In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: September 1998
- Marianism driving wedge among charismatics in Europe
- Current Research: September 1998
- Messianic Judaism building separate identity, losing young?
- Mormon fundamentalists come under scrutiny
- Women eucharists more widespread and public
- New fall titles suggest many fads have faded
- Gen X religion — ‘postmodern’ and market-friendly
- Y2K fervor finds home among evangelicals
- Terrorism and the millennium — what’s the connection?
Findings & Footnotes: September 1998
01: Religion in the News has staked out new territory as it takes a critical look at how the media covers religion.
The magazine, issued three times yearly, is published by the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, and examines a broad range of religion-and-society issues. The charter issue (June) includes critiques about how much of the media over-simplified stories on the pope’s trip to Cuba and the visit of Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew to the U.S., and almost entirely missed the implications of welfare reform. Editor Mark Silk provides an interesting article showing how the media — particularly the opinion columnists — showed more moral outrage about the Lewinsky affair than the nation’s clergy.
For more information on the magazine write: Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106 or visit their web site: http://www.trincoll.edu/resources/csrpl
02: The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (July) is devoted to “Americans and Religions in the Twenty-First Century.”
The 224-page issue features a wide range of articles covering most segments of American religion, including: an examination of how exceptional American religion is; author N.J. Demerath finds growing commonalties between the U.S. and other nations; Mark Shibley’s article on the growing “worldliness” among evangelicals; Cheryl Townsend Gilkes article on the growth of black megachurches (she suggests that the growth of charismatic practices in these churches stems from the involvement of many young professionals with Pentecostal backgrounds) and the rise of the black men’s movement in the churches; and Michelle Dillon’s look at the paradox of American Catholics’ support of the pope even as they hold to their own interpretations of Catholic teachings.
The issue costs $19 and is available from : The Annals, Sage Publications, 2455 Teller Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320.
03: New research in the ever-growing field of spirituality and health is gathered together and discussed in a recent issue of Science & Spirit magazine (Vol. 9, Issue 3).
The articles include an interview with C. Everett Koop, an overview of recent studies, and a listing of resources on medicine and spirituality on the Internet. A thought-provoking article by editor Kevin Sharpe and Rebecca Bryant on the unanswered questions of the religion-health connection, such as why spirituality doesn’t always carry beneficial effects, rounds out the issue.
The issue costs $6 and is available from: Science & Spirit, 171 Rumford St., Concord, NH 03301-4579.
04: The growth of social activism and political concern among the world’s Buddhists is demonstrated in a special issue of Turning Wheel (Summer), the magazine of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
The issue, which marks the 20th anniversary of the organization, features articles tracing how Buddhists, under the influence of such leaders as Gary Snyder and Thich Tanh-Thien, moved from a politically passive role to one of liberal and radical activism, focusing on such issues as war and peace and the environment.
Writing about such “engaged Buddhism” in Thailand, Robert Aiken sees small Buddhist groups as similar to the basic Christian communities of Latin America (related to liberation theology), though the former is more likely to stress “self-sufficiency” and “independence” rather than economic and political equality.
To obtain this issue, send $4 to: Turning Wheel, P.O. Box 4650, Berkeley, CA 94704.
05: Gatherings in Diaspora (Temple University Press, $24.95), edited by R. Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner, takes a sustained look at the religious communities and congregations of new immigrants and how such faiths have adapted to their new surroundings.
The book is particularly interesting because it provides “from the ground” perspectives of these congregations based on interviews and participatory observation, often by scholars from within these communities. The groups covered include a Korean evangelical congregation dealing with its second generation members; Rastafarians as they adopt congregational structures; the growth and dynamics of small groups within Hinduism in California (also an American innovation); and the relation of Voudou with Catholicism among Haitians during a religious feast in New York City.
Marianism driving wedge among charismatics in Europe
Marian devotion is increasingly dividing the Catholic charismatic movement, especially in Europe, according to Charisma magazine (August).
