Islamic State extremists top Religion Newswriters’ 2014 Religion Stories of the Year

December 11, 2014
(A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq, a monitoring service said. The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot previously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), posted pictures online on Sunday of people waving black flags from cars and holding guns in the air, the SITE monitoring service said. Picture taken June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer)

(A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer)

International events were prominent this year among the top 10 religion stories of 2014, as polled by the Religion Newswriters Association in the United States. Here is their announcement:

Actions by Islamic State extremists top Religion Newswriters’ 2014 Religion Stories of the Year

Columbia, Mo.—The extremist Islamic State’s violent reign of terror in Iraq and Syria was voted the No. 1 Religion Story of 2014 by the world’s leading religion journalists. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision giving closely held companies the ability to claim religious objections to health care mandates was a close second.

For the second year in a row, Pope Francis was named the top Religion Newsmaker of the Year. He was selected overwhelmingly, receiving more than half of all the votes among a slate of 10 newsmakers.

The online ballot was conducted Friday, Dec. 5 through Wednesday, Dec. 10. Only RNA members, who comprise religion journalists in the U.S. and abroad, were eligible to vote. The Top 10 ballot items are listed here. Because of two ties, the list actually includes 12 stories:

1.  The self-styled Islamic State expands a reign of terror into Iraq and Syria, driving out the Iraqi army from Mosul and exiling ancient Christian communities, Yazidis and other religious minorities on threat of death. The United Nations, Christians and many Muslim groups strongly condemn the videotaped beheadings of American journalist James Foley and other hostages as inhumane and un-Islamic.

2.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rules that two closely held companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga — can claim religious objections to contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is considered a victory for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and is highly controversial.

3. (TIE)  A cascading deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes the kidnappings and murders of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, an Israel-Hamas war that leaves more than 2,000 dead, tensions over Temple Mount access and attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including a deadly attack on rabbis praying in a synagogue. (TIE with #3 below)

3. (TIE) Pope Francis continues to draw both worldwide admiration and consternation for his efforts toward inclusiveness, including outreach to the needy and people of other faiths. (TIE with #3 above)

4. Mainline Protestants take controversial steps regarding performing same-sex weddings and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. United Methodist minister Frank Schaefer is defrocked for performing same-sex weddings but is later restored by the church’s Supreme Court. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly allows pastors to perform same-sex marriages in states where they’re legal. The Moravian Church’s largest province approves the ordination of gays and lesbians.

5. Health-care workers, many of them faith-based, successfully remain at their West African posts as the Ebola epidemic spreads. The treatment of American medical missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol gains wide attention.

6.  Mainline denominational leaders and Latino evangelicals rejoice over President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform. Conservative leaders are ambivalent, largely because of GOP complaints that Obama overstepped his authority. Some faith-based organizations mobilize to serve their needs.

7. Pakistani Muslim schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, still recovering from Taliban gunshots in retaliation for advocating for girls’ education, shares the 2014 Nobel Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a Hindu and children’s rights advocate from India.

8. Faith-based groups help lead peaceful protests against racial injustice in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting case amidst violent outbursts after the police officer involved is not indicted. Protests also break out after a New York grand jury does not indict a police officer in another case of an unarmed black man dying in an altercation with white police officers.

9. Women clergy make strides individually and collectively. The Church of England overwhelmingly votes to allow women bishops. Seventh-day Adventists agree to vote on women’s ordination in 2015. For the first time, women lead three of the nation’s most prominent mainline churches, while the U.S. Navy names its first female head chaplain.

10. (TIE) India elects Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose track record, and that of his government, spurs fears of discrimination against religious minorities. (TIE with #10 below)

10. (TIE) Movie critics term 2014 as “The Year of the Bible” because of the release of a dozen films based on the Bible or with faith-rooted scripts chronologically from Noah and the Exodus to the Rapture. The movies God’s Not Dead makes $60 million and Son of God nearly as much. (TIE with #10 above)

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