Vote as a Christian, Not Because You Are Christian

Lebanese evangelicals—like believers worldwide—often approach elections torn between hope and despair. But with a major vote looming, do they have a biblical mandate to participate?

Lebanon is a mess. A stalled revolution. The Beirut explosion. Economic collapse.

But now we have a chance to vote. On May 15, for the first time in four years, citizens can react officially to the disastrous failure of our ruling parties. Even if in limited fashion, ballot boxes can change the course of a country.

No matter your nation, elections offer hope.

But also uncertainty. In Lebanon, will we renew the mandate of leaders who have led us into this malaise? Will one side of the political spectrum ascend against the other? Will opposition movements and individuals manage to win seats?

These elections are of massive importance.

But what will happen afterwards, when the excitement of democratic involvement wears off? Lebanon teeters regularly between expectation of upheaval and disillusionment with the corrupt system. Some view this weekend’s vote as our best chance to hold leaders accountable. Others, in apathy or despair, doubt anything will change.

Amid these questions, evangelicals are debating their faithful response.

Last week, I was the guest of a weekly morning Christian radio show. Given our political season, the host asked me about the believer’s duty to participate in the elections. Sharing a zeal for political change, she offered a softball question inviting me to give a moving speech encouraging Christian listeners to make a difference.

I chose my words carefully.

I will vote, I replied, and I have a clear preference. The secular movements opposed to our sectarian system offer the best hope for justice and change. But—and it is a big “but”—I told her there is no biblical or theological obligation for Christians to take part in elections.

She pushed back, surprised by my answer. Knowing …

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Here’s What Thousands of Christian WeChat Accounts Reveal About Chinese Internet Evangelism

Were rampant commercialism and plagiarism more harmful for Chinese Christians than government censorship?

The Chinese government’s latest crackdown on online evangelism has deleted or led to the closure of numerous Christian accounts after new measures took effect in March.

Among them are Jonah’s Home, which for years provided Bible study, evangelism, and discipleship resources for Chinese Christians. Jidian, a Christian apologist and influencer on Zhihu, a Q&A platform, lost nearly 300 Christianity and Bible-related questions he had answered on the website.

These restrictions have intensified since 2018 and have crushed hundreds of WeChat public accounts created by evangelical organizations and Christians. Those who attempted to reopen would find their “reincarnated” accounts quickly deleted.

WeChat is a powerful digital media outlet with more than 1.2 billion users worldwide and tens of millions of “public accounts.” Over the past decade, WeChat accounts have been an important platform for Chinese Christians to speak about their faith and communicate the gospel. Prior to 2018, these accounts offered discipleship materials, inspirational messages, and apologetics resources, attracting followings of millions of Christians and seekers.

In 2017, our Chinese team at ReFrame Ministries commissioned a professional company in China to analyze more than 5,000 WeChat public accounts and to study the content and influence of the Christian accounts. This report examined and calculated parameters such as the number of reads, likes, Christian-related keywords, and published articles.

Though many individual Christians and Christian media groups have left WeChat or lost their accounts recently, we hope that our study can still be a useful reference for believers, churches, and organizations interested in …

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Southern Baptists Drop 1.1 Million Members in Three Years

Baptism tallies, though, are beginning to recover from 2020’s pandemic plunge.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has lost over a million members in the past three years, with back-to-back years of the COVID-19 pandemic following a decade-plus of decline.

Reported SBC membership fell to 13.7 million in 2021, its lowest tally in more than 40 years, according to the latest Annual Church Profile released on Thursday.

Membership in America’s largest Protestant denomination has dropped from 14.8 million in 2018 and a peak of 16.3 million in 2006, and church attendance continued to dwindle during the pandemic.

One area of promise for Southern Baptists is their key metric: baptisms. After falling by half in 2020, reported baptisms were up by a quarter last year. SBC churches baptized 154,700 people in 2021, still significantly lower than 236,000 a year before the pandemic.

“The reasons that baptism numbers matter to us is because they represent conversion,” said Adam Blosser, pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

His congregation of about 100 people didn’t baptize any new believers in 2020, when they shut down for the first few months of the pandemic before spending most of the year gathering outside. In 2021, the church held some baptisms again—but Blosser says not at a level he’s satisfied with.

Like many churches in the US, Blosser’s congregation in Virginia saw steady, generous giving even when church rhythms were disrupted. Last year, Blosser estimated, could have been the biggest annual offering in the church’s history.

Across the SBC, giving levels have climbed even as membership has trended downward. Churches reported taking in $11.8 billion in 2021, even more than the year prior to the pandemic.

The Annual …

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Christians Should Lead the Way in Diversity and Equity

Our faith encourages us to give unto others the same sense of belonging we have received.

For those of us who believe we are saved by faith and who care for others as an extension of our faith, we know that the former must precede the latter—and yet it’s easy to let tasks and to-dos be our guiding stars.

