This year has been like none other in recent memory. In 2020, we experienced a global pandemic, worldview protests for racial justice, a tumultuous presidential election, widening political divisions, an economic crisis, and much more. As we wish 2020 a goodbye, let’s review some of the more influential moments of 2020.
Here are the top news stories of 2020 that Christians should know about:
Perhaps the most prominent crisis we faced this year was the novel coronavirus outbreak. The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, was first discovered in December 2019, after a cluster of people in Wuhan, China reported respiratory illnesses. By March, the virus had become so far-reaching that the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic.
Following the pandemic declaration, countries across the globe closed their borders and issued lockdown orders, encouraging their citizens to leave their homes as little as possible. Lockdown orders bgan to loosen midway through the summer, but coronavirus cases would spike causing officials to call for a second lockdown period.
As of the time of this writing, 74.2 million people have contracted COVID-19 worldwide, with 42 million people recovering from the virus and 1.65 million perishing.
This year, incumbent President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden went head to head in one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent memory. Clouded in fear and skepticism, the media declaration of Joe Biden as President-Elect was met by claims of voter and election fraud from the Trump administration.
According to Pew Research Center, amid the coronavirus pandemic, a record high number of American voters (46 percent) say they voted by mail or by absentee ballot in the 2020 Presidential Election. This was a major contributor to voter fraud fears.
President Trump and his campaign filed lawsuits in several states, including Pennsylvania, where he claimed Republican poll watchers were not present while more than 600,000 votes were counted. In early December, however, Attorney General William Barr said that “fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election” has not been found. Nonetheless, President Trump is continuing to challenge the election results in court.
Members of the Electoral college will officially cast their votes on January 6, bringing the contentious election to an end.
The police killing of George Floyd – a Black man – in Minneapolis, MN, in May marked the beginning of a far-reaching movement for racial justice and equality. The movement, which sparked massive protests, and in some cases riots, around the globe over the summer, focused heavily on the dismantling of systemic racism, starting with political and police reform.
The movement also brought to light the wrongful deaths of dozens of Black and brown men and women across the United States, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Bontham Jean, and many more.
Calls for racial justice reform also became a prominent topic of discussion within the church. In June, Texas Pastor Matt Chandler of the Village Church rebuked churches for being silent on matters of race. During a sermon, Chandler expressed his disappointment in the church's overarching response to racial injustice.
Later, several Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors split from the denomination after the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution declaring that critical race theory is incompatible with SBC beliefs, despite previously denouncing racism. This is an ongoing issue within the SBC and the church as a whole.
4. Religious Freedom Concerns Arise over COVID-19 Restrictions
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Religious freedom in America has been called into question over widespread restrictions on houses of worship amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For much of the year churches across the US and the world were forced to shutter their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some pastors, however, defied government-mandated lockdowns and chose to hold indoor services, often without adhering to social distancing measures and mask mandates. Many of these pastors faced intense scrutiny for their actions and, in some cases, faced legal consequences.
Among the pastors facing legal consequences was megachurch pastor John MacArthur.
In August, MacArthur followed suit of several other California churches and filed a lawsuit against the state of California and its officials arguing that it was unfairly restricting gatherings at houses of worship while at the same time permitting mass protests during the Black Lives Matter movement.
In December, following a Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutional right to worship freely, Los Angeles County– though not the whole state of California – dropped its ban on indoor worship services, as long as churchgoers wore masks and practiced social distancing.
Religious liberty concerns have also been raised in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida, among other states.
5. Jerry Falwell Resigns as Liberty University President
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In August, Jerry Falwell, Jr. resigned from his positions as President and Chancellor of Liberty University. Falwell first came under fire for posting a photo on Instagram with a woman, identified by The Christian Post as his wife’s assistant, with their pants unzipped and their stomachs out.
He captioned the photo, in part, “Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht … I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”
Falwell later apologized for the photo and explained that he was at a Trailer Park Boys themed costume party.
Talking about the woman standing next to him in the photo, Falwell told WLNI MorningLine in an interview, "She’s pregnant, so she couldn’t get her pants zipped. I had on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a long time, so I couldn’t get mine zipped up, either. And so, I just put my belly out like hers.”
Then, just a couple of weeks later, a man in Miami claimed that he and Falwell Jr.’s wife had sexual encounters that Falwell Jr. sometimes watched. The man said he was not compensated for telling the truth about the affair.
