Before we all sing “Auld Lang Syne,” I’d like to take a moment to thank each of you for being part of our 2022 journey. This has been an exciting year for Word&Way and our award-winning newsletter A Public Witness. So instead of a weekly roundup today, I’m going to offer a quick review of the year — including a countdown of the top 10 most-read pieces we published at A Public Witness in 2022.
In some ways it’s been an odd year. Jenna Ellis, one of Donald Trump’s main lawyers in his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, called us “a bad actor.” Political trickster Roger Stone labeled me a “Marxist pastor.” Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker inaccurately attacked me for reporting on his campaign. And Anthony George criticized my writings during two Sunday sermons at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (meaning A Public Witness probably got referenced in more sermons there this year than some books of the Bible!). I figure if they don’t want people reading us, then we must be doing something right.
But it’s also been a great year as we’ve been honored with awards for our reporting at A Public Witness, cited by numerous other media outlets, and watched as our subscriber list grew. So we’re fine if Ellis, Stone, Walker, and George don’t like us. We’d rather have you here reading. In this review of 2022, I will count down our most popular pieces and then reflect on some other highlights from the year.
Most-Read Pieces in 2022
This year, we published 109 pieces at A Public Witness, in addition to also sending out a weekly roundup email of top news and more. About half of the more than 100 pieces went only to paid subscribers. Here are the top 10 most-read pieces from A Public Witness this year:
10. In Sermon, Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth Decries ‘Holy War’ Politics by Brian Kaylor (Oct. 24). This article reported on comments by an Episcopalian priest and former Republican Senator during a Methodist church service.
9. Sacrifices on an Altar of Christian Nationalism by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (Sept. 27). This piece looked at the blasphemous rhetoric of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church as he backs Russia’s war on Ukraine as a Christian act.
8. Ministers Condemn ReAwaken America’s Branson Arrival by Jeremy Fuzy (Nov. 5). This article reported on a joint press event held by Word&Way and Faithful America.
7. The ReAwaken America Worship Service in Branson by Brian Kaylor (Nov. 8). This report on a ReAwaken America Tour event in Branson, Missouri, explored the sacrilegious misuse of Christian language and symbols by this traveling variety show of extremism.
6. Did the Fundamentalists Win? by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (May 17). For the 100th anniversary of the famous “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick, this piece explored the answer of whether or not they won.
5. When Worship Goes Wrong by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (Aug. 23). The essay looked at a problematic “worship” service being held on Sept. 11 and the Christian musical activist behind it.
4. Taking Off the Armor of God by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (Aug. 16). This piece explored the political popularity and misuse of the passage from Ephesians about the “armor of God.”
3. How Most Christians Became Godless Globalists by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (Oct. 25). This piece considered comments about Christian Nationalism at a ReAwaken America Tour event in Manheim, Pennsylvania.
2. Baptist Megachurch Pastor Leads Prayer Event for Herschel Walker after Abortion Allegation by Brian Kaylor (Oct. 4). This article broke the news about what was said inside a prayer event at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
1. The NRA’s Thoughts & Prayers by Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood (May 26). This report just days after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, looked at the history of prayer breakfasts at the NRA’s annual conventions (like the one that was about to occur later that same week in Texas).
Highlights of 2022
As things opened back up this year after a couple years of just virtual events, it was great to see people in person. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak at the Tri-Faith Center in Omaha, Nebraska; present at the Prairie Pastors Conference for American Baptist Churches USA ministers; and preach at churches like First Baptist in Columbia, Missouri, and First Presbyterian in Jefferson City, Missouri. I also attended and reported on events like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship annual gathering in Dallas, Texas; the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Birmingham, Alabama; and the European Baptist Federation general council in Riga, Latvia.
And we saw our work at Word&Way recognized and appreciated in several ways. Here are seven highlights from our work this year:
7. Our podcast downloads nearly doubled last year’s level. We’ve been podcasting since 2018, but more people are listening now than ever. If you want to check our conversations, consider starting with the top 10 most-downloaded episodes of Dangerous Dogma this year.
6. We saw a record year of online traffic. This year’s level was a 40% increase over last year’s high mark — and our traffic this year doubled that of 2020! Curious about our top pieces this year? Check out the lists of our 10 most-read news articles and our 10 most-read columns.
5. Our work was cited by numerous other media outlets. Among those who looked to us to inform their coverage of various issues were the Associated Press, Axios, Miami Herald, MSNBC, Nashville Tennessean, Newsweek, Religion Dispatches, Religion News Service, Salon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Talking Points Memo, The Atlantic, The Hill, and more.
4. I wrote several op-eds published by other outlets. One way we impact public conversations about faith, culture, and politics is through columns I write that prominent news outlets print. Pieces this year included ones with Baptist News Global, Boston Globe (co-authored with Rachel Laser), Missouri Independent, Sightings, and Sojourners (co-authored with Beau Underwood). I also appeared this year on WNCN in North Carolina and WJTV in Mississippi, as well as several podcasts (like Because It Is, CBF Podcast, Crackers & Grape Juice, Faithful Politics, Freedom’s Ring, Good Faith Weekly, Raceless Gospel, State of Belief, and Straight White American Jesus).
3. We offered an alternative witness to Christian Nationalism in Branson, Missouri. We partnered with Faithful America to challenge the heretical and dangerous rhetoric of the ReAwaken America Tour as it trekked to the Show-Me State just before the midterm elections. In addition to holding a press conference with clergy, we also reported on the event with a photo essay and an analysis of its co-opting of religious symbols and language.
2. We were honored with 16 awards for our journalism. This included six awards for A Public Witness from our peers in religious journalism. We also won awards for editorial writing, magazine design, news reporting, and more. We’ve won 96 awards over the last five years, proof of our commitment to providing you with quality Christian journalism.
1. Subscribers to A Public Witness reached new highs. Most people receiving this email joined our list this year. We’re glad you found us! Our subscribers here nearly tripled this year. This publication is in the top 20 of all Substack newsletters in the “news” category. And A Public Witness now brings in more revenue than our 126-year-old print publication. This growth is essential to ensuring the future sustainability of our journalism ministry. So if you’re not yet a paid subscriber to this email newsletter, you can help us continue our important work by upgrading today.
None of this would be possible without the faithful support of our readers and donors. So thanks for being part of our journey in 2022. And I’m excited to see what we can do together in the coming year.
As a public witness,