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Author Topic: The fearless evangelist  (Read 5053 times)

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patrick jane

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #78 on: August 16, 2021, 03:36:02 pm »


Is Evangelicalism Due for a Hundred-Year Schism?

Our divisions are markedly political, and they echo religious controversies of the past.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment,’” Jesus told the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’” he continued. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28). He goes on to set a higher standard in other aspects of life, too, a standard where even private intentions matter to God.

The future of American evangelicalism—particularly white evangelicalism, a part often wrongly mistaken for the whole—has been subject to intense scrutiny for at least half a decade, and this year’s departures of Russell Moore (who has begun a public theology project here at CT) and Beth Moore (no relation to Russell) from the Southern Baptist Convention have revealed just how deep those divisions are.

As I’ve browsed reporting on the Moores’ decisions and read analyses on whether the US evangelical movement is heading for a schism—a complete and formal break in fellowship—Jesus’ words about murder and adultery keep coming to mind: If intentions matter so much, have we split already?

Widened and embittered division in the movement is certainly impossible to deny. The specific issues are many, some comparatively new (critical race theory, former President Donald Trump), some all too familiar (racism and race relations beyond the one theory, roles of women, sexual ethics, Christian nationalism, church handling of abuse), all with a political edge.

It’s not primarily about different policy agendas or rival partisan loyalties. On paper, a lot of that remains unchanged. The political division I see is more, as CT president Timothy Dalrymple wrote in April, about different informational worlds feeding different fears, hopes, habits of speech, and political priorities. And that political aspect is crucial, in two ways, to thinking through where we are now and where we may go next.

The first is this: If we were to diagram where American evangelicals coalesce around the issues I’ve just listed, the collective result would look a lot like a new (and newly important) tribal division in US politics.

For a long time, there was a stereotype that cast Republicans as rich people who go to country clubs and work at big banks, and Democrats—Hollywood and the media aside—as poor and working-class. This was a decent shorthand once, but no longer.

Nationally, we aren’t polarized according to income as we once were; the “diploma divide” is now the more useful indicator, and its importance is growing. More educated people increasingly vote Democratic, while the less educated increasingly vote Republican. That disparity contributes to a defensive populism on the American right, including among educated Republicans, via the perception that elite institutions (where college degrees are a baseline for participation) are all controlled by political enemies.

Among white evangelicals, the education-politics correspondence isn’t so strong. Being college-educated doesn’t make you a Democrat or a progressive theologically or politically. But there’s an echo of the diploma divide in the discord among evangelicals.

The populist faction in evangelicalism similarly accuses prominent figures and institutions (“big eva,” in the Twitter terminology) of neglecting or abandoning truth to curry secular, liberal favor. Such accusations played a role in both Moores’ departures from the SBC, though both remain dependably theologically conservative.

In a widely shared Twitter thread in late May, historian of American religion and politics (and CT contributor) Paul Matzko compared this divide to older divisions in American Christianity in the 1830s and 1930s. Those were times, like ours, of “intense political polarization,” he told me in an email exchange, as well as “intensive technological innovation, dramatic social change, and widespread fears that something vital was being lost in the shuffle.”

Matzko believes our politicized breach is already in its middle stages and will prove irreparable. He anticipates “the current divide will widen into a series of formal splits that cut through each of the major evangelical denominations and institutions,” a forecast with which I struggle to disagree.

Yet I’m less sure about his expectation that the populist faction “retain control of the existing infrastructure.” In many cases, I think that will prove true—the Southern Baptist Convention could become one such case, though the June gathering in Nashville seems to have delayed it.

Elsewhere, however, institutions may go to progressive evangelicals and still-churched post-evangelicals, to borrow a label from a June Mere Orthodoxyarticle proposing a six-way fracture of US evangelicalism. See, for example, Bethany Christian Services’ shift on LGBT adoption, or how disagreement over gay marriage within Mennonite Church USA has led to conservative departures while progressives stayed put.

The question of reparability brings me to the second way focusing on the political nature of this division is instructive: Our turmoil is significantly about political content consumption and how it competes with Scripture, pastor, and church community to claim our attention and disciple our minds.

Matzko’s Twitter thread gestured in this direction: “Evangelical clergy only get their congregants in the pews one to three times a week,” he wrote, while their favored political media “get them every day, all day.” When there’s a conflict between the two, polling suggests, political media win and the intra-evangelical divide expands.

Matzko highlighted political media sources like Newsmax, One America News, and outlets further right, which is the pulpit’s populist competition, but the same dynamic can and does emerge anywhere on the political spectrum.

The bad news, as he wrote to me, is it’s very difficult to break habits of heavy media consumption in a political echo chamber. The resultant “influence gap” between church and political content will prove a durable challenge to discipleship regardless of the issue arguments at hand.

