I forgive you” were three of the most powerful words uttered in the name of religion this year, according to Religion News Service (RNS). They were from Nadine Collier to the white supremacist accused of fatally shooting her mother and eight others at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., in June.
Religion inspired countless other acts of forgiveness, mercy and hope this year. But religion — or perversions of it — also inspired violence. RNS compiled an overview of some of the most consequential religion stories of the past year.
ISIS: Also called Islamic State, ISIS continued its reign of terror, slaughtering Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach and locking a Jordanian pilot in a cage and setting him on fire. The attacks that killed 130 in Paris left no doubt ISIS wants to outdo its rival al-Qaida and take what it believes are end-of-times battles to the heart of Europe.
The Charleston nine: A white man walked into an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston June 17 and joined a Bible study group. The warm welcome he got didn’t stop him, authorities said, from fatally shooting nine people.
Gun violence: Several mass shootings had religious overtones — the slaying of three students at Chapel Hill, N.C., by a suspect who appeared to dislike all religions, especially his Muslim neighbors; a man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings carried out by a husband and wife, who had reportedly told Facebook friends she wanted to become a jihadist.
Muslims Trumped: Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to keep all Muslims out of the U.S. took anti-Muslim sentiment in the country into new territory, with Muslim civil rights groups reporting a surge in mosque vandalism and hate crimes since then.
Buddhists vs. Muslims: In Myanmar (formerly Burma), Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state were reported to be facing the “final stages of a genocide” after hundreds were killed in massacres egged on by Buddhist extremists. The government sees the Rohingya as foreigners, even though many have lived in the country for generations.
Pope Francis, poverty and climate change: Although the pope’s visit to the U.S. in September sparked considerable attention, the Francis effect was most felt in his visit to three of the poorest countries in the hemisphere — Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. On July 9 in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz, he denounced what he called a “new colonialism” of the poor and said the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.” The pope also joined other religious leaders in making a moral case for an agreement on climate change, which was reached Dec. 12 in Paris.
Supreme Court ruling and religious freedom laws: The June 26 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states cemented a paradigm shift that has been years, if not decades, in the making. Some called for a repenting of the way lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been treated, while others demanded laws confirming constitutional protections for their view of marriage — as only possible between a man and a woman.