September 2009

Does Lit 101 lead to unbelief?

September 2 2009 by S.J. Velasquez, Religion News Service

As college students return to campus, a new study suggests that some could be in danger of losing their religion.

Economics professor Miles Kimball and researchers from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research determined that certain academic majors can influence students’ religiosity — positively or negatively — over time.

More than 26,000 U.S. students responded to questions regarding importance of religion and religious attendance over a six-year period, beginning in high school and continuing through the year after college graduation.

Compared to survey participants who did not attend college, education majors showed the most dramatic increase in religious attendance and religious importance, followed by students in vocational and clerical programs, then business majors.

Biology, engineering, physical science and math majors all show an increase in religious attendance and a decrease in religious importance. Humanities and social science majors’ religious attendance dips slightly, and religious importance plunges.

Kimball said college is an appropriate setting for measuring religious trends because a campus acts like a microcosm, with each academic major representing a real-world profession.

“College is one of the few times you have a neat little label about the sorts of ideas a person has come in contact with,” Kimball said. “Professions can have a profound effect on people’s attitudes.”

Does studying education inspire students to increase religious attendance? A new study examines 26,000 U.S. students.


Although the findings illustrate a relationship between college majors and religiosity, some think the statistics are more coincidental than representative of faith journeys on campus.

Nadia Economides, a junior business major at University of Southern California, said religion is not necessarily more important to her now than it was in high school, contrary to the researchers’ expectation that business majors become slightly more religious.

And while Economides attends church services less frequently than a few years ago, she said it’s not a matter of her major; it’s simply because the nearest Greek Orthodox church is a 20-minute drive from campus.

Economides noticed less religious activity among her peers too, which she attributes to the stress of a demanding major and the fast-paced nature of college life.

“Other things have become more immediate or important,” she said. “If I have a paper due, that’s what I’m worrying about.”

As a senior history major at Syracuse University, Darien Clark should have seen his own faith life wane, at least according to Kimball’s study, but a social science major wasn’t the kiss of death for his faith. In fact, Clark said his college years have proven quite the
opposite.

Clark holds the title of “grand knight” for a local Knights of Columbus council and is set to become president of the campus Catholic group in January. He said he hasn’t missed Mass since high school, and plans to add a minor in religion and society to further his knowledge of world religions.

“College changed how I was allowed to explore my faith in a more academic sense as well as a more practical sense,” Clark said. “In high school ministries — not that it’s watered down — it’s not very nitty gritty. They hit the basic points. For me, going through college, I’d say that I know more specifics about my faith than ever.”

Kimball admitted that the survey utilized “fairly crude data,” and said the findings more accurately reflect students’ contact with “science, developmentalism and postmodernism” than religious experience.

He noted that social science and humanities majors — which generally employ the scientific method, are committed to truth, freedom and progress, and probe questions of truth and morality — are more likely to prompt students to question their religious upbringings and ultimately become less religious than other majors.

Joe Carey, a campus minister at the University of Notre Dame, said he agrees college is a time when students’ faith can be challenged, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Religious exploration, he said, can also bring students closer to a higher power.

Carey, who directs a program for Catholic converts at Notre Dame, sees students from all academic areas joining the church — even former atheists and agnostics — during their college years.

“We have law students that come in, physics majors,” Carey said of would-be converts. “You name the major and there’s someone.”

A 2004 UCLA study tracked students’ religious growth according to major. Consistent with Kimball’s study, education majors led the way in religious and spiritual growth over the first three years of college.

But unlike Kimball’s study — in which social science and humanities majors show decreased religiosity — the ULCA study found fine arts and humanities majors experience the second- and third-highest rates of religious and spiritual growth.

Why the different outcomes between studies? Sam Speers, director of religious and spiritual life at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said studies often assume that students’ religious identity should be static. Looking at students five years after college, he said, would paint a more accurate picture of their religious identities.

“Just as students are questioning lots of things about who they are, they are also asking questions about religious identity,” Speers said. “Religious faith and practice is also something that’s evolving and changing.”

9/2/2009 8:40:00 AM by S.J. Velasquez, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Former music minister sentenced for sexual abuse

September 1 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

BENTON, Ark. — A former longtime music minister at a prominent Arkansas Baptist church has pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual indecency with a child.

David Pierce, 56, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. An additional 10-year sentence was suspended in a plea agreement accepted Aug. 27 by Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Philips in Benton, Ark.

