Archives For Suffering

The_Briefing

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

While 62% of American adults believed nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage was inevitable, slightly less than half (49%) are in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in favor of it, Barna reports. 43% disagreed with the decision, and 7% were unsure how they felt about it, according to the researcher’s July 1 report.

When it comes to how Christians feel about the Court’s decision, Barna found, 28% of practicing Christians (defined as “those who say their faith is very important to their life and who have attended one or more church services during the past month”) approve of legalized same-sex marriage, compared to 43% of people who identify as Christians but don’t qualify as practicing.

Only 2% of evangelicals support the Court’s decision. Read the rest of Barna’s report at Barna.org.


U.S. Episcopal Church votes to approve same-sex marriage
Right after the Supreme Court made it legal nationwide, the U.S. Episcopal Church moved to approve same-sex marriage in the denomination, The Christian Post reports. Episcopal clergy are now authorized to perform same-sex marriages, but can opt out, according to two marriage-related resolutions passed in late June at the denomination’s General Convention.

The resolutions were opposed by 20 bishops who issued a minority report stating, “The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman,” and by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said the decision “will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”


Church violence survivors share in Charleston grief
After nine people were killed in a South Carolina church last month, Southern Baptists who have experienced similar tragedies expressed their sympathy and grief over the June 17 shooting.

“I don’t know if you ever recover from something like that,” said Cindy Winters, whose husband, Fred, was killed in his Maryville, Ill., pulpit in 2009. “I think you learn how to get through it, but I don’t think you ever get over it this side of eternity,” Winters told Baptist Press. “I know one day I will when I’m with Jesus. Obviously only by the grace of God am I able to get up each day and go forward, and find beauty and meaning…and find goodness in living.”


Burned churches receive assistance from Baptist missions agency
African American churches in need of assistance after a recent spate of church fires can receive help from a fund established by the North American Mission Board, the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Southern Baptists should be the first to condemn acts of hatred toward African Americans,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said, according to Baptist Press. “Regardless of the causes of these fires, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come alongside and offer whatever assistance we can.”

None of the fires have been deemed hate crimes, and only some are suspected arsons. However, one confirmed arson case is Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist, a predominantly black Southern Baptist church.


Barnabas Piper: Parents, ‘Don’t fight unbelief in your kids’
“At least don’t think of it as fighting,” Piper said in an interview about his new book “Help My Unbelief.” “Belief, ultimately, is a miracle, death made life by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can work in myriad ways, and questioning is a significant one,” Piper, son of preacher and author John Piper, told Ed Stetzer.

“As parents our job is to declare and display the work of the Spirit, our relationship with God, so that children can see where the answers to those questions truly lie. Don’t argue; answer. Don’t fight; exemplify. Don’t give up; pray.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Wheaton College has removed the name of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert from the school’s public policy center, following Hastert’s indictment on charges he paid $1.7 million to cover up past sexual misconduct, and then lied to the FBI about it. J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy opened in 2007.

Hastert resigned from the board of the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy May 29, and college officials announced the name change two days later in a statement on its website:

“We commit ourselves to pray for all involved, including Speaker Hastert, his family, and those who may have been harmed by any inappropriate behavior, and to continue the work and mission of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.”


Gallup: Americans are thinking less traditionally on moral issues
American views on key moral issues continue to trend in a less conservative direction, Gallup reports. According to research from May, “gay or lesbian relations” is morally acceptable to 63% of people, up from 40% in 2001. Also on the rise: perceived acceptability of having a baby outside of marriage, sex between an unmarried man and woman, divorce, and embyronic stem cell research.


Young people key in Ireland’s marriage vote
After a majority of Irish citizens voted to legalize same-sex marriage, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the vote is indicative of the Catholic Church’s relationship with young people. “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years,” Martin told national Irish broadcaster RTE. “I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church.”

A new Gallup poll of American adults found 60% support same-sex marriage, an all-time high.


