The Ebola virus caused a great deal of alarm throughout the world as an epidemic ravaged West Africa. The illness, which has a death rate of 70 percent, began in Guinea in Dec. 2013 and quickly spread throughout Liberia and Sierra Leone. Over 7,500 people died from Ebola throughout 2014. The virus continues to wreak havoc in West Africa, strengthened by the lack of equipped medical facilities in the region.
In December, TIME Magazine named the Ebola fighters its “Person of the Year,” noting that these men and women had risked their own safety to tend to the needs of others. Samaritan’s Purse physician Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola while serving in Liberia, was honored with a magazine cover photo. Brantly was transported to the U.S. after he contracted Ebola alongside missionary Nancy Writebol, where both recovered from the virus.
2. Rise of ISIS
ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, formed a powerful Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. The terrorist organization took over Mosul, forcing non-Muslim residents to convert to Islam, pay a high tax, or be killed. Thousands fled the city and millions fled other parts of Iraq and Syria as ISIS continued a violent rampage, killing those who refused to convert from their Christian faith.
ISIS militants also kidnapped and beheaded western journalists and aid workers, filming the killings and posting them on YouTube. American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley were beheaded by the terrorists, along with British journalist John Cantlie and aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines.
3. Boko Haram
The terrorist organization Boko Haram orchestrated numerous attacks throughout the year in a violent attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. The kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Borno State was the terrorist organization's most publicized act, with millions demanding their safe return under the trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Some of the girls managed to escape Boko Haram, but over 200 still remain. Leaders of the group have claimed that the girls have all been married off or sold as slaves.
4. Israel/Gaza war
Terrorist group Hamas was blamed for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens on June 12 leading to an airstrike campaign between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas. Later, the airstrike campaign led to a ground invasion. In total, almost 2,000 Palestinians and 69 Israelis were killed. Most of the Palestinian victims were civilians, as Hamas allegedly used “human shields” to protect their troops. A few short-term ceasefires were established throughout the war which exceeded two months, but an agreement did not hold until Aug. 26.
5. Racial discrimination
Race came to the forefront of American headlines in 2014 after two black men died at the hands of white police officers. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9 prompting weeks of violent protests in the streets. Wilson allegedly shot Brown fearing his own life was at risk. When a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, protests reignited across the country, though most remained peaceful.
Eric Garner, 43, died on July 17 after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo reportedly held him in a chokehold which constricted his chest and neck. Garner, who had been resisting arrest for selling individual cigarettes on the street, is believed to have said, "I can't breathe," multiple times before he died.
Led by President Barack Obama, immigration reform came to the attention of the American public. Obama introduced a four-part plan for reform which included strengthening border security, streamlining legal immigration, earning citizenship, and cracking down on employers that hire undocumented workers. While introducing this plan, the President received criticism from the Christian community for using the Bible out of context to support his plan. Obama was also ridiculed for misquoting the Bible on a separate occasion. At the same time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that over 68,000 unaccompanied children entered the United States this year.
7. Persecuted Christians
Several Christians became internationally known this year as atrocities were committed against them because of their faith. Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned in Sudan for refusing to convert to Islam and gave birth to her daughter in shackles. She was released from prison and granted asylum in the United States, where her husband holds citizenship, after an international outcry.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains imprisoned in Pakistan after having her appeal hearing postponed on five separate occasions. Bibi is accused of speaking against the prophet Muhammad after getting involved in an argument with Muslim women.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen of Iranian descent, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012. Abedini is accused of working with the underground church movement in the country, though he was arrested while in Iran to build a secular orphanage. Abedini suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards and other inmates and was hospitalized for weeks after the abuse caused severe physical damage.
8. Mark Driscoll
The evangelical megapastor had a fall from grace as Driscoll was found involved in several controversies. The founder of the Mars Hill megachurch organization and the Acts 29 network allegedly paid a company to place his book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list. Driscoll also used church funds to buy multiple copies of the book without permission; he later apologized for doing so.
Soon after the Real Marriage controversy, church leaders began to speak out about emotional abuse and a lack of financial clarity that had occurred in Mars Hill for years. A misogynistic online rant that Driscoll wrote under a pseudonym in 2000 surfaced and dozens picketed Mars Hill Church, demanding that the pastor step down from ministry.
Driscoll and Mars Hill Church were removed from the Acts 29 church-planting network by the board and Driscoll took a hiatus from the ministry. On Oct. 14, Driscoll announced that he would permanently step down from his pastoral position and the Mars Hill organization would be dissolved.
9. Gay marriage
Several states legalized gay marriage in 2014, making the issue of homosexuality even more prevalent in American churches. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in June to allow gay marriages to be held in the denomination's churches. Additionally, the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) gathered with LGBT activists at a national conference in October where the two groups were able to pleasantly coexist, despite different viewpoints on homosexuality. The Vatican changed its tone regarding homosexuality this year as well, saying that gays should be appreciated for their gifts and welcomed into the church.
10. Hobby Lobby decision
In June, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision that allowed for-profit companies to be exempt from the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court ruled that Steve Green, Hobby Lobby CEO, did not have to provide employees with insurance for emergency contraception (commonly called Plan B), as they are abortion-inducing drugs. The evangelical Christian Green family said that the form of birth control was in violation of their religious freedom.
11. Year of faith-based films
2014 proved to be the so-called "Year of Biblical Movies" as Hollywood released film after film with Christian themes. With Son of God, Noah, God's Not Dead, Alone Yet Not Alone, Mom's Night Out, Irreplaceable, Heaven is for Real, When the Game Stands Tall, Calvary, In Plain Sight, The Remaining, Left Behind, Ragamuffin, The Good Lie, The Song, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Unbroken and Saving Christmas hitting theaters, Christians had their choice of movies to see throughout the year. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Ridley Scott's Exodus created controversy in Christian circles, as the atheist directors' visions for their films did not match the exact description of the biblical accounts.
12. The Church addresses mental illness
After years of Christians with mental illness suffering silently, churches have started to address the issue of mental illness in the church. Perhaps prompted in part by the death of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew in 2013, pastors have started to reach out to those with depression and other mental illnesses as they would with church members who had physical illnesses. Kay Warren wrote a well-publicized blog in December, urging families to be more considerate with what they write in “cheery” Christmas cards for those who are coping with grief.
Photo: Ebola fighters were named TIME's Person of the Year.
Publication date: December 29, 2014