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2005 IN REVIEW: Hurricane Katrina, Asian tsunami lead list of top stories of the year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two natural disasters and the outpouring of support for their victims lead the list of top stories for 2005.

Baptist Press polled the editors of the paper or journal representing the 41 state and regional Baptist conventions, as well as the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, asking each to identify 10 (combined) international and U.S. stories, five SBC stories and three state convention stories that stood out in 2005.

Editors could include their staffs in the polling, but could submit only a single input, with each state or regional response having equal weighting with the others. The poll was open-ended to avoid shaping the results, but the survey included a large compilation of headlines as an aid to memory.

The following lists are a composite view of the 21 editors who replied. A total vote for each item is provided in parentheses.


1. (21) HURRICANE KATRINA WREAKS HAVOC IN LOUISIANA, MISSISSIPPI AND ALABAMA; CANAL BREAKS CAUSE CATASTROPHIC FLOODING IN NEW ORLEANS. Katrina’s winds combined with hurricane-spawned tornadoes cut a swath of destruction deep into the South and a 30-foot storm surge washed away what the winds left behind. Collapsed levees let in flood waters that deluged 80 percent of New Orleans, which was largely built below sea level. Only a fraction of the 500,000 previous residents now live in New Orleans. The storm killed more than 1,300 and displaced another 1.5 million, mostly from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

On a scale not seen in recent U.S. history, individuals, schools and churches opened their doors to offer shelter, and charities began to deliver food and assistance at record levels to meet immediate survival needs. Private donations continue to accrue, topping $2.7 billion in the U.S.

2. (19) TSUNAMI BATTERS SOUTHEAST ASIA’S COASTS. Entering 2005, the world struggled to grasp the human tragedy wrought by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that struck the coastlines of 12 countries around the Indian Ocean. Scientists estimated waves reached 35-80 feet in most of the ravaged coastal regions, and that Banda Aceh, Indonesia, only 160 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the tsunami, experienced a 100-foot wave traveling at 350 mph. Now judged as the most destructive on record, the tsunami took the lives of nearly 300,000 and left homeless more than 5 million more.

Only hours after the breaking news, rescue and relief efforts mobilized globally. Private gifts exceed more than $1.5 billion in the U.S., and governments worldwide pledged about $12 billion. Long-term recovery efforts continue as the start of a new year approaches.

[TIE] 3. (14) DEATH AND RETIREMENT CREATE SUPREME COURT CHANGES. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in July, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist died in September. President Bush originally named 50-year-old John Roberts, who was serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace O’Connor, but following Rehnquist’s death, Roberts was nominated and confirmed as chief justice.

Controversy embroiled Bush’s second nominee, Harriet Miers, for O’Connor’s seat. A trusted confidante of the president, she has been a highly successful lawyer who was the first female president of the Texas Bar Association. But, having no bench experience, she lacked a paper trail on key issues, raising suspicions of pro-lifers and pro-choicers. Facing uniform opposition, Miers withdrew her name from consideration.

Described as a constitutional constructionist, Samuel Alito, serving on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, replaced Miers as Bush’s candidate and will begin nomination hearings in 2006.

[TIE] 3. (14) POPE JOHN PAUL II DIES, POPE BENEDICT XVI INSTALLED. Perhaps the leadership change with the most global reach accompanied the death of Pope John Paul II. Evangelicals do not recognize papal authority, but they respected this leader of an estimated 1 billion Catholics worldwide for his biblical stances on homosexuality, marriage and sanctity of life issues. He was recognized as a champion of democracy, advocate for the rights of the poor and proponent of peace.

His successor, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, installed as Pope Benedict XVI, is considered as staunch a conservative on many of the issues important to evangelicals. However, evangelicals may be more cautious about Ratzinger because he is said to believe that Protestant faiths are “sects.”

[TIE] 5. (13) COURT ORDER LEADS TO TERRI SCHIAVO’S DEATH BY STARVATION AND DEHYDRATION. Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old disabled woman at the center of a nationwide life-and-death debate, died March 31 in her Florida hospice — nearly two weeks after her feeding tube was pulled.

Her case captured the nation’s attention, as Congress and President Bush intervened in an attempt to save her life. But in the end, Schiavo’s parents failed to convince federal courts to re-insert her feeding tube.

Schiavo’s death by starvation and dehydration brought together both sides of the ideological spectrum. Her death also epitomized the division in America about dignity of life issues.

[TIE] 5. (13) IRAQ HOLDS HISTORIC VOTES. In 2005, a purple finger, evidence of casting a vote, became a symbol of Iraq’s movement toward democracy and against the bloody hands of terrorists.

Despite insurgents’ threats to wash the streets with “voters’ blood,” editorial criticisms that called for delay of the elections (The New York Times), and a boycott by many Sunnis, about 58 percent of eligible Iraqis turned out in January to elect a provisional parliament.

In October, voters again went to the polls, but this time to approve a draft constitution; participation increased to an estimated 63 percent.

December elections for the permanent parliament brought 10 million to the polls, or about 67 percent of registered Iraqis.

It is not clear whether true religious freedom is possible, but at the least, a democratic and stable Iraq could have a dramatic impact on the Middle East, where Israel is the only democracy.

7. (11) QUAKE CRUSHES KASHMIR, PAKISTAN. On Oct. 8, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake, centered about 65 miles northeast of Islamabad, Pakistan, killed more than 87,000 and destroyed the homes of up to 3.5 million others in northern Pakistan and the India-controlled area of Kashmir.

Officials fear that a year of seemingly endless natural disasters and unprecedented need might lead to donor and volunteer fatigue, but even with ongoing recovery needs at home, some remaining from the hurricanes of 2004, Americans have given $50 million so far for immediate needs of earthquake victims. This amount trails giving to Katrina and tsunami relief efforts, but it is more generous than historic precedents. Most foreign disasters have prompted U.S. private donations of between $10 million to $25 million.

8. (9) AIDS CRISIS BUILDS IN AFRICA. According to U.N. statistics, nearly 29 million people in Africa have died from AIDS-related causes since 1981, when doctors first recognized the disease, including about 3.1 million deaths in Africa in 2004. AIDS has orphaned at least 13 million children, and officials expect the number to rise to perhaps 40 million by 2010.

New data shows that abstinence and faithfulness are far more effective against the epidemic than are condoms. Harvard researcher Edward Green attributed the dramatic reduction of AIDS in Uganda to the government’s campaign to promote abstinence and monogamy since 1991. In the decade that followed, rates of HIV infection peaked at 15 percent and fell to 5 percent.

[TIE] 9. (7) TERRORIST ATTACKS IN LONDON PARALYZE CITY, STARTLE WORLD. Invoking the name of the Prophet Mohammad, a terrorist group calling itself the “Secret Organization Group of Al Qaeda of Jihad in Europe” claimed responsibility for a series of bomb blasts that rocked London’s transportation system at the height of rush hour July 7.

Near-simultaneous bomb blasts at four separate sites — three in the city’s subway system and one on a packed double-decker bus — killed 56 and injured 700. The attacks came one day after London was chosen as the site of the 2012 Olympics and on the same day the Group of Eight summit began at the Gleneagles Hotel near Edinburgh, Scotland.

Four attempted bombings took place exactly two weeks after the deadly July 7 blasts, and again the bombs were spread out around the capital, three on underground trains and one on a bus; none of the devices exploded. Fifteen terrorists face charges, and officials are investigating Al Qaeda links.

[TIE] 9. (7) SUPREME COURT SPLITS ON TWO CASES ABOUT TEN COMMANDMENTS. In June, the Supreme Court issued two 5-4 opinions, one invalidating a Ten Commandments display in Kentucky, the other upholding a monument of the Decalogue on the Texas capitol grounds.

