contrast with the rest of the U.S. millennial population, those from ages 18 to 34.” While there is a decline in Christian identification among millennials in general, with 52 percent of this generation now identifying as Protestant or Catholic, 34.1 percent of Harvard’s incoming class identified as such. An additional 13 percent of millennial Americans identify as atheist or agnostic, compared with 37.9 percent of Harvard freshmen.
In comparing the Harvard findings with the recent Pew study of non-affiliation, Bailey notes that the Crimson’s poll and Pew’s survey are not “perfect comparisons since they appear to ask about religious identification differently. Pew provides the opportunity for respondents to say they are not religious. The Crimson doesn’t appear to have a category for those who don’t identify with religion at all, except for the categories of atheists and agnostics…Either way, the Crimson’s poll suggests a decline in number of Protestants and Catholics and a rise of atheists and agnostics in the three years of available data. For the class of 2017, the number of Protestants and Catholics were 42.4 percent, compared to 37 percent for the class of 2018 and 34.1 percent for the class of 2019. For atheists and agnostics, the trend is reversed. For the class of 2017, atheists and agnostics made up 32.4 percent of the campus, while they made up 35.6 percent of the class of 2018 and 37.9 percent of the class of 2019.” The students who report the highest level of religiosity are Mormon, athletes (from a survey last spring), and those coming from families making less than $125,000 per year.
02: While many studies have associated Islamic radicalization with low socio-economic status, a recent survey finds a strong relationship between affluence and fundamentalism, according to an article in the journal Social Compass (September). Natalie Delia Deckard of Emory University and David Jacobson of the University of South Florida conducted a survey of 1,200 Muslims in Western Europe on affluence and fundamentalism, controlling for demographic variables in their analysis including native birth, gender, age, educational attainment and marital status. They find that the data showed a strong positive relationship between prosperity and fundamentalism. As respondents reported being more prosperous, they also reported holding more orthodox views on gender roles and being attracted to Sharia law, anti-Western attitudes and a greater willingness to sacrifice themselves for their faith. There was also a correlation between being unemployed and holding these fundamentalist views. Deckard and Jacobson conclude that their findings may show that “radicalization may be more aptly associated with the alienated than with the poor. In the immigrant communities of Western Europe, the working poor are the least likely to express fundamentalist religious beliefs.”
(Social Compass, http://scp.sagepub.com/)
The growing Protestant house church movement in Cuba promotes a social ethic that is friendlier to the Cuban socialism than might be expected, writes Rose T. Caraway in the Journal of Religion & Society (Vol. 17). The number of Protestant house churches in Cuba has grown rapidly; a 2013 report from the U.S. State Department estimates that there are between 2,000 and 10,000 of such congregations. Another estimate finds that house churches have increased from more than a 100 in the late 1990s to at least 2,000 today. The Cuban government requires a lengthy process of registration for a new church to meet, leading many Cubans to hold religious services within private homes. Because even these house congregations are regulated (with permits denied to Cubans who live within two kilometers of an officially registered church), some have started unofficial “prayer houses.” The formation of these house churches is partly a result of the economic crisis and food shortages (known as “The Special Period”) brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Networks of these house churches and prayer houses are often connected to local Baptist or Pentecostal churches. These home-based congregations are also connected to networks of social welfare programs.
Rather than promoting an otherworldly or individualistic faith, Caraway finds that these house churches promote a form of solidarity among neighbors. They have grown “not only due to the more intimate and familiar spaces of private homes, but because religious leaders and lay participants are using social welfare programs to provide for the basic needs of local citizens.” The notion of carrying one another’s burdens is an important feature of these groups, helping to create “alternative networks between friends and family to compensate for the lack of fulfillment on the part of the state.” Caraway adds that the house church movement is similar to the Catholic base communities in Latin America in the 1980s; they both rely on “lay leadership, tight-knit interpersonal networks and the reading of biblical passages in the light of everyday life circumstances and issues.” While regulations put in place in 2005 allows government officials to monitor house church activities for subversion against the state, Caraway argues that these groups tend to value autonomy from U.S. mission boards and “may have more in common with revolutionary ideals than previously thought.”
