Religion writers call Clinton-Gore top story

January 02, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

Religion's role in the national elections was the top religion story of the last year, followed by the Church of England's vote to ordain women priests, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops' inability to agree on a teaching document on women's issues and the outpouring of allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

Those were rated the top four stories of 1992 in a survey of religion writers.

In an era when moderate Southern Baptists can't win the presidency of their own conservative-heavy denomination, the election of moderate Southern Baptists Bill Clinton and Al Gore Jr. as president and vice president of the country was a major story in religion as well as politics.

When combined with the unabashed and unsuccessful political involvement of religious conservatives to re-elect George Bush and Dan Quayle, and their much more successful efforts to elect state and local politicians, Election '92 was last year's top story in the Religion Newswriters Association poll.

Second place went to the Church of England's vote, after heated debate, to ordain female priests. The outcome brought threats of schism in this, the "mother church" of the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. But though the mother church sets an example for many Anglicans, half of the communion's member churches, including the U.S. Episcopal Church, have ordained women for years.

Third-ranked in the poll was the U.S. Catholic bishops' decision to reject the fourth and final draft of a pastoral letter on women's concerns. By shelving the issue for further consideration, the bishops punctuated the nine-year writing effort of a committee of peers with a question mark.

Included in this entry was notation that the bishops this year adopted statements urging evangelization and stewardship and vTC condemning spouse abuse. In the latter, they felt obliged to inform women that the Bible does not require wives to submit to abusive husbands.

Sexual misconduct by clergy of various denominations, an issue that raised scandals, lawsuits and litigation across the country, was rated as the fourth-biggest religious story of 1992.

Bill Thorkelson, the Minneapolis journalist who conducted the poll and compiled a list of 50 stories for consideration, noted in the sex abuse entry that former Catholic priest James Porter "figures in what may be the largest priestly pedophilia case" and that charges of "sexual misconduct with young males led Wallace Frey, vice president of Episcopal House of Deputies, to resign from ministry."

In the order they were ranked in the poll, the remainder of the Top 10 religion stories of 1992 were:

* Warfare in the former Yugoslavia had religion at the core, as hostilities among Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims were entwined in nationalist issues such as "ethnic cleansing."

* Prayers at public school graduations were ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote of U.S. Supreme Court justices.

* The long-awaited 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' coming to America became a celebration marked by contrition. In reviewing history, a number of religious leaders apologized for wrongdoings suffered by Native Americans at the hands of the European newcomers.

* In the bright spot among the Top 10 stories, religious groups sent an outpouring of relief, from supplies to workers, to victims of famine in Africa, hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana, race riots in Los Angeles and warfare in the former Yugoslavia.

* The United Methodist Church, wrestling with an issue that has dominated other Protestant denominations' national meetings in recent years, upheld its 20-year stance that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and homosexuals should not be ordained. But denomination leaders authorized continued church-wide study on the subject.

* Southern Baptists continued their internal strife. Although conservatives have controlled the presidency for more than a decade, a splinter group of moderates began gaining financial strength, particularly for their own foreign mission agency.

Mr. Thorkelson said he did not submit at least three "pretty good religion stories" because they happened in December, after he sent out his list of 50. The three were rioting and Hindu-Muslim fighting over a temple in India; expulsion of Palestinian Muslims from Israel; and controversy over the Ku Klux Klan erecting a cross next to a menorah display in Cincinnati, after using a religious freedom argument to get a city permit.

There was no clear "religious news maker of the year" among those responding to Mr. Thorkelson's survey. He declared a tie between Mr. Clinton and James Porter, the former Catholic priest charged with pedophilia.

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