• year in review 2009
January 2, 2010|11:56 pm

Then-Sen. Barack Obama was right when he said back in 2008 that change was coming.

The year 2009 was a time of change – but that was only partly because of the man who was heralded into the White House on the platform of “Change.” The changes in 2009 rippled from a number of scale-tipping moments, the votes of both the many and the few, the rise of some, and the emissions of the plentiful – according to some.

The following is a look back at the year 2009 and what changes came about – ten areas that The Christian Post and much of the Christian community had their eyes fixed upon:

1. Struggles over homosexuality intensify

Debates over the issue of homosexuality intensified in 2009 with the legalization of same-sex marriage in three U.S. states and a number of places outside the nation's borders. Iowa’s Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the state. Vermont’s Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure legalizing gay marriage and even overrided the governor’s veto of the bill, making Vermont the first state to approve gay marriage legislatively. New Hampshire lawmakers also managed to pass a measure legalizing same-marriage, though their law wouldn’t go into effect until the following year, on Jan. 1. Sweden, meanwhile, became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in either a religious or civil ceremony.

But while one small yet tumultuous tide lunged forward, another blocked it from breaking though into other areas. In Maine, voters repealed a gay marriage law that had been passed by the state’s legislature just months earlier. New York, meanwhile, chalked up another big win for traditional marriage advocates with the larger-than-expected vote-down of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. And traditional marriage advocates in the nation’s capital engaged themselves in an effort to roll back D.C.’s pending gay marriage law by forcing a voter referendum on the issue.

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New Jersey was also a frenzied battleground for marriage, with liberal lawmakers in the state senate scrambling to advance legislation before its next governor was set to take office. By the New Year, however, there were reportedly not enough votes to advance the legislation, which the state’s outgoing governor had promised to sign and its incoming governor has vowed to veto. Incoming Gov. Chris Christie takes office on Jan. 19.

Not surprisingly, the battle over homosexuality also continued to pour into churches. The Episcopal Church approved a resolution stating that access to their ordination process is open to all baptized members, including practicing homosexuals, despite a call for restraint from Anglican leaders from across the Communion concerning the election of bishops whose "manner of life" – namely partnered homosexuals – would cause offense to the wider Anglican Communion.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), meanwhile, approved a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained – a move that drew stern rebuke from the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in America (ELCA is the largest).

School campuses were also a battleground, with Christian students finding themselves divided on how to respond. While a number of pro-family groups urged parents to keep their children home on the annual pro-gay "Day of Silence," some Christian leaders rallied students to participate in the “Day of Truth” to openly voice their views about sexuality. Still others encouraged young believers to take a Golden Rule Pledge and show up at school on the “Day of Silence” to live out the teaching of Christ to treat others as they want to be treated.

With homosexuality more widely accepted among younger generations, the decision on how to respond proved to be a tough one to make for many.

And speaking of responses, there was probably none that drew as large a media storm in 2009 than that of then-Miss California Carrie Prejean, who, during the Miss USA Pageant, responded to a question on homosexuality by saying she believes marriage to be the union of a man and a woman.

The response got the Southern California megachurchgoer a whole lot criticism but also much support – particularly among conservatives, though many were wary of making her a spokesperson for the traditional marriage movement as some had seemingly done. Aside from the media’s glare, Prejean would later find herself battling for her crown (and losing), defending herself from personal attacks, explaining herself (regarding compromising photos that were leaked), and even challenging Miss California officials in court.

For some, the flack that Prejean picked up was only a taste of the vilification some say will be more common as pro-homosexuality activists work to change laws and cast homosexuality in a more acceptable light.

Among the efforts most vigorously opposed by conservatives was the attempt to pass a new hate crimes bill that would elevate homosexuals who are victims of violent crimes to special, protected status under the law based on their “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

One ministry said the expanded hate crimes law, which lawmakers passed after tacking it on to a must-pass defense appropriations bill, would only fuel hostility toward traditional marriage advocates.

Already gay marriage supporters in Maine, for example, have threatened to file IRS complaints against churches that spoke out against the state's gay marriage law, which voters overturned with a 53 percent vote.

And after California voters passed Proposition 8, a constitutional ballot initiative that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, there were many incidents of vandalism to churches as well as physical attacks against Christians.

Clergy, religious broadcasters and conservative groups fear the newly expanded hate crimes law will subject them to prosecution for preaching what they believe the Bible says – that homosexual behavior is sin.

