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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021  (Read 1888 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« on: May 04, 2021, 09:16:54 am »


Do You Follow the Right Jesus?

Four cultural values entice us toward an Americanized messiah instead of the crucified Christ.

As pastors immersed in Western culture, it’s difficult to disentangle our view of Jesus from the Americanized identity we value—an identity measured mostly in terms of what looks good, feels good, and does good. The question arises: What does it mean for us to be cross-centered and follow the crucified Jesus in our context? What are the distinctions between the world’s discipleship and Jesus’ discipleship?

Four vices of worldly discipleship are deeply ingrained in the church. Just as Jesus taught the Twelve, we too must reject these four things categorically, not only because they are illusory and temporary, but because they damage us and the people we lead.

The temptation of popularity

Who doesn’t want to be popular? The problem is that our desire for popularity leads us to do and say things solely to impress other people. Jesus publicly called out the Pharisees and teachers of the law, saying, “Everything they do is done for people to see” (Matt. 23:5).

Jesus called his disciples to utterly reject showy spirituality for popularity’s sake. In fact, he denounced any activity that had traces of seeking approval or admiration. We must give up performance faith and every enticement to serve in order be noticed by others. Jesus knew the weaknesses of the human heart; he knew the tempting desire to impress and its dangers. He said to the religious leaders, “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

Most of us place a higher premium on what other people think than we realize. Consider whether you’ve ever entertained thoughts about how you’re coming off as you preach or use an illustration. Do you worry people will think less of you if you share your struggles? Are you concerned about how many likes or followers you might pick up if you post on social media?

Our longing to be noticed and esteemed by others surfaces in subtle but recognizable ways: saying yes when we would rather say no, refusing to speak up because we don’t want to “rock the boat,” or remaining silent about our preferences and desires out of fear of what others might think. Rejecting earthly popularity is essential for following the crucified Jesus.

The temptation of worldly greatness
Jesus’ call to greatness runs utterly counter to the worldly greatness he condemns. Worldly greatness led the Pharisees and teachers of the law to view themselves as better than everyone else. Their knowledge of Scripture and their legalistic zeal earned them perks, such as the best seats in the synagogue, honorary titles, and status-laden clothing to set them apart.

By contrast, Jesus’ greatness looked more like weakness and foolishness (1 Cor. 1:20–25). Jesus was born in a manger in a small village to a poor family. His chosen leadership team was mostly blue-collar, uneducated fishermen. His miracles happened mainly in the backwoods of Galilee, not in strategic places such as Jerusalem or Rome. The small towns where Jesus concentrated his ministry and miracles—such as Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and even his hometown of Nazareth—rejected him. The worldly greatness Jesus renounced was at its core a temptation from Satan (Luke 4). Like Jesus, we too must reject power and status as deadly threats to faithful ministry.

The temptation of success
Striving for success may be the world’s most universal quest. But success is a counterfeit faith with the power to separate us from Jesus.

We live in a culture where bigger is always better—bigger profits, bigger influence, bigger impact. The church tends to believe the same. We measure effectiveness by the numbers, and bigger is always our goal. If our numbers are increasing, we feel great and consider our efforts as blessed and our intentions as righteous. If our numbers decrease, we feel despondent and regard our efforts as failures.

It is essential that we see success rightly. According to Jesus, success is becoming the person God calls you to become and doing what God calls you to do—in his way, and according to his timetable . Theologian Frederick Dale Bruner aptly summarizes the real threat behind success-driven temptation: “We will sometimes do absolutely anything to keep our work from failing. But the moment we do absolutely anything to keep our work for God from failing, we have made our work God, and perhaps without realizing it, we have worshipped Satan.”

We must expose and reject every drive to succeed that compromises our integrity as followers of Jesus. Not every opportunity to expand the work of God is actually an invitation from God.

The temptation to avoid suffering and failure
Imagine Peter, unbroken by his humiliating failures, leading the church after Pentecost from a place of smugness and unteachability. Imagine Paul, with all his gifting, drive, and intellect, without his immovable “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble and focused on Christ. Imagine Moses without 40 years in exile in Midian after murdering an Egyptian. Suffering and failure have always been God’s means to transform us from willful to willing, from anxious to patient, from swimming upstream against the current of God’s love to floating downstream, trusting him to take care of us.

For Jesus to rise from dead in glory, he first had to resist the temptation to earthly glory by refusing to deploy his power and come down from the cross. To suffer and fail so colossally on Calvary proved to be the greatest victory. What looked like history’s worst moment was in fact its most profound.

For me, I seek to save myself whenever I set down my cross to avoid failure, when I launch initiatives out of impatience, when I make hasty decisions, and when I frantically overwork out of fear my ministry might decline or stagnate.

To set down your cross is to succumb to Satan’s temptation to worldly acclaim, greatness, and power. In doing so we only become our own saviors and miss out on the truly transformative work God could do in and through us. Crosses are required to follow the crucified, un-Americanized Jesus. To take up your cross as Jesus commands is nothing short of a groundbreaking and culture-defying act of rebellion against much of Western Christianity.

Peter Scazzero, along with his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Pete hosts the Emotionally Healthy Leader podcast and is the author of a number of bestselling books. This article is adapted from Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation (Zondervan, 2021). www.emotionallyhealthy.org

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2021, 08:24:20 am »


20 Truths: No Longer Strangers

20 Truths from Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page's latest release, ‘No Longer Strangers.’

1. "The editors of this volume and the contributors believe wholeheartedly that evangelism is a necessary and beautiful part of our discipleship. However, while the book affirms the important commitment of evangelism, we highlight the dangers when North American Christians, in particular, underestimate how their education, race, language mastery, and other factors impact their ability to love and express the gospel (in word and deed) to refugees and immigrants coming from backgrounds that include trauma, oppression, colonialism, persecution, etc." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page (1)

2. "This book, . . . will guide churches, individuals, and Christian leaders in the ways of healthy discipleship and instruct them in how to avoid evangelism that causes harm to immigrants through abuses of power dynamics and intercultural blind spots." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (2)

3. "[The church] at times feels like it's lost its footing in the chaos and craziness of our polarized, political world where it seems as if more and more Christians are in a space where their politics inform their theology rather than our biblically rooted theology informing our politics." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (5)

4. "What we are seeing now is a new work of the Spirit. While the pattern of migration and refugee resettlement can be explained factually using social and political sciences, the Christian must look above and beyond and seek the purposes of God amidst these facts. In light of the sovereignty of God, why are refugees and immigrants brought to our doorstops?" Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (6)

5. "We are in the midst of the largest mass migration in human history. . . there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people in the world. . . . What is God up to? How can I be a part of it?" Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (8)

6. "Evangelism means sharing the good news, and people who are traumatized are in desperate need of good news that brings them healing and restoration." Issan Smeir (36)

7. "But can a faith journey with God in the form of a personal relationship bring healing and restoration to those who have been traumatized? The answer in the literature is yes." Issan Smeir (37)

8. "Evangelism and sharing the good news can bring healing and restoration; however, as we reach out to those who are hurting, we must be aware that their vulnerable status might make them prone to coercion and manipulation. Those who faced recent trauma are more sensitive to any influence or pressure from others. Pressuring people who are hurting to make a quick decision to follow God or luting them by making false promises is immoral, ineffective, and harmful." Issan Smeir (37)

9. "Church was meant to be the safest place on Earth. Jesus always demonstrated his love before telling people who he was. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and comforted those who were hurting. He cried with them. Evangelism should always be conducted with compassion." Issan Smeir (44)

10. "The first lesson we learned about service is that proximity changes everything. We didn't have to look across the world for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants, and orphans. We only had to look across the street. They were right there next to us." Laurie Beshore (48).

11. "People don't want a handout, they want dignity." Laurie Beshore (51).

12. "Compassion is always a safe topic; justice is challenging." Laurie Beshore (60).

13. "Evangelism in a Western context has been seen as communicating truths. Biblical witness is about operating in a way that shows the transformative reality of Jesus." Sandra Maria Van Opstal (81).

14. "Speaking up and telling the truth about refugees as individuals made in the image of God who deserve our dignity and respect is the first way we can remind people of our common humanity." Jenny Yang (92).

15. "Advocacy can be carried out in three ways: (1) by the poor––empowerment; (2) with the poor––accompaniment/partnership; and (3) for the poor––representation." Jenny Yang (96).

16. "Because God is allowing refugees to be brought to America in the twenty-first century, I believe Westerners traveling overseas for evangelism must begin in their neighborhood." Torli H. Krua (107).

17. "Most Americans are unaware that refugees don't come to America to live and die; many receive everlasting life and return to their homelands a business and civic leaders and as Christian leaders who bring the Word of God to their own people in their native language and cultural settings." Torli H. Krua (112).

18. "Many of us have treated the Great Commission as if it were the only thing Jesus said, and we have reduced it to a mere call for evangelism. This reductionism can lead to methodologies that prioritize isolated evangelism, often at the expense of loving our neighbors. This then becomes our metric for measuring obedience, and sometimes even maturity. We seem to forget that Jesus also said that loving our neighbor is part of the great commandment and explains all the rest of the Bible." K.J. Hill (131).

19. "One side [of justice] is retributive, which means people receive the punishment they deserve for doing wrong. The other side is restorative, which is actually the more common usage in the Bible and means making sure people have what they need to flourish. So, one side of justice is stopping people from doing wrong, as in Leviticus 24 (eye for an eye, etc.), while the other side is ensuring that the weak and vulnerable have what they need, as in Proverbs 31:9." K.J. Hill (134).

20. "The connection from the Great Concern (Mic. 6:8) to the Great Commandment (Luke 10) is the same thread that runs from the beginning of the Bible to the end, from Abraham through the church." K.J. Hill (135).

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2021, 11:46:33 am »


Study: Trauma-Informed Bible Reading Reduces Depression, Anxiety, Anger

Research in Virginia jail could help churches deal with emotional impact of the pandemic.

One day soon the pandemic may be past, and COVID-19, a memory. But the trauma—from the isolation, seeing people die, facing financial stress, and living with loss and the anxiety of the unknown—will continue for a long time to come.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of American adults with recent symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders increased more than 5 points between the summer of 2020 and the spring of 2021. One out of every 10 people reports having an unmet mental health care need.

“We’re going to see this level of trauma for many years," said Nicole Martin, executive director of trauma healing at the American Bible Society (ABS). “It’s not just going to go away when everyone is vaccinated and everyone is allowed inside.”

Martin and the American Bible Society want to meet that need with trauma-informed Bible reading, teaching people about healing from trauma using Scripture.

A recent ABS-commissioned study by Baylor University researchers found that combining education about mental health best practices with Bible reading can have a significant benefit. In their study, this reduced the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and increased forgiveness, compassion, and sense of purpose.

