Church News

Church: General News


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles


>>New Study Reveals Top Church Priorities (Christian Post, 050218)

>>U.S. vs. Canada: Different Reads on the Good Book (Gallup, 050104)

>>Challenged by modernity (, 050417)

>>The 9 Most Important Issues Facing The Evangelical Church (Website, 040200)

**Barna: Americans Are Spiritual But Postmodern (Christian Post, 050809)

**In God They Trust Part 3 (Globe & Mail, 050300)

**Fastest Growth of Christianity in Africa (Christian Post, 050301)

**Update: Americans and Religion (Gallup, 041223)

**Mexico Becoming a Less Faith-Oriented Nation According to Survey (Christian Post, 041127)

**Churchgoers Live Longer, Healthier Lives (CNN, 970714)

Godly nation took comfort from faith (London Times, 970822)

Churches ponder mighty revival: Is another coming? (Washington Times, 970902)

Three Major Religious Holidays Converge (CNN, 980410)

More Companies Offering Religion as Benefit (CNN, 980319)

Church to market Cross as brand image (London Times, 980413)

In the Future, Psychiatrists Will Study Spirituality (CNN, 980417)

Activists around the world fighting for religious liberty (Foxnews, 980626)

Graham ‘saves’ 1,500 more souls in Ottawa (Ottawa Citizen, 980626)

Change to Lord’s Prayer rejected (London Times, 980702)

Majority in U.S. See Decline in Religion’s Influence, Poll Shows (Foxnews, 020320)

The Unchurched: A new study puts Washington as the second most irreligious state. I’m not so sure (National Review Online, 020924)

Rural and Small-Town Parishes: Hope of the Church (Washington Times, 020600)

America’s Ten Commandments: The ACLU’s mistake (NRO, 021028)

Religion linked to positive outlook in teenagers (Washington Times, 021205)

Christmas in Holland: War-torn lessons (NRO, 021221)

Twinkle, Twinkle: An astronomer says the Star of Bethlehem was Jupiter (NRO, 021221)

Churchgoing Hispanics do better at school, study finds (Washington Times, 030128)

Sunday, holy Sunday? (WorldNetDaily, 010000)

Religion Making a Comeback (EFC, 020600)

A Party That Doesn’t Invite Pro-Lifers (Free Congress Foundation, 030410)

On Bended Knee: Passover/Easter prayers pack a punch (NRO, 030417)

The Media Gets Religion (Weekly Standard, 030506)

State of the Faith: Anno Domini, 2003 (NRO, 031223)

Ho, Ho, Hum? Where’s the crèche? [holidays of different religions] (NRO, 031223)

Not With a Biblical Bang...Looks like Saddam’s not the END after all (National Review Online, 031229)

Pastor Says Some Churches Preaching ‘Reinvented’ Gospel (Crosswalk, 040100)

Pop Culture Puts Religion in the Spotlight (FN, 040218)

Passionate Population: The media discover America’s religious (NRO, 040224)

U.S. Protestant population seen losing majority status (Washington Times, 040721)

Christianity and the European Union (Christian Post, 040529)

The Christmas Miracle: Most Americans believe the virgin birth is literally true (Newsweek, 041205)

Americans Describe Sources of Spiritual Fulfillment and Frustration (Barna, 041129)

UK no Longer a Christian Nation, says Anglican Head (Christian Post, 041216)

Britain is Clearly a Christian Nation, says Bishop (Christian Post, 041222)

Crystal Cathedral Shooter Kills Self (Foxnews, 041217)

Religiosity Measure Shows Stalled Recovery (Gallup, 050111)

Divine Subjects: Canadians Believe, Britons Skeptical (Gallup, 041116)

Evangelicals Top List of Influential Christian Leaders (Christian Post, 050118)

Public Christian symbols backed (Washington Times, 041231)

World Council of Churches Recommends MidEast Selective Divestment (Christian Post, 050223)

Big business religion (, 050227)

Two Thirds of Scotland is Christian, Census Shows (Christian Post, 050301)

Faithful standing more firm, poll says (Washington Times, 050123)

Evangelicals Prepare Plans to Reclaim America for Christ (Christian Post, 050219)

In God They Trust Part 1 (Globe & Mail, 050300)

In God They Trust Part 2 (Globe & Mail, 050300)

Barna Finds One-Third of Americans are Unchurched (Christian Post, 050329)

Study: American College Students Spiritual and Seeking (Christian Post, 050414)

Survey Shows Most Young Americans Value Faith, but Eschew Organized Religion (Christian Post, 050412)

Billboards Showcase Messages ‘from God’ Nationwide (Christian Post, 050516)

Major News Magazines Report on Spirituality on Campuses (Christian Post, 050516)

Professor Says Prosperity Theology is Growing in Latin America (Christian Post, 050519)

Missed opportunity or history-shaping impact? Our choice (Christian Post, 050516)

Country club or change agent: which is your church? (Christian Post, 050516)

The Choice of Two Prayers (Christian Post, 050517)

“They” are watching, but so is He (Christian Post, 050517)

What Should We Think of the EMERGING CHURCH? Part 1 (Christian Post, 050629)

What Should We Think of the EMERGING CHURCH? Part 2 (Christian Post, 050630)

Newsweek’s Search for Spirituality (Christian Post, 050823)

God Is Back! A new study reveals the patterns of religious belief in America. (Weekly Standard, 060925)

Creation occurred 6,010 years ago Oct. 23, says historian: Get history book that traced actual date it all got started (WorldNetDaily, 071001)

2007 Trends Analysis: Americans Reformulating Christianity (Christian Post, 071204)

Trends Analysis: Americans Reformulating Christianity (Christian Post, 071204)

More Questions Raised in Probe of Preachers (Christian Post, 071204)





>>New Study Reveals Top Church Priorities (Christian Post, 050218)


Discipleship and evangelism emphasized among church leaders


A new study conducted by The Barna Group revealed the ministry priorities that Protestant churches have for the coming year. Not one priority was selected by even half of the church senior pastors who were surveyed.


The top three listed priorities were discipleship and spiritual development with 47 percent, evangelism and outreach with 46 percent and preaching with 35 percent.


Other priorities emphasized by the church leaders included congregational care efforts such as visitation and counseling (24%), worship (19%); ministry to teenagers and young adults (17%); missions (15%); community service (15%); ministry to children (13%); and congregational fellowship (11%).


Ministry to families and prayer was listed as the lowest priorities with four and three percentages, respectively.


While half of all white churches listed discipleship at the top, 67 percent of black churches placed evangelism as their dominant priority. Mainline churches also chose discipleship as their highest priority while baptist churches placed their emphasis on evangelism.


More female pastors (65%) found discipleship to be a top priority than male pastors (46%).


Larger churches, in comparison to smaller churches, also placed evangelism at the top of their priority list.


“While there are certainly distinctions worthy of note, what really stands out is the consistency of the profile of priorities among pastors of vastly different church backgrounds and perspectives,” said George Barna. “Church size, regional location, doctrinal leaning, pastoral age and even pastoral gender produced surprisingly few major differences. This may reflect the similar emphasis that most pastors receive in their pastoral training. At the same time, it also suggests that it would be quite unlikely to see a significant shift in ministry priorities among the nation’s churches. What we have in place today is likely to remain relatively static for the foreseeable future, unless a confluence of leadership, events and resources emerges to alter the prevailing perspectives and habits of our Protestant churches.”




>>U.S. vs. Canada: Different Reads on the Good Book (Gallup, 050104)


In terms of sheer religiosity, few Western countries can compare with the United States. Certainly, Americans are more likely than their Canadian neighbors to identify with a specific religion (most often a Christian denomination), attend church frequently, and attest to the importance of religion in their lives. But do Americans view the primary sacred text at the heart of Christianity — the Bible — differently than Canadians do? Are Americans more likely than Canadians to accept the word of God as the word of God?


In recent surveys, Gallup gave respondents in both countries* three options and asked them to choose the one that came closest to their views: 1) “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word”; 2) “the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally”; or 3) “the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.” Twice as many Americans as Canadians believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally — 34% vs. 17%, respectively. About half of both Americans (48%) and Canadians (51%) agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally. Fifteen percent of Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man, while 29% of Canadians agree.



One might think that these philosophical differences of opinion about the Bible are related to the fact that Americans are more likely than Canadians to attend church. Almost two-thirds (64%) of Canadians say they seldom or never attend church or synagogue, compared with 42% of Americans, while Americans are twice as likely as are Canadians to attend church every week (35% compared with 18%). But that is not necessarily the case.


When looking at opinions by frequency of church attendance in each country, there are differences. In the United States, 46% of those who attend church at least monthly think the Bible is the actual word of God, as do just 32% of Canadian weekly and monthly church attendees. Conversely, Canadians who do not attend church are more likely than Americans who don’t attend to believe the Bible is a book of fables. Forty-one percent of non-attending Canadians think the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man, while only 28% of non-attendees in the United States hold this belief.



The churches that Americans and Canadians attend and their stances on whether the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God might explain the differences among regular churchgoers in each country. Half of Americans claim affiliation with a Protestant branch of Christianity, of which several major denominations adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Twenty-four percent of Americans identify themselves as Catholics, and the Catholic Church supports the idea that the Bible is the inspired word of God. In Canada, according to Census figures, 46% of Canadians are Catholics and 18% are Protestants. [Kwing Hung: wrong data, more Protestants]


Among all U.S. Protestants, 45% say that the Bible is the actual word of God, compared with 19% of all U.S. Catholics. Sixty-three percent of U.S. Catholics say that the Bible is the inspired word of God, compared with 46% of U.S. Protestants. Gallup didn’t collect Protestant and Catholic demographic information in the latest survey in Canada, but it is possible these differences among Catholics and Protestants would exist in that country as well.


Bottom Line


Americans are more regular in their church attendance and more literal in their interpretations of the Bible than are Canadians. The two findings may be indirectly related, though it would be difficult to say whether more literal views of the Bible encourage church attendance, or higher rates of attendance change perspectives on biblical scripture. But whether they attend church regularly or not, Americans are more likely than Canadians to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and less likely than Canadians to view the Bible as a book of fables and history recorded by man.




>>Challenged by modernity (, 050417)


George Will


WASHINGTON — The astonishing pilgrimage of Europeans to Vatican City for the most attended funeral in history obscured a stark fact confronting the conclave that on Monday begins selecting the next pope: Vatican City is 109 acres of faith in a European sea of unbelief.


Poles, especially, traveled to Rome to honor John Paul II. But what was said of Georges Clemenceau — that he had one illusion, France, and one disillusion, mankind, including the French — might, with some exaggeration, be said of John Paul II and Poland. He was vexed by the zeal with which Poles, liberated from the asceticism inflicted by communism, embraced consumerism, materialism and hedonism. From Catholic Ireland to Catholic Spain to Poland, the most Catholic nation, the trends of contraception, divorce and abortion are moving against Catholic teaching.


The challenge confronting the church can be expressed in one word: modernity. The church preaches that freedom is life lived in conformity to God’s will as manifested in revelation and interpreted by the church. Modernity teaches that freedom is the sovereignty of the individual’s will — personal volition that is  spontaneous, unconditioned, inviolable and self-legitimizing.


John Paul II’s mastery of the presentational aspect of the papacy — a mastery dependent on two modern technologies, television and jet aircraft — may cause the conclave to seek a candidate with similar skills. But the substance of what he presented did not amount to accommodation with the culture of modernity.


In America, a market-driven society, there is a religion market in which the most successful competitors for congregations are churches with clear doctrinal and strict moral positions. For these churches, the “crisis of Christianity” is congestion in their parking lots.


Christianity is a varied and complex structure — theological and institutional — erected on a foundation of biblical prophecies and reports of the activities of Jesus. For two millennia these prophecies and reports have been, to say no more, subject to various interpretations. Hence the search, from the earliest days of Christianity, for sources of authoritative interpretation. That search produced great councils — Nicaea, Trent — and the post-Reformation papacy. When the conclave begins, a European epoch may begin to end.


It took 455 years to pry the papacy out of Italian hands. Now, after 26 years of a pope from Eastern Europe, the church that is withering in Europe is flourishing in the Southern Hemisphere. There materialism and consumerism are less powerful — but people passionately desire the affluence that makes materialism and consumerism possible.


Europe itself is withering. The day of John Paul II’s funeral, the European Union’s statistics agency reported that the decline of birthrates means that within five years deaths will exceed births in the EU. By 2013, Italy’s population will begin to decline; the next year, Germany’s will begin to decline. After 2010, Europe’s population growth will be entirely from immigration. By 2025, not even immigration will prevent declining fertility from accelerating what one historian calls the largest “sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century.”


In his new book “The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God,” George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II, argues that Europe’s “demographic suicide” will cause its welfare states to buckle and is creating a “vacuum into which Islamic immigrants are flowing.” Since 1970, the 20 million legal Islamic immigrants equal the combined populations of Ireland, Denmark and Belgium.


“What,” Weigel asks, “is happening when an entire continent, wealthier and healthier than ever before, declines to create the human future in the most elemental sense, by creating a next generation?” His diagnosis is that Europe’s deepening anemia is a consequence of living on what he considers the thin gruel of secular humanism that excludes transcendent reference points for cultural and political life. Such reference points are, he thinks, prerequisites for freedom understood as “the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit.”


Perhaps. But Weigel also argues that Europe’s crisis of civilizational morale was catalyzed by World War I. So Europe’s retreat from religion might reflect a reasonable weariness and wariness born of four centuries of religious wars and convulsions wrought by the political religions of fascism and communism.


Weigel doubts that it is possible to “sustain a democratic political community absent the transcendent moral reference points for ordering public life that Christianity offers the political community.” Absent a reconversion of the continent, Europeans, who — like many Americans — find the injection of transcendence into politics frightening, are going to find out whether Weigel is right.




>>The 9 Most Important Issues Facing The Evangelical Church (Website, 040200)


by Michael J. Vlach


At we have grabbed our binoculars and have surveyed the state of the evangelical church. Nine issues stand out to us as ones that are of special importance:


1. RELIGIOUS PLURALISM (Is Jesus the only Savior?) Last December, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on the Donahue show on MSNBC. He defended and represented the traditional Christian view that salvation is found only in Jesus. As expected, Donahue vehemently disagreed with Mohler and praised the other guests who espoused religious pluralism-the view that all religions lead to salvation or heaven. The intensity of opposition and the rhetoric directed toward Mohler and the traditional Christian view should be disturbing for those who believe Jesus is the only Savior. The traditional Christian view was often linked with the words “hate” and “narrow-minded.” Also disturbing was the continuing assertion that Christians who believe Jesus is the only Savior are in the same category with the Osama bin-Laden’s and terrorists of the world.


This trend toward religious pluralism and the labeling of Christian particularists as ‘hatemongers’ is growing. That is why evangelical Christians need to fasten their seatbelts. With the decreasing influence of Christianity in western society and the proliferation of other religions (Islam, Hinduism, etc...) in the West, opposition to the traditional Christian view and those who hold to it will continue to grow.


2. OPEN THEISM CONTROVERSY (Does God have perfect and exhaustive knowledge of the future?) Within evangelical scholarship this is the big issue right now. Some evangelical scholars, including Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Gregory Boyd, are asserting that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. These Open Theists emphasize God’s self-limitation in dealing with humans. Because God desires free responses from human agents, Open Theists claim that God neither predetermines nor foreknows the moral choices of people. This controversy continues to heat up. Last November, members of the Evangelical Theological Society voted to challenge the legitimacy of the memberships of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for violating the inerrancy clause of the ETS constitution. Is this issue just a minor intramural squabble among Christians or does it challenge the foundation of historic Christianity and the traditional view of God?


3. TNIV CONTROVERSY (Accurate version or intentional perversion?) Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, declared that the recent flap over Bible translation “has the potential to split significantly the evangelical movement.” At the heart of this controversy is the TNIV (Today’s New International Version), a new Bible translation published by Zondervan. Proponents of this recent translation of the New Testament the complete Bible including the OT will be released in 2005) hail it as an accurate, gender-neutral translation that “precisely communicates the Scriptures with accuracy and clarity in modern English.” Opponents of the TNIV view it as a serious perversion of Scripture. (WorldNetDaily called the TNIV “Today’s New International Perversion.”) One of the more serious charges against the TNIV is that its translators produced a Bible translation influenced more by political correctness and the feminist agenda than the original meaning of Scripture. TNIV proponents vigorously deny this charge.


This explosive controversy has heavyweights on both sides. Those who have expressed at least some support for the TNIV include D.A. Carson, Craig Blomberg, John R. Kohlenberger, Ronald Youngblood, Kenneth Barker, and Mark Strauss. Those on record opposing the TNIV include Wayne Grudem, Vern Poythress, Paige Patterson, R. C. Sproul, John Frame, George W. Knight III, and R. Albert Mohler Jr.


4. GENDER ROLES IN THE CHURCH (Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism) This one continues to be a touchy issue. Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ “there is neither male nor female.” On the other hand, 1 Timothy 2:12 appears to prohibit women from certain teaching and authority positions in the church. What are the implications of these verses and how should they be harmonized? Evangelical egalitarians argue that equality between the sexes means that there should be no functional distinctions between men and women in the church. Thus, spiritually qualified women should be allowed to function in authority roles such as pastor, teacher, and elder. Evangelical complementarians argue that men and women are equal in essence, but this equality does not cancel God-ordained functional distinctions between men and women. Thus there are certain positions in the church such as pastor and elder that are reserved only for men.


The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is an organization committed to complementarianism. The egalitarian counterpart is the Council for Biblical Equality. Leaders of the CBMW include Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Leaders of CBE include Rebbeca Groothuis and Linda Belleville.


5. TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES (Ancient answers for modern issues) Technological advances of the last half-century have raised important ethical issues and questions. As a result, many are looking to Christian leaders for answers. What is the Christian view of cloning, fetal tissue research, genetic engineering, reproductive technologies, and ‘just war’ in a nuclear age? Does the Bible, an ancient book, offer answers for these 21st century issues? These issues and many others can no longer be ignored by Christians. “The complicated challenges facing Christians at the turn of the millennium call for urgent, thorough reflection, a fleshing out of unchanging biblical principles that speak strongly to specific situations,” says Michael McKenzie, Ph.D. University of Southern California.


6. REACHING POSTMODERNS (How does the church reach people who do not believe in truth?) The postmodern era is known for the loss of objective truth and the elevation of subjective experience. These factors plus the increasing pluralism in western society has led to a culture that is virtually devoid of any significant knowledge of the Bible or biblical Christianity. How does the church respond to this situation? Does the church continue with business as usual or does it radically change its approach for reaching people saturated with a postmodern worldview?


7. FUTURISM VS. PRETERISM (Jesus’ coming-past or future?) In the past most battles over eschatology were over the nature of the millennium (Pre, Post, or A-millennialism) or the timing of the rapture (Pre, Mid, or Post-tribulationism). With the increasing popularity of Preterism, and its belief that most or all of Bible prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, new debates are taking place concerning the timing of Bible prophecy. The focal point of this debate concerns the timing of the second coming of Christ. Preterists assert that some or all of the events prophesied in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation were fulfilled in A.D. 70. The traditional view of the church, however, has been that the return of Jesus is a future event from our standpoint. Prominent theologian, R. C. Sproul, has adopted a partial preterist position. Is Jesus’ return a past event or future expectation? Is belief that Jesus returned in A.D. 70 consistent with the historic Christian faith? We look for this issue to become the main battleground in eschatology in the early part of the 21st century.


8. EVANGELICALS CONVERTING TO CATHOLICISM (From Wheaton to Rome) For most of the last century the vast majority of conversions within ‘Christendom’ were from Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism. Although these conversions are still common, Roman Catholics have fought back. The EWTN network and Catholic apologists such as Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, and Marcus Grodi have targeted evangelicals for conversion. By raising the issues of church history, authority, unity, and certainty, Roman Catholics have seen some success in converting evangelicals to Catholicism. Will this trend continue and how will evangelical leaders respond?


9. BIBLICAL ILLITERACY IN THE CHURCH (Is that really in the Bible?) “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy,” warns researcher George Barna. “How else can You describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?”


Other disturbing findings that document an overall lack of knowledge among churchgoing Christians include the following:


— The most widely known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is “God helps those who help themselves”-which is not actually in the Bible and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.


— Less than one out of every ten believers possess a biblical worldview as the basis for his or her decision-making or behavior.


— When given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives. (see


The evangelical movement has traditionally been based on a strong commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but how can it remain strong when biblical illiteracy is becoming the norm?




**Barna: Americans Are Spiritual But Postmodern (Christian Post, 050809)


American born-again Christians are likely to feel accepted by God, but deny the Bible as the source of truth. Few make decisions based on the Bible and few believe absolute moral truth exists, according to a new national study of 1002 adults conducted by The Barna Group.


Most Americans say they are “deeply spiritual,” feel “accepted by God,” and say they have a clear understanding of the purpose of their life, the survey, released August 9, found.


About half of all adults (54 percent) claim that they make moral decisions on standards they believe in. Another 24 percent make moral choices based on what feels right or comfortable, doing whatever makes the most people happy or causes the least conflict (9 percent), and pursuing whatever produces the most positive outcomes for the person (7 percent).


According to Barna, this is a reflection of the postmodernist belief that reality is subjective, and therefore, there is no absolute truth.


When asked whether they believe moral truth is based on absolute standards or is relative to the circumstances, one-third said they believe in absolute truth, one-third said morality depends on the situation, and another third say they do not know.


George Barna, whose acclaimed book Think Like Jesus described the core elements of a biblical worldview in laymen’s terms, noted that the religious books of greatest influence in the past several years have not addressed people’s fundamental theological views.


“Most of the bestsellers have focused on meaning, purpose, security and the end times,” the researcher pointed out. “While there have been theological views expressed in those books, very few popular books have helped people to think clearly and comprehensively about their core theology. Consequently, most born again Christians hold a confusing and inherently contradictory set of religious beliefs that go unchecked by the leaders and teachers of their faith community.”


Overall, just 16 percent of adults claim they make their moral choices based on the Bible.


The research confirmed that the younger a person is, the less likely they are to trust the Bible as their source of moral guidance or to believe that absolute moral truth exists. For instance, 20 percent of adults 60 or older base their moral choices on the Bible and 18% of Baby Boomers do so, but only 13 percent of Baby Busters and a mere 9 percent of Mosaics follow suit.


College graduates were twice as likely to have a biblical view of life, while “mostly conservatives” were twelve times more likely to have a biblical worldview than were people who said they are “mostly liberal” on such matters.


Additionally, African-American adults, who generally emerge as the ethnic segment most deeply committed to the Christian faith, were substantially less likely than either whites or Hispanics to have a biblical worldview. In total, just 1 percent of black adults met the criteria, compared to 6 percentamong whites and 8 percent among Hispanics, the survey found. (Less than one-tenth of one percent of Asians possesses a biblical worldview.)


The survey outcomes compelled Barna, to remind Christian leaders to stay focused on the things that matter.


“Our studies consistently show that churches base their sense of success on indicators such as attendance, congregant satisfaction, dollars raised and built-out square footage,” the researchers said. “None of those factors relates to the kind of radical shift in thinking and behavior that Jesus Christ died on the cross to facilitate. As long as we measure success on the basis of popularity and efficiency, we will continue to see a nation filled with people who can recite Bible stories but fail to live according to Bible principles.”


For a solution Barna suggested applying research findings: “We know that within two hours after leaving a church service, the typical individual cannot recall the theme of the sermon they heard. But if they have a discussion and application to their life, or if they have a multi-sensory experience with those principles, they retain the information and the probability that they will act, rises.”


The Barna Group located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.




**In God They Trust Part 3 (Globe & Mail, 050300)

[KH: parts 1 and 2 also in this file]


IAN BROWN is granted an audience with the pope of U.S. evangelism, James Dobson: His influence extends to the White House, but his mind is always tuned to heaven


The first place I went in Colorado Springs was the bookstore at Focus on the Family. This seemed like an odd choice, even to me.


Colorado Springs sits 6,000 feet in the air on Colorado’s alpine desert, after all, and there’s lots to do.


Pike’s Peak smiles down on the town from under its snow cap. At the south end of the city there’s the hollowed-out Cheyenne Mountain, inside which NORAD has its command centre. The U.S. Air Force Academy is located here, as are headquarters of the military branch of the Department of Homeland Security, a brace of air-force bases, several army plantations, at least two colleges and the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee (Colorado Springs is where U.S. Olympic athletes train). But I needed to get a book at Focus on the Family, the single most important unifying force in Christian America and a powerful engine of its revival.


The bookstore was full of merchandise you’d find in any commercial establishment, provided it catered entirely to Christians and people obsessed with family life. There were Bibles and religious CDs, books in Spanish such as Donde Esta Papa? and others in English, such as Really Bad Girls of the Bible. There was a book called Fabulous and Funny: Clean Jokes for Kids (Q: What do you get when you squeeze a curtain? A: Drape juice) and tapes of the Focus on the Family radio show. You could buy a painting of heaven, Focus on the Family’s favourite place, or a carved wooden plaque that read, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And, of course, the store carried all of the more than one dozen books written by Dr. James Dobson, the 68-year-old founder of Focus on the Family. I picked up one of his latest, Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, and took it over to the cashier.


“Are a you a pastor?” She was a pleasant women in her 60s, from what I could tell.


“No,” I said.


“Are you 55-plus?” “I look it, but I’m not.” “Well, then,” she said.


“How much discount does a pastor get?” I said.


“Are you a pastor?” she repeated.


“No. Just curious.” “I can’t tell you that,” she said.


That was the first time my paranoia popped up at Focus on the Family, the first time I felt — not that I was being watched, but that I stood out, that somehow I smelled, spiritually. I was travelling around America to find out why more and more Americans were turning to God, and now I was at ground zero of the Christian right — a place where everyone I met was friendly and committed and knew with apparent certainty what was true and what was good. I, on the other hand, was a gushing fountain of doubt.


I left the bookstore and climbed into my rental car and drove back to my hotel. All the way to the horizon, I could see new suburbs going up in the dry hills to the east. Fifteen years ago, before Focus on the Family moved here, before 9/11 attracted a new military presence and a bushel of new high-tech companies to the high desert, Colorado Springs was a snoresville of 50,000, little more than what it had started out as — a vacation town for the miners who worked the Cripple Creek gold rush in the 1890s. Today, 250,000 people live here: Between the athletes and the generals and the soldiers for Christ, there are a lot of fervent types around.


This makes Colorado Springs a testing ground not just for new artillery but for ideas, as if the mental frontier of America is still up for grabs. In the late 1980s, Colorado-based Silverado Savings and Loan — one of whose directors was Neil Bush, George W.’s kid brother — went eyes-up, leaving taxpayers with a bill of more than $1-billion, and Colorado Springs the nickname “the forfeiture capital of America.” Desperate for new blood, the city council and a local foundation offered Focus on the Family (then based in Pomona, Calif.) a sweetheart grant and land deal. There were 35 non-profit, para-religious organizations in town then; today, there are more than 130.


This is where Dr. James Dobson, “America’s trusted family psychologist,” chose to make his stand against the eroding forces of secular commercialism, as the leader of the religious right — out here in a high, bright desert, next to one of the earth’s deadliest collections of military hardware. I wondered if Dr. Dobson had sensed the apocalyptic possibilities.


The new houses on the edge of town looked like brown burrows mounding in the safety of the earth. “They’re still building the world out here,” I said, just before I realized I was talking to myself in the car.


I went to Focus on the Family because I had a theory. My theory was that Dr. James Dobson is the Pope of evangelical America. Granted, it’s a stretch: There are more than a billion Catholics worldwide, compared to perhaps 500 million evangelical Christians, and the Pope doesn’t have a portrait of Winston Church on the wall of his office, the way Dr. Dobson does.


But James Dobson is the most prominent Christian in America, and — with the exception of the president — possibly the most prominent American Christian in the world. His folksy Focus on the Family radio programs are heard by 200 million people in 171 countries.


A recent survey of Protestant pastors voted him one of the four most influential Christians in the world, well ahead of John Paul.


His books have sold 12 million copies, and he’s widely credited with mobilizing the eight million evangelical voters who swung the election for the Republicans last November.


Having helped convince 11 states to veto gay marriage, he hopes to convince 15 more in the next year-and-a-half. His latest and most controversial plan, announced in letters to 1.2-million Focus on the Family supporters, is to make life miserable for six Democratic senators if they oppose the president’s nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court, spaces on which are about to open up like spring bulbs.


James Dobson is the official voice of the Christian right. He’s everywhere. His name has appeared 9,307 times in The New York Times in the past year alone. It was James Dobson, for instance, who made headlines during inauguration week last January when he scolded a lobby group for using SpongeBob, the beloved cartoon . . . sponge, in a film that promoted (depending who you talk to) either sexual inclusivity or multiculturalism.


This is the man to whom I said, “Are you the Pope of the evangelical Christian community?” Dr. Dobson smiled a lopsided smile — he’s enormously friendly and engaging — and shook the large blond head that tops off his six-foot-two body. “I am not the Pope, because I have no authority that goes beyond the power of my persuasion,” he said. He had an Oklahoma accent, and a voice like Ronald Reagan’s. “That’s certainly not like some edict that comes from the head of the Catholic Church.” “But the power of your persuasion is very much informed by your sense of mission from God,” I said.


“That’s true,” he said, which surprised me. “I’ve been a Christian since I was a child. And what I call righteousness in the culture is very, very important to me. And I do what I can to preserve it. And why not? . . . The liberal media, which apparently you’re part of” — here I demurred, because Focus is famous for checking the political biases of journalists who visit — “seems to imply that somehow if you are a person of faith that you violate the principle of church and state by advocating things. That’s never been true.


“I mean, Abraham Lincoln said at the Gettysburg Address that this is the government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ He didn’t say all the people, except Christians or people of faith. I have a right in a democracy or a representative form of government to advocate what we believe in.” This is the thing about Dr. Dobson: He is always on message, because he is always believing, always tuned to the thought of heaven.


“I don’t think evangelicals can have a Pope,” Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, told me one morning not long after that. “But I think there are certain powerful people — I will call them gatekeepers — who speak for them. Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, is one. Charles Colson” —the former Watergate felon and founder of Prison Ministries, and one of Dobson’s best friends — “is another. But if I had to pick one who came above, it would be Dobson.” The meaning and purpose of life have been clear to James Dobson for a long time.


“I gave my heart to Jesus Christ when I was three years old,” he tells me one afternoon. There are knickknacks all over his office; Shirley, his faithful wife of 44 years, a former homecoming queen of Pasadena College who now runs the U.S. National Day of Prayer, is in her office next door.


“I remember it as though it were yesterday. I’m not kidding you.


“I was sitting with my mother at the back of the church, back row, on the right side. And my father was the minister. And he invited those who wanted to give their hearts to Jesus to come to an altar.


“And I didn’t ask my mother: I just stepped up and walked down there.


“And I remember being highly emotional about it. I remember crying.


“And afterward I remember we went someplace in the car. And they left me in the car.” I was amazed at his recall, though I later found out that he had told this story many times. “I remember sitting in the front seat, talking, thinking about what I’d done, wondering about its meaning.


“So that’s been my whole life. I haven’t lived the perfect life, but I’ve lived by that standard, or tried to, since I was a little boy.” By the age of 40, he had worked his way up through various teaching jobs to become a professor of pediatric psychology at the University of Southern California medical school, and a veteran at the Los Angeles Hospital for Children. There he might have stayed, had he not written Dare to Discipline in 1977. The book claimed that children needed a reliable authority in their lives, even if it meant spanking.


“I just felt that I ought to try to do what I could to preserve the family, because I saw it falling apart,” he says now.


The book sold three million copies and produced an avalanche of mail that convinced him he had a calling to help families. His father suggested that he reach them via radio rather than on the road, so he could spend more time with his own family. The first show, broadcast out of Arcadia, Calif., was half an hour long, on 27 stations, with a staff of nine.


Within six years, Focus had 400 employees. Today, its reach is breathtaking. Some 1,400 employees, with a budget last year of $146-million, field 10,000 phone calls, e-mails and letters a day, and fire out four million books, pamphlets and letters a year in return. The international Focus mission has penetrated to China and Indonesia.


“It’s obvious there is just a great need for support for the family, particularly marriage and parenthood and things related to family life,” Dr. Dobson says, and means it: He doesn’t take a salary, and lives off his book royalties. (At an estimated $20-million so far, it can’t have been such a bad living.) While Focus takes pains to insist its main concern is “the vanilla issues . . .of raising families” — which extend to the sanctity of marriage and the value of human life — Dr. Dobson stepped into the limelight a year ago as never before. He created Focus on the Family Action, a second tax-exempt entity that can spend 60 per cent of its contributions on lobbying. (The original organization is limited, under U.S. tax law, to spending only 10 per cent of its budget that way.) The new entity “lets him talk about the federal marriage amendment act,” Gary Booker, a Focus staffer, explains. Of course, when he endorses political candidates — as he did George W. Bush last November — he does it as a private citizen, lest Focus lose its tax-exempt status. “It’s a sensitive issue,” Mr. Booker adds. “How do you separate Dr. James Dobson, as an individual, from Focus on the Family? Our lawyers watch that constantly.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was threatened with an IRS audit last year, allegedly for tipping its political hand during the election campaign. But Focus has escaped the tax department’s notice.


Dr. Dobson admits he feels called to speak out more today than ever. Abortion is an issue close to his heart — he refers to the killing of 47 million fetuses as “the baby holocaust” — but these days gay marriage really has him popping.


“It’s a culture war in this country,” he says. “And it is heating up. Nobody in 1977 was talking about redefining marriage. That’s a very recent phenomenon. So there have just been a lot of cultural changes that have dragged us, to some degree against our will, into the public-policy arena.” The idea of Dr. James Dobson, a regular on Larry King Live, being dragged against his will into a public-policy argument strains credibility.


Jimmy Dobson is a very straight guy, and he has no intention of hiding the fact. His will be the revenge of all nerds.


“Marriage is the foundation,” he says. “Everything else sits on the institution of marriage and family. That’s how it has been for 5,000 years.” But not homosexual marriage, which he believes will dismantle the family itself — a potential tragedy, he writes in the book I bought in Colorado Springs, Marriage Under Fire, because “marriage is a sacrament designed by God that serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His church. Tampering with His plan for the family is immoral and wrong.” He puts it less dogmatically in person: “If the definition of marriage is no more stable than the ruling of a judge somewhere who doesn’t have to answer to anybody, it’s only a matter of time until somebody who is in one of those other categories — polygamy being the best example — will be able to make the case, ‘Why not me?’ If you’re saying its discriminatory to exclude two men or two women, why is it not discriminatory to three men and two women? I mean, there’s no way legally you can make that case. . . . That’s the direction it will go, and it can just weaken the fabric of the family.” The family is an instrument of the Lord; weaken it, and you weaken God’s hold on earth. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania senator and friend, was mocked mercilessly during the U.S. election campaign last year when he said gay marriage would lead to legalized bestiality, but Dr. Dobson understands the sentiment.


“What he was saying is that, in the original Constitution, our rights come from the Creator. We’re endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights.” As soon as a court rules in a way that contradicts Biblical teaching — say, by decriminalizing sodomy — “your rights don’t come from the Creator. Every person is entitled to his own interpretation of reality. So it’s a whole paradigm shift from morality being defined by God, to morality and behaviour being protected according to anybody’s interpretation.” This is exactly the sort of slide into moral relativism that he fears.


Naturally, with courts so fallible, Focus has tried to solve the gay-marriage problem other ways. These include a regular conference called Love Won Out, in which formerly gay Focus staffers try to re-orient homosexuals back into the heterosexual barn. It doesn’t work, but therapeutically it is effective in helping families accept their gay offspring.


All this drives the gay community insane. A massive protest at the Focus Campus is planned for May 1, but there has never been any lack of animosity between Dr. Dobson and what he calls “homosexual activists.” American gays call Colorado Springs “ground zero.” In 1992, Colorado voters adopted Amendment 2, which forbade governments from classifying homosexuals as a class protected against discrimination with regards to housing and hiring. Focus and Dr. Dobson were heavy backers of the amendment, and received death and bomb threats for their trouble. But the amendment was later struck down as unconstitutional, which still sticks in Dr. Dobson’s long craw.


One night in downtown Colorado City, I bought a bottle of wine.


I asked the woman behind the counter where I might run into some religious people, but she was serving a man and she held off answering.


After he left, she said, “He had short hair. I thought he might be religious. I just didn’t want to offend him.” “I realize,” I said.


“Short hair. Could be religious, could be military.” “But military short hair doesn’t necessarily mean religious,” I said.


“No, absolutely not,” the woman said. But she knew religious people who hadn’t braved the town’s liberal downtown in five years.


Like most of America, Colorado Springs is split between those who believe and those who don’t want to be told what to believe, who refer to Dobson and his ilk as “the religious reich.” It’s a town not far removed from its mining-town roots. A couple of weeks ago in the Denver state legislature, a Republican and a Democrat came to blows over whether families of fallen soldiers should get special licence plates. The same week, Planned Parenthood was forced out of a Colorado Springs school district when anti-abortion groups and a Christian on the school board questioned whether Planned Parenthood’s lessons conformed with the school district’s “abstinence-plus” policy. “Abstinence-plus” promotes abstinence as the best method of birth control.


Soldiers outnumber professional Christians in town, but it’s the Christians you see and hear. There’s a 155-page Christian Business Directory, and a Christian yellow pages called The Shepherd’s Guide.


Sex-free Christian comedians can make a living in these parts (sample: a good-looking girl shows up at a prayer meeting, and she’s a 10 — except that she’s a Canadian, which means that with the exchange she’s an 8); the $400,000 Easter pageant at nearby New Life Church (congregation 8,000) aims to sell 40,000 tickets. The football coach at the Air Force Academy was recently disciplined for forcing Christianity on his team: One locker-room memo asked his boys to pledge that they were “a member of Team Jesus Christ.” But nowhere in Colorado Springs is more cheerfully Christian than the Focus on the Family campus, whose largest brick buildings form blue crosses when seen from the sky, as if to give God the view.


Women in the hallways say, “Good morning, how are you, God bless your day.” Everyone who works there makes “an active profession of faith,” and staff pray together daily, sometimes in the “Chapelteria” — the chapel that doubles as a cafeteria. A quarter-million tourists make a pilgrimage here every year, just to see the place. Evangelical Christians have been famously disparate politically, but by uniting them in their concern for family values, Focus provides a rare commonality for at least 90 denominations.


Ten per cent of the 10,000 calls, e-mails and letters Focus receives every day requires the services of on-site counsellors; the rest want information and enlightenment on family issues, which Focus then provides from its vast warehouse of tapes, CDs, books and self-help literature.


Focus doesn’t charge for materials in the traditional sense. Instead, operators suggest a donation. Eighty per cent of buyers meet the price, and 20 per cent give more, a system that will provide Focus’s entire 2005 annual budget of $170-million. The whole thing is geared to speed and efficiency. “That way,” says Paul Hetrick, Dr. Dobson’s main spokesman, “driving to work, someone can hear the show, call on their cell, order what they need on Monday, for delivery on Thursday.” Then there’s Focus’s mailing list, 2.5-million names long. “If we want to isolate on a state, like in the recent election on stem-cell research, we can send mailings just on that,” Mr. Ketrick says.


It’s hard to hear him — a 12,000-piece mailing is clattering in a nearby hopper.


“We could just inform them, which is called educating voters, or we could get them to call their Congressmen, which is called a call to action.” What I was in awe of most was Dr. Dobson’s command of political rhetoric, the fluidity of his answers. The night before I met him in his office, he appeared, from Focus’s in-house TV studio, on Hannity & Colmes , a point-counterpoint, I-can-shout-louder-than-you-can political debate show on the Fox network. Paul Hetrick figured there was a one-in-10 chance Dr. Dobson would do it — he’d been feeling poorly — but he has a hard time staying out of an argument, especially if it’s live TV: He avoids interviews that will be edited, as he can’t control the outcome. He has turned down CBS’s Sixty Minutes twice for that reason.


The subject this time was Terri Schiavo, a woman who has been in a waking coma in Florida for more than 13 years. Dr. Dobson’s fellow medical practitioners long ago declared Terri Shiavo irreparably brain-damaged and incapable of thought or emotion; 19 judges on six courts had found no reason to dispute these findings, nor to deny her husband the right to shut down her feeding tube.


But her parents disagreed, and now the might of Dr. Dobson was lumbering to their aid. “I would consider it murder,” he told the national TV audience, which had just seen ambiguous footage of Ms.


Schiavo in bed, fluttering her eyes. I was watching him from the other side of the studio glass. “She is not in a coma, she is not on life support, she is not in a persistent vegetative state.” All of these contentions were not only debatable, but practically medical misstatements — but Dr. Dobson kept smacking away at his simple points like a ball-return machine.


“I don’t believe in the right to die,” he said, the folksy voice masquerading the profoundly religious nature of his argument. “God is in control of her destiny.” Within weeks, Florida governor Jeb Bush and his legislature were trying to reverse the court order. Thanks to Dr. Dobson weighing in, at the time of writing, the fate of Terri Schiavo and her feeding tube is once again in limbo — but now in Washington, where the House and Senate are debating the matter. So far Terri Schiavo is still alive, which is a victory for Dr. Dobson. If she dies, she will still be fodder for his cause.


Publicly, of course, he never lets up; the moral sky is always falling. Privately he admits to being at least slightly chuffed by the re-election of Mr. Bush, whom he considers an even greater ally of family values than Ronald Reagan.


“A lot of people are encouraged by what has taken place,” he tells me the next day. “Not only is there a Christian in the White House, but the top four leaders of the House of Representatives are Christians, and the top three leaders of the Senate are Christians. And because of those three branches of government, the chance of reforming the judiciary is certainly a possibility.” Remaking the Supreme Court is Dr. Dobson’s new holy grail, a last big chance to prevent the secularization of American morals. “Most of the problems we have today come from what I consider to be an out of control court.” He traces the court’s efforts to limit religious liberty from the prohibition on Bible reading and prayer in schools in the 1960s to his latest bugbear, the Lawrence vs. Texas case, “which for the first time said there was a constitutional right to sodomy.” That’s prime-cut Dobsonian rhetoric: What the court actually decided was that it was unconstitutional to make sodomy legal for heterosexual couples but against the law for gays. But “a constitutional right to sodomy” has that repeatable Dobson ring. “What the unelected, unaccountable court is doing,” Dr. Dobson claims, “is making more and more of the significant moral decisions that really ought to be made by the citizenry.” What makes Dobson so formidable as a lobbyist, apart from his carborundum hide, is his moral certainty, which in turn sounds like clarity — a certainty born of his stanchion-like faith in God and the Bible and its laws. Unlike the Pats (Robertson and Buchanan), unlike Jerry Falwell, Dr. Dobson’s simple faith isn’t angry, or dogmatic, or hectoring, or shaming or superior: It just is. But it’s also bottomless. “I know who I am,” Dr. Dobson likes to say, “because I know whose I am.” What Dobson wants for all God’s children, in other words, is what every child wants at home — a steady, reliable presence; a firm, secure place to confront unpredictable life. The history of civilization is in many ways the same argument over and over again, between those willing to let men live as men are, and those who insist society can’t survive without firm rules. Dr. Dobson is on the side of rules.