Falwell Jr. would go on to claim that the affair between his wife and the Miami man was real but insisted that he was not involved.
6. Historic Wildfires Break out in Australia and California
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Brushfires broke out across Australia in September of 2019 and would wreak havoc on the country until they were all extinguished in March of 2020.
According to the Parliament of Australia website, 33 people were killed in the fires including nine firefighters.
Further, more than 3,095 houses were lost and an unprecedented 17 million hectares were scorched across Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
Additionally, more than one billion mammals, birds, and reptiles are estimated to have been lost.
One of the most influential discoveries for archaeology in 2020 was the determination that all 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in the Washington, D.C.-based Museum of the Bible were forgeries. In 2018, five of the fragments housed in the museum were deemed fake, leading the museum to put together a team of experts to examine the remaining fragments. After months of examining the fragments' physical and chemical properties, the autonomous five-person team determined that all 16 fragments were indeed high-quality forgeries.
In Israel, in July, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the discovery of a 1,300-year-old Christian church in a village just outside of Jerusalem. The church was located a short distance from the traditional site of Jesus’ Transfiguration.
Also in July, a 1,200-year-old, seven-foot marble cross was discovered in the mountains of Pakistan indicating that Christianity likely existed in the region before Islam. The three to four-ton cross was found by a team from the University of Baltistan, Skardu in the Himalayan mountains near Baltistan.
In October, archeologists discovered what they believe may be one of the earliest churches in Israel in which Jesus gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:18-19.
Then, in November, United Kingdom archaeologist Ken Dark – a professor of archaeology and history at the University of Reading – shared that there is a “strong” possibility that the remains of a first-century house in Nazareth, Israel, may have been the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The house was discovered in 2006 under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent and Dark has been researching it ever since.
8. Christian Persecution Is Rising across the Globe
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Persecution watchdog Release International reported that persecution against Christians across the globe, particularly in Nigeria and China, has steadily risen throughout the year. According to the group, Christian persecution in China has been on the rise since new religious restrictions were imposed in 2018.
Jack Van Impe - Controversial yet wildly popular end times televangelist Jack Van Impe died in mid-January at the age of 88. Van Impe – often referred to as the “walking Bible” for his expansive memorization of Bible verses – first gained popularity through his television show Jack Van Impe Presents in the late 80s and 90s. The show – which starred both him and his wife Rexella – featured a controversial segment of the couple analyzing current news headlines through the lens of the second coming and end-times prophecies. The show would eventually get dropped by Christian TV network Trinity Broadcasting Network but would continue on independently. The last episode of Jack Van Impe Presents aired on January 10, 2020, shortly before Impe’s passing.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant – Basketball star Kobe Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash on January 26. Bryant and the group were heading to a youth basketball tournament in Calabasas, California when their helicopter slammed into a hillside. Heavy fog draped the region at the time of the crash. In his life, Bryant was a basketball legend. He played 20 seasons with the LA Lakers, won 5 championship rings and finished with 33,643 career points. His late daughter was also a budding basketball star.
Bishop Barbara Harris - Retired Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman to be ordained and consecrated as a bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, died on March 13 at the age of 89. Harris served as an assisting bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts from 1989 until she retired in 2002. She later served as assisting bishop in the Diocese of Washington from 2003 to 2007. She died in hospice care.
Joseph Lowery - Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who worked closely with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died on March 27 at the age of 98. For five decades, Lowery, a United Methodist clergyman, was involved in advocacy work. He worked to desegregate buses, protest apartheid, and draw attention to the global AIDS crisis. Alongside Dr. King, Lowery co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as its president for 20 years.
Troy Sneed - Grammy-nominated Gospel singer, writer, and producer Troy Sneed died from COVID-19 related complications on April 27. He was 52.
Sneed released seven solo albums during his music career. His songs “My Heart Says Yes” and “Work It Out” both became hits, reaching the No. 2 spot on the Billboard gospel chart.
Sneed also helped form the musical group Youth For Christ, which welcomed members ages 12 to 18 from the Georgia Mass Choir. Sneed received his sole Grammy nomination for their 1999 album, Higher.
Little Richard - Rock 'n' roll pioneer Richard Wayne Penniman, known famously as Little Richard, died on May 9 at the age of 87.
The Rockstar succumbed to bone cancer.
