(Photo: James Harris)
The last 12 months were full of sorrow, shock, and fierce debates that seemed to have left the nation more divided. From battles for religious freedom both at home and abroad to questions about evil and justice, the year 2012 has forced the Christian community to examine the direction of the world and to also reflect on their own impact.
The Christian Post looked back at 2012 and highlighted some of the most significant moments below (in no particular order).
1. Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day
Same-sex marriage has always been a sticking point but the debate reached a new level this year when a chicken sandwich restaurant got involved. Christians rallied together by the hundreds of thousands on Aug. 1 to support Chick-fil-A and its president, Dan Cathy, amid protest over his remarks on same-sex marriage.
After Cathy said he supported the biblical definition of the family unit and that America was "inviting God's judgment" for saying "we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage," the fast-food chain faced backlash and was accused of discrimination and spreading "hate."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee organized "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" as he denounced what he and many saw as an assault on free speech. Some 600,000 people committed to be a patron of Chick-fil-A on Aug. 1 and the company saw record breaking sales across the country.
2. Southern Baptist Convention Elects First Black President
The Southern Baptist Convention, whose beginnings were mired in slave ownership, elected its first African-American president in June. Fred Luter, Jr., was unanimously and enthusiastically voted to lead the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
His election came less than 20 years after the SBC, which was formed in 1845 out of a split with northern Baptists over the right to own slaves, officially apologized for condoning and perpetuating racism.
"Granted, this convention started as a result of slavery but that was the past," said Luter. "There's nothing we can do about our past but we can do something about our future."
3. Evangelical Giant Chuck Colson Dies
Never one to rest, Chuck Colson was leading a conference in Lansdowne, Va., on March 30 when he suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage. Due to his hospitalization, he did not minister to inmates for the first time in 34 years on Easter Sunday. He died on April 21 at age 80.
After his conversion to Christianity over 30 years ago, the former Nixon aide who pleaded guilty to Watergate-related charges, had been tireless in his efforts to minister to inmates, educate believers with a Christian worldview, and stand up for the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty.
The Prison Fellowship founder, who wrote over 30 books, including Born Again, Loving God, and The Faith, was lauded and remembered by Christian leaders worldwide for his courage and heart.
4. President Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage
President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to publicly support same-sex couples marrying. He made the announcement in May in an ABC interview. Previously, Obama stated that marriage should be between a man and a woman but years later his views began to evolve, he said.
He cited his Christian values, specifically the golden rule, for his reversal, saying people should treat others the way they'd want to be treated.
Months later, the Democratic National Convention went on to endorse same-sex marriage in its platform for the first time.
Obama has been described as the most pro-homosexual president in history with the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, refusal to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in courts, and his public opposition to state amendments that define marriage as one man and one woman.
5. The Plight of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
Youcef Nadarkhani became the face of religious persecution as millions worldwide learned of his imprisonment and demanded his release.
The Iranian pastor was arrested in 2009 for protesting against the government's decision to force all children, including his two sons, to read the Quran but was later charged with apostasy and evangelism to Muslims. Sentenced to death by hanging, he was pressured to recant his Christian faith in order to be freed. He refused.
His case gained worldwide attention and 2.5 million Twitter users campaigned for his release. In early September, Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy and released from prison.
But just as the world was turning its attention away from the persecution of Christians (other Iranian pastors and Christians are currently jailed), it was reported last week that Nadarkhani was taken back to prison on Christmas Day allegedly because of incomplete paperwork. He is reportedly serving another 40 days.
6. Muslim Brotherhood-Majority Government in Egypt Spells Trouble for Christians
In post-revolutionary Egypt, Christians are facing increased persecution as the Muslim Brotherhood assumes control. The Islamist organization just approved a constitution that opens the door to an Islamist state and for Christians, that can only mean trouble.
"Strict Islamic law has always been its main agenda for Egypt. President Morsi attempted to disguise this before the election, saying his government would be moderate. Now the true face of extreme Islam is being unveiled to the world," said Jerry Dykstra, director of communications at Open Doors USA. "The high hopes of the revolution and overthrow of Mubarak have now been replaced by the reality of another form of extremist government – an Islamist one."
Christians and liberals have quit the parliament, with some arguing that the constitution does nothing to protect minorities. Christians make up around 10 percent of the predominantly Muslim country.
Shootings this year became a gross reality when more than a dozen first-graders were killed in December. The 20 young victims in Newtown, Conn., struck a nerve among Americans and sparked an intense debate on gun control. It also reminded the public of the reality of evil.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was just the latest in a string of tragedies involving a gunman. Earlier this year, three students were killed at Chardon High School in Ohio by a 17-year-old; a 43-year-old opened fire at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., and killed seven; 12 were shot dead by a 24-year-old at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; and a total of 27 were killed in Newtown.
Christians have called the shootings a product of evil. They've also pointed to the urgency of spreading the Gospel.
"As Christians our driving mission should be to deliver this message of hope to friends, neighbors, strangers and family. When we do we are striking at the root of evil in ways that no federal legislation, bolted door or counseling program ever could," said Greg Stier, founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries. "When we share the gospel we are being used by God, not to reform habits, but to transform hearts."
8. Contraceptive Mandate and Religious Liberty
It's been framed by the public as a women's health issue but religious organizations say the Obama administration's health care mandate that employers cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs is nothing less than an attack on their religious freedom.
"No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience," said Galen Carey, vice president for Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals. "The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent."
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the contraceptive mandate.
9. November Election
President Obama was re-elected in November to another four-year term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who was the first Mormon presidential candidate of a major party in U.S. history. Even with most of the white evangelical vote, Romney lost the election with little support from minorities and youths.
For conservative Christians, November proved to be disappointing. Many evangelical pastors had called on their congregations to vote biblical values and largely condemned this year's Democratic platform which not only endorsed same-sex marriage and abortion but also initially left out "God" and did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In another blow to conservative Christians, voters in three states, for the first time, voted in favor of same-sex marriage in November. Previously, each time marriage was on the ballot, voters had chosen to protect the traditional definition of it.
10. Supreme Court to Take Up Prop. 8, DOMA
The high court announced in December that it would take up challenges next year concerning the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's ban on same-sex marriage. This marks the first time the Supreme Court is stepping into the same-sex marriage debate.
Its decision next year is expected to have far-reaching effects and be a major factor in the future of marriage in the U.S.