Pointers

Pointers March 2017

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Pointers Vol 27 no.1

INSIDE THIS ISSUE:

‘Alternative Facts’ and the Tensions between the Social Sciences and Theology
A war of words has broken out between the Trump administration and the mainstream media in the USA over  ‘alternative facts’. The initial issue was the size of the crowds at the inauguration. The mainstream media reported that there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s. Their evidence was that 782,000 people had used the Washington Metro system on the day of Obama’s inauguration compared with 570,557 on the day of  Trump’s inauguration. Mr Spicer, Trump’s new press secretary, said that 420,000 had used the Metro system on the day of Trump’s inauguration, compared with 317,000 on the day of Obama’s inauguration. The senior White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, appeared on ‘Meet the Press’ a day later and asserted that Mr Spicer’s figures were  simply ‘alternative facts’ (Fandos 2017).

Practical Theology and Contemporary Social Issues
As people of faith, our theology should be evident in our daily lives and in particular should inform our response to contemporary social issues, including those issues that evoke controversy because of their seemingly political nature. There are some Christians who argue that church leaders should not be intervening in the political arena, strongly asserting that politics is the sole domain of elected officials. While it is safe to assume that church leaders from most denominations respect the  legitimate role of government. Nonetheless scripture exhorts Christians and Christian leaders to make the church’s prophetic voice known, particularly in matters of injustice. This includes challenging unjust laws and structures that oppress the poor and marginalised. The words of the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus make clear God’s concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. This paper uses a practical theology lens to examine how the  Christian church in general is responding to one of the more critical social issues affecting humanity: how we deal with the mass migration of people and, in particular, refugees who are fleeing  persecution and conflict.

Networking, Community and Youth Ministry:The Role of Youth Ministry in an Age of Networks
In the December 2016 edition of Pointers, Wilma Gallet discussed the role which local churches should play in the building up of community (Gallet, 2016). Within youth ministry, local churches provide an important gathering space for young people to experience community. However, in this ‘digital’ age one must also ask further questions in the world: Do youth ministry  programs provide true community or simply just provide a space for young people to gather? Can those who connect using alternative network offerings, such as digital technologies, share in community, or can community only happen when we gather together? What is the role of youth ministry in an age where networks are created in very different ways to previous  generations?
What it Takes to be Truly One of us
In response to the increasing mass migration of people across the globe, Pew Research recently undertook a study of 14 countries focusing on how people view the issue of national identity. The study found that relatively few of those interviewed said that national identity is strongly tied to place of birth. Australia was one of six countries where less than 26 per cent of  those surveyed felt that in order to truly claim national identity a person had to be born in that country.
Re-imagining Religion and Belief for Public Policyand Practice
A joint Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project in the UK, involving the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy at the  University of Chester, and the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths University of London, should be of interest to Australian researchers inquiring into the role of churches and other religious traditions in public life in Australia. The project
Re-imagining Religion and Belief for Public Policy and Political Regeneration has received substantial funding from the relevant tertiary funding body in the UK, in strong contrast to the lack of interest in funding research in this field in Australia. Given that we can’t get funding here for highly relevant research I would suggest that we should make connections with this project to get what benefit we can from its work. This is something that the Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) program at Charles Sturt University might be well placed to explore.
Domestic Violence and the Church Community
It is now 12 months since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) released its final report. Chapter 29 of the Report is entitled Faith Communities and provides an overview of the importance of faith communities in providing support to women who experience violence. While being part of a faith community can be a great strength, there are also instances where an inappropriate or lack of response from faith leaders and other members of the faith community can do much damage and harm. There have been instances where woman have been disbelieved or blamed for the abuse they are experiencing. There have been many times where a woman’s effort to seek help has been turned back on her and the only advice given is ‘to be a better wife’ or to ‘not provoke her husband’. There are countless reports of this occurring in many denominations and church leaders need to examine their doctrines to ensure that these do not present a barrier to women seeking help.