“It’s very easy,” he says, “to look back to the Forties and Fifties — and I lived through it — through rose-covered glasses. I mean, there was terrible racism at that time, that the white community didn’t even recognize. And there were other things that were not what they should be. But the culture at that time largely supported the Judeo-Christian system of values. Not that everyone was Christian, but the value system of Christianity was largely accepted.


“And the most important thing was, the community felt the responsibility to teach those values to children. And now those values are under attack, by Hollywood, by the music industry, by the Internet, by pornography.” It was later, as I read more about Dr. Dobson, that I began to see how often and how passionately he talks about heaven. A ferocious health nut — he brags that he has missed only 14 days of exercise in 11 years — Dr. Dobson suffered a stroke last year, a consequence of a heart attack 10 years earlier. He missed three days of work, but the experience just convinced him of what he’d find on the other side of death.


“I fully believe that I’ve got many family members that are there in heaven,” he told me as our conversation drew to a close on my last afternoon in Colorado Springs. “I believe I’m going to see them again. That drives me more than anything else. Sure it does.


“I mean, I’m 68 years old. And I know that time is short. So I’m much more motivated by the desire to please the Lord than I am to please man.” That, in the end, is why Dr. Dobson believes so fervently in the family as God’s instrument. “That all goes together.” he went on, and by then the light had gone gold the way it does early in the afternoon in a mountain town. “Because if my children don’t make it to heaven I’ll never see ‘em again. So that’s the driving force of parenting — to introduce your children to Jesus Christ and to help them be productive in his work. This may sound really strange to you. But that’s right. There’s only one way to heaven,” Dobson added. “Jesus said, ‘I’m the way, the truth and the light. And no one comes to the Father but through me.’ He is the one.” You might expect a man who says he first tried to pray as a one-year-old baby, before he could speak, to live that way — as the sages advise, “with eternity’s values in view.” But Dr. Dobson had that lesson burnt into him in a more personal way as well. One morning in 1988, after a game of pickup, his friend Pete Maravich, the pro-basketball Hall of Famer, died of a heart attack on the gymnasium floor, in Dr. Dobson’s arms. Mr. Maravich was 41.


That afternoon, Dr. Dobson took his 17-year-old son Ryan aside to remind him of the brevity of life, and to pass on his own last words, in case Ryan wasn’t around to hear them when the end came “My message to you,” he said, “is ‘Be there!’ Be there to meet your mother and me in heaven. We will be looking for you on that glad morning. Don’t let anything deter you from keeping that appointment.


“Because I am 51 years old and you are only 17, and as many as 50 years could pass from the time of my death to yours. That’s a long time to remember. But you can be sure that I will be searching for you just inside the Eastern gate.” What I couldn’t figure out is why that story shook me so much.


Not the part about Mr. Maravich, sad as it was. I mean the thought of Dr. Dobson talking to his son like that. I kept thinking how fiercely he must have loved his son to speak so starkly. Or maybe it was the brave old bully’s hopes for heaven: Who isn’t drawn to the longing ache never to leave one’s children, to meet once again the mother who left earth so early or the husband who fell so suddenly? My own hollow dread of inevitable death and heart-breaking grief was so profound I was willing to forgive anyone for imagining just about anything — even James Dobson, with what sometimes seemed to me his irresponsible habit of living for reward in heaven, all his lessons aimed at the unknowable future, while the rest of us battled on down here, unwashed and unclean and unsaved.


But then I thought, What if heaven isn’t there? I took great care on the highway to the airport the next morning.




**Fastest Growth of Christianity in Africa (Christian Post, 050301)


According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the southern hemisphere is taking the lead in growth figures for worshipers. Africa is leading the charge with 390 million Christians, more than three times than 35 years ago. The Head of the South African bishops shared recently shared his visions with the London Telegraph.


The research center is part of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.


Bishop Michael Coleman, the vice-president of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Southern Africa said to the London Telegraph, “We are seeing a shift from a Eurocentric base for the Christian churches to a more worldwide base, including Africa and South America.”


“Already, there’s a small movement sending African clergy to Europe to re-evangelise people there. The centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting to the south,” he continued.


Further statistics show that according to the projection of the current trend, Africa’s congregation is likely to grow by another 200 million by 2025. Europe’s Christians is expected to shrink by 17 million over the next two decades due to the aging congregations and the declining church service attendances.


Only 10 percent of Europe’s 531 million worshipers regularly attend services and in Britain, the figure falls to a shocking seven percent.


Bishop Coleman tried to analyse the reason behind this drastic transformation. He gave credit to the foreign missionaries, and a majority of Britons, who brought Christianity to Africa. However, he commented that compared to places that are abundant in physical wealth, the unprivileged countries are usually “fertile ground for the spread of Christianity”.


“There’s no doubt about that,” he said to the London Telegraph. “If you look elsewhere in the world, you find that people in the flush of newly acquired wealth find their existence through this wealth and they no longer turn to God.”


Despite Roman Catholics and Anglicans being the pioneers of Christianity in African countries and being the oldest established denominations in the world, Bishop Coleman observed that the evangelical movement in Africa is very active and has accounted for the overall development of Christianity in the continent.


The role of Africa’s satellite television channels in evangelism is remarkable, according to Bishop Coleman. They broadcast many Christian programs in both English and native languages. One evangelical channel, broadcast in Uganda, shows long queues of people, many claiming to be deaf, others blind or lame, who are apparently cured when a preacher lays hands on them one by one. In South Africa, a 24-hour premium rate telephone “prayer line” has been firmly established.


Bishop Coleman said that Roman Catholics and Anglicans are losing ground to these evangelicals. On the other hand, it is undeniable that they still account for about half of Africa’s Christians and the global hierarchy of these two churches is rising.


In a conference of 100 Catholic bishops and archbishops from Europe and Africa in November 2004, the initiative to “re-evangelise the West” was raised in the wake of the decline of Christianity in Europe. It was proposed that African priests from parts of the continent where vocations are thriving would send priests to parts of Europe that are desperate for clergy.


Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the President of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said, “I believe priests from places like Nigeria can re-evangelise Europe. Just 150 years ago, it was Europeans who were doing the evangelising. Now we should have the two Churches doing the work - Africa and Europe.”




**Update: Americans and Religion (Gallup, 041223)


Eighty-four percent of Americans identify with a Christian religion


PRINCETON, N.J. — The arrival of Christmas and the beginning of a new year provide Gallup an opportunity to review a year’s worth of data on Americans and their religion, with a special focus on Christmas. Here are 10 interesting observations:


1. Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans say it is OK for people to wish others “Merry Christmas” as a way of spreading holiday cheer.


There’s been a great deal of controversy this year over the secularization of Christmas. Some conservative and religious groups argue that the substitution of “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” for the traditional “Merry Christmas” (plus efforts to remove overt Christmas displays from public places and public schools) takes away from the true meaning of the holiday. Those in favor of the changes argue that an emphasis on Christmas and religion is offensive to those who are not Christians.


The Dec. 17-19 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans the following question: “Which comes closer to your view: People should avoid wishing others ‘Merry Christmas’ because they might offend someone who does not celebrate Christmas, (or) it is OK for people to wish others ‘Merry Christmas’ because it is a way of spreading holiday cheer?”


The answer? Eighty-eight percent of Americans say it is acceptable to use the traditional “Merry Christmas” greeting. Only 11% say that it should be avoided to be politically correct.


Interestingly, even 79% of Americans who do not identify with a Christian religion (i.e., either identify with a non-Christian religion or have no religious identity at all) believe that it is acceptable for people to wish others “Merry Christmas”.


2. Despite the strong agreement that it is OK to say “Merry Christmas”, the American public does not strongly agree that the tendency to substitute a more secular greeting has been a bad thing for society.


As you may know, many stores and other public institutions now use the words “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas” in their displays and in their interactions with the public. Do you think this is a change for the better or a change for the worse?


Change for
the better

Change for
the worse








2004 Dec 17-19





Additionally, a substantial percentage of Americans personally use the more secular greeting “Happy Holidays” at this time of year.


At this time of the year, which greeting would you be more likely to give to someone you just met — [ROTATED: “Happy Holidays” (or) “Merry Christmas”]?


“Happy Holidays”

“Merry Christmas”








2004 Dec 17-19





3. Most Americans — regardless of religious affiliation — celebrate Christmas.


Gallup polls conducted in 1994 and 2000 found that the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrated Christmas.


Do You Celebrate Christmas?




No opinion





2000 Dec 2-4








1994 Dec 16-18




* Less than 0.5%

4. More than 8 in 10 Americans are Christians.


About 84% of Americans identify with some form of Christianity — including those who say they are Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, or some other Christian religion. The rest of the American adult population has no religious identification (9%), identifies with a non-Christian religion (5%), or has no answer at all when asked about their religion. These estimates are based on a compilation of over 12,000 interviews conducted by Gallup in 2004.

America’s Religious Identification 2004
Based on 12,043 Gallup poll interviews conducted in 2004







Other Christian


Other, Non-Christian religion


No religious identification; atheists, agnostics


No response


5. Younger Americans are much less likely to identify as Protestant than are those who are older.

America’s Identification as “Protestant”
Based on 12,043 Gallup poll interviews conducted in 2004



18- to 29-year-olds


30- to 49-year-olds


50- to 64-year-olds


Age 65 and older


These significant age differences are correlated with two other age-related distinctions: Younger Americans are more likely than those who are older to say they are another Christian religion other than Protestant or Catholic, and younger Americans are more likely than those who are older to claim no religion.


It is quite possible that the word “Protestant” itself is recognized less by younger Americans today than it has been in the past. Gallup asks the respondent to choose among a series of labels, one of which is “Protestant”. Younger Americans who are members of denominations that would be traditionally identified as Protestant might not recognize the label and instead volunteer a specific denominational name, which in turn is reported in the Gallup survey results in the “other Christian” category. In other words, it may be that young people are not abandoning non-Catholic Christian denominations as much as they are abandoning the “Protestant” label.


6. The number of Americans who identify as Catholics has been remarkably constant for many years.


About one quarter of Americans are Catholic, a percentage that has changed very little over the past decade. The highest concentration of Catholics in America is in the East (37%). The lowest regional concentration of Catholics is in the South, where only 16% are Catholics. Although Hispanics are much more likely to be Catholics than the average American, the prevalence of the Catholic religion among Hispanics is by no means universal. Fifty-six percent of Hispanics identify as Catholic, 23% are Protestant, and 7% say they have no religious affiliation or identification.


7. Those with no religious preference are likely to be liberal, Democrats, younger, and to live in the West.


The 9% of Americans who say they do not identify with any religion whatsoever tend to be politically liberal, Democrats, independents, younger, living in the West, students, and those who are living with someone without being married.


This table displays the percentage within each of these subgroups who do not identify with any religion, or who explicitly say they are atheist or agnostic.

Americans who do not Identify with a Religion or are Atheist or Agnostic
Based on 12,043 Gallup poll interviews conducted in 2004



Liberal Democrats


Living together, not married


18- to 29-year-olds


Never married


Live in West


Politically independent




Men ages 18-49


8. More than 4 in 10 Americans attend church weekly.


The 2004 survey data continue to show that more than 4 out of 10 Americans claim to attend church on a regular basis. This conclusion is based on the responses to two questions. First, 44% of Americans say they attended church or synagogue within the last seven days prior to the interview. Second, 34% of Americans say they attend church at least once a week and another 10% say they go almost every week. (Only 14% of the public say they never attend church.)


How often do you attend church or synagogue — at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?


At least
once a


once a






































































































* Less than 0.5%



Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?














































These survey measures of church attendance have not changed materially during the last decade.


9. The demographics of church attendance


There are significant differences within subgroups of the American population in terms of self-reported church attendance:



10. Religion is very important to a majority of Americans.


Religion is very important to about 6 out of 10 Americans, while another quarter say that religion is fairly important in their lives. Only 16% of Americans in 2004 said that religion was not very important to them. This measure of the personal importance of religion to one’s daily life has not changed much during the last decade.


How important would you say religion is in your own life — very important, fairly important, or not very important?




Not very important








































































* Less than 0.5%

Religion is of most importance to women, blacks, older Americans, those living in the Midwest and South, those with lower levels of education and income, Republicans, conservatives, and Protestants.




**Mexico Becoming a Less Faith-Oriented Nation According to Survey (Christian Post, 041127)


A recent survey conducted by the World Values Survey, which took place in 81 countries shows that Mexico, like several other countries, is growing in number of people who stop practicing religion.


MEXICO CITY - A recent survey conducted by the World Values Survey, which took place in 81 countries shows that Mexico, like several other countries, is growing in number of people who stop practicing religion. The survey aimed at revealing changes in conduct of many societies focuses on analyzing various fundamental values such as politics, religion, economics, sexual behavior, gender roles, family values, community identity and civic participation.


According to this survey, the Mexican society is becoming a less faith-oriented society as statistics show that the number of people practicing religion declines by every survey. Today, 68 percent of Mexicans believe that religion is important in life, an almost 10 percent decrease of what it was a decade ago. 71 to 78 percent of people between ages of 30 to 60 believe that religion is important, and for adolescents religion is less attractive as only 59 percent believe that it plays a fundamental role in life. The survey also shows that rates vary among people with different incomes. While 70 percent of people with low income practice religion only 61 percent of people with high income do the same. The survey also reveals that 76 percent of all females practice religion while only 61 percent of males do the same. Mexico has the largest population of religion practitioners in Latin America and it’s placed third after El Salvador(87 percent) and Puerto Rico(76 percent) for percentage of believers over the country’s total population, source La Cronica de Hoy exposed.


While Catholicism is still the predominating religion in Mexico, many are turning away from this and other religions as they try to follow a more practical and less extreme way of living. Not only is this reflected in religion, but also in politics as Dr. Miguel Basañez of the Autonomous University of Mexico´s Institute of Social Investigations (UNAM) conducted a study on this matter. Basañez said, “We´re in an era where faithfulness to political strategies is disappearing. People support the movement that is most convenient for themselves and not for society in general. For example, people will switch political parties if they find one that will better satisfy their personal needs.”


As people abandon religion, Mexico, a traditionalist country that once held tightly onto it’s religious values that strictly disapproved abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and prostitution, is gradually changing into a tolerate and secularized nation that doesn’t condemn these acts anymore.


Percent of Population Considering Religion as Important

Indonesia 98%

Egypt 97%

Jordan 96%

El Salvador 87%

Iran 80%

Puerto Rico 76%

Mexico 68%

Brazil 65%

USA 57%

India 57%

Colombia 49%

Argentina 47%

Italy 33%

Canada 30%

Spain 19%

Netherlands 17%

Taiwan 13%

Great Britain 13%

Russia 12%

France 11%

Germany 9%

Japan 7%

Estonia 6%

China 3%




**Churchgoers Live Longer, Healthier Lives (CNN, 970714)


NEW YORK — People who regularly attend religious services appear to live longer, healthier lives than those who attend such services infrequently or not at all.


Researchers from the California Public Health Foundation and the California Department of Health Services conclude that being an active member of a religious organization can improve self-esteem, instill a sense of community, and encourage people to take good care of their health.


“Religious organizations are frequently involved in public health campaigns and supportive programs to assist marginal members of their communities,” added Dr. William J. Strawbridge, lead author of the study, which appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.


The 28-year study of 5,286 Californians found that frequent attenders of religious services had lower death rates, were more likely to stop smoking, exercised more, had more social contacts and stayed married longer than those who rarely or never attended church or other religious groups.


The religious faiths represented in the study were primarily Christian and included Protestants, Catholics, Fundamentalists, Seventh Day Adventist/Mormons and “others/none.”


The researchers speculate that religious people may derive psychological benefits from a belief in the healing ability of faith and may have better mental attitudes toward disease and death as a result of strong belief systems.


Another finding was that among religious men and women, women tended to have better overall health and lower death rates. Strawbridge and colleagues suggest that women are more likely than men to use their faith as a coping mechanism in dealing with life stress and illness.


Further study of how religious organizations affect behavior and attitude could help researchers find ways to improve health and well-being, especially among depressed and isolated elderly members of the community.


SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health (1997;87:957-961)




Godly nation took comfort from faith (London Times, 970822)


On Sunday, March 30, 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, a census was held throughout England and Wales to determine what proportion of the population attended church. Although the returns were never precisely enumerated, the overall figure appeared to be about 55 per cent, which many observers found disappointingly ­ if not shockingly ­ low. Today it seems astonishingly high.


We tend either to mock the Victorians for their credulity or to accuse them of hypocrisy in going through the motions of church attendance because society expected that they should. That does them a grave injustice.


There were doubters in plenty, and many of those who dressed up in their Sunday best to lead their families to church or chapel did not conspicuously apply Christian principles to their daily lives. The greatest religious revival since the Middle Ages was undermined by hostility between those who followed different rites of worship.


But there was a general acceptance that Britain was a Christian country, that its laws and customs were based on Christian tradition, and that the pursuit of moral and spiritual values was a necessary antidote to creeping materialism. Agnosticism was tolerated up to a point, particularly among poets, artists and others seen to be outside conventional bounds, but an avowed atheist had little chance of reaching high public office.


The vogue for “good works” creates images of middle-class matrons visiting the poor with Bibles, hampers and advice on hygiene. But the evangelism that strove to enlighten and improve the lot of the urban masses, built chapels in industrial wastelands and sought to carry the Gospel to the “heathen” outposts of the expanding Empire required a remarkable degree of altruism and self-sacrifice.


Evangelism in today’s secular climate provokes a certain discomfort. But in Victorian times it embraced a vibrant philanthropy in the form of schools and adult educational institutes, libraries and concert halls, hospitals and orphanages, missions to seamen and dockers, refuges for vagabonds and hostels to encourage criminals and prostitutes to abandon a life of vice.


The religious revival had begun some years before Victoria’s accession and had been given a significant boost by the Emancipation Act of 1829, which finally allowed Roman Catholics to stand for Parliament and to hold all but a handful of public offices. While the Catholics celebrated by building churches and schools in the new urban areas, the Church of England had to come to terms with the fact that its main strength remained in the countryside. It began a crash programme of urban church building.


The Nonconformists, or Dissenters, attracted vast numbers. In Wales, the Midlands and the North of England, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Unitarians preached judgment, damnation and the urgent need for spiritual renewal, a very different message from the comforting drone of evensong in the shade of immemorial elms. The Church of Scotland found itself abruptly torn apart by a splinter group which formed its own “free” Church.


Disunited though they were, the Protestant Churches were at one in their suspicion of Catholics, who flourished in such cities as London, Liverpool and Glasgow, and in the Lancashire mill towns. Among intellectuals, the Oxford Movement, the conversion ­ or desertion ­ of John Henry Newman and the influence upon Anglicans of the Catholic revival rang alarm bells. The decision to re-establish Catholic dioceses was portrayed as an attempt by the papacy to undermine the monarchy, leading to a series of riots in 1851.


The Christian ethic prevailed at least until the onset of the First World War, which heralded a more cynical age. Many Victorians were undoubtedly dragooned into churchgoing by pressures from their employers or the rural squirearchy. But millions derived comfort from their faith and went to their deaths hoping at least that a better world awaited them.




Churches ponder mighty revival: Is another coming? (Washington Times, 970902)


The Ketoctin Baptist Church in Round Hill, its walls stained with the prayer and praise of Colonial patriots, is stone quiet now. But there’s a history here.


A memorial service held here every June evokes vivid memories of how the congregation survived the American Revolution — and of the thundering preachers of the First Great Awakening. Historians can’t agree on what really happened in that religious outpouring of repentance and salvation in the 13 Colonies more than 200 years ago. But the idea of a dramatic and mysterious “awakening” still inspires the American soul.


The quickening of American religious life in recent years, with its impact on personal, cultural and political life, provokes a question in the minds of many observers of the American scene: Is there a new great awakening under way? Taken as a local event, the Virginia revivals of old involved Presbyterians, Baptists and particularly Methodists. They erupted before and after the Revolution, and led to great growth in church membership.


“On a local scale, I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again,” says Leslie Purtlebaugh of Winchester, whose ancestors attended Ketoctin. “The times are so different, of course.”


It’s difficult to see how a religious resurgence could touch 263 million Americans in the way it touched the 2.8 million Americans in 1787.


“It is possible there will be a renewal of religion, but I’m not sure a whole society will be caught up in it,” says Edwin S. Gaustad, a historian of religious awakenings. “I don’t see it having any great change on the order of society. We are not a national audience. We are a collection of audiences.”


Those caught up in the religious excitement, however, see no bounds. The Assemblies of God, a fast-growing Pentecostal denomination, made its 1997 theme “Lord, send a revival.”


Assemblies General Superintendent Thomas Trask told 15,000 clergy and laity gathered this month for a national council that they were in a “Last Days revival” that must reach the masses as a “harvest of lost men and women.”


“I believe that it is happening, but I don’t believe that we have arrived yet,” he says.


In Colonial times, Ketoctin Church had been organized by Regular Baptists, one of many branches of the historic Baptist faith, men and women who took a calm approach to their Calvinist faith. Miss Purtlebaugh’s research found they were fairly well-to-do, defying the stereotype of Baptists as poor and uneducated.


In contrast, the Virginia revival was driven by enthusiastic Separate Baptists, who were given to shouts, weeping and falling on the ground. The enthusiasts had split several nearby churches, but at Ketoctin, Miss Purtlebaugh says, “I found no evidence that they had problems with Separate Baptists.”


Though it was an “unlettered” zeal that moved the Separates, their sheer energy matured over 30 years, helped Baptists grow in Northern Virginia and bolstered a union of Baptists in the state in 1787. At the close of this century, there are significant religious ripples but no major tidal wave, says pollster George Gallup.


“There’s no evidence of a renewal or awakening on a national scale,” Mr. Gallup says. “Religious observation for the most part has been flat from 1947 to the present.”


That half-century plateau has averaged 42 percent church and synagogue attendance, with 65 percent of those surveyed proclaiming a religious affiliation. Meanwhile, Mr. Gallup says, there remains a yawning gap between Americans’ religious belief and their ethical behavior, knowledge of religious doctrine, and time spent doing good works in the name of God.


Only 13 percent of the population closes those gaps, his polling shows. He calls this group the “saints among us” because they are prayerful, tolerant, sacrificial, contented and true to the demands of their religious faith.


“In view of all the distractions and temptations of modern life, the positive spin is that organized religion has helped society maintain this level,” he says.


When Americans think of revival today, they may fix on the image of 2.6 million men singing, shouting repentance and vows to do better, often accompanied by tears, at the rallies of the Promise Keepers, who have filled 60 stadiums across America.


“In the near future, newspapers will need a revival beat to keep up,” says Steve Chavis, spokesman for the Promise Keepers.


In October, the group hopes to draw an unprecedented number of men to the Mall, expressing their faith the old-fashioned way — on their knees repenting before God.


Protestants make up 56 percent of the U.S. population, and about half of them described themselves as “born again,” having accepted Christ as personal Savior and following Him as if a newborn child. Nearly a quarter of evangelicals are Pentecostals, who believe in “gifts of the Spirit” — and thus constantly look for revival.


Revival is not a common term in Roman Catholicism — which comprises more than a quarter of the U.S. population — but has its times of intense outreach and zeal. With less than three years until 2000, Pope John Paul II has urged believers to make an annual pilgrimage, symbolic of sojourns to Rome and the Holy Land.


“We’ve seen an increase in pilgrimages to the shrine since the pope issued his letter on the millennium,” says Kevin Mukri, spokesman at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the District.


“What I see is revivals as almost a congregational phenomenon,” says Jay Dolan, a Catholic historian at the University of Notre Dame. “Catholics used to call these missions.”


The religious orders, by dint of preaching, baptisms and Mass, built the Catholic faith earlier in this century. The formula may be no different today, he says.


Mr. Dolan says that where clergy and teachers come and speak for a week, or where a six-week, small-group program called “Renew” is used, parish and diocesan life quickens.


“Renew creates an atmosphere where conversion can happen,” says Bill Reilly, who attended the three-year cycle in Baltimore. “A person comes to own his own faith.”


Whatever the external excitement evoked by the term “revival,” the quiet deepening of faith typified by Renew also has been present in past awakenings, historians note.


In Colonial times, there was fiery preaching on the Boston Common, but also a pietistic renewal in colonies with many Dutch settlers.


The famous 1858 “prayer revival,” built on meetings of businessmen in New York, New England and the Midwest who shared their faith on the newfangled telegraph, was a quiet, indoor event. But it became famous because the new mass-circulation newspapers covered it daily.


At Oak Chapel United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, the Rev. William Boyer believes an awakening of sorts has come to parishioners through an intense, nine-month Bible study called Disciple.


“I think the word ‘revival’ works today, because it can be an individual thing, or in a church or across the nation,” Mr. Boyer says. After 17 years in ministry, he sees Disciples’ ability to induce 500,000 people to study Scripture in the past decade as a religious stirring.


What Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow has called the “quiet revolution” — Americans looking for meaning in small groups — can be seen in some key social measures:


* Some 30 million to 40 million Americans attend small-group Bible study or Sunday school, and there are 500,000 self-help groups nationwide.


* Religious sites are second only to sexually oriented sites in the number of “hits,” or readings, on the Internet. A site listing 70 evangelical ministries gets 600,000 hits a day.


* Each week, a quarter of Americans watch religious television programs, and 20 million tune in to religious radio broadcasts.


* Religious-book sales have doubled since 1991 to 78 million a year, or 8 percent of all books.




Three Major Religious Holidays Converge (CNN, 980410)


JERUSALEM — Christian pilgrims marked Good Friday, Jews prepared for Passover and Muslims held Eid al-Adha prayers as the faithful flocked to Jerusalem in a convergence of the three religious holidays.


Israeli soldiers, cradling assault rifles, lined the narrow alleyways of the Old City on heightened alert for revenge attacks by the Muslim militant Hamas group following the mysterious death last week of master bombmaker Muhyideen al-Sharif.


On the Via Dolorosa, where the Stations of the Cross mark significant points along Jesus’ route to the site of the crucifixion almost 2,000 years ago, pilgrims from around the world used the Bible as their guide to walk in his footsteps.


“The Old City is beautiful. I cannot describe it. It is like Jesus is walking among us. But it is sad that the people of Jerusalem are suffering like Jesus,” said George Constantinos, 63, from Rhodes, as he wiped tears from his eyes.


“I feel there is oppression in the air. I just feel if Christ would come back he would be crucified again,” said Tony Stanfield, from Traverse City, Michigan, carrying a large cross.


At sunset, Jews begin the eight-day Passover holiday of deliverance from slavery in ancient Egypt. Israeli markets were crowded with last-minute shoppers before the traditional “seder” meal during which the saga of the biblical exodus is read.


In a Passover interview, Israeli President Ezer Weizman lamented the year-long stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians.


“It is not just standing still, it is flat on its back,” said the outspoken Weizman, whose post is largely ceremonial.


While Christian hymns echoed around the walls of the Old City, thousands of Muslims chanted Friday prayers, on the Feast of the Sacrifice, in the silver-domed al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.


Many of the congregates had waited, held back by Israeli troops, along the Via Dolorosa for the Christian processions to pass before making their way to al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Harem al-Sharif.


At the front of the procession, an elderly man in a loincloth, a crown of thorns on his head and a heavy cross on his shoulder, re-enacted Jesus’s death march. “Blood” in the form of red paint dripped from his face.


“Jesus needs your help. Who is going to help him?” a man dressed as a Roman soldier shouted, bringing the Scriptures to life.


“This is the most painful day, the most thoughtful day for any Christian,” said Campbell Leggat from London.




More Companies Offering Religion as Benefit (CNN, 980319)


NEW YORK — At the Country Table, a restaurant in Mount Joy, Pa., owner Reba Buckwalter decided to provide more than just salaries and health insurance for her employees. She wanted to extend coverage for their souls.


So last year Buckwalter, a devout, born-again Christian, began spending $1,600 a month on chaplains to counsel her staff through stressful times.


“I know these chaplains pray fervently for each of the employees that they’re in contact with,” said Buckwalter. “And I strongly believe that prayer is a powerful tool whether the employee knows that it’s being used or not.”


Employer-sponsored chaplains are nothing new in the United States. In fact, the service dates back to the 1640s, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony required employers to provide clergymen for their workers, particularly ones who were laboring on Sunday. As representatives of their faith rather than their employers, chaplains offered a safe outlet for workers to unload their concerns.


In recent times, chaplain counseling evolved mostly into the secular field of employee-assistance programs. But now it seems to be returning to its religious roots, especially among companies in the South and other outposts of the Bible Belt like Pennsylvania.


Spiritual Health Is Good Business Diana Dale, president of the National Institute for Business and Industrial Chaplains, estimates that the number of chaplains in the U.S. workplace is over 4,000, not counting the profession’s established place in hospitals and the military. While some praise the move to address spiritual health at work, others worry it could prove exclusive or offensive to non-Christian employees.


“I think chaplains are really genuinely trying to help others in the workplace. It’s a well-intended movement,” said Laura Nash, professor of business ethics, corporate culture and religion at Boston University. “But their job is to talk to people when they’re down. And when you’ve got them, the temptation is to try and convert them, too.”


While businesses may not discriminate on the basis of religion, there is no law against mixing church and state in the private sector. In fact, the Clinton administration issued guidelines last year requiring that even government employers make space for religion in the workplace.


Still, providing religion in the workplace is a step beyond permitting it. Some employers justify the extra measure of hiring chaplains as a profitable move.


“Employers are recognizing it’s good business to take a more holistic approach to employment,” said Laura Pincus, director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. “If an employee wants a chaplain, it’s worth it to give her one. She’s going to feel more satisfied and fulfilled at work.”


Gary Heinke works as a chaplain at five area businesses in Pennsylvania, including the Country Table. He wears a beeper strapped to his belt at all times because, like most professional chaplains, his hours and duties are random. He’s often up before dawn to check in with Reba Buckwalter’s waitstaff before the shift gets busy. He stops in during the late-late shift at Weaber’s Saw Mill in Lebanon county, and he makes frequent trips to area hospitals to visit ailing employees or their relatives.


Chaplains for All?


Heinke calls himself a chaplain for all people — Jews, Buddhists and Muslims — even though he is a trained Baptist. And while he generally won’t broach the issue of religion unless an employee brings up the subject, he admits it’s a hard subject to avoid. “In counseling there’s going to come a time when faith enters a natural point in the conversation,” he said. “Employees will initiate questions about faith, but there are also times when we say things like, ‘Hey, would you mind if we prayed for you?’ Or, ‘Would you mind hearing about our faith?’”


Marketplace Ministries, the Dallas-based company that placed Heinke and places over 400 chaplains in more than 270 workplaces across the United States, claims no attachment to any particular religion. The self-declared nonprofit charges companies between $185 and $10,000 a month for the service, depending on their size.


Art Stricklin, the company’s director of Ministry Relations, emphasizes that their chaplains do not “beat people over the head with a Bible,” but are simply there if workers want to use them. The company also keeps a list of Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist chaplains they can call on if the need arises.


In an example Stricklin often cites, Marketplace Ministries once provided a Buddhist monk to direct the funeral service of a Vietnamese factory worker who had died of a heart attack. The freelance Buddhist conducted the service while the company’s Christian chaplain looked on.


“The Marketplace Ministries staff is culturally diverse and nondenominational, serving individuals of all religious preferences, as well as those with none,” reads the company’s fact sheet.


Undeniably Christian Roots


Still, no matter how secular the chaplain service may purport to be, there is no denying its Christian roots. In fact, Marketplace Ministries’ founding charter reveals very non-secular intentions.


In its 1983 Articles of Incorporation, the company cites as its first purpose “To be a Christian-oriented organization that is established to project biblical principles for successful living to people in the marketplace.” The second stated purpose lists methods the company will use “to teach formulas for successful Christian living now.”


Dale, a chaplain who heads the national institute for chaplains and who offers her services through her own chaplain service, the Institute of Worklife Ministry, believes professional training is what can help chaplains separate counseling from proselytizing. She claims most chaplains who market themselves under small nonprofits are certified in some kind of management training.


“Clinically trained chaplains are explicit about the fact that we don’t have a hidden agenda,” she said. “They understand the boundaries of respect and know their purpose for coming in.”


Marketplace Ministries’ chaplains do receive some training, according to Stricklin, under a brief, seven-step course from the company. But more importantly, he says, Marketplace Ministries requires that chaplains hold work experience outside of religious service to ensure they have experience in the “secular world.”


Regardless of their training, workplace chaplains always draw their motivation from the same source — their religion. Nash believes the danger lies in trying to “gloss over” the inevitable complications that arise when work and religion mix.


So far, Buckwalter reports she hasn’t received one complaint about the three chaplains Marketplace Ministries has been providing her staff. “It’s not about shoving religion down people’s throats,” she said.


Offending people of different religions hasn’t been a problem for Buckwalter either, due to at least one simple reason: “With the exception of one Buddhist, we have no one here from other religious backgrounds,” she explained. “As far as I know.”




Church to market Cross as brand image (London Times, 980413)


THE Church of England is adopting modern management techniques, including marketing the Cross as a “brand image”, in a desperate attempt to halt the decline in attendance.


Moreover, poor management means that some people have become priests who were never suitable for the job, according to the Right Rev Michael Turnbull, the Bishop of Durham.


No member of the clergy has been disciplined over doctrine or ritual for 33 years, although a range of offences covering poor performance, drunkenness, improper relationships and fiddling the books happen regularly without punishment, according to a report in today’s edition of People Management magazine.


The survey of the management overhaul taking place in the Church comes as regular Sunday attendance has slumped to its lowest on record. In the latest figures available, for 1995, Sunday attendance fell by 35,000 to 1,045,300. The previous year it fell by 10,000, and in 1993 it fell by 30,000. If the trend continues, Sunday attendance for 1996 could see Church attendance below the one million mark for the first time since figures began in 1968. For the first time, the Church of England has decided not to publish its annual statistics this spring, further fuelling speculation that attendances have dropped below one million.


This performance is particularly disappointing because it has happened during the Decade of Evangelism, scheduled to end at the millennium, and which it was hoped would boost Church attendance across all denominations. According to the report, the number attending Church of England services could fall as low as 831,000 by the millennium.


“The public perception is of a Church in perpetual crisis,” the magazine, the publication of the Institute of Personnel and Development, says. “Whenever the Church hits the headlines, the plot seems reminiscent of a Molière farce.”


Regular clergy appraisals are among the new management techniques to be introduced. The Church will soon recommend that the 43 dioceses put in place two clergy review systems, one to be carried out by trained consultants and the other to be an “episcopal review” by the bishop or a member of his staff.


Bishop Turnbull said: “What we have learnt from business organisation techniques is the value of discipline about our work. People have a right to expect certain standards when they come into a church. Poor management has undoubtedly contributed to some people remaining in the priesthood when they were never suitable for it, although they have thankfully remained a tiny minority.”


Canon Raymond Rodger, personal assistant to the Right Rev Robert Hardy, Bishop of Lincoln, and who has helped to set up the first masters degree in church management at Lincoln, said the notion of the Cross becoming a brand image was useful. “It is our job to extract the best that successful corporations have to offer and use it in our context,” he said. “We have to think in terms of exceeding customer delight. What we have to offer is the glory of God, and we have got to give the very best service to our customers in terms of added value and value for money that we can. Our product is quite simply allowing people to come closer to God.”


Clergy are to be offered a new device for their protection -a crucifix with an integral alarm. Avon Silversmiths plans to launch the product, which costs £169, at the annual National Christian Resources Exhibition next month. One tug is said to be enough to activate the device.




In the Future, Psychiatrists Will Study Spirituality (CNN, 980417)


NEW YORK — The National Institute for Healthcare Research, a nonprofit organization that studies the connections between spirituality and health, is funding courses at seven US medical schools so that future psychiatrists can learn how to address their patients’ spiritual needs.


“Patient spirituality certainly is becoming more of a mainstream issue,” Dr. David B. Larson, president of NIHR, said in an interview with Reuters.


“This is a major step forward, to see leading departments of psychiatry take this on.”


The medical schools receiving $15,000 grants are Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York; Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Loma Linda University School of Medicine, California; University of California San Francisco School of Medicine; and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pa.


Larson told Reuters that the courses will address “how to ask the questions, how to handle religion in care — when is it helpful, when is it harmful — how to deal with the conflicts, how the different faith traditions look at mental healthcare, and when to refer to clergy or chaplains.”


“Mental health professionals sometimes tell patients, many times inadvertently, ‘It’s your religion that’s causing a lot of your problem,”‘ Larson said.


“That may be the case for a small minority, but spirituality is a factor that helps patients in their social support and helps in their coping.


Even if they’re not utilizing it well at the time, we may want to reconsider its relevance to how they handle their psychiatric problems.”


According to a statement released by the NIHR, “Thirty-three percent of Americans surveyed said religion is the most important thing in their lives and 20 percent of psychiatric patients surveyed believed their illness was a result of sin.” In light of these statistics, the NIHR says, “it is imperative that future psychiatrists be trained to deal with spiritual issues in patient care.”




Activists around the world fighting for religious liberty (Foxnews, 980626)


Religious liberty has become a global crusade of the 1990s. While political freedom has blossomed in the post-Cold War world, new restrictions on religion - from city ordinances in the United States to sectarian violence abroad - have increased, a growing alliance of activists say.


The new enemies of religious liberty: nationalism, growing bureaucracies, resurgent Islam, holdout former Communist states and a backlash against the rise of pluralism in a growing number of countries around the globe.


Washington is getting a taste of the popular pull of the movement as two dozen bands staged a pair of huge concerts on June 13-14 at RFK Stadium to protest Chinese oppression of political and religious freedom in Tibet.


What unites this new chorus of voices defending religious rights, from the U.S. Congress to human rights activists and scholars of law and religion, is an effort to place the violations against freedom of faith, from the most minor to the most egregious, on one continuum of liberty.


“You could find people of almost any religion in the world who are being persecuted today,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, testified in House hearings on the issue last month.


New global freedoms have led to clashes involving old religious rivals and new proselytizers, said John Witte, director of Emory University’s law and religion program.


“It is one of the bitter fruits of the religious liberty revolution around the world,” he said.


Later this month, Mr. Witte will convene a Washington forum on “the problem of proselytizing in the new world order,” part of a three-year, problem-solving project.


Religious freedom also has been at the heart of several recent legislative battles on Capitol Hill.


To address such human rights violations abroad, the House has passed and the Senate is considering a bill that would require the Clinton administration to impose economic sanctions on nations that persecute believers.


On the domestic front, Republicans Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah introduced a bill to re-establish the protections for religious groups against burdens imposed by state and local government regulation — reviving a 1993 law struck down by the Supreme Court just last year.


Such is the broad and diverse scope of the new interest in religious liberty, said Winston Frost, dean of Trinity Law School.


“In America, religious freedom is about accommodation to menorahs and creches and discussions in public schools,” he said. “Elsewhere in the world, it means giving your life for what you believe.”


Nearly every nation pays homage in its constitution to freedom of conscience and belief, and most have signed the postwar Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


“What our battle is about is to promote the reality of religious freedom as opposed to amending constitutions,” said Bruce Casino, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom.


He said the tension between those promises of freedom and a regime’s need to keep “public order” is central to the loss of liberty.


The primacy of public order now is being evoked by increasing numbers of government authorities even in the developed democracies of Western Europe, said Jurgen Warnke, a Frankfurt lawyer with the International Academy for Freedom of Religion and Belief.


He cited an Austrian law passed in December that creates three tiers of legality, excluding such well-known denominations as Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses from some social privileges and relegating newer faiths, from Scientology to Hare Krishna, to private worship alone.


“This is not in compliance with international agreements,” Mr. Warnke said.


He said nations in Eastern Europe think differently about legal protections for religion. In Romania, he said, a draft constitution includes 18 legal religions but no individual religious rights.


A new Russian law, enacted in September, also puts a priority on public order over liberty. Four historic religions are given special status, while the Catholic Church is a minority that must register to operate legally. Churches that were not registered 15 years ago cannot now obtain legal status.


“Each parish must register, and whether there will be problems has to do with local officials,” said Archbishop Thaddaeus Kondrusiewicz, the spiritual leader of Catholics in Russia. “Practically, missionary activity by us is forbidden.”


If Orthodoxy is predominant in the East, Catholicism is the controlling heritage in Latin America.


“Twenty Latin American republics guarantee religious freedom, including Cuba,” said the Rev. Julio Lillan, a Pentecostal in Venezuela and head of the Interdenominational Evangelical Federation.


Yet even in the new democracies, he noted, a growing religious nationalism has led Catholics in government to curtail the rights of Protestant evangelicals working in their countries.


But government suspicions of competing religious groups in Europe and Latin America pale next to active official state persecution of believers in many countries.


Human rights experts say the persecution has reached its deadly zenith in Sudan, where 1.5 million Christians, animists and moderate Muslims have been killed by the state policy of Islamic fundamentalists.


Nina Shea of Freedom House, a human rights watchdog group, said this has been the worst century in history for persecution of Christians.


“In sheer absolute numbers, this century has also been one of the bloodiest, if not the bloodiest, for Jews, Buddhist and Baha’is,” she added. “In the current period, the Middle East is one of the fiercest opponents of religious minorities.” In Saudi Arabia, secret police monitor homes for outlawed Christian worship services and immigrant workers who violate the ban reportedly have been beheaded, she said.


“Muslim societies are not uniformly hostile to religious minorities,” Miss Shea said, noting that Jordan allows religious education for Christians in its public schools.


The growing abuses in predominantly Islamic nations have inspired a backlash against Muslim immigrants, who number 8 million in Western Europe.


In Frankfurt, Germany, recently, the mayor refused a Muslim request to build a mosque because in Turkey the government has stood by as Muslim mobs burned Christian churches.


In Asia’s young democracies, religious tolerance typically relies on political stability, said Michael Young of Columbia University.