But the good news—as Matzko and the Mere Orthodoxy authors, Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers, noted alike—is that as alarming, precarious, and dire as intra-church conflicts feel now, some past upheavals have ultimately borne good fruit. “Something new can be built on a firmer foundation, new churches founded, new magazines started (or older magazines expanded), new denominations coalesce, new communities engaged and churched, and so on,” Matzko wrote to me. “You wouldn’t have thought it possible in the 1930s,” when the liberal-fundamentalist schism happened, “but if it happened then, why couldn’t it happen in, say, the 2030s?”

And after all, Graham and Flowers conclude, the “church is not held together by its own strength but by the unbreakable bond of the unity of the Spirit. With this confidence, the church can move forward into this sorting, whatever it may look like, with hope that the Lord is using it to strengthen and embolden his church for fruitful mission in this age.”

I suspect that we have indeed already split in our hearts, and that it is impossible to go back to what we had before. Our schism is already here by the standard Jesus raises in the Sermon on the Mount, and we too often do not behave as we ought with the knowledge that, together, we “are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:23). We may well be “subject to judgment,” not least for treating fellow Christians as our enemies. Yet even here, God can and will work for our good (Rom. 8:28).
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patrick jane

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #79 on: August 21, 2021, 07:07:18 am »


Indian Christians Discuss Different Reports on Persecution

Evangelical Fellowship of India panel responds to Pew research as annual tally of religious freedom violations gets released.

Christians in India are seeking to square conflicting research on communal tensions in their country.

About 100 Christian leaders from across the subcontinent attended an online consultation last month hosted by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) to discuss the findings and ramifications of a recent landmark report by the Pew Research Center, entitled “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation.”

A panel of seven leaders convened by EFI, which represents 65,000 churches and hundreds of Christian organizations across India, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the report’s methodology and engaged attendees in Q&A on Pew’s findings on tolerance, segregation, religious beliefs, identity, nationalism, and more. Indian Christian sources previously told CT the report offered quantitative validation of their lived experience.

While the report surveyed about 30,000 Indians nationwide across six faiths and 17 languages, including about 1,000 Christians, the EFI panel wished the sample size had been even larger—given their nation’s 1.38 billion people and its size and diversity—and thus better able to examine regional differences in complex issues.

Their biggest area of disagreement: the level of communal tensions between India’s majority Hindus and its Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities.

Pew found 9 in 10 Indian adults say they feel very free to practice their religion, while 8 in 10 say respecting other religions is very important to their own faith as well as to being truly Indian. Yet Pew also found a fair amount of support for religious segregation. For example, a third of Hindus in India would not be willing to accept a Christian as a neighbor, and neither would a quarter of Indian Muslims or Sikhs.

“Indians, then, simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres,” wrote Pew researchers. “They live together separately.”

“It was generally agreed that the [Pew] report, although unsurprising in some respects, does not adequately reflect the ground reality in India—particularly the narrative of hate and polarization,” said Vijayesh Lal, EFI’s general secretary and a panelist during the consultation.

As CT previously noted, tensions over increasing Hindu nationalism in India have caused the nation to climb the ranks of persecution watchdogs in recent years. Open Doors ranks India at No. 10 on its 2021 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends India be added to the State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern. Pew itself calculates that India has the highest level of social hostilities regarding religion among the world’s 25 most-populous countries, as well as one of the higher levels of government restrictions.

Pew found that only 1 in 10 Indian Christians reported being discriminated against in the past 12 months because of their faith. Yet this ranged regionally from 19 percent of Christians in the East and 12 percent in the Northeast to 6 percent in the South. (Pew could not break out Christian responses regionally in the North, Central, or West due to sample sizes.)

Days after EFI’s panel assessed the Pew report, its Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) released its latest report on hate and violence against Christians in India, concluding the number of incidents targeting Christians in the first six months of 2021 has increased compared to the same time period last year—even despite a brutal second wave of COVID-19.

The commission recorded 145 incidents targeting Christians from January to June 2021. Researchers stated the violence “was vicious, widespread, and ranged from murder to attacks on church, false cases, police immunity and connivance, and the now normalized social exclusion or boycott which is becoming viral.”

The analysis documents three murders, 22 cases of physical violence, 22 instances of attacks on churches or places of worship or their vandalization, and 20 cases of ostracizing or social boycotting in rural areas of families which had refused to renege on their Christian faith and had stood up to mobs and political leaders from the local majority community.

“The most alarming development has been the expansion and scope of the notorious Freedom of Religion Acts, which are popularly known as the anti-conversion laws, earlier enforced in 7 states, to more states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party,” stated RLC researchers. “Once targeting only Christians, they are now armed also against Muslims in the guise of curbing ‘Love Jihad.’ This is an Islamophobic term coined some years ago to demonize marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, particularly those belonging to the Hindu upper castes.

