Effect Measure

One of my guilty pleasures used to be indulging in End-of-the-Year wrap-ups on network news. I’m not exactly sure why and it’s been decades since I’ve enjoyed what has become a sterile exercise in hindsight spin doctoring. There are still specialized areas, though, where the judgments of the cognoscenti are still interesting to me. One of them is religion. What do religion journalists consider the big stories of the past year? A comparison of the “Top Ten Stories” in 2005, 2006 and 2007 according to Christianity Today presents a picture that is, dare I say it, Enlightening. (NB: The Top Ten are the “events, people, and debates of the past year that Christianity Today’s editors believe have shaped, or will significantly shape, evangelical life, thought, or mission.”).

Let’s go back to the Dark Ages (2005).

  • The top story was Katrina: Storm prompts local churches, denominations, and ministries to deliver unprecedented aid response. Translation: Religion is a Force for Good in the secular world.
  • The number two story was also how churches were a Force for Good: “Christians quickly mobilize financial assistance after massive tsunami devastates parts of Southeast Asia in late 2004.”
  • Number three? The new Pope looks like the old Pope.
  • Number four? The Schiavo case draws attention to end-of-life decisions.
  • Five: Debate over Supreme Court slots. More on the religious Right’s power in the secular world.
  • Six: Rock stars and Christian activists lobby for G-8 debt relief, another Force for Good story.
  • Seven: The power of “values voters” in the 2004 elections and the interest of the media in religion.
  • Eight: Billy Graham hangs up his spurs.
  • Nine: Uncertain opinions on stem cells amongst the faithful.
  • And bringing up the rear at number ten: Narnia hits theaters and tries to cash in on “Passion” box-office.

Except for the Schiavo case, whose poisoned legacy for the evangelical movement was not yet clear, and the confusion over stem cells, these are positive stories, emphasizing the power of religion in the secular sphere.

But Pride Goeth Before the Fall. 2006 presents a far different picture.

  • Story Number One, Ted Haggard (remember him?): “Shocking admissions of immorality from New Life Church pastor shake evangelical world. Debate ensues over direction of nae and the temptations of high-profile ministry.”
  • This is followed by a story that most definitely doesn’t highlight religion as a Force for Good in the world: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. “Christian voices from Lebanon plead for prayers and protest.”
  • Number three is about the secular power of religion but of a highly divisive nature — the successful defense of “traditional marriage” in the courts.
  • Four: the new Pope provokes riots in the Muslim world (the “Regensburg speech”).
  • Five: the religious Right gets creamed in the 2006 election, even among the faithful. “Democrats ride gains among frequent churchgoers and Catholics to take control of House and Senate.”
  • Six: The Iraq debacle decimates the Iraqi Christian community.
  • Number seven: Southern Baptists crack down on charismatic practices (no more speaking in tongues. Who cares?).
  • Eight, disarray on immigration amongst the faithful: “Advocates swap proof texts on welcoming the stranger and obeying civil authorities as Congress debates illegal immigration.” I resist the impulse to laugh.
  • Nine, whistling past the graveyard: Some evangelicals launch a “climate initiative” in the hope of recapturing a shrinking public sympathy for religionin the public sphere.
  • Ten, no more Narnia or Passion: “Christians Flock to See The Da Vinci Code. Engagement trumps boycott as phenomenon peaks with boffo box office.” Heh, heh.

What a difference a year makes. And this year?

  • Number One: Taliban abduct Korean Missionaries, killing two. The Infidels take The Infidels hostage, forcing The Infidels out of the Land of the Infidels. Warring Religions as a Force for Evil.
  • Coming in at Number Two!”Atheism tops the bestseller charts”
  • Three: Dems speak glibly about their religious views, Republicans sound like cranks appealing to the fringe (my translation).
  • Number four: Billy Graham’s wife “promoted to glory.” Are you kidding? This is number four? Who even remembers who Ruth Graham is?
  • Number five (this coms after Ruth Graham?): The Anglican Church starts to crumble — “Global South leaders issued an ultimatum for the U.S. Episcopal Church to return to orthodox interpretation of Scripture, four U.S. dioceses took steps to exit the church, and the basis for a conservative new Anglican province in the U.S.was laid.”
  • Six: Three Christians tortured and killed in Eastern Turkey. Not exactly a “feel good” story.
  • Seven: Godfathers of the Religious Right croak (Fallwell, D. James Kennedy). I’m not in mourning.
  • Eight: The President of the Episcopal Theological Seminary becomes a Catholic. My question: How can you tell?
  • Nine: The religious Right can’t depose the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals because he is concerned about Global Warming. Why couldn’t he be a normal pervert like the rest of them?
  • Ten, probably the most significant for everyone else: Supreme Court upholds first limits on abortion since Roe v. Wade.

