In This Issue
- Islamists moving back to government in Turkey?
- On/File: September 2002
- Findings & Footnotes: September 2002
- Evangelical missions toward muslims expand
- The Anglo-Catholic moment in British society
- Difficult times ahead for world council of churches
- Current Research: September 2002
- Just war teachings challenged by Catholic activists
- New vocations growing among single mothers
- Packed Buddhist festivals, empty temples in Hawaii
- Alternatives to collection plates find favor
- Exodus movement from public schools get more clout
- Hip-hop churches taking root
- Catholic reform movement faces obstacles
- Intelligent design and creationism coexisting, quarreling
- Chinese house church supporters face heterodox movement
According to several observers of the Turkish political scene, a current crisis in the nation might lead to an unprecedented success of Islamist parties, due to the fragmentation of the secular political groups and to peculiarities of the Turkish electoral system.
Long-time politician and ailing Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit is clinging to power and refuses to leave his position to a successor, despite his obvious inability to continue to lead the country.
On July 11, foreign minister Ismail Cem resigned. Several other ministers did the same, and a number of MPs left Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP). They founded another political party, New Turkey, under the leadership of Cem. Those developments take place in a context of an economic crisis (soaring interests rates, heavy debt), and early elections are now planned for this fall.
Interestingly, Cem has signaled that he would seek to defuse tensions around issues related to Islam which have plagued Turkish politics for years. Faithful to Kemal Ataturk’s policy, secular elites in Turkey — among them the top military and the influential National Security Council — are extremely suspicious of Muslim activism.
However, Cem has told Turkish newspaper Sabah that he intended to be tolerant of Turkish women who wear Islamic headscarves (banned for university students and public sector workers), according to the Associated Press (July 14).
Cem’s statement reflects an awareness that Islamist parties might be those who have the most to benefit from early elections. With polls showing a significant minority of voters are seeking an alternive to the current ruling parties or are undecided, such an Islamic party as the Justice and Development Party (AK) may be able to gain enough seats in parliament to have some influence.
Unsurprisingly, Ecevit has warned that AK’s possible victory would create trouble for Turkey at a time it urgently needs stability and might provoke the military to block a pro-Islamist government, as they already did in the past, according to The Scotsman (July 22).
However, in the long run, the question might rather be how far the military can prevent Islamist parties to be full participants in the political system, which might then develop into a kind of Muslim political sector similar to what Christian Democratic parties have been in the West. Several observers consider that such a development in Turkey might have a positive impact on other countries with a Muslim heritage.
— By Jean-François Mayer
01: KA, The Holy Book of Neter is the first attempt of Africans to write their own sacred text.
The book’s authors do not claim it will be the revealed Word of God in the manner of the Christian Bible, but rather a collection of prayers and African religious teachings. David Gian Mailu, a popular East African fiction writer, is the lead author of the book assisted by other African scholars.
By weaving together the different threads of indigenous African religion into one text, the authors hope the text will create a unified African religion. Prominent African theologian John Samuel Mbiti, a consultant on the book, says the effort will mark a “move away from institutionalized religion, while holding onto elements of religious belief and some occasional religious formalities.”
African Christian leaders have criticized the project, believing it will confuse and undermine the faith of believers.
(Source: Catholic World Report, August/September)
01: The June issue of Center Conversations, an occasional newsletter of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, focuses on religion, culture and international conflict after Sept. 11.
The issue introduces the subject with an essay — originally a talk — by Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor who has become famous for his thesis on the “clash of civilizations,” which views the cultures and religions of the East and West as driving international conflicts. Huntington stands by his position, applying it to the events surrounding Sept. 11, but also makes it clear that it is not Islamic teachings themselves that are the problem.
Rather, the absence of pluralism and historic resentment, as well as divisions within Islam, are driving terrorism and anti-Western attitudes.
Information on this issue is available at: Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1015 15th St., NW, #900, Washington, DC 20005; http://www.eppc.org
02: We noted that the Templeton Foundation Press published a book on Unity Christianity last month in the cover story on foundations funding religion, but neglected to mention the book’s author and title.
The Unity Movement ($29.95) by Neal Vahle provides an in-depth history of this metaphysical, “New Thought” quasi-Christian movement. Vahle reveals that Unity Christianity is fairly diverse and divided: There is the Unity School of Christianity, which focuses on “non-denominational” prayer and healing, and publishing literature on Unity teachings.
