Topics in the News
Controversy Over Women's Roles
Theology and Language.
As had been true for several decades, issues dealing with women—their rights and roles in reproduction, in the family, and in the workforce—were controversial in all areas of U.S. society. Jewish and Christian groups grappled with what kind of leadership, if any, women should exercise in their synagogues and churches. Women attended seminaries, were ordained, and found work on church and synagogue staffs in increasing numbers, but were still seldom senior rabbis, pastors, and denominational executives or bishops. Women's roles were particularly problematic in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam because the Bible and Koran were written in and about patriarchal societies, as were other works important in Jewish and Christian contexts (for example, the Talmud, Church Fathers, and Hadith). All of this literature takes for granted that men have absolute authority over all members of their house-holds (including male children and slaves) and that they head governments. A society that counts descent through the male line will find female sexuality dangerous, because the free exercise of it could lead to a confusion of male bloodlines; for this reason the Old Testament requires women to be virgins until marriage, but no such standard is held for men. As religious groups experienced internal conflict between conservative and liberal elements, the understanding of women often...
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National Council of Churches.
When the churches of the American Protestant establishment—Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians—joined together in 1950 to establish the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America (NCC), their postwar self-confidence and long-established respectability seemed to promise success in their ultimate goal, the restoration of Christianity as a single, unified body of believers. In midcentury America their rather modest theological differences and historical antagonisms seemed eminently less important than the goal of restoring the unity of the body of Christ. Just as importantly, the Protestant mainstream seemed to share common cultural expectations, language, and experiences. Sharing communion and creed did not seem too difficult to achieve with an adequate supply of goodwill. Such expectations were not misplaced. By the end of the century, enormous ecumenical strides had been made within the mainstream. On 31 October 1999, the anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his Ninety-Five Theses, official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Lutheran Federation signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification—a key area of disagreement between Protestant and Catholic theologians—in the Sankt Anna Kirche in Augsburg, Germany. The agreement proclaimed "a consensus in basic...
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Homosexuality and the Churches
Entering the Mainstream.
Although gays and lesbians increasingly entered the mainstream of American society in the 1990s, their welcome was distinctly muted among broad sectors of the culture, particularly within religious institutions. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities struggled to respond to the insistent demands from their homosexual members for recognition of their needs and contributions. When these demands included the recognition of same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexual women and men, however, most mainstream churches retreated. New scientific theories further countered traditional definitions of homosexuality. Studies by the UCLA School of Medicine indicated that the brain structure of homosexual males differs from those of heterosexuals. The National Cancer Institute Laboratory of Biochemistry found evidence that male homosexuality may be inherited, and scientists at the National Institute of Health believed they found evidence that homosexuality is carried in DNA. This evidence, while not conclusive and dealing entirely with males, suggested that sexual orientation is inborn rather than chosen. These arguments were greeted by some Jews and Christians as yet more evidence of scientific hostility to religion; others reacted with relief, as the new information was seen as a means of offsetting the biblical statements on homosexuality.
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Masculinity and Religion
Crisis of Masculinity.
The politicization of the American family as a religious and social ideal became institutionalized in the 1990s. In the traditional, idealized household, the husband and father earned most or all of the income. In return, his wife took care of the house and children. The husband led; the wife followed. God was honored, and everyone prospered. Since the 1960s the ideal had suffered continuous insult from broad social changes, a rising rate of divorce, and increased employment (and empowerment) of women. Most evangelical Christian leaders had merely fretted over such changes in the 1980s, but turned to social and political activism in the 1990s. The secular men's movement, represented by Robert Bly's figure, Iron John, was displaced by two distinctly religious responses. The Million Man March, organized in 1995 by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (Louis Eugene
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Religion, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution.
The diversity in American religious practice led to increased tensions when the First Amendment limitations on the powers of the government to regulate religious practice came into conflict with governmental obligations to protect society at large. During the 1980s the Supreme Court had insisted that religious activity could not be regulated by the state unless the state had a compelling interest and the proposed regulation was the least restrictive means of doing so. A Supreme Court ruling in 1990, however,
Image Pop-UpAn altar to the dieties of Santeria
loosened those restrictions on local, state, and federal governments. The case, Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990) involved two members of the Native American Church who were fired from their jobs as addiction counselors after having consumed peyote in a traditional religious ceremony. When they applied for unemployment compensation, their application was denied because they had been fired for drug use. Claiming that their use of...
