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End of an Atlanta Era

Former Atlanta megachurch pastor Earl Paulk Jr., who helped popularize "kingdom now" theology but was plagued for decades by sexual scandal, died early Sunday morning after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 81.

The founding pastor of what is now known as the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, Paulk was a national leader among independent charismatic churches in the 1980s and 1990s, when his church drew more than 10,000 members and became known worldwide for its racial diversity, creative arts programs and massive, neo-Gothic sanctuary.

Through his books and television ministry, Paulk helped popularize "kingdom now" theology, which teaches that the church, as a manifestation of God's kingdom, should take dominion over every sector of society. But through the years numerous women alleged that Paulk coerced them to have sex with him, saying he told them certain "kingdom relationships" weren't limited to traditional moral boundaries.

In 1992 a church member went public with claims that she was pressured into having a sexual relationship with Paulk's brother, Don Paulk, who at the time served as senior pastor. He admitted to an affair and resigned, but was reinstated three weeks later. The same year several women alleged that a church staff member sexually harassed them during counseling sessions. Another female staff member claimed in 1993 that she had a sexual relationship with Earl Paulk Jr.

In 2001, a female church member filed a lawsuit claiming the bishop sexually molested her when she was a child and later when she was a teenager. That suit was settled out of court in 2003. Last year, a judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mona Brewer and her husband, Bobby, alleging that Paulk coerced Mona Brewer into a 14-year affair. The couple and their attorney were ordered to pay more than $1 million in legal fees. But in February, a Georgia appeals court struck down that order and called for new hearings to be held regarding the fees, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The Brewers' case sparked a chain of events that led to Paulk's pleading guilty to lying under oath about having affairs with other women. A paternity test also revealed that Paulk was the father of his nephew, D.E. Paulk, who now leads the 1,000-member congregation.

"For whatever good he may have done, my uncle had a serious problem with sexual addiction, and never owned it, and never really took any responsibility for it," Paulk's nephew, Bishop Jim Swilley, pastor of Church in the Now in Conyers, Ga., said in a blog posting Sunday. "He died in disgrace, and, unfortunately, will for the most part only be remembered for the scandals." [charismamag.com, 3/30/09] read more

Fargo Floods Offer Opportunity for Area Churches

Christians in North Dakota say they are getting the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the midst of what may be the worst flooding in the Fargo area in more than 100 years.

Since last week churches have been working alongside the National Guard, state troopers and other government agencies to prevent the Red River from overtaking the levees protecting the city. On Friday morning, thousands of residents were asked to evacuate as the crest levels reached 41 feet-more than 22 feet above flood stage.

Pastor Bob Ona said his church, First Assembly in Fargo, and other local congregations have seen this crisis as an opportunity to serve their community. "We've opened a facility, of course, as a volunteer point for people in the community," the Assemblies of God minister said. "It's meant coordinating massive amounts of foods. We had pizza places and stores and restaurants and grandmas baking pies. People providing food for us so that we can in turn give that to the community."

Ona said his 1,800-member congregation has not only been providing food to the thousands of volunteers, but they also have been able to pray and share their faith with the nonbelievers who come to the church to eat or rest. "I have seen people, believers, helping wherever they could and anyone they could, and I've asked them, ‘Why are you doing this four days in a row with two hours of sleep a night?'" the pastor said. "They told me, ‘This is what Jesus Christ would want me to do.' They view what they're doing as ministry to the community."

Representatives from the Christian Emergency Network (CEN), a national disaster response agency, said that being a light in a dark situation is one of the most important things Christians can do during crisis situations. "From our perspective we want to encourage the Christians to remain calm and realize that this is the time when many nonbelievers will be greatly impacted ... by the calmness and pleasantness of the Christians that are involved in not only responding but also evacuating," said CEN spokeswoman Judy Hannestad, who is also a Fargo resident.

The community has made great strides to secure the city, but Ona and Hannestad stressed the need for Christians around the world to pray that God would intervene on their behalf. "We'd like people to be praying that the circumstances will help instead of hinder," Ona said. "That the city would avert a major disaster. ... We are going to put our community first. We want to serve as Jesus would have us serve." [charismamag.com, 3/27/09] read more

Small Town Meets Big-Time Forgiveness in Action

Every week, David Pinckney preaches to his congregation about being like Jesus. Now the small-town New Hampshire pastor is discovering not everyone wants to follow through with that challenge-especially when it comes to forgiveness.

