The mundane, worldly rhythms of life and death, conflict and reconciliation seemed more pronounced in the religious world in 1999, a year in which no single event such as 1998's impeachment of President Clinton dominated the moral and ethical news.
At the start of 1999, it appeared the millennial hoopla over apocalyptic end-time scenarios drawn from the New Testament Book of Revelation might dominate the year's religion news. But by year's end, such theologically inspired scenarios had largely been shelved.
What millennial concerns remained focused on the technical--possible Y2K computer glitches--and the political--the threat of terrorism.
The moral debate over Clinton's sexual behavior--and the ethical significance of the public's apparent lack of outrage that led to the president's acquittal in the Senate trial--lingered into 1999, although it generated little further moral reflection.
Instead of sex, another ostensibly secular event--war--prompted extensive religious reflection. The ethnic cleansing of mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians by Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo and NATO'S 78-day bombing campaign to end the practice initiated a widespread debate on how to apply the Christian just war theory in contemporary conflicts and the permissibility of armed humanitarian intervention in internal conflicts.
The religious community's role in the Kosovo conflict was most dramatically demonstrated, however, in the successful mission toBelgrade, Yugoslavia, of an interfaith delegation led by the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the National Rainbow Coalition. The mission led to freedom for three captured American servicemen.
The debate over the moral propriety of armed humanitarian intervention continued with the autumn United Nations involvement in the Indonesia-controlled territory of largely Catholic East Timor after the Timorese voted for independence from the world's largest Muslim nation.
As the year wound down, Pope John Paul II, in his World Day of Peacemessage, gave moral support to the use of force by outside institutionsto protect civilians in such conflicts.
Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders, including the pope,and their grass-roots followers also demonstrated that reports of thedeath of faith-based liberal social activism were greatly exaggerated bymounting the highly visible international Jubilee 2000 campaign.
The campaign seeks the forgiveness of debts of the world's poorestnations. In the United States, Congress passed legislation providing forunilateral American debt relief and Clinton, in signing the bill,singled out for praise the faith community's efforts on behalf of theproposal.
Abroad, Christian minorities found themselves in conflict withnon-Christian majorities in other parts of Indonesia as well as Pakistanand India. John Paul, in his trip to the latter nation, eloquentlypleaded for religious peace and denied charges Christians were involvedin coercive efforts to convert Hindus to Christianity.
On the positive side, the Catholic-Protestant sectarian strife inNorthern Ireland marked by three decades of violence and killing waseased, if not ultimately resolved, with the installation of a home-rulegovernment including both Protestants and Catholics.
Along more religious institutional lines, top Lutheran and RomanCatholic leaders met in Augsburg, Germany, to sign a historic accord onthe doctrine of justification--how one is made right with God--thathad divided the two faiths since the Reformation of the 16th century.Lutherans also agreed, at their August Churchwide Assembly, to enter infull communion with the Episcopal Church.
The peripatetic John Paul also made ecumenical history by being thefirst pope to visit predominantly Christian Orthodox nations, withvisits to Romania and Georgia. But at the end of the year, heacknowledged one of his disappointments was that Catholic-Orthodoxrelations had not made more progress.
John Paul also made a whirlwind January visit to St. Louis, wherethe emphasis was on youth activities. The visit was widely seen as quitepossibly his last to the United States, given the pope's advanced ageand frail health.
Catholic-Jewish relations, which have made great strides under JohnPaul, hit a bumpy patch in 1999 with a highly public debate over therole of the church, especially Pope Pius XII, during the Holocaust. Nearthe end of the year, the Vatican and Jewish leaders announced a jointJewish-Catholic team of top-level scholars would study Vatican documentsfrom the era.
Still, leaders from a host of faith traditions gathered in threeseparate international conferences in the last quarter of the year--inAssisi, Italy; at the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Amman,Jordan; and at the Parliament of World Religions in Capetown, SouthAfrica--to promote interreligious tolerance and dialogue.