Josh McDowell Steps Back from Ministry After Race Remarks

“I made comments about race, the Black family, and minorities that were wrong and hurt many people.”

Best-selling Christian author and speaker Josh McDowell is stepping back from ministry following comments he made at a recent meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

On Saturday, he had denounced the idea of systemic racism at the national gathering, saying Black Americans and other minorities were not raised to value hard work or education.

The talk, entitled “The Five Greatest Global Epidemics,” identified a series of threats McDowell claims face the Christian church. The first, he said, was critical race theory, an academic field of study on the nature of systemic racism. Known by the acronym CRT, critical race theory has become controversial among Christian conservatives and political conservatives alike.

McDowell told Christian counselors that CRT “negates all the biblical teaching” about racism—because it focuses on systems rather than the sins of the human heart and said today’s definition of “social justice” is not biblical.

“There’s no comparison to what is known today as social justice with what the Bible speaks of as justice,” he said. “With CRT they speak structurally. The Bible speaks individually. Make sure you get that. That’s a big difference.”

He went on to say not all Americans have equal opportunities to succeed.

“They don’t, folks,” he said in his speech. “I do not believe Blacks, African Americans, and many other minorities have equal opportunity. Why? Most of them grew up in families where there is not a big emphasis on education, security—you can do anything you want. You can change the world. If you work hard, you will make it. So many African Americans don’t have …

Continue reading…

We Are All Baptists Now—So Let’s Not Fight Like It

American democracy and democratized Christianity face a similar crisis of disunity.

Several years ago, my eyes stopped on a two-panel cartoon that made me both laugh and grimace. The first had a typical Jordan River scene of a familiar bearded figure in camel’s hair dipping someone under the water, with the caption “John the Baptist.” The second depicted a similar scene, but the penitent was held under the water, thrashing about for life, while bubbles indicated drowning. That one was captioned “John the Southern Baptist.”

Once upon a time, the old cartoon could have prompted smugness in Christians of other denominations, but not anymore. In one respect, we are all Southern Baptists now.

Years ago, historian Martin Marty spoke of the “Baptistification” of American religion—by which he meant that the individualistic creedalism, the entrepreneurial drive, and the voluntary-society model of the church were so consistent with the American ethos that almost every Christian communion—regardless of polity or theology—was starting to reflect it.

For Baptists, this would seem consistent with the talking point for generations that the sort of polity practiced in Baptist churches was the model for the kind of democracy to which America aspired.

Increasingly, though, American democracy is starting to look more and more like a Baptist congregational business meeting. The theory of “the priesthood of the believer” and every voice counting is giving way to the darker reality of knife fights, splits between factions, and the social Darwinism of the way the meanest and most aggressive people can dictate the terms of debate. Whether those fights are over the color of the carpet in the vestibule or how to end a global pandemic, the so-called elites are in …

Continue reading…

SBC Executive Committee Balks at Directive to Open Up to Abuse Investigation

Leaders are still debating whether to hand over privileged materials as survivors and the majority of their own denomination have requested.

Months after the Southern Baptist Convention voted for a third-party investigation into how its Executive Committee responded to abuse allegations, leaders failed to adopt the convention’s terms for the process, deferring to ongoing negotiations between leaders and a sexual abuse task force.

The two-day proceedings in Nashville highlighted growing turmoil in the nation’s largest Protestant body and disappointed victims who had held out hope the convention would adopt a thorough outside review to address its missteps.

Still up for debate is whether the Executive Committee (EC) will comply with the convention’s directive to waive attorney-client privilege to allow investigators to obtain relevant documents from EC members and staff. The majority of the EC voted against doing so, with several citing the “fiduciary duty” to protect the entity and the denomination as a whole.

After consulting with additional legal counsel who reportedly advised against waiving privilege, the EC voted to take another week to negotiate on access to privileged information. However, the group also agreed to fully fund the upcoming investigation up to $1.6 million.

“Not a win, but a step,” tweeted Florida pastor and EC member Dean Inserra, who was among the minority of mostly younger and newer EC leaders who spoke up to waive privilege, as the convention had requested. “I promise we tried.”

In a statement, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president Ed Litton said Tuesday’s outcome “fell far short of the mandate expressed by the messengers.”

At their annual meeting in June, Southern Baptists approved forming a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of the EC’s abuse …

Continue reading…

What’s True About Christian Fiction

“This Present Darkness” and other bestsellers show us the history of evangelicalism—and how it could be different.

Danyell didn’t like This Present Darkness. In fact, she hated it.

The 1986 novel by Frank Peretti tells the story of demons invading a classic American small town until the local Christians are roused to prayer. The book was wildly popular when it came out, and after more than 30 years, it still sells about 8,000 new copies annually. There are a lot of readers who really love This Present Darkness.

For some, it’s changed the way they pray. It has shaped their understanding of how they should live out their faith in their daily lives.

For others, they’ve long forgotten the plot but can still recall with delight the way Peretti describes the demons in vivid, visceral terms: slimy and slippery, horned and heaving, creeping, crackly, and carbuncled.

