2018 saw religion dominate headlines across newspapers and TV news. What were the top headlines for evangelicals this year?
Here are the 10 our team thinks were the biggest stories of 2018:
10. Hillsong Splits From Denomination
As many evangelicals question denominational ties, one of the world’s most prominent megachurches announced it has severed direct ties with its denomination. Hillsong will step away from the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) and form its own denomination.
In a letter to the ACC, Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston made it clear the split had nothing to do with a dispute with the denomination, but rather the international reach of the church.
“As Hillsong Church has continued to grow,” Houston wrote, “we no longer see ourselves as an Australian church with a global footprint, but rather a global church with an Australian base—our global office now resides in the USA.”
9. Archaeological Connections to Scripture
2018 was a banner year for biblical archaeology as numerous discoveries provided external evidence for Scripture. Some of the stories this year include:
- Evidence for the Exodus? New Discoveries Support Biblical Account
- Lost Site of Jesus Feeding the Multitude Discovered
- New Evidence Supports Biblical Account of Davidic Kingdom
- Archaeologists May Have Found Prophet Isaiah’s Signature
- Did Naked Mole Rats Prove the Existence of King David?
- ISIS Accidentally Corroborates the Bible
8. Death of Eugene Peterson
Pastor and author Eugene Peterson died on Monday, October 22, 2018. He was 85.
For those who knew him, Peterson’s life embodied the title of one of his most famous works—A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
7. Year of Martyrs and Almost Martyrs
This year Andrew Brunson was freed from a Turkish prison and Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan. Other Christians were not so fortunate, including John Chau, who was killed by an isolated tribe on an island off the coast of India.
Brunson and Bibi’s brought international discussion on religious freedom, while Chau’s death sparked conversations on missionaries and evangelism in general.
6. China Unleashes Serious Christian Persecution
The Communist government in China has cracked down on Christianity repeatedly in 2018. Pew Research found China to have more government restrictions on religion than any other nation.
Some top stories this year on China’s persecution of Christians, include:
- China Ramps up Christian Persecution as Christmas Approaches
- China Bans Online Bible Sales
- Beijing Shutters Largest House Church
- Chinese Officials Replace Images of Jesus With Portraits of Communist Leader
- 50,000 Chinese Christians Lost Their Church Building
5. Religious Liberty Battles Continue
From town councils to the highest court in the land, leaders faced significant questions on religious liberty. Here were some stories we tracked this year:
- Christian Baker Wins Limited Supreme Court Victory
- Supreme Court Vacates Ruling Against Christian Florist
- Must Pastors Perform Same-Sex Weddings? Supreme Court Said No
- Pastors’ Housing Allowance Faces Uncertain Future
- InterVarsity Hopes to Expand Nationally, While Fighting to Stay on Some Campuses
- Supreme Court Awards Free Speech Victory to Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers
- California’s Not Banning the Bible, But Christians Should Still Be Worried
4. Church Confronts Issue of Race in Past and Present
Issues of race and justice spread from smaller discussions to larger conferences and actions this year. One Southern Baptist congregation was kicked out of its local association, the state convention and the entire denomination for racism.
Marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death, the MLK50 conference—hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition—called for repentance, reconciliation and change.
Later in the year, “The Statement of Social Justice & the Gospel” sparked conversations about the role the church should play in issues of justice within culture.
3. Christians Wrestle With Immigration and Refugees
The political conversations around immigration and welcoming those born outside of America spilled over into the church this year.
Pew Research found white evangelicals are the most hesitant to see the U.S. having any responsibility toward refugees, despite that preventing many Christians fleeing persecution overseas from reaching safety in America.
In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ignited broader discussions of biblical interpretation when he cited Romans 13 as a defense for the Trump administration’s strict immigration policy.
2. #MeToo Becomes #ChurchToo as Sins and Crimes of Leaders Were Exposed
After the Catholic Church continued to be rocked by sexual abuse allegations and coverups, Protestant churches encountered their own problems this year.
Bill Hybels, Andy Savage and a host of other pastors and church leaders were forced to resign this year after allegations of sexual misconduct and assault came to light. Others, like Paige Patterson, were forced out because of their handling of related incidents.
According to a LifeWay Research study, 1 in 8 Protestant senior pastors say a church staff member has sexually harassed a member of the congregation at some point in the church’s history. One in 6 pastors say a staff member has been harassed in a church setting.
This year marked the one year anniversary of #MeToo trending on social media. Some survivors say they’ve seen progress in the church, but others aren’t as sure.
Rachael Denhollander—the first victim of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar to come forward publicly—saw her statement in the Nassar case about grace, forgiveness and responsibility go viral. Since then she has been a vocal advocate for abuse victims and has constantly rooted her advocacy in her faith.
1. Death of Billy Graham
This year we mourned the death of one of the greatest evangelists ever. On February 21, 2018, Billy Graham went home.
Facts & Trends extensively covered his death and legacy including these stories:
- Billy Graham’s Life and Ministry By the Numbers
- Why Billy Graham’s Casket Is From Angola Prison
- Billy Graham Becomes Only 4th Person to Lie in Honor at U.S. Capitol
- Why Billy Graham’s Death Marks the End of an Era
- Billy Graham’s Funeral Brings Ministry Full Circle in ‘The Canvas Cathedral’
- Archives to Unveil More Never-Before-Seen Billy Graham Documents
- Thousands Have Responded to the Gospel Since Billy Graham’s Death
- Billy Graham’s Last Will and Testament Revealed
- SirusXM, Museum of the Bible Launch Billy Graham Tributes
- American’s Surprising Opinion of Billy Graham on His Would-Be 100th Birthday
What was the biggest news story of the year to you?