The Religious and Social Crises and Political Consequences

June 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, News

The opening long decade of the 21st century (2000-2012) has been a period of repeated and profound economic and social crises, of serial and prolonged wars and declining living standards for the vast majority of Americans. How have people responded to this crisis? No large scale, long term, socio-political movements have emerged to challenge the bi-partisan dominent classes. For a brief moment the “Occupy Wall Street” movement provided a platform to denounce the 1% super-rich but then faded into memory.

Questions arose whether in the midst of prolonged hardship people would turn to religion for solace, escape into spiritual pietism. The question this essay addresses is whether religion has become the ‘opium of the people’ as Karl Marx suggested or whether religious beliefs and institutions are themselves in crisis, losing their spiritual attraction in the face of their inability to resolve the everyday material needs of a growing army of impoverished, low paid, unemployed and contingent workers and a downwardly mobile middle class. In other words are major religions growing and prospering in our time of permanent economic crise and perpetual wars or are they on the downslope part and parcel of the decline of the US Empire?

According to the latest data as of 2008 the biggest religious group is Christianity with 173.402 million members representing 76% of adult population followed by Judaism with 2.680 million representing 1.2% of the adult population; followed by Eastern religions 1.961 million and representing .9% Muslims 1.349 million representing .6% of adults. The second most populous group after the Christians are those adults who state they have ‘no religion’ 34.169 million or 15%.

Adult Population and Religious Affiliation 1990-2008 (in millions and percentages)

 

1990
Adults
2008
Adults
Numerical
Change
1990 % of
Adults
2008 % of Adults Change in % of Total
Adults 1990-2008
Adult Population 175,440 228,182 30.1%
(All) Christian 151,225 173,402 14.7% 86.2% 76% -10.2%
(All) Jewish 3,137 2,680 -14.6% 1.8% 1.2% -.6%
(All) Eastern 687 1,961 185.4% .4% .9% .5%
(All) Muslim 527 1,349 156% .3% .6% .3%
No Religion 14,331 34,169 138.l4% 8.2% 15% 6.8%

The dynamic trends over time show a declining percentage of adults who are Christians: between 1990-2008 they dropped from 86.2% to 76%; Jews have declined from 1.8% of adult population in 1990 to 1.2% in 2008 and Eastern religion is growing from .4% of adult population to .97% of population. Likewise, the percentage of Muslims in the adult population has grown from .3% in 1990 to .6% in 2008. The percentage of non-religious adult population has increased from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.

While both practioners of Christianity and Judaism, as a percentage of the adult population, have declined, there is a sharp divergence in terms of numerical change; between 1990 and 2008 the number of Christians has increased by 2,218 million while the number of Jews has declined by 457 thousand. Judaism is the only one of the major and minor religions to decline in absolute numbers.

The combined number of Eastern and Muslim religious affiliates now exceeds Judaism by 630,000 believers about 30%. Jews today represent only 1.2% of the adult US population compared to 1.5% for Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. The gap between Christians and non-religious US adults has narrowed over the past 20 years: from 86.2% to 8.2% in 1990 to 76% to 15% in 2008. Among Christians the biggest decline is among ‘mainline protestant churches’ (Methodists, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian/ Anglican and United Church of Christ) from 32.8 million in 1998 to 29.4 million in 2008; and among “unspecified Protestants” from 17 million to 5.2 million. The biggest increases are among “non-denominational Christians” rising from 194,000 to 8.03 million believers in 1990-2008, unspecified Christians from 8.1 million to16.4 million and Pentecostals up from 5.7 million in 1990 to 7.9 million in 2008. Catholic and Baptists grew in numbers but barely held their own as a percentage of the adult population.

Analysis of Religious Trends in Political-Economic Context

Contrary to most observers and pundits, the economic crisis has not led to an upsurge in religious memberships or identification – the search for ‘spiritual consolation’ in a time of economic despair. The mainline churches and synagogues do not attract or even keep membership because they have little to offer in material solutions to their members in time of need (mortgage foreclosure, bankruptcies, unemployment, losses of savings, pensions or stocks). Contrary to some pundits even the more otherworldly, apocalyptic, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Born Again Churches while increasing their number have failed to attract a larger percentage of the adult population over the past 20 years; in 1990 they had 3.5% of adults and in 2008 4.4% an increase of .9%.

