Christianity in the 21st century

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Trinity Church, Antarctica, a 15m-high siberian pine Russian Orthodox church that can accommodate up to 30 worshipers. It opened in 2004, and it is manned year-around by Orthodox hieromonk priests volunteering for the Antarctic assignment.

Christianity in the 21st century is characterized by the pursuit of Church unity and the continued resistance to persecution, and secularization.

Catholic Church[edit]

The Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń, a shrine to Our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of Poland, completed in 2004
Basco Cathedral in the Philippines, rebuilt in 2011 after being badly damaged in a July 2000 earthquake

Benedict XVI[edit]

With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, there was decentralized beatifications and reverted a decision of John Paul II regarding papal elections.[1] Benedict XVI advocated a return to fundamental Christian values to counter the increased secularisation of many Western countries. He taught the importance of both the Catholic Church and an understanding of God's redemptive love.[2] Pope Benedict also revived a number of traditions, including elevating the Tridentine Mass to a more prominent position.[3] He strengthened the relationship between the Catholic Church and art, promoted the use of Latin,[4] and reintroduced traditional papal garments, for which reason he was called "the pope of aesthetics".[5]

Pope Benedict issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass without first having to receive permission from their local ordinary, and the Anglicanorum coetibus, which authorized the establishment of personal ordinariates to allow former Anglican parishes to enter the Catholic fold while retaining some elements of their Anglican heritage and liturgical traditions.

Major lawsuits emerged in 2001, during the pontificate of John Paul II, claiming that priests had sexually abused minors.[6] As a cardinal, Benedict convinced John Paul II to put his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in charge of all investigations and policies surrounding sexual abuse in order to combat such abuse more efficiently.[7] In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI removed Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel from active ministry based on the results of an investigation that he had started while head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, before his election as Pope in April 2005. Maciel was ordered "to conduct a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry."[8] As pope, Benedict defrocked at least 400 priests.[9]


Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, he has displayed a simpler and less formal approach to the office, choosing to reside in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal residence.[10] Following the resignation of Benedict, Francis became the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere.[11]

On 18 June 2015, Francis released his encyclical Laudato si', in which he critiqued consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming, and calls all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action."[12]

Since 2016, Francis has faced increasingly open criticism, particularly from theological conservatives, on the question of admitting civilly divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion with the publication of Amoris Laetitia, and on the question of alleged systematic cover up of clergy sexual abuse.

Among Francis's most notable critics is Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò a former apostolic nuncio who claimed in an open letter that Francis "knew from at least June 23, 2013 that Theodore McCarrick was a serial predator. He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end." [13] McCarrick submitted his resignation from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, which was quickly accepted by Francis.[14] Francis ordered McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance until a canonical trial could be held.[15] After a church investigation and trial, he was found guilty of sexual crimes against adults and minors and abuse of power, and was dismissed from the clergy in February 2019.[16] McCarrick is the most senior church official in modern times to be laicized – commonly referred to as defrocking – and is believed to be the first cardinal ever laicized for sexual misconduct.

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in New York City, currently under construction after the original church was destroyed in the September 11 attacks

After the fall of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demanded that Assyrian Christians living in the city convert to Islam, pay tribute, or face execution, by 19 July 2014.[17][18][19][20][21] Al-Baghdadi further noted that Christians who do not agree to follow those terms must "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate" within a specified deadline.[20][21] This resulted in a complete Assyrian Christian exodus from Mosul, marking the end of 1,600 years of continuous Christian presence.[22] A church mass was not held in Mosul for the first time in 1,800 years.[23] On 9 July 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi arrived in preparation to announce the full liberation of Mosul and reclaim the city after three years of ISIL control.[24]

The Pan-Orthodox Council, officially styled the Holy and Great Synod, opened at Crete, on 19 June 2016. The 10 Churches that sent representatives to Crete were the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Orthodox Churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Poland, Albania, Cyprus and the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Of the 14 national Orthodox churches, four did not attend the event, including the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, as well as the Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Council concluded on 26 June 2016, the Sunday of All Saints, with a Patriarchal Concelebration.

