The year 2018 was one that saw a number of winners for those seeking the protection of their right to act in accordance with their religious convictions, but regretfully there were also a number of losers. Below are some of the most important stories concerning religious freedom in 2018.
Kelvin Cochran was fired as Fire Chief in Atlanta, Ga., because of a devotional he’d written, which included his Christian beliefs regarding homosexuality. After a federal judge sided with Cochran, the city council of Atlanta made him a big winner by paying him $1.2 million in damages.
After being punished by the state of Colorado for refusing to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding in 2012, Colorado baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop was vindicated by a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian grandma florist who had been fined for refusing to provide floral arrangements for the same-sex wedding of a gay customer that she served for years. And the Little Sisters of the Poor won their final exemption from Obamacare birth control requirements.
Outside the U.S., two people that had faced death for their Christian faith made news worldwide by winning victories in court and gaining their freedom. Pakistani Christian and mother of five, Asia Bibi had spent nearly a decade in prison for insulting Islam and was sentenced to death by hanging. Pakistan’s Supreme Court finally heard her appeal and acquitted her of the crime in October.
North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson spent two years as a prisoner of Turkey. As the Trump administration fought hard for his release, Christians around the world prayed for his safety. Those prayers were answered in October, when Pastor Brunson walked free from a Turkish courtroom and into the Oval Office with President Trump the very next day.” His successful release inspired hopes that more persecuted Christians will be freed from captivity.
Despite the good news in 2018, Christians continued to be challenged in America’s courts and persecuted worldwide. Two artists in Phoenix face the threat of stiff fines and jail time for refusing to hand-letter gay marriage wedding invites. Philadelphia made children who needed homes losers by barring Catholic agencies from helping them because of the agencies Christian beliefs.
The school board in West Point, VA fired a teacher for his beliefs regarding gender. Air Force General John Teichert led prayers for our country, and was branded a “fundamentalist Christian tyrant and religious extremist predator.” He was hauled up on charges that could lead to jail time. Bill Whatcott, a Christian bus driver in Canada, was sued, fired from his job, charged with a “hate crime’ and jailed for handing out Christian pamphlets at a gay pride parade.
Prayer continued to be an issue at public schools, and atheists challenged the presence of crosses on public land. Administrators tried to prohibit a Colorado Mesa University student from using the word “Jesus” at graduation. The University of Iowa enacted a ruling to de-recognize several religious groups on campus. The decisions were based on groups’ requirements that leaders share the groups’ stated beliefs.` Twitter, Amazon and Google all took steps limiting conservative and/or Christian speech making us all losers.
The persecution of Christians worldwide continued. One of the most concerning developments was the mass slaughter of believers in Nigeria, which has the highest number of Christians among all African nations. Fulani Muslims destroyed entire villages. The devastation in terms of massacre of lives and destruction of property was unimaginable. Pastors and members in the thousands have been killed in cold blood, either shot dead or slaughtered like animals or burned to death.
So despite the wins achieved in 2018, our world seems to be getting harder to live in, as followers of Christ. But we can take heart, for Jesus said (John 16:33), “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”