Coach withdraws from fundraiser amid controversy over group’s marriage stance
Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney was to be honored by South Carolina’s Palmetto Family Council today along with “defenders of religious liberty” in the state. But after Swinney’s appearance at the conservative group’s fundraiser raised objections from Clemson students, GLAAD, and others, he withdrew from the event.

“I appreciate the recognition of my and the foundation’s efforts,” Swinney said, according to this ESPN report. “However, after much thought, in order to avoid a distraction for the team and the entire football program, I’ve decided it is in the best interests of all involved that I not attend the event on June 2.”


Subsidiary wins bid to purchase bankrupt Family Christian Stores
Family Christian Stores, the country’s largest Christian bookstore chain in number of locations, has avoided closure for now, Christianity Today reports. A bid to purchase the bankrupt company by FC Acquisitions, a subsidiary of Family Christian’s parent company, was awarded last week and must be approved by a bankruptcy court this month. The chain filed for bankruptcy in February.


Black Hawk Down vet graduates from Baptist seminary
Jeff Strueker, a hero of the Somalian conflict portrayed in the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down,” recently received his Ph.D. in Christian leadership from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Baptist Press reports.


Church’s photo project restores Joplin
After a massive tornado barreled through Joplin, Mo., five years ago, First Baptist Church in nearby Carthage started a ministry to help restore and return lost family photos. The “Lost Photos of Joplin” project, begun by Minister of Music Thad Beeler, has returned more than 17,500 photos to people through reunification events.

“Why God landed [this ministry] here, I don’t know,” Beeler told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri. “But I do know that we chose to follow His lead, and we’re going to keep doing that until He shuts the door.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates said last week that the organization should end its ban on gay leaders, a move that some Baptist leaders said was inevitable following the Scouts’ decision two years ago to allow gay-identifying youth to join.

The_Briefing“Back when they changed their thinking regarding the boys themselves, I knew that within a year or so they would reverse their stand with the leadership,” Georgia pastor Ernest Easley, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee in 2013, told Baptist Press. That year, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution affirming “the right of all families and churches prayerfully to assess their continued relationship with the BSA,” and urging the removal of leadership who sought the policy change “without seeking input from the full range of the Scouting family.”

Gates said May 21 that “Between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position, a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy. We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later.”

Mentioning councils already operating in defiance of the policy on gay leaders and the Supreme Court’s expected decision on same-sex marriage this year, Gates said, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it would be.” The councils’ charters could be revoked, he said, but “such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.”

Gates’ remarks reflect “an attitude that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations,” blogged Joe Carter of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization.”


LA Governor signs executive order for religious liberty
After legislators in his state struck down a religious freedom bill May 21, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order designed to protect “people, charities and family-owned businesses with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

“We don’t support discrimination in Louisiana and we do support religious liberty,” Jindal said in the order. “These two values can be upheld at the same time.”


Gallup: Support for same-sex marriage at all-time high
60% of Americans support same-sex marriage, Gallup reported last week, up from 55% in 2014. The pollster also found Americans continue to overestimate the number of people who are gay or lesbian.


Theology debate among Arizona churches goes public
A group of churches in Arizona are working across denominational lines against the “progressive Christianity” they see evidenced at a sister church, Bob Smietana reports at ChristianityToday.com. The campaign, which includes a sermon series delivered at eight churches and advertised in the local paper, opposes the theology of The Fountains, a United Methodist church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Pastor David Felten’s views include support for LBGT rights and rejection of the Virgin Birth, according to CT.


IMB missionary remembered in Malawi
An International Mission Board missionary who died of malaria last week is being remembered as “a mother to all.” Susan Sanson, 67, had been serving in Malawi with her husband, Billy, since 2000. The couple had no children, “but she didn’t feel the gap because we were all [her] children,” posted one student who knew her from her ministry at Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi.


Illinois pastor details journey through anxiety
In an interview on Crossway.org, Joe Thorn, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, shares about what he calls “the most difficult season in my personal life,” when anxiety got so bad he considered leaving ministry.


