In the year 2019, we saw some unforgettable religion headlines. News stories ranged from the tense divide between Evangelicals over President Trump to a surprising celebrity convert.
It’s also been a busy year of religion news here at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. As is our mission, IRD staff reported on hundreds of challenges facing the Church at home and abroad in hopes of renewal.
As I’ve done in years past, I dug back through the IRD’s archives to find out what stories specific to the Evangelical program resonated most with our readers. Here are our top 10 most-read Evangelical news stories of the past year:
1.) Author Joshua Harris Denounces Christianity
In July, well-known relationship and sexual purity author Joshua Harris, best known for his book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” announced that he is no longer a Christian and planned to divorce his wife. Guest writer Abri Nelson responded to the news and suggested where we go from here. I argued that it is better for Harris to denounce the faith altogether (and hopefully temporarily) than to distort it and mislead another generation of young Evangelicals.
2.) Paula White and Concerns Over Ministry Nepotism
President Donald J. Trump’s spiritual advisor and non-denominational televangelist Paula White officially stepped down as senior pastor of her Apopka, Florida megachurch, New Destiny Christian Center (NDCC). She has pastored NDCC since 2012 and made the unexpected announcement to her 10,000-member church in May. White raised eyebrows when she announced the installment of her son as a successor. Read more here.
3.) What Are America’s Largest Seminaries in 2019?
In August 2016, I set out to understand the state of Protestant seminaries in the United States by evaluating student enrollment among accredited schools. The results revealed that students seeking training for church ministry were overwhelmingly attracted to orthodox, evangelical Protestant institutions. Meanwhile, the smallest accredited Protestant seminaries in the nation included three Episcopal seminaries and two Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) seminaries.
What of those rankings today? I wondered if there have been any significant changes in attendance at America’s largest Protestant seminaries over the last four academic years. And what of those small, progressive seminaries? How have they fared over the last three years? Had they seen miraculous growth or a continued decline? Learn more here.
4.) The Passing of Christian Author Rachel Held Evans
Sadly, on May 4, progressive Christian author Rachel Held Evans died after severe swelling of her brain. She leaves behind a toddler son, baby daughter, and husband Dan. May God comfort their aching souls as they mourn the loss of Rachel.
I offered a brief reflection here.
5.) Why the Red Letter Christian Movement Is Not Growing
Tony Campolo called his Red Letter Christian (RLC) movement “embryonic” and assessed, “we just can’t get this thing off the ground” during a gathering at Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina on October 2, 2019. The gathering was part of RLC’s #GoldsboroRevival, hosted alongside the Rev. William Barber II and Repairers of the Breach.
During the revival, Campolo, who co-founded the RLC movement with Sojourners editor Jim Wallis fifteen years ago, offered a few interesting explanations for why he believes the RLC movement has yet to gain prominence in the United States. I report more here.
6.) Mark Galli and Christianity Today’s New Impeachment Orthodoxy
Evangelical gatekeepers at Christianity Today argue that impeachment of the President “is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” Guest writer Keith Pavlischek takes issue with this new statement of faith in his response here.
7.) Nadia Bolz-Weber Asserts Life Begins at Breath
During an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Nadia Bolz-Weber, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor-turned-public theologian, argued: “life began with breath.” She claimed:
[F]or a very long time, the Judeo-Christian thought held that life began with breath. In Genesis, it says that God breathed into dust to create humanity, that that was the moment that we had a living soul
So this idea of life and breath being connected is something that people can sort of hold on to, if they still have an attachment to Judeo-Christian thought, and still allow for, hey, women need to be able to have the decision around family planning and whether they’re going to go through with a pregnancy or not.
Read the whole story here.
8.) “Sort-Of Socialist” Church Pastor Accused of Sexual Misconduct
Buzzfeed News reported on a “quasi-socialist” Baptist church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that is fighting the “ills of capitalism” by paying off the debt of its congregants and community members. John Thornton Jr. is one of three co-pastors at Jubilee that the piece glorifies:
He’s a classic extrovert who thrives on more conversations, more coffee meetings just to chat. But he’s funnier, and far less dorky-dad, than your typical youth pastor. He’s also a raging socialist who wrote his first divinity school paper on how the church should focus on debt forgiveness, and he hasn’t shut up about it since.
He is also accused of “abusive sexual behavior via online” by a young woman, the INDY Week reports. The woman alleges Thornton pressured her to send him nude photos, undress for him via a FaceTime video connection, and engage in sexual conversations. Read on, here.
9.) Urbana 18 Speaker Dismisses God’s Holiness in Sermon to Students on “Holy, Holy, Holy”
At Urbana 18, students learned to denounce capitalism, apologize for Christianity, set aside the doctrine of justification, and exchange God’s holiness for pantheism. IRD Intern Joshua Arnold reported on activist Danielle Strickland’s irreverent and syncretistic interpretation of Revelations 4. Read Joshua’s report here.
10.) What Should We Make of Kanye West’s Christianity?
Hip Hop artist Kanye West declared himself a born-again Christian while visiting Washington, D.C., on October 12. “I’m not here for your entertainment,” West said during Howard University’s Homecoming. “We’re here to spread the Gospel.”
In a video published by the entertainment site TMZ, West is heard directing the audience’s attention to Philippians chapter 2 before adding, “Excuse me if I mispronounce anything, I’m a recent convert. Means I recently got saved within this year.” One clip shows West reading Ephesians 4:9, and in another, he is heard discussing Mark 1:15, which he called one of his favorites verses.
Continue reading here.