Archives For Evangelical

Briefing

2018’s top Bible verse
According to the world’s most downloaded Bible app, YouVersion, the most popular Bible verse of 2018 is found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:10’s “Do not fear…” verse was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users. 

Congress approves aid for religious minorities
Persecuted religious minorities victimized by Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are now set to get some relief from the U.S. government. Congress unanimously passed a law designed to provide aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities that underwent displacement and genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Evangelical church sees highest giving since 2014
Evangelical churches saw an increase in giving of almost 6% in 2017, the highest increase since 2014, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA President Dan Busby said in a statement that he was “so pleased to see this increased support for Christ-centered churches and ministries.”

Ill. town cancels trip to Ark after complaints
An Illinois town canceled a trip to KY’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter after an atheist group filed a complaint. Charleston’s parks and recreation department cancelled the trip for its community after the atheist group argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

School district faces pressure over nativity display
A Michigan civil rights group is threatening to sue the Newaygo Public School District if they do not remove a Wise Men display from an elementary school building, citing it to be a violation of the US Constitution. Most citizens of the small Michigan town, however, support keeping the display, which has been part of Newaygo’s Christmas tradition since the 1940s.

Sources: Christianity Today, World, Christian Post (2), CBN News

After Easter

ib2newseditor —  April 23, 2018

idyllic landscape

Easter, of course, is about new beginnings. Those of us who know the risen Savior find in Easter new hope, new life, new power, a new covenant, new perspective, and more. Even for those who don’t yet know Jesus, Easter often means new clothes, new plantings, and new spring projects. But just after Easter a few years ago, it was the idea of beginning a new church in our community that brought my wife, Beth, and I together in prayer with three other couples.

Praying was all we knew to do at first. But soon all kinds of new thoughts and ideas started flowing. We began talking about who in our community didn’t know Christ or didn’t attend church, and why. We talked about the spiritual and physical needs we sensed those people had, and how a new church could help address them. We talked about what events we could host, and where we could meet, and how we could invite people to a new beginning.

Over the next several months, we had lots of new beginnings. We began three new Bible studies in our homes. We began a rental contract with a grade school. We began buying sound equipment, and children’s ministry supplies, and everything we could imagine that a portable church might need. We began developing a constitution, and a logo, and mailers, ads, and door hangers.

In this season of new beginnings, consider how a new church can bring new hope to people who don’t know Christ.

And we began surveying our community for feedback on a name for our community’s new church. Together, we chose the name New Hope.

That first year flew by quickly, and as it did, the Lord gathered about 40 people into our core group. Not surprisingly, we chose Easter Sunday one year later as the launch date for our new church. A hundred and eighty-two people responded to our invitations to come to a new beginning that Easter, and found New Hope, in more ways than one.

Looking back, more than a new church began that Easter. For me, it was the beginning of a firsthand understanding that new churches reach new people in ways that existing churches don’t. We were meeting in schools and homes, and baptizing in swimming pools, and making disciples of people who hadn’t been to church in years. It was the most challenging and most rewarding church experience of my life. And it convinced me forever that church planting is essential to go where lost people live, and to reach people that are “lost in the cracks” between existing churches.

New Hope had only been around a couple of years when the North American Mission Board called and asked if I would bring my communications and management background to help start hundreds of new churches each year. I’m not sure I can think of anything else the Lord could have used to lead me away from that new church, but that did it. We moved our family to Georgia, and spent almost a decade encouraging others to live a life that’s on mission, and to start new churches.

And now here we are in Illinois, and it’s just after Easter, again. There are 10 counties in Illinois that still have no Southern Baptist church, and another 12 that have only one. There are at least 200 places in Illinois that need a new church now—most of them in communities where there’s no evangelical church of any kind.

Easter is still about new beginnings, and in many ways the most-needed new beginnings in our state are the planting of new churches that will reach new people, and bring them new hope. I’m praying that there are still clusters of families out there, willing to start praying after this Easter, about what might be possible by next Easter.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Some events from last year offer insight on issues facing evangelicals and church leaders

If evangelicalism is having an identity crisis, as some religious and cultural observers posit, the issue is whether “evangelical” means a person’s theological beliefs and practice, or is it adherence to a conservative political movement. It has at times meant both, and at points in 2017 we saw the movement struggling with itself over which is “the main thing.”