Charismatic Catholics both in the U.S. and Europe have in recent years adopted a strong interest in the Virgin Mary, as evidenced by their involvement and leadership in the Marian apparition movement in Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia. Tomas Dixon writes that in the “Catholic heartlands of south and central Europe, a significant number of charismatic Catholics — who 10 years ago partnered with Protestant charismatics — are now devout Marianists.
Their spirituality is a mixture of the traditional and the charismatic. They attend Mass and pray the rosary many times a week, but they also sing Vineyard worship choruses [from the independent charismatic Vineyard Fellowship] and pray for the sick.”
The issue of Marian apparitions and devotions is also stirring divisions in Catholic charismatic ranks. The Community of the Beatitudes, a fast-growing Marian movement in south and central Europe, has become an “unofficial headquarters” for Marianism. The community recently left the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal because of differences with charismatic leaders over how much emphasis should be placed on Mary.
The charismatic Marianists often speak of having a personal relationship with both Jesus and Mary. The more “traditional” Catholic charismatics strongly emphasize the role of Jesus, although they would claim that Mary leads one to such a Christ-centered relationship.
(Charisma, 600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Current Research: September 1998
01: Two out of five American religious congregations would consider accepting public funds for their social service programs, according to a study presented at the recent conference of the American Sociological Association.
The San Francisco Chronicle (Aug. 24) reports that the findings send a mixed message to those seeking more of a role for churches in providing social services as the nation struggles to implement reforms in welfare. Under the “charitable choice'” provisions of the 1996 welfare reform law, it is now easier for faith-based groups to take federal money for child care and job readiness programs without watering down their spiritual message.
“There’s a social movement afoot to increase the amount of public money for social services run through congregations and other religious organizations,” said Mark Chaves, the head investigator in the National Congregations Study.
Yet Chaves found that more than half of 1,200 congregations questioned would still not consider accepting government funds. Fewer than five percent polled already take tax money for soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other services to the poor. Yet, even the percentage of churches saying they would take public funds could result in a big expansion of tax-supported, faith-based welfare. Proponents of a strict separation of church and state oppose the new charitable choice rules, and a legal challenge is expected to emerge soon somewhere in the country, writes Don Lattin. The survey, done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, was conducted in the spring and summer of this year, with major funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Another survey presented at the San Francisco conference found that a vast majority of congregations already provide some form of social service without government funds. That survey, by Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, examined 111 congregations and found that 93 percent were serving the community. “Local congregations provide services ranging from food pantries and family programs to legal assistance and human rights activism,” Cnaan and his colleagues reported. “In an era of shrinking welfare allocations, religious organizations will continue to emerge as significant providers of social services.”
02: The influx of Northerners and other non-Southerners into the American South has not changed the strongly religious nature of the region, according to a recent study.
In fact, the University of North Carolina-based study found that people who move to the South are almost as religious as native Southerners. The Raleigh News-Observer newspaper (July 30) cites the study as showing that in such matters as belief in God, a literal reading of Genesis, and the possibility of possession by the devil, the attitudes of Southerners remain different from the rest of the U.S., despite population shifts in the region. The poll, which compared a survey of 844 Southerners with 413 people from other regions, found that 88 percent of Southerners believe in God, as opposed to 78 percent of non-Southerners.
People who move to the South become more religious, with such newcomers having the second highest level of religious devotion, after native Southerners. “There must be something about the South as a cultural environment that encourages higher levels of religiosity,” says sociologist Christian Smith, who conducted the survey for the UNC’s Institute for Research in Social Science.
03: Belief in God among leading natural scientists has declined drastically since early in this century, according to a recent study.
Those scientists at the top of their field in the natural sciences have long shown a greater rate of disbelief in God than scientists in general. In 1996, researchers Edward Larson and Larry Witham compared the belief and disbelief of scientists in 1914 with those in modern times. By replicating a survey of 1,000 scientists by psychologist James Leuba in 1914, Larson and Witham found little change in the belief patterns of modern scientists, with about 60 percent expressing disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal God [see May `97 RW].
