Top Religion Stories of 2008


The economy trumped religion. That was the biggest religion story of the year, according to Time magazine.

 

Time’s latest issue is full of top 10 lists, including the top 10 religion stories of the year, compiled by David Van Biema. Given an October poll showing only 10 percent of Americans thought the nation’s moral direction was the chief concern heading into Election Day, Van Biema concluded the biggest religion story of the year was how religion—despite Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Mike Huckabee, Rick Warren and other presidency-pastorate tie-ins—was shoved aside.

 

No. 2 on Van Biema’s list: the Mormons. They made headlines in April when a fundamentalist sect practicing polygamy was infiltrated by authorities. Mormon Mitt Romney was a newsmaker throughout the Republican primaries, and the Latter-Day Saints anted up to keep gay marriage off the California books.

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit was No. 3, and a surprisingly news-less meeting of Anglican bishops in Canterbury was No. 4.

 

Religion- or denomination-switching came in at No. 5 for Van Biema. He cited a Pew Forum poll that found 28 percent of American adults have abandoned the faith of their childhood for another one, while 44 percent have changed denominations.

 

Buddhist monks in Tibet rebelling against Chinese rule came in at No. 6, while No. 7 was “The Birth of the New Evangelicalism,” which Van Biema characterized as a widening of the spectrum of concerns for evangelicals to include issues like “economic inequality, international aid and the environment.”

 

No. 8 was how faith groups will respond to the recession, No. 9 dealt with the kosher-meat-processing plant violations, and No. 10: the Vatican astronomer who speculated that aliens might already be in right relationship with God.

 

Members of the Religion Newswriters Association compiled their own top 10 list earlier this month, with the Barack Obama-Jeremiah Wright flap taking the top spot. Obama left Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after controversial sermons from its Rev. Wright began receiving airplay and criticism for Wright’s comments about U.S. foreign policy.

 

No. 2 for the religion writers was the Democratic strategy to bring more faith-based voters into the party fold. Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential pick of John McCain was No. 3 on their list.

 

The rest of the list from the religion writers dovetailed with that of Van Biema at a few points: the same-sex marriage issue; the pope’s visit to the United States; the demonstrations by Buddhist monks; and the economy’s impact on faith-based organizations.

 

The religion writers also included the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, other violence against Christians in India, and continued violence in Iraq as top stories in 2008.

 

Editors at Christianity Today have offered their top 10 list for 2008, and No. 1 was the election and the role that evangelicals played.

 

No. 2 for the CT editors was California’s same-sex marriage tussle, followed by: violence against Christians in India; Anglicanism turmoil; Christians fleeing parts of the Middle East; presidential candidates’ relationships with pastors; economic downturn; Muslim-Christian dialogue; “civil war” among charismatic movements; and the raid of the fundamentalist Mormon sect compound in Texas.

 

The lists are already provoking reaction.

 

Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners, took issue with Time’s No. 1. He argued that the economy didn’t trump religion.

 

“For many Christians, the economy did not ‘trump religion’ but rather, their religion gave them something to say about the economy,” wrote Wallis at The Huffington Post. “If anything has been ‘trumped’ this year, it is religion that focuses on narrow culture war issues and does not speak to the whole person.”

 

So what’s missing from this year’s list that made last year’s?

 

Thus far, no one’s list has included personal scandal involving a religious figure. Last year Time included Ted Haggard’s fall from New Life Church on its top 10 list. Time also included the impact of atheist authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Coverage of atheism hasn’t made anyone’s list so far this year.

 

The religion newswriters last year thought the relationship between faith and politics were the top stories, but they also gave the immigration issue the No. 5 slot on their list. This year, immigration vanished as a top story.

 

Cliff Vaughn is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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