Christian Newswire — A popular new Pope, church disputes and threats to religious freedom made news throughout 2013. Below are Institute on Religion and Democracy’s (IRD) top church news stories for the year.
New Pope: Both the almost unprecedented retirement of a Pope and the enthusiasm surrounding a young new pontiff was the biggest church story of the year. Conservatives and liberals each spun Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuals, proselytization, economics and abortion, but it is clear that he has everyone’s attention.
Methodist Same-Sex Disobedience: United Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer was tried and convicted of violating the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania pastor’s defrocking comes amidst a campaign by church liberals to defy the governing majority in the General Conference. Retired UMC Bishop Mel Talbert is also facing likely charges after conducting a same-sex wedding in Alabama.
Catholics Score Legal Victories on HHS Mandate: Catholic bishops continued their opposition to contraception and abortifacient coverage mandates in Obamacare, finding success in several legal challenges to the healthcare law.
Boy Scouts Admit Gays: The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) came under pressure from corporate sponsors and activist organizations to change an existing policy barring openly homosexual members. Most Boy Scout troops in the U.S. are hosted by churches, many of whom, such as the National Catholic Committee on Scouting and the Sothern Baptist Convention, weighed in against the change.
Global Persecution of Christians: A wave of Christians fled the conflict in Syria where thousands of others have been persecuted and killed. In northern Nigeria, a death toll from Islamist group Boko Haram reached over 2,000 Christians killed. Coptic Christians joined in celebrating the end of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, while witnessing churches burned in retaliatory attacks. World leaders are speaking out about the persecution of Christians as never before.
Obamacare Aftershocks Hit Clergy: Pension boards of some oldline Protestant denominations sought protection from the very health care law their own denominational lobby offices worked to pass. Revelations that some church employees may lose health care coverage due to provisions in Obamacare sparked support for a legislative fix.
Global Anglican Future Conference: Traditionalist Anglicans made clear that the weight of Global Anglicanism is shifting away from old colonial roots in the Church of England. Gathering in Nairobi as a nod to the Global South, GAFCON participants declared their movement an “instrument of communion” on the same level as the decennial Lambeth Conference. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby acknowledged as much indirectly by jetting in for a meeting with GAFCON leaders just before the conference began.
Religious Calls for Gun Restrictions Continue to Struggle: Shootings in a Connecticut school produced clergy calls to curtail gun violence with new firearms restrictions. National Cathedral Dean Gary R. Hall was among the most vocal, proclaiming “I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby” and opening with prayer a Senate press conference on gun legislation. Gun control advocates pointed to a handful of state legislative victories, but federal legislation stalled.
Evangelical Left: From popular blogger Rachel Held Evan’s declaration that the Bible does not offer women a guideline for Christian living to liberal speakers like now Sen. Cory Booker appearing at Evangelical conferences, 2013 was a big year for the Evangelical Left. But the Evangelical Left’s spotlight remains focused on Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, the “prayer-and-profanity” laden Lutheran priest, whose all-embracing theology is attracting phenomenal attention, especially among young Evangelicals.