But not Danyell. She didn’t like any part of the novel, even a little bit.

Danyell read This Present Darkness in 2008 and, on the book-centric social site Goodreads, she wrote an exquisitely scathing, single-sentence review: “I found this book on the train in Ft. Lauderdale and honestly considered throwing myself on the tracks.”

I don’t know if Mark Noll, the eminent evangelical historian, ever rode a Fort Lauderdale train, but he also had a strong negative reaction to This Present Darkness. In his classic 1994 study, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, he holds up Peretti’s novel as an example of what he doesn’t like about contemporary American Christianity. It is evidence of the scandal of the evangelical mind—which is that there is no evangelical mind.

Jesus-loving, Bible-reading, born-again Christians have abandoned complexity and nuance and depth, Noll says, and embraced cheap, mass-market fiction.

I’ve heard a lot of …

Continue reading…

Dennis Hastert, Once an Evangelical Republican Leader, Settles Sex-Abuse Suit

The Wheaton alumnus allegedly stopped paying his victim.

Former US House Speaker and Wheaton College alumnus Dennis Hastert has settled a lawsuit over allegedly unpaid hush money.

Hastert, once the highest-ranking evangelical in the Republican Party, was accused of failing to pay about half of the $3.5 million he promised in exchange for the silence of a man he sexually abused. The trial would have raised the unusual legal question of whether a verbal agreement to pay hush money to the victim of sexual abuse is legally binding.

Details of the settlement appear to be covered by nondisclosure agreements. According to the Associated Press, attorneys for both sides declined to say whether Hastert has agreed to make any additional payments, and if so, how much.

Jury selection was set to start on Monday, but the federal judge ruled that the accuser, known in court documents only as “James Doe,” would have to be publicly named.

The man’s representative, attorney Kristi Browne, said her client is comfortable with the resolution of the case, though money can only do so much.

“It’s never over for a victim of childhood sexual abuse,” she said. “It impacts them for the rest of their lives.”

Hastert grew up in rural Illinois and became a born-again Christian as a sophomore in high school. After graduating from Wheaton with a degree in economics in 1964, he went to work as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School, about 30 miles southwest of the evangelical college.

According to federal prosecutors, Hastert sexually abused at least four boys during his 16 years at the school, all of them between the ages of 14 and 17. “James Doe” was a 14-year-old student athlete at the time he claims Hastert touched him inappropriately in a …

Continue reading…

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Fight for First-Class Citizenship

Remembering a courageous civil rights activist whose name and story are too little known.

As voting rights take center stage in America’s national conversation, a new biography of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer speaks with special relevance.

Walk with Me, written by historian and biographer Kate Clifford Larson, serves at once as a history of the civil rights movement and a rebuke to ballot-restriction efforts sweeping the nation. Accessible and moving, Larson’s account offers history’s best gifts—context and complexity—to readers who want a better grasp of the trajectory of voting rights in our nation’s past.

America’s civil rights story often reads as the tale of great leaders, extraordinary unity, and heroic corrective legislation. But Hamer’s story demands that we rethink these narratives. Her life highlights the role of sharecroppers, women, students, and poor people who wanted, in her words, “to live as decent human beings.” Rather than marching together in unity, they struggled through deep and ongoing disagreements about the best way to achieve their goals, and they endured unspeakable danger and harassment. As for corrective legislation, Larson’s account demonstrates how new federal measures required unrelenting follow-up at the local level.

Born to Mississippi sharecroppers in 1917, Hamer seemed destined for a life that differed little from that of her parents. With only a sixth-grade education, she worked as a timekeeper on a cotton plantation in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Inspired by young people working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer took the first courageous steps on a new trajectory when she and other Sunflower County Blacks tried unsuccessfully to register to vote in the summer of 1962.

Continue reading…

8 Prayer Mentors from History

Prayer empowered them to live their faith with great courage. Their spiritual habits can breathe new life into our own.

Christian women throughout the centuries serve as a cloud of witnesses for us, and their stories of faith still speak to us today. These eight women exemplified goodness, truth, and beauty in the midst of struggles, questions, and suffering—and they found strength to do so through prayer. Their prayer practices can breathe new life and meaning into our own.

Vibia Perpetua: Courageous Love

Perpetua (c.182–203) grew up in a Roman family in Carthage when Tunisia was under Roman rule. Changing her faith from the Roman imperial cult to Christianity was illegal. Nonetheless, at the time of her arrest, Perpetua was a committed catechumen—a young believer undergoing training in the faith prior to baptism. As part of her formal instruction of Christian teachings, she likely would have read contemporary North African theologian Tertullian’s On Prayer, which emphasized placing hope in God. After several days of house arrest with her companions, Perpetua was baptized. She and her fellow catechumens were soon taken to prison. The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, one of the oldest Christian texts, describes how Perpetua and her fellow prisoner Felicity “poured out their prayer to the Lord” in the days preceding their execution. At age 22, Perpetua died as a martyr, being tossed by a wild bull and killed by the sword in an arena with many spectators watching. The Passion documents Perpetua calling out at the moment of death, “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another.” For centuries, Christian communities in Carthage read her writing annually and were encouraged by her sacrificial love.

