What was the biggest religion story of ’11?

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

My old friends at the Religion Newswriters Association just voted for the top 10 religon news stories of the year. I miss participating in the vote. I used to take it very seriously, shifting around my top stories until I came up with a solid top 10 (or so I thought).

Anyway, here the top 10 for 2011 (I’ll comment a bit at the end):


1. The death of Osama bin Laden spurs discussions among people of faith on issues of forgiveness, peace,  justice and retribution.

2. Lively congressional hearings are held on the civil rights of American Muslims. In the House hearings focus on alleged radicalism and in the Senate on crimes reported against Muslims.

3. Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Mo. is charged with failure to report the suspected abuse of a child, becoming the first active bishop in the country to face criminal prosecution in such a case.

4. The Catholic Church introduces a new translation of the Roman Missal throughout the English–speaking world, making the first significant change to a liturgy since 1973.

5. Presbyterian Church (USA) allows local option on ordination of partnered gay people. Church defections over the issue continue among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. 

6. Pope John Paul II is beatified—the last step before sainthood—in a May ceremony attended by more than million people in Rome.

7. California evangelist Harold Camping attracts attention with his predictions that the world would end in May and again in October.

8. A book by Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell, “Love Wins,” presenting a much less harsh picture of hell than is traditional, stirs discussion in evangelical circles.  Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention rebut it.

9. The Personhood Initiative, designed to outlaw abortion by declaring a fetus a person, fails on Election Day in Mississippi, but advocates plan to try in other states. Meanwhile, reports show the number of restrictions adopted throughout the country against abortion during the year are far more than in any previous year.

10. Bible translations make news, with celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version; criticism, notably by Southern Baptists, about gender usage in the newest New International Version; and completion of the Common English Bible.


 The first thing that strikes me is that it was a pretty quiet year for religion news. Yes, the death of bin Laden spurred a very interesting and unexpected debate about many things, including the right way to “celebrate” the death of a really bad guy.

But the only other story that really captured public attention — the only story I heard people talking about — was the Harold Camping “End of the World” prediction. For most people, it was a goof, a laugh, a distraction from the economy and everything else.

A few of the other stories were certainly important. The new Catholic liturgy affects a lot of people, although I haven’t heard many complaints about it or praise for it (a priest did tell me that a group of priests are getting together after New Year’s to voice their concerns). PCUSA’s decision to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians seemed inevitable. Ditto Pope JPII’s beatification.

The “Love Wins” book, which didn’t rule out salvation for non-Christians, didn’t get much attention around here, where most people already felt that way.

The congressional hearings on American Muslims — the number 2 story  of the year — stirred less talk than the question of whether they should have been held at all.

The criminal prosecution of Kansas City’s Catholic bishop, a significant story in obvious ways, also got little attention that I could see. It certainly wasn’t the sex-abuse story of the year.

I don’t have any better ideas for the top religion stories of ’11. I think RNA got it right. It was just a quiet year.

RNA, by the way, did not named a Religion Newsmaker of the Year, as it normally does. The vote was too close between Harold Camping, Pope Benedict and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

It wasn’t a good year for Camping, prediction-wise. But at least he was one of the top newsmakers!