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Pastor’s death by suicide renews calls for help for hurting leaders
California pastor Jarrid Wilson died by suicide Sept. 9 after preaching that day at the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. Wilson was an advocate for mental health and had encouraged the Church to care for people who are struggling. The news of his death started numerous conversations about the depression and isolation often connected to church leadership.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” wrote Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship where Wilson served as associate pastor. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

Related: Depression often goes unshared in isolating vocation

Liberty students protest after Falwell aides speak out
A recent Politico story on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. resulted in a protest attended by around 200 students Sept. 13. Around 60 of those were there to demand an investigation of the president, Religion News Service reported. Falwell’s leadership and management of the Virginia university founded by his father were called into question by the Politico article, which relied on information from several current and former staffers.

Duke rejects ministry over policy on sexuality
Young Life was denied official status as a student organization on campus at Duke University after the student senate unanimously rejected the ministry for its policy on LGBTQ volunteers and staff. “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ,” Young Life’s policy states. “We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

California lawmakers call on pastors to change treatment of LGBTQ people
The California Legislature passed a non-binding resolution Sept. 4 blaming religious groups and others for “disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals.” The resolution calls religious leaders to “counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

Wednesday night is still a church night for most
An overwhelming majority of Protestant pastors say their churches host some type of activity on Wednesday evening, with adult small group Bible study and gatherings for youth and kids atop the list. “Church leaders frequently discuss the difficulty of getting people to participate in church activities multiple days each week,” said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. “Yet the vast majority of churches are still open and active on Wednesday nights.”

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Relief agencies respond to urgent needs after storm
Hundreds of people are still missing in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which did massive damage in the island nation as it crawled toward the U.S. coast. At least 44 people died in the storm, local officials have said. Samaritan’s Purse is among the ministry organizations on the scene, assisting with medical care, emergency shelters, and water filtration, The Christian Post reports.

Baptist Global Response also is coordinating aid in the Bahamas, supplying food, blankets, and hygiene kits to families in need.

Newspaper reports on Baptist church autonomy
The Houston Chronicle continues its coverage of Southern Baptist response to sexual abuse in the denomination with a new story on the doctrine of church autonomy. A new lawsuit filed in Virginia claims local, state, and national Southern Baptist leaders were negligent after eight boys were abused by a youth minister. The suit, the Chronicle reports, is rare in that it names the SBC as a defendant. And some leaders new policies adopted by the SBC could make the denomination vulnerable to future lawsuits.

Southern Baptists celebrate ‘Baptism Sunday’
Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention held baptism services Sept. 8 as part of a denomination-wide focus on the ordinance. “I was encouraged to see so many churches issue an intentional call to embrace the Lordship of Christ and express that through baptism!” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press. “May God give these churches grace to ensure these are not just converts but disciples.”

Read stories from Baptism Sunday here.

College’s social media policy sparks free speech debate
Lousiana College’s social media policy requires certain students to give administrators access to their personal accounts and requires all students to report inappropriate information posted by classmates, Christianity Today reports. A former professor says the policy “seems designed to silence criticism from students, faculty, and staff,” but the Southern Baptist school says it’s meant to protect the institution and its students.

Church exodus continues, but Barna finds ‘resilient disciples’
Barna says 64% of people 18-29 years old who grew up in church have withdrawn as an adult after having been active as a child or teen. About one-in-ten young Christians, though, run counter to the trends, Barna reports. Among several markers, these “resilient disciples” are involved in a faith community beyond worship attendance and strongly affirm the Bible is inspired by God and contains truth about the world.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Global Response, Houston Chronicle, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research

Photo: Baptist Global Response

Tug-of-war intensifies over freedom of conviction
Both the Democratic Party and superstar Taylor Swift spoke out last week against “religious liberty,” or at least how it’s generally defined by Christians and conservative voters. First, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution Aug. 24 acknowledging that religiously unaffiliated people “overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’s values.” The resolution also takes aim at “misplaced claims of ‘religious liberty’” used to “justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans.”

Swift echoed the resolution’s message during her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, where her LGBTQ rights-themed song “You Need to Calm Down” won video of the year. (The video includes performers connected to LGBTQ causes, as well as a small group of protestors holding misspelled signs opposing LGBTQ rights.)

“You voting for this video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under the law, regardless of who we love, regardless of how we identify,” Swift told viewers, also urging them to sign her online petition in support of the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes protected under federal civil rights law. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in May, but the measure hasn’t been approved by the Republican-majority Senate.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases of three employees who claim they were discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief stating non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law do not cover orientation or identity.

