Ex-cultists are organizing; more sophisticated methods of deprogramming are in use.
New religions are becoming more a part of everyday life, seeping into the mainstream and away from the fringes of society where it is easier to identify a “cult.” Hare Krishnas dress in business suits or blue jeans; Sun Myung Moon’s Unification church owns daily newspapers in New York and Washington, D.C.; the Children of God and Divine Light Mission have adopted more conventional-sounding names in some locations.
In response, parents, former members, mental health professionals, and deprogrammers are becoming better organized. They are also renouncing “coercive” techniques that too often backfire and deepen the commitment of a cult member. Many of the new approaches will be welcomed by Christians who share a concern about the rapid rise of these groups, but other tough questions regarding spiritual needs and religious freedom remain largely unanswered.
As the new approaches take hold, attempts to legislate restrictions on cults or expand parents’ rights to gain access to adult children in religious groups are receiving less attention.
One of the new developments is “networking.” Ex-cult members have announced formation of Focus, a network designed to lend support to people who come out of cults and frequently feel let down spiritually and emotionally. Focus will attempt to change the image of ex-members from “embittered accusers who are overwhelmed by their victimization” to an informed group of people who can share what they have learned and “build into youth ministries and public education a sense of how persuasion tips over into coercion,” according to cofounder Gary Scharff, a former Moonie.
Another network, Citizens Freedom Foundation, also emphasizes the need for public education and the use of “exit counseling” instead of deprogramming. This is another new approach. The difference between the two is largely determined by the attitude of the cult member. Exit counseling means exposing a member to outside information about his group and its leader, based on his willingness to listen. Deprogramming, a more intensive counseling process, generally begins by forcibly removing the cult member and inducing an emotional breakpoint called a “snapping moment.”
Steve Hassan, founder of Ex-Moon, an organization for people who have emerged from the Unification church, says “the purpose of a noncoercive intervention is to help cult members reevaluate their cult commitment—not to force them to leave.” Hassan, who does exit counseling, advises parents to “operate on the assumption that their child is going to leave the cult” and to maintain open lines of communication. Along with many other cult watchers, Hassan has observed that a significant number of members simply walk away of their own volition. He said “only a few hundred Moonies have been deprogrammed, but several thousand have walked out.” By his estimates, there are 25,000 former Moonies in the U.S. and only 4,000 active members. The Unification church claims nearly 40,000 U.S. adherents.
Still, some members of cults credit deprogramming as their only hope of escape. Sharon Bell, formerly involved with The Way International, said “there was no way I would have been able to extricate myself except by deprogramming” because of the group’s subtle tactics and her own pride.
Proponents of deprogramming believe many groups enforce methods of self-hypnosis (“thought-blocking”) through repetitious chanting or hyperventilation, and members use this as a reflex when confronted by ideas or information that is contrary to the group’s teaching. Because of this, some parents believe communication is impossible and it is essential to snatch the member away from the group by force.
Even so, deprogramming is currently undergoing a conversion process itself, toward more sophisticated, individualized techniques. Studies conducted by Margaret Singer, professor of psychology at University of California in Berkeley, on prisoners of war and kidnap victims such as Patty Hearst have helped raise the profile of thought-control research among professionals. Taking into consideration the subject’s stability and family relations before he joined the group is increasingly important. And one deprogrammer stated that case selection is critical, so parents or relatives with questionable motives may be screened out.
The deprogrammer must become better equipped to handle “life commitment questions,” according to Rabbi Yehudah Fine, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council task force on missionaries and cults. Concerns about life’s meaning, God, and death do not dissolve when a member emerges from a group, and it is often up to the deprogrammer to help the person “see the limitations of his experience, grow past it, and integrate,” Fine said. Also crucial is the assurance that the member may have truly experienced God’s reality inside the cult, but if he did, it was because of God’s initiative, not the group’s theology or practice.