Pointers June 2016

Friday, August 19th, 2016

What Has Changed Since 1985?
There is a tradition of older people looking back over their lives and noting how so many aspects of life have deteriorated. ‘What is the world coming to?’ is a complaint as old as humanity. Change creeps up on us and we find it hard to cope, and sometimes it is hard to see any good in it. It is now my turn to ‘complain’. But I will use some survey figures to correct and challenge my feelings. The book CRA has just released, Charting the Faith of Australians (2016), looks at the momentous changes that have occurred since World War II. This article will take a more limited period: from the beginning of the CRA until now.

Children’s Prayer: Multi-faith Perspectives
This paper provides a summary of doctoral research undertaken by Vivienne Mountain through the Australian Catholic University. Her thesis has been re-worked and published by the CRA as Children’s Prayer: Multi-faith Perspectives.

The Frontline of Interfaith Dialogue: Marriages between Muslims and Christians
Over recent decades, tensions have risen between Christians and Muslims across the globe. In Western countries, Muslims have increasingly been seen as potential threats to social security. In Muslim countries, there has been increasing suspicion of Christians trying to dominate the world and inhibit the freedom of Muslims to practise their faith as they see appropriate. At the forefront of this tension are those who have entered marriages that cross the boundaries between the two religions. Rev Dr Helen Richmond, a lecturer at Nungylinga College and past director in interfaith relations for the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, acknowledges this context and looks at its impact on marriages between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia and Australia in a recent book, Blessed and Called to be a Blessing.


Commitment, Nominalism and ‘No Religion’
Between the 2001 and 2011 Australian censuses, it is estimated that approximately 580,000 people ceased to identify with a Christian denomination (Hughes, 2012, pp. 3-9). However, while the Census can tell us about change in religious identification, it does not tell us anything about changes in patterns of peoples’ religious  activities or religious beliefs. Earlier this year, the Christian Research Association was commissioned to conduct a national
survey on the impact of religion as it influenced the behaviour and actions of Australian individuals. It is known as the SEIROS (Study of the Economic Impact of Religion on Society) survey. The survey covered a number of topics such as volunteering, informal  contributions to society, influences when growing up, as well as peoples’ involvement in religious activities and their attitudes and beliefs. More than 7,700 people completed the survey, giving us the fullest picture of religious faith in Australia since The Australian Community Survey in 1998.

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Pointers March 2016

Friday, April 1st, 2016

INSIDE THIS ISSUE:


What Has Changed Since 1985?
There is a tradition of older people looking back over their lives and noting how so many aspects of life have deteriorated. ‘What is the world coming to?’ is a complaint as old as humanity. Change creeps up on us and we find it hard to cope, and sometimes it is hard to see any good in it. It is now my turn to ‘complain’. But I will use some survey figures to correct and challenge my feelings. The book CRA has just released, Charting the Faith of Australians (2016), looks at the momentous changes that have occurred since World War II. This article will take a more limited period: from the beginning of the CRA until now.

Children’s Prayer: Multi-faith Perspectives
This paper provides a summary of doctoral research undertaken by Vivienne Mountain through the Australian Catholic University. Her thesis has been re-worked and published by the CRA as Children’s Prayer: Multi-faith Perspectives.

The Frontline of Interfaith Dialogue: Marriages between Muslims and Christians
Over recent decades, tensions have risen between Christians and Muslims across the globe. In Western countries, Muslims have increasingly been seen as potential threats to social security. In Muslim countries, there has been increasing suspicion of Christians trying to dominate the world and inhibit the freedom of Muslims to practise their faith as they see appropriate. At the forefront of this tension are those who have entered marriages that cross the boundaries between the two religions. Rev Dr Helen Richmond, a lecturer at Nungylinga College and past director in interfaith relations for the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, acknowledges this context and looks at its impact on marriages between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia and Australia in a recent book, Blessed and Called to be a Blessing.


