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 happen in the world of religion in 2000.
1. Much of the talk of sensational millennial crises turned out to be a bust by New Year's Day. Many of those who saw the Y2K bug as a potential cleanser of ungodly influences in society through a prophesied attack on technology will be busy backtracking or revamping their predictions to apply to the "true" third millennium, 2001, or other possible dates. In response to the peaceful passing into 2000, members of religious groups that hunkered down in fear of Y2K chaos may decide to leave such groups, particularly marginal members who joined only recently. Others prone to religious inspired terrorism will not necessarily forsake their desire to instigate the breakdown of Western society in order to create a more godly culture and to strike against God's enemies.

2. The Christian Right was reported as faltering in the wake of the 1998 elections, and 1ast year did not show things getting any brighter. The failure to impeach President Bill Clinton and the appearance of manifestos from religious right leaders sharply criticizing Christian involvement in politics gave the impression that the entire Christian right was on the downturn. Whether this is actually the case will be seen by November. In the meantime, religious politics is on an upsurge. Presidential candidates across the spectrum are increasingly outspoken about their faith and how it shapes their political views.

3. Ecumenism was more in the news in 1999 than in previous years. The acceptance of a Concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by the latter denomination (after it was earlier rejected) was hailed by some observers as a shot in the arm for the tired ecumenical movement. The agreement calls for Lutherans to eventually adopt 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 a non-episcopal denomination in the United States has adopted the historic episcopate and even claim that it may be a model for future ecumenical efforts. But as often happens in ecumenism, the "full communion" agreement has intensified internal divisions within the ELCA. A reform group called the Word Alone Network has formed to protest the agreement, viewing it as creating a more hierarchical church structure in conflict with the Lutheran confessions.

4. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the long-awaited document on Catholic universities and their relation to the official church, is likely to have repercussions years beyond its late 1999 release. The document calls for bishops to give their approval to the theology faculties of Catholic colleges and universities. The debate now is about what such approval means for academic freedom and the attempt to strengthen Catholic identity. Since the process of episcopal oversight and collaboration will be determined by local bishops, the results will be far from monolithic. The conflicts will likely arise between aggressively conservative bishops--not all are aggressive in maintaining orthodoxy-- and liberal theology departments under their jurisdiction.

5. The Columbine tragedy and then the shootings of members at a Baptist church in Texas months later were viewed with alarm and, in the long run, awe by many evangelical believers in 1999. Martyrdom, a term frequently used more from the mission field and church history, found fresh currency among evangelicals in the aftermath of these events. Some evangelicals referred to these events as signaling a new trend of anti-Christian violence, although it has not been established how much these sentiments motivated the perpetrators. The reports of heroic involvement of young people in these shootings led to a new outspokenness and spiritual concern among Christian youth, a trend that is worth watching in 2000.

6. Last year also saw the successful attempt by the laity and clergy, particularly a reform group known as GOAL, to force the resignation of Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Spyridon was widely viewed as a hard-liner who was out of touch with American church procedures. What was most unique and revealing about the event was how the Internet was put to use by dissidents to energize protests across the whole church.

* The tense, often antagonistic relations between some new religious movements and their host communities appear to be moderating in the last few years.
The Cult Observer reports that Transcendental Meditation and its headquarters city, Fairfield, Iowa, have come to an understanding as the group has settled into the Midwestern city during the past 25 years. As devotees of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's TM have moved to the group's headquarters, they have constructed homes and office buildings.City Council member Neil Doyle says although locals don't "swallow some fairly crazy philosophy," the last quarter century shows that a small Midwestern town can absorb, if not integrate, a sizable immigration of rather unorthodox outsiders, particularly whey they bring money and jobs.

* A truce between the Church of Scientology and city hall in its headquarters city of Clearwater, Florida, appears to be developing after two decades of sharp conflict, reports another issue of the Cult Observer. The new relations between Clearwater and Scientology was seen when the city recently listed the organization for the first time as an asset to the downtown area in a document that will go to prospective developers. For its part, the church is recruiting businesses in one of its buildings. The church's Los Angeles-based leader David Miscavige and other staff members met with city officials close to a dozen times to discuss how the church's growth can aid downtown development efforts.

Cult Observer,
Box 413005,
Suite 313,
Naples, FL 34101-3005

CURRENT RESEARCH: Recent Findings On Religious Behavior And Attitudes.
* A recent survey from the Barna Research Group finds that born-again Christians have a higher divorce rate than non-Christians. In a survey of 4,000 adults, the poll shows that among born again Christians, 27 percent are currently or have previously been divorced, compared to 24 percent of adults who are not born again. The Barna press release notes that most surprising in the survey was that it was not the baby boomers who were the most divorce-prone, but the generation preceding them--the supposedly more conservative "builder" generation. Thirty-seven percent of the adults from the builder generation (currently ages 53-72) have endured a divorce, compared to 34 percent among baby boomers.

* Also somewhat unexpected was that divorce is much less likely in the Northeast than elsewhere (19 percent of Northeasterners compared to 27 percent of Southerners and Midwesterners). The Christian denomination with the highest likelihood of getting divorced are Baptists (29 percent), and the denominations with the lowest are Lutherans and Catholics. Jews have among the highest divorce rates (30 percent), while atheists and agnostics fall below the norm (21 percent). While pollster George Barna says that the high rate of divorce among evangelicals has been a fact for the past half-decade, most disturbing was that many of those experiencing divorce feel their community of faith provides rejection more than reconciliation or support.

Barna Research Group,
5528 Everglades St.,
Ventura, CA 93003

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