In This Issue
- Featured Story: Religious organizations face losses and lessons from fraud
- Women moving to high level leadership roles in Mormonism
- Gay marriage and the secularizing of American foreign policy
- Women serve as ‘willing victims’ in Korean exorcism
- Current Research: September 2015
- Israel-Palestine conflicts challenge ecumenical relations
- ‘Prophetic Medicine’ flourishing in Muslim societies
- ‘Shiite Crescent’: Arab Spring and Iranian interests
- Hindu nationalist projects target conversions to Christianity
- Findings & Footnotes: September 2015
Featured Story: Religious organizations face losses and lessons from fraud
Some U.S. $50 billion will likely be stolen from money given by Christians to churches, parachurch organizations and secular organizations around the world in 2015. Fraud is exploiting the trust that exists within a religious community, and with the constant development of new groups, networks and movements, financial accountability will continue to represent a constant challenge, write Todd M. Johnson, Gina A. Zurlo and Albert W. Hickman (Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) in the summer issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs.
The (conservative) amount of $50 billion actually represents only a relatively small percentage (6 percent) of Christian giving around the world. According to estimates of global Christian finance in mid-2015, Christian giving to all causes might amount to $850 billion, with Northern America, Europe and Latin America making up the largest share at $775 billion. Secular causes receive $77 billion in donations from Christians, while $773 billion goes to religious causes. Of that, $309 billion goes to churches and denominations. The two denominations that give the most are Catholics ($340 billion) and Protestants ($149 billion). If all Christians tithed, the total would be much higher: $4,558 billion.
Non-profit organizations face tough challenges in financial managements, especially the smaller ones. While large denominations and agencies have established strict practices of accountability, only two percent of the 5 million church treasurers, globally, are full-time salaried officers. Illustrated by several instances of embezzlement, from Costa Rica to Australia or Korea, the authors note that culprits had usually been siphoning off money 5 to 10 years before being detected: they were often trusted national treasurers or leaders. Quite often, first rumors had been categorically denied. Rare were the instances in which money was recovered.
However, there are proactive measures to help prevent future occurrences: more frequent managerial reviews, internal (not just external) audits, screening to those who have access to financial information (or are able to delete it), financial training, monitoring of unusual changes in employees’ way of life, insurance coverage, and education about the consequences of fraud.
(The Review of Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 12205, Arlington, VA 22219-2205)
Women moving to high level leadership roles in Mormonism
The addition of women to three high-level councils in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) may have “far-reaching consequences in a denomination led exclusively by men,” writes Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune (Aug. 27). Three women were added to the church’s Priesthood and Family Executive Council, the Missionary Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Council. Mormon feminists hailed the appointments as important as these have traditionally been male-only councils that are “immensely important for deciding how budgets are delegated, how programs and products are prioritized, and how church business moves forward,” according to Neylan McBaine, author of “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact.”
Angela Clayton, a Mormon feminist blogger, adds that the development “signals to local leadership councils the need to include women in decision-making bodies.” But some observers charge that appointments represent the voice of American white suburban middle-class women, and don’t reflect the multicultural Mormon membership. Another concern is that the women appointed to these committees tend not to be the voices of feminist change on such issues as admitting women to the priesthood.
Gay marriage and the secularizing of American foreign policy
The growing distance between religious teachings and American cultural norms as represented by the recent legalization of gay marriage may well lead to new conflicts in foreign policy, writes Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal magazine (Aug. 14). Bacevich writes that the Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of gay marriage in the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision had accurately gauged the “signs of the times.” He adds that “The people of ‘thou shall not’ have long since become the people of ‘whatever,’ with obligations deriving from moral tradition subordinated to claims of individual autonomy…As a force in American politics, religion is in retreat.” While politicians retain symbols with religious overtones, such as prayer breakfasts and currency emblazoned with “In God We Trust,” these are for the most part exercises in nostalgia; today, other symbols matter more, such as displaying the Confederate flag. Bacevich argues that “A nation purportedly ‘under God’ has decisively rejected the hierarchical relationship that phrase implies. Those who interpret the nation’s laws have dropped all pretense of deferring to guidance from above. From here on out, we’ve got the green light to chart our own course.”