As a three on the Enneagram, I intimately understand what it looks like to let the pursuit of progress and accomplishment overshadow why we’re on the journey to begin with. The challenge is that when we allow our what and how to supersede our why, we can quickly become burdened by completing our “checklist.”

In doing so, we neglect the deeper heart change that’s needed to address the brokenness and suffering in our neighborhoods, communities, and society.

This is the problem facing those who work in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) today. For instance, a Forbes leadership article presented four reasons DEI programs fail—all of which are task-centered. But as Christians, we know there is far more to this issue.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion should matter to us because they are the outworking of a critical truth embedded deeply within the Christian faith. The truth is that despite our differences, we were all made equally in God’s image and ultimately belong to God and to each other. This is the “why” behind everything we do—the fuel that keeps our outreach ministries in motion.

However, the focus shouldn’t just be on DEI, but on diversity, equity, and belonging (DEB) efforts, wherein the word “inclusion” is replaced by a more holistic sense of belonging—which I believe is the crucial lynchpin around which diversity and equity revolve.

I believe Christians are in the best position to advance DEB initiatives and …

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Report: Christians May Have Helped Run Half of Native American Boarding Schools

Canada’s findings at Kamloops last year have spurred US officials and denominations to investigate their involvement in the residential school system.

The United States operated 408 boarding schools for indigenous children across 37 states or then-territories between 1819 and 1969 — half of them likely supported by religious institutions.

That’s according to the first volume of an investigative report into the country’s Indian boarding school system that was released Wednesday by the US Department of the Interior.

“Our initial investigation results show that approximately 50 percent of federal Indian boarding schools may have received support or involvement from religious institutions or organizations, including funding, infrastructure and personnel,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said at a news conference on the progress of the department’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

The report revealed nearly 40 more schools than the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition previously had identified in the US—and nearly three times more than the number of schools documented in Canada’s residential school system by that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It also identified marked or unmarked burial sites at more than 50 schools across the Indian boarding school system. The department expects that number to go up as it continues to investigate.

And it described an “unprecedented delegation of power by the Federal Government to church bodies.”

The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative was announced last summer by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to investigate the history and lasting consequences of the schools. That announcement came as indigenous groups across Canada confirmed the remains of more than 1,000 indigenous children buried near former residential …

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Why Tennessee Is Just Now Looking at Lifting a Ban on Clergy in the Legislature

A Presbyterian was burnt in effigy, a Methodist was shot in the leg, and that’s just the start of the story of this constitutional prohibition.

Tennessee voters will decide this fall whether to lift a ban on clergy serving in the state legislature. The ban hasn’t been enforced since 1978, when the United States Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, but it’s still written in the state constitution, as it has been since Tennessee was founded.

The state senate and assembly have put an amendment on the November ballot so voters can change that. Tennesseans will be asked if they would like to strike section 1 of article IX, which says that “no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.”

The change was proposed by Republican state senator Mark Pody, a conservative evangelical from outside of Nashville. Pody believes “Our fore fathers founded this nation on Christian biblical values.” It’s one of the five core issues he lists on his website. “I adhere to such principles,” he writes.

But when he was asked why Tennessee’s forefathers barred Christian ministers from becoming lawmakers when they founded the state in 1796, Pody didn’t have an answer.

“That’s a great question,” he told the Chattanooga Free Times Press. “I don’t know the back story or why they put it in originally.”

He’s not alone. The history of the constitutional clause keeping clergy out of the legislature is obscure, even among scholars who study the separation of church and state. Section 1 of article IX isn’t a part of anyone’s standard historical narrative.

The strange story of why Tennessee is only now considering changing the constitution to allow ministers into the state legislature involves Anglican oaths, …

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The Supreme Court Leak Was an Unplanned Complication for Pregnancy Centers

Caught in a national firestorm, Christian groups focus on local needs of women preparing for babies.

Penni Hill never expected First Step Pregnancy Resource Center in Bangor, Maine, to become a target of pro-life protestors. The pregnancy center is, after all, a pro-life alternative to an abortion clinic, helping women choose to carry their pregnancies to term.

But days after the leak of a draft of a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, some phone calls came in, with people shouting that abortion is murder. As the temperature of the national debate spiked, some angry people were getting confused about who was on whose side. Then the director of the pregnancy center found the center’s sign and sign holder on the front door ripped off.

“We’ve never had anything here like that,” said Hill, whose center has a good enough relationship with the local health department that it refers clients to the center for parenting classes. “The town has been in an uproar.”

In Maine, even if the Roe reversal comes to pass, abortions would still be legal until viability, or 24 weeks. Hill spoke to the local media in Bangor, serving as a counterpoint for stories about protesters defending the right to abortion.

Meanwhile, she and other pregnancy center leaders in both red and blue states said that the women they are serving haven’t brought up the news at all.

