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Baylor surpasses $1 billion mark in current fundraising campaign

Baylor University has joined an elite group of American universities that have raised more than $1 billion in a single fundraising campaign.

The Waco, Texas, school announced May 13 that a $7 million gift to fund a basketball pavilion put the total for its Give Light campaign over the $1 billion mark, the largest amount of money the Baptist school ever has raised in a campaign.

The new pavilion, which will be home to the university’s top-ranked men’s and women’s basketball programs, is a priority capital project within the $1.1 billion campaign, which also aims to create endowment and infrastructure to support Baylor’s aspirations of becoming a top-tier research university.

What less than a decade ago would have seemed an unthinkable amount for any university to raise in a single campaign now has become an accepted reality in higher education. According to Philanthropy News Digest, Stanford University was the first to complete a billion-dollar campaign in 2013, which was followed by a $4.3 billion campaign. Cornell, Columbia, Yale and the University of Virginia all were early adopters of billion-dollar fundraising drives. In 2016, the University of Southern California raised more than $6 billion in a single campaign.

Now other schools like Baylor are joining this elite group. Baylor’s rival in Fort Worth, Texas Christian University, also is working on a $1 billion campaign.

Baylor said more than 77,000 alumni, parents, friends and staff have given to support university priorities through the Give Light campaign. Donors have created more than 169 endowed funds to support everything from research and instruction to academic program support and resources to preserve university traditions.

Give Light also has created 30 endowed faculty positions, many of which have been funded through a matching-gift challenge of $100 million. More than 580 scholarship funds have been created since the campaign’s beginning.

 

Related articles:

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Baylor endows new academic chair in study of Black worship




21Wilberforce ranks members of 116th Congress on support for international religious freedom

A nonpartisan group has released its annual rankings of Congressional action relating to international freedom of belief, conscience and religion during the 116th Congress, finding “strong bipartisan support” continues.

The IRF Congressional Scorecard, a project of 21Wilberforce, commends 63 members of Congress as “Notable Leaders” for advancing international religious freedom legislation during the 116th Congress. The commended group includes both Republicans and Democrats.

Randel Everett

21Wilberforce is a Christian human rights organization dedicated to defending the universal rights of religion, belief and conscience for all people. Its name derives from the 19th century British parliamentarian William Wilberforce, who identified the slave trade as the single greatest violation of human rights. The group was founded by Randel Everett, a longtime Baptist pastor and denominational leader who also serves in leadership with the Baptist World Alliance.

The 116th Congress, which ended in January 2021, introduced 91 items (37 in the Senate and 54 in the House) relating to international freedom of belief, freedom of conscience or freedom of religion. That’s about one-fifth fewer pieces of legislation introduced in the previous Congress.

Out of the 91 items scored, only two were passed into law. Both those new laws were sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and passed with an overwhelming majority of bipartisan support. They are the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020.

On the Senate side, many of the other bills tracked died in the Foreign Relations Committee. On the House side, more bills were passed and sent to the Senate where most languished, and others died in various House committees.

Sen. Rubio and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) emerged with top scores on the analysis.

Among the issues and bills tracked by 21Wilberforce, more than half related to Asia.

Among the issues and bills tracked by 21Wilberforce, more than half related to Asia. The single issue with the most bills introduced was human rights for the Uyghurs, a severely persecuted people group in China. Another key issue for the session was human rights for residents of Hong Kong, also now subjects of China.

Other countries targeted by bills during the session included Iran, where the Baha’i minority is persecuted, and Burma, where genocide has been carried out against the Rohingya people.

“International religious freedom issues are growing worldwide in urgency and importance,” 21Wilberforce says on its website.

The “Notable Leaders” in the Senate cited by this year’s report are Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Christopher Coons, (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Todd  Young (R-Ind.).

House member similarly cited are Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.), David Trone (D-Md.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Ron Wright (R-Texas), and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).




How one Vietnamese convert sparked a church-planting movement that defied the odds

The afternoon Bible study in what was then called Saigon began as most others, with a group of curious Vietnamese nationals walking into a small, nondescript home. They attended for a variety of reasons, but primarily to learn English and to satisfy their curiosity about this new faith called Christianity.

It was a typical hot, muggy day in 1961 in the country that had been divided by the Geneva Convention in 1954. Families were separated by a demilitarized zone that kept the communist forces in the north and the pro-democracy forces in the south separated yet not necessarily at peace.

Le Quoc Chanh, a young man in his early 20s, was one of those who walked through the doors that day, searching for answers; he emerged as the first Vietnamese convert to Christianity through the missionary work of Southern Baptists. The unassuming Chanh would shape the future of the denomination’s work and pave the way for the planting of congregations that exist more than 60 years later.

Pastor Chanh later in life at Grace Baptist Church.

Chanh and his mentoring legacy established a network of churches that survived war time in various forms and continue to thrive today. He died in retirement on April 6, 2021, just four months after attending the 58th anniversary of Grace Baptist Church, the congregation that grew out of the Bible study and where he later served as the first Vietnamese pastor for nearly four decades.

Southern Baptists in Vietnam

Southern Baptist work in Vietnam began with the arrival of missionary couples between 1959 and 1961. Upon request from American military personnel and other expatriates, they began providing worship and Bible study opportunities. The gathering of English speakers eventually attracted local Vietnamese as well.

Chanh’s encounter with Southern Baptists might have taken a different path if he had followed his original intentions. He later explained how he had been from a troubled home and had lost hope of anything improving in his life. A couple of days before attending the Bible study, he saw his opportunity to end his life by suicide by stepping in front of a bus. As he eased himself to the curb and the bus drew closer, he suddenly changed his mind.

