Why do we love Top 10 lists?
Because rankings help us order the world. Because we enjoy comparing our picks to others'. Because they remind us of events we care about.
And so we come to the top religion and culture newsmakers of 2010. What follows is not scientific. It is our best attempt to look at those headlines that dominated the national news last year or seemed to have a significant impact on the Lowcountry.
Perhaps we've included something you think ought to have been ignored; perhaps we omitted a story you deem important. If so, we hope you will forgive us, and we hope you will leave a comment online.
Each of our story entries, in no particular order, includes a brief description about articles that were published in 2010. Some of the stories spent a great deal of time in the pages of news publications.
It's easy to reach hard conclusions quickly. It's difficult (but perhaps necessary) to seek to understand an issue from various points of view.
That's what we strive to do in Faith & Values: present ideas to mull over.
1. Islamic center, Lower Manhattan
Three arguments seemed to characterize the dispute over plans to build "Park51" in lower Manhattan, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site: the constitutional defense, the emotional appeal and the national security debate.
Proponents of the constitutional defense insisted that everyone in America has a right to religious expression. Many opponents of the Sufi center argued that Islam provided fuel for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and any effort to establish a monument to Islam so close to ground zero might be legal, but it's insensitive, even offensive. Others say they are concerned that the center, and for that matter mosques elsewhere in the country, could be used by enemies of the U.S. to plot attacks and channel money to terrorist organizations.
Perhaps lost in the debate, which was inflamed by conservative TV and radio commentators, were the stated intentions of center organizers.
• N.Y. mosque imam sees hope after fury, published 12,21,2010
• Mosque debate stirs passion, published 8/22/2010
• Firestorm: A mosque at Park Place, published 8/22/1010
• Insights from Ground Zero on the anniversary of 9/11, published 8/22/2010
2. Anti-gay bullying
Local school districts grappled with bullying, including anti-gay bullying, assessing new public attitudes toward homosexuality and the influence of the Internet, which has made new forms of intimidation possible.
During 2010, at least five gay teens from different parts of the U.S. committed suicide reportedly because of bullying, teasing or invasion of privacy. Gay teens are six times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide.
Nearly nine out of 10 gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual middle and high school students were physically or verbally harassed in 2009, according to a survey.
One answer to the problem has been the formation of gay-straight alliances. About 4,000 of them in the nation's 12,000 public school districts are registered. A new one formed at Hanahan High School.
• School districts in battle with bullying, published 10/17/2010
3. Episcopal turmoil
Slowly, deliberately, steadily, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has been pulling away from the Episcopal Church for reasons theological, administrative and cultural.
Unhappy with what the diocese's leadership calls the inclusive and liberal drift of the church, local officials have voted to disengage, aligning instead with conservative Anglicans in the U.S. and abroad.
But for a few parishes in the coastal region of the state, the diocese wasn't doing enough.
In March, St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant voted to sever ties with the diocese and the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Church in North America.
St. Andrew's was one of four parishes to take steps to disassociate from the Episcopal Church in 2010. The others were St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head Island, Trinity Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach and St. John's Church on Johns Island.
• St. Andrew's cuts ties, published 3/31/2010
• Episcopalians assert authority, published 10/16/2010
4. Politics of the black church
Each year, society grapples with some question or another concerning the nexus of religion and politics. First Amendment issues often make the news, such as whether Nativity scenes can be displayed at firehouses. Sometimes it's a moral issue that grabs the headlines, such as whether a Catholic hospital is obligated to provide abortions if the mother's life is in danger.
One religious tradition has never shied away from civic engagement: the black church.
Christianity among blacks took hold during slavery times and, therefore, helped justify and fuel a liberation movement that began as expressions of longing but eventually became a vibrant political movement that demanded enfranchisement.
Why are black pastors often so vocal about economic and social justice? Because justice and church are inseparable.
• Leading from the pulpit, published 11/28/2010
5. Don't Ask, Don't Tell
In 1993, the U.S. military adopted a new policy concerning homosexuality. Military officials were instructed not to inquire into the sexual orientation of personnel, and gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces were instructed to keep their sexual orientation a secret. Openly gay people were prohibited from serving at all.
The policy became known as "Don't ask, don't tell." And from the get-go it was controversial. Should the sexual identity of gays in the military be protected? What is the impact on morale when secrets of this sort are encouraged? What does sexual orientation have to do with patriotism and risk-taking?