Ex-members, the success stories of deprogramming, have some unique concerns about the practice. One ex-Moonie described a combined emotion of anger and gratitude toward his deprogrammer, and found out it is a normal reaction. Emerging members frequently feel bruised by the process, and some are calling for a rigorous standard of ethics.
Another important goal is raising the professional credibility of the process among psychiatrists and psychologists. Galen Kelly, a deprogrammer and criminal justice specialist, points out that “it has worked with prison gangs, terrorists, teen-age prostitutes. Deprogramming has generally been successful, but it has to be brought into the open, professionalized, and clarified in order to survive.”
Whether that will happen is a matter of considerable debate, since deprogrammers often are viewed as mavericks or charlatans within the professional mental health community. Among psychiatrists, kidnapping and involuntary confinement are approved only when a patient is considered mentally ill and dangerous. While the parents’ dilemma is “very real and very poignant,” psychiatrist James Gordon says coercive deprogramming is not the way to proceed and should never receive legal or medical sanction.
Gordon, formerly with the National Institute of Mental Health, is writing a book about what goes on inside new religions and how counselors need to approach group members.
At the root of the problem of professional acceptability, Gordon said, is the absence of spiritual understanding among mental health professionals. Psychiatrists “tend to see religion through pathological lenses. That has to be rectified; religion has to be seen as a legitimate expression of the human spirit,” Gordon said. “Only then can we see how it is manipulated.”
Ronald Enroth, professor at Westmont College and author of numerous books on cults, agrees that the spiritual side of counseling is largely ignored, and the problem is approached from a purely clinical point of view: “It’s an easy way out—like taking a pill to make it go away.”
Deprogramming seldom addresses the underlying difficulties that compel a person to join in the first place. Enroth said, “A tremendous need in the Christian community is for qualified counselors. I don’t know of a single evangelical counseling ministry where I can refer these people.”
One family suffered the heartbreak of seeing a daughter emerge from the Unification church, only to return to the group two years later. Enroth quoted her father as saying, “We never dealt with her spiritual needs.”
Religious freedom questions pose a dilemma as well, especially when the phenomenon of new religions is viewed in its historical context. Church historian Belden Lane, of Saint Louis University, wrote in the Reformed Journal: “If we condemn people for spending long hours in religious study and prayer with little food or rest, we come dangerously close to condemning the entire contemplative tradition.… If we complain that young people are sometimes turned against their parents as a result of their new-found faith, we run the risk of forgetting Francis of Assisi or Thomas Aquinas.” Aquinas was confined for two years in an unsuccessful attempt to talk him out of the Dominican order he joined. When George Whitefield began making an impact through his sermons, he was charged with hypnotizing his listeners. And—illustrating the risk today—the book Moonwebs by Josh Freed likens Moonie conversions to eighteenth-century Wesleyan revivals.
Aberrant religious groups are nothing new; nor are accusations directed toward new expressions of authentic faith. More flexible, open attitudes toward members of these groups appear to be gaining support, possibly alleviating fears about abuses of religious and individual freedom. But finding a completely satisfactory way of censuring harmful groups that masquerade as religions is still a long way off.
Who Decides What Is A Cult And What Is Not?
A Jewish family once asked cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick to rescue their daughter out of a Baptist church. “That church was the real thing,” Patrick recalls, “and I had to refuse.” But in another instance, a non-church-going mother in Chicago hired him after her son joined a charismatic Episcopalian congregation in Texas.
Houston’s Church of the Redeemer did not strike Patrick as the real thing, so he agreed to do the job. The young man was taken to a motel, where Patrick tried for two days to get his mind to “snap.” The deprogramming failed, and the man returned to his “household,” one of the about 40 communal living arrangements gathered around nuclear families at Church of the Redeemer.
Since then, Patrick’s intended quarry has married and changed his affiliation to a different Episcopal church in Houston. Bob Woodson, Redeemer’s administrative assistant, was there in 1976 when the incident took place. Charismatic renewal in a Texas mainline church was quirky, Woodson admits, and “we had a rather strict, structured environment.” But he says no one was ever converted or compelled to stay against his will.
