It's always interesting to consider which news stories will make it to the top of the list of the most significant religious happenings of the year.
Every year, we run a year-in-review story listing the notable religion news events around the nation. My personal top two 2012 religion stories were: faith-based groups' religious liberty battle against the federal government's contraception mandate; and Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy draws increased attention to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I also have my picks for the Oklahoma-related religion stories in 2012. I've never made this type of list for fear that I would leave something out, and I may have. These are just a few of the stories I thought were significant in the state's religious realm.
They are, in random order:
David Green, founder of Oklahoma City-based retail chain Hobby Lobby, announced plans to fight a federal health care mandate that requires employee health care plans to provide insurance coverage for types of contraception that the firm's owners consider to be “abortion-causing.” Green said the mandate conflicts with his religious values that include opposition to abortion.
Oklahoma faith groups, most notably the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, citing a violation of their religious liberty, expressed their opposition against the federal Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for employees that includes contraceptives they believe can cause abortions. Lay Roman Catholics, in conjunction with Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, held a religious liberty rally in June in downtown Oklahoma City. Messengers attending the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's annual meeting in November approved a resolution asking President Barack Obama to withdraw the mandate. Leaders at several private Christian colleges and universities across the state, including Southern Nazarene University and Oklahoma Christian University, also expressed resistance to the mandate.
Hobby Lobby Inc. donated $2 million to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to purchase the Newburn Conference Center, a youth camp near Davis, from the Oklahoma Assemblies of God.
Baptist leaders, announcing the gift in September, said they plan to relocate the CrossTimbers Children's Mission Camp from McAlester to the Newburn location.
Vandals shot paintballs at the doors of the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City in August. A mosque leader said the mosque's Muslim congregation received numerous letters and expressions of support from people of other faiths after the vandalism incident.
Gov. Mary Fallin lighted a menorah for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah on Dec. 7 at the state Capitol. She is believed to be the first Oklahoma governor to do so. Fallin also accepted a commemorative menorah on behalf of Oklahoma from the Chabad Jewish Center of Oklahoma City, which co-sponsored the Hanukkah event.
The Baptist Messenger, the official newspaper of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, marked its 100th anniversary.
Christian leaders from all walks of life gathered in September in downtown Oklahoma City for the Salt and Light Leaders Training or SALLTed Conference. The gathering included some of the most influential people in the state, including Gov. Fallin, Hobby Lobby founder David Green and SandRidge Energy CEO and Chairman Tom Ward. Oklahoma Commission for Human Services Chairman Wes Lane served as host.
The popular Villa Teresa School, run by the Carmelite Sisters of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, held its final graduation ceremony in May. Leaders of the private school closed its doors after 79 years, citing the high cost of major building renovation needs, rising costs of health insurance and salaries and an aging population of nuns who work outside the order and help support the school.
A Ten Commandments monument was installed in November on the north side of the state Capitol grounds. The monument was the result of 2009 legislation authored by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, authorizing the monument on the Capitol grounds. Ritze's family paid for the monument. Spelling mistakes were corrected later.
Several individuals in the faith and religious arena announced their retirement or took a new position in the community.
The Rev. Thomas R. Jewell, regional pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma, said he plans to retire Dec. 31. Jewell began his 20th year of regional church ministry Aug. 1.
The Rev. Justin Lindstrom was appointed the new dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Oklahoma City, one of more prestigious churches in Oklahoma that became a haven for rescue workers in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Lindstrom shared his first homilies as St. Paul's dean in the fall.
The Rev. Blake Gideon became the new senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Edmond, a prominent metro-area church, in October. Gideon, the church's fourth senior pastor, took the post vacated by the late Rev. R. Alan Day, who was killed in a February 2011 motorcycle accident.