Archive | Christianity

African Christians Rescue United Methodists

By now you have read the news about the United Methodist Church—that conservatives within the denomination beat back an effort by liberals to affirm gay marriage and LGBT clergy. The New York Times reports:

After three days of intense debate at a conference in St. Louis, the vote by church officials and lay members from around the world doubled down on current church policy, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote served as a rejection of a push by progressive members and leaders to open the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Now, a divide of the United Methodist Church, which has 12 million members worldwide, appears imminent. Some pastors and bishops in the United States are already talking about leaving the denomination and possibly creating a new alliance for gay-friendly churches.

This is without question good news. The United Methodists are now the lone hold-out among the mainline denominations which have embraced the sexual revolution and affirmed gay marriage and gay clergy. That alone is a big deal. And a welcome development.

In large part, we have the African Methodists to thank for this result. They form about 30% of United Methodists worldwide, and they are vastly more conservative than their American counterparts. With the help of the African Methodists, the liberal plan to affirm gay marriage and gay clergy was defeated in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. North Africa gave birth to Western Christianity centuries ago. Now Africa is coming to the rescue of a compromised Western Christianity—at least in its Methodist version. Thank God for our African brothers and sisters.

Dr. Jerry Kulah, an African delegate who is a professor at the United Methodist University in Liberia, addressed a group of reform-minded Methodists who were attending the conference in St. Louis. Among other things, Kulah said this:

We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up”…

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!…

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us…

Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.

Amen. Thank God for such clarity of conviction. The Africans understand that there can be no fellowship with those who affirm LGBT immorality. None. The Africans were willing to walk alone rather than continue on with an apostate American Methodist movement. The key word there is “apostate.” To embrace LGBT immorality is to embrace apostasy. The Africans understand that.

What the liberal American Methodists wanted was a “One Church Plan,” which would have treated LGBT as a matter of moral indifference among United Methodists. Although it was pitched as a compromise, the plan’s effect would have been a total capitulation to the liberals.

What the liberals want—more than anything—is for the conservatives to concede that LGBT affirmation is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree. The Africans said no. And they were right. To grant that LGBT affirmation is in any way compatible with Christianity is to lose the essence of Christianity. You can have LGBT affirmation or you can have Christianity, but you can’t have both.

This is the bottom line that I fear many so-called evangelicals have yet to come to grips with. There can be no compromise with LGBT affirmation. The Bible and the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church simply won’t allow it. This is why so many of us signed our names to article ten of The Nashville Statement:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.

And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. And yet, scripture teaches that anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). The stakes are higher than the revisionists want you to believe.

Authentic Christians labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.

Real love—as God defines it—always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). And that is what the Africans did in St. Louis this week. My hope and prayer are that American evangelicals will draw strength and courage from the example of these African brothers and sisters. I know I have.

“Battle for the Minds” at Southern Seminary


When I first came to Southern Seminary to apply for the Ph.D. Program in 2001, I went to the Boyce Centennial Library and checked out a 1996 PBS documentary titled “Battle for the Minds.” Back then, it was only available on VHS, and it was not allowed out of the library. You had to watch it right there in the AV lab.

After seeing the documentary, I searched high and low to obtain a copy of this video for myself. When that proved impossible, I began trying to find a copy online and have searched for it at different times over the years. I searched and searched, and it has eluded thus far… until today. Someone shared it on YouTube about five days ago, and a friend sent it to me this afternoon.

The story of Southern Seminary’s recovery from theological liberalism is well-known at this point, but this documentary is not a sympathetic look at that recovery. In fact, the producers would not have viewed it as a “recovery” at all but as a regression. The documentary focuses on the debate over women in ministry, but through the course of the video it becomes clear that the issues were much deeper. At heart, the debate was about biblical authority, which had been shunned by many on the faculty at that time.

When the video was produced, many of the theological “moderates” hoped that there still might be a chance to stop the conservative resurgence at Southern Seminary. We all know now that this was not to be. But things didn’t seem so clear for those in the midst of the struggle in the mid-90’s. This unsympathetic video bears witness to that.

When I first watched this documentary 18 years ago, it was only five years old. Nevertheless, the documentary bore witness to a Southern Seminary far different even from what I experienced in 2001. It is certainly a world away from what Southern Seminary is now.

