|The Adventist Review shares the following report with the permission of the Religion Newswriters Association. Opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Journalists Vote Obama’s Cairo Speech
#1 Religion Story of 2009
BY DEBRA MASON,executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association
or 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 during a visit to Cairo—in which he pledged a new beginning in Muslim-U.S. relations—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 Proposition 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. George 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.