Obergefell reflects the idea that for Americans “freedom is not a fixed proposition. It evolves, expands, and becomes more inclusive…But a nation founded on universal claims—boldly enumerating rights with which ‘all men’ are endowed—finds intolerable any conception of freedom that differs from its own.” This is borne out by the way gender equality has found a place not only in national politics but in foreign policy; today the State Department maintains an Office of Global Women’s Issues, devoted to pressing for women’s equality around the world. Bacevich concludes: “We should anticipate something similar occurring in relation to LGBT communities worldwide. Their plight, which is real, will necessarily emerge as a matter of official U.S. concern…Whether or not U.S. support for LGBT rights goes beyond the rhetorical, societies still viewing themselves as ‘under God’ will bridle at this sudden turnabout. Especially in the Islamic world, demands to conform to the latest revision of American (and therefore universal) freedom will strike many as not only unwelcome but also unholy encroachments…we are witnessing a remarkable inversion in the relationship between religion and American statecraft. Rather than facilitating the pursuit of America’s liberating mission, faith now becomes an impediment, an obstacle to freedom’s further advance.”
Women serve as ‘willing victims’ in Korean exorcism
Recent cases of “Korean exorcism” in the U.S. and other countries suggest that women in Korean-American churches are more likely to be the “willing victims” of such deliverance practices, in some ways paralleling their involvement in similar shamanic practices in Korea, writes Kyung Hong in the International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society (Vol. 5, Issue 3). Hong examines cases of recent exorcisms in the Korean-American and other Korean diaspora societies, which resulted in the death of women victims in most cases. These exorcisms took place in Korean charismatic churches but in the media were often connected to folk “shamanism,” which also practices a version of exorcism. Hong notes that these exorcisms, called “anchal gido,” or healing and cleansing rituals, are often held in “gidowan,” which are a form of retreat center located in remote areas frequently visited by Korean Christians for prayer and revival meetings. They are often places that also accommodate the physically disabled, mentally disturbed, the homeless and the abandoned elderly.
There have been reported cases of abuse in the gidowan in Korea, but Hong argues that the anchal gido rituals are their own kind of abuse, since they often involve forms of physical violence against those deemed to be possessed. “The intensity of the healing prayers for cleansing demonic spirits…also often accompanies intense physical contact in the belief that physical assaults intimidate and assist to expel demons. Thus, the healing ritual may well become so intense as to involve physical striking, beating, poling, or choking the possessed individual, though each action is viewed by the healers as attacking the demon, not the person,” she writes. There is a similarity between Korean exorcism and shamanic rituals, but the latter often lacks the violence and is more about appeasing unfriendly nature or ancestral spirits than outright spiritual warfare. Hong finds that women who are seen as demon possessed are often viewed as disobedient to their husbands and are subject to shame and condemnation, even in their deaths. She argues that the subordination of women common in Korean Protestant churches legitimizes such practices, though she acknowledges that women ministers have also conducted these exorcisms.
(The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, http://ijn.cgpublisher.com/)
Current Research: September 2015
01: When it comes to welcoming other races and ethnicities to church, evangelicals have it over mainline Protestants, according to a novel experiment carried out by University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright and reported in Christianity Today (July-August). Seeking to test the hypothesis that evangelicals have a higher rate of implicit racial bias than other Christians (as suggested by previous research), Wright and colleague Mike Wallace designed an experiment where a random sample of 1,830 evangelical, mainline and Catholic congregations were sent emails from supposed inquirers stating they were relocating and interested in visiting their services. The emails were designated with first and last names suggesting the senders were either white, African-American, Asian or Latino. Somewhat unexpected, they found that evangelical churches were significantly more likely to respond to inquirers from the four races/ethnicities in roughly equal proportions than their mainline counterparts [because fewer Catholic parishes were included in the sample, the tests for them were statistically weaker than for evangelical and mainline churches].
