To Defend Mideast Christians, Can Advocates Critique Islam?

Diaspora leaders in America disagree on how to improve religious freedom back home.

What’s the best way for Middle Eastern Christians in America to help fellow believers back home? A single misspelled email address inadvertently revealed the breadth of this dilemma for activists in the diaspora.

The mishap sparked a spat this summer between two prominent US Arab groups: the Arab American Institute (AAI), a polling and policy organization led by James Zogby, and Coptic Solidarity (CS), which champions the religious freedom of Egyptian Christians and other minorities.

Zogby, who has a Lebanese Maronite background, was a scheduled participant in CS’s annual Washington conference, which leaders often use to advise DC’s foreign policy establishment on Middle East issues.

But two days before the June 15 conference, Zogby unexpectedly withdrew.

Zogby explained in an article weeks later that he withdrew after receiving word that some controversial anti-Muslim “hate groups” would be at the conference and that the title of a panel in which he was participating had been revised to suggest that violence and impunity are endemic in Muslim and Egyptian culture.

“The best way to reinforce the message of the haters of Christians in Egypt is by giving them the ammunition that Copts in the US are working with Islamophobes in Washington,” Zogby told CT. “I felt it important to call out CS for what I strongly believe is a wrong-headed and potentially dangerous path.”

Stunned by Zogby’s withdrawal and his public criticism, CS wrote an angry response, accusing Zogby of a “dhimmi mentality,” a reference to the secondary status of non-Muslims in the historic caliphate.

“He intentionally tried to hijack our event and tarnish our reputation,” Lindsay Griffin, …

Continue reading…

Super Bowl LII Brings Bold Testimonies of Faith and Many Opportunities for Prayer

NFL players leverage their visibility to fight human trafficking and pediatric cancer.

Super Bowl LII is today and football fans across the country will gather around their television screens to watch the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles battle it out at U.S. Bank Stadium. Nachos and wings in hand, one thing’s for sure: we’re in for quite a night.

Athletic events have a real knack for bringing people together—no really, I mean that. Even when the Philly and Pats fans in your home start going at it with each other, it’s the enthusiasm and mutual appreciation for the game that really matters… am I right?

Most spectacular of all is the platform players from these two teams have been given. For one night of the year (and many more in between), they’re able to capture the attention of Americans in cities across the country—111.3 million in total just last year, making it the most watched television event of 2017.

I can’t help but wonder: What are the implications of this kind of nationwide, worldwide fame? Moreover, how might one approach the stewarding of such a vast fortune and deeply influential public image?

For some in positions of power in the NFL and elsewhere, these questions are seldom even asked. Most are quick to use the gifts they’ve been given to self-satisfy and gratify. They turn to the usual remedies, using their resources to buy love, affirmation, approval, and most importantly, an escape from burdens heaped on by the demands of a success-obsessed culture.

But for others, the question matters, and so do the implications of the response. For players who claim to follow Christ, there is an understanding that the resources at their disposal do not belong to them—they really belong to God. What they choose to do with what they’ve …

Continue reading…

Puerto Rico: 3,000 Churches Damaged, Fewer Christians Left to Rebuild

Attendance drops as 400,000 island residents move to the mainland.

The evangelical church in Puerto Rico won’t be the same after Hurricane Maria.

Even congregations that have resumed their regular gatherings after repairing buildings and regaining power are still missing a major part of church life: some of their members.

An estimated 400,000 of the island’s more than 3 million residents have left the US territory for the mainland since the record-setting September storm. Like every other aspect of Puerto Rican life, church attendance has taken a hit.

Gadiel Ríos’s 350-member congregation in Arecibo, La Iglesia del Centro, saw five to six families relocate to the mainland after enduring ongoing power outages and financial hardship—a number similar to losses experienced by fellow pastors.

About a third of Ríos’s congregants still don’t have power—the same proportion of electricity customers island-wide who are still waiting for service. He estimates Sunday attendance has dropped 5 to 10 percent.

“All of this is putting a lot of strain on families,” he said. “Remember that Hispanic families are very close and tend to live in clusters to support each other; now Maria is disrupting this way of life.”

Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking congregations in the States have welcomed the Puerto Ricans who have fled, particularly those in Orlando, where the “great migration” is expected to transform the city. Of all the people who moved to the continental US from the Caribbean island in the past four months, more than 300,000 settled in Florida alone, according to the Sunshine State’s division of emergency management.

Members of Calvario City Church greeted arrivals from Puerto Rico as soon as they landed in the Orlando …

Continue reading…

Should Churches Handle Sexual Abuse Allegations Internally?