“The higher the degree of legitimacy, the higher the government’s confidence in its ability to rule, the more space it gives religion,” Mr. Young said. “The less confidence and the lower degree of legitimacy, the persecution tends to increase rather dramatically.”


Communist China’s new 1994 law, which seeks to control recurring outbreaks of religion expression among the masses, has become a new kind of regulatory system, Mr. Young said.


The law says religion cannot “disrupt the unification of the country, national unity or social stability.” Analysts say officials in Beijing adopted this approach after seeing the key role played by church leaders in Eastern Europe in the collapse of Communist regimes in the late 1980s.


Mr. Young lauded Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines for their tolerance of differing religions.


Yet even the democracies of the world have tightened the screws on religious pluralism.


Israel’s Orthodox parties ban non-Orthodoxy clergy and last month the Knesset passed the first reading of an anti-missionary law with a three-year jail sentence for anyone trying to change someone’s religion.


Western Europe, preparing for economic and regulatory unity within the European Union, has narrowed the definition of religion, said Massimo Introvigne, a Catholic lawyer and professor who heads the Center for the Study of New Religions in Turin, Italy.


“In order to maintain this facade of religious freedom in European countries, they say some groups are not a religion,” he said




Graham ‘saves’ 1,500 more souls in Ottawa (Ottawa Citizen, 980626)


20,000 admirers pack Corel Centre


Rev. Billy Graham preached the love of God last night, and the capital loved him for it.


The world’s best-known and most sucessful evangelist drew an overflow crowd of about 20,000 to the Corel Centre, got a standing ovation when he came on stage, and persuaded another 1,500 people to commit themselves to following Jesus. That added a few more to his lifetime total of more than three million souls “saved” in 50 years of evangelism.


“We live in a suffering, hurting world, of disease, poverty, loneliness, unemployment, family problems, AIDS, murder statistics, and divorce,” said Mr. Graham on the first night of his four-day mission in Ottawa.


“We believe there is something wrong with human nature today, and many of our televison screens are full of what is wrong. ... We don’t get a lot of answers, we get a lot of discussion from psychologists and panelists, but the real answer is found in the Bible.”


Mr. Graham said his brain is too small to understand a God that, according to the Bible, created billions of galaxies, and can be found in all corners of the universe at once.


“I am asked, ‘Do you have hard scientific evidence that God exists?’ No, I don’t. I don’t believe the existence of God can be proven by science, or be ... seen on a computer screen. But that does not mean He is not real.”


Mr. Graham said that the science magazine Discovery recently reported that few astrophysicists are atheists any more, and said that one of the world’s most distinguished scientists, after studying the origins of the universe for years, became a Christian because he concluded that the universe could only have been created by God.


Mr. Graham said the ills of our world are explained by the fact that humans have broken God’s laws, and the solution is to turn to Him and ask for forgiveness and divine help in bettering our way of living.


“The Bible also teaches that God is a God of love. That’s the one thing I want you to remember when you leave here: God loves you,” he said.


Mr. Graham urged members of the crowd: “Don’t leave this place until you make that commitment (to following Jesus), because this may be your only chance. This is your moment. This whole mission was planned for you.”


More than 1,500 people responded to Mr. Graham’s invitation. As the choir sang Just As I Am, men, women and children began to stand in their seats, then make their way down the aisles to the floor of the Corel Centre in front of Mr. Graham.


Some were weeping, others beaming. Many were accompanied by the Christian friends or relatives who had brought them. Trained counsellors also began to move out of the front rows of the arena to match themselves up by age and gender with the members of the crowd. They took down their names, addresses, and denominational backgrounds, and provided them with simple literature on studying the Bible. If all goes as expected, all will be contacted by local churches within the next few days




Change to Lord’s Prayer rejected (London Times, 980702)


The General Synod has been saved from the temptation of introducing a new version of the Lord’s Prayer into its authorised prayer book. It threw out a version of the Lord’s Prayer that substitutes “save us from the time of trial” for “lead us not into temptation”. There was dismay when the synod attempted last November to introduce a modern-language text, drawn up by the English Liturgical Language Consultation, to the Church’s liturgy. It was argued that the word “trial” was a more accurate translation of the Greek than “temptation”; and that God would not “lead” a person into temptation in any case.


The modern version was to have appeared in the service book being drawn up to replace the 1980 Alternative Service Book in 2000. But now the Church is likely to keep the version in the Alternative Service Book, alongside a traditional version. Dr David Hope, the Archbishop of York, said familiarity with a known version of the Lord’s Prayer was a legitimate consideration.




Majority in U.S. See Decline in Religion’s Influence, Poll Shows (Foxnews, 020320)


WASHINGTON — The public’s belief that religion is playing an increasing role in American life grew sharply in the months after Sept. 11, but now has slipped back again, a poll found.


Polls taken near the end of the year showed more than three-fourths of the public felt the influence of religion on American life was increasing. The poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed that more than half — 52 percent — now think religion’s effect is in decline — about the same number who felt that way a year ago.


“Religion was in the air after Sept. 11 in a way that hadn’t been the case for a long time and may not be the case for a long time in the future,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the center. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic change disappear so quickly.”


Kohut said there was a great deal of religion involved in public discussions of the attacks and “an awful lot of people were praying.”


By a 2-1 margin, people said the September terrorist attacks were the result of too little religion in the world rather than too much. But many also acknowledged the role that religion plays in conflict. Two-thirds said religion plays a significant role in most wars and conflicts in the world.


The poll also found that:


• More than six in 10 — 63 percent — said religion is very important in their lives and another 24 percent said it is fairly important. That’s higher than 20 years ago, when approximately half said it was very important.


• While the public holds a generally favorable view of Muslims in this country, people were about evenly divided on their overall opinion of Islam, the Muslim religion.


• Half said Islam is no more likely than other religions to encourage violence. When people were asked whether “some religions” are more likely to encourage violence than others, almost half agreed, and four in 10 disagreed.


The poll of 2,002 adults was taken for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life from Feb. 25-March 10 and has an error margin of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.




The Unchurched: A new study puts Washington as the second most irreligious state. I’m not so sure (National Review Online, 020924)


New polling data says my state, Washington, is the second most unchurched in the nation, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. And that subjective impression — which you would share if you too had moved here from a place like Manhattan or Washington, D.C. — is worth understanding.


In Manhattan, one encounters a minority of active Catholics and Orthodox Jews, who are assumed to have commuted in from the outer boroughs. On the subways you see black women thumbing through small faded leather Bibles. Otherwise, in my ten years there I can’t remember meeting a single person enthusiastically committed to the nation’s dominant faith, Protestantism, much less an evangelical. Overall the feeling was that religion, if it exists, is an attenuated phenomenon of the mysterious, forbidden between the Hudson and East rivers.


I came out to Seattle from New York three years ago and was immediately struck by the religiosity of my new metro area. The sprawling eastside suburbs are suffused with evangelical Christianity.


I saw the difference the first morning I was here: In a Starbucks, a young white guy reading a Bible. You would never see that in Manhattan. The pattern has persisted. I’m at a Wells Fargo bank, asking an investment adviser about mutual funds, and the guy starts telling me what his pastor was talking about in church the other week. A dapper older black guy sells me a used Volvo and starts telling me about his church. At a Jewish Sabbath lunch of all places, another guest who happens not to be Jewish gets into a conversation with me and very sweetly starts witnessing to me right there.


It’s the people you become friendly with just randomly because they happen to be pleasant and interesting: Christians, Christians, Christians. Not infrequently you hear the phrase, used casually in conversation, “He’s a Christian,” meaning approximately, “He’s got an intense Christian spiritual life nourished in an evangelical church.” (Strangely, by convention, Catholics are not called “Christians.)


No one denies that Washington is a liberal-leaning state, and liberalism means secularism. (The same day that polling data was released, the state Supreme Court ruled that a guy who used his camera to film up into a woman’s dress had committed no crime because they were both in a public place.) Yet, among the 50 states, the Glenmary Research Center, out of Nashville, Tenn., rates us behind only Oregon in irreligiosity.


This is a puzzle until you reflect on the frame of reference you bring to bear if, like me, you spent most of your adult life in one of a handful of big American cities that are really, really secular — New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco. Looked at from the viewpoint of a Manhattanite, any state in America will seem to be a fever swamp of religious enthusiasm — even Washington State.


This tells you something about those few super-secular cities: how isolated they are from the life of the country, a life that’s profoundly Christian. And it tells you something about the industries found predominantly in those cities: the news media and Hollywood. If their perspective is distorted, it’s no surprise.


After all, media and entertainment people are just people — they live in neighborhoods, they have friends, they’re affected by their environment like anyone else. When they reflect back to us an America that’s cut off from its spiritual roots, they’re not reflecting America. They’re showing us the tiny world they live in, a place distinctly apart from the rest of the nation, a soundproof booth where you hear your own voice echoing back at you.


— David Klinghoffer is the author of The Lord Will Gather Me In and The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism, to be published by Doubleday in March 2003.




Rural and Small-Town Parishes: Hope of the Church (Washington Times, 020600)


Find out what ministry in a small parish is like—the parish strengths, weaknesses and major concerns.


This article by Liz Dudas, on staff at Glenmary’s Department of Pastoral Services, appeared in the Summer 2002 Church magazine. Articles like this are an example of the many ways Glenmary continues to provide home mission leadership to the entire U.S. church.


Having spoken with rural pastoral leaders across the country and having observed firsthand the lay leaders who establish and staff mission churches for Glenmary Home Missioners, I attest that the Catholic church is alive and well in small-town and rural America, though it is not without its particular set of concerns.


What exactly is a rural or small-town parish? According to the US Census Bureau, a small town is an incorporated area with a population of 2,500 to 25,000 and a rural area has a population of less than 2,500. A recent report from CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) classified parishes with 200 or fewer registered households as “family parishes.” In that case, the US today has some 6,000 family parishes, 66 percent of which are located in small towns and rural areas throughout the South, the West, and the Southwest predominately.


Small-town and rural mission parishes tend to be small not only in the number of parishioners, however, but in financial and personnel resources as well. Small size certainly does not mean that they are less important than the mega-parishes of suburbia, but smallness can bring certain vulnerabilities. For instance, some diocesan policies affect small parishes disproportionately. With fewer priests available to serve as pastors, many bishops are establishing regional parishes by closing and/or merging small parishes. Such policies may at times show a failure to grapple with the truth that “all church is local,” especially when such mergers diminish the gift that a Catholic presence brings to an entire community. In areas where the Catholic population is minuscule to begin with, the effect can be enormous.


Despite the difficulties, hundreds of committed priests, lay pastoral administrators, and pastoral associates find life in abundance as they minister in rural and small-town parishes, learning to appreciate the gift and challenge such parishes are to the larger church.


Consider this: For most of his public ministry Jesus himself was an itinerant country preacher; rural ministry is what Jesus did. Although he did go to Jerusalem, Jesus spent little time preaching in the cities. As far as we know, he didn’t travel to any of the great cities outside Palestine either , where major Jewish populations were concentrated, such as Alexandria in Egypt. Instead, he focused his ministry on those who lived in the towns and villages that dotted the Palestinian landscape. “Jesus continued his tour of all the towns and villages. He taught in their synagogues, he proclaimed the good news of God’s reign, and he cured every sickness and disease” (Mt 7:35).


Rural Reality


Rural America has changed. Although many people still imagine an idyllic rural countryside, free of crime and negative urban influences, rural communities experience the same societal problems as large cities—alcoholism, drug abuse, racism, violence, and crime—though often on a smaller scale. What distinguishes them is that rural communities must address these issues with fewer resources.


“Rural” was once synonymous with agriculture and stable families who made their living off the land. While “stable farm families” may exist in some rural areas today, they are rare.


Young members of long-time rural families have moved to cities in search of jobs. And some highly educated non-farmers have immigrated to rural areas, seeking an alternative lifestyle or to establish small businesses; others commute to work in metropolitan areas more than an hour away, hoping for the best of both worlds, rural and urban.


Today, the rural reality varies, often depending on the local economy. Although the Catholic population has mushroomed in the rural South, such Catholics generally are not indigenous Southerners. According to Fr. George Kloster, pastor of St. William Catholic Church in Murphy, North Carolina, most parishioners have moved to the South from elsewhere, often because of employment or retirement. They tend to be, he says, “urban people living in a rural setting, with values more urban than rural.” In the Diocese of Raleigh, retirement communities have sprouted. Parishes that once numbered 100 households are bulging with more than 3,000 households—a population boom.


Compare that to the far West, where rural ranching communities are so small and distant from one another that parishioners must travel 40 to 80 miles each way for the only Sunday Mass offered. It is not unusual, for example, for Fr. Paschal Silas, pastor of St. Labre Parish in Ashland, Montana, to travel 240 miles round-trip to visit parishioners in the closest hospital.

In Aberdeen, Mississippi, Fr. Tim Murphy is sacramental minister to four mission parishes. In order for all four to celebrate Eucharist regularly, the parishioners have agreed to gather for Mass every other weekend. On the “off” Sunday, worship in the absence of a priest is presided over by a professionally prepared resident pastoral minister or mission coordinator. It is one way that many rural missions maintain their Catholic identity.


Despite the shift away from a stable, agrarian culture; despite mobility and transplanted rural populations; and despite parish mergers and closings and newly established regional parishes, there are many vibrant and effective rural parishes. A growing number of them are led by professionally prepared laypersons. If past statistics are any indication of future trends, then the future of rural parishes depends on the dedicated ministry of lay pastoral leaders.


What Makes Rural and Small-town Parishes Effective?


Given the differences in region, culture, and make-up, vibrant parishes share certain characteristics, including the following, several of which distinguish them from urban or large suburban parishes:


• Commitment to their local parish Rural parishioners often know the history of their parish. They know the “founding families” and what it takes to establish and nurture a community. Even newcomers are likely to learn about the roots of the parish because the community is small enough to hand on the stories of its origin. Such core parishioners are very supportive of their local parish, doing all they can to keep it active, alive, and effective.


• Deep sense of family A sense of family is very real, especially among the committed, longtime members. People, often entire extended families, know each other well, extending care and closeness to one another. The parish itself is seen as a family in which parishioners share one another’s pain and joy and pull together in times of need. Since only one Sunday Mass is offered in most rural parishes, parishioners see each other and reconnect weekly. People are noticed and missed when they miss parish activities. No one is “just a name” on the parish roll; size is an obvious factor.


• Strong sense of community In effective small parishes, a welcoming, inviting hospitality is palpable. Families often take turns providing refreshments after Sunday Eucharist. Warm and friendly pancake breakfasts and potluck or covered-dish suppers are part and parcel of parish celebrations and events. Such events tend to build relationships, gradually developing into a sense of community. Such activities are much more commonplace in small rural parishes than in large parishes, though travel time and distance are sometimes practical considerations behind the practice.


• Personal involvement in parish life With no paid parish staff to speak of, parishioners tend to take personal ownership and responsibility for maintaining the parish grounds and buildings and for leading activities, knowing that the existence of their local church depends on them. People pitch in, contributing to the life and mission of the small church.


• Sense of stability Despite shifts in population, there remains a stability or bonding in the effective rural parish that people “breathe” in. It is a feeling of being at home. People who see their identity forged within such a community of faith know that they would be very different people without it.


• Involvement within the local community The truth that “all church is local” is borne out in the many ways rural parishes contribute to the life of the greater community. Catholics often serve as public school teachers; medical personnel; members of the local school board, hospital board, or town council; and as business professionals, witnessing to their faith. Through such parishioner involvement the Catholic parish then gains the respect of the local community, enhancing the church’s evangelization to an extent not always possible in large cities, unless the Catholic population there is very large.


Parish Organization


Since rural parishes are, in effect, family parishes, the organization tends to be informal. It often depends on parishioners “taking turns” in assuming some form of leadership. Fr. Mike Smith, former pastor in McRae and Eastman, Georgia, asked parishioners to accept responsibility for specific tasks and to enlist the aid of their friends and family. He found that an elaborate election or discernment process is not useful. What works is simply pulling names from a chalice to select a leadership team.

In terms of organized programs, rural parishes usually have the basics: the catechumenate, religious education, parish pastoral councils, finance councils, youth programs, and adult education. As Fr. George Kloster puts it, “Our parish ministry is, in many ways, an urban model shrunk in size—a parochial form of ‘Honey, I shrunk the kids’—with an emphasis on relationships...another way of saying community.”


High Points of the Year


Rural churches are known for their long-standing celebrations. Bill Medved, pastoral administrator of St. Margaret Mary Church in Colstrip, Montana, describes the parish patron celebration held each October 16. The parish hosts a huge “Harvest Dinner,” with parish participation at 98 percent. Along with games and other entertainment, Medved says, “we celebrate the gift of who we are as this parish of St. Margaret Mary.”


A big Thanksgiving Dinner held the Sunday before Thanksgiving attracts from 600 to 1,000 people to St. Joseph Church in Bison City, Oklahoma. But Fr. Larry Gatlin finds that the most profound and contemplative liturgical experiences for himself and his parishioners are the Christmas and Easter Vigil services. Celebrating Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, along with the rites of adult initiation, marks the high point in the life of every small rural church (as for most Catholics). The gift of new members also adds much to the life of the rural parish. As Franciscan Brother Mark Liggett, pastoral administrator at Holy Trinity Church in Harlan, Kentucky, says: “With just one Eucharist on Sunday, when we celebrate a baptism, everyone witnesses it! When there are special events at Mass—for example, the welcoming for the rite of Christian initiation of adults; the celebration of the Triduum, the Easter Vigil—everyone in the parish witnesses it.”


Ecumenical activities are also extremely important. Each month, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi, distributes four hundred boxes of food to poor and elderly families. Directed by Glenmary Brother Terry O’Rourke, this ministry is supported by members of St. Francis, First United Methodist, First Christian Church, and the Assembly of God. “It is a high point to see that low-income families receive food,” says Glenmary pastor Fr. Tim Murphy. Some rural parishes are simply too small to sponsor community functions (social or service projects) alone, which is why ecumenical efforts are especially significant.

Wednesday night is still “church night” in many rural towns. This means that Catholic parishes tend to schedule activities mid-week, including adult education, prayer services, and ministry formation. Originally a Protestant tradition, many Catholic communities where the practice is strong also host Wednesday night Scripture study groups, using programs such as the Little Rock Scripture Study. Such programs respond particularly well to the needs of Catholic adults living in the Bible Belt.


Model Programs


In rural parishes, the most successful programs involve entire families. Pastoral leaders find that anything for children automatically gets the parents involved. Where neighbors are spread out, far from each other and the church, many parishes find that home-based activities work best. Religious education is conducted by families in their homes. Sacramental preparation and Scripture study programs take place in family and “neighborhood” settings. Many rural parishes use RENEW and Disciples in Mission to nurture adult faith.


Some of the most innovative and creative ministry today is taking place in rural parishes. Necessity is a factor, since rural parishes must often adapt “packaged” programs designed for larger, more urban parishes. This is true of the catechumenate, small faith communities, and RENEW. Dominican Sister Maria Canez, pastoral administrator at Blessed Sacrament Church in Mammoth, Arizona, helped develop a religious education program for the parish because there are no catechetical books written for rural African-Americans.


In Harlan County, Kentucky, linking parishes has been very successful. Three mountain Catholic churches, all about twenty-five miles apart, do many things together. They organize one common adult-education program during Advent and Lent and plan a common Reconciliation Service held in each parish. “Twinning” with larger parishes, both within and beyond the diocese, has also been enriching for participating parishes.


In Colstrip, Montana, the parishioners of St. Margaret Mary provide yearlong religious education for both children and adults through “faith blocks.” Based on the liturgical cycle, the Advent and Lenten blocks are designed for home-based sessions and activities, along with some total parish gatherings. Ordinary time is designated as “parish-based” to emphasize community building.


Pastoring & Leadership


Rural Catholic parishes are fertile soil in which to plant and nurture gospel values. Even though they are small compared with most other US Catholic parishes, they may be the largest parish (or one of the largest) in their own region. As such, they are in a position to exercise leadership. In many rural communities, for example, the Catholic parish serves as a catalyst for social action, organizing food banks, local chapters of Habitat for Humanity, summer camps for children from low-income families, and outreach to transients. Such programs often develop into ecumenical efforts.


Rural ministry is difficult. It takes the pastor/minister away from the Catholic mainstream and may require driving hundreds, even thousands, of miles each week to nurture and develop small parishes. Since rural ministers tend to be a “staff of one,” the pastor/minister’s own needs for reflection, sharing, and personal growth are sometimes neglected because of ministerial demands. This is a genuine hazard.


Consciously or not, rural parishioners expect their parish to offer the same range of services as big city parishes. Some of these expectations can only be met through the help of volunteers, especially retirees active in the parish, a priceless source of energy and enthusiasm. It is not an exaggeration to say that without dedicated volunteers, there would be no vibrant Catholic church in rural America.


Diversity is still something of a challenge to rural parishes and their leaders. US census data indicate that an unprecedented number of diverse cultural groups have immigrated to rural America. Most parishes try to respond to these newcomers in welcoming ways, seeing them as a blessing, an opportunity for the church to become in fact what it professes in words: the people of God.




Having pointed out the many strengths of the rural and small-town parish, it is only fair to enumerate the short list of weaknesses, each of which constitutes an internal challenge to parishioners and pastor alike, as well as to the diocese and larger church:


• Congregationalism Rural parishes, especially those a great distance from the diocesan center, can become a “church solely unto themselves,” never experiencing the broader, universal Catholic church.


• Negativism Rural parishes reflect the overall tenor of the local community. As a consequence, they can become very depressed if the farm and small-town economies are depressed. Unemployment and underemployment seem to plague small towns. The town may not only look depressed, but lapse into a “poor me” attitude that is self-defeating, causing parishioners to resist any change or progress.


• Lack of resources This lack, which I have already mentioned, has implications. In addition to raising needed funds, rural parishes must deal with limited human resources: the same few people do everything. Rural parishes often lack people for specialized ministries, including musicians for the liturgies. Sometimes pastors are forced to hire non-parishioners to provide musical leadership.


• Difficulty incorporating newcomers Since small groups bond more tightly than do large groups, newcomers sometimes find it difficult to become “part of the group,” that is the parish. Rural parishioners have to make a special effort to include new members and their participation for the good of the church. Some parishes have such diverse groupings among their members. Parishioners of Holy Trinity parish in Swainsboro, Georgia, include fourteen “native” Southern families, twenty-six Northern “transplant” families, five African-American families, seventeen retired families, and twenty-seven Spanish-speaking farm and poultry worker families. Apart from Sunday Mass, parishioners may not have any other connection in their everyday lives. In a rural or small town setting, this is unusual, and is experienced in that way.


Challenging the Larger Church


The diminishing number of priests is a problem for the entire church, but rural churches have experienced it profoundly. While dioceses like Great Falls-Billings, Montana, have trained lay ministers for preaching and presiding at word and Communion services, such services do not and cannot substitute for the Mass. Rural communities experience “Mass scarcity” to a degree unknown in larger cities.


It is somewhat ironic that so many large parishes spend significant staff effort, time, and money in developing small communities within the larger structure (an effort to be applauded), yet so little is spent by the diocese on small churches. If smallness is a blessing, not a burden, then small churches are viable in every way that larger churches are. The whole church is challenged to figure out how to support the ministry of small churches.


Dioceses are key. Each must consider how it serves its rural areas. The Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, for example, schedules lay formation classes in mountain parishes as well as at the diocesan Catholic Center. Inviting people from urban centers to travel to rural parishes for some of their ministry formation is certainly one way to “cross fertilize” the diocese and to develop a broader understanding of church.


Rural areas need a Catholic presence. Bishops must ensure adequate funding and personnel. Pastoral leaders and parishioners alike are troubled by the lack of regular eucharistic celebrations on Sunday. People have responded well to word and Communion services in the absence of a priest. And if a pastoral leader is present, the eucharistic community will be stable and grow. Otherwise, the church will see the implications of the lack of regular Sunday Mass in the next generation. For now, however, the gift of the church is very much alive in rural America.


Liz Dudas, with nearly 30 years of experience in rural ministry, works as a consultant for Glenmary Home Missioners in Nashville, Tenn.




Major Concerns of Rural Parishes


• The shortage of priests With fewer priests, rural parishes are often the first to be merged or consolidated, with the church losing its “local identity” as a Catholic community.


• Sacramental issues With Eucharist (Mass) available once or twice a month, rural areas are experiencing fewer eucharistic celebrations than in the past.


• Finances In rural areas, the South in particular, the Catholic population is very much a minority, often less than 1 percent of the total population. Providing an adequate and just salary for lay ministers can be a real challenge for small parishes.


• Distance from and access to diocesan services Rural pastoral leaders usually have to travel hours to attend meetings. Lay formation programs are rarely offered in rural areas, however.


• Recruiting qualified lay professionals for rural mission churches With increasing demand for lay pastoral leaders, rural areas have a hard time competing with suburban and urban areas for graduates of ministry programs.


• Population shifts and cultural diversity The flight of young people to the cities, the influx of Spanish-speaking and other cultural groups to the rural areas as well as retirees—all are having an impact on ministry in rural parishes.


• Providing quality programs and services With limited numbers of children and youth, it is difficult to provide organized religious education—other than home-based or activities sponsored on the deanery or diocesan level.


• Need for local pastoral leaders Parishes are empowered and effective when a professionally prepared leader resides in and is active within the local community.


• Balancing the roles of pastor and sacramental minister Many priest-pastors find it difficult to nurture the community in which they reside as pastor when they are also serving as a sacramental minister for other mission churches. Some churches have Sunday Mass as early as 7 a.m. because the priest has other missions to serve on that same day. After Mass, the pastor has just a few minutes to share with parishioners before he must rush out the door for another church a distance away. Considering that Sunday may well be the only day parishioners come together, there is little time for the pastor to connect and to visit with his parishioners.


Some Facts

• Rural parishes are poor; 243 of the 250 poorest counties are rural.

• Rural residents earn some $9,000 less than those living in towns with populations above 20,000.

—US Catholic


Rural Parishes on the Web

• Rural resources:

• The Center for Theology and Land, based in Dubuque, Iowa:

• The Small Town Center at Mississippi State University:

• The Alban Institute, a non-profit, interfaith organization that publishes many helpful

resources for small church and rural ministry:

• The National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) in Des Moines, Iowa:


Copyright 2002 CHURCH magazine, published quarterly by the National Pastoral Life Center, 18 Bleecker St., NY, NY 10028, All rights reserved.




America’s Ten Commandments: The ACLU’s mistake (NRO, 021028)


Michael Novak


After a weeklong trial, a federal court in Montgomery, Alabama, heard closing arguments last Wednesday (October 23) in yet one more effort by the ACLU to erase any recognition of God from public life in America — this time, to remove the Ten Commandments from a courthouse.


All over the country, the ACLU has been filing suits like to one in Alabama, winning some, losing some. The oddest thing is, if the ACLU project of removing God from public testimony should win, their victory would hurt the ACLU most of all. For two reasons: The first reason is that a plurality of Americans holds that there are civil liberties because certain inalienable rights were endowed in us by our Creator. This belief was expressed by the Continental Congress in the carefully wrought words of the Declaration of Independence. Our Founders held that the same Creator Who gave the human race the inestimable gift of the Ten Commandments also gave human beings the freedom to follow them — or not. He also laid on them the burden of making an account to Him — and to no other — of how they did so. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” There are civil liberties because our Creator made us free. And also, responsible finally to Him.


These words of Jefferson are particularly beautiful:


Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their own minds, that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his Supreme will that free it shall remain, by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint: That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations ...are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone... [A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom]


Why would the ACLU want to cut out of American consciousness the reason why, for a plurality of Americans, respect for civil liberties is a serious, even a sacred duty? Failure to observe is an offense against the Supreme will of God, and answerable on the last day before an undeceivable Judge?


But the second reason why the ACLU is committing suicide runs even deeper. The reason why there is religious liberty, or at least the sole reason given by three crucial Founding documents on the subject — the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Virginia Statute for the Establishment of Religious Liberty, and James Madison’s famous and eloquent Remonstrance — is this rare and precious conception: That prior to any obligation to the state, prior even to any obligation to civil society (prior both in time and in degree of importance), is the inalienable communion between the individual and the Creator, to Whom the human being owes a duty precedent to any he owes state or civil society. This duty cannot be fulfilled by any other than each individual, one by one. For each person, it is inalienable.


This inalienable relation between the individual and the Creator is the ground and foundation of the right to religious liberty, and through that first right, of all the other civil rights and liberties. From that human-divine relation emanates the spiritual power of the ACLU.



However, a deeper and more surprising turn in our reflections must now be taken. The conception of a Creator is specific only to a tiny handful of the world religions. The conception of a Creator Who demands to be recognized “in spirit and in truth,” and not simply by outward actions (burning incense, bending the knee, reciting sacred formulae, performing certain ritual actions such as pilgrimages or prostrations, etc.) is specific to even fewer. The conception of a Creator Who, in addition, made every individual free, and glories in the friendship of free women and free men, seems in fact to be limited only to two: to Judaism and its offspring, Christianity.


It is probably true that the Ten Commandments are, with due regard for a modest pluralism of nuance and emphasis and interpretation, universal and recognized among all peoples everywhere. Even more strikingly than that, all ten of them, especially the last five or six, appear to have been reached in many places by the exercise of reason itself, without revelation. That stealing, murder, lying, and bearing false witness, and acting out of covetousness are universally condemned in all world literatures is fairly obvious. But even the first three or four commandments have been arrived at by reason alone.


Thus, for those who form a sufficiently high notion of God, it is also obvious that putting false idols in His place, worshiping as God something that is not God, or mocking and blaspheming Him or His name, are stupid acts of ignorance, arrogance, and pretension among mere mortals, who are like the grass of the fields, here today and tomorrow forgotten.


Nonetheless, the particular relation between the Creator and the individual imagined by the American Founders, and by them made part of the narrative history within which the conception of rights gains traction in our daily lives, is special to Judaism and Christianity. Just possibly, it is also compatible with Islam, that other religion of an almighty, eternal Creator of all things. So far, however, no Muslim thinker has come forward to explain how Islam understands human liberty. And all the other civil, political, and religious rights embodied in the American way of life, and put into words in its Founding documents. How does Islam ground those rights, in a way comparable to the arguments put forward by George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison mentioned above?


According to our own documentary history, the American conception and practice of religious liberty (and the grounding of our other civil and political rights) depends upon the relation between the human individual, female and male, and the Creator of all things, as presented by the Jewish and Christian traditions, and by no other tradition in quite that same way. Not even Thomas Hobbes and John Locke ground their conceptions of natural right in quite the same way as Mason, Jefferson, and Madison do. True, these Americans, especially Jefferson, knew some of the works of Locke well, and learned many turns of thought and expression from him. And why not?


Locke often expressed himself in the full-dress language of a believer in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Yet perhaps even more so than Locke, the innermost convictions of many if not most of the early American patriots were fired by religious conscience. The flames of revolt against kingly abusiveness were fed by the Puritan and evangelical preachers. For this reason, the American documents hewed even more closely than Locke to a Jewish-Christian conception of the main narrative line of human history: The Creator made humans to be free, and to make freedom prevail, against the many formidable obstacles it encounters in “the long course of human events.”


In this respect, James Madison’s sketch of the relation between the individual and its Lord and Creator, in the inner arena of conscience, calls to mind the first two propositions of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord thy God.” The individual needs for a moment to let that sink in.


Then the next proposition follows ineluctably: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”


Contained in these two lines is the metaphysical narrative that undergirds the principle of limited government. No absolute power, or absolutist government, can be allowed to prevail. Any such pretense is an idol, usurping the place that belongs to God alone. To God alone, each individual owes the allegiance of an inalienable conscience, which can be exercised by no other person whatever (not by mother nor father, not by brother nor sister, but only by that individual alone). That duty to the Creator is precedent to any duty to the state or even to civil society. In short, our right to religious liberty cannot be abridged by any state or civil society or any other human power whatever. Here is how Madison expresses this truth:


It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in the order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour [sic] of the Universe. [Remonstrance, para.1].


The next Commandment reads: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Benjamin Franklin gave this proposition a practical twist in his proposal for the official motto of the United States: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”


The next is: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Commander-in-chief George Washington issued as one of his first written orders to the Continental Army that there must not be any swearing or any blasphemy in the ranks, lest the Army’s firm reliance on Divine Providence be compromised and the trust of the People in their Army scandalized. He also commanded his troops to begin every morning with a prayer, their officers present in formation, a chaplain having been assigned to each unit.


After the war, Washington frequently drew attention to, and commended public gratitude for “the many signal interventions of Divine Providence” in the course of the war. Among these, ever fresh in his mind, were the seemingly miraculous turns on his behalf in the battles of Long Island and Monmouth.



The singular advantage of the Jewish-Christian conception of the relation between the Creator and his human subjects is that it allows for three things at once: the freedom of the individual conscience; a freedom ordered to law (“Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law”) and social unity; and, third, a comfortable pluralism, in which diverse communities live in unity, with the free exercise of conscience. This is an original conception, a new order without precedent on the face of the globe, as Madison justly observed in Federalist #14.


Although this conception may be articulated and defended in more than one way, its particular historical origins in the specific religious traditions of early America, frequently recurred to, maintain a remarkable and continuing vitality. Furthermore, without requiring newcomers or imitators in other lands to become Jews or Christians, or to confess any one faith, these distinctive traditions open the blessings of liberty to all. We can pay homage to their specific origins without being forced to make a confession of faith in those traditions. Few are the historical conceptions so open to sharing their best fruits with others of different faiths.


More impressively still, the early American religions and their attachment to common sense managed to launch a form of pluralism that does not depend upon relativism — “anything goes” and “all opinions are equally valid” — while still honoring freedom of conscience. They did so by recognizing that each soul is in a constant dialog with its Creator, learning and advancing by its own lights, in its own time. No one else has the right to intrude coercively into that sacred conversation. One keen reason for religious liberty is that every soul needs room for that wrestling match, that long journey.


The texture of the American trust in the ultimate victory of liberty and the unshakeable foundation of our rights, from religious liberty to all the others, is knit through and through with the laws of the human universe announced by Governor of the Universe, and honored by our forebears throughout our history.



Tearing the tangible recollection of these laws from our daily sight in courthouses and elsewhere is an act of unparalleled and suicidal blindness. It can be accounted for only by ideological rage, not by rational self interest.


Even those who do not believe in God should be able to see that many of their fellow citizens do hold such a belief. Moreover, these others hold certain important political truths to be self evident because, in the context of their belief in a God Who offers them friendship, other truths about life and liberty become clear to them. To help these others to lose a vivid memory of this Source of their rights is to help them treat these rights as less than sacred, as mere ideological opinions like any others.


Why would the ACLU desire an outcome like that?


And why would they take a position so flatly contrary to that of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other Founders?


The current tactics of the ACLU defy reason.




Religion linked to positive outlook in teenagers (Washington Times, 021205)


Teenagers who attend worship and rate religion as important have positive self-images, are optimistic and enjoy school, a study released yesterday said.


The survey of thousands of 12th-grade students found that optimism and confidence correlate with exposure to religion as much as with success, race, wealth or “self-esteem” education in public schools.


“The more religious the kids are, based on its importance to them or their attending worship, the greater their positive outlook on life,” said sociologist Chris Smith of the University of North Carolina, where the National Study of Youth and Religion is being conducted.


“They have more self-esteem and confidence,” he said. “The more religious they are, the less they hate school.”


The study, the second part of a four-year project, required 12th-graders nationwide to respond to questions about their attitudes concerning themselves, school and their future. The project’s goal is to determine religion’s role in adolescent lives and identify effective practices.


The survey found 31 percent of students attended religious services weekly, and 30 percent said religion was important to them, with some overlap of the two groups.


In both cases, these teens were “significantly more likely” than nonattending or nonreligious youth to enjoy life, feel they have useful lives and hope for the future, and have a sense of pride and satisfaction.


Only 15 percent of 12th-graders said they never attended religious services. Meanwhile, even passive religious affiliation and some youth-group activity were linked with optimistic outlooks.


The project, which in an earlier survey found religious youths avoid high-risk behavior such as drug and alcohol use, is part of a growing interest in the religious attitudes of adolescents and young adults.


Some research suggests young people are “spiritual, but not religious,” while Mr. Smith said strong evidence also indicates that religious youths will stick with institutional religion, especially when they start their own families.


Mr. Smith said the findings are not scientific proof that religion produces positive traits in youths, but rather are a strong association of the two.


For example, the findings could mean that only optimistic young people take an interest in religion or that children with problems did not find solutions in religion and had lost interest by the 12th grade.


“But there’s very good reason to support the idea that religion itself is making kids turn out optimistic,” he said. “It’s not a mystery to me that a more religious student has more hope.”


The most striking finding, he said, is that nonreligious students “hate school” more.


Mr. Smith said the reason for this is less obvious. Other research shows religious people join more activities than the nonreligious, and this may also apply to enjoying school and the classroom, he said.


But he doubts that religious youth are optimistic because they block out a complex world of human problems.


“There may have been an era when kids were sheltered from the real world, but I don’t think that’s true anymore,” Mr. Smith said. “Young people, with the Internet and the rest, are often more clued into the world than their parents.”


The study should not be taken to have policy implications, Mr. Smith said, even though public schools are experimenting with self-esteem curriculums.


“This is more relevant for families,” he said. “This may have to do with the practices that only parents can control.”


He said churches often make teen programs a low priority. “They may want to consider what these young people are saying,” he said.




Christmas in Holland: War-torn lessons (NRO, 021221)


Rod Dreher


I spent Christmas before the last war with Iraq with dear friends in the Netherlands. As midnight approached, the family with whom I was staying put on their coats, and we all walked toward the church in the center of town. Holland is a post-Christian country now, and the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are virtually empty on most Sundays. On Christmas Eve, however, folks still want to go to church, and it was standing-room only at this town’s Catholic parish.


I don’t speak Dutch, so I couldn’t follow what the priest said to the congregation. It was probably a blessing. For the evening’s music — remember, we’re talking Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the only time all year when a fair number of these people are ever going to be in church — the pastor had selected several antiwar pop songs. Everyone sang John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “So This Is Christmas (War Is Over),” and a British pacifist ditty from the Second World War. One of the verses began, “Please Mr. Churchill, don’t send me off to war.”


Now, Holland was occupied by the Nazis, and this town particularly suffered because it was in the path of the Allies’ Operation Market Garden, which drove the Germans from the country. My older Dutch friends, who were children then, have vivid memories of what the Germans did to them. Mieke lost a cousin when the child picked up a chocolate bar at the edge of the forest. The candy was secretly attached to a land mine. Think of what kind of evil mind can conceive of tying a chocolate bar to a land mine during a time of hunger and privation, and you’ll understand instantly why war, as horrible as it is, is sometimes necessary.


Like I said, I don’t speak Dutch, but I got a clear sense of what was going on at this Mass. It was a ritual shorn of any mystery or grandeur, much less dignity, and impotent to inspire or console. In that, it was scarcely different from bourgeois Christianity in America, but I didn’t know that in 1990, because I wasn’t yet serious about religion. I was beginning to take serious steps in that direction, and had come to Europe that winter with naïve ideas about what it would be like to be present at Christmas Mass in the continent that cradled Christian civilization. I had not realized that the Christian faith was lost to the good people of Holland, who within living memory sent out more Catholic missionary priests than any nation on earth, and that the Dutch differed from other Europeans in their secularization only in degree. The undeniable fact is that western Europe is no longer Christian in anything but a notional sense.


Walking through town after mass, my gentle host asked me what I had thought of the service. What could I say? The most-diplomatic thing I could muster was, “Well, I find it hard to believe that that is the faith that sustained you all through the war.” We changed the subject, and went home to our late supper. Three weeks later, the Gulf War began.


Here we are 12 years later, another Christmas upon us, another war with Iraq looming. This time, the peril is graver. Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to build more weapons of mass destruction — and he knows now that we are coming to kill him. The world is not allied against the dictator as it once was. Our cities — my city — now know what terrorists fighting in the name of Islam, Christendom’s ancient foe, are capable of doing to us, without warning.


There was nothing abstract about September 11. There is no such thing as a safe American home anymore, and there is not likely to be again, not in our lifetime, maybe not ever. We are going to have to endure a great deal more death and suffering, and learn how to sustain the fight without giving our souls over to unfettered rage or crushing despair. I didn’t know anyone who died in the World Trade Center attack, but I went to a number of funerals and memorial services, and I lived in this stricken city as it struggled to cope with the loss. It was New York’s finest hour, our finest year, really, and no one who was part of it will ever forget.


I must say that I do not know how we would have made it through the valley without God. Of course there are stoic atheists, but most of us, I think, cannot process the massive pain caused on a single morning by the deliberate evil of men without some recourse to the divine.


John Lennon is dead and buried, but a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. I don’t wish to make a pious point here, though, but one that has to do with history, with sociology, and maybe psychology. Whether or not one believes in God, one must recognize that Western civilization is the product of Judeo-Christian religion synthesized with Greco-Roman law and philosophy. The dynamic force animating that civilization and midwifing its achievements has been spiritual, and specifically Christian.


“‘Religion is the key to history,’ said Lord Acton, and today, when we realize the tremendous influence of the unconscious on human behavior, and the power of religion to bind and loose these hidden forces, Acton’s saying has acquired a wider meaning than he realized,” writes the historian Christopher Dawson.


He continues:


Why is it that Europe alone among the civilizations of the world has been continually shaken and transformed by an energy of spiritual unrest that refuses to be content with the unchanging law of social tradition which rules the oriental cultures? It is because its religious ideal has not been the worship of timeless and changeless perfection but a spirit that strives to incorporate itself in humanity and to change the world. In the West, the spiritual power has not been immobilized in a sacred social order like the Confucian state in China and the Indian caste system. It has acquired social freedom and autonomy and consequently its activity has not been confined to the religious sphere but has had far-reaching effects on every aspect of social and intellectual life.


Dawson goes on to say that social and intellectual benefits aren’t necessarily important from a religious point of view, but if not for the spiritual force behind these developments, they would have been “utterly different,” if they would have been at all.


Even a resolutely secular atheist like the murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn testified that the freedom and prosperity we in the West cherish would have been unknown without Christianity. He said this to a nation that, having given up its Christian faith, was coming close to giving up the civilization that faith had bequeathed to its children. The children of Mohammed are heirs to a spiritual force as well, one that has a far greater hold on their hearts and minds. It is a force, as Fortuyn warned, that shackles minds and imprisons souls, and his countrymen were in danger of trading their birthright — Western liberty and human dignity — for a pot of multicultural message.


