President Barack Obama’s inauguration last week marked many firsts, among which was a president mentioning “nonbelievers” as part of the United States’ makeup. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers,” Obama stated during his speech last Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Although the reference was undoubtedly a first, whether it signifies a monumental cultural shift—or even a nod to atheists and secularists—isn’t as clear. “This inclusiveness is a signature moment in American inaugural history,” commented David Domke, a University of Washington professor who has analyzed religious language in seven decades’ worth of inaugural and State of the Union addresses.
Many analysts expected Christian leaders to criticize or object to the reference, yet even the most conservative leaders believe the new president was simply stating the facts, not peppering his speech with coded language. “It struck me as accurate,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We are a nation of Christians and Jews, and Muslims and Hindus, and Bahai and agnostics and atheists—although proportionally the vast majority of Americans claim some kind of affiliation with a Christian faith.”
Land also pointed out that, despite Obama’s inclusion of nonbelievers, “radical separationists couldn’t have been very happy with the religious allusions and biblical quotations.” Indeed, Obama wove a few biblical allusions throughout his speech and, according to Domke, referenced God more than Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech and fewer than George W. Bush’s. “[Obama] clearly was not playing by their rules,” Land added.
Elmer Towns, dean of the Liberty University School of Religion, agreed, while also noting the difference between Obama’s speech and previous inaugural addresses. “It was a statement that George Washington could not have made,” Towns said, “and probably a statement that Abraham Lincoln could not have made. It was a statement that, probably Teddy Roosevelt could not have made. But it is a description of where we are today. … If Obama is setting an agenda of tolerance, let’s make sure that the tolerance extends to the majority as well as the minority.” [cnsnews.com, 1/22/09; usatoday.com, 1/22/09]
QUOTE: “If churches embracing the principle of sola scriptura [by Scripture alone] fail to understand and address the concerns voiced in the Emerging Church conversation, we may lose an entire generation of professing believers. … While we should applaud and apply much of its content, we must also confront that it is moved along by an old philosophical wind which ever threatens to wrest Christ’s church from the foundation of her faith—the written Word of God. … If the Emerging Church eventually defines Christ’s church, then the church as Christ defined it will be no more.” —Rutledge Etheridge, pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church and an adjunct professor of systematic theology at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary [christianpost.com, 1/24/09]
On Feb. 1 youth groups around the world will be going on a two-week missions trip—from the comfort of their homes.
Through his online missions trip, Tim Schmoyer is encouraging young people to evangelize their generation via social networking Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace and World of Warcraft.
“Missions doesn’t have to be limited to a summer trip where you raise lots of money and go somewhere for two weeks and then come home,” said Schmoyer, pastor of student ministries at Evangelical Covenant Church of Alexandria in Alexandria, Minn. “Missions is an everyday thing, and with the power of the Internet it’s never been as easy as it is today to go across the world and talk to someone for free.”
Schmoyer said young people already spend a great deal of time on the Web, so he’s encouraging them to use that time to share Christ with their friends. An estimated 2,500 teens and young adults from Canada, Bermuda, the United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesian and the United States have registered at onlinemissionstrip.com to participate in the outreach. More than 1,500 students also have joined the Online Missions Trip Facebook group.
Students are being urged to use thought-provoking videos, photos, instant messages and text messages as a means to start conversations about God. “I want these kids to grow up being comfortable having those spiritual conversations with their friends … not just expecting that it’s the church’s job,” Schmoyer said.
A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Schmoyer has long been “discontent” with the ineffective results of youth group outreaches. He said most consist of a church putting on a concert, inviting a popular guest speaker and telling the students to bring their unsaved friends. “I think it was unintentionally teaching our kids to outsource their evangelism to someone on a stage,” he said.
Schmoyer hopes the online missions trip will not only result in decisions for Christ, but that it will cause young people to realize that it is their responsibility to witness to their friends, not their pastors’.
In the weeks leading up to the missions trip, students will be learning techniques for sharing Christ with their friends. Posted on the ministry’s Web site is evangelism-training material for youth groups, along with books and videos that teach students how to witness to people from various religious backgrounds. The Web site also details a discipleship process for the students who accept Christ during the outreach.
