The number of Americans reporting no religious preference doubled from 7 to 14 percent in the past decade according to a study conducted by University of California sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer. The decrease, the authors said, is believed not to be associated with a decrease in spiritual or religious commitment so much as a distaste among loosely affiliated moderates and liberals for the conservative political agenda of the Christian right—a distaste, the authors said, which led them to “renounce their own weak attachment to organized religion.”

Other possibilities for the dramatic change which may have contributed to the sudden shift after seventeen years of stability include delayed family formation, prolonged education, and an increase in marriages where neither partner was denominationally affiliated.

Other findings about the unchurched, which were published in the American Sociological Review article, included:

  • Their belief in heaven, hell and miracles did not change.
  • The number who agreed that God is concerned about people rose by almost half from 22 to 32 percent.
  • 93 percent reported praying sometimes and a fifth reported praying every day.
  • While overwhelmingly rejecting the label “religious,” 40 percent described themselves as “moderately spiritual.”

The analysis showed the majority of those with no religious preference to be “unchurched believers,” wrote Hout and Fischer. “Their quarrel was not with God but with people running organized religion.”

Canada’s Faithful Grow
Following three decades of decline in attendance and membership, a “religious and spiritual renaissance” appears to have begun in Canada. According to a new book by the country’s leading expert in religious trends, Reginald Bibby, not only has attendance increased in conservative evangelical churches but also in mainline churches and the Roman Catholic Church outside Quebec. The surprising finding comes after a series of books written over three decades which revealed such steady decreases that the author was dubbed “Bad-News Bibby” by the media.

The new book, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, traces the decline of church attendance from its recorded high of 60 percent in 1945 (90 percent in Roman Catholic Quebec), to 19 percent in 2000 (14 percent in Quebec) but shows that during the last decade the decline in the proportion of mainline groups not only halted but actually reversed. Bibby, who teaches at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, also points out that three critical elements in society remain strong: the culture’s fascination with mystery, continuing search for meaning and widespread individual memory of religious affiliation. Canadians, he says, believe in God, actively seek answers to age-old questions about life and death and 75 percent communicate with God “at least occasionally.”

“Canadians may be hungering for the gods but that is hardly to say they are hungering for the churches,” Bibby concludes. “The groups that survive will be groups that are in touch with the spiritual, personal and social needs and interest of Canadians.”

Who Talks to Whom?
While almost three-quarters of American business leaders say they are likely to pray to God for help with a serious business decision, only a third would consider talking it over with a spiritual or religious leader and less than a fifth admitted they had ever talked over a business problem with a religious leader. (By comparison, almost two-thirds said they would discuss it with a spouse.)

The national survey was conducted by Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, California, for Central Lutheran Church of Minneapolis which, although located near the metropolitan core, found it had little contact with the business community.

Theology Prevails
A Washington State law and constitutional provision prohibiting financial aid for students majoring in theology were overturned in June by a federal appeals court that ruled the state had engaged in unlawful religious discrimination when it withdrew a previously awarded “Promise” scholarship. The scholarship for $1,125 to undergraduate Joshua Davey was approved for 1999-2000 with an additional $1,500 anticipated in 2000-2001; it was rescinded by state officials at registration when he declared a double major in business administration and theology at Northwest College in Kirkland, a school affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Davey’s attorneys argued that the law abridged his constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, a claim that was twice defeated in lower courts before prevailing on appeal. The Washington attorney general’s office has asked the full Ninth Circuit to review the decision.

Metropolitan Chosen
Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania was elected Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America July 22, after two rounds of voting at the church’s thirteenth All-American Council held in Orlando, Florida. Although the majority of delegates voted for Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, he did not receive the necessary two-thirds of votes cast. This permitted the Synod of Bishops to intervene and choose Herman, who was the runner-up in general balloting.

Archbishop Named
Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the Church in Wales, was nominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom to become 104th archbishop of Canterbury and titular leader of the world’s Anglicans. The Welsh-speaking Williams is the first archbishop of Canterbury to be selected from outside the Church of England since the Reformation. He will be enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral in October.

Lutheran Suspended
An appeal has been filed by the Reverend David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s New York-based Atlantic District following his suspension in July for participating in the “Prayer for America” event organized by Oprah Winfrey at Yankee Stadium in New York for the families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Formal charges were brought against Benke by twenty-one pastors and synod congregations who accused him of participating in a service with “pagans” and, following the recusal of both the denomination’s president, the Reverend Gerald Kieschnick, and first vice president, the Reverend Daniel Preus, he was suspended by second vice president, the Reverend Wallace Schulz.

Benke was also ordered to apologize or face automatic removal from the Missouri Synod’s clergy. Kieschnick, who had given Benke permission to participate in the event, has sided with him, asking for Schulz’s decision to be altered or reversed. Schulz, widely known over the past quarter century for his role on the radio program “The Lutheran Hour,” was in turn removed as host of the program by the broadcast ministry’s board of governors. They said they wished to avoid being embroiled in the political controversy.