And then there is the Association of Unity Churches, a group with no connection to Unity School, representing over 1,000 Unity congregations. There are also two varieties of Unity teachings allowed in the movement (one stressing the “12 powers” that humans are endowed with). Vahle also provides a short but interesting chapter suggesting that Unity has had more influence on the New Age than vice versa.
Just six percent of current evangelical missionaries are focused on Muslims, but there are signs of a breakthrough, reports Christianity Today (Sept. 9).
The magazine conducted interview with some 20 well-informed sources. “Most were guarded in what information they would share”, due to risks involved, according to Stan Guthrie, author of the article. While one might wonder if there is wishful thinking involved in those optimistic evaluations, the article provides specific data.
There are “hard” areas: in the Horn of Africa, only one person per church-based evangelical agency becomes a Christian every year, according to an anonymous missionary. In some Muslim countries, missionaries used to work for years without a single convert. Things can change, however. In Mauritania, where there was no known convert in 1979, there were about 100 in 1999.
In Morocco and Tunisia, the has also been an increase, although the total number in each country can only be counted in hundreds, not in thousands. In Algeria the growth seems more significant: there were said to be 12,000 believers in 1999, mostly from the Berber minority. Those trends have been reported by the secular media as well, according to an older report from the news agency Infosud (Feb. 22), which explained that they are a consequence of both disappointment with the current state of Islam in the country and of evangelical radio broadcasting.
Similarly, according to Operation World, the number of Iranian evangelicals has grown from 500 worldwide at the time of the Iranian Revolution to 30,000 today, including 15,000 in Iran. Countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia are reported to experience a growth in the percentage of evangelicals higher than population growth. Charisma magazine reports that Turkey is likewise experiencing evangelical growth to an extent that the secularist government has unleashed new restrictions against Christians.
There are now 50 charismatic and evangelical churches in Turkey– a changed situation from 15 years ago when there were only a few congregations. Church leaders see the country as a key to evangelizing other Muslim nations. Because of the Western style and connections of evangelical churches, they come in for the harshest treatment from the government, writes Tomas Dixon.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188)
— This report was written with Jean-François Mayer
The choice of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury has been hailed or condemned as a victory for progressives over conservatives, particularly concerning the issue of gay rights in the Church of England.
But Williams election also signals the ascendancy of Anglo-Catholicism in Britain, writes Theo Hobson in The Guardian newspaper (Aug. 3). Hobson notes that after the blip of predecessor George Carey (an evangelical), “the Church of England is resuming the course it has been tactically pursuing for decades, and with new determination. It is trying to distance itself from that awkwardist of ideologies, Protestantism.”
In the past generation, “Anglican theology has been Catholicized. It is dominated by Anglo-Catholic liberals, whose figurehead is none other than Dr. Williams. In short, Anglo-Catholic theology has successfully assimilated postmodern thought, and this has lent it great energy and confidence [as evidenced in the popular theological movement, radical orthodoxy].”
Hobson adds that the general intellectual culture in Britain has likewise turned against Protestantism, viewing it as dull, unsexy and non-artistic. “The best example is English history, especially its dramatic Tudor phase. English Reformation studies have undergone a revolution in the last decade or so; Roman Catholic revisionism has become basically orthodox.”
The World Council of Churches central committee has taken steps to substantially cut its programs, while the ecumenical organization’s general secretary, Konrad Raiser, has blamed global economic conditions for massive revenue shortfalls, reports Ecumenical News International (Aug. 28).
It has also called for reforms in the way churches work together to ensure that church bodies remain viable in the 21st century. A recent increase in financial pressure and difficulty in attracting younger people to the ecumenical movement are signs that church organizations need to change their structures, suggested Raiser.
According to a report from the Swiss Telegraphic Agency (Aug. 26), competition from a growing number of secular NGOs in different fields is partly to blame for the depletion in funding.But there are also theological concerns for the WCC.
The need to bridge differences between Protestant and Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical body has led to recommendations for changes in voting and worship practices. A commission entrusted with that task in 1998 has now recommended to drop the term “ecumenical worship” and to call gatherings for prayer just “common prayer.”
This proposal has led to heated debates and criticisms from a number of Protestant participants, who see it as a step back. Regarding decision-making, major issues should be reached by consensus, and no longer by majority vote, according to the Associated Press (Aug. 30).
