JAN. 5: A person in St. Louis struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow. Frigid air descended upon much of the country, dropping temperatures in some areas to record lows and prompting wind chill warnings from Montana to Florida.
Terrorists attacked St. John’s Catholic Church and other Christian areas of Baghdad on Christmas Day. The multiple bombings in the Iraqi capital killed dozens and injured more than 100. The bomb outside the church detonated in the parking lot just as worshippers left the Christmas service. Three other explosions hit a crowded market in the surrounding neighborhood of Dora. Officials put the death toll for the bombings at 39, but some sources said the number was closer to 100. Insurgent attacks in Iraq are increasing, forcing Christians to flee the country. A decade ago Iraq had an estimated 1.5 million Christians. Now Christians number about 200,000. “I used to tell my people, ‘Please don’t leave,’” said Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s, the largest church in Baghdad. “Now I can’t say that. How can you say to people to stay when they are being killed?”
Lumps of coal
A rush of last-minute online buying and poor weather led to Christmas shipping delays for FedEx and UPS. When some customers from around the country did not receive their Christmas gifts in time, companies tried to soften the blow by playing Santa Claus. Amazon offered refunds on shipping charges and a $20 credit toward a future purchase.
Free in Philly
A Superior Court overturned Monsignor William Lynn’s 2012 conviction of child endangerment. The three-judge panel ruled Lynn might have acted horribly but not criminally. Lynn’s 2012 trial marked the first time a Roman Catholic Church official faced trial for protecting priests who abused children. Lynn, now 62, covered up the crimes of abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. Lynn, the panel said, “prioritized the archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests” but had not violated laws on the books at the time. Prosecutors are planning to appeal the ruling.
Police in Ukraine arrested three suspects in the brutal Dec. 25 assault on journalist and opposition activist Tetyana Chornovol. The attack left Chornovol with a concussion, a broken nose, and tissue damage on her face. Chornovol had been investigating the finances of several Ukrainian political leaders. Her attackers dragged her from her car in the early morning hours and beat her, leaving her in a ditch. President Yanukovych condemned the attack, but several hundred demonstrators blamed the government and staged a protest against the attacks outside the Interior Ministry.
Facing a mounting backlash and threats of a boycott, the A&E television network reversed its decision to suspend Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for comments he made regarding homosexuality. Robertson, talking about the gay lifestyle during a magazine interview, paraphrased 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 where Paul calls homosexuality unrighteous. He also gave a graphic criticism of gay sex. The comments prompted some of his family to acknowledge that Robertson’s comments were coarse, but the Robertson clan stressed that he “is a Godly man” whose beliefs are grounded in the Bible. The gay lobbyist group GLAAD pressured A&E and the program’s sponsors to cut their ties to Robertson. A&E suspended Robertson. But supporters of traditional marriage backed Robertson in an outpouring one GLAAD representative called the biggest he had seen in 5½ years with the organization.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III upheld a National Security Agency program that collects Americans’ telephone records in bulk. The ruling came just days after another U.S. district judge, Richard Leon, granted a preliminary injunction against the program for a different plaintiff. The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to appeal Pauley’s ruling.
Weeks before February’s Olympics in Sochi, a suicide bomber killed 17 people at a train station in Russia’s Volgograd (formerly known as Stalingrad). Authorities believe a female bomber detonated an explosive in front of a metal detector. A day later another suicide bomber killed 14 people on a bus in Volgograd. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Chechen Muslim rebel leader Doku Umarov has called for such attacks against civilians ahead of the Winter Games.
Two Christian publishers announced investigations of plagiarism by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. NavPress is looking into whether Driscoll plagiarized material from a NavPress-published book by Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart. Crossway, publisher of Driscoll’s Death by Love, is conducting its own “internal review” of his books. Radio host Janet Mefferd first raised concerns about plagiarism by Driscoll in November.
Just two years after declaring its independence, South Sudan lurched toward civil war when fighting erupted between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar. By early January, the two factions sent delegations to hold peace talks in Ethiopia, but the violence has spread to at least six of the country’s 10 states, killing more than 1,000 people. With at least 180,000 civilians fleeing their homes, South Sudanese church leaders pleaded with warring factions to halt hostilities.
