Here’s our look back at seven major news stories that shaped the Church, Christian culture and faith in 2013.
Pope Francis Reinvigorates the Catholic Church
Since he took over the papacy in March, Pope Francis has earned a reputation as both a groundbreaker and a reformer. Not only is he the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas or the Southern Hemisphere (he’s Argentinean), but he’s also brought a fresh sense of conviction to the Vatican. As he’s worked to clean-up corruption within the church and reform the Vatican’s scandal-plagued bank, he’s also made it a personal mission to show the world that the Church should be more about caring for the poor than building itself up. Pope Francis’ disdain for excess and passion for the “least of these” has reinvigorated the Catholic Church by displaying an example of humble leadership for Christians everywhere.
The Rise of Christian Reality TV
Though it first debuted in 2012, this year, A&E’s quirky look at the outspokenly Christian lives of the family behind a Louisiana hunting business became a cultural phenomenon. But Duck Dynasty’s Robertsons weren’t the only religious family on primetime in 2013. With shows like the megachurch-centric Pastors of LA, Thicker than Water that follows gospel-music’s Tankard family, and Nat Geo’s backwoods Snake Salvation, for better or for worse, Christians ruled reality TV in 2013.
The Bible Takes Over Hollywood
Back in March, the History Channel debuted a 10-part miniseries from husband and wife producing team Mark Burnet and Roma Downey. The Bible went on to become one of the most successful TV projects of the year, eventually garnering more than 100 million viewers. Since then, the entertainment industry has taken note as a number of high-profile Bible stories prepare for the Hollywood treatment. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Ridley Scott’s Exodus, NBC’s early church Bible miniseries follow-up A.D.: Beyond the Bible, the big screen look at the life of Christ, Son of God (which is being adapted from The Bible), a mafia-themed TV show about King David and even a horror-themed drama about Jesus’ “lost years” before his ministry, will all soon be making their debuts. If 2013 is any indication—studios may have some blockbusters on their hands.
The New Abortion Debate
In April, a little-known abortion doctor in Philadelphia stood accused of committing horrific crimes against babies and engaging in a pattern of repeated abuse against his patients—all done under the nose of a system that is supposed to enforce safety standards. And until April 11, almost no one in the national media was talking about it. When USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers wrote, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace,” in her April 11 opinion column, the topic of abortion—and how the media covers it—became part of the national conversation. Even after Kermit Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, in 2013, abortion in America has once again become a major story. From Senator Wendy Davis’ efforts to filibuster a law that would restrict abortion access in Texas, to lawmakers in states around the country attempting to pass 20-week bans, this year, abortion has once again become a major story—40 years after Roe v. Wade.
‘Strange’ Under Fire
In September, pastor and author John MacArthur held a conference called “Strange Fire,” where he and other speakers examined whether “the Holy Spirit has been under massive assault” from elements of Charismatic and the Pentecostal Church. Obviously, accusations of blasphemy (as well as knowingly ignoring it), didn’t sit well with many evangelical leaders. Aside from an awkward, in-person pseudo-confrontation with Mark Driscoll (who “crashed” the conference unannounced), there have been a number of responses from leaders, debating the role of the gifts of the Holy Spirit within the modern church. In the end, the conference and its aftermath may have succeeded more in starting a discussion about how to graciously deal with doctrinal differences than it did in sparking debates about actual doctrine. The idea of finding common ground was driven home by Assemblies of God General Superintendent, George O. Wood, who wrote in his response, “We pray God’s blessings on [Dr. John MacArthur’s and those who share his perspective’s] efforts to share His gospel with a lost and dying world. Pentecostals and charismatics are their co-laborers in this effort so we ask that they would similarly pray for God’s blessing on us as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission that God has given us all.”
Persecution in Conflict
For nearly three years, countries across the Middle East—including Egypt, Libya and Syria—have experienced uprisings, as the masses take to the streets to protest authoritarian regimes. But this year, as revolutions have devolved into full-fledged clashes, one group has found themselves in the middle of the conflicts—Christians. Following a crackdown on protests by government forces, Egypt’s Coptic Christians were targeted and accused of supporting the military. As a result, churches throughout the country were burned, as Christian communities that have roots dating back hundreds of years were subjected to bombings, intimidation and violence. In Syria, a civil war between rebels—largely aligned with Islamic groups—and the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad, has now raged for more then two years. There too, Christian communities that have existed since biblical times are finding themselves the target of attacks and persecution. With neither side representing the interests of the religious minority, the Christian towns, villages and communities, which can be read about in the New Testament, are facing unprecedented hardships.
For years, immigration reform had been seen as a politically divisive issue that Christian leaders, for the most part, remained silent on. But after 2012 saw the creation of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders seeking to find compassionate solutions and new ways to reform the United States’ immigration law, that changed. The initiative has since brought together voices from across the evangelical spectrum, from denominational leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Dr. Richard Land and National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson to activists like Sojourners President Jim Wallis and political voices like Samuel Rodriguez. Since they’ve formed, the group has launched awareness efforts (including the “I Was a Stranger” campaign) and prayer initiatives to unite Christians and empower churches to come together to use their influence to encourage Washington to make meaningful changes to the country’s immigration policy.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.