Commitment, Nominalism and ‘No Religion’
Between the 2001 and 2011 Australian censuses, it is estimated that approximately 580,000 people ceased to identify with a Christian denomination (Hughes, 2012, pp. 3-9). However, while the Census can tell us about change in religious identification, it does not tell us anything about changes in patterns of peoples’ religious  activities or religious beliefs. Earlier this year, the Christian Research Association was commissioned to conduct a national
survey on the impact of religion as it influenced the behaviour and actions of Australian individuals. It is known as the SEIROS (Study of the Economic Impact of Religion on Society) survey. The survey covered a number of topics such as volunteering, informal  contributions to society, influences when growing up, as well as peoples’ involvement in religious activities and their attitudes and beliefs. More than 7,700 people completed the survey, giving us the fullest picture of religious faith in Australia since The Australian Community Survey in 1998.


Youth Ministry Roundtables
The Christian Research Association is conducting a series of Roundtables on youth ministry. In January 2016, a Roundtable was held with 26 leaders in youth ministry in Melbourne. In February 2016, we were in Sydney, and in April 2016 we plan to go to Adelaide. These Roundtables have discussed the  results of the CRA’s research into youth ministry in local churches. Some of the issues are discussed in this issue of Pointers.

Pointers December 2015

Monday, January 4th, 2016

INSIDE THIS ISSUE:

Youth Leadership

In most organisations, leadership is one of the keys to the successful achievement of the organisation’s goals. This is true in relation to church leadership in general and leadership of youth ministry in particular. In our studies of youth ministry across 21 churches in Anglican, Catholic and Salvation Army denominations conducted in 2014 and 2015, we have observed youth leadership, interviewed youth leaders and discussed leadership with young people. This article  discusses some of the findings. For the sake of clarity, we will use the term ‘youth minister’ to refer to the senior or  leading youth leader, and the term ‘youth leader’ to refer to other people who assist the youth minister in the role. It should be noted this was not the way these terms were used in many of the churches we visited.

Lay Pastoral Ministry
In many denominations, non-ordained people are involved in ministry alongside those who are ordained. Research undertaken by the  Christian Research Association between 2006 and 2008 for Uniting and Anglican churches explored the patterns of lay ministry in rural areas. With declining numbers of clergy available for ministry, and declining capacity to support ordained clergy, many denominations have engaged local lay people to take responsibility in leadership (Hughes & Kunciunas, 2008, 2009). Urban churches also often use  non-ordained people as part of a team or to take the responsibility of leadership in small churches. Earlier this year the CRA was  commissioned by the Australian Catholic Council for Lay Pastoral Ministry, of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, to carry out research examining lay pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church in Australia. The project involved an exploration of current theological and sociological literature on the topic, and a series of case studies of Catholic parishes in different contexts where lay pastoral ministry is  occurring.This article summarises some of the findings.

Leadership into the Unknown
We all make decisions that have an impact on our future. Yet, we can never be sure what the future will be, and whether our decisions will be right or not. The dilemma is heightened for those in leadership. People expect leaders to know what will be the consequences of their decisions. Leaders often pretend that they do. But leadership, in fact, often means making decisions which have unknown consequences. This is an issue for leaders in church and mission as well as in every other field of endeavour. It was the subject of one of the plenary sessions at the Lausanne International  Researchers’ conference in Kuala Lumpur in May 2015.
The Search for a Public Christianity?
In recent decades, a number of organisations have been established to explore the intersection of faith and Christianity. An early example, the Zadok Centre, was founded in Canberra in 1976 by its inaugural director Dr David Millikan.The article describes a number of such organisations which now exist around the world.
Pilgrimage
This article is based on two papers that were presented at the International Society for the Sociology of Religion held in Belgium. It looks at the different forms pilgrimage takes today, including The Hajj and pilgrimages to Neolithic sites.

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Pointers September 2015

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Pointers Vol25, No.3

INSIDE THIS ISSUE:

Migrant Families and Churches
The flood of refugees from Syria is pulling at the heart-strings of the world. Many hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing war and the death, destruction and poverty that goes with it. For many of these refugees, the physical journey out of Syria is just one stage in what will be a social journey of generations, as they assimilate into their new places of residence. The churches and other religious organisations play a significant role in that journey. Past articles in Pointers have explored the demographic dimensions of immigration to Australia (Hughes 2012). Recent research has involved conversations with members of immigrant families to understand better the roles of the church and how they can both help and hinder migrant and refugee families as they settle into Australian society.

