The Year of our Lord 2000 was the year of The Map.
You know the one: red states, blue states, false states, true states, me states, you states.
No, this isn't one of those fake Dr. Seuss poems that flooded the Internet during the White House war that threatened to steal Christmas. This column is about the annual Religion Newswriters Association poll to determine its top 10 news stories.
Religion specialists in the secular press said the top story was the selection of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, "an observant, yet modern, Orthodox Jew" as the first Jew nominated by a major U.S. party to serve as vice president. Both parties courted religious voters, this time around. I agreed, but added a sentence on my ballot noting that exit polls later showed that the greatest divisions in American life still center on clashing moral, cultural and religious beliefs.
Which brings us back to The Map, the amazing USA Today graphic that showed the 676 Al Gore counties in blue and the 2,436 George W. Bush counties in red. It was a refined version of the election-night television maps that started pundits chattering about big states vs. small states, big-city life vs. small-town values, East and West coasts vs. the Heartland.
"The divide went deeper than politics. It reached into the nation's psyche," said Washington Post sage David Broder, on Nov. 8. Gore won by 27 percent among voters who praised the economy. Bush won by 30 percent among those worried about spiritual decay. Broder concluded: "It was the moral dimension that kept Bush in the race."
The national psyche? This election cut America's soul. It pitted a resurgent Religious Left vs. a demure Religious Right, oldline churches vs. megachurches. It wasn't secularists vs. the religious, as the Democratic duo of a Southern Baptist and an Orthodox Jew made clear. But clearly there were religious overtones in the hot cultural issues.
This election was Hollywood vs. Nashville, "Sex in the City" vs. "Touched by an Angel," National Public Radio vs. talk radio, "Doonesbury" vs. "B.C.", "Hotel California" vs. "The Okie From Muskogee." It was The New York Times vs. National Review Online, Dan Rather vs. Rush Limbaugh, Rosie O'Donnell vs. Dr. Laura, Barbra Streisand vs. Dr. James Dobson, the Supreme Court vs., well, the Supreme Court.
It was hard to ignore exit-poll questions about "religious observance," noted conservative Kate O'Beirne. "About half of the Republicans attend church at least once a week; nearly half of the Democrats go to church seldom or never. ... Married folk in the countryside who attend church have more conservative views on abortion, gun ownership, gay rights and the role of government."
What happens next? Keep studying The Map.
The other top stories in the RNA 2000 poll were:
2. In a historic pilgrimage, Pope John Paul II prays at Jerusalem's Western Wall and, meeting with Holocaust survivors, expresses deep sadness at acts of hatred against Jews by Christians. He holds strategic meetings in Jordan and in Palestinian territories.
3. Hopes for an agreement between Jews and Palestinians dim after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount spark waves of violence between Israel and Palestinians. Talks at Camp David break down over control of the Old City in Jerusalem.
4. Vermont approves same-sex unions despite protests by state's Catholic bishop and other clerics. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) defeat proposals to bless gay unions. Episcopalians pledge "pastoral care" for those living in "life-long committed relationships" outside marriage.
5. The Southern Baptist Convention bans women from serving as church pastors and adds more conservative language to its Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement.
6. Vatican issues Dominus Iesus, restating Catholic doctrine that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, alone, and that the true church "subsists"' in its fullness only in the Catholic Church. Many criticize the document's tone as anti-ecumenical.
7. Former President Jimmy Carter exits the Southern Baptist Convention, citing its swing to the doctrinal right. Also, the Texas Baptist Convention votes to withhold more than $5 million from SBC seminaries and executive committees.
8. Pope John Paul II, in a solemn penitential rite, asks God's pardon for sins committed against other groups by members of the Catholic Church.
9. The Episcopal Church's General Convention approves pact with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, clearing the way for mutual recognition of clergy and hierarchies.
10. The Rev. Vashti McKenzie of Baltimore becomes the 2.3-million-member African Methodist Episcopal Church's first female bishop.