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  • Justice Department Investigates Southern Baptist Convention Over Abuse
    by Kate Shellnutt on August 12, 2022 at 10:07 pm

    SBC has commited to cooperating with the federal investigation, which spans multiple entities. A federal investigation will look into the largest Protestant denomination’s response to abuse, following a bombshell report commissioned and released by the Southern Baptist Commission (SBC) in May. The SBC Executive Committee confirmed on Friday that the Justice Department “has initiated an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, and that the investigation will include multiple SBC entities.” The general counsel for the Executive Committee (EC)—which oversees day-to-day business for the convention and was the subject of the SBC’s own abuse investigation—said the EC has received a subpoena, but no individuals have been subpoenaed at this point. The SBC and its entities have committed to cooperating with the investigation. A statement signed by the presidents of each SBC entity and seminary referred to their involvement as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and abuse reform. “While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future,” it read. An independent investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the EC, released in May 2022, found that over the past 20 years, its leaders had compiled a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, mishandled allegations, and mistreated the victims who asked for help. The investigation, which cost over $2 million, spanned 330 interviews and five terabytes of documents collected over eight months. Hours before the EC confirmed the Justice Department ...Continue reading...

  • The Village Church Settles Abuse Complaint
    by Emily Belz on August 12, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    The Southern Baptist congregation led by Acts 29 president Matt Chandler maintained it hadn’t done anything wrong, infuriating the family of the victim. The Village Church, a large Southern Baptist church in Texas pastored by Matt Chandler, has announced it reached a settlement with a woman who had reported one of the church’s pastors sexually assaulted her when she was 11 years old. But the conflict isn’t over. The church statement said, “We maintain and firmly believe that we committed no wrong,” and noted that the woman couldn’t positively identify that it was the church employee who abused her. The woman’s family protested, saying in a statement that the church’s statement was “not fully truthful, transparent, or caring for the traumatized.” The family has left the church over the handling of the case. “The attempt to communicate care in one sentence followed by language that invalidates and dismisses the merits of the victim's claims is not the way to express care, compassion, and truth,” the family said. “And then we wonder why so many victims of trauma are leaving the church.” The settlement comes in the context of Southern Baptist churches wrestling with how to respond to a report documenting extensive abuse in the denomination. The civil lawsuit against The Village Church was filed under the name Jane Doe, but the mother, Christi Bragg, recounted the details of what happened to her daughter on the record to The New York Times in 2019. The girl reported to her mother the year before that back in 2012, a pastor at a church summer camp, Matthew Tonne, had touched her in her bed with her undergarments pulled down. The mother immediately filed a police report and reported the incident to the church. The church said it also immediately filed a police report. Tonne maintained his innocence. The ...Continue reading...

  • The Gospel According to Dungeons & Dragons
    by Emily Hunter McGowin on August 12, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    The fantasy role-playing game’s theological dimensions can be spiritually formative. In my four years of teaching theology at Wheaton College, one of my most memorable meetings was with a student wanting to know how best to defend Dungeons & Dragons to skeptical relatives. Students ask me all kinds of things during my office-hours appointments, but this was a first. I was aware of D&D’s role in the satanic panic of the 1980s, but I assumed most suspicion toward the game had disappeared now that cooler heads and more informed minds had prevailed. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Dungeons & Dragons is the oldest commercially available fantasy role-playing game. Now in its fifth edition, D&D has been around since 1974 when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published their first set of rules. Though it’s been played for almost half a century, we’ve witnessed something of a revival in recent years, spurred by the success of Stranger Things, D&D web series like Critical Role, and the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also a whole field of interdisciplinary scholarly research on role-playing games (RPGs) of all kinds. I started playing D&D a few years ago, motivated largely by a desire to connect with my adolescent son. Eventually, our whole family joined in the fun. The first lockdown of the pandemic soon turned our family’s occasional dabbling into a weekly commitment. As I’ve written elsewhere, my family has survived the pandemic by both praying together and playing together—D&D has become for us what soccer or tae kwon do might be for others. I’ve spent most of the past couple years serving as the game’s facilitator or narrator—referred to as a dungeon master—but I have also played in a few short-lived campaigns as one of ...Continue reading...