“The laws ostensibly punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions,” the researchers stated. “But in practice, they are used to criminalize all conversions, especially in non-urban settings.”

For example, a mob of religious extremists forcefully barged into a church and assaulted 25 Christians, including women worshipers, on February 7 in the Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, according to the report. The attackers also lodged a complaint against the Christians at the Udaygarh police station alleging conversions. This resulted in the police detaining and interrogating the two dozen Christians and filing charges against their pastor Dilip Vasunia under the state’s Freedom of Religion ordinance. The pastor was imprisoned and finally made bail after a few days, while no action was taken against the attackers who assaulted the Christians.

The report also narrates how on June 28, police in Uttar Pradesh arrested pastor Shivkumar Verma and another Christian on trumped up charges of religious conversions. Local sources alleged that since there was no evidence corroborating the accusations, police demanded bribes to release the two Christians. Verma spent a month in prison before finally being released at the end of July.

The EFI commission made it clear that its report is indicative of current events, not an exhaustive tally, and the actual number of sectarian incidents may be much larger.

Madhya Pradesh, the central state of India, and Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, led the tally of incidents against Christians, followed by Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

“Violence against Christians by non-state actors in India stems from an environment of targeted hate,” stated researchers. “The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India’s administrative apparatus.”

The RLC report offered recommendations to the government of India. Chief among them: enacting a comprehensive national legislation against targeted and communal (sectarian) violence; advising the various state governments to repeal anti-conversion laws that limit religious freedom and are being misused against religious minorities; the enaction of laws to check hate speech and propaganda; and amending paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 to include Christians and Muslims.

“The sad reality is that minorities are targeted, and these incidents occur and despite the pandemic have increased over last year’s figures,” said Lal. “This appears to be in contrast with the Pew report that would like us to believe that tolerance runs high in present-day India. While there are examples of tolerance historically, the dividing of people driven by narrow political interest is real as well and too often makes use of religion for polarizing people and carrying out sectarian violence.”

Panelist John Dayal, a Delhi-based Christian political analyst and cofounder and past secretary general of the All India Christian Council, said the report could mislead global thought leaders, the media, and fellow Christians into a “dipstick understanding” of religion in India and miss the “extreme polarization” in recent years.

Pew’s research found that 53 percent of all Indians and 44 percent of Indian Christians think religious diversity benefits India, while 24 percent of all Indians and 26 percent of Indian Christians think it harms the country. Christians were the least likely of any religious group to say that religious diversity benefits India.

The EFI panel concluded with recommendations for the Indian church.

The first was for Indian believers to go beyond the segregations of the denominationalism that exists within the church in India, and to examine how a more inclusive Christian spirituality could be developed.

“Failure to do this may destroy our ability to be a witness in the nation,” warned panelist C. B. Samuel, a respected Bible teacher and former executive director of EFICOR (formerly the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief).

The divides of regionalism and caste in Indian society exist also within the church, thus a noticeable difference in the response of south Indian Christians vs. their brethren in the north or northeast. “Therefore, a conscious modeling of church which breaks the barriers is very important,” said Samuel.

Both panelists and participants stressed the themes of common humanity and the intentional visibility of good deeds. It was also shared that the church must be intentional about critiquing power issues.

“The report speaks about segregation, but the core issue is the misuse of power that leads to segregation which eventually destroys common humanity and leads to silos,” said panelist Richard Howell, principal at the Caleb Institute of Theology and past general secretary of EFI.

Howell also stressed the primacy of theological identity rather than cultural identity. “We have forgotten our theological identity. If we only major on cultural identity, there is no critique of power left,” he said. “Our critique comes from a transcendence. We must never forget this.”

Panelist Ashish Alexander, head of the English department at Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences in Allahabad, pointed out that during the survey Christians were asked if Muslims were discriminated against in India and only 16 percent agreed. When Muslims were asked the same about Christians, only 8 percent agreed. Hence, Indian Christians need to be sensitized about Indian Muslims and vice versa, and a bridge needs to be built.

The consultation ended with a call for deeper research into themes both explored in the Pew study and beyond it, such as polarization, hate campaigns against minorities, and Islamophobia in India.

“I also wish that Pew would have dissected Indian Christianity,” said Dayal, “to find out what are our strengths and soft spots.”

“We do need more studies, more understanding among ourselves,” said panelist Vinay Samuel, founder of the Oxford Center for Mission Studies and the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life. “Identities have boundaries as well. So, we do need to look at how different groups are constructing their identities, i.e. South Indian Christians, North Indian Christians, Punjabi Christians, etc.”

“There is a need to devise institutions to bring India’s religious communities onto common platforms to discuss issues and diffuse tensions,” said Lal in summary at the end of the consultation.

“In India, religion has to be experienced. Experience comes first, then relationship and thirdly conceptuality,” said Howell. “Where Christians have taken time to build bridges, things are better. We [Christians] must take time to build bridges with all communities.”

