As we enter a new year, what should Americans expect in the areas of religion, social ethics, and public policy? Recent developments in many of these areas promise further change in 1988. CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked a number of experts to assess these trends and forecast their impact on the year ahead.

Overseas Missions

Trends such as an increase in “tent-making” and short-term missionaries will continue in 1988, said Wade Coggins, executive director of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. But he says these new missionaries have not replaced career missionaries, who continue their work with national churches overseas.

“The most significant new development,” Coggins added, “is the growth of missionary endeavors originating in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” He cited as an example the COMIBAM movement, a major missions-related thrust involving churches throughout Latin America. The movement exists primarily to introduce and develop the concept of cross-cultural missions among Latin American Christians.

The Black Church

Black Christians are assuming leadership in a number of areas. The prolife organization Black Americans for Life celebrated its first anniversary this year. The group, formed primarily to enlist blacks in the prolife movement, grew to 3,000 members in 40 states. In 1988, an expected 1,500 black Christians will gather for Atlanta ’88, a major conference on evangelizing black America.

Social Justice

James Skillen, head of the Washington, D.C. based Association for Public Justice, believes little will happen next year in the area of social justice, at least on the legislative front. One reason for this, he said, is that the Reagan administration is entering its final year.

Skillen cited welfare reform as a likely exception to his prediction, saying such reform will mean a smaller federal budget for social spending. Further, he said, the system is moving away from rewarding dependency, and toward offering employment to the poor.

The Persecuted Church

For many years, the Jewish community has been well organized and relatively effective in its efforts to speak out on behalf of Jewish believers in the Soviet Union. Until this year, however, a similar, unified voice speaking on behalf of Soviet Christians was nonexistent. But the Coalition for Solidarity with Christians in the U.S.S.R., consisting of 17 organizations representing various denominational and ethnic backgrounds, has emerged as a viable voice in the human-rights arena.

“In 1988,” said coalition chairman Kent Hill, “the big question is, ‘How deep is glasnosl [openness] as it relates to religious believers in the Soviet Union?’ ” Hill said Soviet experts will be watching with great interest to see if Soviet laws, such as those allowing only antireligious propaganda, will be changed.

In other parts of the world, Christians (especially Catholics) in the African nation of Burundi are enjoying more religious freedom under that country’s new government. And Hill said much attention in 1988 will be focused on Nicaragua, as believers there are likely to test the extent to which they can oppose the government while still retaining religious freedom.

World Hunger

Although the percentage of hungry people worldwide has declined in recent decades, there are more hungry people in the world today than there were in 1970. The public policy organization Bread for the World (BFW) expressed concern that U.S. government contributions to Third World development programs have declined in recent years, while contributions to military efforts in underdeveloped nations have increased.

BFW’S Kraig Klaudt cited the most pressing international hunger issues in the coming year as “avoiding military solutions to international problems, increasing development assistance to small-scale projects, and easing Third World debt burdens.” He cited the African nations of Ethiopia and Mozambique, both afflicted by civil war, as priorities.

The Prolife Movement

The battle over whether prochoice family-planning organizations should receive federal funds will heat up in 1988, predicts Ronald Sider, executive director of a Christian political action committee known as JustLife. Sider said he expects regulations issued by President Reagan denying government funds to prochoice groups to be challenged in court. He added that next year, Planned Parenthood will likely challenge the current U.S. policy of reducing overseas aid to groups that include abortion in their family-planning programs.

Sider predicted that in 1988, proponents of euthanasia will obtain enough signatures to place a referendum on the California ballot on the issue of legalizing lethal injections for terminally ill patients. Sider said that during 1988, JustLife, which links the issues of abortion, nuclear arms, and justice for the poor, will intensify its efforts to “extend the concern for the sanctity of human life beyond the narrow boundaries of the traditional prolife movement.”

Church And State

Most of the debate involving church and state will take place in the courts, according to Stan Hastey, associate executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a New Jersey law that allows a moment of silence in public schools. The ruling will have implications for more than 20 states with similar statutes.

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