Those who hold this view have pointed to cases in Canada and the United Kingdom where Christians have already been feeling the negative effects of similar hate-crimes legislation.

2. The era of Obama opens

The United States’ newly elected president promised change during his campaign and change there was – whether good or bad, however, is largely dependent on who you talk to and regarding which topic.

While conservatives hailed Obama’s election as the first black president, they decried his policies – particularly those related to abortion and homosexuality – two issues that have come to define conservative Christians in the eyes of society.

In preparing for the worst, pro-lifers bolstered their efforts while many encouraged fellow believers to be prayerful for Obama, who has been trying to take the middle ground in many areas but has mostly appealed to the "Left" while upsetting the "Right."

As for the rest of the nation, a majority dubbed Obama as their personal hero with Jesus Christ coming in second.

Obama was also ranked recently as the living person most admired by Americans, garnering twice as many votes as the next closest contender – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

And, of course, there was Obama’s shocking Nobel Peace Prize win, which generated a flurry of reactions across the nation and the world – from high praise and approval to criticism and disbelief.

According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Obama made substantial contributions toward peace in 2009 and had furthermore become the “world’s leading spokesman” for “precisely” the attitudes and the international policy that the committee has sought to stimulate in the 108 years that the international award has been bestowed.

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play,” the five-member committee stated in its announcement.

“The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened,” it added.

The Nobel Committee said it had attached “special importance” to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

3. Abortion battle rages on; Pro-lifers pick up momentum

Abortion was still a major issue in 2009 as in years past, especially with Congress working to make health care coverage affordable for the over 30 million Americans who reportedly don't have it.

Conservatives campaigned strongly against the bill, which they said could lead to the largest expansion of abortion since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Right before Christmas, the Senate was able to pass its version of the bill without a single Republican on board. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill was approved without guarantee that abortions would not be federally funded. Having been passed, the bill must be reconciled with the House version before heading over to Obama to sign. Conservatives point out that most Americans are against federally funding abortions, as numerous polls have found.

Furthermore, for the first time in over a decade, more Americans say they are pro-life than pro-choice, according to 2009’s annual Gallup poll on abortion.

Pew Research Center found similar results in 2009, noting that pro-choice Americans had clearly outnumbered pro-lifers 54 percent to 40 percent in 2007 and 2008, but that views of abortion are now about evenly divided, with 47 percent expressing support for legalized abortion and 44 percent expressing opposition.

Groups that had once clearly preferred keeping abortion legal – such as men, white mainline Protestants, and political independents – are now divided, the Pew Center noted.

Pew suggested that the election of a pro-choice candidate as president may have contributed to the shift in attitude.

4. Global warming stirs talks, sparks actions

Not all change is good change – especially if that change includes coastal flooding from rising sea levels, severe weather events, and variations in rainfall and temperatures that affect agriculture and wipe out species of plants and animals.

That’s what some scientists say will happen if nothing is done to slow down or stop global warming – claims that have fueled the efforts of environmentalists and "Creation Care" Christians. They also fueled talks at the much-anticipated gathering of world leaders in December that resulted in a non-binding accord between nations that agreed to cooperate in reducing emissions "with a view" to scientists' warnings to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels.

Despite the warnings and the insistence by some that humans are to blame for climate change, critics of climate change hype say global warming could be caused naturally by changes such as alternations in the Earth’s orbit and solar energy and solar wind output.

Some even argue that science, contrary to what many leading scientists claim, does not support the claim that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is having a negative effect on the earth.

They say no one currently really understands clearly how the earth is responding to the increase in the greenhouse gas and that cap and trade legislation – pollution control policy that sets a limit or cap on the amount of pollutants that can be emitted – could even do serious harm to the world’s poor without guaranteeing that global warming would decrease.

Despite the uncertainty over the exact causes of global climate change and its degree of devastation, a number of prominent religious leaders and faith-based groups attended the United Nations summit on climate change with the aim to persuade global leaders to support cuts in carbon emissions.

The climate summit in Copenhagen drew participants from 192 countries representing governments, the business community, and civil society.

