On Sunday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a four-part series on more than 400 allegations of sexual misconduct affiliated with the independent fundamental Baptist movement. The scope of their reporting spanned nearly 1,000 churches and organizations across 40 states and Canada. The report noted:
One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.
But what is the independent fundamental Baptist movement?
Historically it has meant a firm belief in the “fundamental doctrines, that is to say, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith” and “an insistence that you should only extend Christian fellowship to people who profess to believe the gospel.” said Kevin Bauder, a research professor of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of a two-part volume on Baptist fundamentalism.
But that’s not necessarily what people hear, Bauder acknowledges.
“The term ‘fundamentalist’ has sort of been co-opted by Martin Marty’s Fundamentalism project, where he made it a sociological designation for any extreme group,” said Bauder. “None of us are really happy with that label these days, because of the connotations it carries now.”
(Perhaps one way to see it could be as the inverse of historian George Marsden’s remark: “An evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.”)
Bauder joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the history of fundamentalism, why he thinks the movement is dying, and the circumstances that led it to part ways with Billy Graham.
We’re in the midst of what could be a significant transition for American pastoral salaries. A lawsuit challenging the longstanding clergy housing allowance is in the court of appeals. Last year’s tax reform bill made significant changes to the standard deduction, which could have dramatic effects for the level of giving churches have historically relied upon.
As CT Pastors recently reported, “staffing costs typically account for 45 to 55 percent of a church’s budget. But with recent changes in costs, demographics, and giving in US churches, many are questioning that model.”
Beyond these larger changes, churches, whether part of denominations or nondenominational, have long struggled with knowing how to fairly compensate pastors and other employees, says Brian Kluth, who currently leads the National Association of Evangelical’s Financial Health initiative, which seeks to improve the financial health of pastors and church.
“There are real critical pay issues for people in church and really at all levels and all genders,” said Kluth.
Kluth joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the inconsistent ways pastors are compensated, how American Christian giving (or lackthereof) affects this conversation, and the perks and breaks pastors receive and how they should be considered when determining salary.
Elections often call attention to white evangelicals whose votes and voices play a significant role in national elections. But their attitudes and values don’t necessarily represent those of evangelicals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Case in point: Latino evangelicals. According to data from the Billy Graham Center Institute at Wheaton College and LifeWay Research, 41 percent of Hispanics with evangelical beliefs voted for Trump in 2016. What were the issues that most influenced their vote?
According to the same survey, 19 percent said improving the economy, 14 percent said helping those in need, and 14 percent said a candidate’s position on immigration.
“Most Latinos will tend to be socially conservative on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage but will tend to be social liberals on issues like education and immigration, so we’ve tended to be divided on how we spread the vote,” said Juan Martínez, who currently serves as professor of Hispanic studies and pastoral leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. “This isn’t new; it just stands out more because we’re a larger percentage of the voting block. Those of us who have voted have struggled with this for years because the Democrat/Republican way that this is broken out doesn’t fit us well.”
Martínez joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the history of Latino evangelicals and what unifies and divides the community.
A Chicagoland megachurch pastor has sued a Christian media personality and two former church-members-turned-potential-whistleblowers for defamation. According to Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James McDonald, former Moody Radio host Julie Roys and bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant published and helped publicize false and damaging financial information about the congregation.
But should Christians so at odds actually be taking each other to court? In many cases, no, says Ken Sande, the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and the current president of Relational Wisdom 360.
“Typically, conflict between Christians involves some foundation of sin,” said Sande. “Lawyers can dress that up in legal terms, but what it really comes down to in 99 percent of the cases is sin. Keeping one’s word. Slandering. False representation. Bitterness. Anger. Unforgiveness. Those are all spiritual issues that the church has jurisdiction over and a judge can’t touch.”
Sande joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss conflict resolution—or lack thereof—when it comes to Christians, the power of seeing people confess sin to one another, and how these processes play out in a #MeToo era.
Last year, Vice President Mike Pence pledged support to Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities forced out of their homelands in Iraq by ISIS. Religious freedom advocates and groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq cheered the news.
Then, the money didn’t come.
Last week, the Trump administration announced a multimillion-dollar assistance plan to bring the total funding over the past year for religious minorities in Iraq to nearly $300 million. The money will be used to rebuild communities, preserve heritage sites, secure left-behind explosives, and empower survivors to seek justice.
Those charged with administering the funds have their work cut for them.
“From the time of the US invasion to now, you have seen a Christian church of over a million people that has been reduced to 100,000 people,” said Mindy Belz, senior editor at World Magazine, who has visited and reported from Iraq frequently over the past two decades.
When Saddam Hussein’s regime was first toppled, Christians were hopeful, says Belz. But as the US stayed on, things got worse for the community.
“When the US had troops on the ground and were essentially running the government to it, we were not paying attention to the minorities—the Christians, the Yazidis, the Shabak, the Turkmen. We were not looking out for them,” said Belz, who is also the author of They Say We Are Infidels. “They did not have sufficient political representation that would look out for them, and they were getting no favors from the Iraqi government so the jihadists were targeting them with impunity.”
Belz joins associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss what went wrong with last year’s plan to send money to Iraq, how ISIS changed how Christians relate to their fellow religious minorities and their Muslim neighbors, and what life is like on the ground in Iraq right now for the church.
Last week, the world’s leading climate scientists released a sobering report, which claimed that there are only a dozen years to keep the Earth’s climate from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the planet fails to do so, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people will massively increase.
To avoid barreling toward this future, the entire world will have to make massive changes in the way it currently consumes energy.
“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” Debra Roberts, a scientist who worked on the report, told The Guardian. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”
But upending the status quo is incredibly difficult work, says Peter Harris, cofounder of A Rocha, an international Christian nature organization. A former parish minister, Harris says he sees parallels between his conservation work and his life in church ministry.
“I had to sit next to the bedside of a dying friend. It was good to be there. It was good for us to share the presence of God and the hope of the resurrection,” he said. “And sometimes we know when we’re potentially going to lose the conservation battle—and honestly I doubt if we will keep the temperature rise below two degrees within the next 15 years—what we have to do it out of is that the Lord will not abandon his creation. He’ll stir up his church worldwide.”
Harris joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss UN report’s warnings and predictions, the human impact of climate change, and why a Christian response to this report must be rooted in a bigger vision than halting climate change.
Last week, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was never seen again. Now, Turkish officials believe Khashoggi, a longtime critic of the country, was murdered by Saudi officials.
That same week, US officials visited the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh and reported that the country seemed to be loosening some of its harsh religious laws, including reforming its religious police—once tasked with enforcing shari’ah law on the streets and in homes—and has instituted new government programs to quash extremism.
Last fall, the 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans last October to modernize Saudi Arabia and return the restrictive Muslim country to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” And while the Crown Prince, whose often known by his nickname MSB, has made real strides in advancing freedom, including letting women drive, incidents like Khashoggi’s reported death, suggest that things may be more complicated than they seem.
“Critics will say that MBS’ reforms are lip service, eye candy, it’s trying to fool the West into thinking that Saudi Arabia is changing when in reality it’s still the same old, repressive, authoritarian regime it’s always been,”said Robert Nicholson, the founder and executive director of the Philos Project, a leadership community dedicated to promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.
“I actually think both are true. Anytime a woman can drive in a country and she couldn’t drive the day before is good news. I’m not going to be picky about how many other things are left undone,” said Nicholson. “...I also think it’s true that Saudi Arabia is nowhere near being a beacon of human rights and has a long, long way to go.”
Nicholson joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss how Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Iran matters, why the few Christians in the country are likely to be migrant workers, and how Christianity first arrived in that part of the world.