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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021  (Read 1189 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« on: September 05, 2021, 11:26:54 am »


Native Christians: Indigenous Bible Version Is ‘Made By Us For Us’

The recently released New Testament translation adopts Native American descriptors for God—the Creator and Great Spirit.

It’s a Bible verse familiar to many Christians—and even to many non-Christians who have seen John 3:16 on billboards and T-shirts or scrawled across eye black under football players’ helmets.

But Terry Wildman hopes the new translation published Tuesday by InterVarsity Press, First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament, will help Christians and Indigenous peoples read it again in a fresh way.

“The Great Spirit loves this world of human beings so deeply he gave us his Son—the only Son who fully represents him. All who trust in him and his way will not come to a bad end, but will have the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony,” reads the First Nations Version of the verse.

In the First Nations Version, “eternal life,” a concept unfamiliar in Native American cultures, becomes “the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony.” The Greek word “cosmos,” usually translated in English as “the world,” had to be reconsidered, too: It doesn’t mean the planet Earth but how the world works and how creation lives and functions together, said Wildman, the lead translator and project manager of the First Nations Version.

They’re phrases that resonated with Wildman, changing the way he read the Bible even as he translated it for Native American readers.

“We believe it’s a gift not only to our Native people, (but) from our Native people to the dominant culture. We believe that there’s a fresh way that people can experience the story again from a Native perspective,” he said.

The idea for an Indigenous Bible translation first came to Wildman nearly 20 years ago in the storeroom of the church he pastored on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona.

Wildman, who is Ojibwe and Yaqui, was excited to find a Hopi translation of the New Testament in storage. He wanted to hear how that beloved Scripture sounded in Hopi, how it translated back into English.

But, he said, while many Hopi elders still speak their native language and children now are learning it in schools, he couldn’t find anyone able to read it. That is true for many Native American nations, he added, noting that at the same time Christian missionaries were translating the Bible into Native languages, they were also working with the boarding schools in the United States and Canada that punished students for speaking those languages.

It occurred to the pastor that “since 90-plus percent of our Native people are not speaking their tribal language or reading their tribal language, we felt there needed to be a translation in English worded for Native people,” he said.

Wildman, a licensed local pastor in the United Methodist Church, has been working on translating the Bible into words and concepts familiar to many Native Americans ever since.

He first began experimenting by rewording Scripture passages he was using in a prison ministry, giving them more of a “Native traditional sound,” he said—a sound he’d learned by being around Native elders and reading books written in a more traditional style of English by Native Americans like Oglala Lakota spiritual leader Black Elk.

He and his wife, Darlene, who have a music ministry called RainSong, also recorded readings of those passages over music in an album called The Great Story from the Sacred Book. It won a Native American Music Award in 2008 for best spoken-word album.

Wildman was encouraged by the reactions he received as he shared his rewordings across the country at tribal centers, Native American-led churches and powwows.

“They just loved listening to it because it didn’t have the church language. It didn’t have the colonial language. It had more of a Native feel to it—as much as possible that you can put in English,” he said.

Many Native people asked what Bible he was reading from.

Young people have told him it sounds like one of their elders telling them a story. Elders have said it resonates with how they heard traditional stories from their parents and grandparents.

As others encouraged him to turn his rewordings into a full translation of the Bible, Wildman published a children’s book retelling the Christmas story, Birth of the Chosen One, and a harmonization of the four Gospels called When the Great Spirit Walked among Us.

Then, on April Fool’s Day 2015, he heard from the CEO of OneBook Canada, who suggested the Bible translation organization fund his work. The offer wasn’t a prank, he said, it was “confirmation from Creator that this was something he wanted.”

“Everybody hears English a little differently,” Wildman said.

“We have all of these translations for that purpose to reach another generation, to reach a particular people group. But we had never had one for our Native people that has actually been translated into English.”

Wildman began by forming a translation council to guide the process, gathering men and women, young and old, from different Native cultures and church backgrounds. They started with a list of nearly 200 keywords Wycliffe Bible Translators said must be translated properly to get a good translation of Scripture.

With that foundation, Wildman got to work, sending drafts to the council for feedback. He looked up the original Greek text of the New Testament. He checked to see how other English translations rendered tricky passages. He consulted Dave Ohlson, a former Wycliffe translator who helped found OneBook Canada, part of the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

The Indigenous translation uses names for God common in many Native cultures, including “Great Spirit” or “Creator.” Names of biblical figures echo their original meanings in Greek and Hebrew: Jesus becomes “Creator Sets Free” and Abraham, “Father of Many Nations.”

“We believe it’s very important that the Gospel be kind of decolonized and told in a Native way, but being accurate to the meaning of the original language and understanding that it’s a different culture,” Wildman said.

Over the years, he and his council have published editions of the Gospel of Luke and Ephesians and a book called Walking the Good Road that included the four Gospels alongside Acts and Ephesians.

A number of ministries already have started using those translations, including Foursquare Native Ministries, Lutheran Indian Ministries, Montana Indian Ministries, Cru Nations and Native InterVarsity, he said.

Native InterVarsity, where Wildman serves as director of spiritual growth and leadership, has distributed earlier editions of the First Nations Version at conferences and used the Indigenous translation in its Bible studies for Native college students for several years.

Megan Murdock Krischke, national director of Native InterVarsity, said students have been more engaged with the translation, hearing the Bible in a way they’re used to stories being told.

“Even though it’s still English, it feels like it’s made by us for us. This is a version of Scripture that is for Native people, and it’s indigenized. You’re not having to kind of sort through the ways other cultures talk about faith and spirituality,” said Krischke, who is Wyandotte and Cherokee.

“It’s one less barrier between Native people and being able to follow Jesus.”

Earlier this month, The Jesus Film Project also released a collection of short animated films called “Retelling the Good Story,” bringing to life the stories of Jesus, or Creator Sets Free, feeding the 5,000 and walking on water from the First Nations Version.

Wildman said the response from Native peoples and ministries to the First Nations Version has exceeded any expectations he had when he first began rewording Bible passages.

He hopes it can help break down barriers between Native and non-Native peoples, too. He pointed out the suspicion and misinformation many white Christians have passed down for generations, believing Native Americans worship the devil and their cultures are evil when they share a belief in a Creator, he said.

“We hope that this will help non-Native people be more interested in our Native people—maybe the history, understanding the need for further reconciliation and things like that,” Wildman said.

“We hope that this will be part of creating a conversation that will help that process.”

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2021, 11:31:53 am »


‘The Chosen One Will Make His Home in Your Heart’

The First Nations Version of Ephesians 3-4:16.

As he ministered among native tribes, pastor Terry Wildman would reword parts of Scripture to reflect the language and perspectives of his people. This year, his efforts to “indigenize” Bible translation turned into an official version of the New Testament published by InterVarsity Press.

The following is an excerpt from Ephesians in the First Nations Version, which released on Tuesday.

