At the start of 1999, it appeared the millennial hoopla over apocalyptic end-time scenarios drawn from the Book of Revelation might dominate the year's religion news. But by year's end, such theologically inspired scenarios largely had been shelved.
It was an ostensibly secular event--war--that prompted perhaps the year's most extensive religious reflection. The ethnic cleansing of mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians by Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo, and NATO'S 78-day bombing campaign to end the practice, initiated a widespread debate on how to apply the Christian just war theory in modern conflicts and the permissibility of armed humanitarian intervention in another country's internal affairs.
The debate continued with the autumn United Nations involvement in the Indonesia-controlled territory of largely Catholic East Timor after the Timorese voted for independence from the world's largest Muslim nation. As the year wound down, Pope John Paul II, in his World Day of Peace message, gave moral support to the use of force by outside institutions to protect civilians in such conflicts.
Christian minorities also found themselves in conflict with non-Christian majorities in other parts of Indonesia and in Pakistan and India. The pope, in a trip to India, eloquently pleaded for religious peace and denied charges Christians were involved in coercive efforts to convert Hindus to Christianity.
The April shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where one of those killed was a student allegedly shot after she said she was a Christian, and the September shootings at a youth rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tex., led some evangelical leaders to ponder whether persecution of Christians had come home to America. Other news:
* Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders met in Augsburg, Germany, to sign a historic accord on the doctrine of justification that had divided the two faiths since the Reformation. Lutherans also agreed, at their August Churchwide Assembly, to enter in full communion with the Episcopal Church.
* John Paul made ecumenical history by being the first pope to visit predominantly Christian Orthodox nations, with visits to Romania and Georgia. But at the end of the year, he acknowledged one of his disappointments was that Catholic-Orthodox relations had not made more progress.
* Catholic-Jewish relations, which have made great strides under John Paul, hit a bumpy patch in 1999 with a highly public debate over the role of the church, especially Pope Pius XII, during the Holocaust.
* The once-powerful Christian Coalition experienced a year of woe, including the departure of its top leadership, turmoil in its staff and a diminished influence on Republican Party politics.
* Internal strife dominated the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. In a potentially far-reaching event, a rebellion by lay members of the church, organized largely through the Internet, forced the replacement of the unpopular Archbishop Spyridon by Archbishop Demetrios.
* The volatile debate over human sexuality engulfed a number of denominations. United Methodists defrocked the Rev. Jimmy Creech and suspended the Rev. Gregory Dell from the ministry for participating in same-sex union ceremonies.
The Vatican ordered a Roman Catholic priest and nun, the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, to end their ministry with homosexuals. At least two Southern Baptist congregations were suspended from their state associations for taking pro-gay stands.