“We were not a breakaway, rebellious group. We always kept the canon law,” Woodson says, though other churches in the diocese tended to look askance at their exuberant worship and exercise of spiritual gifts.
Patrick still insists Redeemer was a “cult,” citing tell-tale signs of authoritarian leadership and the practice of members turning their money over to the church. He claims there are many instances of cult infiltration in “regular groups” that go undetected. Discerning the regular from the irregular is perhaps the thorniest issue cult watchers and deprogrammers face. Because of surface similarities, there is “a tendency to cast the net too widely and lump evangelicals in with aberrant groups,” according to Ronald Enroth, an evangelical authority on cults. “I shudder at the thought of Patrick deciding what religion is deviant and what is not.”
Families with loved ones in new religious groups are understandably vulnerable to Patrick’s claims of success. In the past decade, he says, he has “snapped” 2,600 people—beginning with his own son—out of groups that exercise mind control and cut members off from the rest of society. Though he has been jailed for kidnapping and is suspect in the eyes of psychiatrists and psychologists, Patrick is the object of standing ovations and accolades from parents and former cult members, many of whom bear personal witness to the success of his street-smart style.
He defines deprogramming as a process of “getting the mind to think again.” Groups often instruct their members that Patrick will use violence and physical abuse against them if they are caught. But he says the exaggerated horror stories make his job easy. “The minute [a deprogramming subject] lays eyes on me, he starts thinking. We sit side by side and just talk. When I treat them with courtesy, give them good food and rest, it makes them begin questioning the cult.”
Patrick is currently writing a textbook and developing a new technique that he says may be used by any qualified counselor or psychiatrist and thereby “eliminate the need for a Ted Patrick.”
He is surprisingly soft-spoken and unflappable—more Clark Kent than Superman. But at times his sweeping denouncements of religious coercion lead him into treacherous territory. Basing his opinions on a Penthouse article, Patrick, who has no formal training in religion, compared television preacher Jerry Falwell to Sun Myung Moon. “Falwell has more people under mind control than Moon. He leads the biggest cult in the nation,” Patrick insisted. He said this is symptomatic of what is happening around the country.
Judge Who Ruled Against Creation Law Speaks Out
The federal judge who declared the Arkansas creationism law unconstitutional earlier this year recently said he would not rule out the teaching of evidence pointing to the possibility the world was created.
But United States District Court Judge William R. Overton said in a press conference held last month at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, that the majority of the scientific community would have to agree the evidence is valid, before he believes it could be taught in public school science classes.
Overton said he had received hundreds of negative letters since he ruled that the law violated the Constitution’s ban on establishment of religion by forcing a “literal interpretation on Genesis” into public school.
Because of several death threats he has received, Overton traveled to Levvisburg with a federal marshal who acted as a bodyguard. He came to Bucknell to give a speech on the issue.
Asked about what schools should teach if someone discovered good evidence that the world was created, as outlined in Genesis, he said, “Certainly, if there is scientific evidence of a sudden creation, the fact that it may involve God or a creator or something of that nature shouldn’t keep it from being taught as science, if the scientific community accepts it.
“But the scientific community, you’ll have to understand, excludes the concept of a creator in these matters, not because the scientific community is atheistic, but simply because the scientific community has to look for an explanation in nature. Those are sort of the rules for science.”
Overton emphasized that the Arkansas law was an attempt by creationists “to characterize what is essentially a religious statement as science, when in fact it’s not accepted by a credible portion of the scientific community. I personally believe that matters of religion should remain outside the school room.”
Overton indicated he is concerned that many people view his decision as a victory of secularism over religion. He said the words of the writer of one of the letters he has received actually sum up what most of the negative letter writers want: “Schools should be allowed to teach creation beliefs, my kind,” the letter said.