  • When the South Loosens its Bible Belt
    by Russell Moore on August 11, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    A growing breed of unchurched evangelicals is poised to heighten the culture wars. This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here. “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t wanna go,” Hank Williams Jr. sang. “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home.” The song was, of course, meant to be more of a praise of the South than a developed eschatology. But after detailing all the things he loved about his home region, Hank Jr. concluded that if these things were missing from eternity, then “just send me to hell or New York City; it would be about the same to me.” Recent studies show that, increasingly, white Southern evangelicals are deciding that when it comes to the church, if not to heaven, they’d just as soon stay home. Last week here, I referenced an analysis by historian Daniel K. Williams (no relation to Hank) on studies of a fast-growing trend among white Southern Protestants who seldom or never attend church and yet self-identify as evangelical Christians. To recap, Williams points to data on how these unchurched evangelicals are not secularizing in the same way as, say, people in Denmark or Germany, or even as folks in Connecticut or Oregon. Unchurched evangelicals in the South not only keep their politics but also ratchet up to more extreme levels. They maintain the same moral opinions—except on matters that directly affect them (like having premarital sex, smoking marijuana, and getting drunk). This category of lapsed and non-church-attending evangelicals are now, as Williams points out, the largest religious body in the South. They are also lonelier, more disconnected, angrier, and more suspicious of institutions. These findings have seismic implications for ...Continue reading...

  • Stand By Me. But Don’t Be a Bystander.
    by Nana Dolce on August 10, 2022 at 4:33 pm

    Pay attention to the sin of passivity, especially in church leaders dealing with abused women. In a lot of undergraduate psychology programs, a legendary crime case comes up. Kitty Genovese was raped, robbed, and repeatedly stabbed outside her Queens, New York, apartment building in 1964. Although the killing was horrific, the case isn’t studied for its gruesomeness. Professors don’t generally focus on Genovese or her murderer but rather on the bystanders and neighbors who, according to reports, heard her screams for help but didn’t act to save her life. Their supposed indifference is explained by a social theory known as the “bystander effect,” which says a bystander is less likely to assist someone if they’re in a group rather than alone. In short, the response to one woman’s murder reveals the common evil of people “standing by” out of self-protection and passivity. Something similar happens in Judges chapter 19. An unnamed victim is identified by her connection to a Levite. This man, commanded to follow God’s Law, should have been her safeguard. But shockingly, he throws her into the hands of her abusers. The Old Testament is packed with narratives of seemingly obscure women like the Levite’s concubine. Some of these stories are rarely taught and largely unknown. And yet, they are part of the canon of Scripture—divinely inspired words that unfold the grand story of redemption. So what do we miss from the larger portrait when we overlook its dimmer corners? And how might these dark stories—in this case, the account of a molested woman and her indifferent priest—diagnose our own hearts amid the church abuse crisis of our day? In the Book of Judges, we find a Levite man bending God’s law by marrying a nameless ...Continue reading...

  • Younger Pastors More Likely to Say They Struggle With Mental Illness
    by Aaron Earls - Lifeway Research on August 10, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Overall, more than half of church leaders have seen members suffer depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Most pastors have seen mental illness in their pews, while some have seen it in themselves. A Lifeway Research study explores US Protestant pastors’ experiences with mental illness and how well their churches are equipped to respond to those who need help. A majority of pastors (54%) say in the churches where they have served on staff, they have known at least one church member who has been diagnosed with a severe mental illness such as clinical depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. Most of those pastors had experience with a small number of members: 18 percent say one or two and another 18 percent say three to five. Fewer pastors say they’ve known 6-10 (8%), 11-20 (5%) or more than 20 (6%). Around a third (34%) say none of their church members have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, while 12 percent don’t know. “There is a healthy generational shift occurring as younger and middle-aged pastors are much more likely to have encountered people in church with severe mental illness than the oldest pastors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “However, it is not clear whether the presence of those with difficult mental illnesses is increasing among church members or if they have simply felt more comfortable sharing their diagnosis with younger pastors.” Pastors 65 and older (46%) and those with no college degree (52%) are more likely to say they haven’t known any church members with a severe mental illness. Twenty-six percent of US Protestant pastors say they have personally struggled with some type of mental illness, including 17 percent who say it was diagnosed and 9 percent who say they experienced it but were never diagnosed. ...Continue reading...

  • Anglican Division over Scripture and Sexuality Heads South
    by Timothy C. Morgan on August 9, 2022 at 8:59 pm

