RNS asked some of the country’s top faith leaders, scholars and activists to consider what changes the religion landscape will see in 2019. Find all their predictions here.
The digital age has produced the single greatest social experiment in human history, which has often behaved with the qualities of religion. And that experiment has broken beyond repair the monopoly that historic institutions — political, governmental, theological, academic, et al. — have long held on the public square.
The rules of the game have changed but no one really knows what the rules are anymore. But one thing is sure: those who dwelled on the ideological edges of historic institutions, or whose thinking didn’t exactly align with them, are no longer forced to be a part of those organizations. They no longer serve as gatekeepers to influence, prosperity or change. The organizations will continue to hold major sway but a different type of sway, which will largely be determined by how they adapt.
This byproduct of the digital age is not exactly new. We have been in the wild, wild west of social media for at least a dozen years and three presidential elections, but what is different is that many of those historic organizations are now in once-in-a-generation leadership transitions, as baby boomers retire. I predict that many older millennials will jump their Generation X siblings in being selected for those positions. In the evangelical world alone, we have at least a dozen major evangelical universities and seminaries in transition as well as a historic magazine and digital publisher and many denominations and major associations.
Meanwhile, the digital age has allowed many influential leaders to start their own organizations without the benefit of the institutional history and lessons of those historic institutions. This is an uncollected variable that will produce ongoing disruption as all of these organizations run into each other in the public square when — comparatively speaking — people are as religious (or ideological) as ever.
I am paying particular attention to these effects in various religious communities outside the United States.
More practically speaking, in light of the unprecedented bipartisan efforts (and success) of the First Step Act, there will be other such efforts because there is now a bipartisan playbook for our divided moment. The First Step Act, a justice reform bill, was actually only the most public of several of these successes made possible by certain Democrats who believe “resistance” is un-American and of center-right evangelicals who believe in what the late theologians Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaefer called “co-belligerency." Conservative evangelicals advisers to the president were happy to work with CNN host Van Jones when he came on board to support the administration’s First Step Act, bringing a massive Democratic coalition to an evangelical effort supported by the majority of Republicans.
Meanwhile, I expect global interfaith efforts to continue to accelerate especially between Christians, Muslims and Jews, and those activities will also extend to the Hindu community in particular because of certain geo-political dynamics in South Asia. There will be byproducts of these efforts as well including the very real possibility that 2019 will likely be the year one or more majority-Muslim, and even Arab, countries — while remaining ever supportive of a Palestinian state — will decide that a resolution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is not a mandatory prerequisite for detente if not full-on diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
Evangelical influence will continue to grow, globally, as it is likely that evangelicalism will in 2019 officially become the second largest stream of global Christianity.
Also, despite whatever else is going on, Trump will continue to use his Republican majority in the Senate to stack the courts in the United States with originalist judges.
Moore is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders and an informal spokesperson for the evangelicals who advise the Trump administration.