This is a time capsule worth the time to watch.

Grieved beyond Words… and Resolved

The Houston Chronicle has published part one of an extensive investigative report on sexual abuse within Southern Baptist Churches (there will be two more installments in coming days). They uncovered 250 ministry leaders and volunteers who have been convicted as sex offenders and over 700 of their victims. Those numbers alone are horrid, but I agree with the report that there are likely many other such instances that were not uncovered by this investigation.

The report reveals horrors that have long been out of the light of day. Without question, the most difficult parts to read are the testimonies from the victims. They are beyond heartbreaking. I can hardly imagine what some of these dear souls have been through and how difficult it must have been to come forward. But I am grateful that they did. Continue Reading →

About those Catholic School boys

I don’t have a great deal to add to the voluminous online commentary about confrontation between some Catholic School boys and protestors at the March for Life. At this point, it is clear that the initial viral narrative condemning the boys was an embarrassing whiff on the part of the media (see here and here). It appears that many people were willing to believe the worst possible interpretation of a brief video clip simply because some of the boys were wearing MAGA hats. I wonder if the video would have gotten any attention at all had the boys not been wearing those hats.

In any case, I was just thinking that it is probably a good time for all of us who use social media to remember how toxic and destructive a rush to judgment can be. People can be targeted and doxed with swift effect. Lives and livelihood’s can be overturned in a moment by an unthinking social media mob. For that reason, all of us should be careful that we not get carried away by the passion of a mob and forget basic biblical justice:

“The first to plead his case seems just, Until another comes and examines him.” –Prov. 18:17

This text is telling us that we need to reserve judgment on a matter until all sides have been heard. We need this instruction because we are sometimes tempted to believe initial reports on an event—especially if they are compelling. We also are prone to believe things that confirm our biases. And let’s face it. This was a charged political event, and almost every viewer is going to have a political bias that impacts his evaluation of evidence. That was certainly the case here. Sometimes the temptation to virtue-signal can overcome us before we even realize what we’ve done, and that failure is only exacerbated when a declaration is made before all the facts are in.

I do not mean to foreclose the possibility of spirited commentary about controversial ideas or events. All I’m saying is that Biblical wisdom would simply have us slow down. Remember your own biases. Remember that there is another side to the story. Sometimes the truth is more complicated than our biases would let us admit. And sometimes the best course of action is simply not weigh-in when so many variables are unknown. Sometimes the best course of action is not to weigh-in even when the variables are known.

Again, we would all do well to learn from this. I hope we do.

Stop the Presses! Christian teacher goes to teach at Christian school!

The Huffington Post apparently thinks it’s newsworthy that Karen Pence—wife of Vice President Mike Pence—has taken a teaching job at a Christian school. What’s so extraordinary about this? According to the report:

It’s not a school where everyone is welcome. In a “parent agreement” posted online, the school says it will refuse admission to students who participate in or condone homosexual activity. The 2018 employment application also makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.”

“Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites,” says the application.

The application says that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.”

These paragraphs seem designed to scandalize readers with the backwardness of the school and therefore of Ms. Pence herself. It seems lost on the writer that these kinds of moral standards in Christian schools are common. There are countless other schools just like this one all over the country, including the one where I teach. Admission and employment policies for Christian schools vary depending on the mission of the institution, but it is anything but uncommon for Christian schools to expect their employees and students to behave like Christians. Such schools are anything but newsworthy.

The real story here is that The Huffington Post thinks this is newsworthy. But it’s not just The Huffington Post. Now the story is being picked up by outlets across the country, including The Washington Post, which features this headline: “The school that hired Karen Pence requires applicants to disavow gay marriage, trans identity.” These reports represent a point of view that is scandalized by mere Christianity and that can only view bona fide Christian piety as fanatical and anti-social. It is a sign of the times that news writers could be so cut off from the way that millions of American believe and conduct their lives. But alas, here we are.

If you want to know why so many traditional believers look with skepticism at mainstream news media, look no further than the reporting on Karen Pence’s new teaching job.

