It’s been said that the post-modern age is one in which it is no longer possible to shock or inspire awe. An age characterized by ennui and irony.
That’s why it may be the ultimate irony that the top news story of the year – the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein – was described as “Operation Shock and Awe.” Indeed, it was a year in which ennui and irony began to seem unfashionable and old-fashioned values such as patriotism, duty, and honor came back into vogue.
The Year Begins
In his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush emphasized ideas that would drive news budgets for the entire year. He emphasized his resolve to deal militarily with Saddam Hussein in the Middle East, while challenging Congress and the nation to embrace his faith initiatives and compassionate conservatism at home.
“This country has many challenges,” said the president. “We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents, and other generations. We will confront them with focus, and clarity, and courage.”
The president assured the American people that he would defend the nation against the threat of terrorist attacks, and would aggressively challenge enemies to its security. “Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option,” he said. He announced that he would send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Feb. 5 to lay out the evidence against Iraq. He made it clear that criticism from other nations would not deter America’s actions. “We will consult,” he said, “but let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.”
On the domestic front, Bush spoke about protecting the unborn and reaching out to the needy through faith-based initiatives. He challenged Congress, “I ask you to protect infants at the very hour of birth, and end the practice of partial-birth abortion. And because no human life should be started or ended as the object of an experiment, I ask you to set a high standard for humanity and pass a law against all human cloning.”
Bush also addressed the worldwide AIDS epidemic, calling for a $15 billion program to battle the disease in Africa and the Caribbean. He proposed the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — a work of compassion to the people of Africa. “This comprehensive plan will prevent seven million new AIDS infections, treat at least two million people with life-extending drugs, and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS,” he said.
Saying his first goal was to revive the nation’s sagging economy, the president challenged Congress to pass the $670 billion tax cut plan he introduced several weeks ago. That plan includes provisions that would end taxation of most stock dividends – a move some liberal lawmakers said would only benefit the wealthy.
As part of his faith-based initiative, the president proposed a $600 million program that would help 300,000 Americans receive treatment for drug addiction over the next three years. He also recognized Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La. for its successful faith-based drug treatment program. Related the president, “A man in the program said, ‘God does miracles in people’s lives, and you never think it could be you.’” Challenged Mr. Bush, “Tonight, let us bring to all Americans who struggle with drug addiction this message of hope: The miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be you.”
Breakdown Along The Mainline
Mainline Christian churches in the United States could only have hoped for as good a year as the president’s. By and large, the news from the major denominations was not so encouraging.
The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal continued to be a major news item through mid-year. The New York Times reported that it ultimately involved nearly every American diocese and more than 1,200 priests. A Times survey found that more than 4,000 minors said they had been abused by a Roman Catholic priest over the last six decades. While data shows that most of the abuse occurred in the 1970s and ’80s, priests were found to have sexually abused young people as far back as the 1930s. According to the survey, accusations of sexual abuse by priests were found in all but 16 of the nation’s 171 Latin Rite dioceses.
The United Methodists battled not a sex scandal, but an internal fight over the liberal slide of the denomination. The most significant consequence was in reduced giving by many of the denomination’s theologically conservative churches to denominationally run missions projects. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries decided not to renew the contracts of 18 Methodist missionaries whose contracts expired in 2003, primarily for financial reasons. According to church leadership, missionary service was the last area that the board decided to cut during budget planning. Translation: the denomination cut many other areas even more than the missions budget.
But perhaps the biggest denominational story of the year was the consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. The consecration of the openly homosexual man ended up also being one of the biggest news stories of any kind — religious or otherwise — in 2003. It was a move that not only has consequences for the Anglican church, but for other religious bodies that are in a relationship with the Anglican communion. For example, the move has already soured Catholic-Anglican relations, a sign of spreading disapproval among Christian denominations around the world. Two months after Pope John Paul II warned that the elevation of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire could mean “serious difficulties” in efforts to unify Catholics and Anglicans. The Vatican announced Dec. 2 that a February meeting in Seattle to work on a common statement of faith “would have to be put on hold.” It also said a new committee will be formed to “reflect jointly” on the implications of Robinson’s Nov. 2 consecration. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the global Anglican Communion. In November the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it was suspending ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church, saying that homosexuality is a sin and that it “cannot condone the perversion of human nature.” The Oriental Orthodox Churches have suspended their ecumenical talks until the Anglicans settle their internal disputes over homosexuality. These include the Armenian Church, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Out Of The Closet
The advance of the so-called “homosexual agenda” was plain for all to see this year, not limited to denominational politics, but increasingly becoming an important part of the global politics.
