Religious health care groups faced a crushing debt of billions of dollars’ worth of pension payments in the wake of three recent appeals court decisions. But this summer, the US Supreme Court overturned the decisions, ruling that religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals, schools, and daycares are exempt from the US Employee Retirement Income Security Act like other “church plans.” “Churches—not government bureaucrats, and certainly not ambulance chasers—should decide whether hospitals are part of the church,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a religious liberty nonprofit that filed an amicus brief on behalf of the hospitals. Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against religious hospitals for opting out of for-profit pension plans in the past four years.
Hobby Lobby, whose president Steve Green is an avid Bible collector and chairman of the forthcoming Museum of the Bible, was forced to surrender thousands of relics and pay a $3 million fine after a federal investigation determined that the artifacts had been illegally plundered from Iraq. Officials said Hobby Lobby mislabeled the shipments and did not check the origin of the items, which included cuneiform tablets from ancient Sumeria. Hobby Lobby acknowledged making “regrettable mistakes” due to being new to the field and stated it has since improved its procedures.
The Trump administration detained hundreds of persecuted Christians from Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq and Indonesia, for potential deportation under a new immigration policy. In a raid in the Detroit area this summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained about 75 Chaldean Christians from Iraq. The month before, four Indonesian men were also taken into custody in New Jersey, and one was deported. Though the detainees have past criminal charges, evangelical advocates have defended the Iraqis, saying returning them to their homeland plagued by ISIS after living decades in the US would be a death sentence. A federal judge halted the deportations until October in order to give more time for each case to be reassessed.
The head of the Liberal Democrats party in the United Kingdom resigned after the national election in June due to mounting pressure over his faith. Tim Farron, said to be the first evangelical party leader in a century, faced scrutiny from the media and members of his own party for his religious affiliation, even after he eventually reassured them of his liberal views in favor of same-sex marriage. Fellow British evangelicals saw the suspicion toward Farron as a sign of intolerance toward their faith in public life. Farron later remarked that marginalized Christians “are probably doing something right.”
Months after ISIS affiliates in the Philippines took over the city of Marawi in May, insurgents continued their violent occupation. On the southern island of Mindanao, home to the country’s Muslim minority, they have killed hundreds of military personnel, government officials, and civilians—targeting Christians in particular. Some churches in the area remained despite the occupation, while others had their members flee the violence. The Maute fighters, stemming from an Islamist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front, hope to create an independent Islamic state.
The controversial “hate group” designation of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) keeps cropping up as a label for conservative evangelical legal and advocacy groups. Organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Family Research Council have spoken up to argue that their traditional beliefs on homosexuality should not put them in a category alongside extremists including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. The SPLC’s designation appeared for weeks on the profiles for 40 Christian nonprofits on the major charity research site GuideStar before they were removed following backlash. Also, media outlets including ABC News cited the SPLC when it reported that ADF was an “anti-LGBT hate group.” The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability expressed “deep concerns” over the practice.
Greg Laurie, the Calvary Chapel pastor who leads the Harvest America crusades, announced this summer that his California megachurch had joined the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in order to partner on evangelism efforts. Days before, the SBC reported that its membership had declined again in 2016 to the lowest level in 25 years, forcing Southern Baptists to look for more effective engagement and discipleship strategies. The denomination, which remains one of America’s largest by far, drew attention for a last-minute vote to “decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ” at its annual meeting.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB), released earlier this year from Southern Baptist–affiliated LifeWay Christian Resources, applies gender-inclusive language to certain passages where the text applies to men and women alike. Despite claims that these changes (e.g., “person” instead of “man” and “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers”) point to a more progressive stance on gender, translators and theologians view them as a more “gender accurate” translation for today’s reader. “We shouldn’t be afraid of the word inclusive so long as it’s in the biblical guidelines,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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