Lessons we learned from helping Vietnam become the first country to be peaceably removed from the United States’ blacklist of the worst persecutors of Christians and other believers.
I was completely frustrated. Our SUVs were sunk in mud. And while still morning, I felt the December daylight already racing away. It seemed we would never reach our intended village in northwest Vietnam, nestled between Laos and China.
It was my second trip in 2010 to Dien Bien province, home to the famous Vietnamese military victory over French colonial forces in 1954. The government was always happy to facilitate tours of the Dien Bien Phu battlefield.
But I wasn’t there to see the battlefield. I was there to understand why the local government was not allowing churches to register.
There I was, literally stuck, prevented from reaching Muong Thin, a White Hmong village that—if it existed—allegedly contained one of the only three registered house churches in the entire province. “I’ve traveled 10,000 miles to be stuck on a road to nowhere,” I thought. “Am I getting played by the local officials?”
Working on religious freedom is like that road to Muong Thin. You are never quite sure if the road works, or where it leads, or who the partners may (not) be. All you know is that you have to keep showing up, believing that God has gone before you, trusting the relationships—no matter how unlikely—that he has revealed.
Since the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, many ambassadorial positions, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental entities, have been established across the world, often working together [see footnote at bottom].
Yet, despite the institutionalization of positions and alliances over the past 23 years, the world has never seen greater violations of international religious freedom (IRF). Governmental restrictions ...
Christians calling for clergy to rise up against the government should take a closer look at the complex approaches by America’s early preachers.
At last month’s Jericho March on Washington, the head of a group called America’s Black Robe Regiment recounted stories about clergy who trained their men to fight in the Revolution and likened their situation to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“Where are our pastors today in this battle?” asked Bill Cook, a Virginia minister who was introduced at the event by Eric Metaxas.
Other ministers—including Greg Locke, who prayed at a January 5 rally in Washington—have recently evoked the black robe regiment term and history when calling on pastors to take bolder stances in defense of liberty. A quick Google search reveals several smaller organizations that have also taken up the mantle.
It’s become a rallying cry among a small subset of Christians, some of whom have even used it as a defense for storming the Capitol and some of whom anticipate a literal call to arms during the current unrest.
The main sources for initially popularizing the term seem to be the media personalities Glenn Beck and David Barton. Both have connected their political appeals back to the American founding. In a 2010 rally, Beck called on ministers to form a new “black robe regiment” to proclaim American principles from the pulpits.
Beck appears to have gotten the phrase from Barton, whose WallBuilders Ministry emphasizes the Christian foundation beneath “America’s forgotten history and heroes.” In this approach, patriotism should shape sermons’ content.
A Time for War and a Time for Peace
Many readers may have never heard of the black robe regiment, whether current or historical. Metaxas admitted he wasn’t very familiar with the phrase when he handed the mic ...
Instead of persecuting prophets who have apologized, we might do better to join them.
The failed prophecies of Donald Trump’s reelection may have damaged the credibility of the US independent Charismatic wing of evangelicalism more than any event since the televangelist scandals of the 1980s. They have led some outsiders to criticize Christianity itself and rightly call us to introspection.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m Charismatic myself, and the majority of Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors I know were not paying attention to such prophecies. Millions of online views and shares, though, show that many people were.
The first step toward correcting mistakes is admitting that we have made them. As we approach the inauguration of President Joe Biden, some who prophesied Trump’s reelection remain adamant that they were correct. Perhaps the election was stolen or will be overturned, or in some mystical realm Trump is actually spiritually president. Some just change the subject. Unfortunately, their hardcore followers may settle for that.
Others acknowledge that prophecy must be tested and, by affirming Biden’s win, now tacitly concede that they were wrong. Yet certain prophets have drawn the attention of Charismatics and non-Charismatics alike by publicly confessing that their prophecies were indeed mistaken and extending their apologies.
R. Loren Sandford, Jeremiah Johnson, and Kris Vallotton have recently expressed contrition and even repentance for incorrectly prophesying that Trump would win again in 2020. All three urge us to pray for and work respectfully with the new administration.
Their explanations for how they may have initially misheard God’s voice may help in guarding against similar errors in the future. Meanwhile, those of us who might be tempted to tell them, “I ...
One is a founding member of the anti-“woke” Conservative Baptist Network, and the other is known for his involvement in racial reconciliation efforts.
