December 16, 2009 03:57 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The Religion Newswriters Association surveyed more than 100 religion journalists to devise a list of 2009's top 10 religion stories. Six of them are God & Country-style faith-in-domestic-politics stories. In 2000, only three of the RNA's top ten religion stories fell into that category.
I'm guessing that the spike has to do with the increasing politization of American religion, the expanding role of faith in politics and policy, the advances and attempted advances of the gay rights movement, the shrinking number of dedicated religion reporters (hence less focus on pure religion stories), the shrinking number of U.S. foreign correspondents (hence less focus on overseas religion stories), and the media's growing interest in politico-religious controversies.
Here's the list of stories in the order selected by members of the Religion Newswriters Association:
1. President Obama pledges a new beginning in Muslim-U.S. relations and reaches out to the world's Muslims during a major speech at Cairo University.
2. Health-care reform, the No. 1 topic in Congress for most of the year, involves faith-based groups appealing strongly for action to help "the least of these," and others, such as the Roman Catholic bishops, for restrictions on abortion funding.
3. Because Maj. Nidal Hasan, the accused gunman in the Fort Hood massacre, was considered a devout Muslim, the role of that faith in terrorism again comes under review; some fear a backlash.
4. Dr. Carl Tiller, regarded as the country's leading abortion doctor, is gunned down while ushering in his Wichita Lutheran church. Scott Roeder, charged with his murder, is described as a man suffering from delusions and professing radical religious beliefs.
5. Mormons in California come under attack from some supporters of gay rights because of their lobbying efforts in the November 2008 election on behalf of Prop. 8, which outlawed gay marriage. Later in the year, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire approve gay marriage, but it is overturned by voters in Maine.
6. President Obama receives an honorary degree and gives the commencement speech at Notre Dame after fierce debates at the Roman Catholic university over Obama's views on abortion.
7. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America votes to ordain gay and lesbian clergy who are in a committed monogamous relationship, leading a number of conservative churches—known as the Coalition for Renewal—to move toward forming a new denomination.
8. The recession forces cutbacks at a great variety of faith-related organizations—houses of worship, relief agencies, colleges and seminaries, publishing houses.
9. The Episcopal Church Triennial Convention votes to end a moratorium on installing gay bishops, ignoring a request from the archbishop of Canterbury. At year's end Los Angeles chooses a lesbian, Mary Glasspool, as assistant bishop. Earlier, an elected bishop in Upper Michigan, Kevin Thew Forrester, is rejected because of his extreme liberal views.
10. President Obama's inauguration includes a controversial invocation by Rick Warren and a controversial benediction by Joseph Lowery, as well as a pre-ceremony prayer by gay Bishop Gene Robinson.