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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022  (Read 394 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« on: January 02, 2022, 12:06:59 am »


There’s No Such Thing as Time Management

Maybe productivity doesn’t matter to God in the frantic ways I’ve imagined.

I used to be a lifetime reader of time management books. After the world shut down in March 2020, I got out of my pajamas to meet the challenge of an open schedule. I believed every article telling me that this was the propitious moment for cleaning out my closets, for organizing my pantry, for culling my photos.

And early in the pandemic, I loved my newly organized garage; I was glad to have tackled the towers of paperwork I usually avoided. Productivity is, of course, a modern source of existential consolation. A good day is the day you get things done.

But this new year, I won’t be hunting for a better planner. Nor will I be searching for the best new productivity app. For the first time, I will suffer no illusions this January that a new technique or a better consumer product will help tame the wild beast of time.

Time management is illusory. Though time might be money, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, we cannot grow our portfolio. Sure, we can try to maximize the yield of the minutes, but as the pandemic continues to teach us, tomorrow is never guaranteed. Rather, we must steward our attention.

Despite all my renewed productivity efforts early in the pandemic, I never managed to silence the beating bass of my anxious heart. I had plenty of time, productive time—and still suffered time-anxiety.

As a Christian, I know time matters to God, but I’m beginning to think it matters less to him in the frantic ways I’ve imagined. It’s certainly true we’ve only recently conceived of time as measurable and instrumental, as something to be used or wasted, saved or spent. But even before the invention of the clock—in the medieval monastery—human beings have long been time-anxious creatures.

As David Rooney writes in About Time, a few years after the first sundial was installed in Rome in 263 B.C., a character in a play exclaimed, “The gods damn that man who first discovered the hours, and—yes, who first set up a sundial here, who’s smashed the day into bits for poor me!”

Time management can’t solve the crisis of mortality, this foreboding sense that the days and the years prove short. To be sure, I’ve developed some helpful skills from the many time management books I’ve read: planning ahead, breaking down larger projects into smaller tasks, ruthlessly eliminating the nonessential. But as Melissa Gregg argues in Counterproductive, it’s probably also true that I could have read one good time management book, given how few new ideas have been proposed since the early 20th century.

What seems far more important than disciplines of time management are disciplines of attention management. The minutes are not ours to multiply. We receive them as a gift. What we can do, however, is cultivate the ability to inhabit those minutes with attention, or undiluted unfragmented presence. Simone Weil noticed the gains of attention in her spiritual life, when she began repeating the Lord’s prayer in Greek every day. Whenever her attention wandered, she started over again. “It was during one of these recitations that … Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

Many have noted we live in an attentional economy, which is to say that what is most valuable today are the seconds, the minutes we linger online—time that is sold to someone for profit. When Facebook went public in 2012, for example, they did not have a clearly articulated plan for generating revenue, but they knew that they owned the world’s time.

Matthew Crawford notes in The World Beyond Your Head that one challenge in modern life is that our attention is not always ours to direct. We sit in an airport, stand in the line at the grocery, browse the daily headlines—and someone is there to blare their aggressively loud bullhorn, begging us to buy, subscribe, believe. Attention is a contested resource, and like a city without walls, it will be overrun unless we build walls and post sentries and fortify it against attack.

The conditions today make it hard to attend, especially with a smartphone buzzing in our pocket. But just as time-anxiety is old, so too is the fight for attention. It was attention the apostle Paul admonished the Philippians to cultivate: “[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8, ESV, emphasis added).

Paul was saying: Your attention is valuable. Develop it for the good. When Paul instructed the Corinthians to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5), I don’t think Paul believed that attention was merely a rational faculty. I think he was more broadly gesturing toward the moral exercise of attention of loving the good and habituating ourselves toward it: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Phil 4:9).

Crawford argues that attention requires submission, which seems like a peculiarly Christian understanding. He knows the word is jarring, given that autonomy is often considered the highest good in modern life. Attention requires “submission to things that have their own intractable ways,” he writes, “whether the thing be a musical instrument, a garden, or the building of a bridge.” For Crawford, attention is never self-enclosed. It is not self-gaze. It is a form of devotion to the other. Attention requires not simply that we look up (from our phones) but that we look out—beyond ourselves.

I’ve become more interested in projects today that are preoccupied with the cultivation of attention—books like Justin Whitmel Earley’s The Common Rule, which our church small group is reading together. Earley’s book isn’t devoted to the management of time. Instead, it suggests regular rhythms—in time—that call us into submission to our Creator, the one to whom all time belongs: daily habits like kneeling prayer and digital ascetism and weekly habits like Sabbath and fasting.

This framework—of habits and a governing rule of life—is monastic. It’s an attention project. It’s not simply an individual exercise, however; it’s a communal one. Which begs the question of what churches can do to help their congregants cultivate the faculty of attention. In my own church context, I’d love for us to become less reliant on phones for operational business on Sunday mornings, making it possible, especially for those involved, to leave them at home, or at least silenced and effectively ignored. I’d love to see us corporately endeavor to think more carefully about our digital habits and practices throughout the week—because attention seems like an analog skill.

I think attention is what Brother Lawrence learned to practice in the monastery kitchen, as he washed plates. He didn’t concern himself with time and its elapsing, but rather considered that all time was valuable insofar as it was inhabited with devoted attention:

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

Time management marketing preys on existential dread: that life is short, that we are mortal. Its tips and tricks might help us manage some of the unwieldly aspects of contemporary life and work, but it will not teach us how to, as Brother Lawrence said, “do all things for the love of God.” For that, we will need practice in attention.

Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, podcast host, and speaker based in Toronto. She’s the author of four books and is working on a fifth: In Good Time: 8 Habits for Reimagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry, and Practicing Peace (Baker Books, 2022).

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2022, 11:39:37 pm »


On Ukraine-Russia Border, Evangelicals Endure as Invasion Looms

Baptists and Pentecostals assess activism, unity, and reregistration in the Donbas region’s occupied Luhansk and Donetsk.

Trying to help, Vitaly Vlasenko was labeled a spy.

Traveling 650 miles south from Moscow to Luhansk, Ukraine, at his own expense, the now–general secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance (REA) waded into a war zone. Russian-backed separatists have held control of the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine since 2014, and by 2018 had crafted laws to re-register churches, ostensibly under the principle of freedom of conscience and assembly.

But two years prior, the rebel authorities in Luhansk declared Baptists and Pentecostals a security threat. Pastors had been murdered; churches were seized. In total the conflict has killed over 14,000 people and displaced 2 million of Donbas’s 5 million people.

And currently, tens of thousands of Russian troops are on the border, threatening a full invasion.

“Our brothers in Christ in Ukraine are crying out: ‘Why don’t you pressure Russia to stop this aggression?’” said Vlasenko. “We tell them we are a small minority with no standing and no clear information, and officially Russia is not a part of this conflict.”

It does not go over well, he admits. Relations between evangelicals in the neighboring nations have become strained, and some assumed the worst of his December 2018 trip to speak with rebel authorities about the registration process.

Only the KGB-connected could get access, Vlasenko heard.

In reality, the visit was arranged through prior connections with the Russian Orthodox Church metropolitan in Luhansk. Your church received registration, the REA leader told his Orthodox counterpart; where is our Christian solidarity?

Without registration, churches were disconnected from the gas and electricity grid. All remaining evangelical churches were operating illegally, but some still had use of their facilities. But now it was winter, and cold.

The metropolitan agreed the situation was wrong and facilitated contact with the religious affairs official. Vlasenko was told registration would be given to all who completed procedures. He passed on the information to Ukrainian colleagues. But today, he said, relations are at a standstill.

“I understand they are in a difficult situation,” Vlasenko said. “Most churches have their headquarters in Kyiv, so how can they accept registration and explain this to their brothers in the [Ukrainian] capital?”

But Donbas churches face a choice: Continue to suffer, or continue in ministry. Vlasenko stays neutral, as he cannot advise them as a Russian.

Religious freedom problems in Donbas listed by the EEA include:

• Many churches are illegal and cannot meet, especially evangelical and Ukrainian Orthodox ones. Whole denominations are classed as extremist with no justification.

• Much Christian literature is banned, including the Russian Synodal translation of the Bible. Church buildings have been seized by force; the Christian University of Donetsk is occupied by soldiers.

• The registration system for faith communities is totally unfair. Churches have found their applications rejected or have been liquidated later for supposedly being extremist.

To date, only a few evangelical churches have been “legalized” in Luhansk. Bandura said the registration process is designed to be impossible. But in occupied Donetsk, the other half of the Donbas region and also operating under its own rebel laws and leadership, there has been more flexibility.

Luhansk officially designated the Baptist Union as a terrorist group, Bandura said, so the church there is underground. Overall in Donbas, only half of about 100 churches are still functional. Procedures are underway with the rebel authorities in Donetsk to unite three separate Baptist groups under one umbrella, in order to secure registration.

“If this is how you can preserve your churches and ministries, we are not against it,” Bandura said. “We do not encourage or recommend anything—and assume any arrangement is temporary.”

Other groups in Donetsk still find the requirements to be cumbersome. But Yuriy Kulakevych, foreign affairs director of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church, thinks things may be moving forward.

“Russia likes to show it keeps to international standards of freedom of religion,” he said. “But for now, we are illegal, told to sit down and keep quiet.”

The situation is different in Crimea, he said, which in 2014 was also seized by Russian-backed separatists. Russia conducted a referendum on annexation soon after and formally—though illegally under international law—incorporated the Black Sea peninsula into its territory.

Pentecostals acquiesced to the new reality.

“We saw it as then the best possible means to survive,” said Kulakevych. “And Russian Pentecostal leadership are all Ukrainian missionaries from 30 years ago; we know them.”

But not all relations are good. What he called the second-largest Pentecostal group in Russia is headed by a leader “100 percent committed to the Kremlin agenda in Ukraine.”

Even within his own network, relations were difficult. Kulakevych spoke of Ukrainian Pentecostal frustration in 2014 and onward, when Russian counterparts failed to protest against their suffering. But later, they learned that as citizens, Russian evangelicals suffer even more.

In August, Russia declared Ukraine’s New Generation Pentecostal groups “undesirable,” effectively banning them from the country. And in October, regulations took effect to demand all foreign-trained clergy and missionaries take an official course on church-state relations and recertify their ministry.

The outrage has been felt in Ukraine, and Kulakevych has pleaded on behalf of his Russian brethren.

“I have to calm down our hotheads [in Ukraine], who demand [Russian evangelicals] speak out against Putin,” he said. “We are not in their shoes, and do not understand the risks they take for the gospel.”

Bandura reached a similar understanding two years ago, when the Baptist Union of Russia came to Ukraine. Disturbed by years of quiet acquiescence, coupled with prominent examples of public anti-Ukrainian sentiment, the Russian and Ukrainian Baptist leaders held face-to-face meetings that helped heal relationships, Bandura said. After two days of closed-door sessions with no public statements, the issues between them were solved.

“We understand the religious freedom situation in Russia is terrible and don’t expect them to speak out bravely for us,” Bandura said. “It is enough if they keep silent.”

Vlasenko, however, wants to speak—carefully. He believes in the independence of Ukraine. He wants evangelicals in both countries to communicate to their national leaders that war is not the answer to political problems. And as a pastor he believes he must pursue peace—and reconciliation.

But Russia is unnerved also. If Ukraine joins NATO, ballistic missiles could be minutes from Moscow. It is good for peace, said Vlasenko, that Russia can build natural gas pipelines to Europe. And he has spoken to Crimeans—they wanted annexation, he says, and Ukraine would never have permitted a referendum.

As for the aggression in Donbas, the popular understanding among locals was that Ukraine’s 2014 revolution installed a nationalistic government that wanted to kick out—even kill—Russian-speakers in their historic region.

“Maybe it was true, or maybe it was propaganda,” Vlasenko said. “But Russia denies they are fighting, and I cannot prove otherwise without official evidence.”

But still: “Obviously the weapons come from somewhere; you cannot buy a tank at a store.”

The situation, however, is straightforward for Ukrainians.

“Ukraine has always irritated Russia,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, former interim president of Ukraine and a lay preacher in his Baptist church in Kyiv [full interview below]. “Democracy, and even our very existence, is a threat to Putin’s regime.”

