Religious imagery in attack on Capitol Hill is top religious news item of the year: poll

Christian and pagan symbolism seen during the Jan.6 riots at the United States Capitol was the top religious news item of the year, according to a survey of members of the Religion News Association.

The Taliban reimposing the Islamist regime in Afghanistan and the US Supreme Court dealing with abortion laws in Mississippi and Texas were second and third, respectively, in the 72-year-old business group’s annual survey of journalists and religious writers.

And President Biden, the second Roman Catholic to hold the post, was voted “Religious Leader of the Year,” defeating Pope Francis, who remains arguably the world’s most prominent spiritual leader.

Other “top 10” stories covered a range of societal and faith-based issues. The list included the thousands of private sector and government employees seeking religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates and Mr Biden’s inauguration amid reluctance from some Catholic bishops over his pro-abortion stance.

Another big story: Gallup reported in 2021 that membership numbers at U.S. places of worship fell below 50% for the first time in the 80 years the polling company has been monitoring the topic. Only 47% of Americans reported belonging to a church, mosque or synagogue in 2020, up from 50% two years earlier.

The problems of religious attendance linked to the COVID-19 pandemic ranked 7th in the association’s investigation. Many congregations returned to worship in person, but attendance remained below pre-2020 numbers.

The Canadian surveys of religious schools for Indigenous children were voted the eighth most important story of the year. The discovery of hundreds of anonymous graves of Indigenous children in schools prompted further investigations into the organizations that operated such institutions in the United States and Canada.

Rounding out the top 10 were two stories related to the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country: one was the departure of American Bible teacher Beth Moore, who broke with the SBC and her house of edition about “sexism and misogyny” to the 14 million-member denomination, its handling of cases of sexual abuse and the support of some Baptists for President Donald Trump.

The other was the election of Ed Lytton, described as a “centrist” as chairman of the SBC, edging out more conservative candidates.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, also a Catholic, was second in the journalist category and the Taliban third. Pope Francis was fifth, behind Ms. Moore.

Two other contenders for the news: Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first American Indian Cabinet Secretary, who launched an investigation into government and church-run boarding schools for Indigenous children and a taken steps to protect lands considered sacred by American Indians. And Pat Robertson, whose retirement as host of the “700 Club” capped a decades-long career in religious broadcasting and political activism.

A full list of stories considered for “top” honors can be found at

DISCLOSURE: Mark A. Kellner is a member of the Religion News Association but did not vote in the 2021 survey.

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