News Articles

2004 IN REVIEW: Survey of top news stories

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It is not possible in one article to recap all the major news from the last 12 months. But, as a review of the top issues for the year, Baptist Press polled the news staffs representing the 41 state Baptist conventions, asking each to identify 10 national stories, five SBC stories and three state convention stories that stood out in 2004.

The survey asked for a combined input from each news team so that each state’s response had equal weighting with the others. The poll was open-ended to avoid shaping the results. A large list of headlines was provided as an aid to memory, but participants were not constrained to this sampling.

The following lists are a composite view of the news for 2004 by the 22 Baptist newspaper staffs that provided inputs. A total vote for each issue is provided in parenthesis.


1. (20) Faith and values impact national elections/Religion divide in presidential vote. According to nationwide exit polling by the National Election Pool, 22 percent of voters cited “moral values” as the most important issue in their decision on the presidential race. Of those, 79 percent chose Bush, 18 percent Kerry and 2 percent Nader. The morality issue was the top issue, surpassing the economy, 20 percent; terrorism, 19 percent; and Iraq, 15 percent.

2. (20) Spiritual and cultural phenomenon of the movie, “The Passion of The Christ.” Mel Gibson’s movie provoked opposition from secular reviewers and some religious leaders, while stirring a much different response from the nearly one-third of adults in America who viewed the film. Box office takes have reached over $609 million worldwide.

3. (16) Mass.: First “homosexual marriage”/Same-sex activism by states, counties and cities. On May 17, two Massachusetts women may have been the first homosexuals to exchange vows following legalization that day of same-sex “marriage” in the state. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized same-sex “marriages” Feb. 12 but was stopped by the California Supreme Court March 11 after issuing thousands of licenses, and the court later voided the licenses, Aug. 12, ruling that city officials had overstepped their authority. Other municipalities, county governments and states similarly forced acceptance of same-sex “marriage” through this brand of unilateral social activism — galvanizing opposition in America, with estimates of more than two-thirds of the country supporting the traditional definition of marriage.

4. (16) Success of ballot initiatives in 11 states to define marriage as between one man and one woman. In an apparent backlash to the social activism by the judiciary and various governments to legalize same-sex “marriage”, voters pushed to amend state constitutions to protect the traditional definition of marriage. In November, voters in Oregon (56-44 percent), Ohio (62-38), Michigan (59-41), Montana (66-34), North Dakota (73-27), Oklahoma (76-24), Utah (66-34), Georgia (77-23), Kentucky (75-25), Arkansas (75-25), and Mississippi (86-14) approved state amendments of varying strength — some ban Vermont-type civil unions, some don’t — but all of which ban the recognition of same-sex “marriage.” Conservatives and traditionalists in Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia plan to work for passage of an amendment in their respective states in the coming year. Three additional states — Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wisconsin — passed amendments in the last legislative session and must pass them once more before sending them to voters.

5. (14) Stem cell research debate and pro-life concerns. Proponents of embryonic stem cell research, which results in the destruction of a human embryo, used emotional appeals at the deaths of President Reagan and actor Christopher Reeves promising possible cures for debilitating conditions despite the scientific results showing otherwise. Embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals. In contrast, therapies using adult stem cells, which are obtained without harming the donor, have been credited with improving or curing conditions that include paralysis, Lupus, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

6. (13) Four hurricanes devastate Florida and Southern states. In the U.S., Hurricane Charley caused 27 storm-related deaths, Hurricane Frances killed 24 people and Hurricane Ivan resulted in 52 deaths. Hurricane Jeanne caused eight deaths in the U.S., but more than 1,100 people died due to the massive flooding it caused in Haiti. Monetary losses were staggering, with $20.5 billion in damages estimated for the U.S. from the combined impact of the four hurricanes.

7. (12) President Reagan’s death/legacy. Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States, died after a more than 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan’s two terms in the White House were marked by highs and lows in policy decisions, with admirers crediting him with the fall of the Iron Curtain of communism and detracters pointing to Iran-Contra. But, most notably for evangelicals, Reagan was the banner-bearer for the pro-life movement, in 1983 writing an essay, “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” that continues to serve as a charter of pro-life principles. Tributes to his life honored his deep and abiding faith as much as his public service.

8. (11) Federal Marriage Protection Amendment fails. A majority vote, 227-186, in September by the House of Representatives fell short of the two-thirds support (290) needed to pass a federal constitutional amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage. The amendment is being pushed in reaction to events on the state level, as well as lawsuits by homosexuals challenging the national law, the Defense of Marriage Act, that gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriage.” If overturned, then presumably all 50 states would be forced to change their marriage laws, thus the need for a federal constitutional amendment. Supporters vow to continue the fight.

