View from the Pew
Top religion stories of 2007 involve politics
The top religion news of 2007 was not about saints, miracles, world-changing movements or faith-shaking scandals. It was about politics.
The current generation of the Moral Majority, Christians who supported President Bush and past Republican presidential candidates, are iffy about some GOP candidates this time around, especially Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Opinions are being generated from evangelical sources about what a Mormon believes and how it would play out in a president's decision making.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates are making an effort to woo voters with faith-based perspectives. It is a concept the party's candidates shied away from in previous presidential elections.
Those two trends in the political arena were named first and second of the Top 10 religion stories this year in balloting of members of the Religion Newswriters Association.
Connections between religion and government in the United States were reflected in other items on the Top 10 list.
Although Bush, Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts were nominees for Religion Newsmaker of the Year, reporters chose the unnamed masses of Buddhist monks who demonstrated against the regime in Myanmar for the spotlight. The peaceful demonstration by thousands of red-robed monks captured global attention. The military junta suppressed the September effort with raids on monasteries and imprisonment of thousands. Pro-democracy sources said 300 were killed -- the government said 10 died -- when soldiers used force to stop the demonstration sparked when the regime announced a huge hike in fuel costs in the impoverished country.
The struggle within different Christian denominations about whether to ordain gays and allow same-gender unions has made the Top 10 list in some form in the past few years.
This year, chapter three in the Anglican Communion arena is also number three on the newswriters' list. The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the denomination, promised to exercise restraint in gay issues, a response to demands from other elements of the global church. (Chapter one was the U.S. ordination of an openly gay man as bishop; chapter two was the outraged reaction from other national branches of the church.)
In Canada, Anglican bishops also backed off, voting to nullify previous approvals of same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, reporters have chronicled movement within the Conservative branch of Judaism to be more open to gay leadership.
DEMOCRATIC VOICE OF BURMA VIA AP
In this photo released by the Democratic Voice of Burma, Myanmar, Buddhist monks in cinnamon robes take to the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, on Sept. 26. Security forces fired warning shots and tear gas canisters while hauling Buddhist monks away in trucks as the forces tried to stop anti-government demonstrations in defiance of a ban on assembly.
The Top 10 list continues:
4. Global warming is an increasing concern. It is a priority topic for some mainline denominations, while evangelical Christian groups hesitate to embrace the cause. The fact that the issue brought the Nobel prize to a Democrat did not help persuade conservatives.
5. Religious organizations have come down on both sides of the question of what to do about illegal immigrants. Some churches have become active in supporting illegal immigrants.
6. The public political activism by Myanmar monks, in a country that is 90 percent Buddhist, placed as a top news story, not just on religion pages.
7. On the Episcopal Church front, the fallout on the gay issue has led a few churches to choose African and South American Anglican bishops as their leaders, severing from the U.S. hierarchy. It has a significant financial side effect as legal disputes arise over ownership of church property.
8. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the conservative side in three cases with religious implications. The court upheld a ban on partial-birth abortions. It allowed schools to set some limits on students' free speech. It denied a challenge to the Bush administration's Office of Faith-based Initiatives.
9. Some famous televangelists and other religion newsmakers died this year. They include Jerry Falwell, Rex Humbard and D. James Kennedy. Other deaths were Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, and Jim Bakker's ex-wife, Tammy Faye Messner. Also departing this life were Bible scholar Bruce Metzger and Gilbert Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ.
10. The nasty scandal of predatory priests in the Roman Catholic Church continues in its aftershocks. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles made a record $660 million settlement with sex abuse victims, following earlier settlements totaling $100 million in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash. The total of settlements across the nation reached $2.1 billion.