Kyiv was the ancient heart of medieval Rus, long before the modern Russian nation. Putin has written a 5,000-word essay on the “historical unity” of the two nations, which he often combines with Belarus under the concept of “one Russia.”

Turchynov, currently coordinator of Ukraine’s Conservative Movement (known as Sobor) uniting faith-based nonprofit organizations, is not pleased with the negotiation style of European nations that are trying to “reconcile” Russia and Ukraine as if they are equally at fault in this conflict. He sees Putin as using natural gas to win leverage and divide the continent. Yet the key ally of former president Petro Poroshenko said he is eager for Ukraine to join NATO and strengthen conservative values within the liberal European Union.

But Turchynov’s ultimate hope is elsewhere.

“The Lord will ruin all the wrongdoings of the evil one,” he said. “Truth is with us, and thus God is with us. And where God is, the victory is also.”

Even Christmas gets mixed up in the politics. Evangelicals largely celebrate both December 25—made an official Ukrainian holiday two years ago—and the Orthodox date of January 7. But while the metropolitan of the recently autocephalous (independent) Ukrainian Orthodox Church has announced his hope to unite all Christians under the Western calendar within 10 years, he is playing it slow to recruit parishes still loyal to the Moscow patriarch.

Cyril Hovorun, a Ukrainian priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, faults his patriarch in Moscow for aligning religion to the interests of the state. But he warns Ukrainian Christians also of the danger of nationalism. A “third way” is necessary, he said, for the church to support civil society and civic values: transparency, justice, and solidarity.

Can his evangelical brethren find at least the latter?

“We all say we are part of the kingdom of God together,” Vlasenko said. “But when it comes to politics, we immediately divide again.”

Oleksandr Turchynov, coordinator of Ukraine’s Conservative Movement:
(Conducted prior to Biden’s phone calls with Putin and Zelensky)

CT: How do you interpret Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions on the border, and how likely is a full invasion?

Turchynov: It is rather difficult to interpret, and it is even more difficult to treat him as someone whose actions can be explained with ordinary civilized values.

One aspect involves political and economic interests, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. At the same time, Putin is raising the stakes as a tactic, issuing ultimatums. His approach serves to further polarization and undermines both NATO and the European Union (EU) concerning the expansion of membership.

It is kind of a game, growing worse for everyone. But if the West and Ukraine were to consolidate their actions, Putin wouldn’t be able to prevail. Full-scale invasion is an extremely dangerous project—mainly for Putin himself. But he is capable of making inadequate decisions.

CT: How have discussions with US President Joe Biden changed the situation, if at all? How do you view the response from the West?

Turchynov: One of Putin’s purposes was a glorious moment of triumph by sitting with President Biden as equals at the table of negotiations. But sometimes it is necessary to talk to a terrorist, to distract him from his acts of terror.

Some Ukrainians wanted to hear a different response from the White House, for example by setting a specific date for NATO membership. Others were expecting to receive defense systems from the Pentagon, to make attacking Ukraine extremely challenging. Perhaps even to host Western military forces in Ukraine.

When it comes to Europe, politically informed Ukrainians understand that the EU consists of many countries with different interests. There are friends of the Kremlin and there are friends of Ukraine. EU reaction by default cannot be instant; it is always an ongoing compromise.

For example, the reaction of Great Britain unquestionably inspires with its strictness and consistency. But when Germany and France sit at the table of negotiations with an agenda to “reconcile” Russia and Ukraine, it gives the impression as if Russia and Ukraine bear an equal level of responsibility. This benefits the Russian Federation that has attacked us.

And while Ukraine has many friends in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, these voices are rarely listened to.

CT: Do you favor membership for Ukraine in the EU and NATO? Can this be done while keeping peace and good relations with Russia?

Turchynov: Ukraine has always irritated Russia. Putin often questions Ukraine’s statehood, and unfortunately, many Americans know very little about our history, erroneously calling the whole Soviet Union “Russia.” This contributes to the propaganda that we became independent only 30 years ago. In reality, the medieval rulers of Kyiv were the ones who founded Moscow.

Democracy, and even the very existence of Ukraine, is a threat to Putin’s regime. We are a part of Europe, and our place is in the EU and NATO. In addition, Ukrainian membership would enhance the continent’s conservative values.

CT: How have the Conservative Movement and Ukrainian evangelicals responded to the conflict with Russia?

Turchynov: We always come alongside at the place of greatest need. There are many evangelicals among the volunteers since the very beginning of the war. The Conservative Movement (known as Sobor) draws together highly active citizens, including elected and appointed officials who have a share in key government decisions.

Our deep-rooted Christian values define what we do and how we do it. At the same time, we need to understand that the occupied territories are under full control of the Russian Federation, and thus our impact is extremely limited.

CT: What percentage of evangelicals are of Russian-speaking background? Do they have a different viewpoint toward Donbas?

Turchynov: This clash of worldviews is not an issue of linguistics. Many patriots in the Ukrainian army speak Russian on a daily basis. Dividing us by language is part of the Kremlin’s propaganda, which unfortunately has had some success.

CT: What is your opinion about churches in Crimea and Donbas re-registering with the rebel authorities?

Turchynov: Refusal to undergo this process means becoming an underground church. Not everyone is ready to function this way and risk their lives. The church needs to exist in these occupied areas as well. Even so, humanitarian aid and the maintenance of fellowship is possible with the mediation of pastors who remain there.

CT: This conflict takes place over Christmas. Is there a message in the holiday?

Turchynov: Christmas always brings hope for peace and victory. The Lord will ruin all the wrongdoings of the evil one. Truth is with us, and thus God is with us. And where God is, the victory is there also.

patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2022, 11:41:39 am »


How to Disagree Nicely but Not Lose Your Convictions

Everything is not a biblical issue—but who decides?

A few days after Bill Clinton was elected, I (Rick) was facilitating a small-group leaders’ meeting. One of the leaders whose political convictions leaned strongly Republican suggested that our small groups should have a time of lament in light of the recent election. Some others nodded in agreement. Was this a good idea?

I thought not. I mentioned to the leaders that about 80 percent of evangelicals voted Republican, a fact that most seemed to be aware of. Then I asked all of the leaders to take a sheet of paper and write down the two to three people in their group who were likely to vote Democratic.

