Buddhist monks who led anti-government demonstrations in Myanmar (also known as Burma) have been selected as the top religion newsmakers of the year, in a poll of secular journalists who write about religion for media in the United States - writes Chris Herlinger.
"More than half of those responding to the survey chose the monks over Pope Benedict XVI, President George W. Bush and US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, among others," the Religion Newswriters Association said in announcing the results of a survey of its members about the top religion stories of the year.
The story of the Myanmar monks itself was ranked sixth by the US journalists, who were asked to select their top 10 from 20 choices.
The top two religion stories concerned the role of religion in US politics as the United States prepares for its 2008 presidential election. The full list of the top 10 religion stories is as follows:
1. The debate over presidential candidates, with speculation over who US evangelical Christian voters will support given the expressed reluctance of many to support Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon.
2. The efforts of Democratic Party presidential candidates, such as Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to win support from "faith-based" voters.
3. Controversy and debate within US faith communities, particularly the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, about gays and lesbians as clergy.
4. The increasing attention being given by US religious groups, particularly "mainline" and evangelical Protestants, to the issue of climate change.
5. Debate among and between religious groups over the issue of immigration and non-documented workers.
6. The Buddhist-led protests in Myanmar.
7. The decision by some US Episcopalians to align themselves with Anglican bishops in Africa and elsewhere in the global South.
8. Three votes by the US Supreme Court on cases that had religious implications. One vote upheld a ban on partial-birth abortions. Another allowed schools to establish some limits on free speech rights by students. A third denied a legal challenge to the US administration's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
9. The death of a number of prominent US evangelical Christian leaders, including Jerry Falwell, Rex Humbard and D. James Kennedy, as well as Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, and Tammy Faye Messner, Jim Bakker's ex-wife.
10. The continuing financial toll sexual abuse cases are exacting on the US Roman Catholic Church. The financial figure of settled cases surpassed US$2.1 billion in 2007 with settlements that included a record US$660 million settlement involving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The online poll of RNA members was conducted from 7 to 13 December with 80 people voting. RNA has conducted the poll since the 1970s.
The Religion Newswriters Association is a non-profit association founded in 1949 to advance the professional standards of religion reporting in the secular press as well as to create a support network for religion reporters.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]