Instead of ending his life, he gave himself one last opportunity by attending the home Bible study. During that service led by missionary Lewis Myers, Chanh accepted Christ with a zeal that would define him for the rest of his ministry.

Instead of ending his life, he gave himself one last opportunity by attending the home Bible study.

Myers, now retired and living in suburban Richmond, Va., with wife, Toni, relates how the young man became the first Southern Baptist convert in the nation, first Vietnamese pastor of the church that would grow out of the Bible study, and establish himself as a fervent church planter who mentored legions of others.

Storm clouds gathering

Sam James

Sam James and his wife, Rachel, arrived in 1962 when Southern Baptist work was only about three years old. Even then the few missionaries could sense that storm clouds were on the horizon as guerrilla warfare from the North began to escalate. Their plan was to start churches and transfer them to Vietnamese pastors as soon as feasible.

In 1964, James assumed the pastorate of the small house church and, three years later, founded Vietnam Baptist Theological Seminary with Chanh as one of its first students. The plan was to create a pipeline of pastors to assume leadership for the new congregations. In addition to being the nation’s first convert, the young man set another “first” when he and another student were the first to graduate and the first to be ordained.

Myers and James especially recall Chanh’s commitment to his newfound faith. Years later, his influence, navigating between extremes such as Communist Party leaders and new believers, would become legendary.

Speaking of the seminary days, James remembers Chanh as “a real Bible scholar from the beginning. I remember walking by his and his wife’s room late at night on more than one occasion and hearing them crying and praying for their countrymen,” James explains. “That’s just the kind of people they were … totally committed with no wavering from their calling.”

James adds that the young man’s faith “ran very deep and was revealed in unusually well-crafted sermons. That dedication served him well for more than four decades before his retirement.”

Building a church amid a war

In 1969, needing room to expand, the Vietnam Mission secured a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering grant for the house church, and the next year the congregation moved into a larger remodeled home. Chanh, in the meantime, had begun a church in suburban Saigon and was establishing himself as a gifted pastor and church planter.

In 1970, Chanh was called as pastor of the church meeting in its newly remodeled facility with an apartment provided for his family in the rear of the structure. It was the launch of his ministry that would see radical social change on the peninsula.

In March 1975, as tensions between the North and the South increased, thousands of Vietnamese began searching for ways to flee the nation. Knowing they would be judged, persecuted and imprisoned, pastors began looking for ways to leave.

James says that just days before the fall of Vietnam, “Pastor and Mrs. Chanh, their daughter and small son came to my home for a visit. As we talked about the situation, Pastor Chanh said he and his family had been offered a way of escape and he said that he and Mrs. Chanh would pray for God’s guidance.

“God called me to be a shepherd, a pastor, and he gave me a flock to shepherd. I can never abandon my sheep. We have decided that we will remain in Saigon and here I will stay.”

“Two days later, they returned, and he said, ‘A good shepherd never abandons his flock. God called me to be a shepherd, a pastor, and he gave me a flock to shepherd. I can never abandon my sheep. We have decided that we will remain in Saigon and here I will stay.’

“With that he left. It was not until 14 years later that I was able to see him again.”

Pastor Chanh persists

The missionaries eventually left, frequently under the cover of darkness, and the seminary was closed. They left confident they had planted ministries that were purely Vietnamese in nature and free of any political affiliation with pro-democratic forces.

First home of Grace Baptist Church

Chanh led the congregation and many house churches through the fall of the nation and years of persecution. Every Baptist church with a building was closed with the exception of Grace, largely due to his negotiating skills and reputation with government officials.

“Grace never closed and remained open with government permission. I don’t think it ever missed a single Sunday,” Myers said.

That was because Chanh stayed above politics, keeping his ministry focused on evangelism and church planting from a purely Vietnamese perspective free of American influence. It was a strategy that would prove valuable.

“Chan had a winsome smile that would melt you instantly,” Myers remembered.

Negotiating with communist leaders for a new building

In 2004, as Saigon continued its reincarnation as the highly prosperous Ho Chi Minh City, the new government announced plans to widen the boulevard on which the church had relocated. City officials announced they would be taking half the property. With more than 10 million residents, land for relocation was largely unavailable for the church.

Current home of Grace Baptist Church in Saigon (Ho Chi Min City)

Chanh, playing off his contacts with the government leaders, began lengthy negotiations for some form of reimbursement. Onlookers were surprised at how well Chanh conducted himself while politely staying focused on his demands. He never questioned the authority of those in power and eventually received a generous settlement from the city — the property would be purchased for enough funds to almost construct a new building.

But due to the cost of land, the structure would need to be built as a high-rise. The congregation launched a fundraising campaign to construct a state-of-the-art structure. Today the eight-story building serves as the sanctuary and educational space and houses the Vietnamese Baptist Convention — which the government did not allow to form until 2008 — and the Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute.

“There is little doubt that the integrity with which he dealt with the government through 33 dark years made the difference in the way the government treated him in the process,” James said.

A man of integrity

The retired missionary, who eventually spent 13 years in the nation before the war, said that in recent years on a return visit, he heard a communist official related to individuals in the office that deals with Christian churches say they were “always respectful of Pastor Chanh. He told me, ‘We always know that Pastor Chanh is never intimidated or reluctant to tell the truth, whatever the consequences.

“‘He is always a man thoroughly committed to telling nothing but the truth. Also, he is a very stubborn man. No matter what we command him to do, he never agrees if it does not meet his ethical or religious standards. He is a man of absolute integrity. We highly respect him even if we do not agree with him.”

“‘He is always a man thoroughly committed to telling nothing but the truth. Also, he is a very stubborn man.”

Myers and his wife, Toni, heartedly agree. “We saw so much potential in that young man from the beginning,” Myers said from his home in suburban Richmond.

“Whenever he made up his mind you could not change him; that proved to be a valuable asset. He had a strong commitment to both sharing his faith with others and working through the government to expand the ministry of the church at a time when believers were not held in high regard.”

The pastor was known as a witty yet serious individual who welcomed government observers sent to listen to his sermons. Chanh saw their presence not as an intrusion but as a ministry opportunity.

“We saw that his faith ran very deep and was revealed in unusually well-written sermons,” James added. “That dedication served him for more than four decades before his eventual retirement.”

Chan’s health eventually began to fade after he stepped down from the pulpit, and he lost his vision in retirement. But in November 2020 he made a surprise return for the church’s 58th anniversary. Today his son, Le Quoc Hoy, continues the Grace’s legacy as pastor of the nearly 500-member congregation.

Joe Westbury is a veteran Baptist journalist based in Atlanta.




Evangelical leaders explain why skeptical evangelicals should get vaccinated

Evangelical Christians can overcome their suspicion of COVID-19 vaccines through a renewed focus on missions and a form of patriotism that engenders unity instead of division, Russell Moore said during a recent webinar hosted by the Facebook for Faith learning group.

“I spend a lot of time telling Christians, don’t make your country your idol. Put the kingdom of God first. (Being vaccinated) is an opportunity for good, genuine, God-approved patriotism,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

He and fellow panelists Emily Smith, a Baylor University epidemiologist, and Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, sought to address the vaccine skepticism of white evangelicals.

Nona Jones

The 30-minute conversation was moderated by Nona Jones, head of faith partnerships for Facebook. The next conversation in the series will be held at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on May 14.

When speaking to conservative Christian groups, Moore said he tries to connect how vaccination can help churches return more fully to living into their ministries. “I talk about specific ways that we can get back to what Jesus has called us to do: vacation Bible schools with the children in our community, or mission trips or … Christmas youth choirs and children’s choirs and those sorts of things.”

From that vantage point, it’s natural to see vaccines as gifts, he added. “The best strategies that I have seen are rooted in gratitude and mission, so when you have a congregation recognizing God’s good gifts when it comes to the vaccine, this becomes something we should thank God for.”

Polls show evangelical distrust

But recent polling suggests that such messages are falling on deaf ears among conservative evangelicals due to a longstanding distrust of science and government and an adoption of conspiracy theories around the coronavirus and vaccines.

A March 2021 poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reported that 40% of white evangelicals said they refuse to be vaccinated, compared to 25% of the overall population who hold the same view. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center that month found the trend to be higher, with 45% of white evangelicals declaring they will not get a vaccine.

Nationwide, close to 59% of adults have received at least one vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control reported.

Preaching ‘Love thy neighbor’

For Smith, it is the “love thy neighbor” ethic that inspires her efforts to work toward replacing the anger and fear surrounding vaccines with science and faith.

Emily Smith

“I got into my work because of the Good Samaritan story of quantifying the need and not walking by,” said Smith, who launched her Friendly Neighborhood Epidemiologist Facebook page during the pandemic to address questions from family, friends and others confused about what to believe about the coronavirus and, now, the vaccines.

Smith, who is the wife of a Baptist pastor, said she watched a widespread concern for neighbor at the beginning of the pandemic be replaced by a rising white Christian nationalism as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and that came to blame Asians, and by extension Asian Americans, for spreading the coronavirus.

“It all became one big, messy thread,” she said. “But I had the data to show that was not real.”

And while things are getting better in the U.S. due to vaccines, the situation remains scary in much of the world, Smith said.

“Globally, we’re at 155 million cases and 3.2 million deaths,” she said, adding the numbers are likely low due to under-reporting in nations like India and Brazil, where the virus is surging.

Being honest about the trends of the disease isn’t just good science, it’s also good faith.

“In terms of vaccinations, there are 1 billion vaccine doses that have gone out so far, but 80% of those have gone to high-income countries and 0.3% have gone to low-income nations, with the projected timeline of actually getting to low-income countries to be in 2023,” she said. “We’re at the height of the pandemic, if you think globally.”

Being honest about the trends of the disease isn’t just good science, it’s also good faith, she added. “Love your neighbor means we get the story right and we meet it head on.”

A good dose of ‘healthy theology’

One way to address those fears is to counter numerous forms of vaccine misinformation, including claims that being vaccinated shows a lack of faith in God, with healthy theology, Kim said.

Walter Kim

“We’ve contended that faith actually accepts the gifts that God gives to us, and God has given us medicine as a gift. So, it is an actual expression of faith to receive the goodness and the common grace that God gives to us in medicine.”

In addition to being a blessing, vaccination also is a way of serving in mission, he said.

“This vaccine is not merely about self-protection. It’s about loving our neighbors. It’s about doing something that increases the possibility of safety to those around us — family, friends, neighbors and communities,” he said. “It’s an expression of the Christian ethic of love that we want to communicate in faith.”

As part of its vaccine educational efforts, the NAE has hosted webinars and collaborated with the Ad Council, community-based organizations, media companies and other religious groups to show that faith and science are not at odds on COVID-19 safeguards.

An ad campaign called “It’s Up to You” was designed to target people of color, “recognizing that faith and church often are very central in those communities, and it becomes a trusted source of information as well as emotional and spiritual support.”

The campaign and efforts like the Facebook for Faith webinar series demonstrate that promoting vaccination requires a broad faith-based effort, Kim said. “There’s this sense in which it takes more than any one of us. It takes us all to work together.”

Distrust predates the vaccine

Among white evangelicals, the aversion to vaccination is more about deeper cultural and political fissures than it is about the vaccines themselves, Moore said when asked what fuels conservative Christian suspicion about COVID-19 vaccination.

Russell Moore

“Arguments and disagreements about the vaccines aren’t fueling the conflict. Pre-existing conflict is often fueling the arguments over vaccines and vaccination,” he said. “And in many religious contexts, previously open wounds and points of difference are exacerbated by all the stress that the entire world has been through over the last year.”

Many evangelical pastors have remained silent on the issue because they often don’t know who to believe, the science or conspiracy theories, he said. “There are so many competing sources of information. I have people asking me all the time, ‘How do I differentiate between what’s right and wrong when I’m not an epidemiologist? I’m not someone who’s trained scientifically to be able to answer these things.’ So, there’s a lot of confusion.”

And there are yet others who are taking a wait-and-see approach before making a decision on vaccination, he added. “They’re not early adopters with any sort of technology, and I think we shouldn’t confront them head-on.”

So, it’s important not to paint white evangelicals with a wide brush on the matter, Moore added. “We always have to be looking at multiple different kinds of concerns and issues that are taking place with vaccination. And some of it is a frustration that is coming out of exhaustion, and vaccination is just the way that it’s being expressed.”

 

Related articles:

If you think we’re out of this pandemic, take a look at the rest of the world

Your friendly neighbor epidemiologist has an important message for you

Interpreting the data: Why are some Christians getting vaccinated and others aren’t?

4 in 10 Americans don’t see getting vaccinated as a way to ‘love your neighbor’

Faith leaders are key to reaching herd immunity in U.S., researchers say




In a COVID world, seminaries prepare pastors for new digital realities of ministry

While churches have adapted to new digital realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, seminaries also have adapted to train ministers how to lead in new ways, both online and in-person.

Greg DeLoach

“I think it behooves us in terms of faculty and staff to remind them that even though a pandemic is hopefully once in a lifetime, the truth is, in working with individuals, there’s always congregants dealing with their own micro-pandemic,” said Greg DeLoach, dean of McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta.

The pandemic pushed more churches to use technology to do ministry, thus leading seminary faculty to alter lesson plans to catch students up to the new reality. While seminaries faced their own adaptations to teach courses online, they at the same time adjusted to prepare ministers to lead online.

One Texas seminary already was on this path because of a partnership with a unique church.

Before COVID-19, First United Church of Christ Second Life was serving an array of churchgoers. A fully virtual church that takes place on the virtual reality platform Second Life and on Facebook, First UCC SL claims members from around the world, said Christine Ng, a pastor with the church. Worshipers also include people who have had negative experiences at other churches and who don’t want to visit an actual church building. One member who is on the Autism spectrum is nonverbal in in-person settings but can communicate online using a keyboard.

Stephen Sprinkle

For three years, students from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, have been able to intern at First UCC SL, learning to serve these different kinds of members. Stephen Sprinkle, Brite’s director of field education and supervised ministry, said the church “is a cutting edge setting we have worked with.”

For example, Ng said, interns will hang out on the church’s virtual reality simulator, which appears as an island, where they will interact with and provide pastoral care to members who randomly log on at that hour.

That kind of experience for interns is critical, Ng said, whether they end up working one day at a fully online church or an in-person one. “I don’t think this kind of ministry is going away. In fact, I think it is going to be a more important adjunct to all ministries.”

Robert Hunt

Robert Hunt and Marcell Silva Steuernagel, faculty at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, agree, which is why they started teaching a course titled “Digitally Mediated Ministry” last year. The course reviews both the tools of digitally mediated ministry and the deeper questions that come with using those tools. For example, Hunt said, the ethical implications of putting a church service on Facebook, a platform that exists for commercial purposes.

Marcell Silva Steuernagel

The need to explore those ideas was present before COVID-19, Steuernagel said, “But we systematized the things that already were happening that COVID catalyzed. It made them present, and it made them urgent, and we realized that the students were not prepared to deal with it.”

That urgency, Hunt and Steuernagel said, comes from everyone self-isolating, which raised church leaders’ awareness of members who already were self-isolated or who have difficulty attending church in-person. This newfound awareness can be thought of as “system upgrades,” Steuernagel said. It’s an improvement to what already existed.

Alyce McKenzie

That’s how Alyce McKenzie, professor of preaching at Perkins, sees the lessons she has taught this past year. With many preachers being in front of a camera versus a crowd that the preacher can easily vibe with, McKenzie has emphasized to her students the importance of giving virtual sermons with just as much enthusiasm and animation as they would in person. She wants her students to be just as successful in either setting.

“The challenge for my students and all pastors right now is getting people back (to in-person), while maintaining an audience that may have come to us for the first time through Facebook or YouTube,” McKenzie said.

Although the pandemic has challenged churches to use technology to serve new, or different, members, it’s also instilled a greater desire among other people to congregate in-person, said Karen Massey, associate dean at McAfee. While she and DeLoach said McAfee is helping students be more comfortable using certain technology — either through lessons in the classroom or through real-time experiences, such as offering the seminary’s chapel services online — it also continues to prioritize the fundamentals.

“I think students are having to go into ministry these days with a foot in two different worlds. One foot has to be in the traditional ways of doing and being church. But then at the same time, having a foot in a technologically savvy kind of world,” Massey said. “I think they have to know how to speak the language of both worlds.”

Liam Adams is a freelance journalist based in Denver.

 

Related articles:

5 things I learned from visiting 50 online churches during the pandemic | Opinion by Laura Beth Buchleiter

This church was online before online was essential, and they’ve got some lessons to share

Pandemic opens the door to a far-flung notion of church membership

What will become of Sunday school? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield




Transitions for the week of 5-14-21

Please submit transitions — including staff changes, ordinations, anniversaries or deaths — to Barbara Francis. This page will be updated bi-weekly.


STAFF CHANGES

Courtny Davis-Olds, to Point Pleasant (Pa.) Community Church, as interim pastor.

Ayanna Franklin, to Ray of Hope Baptist Church, Baltimore, Md., as pastor.

Crystal Goree-Jennings, to Second Baptist Church, Germantown, Pa., as pastor.

Shelby Haggray, to First Baptist Church, Levittown/Fairless Hills, Pa., as pastor.

Ben Hewitt, to Dawson Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., as associate pastor to middle school students.

Daynette Snead Perez, to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as manager of CBF disaster response in the U.S. Previously she was associate pastor of First Baptist Church, New Bern, N.C.

Charlie Reynolds, to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as associate endorser for military chaplains. He retired in 2016 after a 28-year career as a military chaplain.

Bliss Spillar IV, to All Souls Church, Charlottesville, Va., as pastor.

William Tatum, to Eastwood Baptist Church, Syracuse, N.Y., as interim pastor.

Gerald Young, to Montgomery Hills Baptist Church, Silver Spring, Md., as interim pastor.

Kenneth Young, to the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, as assistant director.

Todd Weber, to Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., as pastoral intern.

Diana Farrell White, to First Baptist Church, Radford, Va., as senior pastor, effective in June. She comes from the pastorate of Covenant Community Church, Elba, Ala.

 

RETIREMENTS

Paul Bailey, retiring as pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church, Syracuse, N.Y.

David Corbitt, retiring as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Greenwood, S.C., effective July 25.

Tom Davitt, retiring after 23 years as pastor of Maryvale Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz., effective in August.

Brenda Egolf-Fox, retiring as pastor of Point Pleasant (Pa.) Community Church.

Terry Graham, retiring as executive pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodway, Texas. He has served on staff there for 28 years.

Kevin James, retiring as pastor of Salem Baptist Church, Sparta, Va., where he has served since 1989.

John E. Saunders Jr., retiring after more than 6 years as director of missions for the Roanoke Valley (Va.) Baptist Association.

 

ORDINATIONS

Kimberley Attaway, ordained to ministry on May 9 by First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, Mo., where she serves as minister to children.

Lori Moore, ordained to ministry on May 9 by Park Lake Drive Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, where she serves as family and children’s minister.

Nataly Mora, ordained to ministry on May 9 by Park Lake Drive Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, where she serves as associate pastor-community/Spanish.

Kelsey Lewis Vincent, ordained to ministry on April 11 by First Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.

Brian Wallace, ordained to the ministry on March 26 by Grace Baptist Church, Germantown, Pa.

 

DEATH

Robert “Bob” D. Dale, 80, died April 30 in Mechanicsville, Va. He served as a pastoral care expert for the SBC Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources). He then served as professor of pastoral leadership and church ministries at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., the seminary’s Director of Doctoral Studies and later as the seminary’s dean. He later served as adjunct professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (Va.), and at many seminaries over the years. He founded the Creative Church Leadership Center and the Young Leaders Program while serving on the staff of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. He retired in 2009 as the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s assistant executive director-chief operating officer. He authored more than 20 books on pastoral leadership and mentored hundreds of pastors and taught thousands of seminary students. He is survived by his wife, Carrie; son, Cassidy; daughter, Amy Dawn Dale; and two grandchildren.

 

KUDOS

ANNIVERSARIES

Len Sak, 5 years as senior adult pastor of Deermeadows Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.

 

Baptist News Global provides a free listing of ministry-related jobs for Baptist churches, theological institutions and organizations across the United States. Click here to learn more.


In case you missed them:

Transitions for the week of 4-30-21

Transitions for the week of 4-16-21

Transitions for the week of 4-2-21

Transitions for the week of 3-19-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Free webinars address five hot-button issues for churches in a post-pandemic world

A new webinar series aims to provide ministers with tools to nurture resilience in the face of congregational challenges such as political toxicity, declining attendance and financial pressures, said Matt Cook, assistant director of the Center for Healthy Churches.

“The purpose is to introduce this concept of sustaining joy no matter what,” Cook said about “The Changing Church,” a six-week series held at 11 a.m. Eastern on Thursdays through June 10. “Each week focuses on a different joy stealer.”

Matt Cook

In the context of the series, joy is the quality that enables ministers to sustain inspiration and perspective despite whatever challenges are being faced. “Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an enduring sense of energy, a sense of the desire to continue forward in our callings and not just gritting our teeth and enduring it.”

The weekly topics were identified in a survey conducted recently by the center in response to widespread anecdotal feedback from ministers despairing from a wide range of threats to congregational cohesiveness and personal well-being. Respondents were asked to rank those difficulties from a list of 15 choices.

“Politics was far and away No. 1 — 58% of respondents put politics in their top five,” Cook said.

Church conflict came in second at 46%, followed by declining attendance at 45%, lack of creative energy congregation-wide at 42%, and church financial pressures at 40%.

Other categories included staff conflicts and departures, and having to endure exhausting decision-making processes. On a personal level, respondents also identified rocky family relationships, financial pressures, low creative energy, and lack of work-life balance.

“The pandemic didn’t create these issues, but it exacerbated these issues.”

Cook acknowledged that these “joy killers” are nothing new in pastoral life, but he believes they have been greatly elevated by the coronavirus outbreak. “The pandemic didn’t create these issues, but it exacerbated these issues. It was an intensifier of political conflict and an intensifier of a lack of creative energy in the congregation. Trying to get your congregation to do one more Zoom meeting has become extremely difficult for some.”

The center is seeing results of these pressures in the coaching and consulting work it does with clergy, he said. “We are busier right now in transition work than we ever have been in our history, and at least part of that is emerging out of this sense of these joy stealers that already were great before the pandemic.”

In addition to offering approaches for solving or addressing these challenges, webinar panelists also will share methods for keeping in a positive mental framework even when problems persist, Cook said. “They will present ways to keep those issues from robbing you, individually, of joy.”

The guidance provided by panelists is based on experience. In an upcoming session on political toxicity, Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., and Travis Collins, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., will talk about how they handle the political pressures in their contexts and how they try to remain personally and pastorally resilient in doing so.

“We are aiming for congregational best practices that are helpful regardless of where your congregation lands denominationally.”

“They are coming from two very different contexts and ways of engaging around political issues, but both will share how they keep it from being a joy killer,” Cook said. “That’s what all the webinars will do — tap into strategies for keeping your joy.”

Over the course of the series, the breadth of that experience will mirror the variety of experts who have been selected to lead the sessions. They range from conservative evangelicals to progressive Christians and represent a number of Christian traditions, Cook said.

That wide perspective also is represented in the organizations that have partnered with the center for the series, including Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, The Church Network, The Presbyterian Foundation and Baptist News Global, among others. The webinars are free but registration is required.

“We are aiming for congregational best practices that are helpful regardless of where your congregation lands denominationally,” he said. “We are not going to solve huge church problems in a 45-minute webinar, but we can get smart experts who are good communicators and let them bring their insights to bear.”

 

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With Idriss Déby gone, can Chad military win the war against terrorists and earn the trust of the people?

In the past couple of weeks since the passing of Chadian leader Idriss Déby, the country has become a subject of local and international discourse unlike anything people remember of the West African nation in recent decades. The discussions center mainly on Déby’s death and how Chad will cope without a man who, for 30 years, served as its leader.

Idriss Déby (Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Déby, 68, a former soldier turned civilian leader, reportedly died from injuries sustained while visiting Chadian soldiers battling to thwart the advancement of a rebel group called The Front for Change and Concord in Chad, FACT for short, that swooped on the country through the Libyan border.

While the fate of a man should in no way be tied to a nation, Déby’s three-decade grip on power, which would have extended for another five years had he lived, having emerged victorious in yet another election the very week he died, makes it compelling to do so. The manner of his death raises eyebrows. A president in the war front, overseeing or fighting alongside his troops to destroy the enemy? He had done it in the past, when he joined Chadian soldiers to dismantle a Boko Haram network in the country, a feat celebrated by the president with his troops on video, but the incursion by FACT turned out to be his Waterloo.

Details of how and where Déby met his death on April 19 remain unanswered. The Chadian military refuse to be drawn into divulging that information — leaving room for speculations and propaganda by the alleged killer, FACT. But of greater concern now among observers is the issue of security in Chad and the West African and Sahel region encompassing Niger, Libya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan, Senegal and Eritrea.

Successful against Boko Haram

As the success of the Chadian forces against Boko Haram show, Déby achieved relative success against insurgents in the Sahel region, a fact attested to by close neighbors like Nigeria.

Mourning Déby’s death, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria noted that “the late Déby had played a very active role in our regional joint collaboration in the military campaign against the Boko Haram terrorists,” and was “a friend of Nigeria who had enthusiastically lent his hand in our efforts to defeat the murderous Boko Haram terrorists that have posed grave security challenges not only for Nigeria, but also our African neighbors, particularly Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.”

With the warlord gone, the challenge now is for Buhari and other neighboring countries to sustain the fight against the terrorists, as anything less could signal a more grave security situation for the region.

John Campbell

John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., admits that Déby was effective in the fight against terrorism. “Déby was a major force in the fight against various jihadi groups, and the Chadian military has been probably the strongest African military operating in the region, well trained, well equipped,” Campbell said.

An unconstitutional interim government

Following Déby’s death, the military announced the formation of an interim military government to be headed by the fallen president’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, to oversee the country for 18 months, in what is a violation of the Constitution that requires the president of the national assembly to step in, in the event of the president’s death.

Son of the late Chadian president Idriss Deby, Mahamat Idriss Deby, head of the Transitional Military Council (CMT), right, greets his brother Zakaria Deby during the state funeral in N’Djamena, Chad, Friday, April, 23 2021. (Christophe Petit Tesson / Pool photo via AP)

“What the military have done is clearly not constitutional. One might argue that it amounts to a coup,” Campbell noted, adding, “In terms of what the consequence would be, I think much would depend on how the Chadian people react.”

While there had been reports of demonstrations in N’Djamena against the new military junta, it is difficult to judge how significant those protests are, he said. But what isn’t difficult to contemplate is the threat from FACT.

“What does seem to me to be pretty clear is that the insurgents that were moving south towards N’Djamena had led to the fighting with the Chadian military in which Déby was killed, those insurgencies are ongoing, and have not been defeated. So what the relationship will be between a change of government in N’Djamena and those insurgencies …. much depends on whether the new regime in N’Djamena is willing to continue that fight, whether it’s going to focus mostly on the insurgents that are moving south towards N’Djamena, or whether it’s going to be distracted by the necessity of trying to cling to power,” explained Campbell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007.

The protests in Chad against the new military regime, the latest of which was on Saturday, May 8, have led to the death of at least six people from the earlier demonstration. A statement by the Chadian military said that the “so-called peaceful demonstration paradoxically resulted in the deliberate destruction of 15 national police vehicles and two (gas) stations belonging to the Total company,” and “intentional assaults on law enforcement officers.”

The military insist the new interim arrangement it put in place is necessary to guarantee stability in the country, but critics say it is a ploy to sustain a dynasty or prolong military rule.

The invading threat remains

FACT, for its part, emboldened by the death of Déby, has threatened to fight on. FACT had been active in Libya before its incursion into Chad.

Once a stable country, Libya descended into anarchy shortly before the country’s previous leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was killed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011 and had, until a recent cessation of hostilities and setting up of an interim administration, intermittently grappled with chaos and civil war as rebel groups and fighters continued to fight for dominance and space within the country. The civil unrest in the country was fueled in large part by an inflow of arms, gangs and terrorist groups operating within the country and Sahel routes.

Alex Vines

Alex Vines, Africa director for Chatham House, in an interview prior to Déby’s death, said “the Sahel is an extensive region with international boundaries that mean little to those on the ground. The trade and smuggling routes often pre-date the colonial carve-up, and these porous borders are easy for armed militants and transnational organized crime groups to navigate.”

Three weeks after the death of Déby, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a report titled “Violent Islamist Groups in the Central Sahel” authored by policy analyst Madeline Vellturo, noted: “In recent years, the central Sahel has experienced the largest increase in violent extremist activity of any region, with violent incidents linked to militant Islamist groups increasing nearly seven-fold since 2017.” It added that “despite territorial expansion in recent years, militant Islamist groups in the Sahel enjoy little popular support from local communities, leading to high levels of violence against civilians. These militant groups routinely employ intimidation and force to impose their will in areas they seek to control.”

For now, the Chadian situation remains foggy, and while the days and months ahead may reveal who, between the rampaging insurgents and government forces, will have the last word, Campbell feels the best way to tackle insurgency in Africa is by focusing on the root cause of the crisis.

“In general, the advice that I would offer is that the insurgencies reflect populations that have been marginalized and ill governed for generations. And if the root causes of the insurgencies are to be addressed, it means greatly improving the level of governance, reform of the security services, both the police and military. All these things take time, and that is what is extremely difficult about the current situation. How do you institute reforms, presuming you have the military will to do so, when the insurgency is on the march?”

Anthony Akaeze is a Nigerian-born journalist now living in Houston. He covers Africa for BNG.

 

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White evangelical leaders who repress women are revered as saints, author says

White evangelical leaders are revered as modern-day saints by followers supportive of efforts to suppress the voice and visibility of women in the church, Beth Allison Barr said during a May 11 webinar hosted by Baptist News Global.

That constellation of conservative religious figures includes Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president and pundit Al Mohler, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and California pastor and self-proclaimed culture warrior John MacArthur. Their pronouncements and positions are considered gospel by their supporters, said Barr, Baylor University history professor and author of the new book The Making of Biblical Womanhood.

Beth Allison Barr speaking at the BNG webinar.

“Think about John MacArthur — there are pastors who model their offices to look like his and have pictures of him in their offices, but have never even met him,” she said. Such conservative Christians “claim to adhere to the priesthood of all believers yet have this idea that some people are more worthy than others.”

Barr’s book counters the ideology of complementarianism — a teaching that men and women were created by God for different purposes — with a contextual understanding of the role of women in Christianity that is rooted in history and Scripture. An April 7 excerpt from the book has become a leading BNG opinion piece this year.

Webinar moderator Mark Wingfield, executive director and publisher of BNG, asked Barr a series of questions based on the book and on her teaching and research experience as a scholar of medieval history. The ensuing discussion touched on topics ranging from the SBC’s role in disparaging the role of women and the challenges women face in the wider church culture to the treatment of women in ancient Christian settings and in the Black American church.

The book’s timing

The publication of the book concurrent with high-profile events such as the departure of Beth Moore from the SBC and the recent ordination of three women at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California — as well as the condemnation of those developments by Mohler and other evangelical leaders — was fortuitous but coincidental, Barr said.

“I’ve been writing blogs according to what’s going on and responding to these things that were happening, and I was following threads about what Beth Moore was doing. Then, of course, Al Mohler and Denny Burk (president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) are a never-ending source of things to write about.”

Also never-ending are the lengths to which complementarians will go to promote their worldview, Barr said after being asked to share about a student who once challenged her authority to teach in a college setting and suggested she clear her lectures on medieval history with her husband.

“Just the audacity of that. But it makes sense in this culture that says women’s authority is never as good as men’s, so it’s cringeworthy, but it’s also common,” Barr said.

Meanwhile, Barr noted that women have been disqualified from teaching theology courses at some conservative Christian universities while “a lot of the flagship Baptist seminaries don’t let women teach certain classes. This also creates a culture that says a woman’s authority is not as good as a man’s.”

No wonder, Barr added, that some of those who read of her experience said they identified with it. “What’s interesting is other women professors in evangelical universities have reached out and said, ‘Oh, yeah, that happens to me.’”

Links to the SBC’s founding

Patriarchal attitudes are so widespread and ingrained in the SBC because they were so strongly present during the denomination’s founding in the 19th century, Barr said. “In fact, the whole evangelical movement is born in the context of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in a white European context, and it’s born in a British Imperial context. We simply cannot step away from that history.”

And the convention’s specific founding as a pro-slavery movement explains its connection to the racism that is so tightly woven into the fabric of white evangelicalism, she added. Hence, the selective reading of Scripture to find passages used to subjugate women and defend slavery and racism.

“It’s really hard to uproot things that are there in the beginning, and patriarchy is there, too. This explains why it’s so hard to separate racism from our evangelical context, because it was there in the beginning.”

“Women were very powerful members in the early Baptist circles, and we know that there were women preaching not only in the Northern Baptist world but in the Southern Baptist world.”

Despite that, the SBC became a force for missionary zeal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Barr said, noting that women were leaders in those and evangelistic efforts.

“Women were very powerful members in the early Baptist circles, and we know that there were women preaching not only in the Northern Baptist world but in the Southern Baptist world,” she said. “They were doing it and they were carrying the authority of it and so the Southern Baptist world has this legacy.”

But these “women evangelists were often very racist, too,” she added.

Changes after World War II

Women’s voices began to fade in the SBC with increasingly determined efforts to eliminate their preaching and teaching after World War II, Barr said. “There was an orchestrated effort, and Southern Baptists were part of that. They embraced that wholeheartedly, and that laid the pathway for the conservative resurgence of the late 1970s.”

One of the impacts of the late 20th century conservative movement in the SBC on women, both inside and outside the SBC, was to link any notion of female authority or leadership with an attack on Christian orthodoxy, Barr said.

“One of the core identifiers of this conservative resurgence … was this cultural warrior motif that the family is under attack.”

“One of the core identifiers of this conservative resurgence … was this cultural warrior motif that the family is under attack,” she said. Dobson was one of the leading voices of this “slippery slope” mentality as was the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Their warning: “We’ve got to return to these Christian values and defend the family or the whole things is going to fall apart.”

Those values included the claim that the Bible mandates “male headship and female submission” as the proper family structure, Barr said. “And if you don’t follow this, then your theology falls apart and you leave the faith and Christianity gets watered down.”

Challenging complementarianism

But there is plenty of biblical and historical evidence to undermine complementarian ideologies, Barr said.

One such evidence is the issue of biblical translation, she explained, saying even the male-dominated medieval church used gender-inclusive Bible translations. “They were trying to get men and women to hear them and listen to them.”

When English-language Bibles began being produced, however, the same colonial and patriarchal forces shaping Protestant Christianity were influencing Scripture translation. “The English language itself was being defined and becoming more masculine because men were the political leaders. They were writing for men, and they wrote women out.”

Conservative Christians added another layer of selectivity by focusing on only a few passages to support their views on women, Barr said. “This is not good hermeneutics. I’m tired of this and I want people to see that there is a much broader perspective.”

“When we put Paul in context, and read more than just five or six verses, he reads differently.”

A broader perspective also is needed on the writings of Paul, a favorite for those who seek to marginalize women. But a wider reading of the apostle’s letters and consideration of their historical setting actually undermines the evangelical reading of the passages, she asserted.

“When we put Paul in context, and read more than just five or six verses, he reads differently,” the history professor said. “There is no way he is telling women to be silent for all time. … Paul talks about women who served in ministry alongside him, who served in leadership roles. He’s obviously not doing what evangelicals say he is doing.”

Learning from the Black church

The Black church is one place that historically has known these things, Barr said. “I keep saying, if we would look beyond our white selves, all these ideas about biblical womanhood would just explode.”

Black Baptists have a long history of preaching and teaching women, although there have been cases in which African American churches have adopted white teachings in order to fit in with evangelicals, Barr said. “This has really sped up with a vengeance in the latter half of the 20th century.”

What’s old is new again

Even so, none of these trends are altogether new, an observation Barr said she finds replete in church history.

“Growing up in the Baptist world and serving in church now, I’ve always been struck by parallels between things that I study in the medieval world and in medieval Christians who act, in many ways, very similar to us.”

“I’ve always been struck by parallels between things that I study in the medieval world and in medieval Christians who act, in many ways, very similar to us.”

Scandals involving modern-day megachurch pastors are similar to the papal controversies of ancient times, she said. And there, again, is the issue of conservative Christians coming full circle to pre-Reformation times when saints were highly esteemed.

“The Reformation really disparaged medieval saints and we are no longer to bow down to other people,” she said. “It’s so striking to me that we just create new saints who are just as flawed as us.”

Creedalism and saints

Creeds, an ancient form of loyalty oaths, also have crept into conservative evangelical spaces, including the SBC with its Baptist Faith and Message, she said. “Baptists being credal, to me, is really bad.”

But in a sense, it’s human nature to rigidly follow the teachings of someone like Bill Gothard, whose conservative teachings on family and youth helped him fill stadiums in the 1970s and beyond. “We like to have somebody who can give us the easy answers. He spoke to families who were having problems with their children and he said, ‘I have the magic bullet, this is what you do.’ A lot of these people provide easy answers for us.”

That’s another similarity to the Christianity of earlier times, she said. “The parallels between medieval believers and my evangelical world have always been something that has intrigued me.”

“My testimony doesn’t just include my own story but includes the evidence that convinced me along the way.”

Offering another view that elevates women in the classroom, in blogs and in her book has been a way of sharing her testimony, Barr said. “Our testimony is our language in the evangelical world. It’s how we connect with people, and so I made this book my testimony. My testimony doesn’t just include my own story but includes the evidence that convinced me along the way.”

Barr said she is optimistic about the future for these issues. “The heart of Christianity is redemption. We believe in redemption because we believe in a Savior who was resurrected. And women haven’t given up. We have always continued to fight and preach.”

But she offered a warning: “The dangers that happened in the medieval world are the dangers we are facing now, and there is a lot we can learn from history if we would just pay attention.”

Watch the full webinar here.

 

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I knew the truth about women in the Bible, and I stayed silent | Opinion by Beth Allison Barr

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