Lots of news organizations publish their lists of the top 10 stories of the year, and some of these lists are very good. I particularly commend to you WORLD Magazine’s year-end coverage.
However, many these organizations “spike the spiritual.” By that I mean they forget or intentionally ignore the role religion plays in our public and private lives. They forget that ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. This list, like all lists, is highly idiosyncratic and contains the bias of its creator, but it does attempt to take our religious and spiritual lives into account.
Here’s my list of the top 10 stories of the year, in no particular order:
Billy Graham’s Death
Billy Graham passed away on February 21, 2018. The 99-year-old died at his North Carolina home due to natural causes. Not only was Graham a great man, whose live is well worth celebrating, but his death makes this list because he represented more than any other man the post-World War II growth in evangelicalism in this country. His passing is also – in some ways – the passing of that era. The Colson Center hosted an on-line symposium featuring more than a dozen evangelical leaders. You can read their comments here.
Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation
It’s possible that the most polarizing event of the past year was the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate vote making him the 114thAssociate Justice of the Supreme Court was 50-48, making it one of the closest votes in history. In the few weeks he has been on the court, he has already made his voice heard, and it is likely that his presence there will make a difference in important cases for decades to come.
Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church
In August, a grand jury report documented more than 1,000 times in which children were either raped or sexually assaulted by hundreds of Catholic priests in one Pennsylvania diocese. The report said, “over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands.” This report led to investigations in dioceses in other parts of the country, and the results are both deeply troubling, have shaken the Catholic Church’s infrastructure, and will likely be in the news for years to come.
Protestant Church Sex Scandals
Of course, the Catholic Church doesn’t have a monopoly on such matters. Bill Hybels, the longtime pastor of the Chicago-area Willow Creek Church, was one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the country until earlier this year. On March 22, the Chicago Tribune reported that Hybels had been involved in inappropriate relationships with women in his church. Hybels initially denied the allegations, but he moved his previously announced retirement up to April 11. By late April, at least seven women had come forward with claims that the former pastor engaged in inappropriate conduct which included invitations to hotel rooms, remarks about appearances, and an unwelcome kiss. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram also published a series of stories documenting sexual abuse in independent fundamentalist Baptist churches.
Prisoners of Faith: Andrew Brunson and Asia Bibi
In October 2016, North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson was thrown into Turkish prison on trumped-up charges that he had made efforts to overthrow the Erdogen government. Brunson professed his innocence while maintaining his Christian beliefs, stating: “There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn.” On July 25th, Brunson was released from the Turkey prison and placed under house arrest. Shortly after the American pastor was sent home. 2018 brought a positive turn in the Asia Bibi case as well. Bibi has been imprisoned in Pakistan since 2009 as a result of blasphemy charges. On Nov. 7, she was released from prison but remains in Pakistan. The U.S. is considering the possibility of granting Bibi and her family asylum.
Christian singer Lauren Daigle was having a great year. She released her newest album Look Up Child which quickly climbed to number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, and number 1 on the Christian chart. However, after a number of interviews in which she gave ambiguous answers to questions about homosexuality, she came under fire. When asked how she felt about homosexuality, she said, “I can’t honestly answer on that. In a sense, I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don’t know. I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God. So, when people ask questions like that…that’s what my go to is. I just say read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know, because I’m learning too.”
Mass shootings have been in the news over the past two decades, but in the past year they moved to center stage. The major shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, may have been a turning point in the debate. The 19-year-old shooter killed 17 students and faculty members and injured an additional 16. A subsequent student-led movement kept the gun issue in the headlines for months. On Nov. 7, 12 people were killed at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif. On Oct. 27, 11 people were shot and killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Penn. While the shooter received medical attention, he made anti-Semitic comments and told the paramedic that he wanted all Jews to die.
Immigration and Border Crisis
The immigration crisis was amplified this year when a massive migrant caravan marched from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border. The caravan which at its peak had nearly 8,000 people started when a group of Hondurans began to walk toward America to escape gang violence, political corruption, and crippling poverty. The issue of border security was a key issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, and it also played a key role in the 2018 election, and in the subsequent budget debate that threatened to shut down the government at year-end.
Christian Celebrities Struggle in Public
Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of Joni & Friends, received her second cancer diagnosis in November. The 69-year-old, known internationally as an advocate for those with disabilities, has used adversity her entire life as a powerful part of her witness for Christ. Eareckson underwent surgery to have the cancerous nodule removed on Nov. 26. That day, she wrote: “Everything went so smoothly, so quickly, that I felt every path was paved on your prayers.” Singer-songwriter Michael Bublé also used personal struggle to publicly proclaim Christ. In 2016, he announced that his three-year-old son, Noah, had liver cancer. Michael and his wife, Luisana, urged fans to pray for the little boy. The young boy underwent surgery in which doctors were able to remove the tumor completely. The Canadian singer was outspoken about his thankfulness to God, saying: “We all moved and we lived at [Children’s Hospital Los Angeles] and we just had the best doctors and, God, thank you, Jesus Christ, God.”
2018 marked a year filled with discussion and debate regarding transgender issues. In February, the U.S. Department of Education said it would not investigate complaints brought by transgender students who claimed they were prohibited from using the bathroom of their choice in public schools. In October, a federal judge in Wisconsin said the state’s Group Insurance Board and the University of Wisconsin system must provide coverage for operations related to “sex change[s]” for state workers. Nicholas Meriwether, a professor of political philosophy at Shawnee State University, filed a lawsuit against the university after being forced to use feminine pronouns for a male-born student who identified as female. After an investigation was carried out, the university said the evangelical professor “effectively created a hostile environment” for the student.