Christianity Today’s March 2019 cover story examined how retirement fits into the Christian vision of faith and work and how assumptions about what retirement looks like are changing for many Americans. We looked at the increasingly diverse ways that Christians are leveraging their post-career years for the good of their families, churches, and communities.
A lot of readers wrote in to express appreciation for covering a topic that really matters to so many, but we also got a fair number of responses that were concerned that our take on retirement was too narrow. One reader, Rodney, summed it up this way:
"Your article 'Saving Retirement' in the March issue was a good summary of the situation facing retirees today. However, most of the examples of retirees doing something purposeful after retirement were people who had held leading positions in their field of work with presumably large salaries. The article definitely needed to portray what some ‘ordinary workers’ have gone on to do."
We agreed with Rodney that there is a much broader picture of post-work life that needs to be acknowledged. Do Christian understandings of work and aging accommodate those who can’t afford to retire?
Rev. Amy Ziettlow, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Decatur, Illinois, and author, with Naomi Cahn, of Homeward Bound: Modern Families, Elder Care, and Loss, joined theology editor Caleb Lindgren and editor in chief Mark Galli to talk about the hopeful vision for retirement she sees in her working-class church community and her recommendations for how retirement-aged individuals and their churches can best partner with each other during the autumn years.
Venezuela has been in crisis for years, but the situation there has arguably taken an even greater turn for the worse in recent weeks. Recently, a blackout cut off the entire country from electricity. Citizens have also been victim to frequent water shortages and a currency that is losing its value at unprecedented rates.
At the same time, more than three million people have left the country of 31 million people, roughly 10 percent of the population.
The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, although, like much of Latin America, has experienced the growing influence of Protestantism. According to Pew Research Center’s 2014 numbers, Protestants currently make up 17 percent of the population.
Germán Novelli-Oliveros, the Venezuelan-born-and-raised pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss how oil brought Protestantism to Venezuela, why pastors won’t speak out politically, and his advice for people who want to help.
As part of the launch of her latest book, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber asked would-be readers to mail her their purity rings. Then she took the submissions and had them melted down and turned into a vagina statue.
While the action earned attention for its shock value, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren recently pointed out for CT that this was far from the first example of vaginal (or yonic) art in the Christian tradition.
“No reasonable person could say that these Christian yonic symbols indicate that the early church was a bastion of feminist liberation,” Harrison Warren wrote. “In the ancient church, as now, misogyny abounds. Still, at the very least, they show that the female body was not (and is not) deemed dirty, unholy, or otherwise bad.”
Christian art has always depicted women, says Robin Jensen, a professor at Notre Dame who specializes in the history of Christianity and liturgical studies.
“Surprisingly, though, what you’d expect to find in Christian art is sometimes not there in the initial stages,” said Jensen, the author of Understanding Early Christian Art. “If you were to think about the two most common themes in Christian art from all the centuries of Christian art through and time, you might say the crucifix and the Madonna and child. Neither of those are going to be appearing until much later.”
Instead, art based on Bible stories with male and female characters from both the Old and New Testament is what is initially most prevalent, says Jensen.
Jensen joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and theology editor Caleb Lindgren to discuss the extent to which fertility is a theme in Christian art, how nudity is generally handled in Christian art, and what’s going on with angels.
For the past four days, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been reexamining its doctrines on human sexuality. From Christianity Today’s report from yesterday:
The United Methodist Church (UMC) voted Tuesday to maintain its traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy, bolstered by a growing conservative contingent from Africa.
The denomination’s “Traditional Plan” passed, with 438 votes in favor and 384 against (53% to 47%), in the final hours of a special UMC conference held this week in St. Louis to address the issue of human sexuality.
While this decision will likely have broad global consequences, it is also one that has been heavily impacted by the denomination’s large international presence. The UMC has about 7 million lay members in the US and 5.5 million overseas, and they operate in more than 130 countries.
But the denomination's broad reach isn’t anything new.
“It’s inherently a global movement,” said J. Steven O’Malley, a professor of Methodist Holiness history at Asbury Theological Seminary, who recently spent the year working on a project called “The Origin of the Wesleyan Theological Vision for Christian Globalization and the Pursuit of Pentecost in Early Pietist Revivalism.”
O’Malley joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss what was at stake at the most recent UMC meeting, how the denomination came together 50 years ago, and how it ended up around the world.
Note: Quick to Listen now has transcripts! Scroll to the bottom of the episode description to read through our conversation with David Bailey.
Last week, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published a three-part investigation into the scope of sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Among one of the seeming fruits of their report was an announcement from the head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Al Mohler wanted to apologize for the role that he played in protecting his friend CJ Mahaney after he was accused of covering up a sex abuse scandal at his church. In an 850-word statement, Mohler acknowledged his role in supporting Mahaney, even as questions arose about his involvement. He then expressed regret for his former actions and spoke specifically about where he believed he had fallen short.
“I can only speak for myself, but I wish to do so clearly, acknowledging these errors, grieving at the harm that was done, and committing to do everything I can to lead well and to serve Christ faithfully.”
Like many public apologies today, Mohler’s drew a mixed reaction. Some were frustrated about the length of time it took for him to acknowledge his mistakes. Others were encouraged by the change of heart from a man who it had seemed might never change his mind.
