Police shootings, urban riots, terrorist attacks, civil wars, refugees pouring across borders — 2015 offered no shortage of events to lament. It also gave us reasons to rejoice: the World Bank announced significant reductions in extreme poverty, and the United States and Cuba ended a 54-year estrangement.
Yes, there were plenty of news stories — tragic, triumphant and trivial — in 2015. But what stories caught the attention of Christians? Obviously, Christians are affected by and interested in all major world happenings, but some events have heightened significance for the Christian community.
The waning days of 2015 provide an opportunity to step back and reflect on some of the events and issues that resonated with the Christian community in ways not typically reflected in the mainstream media. These five events, listed in no particular order, held special significance for the Christian community and individual believers this year.
The Pope's Visit
The Pope's September visit to the U.S. was highly anticipated, and it didn't disappoint. Pope Francis, who has a 70 percent favorability rating among all Americans, made news with a series of unscripted gestures, including an impromptu blessing of a 10-year-old boy suffering from cerebral palsy.
Some American Christians see the Pope's popularity as an opportunity to build bridges between Catholics and Protestants. Kenneth Behr, founder of Faith Dialogue and author of Roaming Catholics, believes the key is fostering mutual understanding. "There are many people with Catholic backgrounds, family and friends in our evangelical churches, and many of them have significant questions that are unanswered." Behr works to remind people "that the Christian faith is not grounded in denominations, but in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
The radical Islamic group ISIS was in the news all year, especially after a series of attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead in November. Jim Denison, author of Radical Islam, exhorted Christians to understand the threat posed by ISIS while refusing to give into hate.
In an autumn interview, Denison said, "We've been taught by radical Muslims to hate Muslims. That is a satanic strategy to fear the people we're supposed to love. Be loving of Muslims, and see friends and neighbors as an opportunity to influence an entire Muslim culture."
Undercover videos released by The Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sales of aborted fetuses shocked the conscience of the nation. The backlash was swift, with millions calling for legislation to halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood.
Some opposition to Planned Parenthood sparked sinister and even violent acts. But the pro-life Hope Pregnancy Centers of Brazos Valley took a more positive approach, purchasing and repurposing a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Texas.
Tracy Frank, Hope Pregnancy Center's executive director, said, "What was once a place of death and grief where an estimated 6,400 abortions were performed has been transformed into a place of life. We feel like we have reclaimed and redeemed the ground."
Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court released a landmark ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. While some Christians celebrated the ruling, many others bitterly opposed it.
The decision ignited debate about religious liberty and raised questions about the ruling's ramifications for churches and other Christian organizations. Christian leaders have been advised to consider how the ruling affects the mission of their organizations and to be prepared for media scrutiny.
A long-running, brutal civil war in Syria has caused approximately 4.3 million Syrians to flee their country. As international debate raged about how to handle the flood of refugees, numerous Christians across the world stepped up to provide aid.
One such couple is The Mission Society missionaries Charlie and Miki Chastain, who wrote about their efforts in a Christian Post guest column. "When the crisis became world news, we packed our family into our minivan and drove roughly 2,000 miles from Estonia to help."
Their time at the refugee camps had a profound impact on them.
"The opportunity to look into the eyes of the refugees and to see without a doubt that these are sons and daughters of God — it has changed our perspective on everything," they wrote.
Though Charlie and Miki acknowledge the work is "costly, and exhausting, and painful" they report it was well worth it "to experience the love and compassion of the Father for every single one of His precious children."
May all Christians keep in mind the love and compassion of the Father as they look back over the events of 2015 and prepare for the year to come. And remember, our God is and always will be on the throne, no matter what lies ahead.