At stake is the long-term participation of the Orthodox Churches in the WCC.
— By Jean-François Mayer
01: There has been debate and controversy about the existence and influence of a homosexual subculture in the Catholic priesthood, but a new study confirms that such “gay cliques” are prevalent in many dioceses.
The influence of such a subculture has been cited by Catholic conservatives and leaders as a factor in the rise of sex abuse cases, while others have hotly contested that claim. The new survey, conducted among 1,200 priests by sociologist Dean Hoge of Catholic University, found that more than half of the priests identified such a subculture, with 19 percent of priests saying it “clearly” existed, and 36 percent that it probably existed. For seminarians, the figures were, respectively, 19 percent and 26 percent.
02: There has been a significant increase in the role of spirituality in the workplace since Sept. 11, according to a survey by the marketing company MarketFacts TeleNation.
The survey of 650 employed Americans found that 55 percent said that spirituality plays a “very significant” or “important” role on the job. More than a third — 34 percent — said the role of spirituality in the workplace has become more important since Sept. 11.
Spirituality & Health magazine (Fall) notes that while all demographic groups reported this increase in spirituality, 42 percent of women reported it compared to only 27 percent of men.
(Spirituality & Health, 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006)
The traditional Catholic social teaching on the just war is coming in for criticism and revision, particularly as the war against terrorism continues.
Just war concepts, such as minimal loss of innocent lives, have traditionally served as criteria used to determine if a war can be morally engaged in and supported by the church. The Jesuit America magazine (Aug. 12-19) reports that the “growing division of the Catholic community on issues of war and peace was on clear display at the annual `Social Ministries’ meeting last winter, which was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and other national Catholic agencies.
There an audience of diocesan social action workers from around the country vigorously challenged the pro-just war sentiments voiced by a range of speakers.”
Increasingly coming under fire are politically conservative Catholic intellectuals whose just war teachings often approve of government force in the pursuit of justice. Drew Christiansen writes that a “cutting edge” in the debate are moderates attempting to fashion a “coherent, pro-life moral theology and in the process restricting what constitutes a just war. Another group, such as the U.S. Catholic bishops, speaks of a “presumption” against the use of force and seek to endorse non-violent alternatives before resorting to war.
Pope John Paul’s teachings and the interpretations applied to them by the clashing schools of thought stand at the heart of the intensifying debate. The pope has been a persistent voice on behalf of non-violent solutions, while allowing for “humanitarian intervention” involving force in trouble spots like Bosnia or Central Africa [although the pope also allows for a nation’s right to defend itself against terrorism, Christiansen notes.]
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
Older, single women often with grown children are among those joining convents, according to the National Catholic Reporter (Aug. 16).
The newspaper reports a “small but growing trend that may have a big impact on Catholic ministries. As the number of single women with grown children expands, and the number of young women traditionally entering religious life has declined, “more mothers are becoming nuns,” writes Jean Gordon.
Although the church doesn’t keep records of the number of mothers accepted as novices each year, Gordon says the number is growing. There is already a national organization called “Sister Moms.”
Hawaii’s ornate Buddhist festivals are increasingly popular among people of all faiths, but Buddhism itself is in decline in the state.
The New York Times (Aug. 10) reports that the Japanese Buddhist ritual known as a bon dance, originally intended to celebrate the annual return of departed loved ones, has become a custom shared by many Hawaiians. Bon dances have become a time to dance, eat and “celebrate the culture. Hawaii is so mixed you feel like you’re part of the culture, even if you’re not Japanese,” says one student attending a dance with a carload of friends.
Scholars say the popularity of the dance masks the serious decline of Buddhism on the islands. With an estimated Buddhist population of 100,000 recorded in 1999, Hawaii is one of the nine states with 50 or more Buddhist centers. But the state’s largest temple has lost nearly half its membership, falling to 1,300 families from 2,500 in 1990.
Young people are not replacing the elderly members who die, as well as increasingly inter-marrying. Intermarriage accounts for more than 50 percent of all unions, according to the State Health Department. Some critics charge that Hawaii’s Buddhist temples have remained too traditional, chanting the same chants for 100 years in a language the young no longer understand.
A growing number of congregations are dropping the tradition of church collections during services and adopting a soft-sell approach, reports the Christian Science Monitor (Aug. 23).