“As America experiences a mental health crisis, this study shows the potential benefits of faith-sensitive care for traumatized people,” said Robert L. Briggs, ABS president and CEO. “The Bible has been shown to be a vital source for emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental healing.”

The study looked at the effectiveness of the ABS curriculum Healing the Wounds of Trauma, taught inside Riverside Regional Jail in North Prince George, Virginia.

A group of 210 incarcerated men and women volunteered to take the five-session program, where trained facilitators read Scripture with participants and walk them through a process of identifying their pain, sharing it, and bringing their trauma to the cross of Christ for healing, so they can be freed to care for themselves and serve others. The participants answered questions about themselves and their mental health before, immediately after, one month after, and three months after finishing the program. Another group of 139 incarcerated people volunteered to take the survey without going through the program.

Comparing the two groups, researchers found that the program showed statistically significant results.

“Whenever someone says that a particular program is remarkably effective based on the success rate of participants, they don’t have an answer to the question, ‘Compared to what?’” said Byron R. Johnson, one of the three researchers at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion who worked on the study. “Having a control group that is comparable to the experimental group allows us to determine if the intervention is having an independent or unique effect.”

The study groups were broken up into 22 cohorts, 10 male and 12 female. Participants were about half white and half Black, and ranged in age from 18 to 65. Most were in the Virginia jail for a parole or probation violation, and they had been to jail, on average, five or six times. The control group was fairly similar, though they were less likely to be Christian, be married, or have committed a violent offense.

The study showed that the group that went through the program saw a drop in feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger, along with “complicated grief,” which includes denial of traumatic events, negative affect, and avoiding activities associated with trauma. They also had less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts.

At the same time, compared to the control group, the people in the study experienced an increase in feelings of forgiveness and compassion, and reported increased rates of resiliency.

Johnson said he and his fellow Baylor researchers, Sung Joon Jang and Matt Bradshaw, expected to see some differences. But they didn’t anticipate how clear it would be, even immediately after the program finished.

“We saw a reduction in PTSD symptoms, an increase in emotional well-being, and an improvement in attitudes toward God and the Bible,” he said.

The impact may not be as clear in the general population as it is for incarcerated people, according to Johnson. People in jail have typically experienced more trauma in their lives, and there are demographic differences and different contexts that make extrapolation from the study uncertain. But Johnson said the curriculum wasn’t designed specifically for prisons, and he would expect to see trauma-informed Bible reading have similar impacts on everyone.

Heath Lambert, the author of numerous books on biblical counseling, said this makes sense if you realize how much the Bible speaks to trauma, isolation, alienation, and crisis.

“That’s just what the Bible was written to address," said Lambert, an associate professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. “The Bible explodes with relevance.”

Lambert has seen firsthand some of the traumatic impact the pandemic has had on people. Some in his church have lost loved ones. Many are dealing with unbearable loneliness—separated from their church and their families.

“That is isolating and hard and wounding,” he said. “I’ve talked to these people on the phone, and they’re in tears.”

Church can be a practical solution to loneliness and isolation, according to Lambert. But with the Bible, Christian ministers can also help people meet a sovereign God who is in control and loves them personally.

“The church addresses the fear problem by talking about a big God who holds the world,” he said.

While it’s still hard to say anything definitively at this point, Lambert said he expects that there will be an increase in the number of people who come to church after the pandemic, because they’re searching for answers and community.

ABS wants to help churches be prepared, with Bible-based material that helps people work through trauma.

“It changes the way you think,” Martin said. “It changes how you think about pain. It changes how you think about suffering.”

And though the immediate suffering of the pandemic may soon be over, the need to address trauma didn’t start with COVID-19 and will continue long after.

“All of us have wounds. All of us have pain,” Martin said. “The invitation to meet the ‘Wounded Healer’ through the Bible has the power to change lives.”

patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2021, 12:55:41 pm »


How Much Does Prayer Weigh?

Why scientists struggle to put this spiritual practice under the microscope.

Praying can be easy. A prayer can be a thought, a word, a heavenward plea from someone in need, a few lines said spontaneously or recited from a book, or even just a groan. Understanding what a prayer does after it leaves your lips is a little more difficult. Christian theologians have long debated how prayer works, and what it means to say it “works.” So have scientists.

Psychologist Kevin L. Ladd, a professor at Indiana University South Bend, recently examined some of the extensive recent research on prayer for the John Templeton Foundation. Looking at more than 40 psychological studies finished in the past few years on the impact of prayer on intimate relationships, Ladd found there is some evidence of positive correlations between prayer and improved relationships. “It may,” he writes, “be useful to encourage people to engage some forms of prayer as coping tools.”

But in study after study, Ladd, author of The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach, also found that researches hadn’t thought very carefully about what prayer is. In a sense, they kept pointing their telescopes in the wrong direction.

Ladd spoke to CT about the limits of prayer research.

Why is it hard to study prayer scientifically?

If you’re not familiar with the practice of prayer and why people pray, it’s very easy to look at it as though somebody is making a definitive statement or doing something over which they would claim to have full control. The twist with prayer is that you can be saying things that sound very active and assertive about what you want to happen in the world and also at the same moment you are relinquishing control. You’re saying, “I am surrendering this concern.”

The metaphysical core of prayer—what God does—is not accessible to science. That’s out of the ballpark. But what we can study effectively as scientists is how people act as a result of prayer. What drives them to prayer? What do they do when they pray? And after, how do they behave?

If I pray for my neighbor, are you saying you could study the effects of that prayer on me but not on my neighbor?

Yes. This goes right into the idea of “thoughts and prayers,” which has been attacked so much. If I direct thoughts and prayers to my neighbor, I can’t see what the prayer itself is doing, but I can see what I do.

If I’m praying for my neighbor, does that change my behavior toward that neighbor? Maybe, as the old saying goes, “My heart is to God and my hand is to work.” We can see if those two things go together. One person prays for the neighbor. Another doesn’t. Who actually goes and does something for the neighbor? Who’s contributing their time, their talents, their resources? Yeah, we can study that, and we find it does have an effect.

Not everyone prays in the same way. Not everyone means the same thing by prayer. So how do researchers define prayer?

The standard approach is to leave it open to the participant and say, “You do what you do when you say that you’re praying, and then we’ll talk about it.” You leave it wide open.

There’s so much individual variation. Having talked to thousands of people in religious communities, in churches, people who are dedicated to prayer, I’ve found there are so many—almost half—who say they’ve never been asked about prayer and what they do and why.

This line of research opens up so many conversations about the nature of spirituality. One of their biggest fears is that they’re not doing in right.

How did you get into studying prayer?

It has always been a part of my own life as a Christian. My father is a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I went to seminary and as part of my seminary training, I spent time working at an education testing service, which is a sort of atypical path in seminary. My friends were studying Greek and Hebrew and I’m talking about statistics and research design.

My first study during my PhD work was a group of breast cancer survivors, and it was focused on exercise and the things they do to take of themselves after surviving cancer, and many of them spontaneously talked about how important prayer was to them. And we thought, well, we should look at that. At the time—30 years ago now—that was pretty novel.

How long have people been studying prayer scientifically? When did that project start?

I don’t know if you remember the story of Gideon and the fleece, how he put out the fleece and said to God, “Make it wet!” and “Make it dry!” That has the hallmarks of a study.

If we look for a more modern scientific approach, we come up to the 1800s and Francis Galton. He’s in Victorian Britain thinking, if prayer is doing something, then you do a lot of it, it must be doing more things. Well, who gets the most prayer? The Church of England is praying for the health of the monarch all the time. So the king ought to be in really good health! It turns out it doesn’t really work like that, but that idea launches t he prayer-gauge debate, which rages for a long time.

The way they’re thinking about it at the time, people are praying, prayer goes from their lips or their hearts, and then a metaphysical thing happens, and it influences the monarch. People get stumped with that middle section, though. With the metaphysical question.

Eventually that approach falls out of favor. I think when it falls out it’s because you’re trying to measure a metaphysical thing, and you can’t get at that. Eventually you hit a wall. There’s a missing component.

Is part of the problem also a problem with measuring? It seems like prayer can’t be measured in the way science approaches measurement.

Yes. It’s interesting if you think about it, one of the things Galton was assuming was that more prayer is better. But if you go into any religious tradition, you dig into the text, there’s never a guarantee that more is better. It’s not like a dose of aspirin. The Bible says lots of things about excessive prayer having no effect, whether it’s the prophets of Baal trying to call down fire in a competition with Elijah, or Jonah, who wants to see Nineveh destroyed and God doesn’t do it. More prayer doesn’t necessarily have greater effect.

There’s also so many people sitting in every congregation who worry about not praying right that we should be careful. If we say that “Scientifically, prayer does these things,” and then it doesn’t work, we’re saying you didn’t do it right. That’s the insidious underbelly of a lot of science research on prayer. We’re blaming the victim.

You go back to the religious texts, and that’s not what they say about prayer. They’re much more nuanced and complicated in articulating what makes a prayer good, and that may or may not connect in any direct way to an effect that we can see.

Does studying prayer have the side effect of helping people see prayer differently?

I hope that part of what the research shows is there’s not one way that people pray. Not one way in terms of language. Not one way in how it is you use your body. Not one time that people pray. There is a plethora of ways that people pray. I hope that’s one thing that people take away.

What if your prayer is just a single fleeting thought reaching out to God? Does that count? Well, I think some theologians would say yes.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2021, 03:17:41 pm »


White Evangelical Pastors Hesitant to Preach Vaccines

Advocates say more subtle approaches and one-on-one engagement may actually do more to inform the unvaccinated without further dividing the faithful.

As COVID-19 vaccination rates slowed this spring, Americans’ attention turned toward the groups less likely to get the shot, including white evangelicals.

Black Protestants were initially among the most skeptical toward the vaccine, but they grew significantly more open to it during the first few months of the year, while white evangelicals’ hesitancy held steady.

With African Americans, many credit robust campaigns targeting Black neighborhoods, launching vaccination clinics in Black churches, and convening discussions featuring prominent Black Christian voices for reducing rates of hesitancy. So for those eager to see higher levels of vaccination, the question became: Are white evangelical leaders doing enough to engage their own?

The latest poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research organization focused on health issues, found that as of the end of April, white evangelicals (54%) were about as likely to have received the COVID-19 vaccine as the country overall (56%).

The difference comes with the attitudes among the unvaccinated. White evangelicals are half as likely as Americans overall to say they plan to get the shot ASAP, and 20 percent say they definitely won’t be getting the shot, 7 percentage points lower than the rest of the country.

Most evangelical churches in the country span a range of perspectives on vaccination, which makes it difficult for pastors to know when or how to address the topic.

