Each year members of the Religion Newswriters Association polls members for what they see as the top 10 biggest religion stories of the year.
Eight of the 10 I voted for were in the same top 10 that the writers voted for over all - but in very different order. As I saw it, this was a very dark, violent year. At least six of my top 10 involved either direct cases of religiously motivated violence or reactions to it. My colleagues saw more of a mix of issues at the top, and their list was even more pope-heavy than mine was. (It's a secret ballot, but I don't mind discussing mine after the fact.)
And in that vein, my colleagues voted Pope Francis as the top religion newsmaker of the year for the third year in a row. As big a newsmaker as he was, Francis didn't get my first or second place vote. I voted for the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, S.C. -- the martyrs who welcomed the man who would kill them, and the survivors who forgave him in a stunning followup that cleared the way for a large-scale removal of Confederate symbols in public places. My second choice, close behind: the Coptic Christian martyrs who, as much as anyone, represented the human cost of the murderous savagery of ISIS.
In fact, for me, the biggest question was figuring out which items to vote for as separate or unrelated. ISIS has been creating such deadly chaos that it warrants a news item of its own, yet the November attacks in Paris and San Bernardino massacre were huge enough to list as well. And that doesn't even count the January attacks in Paris, which were more of an Al Qaeda operation. Hell (almost literally), we could have filled the entire list up with the horrors of attacks in Kenya, Mali, Tunisia and elsewhere.
But to be sure, there was more big news, especially involving marriage, the environment and pope, pope, pope. I can understand why my colleagues put the same-sex marriage decision as number one, as it was a capstone event to one of the biggest social revolutions in U.S. history. But I didn't list it quite so high, because who was really surprised? It was already legal here and in many states, and a week or so beforehand, I was at a gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention, where the question was not how the court would rule but how social conservatives would respond to the inevitable. That's the odd thing about revolutions. Sometimes, looking back, you realize it's happened long before it's officially happened. The New York Times' James Reston famously wrote in 1987: "I think we've won the cold war and don't know it." By the time Gorbachev was riding off into the Soviet sunset in 1991, it seemed old news.
Anyway, here is the list, in numerical order based on the RNA vote. At the end of each item, I'll put where I voted it.
1) The U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage in a historic 5-4 decision in June. (5)
2) Thousands of migrants, many from wartorn Syria, pour into Europe by sea and land, stirring right-wing resistance in some countries and compassion fatigue even from countries that welcomed them. (6)
3) ISIS expands its reign of horror in Syria and Iraq. It claims responsibility for beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, the deaths of hundreds on a Russian airliner, and deadly bombings in Beirut and Paris. (1)
4) Anti-Muslim rhetoric flares in the U.S. and Europe as some politicians call for surveillance of Muslims and a ban on Muslim refugees, citing terrorism fears. (9)
5) Pope Francis makes a historic visit to the United States where he greets crowds in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, and speaks before Congress and the United Nations. (7)
6) Paris reels from its second major terrorist assault in 2015 on Nov. 13 as attackers linked to the so-called Islamic State kill at least 130 and wound many others at a concert hall, restaurants and other sites. (2)
7) Pope Francis issues encyclical Laudato Si on the environment, a call for replacing fossil fuels linked to global warming and lamenting a throwaway culture. Meanwhile, religious leaders call for similar goals at the November Paris climate summit. (10, as much for the second sentence as the first)
8) A white-supremacist gunman is charged in the shooting deaths of nine black worshipers in Charleston, S.C. In the wake of the tragedy, many Southern institutions remove displays of Confederate symbols. (4)
9) The #BlackLivesMatter movement draws support from faith-based groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Unitarian Universalists, amid increased scrutiny of police killings of black suspects and racial issues in public universities. (13, mainly because I think faith-based groups were more followers than leaders in what seems a secular-led movement.)
10) Pope Francis continues his reformist agenda — ending a three-year supervision of U.S. nuns, speaking out for the needy, streamlining the annulment process and recommending a more pastoral tone while upholding church laws on divorce and remarriage. (15)
The others in my top 10:
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik kill 14 and injure 21 in San Bernardino, Calif. Fears of violence in the name of Islam also arise as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez is charged in the deaths of five U.S. servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn. My #3, RNA's #11.
Early presidential campaigning pulses with religious rhetoric, as Republican candidates appeal for conservative Christian votes. Some candidates call for surveillance of and banning U.S.-entry to Muslims. My #8, RNA's #15.