It was a decade of turmoil, a decade of holy wars, of conflicts between church and state, of controversy over the roles of women and homosexuals in churches and synagogues.
It was a decade of turning inward, a decade that saw a surge of new cults and a resurgence of fundamentalist principles.
It was a decade of vivid scenes: 900 members of the People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, lying dead after their mass suicide; the shouting masses of Iran's new Muslim theocracy; Pope John Paul II winning the hearts -- if not always the minds -- of the thousands of Americans who turned out to see him.
Ecumenism -- so much a watchword of the 1960s -- appeared stalled in the 1970s; in fact, there were several denominational schisms. Yet Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras made great strides in healing the centuries-old division between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and their successors have continued to pursue the course they set.
The drive for women's rights spilled over into the churches, many of which have practices rooted in patriarchal ages. For the first time, there are women rabbis, admitted by Reform Judaism. The U.S. Episcopal Church, the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America and the Reformed Church in America all began ordaining women to the ministry.
The Vatican, meanwhile, issued a declaration in 1977 that women were ineligible for the priesthood because they did not resemble Christ, a stand later reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II.
The most dramatic drive to ordain women occurred in the U.S. Episcopal Church.
In 1974, 11 Episcopal women deacons were ordained in irregular ceremonies in Philadelphia. This was followed by irregular ordinations of four more women the following year in Washington, and led to the official acceptance of women priests by the Episcopal Church's in 1976 General Convention. But the convention action led, in turn, to a split by traditional "Anglo-Catholics" who formed a denomination called the Anglican Catholic Church.
Other major schisms in U.S. churches in the 1970s included a split by conservatives who left the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. in 1973 to form the Presyterian Church in America, and the exit of "moderates" from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in 1976 to form the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The Missouri Synod schism represented the first in modern times that left conservatives in control of the main church.
Theologians wrestled with issues that have divided churches for centuries. Lutherans and Roman Catholics issued joint statements on Peter (1973), papal primacy (1974), and papal infallibility (1978). There were Anglican-Catholic agreement on the Eucharist (1971), ministry (1973), and papal pirmacy (1977). Christian-Jewish relations were advanced through a growing number of symposiums on the Nazi Holocaust and its significance for Christianity, and a set of guidelines for joint worship drafted in 1979 by Reform Jews and an agency of the National Council of Churches.
The charismatic renewal, which began in the Catholic Church in the late 1960s, grew to influence all major churches in the 1970s. The movement may have peaked in 1977, when a conference in Kansas City, brought together charismatics from every theological tradition. At the end of the decade, charismatic rallies were drawing fewer people and the movement was becoming integrated into the denominations.
Inflation took its toil on churches in the 1970s, and while giving went up, expenses jumped further. U.S. missionary activity overseas suffered. The World Council of Churches, based in Geneva, and the Vatican reported severe financial difficulties. For the first time, the closely held secrets of Vatican finances were shared by the pope with the world's cardinals in an effort to increase support.
U.S. churches became sharply divided over the issue of abortion following the Supreme Court ruling of 1973 that legalized it. The "pro-life" movement emerged as a political, religious force that sought to elect its candidates, and press for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion.
The election of Jimmy Carter as president in 1976 led to greater public attention to the phenomenon of evangelical Protestantism.
Evangelicalism made news through the conversions of such public figures as Nixon White House aide Charles Colson and black radical Eldridge Cleaver, and the growth of Christian television in what came to be called the "electronic church." At the same time, some evangelicals began to become active in social-justice causes. The movement as a whole debated the issue of "biblical inerrancy," whether the Bible is without factual error. t
Attempts by the Internal Revenue Service to define what is a church raised church-state questions, as did bills in some state legislatures to attempt to define and regulate cults.
The Church of Scientology and the Unification Church made headlines in the 1970s. The Scientologists were involved in running battles with the federal government and nine leaders of the church were convicted and sentenced recently on conspiracy and other charges related to stealing government documents, infiltrating federal agencies and bugging meetings.
