After the jump, the top religion news stories of 2013, based on a poll of the Religion Newswriters Association. Strangely downplayed or omitted: the persecution of Christians in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; the new assaults on religious liberty; the new prominence of aggressive atheism; the rise of the “nones.”
What do you think should be included? What do you think of this list? Was 2013 a good year or a bad year for religion?
1. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is a surprise choice to succeed Benedict, becoming the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name of Francis. He immediately launches a series of stunning and generally popular forays — meeting with the poor in Brazil, embracing the ill, issuing conciliatory words toward gays and calling for a poorer and more pastoral church.
2. Pope Benedict XVI, citing age and strength issues, becomes the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.
3. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, clears the way for gay marriage in California and voids the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples. Gay marriage continues to make inroads within the states, with Illinois and Hawaii becoming the 15th and 16th states to approve same-sex marriage.
4. The Obama administration makes concessions to faith-based groups and businesses opposed to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but not enough to satisfy many of them. The disagreement continues as the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a case brought by Hobby Lobby challenging the mandate, although faith-based and private employers had mixed results in the lower-courts.
5. Islam plays a central role in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as the Egyptian military ousts the elected, Muslim Brotherhood-led government and violently cracks down on its supporters; meanwhile, Sunni Islamist fighters increase their role in Syria’s opposition.
6. Icon of reconciliation and nonviolence Nelson Mandela dies at age 95 and is remembered as a modern-day Moses who led his people out of racial captivity.
7. Religious-inspired attacks claim scores of lives, with extremist Buddhist monks fomenting attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and Muslim extremists targeting Christians at churches in Egypt, an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. Moderate religious leaders condemn the attacks, and a Somali Muslim emerges as a hero for rescuing a young American girl in the Nairobi mall.
8. More than 1 in 5 Jews in America now report having no religion, according to a landmark survey from the Pew Research Center. The number of professing Jewish adults is now less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, although Jewish identity remains strong.
9. The Boy Scouts of America, after much debate, votes to accept openly gay Scouts but not Scoutmasters. Several Catholic leaders endorse the move; some evangelical leaders oppose it.
10. Muslims join those across the country who condemn a devastating bombing at the Boston Marathon by two young Muslim men who attended college in the area. People of many faiths were among the many who showed an outpouring of support for the bombing victims.