There was dead silence. No one picked up their pencils.

Finally, a leader spoke up and said they didn’t think anyone in their group had voted Democratic. I pointed out that if our congregation reflected the national averages for evangelicals, a small group of 12 to 14 people would have three Democrats. I was just asking them to stop and think who those people were and how they would likely feel if we opened up the small group meeting with a season of lament. It was an awkward moment.

The leaders realized that opening the small group with a season of lament might not be welcomed by certain group members. They also realized that prayer times in the past several weeks leading up to the election were probably equally alienating. We had simply been blind to an underlying diversity of political convictions within our groups.

The standard dictionary definition of conviction runs something like this: a fixed or firmly held belief, a belief that we won’t be giving up anytime soon. But we have beliefs like that about arithmetic, and we don’t usually call those convictions. Convictions are not just about garden-variety facts but rather about particular sorts of beliefs. We might say that convictions are firmly held moral or religious beliefs that guide our beliefs, actions, or choices. This shuts out beliefs we have about matters of taste (not moral), and it also shuts out beliefs we hold but are happy to disregard or ignore (they don’t guide our actions).

Notice that this definition makes room for two different kinds of convictions, what we might call absolute convictions and personal convictions. Absolute convictions are called absolute not so much because of the zeal with which we hold them, but rather because we feel that they should apply to “absolutely” everyone. They are universal; they apply both to ourselves and our neighbor. The great Christian creeds are examples of such absolutes.

Personal convictions, on the other hand, are things we believe personally and which guide our personal conduct, but we realize others may not share. This might be a conviction about refusing to drink alcohol because a family member had been killed by a drunk driver. We would probably hold this conviction quite firmly, but we would also know that not everyone would share it. The distinctions we are making here are nothing new; they simply reflect the famous maxim “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

So how can we form deep Christian convictions without dividing the church? Let’s take a deeper look at convictions themselves.

Convictions are like light: They come in many colors and form across a spectrum. Consider the belief that God created human beings in his own image—a timeless theological truth grounded in Scripture (Gen. 1:26). This sort of conviction could be called a confessional belief—an absolute that all Christians should share in common.

A few chapters later, in Genesis 9:5–6, this truth is formed into a moral mandate that prohibits killing a person because all humans are made in the image of God. This moral mandate can be further expanded into a set of positive claims that actively value human life. Unpacking this a bit, we would see that valuing human life would probably mean more than just being “pro-life” in the sense of opposing abortion. Instead, one might think of a “consistent ethic of life,” a phrase coined by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Such an ethic shuns abortion and also euthanasia, war, and violence. It would likely have positive entailments such as access to basic human freedoms that image bearers require, such as the freedom to worship according to one’s conscience and have basic necessities such as food and shelter.

These increasingly refined judgments do not emerge because we are finding more and more explicit teachings of Scripture, but because we are unpacking more and more implications of our confessional belief that human beings are created in the image of God. These implications might be summarized in a core value statement such as, “Every human being should be protected from life-threatening harms and provided access to essential goods needed for a flourishing human life.”

Clearly we are moving across a spectrum and becoming increasingly specific as we go. Our confessional beliefs and moral mandates are shaping core values within our souls—shaping our desires and pursuits. However, these core values are still not specific enough. Ultimately, we must discern specific guidelines for conduct. We must decide if the prohibition against taking the life of an image bearer means that we should oppose both abortion and capital punishment or only abortion.

Notice that as we move across this spectrum, each step makes our convictions more specific, but as they become more specific, they also become more contested. At the outset, explicit statements of Scripture or universal creedal confessions assure agreement among all Christians. Convictions about these matters are absolute and universal. However, the more specific we make our judgments, the more culture, prudence, historical circumstance, and practical wisdom influence our conclusions, and therefore the more diverse our opinions become.

We can connect this spectrum to three different types of issues: absolutes, disputable matters that are included in this spectrum, and matters of taste that are not. The spectrum begins with absolutes and increasingly addresses disputable matters. At the far opposite end would be matters of taste, but they are not included because they are not matters about which we form convictions.

In detail: Four types of convictions
Confessional beliefs. Confessional beliefs define the boundaries of Christianity and ground the beliefs and practices of the church and individual believers. They are often expressed in creedal statements such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. Creedal statements are commonly recited by the whole church in public worship. They are also generally worded as “We believe” statements rather than “I believe” statements.

Clearly the implication is that all members of the congregation are expected to share these beliefs. Denying these creedal statements is good grounds for doubting the authenticity of a person’s Christian faith. These confessional beliefs serve as preconditions for our convictions. We might even call them Christian convictions as opposed to personal convictions exactly because we believe that these convictions are part and parcel of the Christian faith itself. They are not simply matters of personal conviction.

As the name implies, confessional beliefs focus on belief, not action. They are largely composed of timeless theological assertions about the nature of God, mankind, and salvation. Churches and individual disciples of Christ have to decide what honoring Jesus as Lord demands of them in the particular times and cultural circumstances in which they find themselves.

Moral mandates. Identifying moral and spiritual mandates is the first step in “operationalizing” our confessional beliefs—that is, moving them into action. Like confessional beliefs, moral and spiritual mandates are universal or near universal among Christians. They are the behavioral counterparts to the theological beliefs found in our confessional statements and creeds and are derived from the commands of Scripture, even as the confessional beliefs are derived from the theological claims of Scripture.

“Mandates” is a handy way to refer to these high-level action-guiding principles, but it should be noted that the term covers a wide range of behaviors. Some of these mandates address spiritual issues related to proper worship and devotion to God. Other commands deal with ethical issues about how we treat fellow human beings. We will use the phrase “moral mandates” as an umbrella term that covers both ethical and spiritual matters.

Core values. Moral and spiritual mandates almost immediately beg for further specification. We have labeled this next step along our conviction spectrum “core values,” referring to the things that are important to us—the things that we actually value.

The term values is commonly used by moral psychologists or sociologists to identify underlying motivations for actions. Values are desired ends that guide us in our choices and help us evaluate policies, people, and events. Recently, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has formulated a “Moral Foundations Theory” that identifies six basic human values: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and liberty.