Albert Mohler has new competition in the race to become the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Two pastors, Ed Litton and Mike Stone, accepted nominations in the past week, each representing different emphases for the future of the SBC as the denomination grapples with an escalating debate over its approach to race.
Mohler has been in the running for over a year; the SBC canceled its previous election along with its 2020 annual meeting due to COVID-19.
Mohler is already a big name in the SBC. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, he’s currently the longest-serving entity head in the denomination and regularly weighs in on current issues on his daily podcast, The Briefing.
But with that platform and prominence has come controversy, especially in recent months. Southern Baptists and evangelical onlookers saw the former Never Trumper endorse the president for reelection, decry Trump’s role in the attempted insurrection, and defend his decision to vote for him. He also led seminary presidents in a letter condemning critical race theory as incompatible with SBC beliefs.
“Dr. Mohler’s shifting positions on political issues have left a significant number of Southern Baptists dissatisfied with his candidacy,” said Dave Miller, editor of the SBC Voices blog and a pastor in Iowa. “Others feel he has enough power and control already and does not need to add SBC president to his other positions of power.
Stone, a senior pastor in South Georgia and former chairman of the Executive Committee of the SBC, was nominated last week. He immediately garnered endorsements from Tom Ascol, president of Founders Ministries, and Gerald Harris, retired editor of the ...
However, while they’re all micro church advocates, they would probably acknowledge that the gravitational pull is still toward the large church.
Years ago, I facilitated a gathering of both megachurches and micro churches in Austin, Texas. Felicity Dale made it clear to everyone, “I'm not in competition.” Hill Country Bible Church, a local megachurch in Austin, was represented by its senior pastor, Tim Hawks. Tim and Felicity were really engaging as they dialogued. Felicity admitted (my paraphrase), “Our singing is really bad. There are 15 of us gathering in a room and we're really passionate about this, but then when I go to Tim’s church it's like literally being transported to heaven. The band's playing and people are really singing.”
Reflecting back, the merit of their interaction and the dynamics of their conversation raises an intriguing question that could unlock a great potential for the future of the church: Can micro and large coexist?
The rest of this article explores what used to be a dichotomized way of thinking about micro and mega, and the opportunity now—largely due to the pandemic—for bringing these church expressions closer together.
Downward Pressure and the Micro Church
Over the years, I’ve talked about what frustrates some of my micro (house, simple, and organic) church friends. There are 34 Western industrialized democracies ...
Experts say the second Catholic president is pointing to American tradition and deep personal roots.
Donald Trump once claimed that Joe Biden would “hurt the Bible” if he became president, but the copy of the Scripture that Biden is bringing to the inauguration looks like it might hurt you if you tried to lift it.
The book is about five inches thick, with a sturdy leather cover, and solid metal clasps holding it closed. When Jill Biden raises the book up for her husband to take his oath of office on Wednesday, she will have to use both hands.
“Why is your Bible bigger than mine? Do you have more Jesus in there?” said Stephen Colbert, the Catholic host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in an interview with president-elect Biden in December.
“I don’t think so,” said Biden, who is also Catholic. “It’s just been a family heirloom in the Biden side of the family, and every important date is there. Every time I’ve been sworn in for anything, the date has been in that. It’s inscribed in the Bible.”
The Biden Bible carries 127 years of family history, but experts say it’s also a significant symbol for the new president. The choice to take the oath of office on this specific text says something about what Biden believes about the United States, the presidency, Catholics in this country, and the work ahead of him as he attempts to fulfill his promise to “restore the soul of America.”
“He’s not only undergirding his oath of office with the Bible but saying it reflects the essence of who he is, and his family heritage, and his own faith,” said Robert Briggs, president and CEO of the American Bible Society.
Presidents are not required to take the oath of office on a Bible—and some haven’t. ...
In 2020, black churchgoers felt more disempowered than black Americans overall, Barna Group reports.
A new survey from Barna Group confirmed what many faithful African American believers have known all their lives: Despite changes in society and politics, the black church holds steady as a refuge.
While African American leaders say the black church plays a different role in today’s racial justice movement than it did when Martin Luther King Jr. led the charge during the civil rights era of the 1960s, black Americans increasingly see the church as a source of comfort as their sense of political disempowerment grows.
Over the past 15 years, black adults have become more disillusioned with American politics, and those in the church skew slightly more pessimistic. Barna found that 70 percent of black adults and 75 percent of those who attend black churches agreed they generally feel powerless when it comes to politics, compared to 61 percent of black adults in 1996.