For example, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced Aug. 12 that he would vigorously support legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. Despite opposition from church leaders, the public and members of his own political party, Chretien told reporters that he and his cabinet would move forward with plans to push legislation through the government that would broaden the legal definition of marriage in Canada to include homosexual unions. The Canadian Supreme Court is reviewing the draft of the marriage legislation. If approved, the legislation moves to the House of Commons, which must approve the bill by vote. However, this process probably won’t be completed until 2004, after Chretien retires.
Developments in the United States included New York City opening a high school specifically for “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” students, the first of its kind in the country. The new Harvey Milk High School (named after a homosexual San Francisco politician who was murdered in 1978) could have as many as 170 students.
And there was what some consider the biggest news of the year in this area: Massachusetts’ highest court ruled 4-3 Nov. 18 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers 180 days to come up with a solution that would allow homosexual couples to marry. “Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family – these are among the most basic of every individual’s liberty and due process rights,” the majority opinion said. “And central to personal freedom and security is the assurance that the laws will apply equally to persons in similar situations.” The Massachusetts case began in 2001, when seven homosexual couples went to their city and town halls to obtain marriage licenses. All were denied and subsequently sued the state Department of Public Health which administers the state’s marriage laws. A judge threw out the case in 2002, ruling that nothing in state law gives homosexual couples the right to marry. The couples appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. The high court ruled in favor of the couples, but did not issue marriage licenses to them, leaving the details to the Legislature.
Courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have previously ruled that the states did not have a right to deny marriage to homosexual couples. The ruling stands in Vermont where homosexual couples can legally form “civil unions.” But the decisions in Hawaii and Alaska were followed by the adoption of constitutional amendments limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex.
However, the Massachusetts decision, and other events of the year, appear to be fueling a backlash. Polls in Canada indicate that public support for the legalization of same-sex marriage has dropped dramatically since the beginning of the summer. One poll in particular showed that the number of people in favor of homosexual unions had dropped by ten percent in two months. In the United States, the story is the same. Gallop says that in May 2003, 60 percent of those polled stated that “homosexual relations between consenting adults” should be legal. That number dropped dramatically to 48 percent in a poll conducted July 25-27.
And it could end up that the most significant impact of the pro-homosexual activism will be the mobilization of conservatives to defend marriage. The president himself weighed in on the controversy during a rare Rose Garden press conference on July 30. He said that government lawyers are researching the best way to ensure that marriage remains between a man and a woman. Bush’s words came in response to a reporter’s question on the president’s view regarding homosexuality.
“Yes, I am mindful that we’re all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye when they’ve got a log in their own,” said Bush. “I think it’s very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.”
“On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage,” continued Bush. “And that’s really where the issue is heading here in Washington, and that is the definition of marriage. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we’ve got lawyers looking at the best way to do that.”
A Defense of Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will likely be introduced in Congress, and so far one version of the bill has more than 100 co-sponsors from both the Democratic and Republican parties. And the Vatican announced the establishment of a worldwide campaign against the recognition of same-sex marriage. The campaign encourages lay people to speak and act out against the recent gains that the gay marriage movement has made in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Official Catholic doctrine forbids discrimination against homosexuals but also demands that they remain celibate.
For The Ten Commandments
In January, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against a Kentucky county that posted the Ten Commandments in its courthouse. U.S. District Judge Karl Forester dismissed the suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, against officials of Mercer County. Foster ruled that the display had a legitimate secular purpose of educating those who see it about the influence of historical documents on American law. The display, entitled “Foundations of American Law and Government,” also includes the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and other significant historical documents. ACLU officials vowed to appeal the ruling, and discrepancies among federal court rulings on similar cases may lead to the U.S. Supreme Court’s eventual involvement in the issue.
