Three things to watch in 2009

The late sportscaster Skip Carey had the same response to any question involving speculation about the outcome of a yet-to-occur competition: “That’s why they play the game.”

Yet speculation is not soothsaying (that suggests one can see into the future clearly) but using current information to gain a little insight into what may be around the corner.

While we do not know how 2009 will play out, there are some areas in which news is likely to be made. Three are on my radar as we move into a new year.

One is the impact of a weak economy on churches, charities and other not-for-profit organizations. Already we are hearing of organizational downsizing and program cuts from seminaries, para-church groups and variety of church-related organizations across the theological spectrum.

Most ministries will learn to do more with less. Some, however, may even disappear.

Christian stewardship will be tested during the coming year. “Sacrificial giving” will take on a greater meaning.

Two, religious access to political power will change dramatically on Jan. 20. An eight-year political alliance between the Oval Office and spokesmen for the Religious Right will end.

The inclusion of frumpy, compassionate, conservative, creative Rick Warren and straight-talking, civil rights veteran Joseph Lowery in the inaugural ceremony signals a broader reach. Fewer (or at least different) preachers will be able to begin their sermons with: “During my phone call with the White House this week…”

Three, homosexuality is not going away. It will (sadly) be one of the most divisive issues within and without the church in 2009.

Some denominational groups are being pulled apart at the seams by this moral and ethical issue. Opposing forces are now entrenched for battle.

In one corner are those who see homosexuality as a basic human rights issue calling for full equal treatment. In the other corner are those who see efforts to legalize same-sex unions as a threat to the institution of marriage and perhaps even civilization.

In the middle are a lot of people getting beaten up while trying to referee. They struggle against great odds with the hope that these two groups with varying theological viewpoints can somehow reach civil disagreement and respect for the other’s opinion before carnage results.

This issue will not be settled in 2009, but it will demand a lot of time and energy in both the religious and secular political spheres.

There are many other places to cast an eye during the New Year. Some we can predict; others will catch us by surprise.

But look for these three to play out in congregations, conventions and communities near you.

Skip was right. We have to let the game reach the final out before we really know the answers. But future-casting is not always futile — and can be even helpful.

Ultimately, the legendary Corrie ten Boom’s advice is even better. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s what this Christmas season is about: The God made known.


  1. Three things to monitor from my perspective.
    There is a statewide Library committee in Alabama that has an interesting makeup I find fascinating and will keep an eye on in 09; kind of a bellwether, a thermometer to see if the state makes sense at all.
    2)A QB for Auburn; and concomitantly if SEC Commissioners will encourage SEC players to explore what Obama means for the evolution of Southern politics off a Jesse Helms/Lee Atwater strategy.
    3) Anne Graham Lotz, Ginny Brant, Wade Burleson, Truett Cathy and the Baptist World Alliance.
    If they show movement and conviction on BWA in 09 will be an indicator, a tag on whether Obama’s hope for a centered America has real chance.

  2. The Second Wave of the National Congregations Study (just released) indicates only 2% of churches reporting conflict over homosexuality.

  3. Gene-
    Right now homosexuality is a much more divisive issue in denominational life as evident among Episcopalians and American Baptists, for example. But I do believe it will become a significant issue in many more congregations in the near future.
    It is also an issue with different generational perspectives that play out as leadership evolves.

  4. The sparseness of conflict at the congregational level is still an interesting contrast. For instance, the denominational level must be considering what they will do with churches that haven’t yet done anything regarding the issue.

  5. Good point, Gene. And in some denominational structures (where ministers create policies that guide all related congregations), the opinions in pews are not always reflected by the clergy.

  6.“ REL=”nofollow”>Baptist Planet seems to have looked at the data to which Gene pointed and argued that most church members are preoccupied with issues other than the culture wars, thus dooming the zealotry to which you allude, John.

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