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Religion: Year in Review

"Religion: Year in Review" Continued...

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

God unconstitutional

Forcing public-school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase "under God," thereby violating the Establishment clause. This 2 to 1 ruling by a panel of the liberal-tilted 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sparked a national uproar. The decision in effect overturned the 1954 act of Congress that inserted the two words in the pledge. Under intense pressure from the Justice Department and Congress, the lead judge stayed the order until the full court decides whether to rehear the case.

The panel more recently ruled that the plaintiff, atheist Michael Newdow, 49, retains his parental right to sue even though he doesn't have custody of the 8-year-old daughter in whose name he sued (and even though the girl and her mother attend an evangelical church and "love" saying the pledge).

No matter how the 9th Circuit decides the case, this one is almost certainly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Static in Christian broadcasting

Controversy this year split the ranks of the National Religious Broadcasters, whose 1,500 members include some of the most prominent and influential evangelical voices in the country. New president Wayne Pederson, 54, was ousted just before he was to be formally installed at the NRB annual meeting in Nashville in February. Weeks earlier, he had told a newspaper interviewer he hoped the NRB in the future would change its image: "We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized."

Broadcaster James Dobson and others who address social and cultural issues in their broadcasts took offense and launched a campaign to dump him. Coming to Mr. Pederson's defense were members from two other main camps in the NRB: the traditionalists who stick to gospel preaching and such, and a younger, growing band of broadcasters emphasizing music, seeker friendliness, and fresh ways to penetrate the culture. A straw vote by the full NRB executive board on a bid to keep him failed 36-47 amid heated debate. The vote nevertheless was a fairly strong message to the NRB's public-policy broadcasters and their supporters.

Mr. Dobson was disturbed. In his keynote speech, he issued a warning to several thousand listeners: In the face of worsening social ills, from homosexual propaganda in the public schools to partial-birth abortions, confrontation is a must.

Stealth surprise

The International Bible Society, its related Committee for Bible Translation, and Zondervan Publishing House scrapped past promises and with only days' notice in January released the New Testament portion of Today's New International Version (TNIV) Bible, which featured gender-neutral language. The entities had pledged in a 1997 meeting with some Bible scholars and leaders of various evangelical organizations to observe certain guidelines that ensured proper translation of Greek masculine pronouns in most cases, among other things.

Controversy greeted the release. Some theologians and Greek scholars pointed to certain deliberate mistranslations that could change the meaning of a passage. Some groups and leaders boycotted the new version; others embraced it. Cautioned Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary: "Our mission is not to make the Bible relevant to culture but to bring culture under the rubric of Scripture."

Clintonizing church discipline

The 2.4-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lurched toward a constitutional crisis in 2002. A clause in the PCUSA's Book of Order, the church's constitution, requires a standard of "fidelity in marriage" or "chastity in singleness" of ordained clergy and lay officers.

Gay-agenda forces have attacked the fidelity-chastity standard repeatedly, but it was confirmed by churchwide referendum three times, the latest by a 3 to 1 margin. This year at least 20 churches were in open defiance of the standard.

Lawyers on the board of the pro-homosexual Covenant Network of PCUSA churches counseled members to avoid open defiance of the constitution. Instead, they suggested a Clinton-like solution: Go ahead and ordain, redefine chastity to mean having sex in a pure and holy way, and understand that if an ordination candidate doesn't believe homosexual sex is sin, there is no need to self-acknowledge it, and there is no reason for repentance.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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