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Alex Cochran, Deseret News

Revisiting 2021’s top religion stories

An end-of-year list from Religion News Association highlights the top faith-related events that took place in the past year

SHARE Revisiting 2021’s top religion stories
SHARE Revisiting 2021’s top religion stories

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

The results are in and I’m suddenly feeling very sleepy. How could you not be worn out after looking at a list of the top religion-related events that took place in the past year?

We lived through — and, in my case, wrote about — a riot at the Capitol, conflict over communion access and the Southern Baptist Convention’s reckoning over sexual assault and racism, just to name a few major incidents. We also continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as associated legal battles and grief.

Will 2022 be any quieter? I doubt it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Surprising, challenging and even painful events can be clarifying. They can show you what you’re made of (as an individual, faith group or country) and what you need to adjust.

Over the next few days, I’ll be thinking about what lessons I learned from my reporting in the past year. To kick off the process, I revisited how I covered the events that made the year-end list from Religion News Association.

Here are the top five events (as voted on by association members, including me) along with the links to my related stories:

The Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power

Abortion cases before the Supreme Court

COVID-19 vaccine mandates raise questions about religious exemptions

Joe Biden is sworn in as America’s second Catholic president and almost immediately faces pushback from his church

Biden was also voted the top religion newsmaker of the year.

Fresh off the press

The unique pain of a COVID-19 surge at Christmas

Term of the week: Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is almost certainly the most misunderstood December holiday. The seven-day festival, which begins on Dec. 26, is often referenced but rarely explained.

Because I was tired of being confused, I did some research into Kwanzaa last week. I learned that it’s not a religious holiday and is, instead, a celebration of African American and Pan-African heritage and culture. Participants embrace and celebrate values like unity, self-determination, creativity and faith, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Compared to most other holidays, Kwanzaa is a pretty new phenomenon. It was first celebrated in the 1960s. Today, it’s most popular in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

What I’m reading...

Is society better off when citizens prioritize getting married and having kids? Members of different faith groups disagree, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. More than half of white evangelicals (56%) say it’s good for people to prioritize marriage, compared to just one-third of Catholics and nonevangelical Protestants.

The New York Times sent a reporter to speak with long-haul truckers about how they celebrate holidays while they’re on the road. The resulting story is both informative and moving. It left me feeling incredibly grateful for the folks who sacrifice a variety of material comforts to make sure shipments arrive on time.

Odds and ends

Here are a few of my favorite stories I wrote this year: