It was a year of unexpected election outcomes, race-related violence, ongoing global terrorism and natural disasters. It also was another year of controversial comments and consequences.
In 2016, the most-read Baptist Press story was one about a popular author and speaker who sparked a firestorm with statements she made in an interview about gay marriage.
This year's list of stories, compiled by the web-traffic tracker Google Analytics, also includes coverage of a tragic highway crash that took the lives of a young missionary family of five, wildfires that devastated Gatlinburg this fall and stories related to this year's Southern Baptist Convention presidential election.
Following is a list of the top 10 stories.
1. LifeWay pulls Hatmaker books over LGBT views
In October, LifeWay Christian Resources announced it was pulling resources featuring best-selling Bible study author Jen Hatmaker. LifeWay announced the decision two days after Hatmaker voiced approval of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle in an Oct. 25 interview with Religion News Service. A statement released by LifeWay spokesman Marty King noted, "[Hatmaker] voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage—changes which contradict LifeWay's doctrinal guidelines. As a result, LifeWay has discontinued selling her resources."
2. Highway crash kills young missionary family of 5
A tragic car crash took the lives of a missionary family on a highway in western Nebraska on July 31. The family, of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis was planning this fall to head overseas to Japan. Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, and their three children, Ezra, Violet and Calvin, ages 4 years to 2 months, reportedly died when a semi-trailer truck struck their mini-van in a construction zone. Bethlehem is part of the Baptist General Conference.
3. J.D. Greear to be SBC presidential nominee
In March, J.D. Greear was the first of three candidates announced for the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year's SBC annual meeting in St. Louis. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham area, ran against Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines and Louisiana pastor David Crosby. The vote would go to a run-off between Greear and Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, that didn't produce a majority vote. Headed to a second run-off vote, Greear withdrew his candidacy. Gaines accepted the presidency by acclamation.
4. Bellevue security subdues 'heavily armed' man
A man armed with several guns at Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church was arrested and taken into custody for mental evaluation Easter Sunday. Just before Bellevue's 11 a.m. worship service began, a church greeter reported 31-year-old Marcus Donald entering the church with a pistol sticking out of his pocket. Donald was subdued and arrested outside the auditorium. No injuries were reported.
5. SBC's Floyd builds grassroots ties in Ethiopia
Then-Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd took a trip to Ethiopia to meet with political leaders and learn more about mission efforts in the country. Floyd met with the country's key leaders, including Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome and Speaker of the House Abadulla Gemeda. Floyd discussed the importance of religious freedom, biblical marriage between a man and a woman, and the dignity of all human life.
6. IMB: 1,132 missionary staff accept VRI, HRO
After reports of an anticipated $21 million budget shortfall, the International Mission Board announced in February that 1,132 missionaries had accepted early retirement options. The organization had encouraged staff and missionaries to consider whether the Lord was moving them to another ministry opportunity. The initial numbers reported showed 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff had chosen to transition out of the mission entity as a result of its voluntary retirement and resignation programs. In November, IMB President David Platt announced that trustees had unanimously approved a balanced budget for 2017.
7. Marriage & family's Gary Smalley dies
Gary Smalley, a prolific author and speaker on marriage and the family, died March 6 in Branson, Mo. Smalley was 75. Smalley authored 60-plus books with $6 million in sales, taped numerous videos, led conferences in churches across the country, and joined with other authors and speakers in various projects. A Baptist Press report noted these projects included resources to help people find freedom from pornography and other sexual sins by the ministry Freedom Begins Here.
8. Trafficking victim even went to church
In February, Baptist Press published a feature on a former trafficking victim named Anna. Anna shared that while being trafficked, she attended church. But no one knew about her secret life in the world of pornography. Amanda Eckhardt, director of programs at Restore NYC, who works with about 200 sex trafficking survivors a year, noted many like Anna have been allowed by their traffickers to attend church services. The article shares what churches need to know to identify trafficking victims and help them.
9. 'Heartbroken': Tenn. fires destroy homes, churches
Wildfires in November around the east Tennessee resort area of Gatlinburg claimed the lives of at least 14 people, destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses and prompted local believers to launch relief ministries. The fires near Gatlinburg were among a series of wildfires across the Southeast this fall that led Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units to deploy in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
10. Steve Gaines to be SBC president nominee
In March, Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines became the second announced candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Gaines, who would go on to become SBC president, told Baptist Press, "I've been praying for an awakening for a long time, and that's really my heart."
"I want the manifest presence of God in our churches and also in our denomination ... I also believe that we've got a real problem with our baptisms," said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. "We need to get back to personal evangelism and soul winning."
Other noteworthy stories in 2016 included the Cooperative Program, the SBC's unified giving channel to ministry and missions. The convention ended its fiscal year $9.23 million over its 2015-16 budgeted goal and $6.57 million over the previous year's CP allocation budget gifts. This year, Ohio Baptists approved the largest increase by any state convention in the portion of CP receipts to be sent beyond the state next year, moving from the current 59.75/40.25 ratio to a 50/50 split. The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio joined four other conventions that forward half or more to the SBC, without a "shared ministry" calculation. The four other state conventions to do so are the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (55/45), Florida (51/49), Iowa (50/50) and Nevada (50/50).