Southern Baptists’ departure from the Baptist World Alliance, election-year politics and a movie about Jesus’ final hours topped an editors’ ranking of the year’s top news stories on

1. Southern Baptist Convention Pulls Out of Baptist World Alliance. While a study group last December cited liberalism and anti-Americanism in its recommendation to sever ties with the BWA, many viewed granting membership to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as the real reason for the schism.

An SBC leader said from the platform at the convention that another reason was that American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., a BWA member, supported gay marriage, a charge that American Baptist leaders strongly denied.

2. Faith and Politics. Evangelical Christians divided into blue and red churches as Democrats urged candidates to incorporate more religious language into their campaigns, while the GOP reached out to religious voters in unprecedented ways.

Republicans were criticized for requesting church directories and help in identifying Bush-friendly congregations. Southern Baptists launched their first-ever voter registration and education campaign. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reported Baptist pastors Jerry Falwell and Ronnie Floyd to the IRS for what AU called endorsements of candidates prohibited under rules for tax-exempt non-profits.

Evangelicals gave moral issues high priority in exit polls, and pundits said ballot initiatives in several states on banning gay marriage helped turn out the conservative vote that helped President Bush win re-election. Social progressives protested that morality is a broader term than opposition to abortion and homosexuality and vowed to bear the standard against other issues like war and poverty.

3. “The Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson marketed his controversial film to Christians through hand-picked screenings and group ticket sales to churches. Jewish groups protested anti-Semitic images, while other critics said violence was over the top. reviewed the movie by citing elements of the story drawn from extra-biblical Catholic tradition and questioned why conservative Bible-believing viewers weren’t troubled by departure from Scripture.

4. Christians and Public Schools. The Southern Baptist Convention declined to vote on a proposed resolution on removing kids from public schools and decrying public education as anti-Christian and “officially Godless.” The Christian-education movement gained momentum, however, as the Missouri Baptist Convention adopted a resolution warning against secularism and a new organization formed for support of Southern Baptist home-schoolers. The leader of another organization for church-based Christian schools said in December that he expects the day will come when the majority of Southern Baptist children do not attend public schools.

5. Realignment in Baptist State Conventions:

–Moderates in North Carolina met to consider distancing themselves from their Baptist state convention, now under conservative control.

–Kentucky elected an identified conservative as president in a setback for moderates, along with rejecting a proposed study on continuing a relationship with the Baptist World Alliance.

–Tennessee Baptists launched an investigation into teaching at Baptist schools, following complaints that most religion teachers at Carson-Newman College aren’t inerrantists and all members of the biology faculty are “theistic evolutionists.”

–Missouri Baptist leaders continued to pursue their lawsuit against five breakaway agencies despite a legal setback. Proposed purchase of the Missouri Baptist Building to build a new county jail sparked controversy when an opponent said the County Commission broke the state’s Sunshine Law by approving a contract in secret. The managing editor of the state Baptist newspaper was reportedly fired for reporting details of the sale, unknowingly violating a pledge to keep the contract quiet to allow commissioners time to negotiate with neighboring property owners.

6. Iraq. After four Southern Baptist aid workers were killed March 15 in Iraq, interviewed sources on whether Western missionaries should be deployed in Muslim countries during a war. Another story questioned the ethics of using “clandestine” missionaries. Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil, said sending missionaries alongside troops sent a dangerous message and that it would be more effective to coordinate relief efforts through indigenous Christians.

European Baptist leaders issued statements critical of the war, while the Southern Baptist Convention again voiced support for American troops. Ethicists criticized revelations of prison-abuse at the military prison in Abu Ghraib.

7. Baptist-Jewish Relations. Prompted by a series of statements and actions by Southern Baptist leaders perceived as insensitive to Jews, along with controversy surrounding “The Passion,” the Baptist Center for Ethics sponsored a luncheon to improve relations between Jews and moderate Baptists in Birmingham, Ala., in June.  About 500 Baptists and Jewish guests attended the gathering held in conjunction with the CBF General Assembly.

8. Strife at Baylor. Challenges to President Robert Sloan’s leadership at Baylor University continued. Sloan narrowly survived an attempted firing in May. A major donor threatened to withhold funds unless the school makes a leadership change. The faculty senate twice voted no-confidence in Sloan and a faculty referendum in December showed a majority of those voting did not support their president.

9. Micah Challenge. Endorsed by a number of groups including the Baptist World Alliance, the Micah Challenge launched formally in New York City in October. The international effort hopes to reduce global poverty by half within the next decade by holding governments accountable for meeting U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

10. Homosexuality. Debate over homosexuals and the church divided American Baptists after a lesbian was elected to an unofficial ministers’ council. Conservatives in West Virginia threatened to withhold funding unless churches at affirm or condone homosexuality are removed from American Baptist life. Executive ministers of ABC/USA regions recently asked for a voluntary moratorium on gay unions or appointment of homosexuals to ministry leadership positions.

Other newsmakers included Deidre Downs, member of a progressive Baptist church with a woman pastor, who was chosen as the new Miss America, and Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life topped 20 million in sales.

Deaths included:
–Albert McClellan, a long time Southern Baptist leader who died in January after a long bout with Alzheimer’s.
–Henlee Barnette, a pioneer Southern Baptist ethicist remembered for opposing segregation and the war in Vietnam.
–Roy Honeycutt, retired president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who opened doors for Southern Baptist women in ministry in the 1980s.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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