- (Photo: The Christian Post / Lillian Kwon, File)
- (Photo: Christian Today Korea / Song Kyung-ho, File)
The year 2007 was a year in which Christians had to up their guard amid increasingly frequent and vehement challenges. Whether it was defending against atheism, Mormonism, negative stereotypes, or liberal agendas, believers across the nation found themselves needing more to stand up for what they believe. The following is a list of the top 10 trends and events of 2007 that marked the year:
1. Rise of Militant Atheism, Apologetics
Atheism has nearly always been with us in one form or another, but the atheists we’ve been hearing the most from lately – chiefly Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris – are a new breed, as prominent conservative Chuck Colson noted earlier this year. Unlike the old-school humanists, the new atheists – or anti-theists, as some of them prefer to be called – don’t want to just deny the existence of God, they want to wipe religion off the map.
As New York Times bestselling author Dinesh D'Souza explained, part of the reason why society is seeing an emboldened atheism is that a lot of these outspoken atheists were hoping religion would disappear as society became more modern and developed.
"Religion was seen as more of an ancient form of belief that would go away as science progressed and as we all became more successful, educated and affluent," said D'Souza in an interview this year with The Christian Post.
"But this has not happened,” he continued. “And, in fact, religion is booming in countries around the world," including the most modernized ones such as India and China.
"So the atheist in a way is getting a little more desperate," D'Souza believes.
“The time for polite debate is over,” declared Associated Press Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in a report this year.
“Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers,” she wrote.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., said the books' success reflect a new vehemence in the atheist critique.
"I don't believe in conspiracy theories," Mouw said, according to AP, "but it's almost like they all had a meeting and said, 'Let's counterattack.'"
The louder voice that has emerged among atheists has not, however, gone unchallenged.
"There's a phenomenon going on right now," said prominent apologist Lee Strobel at this year's National Conference on Christian Apologetics, according to The Charlotte Observer. "In response to this proliferation of attacks on Christianity that we're seeing in best-selling books and on the Internet, there's a new hunger in the church for apologetics – that is, defending the faith."
North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Southern Baptist Convention's domestic mission agency, for example, announced this year its plan to certify as many as 500 new apologetics instructors, charging them to defend the truth and credibility of the Christian faith.
Furthermore, more apologists and even laypeople are facing prominent atheists head-on through resources, live debates, and online forums.
More than a month after atheists began to blaspheme the existence of God on the popular YouTube network, Christians began turning the tables and taking up the challenge to stand up to their faith in Jesus Christ publicly.
The Blasphemy Challenge, which encourages people to tape themselves with a short message that will “damn themselves to hell,” seemed to reach a lot of young people, noted Michael Mickey, who launched the Praise the Lord Challenge.
“[S]o our hope is we can get youth leaders and pastors ... to try to get young people [particularly] to reach out to that young audience that visits YouTube and demonstrate their faith in the Lord Jesus," he said, according to One News Now.
2. The Presidential Race
The 2008 presidential campaign kicked off earlier than usual and with more candidates than usual, making its mark in history more than a year before the elections. And like the last presidential race, faith has been playing a significant role.
Unlike the last race, however, Christians across the nation are very much divided.
In July, an Associated Press poll found that the majority of Republicans, when given the choice on who they want as the next GOP candidate, answered “none of the above.”
As September rolled around white men, conservatives, evangelicals and other pivotal blocs were still divided among the Republican Party's leading contenders for president, leaving the race for the 2008 GOP nomination highly fluid, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
“Overall, the survey underscores that no contender has yet to convincingly make the case that he is the candidate for change that so many voters want as the party searches for its identity and a successor to Bush,” AP reported.
Furthermore, with pro-choice candidate Rudy Giuliani leading the Republican pack, rumors circulated that a coalition of over 50 pro-family leaders was “considering” throwing their support behind a third-party candidate.
Many admitted, however, that forming a third political party might unintentionally help elect democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Amid the uncertainty, conservatives and evangelicals were urged by some Christian leaders to “galvanize support” around presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who many believers have been hesitant to support because of his Mormon faith – which conservatives argue is antithetical to historic orthodox Christianity.