A Great Mystery Revealed

Because I, Small Man (Paul), follow the Chosen One and represent you Nations in this way, I have been arrested and put in chains. I am sure you have heard how the Great Spirit chose me, because of his great kindness, to be a wisdomkeeper to all Nations. Creator chose me, by a sacred vision, to make known this hidden wisdom that I have already spoken about.

When you hear this message, you will understand how I see the mystery of the Chosen One. This mystery was not made known to the generations of humankind that walked before us in the same way his Spirit has now told it to his holy message bearers and prophets.

This mystery is that the people of all Nations have equal share in the blessings promised to the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel). They have full membership in the same body and are included in the promise through the Chosen One as told in the good story.

Chosen to Tell the Good Story

The gift of Creator’s great kindness came to me in a powerful way and created in me a desire to serve this good story. Even though I am small and weak among his holy people, he still chose me to tell all Nations about the mysterious treasures he has hidden in the Chosen One and about the unfolding of this ancient plan—a great mystery that was hidden away for many ages in Creator’s heart. So that now, through his sacred family, his great wisdom, which is like a rainbow with many colors, will be made known to the powers and rulers in the spirit-world above.

This good story gives full meaning to the ancient purpose he planned before he created all things. This purpose has now been made clear though the Chosen One, Creator Sets Free (Jesus). Our trust in him opens the way and gives us strong hearts to move close to the Great Spirit. So do not become weak of heart when you hear about how much I am suffering for you, which is proof of your great worth.

A Humble Prayer
This is the reason I bow down on my knees and humble myself before the Father above, from whom all families, clans, and tribes, in this world and in the spirit-world above, are named.

My prayer for you is that from the great treasures of his beauty, Creator will gift you with the Spirit’s mighty power and strengthen you in your inner being. In this way, the Chosen One will make his home in your heart.

I pray that as you trust in him, your roots will go deep into the soil of his great love, and that from these roots you will draw the strength and courage needed to walk this sacred path together with all his holy people. This path of love is higher than the stars, deeper than the great waters, wider than the sky. Yes, this love comes from and reaches to all directions.

I pray that you would feel how deep the Chosen One’s great love is. It is a love that goes beyond our small and weak ways of thinking. This love fills us with the Great Spirit, the one who fills all things. I am praying to the Maker of Life, who, by his great power working in us, can do far more than what we ask for, more than our small minds can imagine.

May his sacred family and the Chosen One bring honor to him across all generations, to the time beyond the end of all days. Aho! May it be so!

A Humble Path
Because I walk the road with our Honored Chief, I have been made a prisoner. I now call on you to join me in representing him in a good way as you follow the path he has chosen for you. Walk with a humble and gentle spirit, patiently showing love and respect to each other. Let his Spirit weave you together in peace as you dance in step with one another in the great circle of life.

In this circle we are joined together in one body, by one Spirit, chosen to follow one purpose. There is only one Honored Chief, one common faith, and one purification ceremony. There is one Great Spirit and Father of us all, who is above all, and who works in and through all.

The Headdress of the Chosen One
His great kindness has gifted each of us from the headdress of the Chosen One. That is why it is said, “When he was lifted up on high, he captured many warriors, took their spoils of war, and gave them back to the people.”

What does “he was lifted up” mean? It could only mean that he had to first come down, into the lowest parts of the earth, so he could be lifted up, to the highest place, and be the one who would restore all things.

Walking in Harmony
He gifted us with message bearers, prophets, tellers of the good story, and wisdomkeepers, who watch over us like a shepherd watches over his sheep. These gifts were given to prepare Creator’s holy people for the work of helping others and to make the body of the Chosen One strong until we all follow the good road in harmony with each other because we know and understand who Creator’s Son is.

We will then be like the Chosen One—mature human beings, living and walking in his ways, and fully reflecting who he is. No longer will we be like children who are tossed about by the waves and follow every voice they hear in the wind. We will no longer listen to the ones who behave like tricksters with their forked tongues.

Instead, as true human beings, we will walk out this truth on the path of love. When we become fully grown, we will be like the Chosen One, joined together with him in the same way a body is connected to its head. Every joint in this body is needed to hold it together and help it grow. When all the parts work together the way they should, then the body grows strong in the love of the Great Spirit.

From First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament by Terry M. Wildman. Consulting editor: First Nations Version Translation Council. Copyright (c) 2021 by Rain Ministries, Inc. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2021, 02:58:25 pm »


Ministering to the 9/11 First Responders Who Never Had to Be Told to ‘Never Forget’

Twenty years after terrorist attack, the spiritual needs of survivors continue.

The news media and the nation would later call the site of the largest terrorist attacks in United States history by the name “ground zero.” The firefighters and other first responders who rushed to the scene when two 110-floor buildings collapsed into 14.6 acres of mangled steel and concrete would call it “the Pit.”

But when Andrew Columbia, a pastor and retired New York City police officer, arrived that Tuesday morning in September, those names hadn’t yet emerged from the acrid smoke. Twenty years later, Columbia remembers the gray dust and, out of that dust, the faces of the police officers, medics, and firefighters who had seen devastation beyond comprehension.

“They were weeping. No one was really talking. They were in shock. I just walked up and offered prayer. Didn’t even ask,” Columbia said. “No one refused it.”

In the years since then, as anniversaries have come and gone and the wreckage has been transformed into a memorial, Columbia has heard the periodic reminders to “Never Forget.” But the first-responder community and the New York City pastors who minister to them have never needed that slogan. Forgetting has proved impossible.

The trauma of 9/11 has been a daily reality and a spiritual need for many in the past two decades.

This doesn’t mean they always talked about their experience in terms of post-trauma. “Up until that time, post-traumatic stress just wasn’t language that we had,” said John Picarello, pastor of House on the Rock Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church on Staten Island.

Like many pastors of small congregations in the outer boroughs, Picarello was bivocational in 2001. Or really, trivocational. He pastored the church, served as an active-duty member of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), and baked bagels to pay the bills. He was working in Brooklyn as a fire chief’s aide on the night of September 10 and was still on duty when the planes hit the twin towers.

In the initial months after 9/11, Picarello’s small church saw attendance at Sunday services and midweek prayer meetings swell. Everyone seemed to be turning to God and the church to make sense of the earth-shattering tragedy. He heard this was happening at the rest of the churches in Staten Island too, and in the other boroughs, and across the country.

But then there was a cooling off. Attendance deflated. A year passed and time moved on, but the memory of the event didn’t disappear, and the stress, anxiety, mental health concerns, and ongoing effects of trauma actually began to be more apparent to local pastors.

“A lot of us feel like we did not capitalize correctly … and take that opportunity to really reach out to families in a way to bring them into the church. And a lot of them came in initially and then left,” said Columbia, who was then an associate pastor at International Christian Center on Staten Island. “And, you know … I don’t think, in the long term, things turned out much different.”

Over the next 14 years, more than 3,700 firefighters would be diagnosed with stress-related mental health conditions that began after the attacks. Columbia and Picarello say they had to learn what that meant. They really weren’t prepared, and there was no church infrastructure in place at that time to address the immediate needs of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services workers, and their families, so a lot of the first-responder communities turned inward as they grappled with the challenges of day-to-day life after a tragedy.