“I know pastors who won’t even mention masks because people would leave. I’d say vaccines are even more sensitive,” said Dan DeWitt, who directs the Center for Biblical Apologetics and Public Christianity at Cedarville University. “Pastors feel so constrained. They want to take care of their people, but they know one careless comment could cost them.”

The issues dividing the country in 2020 divided churches too. While pastors tried to adapt worship services and continue to provide spiritual care for the suffering and mourning, congregational disputes over politics, racial issues, and COVID-19 responses spiked. Church leaders fielded complaints for being too cautious or not cautious enough, with members threatening to leave or simply making the move over reopening plans.

After a year like that, some don’t feel comfortable publicly endorsing or rejecting the shot; maybe they would if tensions weren’t so high. Even pastors who personally trust the vaccine and would recommend it may worry that it’s not their topic to preach on or that doing so would unsettle their congregation.

Curtis Chang, the former pastor and Fuller Theological Seminary senior fellow behind ChristiansAndtheVaccine.com, says pastors are in a tough position. “They’re really stuck. They’re feeling paralyzed and muzzled,” he said. He challenges them to think beyond Sunday sermons to other ways to engage the issue.

Chang’s site and campaign offer a slate of informative videos for Christians and for pastors in particular. His message to those leading evangelical congregations: “Don’t feel like you need to preach on this from the pulpit. Look for other subtle ways to exercise your influence.”

That’s what Kentucky minister Carl Canterbury did. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he wouldn’t address the vaccine from the pulpit, but, knowing that vaccine misinformation is rampant in his small town in east Kentucky, he would talk to fellow members at Louellen Pentecostal Church about why he went ahead and got the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“So many people think it’s a conspiracy, and they want to know, are you getting it? The day I had my shot, I had four members in our church to stop by and ask, did I take the shot, and I told them, yes,” Canterbury said, noting that every pastor in the small town of Closplint had also been vaccinated. “Because I did, they did.”

What happened at his Pentecostal church, where people changed their mind after hearing a pastor or church member talk about why they got the shot, is a promising trend.

And it makes sense. Though many people were eager to immediately roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 jab, having questions about the new vaccines or wanting to wait for others to get the shot is actually a common, natural response, wrote epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz.

“It’s also worth reiterating that most of these hesitant people do eventually get vaccinated. Sometimes they are late, sometimes they take a while to convince, but most of them are reasonable people worried about something they don’t yet fully understand,” he said. “Most can also be reassured with time and adequate information shared by medical providers.”

PRRI found in March that among churchgoers who are waiting to see if they’ll get the vaccine, nearly half of white Protestants said engagement from their faith community—either seeing others get vaccinated or hosting events like forums or clinics—would make them more likely to do so.

The poll also found that white evangelical Protestants who attend church more often are slightly less likely to want to get the vaccine (in March, 43% said they had done so or planned to ASAP) than those who attend less often (48%). Among Black Protestants, it was the opposite; church attendance was correlated with greater openness to the vaccine.

Chang suggested that the Black church tradition has primed them to see health as a community issue, and that Black churchgoers are more likely to trust the model set by their pastors—many of whom signed up for the vaccine early in public-facing vaccination campaigns.

As vaccine access expanded in March and April, many prominent pastors touted their decision to get the vaccine, such as Southern Baptist Convention president J. D. Greear, who posted a #sleeveup selfie on Twitter. Others opened their churches as vaccination sites, such as First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, a former evangelical adviser to President Trump.

But many white evangelicals see vaccination not as a mandate of their faith but as a matter of personal conscience. It’s between them and their families, them and their health care provider, or them and God.

There are a few who embrace conspiracy theories about the vaccine and the coronavirus, of the sort promoted by evangelical leaders such as Eric Metaxas, and some who claim the inoculation is somehow connected to the “mark of the beast.” More commonly, though, evangelicals who are hesitant to receive the vaccine were resisting what they saw as cultural pressure to take away their freedom to make an individual decision.

Chang said that for some the attitude is, “I made my decision. Don’t tell me what to do,” or “I prayed about it, God told me not to take the vaccine, therefore end of discussion.”

Christian messaging around the COVID-19 vaccine has employed a range of theological reasoning: Vaccination is a way to take advantage of the blessings and protections God gives us through science. It’s an expression of love and care for our neighbors, especially those who are medically vulnerable. It allows us to participate in God’s healing of the world.

As stances on masking and vaccination become conflated with ideological positions, evangelicals are also sensitive to how they talk about the issues in faith terms.

At Madison Baptist Church in Georgia, pastor Griffin Gulledge models wearing a mask to church and prays during services to thank God for the vaccine and for effective treatments against the coronavirus—“That sends a message,” he says—but he also believes that he’s not a public health expert, and people may have good reasons for waiting to vaccinate.

“Christ tells us to love your neighbor as yourself, then the apostle Paul tells us to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. I think those are two things we need to balance,” said Gulledge. “I don’t think it is reasonable for people to say in all cases, universally, to love your neighbor you must follow this or that precaution and you must get vaccinated at this time. … These things are complicated. Reasonable people are going to come to different conclusions.”

Despite assumptions about COVID-19 approaches in the rural South, 30-year-old Gulledge said the “vast majority” of his church was eager to get vaccinated, so much that they helped him find an appointment to get the shot.

Being a pastor and being a part of Christian community has always involved designating between matters of gospel importance and individual freedom. Lately, those issues have come up in particularly visible, fraught ways as the country takes sides on pandemic responses and vaccines.

DeWitt at Cedarville points out how much tone and perception matter when it comes to how churches address COVID-19. What some people see as an act of caring, others see as overreach.

“How do we stay committed to the gospel and committed to this message that we care for body and soul?” he asked. “If there is no good evidence that the vaccine is hurtful, and if there is evidence that the vaccine is helpful, then church leaders should be vocal—not for virtue-signaling but because it’s an actual good and leads to flourishing.”

DeWitt also sees the attitudes over coronavirus responses as tied to deeper issues in the American church, where he worries too many people are conflating “scriptural identity” and “political identity.” “We’re in a culture in which things that are superficial are seen as deeper loyalties,” he said.

The fact that American evangelicalism is so fragmented—that the big-name ministry leader who inspires one group of evangelicals may totally turn off another—makes it a challenge to engage the movement as a whole, even when calling on shared beliefs and values.

“The recipe here is information plus trust,” said Chang. “We can provide the information. The trust has to come from a person who’s sending this along and saying to their friend or their church or their family, ‘Hey, would you be willing to take a look?'"

patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2021, 06:34:24 pm »


Ten Things That Aren't Evangelism

What does it mean for 21st century people to engage in evangelism?

In Act II, Scene II of the classic work, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, there is a famous conversation between the couple. They love each other and want to be together, but they carry the burden of their surnames, and this means that they will be apart forever. In the midst of this complicated mix of feelings and emotions, Juliet uses a metaphor to persuade Romeo that their names do not matter; she says that if a rose had another name, it would still produce the same perfume. I believe that evangelism has a similar dynamic, because although the name comes with a full range of feelings, pre-concepts, fears and worldviews, it’s true nature, motivations and purpose, go beyond any word that we can use to name it.

It is time for people to understand what evangelism is, and what it means for the church of the 21st Century to engage in evangelism. So, to begin to ‘stir this pot’ I would like to introduce 10 things that evangelism is not.

1. Evangelism is not supposed to be complicated.

One of the first things that comes to people’s minds when they hear the “E” word, is “it’s complicated”, but the fact is that this is not true. Evangelism is not complicated; it is simply to share with the world the life that you have found in Jesus.

There are three people who, in a very natural way, carried out evangelism in the New Testament, but who many people don’t recognise as engaging in evangelism. They are the blind man, the demon-possessed man of Gadarene, and the Samaritan women. None of them knew Jesus for a long time, or had much, if any, training. But they were willing to share the difference that Jesus had made in their lives and that is what it is to evangelise - to share who Jesus is and to share what difference He is making in our lives.

2. Evangelism is not supposed to be born out of guilt.

We don’t evangelise to be saved or to earn salvation, but because we are saved. Some Christians share the Gospel only because of internal pressure and because they feel obliged to repay the debt that Jesus paid when He went to the cross – this feeling is based in guilt. In reality though, evangelism is a response to His love and forgiveness, that rises up in us because we want everyone to experience the same level of abundant life that we are experiencing. This removes the need for guilt and leaves only a place for loving obedience.

3. Evangelism is not supposed to be a response to external pressure.

We shouldn’t evangelise because people around us are pressuring us to do it, but because Jesus released us and sends us to share the good news. Any motive that is not from God or Godly is a wrong motive. Your friends, church leaders and family should encourage you and cheer you on in your evangelism and ministry, but that should never become an external pressure to “make” you go and share. Remember that Jesus is freedom, and it is important that we share because we are free to do so. At the heart of evangelism is the truth that because love has found us, we now want to share this love with the world.

4. Evangelism is not to bullying, coercing or convincing people.

We don’t bully people into accepting the gospel. Evangelism should never be an ‘act of terror’ and we definitely shouldn’t try to coerce anyone into becoming a Christian. In the past I was a victim of ‘terror evangelism’; while I was still an atheist, I was the target of many people who knocked at my door asking: “Do you know that if you die today you will go to hell and burn forever?” I don’t know if you have ever had an experience like this, or if, like me, you were the target of something similar, but I have never met anyone who came to Jesus because of this kind of evangelism.

It is not our role in evangelism to convince people. Yes! I will write it again to help people to be released from this burden! It is not your role to convince people; that role belongs to the Holy Spirit. Although we need to be ready to give the reason for our faith, the Holy Spirit is the one who convinces, and He is very good at doing that! Our role is to present and proclaim Christ to the world, everything else is the work of the Holy Spirit.

5. Evangelism is not the marketing of your local church.

It’s ok that you like your local church, and it’s ok to invite people to come along, but this is not evangelism. Many churches think that to invite people to an event or service is evangelism, but this is not the case. Evangelism is to share the good news of Jesus and His story, with the world. It’s not wrong to offer an invitation or to be willing to bring people to our local churches, but what changes people’s lives is the gospel, and that’s what we need to be actively sharing!

6. Evangelism is not to critique other religions, other churches or other church leaders.

Evangelism is not to critique other religions, or other churches and their leaders. We don’t waste time sharing what we are not, but instead, spend our time sharing who Jesus is and what He has done for each and every one of us. Don’t waste the precious time that you have to talk about the King, with talking instead about your views of other people and religions.