Pierce was music minister for 29 years at First Baptist Church in Benton until his arrest April 24. In that capacity he directed the church’s youth choir, where police say he groomed young boys to show him their genitals for his sexual gratification. The interaction took place at the church and in other places where he could get the boys alone. However, according to court documents, none of the alleged activity took place on choir tours.

Pierce was originally charged with 54 counts of the charge, but the plea bargain reduced the number of counts to individuals involved with the prosecution. Pierce confessed in a court affidavit to those acts and similar involvement with “a number of other former members of the choir, dating back for 10 or more years, who are no longer juveniles.”

Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady told the Benton Courier that he accepted the plea bargain to spare the boys victimized by Pierce the trauma of testifying against him. Casady said all the victims who came forward were consulted and agreed with the decision.

Defense attorney Mark Hampton told CBS affiliate KTHV television in Little Rock, “We just felt it was best for not only him but for the victims in this case to just resolve it in this way.”

Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington told the local newspaper that church officials “cooperated fully with the authorities.”

Pierce issued a statement offering “sincere apologies to every person affected by my actions.”

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” he said. He also thanked “many special friends who have so eloquently displayed forgiveness by their unconditional friendship, compassion, and acts of kindness during this time.”

Rick Grant, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, released a statement calling it “a sad day for many people.”

“It is hard to see someone you’ve known for years as a friend, mentor, and colleague end up in this kind of circumstance,” Grant said. “I’m also sad for the victims in this ordeal — young men and their families who trusted David as a teacher and leader.”

Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests applauded “all the brave boys and men” who spoke up and provided facts and corroboration to prosecute, convict and imprison Pierce.

She called on the church’s pastor to tell the congregation how long church leaders knew about allegations of abuse and if they did why Pierce was allowed to remain in ministry.

“How tragic that so many were so wounded over such a long period before Pierce was finally stopped,” Brown said. “This speaks to the need for Baptists to create a place where people may safely report clergy abuse with the expectation that their reports will be responsibly assessed and acted on.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

9/1/2009 3:14:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Ky. can’t depend on God for homeland security

September 1 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A state judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot legally depend on God to keep its citizens safe.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Aug. 26 a 2006 amendment to a law establishing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security that declared “the safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God” an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Attorneys for the Commonwealth of Kentucky argued that all three branches of government have acknowledged the role of religion in public life for more than 200 years and that removing them would create “a wholly secular society completely divorced from religion.”

Wingate said both the federal and Kentucky constitutions “permit a passing reference to Almighty God nestled in the middle” of legal statutes but the law in question “is more than an ephemeral general reference to God.” Rather, he said, the statute “places an affirmative duty to rely on Almighty God for the protection of the Commonwealth.”

That, the judge ruled, made the Kentucky law “exceptional among thousands of others” and transgressed the First Amendment’s requirement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

“Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God by choice for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now,” Wingate ruled. “That is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created; to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority.”

In the lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality, American Atheists, Inc., claimed the law constituted an attempt to “establish religion, endorse belief over non-belief, set up a religious test, (and) indoctrinate Kentucky citizens and state employees in theistic religious beliefs.”

The group said the law would “diminish the civil rights, privileges or capacities of atheists and others who do not believe in a god, or who believe in a different god or gods than the presumed supernatural entity unconstitutionally endorsed by the legislation.”

State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister who slipped the “Almighty God” language into a homeland security bill three years ago, told the Lexington Herald-Leader he was unhappy with the judge’s ruling.

Riner, pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville, said the law did not mandate that Kentuckians depend on God for their safety but simply acknowledged that government without God cannot protect its citizens.

“The decision would have shocked and disappointed Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words that the General Assembly paraphrased in this legislation,” Riner said.

Edwin Kagin, national legal director of American Atheists, disagreed. In a blog on the group’s website, Kagin called the ruling a win for atheists.

“I think Thomas Jefferson would have been pleased,” Kagin said.
 Judge Wingate said he did not subscribe to the atheist group’s belief that the law was an attempt to “Christianize” Kentucky, but he did describe it as “baffling that Christians would seek government endorsement of their respective religion and give a secular government an opportunity to taint an unadulterated church.”

“The Commonwealth’s history does not exclude God from the statutes, but it hasn’t ever permitted the General Assembly to demand that its citizens depend on Almighty God,” Wingate said in his ruling.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

9/1/2009 3:13:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments



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