Armed Security at Churches Is Becoming a New Normal

Congregations adjust to shifting gun policies and the threat of active shooters.

Warren Mitchell, a veteran police officer and member of a prominent African American congregation in Dallas, has seen the lines blur between his work and church life over the past several years.

On Sundays, “you just can’t sit comfortably, especially from my seat, because I know I’m responsible for the security of the church,” said Mitchell, who leads a 75-member security team at the Friendship-West Baptist Church.

His congregation—like others across the country—has been forced to shift strategies and ramp up training in the wake of recent threats.

After a white supremacist killed nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, Mitchell’s 12,000-member megachurch expanded active shooter drills to other ministry teams beyond security, including hospitality teams and ushers. “Everybody needed to be a part of providing a safe environment,” Mitchell said.

Then the church’s pastor, Frederick D. Haynes III, reportedly appeared on a hit list alongside several progressive politicians who received pipe bombs in the mail last year, and the congregation was on alert once again.

Attacks on US churches by angry outsiders remain relatively rare. But they have been happening more frequently and more prominently.

An estimated 617 worshipers have been killed in violent incidents in the US since 1999, and the number of attacks at houses of worship has risen almost every year, according to data from the Faith-Based Security Network (FBSN).

This November will be the second anniversary of the deadliest church shooting in modern history: the ambush on tiny First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 people. Since then, …

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Let’s Stop Playing Guilt-by-Association Games

If we are called to love our enemies, how much more should we love people with whom we have strong disagreements?

He talks about racism a lot lately and has bought into this ‘cultural Marxism’ nonsense.”

“She’s raised some concerns about the social justice movement. She must be a white supremacist.”

“He liked that author’s Facebook status. I think he’s walking away from his faith.”

“Her books are sold in airports, and I’m skeptical about books sold in airports.”

I have seen these and similar statements made and labels hurled online (yes, even the last one about airport books). Since the election of 2016, guilt-by-association tactics like these have only worsened. “Guilt by association” occurs when guilt is ascribed to someone not because of evidence but because of his or her association (real or perceived) with a person or group.

Associations are not always bad. Psychologists use the word “schema” to “refer to patterns of thoughts and behaviors, built up over time, that people use to process information quickly and effortlessly as they interact with the world,” as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff write in The Coddling of the American Mind.

God gives us wisdom and discernment to form accurate associations when a person’s consistent words and behavior over time reveal those associations to be true. (In the words of Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”)

Jesus talked about such consistency in terms of fruit: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:15-16). Associations are fair …

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Are Missionary Kids Missionaries?

Families in the field say it’s complicated.

In 1793, Dorothy Carey, pregnant with her fourth child, refused to accompany her husband, William, to India. He took their eldest son and boarded the ship without her. Evangelism over family! At the last minute, with one day to spare, friends convinced Dorothy to go. She hastily packed and boarded the boat. She subsequently lost one of her children (after losing two in England) and, eventually, her mind.

In later generations, children as young as five were left in England or the United States while their parents served as missionaries abroad. Evangelism over family! For their education, for their protection, for the success of the mission.

This history lingers in the subconsciousness of many Christians. One of the first questions today’s missionaries are asked when they announce their intention to move abroad is “Are you bringing the children?”

When the person asking contemplates the question, they retract it sheepishly. Of course the children are going. To Paris, Nairobi, Beijing, Beirut, La Paz.

Once there, missionary parents face a relatively new question, one that few actively address before leaving their passport country but one that comes laden with unspoken expectations. What is the role of the family in kingdom ministry?

It’s Complicated

The question is complicated. A thorough answer requires consideration of physical context; type of missionary work; expectations of organizations and sending churches; the ages, personalities, and faith of the children; the personal conviction of parents; and more.

The question is problematic. After all, are the children of surgeons involved in surgery? Are teachers’ kids expected to help plan lessons or grade exams? Does family play a role in trading stocks …

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Maranatha and Mission: Hearing the Gentle Whisper to Stay on Mission

Affliction can bring the gospel to life and reinvigorate us to share it with others.

Over the course of the last year, I have been training for triathlons. When I have a long training session or I’m in a race, there are two moments where I feel like giving up. First, I think about quitting when I experience a shortness of breath due to the physical activity. Second, there are times I want to throw in the towel when I feel the physical pain in my legs, calves, and shins.

In those moments, when my mind and body are telling me to stop, I hear this faint whisper: “Keep going; just put one foot in front of the other; you got this.” In other words, this faint whisper—in the sea of physical pain and emotional stress—exhorts me to stay on mission.