5. Rick Warren draws national spotlight

Though his best-selling 2002 novel The Purpose Driven Life became one of the most purchased books in printing history a few years ago, Rick Warren was still only known to about 1 in 2 Americans at the beginning of the year. That likely changed, however, after Warren was tapped to give the invocation prayer at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. Warren became an even larger magnet for the press – a development that gave the Southern California megachurch pastor as much controversy as it did publicity. Even his appeal two days before the end of 2009 to his church members for end-of-the-year donations made headlines, though Warren suggested that it wouldn’t have if the secular press wasn’t, as they "typically" are, “clueless about how churches actually work.” The press also looked to Warren to weigh in on California’s Proposition 8, which voters passed last year to define marriage as the union of a man and woman, and also Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which drew protests internationally, including from evangelical Christians in America.

Despite the media storms and the criticisms he received from both the left and the right (for different reasons), Warren still was able to concentrate on writing his follow-up to The Purpose Driven Life, which is set to release Easter 2010 - the 30th anniversary of his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

An unauthorized biography on Warren, meanwhile, was released, highlighting in a much more vulnerable light the life of the affable yet confident megachurch pastor who calls presidents and billionaires his friends.

Also in 2009, Time magazine named Warren one of 2009's World's 100 Most Influential People.

In 2005, Warren was listed among Time's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals.

6. Famed leaders move on; New leaders step up

Speaking of rising Christian leaders, a number of groups saw new leadership take the helms, including Oral Roberts University, which tapped Dr. Mark Rutland as its new president; the World Council of Churches, which elected the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit to succeed its current general secretary; and Crystal Cathedral, the church founded by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, which tapped Tullian Tchividjian to serve as senior pastor after having gone months without one.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, meanwhile, resigned as chairman of his organization, charismatic televangelist Pat Roberts announced his plans to retire as president of Regent University, and Heaven welcomed a number of influential figures, including missiologist Ralph D. Winter, “seed faith” leader Oral Roberts, and megachurch Pastor Billy Joe Daugherty, whose network of Bible schools spans across 911 campuses in 93 countries.

Stepping back into the picture, meanwhile, were former megachurch Pastor Ted Haggard, whose return to the public eye was welcomed by some but criticized by others, and Richard Cizik, who was forced to resign as vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals in 2008 after saying a pro-life Christian could find reason to vote for an abortion rights candidate and that, while he does not support gay marriage, he is “shifting” on the issue and does believe in homosexual civil unions.

Less noticed was the return of former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed who started a new organization that he claimed “is not your daddy’s Christian Coalition.”

The return of the man dubbed by Time magazine as "The Right Hand of God" is being watched carefully by "Religious Right" critics such as American Atheists.

"We'll be watching this very, very closely," promised the public policy group's communications director, Dave Silverman.

7. Charles Darwin supporters mark 200th anniversary

While the marking of anniversaries don't usually bring about change, they can remind people of what has changed - and what hasn't.

The year 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution has been a point of contention for Christians - many of which accept it but still believe in Creation while just as many reject it and insist that it is incompatible with the Bible. In addition to Darwin's birth, 2009 also marked the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in which he outlined his theory of evolution.

Aside from expected events commemorating the anniversaries, anti-evolution conferences and literature also marked the occasions as well as a movie based on Darwin’s life.

Fueling debate over evolution theory, meanwhile, was the unveiling of “missing links” “Ida” and“Ardi” – which creationists and anti-evolutionists said were, respectively, nothing more than a quadrupedal ape and a cat-sized creature not even close to the ancestral line of monkeys let alone humans.

“As far as we’re concerned, the evolutionary ‘threat’ to creationists from Ardi is no more than that posed by Ida: viz., none,” wrote staff members at the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis.

According to the Gallup organization, which has polled U.S. adults about their beliefs on evolution and creation since 1982, 44 percent of Americans surveyed last year said they believe God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.

Thirty-six percent, meanwhile, said they believe that man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but that God guided the process, including man's creation.

Fourteen percent said also the latter, but don't believe God had a part in the process. When Gallup first asked its evolution question, the figures were 44, 38, and 9, respectively.

8. 'The End' feels closer for many

There are every year talks of when the world as we know it will end, when Christ will return, when the events prophesied in the Book of Revelations will come to be. This year, however, had some new fuel to add to discussions, especially with the release of the movie "2012," which capitalized on a small yet growing belief that something catastrophic is set to take place in less than three years.

2012 is the last year noted on the Mayan calendar, and doomsdayers say there are many other people and places that point to 2012 as a day of destruction.

Though the Bible is not one of those 2012 foreboders, a number of Christian leaders did fan End Times speculation with their observations of today's events – both the negative ones and the positive ones.