The crises decade has had several major impacts – it severely weakened religious identity with any specific denomination, it increased religious uncertainty and vastly increased the number and percentage of adult Americans who are no longer religious. Between 1998 and 2008, the percentage of adults in both categories doubled from 10.5% to 20.2%; the numbers increased from 18.34 million to 46 million. It would appear that most of the ‘non-religious’ are drawn from former mainline Christians and Jews.

The rise of non-religious adults between 1990-2008 cannot be related to greater education, urbanization and exposure to rationalist thought which has more or less remained the same over the two decades. What has changed is the rising discontent over declining income among wage and salaried workers, the vast increases in inequality, the perpetual wars and the public discredit of the principle political and economic institutions – Congress is viewed as negatively by 78% of Americans, as are banks, especially Wall Street. The religious institutions and religious faith is increasingly seen as irrelevant at best and complicit in the decay of American living standards and workplace standards. Despite the dramatic increase in ‘non-religious’ Americans close to 75% still claim to be believers of one or another version of Christianity.

The crisis in Judaism is far more severe than even the ‘mainline Christian’ churches. Over the past 20 years the number of adult Jews has declined by about 15%, over 450,000 former Jews ceased to identify as such. Some of the political economic causes for the flight from Judaism may be similar to the Christians. Others may be more specific to Jews: over 50% of Jews marry outside of the synagogue with non-Jews, cause and consequence of ‘defection’. Others may convert to other religions – Oriental or Christian. Some Jewish neo-conservative rabbis and ideologies rant about the threat of ‘assimilation’ being the equivalent of ‘genocide’. Most likely most former Jews have become ‘non-religious’ or secular and some of the reasons may vary. For some, Old Testament bloody tales and Talmudic rulings do not resonate with modern rational thought. Political considerations may also contribute to the sharp decline in self-identifying Jews: the ever tighter links and identity of Israel with Jewish religious institutions, the Israeli flag waiving and unconditional support of Israeli war crimes has repelled many former parishioners, who quietly retire rather than engage in a personally costly spiritual struggle against the formidable pro-Israel apparatus embedded in the inter-locking religious-Zionist networks.

Conclusion

The religious crises, the decline in belief and institutional affiliation, is intimately related to the moral decay in US public institutions and the precipitous decline of living standards. Among Christians the decline is incremental but steady;among Jews it is deeper and more rapid. No ‘alternative religious’ revival is in the horizon. The more fundamentalist Christian groups have responded by becoming more politically involved in extremist movements like the Tea Party demonizing public spending to ameliorate social inequities or have joined Islamophobic pro Israeli movements – precisely as increasing number of ex-Jews depart!

The secular or non-religious adult population has yet to organize and articulate a program in contrast to the fundamentalists, perhaps because they are too disparate a social category – in terms of socio-economic and class interests. ‘Not religious’ tells us little about what is the alternative. The shrinking percentage of religious believers can have several outcomes: in some cases it can lead to a hardening of doctrine and organizational structures ‘to keep the faithful in line’. In others it has led to increasing politicization, mostly on the extreme right. Among Christians it means insisting on literal readings of the Bible and anti- evolutionism; among Jews, the shrinking numbers are intensifying tribal loyalties and more aggressive fundraising, lobbying, and unconditional support for a “Jewish State”, purged of Palestinians, and more punitive witch-hunts against critics of Israel and Zionism.

What needs to be done is a movement that links the growing mass of rational non-religious people with the vast majority of American wage and salaried workers, experiencing declining living standards and the rising costs (material and spiritual) of imperial wars. Some religious individuals and even denominations will be attracted to such a movement others will attack it for sectarian and political reasons. But as a non-religious morality links individual and political crises to social action, so can the political community create the bases for a new society built on secular needs and public ethics.

European Court of Human Rights to Stop Social Engineering

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Featured, News

The European Court in Strasbourg has condemned the Russian law which protects children from propaganda by “sexual minorities”. This is not the Court’s first decision, based not on real human rights, but on radical ideologies which destroy the core values of each person and each sovereign people.

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR) adopted a new decision on the complaint of Russian homosexual activists (“Bayev and Others v. Russia”). In it, in fact, the Court declared the Russian law which prohibits the promotion of homosexuality and other non-traditional sexual relations among children, “discriminates” and violates “human rights” (below, you can read the full text of the decision).

The social meaning of the decision of the European Court is obvious – in fact, it claims that the promotion of homosexuality among children and to the general public is a “human right”.

This decision, no doubt, is inspired not by legal logic, but, frankly, by ideology. And, it is an ideology of a radical sort, directed against the family, marriage, traditional moral values of most European nations, and most importantly – against the interests of the children themselves.