Changing generational attitudes and church scandals have compelled churches to adopt the new approach, though not without struggle. Some congregations, such as a Baptist church in Houston, Texas, provides a central collection basket, and no one is asked to give during the services and others are free to take from the offering if they are in need.
One Catholic church discontinued offerings after the sex abuse scandals in order to foster the feeling of giving without obligation. Although there may not be a direct link between the offering tradition and alienation with traditional religion, studies have shown that at some of the disaffiliated (such as uninvolved Jews) are turned off by appeals for money.
The clergy interviewed report no downturn in offerings and even an increase. But the trend worries some pastors and church leaders. Holding the offering during the services has become an important sign of commitment and self-sacrifice. Proponents counter that the sacrificial element of the collection should not apply to non-members and visitors.
Even where the offering tradition is retained, more and more of them are “taking pains to make clear that visitors ought not to feel obliged to contribute.,” reports G. Jefrey MacDonald.
Christian right leaders are gradually giving their support to a movement urging parents to pull their children out of public schools, reports the Washington Times (Aug. 7).
Christian leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Southern Baptist officials, as well as conservatives such as “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger, have reversed themselves in the last few months on the view that Christians should not forsake the public schools and that they should act as a positive influence in the system. Now they are calling for withdrawal from the schools because of intensifying homosexual “propaganda” and other liberal views espoused there.
The so-called “exodus” movement, which calls for Christians to withdraw from public schools and to abolish the public school system, has been active for over four years, facing opposition even from conservatives favoring Christian schools and homeschooling. But, somewhat ironically, its momentum seems stronger after the recent Supreme Court decision allowing school vouchers.
Journalist Joseph Farah says that a lot of conservatives are worried about the effects of pop culture on their kids and are moving to the position that “it’s time to end all government involvement with the schools, at the state and local and federal levels.”
New congregations heavily influenced by hip-hop culture and music are emerging around the U.S., reports Charisma magazine (August).
The first hip-hop congregation was established last January in Tampa Florida. Since then, several congregations have been or are being established in New Jersey (Universal Fat House), Ontario (Church Without Limits), Atlanta (Faith International Ministries), Memphis (City of Refuge), and Los Angeles. These congregations and their pastors and members have faced opposition from the established black churches, but proponents believe they reflect postmodern ministry within an urban context.
The hip-hop churches are multicultural and attract 18-to 35-year-olds. They tend to include a DJ and turntables as part of the worship. One church is adorned with graffiti, while another may have breakdancing during the period for worship and praise. The congregations engage in direct confrontation with secular hip-hop culture.
The Church Without Limits and Crossover hosts town-meeting-style rap sessions that address social issues, such as racism. Another article in the magazine suggests that hip-hop and Christian rap music are facing growing acceptance from the evangelical world. This is especially the case with the emergence of such artists as the Philadelphia-based group Cross Movement. Rather than making entertainment a part of its ministry, Cross Movement saturates its music with scripture and gospel lyrics.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
A fledgling reform movement emerging from the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has gained national attention but observers are questioning if it can keep its centrist thrust and appeal to a wide range of Catholics.
The six-month-old Voice of the Faithful movement was founded to galvanize Catholics on the sex abuse issue in the Boston area but has increasingly expanded nationwide to cover issues of lay participation and governance, according to Commonweal magazine (August 16). A recent VOTF meeting upheld its three-pronged approach of supporting those abused, supporting “priests of integrity” and, lastly, shaping structural change within the church. The effort to support the abused may be stymied since many protesters (made up of the abused) consider VOTF too moderate.
There is an effort to put a chapter of VOTF in every parish, as well as a concern to attract minorities, youth and more conservative Catholics. On the last group, VOTF may have some problems. The participants of the conference were overwhelmingly liberal, sympathetic to such causes as married and women clergy. If it wants to avoid the marginalized fate of other liberal reform groups in the church, VOTF will also have to maintain relations with the bishops. Some bishops have restricted VOTF from meeting on church property.
Already, conservatives have expressed strong reservations over the reform goals of VOTF. In the conservative newsletter Catholic Eye (July 31), Catholic writer Michael Novak criticizes VOTF as veering toward either an Anglican — tradition and bishops but no pope — or Congregationalist — parish-centered and parish-led — structure.
