Posts Tagged ‘Volume 34 No. 3’

2018 religion marked by pressures for reform and schism

The issues and trends in religion most visible in 2018 did not originate in that year but actually had germinated for decades. Still, 2018 carried enough bad news to convince religious leaders of difficult times ahead for religious institutions—from the continuing disaffection of young people to divisions over social and political issues in the contentious Trump era. As with previous years, the following review draws on past issues of RW and other sources to look at trends that unfolded in 2018 and their possible shape in the years ahead.

1) The issue of sexual abuse in its various forms has continued to represent an uncomfortable challenge to most institutions, with the #MeToo movement—launched through social media in October 2017—adding more fuel to the fire with a variety of non-religious targets that subsequently extended to religious organizations, from prominent megachurches to new religious movements. The Roman Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the crisis, especially with charges of sexual abuse suffered by minors and a steady flow of new revelations about the complicity of bishops covering up abuse cases. A “Letter to the People of God” released by Pope Francis in August linked sexual abuse to wider ecclesiastical issues, stating that “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism,” while the Pope himself was criticized by Archbishop Vigano for allegedly having protected former-cardinal McCarrick. A summit of the bishops for discussing the problem of clerical sexual abuse will take place at the Vatican in February. Other religious groups have also continued to experience turmoil, for instance several Buddhist groups dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct mostly toward adults. In September 2018 a report was released detailing serious “physical, sexual and emotional abuse” by Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche, who had withdrawn from the leadership of his network of Rigpa centers the previous year. “There are huge cover ups in the Catholic church, but what has happened within Tibetan Buddhism is totally along the same lines,” according to author and journalist Mary Finnigan, quoted in The Telegraph (September 9).

2) Since the death of evangelist Billy Graham last year, there has been speculation about his successors in the field of mass evangelism. Many observers have concluded that any such successor—more likely successors—will come out of a different mold than Graham, given the fragmentation of evangelicalism and the rise of social media. One approach is team-based evangelism, with the charismatic Send movement being a noted example. The Send movement is built around an event of the same name to be held in February in Orlando, where lay missionaries will be commissioned to evangelize their own neighborhoods, cities, and schools. The movement is the brainchild of Lou Engle, who has for nearly two decades led mass events known as TheCall that organize youth to pray for revival. Engle is working with such major mission organizations as Youth With A Mission and prominent charismatic megachurches including Bethel Church to run this evangelist-training movement, according to Charisma magazine (January).

3) Last year saw the Orthodox Church coming very close to a serious schism. While tensions between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow have for years been difficult at times, as evidenced by the non-participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Pan-Orthodox Synod gathered in Crete in 2016, few would have predicted that the situation would escalate so dramatically around the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly. To the applause of the Ukrainian government, Constantinople lifted sanctions against the leaders of two independent Orthodox bodies advocating autocephaly for a national Ukrainian Church, stated that Ukraine was a territory under its canonical authority, and announced that autocephaly would be granted after a unification council of bishops supporting Ukrainian ecclesiastical independence convened. That gathering finally took place in December, and the granting of autocephaly is expected in January. The Russian Orthodox Church broke ties with Constantinople unilaterally and forbade its faithful from taking Communion in churches under Constantinople. Russian Orthodox leaders claim that Constantinople is playing a U.S.-sponsored game of weakening Russia. Supporters of Constantinople answer that a core issue is the Russian Church’s failure to understand the specific role of Constantinople (“the Ecumenical Patriarchate”) as a primate and worldwide center of unity for the Orthodox Church. (See the November issue of RW)

Pastor-centered, independent fundamental Baptists feel abuse scandal

Fundamentalist Baptists are facing their own sex abuse crisis, propelled by their churches’ pastor-centered model of leadership, according to an in-depth report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (December 9). The eight-month investigation by the newspaper found that “For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshipping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around […]

Millennial Sikhs show vitality on elite level, lagging influence in congregational life

American Sikhs of the millennial generation are pioneering new human rights and political groups and are highly literate when it comes to Sikh teachings and rituals, but their influence has yet to be felt on the local congregational level. That is the conclusion of a series of articles on Sikh millennials in a special issue […]


A record low number of Americans say that religion can serve as an answer to “all or most of today’s problems,” according to a new Gallup poll published in The Hill newspaper (December 24). The survey found just 46 percent of respondents to say that religion could solve all or most of the world’s problems. It […]

Bolsonaro’s rise showing Brazilian evangelical strength and Catholic division?

Evangelicals in Brazil played a significant role in the election of hard-right President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, writes Filipe Domingues in the Jesuit magazine America (December 10).  Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, ran a religion-themed campaign that resonated with Brazil’s evangelicals. On social media, the candidate indicated that God had special plans for him […]

European churches inoculating Christians to resist far-right surge?

European churches are having an unexpected impact on turning back the influence of far-right populist parties, especially in Germany, writes Tobias Cremer in Religion and Global Society (December 20), a blog of the London School of Economics. Surveys have found that Western Christians have been more “immune” to voting for far-right parties in Europe than […]

Turkey seeing a rise in young people rejecting Islam

Although the current Turkish government is supportive of Islam, various observations confirm a trend among a number of young Turkish people of rejecting institutional religion and turning either to deism or to atheism, writes Mucahit Bilici (City University of New York) in the Middle East Report (Fall). He quotes a Muslim professor of philosophy at […]

Iranians seeing Turkey as promised land for evangelical Christianity and passage to West

The conversion of Iranians to evangelical Christianity is more evident in Turkey than in Iran due to the greater freedom and the presence of refugees in that country, according to a National Public Radio report (December 14). In Turkey and across the Middle East and Europe, Muslim refugees are encountering and, in some cases, converting […]

Moldova’s Orthodox churches quietly divided

Two Orthodox churches exist within the territory of the Republic of Moldova—one associated with the Russian Orthodox Church and the other with the Romanian Orthodox Church—but the Patriarchates of Moscow and of Bucharest are downplaying this conflict, writes Mihai-D. Grigore (Leibniz Institute for European History, Mainz, Germany) in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West […]

Findings & Footnotes-January 2019

British researcher Sophie Gilliat-Ray gained notoriety in 2005 (mainly among Muslims) for an article detailing the lack of access she experienced in trying to study the seminaries of a strict form of Islam practiced by Deobandi Muslims (whose name derives from their origins in an Indian town by that name). Now in the current issue […]