EthicsDaily.com paid and volunteer writers produced more than 750 articles in 2005. They included news and feature stories; movie, book and music reviews; opinion columns and editorials. Here’s our review of some of the major stories we followed:
1. Natural disasters: The south Asia tsunami, which hit the day after Christmas last year, prompted an unprecedented outpouring of relief from charitable groups, including Baptists.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, one of the most powerful storms in the region in a half century. The storm revealed not only a lack of preparedness in the government’s response, but shone a light on problems of racism and poverty in America. Black religious leaders criticized a slow government response, while some fundamentalist preachers viewed the hurricane as God’s judgment on New Orleans’ sinful reputation. Franklin Graham, while not going as far as to say God sent the disaster, expressed hope it might spark a spiritual awakening.
An Oct. 8 earthquake flattened much of northern Pakistan, further stressing relief agencies and raising concerns of donor fatigue including, for Baptist leaders, concern that lowered yearend gifts might hurt December mission offerings.
2. Southern Baptists and public schools: A growing “Christian education” movement urging parents to remove children from public schools and either home-school them or put them in private Christian schools received a major boost. The Southern Baptist Convention in June adopted a resolution urging parents and churches to “diligently investigate” whether their local schools promote homosexuality and respond accordingly.
Most of the SBC leadership establishment opposed the resolution, fearing negative backlash from teachers and principals who belong to Baptist churches. One, however, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler, stepped forward with a column just prior to the annual meeting suggesting the time has come for responsible Christian parents to begin discussing an “exit strategy” from government-run schools.
3. Jimmy Carter and the Baptist World Alliance: The former U.S. president headlined the centennial Baptist World Congress in England, which met under a shadow of July 7 terrorist bombings of London’s mass-transit system.
Carter delivered with headlines by declaring detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba a “disgrace” to the United States and faulting the Southern Baptist Convention, which last year voted to leave the Baptist World Alliance, for discrimination against women in the church.
In a book that hit bookstores in November, Carter further criticized the Southern Baptist Convention as an example of a rising tide of fundamentalism, which he said threatens American values. SBC leaders reacted angrily.
4. The Religious Right: Receiving much credit for President Bush’s re-election in 2004, conservative evangelical leaders shifted efforts to stack the U.S. Supreme Court with “strict constructionist” justices, which they hope will result reversing Roe v. Wade and outlaw gay marriage.
Two “Justice Sunday” events warned against “activist” judges, which televangelist Pat Robertson said at one point posed a greater threat than terrorism. (Robertson also said the U.S. should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, setting off backlash against Western missionaries.)
The White House held conference calls with religious leaders to build support for Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers. James Dobson of Focus on the Family was nearly subpoenaed after suggesting he had inside information causing him to support her nomination. He was off the hook when she withdrew from consideration after failing to win full confidence of the religious right, despite endorsement by Southern Baptist leaders Richard Land and Rick Warren.
2005 was also the year Dobson made headlines for “outing” cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. Dobson reacted angrily to a column by EthicsDaily.com contributor Miguel De La Torre satirizing the flap. De La Torre soon left the faculty of Hope College in Holland, Mich., amid rumors that the school’s president forced him out over the Dobson column. He now teaches at Iliff School of Theology, a graduate theological school of the United Methodist Church located in Denver.
5. Homosexuality and the church: Homosexuality threatened to split the 1.4 million-member American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., as two regions announced plans to leave the denomination unless it takes a stronger stance against homosexuality. Conservative groups held meetings to discuss new ways to cooperate without sacrificing “theological essentials” like opposing gay marriage and homosexual ordination.
The Southern Baptist Convention, vocally anti-gay for a decade, called off its 1997 Disney boycott, based in part on company policies that benefit gays, just in time for focused marketing among evangelicals of a Disney/Walden Media film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, meanwhile, defended a decision to outsource campus maintenance to Sodexho, which affirms diversity, including recognition of homosexual employees. Seminary President Al Mohler told SBC messengers in June the seminary had little choice, because most large corporations today have gay-friendly policies. “The reality is if there were a corporation that had different policies that could give us these services, we would work with them,” Mohler said.
Other headlines include:
— Beginning of the criminal trial for former executives of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, accused of the largest affinity fraud in state history.
— A controversial Georgia bill that would require voters to show a photo ID, compared by black legislators to the poll tax that existed under Jim Crow, granted pre-clearance by the White House but blocked by a federal judge.
— A Dec. 20 ruling by a judge in Pennsylvania against teaching “intelligent design” in science classes in public schools, viewed as a major setback for the religious right and the second of the year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Ten Commandments displays were unconstitutional if intended as a religious message, but could be allowed in historical displays.
Deaths in 2005:
— Pope John Paul II, April 2 at age 84.
— Rosa Parks, 92, civil-rights pioneer, Oct. 24
— Adrian Rogers, SBC conservative leader, Nov. 15 at age 74.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.