Paul Prather: My three lists of notable people of faith include Pope Francis, Tyler Perry and Condoleezza Rice

Contributing columnistMay 17, 2014 

I'm a sucker for lists: the 400 richest Americans, the 100 most beautiful people, the 100 greatest rock singers, five things you didn't know about collard greens.

So when it was suggested I compile a list of notable people of faith, I immediately was in.

I started reading about various pastors and theologians and modern-day saints and studying previously compiled lists.

I ended up with not just one, but three lists of my own.

Before you read them, let me offer several disclaimers.

First, mainly my lists revolve around Christians. That's not a matter of prejudice, but of ignorance. As a Christian minister, I'm way more familiar with leaders of my own faith. I mean no offense, and I hope none is taken.

Second, even my two Christian lists aren't meant to be definitive, but simply to fuel discussion. I'm certain as soon as this column is published, I'll slap myself upside the head and say, "How could I have forgotten (fill in the blank)?"

Third, these aren't necessarily people I agree with. They're people who have remained faithful to their beliefs — sometimes despite criticism or intense danger — and whose achievements have widely influenced others.

Fourth, the entries, although numbered, are not in order of importance, except for Pope Francis. Since he serves as leader of the largest religious denomination, he's likely the most influential Christian alive, and thus is entry No. 1.

Finally, in the initial list, I've included a married couple, Rick and Kay Warren, counting them as one entry because they minister together.

25 living Christians who are making a difference

1. Pope Francis. The pontiff is noted for his humility and compassion for outcasts.

2. Francis Collins, geneticist, director of the National Institutes of Health, evangelical. He's taken heat from Christians and skeptics alike and remained patient toward all parties while maintaining his scientific rigor.

3. Stephen L. Carter, Yale Law School professor, terrific writer, an accessible voice of intellect.

4. Wendell Berry, Kentuckian, conservationist, poet, essayist, novelist. A prophet in a world gone nearly deaf to prophets.

5. Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist, former Pentecostal, now Roman Catholic, often writes about religion for the country's most powerful paper.

6. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, a leading voice among theological conservatives.

7. Condoleezza Rice, an evangelical who became U.S. Secretary of State and a confidante to the president.

8. Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose fiction and essays often explore Christian themes.

9. Tyler Perry, the popular director and actor behind, among other projects, the Madea film series. Has also used his difficult early years to explore religious themes.

10. Denzel Washington, A-list actor, raised as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. says he's donated millions to his church, the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

11. Martin Sheen, actor who, according to, chose his screen name in honor of theologian Fulton J. Sheen and cites his Catholic faith as the motivation for his liberal activism.

12. Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican bishop, waged a successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa without sacrificing his grace.

13. President Jimmy Carter, longtime Sunday school teacher, built his political and post-presidential careers on his moderate Baptist tenets.

14. Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the past 100 years, perennially among the nation's most admired people.

15. Frederick Buechner, American theologian and author of more than 30 books, Presbyterian minister.

16. Rick and Kay Warren, founding leaders of Saddleback Church in California, one of America's most influential mega-churches.

17. Joyce Meyer, a Pentecostal Bible teacher, unusual both for the quality of her televised lessons and the fact that she's among a distinct minority—female TV preachers.

18. Mark Noll, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in American Christianity, a key voice in parsing religious trends.

19. Michael Gerson, Wheaton College graduate, former senior aide to President George W. Bush, now an opinion columnist for the Washington Post.

20. Tim Tebow, football player. Love him or loathe him, this much is for sure: You know he's a Christian, and a long-suffering Christian at that.

21. Anne Lamott, funny, insightful and occasionally profane memoirist of her ongoing spiritual journey.

22. Bill Moyers, former White House press secretary turned TV news broadcaster, whose work often deals with faith, a Baptist minister.

23. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, whose presence refocused the church's debate over gay clergy.

24. John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop, liberal Christian theologian and writer.

25. All anonymous Christians who walk out their faith quietly and with integrity battling AIDS in Africa, working in soup kitchens, loving their neighbors.

Six notable modern adherents of other faiths, living or dead

1. Pema Chodron, Buddhist, author of When Things Fall Apart.

2. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, Buddhist, advocate of non-violence.

3. The late Malcolm X, Muslim, former member of the black-separatist Nation of Islam who turned to mainstream Islam and renounced racism.

4. Elie Wiesel, Jewish, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize winner and author of Night.

5. The late Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu, practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience, proponent of religious tolerance.

6. Alan Dershowitz, raised an Orthodox Jew, now a tireless "attorney of last resort" for the wrongly convicted and for civil liberties.

10 departed Christians from the 20th century you should know about

1. Graham Greene, Catholic, author of many books, including The Power and the Glory, the greatest spiritual novel ever.

2. Flannery O'Connor, Catholic, writer of fiction about low-church Protestants.

3. Mother Teresa, nun, missionary to the poor, a tiny woman who pricked the conscience of the world.

4. C.S. Lewis, scholar of English literature, Christian apologist.

5. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights advocate, American hero.

6. Pope John Paul XXIII, the man behind the Second Vatican Council, which modernized Catholicism.

7. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, writer, long-time resident of Nelson County's Abbey of Gethsemani.

8. Johnny Cash, country singer who spoke piercingly about his faith.

9. Will D. Campbell, contrarian Baptist preacher, civil rights activist, friend of King, yet minister to the Ku Klux Klan and James Earl Ray.

10. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, pastor, martyr to the Nazis.

Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at

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