Donald Trump Beats Out Pope Francis as Top ‘Religion Newsmaker of the Year’

Pope Francis (R) exchanges gifts with US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have …

In its annual poll, the Religion News Association (RNA) has selected President Donald Trump as top religion newsmaker of the year, edging out other contenders such as Pope Francis, Martin Luther, and Cardinal Blase Cupich.

RNA, an international association for journalists who cover religion in the news media, has held its annual poll for decades, voting on top religion story of the year as well as top religion newsmaker.

Leading the list of RNA’s top 10 religion stories for the year was a news item that also featured the U.S. President: “Conservative evangelicals gain strong representation in the Trump administration, notably with Vice President Mike Pence, and on the president’s informal religious advisory body. Trump maintains strong grassroots support among white evangelicals, polls show.”

The association said that Donald Trump was chosen as the Religion Newsmaker of the Year after “his inauguration triggered upheaval across a number of religious fronts, among them the role of evangelical support of his administration.”

The group also highlighted “fierce debates over Islam, race and religious liberty; the appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; and executive orders relating to immigration and terrorism” as factors leading to his selection.

Earlier this month, the celebrated Evangelical leader Franklin Graham bestowed high praise on President Trump, calling him the most vocal defender of the Christian faith of any president in recent history.

“Never in my lifetime have we had [a president] willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith,” Graham tweeted on Dec. 1. “We need to get behind him with our prayers.”

More than any recent president, Mr. Trump has made frequent references to God and Christianity in his public addresses, beyond the ordinary “God bless America” boilerplate.

In his landmark speech in Warsaw this summer, the President highlighted the role of faith in Poland’s historic resistance to atheistic communism.

“A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: ‘We Want God,’” Trump said in reference to the events of the year 1979.

“Together, with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God,” the President said.

“Their message is as true today as ever,” he said. “The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out ‘We want God.’”

In his selection, Mr. Trump joins top religion newsmakers from prior years, including Pope Francis (2013–15), Barack Obama (2008), Pope John Paul II (2005) and Mel Gibson (2004).

Last year, the RNA awarded top religion story of the year to President Trump’s “upset” election victory, where religion figured heavily among value voters and was among the most discussed topics surrounding his campaign.

Although RNA specifically mentioned Trump’s appeal among Evangelicals, he also swept important religious demographics, such as Catholics.

Catholics, who comprise nearly 25 percent of U.S. voters and constitute an important force in elections, favored Donald Trump by the significant margin of seven percentage points, with 52 percent voting for him as opposed to only 45 percent voting for Hillary Clinton, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump launched a successful outreach to Catholic leaders, assembling an advisory board comprising Catholic politicians such as Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, as well as a variety of other influential Catholic thinkers and public figures.

Trump also undertook a vigorous letter-writing campaign to Catholic voters, underscoring his concern for issues dear to Catholics and his opponent’s hostility to their causes. In a letter to participants at the Catholic Leadership Conference in Denver, Trump observed that Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine would move the White House away from Catholic concerns, especially religious liberty and pro-life causes.

“On issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics, the differences between myself and Hillary Clinton are stark,” the letter said. “I will stand with Catholics and fight for you.

“Hillary Clinton has been openly hostile to these core Catholic issues for a long time, and is only going to be worse with Tim Kaine now following her lead,” it continued.

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