For every 100 evangelical churches that responded to white-sounding names, 97 replied to black names, 100 to Hispanic, and 94 to Asian names. In contrast, for every 100 mainline churches that replied to white-sounding names, 89 responded to black names, 86 to Hispanic, and only 72 to Asian. When replying to non-whites, mainline churches were also less likely to describe how their church worshiped; they sent the most informative and welcoming replies to whites, the least to blacks, and Hispanics and Asians were in between, according to Wright. He speculates that evangelicals are more outreach-oriented and thus more likely to welcome those of different ethnicities in their drive for evangelism, even if they distrust societal level programs for addressing racial inequality. “Conversely, mainline Protestants’ pursuit of racial justice at the societal level appears not to trickle down into interpersonal behavior,” Wright concludes.
(Christianity Today, 365 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, NY 60188)
02: The Tea Party movement has shown a decline in support among Republicans, although there is an uptick of growth among Hispanic Protestants, according to a study by Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Center. Jones presented a paper based on 30 surveys about the Tea Party from 2010–2014 at the Chicago meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in late August, which RW attended. There has been a one-third drop of support for the Tea Party among Republicans since 2010. Jones finds a thinning out of support among 39-49- year-olds, but there was slight growth among the youngest and oldest age groups. The Latino Protestant growth in support may be due to the “Ted Cruz effect,” the evangelical Republican candidate who has shown allegiance to the movement. Tea Party members are similar to the Christian Right in their oppostion to same-sex marriage. In fact, on most culture war questions, the Tea Party members are closer to social and religious conservatives. They are not necessarily more libertarian than the Republican Party, according to Jones.
03: Catholic and Protestant churches in Canada are moving from full-time to part-time staffing, and it is not just the result of declining institutional participation and contributions but also a growing acceptance of part-time in the wider society. An article in the current issue of the journal Studies in Religion (Vol. 44, No. 3) finds that part-time staffing has increased over a nine year period. Researchers found that the trend toward part-time staff is joined with a growing number of churches that have no full-time staff at all. Mainline churches are most likely to have part-time or no compensated staff in their churches, their participation rate has declined the most over time, though the trend is present in Catholic and evangelical churches as well. While women clergy tend to occupy lower status and thus part-time positions in churches, researchers Sam Reimer and Rick Hiemstra conclude that the pattern may be more likely due to the broader acceptance of part-time employment as the norm. In spite of the increased proportion of Christian congregations with part-time staff, actual compensation for part-time staff has not increased over time. Thus these positions will likely remain peripheral and considered “bad jobs” with clergy and other professionals suffering from “job incongruence.”
(Studies in Religion, http://sir.sagepub.com/)
04: A nation’s “religious climate” is a significant factor in determining its tolerance toward homosexuality, according to Amy Adamczyk of John Jay College. Adamczyk, who was speaking at a joint session of the American Sociological Association and the Association for he Sociology of Religion meeting in Chicago in late August, analyzed data from the World Values Survey (WVS), which included 68 nations and their levels of tolerance on homosexuality. She found that aside from rates of economic inequality and democracy, the predominant religion and the “religious climate” it set for the rest of the nation had a significant impact on its level of tolerance of homosexuality. Ranked by affiliation, Catholic and Jewish societies had the highest levels of tolerance, followed by Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Protestant and Muslim nations. Adamczyk found that as the overall religious belief increased in these nations, residents—even those not religious—tended to become more intolerant of homosexuality. She tested 70 other variables, such as levels of gender inequality, tolerance of foreigners, and education, and found that none of them had an independent effect on these tolerance levels.
