Every day as I review the news, I'm conscious of stories relating to religious faith. Here is my take on the top 10 religious stories of the year, seen through Sojourners' lens.
1. Faith-based groups led the struggle for immigration reform. From the efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform to the work around the DREAM Act in Congress, churches and faith-based organizations were in the forefront. Churches in Arizona responded to the passage of a harsh anti-immigrant law by pledging that they would not compromise their ministries.
2. Faith-based groups were deeply involved in the passage of health-care reform legislation. A key issue became whether or not the legislation provided funding for abortion, which put the Catholic bishops and the Catholic Health Association on opposite sides.
3. Anti-Islam sentiment grew in the United States. The proposal to build an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero became controversial; a Florida pastor vowed to burn copies of the Qu'ran and then backed down; and Oklahoma voters approved a referendum banning courts from using Islamic law, which was then overturned by a federal judge.
4. An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gave new momentum to the movement for creation care. More conservative evangelicals, who were skeptical, are now joining the debate, including the dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Russell Moore, who called it a "defining moment."
5. Faith-based NGOs were among the first and best responders to natural disasters, with earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and floods in Pakistan topping the list. In Afghanistan, ten medical workers were killed as questions are raised about an American counterinsurgency strategy that militarizes aid and increases risk.
6. Persecution and exodus of Christians. In the Middle East, half of Iraq's 750,000 Christians have left since 2003, and the Palestinian Christian population is rapidly shrinking. Christians in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt also faced growing attacks.
7. Economic recession and the churches. The continued recession put churches and faith-based organizations in a double bind -- contributions are declining, leading to budget cuts and staff layoffs, while the need and demand for services is growing.
8. Are they or aren't they? The rise of the Tea Party movement led to questions of its relationship to the Religious Right. Although many people claim an allegiance to both, a substantial number of Tea Party adherents are libertarian on social conservative issues.
9. Issues around gays and lesbians continue to roil the churches. The Episcopal Church USA elected its first lesbian bishop, the Presbyterian Church voted again to allow non celibate gay clergy, and a federal judge ruled in overturning California's Proposition 8 claiming that religious teachings are not enough grounds to justify banning same-sex marriage. Bullying-related suicides raise questions about a connection to anti-gay religious teachings. Churches and military chaplains divided over repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
10. Religion in the courts. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that World Vision can hire and fire employees on a religious basis. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Hastings College of Law policy that student groups, including the Christian Legal Society, must be open to all students whether or not they accept the groups' beliefs. Other appeals courts' decisions included: a moment of silence in schools is OK, the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is not a prayer, feeding the poor does not qualify as free exercise of religion, and banning metal crosses for deceased Utah police officers.
If that's not enough, here are a variety of other religion news story lists which I consulted to refresh my memory of the year. The Religion Newswriters Association, Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service, Robert Abernethy and Kim Lawton at Religion and Ethics, Christianity Today, Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, and Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute.
Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.