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patrick jane

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #80 on: September 15, 2021, 11:56:24 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: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #81 on: September 15, 2021, 11:57:31 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.
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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #82 on: October 08, 2021, 07:11:48 am »


Hillsong Founder to Plead Not Guilty to Abuse Coverup

Brian Houston will go to court in Sydney over alleged child abuse by his late father.

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston will plead not guilty to illegally concealing alleged child abuse by his father, his lawyer told a court on Tuesday.

Houston did not appear at Sydney’s Downing Center Local Court when his charge was mentioned before a registrar for the first time. His lawyer told the court Houston would be pleading not guilty to the charge of concealing a serious indictable offense of another person, his late preacher father Frank Houston.

The case will next be before the court on November 23.

Police will allege that Frank Houston indecently assaulted a young male in 1970.

Court documents allege that Brian Houston believed his father had committed the crime. Police will allege that the younger Houston failed to disclose information to police that could help secure the prosecution of his father.

Since being charged, Houston has stepped down from the board of Hillsong, the church he founded with wife Bobbie in Sydney in 1983. Now a global empire, the church says 150,000 people in 30 countries attend its services and 50 million people sing its songs each week.

Houston, 64, was in the United States in August when detectives served his Sydney lawyers with a notice for him to appear in court.

He said in a statement at the time he welcomed the “opportunity to set the record straight.”

Houston returned to Sydney last month and was released from 14 days’ hotel quarantine last week.

An Australian government inquiry into institutional responses to allegations of child sex abuse found in 2015 that Houston did not tell police that his father was a child sex abuser.

The inquiry found that Houston became aware of allegations against his father in 1999 and allowed him to retire quietly rather report him to police. His father confessed to the abuse before he died in 2004 at age 82.

Hillsong Church has said repeatedly that it has not been involved in this matter, as Frank Houston never worked for the church, and has defended Brian Houston’s response.

“Upon being told of his father’s actions, Brian Houston confronted his father, reported the matter to the National Executive Assemblies of God in Australia, relayed the matter to the governing board of Sydney Christian Life Centre, and subsequently made a public announcement to the church. Brian sought to honor the victim’s multiple requests not to inform the police,” the church said in a statement in July.

“As a recent development, charges have officially been filed against Brian Houston,” the church said at the time. “We are disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and ask that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right. He has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name.”

Hillsong, known for chart-topping worship music and megachurches across the globe, became its own denomination in 2018. Last year, Brian Houston announced an investigation of its New York City campus, where pastor Carl Lentz had stepped down over infidelity.

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #83 on: October 13, 2021, 09:49:36 am »


Evangelism Not a Priority in Canadian Churches

Even during crisis of COVID-19, few are finding ways to share their faith, study finds.

If Canadians have been longing for meaning in their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that anyone has told them about Jesus.

According to a recent survey conducted by Alpha Canada and the Flourishing Congregations Institute, 65 percent of church leaders say that evangelism hasn’t been a priority for their congregations over the last several years. Fifty-five percent say their congregations do not equip Christians to share their faith.

Shaila Visser, national director of Alpha Canada, said she was somewhat surprised by the numbers because she sees so many opportunities for Christians to share their faith. The pandemic, in particular, has caused people to ask significant questions about the meaning and purpose of their lives.

“The opportunity before the church in Canada is to meet them and their questions with the person of Jesus,” she said, “to show them that Jesus is very good.”

The survey asked Canadian leaders across Christian denominations, “As you think about your local congregation/parish over the last several years, to what extent would you say your congregation/parish has given priority (or not) to evangelism?”

More than 2,700 church leaders responded between May and July 2021.

About 20 percent said evangelism was a moderate concern. Only 9 percent said it was a high priority for members of their congregation to share their faith.

Respondents included a few leaders from the mainline United Church of Canada and just over 20 percent from the Roman Catholic Church. The majority, though, came from evangelical traditions, including leaders from Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Evangelical Free Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Foursquare Church, and the Salvation Army. The tendency not to emphasize evangelism appears to be widespread.

Steven Jones, president of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, said he was “deeply concerned” by the numbers. He notes they reflect the continued decline of evangelical Christianity in Canada.

Historically, about 10 percent of Canadians have considered themselves evangelical. Today, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s quadrennial census, only 6 percent of Canadians are evangelical. These are the lowest numbers on record.

Christianity has increasingly been viewed in a negative light in secular Canadian culture, particularly in the wake of sexual abuse scandals and light being shed on the role churches played for decades in residential schools for Indigenous people in Canada. Dozens of churches were spray-painted, vandalized, and burned following the discovery of mass graves at several residential schools this summer.

That negative view was clearly seen in the responses to the Alpha survey. The number one challenge to evangelism, leaders said, was “perceived antagonism toward Christian values and the Christian church.”