(Journal of Religion & Society, http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/toc/2015.html)
Churches in Europe are being pulled in conflicting directions as they respond to the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum from war and persecution on the continent, according to The Economist (Sept. 6). The magazine reports that, “On one hand, European churches and religious charities have played a prominent role in supporting migrants and campaigning for them to be treated decently. On the other, politicians on the nationalist right are beating the drum of Christian nativism; they have redoubled their warnings about the threat to Europe’s long-established religious culture.” This has led to conflicts as right-wing politicians and Christian activists and humanitarian agencies have sparred over what Christian ethics and responsibility entails. Pope Francis has taken the lead, calling for parishes and religious communities to accommodate refugees. In Germany, progressive church leaders have taken aim at the anti-Muslim movement Pegida, and churches have formed their own sanctuary movement as they take in Christian and Muslim migrants on their properties.
Nativist and nationalist groups, such as the Northern League in Italy and the Golden Dawn in Greece, argue that they speak for many lay people in the churches. But the magazine notes that “even for churches and charities who have no political agenda, the influx of migrants poses dilemmas.” For instance, some are asking whether they are obligated to take in both Muslims and Christians or do they have a special obligation to those of their own fold, especially since Christians have suffered severe persecution by extremist Muslim groups. Another dilemma is the matter of evangelizing the migrants. A Protestant pastor in Berlin has baptized hundreds of immigrants from Afghanistan and Iran, raising the question of the sincerity of converts who think it might be easier to gain asylum; then again, if these asylum-seekers are turned back to their homelands, they can face charges of apostasy and even execution.
The instability of the Balkan countries, the growth of Salafi Islam and their proximity to Western Europe has made this region an important target in the strategy of the Islamic State, according to the Terrorism Monitor (Oct. 2), a newsletter published by the Jamestown Foundation. During the past two years, over 1,000 foreign fighters from the Balkan nations have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. During the past year, authorities in the region have conducted a series of arrests of imams charged with facilitating recruitment for terrorism. Ebi Spahiu writes that radical imams and similar groups are filling the vacuum left by the lack of credibility of state institutions, while also replacing moderate religious leaders. There are reports of increased loyalty to Islam and Salafist imams by youth.
Hardliners sympathetic to the Islamic State have established a physical presence in the region. They have purchased vacant real estate deserted by the warring factions during the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, and have marked their presence by displaying flags of the Islamic State and other radical groups. There is fear that radical Islamic groups may combine with criminal gang activity; hints of this could be seen in the south of Albania where cannabis production and export has attracted a group of youth also implicated in a series of explosions near the village of Lazarat. The five men charged showed support for the Islamic State while leading “glamorous lives, involving expensive cars and Mediterranean trips.”
(Terrorist Monitor, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/tm/)
Anti-Muslim Buddhists are entering the political mainstream of Myanmar (Burma), according to a report in Reuters (Sept. 1). The Buddhist group the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, headed by 77-year-old Buddhist abbot Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa (Ma Ba Tha), passed four bills by Parliament and signed them into law. Critics say the new laws effectively legalize discrimination against women and the country’s minority Muslims. In preparing for the first free vote in Myanmar in the last 25 years, Ma Ba Tha has stepped up the group’s activism, launching a magazine and running programming on one of the most popular satellite channels. The abbot came out of the 969 movement, a loose collection of monks linked to a wave of violence against the country’s Muslim minority in 2012 and 2013. While Buddhists have been in the forefront of pro-democracy protests, but after a quasi-civilian reformist government took power in 2011, some outspoken monks claimed Islam was eclipsing Buddhism and weakening the country. The growth of militant anti-Muslim Buddhist groups has also taken place in Sri Lanka and Thailand. In the Buddhist state of Bhutan, the rights of Christians and members of other minority faiths have faced restrictions of their rights.
In the journal Social Research (summer), writer Min Zin attempts to explain the upsurge of militancy among Myanmar Buddhists so soon after they had become a model of peaceful activism. Zin writes that much of the violence against Muslims before 2012 (the period before the transition to democracy) were one-time events; “even if the events occasionally recurred, the clashes were never sustained over time as a series of organized campaigns.” Today, there is “undeterred propagation of hate speech coupled with clear political coordination. Unlike under previous regimes, where anti-Muslim hate speech was either-word-of-mouth propaganda manufactured by military intelligence officers or underground publications, people can now hear vitriolic attacks against Muslims in religious sermons from the intrusive loudspeakers of local monasteries or donation stations,” often with clear support by the government, Zin writes. But there may be a limit as to how much lay Buddhists will take of such overt discrimination by the Buddhist monks; the taboo against criticizing monks has been shattered. Civil society groups and players have charged that the monks are using Buddhism as a tool for extremism and nationalism, even while upholding the value of Buddhist spirituality.