Even without the looming specter of a massive tragedy, it’s difficult to overstate how isolated many people are in these insular communities. Predominately men, they tend to want to carry the weight of “the job” in solitude. When they do reach out, it’s typically to one of their own: another cop, firefighter, or EMS worker.

Picarello recalls an influx of late-night theological conversations post-9/11, many of them in the quiet of the firehouse kitchen. Fellow firefighters would seek out his spiritual counsel—but away from others’ prying ears, lest spiritual needs threaten their sense of self-sufficiency, strength, and emotional endurance. Picarello says he once smuggled a Bible to a sheepish coworker in a covert operation to get it into someone’s locker.

But it was clear, even at the time, that kitchen conversations weren’t going to be enough. The FDNY’s own Counseling Services Unit—then a small outfit with 11 employees in a single office—responded to the burgeoning mental health crisis by overhauling its entire approach. The unit began to deploy peer counselors directly to emergency service workers experiencing mental health difficulties.

“Without people knocking on the door, letting our members know what’s available, they wouldn’t come in for help,” said Frank Leto, a FDNY veteran and deputy director of the counseling unit. “We can go to firehouses, sit down at kitchen tables, and talk with our members. Our peer program allows us to have eyes and ears in the field, to be a bridge to the clinical services.”

Even as the number of people receiving counseling increased, there were still unmet spiritual needs. Firefighters for Christ, an international organization based out of California, had only established its New York City chapter in 1997. For the past several years, the organization has met monthly in a Queens diner. About 60 active and retired firefighters gather to talk about the challenges of merging Christian faith with the job.

The churches have developed new spaces too. Columbia hosts a first-responder support group at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Carmel, New York, an outpost for cops and firefighters who live beyond the city limits.

“They need a refuge. They need a place to decompress,” Columbia said. “Personally, I know that, because part of my testimony is exactly that. I didn’t know how to decompress before I found Christ, which led me to have a lot of problems dealing with a lot of anger.”

Recently, first responders seeking support have talked less about PTSD and more about the long-term physical health impacts of 9/11. Not long ago the fire department had to relocate a wall dedicated to the memory of those who had died, because of the additional names of those who succumbed to illnesses related to the inhalation of toxic dust. COVID-19 also disproportionately harmed 9/11 first responders.

Fewer people come to the 9/11 first responders’ funerals now, but Picarello, Columbia and others still minister to those who never had to be reminded to never forget.

“Our little motto is this: We understand the job, and we care. So, you know, we know what you’re going through,” Columbia said.

After 20 years, that basic spiritual need hasn’t changed. As Billy Graham said in an address to the nation on September 14, 2001, “The lesson of this event is not only about the mystery of iniquity and evil, but, second, it’s a lesson about our need for each other.”

Kathryn Watson is a reporter from New York City.
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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2021, 03:04:46 pm »


Why 9/11 Brought Neither Unity Nor Revival

Many Christians think spiritual renewal followed the terrorist attacks, but the record shows otherwise.

The immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was a strange and fearful time, but it also seemed a hopeful time.

“A massive shift in perspective happened to our country on September 11,” wrote Philip Yancey in 2001. For a little while, he mused, the sense that everything had changed in a single morning “made us look at our land, our society, and ourselves in a new way.” It made us “live in conscious awareness of death,” made us notice that “many of us fill our lives with trivialities,” and forced us to “turn to our spiritual roots.”

Talk of unity was everywhere. Church attendance spiked, and Christian leaders began predicting a national revival. In a 2001 speech, President George W. Bush praised Americans for our decency, kindness, and commitment to one another. Now, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with the US military withdrawn from Afghanistan, we should ask: Were those hopes fulfilled?

We certainly didn’t maintain that sense of unity. Quickly, Christians got into heated discussions about whether we could support military invasions, torture, the Patriot Act, and more. Since then, our political divisions seem even more embittered, and polarization is on the rise. And as for the policy—well, wherever you land on these things, my guess is you aren’t too happy with how it’s gone, and our current political discourse is awash with talk of treason and even civil war.

Our lack of unity isn’t the only disappointment. The foretold revival never came, either.

For a few weeks after 9/11, people packed the pews, but it soon became apparent there was not a “great awakening or a profound change in America’s religious practices,” as Frank M. Newport, Gallup Poll editor in chief, toldThe New York Times in November of 2001.

Barna Group confirmed that conclusion in 2006. It tracked “19 dimensions of spirituality and beliefs” and found “none of those 19 indicators [were] statistically different” from pre-attack measures. In other words, the 9/11 attacks didn’t put American Christians on a trajectory toward more orthodox beliefs or more consistent habits of prayer, church attendance, or Scripture reading. Insofar as we can measure matters of faith, the decline of American religiosity continued apace.

Almost as quickly as the new perspective on life Yancey saw in 2001, Americans turned away, back to trivialities and escalating antipathies, like a dog returning to its vomit (Prov. 26:11). As a culture newly aware of mortality, we embraced the recklessness of YOLO, not the care of memento mori. “Spiritually speaking,” said Barna’s David Kinnaman, “it’s as if nothing significant ever happened.”

Still, the myth that the 9/11 attacks catalyzed a spiritual awakening lives on. A 2013 Barna Group survey found Americans—and particularly born-again Christians—believe 9/11 “made people turn back to God.”

Why were our hopes for ourselves so wrong? Why did we not live into our own ideals? I have two answers to suggest—and one reason to hope anew.

My first suggestion is that what we thought was hope wasn’t hope at all. It was less Christian trust in the character and redemption of God than American optimism coated with not-quite-biblical bromides that when there’s bad, good will follow.

Americans love to believe that “everything happens for a reason,” and that after a short period of time, sorrow will always turn into joy and suffering into sanctification. We quote Romans 8:28—“we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”—and incorrectly interpret it to mean that everything that happens to us will somehow work out okay.

And it will—on the eschatological scale. God promises that one day we will live in perfect joy and justice with him, and “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4, NASB).

But God does not promise us lives that reliably get nicer, either for us as individuals or even for our society. Sometimes evil happens and then just keeps on happening for centuries. Sometimes things don’t work out okay and there’s no perceptible reason for what happens to us.

Nor does suffering “naturally or automatically lead to growth or good outcomes,” as pastor and author Tim Keller has observed. “It must be handled properly or faced patiently and faithfully.” A couple extra Sunday services in the fall of 2001 is not a commitment to the long, slow work of sanctification.

The second answer to our disappointed hope is about how we preserved 9/11 in our memory. “Never forget,” we said, over and over and up through today. Part of what we meant was “Never forget the people we lost and the heroism of ordinary Americans who helped amid the horror.” Yet another part was vengeance. In his September 2001 address, Bush promised the American people he would “not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it.” He swore never to yield, rest, or relent in the “mission” our country had found in our “anger.” Too many Americans, including some Christians, adopted this response in a vengeful way.

