The year 2008 shaped the future of evangelical America - and the world - in major ways. From the Olympics abroad to the presidential election at home, here are the faces, places, and movements the Crosswalk.com editors believe most impacted Christians around the world.
1. Rick Warren's Civil Forum exemplifies evangelicals' growing influence in politics
Bush handily won the faith vote in his day, but Democrats and Republicans alike played to this group in 2008. Nowhere was this heightened awareness of the nebulous "evangelical vote" more apparent than at the Saddleback Civil Forum, hosted by megachurch pastor Rick Warren. Obama's faith emphasis on the campaign trail didn't win over weekly churchgoers, but the Democrats' efforts did undermine a sure bet for the Republicans.
Megachurch Reflects on Presidential Event
Backtrack to Saddleback: Secularists Not Pleased
2. Olympics shine the spotlight on religious persecution in China
Blustering to improve their PR before the Olympic Games in August, China tried to sweep its pesky house churches out of the way. But reports of religious persecution persisted in spite of China's decision to print tens of thousands bilingual Bibles and New Testaments for the Games. President Bush's visit to an official church in Beijing and his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao highlighted the persecution of Christians who reject government registration and regulation.
China, the Olympics and the Bible
Bush, China, and the Olympics
3. Anglican Communion continues to disintegrate in spite of Lambeth Conference
What Bishop Gene Robinson couldn't do in 2004, conservative dioceses and parishes did in 2008 - they officially split the Episcopal Church. The once-a-decade Lambeth Conference fizzled as almost half the world's bishops boycotted the conference in favor of a more conservative conference in Jerusalem. Finally, conservatives gave up on reforming from the inside out, and formed an untraditional province based not on geography, but on theology. Their next step: gaining official recognition from Canterbury.
Gay Issues Left Undecided at Lambeth Conference
It's about Theology, Not Territory
4. Sarah Palin wins over Christian conservatives - and James Dobson
This seventh-inning surprise nomination gave jittery conservatives and Christians an enthusiastic reason to vote for the moderate McCain and temporarily reinvigorated the Bush base. Palin's nomination even managed to exact an official flip-flop from Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who had previously said he would not vote for McCain under any circumstances. Although the economic implosion overshadowed her impact, her nomination showed that openly Christian conservatives still have a place in the Republican Party.
Palin Energizes Evangelical Support, Crosswalk Survey Shows
Dobson Changes Course: I Would Pull the Lever for McCain-Palin
5. Pope Benedict XVI visits the States
In his first visit to the U.S., Pope Benedict embraced U.S. evangelicals with open arms - and they embraced him too. The pope received a warm reception at the White House in April, where he was hailed as a common ally in the fight for traditional marriage and pro-life causes. The bridge-building trip focused on what evangelicals and Catholics share, but Benedict did not skirt the more delicate issue. He issued a public apology to those hurt by abuse scandals in the Church.
Pope's Visit Highlights Evangelical-Catholic Differences, Similarities
Pedophilia and the Pope
6. Thousands of Christians in Iraq and India displaced by persecution
The mass exodus of Christians from Mosul, Iraq, skyrocketed after two weeks of murders in October. Almost half of Christians in the area fled for Turkey, Syria or the West, abandoning one of the world's oldest Christians communities. Meanwhile, in India, Christians became scapegoats for Hindu extremists after their leader was murdered by Maoists in August. Continuing violence has killed as many as 500, destroyed at least 117 churches, and displaced tens of thousands now living in refugee camps or the jungle.
India's Campaign to Eliminate Christians
India: A Timeline of Persecution
No Respect for Iraq's Oldest Community
7. Double disasters in Burma and China present huge challenges to relief workers
Cyclone Nargis claimed an estimated 150,000 lives when it hit Burma in early May. Ten days later, a massive earthquake in Sichuan province of China killed 87,000, many of them only children under China's one-child policy. Burma's junta turned away literally tons of aid from the U.S. government and hampered outside relief efforts even in hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta region. China, trying to avoid any more bad publicity before the Olympics, welcomed in relief workers and gave journalists a comparatively free rein.
Myanmar Cyclone: Relief Assessment Begins
Aid Reaches China Earthquake Victims
8. Fallout continues after the passage of California's Proposition 8
Proposition 8 may have toppled the might and money of Hollywood, but retribution from Prop 8 opponents rages on. Protestant and Mormon churches largely responsible for the motion's success have found themselves targeted by angry mobs and riots. Lawsuits against the voter-approved amendment have swiftly followed. The motion has passed, but the literal fight on the gay marriage issue isn't over yet.
So Much for Tolerance: The Aftermath of Prop 8
Jack Black, Jesus and Proposition 8
9. Jeremiah Wright controversy garners national attention for black liberation theology
Obama's long relationship with mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who infamously proclaimed "God d*** America," highlighted the prevalence of a social/political gospel in the African American mega-church. Although Obama eventually divorced himself from Wright and Trinity Church because of the surrounding controversy, America got an insider's view of a theology which celebrates black empowerment - and revolution - over a still-oppressive government.
Obama, Rev. Wright, and a Dubious Political Theology
Is Jeremiah Wright Mainstream?
10. Christian film "Fireproof" makes a highly successful run in theaters
The third film from the media arm of a Sherwood Baptist George in Georgia, "Fireproof" proved that Christian-themed films can hold their own with American families. The film won the number 4 spot at the box office its opening weekend, and beat out the opening of "Religulous" the following weekend. Critics dismissed the film, but "Fireproof" stayed in the top 10 for three weeks.
Fireproof Befuddles Many Critics