The second phase of Leuba’s survey asked leading scientists, or whom he called “greater scientists,” about their beliefs and found even higher rates of disbelief and doubt — with almost 70 percent expressing such views.
Larson and Witham also repeated Leuba’s second phase of the survey for an article in the journal Nature and found the rate of belief among “greater” scientists lower than ever–only seven percent expressed any such belief in a personal God. The article, which was reprinted in the Washington Times (July 30), notes that mathematicians registered the highest belief in God (14.3 percent) while biological scientists had the lowest (5.6 percent).
Larson and Witham defined “greater scientists” as those who were members of the National Academy of Sciences, similar to Leuba’s identification of such leading scientists who were member of the American Men of Science . Both Leuba’s and the recent study surveyed about 200 members of these groups.
04: A major study of the attitudes and loyalties of some 701 Catholics between 21 and 39 suggests they may strongly support major changes in doctrine and practice in the church.
As conducted by a panel of four specialists in the sociology of religion, led by Professor William Dinges of The Catholic University of America, those polled indicated that while their loyalty to basic Catholic doctrine remains reasonably intact, they have “a weakening institutional sense of Catholic identity.” Published in summary form in Commonweal magazine (July 17), the study challenges earlier works by scholars such as Andrew Greeley and John A. Coleman who had found little evidence of decline of loyalty to the traditional faith.
The study shows this group understands Catholicism to include three elements: a belief Christ is present in the Eucharist, charitable outreach to helping the disadvantaged, and devotion to Mary. The group showed less enthusiasm over identifying Catholicism with the existing institutional church, and little interest in identifying the faith with specific teachings such as capital punishment, abortion and priestly celibacy.
In reflecting on these findings, the authors suggest that the Catholic leadership will have to greatly improve its programs of education and ecumenical outreach. Also the hierarchy needs to differentiate between indispensable Catholic essentials and those matters which are matters of personal and pastoral moral or spiritual advice.
They add, however, that the new openness to other faith communities following Vatican II may prove “more lethal to maintaining a coherent Catholic identity that did its minority status of the past.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115) –By Erling Jorstad
05: In the ongoing research on the beneficial effects of religious belief on health, a recent study suggests a link between church attendance, Bible reading and blood pressure.
The study, conducted by Duke University Medical School and reported in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine (July), found that religiously active older people tend to have lower blood pressure than those who are less active. Among a sample of 2,391 individuals 65 years or older in an overwhelmingly Protestant area of North Carolina, it was found that people who attended religious services at least once a week and prayed and studied the Bible once a day had had blood pressures 40 percent lower than those who did not.
Associations between religious activity and blood pressure were particularly strong among African Americans and the “young elderly” (those 65 to 74 years old). One of the more surprising findings was that those who tuned into religious television and radio programming had higher blood pressures than those who did not.
06: Church attendance in England may be higher than secular surveys have reported, according to a recent poll conducted in the Anglican diocese of Ripon.
While a recent debate in America concerns whether the polls have overestimated church attendance, the opposite is the case in England, according to a report in the National Catholic Register (July 12-18). The poll, conducted by the diocese, consisted of a head count of those attending 110 of the diocese’s 159 parishes during last April and May. The poll showed that during a four-week period, 27,947 individuals were involved in worship at least once, compared to secular surveys showing an average attendance of only 11,548.
Even if those attending occasional services, such as funerals and weddings, were removed from the total, the number of attenders would still be 18,362. The Ripon findings, which included both urban and rural churches, suggests that people are not losing contact with the church, but they may be changing their pattern of involvement, such as attending midweek services or going less frequently.
Messianic Judaism building separate identity, losing young?
