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As we reach the end of 2012, the staff of Religion News Service can look back on a productive year. In the short span of 12 months, RNS:

Published nearly 1,550 stories and 975 photos. Launched a clean new website that adapts to multiple platforms.
Expanded its coverage of Catholicism, Mormonism and atheism. Added a team of thought-provoking bloggers, including Omid Safi, Jana Riess, and Mark Silk. Started five online community Faith and Values news sites, or FAVS for short, in Hartford, Conn; Columbia, Mo.; Wilmington, N.C.; Toledo, Ohio; and Spokane, Wash.

What gun control is up against

A day after the massacre in Newtown, the Southern Baptist pastor and blogger Wade Burleson posted an extended defense of gun rights that concludes:
Natural Law demands free citizens have the right to be armed. As a Christian, I may choose not to bear arms, to turn the other cheek, and to live like Jesus Christ lived. But as an American, I will resist any effort by the state to take weapons from her citizens. Natural Law demands this of me. The post, from a thoughtful and serious man, makes it clear that gun control advocates are up against an understanding of American society profoundly different from their own.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Listings — December 21 & December 28

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET. Visit for additional information. Show #1616 is fed over PBS on Friday, December 21 at 5:00 p.m. (check local listings).   Show #1617 is fed over PBS on Friday, December 28 at 5:00 p.m. (check local listings). December 21 – Show # 1616

Look Back at 2012 –  The annual look back at the top religion stories of the past year, including religion’s role in the presidential election, faith-based divisions over economic policy, the rising number of people with no religious affiliation, and ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.   Host Bob Abernethy, R&E Managing Editor Kim Lawton, Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne and Religion News Service Editor-in-Chief Kevin Eckstrom analyze the trends and events that made news in 2012.

The `nones’ now form the world’s third-largest ‘religion’ *

(RNS) A new report on global religious identity shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation — including atheists and agnostics — are now the third-largest “religious” group in the world. The study, released Tuesday (Dec. 18) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of the world’s 7 billion people adheres to some form of religion. Christians make up the largest group, with 2.2 billion adherents, or 32 percent worldwide, followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide. Close behind are the “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or say they do not believe in God — at 1.

death chamber

Death penalty grows rarer in U.S.

(RNS) Though states put the same number of people to death this year as last, an anti-death penalty group says several other indicators show capital punishment is on the wane. By Lauren Markoe.

Majority of Americans Report Experience of God’s Love Leads to Increased Benevolence

A majority of Americans (81%) report that they have experienced God’s love, according to a new study. Even more have felt God’s love increasing their compassion for others (83%), showing that for many Americans, the experience of divine love and benevolence are inseparable. It’s an overlooked component of contemporary Christian benevolence, contend Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post, authors of The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God’s Love (Oxford University Press, $29.95 hardcover, December 2012). Their findings reflect the spiritual revolution that has occurred in American culture, as the dominant image of God has shifted from hellfire-and-brimstone to love, and in which loving relationships with people and with God matter more than creeds or denominations. The Godly Love National Survey (GLNS), an extensive random survey of 1,200 people from across the country, also reveals a surprisingly common pentecostal worldview in which the Spirit of God is experienced in everyday life.

Defaced billboard

Newest front in the Christmas wars: billboards

(RNS) A billboard bearing a positive message about atheism has been vandalized — again. A billboard posted in Chico, Calif., that originally read “Don’t believe in God? Join the club” was defaced on Dec. 12, less than a week after it appeared, with vandals removing the word “don’t.” The billboard was one of 12 purchased this month by a local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR),  a national organization that works to unite small, local groups of atheists and other freethinkers. They are the latest in a long line of billboards erected by atheist groups to draw ire, both locally and nationally.

Catholic theologian Thomas Reese

“Apply the rules of papal conclaves. Lock up the members of Congress, take away their cellphones, and don’t let them out until they pass a budget.” — The Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, writing in The Huffington Post about a Catholic solution to the “fiscal cliff.”

COMMENTARY: Suffer the children

(RNS) As news about shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., began to spread last week, I could hear the gun lobby’s spin-masters kicking into high gear. Don’t “politicize” a tragedy in order to deprive people of their constitutional rights, went the line. Our hands weren’t on those triggers. Unless politicians summon previously unseen courage to face down the makers of assault rifles and high-powered pistols, 100-round clips and so-called “cop killer” ammo, the weapons industry could receive another free pass. As Newtown joins Columbine and Aurora and other communities in the unique agony of massacres by guns, the weapons industry will continue to profit handsomely from arming Americans intent on murdering their families, their neighbors, strangers at malls and theaters, college students and little children — not to mention rival gang members, store owners, police officers, and politicians.