October 21, 2005

World News

Episcopal Church Will be Asked to Apologize in 2006 for Slavery

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                                       © 2005 Religion News Service

he Episcopal Church will be asked to apologize next year for its "complicity" in slavery, and could be asked whether economic "benefits" -- what many call reparations -- should be shared with black Episcopalians.

A resolution approved October 10 by the church's Executive Council would ask the church's General Convention to express "profound regret" for its support of slavery, which was partially rationalized using Scripture.

The resolution calls on the church to "apologize for its complicity in and the injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath" and urge the church to mark a "Day of Repentance and Reconciliation."

Many of the country's founders were prominent Episcopalians and slave owners, including George Washington.

Some churches have already apologized for their role in condoning slavery. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a mea culpa that also bemoaned its opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Slavery and the Civil War split many churches into northern and southern branches, including Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, while the Episcopal Church managed to stay intact.

John Vanderstar, a member of the council, said "it seemed time to quit cutting bait and start fishing" after several church statements that opposed racism but never addressed slavery directly, according to Episcopal News Service.

A similar resolution would investigate whether the church profited from slavery and explore ways the church could "share those benefits" with black members.

Those benefits "would essentially be reparations, although some do not want to use that word," the Rev. Kwasi Thornell said. The church's presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, said the move could be "costly ... in terms of our immediate resources."

The Rev. Jan Nunley, a church spokeswoman, said it is unclear what those "benefits" would look like. However, she said some people question whether wealthy 19th century parishioners contributed "tainted money" to the church that had been gained through the slave trade.

Report Shows Protestant Giving
to Overseas Missions on the Decline

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                        © 2005 Religion News Service

Giving to overseas missions by Protestants has dropped significantly over the last 80 years, according to a new report by empty tomb, a Christian research organization.

A survey of 28 Protestant denominations found that for each dollar donated to a congregation, denominations spent two cents on overseas missions in 2003, a decrease from seven cents in the 1920s.

The survey, conducted by Champaign, Ill.-based researchers Sylvia and John Ronsvalle, measured total contributions to denomination-related congregations from individual members. It also determined how much of those contributions congregations determine will be used for congregational finances and benevolences, which include overseas missions and other causes outside the congregation.

"The prayer before the congregational offering will often refer to the importance of giving in order to share the good news throughout the world," she said. "On a practical level, less than two cents of the dollars is going to be directed to that."

Total contributions to congregations decreased from 3.11 percent of members' income in 1968 to 2.59 percent in 2003, a decline of 17 percent. The amount designated for congregational finances dropped from 2.45 percent in 1968 to 2.21 percent in 2003, a decline of 10 percent.  The amount earmarked for benevolences decreased from 0.66 percent in 1968 to 0.38 percent in 2003, a drop of 42 percent.  The authors found that denominations that grew in membership had a higher level of overseas missions support, while those that decreased had a lower level of missions giving.

The 14 that had membership growth gave almost three cents on the dollar to overseas missions, while the 14 with membership declines gave less than one cents on the dollar. "Perhaps the key is that a sense of larger purpose, consistent with professed beliefs, is attractive to people," the Ronsvalles observed in a statement.

The emphasis on overseas missions is a new aspect of empty tomb's research. "Previously, people have just sort of assumed overseas missions was the priority of congregations and denominations," Sylvia Ronsvalle said. "These numbers suggest that's not that case."

The results of the report are featured in a new book, "The State of Church Giving through 2003," which was released on Oct. 14. The book, released each fall, is in its 15th edition.

Survey: Black College Students
Most Religious of Groups on Campus

BY JASON KANE                                                                                                                  © 2005 Religion News Service

African-American college students show greater religiosity and spiritual commitment than their peers, a new study has found.

Black students scored highest on seven of 12 categories measuring religious and spiritual commitment in a study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The survey asked 112,232 students at 236 colleges and universities across the nation to respond to questions measuring spirituality, religious commitment, charitable involvement and a variety of similar topics.

White students scored lowest among six ethnic groups in five of the 12 scales, including an ethic of caring, charitable involvement and spiritual quest. African-Americans are also more likely than whites to believe in God, pray and attend religious services frequently.

"The reality is that religion has been a very strong part of African-American culture and community for many years. It's not surprising to find these numbers given the strong role of religion within their community," Alexander W. Astin, co-principal investigator for the study, said in an interview.

Of the ethnic groups surveyed, Latinos demonstrated the lowest levels of religious engagement, while Asian Americans topped the charts for religious skepticism and came in last for spirituality, equanimity and religious commitment.

By contrast, Native Hawaiians showed the highest numbers for charitable involvement, spirituality, ecumenical worldview and religious struggle.

Women generally scored higher than men in the 12 categories, showing significantly higher levels of charitable involvement and religious commitment.

"While women's higher levels of spirituality and religiousness might be expected, we were surprised that some of these differences aren't more pronounced," Astin said.

Number of College Religion Majors on the Rise

BY SOMEONE                                                                                                                      © 2005 Religion News Service

Lauren McCormick, who just began her senior year, is one of more than 35 religion majors in Rutgers University?s Class of 2006. That class has the largest number of religion majors in the religion department?s history, three times more than it did a decade ago. The growth is part of a national trend of college students studying religion more intensely.

A report from the American Academy of Religion said the number of religion majors increased 26 percent from 1996 through 2000, and that total enrollment in religion classes rose 15 percent. An updated national survey is due next year, and anecdotal evidence suggests it will show more large increases.

Professors cite three main reasons for the increases: 9/11 spurred many students to learn about Islam and their own religions; recent immigration has made Americans more curious about their new neighbors? faiths; and Christian evangelical students seem more comfortable studying religion on campus.