Everything that does not agree with this ideology is completely ignored by the Court. And the Court does this not just without justification in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which should completely determine its work, but also in direct contradiction tothis international document and its binding norms.

During the consideration of the case, not only was the position of the Russian Federation presented, but also – as a third party position – the arguments of the Russian NGO, “Family and Demography Foundation” (you can read these arguments in the “For More Information” section, below).

These convincing and sound arguments were ignored or discarded by the Court as non-essential.

The Court ignored the objective facts – that, according to authoritative scientific data, the homosexual lifestyle is associated with a serious danger to physical and mental health. Public promotion of it – especially among children – threatens the health of the population.

The Court also ignored the fact that international legal standards require special legal protection for the family – the “natural and fundamental group unit” – and marriage between a man and a woman, on which it is based. Children have the right to grow and be educated in such a social setting that protects the family and associated moral values, and not in a society where the opposite “values” of so-called “sexual minorities” are openly advocated.

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, in its decisions, has repeatedly stressed: from the Constitution of our country, “… it follows that the family, motherhood and childhood in their traditional understanding, understood from our ancestors’ understanding, represent those values that ensure a continuous change of generations, serve as a condition for the preservation and development of a multinational people of the Russian Federation, and therefore they need special protection from the state “.

The Court ignored the fact that the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as “normal” contradicts the values of the majority of Russian residents – and, not only representatives of different traditional religions, but also non-believers as well.

All this the European Court ignored and rejected in defiance of the norms of the Convention itself, to which it is obliged to be guided.

After all, Article 10 of the Convention, in which the Court accused the Russian Federation of a “violation”  in its decision, clearly indicates that freedom of expression can be limited to national laws,“in the interests of national security,…for the protection of health and morals,…or the rights of others.”

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, in its recent decision, fairly and reasonably explained that the European Court, in interpreting the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, must rely on generally accepted international norms, and, in particular, on the provisions of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:

By fixing in Article 26 the fundamental principle of international lawpacta sunt servanda (each treaty in force is binding on its participants and must be executed in good faith by them), the Vienna Convention also establishes a general rule for the interpretation of treaties, which provides that the treaty must be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the usual meaning that should be given to the terms of the treaty in their context, and also in the light of the object and purpose of the treaty(art. 31, para. 1).

Thus, an international treaty is binding for its participants in the sense that can be clarified through the given rule of interpretation. From this point of view, if the European Court of Human Rights, in interpreting the case, or a provision of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, gives the concept used in it something other than its ordinary meaning or interprets it contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention, the State, in respect of which the decision in this case has been delivered, has the right to refuse its execution, as beyond the limits of the obligations voluntarily assumed by this state upon ratification of the Convention.”

Unfortunately, the European Court of Human Rights has, for more than a year now, instead of making substantiated and just decisions (having clear legal grounds), and, instead of protecting the genuine human rights guaranteed by the relevant Convention, very often deals with very different things.

Nowadays, the Court has started to impose a new, groundless understanding of “human rights”, based on false and dangerous radical ideologies. These ideologies are directed against family, marriage, the rights of parents, and human life itself.

At the same time, the Court constantly issues its own self-referencing interpretations of the norms of the Convention, deprived of real legal grounds, for the “emerging European consensus” in the field of human rights. The Court calls this approach “an evolutionary interpretation of the Convention”, but there are no grounds for it in the Convention itself. Moreover, it follows from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that this approach is inadmissible.

In reality, the ECHR replaces genuine international norms with its own baseless judgements and opinions which are not based on the text of the Convention.

In recent years, the Court has taken very many such unjust decisions. The current decision, in the case of Bayev and Others v. Russia, is just one of many examples of this kind.

Below, you can read about some of these rulings in a special message from the Russian Family and Demographic Foundation, to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as well as a report by Paul Coleman, a legal expert from the international organisation “Alliance Defending Freedom”.