05: Residents of the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, show high confidence in Pope Francis, once their hometown priest and activist, while voicing significant criticism of church teachings and policies, according to a survey conducted by Ana Lourdes Suarez of Catholic University of Argentina. In a paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Chicago in late August, which was attended by RW, Suarez conducted a survey of 460 residents in Buenos Aires slums on controversial issues in the church. She found that Catholics represented three-fourths of the slum population, with a growing Pentecostal proportion of almost 17 percent. Yet the Catholic Church was viewed with more confidence and trust than any other institution—even by non-Catholics.
There was high confidence in the pope expressed by a majority. When asked what in the church they would change, 26 percent said they were happy with the current state of the church, 21 percent said the church should do more on issues of helping poor people, 10 percent wanted change in controversial teachings about the church, and 35 percent would change matters dealing with liturgy. In a part of the survey where they could write their own concerns and questions, a large majority supported lifting the celibacy requirement for priests, allowing the divorced to receive the sacraments, permitting priests to marry, liberalizing on gay rights, and standing in favor of women in the priesthood. There was more division on the issue of abortion among respondents. Most also supported the view that the church and its priests should stay out of political matters.
06: While more Russians view religion as helping them in their personal lives, at the same time, they are more negative about its social effects and institutions, reports The Economist (July 31). A survey conducted by the Russian pollsters, VTSIOM suggests some double-mindedness about present-day attitudes toward religion in Russia since 1990. Although there is an increase (from 23 to 55 percent) in the share of people who say they are sometimes “helped” by religion in their own lives, the social effects of religion are viewed in bleaker terms. Russians agreeing that religion does more harm than good in society has grown from five percent to 23 percent. The magazine argues that religion has lost its counter-cultural appeal since Orthodox Christianity has become an increasingly politically privileged institution in Russia, and many are divorcing personal faith from institutional religion.
Israel-Palestine conflicts challenge ecumenical relations
Facing unending cycles of violence, Christians in Israel and Palestine find themselves on both sides, which raises questions about their possible role in the conflict and its resolution as well as about relations between them, writes Israeli Jesuit David Neuhaus in the journal Proche-Orient Chrétien (1/2/2015). Being a minority and facing potential decline through emigration, ecumenism is important among Christian Palestinians. Several centers run by believers of various denominations attempt to promote unity and solidarity. The leaders of the 12 most important churches in Jerusalem meet regularly to discuss issues and publish common statements, and leaders of some Palestinian evangelical churches have joined the efforts of historical, mainstream denominations.
In addition, among 160,000 Christians who hold Israeli citizenship, three-quarters are Palestinian Arabs, who—except for a small part—mostly identify with the wider Palestinian population, while one quarter are not Arabs and live within the Hebrew-speaking Jewish society. Russian speakers who arrived after 1990 make up a majority of those non-Arab Christians. To those citizens should be added between 120,000 and 150,000 Christian migrants to Israel: migrant workers (mostly from Asia, including 40,000 Filipinos) and asylum seekers (mostly from Africa). They face challenges of integrating as Christians within Israeli society, so much that some choose to emigrate or convert to Judaism, while around 100 Messianic congregations claim that accepting Christ does not remove their Jewish identity. Much work remains to be done for developing an ecumenical movement bringing together all those diverse components of local Christianity, ranging from historical churches to new components. Neuhaus feels that such work is much needed in an Israeli environment in which Christian faith and culture are almost completely absent.
But Neuhaus remarks that there are different types of ecumenism. One type of ecumenism promotes solidarity, such as the one associated with national unity among Christian Palestinians: the ecumenism converges with political interests (pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, e.g. Christian Zionists). Another type of ecumenism promotes piety, as a way also to escape from surrounding conflicts, with faith becoming a refuge: with such a discourse, nothing prevents Christian Israelis and Christian Palestinians from coming together. But a new form of ecumenism is emerging, which is described as “prophetic ecumenism.” In this model, while the Christians are separated by the conflict, they are “united by their faith in the Christ who is peace.” Both carry the pain, anguish and suffering of their own people, but both are open of the pain of the other, willing to exercise self-criticism, to promote communion with the immigrants and migrants, and called to develop a common witness that can reveal alternatives to war and violence, while calling for justice and pardon.