However, Judge Roy Moore of Alabama got a considerably different reception from fellow judges in his fight over the Ten Commandments.
Before the smoke cleared, thousands of Christians and hundreds of media representatives from around the country traveled to Montgomery, Ala., to join the “Restore the Commandments Rally” and show support for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. But ultimately the 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument was not only permanently removed from the Alabama judicial building, but so was Judge Moore himself. And in the process, even evangelicals ended up divided on the issue. Many, including Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, publicly supported the judge. Others, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, said the judge was right in principle but went too far by refusing to comply with a federal court order. In any case, the net effect of all the publicity may be that Judge Moore will mount a run for either the U.S. Senate or the governor’s chair in Alabama. He has also been asked to run for president by leaders of the U.S. Constitution Party.
40 Million and Counting
2003 actually saw declines in the number of abortions performed in America, but no one could say for sure why. Is America changing its mind about the ongoing holocaust of the unborn, or are the demographics of the country simply changing?
The passage of the partial-birth abortion ban seems to indicate that it may be the former. By wide margins in both houses of Congress, the PBA ban passed and was quickly signed into law by President Bush, as he promised. However, no sooner than it was signed, pro-abort groups began filing lawsuits against it.
It was frustration over his inability to stop abortion that caused Paul Hill to murder two people at an abortion clinic, or so he said. Florida authorities ended Hill’s frustration by executing him on Sept. 3. The execution of Paul Hill created some unusual alliances. Both pro-life groups and a typically liberal anti-death penalty group are opposed to Hill’s execution, but for different reasons. The anti-death penalty group said they do not support Hill’s efforts. Rather, they were concerned that the pending execution could make Hill a martyr and spur more abortion clinic violence. Hill was convicted for the fatal shootings of Dr. John B. Britton and clinic escort James Barrett in July 1994 outside of The Ladies Center in Pensacola. When he signed Hill’s death warrant in July, the pro-life governor Jeb Bush dismissed concerns that Hill’s execution might spur violence. “He’s a murderer and he was sentenced to death and I have the duty to carry out that sentence,” Bush said.
Also in 2003, the worst fears of many pro-life advocates came to pass when an 18-year-old girl who had concealed her pregnancy from her family died from complications after taking the RU-486 abortion pill. Holly Patterson visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco on Sept. 10 where she was given the abortion drug. She followed the prescribed procedure for using the RU-486 pill, taking two more pills at home in the following days. Patterson’s boyfriend rushed her to the hospital after she experienced bleeding and cramps so severe she was unable to walk. Emergency room doctors gave her painkillers and sent her home. A few days later, Patterson returned to the hospital with more pain and bleeding, and died on Sept. 17. Hospital officials said Patterson went into septic shock caused by a massive infection from pieces of the unborn child that were left in her uterus. The RU-486 abortion pill was invented in France in the 1980s, and approved by the FDA in America several years ago. Danco Laboratories, which makes the pill, estimates that 150,000 women in the U.S. have taken the drug.
Finally, some religious leaders are wondering whether they can use church membership as a weapon in the fight for life. Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. said Nov. 10 they are considering whether to recommend sanctions for Catholic politicians who favor policies contrary to church teaching on abortion and other issues. A task force of bishops is considering the idea of church punishment and plans to develop guidelines on how church leaders should respond to Catholic lawmakers who do not uphold church values in their work. One member of the task force, Bishop Joseph Galante, said some dioceses already impose a ban from church property on elected officials who support abortion. Abortion has long been a practice opposed by the Catholic Church. Galante also said that under church law, Catholics who have a direct role in an abortion can be excommunicated. He said that a task force of theologians will have to decide whether a Catholic politician who votes for abortion rights consequently helps facilitate the procedure and should therefore be excommunicated.