Disaster Relief volunteers brace for Dorian response
On Monday, news reports detailed Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas, while Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders in Florida stood ready to respond to needs in the storm’s aftermath.

Baptist church mourns father killed in Texas mass shooting
Joseph Griffith, 40, was one of seven people killed in Texas’ Permian Basin Aug. 31 when a gunman began shooting at random following a traffic stop. Griffith, a father of two, attended First Baptist Church in Odessa with his family. “We all feel a sense of being violated,” Pastor Byron McWilliams said during the church’s worship service the next day. “Every single one of us does because all of a sudden what we hear about from far, far away has come close to home.”

Village Church answers sexual abuse lawsuit
A Southern Baptist church in Texas said it is not liable for damages suffered by a woman who alleges she was sexually abused in 2012 at a camp sponsored by the church. A $1 million lawsuit claims The Village Church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe. In a response filed Aug. 23, the church “generally denies each and every allegation in Plaintiff’s Original Petition and demands strict proof by a preponderance of the credible evidence.”

Students face doubts, questions at evangelical colleges
A new study finds students at evangelical colleges and universities are more likely to feel spiritually unsettled, unsure, or disillusioned than their counterparts at secular schools and mainline institutions. Many school administrators are aware of the dynamics, Christianity Today reports, and working to help students through the struggle.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Press, Odessa American, Christianity Today

Christian rocker calls leaders to value truth over feeling
In a post that has since been shared nearly 40,000 times, John Cooper, frontman for Christian rock band Skillet, responded to Christian leaders who have announced they’re walking away from the faith. Author Joshua Harris and Hillsong writer Marty Sampson both made public statements recently, with Harris saying outright “I am no longer a Christian.”

Cooper, who founded the band in 1996, also called Christians—those who lead worship and those who are led in it—to a higher standard than what is relevant or trendy in the moment. Rather than lift up current influencers as ultimate truth-tellers, he posted, rely on the Word of God.  “…we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth,” Cooper said. “We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word.”

>Related: Russell Moore on what to do when someone you admire abandons the faith

>Related: The roles endurance and environment play in a Christian’s ability to press on

Illinois parents weigh options ahead of 2020 curriculum change
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature on a bill that will require LGBT history in public schools has sent some Christian parents looking for education alternatives, while others are resolved to keep their kids in the school system.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said one Springfield mother of three. “We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Methodists mull denominational split
Religion News Service reports a group of conservative United Methodists met this summer to discuss how the denomination can go forward amid growing divisions over its policies toward the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage. One plan under consideration would keep the UMC denomination as a centrist/liberal organization, while creating a new entity for traditionalists.

In February, delegates to the denomination’s General Conference voted narrowly not to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

MacDonald indicates return to ministry
James MacDonald, former pastor of Chicagoland’s Harvest Bible Chapel, posted online last week that he’ll “be back soon with fresh messages from God’s Word.” MacDonald was fired in February amid charges of financial mismanagement and poor leadership.

Trade war won’t affect Bibles
Bibles and other religious literature were initially on a list of items that would be subject to a 10% tax hike on goods imported from China, Baptist Press reported. But Christian leaders were relieved last week when the U.S. Trade Ambassador indicated a “Bible tax” will be avoided.

Sources: Facebook, Christian Post, RussellMoore.com, Christianity Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, USA Today, Baptist Press

Pritzker signs curriculum bill set to take effect in July 2020
Public school students in Illinois will study the roles and contributions of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval of a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May. Four other states have enacted similar legislation: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and New York.

Baylor students request review of school’s LGBT policies
Students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 Conference to investigate the Baptist school’s treatment of LGBT students and compliance with Title XI civil rights law. The student group includes members of gay club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, which has sought recognition as an official on-campus student group since 2011, The Christian Post reported.

Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Seminary denies liability in sex abuse lawsuit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the school has a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault, and to train them to avoid such a risk. The suit was filed by “Jane Roe,” a former student who claims she was raped on campus at gunpoint by a student the seminary employed.

Hillsong songwriter renounces faith
“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” songwriter Marty Sampson wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. The Australian writer of dozens of worship songs continued, “Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.” Sampson’s announcement followed a similar statement by Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who announced last month he’s no longer a Christian.

Christians differ on the church’s role in racial reconciliation
Four hundred years after slavery began in the U.S., age and ethnicity factor into how practicing Christians think the church should respond to the African American community now. One-third of white Christians say there’s nothing the church should do, compared to 15% of black Christians. And 35% of Millennials say the church should try to repair the damage done by slavery, compared to 17% of Elders.

