Representative Rashida Tlaib (L) and Representative Ilhan Omar were voted newsmakers of the year in the 2019 RNA poll

Religion News Association Releases top stories and newsmakers of 2019

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COLUMBIA, MO — An expose by the Houston Chronicle that revealed hundreds of victims of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and that spurred calls for the SBC to investigate churches was chosen as the top religion story of 2019 by members of the Religion News Association in its annual Top 10 Religion Stories and Newsmaker of the Year Poll.

According to a press release, gun violence claimed the No. 2 spot for the second year in a row, recalling the massacre of 51 worshipers and the wounding of 39 others at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. An Australian linked to anti-Muslim and white-supremacist statements pleaded not guilty to charges this June in the country’s deadliest mass shootings in modern history, his actions prompting New Zealand to quickly enact new gun restrictions.

Religion Newsmakers of the Year honors went to Democratic U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who took office in January as the first Muslim congresswoman, and who immediately were at the center of bitter controversies challenging the bipartisan consensus on U.S. aid to Israel.

Pope Francis followed in a close second, finishing near the top for the first time since a three-year reign as the top newsmaker from 2013 – 2015. This year he was recognized for a multitude of work: convening a summit on sexual abuse followed by a decree requiring stricter accountability on responding to abuse; for making groundbreaking trips to the Arabian peninsula, Africa and Asia; for convening a synod of Amazonian bishops; and for speaking out on climate change and migration.

Complete rankings for religion headlines and religion newsmakers appear below:

1. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle reveals hundreds of victims of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, spurring calls for the SBC to investigate churches that cover up abuse and prompting a lament at the SBC’s annual meeting.

2. A gunman kills 51 worshipers and wounds 39 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. An Australian linked to anti-Muslim and white-supremacist statements faces charges. New Zealand quickly enacts new gun restrictions.

3. A special meeting of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference strengthens a ban on LGBT clergy and same-sex marriage, rejecting a local-option plan recommended by bishops. Western Conference bishops declare a “safe harbor” for LGBT clergy.

4. Scandal fallout in Catholic hierarchy: Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick defrocked for abuse. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone resigns over handling of abuse cases. A report finds financial, sexual wrongs by former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield.

5. Notre-Dame de Paris, the medieval cathedral treasured as a Catholic shrine and an architectural wonder, is heavily damaged in an accidental fire that topples its spire. It is spared total destruction by firefighters’ heroics.

6. President Donald Trump retains strong evangelical Christians’ support amid impeachment hearings as he continues policies that align with their priorities, such as religious liberty, Israeli territorial claims and conservative judicial appointments.

7. The Nones continue to rise. A 2019 Gallup poll finds only about half of Americans have ties to a house of worship, down from 69 percent two decades earlier. A Pew Forum polls says 26 percent of Americans are now “Nones,” or those identifying with no religion.

8. After taking office as the first Muslim congresswomen, Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib challenge the bipartisan consensus on U.S. aid to Israel, get denied entry there and are assailed by President Trump in words widely criticized as racist.

9. Religious tensions rise in India in decisions supported by Hindu nationalists. The government revokes the autonomy of majority-Muslim Kashmir. The Supreme Court rules in favor of Hindus who want a temple on the disputed site of a mosque razed by mobs in 1992.

10. Gunmen kill one person at a Poway, Calif., synagogue; two others outside a German synagogue; and three in a Jersey City kosher market. Other anti-Semitic attacks and threats increase, particularly in New York City.

Read the remaining stories by rank, and the remaining newsmakers by rank on the RNA website.

Tracy Simmons

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Journalism Instructor at Washington State University.

She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.

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