Millennials slightly less tuned in to TV
Barna’s report on what we watch on TV is fun and full of interesting facts, like the number of hours of television Millennials watch compared to older adults. (It’s two hours a day versus five for people 69 and over.) Other findings: Procedural shows scored big among Boomers and Elders, and almost everyone likes “The Big Bang Theory.”

Courtney_Veasey_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Courtney Veasey

The Gulf Coast of the United States is a geographical magnet for tropical storms. Yet in August of 2005, the people of New Orleans were taken by surprise when Hurricane Katrina came inland and ravaged their city. People incurred innumerable losses, but most weren’t the result of the hurricane itself. Instead, much of the damage resulted from a lack of preparation before the storm came.

Levees were not up to code, little to no systematic evacuation plans were in place, and food supplies had been used more for celebrating a storm’s coming, rather than surviving its wrath.

Aware of the reality of hurricanes, yet grossly underestimating their true potential, the people of New Orleans were caught off guard and found themselves drowning in the waters of their own unpreparedness.

I moved to New Orleans to go to seminary just three weeks before Katrina’s arrival. My earthly belongings were lost in the flood and I found myself unable to return to school in the city for nearly a year. Ten years later, I’m still proud to call New Orleans my place of residence, but the unnecessary losses experienced during Katrina have caused me and others to do life there a bit differently than before.

Leaders have developed city-wide evacuation plans. We keep “hurricane kits” in our homes and cars, with bottled water and non-perishable food. It’s sad but true: It took experiencing such tremendous disaster to awaken this sense of urgency and preparedness in us.

How does this example of real-life crisis relate to how we should live as Christians? Consider for a moment the subject of persecution. Christianity in its many forms, the largest and most widely practiced faith in the world, is met with limitations and hostility in at least 111 countries, ahead of the 90 countries discriminating or harassing the second largest faith, Islam.

We commonly hear of the torture and killing of Christians in places like North Korea, Syria, and other middle- to far-eastern countries. Here in America, the seemingly distant reality of such experiences has contributed to a lack of urgency towards preparing to face the same here.

But Jesus, in both the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11-12) and in his words to the disciples just before his death (John 15:18-27), predicted an infallible forecast of persecution as the future reality for his followers. The word for “persecution” in the Greek is dioko, meaning “to chase down,” or “pursue.” This act can take shape in many forms, but regardless of how it comes, the real question is, will you be ready when it does?

What if we as Christians, while trusting in God’s providence and sovereignty, prepared for the inevitable crises of life, and also for persecution? What tools would we need in our spiritual hurricane kit? Let me suggest three:

1. Memorize Scripture. Put to memory passages that are both encouraging and that clearly communicate the gospel. Places to start are Psalm 27:1-3, Ephesians 6:10-20, and Romans 5:6-11.

2. Have a persecution song. Choose and memorize a go-to song that you can start singing the moment trouble begins, one that will encourage you to remain faithful. Songs to consider are “No Turning Back,” and “Blessed Assurance.”

3. Practice praise in pain. When you experience pain, whether it comes by way of getting shots, stumping a toe, physical illness, etc., practice going immediately to the throne of God in praise. You may get some funny looks, but this will serve as great conditioning for those times when it really counts.

Prepare for crisis; as a human being, you’re bound to experience it. Prepare for persecution; it’s promised for believers. And do so not only that you may stand, but also that others, even the persecutors themselves, may come to know Christ through your witness.

Courtney Veasey is a Ph.D. student and director of women’s academic programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Barna’s most recent list of the country’s most unchurched cities is dotted with Illinois metro areas, but only two have populations that rank above the national unchurched percentage: 38%. (Barna defines “unchurched” as those who haven’t attended a church service in the last six months, except for a holiday or special occasion.)

The_BriefingThe metro area composed of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois ranked 27th on Barna’s list of most unchurched cities, with an unchurched population of 42%. Chicago is a few places down the list, at No. 32 with 39% of the population unchurched.

