Rising Islamist Militancy Predicted to Make Top Religious Stories in 2012

Increasing boldness by extreme Islamists is one of six top religious news stories that the Institute on Religion & Democracy predicts will make major headlines in 2012.

The religious freedom advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., warns that proclamations such as those made by the terrorist group Boko Haram declaring that all Christians must leave Nigeria indicates more of the same for this year.

“Islamists globally are making more assertive demands against vulnerable religious minorities,” IRD officials stated in their “IRD Predicts Top Church News of 2012” report released Thursday. “Egypt's Coptic Christians may face rule by Islamic parties and accelerated attacks by emboldened militants.”

Jeff Walton, communications manager for IRD, told The Christian Post Thursday that rising Islamist militancy will make it a very difficult time for Christian minorities not only in Nigeria and Egypt, but much of the Middle East. He also picked the issue as the most important one to track in 2012..

“In Syria especially, if the majority Sunni assert control following the expected downfall of the Assad regime, Syrian Christians who make up a surprisingly large percentage of the country, relative to neighboring states, will quickly find themselves emigrating,” Walton explained.

Below are the other top church news stories (categories) predicted by IRD for 2012.

2. Redefinition of "Pro-Life"

In an attempt to splinter the evangelical vote in a presidential election year, liberal evangelicals will seek to portray issues outside of abortion and euthanasia as crucial sanctity of life matters. Early 2011 efforts to present environmental causes as pro-life will expand.

3. Episcopal Church Pushes Forward with Same-sex Rites

Despite pleas from the worldwide Anglican Communion not to bless such unions, Episcopal Church officials appear determined to embrace such rites at the U.S.-based denomination's triennial General Convention meeting July 5-12 in Indianapolis.

4. Liberal Mainline Congregations Increasingly Shutter Buildings

Shrinking endowments and tough economic times could take a toll. With some denominations reporting more than half their congregations shrinking, long-established but tiny churches will most likely fold at a rate even higher than 2011. As a silver lining, some facilities will be revitalized by newly planted churches of evangelical and especially Pentecostal immigrants.

5. United Methodism Continues Turnaround

The quadrennial General Conference of the second-largest Protestant church in the U.S., meeting April 24-May 4 in Tampa, will continue its shift from liberal to moderate. Growing African churches and shrinking U.S. churches are separating increasingly international United Methodism from U.S. denominations that have liberalized their sexual teachings. The denomination may also abandon its long-time abortion rights stance.

6. Religious Criticisms of Israel Intensify

United Methodists and Presbyterians will debate anti-Israel divestment at their ruling conventions, with Presbyterians meeting June 30-July 7 in Pittsburgh. Liberal evangelicals will also accelerate their push for evangelicals to abandon their traditional pro-Israel stance, with many prominent activists meeting at a "Christ at the Checkpoint" conference in Jerusalem March 5-9.

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