In this short collection of news stories from last year, we see how evangelicals balanced belief and practice. We witnessed the thumb-wrestling of “Big-E Evangelicalism,” inheritors of the socially conservative political force Moral Majority and keepers of its dwindling flame, and “little-e evangelicalism,” the smaller group who are not merely self-identified evangelicals, but whose core-group of beliefs about Scripture, Jesus, and their relationship to him directly affect their behaviors and drive their moral decision-making.

Donald Trump would not be president without evangelicals, more specifically Big-E Evangelicals, and the presence of some in his administration serves as a reminder of that. There is a group of cabinet leaders and others who meet weekly for Bible study. Spokeswoman (and preacher’s daughter) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is possibly the most visible Evangelical in the White House through her daily televised press briefings.

Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as a hoped-for advocate for religious freedoms was hailed by church leaders. And Southern Baptists were present on several occasions in 2017 when President Trump signed legislation affecting religious liberty.

But the December loss of a U.S. Senate seat by Republican Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Ten Commandments champion, to a pro-abortion Democrat has caused some pundits to wonder if the Big-E political/Republican alliance has weakened, and what that might mean for President Trump in the future. Given the special circumstances in that Senate race, moral accusations against Moore, another conclusion is that the biblical beliefs of little-e evangelicals trumped the Big-E political machine in the privacy of the voting booth.

Similarly, a Democrat easily won the governor’s race in Virginia, whose considerable Evangelical population had previously supported a string of GOP governors. Conservative analyst Stephen Mansfield wrote in a new book that the loss can be attributed partly to the disaffection of evangelicals.

“The young, probably in reaction to Trump and to some of the machinations on the Right, went strongly for the Democrat. I think that is an indication of future trends,” Mansfield said in an interview. “It will probably settle down, but I think that the social consciences of the young are raising some important questions.”

But can those assumptions be applied to the President himself, who a year ago got 81% of the white, evangelical vote? “He’s had about a 10-15% drop-off in support from the evangelical community since taking office,” Mansfield summarized. “So while there may be a sort of exaggerated self-reporting around the time when an evangelical casts a vote, there is some indication that there was never really that depth of devotion. I don’t think their support was ever very deep, and it seems to be weakening quickly.”

One conclusion is that little-e evangelicalism—personal, biblical belief and practice—is being separated from its Big-E political counterpart in this generation.

“Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement,” writes conservative Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread cooperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found…. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.”

Issues in Illinois
Governor’s race: Evangelicals disappointed by Gov. Rauner’s support for HB 40, which allows state-funding of abortions involving state employees and aid recipients, will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate to support in 2018.

Pro-life advocate Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she would run against Rauner in part because of his signature allowing the abortion legislation. Ives handily won a January straw poll against Rauner among Chicago-area Republican leaders, but she faces an uphill climb against the well-funded incumbent. Seven Democrats are on the March 20 ballot with J.B. Pritzker the apparent leader.

The general election is in November.

Social issues: After successfully moving legalization of same-sex marriage through the Illinois General Assembly, State Senator Heather Steans and some other representatives are preparing to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use in Illinois. Steans is using economic growth as an argument for legalization, citing a prediction that 250,000 jobs will be created in the “cannabis industry” by 2020. “As many of you may have heard, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he was rescinding an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting operations in states that legalized marijuana,” Steans wrote to supporters. “This change will not diminish our efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois.”

A public hearing is scheduled for late January.

The BriefingGraham urges ‘Beast’ boycott
Franklin Graham has called for a boycott of Disney over the company’s inclusion of a gay character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake. “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out!” Graham wrote in a Facebook post.

Christian bakers appeal $135K fine
Christian bakers who lost their store and were fined $135,000 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding brought their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the judgment. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, said they simply want the freedom to live by the tenets of their faith.

High court vacates pro-transgender ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court set aside March 6 a ruling in favor of a transgender high school student and returned it to a lower court for reconsideration in light of the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of a directive issued under President Obama. With the change in administration guidance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will have to weigh its April 2016 decision that the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender high school student — who is a female biologically but identifies as a male — to use the boys’ restroom.

Muslim chaplain to head Army division
After a ceremony this summer, Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz will become the first Muslim division-level chaplain in the history of the U.S. military. In January, he was offered the job of chaplain for an entire division, an honor for anyone in his field but a milestone in his case – a Muslim spiritual leader for more than 14,000 mostly Christian soldiers.