2018 Moscow–Constantinople schism[edit]

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (left) handing the tomos of autocephaly to Metropolitan Epiphanius (right), January 6, 2019

On 11 October 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople announced it would grant autocephaly to the "Church of Ukraine" thus separating it from the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.[25] Four days later, the Moscow Patriarchate broke the communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople over the latter's endorsement of the Ukrainian Orthodox church's autocephaly.[26][27] The decision was made following a meeting of the Russian Holy Synod in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Metropolitan Hilarion announced that the Moscow Patriarchate had taken the decision to "rupture full communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate",[28] meaning that priests from the two churches will not be able to serve together while worshippers of one cannot take communion in the other.[29]

Two months later, on 15 December 2018, a unification council was convoked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople at St Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, during which the Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and parts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) were united into a single church: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.[30] Metropolitan Epiphanius was elected the first Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the newly unified Ukrainian church.[31] Patriarch Kirill of Moscow denounced the new Ukrainian Church as "a union of two schismatic groups."[32]

On 5 January 2019, Patriarch Bartholomew signed a tomos officially granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The tomos was signed at St. George's Cathedral in the presence of Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, and was presented to Metropolitan Epiphanius to be brought to Kiev in time for Christmas, the first liturgy celebrated by the united Ukrainian Orthodox Church.[33][32]


Mars Hill Church, part of the emerging church movement, closed in 2015


Postmodern Christianity has influenced the emerging church movement, with proponents challenging the mainstream Christianity on issues such as: institutional structures, systematic theology, propositional teaching methods, a perceived preoccupation with buildings, an attractional understanding of mission, professional clergy, and a perceived preoccupation with the political process and unhelpful jargon ("Christian-ese").[34]

Mark Driscoll, a leader in the emerging church movement, had more than 12,000 followers at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington before controversy led to Driscoll's resignation in 2014 and Mars Hill's dissolution.[35][36] Like other churches in the emerging church movement, Mars Hill combined alternative worship with Calvinist theology. In 2015, not without controversy, a video featuring Driscoll was featured at a Hillsong Church conference in Sydney, Australia.[37] Hillsong Church is a megachurch, founded in 1983, that has grown to over 100,000 followers.[38] Their 2013 song "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" was released and spent 61 weeks atop the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart, longer than any other song.[39]

Globally, megachurches are a significant development in Protestant Christianity.[40] In the United States, the phenomenon has more than quadrupled in the past two decades.[41] It has since spread worldwide. In 2007, five of the ten largest Protestant churches were in South Korea.[42] The largest megachurch in the United States is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas with more than 40,000 members every weekend and the current largest megachurch in the world is South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, an Assemblies of God church, with more than 830,000 members as of 2007.[42][43]

Anglican Communion[edit]

Holy Trinity Anglican Church, an ANCA church built in 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina

One month prior to the Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of Anglican Communion bishops, a seven-day conference of conservative Anglican bishops and leaders held in Jerusalem from 22 to 29 June 2008 to address the growing controversy of the divisions in the Anglican Communion, the rise of secularism, as well as concerns with HIV/AIDS and poverty. As a result of the conference, the Jerusalem Declaration was issued and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans was created. The conference participants also called for the creation of the Anglican Church in North America (ANCA), as an alternative to the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, and declared that recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury is not necessary to Anglican identity.[44] Follow-up conferences have been held every five years since 2008.

