Evangelical

Image via RNS/Matt Moir.

In August 2014, a top-ranking official in the Chinese government informed the world that China was planning on nationalizing Christianity. Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told a forum in Shanghai that the “construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s condition and integrate with Chinese culture.” The announcement, unsurprisingly, triggered significant consternation among Christian groups in China and around the globe.

Russell Moore. Image via Theology147/Wikimedia Commons

Russell Moore may be president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. But don’t call him an evangelical — at least not until the current election cycle ends.

Moore started introducing himself as a “gospel Christian” a few weeks ago. That’s because, he said, “The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

the Web Editors 2-26-2016

1. Trayvon Martin Was Killed Four Years Ago Today

And here’s what’s happened since. Watch. Share.

2. How a Christian College Turned Against Its Gay Leader

“While Dr. Hawkins and I were scrutinized for different reasons, our stories have this in common: we urged Christians to stand with and for groups that sit at the center of political debates. And we did that as women, one black and one gay. I can only speculate about why Wheaton’s administration has been inconsistent in their treatment of different employees, but one thing is clear: fear makes public perception supremely important.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 2-09-2016

Hawkins' act of solidarity with scapegoated people of Islamic faith — wearing a hijab on campus — and her Facebook statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God struck a nerve within Wheaton College’s white, politically conservative administration. Ultimately, the public act of solidarity challenged the assumption of white, male, Christian supremacy — the assumption that whites, men, and Christians are more human than anyone else.

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The run-up to the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus has shifted from who is toughest on ISIS or immigration or Obamacare to an all-out scramble to court evangelicals — an estimated 60 percent of Republican caucus likely voters. However, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that evangelicals may be sharing their November election clout with a different voting bloc. PRRI found about one in four Iowans identify as evangelical but a similar percentage say they have no religious identity, the nones.

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Catholic Charities is giving out water and food. The Flint Jewish Federation is collecting water and water filters. And the Michigan Muslim Community Council has distributed more than 120,000 bottles of clean water for Flint, Mich. But these faith organizations are also focused on a longer-term goal: to make sure the impoverished city, where President Obama last weekend declared a state of emergency over its poisoned water, is never so neglected again.

Nicola A. Menzie 1-14-2016

Michelle Higgins. Image via Urbana/RNS

Michelle Higgins has been making waves lately. A leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, she recently addressed a gathering of 16,000 evangelical students at an InterVarsity conference in St. Louis, during which she urged them to back the movement.

More people in the pews, more energy for programs, more funds to maintain the roof — these are all keys to survival for such small congregations, according to the latest Faith Communities Today report, released Jan. 4 by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

It finds that congregations with fewer than 100 in weekend attendance — the most vulnerable to collapse — rose to 58 percent in 2015, up from 49 percent five years ago.

Yet the report is optimistically titled: “American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving.”

Timothy Morgan 12-18-2015
World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns, center, visits with Syrian refugees in Irbid, Jordan. Photo by Jon Warren, courtesy of World Vision

Rejecting fearmongering about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., about 100 evangelical leaders are calling on Christians and their churches “to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.”

“Our statement is to change a narrative of fear and instead focus on faith and compassion,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. “Our desire is not to resettle everybody in another country. When a house is burning down, we need to put out the fire and rescue people fleeing the fire.”

David Gushee 12-16-2015

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Many people are mystified by “evangelicals.” It’s a word the average nonreligious person doesn’t often hear in the U.S. — except for when it is time to nominate another GOP presidential candidate. Then we hear about who those millions of “evangelicals” are supporting, always under the assumption that all evangelicals are into politics and all will support a Republican.

As an evangelical myself, this is just one of the many misunderstandings of evangelicals that drive me up the wall. It’s a problem I’ve tried to address in several of my books, most recently Evangelical Ethics (Westminster John Knox Press).

Let me take another brief crack at it here. I want to propose that there are four different kinds of evangelicals, or evangelicalism, yielding four very different results.

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Time magazine’s 2015 “Person of the Year” is a self-identified conservative Christian, but not one of the many running for president of the United States. While the dynamics of faith and politics are different in Europe, German leader Angela Merkel is an example of a conservative Christian living out her faith in the public square quite differently than we see in the U.S.

Time, which calls her “Chancellor of the Free World,” characterizes her strong leadership of economic and political crises in Europe as “no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s sharp sense of power and a scientist’s devotion to data.” She may be a quantum chemist, but she’s also an Evangelical Lutheran preacher’s kid with an unwavering faith.

Image via Leadership Network / RNS

Change is coming to American megachurches — those behemoths for believers that now dot the religious landscape.

There are more participants in megachurch worship than ever.

“Last weekend 1 in 10 adults and children who went to a Protestant church went to a megachurch — about 5 million people,” said Warren Bird, director of research for Leadership Network and co-author of a megachurch study released Dec. 2.

But individual attendance is down to once or twice a month — or less.

Image via Jeff Hutchens / Fork Films / RNS

Schenck, the Washington-based leader of the Faith and Action ministry, has been known for his anti-abortion work for three decades. In the new documentary The Armor of Light, which releases Oct. 30 in more than 20 cities nationwide, he is first seen as many know him: carrying a preserved fetus in his hands at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1992.

But after personally seeing the bodies of the Amish schoolchildren prepared for a funeral after being gunned down in 2006, he began to realize he needed to care more about life outside the womb, too.