How can common values result in such different guidelines for action? The reason is that people tend to agree about the values themselves but tend to disagree on how the values should be prioritized. Most controversial issues intersect more than one value, as in the case where a policy that promotes liberty may diminish fairness or fail to care for a basic human need.

For example, when discussing immigration, everyone may agree that people should obey governing authorities and also regard immigrants with love and dignity, but they may disagree on how to weigh these in particular cases. Furthermore, people do not construct a single, universal hierarchy of value but rather may prioritize values differently depending on the situation. In other words, we might weigh values differently in the cases of Syrian refugees and Central Americans crossing our southern border. In short, values are the place a common starting point leads to different end points.

Guidelines for conduct. The final step along the conviction spectrum is developing specific guidelines for conduct. Here, moral mandates and core values find expression in actual policy decisions, responses to ethical dilemmas, and plans for action within a specific cultural context. Guidelines for conduct have time frames, locations, and audiences in mind. They answer the question, How can I best honor Christ in the time and place and circumstance where he has placed me?

Practical wisdom and knowledge play an extremely important role in forming guidelines for conduct. Tim Keller argues that caring for the poor is a clear biblical teaching and a moral mandate, but it is a matter of practical wisdom whether the best way to do this is through private enterprise or government redistribution or some combination of the two. Similarly, neighbor-love and the protection of life in the image of God mandates that we alleviate human suffering and care for the afflicted. There is no single “Christian” answer to questions like these. Nonetheless, we must decide what we will do. We cannot pursue all options at once.

In general, it is not uncommon for us to have strong, gut-level intuitions about moral and political issues. This is not necessarily wrong—our conscience often operates intuitively without our being able to identify principles that would support our intuition. However, it is valuable to refine and deepen our intuitions by reasoned reflection illuminated by the wisdom of others. We are not the self-sufficient source of all truth.

Jennifer Herdt, a Christian ethicist at Yale Divinity School, notes that a deep dependence on God is essential to developing “truthfulness concerning one’s own character and capacities [which] enables the admission of weakness and strength, incapacity and capacity, alike.”

We pursue truth together, as part of a community. An essential part of this process is, as James says, being “open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Such virtues lead to a “harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18, ESV). Once we have listened to others with openness and sincerity, we are in a much better place to pursue Paul’s project of becoming “fully convinced in [our] own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

Adapted from Winsome Conviction by Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer. Copyright © 2020 by Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2022, 06:16:26 pm »


Church Leaders Are Still Waiting for Volunteers to Come Back

Gallup survey found involvement in religious service dropped again in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many churches and ministries to rethink how they recruit, train, and maintain the fleet of volunteers they need.

Volunteering for religious organizations dropped during the first year of the pandemic, when in-person services were canceled and outreach events were put on hold, and has continued to decline.

According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans reported volunteering for a religious organization last year, down from 38 percent in 2020 and 44 percent in 2017.

“A recovery in volunteering may be more elusive as concerns about COVID-19 exposure and public health safety measures limit Americans’ willingness and ability to perform volunteer work,” the researchers wrote.

A lot of churches saw their longtime, reliable volunteers back away from their roles because their age put them at risk, said Chuck Peters, director of the kids ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources.

Even those who remain willing to serve can be unpredictable; the likelihood of illness or exposure at home, especially during COVID-19 surges, has meant more volunteers are calling out sick when leaders are strapped for help. Plus, church attendance is down overall, though nearly all churches have reopened.

In a Lifeway survey last spring, pastors listed committed volunteers among the biggest needs for their churches. Over three quarters of US pastors said they were concerned about developing leaders and volunteers, as well as people’s apathy and lack of commitment. Over two-thirds said training current leaders and volunteers was a concern.

A lot of churches saw their longtime, reliable volunteers back away from their roles because their age put them at risk, said Chuck Peters, director of the kids ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources.

Even those who remain willing to serve can be unpredictable; the likelihood of illness or exposure at home, especially during COVID-19 surges, has meant more volunteers are calling out sick when leaders are strapped for help. Plus, church attendance is down overall, though nearly all churches have reopened.

In a Lifeway survey last spring, pastors listed committed volunteers among the biggest needs for their churches. Over three quarters of US pastors said they were concerned about developing leaders and volunteers, as well as people’s apathy and lack of commitment. Over two-thirds said training current leaders and volunteers was a concern.

“A lot of churches lost their long-term, reliable, go-to people and were left with no one. That’s been the challenge. Where do you look now to find a new base of volunteers?” said Peters. “The tendency becomes ask everyone and take anyone. Really, that’s not the best approach … it’s a new opportunity to revisit what kind of volunteers we’re looking for.”

That may mean it’s time to conduct new training, new resources, to rally and prepare volunteers. In children’s ministry, which requires volunteers to serve in roles like teachers, classroom assistants, and security, Peters recommends focusing on the mission of the ministry and the giftedness of the potential volunteers, rather than the desperation for help or obligation to the church.

“Recruit with the why of the ministry, not the need of the ministry,” he said. “In a season where the world is crazy, kids need Jesus more than ever to speak to their fears, and people are experiencing real losses. We have to be faithful to the mission.”

Over in the United Kingdom, a survey by the Evangelical Alliance last fall found 59 percent of church leaders saw volunteering decrease, and 31 percent of church members said they were volunteering less during the pandemic.

Some churches that reopened had not resumed activities in youth ministry (25%) or children’s ministry (17%). Leaders suggested that former volunteers were attending church less and enjoyed having fewer commitments.

Virginia pastor Tom Pounder recommended pastors individually reconnect with volunteers who dropped off the schedule during the pandemic to ask about their concerns and level of interest going forward.

“If we, as ministry leaders, are not connecting with people and letting them know of the variety of different options out there, then we will continue to have a lack of lay/volunteer leaders,” wrote Pounder, student minister and online campus pastor at New Life Christian Church. His church also offers online volunteer opportunities, including chatting with attendees during virtual services.

At the Salvation Army, which runs programs in 7,000 locations in the US, “volunteers have an impact on every aspect of our work,” said Dale Bannon, national community relations and development director.

Some volunteer programs through the evangelical charity were on hold during the beginning of the pandemic, but many have been re-instated with new protocols such as using personal protective equipment and doing contactless delivery to distribute food and supplies.

