In Korea, Christians Wrestle With Identities


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IN 1900, 1 percent of Korea’s population was Christian. By 2010, roughly 3 in 10 South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul. The faith has exploded, and so now have the questions.

Each of the past several summers in Washington, D.C., I’ve met with 50 young Christian leaders from South Korea to discuss biblical social justice as it applies to their Korean context and perspectives on our shared Christian faith. They highlighted challenges they face, such as confusing financial and church growth with God’s favor; the stress that youth face in their ambition for a viable career; and the roles sometimes assigned to women and men in both church and society.

They also posed a critical question: Do you think of yourself as a Christian first or an American first? Out of our deep exploration came three convictions: First, national identity can be a deep blessing, but it cannot be our primary identity. Second, discussion works best without immediately judging our priority lists or our neighbors’ lists harshly. Third, the order of our lists should never be the cause of harm.

These rich dialogues with Korean faith leaders set the stage for an unusual opportunity: attending the Global Forum for the Future of World Christianity held on Jeju, the politically contested island off the coast of South Korea. 

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'And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy'

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Christine Caine gave a passionate and prophetic call for the church to be continually changing, even while at its core, it is “the same.” That constant change is driven by God’s continuing call to be sent as witnesses in the world. “We want power,” she told the spiritually hungry Pentecostals gathered before her. “But we don’t know what it’s for.” It’s not for ourselves, not for our own spiritual ecstasy. The power of God’s Spirit is given for us to be witnesses to God’s transforming love. And one can’t change the world without being in the world, instead of running from it. “We’re not here,” Christine Caine proclaimed, “to entertain ourselves.”

You could feel how her words stuck a deep chord within the crowd of those listening. I walked over to sit by a friend who is bishop of a large Pentecostal church. “This is the best word that’s been spoken,” he said to me. And that’s after we had heard eight world famous Pentecostal preachers.

Finding Cracks in the Walls of Ecclesiological Separation

Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

Palestinian men seeking access to Jerusalem at a checkpoint in August 2012. Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

JERUSALEM — One out of four Christians today is Pentecostal or charismatic, which means one of every 12 persons living today practices a Pentecostal form of Christian faith. This, along with the astonishing growth of Christianity in Africa, are the two dominant narratives shaping world Christianity today. Further, the gulf between the older, historic churches, located largely in the global North, and the younger, emerging churches in the global South, often fueled by Pentecostal fire, constitutes the most serious division in the worldwide Body of Christ today.

One can also frame this as the divide between the global Pentecostal community, and the worldwide ecumenical movement. Each lives in virtual isolation from the other, and both suffer as a result. I call it ecclesiological apartheid, with its own endless, winding walls of separation. And these walls need to come down, for the sake of God’s love for the world.

It’s become my passion, in whatever small ways, to make some cracks in these walls.

Southern Baptists to Open Their Ranks to Missionaries Who Speak in Tongues

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Anita Hensley of Kansas City, Mo., at the 2013 National Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia, and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice.

Addressing the Changing Face of Faith

Rawpixel /

Rawpixel /

The 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area now surpass New York City and Los Angeles as the most racially and ethnically diverse urban area in the U.S. That's the site where a broad spectrum of U.S. church leaders met this week to consider the impact of immigration on their congregations, and on the rapidly changing expressions of Christianity within North American culture.

The group gathered at the annual convocation of Christian Churches Together in the USA, which includes the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, several Pentecostal and evangelical denominations, the Orthodox Churches, some Historic Black churches, and nearly all the major historic Protestant denominations. All of these are experiencing the impact of immigration. Most dramatically, for instance, 54 percent of millennials — those born after 1982 — who are Catholic are Latinos. Of the 44 million people living in the United States who were born in another country, 74 percent are Christian, while only 5 percent are Muslim, 4 percent Buddhist, and 3 percent Hindu.

While church leaders in the U.S. have expressed united support for the reform of U.S. immigration laws, this is the first time an ecumenical body has gathered to examine together the actual consequences of immigration on the life and witness of its churches.

You Gotta Move

INSIDE TOWN HALL, New York’s legendary concert venue, the dusty twang of a harmonica slices through the low din of the crowd filling the 1,500-seat auditorium. Most are likely here for the headliner, singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, who will take the stage after this, a performance by her opening act, Parker Millsap.

The bluesy riffs from Millsap’s harmonica are intense, long and wailing, before fading into the slow, dirty licks of a slide guitar. Then a voice, old and soulful, throbs through the room, crying out the first line of the old gospel standard “You Gotta Move” and shocking many in the audience, residents of a city where very little is shocking. You can see the wave of surprise move like a serpent across the room, with people turning to their companions, eyebrows raised and a whisper on their lips.

It’s the age that gets them—the man standing at center stage, flanked by two bandmates and looking like a rockabilly idol, with his gelled quiff and rolled-up shirt sleeves, isn’t the 60-year-old blues singer he sounds like. No, he is baby-faced, young—barely even 21—and yet he’s pulling this song from some secret, battered place inside him that’s far older than his years, and matching it with a sensual intensity that sizzles in the audience. By the time Millsap allows the last note from his weathered voice to fade, he has commanded the undivided attention of one of the world’s toughest crowds.

And they are raring for more.

Such a reception is not a surprise for this newcomer on the Americana music scene, whose self-titled album was released to critical buzz in February 2014. Since the album’s release, Millsap has played on the same bill as artists including Griffin, Jason Isbell, and Old Crow Medicine Show; nabbed a nomination for Emerging Act of the Year from the Americana Music Association; and counted Rosanne Cash as one of his admirers.

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Pope Francis Apologizes for Persecution of Pentecostals

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino on July 28, 2014. CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

See the First-Ever 'Papal High-five'

James Robison “high-fives” Pope Francis after his message at the Vatican on June 24. RNS photo via LIFE Outreach International

What does it take to produce the first-ever papal high-five? A meeting with American televangelists, apparently.

The gesture came during a three-hour meeting of Pope Francis and Texas televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, just weeks after the pontiff met with televangelist Joel Osteen and other religious leaders. At the June 24 meeting, Robison said he was so moved by Pope Francis’ message of the gospel that he asked the translator to ask Francis for a high-five. The pope obliged, raised his arm, and the two men smacked hands.

The televangelists are among some wealthier U.S. evangelicals who have recently met with Francis, who has called for a focus on the poor and a simple lifestyle for clergy.

More U.S. Latinos Shift and Drift Outside the Catholic Church

Fernando Alcantar could be the latest Pew Research report come to life. Photo: Andrew Sutton, courtesy Fernando Alcantar.

A new report on the “Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos” reads very much like a biography of Fernando Alcantar.

Like six in 10 Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., he was born in Mexico, where “you are Catholic as much as you are Mexican. You like jalapenos and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe,” he said.

But once he moved to California after high school, his faith journey diverged — and derailed. Today, Alcantar, 36 calls himself a humanist.

The Pew survey report released Wednesday is subtitled: “Nearly One in Four Latinos are former Catholics.” And Alcantar is one of them.