(Social Research, http://www.newschool.edu/cps/social-research/)
Across denominations, Orthodox Christians in Syria tend to be supportive of the Assad regime, since it is seen as protective of non-Muslim minorities, writes Christoph Leonhardt in the journal Ostkirchliche Studien (63/2). More than loyalty to the regime itself, the rejection of opposition groups makes these churches supportive of the status quo, he adds. The Greek (or “Rum”) Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, which is not Greek but Arabic Christian, numbers some 4 million faithful. Although a majority of them no longer reside in the Middle East, The Syriac Orthodox Church (belonging to the group of the pre-Chalcedonian, Oriental Orthodox Churches) numbers around 1 million followers around the world (two-thirds in India) and is reported to gather some 200.000 Christians in Syria; 70 percent of them are descendants of those who fled the Ottoman genocide in 1915.
In interviews with Christians in Syria, Leonhardt finds that most of them are critical of the Syrian opposition. While moderate and secular voices exist in the opposition, they have little influence at a time when armed groups have the say. Christians agree that rebel forces are eager to overthrow Assad’s regime, but hold that they show little concern for minorities. Christians feel safe in government-controlled areas, but not in rebel-controlled areas, where they are often targeted. In the eyes of Orthodox Christians, it is more important to preserve their religious freedom than to aspire to political freedom. They often had initial sympathies for the quest of political reforms but soon became distanced, as Islamic references became a key reference for the protests (mosques indeed were one of the few places where people could gather freely in an authoritarian state). The fear that Syria could turn from secular into Islamic is a major reason for emigrating. Especially in comparison with other Muslim-majority countries in the area and the worsening circumstances for Christians after Islamist turbulences and political upheavals, the Syrian Christians believe that the Damascus regime currently offers them the best conditions: a stable social status, with freedom to build churches and to practice their religion openly.
(Ostkirchliche Studien, Ostkirchliches Institut an der Universität Würzburg, Steinbachtal 2a, 97082 Würzuzburg, Germany – http://www.echter.de/zeitschriften/ostkirchliche-studien)
A tiny remnant of an old community, Samaritans are now reduced to some 780 souls, as they find their greatest challenge in finding ways to marry while keeping their religion, writes Ahmad Melhem in Al Monitor (Sept. 20). Of those 780 Samaritans, 380 live in Gerizim (in the northern West Bank), near the mount that is considered their sacred center, while the other 400 reside in the city of Holon, in Israel. They hold Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian passports. Samaritans claim to use the “authentic” Torah, written in Hebrew 13 years after their ancestors reached the Holy Land. There are reportedly “7,000 differences in verses and words between the Samaritan and the Jewish Torah,” according to Melhem. Their highest religious authority is a high priest and elected committees in Gerizim and Holon manage community affairs. With so few members, survival represents a constant demographic challenge, especially because of the lack of females. During the past 40 years, according to a Samaritan priest who is the curator of the Samaritan Museum, young Samaritans have managed to marry 40 girls who have converted.
(Al Monitor, http://www.al-monitor.com)
While the negotiations are shrouded in secrecy, Pope Francis recently confirmed that contacts and discussions between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See continue—and Beijing didn’t deny it, reports Eglise d’Asie news service (Sept. 29). The statement by the pope took place on the flight bringing him back from Philadelphia to Rome. He expressed his hope to be able to visit China some day. Early this year, State Secretary Cardinal Parolin had affirmed that negotiations had reached a “positive stage,” before making more nuanced statements in April about “nothing new” taking place in such meetings. In contrast, observers see little change in China’s religious policy. A document approved by leaders of the Communist Party in April and released in September, contains several articles that deal with religions. It maintains the usual line: religions need to prove their “social usefulness and contribute to efforts of national unification,” while any foreign intrusions in China’s religious life should be prevented.
