Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Newsmakers: Obama tops list for religious writers

Left, U.S. President Barack Obama. Right, a deadly army base shooting at Fort Hood, Texas by Nidal Hasan brought the role of religion and terrorism back into the headlines.


For the second year in a row, U.S. President Barack Obama has topped the list of major religion stories for 2009, according to a poll of North American religion writers.

And, like last year, it was an Obama initiative that took No. 2 spot, as well.

In fact, four of the top 10 stories involve Obama, according to a poll of 100 members of the Religion Newswriters Association, almost all of who work for American newspapers or radio and television stations.

Issues of same-sex marriage and gay clergy took three spots in the top 10.

Topping the list was a speech given in Cairo by Obama last June in which he reached out to the Muslim world and set his administration apart from that of his predecessor. Invoking the Qur'an, Talmud and the Bible, Obama declared that America was not at war with Islam.

"The holy Qur'an teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as – it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the holy Qur'an also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind," Obama, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, said in the speech.

Next on the list was Obama's troubled healthcare initiative, which – like many political issues in the U.S. – has drawn religious groups into the debate.

While many faith-based groups have backed healthcare reform in the United states to help "the least of these," others, including Roman Catholic bishops, have called for restrictions on abortion funding. More than 40 million Americans have no healthcare coverage.

A deadly army base shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead in November came in third. Because the accused shooter, Nidal Hasan, was considered a devout Muslim, the shooting spree brought the role of religion and terrorism back into the headlines.

Violence and religion also took the fourth spot, with the June shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller at his Wichita church, where he served as an usher. Accused killer Scott Roeder reportedly turned to radical religious groups after his marriage ended. Several anti-abortion groups condemned the attack.

Gay marriage entered the list, in fifth spot, with Mormons in California coming under attack for their support the previous year for a voter resolution banning same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, voters in Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire voted to allow it, while those in Maine voted against it. The vote by California voters against gay marriage took the fourth spot on the 2008 list.

Obama returned to the top 10 by accepting an honorary degree from the Catholic Notre Dame University, where he also gave the commencement speech. The event sparked debates at the school and in Catholic circles over his views on abortion.

A vote by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to ordain gay and lesbian clergy in committed monogamous relationships took seventh spot. Mirroring ongoing splits in the Anglican church, the move led to a number of conservative parishes to look into forming a new denomination.

The recession's impact on church earnings took eighth place as cutbacks hit a great variety of faith-based groups, including houses of worship, relief agencies, colleges and seminaries and publishing houses.

A vote by the Episcopal Church, as Anglicanism is known in the United States, to end a moratorium on installing gay bishops took ninth place on the list. Soon after, the diocese of Los Angeles chose a lesbian, Mary Glasspool, as assistant bishop.

The inauguration of Obama last January took the 10th spot, thanks to his choice of evangelist and mega-church leader Rick Warren to give the invocation, and gay Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson to give a pre-ceremony prayer.

Warren was also chosen Religion Newsmaker of the Year, beating out Pope Benedict XVI and Robert Duncan, head of the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America.

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