What to expect in 2019 religion news and trends
(COMMENTARY) Those who read TMP on Dec. 20 (thereby postponing their holiday chores) may recall my list of the big three religion news themes for the new year:
(1) Ongoing debate over using the CRISPR technique to create human “designer babies” and manipulate genes that will be passed along to future generations. (I – uniquely – also proclaimed this the #1 religion story of 2018.)
(2) How Catholic leaders cope with multiplying cases of priests molesting minors, both at Pope Francis’ February summit and afterward. And don’t neglect those Protestant sexual abuse scandals.
(3) Reverberations from the United Methodist Church’s special February General Conference that decides whether and how to either hold together or to split over same-sex issues.
On the same theme, Religion News Service posted a longish item New Year’s Eve headlined “What’s coming for religion in 2019? Here’s what the experts predict.” This was a collection of brief articles commissioned from a multi-faith lineup. It turned out to be one of those ideas that seemed better in the story conference than in the resulting copy.
Understandably, no panelist expected an end to the persistent Catholic scandals.
Otherwise, the pieces predicted things like this: Various religions will unite to combat climate change. “Post-white evangelicalism” will find its footing while the ex-evangelical movement will grow in impact. Catholicism will seriously consider allowing married priests, and lay Catholics will gain more power. The Latter-day Saints will loosen institutional control. America will reckon with “the gods of white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, cisheterosexism, sexual violence and deceit.” And a “united and uniting” United Methodist Church will emerge.
What are the odds? One online comment nailed the problem: “These are more wish lists and utopian dreams than predictions.” Better to rely on lowly journalists for this sort of forecasting.
Speaking of Methodists, I interrupt the 2019 look-ahead for a side observation that might merit a story. On Jan. 5, the 93 members of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church implored the February General Conference to legislate liberals' desire for “full inclusion” regardless of “gender identity / expression or sexual orientation.”
This association includes the presidents of e.g. American U., Baldwin Wallace, Boston U., Dickinson, Drew, Duke, Emory, S.M.U., Syracuse and Ohio Wesleyan (though not Wesleyan U. which cut church ties in 1937). How many people, even how many Methodists, know that those campuses have such church affiliation? What does this mean in practice? Are the doctrines and principles of the Christian faith embraced by these schools, and if so in what specific ways? If not, why not?
Back to 2019. RNS’s sister operation, ReligionLink led by Kelsey Dallas of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, fared better in telling us what this year will bring. In case you’re not familiar with this site, you’ll want to sign up for its e-mail postings, which are so useful for links to documents, news items, and knowledgeable sources.
Religion Link highlighted three themes for 2019:
(1) The rise of “religion:all,” highlighting the fact that most people in the growing ranks of “nones” without formal religious membership are not anti-religious but ”religious all of the aboves” who mingle a wide variety of beliefs and practices.
(2) Growing significance of non-religious voters. (I observe that they’re hard to locate and organize.)
(3) Mounting tension internationally over violations of religious freedom.
Finally, looking beyond just 2019, I note an RNS column by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, retired chief executive of the Reformed Church in America (disclosure: a long-time friend). Alongside the common scenario of Christianity’s stagnation or decline in the U.S., he reminds us of its vitality in the “Global South” after 400 years of western dominance.
The column reports that in 2018 nearly 50 million new Christians were gained in Africa, now the continent with the faith’s largest number of adherents. Remarkably, one-fourth of the world’s Christians now identify as Pentecostal or Charismatic, with Holy Spirit-oriented churches growing roughly four times faster than the world population. From there, Granberg-Michaelson comments on trends from an international perspective that parochial Americans often ignore.
On that, The Economist for Jan. 12 reports on the boom in foreign missionaries being sent out from non-western nations, 27,400 from Africa and 30,000 from South Korea. The nations receiving the largest number are the U.S., Brazil and Russia. Coming soon to a zip code near your newsroom?