Still many concerned evangelicals have been opposed to the belief that Romney’s theological differences are less important than his seemingly shared conservative social values.
With Giuliani’s liberal values and Romney’s Mormon faith, more Christians have been flocking to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who mixes a folksy manner with an emphasis on his faith.
This month, Huckabee vaulted into second place in the Republican presidential race, riding a burst of support from evangelicals, Southerners and conservatives.
The latest national AP-Ipsos survey found that Huckabee now has the support of 25 percent of white evangelical voters, 23 percent of conservatives and 28 percent of Southerners.
Overall, the poll showed Huckabee at 18 percent among Republican and GOP-leaning voters, 8 percentage points more than in an AP-Ipsos survey a month ago. Giuliani, who remains the front-runner, has 26 percent, about where he has been since spring. While the former New York mayor’s support long has been steady it shows signs of fraying.
Despite Huckabee's strength with evangelical voters, he has had a tougher time building support among less religious Republicans. He had the support of only 14 percent of non-evangelicals in the survey, compared to Giuliani's 31 percent.
"If he's going to be successful in the long run, he has to expand his appeal from social conservatives," said Neil Newhouse, a GOP pollster not affiliated with a presidential candidate, according to AP. "If he's able to do that, he'll give anybody a run for their money."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s bid to become president of the United States put his Mormon faith in the spotlight and has been for many Mormons, a historic moment of arrival.
But even for the many Mormons who support Romney, the moment has been fraught with anxiety because of fears that his candidacy will bring intense scrutiny to their church.
Mormons believe in a false gospel and are not Christians, concluded one of the nation’s preeminent evangelicals in what appeared to be the close of an online debate over Mormonism.
“Here is the bottom line. As an Evangelical Christian – a Christian who holds to the ‘traditional Christian orthodoxy’ of the Church – I do not believe that Mormonism leads to salvation,” wrote Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during a monthlong “blog dialogue” sponsored this past summer by the Web site Beliefnet.com.
“To the contrary, I believe that it is a false gospel that, however sincere and kind its adherents may be, leads to eternal death rather than to eternal life,” he stated.
Debates over Mormonism were more frequent and more heated in 2007 than in past years.
In October, Dr. Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Washington-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, added more food for thought, saying on the TV show “Political Capital” with Al Hunt that he considers the Mormon church to be the fourth Abrahamic religion.
“Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth,” said the prominent Baptist leader, whose denomination had previously listed Mormonism under “cults and sects” but more recently moved it under “newly developed religions” on the apologetics page of its North American Mission Board.
Land said he views Mormonism “in the same sense” as he looks upon Islam – as another religion.
“Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam,” Land noted, referring to the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.
The question of whether Mormonism can be considered part of the Christian family has not only drawn attention from adherents of both faiths, but also non-believers because of its implications on the presidential race.
According to a Gallup poll, which released its results earlier this year, 46 percent of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Mormon religion in general while 42 percent have a favorable opinion.
Americans who are more religious, based on church attendance, have highly negative views of the religion.
As always, homosexuality was a large issue this year and fueled a number of persistent debates within and outside the Church.
One of the most heated debates this year was over gay-to-straight conversions.
The American Psychological Association (APA), which is currently reviewing its 10-year-old policy on counseling homosexuals, commenced discussion in July on whether therapists should be allowed to offer counseling to persons wanting to rid their same-sex desires.
Pro-gay groups are pushing for a complete ban of any type of reparative therapy while evangelical Christians urge respect for religious diversity.
"There are many men and women who have unwanted same-sex attractions. Those persons should have the option to get a form of treatment or counseling that parallels their value system, their faith beliefs, their religious convictions, particularly Christians who hold to a view that homosexuality is outside God's created divine," argued Tim Wilkins, a former homosexual who heads Cross Ministry and speaks at more than 120 events each year, telling Christians how to deal with the issue of homosexuality.
Notable gay-to-straight “converts” this year included Charlene E. Cothran – formerly a prominent black homosexual activist who ran a quarterly magazine that has targeted black gays and lesbians for the past 13 years – and Michael Glatze, former editor of Young Gay America (YGA) magazine.
According to researchers of a study released in September, change for homosexuals is difficult, but still possible.
