James MacDonald takes indefinite sabbatical

The founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel stepped away from preaching and leadership duties in January while the megachurch undergoes a “peacemaking process” after a legal clash with longtime critics. James MacDonald and Harvest dropped their defamation lawsuit against two bloggers and former Moody Radio host Julie Roys, who had alleged mismanagement at the Chicago-area multisite church. MacDonald confessed to battling “cycles of injustice, hurt, anger, and fear, which have wounded others without cause.” During his sabbatical, the church has pledged to hear out former members and critics and review church processes.

World Vision forced out of Pakistan

After 13 years of providing emergency relief and children’s programs in Pakistan, World Vision has been ousted from the Islamic Republic along with 17 other international NGOs representing $130 million in assistance. After Pakistan revised its registration process for foreign charities following the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, dozens of groups—including World Vision and two Catholic charities—failed to secure legal status and spent years appealing the decisions before being expelled in late 2018. The Christian aid organization said it “regrets the effect that the cessation of our work will have on the vulnerable communities with whom we worked, but respects the government’s right to decide who may work in the country.”

Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians split from Russia

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church was officially granted ecclesiastical independence this year, marking the biggest schism in Christianity since the Protestant Reformation. Amid ongoing political clashes between Ukraine and neighboring Russia, both nations’ Orthodox churches have grown closer to their respective governments. Wary of Moscow—spiritual home to half of the 300 million Orthodox worldwide—and President Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainians see a split as essential to their national security. In January, the Constantinople-based ecumenical patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church granted Kiev’s request to leave Moscow’s authority, though most of the coequal heads of other Orthodox patriarchates have not endorsed the change.

Dutch debate Nashville Statement

A new translation of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Nashville Statement divided evangelicals in the Netherlands at the start of the year and led to the threat of criminal charges against a Christian politician who backed the document’s disavowal of same-sex marriage as well as gay and transgender identity. More than 200 Dutch evangelical leaders, mostly from smaller and more conservative Reformed denominations, signed on while leaders of the nation’s larger Protestant body criticized the document as divisive and unwelcoming to LGBT neighbors. The Western Europoean country, where just 15 percent of the population believes in God, became the first to legalize gay marriage in 2001.

Congress adds ‘other’ Christians after midterms

Evangelicals, Protestants, and other Christians who don’t specify a denomination now make up the fastest-growing faith group in the US legislature. According to the Pew Research Center, 23 percent of freshman members and 15 percent of Congress overall identify as “unspecified/other Protestants,” more than any other tradition besides Catholics. While this category saw the biggest bump in the 116th Congress, the total number of Christians fell slightly from 91 percent in 2017 to 88 percent in 2019. And though nearly a quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, just a single member of Congress (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) claims no religion.

Passion funds deaf Bibles in 16 countries

Students at this year’s Passion conference raised nearly $450,000 toward translating the New Testament into sign languages through the Deaf Bible Society. The donations will allow 160,000 people around the world access to videos of signed Scripture to learn about Jesus in their own sign languages for the first time, which is crucial for deeper understanding since the deaf learn visually. Though there are hundreds of sign languages, none have a full Bible translation, and just 2 percent of deaf people have access to the Gospels in their sign languages. The campaign will fund translations in 16 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

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