A look at religion in '09
God, politics and popular culture were inescapably intertwined in 2009. USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman looks back:
President Obama, a mainline Protestant who currently has no home church, dominated much of the U.S. religion news. His inaugural address called America "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers."
In his first months, Obama lifted a Bush administration ban on federal funding for groups that offer abortion information and services abroad, and he expanded the policy permitting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
In the wake of that, scores of Catholic bishops called it a travesty that Notre Dame — a flagship Catholic university — awarded the president an honorary degree and invited him to deliver the commencement address in May.
In his address at Cairo University in June, Obama assured the Muslim world the United States is not at war with Islam.
And Obama used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo to lay out a theology of a just war and the morality of standing for the good in a world where, he said, "evil exists."
Catholic church leaders revved up their fight on "life issues" on key battle fronts — with few clear victories, particularly on gay marriage.
Although it was defeated in New York and Maine, same-sex marriage was legalized in Vermont, New Hampshire and, pending a sign-off by Congress, Washington, D.C. Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl told the Washington city council that its approval of gay marriage could jeopardize Catholic Charities' continued bidding on city contracts to serve the homeless.
The bishops fought so strongly against federal funding for abortion in health care reform bills that the question often overshadowed their support on another key issue, health care for immigrants — legal and illegal.
Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest, said, "Many bishops believe they are being prophetic on the issues they think are important, and these bishops think abortion is the pre-eminent issue of our time, like slavery and genocide were in the past."
Meanwhile, despite loud opposition from the church, Washington state voters in March agreed to join Oregon in permitting physician- assisted death.
Catholics and Anglicans were surprised in October by an abrupt announcement from the Vatican welcoming traditionalists to convert — and bring married priests with them.
But leaders of the U.S. traditionalists essentially said, "Thanks, but no thanks." Many parishes had already withdrawn from the Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Church in North America. It was established in June and excludes gay and woman bishops.
The pope's move to bring affable Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan to head the prominent New York archdiocese — a seat previously held by stern retiring Cardinal Edward Egan — was widely expected.
But he surprised many Catholics and Jews when he lifted the ex-communication of four ultra-right-wing bishops who oppose the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including one bishop who denies that the Holocaust happened.
Benedict's third encyclical, a major teaching, included a call for a "true world political authority" to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics.
WARREN SPEAKS OUT
Outcry against proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda brought evangelical pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., back into the news. Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," gave the invocation at Obama's inauguration, then spent months quietly finishing a new book, "The Hope You Need."
Warren initially said he was working privately against a Ugandan bill that would criminalize homosexual behavior and allow people to be jailed for not turning gay men and lesbians in to the authorities.
But in mid-December, Warren, the biggest name among U.S. evangelicals since Billy Graham's 2005 retirement, released a video "open letter" to Uganda's pastors calling the bill unjust and "un-Christian."
ORAL ROBERTS DIES
Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal preacher who brought belief in faith-healing miracles into the mainstream and founded an Oklahoma university, died at age 91.