Messianic Jews are increasingly building their own institutions apart from Gentile Christians and also suffering disaffection from younger generations, according to several reports.
Jews who have adopted faith in Christ and yet retain their Jewish traditions are growing in numbers, particularly in the U.S., according to Christianity Today magazine (Sept. 7). Today there are over 350 Messianic Jewish congregations around the world. Increasingly, the tendency for these congregations, or synagogues, is to de-emphasize Christian symbols and identity — for instance, not displaying a cross or celebrating Christmas or even calling themselves Christian — and stressing the role of Jewish traditions and practices, writes Gary Thomas. Some of these Messianic Jews also follow the strict practices of Orthodox Judaism, including kosher food preparation.
There are sharp differences among the Messianic Jews in regard to their identity. The largest Messianic “denomination,” the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), with 90 congregations, pushes the envelope the furthest in adopting Jewish practices, while the smaller Federation of Messianic Congregations (FMC) and such missionary organizations as Jews for Jesus take a more assimilationist approach and have strong ties with Gentile churches. Nevertheless, Gentile Christian leaders criticize the growing tendency of Messianic Jews to discard mainstream Christian practices.
While a conference is in the works that would seek to repair the breach between the two groups, the trend seems to be toward more separation. The first seminary for Messianic Jewish rabbis is opening this Fall in Tampa, Florida, reports the Tampa Tribune (July 18). Although it will be sponsored by the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, the school will be independent. Students will take courses such as Messianic Apologetics, Zionism, and the Gospels in Their Jewish Context and, upon completion, will be eligible for ordination in one of the approved Messianic Jewish organizations.
Although a young movement, Messianic Judaism is also having problems keeping the young in the fold, according to a report from the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, another denomination with 70 congregations. Marty Waldman, president of the group, says the small number of Messianic Jews combined with the antagonism from Christians and Jews are causing increasing number of young Messianic Jews to leave the movement, reports the National Catholic Register (Aug. 9-15).
(Christianity Today, 456 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188; National Catholic Register, 33 Rossotto Drive, Hamden, CT 06514).
Mormon fundamentalists come under scrutiny
Mormon fundamentalists are receiving renewed scrutiny from law enforcement officials, mainly for their practice of polygamy.
The Washington Post (Aug. 9) reports that a publicized case of a teenager’s “escape” from a polymagmous Mormon fundamentalist group where she claims that she was abused by her father, has put the spotlight on polygamy — illegal in Utah, although still unofficially tolerated. While the Mormons banned polygamous marriages over 100 years ago, breakaway fundamentalist groups have kept the practice alive, often establishing self-sustaining enclaves that critics view as authoritarian cults.
In the firestorm of controversy, even officials have stated that polygamy in Utah has not often been prosecuted because of religious freedom concerns and the difficulty of proving sexual crimes. But the case has spurred Utah officials to vow to move more aggressively against crimes in the polygamous community.
Polygamy is a common practice of most Mormon fundamentalists, but several concerns drive this fragmented subculture, writes D. Michael Quinn in the independent Mormon journal Dialogue (Summer). In a 68-page article, he writes that the approximately 21,000-strong fundamentalist community in the Western U.S., Canada and Northern Mexico (although the estimate has been as high as 60,000) includes long-standing groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Colorado City, Ariz., as well as independent practitioners. Quinn found that the few converts to the movement (most are born into these groups) are drawn more by the strict and “deep” Mormon teachings and community of these groups rather than by their polygamous practices.
On the issue of polygamy, Quinn found that fundamentalist marriages are less likely to end in divorce than marriages within the LDS church, and that “plural wives” run the gamut from strictly subservient to feminist. Quinn is optimistic about the fundamentalist future. With their high birth rates, they are “growing exponentially.”
The possibility of the LDS revising its opposition to polygamy in African countries to minister to its many polygamous converts may convince a “significant number” of fundamentalists to return to the LDS church.
