Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at RNS.
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Evangelical Institutions Lag Far Behind General Marketplace in Leadership Roles for Women
At an organization where 45 percent of U.S. senior leaders are women, Romanita Hairston’s gender is mostly a nonissue as she oversees children’s welfare programs at World Vision, the giant evangelical relief agency.
But in the larger evangelical universe, high-ranking women like Hairston remain a relative rarity.
“I think it’s kind of inappropriate at this time in history to be shocked, but I think there are places where I’m one of the few women in a position of authority or shaping theological perspective,” said Hairston, a World Vision vice president who serves on boards and teaches about gender inequity at Seattle Central Community College.
Seventh-Day Adventists to Decide in 2015 on Women’s Ordination
Seventh-day Adventists opted for a middle-way approach on the divisive issue of women’s ordination on Oct. 14, kicking the question to next year’s worldwide meeting without taking a firm stance either for or against women’s ordination.
Next year’s debate will come nearly 100 years after the death of Adventist matriarch Ellen White and could settle decades of disagreement over whether women should be allowed to be ordained in the 18 million-member church she co-founded.
The church’s Annual Council voted to refer the matter to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio. Under the proposal, regional church bodies would be able to decide whether to ordain women pastors.
Evangelicals Add One More Guest to the Wedding Party: Jesus
When Brianna and Chris Lindsay married in June, they had the church, the minister, the bridesmaids … and a foot-washing ceremony for the bride and groom.
It was, they said, a sign of their mutual submission.
“First he took off both of my shoes and we had a water basin and pitcher,” said the bride, recalling the five-minute ceremony during which a friend read a poem about the couple. “In return, I got down in my dress, took off his socks. … It probably was a little awkward for us — maybe a little — but we felt like it was an important message to show people.”
In an age of big-ticket destination weddings and reality show “bridezillas,” some evangelical Christians are opting for what writer Catherine Strode Parks calls “A Christ-Centered Wedding.”
Her new book details ways brides and grooms can fill their wedding with biblical touches to reinforce for friends and family the centrality of their faith.
“If we really believe that marriage is important, that it matters and that God infused it with so much meaning, then we want to share that joy with those who are present and invite them into that celebration and that worship,” said Parks, who co-wrote the book with her mother, Linda Strode.
Southern Baptist Leaders Cut Ties with California LGBT-Affirming Church
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Sept. 23 to break ties with New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., after determining it was condoning “homosexual behavior.”
“We believe that, following the lead of Pastor Danny Cortez, New Heart Community Church has walked away from the Southern Baptist Convention’s core biblical values,” said Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the committee.
Oldham said Cortez attended the meeting and indicated that he had officiated at a same-sex wedding.
The denomination has cut ties to churches that endorsed homosexuality before, but this may be the first time that its Executive Committee has withdrawn fellowship from a church on behalf of the denomination. The move came less than two weeks after the California Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Board voted unanimously to withdraw fellowship from the congregation because of Cortez’s announcement that he affirmed gays — including his teenage son — and his church had taken a “third way” on homosexuality.
Churches Shun Mental Illness; Offer Little Help to Sufferers, Families
Protestant clergy rarely preach about mental illness to their congregations and only one quarter of congregations have a plan in place to assist members who have a mental health crisis, a new LifeWay Research survey found.
The findings, in a nation where one in four Americans have suffered with mental illness, demonstrate a need for greater communication, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the evangelical research firm, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.
When it comes to mental illness, researchers found:
- 66 percent mention it rarely, once a year, or never
- 26 percent speak about it several times a year
- 4 percent mention it about once a month
- 3 percent talk about it several times a month.
“When we look at what we know statistically — the prevalence of mental illness and the lack of preaching on the subject — I think that’s a disconnect,” said Stetzer.
'All pastors are interim pastors'
When megachurch pastor Max Lucado greeted his successor at his San Antonio church, the two stood onstage and tried to put on each other’s shoes. They couldn’t.
The problem? Randy Frazee, Lucado’s successor, was six inches shorter.
