Three Predictions for 2011

Yesterday I appeared on Doug Pagitt Radio to look back at my predictions for the year in religion, entered a year ago, and to make some new predictions for the coming year.  I’ll post the video of the show when it’s available later today.  Until then, here’s a recap:

Regarding last year, we agreed that Muslims were less deference in American society.  I had predicted last year that politicians and pundits would stop calling Islam a “religion of peace,” and Pres W was so fond of doing. Indeed, the Religion News Service rated the NYC mosque debate as the number one religion story of 2010, and that was surely a debate ginned up with angry rhetoric from the right.  And not many prominent lefties weighed in — when Obama did, he did so tepidly and had to semi-retract a day later.

None of my other predictions could be so clearly declared accurate or inaccurate.

As for the coming year, I made three predictions:

1) The Catholic Church will announce a significant theological change. I know this is a bit ambiguous; it’s also a bit of a shot in the dark.  If I were more of a Vatican-watcher, I’d probably have a better sense about what doctrines are currently under consideration for revision.  Kind of a guess here, but I think that part of Benedict XVI’s tenure is going to be righting the doctrinal ship, at least insofar as he thinks it needs to be righted.

2) Billy Graham will pass from the scene. And with Billy Graham’s death, there will be a bigass media cycle asking the questions, “Who is America’s pastor now?”  and “Who is the spokesperson for evangelicalism?”  To the first question, the answer may be Joel Osteen, and to the second, the answer may be Rick Warren.  But there are reasons to think that these obvious choices might not be America’s consensus choices.  Neither one, for instance, is as serious as Graham was in his public demeanor, and that might be demanded for the role.  Or maybe we just live in too fragmented and pluralistic of a world, and these roles will cease to exist.

3) A denomination will declare bankruptcy. In 2010, America’s first mega-church, the Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy, showing how changes in leadership, changing demographics, and a sluggish economy threaten even the biggest churches.  Well, I think that continued recession will lead at least one Protestant denomination to file for bankruptcy protection.  It may not be one of the biggies (UMC, PC(USA), TEC, UCC), but it’ll be one that most of us have heard of.

So, those are my predictions.  Bouquets and brickbats welcome in the comment section.

Here are the videos of my appearance:

  • Jonathan Brink

    Tony, #1 could already be considered to happen when the Pope considered condom use for male prostitutes. Some friends of mine talked about the delicate nature of the Pope righting the ship. What does it mean when a change occurs that directly suggests another Pope got it wrong?

  • Nathan Swenson-Reinhold

    Tony…catholic priests I know who are local to me have asserted a “new” liturgy is being released for the entire church early this next year. If this is true, they assert that the long and the short of it is that Benedict is “righting the wrongs” of Vatican II; in other words he is moving the church back in time and not forward. I don’t know if theology is driving this conversation or a hearkening towards the good old times…but I suspect you will find yourself right.

  • Dave Metz

    Re: Billy Graham > “Or maybe we just live in too fragmented and pluralistic of a world, and these roles will cease to exist.”

    These roles already have ceased to exist. Graham still has those unofficial “titles,” but for all intents and purposes there is no one with the influence that Graham had from 1952(ish) – 2008(ish).

    This current Pope is so fully aware of the RC doctrine of papal infallibility that he would never risk hinting that another Pope or Council “got it wrong.” However, the doctrine only includes matters of faith (doctrines… stuff that every RC is – supposedly – obligated to believe) and morals. By changing a practice or a discipline (i.e. liturgy or even allowing priests to marry), the Pope does not contradict papal infallibility.

  • john o’keefe

    interesting – i am not a “pope watcher” and i do not know enough about the rc church to know if the ship is placed on the right path – and i am not an “evangelical watcher” either, so those issues are of little value to me :)

    but the bankruptcy issue is something that i think might be a hard one – most denominations own the building and land of the individual churches. when a church folds, the building is sold, and the funds go to the denomination. many of them are flush with cash, even though they say they are not :)

    but it will be interesting to see what 2011 will bring

  • Alex

    As someone who has worked in a denomination, I can tell you, most denominations are scrambling for funds. They are, as I heard on pastor in passing at a conference, moving around the chairs on the Titanic.

    I think you are right about the title of America’s pastor being outdated. In this pluralistic world, it just seems to discordant to have a title like that when we still haven’t figured out how to operate in the new pluralism. If anything, the pluralism had forced most pastors to become, as Garrison Keillor says, slicker than cat shit in the moonlight. Personally, I hunger for someone to be in the spotlight that is left-leaning and bold enough to say something about the current state of affairs. By God, even the President can’t say a kind word about Islam anymore without the right sliding into rancor.

