Here are our picks for the top ethics stories of 2003, as reported by EthicsDaily.com.
- Iraq. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March drew criticism across the Christian spectrum for failing the test of “just war” theory. Others later questioned dubious claims about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the strike. On another front, President Bush sought to assure American Muslims that his war was against terrorism, not Islam, a goal complicated by anti-Muslim rhetoric from some of his strong supporters, including a Pentagon official who described it as a clash between Judeo-Christian forces and Satan. Bush declined to discipline Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, but raised eyebrows from religious conservatives when he said he believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
- ‘Anti’ SBC. A book by the chairman of the SBC’s Council on Family Life suggested that if a man reads his Bible faithfully, his sex life might improve. A denominational magazine quoted the same leader as saying wives should not work outside the home. Seminary President Al Mohler compared Judaism to a “deadly tumor.” LifeWay Christian Resources refused to withdraw its Asian-themed “Rickshaw Rally” VBS material despite Asian-Americans calling it racist. Next year’s January Bible Study suggests that women can’t be deacons. An SBC study committee is calling for pulling out of the Baptist World Alliance. Anti-woman, anti-Jew, anti-Asian, anti-everyone?
- Tax reform. Alabama’s Republican governor, Bob Riley, surprised voters by asking them to reform the state’s regressive tax system based on Christian principles of compassion for the poor. A coalition of religious leaders that earlier defeated a state lottery was less unified this time, and failed to deliver a win for what would have been the largest income tax increase in state history.
- Ten Commandments. Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore rallied supporters by defending his right to display a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building. Some criticized his refusal of a court order for their removal. Ultimately he was removed from office over the flap.
- Baylor. National media descended on Baptist-affiliated Baylor University after the shooting death of a basketball player and revelations of recruiting violations surfaced during the criminal investigation. Meanwhile, differences over President Robert Sloan’s leadership divided the university’s regents, students and alumni. The intrigue included investigation of a regent accused of tampering with an on-campus drug sting, a no-confidence vote in Sloan by the faculty senate, newspaper calls for his resignation and questions of conflicts of interest on the board of regents. Regents in September affirmed Sloan’s leadership by a vote of 31-4. On top of that, descendants of J.M. Dawson sought removal of the associate director of a church-state institute bearing his name over ties with the Discovery Institute, a group supporting the teaching of “intelligent design” in public high schools.
- Feet of clay. Moral crusader William Bennett said he was quitting gambling after revelations exposing him as a high-stakes slot-machine player who may have lost $8 million over the last decade. Five months later, conservative radio commentator checked himself into rehab after admitting to listeners he is addicted to prescription drugs.
- Homosexuality. The election of the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church prompted talk of schism. Court rulings in Texas and Massachusetts polarized debate over gay marriage, including declarations of war against the “gay agenda” from the religious right.
- HIPAA. Designed to protect the insured, privacy clauses in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act created headaches for ministers seeking to minister to parishioners who are hospitalized. Misinformation about what the law actually requires created some unnecessary roadblocks, and some clergy hoped that access to patients would improve once the regulations are better understood.
- WWJDrive? Jim Ball, an EthicsDaily.com columnist and originator of the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign, and his wife, Kara, toured Southern cities this summer in their gas-electric hybrid automobile to preach the gospel of fuel-efficiency. Warm reception to the 11-city tour, Ball reflected at its end, confirmed that the message is sound.
- CBF. Gifts of $9 million from an anonymous donor allowed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to continue to appoint new missionaries, despite a budget shortfall. The CBF also launched a study of what it means to be a “partner” ministry, including the question of funding. An earlier task force on budget priorities suggested cutting funding to partners, which include the Baptist Center for Ethics, by nearly a third in future budgets.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.