Year in Review: Philosophical debates capture national, state, Baptist headlines in 2009comment (0)
January 7, 2010
By Jennifer D. Rash
Politics, policy changes and philosophical differences — much of life in Alabama and the nation revolved around these three areas in 2009.
And Southern Baptists were not exempt. In fact, they spent lots of energy in 2009 trying to understand Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Johnny Hunt’s challenge for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). GCR resulted in an official task force and rumors of a new direction for the convention and a potential new SBC funding structure. The official proposal from the GCR Task Force is scheduled to be released in February.
Intermingled among GCR headlines were background stories of seminary presidents’ roles in this decade’s “resurgence” and news that three of the SBC’s top groups — the North American Mission Board (NAMB), International Mission Board (IMB) and Executive Committee (EC) — are now looking for new leaders.
Geoff Hammond resigned as president of NAMB amid controversy with the NAMB board of trustees in August. IMB President Jerry Rankin and EC President Morris Chapman announced their 2010 retirements in September.
Alongside the drama unraveling among Southern Baptists were government representatives at all levels debating health-care reform, increased gay rights and U.S.-Muslim relations.
It was rare that a day went by in 2009 when health-care reform wasn’t mentioned by the national media, and congressmen and senators spent hundreds of hours sifting through and negotiating about legislation that eventually found its way close to passage. But the only way the legislation moved as far as it did was because several legislators conceded on a few issues, one of which was to tone down abortion coverage.
The U.S. Senate passed one form of health-care reform and the House of Representatives another, but both report the main goal of the legislation is to find a way to give all Americans health insurance. They will work to merge the two bills in January.
President Obama has deemed health-care reform the most important social legislation since the Social Security Act in the 1930s.
But gay rights debates also impacted the federal government, several state legislatures and a handful of faith groups.
At the federal level, President Obama signed into law a measure passed by Congress that extended hate crimes protections to homosexuals and transgender people. The president’s signature on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act put into effect not only an annual bill for military spending but also enshrined into federal law the most significant legislative advance to date for homosexual activists. The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest homosexual organization, called the measure the country’s “first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
President Obama also vowed to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military, and his goal garnered discussions during the year, but no changes have yet been made to the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. The Supreme Court declined to hear a constitutional challenge to the policy in June.
As far as states were concerned, several dealt with attempts to legalize same-sex “marriage.”
Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire, along with the District of Columbia, approved gay “marriage” in 2009, but New York, Maine and Hawaii rejected it. The New Jersey Senate delayed its vote on the topic in December, and it is not clear if the bill can pass before Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office Jan. 19. Corzine supports the bill but the incoming governor, Chris Christie, opposes it.
And in California, the state Supreme Court upheld a citizen-enacted ban on gay “marriage,” capping one of the most significant victories in the history of the social conservative movement. Proposition 8, as it is known, passed by a margin of 52–48 in November 2008, reversing a May 2008 ruling by the high court that had legalized same-sex “marriage.”
After Proposition 8 passed, opponents quickly filed suit, arguing that the amendment amounted to a “revision” of the constitution and should first have been approved by the Legislature, which it was not.
But in May 2009, the court disagreed and by a 6–1 margin, said the citizens had the right to pass the amendment, which states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Faith groups had their own gay rights debate throughout the year.
One of the major headlines came from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It voted to ordain gay and lesbian clergy who are in a monogamous committed relationship, prompting some conservative churches to take steps toward forming a new denomination.
In the Episcopal Church, the group’s governing body that meets every three years voted to end a moratorium on installing gay bishops, disregarding a request from the archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part.
Muslim-relation issues showed up numerous times in 2009, but President Obama’s attempt to reach out to Muslims garnered the most attention. The June speech in Cairo, Egypt, in which the president quoted from the Quran and said America will “never” be at war with Islam, was ranked as the No. 1 religion story by members of the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA).
RNA also named Southern Baptist pastor and well-known author Rick Warren as the 2009 Religion Newsmaker of the Year.
As abortion coverage in the health-care reform bill and gay rights issues continually found their way to the negotiation tables in U.S. political venues in 2009, one group of diverse Christian leaders said enough is enough.
The group vowed unspecified civil disobedience against abortion, same-sex “marriage” and limits on religious liberty.
In a 4,700-word statement named the “Manhattan Declaration,” about 150 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox signers said they are coming together to “embrace our obligation” to speak and act in support of the dignity of all human beings, marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and the freedom to express religious convictions.
“[W]e will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act,” the statement says, “nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
The drafters and other signers of the “Manhattan Declaration” unveiled the statement at a Washington news conference Nov. 20. The document gets its name from the location of the first drafting committee meeting. One of the document’s three drafters is Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham.