The Andy Savage case should lead us to question the way many churches are handling the issue.

Many observers were troubled when Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, received a standing ovation from his congregation for his admission of a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old high-school student when he was a youth leader at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas. They have reason to be troubled.

Though the congregation was probably unaware that the woman involved described the “incident” as an assault, at least one pastor at Woodlands and the leaders of Highpoint were aware. The alleged victim claimed that Larry Cotton, an associate pastor of Woodlands at the time, urged her to stay quiet about what happened. And only after the alleged victim made the case public did Highpoint’s pastor Chris Conlee admit that the information was not new to him or to the church leadership. Conlee went on to support Savage and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for churches and religious organizations to try to handle sexual assault allegations internally. Bob Jones University, Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and the Institute in Basic Life Principles have all come under fire in recent years for not adequately addressing sexual abuse within their communities. Some of these organizations have been accused of blaming the victims—even those who were children at the time of abuse—and pressuring them to forgive their abusers rather than report them.

Many church leaders probably react to these stories by thinking that they would never do such a thing. They would never intentionally cover up allegations of sexual abuse in their church. But what if intentionally covering up the truth is not the …

Continue reading…

God’s Letter to Us

How evangelicals read Scripture.

It nearly goes without saying that evangelicals have a special relationship with the Bible. It’s not the same as their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it can sometimes come close.

For one thing, when we talk about “the Word,” it is sometimes hard to tell if we’re talking about the Bible or the person of Jesus, for we generally capitalize Word in either case. And we tend to talk about the Bible as if it is a living thing, as per 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” It harkens to Genesis, when God “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).

As such, we talk about a Bible passage that “speaks to us” or about how we “heard God” as we read a passage of Scripture.

To remind us of the personal nature of the Bible, we often remind one another that, as much as anything else, the Bible is to be read as a personal letter from God to us. This analogy was eloquently advocated by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:

My listener, how highly do you value God’s Word? … Imagine a lover who has received a letter from his beloved. I assume that God’s Word is just as precious to you as this letter is to the lover. I assume that you read and think you ought to read God’s Word in the same way the lover reads this letter.

In another essay he casts a distrustful eye to learned commentaries—in his view, they often obscure the plain meaning of the text as they explore the linguistic and historical context of a passage. Instead, he says,

Each of us should read this letter solely as an individual, as a single individual who has received this letter from God. In reading …

Continue reading…

Interview: My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander spent years discovering God’s perspective on sexual abuse. Then her advocacy for survivors cost her her church.

Sixteen years after Larry Nassar first sexually abused her, Rachael Denhollander decided to publicly reveal that she had been one of the many victims of the USA Gymnastics team doctor. The former gymnast, who was a 15-year-old homeschooler when she says Nassar started abusing her, became the first to publicly make allegations against the respected Michigan State University faculty member.

Last week, Denhollander became the last of more than 150 survivors—all women and almost entirely former gymnasts—to share her impact statement in court with Nassar, who was convicted of seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual contact last fall and sentenced to up to 175 years in prison last week.

“I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well,” she said. (Read her whole impact statement.)

Denhollander’s decision to invoke her faith at Nassar’s sentencing drew widespread attention in national and Christian media. But in her statement, the lawyer and mother of three also told the courtroom that speaking out for sexual assault victims “cost me my church and our closest friends.”

“Three weeks before my police report I was left alone and isolated,” she said.

Today, Denhollander and her husband, Jacob, are members of Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. (Jacob graduated with an MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and he is currently a PhD student in systematic theology there.)

In an interview with Christianity Today, Denhollander shared more details about her break with her church community, how poor …

Continue reading…

The Enneagram for Pastors

9 different ways pastors look at the world, and what it might mean for your ministry.

My husband, Joe, is a pastor. In other words, he is teacher, public speaker, counselor, children’s story teller, youth leader, HR director, master of ceremonies, facilities coordinator, volunteer coordinator, mission trip coordinator, hospital chaplain, creative designer, office equipment technician, mediator, fundraiser, finance officer, funeral director, father, and grandfather.

Does he excel at every one of those tasks? How could anyone? He thrives in some parts of the ministry, and in other areas he merely gets by. For 2,000 years, men and women have tried to discern a call and find their way in the ministry, only to find a world of expectations that cannot be met.

Through his 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Joe has found a number of tools to manage the range of expectations that come with ministry. None have been as helpful to him as the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool that helps us identify ourselves as belonging to one of nine personality types. Those types aren’t so much about what we do, as they are about our motivation for doing the things we do.