News of the Bizarre
Not all of the news in 2003 involved presidents, kings, and great armies. Some stories – and often the stories that tell us the most about ourselves and our world – were not reported on the front pages. Among the bellwether stories of 2003:
—The nation’s high court in June struck down a Texas sodomy law, ruling that homosexual men and women have the right to do anything in the privacy of their homes without government intervention. Now convicted polygamist Tom Green says that it should be no different for him. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-P.A.) warned earlier this year. “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” Santorum was ridiculed by those on the left for this argument. But Green’s attorney, John Bucher, argued just that in an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court on Dec. 1. “It doesn’t bother anyone, (and with) no compelling state interest in what you do in your own home with consenting adults, you should be allowed to do so,” he said. Green, who is not affiliated with any church, was convicted of four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport of his 30 children in August 2001.
—Outspoken family values advocate William Bennett, a former U.S. education secretary, says he now considers his casino gambling a sin. He adds that he swore off casinos in May following stories by Newsweek and The Washington Monthly that detailed his gambling. In an interview aired on CNBC’s “Tim Russert” show, Bennett rejected reports he lost $8 million at casinos over 10 years. But he acknowledged in an interview with World magazine that he played with “a big amount of money.” Bennett, author of the best-selling Book of Virtues, told the magazine that he struggled with self-control, the first virtue listed in his book.
—A small Kentucky Bible college has had an embarrassing problem for years. Kentucky Mountain Bible College, located in the Appalachian Mountains, has had the numbers “666” as the beginning of its phone number. The numerical figure, which the Bible connects with the anti-Christ and calls the “mark of the beast,” has been a source of confusion and concern to callers for years, and school officials attempted to have the number changed to 693, a prefix that was added to the area. The local phone company offered the school an alternative phone number, but by the time the college agreed to it, the number had been reassigned to someone else. The school was ultimately offered some other alternate numbers, and the college was soon rid of its old number – and the unsavory connotations.
A Look Across The Culture
The third and final installment of the movie epic “Lord of the Rings” opened around the world this year to box office success and critical acclaim. But the cast and crew seemed to care little for Tolkien’s Christian worldview. The movie’s director, Peter Jackson, was candid even with the religious press about not sharing Tolkien’s Christian worldview, but added that he and the rest of the people involved in the project strove for faithfulness to the books and Tolkien’s vision. “We made a commitment early in the process that we were not going to introduce themes that were not a part of the book,” Jackson said. “We worked hard not to bring our personal baggage” to the production.
Television, on the other hand, continued to spiral downward. Thirty years ago, Americans spent their nights watching television shows like “The Waltons,” “Happy Days” and “The Six Million Dollar Man” – a veritable family affair. Cable had just arrived on the scene – offering the then-unheard-of capacity of 35 channels. And about half of the television sets in use were still black and white. During the month of December – the first “sweeps” period of the new television season – there was nothing very family-friendly about much of what danced across the dial. Cable and satellite systems offer as many as 400 channels – from cooking networks to round-the-clock pornography. Every television set is not only color, much of what it receives is off-color: sexually explicit, violent and loaded with coarse language.
The Parent’s Television Council’s Melissa Caldwell said, “You get to a certain point where viewers become inured to certain kinds of content, and so, in order to illicit the same reaction, they keep pushing the envelope.” One of the more disturbing trends in television in 2003 was its promotion of the homosexual lifestyle. “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” on the Bravo cable channel, featured five gay men coming to the style-rescue of hapless heterosexual men. The show was such a hit that Bravo’s sister station, NBC, broadcast several episodes. Steven Isaac, of Focus on the Family, believes “television is the biggest avenue for mainstreaming and normalizing homosexuality that we have in our culture, much bigger than film, much bigger than music. Television is the thing that is driving a young generation to embrace and accept homosexuality as ‘normal.’” But there may be a backlash in the works. ‘Coupling’ (a racy NBC sitcom featuring a bisexual character) was supposed to be the hit show for the year on NBC, and it turned into a huge failure. ‘Skin’ (a Fox series about a pornographer and the district attorney bent on shutting him down) was heavily promoted. That show was cancelled too.