Sources: The Hill, Freeport News Network, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna

Today’s Christian college students are challenging a common misconception

By Meredith Flynn

Bubble

Spend any time on a Christian college campus and students there will probably fill you in on the major knock against their chosen school: it’s a bubble. The term is used to describe the sheltered environment that nurtures them while they’re in school, but may not prepare them for the real world once they graduate.

The commonly told tale isn’t merely an urban legend, said college senior Drew McKay.

“It very easily could be a bubble,” said McKay, in his fifth year at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. The theology student from Medaryville, Ind., is in Boyce’s seminary track, meaning he’ll earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

“Part of going to a Christian university is a safe place to learn about the doctrines of the Bible without necessarily being challenged outright by faculty members and fellow students,” said McKay.

A 2017 analysis of data by Pew Research Center indicates a college education can bolster the faith of Christian students, particularly among evangelicals. Those who are college graduates are slightly more likely to attend weekly services and pray daily than those with some or no college. They’re also more likely to say religion is very important, and to believe in God with absolute certainty.

Taking that faith to the real world after college, though, is a different matter. McKay looked for an off-campus job where he could put into practice the things he was learning at Boyce. The school, which is the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, requires the same core curriculum of every student, whether they’re majoring in Bible or business administration. That means courses in world religions or apologetics—defending your Christian faith—help students understand how beliefs influence how other people think and act.

For McKay, who’s planning to be a youth minister, another way out of the bubble is through time spent with experienced leaders and fellow students.

“The education I’m getting is wonderful,” he said. “It’s great that I’ve got a theological base and a way to study the Bible. But that’s really half of what I need for ministry.

“Being able to spend time with professors in class and out of class, even to be able to see how to be a good father, husband, pastor, leader, has been one of the huge takeaways for me.” And while he may not share the same specific calling—youth ministry—with every Boyce student, they are all pursuing gospel service, McKay said.

“As ministry gets hard, because it will, I’ll have people to lean on.”

Sacred spaces
At Judson University in Elgin, Ill., Professor Stacie Burtelson’s students are learning how to approach their future vocation through a Christian lens. For the future architects, that means learning to create environments that communicate the value and dignity of human life. Judson was the first Christian university with an accredited architecture program, Burtelson said, because there was a need for Christians in the field to have a place to come together and think about the intersection of vocation and faith.

The next generation of architects is aware of what’s going on in the world, said the professor, who is in her 16th year at Judson. And they want to help. Her undergraduate students focus on humanitarian architecture, the part of the field dedicated to helping people displaced by war, natural disasters, and poverty.

Instruction is still focused on code and the proper structures, Burtelson said, but there is also a focus on how the Christian architect can enter the conversation about what is happening in the world.

Her students are working to answer this question: What does Scripture say about how Christians can use their vocational skills to engage social issues and public need? This spring, sophomore architecture students designed models of emergency shelters. The exercise is based on a national competition sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.

Students in Judson’s graduate program focus more on community-based architecture, thinking through how the Christian architect should approach each project with the goal of helping people thrive in the spaces they create.

“Looking at it from the Christian worldview lens, the ultimate goal isn’t about self or even about being thanked for the work you’ve done. It’s not about notoriety and getting published in this journal or that journal, but it’s about answering the call and really glorifying God,” Burtelson said. The work of a Christian architect might look similar to that of a non-Christian, she added, but the Christian’s work is kingdom work.

That work can build bridges—sometimes literally—to the gospel, Burtelson said, “when you show Christ caring through what you do for those in need.”

– Meredith Flynn

The Briefing

Christian nation no more?
Most Americans do not believe America is a Christian nation today, even if many say it was in the past. About one-third (35%) of the American public believes the U.S. was a Christian nation in the past and is still a Christian nation today; close to half (45%) say the U.S. was once a Christian nation but no longer remains so; and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation.

SWBTS apologizes for photo
Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, apologized for a photo of white professors posing as rappers that appeared on Twitter and was instantly deemed racist. The photo featured senior School of Preaching faculty members gesturing and wearing bandannas and chains and was labeled “Notorious S.O.P.” One of them appears to hold a handgun.

Cedarville’s Philippians 4:8 rule
This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content. The university has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

Religious freedom dying in Russia
Russia’s nationwide outlaw of Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said Donald Ossewaarde, an independent Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in that country. He has exhausted his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. Ossewaarde, who is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill., said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult.

Students: Biblical views on sex ‘unChrist-like’
A student club at Seattle Pacific University recently protested against the Christian university because it adheres to biblical views on human sexuality and gender identity.  The club, called SPU Haven, which advocates for gay students, claims that the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” is “unethical, unscientific and unChrist-like,” according to College Fix.

Sources: Facts and Trends, Religion News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Christian Post