The judge said he has allowed the sociology department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to study the letters he has received. A paper is forthcoming on the study, he said.
One letter writer sent him a picture of a monkey. “You can hang it in your office and show everyone how proud you are of your relations,” the letter said.
“Communism, atheism, sex, and abortion get a lot of attention in those letters, apparently,” said Overton. “A lot of people accuse me of being an atheist in the letters I’ve received, and nothing’s further from the truth.”
He is a member of the First United Methodist Church of Little Rock. He noted that plaintiffs in the case, who testified against the creationism law, included Arkansas leaders of the United Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and African Methodist Episcopal churches. Other plaintiffs included Southern Baptists, the American Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee.
“These people—they don’t want biology teachers teaching a brand of religion to their parishioners and a very particularistic brand of religion at that,” he said.
JIM MERKEL in Lewisburg,
North American Scene
Mock “witch burnings” sponsored by suburban Chicago civic clubs aroused the ire of real witches this Halloween. The witch burnings, intended as playful Halloween rites for children, were denounced by the leader of a witch coven in Chicago Heights. Stanley Modrzyk, high priest of the First Temple of the Craft of Witches International Craft Association, said the burnings “propagate religious bigotry and discrimination.”
Awards were conferred on “Captain Kangaroo” and Bill Moyers by Catholic broadcasters. Gabriel Awards are given annually by the national association of Catholic broadcasters. They cited Robert Keeshan—Captain Kangaroo to children—and television commentator Bill Moyers for personal achievement. “Bill,” a CBS network presentation starring Mickey Rooney as a handicapped man, was named the best national entertainment program. National Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” with its wry and sensitive monologues by host Garrison Keillor, was selected as the top national radio entertainment program.
In October, Episcopal and Lutheran bishops joined for the first time to distribute the Eucharist at a Lutheran Communion service. The cooperation came after the two denominations approved closer relations in September. Episcopal church Presiding Bishop John M. Allin and heads of three Lutheran bodies—Bishop James R. Crumley, Jr. (Lutheran Church in America), Presiding Bishop David Preus (American Lutheran Church), and Bishop William Kohn (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches)—also announced they will celebrate a joint Eucharist in Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral next January.
A $150,000 media campaign against abortion will be sponsored by the Catholic Communication Campaign (ccc). The effort will be financed by a collection taken from Catholic parishes nationwide. The three television and seven radio spots were produced by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Not all the advertisements oppose abortion directly. The TV spots depict friendships between two paraplegics, a pair of elderly women, and the love between an infant and her mother.
Britain’s Conservative party leaders are upset by the report of a Church of England committee that recommends that Britain renounce its nuclear capability. Fumed one Tory MP: a “group of supposedly eminent and certainly unrepresentative clerics” are seeking “to undermine the defenses of the United Kingdom.” The church’s Board for Social Responsibility working party that issued the report was chaired by Bishop Graham Leonard of London. The group concluded that “the cause of right cannot be upheld by fighting a nuclear war.” Nuclear war, it stated, involves indiscriminate mass killing, which is intrinsically immoral. Therefore, it argued, deterrence is immoral, since an intention, however conditional, to do something immoral must of itself be immoral. The Anglicans’ general synod, which meets in February, may or may not endorse the report.
The European Confessing Fellowships (ECF) came out swinging at their recent fourth convention. Tübingen (West Germany) University professor Peter Beyerhaus accused the World Council of Churches of “terrible distortion of biblical truths.” He said that documents prepared for next summer’s wcc assembly contain “dire misrepresentations of Christology.” The ECF during its three-day gathering condemned abortion, pornography, common-law marriage, sexual abuse of young people, legitimization of homosexuality, and euthanasia.
There was a bizarre twist—or twitch—last month to this year’s eight-hundredth anniversary year of the birth of Saint Francis of Assisi. Medium-force quakes in central Italy caused millions of dollars in damage to ancient buildings and medieval art treasures in Assisi and neighboring towns. Monks barred the public from the Saint Francis Basilica as art experts worked to save three priceless frescoes from further earthquake damage.
