Top Religion Stories of 2008 and What's Ahead in 2009

By Tim Townsend
Louis Post-Dispatch

December 27, 2008

Religion writer Tim Townsend

In the last "Keep the Faith" column of 2008, let's look back to the top 10 religion stories of the last year, and forward to some religion stories that might make 2009's year-end list.

Each year, religion reporters at the nation's newspapers (including this one) vote on the top 10 religion stories of the year. The list is compiled and then published each December by the Religion Newswriters Association. Here's this year's list in descending order:

10. Violence continues in Iraq as Sunnis and Shiites attack one another and Christians are also targeted.

9. The crumbling economy and subsequent drop in contributions force many faith-based organizations to cut back on expenses, at the same time as the need for social services increases.

8. China cracks down on Buddhists seeking Tibetan independence in a prelude to producing a peaceful Olympics games; demonstrations mar some of the torch passages.

7. Terrorism believed motivated at least in part by religious fervor results in the deaths of almost 200 people in a three-day siege in Mumbai, India; one of the major targets is a Jewish center, where an American rabbi and his wife are killed.

6. U.S. conservatives alienated from the Episcopal Church say they will ask Anglican Communion leaders for permission to create the Anglican Church in North America, allowing dioceses unhappy in the Episcopal Church to operate under the authority of a North American bishop instead of Anglican bishops in Africa and Latin America.

5. In his first U.S. visit, Pope Benedict XVI brings a message of hope during stops in Washington and New York. During the trip, he meets with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

4. The California Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal, but voters in November approve a constitutional amendment overturning the decision.

3. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate leads many evangelicals who had planned to sit out the election to support the GOP ticket.

2. Democrats, especially presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, make a conscious effort to woo faith-based voters. Obama participates in a faith-based debate with GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain moderated by California megachurch pastor the Rev. Rick Warren.

1. Controversial sermons delivered in recent years by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright surface, resulting in pressure on Obama, who eventually withdraws his membership in his church.

Had the poll been taken later, Obama's choice of Warren for his inauguration invocation next month and the anger the choice has provoked in the gay community might also have made the list.

So what about next year? With a new administration coming to power in Washington, 2009 should be another exciting year on the national and international religion fronts. But a lot will also be going on locally.

The big question for St. Louis Catholics who will be the new archbishop? was not answered by Pope Benedict in 2008 but is expected soon.

St. Stanislaus Kostka, the Polish church just north of downtown, will remain in the news in 2009. The church's current board is in a court battle with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and a trial date should be set the next time both sides meet with St. Louis Circuit Judge Bryan Hettenbach in late January or early February. St. Stanislaus lawyers deposed former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke in Wisconsin earlier this month. The Rev. Marek Bozek, who was hired as St. Stanislaus pastor in 2005 and has since been declared excommunicated, may hear soon from Pope Benedict that he has been laicized, or defrocked.

In early February, a search committee for the Missouri Baptist Convention is expected to announce its choice to lead the 600,000-member state arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., with about 16 million members. By the time a new executive director is named, it will have been nearly two years since the MBC's board fired its last director, the Rev. David Clippard.

Ellen Futterman, a former Post-Dispatch reporter, editor and critic, will take over as the new editor of the Jewish Light in 2009. According to the Light, Futterman was hired after a nationwide search. "Quite frankly, the best candidate was in our own backyard," Milton Movitz, president of the Light's board of trustees, told the paper.

Once again, 2008 an election year was a tough one for American Muslims who felt their faith was consistently equated with terrorism by conservatives eager to scare Americans into voting for candidates critical of "Islamic extremism." Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls will partner with members of the St. Louis Muslim community and focus some of its educational resources on teaching non-Muslims about Islam in 2009.

And we hope you'll continue to participate in our religion coverage in 2009. Visit our blog Civil Religion at where members of the St. Louis religious community post their thoughts and elicit your comments. We'll be expanding the number of official Civil Religion bloggers in the next year.

Another great way to participate in our religion coverage is to submit your religion-focused photos on our website at (scroll down to "submit your photos"), and we'll pick one each week to feature in the religion section of each Saturday's Post-Dispatch.

Happy New Year!


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