The court ruled Ten Commandments displays in courthouses in Kentucky’s McCreary and Pulaski counties violated the establishment clause, even though they were set among documents that included the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Magna Carta. The justices, however, decided a stand-alone, granite monument on the state capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, was constitutional.

The Supreme Court building contains carvings of Moses and the Ten Commandments both on the inside and outside.


1. (16) SOUTHERN BAPTIST DISASTER RELIEF MINISTRIES EXTEND COMPASSION TO HURRICANE VICTIMS. Since August, Southern Baptists have prepared and served more than 13 million meals, including 90 percent of the meals at Red Cross disaster relief sites. Disaster relief units from 41 state or regional conventions responded with 9,000 volunteers who cooked, cleaned out mud, cut and removed downed trees, laundered clothes and provided shower services. Southern Baptists also gave or pledged more than $21 million to meet immediate survival needs of hurricane victims (100 percent going to aid those in need in the general public).

Southern Baptists also launched first-time disaster relief initiatives, including: Adopt-A-Church (matching healthy churches with damaged or destroyed ones); Houses of Hope (providing temporary shelter in church facilities for evacuees); and the Survivor Information Database (an online service for connecting Katrina evacuees with family and friends).

Above-budget Cooperative Program receipts for the fiscal year ending September 30, about $12.5 million, were re-directed specifically to aid Southern Baptists harmed by Katrina: one-half to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (to aid faculty and students recovering from losses and to help in rebuilding the campus); one-fourth to the three state conventions most affected by the hurricane (to keep ministers in the field and to assist churches in recovery); and one-fourth to the North American Mission Board (to support the extensive hurricane disaster relief operations).

Two entities, LifeWay Christian Resources (which does not receive Cooperative Program money) and the International Mission Board, tapped operating reserves to fund recovery projects, giving $6 million and $2.5 million, respectively.

2. (14) KATRINA CAUSES WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTION OF NOBTS CAMPUS. Some buildings were damaged significantly by winds and rain intrusion, but in general, they were structurally intact. Later, levee breaks caused flooding that isolated the buildings at the front of the campus, but these structures did not suffer flood damage. However, 100 percent of faculty housing flooded, and faculty who lived on campus (which was most of the faculty) lost nearly everything. Forty-five percent of student houses flooded, and those students lost nearly everything.

Estimates show New Orleans Seminary suffered between $5 million and $15 million in damage, not including lost revenue. Insurance covered restoration of facilities damaged directly by the waters, but not those facilities that escaped flooding and only suffered mold and mildew growth.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee approved a three-year freeze in the calculation of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s enrollment, allowing NOBTS’ 2003-04 enrollment figures to apply to Cooperative Program funding formulas for the next three budget years. Southern Baptists’ six seminaries receive different levels of funding based on a rolling three-year average of their enrollment. The enrollment numbers are based on a formula known as “full-time equivalent” (FTE) enrollment. The stabilization will give NOBTS time to recover from enrollment losses related to Katrina.

The seminary temporarily moved its offices to Decatur, Ga., near Atlanta, but officials expect to be back in New Orleans for the fall 2006 schedule. The seminary is scheduled to open its campus to commuter students this spring.

3. (12) ADRIAN ROGERS, 3-TIME SBC PRESIDENT, GOES HOME. Adrian Rogers, retired pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., succumbed to pneumonia and died Nov. 15. He was mourned worldwide and honored as a pastor of pastors and champion of the faith. Rogers was a special figure in Southern Baptist life also for being the only SBC president in the modern era to be elected three times. His election in 1979 marked the beginning of what is commonly called the Conservative Resurgence, a movement in which Southern Baptists voted for conservative leaders in response to concerns about theological liberalism within the denomination’s seminaries and entities.

Rogers chaired the committee that reviewed and revised the Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptists’ consensus of beliefs about the teachings of Scripture, to address current theological and cultural issues.