The point, say co-authors William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird in their new book about pastoral succession, came through loud and clear: No leader can stay forever. And none will be exactly like the one who came before.
For congregations that haven’t thought about who will succeed their current pastor, the authors of the new book “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works” have words of warning: Be prepared.
Churches may not know the day or the hour when they need to have an interim or permanent replacement for the senior pastor.
Big Churches, Big Bucks: Southern Senior Pastors Take Top Salaries
Large churches in the South tend to pay their senior pastors the highest salaries, a new survey finds.
That’s one of the conclusions on churches and finances released Sept. 9 by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, and the Vanderbloemen Search Group, a Houston-based executive search firm for churches and ministries. A total of 727 North American churches with attendance ranging from 1,000 to more than 30,000 answered questions, more than double the number of congregations featured in previous studies.
The survey found that 14 percent of large churches have a financial bonus structure for their top leader. And one in five of the big congregations find ways to collect their money other than passing the proverbial offering plate.
Hispanic Christians Launch Initiative to Bolster Minority Student Achievement
With minority students now making up a majority of public school enrollments, a national group of Hispanic evangelicals is calling for strong ties between churches and schools to encourage better academic results.
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which includes 40,000 U.S. churches, has launched a website with resources and a bilingual parental toolkit that its officials hope will bridge an “opportunity gap” between Hispanic and other students.
“We say that pastors and principals should meet,” said Carlos Campo, chair of the NHCLC’s Hispanic Education Alliance, at a recent National Press Club news conference. “We say that parents and professors should meet so that we no longer have these false dichotomies, these barriers that keep us apart.”
Ahead of his organization’s annual observance of National Hispanic Education Sunday on Sept. 7, Campo introduced other new programs, including “Becas and Bibles,” which encourages churches to give children Bibles and seed money for scholarships when they are baptized or christened. (“Beca” is the Spanish word for “scholarship.”)
Cracks in the 'Stained-Glass Ceiling:' Women Reach Prominent Pulpits
Chicago. New York. Washington, D.C. In quick succession this year, three women have been chosen to lead historic tall-steeple churches in all these cities.
In May, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner became the first woman solo senior pastor at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. In June, the Rev. Amy Butler was elected senior pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church. And finally, in July, the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli began leading Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.
“For women to speak in those pulpits and speak boldly as public voices in these very public buildings is very powerful,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, who recently hosted a dinner party with some of New York’s movers and shakers to welcome Butler to town.
It’s been 40 years since the Episcopal Church first ordained women, and other denominations have long included women in their clergy ranks. But these new advances are occurring sooner in the lives of these three women than some of their older counterparts. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reports that women clergy are much more likely to serve in smaller congregations.
Scholar Diana Butler Bass hailed the arrival of these women — all in their 40s and leading large, urban, neo-Gothic churches — but also wondered if they reflect the “General Motors phenomenon.”
“Are women coming into leadership only as the institutions are collapsing?” asked Bass, author of Christianity After Religion.
Ferguson Letter from Black Clergy Becomes Interracial Call for Justice
As the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner collected signatures for a statement by leaders of African-American church groups about the Ferguson, Mo., police shooting of Michael Brown, she found more people wanted to join in.
The general secretary of the National Council of Churches wanted to add his name; an Asian-American evangelical leader, too.
What started out as a “Joint Statement of Heads of Historic African American Church Denominations” has become an interracial cry for justice.
“It’s touching hearts of people who have sons and who know that their sons would not be treated this way,” said Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African-American Clergy Network, on Thursday. “They know it’s wrong. They know it’s wrong before God. And they are responding on a human level.”
Russell Moore on Sex (Answers to the Questions You Didn't Ask)
The issues sound like they belong on the therapist’s couch:
The couple that hasn’t had sex eight months into their marriage.
The parents who can’t deal with their son’s homosexuality.
The male teen who wants to be called by a girl’s name.
But they’re also the kinds of topics that frequently crowd the inbox of Russell Moore, who recently marked his first anniversary as the Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy expert.
Though he often grapples with contentious political issues — the Hobby Lobby case, religious persecution, and, most recently, the immigrant border crisis — Moore has spent much of his first year at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writing blog posts on Christian sexual ethics.