Novak adds, “The one thing clear is that this new group does not want to be Catholic, as Catholic has been understood by…the Councils of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II.”
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115; Catholic Eye, 215 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016)
Thanks to the “intelligent design” movement, the distance between evangelical Christians holding to a belief in some form of evolution and those opposed to the theory has narrowed, though not without tension and divisions.
The Christian Research Journal (Volume 24 Number 4) reports that the emergence of the intelligent design movement has helped create a “big tent” approach among evangelicals in attacking Darwinian theories and teachings that deny God’s existence. In the past those holding to a belief in creationism, which teaches that the earth was created in seven literal days, allowed no room for evolution .Intelligent design necessitates that the earth has a creator but makes wide allowance for how the creation took place.
Paul Nelson, a creationist himself, writes that some traditional creationists remain unhappy with the intelligent design movement. The inclusion of “progressive creationists” (those holding that God created the world in a longer than seven day time span) and theistic evolutionists (that God was somehow involved in evolution) in the anti-Darwinist camp muddies the water, as pantheist, and New Age views also can be supported by these theories, according to veteran creationist leader Henry Morris.
Nelson adds that there may be a class factor in the conflict. “Over the past decade, the demographics of dissent from neo-Darwinian evolution have changed dramatically. In some discussions on university campuses or Internet listservers, traditional creationists now find themselves the distinct minority among skeptics of neo-Darwinism.
Although they have grown accustomed to scorn from evolutionary scientists, traditional creationists may be unhappy to discover that their own allies (other anti-Darinians) regard them as poor cousins visiting from the trailer park…” Nelson holds that the big-tent approach best allows all kinds of anti-Darwinists to influence secular culture.
(Christian Research Journal, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000)
The non-official house church movement in China has drawn wide support among Christian groups in the West. But some house churches have developed in ways that are of concern to Western Christians, particularly as some of these groups are setting up operations in the U.S., according to several reports.
The Ledger newspaper (Aug. 24) interviews Rev. Gik Se Tjiong, a retired Pentecostal pastor from Lakeland, Florida, who has traveled several times to China in order to correct what he considers heretical teachings and practices. The proliferation of unorthodox teachings is blamed on the lack of training among rapidly growing groups.
Chinese authorities as well as groups supporting the preaching of the Gospel to China have become extremely concerned by the rapid spread of a group called Eastern
Lightning (or Lightning from the East, Dongfang Shandian in Chinese, from the title of its first book. In a recent report on Christianity in Inner Mongolia (which is part of China), Compass Direct (August) reports that over the last year, 80 percent of the house churches in the Linhe area on the banks of the Yellow River in the western part of the region have been taken over by Lightning from the East. There have been reports of house churches defecting to Eastern Lightning in other areas of the country as well.
Consequently, Christian groups supporting missionary work in China have been launching a counter-offensive. “In response to the current crisis in China”, Thailand-based Asia’s Harvest plans to subsidize the printing of 200,000 copies of an “anti-cult training book” written by a Chinese pastor, so that believers “will not become victims of the Eastern Lightning.” The group is said to have been founded in China in 1989 and to claim that Jesus has already returned to earth as a 30-year-old Chinese woman. A group with strong apocalyptic beliefs, it is said to be especially successful in rural areas.
There are bizarre stories reported about the group by its opponents, including accusations that on several occasions it kidnapped house church leaders in order to convince them to join the group. The group has not only targeted house church members, but is also reported to have made attempts to convert Catholic clergy.Meanwhile, Eastern Lightning has set foot in the United States as well. In early spring of 2001, there were reports that some of its members had visited a number of Chinese churches in the San Francisco area, according to the non denominational Chinese Christian Mission.
“Riding on white clouds, the Messiah has returned”, proclaims its website. Its publishing house, Morning Star Publishing, is located in Bayside, N.Y.
(Compass Direct News Service, PO Box 27250, Santa Ana CA 92799; website: http://www.compassdirect.org/; Asia Harvest Head Office, P.O. Box 17, Chang Klan P.O., Chiang Mai 50101, Thailand; website: http://www.asiaharvest.org/; Chinese Christian Mission; website: http://www.ccmusa.org/; Morning Star Publishing, 48-35, 208th St., P.O. Box 610284, Bayside, NY 11361; website: http://godword.org)
— By RW contributing editor Jean-Francois Mayer