OK, here is one final set of some Top 10 religion stories lists for the now distant 2015. If you have missed the previous installments, click here and then here to back up a post or two and catch up. There was also an end of the year "Crossroads" podcast.
One of the reasons that journalists dig into these kinds of lists, especially those prepared by leaders in specific religious flocks, is to learn about stories that may not have made headlines at mainstream news sites -- yet.
So here are three lists of this kind. Once again, please put any 2015 Top 10 lists that I missed in our comments pages.
We will start with A. James Rudin, a name familiar to all journalists who cover events and trends among Jews in North America and elsewhere. This Top 10 Jewish news events list was prepared for Religion News Service, but the link is to The Washington Post. You have Bernie Sanders, Nostra Aetate and a rabbi scandal or two. However, his top story is one that has been growing in importance for more than a decade, one sure to grow in importance with the rise of the Islamic State.
1. Anti-Semitic attacks escalate across Europe.
In January an Islamic terrorist killed four Jews inside a Paris kosher market, and in February a terrorist killed a synagogue guard in Copenhagen. The number of French Jews moving to Israel grew during the year.
Then there was this story, which our own Ira Rifkin flagged early on:
3. The BDS campaign gathers force.
In June, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a resolution calling for the denomination to divest and boycott certain companies doing business with Israel. Critics charged the UCC and other boycott, divestment and sanction proponents were one-sided because they avoided any condemnation of the so-called Islamic State’s often murderous persecution of Middle East Christians and other religious minorities, the slaughter of innocents in the Syrian civil war, and other horrific human rights abuses in the region. ...
And here is one that I totally missed:
7. Spain atones for the Inquisition.
The country granted citizenship to 4,302 Jews whose ancestors in 1492 were forced to flee Spain rather than convert to Catholicism or burn at the stake. It is estimated that 200,000 Jews lived in Spain then; today their descendants number 3.5 million people.
Next, we have the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux and The Boston Globe going the Religion Newswriters Association one (or maybe two) steps better and producing an entire 2015 Top 10 list dedicated to Pope Francis and Pope Francis alone.
As you would expect, the pope's travels are well represented, along with justified references to the Vatileaks scandal (the 2.0 edition, in Allen's list) and the Laudato Si’ encyclical on the environment. No surprises there and not in the events at the very top of the list.
Still I was interested in Allen's wordings -- especially on the top pick. Now the world awaits the Pope Francis verdict on divorce and marriage:
2. Year of Mercy
Francis decreed that Dec. 8, 2015, through Nov. 20, 2016, will be observed as a special jubilee Year of Mercy, with Roman officials expecting at least 10 million pilgrims to wash through the city. More than anything else, the announcement put an exclamation point on the insight that mercy is the spiritual Rosetta stone of this papacy, the filter through which Francis understands himself and his agenda.
1. The Synod of Bishops
For sheer drama, nothing topped the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops on the family, which featured cardinals jousting in public, suspicions of rigging and deck-stacking, and activist groups of all sorts descending on Rome. Substantively, the synod provided an X-ray of a divided Church on questions such as divorce, homosexuality, and people living together outside marriage, and the jury is still out on how Francis will resolve those dilemmas. Procedurally, the synod seemed to embody a new way of handling disagreements, allowing them to play out in the belief that the Church has nothing to fear from healthy debate. When historians talk about the legacy of Pope Francis, his two synods on the family may be where the story begins.
Finally, the conservative Institute for Religion & Democracy offered, via its "Juicy Ecumenism" weblog, a Top 10 list by Jeffrey Walton, with the items in no particular order of importance.
As you would expect, several of its items are linked to the 5-4 Obergefell decision at the U.S. Supreme court supporting gay marriage from coast to coast. However, note that one of these items -- in a list produced in large part for an audience of evangelicals in mainstream churches -- stressed related news on the doctrinal left within elite evangelicalism:
Evangelicals Respond to Supreme Court Marriage Ruling: The U.S. Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional right to marriage between couples of the same sex. Nearly 100 church leaders signed on to an Evangelical Declaration on Marriage stating “Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift.” Meanwhile, social justice activist Tony Campolo and former Christianity Today editor David Neff announced their affirmation of same sex couples, signaling a gradual movement among politically liberal Evangelicals towards a reappraisal of historic Christian views on marriage and sexual ethics.
I would agree that the Neff announcement -- Campolo's views were no surprise -- was one of the year's sleeper events, in terms of symbolism and insight into the complex doctrinal divisions emerging in American evangelicalism.
Likewise, there was that late-breaking story on the highly symbolic Wheaton College campus:
Wheaton College Suspends Hijab Professor: The “Harvard of Evangelicalism” made national news after a political science professor donned an Islamic head covering to express solidarity with Muslims during the season of Advent. Larycia Hawkins explained her action on Facebook, saying “we worship the same God,” with the evangelical Illinois school confirming her suspension “pending the full review of which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member.”
And in a variation on these two stories, there was this:
Schools Part with Council for Christian Colleges and Universities over Marriage: Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University, two longtime members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), voluntarily withdrew from the organization after the two institutions changed their hiring guidelines to accept faculty who do not hold to the traditional Christian doctrine of marriage. Two other schools, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Union University, earlier withdrew their membership in CCCU over the summer, citing dissatisfaction with the council’s lengthy consulting process to address the matter.
So if you were looking for trends going into 2016, I would advise journalists to keep their eyes and ears open for further legal and doctrinal developments in the campuses of Christian colleges and universities. And my hunch? Keep an eye on the NCAA.
The NCAA? Yes, you read that right.