We were right to be angry at the great wrongs of 9/11, but at some point, rehearsing that anger year after year doesn’t move us toward justice, love, or the forgiveness Jesus commands of his followers. It moves us toward resentment, hostility, and bitterness, with all the trouble it brings (Heb. 12:15).

How we remember is as important as that we remember, as theologian Miroslav Volf has argued, and we should discipline ourselves to remember “both with the desire for knowing truth and with the desire of overcoming enmity and creating a communion in love.”

As we remember 9/11 again this year, it is not too late to change that memory. It is not too late to begin to seek the goods of unity and revival we wanted in 2001.

We can still become more peaceable and prudent in our politics. We can still draw near to God, and he will draw near to us, for “now is the day of salvation” (James 4:8; 2 Cor. 6:2). We can still learn real hope—not ahistorical American optimism, but the weightier hope that comes through perseverance, character, and the love of God.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2021, 11:47:25 pm »


God Uses Changing Climates to Change Societies

In the Bible and in history, crises in creation can lead to reformation.

In September 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Irma struck Barbuda, forcing residents to evacuate to the neighboring island of Antigua and rendering Barbuda uninhabitable. Only ten days later, another hurricane, Maria, passed just south of Antigua, battering it with wind and rain on its way to also becoming a Category 5 storm.

Antigua and Barbuda’s director of the Department of Environment, Ambassador Diann Black-Layne, told The New York Times that the carbon output of developed nations is a significant cause of the intense storms. But she said the island nation is too small to improve the problem on its own. Instead, she offered a surprising action plan.

Black-Layne told reporter Michael Barbaro, “We pray. We are God-fearing people, and we believe in forgiveness, and we believe in praying. And we believe that God will intercede on our behalf. I’m telling you; prayer is powerful.”

The Lord does promise to hear her cries (Ex. 22:21–24). And if God hears those cries, so should his people. Too many Christians (and non-Christians) think about climate change as primarily a political or an economic issue. But it is also a spiritual issue that requires a biblical approach.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about human-caused climate change. The Old Testament, in particular, chronicles God’s efforts to order a society’s energies to his glory and documents that society’s failure to abide by that order.

Biblical teaching should lead Christians to anticipate human-caused climate change. It should incline them to respect the evidence of today’s climate crisis, even if they come to differing conclusions about how to interpret that evidence. And perhaps most importantly, the Bible teaches shows that climate crises often have a reformational purpose.

Land and law
A life-giving climate comes of God’s goodness. On this, Christians of all climate-change persuasions agree. Some even cite as a prima facie argument that a good God would never allow the climate to go bad. But weather is clearly vulnerable to human activity. This lesson appears as early as the Garden of Eden.

Genesis introduces Eden as a place gifted with a favorable climate (Gen. 2:5–6) and also introduces humankind’s relationship with God as stewards of his world (2:15–19). Human sin causes everything we steward to suffer—including God’s gift of the climate (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:19–22).

These themes continue in the Exodus narrative. God delivered Israel from Egypt to another land identified right away by its good climate (Deut. 11:9–12). For Canaan’s good weather to continue, however, the people had to follow God’s ways. Deuteronomy says, “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil” (vv. 13–14).

Among the laws God gave Israel, he included land- and climate-management rules to guide their climate stewardship. Christians can still glean wisdom from those laws.

One of the most striking “environmental regulations” in the Old Testament is the Sabbath year land-fallow law (Ex. 23:10–11). Without modern fertilizer, farmers at the time—and many farmers still today—had to replenish soil nutrients by crop rotation or by letting fields go uncultivated for a season. Failing to do so leads to soil depletion, lack of plant growth, loss of moisture retention, and trouble with evaporation and rainfall.

Ancient Israelites were to leave their fields fallow every seventh year. Leviticus warns that ignoring this principle would lead to this hardened soil and loss of rainfall. “But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands … I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. … All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it” (Lev. 26:14–35).

Yes, the regulation had societal and spiritual functions, carving out a recurring occasion for physical rest and for trust in God’s generous provision. But it also established a relationship between soil depletion and rainfall loss that modern science recognizes. Its presence in Israel’s law indicates an understanding that human activity can directly impact the climate and that God expects his people to moderate their activity accordingly. The fallowing law did not block land use altogether, but it did constrain its economic production to protect the environment.

Biblical Israel lacked the scientific sophistication to explore climate mechanics beyond such basic insights. Even so, Israel was taught to regard the climate as requiring stewardship. Further land and climate guidance was built into Israel’s festival calendar.

Three pilgrimage feasts formed the backbone of Israel’s calendar, each requiring a national assembly in Jerusalem. Their timing and ceremonies guided Israel’s stewardship of the land in keeping with its seasons.

The first was Passover. It marked the transition from the rainy season to spring, when the barley harvest was ready. The Feast of Weeks occurred seven weeks later, the time when spring gave way to summer and the wheat harvest was ready. The final pilgrimage, the Feast of Booths, marked the end of summer, when summer fruits were ready the next rainy season was at hand.

These festivals taught Israel to labor and worship responsively to the seasons. Israel also learned how to use the wealth their harvests produced. Households brought tithes and other offerings from each seasonal harvest to the assemblies (Deut. 16:1–17). Some of the tithes were eaten during the festivals. But much of this income was placed in storehouses to support ongoing Levitical welfare for the vulnerable (14:28–29).

Through this seasonal calendar, Israel was taught to steward the climate by ensuring the harvested wealth blessed all the land’s inhabitants, including the landless and vulnerable. Israel was told to expect their good climate to continue as long as they observed these laws.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today … The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. … However, if you do not obey the Lord your God … The Lord will strike you with … scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.” (Deut. 28:1–24)

Those festivals, of course, were specific to the seasons and the crops of Canaan. The New Testament church, which spans the globe from arctic to tropical climates, is not supposed to continue these practices of the old Law. However, Christians are still exhorted to learn from the Law’s wisdom (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16). The land- and climate-management laws of the Old Testament can help Christians appreciate the importance of climate stewardship today and the climatic damage caused by failing to steward God’s earth and its produce righteously.

Biblical climate changes
When a land does experience climate damage, God taught Israel to respond by asking why. When the land is “a burning waste of salt and sulfur. All the nations will ask: ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?’” (Deut. 29:23–24).

Not every climate crisis is a work of judgment. The sufferings of Job included freak weather events (Job 1:16, 19), though he was innocent before God. Yet even Job responded with self-examination. Self-examination is an entirely Christian response to climate change and, when needed, can lead to moral and economic reforms. We see this pattern modeled by the Old Testament prophets.

The most dramatic example is the Flood in Genesis 6–9. God sent the Deluge as a direct response to human sin. Noah took practical steps, like building an ark. He also warned others, calling for repentance (2 Pet. 2:5). After the Flood, Noah received God’s promise:

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.” (Gen. 8:22)

Some Christians have taken that promise to mean God will never allow climate change after Noah. But God chose Moses, who came along many centuries later, to deliver the extensive aforementioned warnings about climate instability. So while God’s promise to Noah sets a limit on climate judgments, it does not justify climate neglect.

