Top national, local faith stories of 2017

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Dec. 29, 2017 at 4:36 p.m.
Updated Dec. 30, 2017 at 1 a.m.

FILE: The Victoria Islamic Center erupted into flames on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.

FILE: The Victoria Islamic Center erupted into flames on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.   Barclay Fernandez for The Victoria Advocate

Whether watching national news or following religion news headlines in the Crossroads, faith-based stories were some of 2017's most-watched broadcasts and most-read front pages.

From President Donald Trump's United States' travel ban on several Muslim-dominant countries to the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting in Texas that killed 26, there was plenty of God-based copy to fill the pages of small to large-circulation newspapers nationwide.

Below are the top national stories of the year, as ranked by the Religion News Association, a U.S.-based network of professional religion writers, media, academics and researchers.

The Victoria Advocate's local religion news stories are ranked based on web analytics, leading the top story of the year: Fire at the Victoria Islamic Center, which was later ruled arson and an alleged hate crime.

Here is a look at the top faith stories of 2017.

NATIONAL

1. Polls show Trump remains popular among white evangelicals, and the presidential advisory body gains strong representation of evangelicals in the Trump administration, which was previously more religiously informal.

2. A white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va. leads to religious groups joining a counter-protest. One of the counter-protestors is killed by a vehicle, several others are injured.

3. The U.S. puts in place a travel ban for several majority-Muslim nations, which leads to protest and tension at airports and court decisions overturning the ban. Trump vows to eradicate "radical Islamic terrorism," a term predecessors avoided.

4. President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which leads to warnings this may threaten peace efforts in the region between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

5. More than half a million Muslim Rohingyas are moved to Bangladesh to avoid violent attacks against them by Buddhist-majority clerics.

6. First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs is attacked by gunfire, 26 people are killed by a lone gunman, Devin Kelley, who is later found dead in a car.

7. Alabama's "Ten Commandments judge" Roy Moore wins the GOP nomination for U.S. senator with a vow to revive "knowledge of God and the Constitution." Evangelicals continue to support him despite allegations of misconduct with teen girls and women. He lost the election.

8. Trump and GOP senators place numerous conservatives on U.S. federal courts in an effort to follow through with a promise to their religious base. One such conservative placement included Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Antonin Scalia.

9. Racism addressed among black NFL players, who cite their Christian faith in kneeling to protest racial injustice. Southern Baptist and Mormon leaders circulate statements against alt-right and white supremacy and Confederate symbols are removed from the Washington National Cathedral and other churches.

10. Protestants, especially Lutherans, mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31, commemorating Martin Luther's nailing his 95 Thesis to the wall and challenging the Catholic Church's supreme authority. Catholics join in marking the event.

Local

1. The Victoria Islamic Center burns to the ground. The fire was later ruled an arson. A Victoria man, Marq Vincent Perez, 25, was charged with one count of a hate crime, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony and one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device. He remains in custody facing up to 40 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

2. First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs mourns the loss of 26 members who were killed by an assault-rifle attack, led by gunman, Devin Kelley. Twenty others were injured in the gunfire. Kelley was later found dead in his vehicle.

3. The film, "Alice" based on Victoria resident, Alice Buenez Soliz's battle with endometriosis and her miracle recovery at DeTar Hospital, is produced by Los Angeles-based Christian filmmaker Rick Reyna and his Rally Films.

4. Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, Chris Whitehead, is appointed the Crossroads newest regional director. The position had been vacant for many years prior to Whitehead's appointment.

5. Bass-playing priest, Stephen Carson, of St. Francis Episcopal Church, moonlights as a musician in his band, Thursday Night Noise.

6. Edna High School principal and First United Methodist Church mission leader, Sandy Fellers, leads annual teams to Donna and Weslaco to build homes for immigrant families living in deplorable conditions.

7. Gospel pianist Joyce Snell is honored by the African-American churches throughout Crossroads. Snell frequently plays leads worship for churches in the area, especially those with depleting congregations who no longer have the funds to hire a worship team.

8. Five Victoria Diocesan priests died in 2016, yet the diocese continues to thrive. It remains largely unaffected by national and international numbers of vocational shortages. In the next 10 years, 10 more priests will be ordained.

9. A husband and wife pair is ordained together in the Episcopal Church. The Revs. Louise and Frank Samuelson will serve out their appointments in Houston. Louise Samuelson was raised in Victoria and confirmed at St. Francis Episcopal.

10. Catholic, Jewish and Islamic funeral services have specific rituals in death. Victoria's religious communities have distinct and historical traditions dating back to the city's earliest founders.


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