For Perpetua, prayer was an act of courageous love—a way of loving others as a mother …

Continue reading…

Evangelical Colleges Join Effort to Promote Faith in the Vaccine

A campaign to educate campuses about COVID-19 vaccination shifts from persuading the hesitant to making it easier for the willing.

Last week, as President Joe Biden was announcing a new vaccine mandate for large workplaces, students at more than 100 Christian colleges were trying to persuade their communities to get the shot voluntarily.

Since those between the ages of 18 and 29 are among the least likely to be hospitalized or to suffer serious illness or death due to COVID-19, swaths of young people didn’t get the shot as soon as it became available earlier in the year.

Dozens of evangelical schools belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) have joined an interfaith effort called Faith in the Vaccine, designed to recruit students and faculty to help inform their communities about vaccination and recognize the role religious identity might play in people’s hesitation.

“This was not about hounding people into getting the vaccine or shaming them if they were hesitant,” said Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Corps (IFYC), which launched the effort last spring and has disbursed $4 million to fund the campaign so far. “It was very much about engaging with great respect and sensitivity … and helping them kind of talk their own way into vaccination.”

Nearly 50 CCCU member schools signed up for the program. IFYC, along with medical professionals from the Rush University Medical School, trained campus ambassadors in conversational tactics and medical information about the vaccines.

But what started out as a campaign to promote education around vaccination within these faith communities has shifted to efforts to actually get shots in arms. The Faith in the Vaccine ambassadors, according to IFYC, have helped promote or host hundreds of clinics and events across the country, accounting for …

Continue reading…

Died: Marilyn Laszlo, Bible Translator Who Inspired Missionaries to ‘Come By Here’

The passionate storyteller spent nearly a quarter century developing written language and Scripture for a Papua New Guinea village.

Marilyn Laszlo always considered herself a “Hoosier farmgirl.” The 88-year-old died last week just a few miles from her family’s nine-acre property outside Valparaiso, Indiana. But the news of her death was felt most deeply in a village on the other side of the world.

A missionary and Bible translator known for her bold faith and powerful storytelling, Laszlo spent 24 years living in the Hauna Village in Papua New Guinea. There, she formulated a written language and translated the Bible for the once-unreached Sepik Iwam people, starting by carving words into banana leaves.

When she passed away from Alzheimer’s on September 9, village leaders launched a five-day mourning ritual called a “house cry” in Laszlo’s honor, covering themselves in mud, grieving, and planning commemorations for a woman who changed their community forever.

The ministry efforts she began in Hauna more than 50 years ago—including a church, school, and clinic—continue to this day. They have turned the riverside village into a hub for the region. Up until the COVID-19 outbreak, Lazslo’s sister and ministry partner Shirley Killosky taught and served in Hauna full time.

“Marilyn’s legacy is still touching lives in Hauna Village and across the world,” said John Chesnut, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Laszlo was sent to Hauna through Wycliffe in 1967 and later served as a speaker for the ministry, before launching her organization, Laszlo Mission League, in 2003. “Praise God that this faithful servant is now in the presence of her Savior.”

Laszlo’s story of persistence in the face of a challenging mission field was retold in documentaries, memoirs, …

Continue reading…

RZIM Donors Fight to See If Their Funds Enabled Abuse

A federal judge declined to expedite discovery, but lawyers will ask for 17 years of financial records and hundreds of thousands of documents.

Lawyers in Georgia battled over access to the financial records of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) on Monday.

In the first hearing of a proposed class-action suit, representatives for donors Derek and Dora Carrier argued they needed “expedited discovery” to allow them access to the hundreds of thousands of financial documents they say will prove that “RZIM allowed donated funds to be diverted for use in Zacharias’s schemes to perpetrate sexual abuse.”

The federal judge denied the motion to expedite the process, but the legal team is expected to make their case for access again after proving the grounds for the suit.

The Carriers’ attorneys are asking for records of all donations made to RZIM since 2004, when Zacharias became part owner of Touch of Eden, a massage therapy spa located in a shopping center near RZIM headquarters. They also want documentation of how those donations were used, particularly if they went to payments made to defend Zacharias against allegations of sexual abuse, to pay off accusers and hush up allegations, and to hire public relations and crisis management professionals to protect RZIM’s reputation.

“RZIM is sitting on a pile of money, and no one knows how RZIM is spending that money,” Drew Ashby, of the firm Ashby Thelen Lowry, told CT. “Our clients view this as God’s money, not their money, and they want that money back to invest in legitimate ministry purposes to build the kingdom of God.”

In a brief filed ahead of the hearing at the federal courthouse in Atlanta Monday, the Carriers’ attorneys urged the court to remember that RZIM leaders have “shown themselves to be deceitful.” …

Continue reading…