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Applewhite, Marshall Herff 1931-1997
Do and Ti.
Marshall Herff Applewhite was the son of a Presbyterian minister in Texas and was interested in becoming a preacher when he was young. He excelled in music: he sang in local choirs in Colorado and Texas, and even captured stage and operatic roles. He married and had two children. In the early 1970s, after divorcing his wife and losing his job teaching music, he spent some time in a mental hospital in Texas. There he met a nurse, Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles; she took the name "Ti" and left her family to travel with him after he left the hospital Applewhite considered her his teacher, and he took the name "Do." By 1974 they had both cut ties with all their kin. For the next twenty years they created and led a series of groups around the country that combined gnosticism, Christian millenarianism, and belief in benign space aliens. In 1975 they began to claim that they themselves were aliens incarnated in human bodies. Their followers were urged to separate themselves from human desires, activities, and former ties; Applewhite and Nettles said that they, although inseparable, had a purely platonic relationship. They taught that...
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Bernadin, Joseph Cardinal 1928-1996
ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CHICAGO
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1928, the son of Italian immigrants, Joseph Louis Bernadin attended public high school and started premedical studies at the University of South Carolina. He graduated, however, from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and earned a Master's degree in Education at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., before being ordained to the priesthood in the diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. Bernadin served as a priest in South Carolina from 1952 to 1966, when he was consecrated a bishop and assigned to serve as auxiliary to Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta, a leader in the post-Vatican II effort to renew the church. At age thirty-eight, Bernadin was the youngest Catholic bishop in the nation. In 1968 Bernadin went to Washington, D.C., to serve as general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and of its social-action agency, the United States Catholic Conference. Bernadin's skills as a mediator were recognized even by those who might have favored a less conciliatory approach. Russell Shaw, spokesman for the conference, recalled, "Over and over again I watched him at meetings where factions were wrangling and apparently irreconcilable. All of a sudden, Bernadin would just begin talking quietly and identify the issues in the debate and … weave together a kind of...
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Bernall, Cassie 1982-1999
Earlier in her life, Cassie Bernall, a seventeen-year-old student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, had experimented with drugs and alcohol and had once even discussed killing her parents. She had, however, converted to Christianity at an evangelical summer camp and had abandoned her flirtations with witchcraft for youth-oriented Bible studies and a "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet. When on 20 April 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the Columbine High School library during a shooting rampage that would leave twelve students, a teacher, and the gunmen dead, Bernall hid under a table. Reportedly, one of the gunmen stood over her and asked if she believed in God. She answered, "Yes, I believe in God." The gunman asked, "Why?" but before she could respond, he shot her to death.
Bernall's parents, Misty and Brad, were evangelical Christians and were concerned that their son and daughter follow in their faith. When Cassie was an eighth and ninth grader she rebelled against her parents and their religious and social values, telling her mother that she had "given her soul to Satan." She started sniffing glue, smoking marijuana, and drinking. She experimented with occult practices and discussed having another boy kill her parents. When her...
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Farrakhan, Louis 1933-
NATION OF ISLAM LEADER
Born Louis Eugene Walcott in the Roxbury section of Boston in 1933, Gene was the younger of two sons of Mae Clark, an immigrant from Barbados. Walcott's father, a Jamaican immigrant, was largely absent in Gene's life, but his mother more than made up for the absence. Her children attended St. Cyprian's, an Episcopal church, and were close with the pastor, Nathan Wright. She also paid for her sons to take music lessons. Gene became an accomplished violinist, scholar, and athlete, winning an athletic scholarship to college in North Carolina. Frustrated with the racism he encountered in the South, he dropped out of school to take up a career as a calypso singer and became known as "the Charmer." He was losing patience with the religion of his youth and told Henry Louis Gates, "I couldn't understand why Jesus would preach so much love and why there was so much hate demonstrated by white Christians against black Christians." In 1955, after hearing Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X speak, he converted to the Nation of Islam, a branch of Islam established in the 1930s by Wallace D. Fard in the black community of...
