I often find that the general public really has no idea that teachers are allowed to teach about the world’s religions in public schools. There’s a clear disconnect between what educators are doing and what the public thinks they can do. Then you add to this that people really don’t know that much about religions in general. The idea that a kid’s going to get converted by trying to write calligraphy, even if it’s a statement of faith — I mean, that seems like, really?
“It’s a new form of Christianity,” explained Opoku Onyinah, “now also living in the West.” He’s the president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, and also heads the Church of Pentecost, begun in Ghana and now in 84 nations. Onyinah was speaking at a workshop on “How Shall We Walk Between Cultures,” and explaining how African Christianity is interacting with postmodern culture. It was part of Empowered21, which gathered thousands of Pentecostals in Jerusalem over Pentecost.
I’ve found this idea intriguing. Pentecostalism, especially as it is emerging in the non-Western world, is a postmodern faith. Often I’ve said, “An evangelical wants to know what you believe, while a Pentecostal wants to hear your spiritual story.” Perhaps it’s an oversimplification. But Pentecostalism embodies a strong emphasis on narrative and finds reality in spiritual experiences that defy the logic and rationality of modern Western culture.
"And God spoke all of these words…You shall not give false witness against your neighbor." Exodus 20:1, 16
Several months back I overheard a conversation in an office waiting room. A young, 20-something guy entered the waiting room with his board shorts on and his windblown hair haphazardly tucked beneath his backwards baseball cap as though he’d just come in from surfing – not uncommon in the beach community of Jacksonville, Fla. He strolled confidently to the receptionist and asked her a question about the availability of a person he wanted to see, made an appointment, and it seemed his business was done and he’d be on his way. Instead he asked the receptionist where she was from, if she liked her job, and then talked about the weather. He then began to tell her about a Bible study he was leading and a little about his faith journey – for the longest time he felt lost, was starting to get in trouble, then he found Jesus, was born again, and began to set his life straight.
After sharing his testimony he asked the receptionist, “What religion are you?"
The University of Chicago recently performed an exhaustive survey of the beliefs of people in 30 countries around the world. There were a few surprises in it, and I also struggled a bit with the entire structure of the survey.
Though I knew there was a large (and growing) disparity between those claiming some faith in the United States and those attending a church, I fully expected that the number of die-hard faithful would be much lower. After all, a previous study some years ago by the Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion found a direct correlation between church attendance and one’s confidence in the existence of God. It would be interesting to revisit that question, given these new results, to see if that trend is still happening, or if there’s a resurgence in American faith in God, regardless of the still-declining church numbers.
Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 -- his year of conversion.
But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.
Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).
Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.
Over lunch last week, during the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict's Fletcher Summer Institute, I had the chance to talk with civil rights movement leader James Lawson with a recorder on. It wasn't hard to get him going; he had been talking about organizing and nonviolence training all week.