We did not seek this war, but it has found us, and we must fight it, and we must prevail. We shall not find the strength to do as we must by hymning the effete pieties of pop stars in our holy places, and by reducing our faith, as precious to the survival of the West as any cache of armory, to whimpering pacifist platitudes.


But that, I’m afraid, is what too many of us will get as we go to church to mark the birth of the Prince of Peace: the demeaning thoughts of those who believe the way to holy peace is through surrender. We will get that because we got it on the commemoration this year of the anniversary of September 11. I am reminded of a sermon given on that day by the Rev. George Rutler, about whose preaching I wrote:


He then talked about how we cannot honor our dead by bringing justice to their murderers, and by eliminating those who would murder more Americans, unless we are willing to act. A World War II-era song, said Rutler, contained the line, “wishing will make it so,” to comfort a nation that had seen too much blood. But that’s a sentimental lie, the priest said.


“One man said the only thing that will conquer evil is blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” Rutler said, alluding to Churchill. “Sentimentality is love without sacrifice; therefore, it is not love at all.”


“We cannot exact revenge because of evil,” Fr. Rutler went on. “But we are not Christians if we think vindication is revenge. ...Vindication is honoring that which is true. Vindication is offering the self for love.”


“Wishing does not make things so. Blood makes things so. Toil makes things so. Sweat makes things so. Tears make things so. We are all called to show mercy, but only those who have suffered have the right to show mercy to their persecutors. Jesus asked mercy, but Jesus did not ask mercy for the Devil. Jesus killed the Devil on the Cross. That is the power of love.”


You might also reflect on the famous sermon given by the vicar in the climax of Mrs. Miniver, the World War II-era film that did so much to improve the morale of Allied troops. The vicar, speaking in the ruins of the village church, concluded his remarks thus:


Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a war of the people, of all the people, and it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home, and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom!


Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves and those who come after us from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the people’s war! It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right.


Indeed. We have had our wholly sentimental Christmases, and while we are surely grateful for them, they are no longer allowed us. Not today, not if we want to be around for Christmases future. It’s a tragedy, but life is tragic, and there you are. As the angel told the shepherds long ago, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill to men who enjoy his favor.” As for the rest: Soon and very soon, habibi, your day is coming, courtesy of the United States Armed Forces.




Twinkle, Twinkle: An astronomer says the Star of Bethlehem was Jupiter (NRO, 021221)


John J. Miller


If the Star of Bethlehem were to appear in the sky tonight, you probably wouldn’t even notice it. It wasn’t a blazing comet, an exploding supernova, or any of the other spectacular celestial events people in search of a natural explanation have proposed. Instead, says astronomer Michael Molnar, it was the planet Jupiter appearing in the sign of Aries and rising in the east on the morning of April 17, 6 B.C.


If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it’s because you’re thinking like someone who lives in the 21st century. Two millennia ago, it would have sparked the imaginations of expert stargazers — and signaled the birth of a king.


“I never believed I would work on this topic,” says Molnar, a former Rutgers University professor. “I just figured the Star of Bethlehem was one of those mysteries in the Bible.”


The detective story behind Molnar’s theory starts with a coin he bought at a New York show in 1990. “My hobby is collecting ancient Greek and Roman coins that have stars and moons on them,” says Molnar. “For $50, I bought a bronze coin that’s about the size of an American quarter. It has Zeus on one side and Aries the ram with a star above it on the other.”


A few months later, Molnar started to examine the coin closely. He writes for numismatic publications such as The Celator, and began to research what he considered to be the most interesting feature on his coin: the star above Aries the ram. Among ancient astrologers, Molnar learned, Aries the ram was a symbol of Judea. “I realized that Aries is where ancient astrologers would have been looking for a sign indicating the birth of a new king,” he says. “With the coin, I had stumbled across this really important clue.”


Molnar described a few initial ideas about the Star of Bethlehem in an article for Sky and Telescope magazine. He thought his involvement would end there. Then the dean of historical astronomy called him. “I’d read articles and books by Owen Gingerich of Harvard University, but we’d never spoken,” says Molnar. “His call came completely out of the blue, and he said he thought I was really onto something. This encouraged me to do more research.”


He worked on the question for five years, studying Greek versions of the Bible and the writings of Roman astronomers. “Today we know Jupiter is a planet, but to the ancient astronomers it was an important star, and it was linked to the birth of kings,” says Molnar. The position of other planets, plus the sun and the moon, also carried special meanings. Today, astronomers and astrologers are very different sorts of people. Twenty centuries ago, however, there wasn’t a distinction.


Working on a computer, Molnar learned that the morning of April 17, 6 B.C. contained all the elements he was looking for: Jupiter rose in the east, in the sign of Aries the ram. Joining it in Aries were the sun, the moon, and Saturn — events that would have added to the moment’s extraordinary significance for the ancients.


“The basic elements of this event occur once every 60 years — in other words, once a lifetime,” says Molnar.


But there’s more: Mars and Mercury weren’t in Aries, and they also weren’t in positions that would have wrecked the divine interpretation. Mars is notorious for upending astrological events by showing up in the wrong part of the sky when everything else is in seeming alignment.


“If you think like an ancient astronomer would have thought, this event would have been extraordinarily exciting,” says Molnar.


The account describing the Star of Bethlehem is contained wholly within the Gospel of Matthew — the other gospels don’t mention it at all — lending credence to the idea that the star didn’t light up the night sky like a 4th of July fireworks display. A close reading of the Bible suggests that nobody saw the star but the wise men, which may be a way of saying that only the wise men had the astrological knowledge necessary for interpreting the events of April 17 the way they did.


Many Biblical scholars believe the birth of Jesus probably occurred between 8 B.C. and 4 B.C. The event Molnar describes took place in 6 B.C. — “right smack dab in the middle,” he says.


Molnar describes his ideas in detail in his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. It was written mainly for scholars, but intelligent and interested lay readers won’t have trouble following his arguments. It may be impossible to know whether Molnar has provided a correct interpretation, but it is possible to believe he has offered a very good one. (He also has a worthwhile website, which includes additional information, pictures of coins, etc.)


Bradley E. Schaefer of the University of Texas calls Molnar’s book, “the first revolution in star of Bethlehem research since the days of Kepler.” Adds Gingerich of Harvard: “The Star of Bethlehem is a fascinating contribution to the immense literature that attempts to come to terms with the Christmas Star represented in Matthew’s Gospel. In my opinion, this book is the most original and important contribution of the entire twentieth century on the thorny question of how events recorded there should be interpreted.”


I asked Molnar whether he is a man of faith himself. “I don’t discuss my faith,” he says. “I stay religiously neutral. I like to say that I’m faithful to the historical record; there’s definitely a historical basis for that passage in the Bible. I get letters from all sorts of people telling me that my book has reinforced their faith, and this has been an unexpected and pleasing result.”


Molnar would like to put out a popular version of his book. “I’m thinking of a coffee-table book with lots of pictures,” he says. “Something less technical.” He’d also like to update his technical account, because more information has come to his attention since it was published three years ago, particularly about the magi and who they might have been.


But for now, we have a wonderful book written by a scientist that emboldens people of faith — who in the past have felt threatened by astronomers telling them the earth isn’t the center of the universe, the sun is a fairly minor body on the outskirts of an ordinary galaxy, and that the moment of creation occurred 15 billion years ago in a big bang.


Yes, Virginia, there really was a Star of Bethlehem.




Churchgoing Hispanics do better at school, study finds (Washington Times, 030128)


Hispanic immigrants who regularly attend church are more likely to do well in school and reverse high drop-out rates, especially in impoverished school districts, according to a study released yesterday.


“Religion matters for Latinos because it provides important educational opportunities outside school and ... the church environment reinforces the importance of learning and discipline,” says the report.


The study, which analyzed responses from about 7,000 Hispanic students and parents collected in three national surveys from 1996 to 1999, was released at a conference on Hispanic affairs at the University of Notre Dame.


“Religion is particularly important in protecting impoverished Latino youth,” the study said, noting that it helps students pay attention in class and escape the “oppositional culture” often found in inner-city schools.


While many studies have looked at how Hispanic educational achievement is affected by economics, ethnic background and family structure, this is the first to collect available data on the role of religion.


In the past year, similar studies on the entire teen population have found a strong link between religious attendance and success in school and self-esteem.


The new 50-page report, “Religion Matters,” was released by sociologists David Sikkink and Edwin Hernandez of Notre Dame. It emphasizes that Hispanics now are the largest ethnic minority and may become 25 percent of the U.S. population in future decades.


According to other research, 40 percent of school-age Hispanics born abroad are not enrolled in school. The drop-out rate for Latinos ages 16 to 24 is 21.6 percent, about twice that of whites.


Immigrants — and especially Dominicans, Cubans and Mexicans — produce more single-parent families the longer they live in the United States.


“Religion may mitigate this trend,” the new report said.


The report questioned predictions that a “permanent Latino underclass” is inevitable, and rejected the theory that poor Hispanics who take refuge in Catholic enclaves or Protestant sects will reject secular education.


“Religion seems less likely to create a community of closed minds than to create the conditions in which Latino youth excel in school,” the report said.


The parents involved in evangelical Protestant sects, in fact, tend to “communicate higher educational aspirations” than do Catholic parents. And students from active religious families tend to do better in math and science than other Hispanics.


The findings make sense to Leah Tenorio, Hispanic ministry coordinator at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria. She agreed that social connections immigrants find in churches help overcome economic obstacles.


“The effort that a family makes to go to church means a strong family relationship and a positive atmosphere,” Miss Tenorio said. “The church often connects the immigrant to services that help their children at school.”


She recommends that American churches expand Spanish-language activities. The report, in turn, suggests public schools with Hispanics work with churches.


“Higher [church] attending Latinos are more likely to read books to their children,” the study found. Churchgoers are 18 percent more likely to take children to a library than non-attenders.


Weekly churchgoing families, moreover, are 30 percent more likely to instruct their children in “time management” and 24 percent more likely to have “discussed future plans with the child” than parents who attend occasionally.


“While the first-generation immigrant Latinos have a strong achievement ethic, it is difficult to pass those on to the second and especially third generations, which are likely to be more heavily influenced by American popular culture,” the study said.




Sunday, holy Sunday? (WorldNetDaily, 010000)


Pastor resurrects Sabbath debate with $1 million reward


One of the longest running disputes in the history of Christianity – Saturday vs. Sunday – is having new life breathed into it with a cash reward of up to $1 million toward a resolution.


A. Jan Marcussen, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Illinois, is starting with $50,000 of his own money if someone can produce “a verse from the Holy Bible showing that God commands us to keep holy the first day of the week” – Sunday – “instead of the seventh day” – Saturday – “as is commanded in the Bible.”


He says the reward will increase in $25,000 increments each week for 40 consecutive weeks if no one sends him such a verse, with a final cap at $1 million.


“The $50,000 offer is to wake people up out of a stupor,” Marcussen tells WorldNetDaily. “People wake up when there’s money involved.”


Marcussen, who says he has the money ready to pay if someone is successful, is making the offer to encourage people to read the Bible for themselves, instead of accepting without question what religious leaders have been instructing.


“Millions of people believe and have confidence in their clergy that what they’re being taught is true,” says Marcussen. “They’ll find out that the clergy is not teaching from the Bible.”


Marcussen, 52, is not only a preacher in his local church, he’s also a physical therapist, nutritionist, marriage counselor and author of six books. One of those works, “National Sunday Law,” focuses on the Saturday-vs.-Sunday debate. Marcussen is asking people to read that book before applying for the reward. (It can be downloaded for free from his website.)


As a college student in the 1970s, Marcussen made a similar, albeit smaller, challenge. He posted an ad in a local newspaper starting with a $500 reward and ending up at $1,000. “Certain preachers really got excited,” he says. “But the only thing they couldn’t do was produce a Bible verse [as proof].”


Experts on biblical scripture tell WorldNetDaily that Marcussen has little need to worry about paying out the money.


“I am afraid that you are not going to find an exact Bible verse to counter the good pastor’s challenge and collect,” says James Efird, professor of biblical interpretation at Duke University Divinity School in North Carolina. “As far as I know, there is no verse which specifies that Sunday is the day for Christians to observe the Sabbath.”


Indeed, neither the words Saturday nor Sunday appear anywhere in most translations of the Bible. Days of the week are referred to by number, starting in the first chapter of Genesis in the account of creation. It was after the work of creating that God made special note of one day of the week: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Genesis 2:3).


In the Ten Commandments, the seventh day was made the focus of the fourth mandate: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy ... thou shalt not do any work ... For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).


The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew root word “shabbat,” meaning to rest, cease or desist. Scholars say the word in Bible scripture not only refers to the weekly day of rest, but also the annual festivals of God such as Passover and Day of Atonement. It additionally refers to a sabbatical year, and it’s the term denoting one week. The phrase “first day of the week” occurs eight times in the King James translation of the New Testament, mostly dealing with the circumstances of Jesus’ resurrection.


In the lexicon of modern society, the debate over which day is holy – that is, set apart to God – goes unresolved by the editors of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. While the first definition of sabbath calls it “the seventh day of the week (Saturday), set aside for rest and worship and observed as such by Jews (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) and some Christian denominations,” its second meaning defines it as “Sunday as the usual Christian day of rest and worship.”


“There’s a fear factor among preachers,” says Marcussen, on why churches don’t have their members look into this issue. “They’re afraid their sheep will start reading the Bible, and they know they’ll lose their sheep.”


One expert who has spent his career researching and explaining the Sabbath debate is Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi , a retired theology professor at Andrews University in Michigan. He tells WorldNetDaily two factors are responsible for the shift from one day to another: “Anti-Judaism caused the abandonment of the Sabbath, and pagan sun worship influenced the adoption of Sunday.”


Bacchiocchi says the Church of Rome, which grew into the Roman Catholic Church, had great influence in promoting Sunday observance. “The Church of the capital of the empire, whose authority was already felt far and wide in the second century, appears to be the most likely birth-place of Sunday observance,” he writes in his book, “From Sabbath to Sunday: A historical investigation of the rise of Sunday observance in early Christianity.”


In May 1998, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on the subject, entitled Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day). In it, the pontiff refers to the origins of Sunday-keeping.


“In the weekly reckoning of time, Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s Resurrection,” writes the pope. “It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, the fulfillment in him of the first creation and the dawn of ‘the new creation.’”


The pontiff goes on to state that though Sunday has become a time for cultural, political and sporting events, it has a significance that shouldn’t be ignored. “Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend,’ it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see ‘the heavens.’”


Though Protestant churches have some significant differences with Catholicism, one thing often agreed on today is Sunday observance.


“The church always met on Sunday throughout the New Testament,” says Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University in Virginia. “Saturday is clearly the Sabbath as is recorded many times in the Old Testament. In Christian Church tradition, Sunday became ‘the Lord’s Day’ when Jesus rose from the grave.”


The actual times of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are not universally agreed on either. “I personally believe he was crucified on Wednesday evening ... and rose after 6 p.m. Saturday evening,” Falwell tells WorldNetDaily. “Others believe he died on Friday ... But the point is, he did rise on Sunday, which, in Jewish tradition, started the evening before at 6 p.m.”


Falwell is among those who believe which day is chosen is not of great significance. “I don’t think Saturday or Sunday are more sacred than other days,” he says. He also points out there have been so many calendar changes over the years, chronologists are not even certain that a day of the week in the 21st century matches the same day from centuries ago.


Most scholars agree that biblical references to “the sabbath day” denote the seventh day of the week. But in the years to come after Jesus rose, the first day of the week came into competition with Saturday, and at times both days were being observed side by side. The ostensible church was divided on the issue, choosing different days to regard as holy.


“It may be that Sunday was originally one of the [pagan] Roman festival days,” explains Professor Efird at Duke, “but so were several others that the church adopted in its evolution, [for example:] Christmas.”


Marcussen condemns the change in day of observance. “It’s the greatest hoax of all time, foisted upon the world for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he says. His zeal on the matter reflects his belief that citizens of the United States and other countries will be forced to choose sides on the issue in the so-called “end time” mentioned in Scripture.


“Sunday worship is the mark of the Papacy’s authority,” Marcussen writes in his book. “Sunday worship is the ‘mark of the beast!’” Yet he insists he is not attacking anyone’s faith, but rather trying to lead people to the Bible, Jesus, and eventually Heaven.


“I love all these ministers who teach falsehoods,” Marcussen says. “Many are honest – they’re not all crooks – they believe Sunday is God’s day ... this offer will help them find the truth.”


Marcussen expects his challenge to be eye-opening for many who never thought about the issue, and he thinks it will spark serious global attention. “The impact of this is going to be like an atomic bomb, it will mushroom all over the world.”




Religion Making a Comeback (EFC, 020600)


Recent survey results have surprised the sociologist who predicted the death of religion


Reg Bibby, this country’s best known sociologist of religion, has some welcome news for Canadian believers. In his new book, Restless Gods, he makes a convincing case that organized religion is starting to make a comeback.


The decline in attendance among mainline Protestants has stopped for the first time in three decades, and in some denominations, like the Anglicans and Lutherans, there have been slight increases. The wonderful news is an increase in attendance by teenagers and young adults among not only conservative Protestants, but also among mainline Protestants and Catholics outside of Quebec. Though seniors 55 and older still make up a disproportionately large percentage of weekly church attenders, we need no longer fear that these lifelong believers will be the last generation of churchgoers in some denominations.


Bibby is only one of many experts who have recanted their earlier predictions of the impending death of religion. In his new book, he says the negative news that he was delivering in the early 1980s was so discouraging that “in the minds of some, I was Bad News Bibby.” The decline of religion, he added, seemed so irreversible at the time that he seriously considered turning his attention from religion to the sociology of sport.


Bibby was not alone in spreading doom and gloom. In 1965 a Harvard professor named Harvey Cox wrote a best-seller titled The Secular City in which he said, “The rise of urban civilization and the collapse of traditional religion are the two main hallmarks of our era.” Thirty years later, he confessed that “a religious renaissance of sorts is under way all over the globe.”


According to the secularization theory of the 1960s, as societies become more industrialized, religion loses much of its influence and most of its adherents. Peter Berger, a leading American sociologist of religion, predicted in 1968 that “by the 21st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.” In 1999 Berger admitted that “the assumption we live in a secularized world is false. The world today, with some as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever.”


One of the lessons to be learned from all this is that sociological theories are only that: theories. Now that the theory of secularization has been discarded, the world suddenly looks different. Bibby and others are now seeing signs of hope whereas before they saw only decline.


Bibby says, for example, that one-half of Canadians admit they have spiritual needs, that 76 percent of Canadians believe religious groups have an important role to play, and one of every two Canadians claims to have experienced the presence of God. These facts have not changed much in the past four decades, but they have suddenly become important evidence that religion is important after all.


David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, a huge two-volume collection of every imaginable statistic on religion, gives further proof of the continuing vitality of religion. Barrett, who is precise about numbers, has found 9,900 distinct religions in the world, and says that about two or three new religions are born every day. This has not changed much in the past few decades either.


Canadian evangelical churches outperform all others in Bibby’s survey of our religious landscape. Seventy percent of conservative Protestant teens attend worship services, for example. This is a far higher percentage than among any other religious groups.


Yet Bibby also points out that there is room for improvement. Conservative Protestants still amount to only eight percent of the Canadian population, the same proportion of the population they held in the 1871 census. Evangelicals look good in comparison to mainline Protestants, not because they are much better at evangelism, but because they do a better job of getting their teens involved and keeping them involved.


Bob Harvey is the religion editor of the Ottawa Citizen.




A Party That Doesn’t Invite Pro-Lifers (Free Congress Foundation, 030410)


When Rev. David Hughes recently attempted to deliver a prayer before the Maryland state Senate, he was blocked from doing so because it concluded with this phrase: “In Jesus’ name, amen.”


Earlier, several senators had asked him to remove the phrase, perhaps substituting “Messiah” for Jesus. But he refused, saying, “This is my faith.”


The sponsor of Rev. Hughes was state Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican.


Two female senators who heard about Rev. Hughes’ reference to Jesus asked him to remove it. Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller decided not to let the prayer be delivered. That the two female senators were identified in an article about the incident as being Jewish may not explain the force that is really at work here. A reading of the article suggests it is a battle between Christians and Jews. But it was also noted in the article that Senator Mooney had invited Jews to deliver prayers before the state Senate too.


Those who know me will hardly be surprised where my sympathies lie in this matter. But I can speak from years of experience when I say that I’ve worked with many observant Jews over the years, and these tiffs do not erupt within conservative circles when the people are of different faiths but strong religious convictions who share a common interest in the restoration of traditional values.


I can only guess what the motivations were of the senators who initially opposed having Rev. Hughes deliver his prayer. Nor can I say with certainty how strong is their personal faith or what positions they take on litmus test issues, but the fact that the two female senators and Senate President Miller were Democrats may very well prove to be more revealing than many would think.


The astute political and cultural writer Rod Dreher has an article in Touchstone magazine on “The Godless Party” in which he cites survey data from the 1992 national conventions.


Only one-fifth of white delegates to the 1992 Democrat National Convention attended religious services at least once a month. However, over sixty percent of the white 1992 Republican delegates did attend their church or synagogue at least once a month. (Dreher says the polarized attitudes toward religion is a phenomenon confined to whites.)


Furthermore, Dreher mentions that a comprehensive study of voters in the 2000 election found one-quarter of the white electorate harbored serious hostility toward religious conservatives. Seventy percent of such voters cast their ballots for Al Gore and an even higher percentage voted to reelect Bill Clinton four years earlier. Yet, it should be noted with irony, these people strongly believed “that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.”


Dreher wrote, “If Al Smith were to return and run for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be yesterday’s rustic anti-Catholic bigots of the Bible Belt but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities.”


This is a trend that literally has life or death consequences because the odds are much greater that a believer will be a supporter of the pro-life position whereas a non-believer would be more likely by far to favor legalized abortion. The believers are most likely to find a hospitable home in the Republican Party; the non-believers in the Democrat Party.


It is sad to see that one of the two great political parties of our nation has let itself drift into a secular sea that is cold and uninviting to Americans of faith. Two decades ago, the party’s direction was clearly heading way to the left, but there were still a number of pro-life Democrats in office, quite often they took their position because of their faith. Indeed, I regularly worked with and even supported pro-life Democrat candidates and elected public officials. Today, there are far fewer pro-life Democrats both in public office and on the voter rolls. Indeed, many devout Catholics and Protestants left the party precisely because of its secularism and hostility to the pro-life cause.


The result is that this is a party in which the leading candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination addressed a fundraising dinner on January 22nd — the thirtieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision — for the National Abortion Rights Action League / Pro-Choice America organization. I’m talking about A Team candidates such as Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), former governor Howard Dean (D-VT), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO). EMILY’s List, the pro-abortion PAC that aids women candidates, is a welcome participant in Democrat strategy sessions. That EMILY’s List, according to its webpage, was able to give nearly $9.7 million to pro-abortion Democrat women in races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and governorships helps to explain why its endorsement carries such clout.


However, pro-life Democrats have yet to raise the white flag to the superior forces of the pro-abortion Democrats.


Democrats for Life of America is gamely working to have the party that fancies itself as being ‘compassionate’ live up to its self-assigned billing by protecting the rights of those people who are truly the most innocent and defenseless of us, the unborn. Michigan’s Democrat Party just recognized a Choose Life Caucus.


Americans of faith who adhere to traditional values are no longer the moral majority in the way we thought we were nearly a quarter-century ago. But there are still millions of us and we vote and the fact that the Democrat Party is increasingly excluding those Christians and Jews who profess a strong belief in God does not speak well of the party or of the polarized society that we are becoming. There is a “faith gap” that afflicts the Democrat Party, and it needs to be acknowledged more by the party and the news media and academia.


At the same time, it’s good to see that some Democrats still have the wisdom and the guts to resist the party’s embrace of the pro-abortion position. They have some very difficult battles ahead.


Let’s hope these pro-life Democrats have an unshakeable faith too, because they will certainly need it.


Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.




On Bended Knee: Passover/Easter prayers pack a punch (NRO, 030417)


This week, a lot of people are praying. Passover and Holy Week mean even more than usual in light of world events. There’s always a lot to pray about, but there seem to be more immediate — and concrete — things to pray for these days.


My kids pray every night and recently, they’ve gotten a lot of payback for their efforts.


They pray for our troops overseas and for the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein.


They prayed for our POWs. How did those POWs survive? I’m sure they prayed. Did they know people were praying for them? Not just their families — some of whom agreed to pray at the same time every day — but lots of people who didn’t even know them. For a while, It looked bad. Bloody uniforms were found. Shallow graves were discovered. Still, people prayed.


The other night, we told the kids their prayers worked. The POWs were free and they were okay.


Someone, one of their captors, had a change of heart. It only takes one person to say, “No, let’s not kill them.” Or to think, “Let’s leave these prisoners and flee.” Where does that change of heart come from?


A week earlier, our children saw eight or nine men walking down the street in Baghdad, waving their shirts, braving their first moments of liberation. Had they prayed for this moment? Others joined the first group of men. Then, eventually, the statue came down.


Our kids know that prayer is not a last-ditch thing you do because you are helpless. It’s a powerful action. You know what you are asking for. The people you are praying for are praying, too. Do they know others are praying for them? Maybe they are too scared to pray or they don’t believe in God. Then others just have to pray harder.


Even the bad guys might be praying to figure out what to do or how to save their skins. Okay, maybe they’re not, but God is talking to them saying, “You are in huge trouble and you’d better give up the ghost.”


When amazing things happen, God is talking to us.


When Iraqis welcome Americans.


When loyal Saddam soldiers surrender.


When people are found in dungeons by Coalition troops who never stopped looking for them.


These things happen when children pray and God listens.


— Susan Konig, author of the book Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road and other lies I tell my children, is an NRO contributor.




The Media Gets Religion (Weekly Standard, 030506)


The only problem is that, according to a new study, they get it wrong.


YOU WOULDN’T THINK STUDENTS in a single college class could advance the debate on a major media issue. But they have. The issue is how the press covers religion. A class in religion at the University of Rochester did a detailed study of top newspapers and concluded, based on empirical evidence, that the media’s performance on religion is woeful. The press plays up the negative (radical Islam, for example), largely ignores many faith groups, and fails to tap into the advice of experts. Pollster John Zogby says the findings validate what he already knew or suspected about religious coverage. The findings ring true to me as well.


“When it comes to religion, the press seems at odds with itself,” the study found. “On one hand, religion pervades America’s newspapers as part of the background on topics from politics and economics to sports and the arts. On the other hand, stories about religion itself infrequently address religion’s beliefs and values.”


The study, dubbed “Religion in American Newspapers: A Critique and Challenge,” was conducted by a senior seminar for religion majors at the Rochester school. The 29 students were led by professor William Scott Green and Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush, radio commentator, and author of numerous books on baseball. The papers scrutinized for the month of February were the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Denver Post, Wall Street Journal, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, USA Today, and Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Thousands of stories were examined.


Though the students didn’t say so, I suspect the findings apply to coverage of religion, period, not just to newspaper coverage. It’s not a pretty picture. So what were the specific findings? For one, more often than not religion is fleetingly mentioned rather than being the subject of a story. Two, religion stories are mostly about how some faith deals with political or legal issues. Most of the attention paid to Catholics dealt with the sex scandal involving priests. Coverage of Protestants, Jews, and other religions is more balanced.


The study also found that while religion is often used to identify people, it is done haphazardly. Senator Joe Lieberman is frequently identified as an orthodox Jew, while other politicians with strong religious beliefs are not identified by their faith. No politician is ever identified as an atheist, I would add. Coverage of the religious lives of Latinos, blacks, and women gets little media attention. And as you might expect after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the coverage of Islam is disproportionate and heavily slanted toward “criminality and bad deeds.”


Another finding: The religious left’s opposition to the war with Iraq got a lot more attention than the religious case for the war. Finally, here is what I think is the most important conclusion: The bad-news bias so prevalent in the media today also permeates the coverage of religion. “All the papers studied devote more coverage to religion in the context of bad deeds than they do to the good deeds religions do in their communities.”


Why is this? The study doesn’t say, but I believe it’s the case because most reporters at large papers—or TV networks or magazines, for that matter—are secular in the extreme and regard religion with disdain.


The recommendations in the study are fairly tame. The press should “make a clear distinction between religion and criminals or criminal groups associated with that religion,” the students say. It’s hard to argue with that. Coverage should be balanced, the study also declares. One way is for the media “to help readers achieve an accurate perspective on the communities . . . [by reporting on] the ways religions actually improve society.” And so on.


For those who claim the American press is being taken over by the political right, there’s nothing in the report to buttress their claim. The right in America is often seen as more hospitable to religion, particularly Christianity. If that’s true, then the media is more hospitable to critics of religion and, by extension, opponents of the political right.


Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.




State of the Faith: Anno Domini, 2003 (NRO, 031223)


Some 2,000 years after the birth of the Lord, what does the Savior see when he regards the world from deep within it (“The Kingdom of God is within you”)?




The population of Europe, once the cradle of the faith, is shrinking; of those who remain, an ever-growing percentage are now Muslim, and in France perhaps more Muslims than Christians actually attend services on a weekly basis.


Yet Africa is exploding with Christian faith, witness, and dynamism, and in Asia too Christian devotion is rapidly spreading.


Altogether, the number of Christians in the world now amounts to one third or better of the human race, over two billion persons. And Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world.


As always, there is much suffering in the world: cancer, tuberculosis, hunger, war, pestilence, mental illness, betrayal, loneliness, despair. Some individuals bear this suffering sweetly, giving thanks to God and accepting from His hands life’s hardships along with its gifts.


There are many, many such saints, unrecognized by the world around them, whose lives nonetheless cast a luminous radiance detectable by the radar of the soul. These are the centers of redemptive energies, which flow outwards like ripples until they round the earth and return, the invisible circlets of charity, as Dostoevsky once called them. These are those in whom the Christ dwells — the suffering servants. They are everywhere.


You probably know some in your own family, or among your acquaintances: There really is much suffering in the world, and it spares no income level, or class, or section. Yet there are still many truly holy persons.




I am writing all this as an unabashed Christian, but you do not have to be Christian to see some truth in it, however different the traditions of your own thought and speech.


Recently, British scientist Richard Dawkins was described as “an atheist, and a strenuous and militant and proud one.” (One does not hear often of humble atheists, but they do appear.) “He thinks religious belief is a dangerous virus, and that it is a crime to infect the mind of a child with it.” He calls religions “dangerous collective delusions” and “sinks of falsehood.” He especially regrets the public influence of religion: “He is made apoplectic by the pontifications of religious ‘leaders’ on such questions as whether human clones would be fully human.” For Dawkins, in short, “Religion is superstition, like astrology, alternative medicine, and the rest.”


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, about ten percent (or a little less) of the world population is atheist or agnostic. So however upscale the views of Professor Dawkins, he has his propagating work cut out for him. Most nonreligious, secularist people, it appears, actually believe in God; they just don’t like organized religions.


Even Richard Dawkins would be hard-pressed to deny that among his friends and family members there is considerable acquaintance with suffering, and that some bear this burden more nobly and uncomplainingly than others. Further, some are preternaturally kind and others irascible; and some are rather a blessing to those around them, and others a bit of a cross to bear. Scientists are not immune to the ordinary sufferings of human life. They, too, need to dispose their will and character, so as to show who and what they are in dealing with suffering. Science is a noble profession; it is not by itself a way of life. It is predominantly a habit of the mind, much less of the will.




Moreover, there is this to say about the religions of the Lord celebrated on Christmas — the feast of lights, the feast of candles, the feast of the stars, the feast of blazing Christmas lights even in the city streets. Both Judaism and Christianity are religions that give honor and praise to a Creator who knew what he was doing and chose to do it (a God of reason and love). Afterwards, He saw that His was a good piece of work, and spoke of His love for it. In a word, Judaism and Christianity hold before us a God of the intellect, one of whose proper names is Truth — in the sense of “intelligent infuser of the truth into all things.”


Moreover, the Creator made humans in his image — endowed them with intelligence and will, so that they might in freedom come to know and to choose their own destiny, and being provident for it, imitate (from afar) His own Providence. He commissioned them to join in completing the incomplete creation with Him. He offered them his friendship, and therefore, not willing to have the friendship of slaves but of free women and men, he made them free. As Thomas Jefferson, a man not altogether unlike Dawkins in temper, wrote, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.”


It would therefore have ill become these particular world-shaping religions, in honoring the Creator who infused His creation with it, to have turned against intellect. On the contrary, Judaism famously nourished learning, disputation, and reasoning among its highest aspirations, and Christianity became from the first the patron of schools, academies, studios for artists, libraries, and universities. Among these early universities are two rather well known to Dawkins: Oxford and Cambridge, whose fame was celebrated even six centuries ago.


A nice irony is this: Whereas Christianity (and Judaism) can give atheists a dignified place within their own theory of religious liberty, it seems quite difficult for atheists such as Dawkins to assign religious people any place in their own theory other than the loony bin. For Jews and Christians, freedom is so dear to the Creator that He allows free human beings to turn away from him, to reject the granting even of His existence, and to scorn Him and His works. In their refusal of His friendship, He vindicates His love of liberty. Thus, atheists too give witness to His glory.


By contrast, Dawkins in his apoplexy can find no place for believing Jews and Christians except delusion. He thinks of atheism as a place of honor and of religion as a disease; teaching of the latter, a crime; teaching of the former, a way of light, knowledge, and truth.




There is a further irony. Time and again in history, reason has proved to be inadequate to its own defense. Most people most of the time live by passion, sentiment, custom, emotion — many such guides influence them — but few live purely by reason. Even famous philosophers of very high scientific standards have insisted that they did not choose their wives or guide their loves by scientific reason. Reason is but a thin sliver to build a civilization upon.


And the situation is far worse than that. The scientist qua scientist typically writes that the universe was formed by chance. At this starting point, then, there is a fundamental irrationality at the heart of science. There is a superstructure of towering reasonings, but based upon an absurdity — in the strict sense, an utter absence of discernible reason, a surd at the root of the matter. The thorough cultivation of science alone as a philosophy of life, therefore, normally ends as Nietzsche sadly announced, that, in our civilization, it already had: in nihilism.


By contrast, the two great religions of our civilization (the civilization whose years are enumerated both before and after one axial point, the birth of Christ) give every motive in the world for honoring reason, and for nourishing science. The very cathedrals of Europe — whose vast dark interiors were laid out so as to measure across their slate floors the length and movement of the sun’s directed, filtered beams — were simultaneously reaching skywards in the name both of God’s creative intellect and also of daring human intellect. The universities were built in the same design.


Faith, as Jews and Christians understand it, honors reason, nourishes it, embeds it in a context of nobility and purity, such that all are commanded to respect its autonomy within its own realm. When practitioners of these religions do not so honor science, as often they have not, their rejection can be proven wrong on these two religions’ very own philosophical grounds. As practitioners of reason have committed sins against faith, so have practitioners of faith, against reason. If there were no inherent nobility in each, no sin against either would count for so much.


The God of Christmas instructs us in zeal for the Light; that is, the unquenchable drive to know. This drive is the very root of the religious impulse, for through it, we question everything. We come to an indirect awareness of the infinite, and of the Light that would suffuse us with the intelligibility within all things, if only our minds were large enough to grasp it. In this way we come to be humbled, to approach in fear and wonder and awe, and with fierce desire. The consummation of unconditioned inquiry in unrestricted Light — we know darkly and indirectly, by reflection on our own striving — is what we were made for.




To see the newborn infant in the crèche, born of a woman and visibly human, vulnerable, and humble, while contemplating in the unseen aspect of His being that He is also the Lord, the Creator of all things, is to glimpse an analogy for our own long-sought identity. Too well we know our own humanness. What we need reminding of is the side of us made for union with a Friend, who has called us by name, if so we choose.


It is, truly, a choice — not a certainty: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not... He was in the world: and the world was made by him: and the world knew him not.”


In Christmas, then, lies our decision to answer to the Creator, and thus our inalienable right to make that decision, all by ourselves. Neither mother nor father nor brother nor sister can fulfill this duty for us. It is nontransferable.


As James Madison writes in his Remonstrance, “This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe... If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.”


One more reason why the crèche, the reminder both of that first Christmas night and of the origin of a modern sense of human dignity, deserves to be exhibited in front of every public building in America. The crèche is not only a religious symbol; it is not merely a secular symbol: It is a symbol of our uplifted nature, and of the rights that accrue to it.


— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.




Ho, Ho, Hum? Where’s the crèche? [holidays of different religions] (NRO, 031223)


My eight-year-old grandson recently had occasion to show off his Christmas tree to a neighbor who had dropped by unexpectedly. The tree, decorated primarily by John and his sisters, ages three, six, and ten, is heavy on gaudy red tinsel and has a high density of non-breakable ornaments on its lower half. It is, frankly, more Charlie Brown than Town and Country. But it has its own charm, and they definitely feel ownership of the tree.


John soon pressed the neighbor into service, offering him an ornament to place on the tree. As the boy carefully added his decoration, under John’s helpful supervision, the neighbor noted that he hadn’t had a Christmas tree in years.


Undeterred, and irrepressible, John asked cheerfully, “Oh, so do you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?”


John’s question illustrates the fine line we all walk in appreciating and protecting the rich diversity of a multicultural nation. His question also points out the dilemma we face — the mediocrity of homogenization.


This season, America has embraced the homogenization of Christmas with a vengeance.


After the steady decline from celebrating the birth of Christ into heralding the flight of Saint Nick, our culture is sinking quickly into hallowing Billy Bass, the singing fish.


Ironically, while social critics for years have been decrying the increasing materialism of the Christmas season, it may just be that this commercialization is inherently self-defeating. Exhibit A: Wal-Mart says its “holiday” sales are down even with the upturn in the economy.


No wonder! Merchants cannot denigrate Christmas and, at the same time, expect people to consider it significant motivation to spend lots of money on presents. Frankly, a plain ol’ holiday won’t continue to motivate people to go all-out, go into debt, or devote great effort to planning, shopping, decorating, partying, wrapping, and celebrating. Obviously, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of money. Most harried households would be glad to cut out the work and save the money.


What’s the point of spending a bundle for an event that no longer has a shared cultural significance, rooted in spiritual resonance? Why continue a tradition that, at best, has the potential for awkward social faux pas?


For years Christmas has been dangerously close to becoming merely a commercial commodity. Merchants, media, government, and culture have all worked together to transform the sacred celebration into a homogenized, generic holiday. Christmas has become a product to be sold; a holiday like any other, with a theme and a decorating code dictated by Bobo aesthetics (no red tinsel). The various holidays on the annual calendar are becoming interchangeable: Happy Winter Holiday! Merry Memorial Day! Joyeux Casual Friday! Let’s Party During Spring Break!


But, they can’t have it both ways.


It’s no mystery why merchants are seeing their bottom lines drop. Main Street Americans are getting the message — Christmas is just another day, after all. The crass advertising lures Christians to the stores; once there, their beliefs are trivialized; their Savior is ignored. Increasingly, clerks have been forbidden to acknowledge “the reason for the season” with a cheery “Merry Christmas.” Instead the marketplaces ring with bland “Happy Holidays” — the mandatory, politically correct greeting.


Forget the merchant’s bottom line. Maybe this final degradation of Christmas won’t be so bad. It could even be good for Christmas — and Christians. Finally, we will have to acknowledge the impossibility of worshipping both God and Mammon, especially on the same day. Those of us who are true believers can spend our efforts worshipping Him instead of shopping and partying. We can return the winter-solstice celebrations back to the pagans. After all, the birth of Christ, formerly a religious celebration, became a federal holiday by fiat — another day off from hard labor. The commercialization and trivialization of the day’s significance can degenerate even further so that Christ’s birth date can come to rival the birth date of George Washington — now tossed in together with Lincoln’s birthday to make just another amorphous three-day weekend named Presidents’ Day, celebrated as time off to buy a mattress on sale.


Instead of enduring endless checkout lines as harried shoppers scurrying to find the perfect gift, perhaps true believers will find the time to stand outside a place of worship, in a live crèche, in mute witness to the babe in the manger.


Or, better yet, maybe they’ll work to make it legal again to place the nativity scene in the public square.


Otherwise — well, ho, ho, hum: another holiday. What’s this one called? Didn’t people use to buy gifts, have parties, and make it a big deal?


— Janice Shaw Crouse is a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America. She is author and editor of the Christian Women’s Declaration.




Not With a Biblical Bang...Looks like Saddam’s not the END after all (National Review Online, 031229)


Another candidate for the position of “The Antichrist” has met his end.


It wasn’t too long ago that Saddam Hussein was considered by some Bible-prophecy students to possibly be the final “man of sin” and global dictator. As late as March of this year, fundamentalist pastor and “end-times” buff Irvin Baxter insisted that Saddam Hussein was Abaddon, or Apollyon, the “Destroyer” spoken of in Revelation 9:11. “Iraq fits like hand in glove,” he claimed, predicting that Saddam’s country would soon become the vortex of supernatural evil. Various prophecy-oriented websites explained in elaborate detail how the Butcher of Baghdad might rise from the ruin of the first Persian Gulf War and lead a jihad against Israel, plunging the world into the final cosmic conflict between good and evil, culminating in the battle of Armageddon.


Historian Paul Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More (1992), a seminal study of prophecy belief in America, estimates that close to 40 percent of Americans believe the Bible outlines a detailed sequence of end-times events. For many of them, the 1990-91 conflict between Saddam and Coalition forces was a significant turning point in how they interpreted key passages of Scripture. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the majority of prophetically minded Christians believed that the Soviet Union would be the leading force in the attempted annihilation of Israel. Hal Lindsey, author of the mega-selling The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), wrote in 1981 that the Soviets were poised to take over Afghanistan and “the entire Middle East,” adding that “all that remains is for the Russians to make their predicted move.”


The predicted move didn’t quite work out, just as the prognostications of most “prophecy experts” tended to not work out. But Lindsey and others did correctly suggest that terrorism was fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. This theme was taken up in Charles Dyer’s 1991 book, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times which featured Saddam on the cover, and sold several hundred thousand copies. Dyer, however, was less interested in Saddam as a potential Antichrist than as a key builder of the New Babylon, the city that Dyer and many others believe will soon be the capital of a one-world government.


During the late ‘80s and the fall of Communism, the popular forms of Bible prophecy launched in the early 1970s by Lindsey and his imitators had suffered a serious lull and loss of momentum. The dramatic coverage of the Persian Gulf War helped restart the prophetic fires — and the sales of apocalyptic literature. John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary and a leading light in Bible-prophecy circles, republished his 1974 book, Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis in 1990, and within a year it sold over a million copies. Sales for Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth increased by over 80 percent and a flood of new titles hit the popular market.