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Koresh, David 1959-1993
Vernon Wayne Howell was born on 17 August 1959. In 1968 he and his mother joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (established in 1863). Adventists consider themselves to be the true people of God, awaiting Christ's imminent return and attempting to understand all parts of the Bible that foreshadowed that return. Dissatisfied with their teachings, Howell eventually moved on to the Branch Davidians. An energetic and charismatic man, he taught that the Seven Seals of Rev. 6 provide the only hope for salvation. By 1985 he came to believe that he was God's prophet chosen to deliver the Adventists from error, a doctrine they rejected. This increased Howell's sense of alienation. He saw himself as a modern Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who defeated Babylon and is called God's Messiah in Isaiah 45:1. Because he was able to explain the Seals, and Rev. 5 says that only the Lamb of God, who is Christ, can explain them, Howell eventually claimed to be the Christ-Lamb. He legally changed his name to David Koresh: "Koresh" is the Hebrew form of "Cyrus," and David, like Cyrus, is referred to as "Messiah" (2 Sam. 22:51, 23:1).
In the 1930s Adventist teacher Victor T. Houteff created The Shepherd's Rod, a splinter group, and moved them to Waco, Texas. There he began...
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Mouler, R. Albert, Jr. 1959-
PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST
A native of Lakeland, Florida, R. Albert Mohler Jr. attended Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1980. He earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary, during which time he served on then President Roy Lee Honneycutt's staff.
When in 1993 the trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, elected thirty-three-year-old R. Albert Mohler Jr. to the presidency of the oldest seminary of the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, they signaled an end to the twenty-year struggle by conservatives to control the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its institutions. Mohler's predecessor had called the struggle a "holy war" and had fought to maintain the independence of the school, even as the board of trustees that employed him was increasingly dominated by conservatives. Yet, that same board's choice of Mohler to succeed Honeycutt was surprising: although he had earned Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from SBTS, he had neither been a pastor or teacher, nor had he accumulated much experience as an administrator. As a result of his selection, five...
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Reed, Ralph 1961-
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHRISTIAN
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of a Naval physician, Ralph Reed became fascinated by politics as a student at Cutler Ridge Junior High School near Miami when he ran for class president. As a student at the University of Georgia, he joined the College Republicans and served an extended internship as a Senate aide in 1980-1981. In 1983 he became president of the National College Republicans. He was also "born again, both politically and religiously. As a campus politician, he had earned a reputation for ruthlessness that he came to regret and later apologized to some of his earlier opponents. He earned a Ph.D. in American History at Emory University shortly before joining the Christian Coalition.
Political Strategist of the Religious Right.
Ralph Reed served as executive director of the Christian Coalition from 1989 until 1997. He had previously been the executive director of the College Republican National Committee (1982-1984) and a political organizer for Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina). During his eight years with the Christian...
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Spong, John Shelby 1931-
EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEWARK
Stirring the Waters.
Had John Shelby Spong not been an Episcopal bishop, his challenges to traditional Christian belief and practice would still have sparked controversy. Coming from the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, Spong's unapologetic rejection of some of Christianity's fundamental assumptions, and his willingness to use his Episcopal office as a bully pulpit for his message of post-modern Christian faith, made him a favorite target for conservative Christians. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Spong attended the University of North Carolina and Virginia Theological Seminary before being ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 1955. He served as rector of churches in Durham and Tarboro, North Carolina, and in Lynchburg and Richmond, Virginia. A popular speaker and writer, he had already provoked controversy when he was elected Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, on 6 March 1976. Some years earlier, while pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Richmond, Spong had responded to a rabbi's question about the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation with the words, "The Bible never says in a simplistic way that Jesus...
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People in the News
In December 1994 former television evangelist James Orsen "Jim" Bakker, whose PTL Club and Heritage USA theme park cost his investors, the "lifetime partners," millions of dollars, was released from federal prison. His former wife and partner, Tammy Faye Bakker, had since married building contractor Roe Messner.
