2017

The Media Project asked 800+ journalists around the world for 10 great Godbeat stories and ...

The Media Project asked 800+ journalists around the world for 10 great Godbeat stories and ...

It's never too late to praise good work. Right?

It took a while, but our colleagues at The Media Project asked a large circle of journalists around the world -- 800-plus, including members of the GetReligion team -- to send in a list of 10 religion-news stories from 2017 that we thought were truly exceptional.

The result is hardly a scientific survey. However, several stories kept showing up over and over. So they prepared a list of 10 stories, in no particular order, as well as a list of honorable mentions.

Some of these stories -- no surprise -- will seem familiar to GetReligion readers. For example, you may remember one of my recent posts that started like this:

Now, here is a sentence that I didn't expect to write this week.
Here goes. If you really want to understand what has been going on in the hearts and minds of many evangelical voters in Alabama, then you really need to grab (digitally speaking, perhaps) a copy of The New Yorker. To be specific, you need to read a Benjamin Wallace-Wells piece with this headline: "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right."

This New Yorker essay didn't portray evangelical voters -- and Alabama religious believers in general -- as some kind of single-minded army. Here was a passage I praised then and I'll praise it again now.

Many evangelical leaders experienced Donald Trump’s ascendance as a personal emergency. Some pastors watched, with dismay and confusion, as members of their congregations defended the moral character of a flamboyantly immoral casino mogul turned politician. During the primaries, the major evangelical pastors were generally allied with other candidates (polls tended to find that they preferred Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), but, as the campaign developed, and as polls continued to find that evangelical voters held a strong preference for Trump, that general resistance began to weaken. Some pastors talked themselves into Donald Trump, while others remained horrified but kept quiet. “I was flabbergasted that pastors would get up and talk about the goodness of Donald Trump,” John Thweatt, who is the president of the conservative Alabama Baptist Convention, told me this week. “I was really flabbergasted that we were going to throw away Biblical values and dictates because he’s going to fit our party line.”

So, here are the other nine stories in our Top 10 (one again, in no particular order). Yes, a current GetReligion scribe is in the list, as well as a former member of the team. No apologies, folks.

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Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

As always, the GetReligion team slows down a bit during the Holiday season (broadly defined).

We don't vanish. We don't stop reading or paying attention to our email. But we do have other things to do, like travel and welcoming guests (and in my case, celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary).

One thing we will be doing in the next week or so is noting some of the interesting 2017 yearender features focusing on religion-news events and trends. I don't know if we will do another "Parade of Yearenders" like last year, but we'll give you a few things to read.

We have already started in recent weeks. If you haven't tried one of our "Crossroads" podcasts, click here and give this one a try -- "Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything." That post includes this years Top 10 stories from the Religion News Association, as well as my own take on the year's events in an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate. Bobby Ross, Jr., also pointed to the RNA poll here.

It has, so far, been easy to spot a trend among the yearenders. Rather than doing lists of the major events, more and more journalists are producing lists of the top stories at their own websites (the kind of thing GetReligion does on this website's anniversary every year). That's interesting, and valid, but I always enjoyed contrasting the Top 10 news lists.

In other words: Hint, hint. Please send us URLS you spot for yearender pieces and the newsier the better. Top 10 lists? Yes, please.

It would be impossible to sum up the religion-news coverage in the year without mentioning the work of Emma Green at The Atlantic. While her work is written in an analysis style suited to magazine features, during 2017 she often focused on important religion-news topics -- especially church-state conflicts -- before hard-news operations took them on. Here's how I described that process back in September:

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Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Ever since the 1980s, I have been telling editors and journalists that conflicts about religious liberty were going cause some of the biggest news stories on the American horizon.

Anyone who has been reading GetReligion since 2004 knows that I've been saying that, over and over. Amen If you listen to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, looking ahead into 2017, you're going to hear more about that. No apologies.

The roots of this concern run back to my graduate-school work in Baylor University's church-state studies program, where -- in 1977-78 -- we could hear the early rumblings of what would become Bob Jones University vs. United States case.

Why is that important? Do you remember this crucial moment in the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell debates about same-sex marriage?

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I, I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue.

That's why religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling, in his recent pair of memos looking ahead to 2017, stressed that religious-liberty cases -- linked to LGBTQ issues, again -- would remain on the front burner for major American newsrooms. Click here and then here for those two Ostling posts.

You can see the same themes again, over and over, in the recent "Acts of Faith" year-beginner piece at The Washington Post by religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (yes, a former member of the GetReligion team). The headline: "Here’s what we think will be the major religion stories of 2017." Here is the overture:

The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

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

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.

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New Year’s observations on matters religion writers will want to be watching (Part I)

New Year’s observations on matters religion writers will want to be watching (Part I)

The Religion Guy’s thoughts about religion-what beat specialists may want to anticipate for 2017 once the New Year has been properly toasted are as follows: Much of the action will circle around LGBTQ-related controversies. I am sure that is not a surprise.

As throughout 2016, all things Donald Trump will dominate the news. Due to the ongoing conflict between gay rights and religious-liberty assertions there’s keen interest in the unpredictable new president’s Supreme Court choice to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Samuel Alito recently lamented the repression of free speech, particularly on college campuses, but warned that “freedom of religion is in even greater danger.”

Again, this is not a big surprise.

Alito and Scalia uttered that same warning as dissenters when the court majority dodged religious rights in its 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage. A new justice in Scalia’s mold won’t shift the Court’s balance of power. The bigger ruckus comes later, with a replacement for swing voter Anthony Kennedy (age 80), or liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg (83) or Stephen Breyer (78). 
Also vital, though often neglected by the media, will be Trump’s nominees for lower federal courts that will decide most of these First Amendment disputes.

Though this is often portrayed in the press as a mere concern of Catholics and white evangelicals, 27 African-American Protestant leaders rallied by the Seymour Institute sent a notable letter to candidate Hillary Clinton. Alongside conventional black concerns on matters like education and justice, the clergy charged that gay activists want to “criminalize our biblical texts as hate speech,” and accused Democrats of “open contempt for religious freedom.”

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