Those impressive numbers pale in comparison to the incredible sales achieved by the Left Behind series, still going strong today, with the twelfth book, Glorious Appearing, due out in March 2004. In just nine years the Left Behind novels, co-authored by fundamentalist pastor Tim LaHaye and author Jerry B. Jenkins, have sold close to 60 million copies. They appear regularly atop the New York Times bestseller charts and trail only the Harry Potter books in popularity. A central element in those apocalyptic potboilers is the establishment of New Babylon in Iraq by the Antichrist, Romanian Nicolae Carpathia. Although many readers were thrilled by these seemingly unique works, many major plot lines and leading characters bore a striking resemblance to another end-times novel, titled 666, released in the 1970s by the same publisher.


LaHaye is certain that Saddam has already played a central role in the world’s last days, which he believes are nipping at our historical heels. (“The hoofbeats of the four horseman of the Apocalypse,” he writes, “can now be heard in the distance.”) In Are We Living in the End Times? (1999), a nonfiction companion to the Left Behind series, LaHaye writes, “Long before Saddam Hussein became a household name, he was busy fulfilling Bible prophecy” by starting to rebuild Babylon. He later adds, “As sure as there is a God in heaven who keeps His word, Babylon will live again as ‘the seat of Satan.’ . . . Even now, in our lifetime, Babylon is being prepared for its final appearance on the stage of human history. The ancient prophecies about Babylon are unfolding before us — just like so many other prophecies of the end times.” So, just when the Iraqis think their fortunes have improved, the news worsens.


“End-times analyst” Mark Hitchcock, LaHaye’s colleague at the Left Behind Prophecy Club, takes up this position in breathless but unconvincing fashion in The Second Coming of Babylon (2003). After explaining how Saddam has set the stage for a glimmering New Babylon, Hitchcock argues that “the ouster of Saddam from power actually makes the rebuilding of Babylon much more likely” because now the sanctions on Iraqi oil sales will be lifted, opening the door for a flood of “billions of dollars, euros, and yen.”


Such comments highlight the unrelentingly negative and fatalistic character of popular Bible-prophecy books and authors. You thought Saddam was bad? Wait until you see the next guy. You thought life was going to get better? Wait until you experience the coming Tribulation and the rule of The Antichrist. If conditions improve, it’s only so they can become twice as bad in the very near future. This approach is captured every week in Jack Van Impe’s television program, Jack Van Impe Presents, which features breaking headlines about global disasters compared in rapid-fire fashion with selected passages of Scripture.


And so it goes — and has gone for many decades. Saddam was just the latest of dozens of candidates for The Antichrist who have risen and fallen over the centuries. Dr. Edward Hindson, dean of the Institute of Biblical Studies at Liberty University, recently exhorted fellow end-times watchers that “we must exercise discernment when we deal with the imminence of Christ’s return. Most of us believe that He could come at any moment. While this hope gives the church great comfort and expectation, it often leads to excessive speculation. Think of all the ‘candidates’ for Antichrist that have been proposed in the 20th century alone — Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Saddam Hussein, Juan Carlos, Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, and many others.” Leading candidates prior to the twentieth century have included Caligula, Nero, assorted popes, Napoleon, and Kaiser Wilhem.


That’s quite a list. Who’s next?


— Carl E. Olson is the editor of Envoy magazine and author of Will Catholics Be Left Behind? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s Prophecy Preachers, recently selected by the Associated Press as one of 2003’s notable religious titles.




Pastor Says Some Churches Preaching ‘Reinvented’ Gospel (Crosswalk, 040100)


A well-known Christian author and pastor is concerned that a growing number of Evangelical ministers are watering down the gospel message in order to be “seeker sensitive.”


Dr. John MacArthur says many Evangelical pastors are presenting what he calls a “reinvented designer pop gospel” in hopes of making Christianity appear more attractive or culturally relevant.


The pastor of Grace Community Church in San Valley, California, says those who preach in that fashion have a weak view of the authority and power of scripture.


“I think it encompasses a weak view of the honor and the power of God and Christ,” MacArthur says bluntly.  “In other words, I think you’re basically usurping the Lordship of Christ over His Church — you’re saying, ‘I’m going to stand here and give a message that I think is better than the one that Christ gave.’”  Such an attitude, he says, is “a frightening thing to think about.”


MacArthur believes it is becoming harder than ever to find an Evangelical church that is not compromising the gospel.  He says small churches that remain true to God’s Word and do not embrace a user-friendly gospel are often viewed today as “archaic” and “unsuccessful.”


“The huge crowds are drawn by lowering all the standards,” he says, citing such apporaches as a “minimalist gospel,” an entertainment mentality, and creation of a social environment that attracts people by promising them “the path to success” and better economic status.


“You know ... ‘You’ll do better in your job, your career, your family, your marriage, etc.’” he says.  “Those are the kinds of things that are sold on the ‘felt need’ counter.”


In his recently published book Hard to Believe, MacArthur contends that many professing Christians do not understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ because they are seeking an experience rather than a person.


He also takes aim at the so-called “health-and-wealth” and “name-it-and-claim-it” gospels.




Pop Culture Puts Religion in the Spotlight (FN, 040218)


From the glittering hills of Hollywood to the houses of worship dotting the Bible Belt, tongues are wagging about religion, scripture, history and Jesus’ passion — thanks in large part to pop culture.


Churches are reserving theaters for their congregations to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ; people are returning to bookstores to research the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene after reading the best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code”; and TV viewers are tuning in weekly to see Joan of Arcadia communicate with God.


Some experts are thrilled that the entertainment spotlight is shining on religion, but others are doubtful — and even worried — about the impact it ultimately will have on secular America’s perception of Jesus and faith.


Ted Haggard, president of The National Association of Evangelicals, who sees the “The Passion” in particular as a tremendous outreach opportunity, is encouraged by pop culture’s focus on the spiritual.


“People appreciate movies and theater that acknowledge faith,” he said. “People appreciate when ‘Touched by an Angel’ or ‘Joan of Arcadia’ or ‘The Passion’ represents them honestly and not as a caricature.”


But some historians are wary of all the God talk, saying lay people may take away only what they want from popular culture versions of scripture.


“Different Jesuses appeal to different people. [These interpretations] are carving apart the Gospels,” said George Parsenios, a New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary who points out that “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Passion of the Christ” represent two extremes of Jesus’ story.


“Da Vinci” by Dan Brown, a story about searching for the Holy Grail, paints the Catholic Church as a patriarchal, manipulative entity that subverted the real story of Jesus’ life. “The Passion of the Christ,” on the other hand, claims to adhere closely to the actual Gospels.


In truth, neither version is likely to appease scholars.


“All scholars would say the Gospels represent an interpretation of Jesus anyway,” said Parsenios. “They are not just giving the facts, ma’am. Events in one are transposed in another to draw out new meaning from them.”


Parsenios is also wary about having pop culture educate people about religion.


“Most college students get their news from Letterman. It’s similar to that,” he said.


In response to all the media attention on “The Passion,” groups such as The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College are making an effort to inform the public about the subtleties of religion. They’ve posted a study guide for portrayals of Jesus’ passion, and also held a series of lectures aimed at educating the community.


Ruth Langer, the group’s associate director, said the film is, in a sense, providing an opportunity for education, but added that the group would rather not have to fight the possibility of misconceptions that could come from the film.


“Unfortunately, it takes a controversy to bring something to people’s consciousness,” she said.


Bishop Savas Zembillas of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in New York is also concerned about how Gibson’s film will be interpreted, especially by those not well versed in the Gospels.


“Somebody coming at this cold, if they don’t know Jesus’ story, they are going to be at sea, really,” said Zembillas, who screened an early cut of “The Passion.”


Like some others who have seen the film, Zembillas expressed concern over its graphic nature.


“[There’s] a flogging scene that goes on for a good quarter of an hour,” said Zembillas. “By the time it’s over, he’s been flayed. I stopped believing at that point. I can’t believe a man can stand up and carry a tree up a hill for 20 minutes while being lashed.”


But Gibson, an action movie star accustomed to on-screen gore, and others who have come out in support of the film say the bloody scenes are appropriate for today’s movie-going public.


“People know how to watch movies and people know how to read books.... We know they can differentiate between a documentary and a historical account,” said Haggard. “Mel’s movie feels like the real thing.... When people say it’s too violent, they mean ‘It’s too violent for me.’ I think the fact that audiences are used to violence gives [Gibson] permission to make it authentic.”


Haggard added that some people will always take books or films too literally, but reasonable folks will know the difference. “‘The Da Vinci Code’ is a novel. The same people who believe the Earth is hollow and that’s where UFOs come from will believe it’s fact.”


As for whether “The Passion” will inspire more religious curiosity among people who are not already churchgoers, Zembillas is skeptical.


“I don’t think a lot of people do homework after a movie,” he said. “If it does that, more power to Mr. Gibson.”


Zembillas added that Americans who aren’t already faithful to a particular religious sect have probably only marginally been influenced by shows like “Touched by an Angel” and “Joan of Arcadia,” as well the surge of mainstream Christian rock bands.


“You have to almost listen for the message to know there is a message,” he said.


Ultimately in America, faith, as it’s portrayed on television, in films and in popular books, presents so many versions of Jesus that most Americans take what they want from these interpretations of his story, said Parsenios.


“With all these Jesuses floating around for sale,” he said, “you can just pick the one you like.”




Passionate Population: The media discover America’s religious (NRO, 040224)


America is in the midst of a new Great Awakening. It’s the mainstream media, prompted by excitement over the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ, waking up to the fact that the country still has an enormous block of orthodox Christians. You can sense the bemused astonishment behind some of the press reports: “Didn’t all of these people slink away in embarrassment forevermore after the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925?”


Sorry. They didn’t. And it is impossible to understand what seems certain to be the commercial success of The Passion, or — more importantly — to understand American domestic politics and foreign policy without appreciating the number and vigor of America’s Christians. They are President Bush’s electoral lifeblood, and are driving an era of idealistic American assertion abroad that is literally changing the world.


According to John Green of Akron University, there are 50 million white evangelical Protestants in the United States. There are 20 million black Christians, many of whom are evangelical. There are 50 million Roman Catholics, roughly 30 million of whom are traditional in their beliefs. There are 30 million mainline Protestants, many of whom are theologically liberal, but not all. That makes for — give or take — more than 100 million orthodox Christians, quite an audience base for a film drawn directly from the Gospels.


And they have money to spend. Back in 1993, the Washington Post reported that conservative evangelicals were “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” Laughable at the time, it is even more so now. Green reports that there has been considerable upward social mobility among evangelicals during the past 30 years. They spend on Christian books (roughly $4 billion a year) and albums ($850 million a year) and, as apparently only Gibson understood in Hollywood, will pay to see a movie that speaks to them.


The silver screen aside, orthodox Christians have an enormous influence on national life through the Bush administration. What trial lawyers are to John Edwards, the orthodox are to Bush — his indispensable political base. According to Green, roughly 75 percent of evangelicals voted for Bush. White evangelicals accounted for as much as 40 percent of his total vote. Another 20 percent came from traditional Catholics and serious mainline Protestants. The Bush presidency should be stamped: “Brought to you by orthodox Christian believers.”


It shows. The reinvigorated Wilsonian foreign policy championed by Bush — and motivated less by Woodrow Wilson’s secular values (international law, etc.) and more by religious beliefs (the God-given rights of all people) — is a reflection of Bush’s Christian base.


As Walter Russell Mead writes in his brilliant forthcoming book, Power, Terror, Peace, and War: “The rise in the number of evangelical Protestants, combined with their increasing levels of affluence, political participation and education, suggests that for the next generation at least, we will be witnessing the rise and consolidation of an evangelical establishment that will view America’s world role in a different way than the waning and dying mainstream Protestant establishment that once set the Wilsonian agenda.”


This dynamic is already evident. The divide with Europe is partly driven by faith, as secular Europeans cringe at American religiosity. America’s strong support for Israel is a product of a potent alliance between evangelicals and hawkish Jews. Evangelicals have supported an extraordinary amount of human-rights activism recently on issues from religious persecution to sex trafficking to AIDS. Bush has tapped into that idealism and made it an important aspect of his war on terror.


Domestically, the influence of Bush’s orthodox base can be seen in his faith-based initiative, his signing of a partial-birth-abortion ban and his opposition to gay marriage, among other things. The rap against evangelicals used to be that they were intolerant, but they have lately demonstrated their ability to work with conservative Jews and Catholics in a new, powerful traditionalist ecumenism.


The fervor over The Passion has taken many observers by surprise. It shouldn’t, and you ain’t seen nothing yet.


— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.




U.S. Protestant population seen losing majority status (Washington Times, 040721)


The United States will lose its historic status as a majority-Protestant nation as early as this year, according to a national survey released yesterday.


Between 1993 and 2002, the proportion of Americans who said they were Protestants fell from 63 percent to 52 percent after decades of stability, according to the study released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.


“Since Colonial times, the United States has been a Protestant nation. But this year or next, the proportion of all Protestants will fall below 50 percent” of the total U.S. population for the first time, said Tom Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey, which measures public trends.


The NORC survey identifies Protestants as “any post-Reformation Christian denomination,” including some groups, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah’s Witnesses, although their theologies differ substantially from those of most Christians and they are not universally viewed as Protestant.


While the United States “has been seen as white and Protestant, we’re not going to be majority Protestant any longer,” added Mr. Smith, co-author of the study titled “The Vanishing Protestant Majority.”


Mainline Protestant churches, such as United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal, have been losing members for years, but those losses have been cushioned by gains in the number of people joining evangelical or fundamentalist denominations.


“Some evangelical faiths are growing, while none of the major liberal Protestant denominations are,” Mr. Smith said.


“But with the exception of Southern Baptists,” the largest Protestant denomination with more than 16 million members, he said, “most evangelical denominations are quite small,” so any gains they have made in members have not increased the total number of Protestants in the United States today.


Key factors in the decline of Protestantism are as follows, according to the NORC report:


•The number of Americans who said they had no religion rose from 9 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2002. Many in this group were former Protestants.


•Americans who said they belonged to religions other than Christianity or Judaism rose from 3 percent to 7 percent between 1993 and 2002. Other religions included Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism and other Eastern faiths, and those who describe themselves as inter-denominational.


•Large numbers of young people and adults have been leaving Protestant denominations, as the number of non-Protestant immigrants increased, making up a greater share of the population.


•A lower percentage of U.S. residents are being raised as Protestants. Surveys indicate that 55 percent of U.S. adults today were raised as Protestants. But in the early 1980s, 67 percent to 68 percent of U.S. adults were raised in Protestant households.


•Fewer U.S. Protestants are maintaining their faith as adults. In the 1970s through 1993, Protestant denominations enjoyed a retention rate of 90 percent or more. But since then, retention has remained in the 80 percent range.


•A growing number of Americans who have become inactive in Protestant denominations are describing themselves as Christians, rather than Protestants.


“About 2 percent of Americans today are what we call generic Christians. That’s up from less than 1/2 percent who described themselves that way” a decade ago, Mr. Smith said.


NORC is not the only national research or polling organization whose data indicate Protestantism is close to losing its majority status. Similar findings have come from the Gallup Poll, the 1988-2002 National Election Studies (NES); and the 1990 and 2001 American Religious Identification Studies (ARIS).


Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, which tracks religious affiliation, said yesterday that in his group’s survey, “the percentage who say they are Protestant is getting close to the 50 percent level. It was 51 percent in 2003.”


As recently as 1996 or 1997, the proportion of Protestants was 58 percent, he said.


“It’s not that people are abandoning Christianity. They may just be abandoning the label Protestant,” Mr. Newport added.


Figures from both Gallup and NORC indicate Roman Catholics make up about 25 percent of the total U.S. population, a statistic that has remained stable for decades, and that Jews constitute 2 percent.


Asked why the percentage of Catholics has not risen, given all the immigrants that have come from Mexico and other Latin American countries, Mr. Newport said that Hispanics arrive in this country as Catholics, but do not always retain their Catholic roots. However, Roman Catholicism remains the nation’s largest Christian faith, with more than 65.2 million members.


Unlike NORC, Mr. Newport says Gallup has found no evidence that the percentage of Americans with no religion is climbing. Gallup data indicate the share of those with no religion remains at 9 percent, where it was in 1992.


But Mr. Smith of NORC said Gallup stands alone with its finding that the number of nonbelievers has remained flat and said he is convinced Gallup is wrong.


Gallup does not include Mormons in its Protestant category. But its “other” religion category accounts for 13 percent of the total.


“An increasing number of people are saying they are something other than Protestant ... but some [who identify themselves as ‘other’] could actually be Protestant,” Mr. Newport said.




Christianity and the European Union (Christian Post, 040529)


The dominant voice in drafting the forthcoming Constitution to the European Union has long since urged against the inclusion of a reference to Christianity and God in the charter’s preamble.


Many countries, including England and Germany where Protestantism first formed, have called for a constitution that would merely mark the “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.” More secularized countries such as Belgium and France have bluntly argued that mentioning Christianity in the preamble would discriminate against other groups.


Going further, the Prime Minister of France, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, expressed his belief that the “future is a European society which should include secularism as a founding value,” during a radio broadcast last week.


Thankfully, a majority of the new players in the field, Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, challenged the current draft of the EU Constitution, and at no better time; the finalized draft is due in less than a month.


These five majority Catholic countries, with the help of two older members, Italy and Portugal, last week issued a letter urging “a reference to the Christian root s of Europe” in the preamble, warning the other players that the “issue remains a priority for our governments as well as for millions of Europeans citizens.”


Poland specifically urged for a reference to “both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values from other sources”.


While it is disheartening that a continent so abundantly blessed by God would consider a denial of its own heritage, it is encouraging that the younger players would boldly stand for what is true: the foundation of Europe cannot be based on the ever-changing concept of “secularism” and “humanism.”


Amid this pivotally historic moment in Europe, it may be possible for the drafters of the continental constitution to overcome identity crisis and reconcile tradition with newfound unity in unprecedented diversification toward a brighter future of the European Union. But denial of Christian heritage would not only thwart continental harmony, it would discriminate against the millions who adhere to sound Christian beliefs.




The Christmas Miracle: Most Americans believe the virgin birth is literally true (Newsweek, 041205)


Dec. 5 - 79% of Americans believe that, as the Bible says, Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without a human father, according to a new NEWSWEEK poll on beliefs about Jesus.


67% say they believe that the entire story of Christmas—the Virgin Birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men from the East—is historically accurate. 24% of Americans believe the story of Christmas is a theological invention written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ, the poll shows. In general, say 55% of those polled, every word of the Bible is literally accurate. 38% do not believe that about the Bible.


In the NEWSWEEK poll, 93% of Americans say they believe Jesus Christ actually lived and 82% believe Jesus Christ was God or the Son of God. 52% of all those polled believe, as the Bible proclaims, that Jesus will return to earth someday; 21% do not believe it. 15% believe Jesus will return in their lifetime; 47% do not, the poll shows.


When asked if there would be more or less kindness in the world today if there had never been a Jesus, 61% of all those polled say there would be less kindness. 47% say there would be more war if there had never been a Jesus (16% say less, 26% say the same); 63% say there would be less charity; 58% say there would be less tolerance; 59% say there would be less personal happiness and 38% say there would be less religious divisions (21% say more and 26% say the same).


Most Americans believe the Virgin Birth is literally true, a Newsweek poll finds. Just 11% of those surveyed say American society as a whole very closely reflects true Christian values and the spirit of Jesus; 53% say it somewhat reflects those values. But 86% say they believe organized religion has a “a lot” or “some” influence over life in the United States today. 9% say it has “only a little” influence.


62% say they favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools; 26% oppose such teaching, the poll shows. 43% favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools; 40% oppose the idea.


For this NEWSWEEK Poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed by telephone 1,009 adults, aged 18 and older on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.




Americans Describe Sources of Spiritual Fulfillment and Frustration (Barna, 041129)


(Ventura, CA) - Change is hard for most people. Deciding what and how to change spiritually is apparently no easier for people than it is in any other area of their life, according to a new national survey by The Barna Group, of Ventura, California. The study discovered that about half of the adult population is able to identify something in their spiritual life they would be willing to change, and many of those ideas are quite general in nature.


Spiritual Satisfaction


Eight out of every nine adults (87%) is able to identify an activity that they say brings them the greatest degree of spiritual satisfaction or fulfillment. No particular activity or effort was named by more than one out of every four individuals as providing such satisfaction. The most common effort was attending church services and events, which 23% named as the most fulfilling spiritual activity in their life. Half as many (12%) indicated that spending time with their family produces the greatest sense of spiritual satisfaction, while the same proportion (12%) mentioned any of a variety of creative and leisure endeavors as their greatest source of spiritual fulfillment. Those outlets included engaging in music, art, or other creative media; participating in sports or hobbies; secluded meditation; and enjoying nature.


One out of every eleven adults (9%) identified prayer as the most fulfilling spiritual activity they undertake, while Bible reading was named by 7% and helping other people was listed by 6%. Interestingly, just 3% mentioned the maintenance or enjoyment of their relationship with God as their greatest source of spiritual fulfillment and only 1% said their relationships with other believers was their source. Less than one percent listed worshipping God as their means of fulfillment, and a similarly miniscule number claimed that leading someone to Christ was their major source of satisfaction.


Spiritual Change


Although most adults (62%) consider themselves to be “deeply spiritual,” nearly half of the public (46%) is satisfied enough with their spiritual condition that they have no aspects of their spirituality that they would like to change. The proportion of adults with no specific changes in mind ranged from two-thirds of atheists and agnostics (67%) and six out of ten adherents of non-Christian faiths (58%) to a low of just 13% of evangelical Christians who were unable to list a single facet of their faith dimension that they would change. Like evangelicals, born again Christians were less likely than average to mention that there were no spiritual factors they would alter in their life (33%), which compares to 58% among adults who are not born again.


Among the one-half of adults who would like to enhance their spiritual make-up, the desired transformations varied greatly in nature, resulting in no single change being listed by more than one out of every eight people.


The most commonly noted shift was the desire to be more heavily involved in a church. That was named by 12% all adults – almost all of them already active in a church or religious center. The next most prominent transition, suggested by 7%, was a desire to be more devoted to spiritual things, ranging from the stated need for more time to devote to spiritual matters to developing a deeper or stronger faith in God.


Beyond that, 5% said they would like to figure out how to be a better person, and another 5% mentioned more knowledge or reading of the Bible as their top priority for spiritual change. Having a better prayer life was offered by 4%, while 3% gave each of a trio of alternatives: doing God’s will or being more Christ-like, being closer to God, and having a more dynamic faith experience with their family. There were no other transitions listed by 3% or more of the population.


Different Groups Have Different Ideas


Several attitudinal patterns were evident in the survey data. For instance, men were twice as likely as women to say there was nothing in particular that gave them a sense of spiritual fulfillment. Other population segments that were comparatively more likely to not specify anything that produced spiritual fulfillment in their life included Hispanics, self-defined liberals, and residents of the western states.


Evangelicals were three times more likely than other adults to suggest that reading or knowing the Bible gives them their greatest spiritual satisfaction, while the non-evangelical population was six times more likely to indicate that spending time with family (in either religious or non-religious pursuits) was the dominant source of spiritual fulfillment.


Age differences also emerged. Adults 40 years of age or older were almost 40% more likely than younger adults to cite church involvement as a source of spiritual fulfillment. The younger adults were also highly unlikely to mention fellowship with other adherents of their faith as satisfying but were somewhat more likely to list prayer as their most common path to spiritual satisfaction.


Black adults were twice as likely as whites and three times as likely as Hispanics to list reading or knowing the Bible as their top route to spiritual fulfillment.


Church size also affected the responses generated. Adults attending churches of 100 or fewer people were the least likely to identify church participation or prayer as their most certain means to spiritual fulfillment, and they were more likely than others to suggest that creative and leisure endeavors (such as creative arts, sports, nature, and hobbies) were their greatest source of spiritual fulfillment. People who attend churches of 500 or more adults were more than 50% more likely to mention prayer as their source of fulfillment than were adults who attend smaller congregations.


Regarding the single aspect of spiritual change most desired, born again Christians differed substantially from non-born again adults. The born again segment was significantly more likely to list traditional spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer and leading a Christ-like life. Those transformations were named by 21% of the born again crowd, but by only 4% of other adults. (Among evangelicals, a subset of the born again public, those three shifts were listed by 46%!)


Protestants and Catholics have clearly divergent ideas regarding spiritual change. A majority of Catholics had no specifics they wanted to alter, compared to only four out of ten Protestants who failed to identify a specific change. Protestants were also three times more likely than Catholics to name Bible knowledge, prayer, being more Christ-like or being closer to God. Catholics, on the other hand, were somewhat more likely to list increased family-oriented faith experiences.


Unexpectedly, adults under 40 were much more likely than older adults to say they desire more involvement in or connection to a church.


Challenges Regarding Spiritual Growth


The response patterns in the survey prompted the survey director, George Barna, to question people’s commitment to faith development. “Americans are busy people and have no qualms about admitting that they find it difficult to successfully juggle all the pieces of their life. However, when close to half of all adults say there is nothing they would change about their spiritual life in order to optimize their faith fulfillment, and another quarter gives general answers such as going to church more often or having more time to integrate spiritual activities into their life, one could easily conclude that most Americans have no plan for spiritual advancement and are not exerting much effort to grow in their faith,” the researcher noted.


Barna related the findings of this research to other studies he has conducted this year that have shown that most Americans are ill-schooled in the content of the Bible; they do not believe they have experienced the presence of God in the past year; they have not been instrumental in assisting another person in significant spiritual growth; and that less than one out of every five churched adults has any process or system designed for spiritual accountability. “It is curious how few adults seem to have criteria that help them evaluate their spiritual standing and development,” he stated. “For instance, the people who do not pray showed the least inclination to increase their prayer activity. Individuals who are not actively serving needy people were lowest in desiring to be more active in helping other people. Adults who lack biblical perspectives on various principles we tested were also the people least likely to desire greater Bible knowledge.


“More often, people expressed an interest in increasing the degree of the spiritual activities in which they presently engage. In other words, they have little interest in expanding their spiritual life to be more well-rounded and robust. Instead, most adults would like to become more proficient in one or two spiritual dimensions in which they are already active.”


Barna indicated that he hopes this information will enable religious leaders to help individuals evaluate their spiritual strengths and weaknesses more accurately, and to encourage people to broaden their spiritual growth efforts. “The survey suggests that nearly 120 million adults are seeking to become more spiritually adept. To accomplish that goal, they need guidance, a plan of action and some realistic forms of accountability. Doing more of the same activity that got them where they are today is not the solution to getting them to where they want to be tomorrow.”




UK no Longer a Christian Nation, says Anglican Head (Christian Post, 041216)


The second most senior member in the Church of England - the mainstay of the world’s 77-million member Anglican Communion, declared his nation can no longer be considered Christian, during a publicly broadcasted interview.


The Archbishop of York Dr David Hope, who is leaving his post to serve as a parish priest in next year, said he feels the British are less committee to the church and “secularist” tendencies were on the increase.


Asked whether he believed Britain was Christian, he replied: “I think I really want to question that. Large numbers of people describe themselves as believing in God. Large numbers still would say that they are Christian. How they then express that Christianity has changed enormously.”


Hope’s comment is similar to that of Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the USA. Edgar, in an earlier interview with the Christian Post was asked a similar question about the US as a “Christian nation.”


“The U.S. has never been Christian,” said Edgar, during the April interview. “It’s made up of people who have a variety of religious traditions and for a long time, the Christian faith has been a majority faith.


“We are a nation that isn’t Christian but is a pluralistic nation, and is one of a few examples on Planet Earth where a variety of faith traditions can live in harmony with each other. And we need to respect that,” Edgar said.


Hope, who gave up his position as archbishop, is expected to start his new position as the parish priest in Ilkley, near Bradford, in February.


“Deep down it is a response to what I believe to be the call of God to be a parish priest,” he said of his newfound calling.


“The fact that I have become bishop and archbishop came as a little bit a surprise really I suppose. God has these little surprises up his sleeve. I have always felt I would like to finish my ministry as I began it, as a parish priest,” he said.


“I think I shall be quite glad to go into something downsized, into something a little bit less large,” he added.


Meanwhile, Dr. Hope, one of the more traditional leaders in the Church of England, said he was concerned of the schism within the worldwide communion, over the ordination of a gay bishop in the United States.


In related news, the Church of England’s head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last week cancelled what was to be the first congress of bishops to be held outside of Great Britain since the regular meetings began in the 19th century. The bishops planned initially to hold the10-yearly congress in 2008 at Cape Town, South Africa, however, they changed plans, in part because of the continuing rupture between the conservative African churches and the liberal North American churches.


According to the Times in London, “it is understood that there was concern about holding the conference in Africa, where the opposition to the ordination of a gay bishop in America has been the strongest.” Another reason to change the venue from Africa to London is because of the high cost of holding such a massive conference in South Africa.


“The African churches are unhappy that the meeting would have been forced to rely heavily on financial support from the Americans, who support gay bishops,” Times reported.




Britain is Clearly a Christian Nation, says Bishop (Christian Post, 041222)


Contrary to the controversial statement by the second-Anglican-in-charge who said Britain was “no longer a Christian nation,’ a bishop in the Church of England argued Britain is still Christian, despite its cultural diversity.


In a brief statement to the Associated Press, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt. Rev Jonathan Gledhill, said he acknowledges the securlarization of many of the historic institutions in his nation. Some schools, he said, have decided to abandon traditional Nativity plays and carol services for multi-faith “holiday” celebrations.


“We are told it is to protect people of other faiths, which is strange, because you will rarely hear people of other faiths complaining about Christmas,” he said to the AP on Dec. 22. “The other reason we are given is that Britain is no longer a Christian country. I just don’t buy that.”


Gledhill’s comments come just weeks after the Archbishop of York Dr David Hope, who is leaving his post to serve as a parish priest in next year, said he feels the British are less committee to the church and “secularist” tendencies were on the increase.


Asked whether he believed Britain was Christian, he replied: “I think I really want to question that. Large numbers of people describe themselves as believing in God. Large numbers still would say that they are Christian. How they then express that Christianity has changed enormously.”


Gledhill said otherwise, expressing his belief that while there have been attacks on the Christian definition of Christmas, the UK is still largely a Christian nation. He pointed to the results of a 2001 national census that found that 71 percent of the population identified themselves as Christian; only 5 percent said they aligned with a different faith.


“I’m not trying to denigrate people of other faiths; I give thanks for all the good things that people of other cultures bring to our country; I’m committed to a multi-cultural Britain and to working with the leaders of other faith communities.


“I’m not saying it is okay to ignore their feelings, their aspirations and needs. I am saying that, even if our legislators don’t always know about it, Britain is clearly not a multi-faith country, but a Christian one.


“I suspect that some people will find this statement offensive, but it will not be offensive to people of other faiths who, when I meet with them, often describe Britain as a Christian country,” he said. “What puzzles them is how we have allowed Christian standards of morality and justice to be swamped by a superficial consumerism.”


The Church of England is the largest church group in Great Britain, and is the home of the worldwide 77-million member Anglican Communion.




Crystal Cathedral Shooter Kills Self (Foxnews, 041217)


GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — A standoff between police and an orchestra’s conductor who opened fire with a handgun at the world-famous Crystal Cathedral ended early Friday with the man shooting and killing himself, police said.


No one was hurt when Johnnie Carl, 57, initially opened fire Thursday, and children in a day-care center were rushed to safety. Carl, a 29-year veteran of the church, remained inside the complex for several hours, and shot himself as officers tried to talk to him as he was holed up in a bathroom.


“There was a dialogue, and then the officers heard the gunshot,” Garden Grove police Lt. Paul Prince told The Associated Press.


Officers immediately forced down a steel door separating them from Carl, and found him dead, Prince said.


Police had been attempting for several hours to get in touch with Carl when he killed himself just before 2 a.m., Prince said. He had first gone alone to an office, and later moved to the bathroom where he shot himself.


Police said Carl had threatened to harm himself throughout the standoff.


The incident began shortly before 5 p.m., less than two hours before the cathedral’s annual “Glory of Christmas” holiday show was to begin. Police said Carl fired about four shots from a handgun, but it wasn’t clear if he was trying to hit anybody.


Children who had been in a cathedral day-cay center waiting for their parents were safely removed.


The cathedral, a huge, sprawling structure not far from Disneyland and baseball’s Angels Stadium, is home to the Rev. Robert Schuller’s international Crystal Cathedral Ministries and claims a congregation of more than 10,000 members. The internationally televised “Hour of Power” is broadcast from there.


Schuller, who was at home when the shooting occurred, came to the command post police set up near the cathedral and taped a personal message for Carl, with whom he is acquainted.


Police did not have the chance to play the message from Shuller or another message from Carl’s wife, but they did play him a message from a friend who had successfully intervened in past cases where the man had become despondent, Prince said.


Schuller spokesman Michael Nason said the initial shots apparently were fired on the cathedral’s concourse level, which is located below the main auditorium and is the staging area for the choir.


Some 100 cast members were preparing for the first of two Glory of Christmas programs scheduled for Tuesday night when gunfire rang out. Both shows were canceled.


The Glory of Christmas began with the goal of becoming a Southern California holiday tradition. Today it draws visitors from around the world to a show that includes Christmas carols and a production featuring live animals and such special effects as flying angels. Prerecorded orchestration by the London Symphony Orchestra provides the musical backdrop for live performances by adult and child soloists. The cathedral’s world-renowned pipe organ also fills the structure with holiday sounds.


Schuller, the cathedral’s longtime leader, arrived in Garden Grove in 1955, founding a local Reformed Church in America congregation. He gained international fame almost immediately when he rented the Orange Drive-in theater and began conducting Sunday services from the roof of the snack bar.


As his congregation grew rapidly, he launched plans to build the cathedral, which quickly became an architectural icon.


His son Robert Anthony Schuller is also an ordained minister and preaches at the cathedral. Schuller has designated him as his successor.




Religiosity Measure Shows Stalled Recovery (Gallup, 050111)


The Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators — an annual measure of religiosity in America that Gallup has been conducting for the past six decades* — stands remarkably unchanged from last year. The overall scores are identical — 648 — snuffing any signs of recovery suggested by the seven-point rise in 2003 from the historic low score of 641 in 2002. But even at its current low level, Americans’ answers to the Index’s component questions portray Americans as an extremely religious people.

That high degree of religiosity is perhaps most evident in the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Fully 81% believe in God and 13% express belief in a universal spirit or a higher power; just 5% say they don’t believe in either. And almost 9 in 10 Americans are willing to identify with a specific religious faith; 50% identify themselves as Protestants, while 24% identify themselves as Catholics.

Further evidence of the nation’s robust religious life from the 2004 study: More than 4 in 10 Americans (44%) say they’ve attended church in the past week, and a majority — 59% — say that religion is very important in their own lives. Fifty-nine percent also choose the statement that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems over the idea that religion is old-fashioned and out-of-date.

There has been overall stability on most of the measurements this year. All but two items — confidence in the church and ratings of ethical standards of the clergy — have moved little since even before news of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals broke in 2002. But those two items, understandably, fell the most in 2002 and contributed most to the decline in the Index that year. Prior to the scandals in 2001, 60% of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the church or organized religion, but by the end of 2002, that figure had fallen to 45%. Confidence shows signs of recovering slowly — standing today at 53%.

Ratings of the clergy fell almost as far in 2002. In 2001, 64% of Americans gave “very high” or “high” ratings to the ethical standards of the clergy prior to the sex-abuse scandals, but that measure, too, plunged to 52% in 2002. The same percentage of people (56%) gave the clergy high ratings in 2004 as did in 2003.

Scandals Continue to Make News

That the Index isn’t recovering to pre-2002 levels more quickly suggests some lingering impact of the Catholic Church scandals. A long-awaited study about the sexual abuse of minors, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and released in February 2004, acknowledged that the vast majority of priests are dedicated to the best interests of their parishioners — but also found that between 1950 and 2002, more than 4,000 priests (about 4% of the priesthood) were accused of assaulting nearly 11,000 children. Adding to the Catholic Church’s negative publicity in 2004, several high-profile lawsuits against dioceses accused of not protecting children from abusive priests resulted in large settlement payouts.




Divine Subjects: Canadians Believe, Britons Skeptical (Gallup, 041116)


Canada is a former British colony and the histories of Canada and Great Britain are inextricably linked. The two countries share similar political and healthcare systems, and Queen Elizabeth II is still Canada’s head of state. But despite the similarities, a recent Gallup Poll in the two countries* suggests Canadians and Britons tend to have philosophical differences on the subject of religious figures and the afterlife.


The survey presented respondents with a list of items associated with religion and the afterlife — God, angels, the devil, heaven, and hell — and asked whether they believe in each. Canadians are substantially more likely than Britons to believe in every item that Gallup asked about.


God, the Devil, and Angels


Canadians are far more likely than Britons to say that they believe in God — a finding that falls in line with other Gallup data showing higher levels of religiosity among Canadians (see “Britons Lack American Cousins’ Piety” in Related Items). Seven in 10 Canadians (71%) believe in God, while 12% say they don’t and 16% are not sure. In contrast, barely half (52%) of Britons believe in God and more than a quarter (28%) don’t believe, while 19% are not sure.



Canadians are also far more apt to say they believe in angels than are their British counterparts. Fifty-six percent of Canadians believe in angels, compared with 36% of Britons. About one in four Canadians (24%) don’t believe in angels, compared with 46% of Britons.



When it comes to the devil, however, Canadian public opinion is somewhat closer to that in Great Britain. Only 37% of Canadians and 29% of Britons believe in the devil, while about half in each country (45% in Canada and 52% in Great Britain) don’t believe that the devil exists.



Overall, the data on angels and the devil suggest that Canadians may have a somewhat more optimistic view than do Britons. Canadians are substantially more likely to believe in God and angels than they are to believe in the devil. In fact, the gap in belief about God versus the devil among Canadians is 34 percentage points, while the gap in belief about angels versus the devil is 19 percentage points.


British citizens are also more likely to believe in the “good” figures than the “bad,” but to a lesser degree. The gap among Britons in belief about God versus the devil is 23 points, while the gap in belief in angels versus the devil is just 7 points.


Heaven and Hell


Almost 6 in 10 Canadians (58%) believe that there is a heaven; 48% of Britons agree. However, respondents from both countries are less likely to believe in hell — only 42% of Canadians and 32% of Britons say they believe.




In this case, the gap between the percentages of people in both countries who believe in the “good” place (heaven) over the “bad” place (hell) is identical — 16 percentage points.


America Weighs In


Canadians may be more likely than Britons to believe in religious figures or eternal destinations, but Americans make even Canadians look like skeptics. Nine in 10 Americans (90%) believe in God and 81% believe in heaven. Seven in 10 U.S. adults (70%) believe in both the devil and hell (see “Eternal Destinations: Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell” in Related Items).




Evangelicals Top List of Influential Christian Leaders (Christian Post, 050118)


According to a new survey of 614 American pastors, Billy Graham, Rick Warren and James Dobson are the most influential leaders in current-day Christianity.


The survey, conducted by the California-based Barna group, asked pastors to name three individuals whom they believe have the greatest influence on churches and church leaders in the U.S. Of the 300-plus names mentioned, Barna found that only 10 were repeated consistently by 4 percent or more of those surveyed.


Billy Graham, widely regarded as the Apostle Paul of this era, was chosen by 34 percent of the recipients; Rick Warren, the author of the best-selling book series “purpose driven life” and “purpose driven church,” came in second place at 26 percent. Surprisingly, President Bush was named by 14 percent of the pastors; James Dobson, head of the popular Focus on the Family ministry, came in fourth with an 11 percent selection.


Others on the list were Bill Hybels at 9 percent, T.D. Jakes at 7 percent, John Maxwell at 6 percent, George Barna at 5 percent, Pope John Paul II at 5 percent, and Max Lucado at 4 percent.


In a separate question, the pastors were asked to list the three individuals they believe would make a good and trusted spokesperson for Christianity.


Graham once again came in first with 58 percent of pastors selecting him; Dobson was second with 20 percent support. Warren came in third with 14 percent of the pastors naming him. George Bush was at 7th place with 4 percent of the votes.


The others listed were: Jakes with 7 percent of the votes, Charles Swindoll and Jerry Falwell –each with 6 percent of the votes, Hybels and Charles Colson – with 5 percent of the votes, and D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Lucado – with 4 percent of the votes.


Upon analyzing the data, Barna concluded that the influence of Billy Graham is astounding.


“Billy Graham has been a consistent presence in the minds and hearts of church leaders and the public at large for many years,” researcher George Barna said in a statement. “However, many of the other leading influencers in the Christian church are relative newcomers to such widespread impact. Names like Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Franklin Graham, John Maxwell, Joyce Meyer and Will Willimon would not have appeared on the list a decade ago.


“It is also interesting, though, how relatively few names — less than two dozen — show up on the two lists, across multiple segments of the pastoral community. That suggests that the influence of these leaders is both broad and deep,” he said.


Barna also observed that evangelicals highly influential, considering they make up only 7 percent of the nation’s adult population. According to the results, evangelical leaders were three out of every five names – 59% - listed by the pastors as the greatest influence on churches. Contrastingly, pastors associated with mainline Protestant denominations were listed only 6 percent of the time.


Barna also found that denominational background influenced the pastors’ selection. Baptist pastors added Falwell, Adrian Rogers and John MacArther to their list, while Pentecostals chose the fellow Pentecostal leaders Joyce Meyer, G.E. Patterson, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson and Paul Crouch on the list.


“Pastors tend to list the people they know best and with whom they feel most comfortable, whether the individual has a national audience or not. It’s natural for pastors to assume that whoever influences them also influences other people to a similar degree. However, this research indicates otherwise,” Barna observed.


The survey, released on January 14, was conducted in December 2004. The maximum margin of sampling error was at ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.




Public Christian symbols backed (Washington Times, 041231)


American Christians increasingly want their religion reflected in public symbols and language, they overwhelmingly reject homosexual clergy, and the largely unchurched West Coast is showing signs of spiritual growth, evangelical Christian pollster George Barna says.


The survey found some things to praise about American religiosity, but also found much more to criticize, particularly in matters relating to the depth of American Christians’ faith.


For example, Mr. Barna said, the typical American adult watches football games more often than he attends worship services, and tithing, the practice of giving a tenth of one’s income to the church, is “pitifully uncommon” among Christians and “almost nonexistent” among people younger than 40.