Other familiar cities: St. Louis is 45th, Champaign/Springfield/Decatur is 53rd, and Harrisburg and Mt. Vernon (along with Paducah, Ky., and Cap Girardeau, Mo.) are 80th.


Does young = pacifist? Maybe not necessarily, according to a Harvard poll of young Americans that found nearly 60% approve of sending ground troops to fight ISIS.


Imprisoned pastor urges prayer | Saeed Abedini’s 35th birthday coincides May 7 with the National Day of Prayer in the U.S., which is the focus of a letter he wrote from prison in Iran. “As Ezra cried out to God in repentance and the Israelites joined him in weeping bitterly and turning from their sin, I would like to ask you to join me in repenting and praying for revival,” Abedini wrote. This story from The Christian Post also reports on the political chaos swirling around the pastor’s captivity and the fight for his release.


New nominees for persecuted countries list | The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended the State Department add eight countries to a list of the “world’s worst violators of religious liberty,” Baptist Press reports. The Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam all were nominated for the list of CPC’s (countries of particular concern), along with nine nations already on the list.


10 questions from Court’s marriage arguments | Transcripts of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments on same-sex marriage are available online, as is this guide–provided by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission–to the 10 most important questions asked by the justices. For example, would it be unwise for the Court to redefine an institution as ancient as marriage? And would redefining marriage impose on institutions’ religious liberty, like the loss of tax-exempt status?

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In the wake of Saturday’s massive earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, Christian workers asked for prayer for the devastated country:

• Pray for basic shelter, water and food. These necessities are a high priority right now since no one is allowed back in their homes.

• Pray for God’s people to deeply know His comfort and peace during this time. Pray they will share Him with people around them.

• Pray for people in Nepal and surrounding areas during the continuing aftershocks and aftermath of this disaster. Southern Baptist assessment teams will began the damage Monday to find the best ways to respond.


Potential presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson will not address the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference this summer as scheduled, Baptist Press reports. Several Baptists, including the Baptist 21 group of younger SBC leaders and pastors, had expressed concern about Carson’s membership in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that his appearance at the conference could look like a political endorsement.


Three years after the death of Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, Russell Moore reflects on media coverage surrounding the Watergate conspirator’s life and eventual conversion to Christianity. For those who were cynical about Colson’s transformation, writes the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “…we shouldn’t be angered by those who don’t get the full measure of the man. We should instead hear in some of this cynicism the cry of every human heart, a disbelief that there can be any such thing as final and total forgiveness of sin.”


Zondervan announced last week Charles Colson’s last book, “My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most,” will be released Aug. 4. Topics in the collection of writings will include “the rise of Islam, same-sex marriage, the persecution of Christians, crime and punishment, and natural law,” The Christian Post reports.


Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley says local churches should be the “safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”

“We just need to decide, regardless of what you think about this topic–no more students are going to feel like they have to leave the local church because they’re same-sex attracted or because they’re gay,” said Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, at the Catalyst West conference April 17. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.

A controversial Houston ordinance is now in effect, following a judge’s ruling on a petition drive led in part by some pastors in the city. HERO, or Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, made headlines last year when the city subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of five pastors who were against the ordinance. (The subpoenas were later withdrawn.)


Religious leaders are encouraging President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to monitor religious freedom in the Middle East and parts of Asia. The special envoy position has been vacant since it was created last year in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, Baptist Press reports.


Are you one of the many football fans bent out of shape since Tim Tebow’s exit from the NFL? Good news: A Philadelphia pretzel company has created a way to celebrate his return. The “Tebowing” pretzel, shaped like the quarterback kneeling in his famous praying pose, started as a publicity stunt but soon went viral. The New York Daily News reports the Philly Pretzel Factory plans to donate proceeds from the pretzels to a charity involving Tebow, who has signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

People with gay or lesbian friends are almost twice as likely to say same-sex marriage should be legal, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Half of all Americans overall believe gay marriage should be legalized, but the percentage jumps to 60% for people who have gay or lesbian friends (and decreases to 33% for those who don’t).