Biblical happenings long after Moses only confirm that. In the days of King Ahab, God sent another multiyear drought. But once Elijah led the people in repentance, “the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, [and] a heavy rain started falling” (1 Kings 17–18).

The prophet Isaiah tied climate instability to greed and abuse of the poor in his day (Isa. 32:1–20). The prophet Samuel cited unseasonal rains as a warning (1 Sam. 12:17–18). The Psalms point to the good order of the seasons as dependent upon the good order of the community (Pss. 65, 104). And the judgments attending Christ’s promised return also include climatic disasters (Mark 13:8; Rev. 6:8; 8:7; 11:19; 16:17-21).

The moral runs through both Old and New Testaments: A good climate is a gift, yes. But a worsening climate is a prompt to ask where we might be going wrong.

The witness of science
Because, according to Scripture, climate change is an expected instrument of divine humbling, we should be open to the evidence that it is happening now.

According to NASA, global temperatures have risen 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to melt 428 billion tons of polar ice every year. This contributes to global sea levels rising 3.4 millimeters annually. Changes like these cause more severe storms, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters—events we increasingly see in news headlines and in our own communities.

The Bible does not tell us specifically about today’s climate change or what is causing it. But we do not need that kind of precision from the Bible. Scripture is sufficient in its reports about God’s works with his people of old, preserving those lessons to inform our response to comparable situations today. That includes the Bible’s teachings on the climate.

Once we recognize that climate change is often a means of divine reproof, the tools of science offer two kinds of help in our response.

First, science helps us identify areas of human activity. God, in his providence, is compelling us to give special examination to. Industrial-scale carbon emissions have been identified as the most significant factor contributing to global warming. This finding puts a providential spotlight on modern industrial practices. While secular policymakers focus on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the church should address matters of pride, greed, creation abuse, and other sins that may be connected to some industrial practices. Science, in conjunction with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, can help us recognize areas on which to focus spiritual renewal.

Second, scientific evidence for climate change helps awaken unbelievers to the need to amend our ways. Many of those who would resist the call for reforms based on divine accountability will be more inclined to support such reforms when the need is scientifically demonstrable. Christians should not need climate science to motivate our embrace of climate stewardship. But having scientific data strengthens the motivation of unbelievers to pursue better climate stewardship.

Faith and science are not enemies. And climate policy is an area where Christian witness and scientific insight can collaborate productively.

A reforming influence
Today’s conditions are more stark than past climatic shifts, according to data collected by US government agencies. But climate changes have happened before. For instance, in the late Middle Ages, temperatures began to cool. During this period, known as the Little Ice Age, winters grew colder and longer. Responses were varied, but many across Europe turned to Scripture.

In his book Nature’s Mutiny, historian Philipp Blom writes, “Theological interpretations of climatic events were popular and frequently widely disseminated in print. Indeed, weather sermons became a minor literary genre of their own.”

For example, the Reformer John Calvin addressed crop failures amid weather changes in his day in his commentary on Genesis 3:18–19: “By the increasing wickedness of men, the remaining blessing of God is gradually diminished and impaired; and certainly there is danger, unless the world repent, that a great part of men should shortly perish through hunger, and other dreadful miseries. … The inclemency of the air, frost, thunders, unseasonable rains, drought, hail, and whatever is disorderly in the world, are the fruits of sin.” Calvin was not one to mince words.

Weather hymns were another feature of the age, Blom writes. For example, Paul Gerhardt’s 17th-century hymn, “Occasioned by Great and Unseasonable Rain,” says,

The elements o’er all the land
Are stretching out ’gainst us the hand,
And troubles from the sea arise,
And troubles come down from the skies.

One result of the Little Ice Age was a turning to the Lord. In fact, climate change is an often-overlooked component of the Reformation. This example encourages us, today, to likewise acknowledge when climate change is happening and respond with spiritual renewal.

Not all responses to the Little Ice Age were good. Without wisdom, interpreting climatic events as divine reproof can lead to something ugly. The period saw a sharp rise in witch trials. Something like 110,000 witch trials took place across Europe, half of which led to executions.

Such tragedies are a caution against misappropriating the theological implications of climate change. Better is the more sober, biblically centered example of the Reformation.

The present opportunity
One way or another, the changing climate will bring changes to human societies. Whether or not God is reproving specific sins, the increasing storms, droughts, and other consequences will afflict vast segments of humanity. And, as is often the case, the vulnerable will suffer most for the failures of the powerful.

The church is here to promote the work of redemption in such times. Christians risk squandering this opportunity for witness by denying or downplaying climate change.

The United Nations recently declared a “UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” beginning this year. From 2021 to 2030, public and private cooperatives will endeavor to recover 350 million hectares of degraded land and remove up to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

There’s no reason the church can’t have equally bold visions for renewal in response to climate change. But our labors should aim for social and spiritual reformation alongside ecological renewal. Science can highlight the mechanics of climate change, and politicians can regulate behavior. It is up to the church to touch the conscience and bring a redemptive call to the culture. For in Christ:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
… they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God. (Isa. 35:1–2)

Michael LeFebvre is a Presbyterian minister, an Old Testament scholar, and a fellow with the Center for Pastoral Theologians. He is the author of The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2021, 11:51:20 pm »


Evangelical Colleges Join Effort to Promote Faith in the Vaccine

A campaign to educate campuses about COVID-19 vaccination shifts from persuading the hesitant to making it easier for the willing.

Last week, as President Joe Biden was announcing a new vaccine mandate for large workplaces, students at more than 100 Christian colleges were trying to persuade their communities to get the shot voluntarily.

Since those between the ages of 18 and 29 are among the least likely to be hospitalized or to suffer serious illness or death due to COVID-19, swaths of young people didn’t get the shot as soon as it became available earlier in the year.

Dozens of evangelical schools belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) have joined an interfaith effort called Faith in the Vaccine, designed to recruit students and faculty to help inform their communities about vaccination and recognize the role religious identity might play in people’s hesitation.

“This was not about hounding people into getting the vaccine or shaming them if they were hesitant,” said Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Corps (IFYC), which launched the effort last spring and has disbursed $4 million to fund the campaign so far. “It was very much about engaging with great respect and sensitivity … and helping them kind of talk their own way into vaccination.”

Nearly 50 CCCU member schools signed up for the program. IFYC, along with medical professionals from the Rush University Medical School, trained campus ambassadors in conversational tactics and medical information about the vaccines.

But what started out as a campaign to promote education around vaccination within these faith communities has shifted to efforts to actually get shots in arms. The Faith in the Vaccine ambassadors, according to IFYC, have helped promote or host hundreds of clinics and events across the country, accounting for an estimated 10,000 or more vaccinations.

