NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A confluence of world events, issues and personalities shaped the news of 2005, but no one theme emerged as conspicuously as that of meeting crisis with compassion.
CRISIS AND COMPASSION
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. Waves reaching 35-100 feet wreaked havoc, taking the lives of nearly 300,000 and making homeless over 5 million more.
But this historic disaster was only the first of multiple storms and natural catastrophes to headline 2005.
Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Rita and Wilma swept through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico with varying force and impact on island nations, Mexico and the U.S.
However, on Aug. 29, Katrina wreaked immense destruction in the U.S., particularly in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Winds combined with Katrina-spawned tornados cut a swath deep into the interior of the South and a 30-foot storm surge washed away what the winds left behind. Collapsed levees let in floodwaters that deluged 80 percent of New Orleans, which was largely built below sea level. Only a fraction of 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.
Adding to the bad news, during the height of hurricane season, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook northern Pakistan and the India-controlled area of Kashmir, killing 87,000 and destroying the homes of another 3.5 million.
These stories would be tragic if left at the details of destruction, but an overwhelming wave of compassion followed in the wake of each catastrophe. No outpouring of compassion could erase the enormous personal tragedy that occurred with each event, but the heartfelt kindness by so many to so many changed countless lives — those who gave and those who received. In the U.S., in addition to volunteerism and gifts of goods, cash donations from private citizens exceed $2.7 billion, $1.5 billion and $50 million respectively for immediate relief to the victims of Katrina, the Asian tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir.
WAR AND RUMORS OF WAR
While the compassionate response to world disasters figured prominently in 2005, news of combat, political controversies and social chaos captured the headlines throughout the year.
Protests in America grabbed headlines, and as deaths of U.S. military personnel passed 2,000, some political voices in the U.S. called for immediate troop withdrawal. During the same time, Iraqis participated in three historic votes (electing a temporary parliament, approving a draft constitution and voting on a permanent government), giving hope to democracy — which would be a first in the Arab world.
During a press conference Dec. 19, President Bush commented on what he saw as historic progress in a short time.
“Think about what has happened in a brief period of time — relatively brief,” he said. “I know with all the TV stations and stuff in America, two and a half years seems like an eternity. But in the march of history, it’s not all that long. … And it happened because the Iraqis want to live in a free society. And what’s important about this election is that Iraq will become an ally in the war on terror, and Iraq will serve as a beacon for what is possible; a beacon of freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom and liberty.”
But the war on terror was not confined to the Middle East. On July 7, London was terrorized by four synchronized bombings (three trains and one bus) that paralyzed the city and caused the world to pause and think about what might come next. More than 700 were injured and 52 victims died. A tape by the group claimed Al Qaeda ties.
Other world events involving Arabs caused similar tense anticipation of what might follow.
On Aug. 15, Israeli troops began enforcement of a government decision to remove about 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements as part of Israel’s plan for peace.
Riots that began Oct. 27 among Muslim youth in Paris spread to Arab communities in other cities throughout France (which has the largest Muslim population in Europe) and also Germany, Belgium and Sweden. Sparked by the deaths of two Arab youths at the hands of police, mostly Muslim teen immigrants burned cars, trucks and businesses for three weeks.
Arab-on-Arab attacks increased within Iraq, with bombings aimed at Iraqi police, soldiers and politicians as well as schools, hospitals and even mosques. Al Qaeda-related, Muslim-on-Muslim terror was exported to Jordan, where three bomb-strapped men entered separate hotels in Amman and in coordination, detonated their explosives, killing themselves and 54 men, women and children (most of the victims at the hotels were Jordanians celebrating weddings). A female bomber with the group failed to detonate her explosives and was captured.
CROSSING SOCIAL BOUNDARIES
Some of the greatest upheaval worldwide was not caused by terrorists or anarchists, but by legislative actions and judicial rulings that redefined marriage as something other than a lifelong union between one man and one woman.
In April, Spain joined Belgium and the Netherlands in legalizing “gay marriage;” and during the summer Canada followed suit. On Dec. 1, South Africa’s equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court gave parliament a year to fix a law that limits marriage to a pact between a man and a woman.
Great Britain legalized same-sex civil partnerships in December, joining other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, which grant same-sex couples at least some of the legal benefits of marriage.
In the United States, Texas passed a constitutional amendment in November that protects the traditional definition of marriage — increasing to 19 the number of states with similar amendments. A marriage amendment has not failed at the ballot, passing with an average of 70 percent of the vote. At least nine states are considering placing amendments on the ballot in 2006, and some states already are looking ahead to 2008.
Conservatives view these constitutional amendments as a means of thwarting activist judges and legislatures bent on expanding special rights for homosexuals. A federal marriage amendment has been blocked from coming to a vote in the U.S. Senate.
TIMES OF CHANGE
Leadership change was a constant in 2005.
