Top 10 Religion Stories of 2011

The Religion News Association, which is the religion beat writers, has voted on the top ten stories of the year.  Here they are, followed by some commentary from Your Favorite Blogger.  (You can see the RNA story to read numbers 11-22 on the list.)  (NB: The RNA clearly hasn’t heard that year-end list should always be in countdown order.)

1. The death of Osama bin Laden spurs discussions among people of faith on issues of forgiveness, peace,  justice and retribution.

Yeah, it was a big story that OBL got snuffed out by the US.  But it doesn’t strike me as a particularly huge religion story.  That is, it didn’t have a ton of staying power.  I remember a few conversations about it in the media, but those faded rather quickly.

MN Rep. Keith Ellison cries at congressional hearings on Muslim radicalization

2. Lively congressional hearings are held on the civil rights of American Muslims. In the House hearings focus on alleged radicalism and in the Senate on crimes reported against Muslims.


Well, it brought a senator from my home state to tears, but I can’t say that Rep. Peter King’s hearings were much more than a sideshow.

3. Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Mo. is charged with failure to report the suspected abuse of a child, becoming the first active bishop in the country to face criminal prosecution in such a case.

Now this is a story worth pursuing and reporting.  If anything, the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal brought into high relief how much the Catholic Church has been able to keep the reporting on their scandals relatively quiet.  If anything, the difference in coverage is a reflection of how many more sports writers there are than religion reporters.  Because, based on the scope of the abuse, there should be about 1,000 times more coverage of the Catholic pedophilia than of the Sandusky pedophilia.

4. The Catholic Church introduces a new translation of the Roman Missal throughout the English–speaking world, making the first significant change to a liturgy since 1973.

Yes, this was newsy.  But it really didn’t seem to bother Catholics all that much.

5. Presbyterian Church (USA) allows local option on ordination of partnered gay people. Church defections over the issue continue among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians.

This was a big story in my world, and it has implications for my Religion Predictions for 2012 (coming tomorrow).

6. Pope John Paul II is beatified—the last step before sainthood—in a May ceremony attended by more than million people in Rome.


7. California evangelist Harold Camping attracts attention with his predictions that the world would end in May and again in October.

Awesomely American.

8. A book by Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell, “Love Wins,” presenting a much less harsh picture of hell than is traditional, stirs discussion in evangelical circles.  Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention rebut it.

I recall writing a few things about this.

9. The Personhood Initiative, designed to outlaw abortion by declaring a fetus a person, fails on Election Day in Mississippi, but advocates plan to try in other states. Meanwhile, reports show the number of restrictions adopted throughout the country against abortion during the year are far more than in any previous year.


10. Bible translations make news, with celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version; criticism, notably by Southern Baptists, about gender usage in the newest New International Version; and completion of the Common English Bible.

This is about publishers trying to make money.  That’s not news.

As you’ll see tomorrow in the video from yesterday’s Doug Pagitt Radio show, we commented that religion beat reporters sure seem to make religion boring.  I know many of them, and like them all.  But, geez, if this is what they’re writing about, then I can see that people find religion kind of boring.

What do you think were the biggest religion stories of the year?

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  • Tom

    I guess it depends on how you look at it. In the “religion beat,” and/or among American Christians, I suppose all of these belong on the list. But if you want to compare them to the larger mainstream news agenda, Osama Bin Laden (for different reasons), Harold Camping, and the Personhood Initiative made an impact. I didn’t even know about the “lively congressional hearings” and I’m somewhat of a news junkie and regularly monitor religious news.

  • Steve

    I’d add Tebowmania, with its subsequent discussion about prayer, public faith, and God’s interest (or lack thereof) in sports.

  • Mark Van Steenwyk

    Here are a couple that I think were newsworthy:

    Ricky Perry’s prayer event “The Response” revealing his dominionist tendencies.

    The Dalai Lama stepped down.

  • Weirdly enough after all the child abuse scandals here in Ireland, it’s actually the Roman Missal that has pushed people away from church. Everyone knew about the abuse so it wasn’t shocking but changing the liturgy had people up in arms.
    Says a lot about faith in Ireland. And not in a good way.

  • Frank

    The fact that Tony yawns about the efforts to save unborn life really says a lot. It’s enough to dismiss his opinions entirely isn’t it?

    • I imagine the yawn is in reference to the stories “news worthy-ness,” if you will. Not that debate is boring but rather that this story is this years manifestation of a very old story.

  • Larry Barber


    • Larry Barber

      That was supposed to be in reply to Frank, above.

      • Frank

        No I think you responded to the right person at first.

  • tom c.

    I think the Arab Spring and its consequences for religious groups and movements in the Middle East (e.g. the enfranchisement of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the status of religious minorities, etc.) should be on this list. This story is still unfolding however, so maybe these stories will be a part of 2012.

  • Mark Van Steenwyk

    I’m not sure he’s yawning about abortion, Frank. Now if a wealthy Republican announced plans to to gather funds (starting with $20 million of his own money) to open a vast network of care houses for women who would otherwise have abortions, now THAT would be news.

  • While it wasn’t a big story, I wish the “Jewish Annotated New Testament” got a bit more attention. A fascinating piece of work that every person remotely interested in Christianity should get their hands on.

    • Charles

      …on my Christmas list – here’s hoping!

  • Carl

    No mention of the successful defense of the dissertation of Dr. Jones?

    • Bo

      lol…Dr. Jones makes me picture Tony wearing a tall-crowned, wide-brimmed fedora and carrying a whip. But seriously, congrats again on the Ph.D.

  • Happy Steitz

    As a result of progress made by many on LGBT rights and issues, people who had concluded Christianity (or other faiths) were “mean” and unworthy of attention began to change their minds. They sought to inquire, reevaluate, connect with a childhood dimension of their lives they thought was forever lost, get married, or bring their own kids into a newly safe space. They came with hope and expectations of blessing. They came to grow, feel, and learn. They came to pray, and reach out for divine contact. They came, one by one and slowly. May it continue!

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