Only about 7 percent of all born-again Christians tithe, said Mr. Barna, who recently released his annual roundup of the information gleaned from 10,000 telephone interviews in multiple 2004 polls by his Ventura, Calif.,-based polling firm.


Mr. Barna, the author of 35 books on American religious and cultural trends, was disappointed with the lackluster effects of one of the year’s biggest religious stories — the blockbuster success of the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ.”


“I really thought ‘The Passion’ would have a much bigger and more dramatic impact than our research showed,” he said. “That movie got so much buzz and made a ton of money.”


Among the other bad news about American religiosity that he noted in his year-end review was the continued rise in the number of unchurched Americans and the continuing alienation of men from churches.


He said the number of unchurched adults has nearly doubled from 38 million adults to 75 million in the past decade. The “unchurched” trend was strongest among men, people younger than 40, singles and people living in coastal states.


Those Christian men who say they are “deeply spiritual” and possess an “active faith” (meaning church attendance, regular prayer and Bible reading) is declining. Although men are slightly less than half of the national population, they constitute 55 percent of the unchurched, he said, and represent only 38 percent of the born-again public.


“Men who are leaders typically aren’t allowed to lead within the church,” he said. “They come into an environment where the senior pastor is a teacher pretending to lead. Thus, men who are called and gifted as leaders become a threat to the pastor. For those men, church is a very frustrating place to be.”


In addition, he said, “Church is not intellectually challenging for them. Men look around and see how poorly run the ministry is — in ways they could never get away with in their business — and they’re not willing to put up with that on their free time. And they don’t have any meaningful relationships arising from their church.”


Mr. Barna has conducted annual reviews of American religion since 2000 and has polled the country’s religious scene since 1984. This year’s review singled out female pastors and senior Protestant ministers for creating such “challenging” conditions for American spirituality.


Female pastors, Mr. Barna said, have “substantially different” theological beliefs than male ministers, tend to be more liberal, have less of a “biblical worldview,” are less likely to describe themselves as born-again and are more likely to be divorced.


Only 51 percent of all senior Protestant pastors have what Mr. Barna called “a biblical worldview,” based on several criteria: believing that God is all knowing and all-powerful; that Jesus Christ never sinned; that Satan is real; that salvation only comes through faith in Christ and not by good deeds; that the Bible is accurate; that absolute moral truth exists and is described in the Bible; and that Christians should share their faith with nonbelievers.


And for those people seeking spiritual solace, churches are “difficult to reach,” he reported.


Only 55 percent of Protestant churches polled provide callers with a human response, even after multiple attempts made by his pollsters at different times of the day on successive days. This was true, he added, even during religious holiday seasons, when seekers would be more apt to call.


Among Mr. Barna’s other findings:


•Unlike Europeans, Americans like public displays of faith, as in the “In God We Trust” wording on their currency, the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, displays of the Ten Commandments on public property and creationism being taught in public schools.


•Large majorities of adults reject the ordination or retention of actively homosexual clergy.


•The greatest national increases in daily Bible reading came from Oregon, California and Washington, where 29 percent engaged in the practice in 1994, but 44 percent did in 2004, a 52 percent increase. Church attendance rose 24 percent, and small group participation went up 136 percent during the same time period in those states.


•Black Americans were the highest ethnic group — surpassing whites, Hispanics and Asians — to exhibit evidence of their Christian beliefs. “Most blacks still find life somewhat painful, difficult and challenging,” Mr. Barna said. “Their faith in Christ helps put all this into perspective and makes life tenable.”




World Council of Churches Recommends MidEast Selective Divestment (Christian Post, 050223)


The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee encouraged its members to consider divesting from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, during its weeklong meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 21, 2005.


The recommendation, comparable to the controversial “selective divestment” policy of the Presbyterian Church USA that prompted a firestorm of criticism from conservative Christians and Jews alike, says the Israeli occupation of the disputed Middle East territory is “illegal” and should therefore be placed under “economic pressure”.


“[The WCC] reminds churches with investment funds that they have an opportunity to use those funds responsibly in support of peaceful solutions to conflict. Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action,” the four-pronged plan of action reads.


The other recommended actions are that the Central Committee:


“encourages member churches to work for peace in new ways and to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent;


“persuades member churches to keep in good contact with sister churches embarking on such initiatives with a view to support and counsel one another; and


“urges the establishment of more and wider avenues of engagement between Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities pursuing peace”


The statement, meanwhile, notes that there has been a “renewal of hope” in the relationship between Israel and Palestine.


“The churches welcome that momentum is building for peace and for solutions which credibly engage those who must make peace, the powerful as well as the weak,” the statement reads.


The following is the full text of the Feb. 21 statement:


Minute on Certain Economic Measures for Peace in Israel/Palestine


In the conflict in Israel and Palestine there is a renewal of hope although there is not yet a reduction of the threats that separate the parties to the conflict. Palestinians have now organized two elections with constructive effect, despite continuing occupation, and plan another at mid-year. The churches welcome that momentum is building for peace and for solutions which credibly engage those who must make peace, the powerful as well as the weak.


The churches note the growing witness and impact of church engagement that includes both Israelis and Palestinians. The WCC-led Ecumenical Accompaniment Program (EAPPI) is present and supportive of both Palestinians and Israelis who suffer under current circumstances. There is also growing interest among churches in taking new actions that demonstrate commitment to and enhance prospects for a just, equitable and lasting peace in both Israel and Palestine.


Notable among these are initiatives within churches to become better stewards of justice in economic affairs which link them to on-going violations of international law in occupied territory. The Central Committee takes note of the current action by the Presbyterian Church (USA) which has initiated a process of phased, selective divestment from multinational corporations involved in the occupation. This action is commendable in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith, and calls members to do the “things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42).


The concern here is to abide by law as the foundation for a just peace. Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes, and are involved in the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied territory, and in other violations of international law being carried out beyond the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel determined by the Armistice of 1949.


In this 38th year of occupation the desire for a just and equitable peace is growing. For churches of the WCC such hopes are guided by positions and programmes that reflect a search for truth amid much trouble.


The WCC has called, since 1969, for “effective international guarantees for the political independence and territorial integrity of all nations in the area, including Israel” and restated the concern at regular intervals, most recently in recognizing, in 2004, Israel’s “serious and legitimate security concerns”.


In 1992, the WCC Central Committee stated that “criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish”. During the Oslo peace process of the 1990s churches supported civil society projects of rapprochement between communities in conflict in the Holy Land.


In 1995, the Central Committee established criteria for economic actions in the service of justice, namely, that these must be part of a broader strategy of peacemaking, address flagrant and persistent violations, have a clear and limited purpose plus proportionality and adequate monitoring, and are carried out transparently.


In 2001, the WCC Executive Committee recommended an international boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements on occupied territory, and the WCC-related APRODEV agencies in Europe are now working to have Israeli settlement products fully and properly identified before shipment to the European Community in accordance with the terms of the EU’s Association Agreement with Israel.


Yet illegal activities in occupied territory continue as if a viable peace for both peoples is not a possibility. We are not blind to facts and must not be complicit in them even unwittingly. The Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 15-22 February 2005 therefore:


·         encourages member churches to work for peace in new ways and to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent;


·         persuades member churches to keep in good contact with sister churches embarking on such initiatives with a view to support and counsel one another;


·         urges the establishment of more and wider avenues of engagement between Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities pursuing peace;


·         reminds churches with investment funds that they have an opportunity to use those funds responsibly in support of peaceful solutions to conflict. Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action.


[WCC Central Committee - Geneva, 21 February 2005]




Big business religion (, 050227)


Armstrong Williams


Corporations and parishioners are increasingly coming together to spread the word of God and make money.  All across the country churches—once intimate places of spiritual interconnectedness—have been replaced by stadiums of worship that utilize advanced technological innovations to awe, edify, and rip off those in attendance.


The jig goes something like this: Corporations underwrite the construction of vast religious complexes that awe people into regular attendance.  The preacher’s image is projected onto a big screen. His calm baritone is beamed out by state of the art speakers. From all sides, his voice fills the room. The seats shake as he gives expression to the word of God. It’s a rousing experience to be sure, and one that is increasingly paid for by corporations. In return for their funding, the churches circulate corporate promotional calendar, fliers, and, if the corporation is really lucky, broadcast an endorsement straight from the pulpit. Trusting the pastor’s judgment, the flock simply surrenders their money to whatever service the corporation is hawking. In such a manner, countless Christians are fleeced every year.


You might be amazed at how little it takes to rent space in a sermon. Father Henry Wienneski, an Arizona parishioner, tells me he has been approached countless times by corporate representative eager to use the church’s trusted position in the community as cover for rip-off schemes. “A corporate representative will approach me and say something to the effect of, ‘we were going to give $5,000 to the Red Cross this year but you know, we decided, why not keep it in the neighborhood? I notice your parish doesn’t have a bus. Now, I know the money won’t buy a bus but we thought it could help. I’ll just write out this check to you and trust that you’ll know the best way for it to help the church.’”


Wienneski recalls attending a retreat once where morticians coaxed business from pastors by offering free gifts, including beepers, funeral plots, sides of beef, country club memberships and large sums of cash. It’s quite a deal for the mortuary. They invest $6 in a beeper, and in return they get a pastor who feels obliged to send bodies their way. So the mortuary rips off another family for $5,000, $10,000, $15,000.


The newest twist is for mortuaries to rent a chunk of church property and offer their own in-house services with the implicit church endorsement. The  archdiocese of Montreal and Los Angeles recently contracted with Stewart’s Enterprises and SCI chains, renting out their holy ground as though these mortuaries were some Starbucks franchise. In return for a lucrative lease arrangement, the diocese lends its tacit endorsement to the mortuary and, in effect, channels its flock directly into the overpriced mortuaries, swindling their own parishes for millions of dollars per year.


Of course these churches will benefit from their lucrative agreements. They may use the profits to erect some triumphant cathedral, decorated with such stunning artifice that its very presence proclaims the glory of God. All of which just indicates that these pastors don’t actually care about their people. After all, many churches could, in fact, offer a free funeral to their members not counting cemetery or crematory expenses. What more logical support group is there at a time of death? Instead, these ministers use their position as trusted leaders to fleece their parishioners.


Similar examples abound.  Hundreds of evangelical Christians in the Southern California area were recently fleeced out of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme that relied on the complicity of trusted church officials. The scheme was allegedly masterminded by Gregory Earl Setser, a self described former minister who approached church leaders with a can’t miss investment opportunity. Saying he wanted “serve God by allowing Christian ministries to share in…profits,” Setser promised investors up to 50% returns on their initial investments. Several ministers complied, using their positions of trust in the community to lure additional investors. Anaheim evangelist Ralph Wilkerson even allowed Setser to participate in religious presentations.


Hundreds of parishioners responded by opening their wallets to Setser. Many ended up being fleeced out of a combined $160 million.  Meanwhile. Setser used the money to finance a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family.


I don’t mean to suggest that all organized religion has been bought and paid for. Many parishioners across the country dedicate themselves to spreading the word of God. They set up in poor communities and they try to help their parishioners affix hope and perspective to their lives. These parishioners are not motivated by materialism or personal vanity. They do not use God as an instrument to empower themselves. They wish merely to spread His word, and to open others to the truly beautiful possibilities of spirituality.


But if a preacher wants to be on TV, or court the masses, or achieve the psychic gratification of wielding thousands of worshippers, he must turn his church into a kind of religious Wal Mart—a huge religious emporium complete with restaurants, recording studios, projections screens and stadium seating. Parishioners flock to these structures like the apes to the monolith in 2001. But it costs money to keep these mammoth structures running. More often than not, the preachers turn to corporate sponsorship to pay the bills. The end result is that the parishioners are distilled into just another stream of revenue.


Maybe we can’t end corruption in the church, but we can demand that our pastors’ refrain form any form of corporate sponsorship during their sermons. Doing so would help prevent the swindling of countless families, while reestablishing the church as a trusted sanctuary during a family’s most desperate time of need. Such moments simply should not be considered purchasable by local corporations.




Two Thirds of Scotland is Christian, Census Shows (Christian Post, 050301)


The latest census shows that Scotland is less religious than it’s UK neighbors


The latest census in Scotland revealed that two-thirds of respondents considered themselves as Christians, while over a quarter said they do not follow any religion.


Of all Christians in Scotland, 42% considered themselves part of the Church of Scotland while 16% were Catholic.


Muslims were the next largest group at 1%. Meanwhile, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs made up less than 2% of the population, said an analysis of the 2001 census. That year’s census was the first to include questions on religion.


2.1 million said they were of the Church of Scotland and 803,700 Catholics. There were 42,600 Muslims, 6,800 Buddhists, 5,600 Hindus, 6,400 Jews and 6,600 Sikhs.


Drops in Membership


The Church of Scotland saw the biggest drop-off in membership amongst all religions. While 47% of people said they had been raised in the Church of Scotland, only 42% remained affiliated with the religion.


Compared with the 5% drop in the Church of Scotland, all other religions, including Roman Catholicism had drops of around 1% or less.


Statistics suggest that in other parts of the UK, a higher percentage of people considered themselves as having religion. The rate in England and Wales was 77%, Northern Ireland was 86% while Scotland was only 65%.


Scottish Executive statisticians said this could be due to the format of questions south of Scotland.


According to the census, 74% of Scots said they had been brought up in a faith.




Amongst all people accounted for, Muslims were the youngest with 31% being under 16 years of age.


About 42% of Sikhs and 39% of Muslims in the 16-74 age group said they didn’t have official qualifications for jobs compared to 33% of Scots.


Thirteen percent of Muslims were unemployed. This was nearly double the overall Scottish rate.


The Muslim Association of Britain suggested that the number of Muslims in the country could be greater, if not for the current climate of “Islamophobia”. Spokesman Osama, Saeed, said that the statistics indicated that Muslims were being restrained from fulfilling their potential.


“Half of all Muslims are under 25, giving us a very young population,” he said.


“Sadly, the conditions these young people live in are poor, too many have bleak job prospects and educational attainment is not as high as the national average. If this isn’t addressed, we are storing potential unrest for the future.”




Faithful standing more firm, poll says (Washington Times, 050123)


CHICAGO — Churchgoing Americans grew less patient in the past four years with politicians making compromises on such issues as abortion and homosexual rights, according to a survey released yesterday.


At the same time, those polled said they were growing bolder about sharing their beliefs with others — even at the risk of offending someone.


The trends indicate religion has become “more prominent in American discourse ... more salient,” says Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, the nonpartisan research organization that released the survey.


The results could indicate “more polarized political thinking,” Ms. Wooden said.


“There do not seem to be very many voices arguing for compromise today,” she said. “It could be that more religious voices feel under siege, pinned against the wall by cultural developments. They may feel more emboldened as a result.”


On the question of whether elected officials should set their convictions aside to get results in government, 84 percent of those surveyed agreed in a similar Public Agenda survey in 2000. However, that number dropped to 74 percent in the new poll.


Researchers found a sharper decline on the same question among weekly churchgoers, from 82 percent in the first survey to 63 percent in the second.


The election indicated voters in 11 states back same-sex “marriage” bans, and President Bush won re-election with heavy support from religious conservatives.


Those who identified themselves as weekly churchgoers voted for Mr. Bush over Sen. John Kerry 61 percent to 39 percent, a post-election analysis by the Gallup Organization showed.


The Public Agenda findings came from a telephone survey of 1,004 adults last summer that tracked the same issues covered in a similar survey of 1,507 adults made in 2000. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Those surveyed were nearly all Christians, not by design but because the sample reflected the makeup of the population, the group said. A 2002 Pew Research Council survey found that 82 percent of the U.S. populace considered itself to be Christian, while 10 percent identified with no religious group.


About 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as weekly churchgoers, said Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Michigan. Some surveys have placed the figure at 25 percent.


The Bible teaches believers not to compromise on scriptural principles that reveal God’s will.


In the Public Agenda survey, 32 percent of those who attended church once a week said they were willing to compromise on abortion issues — a 19-point drop in four years. Among the same group, the question of compromising beliefs on homosexual rights was acceptable to 39 percent, down 18 points from 2000.


The poll found that 37 percent overall felt that the deeply faithful should be careful not to offend anyone when they “spread the word of God,” a decline from 46 percent four years earlier.




Evangelicals Prepare Plans to Reclaim America for Christ (Christian Post, 050219)


Some 900 Evangelical Christians from across 40 states gathered at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the 2005 Reclaiming America for Christ Conference, on Friday, Feb. 18, 2005.


The conference, which featured several keynote evangelical speakers, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, David Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh’s brother and author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, and David Barton, a Christian historian who was listed among Time magazine’s 25 most influential evangelicals, addressed issues of concern for today’s evangelicals and laid out a game-plan to “reclaim America for Christ” in the next four years.


Gary Cass, the executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America, urged the evangelicals to answer their civic call to duty and get involved with the government, according to the Miami Herald.


“We used to be a minority and now we’ve got to learn how to lead,” Cass said. “It’s very ambitious, and we can’t do it alone, and that’s why you’re here.”


Cass also outlined four new initiatives in the fight to protect traditional marriage, the sanctity of unborn life and the freedom of religion, during one of several grass-roots training sessions. The four, as listed by the Herald, were: Opening a lobbying office in Washington, D.C.; Launching a “strategy institute” to study the tactics of their political opponents; Expanding the center’s media outreach; Recruiting one million grass-roots activists around the country.


Cass also addressed the critical need to appoint sound Supreme Court judges and to open faith-based action centers in all 435 congressional districts. To accomplish such plans, Cass said, there must be a “war chest” to allow evangelicals to do what must be done.


“We’re raising money to have a war chest so that we can do what we need to do,” said Cass.


Meanwhile, Land, named one of the most influential evangelicals by Time magazine, explained in Christian terms why evangelicals must seek God’s guidance in carrying out their civic duty.


“We’ve got God-sized problems in our country and only God can solve them,” Land said, alluding to the high divorce rates and the growing efforts to legalize gay “marriage”.

The Reclaiming America annual meeting closes on Saturday, February 19, 2005.




In God They Trust Part 1 (Globe & Mail, 050300)

[Comments by Kwing Hung: The reporter is a non-Christian from a liberal newspaper and has occasional bias. But the report is generally fair.]


To many Canadians, the U.S. evangelical Christian right may seem alien, irrational, even frightening. But why do they feel the way they do?




Just after New Year’s, I decided to visit the United States. I kept hearing stories about the rise of the Christian right, how the whole country was turning evangelical, and it made me want to go there.


There was a church in Houston, for instance, where 20,000 people jumped up for God every Sunday, so many that the church was planning to move to the Compaq Center, where the Houston Rockets basketball team used to play.


On the west coast, in Lake Forest, Calif., I heard, a pastor named Rick Warren had written a book — The Purpose Driven Life , an evangelical call to Christianity — that had sold 15 million copies, the equivalent of the last Harry Potter book, The Da Vinci Code and The South Beach Diet combined.


The National Association of Evangelicals claimed to have 30 million members in 4,500 churches and 52 denominations, so many they turned the election in favour of George W. Bush.


A lot of people I knew were frightened by these statistics. They seemed to feel outnumbered. My wife, for one, a secular non-believer and an American, got jumpy every time the Christian right tried to outlaw abortion or gay marriage. I’d watch her reading The New York Times on Sunday: It was like someone being attacked by an invisible pea shooter. She twitched an average of three times a section.


Other people weren’t disturbed. You might be one of them. You could be a Catholic, Muslim or Jew who finds it reassuring that so many people are turning to God.


I didn’t know what to think, so I thought I would climb in a car and try to meet a few religious people first-hand, without prejudice.


I wasn’t sure it was possible. I went to chapel every day at boarding school, but that made religion nothing more than a habit, a reliable pair of shoes. Now I’m the most banal kind of secular, the kind of person who prays when he’s scared, but doesn’t believe the rest of the time. Can such a person meet believers on their own terms? Perhaps that’s why I started in Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley — pop. 250,000, a feeder suburb of Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, a crease in the land that until not so long ago stood for Bethlehem Steel and Mack Truck and Democrat-friendly unionism and the secular American dream. Perhaps I wanted to start in the most “normal” America I knew.


I’ve always liked that part of the world. My wife’s from there, for one thing, and most of the buildings in Allentown and Bethlehem were put up between 1900 and 1950, which gives them an unchanged, slightly stalled feel. Hardly anyone talks about Allentown, much less as a hotbed of Christianity.


Yet in the Lehigh Valley I found 640 churches, one for every 400 people. I found Christians everywhere — mostly pleasant, friendly people with mostly pleasant, friendly hopes, who just happened to believe in Jesus and heaven and the Bible.


One morning after I had been listening to faithful Christians for three days straight, I took a drive through the farm country west of Allentown. Thick fog made it hard to see more than 50 feet in any direction; remnants of a recent snow melted in stubbled cornfields.


Every once in a while a large, black, wet, leafless tree loomed out of the mist, giving the drive a post-apocalyptic tenor. I had to go slowly, so I turned on the radio.


A rap song instantly filled my car. I later learned its title was Oochie Wally . It consisted of a male rapper saying something angry, backed by a chorus of girls, overtopped by another, solo girl emitting extremely convincing sexual moans. The chorus was sexual too: He really really really worked my body, he really really really turned me out/ He really really really got to gut me, he really really made me scream and shout. (And this was the “clean” version.) I found the song catchy, but I was surprised to find it shocking, too. Maybe it was because I’m the father of a 12-year-old girl who listens to the radio. Or maybe it was all the time I was spending with religious people.


Suddenly, the radio made the staticky sound a radio makes when its signal is failing, and a new voice, a male preacher’s voice, broke in.


“The faith to finish,” it said quietly. “Maybe you sometimes wonder how you can get through another day.” Then the static squawked again, and the Oochie Wally chorus came back in, stronger than ever: He really really really got to gut me, he really really made me scream and shout .


For a mile or so, I actually thought: What if that was Jesus Christ on the radio, trying to reach me, the kind of moment the born-agains all talk about? Or maybe hearing a shocking sexy song just makes you think about what it is you desire. Maybe a pornographic song and the idea of Jesus could accomplish the same thing.


“I truly believe that after these recent decades of do your own thing , of me first , of the emphasis on individualism, that many, many people have found something lacking,” Monsignor John Martin says.


He’s saying it in a sitting room in the rectory of the Church of the Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary, a Catholic church in Colesville, a suburb of Bethlehem. The room’s blocked out in 1950s rec-room style. There’s a Bible open on a table to Luke 20-21, the denunciation of the scribes (“they will receive a very severe condemnation”) and the Signs of the End (“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”).


The empty fields outside are deceptive. In 1980, when Bethlehem Steel was collapsing and the Lehigh Valley was tanking into a 20-year depression, 340 families were registered on the church’s rolls, some of them German Catholics like my in-laws. Then the interstate came through: Today, the church boasts 1,100 families, from 39 nations.


That’s a 225-per-cent increase.


The newcomers are mostly adults, mostly professionals: Father Martin’s flock has a mean age today of 34.5 years old. (The fact that the good father has this figure at his fingertips is one sign of how carefully the Catholic Church monitors its demographics these days.) “They are asking questions,” Father Martin says. He’s 57, short, stocky, dressed in his collar and a beige sleeveless cardigan, a deeply thoughtful, modest man. “Why am I here? What is my life all about? What is the proper path I should be taking? And is there a destiny for me? And a final destiny? And so, after a lot of things have not worked, people are coming back to church — to a search for meaning, a quest for a deeper spirituality.” But saving souls is competitive these days. With mega-churches and meta-gods seducing the converted, even the haughty Roman Catholic Church has tarted itself up like a street corner charismatic. The Church of the Assumption offers “Adult Faith Formation Programs” such as Eucharistic Journaling, Top Gun (“a training program for men designed to help improve their personal relationship with Jesus”) and Get into the Word: A Look at the Gospel, which is simply Bible-study mutton dressed as lamb.


The spine of Catholic life, the scriptures and the Ten Commandments, have been repackaged into a bite-sized trinity of evangelical rules: love of God, love of neighbours and faith in family — plus the traditional bonus dessert, what Father Martin still refers to as a “calling to a greater life, not just to life here, but to life hereafter.” But if non-believers find this wrap-up too pat, Father Martin thinks that’s precisely the mistake seculars in the Democratic Party have been making all along — a mistake that’s fuelling the growth of evangelical churches and filling Catholic pews as well.


“The little guy is being scorned,” Father Martin says. The average person has an emotional desire for a clear and simple answer, and the secular left refuses to take it seriously.


“It’s a desire for simplicity in the very, very complex swirl that people are living. People are stretched. It’s almost as if people are saying, ‘There must be a simpler way.’ Not as a cop-out to avoid complicated issues of the day. But simplicity allied with a deeper spirituality. Because all this complexity has not helped us find anything deeper. It’s almost like a recapturing of sanity.


I guess that recapturing is a recapturing of God.” How big is this surge in American religion? “There’s more of a mobilization than an increase,” Paul Brownback, senior associate pastor at Faith Evangelical Free Church, tells me one afternoon in Allentown.


“We’re involved in a culture war right now, and the sides are being clearly defined. If we don’t do something now, we’re afraid, we’ll lose all our rights.” The religious right just elected one of its own as President of the United States, and still it can’t relax.


If what America is experiencing is a mobilization of existing believers, it certainly looks impressive. The overflow parking at evangelical churches in Mr. Brownback’s neighbourhood runs a mile down the road on Sundays. Of the more than 10,000 “progressive” churches like his in the Willow Creek Association, 75 per cent are growing.


And they are committed voters. The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, found that while born-agains are only 38 per cent of the population, they accounted for 53 per cent of the vote. If they had voted in proportion to their actual numbers, Mr. Kerry would have won the election by the same margin Mr. Bush did.


The religious right was better organized, too. Joe Sterns, a conservative political strategist in Pennsylvania, says, “The goal is to have at least one person at every traditionally Christian church. One person that’s responsible for distributing pro-life, pro-family literature at their congregation, framing the issues, saying who stands for what. That’s a winning formula. And while we don’t have one person in every church yet, we are approaching that.” This is why the 40-odd Hispanic storefront churches in downtown Allentown are so inviting to organizers like Mr. Sterns. A University of Notre Dame study counted 9.2 million Pentecostal, charismatic, or “spirit-filled” Latinos in America. By one measure, this means that they are only slightly outnumbered by all the Jews, Muslims and Episcopalians in America combined.


“If the Republicans can succeed in stealing away the Latino community to the Republican side,” Mr. Sterns says, citing the well-documented Pentecostal Latino distaste for abortion and homosexual marriage, “they will crush the Democrats.” (As Mr. Sterns observes, Democratic contenders such as Hillary Clinton have already begun to soften their pro-abortion view.) Faith is power in George W. Bush’s Washington. Mr. Sterns, for instance, is vice-chairman of grassroots co-ordination for the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania. The YCOP are in turn linked to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a pro-family organization that publishes a widely circulated family newsletter. The PFI in turn takes marching orders from the galactically influential Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs institute started by Dr. James Dobson, a therapist and advocate who opposes abortion and the “normalization of homosexuality.” A recent Barna poll of more than 600 U.S. Protestant pastors voted Dr. Dobson the fourth-most-influential Christian in the world. The Pope was ninth.


Dave and Linda Dyson are so impressively normal you could make a statue of them to honour upper-middle-class American life. They live in a large, beautifully furnished, asparagus-green two-storey house on a brilliantly manicured lot in the suburbs of Bethlehem.


They just finished renovating their kitchen. Dave’s a partner in a prosperous insurance brokerage: He’s a big guy in his early 50s with a crew cut of white hair. His wife, Linda, is a stay-at-home mother — a tall, thin sexy one. They were high-school sweethearts.


Like most evangelical Protestants, they believe in Jesus, heaven, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the sanctity of life, heterosexual marriage, smaller government, the literal truth of the Bible, the war in Iraq, George W. Bush, and in their absolute right and duty to spread those teachings.


Dave and Linda were stalwarts of a local mainstream Presbyterian Church for 20 years. Then four years ago, they jumped ship to Lifechurch.


Lifechurch is the fastest-growing church in Allentown. It’s so progressive, so happening, it feels more like a television series than a house of worship. Its sanctuary is the gymnasium of a former Wesleyan Bible college in a rough downtown corner of the city. Every week, 2,000 people, blacks and whites and Hispanics in equal number, sit in front of Lifechurch’s Christian rock band and sing words projected onto a 40-foot screen that is also used for film clips and PowerPoint presentations in Pastor Randy Landis’s sermons. This week’s sermon — which Pastor Randy calls “the empowerment package, something they can work with, that empowers their life” — is one of a series called Hanging In There: Withstanding the Storms of Life. It includes a clip from The Perfect Storm , starring George Clooney.


“We don’t call it church,” Pastor Randy says. “We call it the Experience.” Pastor Randy dresses in casual clothes, often in black. His heroes include Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, the founders of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., the famous 20,000-member mega-churches that first mixed religion, self-help and the suburbs 20 years ago, and which are the model for Lifechurch.


Mr. Hybels and Mr. Warren practically invented mega-worship, with the result that loneliness and solitude are no longer hallmarks of a life of faith, as they were for centuries. In America these days, Christ means company, and lots of it. Lifechurch runs a day school, a weekday Bible study, a Thursday-night worship hoedown for twentysomethings, a Friday bash for teens.


It was this unbuttoned Lifechurch that let Dave and Linda Dyson express their passion for Jesus. In her old church, Linda says, “I couldn’t share. In our old church, there was more a philosophical ascent to Christ — a philosophy rather than a way of God. And there was such a restraint. But I was more excited than that.” For the new evangelists, God is Elvis and then some. Their old church “wasn’t bathed in prayer. . . . It wasn’t, God is taking us on an adventure, and he needs us to go with him.” In other words, it wasn’t ecstatic, or even fun.


Lifechurch, by contrast, is a freaking riot. The Dysons also like the ethnic diversity — “it’s just what you picture heaven to be, all tribes sitting around, worshipping God,” Linda says — and they like the focus on Christ, on faith as a personal relationship with Jesus.


“I’m convinced,” Dave says, and the words just spill out of his mouth, “that what people really want is a relationship with Christ as a dynamic walk with God. One of the reasons Lifechurch is connecting with people is because it’s emotional.” This is an important point. Democrats on the left can argue the dangerous logical inconsistency of combining church and state all they want, but the newfound faith of America isn’t a logical, rational procedure. “Opening one’s life to Christ,” “accepting Jesus,” “trusting Christ to be your guide” — as evangelicals like to put it — is not an act of post-Enlightenment rationalism. It’s the opposite, an emotional leap of faith.


If you can suspend your disbelief and jump that gap, you can be a happy part of the new American Jerusalem. If you can’t, you’re out of luck.


In return for that comfort, for that God-given sense of safety and certainty, the Dysons donate well over a 10th of their substantial income to Lifechurch — which in turn raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for Aids orphans and tsunami relief — though they certainly aren’t ascetic: Dave drinks socially, and Linda’s wearing a big fat double-banded diamond ring. They’re anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage, but that only makes them profoundly mainstream, members of the new Washington-backed Republican majority.


“A lot of evangelical churches in America,” Dave says, “they’re in a real negative mode. A real circle-the-wagons mode as a protection against the morals and the standards they don’t want to be influenced by. But Jesus’ teachings are clear that we are not to be apart from the world.” Linda believes that she has a right to vote against gay marriage, because God wants us to bring about his word on Earth, but she is not anti-homosexual. “I think we need to remember that the definition of what marriage is, is between a man and a woman, and if we need a federal law, okay. I would probably say that a gay couple is not God’s best design for people. But that’s not my place to approve or disapprove.” Dave nods. “I’m very cautious not to stick my neck out and condemn the very people I want to save. Who would Jesus visit? It was all the outcasts.” Linda’s started leafing through her Bible, reading Revelations, verses 21 to 27, explaining how heaven is a “very specific place . . . a prepared place . . . a perfect place . . . a physical place . . . a populated place.” “There’s gonna be a lot of people there,” Dave interjects.


“I know,” Linda says, and smiles. “But we all get square acreage.” She lists the details, as described in Revelations — the thickness of the walls of heaven, the lightness of the place. “Fruit,” she says, “everywhere.” One Wednesday evening in Allentown, I sat in on a prayer meeting at the Cedarcrest Bible Fellowship Church, an evangelical Protestant sanctuary bigger than some indoor shopping malls. There were 22 people at the meeting, eight of whom were over 60. They sang It is Well with My Soul and My Faith has Found a Resting Place , made a few jokes about the organist, and talked for 20 minutes about Hebrews 13:20-21.


Then the men and women split up to pray. Sixteen men sat on chairs in an oval back room and closed their eyes and took turns praying and asking the others to pray for someone they knew. They prayed for a man whose father had Alzheimer’s and had attacked his wife and broken her hip; for a man whose sick mother was being stubborn and refusing treatment; for a man who had had a car crash, and for half a dozen other afflicted souls; for the strength to endure a demanding stretch at work (almost rejected by the praying men, because a lot of people were out of work, and lots of work could be seen as a blessing); for “brave President Bush,” for the church’s leaders, to God for being God, for their children “that they not be deceived by the things that seem important but which are not at all.” They even prayed for me.


Sometimes the prayers were moving, sometimes they were officious and mundane. Sometimes it was like listening to a bunch of guys who couldn’t decide how extroverted to be. They were mostly older men, over 40, like me, and preoccupied in their prayers with imminent death. I respected their faith, their generous mindfulness, but their vulnerability, their raw openness to the God they believed in, made me squeamish, which in turn made me feel ashamed of myself.


Over the next few days I would ask the religious people I met how they were able to give themselves over to Christ, how they overcame their skepticism. Paul Brownback, the Allentown pastor, explained it well one afternoon. He was a hard-headed guy, in his 60s but still handsome, a graduate of West Point, a former U.S. Army officer who had served in Vietnam, written books, been around.


“I like to define faith this way. Say you were driving down Hamilton Street one day,” he said, referring to the main street of Allentown, “and you think, ‘I really need to have Christ in the car with me.’ And then, a few blocks further on, you see Christ by the side of the road. So you pull over and open the passenger door and say, ‘Christ, get in, I really need you in the car with me.’ But instead, He comes over to the driver’s side, and opens the door, and tells you to slide over into the passenger seat, because He’s going to drive.


“And that’s what saving faith is. It’s trusting Christ to take the controls of your life. So it’s not so much an intellectual thing as believing the fact of Scripture. It’s a volitional thing of committing your life to him.” It was an interesting prospect, handing the wheel to Jesus, and I thought about it for several days afterward. Sometimes it seemed impossibly vapid, at other times impossibly brave.


People think the so-called values vote in November was about gay marriage. More likely, it was about television.


Let’s go, for instance, to the remote northern tip of Berks County, an hour west of Allentown, almost to Amish country. Here we find Mark Wyncoll, who spends time every day protecting his family from undesirable secular influences.


This is farming and gun country, a part of the world where cellphones don’t work. Mr. Wyncoll, however, is no hick. He’s a member of the Kempton New Christian Church, a branch of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, as were his grandparents and parents — latterly near Toronto, where Mr. Wyncoll was born. He is a Swedenborgian, following the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th-century mystic who claimed to have seen heaven and hell.


The Swedenborgians don’t interpret the Bible literally — they’re too liberal for that — but they do believe heaven is a real place, that family is a gift from God and that if you’re faithful to God’s teachings, you get to spend eternity with your spouse. (And that’s a good thing.)These are not the most outlandish ideas you’ve ever heard. Divorce in particular is anathema to the Swedenborgians, except in cases of “intentional adultery” — premeditated, that is, with no extenuating circumstances “such as a man being a travelling salesman and being tired and lonely and falling prey to a wily prostitute,” as one Swedenborgian once explained it to me.


Roughly 150 people belong to the New Church, which operates the school of which Mr. Wyncoll is assistant principal. The school is thoroughly modern: There’s no dress code, it teaches science and biology, and encourages both wide reading and a serious literary perspective.


But for all his modernity, Mr. Wyncoll sees the world defensively.


“People like myself see attacks in the courts and in the culture and in the media as attacks against the Ten Commandments,” he says one morning not long ago. Of these attacks, TV is the most pernicious.


“A lot of people in my society do not have TVs. Because you cannot watch TV with a kid in the room. The family hour does not exist.” He has a satellite dish to watch his beloved Leafs, but “if I watch an NFL game, the commercials are for erectile dysfunction, and the beer commercials celebrate women in bikinis. I don’t think there’s a sane reason why my 7-through-17-year-old children, girls and boys, should think that sports is associated with beer and sex.


And the material in sitcoms is all double entendres and jokes about sex. Acceptance of homosexuality on TV is either funny, or making fun of someone who doesn’t accept it.” All of this is undeniable, as anyone can attest who has ever stumbled across Will and Grace in prime time or Queer as Folk on cable.


Midriffs on TV! Men kissing! Girls kissing! A contest in which couples get married for money! You don’t have to be friendly with Jesus to experience channel shock. The issue in religious America is, how much does it bother you? It bothers Mr. Wyncoll a lot. He remembers his own TV childhood as a lost paradise, and cites the same programs many religious conservatives do, the clean gems of a more decent age: Gilligan’s Island, Kojak, Little House on the Prairie . Plus, since he was in Canada, hockey.


“I didn’t talk about erectile dysfunction with my dad,” Mr. Wyncoll says. “And the ad during the hockey game was not girls in bikinis.


We were talking about Rick Vaive and Lanny McDonald. And the ad was a big sandwich and a beer.” Of course, he can always do as the seculars suggest, and turn the TV off. But by then, Mr. Wyncoll fears, the damage may have been done. “If you’re a dairy farmer,” he says, “you lose your sense of smell for manure. I think that’s a good picture to what can happen to you or to your kids. I just think if we encourage them to read the good stuff and limit the bad stuff, they will have an instant reaction that alerts them to what is ‘yuck.’ “ Mr. Wyncoll respects the legal right of Barnes and Noble to sell pornographic magazines: At least they’re carried behind the counter.


Those who want them can find them. But why doesn’t TV work the same way? Why does Mr. Wyncoll have to hide from TV or search for the good stuff on its back counter, while seculars display their racy fare all over the store, on every channel? How did the secular standards of the modern, hyper-commercialized, sexed-up world since the 1950s overtake Judeo-Christian mores that were a cultural norm for a millennium and a half? Naturally, any religious revival that can seize an average American town such as Allentown also produces outsiders. These days, they’re called Episcopalians (known in Canada as Anglicans). Almost alone in Allentown, the Episcopalians resisted the urge during the election to use the bully pulpit to endorse a presidential candidate. In America now, that practically makes Episcopalians non-conformists.


Rev. Hemchand Gossai, head of religion at Allentown’s Muhlenberg College and an Episcopal priest himself, is convinced that the leaders of the religious right, from Mr. Bush on down, want the United States to operate not as a democracy but as a theocracy.


“To take one’s personal belief and make that the standard, that’s dangerous,” Mr. Gossai says one morning in his office. “We forget that this country came out of wanting religious tolerance, out of wanting to escape the British tradition of Anglicanism and a state-run church. A state-run church is the one thing the founding fathers didn’t want. But what these guys would like, it seems to me, is a democracy narrowly shaped by theocratic ideals.


“ ‘We don’t want a Vatican City,’ they say, ‘but we do want a democracy founded in religious ideals. And let us tell you what those ideals are.’ To me, that’s a theocracy.” If Mr. Gossai is a dissenter in conservative religious America, Rev. Patrick Malloy, the rector of tiny Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Allentown, is an outright heretic. Mr. Malloy taught high school and university, worked in business, attended Notre Dame, and was trained as a Roman Catholic deacon before he became an Episcopalian minister four years ago — largely because he is also an openly gay man.


The churchy America that has sprung up around him strikes him as almost anti-religious, and certainly anathema to the spirit of Christ. Only 75 people regularly attend his tiny downtown church, but with the help of a few subsidies, this small parish feeds 300 families a month from one of the largest food banks in the Northeast; sponsors three full-time AIDS workers; and runs a Montessori school largely on scholarships, so poor children can attend a quality kindergarten.


This is old-style religion.


“The churches that are most likely to grow,” Mr. Malloy says as the afternoon dims, waiting for his archdeacon to show up, “are the ones that provide answers. I think . . . that’s hard to do honestly.” Christian fundamentalism isn’t the only sect on the rise, he says: “Islam is doing fine, the Mormons are doing fine. It’s not that they sling lies. But they provide certainty. They tell people what to do and what to think. My view is that we have a more mature congregation and clergy, more refined and critical people. People capable of dealing with ambiguity. And the world is more and more ambiguous.” It is endless and omnipresent ambiguity, Mr. Malloy feels, that has sent Americans running to the narrow pew of the religious right.


“My church,” he says, “is big enough that nothing can come along that will not fit. The right says ‘My system is so certain that when something comes along and doesn’t fit, I have to kill it.’ But God’s view is that it all fits. When Jesus came along, it was the religious establishment of his day that killed him. The good guys killed him. And I’m enough of a creep that I would have been one of the ones who wanted to kill him too.” He sits back and thinks. “I mean, we follow a man who got himself killed. He did not have many friends. The fact that we’re not growing by leaps and bounds does not mean that we’re doing the wrong thing.


Churches like this are a countercultural witness. We’re the ones who are going against the flow.” But the archdeacon is knocking at the door. On the way out, Mr.


Malloy shows me his little church. Originally, the pews faced the altar, toward the face of God. But the congregation “has come to realize the place we must come to see the face of God is in the face of each other,” he says. So now the seats are turned, to face the aisle.


Next: The gigachurch. Ian Brown is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.




In God They Trust Part 2 (Globe & Mail, 050300)




GOD is huge today in the USA. And if you’ll pardon the thought, so is Victoria Osteen’s mouth, on the jumbo screen at Lakewood Church, as big and round as the O in the word God itself. You can’t miss Victoria’s mouth, and you can’t miss Lakewood Church, even here in the ignored northeast corner of Houston, Tex. Up here is as religious as America gets, where even the weatherman on the radio says, “There’s an 80 per cent chance of rain on your Lord’s Day.” Thirty thousand people drive out here every weekend to slip into the crowded bath of Lakewood Church, which makes it not only the biggest church in America, but unprecedented in the history of American religion .


Then there’s Victoria, the 42-year-old wife of Joel Osteen, 41, the “smiling preacher” of Lakewood Church. Seven million people see Joel on TV every week in America alone, but when Victoria’s on stage, he has eyes only for her.


No wonder. Victoria’s mouth — and this is the wandering mind of a secular doubter speaking, Lord, susceptible to the Enemy — is wide and shiny and pink. Also her mouth is attached to Victoria herself, who is five-foot-10 with hazel eyes and crowned with a luteofulvous mane of blond hair and dressed in a black suit and three-inch heels, and therefore not a strain to look at, Lord, not at all.