The study, conducted by longtime Wheaton College professor of psychology and provost Stanton L. Jones and Regent University professor Mark Yarhouse, followed about 100 people entering ex-gay programs under the umbrella of Exodus International – the nation's largest Christian organization dealing with homosexuality issues – for over four years.
Results showed that 15 percent of the sample claimed to have successfully changed their sexual orientation, reporting substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction.
Researchers did not hasten to conclude that anyone can change their sexual orientation or that no one has ever been harmed from the attempt to change. But Jones said the study results suggested that "the forceful way in which the secular mental-health community is saying change is impossible and harmful is just not well-advised."
"My response is that even some change with little evidence of harm is of great importance to people who are seeking great congruence with their values and beliefs," commented Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a noted expert in sexuality counseling.
Meanwhile, church bodies continued to be bogged by the issue of homosexuality. Most notably, The Episcopal Church witnessed for the first time in its history the departure of an entire diocese. Despite warning from the head of the national church, delegates of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173-22 to secede and realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The break came after years of conflict over what the diocese and other conservatives contend is The Episcopal Church's departure from Scripture and traditional Anglicanism. While dozens of congregations have already disaffiliated from the national church, the Dec. 9 vote marked the first time an entire diocese has chosen to secede. The Episcopal Church – U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion – had widened rifts when it consecrated openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.
The largest Lutheran body in the nation also caused a stir this year after controversially deciding not to punish homosexual clergy who are in sexual relationships.
At its annual assembly in August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed by a vote of 538-431 a resolution urging bishops to refrain from disciplining pastors who are in “faithful committed same-gender relationships.”
Elsewhere, the Lutheran Church of Sweden – the largest church in the country, claiming 7.2 million members in a country of 9.1 million people – on Dec. 12 declared that it is in favor of allowing homosexual couples to have weddings in church. Notably, however, it recommended that the word “marriage” be used only for heterosexual unions.
5. Creationism vs. Evolution
The debate over creation and evolution picked up more steam this year with the opening of the controversial $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.
The 60,000-square-foot museum, which depicts a literal six-day interpretation of creation from the Bible, is packed with high-tech exhibits designed by an acclaimed theme-park artist, animatronic dinosaurs and a huge wooden ark. The museum’s founder, like many other Young Earth creationists, believes dinosaurs appeared on the same day God created other land animals.
Both non-Christians and Christians who are against a literal interpretation of the Bible on life origins protested and spoke out against the anti-evolution display, worried that their children would be affected. The controversy garnered the new exhibit a large amount of media coverage.
“The argument we make is this: When you believe in millions of years of evolution and add it to the Bible, you actually have to change what the Bible clearly says,” explained Ken Ham, the founder of the museum and CEO of the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis, in an interview with The Christian Post. “You have to reinterpret it. That unlocks the door to say that you don’t take this as written. You reinterpret it from outside influences, which means that you tell the next generation that you can’t take the Bible as written. So you just undermine biblical authority.”
Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health, however, says he has no problem with looking at Genesis as being more of an allegory for how the world was created.
“As a born-again Christian, I regard Ken Ham as my brother in faith and I have no doubt of the complete sincerity of his position,” Collins told The Christian Post. “But as a working scientist who has studied the intricacies of human DNA as my life's profession, I have arrived at very different conclusions on the basis of the facts in front of me.”
Another project that has sparked debates over creation and evolution is the film ”Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” featuring Ben Stein.
The provocative film, to be released next year, is supposedly uncovering a conspiracy among educators to “expel” professors who question Darwinism.
“There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can't possibly touch God,” said Stein in the film’s trailer. “Scientists are not even allowed to think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.”
”Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” highlights the long-standing controversial debate between Darwinism supporters and Intelligent Design supporters, who argue that the creation of life and the universe are results of an intelligent “designer” and not by chance as the former theory suggests.
Through interviews with both Intelligent Design and Darwinian Evolution proponents, the movie is said to expose “the intimidation, persecution and career destruction that takes place when any scientist dares dissent from the view that all life on earth is the mere result of random mutation and natural selection,’” according to the film’s producers.
“When our audience sees the stories of the real victims of scientific malpractice they're going to be outraged,” said executive producer Walt Ruloff.