Americans warm to religious groups—except evangelicals
Fewer Americans say they know an evangelical Christian. Potentially as a result, evangelicals were the one religious group that didn’t experience an increase in warmth among Americans. Pew Research asked Americans to rate their feelings toward major faith groups on a “feeling thermometer,” ranked from zero to 100—the higher the ranking, the more positive the impression. Overall, Jews (67 degrees), Catholics (66 degrees), and mainline Protestants (65 degrees) were rated warmest.

Sources: Time, The Washington Times, Baptist Press, McClatchy DC, Facts and Trends

supreme-court-buildingImmediately following the election, Pew Research found 81% of white evangelicals said they for voted for Donald Trump. Many have said they did so because, with one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for others, they believed Trump would choose conservative nominees who would reflect their values. In naming Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Trump did exactly that.

Following the Gorsuch announcement, Southern Baptist culture watcher Ed Stetzer recalled that Pew poll and wrote on his blog at Christianity Today, “Evangelical Trump voters made a choice and many of them saw today, with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, that their choice was validated. They voted for the sanctity of life and for religious liberty.” Stetzer is the former head LifeWay Research who now leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Episcopalian from Denver, Colorado, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism. According to the Washington Post court reporter, Robert Barnes, this means “judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written — and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision.”

In a Jan. 27 interview with CBN, Trump said, “I think evangelicals, Christians will love my pick. And will be represented very fairly.” Gorsuch was the judge who had sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases. Suits were filed because the Affordable Care Act had imposed rules requiring them to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortion causing contraceptives to employees.

After the announcement, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler expressed thanks for Trump and supporting the nomination: “Judge Gorsuch is committed to textualism and will uphold the Constitution of the United States. His academic credentials are impeccable and his experience as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and his own distinguished tenure as an appeals court judge qualify him for this nomination without question.”

Russell Moore, President of the SBC’S Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a similar statement, calling Gorsuch, “an exceptional choice for Supreme Court justice. He is a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.…I heartily support President Trump’s excellent appointment.”

The Gorsuch nomination follows several others of interest to evangelicals. Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 2., pointed out other Trump nominees whom he called “followers of Christ”: Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, Rick Perry for Energy Department head, Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

–with info from Pew Research, ChristianityToday.com, and the Washington Post

After a destructive election cycle, it’s time to ask some basic questions. 

Flag of USA painted on cracked wall. Political concept. Old text

Inwardly I chuckled when church historian Mark Noll said, “Evangelicalism is a fractious beast.” I was interviewing him for a documentary on the role Billy Graham played in the development of the evangelical movement when he founded Christianity Today magazine in 1956. As described by Noll, at the time a Wheaton College professor, evangelicals had no driving force other than their love for Jesus and desire to share him with the world.

In post-war mid-century America, the number of evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, was growing rapidly, but they were a people “about many things” as Jesus described Martha, with impact on society disproportionately weak compared to their numbers. They had no recognized think-tank to coalesce and articulate their conservative, biblical views and no central voice to bring those views to bear on culture, the courts, and behavior of the masses. No one was really paying attention to evangelicals as a political or cultural phenomenon.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Graham remedied that by bringing top Christian thinkers together in his magazine, brought unity around a few ideals such that evangelicals over the next twenty years became a movement, and through a popular medium of the day he gave them a megaphone to broadcast their beliefs.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Evangelicals today are fractured. The 2016 election cycle has divided us. While 4 out of 5 white evangelicals (the SBC’s predominant constituency) voted for Trump, that fact should not be read as evangelical unity. Believers who may have voted for Trump did so for a variety of reasons. Some were wholeheartedly behind the candidate; some were choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Some were motivated by religious liberty issues, or the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, or pro-life concerns.

No single issue or theology can be said to have brought together the 81% of self-identified white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

And there’s the other 19% who didn’t. And African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic believers who pollsters don’t measure as “evangelicals” and often lump in with other Protestants groups or even Catholics.

We are divided. The divides are between white and black, urban and rural, high levels of education and lesser. And in Southern Baptist life, we have seen some divide between older and younger Christians (especially Millennials), and notable differences among spokesmen for Baptist causes, and distance between leaders and pews.

What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

For the first time in a generation, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission does not appear to have spoken for average Southern Baptists. Russell Moore and a few others were critical of Trump, especially on issues of character and behavior. On the other hand, a few leading megachurch pastors, including Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, stood with Trump. Others kept mum. SBC president Steve Gaines advised not making politics a church issue, so as not to offend people who need to the hear the gospel.