Growth in London Churches
Report of a presentation given by Dr Peter Brierley at the Lausanne Researchers Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In her 2002 book about religion in Europe, renowned British sociologist Grace Davie noted that, in general, world Christianity was growing everywhere towards the end of the 20th century, except in Europe. In seeking to understand why, she found little evidence for secularisation across the rest of the world outside Europe despite increasing modernisation (Davie, 2002). Focusing on Britain in her most recent book (Davie, 2015), Davie emphasises the notion of “vicarious religion” rather than “believing without belonging”, and that there has been a shift from obligation to consumption. However, Davie is conscious that London is different.


The Church in Malaysia
The Anglican bishop of West Malaysia, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, was one of the keynote speakers at the Lausanne International Researchers conference. He took us briefly through the history of missions in Malaysia. The English took control of Malaysia from the Dutch in 1786. In 1805 the first Anglican church was established in Malaysia. However, the churches were seen as primarily for traders, the army, and British workers, not for local people. Just a few local people who worked with British people became Christians and joined the churches.


CRA Chairman’s Report 2015
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Annual Staff Report 2014-2015
Financial Report 2014/2015

7th Lausanne International Researchers Conference
The 7th Lausanne International Researchers conference was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in May 2015.

Seeking a New Director for the Christian Research Association

Pointers June 2015

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Pointers Volume 25 No. 2, June 2015

In this issue:

The Economic Impact of Religion in Australian Society: Possibilities and Challenges in Its Measurement 

While most religions provide ways in which people can access God, the divine or the sacred, they also encourage the adoption of particular views of the world, beliefs about the nature of life, values, and patterns of behaviour. Indeed, it has been argued that the great transformation of religion which took place in human society between 700 BC and 400 BC, the period known as the Axial Age, developed that dimension of religion associated with human values. It was a period in which Confucius, Buddha, Jeremiah and Socrates and many other religious leaders and prophets proclaimed that the fulfilment of life or the appropriate response to the divine would be found in compassion and a concern for social order and justice and not just in paying respect to the gods or God (Armstrong 2006). Through the centuries, all the major world religions have encouraged a range of pro-social values and behaviours.

The Impact of Faith on Society: Some Global Perspectives
The Critique of Christian Faith
The critique of the Christian faith has become much louder and more persistent in recent years, particularly in northern European societies. The debate has been getting more intense and the voices more shrill. The criticism of religion is present not only in northern Europe and Australia but in many other countries, as shown by responses to questions in the International Society Survey Program which was conducted in 44 countries. On the other hand, a recent World Values Survey (2012) provides some valuable data for looking at the other side of the ledger and evaluating what contribution religion is making in societies around the world.

The Global Growth of Christianity
According to Gordon-Conwell University which puts together the World Christian Database, the number of Christians around the world is continuing to grow. This year (2015), it has been calculated that 2,419 million people identify themselves as Christian, constituting 33.4 per cent of the world’s population (7,325 million people).

The Future(s) of Religion
On 13th April 2015, Prof Grace Davie, a worldrenowned sociologist, delivered a lecture at Tabor College addressing the future of religion. The lecture was sponsored by Tabor College Victoria, Harvest Bible College and the Christian Research Association. Prof Grace Davie’s lecture drew substantially on her latest book, Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox.

Edward Bailey and Implicit Religion
Edward Bailey was a maverick in the study of religion. He was an Anglican priest who was Rector of Winterbourne, Diocese of Bristol, UK,from 1970 to 2006. In the 1960s, he studied for his doctoral thesis by becoming a waiter at a pub and listening to the conversations of the customers. He argued that, underlying those conversations, were forms of ‘implicit religion’. He spent the rest of his life pursuing the study of this ‘implicit religion’. While remaining rector in Winterbourne, he taught at universities and spoke at many conferences on religion. He developed his own annual conference on implicit religion, which became known as the Denton Conferences. He founded a scholarly Journal of Implicit Religion which is now published by Equinox. He started a Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion at Middlesex University. He wrote several books and published many articles around the term.

