Part II: New Year’s observations on matters religion writers will want to be watching

Let's continue with some of the themes we were discussing in the previous Religion Guy Memo, in which I offered some predictions on what kinds of news items and trends religion-beat specialists will want to anticipate during 2017.

Watch for the U.S. Supreme Court to schedule the oral arguments in three complex cases consolidated under Advocate Health Care Network vs. Stapleton. At issue: Special pension exemptions for religious organizations other than churches. The Atlantic headline for a piece on this says the outcome “could bankrupt religious schools and hospitals.”

The speaker list for the customary Jan. 21 interfaith service at Washington's Episcopal cathedral the day after President Trump's inauguration will be worth coverage and comment. Will any ranking Muslim leaders agree to participate? Will any observant Jews appear even though it's the Sabbath day? Will Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore or other #NeverTrump clergy be invited?  

The NRB International Christian Media Convention in Orlando Feb. 27–March 2 will be a handy place to collect evangelical hallelujahs (and any lamentations) about the Trump Presidency. Headliners include Kelvin Cochran, fired as Atlanta fire chief over anti-gay statements; Alan Sears, whose Alliance Defending Freedom litigates religious-liberty cases; the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, who leads father Jerry’s local church; and radio pundits Steve Deace and Hugh Hewitt.

Yes, Virginia, there are pro-evolution evangelicals, and biologos.com plans a March 29 – 31 conference in Houston about “the rich harmony between modern science and biblical faith.” Speakers include British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, Wheaton College Old Testament Professor John Walton (author of the controversial “Lost World of Adam and Eve”), and Christianity Today Executive Editor Andy Crouch.

Speaking of Bible debates in the news.

Next fall the lavish Museum of the Bible, sponsored by the Green family (Hobby Lobby stores) opens near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. This is a natural for spot stories, reviews and features.

In and around the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31 there will be numerous commemorations in Germany and elsewhere. You’ll want to consider major packages with assessments of current relations between Protestants and Catholics.

On that, and on any other topics, journalists will be alert for whatever the perpetually newsworthy Pope Francis has to say. Speaking of anniversaries, Francis will attend the May 13 centennial of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Famina, Portugal. Time for “third secret” backgrounders. Papal visits to India, Bangladesh, and Africa are also expected.

Allying with four dissident cardinals who targeted Francis, lay intellectuals John Finnis and Germain Grisez recently issued a 35-page letter (.pdf here) urging the Pope and all bishops to clarify church teaching and condemn  “errors against the Catholic faith” on divorce and other matters that liberals draw from Francis’ March decree “Amoris Laetitia.”  Expect more reverberations in the New Year.

On November 7 the Rev. Billy Graham will turn 99. Be sure to have on standby a solid obit for the most influential Protestant of his generation, plus a good list of sources for follow-ups.

Then, reporters will want to keep an eye on:

* What church -- if any -- will President Donald Trump attend, and why? Check out this earlier tmatt post on this topic, here at GetReligion.

* Will the Democratic Party attempt to reconnect with religious Americans in “flyover country”? What might these attempts look like?

* Will more black Protestants promote urban charter schools, and vouchers and tax credits for religious schools?

* How serious a problem will be harassment against U.S. Muslim and Latino Catholic immigrants during 2017? Keep an eye on responses from the U.S. Catholic bishops.

* Globally, can traditional, moderate Islam gain any headway against the persistent jihadi faction that preaches and practices slaughter of the innocents? Keep your eyes on Indonesia.

* Related: Do ancient Christian populations have any future in the Mideast? Reporters should consider interviews with leaders in U.S. branches of these church, such as the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

* How will Israel maintain security in its dangerous neighborhood?

* In Myanmar (i.e. Burma), will Muslims suffer further Buddhist persecution? In China, will Communist overlords continue to oppress Christians and Fulan Gong practitioners, Muslims in Xinjiang and Buddhists in Tibet? What threats to freedom of conscience will emerge elsewhere, and what can be done?

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