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2011 Look Back

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, December 21, 2011

BOB ABERNETHY: As 2011 draws to a close we take our annual look back at what we think were the most interesting and important religion and ethics stories of the year. We begin with a reminder from Kim Lawton of what some of those stories were.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: As the gap between rich and poor widened this year, people of faith stepped up their efforts to help those hard hit by the recession. Some, especially conservative, activists supported massive cuts to the federal budget, arguing that it was immoral to leave debt to future generations. But a broad-based interfaith coalition argued that it was immoral to make spending cuts that would hurt already-vulnerable people. Thousands participated in a prayer and fasting campaign to protect programs that help the poor in the US and around the world. When frustration about the economy spilled out into the streets with the Occupy Movement, many religious groups provided spiritual and material support. Local congregations led interfaith worship services and offered sanctuary to evicted protesters. Theologians debated whether Jesus would have camped out with the Occupy movement.

The role of religion in American politics remained controversial. GOP presidential hopefuls courted religious voters, especially evangelicals who are very important in the primaries. Many candidates made explicitly religious appeals. While some concern about the idea of a Mormon president lingered, especially among evangelicals, issues of character and marital fidelity appeared to generate more attention.

The Arab Spring made it into most top ten religion story list. Photo: Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

In several parts of the Arab World, popular uprisings toppled regimes and reignited debates about the role of Islam and government. New political successes for Islamist political parties raised concerns about human rights and especially the situation for dissenters and religious minorities. In Egypt, Muslims and Christians protested side-by-side in Tahrir Square, but there were several dramatic attacks against the nation’s Coptic Christian community. In Syria, protesters were met with a brutal crackdown from government forces.

American ethicists and religious leaders debated the morality of military intervention in Libya. Some said US participation in the NATO action was justified on humanitarian grounds, but others argued that it did not meet the criteria of the Just War doctrine. The killings of Osama bin-Laden and extremist American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki generated ethical debate about the US use of force in noncombat zones. There was also debate about the growing US use of weaponized unmanned drones.

American religious groups were divided over the Palestinians’ request for official UN recognition as a state. Many Jews and Evangelical Christians opposed the statehood bid. But some Christian and Muslim groups supported the idea, saying it was time for Palestinians to have their own state.

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks prompted new examination of the state of interfaith relations. Many Muslim-Americans complained of a continuing rise of anti-Islamic discrimination. On Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Peter King sponsored hearings on what he called the “radicalization of American Muslims.” There was acrimonious debate in several communities over proposed bans against shariah or Islamic law. At the same time, the 9/11 anniversary highlighted many projects where diverse faith communities have come together in new ways.

Several humanitarian disasters stretched the resources of faith-based groups. Religious organizations continued efforts in Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake and cholera epidemic, and they offered aid in the wake of the Japanese earthquake. Many faith-based groups mobilized to help millions affected by a major famine in East Africa. There were also challenges here at home with deadly tornados, severe flooding, and a rare East Coast earthquake that caused as estimated $15 million dollars’ worth of damage at Washington National Cathedral.

But 2011 brought some occasions for celebration as well. Christians commemorated the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. And in Rome, on a record-breaking timetable, Pope John Paul the Second was beatified, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.

ABERNETHY: Kim a great summary. Kim Lawton is managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Kevin Eckstrom is the Editor-in-Chief of Religion News Service and E.J. Dionne is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post and a professor at Georgetown University. Welcome to each of you. Read more and/or see the video…

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Other Interesting Year-end Religious Summaries

Top 2011 Religion Stories That Weren’t by Peter Laarman

Religion Dispatches, December 27, 2011

Religion Stories Of 2011: The Top 11 by Paul Brandeis Rauschenbush

Huff Post Religion, December 8, 2011

The Top Religion and Ethics Stories of 2011 by William Crawley

BBC Blogs, December 15