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Fault lines and fissures

A series of earthquakes—both real and symbolic—shook the ground and exposed divides during the first weeks of 2020

Fault lines and fissures

Mourners ­attend a funeral ceremony for Soleimani in Tehran. (Saeid Zareian/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

An earthquake comes with little warning, but it’s possible to notice the effects of a tremor before feeling the earth move. A few days after Haiti’s massive earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, I noticed pieces of loose stone falling from a wall moments before I realized the earth was rumbling in an aftershock. 

On Jan. 2, 2020, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, but the dramatic moment followed signs that the ground was shifting. U.S. Gen. David Petraeus once called Soleimani “a truly evil figure.” 

In Iraq, Christians had suffered in areas controlled by militias backed by Soleimani’s forces, and they said tensions remained high after his death. (WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz spoke with Christians in the region after the U.S. strike.)

At least a million Iranians poured into Tehran’s streets after Soleimani’s assassination. Some chanted: “Death to America.” But days later, the ground shifted again, when Iran admitted it accidentally downed a Ukrainian jetliner leaving Tehran, killing the 176 people on board. Iranian officials initially had denied responsibility, and throngs of anti-government protesters shouted: “Death to the liars.” 

In the United States, a different kind of fissure cracked open: Leaders from the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced a proposal on Jan. 3 to allow conservative congregations to break away from the denomination in the United States and form their own church body. 

Last May, the UMC voted to uphold the Biblical definition of marriage, but the global vote included many African delegates embracing historic Christian teaching on sexuality. In the Unites States, conservative Methodists are in the minority, and they remain at odds with church leaders supporting gay ordination and same-sex weddings. 

The proposal would allocate $25 million for departing conservatives. Churches would keep their property, and ministers would keep their pensions. Still, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy said since many Methodist congregations aren’t “strictly liberal or conservative,” the process likely will be “messy and often tragic.” 

Eric Rojas/Getty Images

People inspect damage after a 6.4 earthquake in Puerto Rico. (Eric Rojas/Getty Images)

On Jan. 7, the ground literally shifted in Puerto Rico: A 6.4 magnitude earthquake was the most powerful to hit the island in a century. The quake damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and caused widespread power outages in the U.S. territory.

In Australia, the ground didn’t quake, but it did burn. Wildfires consumed some 26,000 square miles of land and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Firefighters warned the blazes might continue into February. 

Back in the United States, Ricky Gervais scorched celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 5. The British comedian exposed the divide between Hollywood elites and much of their audiences. He exhorted the actors not to make political speeches if they won an award: “You know nothing about the real world.”

That didn’t stop actress Michelle Williams from using her win to offer an unusual tribute: “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose—to choose when to have my children and with whom.”

The speech came a few days before Planned Parenthood officials released their annual report and disclosed the number of abortions they conducted during the last fiscal year: 345,672. The group also reported the amount of funding it received from government grants and reimbursements: nearly $617 million.

Abortion will expose divides in the 2020 presidential election, but a presidential impeachment trial forced several Democratic contenders to prepare to leave the campaign trail. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar faced returning to D.C. for the Senate trial and leaving the road open in early primary states to front-runner candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

As American politics rumbled, Haitians marked 10 years since the 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 220,000 people in the Caribbean nation. They also lamented the political upheaval and demonstrations that ground the nation to a halt over the last few months.

Benjamin Hopp, a missionary with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said the resilient Haitians in the churches he serves haven’t lost hope in God’s care for them, but they are weary of the turmoil that has shaken the nation again: “Pray they won’t be discouraged.”  

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.