Everyone says, Don’t make predictions, so I couldn’t resist. Of course, America has missed any real chance to celebrate the coming of the new millennium in a significant way as other people are doing around the world. We’ve been too busy worrying about Y2K, stocking up on cans of Spam, or booking ourselves into expensive Las Vegas parties awash with celebrities.
In England, every community received a grant to improve or create something new in their public common space to mark the millennium. We didn’t do anything like that in America.
We could have done so much more. The nation could have used the historic occasion to candidly acknowledge the deep injustices that attended the founding and formation of our country—Native American displacement and genocide, slavery, racial and gender discrimination, and labor exploitation—then gratefully celebrate progress made in civil rights and women’s enfranchisement and commit ourselves to fulfilling the promise of our democracy. We could have celebrated the richness of American literary, musical, and artistic expression by teaching young people to value books and culture over mindless materialism. Churches could have marked the 2000th birthday of Jesus by asking their members to examine seriously how his teachings might really be applied to our lives and society. Another missed American opportunity. Well, let’s at least make some predictions:
1. Faith in the new millennium will be defined much more by action than by doctrine.
2. At the same time, religious fundamentalism will continue to rise in the face of moral decline.
3. Bible study will continue to grow in popularity among a wide variety of people.
4. Prayer will be even more important than it is now.
5. The Religious Right will pass from the scene.
6. The secular Left will give up its hostility to religion and spirituality or die.
7. The Spice Girls won’t be remembered, and Martin Luther King Jr. will.
8. Family Values (meaning what’s good for parents and their kids) will be embraced by people across the political spectrum.
9. Women in leadership in every area of life will become a given.
10. Overcoming poverty will be the great moral issue as we enter the new millennium.
11. Dealing with the unfinished agenda of racism will be impossible to ignore in the face of increasing diversity.
12. Internet pornography will quietly undermine people’s lives and relationships, without any restraint.
13. Nelson Mandela’s stature will grow as a role model for moral integrity and spiritual discipline, while Bill Clinton will be quickly and gratefully forgotten.
14. Liberalism still won’t get the values questions right, and conservatism still won’t really care about poor people.
15. So a new option will emerge: conservative in personal values, radical for social justice.
16. A new alliance across political lines between parents of all stripes will take on the moral pollution of the culture by Hollywood, the Internet, and the corporate advertising world.
17. Old ecumenical structures will gradually dissolve in favor of new tables that bring together evangelicals, pentecostals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and the historic black churches.
18. The abortion rate will continue to decline as moral concern grows and practical alternatives spread.
19. The challenge of pluralism will replace the challenge of secularism as many diverse religious and spiritual traditions have to learn to live with one another.
20. Sexual restraint, fidelity, and integrity will make a comeback as the results of "sexual freedom" are rejected, by young and old alike.
21. More parents will choose good books over mindless and soulless television.
22. Those who don’t will produce children who are increasingly mindless and soulless.
23. The enormous and growing gap between the rich and the rest of us will finally be recognized as a real problem for democracy, shaking up our two-party politics (which are really only one party of the very rich and powerful).
24. The Jubilee 2000 campaign will succeed in eliminating unpayable Third World debt.
25. Nuclear weapons will become a big issue again, but the real question is whether anything will really be done about them until a city is incinerated.
26. Human rights will replace national sovereignty as the key international issue.
27. Wealthy countries will become inundated with immigrants unless the North/South economic divide is faced.
28. Billy Graham will be remembered with more respect than all the presidents he knew.
29. More and more affluent families will get off the pressure train and adopt more simple lifestyles.
30. More churches will throw their arms around at-risk kids, but it won’t be enough unless the whole society puts children first.
31. Faith-based organizations will become critical partners in forging new social policy.
32. The need for prophetic religion will grow.
33. More and more people will ask why we’re spending more for cosmetics, pet food, and ice cream than on making a decent and dignified life possible for the world’s poorest people.
