Syria: Jesus Lifted High

Jesus' arrival in a Syrian city that still speaks his language was ironic, apropos, or both. "I Have Come to Save the World" is the latest Jesus statue in the worldwide ranks of those towering 100 feet or higher. Begun in Armenia in 2005, the bronze statue was installed in Saidnaya, a pilgrimage destination, this fall. It arrived just as the Aramaic-speaking region (most notably, Maaloula) became a hot spot in Syria's civil war. Slightly taller than Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue isn't the tallest—not by a long shot. Meanwhile, approximately 50,000 Christians in the mountainous region have appealed for citizenship in Russia. There, the president of the Russian Academy of Art happens to be building a Jesus statue twice as tall.

Africa: Few strange fires

After a decade of rapprochement between Christians who emphasize speaking in tongues and those who believe charismatic gifts ended in the early church, John MacArthur's Strange Fire conference stirred the pot by accusing the charismatic movement of blasphemy. One featured speaker: Conrad Mbewe, a Zambian pastor who criticizes the rise of his continent's charismatics. However, the surprise was not that MacArthur found an African ally, but that he found only one. Researchers estimate only 33 percent of African Christians are charismatics, Pentecostals, or otherwise "renewalists."

Presidents sent packing

Two presidents were recently released less than one year into their tenures. The American Bible Society fired Doug Birdsall, citing "significant differences" in vision for how to get more people reading the Bible. Weeks later, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities fired Edward Blews Jr. after "careful investigation" but wouldn't explain further. The D.C.–based group said it was "truly sorry for the disruption," and pledged to get a major February forum back on track.

Namibia: Christmas and Easter weddings banned

Holiday weddings are so popular in Namibia that a sizable group of churches has banned them. The western half of the nation's largest denomination—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia—marries almost 1,000 couples each year. But now leaders have banned church weddings around Christmas and Easter—and have even asked families to avoid scheduling funerals then as well. Church leader Paulus Heita explained to Namibian newspaper New Era that the ceremonies take a toll on pastors and distract from the true focus of the holidays: Jesus.

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Asian American Christians: 'Stop stereotyping us'

Failed attempts at humor by Rick Warren and a church planting conference led more than 80 "distressed" Asian American leaders to explain in an open letter why they are "weary, hurt, and disillusioned" with how the wider evangelical church represents them. Exponential conference leaders promptly apologized for their Karate Kid–related skit, as did Warren for his Red Army–related Facebook photo. Meanwhile, more than 900 people signed on to the letter's main allegation that Asian stereotyping among evangelicals is common and "has to stop."

Austria: Large enough to be legal: Evangelical churches

More than 150 churches in Austria once viewed as cults are now an official faith—at least in the eyes of their government. The new legal status of evangelicals—and the resulting education and tax benefits—come after five denominations joined forces in order to meet the Central European nation's minimum size requirements. Pastors hope it will boost their legitimacy in the eyes of their predominantly Catholic neighbors. Another benefit: They will no longer be breaking labor laws when they preach on Sundays.

Future Bible museum gets historic find

The Green Collection houses so many of the world's significant biblical texts and artifacts, dozens of scholars are now examining precisely what it has. In September, it revealed the first of four discoveries: the "oldest Jewish prayer book ever found," dated to circa A.D. 840. Comparable to what the Book of Common Prayer is to Anglicans, the tome will be displayed at a future Bible museum near the National Mall. Speculated to be among the remaining revelations: the earliest known text of the New Testament.

Iran: 'Gadfly' pastor plays Moses in order to save Saeed

A California pastor tried a novel way to free an Idaho pastor imprisoned in Iran. Eddie Romero sneaked away from his Tehran tour group to stand outside infamous Evin Prison, repeatedly proclaiming, "Let my people go!" while broadcasting the 35-minute protest live from his iPhone. Instead of freeing cause célèbre Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American imprisoned for more than one year, Romero was arrested and deported. But as his daughter explained, Romero—whose effort joined a New York Times advertisement by Billy Graham, a historic phone call by President Barack Obama to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and a resolution by the European Parliament—"simply could not go into retirement and sit idly by...He's there to literally bother the Iranian government, like a gadfly bothering a horse."