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UPDATE 1: Other news outlets are now picking up this story, and the headlines are accumulating. The vast majority reflect the cynical spin of the original Huffington Post piece. For example:

NBC News: “Karen Pence to teach at school that bans LGBTQ employees, students”

Politico: “Karen Pence to teach at school that bans gay students, parents, employees”

Newsweek: “Karen Pence Has Just Taken a Job at a School That Bans LGBT Pupils”

CNN: “Karen Pence teaching art at school that bans gay students, parents”

UPDATE 2: Vice-President Mike Pence responds to critics of his wife. Watch below.

An openly lesbian speaker to teach at PCA church on this next Lord’s Day [UPDATED]

Over the weekend, I was gobsmacked by something that I read on social media. A PCA church in St. Louis is hosting an event that includes an openly lesbian speaker named Jay-Marie Hill who is coming to the church to “teach us how to not only mourn the tragic deaths of trans folx, but learn to celebrate their lives and humanity.” It is important to note that the teaching is not only about mourning the deaths of precious image-bearers (something we would all agree with). It’s also about affirming transgenderism (something every orthodox Christian must oppose).

When I first read this, I thought, “Surely this is an inaccurate report. Surely there is some mitigating piece of information that will make this not what it appears to be.” Then I followed the links and did a little poking around. No, the report is accurate as far as I can tell—at least that is what the organization hosting the event says.

The event is to be hosted by a group called “Faith for Justice,” which has as one of its founders a woman named Michelle Higgins. Higgins serves as Director of Worship at South City Church (PCA) which is hosting the event and where her father Mike Higgins is pastor.

I don’t know Ms. Higgins or her father, but I recognized her name as the one who criticized the pro-life movement in a sermon that she delivered at Urbana in 2015. I also recall an interview she gave to Red Letter Christians in which she argues that evangelical diversity must embrace transgenderism. Today I came across a sermon that Ms. Higgins delivered at a youth event in 2016, which included the following comments about Matthew 25:31-46:

Some of you know this shirt: ‘I met God. She’s black.’ Does anybody have that shirt? I have got to get me one… Have you met God? Do you know Him? She’s black… Do you know Jesus? Jesus is a trans-person of color… Your God is not heterosexual… Your God is the deepest, most forgotten, most ignored pieces of you and of your community…

The Facebook page of Ms. Higgins’ group “Faith for Justice” has a picture of the openly lesbian speaker that is slated to speak at South City Church. It turns out that Jay-Marie Hill is the founder of a transgender-affirming organization called “Music Freedom Dreams.” Her bio on that website says this:

Jay-Marie is originally from Oakland, CA. but now works out of St. Louis, MO building a very Black, very Queer life with their incredible partner, Kayla.

Notice the pronoun “their”—which is Jay-Marie’s resistance to female pronouns to refer to herself. All of this information is public and available on the internet for anyone to read for themselves.

Bottom line: South City Church is in the same presbytery as the church that hosted the controversial Revoice conference last summer. But the online description of the “Faith for Justice” event sounds far more radical than anything we read about Revoice, and that’s saying something. A PCA church in the St. Louis Presbytery is hosting an event on the Lord’s Day which features an openly lesbian teacher who refuses to use female pronouns to refer to herself.

I am not a Presbyterian, but I know and love many dear brothers and sisters who are. They are scandalized by this, as well they should be (as evidence of this, see “Overture #4” coming before the PCA General Assembly this summer). How can this be happening? I do not know. I do know that the PCA needs to get to the bottom of this and soon.

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UPDATE: The session of elders at South City Church have posted a statement tonight. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is the first paragraph:

In the past few days, the session and pastoral staff of South City Church became aware of details concerning an event that was to be hosted on its property on January 20th, 2019 sponsored and organized by Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy and social justice organization. Upon being informed of the details of the event, the session and pastoral staff met and determined that some of the planned elements within this particular event appeared to be inconsistent with South City Church’s theological convictions. We have thus determined that South City Church’s facility should no longer be used for the Faith for Justice event originally scheduled for January 20th. At no point was the event a South City Church event or part of a South City Church worship service.

I am grateful to read that the elders have decided not to allow the event to be held on their campus. That is a good thing. Nevertheless, this statement raises as many questions as it answers. The statement says that the Faith for Justice event is contrary to the “theological convictions” of South City Church. Nevertheless, the event hasn’t been cancelled. It has simply been moved to a PCUSA church in the area (according to Faith for Justice’s Facebook page). Also, Michelle Higgins is still a founding member of Faith for Justice and Rev. Mike Higgins is on the board of Faith for Justice (source). Why are a PCA pastor and worship director involved in an organization that is hosting a transgender-affirming event? Simply moving the venue doesn’t change that. It seems to me that the pastor and worship director’s involvement in such an organization is the far more significant issue that remains unresolved.