(Dialogue, P.O. Box 658, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-0658)
Women eucharists more widespread and public
Female-led communion services are becoming more public and widespread in the face of a hardening Vatican line against the possibility of women priests in the Catholic Church, reports the Washington Post (July 28).
The practice of holding women-based communions has usually taken place in small groups and private homes and it has been debated by participants whether such ceremonies are actual Christian eucharists. But the Vatican’s elevation of the prohibition on the ordination of women to near-infallible status (with a recent document amending church law to facilitate a “just penalty” on teachers and theologians supporting the practice) has drawn more women to such ad hoc gatherings.
Sheila Dierks, author of “WomenEucharist”, says that she “found 100 groups before. I can find a thousand groups now.” These women, mostly in their 40s and 50s, no longer accept the institutional position that only ordained men can ask Jesus to be present in the eucharist. Dierks found in a survey that 57 of 102 women participating in these services “indicated a positive belief that the bread and wine became the body of Christ.” Women church Convergence, a coalition of 35 liberal Catholic groups, has recently brought these groups out of the closet, holding services in such public places as Protestant churches and a women’s shelter.
“We’re taking this on the road” in order to protest “gender discrimination” in the Catholic church, says Sr. Donna Quinn, the spokeswomen for the group.
New fall titles suggest many fads have faded
The annual preview of religious titles by Publishers Weekly (July 13) for the fall book season suggests that many recent fads in religious reading and practice are receding.
Author Lynn Garrett suggests that once-popular books on angelology, everyday spirituality, and 12-step therapies, are in low demand for the first time in recent years. What seems to be the new trend is “stability and maturity” among religious book readers. While the general market demand remains high, publishers and sellers are responding to buyer requests for a return to such long-standing favorites as Biblical biographies.
Several houses have titles on Moses ready for this fall. Female heroes of the Bible, another genre with a long past, is being offered in titles from at least six publishers. And one of the most venerable of subject matters, religion and science, has “surged” back for Fall reading. Finally, the highly popular religion “celebrity bio” has clearly fallen upon hard times among potential readers.
In sum, the trend that there is no new trend, may portend a shift among seekers towards issues and direction from more traditional sources than have been popular in the 1990s.
— By Erling Jorstad.
Gen X religion — ‘postmodern’ and market-friendly
Ministries shaped for the sensibilities of Generation X are growing and becoming more distinct from their origins in the megachurch movement.
Mother Jones magazine (July/August) reports that at least 150 religious congregations across the nation are mixing “fundamentalist ethics,” experimental liturgy and personal renewal to target Generation Xers. These congregations, located mostly near urban universities, emphasize community and a sense of family — especially tailored to the many young adults from broken homes. A major Generation X leader, Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Fellowship in Seattle, says that this “postmodern” movement is synthesizing the best parts of several traditions — evangelical ethics, Catholicism’s love of art, and mainline Protestants’ openness to cultural pluralism.
This new movement is popular because it doesn’t demonize youth culture, as do traditional fundamentalists; congregants aren’t challenged to renounce the outside world. These outreach ministries are finding significant support from Leadership Network of Dallas, an umbrella group for many megachurches.
From here comes direct financial help to Gen X churches. The Network also sponsors national conferences on this new ministry. The first gathering in 1996 attracted 300 participants, while last year’s drew 500, and this year’s is expected to draw over 1,000. Despite outreach to racial minorities, the movement consists largely of white middle-class young adults.
Although postmodern church leaders claim that they are turned off by the marketing and consumerism of megachurches, they use the “tenets of Generation X — ennui and skepticism,” as a way to draw members. If anything, there has been an increase in marketing and advertising among churches trying to attract the young, reports the Washington Post (July 18). The trend of selling religion as “something relevant and fun” is driving much of the growth in religious ads targeted to young adults — whether through billboard campaigns or on MTV.
