I have gained an appreciation of the Religion Newswriters Association. I had the privilege of addressing the group last year (my notes are here) and found them to be hardworking women and men seeking to report on our diverse religious landscape. Most of them work for secular news outlets, primarily newspapers, but all kinds of groups were represented.
So, when they vote on the "top religion stories" it is worth noting.
Their top five:
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.
Read their full list here.
Number 10 on their list related to Rick Warren, who was listed as "Religion Newsmaker of the Year."
In addition to the "top 10," the RNA release lists other noteworthy stories. If you are interested in how the broader culture sees religion, this list is worth your time. (If you want a more insider evangelical perspective, read the Christianity Today list. Here is CT's 2008 list.)
Now, I feel compelled to say that I still think that President Obama's state dinner speech (and the shift it represents) was newsworthy and I was glad to see Christianity Today agree, but it did not (and will not) make any list-- top ten or otherwise.
What do you think? What are the big stories, covered or not, in 2009?