Sunday, December 26, 2010

Top Religion Newsmaker: Imam, pope or Sarah Palin?

Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf, the force behind an effort to build a community center-with-a-prayer-room two blocks from the footprint of the World Trade Center twin towers, is my pick for religion newsmaker of the year.

After Christmas season is List Season -- the annual summing up of significant voices and events before we plunge forward into a new year.

Religion Newswriters Association, the professional association of journalists who cover this beat (NOTE: I'm a member) picked Rauf as well in an annual members survey.

You may have someone else in mind. Some contenders:
Pope Benedict XVI jolted believers with a surprising-- and initially confusing -- comment on condoms in a newly published book, based on extraordinary interviews he gave a German journalists.

There is no change to the Catholic Church teaching that artificial contraception is unacceptable but for someone infected with HIV/AIDS using a condom to avoid spreading a killer virus, he says, might be a moral act.

The Vatican also reeled as revelations of clergy sexual abuse exploded across Europe. Coverage of Benedict's role in dealing with abuse allegations against priests in the USA in the decades before he became pope also caught headlines -- and vigorous Vatican defense.

continued to punctuate many paragraphs in her books and speeches with references to God. The ex-governor, maybe-presidential-candidate could be nudging out other voices on the religious right in political influence (although she has one of its most conservative and inflammatory voices, Rev. Franklin Graham, on speed dial.)
By Alex Brandon, Associated Press
Sarah Palin

Graham himself made news, first with leading his aid group into earthquake-devastated Haiti, then with his showdown at the Pentagon over whether someone who calls Islam evil could lead a prayer service at our multi-faith military headquarters on the National Day of Prayer.

By Cliff Owen, Associated Press
In the end of that dust up, Graham prayed on the sidewalk in front of the Pentagon-- but got plenty of TV news air time to continue attacking Islam.

Glenn Beck's rally at the National Mall captured most of the attention but he set out to proclaim God blessed it with a night-before Divine Destiny gathering of prayer, preachers and politicians at the Kennedy Center. His Mormon beliefs rattle some conservative Christians but Beck may be chasing Palin for God-mentions.

By Associated Press
For comic relief, we can thank Christine I-am-not-a-witch O'Donnell for giving politics a brief spiritual buzz -- and giving pagans their day in the sun explaining and defending their beliefs. O'Donnell lost her bid to be the U.S. senator from Delaware but promises to stay in politics.

But I still stand by Rauf as the person whose actions prompted news through much of 2010 and will likely continue to do so in the year to come.

Rauf's plans for a center in Lower Manhattan to serve Muslims and their neighbors was originally intended to be an Islamic version of the Jewish-founded 92nd Street Y which serves the Upper East Side.

But it became known, erroneously, as the Ground Zero Mosque.

And with that mistaken label, the center became a flash point for anyone angry at Muslims, or Islam for any reason including many who falsely conflate all Muslims with potential terrorists.

As the furor built a Florida pastor hogged headlines threatening to burn a Quran and someone torched construction equipment at the construction site for a mosque near Nashville.

Rauf now tells Associated Press he'll tour the country to enlighten people about Islam and the true purpose of Park51, as supporters call the project planned to revitalized a dejected, unused former Burlington Coat Factory outlet.

As he arrives city after city, major media will revisit the controversy over its site near Ground Zero and Rauf will endeavor to outtalk, outpray, objections to the project, which was also the number one religion story of the year on the RNA List.

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