Tebow on TV
Tim Tebow is returning to football—but he’ll be behind a mic instead of under center. The Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback, released by the New England Patriots in August, will become a college football analyst next season for the new SEC Network. Tebow, a former SEC star with the Florida Gators, will appear on SEC Nation, a traveling pregame show that will visit a different SEC campus each week during the football season. Despite the new gig, Tebow says he hasn’t given up on returning to the NFL.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced plans to develop and test drones for use above the United States, with a goal of having drones sharing the skies with commercial airliners by the end of 2015. Research teams working with the FAA will have sites in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. Drones mostly have been used by the military so far, but governments, businesses, and farmers soon hope to launch their own drones.
New Year’s resolution
It was a happy new year for several Catholic organizations in Colorado. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—right before heading to Times Square to take part in the city’s official New Year’s celebrations—issued an emergency stay temporarily blocking Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate for groups like Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver. The groups are part of a class-action lawsuit against the mandate. “The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people—it doesn’t need to force nuns to participate,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said in a statement praising the order. Three days later the Obama administration called on Sotomayor, who handles emergency applications from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, to lift the stay. The Department of Justice in court papers said the groups “fail to satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary and rarely granted relief they seek.”
Asking to forgive
The parents of 17-year-old Claire Davis, murdered at her Arapahoe, Colo., school, said in a New Year’s Day memorial service they have forgiven her killer and others should, too. Davis’ classmate Karl Pierson came to school on Dec. 13 heavily armed and seeking revenge on a teacher when he shot Davis in the head. He then took his own life. Michael Davis told the thousands attending the memorial service the family hopes its forgiveness will help not to “perpetuate this anger and rage and hatred” that led to his daughter’s death.
At 8:00 a.m., Colorado became the first state in the union to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Colorado residents can buy an ounce of pot from licensed sellers while non-residents can buy a quarter of an ounce. The legalization is the result of a constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters in November. The federal government still considers marijuana illegal.
One of the Big Three automakers, Chrysler, is completing its transition to a European car company. The Italian carmaker Fiat announced it is buying the remaining 41.5 percent stake in Chrysler it didn’t already own. The company’s stock price soared after news of the nearly $3 billion deal.
In a five-hour operation, a Chinese helicopter rescued 52 scientists and tourists from a Russian ship stuck in Antarctic sea ice for nine days. The ship traveled to the area to study the effects of global warming. Three icebreakers sent to free the ship failed, and a Chinese ship taking part in the rescue also became stuck. Ice surrounding Antarctica set a new record in 2013, extending more than 19.47 million square kilometers according to NASA, despite predictions from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Antarctic sea ice would shrink.
A massive winter storm nicknamed “Hercules” hit the Northeast on Jan. 2, killing at least nine and closing Boston’s Logan International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 3. The city of Boxford, Mass., received 23 inches of snow.
In the last BCS title game before next season’s introduction of a college football playoff, Florida State came back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game. The lead changed hands three times between the ACC champion Seminoles and the SEC champion Auburn Tigers before Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback Jameis Winston connected with receiver Kelvin Benjamin to put Florida State ahead for good at 34-31. Florida State’s national title win is the first for a non-SEC team in eight years. “The SEC is great football,” said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. “I coached in that league for 13 years—I respect every bit of it—but there’s some other folks in this country that can play some football, too.”
U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang ruled Chicago’s ban on retail gun sales violates the constitutional rights of its residents. “Certain fundamental rights,” wrote Chang, “are protected by the Constitution, put outside government’s reach, including the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense under the Second Amendment.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to appeal the ruling and has told city attorneys to consider all options to regulate the sale of firearms within the city.
Federal investigators executed one of the largest Social Security disability fraud busts in U.S. history, issuing arrest warrants for 106 people. Authorities say most of the defendants claimed they couldn’t work because of disabilities but actually led active lives, but four of those arrested included a lawyer, a consultant, and two recruiters accused of helping the others defraud the government of $24 million.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that anti-smoking efforts have saved 8 million Americans from premature deaths over the last 50 years. The study, which comes on the 50th anniversary of a famous 1974 surgeon general report that warned of the dangers of smoking, said 42 percent of Americans smoked before the surgeon general’s warning, while only 18 percent of Americans smoke now.
The world’s worst
Open Doors USA, a group tracking Christian persecution around the globe, on Jan. 8 named North Korea the worst country in the world for persecuting Christians. North Korea, which has between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labor camps, retained the designation for the 12th year in a row, followed by Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen. Open Doors measured how much Christians can live out their faith in private, family, community, national, and church life—plus violent incidents—to compile the list.