Yet one should be cautious not to exaggerate events such as the demolition of 1,200 crosses in the coastal province of Zheijiang—where there is a strong Christian presence—over the past two years, writes Xiao Yun (of Open Doors International) in World Watch Monitor (Sept. 22). According to him, the crosses (and some churches) fell victim to a campaign targeting illegal constructions. A number of them had allegedly grossly violated their building permits, even if officials “responsible for the removal of crosses didn’t follow the correct legal protocol either.” Some Christians fear that this could be the early stage of a national campaign, while others claim to find no difference in government attitudes toward them. In Zheijiang itself, no church meetings have been stopped. It remains to be seen if President Xi Jinping will choose a new turn in religious policy. According to some sources, he might chair a high-level Party meeting on religious affairs in October.
(Eglises d’Asie, http://eglasie.mepasie.org; World Watch Monitor, https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org)
01: The social science magazine Society devotes much of its October/November issue to the topic of “the religious and the secular in medicine and health.” The articles cover a wide range of relevant subjects, including the use of spirituality in hospital treatment and bioethics. Candy Gunther Brown looks at the growth of integrative medicine, which includes a range of alternative practices such as therapeutic touch, Reiki, yoga and homeopathy into hospital care. She also finds that although they are “relabeled” as secular, they carry religious undertones that patients may unwittingly know about. “A common pattern is that patients begin by experimenting with integrative medicine for physical reasons, but over time became more open to religious rationalities. This process occurs so gradually that patients may not recognize it. In the end, they have made not just healthcare decisions, but religious choices that differ from choices they would have made with informed consent.”
Another article looks at the recent growth of spiritual assessment tools in healthcare and how they have shifted in use from the clergy to social workers to nurses and medical professionals, revealing the changing perceptions of spirituality. Also noteworthy is an examination of how bioethics is taught in culturally plural societies that often has difficulties integrating ideas drawn from religious traditions and from cultures different from the West. For more information on this issue, visit: http://link.springer.com/journal/12115
02: Sociologists George Yancey and David A. Williamson’s new book So Many Christian, So Few Lions: Is There Christianphobia in the United States? (Rowman & Littlefield, $34) is bound to raise controversy. The authors analyze the American National Election Survey (ANES) as well as an Internet survey of over 3,000 respondents from groups likely to hold anti-Christian attitudes. Yancey and Williamson find that there is considerable anti-Christian hostility, although they spend the rest of the book qualifying those findings. Most of the hostility is directed toward conservative Christians, and Christianity is a dominant majority religion unlike minority religions. But it is the high social positions of those espousing anti-Christian views that can adversely affect the lives of Christians. From the analysis of the ANES findings, the authors establish that there is more animosity felt toward conservative Christians or “fundamentalists” than any other groups beside atheists.
From their Internet survey of progressive activists, they attempt to tease out a profile of those showing particular hostility toward conservative Christians. They are a subset of “cultural progressives” and are, interestingly, less likely to be atheist or agnostic than others in the larger sample (70 percent versus 86 percent) and more likely to be educated, wealthy, women, Christian (though rating low in religiosity), and live in the South. Yancey and Williamson conclude that their findings do not suggest there is persecution of conservative Christians, yet because anti-conservative Christian sentiment holds fewer stigmas than other types of prejudice; it may be harder to root out.
03: In New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, $35), sociologist Wes Markofski argues that the neo-monastic communitarian and social activist movement reveals both the diversity of evangelical identity and the ways in which change is managed in this subculture. The book charts the growth curve of the movement, tripling in size since 2010, and includes well over 200 communities in 34 states. Markofski’s work reveals the subsets within the broader neo-monastic phenomenon that includes the New Monasticism proper. For instance, a “New Friars’” network brings the neo-monastic message and lifestyle to slums in the global South as they engage in squatting campaigns, while a movement known as 24-7 Prayer emphasizes social justice and organizing prayer or “boiler rooms.”
The book is based on ethnographic research of a prominent New Monastic community, which is given the fictitious name of “Urban Monastery.” It discusses how the New Monasticism serves as the “avant-garde” of evangelicalism, along with associated movements of the emerging church and the evangelical left as well as the strategies it employs to stay within the evangelical camp. This can be seen in how New Monastic evangelicals steer a unique path that the author calls “holistic communitarianism,” which does in fact stand in “stark contrast to the theological individualism, political conservatism, and traditional religious practices of dominant expressions of American evangelicalism.” Yet New Monastics stay within the moral and theological parameters of evangelicalism on basic doctrine and such issues as abortion and gay rights, even while eschewing a “culture war” approach and broadening the agenda to include issues such as poverty and environmentalism. Markofski concludes that the tension Urban Monastics feel may not be manageable in the long run, and may prefigure a split in evangelical ranks between “politically conservative evangelicals and theologically conservative but politically progressive” Christians.
