Cool kids on the block

Every year, I usually take a few minutes to go through Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People package to Google a lot of names I’ve never heard before. It probably says more about the magazine’s editors and who they want as subscribers than anything else.

Look, I’m not against these lists. They’re fun. They’re interesting. They generate light-hearted bickering.

But it would be silly to think it accurately gauges actual influence. I suppose this Time‘s service to the world: informing us who journalists are watching. If it does indicate journalists’ current obsessions, it’s an abysmal list.

Remember in 2007 when Doug counted 17 religion references? Then last year he lamented their disappearance. It’s hard to know how to really count these religious references. Do you count the person if he or she is known first and foremost as a religious leader? If the short description references religion? Either way, I count two people explicitly known for being religious.

First, we have Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, writing on Sister Carol Keehan, leader of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and supporter of the health care law that passed.

Courageous and purposeful, Sister Carol Keehan, 66, is a deeply religious Catholic woman dedicated to carrying out the healing ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. Her leadership of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) has been defined by advocacy for the poor and an unwavering respect for human dignity. Her fight to reform health care was an extension of her concern for the most vulnerable in our society and was as integral to the mission of CHA as providing medical services. Undeterred by her critics, she refused to back down as she fought for reforms that would include prenatal and maternity care and coverage for uninsured children. She fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

Then Sister Mary Scullion, a nun from Philadelphia who works on behalf of the homeless, makes an appearance on the alumnae list. Last year, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about Scullion, and this year, she answered some questions.

Was there any specific event, in your life or in the world, that helped define you?
As a college student, I participated in an international gathering of Catholics in 1976 that included some of the Church’s most outspoken advocates for justice, peace, and compassion: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara, and others. The latter gave me a clear direction for my faith and my life as a Sister of Mercy.

As you look ahead, what would you like to achieve?
I look forward to being part of a country and a world where homelessness is a thing of the past.

But in a list of 100, only two religious leaders make the list? USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman wants to know, “Is this an oversight or reality in a secular world?”

So, overall, no preachers, no priests, no sign of the ubiquitous Bono or even Pope Benedict XVI, turn up on the most and least lists. Do you think the paucity of religious people on the Most list reflects faith voices losing clout — or it’s just oversight on the part of Time editors?

C’mon Cathy, Pope Benedict XVI only leads, what, 1 billion people or so. I guess he’s not as mesmerizing as Lady Gaga’s flaming breasts. Perhaps the Pope is limited because he can only have fashion-forward shoes.

Who else should be on that list? I’m going to go out on a limb and say the editors could have at least considered the Dalai Lama, T.D. Jakes, Rowan Williams and Rick Warren. Between health care and Proposition 8, would someone from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make sense? With all the relief efforts in Haiti, might someone like World Vision’s president Rich Stearns qualify?

Part of the problem is that religious leaders don’t fit neatly into Time‘s list of leaders, artists, heroes, and thinkers, at least in the traditional way we think of those categories. And yet many religious leaders could probably be considered under each of these categories.

In many ways, the list seems more about issues that are newsworthy (social networking, for example) and people who might represent them. That approach doesn’t bode well for religious leaders who are trying to stand fast on centuries-old traditions. So is the issue really about influence?

Help me out. Who would you have nominated? At least we can breath a sigh of relief that Ashton Kutcher made the list.

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  • Jerry

    I basically agree with your review but one thing caught my eye:

    That approach doesn’t bode well for religious leaders who are trying to stand fast on centuries-old traditions. So is the issue really about influence?

    I’m not sure why you just mentioned traditional religious leaders instead of religious leaders whether traditional or non-traditional should be included and all would suffer under Time’s classification system.

    I think I’d include all of those you suggested. But if they were really interested in “influential” for ill as well as good then I’d wonder who influences al Quaeda.

  • jh

    Rev. Samuel Rodriguez should be on that list for sure

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Hey Jerry, thanks for weighing in. I guess I don’t understand your distinction between the two, but I’m trying. What I meant is that Time’s way of gauging influence doesn’t seem to recognize that people who aren’t necessarily newsmakers are still influencers.

  • Jerry

    Sarah, I was trying to agree with you but quibble that you should have not limited your point to be only traditional church leaders in that sentence I copied.

