3 - Presidential politics: evangelicals help Santorum in Iowa, leaders attempt to unite behind a candidate
For months, the saga of debates and polls has yielded a wide swing of candidates and their rankings in the race for the Republican nomination. That is, except for Mitt Romney's steady status as a frontrunner. But, finally on Tuesday, voters actually lived up to their name - they voted! And in Iowa, the caucus yielded two candidates - #1 and #1a, essentially...Mitt Romney won, edging Rick Santorum by 8 votes. Commentators had been wondering why Santorum had not surged, as other candidates not named Romney had done, or when he would surge. Well, he has basically surged at just the right time, finishing strong in Iowa and, in a Rasmussen poll, closing to within 3 points of Romney in South Carolina, site of a primary later this month.
In Iowa, according to entrance polls, 58% of voters self-identified as evangelical, comparable to 60% in 2008, when Mike Huckabee won the caucuses. Out of the evangelical voters, the nod went to Santorum, who has traditionally been in line with evangelicals on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, emphasizing his commitment to Christian values throughout his political history. Santorum received votes from 32% of evangelicals, compared to 18% for Ron Paul, and 14% each for Romney, Gingrich, and Perry. Blogger Dan Gilgoff had this analysis on the CNN Belief Blog.
While the evangelical vote was splintered in Iowa, there are some that would like that not to be the case moving forward. Reports surfaced this week about a meeting in Texas next weekend among Christian leaders, such as James Dobson, Richard Land, Don Wildmon, John Hagee, and others to discuss the possibility of galvanizing around one candidate, one not named Mitt Romney, whom many feel does not possess deep convictions about issues such as life and marriage, and who follows a faith perspective - Mormonism - that a large majority of Christians view as outside mainstream Christianity. And, over the weekend, Gary Bauer of American Values announced his personal endorsement of Rick Santorum. Whether or not the race could be dramatically altered as a result of evangelical leaders attempting to settle on one candidate remains to be seen, but the fact that it has garnered such coverage indicates the perceived influence that evangelicals have on Republican party politics.
(Supplemental reading, including quotes from evangelical leaders, from the New York Times.)
2 - World Watch List headed by same nation 10 straight years, 9 out of top 10 are Islamic countries
The organization, Open Doors, founded by Brother Andrew, best known for his successful attempts to smuggle Bibles to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, releases a "World Watch List" each year, and the most recent edition is notable because of the consistency among many of the nations on the list, as well as some of the dramatic moves of nations outside the top 10. The List is an indicator of the degree to which nations engage in persecuting Christians.
The top persecutor, for the 10th straight year, is the isolated, authoritarian regime of North Korea, where some 50 to 70 thousand Christians are currently imprisoned for their faith. The timing of the release of the list coincides with the leadership transition that is currently underway there, as power shifts from Kim Jong-Il to his son, Kim Jong-Un. Many of those inside the nation believe that the dominant philosophy will continue, and that hundreds of thousands of Christians there face a very real danger.
Here is the press release announcing this year's List.
9 out of the top 10 nations are considered Islamic-majority countries, some with Islamic governments implementing Sharia, or Islamic, law, others with a majority of the population embracing Islam and some regional governments enforcing laws that punish the practice of Christianity. According to Open Doors,
Outside the top 10, 3 nations made impressive upward moves, all of them with a significant Muslim population and a rise in Muslim extremism: Sudan moved up 19 spots to No. 16 – the biggest leap of any country from 2011. Nigeria rose 10 spots to No. 13. Egypt, where violent protests and upheaval have come about during the Arab Spring, rose four positions to No. 15.
Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia (4), Iran (5) and the Maldives (6) form a bloc where indigenous Christians have almost no freedom to openly worship. For the first time Pakistan (10) entered the top 10, after a tumultuous year during which the nation’s highest-ranking Christian politician, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for his attempts to change the blasphemy law.
The rest of the top 10 is composed of Uzbekistan (7), Yemen (8) and Iraq (9). Laos was the lone country to drop from the top 10 list, falling to No. 12 from No. 10.
Recognizing that many nations regard the practice of Christianity as illegal, it's important that we are in prayer for believers in those countries who are living their lives and expressing their faith many times in secret, for fear of retribution by the authorities.
1 - Sellout crowd at Passion gives impressive amount of money to help fight human trafficking
For years now, the Passion movement has been an effective tool that God has used to energize young adults, primarily college students, and to train them to be effective in their witness on their campuses and various spheres of influence. This year, the annual gathering in Atlanta moved from its previous home at the Philips Arena to the more spacious Georgia Dome, where some 44,000 seats were made available - every one of them filled. Next year, in fact, the 2013 Passion event will utilize all 70,000+ seats in the Dome.
Here's a report from The Christian Post.
The latest installment of Passion this past Monday through Thursday included not only a stellar speaking lineup, including founder Louie Giglio, as well as Beth Moore, John Piper, and Francis Chan, but also notable worship leaders Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong United, and Christy Nockels. Plus, the final concert of the David Crowder Band was part of the event! And, there was a call to those gathered to give dollars to the cause of fighting human trafficking, which affects some 27 million people worldwide. And, that, interestingly enough, was what attracted the attention of the media, including CNN. The latest total of dollars raised: just over $3 million! These students, I believe, are indicative of their generation, who are determined to make a difference, desiring to live out an authentic faith.