In early December the security situation had improved enough in Bethlehem for busloads of tourists to come back to visit the birthplace of Jesus and other holy sights in Israel and the West Bank. That was about the only the good news from the Middle East. In the Gaza Strip, the standoff continued between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.
Christians persecuted in Iraq . . . Christian clergy murdered in Indonesia . . . churches destroyed in the Sudan. Around the world, stories of anti-Christian abuse and violence mount up, and are usually presented as irrefutable evidence of the violence of Islam.
The election of Barack Obama offers hope that religion will play a more constructive role in the public arena rather than the largely divisive role it has played in recent years. One sign of hope is that Obama was able to narrow the Democrats’ so-called God gap.
The 35 people executed in the United States in 2014 represent the fewest number in two decades, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The decline is driven in part by continuing legal disputes related to drugs used in lethal injection and by state moratoriums on the death penalty. The center, which opposes the death penalty, also found that the 72 death sentences issued in 2014 represents the fewest in 40 years. Perhaps most striking about the 2014 report was the fact that Texas, the perennial leader in carrying out the death penalty, was no longer alone at the top (as it has been for 17 years). It was tied with Missouri for the most executions, with ten (RNS).