  • Peter

    The focus is one people doing something, not just being in the news. That cancels out Jakes, Warren, Williams, and Bono. Prop 8 was 2008 and the LDS have denied any role. The USCCB were barely present in the health care debate, and it would be hard to single out anyone specific. The Dalai Lama is a good choice and I bet the new Archbishop of LA makes the list next year. I agree with Sam Rodriguez.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    So James, Warren, Williams and Bono just sat on their butts all year and did nothing? USCCB were barely present in the debate? If I may refer back to one of Mollie’s posts:
    Hard to single someone out, I can understand, but they found someone to represent fighting homelessness. Rodriguez would be an interesting choice in light of Arizona.

  • Peter

    Yes, Sarah, they largely did nothing that could be considered influential besides being well-known. And Mollie’s post is about abortion not health care. And they lost.

    One person who actually influenced and led would have been Bishop Hanson of the ELCA who presided over the sexuality controversies.

  • Chris B

    Does Time even rate among the 100 most influential media outlets anymore? It’s become “People” with pretensions.

  • Kate Sanderson

    In the world, eh? How many non Americans are on that list? Just asking…

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Peter, I think an argument could be made for their influence in driving that part of the health care debate. It might be hard to pin down one bishop as you suggest, but I’d be happy with a Pope reference at least. Bishop Hanson perhaps, though did he lead the debate or moderate it? I can’t really gauge his influence I guess.

  • Mark

    In 10 years, Sarah Pulliam Bailey will be on the list.

  • Peter

    Sarah, what has the Pope done in the last year?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Peter, I think that was one of my points in the post. If we’re looking at something specific a person has done or an issue that they got behind, then religious leaders might lose out. However, does that really gauge their true influence? In 2007, they seemed to include the Pope for merely attracting thousands, which he still does.,28804,1595326_1615513_1616452,00.html
    If they need a 2009 hook, maybe Caritas in Veritate would do it.

  • Passing By

    When the president of the United States goes to pay a courtesy call, I would say that Billy Graham has not lost his place among influential Americans.

    I’m Catholic and I’d die to meet the man. I’d probably lose control and try to kiss his ring, though. :-)

    What has he done? Like the pope, it’s what he is. I don’t expect Time magazine to notice that, but a lot of us do.

  • Mike Hickerson

    What about Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria or Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda? In the worldwide debate over homosexuality, I would argue that they are as influential as anyone in the world. They are also at the center of a huge, under-reported story (IMHO) of Christianity’s center moving from the West to the “Global South.” (I see now that Akinola appeared in the Time 100 list in 2006.)

    Not to stay on the homosexuality issue, but I’m kind of surprised by Jennifer Knapp wasn’t on the list. Best-selling, Grammy-winning Contemporary Christian Music artist announces a long awaited new album and then reveals that she’s been in a committed lesbian relationship for the past 8 years? Though that news may have broken too late for the magazine.

  • Mike Hickerson

    +1 on Billy Graham. Actually, isn’t a sign of his influence that, having essentially retired from public life after 2006, the President still feels it’s necessary to visit him in person?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    You know, I thought about Billy Graham but thought it was too cliche. Silly me, huh? I guess when you’re still selling books and publishing an Ask Billy Graham column, you’re still making some waves.

    I also wondered about Joel Osteen. I know he’s not a favorite among a lot of people, but he’s consistently on the best-seller lists and probably represents something larger going on. I feel like Dave Ramsey (Christian Suze Orman) is quite popular but he may not be right for this list.

    Akinola retired, so I’m not sure he’d make the list. I agree, though, about the significance of the Global South shift. Would Orombi represent that? I think it’s difficult to gauge Knapp’s influence just yet.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Peter, you asked what Bono has done. Apparently President Obama thinks he’s done something

    I guess ONE is so five years ago. Again, is it really gauging influence?

  • Peggy

    I think the inclusion of 2 nuns was rather “political”–in the US secular politics sense and in Catholic Church “politics” (such as that is). Sr. Keehan is the highly-paid woman religious who defied the bishops at the urging of Pres Obama to support socialized medicine that would also fund abortions. [See Lifesite News reports. Even Gibbs admitted O implored Sr. Keehan to support the final bill in spite of the bishops' position.] She dissembled and hedged on the issue from early on. [I saw her on EWTN in the fall.] While I don’t know anything about the other nun–how can she be among the most influential if folks don’t know who she is?–I generally believe the inclusion of 2 Catholic nuns may be a shot at the male hierarchy that has the feminists’ panties in a twist, plus a plug for American Catholic women religious who are the subject of visitations and investigations b/c of some orders moving “beyond Jesus” (as some admit openly). I have read the assertion that women religious have abandoned their posts to teach the faith and care for the sick to engage in politics. Sr. Keehan may have at one time been on the front lines of caring for the sick; today she’s a lobbyist for “Catholic” hospitals that put money above human life. The secular love her. That’s what Catholicism is to them. That’s what they want it to be. And the evil pope and his lieutenants are under attack. So, this fits.

