Top Religious Events of 2004

The year is about to close and tradition demands that we discuss the top religious stories of 2004. I thought a good place to start would be a USA Today article that discusses the top seven religious stories of 2004. I list them below, noting why USA Today picked it and adding some of my own comments:

1. Conservatives Flex Their Political Muscle

This notes the conservative influence over the 2004 Presidential election, noting that Bush won big among Protestants and Midwestern Catholics, and that Kerry had to watch his step as a Pro-Abortion Catholic candidate.

Good or bad? Good, in my opinion. People should not be criticized for supposedly voting their “values” over their self-interest.

2. Gibson’s The Passion Stirs Passions

Many Christians loved it, some people criticized it as anti-Semitic. Fears were raised that it would increase anti-Semitic acts in the United States. It did not.

Good or bad? I thought it was an excellent film, though not a completely historical one. The controversy was good too, showing that Hollywood can make successful films that respect, rather than denigrate, religion.

3. Conservatives vs. Liberals in the Anglican Church

The U.S. Episcopalian Church takes steps towards liberalism (appointing an openly gay Bishop) that shock more conservative elements. Some more traditional U.S. congregations cut ties with their liberal U.S. counterparts and form relationships with more conservative Bishops and Anglican Churches in Africa.

Good or bad? The increased liberalization of the Episcopalian Church is disappointing but not surprising. But what I think is most fascinating about this story is the alliance between U.S. traditionalists with African leaders and Churches. Racial distinctions are becoming ever less important, especially in light of common religious ideals.

4. Gay Marriage Debate

Activist judges and mayors try to force recognition of same-sex marriages. The public is more resistant however, and 11 states join other states to ban same-sex marriages by public referendum.

Good or bad? I loathe judicial and executive activism, especially on such basic issues as “what is a family.” The activism depresses me, though I am somewhat encouraged by public response. But if history is any judge, judicial activism will outlive public resistance.

5. Taking God out of the Pledge

The Ninth Circuit found the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court reversed. However, it did so on a procedural issues known as standing – leaving the bigger question of whether “under God” is an unconstitutional phrase.

Good or bad? Bad. Though I’m pleased that the Ninth Circuit decision was reversed, I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court did not clarify this issue once and for all. The notion that a phrase such as “under God” is unconstitutional may be required by our present church-state precedents, but that merely points out how erroneous are those decisions.

6. The U.S. Catholic Church Continues to Struggle with Scandals

The Catholic sex abuse scandals continue to do damage to the U.S. Catholic Church. Lawsuits continued to breed massive monetary settlements and raise questions about how much the Catholic Church knew about some of these cases and how it handled them.

Good or bad? Bad that such events occurred. And much of the media’s coverage was bad too, painting with much too broad a brush. But on the good side, hopefully some reforms will be instituted to prevent and discourage such actions (and omissions) in the future.

7. Pope John Paul II: Fragile Strength

Though suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Pope maintained an active pace that has marked his 26 years in that office. He is arguable one of the most influential popes of modern times. His tenure is getting close to an end and speculation on his successor continues to mount.

Good or bad? All good things must come to an end. Though a dedicated Protestant Charismatic, I have much respect for this Pope. As a stalwart of freedom during the Cold War, Pope John Paul II stood against atheist tyranny in its communist form. He has also done much to revitalize Catholicism. It is sad to see his health decline, but such is God’s lot for man.

I think USA Today hits some of the significant points, but overlooks other stories, such as the continuing surge of Pentacostal/Charismatic growth, the "discovery" of the James Ossuary and uncovering of an apparent fraud ring in Israel, and the efforts of secularists to remove Christmas from popular culture (and Christian response). I'm sure that USA Today and I have missed some stories. Feel free to point them out.


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