Top Religion News Stories of the Decade, in alphabetical order
Noteworthy deaths in the area of religion include Eugene Peterson, Elie Wiesel, Huston Smith, Sun Myung Moon, Charles Colson, Mohammed Ali, Andrae Crouch, Mother Angelica, Tim LaHaye, Billy Graham, James Cone, Andrew Greeley, Robert Schuller, Rachel Held Evans, Phyllis Tickle, and Aretha Franklin as well as son of popular pastor Rick Warren whose death by suicide helped bring attention to depression.
Evangelicals (especially white Evangelicals and Pentecostals) have embraced Donald Trump and provided most of the members of Trump’s circle of religious advisors, led by Paula White, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell Jr. They have supported his choice of federal judges, his opposition to abortion and homosexuality, and his preference for Israel in of Middle East policy (driven by their end-of-the-world theology).
Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) was elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013 and has consistently made headlines around the world as an advocate for the poor, marginalized, and the disenfranchised. He is the first non-European pope since the 8th century. Francis visited the United States in 2016 and has been a very popular but controversial leader of the Catholic Church.
Homosexuality took center stage of the moral and political battlefield with Supreme Court approval of gay marriage and dramatic shifts in public opinion (plus an openly gay man running for the Democratic nomination for president). But it remains at the center of church and state legal issues with the Federal Courts showing sympathy when religious people claim “religious liberty” as a rational for refusing certain dealings with homosexuality. The issue appears poised to split the United Methodist Church.
Nones became a thing—a new sociology category for religious people, especially prominent among the young, signifying no religious affiliation or preference. This trend, plus the sexual abuse scandals and the Christian attachment to Trump, helped push Christianity into statistical decline. These factors have generated significant scholarly and popular attention.
The Sermon of the decade was preached by the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of America, the Rev Michael Curry. It was delivered to an estimated world wide television audience of two billion people who tuned to watch the British royal wedding of British Prince Harry and American Meghan Markke. His subject was “The Power of Love” and was certainly the most heard sermon in the history of Christianity.
Sexual abuse dominated the decade, especially for the Roman Catholic Church in America which suffered accusations, investigations, and revelations throughout the decade. It brought down in disgrace many powerful churchmen. A second wave of accusations and histories targeted Southern Baptists was revealed through the journalism of the “Houston Chronicle”.
Violence in religious spaces increased dramatically with highly publicized episodes during worship in Charleston, Sutherland Spring and Ft Worth, Texas, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and New York. Jews and blacks, especially, were targeted with many killed and injured. The violence, part of a wider epidemic of gun violence, raised the issues of gun regulation and armed security in schools and churches.
And in my personal journey through the decade, I was blessed to imagine, organize, and attend ten National Festivals of Young Preachers. More than 800 different Young Preachers gathered in Louisville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Dallas, and/or Lexington each January from 2020 to 2019 to celebrate the call to gospel preaching. Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, and many donors, deans, professors, pastors, friends, vendors, volunteers, and outstanding model preachers (including the aforementioned Michael Curry) for these extraordinary and ecumenical gatherings.