The top religion stories of 2006

Danish cartoons, a pope’s ill-chosen words, and the worldwide Muslim reaction to both topped the list of 2006’s biggest religion stories, according to the Religion Newswriters Association.

Continuing strife within the Episcopal Church, the fall of Ted Haggard, and the release of the movie The Da Vinci Code were among the year’s other big faith-based news events.

The RNA poll has been conducted annually since the 1970s. This year’s survey was taken from Dec. 8 to Dec. 12. Almost 150 journalists across the country participated.

1. Muslims react violently to publication of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark. Scores of Christians and Muslims are killed in riots in Nigeria.

2. Pope Benedict XVI angers Muslims by including in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. He apologizes and later smooths the waters on a trip to Turkey.

3. The Episcopal Church riles conservatives by electing as presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supported the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. Seven dioceses refuse to recognize her leadership. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., becomes the first to adopt measures setting the stage for secession from the national church.

4. Ted Haggard resigns as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and is dismissed as pastor of his Colorado megachurch after allegations of sex with a gay prostitute and methamphetamine use.

5. Candidates backed by the religious right are trounced in the fall elections, with many voters citing morality as one of their strongest motivations.

6. Religious voices grow louder for peace in Iraq, while many fear the spread of sectarian tensions throughout the Middle East. Conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims increase, and the Israeli incursion against Hezbollah touches off strife in Lebanon. Christian churches also reconsider efforts to pressure Israel on the Palestinian question.

7. The schoolhouse shooting deaths of five Amish girls in Pennsylvania bring international attention to the Amish ethic of forgiveness, after some Amish attend the killer’s funeral.

8. (tie) The release of the movie The Da Vinci Code adds to the controversy over Dan Brown’s novel, in which Jesus wed Mary Magdalene and produced a line of descendants.

8. (tie) Same-sex marriage bans pass in seven of eight states that hold referendums on the issue, with Arizona voters becoming the first to defeat such a ban. The New Jersey Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married men and women.

10. President Bush exercises his first veto, to defeat a bill calling for expanded stem-cell research. Progress is reported in efforts to create stem-cell lines without destroying embryos.

11. Some evangelical leaders call for a stronger response to environmental concerns, especially global warming, even as other evangelicals play down the threat.

12. The genocide in Darfur, which is based more on ethnic differences than religion, draws increasing attention from religious groups.

13. Samuel Alito is confirmed as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, giving the court its first Catholic majority ever.

14. Hollywood makes major plays for religious audiences, with mixed success. The Nativity Story does well as a December release, with $34 million in ticket sales through Christmas. That’s considerably better than One Night With the King, the October release about the Jewish Queen Esther. Book of Daniel, an NBC-TV series about an Episcopal priest and his dysfunctional family, bombs.

15. Catholic dioceses continue to shell out money in the sexual-abuse scandals, capped by Los Angeles’ decision to settle 45 lawsuits for $60 million — the fourth-largest amount since the scandal erupted in 2002. The Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, becomes the fourth in the U.S. to seek bankruptcy protection.

16. Pentecostalism marks its 100th anniversary, dating to the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, and celebrates the milestone as the fastest-growing Christian body.

17. Southern Baptists elect their first dark-horse president in decades, Frank Page of South Carolina. Many see this as a sign of discontent toward the denomination’s hard-line conservative leadership.

18. The Food and Drug Administration approves a nonprescription morning-after pill, angering religious conservatives. Some pharmacists lose their jobs for refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions because of their religious convictions.

19. Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist breakaway sect, is arrested in Nevada after three months on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He’s charged with sexual misconduct, accused of arranging multiple marriages between underage girls and older men.

20. The election of Christian Stephen Harper as prime minister of Canada leads to an expectation of a larger role for faith-based social conservatism.

Top newsmaker: The Amish

The Religion Newswriters Association also chose a “Top Newsmaker of the Year” — the Amish “who modeled forgiveness after the schoolhouse murders” in Pennsylvania in October.

Others who got consideration: Pope Benedict XVI; Dan Brown and Ron Howard, author and director, respectively, of The Da Vinci Code; Ted Haggard, fallen evangelical leader; Frank Page, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Katharine Jefferts Schori, first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday December 30, 2006.
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