According to David Koop, pastor of Coastal Church, a large urban congregation in Vancouver, British Columbia, a lot of younger Christians have accepted the secular Canadian criticisms of the faith.

“The next generation has a really different narrative that they’re listening to,” he said.

Because secular society views church as a problem, he said, many Christians seem to shy away from sharing their faith. At the very least, they’re more averse to traditional methods of evangelism. For much of the 20th century, evangelism meant passing out tracts or knocking on people’s doors. Today, Koop said, there’s more emphasis on relationships and showing people how you live out your faith.

When the survey participants were asked to list the three most common methods of evangelism encouraged among their congregation/parish, the most common answer was “showing one’s faith through their actions.”

In some ways, Koop thinks that’s a positive shift.

“I think the most effective way is still just to do what Jesus said in Luke 10,” Koop said. “Go to people’s homes. Get to know them. Live in a community relationship. Pray for them.”

He’s found the pandemic has created roadblocks in that effort with many churches looking inward rather than focusing on evangelism.

“There’s a weariness,” he said. “There’s a sense I need to keep my own fences mended and stay strong.”

Jeff Eastwood, who lives and pastors a church on the opposite end of the country in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, sees the same thing. Broad cultural changes have made it more difficult to speak about faith when antireligious rhetoric abounds.

“When the majority—or it seems like the majority—are giving assent to this ideology, it becomes more difficult for Christians to speak into that, especially in a nuanced way,” said Eastwood, who pastors Grace Baptist Church.

Eastwood encourages Christians to do what Jesus did, though, and connect with people where they are, engaging them and speaking to their specific situations.

“The best evangelism comes out of relationships,” he said.

The survey was done during widespread lockdowns in Canada because of the pandemic. Christian leaders say they’re not clear what effect COVID-19 has had on evangelism.

It may have exacerbated the problem and made evangelism harder. Outreach became more difficult, with gatherings prohibited and many people limiting contact to a small “bubble” of people. Eastwood’s church, for example, had to cancel its Vacation Bible Study.

Plus, church leaders who were already working as hard as they could were overwhelmed trying to adapt to changing conditions. It became easier for churches to focus on themselves and not the broader community.

“COVID has given a great excuse to be very selfish," said Vijay Krishnan, who pastors The Well, a church in the suburbs of Toronto.

Krishnan believes that this tendency is something that believers have struggled with since the New Testament period. The early church was content to stay in Jerusalem rather than carry out the Great Commission. It took persecution, he said, to scatter them to the ends of the world as Jesus had commanded.

At the same time, Krishnan said, the pandemic has created opportunities for people to be more open about their struggles. Most people have been impacted in some way by the pandemic, and that shared cultural experience can open doors to talk about more personal matters.

When people share their struggles, he doesn’t just tell them he’ll pray for them but prays for them at the moment.

“It’s like you’re inviting them to a spiritual encounter with a God you know,” Krishnan said.

Visser has also had opportunities to pray with people because of COVID-19.

“What it provides is an encounter between two people with God in the middle, regardless of what they believe,” she said.

The best way to share your faith is to listen to people, she said, and then “run toward their pain and meet them in the messiness of their lives or in the beauty of their lives.”

In a time when many are suffering from loneliness, providing opportunities for human interaction can be a powerful form of evangelism.

“The world is longing for in-person connection around meaningful conversations, and inviting them into spaces where they can have that connection and encounter God is increasingly important,” Visser said. “It’s more important than it was before the pandemic.”

In a pandemic, though, that may mean going online. Visser ran an Alpha program on Zoom for friends spread across Canada. She said she probably wouldn’t have done that before COVID-19.

“We have never met in person as a group, and we have formed some of the deepest, most wonderful supportive community opportunities you could even imagine,” she said. “All on Zoom.”

Jones said a lot of evangelical churches are embracing online opportunities and looking for opportunities they wouldn’t have before.

“I think all our churches need to be live streaming because we are reaching people who would never go through the door of a church or facility, but they will go to your website,” he said. “It’s a good first place.”

And the need is urgent. Canadians are looking for meaning and purpose, struggling with loneliness, and dealing with the tragedies brought by COVID-19.

“People are hurting, and they’re confused,” Eastwood said. “We have an opportunity to speak into that in a real way.”

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #84 on: October 13, 2021, 07:30:51 pm »


What Comes After the Ex-Gay Movement? The Same Thing That Came Before.

Old-school evangelical leaders once knew the value of “care” over “cure.”

“You know, Mike, I used to be gay,” I said.

Mike stopped moving his paintbrush as the words fell clumsily from my mouth. He was painting the St. Louis apartment I called home in the summer of 1997 as I began working toward my PhD in historical theology.

He’d asked me about my schooling, and we got to talking about faith. Mike had explained to me how he felt he could never go to church because he was gay.