“We are entering a new phase of world events,” said Mark Anderson, president of Call2All and the Global Pastors Network, during a four-day congress in Dayton, Ohio, early in the year.

Adding to that, Steve Douglass, president of Campus Crusade for Christ International, noted how he has seen God do much more incredible things in the last five to ten years than he has over the past four decades of observing God at work.

In 2009, for example, the media arm of Campus Crusade for Christ recorded over ten million decisions for Jesus Christ, more than tripling 2008’s total and doubling the prediction for 2009. In 2004, it had witnessed just 21,066 decisions.

“Internet witnessing is growing massively,” Douglass noted. “It didn’t even exist 10 years ago.”

Also fueling discussion in 2009 was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which announced early in the year that it would focus on the return of Jesus Christ and help prepare believers for life in the last days.

As part of its effort, the ministry compiled a number of End Times resources including a message delivered by internationally renowned evangelist Billy Graham in 1998, a 2008 message from BGEA president and CEO Franklin Graham, an article adapted from a message delivered by Anne Graham Lotz in 1996, an End Times article on the basics of the Second Coming, and a couple of Q&As with Billy Graham that includes a question on whether the world will end in 2009.

“The most important question, however, is this: Are you ready for Christ's return?” Graham wrote after offering his response.

The End Times emphasis was made just a few months after Graham celebrated his 90th birthday and ahead of the 100th birthday celebration of George Beverly Shea, who for decades was the musical mainstay at Graham's evangelistic crusades. It also was made one year before the ministry was to mark its 60th anniversary.

9. Evangelical youth add social justice to moral conservatism

It shouldn’t be surprising, but after years of the media casting Christians as anti-gay, evangelical youth have been shifting their attention - or at least adding to it. While still believing homosexual acts to be sin and abortion equivalent to murder, the rising generation of evangelicals have been devoting more time, effort, and attention to social justice – an issue largely associated with the “Left” though most evangelicals acknowledge God’s command to love their neighbors, defend widows and orphans, and help the poor.

“We are seeing a head-snapping generational change,” contended Michael Gerson, senior research fellow in the Center on Faith & International Affairs at the Institute for Global Engagement.

“Evangelical social engagement is becoming broader, but this is not an innovation but a revival. Not a fresh track in the snow, but a rugged path of history,” he added, noting that the new generation of evangelicals is simply returning to the movement’s past tradition and adding social justice to moral conservatism.

At Urbana 09, organizers put stronger emphasis on social justice as the triennial conference focused on four pressing global issues currently faced by those active in missions around the world – the movement of peoples, money in terms of missions funding, environmental stewardship, and divisions between peoples.

As “one of the longest-running institutions of North American evangelicalism,” the Urbana student missions conference has had a large impact on North American mission.

The conference last year convened some 17,000 youth.

10. Reformed Christians celebrate Calvin quincentenary

The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth somewhat overshadowed another's – that of 16th century Protestant reformer John Calvin. Still, Calvin's 500th anniversary celebrations drew a much higher level of interest from the general public than expected, according to organizers of the Calvin09 project, which served as an umbrella group for numerous local and national initiatives and to promote the meaning and significance of the anniversary.

From early in the year 2009, Christians across the globe celebrated the quincentenary of Calvin's birth, with thousands participating in festivals, services, lectures, exhibitions and concerts in remembrance of the French theologian who has had a profound influence over entire religious movements.

Born on July 10, 1509, John Calvin is credited for his profound influence over major religious figures and entire religious movements. His ideas have also been cited as contributing to the rise of capitalism, individualism, and representative democracy in the West.

Though controversy around Calvin persists today – mainly over some of his teachings such as predestination and election – many Christians agree that his commitment to interpreting Scripture and his absolute submission to God are reasons enough for celebration.

Calvin, keenly aware of his shortcomings, was solely devoted to demonstrating the sovereignty and glory of God. He rarely included himself in his writings and even in death he avoided turning attention to himself. His wish was to be buried without memorial and in an unmarked grave. To this day, the exact location of his grave is unknown.

"Calvin's greatness was not in his service to himself but in his surrender to God," says Burk Parsons, author of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Since Calvin's death in 1564, Presbyterian and other Reformed churches that look to Calvin as a chief expositor of their beliefs have spread throughout the world.

Today, there are almost 100 million Reformed Christians in the world – two-thirds of which live in the Global South.