(Proche-Orient Chrétien, Faculté des Sciences Religieuses, Université Saint-Joseph, Rue de Damas, P.O. Box 17-5208 Mar Mikhaël, Beirut 1104-2020, Lebanon).
‘Prophetic Medicine’ flourishing in Muslim societies
The use of religious healing methods among Muslims is spreading due to limited health options but also high levels of trust in Islamic healers and their faith-based practices. In a report in Global Plus (July 31), a blog published by the Association of Religion Data Bases (ARDA), Algerian journalist Larbi Megari writes that shops selling medicinal herbs cited in Islamic scripture, as well as the practice of Ruqyah, where spiritual leaders recite the Qur’an and say supplications over the sick, are gaining favor in Algeria and other parts of the Muslim world. “For those who cannot make it to the mosque, there is an expanding amount of Arabic-language satellite television programming offering on-demand spiritual healing. On the Al-Hakika channel, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hashimi advises callers to stay next to their television sets for his healing prayers,” Megari adds. The wide interest in what is called “prophetic medicine” is evident in surveys of Muslims. A 2012 Pew survey found that four in 10 Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia report enlisting the aid of religious healers.
The Pew study found that Muslims who pray several times a day are most likely to use traditional healers. The more devout turn to prophetic medicine because Muslim scriptures stress the importance of health; there are nearly 130 prophetic sayings on medicine and health. The widespead practice of “wet cupping” (using suction devices to draw out “bad blood” ) among Muslims is attributed to a recommendation given by the Prophet Mohammed, as are herbal remedies. Megari adds that in poor parts of Africa and Middle East where the health system is in disrepair, believers also find these methods safe and inexpensive. Studies also find that many doctors fear that the use of such practices may lead to some patients rejecting orthodox medical procedures. The concern is amplified by the popularity television programming “making extravagant promises for religious healing.” Al-Hashimi, who also founded his own centers selling natural herbs in 22 countries, suggests that such diseases as cancer, AIDS and diabetes can be cured through his methods.
(Global Plus, http://www.thearda.com)
‘Shiite Crescent’: Arab Spring and Iranian interests
The Arab Spring has added an entirely new dimension to the discussion of Shia geopolitics, writes Cenap Çakmak (Eskisehir Osmangazi University, Turkey) in The Review of Faith and International Affairs (summer). Due to lack of national identity and sentiments in the Middle East, when a more democratic order is established, Shiites will be prone to organize around a group that promotes a Shiite identity, according to the author. While there had been overstatements regarding the alleged threat of a “Shia wave,” going as far as to claim that Palestine might turn Shia if measures were not taken, and while a common Shiite identity does not always take precedence in group identity (for instance in Azerbaijan, where national identity takes first place), developments of recent years within the Arab world can help facilitate the emergence of a Shiite Crescent beneficial to Iranian foreign policy interests, the author adds.
Mixing pragmatism and ideology, Iran would like to become a dominant regional power. It has expressed empathy for some of the popular uprisings in the region, seeing them as conducive to its goals, but not all of them: for instance, it has remained supportive of its Syrian ally in front of popular protests, and it has strongly reacted against uprisings on its own territory. Shiites currently make up between 10-13 percent of the Muslim population around the world. They are the majority in Iran (90 percent), Iraq (60-65 percent), and Bahrain (70 percent). There are significant percentages of Shiites in various other countries, such as Lebanon, where estimates place them between 35-45 percent. Shiites are not all eager to support Iran, since they understand that the country uses them as pawns, but there is a growing sense of Shiite interconnectedness among Shiites across borders. A lack of allegiance to their own governments and feelings of alienation makes them susceptible to Iranian influence in its promotion of Shiism as an ideological resource and a source of identity, Çakmak concludes.