“I know they say that’s not supposed to happen,” I went on, after dropping the bombshell. “But that’s my story.” Mike stared at me with interest as he set the paint can down, gently balancing his brush on its edge.

Looking back on this encounter, I can see that it had all the trappings of what became known as the ex-gay movement, of which I was once an eager proponent. Most notable is my use of the ex-gay script: “I used to be gay.” The phrase implied that I wasn’t gay anymore. I had a testimony, a story to tell about leaving homosexuality behind.

To be clear, my sexual attractions at that moment were drawn as exclusively to other men as ever. I was still at the top of the Kinsey scale that researchers since the 1940s have used to classify sexual orientation. What made me ex-gay was that I used the ex-gay script. I was trying to convince myself that I was a straight man with a disease—a curable one—called homosexuality. A condition that was being healed.

My terminological maneuver was an integral component of conversion therapy. Alan Medinger, the first executive director of Exodus International, described it as “a change in self-perception in which the individual no longer identifies him- or herself as homosexual.” It was all about identity. The testimony made the man. And, within my ex-gay framework, I wasn’t lying; I was claiming my new reality.

I was an ex-gay.

The emergence of Exodus International in 1976 had set evangelicals on a hopeful path toward curing homosexuality. Founder Frank Worthen explained, “When we started Exodus, the premise was that God could change you from gay to straight.” What followed was a decades-long experiment on hundreds of thousands of human test subjects. The movement collapsed after Exodus president Alan Chambers’s 2012 statement that more than 99 percent of Exodus clients had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation.

Although the paradigm of cure failed, it still walks undead among us, as some within major denominations try to institutionalize its approach. Recent debates among conservative Anglicans and Presbyterians over whether someone can claim a “gay identity” are only the latest round of similar disputes that have echoed in church corridors for years. After all, renouncing a homosexual self-perception was an essential first step in conversion therapy.

One effect of this approach was that it mandated that non-straight believers hide behind a mask, pretending to be anything but gay. It was part of the reparative process.

But this theological innovation was a relatively recent development. Before there was an ex-gay paradigm of cure, there was an older orthodoxy that included a Christian paradigm of caring for believers who aren’t straight.

I’ve wondered whether Henri Nouwen had his own homosexuality in mind when he wrote of the difference between care and cure. In the biography Wounded Prophet, Michael Ford documents how Nouwen discussed his experience as a celibate gay man with his close circle of friends. Nouwen had tried psychological and religious methods of orientation change, but to no avail. He knew that out of obedience to God, he couldn’t let himself engage in sexual relationships. But his path was filled with loneliness and unfulfilled longings and many tears.

In Bread for the Journey, he wrote, “Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, feeling with. Care is compassion. It is claiming the truth that the other person is my brother or sister, human, mortal, vulnerable, like I am.”

“Often we are not able to cure,” he insisted, “but we are always able to care.”

Evangelical leaders, including John Stott, helped lay a foundation for a pastoral paradigm of care. Stott—the theologian and writer labeled the “Protestant Pope” by the BBC—argued that sexual orientation remains a part of one’s constitution. As Stott wrote in Issues Facing Christians Today back in 1982, “In every discussion about homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between this ‘being’ and ‘doing,’ that is, between a person’s identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, constitution and conduct.”

For Stott, a homosexual orientation was part of the believer’s identity—a fallen part, but one that the gospel doesn’t erase so much as it humbles.

This posture runs even further back than Stott. C. S. Lewis spoke in a 1954 letter to Sheldon Vanauken of a “pious male homosexual” with no apparent contradiction. Lewis’s lifelong best friend Arthur Greeves was gay. Lewis called him his “first friend” and made it clear to him that his sexual orientation never would be an issue in their friendship. They vacationed together. The compilation of letters Lewis sent to Greeves, collected under the title They Stand Together, reaches 592 pages.

In the United States, as the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York announced the birth of the gay rights movement, orthodox Protestants were already asking what positive vision Scripture gives for people who are gay. The 1970 pseudonymous InterVarsity Press book The Returns of Love: Letters of a Christian Homosexual mapped out a path of care and was promoted by Stott. The book’s celibate gay Anglican author explained that he was still a virgin at the time he wrote it.

Evangelicalism’s leaders knew there was a history of abuse with which to reckon. In a 1968 letter to a European pastor, Francis Schaeffer lamented the church’s complicity in marginalizing gay people. The pastor had seen no fewer than six gay people commit suicide, and he sought Schaeffer’s counsel. “The homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality,” lamented Schaeffer. “This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.” Indeed, Schaeffer’s ministry became a magnet for gay people wrestling with Christianity.

Such leaders saved their disgust for abusive religious leaders. When Jerry Falwell Sr. brought up the challenge of gay people with Schaeffer in private, Schaeffer commented that the issue was complicated. As Schaeffer’s son, Frank, recounted in an interview with NPR and also in his book Crazy for God, Falwell then shot back a rejoinder: “If I had a dog that did what they do, I’d shoot it.” There was no humor in Falwell’s voice.

