Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

End-of-the-Year Poll Puts Politics, Pope at Top of '94 Religion Stories

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

End-of-the-Year Poll Puts Politics, Pope at Top of '94 Religion Stories

Article excerpt

Lo and behold, dancing with the Religious Right wasn't the political kiss of death after all.

In its end-of-the-year poll, the Religion Newswriters Association of America named the sweeping Republican victory in the midterm elections, backed by strong work among revived religious conservatives, as 1994's top religion story. Exit polls indicated that a growing concern about declining moral values played a crucial role in races nationwide.

In another symbolic win for traditionalists, Pope John Paul II was the runaway choice as religion newsmaker of the year.

Events that mix religion and politics - from Washington to Jerusalem and beyond - always place near the top of the RNA poll. However, I was intrigued by several 1994 events that blended issues of faith and public life in ways that were harder to label, in strictly political terms.

I chose as my top story the October "miracle in Memphis," in which 100 black and 100 white Pentecostal leaders agreed to form the new Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of North America. In one emotional scene, leaders on both sides of a half-century of mistrust and segregation wept as they washed each other's feet to symbolize repentance.

Racial reconciliation also played a major role in the rapidly growing Promise Keeper's movement, which didn't even appear among the 50 stories listed on the Religious Newswriters Association ballot. In 1990, 72 men attended the first Promise Keepers meeting in Bolder, Colo. In 1994, nearly 280,000 men flocked to seven U.S. sites. While this movement clearly centers on conservative themes, such as defending marriage, its appeal cuts across many old political and social lines.

"To answer the big questions of our times, we have to get past some of the labels that divide us," said Bishop Ithiel Clemmons of the Church of God in Christ, a leader in the new interracial Pentecostal fellowship and in Promise Keepers. "For years, liberals and Democrats have only wanted to talk about how all our social problems are caused by sinful structures in society. Meanwhile, conservatives and Republicans wanted to keep blaming everything on how individual people sin and mess up their lives. . . . It's time to get down on our knees and admit that we're fighting against sin, period. …

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