4. (10) “EVERYONE CAN” EVANGELISM INITIATIVE LAUNCHED. On Oct. 1, Southern Baptists launched a year-long evangelism emphasis with the goal of winning and baptizing one million new believers. The initiative follows a convention-wide build-up, including SBC President Bobby Welch’s 50-state tour in 2004, and the 2005 annual meeting that hit the evangelism theme repeatedly — even hosting baptisms by local churches during business sessions. Some state conventions followed suit, using baptisms during their annual gatherings to emphasize evangelism.

The effort comes amid a 50-year plateau in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches.

Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., issued a call for all 1,183 Baptist associations across the nation to hold two “associational baptism rallies” during the emphasis as a means of promoting the effort among their churches.

5. (8) JIMMY DRAPER RETIRES FROM LIFEWAY, ONE OF KEY LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS ACROSS CONVENTION. Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced his intentions to retire in February 2006, the end of 15 years at the helm. A long-time SBC pastor, Draper was among the succession of conservative presidents Southern Baptists elected beginning in 1979.

Other key figures in the Conservative Resurgence also announced retirement plans for 2006 — Jim Henry (elected president in 1994 and 1995) and Jerry Vines (elected president in 1988 and 1989). Both have been serving flagship SBC churches, Henry since 1977 at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Vines since 1982 at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. These three retirements signal the coming generational change in leadership of the convention.

STATE OR REGION NEWS (as determined by each respective editor)


— Alabama Baptists’ unity seen in record giving and cooperation in ministry.

— Samford University President Tom Corts retires, Andrew Westmoreland named successor. Peaceful transition reflects spirit of state convention.


— Arkansas Baptists overwhelmingly respond to human needs caused by hurricanes: churches house and feed evacuees; 4,500 volunteers serve on disaster relief teams, preparing 1 million meals; 10 Arkansas Baptist camps open to house temporarily the displaced and attend to their physical and spiritual needs.

— Kaye Miller, member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, elected national Woman’s Missionary Union president.

— Messengers to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s annual meeting take first step in granting agency status to the Baptist Assembly at Siloam Springs, freeing the encampment to raise money.


— Florida Baptists respond tirelessly and generously to second consecutive active hurricane season.

— Effort to amend state constitution to protect marriage struggles to gather enough petitions to put on 2006 ballot.

— Florida Baptist State Board of Missions approves new strategy to reach South Florida.


— Georgia Baptists vote to sever ties with Mercer University; convention and school officials agree to terms for peacefully dissolving the relationship

— Georgia Baptist Convention sets ambitious goal of 50,000 baptisms for 2006.

— Georgia Baptists welcome record 104 new churches in 2005.


— Wendell Lang resigns as executive director and is named pastor of West Jackson Baptist Church (Tenn.). Executive team charged to serve collectively as “interim executive director.”

— North American Mission Board’s Nate Adams nominated as new Illinois Baptist State Association executive director.

— IBSA deploys record number of disaster relief volunteers.


— Baptist Convention of Iowa celebrates 50 years of Southern Baptist ministry in Iowa, 10 years as a convention.

— Jenifer Barrentine, the state executive’s daughter, coordinates mission projects in Iowa despite debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease and confinement to wheelchair.

— Iowa Baptists reach out as never before, send record numbers with disaster relief teams.


— Georgetown College officials and Kentucky Baptist Convention messengers adopt new relationship, with Georgetown electing its own trustees beginning in 2006 and the KBC phasing out Georgetown’s $1.3 million annual Cooperative Program allocation over the next four years.

— Kentucky Baptist disaster relief leaders train more than 2,800 volunteers in response to hurricane relief needs.

— Kentucky Baptist Convention launches first year of five-year “Kentucky Baptists Connect” initiative focusing on evangelism, church growth and leader training.


— Louisiana Baptists weather hurricanes despite immense damage to individuals and churches.

— Trustees name Joe Aguillard eighth president of Louisiana College.

— Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ends probation; Louisiana College remains fully accredited.


