An Innocent Black Man Forgave the Crooked White Cop Who Framed Him

And that’s good news—but not cause for ignoring larger patterns of injustice.

Forgiveness can get a bad rap. Especially when race is involved. In a nation built on the backs of enslaved Africans—and on the white supremacy that justified it—no interaction between a white man with power and a black man without it is ever just an isolated, inspiring story about the power of forgiveness.

Yet that’s the premise of Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship. Told through the first-person reflections of former “bad cop” Andrew Collins and the innocent black man, Jameel McGee, who spent four years in federal prison due to Collins’s wrongful arrest of him, the book follows their unlikely friendship—forged in the furnace of forgiveness.

McGee was living in poverty-stricken Benton Harbor, Michigan, when he asked a relative’s crack-carrying friend to give him a ride to the store to buy milk for his baby son. Waiting nearby was narcotics officer Andrew Collins, who routinely planted evidence and falsified his police reports to help secure convictions of poor black men like McGee. His motive? Looking good to fellow officers.

As Collins attests, “I had become a monster, not out of greed or zeal or my questionable tactics or lack of integrity. No, I fell into the abyss because I was weighed down by pride.”

This can be frustrating to read. True, Collins was caught and received a 37-month sentence (later reduced to 18 months.) The innocent McGee spent four years in prison. But even after his release, the phony drug conviction shackled him. Demoralized, jobless, penniless, and homeless, he would sleep in a relative’s car, enduring freezing Michigan nights. He was nearly suicidal before a loving aunt pointed …

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The Mainliner Who Made Me More Evangelical

How Frederick Buechner changed the course of Russell Moore’s life.

Years ago, I found myself sitting at the dinner table of one of my literary heroes, Wendell Berry, on his farm in Henry County, Kentucky.

At the end of the evening, Berry made it clear it was time for me to go by saying something along the lines of, “Well, it’s been good to have you.” I couldn’t leave, though, without telling the agrarian novelist and poet how much his writing had meant to me—while attempting to sound like a Christian academic rather than a giddy fanboy. His response was less a thank-you than a benediction.

“Isn’t it something, how we get what we need at just the right time?” he said. “The right book comes along at just the right time. The right friend comes along at just the right time. The right conversation comes along at just the right time. It’s grace.”

His words left me bursting with gratitude, but not only—or even primarily—for Berry. As I left his farm, I couldn’t help thinking of two authors who came along right when I needed them: C. S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner.

Lewis won’t come as a surprise to most of my fellow conservative evangelicals (even though we occasionally disagree with some of his theological positions). Many of us have the same story—of walking through the old man’s wardrobe into mere Christianity and an intellectually defensible Christian theism. But Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) is a little harder for some in my tribe to get. At first glance, he doesn’t seem like one of us. He came to embrace his Christian calling not at a Billy Graham crusade, but in the Sunday services of New York modernist George Buttrick. Buechner studied for ministry at Union Theological Seminary, haunt …

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Atheists Again Get Pastors’ Best Benefit Ruled Unconstitutional

Freedom From Religion Foundation wins first round of rematch over $800 million clergy housing allowance.

Once again, a federal judge has declared that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy. It’s the “most important tax benefit available to ministers,” according to GuideStone Financial Resources.

It’s also the biggest: American ministers currently avail themselves of the tax break to the tune of $800 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Wisconsin district judge Barbara Crabb first ruled against the housing allowance in 2013, finding that the second part of Section 107 of the IRS tax code provides “a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” Her ruling “sen[t] shockwaves through the religious community,” the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability stated at the time.

But an appeals court overturned her decision in 2014, ruling that the atheist plaintiffs from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) was not sufficiently harmed by the tax break to challenge it in court.

The most “fascinating turn” in the legal fight was when the Department of Justice defended the housing allowance by arguing that atheist leaders qualify as “ministers of the gospel” and could claim the exemption for themselves.

However, the IRS disagreed. The FFRF changed how it compensates its leaders to match the housing allowances that churches give pastors, and sued again when its co-presidents were denied the tax …

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Hypocrisy on Display in Hollywood and in Politics: Responding with Anger and Humility

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy. Even the thought of it makes most of us cringe.

