Biggest religious story of 2003 was a nonstory |

Biggest religious story of 2003 was a nonstory

Rich Mayfield
Rich Mayfield

The big religious news stories in 2003 often had more to do with bullying than believing.

The controversy surrounding the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire had more than the Episcopalian faithful interested in this religious story.

The fact, of course, that the Rev. Robinson, besides being a faithful priest, is openly gay made this story more than just theological.

By all accounts, the good bishop is well liked and deeply respected by the vast majority of his flock. Such admiration seemed to rile up the admonishers who threatened him with everything from church division to eternal damnation. Those of us who remember when the Episcopal Church was the first Protestant mainline denomination to ordain women (horror of horrors!) will also remember that the same threats were made by most of the same people.

Threats of another kind were announced when a Massachusetts state court overturned that commonwealth’s prohibition against gay marriages.

This immediately had some Christians clamoring for a Constitutional amendment with the intention of defining marriage in very traditional terms. One assumes Messieurs Adams and Jefferson had different intentions for the Bill of Rights.

The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church roars on with more fuel added to the fire last June when former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating resigned as the chairman of the church’s own investigative board.

Keating accused some bishops of behaving like Mafia dons – which not only piqued our curiosity but surely contributed to sales of “The DaVinci Code.”

Dan Brown’s book deserves its own paragraph.

This gripping novel captured the imagination of both believers and skeptics with a less than historically accurate and highly original thesis.

Personally, I found its exploration, flawed as it was, of Mary Magdalene’s role in the development of Christianity to be intriguing. The realization that Christianity did not emerge as a neatly defined doctrinal package may do much to help the faithful understand the faiths of others.

One of the more bizarre stories in a rather bizarre year was Judge Roy Moore’s insistence on displaying his version of the Ten Commandments in the foyer of an Alabama state judicial building.

Apparently, the judge has a different understanding than the rest of America regarding a fundamental principle of constitutional law. Saying he would abide only God’s law in his courtroom had the federal courts singing “Abide Without Us.”

Although not an expert, I do have a certain knowledge of the passage from Scripture that the now ex-jurist chiseled into his monument. Curiously it contains this admonition: “Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven image Š”

Although Mel Gibson’s movie on the last hours of Jesus won’t be released until next year, it was certainly a news item in 2003.

Gibson, the son of a highly controversial theologian, has made what he claims to be a “historically accurate” film. It is also alleged to be disturbingly biased.

Given the anti-Semitic stance of his father, one cannot help but wonder if this depiction of Jesus’ death at the instigation of Jewish leaders is less an attempt at historical reconstruction and more a revival of ugly prejudices.

The biggest religious story of the past year, it seems to me, is a nonstory.

It is centered in the apparent reluctance of the Democratic candidates to publicly explore their own religious commitments and the impact their faith has on their policies.

With the notable exception of Joe Lieberman, it seems the candidates are less willing to talk about their religion than just about anything else.

The evangelical Christian and social activist, Jim Wallis, writing in the New York Times last week, put it this way: “How a candidate deals with poverty is a religious issue and the Bush administration’s failure to support poor working families should be named as a religious failure.

“Neglect of the environment is a religious issue. Fighting pre-emptive and unilateral wars based on false claims is a religious issue Š

“The United States has a long history of religious faith supporting and literally driving progressive causes and movements.

“From the abolition of slavery to women’s suffrage to civil rights, religion has led the way for social change.”

Would that it be true in 2004.

Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at

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