The year 2011 was a tumultuous 12 months, to say the least. Regions, dictators, laws, global systems, and religious ideas were demolished, uprooted, toppled, or seriously challenged. Governments around the world grappled with how to deal with the revolutionary wave in the Arab world and elsewhere, while the Christian community in the United States debated and examined its own core theology and prominent leaders as a result of several controversies and scandals.
The Christian Post selected some of the most significant events and issues of 2011 that were – and some still are – of major concern to the Christian community.
1. Advancement of the Homosexual Agenda
The Obama administration was behind several blows to supporters of traditional marriage and biblical human sexuality. President Obama instructed the Justice Department in February to stop defending the federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Then in July, Obama certified the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which lifted the ban on gay and lesbian service members serving openly in the military. Just a month earlier in June, the New York Senate passed a gay marriage bill, officially making New York the sixth and most populous state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
Within the Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) officially cleared the way in July for the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, becoming the fourth Protestant denomination in the United States to do so.
2. Osama bin Laden’s Death
The death of the No. 1 terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden – the mastermind behind al-Qaida’s Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States' Twin Towers – was not simply an event for terrorism experts, military strategists, and politicians to discuss. News of bin Laden’s death quickly reached inside church and seminary walls, forcing megachurch pastors and prominent theologians to confront and wrestle with the implications of the terrorist’s death in terms of biblical justice, revenge, forgiveness, just war theory, capital punishment, and God’s judgment.
3. Arab Spring and Occupy Movement
The Arab Spring, a grassroots civil resistance that began in Tunisia and spread like wildfire across the Arab world, has had profound effects on the region, including he toppling of dictators and long-time leaders Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen. The effects of the revolutions are not fully known yet, as countries are still trying to sort out who or what group should fill the power vacuum left by ousted leaders. Christians in Egypt are reportedly faring badly under the military-controlled government that took control after Mubarak was overthrown.
While dust from the Arab Spring had barely settled in some affected countries, another grassroots protest movement against economic and social inequalities sprouted, this time in New York City. The first Occupy protest was called Occupy Wall Street, which took place in September. It quickly spread across the United States and around the world with protests now in over 80 countries.
4. Harold Camping’s False End Times Predictions
Family Radio founder Harold Camping, also dubbed doomsday preacher by some, falsely predicted the Rapture and the beginning of the end of the world would occur on May 21. After that didn’t happen, the self-thought Bible teacher predicted that Oct. 21 would be the real Rapture date. Some who listened to his radio program sold all their worldly possessions and emptied their savings account, buying ad banners to warn the world about the May 21 Rapture. The false predictions proved to shake the faith of some believers while making Christianity a target of mockery for nonbelievers.
5. Rob Bell Questions Theology on Hell
Popular evangelical megachurch pastor Rob Bell rocked the evangelical community in the United States this year with his controversial book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Considering the author’s popularity, conservative evangelical leaders were concerned about what Bell proposed in his book – essentially questioning the existence of a literal eternal hell and that people who do not believe in Jesus would go there for an eternity of punishment. They denounced Bell as a universalist, a label he vehemently denies, and came out with their own books in a serious attempt to counter Bell’s teachings. The theological debate made so much noise that all the major mainstream newspapers started covering the debate, and Bell landed on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year list.
6. Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster
Japan, which lies on part of the infamous Ring of Fire, suffered a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that induced a tsunami off the country’s northeast coast in March. Although Japan is used to earthquakes, this one was unprecedented, marking the country’s biggest ever and ranking fifth in recorded world history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some 20,000 people were killed or missing, and the tsunami damaged the Fukushima power plant, causing a leak in radioactive water – setting off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Christian relief organizations and native churches in Japan have offered emergency care in the aftermath of the tsunami. Japan has a Christian population of only about 2 million out of a total population of 127.5 million, or less than two percent. Christian leaders hope that out of the devastation and pain, the Japanese people can seek God more.
7. Norway Massacre
Anders Behring Breivik, 32, confessed to the bombing and mass shooting that killed 77 people in July, including dozens of teenagers attending a summer camp. After the massacre, he was dubbed everything from a “Christian terrorist” to a “Christian right wing extremist” and a “Christian fundamentalist,” because he referenced Jesus and Christianity in his 1,500-page manifesto. However, Christian leaders were quick to point out, that Breivik in his manifesto makes clear that he is a “social” Christian and said he does not have a relationship with God.
8. Eddie Long and Sex Scandal
Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta has received negative press coverage throughout the year over his alleged sex scandal with several young men who formerly attended his church. Four young men filed a lawsuit against Long in September 2010, accusing him of abusing his spiritual authority to lure them into a sexual relationship. The case was settled out of court in May. In early December, his wife, Vanessa Long, filed for divorce. Soon after, Long announced that he would take a sabbatical from leading the church to focus on repairing his family. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has some 25,000 members, and has attracted prominent people as congregants.
9. Tim Tebow and Mixing Faith, Football
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is not the first football player to talk about his Christian faith or credit God for his wins, but he may be the first to have created this much buzz about his faith and his game. Tebow is now synonymous with Christianity and comeback. He is credited for starting the global phenomenon of “tebowing” – or kneeling on one knee and praying – which he is in the regular habit of doing during games. Time magazine listed tebowing among its “Top Ten Memes” list for 2011, and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has compared himself to Tebow, referencing the football player’s wins despite naysayers.
10. Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy
The iconic all-glass California megachurch Crystal Cathedral was sold this year to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County for $57.5 million. The church, known for its extravagant worship style, declared bankruptcy in October 2010. The Schuller family, including Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman and the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, is often criticized for mismanaging the church’s finances. The months of drama from the Crystal Cathedral sale caused many Christians to reflect on a church’s responsibility to steward finances with integrity.