Persuasion, not Pressure
Organizers saw the campaign as a way to make sure people had the information they needed around vaccination. Aaron Hinojosa, a faculty ambassador for the program at Azusa Pacific University, said participants aren’t using religion to pressure or shame people.

“It’s not to the point where it’s like, ‘You have to do it,’” Hinojosa said, “But, ‘Here’s what we know, here’s what it is, and you have to make a good, informed decision.’”

Some found the conversational approach was a little too hazy to be motivating.

“A lot of the goal, it seemed at beginning, was trying to have these conversations with people that are vaccine hesitant or vaccine rejectors, and almost change their minds,” said Joel Frees, faculty ambassador at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma.

He said it was difficult to find ways to encourage college students who saw that their age put them at a very low risk for severe illness. Frees said he struggled to energize his team of ambassadors over the summer, when outbreaks fell.

Hinojosa’s team at Azusa Pacific hadn’t reported much activity last spring, either, other than a series of Instagram Live videos about why they chose to get vaccinated and personal conversations between ambassadors and their loved ones.

Surveys conducted by IFYC along with the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) tracked attitudes toward the vaccine. Between March and June, “vaccine refusal” held steady at around 14 percent, while vaccine hesitancy diminished from 28 percent of respondents to just 15 percent. So IFYC announced in July that instead of focusing on persuading the former, they’d work to help the latter.

The change in approach came just as the delta variant was emerging as the most active strain in the US. With delta, young people have suffered more than earlier in the pandemic; Americans under age 50 now account for roughly a third of COVID-19-positive patients in hospitals.

Campuses have seen delta’s impact in contrast to the earlier months of the pandemic. Several Christian colleges, including Liberty University and Cedarville University, had the first few weeks of the school year disrupted by outbreaks among the student body.

Few CCCU schools—including Seattle Pacific University and Pepperdine University—required vaccination for this school year, allowing for exemptions due to medical, religious, or philosophical reasons.

From Conversations to Clinics
According to PRRI’s survey, the three most-cited reasons among all Americans for not yet getting vaccinated were the inability to get time off of work, trouble finding childcare, and transportation issues.

After those survey results were in, Faith in the Vaccine ambassadors began working with local health departments and other institutions to host, organize, and publicize vaccine clinics.

Frees said Southern Nazarene’s ambassadors have worked with the Oklahoma City Health Department to host two vaccine clinics on campus, administering a total of 74 shots to mostly students. They’ve also hosted educational seminars for students about the vaccine and how it was developed.

Hinojosa at Azusa Pacific said ambassadors helped the university’s inconveniently located health department set up a temporary vaccine station in the middle of campus one day.

Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, organized a mobile vaccine clinic for local migrant workers who may not have been able to access the vaccine otherwise, Patel said.

PRRI found in March that Hispanic Protestants were the most hesitant to get vaccinated, followed by white evangelicals. Some ambassadors reported the hesitation about getting the vaccine among the Latino community stems from fear that if they show up at a clinic, their immigration status may be exposed.

At an online rally this week, IFYC shared several video testimonies from other Faith in the Vaccine student ambassadors about their successes.

In one video, Tori Wootan from University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio said they’d hosted a clinic in the tiny nearby town of Natalia—population 1,200—where 56 people were vaccinated.

Irene Kuriakose from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, said her group encouraged community members to get vaccinated by giving away grocery gift cards and raffle tickets for a $500 prize. Others set up information tables with swag outside popular campus events, like move-in week or athletic competitions.

“You’d be surprised how many people are interested in scheduling or reporting their vaccines if you provide them a super cool bucket hat,” said Anu Agbi, student ambassador at Baylor University.

At Emory University in Atlanta, Rachel Lewis said a homeless man had been hanging around multiple vaccine clinics, where ambassadors were also handing out hygiene items and toiletries. At the fourth clinic, he finally agreed to get the vaccine.

“We’ve been able to provide a lot of vaccines to a lot of people, and our community members now trust us,” Lewis said.

Patel said sharing these stories at their rally this week was a way to motivate Faith in the Vaccine teams across the country to continue their “fall push.” It’s up to IFYC donors now, he said, to continue funding the program into the winter and spring.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2021, 11:57:14 pm by patrick jane »
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2021, 11:55:52 pm »


Religious Exemption Requests Spike as Employers Mandate Vaccine

Some white evangelicals, the faith group most likely to refuse to get the shot, join thousands in citing “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

About 3,000 Los Angeles Police Department employees are citing religious objections to try to get out of the required COVID-19 vaccination. In Washington state, hundreds of state workers are seeking similar exemptions. And an Arkansas hospital has been swamped with so many such requests from employees that it is apparently calling their bluff.

Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.

And it is only likely to grow following President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine mandates covering more than 100 million Americans, including executive branch employees and workers at businesses with more than 100 people on the payroll.

The administration acknowledges that some small minority of Americans will use—and some may seek to exploit—religious exemptions. But it said it believes even marginal improvements in vaccination levels will save lives.

It’s not clear yet how many federal employees have requested a religious exemption. The Labor Department has said an accommodation can be denied if it causes an undue burden.

In the states, mask and vaccine requirements vary, but most offer exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections. The use of such exemptions, particularly by parents on behalf of their schoolchildren, has been growing over the past decade.

The allowance was enshrined in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to work requirements because of “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

A religious belief does not have be recognized by an organized religion, and it can be new, unusual or “seem illogical or unreasonable to others,” according to rules laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But it can’t be founded solely on political or social ideas.

That puts employers in the position of determining what is a legitimate religious belief and what is a dodge.

Many major religious denominations have no objections to the COVID-19 vaccines. But the rollout has prompted heated debates because of the longtime role that cell lines derived from fetal tissue have played, directly or indirectly, in the research and development of various vaccines and medicines.

Roman Catholic leaders in New Orleans and St. Louis went so far to call Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot “morally compromised.” J&J has stressed that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

Moreover, the Vatican’s doctrine office has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines that are based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses. Pope Francis himself has said it would be “suicide” not to get the shot.

In New York, state lawmakers attempted to make the vaccine mandatory for medical workers, with no religious exemptions. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the rule because it lacked the opt-out.

An August AP-NORC poll found that 58 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 72 percent of white mainline Protestants, 80 percent of Catholics and 73 percent of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated say they have been vaccinated. Seventy percent of nonwhite Protestants say they have been, including 70 percent of Black Protestants.

Among white evangelical Protestants, the religious group least likely to have been vaccinated, 33 percent say they will not get the shot.

Across the US, public officials, doctors, and community leaders have been trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, pastor Jackson Lahmeyer is offering a “religious exemption” form on his church’s website for download, along with links for suggested donations to the church. The 29-year-old is running for the US Senate.

Anyone interested can get the form signed by a religious leader. He said on Twitter that more than 14,000 people have downloaded it. He wrote that what was amazing was “how many pastors refuse to sign the form for members in their church.” He said he can sign if someone joins the church and donates.

