As with most election years, 2004 will be remembered for the role religion played in the political arena. But last year also revealed other significant events in religion both in the U.S. and abroad. As is our custom, below are some musings and forecasts from RW’s editor and contributing editor on developments in religion that are likely to outlast most of the annual wrap-ups of the news.
01: Most analysts agree that “moral values” played a role in the reelection of George W. Bush, but there is less consensus as to what extent these sentiments coalesce with Christian right activism.
The issues of gay marriage and abortion clearly served as mobilizing agents in the large evangelical turnout to vote, as well as moving more conservative Catholics and blacks into Republican ranks. It remains to be seen if the religious right can maintain its momentum between elections and beyond galvanizing issues such as gay marriage.
The Democratic Party discovered the religious dimensions of voter interest too little and too late, but it seems that any viable Democratic campaign in the future will have to engage the sensitivities and language of religious voters.
02: Bolstered by the lack of turnout for fellow Catholic John Kerry in the elections (though the extent of the Catholic vote is still being debated by researchers), some of the bishops will continue the strategy of publicly admonishing and, in some cases, disciplining politicians who are out of line with church teachings.
Although only a minority will likely deny the sacraments to Catholic politicians who take pro-choice and other dissenting positions, the larger trend of denying these leaders podiums and places of honor at Catholic institutions will become more visible and controversial in the years ahead.
03: The theological and political controversy during 2004 over The Passion of the Christ may not be of as much long-term significance as the impact of Mel Gibson’s movie on Hollywood’s treatment of religious subjects.
The film’s box office record ( and smaller scale successes such as megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes’ film, Woman, Thou Art Loosed) convinced producers that a movie can be both religious and profitable, leading to a spate of forthcoming productions of a spiritual or religious nature.
04: The prediction of a widespread schism in Anglicanism over the consecration and installation of Episcopal gay bishop Gene Robinson has not yet become a reality, though it cannot be ruled out.
That is largely because the Windsor Report, which was issued by church leaders last fall to help avoid such a split, lacked the authority and mechanisms to keep in line member churches violating common teachings and practices of the Anglican communion.
05: The moderate victory in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rolled back several years of conservative influence in the denomination.
This development may have little influence in the larger and more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and it is this denomination’s convention next summer that could be the most momentous for American Lutherans. The ELCA will be deliberating on accepting same-sex unions and gay clergy. Many observers expect the probable outcome to be one more sign of the leftward drift of American Lutheranism..
06: In 2004, the issue of the future place of Islam in Europe has indeed become more acute, especially with the opening of negotiations with Turkey for possible EU membership.
The issue of the headscarf in French schools is only the tip of the iceberg of concerns which are expressed across the continent about the burgeoning Muslim growth and influence.. But there are also attempts at better integrating the growing Muslim minority: several European governments consider it as the best way for avoiding radicalization of segments of the Islamic community — although improvement of integration is likely to go along with harsher measures against radicals in the current international context.
Meanwhile, the Vatican is concerned by what it perceives as increasingly secular trends in Europe, following last year’s refusal to refer to the continent’s Christian heritage in the preamble of the new European Constitution and the rejection by the European Parliament of a new commissioner known to hold conservative Catholic views.
The Vatican is lobbying international bodies in order to have “Christianophobia” recognized as a form of discrimination similar to anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. But most observers doubt that this diplomatic campaign will be successful, since international organizations are wary of introducing new concepts with unforeseeable consequences.