The new year ushers in resolutions and a time to start fresh. But the beginning of a new year means the close of another, offering us the chance to look back and reflect on the good, the bad … and the downright absurd.
In 2018, we here at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) published hundreds of articles on everything from the most encouraging news stories affecting Christianity to some of the most concerning. That’s our job, our mission.
Curious, I dug back through the IRD archives to find out what stories specific to the Evangelical Action program resonated most with our readers. Here are our top 10 most-read Evangelical news stories of the year:
In January 2018 serious allegations began to surface around the evangelical Bible school Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Allegations centered upon the school’s questionable spending practices and wavering Biblical orthodoxy. From a school-provided luxury suite for a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, an anonymous letter shared by disgruntled faculty, to the abrupt firing of a beloved Moody radio host investigating reports of unorthodoxy, one cannot help but be concerned.
Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley’s provocative “unhitch” comments came during an April sermon series titled “Aftermath,” which is mostly a plea to people who’ve rejected the faith to reconsider.
During the third installment in the series, Stanley told his North Point Community Church congregants that “the Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity.” He is correct, of course. But for some reason, Stanley goes on to assert, “Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead, and the eyewitnesses said he did.”
Here’s the broader context of Stanley’s “unhitch” comments:
It’s disturbing perhaps for people like me, like you who received our first Bible with no instructions. But I’ll tell you who it’s liberating for. It’s liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much he sent his Son to pave the way to a relationship with you. It’s appealing and liberating for people who need and understand grace. Who need and understand forgiveness. And its liberating for people who find it virtually impossible to embrace the dynamic, the worldview, and the value system depicted in the story of ancient Israel.
Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish Scriptures. And my friends we must as well. Because we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God. They didn’t. We shouldn’t either.
Renowned evangelist Billy Graham led an extraordinary life sharing the uncompromised Gospel with the lost. He witnessed to millions globally, was one of the world’s most recognizable preachers, and helped make Evangelicalism America’s largest religious group. On February 21, 2018, Rev. Graham went home to be with his Savior.
In March 2018, influential megachurch pastor Bill Hybels was faced with several disturbing allegations from women and former colleagues who say that he engaged in multiple incidents of sexual misconduct, including an affair. In April, Hybels stepped down as senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church, his Chicago-area megachurch that drew approximately 25,000 in weekly attendance.
Post-Evangelicals and their progressive narratives were especially interesting to our readers this year. Rachel Held Evans is one such figure. In July, the former Evangelical, now Episcopalian boasted on Twitter that she is “pro-life by conviction, though my views on the legalities of abortion are complex, ever-evolving, & detailed elsewhere.” Backlash ensued. So much so that Evans deleted her original Twitter thread, maintaining she is pro-life but the issue is “complex.”
Wild Goose Festival, an annual open-air gathering including progressive Christians, is known for its bizarre antics. Drag shows, “Cosmic Mass,” and reconciliation yoga. Meeting July 12-15, the festival was composed of various hour-long sessions hosted under tents scattered throughout a campground in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Having been once before, I thought I knew what to expect from Religious Left organizers. But truthfully I was not prepared for the brazen pro-abortion session facilitated by two Planned Parenthood workers…
In September 2018, Azusa Pacific University administrators decided to permit LGBTQ relationships on campus. School trustees stepped in two weeks later to reverse the decision and reaffirm the school is “unequivocally biblical and orthodox in our evangelical Christian identity.” One suspects the university garnered an outpouring of pressure and frustration from alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff. And in the same vein as the 2014 World Vision debacle, a swift reversal was enacted. Azusa was chartered as a Free Methodist college and is now officially non-denominational.
April 6-7, the left-leaning Red Letter Christian group hosted the “Red Letter Revival: A Revival of Jesus and Justice,” in Lynchburg, Virginia. The “Red Letter Revival” was originally organized by Shane Claiborne, an activist and leader within the Red Letter Christian movement, as a seeming protest of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support of the Trump Administration. I attended and reported first-hand on the event, which more like a political rally intended to stir a partisan base, rather than a Holy Ghost-led revival.
Event organizers such as Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo seemed to work hard to steer the overall tone away from blatant liberal political politics and protests. But not all the speakers got the memo.
Tony Campolo, who provides leadership for the Red Letter group, acknowledged my concerns in a respectful-mail exchange. You can read Campolo’s letter here.
In October, post-Evangelical minister and author Brandan Robertson shared a video on social media where he declared open and polyamorous relationships “holy” and “beautiful” before his congregation.
The video was removed from Robertson’s Twitter account. Thankfully, I transcribed the video before it was deleted. Here is what Robertson had to say:
For those who are in an open or polyamorous relationship here this morning who might be squirming, because this is an uncomfortable question to hear in church sometimes. I want you to hear me loud and clear as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your relationships are holy. They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space.
We call all of us together to the same set of standards that we call everyone to: to seek to follow Jesus in all of our relationships. To seek to be honest and respectful and self-sacrificial and consensual and loving with your partners. When any of us live into these standards we can be sure we are on the path to wholeness and holiness.
The very next month, Brandan Robertson had more to say about his unorthodox approach to sexuality. When the Huffington Post asked him to share his views on premarital sex, Robertson had this to say:
I am pretty open with this question in front of my congregation: I think the evangelical church world that I come from has taught some really unhealthy ideas about sex and sexuality, and I spend a lot of my time trying to deconstruct “purity culture” in favor of a healthier, more holistic view of sexuality. I believe for some people, waiting for marriage before having sex can be a very healthy path. I also believe that for most people, sex before marriage is a healthy expression of the gift of sexuality and is not “sinful” or morally wrong.
In general, I try to push back against “hookup” culture in my own life, just because I don’t find having a lot of random sex very fulfilling (but I don’t judge others who do).