  • Peter

    Obama met with Skip Gates and the Olympians, but that doesn’t mean they should be in the most influential list. Courtesy calls with a dying Graham and vanity visit with Bono doesn’t make them influential. As to the Pope, the year he was on the list he actually had significant accomplisents. Not so in the past year, except for fending off an attacker and criticism.

  • Ed Mechmann

    You’re right, of course, the pope did nothing recently to compare with the major influence on the world of Lady Gaga.

    I mean, he didn’t lead an institution with over a billion members, write a major encyclical letter on social doctrine, have an impact on debates over international aid and HIV, draw thousands to his speeches and sell thousands of books, preside over a major reform of the Catholic liturgy, work to foster reunification with the second largest component of Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy), work to improve relations with Jewish people, shape the philosophical debate over the relationship between faith and reason, select religious leaders (bishops) on every continent, visit the Holy Land and call for peace and reconciliation, influence the debate in international institutions on major policy issues, or challenge an entire continent (Europe) to confront their relationship with their cultural history.

    Compared to putting sparklers on your bra, what does all that count for?

  • Julia

    Ed Mechmann:

    You win the prize in my book.

  • Mike Hickerson


    Henry Louis Gates is one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. The TIME cover features a professional soccer player standing beside a 24-year-old pop singer who was opening for New Kids on the Block a year ago. I’m not really sure why you think Dr. Gates, the Olympians, or Bono would have been such improbable choices.

    Some other ideas:
    - Human trafficking has been on the rise as a political cause (see Nicholas Kristof’s most recent editorial, as well as greater attention after the Haiti earthquake). What about Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission or another leader in this cause?
    - Has Francis Collins ever been named to the list? Seems like his influence continues to rise, with his 2009 appointment to head the NIH.
    - What about Gao Zhisheng or another Chinese leader in religious and civil rights?
    - Since many of these choices seem to have been made more for symbolic purpose than for the person’s actual sphere of influence, how about Tech. Sgt. Bradon Longcrier, the sponsor of the Air Force Academy’s Pagan student group? The military’s inclusion of minority religions seems like a big story from the past year – to me, anyway.

    Meanwhile, how about a HUGE religion ghost in the profile of Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India? He is a Sikh in a country where 80% of the population is Hindu (and only 2% are Sikh), elected less than 25 years after another prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh body guards following the Indian government’s attack on Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Even if you read religion primarily through a political lens, this is a pretty important aspect of Singh’s story.

  • Brett

    It’s a meaningless popularity poll that doesn’t pay any attention to its own criteria. If Conan O’Brien was indeed the no. 2 most influential performer, why couldn’t he influence enough NBC brass to keep his time slot?

    To actually answer the question Sarah asked so I can pretend to stay on-topic, I’d have put Fr. Rick Frechette of Haiti high on the heroes section of the list. Some sense of why may be found here.

  • Peggy

    I never heard of Lady GaGa until this past year. Is “she” a man in drag or is she really a she? Is she just the latest Madonna–the pope star that is?

    I’m not attuned enough to pop culture to suggest who to add, I think. As far as serious influences, no world leader seems to stand out in any greatness to me and BiBi Netanyahu is courageously standing up–but no one listens, so he can’t be that influential. And B16 is not an acceptable choice in this realm.

  • Peggy

    Oh, jinkies. I mean “pop” star. Funny typo on my part!

  • John Pack Lambert

    I would say Thomas S. Monson by name and not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints overall.

    He is not as traveled as President Hinckley, in part because Sister Monson is sick, and those who think President Monson broke with the methods of President Hinckley on Prop 8 really do not understand either Prop 22 or the nature of the LDS first presidency.

    Of couse the biggest reason is the media has played Prop 8 bigger than Prop 22. It is not that the LDS Church or its members were more involved, it is that the media was paying more attention, and the expectation of victory and the sense that it was snatched away is more severe.

    I actually have heard more bold and resounding denunciations of same-sex marriage from President Hinckley. President Monson more often denounces pornography.

    Beyond this, few were as confortable with press conferences and news interviews as President Hinckley. President Monson has done fewer and traveled far less. On the other hand he was born the same year as Pope Benedict, while President Hinckley was born 17 years earlier than that.

    For an 83-year-old with a wife who has spent much of the last two years in the hospital, President Monson is doing wonderfully, it is more that President Hinckley was the most energetic 95-year-old on the planet and hard to match.