But obtaining a religious exemption is not as simple as producing a signed form from a religious leader. Measles outbreaks in schools over the past decade prompted some states to change their policies. Some now require an actual signed affidavit from a religious leader, instead of an online form. California got rid of nonmedical exemptions in 2015.

Erika Cole, a Maryland-based attorney who serves as a senior editorial advisor with ChurchLawAndTax.com, a CT sister site, previously told CT employers shouldn’t require church leaders to verify religious exemptions.

“Currently, there are two legally recognized exemptions from a mandatory vaccination: medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. When presented with notice of a religious exemption, some employers have requested the employee provide support from the church he/she attends. This, of course, is troublesome for a number of reasons,” Cole said. “…according to the EEOC, the individual, not the church he or she attends, holds the ‘sincerely held religious belief’ that may be the basis for refusing vaccination. As such, it is the individual’s right to advise his/her employer of that belief, and not a requirement of the church he/she may attend.”

Some private employers are taking a hard line. United Airlines told employees last week that those who obtain religious exemptions will be put on unpaid leave until new coronavirus testing procedures are in place.

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Michel Moore said he is waiting for guidance from the city’s personnel department regarding the exemptions. The city has mandated that municipal employees get vaccinated by Oct. 5 unless they are granted a medical or religious exemption. A group of LAPD employees is suing over the policy.

“I can’t and won’t comment on the sincerity level” of people claiming a religious exemption, the police chief said. “I don’t want to speculate. Religion in America has many different definitions.”

Ten LAPD employees have died of COVID-19, and thousands in the department have been infected.

In Washington state, approximately 60,000 state employees are subject to a mandate issued by Gov. Jay Inslee that they be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their job, unless they obtain a medical or religious exemption and receive an accommodation that allows them to remain employees.

As of Tuesday, more than 3,800 workers had requested religious exemptions. So far, 737 have been approved, but officials stressed that an exemption does not guarantee continued employment.

Once the exemption is approved, each agency has to evaluate the employee’s position and whether the person can still do the job with an accommodation while ensuring a safe workplace. Seven accommodations so far have been granted.

Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said that the process “may help distinguish between a sincerely held personal belief and a sincerely held religious belief.”

In Arkansas, about 5 percent of the staff at the privately run Conway Regional Health System has requested religious or medical exemptions.

The hospital responded by sending employees a form that lists a multitude of common medicines—including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, and Sudafed—that it said were developed through the use of fetal cell lines.

The form asks people to sign it and attest that “my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the listed medications.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and CEO Matt Troup said: “Staff who are sincere … should have no hesitancy with agreeing to the list of medicines listed.”
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2021, 06:39:11 pm »


Don’t Wait for Hope. Work for It.

Even during a pandemic, we have a duty to anticipate God’s goodness.

The first thing to go was the trip she’d earned to Boston. Then it was her summer internship at the local theater company, followed by the business course she wanted to take for college credit. Eighteen months of disappointments finally spilled over last week as my 17-year-old and I were discussing a potential graduation trip. “Mom,” she interrupted, her voice quavering ever so slightly, “I can’t talk about this. I can’t handle getting excited. It just hurts too much when things get canceled.”

My daughter’s comments reminded me of the pandemic’s collateral damage: the ability to dream, plan, and hope for the future.

As Christians, we believe hope is an important part of our shared faith as well as our personal walk. But Scripture suggests something more radical: Hope is not the privilege of the naturally optimistic; it is the responsibility of all who believe. Hope is the means by which we align not simply our plans but also ourselves with God. It is how we move toward the future he is preparing for us in order to join him there.

Perhaps the most-often quoted (and most misunderstood) passage about looking to the future with hope is Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Christians often interpret this as a blanket promise that “good things are right around the corner.” If we just keep a positive mental outlook, we can know that God has #blessings in store.

But contextually, this promise is given to the Jews recently exiled to Babylon. The faithful remnant had heeded Jeremiah’s warnings to submit to the coming judgment, and now in Babylon, they receive a letter from him telling them to settle down there. In the wake of uncertainty and loss, they’re asked to make long-term commitments like marrying, building houses, and planting gardens.

Imagine how hard it would be to build a house when each stone reminds you of the ones you’ve lost. How difficult to put seeds in the ground, knowing the time they take to mature and knowing that you might still be in Babylon when they do. How difficult to create marriages and families, to bring new life into the world when your loved ones have just been taken from it.

God’s promise is no refrigerator magnet. It’s a call to the hard work of hope. This labor of expectation, as we might call it, carries us forward in multiple ways.

At the very least, it teaches us to trust a Person and not our plans. As James puts it, we have to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (4:15). It means leaning into the truth that “humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Prov. 16:9).

But trusting God with the future does not mean denying our present difficulties or ceasing to plan for the future ourselves. Just as we must avoid shallow positivity, we must also avoid fatalism, especially when clothed in spiritual language.

During a recent press conference, for example, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves suggested that Southerners were less scared of COVID-19 because they believed in heaven. “When you believe in eternal life—when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen,” he said, “then you don't have to be so scared of things.”

While our hope in God is an eternal hope, it does not bypass our present life as a “blip on the screen.” It is as relevant to our current experiences as it is to the future, precisely because our earthly lives hold their own expectations and promise: growing old to see grandchildren, completing a passion project, or establishing a legacy for those who come after you. Hope does the hard work of wanting these things, even as we entrust them to God.

Here is something even more astounding. Ecclesiastes chapter 11 suggests that surrendering to God’s plans actually leads to more planning, more expectation, and a widening sense of possibility in this present life. Rather than leaving you helpless, putting your trust in God gives you what you need to keep working and hoping.

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap,” writes the Preacher. “[But] as you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecc. 11:4–5).

Those who are waiting for “just the right time”—when everything is perfect and there’s no threat of loss—will never plan or plant anything. But the fact that we don’t know what the future holds also means we don’t know which good things God is planning. So, the Preacher concludes, “sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (v. 6).

It’s precisely because we don’t know God’s specific plans that we must get busy imagining a hundred different ways that he could possibly be at work. Because while some (even many) of our plans are bound to fail, God’s won’t. And with that in mind, we can step out in hope and expectation.

As Andy Crouch recently notes, “The antidote for so many of our anxieties … is paradoxically to enter a more spacious landscape of risk, where anxiety will be lower because our trust, our obedience, and ultimately our maturity are higher.”

By ceding control of the future to God, we guarantee that we will have a future. It may not be the one we anticipate or even the one we would choose, but we’re emboldened knowing that his plans cannot be thwarted.

That’s the surprising nature of Christian hope. It is a hope that passes through suffering and loss because it knows that God establishes our steps. It is the same hope that Jesus displayed when “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Ultimately, the Jewish exiles could make long-term commitments like marrying, building homes, and planting gardens not because they’d given up hope of returning to Israel but because they put their hope in God. They trusted that, one day, he would fulfill his promises to them when and how he saw fit. And in the meantime, they could move forward with the lives he’d given them. They could plan with expectation because they trusted that God plans with expectation.

