Yes, I will eventually explain why there is a picture of the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic Cathedral in Bagdad at the top of this post.
The poll that is seen by the most serious readers is the one that has long been produced by the Religion Newswriters Association, the professional association for mainstream journalists on this beat. Here is the top of the press release on this year’s results.
Public debate and controversy over a planned Islamic community center and mosque to be built near New York’s Ground Zero ignited a national debate about religious freedom that kept the story in the news for months.
The story was voted the No. 1 religion story of 2010 in the annual Top 10 Religion News Stories of the Year poll of Religion Newswriters Association members. The center’s leading proponent, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, was voted the 2010 Religion Newsmaker of the Year.
Public opinion and outcry over the mosque reached a peak when a pastor of a small Florida church threatened to burn a Qu’ran in protest, a bravado that fueled fears of international backlash against the United States until the pastor backed down.
Most of the time I agree with the top few choices in the poll and this year was no exception. However, elected to start my Scripps Howard News Service column on the 2010 results in an odd way, which left me backing into the main subject.
You see, for the past two years the top story has been linked to faith issues related to the rise and triumph of Barack Obama — click here, and here to see that. In an odd sort of way, I thought the story of the (near) Ground Zero mosque actually reflected some of the same strange tensions that were linked to Obama’s public statements about his own liberal Christian faith and his efforts to enthusiastically reach out to the Islamic world, in part because of his own unique spiritual journey.
Thus, here is how I opened my column this year:
President Barack Obama did something on Sept. 19th that caught many in the national press off guard. He went to church.
The First Family walked across Lafayette Square Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, a parish so close to the White House that many call it the “Church of the Presidents.” The Obamas set down front and received Holy Communion.
Was this really an important news story?
Timing was everything. The Obama family had not occupied a public pew — as opposed to attending services at Camp David — since Easter. And this church visit came shortly after a Pew Research Center poll found that 18 percent of Americans insist on believing that Obama is a Muslim, a stunning number that was up from 11 percent in March 2009.
Obama has, in numerous speeches and his two memoirs, offered detailed testimonies about his progressive faith and why he feels at home in the United Church of Christ, a freewheeling flock that has long helped define the left wing of Protestantism. Nevertheless, only 34 percent of Pew poll participants said the president is a Christian and a stunning 43 percent could not identify his current religion. Only 46 percent of Democrats, and 43 percent of African-Americans, said Obama is a Christian. …
It was that kind of year, with many of the most vital news stories and trends rooted in confusing clashes about religious liberty, law, history and tradition.
And that, of course, brings us back to the Ground Zero story and several others.
Now, please read the whole RNA poll list, especially the second half of the poll results. What struck me as interesting — and sad — was item No. 11, which stated:
Faith-based aid workers are slain in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Half of Iraq’s 750,000 Christians have left it since 2003.
Look at the second half of that item.
This, of course, brings us around to the story that I thought should have been near the very top of the RNA poll results — the massacre at the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic Cathedral, where at least 58 worshipers were slain and more than 100 were taken hostage. That was a rather symbolic story and was the perfect symbol of the forces, led by radical forms of Islam, that are driving Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant believers out of the ancient lands of the biblical world.
The RNA results, I think, are a reflection of a wider problem that should be familiar to GetReligion readers. If the press struggles to “get” religion and the American public is not that interested in global news, then what could be more problematic than trying to draw attention to religion news on the other side of the planet?
Now, there have been more than a few stories about the exodus of Eastern Christians from their ancient homelands. I know that. But it still seems that this story isn’t getting the coverage that it deserves.
Thus, the picture of the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic Cathedral.
It has been said before: Their blood cries out.