RELEVANT’s Top 10 Stories of 2020

The end of every year is always an opportunity to reflect on just how wild everything got, but 2020 does feel different — mostly for the worse. In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic robbed us of a year, forcing many of us indoors while our planned trips, events, dreams and goals were pushed back to 2021. A lot of us lost people we care about to this disease. Others of us felt the gnawing loneliness of self-distancing, or the strained relationship of a socio-political divide we didn’t know how to cross. The 2020 election has created strange new rifts we are still trying to wrap our heads around.

And then there was a the summer, when many of us took to the streets. What started as a movement to bring justice to people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery became an unprecedented global movement for the worth and dignity of Black lives. It pushed beyond the poison fruit of police brutality down to the roots of systemic racism, pushing for equality at the broadest possible scale.

These events were all bigger than the Church, but faith became a major theme in them anyway. The debate around lockdowns in the U.S. swirled around church gatherings on Sunday mornings, and the fight against systemic racism included a call on the American Church to seriously examine the way white supremacy had infiltrated its pews.

And at RELEVANT, we tried to be there for as much of it as possible. Here are the five most-read news stories and five most-read features we published in 2020.

 


News Stories

5. Phil Vischer Explains Systemic Racism

—June 17

Phil Vischer is best known as the creator of Veggie Tales but in 2020, he slightly shifted tracks, putting his storytelling skills to work explaining exactly what people mean when they say “systemic racism” — a term often used but poorly understood.

Most Americans are familiar with the idea of racism on an individual level: judging someone differently based on the color of their skin. But there has been a struggle in communicating the idea of systemic racism, which is built into our institutions at a much deeper and more insidious level. In a YouTube video posted to the Holy Post, Vischer takes just a little over fifteen minutes to give a brief history lesson on how racism influenced things like homeownership and the GI Bill in ways that have profoundly influenced the modern American landscape. People who grew up on Veggie Tales will recognize Vischer’s gift for explaining complex topics with clarity, candor and conviction. It’s a really good watch.

Read the full story here.

4. Beth Moore Condemns Trumpism

—December 14

Speaking of shifting lanes, author and preacher Beth Moore has been on quite a journey over the last few years, drawing a new generation to her wisdom and leadership by taking her convictions about racial and gender equality to Twitter. But her principled stance became a national news story after a set of tweets condemning the Christian capitulation to Trumpism went viral.

This isn’t exactly a new song from Moore, but the lyrics are a little more pointed. Moore has been writing bestselling Christian books since the 1990s, and her Living Proof Ministries hosts enormously popular conferences all over the world. But over the last few years, a new generation has come to know Moore primarily for her fierce courage in the face of the fundamentalist extremism creeping within her conservative Southern Baptist tradition. On social media, she forcefully challenges the misogyny and racism that has plagued evangelicalism with a zeal that makes many “cool” younger prominent Christian leaders look lazy in comparison.

Read the full story here.

3. John Piper on Why He Didn’t Vote for Either Candidate

—October 22

Speaking of Trumpism, author and pastor John Piper turned a lot of heads when he announced on his own blog Desiring God that he would not be voting for either President Donald Trump or President-elect Joe Biden in the November election.

In this piece, Piper addresses the elephant in the room. He makes it clear that he’s not a fan of abortion, which he calls “wickedness,” but says the evangelical tolerance for current behaviors in the current administration have their own death toll. “When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world,” Piper writes. “He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine. It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.”

Read the full story here.

2. Breonna Taylor’s Case Has Been Reopened

—June 3

Few cases this year were as long or as agonizing to follow as that of Breonna Taylor, the young Louisville woman who was killed in a horrifically killed botched police raid. The ceaseless protests to give her the justice and dignity in death that she was not afforded in life hit a major victory in June, when Taylor’s case was re-opened. In the end however, nobody was punished for her death.

According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by in April by Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer, three plainclothes officers burst into Taylor’s apartment and started firing “blindly.” Taylor, a licensed EMT, was shot eight times. The officers involved have all been reassigned, but no charges or even firings have resulted, even as protestors in Louisville and around the world have taken up her cause along with those of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and other black men and women who ended up as tragic casualties of systemic racial injustice.

Read the full story here.