The clientele of Impact Productions, a nonprofit ministry creating such ads, has grown from 150 pastors five years ago to 1,300 today. The article finds that not only independent megachurches are starting and supporting these new Generation X ministries. New Horizon United Methodist Church in Champaign, Ill was planned by denominational leaders as a new kind of youth-based church, based on contemporary worship and an interactive small group structure.
— Erling Jorstad contributed to this report.
Y2K fervor finds home among evangelicals
The Y2K computer bug has become an obsession of conspiracy-buffs, but the possible economic crisis resulting from a computer breakdown in 2000 has even mainstream evangelicals gearing up for the end-times, reports the evangelical newsweekly World (Aug. 22).
Since many evangelicals believe that Christ’s second coming will be preceded by world crises and disasters (a position known as premillennialism), the emerging alarm over Y2K among these Christians is not unexpected. Mark Andrews, founder of Prep 2000 and a leader in the Y2K prophesy movement, says the “scenario that’s unfolding as we approach the new millennium matches perfectly with Scripture’s prophesy of global economic collapse and a one-world government.” Andrews adds that many evangelical families are already storing food and making other preparations for the year 2000 disaster.
For instance, in Mexico, Ron Meadows, a Church of the Nazarene student of biblical prophesy is erecting a straw-bale-and-stucco dwelling in Mexico for his and other families as a place of refuge. [The YK2-survivalist themes are not only pursued by premillennialists, as postmillennialist Reconstructionist leader Gary North–holding to an American theocracy– is the leading writer on the subject.] Even moderate evangelical financial planners such as Larry Burkett, who is the financial guru for many evangelical leaders, recommend keeping food reserves, although they may not tie such activity to the end-times.
Luder Whitlock, president of Reformed Theological Seminary, says that evangelicals may be creating self-fulfilling prophesies due to their tendency to react strongly to “doomsday-type scenarios.”
(World, P.O. Box 2330,, Asheville, NC 28805)
Terrorism and the millennium — what’s the connection?
The recent linking of the terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa with radical Islamic groups has reignited fears about the growth of religious terrorism.
In the past several years, specialists have noted that there is a significant change in the nature and purposes of terrorism. The Economist magazine (Aug. 15) notes that the older terrorism had an explicit agenda, such as the overthrow of a colonial power, and was often sponsored by radical governments or parties. The new terrorists, by contrast, “have no realistic program for taking power themselves.” Even if the recent Islamic terrorists allegedly involved in the bombings, such as Osama Bin Ladin, had some connections to foreign governments, the ties are often murky and hard to pin down.
The Economist article cites terrorism expert Bruce Hoffmann as saying that the hallmarks of the “new terror” include “amorphous religious and millennarian aims” and “vehemently anti-government forms of populism, reflecting far-fetched conspiracy notions.” But to what degree these millennial stirrings are tied to violence and terrorism is far from clear. While many new religious movements that become involved in violent actions have millennial theologies, not all of these end-times theologies lead to violence, writes Catherine Wessinger in a forthcoming book she has edited, Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases (Syracuse University Press, 1999).
She and other contributors to the volume note that most millennial groups await divine intervention and are peaceful. There are important distinctions to keep in mind even among those groups associated with violence. What she calls “assaulted millennial groups,” such as the Branch Davidians or the Mormons in the past, would not have committed violence if they were not first assaulted or attacked.
“Fragile millennial groups,” may initiate violence to preserve their ultimate concerns. Yet a whole complex of causes can stimulate and intensify such violent tendencies, such as opposition by the wider society and weaknesses internal to the group. Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, and the Solar Temple are cited as such examples.
Then there are “revolutionary millennial groups,” with theologies or ideologies that sanction violence to build a new order. The neo-Nazis, some far-right Identity Christians and radical militia members are in this camp. Because these movements are not culturally dominant they may resort to acts of terrorism instead of full-scale warfare or revolution.
Wessinger adds that the three categories are not exclusive and a group can shift from one mindset to another or combine these different characteristics.