Top religious news of 2018
(Pictured above: Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi, and two of her children. Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy but is still in danger for her life.)
As the year comes to a close, let us look back with at the top religious news events of 2018. Here are seven of the top events:
*The Death of Billy Graham. Graham was the most prominent Christian of the 20th century, having preached the gospel to more people than any other person in history. He died on February 21 at age 99. How thankful we are that he ended well, faithful to the end.
*Bill Hybels steps down. Hybels was pastor of the Chicago-area megachurch, Willow Creek Community Church. He has been influential in his books and “seeker-sensitive” approach to church growth. Sadly, he was forced into early retirement on April 10 when the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today published accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. How we need to pray for healing for the victims, and repentance and restoration for Hybels.
*Paige Patterson is fired. Patterson was dismissed and then formally fired in June as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, the world’s largest seminary, by the trustees. He had been accused covering up two separate instances of rape on seminary campuses where he was president, and of insensitive remarks appearing to excuse domestic violence. Patterson was one of the architects of the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention that turned the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in a more conservative direction in the 1980s. This event was sadly reminiscent of Pastor Hybels and calls us to more prayer to always guard against sin.
*Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips, a Christian Baker in Colorado who refused, on religious grounds, to make a cake celebrating a gay wedding. The ruling was specific to his case, saying the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was biased against Phillips. Although it did not establish an open door for Christian businesses to make conscientious objection to endorsing morally objectionable messages, it may have cracked the door open for such a ruling in the future.
*Pastor Brunson freed by Turkey. Andrew Brunson, a Presbyterian missionary to Turkey for 23 years, was released from prison on October 21. He had been jailed in 2016, accused of supporting terrorism (specifically accused of supporting Kurdish rebels and Turkish opposition leader in exile, Fethullah Gulen). Brunson denied the accusations, and evidence was lacking. U.S. President Donald Trump put pressure on Turkey for the release, and Christians around the world prayed for him. His release was cause for rejoicing and thanks for answered prayer.
*Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Christians joined with Jews in mourning a horrific massacre in a place of worship, as a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers and wounded six others at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 27. The shooter, whom I will not dignify by naming, said, “I just want to kill Jews.” What a reminder to pray against hate, specifically anti-Semitism, which has been a blot on the history of Christianity, and does not reflect our Savior, who was Himself a Jew, of course.
*The acquittal of Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Asia Bibi is a mother of five, the only Christian in her village. In 2009 she had a disagreement with Muslim co-workers over sharing water, and they accused her of blasphemy against Islam. In Pakistan, blasphemy carries a death penalty, and the law is often used as a weapon to persecute Christians. The Pakistani Supreme Court showed great courage in acquitting Bibi, as it was under enormous public pressure to rule against her, despite there being no evidence. Sadly, despite the ruling and permission for her to leave the country for her safety, no nation has shown enough courage to give her exile. This calls for continual prayer in the New Year, and for efforts to convince our own nation to grant her exile.