Each year, members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the world’s premier association dedicated to helping journalists write about religion, vote on what they believe are the top religion stories of the year.
This year, more than 300 religion journalists cast their ballots in an online survey conducted Dec. 10-13, choosing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a covert operation in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives ordered by President Barack Obama as the top story of 2011.
Here is the complete list of RNA's top religion stories of the year:
1. The death of Osama bin Laden spurs discussions among people of faith on issues of forgiveness,peace, justice and retribution.
2. Lively congressional hearings are held on the civil rights of American Muslims. In the House hearings focus on alleged radicalism and in the Senate on crimes reported against Muslims.
3. Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Mo. is charged with failure to report the suspected abuse of a child, becoming the first active bishop in the country to face criminal prosecution in such a case.
4. The Catholic Church introduces a new translation of the Roman Missal throughout the English–speaking world, making the first significant change to a liturgy since 1973.
5. Presbyterian Church (USA) allows local option on ordination of partnered gay people. Church defections over the issue continue among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians.
6. Pope John Paul II is beatified—the last step before sainthood—in a May ceremony attended by more than million people in Rome.
7. California evangelist Harold Camping attracts attention with his predictions that the world would end in May and again in October.
8. A book by Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell, "Love Wins," presenting a much less harsh picture of hell than is traditional, stirs discussion in evangelical circles. Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention rebut it.
9. The Personhood Initiative, designed to outlaw abortion by declaring a fetus a person, fails on Election Day in Mississippi, but advocates plan to try in other states. Meanwhile, reports show the number of restrictions adopted throughout the country against abortion during the year are far more than in any previous year.
10. Bible translations make news, with celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version; criticism, notably by Southern Baptists, about gender usage in the newest New International Version; and completion of the Common English Bible.
In recent years, RNA has named a Religion Newsmaker of the year. In the 2011 vote, however, three of the people on the five-person ballot comprised a virtual three-way tie, with less than one vote separating each of them.
Harold Camping, a radio evangelist whose end-of-world predictions won followers and scoffers, had the most votes for newsmaker, with Pope Benedict XVI just one point behind. The Pope was cited for his efforts to improve Jewish relations, beatify John Paul II, and his triumphal return to his German homeland.
Less than one vote behind the pope was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose prayer service, and advertisements raised religious issues to the forefront during the pre-primary season of the presidential race.
Because no one individual stood out in the voting, RNA is not naming a 2011 Religion Newsmaker of the Year.
Rounding out the bottom 12 religion stories of the year were:
11. Nationwide religious services, many of them interfaith, mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with some preachers noting lectionary readings on forgiveness.
12. Majority-Christian Southern Sudan achieves its independence from Northern Sudan after years of trying. Worldwide church leaders, especially in Africa, receive some credit for the outcome and they pledge continued support to the new nation.
13. Faith groups play a leading role in disaster response after tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, and after earthquakes, tsunami and floods in Japan, New Zealand and Thailand.
14. The irreverent satire "The Book of Mormon," about a pair of non-traditional missionaries to Uganda, wins nine Tony awards on Broadway, including best musical.
15. Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs is sentenced to life imprisonment in a high–profile trial for sexually assaulting teen-age girls.
16. Hopes for an end to Pakistan's blasphemy law are dashed when two leading advocates of religious conciliation, Salman Taseer and Shahbazz Bhatti, are assassinated two months apart.
17. Nine Buddhist monks and one nun burn themselves to death during the year in protest of China's crackdown on Tibet, which United Nations members protest in a resolution against China.
18. The sale of the famed Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, Calif., is approved by bankruptcy court. Earlier, founder Robert Schuller is removed as a voting member of the church's board.
19. Pope Benedict XVI strengthens relations with Jews by declaring Jews as a whole were not collectively responsible for Christ's death.
20. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a key church-state case, rejects a challenge to an Arizona tuition-credit program criticized for benefiting religious institutions. The court also hears arguments in a Michigan landmark case regarding church exemptions to certain federal employment laws.
21. National religious leaders lobby Washington politicians on behalf of the poor during the summer budget process. A dozen are arrested, but none is prosecuted.
22. Death claims two evangelical icons, Pentecostal David Wilkerson, 79 (in a car accident in Texas) and Anglican John R.W. Stott, 90 (in London).
Founded in 1949, the association is headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. For more information about RNA and its resources, click HERE.