“A young beautiful girl up there that knows the Lord,” is how her husband characterizes her charms.


Then there’s the way she says JEE-zuss , her south Texas twang amped a notch to the verge of spiritual ecstasy, because just saying His name is overwhelming: “You know, there’s one thing that I want my children to remember about me and about their father. . . . I want them to say, ‘If there’s one thing I know, my momma and my daddy loved JEE-zuss Chrahst !’ “ Soon a message will appear on the Jumbo screen: “Please make cheques payable to Lakewood Church.” But it won’t slow Victoria down. Thick applause fills the room, the 12-piece orchestra tunes up, people are laughing and crying and saying “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” And still Victoria is calling down the word of the Lord.


Victoria’s exhortations last an average of a minute and 20 seconds.


In that time, ushers with plastic collection buckets — they’re stacked in piles of 60 at the head of each aisle, next to the boxes of tissues — will collect $168,000 (all figures U.S.). Victoria will do this five times this weekend.


Victoria Osteen may be the most successful direct marketer in the country. She is responsible for $35-million of the church’s $50-million annual budget. Most of it these days goes to building a new church, to salaries, to Lakewood’s food banks and workshops, to ministries for youth and men and even home schooling.


Under tax rules governing non-profit churches the size of Lakewood, Joel Osteen is entitled to earn $1.2-million: Instead, he took a salary of $200,000 in 2004. This year, he’s taking nothing.


I realize this is hard to believe: If you’re like me, the idea of megachurches and televangelism makes you think of Bakker and Swaggart and corruption.


But when I went looking for evidence of the rise of evangelical Christianity in America, the religion I found had surprisingly little to do with money. What I found were immense, seductive churches, eager to use their vast reach to convert the world by blurring the line between life and faith; and a religious sincerity so intense it amounted to a form of politics. Americans love their big new dramatic megachurches, because they’re addicted to the experience of being tempted, and then saved — something best done, apparently, in a big, anonymous crowd, where your fall and rise are just one of so many, no one will notice.


The brain of the megachurch first evolved about 1,600 kilometres north of Texas, in South Barrington, Ill.


It was here, in 1975, in the rich but barren suburbs northwest of Chicago, that Pastor Bill Hybels invented Willow Creek Community Church, the most influential church in America — what Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, calls “the major template.” Mr. Hybels was only 24 when he started knocking on doors in suburban Chicago to ask why people didn’t go to church. Everyone said the same thing: The services were dull and predictable; ditto the music; and the church was always asking for money.


His new church would do the opposite. Most importantly, instead of preaching to the converted, he would concentrate on “seekers” — the uncertain, the unbelieving, like me.


Thirty years later, nearly 18,000 people attend church on Willow Creek’s 63-hectare campus.


If Willow Creek looks like a high-end shopping mall, it’s supposed to: The point is to make suburbanites feel at home. The church even has greeters. The main sanctuary has a coffee bar, two restaurants, four auditoriums, endless meeting rooms, sports facilities, services in Spanish (with instantaneous translation into Mandarin Chinese if required), a bookstore and a staff of more than 500. Willow Creek spends $65,000 a year on traffic control alone.


This grey Sunday morning, Bill Hybels is sharing Willow Creek’s massive theatrical stage with a band, five onstage teaching pastors and a live dog (from a short play presented earlier in the service).


The auditorium is three times the size of Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.


And what’s he doing? Drawing — in church! — with a giant Sharpie on a pad of paper on an easel, as if he were a director of marketing pitching a client. And that’s exactly how Mr. Hybels sees himself.


He makes a schematic stick figure drawing, the line of someone’s existence before Christ enters their life, and then after. “Because there are some good works He has prepared for you to do,” Mr. Hybels is saying as he draws. “Let me put it crassly. If you’re still sucking air, if you’re still here” — he points to the middle of the line on the paper — “He’s got some things for you to do, and you haven’t done them yet. And when you’ve done all the things He wants you to do, He’s gonna take you home.” Boiled down, this is the marrowof the brand-new, improved, suburban, evangelical, American Christianity — a dose of comfort with a pinch of conscience. It is self-help draped in the vestments of theology, but also theology stylin’ in self-help’s blingy outfit.


“I think part of it has to do with demographics,” says Cally Parkinson, Mr. Hybels’s director of communications. She used to be a director at Allstate Insurance: Now, she’s clapping her hands and saying, “Amen!” while the congregation sings. “We’ve got all these people hitting their 50s, saying ‘Okay, I’ve got all these 401k’s [employer-sponsored retirement plans], my retirement is set up, and is that all there is?’ I think there has been a storing up of spiritual curiosity.” “Megachurches are the latest in a long line of manifestations in the history of the American religious community’s efforts to adapt to the population,” says Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life. “We’ve never had an established national church, which means that religious communities have had to compete for members.” The bigger a church is, the more parking and daycare and services it offers, the bigger it gets.


Sneer all you like: It works. Three million Americans now attend a church with a congregation of more than 10,000, an increase of 300 per cent in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, the six largest old-style Protestant denominations have lost a quarter of their flock.


Thirty years ago, main-line churches had a troubled relationship with capitalism. Today’s megachurches are so pro-business they have created both a thriving parallel Christian economy, and a new business class — the pastorpreneur .


Willow Creek, for instance, has an annual budget of $28-million, paid for almost entirely from offerings, book and tape sales, and fees from the Willow Creek Association, a network of more than 10,500 churches Mr. Hybels set up to teach other churches how to market themselves. (The Willow Creek Association spends $30-million of its own doing that, $7-million of it overseas.) For years, Mr. Hybels displayed a poster that read, “What is our business? Who is our customer?” To pay for a recent expansion and renovation, Willow Creek raised $80-million from its congregation and sister churches — in eight weeks.


A large slice of the annual budget finances salaries, as well as Willow Creek’s pioneering small-group system — groups of 10 or fewer people, united by a common ministry or purpose. There are more than 100 ministries and 2,700 small groups at Willow Creek.


They involve 17,000 participants and 11,000 volunteers, a vast army whose concerns include food banks, grief support, youth programs, financial help (the Good Sense Ministry, which draws on the Bible, among other sources, for financial advice) and both marriage counselling and divorce recovery.


There’s a ministry for hairdressers, and another called Christian Auto Repairmen Serving, whose mechanics do free car repairs. The TruthQuest Coffeehouse plans to “discuss homosexuality through a first-hand testimony and a biblical perspective.” The Biggies is a group where 200 seekers meet to discuss their doubts about the Bible.


In fact, at least 58 groups are devoted entirely to people who don’t know if they believe or not, with an impressive payoff for Willow Creek: The average Protestant church baptizes one person a year, but Willow Creek dunks upwards of 1,000 people a summer.


It’s very easy, in other words, to spend your whole life at Willow Creek, which is in part the church’s goal: Christian surveys have determined that even weekly attendance at church makes a person more interested in family values, and more likely to vote for them.


If you build it, they will convert.


More than 2,300 churches in 15 countries have copied the Willow Creek model: The average Willow Creek clone has 400 worshippers, four times the national average. Willow Creek is now so large it runs satellite operations that are almost megachurches in their own right. Megachurches beget clients, who beget bigger megachurches — gigachurches . The National Evangelical Association, run by Ted Haggard, founder of New Life Church in Colorado Springs (8,000 members) boasts 30 million members. They take credit for getting George W.


Bush elected President, and want a constitutional amendment against gay marriage as their reward.


The biggest heroes of the megachurches are their megapastors — workaholics who pride themselves on their multitasking. Rick Warren, who founded the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., recently redirected his church outward, toward the AIDS crisis in Africa, to head off persistent accusations within the conservative Christian community that megachurches are too soft, too inward, too self-satisfied, too white.


(Which is not true: Forty per cent of the churches are predominantly white, but the rest are about evenly split between black churches and integrated churches.) But Mr. Warren also reaches 100,000 ministers a week through his website,, making available every sermon he has written in 22 years. was also how Mr. Warren promoted his bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life : He invited his fellow pastors to launch a “40 Days of Purpose” campaign in their churches, conveniently corresponding to his book’s 40 chapters.


Nearly 1,600 churches took part, as did 260-odd radio stations.


So far, Mr. Warren has sold 15 million to 20 million copies. It isn’t Amway, but it’s close.


Joel Osteen is no slouch as a pastorpreneur, either. He may look like Keanu Reeves and talk like the Nicest Perfect Guy You Ever Met, but he thinks like Donald Trump main-lining Wal-Mart. Mr. Osteen’s first move when he inherited Lakewood’s pulpit from his father was to buy $12-million of weekend airtime in the 25 largest U.S. television markets. Today, the service is seen by seven million Americans and people in 110 countries.


When Mr. Osteen met Karl Rove, the Christian mastermind of Mr.


Bush’s winning election strategy, he introduced himself. “You don’t have to introduce yourself to me,” Mr. Rove said. “I watch you every Sunday on TV.” But Mr. Osteen’s boldest plan is to move Lakewood Church into the former Compaq Centre in downtown Houston, where the Houston Rockets used to play basketball.


When the giant holy lozenge opens on July 16, Joel Osteen will be able rouse the souls of 16,000 people at a time. Approval from Houston’s city council cost him $12-million for a 30-year lease, after a top lobbyist went to bat on Lakewood’s behalf. The project’s overall cost has risen to $90-million from $75-million: Last month, Mr. Osteen handed over $20-million for air conditioning alone. None of this bothers him.


“I don’t worry,” he said recently as we listened to jackhammers and screw guns building his new spiritual home. “Because every step of the way, God has met our needs. I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever.” He plans a 15-city preaching tour with Victoria this year: Last year, Madison Square Garden sold out for two nights. As for the new temple, he said: “The bigger the home we have here, the more we can be all over the world. My daddy always said, ‘The light that shines the farthest is going to shine the brightest at home.’ Our philosophy is there’s four million people in this town. If we can get a church of 100,000, there’s still 3.9 million left.” These new Christian entrepreneurs are Christians first, capitalists second. Mr. Hybels’s only indulgences are a Harley and a cottage in South Haven, Mich., where he sails competitively; he froze his salary at $85,000 a year, and lives in a $200,000 home he bought 20 years ago for his wife and two children. Mr. Osteen waived his $200,000 this year because he has book royalties — admittedly not a salary cut, given that Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living At Your Full Potential has sold an estimated two million copies, and earned him probably $4-million. But you could admire the principle.


Victoria wears her mother’s engagement ring (admittedly, she owns a jewellery store); she and Joel begin every morning praying with their two children, hands joined. A couple of weeks ago, the dog stuck his paw in too, and the kids went wild. Joel’s idea of a great holiday is one week with his family at Orlando’s Walt Disney World, twice a year. In the secular corporate world, that sort of behaviour would be dismissed as corny. In the post-Swaggart world of Christian entrepreneurialism, it’s known as setting a good example.


One morning while Joel Osteen was preaching at Lakewood, I visited his mother Dodie backstage. A moment before — she often speaks at Joel’s services — she had asked the people in the crowd who had ever strayed, and asked them to put their hands up. Dodie admitted that she had too — “both hands, and both feet,” she said. The crowd loved her.


I found her sitting on a sofa in a living room, saying hi to the countless sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren who had come to visit her at church. She is in her 60s, wearing a black skirt and jacket over a scarlet blouse, and a big gold chain belt, Texas church fancy. She moved like a bird.


Lakewood Church exists because of Dodie Osteen. Her husband, John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist when he started preaching, but was forced out for leading raucous, spirit-filled services. That was when he moved into an old feed store and called it Lakewood Church, “the oasis of love.” Later, when Dodie contracted metastatic cancer of the liver in 1981, Pastor John anointed her with oil and prayed over her. After 20 days in hospital, Dodie got out of bed, the cancer gone.


I wanted to know if Dodie had a picture of heaven in her head.


“I do a lot of funerals,” she said, “so I have an idea. I think that Jesus loves me so much — you know, Jesus says he goes and prepares a mansion for us in heaven — that in my mansion in heaven I’m gonna have antiques, because I love them so much. And I think because I love water, I think he loves me that much that I’m going to have water too.


“Of course, when I get there, I won’t care whether it’s there or not. Because there’ll be no more pain, and no more sorrow, no more murders, no more anything that bothers us here on earth. Where there’s sunlight and never any darkness, and to be with Jesus, where there’s love.


“It’s going to be a wonderful thing. I feel sorry for people who don’t know, who aren’t going there, because they’re going to an entirely different place where there’s people screaming, because of the flames, and they can’t get out. And that’s what’s so sad.


Because once you die, there’s no bringing it back.” A few months before in Key West, Fla., Michael Gerson, who studied theology at Wheaton and went on to become George W. Bush’s speechwriter, had described heaven as “the Christian hope that slow death and the suffering of a family are not all there is: that suffering is not the last reality; it’s the next-to-last reality.” Dodie Osteen’s view of heaven wasn’t so different.


Which is something to understand, I think, about America’s religious fervour: However dreamy and unrealistic Dodie Osteen’s vision of heaven, you cannot fake its sincerity, just as you can’t fake the sincerity of Joel and Victoria and the rest of the seamless Osteen clan. You can’t fake the seriousness of Mr. Hybels, or the far-reaching gaze of Mr. Warren.


To the tens of thousands who attend their churches, their sincerity, the fact that they believe what they say they believe, matters infinitely more than whether it’s factually believable. This is a lesson the scientific secular left forgets at its peril.


And the affection Americans have for large-scale religious sincerity isn’t limited to this age or this president. Abraham Lincoln was an essentially non-religious president; Dwight Eisenhower became a Presbyterian only after Billy Graham told him he had to, if he wanted a shot at the Oval Office.


But both Lincoln and Eisenhower knew, and on various occasions said, that the American population was virtually unmanageable without popular religion, or at least its rhetoric, as a rallying tool.


Eisenhower, the instant Presbyterian, even started writing his own prayers. Then there’s Lincoln’s second inaugural address, and the harrowing paradox in which he describes the enemy sides in the Civil War each looking to the same God for succour: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” It’s one of the most famous descriptions of faith in American politics. Now tell me: Does Lincoln believe in God? And does it matter? Anyway, a little later, Dodie said, “What do you think about that, Ian? Are you for that gay marriage?” “Well,” I said, “I can’t believe that God wouldn’t extend some mercy to them.” “Well,” said Dodie, “John always said God created Adam and Eve, he didn’t create Adam and Steve.” Then she got up to repowder her nose and reapply the crimson lipstick she wears whenever she walks onstage. I said goodbye and inadvertently followed her straight into the makeup room. “Do you want some makeup, Ian?” Dodie said when she heard me coming.


The trouble with earnest religious communities, I found, was that they knew so little trouble. Two days would go by, and I would talk to generous, kind, good-looking, well-dressed, fair-minded, often blond people committed to Jesus and to helping others, and at the end of the day, I would have a massive headache and a craving for drink and ambiguity.


I suppose I was tired of people telling me what to do and how to think and behave. At least at Lakewood, religion came down out of your head and into your body.


Joel Osteen’s message of the week in Houston was about procrastination.


“I want to challenge you tonight to be a now person,” he said on stage, and every time he said it he made a good joke of it: “Ushers, you better lock the doors. Three people have already left, and three more want to, but they keep puttin’ it off.” He was strangely persuasive. He never seemed to falter. He moved his hands in a pattern — hands on the chest, then hands out to the audience, then hands in fists, then fingers pointing up, hands back to chest, like one of the June Taylor Dancers.


It wasn’t that I agreed with him. I liked listening to his cadence and watching people receive what he was saying as they left their doubts behind, as they took their ostrich pumps off to dance and pray and held their thick crystal crucifixes in the air. It was like being in Las Vegas, surrounded by the chance of God’s blessing, but without the crust of depravity.


Once I saw Mr. Osteen pray with three children whose mother had just died, and he came away shaking and sobbing and dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief. The sight reminded me of something I once read: “There are many experiences of faith . . . but most will share a belief that we are loved and called to love; that our choices matter, now and forever; that there are purposes deeper than ambitions and hopes greater than success. These beliefs shape our lives and help sustain the life of our nation.


“Men and women can be good without faith, but faith is a force for goodness. Men and women can be compassionate without faith, but faith often inspires compassion. Human beings can love without faith, but faith is a great teacher of love.” The man who said that was George W. Bush.


Of course, at first I thought Joel was faking it, playing to a Texas Monthly reporter in the audience, but I later discovered Joel broke down all the time. “People’s lives,” he said to me, by way of explanation. He stopped for a moment, and when he spoke again it was as if he was reminding himself. “You know what? You’ve gotta preach hope. And encourage people that there are good days ahead.” That is the secret to Joel Osteen’s success. “In most churches in which I grew up,” Don Iloff, Victoria’s brother, told me one afternoon, “it’s as if you’re observing the crucifixion. In this church, every service is a celebration of the r esurrection . And that’s why this church is so joyful.” This is what I mean about the sincerity of religious Americans: It’s not just a way of talking, but a way of being and believing and forging ahead, even in politics. It doesn’t matter where you look to find it — in the fact that Joel never dated before he met Victoria, but then prayed and found her; in the fact that in 19 years of marriage she says she’s never seen him angry; and even in the fact that their first date was a game at the basketball complex that is now becoming their new spiritual home.


Whatever else you want to call that, it’s also a form of God-led hopefulness. It masses at America’s megachurches, anonymous and ultra-personal at the same time, and then it spreads. Christianity is booming in Africa and Asia, places American megachurches already spend millions evangelizing new believers.


Mr. Iloff thinks that even Europe, where traditional Catholicism is in decline, might prove fertile ground for the Osteen brand of religious joy. “If Pentecostalism sweeps Europe,” he says, “you’ll see a renewal of Christianity like you’ve never seen.” Mr. Osteen, of course, stays away from predictions like that.


These days, he just wants to fill up his new church.


“I think it’s a different day today,” he told me as we stared up into its bare concrete ceiling. “I look up, I see growth. I think when you have a message of hope, and you don’t condemn people, you reach everybody.” “Of course,” he added, dropping his gaze again, “I’d like to get past the formal walls of the church. My thing is, if I can get a seed of hope planted in someone’s heart, you never know who’s gonna get involved.” My last service at Lakewood, I sat behind a Nigerian woman in full native dress as she sangI Am a Friend of God with her children and husband. It’s a rousing piece of music — three repeats of I am a friend of God , followed by He calls me friend , the line where the chords resolve. People at Lakewood love to sing it.


The Nigerian woman —her name was Agnes Monjok, I later learned — danced to the song as well, her hips pumping softly to its rhythm while she held her arms and elbows high and worked the backbeat.


But it was her hands I noticed. Her hands were raised, palms to God, except on that last line, He calls me friend . There she twirled her index fingers down and around, pointing them gracefully back at herself, to show where God’s love would go if she loved God.


I have been moved by many things I saw in the American churches I visited — women twitching spookily to the voodoo spirit of the charismatic God; a class of profoundly retarded black teenaged boys laughing and smiling at one another in a quiet Presbyterian church on a rainy Monday morning in Houston, a scene that made tears jump out of my eyes; Mr. Osteen crying while he prayed. But nothing I saw was any more touching that Agnes Monjok’s graceful fingers pointing God’s love back at her, as her fair reward.


Her children knew the words by heart. It turned out they were old hands at the Lakewood experience, having watched it on TV for five years in Nigeria.


“I used to wake up at 1 a.m. to watch it,” Agnes said, the spice of her accent sharping each word. Now, they were living in Houston, having emigrated five months before. Lakewood, a massive noisy id of a church, had drawn them to Houston, to their new home, to their new life, to her new dance.


They seemed full of hope, the Monjoks, and hope suddenly struck me as a fine gift, however naive and childish one might seem in giving it. I asked Agnes if she liked Joel or Victoria better, but she shook her head.


“Both of them,” she said, “they are one. Before man and God.”


Next week: Family Values Central Ian Brown is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.




Barna Finds One-Third of Americans are Unchurched (Christian Post, 050329)


The Barna Research Group, which analyzes trends in the U.S. Christian community, recently found that one-third of Americans remain “unchurched” despite national efforts to increase attendance.


It notes that this proportion “has changed little” during the past five years. In addition, the number of unchurched adults continues to grow by nearly a million people annually due to the nation’s population growth.


The study group is made up of 56 percent who consider themselves Christians, 15 percent who are born again Christians, 20 percent who profess a non-Christian faith, and 24 percent who are atheists and agnostics.


Therefore, those with high degrees of religious activity and doctrinal beliefs accounted for 91 percent of those surveyed.


The report organizes the data on unchurched believers into three sections: their religious activity, religious beliefs and emerging patterns.


In terms of religious activity, the Barna report states that “millions of unchurched people are spiritually active.” In a typical week, one out of every five in the study reads the Bible, and six out of ten surveyed pray to God week. During the past year, 5 percent have shared their faith in Jesus Christ with nonbelievers.


The unchurched are also donating to causes. Nearly one million unchurched adults pay tithe – they “donate at least 10 percent of their annual household revenue to non-profit entities” - usually to parachurch ministries that serve worldwide.


In addition, in a typical month, 40 percent pay attention to Chrisian media which includes faith-based television, radio, magazines or websites. In addition, one-quarter of them had conversations with one or more friends who held them accountable for carrying out their faith principles.


In terms of religious beliefs, Barna states, “the belief profile of unchurched Americans veers from mirroring the beliefs of most Americans to differing substantially.” The unchurched are similar to most, believing Satan is a symbol of evil but not a living entity (67%), that people can earn their way into Heaven (61%), and that Jesus committed sins (51%).


They [are different in that they] do not believe that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches (75%). They are also less likely to possess a biblical view of God (only 46% see Him as the “perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe” who still rules His creation today).


In addition, they’re less likely to believe that the most important purpose of life is to “love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul” (63% agree).” These perspectives have not changed much in the past decade according to the Barna report.


The report has also identified a few “shifts” in the unchurched. Those who define themselves as “middle-of-the-road” politically drop out of church ((what does “politically drop out” mean?)) faster than conservatives or liberals.


Young adults are more resistant to church life than are people from older generations, and Barna has found it surprising (The word “surprising” in the previous sentence should be in quotes because if they specifically said it. Otherwise, it’s your opinion) that individuals on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder are much more likely to be unchurched than their counterparts.


The Northeast continues to harbor the largest percentage of the unchurched, 42%.




Study: American College Students Spiritual and Seeking (Christian Post, 050414)


A major new study released today by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed high levels of spirituality and religiousness among today’s college students in America.


The university’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) conducted the study last fall on 112,232 freshmen attending 236 colleges and universities. The results revealed that up 80 percent of the respondents are “interested in spirituality.”


The study reaffirms the findings of similar studies done in the past, including the study released on Monday of comparative religious identities of America’s “Generation Y.” According to the Generation Y survey, 46 percent of today’s youth value faith, but prefers to express it informally and 27 percent of youths consider themselves as either “Godly” or highly religious.


Similarly in the UCLA study, about three quarters of those polled said they are searching for a meaning or purpose in life and are having discussions on the topic with their friends.


Other key findings in the survey included: 80 percent discussed religion or spirituality with friends; 81 percent attended religious service of any sort; 79 percent believe in God; and 69 percent pray.


Despite this high level of spirituality found among college-level students, the study also found that students are by-and-large very tolerant toward the non-religious.


The UCLA study found that 83 percent of the respondents belive “non-religious people can be just as moral as religious believers,” and 64 percent say “most people can grow spiritually without being religious.”


Alexander W. Astin, the Co-Principal Investigator for the project, said that college students are clearly very interested in the larger questions in life and many of them hope that the college experience will support them in their spiritual quest.


“The challenge for higher education is to understand the priority young people place on these issues and explore how well they are supporting their students’ quest,” Astin said.


The following statistics show the students’ high expectations for the “role their institutions will play in their emotional and spiritual development,” according to the report.


More than two-thirds (69 percent) consider it “essential” or “very important” that their college enhance their self-understanding and a similar proportion (67 percent) rate highly the role they want their college to play in developing their personal values. Nearly half (48 percent) also say it is “essential” or “very important” that colleges encourage their personal expression of spirituality.


Regarding political and social issues, the survey shows the students with high levels of religious engagement are far less likely to believe abortion should be legal, think casual sex is ok, support same-sex marriage, and endorse legalization of marijuana than students are with low levels of religious engagement.


The UCLA study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation and is part of a multi-year project that assesses and tracks the spiritual growth of students during their undergraduate college years.


HERI is widely regarded as one of the premiere research and policy organizations on postsecondary education in the country. Housed at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA, it serves as an Interdisciplinary center for research, evaluation, information, policy studies, and research training in post-secondary education.


For more information, please visit the project Web site at www.spirituality.ucla.ed




Survey Shows Most Young Americans Value Faith, but Eschew Organized Religion (Christian Post, 050412)


The results of a groundbreaking nationwide study of the comparative religious identities of America’s “Generation Y” were released yesterday by the Bookings Institution in Washington D.C.


Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Reboot, a national network for young Jews, the report showed that the majority of American college-level youth between age 18 and 25 value faith and spirituality. However, when it comes to the practice, they prefer the informal and personal means over the traditional religious institutions.


According to the survey, the plurality of Generation Y (46%) is classified as “Undecided,” valuing faith, but preferring to express it informally. The remaining respondents are identified as either “Godly” - highly religious (27%) or “Godless” - non-religious (27%).


Roger Bennett, co-founder of Reboot, said in a recent news release by Michael Kaminer Public Relations (MKPR),that such findings present critical challenges for America’s religious institutions.


“The religious establishment is failing to connect with Generation Y, the most diverse and individualist group in American history,” Bennett said.


“iTunes, Tivo, and MoveOn have shown this generation that it is possible to bypass the ‘middleman’ and take control of their own experiences, whether it’s a song list or politics. Religious institutions have to recognize this reality if they want to be more meaningful to them,” he said.


In addition, the survey reveals that teens express their faith in informal ways that are either communal or individualistic, such as praying before meals (55%), talking with friends (38%), or reading religious magazines, books, and newspapers (33%).


According to the report, the youth enjoy “a genuine attachment to religious life” and are “more disconnected from traditional denominations than their older counterparts… [and] favor more informal ways to practice their faith as opposed to attending services, classes, or formal activity.”


The survey, however, reveals that young people who identify as highly religious (27%) tend to be more self-aware and significantly more connected to family and community.


“One of the most remarkable findings of the study is that on every measure, highly religious youth better understand themselves and their place in the community more than less religious youth,” said the report’s author, Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.


“The results send a clear message: Demand for meaning and community is there, but few in Gen Y are finding it in churches, mosques, or synagogues,” Bennett said. “The question now is whether established institutions will adapt or innovate to meet this generation’s particular spiritual needs.”


Among other significant findings are: a highly tolerant, progressive worldview of the youth including even those who identity as religious; the majority (53 percent) supporting same-sex marriages and a larger majority (63 percent) supporting legalized abortion.


Furthermore, the report shows a decline in denominationalism and a concurrent rise in the number of people unwilling to align with a denomination at all.


The report’s author, Anna Greenberg, is vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She was inspired to undertake this groundbreaking national study after attending a Reboot Summit in May 2003.




Billboards Showcase Messages ‘from God’ Nationwide (Christian Post, 050516)


Billboards with thought-provoking messages “from God” are finding their way on highways across America.


With such one-liners as, “Feeling lost? My Book is your map. —God” and “I love you. —God,” motorists can see messages from God, perhaps answering questions that motorists have been asking.


In 1999-2000, the first GodSpeaks campaign managed to launch a total of 10,000 billboards containing “disarming” one-liners signed “by God” according to a statement released by the GodSpeaks national campaigner, The Demoss Group. Now, the GodSpeaks campaign is back with nine new messages and possibly more coming.


Since March 2005, billboard owners nationwide have already ordered more than 400 billboards and bus shelter posters in over 21 cities and are donating the advertising space as part of their public service campaign.


With the same anonymous sponsors behind it, the billboard campaign was launched by the 1100-member Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), who have picked it up as their national public service campaign.


Meredith Moller, spokesperson for OAAA, said: “We look at it as a campaign to inspire people to think positively about the roles that spirituality plays in their lives.”


She continued, “Every faith is based in a belief of a God, and this campaign is very relevant to today’s culture and we believe that this campaign might have opportunities to affect people.”


Since the campaign is “evergreen” (always relevant), and has no agenda, owners can put them up as they have space throughout the years, said Moller.


The impact has been positive. One emailer told OAAA, “Wanted to say thank you very much for the God Speaks again campaign. These are very timely, much needed messages...”


OAAA President and CEO Nancy Fletcher said, “For the past five years, it has continued to get people talking, thinking, and laughing, and members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America continued to post it whenever and wherever they had the space available.”


The creative team behind GodSpeaks says that the anonymous sponsor of the project wants God’s identity, rather than their own, to be the focus of the campaign.


“The donor behind the GodSpeaks campaign simply wants to invite people to focus on God and chose billboards as a way to connect with people in their daily lives,” said Mark DeMoss, President of the creative team and campaign spokesperson. “The billboards are designed to draw attention to the God presented in the Bible in a creative, thought-provoking way.”




Major News Magazines Report on Spirituality on Campuses (Christian Post, 050516)


Time Magazine and U.S. News & World Report recently investigated the role of spirituality on campuses.


In addition, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) released a study last month detailing the level of spirituality on campuses.


According to InterVarsity Christian Ministry’s Gordon Govier, a number of indices found that students not only believe in God, but regularly integrate their faith with their lives, including talking to friends, praying, and attending religious services.


Out of 112,000 first-year college students surveyed from over 236 colleges and universities, UCLA found that in terms of following “religious teachings,” only 40 percent follow religious teachings in everyday life and 26 percent call themselves born-again Christians.

However, almost four out of five believe in God (79 percent), 81 percent attend religious services at least occasionally, 80 percent discuss religion or spirituality with friends, and at ten percent less, 69 percent pray.


In “Faith and Frat Boys,” the major news magazine profiled campus ministries at Indiana: Campus Crusade, Christian Student Fellowship, Navigators, and InterVarsity.


The assessment was, “The distinctions tend to be stylistics rather than substantive – the religious equivalent of J. Crew vs. American Eagle vs. Abercrombie,” according to Time Magazine.


Interviews with students revealed concern with sharing their faith. One Campus Crusade student, Lane Bowman, 22, a senior from Chesterton, Ind., admits, “I’m immersed in a Christian bubble,” but he says he prays to break out.


He has immersed himself in Christian culture, including music and books, such as the Christian rock band, SonicFlood and “Lord, Change My Attitude (Before It’s Too Late).


Senior Kathryn Nelson, 22, a student from Milford, Ohio, says “When you’re living with people who aren’t Christians, tour ministry is right in front of your face,” she told Time.


In U.S. News & World Report’s “Young and Hungry,” growth of the campus ministry was shown.


“Since 1995, Campus Crusade for Christ, an interdenominational ministry committed to spreading the Gospel, has grown from 18,000 students nationally to 55,000 this year. Enrollment in the 100-plus member colleges of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which teach subjects from a biblical perspective, has jumped by 64 percent since 1990…”


Also, students revealed dedication to faith. Ally Hill, an 18-year-old freshman at Miami University of Ohio said, “For you to draw closer to God and to your faith takes a lot of extra work. To ignore it is the easiest.”




Professor Says Prosperity Theology is Growing in Latin America (Christian Post, 050519)


Disenchantment with political parties and poverty are some of the factors that have influenced Latin America in such a way that many evangelicals are “gullibly” choosing to follow Prosperity Theology(PT), according to a Peruvian professor.


Professor Martin Ocaña,of the Baptist Seminary of South Peru, says that an inability to escape critical situations, coupled with a loss of hope results in many people in churches to take up PT.


He says that PT offers people a way to be free from poverty in an immediate and individual way, in contrast to Liberation Theology, which sees freedom as the result of a long-term fight against social injustice and exclusion.


He adds that many people want to escape poverty regardless of the means used; PT tries to take advantage of this “legitimate desire,” he says, according to a report by ALC News.


The professor, who is also a pastor, spoke on Monday at a talk titled “Citizenry and Economic Solidarity” in Lima, Peru. It was sponsored by the Network of Secular Centers of South Cono.


Ocaña says that during the past 20 years, PT has emerged in society and politics unhindered and promoted by evangelical ministries in the United States.


He says that those who promote PT - with its emphasis on material prosperity and the enjoyment of earthly things - are advancing a form of Christianity “inoffensive” to the “system.”


Ocaña adds that PT teaches that material prosperity is the greatest evidence of God’s blessing. However, under PT, he says that such prosperity is not for everyone but rather for those who are faithful to God and keep His spiritual laws.


He also says PT teaches that material prosperity is given to Christians so they can enjoy it on earth, since one has to accustom oneself on earth to a lifestyle that will be eternal and even greater in heaven.


In the ALC report, Ocaña laments that leaders of “historic” Protestant and Evangelical churches (which the report says are rooted in the Reformation of the sixteenth century), have not reacted to PT, deeming it “inoffensive.”


He calls on leaders of those churches to notice that some of their own members may be watching “anti-biblical and even heretical messages” on television, citing Costa Rica-based Enlace-TV as an example.


The professor, who has written a book called “God’s Bankers,” says that an alternative theology should be proposed, which is based on scripture and which emphasizes human well-being more than prosperity.


Ocaña defines human well-being as a concept which includes social justice, satisfaction of human needs, health, and work. This is in contrast to PT, which he says reduces everything to economic terms although its apologists may deny it, he adds.




Missed opportunity or history-shaping impact? Our choice (Christian Post, 050516)


Decisions we make change our lives and impact our histories. Robert Frost captured the magnitude of our choices in his poem, “The Road Less Traveled.” He chose one way and realized, “knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back” to the crossroads of the original choice.


My question is: Will Western Christianity—essentially Christians in the United States—shape history, or miss an opportunity by our level of commitment to Jesus Christ?


David Watson, an Anglican priest, wrote two sentences that have haunted me for 21 years: “It is widely held that the battle of the century will be between Marxism, Islam, and Third-world Christianity. Western Christianity is considered too weak and ineffective to contribute anything significant to this universal struggle.” That’s a sobering accusation I’ve been unable to discredit. I fear that the church in America has wandered down one path when we should have taken the other. The path opposite our current direction is the path of a disciple.


I believe Jesus is in search of disciples but is having difficulty finding many in the evangelical church in America. We’ve turned churches into comfortable country clubs for members when, in fact, the church is designed for those who are not members. People shop for churches like they shop for automobiles or for groceries. People want something that fills their needs. We have missed the boat because we think Christianity is about us. It is not. It’s about God and His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. He has chosen Christians to play a significant role in showing the world what His Kingdom looks like.


We need to understand five things about discipleship if we are to move from the path of missed opportunity to the path of effectively contributing to the cause of Christ.


1. Disciples are called by the Master. You didn’t choose Him, He chose you (Jn 6:44). Christianity is the only faith system on earth where the Master determines His followers. Salvation is at God’s discretion, not ours.


2. Disciples have a personal relationship with the Master. This is the essence of the Christian faith. It is not cold doctrine. We are to be doctrinally sound, but our relationship with Christ is preeminent.


3. Disciples are under the authority of the Master. We can’t call Him Lord and not do what He says. Asking Him what you should do next without having yet done the last thing He told you to do is called disobedience. There are no multiple-choice questions with Jesus. He has a specific purpose for each life and expects you to stick with His plan.


4. Disciples become like the Master. Measure yourself against Phil. 2:5-8. How close are you to becoming like the Master when compared with Him?


5. Disciples are willing to sacrifice for the Master. If Jesus endured hardship and discomfort, why should we expect any less? Discipleship carries with it the obligation to risk and sacrifice. Jesus didn’t hide this, and in fact said that we’d be persecuted if we identified ourselves with Him.


Western Christianity has retreated from the battle for the souls of men to the hollow pursuit of self-comfort. “It is widely held that the battle of the century will be between Marxism, Islam, and Third-world Christianity. Western Christianity is considered too weak and ineffective to contribute anything significant to this universal struggle.”


These words still haunt me. Do they haunt you?


[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 2, 2002.]


James T. Draper, Jr.




Country club or change agent: which is your church? (Christian Post, 050516)


The church doesn’t exist for Christians. The church is designed for those who are not members.


I recently made that comment and it drew quite a response.


The context of the comment was within a discussion about discipleship. I said that Jesus is searching for true disciples in the evangelical church in America but is having difficulty finding many. Need evidence? Read the headlines. The evangelical church in America is losing ground when it comes to effecting change in our culture. Instead of a trend in our nation toward godliness, the trend is toward secularism devoid of anything godly. Western Christianity has retreated from the battle for the souls of men to the hollow pursuit of self-comfort. True disciples follow Christ into the fray.


God’s design for the church is not that it exists for my comfort or for the convenience of its members but He instituted it as an equipping station to thrust us into the harvest for souls.


The church at Ephesus was surrounded by false religions and egocentric philosophies. People were consumed by their sexual appetites and practiced “every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more” (Eph. 4:19). Did the Apostle Paul tell Ephesian Christians to get inside their building, close the door and lock out the evil that permeated their society? No, and in fact, he told them to walk worthy of their calling, obey God’s commands, stay true to the divine strategy and be Christians right where they were.


We must first realize that the church is a divine institution. It was not an afterthought with God. We are the strategy God designed to confront the godlessness of our culture. When Christ says we were the light on a hill, He meant that we are to shine in such a way that those struggling with the turbulence of life could safely navigate to the harbor of God’s grace. When the light from our churches sweeps across our culture, people see our good works and give glory to God in heaven (Matt 5:16). It’s an intentional effort on our part to understand that church is not about us; it is about God, His Kingdom and making His name known among the nations (Ps. 46:10).


However, we become ineffective when we turn inward and our culture has no visible measure of eternal truth. There is no incarnational witness of the Savior. We rob hope from individuals who are on a collision course with eternal separation from God when we focus our energy on ourselves.


As we project the gospel outward from our churches, we must follow the leadership of God. God does not overlook people’s sin. He extends grace and forgiveness in spite of it. We must be accepting of individuals without condoning their lifestyles. I like the chorus of the song, “This Must Be the Place,” co-written and sung by Steve Amerson. “This must be a place where a broken heart can mend/This must be a place where the outcast finds a friend/For we cannot lift the fallen if our hand still holds a stone/And their sin that seems so great to us is no greater than our own/There must be a point where shame meets grace/And this must be the place.”


Is your church that place?


[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published November 2003.]


James T. Draper, Jr.




The Choice of Two Prayers (Christian Post, 050517)


“Dear God, please ruin me!”


Doesn’t sound like a prayer any of us would make, does it? However, there is clear indication in Scripture that some Christians may actually be inviting God to do just that by their actions and attitudes.


Before I explain, we need to understand something: Those who say the Bible isn’t relevant to contemporary culture don’t understand that the immorality of the New Testament world is identical to the world in which we live. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a message firmly founded on God’s truth written to a church in a pagan culture permeated with sensuality, violence and corruption. Unfortunately, that church was full of inconsistencies and hypocrisy.


The Corinthians were an immature body of believers, filled with divisive debates, compromise, immorality, favoritism, anger, bitterness, slander, spiritual arrogance and lawsuits. They apparently did not understand the significance of their chaotic fellowship in the eyes of the Lord. Paul reminds them in chapter three that he cannot address them as mature because they are still “fleshly.” Their behavior reflected their culture instead of reflecting spiritual maturity lives that morally distinguished them from their culture.


“Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” he asked them in 3:16, and continues, “If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”


There are two Greek words for “sanctuary” in the New Testament. One defines the entire temple complex. The other, found here, refers to the innermost dwelling place, the Holy of Holies. Think of it, believers are the Holy of Holies for the Holy Spirit. What an awesome thought.


But here is the ignored part of these verses: “Sanctuary” is singular, but “you” is plural. Every believer is a temple of God, and that is the way we usually interpret this verse. However, the church itself—the body of believers—is a temple of God. The church is holy just as individuals are holy, and God jealously guards that which is holy.


Collectively, we are God’s sanctuary and the individual who fails to act rightly toward the body of believers is guilty of gross sin. The verb “ruin” is repeated in 3:17. The punishment here is not an arbitrary decision. To promote divisions and turmoil—to create chaos and disruption—within the fellowship of the church is to “ruin” or desecrate the Holy of Holies of God and thus to invite God to destroy the sinner.


Transport Paul through time to today. His message is contemporary. Our churches are surrounded by a pagan culture and are filled with many problems, not all of them theological. Individuals must take personal responsibility to mature and become holy if Western Christianity is to make a global impact and if our churches are to be change agents reaching the lost instead of members-only country clubs.


Southern Baptists have taken a stand upon the truth of God’s Word. However, we find everywhere in the churches of our convention dissensions, divisions, slander, anger, bitterness, and continual fighting over control and authority within the church. We are inviting ruin.


We have a choice of two prayers: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,” or, “Dear God, please ruin me!” Which are you praying?


James T. Draper, Jr.




“They” are watching, but so is He (Christian Post, 050517)


Warning: Reading the following column may lead to your arrest and long-term incarceration.


I willingly and knowingly expose myself to the imminent repercussions of the social reconstructionists. Like Winston in George Orwell’s “1984,” I realize I may be subjecting myself to the three-step process that leads to “Doublethink,” but the way I see it, we’re already facing the Learning, Understanding, and Acceptance phases of the humanist agendas that are hijacking our culture.


Still reading? Okay, but remember I warned you when “They” come for you.


This is not a dissertation on “1984,” but the book does provide a reference point. Orwell of course wrote the book in the 1940’s and modeled “Big Brother” after Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Franco’s fascist Spain. History gives us perspective and we think, “How could that have happened?” How could a few so comprehensively alter a nation’s culture? Wake up and look around. You’re living the answer.


Dateline Philadelphia: Eleven people were arrested and five ultimately charged with criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways. Each faces a maximum 47 years in jail if convicted. Their crime: They were Christians peaceably assembled at a Philadelphia “Outfest” and preaching that homosexuality is a sin. Their “instrument of crime” was the Bible.


Dateline Atlanta: A U.S. District Judge ruled that a disclaimer in textbooks stating that evolution is “a theory, not a fact,” must be removed because it is a violation of the Establishment Clause, a section of the First Amendment that Constitutional revisionists claim calls for a separation of church and state. (Always conveniently absent from this conversation is the phrase, “Congress shall make no law…” Even if there was validity to the separation of church-state issue—which there isn’t—Congress didn’t authorize the disclaimer for the text. But, since it is a public school system that receives public money, and because Congress is a public entity, a connection is somehow miraculously established.)