Christian refugee resettlement agency World Relief moved its volunteer application process and orientation online during start of the pandemic and began offering virtual opportunities, such as English tutoring, youth mentoring, and youth homework help. While in-person volunteering has resumed, the ministry will likely keep some virtual options in the long-term.

“We have found that online tutoring, for example, creates flexibility both for some immigrants and for some volunteers (who in both cases are also balancing job schedules and childcare responsibilities),” said Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s US director for church mobilization and advocacy.

After seeing a drop in volunteers in 2020 due to pandemic shutdowns, World Relief saw unprecedented interest in volunteering last summer, as Americans anticipated Afghan evacuees coming to the US after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The ministry was able to process the uptick thanks to moving its process online due to COVID-19, as well as more staff dedicated to training volunteers.

“As a result, we had more than 11,000 active volunteers in 2021, far more than in any year in the recent past,” even though the ministry has fewer office locations than it did five years ago, said Soerens. The number of volunteers was twice as many as were involved with World Relief in 2020.

Other ministries have also been able to recruit to meet urgent needs. Last month, Samaritan’s Purse sent 2,000 volunteers to Arkansas and Kentucky after the tornadoes.

But for many nonprofits—from mentoring organizations to food banks—demand is up, and they haven’t been able to find enough volunteers to help.

Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the organizations and their constituents. It’s good for volunteers, too. Returning to serve in person can be a refreshing and much-needed step back into the routines they enjoyed before COVID-19.

Jamie Ivey, author and host of TheHappy Hour podcast, recently discussed her involvement with Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center in Austin, Texas.

“Hands down one of the best decisions I made this year was to start volunteering again,” she shared with her social media followers. “In early 2021 I kept feeling like something was off. I know 2020 & 2021 have both been off (understatement of the century) but it was more than the pandemic. Something was off in me.

“If you are feeling off, maybe you need to give some of yourself away each week,” she wrote. “It’s been super healing for me this year!”

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2022, 06:20:19 pm »


No, Religious Freedom Doesn’t Send People to Hell

Why Christians should support our government staying out of religious affairs.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

Last week an old video resurfaced on Twitter in which John MacArthur, pastor of Los Angeles’s Grace Community Church, announced he did not support religious freedom. In the clip, MacArthur argued that supporting religious freedom promotes idolatry and enables the kingdom of darkness—that “religious freedom is what sends people to hell.”

Some reports contend that quote is out of context, fitting as it does in a larger argument. Even so, this kind of argument against religious freedom is a familiar one—usually in reference to somebody else’s religion.

Years ago, a pastor told me that religious freedom is essentially the affirmation of the words of the Serpent, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). To grant religious freedom for false religions, this person contended, is the equivalent of allowing the prophets of Baal have a place of their own on Mount Carmel.

These are certainly statements of strong conviction—like propositions of biblical truth for to which the only appropriate response should be a loud “Amen!” That is, until one actually listens to what is being said and hears it for what it is: theological liberalism.

Religious freedom, after all—whether as articulated by the early British Baptists, the persecuted Anabaptists of the Reformation era, or the colonial American evangelists and their allies—has never been a “You believe in Baal; I believe in God; what difference does it make?” kind of pluralism.

The question of religious freedom is who should have regulatory power over religion. If you believe religion shouldn’t be regulated by the state, then you believe in religious freedom.

That’s why denominations with “free” in their name (like the Free Methodists, for instance)—along with those who believe in the necessity of personal repentance and faith—have been the most dogged supporters of religious freedom for all.

These groups of people understand that the gospel according to Jesus is not an external affirmation of generic belief, from a heart still untransformed. It is not accepting Christianity as a ticket of admission into society.

Rather, the gospel according to Jesus means that there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). One can stand before God at judgment only by union with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. And one can only come into union with Christ by grace through faith (Rom. 3:21–31).

That faith—as defined by Jesus and his apostles—does not come through the proxy of a nation or a ruler, or even a religious structure. If that were the case, John the Baptist would not have needed to preach repentance to the descendants of Abraham (Matt. 3:10). Moreover, the apostle Paul could have found no fault in those who served the false gods chosen for them by their national or family traditions (Acts 17:22–31).

Instead, the gospel addresses each person—one by one—as an individual who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, who will give an account, and who is commanded to personally believe the gospel and repent of their sin (Rom. 10:9–17).

As Jesus said to Nicodemus by night: “Truly truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, ESV).

And how does this new birth, this personal receiving of Christ by faith, occur? It does not happen by the changing of a family crest or by a vote of the city council, but through the Spirit opening the heart—through an “open statement of the truth” commending itself to each conscience (2 Cor. 4:2).

Some of the old liberalisms and social gospels of various sorts preferred a different message—a gospel that changed externals and did not demand personal repentance and faith. Under such a gospel, if a country was “Christian,” then its citizens were Christian too. As long as one’s ruler was “Christian,” then one could count themselves a part of the church. If one’s morality was adequately regulated, whether by law or by social custom, then one was a good Christian.

That’s all well and good—unless there’s a hell. If Jesus is telling the truth that there is a judgment to come, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6)—that “coming to him” means not just external behavior but faith in him (6:40)—then no legal edict or social pressure could regenerate a human heart. Such things cannot make a person into a real Christian. That is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Religious freedom is a restriction on the power of the state to set itself up as a mediator between God and humanity. It is not an affirmation of idolatry, just as saying, “The government shouldn’t take your baby away and raise your children” is not an affirmation of bad parenting. Saying parents should raise their children, instead of the government, does not mean everyone’s parenting is good. It just means that—except in very dire and unique situations—parents should raise their children, rather than the state.

Religious freedom does not mean that everyone’s religion is true. All it means is that God judges the heart and that people must really believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord, instead of saying, “Lord, Lord” merely because they are required to do so by law.

If there is no religious freedom, then ultimate matters aren’t up for consideration by persons—only by majorities. If you’re in 19th-century Denmark, it’s already decided for you that you are Lutheran. If you’re in the 20th-century Soviet Union, it’s already decided that you’re a Marxist atheist. If you’re in 21st-century Saudi Arabia, you’re a Muslim—no questions asked. That might be a way for the state to indoctrinate its citizens, but it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If religious freedom is wrong, not only do majorities decide religious affiliation, but they also dictate the scope of what’s permitted in deviating from that religious affiliation.