President Bush began his second term with a filibuster controversy surrounding his nominees to the federal appeals courts. A Senate compromise averted a showdown, and Justice O’Connor’s retirement announcement shifted attention to the Supreme Court. 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 her, but with William Rehnquist’s death, Roberts was nominated and confirmed as chief justice.
Conservatives and liberals expressed concerns about Bush’s second nominee, White House counsel Harriet Miers, for O’Connor’s bench seat. She lacked a paper trail on key issues, and the void raised pro-life and pro-choice suspicions. Miers withdrew her name from consideration and Bush tapped Samuel Alito, who serves on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The faith of each of Bush’s picks has been central to the public discussion.
Perhaps the leadership change with the most global reach accompanied the death of Pope John Paul II. Evangelicals do not recognize papal authority, although 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 a staunch conservative on many of the issues important to evangelicals. However, James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Seminary, offered some caution. “Evangelicals may be prone to celebrate Ratzinger’s orthodoxy on the Trinity, Christology, and no salvation outside Christ but will need to remember Ratzinger’s role in ‘Dominus Iesus’ in 2000, which said that Protestant and evangelical churches ‘are not Churches in the proper sense,’ a statement reckoned by some as a reversal of Vatican II, which implies [Protestants and evangelicals are] ‘sects.’”
SOUTHERN BAPTISTS: IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF THE WORLD
Leadership transitions also marked Southern Baptist life in 2005.
Three former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, each twice elected, announced their 2006 retirements: Jimmy Draper (elected president in 1982, 1983), president of LifeWay Christian Resources; Jim Henry (elected 1994, 1995), pastor, First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla.; and Jerry Vines (elected 1988, 1989), pastor, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla. Southern Baptists elected the three during what is commonly called the Conservative Resurgence, a movement in which Southern Baptists voted for conservative leaders in response to evidence of theological liberalism within the denomination’s seminaries and entities.
Adrian Rogers, retired pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., succumbed to pneumonia on Nov. 15 and died. 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 the Conservative Resurgence.
Rogers chaired the committee that reviewed and revised the Baptist Faith and Message — Southern Baptists’ statement of beliefs — to address current theological and cultural issues.
Rogers’ death and the retirements of Draper, Henry and Vines signal the coming generational change in leadership of the convention.
During the annual meeting, reporters in Nashville spotlighted messengers’ decision to end the boycott against Disney, but the launch of the “Everyone Can” campaign to “Witness, Win and Baptize” one million in one year could be the action that defines the future of the convention. During the previous fall, SBC President Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., traveled to every U.S. state in an effort to build energy for the evangelism initiative. As part of the evangelism emphasis at the SBC gathering, local churches baptized eight people — including a soldier who served in Iraq.
Southern Baptist disaster relief operations proved to be the most enduring SBC news item in 2005. Furthering a reputation for being first in and last out, Southern Baptists stepped up in record numbers to meet each arising need while maintaining comprehensive operations in areas still recovering from previous catastrophes — some from 2004.
Volunteerism hallmarked disaster relief operations, but Southern Baptists also showed financial generosity. Southern Baptists’ faithful giving each Sunday raised receipts through the Cooperative Program for national causes 3.2 percent over the previous year, the 11th rise in 12 years, and simultaneously, they gave sacrificially, for example, spontaneously raising $16.8 million for tsunami victims and another $21.8 million for those impacted by Katrina.
LOOKING AT 2006
Faith certainly will remain an enduring issue in 2006.
A federal judge ruled the week before Christmas 2005 against teaching Intelligent Design in a Pennsylvania school system. The issue pits evolutionists against scientists who question the validity of Darwin’s theories in explaining the complexity of life. The setback in Pennsylvania likely will not quell the controversy over the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools. In Kansas, state education officials have adopted classroom standards that question the theory of evolution, while a federal appeals court in Georgia has heard arguments over whether the Cobb County school district can place evolution disclaimer stickers on biology textbooks.
Judicial nominations also figure to be a prominent topic in 2006, with Samuel Alito’s Senate hearings scheduled to begin in January.
Also, the war in Iraq and that country’s experience with democracy will be watched closely, with special attention to signs of how religious freedom will be treated.
Sanctity of life issues — particularly the stem cell debate — will be major stories. The Senate is scheduled to debate a bill in the early part of the year that would greatly expand funding on embryonic stem cell research. (Current law allows funding only on embryonic stem cell lines that were already in existence prior to a Bush order on Aug. 9, 2001.) Social conservatives support adult stem cell research, although they oppose embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that it requires the destruction of the tiny human beings. Passage of the bill would force President Bush to make good on his promise to veto it.
On Dec. 20 Bush signed into law a bill to underwrite adult stem cell research on cord blood stem cells. It authorizes $79 million for work on the stem cells and establishes a network for doctors and patients to access in an effort to find matches.
Adult stem cell research has resulted in therapies for more than 65 ailments, including spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, heart damage and a variety of cancers. Embryonic stem cell research, on the other hand, has failed to produce any successful therapies in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.