9. (8) Murder of four International Mission Board aid workers in Iraq. Larry and Jean Elliott of Cary, N.C.; Karen Watson of Bakersfield, Calif., and David McDonnall of Rowlett, Texas, were killed in a drive-by shooting March 15 in Mosul, while they were researching needs for humanitarian projects in northern Iraq. Carrie McDonnall survived the attack and is still healing from critical wounds. In a letter dated March 7, 2003, written by Watson and meant to be opened only upon her death, she urged others not to abandon doing humanitarian ministry in Iraq but to “preserve the work.” Anticipating her death may cause others to question the need for the work to continue, Watson clearly said one of the most important things is to “Keep sending missionaries out. Keep raising up fine young pastors.” [NOTE: This story made the top 10 list for national stories and Baptists editors named it the top story for Southern Baptists.]

10. (8) CBS & Dan Rather (document controversy)/Issues of media integrity. Dan Rather presented a report claiming to document evidence that President Bush had failed to meet his Texas Air National Guard obligations and had received special treatment because of his father’s political visibility. Public reaction calling into question Bush’s qualification to lead shifted to questions surrounding the credibility of CBS and Dan Rather when it was learned that the documents had been faked. Many claimed the incident proved the insights about liberal bias in the media provided by former, 30-year, CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg in his book, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.”


1. (18) Murder of four International Mission Board aid workers in Iraq. Larry and Jean Elliott of Cary, N.C.; Karen Watson of Bakersfield, Calif., and David McDonnall of Rowlett, Texas, were killed in a drive-by shooting March 15 in Mosul while they were researching needs for humanitarian projects in northern Iraq. Carrie McDonnall survived the attack and is still healing from critical wounds. The sacrificed lives deeply moved Southern Baptists by the reality of what it means to die for Christ. In a letter, dated March 7, 2003, written by Watson and meant to be opened only upon her death, she urged others not to abandon doing humanitarian ministry in Iraq but to “preserve the work.” Anticipating her death may cause others to question the need for the work to continue, Watson clearly said one of the most important things is to “Keep sending missionaries out. Keep raising up fine young pastors.”

2. (16) Southern Baptists play a major role in disaster relief efforts after four hurricanes pound Florida and Southern states in a six-week period. SBC volunteers from around the country responded to prepare more than 2.4 million meals shortly after Hurricane Charley made landfall in southwest Florida Aug. 13 and continuing until operations shifted to long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts at the end of October. One of the SBC’s highest-visibility social ministries, the 28,000 trained Southern Baptist workers represent the third-largest disaster relief organization in the U.S. behind the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. More than 9,000 Southern Baptist volunteers from 38 Baptist state conventions completed nearly 8,100 cleanup and recovery projects related to the four hurricanes. SBC disaster relief officials estimated the value of the labor provided by volunteers at $6.9 million.

3. (15) The Southern Baptist Convention withdraws from the Baptist World Alliance. SBC messengers in Indianapolis voted to sever relationships with the BWA after hearing a report from an SBC study committee charging a leftward drift by the BWA leadership and some member bodies. BWA leaders strongly denied being liberal and charged that the withdrawal was a sin of schism. In 2003, messengers approved a cut in BWA funding for 2004 from $425,000 to $300,000, but to continue dialogue with the BWA toward possibly resolving the dispute. Leaders for both sides met as recently as this past spring in Nashville, but those talks failed to assuage SBC leaders’ concerns. On Oct. 1, all funding ceased from the SBC to the BWA and SBC leaders relinquished positions of leadership with the group.

4. (14) SBC President Bobby Welch completes a 50-state campaign for greater evangelistic efforts by Southern Baptists. Welch used the “Everyone Can” national campaign to thread together a mosaic of all the different looks of Southern Baptist churches; to hear from pastors, people and denominational leaders all across the U.S. and Canada concerning their views of Southern Baptists’ needs and opportunities; and to prepare and urge all Southern Baptists to enthusiastically embrace the challenge to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people during a 12-month period, beginning in June 2005. Broadcast networks, CNN and PBS, aired major segments that highlighted the tour, and the Associated Press wire service and print media such as the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Orlando Sentinel captured Welch’s evangelistic fervor in major pieces that were picked up by other secular papers across America.

5. (7) New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Sole membership debate. By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, messengers to the annual meeting voted to ask New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees to amend the seminary charter and “name the Southern Baptist Convention as the sole member.” Sole membership is a legal mechanism that allows a parent organization to establish its ownership (as sole member of the corporation) of a subordinate entity while setting limitations to the parent entity’s control, thereby limiting the legal liability of the parent for the subsidiary. The other five SBC seminaries previously have adopted sole membership, as have the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Annuity Board (doing business as GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention). But New Orleans Seminary representatives resisted, saying that sole membership violates Baptist polity and also is incompatible with Louisiana law. However, in October, NOBTS trustees voted to adopt sole membership and indicated that the seminary also intends to repeat previously expressed concerns, about polity and Louisiana law, when the amended charter is presented for consideration at the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

STATE NEWS (as determined by each respective state paper staff)


— Americans United for Separation of Church and State files IRS complaint against First Baptist Church of Springdale after Pastor Ronnie Floyd urges members to “Vote God.”