“Our hope would be that we would have up to a million signatories who will want to stand with us,” George said. “This is an important time for all Christians to come together, stand together and make clear what our convictions are.”
At press time, the declaration had garnered more than 300,000 signatures.
The timing of the document’s release — 10 months into the Obama administration — was affected by the policy proposals of the new president and a Democrat-controlled Congress, but the principles in the statement are timeless, the drafters said.
No matter where people fell on the issues making headlines throughout the year, none could escape the continued hit left by the depressed economy. The financial market had moments of rebound and relief, but October still saw the highest unemployment numbers since 1983.
Individuals suffered; businesses suffered; churches and ministries suffered.
Cutbacks were inevitable at houses of worship, colleges and seminaries, relief agencies and publishing houses, and several state Baptist conventions dealt with serious financial and/or staff cuts.
The Alabama Baptist State Convention managed to maintain a flat budget going into 2010 from 2009 and did not have to trim staff. While the state convention and all related entities tightened up their purse strings and trimmed all nonvital expenses, none experienced devastating effects. Alabama Baptists also came out on top in Cooperative Program (CP) giving for the entire SBC for the last fiscal year.
CP receipts for the SBC fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2008–Sept. 30, 2009) declined 2.23 percent, and combined CP and designated giving for the year declined 3.65 percent. The first two months of the Oct. 1, 2009–Sept. 30, 2010, fiscal year reflected CP giving down about 2.5 percent.
The 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) also came in $28.7 million under budget and caused the IMB to freeze missionary appointments for a time. But the IMB was able to open up some positions once new monies came in from special out-of-season LMCO offerings taken up by churches, associations, state conventions, seminaries and others.
In Alabama, CP giving was under the 2009 base budget goal of $46 million by $6,449,700 at the end of November (latest numbers available at press time).
One industry that attempted to capitalize on Alabama’s economic woes was the gambling industry. Using a veiled form of slot machine gambling as the answer to the state’s problems, Alabamians spent the entire year debating the definition of bingo and whether slot machine gambling could be passed off as electronic bingo gambling.
Despite a major “Sweet Home Alabama” legislative push with prominent country music stars during the regular session of the state Legislature and scores of city council attempts at legalizing the slot machines, Alabamians managed to hold off the industry in 2009. Several circuit court judges also ruled against the machines in various cases late in the year.
In other news in 2009:
• A new form of the flu — H1N1, or swine flu — became a common concern around the world. More than 11,000 deaths were reported worldwide at press time from this new flu pandemic that made its way to the United States early in the year and Alabama in April. The swine flu shut down a few schools and other highly populated areas for days at a time throughout the year. Alabama churches followed the same state Department of Public Health recommendations as other public gathering spots.
While H1N1 vaccinations were not available until late in the year when the worst seemed to be over, many people developed a new level of caution as a preventative measure. And anti-bacterial hand sanitizer became a staple in homes, offices, churches, businesses and coat pockets and purses.
• Richard Land of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission weighed in on the debate over whether “waterboarding” is torture. It is and there’s no room for torture as part of the U.S. intelligence gathering process, he said. His position put him among a minority of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll that found that only 25 percent of those surveyed said torture “can never be justified” against suspected terrorists.
In worldwide Baptist news:
• Baptists worldwide celebrated their 400th anniversary.
• A new baptism center opened along the Jordan River in the region where most Christian scholars believe Jesus was baptized about 2,000 years ago.
While Christians are a minority in Jordan, the dedication of the baptism center was significant and demonstrates that “all Jordanians are equal,” said His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed of Jordan.
• Nilson do Amaral Fanini, president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1995 until 2000, died. He was 77. Fanini, of Brazil, was a 14-time president of the Brazilian Baptist Convention.
In Alabama Baptist news:
• First Baptist Church, Huntsville, celebrated its 200th anniversary with events all year leading up to the big Homecoming Sunday June 14. The Madison Baptist Association church (originally known as Enon Baptist Church) held its first meeting June 3, 1809, in a sparsely settled area about six miles from the current location near downtown Huntsville.
• Samford University launched a five-year, $200 million fund-raising effort. The largest portion — about $65 million — will go to scholarships, with the rest being divvied out among faculty enhancements, academic programs, campus facilities and annual fund support for ongoing operational costs.
• Tommy Puckett retired as longtime director of the State Board of Missions’ office of men’s ministry and disaster relief.
• Alabama Baptists lost several giants of the faith during 2009, including well-known leaders Thomas E. Corts, retired president of Samford University in Birmingham; John Long, director of missions for Madison Baptist Association; and Jerome King, retired director of missions for East Liberty Baptist Association.
Alabama Baptists also lost Megan Brittain, daughter of Baptist Campus Minister Gary Brittain. Many people followed Megan’s story as she battled cancer until she died at age 12.
(BP, RNS contributed)