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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
INDISE THIS ISSUE
Social Connectedness: The role of the local church in building community
In the digitised, commercialised western world, a great deal has been written about the loss of community and the impact that lack of connectedness has on mental health and well-being (Emery, 2012; Hughes et al., 2007; Pretty et al., 2006; Putnam, 2000; Mackay, 2014). Loneliness is seen as an increasing social problem affecting many people in modern society. Older people, people who are unemployed, young mums and people with limited financial means are all vulnerable and may experience social isolation and loneliness as a consequence of their individual circumstances.
Retreats and Camps for Young People
Graham Rossiter, professor in the Cardinal Clancy Centre for Research in the Spiritual, Moral, Religious and Pastoral Dimensions of Education at Australian Catholic University, has just published a book about retreats in Catholic schools: Research on Retreats: The views of teachers and senior students about retreats in Australian Catholic secondary schools. It claims to be the largest study of retreats ever conducted in the English speaking world, based on surveys of 150 students and 500 teachers from 40 Catholic schools. The results are significant, not only for Catholic schools, but for education in general.
Disability in the Church
US Catholic parishes and People with a Disability
At the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and Religious Research Association, held in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the papers reported on a recently conducted study of American Catholic parishes and people with disabilities. The paper was delivered by Jonathon Holland, a researcher from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the US Catholic research office located at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The results of the study warrant reflection about the importance of the inclusiveness of churches toward people with a disability.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE
A HANDBOOK FOR BUILDING STRONGER PARISHES
Trudy Dantis (2016).
ACBC Pastoral Research Office A Handbook for Building Stronger Parishes is an excellent resource for church leaders and local churches in developing parish ministries. Compiled by Dr. Trudy Dantis and based on her important research on parish vitality, this publication details several inspirational case studies from across Australia, focusing on the achievements of these parishes in various areas that are critical to the overall ministry of the parish.
The “return of theology” to the social and political sciences:
A very brief introduction
There has been a long tradition in Australia, going back to the sectarian conflict in the colonial era, of excluding theology as a legitimate subject of study, let alone as relevant to serious research in Universities. There has also been an implicit acceptance by researchers in the late twentieth century of a strong version of the secularisation thesis. With the anticipated departure of churches and Christianity from public life, researchers concluded that they could develop careers with apparently more promising and viable research agendas, making theology irrelevant. Operating outside this academic environment indifferent to theological issues, the Christian Research Association (CRA) has explored with academic rigor both religious practice and its institutional manifestations, while paying attention to broader societal implications. CRA has also from time to time surveyed the social science literature that underpins its research. Such literature surveys are important in offering the opportunity to reframe and refocus the research.
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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INSIDE THIS ISSUE:
CRA Announces a New Director
The Board of the Christian Research is delighted to announce the appointment of Wilma Gallet as the director of the Christian Research Association from 1st July 2016. Wilma Gallet worked in the public service for many years before being asked by The Salvation Army to establish E-Plus, the Army’s employment services. Since that time, she has worked extensively with other welfare agencies in the various churches. She has just completed a doctorate at Melbourne University on church-administered welfare and government. Her management and research skills, knowledge of the churches, ability to make the findings of research available through written materials and oral presentations, and experience in commissioned research in church-related organisations make her eminently suitable for the position. We look forward to the development and growth of the CRA’s service to the churches under her guidance.Where’s the difference:Christian or secular welfare services?
Church groups in Australia have a long involvement in providing welfare services. Indeed they are among the largest providers of various services including aged care, homelessness services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, family services, poverty relief and health services. In an increasingly competitive and secular environment, churches are faced with a range of challenges, not the least of which is how to remain faithful to their mission and calling and demonstrate distinctively Christian characteristics in delivering these services. This article raises some of these issues and points the way toward further research in this important area of ministry.
To what extent should churches be developing intergenerational activities and programs, and to what extent should they develop activities to cater for the different generations? The importance of having services of worship and educational activities which cater for the different generations is being challenged by recent research in the United States. But how valid is that research for Australia? This article looks at the research and the Australian situation.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE
Is Sport an Australian Religion?
There has been a connection between sport and religion since ancient times. Games played by Greeks around 900 BC were based upon religious beliefs and mythology. The early Greek Olympics were religious ceremonies. What has been handed down in the form of the modern day Olympic Games is much like a great liturgical event, particularly the opening and closing ceremonies in which “masters of ceremonies, celebrants, acolytes, and ecstatic public” honour the ‘god’ of sport (Cipriani, 2012, p. 147).
Youth and Church in the Age of Experience
There is a strong focus on experience in many Australian churches. Much of the emphasis in youth worship is on the provision of environments which will generate positive experiences for young people. In educational contexts, youth ministry seeks to help young people to interpret the experiences of daily life in terms of the activity of God in their lives. This article explores these experiences and how young people have explained them to us.
Mental Health and Coexisting Physical Health Conditions in Australia
In December 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the findings of a survey of the mental and co-existing physical health conditions of Australians.
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.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE:
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.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Some Global Perspectives
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 world-renowned 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.
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.
Coaching: An Essential Ingredient
Freedom of SpeechPerspectives on Unemployment
index to all articles published in Pointers from 2007 to 2014 (Volumes 17 – 24).