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Religion News Association Names Top 10 Stories of the Year

Editor’s note: Every Friday, “Weekend Plug-in” features analysis, fact checking and top headlines from the world of faith. Got feedback or ideas for this column? Email Bobby Ross Jr. at [email protected].

Some years, picking the No. 1 religion story is a real challenge.

This year? Not so much.

Give the global pandemic credit for making at least one thing easy during 2020.

Let’s count down the Top 10 stories, as determined by Religion News Association members (including yours truly). I’ll sprinkle a few links to related stories into the RNA summaries:

10. “Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns amid controversies including a risqué photo and an alleged sex scandal. Claims of sexual misconduct also made against late evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias and Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz.”

9. “Pandemic-related limits on worship gatherings spur protests and defiance by Hasidic Jewish groups and evangelicals led by pastor John MacArthur and musician Sean Feucht. Supreme Court backs Catholic and Jewish groups’ challenge to New York’s limits.”

8. “A Vatican investigation into defrocked ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick found that bishops, cardinals and popes failed to heed reports of his sexual misconduct. Debate ensues over the legacy of sainted Pope John Paul II, who promoted him to cardinal.”

7. “Dozens of nations decry what they term widespread human-rights abuses by China against predominately Muslim Uighurs and others in Xinjiang region, many in detention camps. New U.S. law authorizes sanctions against Chinese officials deemed complicit.”

6. “White evangelicals and other religious conservatives again vote overwhelmingly for President Trump, despite some vocal dissent. Protestants fuel his gains among Hispanic voters. Some religious supporters echo his denials of the election results.”

5. “Police, using tear gas, drive anti-racism protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, clearing way for President Trump to pose for a controversial photo with a Bible at historic St. John’s Church. Episcopal, other faith leaders express outrage.”

4. “Amy Coney Barrett, whose background in Catholic and charismatic circles draws scrutiny, joins an expanded conservative majority on the Supreme Court after replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dies at 87 and whose liberal Jewish values shaped her views.”

3. “Joe Biden is second Catholic elected president with big assists from the religious left — especially Black Christians — and secular voters. Biden cites Catholic social doctrine for many policy views, but bishops decry his support for legal abortion.”

2. “Worldwide protests and racial reckonings follow police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, with many faith-based activists and groups taking part. Many religious institutions undergo soul-searching over racially fraught legacies.”

1. “COVID-19 pandemic claims lives of many religious leaders and laity, upends death rituals, ravages congregational finances, spurs charitable responses, forces religious observances to cancel or go online and stirs legal fights over worship shutdowns.”

The Week’s Best Religion News Reads

To embrace the future, this Christian university is reckoning with a Confederate past it once reveled in (by Holly Meyer, The Tennessean)

How religion is front and center in the heated Georgia Senate runoff races (by Mya Jaradat, Deseret News)

Pornhub removes majority of videos in a victory for Exodus Cry (by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)

Which Catholic church will Biden attend in DC? (by Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter)

Lauren Akins, wife of Thomas Rhett, values faith, family over fame (by Laura Akins, Christian Chronicle)

Oklahoman relies on his faith after half of his family dies of COVID-19 (by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman)

Why no Lauren Daigle on ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve? She wasn’t offered the job (by Keith Spera, New Orleans Advocate)

‘Needed more than ever’: Pastors discuss overcoming vaccine hesitation in Black churches (by Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Faith groups receiving federal grants will gain new protections before Trump leaves office (by Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News)

DOJ probe of Catholic church abuse goes quiet 2 years later (by Maryclaire Dale, AP)

Behind The Bylines

Besides voting on the Top 10 stories, RNA members selected George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as the Religion Newsmakers of the Year.  President-elect Joe Biden came in second, followed by Pope Francis in third.  The person I voted No. 1? That would be President Donald Trump, who finished fourth in the RNA balloting.  Love him or hate him, Trump — from my perspective — dominated the nation’s religion headlines in 2020 more than any other newsmaker.

Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle. A former religion writer for The Associated Press and The Oklahoman, Ross has reported from all 50 states and 15 nations. He has covered religion since 1999.

Bobby Ross Jr.

A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, he blogs about the intersection of faith and the media for GetReligion.