Who Are the Best Justice Leaders We Need to Know?

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Darren Ferguson at The Summit 2014. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Last summer, Sojourners hosted The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice. It was a powerful gathering of 300 leaders that convened on important issues of faith and justice. The Summit is a chance for leaders to grow, learn, and be encouraged. It is a rare opportunity to be supported by peers who understand the pressures and struggles of public ministry and leadership.

I’m pleased to announce that Sojourners is hosting The Summit 2015 this June in Washington, D.C. It’s poised to be this year’s gathering of cross-sector leaders joining together to effect change in this country and beyond.

And I need your help. We need to you to nominate the best leaders that no one has heard of to attend The Summit . She could be a seminarian or young pastor, an entrepreneur creating jobs, or a civic leader solving problems. He could be an academic, an artist/musician, a philanthropist, or a local leader who has been working tirelessly for years to knit a community together.

That leader could be you. Fill out the nomination form and tell us why.

Poll: 1 in 4 Americans Say Islamic State Represents True Islam

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Muslims perform Friday prayers in downtown Amman. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

More than a quarter of Americans and nearly half of senior Protestant pastors say the Islamic State terrorist group offers a true representation of Islamic society, according to a pair of new surveys by LifeWay Research.

The findings that indicate many Americans have a dim outlook on Islam come as President Obama sent a formal request to Congress on Feb. 11 to authorize the use of military force to combat the Islamic State. Meanwhile, police in North Carolina tried to determine whether the shooting deaths of three Muslim students were hate-motivated.

Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.” Forty-seven percent disagreed with the statement, according to LifeWay, a Nashville-based, non-profit Christian research group. LifeWay surveyed only clergy who identified themselves as the top pastoral officials in their organizations.

The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large.

'... A Fragile Sense of Self'

MaestroPhoto /

MaestroPhoto /

Some of you might be downright shocked to know that many clergy have to undergo a three-day battery of psych tests as part of the ordination process. If a significant issue is discovered, say, addiction or something else (perhaps the main reason these tests have become required), one's ordination process can be slowed down or halted all together. When I was going through the process, I too went through these evaluations.

The result? I have "a fragile sense of self."

What does this really mean? Well, I'm an alcoholic. It's true. I've spoken about it as part of my faith journey (read: testimony; yes, I have a testimony). I don't wave it around like some flag, but I'm not shy about telling people. And I have certainly told the congregations and other organizations I have served about my history with addiction.

Keeping this stuff secret, for me, is poisonous.

At any rate, there it was, "a fragile sense of self" on my evaluation. This caused everyone to pause. The ordination committee had a ton of questions for me. They did the obligatory background check (this is perfunctory; everyone gets one). They checked my references, etc. They did their due diligence to make sure, as best as anyone could, that I was not going to fall off the wagon.

Of course. No one can promise that. Not really.

Houston Withdraws Pastors’ Subpoenas

Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Photo courtesy of Zblume (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

The mayor of Houston on Wednesday withdrew the subpoenas of sermons from five pastors who opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people.

Filed two weeks ago, the subpoenas outraged many conservative Christians as an affront to religious freedom.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Oct. 29 that as important as it is to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the subpoenas became a distraction. They were aimed at pastors active in the movement to overturn HERO through a citywide vote.

Parker, Houston’s first openly gay mayor, said she made the decision after meeting with Houston pastors and then with national Christian leaders, including National Clergy Council President Rob Schenck.

“They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of HERO,” Parker said. “They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas.”

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the subpoenas a “gross abuse of power.”

Mark Driscoll Shares His Experiences After Resignation

Controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll. Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church/RNS.

Mark Driscoll is back. Kind of.

The controversial founder of Mars Hill Church who stepped down last week offered a brief address at the Gateway Conference on Oct. 20. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.

But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.

“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him…” he trailed off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”

Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers.

Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.

“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked Morris, teasing him about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”

Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church

Controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll. Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church/RNS.

Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who had been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego, resigned from his Seattle church Oct. 15, according to a document obtained by Religion News Service.

The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.

“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.

Driscoll was not asked to resign, according to a letter from the church’s board of overseers. “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter,” the overseers wrote.

Churches Shun Mental Illness; Offer Little Help to Sufferers, Families

“Talking About Mental Illness” graphic courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources/RNS.

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.

Big Churches, Big Bucks: Southern Senior Pastors Take Top Salaries

“Church Size Is By Far The Strongest Predictor of Large church Senior Pastor Salaries,” graphic via Leadership Network/RNS.

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.

Pastors’ Letter on Mark Driscoll: Step Down From All Aspects of Ministry and Leadership

Paul Tripp was on the Board of Advisors and Accountability before he resigned in June. Photo courtesy of

A letter from nine Mars Hill Church pastors to their fellow elders offers the most trenchant criticism yet of controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who recently stepped down for at least six weeks amid a series of accusations.

The pastors did not mince words in their lengthy Aug. 22 letter [full text] concerning Driscoll, who has been caught up in allegations that include plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds, and abuse of power:

  • [W]e direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
  • He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
  • He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.

The letter was posted within a Mars Hill online network and provided to Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging updates about Mars Hill.

The 4,000-word letter suggests there were insufficient layers of accountability at Mars Hill, a congregation of an estimated 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states, and that power was consolidated at the top with Driscoll given free rein to do what he wanted.

Capitalism v. Democracy: Financing Seminary Education (Part II)

A Aleksii /

A Aleksii /

Author’s Note: Institutions we have valued for generations are dwindling and falling by the wayside because we no longer have the finances to sustain them. In this second essay on financing seminary education (read the first HERE), I will address the socio-political and economic concerns that add to the complexity of the current crisis in theological education.

Democracy is based on the ideal of political equality. Each citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of financial status. Markets, on the other hand, are directly related to real dollars. The consequent result for the U.S. democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will never be equal economically. This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities, or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent. Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population. In order to achieve these goals, political theorists have developed models that focus on creating and sustaining a strong middle class with the result that the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.