Schenck, 57, credits two other catalysts that led him to devote half his time to the issue of gun violence. He lives in the neighborhood of the Washington Navy Yard, where a shooter killed 12 people in 2013. And he was encouraged by Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed black Florida teen killed in 2012, to speak out.

Image via Michaela Rehle / REUTERS / RNS

One of Germany’s largest Protestant regional churches has come under fire from other Christians for speaking out against efforts to convert Muslims just as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world are streaming into the country.

In a new position paper, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission — “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” — does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith.

“A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and is therefore to be firmly rejected,” the paper entitled “Pilgrim Fellowship and Witness in Dialogue with Muslims” argues.

Pastor Bob Roberts at the National Cathedral. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

A majority of evangelical pastors consider Islam to be “spiritually evil,” according to one just-released poll, but on Oct. 23 an evangelical pastor and an imam took turns talking about their friendship and mutual respect.

Texas Pastor Bob Roberts and Virginia Imam Mohamed Magid joined dozens of other religious leaders in prayer at the Washington National Cathedral before signing a pledge to denounce religious bigotry and asking elected officials and presidential candidates to join them.

“I love Muslims as much as I love Christians,” said Pastor Bob Roberts, of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, before leading a prayer at the “Beyond Tolerance” event.

“Jesus, when you get hold of us, there’s nobody we don’t love.”

David Jackson 10-20-2015

Image via Brian Snyder / REUTERS / RNS

From the multi-station cafeteria to the gift shop to the theater-style sanctuary, worshipers at Prestonwood Baptist Church believe — or hope — that next year’s election will see something new: long-lost evangelical voters.

“So many don’t vote — it just makes me sick,” said Marjoray Wilemon, a retiree from Arlington, Texas, who has seen a lot of politics in her 94 years.

“I hope that some people will realize what kind of bad shape we’re in.”

Kirsten Powers 10-02-2015

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Barrett Duke didn’t grow up with pets and never gave the welfare of animals any serious thought. Then he met Rusty — the golden retriever who stole his heart.

Duke discovered what most animal lovers know: that Rusty was more than just a random assortment of cells wrapped in fur. He had a personality and intelligence and a will that was all his own. When he lost Rusty to cancer, it was like losing a family member.

“Rusty was such an incredible animal, it changed my perspective on God’s creation,” Duke told me.

Lisa Sharon Harper 9-23-2015

Image via Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

Evangelicals don’t have a pope, or even a single spokesperson. We’re not a single denomination like the Catholic Church, so we lack a comparable hierarchical structure. Particular denominations have presidents or general secretaries, but no one human being serves as the representative figure of God on earth within the evangelical faith. Rather, following the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27, evangelicals believe all humanity bears the image of God. In fact, one of the functions of the early evangelical movement was to democratize the faith — to proclaim all humanity’s equal access to God through Jesus.

So, why did my heart shake with anticipation at the thought of being in this pope’s presence? Here’s why: More than any other person, since St. Francis of Assisi (his namesake), this pope has embodied the values and priorities of Jesus. He has shown us what it might have been like to walk the earth with Jesus himself — what it might have been like to watch him embrace the leper, to watch him defend the adulterous woman calling the Pharisees not to judge, to watch Jesus challenge the values and priorities of the religious establishment of his day. He has been a vision to watch.

Rachel Marie Stone 9-22-2015
Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock

Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock 

NOT LONG AGO, a friend asked my opinion about birth control pills. She and her husband, who have several young children, wanted to use them, but she had misgivings.

She had read an article by a Christian couple that had frightened her. “They basically just blasted the entire idea of using hormonal birth control on the basis that it is pretty much abortion,” she said.

Although evangelical sex manuals from the 1970s, including Ed and Gaye Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure, advocated the pill as a means of enjoying the delights of the marital bed without fear of pregnancy, some evangelicals today have a very different perspective. A recent Christianity Today blog series on contraception that I participated in received vigorous and occasionally vitriolic responses, despite giving voice to a range of perspectives: Advocates of hormonal contraception were featured alongside proponents of natural family planning.

How is it that contraception has become a religious battlefield—even, or perhaps especially—among evangelical Protestants?

A certain myth currently in circulation among conservative Christians (Catholic and evangelical alike) harkens back to a pre-contraceptive past when parents welcomed innumerable children, each as a gift from God. In this mythical narrative, the advent in the 1960s of the modern contraceptive pill fostered in people a “hedonistic mentality” and made them “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality.” After the pill, children were no longer seen as gifts, but as burdens—“diseases” to be vaccinated against. If, despite precautionary measures, a woman conceived, then her modern “contraceptive mentality” would all but determine that she have an abortion. “Abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Echoing Evangelium Vitae, in 2006 Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler called for the “rejection of the contraceptive mentality that sees pregnancy and children as impositions to be avoided rather than as gifts to be received, loved, and nurtured.” He also charged that the “effective separation of sex from procreation” was “one of the most ominous” and “important defining marks of our age,” leading to all kinds of sexual degradation.

The implication, of course, is that earlier ages were more closely aligned with God’s will and with “natural law,” the classical philosophy praised by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

LIfeWay Research / RNS

Graphic via LIfeWay Research / RNS

Americans are all for religious freedom — but disagree on who can claim it.

Diverse religious groups are recognized — but Christians and Jews are significantly more welcome than atheists, and many don’t see a welcome mat for Muslims. And not everyone means the same thing when speaking of a “Christian” nation.

So finds a new look at Americans’ religious self-image, detailed in a LifeWay Research survey released July 29.

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