Donate to RNS

NEWS STORY: Religion journalists name Protestant Reformation millennium’s top story

c. 1999 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Protestant Reformation was selected as the top religion story of the second Christian millennium by members of the Religion Newswriters Association, who also voted the Holocaust the 20th century’s leading news event. In 1517, the rebellious German priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses condemning Rome’s practice […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

UNDATED _ The Protestant Reformation was selected as the top religion story of the second Christian millennium by members of the Religion Newswriters Association, who also voted the Holocaust the 20th century’s leading news event.

In 1517, the rebellious German priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses condemning Rome’s practice of selling indulgences on a church door in Wittenberg to spark the Protestant Reformation. The act led to Christendom’s second major schism, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the founding of the Church of England.

The millennium’s second most important story was the widespread dissemination of the Bible and other religious literature, beginning with the first English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in 1380, the 1455 publication of the Gutenberg Bible and the 1605 publication of the King James Version.

The RNA members, writers and editors who cover religion on a regular basis for secular media in the United States and Canada, voted the Great Schism of 1054 the third most important story of the millennium. The schism resulted in the first major split in Christianity and its division into Eastern and Western churches.

Rounding out the top 10 stories of the millennium were:

_ The Holocaust and the subsequent founding of Israel, events the RNA members also picked in separate balloting as the 20th century’s top story.

_ Pope Urban II’s authorization of the Crusades in 1095 to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim control. Crusader attacks against Eastern, or Orthodox, Christians and Jews also resulted.

_ Islam’s expansion into Africa, Europe and Asia, including its move into India (1190-1200), resulting in the destruction of most of the subcontinent’s indigenous Buddhist culture.

_ The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which ended with the Roman Catholic Church reforming its liturgy and its relations with other Christian and non-Christian movements, and the larger world in general.

_ Establishment by the Pilgrims of their colony in Plymouth, Mass., in 1620 and Roger Williams’ 1636 establishment of Rhode Island, foundational events in the history of religious freedom and separation of church and state in the United States, which later enshrined those principles in the Bill of Rights.

_ The publication of ideas some view as hostile to religion by Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.

_ The 1906 Azuza Street revival in Los Angeles, which gave birth to the modern Pentecostal movement, now Christianity’s fastest growing branch.

Turning to the 20th century, the RNA members voted the Second Vatican Council the second most important event after the Holocaust and Israel’s founding.

In third place was the 1917 Russian Revolution and the advent of communism, which hobbled religious practice in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere for most of the century.

Rounding out the top 10 stories of the 20th century were:

_ The Azuza Street revival.

_ The ordination of women clergy by Protestant Christianity and Judaism.

_ Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, perhaps the century’s most outstanding archaeological find. The scrolls shed light on non-mainstream Judaism in the late Second Temple period (first century). Some scholars also view the scrolls as important to the study of nascent Christianity.

_ The rise of radical, or political, Islam, first noticed in the West with the coming to power of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.

_ Selection in 1978 of John Paul II as the first non-Italian Roman Catholic pope in 450 years.

_ Involvement by religious leaders in the American civil rights movement, with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. being the most prominent.

_ The success of Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent, Hindu-based resistance to British rule in India.

Thirty RNA members participated in the voting, casting their votes by fax or e-mail. The results were released Wednesday (Dec. 1).

DEA END RIFKIN