'95 News and Trends I

Moments after he pulled the trigger, Yigal Amir announced that God told him to gun down Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The former seminarian later defended himself by quoting chapter and verse from ancient Jewish writers, while authorities investigated whether he had received guidance from rabbis on the right fringe of Israel's powerful, and some say paranoid, Orthodox community. Now, Amir's lawyers are suggesting that it all may have been a mistake.

After shocks from Rabin's death will rattle Israel, the Middle East and American Jewish groups for months and years to come. And in its end-of-the-year poll, the Religion Newswriters Association of America has named the assassination as 1995's top story on the religion beat.

A majority of journalists voting in this year's poll could not agree on a religion newsmaker of the year -- with most of the votes divided between Pope John Paul II and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

That 1995 was an especially tumultuous year can be seen in the high number of major stories that didn't even make it into the RNA's top 10 list. Events in this category ranged from Norma "Roe vs. Wade" McCorvey's leap of faith into Operation Rescue to the suicide of one of the Episcopal Church's most outspoken liberals, retired Massachusetts Bishop David Johnson.

Another symbolic event that fell out of the top 10 was the Clinton administration attempt to promote peace amid the religious wars in American public schools. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court said the University of Virginia erred when it denied funds to a Christian student newspaper; the United Nations wrestled with issues of faith and family; a prominent United Methodist leader "came out" as a lesbian; numerous colleges, seminaries and religious causes lost millions in the crash of the New Era foundation; and the Chinese government made another attempt to shape the future of Tibetan Buddhism.

What religion stories made the cut? In addition to the Rabin assassination, the other events in the 1995 RNA list were:

(2) Summoned by Farrakhan, nearly a million African-American men gather in Washington, D.C., as a show of moral and political strength. In the RNA poll, this event was paired with another major trend -- the continuing growth of the Promise Keepers movement into one of the most influential forces in conservative Christianity, attracting about 850,000 men to rallies nationwide.

(3) Pope John Paul's latest statement that women cannot be ordained as priests, which stopped just short of a claim of papal infallibility, is declared definitive by the Vatican's highest panel on doctrine. In an earlier letter, the pope endorsed "real equality" between the sexes and apologized for church leaders who had contributed to the oppression of women.

(4) The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest non-Catholic denomination, apologizes to African-Americans for supporting, condoning or ignoring racism during much of its history. The SBC was born in a Civil War-era split over slavery, but today includes many ethnic and multi-racial congregations.

(5) After years of rumors, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's board honors its founder's request that his once-prodigal-son Franklin be named first vice-chairman, with the right of succession if his 77-year-old father becomes incapacitated.

(6) Pope John Paul II uses a five-day U.S. visit as a platform for repeated calls for Americans to defend life "from conception to natural death," to care for the poor and to strengthen their families and marriages.

(7) After playing a starring role in the GOP's mid-term election breakthrough in 1994, the Christian Coalition issues its "Contract with the American Family" and moves to consolidate its leadership role in nearly two dozen state Republican caucuses.

(8) Following years of bitter ethnic and religious warfare, presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia sign a NATO-backed peace agreement enforced by 60,000 troops, including 20,000 from the United States.

(9) The Episcopal Church, staggered by treasurer Ellen Cooke's embezzlement of $2.2 million, files two civil suits as efforts begin to recover funds.

(10) More news from John Paul II: in one pivotal encyclical he urges leaders of other churches -- especially the Orthodox -- to help him re-think the meaning of the papacy and in another he preaches against abortion and a growing "culture of death" in the modern world.