Magazine article The Christian Century

Researching Religious Trends

Magazine article The Christian Century

Researching Religious Trends

Article excerpt

TELEVANGELIST Pat Robertson may be losing his footing as a leader among the Religious Right but increasing his influence as a political broker because of efforts to widen his base of support, according to a report given at the annual joint conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association, held in Raleigh, North Carolina, in October. Conference presenters addressed other trends, including the growth of evangelical women's groups and of ultraconservative Catholic orders, and downward church attendance among baby boomers.

In a paper on Robertson's Christian Coalition, Mark O'Keefe, religion reporter for Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot, said the group may be able tO "seize the real political power that the New Christian Right has not found yet." The Christian Coalition, which provided the base for Robertson's 1988 presidential bid, has sought to widen its membership to Roman Catholics, minority groups and Orthodox Jews, O'Keefe noted. The group has also widened its goals to include issues besides pro-life and antigay concerns, such as the economy and crime.

Robertson's new book, The Turning Tide, also shows that he has modified his views, speaking more of "ethical than biblical values," said O'Keefe, who is a graduate of Robertson's Regent University. Others in the New Christian Right now say Robertson is too moderate, he added. "The big question is what is in it for Pat Robertson," remarked O'Keefe, who is expecting another Robertson presidential campaign in 1996.

Women in evangelical "megachurches," some of which have provided support for Robertson, are organizing into groups that wield increasing power. Brenda Brasher of the University of Southern California presented a paper on the growing network of womens' groups that are supportive of women in congregations that often do not allow them to be leaders. These women's groups, or "cell clusters," often draw in women from surrounding smaller congregations and offer them an opportunity to discuss marriage and sexual issues without the presence of men and to experience emotional healing. The cell clusters give women a chance to "integrate Bible stories with the stories of their own lives," Brasher added.

Reporting on a different strain of conservative Christianity, Patricia Wittberg, professor of sociology at Indiana University, Indianapolis, said her preliminary research shows the formation of 75 to 125 new Roman Catholic religious orders for men and women since 1985. …

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