View from the Pew
The Amish turned the other cheek
When religion made headlines around the globe this year, it was usually in the context of violence, strife or intolerance.
Those so-called religion stories were often as much about politics as they were about faith or theology. Kill the "others" because they've taken over the government. Vilify the "others" as a display of your own superiority. Impose your beliefs on their lives through state laws or church bylaws. Spin into screaming orbit when a creative artist or writer takes an unorthodox view of your beliefs.
Bash 'em, dash 'em, dis 'em -- it's like rappers from hell have become the choir for the religion story of the day.
But there was one story about the actions of a small group of religious people that perfectly demonstrated people living their faith.
It started with a story of violence. A demented gunman took hostages in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, killing five girls and severely injuring five others before fatally shooting himself. He left a note that he was angry at God for the death of his daughter.
That's a bad story. But it's not the religion story.
Within hours of the shootings, members of the Amish community had reached out to offer help and solace to the killer's wife and family, who are not Amish. Amish people attended the murderer's funeral.
The Amish forgave Charles Carl Roberts IV. They spoke of forgiveness at the funerals of the five children. "Hope and peace and transformation will come," said an Amish speaker. "Let the transformation begin with us." There was no press conference about it, and members of the Christian sect weren't very articulate. They simply said that love and forgiveness are what God expects of them. So that's what they did. Forgave.
The Georgetown, Pa., Amish are descendants of the Christian Anabaptist movement, which began more than 300 years ago. They live apart in rural communities, forgoing most modern conveniences, and they have as little as possible to do with the government. They are pacifists -- a logical extension of their belief in forgiveness.
The whole concept of forgiving your attacker, the enemy, boggled the mind of the worldly media, and there's no end to the reporting, analyzing and blogging.
This week, the Religion Newswriters Association picked "the Amish folk who modeled forgiveness after the schoolhouse murders" as religion newsmaker of the year.
The writers also selected the Top 10 religion stories of the year. The story of the shootings that drew international attention to the way the Amish practice what they preach was named No. 7.
Religion writers picked one of those religion-plus-politics story as No. 1: Leaders of Muslim factions in several countries stirred up violent reactions to the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The cartoons from a Denmark publication were picked up by other publications in Europe. Riots in Nigeria killed dozens of Muslims as well as Christians.
No. 2: Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims when he included in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. He tried to ease the fury with an apology and outreach to Muslims on a later trip to Turkey.
No. 3: The Episcopal Church elected a woman as presiding bishop for the first time. The Very Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori supported the controversial consecration of a gay bishop in 2003, which led seven Episcopal dioceses to reject her leadership, the latest chapter in a continuing upheaval in the international Anglican denomination.
No. 4: Ted Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was fired by his Colorado church after being accused of homosexual sex and drug use. Opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual lifestyle had been his preaching themes.
No. 5: Voters backed away from the conservative Christian force that has held sway in U.S. politics for more than a decade and rejected its candidates in the November elections.
No. 6: Voices from a spectrum of religions grew louder against the war in Iraq and in favor of pressuring Israel to resolution of Palestinian strife.
No. 8: After the novel, this year came the movie, "The Da Vinci Code," which continues to generate attacks from some Christians because the plot line begins with Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and conceiving a child.
On the Religion Newswriters Association's list, the same-sex marriage issue tied with the furor over Dan Brown's fictional account of the plot to keep Jesus' marriage secret. The same-sex marriage story churned on several fronts, with seven states voting for bans, voters in Arizona defeating a proposed ban, and the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that same-gender couples are entitled to the same benefits as heterosexuals.
No. 10: President Bush vetoed a bill that would expand stem-cell research. Meanwhile, scientists proceed in efforts to create stem cell lines without destroying embryos, which some religious folks consider murder of a child.