Obama speech voted top religion story of '09

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On a week when most churches in this region of the Eastern seaboard were closed down yesterday because of the snow, here’s what the nation’s religion writers thought were the top religion stories of 2009.

I confess that I was supposed to vote, but forgot to do so before the deadline; a shame in that I disagree with what the most important stories were. The Notre Dame story — No. 6 in this poll — got tons more coverage than Obama’s speech. So did the Tiller murder (No. 4 here). And the Lutheran story was a huge event, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America became the country’s largest denomination to accept gay clergy. That was seismic. Can’t believe my co-writers only rated it No. 7. Of course, most of them didn’t get to Minneapolis to cover it. Yours truly did make the trip.

Well, next time I will try to cast my vote before the deadline. Since the poll only got a 36 percent response rate, looks as if a lot of other religion writers missed the deadline as well.

— Julia Duin, religion editor

From the Religion Newswriters Association:
Journalists vote Obama’s Cairo speech
No. 1 Religion Story of 2009

COLUMBIA, MO.—For the second year in a row, activities of Barack Obama topped the list of religion stories for 2009, according to a survey of more than 100 religion journalists.

The president’s June speech — in which he pledged a new beginning in Muslim-U.S. relations during a visit to Cairo — was voted the No. 1 religion story of the year.

The speech at Cairo University last spring was widely viewed as a contrast to the approach of previous administrations. During his talk, Obama invoked the Qur’an, Talmud and the Bible while declaring that America was not at war with Islam.

The No. 2 religion story was health care reform and the role of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other faith groups played in shaping the debate.

Rick Warren, the California megachurch pastor who gained attention with his presidential Inauguration Day invocation and comments in the aftermath of Prop. 8, was named 2009 Religion Newsmaker of the Year. Warren also continues to have a major effect in Africa through AIDS relief and other humanitarian activities.

“The Obama inauguration solidified his status as America’s most influential evangelical and putative successor to Billy Graham as America’s Pastor,” said Jeffery L. Sheler, author of the new Warren biography Prophet of Purpose. “On the flip-side, it also has made him a formidable target of critics and has exposed him to some withering attacks. How he handles the continuing onslaught will be a supreme test of his character.”

Warren beat out Pope Benedict XVI; Archbishop Robert Duncan, who heads a new theologically conservative Anglican church; Jim Wallis, Sojourner’s editor and outspoken advocate for social justice issues; and Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America throughout its long debate on ordaining gay clergy.

Below, in order, are the Top 10 Religion Stories, as selected by active members of 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.

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About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times' religion editor. She has a master's degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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