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
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
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.
RELATIONS IMPROVE BETWEEN NEW
RELIGIONS AND HEADQUARTERS CITIES
* 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.
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.
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