Times change, and so do government policies. In December, "Don't Ask" was repealed, fulfilling a campaign promise made by President Barack Obama and satisfying gay rights groups that had long argued the policy was unjust.
• House passes 'don't ask' repeal, published 12/16/2010
• 'Don't ask' on its way out, published 12/19/2010
6. Catholic sexual abuse scandal widens
The crisis of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy first was publicized in the 1980s. Since then, the U.S. has been embroiled in a growing scandal that, arguably, culminated in the 2004 release of the John Jay Report, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The report documented nearly 11,000 allegations of abuse in the U.S. between 1950 and 2002 and cited some of the reasons for it. The church has paid billions of dollars to settle claims.
Since then, more allegations have surfaced, especially abroad. Now Ireland and Belgium are struggling to deal with major crises. Other countries, such as Mexico, France and Germany, also have reported numerous cases of sexual abuse.
The scandal has racked the church and caused Pope Benedict XVI to express regret and call for profound introspection.
• Belgian child abuse report exposes Catholic clergy, published 9/10/2010 in guardian.co.uk
• Revealed, six decades of 'ritual' child abuse: Catholic schools and orphanages damned in report", published 5/21/2009 in Mail Online
• Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal goes global, published 3/19/2010 in CNN online
7. Missionaries in Haiti
Haiti was not a very stable place politically and economically before the huge earthquake of Jan. 12. Afterward, it was chaotic, requiring the help of the international community. Government functions were severely strained, when they worked at all.
Many people of faith in the U.S. and elsewhere took action. Christian missionaries, many of whom already were at work on the island nation operating orphanages, schools and churches, redoubled their efforts.
Several churches and organizations from the Lowcountry shifted to high gear. Water Missions International delivered dozens of filtration units. People at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, St. Peter's Church in Mount Pleasant and Seacoast Church mobilized. And they made a difference.
• S.C. volunteers caught up in disaster, published 1/31/2010
• Offering hope in Haiti, published 7/25/2010
8. Mideast conflict
Talks were on again, then off again. Settlement activity was frozen, then unfrozen. The Obama administration called again for a two-state solution. The Israeli leadership tried to show the president a good face. The Palestinian people grew increasingly disenchanted with the peace process.
U.S. State Department officials appealed to the two sides. Israeli officials appealed to the dissenters. Palestinians were appalled and turned their attention to economic development in Ramallah and other parts of the shrinking West Bank.
Meanwhile, the international debate heated up. A new generation of liberal Zionists signed up with J Street. Existential concerns intensified. And everyone wondered where the tipping point was.
• Palestinians reject talks without settlement halt, published 12/9/2010
• Officials: US drops demand for settlement freeze, published 12/7/2010
• Back to Square One in Mideast, published 12/19/2010
The issue reared its head over and over. It made cameo appearances in a variety of news stories. It took center stage too often.
The Great Recession officially might be over, but don't tell that to the millions of Americans who are unemployed and the millions more who depend on social services and charity to survive.
In the Lowcountry, soup kitchen lines grew especially long. The local homeless shelter could not accommodate everyone in need. The demand on aid organizations and churches rose significantly. And the problems were exacerbated by housing foreclosures, job loss and cold weather.
Many people were struggling, and many more struggled to help.
• Edge of hunger, published 5/23/2010
• Churches focus on plight of black males, published 3/7/2010
10. The art of climate change
The science accumulates. The volume of news stories increases. The warnings become more dire.
Climate change is leading the world into a future sure to include more extreme weather, rising ocean levels and agriculture challenges, scientists say. Even as carbon levels continue to increase in the atmosphere, national legislation and international treaties lag far behind. Policymakers don't seem to be treating the issue with urgency.
But artists are.
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, along with various Lowcountry partners, organized a large-scale, multi-institution art series called "Bluesphere." The series explored aspects of mass consumption and environmental degradation, presenting the visions of several nationally known artists.
• Bluesphere project reveals, through art, our impact on the environment, society, published 10/10/2010
• 'Bluesphere' artist Chris Jordan visualizes mass consumption in everyday objects, published 10/17/2010
• Bluesphere: Turning trash into the spiritual, published 10/24/2010
• Aerial artist shoots Earth's 'scars', published 10/31/2010