From LifeWayResearch.com

From LifeWayResearch.com

An additional LifeWay survey found 30% of Americans believe homosexual behavior is a sin, down from 44% in 2011.

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases.


Thirty Ethiopian Christians were killed in two attacks by ISIS in Libya, according to a video released by the terrorist group April 19. “That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

Back in February, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore asked in a blog post, “Should we pray for the defeat of ISIS, of their conversion?”


Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd has designated the Tuesday evening session of this summer’s SBC Annual Meeting as a “National Call for Prayer.” Floyd has recruited 11 pastors to help lead the prayer meeting, including Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist in Cambridge, Mass., K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship, and Timmy Chavis, chairman of the SBC Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.

“One of the unique moments of the evening will be when we embrace and celebrate our ethnic diversity, which may also involve moments of repentance and reconciliation,” Floyd said in a blog post about the service.


Baptist pastors and leaders will share the stage with a potential presidential candidate at the 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, June 14-15. Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and author, will speak during the Sunday evening session. Earlier this month, he said on his Facebook page that on May 4, he will announce whether or not he will run for President.


Which missions job is right for you? Take this interactive quiz from the International Mission Board.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act continued as lawmakers introduced changes to the bill that opponents say put business owners at risk to be forced to compromise their beliefs.

The original RFRA, signed into law March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence, came under national fire from corporations, celebrities, and others who said it would allow discrimination against gay people. Supporters of the law said it would protect the religious liberty of business owners by shielding them from government action if they refused to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The_BriefingThe changes to the law, signed by Pence one week after he approved the original RFRA, say “no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Baptist Press reports.

The controversy, wrote Philip Bethancourt of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has served to make religious liberty “a new culture war wedge issue.”

“One indication of this change is the frequent use of ‘religious freedom’ in scare quotes, suggesting that it is merely a cover for something more malicious,” Bethancourt wrote on ERLC.com. “Danger arises when our first freedom becomes a second-class culture war issue.”


Christians in Kenya grieved on Easter Sunday for 148 people killed at a university last week by terror group al-Shabaab. The Associated Press reported on the Easter service at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, where Bishop Joseph Allessandro said, “We join the sufferings of the relatives and the victims with the sufferings of Jesus. The victims will rise again with Christ.”

During the April 2 terror attack at Garissa University College, the shooters separated Christian students from Muslims and killed the Christians, AP reported.


What do Americans believe about Jesus? According to new research by Barna, most say he was a real person, a little over half believe he was God, and 62% say they have made a personal commitment to him that is still important in their life today.


And what about the church? LifeWay Research found that while 55% of Americans say the church in America is declining, 65% believe attendance is admirable.


More interesting research: Pew says current trends forecast that Muslims will almost equal Christians in number by 2050, and the global percentage of “nones” who have no religious affiliation will actually decrease.


“We’ve got a long way to go” on race relations, said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’” Read the Illinois Baptist‘s coverage of the summit here at ib2news.org.


Did you catch the premiere episode of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” on Sunday? Christianity Today is recapping each installment of the new miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which details the history of the early church following Jesus’ death and resurrection.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Amid continuing tension in Ferguson, Mo., church members will engage in a block-by-block outreach initiative to promote relationships–and healing–in the St. Louis suburb rocked by violence and protests since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown last August.

The_BriefingJose Aguayo, a Ferguson pastor and chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the effort to send out teams of church members tasked with getting to know residents on their assigned block. Eventually, Aguayo told Baptist Press, ministries resulting from the outreach could include “sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults.”

First Baptist Church in Ferguson, led by Pastor Stoney Shaw, is one of the churches participating. He told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri, “We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan.” Read more at BPNews.net.


In other news from Ferguson, Christianity Today reports on a dialogue between Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted March 12 on his Facebook page, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” (Read the entire post here.) But according to a group of 31 Christian leaders who wrote an open letter to Graham, the issue is often more complicated.


