Faith played a pivotal role in shaping the political, social and religious spheres of American history in 2004. The following is the list of top ten events of 2004, during which faith proved its strength:
1. Value-Voter Election - Faith based value voters played a key role in determining the outcome of the 2004 presidential elections. High-profile conservatives such as James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, took center stage to encourage Christians to get out to the polls and vote their values.
2. Same-Sex Marriage - Traditionalists and Christians joined hands across America to fight what they called the greatest cultural warfare in modern American history: protecting traditional marriage. Beginning with San Francisco, a handful of cities began issuing gay marriage licenses despite state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman only. The event culminated when the Massachusetts state court upheld its 2003 November decision to legalize gay marriage; thousands of gay couples flocked to the state while hundreds of thousands of Christians began mobilizing efforts to block such instances from happening in different states. Dozens of pro-family and Christian conservative groups sprung up across the nation with the motive of protecting marriage from activist judges, such as those from San Francisco and Massachusetts; the groups successfully passed amendments in 11 states to define marriage clearly as between one man and one woman only.
3. The Passion of the Christ - After months of controversy that led to more pre-release sales than any film in history, The Passion of the Christ movie opened in the United States on February 25 (Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent), earning $25 million per day in its first five days of release and in short order became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever made. Directed and co-written by Mel Gibsonone of Hollywood's most respected actors and directorsThe Passion of The Christ dramatically and graphically captured the last 12 hours of Christ's life on Earth, based on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The film has stirred controversy, from difficulties finding a distributor to outright media hostility. However, the original release of the movie in theaters and its release on DVD and VHS proved to be very popular. By the end of September, The Passion of the Christ had the 9th highest all-time domestic gross ($370 million) and the 24th highest all-time worldwide gross ($609 million). Early reports also indicated that over 2.4 million copies of the film were sold by middle of the day.
4. Anglican Rift - The worldwide Anglican Communion came to a brink of separating as the Episcopal Church USA ordained an openly gay bishop and began issuing blessings to homosexual unions. The ECUSAs decision sparked an outcry of protests from traditionalists within the US denomination and from dozens of international Anglican churches; by mid June, two thirds of the Anglican Communion members broke fellowship from the ECUSA, and urged leaders of the US denomination to repent of their actions. In October, a task force of the Communion released a yearlong report on the affects of homosexuality in the fellowship of the church the report generally criticized both liberals in North America and conservatives mainly in Africa for their advocacy of homosexuality and their willingness to break communion respectively.
5. Hurricanes - A slew of four Hurricanes hit Caribbean nations and gulf-shore states, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands affected in what weather experts sum up as an unprecedented hurricane season. In a six-week period, four stormsHurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Jeannestruck Caribbean nations and several southeastern U.S. states. Since Hurricane Charley led off the string of devastating storms, thousands of Christian volunteers went on-scene, providing food, water, shower, shelter, medical supplies and blankets. Floridathe first state to be hit by four hurricanes since Texas in 1886saw the continuous efforts from the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Convoy of Hope from Springfield, Mo., and other faith-based groups. In northern Haitiwhere Hurricane Jeanne caused large-scale flooding, destroyed more than 4,000 homes, killed 2,600 lives, and directly affected 300,000 peopleChurch World Service (CWS) expedited $151,408 in emergency supplies by way of initial aid response and assisted state and local faith organizations in developing long-term programs aimed at restoring livelihoods and homes of vulnerable populations.
6. Pledge of allegiance In a mixed-blessings victory, a U.S. Supreme Court ruled the term under God should remain in the Pledge of Allegiance for technical reasons. The case, brought on by atheist and divorced father Michael Newdow who said his daughter should not be forced to hear or recite sectarian language at her elementary school, was shot down by the high court because Newdow did not have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit on behalf of his daughter. Although Christians celebrated the victory, they feared the case would prompt other atheists who have legal representative authority over their children to bring a similar challenge to court.
7. Iraq - Iraq experienced an outbreak of insurgent violence across the country this year as it neared its first democratic electionsincluding a recent string of increasing violence directed at Iraq's Christian minority that led to the destruction of places of worship and the building exodus of its 800,000 or so members. In November, masked men detonated a bomb near an Orthodox Church in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 34. In October, five Baghdad churches were attacked, causing damage but no casualties. And in August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians. In the most recent violence against Iraqs minority Christian community, witnesses say gunmen attacked two churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Dec. 7, forcing people to leave and setting off explosions inside the buildings that caused damage but no personal harm. Sources say Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Eyad Allawi expects an escalation of attacks by Iraqi fighters in Iraq before and after the Jan. 30 elections.
8. SBC-BWA split - A historic relationship between the nations largest Baptist denomination and the worlds largest fellowship of Baptist bodies came to an end in June 2004, following nearly 2 years of debate and discussion. The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the co-founders of the Baptist World Alliance, made its decision to break its 99-year relationship with the alliance only 1 year prior to the historic Centenary congress of the BWA. According to SBC officials, the break was due to the liberalist theology of the BWA and its constituents. Meanwhile, BWA officials denied the charge and instead said the break was a result of the BWAs acceptance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship several years earlier; the CBF is a moderate fellowship of churches that broke from the SBC in the early 90s.
9. Divestment - The Presbyterian Church USAs decision to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip made headlines throughout the year. The divestment decision, which was finalized during the PC(USA)s annual assemblies, was criticized by numerous Jewish and pro-Israel groups for being one-sided. The PC(USA), however, stood by its decision and in November released a list of 6 criteria that will determine which companies the denomination should divest from. The earliest a concrete divestment policy can take place is early 2006. Currently, the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada are considering adopting a similar divestment policy as that of the PC(USA).
10. Tsunami - The world mourned as tens of thousands of bodies were found across Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the worlds largest quake-tsunami devastation in 40 years. In response, aid agencies and governments around the world began pouring in relief supplies, while the world's biggest-ever relief operation stuttered into life against enormous odds. The 9.0 magnitude earthquakethe world's most powerful in four decadestriggered tidal waves, which swept across the Indian Ocean, striking coastal regions of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia. The tsunami also swept across the low-lying islands that make up the Maldives. With around 80,000 reported dead at the year's conclusion, Indonesia was the worst hit of the 12 nations in southern Asia and East Africa, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. As of Dec. 30, Sri Lanka reported 24,700 dead, India more than 7,300 and Thailand around 2,400 though that country's prime minister said he feared the toll would go to 6,800. A total of more than 300 were killed in Somalia, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Maldives, Tanzania, Seychelles, Bangladesh, and Kenya. With thousands still missing and fears that disease could bring a new wave of deaths, the total across the 12 nations continues to rise as the New Year begins. Currently taking large parts in the relief efforts are Christian organizations such as: Action by Churches Together (ACT), Church World Service (CWS), Norwegian Church Aid, World Vision International (WVI), Gospel for Asia (GFA), Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Lutheran World Relief (LWF), Food for the Hungry, and World Relief.