34. Television will get worse.
35. Radio will become more and more important as an alternative media.
36. The Internet will further isolate the poor, and the Internet will help create greater democracy—raising the question of whether those two trends ultimately are reconcilable.
37. In the Catholic Church, we’ll have married and women priests, and the importance of lay and female leadership will continue to grow.
38. The churches finally will not divide over homosexuality.
39. The concept and discipline of the Sabbath will see a great comeback in the lives of overworked and overstressed people.
40. Violence will be a culture-wide issue, not just an inner-city problem.
41. Peacemaking and conflict resolution will be regarded among our most highly valued skills.
42. We will have to learn much more about forgiveness and reconciliation if we are to heal the violence.
43. Having fun will become more important.
44. Raising children will be seen as the most important thing.
45. Hope will be the most essential ingredient for social change.
An Open Letter to Jesse Ventura
You and I have never met; we’ve lived in different worlds. I’ve never been a biker or boa-feathered wrestler. And you, I’ll guess, have never led a prayer meeting. But you’ve been preaching a lot of sermons lately. Even one on religion, in Playboy magazine no less! I read the interview and thought I’d write to straighten out some of your misunderstandings, just to be helpful. There’s probably a lot you don’t know about religious people, but now that you’re governor you’ll want to find out.
You said, "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers...." Well, you’ve got a point if you mean those who just go to Sunday services and treat it like a nice club. But there are quite a few religious folks who try to live their faith between Sundays, 24/7 as they say.
First, you might want to visit your own inner-city pastors in Minnesota. I know a lot of them, and they’re pretty tough minded, even though they’ve got big hearts. You see, they live and work in urban war zones where one has to demonstrate the love of God and not just talk about it. I’ve seen you wrestler guys strut around the ring, but I doubt if many of you would make it in a neighborhood like mine. Anyway, I’ve been with some of your pastors at gang peace summits, no place for the weak-minded, and they could teach you some stuff.
I’m sure you’ve already been reminded about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who were pretty tough. Just ask the Southern governors or the British. I remember watching South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu face down armed security police inside his cathedral in Cape Town. And did you know Nelson Mandela, who was probably the strongest political leader on the planet, is a religious man?
I wish you could meet my friends Daniel and Phillip Berrigan. They’re Catholic priests who’ve been fighting against nuclear weapons for decades and have spent years in jail for their often lonely protests. I guess they don’t need strength in numbers. Ever spent any time in jail, Jesse, I mean for doing something right? Lots of us religious folks have.
Most of the people I’m thinking of are not famous. I also know the streets of Olongapo in the Philippines—you know, that place you said you had fun with young girls. What you probably didn’t know was that they were poor, rural girls lured into prostitution with the promise of urban jobs. They became virtual sex slaves, drugged and forced to live in barracks-like quarters for the profit of businessmen. I’ve walked those streets with a Mennonite relief worker who helped the girls overcome their addictions and diseases. You can imagine how tough-minded a person has to be to open a shelter for the girls and take on the pimps. You wouldn’t want to cross her, Jesse.
Many of the folks I wish you could meet are close to home, in neighborhoods all over the country. They take in refugee families, run homeless shelters and soup kitchens, mentor at-risk kids, and walk alongside poor families making the transition from welfare to work.
I suspect you’re the kind of stand-up guy who would want to know when you got it wrong. So I thought I’d drop you a line. Hope I’ve been helpful. Maybe we could arm wrestle some time.
Welcome Our New Executive Editor, David Batstone
David Batstone, a longtime friend and regular writer for Sojourners, will head up SojoNet, our new multimedia network (more on that later), beginning with an e-mail list. David brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the job: He’s the co-founder of the internationally acclaimed educational Web site, Globalcafe.com, and founding editor-at-large of Business 2.0 magazine, as well as the author of five books, including The Good Citizen. (Note his article on business ethics)
JIM WALLIS is editor-in-chief of Sojourners. A portion of this column appeared on the MSNBC Web site.