What is striking to me about this most recent summing up is how insular it is. Except for Number Ten, it is about internecine struggle, doctrinal dispute and the fear of The Other (that includes us at Number Two). If these are truly the “events, people, and debates of the past year that Christianity Today’s editors believe have shaped, or will significantly shape, evangelical life, thought, or mission” in 2008, it promises to be a Year of Enlightenment for The Rest of Us.

Happy New Year!


  1. #1 M. Randolph Kruger
    December 30, 2007

    Does kind of sound like organized crime doesnt it Revere?

    First a question on stem cells, could in your wildest imagination stem cells helped this girl? Running it out to the best scenario? I had big questions about her condition.

    Next and its to the Episcopal Church. Pretty hard core and right wing of course, for the better part. The particular diocese allowing gay marriages, and priests becoming openly gay was a bit too much for the south. There are lots of Democrats and Republican Episcopals down South, but they really couldnt let this continue. Citing majority the Anglican Church in the South simply said we would fold our tents and move on to a different level. Its not just the gay thing. Its what they were teaching in the schools (I. design, Creationism against Darwinism). I really loved the one where the priest was teaching one of the boys creationism in the back room. He was never even censured by the diocese and they paid an out of court settlement.

    By definition, all of the Anglican Churches ARE Catholic. The Catholics and Episcopals down in the South are pretty much solid on beliefs except in the stuff you know about. it was not unusual in my early days to have the Catholic priest delivering a Catholic service in my Episcopal Church when our priest was out of town. Same for them. It was that diversity that for me at least kept this thing real. That message was that there are other things out there. Keep looking and rebuilding your faith each day, else the things in this world will tear it down.

    I certainly didnt and dont gauge my beliefs on a very good book. The Da Vinci Code. For me if anything were proven from the book it would be just a reaffirmation that Christ did live, his seed was passed on and is circulating within the population of the earth. Might explain Edgar Cayce a bit….Hey, how bout Einstein? Can you knock on Mother Theresa?

    You dont have to have religion to be in the top ten people of the world. It might help though. Hell Revere, if you live like you talk you’ll be in there 15 minutes ahead of me.

    You might have to get past Reagan though on that UHC thing. If you see a guy named Cheney with a shotgun, run.

  2. #2 revere
    December 30, 2007

    Randy: If by “this girl” you mean Terri Schiavo, stem cells couldn’t have done a thing. Her brain was gone. Regarding the Anglican-Catholic connection, yes, that’s why i said “How can you tell?” But it made a difference to Henry the VIII and Pope Clement VII I guess. And to the Episcopal Theological Seminary. Tempest in a Teapot for us unbelievers. And Cheney doesn’t have to be within eyesight to hurt me, I’m afraid. I have no satisfaction that Cheney will wind up in Hell but I have the satisifaction that at some point he won’t be. Of course that goes for me, too.

  3. #3 Billy Taylor
    December 30, 2007

    M. Randolph Kruger,

    I am not sure if you meant to do this, but it seems like you are referring to the Southern US. I think by the Global South they mean the southern part of the world. It is another term for the Third World, which includes almost everything south of the US, Europe, former USSR, and China, except Australia and NZ. The Episcopal churches problems are global and not a US domestic problem.

  4. #4 Zeno
    December 31, 2007

    The President of the Episcopal Theological Seminary becomes a Catholic. My question: How can you tell?

    Yes, it can be difficult, but one clue is an extra dollop of misogyny and homophobia. If a woman is leading a weekend service that looks a lot like a Catholic mass — but isn’t — then you’re probably in an Episcopal church. However, when you peek into The Book of Common Prayer, you’ll see that the Episcopalians observe feast days in honor of Catholic popes. They’re not labeled as such, but that’s who Leo the Great and Gregory the Great are, even if the Episcopalians have to disguise the fact by limiting their title to “Bishop of Rome.” Episcopalianism is a more humane knock-off of Catholicism, but some of its more reactionary elements are marching back toward Rome, regretting the way Henry VIII cracked open the church door for all sorts of new-fangled notions, when all he really wanted was a divorce.

  5. #5 AnInGe
    December 31, 2007

    Item 5 for the year 2006 shows how to distinguish Episcopalians from Catholics when it states: “Democrats ride gains among frequent churchgoers and Catholics to take control of House and Senate.” The Catholics are appearantly the ones who are infrequent churchgoers.

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