The Unification Church, founded in the 1950s in Korea by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was the subject of media exposes and numerous investigations on the federal and state levels.
The church was accused of everything from brainwashing young people to trying to exert political power in the United States.
The whole cult movement added a new word to the American language -- "deprogramming." Frustrated parents, convinced their children had been brainwashed, engaged self-styled deprogramming experts to kidnap their youngsters and convince them to see the error of their ways.
Terrorism marked the decade. The Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used terrorism to advance their aims in Ulster and the Middle East, and were criticized for doing so by most religious groups. In the case of the PLO, however, several Christian groups urged Israel to negotiate with moderate elements in the group as a means of achieving Middle East peace.
The World Council of Churches was sharply criticized by several of its member churches and others for making an $85,000 grant to the Patriotic Front movement in Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1978. United Methodist Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa enjoyed the support of many churches when he was fighting the Ian Smith regime in the first half of the decade. But when he joined in "internal settlement" government in 1978 and was elected prime minister the following year, some of his supporters turned against him. Agreement on a settlement to the guerrilla war was achieved recently.
Theocracies, a phenomenon not seen for centuries, took hold in the Muslim world in the 1970s. Iran became the most prominent example, but similar phenomena also occurred in Libya and Pakistan.
A Muslim, a Christain and a Jew -- Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, Jimmy Carter of the United States, and Menachem Begin of Israel -- negotiated a peace treaty that led to a formal state of peace between Israel and one of her Arab neighbors for the first time since the Jewish state was established in 1948.
At the same time, however, the 1970s saw the violent explosion of tensions between right-wing Maronite Catholics and Palestinian-backed Muslim leftists in Lebanon. Syrian intervention brought an uneasy end to the civil war in 1976, but Lebanon remained an occupied country at the end of the decade.
China opened up to the rest of the world in the 1970s, a process that was advanced by its admission into the United Nations in 1971 and the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976. An internal liberalization brought about by the Hua Kuo-feng regime allowed some religious groups to practice their faiths publicly, although missionaries do not foresee being able to return to that country.
Starving Cambodian refugees were aided by the religious groups around the world, as the groups had helped refugees in other parts of the Third World during the decade.
In a world looking for heroes, Pope John Paul II arrived on the scene in 1978 as a champion of human rights and a symbol of faith and love. The first pope from Poland, and the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years, he took office after Pope John Paul I died after a reign of one month.
Though personally, more charismatic than the late Pope Paul VI, whose era ended in 1978, the theologically conservative Polish pontiff began signaling that an era of experimentation in the church was over. The closing days of the year were marked by the Vatican's attempts to muzzle theologian Hans Kung.
The last years of Pope Paul's reign were marked by a battle with right-wing critic French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had denounced Vatican II reforms and defied a suspension order from the Vatican by publicly celebrating the Tridentine (Latin) Mass on several occasions. An anticipated confrontation with Pope Paul was averted by the pontiff's death.
Sexual ethics drew a good deal of attention in the Roman Catholic Church in the past decade. In 1976, a Vatican agency emphasized the church's condemnation of premarital sex, homosexual acts and masturbation. A similar approach was taken by the U.S. bishops in a pastoral letter. But the following year, a study sponsored by the Catholic Theological Society of America drew controversy for proposing that no sex act should be considered intrinsically evil. Such a view was again sternly rebuked by the Vatican as 1979 drew to an end.
Some influential figures in the world of religion died in the 1970s. They included theologians Rudolf Bultmann and Reinhold Niebuhr; Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston; Father Charles E. Coughlin, the fiery radio preacher of the 1930s; Lord Geoffrey Francis Fisher, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury; Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel; Archbishop Makarios, president of Cyprus; Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammed; Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, and famed preacher Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
At the end of the decade, 131 million -- or 60.3 percent of Americans -- were affiliated with traditional religious institutions, down from a peak of 64.3 percent in 1965 and 62.4 percent at the start of the 1970s.