“I don’t know if our clients know what’s going on,” Hill said. “If they’re dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, they might not be paying attention to the news.”

For women thinking about having an unplanned baby, there are more pressing concerns, like the national shortage of infant formula. Melanie Miller, executive director of Ashland Pregnancy Care Center in Ashland, Ohio, said on May 5 that their center …

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The Market Value of a Proverbs 31 Mother

Scripture attests that the contributions of motherhood to our society extend far beyond the home.

As Mother’s Day rolls around again, so do the memes and articles trying to calculate the value of the work that mothers do.

In 2021, for example, Salary.com estimated the median annual salary of a stay-at-home mom to be $184,820, tracking “real-time market prices of all the jobs that moms perform.” Among these jobs, analysts identified roles like chief financial officer, logistics analyst, facilities manager, nutrition director, server, and event planner.

Of course, the irony is that should a mother wish to import these same skills onto her professional résumé, they would be meaningless in the public sector. Even attempting to quantify her domestic work this way would very likely lead to her being deemed an “unserious person.” Like an NFT or cryptocurrency, motherhood has value only for those who already value it.

Part of the reason that the work of motherhood doesn’t easily transfer to the marketplace is because we tend to view it as a private vocation, the extension of our personal lives. In our culture, motherhood is (as debates around abortion imply) a matter of personal choice. It is inherently private and personal.

Consider something as innocuous as where we place the apostrophe in Mother’s Day greetings. This Sunday, we are not celebrating all mothers or the idea of motherhood (“Mothers’ Day”); we’re each celebrating our own individual mother (“Mother’s Day”).

This privatization of motherhood shapes the way that we relate to mothers when they do enter the public sphere. And ironically enough, viewing motherhood as primarily a private vocation may actually lead to our devaluing it.

It hasn’t …

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There’s No Substitute for Presence. So I Uprooted My Family.

How the conviction to honor my aging parents convinced me to move home.

I don’t necessarily believe God advertises on billboards—but I had to wonder last August.

My husband and I were sitting in a Chicago park, talking about our pressing responsibilities to our aging parents. It was the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that we had crossed the Canada–United States border to visit them: my mother in Ohio, my husband’s mother in Illinois. My mother had particularly suffered from the year of social isolation, a hardship compounded by the toll of caring for her ailing husband. For the first time since moving to Toronto a decade before, we wondered, Is it time to go home?

That question hung in the August heat, and presumably, it was answered by the billboard I then noticed on the other side of the Edens Expressway.

Tired of Illinois taxes? Move to Ohio!

In 2011, my husband accepted a Toronto-based position with his American company. We expected, as the company did, that this would be a short-term opportunity for our family. We quickly plugged into a wonderful church in Toronto and grew to love our new city. Though our initial visa was approved only for three years, we chose to extend it. Then extend it again. And again. In 2017, we finally gained permanent resident status in Canada. We bought a house. We spent two years renovating that house. We moved back into the house in October 2019 and intended to stay.

Until last summer—and the billboard and fears for our aging parents.

We spent the fall praying and involving our community in a process of discerning God’s will. And what became unavoidably clear to me, especially as I plodded through my daily Bible reading plan, was the emphasis in Scripture on honoring one’s parents. A host of proverbs, like …

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Paint the Beauty We Split: A Conversation With Chad Gardner

On this bonus episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, we talk to Kings Kaleidoscope’s Chad Gardner about faith and music before and after Mars Hill.

Mars Hill’s music grew out of the same counter-cultural ethos that defined the rest of its ministry. Most of the church’s founding members thought Christian contemporary music was too saccharine and polished for their tastes, and what evolved at Mars Hill reflected the gritty and dark sounds of the city around them. But like many other facets of the Mars Hill story, there was much behind the music. Often selected for their charisma and talent, Mars Hill bands found that few cared about the condition of their souls or the posture of their spirits.

Chad Gardner became a worship leader later in the church’s history, having grown up listening to the church’s music. His eventual decision to leave would mean sacrificing community and intellectual property rights over his band’s contributions to the ministry. Some band members, damaged by various spiritual abuses, would leave the faith altogether.

In this bonus episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, host Mike Cosper sits down with Chad Gardner, worship leader at Mars Hill, to hear the hard and beautiful stories of the music that defined the community. Peek backstage for a glimpse of what worship leadership meant in this alternative church culture, and hear stories behind some of King’s Kaleidescope’s albums. Finally, find out why Chad told us, “I never wanted to do a duet with Mark.”

Learn more about Kings Kaleidoscope here.

Also check out Citizens, The Sing Team, and Ghost Ship.

“The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” is a production of Christianity Today

Executive Producer: Erik Petrik

Produced, written, edited, and hosted by: Mike Cosper

Associate produced by Joy Beth Smith and Azurae Phelps

Music, sound design and mixing: …

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