Last week Pinckney did the unthinkable for many of the 2,000-plus residents of Chichester, N.H., by inviting a convicted child killer to live with him and his family for at least two months. After officials couldn't find anyone else willing to take in 60-year-old Raymond Guay, who spent the last 35 years behind bars on charges of abducting and murdering a 12-year-old boy in 1973, Pinckney opened up his home-where his wife and four teenage children also live. Unfortunately, most of his neighbors believe his kindness is now making a once tranquil town unsafe for everyone.

Pinckney, who leads River of Grace Church in nearby Concord, has received several angry phone calls, endured a protest outside his home and even heard someone threaten to burn his house down. In a recent town meeting, more than 200 people gathered to appeal Guay's relocation to Chichester, and local police have publicly stated they understand people's fear because of their meager numbers (the town employs only four full-time officers).

"My concern is safety," said Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, whose department assists Chichester police. "To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want Mr. Guay to be living in my town. I'm a parent, too."

Pinckney met Guay through a prison minister and believes he's a changed man since meeting Christ in 1993. "We would not be doing this if we thought we were endangering our town, neighbors or children," he wrote in an open letter to the town assuring them Guay is trustworthy.

Not everyone is buying it, despite such assurance coming from a man who's been well liked and respected by the community. "It was said this could disrupt life," Pinckney said. "People wouldn't like it. He's not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners." [AP, 3/18/09; boston.com, 3/19/09] read more

Redefining Marriage by the Book

Last December The Ministry Today Report noted a few significant culturally influenced changes in Oxford University Press' latest dictionary for children. Now many people are discovering a long-standing American dictionary made a "minor" tweak six years ago that's equally as telling of today's society.

According to Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of marriage is "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law." Though that definition is similar to the one used in federal law, Merriam-Webster added a secondary definition in its 2003 edition that remains legally rejected by all but two states, calling marriage "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage."

Still, the publisher denies any political or social agenda to the addition. "We often hear from people who believe that we are promoting-or perhaps failing to promote-a particular social or political agenda when we make choices about what words to include in the dictionary and how those words should be defined," responded Merriam-Webster Associate Editor Kory Stamper. "We hear such criticism from all parts of the political spectrum. We're genuinely sorry when an entry in-or an omission from-one of our dictionaries is found to be offensive or upsetting, but we can't allow such considerations to deflect us from our primary job as lexicographers."

Indicating the rapid cultural shift in recent years, Merriam-Webster failed to include a mention of same-sex relationships in its 1992 edition. Ironically, various editions throughout the early 20th century also included direct references to Bible passages. [worldnetdaily.com, 3/17/09] read more

I'm Not an Atheist, I'm Just Apathetic

QUOTE: "The 2008 Pew Forum survey showed that about half of the ‘nones' actually considered themselves religious. In other words, it appears that most of the unaffiliated individuals are not atheistic or anti-religious in any activist sense, but are rather apathetic toward organized religion and reluctant to join any particular denomination or sect. Perhaps an appropriate term to describe such individuals is ‘apatheist,' a person who is not interested in trying to prove or disprove God's existence or any other religious dogma." -Baylor University researcher Konstantin Petrenko, responding to one of the many recent surveys indicating a shift in the American spiritual landscape [religiondispatches.org, 3/19/09] read more

Money-Back Guarantee ... From a Church?

For those who have lost a job during the current economic recession, church can be a place to replenish hope for the future. Yet one Midwestern congregation recently provided a unique spin to the idea of replenishing.

During their annual stewardship campaign, leaders at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis announced an unusual deal for pledgers: Lose your job and we'll reimburse your contributions.

Eric Hinkle, acting president of Unitarian's board of trustees, said he came up with the idea after seeing a Hyundai commercial offering the same money-back guarantee. "[But] it transcends the money," he said. "It's about deepening the relationship between your community and your church."

The church's leaders are well aware that following through with their promise could potentially place the church in a serious financial dilemma. With 280 members and 70 additional financial supporters, Unitarian operates with a small cash reserve on a $270,00 annual budget. An abundance of layoffs later this year could force the congregation to come up with money already spent.

