The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Study: 1 Percent of Congregations
Close Doors Each Year
n average of 1 percent of religious congregations shut their doors each year, a lower closure rate than other organizations, according to a new study.
The finding, published in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, means that about 10 of every 1,000 U.S. congregations end their operations each year.
Researchers from Duke University and the University of Arizona found that disbanded congregations tended to have fewer adult participants than active congregations, with a median size of 50 compared to 269 in active ones. They also learned that congregations where conflict prompted some people to leave in the previous two years were much more likely to disband than active congregations.
Religious congregations have a lower annual mortality rate than other organizations studied over the last two decades, such as volunteer social service groups (2.3 percent), California wineries (5 percent) and peace movement organizations (9 percent).
"The main difference between congregations doomed to disband and congregations destined for revival is a willingness to adapt, to alter their congregational identity in response to change in the communities in which they are located," the authors of the study concluded. "And whether a congregation is willing to adapt depends largely on the outcome of conflict between advocates of the status quo and advocates of change."
Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke University and co-author of the study, said a low mortality rate should not automatically be considered good news for houses of worship. "Normally, one would think such a low mortality rate means that congregations overall are unusually healthy organizations," he said. "But we believe that's probably not the case. Instead, we think it means that congregations are a type of organization that has ways to stay alive even when they are very weak."
The study was based on an analysis that determined the 2005 status of 1,234 congregations in the 1998 National Congregations Study, of which Chaves is the principal investigator. Researchers searched the Internet and denominational yearbooks or contacted congregations directly to determine their status.
American Bible Society Ends Contract With its President
The president of the American Bible Society has been removed from his job just weeks after news reports that an Internet contractor that had received millions from the society had past ties to the pornography industry.
The chairman of the trustee board for the New York-based society announced on June 6 that the annual contract of ABS President Paul Irwin would not be renewed.
ABS spokeswoman Erin Mitchell said that decision was "completely unrelated" to The New York Times' reporting about the society's former Internet contractor. "It was not a reflection of any wrongdoing," Mitchell said. "It was simply a matter of looking after the best interests of the Bible society and the donors and moving forward."
The society's board has given its executive vice presidents, R. Lamar Vest and the Rev. Simon Barnes, interim responsibility for the day-to-day operations.
Richard Stewart, the society's chief financial officer, remains on leave at the trustees' request, Mitchell said. He was placed on leave in May at the same time as Irwin.
The society has "ended absolutely" its relationship with the contractor, Mitchell said. When the board announced the leaves for Irwin and Stewart, it committed to a financial review of the organization. "It is an independent, detailed audit," Mitchell said.
Irwin is a United Methodist minister who worked as an executive of the Humane Society of the United States before taking the presidential post at the Bible society in 2006.
Southern Baptists Elect President, Dismiss Abuse Database
Southern Baptists on June 10 elected a Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, as president after the most wide-open leadership race in three decades. Hunt, 55, a megachurch pastor known for his encouragement of young pastors, won 53 percent of the votes of more than 5,800 delegates, known as messengers, who are meeting in Indianapolis.
"One of my plans is to work diligently to bring ... the younger generation into more involvement in our denomination," Hunt said in an interview shortly after his election. "It's my goal and hope that we'll be able to inspire and instill hope within that generation to come and join us."
Hunt said he'll also encourage all Southern Baptists to be more energized about evangelism, after the denomination reported that baptisms--an indicator of successful evangelism--hit their lowest point in a decade in 2007. "We may just be dealing with a whole spirit of lethargy and apathy that just needs to be challenged," said Hunt, whose church has been a leader in baptisms. "That just needs to be challenged. That's going to be my passion, my heart."
The nation's largest Protestant body also essentially killed a proposed database that would track Baptist clergy who have been convicted or accused of sexual abuse, in part because of the autonomy of local churches.
Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, told delegates that the denomination's role "is to encourage, empower and educate local churches as to how to best do their local work to protect our precious children."