7. Evangelism is about more than technique.

Technique is not wrong, but if God is in it, any technique will work. The three unusual people who were engaged in evangelism that I mentioned in the first point, didn’t have any technique, but even so, many people believed in Jesus because they shared the life that they had found in Him. Every church and organisation will have their own technique, and although I strongly recommend that you should support and get involved in the technique of your local church (if it is sound and biblical), remember that this is only one way in which to communicate the precious, unchangeable, good news of Christ.

8. Evangelism does not begin from a position of superiority.

We don’t engage in evangelism or in evangelistic activities because we are the saved ones who go to those who are less than us. Spurgeon said that evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. We go to others because we have received, and we are commissioned to go, not because of any merit or status of our own.

9. Evangelism is not supposed to be unloving.

There is no true evangelism that exists without love. That is how the world will know that we are His disciples. When the message of the gospel reaches us, it transforms us, and this love will break the cycle of indifference and inertia in our lives, so that we are unleashed into the world, to do as Jesus did.

10. Evangelism is not an activity, but a way of life.

I don’t do evangelism just as an activity on “Saturday at 3pm”. In fact, I don’t ‘do’ evangelism at all! We can go for a walk and distribute flyers as a one-off event, but evangelism is so much more than this – it is sharing life and we should do that in our lives in natural ways; it is part of who we are and what we do as Christians. We share about Jesus and the difference that He has made in us, and that can never be an isolated activity, but instead must grow to become something that is part of everything that we are and do.

Luiz F. Cardoso, missiologist, writer and local pastor. He is the Advance Development Manager at the message trust, pastor of Connect Church in Stockport - UK and the director of the Global Network of Evangelism for the Portuguese speaking world. He did his B.A. in theology in Sao Paulo - Brazil and the M.A. in mission in the University of Manchester. Luiz has been married to his wife Dani for 20 years; they have two boys together.
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Chaplain Mark Schmidt

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2021, 09:18:47 pm »
I struggle with modern evangelism, allot.  I find those that hold this as their belief pattern that I know in person to be the very type of Christians, that are driving large parts of the very group we need back in Church away.

It is sad as there is a wealth of knowledge and so much wisdom they carry. 

It is being lost in the zealot-type manner of spreading the word so many resorts to.
Say each prayer as if it is your very last conversation with God and live each day as your last day to glorify God by your actions and words.”

My rule of spiritual life.  6/22/2021
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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2021, 12:24:39 am »


CCCU Says LGBT Lawsuit Is Frivolous

Evangelical association names itself as co-defendant to defend religious exemptions.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) jumped into the legal fray over LGBT rights and religious liberties on Wednesday when it joined a lawsuit against the US Department of Education (DOE) as a codefendant.

Thirty-three current and former students from 20-plus religiously affiliated colleges filed the suit against the DOE in March to prevent the agency from granting religious exemptions from federal antidiscrimination laws. Eighteen of the schools are CCCU members, including Dordt Univeristy, Lipscomb Univeristy, Messiah Univeristy, Nyack College, and Toccoa Falls College. The schools all have policies prohibiting student sexual activity and statements about Christian sexual ethics.

A newly founded LGBT advocacy group, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), says these policies are discriminatory and create abusive and unsafe conditions for LGBT students. REAP is arguing that the religious exemptions to civil rights and federal education laws should be abolished.

If the exemption to Title IX is eliminated, religious schools with policies deemed discriminatory would not be eligible for federal funds.

CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra said the lawsuit is frivolous and the Christian colleges and universities are clearly eligible for religious exemptions.

“CCCU institutions subscribe to sincerely held biblical beliefs,” she said in a statement, “which include specific religious convictions around human sexuality and gender, and are transparent about their policies and behavior guidelines, which students voluntarily agree to when they choose to attend the institution.”

The CCCU has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion cites multiple US Supreme Court rulings that protect religious schools from being deprived of indirect financial aid on the basis of an institution’s religious identity. In 2002, the court ruled 5-4 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that a state school-voucher program allowing parents to send their children to religious schools if they wanted, did not violate First Amendment prohibitions against “respecting an establishment of religion.”

In 2020, the court ruled 5-4 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court ruled 5-4 that religious schools cannot be excluded from a state scholarship program that provides aid to students attending private schools.

The new advocacy group has said it hopes the lawsuit will call attention to the issue of religious exemptions in the Equality Act, the antidiscrimination legislation currently under consideration in the US Senate. One of the major points of disagreement over the bill is how it will balance religious liberty with concerns that LGBT people are not protected by current law. The fate of the Equality Act is uncertain, but legislators could attempt to win more votes for the bill by including exemptions, which REAP opposes.

“When taxpayer-funded religious institutions require sexual and gender minority students to hide their identity out of fear, or to behave contrary to their fundamental sexual or gender identity, the unsurprising consequences are intense pain, loneliness and self-harm,” the suit says.

Multiple plaintiffs say they experienced mental distress from bullying at Christian colleges and some claim they were subjected to conversion therapy.

The CCCU lawyers dispute the evidence that sexual ethics policies cause students harm.

According to the court filings, the association “denies that any of its Christian College or University members abuse or provide unsafe conditions to thousands of LGBTQ+ students, or injure them mind, body, or soul, but rather seek to minister, support, and care for them physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Plaintiffs cite no evidence to support their allegations of abuse and harm.”

Hoogstra said in her statement that the CCCU takes reports of student experience seriously and said the schools are “committed to learning, growing, and deepening our understanding of how we can provide and strengthen support for all students,” including those who disagree with the colleges’ stated beliefs and those who identify as LGBT.

“CCCU institutions should be places where all students feel safe, supported, and welcome,” Hoogstra said.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2021, 03:33:42 pm »


Why Having Babies Is Controversial in 2021

How the church can have a better conversation about the falling fertility rate and society’s changing expectations for mothers.

Last year, the US birthrate experienced its largest single-year drop in nearly 50 years. For years, America’s 2.1 fertility rate made it an outlier to other developed countries. But for the last decade, the number had begun trending downwards, plummeting to last year’s figure of 1.6 children per woman.

These numbers entered the news the same week the New York Times published an essay by columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, “I Became a Mother at 25, and I’m Not Sorry I Didn’t Wait.” Many warmly received and shared the piece, which explores the author’s experience of learning she was pregnant and the many factors that have caused millennial women to delay children including economic concerns, higher education, race, and geography. But for others, it struck a nerve.

One NYT commenter wrote, “There are few things more irresponsible than bringing a child into the world in 2021. I know it's difficult to reject the incredible social and cultural pressure that encourages us to reproduce. The easiest thing to do will always be to have children. But a good rule of thumb is that the easiest option-- the one our current paradigm encourages-- generally causes the most damage and suffering.”

On Twitter, Jill Filipovic wrote, “I would really love to read more essays and op/eds from women (and men, too) who regret having children as early as they did, regret having as many as they did, or regret having children at all. There's not much about motherhood that remains publicly unexplored, but that does.”

Rebecca McLaughlin is the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today's 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year, and it's follow-up edition for youth, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity. Her latest book is The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. She joined global media manager Morgan Lee and executive editor Ted Olsen to discuss the challenges of talking about babies and motherhood in 2021 in the culture at large but also inside the church.

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The transcript is edited by Yvonne Su and Bunmi Ishola

Rebecca McLaughlin: It's certainly the case that religious people tend to have more babies. Whether we're talking about having more babies or not, we are having more babies and that's true in the U.S. and it's true globally as well.

As I read Liz's piece, I was first struck by just how well written it was. And there's a big myth that honestly haunts both our secular liberal friends’ ecosystem and our ecosystem as Christians, and this myth is that women need to choose between having babies, especially having babies early, and achieving excellence in any other sphere of their life. And one of the things that I loved about the article was how she—without making this point explicitly actually—demonstrated to us that this myth of the mommy brain, the idea that having children somehow rots your intelligence as a woman, just isn't true.

One of the struggles that we have as evangelicals is we've felt the need to validate women who stay home and take care of their kids—which is an important thing and something we should be validating—but we've tended to do it at the expense of women who are single and at the expense of women who are mothers and also work outside the home.

And that's kind of where, where we've made some quite unbiblical mistakes, because as we look at the scriptures, that there's an awful lot that can inform how we think about parenting, how we think about having children, and the goodness of having children, or the goodness of being other-person-oriented.

Which is something that I thought Ms. Bruenig brought out beautifully in her piece: how becoming a parent forces you to stop being primarily concerned with yourself and start being primarily concerned with somebody else's. There’s something extraordinarily Christian about that paradigm applied in any sphere of life.

But while we should and must validate women who stay home full-time with their kids—it's something that some of my smartest and my scholarly friends are doing right now—when we start to do that at the expense of all the ways that women are called to serve the Lord, for example, to talk about a woman's highest calling is to be a wife and mother, that becomes quite unbiblical and misleading. Because really a woman's highest calling is to follow Jesus and you can do that as a woman who has children and as a single woman.

Before the advent of birth control, was it possible to be pro-natalist or anti-natalist? Or is this the idea of individuals taking a stance on fertility somewhat new?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Well, it depends how far back we want to go.

Let’s look at the world into which Christianity was born., the era when Jesus was born. It was a world in which people didn't have access to the pill, but babies were routinely abandoned when they weren’t wanted—especially baby girls, who were seen as less valuable than baby boys. And that wasn't seen as morally problematic at that time because babies, in and of themselves, weren't seen as precious humans made in the image of God, they were seen more as possessions.

This is one of the big innovations that Christianity brought to the wider world—which came straight out of Judaism but exploded from Christianity—based on Jesus's interactions with babies. Like Luke said, even infants were brought to him, and when the disciples tried to turn them away, Jesus said, “No, let them come to me; to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

And this sudden valuing of babies and small children as precious people made in God's image, changed the way that parenting was seen in the early church and still echoes down to us today as we think about conversations around abortion and as we think about parenting in general.

But the development of this model that says a woman's highest calling is to be a wife and mother, and that the biblical way of mothering is for every child to have their mother’s undivided attention through the day—that is actually a very modern concept of what it means to be a mother. It’s very modern to expect a small number of children and a very intensive parenting style. Historically rich women have never talked to their own children and poor women have had seven children and a job to support them.

So we have this mythology that's cropped up that says up until the last couple of generations, every child was carefully looked after all day long by their mother and that there were very few children involved in this process.

It's striking that even Jesus' mother—who presumably was not a neglectful parent—didn't even realize Jesus wasn't with them for 24 hours when he was 12. The reality is at that stage, as a 12-year-old, Jesus would have been as seen as pretty mature and not just a child as we would think of the 12-year-olds these days. And there was a much more expensive role of the general extended family and parenting, et cetera.

So the pro-natalist and anti-natalist conversations we have today are embedded in social realities that are quite different from those that our earlier ancestors lived with. We have very different expectations of what it even looks like to parent and what the responsibilities of the parent are.