"We will do what we can when the time comes," Hinkle said. "I think it's a big leap of faith that it's all going to work out." [indystar.com, 3/6/09] read more

Ministry by Default

QUOTE: "If you see yourself as being in ministry by default, you will spend the rest of your life feeling like a misfit. I promise you that. We're shooting ourselves in the foot when we get it in our head that ‘I wasn't the one called to this ministry.' You were." -author and Bible study teacher Beth Moore, speaking to a group of pastors' wives about their vital role in ministry [Baptist Press, 3/19/09] read more

Debating the Demise of Evangelicalism

QUOTE: "[Michael Spencer] lumps all megachurches together and describes them as being more interested in relevance than doctrine. He says of megachurches that they are ‘compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.' The author concludes that he expects the ‘landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.' How awful. What could be worse than a bunch of churches across America that are so effective at lifting up the name of Jesus that huge crowds gather? What could be worse than having so many people meeting Jesus and having their lives transformed by Jesus, that they just can't stop telling their friends? I'm determined to celebrate what God is doing wherever it is happening. Whether it is in a gathering of three people or 3,000 or 3 million. I don't have enough brains or time to figure out the motives of the hearts of the leaders in another church. I'll just celebrate what they are doing and let God sort it out later." -Tim Stevens, executive pastor of Granger Community Church (a megachurch) in Granger, Ind., taking issue with blogger Michael Spencer's widely circulated predictions of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse"-which included an unflattering take on "pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches" as part of a movement that made "buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century." [leadingsmart.com, 3/16/09] read more

In Rural Alabama, Not Everyone Thinks Sex Is Great

Sex sells ... and in recent years, more churches have used it as a marketing tool to impact their communities. From nationally known megachurches such as Dallas' Fellowship Church to smaller congregations such as Relevant Church in Ybor City, Fla., an increasing number of pastors are issuing sex challenges from the pulpits to churchgoers. Now a rural Alabama church is spicing up things and, not surprisingly, sparking community interest-both good and bad.

Three few weeks ago, Daystar Church in Good Hope, Ala., launched a monthlong series called "Great Sex: God's Way" that, given the church's small-town locale, figured to get townsfolk talking. But it's Daystar's decision to rent out billboard advertisements promoting the series that has ruffled more than a few feathers.

"I understand what they're trying to do. I get it," said the small town's 22-year-old mayor, Corey Harbison. "[But] some people just aren't ready for that. Good Hope is just a good old, country town."

One local minister added: "Paul said preach the gospel. Talking about sex ain't gonna get nobody to heaven."

Even outsiders questioned not the content of the series but its setting. "It sounds like an example of one of those church-growth, market-savvy campaigns going out to an area where you wouldn't normally see it," said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illionis. "I could see where in that particular setting, that could raise some eyebrows."

For Daystar, however, it's par for the course of venturing into new territory. When lead pastor Jerry Lawson arrived nine years ago, Daystar was called Glory Hill Church of God and averaged fewer than 100 in attendance. Since its "relaunch" in 2002, the church has grown to more than 2,000-more than Good Hope's total population-but along the way, according to Harbison, has caused many longtime residents to grow leery of its sudden mega-success.

As far as the "Great Sex" series, Lawson chalks up any local controversy to a natural conflict whenever the three-letter word is mentioned. Rather than have kids learn about sex from the often-immoral portrayals found in media, Daystar wanted to create an opportunity for parents to address the issue. "I think some people are kind of missing the point," said Lawson, adding that the church needs to be leading the way on creating an understanding of sex rather than allowing the world's depiction to rule. [AP, 3/11/09; daystarchurch.tv, 3/16/09] read more

Minister Threatened, Attacked for On-Air Faith

A Christian minister who recently engaged in heated on-air arguments with Muslims says he was attacked en route to the studio where he records his television show. After being cut off while driving, Noble Samuel, a pastor at Heston United Reformed Church in West London, was beaten by three men who ripped off his cross necklace and threatened: "If you go back to the studio, we'll break your legs."

According to Samuel, one of the assailants originally pretended to ask for directions but eventually forced his way into Samuel's car. He was quickly joined by two other men, who then punched, slapped and swore at the minister, in addition to stealing his laptop and Bible. Police have classified the incident as a "faith hate" assault.

Born in Pakistan, the 48-year-old Samuel moved to the United Kingdom 15 years ago to serve as a pastor in England. During the last few weeks of his Asian Gospel Show, which airs on the Venus satellite channel, he received several calls on air from Muslims who challenged his views. "They were having an argument with me," he said. "They were very aggressive in saying they did not agree with me. I said those are your views and these are my views."

After the attack, Samuel continued on with his hourlong show and was later joined by Tahir Al, the station's Muslim owner, who condemned the attacks on-air. Despite his resilience, Samuel says he and his family now fear for their safety. "I am frightened and depressed," he said. "My show is not confrontational." [dailymail.co.uk, 3/15/09] read more

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