On the other side, those who don’t believe in the idea of a creator have also caused a stir.
On Oct. 4, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted 48 to 25 in support of the resolution entitled “The dangers of creationism in education,” in which the parliamentary body urged its governments to “firmly oppose” the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline.
The document charged creationists with denying the scientific validity of the theory of evolution.
“The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights,” added the report.
In response, some Christians, such as Dr. R. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized the report’s attacks on creationism, stating that the resolution is indicative of an increasingly secularizing society.
Even evolutionary scientists wouldn’t agree that evolution is based on facts, Mohler pointed out, adding that the claim would make most evolutionary scientists blush.
“When the official human rights institution of Europe has to explain that ‘some people’ believe that the divine creation of the universe ‘gives a meaning to life,’ this can only mean that Europe (at least as represented by the Council of Europe) has forgotten even its Christian memory,” wrote Mohler in a response posted in his personal Web site.
While the vote on the resolution is nonbinding, it will provide direction to the assembly as it urges its 47 member states to consider its views.
6. Evangelical Giants Passing
A number of prominent Christians this year concluded the final chapters of their lives and ministries in this world as the torches they once carried passed over to younger generations of believers.
On May 15, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University. He was 73.
Ruth Graham, who surrendered dreams of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who became the world's most renowned evangelist, died June 14 at the age of 87. As Billy Graham's wife, Ruth served as his anchor as the evangelist rose to fame and faced many temptations of pride and power.
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team," Billy Graham said in a statement after her death. Billy has always told reporters that his wife Ruth is the greatest Christian he has ever known.
In August, Billy Graham gave the world a scare when he was admitted to Mission Health & Hospitals in Asheville, N.C., after experiencing intestinal bleeding. The 88-year-old evangelist returned to his home before the month’s end, however, in good spirits, reported Graham's spokesman, Larry Ross.
"He has been adjusting to life without his wife and ministry partner of nearly 64 years," the spokesman added.
Shortly after Graham’s hospital stint, influential conservative leader Dr. D. James Kennedy, who had been dubbed by some evangelicals as one of the Church's "truly significant figures," died "peacefully in his sleep" at home on the morning of Sept. 5. Kennedy, who was 76 when he died, had built a Christian media empire with his radio and television ministry, which reaches more than 3 million people. He also wrote more than 65 books, created Evangelism Explosion, and was a founding board member of the Moral Majority.
After Kennedy’s passing, 34-year-old Brian E. Fisher was promoted to president and CEO of Coral Ridge Ministries – Kennedy’s multi-media ministry.
Not long after Kennedy’s death, another Christian media pioneer also passed away. At the age of 88, the Rev. Rex Humbard, one of America's premier televangelists, died of natural causes on Sept. 21 at a South Florida hospital near his home in Lantana, Fla.
According to his son, Charles Humbard, president of Gospel Music Channel, the televangelist was the first minister to broadcast a church service on television on a weekly basis.
Most recently, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson publicly announced on Dec. 3 that he has passed on his duty as chief executive officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network to his son, Gordon.
CBN's Board of Directors unanimously voted the weekend before to name Gordon Robertson, 49, the CEO immediately. Pat Robertson, 77, will remain chairman of the Virginia-based network, which produces programming seen in 180 nations and heard in 71 languages including Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French and Chinese.
Another prominent Christian leader who stepped down this year was world renowned theologian and evangelist Dr. John Stott, who in April announced his decision to retire from public ministry at the age of 86.
Stott, who has been called by the Rev. Billy Graham as “the most respected clergyman in the world today,” spoke at one last public event in July before moving to a retirement community for Anglican clergy.
7. Ecumenical Landmarks
The year 2007 witnessed a number of global efforts toward unity. One of the most prominent was perhaps the unprecedented open letter signed in October by 138 representative Muslim leaders. According to Newsweek, signers of the letter hailed from all branches of Islam – Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, liberal and conservative – and included no fewer than 19 current and former grand ayatollahs and grand muftis.
The Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals had signed the letter calling for peace between Muslims and Christians. The letter, entitled “A Common World Between Us and You,” urged followers of the two faiths to find “common ground” and not simply just for “polite ecumenical dialogue” between certain religious leaders.