What makes the apprehension or ambivalence about bringing children into the world in 2021 a unique conversation?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I think there is a range of factors here.

One is the idea that sexual freedom is more important than commitment, in terms of our happiness, and especially for women. The sexual revolution of the ’60s brought what was seen as this wonderful gift of commitment-free sex to women, and in ways that hadn't been possible. Folks in my generation were brought up, at least in societal terms to think that women of my generation now had the opportunity of commitment-free sex and the opportunity for a career that would be uninhibited by parenting.

Morgan Lee: And I've heard it explained that for women who were put into situations where they might not actually want to have children, or it might not actually be good for their bodies to have children, it also gave them more freedom. So on the one hand, yes, the sexual freedom part, but two, even for women who were in marriages, it gave them a little bit more agency in how that looked like.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah. And so there's a lot of important conversations to be had around contraception of various kinds within marriage. But even before we got into that space—and I'm speaking only for myself as someone who's raised in the UK, and we're going to very secular academic schools where—we were constantly being told, you have opportunities that your parents or grandparents as women didn't have.

There was this paradigm that valued sexual freedom on the one hand and pursuit of a career on the other. And the possibility of having children was a very kind of conflicted idea that was something we recognized that people wanted, but it was seen as very much a detrimental thing to the pursuit of a career.

We are in a situation today where women are having fewer children than they want. It's not just that their desire for children has been diminished, but rather they feel like that's not economically possible for them or they're starting having children much later than previous generations.

So it's a very complex picture, but one of the things that we've forgotten is, as Liz pointed out in her article, is the beautiful life-giving and joy-giving experience of parenthood. It is often left out of the picture as people, especially highly-educated women, are thinking about their futures.

Ted Olsen: Yeah, the joy of parenting is something that kind of gets left out of some of the abstract conversation. How economists talk about it doesn't resonate with me, and how Christians sometimes talk about it doesn't quite resonate with me.

We ran this article by Ken Tanner in a magazine I used to run called The Behemoth. And his main point was like, “I do a lot of good things that have eternal significance, but the children that I have made, that God has made through me, these children are going to exist eternally. These children that I've been entrusted with, and that I had a part in making, that's the most significant thing I'm going to do because they really are eternal. They didn't exist and they're going to exist forever.”

This did not exist and now it exists forever. To me, that's so different than talking about, 2.3 children as an economic value or even when we talk theologically about children as a sign of future hope. They exist forever.

Having babies is part of God's good gift for Christians and non-Christians alike, in the same way, marriage is for Christians and non-Christians. And we're pretty good about talking about what a Christian marriage is, and also how it's the image of Christ’s relationship with his church. But there’s less conversation about what Christian parenting is or how it models a special understanding of who God is. What should we be thinking about when it comes to parenting as Christians? Is there a way babies—even baby-making—tell us something about God?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yes, absolutely.

It's so interesting to me because marriage, as you mentioned, is fundamentally for Christians about the expression of Jesus's love for his church. It’s this huge biblical metaphor that comes to us, starting in the Old Testament with the prophets comparing God to a faithful husband and Israel, to an unfaithful wife. And it jumps into a new space when Jesus says that he's the bridegroom and Paul says that Christian marriage is like a little scale model of Jesus's love for the church. And then it reaches a full-blown crescendo in the Book of Revelation, when a great voice shouts, “The wedding of the Lamb has come” and Jesus’s marriage to the Church brings heaven and earth back together. We have at least a starting point to get a handle on what all marriages look like.

But whereas in the Bible, God is always pictured as the husband and not as the wife, or Jesus is always the husband and not as the wife, there's something kind of important that the Bible does: it actually gives us maternal metaphors for God.

So clearly, we received God as our father and that's a very strong metaphor, especially one that Jesus gives to us in The Lord’s Prayer. But one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is Isaiah 49:15, when the Lord says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”

And I loved that verse even before I ever became a mother. And in my mind, that verse was saying, God looks at us like we are the cutest little baby. We're so cute in God's eyes. And then I had my first baby and I started breastfeeding and I'm here to tell you, breastfeeding is hard. It a sacrificial painful and physically painful, at least in the early stages. It's something that drags you out of bed in the night. It is an extremely self-sacrificial experience.

Two physical human experiences deeply connect us to somebody else and involve an exchange of bodily fluids, and that’s sex and breastfeeding. Even though they are very different things, there's a kind of connectivity that arises, and that is required by both that is visceral and intense and emotional.

And the experience of breastfeeding helped me to understand that verse in a new way, because it's not just that God looks at us as these cute little babies, it's also an expression of his self-sacrifice for us. And those two go hand-in-hand, as we understand more of God and of how he loves us to the extent of giving up his own son for us.

And they also help us understand what it means to parent, which is to become fundamentally other-person-oriented and to be willing to enter into a love relationship with someone who from the very first, you will be the one who loves more actually. That dynamic can change over time, but there is a very one-directional love that a parent displays upon their infant. So in becoming a parent, I do grasp and glimpse more of how God loves us. It's one of the ways in which God has embedded a metaphor in our lived experience to help us to see how he loves us.

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And also, when we think about what the New Testament says about the family of the church, the body of the church, that to me is a really important place where we need to contextualize how we think about Christian parenting.

While I do think there is a great blessing in having children, and from a Christian perspective, we should be embracing birthing and bringing up our children, but the idea that this is only something that is done by the nuclear family misses a lot of what the New Testament is calling us to. Parenting should be something that the church as a whole should be participating in, where single people, grandparents, and extended biological and spiritual family should all be involved in this process of raising children in the Lord.

If you listen to what Jesus says in the gospels, it's hard to land at the prioritization of a nuclear family that we sometimes see as the Christian norm. He's quite disruptive because he is continually expanding what family means. I think he's calling us to something that is expansive and that it’s not just “it takes a village to raise a child,” but also it takes children to bring the village into itself.

It’s not just for the benefit of the children, but also for the benefit of adults investing in the children of the church as a whole.

Let’s talk about biblical motherhood and what the Bible says about how women should mother. Is that something that is actually out there and that the Bible speaks to?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yes and no.

If you're mining the New Testament for specific verses for mothers and raising children, there's Titus 2:4, where all the women are told to train younger women to love their husbands and children. And that's pretty much it.

And I’m not making that point to say the Bible doesn't value mothering or therefore the Bible has nothing to say about mothering. It actually has an awful lot to say. But sometimes we speak as if there is a very prescribed way and pattern for biblical motherhood that the Bible gives us and anyone who's doing anything different is clearly against the word of the Lord. And we have to be really careful when we start doing that.

In the famous ideal woman of Proverbs 31, her children are mentioned very late in the description of her, and then it’s just that her children rise up and call her blessed. And then in what Paul says about marriage in Ephesians 5.

The idea that the women in the Bible are primarily focused on their children, and that's most of what the Bible says about women, is actually quite unbiblical. Often in the Bible, women are being engaged with and addressed as individuals. And sometimes we don't know whether they're married or not. We don't know whether they have children or not. We don't know, for example, in the Book of Acts what Lydia’s family situation is. We know she has a household, but what does that mean? So we need to be careful when we start to be very prescriptive about what we think the Bible says about what it means to be a Christian mother.

Nut at the same time, the Bible gives us all sorts of relevant commands ranging from the clear picture throughout the Old and New Testament of raising our children in the Lord, which is something that both fathers and mothers need to be involved in. And then in all the commands about how we love others.

Jesus uses strong language about how anyone who wants to come to him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. I think it’s a strong challenge to any modern assumption that the main point of my life is my fulfillment or my career or whatever.

Morgan Lee: Can I just say, it's interesting that you bring up that particular passage about taking your cross, because the beginning of it starts with, “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters...” And that's an interesting dichotomy because it specifically names family members.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, and we know from Jesus’s broader teaching and the teachings of the New Testament that he's not saying that we should hate those people in our lives. He's saying that compared to our love of him, our love of anyone else should be like hatred. And the irony there is actually the more we love Jesus, the more we will love others under him. And we love others most when we love Jesus' best. And that applies in friendship, it applies in marriage, it applies in parenting.

And I hope everything I believe, I believe because it's in the Bible rather than because of the findings of modern psychology or the sociological studies, et cetera. But it's always interesting to me to see how what the Bible says tends to actually align with what's being shown to be aligned with human flourishing—whether it's regular church attendance or sex in the context of very long-term commitment rather than so-called free sex.

And what's interesting to me right now is that women in America who are very religious, married to very religious men, and have broadly-speaking traditional views of marriage are actually the happiest. So this ironic situation whereby the folks most pitied by secular liberal folk turn out to be some of the happiest people in town. And that's not to say that’s the calling on every Christian woman. But it's just interesting how the things most seen by some folks in the secular world as inhibiting to individual flourishing, turn out to be actually quite conducive to it.

You’ve talked about what the example of Christ's sacrifice indicates for mothering, but what about how the person of Christ should inform how we view our babies and how we should view parenting?

Rebecca McLaughlin: One of the interesting things for me in becoming a mother was just how it confronts you with your own in fresh ways. And the reality that your body can do things that you have no real control over.

It's striking to me that Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. He kind of quite specifically claims this, this language of birthing. And then we have Jesus’s embodied self ascending into heaven with the scars still on his hands. So it's not even that Jesus didn't become disembodied when he ascended, but that he actually carried with him the wounds that allowed us to be born again. And it's a metaphor we see again in other parts of the New Testament, this idea of the creation, groaning like a laboring mother, and this idea that the new creation will be a process of delivery, of giving birth. But I think it's all connected.

And one of the shocking things about Christianity was this claim that we are looking forward to the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. And Jesus’s accession is a powerful reminder to us of that. That the one we worship is an enfleshed human, not a disembodied soul.

And I do think that we encounter that in parenting in quite unique and disruptive ways, especially for those of us who are living in privileged 21st-century Western contexts, where we're less used to being confronted with the realities of our bodies, at least until we grow old.

Let’s talk about some of the secular reactions to Liz's essay and how the church may be able to specifically tailor its message of affirming children and babies to a culture that's skeptical of it. While this is not true of all, there are parts of our culture that believe it’s unethical or irresponsible to have children. How can we engage folks who may believe this in ways that honor their convictions?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Well, honestly, I think it’s a very simplified and rather misleading claim to make the argument that simply having more humans in the world is detrimental to our environment. It’s more about how people will consume environmental things.

We have this idea that there are too many people around, and so having fewer babies would be better. But let's talk about America for a minute. We have an aging society where if the current trends persist, we're not going to have the young workforce required to care for all the retired and elderly people.

