The gift of life, helping the stranger and a 'honeymoon effect?' for pastors

Scattershots from around the world of religion research, with special attention to findings indicating who is more likely to be nice this holiday season.

Giving the gift of life: Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, according to the American Red Cross, and shortages can have critical consequences. Yet just about one of 10 Americans eligible to donate does so annually.

What role does religion play in this act of sacrifice that is almost always given anonymously to its recipients?

A pretty significant one, according to a new study by researcher Kraig Beyerlein of the University of Notre Dame.
He analyzed data from nearly 1,600 adults eligible to donate blood responding to the 2010 Science of Generosity Survey.

Religious service attendance, religious group involvement, and importance of faith were all significant factors promoting blood donation,” Beyerlein reported in the journal Sociology of Religion.

Worshipping more often and being active in religious groups promoted religious networks. These ties, Beyerlein noted, increased the extent to which people:

• Were solicited to donate.
• Were exposed to helping messages such as “it is better to give than to receive.”
• Felt personally capable of having an impact on the community.

But faith also played a role.

The more important faith was in providing guidance for daily living, the more likely individuals were to have stronger religious ties and to more frequently hear messages about the importance of helping people in need, the study found.

God is watching over you: Are the faithful more likely to volunteer to help the poor, the sick, the immigrant and those in prison out of fear of disobeying God or gratitude for the support of a caring God?

Two new studies by Arizona State University researchers suggest it is the latter.

The idea that God is watching over individuals with mercy and compassion is more effective in helping Christians volunteer to care for people outside their family or religious group than the idea God is watching to punish or reward them for being naughty or nice, the studies indicated.

The studies – one of 454 Christian college students and the second a survey of 804 workers on the Mechanical Turk website – were reported in the latest issue of the American Psychological Association’s Psychology of Religion and Spirituality journal.

Christians who viewed God as merciful, compassionate and caring were both more likely to value those same qualities in themselves and to see helping all others as a moral obligation. These beliefs are associated with the types of internal motivations that are “robust predictors” of secular volunteering, the researchers said.

In contrast, viewing God as commanding, judging and punishing was not related to either considering oneself benevolent or a moral obligation to help the stranger.

The takeaway: Focusing on God’s mercy rather than divine judgement may be a win-win situation for communities and religious groups and individuals.

Other research has found volunteering to be associated with well-being, self-esteem and a reduced risk of mortality, the researchers noted.

“Developing strategies focused on benevolence or on the benevolent nature of God may foster helping, generally—and volunteering, specifically, thereby serving … the community as well as promoting the psychological well-being of volunteers.”

A ‘honeymoon effect’ for pastors: You might notice a little more spring in the step and greater enthusiasm in the pulpit this Christmas if your pastor has just come on board.

Researchers from Duke University and the University of Toronto expected to find the stresses of relocating may place a greater burden on clergy taking over a new pulpit.

But what they found was strong evidence of a “honeymoon effect.”

Recently relocated clergy report lower levels of mental distress and higher workplace morale compared to those who do not relocate, according to the study analyzing data from surveys of nearly 1,400 United Methodist clergy in 2008 and 2010.

United Methodist clergy usually receive a pay hike with a new appointment, and the early months involve a getting-to-know-you period that can limit stress, the researchers noted.

“Pastors cannot shoulder the problems of church members with whom they have no relationship, nor are they likely to encounter criticism from members whom they have not met,” they stated in the Review of Religious Research.

But the “honeymoon” does not last that long.

Researchers found the benefits fade within a year of being relocated as clergy start to assume a larger pastoral role “and also become aware of the flaws and conflicts present in the congregation.”

As more than a few married couples can testify, there is a reason for the so-called honeymoon effect.

Even in churches, the more you know about one another, the harder it may be to keep the peace.

Image by U.S. Embassy, Jakarta , via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Image by City Temple SDA Church, Dallas, Texas, via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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