- Almost anybody who went to church.
Findings from several medical studies indicated that people who attend religious services and are serious about their faith tend to have better health than the population at large. They also live longer, according to researchers of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas. Their study found the average life expectancy of those who said they never attended church was 75, compared with 82 and 83, respectively, for those who attended church services once a week and more than once a week.
- Religious broadcasters.
Thanks to a federal appeals court ruling in a case brought by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Federal Communications Commission no longer can restrict the job slots requiring a religious background, and gone are narrow affirmative-action hiring policies.
- Churches with bankrupt members.
President Clinton in June signed into law the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Act. It prevents a judge or trustee from seizing most tithes paid to a church by a member who files for bankruptcy. The action stemmed mainly from a 1992 case in which a judge ordered Crystal Evangelical Free Church in Minnesota to give back several thousand dollars of tithes of a church member who had declared bankruptcy. The ruling was reversed.
- Christian students at public colleges and universities.
In a lawsuit filed by Christian law students at the University of Wisconsin, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in July ruled unconstitutional the school's use of mandatory student fees to fund private groups that engage in political ideological activities. The issue appears headed to the Supreme Court.
- Parents who want, but can't afford, private religious schools.
Over the dogged opposition of teachers' unions, the Supreme Court in November allowed Wisconsin to continue providing financial help for needy families who wish to choose religious or other private schools for their children. The high court's refusal to strike down the Wisconsin school voucher program is sure to encourage similar efforts in other states. Congress is considering a national voucher program, and legislatures in about half the states have considered such programs in recent years. Legal fights over tuition vouchers are raging in Arizona, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
- The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.
Its president is Henry Lyons, the St. Petersburg, Fla., pastor who has made the NBCUSA a laughingstock. Already under state indictment for stealing church funds, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in July on 56 counts of fraud, extortion, theft, racketeering, tax evasion, and other charges. He is accused of diverting millions of dollars in church funds to finance a lavish lifestyle for himself and two women with whom he had affairs. NBCUSA officials and members declined to remove him from office despite his confessions of wrongdoing to them.
- The Gay Agendists.
For years, homosexuals and their supporters in many of the mainline churches have been agitating for acceptance of their lifestyle, pushing for changes in church laws and teachings where necessary. This year they heard a loud No. They heard it in the 8.4-million-member United Methodist Church. When Jimmy Creech, then pastor of First UMC in Omaha, defied church law and performed a union of two lesbians in the fall of 1997, he triggered a chain reaction that backfired on him and his cause. The UMC's highest court, the Judicial Council, upheld the validity and constitutionality of the church's ban on clergy participation in same-sex unions. Pro-homosexual activists in the UMC have three choices: Submit, be an outlaw and suffer the consequences, or walk. They also heard it in the 2.4-million-member Episcopal Church: In England in late summer, the world's Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference, led by many of the prelates from Africa and Asia, declared by a vote of 526 to 70 that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Scripture." The bishops said that homosexuals should not be ordained, and homosexual unions should not be blessed. Many Episcopal priests and some bishops routinely have been ignoring their denomination's bans on such practices, confident they will soon see the church's official positions reversed. But Lambeth historically has served as the frame of reference for the world's 73 million Anglicans. It's clear now: Pro-homosexual forces in the Episcopal Church are the ones who are out of step.
- President Clinton.
His comment at a clergy leadership breakfast at the White House in September pretty much said it all: "I don't think there's a fancy way to say, 'I have sinned.'" He asked an accountability team to meet with him weekly for prayer and counseling: Baptist preacher and sociologist Tony Campolo, Massachusetts pastor and author Gordon MacDonald, and his Washington pastor, Philip Wogaman of Foundry Methodist Church.
- Promise Keepers.
The eight-year-old Denver-based ministry built around stadium conferences for men found itself nearly out of money at the beginning of the year. It laid off its entire staff of more than 300 in March, relying on volunteers to keep things going. But contributions poured in, many staff members were rehired in time for the conference season, and 19 events were held. They attracted 454,000 men (down from 638,000 the previous year). Additionally, 30,000 clergy attended nine regional one-day conferences. Finances and staff are thin again, and next year's conferences will need to rely heavily on local organization and financing, spokesmen said.
- Renewalists in the mainline denominations.
Conservatives and moderates in the 2.6-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) could point to these wins, among others: the defeat of attempts to loosen doctrinal standards to permit the ordination of practicing homosexuals; a requirement that abstinence teaching and an emphasis on sexual purity be included in PCUSA youth education materials; the return to a synodical committee of a paper on social witness embracing universalist concepts, with instructions for a complete rewrite that centers on confessional and biblical teaching about Christ as Lord of all the world and its only hope of salvation. Struggling renewalists in other mainline denominations took heart from the apparent turn-around under way in the PCUSA and also from setbacks for those promoting the gay agenda in other denominations (see Losers). Renewal leaders now meet regularly under their umbrella group, the Association of Church Renewal. The ACR this year opened an office in Washington, D.C., and a site on the Web: www.acrchurches.org.
- Members of First Assembly of God, Danville, Ill.