And to cross the line into political territory that will offend people both on the right hand and on the left, there are two big problems here or two strange conundrums. For secular folks who believe strongly in abortion and how this is somehow the central plank of women's rights are not recognizing that the large majority of women who have abortions are because they are poor and abandoned, not because they're living their emancipated, feminist, free best life. And we are losing a lot of babies that way. And to the folks on the right, immigration has been what has been propping us up for a while. Both with younger folks moving to America, but especially younger folks from cultures where women tend to have more children. And so policies that have come to us from both sides have actually contributed to this aging society phenomenon that we have.

There's so much that's been sold to us in terms of sexual liberty being the thing that's going to promote our flourishing and happiness and getting married and having children, not so much. And the more studies that come out and show this just isn't the case, the more we're going to have to start reckoning with those realities. And so with some of our secular friends, starting conversations by pointing them to some studies could just change the frameworks somewhat.

But ultimately the most beautiful thing that Christians can model to the world, and this comes straight out of Jesus's own mouth, is the way that we love each other. We should be known as his disciples because of how we love each other. And that will be remarkable to folks outside the church, if it's love that isn't just how we love our immediate family. And isn't just how we love people like us or people who have the same set of demographics as we are. It will be how we include in the single mothers from underprivileged backgrounds who show up at our churches, or how we care for children in the foster system and by bringing them into our communities.

It'll actually be the ways that we show love to those who are often marginalized that would be the most beautiful and powerful apologetic for Christ in this culture.

Morgan Lee: I wanted to add one apologetic of my own. I've mentioned on the show before that I have a good friend who I've gotten to know since moving to Hawaii. And she had a baby last year. So the entire time of our friendship, I have known her with her baby, and she brings her baby everywhere with her, and she goes a lot of places. And she is constantly letting other people hold her baby, take care of her baby, look after her baby.

And I have had friends, who have interacted with her son, who have said they have never held a baby before, or it's been years since they've held a baby. And again, it's not going to be possible for everyone who has children to do so, but often people who have children, especially babies, tend to stay home or only socialize with other people who also have babies. And I’ve just have watched so many of my friends fall in love with my friend's child and feel very endeared to him and close to him.

I have not seen a lot of people who have been that generous with how they let other people love their children in that way. So there are hearts and minds shaping that can come around with those things as well.

There are far more Christian women than there are Christian men. And so for many Christian women who want to marry Christian men and feel like that is part of their convictions, that's not going to be something that feels feasible for them. But there are ways to bring children into your life: IVF is one way, adoption is another way. What would it look like for the church to support these women, especially in their desire to have children?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I've already mentioned this, but it's worth repeating: We need to move away from this lie, which says that a woman's highest calling is to be a wife and a mother, and to remember that for all of us—married or single or otherwise—our highest calling is to follow Jesus.

So often, even by very well-meaning parents, we can bring up our children to think that what we expect of them as the norm is that they will get married and have children. And so that if they grew up and live their lives as a single person that always sends the message that we are somehow dissatisfied with, or that it’s not the best for, them.

I have a community group that is predominantly single people and many of them are single women, and even in the last few weeks, three of my friends in the group have shared how that their mothers have put pressure on them to get married and have children. And it’s always been the case that there have been more Christian women than men from as far as we can tell from the very early church. So it's profoundly damaging if we bring people up with the idea that getting married, especially for women, is the Christian norm and remaining single is somehow second best.

We then need to live in ways that include people who are married and have children so that we are actually living in biblical community ethics rather than just into the nuclear family ideal. So those folks who do live their life as singles aren't excluded. There are multiple different forms in which someone can commit as a single person and often can feel on the fringes in certain church contexts that we need to work against.

And ultimately for all of us, whether we're married or not, whether you have children or not, we need to remember that Jesus is our life. I love and so frequently come back to the conversation Jesus has with Martha after Lazarus's death, before he raises Lazarus. (And we don't know whether Martha or Mary was married or not. It is just not commented on. It's not something that the text tells us.) And Jesus looks into Martha's eyes and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. I am what you need right now. What you mostly need is not your brother back, what you mostly need is me.”

And that's something that, especially for single people, we need to be reminded of and encouraged in. Jesus is both the ideal single person who never married and the ideal husband who will one day welcome us into relationship with him and we would the greatest marriage of all eternity.

So for all of us, whether married or single, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus as our hope, as our life, as our resurrection, giving any disappointments and heartbreak that we have—whether it's wanting to be married and not being married, whether it's wanting children and not having children, whether it's having children and having a very difficult experience of mothering, or whether it's having children who grow up and leave the faith—there all sorts of ways in which we can have our hearts broken in this life, but fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes, is the best for any of us.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2021, 05:07:16 am »


For Cosmopolitan Christians, Secular Approval Is a Common Temptation

Elite believers often sound more like disciples of Jacques Derrida than Jesus Christ. That needs to change.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak about the gospel’s justice imperative at a local Christian high school. Upon arrival, I was escorted through campus by a young administrator, who thanked me for coming to engage a topic the school’s elders had ignored for too long. With Dietrich Bonhoeffer–like resolve, he and another young teacher confided that they were subversively trying to change the culture at the school. I immediately, and perhaps hastily, commended their efforts.

The truth is, too many Christian institutions have been nonresponsive to the injustice in their midst. Some of these schools were established to maintain segregation and still refuse to reckon with their history and extinguish the mentalities responsible for it.

Many evangelicals will fight to exclude critical race theory but won’t even acknowledge racial disparities in education. We do not have to agree with everything every critical-race theorist says in order to recognize unjust disparities. The Black church has been addressing injustice in a theologically sound way for literally hundreds of years, well before CRT was a thing.

Without a doubt, the young educators’ concerns were legitimate. Deep, disruptive change was necessary, but the more we talked, the more I grew concerned that their approach was misguided. They were espousing a plainly secular progressive framework, unrefined by the truth and moral order of the gospel. They had an infatuation with trending secular theories, without guardrails to keep them from taking concepts like intersectionality and inclusion into unbiblical territory.

Those ideas can be helpful. But they should never be followed uncritically, because they can lead to identity idolatry, which would have us embrace broken aspects of ourselves. There’s a difference between celebrating parts of our identity and centering or exalting identity to the point where it naturally justifies some and condemns others. These brothers correctly identified an old problem, but their solutions were generically pop culture oriented and flat.

Their mistake isn’t unique. Because large parts of the church have failed to articulate and demonstrate a true model of compassion and justice, many Christians feel they have to leave biblical grounds to achieve loving and just objectives.

Anecdotally, this appears to be a growing problem among Christians in the professional class. It’s disturbing how many Christians uncritically accept the ideological assumptions prevalent in their profession. Assimilating into the secular progressive worldview is a certification of sorts among the highly educated.

This is particularly dangerous in K-12 education, where administrators rush to implement postmodern policies with little to no academic value. Higher education is severely left leaning, so it’s no wonder that wide-eyed Christians leave college sounding more like disciples of Jacques Derrida than Jesus Christ.

Postmodernism is so pervasive in academia that it starts to seem like the natural progression of a growing mind. Many Christians lack the biblical foundation and confidence to even question the opinions of their secular-minded instructors. We summarily accept their conclusions and insecurely imitate their sensibilities to prove we belong.

There’s also more than a hint of elitism mixed in with the good intentions and the indoctrination. Proving we can intellectually grasp the ideas that secular elites have branded as sacred knowledge elevates us above the people in the pews who raised us. They now represent the caricatures that embarrass us, and we’re eager to separate ourselves by flaunting our aptitude. Our presentism says new ideas are always better ideas. Accordingly, assuming the old saints are wrong is a mark of sophistication, as in, “Okay, boomer.”

While exiled in Babylonia, the prophet Daniel rejected this type of indoctrination and elitism because it conflicted with his moral framework. King Nebuchadnezzar changed Daniel’s name, taught him a new language, and tried to use his authority and resources to endear the young Hebrew (Daniel 1:3–14).

However, Daniel wasn’t as malleable as we tend to be when lured by professional opportunities, a new vocabulary, and elite identity. Sitting at the king’s table and accepting this new worldview would’ve ensured that Daniel could stand above his people with an air of superiority. But Daniel was unimpressed and uninterested. He didn’t value what the king valued. He only wished to please God, so he refused to defile himself by accepting the king’s indecent proposals.

Instead of reacting like Daniel, we often enter a new arena and, because of our insecurity, go silent on the Christian convictions society frowns upon. We wield influence in the church while seeking validation from the world. Are we ashamed of the gospel?

Believers can’t embrace elitism or anti-intellectualism. We should learn as much as we can from subject matter experts, but without a sense of awe and uncritical acceptance. Professional journals aren’t our Bible, and industry experts aren’t our priests.

There are many principles in our professional fields that we should embrace. For instance, doctors should obviously uphold the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” However, we must distinguish between sound ethics and the seeds of indoctrination. If our education makes unborn life seem less sacred or causes us to pursue self-definition and self-indulgence, then we’ve been miseducated.

We need Christians who aren’t smitten with the culture or merely proficient at regurgitating its liturgy. We need believers who can wrestle with secular thought, affirming the merits and opposing the lies. Christians must be confident and distinctly Christian in our fields—boldly speaking up when the emperor is striding around with no clothes. When change is necessary, we must correct the mistakes of our elders by moving closer to the Bible, not further from it.

Justin E. Giboney is an attorney, political strategist, president of the AND Campaign, and coauthor of Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2021, 05:10:53 am »


What Do Americans Actually Think About the Equality Act and Religious Liberty?

As with much polling, the devil is in the conveniently omitted details.

Once every week or two, I get a press release about the Equality Act. The theme is consistent: This bill is popular. Americans love it. They want it passed yesterday.

That’s a big claim. If correct, it means American views on religious liberty, sexuality and gender, and their intersection in nondiscrimination laws have undergone a swift and stark shift. It means Christians and members of other religions who hew to a more traditional view of sex are not merely in the cultural minority but facing massive legal changes to their worship, business, and educational lives. But if the reality is more complicated—and, spoiler alert, I think it is—we may have stumbled into a serious national misunderstanding about an important and contentious issue.

The Equality Act in its present form has been under congressional consideration for half a decade. It’s passed the House twice, never the Senate. President Biden called for its passage in his April speech to Congress, but since then the bill has stagnated while legislative attention goes to major spending packages instead. Still, this isn’t longshot legislation, and it will likely be reintroduced in the next Congress if it doesn’t pass this one.

What happens if this becomes law? The bill’s headline purpose is to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” and it mainly works by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of the Equality Act’s provisions would be welcomed across the political spectrum, but four parts have raised grave concern regarding religious liberty.

One is the bill’s expansion of the definition of “public accommodation.” The 1964 law defined this as hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and some entertainment venues. The Equality Act adds “any establishment that provides a good, service, or program,” a definition broad enough to potentially include houses of worship. Massachusetts passed a similar law several years ago, and its initial regulatory guidance treated churches as public accommodations whenever they held “a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that [was] open to the general public.” That guidance was nixed after churches filed suit, but the Equality Act could nationalize it. A letter from a group of 57 black pastors warns this would embroil houses of worship “in constant litigation.”