So too, “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last,” says N. T. Wright in Surprised by Hope, “are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”

This doesn’t lessen the grief of scuttled plans or missed opportunities. It means our trust in God grows. As it does, and as he proves himself faithful, our ability to hope will emerge once again. By entrusting the future to him, we find our vistas of possibility expanded and our dreams renewed. We find ourselves able to return to the work he’s given us, believing that those who “sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps. 126:5).

Hannah Anderson is the author of Made for More, All That’s Good, and Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - September 2021
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2021, 04:55:25 pm »


Boy Scouts’ Bankruptcy Leaves Churches Liable for Abuse Suits

Top denominations and thousands of churches are reconsidering whether to keep hosting scout units.

Amid the Boy Scouts of America’s complex bankruptcy case, there is worsening friction between the BSA and the major religious groups that help it run thousands of scout units. At issue: the churches’ fears that an eventual settlement—while protecting the BSA from future sex-abuse lawsuits—could leave many churches unprotected.

The Boy Scouts sought bankruptcy protection in February 2020 in an effort to halt individual lawsuits and create a huge compensation fund for thousands of men who say they were molested as youngsters by scoutmasters or other leaders. At the time, the national organization estimated it might face 5,000 cases; it now faces 82,500.

In July, the BSA proposed an $850 million deal that would bar further lawsuits against it and its local councils. The deal did not cover the more than 40,000 organizations that have charters with the BSA to sponsor scout units, including many churches from major religious denominations that are now questioning their future involvement in scouting.

The United Methodist Church—which says up to 5,000 of its US congregations could be affected by future lawsuits—recently advised those churches not to extend their charters with the BSA beyond the end of this year. The UMC said these congregations were “disappointed and very concerned” that they weren’t included in the July deal.

Everett Cygal, a lawyer for Catholic churches monitoring the case, said it is unfair that parishes now face liability “solely as a result of misconduct by Boy Scout troop leaders who frequently had no connection to the parish.”

“Scouting can only be delivered with help of their chartered organizations,” Cygal told The Associated Press. “It’s shortsighted not to be protecting the people they absolutely need to ensure that scouting is viable in the future.”

Officials of several other denominations—including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—have advised their churches to hire their own legal counsel if they fear possible sex-abuse litigation.

The Presbyterian Church said its national leadership can’t act on behalf of member churches because they are separate corporations. The leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran church also said its congregations were on their own, legally speaking, and must decide for themselves whether to continue any relationship with the BSA.

“As a result of the bankruptcy, the congregation cannot confidently rely on the BSA, the local council, or their insurers to defend it,” the Lutheran church warned. “The congregation needs to make sure that it has sufficient insurance and that its own insurance will cover them.”

The Boy Scouts, in a statement provided to the AP, said its partnership with chartered organizations, including churches, “has been critical to delivering the Scouting program to millions of youth in our country for generations.” It said negotiations with those organizations are continuing, and it hopes to conclude the bankruptcy proceedings around the end of this year.

Negotiators face a challenging situation.

According to lawyers representing different parties in the bankruptcy case, the Boy Scouts have suggested chartered organizations have some protection from liability for abuse cases that occurred after 1975, due to an insurance arrangement that took effect in 1976. The BSA has said there’s little or no protection, however, for the many pre-1976 cases, and the best way for organizations to gain protection for that era would be to make a substantial financial contribution to a settlement fund.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took such a step last week, agreeing to contribute $250 million to a compensation fund in exchange for a release from further liability. The denomination, widely known as the Mormon church, pulled its units out of the BSA on Jan. 1, 2020, after decades as the biggest sponsor.

One key distinction: The Latter-day Saints have a centralized governing structure, making possible a contribution covering its vast former network of scout units. The remaining faith-based charter organizations are more decentralized, complicating the question of how contributions to the compensation fund would be mandated and organized.

Jeremy Ryan, a lawyer representing United Methodist churches, said his clients believe there is some pre-1976 insurance available to them under policies the BSA and its local councils held at the time.

Cygal, the lawyer representing Catholic churches, made a similar argument but said some chartered organizations eventually may have to make an appropriate financial contribution “to put an end to this dispute once and for all.”

Another complication in the negotiations: differing views on how much blame lies with the churches.

Some of the churches argue that they merely provided a venue for a local scout unit to meet, while scout leaders were responsible for hiring decisions that might have led to sexual abuse. Some lawyers for the plaintiffs disagree, saying church leaders were often actively involved in those decisions.

“The Scouts had plenty of fault due to their negligence, but the local institutions had plenty of fault also,” said Christopher Hurley, whose Chicago law firm says it represents about 4,000 men who filed claims in the bankruptcy.

“It’s just not OK to pass the buck on this,” Hurley added. “Everybody’s got to suck it up and make a fair contribution to get justice for these guys.”

Richard J. Mathews—an attorney who advised the Boy Scouts for 11 years, including in the midst of its abuse crisis—has spoken out for years about the importance of churches adopting vigorous prevention protocols and insuring themselves against child sexual abuse cases.

Mathews told Church, Law, and Tax in 2017 that he thinks churches “don’t recognize the danger and how widespread the problem is. We all think it’s never going to happen to us.”

But churches can be particularly susceptible. Predators often seek out trusting environments where their behavior may be overlooked. And courts end up finding churches liable for not adequately screening or monitoring those working with children.

“Because victims of child sexual abuse generally allege that the organization (church) is responsible for their injuries on the basis of negligent selection, retention, or supervision of the perpetrator, many such cases have been lost due to the failure to implement appropriate safeguards in the selection and supervision of employees and volunteers who work with children,” Matthews said.

“This even applies to other children volunteers (e.g., youth staff). Therefore, screening, background investigations, reference checks, and interviews before the individual’s involvement are essential.”

Stephen Crew, whose Oregon-based law firm represents about 400 plaintiffs, said he sympathizes with faith-based chartered organizations who “worry about being hung out to dry.”

“But survivors also have a lot of anxiety,” said Crew. “And the problem now is that the insurance companies are balking at everybody.”

A third lawyer for plaintiffs, California-based Paul Mones, blamed the churches’ predicament on the BSA, saying its initial bankruptcy strategy failed to properly anticipate the impact on chartered organizations.

“For decades, the religious organizations have been the backbone of the BSA,” Mones said. “They did not sign up thinking they’d have any kind of liability ... and all of a sudden they’re being told, ‘You’re going to get sued.’ It’s a hot mess.”

Some church leaders, such as United Methodist Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., have been blunt in their dismay over the bankruptcy fallout.

“This is a very sad and tragic matter that has occurred within our nation and the Church,” Saenz said in a recent letter to the clergy he oversees in Kansas and Nebraska. He said there might be 110 abuse claims in the bankruptcy case potentially connected to UMC churches in his region.

Saenz said the BSA might struggle to move forward post-bankruptcy without participation of the UMC, the biggest active sponsor of Scout units.

But due to BSA positions in the case that are detrimental to the UMC, Saenz wrote, “We simply cannot currently commit to the relationship with the BSA as we have in the past.”


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