Yet researchers also saw a greater appreciation for the black church. In 2020, two-thirds of black adults and 80 percent of black adults who attend black churches saw the black church as a source of comfort because it’s a place “where black people have control over their lives.” Back in 1996, only half of black Americans agreed.
“Given the coinciding increase in a broader sense of powerlessness, present attendees in Black churches may see their congregations as autonomous spaces to reclaim agency and be a part of worship communities influenced by the vision and hopes of Black people,” the researchers wrote.
Though released today, this Barna report comes from surveys taken in April and May 2020, months before the election and weeks before George Floyd’s death spurred a reckoning over racial injustice. The data is part of the State ...
Theologian John Barclay distills and updates his game-changing study of God’s “incongruous” grace in Christ.
In an early episode of NBC’s sitcom The Office, corporate America boss-extraordinaire Michael Scott hosts a Secret Santa party for his employees. Each person is supposed to bring a gift of not more than $20 to exchange with another. But Michael, wanting to add some spice to the evening, brings a $400 video iPod (remember those?). Wearing a lopsided Santa hat, Michael explains his rationale: “[A gift… it’s] like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars’ worth.’”
I often use that illustration with my students when I try to help them reflect on the complications of gift giving. Is it any wonder, I ask them, that a gift like Michael’s caused his Secret Santa party to descend into chaos? (You’ll have to watch the “Christmas Party” episode to see the sad, hilarious debacle.) At one level, it’s just a gift and shouldn’t be expected to surprise anyone, least of all at a Christmas party. We all know the choreography of exchanging presents. And yet, by giving a gift out of all proportion with the rules of the game, Michael not only disrupts the social equilibrium of the office he manages but also raises questions for us, the viewers, about what counts as an appropriate gift—and what criteria we might use to warrant our answer.
A Long-Running Conversation
We sitcom viewers are hardly the first ones in history to wonder about best practices when it comes to giving and receiving gifts. Throughout antiquity, philosophers, dramatists, orators, and others were engaged in a lively conversation about gifts.
The early first-century Stoic philosopher Seneca, to choose just one exemplar, dispensed definite opinions ...
Each year, we post MLK's letter to white moderates as it still speaks today.
Today is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday and the cause he championed, racial equality. Over the years, I’ve developed a tradition of posting Letter from Birmingham Jail on the day we celebrate his birthday. I thought it might be worth explaining why I do.
Since many evangelicals were on the wrong side of the race issue decades ago (and on the wrong side of some of the hoses in places like Birmingham), I think it is helpful to read some of the words that came out of that Birmingham jail. The letter was in response to several white religious leaders and an open letter they published, A Call for Unity.
My hope is that it will help evangelicals think more deeply on the issue of race today, asking the Lord to make our blind spots clear and our passion for justice strong.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail, also known as The Negro Is Your Brother, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader. King wrote the letter from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was confined after being arrested for his part in the Birmingham campaign...King's letter is a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, titled "A Call For Unity". The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. King responded that without nonviolent forceful direct actions such as his, true civil rights could never be achieved. As he put it, "This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'" He asserted that not only was civil disobedience justified ...
The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us to push past tweetable quotes and ‘big talk’ to practice true Christlike love.
For a black boy growing up in Alabama trying to make sense of himself in a hostile world, Martin Luther King Jr. was my hero. Alongside a startingly pale Jesus, a picture of Martin hung beside photographs of my family. I knew Martin by sight. I could recognize the tenor of his voice.
The mental architecture of my young black imagination was formed by grainy videos of mass church meetings and marches and by the hymns and spirituals that threatened to shake the United States to its foundations. I knew about Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery before I could find them on a map of my state. I do not remember not remembering Martin.
By contrast, the King that I see online on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a stranger to me. This beloved figure is in part the construction of a society that never fully loved him or the cause he represented. King died an unpopular man. In 1968, the year of his death, 75 percent of Americans disapproved of his views and activities. That was up from 50 percent in 1963.
Today, his approval rating nears 90 percent. Some might suggest that with hindsight, Americans have come to appreciate King in a way that was impossible during the racist era in which he lived. But things are not that simple. If social media is any indication, a large portion of America still hasn’t wrestled with the King of 1968. A USA Today study of the most tweeted MLK lines are startling in their vagueness:
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
These were not the quotes that stuck to my ribs as a kid. I remember King talking ...
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