And boy was it on display this week on the right and on the left.

For example, Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual harasser and an abuser of power. Yes, Weinstein created a foundation to support “…women’s rights, more women directors, the National Endowment of the Arts. I’m going to finance a lot of it privately.”

It appears that was not all he was doing privately.

Weinstein spoke of women’s rights while depriving them of their dignity.

As the father of daughters—actually, as a human—I’m disgusted.

Now, he is more than a hypocrite, but he’s been outed as a hypocrite, with a decades long track record of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein, one of the most influential producers in Hollywood—whose company is responsible for major films including The King’s Speech—and a prominent Democratic donor, issued an apology and resignation almost immediately. However, the situation remains ambiguous moving forward.

In a parallel plot line that could be straight out of Shakespeare, this week witnessed an equally precipitous fall by Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. An outspoken critic of abortion, Murphy was revealed to have not only been involved in a long-term extramarital affair, but had actually pressured his mistress to have an abortion.

As someone who cares about the lives of women and unborn children, Murphy infuriates me with his hypocrisy.

What Rep. Murphy’s resignation is for the right, Weinstein’s is for the left. Both of these are painful reminders that sin and depravity do not follow party lines, but are ingrained in the human condition.

What we are seeing here is hypocrisy, pure and …

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Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me

As part of the family empire, I lived a life of luxury. Then doubts began to surface.

Almost 15 years ago, on a shoreline outside of Athens, Greece, I stood confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ministry trajectory. I was traveling the world on a private Gulfstream jet doing “gospel” ministry and enjoying every luxury money could buy. After a comfortable flight and my favorite meal (lasagna) made by our personal chef, we prepared for a ministry trip by resting at The Grand Resort: Lagonissi. Boasting my very own ocean-view villa, complete with private pool and over 2,000 square feet of living space, I perched on the rocks above the water’s edge and rejoiced in the life I was living. After all, I was serving Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promised.

Little did I know that this coastline was part of the Aegean Sea—the same body of water the apostle Paul sailed while spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was just one problem: We weren’t preaching the same gospel as Paul.

Lavish Lifestyle

Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way—by giving money and having enough faith—would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God’s goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn’t eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel.

My father pastored a small church in Vancouver, British Columbia. During my teenage years, he would travel nearly twice a month with my uncle, …

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The Godness of God

Karl Barth thought we needed to be reminded continually of the obvious, which to Barth was not so obvious.

Nearly 100 years ago, a book was published in Switzerland that, as one scholar put it, “landed like a bombshell on the playground of theologians.” That playground was inhabited by liberal theologians, and the bombshell was Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. His commentary on Romans catapulted Barth onto the scene and sent shockwaves through church and academy. In this commentary, despite its excesses, we first find themes that profoundly shaped Barth’s later theology.

More interesting to me is that the book contains themes that I believe are particularly relevant to evangelicalism today, one of which we’ll consider here: Barth saw in Romans a complete refutation of the human-centered religion of his day. Describing “the characteristic features of our relation to God,” he wrote:

Our relation to God is ungodly. We suppose that we know what we are saying when we say “God.” We assign to him the highest place in our world: and in so doing we place him fundamentally on one line with ourselves and with things. . . . We press ourselves into proximity with him: and so, all unthinking, we make him nigh unto ourselves. We allow ourselves an ordinary communication with him, we permit ourselves to reckon with him as though this were not extraordinary behavior on our part. We dare to deck ourselves out as his companions, patrons, advisers, and commissioners. …Secretly we are the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust himself. . . . Our well-regulated, pleasurable life longs for some hours of devotion, some prolongation into infinity. And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves. …

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After the Storm, Churches and Relief Organizations Don’t Share the Same Call

Congregations shouldn’t go it alone when there are resources across the body of Christ they can leverage.

I’ve always thought pastors have the toughest job in the world. They must shepherd their congregation to become fully devoted followers of Christ. Every week they’re expected to knock it out of the park with a powerful sermon. They also run a complex organization with budgets, staff, facilities, and numerous programs. And let’s not forget the rather challenging missional responsibility to change the world for Christ.