“With our leaders, any kind of leadership, people want to know, if something’s wrong, do you see it and are you going to do something about it? Are you going to do the right thing?” said David Bailey, the executive director of Arrabaon, a ministry that helps Christian leaders engage in in reconciliation. “Leadership, a lot of times, is moving on the currency of trust. I think a demand for an apology is ‘Hey, can I trust you? Are you going to do the right thing?’”
Bailey joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss why it’s hard to offer a good public apology, why it’s significant that we “demand an apology,” and how long is long enough before the start of a “comeback” story.
Half of millennial Christians say it’s wrong to evangelize.
This was the headline from CT’s report from new Barna Group research examining the perspectives of millennials, Gen-X, boomer, and elder practicing Christians on sharing their faith. (Note: Barna defines “practicing Christians” as churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives.)
More than 90 percent of practicing Christians of all generations agreed somewhat or strongly that “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus” and “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to come to know Jesus.”
Millennials were more likely than any other age group to say that they were gifted at sharing their faith with other people. In fact, 73 percent said they were compared to 56 percent of elders, who were the least secure about their ability.
But controversially—at least to CT’s Twitter followers—47 percent of millennials said it was wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.
What should we make of these numbers?
Alpha USA executive director Craig Springer joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss what these figures really mean, why the best way to do evangelism may just be asking questions, and why Christian unity is a good form of Christian witness.
For nearly 100 days, more than 500 Dutch pastors—as well as some from across the continent and the Atlantic—across denominations gathered in Bethel Church for a continuous worship service. Why? To protect a refugee family from deportation.
From CT’s report:
The Dutch government is generally prohibited from interrupting religious services, so the Protestant congregation kept extending their gathering during the debate over family asylum or kinderpardon.
[Last week], officials agreed to allow the Armenian family at Bethel—along with 700 others who have lived in the country for more than a decade—to have their cases reviewed again rather than facing immediate expulsion.
Christian leader Axel Wicke was closely involved with the planning and execution of the hundreds of hours’ long service. Some of Wicke’s elderly church attendees told him that they stopped by the service in the middle of the night when they woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep.
“I’m now quite familiar with who of my parish members are night people,” he said.
“The reason why we did this was quite sad or depressing….but it was also a really big gift to this parish and to the church in the Hague,” said Wicke. “I still get messages along the line, ‘Finally, I know why there is a church.’ It was a very fundamental way of recognizing, That’s what the church is for.’”
Wicked joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the past couple months changed his views on prayer, how to figure out the logistics of a continuous 24/7 church service, and what type of impact this might have on the Christian community in the Netherlands longterm.
SIS has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 20 churchgoers and soldiers at a Catholic church in the Philippines. Two bombs exploded at a church in the city of Jolo on Sunday, “the first blasting through rows of pews and the second shooting from the entrance to kill scrambling parishioners as well as the guards positioned outside to protect the church week after week,” according to CT’s report.
The attack came several days after a key vote in the region’s surrounding islands on a referendum that offered the area greater autonomy. While Muslims in Jolo largely opposed the referendum—part of an effort to end ongoing clashes between Philippine forces and separatists, —it passed anyway.
Given that the vote seemingly went in their favor, why did extremists react violently?
“What they want to do is pit Muslims and Christians against each other,” said Efraim Tendero, the current general secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance and former national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.
When he previously visited Jolo, Tendero said he had been welcomed at the airport by one of the region’s Muslim leaders.
“You can see that the moderate Muslim community is peace-loving and would like to support peace,” he said.
These attacks, then, likely come from a group that doesn’t “really want the peace agreement to flourish so they are trying to sow more terror,” said Tendero, pointing out that many of the casualties were soldiers guarding the area.
Tendero joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Asia’s most Christian country and the health of the Filipino church in the 21st century.
Videos from last Friday’s March for Life and the Indigenous People’s March have been the subject of intense debate. In footage from a clip filmed in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, high school students, some wearing Make America Great Again hats, appeared to be in a faceoff with a Native American elder. The footage went viral, as many on social media condemned the boys’ apparent actions.
Shortly thereafter, a new video showed a group of half a dozen Hebrew Israelites berating and using insults that seem to come out of the Old Testament to the same high schoolers and the Native Americans at the event for more than an hour. For many Americans, this was their first encounter with this sect, started by two African Americans in the late 19th century.
Despite the scripture references that many members of the community drop in public, Christians should avoid engaging the Hebrew Israelites should they encounter them on the street, says Lisa Fields, the founder and president of Jude 3 Project, an apologetics ministry focused on serving the black community.
“You’re not usually going to get any headway because they’re going to be very insulting, very loud and no matter what scripture you present they’re going to counter it with something else,” said Fields. “…I find the most effective way to engage is 1-1. In a crowd of people, even if you are making some headway or one person is listening to you, the group is going to feed them so they’re not going to show that you’re breaking through at any point.
Fields joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and theology editor Caleb Lindgren to talk about where the Hebrew Israelite movement came from, how the black church has responded, and what majority culture Christians need to know about what causes these movements to grow.