Pointers March 2013

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Pointers Vol 23 No.1

Inside this issue:

The Missing 1.8 Million. In 2001, the Census told us there were 12.8 million Christians. Between 2001 and 2011, 1.4 million children were born in Australia who were identified with a Christian denomination in the 2011 Census. In addition, 767,000 migrants arrived from overseas who identified with a Christian denomination. There should be nearly 15 million Christians. In fact, the Census counted only 13.15 million. This article looks at what has happened to the ‘missing Christians’.

Comparisons with Canada. Reginald Bibby has identified similar patterns in Canada to those we have found in Australia. Religion is not disappearing, but it is growing largely because of immigration to Canada, and there are challenges in ‘internal market for religion’.

Church Attendance among Young People. How many young people in Australia attend a church? Obtaining accurate answers is very difficult. This article identifies some of the problems with sampling and getting accurate information. We conclude that probably about 10 per cent of teenage Australians attend a church monthly or more – somewhat less than the average for the population.

Almost Christian’. In America, many young people attend, but research has indicated that they practice a highly diluted form of the Christian faith which some researchers have described as Moral Therapeutic Deism. Kenda Dean has written a book about the problem and suggested that teenagers are simply not being introduced to articulate, passionate Christian faith that changes lives. While her book contains many challenges for those involved in youth ministry and will assist us in our research on youth ministry, we wonder, however, how well she has understood the fact that young people today ‘put their own lives together’.

The Midi-Narrative of Students in Australia and India. The ways young people do put their lives together and some of the contextual influences on that process are illustrated in conversations with several groups of young people in India. These conversations also reflect two basic approaches to religion in our contemporary age: as tradition and as a personal life-style.

 

Pointers March 2015

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Pointers Vol25, No.1

Inside this Issue:

Why Young People are Leaving the Church

A large proportion of children who grow up attending a church in Australia, United Kingdom or the USA drop out of church attendance.
According to the 2009 International Social Survey Program, the drop-out rate in Australia was 72 per cent. In the United Kingdom, it was 57 per cent, and in the USA it was 47 per cent. Over the past four decades, the drop-out rate in the United Kingdom and Australia has not changed a great deal. Indeed, in Australia, there is some evidence of it decreasing. In the United States, it has been gradually climbing. A recent book has been prepared by the head of the Barna Group, David Kinnaman, exploring why young people are dropping out. The book is entitled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church … and Rethinking Faith.

Is there an Optimum Length of Ministry?

I was once talking with a colleague who mentioned that very often churches experience decline in attendance at worship services during the first few years of a new leader’s tenure, before recovering to experience growth, or declining even more. Our conversation moved on to cover possible solutions, or whether attendance fluctuation in congregational life was just an inevitable part of ministry. One wonders whether there is an optimum length of time Christian clergy should serve, and how the length of tenure affects growth or decline in church life. Does the newness and enthusiasm of a newly-appointed pastor assist in attracting people to church? Are attenders more comfortable with the long-term pastor, vicar or priest who knows everyone and maintains stability?


Coaching: An Essential Ingredient

Freedom of Speech

In the aftermath of the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in France, millions of people came out onto the streets in France and in other places around the world in support of free speech. The murders were in response to controversial cartoons which were seen as mocking Muhammad. It was argued that free speech lay at the basis of Western democracy and that any attempt to limit free speech is a threat to our way of life.

Perspectives on Unemployment

Australia has a large and diligent labour force, comprising more than half of the population. Full-time and part-time employment are the two major sources of income for Australians, and as the labour force changes over time, finding and sustaining constant employment is becoming more and more difficult. Not only does employment provide money for essential staples such as food, water, shelter and electricity, it also provides a sense of self-worth and identity for many. Long-term employment allows for the development of skills, the expansion of social networks and the growth of friendships. By contrast, those who are unemployed have little to no continuous income, have less social interaction and may experience a loss of self-esteem and self-worth. Though unemployment seems overwhelmingly negative, it can often be a matter of perspective.