Does anyone really believe that Los Angeles would adopt Calvinistic dispensationalist Christianity? No one believes that, including, or maybe especially, John MacArthur—who just spent almost two years going back and forth in court with the state of California about the freedom of his church to meet in spite of COVID-19 regulations, arguments he made on the grounds of religious liberty.

If California were to decide that the official state religion is Zen Buddhism, I would be willing to wager that Grace Community Church would not stop preaching the gospel. Nor should they. That’s religious freedom. And I would further wager that if the state of California were to vote in its legislature that every citizen of the state is a good Christian, Grace Community Church would not stop calling their neighbors to repent and believe, personally, in Christ. That’s religious freedom.

We believe in religious freedom not because we believe in freedom on its own terms, but because we believe in the exclusivity of Christ and in the power of the gospel. We believe there is one name under heaven whereby we must be saved—and that name is not “Caesar” or “Ayatollah” or “assistant secretary for civic affairs.”

We believe in religious freedom because we know what Jesus has given us to fight against the kingdom of darkness—the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We believe in religious freedom because there’s no civil substitute for the gospel of Christ.

We believe in religious freedom because we want to persuade our neighbors to be reconciled to God—not so they won’t be fined by the earthly government, but so they will find eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. So that they won’t end up in hell.

Russell Moore leads the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2022, 06:23:43 pm »


9 in 10 Evangelicals Don’t Think Sermons Are Too Long

Even with recent divides in congregations, survey finds high levels of satisfaction among churchgoers.

At a time when pastors feel particularly under pressure, here’s some good news from the pews: Evangelical churchgoers are pretty happy with how things are going at their churches.

Most don’t think the sermons are too long; if anything, they’d like to see more in-depth teaching from leaders. They aren’t bothered by too many messages about giving. They don’t think social issues and politics play an outsized role in the teaching.

That’s according to a new survey of evangelical churchgoers in the US, the Congregational Scorecard conducted by Grey Matter Research and Consulting and Infinity Concepts.

Around three-quarters are satisfied with their congregation approach to various areas of church life and wouldn’t want it to change, the survey found.

Among the findings:

85 percent are satisfied with the length of their sermons and how long the service runs.
88 percent are happy with how often the church asks for tithes and donations.
74 percent like the style of the service, while the remainder are split between some preferring more traditional and some preferring more contemporary.
“By and large, churches are doing a pretty good job of giving evangelicals what they want to experience,” the researchers concluded. The survey focused on evangelicals by belief who attend worship services at least occasionally.

Those who don’t think sermons are the right length are just as likely to say they want them longer as they are to want them shorter.

A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis found that average evangelical sermon is 39 minutes long, while sermons in historically Black churches tend to be longer, around 54 minutes. There’s no single answer for the ideal sermon length, but Mark Dever told 9Marks last year, “A sermon should be as long as a preacher can well preach and a congregation can well listen.”

Grey Matter reported that few young churchgoers are bored with preaching; just 10 percent of those under 40 want shorter sermons. Of those 70 and older, 11 percent would like the pastor to preach shorter.

And younger evangelicals are the ones most likely to want more in-depth teaching from their churches. Evangelicals under 40 are twice as likely as their seniors (39% to 20%) to want more substance from the pulpit.

“Virtually no evangelical churchgoers wish their church would lighten up a little on [in-depth teaching], but three out of ten would like more of it,” according to the Grey Matter report. “So maybe it is time some church leaders push just a little bit more in terms of the depth of teaching they are providing.”

Even after a year when some congregants criticized COVID-19 responses and churches saw deepening fissures over how leaders engaged political and social issues, most churchgoers still gave their churches high marks in these areas.

Two-thirds said their church had the right amount of political engagement. Those who weren’t satisfied were twice as likely to say they wanted less politics in church (22%) than to wish for more (11%).

For people who don’t attend as regularly (once a month or less), political messaging was the top thing they’d want to change about church; 35 percent said they wanted less politics.

Evangelicals were twice as likely to say they want more engagement with social issues from their church than less (19% versus 9%); 72 percent were happy with how their church addressed such issues. Younger evangelicals (25%) and African American evangelicals (34%) were particularly likely to want social issues to come up more.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2022, 06:27:12 pm »


Gender Questions Should Send Us to Scripture

When it comes to the topic of gender roles, it all comes down to biblical interpretation.

Many questions have recently been raised about complementarianism. We are keenly aware of the many stories of pastoral and spousal abuse—some of whom are noted complementarians. Such stories make many people wonder if complementarianism is simply a form of power grab, an attempt to hold onto male authority in order to exercise their selfish will.

Cultural questions have been raised as well. Is the complementarian vision merely a product of white western culture—deriving from a patriarchal ethos and an American vision of the good life, entirely sundered from biblical witness?

Or others have suggested the complementarian view solely represents the worldview of the Republican party, constituting a backlash to societal changes in the 1960’s. Or as one historian initially proposed, perhaps we have been more influenced by John Wayne than Jesus of Nazareth?

All of the questions posed above are excellent, and we need to be open to critique and revision. I hope none of us would claim that we are perfect in our interpretation or implementation of what the scriptures teach on the relationship between men and women.

There is always a danger that we have reacted to or imitated the society around us. We are all influenced by culture and should receive any critique that returns us to scriptural witness in good faith. We should listen charitably to brothers and sisters who view things differently—and none of us should be above reforming and nuancing our views.

The matter is complex, however, and egalitarians must also be able to answer the questions that are posed to them. They are not immune to cultural forces either.

The feminism of the 1960’s has shaped society in profound and enduring ways—both for good and for ill. The sexual revolution has transformed our culture’s conception of what it means to be a man and a woman. This shows up in the acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender identity, among other things.

Nor can we discount the influence of the mainstream media and major universities, many of which are guided chiefly by leftist ideology. Those who relax the complementarian norm are often celebrated in these spaces as open-minded by a social elite.

In other words, there are social and cultural forces operating on both sides. No one is exempt, and no one inhabits a neutral space when it comes to gender dynamics.

Every argument for every perspective should send us back to the biblical witness. The word of God still pierces our darkness and can reshape how we think and live. The Bible can and should still be heard, believed, and followed—even though we are all fallible and culturally situated.

