Top religious events & trends for 2006
The Religious Newswriters Association polls its members near the end
of each year to assess their opinion on the most important news stories across
the world. Their
selections for 2006 were:
Cartoons: A series of cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper
showing drawings of the Prophet Muhammed in negative ways. Many Muslims feel that
pictures or images of the Prophet should not be created because it could
lead to idolatry. One image in particular inflamed many Muslims: that of
Muhammad wearing a bomb in place of a turban.
The pope: This story was also related to Islam. During
a talk at a European university, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th century
Christian emperor who said that Muhammad was "evil and inhuman." This
triggered unrest and multiple murders. The pope later came close to a
complete apology for the incident.
Episcopalians: The conflict within the Episcopal Church, USA
over equal status for women and gays deepened into a real schism during the
year. Traditionalists within the denomination were
outraged by the election of the Anglican Communion's first female primate,
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Seven dioceses have refused to
recognize her leadership. This added to their earlier outrage at the
confirmation as bishop of Gene Robinson, a gay male in a committed relationship.
Homosexuality: Ted Haggard, president of the National
Association of Evangelicals initially denied allegations that he
in gay sexual activity enhanced by met amphetamine. He later admitted that
at least some of the allegations are true. He is currently in a long-term
Elections: The mid-term elections in November produced a number
of defeats for religoius conservatives. Calls have been made
for Evangelicals to depart from their intense focus on restricting
abortion access and fighting against
equal rights for sexual minorities, in favor of including
additional social topics. Some have even suggested backing off from
political involvement entirely.
Middle East: Violence and conflict in the Middle East appears to
be escalating. This included civil war between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq,
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Iran's nuclear activity.
Amish: The remarkable developments surrounding the terrible
tragedy involving ten Amish children at Nickel Mines, PA. A gunman killed
five schoolgirls, injured five -- one of whom later died -- and finally committed suicide. In a remarkable
display of forgiveness, the Amish community responded by publicly forgiving
the perpetrator, taking food to his family, attending his funeral and
raising funds for his widow and family.
Da Vinci Code: The release of The Da Vinci Code movie
reemphasized the message in Dan Brown's book that Mary Magdalene and
of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) had married and had children. Some were
fascinated by the story. Some Christians
were outraged at the suggestion that Yeshua was sexually active. Many
evangelicals used the movie as a method of evangelizing
Same-sex marriage and civil unions: Tied for 8th place was the
recognition of same-sex relationships. The
Supreme Court in New Jersey unanimously ruled that same-sex couples should be able to obtain the same
state rights as married opposite-sex couples routinely receive. The New Jersey
legislature subsequently created a system of civil unions for same-sex couples. At the mid-term
elections, there were eight state proposals to ban same-sex marriage. Seven
passed, but with much reduced majorities compared to previous series of proposals. Arizona's failed -- the first such measure to be rejected by the
Stem cell research: President Bush used the first veto of his
presidency to reject a bill that would have expanded federal funding of stem cell research. A referendum to encourage stem cell research in Missouri passed.
Our picks for 2006:
We agree that the choices of the Religious Newswriters Association are
important news items. We would add:
Indications of religious trends:
||U.S. Supreme Court: The appointment of judge Samuel Alito Jr.
as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court tips the balance of power in that
court towards a conservative, strict constructionist (a.k.a. originalist)
As we wrote in our essay on how courts interpret the U.S. constitution
"They interpret a legal document as meaning 'today not what
current society (much less the Court) thinks it ought to mean, but
what it meant when it was adopted.' 1 Viewing
the Bill of Rights and the rest of the U.S. Constitution as
enduring documents means that the justices emphasize society's
values and the authors' intent during the era in which the text was
actually written. When the original U.S. Constitution was written:
||Women were excluded from many professions.
||Women were denied the right to vote or run for office.
||Spousal abuse was very largely ignored
||Marital rape was not recognized.
||Many African Americans were not allowed to marry.
||Human slavery was an established institution.
||Homosexuals were jailed and sometimes executed.
If one more strict constructionist is confirmed to the Court, the
character of the court may significantly change. This may result in
profound changes to the separation of church and
state; abortion access; equal rights for
women, gays, lesbians and bisexuals; loss of
personal privacy; contraception usage; same-sex
marriage and civil unions; censorship; and countless other aspects
||Protestant minority: The U.S. has been called the most
religiously diverse nation in the world.
2 Southern Ontario in Canada has been called the
most religiously diverse region of any country in the world. Religious
diversity in the U.S. and Canada is not only large but is increasing.
Adults identifying themselves as Christians
are dropping about 8% a decade; those not identified with a religion are
increasing as are non-Christian believers. Some polls have indicated
that Protestants became a minority in the U.S. sometime during 2005 or
2006. Further, religious polarization is increasing as the percentage of
fundamentalist and other evangelicals within Christianity grows, while
the percentage of mainline Christians drops.|
||Ecological concerns: A split has surfaced among fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians over
the environment. In the past, many conservative Protestants have
ignored global warming and other ecological concerns. They may have been
motivated by their anticipation of Jesus' second coming in the very near
future during which he could eliminate pollution, global warming and
other problems. There are indications that a sizeable percentage of
religious conservatives are jumping on the environmentalist bandwagon.|
||Status of same-sex couples: The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that loving,
committed, same-sex couples should be granted the hundreds of state
benefits and obligations previously reserved for opposite-sex couples. A majority of
judges on previous state courts had ruled in this way. However, this is
the first instance in the U.S. where the decision was unanimous.|
||Reducing abortion rates: A major movement among pro-choicers has surfaced to
commit less effort preserving abortion access,
while directing more energy towards
reducing the rate of abortions. There is lots of room for reduction; the
U.S. has the highest abortion rate of any developed country.
Pro-choicers propose to attack the cause
of the need for abortions -- unwanted pregnancies -- through education
and contraception. Some hope that they can cooperate with pro-life
groups in this area.|
||Same-sex marriage: In spite of the Conservative Party of
Canada's control of Parliament, a comfortable majority of members
rejected a motion to reopen debate on
same-sex marriage in Canada. This vote was undoubtedly influenced by a
growing number of Canadian adults who favor making same-sex marriage
available to homosexuals and bisexuals, and an even larger percentage of
adults who considered the matter closed. Although
this vote had no effect on same-sex
marriage in Canada, it might be one more indicator of increasing
acceptance towards marriage equality for same-sex couples in North
America. Support for restricting marriage to one man and one woman
remains at a high level among the elderly. However, a significant
majority of youth and young adults appear to favor same-sex marriage or
Some additional significant events:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Antonin Scalaia, "God's
Justice and Ours," First Things 123, 2002-MAY, Page 17 to 21.
Diana Eck, "A New
Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most
Religiously Diverse Nation," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001).
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
Copyright © 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2006-DEC-30
Author: B. A. Robinson