Time’s Top 10 Religion Stories

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#1. The Mother Teresa Revelations

Once the shock of Doubleday’s August disclosure — that Teresa’s private letters testified that she could not sense her beloved God for most of her last half-century — had abated, more serious questions could be joined. Did her epic “dryness” make her a greater saint or some kind of self-deceiver? Does faith consist merely of God’s felt presence; and if not, how long can faith truly continue without it?#2. Democrats Embrace Religion and Mitt Romney Channels JFK

After what seems like decades of “not getting it,” someone programmed a Bible concordance into Democrats’ teleprompters. Suddenly it feels typical, rather than odd, that Senator Hillary Clinton would attend an AIDS conference at an evangelical megapastor’s church and talk about her prayer practice. The rubber will hit the road if one of the Dems gets elected, and has to make some decisions about the many faith-based initiatives established by his or her predecessor, or deal with whatever rulings his hand-picked Court doles out. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Mitt Romney tried to recreate John F. Kennedy’s successful 1960 speech about his Catholic faith by announcing that if elected he would not be taking orders from the Mormon elders in Salt Lake City. That assurance may have alleviated any worries on the part of the general public, but perhaps not those of Iowa’s evangelicals.

#3. The Reverend Jerry Falwell Dies

Jerry Falwell passed, and so did the ultra-rightwing Rev. James Kennedy and Ruth Graham, Billy’s famous and beloved wife — the beginning of the literal passing of an order, in both its peaceable and combative aspects. The likely symbolic executor, responsible for reconciling (if he can) the two sides of the estate: Rick Warren.

#4. The Pope’s Moto Proprio

The Pope has made it easier for priests to celebrate the Latin Mass, whose eclipse was one of the major symbolic consequences of Vatican II — but now, a priest who wants to celebrate old-school need no longer get his bishop’s permission to do so. To many Catholics the Pope’s moto proprio meant an unwelcome comeback of a ritual they regarded as elitist, in which the priest turns away from the congregation and speaks a language few understand. But the papally approved access to the Latin Mass has nonetheless been soothing to traditionalists, as well as a good many people who never knew they missed the beauty of Latin.

#5. The Episcopal Church At Odds Over Gays

The U.S. Episcopal Church and its parent, the Anglican Communion, continue disintegrating over the issue of gay Christians. Beyond the human cost of this slow-motion implosion — sparked by the Episcopal Church’s decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop in 2003 and to accept same-sex unions — the nasty split has already hatched custody battles over church property: Courts are generally being asked to determine whether the conservative parishes seceding from Episcopalianism over the gay issue can take their buildings with them — or whether they belong to the Episcopal diocese. On a global scale, the battle is among the 79 million members of the Communion, who, in a recent count, appear to be almost equally divided over whether to continue to accept U.S. Episcopalians into the international Communion. Equally divided, that is, if you’re talking strictly about proportions of the Communion’s 38 provinces. By another measure, a majority of believers are on the conservative side, and a majority of the money is on the liberal side. A mess.

#6. The Greening of Evangelicalism

What Would Jesus Drive? is a warming topic, if not a hot one, and the evangelical earth-stewardship movement is emblematic of the diversity flowering in a congregation that had seemed like a monolith. Hence, evangelicals against torture; evangelicals more concerned about Africa or domestic poverty than about gays; and evangelicals who apparently refused to the support the presidential bid of Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a “values” candidate who was one of their number before converting to Catholicism.

#7. The Roar of Atheist Books

Statistics may or may not show that there has been an actual increase in the number of Americans who believe there is no God. But one thing is certain: Conservative religious influence riled up enough secular authors to produce a slew of skeptical literature, and enough readers were intrigued to turn Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) into bold-faced names and turn Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), bold-faced already, into a one-man literary cottage industry.

#8. The Trials of New Life Church

God is testing New Life Church. Last year, the founder and pastor of the Colorado Springs megachurch, Ted Haggard, admitted to “sexual immorality” and resigned after a gay escort accused him of paying for sex and drugs. New Life’s membership sank from 15,000 to 10,000. Last August, the church finally named named a new pastor, Rev. Brady Boyd, who might have hoped for a period of normalcy in his parish. But this month, almost exactly a year after Haggard’s ignominious downfall, a heavily armed gunman charged New Life, murdering two young sisters in the church parking lot before being shot and killed by a volunteer security guard. Said Boyd, “This is a very strong church. It has a history of surviving trauma. It will be okay.”

#9. The Creation Museum Opens

The Creation Museum, which opened in Petersburg, Ky., in May is a multimillion-dollar extravaganza that reaffirms the scientific validity of the Flintstones. The museum illustrates so-called “young earth” creationism, which takes the Bible’s description of God’s six-day schedule literally. The attraction exceeded its one-year attendance expectations within five months. The museum will be attended mostly by fly-over citizens, but it is a valuable reminder to folks on the coasts that more than 70% of Americans (and at least one current Presidential candidate) believe in some sort of Creationism.

#10. South Korean Christian Missionaries Kidnapped in Afghanistan

For six weeks. Two were executed. If you weren’t aware of their ordeal, you’re probably not Korean — which is not an ethnic slam, but a reminder to those who haven’t yet realized it that the religious world, too, is flat. The Taliban took 23 hostage last fall, killed two, released two, and reportedly ransomed the rest to the South Korean government for $10 million (the South Korean government denied paying). Back home, the missionaries apologized to the government. The incident revived discussions of martyrdom, evangelization, citizenship and discernment, and underlined the extent to which the West is no longer necessarily the driving force in Christian evangelization.

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