A Christian youth camp held in strongly Muslim Niger last August represented a breakthrough for the Evangelical Church of Niger. It obtained special permission to hold the camp in the village of Galmi on the edge of the Sahara. Two hundred twenty-five Christians in their early twenties attended the six-day camp. The final evening’s testimony meeting concluded only as dawn broke across the desert.
The South African government has extended its banning of Beyers Naude for three years. A clergyman in the Dutch Reformed church, Naude was director of the Christian Institute, which questioned the whole apartheid structure of South Africa and endorsed black liberation movements and boycotts against South Africa. Banning orders deny freedom of movement, association, and expression to the person targeted.
South Africa’s Dutch Reformed (Nederduitse Gereformeerde or NC) churchhas not noticeably budged after its suspension from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. At its quadrennial synod last month, it overwhelmingly defeated a motion declaring there is no biblical justification for South Africa’s mixed marriages act and immorality act, which outlaw relations across the color line. A drive to approve of mixed church services as a matter of policy was also rejected. A call to review the NG church’s own biblical justification for apartheid was put off for four years. In other action, the synod voted to allow women to become deacons.
Authorities in Ethiopia’s Wollega Province appear to be waging a campaign against the Lutheran Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. The president and five other members of the Western Synod were arrested in September. Some 200 of the synod’s 320 church buildings were reported closed, and church meetings are forbidden during the week. A West German Lutheran mission agency reports that pastors are “hindered in every possible way.” The central government is reported to have set up a commission to investigate the difficulties between the church and Wollega Province officials.
A rural community health project in Pakistan was temporarily closed after a Muslim student nurse became a Christian. The Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship operated the much appreciated project in the village of Kunri. Meanwhile, a committee appointed by President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq to suggest ways of turning Pakistan into a truly Islamic state, has come up with these proposals: the death penalty for prostitution and drug trafficking, a ban on ballroom dancing, the confiscation and burning of all vulgar and obscene materials, and measures to discourage women from buying jewelry and highly embroidered cloth.
The Sikhs of India, a distinct religious group that makes up some 2 percent of the nation’s population, set out on a three-month-long rampage in August to win greater autonomy in their north India heartland, the state of Punjab. More than 26,000 were arrested and more than 100 killed in the ensuing turmoil. Late last month the Indian government said it was ready to accept some Sikh demands: declaring Amritsar a Sikh holy city; making the city of Chandigarth, joint capital of Punjab and Haryana states, totally Punjabi; and enacting a law to bring all Sikh temples nationwide under control of a committee that manages Punjabi temples. But it rejected demands for greater political autonomy.
Radio programming beamed into China—long primarily evangelistic in content—is being reshaped to fit the actual situation. Jonathan Chao, dean of the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong, is launching a “Seminary of the Air,” designed to provide a full program of instruction in biblical theology to the leaders of house church meetings. Chao, who also heads a Chinese Church Research Center, believes there may be 1 million such leaders, ministering to 25 million or more believers.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s officially approved Protestant church, has announced that it plans to print 1 million copies of the Bible in the Chinese language at the end of the year. To accomplish this objective, it is adding two Bible printing plants, in Fuzhow this year and Nanjing next, to the existing plant in Shanghai.
Fundamentalist Church School In Nebraska Reopens
Everett Sileven, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church of Louisville, Nebraska, entered the county jail on Friday, September 3. Eight Fridays later he was released.
Sileven is administrator of the controversial Faith Baptist Church school, and his release was no easy matter. It came after a week of demonstrations and negotiations by some 400 to 500 fundamentalists who descended on the quiet eastern Nebraska community following word the church was to be padlocked. Cass County Judge Raymond Case ordered the church locked for the second time in as many years because it is unlicensed and its teachers uncertified—both requirements of the state.
