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IRD's Top Church News Stories of 2012

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Oldline church disputes, threats to religious freedom and Middle East proxy battles made news throughout 2012. Below are IRD's top church news stories for the year.

Presbyterians and Methodists vote against Anti-Israel Divestment: Churchwide gatherings of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this Spring and Summer rejected appeals from anti-Israel groups to end pension fund investments with three large firms doing business with Israel. The hard-fought church disputes were effectively proxy battles for pro and anti-Israel groups within Mainline Protestantism.

Episcopalians Embrace Transgenderism: Deputies to the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church elevated "gender identity and expression" to a special protected status within the denomination's nondiscrimination rules alongside race and gender. Conditions such as gender identity disorder no longer preclude ordination within the 1.9 million-member church.

African UMC Ascendancy and UMC Sex Vote: United Methodists from Africa were an increasingly powerful presence at the global denomination's quadrennial gathering in Tampa, Florida. Joining U.S. Evangelicals, the two formed a majority voting block that affirmed the church's traditional teaching on homosexuality. Africans also gained a greater share of leadership posts at the conference than ever before.

Billy Graham Takes High Profile in NC Marriage Vote: A North Carolina ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman received public support from famed Evangelist Billy Graham, who appeared in full-page newspaper ads urging passage.

Evangelical-Catholic Unity against HHS Mandate: The Obamacare insurance mandate requiring religious institutions such as hospitals and schools to cover contraceptives and abortifacients met strong opposition from both Roman Catholic and Evangelical groups. Colleges from both traditions, including Wheaton College in Illinois, are litigating against the mandate, while Catholic bishops and Evangelical pastors advanced similar initiatives.

Evangelical Left Disappearance During Presidential Election Campaign: Groups such as Jim Wallis' Sojourners largely were low profile during the 2012 elections, a contrast to 2008 when prominent liberal Evangelicals excitedly supported Barack Obama. The Evangelical Left seemed discouraged by Administration stances on same-sex marriage, abortion and religious liberty.

Global Persecution of Christians: Religious minorities came under increasing pressure in 2012, with a Christian Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy and an Iranian pastor both imprisoned but ultimately released after international pressure. In northern Nigeria, Islamist group Boko Haram killed over 750 Christians. In continuing aftershocks from the "Arab Spring" of 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists asserted newfound power in the Middle East, leaving Coptic Christians and other religious minorities increasingly uneasy about their future.

NAE Contraceptive Foundation Controversy: The increasingly liberal-leaning National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) provoked controversy after quietly accepting pro-choice foundation grant money under the auspices of reducing unplanned pregnancy. A foundation official appeared on an NAE-sponsored panel during an Evangelical event in Washington, D.C., prompting a World magazine exposé, and NAE’s renouncing future such grants.

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