A new pope shook up Catholicism. A new policy shook up Scouting. New judicial rulings shook up marriage. New advances by women shook up Mormonism. And new tensions shook up the Greek Orthodox community.
This much is certain on Utah’s faith front: In 2013, there was a whole lot of shaking going on.
Nation’s top religion stories for 2013
1 » Pope Francis’ election.
2 » Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.
3 » Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
4 » Obama’s concessions on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
5 » Islam’s role in the Middle East after the Arab Spring.
6 » Nelson Mandela’s death.
7 » Religious-inspired attacks in Myanmar, Egypt, Kenya and Pakistan.
8 » Study showing more than one in five U.S. Jews report having no religion.
9 » Boy Scouts of America opens door to openly gay Scouts, but not gay Scoutmasters.
10 » Muslims, others condemn the Boston Marathon bombing.
Source: Vote by journalists for the Religion Newswriters Association
A papal pop star
First things first: He is the first pope from the New World, the first from the Jesuit order and the first to pick the beloved St. Francis of Assisi as his papal namesake. And when it comes to dominating religious headlines, this "Pope of Firsts" is second to none.
After replacing Pope Benedict XVI, who became the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign, Pope Francis sent clear signals to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics (300,000 in Utah) that the largest Christian faith was entering a bolder era.
Some of the newness centered on style: Francis dons simple white cassocks and shuns showy velvet capes. He bunks in a two-room apartment instead of the plush Apostolic Palace. He totes his own bag and tools around the Vatican in a vintage Renault.
But Francis, Time magazine’s Person of the Year, revealed plenty of substance, too, especially when he issued his "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"). He denounced what he called the "economy of exclusion" and blamed consumer capitalism for the gap between the haves and have-nots.
"Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality," he wrote. "… Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."
The new Argentine pope — formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires — also urged his clergy to focus less on speaking out against same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception and more on reaching out to the poor, the weary and the wayward.
True, Francis has changed no fundamental church tenets (he trumpets Christian values and warns of the "cultural crisis" threatening families and "traditional" marriage), but he has fundamentally softened the tenor and is winning over a world of eager watchers.
This Francis frenzy may not be putting more followers in America’s pews, but it certainly is putting more religion in global news.
The marrying kind
Call it a wintertime June swoon as marriage mania broke out across Utah just before Christmas.
Within minutes of U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 landmark ruling against Utah’s ban on gay marriage, same-sex couples raced to county clerks’ offices to secure long-awaited licenses. Hugs, kisses and wedding vows filled foyers as Utah became the 18th state to legalize gay marriages — nearly 1,000 of them in a matter of days.
Many religious leaders lamented the decision and held out hope that a higher court would overturn it.
"The church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect," the state’s predominant religion, the LDS Church, said in a statement. "We continue to believe that … marriage should be between a man and a woman."
Utah’s second-largest faith also chimed in against the ruling.
"As Catholics, we seek to defend the traditional, well established and divinely revealed reality of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing environment for children and the fundamental building block to a just society," said the Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Salt Lake City Diocese. "… At the same time, we respect the dignity of all persons, not wishing to undermine their pursuit of happiness but only to preserve and defend the gift of marriage as divinely revealed in scripture and in natural law."
Other Utah faith leaders celebrated the ruling and happily helped same-sex couples exchange "I do’s."
The Rev. Curtis L. Price, for instance, raced over from Salt Lake City’s First Baptist Church to the Salt Lake County clerk’s office and performed the marriage ceremony for two of the plaintiffs in the Utah case, proclaiming Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge as wife and wife.
Shelby even noted the religious divide in his ruling, arguing that the recognition of same-sex marriage "expands religious freedom" because some Utah churches desire to perform such weddings.Next Page >
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