Atheism tops religion news of 2012
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2012
12/29/12 at 6:09 AM
The rising voice of atheism was one of the top local religion news stories of 2012.
Dan Nerren, one of the founders of the Humanist Association of Tulsa, gave what is probably the first atheistic "prayer" at the opening of the Tulsa City Council.
Nerren said he was not invoking a deity but the council itself.
Toni Calvey, an Oklahoma delegate to the Republican National Convention, called the prayer "a slap in the face to our Christian heritage ... our nation and ... our state of Oklahoma."
All Souls Unitarian Church started a new Sunday morning service for non-theists - a service without Scripture reading, worship music, prayers or an invocation.
The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls said the service was for people "who are not inspired to live their lives a certain way by ideas of God or by Scripture but who have the same human needs for community, compassion, meaning and marking the significant passages of birth, coming of age, marriage and death."
Local atheist organizations brought speakers to Tulsa espousing their views and held the Oklahoma Freethought Convention at the Tulsa Convention Center.
A Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism poll found, on average, that 13 percent of the world population identified themselves as convinced atheists in 2012.
In the United States, 5 percent identified as atheists, up from 1 percent seven years ago.
A December Pew Forum poll found that 16 percent of the world population is unaffiliated with religion - including atheists and agnostics - compared with Christians at 32 percent and Muslims at 23 percent.
A Pew survey this fall showed that for the first time in history, Protestants are not a majority in the United States and that the fastest growing group in the United States are the unaffiliated, at 19.6 percent, up 4.3 percent in five years.
A second major story in 2012 was the backlash, primarily among Catholics and evangelicals, to a mandate in President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act that employers, including religious schools and hospitals, provide birth control in their employee health insurance package, including the controversial morning after pill, which some view as an abortifacient.
Several rallies opposing the mandate were held in Tulsa as part of a national outcry.
Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa told the crowd that Tulsa Catholic institutions would not comply with the mandate.
"When it comes down to a choice between following our conscience or following the mandate, our path is clear," he said.
"We will not comply ... and neither will we withdraw from our religious commitment to serve all in need without regard to religion. ... Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever."
Conciliatory efforts by the Obama administration failed to make the mandate acceptable to those who opposed it. Ultimately, courts will decide the issue.
Other religion news this year:
The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot was a topic of conversation.
- When two white men went on a Good Friday shooting rampage in north Tulsa that left three black people dead and two injured, black ministers rallied to calm the situation, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to town to address the community.
Chris Denman, 20, was sentenced to 55 years in prison and five years of probation on first-degree rape and other charges. Israel Castillo, 23, has a court appearance scheduled in January.
- Two janitors at Victory Christian Center were charged with sex crimes against under-age girls, and five church employees were charged with failure to report child abuse.
First Presbyterian Church completed and dedicated what may be the largest single building project for an existing church in Tulsa history. The $40 million project added a new bell tower and steeple on the south side of the existing building that match the old steeple, as well as a new 450-seat worship hall, and administrative and education wings enclosing a courtyard.
- Major building projects continued to cement the commitment of churches to downtown during an era when downtown churches in many other cities have moved to the suburbs.
First United Methodist Church downtown completed a $4.8 million "Far-Sighted" construction project that included a major renovation and expansion of the youth and children's areas of the church.
Grace Church was devastated in the early 2000s by the arrest and conviction of Aaron Thompson, one of their most popular young educators. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence for molesting nine boys over a five-year period.
- The Rev. Bob Yandian, founder and pastor of Grace Church, formerly Grace Fellowship, announced that he would step down next year after 33 years at the church, and turn it over to his son, the Rev. Robb Yandian.
Susan Grady was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.
- A Tulsa member of the Church of the Firstborn, which relies on prayer to heal sickness and discourages going to doctors, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the death of her son.
Aaron Grady, 9, died June 5, 2009, at his family's Broken Arrow apartment from untreated complications of diabetes mellitus.
The Edmond-based church, which has a total weekly attendance of about 50,000, has campuses in Tulsa, Bixby, Owasso and Broken Arrow and is building a church at 81st Street and U.S. 75.
- Lifechurch.tv, one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation, opened two satellite campuses in the Tulsa area this year and announced plans for another, as part of a nationwide trend of large churches establishing satellite campuses.
Several other Tulsa churches have followed the Lifechurch.tv model, developing additional campuses, including First Baptist Church, Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian, the Church at BattleCreek and Guts Church.
Original Print Headline: Atheism tops 2012 religion news
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Congregation members and other attendants gather during dedication ceremonies for the newly constructed steeple tower at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tulsa. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Worshippers file into the new Owasso Lifechurch.tv building at 14008 E. 96th St. for the church's first services. BILL SHERMAN/Tulsa World
Dan Nerren of the Humanist Association of Tulsa gave what is probably the first atheistic prayer at the opening of a Tulsa City Council meeting in 2012. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file
The Rev. Bob Yandian poses for a portrait at Grace Church. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks during a meeting with local leaders at First Baptist Church North Tulsa after the Good Friday shootings. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World file