The Enneagram explains the differences in those who have filled the pews in the churches we were appointed to serve. It has helped us become aware of how we all see the world differently, how we respond differently to what we see, and the specific steps we can take to become more like Christ.

Of course, like any self-assessment tool or personality test, there is a danger in making the Enneagram more than it is. It is simply one helpful tool as we journey toward understanding who we are, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. By itself, the Enneagram doesn’t have much to offer, but when combined with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual …

Continue reading…

A Wall of Security or a Table of Fellowship?

Matthew Kaemingk makes a political and theological case for welcoming Muslim immigrants.

Osama is blind. According to an NPR report, he lost his eyesight in 2012 when a mortar shell exploded nearby, killing everyone around, except him. He, his wife, and four children were Syrian refugees in Jordan for three years before learning the US State Department had approved them for asylum. To obtain the relevant visas, however, Osama and his family required a sponsor: a family to welcome them and assist in their transition.

The sponsor for this Muslim family? A Christian congregation—Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey. The family had almost no information about the congregation. They were told only that someone would greet them. But soon enough, they received free housing and a kitchen stocked with food. A team of congregants undertook various gestures of hospitality, even inspecting the house to ensure it would be safe for a blind resident.

The family was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Nassau congregation, and the church was enriched in turn. As one congregant remarked, “the family’s presence has been a blessing to us all.” An immigrant family had need, and the church met it, in keeping with God’s Old Testament command: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (Lev. 19:34).

In 2016, the United States admitted approximately 38,000 Muslim refugees, according to the Pew Research Center. This figure is up considerably from the year prior, and more than double that of 2011. One reason for the increase is the staggering number of refugees spilling out from Syria and surrounding areas, where civil war and ISIS brutality have caused a mass exodus. Refugees from Syria alone have ballooned in number over the past five years, from around …

Continue reading…

The Multiplying Leader

Founder of The Unstuck Group is the third entry in a new series.

I’ve always believed healthy leadership in the church is less about the leader and more about those being led. The real leadership development ‘win’ happens when all of God’s people are fully equipped to do his work. That means we should be intentional about identifying leaders and helping them discover the unique gift mix God has designed for their lives.

In the work my team and I do helping churches get unstuck at The Unstuck Group, leadership development consistently arises as a core issue churches say they are facing. The pastors we serve know it is important, and they know there is a strategy problem, but they feel stuck. The things they have tried aren’t working. If you can relate, here are two questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you programming instead of personalizing?

Churches that fail to develop leaders often try to program leadership development, instead of taking a more personal approach.

Another class or teaching most likely won’t create the culture you’re after. You must invest quality time and resources into key staff and lay leaders—and by that I don’t mean send team members to a conference and buy them a couple of leadership books each year. Real leaders see potential in people and proactively invest in them personally.

Create opportunities for them to implement the skills they are learning. Include lay leaders in your efforts. Doing so will help you find future staff who already have the DNA of your church. The results of proactively investing in leaders cannot be measured. People who have experienced this tend to keep the cycle going, and it builds a culture of leadership development.

2. Are you ignoring the leadership development pathway principle?

All leaders …

Continue reading…

Personality Tests—A Waste or a Resource?

Personality tests are helpful tools to understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has given us.

Most of us have taken at least one personality test over the course of our lifetime. Some prefer StrengthsFinder, others appreciate Myers–Briggs, but each with the same objective: to better understand who we are and what we should do.

The popularity of these tests has only skyrocketed in recent years. Thousands of companies use them as recruiting tools and countless individuals use them as a means to answer some of life’s big questions.

And these tests (or inventories) appeal to a part of us because we sense a certain longing to know why we’re here and, most importantly, what exactly we were placed on earth to accomplish.

We Are Made for a Purpose

As Christians, we know that the time and circumstances of our birth were not arbitrarily selected or the product of random chance. We worship a God who, before our birth, knew us in the womb and took the time to know each of us intimately. As scripture reminds us, “Even the very hairs on our heads were carefully numbered.” Everything we are and anything we dare to do is ultimately a gift from our Creator.

These truths—that God created and intimately knows each and every one of us—are certainly the starting point to any fruitful journey of ‘self-discovery,’ but by no means should we stop there. Although many skeptics might disagree, I see personality tests as helpful tools we can use to keep the conversation going as we seek to better understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has so generously given us.

While the old maxim ‘to each his own’ rings true, I have personally found Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator helpful over the years. And as it turns out, so do around 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities, …

Continue reading…