After spending the last year investigating whether to create a database, the executive committee instead offered new resources to local churches--including an online link to the Department of Justice's national database--and urged them to contact authorities about any sex abuse accusations. "Where delay is caused by a desire to protect the reputation of the church, we believe such delay to be completely unjustified," the executive committee's report reads.
Delegates at last year's annual meeting expressed their "moral outrage" about child sexual abuse in a non-binding resolution and asked church leaders to investigate the feasibility of a tracking system. The committee said it would be "impossible" to ensure that all convicted sexual predators could be discovered to include on a database, and a "Baptist only" list might leave out predators who had identified previously with other faith groups.
Christa Brown, who coordinates Baptist activism for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the denomination's initial steps--such as offering discount-priced background checks--are not sufficient.
"It's such a minuscule part of what's needed," she said. "I believe that unless and until there is a safe place to which the victims themselves can report abuse with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard ... everything else will be window dressing."
Pastors Ask Town to Ban Sunday Morning Sports
It is a weekly ordeal at the Rev. Donald Mossa's church in Hanover Township, New Jersey. The moment the youth choir sings its last note, a swarm of parents descends to rush their kids to soccer games. Or they call to say they're skipping Sunday services because of a tournament.
"The anxiety of `Do I go to church or do I take my kid to the soccer game?' is a weekly ordeal," said Mossa, a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Whippany. "It's letting the team down versus letting God down." Mossa is part of a group of pastors from eight local churches that is asking township officials to ban sports games on Sunday mornings.
The group, called the Hanover Township Interreligious Council, approached the township committee last month for help in "restoring sacredness to the Sabbath." The holy day, the group contends, is crucial during a time when divorce rates and substance abuse appear to be on the rise.
The group represents all the churches in town and spans five denominations, serving more than 5,000 parishioners. The pastors also planned to e-mail 63 churches in nearby counties to ask for their support.
The conflict between religion and sports is a long-fought battle that gained the spotlight in the late 1990s when Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to "swim upstream" and keep their Sundays "sanctified" from other activities. New York's late Cardinal John O'Connor also criticized Little League baseball and children's soccer leagues for scheduling Sunday morning games.
Earlier this year, Ireland's Roman Catholic bishops asked local communities to postpone Sunday games until the afternoon, but the Gaelic Athletic Association said ending morning plays was not feasible.
In Prospect Park, New Jersey, officials enforced a ban on Sunday work and play activities for nearly a century until the early 1990s, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit alleging that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of church and state.
Still other churches have tried to accommodate busy Sunday schedules by adding weekday and summer services for families.
In Hanover, township officials praised the pastors for their proposal but questioned its feasibility. Mayor Ron Francioli said he agreed with the idea of more family time, but felt that banning Sunday sports would place Hanover kids at a disadvantage against outside teams unless other municipalities also enforced a ban.
A more realistic approach, he said, might be to enforce a half-day rule on Sunday. Games could begin at 12:30 p.m., for instance, giving families time to attend church in the morning.
Recreation director and committee member Judy Iradi also said that with more than 600 kids participating in recreational sports, a Sunday ban could create a field shortage. The township currently has 18 playing fields, according to the recreation department. "It should be pursued, but in reality it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve," she said of the proposed ban.
However, some township residents are already supporting the ban. Karen Melvin, whose 9-year-old son, Stephen, plays baseball, says they miss between three and four church services every season because of game conflicts.
On those Sundays, choosing between church and the game can be agonizing, she says.
"In those cases where we went to the game, you feel guilty," said Melvin, 51. "But he's my one and only, and he lives for baseball."
Mossa, the pastor, plays on the Whippany fire department softball team and said even if banning Sunday sports does not bring back churchgoers, he hopes families can at least spend a quiet day together. "We're not against sports. We're really in favor of trying to provide a time of rest for this culture," he said. "How are you going to bring families back together?"