Afterward, Francis Schaeffer said to his son, “That man is really disgusting.”

“Sexual sins are not the only sins,” Stott wrote in Issues, “nor even necessarily the most sinful; pride and hypocrisy are surely worse.”

In 1980, Stott convened a gathering of Anglican evangelicals to map out a pastoral approach to homosexuality. They led with public repentance for their own sins against gay people. In a statement, these leaders declared, “We repent of the crippling ‘homophobia’ … which has coloured the attitudes toward homosexual people of all too many of us, and call our fellow Christians to similar repentance.”

It was a staggering confession at a time when popular opinion was still biased strongly against gay people. This was not the 21st century, when many Christian leaders repent in order to look relevant and inclusive in a culture that celebrates all things fabulous. Stott and these evangelical leaders must have been truly grieved for the ways they had injured their neighbors and siblings in Christ. The statement called specifically for qualified nonpracticing gay people to be received as candidates for ordination to ministry.

Five years earlier, many were shocked by Billy Graham’s similar comments in a news conference, some of which were reported in 1975 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Graham had been asked whether he would support the ordination of gay men to the Christian ministry. Graham had replied that they “should be considered on individual merit” based on certain qualifications. Specifically, the article mentioned “turning away from their sins, receiving Christ, offering themselves to Christ and the ministry after repentance, and obtaining the proper training for the job.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ offers a positive vision for gay people. “In homosexuality,” Lewis explained to Vanauken, “as in every other tribulation, [the works of God] can be made manifest.” He continued: “Every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ ”

Lewis asked, “What should the positive life of the homosexual be?” That’s the question any gay person who comes to faith in Jesus will ask.

Too often the answer we hear is simply “No.”

No sex. No dating. No relationships. Often, no leadership roles.

That leaves people like me hearing that we have, as Eve Tushnet explained in a 2012 piece in The American Conservative, a “vocation of No.”

What is a calling of “Yes”? What is the positive Christian vision the gospel gives for gay people?

When I look at the lives and ministries of Lewis, Schaeffer, Graham, and Stott, what stands out most clearly is that they bring a vision of Jesus: Jesus, in his saving power. Jesus, who washes us and makes us clean. Jesus, who brings us into God’s family. Jesus, who covers shame and forgives sin. Jesus, who calls us by name. Jesus, who sees us all the way down and still wants to be in relationship with us. Jesus, who suffers with and for us. Jesus, who challenges us to live for his kingdom. Jesus, who gives new life with all its joy. Jesus, who is that treasure in a field for which we sold everything. Jesus, who is that treasure that can never be taken from us.

This is Jesus, whose inbreaking kingdom sweeps us up into something he is doing in the cosmos, something larger than ourselves. In Christ, we find ourselves in a larger narrative.

This is not Jesus as a means to an end of heterosexual functioning and comfortable family life. This is God himself as the end for which we were made. With this real God, the locus of hope is found not in this life with heterosexuality, but in the coming age, when we shall stand before our Savior.

Without that relationship with a Savior, there is no point in speaking of a biblical sexual ethic, either to straight or gay people. No gay people are going to embrace such an ethic unless they fall in love with Jesus. A heart smitten by grace is not only willing but also eager to follow the one who died for us.

Schaeffer, Stott, and Graham all stated on occasion their shared belief that some people are born gay. All of these Christian leaders also held to the historical understanding of the biblical sexual ethic. This certainly meant committing to a life in line with God’s creational pattern—his design. Not one of them supported sexual unions for believers outside of a monogamous marriage between two people of different sexes. But they approached gay people from a posture of humility.

Their vision did not flatten people into our unwanted sexual urges. Instead, they recognized that a same-sex-oriented believer’s biggest struggle may be not with sexual sin but with the ability to give and receive love. So they emphasized the need for the community of the church; for deep, long-term friendships; for brotherhood, to be known even in celibacy.

Stott, himself celibate, explained: “At the heart of the homosexual condition is a deep and natural hunger for mutual love, a search for identity and a longing for completeness. If gay people cannot find these things in the local ‘church family,’ we have no business to go on using that expression.”

Lewis, Schaeffer, Graham, and Stott also viewed the homosexual condition as an unchosen orientation with no reliable expectation of a change in this life. They showed great concern for the emotional and relational needs of gay people. Schaeffer insisted in his 1968 letter that the church needed to be the church and help “the individual in every way possible.”

In his NPR interview, Frank Schaeffer described his father’s Swiss ministry, L’Abri, as a place “where homosexuals—both lesbians and gay men—are welcomed.” He added: “No one’s telling them they’ve got to change or that they’re horrible people. And they go away, you know, having found my father wonderfully compassionate and Christlike to them.”

