With a few days left in 2012, lists of the top stories of the year are popping up everywhere, and among them are rankings of the biggest religion stories of the past 12 months.
While each list is unique, there was some consensus on how faith played in the headlines:
For Religion Newswriters Association and Huffington Post, a top story was how faith played a role in the wake of 20 first-graders and six adults being gunned down at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. "Religious leaders sought to console a stunned public and to discern religion’s role in future debates about mental health and gun control," the RNA news release said.
Before the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, the RNA list was topped by U.S. Catholic bishops opposing the Obamacare mandate that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. More than 40 lawsuits filed against the government claiming the mandate violates religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution and federal law made the contraception mandate the top story for 2012, according to Religion Clause, a blog that follows religious liberty developments around the world.
The "nones" — those who don't identify with a particular religion but who call themselves religious or spiritual — are the fastest growing religious group in the United States and are the third-largest faith group in the world, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The phenomenon of the "rise of the 'nones'" got a lot of coverage, and the religiously unaffiliated were found to be an influential voting bloc in the 2012 presidential election. It was the No. 2 story for RNA and Huffington. Curiously, the rise of the nones was on a list of the most under-covered stories of the year compiled by Religion Dispatches' Peter Laarman.
Coming in third on the RNA and Huffington Post rankings, and at No. 7 on the Religion Clause list, was the circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, "Innocence of Muslims,” that sparked unrest in several countries. It also led to some odd legal proceedings, including probation violations by the producer, the attempt by an actress in the movie to have it removed from YouTube, and in abstentia convictions in Egypt.
Coming in third for Religion Clause, fourth for RNA and fifth for Huffington was the political angle of the so-called "Mormon Moment." It turns out Mitt Romney's Mormon faith was a nonissue for white evangelical voters in the U.S. presidential race. It was feared evangelicals would project their doctrinal differences in the voting booth, but they ended up supporting Romney more strongly than they did John McCain in 2008.
Religion Clause ranked Egypt's struggle to adopt a new constitution that will provide for Islamic Sharia law as No. 5, while Huffington ranked it seventh. For RNA, the No. 5 story was Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becoming the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., was the first bishop to be found guilty of child abuse.
Ranked sixth by RNA and fourth for Huffington was the Vatican criticizing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. nuns, for allegedly not supporting church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women's ordination.
Same-sex marriage was ranked seventh by RNA, eighth by Huffington and second by Religion Clause. In 2012 voters approved same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, a ban on same-sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota but approved earlier in the year in North Carolina.
Same-sex issues in the clergy came in at No. 8 for the RNA. The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopted a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. The United Methodists failed to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) voted to study, rather than sanction, same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Both RNA and Huffington Post had the fatal shootings of six people and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee as their No. 9 story of the year. The Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty also has this on its list of top stories of the year.
According to RNA ballots, No. 10 was the Southern Baptist Convention electing without opposition its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans. No. 10 for Huffington Post was the Vatican's PR makeover, with the Pope tweeting for the first time, which offset an otherwise bad year of public relations for the church.
Some other stories that were exclusively on the Religion Clause, Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches or Baptist Religious Liberty lists included the following:
• Continuing the expanding circle of religions represented in government, the 2012 election made history when Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu elected as a representative in the House while Mazie Hirono became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate.
• The Supreme Court in the case of a teacher entrusted with some ministerial duties (Hosanna-Tabor vs. EEOC) unanimously affirmed the "ministerial exemption" applies to employment discrimination laws.
• New questions are raised around the world regarding ritual circumcision of young boys by Muslims and Jews in Germany, Australia, Norway and the United States.
• The court-martial trial of accused Fort Hood, Texas, mass shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan is delayed as lawyers haggle over the question of his right to wear a beard for religious reasons at his trial.
• A 17-year-long struggle by the New York City Board of Education to bar churches from renting out school buildings for services is headed back to court. The case is on appeal after a federal judge decided the Bronx Household of Faith's free exercise and establishment clause claims were overlooked.
• Turmoil and turnover came in the wake of Congress' reorganization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
• Florida voters defeated a constitutional amendment that was described on the ballot as a religious liberty measure, but opponents said it was a back-door attempt to approve school vouchers.
• An archaeological discovery made reference to Jesus' wife. But the Vatican dismissed the papyrus fragment containing the statement “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife '” as a fake.