In August 1998 Father James Callan, who for twenty-two years had served the Corpus Christi parish in Rochester, New York, was suspended from the Roman Catholic Church. He was charged with having performed same-sex weddings, offering Communion to non-Catholics, and permitting a woman, Mary Ramerman, to wear a clerical stole and serve at the altar in a manner reserved for priests. In February 1999 he was excommunicated for starting a new church.
In 1991 Joan Brown Campbell was installed as general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America (NCC), the first ordained woman to hold that post.
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, who used the prestige of his former office to undertake the role of peacemaker around the world, told the Christian Century part of the secret of his success: "I can get anyone to return my calls because I am a former President of the United States."
In September 1999 radical feminist theologian and scholar...
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TEMPLETON PRIZE FOR PROGRESS IN RELIGION
Awarded since 1972 to a living person who has shown "extraordinary originality in advancing humankind's understanding of God and/or spirituality."
1990 L. Charles Birch, scholar at several U.S. universities, researcher of science and faith
1991 no American winner
1992 no American winner
1993 Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship International
1994 Michael Novak, religious philosopher
1995 no American winner
1996 William R. "Bill" Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ
1997 no American winner
1998 no American winner 1999
Ian Barbour, scholar of science and religion
GRAWEMEYER AWARD IN RELIGION
Awarded annually since 1990, the Award honors "ideas rather than lifelong or personal achievement." Thus winners are listed with the book for which they were recognized.
1990 E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (1985)
1991 John Harwood Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (1989)
1992 Ralph Harper, On Presence: Variations and...
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Paul Abels, former pastor of Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York (1973-1984); gay-rights activist, 12 March 1992.
Ralph David Abernathy, 64, civil-rights activist and cofounder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 17 April 1990.
John Maury Allin, 76, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who oversaw revisions to the Book of Common Prayer and the 1976 decision to ordain women to the priesthood, 6 March 1998.
James Barbour Ashbrook, 73, nominated for the Templeton Prize in Religion and Science for co-authorship of The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet (1997); researcher on the correlation between the brain and religion, 2 January 1999.
Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, 68, Archbishop of Cincinnati (1927-1982); Archbishop of Chicago (1982-1996), 14 November 1996.
Cassie Bernall, 17, student, killed during the Columbine High School shooting, allegedly for professing her faith in God, 20 April 1999.
Raymond E. Brown, 70, Roman Catholic priest and New Testament scholar, best known for his work on the Gospel of John, who taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, 8 August 1998.
Charles Earl Cobb, 82, first executive director of the...
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Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New York: Knopf, 1993).
The Book of J, translated by David Rosenberg, interpreted by Harold Bloom (New York: Grove-Weidenfeld, 1990).
Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1994).
Donald J. Dietrich, God and Humanity in Auschwitz: Jewish-Christian Relations and Sanctioned Murder (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1995).
Michael Drosnin, The Bible Code (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997).
Richard Elliott Friedman, trans., The Hidden Book in the Bible (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998).
Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, eds., The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary (New York: Macmillan, 1993).
Dean R. Hoge and others, Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1994).
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (San Francisco:...
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Important Events in Religion, 1990–1999
- The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the first translation into English that attempts to be gender neutral, is published.
- On April 17, in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the Supreme Court rules that two members of the Native American Church are not entitled to unemployment benefits. They had been fired from their jobs as drug and alcohol counselors after using peyote in a religious service.
- On June 4, in Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens, the Supreme Court rules that public schools must give student-led religious groups the same access to school facilities allowed to other student groups.
- From June 12 to June 14, after nearly two decades of coordinated effort, fundamentalists take undisputed control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- On June 25, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform Judaism) votes to allow all rabbis to serve, regardless of sexual orientation.
- On July 4, Christian Scientists David and Ginger Twitchell are convicted in Boston of manslaughter in the death of their two-year-old son, Robyn, in 1986. The Massachusetts Supreme Court overturns their conviction in 1993 on a technicality but states that parents have a legal duty to provide medical care for their...
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