1. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is a surprise choice to succeed Benedict, becoming the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name of Francis. He immediately launches a series of stunning and generally popular forays—meeting with the poor in Brazil, embracing the ill, issuing conciliatory words toward gays and calling for a poorer and more pastoral church.
- Pope Francis, Person of the Year, and What Evangelicals Might Learn
- The Media, Erin Burnett, and the Desire for Catholics to "Get with the Times"
- Who Really Cares about the Election of the Pope?
- The Exchange with Luis Palau—Luis is friends with Pope Francis.
2. Pope Benedict XVI, citing age and strength issues, becomes first pope to resign in almost 600 years.
3. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 5-4 votes, clears the way for gay marriage in California and voids the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples. Gay marriage continues to make inroads within the states, with Illinois and Hawaii becoming the 15th and 16th states to approve same-sex marriage.
- Prop 8, DOMA, and the Christian Response
- Research: Same-Sex Marriage Is Civil Rights Issue, Americans Say
4. The Obama administration makes concessions to faith-based groups and businesses opposed to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, but not enough to satisfy many of them. The disagreement continues as the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a case brought by Hobby Lobby challenging the mandate, although faith-based and private employers had mixed results in the lower-courts.
- The Issue Is Not Birth Control—It's Government Coercion (from 2012)
- New Research: Majority of Americans Support Mandatory ObamaCare Contraception Coverage (from 2012)
5. Islam plays a central role in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as the Egyptian military ousts the elected, Muslim Brotherhood-led government and violently cracks down on its supporters; meanwhile, Sunni Islamist fighters increase their role in Syria's opposition.
- Turkey: What to Know and How to Pray
- NEW RESEARCH: Many Americans Link U.S. Military Strike in Syria to End Times
6. Icon of reconciliation and nonviolence Nelson Mandela dies at age 95 and is remembered as a modern-day Moses who led his people out of racial captivity.
- Nelson Mandela Has Died: Some history, thoughts, and reaction from South African pastors
- Will South Africa be OK after Mandela?
- Why South Africans Honour Nelson Mandela
- Questions and Observations About South Africa
- The Exchange in South Africa
7. Religious-inspired attacks claim scores of lives, with extremist Buddhist monks fomenting attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and Muslim extremists targeting Christians at churches in Egypt, an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. Moderate religious leaders condemn the attacks, and a Somali Muslim emerges as a hero for rescuing a young American girl in the Nairobi mall.
8. More than 1 in 5 Jews in America now report having no religion, according to a landmark survey from the Pew Research Center. The number of professing Jewish adults is now less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, although Jewish identity remains strong.
- Is the Church getting smaller or just changing?—The State of the Church In America: Hint: It's Not Dying
- What is the state of Evangelicalism?—The State of Evangelicalism in the Most Recent NAE Insight Magazine
- Gospel, mission, and evangelism are not enough—Evangelicalism Now: Five Things Evangelicals Need to Face the Next 10 Years
- More people are identifying with no religious faith—The Exchange—The Rise of the "Nones"
9. The Boy Scouts of America, after much debate, votes to accept openly gay Scouts but not Scoutmasters. Several Catholic leaders endorse the move; some evangelical leaders oppose it.
10. Muslims join those across the country who condemn a devastating bombing at the Boston Marathon by two young Muslim men who attended college in the area. People of many faiths were among the many who showed an outpouring of support for the bombing victims.
- A Marathon Bombing, the Broken World, and Our Maranatha Hope
- Tragedy in Boston: Roundup of Reactions from Pastors in the Area
- Love Your Neighbor-- Even the Muslim Ones, An Expanded Version of My Column in USAToday
Check out the rest of the RNA's list of top stories—it's a fascinating list.