That letter also brings up the second religious-liberty objection to the bill: It would preclude federal funding going to any organization deemed to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Given how the bill defines discrimination, that would affect adoption agencies that don’t work with gay couples and universities (which receive federal funds via student loans) with community-life rules that preclude same-sex relationships.

The third issue is the Equality Act’s rejection of religious belief as a legal defense against the law’s demands. “This would be the first major piece of legislation that excludes explicitly protection for religious freedom,” Shirley Mullen, a board member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, recently told CT. Current law doesn’t make religion a blanket exception clause, but it tries to “balance competing claims,” Mullen explained, and the Equality Act would eliminate that balance.

Lastly, the Civil Rights Act acknowledged there are some jobs in which sex “is a bona fide occupational qualification.” The Equality Act agrees but says that “individuals [should be] recognized as qualified in accordance with their gender identity” rather than biological sex. The same standard is applied to access to “a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room,” which would pose a problem for conservative colleges with single-sex dorms, among other institutions.

Is this what the average American so eagerly supports? At first glance, national surveys say yes. A PRRI poll from March asked whether “a small business owner” should be allowed “to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs.” Six in 10 said no. (White evangelicals were the sole major religious group in which a plurality disagreed, but it was basically an even split.) Another March poll found seven in 10 Americans (including half of white evangelicals) back the Equality Act.

But the way that second poll described the legislation is crucial here. It didn’t clearly explain those four key changes, and it implied the issue at hand is LGBTQ people being denied service for basic life necessities, like bank accounts, transit, and medical care.

The PRRI results also aren’t as straightforward as they initially seem. Another PRRI poll from February captured one important nuance: The smaller, more private (i.e., not funded by or working with the government), and more directly involved in worship practices an organization is, the more Americans say it should be able to conform freely to its operators’ religious beliefs.

Yet all three polls failed to consistently make a vital distinction: general vs. specific refusal of service. The February survey distinguished for medical care, finding more Americans would require doctors to serve all groups of people in a general sense than to provide a few specific procedures, like abortions or “reproductive health services like contraception or sterilization to transgender people.” (Christian doctors are trying to strike a delicate balance between being sensitive to gender-identity preferences and maintaining personal convictions around sexual ethics.) That distinction wasn’t made for other lines of work. Respondents weren’t asked, for instance, if they see a difference between requiring a conservative, religious baker to bake for a gay wedding and requiring him to sell a gay customer any generic cookie already in the case.

Other polling indicates many Americans do see a difference there. One 2018 survey found 43 percent think religiously motivated denial of services should be allowed always or “in only some instances.” A 2016 poll and a follow-up in 2020 both showed Americans evenly split when asked about wedding-specific services. This is a critical distinction for religious liberty, but the Equality Act would flatten it.

Those press releases I get are correct in one sense: Americans overwhelmingly support extending the basic nondiscrimination protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. When pollsters suggest this is what the Equality Act does, it predictably receives broad approval. But that’s not an accurate description of the bill, which means headlines touting those poll results are wrong and lawmakers considering this legislation or some similar bill in the future may be misinformed.

Americans have complicated and probably fluctuating views on these questions. I suspect something like the Fairness for All Act—the compromise legislation endorsed in that letter from black pastors and attracting interest from some conservatives—better reflects the median national opinion, which has moved significantly left yet nevertheless contains more subtleties than many surveys capture. Those are subtleties legislation shouldn’t ignore for the sake of principle, the Constitution, and representative governance alike.

The culture war is so often in blitzkrieg mode: Everyone wants a fast, maximal victory. This isn’t how our constitutional system is designed to work, however, nor should it be with matters as intensely personal and weighty as religious liberty and LGBTQ rights. Americans can and, I believe, want to do better than this bill.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2021
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2021, 03:45:21 am »


Homelessness Is Vexing American Cities. Do Christians Have a Solution?

How the church should help the rising number of people sleeping on the streets.

Across the country, American cities are unsuccessfully grappling with how best to address homelessness. This month, Austin criminalized sitting, lying, or camping in public. Sausalito, an upscale community in the Bay Area canceled its annual art festival when its location conflicted with the proposed place to relocate the homeless population that is currently living on the city’s waterfront. Los Angeles is considering moving forward with establishing a government-funded tent encampment.

Nationally, here’s how The New York Timessummed it up in March of this year.

"Homelessness in the United States rose for the fourth straight year, with about 580,000 people living on the streets or in temporary shelter at the start of 2020, according to an annual nationwide survey that was completed before the pandemic.

But the report, which was released on Thursday, almost certainly underestimates the spread, depth and urgency of the crisis, and not by a little, federal officials warned.

Beyond the myriad factors that leave people on streets, expiring COVID-19 moratoriums on evictions mean that millions may soon find themselves without housing.

For decades, Christian ministries have served food and offered temporary housing to people experiencing homelessness. Whose needs have these organizations traditionally met? And how successful have they been?

John Ashmen has served as the CEO of Citygate Network since 2007, previously known as the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and is the author of Invisible Neighbors. Before he went to what’s now Citygate, he served in the COO role of the Christian Camp and Conference Association.

Ashmen joined global media manager Morgan Lee and executive editor Ted Olsen to talk about why homelessness is getting worse, why Christians don’t always agree on the solutions, and what it means for the church to love its neighbor when trying to consider what is best for those on the street, local businesses, and the safety of all.

What is Quick to Listen? Read more

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Follow our hosts on Twitter: Morgan Lee and Ted Olsen

Learn more about our guest’s organization: Citygate Network

Read John Ashmen’s interview at The Exchange

Music by Sweeps

Quick to Listen is produced by Morgan Lee and Matt Linder

The transcript is edited by Bunmi Ishola

Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode 266
There seems to be the perception that the issue of homelessness has worsened in nearly every American city; is that true? What have been some of the biggest changes about the size of the homeless population in recent years?

John Ashmen: Well, the numbers are increasing, and the reporting of the numbers is the thing that's always suspect. It used to be that the numbers were in the 600,000 range, as far as HUD (The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) was reporting with their annual point-in-time counts. And then it dropped to the low 600,000, then the high 500,000, but they were always changing the definition of “homeless,” which made it very difficult to really get your arms around it. But with the recent point-in-time counts, you just can't deny that something is increasing when you try to navigate through the city.

At Citygate Network, we generally say there are about a million people who are out there. And we say that because so many other agencies come up with different numbers. While HUD was saying we have 550,000 homeless people, the Department of Education was saying, we have almost two million homeless students in American.

How has Citygate traditionally defined homelessness in comparison to the government?

John Ashmen: We've said that if you don't have your own safe place to return to, night after night, then you would be homeless. The government at one point would have probably said that but they’ve added new nuances, so if you're living doubled up, you're not homeless. Or if you've stayed in a hotel two nights in the last two weeks or something like that, you're not homeless.

I think if you don't have that place that you can call your own—whether you're paying rent or you're paying a mortgage or it’s paid off—you're probably in a situation where you're homeless.

It's clear there are visible versus possibly invisible situations of homelessness, as some families may double up or have social safety nets while others make use of shelters or live out in public spaces. Do we see those numbers going up and down together based on our national economy? Or are there roots in different issues?

John Ashmen: There are just so many things that cause homelessness. And you just have to look at the situation at the time. Of course, COVID turned everything on its head in many respects.

There are about 320 organizations across North America that are part of Citygate Network, and all of them used to be pretty much at full capacity. (And in most US cities, one of our member organizations is the largest homeless services provider, and in some cities, it's the only homeless services provider.) And then we got COVID-19 and we started getting people coming in, who were released from prisons and saying, “There's no place for me to go.” And if you’re the only game in town, you would take those folks in.

And then we had people who would show up and saying, “There's no food in the house because there's no paycheck.” And then you had people who were sleeping rough, outdoors and in uncomfortable areas, and they're saying “It's just too dangerous out here. And we think it's going to be safer in the mission,” and so they would come. And so that combination of things disrupted what would be the normal flow of understanding of who's homeless and where they're staying.

And we're just now trying to look at the numbers that are coming in to get an idea of if we're heading back to what would be the normal patterns.

Did local government put in ordinances that capped the number of people that could stay in homeless shelters during COVID lockdown, or did the people who often stay at these shelters end up deciding that they did not feel comfortable staying in them?

John Ashmen: It was a little bit of both. But we did have numbers that we looked at. I was actually on the US Interagency Council on Homelessness COVID-19 Task Force starting in early April of 2020, and looking at the numbers coming in, we felt we had to do two things: save lives and protect the hospital systems. And the reason we said protect the hospital system was that if a homeless shelter were to go hot—meaning everybody there got COVID-19—there were not enough hospital beds in even large cities to handle that.

So the collaboration that took place in cities was wonderful. Ministries that probably didn't do a whole lot of talking to one another started sharing resources, started talking, and then we started working with health departments and in some cities, places like the convention center, a sporting arena, or different hotels were used to take in different groups so that they could be spread out and be isolated according to the CDC guidelines.

A lot of groups formally have been pretty focused on the urban, especially center city, communities. But the suburbs have been changing and becoming more diverse, and there's been a lot more economic diversity as well. Has homelessness been shifting to more of a suburban issue?

John Ashmen: Homelessness used to be concentrated in the urban areas, probably in the roughest locations. So when you look at some of these missions that have been around for years, they started in areas where people were—down in the stockyards or down the railyards, by the docks, or whatever. And of course, the people who were homeless at the time would come out and they would panhandle in the urban areas because that's where passersby would be.

But what we have seen over the last decade is this seeping into suburbia now. And there are multiple reasons. Some cities have wanted to close the missions or move them out further from the center city because we're losing tourist business or losing convention business. And so they'll relocate service providers when they relocate them.

Another thing is opioid addictions. Before, drug addiction and being out on your own on the street used to be something that you'd only see downtown. Now we have a younger set of homeless youth that are in suburbia.

And so the whole complexion of this is changing, both in location and the people who were affected.

Let’s talk more about the changing complexion of homelessness. What are some of the other reasons and conditions that folks who are experiencing homelessness end up falling into? What are the different types of reasons—whether they're individual or systemic—that these groups are often in?

John Ashmen: The reasons that people experience homelessness are just myriad. You got family dysfunction. You have a lack of education—that's where you get your generational homelessness. You have people aging out of the foster care system; at some point, as many as 40% of the people who age out end up homeless.

You have LGBTQ youth who are either asked to leave their home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or they just run away from home and end up homeless—as many as 60-70% of homeless youth are in the category of LGBTQ.