Schaeffer foresaw significant cultural changes when, in 1978, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church congregation in San Francisco found itself sued for releasing a gay employee who had violated the church’s code of conduct. In The Great Evangelical Disaster, Schaeffer said it would be silly for other churches to think they might not face the same challenge.

Still, Schaeffer and Graham didn’t recommend us-verses-them approaches. Just weeks before the 1964 presidential election, a gay sex scandal rocked the nation. President Lyndon Johnson’s top adviser, Walter Jenkins, was arrested a second time for having gay sex in a YMCA restroom. Graham called the White House to intercede for Jenkins.

In the recorded phone call, Graham charged Johnson to show compassion to Jenkins.

Asked about homosexuality at a 1997 San Francisco crusade, Graham remarked to reporters, “There are other sins. Why do we jump on that sin as though it’s the greatest sin?” He added, “I have so many gay friends, and we remain friends.” Speaking to a crowd of 10,000 that night in the Cow Palace, Graham declared, “Whatever your background, whatever your sexual orientation, we welcome you tonight.”

As Stott emphasized so passionately in Issues, the gay person who follows Jesus must live by faith, hope, and love: Faith in both God’s grace and in his standards. Hope to look beyond this present life of struggle to our future glory. But the love by which we must live, he explained, is the love we must receive from Christ’s spiritual family, the church. We must depend upon love from the very churches that have historically failed to give it to people like us.

Church historian Richard Lovelace’s 1978 book Homosexuality and the Church garnered hearty endorsements from evangelical luminaries Ken Kantzer (a former CT editor), Elisabeth Elliot, Chuck Colson, Harold Ockenga, and Carl F. H. Henry. The book might seem radical in today’s climate, but in the 1970s it represented a transatlantic neoevangelical vision. In contrast to homophobia on the right and sexual compromise on the left, Lovelace laid out the gospel challenge:

There is another approach to homosexuality which would be healthier both for the church and for gay believers, and which could be a very significant witness to the world. This approach requires a double repentance, a repentance both for the church and for its gay membership. First, it would require professing Christians who are gay to have the courage both to avow [acknowledge] their orientation openly and to obey the Bible’s clear injunction to turn away from the active homosexual life-style. … Second, it would require the church to accept, honor, and nurture nonpracticing gay believers in its membership, and ordain these to positions of leadership for ministry.

The church’s sponsorship of openly avowed but repentant homosexuals in leadership positions would be a profound witness to the world concerning the power of the Gospel to free the church from homophobia and the homosexual from guilt and bondage.

Only the gospel can open up the humility for such a dual repentance. Yet this was the Christian vision of Lovelace and Henry, Ockenga and Elliot, Kantzer and Colson, Lewis and Graham, Schaeffer and Stott, and a young gay evangelical Anglican who felt too afraid to use his own name, even though he was still a virgin.

Christian fathers and mothers like these had it right. Tragically, I write this as a lament for a road not traveled on this side of the Atlantic.

Already by the late 1970s, a hard shift had begun. As ex-gay ministries in North America multiplied with their expectation of orientation change, they shifted the locus of hope to this life. As the AIDS crisis devastated gay communities in the 1980s, evangelicals embraced the promise of heterosexuality. The secular reparative therapists added a semblance of clinical respectability. The new path to cure pushed out the older path to care.

And then the conservative side in a culture war discovered that we ex-gays were useful. We were proof that gay people could choose to become straight if they really wanted to. And if we could become straight, then there really wasn’t so much need for the church to repent of its homophobia. It just required people like me to maintain the illusion that we had changed.

In the aftermath of that lost culture war that radically transformed the sexual mores of the West, there is much for Christians to grieve. Transactional relationships. Disposable marriages. Vastly changed assumptions about sexuality and gender.

But the conservative church’s hesitancy to repent has not dissipated. As I watch evangelical churches and denominations fumble their way through discussions of sexual orientation and identity, often enforcing the language and categories of a failed ex-gay movement, we’re missing the real battle: The surrounding culture has convinced the world that Christians hate gay people.

Our calling is to prove them wrong.

The world is watching. Our children and grandchildren are watching. They are already second-guessing their faith because they hear all around them that Christians hate gay people, and they can’t point to anyone in their congregation who is gay, is faithful, and is loved and accepted as such. Maybe they can point to someone who uses the language of same-sex attraction. But even that is rare. It’s still not safe to do so.

I am not saying we are at risk of losing Christians who are attracted to members of the same sex; that’s a given.

I am saying we are at risk of losing the next generation.

For those who are listening, an older generation of Christians is still willing and able to help us understand.

Greg Johnson is lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis and author of Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn from the Church’s Failed Attempt to Cure Homosexuality.

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Re: The fearless evangelist
« Reply #85 on: January 14, 2022, 06:24:02 pm »


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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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