1. Jerry Falwell Jr. Posted — Then Deleted — A Bizarre ‘Vacation Photo’ From Instagram

—August 3

The story of Liberty University’s former president was strange and lurid, difficult to cover but impossible to look away from. The story captivated a nation who largely smirked at the salacious hypocrisy on display, and eventually became too big for Liberty leadership to ignore. But it all really started here, with a quickly deleted Instagram post that soon toppled one of the most famous names in Religious Right history.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. posted — and then apparently deleted — a bizarre Instagram post in which he appeared with his shirt hiked up and his pants unzipped, standing next to a woman identified as a “friend.” In the caption, Falwell wrote the drink he was holding was “just black water” and a “prop only.”

Read the full story here.

 


Feature Articles

5. The Rise of Maverick City Music

—September 1

In 2020, almost no worship act captured our attention at RELEVANT the way Maverick City Music did. The group’s rare combination of technical talent, creative courage and spiritual anointing makes for some of the most awe-inspiring listening you could hope to hear in a year desperately in need of some.

“This is God’s Church. It’s His Church,” Raine says. “And so we want Him to have His way. That doesn’t mean we’re not responsible or we don’t operate in excellence. We train. We put the work into writing. The musicians are trained musicians. And then we come, we gather, we bring it together and give it to Him. It’s an offering. And hopefully He breathes on it and uses it.”

Read the full story here.

4. COVID-19 And The Church: An Emergency Physician’s Thoughts

—March 17

Dr. Chris Zalesky gave RELEVANT a piece of his mind early on in coronavirus season. His opinions — and wisdom — have aged very well.

The nature of where I work means I have been hyper-aware of everything that is being said about COVID-19 — from scientists, doctors, public health officials, friends, churches, pastors, leaders or anyone else who is saying anything. I have been listening. The talk has ranged from panic, dismissal, calm, rejection of fear, outright fear or trepidation. Many of these frustrate me because it seems Scripture calls us to walk through crises in a different way. Scripture models people walking with wisdom marked by a calm anchored by God and a deep concern for peoples wellbeing. We should not run headfirst into a pandemic unprotected, ignoring the information we have gathered, assuming God will impart invincibility to us.

See Also

Read the full story here.

3. COVID-19 Preparedness Is an Opportunity to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

—March 13

One of the foolish things you hear in the pandemic conversation is that social distancing and wearing masks is just living in fear. On the one hand, sure, many people are scared of getting sick. That’s not exactly the same thing as “living in fear.” But more importantly, taking adequate precautions is really a lot more about putting the safety and concern of others above yourself.

This is a difficult concept for Americans, where the cult of the individual is prized above all. In the U.S., we uniquely rely on our own OK-ness as the standard for whether or not everyone else is OK too. But Philippians 2:4 implores Christians to “look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” That’s counter-intuitive teaching in any culture, but it’s especially radical here and now, when looking to the interests of others might involve serious concessions to your own day-to-day way of life. Loving others requires sacrifice. If it didn’t, everyone would do it.

Read the full story here.

2. Christians, Let’s All Stop Doing These 15 Things On Social Media

—September 16

In 2020, we were all to a startlingly, undeniably unhealthy degree, online. It’s not all our fault. There wasn’t anywhere else to go. But when we went online, we took our insecurities, anger issues and ill-formed opinions with us, all too often leaving out the charity and humility that’s easier to manifest in face-to-face interactions. This piece called us to better way.

Social media has changed the world and the very nature of communication. We are all able to broadcast our every thought and opinion at an unprecedented scale. But Christians must not forget that everywhere we go, we represent our savior.

Read the full piece here.

1. The Spiritual Renaissance of Matthew McConaughey

—November 1

2020 saw the release of Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights, which is about 50 percent memoir and 50 percent waxing on the big questions of the universe. McConaughey was surprisingly candid in his conversation with RELEVANT, in a conversation that covered prayer, forgiveness and even what he thinks is going to happen when he dies.

“God’s laying out the highways, but we each have our hand on the wheel,” he says. “I look at Earth. I look at the little dot that we are on the planet. The world’s turning. And we’re that little individual on the planet. That smallness can make you go, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m nothing. None of what I do matters.’”

He pauses for dramatic effect, raking his hands through blonde curls that nearly brush his shoulders.

“But,” he finally continues, waving his finger. “A place of humility is actually when you realize, ‘Oh, it allllll matters.’ There’s a great empowerment that comes with that.”

Read the full piece here.

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