The conventions of four dioceses of the Episcopal Church voted in 2007 and 2008 to leave that church and to join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America. Twelve other jurisdictions, serving an estimated 100,000 persons at that time, formed the ACNA on December 3–4, 2008. The ACNA is seeking official recognition as a province within the Anglican Communion.[45] The Anglican Church of Nigeria declared itself in communion with the new church in March 2009 and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans recognized it as well.[46][47] In June 2009, the Anglican Church of Uganda also declared itself in full communion with ACNA, and the Anglican Church of Sudan followed suit in December 2011.[48][49]

Two of the major events which contributed to the Anglican realignment were the 2002 decision of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada to authorise a rite of blessing for same-sex unions, and the nomination of two openly gay priests in 2003 to become bishops. Jeffrey John, an openly gay priest with a long-time partner, was appointed to be the next Bishop of Reading in the Church of England and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church ratified the election of Gene Robinson, an openly[50] gay non-celibate[51] man, as Bishop of New Hampshire. Jeffrey John ultimately declined the appointment due to pressure.

United Methodist Church[edit]

Like many other mainline Protestant denominations in the United States, the United Methodist Church has experienced significant membership losses in recent decades. By the opening of the 2008 General Conference, total UMC membership was estimated at 11.4 million, with about 7.9 million in the US and 3.5 million overseas. Significantly, about 20 percent of the conference delegates were from Africa, with Filipinos and Europeans making up another 10 percent.[52] During the conference, the delegates voted to finalize the induction of the Methodist Church of the Ivory Coast and its 700,000 members into the denomination.[52] One Congolese bishop has estimated that typical Sunday attendance of the UMC is higher in his country than in the entire United States.[52]

Given current trends in the UMC, with overseas churches growing, especially in Africa, and US churches collectively losing about 1,000 members a week,[52] American influence on the UMC is declining. In February 2019, a Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church was held in St. Louis, Missouri, to examine church teachings on human sexuality. While most American delegates at the General Conference supported the One Church Plan, a resolution that would have made the UMC open and affirming on LGBT issues, allowing individual conferences to allow same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy, the resolution failed. In its place, the Traditional Plan, opposed by most American delegates but supported by the African delegates, was passed by the conference. Pending approval from the UMC Judicial Council in April 2019, the Traditional Plan reaffirms traditional teachings on sexuality, will penalize UMC clergy who conduct same-sex marriages or ordain openly gay clergy beginning in 2020.[53]

Some conferences have allowed both same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy for years. One conference in the American Southwest has a lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto. It is unknown how these clergy will be affected by the rule change. A similar General Conference decision in 1984 led to the early retirement of some openly gay clergy, including Paul Abels.[54] Many progressive clergy have vowed to ignore the new rules if and when they come into effect, and many clergy and congregations are openly contemplating the idea of a schism within the United Methodist Church.[55]

Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]

St. Giragos Armenian Church in Turkey, restored and reopened in 2011 and reconfiscated by the Turkish government in 2016

Armenian Church[edit]

The construction of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh began in 2006.[56]

In October 2013 Father Asoghik Karapetyan, the director of the Museum of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, stated on television that an atheist Armenian is not a "true Armenian". A spokesperson for the Armenian Apostolic Church stated that it is his personal view.[57] The statement received considerable criticism,[58] though Asoghik did not retract his statement.[59] In an editorial in the liberal Aravot daily Aram Abrahamyan suggested that religious identity should not be equated with national (ethnic) identity and it is up to every individual to decide whether they are Armenian or not, regardless of religion.[60] According to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center, in Armenia 82% of respondents say it is very or somewhat important to be a Christian to be truly Armenian.[61]

On 23 April 2015, the Armenian Apostolic Church canonized all of the victims of the Armenian Genocide as martyrs, which began a hundred years prior to the following day on 24 April 1915; this service is believed to be the largest canonization service in history.[62][63][64] It was the first canonization by the Armenian Apostolic Church in four hundred years.[65]

On 25 September 2017, a deaconess was consecrated in the Tehran Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the first Armenian deaconess in a hundred years.[66]

Coptic Church[edit]

Cathedral of the Nativity in Cairo, the largest church in the Middle East, consecrated in 2019

In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Wednesday 2 February 2011, Coptic Christians joined hands to provide a protective cordon around their Muslim neighbors during salat (prayers) in the midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.[67]

On 17 March 2012, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Pope Shenouda III died, leaving many Copts mourning and worrying as tensions rose with Muslims. Pope Shenouda III constantly met with Muslim leaders in order to create peace. Many were worried about Muslims controlling Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood won 70% of the parliamentary elections.[68][69] Pope Tawadros II was chosen to replace him on 4 November 2012.

