The year 2000 was not what it was prophesized to be.
The Y2K crisis turned out to be a dud. Millennial and apocalyptic visions were few and far between. The most tangible millennial religious celebration was the Vatican’s Jubilee Year. While its many events may have repercussions in the years ahead — especially the massive youth meeting in Rome — they did not seem to engage the broad, ecumenical Christian participation for which the pope had hoped. But there were other news events that signaled broader trends that are likely to last beyond 2001. As in previous years, we cite the issue of RW where these trends are given fuller treatment after each entry.
01: The General Conference of the United Methodist Church last May showed that a liberal, mainline denomination can swing back in more conservative directions. The measures passed at the conference prohibited homosexual unions from taking place in congregations, firmed up of doctrine on Christ as savior of the world, and condemned partial birth abortion, representing a shift of voting power of delegates in the denomination from the northern liberal, social activist branch to the Southern evangelical wing of the church.
It is another matter whether the conservative influence will be reflected in the church’s national offices and bishops, and whether such a transition can be made without generating extensive division and resistance from liberals, which is already emerging.
(See September, November RW)
02: The main organization of mainline Protestants, the National Council of Churches, made overtures to evangelicals and Catholics in 2000, realizing that an infusion of new blood was needed for the moribund and financially struggling organization — an idea that evangelicals (as found in the National Association of Evangelicals) avidly supported.
Robert Edgar, head of the NCC, even signed a joint statement with evangelicals and Catholics last fall calling for support of the family and marriage. But Edgar soon reversed his support for the statement, largely under pressure by mainline leaders who said it could be viewed as gay bashing (as it defined marriage as the union of a man and woman). The incident suggests that building a broader organization for mainline and conservative Christians will be slow and difficult. [December ‘99].
03: The November elections were often viewed through the prism of a wide cultural divide, as analysts pointed to the map showing George W. Bush winning the votes from the South and the heartland, and Al Gore with the strongest support from the East and West coasts.
Post-election surveys did show conservative believers continuing to move toward the Republican Party. Just as significant, however, was the larger than usual Catholic vote (though far from a landslide) for a Republican candidate, suggesting that active Catholics may be trekking away from the Democrats just as their conservative Protestant counterparts did twenty years ago. [RW will have more on this topic in the February issue.]
There was also the emergence of a Muslim voter bloc that took its cues from U.S. Islamic organizations endorsing Bush. The nomination of Joseph Lieberman and his general acceptance by a majority of Americans was interpreted as the political coming of age of American Jewry, particularly because Lieberman’s observant Orthodox faith was a far cry from more assimilated, secular approach of other Jewish politicians.