In the years before Roe v. Wade, one of America's largest Christian flocks struggled to find a way to condemn abortion while also opposing bans on abortion.
A 1971 resolution said: "Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor" while others "advocate no legal abortion," permitting it "only if the life of the mother is threatened." Thus, it backed legislation allowing "abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother."
After the 1973 Roe decision, the same body stressed the "limited role of government" in abortion questions while supporting a "full range of medical services and personal counseling" for expectant mothers.
That was the Southern Baptist Convention -- before its conservative wing gained control, creating a powerful cultural force against abortion rights.
Churches were always active in abortion debates, with some embracing centuries of doctrine on the sanctity of human life and others becoming strategic abortion-rights supporters. Thus journalists in the Religion News Association named the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as the year's top American religion-news story. Now churches -- left and right -- face the challenge of proclaiming certainties while many states seek compromise.
Stressing politics, the RNA stated: "The Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent and says there is no constitutional right to abortion, sparking battles in courts and state legislatures and driving voters to the November polls in high numbers. More than a dozen states enact abortion bans, while voters reject constitutional abortion restrictions in conservative Kansas and Kentucky, and put abortion rights in three other states' constitutions."
This poll avoided other religion-news elements of this story, such as acts of violence against churches -- especially Catholic parishes -- and crisis-pregnancy centers, ranging from vandalism to arson, from the interruption of sacred rites to the destruction of sacred art. Protestors marched at the homes of SCOTUS justices, and police arrested an armed man who threatened to invade the house of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
This year, the RNA added an international list, selecting Russia's war against Ukraine as the top story. This was in part because of bitter tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, backed by the United States and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. Caught in the middle was the historic Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which moved to sever centuries of canonical ties to Russia.
As Religion Newsmakers of the Year, RNA members selected: "The Iranian women who lead in protests against their nation's theocracy, publicly burning veils and cutting their hair after a 22-year-old woman dies in the custody of the Islamic republic's morality police."
Here's the rest of the top American religion-beat stories:
2. Candidates embracing Christian Nationalist themes gained several GOP nominations but most lost in midterm elections, while activists debated the extent and danger of a fusion of American and Christian identities.
3. The Southern Baptist Convention weighed an independent report that some leaders hid sex-abuse claims and mistreated victims. Other headlines noted #ChurchToo abuses in several evangelical and mainline denominations and ministries.
4. Many, but not all, religious groups struggled to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels -- especially America's declining mainline Protestant denominations.
5. The Supreme Court issued many church-state decisions, including one allowing the pastor of a death row inmate to be present during his execution and another requiring Maine to grant religious schools access to tax-funded aid provided to other private schools.
6. Amid rising antisemitic activity, Adidas cut its ties to Ye (rapper Kanye West), while social media giants restricted his accounts. A Donald Trump dinner with Ye and pundit Nick Fuentes enraged the former president's Jewish supporters.
7. Reports revealed the Interior Department cooperated with church boarding schools for Indigenous children during the 19th and 20th centuries, an era when government officials linked the conversion of Native children with efforts to sever them from land and culture.
8. Decades of United Methodist battles about the Bible, sex and marriage forced the exit of 1,500-plus congregations, with that number continuing to rise, and the birth of a conservative Global Methodist Church.
9. Nondenominational churches grew rapidly, according to the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. With 21 million members, these congregations became larger than every Christian flock other than Catholics.
10. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints backed the Respect for Marriage Act, breaking with other conservatives, while claiming it would protect both same-sex couples and the First Amendment rights of religious groups.
Terry Mattingly leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.