Thursday, January 01, 2009

Faith Works 1-3-09
Jeff Gill

Ten Stories In the News With a Faith Angle

As the new year rolls in, the Religion Newswriters Association looked back at 2008, and asked its members to vote on the “Top 10 Religion News Stories.”

These scribes and columnists put the election of Barack Obama in the first place (big shock, that!), noting the role of candidate pastors and/or church memberships for both the winner and for John McCain, along with his running mate Sarah Palin. Their affiliations and relationship with church leaders has been under public scrutiny right on through Obama’s plans for his inauguration later this month (more on that later!).

Number Two was the Democratic Party outreach effort to religiously motivated voters, particularly conservative Christians. Obama appeared at a candidate forum moderated by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California, the kind of event Democrats used to skip and let the Republicans speak at all on their lonesome.

Third was Sarah Palin’s arrival on the national stage, with her message of support for unborn and disabled children rooted in an evangelical and somewhat Pentecostal viewpoint. Religious conservatives found a new measure of interest in the presidential election, but not quite as much as Obama generated among younger and more liberal voters.

Fourth place, said newswriters on religion, was the somewhat startling public reaction against gay marriage in California, Arizona, and Florida; the exact measure of what voting blocs turned out for what reason is still in the works, but much early anger from the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community was aimed at the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and Catholic Church.

Coming in fifth was the first American visit of Pope Benedict XVI, greeted by large crowds in Washington and New York, and by small groups who were invited to meet him representing victims of the sexual abuse scandals that have afflicted his communion. The Pope addressed the problem specifically, and the need for churches to face such occurrences clearly and honestly, directly from the pulpit.

In sixth place was the series of events leading to a request from conservative Episcopalians for a separate Anglican structure, or “province” for North America. Since the election and consecration of a noncelibate gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire five years ago, tensions and defections have slowly, but steadily opened up divisions in The Episcopal Church, most dramatically in the Diocese of Pittsburgh just to our east.

Seventh was listed as the terrorist violence in India inflicted by Islamic radicals on Jewish and secular targets in Mumbai (Bombay) just a few weeks ago, but an increase throughout the year of violence against Christians in smaller but no less deadly attacks in the eastern state of Orissa.

China made eighth place by cracking down harshly on Buddhists who sought to raise the issue of Tibetan independence during the Olympic torch run, and even more ruthlessly during the Games themselves. Their approach to chaplaincy in the Athlete’s Village during the Olympics I’d nominate for the most under-covered story of the year.

Ninth place strikes perhaps closest to Licking County, as the economic crisis that ended the year has pushed many churches and faith communities to and even over the edge, including building closures and foreclosures, staff layoffs and cutbacks, and the reduction of many charitable programs just at a time when they are most needed.

Tenth place was given to the situation in Iraq, particularly the hazards faced by the small but ancient Christian community there, beginning the year with the assassination of the Chaldean Christian archbishop, but ending somewhat hopefully with the return of some who had left Iraq earlier in the year as the security situation stabilized.

What news stories would you have put on a list of news stories with a faith angle? How would you rank them for order of importance or impact? And can you find a way to feel a connection to each of them?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you see the new year shaping up at

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