2011 was a year of uprisings, unrest, controversies and Christian persecution around the world. Here are the stories Crosswalk's editors believe most affected Christians around the world during the past 12 months.
1. The Rob Bell controversy: Megachurch pastor Rob Bell ignited a debate when his book Love Wins discounted the existence of hell and argued that “a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.” In addition to moving away from biblical Christianity, Bell also announced in September his departure from his 10,000-member church to “pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities … to extend the heartbeat of the message of [God’s love] to our world in new and creative ways.”
- Rob Bell & HarperCollins are Winning. Is Christianity?
- 'A Massive Shift Coming in What it Means to be a Christian'?
- Rob Bell, the Book, and a Candle
2. The Arab Spring and the Christian Winter: As the “Arab Spring” unfolded, Christians in the Middle East and Africa suffered as the movement of political unrest gave way to Muslim domination and rising hostility against religious minorities. Secular regimes are being replaced with Islamic states that have instituted sharia law, which is enforced on citizens of all religions, and the “Christian Winter” is only getting worse.
- Will There Be a Place for Christians in Muslim-Majority 'Arab Spring' Countries?
- Egypt: Minority Coptic Christians have faced almost daily persecution and violence since former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February. The most notable example may have been the Oct. 9 massacre of 27 Christians by the Egyptian police. As the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafist groups are poised to gain large majorities in Egypt’s new parliament, Copts fear for their freedom and their lives.
- Libya: Longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled – but after the announcement that Islamic sharia law would be the main source for legislation in the new government, Christians fear that things are only going to get worse.
- Tunisia: Islamic religious police are reigning free and neither the government nor civil society has the power to stop them.
- Syria: Christians – including thousands of Iraqi immigrants seeing refuge there – have faced growing threats since anti-government demonstrations first broke out nearly nine months ago.
3. Disaster relief for the Japan earthquake and the southeast U.S. tornadoes: In the wake of devastating natural disasters, Christian agencies were some of the first to step in for both physical and spiritual aid.
- A magnitude-8.9 earthquake struck Japan on March 11 – the largest to hit Japan in at least 100 years – killing more than 15,000. Aid groups and missionaries started work immediately to bring hope and assistance to victims.
- Hundreds of tornados ripped through the southeast United States in April and May, hitting the cities of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., the hardest. Hundreds were killed and hundreds more injured, and aid groups are still working to rebuild the devastated areas.
4. Are Mormons Christian, and can Christians vote for a Mormon?: With the rising popularity of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, many were left questioning his Mormon faith. Perhaps one of the biggest questions Christians have is whether they could or should vote for a Mormon. Then amid the controversy were the Joel Osteens who claimed Mormonism was just another form of Christianity…
- Mormonism, Democracy and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking
- Can a Christian Vote for a Mormon?
- Does Joel Osteen Not Know, or Does He Not Care?
5. 'The Doomsday Preacher': The Bible says no one will know the day or hour of Christ’s return, but one man apparently thought he had the inside scoop. Harold Camping, the 90-year-old founder and chairman of Family Radio Stations, Inc., predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011. It didn’t. Camping said he had miscalculated and that it would actually happen October 21. When it still didn’t, Camping finally apologized for misleading his followers.
- The End is Near? Harold Camping’s False Teaching
- Harold Camping and Me
- ‘Doomsday Prophet’ Harold Camping Apologizes for False Teachings
6. Iranian pastor faces execution for his faith: Thirty-four-year-old Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for apostasy and leaving Islam, was given four opportunities in September to recant his Christian faith during a hearing to appeal his death sentence. He refused. As Nadarkhani faced imminent execution, religious freedom advocates around the world rallied on his behalf. He remains in prison, awaiting a final decision from Iran’s Islamic authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Though Pastor Nadarkhani is alive, he has faced physical and psychological torture as well as continued pressure to recant, and he is in deteriorating health. His strong faith has been an inspiration to Christians around the world as millions continue to unite in prayer for him and his family.
- Iranian Pastor Stands Firm in Faith, Faces Execution
- In Solidarity with Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani
- Iranian Pastor on Death Row Under Pressure
7. To Train Up a Child deaths: A national controversy over the book To Train Up a Child, written by Tennessee pastor Michael Pearl and his wife Debi, gained new intensity after a third child was beaten to death, all at the hands of parents who owned the Pearls’ book. The Pearls teach spanking children into obedience – advising parents to use a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line to hit children’s arms, legs or back – but insist that blaming their book for the three deaths is preposterous.
8. Pat Robertson's comments on Alzheimer's: Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said on The 700 Club in September that it would be justifiable to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s to remarry because the disease was “a kind of death.” Amid the resulting firestorm, Robertson initially had no comment, but a few weeks later said his statements had been “misinterpreted.” His statements caused a discussion of two issues Christians traditionally believe in: The care of the sick and elderly, and the sanctity of marriage vows.
- The Gospel and Cruciform Fidelity
- ‘She’s Still My Wife’
- I Don’t Want to ‘Pile on Pat,’ But I Hope He Takes This One Back
9. Unrest in South Sudan: After South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, Sudan’s Islamist regime began attacking and dropping bombs on the new nation. Thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan, both Christians and Muslims who were persecuted by the regime, are currently displaced and in danger. South Sudanese president Salva Kiir warned that Sudan may be preparing to invade South Sudan, possibly attempting to provoke its southern neighbor into restarting a war.
- South Sudan Attacks Could Signal Return to War
- Violence Erupts in Yida, South Sudan
- Refugees at Risk in South Sudan
10. Tim Tebow's faith: Former Heisman Trophy winner and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become one of the most polarizing and controversial figures in sports because of his bold Christian faith. Whether people are in favor of his faith or opposed to it, one thing is for sure: It has everyone talking.
- Crosswalk Talk: Tim Tebow's Faith
- Tim Tebow is Today’s Seabiscuit
- Kurt Warner to Tebow: Tone Down the Faith Talk
David Wilkerson, founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City and author of The Cross and the Switchblade, was killed April 27 in a car accident at age 79.
John Stott, a leader of the Church of England who played a key role in the worldwide evangelical movement, died July 27 at age 90.
Publication date: December 19, 2011