The American Heritage College Dictionary (Fourth edition) defines absurd as, “Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable.” America today is the living the definition. Welcome to the tyranny of the absurd.


The first example is a complete travesty of our First Amendment rights as Americans. Especially so when you learn that the homosexual group colluded with the U.S. Justice Department prior to the event to have the Christians arrested. The second example is more commonplace. I could give you dozens of examples from courtrooms across the United States where similar cases are being executed. No logically thinking person can draw the same conclusions that the cultural revisionists have from our Constitution, yet the assault on our moral foundation is constant and coming from all fronts, especially the judicial front, including the Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Breyer, on ABC News’ “This Week,” wondered out loud whether the Constitution will be a sufficient document to govern America in the future. So much for pledging an oath to uphold and defend what was once considered the supreme law of the land.


Drag from the scrap heap of history the great civilizations and look through their remains. You’ll find the genesis of their collapse in moral decay and tyrannical absurdity. Solomon is again proven prophetic: There truly is nothing new under the sun. Or consider Paul’s warning to Timothy: “A time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4, HCSB). Could his statement be any more contemporary?


But those called to be living examples of truth—Christians—have missed the objective. We are living in a culture whose morality is aggressively declining, validated in the prophetic statements Jesus made in Matthew and through Paul’s observations in his various writings. The Church—especially the Western Church—has been largely ineffective in the past 100 years in answering the challenges culture has issued. But the objective has never been for us to win a culture war. Read the Bible; culture—all culture—collapses. We are significant participants in a cosmic war that’s been waging for thousands of years for the souls of men. The Kingdom of God is not confined to man-made governments or the freedom to exercise civil liberties. Our fight for Constitutional expression must never be viewed as an end, but rather as a means to an end that is found in the proclamation of the absolute truth that eternally changes man’s destiny. Likewise, the absence of those liberties must never quench the proclamation of that truth.


Jesus calls us to be good citizens under our governments, but He also calls us to be salt and light in a decaying world. The two are increasingly beginning to rub against each other. Where do you stand? Here’s my answer: As Paul charged Timothy so I urge again: “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not…keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:2 & 5, HCSB).


We live in a culture whose moral equilibrium is lost and whose government is becoming increasingly more hostile toward Christianity. Big Brother is watching, but so too is the Father.


James T. Draper, Jr.




What Should We Think of the EMERGING CHURCH? Part 1 (Christian Post, 050629)


The “Emerging Church” has become a focus of intense evangelical interest, as the nascent movement has grown in both size and influence. While its eventual shape is not yet clear, we now know enough to draw some preliminary conclusions about the movement, its leaders, and its influence.


In his recent book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, D. A. Carson offers a penetrating analysis of this new movement and its implication. An accomplished scholar with a keen eye on the culture, Carson combines academic scrutiny with a sympathetic understanding of the motivations and cultural experiences that have shaped this new movement.


Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, demonstrates a bracing understanding of our times and the cultural challenges faced by conservative Christianity. In his 1996 book, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, he offered an incisive analysis of postmodernism. In that work, Carson’s primary focus was epistemology and the postmodern understanding of truth and its knowability. In this new book, Carson continues to focus on truth and knowledge, challenging the Emerging Church at the foundational level of Christian identity.


Carson begins by acknowledging the diversity of the Emerging Church Movement. Given the “porous borders” of the movement, Carson admits that he did not find it “easy to portray it fairly.” Nevertheless, after a period of embryonic development, the Emerging Church Movement is now sufficiently mature to offer an understandable model of church and theology, complete with understandings of the Bible, the culture, and the Christian message.


The idea of an Emerging Church—whether understood as a movement or a “conversation”—is based in “the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is ‘emerging,’” Carson explains. The logic that unites Emerging Church leaders suggests that Christians must respond to the Emerging Church with acceptance and adaptation. “Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation,” Carson relates.


Even though the Emerging Church constitutes an amorphous movement with ill-defined boundaries, Carson is convinced that the influence of the movement is larger than its numbers would suggest.


From what did the Emerging Church emerge? The modern evangelical movement emerged in the last half of the twentieth century complete with “megachurches” and baby-boomer variations. The Emerging Church is defined over against the massive megachurch models and the seeker-sensitive approaches popular among baby-boomer pastors. The formative leaders of the Emerging Church Movement argue that they are trying to recover a primitive sense of Christian community that, while keenly aware of contemporary culture and deeply engaged with the culture, avoids the consumerism, entertainment-centeredness, and superficiality of mainstream evangelical churches.


It is significant to note that the vast majority of leaders in the Emerging Church Movement seem to have shifted from more conservative forms of evangelical Christianity to the new, more broadly defined Emerging Movement. Carson suggests that a detectable sense of protest fuels the movement. Several of the movement’s leaders document their own rejection of older forms of evangelical theology and church life. Some have rejected a Dispensational eschatology, while others contrast their new understanding of the culture with a previous experience rooted in fundamentalist separationism.


Carson cites the late Mike Yaconelli who rejected more conservative forms of evangelical Christianity with a sense of intellectual and cultural condescension. Looking back at his earlier faith, Yaconelli commented: “I realized the modern-institutional-denominational church was permeated by values that are contradictory to the Church of Scripture. The very secular humanism the institutional church criticized pervaded the church structure, language, methodology, process, priorities, values, and mission. The ‘legitimate’ church, the one that had convinced me of my illegitimacy, was becoming the illegitimate church, fully embracing the values of modernity.”


Philosophically, the Emerging Church Movement represents a repudiation of what it identifies as “modernism.” While postmodernism is itself a contested category, the leaders of the Emerging Church Movement clearly understand themselves to be affected by, if not fully embracing of postmodernism.


In particular, Emerging Church leaders focus on epistemology, arguing that modernism corrupted the church by limiting its focus to a defense of propositional truth based in an unassailable philosophical foundation. The rejection of foundationalism is a central theme of emergent culture.


As Carson explains, a majority of Emerging Church leaders and thinkers hold “that the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology—i.e., how we know things or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective-which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we ‘know’ is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and in fact can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right.”


At this point, Carson focuses on Brian McLaren, probably the most articulate speaker in the Emerging Movement. McLaren has written a small library of works promoting and defining the Emerging Church Movement. Though the movement has many formative leaders, McLaren is undoubtedly the most influential thinker among them. To a large and undeniable extent, McLaren has succeeded in branding the Emerging Church Movement.


The very nomenclature of the movement betrays a sense that evangelicalism must be cast aside in order for something new, radical, and more authentic to emerge. “For almost everyone within the movement,” Carson argues, “this works out in an emphasis on feelings and affections over against linear thought and rationalities; on experience over against truth; on inclusion over against exclusion; on participation over individualism and the heroic loner.” This approach produces what McLaren calls “a new kind of Christian,” and a new kind of church.


Accepting the postmodern insistence that “metanarratives” are dead, McLaren argues that Christianity must develop a new way of describing, defining, and defending the gospel. A metanarrative—a unifying theory of universal meaning—is to be replaced by a far more humble understanding of truth that accepts pluralism as a given and holds all truth claims under suspicion.


Postmodernism insists that truth claims must be presented in a humbled form, without claims of universal validity, objectivity, or absoluteness.


Carson criticizes the majority of Emerging Church leaders as relying on a facile and simple antithesis—”namely, modernism is bad and postmodernism is good.” He credits Brian McLaren with a more sophisticated understanding of postmodernism’s dangers. Nevertheless, he also criticizes McLaren for holding that “absolutism is associated with modernism, so that every evaluation he offers on that side of the challenge is negative.” McLaren may dismiss religious relativism, but Carson argues that he does not critique it. As Carson reflects, “I have not seen from McLaren, or anyone else in the Emerging Church Movement, a critique of any substantive element of postmodern thought.”


In his opening chapter, Carson focuses on a workshop led by Brian McLaren at a conference for Emerging Church leaders. When asked about the issue of homosexuality, McLaren insisted that there is no good and satisfactory position for Christians to take, because all positions will hurt someone, and, as Carson explains McLaren’s position, “that is always bad.” McLaren also took refuge in the assumption that homosexuality as we know it today may not be the behavior or phenomenon so roundly condemned in the Bible.


In focusing on this workshop, Carson’s concern is not primarily the issue of homosexuality itself. Instead, he understands that McLaren’s carefully nuanced nonanswer to the question is illustrative of the Emerging Church Movement’s failure to render clear answers in the aftermath of a rejection of absolute truth.


In a perceptive footnote, Carson makes an interesting comparison: “It is impossible to find in the writings of, say, Brian McLaren, an utterance akin to that of Luther at the Diet of Worms.” Instead, many in the Emerging Church Movement prefer to take refuge in an either-or, both-and, and inherently ambiguous understanding of truth. All this leads Carson to ask a crucial question. “Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new Emerging Church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?” In the end, that question can be answered only by a careful look at what Emerging Church leaders actually believe and teach. They have certainly given us plenty of material to consider.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




What Should We Think of the EMERGING CHURCH? Part 2 (Christian Post, 050630)


The Emerging Church Movement includes an expanding number of leaders and a diversity of representations. For some, the movement appears to be something of a generational phenomenon—a way for younger evangelicals to reshape evangelical identity and relate to their own culture. For others, the connection with the Emerging Church Movement seems to be a matter of mood rather than methodology or theory. Elements of worship, aesthetics, and cultural iconography common to the Emerging Church Movement have been embraced by a cohort of younger evangelicals, who nonetheless hold to the indispensability of propositional truth. Nevertheless, for most Emerging Church leaders, the movement appears to be an avenue for reshaping Christianity in a new mold.


The philosophical maneuvers borrowed from postmodern theory provide a mechanism for transcending the defensive posture against Enlightenment criticism that mainstream Christianity has had to assume for most of the last 300 years. By denying that truth is propositional, Emerging Church theorists avoid and renounce any responsibility to defend many of the doctrines long considered essential to the Christian faith.


In Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, D. A. Carson attempts to measure the Emerging Church Movement on its own terms—and then offers a critical analysis of the movement from a larger perspective.


When Emerging Church leaders point to a massive cultural shift in Western societies, they are not seeing an illusion. As Carson acknowledges, “The Emerging Church Movement honestly tries to read the culture in which we find ourselves and to think through the implications of such a reading for our witness, our grasp of theology, our churchmanship, even our self-understanding.” Something remarkable has occurred in the culture, and Emerging Church leaders certainly have a point in criticizing mainstream evangelicalism for missing this crucial fact.


Emerging Church leaders focus most of their negative criticism on what they identify as modernist thinking. The mainstream evangelical movement is criticized for having succumbed to the temptation to accept modernity’s limitation of truth to propositions, and therefore also the responsibility to defend those propositions against Enlightenment-based attacks. Emerging Church theorists dismiss what they identify as “foundationalist” thinking among conservative evangelicals, and feel themselves to be liberated from foundationalist assumptions insofar as they redefine truth in terms of narrative, communal understanding, and epistemological humility.


Yet, as Carson accurately levels his criticism, Emerging Church leaders demonstrate an incredible naivete about the nature of postmodernism. As Carson summarizes, “The postmodern ethos tends to be anti-absolutist, suspicious of truth claims, and wide open to relativism. It tends to adopt therapeutic approaches to spirituality, and—whether despite the individualism of the Western heritage or perhaps even because of it—it is often attracted to communitarian wholeness.”


Emerging Church leaders, influenced by postmodern theory, rightly understand that every individual is deeply embedded in a social location. They are certainly correct in accusing much of mainstream evangelicalism from missing this point entirely—blissfully unaware of how the ambient culture has influenced our own ways of thinking. But does an acknowledgement of the role of social location relativize the meaning of a text?


Carson, a capable and insightful critic of postmodernism, acknowledges that the postmodern approach has been effective in exposing the weaknesses of some forms of modernism. Furthermore, Carson also credits postmodernism with encouraging us to be “open to thinking about nonlinear and methodologically unrigorous factors in human knowing.” In addition, even as the modern age was characterized by embarrassing claims of cultural superiority, postmodernism has insisted on sensitivity to the diversity of cultures found in the global context.


Carson also credits postmodernism with the affirmation that human knowledge is always marked by finitude. “We get things wrong not only because we are not omniscient,” Carson admits, “but also because we are corrupt, morally blind, painfully selfish, and given to excuses in self-justification.”


Where does all this lead us? As Carson understands, a necessary and appropriate critique of evangelical habits of thinking—including unhealthy influences from modernist thinking—should be welcomed by serious-minded evangelicals. Yet, “Once we have acknowledged the unavoidable finiteness of all human knowers, the cultural diversity of the human race, the diversity of factors that go into human knowing, and even the evil that lurks in the human breast and easily perverts claims of knowledge into totalitarian control and lust for power—once we have acknowledged these things, is there any way left for us to talk about knowing what is true or objectively real? Hard postmodernists insist there is not. And that’s the problem.”


At this point, Carson levels his guns at the most extreme and irresponsible forms of postmodern thinking. He accuses postmodern theorists of channeling the discussion into “a manipulative antithesis” between an arrogant claim to possess full and omniscient knowledge and a radical and dishonest humility that claims that truth is fundamentally unknowable.


Beyond this, the “hard” postmodernists also fail to acknowledge that, even as language is complex and communication is uneven, some degree of communication does take place. A deep inconsistency in postmodern thinking is apparent when radical postmodernists write books, give speeches, or engage in conversation. If the communication of truth is as ambiguous, awkward, and uneven as the postmodernists argue, why write books?


While all thinkers fall prey to the trap of inconsistency, the postmodernists seem to embrace inconsistency as an intellectual virtue. As Carson suggests, even as they suggest that all scientific knowledge is produced by a process of social construction, “apparently they exclude their own knowledge of this analysis from a similar charge.”


In the end, Carson’s presentation and criticism of postmodernism sets the stage for his most focused analysis of the Emerging Church. He acknowledges that many, if not all, of the Emerging Church leaders appear to be driven by a genuine desire to reach persons either unreached or alienated from what they have understood to be the Christian Gospel. Nevertheless, Carson appears convinced that the Emerging Church Movement, as represented by its most influential founders and leaders, has embraced an understanding of Christianity that is inherently unstable, often sub-biblical, and dangerously evasive when it comes to matters of truth.


Carson’s book makes for mandatory reading—at least for all those who are concerned about the Emerging Church and the future of evangelical Christianity. He combines a charity of spirit with clarity of thought. If anything, Carson demonstrates an honest attempt to understand the Emerging Church Movement on its own terms. Yet, in the final analysis, Carson sounds an alarm.


After discussing at length the philosophical and cultural background to the Emerging Church Movement and after tracing the epistemological implications of the movement’s embrace of postmodern theory, Carson turns to doctrine.


At this point, Carson’s critique grows sharper and clearer. He considers the writings of Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke as representative of the movement and its doctrinal dangers. Carson’s most important and incisive criticism is focused on the question of Christ’s atonement and its meaning.


Given the fact that both McLaren and Chalke deny the substitutionary nature of the atonement—indeed, rejecting virtually any notion of penal substitution—Carson sees the ghost of a discredited theological liberalism. “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the Gospel,” Carson laments. “Perhaps their rhetoric and enthusiasm have led them astray and they will prove willing to reconsider the published judgments on these matters and embrace biblical truth more holistically than they have been doing in their most recent works. But if not, I cannot see how their own words constitute anything less than a drift toward abandoning the Gospel itself.”


Where are the other leaders of the Emerging Church on this question? I am constantly confronted by young pastors who identify themselves with the Emerging Church movement but deny that they associate themselves with the aberrant theological impulses and outright doctrinal denials that characterize the writings of the movement’s most well-known and influential leaders.


I completely agree with D. A. Carson when he reflects: “I would feel much less worried about the directions being taken by other Emerging Church leaders if these leaders would rise up and call McLaren and Chalke to account where they have clearly abandoned what the Bible actually says.”


There is a thin-skinned sensitivity on the part of many of those who identify with the Emerging Church. Even as they level severe and unstinting criticism at the inherited evangelical models, they recoil from criticism directed at their own proposals. The issues at stake in this controversy transcend sensitivities and are far too important to be sidelined in the name of uncritical acceptance. As always, truth remains the ultimate issue.


Carson puts this especially well: “The Gospel is deeply and unavoidably tied to truths, truths of various sorts. Our ability to know such truths (never exhaustively) and obey them turns on many factors: direct revelation from God (not least in matters concerning the nature and character of God), the illumination of the Spirit, and, for the ineluctable historical elements of the Gospel, on historical witnesses and the records they have left. And we increase such biblical faith by being crystal clear on the convincing nature of the evidence so graciously provided. Alternatively, the same presentation may simply repel some who hear us, precisely because it is truth itself that guarantees unbelief in the hearts and minds of some.”


Contemporary evangelicals face the responsibility, not only of becoming conversant with the Emerging Church, but of continuing a conversation about what this movement really represents and where its trajectory is likely to lead. Some of the best, brightest, and most sensitive and insightful individuals from the younger evangelical generation have been drawn to this movement. Undoubtedly, they have much to offer in terms of legitimate criticism of mainstream evangelicalism. The evangelical movement is far too immersed in pragmatism, experientialism, consumerism, and anti-intellectualism. Evangelicals seem only too eager to provide evidence of cultural isolationism and an eccentric grasp of cultural priorities.


Beyond all this, far too many evangelicals seem unconcerned about the absence of authentic ecclesiology—failing to see a vision of the church that is driven by the very missional and incarnational priorities that drive many within the Emerging Church Movement.


The real question is this: will the future leaders of the Emerging Church acknowledge that, while truth is always more than propositional, it is never less? Will they come to affirm that a core of non-negotiable doctrines constitutes a necessary set of boundaries to authentic Christian faith? Will they embrace an understanding of Christianity that reforms the evangelical movement without denying its virtues?


At the same time, the tables must be turned. Will evangelicals be willing to direct hard and honest critical analysis at our own cultural embeddedness, intellectual faults, and organizational hubris?


The Emerging Church and its leaders are right to insist that substance must be preferred to superficiality. We can only pray and hope that they will remember and acknowledge that substance requires a substantial and honest embrace of truth.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




Newsweek’s Search for Spirituality (Christian Post, 050823)


This week’s issue of Newsweek magazine features an extensive series of reports on American spirituality. Taken together, these articles demonstrate something of the eclecticism, superficiality, and diversity of the American spiritual scene. For evangelical Christians, the article should serve an important purpose by helping us to understand the current contours of our mission field right at home.


Newsweek sets its cover story in contrast to a now famous April 8, 1966 cover story in TIME. Dated for Good Friday that year, TIME’s cover story asks the question “Is God Dead?” TIME’s iconic cover story represented something of a high watermark for atheism and secularism as emerging movements. The magazine’s focus was on a new generation of technocrats and scientists who saw any truth claim that could not be tested by the scientific method as “uninteresting, unreal.”


Newsweek understands that the times have changed. “Nobody would write such an article now, in an era of round-the-clock televangelism and official presidential displays of Christian piety.” But Newsweek sees something else behind TIME’s article. The 1966 TIME cover story didn’t even consider what was going on beyond the liberal Protestant denominations. Henry Luce’s TIME was, in Newsweek’s analysis, obsessed “with the experience of a handful of the most prestigious Protestant denominations.” Accordingly, “no one looked for God in the Pentecostal churches of East Los Angeles or among the backwoods Baptists of Arkansas.” Furthermore, the magazine was not concerned with Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists.


Newsweek now documents the fact that the “angst-ridden intellectuals in TIME, struggling to imagine God as a cloud of gas in the far reaches of the galaxy, never did sweep the nation.” Instead, the years after 1966 saw the nation involved in various waves of religious and spiritual fervor. This era saw the rise to prominence of groups such as Pentecostals and the development of a vast evangelical network of schools, churches, and ministries. The Southern Baptist Convention grew dramatically in terms of both numbers and influence. All this after TIME’s intellectuals declared that God was slipping from the scene.


Nevertheless, Newsweek documents the fact that the religiosity and search for spirituality that currently marks American culture does not represent a return to orthodox forms of Christian belief. “Whatever is going on here, it’s not an explosion of people going to church,” Newsweek reports. Even as megachurches gather thousands to their services, attendance reports submitted by churches reflect the same basic percentage of Americans attending services from 1966 to the present. A falloff in attendance has actually been noted among African-American churches, “for whom the church is no longer the only respectable avenue of social advancement.”


Instead of a return to orthodox patterns of belief and discipleship, Americans have found their way into a playground of various “spiritualities.” Newsweek’s cover story, “In Search of the Spiritual,” documents the fluid and eclectic nature of the current quest for spirituality. Increasing numbers of Americans are turning to forms of Buddhism, Paganism, eco-religion, and Jewish mysticism. The magazine reports that the Web site Beliefnet sends more than eight million daily e-mails, each containing a spiritual message, to more than five million subscribers. These five million subscribers include 460,000 who receive a Buddhist message, 313,000 who prefer the Torah, 268,000 subscribers to “Daily Muslim Wisdom,” and 236,000 who receive a “Spiritual Weight Loss” message.


The diversity of American spirituality does not stop there, of course. The current interest in Paganism reflects an entire spectrum of various beliefs and practices. “Even nature-worshipping Pagans are divided into a mind-boggling panoply of sects,” the magazine reports, “including Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Paganism, the God of Spirituality Folk and, in case you haven’t found one to suit you on that list, Eclectic Paganism.”


Significantly, Newsweek links the current rage for eclecticism with “a degree of inclusiveness that would have scandalized an earlier generation.” Indeed, the magazine commissioned a poll that indicates a vast embrace of inclusivism, with eight in ten Americans—including 68 percent of those identified as evangelicals—indicating the belief that more than one faith can lead to salvation. Newsweek notes that this “is most likely not what they were taught in Sunday school.”


Sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College suggests that the current American search is about the empowerment of the self. “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.”


By nature, Americans are a “can do” people, and Americans “like the idea of taking responsibility for their own souls,” Newsweek explains. Thus, even when Americans embrace a path like Buddhism, they tend to do so in their own American way. As the magazine explains, “In most Buddhist countries, and among the immigrants in America, the role of the layperson is to support the monks in their lives of contemplation. But American converts want to do their own contemplating.” Surya Das, a Buddhist lama asserts, “People are looking for transformative experience, not just a new creed or dogma.”


Newsweek’s report introduces readers to individuals like Bridgette O’Brien, a graduate student in the University of Florida’s new program in “Religion and Nature.” According to the magazine: “Her worship consists of composting, recycling and daily five-mile runs; she describes herself as ‘the person that picks up earthworms off the sidewalk after the rain to make sure they don’t get stepped on.’” But the magazine also introduces Allen Johnson, a conservative Christian who has started an environmentalist movement in West Virginia known as “Christians for the Mountains.”


The awkwardness evident when Americans clumsily take up the practices of others is graphically—and humorously—depicted by Madonna’s recent embrace of Kabbalism, a Jewish method of devotion that focuses on esoteric wisdom drawn from early Jewish texts. David Blumenthal of Emory University’s Institute for Jewish Studies responded to the rock star’s very public embrace of Kabbalism, noting that “anyone who claims to be a Kabbalist and then sings in public largely in the nude is hardly a Kabbalist.”


In articles that accompany the cover story, Newsweek covers a considerable waterfront of emerging spiritualities. The impression left by the total package is of a nation that increasingly embraces soft and self-centered forms of spirituality even as it rejects more demanding forms of belief. Contemporary Americans are rejecting hard-core secularism, but most are not embracing orthodox Christianity. To the contrary, they see spirituality as a means of self-development and as an avenue for expanding the consciousness. They want to get in touch with the universe and with their inner selves, but are not particularly concerned to know what the Creator would demand of them.


The forms of spirituality that form Newsweek’s focus are often packaged like consumer products, complete with seminars, conferences, books, and just-add-water forms of religious experience. The ideological secularism of the elites may not be shared by grassroots Americans, but increasing numbers of our neighbors are dabbling in the occult, leaning into mysticism, and inventing their own forms of spirituality.


All this serves to remind evangelicals that our missiological task is more complex than ever before. Our commission remains the same—to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do that faithfully, we have to run against the grain of the contemporary bent toward “spirituality.” After all, Jesus did not set His Gospel alongside other truth claims as one spirituality among others. Instead, he described Himself as the way, the truth, and the life, and insisted that no man comes to the Father, “except by Me.” [John 14:6]


For Christians, Newsweek’s cover story should motivate us to greater faithfulness in Gospel witness—knowing that most of the people we will meet consider themselves “spiritual.” Spiritual, but lost.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




God Is Back! A new study reveals the patterns of religious belief in America. (Weekly Standard, 060925)


IS AMERICA GETTING MORE SECULAR? Not according to a new survey on Americans’ religious beliefs, “American Piety in the 21st Century,” published this month by Baylor University. According to the Baylor survey, 82 percent of Americans are Christians, 90 percent believe in God, 70 percent pray regularly, and half attend church at least once a month.


If Baylor is correct, Americans are demographically as religious, and as Christian, as they ever have been. But their denominational affiliations have become somewhat less structured. Less likely now to be Methodist or Lutheran, they are drifting towards more informal forms of evangelical Christianity.


Similar surveys in recent years have shown an increased number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation. But the Baylor survey proposes that those seemingly-secular increases merely reflected the decline in formal denominational affiliation. When Baylor delved into the practices of supposedly unaffiliated respondents, it discovered that many of them do attend church or Bible studies, pray, and associate with some form of Christianity or other organized religion.


Many, especially in evangelical churches, do not realize that they are worshipping as part of larger organized bodies. Mega-churches, such as Rick Warren’s 20,000 member Saddleback Church in California, do not advertise their denominational flavor—which may help them attract the religiously uninitiated. Saddleback, for instance, is connected to the Southern Baptist church, but does not broadcast this affiliation.


The Baylor survey found that only about one in ten Americans is not religiously affiliated, a statistic similar to past decades (and less than the 14 percent claimed in other recent surveys). This difference may not sound large, but it represents 10 million Americans.


Many of those 10 million Americans who had inaccurately been counted as non-religious belong to evangelical Christianity, which now accounts for one third of the American population, and is the nation’s largest religious demographic. Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics account for a little over one fifth each. Members of black Protestant churches account for 5 percent and Jews for 2.5 percent. Frustratingly, the Baylor survey lumped together all other categories— Eastern Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus—which together account for less than 5 percent.


Some results are expected. Easterners are likelier to be Catholics. Southerners are the most likely to be evangelicals. Westerners are the most likely to have no affiliation. Young adults are three times as likely to lack a religious affiliation as older Americans.


Even among that 10 percent who are firmly nonaffiliated, 60 percent believe in God or a higher power, and one third pray regularly. Ten percent of the unaffiliated are attending church regularly. Ten percent of the religiously unaffiliated believe that Jesus is the Son of God.


Not surprisingly, 95 percent of black Protestants and evangelicals believe that Jesus is God’s Son, while 85 percent of Catholics and 75 percent of mainline Protestants believe it. Intriguingly, so too do 10 percent of Jews. Black Protestants and evangelicals are twice as likely to attend church weekly as mainline Protestants and Catholics. They are also 4 times more likely to read the Bible on a weekly basis than are mainliners, and 8 times more likely to do so than the Catholics.


Half of Americans describe themselves as “Bible believing.” Blacks are the most comfortable with the phrase and women prefer the description more than men. Easterners and persons making more than $100,000 are less likely to identify with it.


What other religious books do Americans read? About 20 percent are reading the “Left-behind” series, which are fictionalized accounts of the biblical end times. More than one quarter of Americans say they have read The Da Vinci Code. (Catholics were the likeliest to have read it. Black Protestants were the least likely.) Black Protestants are the likeliest to have watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. More than half of them saw it.


THE BAYLOR SURVEY also confirmed that religious belief and practice are strong predictors of political beliefs. Evangelicals were the most consistently conservative in their politics. Theologically conservative Catholics are as politically conservative as evangelicals. Sixty percent of evangelicals support the Iraq war, as do 47 percent of Catholics and 45 percent of mainline Protestants. Only 26 percent of the religiously unaffiliated support the war. War supporters were predominant among men, southerners, and married people. War opponents were strongest in the East and among the unmarried.


The Baylor survey also tried to categorize Americans by whether they believed “God favors America” and by whether God is partial to a political party. Strong majorities rejected these statements.


It seems that Americans today are not all that different in their religious belief and practice than Americans of 40 or 70 years ago. The United States remains an overwhelmingly religious and predominantly Christian country. The major shift is that evangelical Christianity has become the strongest demographic among American religionists. And evangelicals, among all the religious groups, are the most consistent in their political outlook. This could bode well for Republicans. But it also explains why Democrats are striving to appeal to evangelicals at least linguistically, if not yet with actual policy.


The fading of 20th century liberal mainline Protestantism is not dissimilar to the decline of the old reigning East Coast denominations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the face of evangelical revival, especially on the frontier. Evangelicals then presided over much of the 19th century until culturally displaced in the early 20th century. The cycle is now repeating itself, illustrating the entrepreneurial and resurgent spirit of American religion. In many ways, this is reassuring.


Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.




Creation occurred 6,010 years ago Oct. 23, says historian: Get history book that traced actual date it all got started (WorldNetDaily, 071001)


How old is the world?


Most people would say: “Nobody knows.”


But the author of the book frequently described as the greatest history book ever written, said the world was created Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. – making it exactly 6,009 last Monday.


In the 1650s, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher published his “Annals of the World,” subtitled, “The Origin of Time, and Continued to the Beginning of the Emperor Vespasian’s Reign and the Total Destruction and Abolition of the Temple and Commonwealth of the Jews.” First published in Latin, it consisted of more than 1,600 pages.


The book, now published in English for the first time, is a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously. It’s the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.


Of course, there will be those who disagree with Ussher’s calculations of time – especially evolutionists who need billions of years to explain their theory of how life sprang from non-life and mutated from one-celled animals into human beings.


Ussher’s arrival at the date of Oct. 23 was determined based on the fact that most peoples of antiquity, especially the Jews, started their calendar at harvest time. Ussher concluded there must be good reason for this, so he chose the first Sunday following autumnal equinox.


Although the autumnal equinox is Sept. 21 today, that is only because of historical calendar-juggling to make the years come out right.


If you think this is a startling fact – an actual date for Creation – you haven’t seen anything until you’ve pored through the rest of Ussher’s “Annals of the World.” It’s a classic history book for those who believe in the Bible – and a compelling challenge for those who don’t.


The new edition of “Annals” is one of the most significant publishing events of the 21st century.


In this masterful and legendary volume, commissioned by Master Books to be updated from the 17th-century original Latin manuscript to modern English and made available to the general public, is the fascinating history of the ancient world from the Genesis creation through the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.


Find out:


* Why was Julius Caesar kidnapped in 75 B.C.?


* Why did Alexander the Great burn his ships in 326 B.C.?


* What really happened when the sun “went backward” as a sign to Hezekiah?


* What does secular history say about the darkness at the Crucifixion?


Ussher traveled throughout Europe, gathering much information from the actual historical documents. Many of these documents are no longer available, having been destroyed since the time of his research.


Integrating biblical history (around 15 percent of the text is from the Bible) with secular sources, Ussher wrote this masterpiece. Considered not only a literary classic, but also an accurate reference, “The Annals of the World” was so highly regarded for its preciseness that the timeline from it was included in the margins of many King James Version Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.


“The Annals of the World” is a necessary addition to any church library, pastor’s library, or any library – public or personal. The entire text has been updated from 17th-century English to present-day vernacular in a five-year project commissioned by Master Books. Containing many human-interest stories from the original historical documents collected by Ussher, this is more than just a history book – it’s a work of history.


Special features:


* Important literary work that has been inaccessible in book form for over 300 years


* Includes CD of Ussher’s Chronology of the World – full of colored charts, graphs, timelines, and much, much more


* Translated into modern English for the first time


* Traces world history from creation through A.D. 70


* Over 10,000 footnotes from the original text have been updated to references from works in the Loeb Classical Library by Harvard Press


* Over 2,500 citations from the Bible and the Apocrypha


* Ussher’s original citations have been checked against the latest textual scholarship


* One of history’s most famous and well-respected historians


* Spent over five years researching and writing this book


* Entered college at age 13


* Received his master’s degree at age 18


* Was an expert in Semitic languages


* Buried in Westminster Abbey


About the book:


* Made of the highest quality material: Smyth sewn, gold-gilded edges, foil embossing on front, back, and spine


* Cover presented in the style of classic literary works


* Packaged in a beautiful box for display purposes and durability


* 8 appendixes


* Fully indexed


* Paragraphs numbered


This is one of the most important literary, historical and Christian works you’ll ever own, a treasure for any home library. It’s a must for your homeschool library.


For generations, this classic work was considered part of the essential reading for educated people. Now you can read it – in English.




2007 Trends Analysis: Americans Reformulating Christianity (Christian Post, 071204)


As fewer Americans identify themselves with Christianity, research indicates that those who remain Christian are redefining what “Christian” means.


Younger generations are not bound by traditional parameters of the Christian faith and instead are embracing values that are not necessarily based on biblical foundations, according to a recent analysis by The Barna Group.


Although faith is an acceptable attribute and pursuit among most young people, their notions of faith do not align with conventional religious perspectives or behavior, the research group reported on Monday.


Young Americans have adopted values such as goodness, kindness and tolerance, but they remain skeptical of the Bible, church traditions, and rules or behaviors based upon religious teaching.


They are also reformulating the popular notion of what the Christian life means. Traditional activity such as integrating discipline and regimen in personal faith development is becoming less popular; repeating the same weekly routines in religious events is increasingly deemed anachronistic, stifling and irrelevant; and rigidity of belief, including the notion that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths, is perceived by many young people as evidence of closed-mindedness.


Concluding from an earlier Barna study in May, David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, had noted that most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs largely because they do not possess a coherent biblical worldview. The study found that fewer Americans were embracing a traditional view of God and the Bible.


“They lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith,” he said.


New faith practices that are now in vogue include pursuing spiritual diversity in conversations and relationships; embracing racial diversity and tolerance; valuing interpersonal connections above spiritual education; blending all forms of the arts and novel forms of instruction into religious events; and accepting divergent forms of spiritual community.


“The result is a nouveau form and structure for the Christian faith that will have broad-based consequences on the practice of Christianity for years to come,” the latest report stated.


The image of the Christian faith has also taken a beating. [KH: by a small minority of people]


Media criticism, “unchristian” behavior by church people, bad personal experiences with churches, ineffective Christian leadership amid social crises and the like have given rise to this “battered” image, according to the report.


A September study had found that young Americans outside Christianity have more negative perceptions than positive of the Christian faith. A majority say that Christianity is judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too involved in politics.


At the same time, 91 percent of evangelicals believe that Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.


Analysis of interviews conducted over the past year identified several other patterns significantly affecting the development of American culture, including Americans’ unconditional self-love and parenting trends.


Americans have a high opinion of themselves, Barna studies underscored. Most describe themselves as loyal, reliable, an independent thinker, supportive of traditional family values, clear about the meaning and purpose of their life, making a positive difference in the world, and well-informed about current events. A majority also say they are open to new ideas and easily adapt to change.


“Most Americans, it seems, are willing to change as long as the pathway promises benefit and enjoyment, and generally avoids pain, conflict and sacrifice,” according to the report.


The data also revealed some oddities of Americans. While Americans increasingly require unique personal applications for the things they experience, they also want to be seen as being in the mainstream of what’s happening in society. And although Americans regularly strive to be connected to a substantial number of other people (via social networking on the Internet, text messaging, phone calls, and frequent appearances at common hangouts such as Starbucks), they still possess a nagging sense of loneliness, isolation and restlessness.


When it comes to raising children in this culture, the Barna surveys found that most parents underestimate the influence they can exert on their children. Many parents, even those who are born-again Christians, also overlook the need to foster deeper a connection between their children and God, or to enhance the child’s worldview as a critical component of their decision-making skills, the report stated.


“It is a well-established fact that our society is continually re-inventing itself. The outcome of such innovation and change, however, is largely dependent on the guidance provided by cultural leaders,” George Barna, chairman of the research group, noted. “It is the core function of a leader to help people apply their creative ideas and energy to reinvigorating society in alignment with a positive and preferable vision of the future. Without a shaping influence that produces a common good, we devolve into anarchy.


“Our society is running the risk of becoming so independent and self-absorbed that we will abandon our responsibility to society and to making the world a better place,” he added. “2008 will be an important year as America chooses future political leaders, pursues new spiritual forms, and shapes critical social policies. The choices will greatly influence the character of America for years to come. Hopefully, Americans will choose to apply their levels of personal influence in ways that generate social good, not just personal security and satisfaction. Identifying what each of us can do to avoid radical self-interest in favor of a more compassionate and collaborative society should find a place on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.”




Trends Analysis: Americans Reformulating Christianity (Christian Post, 071204)


As fewer Americans identify themselves with Christianity, research indicates that those who remain Christian are redefining what “Christian” means.

Younger generations are not bound by traditional parameters of the Christian faith and instead are embracing values that are not necessarily based on biblical foundations, according to a recent analysis by The Barna Group.


Although faith is an acceptable attribute and pursuit among most young people, their notions of faith do not align with conventional religious perspectives or behavior, the research group reported on Monday.


Young Americans have adopted values such as goodness, kindness and tolerance, but they remain skeptical of the Bible, church traditions, and rules or behaviors based upon religious teaching.


They are also reformulating the popular notion of what the Christian life means. Traditional activity such as integrating discipline and regimen in personal faith development is becoming less popular; repeating the same weekly routines in religious events is increasingly deemed anachronistic, stifling and irrelevant; and rigidity of belief, including the notion that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths, is perceived by many young people as evidence of closed-mindedness.


Concluding from an earlier Barna study in May, David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, had noted that most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs largely because they do not possess a coherent biblical worldview. The study found that fewer Americans were embracing a traditional view of God and the Bible.


“They lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith,” he said.


New faith practices that are now in vogue include pursuing spiritual diversity in conversations and relationships; embracing racial diversity and tolerance; valuing interpersonal connections above spiritual education; blending all forms of the arts and novel forms of instruction into religious events; and accepting divergent forms of spiritual community.


“The result is a nouveau form and structure for the Christian faith that will have broad-based consequences on the practice of Christianity for years to come,” the latest report stated.


The image of the Christian faith has also taken a beating.


Media criticism, “unchristian” behavior by church people, bad personal experiences with churches, ineffective Christian leadership amid social crises and the like have given rise to this “battered” image, according to the report.


A September study had found that young Americans outside Christianity have more negative perceptions than positive of the Christian faith. A majority say that Christianity is judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too involved in politics.


At the same time, 91 percent of evangelicals believe that Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.


Analysis of interviews conducted over the past year identified several other patterns significantly affecting the development of American culture, including Americans’ unconditional self-love and parenting trends.


Americans have a high opinion of themselves, Barna studies underscored. Most describe themselves as loyal, reliable, an independent thinker, supportive of traditional family values, clear about the meaning and purpose of their life, making a positive difference in the world, and well-informed about current events. A majority also say they are open to new ideas and easily adapt to change.


“Most Americans, it seems, are willing to change as long as the pathway promises benefit and enjoyment, and generally avoids pain, conflict and sacrifice,” according to the report.


The data also revealed some oddities of Americans. While Americans increasingly require unique personal applications for the things they experience, they also want to be seen as being in the mainstream of what’s happening in society. And although Americans regularly strive to be connected to a substantial number of other people (via social networking on the Internet, text messaging, phone calls, and frequent appearances at common hangouts such as Starbucks), they still possess a nagging sense of loneliness, isolation and restlessness.


When it comes to raising children in this culture, the Barna surveys found that most parents underestimate the influence they can exert on their children. Many parents, even those who are born-again Christians, also overlook the need to foster deeper a connection between their children and God, or to enhance the child’s worldview as a critical component of their decision-making skills, the report stated.


“It is a well-established fact that our society is continually re-inventing itself. The outcome of such innovation and change, however, is largely dependent on the guidance provided by cultural leaders,” George Barna, chairman of the research group, noted. “It is the core function of a leader to help people apply their creative ideas and energy to reinvigorating society in alignment with a positive and preferable vision of the future. Without a shaping influence that produces a common good, we devolve into anarchy.


“Our society is running the risk of becoming so independent and self-absorbed that we will abandon our responsibility to society and to making the world a better place,” he added. “2008 will be an important year as America chooses future political leaders, pursues new spiritual forms, and shapes critical social policies. The choices will greatly influence the character of America for years to come. Hopefully, Americans will choose to apply their levels of personal influence in ways that generate social good, not just personal security and satisfaction. Identifying what each of us can do to avoid radical self-interest in favor of a more compassionate and collaborative society should find a place on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.”




More Questions Raised in Probe of Preachers (Christian Post, 071204)


Days ahead of the deadline Thursday, when six popular televangelists are expected to turn over their financial records for a Senate probe, traditional Christians are not applauding the investigation.


Some Christians wonder what the future implications of the inquiry, led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), might be for Christian media ministries.


“What we’re concerned about is the future of Christian broadcasting and Christian ministries – nonprofit ones – if this inquiry is either broadened or ratcheted up and hearings are held and new legislation is considered,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters, according to The Associated Press.


Grassley sent letters last month to six leaders – Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn – who head prominent faith-based ministries, requesting financial statements and responses to a wide range of questions regarding their personal and organizational finances. The investigation by Grassley, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance, was prompted by complaints from watchdog groups and media coverage on the pastors’ extravagant lifestyles and whether they are abusing their nonprofit status.


“My business is the enforcement of the tax laws and the integrity of the tax code and making sure that trustees of charitable giving are true trustees,” Grassley said, according to NPR.


Charisma magazine editor Lee Grady expressed support for the investigation, saying “questions need to be asked.”


“That’s why I refuse to demonize Grassley for launching this probe,” he wrote in a recent column.


Grady found it unfortunate that the investigation was initiated by someone in the federal government and insisted that the Christian public should have demanded a higher level of accountability a long time ago.


Some – including Paul Crouch Jr. from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which watchdog groups have also questioned but is not currently under investigation – have criticized Grady for defending the Senate probe.


While Grady hopes the pastors – who preach what critics call the “prosperity gospel,” which claims wealth is a sign of God’s favor – can prove no wrongdoing, he said, “if God wants to use a senator to help the American church clean up its act, then I say bring on the reformation,” according to his column.


But some wonder whether the investigation is the right way to end any wrongdoing.


“We’re not representing any of the parties involved, but when I see a senator charging into organizations, wielding this kind of budget ax and laying bare religious figures and expenditures, huge constitutional questions are being raised,” said Garry McCaleb, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious liberty legal group.


The ministries have said they comply with tax laws, but it is unclear how many will respond this week to Grassley’s inquiries.