And many were encouraged when a “blatantly Christian” song, “I Can Only Imagine” by the band MercyMe, crossed over to the pop charts and in some parts of the country hit the number one spot. MercyMe’s keyboard player Jim Bryson told EP News that he thought it was a sign that the mainstream music industry was more open to Christian artists, and that Christian bands should record what they have a passion for, not what they think will sell, because, as the success of this song indicates, “You never know.”
And with all of this going on, what direction is the American church and American culture headed? No one knows for sure. In recent years, American Christianity remains perhaps the most surveyed and least understood of American cultural phenomena. Among some of the surveys released in 2003:
—College students show broad interest in spirituality, but their involvement in the church sags while on campus, a new study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute says. The institute, known for surveys of student opinion, tabulated questionnaires from 3,680 juniors on 46 varied campuses as part of a multiyear project on campus religious and spiritual development. Only 29 percent of the students said they regularly attend religious services, compared with 52 percent when these same students were freshmen. Few said their spirituality or “religiousness” had greatly increased during college years. Despite their purported interest in spirituality, 62 percent said professors never encourage discussions of religious or spiritual matters.
—The National Study of Youth and Religion, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that families that are involved in religion are more likely to get along with their 12 to 14 year old teens. Families who attend church, read scripture, and pray together are more likely to get along with their teenagers, and the teens are more likely to get praise from their parents, according to Christian Smith, principal investigator of the study and professor of Sociology. These families also share meals more often and parents are more aware of the teenager’s friends and activities. The teens in these families are also less likely to run away from home. In contrast, teens from families that do not participate in religious activities during the week tend to have weaker relationships with their parents.
—A poll released April 23 by Barna Research Group showed that Americans’ views about life satisfaction are heavily influenced by the role of faith in their lives. The poll found that 73 percent of those who attend church, read the Bible and pray during a typical week strongly agreed that they were happy with their lives. Only 64 percent of those who were less active in their faith reported a strong agreement with a high level of life satisfaction. The study also showed that those highly active in their faith were more likely to report that they were in excellent physical condition — 42 percent, compared to 34 percent of the less active group.
— A study conducted at a South Carolina prison confirmed what many have suspected for years – that transforming the heart can transform behavior. The study found that inmates who regularly participated in religious programming were not re-arrested after being released. “High rates of recidivism (re-arrest, re-conviction, re-incarceration) continue to cost American society dearly in terms of pain, trouble and community funds,” says the study by Larry Navey and Dr. Stephen Farra. Navey, a senior psychology student at Columbia International University (CIU), leads Bible studies at Broad River Correctional Institution. Farra, head of CIU’s psychology department, sponsored Navey’s study, which was funded by S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities. For the study, Navey and Farra tracked 50 prisoners, chosen because they regularly participated in four out of every five religious activities offered; and of those, not a single one of them has returned to the prison system in three years.
As persecution of Christians continued in India, a Roman Catholic organization on Nov. 29 demanded a ban on Hindu nationalist groups that spread religious fanaticism and violence in the country. The demand came a week after Hindu nationalists attacked a priest’s home, hurled abuse at a nun and flung stones at a church in Deogarh, a town 175 miles west of the Orissa state capital of Bhubaneshwar. There were more than 200 reported attacks on Christians and Christian organizations in 2002 in Orissa state, according to Indian authorities. 2003 figures are still incomplete, but they are expected to be nearly the same.
The leader of a rebel faction on the Solomon Islands informed Anglican church leaders in the region that six priests of an Anglican order originally taken hostage by the rebels are dead. The six, all members of the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood, left the capital Honaria on April 23 to investigate the fate of another member of their order. In mid-August, rebel leader Harold Keke provided information to the church that Robin Lindsay, Francis Tofi, Alfred Hilly, Ini Ini Partabatu, Patteson Gatu, and Brother Tony, along with the Melanesian brother missing earlier, had been murdered by his group. An Australian peacekeeping force arrested Keke on Aug. 13 and held him in Honaria on charges of robbery. A murder investigation into the deaths of the priests has begun by authorities. Keke’s arrest is an important move for the Australian military, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australia’s parliament. “A full investigation of crimes including murder allegedly committed by Harold Keke and his group in