Commentary: Top-10 religion news events of 2015

The Atlantic's recent LGBT Summit final speaker was Andrew Sullivan, the British-born, HIV-positive, prolific Catholic whose trailblazing online journalism helped shape so many public debates.

Sullivan's speech ranged from the genius of "South Park" to the impact of smartphone apps on dating; from the positive impact of gay porn to the lingering self-loathing that prevents some gays from embracing drugs that could end AIDS.

He attacked Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, while yearning for another term for President Barack Obama. Most of all, he stressed that it's time -- after a "tectonic" cultural shift on sexuality -- for professional LGBT activists to end the "whiny victimhood" in which they recite a "you're a bigot, we're oppressed, why do you hate us" litany to Americans who disagree with them about anything. Calling himself a "classical liberal," Sullivan stressed that gay leaders must accept that some believers will not surrender the ancient doctrines that define their faith.

Thus, it's time for honest conversations between believers, gay and straight.

"The blanket ... I would say, yes, bigotry towards large swaths of this country who may disagree with us right now ... is not just morally wrong, it's politically counterproductive," he said, drawing screams of outrage on Twitter.

"Religious freedom is an incredibly important freedom. To my mind, it is fundamental to this country, and I am extremely queasy about any attempt to corral or coerce the religious faith of anybody."

Sullivan's comments captured one of the tensions that dominated the Religion Newswriters Association's poll to select the Top 10 religion-news events of 2015. The top story was the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to legalize gay marriage. Also, it was clear that religious liberty battles will keep making news at home and abroad, touching on issues from the First Amendment rights of doctrinally defined religious schools to ongoing struggles to welcome and assimilate refugees fleeing the hellish conflicts wracking the Middle East. For the third year in a row, Pope Francis was named Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

This was the rare year in which my ballot was radically different than the results of the poll. My vote for the top story went to the global wave of violence linked to the Islamic State; for Newsmakers of the Year, I voted for the 21 Ethiopians beheaded by ISIS in Libya. The Coptic Orthodox Church immediately honored them as martyrs.

Here is the rest of the RNA list:

2. Refugees from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere pour into Europe by sea and land.

3. ISIS expands its reign of horror in Syria and Iraq, while claiming responsibility for the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, the deaths of hundreds on a Russian airliner and deadly attacks in Beirut and Paris.

4. Anti-Muslim rhetoric flares in the U.S. and Europe as some politicians -- citing concerns about terrorism -- call for surveillance of Muslims and a ban on Muslim refugees.

5. Pope Francis makes a triumphant and historic visit to the United States, speaking to Congress and the United Nations.

6. Paris reels from its second major terrorist assault in 2015 as attackers linked to the Islamic State massacre at least 130 and wound many others in attacks at a rock concert hall, in restaurants and at a major soccer stadium.

7. Pope Francis issues his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment, calling for replacing fossil fuels linked to global warming and lamenting a destructive, throwaway culture, including legalized abortion and euthanasia.

8. A white supremacist is charged in the shooting deaths of nine black Christians during a Bible study at a historic Charleston, South Carolina, church. Afterwards, many Southern institutions remove displays of Confederate symbols.

9. #BlackLivesMatter draws support from faith-based groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Unitarian Universalists, amid rising scrutiny of police killings of black suspects.

10. Pope Francis continues to shake up his church -- ending a three-year period of oversight for a progressive organization of U.S. nuns, linking abortion and the death penalty in a consistent pro-life agenda, streamlining the annulment process and seeking a more pastoral tone while upholding canon laws on divorce and remarriage.

(Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.)

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