Maranatha moments, for me, are filled with the physical pain and emotional stress of life. All I want to do is cry out to Jesus…please come! And while he is more than likely not going to come back physically at that moment to make all things new and to right every wrong, I do believe he answers that cry and prayer in another way. He sends the Spirit to fill us as he lovingly whispers, “I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you; stay focused and stay on mission.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings comfort and peace in Maranatha moments. Not only does he bring peace and comfort, but he reminds, refocuses, and refreshes us to stay on mission.

What I’ve found in my own life, and what I suggest to you, is that Maranatha moments can serve as a catalyst for mission. Here’s how.

First, Maranatha moments remind us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners between this broken and dark world and a world fully mended by the blood of Jesus and effusively lit by the glory of our King.

As John writes …

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The Lost Genius of the American Settlement

There’s a reason the culture war is so ferocious.

As we accelerate into a year of intense presidential politics, CT will offer essays about how evangelical Christians understand our times and what our response should be. This is the first in an occasional series. –Eds

We live in a time of shifting sand. The avalanche of social, political and legal changes we’ve experienced has left many believers reeling. They are troubled by what they see but also befuddled about how to respond. Amid much wringing of the hands they hear some calling for a circling of the wagons; others insist we must “take America back”; still others counsel “engagement” with the culture, often on its own terms. Confused by their times, many Christians remain uncertain about “what Israel should do.”

This last phrase is drawn from 1 Chronicles 12:32. The historical setting of this passage was also a time of shifting sand. King Saul had become unstable and was all but finished; yet he was still powerful and dangerous. The young upstart David appeared to be the future, but he was scarcely a sure thing. Israel’s tribes faced a ticklish decision. Each had to decide where their loyalties should lie. The tribe of Issachar made the right decision. This, the chronicler informs us, was because they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

This is the challenge many evangelical Christians face in our own generation. Crafting a wise and godly response to what’s taking place around us requires that we understand our times. To gain that understanding, however, we must be willing to look beyond our society’s presenting symptoms to underlying causes. Only then can we make sense of our current cultural predicament.

The Backstory

Thoughtful …

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World Vision Flips the Script on Child Sponsorship

In the ministry’s first major innovation in seven decades, the children now do the choosing.

Almost 1,000 children in rural Guatemala gained sponsors this month from a megachurch in southern Indiana.

But in this case, it was the indigenous children in need who pondered photos of smiling faces and chose one they felt a connection with. And it was the adult donors in the United States who nervously waited, wondering who would pick them.

The role reversal, which World Vision is calling “Chosen,” is the first significant change to the Christian humanitarian organization’s bread-and-butter method of engaging Christians with the world’s needs and equipping children to live healthier and safer lives.

As World Vision explains its “simple yet powerful switch” to child sponsorship:

Chosen starts with people here in the US signing up to be chosen and getting their picture taken. That photo is sent to a community where World Vision works, to be displayed with the pictures of other potential sponsors. The community gathers for a celebration where the kids choose their sponsors. Soon thereafter, sponsors will receive a picture of the child holding their photo and a note letting them know about the child and what made the child choose them.

The goal is to empower children, letting them make the first of many choices during their sponsorship. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told CT. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

For a future report, CT witnessed a choosing ceremony in Chiantla, an ethnic minority community more than 10,000 feet up in the mountains en route to neighboring Mexico, where 819 children picked from photos of sponsors at Northside Christian Church in New Albany, …

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5 Tips for Training Little Evangelists

Faithful speech doesn’t need to rely on formulas.

In fifth grade, I received evangelism training through my church. It went something like this: Memorize a series of verses (the famed “Romans Road” of evangelizing), identify an unbelieving friend, ask her to get together, share the gospel, and invite her to place faith in Christ.

My Sunday school teacher spent the summer helping us learn the words we would need to know, and in late August, she drove two of us to pick up a classmate and test our skills. I remember nervously sipping a milkshake next to our target unbeliever, terrified I wouldn’t get the formula right or remember the Sinner’s Prayer. I don’t remember whether the evening ended in conversion, so I’m guessing it did not.

I’m not here to knock my well-intentioned teacher nor critique the various memory tools or verbal formulas for evangelism. God certainly uses these means. But my husband and I chose a less formulaic approach to train our children to be invitational, relational, and convictional in the speech they used to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

It may seem counterintuitive to train children in gospel words even before they themselves have professed faith. But when we focus less on apologetics and more on Christian speech, these patterns can and should be taught as soon as they start to talk.

First, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in kind words. Children in Christian homes should be taught to forgo sarcastic, bullying, and teasing speech for gracious, encouraging, and affirming speech. When we model and reward kind speech inside our homes, our children are likely to use it outside of them. Kind language is in short supply in our culture, and children who learn to stem the tide of vitriol …

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How Norine Brunson Prayed When Her Husband Was Imprisoned

Brunson describes the spiritual habits that helped her face persecution in Turkey.

Officials arrested Andrew and Norine Brunson in 2016 when they applied for permanent visas in Turkey, where they’d lived and ministered for 23 years. Authorities released Norine 13 days later, but Andrew remained in prison for two years, accused of being a spy.

Norine stayed in Turkey after her release, advocating for Andrew’s freedom and helping to lead the church they’d planted. Andrew’s forthcoming book, God’s Hostage(Baker, October 2019), details the Brunson’s story of imprisonment and perseverance. CT spoke with Norine about the spiritual habits that strengthened her during her years of ministry and that sustained her marriage and her faith during persecution.

Your husband, Andrew, has said, “Norine was stronger than I was.” This strength came from a reservoir in your soul because of your daily time spent with God for years prior to the ordeal. What did that spiritual habit look like for you?

Well, it’s looked different depending on the season of life. There’s no single prescription. But I always include time in prayer and the Scriptures. And when I read the Word, I try to align myself with it. Like when I read, “Arm yourself with the same attitude” as Christ, in his suffering, I say, “Yes, Lord. Let me have that.” I also make it a habit to write down answers to prayer, blessings, things I am thankful for.

There were days during Andrew’s imprisonment where I would say, “Okay, Lord. I have prayed everything I know. Here I am again.” There is something about just sitting in the Lord’s presence. Just being. Does my mind wander when I spend time with the Lord? Absolutely. Do I check my phone? Often. That’s just …

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Fixing the Fellowship Deficit in America’s Struggling Communities

Why collapsing cities and towns need something more than a better economy or a bigger government.

Nowadays, as each new presidential election approaches, commentators are in the habit of forecasting the most pivotal contest of our lifetime, if not all of American history. But despite such overheated claims, some elections may actually mark unusually important turning points. In retrospect, 2016 seems a likely candidate, and there is no shortage of analyses or theories to help us make sense of it.

In Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive and Others Collapse, Washington Examiner writer Timothy Carney uses the 2016 election as an opportunity to consider the overall health of our body politic and the “American Dream.” Like the best guides, Carney goes beyond shedding light on “horse race” factors like polling data, campaign strategies, and county-by-county deep dives. James Madison may have exaggerated a bit in Federalist 51 when he asked, rhetorically, whether government was the greatest of all reflections on human nature, but the intensity of our political moment does open a revealing window into more than election returns.

Why are some communities doing so well? Why are others languishing? Why are some places characterized by healthy signs of civic life and human flourishing, like strong marriages, vibrant schools, job growth, and safe neighborhoods with book clubs and bowling leagues? Why are others afflicted with rising rates of suicide, opioid addiction, separated families, and economic stagnation? And why were people living in the latter places most likely to provide Donald Trump with his strongest support in the primaries, even before the motivation of voting against Hillary Clinton could factor in? Alienated America tackles these questions.

A Sense of Despair

Carney’s work falls in …

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Interview: Are You Close to God? Your Answer Affects How You Read Scripture

A new study suggests that both men and women who seek spiritual intimacy view the Bible more literally.

Sociologists have long suggested that Christian women are more religious than men, but Blake Victor Kent wondered if this discrepancy has something to do with gender differences and intimacy.

A former pastor who grew up in the evangelical church, Kent took interest in how gender roles were articulated abstractly but then lived out differently. He saw a disconnect. For example, he noticed that some evangelicals draw firm theological boundaries around formal leadership but then allow women to lead informally all the time.

During graduate school, some prominent research on gender caught Kent’s eye and made him wonder if sociologists were missing part of the story. A study by John Hoffmann and John Bartkowski found that women are more likely than men to view the Bible as the literal Word of God. The authors viewed this result as a comment on female social standing in the church, a woman’s way of asserting her faith in a culture that won’t accept her leadership. But Kent thought it might have more to do with a person’s belief in the simple biblical truth that God is near us.

There are some differences in how men and women relate to God, which Kent argues could be cultural. His analysis, however, found that men and women who experience an intimate relationship with God are more likely to have a literal view of the Bible.

Kent, now at Harvard Medical School doing postdoctoral research on religion and health, recently published this passion project along with Christopher Pieper, a colleague from his alma mater, Baylor University. Their study compared men’s and women’s answers on the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey on two sets of questions: how intimate they feel with God and how they view the Bible

Kent …

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