“Probably day to day I’m dealing with more church issues of how do we deal with these tough ethical issues,” he said recently.
Nursing Home Evangelism: Preaching at the Last ‘Bus Stop to Eternity’
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Rhonda Rowe and her team gathered around a diagram of the nursing home’s floor plan and determined how to split up to avoid praying with anyone twice.
Rowe made her way to a room where a 93-year-old woman lay in her bed while her 87-year-old roommate sat in a wheelchair. Rowe knelt between them and went through her “Nursing Home Gospel Soul-Winning Script.”
“Fill me with your Holy Spirit and fire of God,” the 93-year-old repeated. “I’m on my way to heaven. I have Jesus in my heart.”
Rowe was soon off to the next room, but before she left, acknowledged that she might never see them again on earth. “I’ll see you girls in heaven!” she chirped.
Welcome to the world of nursing home evangelism, where teams of lay evangelists target senior citizens for one last chance in this life for glory in the next.
Why Are Evangelicals Supporting Immigration Reform? Q&A with Filmmaker Linda Midgett
The Evangelical Immigration Table commissioned the documentary “The Stranger” to foster evangelical support for immigration reform. Linda Midgett, a graduate of evangelical Wheaton College who produced the 40-minute film, told Religion News Service she hopes ongoing screenings across the country will build a groundswell of support for legislation. On Wednesday, President Obama urged Congress to quickly approve increased funding to deal with the crisis of immigrant children flooding across the border.
Is the Black Church Shifting on Gay Marriage?: Q&A with Filmmaker Yoruba Richen
Yoruba Richen’s documentary “The New Black” airs this month online and on television through the PBS series “Independent Lens.” The film, which explores the intersection of race, religion, and sexuality, also has been screened at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and New York’s Union Theological Seminary. An African-American lesbian, Richen talked to Religion News Service about the new openness she sees in black churches around the issue of same-sex marriage.
Southern Baptists Pray for 'Favorable' Hobby Lobby Ruling
Southern Baptists prayed Wednesday that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Green family, the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain that challenged the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Historians said the prayer from the podium during the SBC’s annual meeting about a pending court decision was noteworthy, though Southern Baptists have preached and issued statements for years on current events.
“I think it’s unusual for it to happen at a convention event,” said Bill Sumners, director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.
Rick Warren to Pastors: 'There Is No Testimony Without a Test'
Sharing how he has coped after his son’s suicide last year, megachurch pastor Rick Warren, urged Southern Baptist pastors to let their times of suffering be acts of ministry.
Warren’s son, Matthew, 27, who suffered from mental illness, killed himself five days after Easter in 2013.
“If your brain doesn’t work right and you take a pill, why are you supposed to be ashamed of that?” Warren asked. “It’s just an organ, and we have to remove that stigma.”
Southern Baptists Meet as Membership, Baptism Decline Continues
For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.
The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse, and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.
“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”
Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.
One More Time, Evangelicals Head to Hill on Immigration Reform
WASHINGTON — Trying yet again with new voices, more than 250 evangelical pastors came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to push for immigration reform.
“I didn’t want people to think this was only a Hispanic issue,” said Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, at a news conference before meeting with dozens of mostly Republican members of Congress. “This is impacting a lot of people, including Asian-Americans.”
Cho, who is of Korean descent, was among the new faces demonstrating support for immigration reform across racial and ethnic groups and denominations. He pointed out that one out of five Korean-Americans are undocumented.
Army Approves 'Humanist' As Religious Preference
More than two years after first making his request, Army Maj. Ray Bradley can now be known as exactly what he is: a humanist in the U.S. military.
Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army.
President Obama Mourns Kansas Tragedy: 'We're All Children of God'
President Obama on Monday called for people of all faiths to deter gun violence and anti-Semitism, one day after a gunman killed three people at Jewish centers in suburban Kansas City.
“That this occurred now — as Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover, as Christians were observing Palm Sunday — makes this tragedy all the more painful,” the president said at his annual Easter Prayer Breakfast.