Each year, Time magazine comes out with its “100 Most Influential People” list, which is often clueless about the world of religion.
Well, it's deja vu all over again. This year’s selection did not fail to disappoint.
There were no icons of the religious left, such the Rev. James Martin nor, on the opposite pole, people like the Rev. Russell Moore, who took a lot of heat -- and nearly lost his job -- for criticizing evangelical Trump supporters.
There was no Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the ISIS leader whose butchery and short-lived Islamic caliphate is still creating international havoc. (He made the short list for Time’s 2015 person of the year, so go figure).
There was no sign of the Rev. Tim Keller, the Presbyterian pastor who, against many odds, started a Reformed congregation in highly secular Manhattan 28 years ago and grew it into a 5,000-member congregation. No less than the New York magazine has called Keller the city’s “most successful Christian evangelist.” It was only recently that he became more widely known after Princeton Theological Seminary announced he’d won its annual Kuyper Prize, then reneged on giving him the award after an outcry from theological liberals.
The only religious leader cited was Pope Francis, in an essay written by Cardinal Blaise Cupich:
Before being elected Pope, Francis gave a speech to his fellow Cardinals warning against becoming a “self-referential” church, rather than one that goes out of itself to the margins of society to be with those who suffer. That is where God is working in the world and where he calls us to be. This has rung especially true this year, as Francis has spoken out on the need to welcome refugees amid a global crisis.
Yes, there was Chance the Rapper, the Christian hiphop artist, also made the list.
Chance upends expectations about what artists, especially hip-hop artists, can do. He streams his albums instead of selling them. He makes music from an unapologetically inspiring and Christian perspective—music that transcends age, race and gender. He gives back to his Chicago community. And he does it all as an independent artist, without the support of a label.
Outside of U.S. borders, I will say the list did include Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, a Hindu nationalist who has made life hell for religious minorities in his country. As the article notes:
…this Hindu nationalist used Twitter to bypass traditional media and speak directly to masses feeling left or pushed behind by globalization, and he promised to make India great again by rooting out self-serving elites. Nearly three years later, his vision of India's economic, geopolitical and cultural supremacy is far from being realized, and his extended family of Hindu nationalists have taken to scapegoating secular and liberal intellectuals as well as poor Muslims.
He’s also selectively targeted Christians.
There’s a lot about who made that list I disagree with (Margaret Atwood? Really?) And Colin Kaepernick? Seriously?) And they left out a lot of good people besides those in the religious world. Why couldn’t Time have chosen some of the spiritual giants from, say, China? How about Zhang Kai, the human rights lawyer, who was jailed the day before he was to have met Rabbi David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom? And then he was tortured for the next six months.
Or Yu Jie, a Chinese Chistian writer and dissident who was also tortured before he fled to the United States? Come to think of it, did the late and famed Harry Wu, who endured 19 years in China’s prisons, then spent the rest of his life exposing his country’s human rights abuses, ever make the list?
There are amazing human rights activists from all religions in Pakistan to Persia who could be on that list.
There are other religious personalities around the world. One is Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the erratic foe of American forces in the Middle East and who has long been a divisive figure. Yet he’s got huge sway in Iraq. Or Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who works hand-in-glove with Putin -- except when he doesn't (there's news on both sides of that equation).
There are probably more and better names worthy of being on this list and I am shooting in the dark by naming just a few. But I see no effort by Time to go out and find the star players among the billions of Earth’s residents who profess a religion.
There were some creative picks on this year's list. Next time, I hope Time skips some of the obvious and puts some time into choosing who are heroes of Earth's many faiths.