Cover Story

Remembering 1998: Religion in America

Issue: "Year in Review 1998," Dec. 26, 1998

Winners:

  • 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.

Losers:

  • 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.

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