A bitter presidential election -- with plenty of religious fallout -- joined with violence, fear and expressions of bigotry and protest to create the top religion news stories of the year, according to an annual poll of members of the Religion News Association.
It's hard not to disagree with the headline, "A depressing year of religion news" as my colleagues over at Religion News Service put it in their own year-end roundup: While "religion gave billions of people meaning in their lives and inspired good deeds, in news coverage it was linked to bloodshed and blamed for fueling bigotry."
The news association poll picked the presidential victory of Donald Trump, fueled by especially loyal support from white evangelicals (81 percent) and other white Christians, as the top news story of the year.
Three other stories in the top 10 had direct connections to the election -- post-election hate crimes directed at minorities, the divisions over Trump among evangelical leaders despite the rank-and-file support, and the voters' defiance of demographic trends given the surprising strength of pro-Republican white Christians, supposedly in numerical decline, and the failure of the growing secular and liberal bloc to show up in sufficient numbers for Democrats.
Also big in the news: Terrorist attacks by those claiming a mandate from Islamic State in Europe and the United States, and the deaths of at least 4,600 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from chaos zones in Africa and Asia into Europe, where an anti-migrant backlash helped fuel Brexit.
Generally I agreed with these results. I did take a lead role in shaping the ballot, but with 25 news items on it, I had no idea which would get votes. But I voted for seven of the same top-10 items that the members voted on, although in some different orders. I put foreign and domestic terrorist incidents in two of my top four, compared with sixth and 10th overall. And my colleagues rated Pope Francis' busy agenda far higher than I did, as well as various protest movements. I rated the wars in Syria and against Islamic State as far higher than most, and the transgender-rights controversies a little higher than most.
We also vote for Religion Newsmaker of the Year. I though it would be Trump in a runaway, not because of his religiosity, which is superficial at most, but because of the deep nerves he struck in religious communities, both those who love him and those who fear him.
But unlike the Electoral College or Time magazine, my colleagues had different ideas. They voted for Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim Gold Star parents who so dramatically challenged Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention (above). Runnerups were Mr. Trump and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe members who have opposed a pipeline they say threatens water and sacred land.
Had Trump lost, I might have voted for the Khans. But since he won, I put them at number 3 on my ballot. I thought Jerry Falwell deserved runnerup, mainly because he was the first big name to get the crucial evangelical momentum going Trump's direction.
The top 10 follow at the link. The full list, including down-ballot items, is at rna.org.