The synod’s board of directors is now directly engaged in a dispute with Kieschnick over the issue and both sides have called for the appeals process to proceed “decently and in order.”

Ex-Dean Is Owed
Auditors retained by the board of Berkeley Divinity School, the Episcopal theological center associated with Yale University Divinity School, determined in June that the school actually owed former dean R. William Franklin $12,900.

Franklin resigned his post in December in the wake of newspaper publication of a leaked audit by Yale University officials that suggested he had improperly borrowed $10,500 from Berkeley. The Yale auditors also questioned a number of Franklin’s travel expenses for which he was reimbursed, some dental expenses, and a Berkeley payment of $5,000 toward his daughter’s first-year tuition at Yale University Medical School. Deloitte & Touche, the auditing firm retained by Berkeley, said the travel and dental expenses were properly reimbursed, but that the tuition payment was “not consistent with the dean’s employment agreement.”

Berkeley board chair Christian R. Sonne, who released the Deloitte & Touche report, told In Trust that he and key members of the executive committee had approved the tuition contribution contingent upon full board approval, but that the board had not yet acted when the Yale audit became public. Yale itself has a custom of contributing up to $7,500 a year toward the tuition of faculty children for undergraduate work, but not graduate school.

The Deloitte & Touche report did identify a number of weaknesses in Berkeley’s financial controls. Berkeley’s board said that “working closely with Yale University,” it would “implement the auditors’ recommendations to ensure even higher standards of clarity and accountability in the school’s business operations and accounting procedures.”

Eastern Reunites
The Reverend R. Scott Rodin has stepped down as president of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, in preparation for the anticipated re-union of the school with its former parent, Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania. Rodin had served since 1998 after previously serving as acting president. School officials do not anticipate the position being filled before the union of the two schools, which is tentatively set for June 2003. Eric Ohlmann, the seminary’s vice president/academic dean has also stepped down and assumes the position of professor of Christian heritage.

During the coming year leadership of the seminary will be provided by a transition team comprising the Reverend Alvin S. Jepson, executive vice president, Eunice Ohlmann, vice president for finance and operations, Elouise Renich Fraser, interim dean, and Wallace C. Smith, chairman of the board of overseers.

Changes at the Top
David J. Robinson will leave the presidency of Houston Graduate School of Theology on October 31, after five years in the post, to accept the position of general superintendent of the Evangelical Friends Church Mid-America, in Wichita, Kansas. Ronald D. Worden, vice president of academic affairs, has been named interim president.

Theodore J. “Ted” Wardlow will become ninth president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, in mid-November. For the past eleven years he has served as pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He will succeed Robert M. Shelton who is retiring after thirty-one years at Austin as professor, academic dean and president.

William A. Graham has been appointed dean of Harvard Divinity School. An Islamic religious history scholar, he has taught at Harvard since he earned his doctorate there in 1973 and has been acting dean since January. He succeeds the Reverend J. Bryan Hehir who is now president and CEO of Catholic Charities U.S.A.

The Reverend Msgr. Francis B. Koper retired in June from the rectorship of SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake, Michigan, after twenty-five years in the post. The school’s interim rector is the ReverendTimothy Whalen, chancellor of Orchard Lake Schools.

Harold W. Attridge is the new dean of Yale University Divinity School. A graduate of Boston College, Cambridge and Harvard Universities, and a former dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, he is the first Roman Catholic layman to become dean of Yale’s Divinity School. He succeedsRebecca S. Chopp, who left to become president of Colgate University.

Kevin Mannoia has become dean of Haggard Graduate School of Theology of Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. A bishop of the Free Methodist Church of North America, he served for two years as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, overseeing its headquarters move from Carol Stream, Illinois, to Azusa. He succeeds Gayle D. Beebe, who is now president of Spring Arbor University.

The Most Reverend Frederick Campbell has been appointed rector of the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and vice president of the university. Campbell is an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He succeeded the Reverend Phillip J. Rask, who has been appointed pastor of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Rick Down, president of Prairie Graduate School, Calgary, Alberta, died of a brain tumor July 7. A 1968 graduate of Prairie Bible College, Down had returned to the school to join the faculty in 1979 and was elected its seventh president in 1999.

Dr. David M. Faust is the new president of Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. He previously served as senior minister with East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He succeeds Dr. David Grubbs who retired.

Dr. Sandra Magie has been appointed dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Theology in Houston, Texas. Previously assistant dean and associate professor of moral theology, she succeeds the Reverend Louis Brusatti. Brusatti has become dean of humanities at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

A newly-constructed 550-seat chapel has been named for Paul W. Powell, dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who became the Baptist school’s dean in January 2001. Powell, who served seventeen years as pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler, Texas, succeeded J. Bradley Creed. Creed was not reappointed when his three-year term expired in 2000. He became provost of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, June 1.

Dr. Obery M. Hendricks has left the presidency of Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. Pending the selection of a new president, the school is being led by an interim administration comprising board members Jeanette Prear-Harris and Floyd Alexander and academic dean Larry George.

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