It is enough to list only some of the recent examples of judicial activism at the ECHR:

  • In the case of Koch v. Germany, the Court, in fact, included in the “right to privacy” the possibility of euthanasia (suicide with the help of doctors). At the same time, the Court came into conflict with their own legal precedents in other decisions!
  • In the case of Goodwin v. The United Kingdom, the Court stated that it is no longer “convinced” that, in our time, it is still possible to proceed from the assumption that the words “man” and “woman” should “denote the definition of gender on the basis of purely biological criteria”. In other words, the Court declared that gender today is no longer determined by sex – supporting a gender-based ideology, devoid of any scientific basis.
  • In the case of Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, the Court stated that there was “an emerging European consensus in favor of the legitimate recognition of same-sex marriages.” And, in the case of Vallianatos and Others v. Greece, the Court held that Greece “violated the rights” of same-sex couples by not allowing them to register “civil unions”. The fact is that the Greek law allows such unions to be concluded as an alternative to marriage, but only of different sexes. But, the Court stated that the state should recognise “civil union” for same-sex couple, too.
  • And, in fact, in its decision on Paradiso and Campanelli v. Italy, several years ago, the Court tried, not only to force states to recognise surrogate motherhood (which is banned in many countries), but, also, to “legalise” the trafficking in children.

By acting in this way, the European Court deprives itself of legitimacy and undermines the protection of real human rights.

Here it is appropriate to quote the dissenting opinion of Judge Ziemele of the European Court, commenting on the Court’s decision in Andreeva v. Latvia:

“The Court must not go against the general principles of interpretation established by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and thus act ultra vires. This creates challenges in the field of international law that have a certain novelty, and affects the value of such judgements. The Court should not promote the fragmentation of international law in the name of dubious human rights and should not easily take decisions that could undermine state building, because the protection of human rights still requires the existence of strong and democratic states…”.

Please sign this petition to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg!

Let’s tell the European Court that its approach to interpreting the Convention is not based in real human rights, but in an ideology. By acting in this way, it usurps the rights of sovereign peoples, and these actions undermine the international system for the protection of genuine human rights. By its unjust actions, the Court destroys its own authority and legitimacy.

If this is not immediately stopped, then we will be ready to demand that our governments withdraw from the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms!

The Church of God: A social history

February 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Books, Featured, News

4854453The Church of God: A SOCIAL HISTORY
by Mickey Crews

The University of Tennessee Press, KNOXVILLE

Copyright © 1990 by The University of Tennessee Press / Knoxville. All Rights Reserved. Manufactured in the United States of America. First Edition.

The paper in this book meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials.

READ the full text here: https://archive.org/details/churchofgodsociacrew

DOWNLOAD as PDF file here: https://archive.org/download/churchofgodsociacrew/churchofgodsociacrew.pdf

Pacifism as a Social Stand for Holiness among Early Bulgarian Pentecostals

May 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Events, Missions, News

Slide15Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

When Pentecostalism began to spread rapidly in Bulgaria in the 1920s, it was viewed hostile as by both Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Not fasting during lent and not sacrificing for the dead, not honoring Mary or the saints was all detrimental in the formation of the identity of Pentecostal churches in Bulgaria. Even insignificant things like not wearing a cross, or not making the sign of the cross and not lighting candles and incense were noticed and severely criticized by the surrounding culture. And of course not drinking alcohol in Bulgaria and the Pentecostal abstinence was met with enormous opposition from other religious groups. Along with that any benevolence, social involvement, spiritual upbringing of minors (including sport actives) was all condemned as harmful protestant propaganda.

But one specific evangelical stand could never be forgiven – the protestant pacifism in the form of conscientious objection against carrying arms. For the newly re-born Balkan state, in a place where war has been ongoing for centuries, to refusal to go to war was essentially to refuse to be a Bulgarian.

The pacifism of Bulgaria’s evangelicals was silent but powerful against both Hitler’s fascism and the militant atheism of the coming Communist Regime. Their deep Christian conviction simply did not allow them to kill, carry a weapon, imprison another human being, swear allegiance to the communist state or take orders from another authority but God. And for their stand, many ministers and believers paid a heavy price. About 40 ministers and members of the Bulgarian Church of God alone were sentenced to hard prison labor for noncompliance with the mandatory military service. Hundreds more known and unknown believers from other evangelical churches followed.

Pentecostalism and Post-Modern Social Transformation

May 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Not by Might nor by Power is a work that provides a significant contribution to the process of developing Pentecostal theology and more specifically its social concern. This book deals extensively with the Latin America Child Care. Its structure is organized around issues concerning South American Pentecostals. This review will first offer a chapter-by-chapter overview of the book, second discuss several of the significant issues of the book, and third will show the book in the current context of ministry.
The book begins by establishing the foundation of Pentecostal faith and experience. The author uses the historical background of Pentecostalism connecting it with the story of the Latin American Pentecostal movement thus establishing the global transformative role of the movement.

