As voted by the Religion Newswriters Association’s members, among the year’s most consequential religion newsmakers were Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Pope Benedict XVI, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and the U.S. bishops.
How would you have ranked them? Has their influence been harmful or constructive? What issue or person do you expect to have the biggest impact in the year to come?
Inspiration seems in short supply in the Religion Newswriters list. Protests, pedophiles, and laments lead the news. What would happen if we flipped these stories and reported them for the courage and conviction that can be found if we only dig a little?
Pro-mosque demonstrators outnumber opponents. That’s right. Despite the signs saying “No Mosque, No Way, No Mosque” or “SHARIA” appearing to drip blood, according to a story in the New York Post there were more pro than anti-mosque demonstrators on 9/11. The whole story about the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan flips when you realize that “the estimated 3,000 pro-mosque demonstrators outnumbered the mosque opponents by about 500.”
Mayor Bloomberg shows public courage and conviction. Mayor Bloomberg’s speech on freedom of religion and our basic American values in my mind is THE religious story of inspiration coming from that controversy. At the time, as I wrote for our On Faith blog, there are some who think that the personal grief of survivors should dictate public policy about religious freedom in America. “Mayor Bloomberg, in his stirring speech on religious freedom, thinks not, even while honoring those who died at the World Trade Center. ‘The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts,” the mayor said. “But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.'”
Now that’s a religion story of inspiration and courage made even more inspiring by how rare such acts are in our public life.
Homophobia rejected in religion and policy. 2010 was a banner year for advancing the view that prejudice against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people is incompatible with both faith and public policy. LGBT people now have won the right to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. The Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church now allow noncelibate gay and lesbian people to become clergy and in the case of the Episcopalians, bishops, of the church. As of 2010 several denominations and branches of Judaism now allow LGBT people to have marriage/commitment ceremonies and serve as church and synagogue leaders. The Episcopal Church leaders are at work on writing liturgy for such services in their communion.
In the policy arena, a landmark decision, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had stood for 17 years, requiring LGBT service members to lie or dissemble about their sexual orientation, was overturned. President Obama said, “It is time to close this chapter in our history,” and to “recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.” Now that’s inspiring. ‘It’s time to tell the truth’ is a message of faith and well as policy.
And finally, in perhaps the most inspiring story of all on the rejection of homophobia, the “It Gets Better” campaign went viral, countering the bullying of gay teens with a message of hope and support. Thousands of videos from LGBT adults and straight allies are now on the web, offering heart-rending stories of struggles with oppression from homophobia and inspiring stories of overcoming these obstacles and achieving a fulfilling personal, professional and spiritual life.
In one video, Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop, offered his message of pastoral and personal concern. This is a global work of inspiration, as the YouTube video of Bishop Robinson with Russian subtitles indicates. The Faith Gets Better campaign directly confronts the way in which homophobia in religion contributes to teen suicide. “Religions may have a First Amendment right to say that homosexuality is a sin, but consider how the message influences the kids who grow up in the churches that preach it. Gay kids end up thinking they are bad and unworthy people while straight kids use the message as a license to bully. It is a deadly combination when a gay teen commits suicide.” Instead, “more speech” telling gay kids “they are beautiful and good” is what’s needed.
The “Read a Koran” campaign takes off. Instead of the story about an obscure pastor in Florida creating foreign policy chaos and sparking violent demonstrations by theatening to burn a Koran, there is the inspiring story of those who launched “Read a Koran” day. Churches in the U.S. held all-day Koran readings as a counter to the threatened Koran burning.
These were not the leading headlines however. The ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ seems to apply in religion reporting as well.
Is that required? Is that what we should do at On Faith? Or perhaps in 2011 we can be the leaders in finding true religious inspiration behind the negative headlines.
Despite all the hype, people do make justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God and each other. Now that’s a religion story.