    After Lambeth conference steers bishops to agree to disagree on LGBT clergy and marriages, African conservatives chart a new course. At least 125 Anglican bishops gathered at the Lambeth conference in Canterbury, England, endorsed a decades-old resolution against “homosexual practice” along with a new provision that “renewed steps be taken to ensure all provinces abide by this doctrine in their faith, order, and practice.” The conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) launched an effort last week to have Resolution 1.10, adopted at Lambeth 1998, reaffirmed as the official stance of the Anglican Communion after 2022 conference leaders scrapped an initial plan to affirm the resolution among an array of “calls” or statements on pressing issues. With about 85 million adherents, the Anglican Communion is the third-largest body of Christians worldwide and exists in 165 countries. Some 650 bishops attended Lambeth, which concluded August 8 and was last held in 2008, meaning the GSFA campaign garnered votes from about one-fifth of clergy present. “I give thanks to God for all the bishops who have reaffirmed Lambeth 1.10–in its entirety–as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on Marriage and Sexuality,” said Archbishop Justin Badi, primate of South Sudan and GSFA chair. “We have been greatly encouraged by the bishops worldwide at this conference who have expressed their support, in whatever form, for the Communion to be governed by biblical authority.” Badi has emerged as a leading voice for conservatives and has not minced words in his criticism of liberal theology. To demonstrate their resolve, he and other conservative bishops at Lambeth refused to receive communion at services in the historic 1,400-year-old Canterbury cathedral, where Augustine served as a ...Continue reading...

  • Chinese Christians Survived Discrimination in Indonesia. Now the Church Is Growing Spiritually.
    by David Doong on August 9, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Q&A with pastor Samuel Fu on the evangelical challenges in the nation of a thousand islands. When Christians around the world today think of Indonesia, the first thing that may come to mind is “the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.” However, Indonesia is a culturally and religiously diverse country. Christians are an estimated 10 percent of Indonesia’s population of 210 million, putting Indonesia in the upper third of countries with the largest numbers of Christians. Today, millions of the Chinese diaspora community live in Indonesia (estimated numbers range from more than 2 million to more than 7 million, depending on the statistical method). There are Chinese churches with different traditions and compositions throughout Indonesia. Historically, Chinese in Indonesia were discriminated against and marginalized at various times. How did the Chinese church in Indonesia survive and develop in the difficult past? In today’s Indonesia, there are also some unique regulations on religious practices. What impact would that have on Chinese church growth? What evangelical challenges and opportunities do Chinese churches in Indonesia face serving the younger generation in today’s multicultural environment? The following is part of a transcript of an interview of pastor Samuel Fu of Pontianak Congregation of West Kalimantan Christian Church by David Doong, general secretary of the Chinese Coordination Center for World Evangelism (CCCOWE) in February 2022. Multiculturalism in the nation of a thousand islands Doong: If you were to introduce Indonesia to people who didn’t know much about it, what would you say? What is the situation of the Chinese immigrants in Indonesia? Fu: Indonesia is a country of a thousand islands, or nusantara in Indonesian. It is a country composed ...Continue reading...

  • New York City’s Largest Evangelical Church Plans Billion-Dollar Development
    by Emily Belz in New York on August 9, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    The Brooklyn congregation and its pastor A.R. Bernard hope the Jane Jacobs–inspired urban village will be a model for other cities. A. R. Bernard, pastor of the largest evangelical church in New York City, has been working on a plan for more than 10 years. Now the proposal to build a $1.2 billion urban village and revitalize the struggling neighborhood around his church is progressing through the city’s approval process and closer to reality. The Christian Cultural Center (CCC) hopes developers could break ground in Brooklyn next year. “If I’ve got land, and it’s valuable, I’m going to leverage that land to partner in its future, not surrender it. … What can we do to better the quality of life?” Bernard told CT in early August as he paged through the proposals for the urban village. “My theology is summed up in two words: human flourishing. That’s the story from Genesis to Revelation.” Bernard had just returned from an event with the New York governor in Buffalo and was planning a trip to participate in the coronation of the new Zulu king in South Africa. But back in his office without any staff or audience around, he was diving into the minutiae of land development, showing slideshows of proposals for different heights of buildings and talking about the design for “porosity” of streets and ULURP, the city ’s land use process. On 10.5 acres of church land, the proposed village would include thousands of units of affordable housing, a trade school, a supermarket, a performing arts center, 24/7 childcare for night-shift workers, senior living facilities, and other amenities designed to revitalize the East New York neighborhood. As the founder of the 30,000-member nondenominational church, Bernard is also a kind of unofficial mayor of the city’s evangelical churches. He has ...Continue reading...

  • From the Archives: Elisabeth Elliot’s Devotionals
    by The editors on August 9, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    A selection of the late author’s CT publications. This fall, a recently discovered collection of daily devotionals by Elisabeth Elliot will be published posthumously and released to the public. In the process of searching for a separate project, writes Michelle Van Loon, radio producers at Back to the Bible “made an extraordinary discovery: A long-buried computer file contained an unpublished devotional by Elliot called Heart of God: 31 Days to Discover God’s Love for You.” “We ran across it strictly by accident,” said Kathy Reeg, president of the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation. “But nothing is accidental. Everything is providential.” Read the rest of the story here and then revisit past pieces by the late missionary, speaker, and writer:Continue reading...