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Egypt: Arab Christian TV comes to America

In the latest sign of how many Middle Eastern Christians have fled the Arab Spring, the Arab world's largest Christian broadcaster has followed them to North America. SAT-7 began reaching into American and Canadian homes in November. Its hoped-for audience of 4 million is far less than the 54 million homes targeted by Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera America. But it underscores how the majority of Arab Americans—almost 70 percent, according to the Arab American National Museum—are Christians.

Creator of Left Behind games charged with fraud

The maker of Left Behind–themed video games may have committed fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Troy Lyndon, ceo of Left Behind Games Inc., issued close to 2 billion shares to his friend, Ronald Zaucha, in order to give investors a false sense of financial stability. Lyndon claimed the shares were payment for Zaucha's consulting services. But the sec claims Zaucha sold the stock and used proceeds to, among other things, purchase nearly $1.4 million of unsold inventory when the company was struggling to stay afloat. Lyndon defended himself on his website: "Fact is, I'm just a video game guy. If any violation occurred, it would never have been intentional."

International adoption movement weathers critics

As the adoption movement grows, so do its critics. The fifth Orphan Sunday, supported by 130 groups, was preceded by a wave of suspicion. Critics such as Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers, largely blame evangelicals for the boom and bust cycle that has hit many countries, including Romania, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. The latest: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which blocked children from leaving the Central African nation until at least September 2014.

The DRC is concerned over reports that adopted children may be abused or given to a second set of parents. Part of this fear may be founded: A lengthy Reuters investigation found a sizable underground market in the United States for "re-homing" unwanted adopted children. Yet a proposed House and Senate fix to streamline and reverse plummeting international adoptions—the Children in Families First Act—has won support from many evangelicals, including the Christian Alliance for Orphans (sponsor of Orphan Sunday) and Saddleback Church.

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Should bread and wine be banned online?

Shortly before World Communion Sunday, a group of United Methodist Church (UMC) leaders warned of a significant threat to unity across denominations: offering Communion online. A UMC church in North Carolina planned to launch an online campus serving the Lord's Supper. But a 27-person powwow urged a moratorium pending research on whether, given modern technology, the sacrament still "entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people...together in the same place." Most concerned: the UMC's de facto state department, which—despite mainline partnerships having largely weathered divergent decisions on gay clergy—warned such a decision would fracture alliances, making the UMC "not only a stumbling block but also a laughingstock."

Malaysia: Christians lose fight to call God Allah

A Catholic newspaper can no longer legally use a word Malaysian Christians have used for centuries. In 2008, The Herald challenged a government ban on non-Muslims referring to God as Allah. In 2009, Kuala Lumpur's high court surprisingly agreed. But in October, an appeals court unanimously upheld the ban, ruling that the use of Allah by the nation's Christian minority "will cause confusion"—that is, conversions—among its Muslim majority.

Allah, the Arabic word for "god" that predates Islam, is used in Malay-language Bibles, especially in the Christian strongholds of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo. Those communities vowed to keep using the term. As a workaround, an Indonesia publisher released a Bible translation in 2009 that changed Allah to less-common references to God. But the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia strongly opposed the translation, preferring to "maintain the right to use Allah as it has been so used for over 300 years."


40% of American Jews believe "Israel was given to the Jewish people by God." White evangelicals who believe the same: 82% (according to Pew Research).

"I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together."

  • Albert Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, addressing Brigham Young University. Christians and Mormons, he said, can help each other "push back" against "encroaching threats to religious liberty, marriage, and the family." In another recent example of religious freedom concerns producing strange bedfellows, the National Council of Churches (unsuccessfully) appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Church of Scientology.
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Millennials and Fact-checking sermons:

Churchgoing millennials who fact-check their pastors' sermons online, often during the service using their smartphones: 4 of 10. By comparison, 7 of 10 read Scripture online.

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