According to AP News, throughout the course of his career, Little Richard sold more than 30 million records globally. He, along with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino also played a prominent role in breaking through the racial injustices in the music industry. In 1986, Penniman was inducted into the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ravi Zacharias - Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias died on May 19 at the age of 74.
According to a press release from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Zacharias died in his Georgia home on Tuesday morning after a short battle with cancer. In 1984, Zacharias established Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, a ministry group that works to this day to share the gospel around the world. Through the ministry, Zacharias was able to share the Gospel in more than 70 countries. He is also the author of over 30 books. In recent months, Zacharias has become the center of controversy. Not long after his death, several accusations of sexual misconduct were levied against the late minister. RZIM launched several investigations into the allegations and in December, a preliminary report disclosed that Zacharias did indeed engage in sexual misconduct.
John Lewis – U.S. Representative and Civil Rights activist John Lewis died on July 17 after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Lewis had served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than 30 years. He was part of the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders and was a keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
After being elected to the House in 1987, Lewis worked in Congress to help improve and expand access to education and health care.
In 2011, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Rev. C.T. Vivian - A minister and Civil Rights activist, Rev. C.T. Vivian died in Atlanta, Georgia on July 17 at the age of 95. Vivian, who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., participated in the successful nonviolent protests against segregated lunch counters in Peoria, Illinois, in 1947. The Missouri native would go on to become part of King’s executive staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Vivian, who never stopped advocating for racial equality, would serves as the president of SCLC in his late 80s.
J.I. Packer – Arguably one of the most influential theologians of the age, J.I. Packer, the author of Knowing God, died on July 17 at the age of 93. Packer served as a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia from 1979 until 2016. In his lifetime, Packer authored more than 40 books, many of which were assigned and read in Christian colleges and seminaries around the world.
Chadwick Boseman – Christian and Influential actor Chadwick Boseman passed away on August 28 after a years-long battle with colon cancer. He was 43. The Black Panther star was an outspoken Christian who attended church regularly and dedicated much of his time to charity work. Just before his untimely death, Boseman, who grew up in Anderson, South Carolina, donated $4.2 million worth of personal protective equipment to hospitals serving the Black community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18 in her Washington D.C. home. She was 87 years old.
According to an announcement from the Supreme Court, Ginsburg’s death was caused by complications from her metastatic pancreatic cancer. Ginsberg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Cornell graduate quickly became an icon among many liberal feminists. In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion ordering the Virginia Military Institute to allow women into the school. Ginsburg was also a vocal pro-abortion advocate and an advocate for equal pay for women.
Bishop Rance Allen - A Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee, Bishop Rance Allen died on October 31 at the age of 71.
In 1969, Allen formed the Rance Allen Group with two of his brothers, Thomas and Steve. In 1971, after signing with Stax Records, the group released their first gospel album, “Truth Is Where It's At.” The “Something About the Name Jesus” singer was nominated for five Grammys.
Alex Trebek - Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away on November 8 after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 80. Trebek was a 7-time Daytime Emmy winner, a National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Guinness World Records holder for the most episodes of a game show hosted by the same presenter, a recipient of a Hollywood Walk of Fame star and a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. In 2011, Trebek also received the Peabody Award for “encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge.” The late L.A. resident is also the author of the best-selling book, The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life, in which he details his cancer journey.
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. – Senior pastor of the Maryland-based Hope Christian Church, Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr. passed away on November 9 at the age of 66. Jackson was the founder and chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition, a group that teaches church leaders different tactics for improving their surrounding communities. He is also the author of several books including High Impact African American Churches, which he co-wrote with veteran researcher and founder of the Barna Group, George Barna. Further, Bishop Jackson was known as a conservative political figure and served as an evangelical advisor to President Trump.
William Bobby McClain- United Methodist Church leader and Civil Rights activist Rev. William Bobby McClain died on November 18 at the age of 82.
McClain was a pastor and professor who created the groundbreaking hymnal “Songs of Zion.” He was also a founding member of the group that organized Black Methodists for Church Renewal. During the 1960s, McClain worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the fight for racial equality. Also during that time, he preached at Haven Chapel Methodist Church in Alabama.
McClain, who earned his Ph.D. from Boston University School of Theology, would go on to teach at several prominent Christian schools and Seminaries, including Wesley Theological Seminary where he served for 34 years.
Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has written on her blog since 2012 and has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.