The church was padlocked early Monday, October 18, but only after 18 law enforcement officials carried and dragged about 85 weeping and chanting fundamentalists out of the building (CT, November 12, p. 54).
Classes were hardly interrupted for the determined Faith Baptists, however. By Wednesday they were holding school in the church bus of a sympathetic Kentucky congregation (the school has 29 students).
On Wednesday afternoon fundamentalists marched to the Cass County Jail and rallied. The rally included the hardline preaching of a dozen angry ministers, all accustomed to delivering fire-and-brimstone oratory.
That, and the sheer numbers of the fundamentalists (present from more than 30 states), prompted Judge Case to suspend orders to relock the church after a Wednesday night service. The judge had already said he was not comfortable with locking the church during regular worship periods and had promised to open it on Wednesday and Sunday. The Wednesday evening meeting was tense until Indianapolis pastor Greg Dixon, also national secretary of the Moral Majority, entered the packed sanctuary with the suspension order. His announcement engendered cheers, “Amens,” and a proclamation of partial victory. Still, Dixon noted in front of an empty chair marked for Sileven, the Faith Baptist pastor was in jail.
The fundamentalists rallied again on Thursday, and by that time the annoyance of Nebraska natives was made visible. One pickup truck drove into the middle of the fundamentalists’ parade and released a smoke bomb; another truck passed bearing the sign, “Nebraska, Love It or Leave It.” And while preachers later spoke against the Nebraska laws, a tractor passed, with the driver noisily revving the engine. “It’s a good thing I’m used to street preaching,” the preacher of the moment shouted into the roar.
Moral Majority’s Dixon and Roy Thompson, a Cleveland pastor, negotiated late Thursday night with Judge Case for Sileven’s release. An agreement was struck, then made official at a Friday morning hearing.
Sileven was released with the agreement that a “moratorium” be declared on the Faith school. It would remain closed 30 days or until the end of the state legislature’s special session (scheduled to begin November 5).
The fundamentalists hoped the Nebraska legislature would lift legal requirements stipulating that all schools be licensed by the state and have state-certified teachers. (The special legislative session, however, was called for revenue considerations. Any address of the Louisville problem—one shared by at least three other Christian schools now under legal pressure in the state—would be incidental.)
If, at the end of the moratorium period, no changes were made in state law, Sileven said he would reopen the school—but also surrender himself to the county court, possibly to go back into jail.
Dixon declared the agreement a “monstrous victory” coming on the heels of a “monstrous crime.” But Sileven’s release was at best a temporary solution. Only a change in law will satisfy the Faith Baptists, and Nebraska lawmakers have twice in this five-year struggle had opportunity to change the requirements. On both occasions, bills lifting the licensing and certification rules were defeated.
Jews For Jesus To Begin ‘Y’Shua’ Ad Campaign
Since its beginning in 1973, the organization Jews for Jesus, an outgrowth of the Jesus movement, has distributed over 25 million tracts, produced 10 albums of Jewish-style gospel music, and made extensive use of radio, television, and newspaper advertisements to promote the message that Jesus is for everybody, including Jews.
According to the organization’s information officer, Sue Perlman, virtually every Jew in the United States has heard of Jews for Jesus, partly because of the bluntness of the organization’s name.
After nine years, some of the novelty of the name is wearing off, but now Jews for Jesus hopes the double takes will return with the implementation of its “Y’shua” campaign. It is the largest single outreach in the history of Jews for Jesus, and is described by the organization as “an all-out media effort to clear up misunderstandings as to who the real Jesus is.”
At the heart of the campaign is a full-page newspaper ad scheduled to appear this December in more than 20 major newspapers throughout the United States, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Moishe Rosen, the organization’s founder, maintains that, while Christians will recognize “Y’shua” as the Hebrew word for “Jesus,” most non-Christians will look twice at the name, and “for many, it will have the kind of impact that counts for eternity.”