Family is the most central factor in how Americans identify themselves, Barna found in a new study, followed by being an American at #2, and their religious faith at #3. But the answers change, depending on how old you are.


On the day marking the Iranian New Year, President Obama issued a statement calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has arrested in the country in 2012. “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Obama said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.” Read more at ChristianityToday.com.


Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke about Christianity and liberty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he also announced he will run for President in 2016. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of the Christian university, introduced Cruz but was careful to note Liberty was giving the candidate a platform rather than endorsing him, The Christian Post reported.


More than $2.5 billion is wagered on the annual March Madness basketball tournament, according to the FBI. But Christians would be wise not to throw any money in the pot, says Barrett Duke, a vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Postmodern Martyrs

eric4ibsa —  March 16, 2015
Artwork by Kerry Jackson

Artwork by Kerry Jackson

The call to live–and die–for Christ in the age of terrorism. Are we ready?

By Eric Reed

THE WORLD | The scene is chilling, even a month after it happened: 21 men in orange jumpsuits are led along a beach in Libya by masked men holding knives over their heads, then to their throats. The men in orange are captives, Egyptians working in Libya; more important, they are Christians, Coptic Christians, with up to 20 million adherents, whose branch of the faith dates to the third century AD.

The masked men in black are ISIS rebels, part of the radical faction of Islamic extremists marching across Iran, Iraq and Syria, and taking control of towns and regions ceded by Al-Qaida in the battle with American and indigenous forces over the past decade.

The men in orange are forced to kneel, ordered to recant their faith in Jesus Christ, and when they refuse, they are pushed face down into the sand and the knife blades are placed against their throats.

Mercifully, the video ends there for American television viewers, but for the men in orange there is no mercy.

They are beheaded.

Coptic_ChristiansAnd we, believers watching in disbelief, are little comforted by the great distance between us and the bloodstained beach as we come to the twin realizations that ISIS is on the move with a brutality that the world has not seen in a long time, and we have entered a new era of martyrdom.

A growing threat here?
Sixteen past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention joined current president Ronnie Floyd in sending an open letter to President Obama, urging the U.S. to “take the necessary actions now” against the ISIS terrorists. They called ISIS “a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II…”

The March 1 letter came two weeks after the beheading of the Egyptian Christians, and a week after the report that ISIS captured more than 200 Assyrian Christians, including women, children and elderly people. “People are frightened, people are concerned,” concurred Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee President, who said he is often asked about the threat of ISIS. Page’s signature was one of the 17 on the letter.

The concern Page cites is not only about the abominable acts by Islamic extremists abroad—killing a young, female American aid worker, burning a Jordanian pilot alive—it’s about the growing threat on our own shores as young adults, Americans included, are wooed, recruited, and radicalized via the Internet to join ISIS forces in the Middle East. And if not there, to carry out terrorist acts here.

A Somali militant group, al-Shabab, released a video in late February calling for Muslims to attack malls in Britain, Canada, and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. “Hasten to heaven,” the video advised, by disrupting the safety of “disbelievers” (meaning non-Muslims) “in their own land.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said such groups are “relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired” and “attack on their own.” The threats should be taken seriously.

If this seems like an exaggeration of the growing threat, one only needs to consider the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. On trial now is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, charged with the attack that killed three people and injured 260.

“The defendant’s goal that day was to maim and kill as many victims as possible,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb during opening arguments. “He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans. He believed he had taken a step toward reaching paradise. That was his motive for committing these crimes.”

Tsarnaev, with his older brother, was said to be “self-radicalized,” not identifying with a specific terrorist group, but with extremist Islamist beliefs and the wars in Iraq and Syria.

It is those new radicals who are hardest to identify and who may pose the greatest threat in the West. What seemed distant and improbable now feels near and possible. And the threat causes Christians to ask, are we ready?