Of course, every reading of the biblical text on male-female issues represents an interpretation and is subject to critique. But since there are cultural arguments, forces and pressures on every side, we must always return to the scriptures to decipher their meaning—and I believe that meaning can be retrieved.

At the end of the day, it should come down to whoever offers the most plausible and persuasive reading of the biblical texts in question. The complementarian view isn’t nullified by saying Trump and Republicanism and the egalitarian reading isn’t contradicted by crying out feminism and liberalism.

Yet I worry that in some circles, cultural arguments receive precedence over scriptural ones—as if they alone have the final say on the truth or falsity of a particular biblical interpretation.

Thomas Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2022, 05:27:26 am »


Listener Questions on Insurrection, Hellfire, Climate Change, and More...

Russell Moore responds to your questions.

How should Christians think about the insurrection at the Capitol one year later? What’s the point of reading those long genealogies in Scripture? Do leaders in ministry have to use social media?

On this week’s Q&A episode of The Russell Moore Show, Moore answers these questions and more. Tune in for an episode that speaks to timely issues with timeless wisdom.

How should Christians think about the insurrection at the Capitol one year later?
Is it necessary to read the lineages in the Bible?
How does Moore handle the challenges that come with speaking publicly, especially on social media?
If a husband and wife have clear consciences about sterilization, and they agree that they aren’t going to have any children (or any more children), which spouse should undergo a procedure?
Who is God, and how do I figure it out?
How do I begin a gospel conversation with someone who doesn’t believe the Bible?
What is a Christian perspective on climate change/the floods, fires, and droughts happening all over the world?
Do you have a question for Russell Moore? Send it to questions@russellmoore.com.


“The Russell Moore Show” is a production of Christianity Today

Chief Creative Officer: Erik Petrik

Executive Producer and Host: Russell Moore

Director of Podcasts: Mike Cosper

Production Assistance: CoreMedia

Coordinator: Beth Grabenkort

Producer and Audio Mixing: Kevin Duthu

Associate Producer: Abby Perry

Theme Song: “Dusty Delta Day” by Lennon Hutton

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - January 2022
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2022, 06:21:05 pm »


Supreme Court to Debate Football Coach’s Prayers

Did kneeling at the 50-yard line violate the First Amendment? Or did a school’s attempt to stop it violate the First Amendment?

It is a fact that Joseph A. Kennedy, a former coach of the Bremerton Knights in the suburbs of Seattle, prayed on the 50-yard line after high school football games in the fall of 2015. But everything about those prayers is up for debate.

Were they public or private?

Was Kennedy praying just for himself, as an exercise of his faith, or as an official representative of the school district?

Did players join of their own accord, or were they pressured to participate?

Kennedy and the Washington state school district do not even agree on whether he was fired or failed to apply to extend his contract, or whether he ended his prayers with “amen.”

Those disagreements—big and small—are now going to the highest court in the land.

The US Supreme Court decided on Friday that it will consider the disputed facts and, more importantly, whether or not they add up to a violation of the First Amendment—and if so, by whom.

Kennedy’s attorneys argue that he was forced out of his coaching position in violation of his First Amendment–protected right to exercise his faith. The school district argues, on the other hand, that the coach’s prayers violated the same amendment’s prohibition against respecting an establishment of religion, since the coach was acting as a representative of the public school.

The court declined to hear the case in 2019. Justice Samuel Alito wrote at the time that “important unresolved factual questions would make it very difficult if not impossible” to consider the constitutional questions raised by the coach’s prayers.

He also argued, though, in a statement joined by justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, that the lower court’s rulings in favor of the school district were “troubling,” and “may justify review in the future.”

The case went back to the Ninth Circuit of the federal court, which ruled against Kennedy again. Kennedy appealed the case back to the Supreme Court, and the nine justices, now with the addition of Amy Coney Barrett, decided to consider it.

Kennedy was a varsity and junior varsity assistant coach for seven years, according to court records. Then an opposing coach complained to the school district that what had appeared to be a motivational postgame speech, with students gathered around Kennedy and Kennedy raising a team helmet in his right hand, was actually a prayer. The other coach felt that Kennedy was praying at the students more than with them.

The school also heard from one player’s father that his son was concerned he wouldn’t get to play much unless he joined in the prayer.

“No child attending public school should have to pray to play school sports,” said Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the school district. “No student should ever be made to feel excluded—whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field—because they don’t share the religious beliefs of their coaches, teachers or fellow students.”

Kennedy’s attorneys, on the other hand, say there’s no evidence that the coach put pressure on anyone. They say it was students’ idea to join him.

“Initially, Kennedy prayed quietly and alone. After several games, some [Bremerton High School] players asked him what he was doing and whether they could join him,” the lawyers wrote. “Kennedy told them ‘This is a free country.’”

From the coach’s perspective, the post-game prayers became a tradition and continued for seven years—sometimes with many students joining him, sometimes with only a few—until the school district decided the prayers were a legal problem.

Kennedy was ordered to stop, and he did for one game in September 2015. But then he felt so convicted that he’d betrayed his faith that he turned around before he got home, returned to the empty field, and prayed.

He informed the district school board that he had a “sincerely held religious belief that he is compelled to pray following each football game,” and at after the next game, he prayed at the 50-yard line again. He was joined by a crush of students, supporters, and media.

Kennedy was subsequently suspended and sued for his right to pray on the field. According to his attorneys, it became clear that he was going to have to fight for his right to exercise his religion while employed by a school.

“Whatever is true for the kingdom of heaven,” they wrote, “the First Amendment is not reserved for the meek.”

A number of religious liberty advocates have filed friend-of-the-court briefs, urging the Supreme Court to consider Kennedy’s case and take his side. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined by the National Association of Evangelicals, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and 11 other Christian groups, filed a brief saying the case “dramatizes a wrongheaded view” of the First Amendment “that this court should take the opportunity to correct.”

The two parts of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of religion shouldn’t be pitted against each other, they argue, and a praying coach doesn’t represent a government preference for a particular faith, even when kneeling on a football field.

“Obviously, a public school teacher wears two hats—that of a private citizen and that of a government worker,” the brief says. “No one is confused by that.”

The court case suggests, however, that that too is up for debate.


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