Hindu nationalist projects target conversions to Christianity
While a recent article claims that nearly 4 million Indians converted to Christianity over the past 20 years, Hindu nationalist activists have made pronouncements that they want a purely Hindu country by 2020. Currently, more than 80 percent of 1.27 billion Indians are Hindu. Hardline Hindu groups feel encouraged by the accession to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014, writes Friedmann Eissler in Materialdienst der EZW (September). The leader of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Ashok Singhal, made the grandiose statement that India would become a purely Hindu nation in mid-July. Non-Hindu religions are seen as foreign in this perspective. While calls to make India entirely Hindu within five years should be seen as rhetorical rather than as a practical possibility, Eissler remarks that assaults against Muslims and Christians have risen by 50 percent since Modi came to power—600 reported assaults (ranging from threats to destruction of places of worship), with three-quarters of these incidents targeting Muslims and one-quarter Christians. Police are reported to be reluctant to intervene and witnesses are intimidated.
A constant issue of debate for decades has been the conversions of Hindus as a consequence of missionary efforts. Missionaries are seen with suspicion and frequently accused of using unethical methods for drawing converts to Christian churches. Thus, statistical data regarding conversions became a hotly contested issue. On August 29, a senior Indian analyst at the Observatory Group, Surjit S. Bhalla, who is a columnist in the Indian Express, published an article suggesting that some 4 million Hindus had been converted to Christianity over the past 20 years. After analyzing recently released census figures, Bhalla explains that he was intrigued by the fact the Christian population growth rate was the same as that of the average Indian, despite having the highest level of female education and the lowest fertility rate; the rise of the percentage of Muslims to 14.2 percent in 2011 (from 11.7 percent 20 years earlier) is explained primarily by fertility rates, but Bhalla notes that it’s declining and slowly coming closer to Hindu fertility rates.
The Sikhs have fallen from a 2 percent share in 1991 to 1.7 percent in 2011, which could be expected, Bhalla observes, since Sikh women have the second-highest educational attainment after Christians, something that usually impacts on fertility rates. But then, why did the Christian population stay at 2.3 percent, while they have approximately the same fertility rate as Sikhs, merely slightly lower? The most likely explanation, according to Bhalla’s calculation, is that the 3.7 million “excess” Christian population is the result of missionary work and conversions. Quite expectedly, Christians have reacted. Responding in the Indian Express (Sept. 1), the former editor of Businessworld, Tony Joseph, suggests that Bhalla “has tortured his data to make it say what he wants to hear;” the fertility rates may be similar, but, “among Christians, there are 1,023 females for every 1,000 males, while among Sikhs, there are only 903 females for every 1,000 males.” In another response (Sept. 4), the former spokesperson of Delhi Archdiocese, now living in Vienna, Dominic Emmanuel, accuses Bhalla of ignoring not only this, but other significant variables, such as the possible role of emigration in the decline of the percentage of Sikhs (Sikhs and Gujaratis being known as the largest contingents of Indian emigrants). Moreover, Emmanuel points that the Christian population remains modest in India despite centuries of missionary presence. While the statistical data certainly deserves attention of scholars and demographers, the whole controversy shows once again how demographics and religious statistics can become hot-button issues.
