Beliefnet

Used with permission from Religion Watch, January 2000.

Religion Watch, a monthly newsletter analyzing religion trends,
has put together its predictions for this year.

Here is what's likely to happenin the world of religion in 2000.
1. Much of the talk of sensational millennial crisesturned out to be a bust by New Year's Day. Many ofthose who saw the Y2K bug as a potential cleanser ofungodly influences in society through a prophesiedattack on technology will be busy backtracking orrevamping their predictions to apply to the "true"third millennium, 2001, or other possible dates. Inresponse to the peaceful passing into 2000, membersof religious groups that hunkered down in fear ofY2K chaos may decide to leave such groups,particularly marginal members who joined onlyrecently. Others prone to religious inspired terrorismwill not necessarily forsake their desire to instigatethe breakdown of Western society in order to create amore godly culture and to strike against God'senemies.

2. The Christian Right was reported as faltering in thewake of the 1998 elections, and 1ast year did notshow things getting any brighter. The failure toimpeach President Bill Clinton and the appearance ofmanifestos from religious right leaders sharplycriticizing Christian involvement in politics gave theimpression that the entire Christian right was on thedownturn. Whether this is actually the case will beseen by November. In the meantime, religiouspolitics is on an upsurge. Presidential candidatesacross the spectrum are increasingly outspoken abouttheir faith and how it shapes their political views.

3. Ecumenism was more in the news in 1999 than inprevious years. The acceptance of a Concordatbetween the Episcopal Church and the EvangelicalLutheran Church in America by the latterdenomination (after it was earlier rejected) was hailedby some observers as a shot in the arm for the tiredecumenical movement. The agreement calls for Lutherans to eventuallyadopt the historic episcopate--which is the practice of consecrating bishops in an unbroken line of succession from Apostolic times.Observers note that this is the first time anon-episcopal denomination in the United States has adoptedthe historic episcopate and even claim that it may be amodel for future ecumenical efforts. But as oftenhappens in ecumenism, the "full communion"agreement has intensified internal divisions within theELCA. A reform group called the Word AloneNetwork has formed to protest the agreement,viewing it as creating a more hierarchical churchstructure in conflict with the Lutheran confessions.

4. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the long-awaited document onCatholic universities and their relation to the officialchurch, is likely to have repercussions years beyondits late 1999 release. The document calls for bishopsto give their approval to the theology faculties ofCatholic colleges and universities. The debate now isabout what such approval means for academicfreedom and the attempt to strengthen Catholicidentity. Since the process of episcopal oversight andcollaboration will be determined by local bishops, theresults will be far from monolithic. The conflicts willlikely arise between aggressively conservativebishops--not all are aggressive in maintainingorthodoxy-- and liberal theology departments undertheir jurisdiction.

5. The Columbine tragedy and then the shootings ofmembers at a Baptist church in Texas months laterwere viewed with alarm and, in the long run, awe bymany evangelical believers in 1999. Martyrdom, aterm frequently used more from the mission field andchurch history, found fresh currency amongevangelicals in the aftermath of these events. Someevangelicals referred to these events as signaling anew trend of anti-Christian violence, although it hasnot been established how much these sentimentsmotivated the perpetrators. The reports of heroicinvolvement of young people in these shootings led toa new outspokenness and spiritual concern amongChristian youth, a trend that is worth watching in2000.

6. Last year also saw the successful attempt by thelaity and clergy, particularly a reform group known asGOAL, to force the resignation of ArchbishopSpyridon of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States.Spyridon was widely viewed as a hard-liner who wasout of touch with American church procedures. Whatwas most unique and revealing about the event washow the Internet was put to use by dissidents toenergize protests across the whole church.

RELATIONS IMPROVE BETWEEN NEWRELIGIONS AND HEADQUARTERS CITIES
* The tense, often antagonistic relations between somenew religious movements and their host communitiesappear to be moderating in the last few years.
The Cult Observer reports that TranscendentalMeditation and its headquarters city, Fairfield, Iowa,have come to an understanding as the group has settled into theMidwestern city during the past 25 years. As devotees ofMaharishi Mahesh Yogi's TM have moved to thegroup's headquarters, they have constructed homes andoffice buildings.City Council member Neil Doyle says although locals don't "swallow some fairly crazy philosophy," the last quarter century shows that asmall Midwestern town can absorb, if not integrate, asizable immigration of rather unorthodox outsiders,particularly whey they bring money and jobs.

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