  • Matthew L. Kelley

    I’d save the denominational bankruptcy prediction for 2012. The UMC’s quadrennial General Conference meets in April of 2012, and will likely be a bloodbath that may see a some kind of denominational split that will have significant financial (among other) implications.

  • Kenton

    1. A little bit w/Dave here. B16 tested the waters w/the Latin mass and plenary indulgences, and has met with some push-back. Add to that the recent scandals, and I would think he would hope for a quiet ’11.

    Now if ’11 turns into an unexpected conclave year, all bets are off.

    2. Did you really just predict Billy Graham’s death??? Wow, that may be a new low for you. (And being right won’t change that either. :) )

    3. You may be on to something w/your 3rd prediction. Maybe more than one?

  • John Edmonds

    “Or maybe we just live in too fragmented and pluralistic of a world, and these roles will cease to exist.” – This or there isn’t a big enough religious movement to iconize someone like Graham.

    The country will go right after Obama, it already has. To produce a Graham, you’d have to have someone close to the White House for multiple administrations. Obama’s leadership is doing to the left what Nixon did to the right. I expect to see a weak left for a good decade and a half, if not longer. When you have people on the left that apologize for saying, “Christmas party,” I wouldn’t go expecting a strong Christian coming from that direction.

  • Justin

    “What does it mean when a change occurs that directly suggests another Pope got it wrong?”

    I’m pretty sure the Church doesn’t consider its popes to be infallible in everything they say.

  • Jonathan Brink

    I did my graduate work on the Medici family during the Renaissance (Pope Leo) and lets just be glad they have a short memory.

  • Craig

    I think you underestimate the staying power of denominations. I think those that are in the worst shape will carry on in a zombie state for many years to come. The larger ones I think will splinter but the bankruptcies will probably be at a more local level. Presbyteries and Synods are more likely candidates, at least for 2011. In the same way some seminaries can now exist apart from churches and even students in some cases, I suspect the denoms will keep going in one form or another for decades to come.

  • Charlie’s Church of Christ

    Warren & Osteen are more likely to be named America’s cuddly teddy bears than pastor. Not that I’m a huge Graham fan but he did/does stand alone. Mark Driscoll may try for it though.

  • Annie

    These are interesting. I think #3 is a possibility. I also think #1 is a possibility. I agree with Jonathan that one could argue that the pope’s statements on condom use were highly significant, if not an outright change. It was at least a major shift in the conversation about AIDs in Africa for him to acknowledge that when you factor in curbing the spread of a deadly disease, condoms may be morally justifiable (for all sorts of people, he was only using male prostitutes as an example).

    There are other things afoot, especially around reunion with the East, which is only going to happen with some reinterpretation of Roman Catholic doctrine. Could happen. Maybe not. We’ll see.

  • franky

    On #1 — I work at a Catholic institution and enjoy reading Benedict, not that this makes me an expert — but I doubt “announce a significant theological change” is an apt phrase. It also isn’t quite accurate that “the Vatican” just announces such stuff from on high. The process of scholarship, fermentation and debate is much more subtle than that, even when it leads to a major conference such as Vatican II. But some major policy shifts around sexuality issues, particularly in response to the pedophilia scandals — maybe that’s possible and would be interesting.

  • tom c.

    Predictions are always a tough business, but with that said, here’s my take:

    With the decline in American economic (and possibly military) power internationally, American Christians will increasingly debate whether or in what sense the idea of “American exceptionalism” is still meaningful. My guess is that in the near term (2011-12) this debate will be very divisive, with partisans taking stark positions. I also suspect that, at least in the near term, the Republican House of Representatives will help to heal divisions between pragmatic and idealistic liberals.

  • Jonathan Brink

    Tom, you said, “I also suspect that, at least in the near term, the Republican House of Representatives will help to heal divisions between pragmatic and idealistic liberals.”

    I’d seriously like to know how you think that is going to happen?

  • tom c.

    Well, I imagine it happening by greater awareness of contrast. The differences between pragmatic and idealistic liberals would, I imagine, seem less significant in light of the Republican House leadership than those differences have seemed over the last year or so under Democratic leadership.

    I generally hold to the view that particular political successes tend to galvanize opponents (not a terribly controversial or original thought). Of course, it could be the case that this won’t happen in this case (divisions among liberals could deepen), but I doubt it (esp. come late 2012, but that’ll be a prediction for this time next year).

    The comment was meant as a response to some of the claims above about the plight of the left; in short, I don’t think it is so dire.

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