Is what divides us more significant than our humanity?

I just finished a long and interesting Buzzfeed piece about Ellen Degeneres. There is much that I could comment on, but there is only one item I will highlight here. The author of the article writes this:

Yes, we all have a shared humanity. But there is so much more that we don’t share—race, education level, class, marital status, ability, gender identity, the list goes on—and those are the things that directly contribute to our ability to succeed and survive in this world.

I don’t know how else to read this except as a statement that what divides us is more significant than our shared humanity. Perhaps others read right over this without a second thought, but to me it stuck out as an example of the worst kind of identity-divisiveness that plagues our culture. Are we really going to quietly acquiesce to the notion that our social divisions are more fundamental than our humanity? And yet it is presented in this article as an afterthought so self-evident that it needs no justification or defense.

The Buzzfeed article does not mention “intersectionality” at any point, but I would argue that its influence is nevertheless there. I have written elsewhere that intersectionality is an intellectual framework that does more harm than good. As a theory, intersectionality fosters a truncated view of human identity and tends to exacerbate social divisions rather than healing them. And yet, it seems to be the assumed framework of so many influencers in our society. It creates a social dynamic that incentivizes grievance based on identity. In that way, it entrenches social divisions.

No one is immune from these divisions, even the publicly affable Ellen Degeneres. The hostilities simply find new targets—even targets that were formerly lauded as heroes to the progressive cause. I do not mean to defend Ellen, Kevin Hart, or anyone else in making this observation. I’m simply observing that the prevalent identity-based way of analyzing the human condition is going nowhere to heal the human condition. We are going to need something more than what is on offer by the politics of identity.

The church is supposed to be a counterculture of people from a wide array of social groups—groups that have found reconciliation and unity not on offer by the theorists of social division. This gospel unity bears witness to a world afflicted by constant and unrelenting division. The intersectional spirit of the age seems to incentivize such hostilities, but only the gospel can overcome them (Gal. 3:28). And that is the message that the world desperately needs to hear and to heed.

Dutch Pastors face possible criminal investigation for signing the Nashville Statement

Last month, over 250 Dutch pastors and church leaders went public with their endorsement of the Nashville Statement. At least one member of the Dutch parliament also endorsed the statement. Even though they simply meant to reaffirm what Christianity has always taught for its entire 2,000-year history, the statement has been met with fierce opposition in the Netherlands.

Over the last several days, the public outcry against these leaders for their Christian convictions has been ferocious. Politicians and celebrities have publicly denounced them. The Hague, which is recognized as the international center for law and justice, flew a rainbow flag in protest of the Nashville Statement. And now, the country’s public prosecution service is “examining the statement to see if there [is] any basis for a criminal investigation,” according to a Dutch news site. The news report cites Article 1 of the Dutch constitution as possible grounds for the investigation, which states that “discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” Continue Reading →

How can the fallen mind accept Exodus 4:22?

My daily Bible reading had me in Exodus 4-7 today where God is calling a reluctant Moses to go back to Egypt to lead the children of Israel out of slavery. This particular command from God to Moses jumped off the page at me:

Exodus 4:22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘”

I have read this verse countless times over the years. What struck me today is how utterly and totally foreign a text like this sounds to fallen ears. After all, this is God pronouncing a judgment on Pharaoh, on his house, and on his dynasty—one that would take the life of Pharaoh’s own child. What kind of God does this? Continue Reading →

Top Ten Posts of 2018

I want to thank all of you who have read and interacted with this site over the last year. I am grateful for every one of you. For those of you who are interested, I give you the top 10 blog posts from 2018. This blog is a combination of content creation and content curation, which means that I sometimes write original material and that at other times I pass on to you items that I find interesting from elsewhere on the interwebs (although over the last few years the curation part has moved more and more to Twitter and Facebook). A number of items on this year’s list surprised me. Posts about John Chau appear twice on this list, and I am glad for that. Without further ado, here is the list. Continue Reading →

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