04: The new book Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe: Gods, Gays and Governments (Brill, $120) provides an in-depth look at the stark differences that Eastern European and Russian societies show to their Western counterparts in the areas of religion, politics and sexuality. Before the fall of communism religious leaders and institutions were excluded from the public square, made little reference to sexual minorities and homosexuality. In the post-communist era, that has changed drastically. Today, as both sexuality and religion have become increasingly public, the two spheres have shown sharp conflict. Most of the contributors discuss how homosexuality is often depicted as not just sinful but also as a threat to the nation and are thus being used to define ethnic boundaries (i.e., being a “good Serb”). The debate is also centered on the question of the survival of the family (i.e., the central unit of the nation), which needs to be protected from the vices of the LGBT community. There are also linkages made between the “deviant West” and the European Union (EU) and the emergence of gay activism in Eastern European societies.
The contributors, mainly sociologists, provide several case studies of gay pride parades and the perception that these events are being imposed or at least instigated by the West, especially in Russia, Romania, and the Balkan nations (less so in Catholic and Protestant nations that are close to or members of the EU). Other chapters look at the rise of Internet activism by religious nationalists in Russia, and the way in which the culture wars don’t only move in one direction as Eastern European nations are often treated as backward and stigmatized because of their views by secular Western European nations.
05: God in the Tumult of the Global Square (University of California Press, $19.95), edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Dinah Greigo and John Soboslai, is the result of a series of meetings by religious practitioners, activists and religion and politics scholars in Russia, China, India, Argentina and the U.S. on the revival of religion in the public square. The slim book (154 pages) reports on the conversations that took place at these meetings on an interesting set of questions and issues: the challenges to traditional religions posed by globalization, the growing public role of religion even while many religious expressions become more private and spiritualized, and some religions’ resorting to violence. The most interesting and pressing question concerns the clash between universal human rights and particularistic religious social and moral teachings. The authors’ account of the sharp confrontations during the conference proceedings between religious leaders (specifically Russian Orthodox and Muslim) on their opposition to homosexuality and the academics’ insistence on the importance of gay rights vividly illustrates this development.
Expected to take over the leadership of the spiritual activities of the Unification Movement after the passing away of his father Rev. Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012), Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon (b. 1979) has broken with his mother, Hak Ja Han, and has started a dissident movement, the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, more commonly called Sanctuary Church, with headquarters in Newfoundland, Pa. The headquarters of Kahr Firearms Group, run by Kook Jin (Justin) Moon, who has aligned with his brother, has recently also been relocated to Pennsylvania. After being appointed as the international president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) in 2008 and of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in 2009, Hyung Jin also took over the leadership of the American branch of the Unification Church (HAS-UWC) in 2012. A year later his mother removed him from that position.
After starting quietly independent religious activities without the approval of “True Mother,” as Hak Ja Han is called within the Unification Movement, he openly broke in January 2015 by delivering a sermon denouncing the movement as contaminated by a thirst for power and greed, and charging that his mother was manipulated by people surrounding her. After being suspended from his position as international president in February, he went one step further in March stating that as “crowned successor,” he revoked any power and authority from “True Mother.” Subsequently, he said that his mother had relinquished her position by turning away from unity with her deceased husband.
During the following months, several sermons have elaborated Moon’s theological differences with the mainstream movement. He presents himself both as a loyalist to what he sees as his father’s authentic legacy and as a reformer of a movement described as having become corrupt and heretical. Hak Ja Han is no longer merely criticized for being surrounded by dishonest advisors, but is accused of having betrayed the message of Sun Myung Moon, and also for thus failing “to establish God’s Physical Kingdom on this Earth,” even though conditions have been met for this event. Considering the significance of marriage within the Unification Church, it is worth noticing that Hyun Jin Moon has declared the blessings of couples celebrated since February 2013 to be invalid. Unificationists from various countries have rallied around Sanctuary Church, but the size of the movement remains modest at this point compared with the mainstream Church. However, the latter seems to consider Hyung Jin’s challenge as one to be taken seriously, and has intervened in an attempt to prevent it from using key Unificationist symbols. (This item is based on research conducted by RW associate editor Jean-Francois Mayer. For the original article in French, visit: http://orbis.info/2015/09/eglise-unification-schisme/)