Pope Benedict and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I are depicted in a cartoon in Istanbul. The Pope’s linking of Islam and violence angered Muslims and sparked protests around the world; the controversy, and the Pope’s subsequent apology, was voted as the second-most important religion story of the year.
Muslim outrage at the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad was voted the top religion story of the year by the U.S.-based Religion Newswriters Association. The indignation and the violence it triggered, resulting in the deaths of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, was voted ahead of Pope Benedict XVI angering Muslims by including in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. The story about the Pope, along with his apology and a later trip to Turkey that improved Christian-Muslim relations, was voted the second-most important religion story of the year.
The Amish community, which suffered the schoolhouse murders of five children in rural Pennsylvania, was voted the top newsmaker of the year for its model of forgiveness in the face of brutality.
The online poll of RNA members was conducted last December with 149 people voting. The full list of the top 10 religion stories is as follows:
1. Muslims in a number of countries react violently to publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark and other European nations.
2. Pope Benedict XVI angers Muslims by including in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. He apologizes and later smoothes the waters on a trip to Turkey.
3. The (Anglican) Episcopal Church riles conservatives when its general convention elects a presiding bishop who supported the consecration of a gay bishop, opposed by some as unbiblical. Seven Episcopal dioceses refuse to recognize the leadership of the presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is also the first woman elected to the top post.
4. Charismatic leader Ted Haggard resigns as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and is dismissed as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs after allegations surface of gay sex and methamphetamine use.
5. Candidates backed by the religious right suffer a series of defeats in the November elections in the United States, with many voters citing morality as one of the strongest motivators in the way they cast their ballot.
6. Religious voices grow louder for peace in Iraq, but by the end of the year experts fear the spread of sectarian tensions throughout the Middle East.
7. The schoolhouse shooting deaths of five Amish girls in Bart Township, Pa., draws international attention on the Amish community’s ethic of forgiveness after some Amish attend the killer’s funeral.
8. (tie) The release of the religiously controversial film The Da Vinci Code, in which the plot argues that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and gave birth to his child.
8. (tie) Same-sex marriage bans pass in seven of eight U.S. states that hold referendums on the issue during elections; Arizona becomes the first state in which voters defeat a same-sex marriage ban. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married couples.
10. U.S. President George W. Bush casts his first veto to defeat a bill calling for expanded stem-cell research, both pleasing and displeasing different strands of believers.
The Religion Newswriters Association was founded in 1949 to advance the professional standards of religion reporting in the secular press.