In this election, there were many reasons for speaking up—or not. Thus, in their analysis of the Republican win, pundits may report evangelicals a “silent majority,” but if that is the case, this majority was bound by many motivations.

The need of the hour is for evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular, to process this awkward election theologically—not practically, politically, or emotionally—and identify the kingdom-worthy reasons for future political involvement. What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

Is it U.S. Supreme Court appointments that preserve religious liberty? Marriage, family, gender preservation?

Is it social justice and a biblical view of peace, poverty, and the sanctity of human life?

And what is the role of character and trustworthiness in supporting a candidate or, moving forward, working with a presidential administration? Which is mandatory for Christ-followers when choosing political allies: biblical political positions or biblical behavior? (It appears nearly impossible to find both in a single person these days.)

In the 1950s, Graham drew Christians together around conservative, biblical theology, and eventually brought that to bear on politics and politicians—not the other way around. At 98 (his birthday was the day before the election), does Graham even recognize the movement he codified?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist. 

ivoted

A look at the electoral map says it all. A swath of blue on the West Coast and Northeast, and mostly red in the vast middle. Except for Illinois and Minnesota. We live in a divided nation.

For Christians, the issue today is how do we live Christ-like, now that the nation has chosen a president after a divisive and nasty two-year contest. Can we begin, as one observer put it, to love our neighbor who has “the wrong political sign” in his yard? Or to pray for political leaders of all parties to overcome division for the sake of the nation?

White evangelicals, white Catholics, and Mormons all supported Republican Donald Trump according to exit polls, while Black Protestants and Latino Catholics went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election.

At 81%, the majority support for Trump by white evangelicals was a surprise to some, after leading evangelical leaders split on the candidate. His conservative stance on moral and political issues traditionally important to born-again believers was at odds with his irreligious lifestyle.

Russell Moore of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is one of the few Southern Baptists who spoke against Trump, based on the candidate’s behaviors. Moore consistently urged Southern Baptists to keep conservative politics from swamping biblical beliefs. And his view the day after the election? He tweeted congratulations and called for prayer.

“The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics,” Moore wrote on his blog. “We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election—as we have seen in every election in recent years—that this election is our ‘last chance.’”

But Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, counters, “Trump’s line—‘Let’s make America great again’—and his last-minute saying—‘look folks, I’m your last chance’—was really powerful for white evangelicals who see their numbers in the general population slipping.

“White Christians are declining every year by a percentage point or more as a proportion of the population,” Jones told Religion News Service. “So when Trump says, ‘I’m your last chance, folks,’ there’s a real truth to that.”

Some analysts attribute Trump’s victory to a middle-class, middle-of-the-country rebuke of the Obama legacy and the liberal cultural shift during his administration, as exemplified by the legalization of same-sex marriage and the recent actions on transgender issues. Others say Clinton lost, in part, because she ignored evangelicals.

“We asked for the votes of evangelicals and the Clinton campaign didn’t,” said Michael Wear, who served as faith outreach director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. “It’s a campaign, you ask for people’s votes. And Hillary asked for just about every vote except this group of voters,” he told World magazine.

More prayer, more power

Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd didn’t endorse Trump while he served as SBC President. But the week after he was succeeded by Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines, Floyd was one of a handful of SBC leaders who attended Trump’s meeting with nearly 1,000 evangelicals. Now, Floyd advises prayer.

“Please prioritize praying for Trump….(and) for Vice President-Elect Mike Pence,” Floyd wrote on his blog. “Pray for wisdom, future, security, protection and leadership that will be extended to our nation. Pray for Trump as he selects members for his cabinet and begins the appointments of hundreds of people.”

The next move by evangelicals is to “stay in the game,” says Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Evangelicals who helped give Trump the office have a responsibility to help mold his presidency.

“There are many evangelicals who voted for Trump, and many Evangelicals who advised him,” Stetzer wrote for Christianity Today. “It’s time to advise him now that immigrants are made in the image of God, women are not tools and toys, racial and religious prejudice must be confronted, and so much more.”

Stetzer noted the decided shift on the importance of a candidate’s character to evangelical voters who supported Trump. “The answer is not for us to change our views on character, it’s to help a flawed candidate become a President of character.

“Evangelicals elected Trump,” Stetzer said. “Now they need to call him to a better way,” Stetzer said.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.