— NAMB invites the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware to partner in strategic cities initiative for Baltimore.

— Maryland/Delaware Baptists move forward with “Embrace Baltimore” initiative to evangelize city for Christ.

— States’ Baptists respond overwhelmingly to tsunami and hurricane.


— Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists embrace Katrina evacuees relocated to Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

— Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists train record numbers of disaster volunteers, deploy to assist in ministries related to Asian tsunami and Gulf Coast hurricanes.

— At MWBC annual Empower Conference, 21 youth accept God’s call to serve as church planter, pastor or missionary.


— Legal battle continues between Missouri Baptist Convention and five breakaway agencies; assets of more than $240 million at stake.

— Stem cell battle heats up as proposed 2006 ballot initiative would amend state constitution to protect destruction of embryos for stem cell research.

— Southern Baptist Matt Blunt inaugurated as Missouri’s governor.


— New Mexico Baptist disaster relief volunteers multiply 10-fold over 2004 numbers.

— Baptist Convention of New Mexico leader Claude Cone retires after 20 years.

— Joseph Bunce nominated for BCNM executive director’s post.


— Committee on nominations shows growing conservative influence; rejects candidates from churches with controversial ties.

— Messengers defeat motion to reduce giving plan options; decide contributions to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship no longer count as Cooperative Program giving.

— Executive director-treasurer resigns, conservatives move to replace interim initially hired by Baptist State Convention of North Carolina board of directors.


— Northwest Baptists elect Gustavo Suárez as executive director.

— Northwest Baptist Convention disaster relief ministries operate on six fronts at height of natural disasters.

— Northwest associations launch aggressive church planting efforts.


— Oklahoma Baptists respond immediately, comprehensively to Katrina disaster.

— Capital campaign for Falls Creek, a historic Baptist conference center, tops $20 million.

— Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma breaks ground for new tabernacle at Falls Creek.


— Intelligent Design debate wages in Dover, Pa.; federal judge rules I.D. may not be taught in Pa. public school science classes.

— Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey emphasizes evangelism during 35th annual meeting; local churches baptize new Christians at convention.

— At annual meeting, missions extravaganza features food prepared by convention’s ethnic churches; interactive games for adults and children alike, representing various ministries within the convention; and a meal provided by Pennsylvania/South Jersey disaster relief volunteers.


— Belmont University’s move away from Tennessee Baptists raises controversy over ownership of campus.

— World, Southern Baptists mourn the death of Tennessee’s Adrian Rogers.

— Tennessee Baptist Convention celebrates 25th anniversary of partnership missions.

TEXAS (Southern Baptists of Texas Convention)

— Southern Baptists of Texas Convention plays large role in Katrina disaster relief operations; coordinates feeding operations for hundreds of thousands of hurricane evacuees sent to Texas.

— Hurricane Rita shifts disaster relief focus to East Texas.

— Texas becomes 19th state to adopt a constitutional marriage amendment; measure passes overwhelmingly in off election year.

VIRGINIA (Baptist General Association of Virginia)

— BGAV disaster relief teams respond to Katrina and Rita disasters in U.S.

— Virginia Baptists respond to international disasters: tsunami in India and earthquake in Pakistan.

— BGAV admitted as full member into Baptist World Alliance & BWA World Congress in Birmingham, England.
Participating state papers were: Alabama Baptist, Arkansas Baptist News, Baptist Horizon (Canada), Florida Baptist Witness, Christian Index (Ga.), Illinois Baptist, Iowa Baptist, Western Recorder (Ky.), Baptist Message (La.), BaptistLIFE (Md./Del.), Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, Pathway (Mo.), Montana Baptist, Baptist New Mexican, Biblical Recorder (N.C.), Northwest Baptist Witness, Baptist Messenger (Okla.), Penn-Jersey Baptist, Baptist & Reflector (Tenn.), Southern Baptist TEXAN (SBTC), Religious Herald (Va.–BGAV).

    About the Author

  • Will Hall