In February 2015, twenty-one Coptic Christians were kidnapped and beheaded in Libya by ISIS insurgents. Six days later, they were canonized as martyrs by Pope Tawadros II.[70]

In January 2017, following twin terrorist attacks that killed at least 27 Coptic Egyptians at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo in December 2016, the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi commissioned the construction of the country’s largest mosque and church in the new administrative capital to become symbols of coexistence and national unity.[71] For decades, the building of churches in Egypt was restricted to avoid offending Islam. The Cathedral of the Nativity in Cairo was inaugurated on 6 January 2019 by President el-Sisi and Pope Tawadros II.[72] On the same day of the inauguration, Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the chapel of the cathedral with the participation of some 3,000 people that included representatives from all over the country.[73][74]

Ethiopian Church[edit]

Patriarch Abune Paulos died on 16 August 2012, followed four days later by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.[75] On 28 February 2013, a college of electors assembled in Addis Ababa and elected Abune Mathias to be the 6th Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.[76]

On 25 July 2018, delegates from the Patriarchate in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and those in the United States, declared reunification in Washington, D.C., with the assistance of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.[77] Declaring the end of a 26 year old schism, which began in 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front seized power in Ethiopia and exiled the patriarch, the Church announced that it now acknowledges two patriarchs: His Holiness Abune Merkorios, the 4th Patriarch of Ethiopia, and His Holiness Abune Mathias, the 6th Patriarch of Ethiopia.

Eritrean Church[edit]

The first Patriarch of the newly independent Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Phillipos, died in 2002 and was succeeded by Abune Yacob. The reign of Abune Yacob as Patriarch of Eritrea was very brief as he died not long after his enthronement, and he was succeeded by Abune Antonios as the 3rd Patriarch of Eritrea. Abune Antonios was elected on 5 March 2004, and enthroned as the third Patriarch of Eritrea on 24 April 2004. Coptic Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria presided at the ceremony in Asmara, together with the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and a Coptic Orthodox Church delegation.

In August 2005, Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, was confined to a strictly ceremonial role. In a letter dated 13 January 2006, Patriarch Abune Antonios was informed that following several sessions of the church's Holy Synod, he had been formally deposed. In a written response that was widely published, the Patriarch rejected the grounds of his dismissal, questioned the legitimacy of the synod, and excommunicated two signatories to the 13 January 2006 letter, including Yoftahe Dimetros, whom the Patriarch identified as being responsible for the church's recent upheavals. Patriarch Antonios also appealed his case to the Council of the Monasteries of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Abune Antonios was deposed by the Eritrean Holy Synod[78] supposedly under pressure from the Eritrean government and he remains under house arrest.[79] Abuna Antonios was replaced by Abune Dioskoros as the 4th Patriarch of Eritrea. Many believe that Abune Antonios was wrongly deposed and still consider him Patriarch. Many Eritrean Orthodox followers disagree with the Eritrean government making decisions in religious matters.[80] The ruling Patriarch Abuna Dioskoros died on 21 December 2015.[81] No successor has been elected to date and the seat of the patriarchate remains sede vacante.

Ecumenical dialogue[edit]


In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches, making re-baptisms unnecessary, and to recognize the sacrament of marriage as celebrated by the other.[82]

There was the Patriarch's partial participation in the Eucharistic liturgy; full participation in the liturgy of the Word, joint proclamation of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek, and as the conclusion, the final Blessing imparted by both the Pope and the Patriarch.[83]


Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

In June 2004, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I's visit to Rome afforded a meeting with Pope John Paul II, for conversations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and for taking part in the celebration for the feast day in St. Peter's Basilica.