"If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” stated the letter. “With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the worlds inhabitants.”
In response, over 100 theologians, ministry leaders, and prominent pastors signed a response letter issued by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
The Christian signatories said they “share the sentiments” of the Muslim leaders who pointed out that Muslims and Christians make up over half of the world’ population and therefore true peace cannot occur as long as conflict persists between the two religious communities.
“Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century, and perhaps of the whole present epoch,” wrote the Christian leaders.
“If we can achieve religious peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to attain.”
While many Christians praised the call for peace and understanding, many also acknowledged the differences between the two faith groups.
“As the letter also acknowledges, genuine and important differences between the two faiths remain,” the U.K.-based Evangelical Alliance noted.
“Neither Christianity, nor Islam, is built on an abstract notion of love or faith. Rather, Christianity is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the God who became flesh and lived among us.”
Still, EA General Director Joel Edwards said he welcomed any movement from the Islamic world that is directed at peaceful engagement between faiths.
Another historic event that took place this year was the Global Christian Forum, the four-day meeting that broke new ground by bringing together the leader of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia; the international director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe; and chair of the Pentecostal World Fellowship, Dr. James Legget; as well as leaders from other traditions including Anglican, Catholic, Baptist and Reformed.
Christian leaders from across denominations and inter-church organizations had concluded the historic meeting in November with a renewed sense of hope in achieving unity within the worldwide body of Christ.
On the final day of the meeting, leaders agreed on a joint message to all Christians around the world in which they welcomed the “unprecedented opportunity” afforded by the forum to share reflections on the theme “Our Journey with Jesus Christ, the Reconciler.” They also reiterated the GCF’s mission to “create an open space” where Christians from across a wide range of Christian communities and inter-church organizations could reflect together on issues of common concern.
“Recognizing that unity is first and foremost God’s gift through the work of the Holy Spirit, our intent is to go forward together promoting greater understanding and cooperation among Christians, while respecting and upholding the diversity of our identities, traditions and individual gifts (cf 1 Cor 12),” the letter stated.
Another notable step toward unity this year included the agreement between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council to unite to create a new global Reformed body representing more than 80 million Reformed Christians worldwide.
Leaders made the historic decision in October while attending the WARC’s executive committee meeting in Trinidad and Tobago after two days of in-depth discussions on the many aspects of the proposed merger.
8. More Efforts to Dispel Negative Church Stereotypes
Young Americans today are more skeptical and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago, claimed a new study this year.
Negative perceptions toward the Christian faith have outweighed the positive as a growing percentage of younger Americans associate with a faith outside Christianity.
Only 16 percent of non-Christians aged 16 to 29 years old said they have a "good impression" of Christianity, according to a report released in September by The Barna Group. A decade ago, the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society.
Criticism, furthermore, was not limited to young people outside the Christian faith. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical and too political. Also, one-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
Among other common impressions, 23 percent of young non-Christians said "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus." Young born-again Christians were just as likely to say the same (22 percent).
Young Christians largely criticized the church, saying it has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else and that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
"I think for a long time, the church just hasn't known how to talk about homosexuality," commented Scott Davis director of Exodus Youth, part of the evangelical ministry Exodus International that deals with the issue of homosexuality. "They've been very uncomfortable with the topic.”
"So when they do talk about it, they tend to talk about just the moral side of whether it's right or wrong without any real understanding of where people are coming from – so it comes across as very harsh," he explained.
Exodus Youth is one of the several groups aiming to reverse a "disturbing" trend seen across churches and perceived widely by young Americans – that the Church is anti-homosexual.
Another group that is looking to change America’s negative church perceptions is the nation’s Baptists.
For the first time in more than 160 years, Baptists in North America will have a major convocation and differences of race, politics, or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures will not threaten their unity, according to former president Jimmy Carter.
Leaders from more than 30 Baptist organizations are expected to join the historic effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, which was announced at the annual North American Baptist Fellowship meeting last January.
The convocation, part of Carter's new Baptist voice initiative, is expected to draw more than 20,000 Baptist participants from throughout the United States and Canada in an effort to counter the negative and judgmental image of Baptists.