Findings & Footnotes: September 2015
01: The Journal of Religious and Political Practice is a new annual publication that examines the interplay of religion and politics in an interdisciplinary and global perspective. In the inaugural issue, the editors state that the journal will “explore ideas about religion and politics, not just as ideologies or belief systems, but as rituals, practices, embodied everyday activities, institutions and structures, movements and mobilizations.” The journal’s emphasis on how “politics and religion gets done,” is evident in several of the first issue’s offerings, including a study of mass prayer rallies in Southeast Asia and the role that emotion plays in modern Islamic identity; an examination of religion and nationalism, with a case study of how secular nationalism has framed ritual and political practice in Singapore without being able to entirely control it; and a look at the way urban life accommodates religious practices even as they conflict with formal religious rules and institutions. The next issue is devoted to “Prayer and Politics” and includes such case studies of the political relevance of prayer in Nigeria (with one article discussing how a form of “charismatic Islam” has emerged that adopts methods of propagating the faith from Pentecostalism), France, India, Russia, and the U.S. The first issue is freely accessible at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfrp20/current#.Vd7j7KSFOM8
02: Scholars have increasingly recognized the role Pentecostal churches can play in economic and social development, especially in the global South, although this idea still meets resistance in development circles. The current issue of the journal PentecoStudies (Vol. 12, No. 2) is devoted to the growing encounter between Pentecostalism and the development field, with an opening article by Matthew Clarke arguing that both have more in common than might be expected. Clarke writes that in the development world religion has often been seen more as an impediment rather than an ally in social betterment. But the growing involvement of Pentecostal churches in social work, such as health care and education in more than an ad hoc way is aligned in many ways with development organizations’ traditional goals of transformation of poor people’s lives and their participation in society. The issue offers case studies of Pentecostal development work in Zambia, Nigeria and Cameroon, concluding with a roundtable discussion between development theoreticians and practitioners on these issues. For more information on this issue visit: http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/PENT/issue/current
03: Although Christian Reconstructionism has passed the height of its political influence, Julie J. Ingersoll’s new book Building God’s Kingdom (Oxford University Press, $29.95) argues that the movement, which presses for a society run by biblical principles, continues to extend its reach in many ways beyond electoral politics. Ingersoll traces Reconstructionism from its beginnings in the 1960s under the inspiration of philosopher R.J. Rushdoony to its fingerprints on economic and anti-statist ideas floating around Tea Party circles. Ingersoll notes several distinct traits of Reconstructionism that still echo in segments of the Christian right and in conservatism in general—the view that the Bible addresses every aspect of society, a strongly creationist perspective (she doesn’t mention intelligent design as holding much appeal), strictly defined gender roles, with women seen as only serving as mother and wife, and delegation of education away from the state and into the hands of families and private schools.
It is on the last matter that Ingersoll does a particularly good job in showing how Reconstructionists have increasingly taken the reigns of the home schooling movement, provoking criticism even from other conservative Christian homeschoolers. Ingersoll concludes that while the movement has suffered recent setbacks, in particular the disbanding of Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum over a sexual scandal, a younger generation of leaders has emerged, such as Brandon Vallorani of American Vision, which will continue to recycle its ideas within conservative Christian activism.
04: In the last few years, there has been considerable attention to cases of deconversion or “apostasy” from Islam, no doubt shaped by instances of severe punishments and even executions of those leaving the faith in various Islamic societies reported in the media. While there is not yet a full-fledged study of this phenomenon, Simon Cottee’s new book The Apostates (Hurst & Company, $35) provides an exploratory examination of why and how Muslims in the West (specifically Canada and Great Britain) are leaving Islam. Cottee acknowledges that the book does not provide the data on the prevalence of Islamic apostasy or the demographics of this population, nor does it situate ex-Muslims within the dynamics of the Islamic community. Rather, it is based on interviews with ex-Muslims who are atheists (his sample of 35 ex-Muslims came from an ex-Muslim atheist-oriented Internet forum), a subset unlikely representative of most ex-Muslims (who most likely range from Christians to the spiritual but not religious to agnostic). But Cottee is more interested in understanding the process of people leaving the faith and how such apostasy poses major challenges to their identities and well-being.
As other studies of apostasy have shown, the road to leaving Islam can be long and difficult, with several stages—doubt, fear, a sense of liberation upon leaving, and a period of legitimizing one’s decision (with the help of fellow apostates online), as well as lingering shame over departing. But the struggle is particularly intense for ex-Muslims. Cottee found that most didn’t experience threats or violence (aside from hate messages online) as might be the case in Muslim societies, but whether the interviewees remained concealed as Muslims yet disbelieving or have “come out of the closet,” their situation poses a “moral issue within Muslim families and communities” that are based on honor and shame. The stigma of apostasy and the resulting social and family alienation remains long after leaving the faith.