You have the legalization of marijuana; that has really affected a lot of cities and states where that's now legal. I mentioned the opioids before, you have human trafficking victims, you have individuals with post-traumatic stress disorders. The list goes on and on.

And then you also have folks out there who with all the government services out there, they see homelessness as a pretty easy life. “I can sleep where I want, I can get meals in multiple locations, I can get shoes here, I can go over here on Tuesdays and get medical care and dental care is available here…” And that population seems to be growing in a lot of cities, particularly in places where it's warm and you don't have to worry about freezing to death at night.

Has there also been an overall increase in the homeless population in places where it's just very unaffordable to find a place to live?

John Ashmen: Yes, of course. When housing costs are out of sight that puts people on the street as well. And while there's a lot of government programs to put people in affordable housing; it’s hard.

For example, they have 66,000 homeless people in Los Angeles right now, and they've been raising money for years to build homes. But the number of houses that they have finished is just a fraction of what they need, and they just can't catch up with it. And then there’s a lot of beard-stroking wondering, “where’s all our money going?”

And the money that's being spent there is going to developers, it's going to study committees, it's going to all of these places that that frankly is making people rich on this homeless problem that we have. And they haven't solved the problem.

Christian engagement on homelessness tends to be volunteering at soup kitchens and shelters. But do Christians need to address this more as a policy issue? Or what's the unique thing that Christians can contribute on the solution side?

John Ashmen: I think Christians need to be very vocal and get involved in politics. That's the first thing. If we're going to solve this, we have to change a lot of these lax laws that are allowing people to remain homeless and be comfortable.

Interestingly, a lot of our organizations are saying, we are here to help people who want to be served. We're not here to do disaster relief. And so they have concentrated all their efforts on life recovery programs—life transformation, we call it. And that is something that we're starting to wonder if it's going to be a trend.

When we did our last count of the number of beds that are out there in missions and similar ministries that are part of the city network, the number of emergency shelter beds had declined, and the number of program beds had increased. And so that is letting us know that life transformation is the reason we're there. We're not there to provide these services over and over and over again, without an exit strategy for the people. You have to have an exit strategy.

So what can Christians do? They certainly can get involved in government and help with these lax laws that I mentioned. You want to make sure that people are treated humanely and with dignity, but at the same time, not allowed to live like this because it's comfortable for them in the stage of life they're at.

And this is not to discount the people out there who have a mental illness. The recent numbers show about 78% of the people who are homeless on the West Coast had some form of mental illness. There have to be mental health assessments done, and many of our missions have put mental health clinics in their buildings these days.

The other thing that I tell pastors to do is to stop feeding people in the park. I think there's a lot of people who misinterpret Matthew 25:31-46 as a license to feed everybody. While it might be an amazing experience for the youth group, it doesn’t do a thing for the people in the park. And as Dr. Robert Marbut, who was the former homelessness czar said, “Nobody ever got out of homelessness with a meal.” A meal keeps them alive, but you have to have an exit strategy. You have to have programs that are making a difference.

When I think of passing more laws to make it harder for me to be homeless, my initial reaction is, how does it help to criminalize something like this? Doesn't it just put more people in the criminal justice system? Do we know if these policies that essentially make it illegal to sleep on the streets are having the effect that they're purporting to do?

John Ashmen: Well, what's missing here is a sense of responsibility. Because of our desire to be humane, we have taken away any sense of responsibility from people who are on the street. Yes, there's mental illness and there are addictions that have to be treated, but if you don't have a sense of responsibility and you don't feel some sort of pain from living this lifestyle, then we're going to see more and more people there.

We don't want people arrested and thrown in jail, but we do want ordinances that funnel people toward those places where services can be provided. And unless you have wraparound services and you have programs that help people with their condition in life and getting them to understand their role in society, you're going to just see more and more folks on the streets like we've been seeing.

I would point to some of the statistics that were put out by the homelessness czar Dr. Robert Marbut and when you look at unsheltered homeless, plus those in emergency shelter beds and those in transitional housing, rapid rehousing, and even those in permanent supportive housing, the numbers were going down for homelessness until the government said, “We're going to cease services.” “We're not going to mandate services that anybody homeless to go to see an eviction recovery counselor or a caseworker. And we'll just say the solution is housing first, and we'll put you in a house.”

Well, when that happened, the unsheltered homeless saw a 20.5% increase nationally, and that across the board, that still showed an increase in homelessness of 15.6%. And so the absence of required services has been something that has hurt the situation. And we're going to continue to see more people on the streets unless there are some requirements, some sense of responsibility.

And that does involve some laws then so be it.

Is that a fair assumption that there are people just out on the street because even if they are working a job, they legitimately just can't afford to live in someplace like Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco?

John Ashmen: Absolutely. And just to be very clear, the lack of affordable housing is a very significant reason that goes with all of those other reasons that I gave earlier. You have people who are working who are homeless—they sleep in their cars or vans, and we talked about doubling up. So that is a problem.

And solutions are being tried—the solution of tiny home communities—that are making a difference. And that certainly is a much better solution than encampments or tents.

Those encampments have to be dismantled. And the reason is that they have their own subculture, and the drugs, the prostitution, the health issues, and the fighting that goes on—there's so many laws being broken there. So that is not a solution.

Morgan Lee: I think what you're saying is that homeless communities have a subculture that's in some ways is detached from employment or so forth, and there need to be stronger incentives to help folks to reintegrate into our larger culture and community.

And we need to be creating stronger incentives for that to happen. Not for people who are necessarily just sleeping on the streets because they are unable to afford a place to live.

Can you share more about the gospel mission model? And how has that model changed over the last few years?

John Ashmen: Our missions are gospel rescue missions with a specific focus of having the gospel being a new starting point [for people experiencing homelessness]. We believe that the Bible says life comes with a reset button. In 2 Corinthians, it says, “if any person be in Christ, they are a new creation; old things are passed away, everything can become new.” And we see this day after day in our 300-plus organizations where folks are deciding to start again. They're accepting the gospel as being available specifically for them, and they trust Jesus and move forward with a new perspective on life.

And that's not going to change in what we do. It hasn't changed in the 100-plus years that Citygate Network—including in its other names—has been around. And we continue to provide those services from a gospel perspective.

Rescue is also still there. It really never leaves. Rescue is the vestibule, that's what gets people in. People have to come in because they have this need in their life. And they come in the mission and see there are other alternatives. So, how is it changing? The missions are now taking a look at how they can help people see that there's a difference between what they're experiencing and what they could experience. We work to get them back into their homes.

Many organizations have done services for the hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted people, but there's no exit strategy. And so the Citygate Network of today is always thinking, “what is the exit strategy?”

We put eight “S” words together to say, this is what life transformation looks like. The first “S” is “saved”—and right away, I need to say, yes, there are some people who come to a mission and there's a chapel service and they make a change in their life and they start with that idea of being really engaged with the gospel. But when we use the word “saved” in these eight “S’s” we mean, we saved the life. We saved them from overdosing. We saved them from the control of their pimp. We saved them because we've provided good nutrition, particularly when it comes to young children whose brain and body development might not be where it needs to be because they're homeless and not getting good food.

The second “S” is “sober”—no longer controlled by stimulants or depressants. After sober comes “stable,” that's the mental health and physical health. Many of our organizations have medical respite care. And then after that comes “schooled.” Schooled could mean finishing your high school degree, it could be in social skills, it could be computer skills—it's enough education to be competitive out there.

After that comes “skilled.” Skilled it's not just helping people get a job, but helping them understand that they could have a career in a particular area, whether it be culinary arts or tire and wheel balancing or carpentry or call center training, After skilled comes “secure,” which means you're getting a paycheck and you're learning how to manage your money.

After that is “settled.” It's your own safe place to return to every night, maybe even taking in your relatives who have been on the street as well. And then the last “S” is “serving.” And that means giving back to the community.

Saved, sober, stable, schooled, skilled, secure, settled, and serving. That's what missions are about these days. And some city missions say, “God, didn't call me to do all of these.” And we're saying, “Well, maybe he's called you to do the first three. Or maybe you're just doing housing, but you need to be partnering with other organizations that are doing the other things.”

We can't be siloed anymore. We have to be collaborative if we're going to see ministry work in the days ahead, particularly when it comes to homelessness.

Ted Olsen: Siloed is the “S” not to do.

Are these “S’s” criteria that the gospel missions measure themselves and have the numbers?

John Ashmen: We're starting to, and I'm proud to say that there are many of our members who are getting on board and we’re starting to measure outcomes.

Christians have been experts at measuring outputs, whether it be in a church or Sunday school—how many buses did we have? How many children into Sunday school? How many people decided to trust Christ in church? We've done it for years.

Outputs measure needs. Outcomes measure success.

So we're now starting to measure how many people made a decision for Christ and are still living in Christian community two years later? How many people went through an addiction recovery program and are clean and sober two years later? How many people were placed in a house and are still living there 18 months later? How many people who were put in a job and trained for that job are still employed years later?

And those are a little bit harder to get because it's not just a point in time, you have to follow people. And follow-up has always been the difficult part of any ministry. But it has to be done because we need to see these results, and these results are going to be the evidence we need to say there's an evidence-based solution to our homeless problem.

When we feel that prompting that we should do something about the homeless, what is it that the average Christian should have as their initial follow-up?

John Ashmen: Most people think back toward traditional assistance, which has to do with writing a check—and those are definitely needed because all 320 of our member organizations don't take government funds, or don't take them if it inhibits what they can teach and preach. And so they are dependent on those checks.

But the other way that most people have always been involved is with feeding, and it usually pops into their minds sometime around Thanksgiving or the Christmas holidays. And that's wonderful, missions definitely need volunteers—and they need them not just on Thanksgiving—but what we have to do is look at creative ways we can partner with places.

How about a Pastor of Street Ministries at a church? We have a pastor of missions, we have a pastor of youth, we have a pastor of music, and so on, but if we really are understanding what Jesus said about the poor and how we need to engage, why aren't churches having pastor of homeless ministries as prominently displayed?

There are chances for people to engage. I mentioned chapel services, that's how missions used to be. A lot of missions still do chapel services, maybe not as often as they used to be, but some of them have conversation specialists. So you go in and you eat with the people who are homeless, you look across the table, you look into their eyes, you get to know their name and their story, and then you get to tell your story and you can have engagement that way. That's a great way to minister. And then you can bring some of these people back to your church. And so that's a connection that a lot of people sometimes overlook.

And then there are many ways to partner with missions in the education area too. There just needs to be this partnership and not the silos. Unfortunately, there are a lot of churches who think we can handle this ourselves, but I don't know if too many churches that know what to do with somebody who's been addicted to crack for 12 years.


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