All kinds of people do all kinds of Top 10 lists at the end of the year. Some people like 'em, some people don't. I have always thought that the events people pick for a religion-news Top 10 list, and how they word the selections, tells you quite a bit about what they think about the issues. I am sure you could find examples of that in my list the other day.
Here's a prime example that I found online. This is the top item in a 2008 religion list by an interesting religious leader or writer. Read it with an open mind, paying close attention to the way this writer words things:
Barack Obama is elected president of the United States. Sen. Obama's historic election victory reset the political map of the United States. The first-term senator from Illinois galvanized the youth vote, maximized use of the Internet and reached across traditional Democratic Party divisions to become the party's nominee and then to win a clear victory in the general election.
In so doing, he toppled the favorite for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and turned much of the conventional political wisdom on its head. His defeat of Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, seemed to symbolize a generational shift, but Obama drew from a wide spectrum of the electorate. His record is predictably liberal for a Democratic nominee -- even more liberal than Sen. Clinton -- yet he won the confidence of voters on an agenda of "change."
His liberal positions on social issues cost him significant support among evangelical Christian voters, though he attracted noteworthy support from some younger evangelicals. As the year came to a close, the Obama transition team had assembled a core of cabinet nominees that was, in the main, drawn from traditional Democratic power circles -- a version of John F. Kennedy's "the best and the brightest" based in intellectual achievement. Americans, concerned about challenges at home and abroad, looked to the president-elect -- the nation's first African American president -- with great expectations.
Do you think this was written by:
(a) A popular leader in the "emergent" church, whatever that means.
(b) A progressive journalist like, oh, Amy Sullivan.
(c) A major intellectual leader on the Religious Right.
(d) A reporter at the Associated Press who really knows religion.
(e) Douglas LeBlanc.
The language is pretty neutral, isn't it, leaning toward positive -- but with some critical information included.
Who is this mystery writer? Click here to find out. Then read it all. I would be interested in seeing some lists from people on the other side of the sanctuary aisle, to see if they are as calmly worded.
Here's another item from that list that caught my attention:
The world takes note of a demographic downturn -- Where are the babies? Citizens of Pittsburgh, Pa., learned in 2008 that deaths now outnumbered births within the city. In most of Europe, a "demographic winter" took shape as birthrates had fallen well below population replacement.
Leaders of the Russian Army informed national leaders that the strength of the armed services was endangered by a lack of young males of military age. In the United States, the birthrate is stable mostly because of immigrant and minority communities. Once again, worldviews are seen to matter.
Over at the Boston Globe, Michael Paulson ended his list with an appropriate meditation on the state of the beat itself:
The business of religion journalism, like the rest of the journalism business, is, to put it mildly, in flux. The amount of space and resources committed to religion journalism by the mainstream media continued to dwindle in 2008, and several veteran religion writers around the country were laid off or bought out.
At the Globe, the powers-that-be retired the paper's longtime religion column, Spiritual Life, as part of a budget-cutting effort, and launched this blog, Articles of Faith, in an effort to better engage with that segment of our growing on-line audience that is interested in religion. The blog has grown rapidly -- thanks to Sarah Palin, the abortion issue, and a variety of other controversies, we had nearly 200,000 page views in November. I am grateful to all of you (well, most of you) who visited, bookmarked the site, subscribed to the RSS feed, and took the time to post comments or send notes as I experiment with this forum, trying to figure out what features and what types of posts are most useful, how best to balance the kinds of hot-button items that generate clicks with posts about news and culture that can be traffic-deadening, and also how best to balance blogging with reporting and writing stories.
Preach it, brother.
As you would expect, the Obama story is everywhere. Thus, you have a great chance to compare how different writers handle religious issues linked to the politics of his supporters and opponents.
Check out Christianity Today, and note this item in the middle of the list:
About 13,000 Christians -- or one in two -- left Mosul in October. In Gaza, churches where hundreds worshiped until recently are attended by less than a dozen. Historic Christian communities are becoming history.
Oh, and The USA Today list included an interesting wording on the global side of the Anglican wars. Bishops representing the majority of the world's Anglicans have decided to break away from the larger Communion? Did I miss that story?
And finally, here's an interesting list over at Beliefnet -- the 10 worst religion stories of the year. I'm not sure that I want to get started on that subject.
I'll ask again: Has anyone else seen any really good or really bad lists? What did nonNewsweek do? (cue: rim shot)