On/File: A Continuing Record of Groups, Movements, People, and Events Impacting Contemporary Religion

1) Vietnamese-American Catholics have become a source of vocational growth and vitality in the American church and the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement (VEYM) has served as their nerve center. While Vietnamese Americans make up only 1 to 2 percent of the American Catholic population, they represent 12 percent of seminarians. The VEYM has 136 chapters, often connected to Vietnamese parishes, and a membership of 25,000, with 2,500 leaders in different divisions, such as youth leaders and Knights of the Eucharist. VEYM activities include Bible studies, Eucharistic adorations, rosary devotions, and weekend camps, which generate significant commitment and involvement, leading to religious vocations in many cases. A survey of 385 youth leaders and 105 priests associated with the movement found a majority to be born in the U.S. (though 42 percent were born in Vietnam) and a high rate of weekly Mass attendance (61 percent compared to 19 percent of U.S. Catholics as a whole). Twenty-four percent of respondents attended Mass more than once a week, compared to only 4 percent of U.S. Catholics. Among priests, 72 percent considered the VEYM helpful in their vocation, with 44 percent of non-priest leaders saying they have considered religious vocations. The high rate of member and leader satisfaction with VEYM and its role in encouraging religious vocations have prompted U.S. Catholic bishops to consider replicating similar movements for other Catholics. (Source: Paper authored by Thu Do and presented at the late-October meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Salt Lake City)

Source: Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement.

2) A small but growing movement of conservative Protestant churches is rediscovering the Psalms—“the whole Psalter, including the mean parts of the mean Psalms,” notes Peter Leithart of the Alabama-based Theopolis Institute. Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, and many Lutherans retained the Psalter, but in much of the Protestant world the Psalms lost this prominence. Contemporary Christian musicians sing Psalms, but normally in selective fragments. Connected to the Calvinist Theopolis Institute, “a handful of churches here and in the UK are no longer content to sing or chant Psalms but insist on ‘roaring’ them, to echo the Lion of Judah who composed them. A brief search will turn up multiple YouTube and Twitter sites devoted to Psalm-singing, including some from the chant Psalter that the Theopolis Institute is working on,” Leithart adds. Yet there is a connection between Psalm-singing congregations and the more publicized trend of Christian nationalism. The Psalms “cultivate a distinctive ecclesial ethos” where politics is never far off. Psalm 2 praises Yahweh for enthroning his king who scatters his enemies in Zion. For years, anti-abortion protesters have sung Psalm 94 outside abortion clinics. Leithart notes, “You want to know what’s energizing a new Christian right, what’s lending the air of swaggering confidence?…Check out what they’re singing.” (Source: First Things, October 27)

Source: The Reformed Presbyterian Global Alliance (RPGA).

3) While many evangelical churches—from small congregations to megachurches—use generic contemporary Christian music and praise songs that avoid denominational doctrine, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) is fighting the trend with its recent project to incorporate church teachings into its hymns. The CMA was started in the 19th century as a missionary association by the evangelist A.B. Simpson, who also wrote 150 hymns. The new project, made up of CMA musicians and songwriters, seeks to produce music with such CMA themes as world missions and urban evangelism. This comes at a time when Christian music production is increasingly dominated by a few names, with most songwriters catering to a non-denominational following. Alliance leadership is encouraging the trend and hopes the project will be the beginning of a music revival that helps their 1,600 churches grow deeper in CMA theology as they worship. The project is also adapting Simpson’s hymns to modern sensibilities, trying to edit out some of the founder’s colonialist sentiments. (Source: Christianity Today, October)

4) The main target of Hamas’s terrorist attack in October, the Tribe of Nova festival was not merely a rave party but an expression of contemporary quests for alternative spiritualities, says Swiss expert Manéli Farahmand, director of the CIC (Centre d’information sur les croyances – Information Center on Beliefs, Geneva). Spiritually oriented people not only embrace a range of alternative or holistic disciplines, such as modern yoga and energy-based techniques such as reiki, but also actively participate in conscious movement, dance and music practices. For the first time in Israel, Tribe of Nova proposed a festival based on the model of the Brazilian festival Universo Paralello, born in Bahia some 20 years ago. According to Farahmand, this festival occupies an important place in transnational networks of new spirituality. Such festivals claim “alternative” values: peaceful and harmonious inter-species coexistence, unity in difference, love, peace, reference to the heart and not to external rules, transcending borders between ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. Meditation, art, and ecology all have a place in this appealing environment for SBNR (Spiritual but Not Religious) people. Journalist Marc Bornomelli observed that “festivals of this kind involving electronic music are a frequent feature on the itinerary of new spiritual seekers.” In this festive context, first experiences perceived as “mystical” take place, whether or not psychedelic substances are consumed. For the moment, however, there is no indication that the festival had been targeted by Hamas militants because of its spiritual orientation. Rather, it seems to have provided an opportunity to attack a large youth gathering near the Gaza Strip. (Source: Le Monde, October 28; Centre d’Information sur les Croyances, https://cic-info.ch)