As overwhelming as this seems, it’s all within the scope of leading a church. The trend that’s troubling to me is when church teams believe they should do it all, tackling areas outside their expertise—embracing a do-it-yourself approach to things like international missions and disaster response.

Imagine you’re going to build a new sanctuary. Would you trust all the work to untrained volunteers? While the intent is good and some benefit may indeed still come of it, “DIY humanitarian aid” is similarly ineffective. Meeting the dire needs of disaster victims or people living in chronic poverty is complex business requiring specialized skills.

Churches don’t have to do go it alone when there are resources across the body of Christ they can leverage—Christian organizations with deep experience in poverty alleviation and emergency relief. The benefit is mutual because churches and faith-based organizations want the same thing: maximum kingdom impact.

God created his people with specialization and interdependence in mind, which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?” (v. 18–19). A church’s true …

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No Child Left Behind Comes to Awana

The children’s ministry rethinks the competition at its core.

One of the most important symbols in modern Christianity is a circle inside a square, its sides marked red, blue, green, and yellow, divided by diagonal lines. For some Christians, it is a literal mark of orthodoxy, a subtle indicator that a church teaches Scripture authoritatively and rigorously (and usually from a particular Reformed, premillennial, cessationist perspective).

The square has changed little from its origins in the 1940s at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Church youth leader Art Rorheim had been having trouble with traditional two-team games as his youth group grew; his four-team court was designed to let 100 play with little downtime. Now more than 10,000 churches in the United States use it as they host Awana programs.

Some of Rorheim’s early games “were unconventional and even illegal,” according to Awana: God’s Miracle, Awana’s official history book. Boys ran out of the building and around the block, then fought in the halls to slow each other down. “That game was short-lived when the church board heard about it,” God’s Miracle notes. Others continue today, largely unchanged since some clubbers’ grandparents’ day. Baton relay races. Three-legged-races. Balloon volleyball. Four-way-tug-of-war. Throwing bean bags to knock over plastic bowling pins.

As Awana leaders have seen it, the game circle is why kids showed up week after week, year after year, decade after decade. “Game Time surely is the drawing card to the gospel presented in Council Time!” in the words of God’s Miracle (emphasis in the original). And both fans and critics of Awana stress that its competitive streak doesn’t …

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Commentary: On ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ After Another Mass Shooting

Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in response to the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

We can say with some confidence that all the following are true.

1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope, severity, and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place.

1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love.

1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts and prayers”—is all that is available to us in the moments after terrible news reaches us. If the tragedy is literally at our door and thus is happening to us rather than just being reported to us, we know that an astonishing number of human beings act with courage and resilience even in the face of the most terrible evil. They also, if given time to speak or otherwise communicate to others not facing their moment …

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NHCLC: Thousands of Puerto Rican Churches Wrecked by Maria

Caribbean Christians try to offer sanctuary while working to repair their own.

Just over a week after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, reports are beginning to reveal its impact on the island’s Christian community, including more than 1 million Protestants.

Approximately 3,000 churches were damaged or destroyed by the Category 4 hurricane, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) estimated. Wanda Rolón, an NHCLC board member and one of Puerto Rico’s best-known pastors, said that she was “not aware of a single church that escaped damage or harm.”

In addition to flooding, downed trees, and buildings ripped apart by 150 mph winds, the storm cut off electricity and communications networks. The Christian TV station, CDM Internacional, as well as several Christian radio stations went off the air. A Bible distribution ministry lost its inventory when its building was hit.

Of about 90 Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico, so far the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has heard from a dozen, all of which suffered limited damage, Baptist Press reported.

As relief efforts make their way out from San Juan, local churches serve as a crucial connection point for spiritual and physical support.

“We don’t have buildings right now to have meetings,” evangelist and doctor Luis Paz told CT in Puerto Rico last Sunday. “We are outside, bringing hope to people, the ones that need the most. We have brothers and sisters who don’t have homes right now, but the church is open to them.”

About half of Puerto Ricans go to church at least once a week, according to the Pew Research Center. (Most of the island’s 3.4 million residents are Catholic, and about a third are Protestant.) But some churches haven’t had power since …

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