Flashback 2015: New Religion News Service editor goes global (PBS looks to 2016)

So we know how the Religion Newswriters Association poll viewed the Top 10 news stories of the year (commentary here and "Crossroads" podcast here). The original RNA press release is right here. So what did other mainstream religion-news outlets have to say?

I will let veteran reporter Kim Lawton and a panel of experts at the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly broadcast speak for themselves. The video is up top and the transcript is here.

So how does the broadcast open? Well, it's about 2015, so I'm afraid that we are talking ISIS, terrorism, refugees and Donald Trump. And then Pope Francis.

Over at Religion News Service, Jerome Socolovsky -- the wire service's the new editor -- offered a list of what he billed as the "most consequential religion stories of the past year."

I think that is "consequential" in the sense of "important or significant," as opposed to "self-important; conceited." All I know is that this is a very thoughtful and well-developed list and I recommend it highly, especially if you are interested in the global angle on religion news over the past year. In particular, I thought the wording on the No. 1 item is especially strong:

ISIS and the lure of the apocalypse
We had already been introduced to the unspeakable cruelty of this group called the Islamic State, or Daesh in Arabic. And it continued this year: Coptic Christians were slaughtered on a Libyan beach in an act shown to the world in high-definition video. Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh was locked in a cage and burned alive. But this year the apocalyptic and iconoclastic streaks of this group came into full relief, with one terrorism expert comparing its pull on Muslim youth to getting a chance to play in the World Cup or Super Bowl.
When militants took sledgehammers to priceless antiquities in the Mosul museum and demolished ruins at Palmyra, it felt like a throwback to the rampages of 16th-century Protestants. Perhaps the decapitated statues that can still be seen at Utrecht’s Dom Church in the modern Netherlands should be a symbol of hope that this doesn’t have to go on forever.

What would I have added to that? In addition to those lost museums and historical sites, the region also lost a number of ancient monasteries and their priceless, IRREPLACEABLE libraries of ancient manuscripts.

Maybe it is cynical of me, but I think the American news-reading public would have been told more about those lost documents, scrolls, maps, etc., if they had been ancient about Rome, Greece or even early Islam, as opposed to the ancient churches who have been on the Nineveh Plain since, well, just after Pentecost.

However, it's important that Socolovsky's second item in his essay is this:

Christians and other minorities in the Middle East
In Iraq, there may be as few as 200,000 Christians remaining from a prewar population of 1.5 million. In Syria, Christians figure prominently in the tide of refugees fleeing the armies of ISIS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front. Coptic Christians remain vulnerable in Egypt despite assurances of equal treatment by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But it’s not just Christians who are under threat. The Arab Spring of several years ago has turned into a winter for minorities -- Yazidis and Druze, as well as Shiites and Sunnis where they are outnumbered.

You really need to read this whole essay.

But let me note one other thing. Do you remember that stunning Time cover story -- "What It Takes to Forgive a Killer" -- on the complex and painful aftermath of the Bible study massacre at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.? I urged everyone to read it when it came out and I'll do so yet again.

Anyway, thinking back on the most consequential stories of the year -- as opposed to the ones that got votes in a poll -- Socolovsky opened with three words: "I forgive you."

The Charleston nine
On this side of the Atlantic, a white man walked into an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and sat down to join a Bible study group. The warm welcome he got didn’t stop him, authorities said, from fatally shooting nine people in cold blood. The June 17 killings horrified Americans, who were subsequently moved by the forgiveness and grace shown by the relatives of the victims during a bond hearing for the suspect. At the funeral, the Rev. Norvel Goff noted the peaceful response by pointing out how “a lot of folk expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot.”

Like I said, read all of this 2015 list. There is much to think about.

UPDATE: PBS now has the link up to the 2016 "look ahead" feature as well. Dive in.


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