Rosen said, “We’ve had to be innovative to make people look again—to cause them to consider anew what they thought they already knew and decided not to believe.”
In addition to the Times and the Post, the full-page ad will appear in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, and perhaps as many as 25 other major metropolitan daily newspapers.
The ad, which links Y’shua to the real meaning of Christmas, is the first of four progressive steps in the Y’shua campaign. Respondents who indicate they are not believers in Jesus will receive a free copy of a book written by Rosen especially for the campaign. The book, Y’shua—The Jewish Way To Say Jesus (Moody Press), presents the case for believing in Y’shua.
The third step of the campaign consists of personal follow-up and instruction. Jews for Jesus will use its own staff members and seek the cooperation of churches and evangelistic agencies to make follow-up visits and phone calls. Finally, Jewish respondents will receive a free subscription to Issues, Jews for Jesus’ bimonthly evangelistic publication.
The ad will appear once in each paper sometime between December 1 and Hanukkah, which begins the evening of December 10. According to Rosen, this is a period during which “many people are thinking about spiritual possibilities.”
The ad is strikingly critical of a secular view of Christmas. It says, “Now many would have liked it better if the angel [Matthew 1:21] had said, “And you are to give him the name Santa because he will bring you presents.”
Also, the ad issues a direct challenge to nonbelievers: “Maybe you don’t like your sins, yourself, or the God who made you. Sorry about that, but that’s your problem, and it doesn’t really change the truth.” According to Perlman, statements in the ad that might seem offensive to non-Jews will be understood within the Jewish community as a type of subtle, cultural humor.
Although the campaign’s target is the Jewish population, about 10 Gentiles become Christians through the ministry of Jews for Jesus for every Jew who accepts Christ.
Issue Of Religious Groups In High Schools Is Appealed To Supreme Court
Ruling on Widmar v. Vincent last December, the U.S. Supreme Court solidified the right of college students to meet on campus for religious purposes (CT, January 1, p. 46). The rights of high school students to do the same, however, remain in question.
Courts have argued that high school students, younger and less mature than college students, may mistakenly think religious meetings at the high school bear the approval of the administration. That would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion by the state. Christian attorneys disagree, and a recently developing case is considered ideal to put before the Supreme Court in hopes of extending Widmar rights to high school students.
The case is Lubbock Civil Liberties Union v. Lubbock Independent School District, and it began in 1980 when the Lubbock, Texas, school district adopted new policies regarding religious activities. The school board disallowed daily recital of prayer and Bible passages over the public address system, but permitted students to meet for religious purposes on the same basis as other student organizations.
The Lubbock Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the religious meetings should also be banned. The trial court upheld the new policy, calling it neutral since it permitted student groups of all kinds to gather. But the court of appeals reversed that decision, saying the policy’s primary intention was an unconstitutional accommodation of religious groups.
The appeals court said that allowing meetings “at a time closely associated with the beginning or end of the school day implies recognition of religious activities … as an integral part of the [school] … and carried with it an implicit approval.…”
The case is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Christian Legal Society (CLS), said director Lynn Buzzard, has had “extensive” involvement in preparation of the appeal. Besides filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Lubbock school district, CLS has assisted with legal strategies and created a litigation fund to support the case (costs may reach $70,000). Buzzard noted that Leon Jaworski, famed as the Watergate prosecutor, will argue the case if the Supreme Court elects to hear it. Whether the Court will hear the case will not be known for months.
The Lubbock decision, as it now stands, “flies in the face of almost all other free speech cases, where courts have struck down any restrictions (prior restraint) on free speech based on the content of that speech,” Buzzard said. “Yet here it is solely the religious content that bars students from meeting.”
Buzzard said the National Association of Evangelicals, Baptist Joint Committee, and the Catholic League are among groups also planning to file friend-of-the-court briefs on the school district’s behalf.
What Catholics And Evangelicals Have In Common
Evangelical Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants have discovered they have more in common with each other than they do with liberals in their respective denominations.