Notably absent from the convocation, however, will be leaders from the largest Baptist group in America – the Southern Baptist Convention.
Conservative Southern Baptist leaders have been critical of the list of speakers lined up for the New Baptist Covenant celebration. Along with Carter, former president Bill Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former vice president Al Gore, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley, and Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman are among those scheduled to speak at the meeting.
SBC president Frank Page has said he will not take part in a "smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda" and others have alleged there are political overtones, considering the line-up of speakers and the timing of the event – which takes place during the U.S. presidential election year.
Organizers of the New Baptist Covenant, including Bill Underwood – president of Mercer University – have denied any political motives and instead emphasized the compassion platform they will be pushing.
9. Spotlight on ‘Prosperity’
The "prosperity gospel," a highly criticized theology that teaches wealth is a sign of God's blessing, drew greater attention from the media this year, especially as the 2007 drew to a close.
Six prosperity preachers are currently under investigation for allegedly abusing their non-profit status to shield lavish lifestyles. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has requested financial statements and responses to questions about personal and organizational finances from ministries led by Paula and Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. The deadline to turn over the papers was Dec. 6.
"More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis," said Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, according to AP. "It's a growing problem."
Dr. Robert M. Franklin, author of Crisis in the Village, which released this year, says the greatest threat to many black churches is the "prosperity gospel" movement.
"I am convinced that the single greatest threat to the historical legacy and core values of the contemporary black church tradition is posed by what is known as the 'prosperity gospel' movement," he writes in his book, explaining that the black church has assimilated into a culture that is hostile to marginalized people, such as the poor, the HIV-infected, homosexuals and immigrants.
According to Franklin, one-fourth of the black community lives in poverty. But many churches are devoting more time to "building their local kingdoms" and less time aiding and uplifting the poor.
Also taking note of the "prosperity gospel" movement this year was the popular news program “20/20,” which ran a segment on televangelists titled “Enough!” about how ministries spend their congregants’ offerings.
The program prompted the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, pastor and founder of Crenshaw Christian Center, to file a lawsuit against “20/20,” criticizing it for “one of the most outrageous instances of 'out of context' editing in the history of television."
ABC ran retractions for the program on two of their television shows – “Good Morning America” and “20/20” – as well as their website to correct the problem.
The preacher and his lawyer, however, said that was not enough.
10. Korean Hostage Crisis
South Korea’s largest Christian organizations were forced to re-evaluate their overseas mission efforts after being harshly criticized by the international community for sending inexperienced Christian workers into a high-risk area in Afghanistan – resulting in what was the largest abduction of foreigners in the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
On July 19, a team of 23 Christian volunteers was abducted by Taliban militants as their luxury bus drove through Afghanistan’s insurgency-prone Ghazni province.
Over the course of the hostages’ nearly six weeks of captivity, two male captives were killed. The leader of the group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead on July 25, and the body of 29-year-old Shim Sung-min was found July 30.
The remaining 21 workers were eventually released in a series of handovers in August after the Taliban and the South Korean government struck a deal that included the withdrawal of Korean troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and Seoul promising to pull out and bar all Christian mission groups from Afghanistan.
The hostage crisis in Afghanistan caused much introspection in churches across South Korea – the world's second largest missionary sending nation (after the United States).
The East Asian nation, which has seen a dramatic rise in Christianity within just a few decades of the twentieth century, sends one missionary for every 4.2 congregations – placing it 11th in the world, according to Christianity Today (The U.S. does not rank in the top 10.). And of the estimated 17,000 South Korean Christian missionaries that have been sent abroad, many are in volatile regions.
South Korean missionaries are particularly prevalent in 10/40 Window nations that are hostile to Westerners.
After this year’s incident, however, some have been wondering if that should and/or will change.
Other notable events in 2007 that came close to getting mentioned in the CP Top 10 include the debate over the “Jesus Tomb,” which most scholars – both Christian and secular – agreed was nothing extraordinary; the debate over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which seeks to add “sexual orientation” to a list of federally protected classes under a 1964 act that prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Virginia Tech shootings, which resulted in the death of 33 people and marked the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history; and the preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics to be held next year in China’s capital city, Beijing.