Pointers December 2014

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Pointers Vol24, No.4

Inside this issue:

Schools and Local Churches

Catholics have long seen their schools as playing a very important role in the development of faith among young people. In many Australian dioceses, most children are prepared for the various sacraments such as First Communion and Confirmation at school. The schools provide most of the education in faith. And the schools also engage young people in social justice activities, in spiritual retreats and in Masses, so that they learn about and are initiated into the practices of faith.
In recent decades, Protestants have also turned increasingly to schools to provide not only education in faith itself, but a Christian perspective on other areas of the curriculum. Again, through the schools, students are initiated into the practices of faith: prayer and study of the Bible and the practices of charity and social justice.

Christianity After Religion?
It has been suggested that some patterns of religious involvement in the USA are about 20 years behind those in Australia. The decline in church attendance which has affected mainstream churches in Australia over a period of 40 years is now having a significant impact on mainstream churches in the USA. Americans are now embracing the more individualised spirituality that is common in Australia and Europe, but with their own American twist. This is the story that American author, Diana Butler-Bass, tells in her book Christianity After Religion, and embraces as a new spiritual awakening.

The Value of Sunday School
Dr Juhani Tuovinen (Tabor College, Adelaide) has put together a report on the value of Sunday School. The report is based on some items in the National Church Life Survey of 2001. While the data is now 14 years old, it does indicate some trends which are worthy of reflection.

The Gospel and the Cultures in Australian Cities

Tim Foster, vice-principal of Ridley College, has recently written a book, The Suburban Captivity of the Church: Contextualising the Gospel for Post-Christian Australia. It describes three different cultural contexts of city life in Australia, surban, urban and battler, and argues that the gospel needs to intersect with these sub-cultures in different ways. At the heart of the book is the assertion that the gospel narrative both ‘affirms and critiques culture, providing a new vision for life shaped by God’s new order’ (p.5).

Conversion Into and Out of Islam

There have been some high profile cases recently of converts to Islam in Australia and in other parts of the Western world who have become spokespeople for fanatical forms of Islam. Such cases give support for the idea that Islam is ‘conquering’ the Western world. But how common are such cases?

Pointers September 2014

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Pointers Vol 24 No.3

Inside this issue:

Does Faith Give you Better Health?
A recent book by Rodney Stark, a renowned sociologist of religion in the United States of America, America’s Blessings, argued that church attenders, on average, have an expectation of 7.6 years of life longer when they are 20 years of age than do non-church attenders (Stark 2012, loc. 1554). He argues that part of it is due to the ‘clean living’ of religious people. However, over and above that, he maintains religion contributes to lower blood pressure. In addition, he quotes another large study which found that church attenders were less likely than non-church attenders to have strokes. The major reasons, the book suggests, for these positive relationships are the fact that religion allays anxiety and tensions, loneliness and depression, and that it provides social support (Stark 2012, loc 1575). The data from a survey of public health which is part of the International Social Survey Program allows us to make some examination of the relationship between religious faith and health among Australians.

A Note on America’s Blessings
America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone Including Atheists (West Conshohocken, PA, USA: TempletonPress, 2012) summarises a wide range of research about the impact of religion on various aspects of life. The author, prominent US sociologist, Rodney Stark, argues that religion has a significant impact on many aspects of life including crime, fertility and the number of children in the family, levels of divorce, physical and mental health, generous citizenship, success in education, holding upper-prestige occupations, and home ownership. Taking all the benefits into account, Stark argues that American religion has an annual cash value of more than $2.6 trillion.

CRA Chairman’s Report 2014

Staff Report 2013-2014

CRA Finances 2013-14

Environmental Concerns among Christians and non- Christians
The lyrics of Australia’s national anthem reflect the environmental uniqueness of this country. With phrases such as “golden soil”, “nature’s gifts”, “beauty rich and rare”, arguably many Australians would consider the anthem as reflecting their own views of the Australian environment. While many Australian Christians consider it a responsibility to look after ‘God’s environment’, there are other Christians who take literally the Genesis 1:27 suggestion that human beings should rule over all the world and are unwilling to take action to protect the environment (see Hughes, 1997).