— Princella Smith of Wynne, Ark., a 20-year-old junior at Ouachita Baptist University, addresses the Republican National Convention Aug. 31.


— Billy Graham crusade in Pasadena yields 12,000 professions of faith.

— Daniel Unger, a solider and member of California Baptist church, dies in Iraq.

— Karen Watson, a IMB worker and member of California Baptist church, dies in Iraq.


— Four hurricanes devastate Florida in six weeks; Florida Baptist Convention staff members mobilize to lead Disaster Relief response.

— Floridian Bobby Welch elected SBC president, undertakes nationwide tour.

— Florida Baptist Convention celebrates 150th anniversary in year-long events.


— Appeals court rules in favor of Georgia Baptist Convention in Shorter College case.

— Goal set to reach 50,000 souls for Christ in 2005.

— Debate over Ten Commandments display in Barrow County continues.


— Saturation Evangelism Week produces 370 decisions to follow Jesus.

— Polynesian Fellowship Week in Western Samoa produces renewed faith.

— Longtime missions leader Sue Nishikawa dies, leaving legacy of missions


— 1,927 professions of faith tallied during Crossover Indianapolis.

— 2004 SBC annual meeting is held in Indianapolis.

— Bobby Welch bus tour stops in Indiana.


— Lyn Hyde returns to Philippines one year after husband’s death by terrorists.

— Bivocational pastor performs marriage ceremony for co-workers at Wal-Mart.

— Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City develops innovative outreach strategy.


— Louisiana College deals with accreditation issues, looks for new president.

— Full administrative and financial control of directors of missions is transferred from state to associations.

— David Hankins is elected executive director.


— Maryland Baptists become first sponsor of Wilmington Games in local community.

— “Embrace Baltimore” project seeks to evangelize city for Christ

— Maryland’s law against same-sex “marriage” is challenged in court


— A constitutional change is approved regarding Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

— State ministries office moves to Fenton, Mich.

— Michigan approves a marriage protection amendment.


— Jack Jones is named state evangelism director.

— Annual meeting becomes opportunity to touch lives of strangers.

— Growing number of churches use “Touch Twice Clinics” to minister and evangelize.


— Missouri passes constitutional marriage amendment by a 71-29 percent margin.

— Missouri Baptist Convention wins first round at state court of appeals in ongoing legal battle with five breakaway entities.

— MBC messengers bless single alignment proposal, position it for approval at 2005 annual meeting


— Red Sox win the World Series.

— First homosexual marriage in Massachusetts is made legal.

— John Kerry, of Boston, loses bid for White House.


— Executive Director Claude Cone announces retirement after 20 years in post.

— 132 New Mexico Baptists participate in mission trip to Bangkok.

— New Mexico Baptist volunteers mobilized to aid hurricane victims.


— BSC messengers affirm flexible giving plans, reject identity study.

— N.C. missionary couple, Larry and Jean Elliott, killed in Iraq.

— N.C. Baptists join in vanguard of disaster relief/recovery after hurricanes.


— Northwest Baptist Convention churches in Oregon involved in passage of state constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage.”

— Executive Director Jeff Iorg resigns to become president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

— Convention begins helping associations implement new organizational strategies.


— Oklahoma approves gambling expansion, bans same-sex “marriage” and elects Republican House of Representatives.

— Renovation of Falls Creek, a historic Baptist conference center, is underway with more than $18 million pledged.

— Oklahoma disaster relief teams deploy to Southeast states ravaged by hurricanes.


— TBC messengers ask for study of theological teachings of Baptist colleges.

— Belmont University proposes new covenant with TBC; would elect own trustees.

— Tennessee Baptists respond to hurricane victims in Florida, Alabama.

TEXAS (input from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention news staff)

— SBTC moves into new office building.

— Baylor regents repeat efforts to fire President Robert Sloan.

— Partnership between BGCT and LifeWay ends.


— All state staff positions in Utah-Idaho are filled.

The above state-specific information represents all inputs received as of press time.
Participating state papers were: Arkansas Baptist News, The California Southern Baptist, Florida Baptist Witness, The Christian Index (Ga.), Hawaii Pacific Baptist, Indiana Baptist, Iowa Baptist, Western Recorder (Ky.), Baptist Message (La.), BaptistLIFE (Md./Del.), The Baptist Beacon (Mich.), The Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, The Pathway (Mo.), BCNE Journal (New England), Baptist New Mexican, Biblical Recorder (N.C.), Northwest Baptist Witness, Baptist Messenger (Okla.), Baptist & Reflector (Tenn.), The Baptist Standard (Texas-BGCT), Southern Baptist TEXAN (Texas-SBTC), Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Witness.

    About the Author

  • Will Hall