Wish we’d all been ready
Since we first saw the 1972 film “A Distant Thunder,” many evangelicals have expected their faith would bring them to this moment. Recall the Christian teenagers, converted after they were “left behind” in the rapture, are clad in white. They are led to some secret place to face their death, and the film cuts from their horrified faces to their means of execution, the gleaming blade of a guillotine.

Didn’t we all gasp at that point? Naïve believers in the 1970s hardly imagined their deaths could be worse, but the untelevised portions of the ISIS video say otherwise.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas summarized the terrorist threat in an interview with Fox News: “These Islamists will not rest until they’ve exterminated every Jew and every Christian from the face of the earth, and if you think that is hyperbole, just listen to what they said on that Libyan beach after they butchered those 21 Christians.”

And the Pew Research Center reports threats against Christians worldwide are on the rise. In fact, “…Christians are at the top of the list,” researcher Peter Henne said. “Christians were harassed in 102 countries when you look at either governments or social groups.” Pew also reports an increase in anti-Semitism. “Overall we found that Jews are harassed in 77 countries around the world when you look at both government and social harassments together….It’s also a seven-year high of the number of countries in which Jews were harassed.” Pew’s example: Europe, where Jews were harassed in 34 of the region’s 45 countries.

We do not desire to traffic in fear, but the possibility of martyrdom on our own shores is increasingly real; and it forces us to consider what we may not have given serious thought in a long time: It could be us. It could be me.

And that demands a new theology of martyrdom.

The end of symbolic martyrdom
When Jesus called his followers to take up the cross, he was issuing a call to follow him, even unto death. Many have done so. The apostles died tragically at the hands of oppressors. Scripture reports that James the son of Zebedee was executed by Herod. The deaths of others were told by early church historians and tradition:

Andrew was crucified.

Peter was crucified upside down.

James the son of Alphaeus was stoned, then clubbed to death.

Thomas was run through with spears.

And Paul, it is believed, was beheaded in Rome, to name a few.

Jesus, the Savior-Martyr, was followed willingly and courageously by many across the centuries. And in the 20th century, we have the witness of Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for standing against Hitler’s Third Reich. But somehow, his forbearance in the face of a monolithic, systemic, political evil 70 years ago seems different from what we have seen recently.

We ask, is the death of these Copts the harbinger of the ordinary-believer martyr?

Certainly we are witnessing the death of the symbolic martyr, where the faithful Christian is willing to sacrifice social approval or career advancement in the name of the gospel; where the dutiful believer picks up his cross and marches to the marketplace, willing to suffer the slings and arrows of foulmouthed and hedonistic co-workers—but keeps his life. After all, Paul told Timothy that “in the last days, perilous times will come” and those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:1, 12).

Many Christians have assumed the call to suffer for Christ meant the loss of religious liberties, particularly in the West. But now, we’re talking literal martyrdom. Since the murders of 12 students at Columbine High School in 1999, including Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott who were credited with holding fast to their faith at gunpoint, martyrdom in the postmodern era has had a new face.

Today, the Christian faith really is a matter of life and death in ISIS-held regions of the Middle East, as several missions groups report the killing of indigenous children as their Christian parents refuse to deny Jesus.

And in the rest of the world, believers are challenged to take up the cross, not only in the spiritual sense, but in very real ways, here and now. Paul’s words in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” take on stark new meaning.

So does Romans 8: “Because of You we are being put to death all day long…” And the need to hold to the promise written by a man facing his own execution: “For I am persuaded that not even death or life…hostile powers…or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

What to do now
In the meantime, we pray.

“We ought, indeed, to pray for the gospel to go forward, and that there might be a new Saul of Tarsus turned away from murdering to gospel witness,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“At the same time, we ought to pray, with the martyrs in heaven, for justice against those who do such wickedness. Praying for the military defeat of our enemies, and that they might turn to Christ, these are not contradictory prayers because salvation doesn’t mean turning an eye away from justice.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Sergent

Look for more on this topic in the newest issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.