Chapter two claims that through global transformation, Pentecostalism becomes a social relevant movement. The author examines this role of the movement within the current Latin American political and social context. A very important point is made about the parallel appearance of the Pentecostalism in different parts of the world, thus making the movement autonomous in each country where it was present. This development was possible only because Pentecostalism in its original North American context emerged among the poor and oppressed denying the authority of the rich and powerful and moving toward social liberation.

Chapters three and four deals with the compatibility of Latin American culture and Pentecostalism and is based on the topics discussed above. This way, chapter three is a paradigm merge between the topics dealt within chapters one and two. The Pentecostal characteristics are predominating in the discussion. Chapter four continues with the Pentecostal relevance to social processes and dynamics in Latin America. In this way of thought, the economical environment of Latin America is the factor that enables Pentecostals to participate in the social transformation. Chapter five brings a case study dealing with the Latin America Child Care. The LACC presents a paradigm for further society involvement, which is presented as the central proving point of the research.

There is a challenge for a better presentation of theology and praxis in chapters six and seven. The book claims the ability of Pentecostals to offer social action alternatives and calls for various forms of social expression which are developed based on coherent doctrinal statements. These include politics, eschatology, triumphalism and other important issues. In relation to the premillennial views of Pentecostalism, Petersen calls external critics to carefully reconsider the claim that Pentecostalism is purely dispensational. The book explains that in its very nature Pentecostalism and its view of the work of the Holy Spirit denies any limitations to the last, and at the same time proclaims the rapture of the church and the imminent return of the Lord. Thus Pentecostalism presents a unique already-not-yet eschatology which has served as a developmental factor of its social concern.

Concerning the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and political involvement, Petersen critiques the purposeful abstinence of political involvement and viewing of politics as a rather worldly practice. The book urges Pentecostals to view politics as a tool for social involvement and transformation even in regard of the soon return of the Lord. In fact, the research seems to propose that political involvement is part of the eschatological expectation of the church.

Toward Context of Ministry Applications
While Latin America is quite separated from our present context of ministry in Bulgaria, Not by Might nor by Power presents many similarities between both, especially in the problematic issues of Pentecostal theology and praxis. Similarly to the problems in Latin America, in the beginning of the 21st century the Protestant Church in Bulgaria is entering a new constitutional era in the history of the country. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political and economic challenges in Eastern Europe have strongly affected the Evangelical Churches. More than ever before, they are in need of reformation in doctrines and praxes in order to adjust to a style of worship liberated from the dictatorship of the communist regime. In order to guarantee the religious freedom for our young, democratic society, the Protestant Movement in Bulgaria needs a more dynamic representation. Such can be provided only by people who will create a balance between the old atheistic structures and the new contemporary, nontraditional style of ministry.

Similar is the case among Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in North America which also share analogue dynamics with congregations of Latin American immigrants. Several facts are obvious from such comparison. It is apparent that Bulgarian immigrants come to North America in ways similar as other immigrant groups. Large cities which are gateways for immigrants are probable to become a settlement for Bulgarian immigrants due to the availability of jobs, affordable lodging and other immigrants from the same ethnic group.

The emerging Bulgarian immigrant communities share religious similarities and belongingness which are factors helping to form the communities. As a result of this formation process, the Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in North America emerge. It also seems natural to suggest that as this process continues, Bulgarian Evangelical Churches will be formed in other gateway cities and other large cities which meet the requirements to become a gateway city. Such has been the case with Latin American churches. If this is true, it should be proposed that the Bulgarian Churches in North America follow a strategy for church planting and growth which targets these types of cities.

Pentecostalism and Post-Modern Social Transformation
Almost one hundred years ago, Pentecostalism began as a rejection of the social structure which widely included sin, corruption and lack of holiness. These factors had spread not only in the society, but had established their strongholds in the church as well. Pentecostalism strongly opposed sin as a ruling factor in both the church and the community, seeing its roots in the approaching modernity. As an antagonist to modernism, for almost a century Pentecostalism stood strongly in its roots of holiness and godliness, claiming that they are the foundation of any true Biblical church and community. Indeed, the model of rebelling against sin and unrighteousness was a paradigm set for the church by Jesus Christ Himself.

In the beginning of the 21st century, much is said about the church becoming a postmodern system serving the needs of postmodern people in an almost super-market manner. Yet, again, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Pentecostal paradigm from the beginning of modernity will work once again in postmodernity. While again moral values are rejected by the present social system, Pentecostalism must take a stand for its ground of holiness and become again a rebel – this time an antagonist to postmodern marginality and nominal Christianity or even becoming a Postmodern Rebel.

Churches and Social Media

August 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Media, News