“It’s obvious that most of us feel more comfortable with one another than we do with many in our own denominations,” said Catholic historian James Hitchcock during a workshop at the “Christianity Confronts Modernity” conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 20 to 23.
The conference, attended by 130 church leaders, was sponsored by the Center for Pastoral Renewal, an arm of Ann Arbor’s Word of God community, a group of charismatic Christians seeking an ecumenical expression of their faith. The community holds four different worship services—Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Free church—but gathers its 2,000 members in one group twice a month to coordinate its various ministries.
The group has been influential in leading the Catholic charismatic movement toward recognizing the importance of individual sharing of the faith with nonbelievers, the necessity of a conversion experience, and acknowledging the authority of Scripture. “The Catholic charismatic movement has been around for 15 years,” said Hitchcock, “but this conference represents a more widespread renewal, a resurgence of orthodoxy.”
Though four of the seven general session speakers were local Word of God personalities, and most of the conferees were charismatics, there were notable exceptions: Hitchcock, professor at Saint Louis University; Stanley Harakas, professor of ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts; James I. Packer, professor of historical and systematic theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia; Howard Snyder, professor at Wesleyan Urban Coalition, Chicago; and Richard Lovelace, professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
“The primacy of conversion was emphasized,” said Father Pat Egan of London. “It gives me a basis for evaluation—there’s ‘converted’ thinking and ‘unconverted’ thinking.”
“I gained several fresh insights,” said Father Philip Merdinger, leader of the Catholic People of Hope community in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. “Preaching aimed at the heart is a good idea, as is teaching that focuses on the practical rather than the theological. That’s a better approach than the insipid little homilies we’ve grown used to.”
Other priests commented that one-on-one discipling and accountability groups were ideas they planned to implement.
Evangelicals of all stripes agreed they faced common dangers.
Speakers emphasized that “secular humanism” can be a misleading term because it suggests the threat to faith is a visible, identifiable force. Instead, “the process of de-Christianization is happening not just in the secular world, but within the church itself,” said Peter Williamson, conference chairman. As evidence, he cited relaxed sexual standards among Christian young people, a divorce rate among church members almost as high as the national average, disintegration of the family, an increasing emphasis on self-fulfillment, and a reluctance to affirm Christ’s deity and the authority of the Bible.
“Urbanization, mobility, and individualism are forces eroding Christianity from within,” said Kevin Perrotta, an editor of Pastoral Renewal magazine. “The ways Christians spend their money, for instance, or their TV-viewing habits, are the same as for non-Christians.”
It was left to Richard Lovelace to quote Pogo’s diagnosis: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
At the close of the conference, the Pastoral Renewal Association was formed to organize attempts to encourage renewal—meaning “repentance from sin, wholehearted commitment to Christ, and reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.… We want to work together in practical ways to strengthen one another as Christians, to defend Christianity, and to bring the world to Christ,” according to the association’s statement of purpose.
Most of the suggestions for action centered on personal renewal and submission to the Bible rather than political action.
Harold O. J. Brown, professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield. Illinois, urged the conferees to focus on what the Bible clearly addresses.
“The tendency today is to shift our attention from the message of atonement, which requires a clear theology of the Trinity, to a message of liberation. Evangelicals have allowed the world to set their agenda.
“The Bible clearly teaches atonement and forbids adultery, for instance. Issues like abortion, world hunger, and racism are addressed implicitly. And things like school prayer, national defense, and nuclear disarmament are more distant applications of biblical principles.
“We haven’t done a good job of sorting according to the emphasis the Bible puts on issues, and therefore atonement has been diluted because we’ve divided our attention among other issues.”
What ways these evangelicals will find to work together remains to be seen.
“There are important differences among us—such as views on the sacraments, for instance,” said Perrotta. “But to cooperate we don’t have to water down individual beliefs to a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism. We have more than enough in common to form a basis for living and serving together.”
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