During a Sunday morning service in May, a homemade bomb exploded outside the church, smashing a large hole in the wall near the front of the church. More than 30 people were injured, six of them seriously; many were young people. All recovered fully. Four days following the Danville blast, the bomber-a 39-year-old ex-convict and former mental patient-was killed when a bomb exploded in a garage not far from the church. Police said they could not tell if it was an accident or suicide.
- Alabama churchgoers.
When tornadoes ripped through the hills and hollows west of Birmingham on the Wednesday before Easter, hundreds of people were in churches. At Rock Creek Church of God, the restroom where 24 children and workers sought shelter was the only portion of the church's Family Life Center that was left standing. At the Open Door Church, 69 people, including some teenagers and children, crouched, singing and praying in a rear hallway. No one in the building was killed, but throughout the city, the storm killed 33 and injured hundreds. It destroyed 1,000 houses and damaged another 1,000. A dozen churches were destroyed or badly damaged. On Easter Sunday, church members gathered among the ruins and thanked God for bringing them through.
- Redeemer Lutheran Church, West Duluth, Minn.
The 60-member congregation got a new lease on life-and its property back. A plaintiff had won a judgment against the church in 1994 of $643,000 for having been molested as a youth by a former Redeemer pastor in the 1960s. When the church couldn't pay, he took over the building and its contents in a sheriff's auction in January. He agreed to settle for $200,000; anonymous donors and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod came to the small congregation's aid.
- Jim Bakker.
The 58-year-old former Christian television personality and ex-convict married Lori Beth Graham, a youth counselor he met in Los Angeles.
- Daniel Crocker.
The 39-year-old father of two, member of an Assemblies of God church in Fairfax, Va., and active in ministry outreach, turned himself in to authorities in November. When he was a 19-year-old on drugs in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kan., he assaulted and killed a 19-year-old girl. Over the years since he became a Christian, he and his wife lived with the secret. Now, he said, it was time to do what God wanted him to do: Confess, go back to Kansas, and face whatever punishment awaited him. He is in jail there, awaiting sentencing.
Those who stood their ground:
- The Salvation Army, San Francisco.
It turned down $3.5 million in city contracts for programs for senior citizens and the homeless rather than cave in to the city's domestic-partner regulations. The ministry said the law conflicts with its beliefs.
- Union Gospel Mission, Modesto, Calif.
The mission canceled government and food contracts after a new state policy said the mission could not require meal guests to attend a religious service.
- The 2,500-member Evangelical Theological Society.
The group weighed in with a message to the entire church at its 50th anniversary meeting in Orlando in November: No to hatred and harassment of homosexuals, but also No to homosexual practice and No to slander of evangelicals for taking a stand on the issue. "Scripture clearly teaches that homosexual conduct is always an abomination in the sight of God for all human beings, both men and women, in all circumstances, without exception," said the ETS in a rare resolution. (ETS members are professors of Bible and theology from every evangelical denomination, college, and seminary in the United States, along with some from Canada and Europe.)
- Mildred Rosario.
A sixth-grade teacher in the Bronx, Mrs. Rosario, 43, a Pentecostal, knew the rules against proselytizing. But this was different, she said. One June morning, her principal used the intercom to call for a moment of silence to remember a fifth-grader who had drowned. Mrs. Rosario's students, who knew the boy, were obviously upset. One asked her where the boy was. She replied, "In heaven." Others asked additional questions. Mrs. Rosario said she felt compelled to answer them. She said those who didn't wish to take part in the discussion could go to the back of the room to work on the computer or read a book. She told of God's love and prayed for the pupils. One student told a relative about the exchange, and she complained. School officials fired her.
On the move:
- Billy Graham and son Franklin.
This was the year Mr. Graham and his son began holding joint crusades in preparation for the younger Graham to take over the ministry from his father. The famed evangelist, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, turned 80 in November.
- Norma McCorvey, the Roe in Roe vs. Wade.
She became a Christian and was baptized in Dallas in 1995 by Operation Rescue's Flip Benham, left the abortion trade, and hit the pro-life speaking circuit. Saying she disagreed with some of Operation Rescue's tactics, she joined the Catholic Church this year and launched her "Roe No More Ministry." She told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee she will spend the rest of her life "undoing the law that bears my name." She dismissed Mr. Benham's pleas that she become more grounded in Christian faith before plunging into ministry.
- Christians who died.
They included three in January: Harold Lindsell, 84, author, founding faculty member of Fuller Seminary, and editor of Christianity Today 1968-1978; Alexander Haraszti, 77, the Atlanta physician and ethnic Hungarian Baptist leader who arranged for Billy Graham to preach throughout Eastern Europe during the communist era; and Georgi Vins, 69, the long-imprisoned leader of unregistered Baptists in the Soviet Union who was traded as part of a spy exchange in 1979 and set up a ministry in Elkhart, Ind., to serve those he left behind.
Karla Faye Tucker, the 38-year-old convicted pick-ax killer, was executed Feb. 3 in a Texas prison after attracting global interest. A heroin user at age 10 and a prostitute as a teenager, she received Christ six months following her arrest through the ministry of Baptist and Teen Challenge workers. Some prominent evangelical leaders petitioned for leniency. But Gov. George Bush declined to intervene after the Supreme Court rejected last-minute appeals. Among her last words was a plea for people to accept God's love and forgiveness.