On/File: A Continuing Record of People, Groups, Movements, and Events Impacting Contemporary Religion

    Source: David Munoz, Wikimedia Commons.

1) Marcos Witt has emerged as a key Latino evangelical figure in the U.S., both for his praise and worship music and, more recently, his evangelism and social action, particularly through his AOA or America Ora Adora (America Prays and Adores) tour. The 61-year-old Witt may no longer be the most popular worship leader among Latino evangelicals (with the group Miel San Marcos holding that honor), but he revolutionized Latino church music by synthesizing it with pop and rock forms. Against winds of branding, polarization and politicization affecting Latino churches, Witt has maintained an inclusive approach that ministers to all Hispanics regardless of denomination, including Catholics and even Mormons. Based at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, Witt has expanded the Latino ministry at the megachurch to over 6,000 people, and he is taking his ministry to Latin America through AOA. The highly coveted Latino evangelical vote has given Witt and his fellow church leaders new influence, but, unlike others, he has stepped away from culture war issues on both sides of the spectrum, believing it hurts his evangelizing efforts. His main activism is focused on fighting the secularization of Latinos, giving special priority to youth; at every AOA event, he invites those under 25 to come forward and commit their lives to Christ. Witt hosts his AOA events at Anglo megachurches because English-language services are popular with the younger generation and there is less rivalry with other Hispanic churches. (Source: New York Times Magazine, July 2)

2) In recent years, the culture wars have found a new home in Eastern Orthodoxy in the U.S., with Father Peter Heers standing at the epicenter of such contention. Many of the conflicts over church teaching and social issues in Orthodoxy have been waged on social media, and it is Heers’s attacks on the Orthodox hierarchy, within his own Greek Orthodox tradition as well as others, that has led to offline controversy in church circles. Heers has moved between the Greek Orthodox and more traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) orbits. Last spring, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States issued a statement claiming that Heers was outside of canonical Orthodox jurisdictions and thus not under the authority of a bishop. Heers, an American-born convert to Orthodoxy from Anglicanism who was trained and ordained in Greece, has been particularly active since the pandemic, criticizing Orthodox churches and clergy for compromising the faith under government lockdowns and vaccination mandates. His criticisms often dovetail with traditionalist Orthodox critiques of globalism and prophecies about the end-times and other conspiracies that are being issued from a circle of Greek Orthodox monks [see the June RW for more on the prophetic movement in Greek Orthodoxy]. Heers’s digital reach is said to be global, through his own Orthodox Ethos online magazine and such dissident Orthodox outlets as Pascha Press and his own YouTube channels. Critics charge that he is promoting not only conspiracies but also “elderism,” which puts undue stress on obedience to monks and their prophetic teachings. (Source: Public Orthodoxy, June 23 and July 19)

Source: Saint Kosmas Orthodox Christian Education Association.