The Ravenna Document in 2007 re-stated the notion that the bishop of Rome is indeed the protos, although future discussions are to be held on the concrete ecclesiological exercise of papal primacy.

Patriarch Bartholomew attended the Papal inauguration of Pope Francis on 19 March 2013, paving the way for better Catholic–Orthodox relations. It was the first time that the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodox Christians had attended a papal inauguration since the Great Schism in 1054.[84][85] After, he invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land in 2014 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI.

On 12 February 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met in a VIP room at José Martí International Airport near Havana, Cuba. Francis arrived at 2 pm local time, and the two leaders embraced and kissed.[86] A 2-hour private meeting was followed by the signing of a joint declaration, which had been prepared in advance.[87] The 30-point declaration contained a joint call by the two church primates for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and to wars in the region, expressing their hope that the meeting might contribute to the re-establishment of Christian unity between the two churches. A range of other issues are mentioned in the declaration, including atheism, secularism, consumerism, migrants and refugees, the importance of marriage and the family, and concerns relating to abortion and euthanasia.[88]


Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs in Gyumri, Armenia, an Armenian Catholic cathedral dedicated in 2015 to the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide

On 12 April 2015, on Divine Mercy Sunday, during a Mass for the centennial of the Armenian Genocide at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis officially proclaimed Saint Gregory of Narek as Doctor of the Church in attendance of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I, and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni.[89] He became the 36th and the first Armenian Doctor of the Church.[90] He is also the only Doctor "who was not in communion with the Catholic Church during his lifetime."[91]

Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs (Armenian: Սրբոց Նահատակաց եկեղեցի) in Gyumri, Armenia, the cathedral for the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate for Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and Eastern Europe was consecrated by Krikor Bedros XX Gabroyan, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, on 24 September 2015. The ceremony was held as part of the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. The cathedral is named "Holy Martyrs" in memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide, as the Armenian Apostolic Church canonized them as martyrs.[92][93] On 25 June 2016, Pope Francis, accompanied by Catholicos Karekin II, visited the cathedral.

On 26 June 2016, Catholicos Karekin II and Pope Francis signed a joint declaration on the family. It stated that the secularization of society and its "alienation from the spiritual and divine" are damaging to the family, and affirmed that the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches share a marriage–based view of the family. The declaration also took note of various positive steps taken towards unity between the two leaders' churches, and "acknowledged the successful 'new phase' in relations" between them. It also lamented "immense tragedy" of the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East; the Pope and the Catholicos prayed "for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence".[94]


In 2016, on the 499th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis travelled to Sweden (where the Lutheran Church is the national Church) to commemorate the Reformation at Lund Cathedral, which serves as the seat for the Lutheran Bishop of Lund.[95] An official press release from the Holy See stated:[96]

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Roman Catholic Church joint event will highlight the 50 years of continuous ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts of this collaboration. The Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation is structured around the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness. The aim is to express the gifts of the Reformation and ask forgiveness for division perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions.[96]

An ecumenical service was presided over by Munib Younan, the president of the Lutheran World Federation, Martin Junge, the General Secretary of the LWF, as well as Pope Francis.[97] Representatives from the Anglican Communion, Baptist World Alliance, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Salvation Army also participated in the predominantly Lutheran and Roman Catholic event.[98] Pope Francis, in a joint statement with Munib Younan, stated that "With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give a greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church's life".[99]


On 28 April 2017, Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros ll agreed that they would not require re-baptism for Roman Catholics who seek to join the Coptic Orthodox Church, and vice versa. The Roman Catholic Church baptizes by sprinkling and the Coptic Orthodox Church baptizes by immersion, but this declaration opens the way for the two churches to recognize each other's baptism sacrament.[100]


21st century timeline

See also[edit]


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