Though Schmoyer says the Web resources are helpful, he says the most important and overlooked tool on the site is the 24-hour prayer section. “Any life change that takes place is totally and only the result of the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life,” he said. “I think the key … way that happens is by just saturating this entire trip in prayer.”
Schmoyer is asking for volunteers to sign up to pray for the trip, in hopes that there will be people praying 24 hours a day for the entire two weeks. Youth groups nationwide are also urging their students to make prayer a major focus of their missions preparation. “We will be encouraging students to concentrate on praying for four or five of their friends leading up and during this trip,” said Shawn M. Shoup, student pastor at Destiny Foursquare Church in Rapid City, S.D. “Our students will be plowing the ground spiritually … sending out prayer support letters, fasting and praying in preparation.”
Schmoyer said he is praying that the missions trip will not end on Feb. 14, but that it will inspire youth to make evangelism part of their everyday lives: “Hopefully their mindsets will start to shift, that they would develop lifestyles that are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading as they engage with unbelievers throughout the rest of their lives.” [charismamag.com, 1/23/09]
An already dark stain for New Life Church just got darker. After spending the last two years trying to recover from the infamous sex-and-drugs scandal of former pastor Ted Haggard, the Colorado Springs, Colo., congregation now faces new revelations—and criticism—regarding a former church volunteer’s relationship with the fallen leader.
On Friday, New Life pastor Brady Boyd confirmed that a former male volunteer approached church leaders shortly following Haggard’s resignation in November 2006 and said he and Haggard had been in an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time.” Recent reports indicate that the relationship did not involve physical contact, but that on one occasion Haggard masturbated in front of Grant Haas, who was 22 years old at the time. According to Haas, the two exchanged thousands of sexually explicit text messages over several months, many of which featured Haggard talking about sexual positions, pornography, masturbation and drugs.
According to Boyd, the church offered Haas counseling after he came forward, but when Haas decided to sue the church in 2007, New Life’s leaders—given the “overwhelming pool of evidence” that verified his story—reached a legal settlement, agreeing to pay almost $180,000 to assist with moving expenses, counseling, medical bills and college tuition. The agreement came under the stipulation that none of the parties involved discussed the matter publicly.
Last Thursday, however, local television station KRDO-TV informed Boyd that Haas had provided them a detailed account of his story and wanted to go public because of the media attention Haggard was gaining as a ramp up to his HBO documentary, The Trials of Ted Haggard, airing this week. Boyd responded on Friday by e-mailing New Life Church members about the six-figure settlement: “This decision was made not as an attempt to conceal wrongdoings, but to protect him from those who would seek to exploit him. His actions now suggest that he has changed his mind.”
Boyd added that New Life “received reports of a number of incidents of inappropriate behavior” following Haggard’s high-profile fall. “In each case, we have tried our very best to do the right thing each time, including disciplinary action when appropriate.” Boyd also informed members that the settlement was paid using insurance money, not tithes.
“[This] wasn’t at all a settlement to make [Haas] be quiet or not tell his story,” Boyd told reporters on Friday. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance—certainly not hush money. I know that’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”
Not surprisingly, Haas disagrees. “I really felt the church staff did what they could to get me to move to a different city, to get me to stop going to the church, to make these promises to do whatever they could to help, but their main focus was to cover it up,” he said. “They think Ted Haggard is not a harm to this community and I really think they’re wrong, they’re dead wrong.”
Although New Life could take legal action against Grant for breaking his silence, Boyd said the church has no desire to. “It’s not great for our church either,” Boyd said of the recent publicity. “I think what caused this young man to be a bit aggravated was Ted being seen as a victim, when he himself had experienced a great deal of hurt. I seriously doubt this man would have come forward if the documentary had not been made.”
On Sunday, Boyd addressed the issue with his congregation, reminding them of their “holy tenacity” that has been revealed throughout both the Haggard scandal and last year’s shootings at the church. “I’m sorry that this wound has been reopened for many of you. One day we may have a little scar tissue, but the wounds will not define us. … While scandal and tragedy has been part of our past, it will not be our future.” [AP, 1/24/09, 1/26/09; krdo.com, 1/25/09, 1/27/09]
At least nine people were killed and more than 100 injured when the roof of Brazilian megachurch Reborn in Christ Church collapsed Sunday evening. The downtown Sao Paulo church, which is one of the largest congregations in the country, had held a youth service less than an hour earlier attended by hundreds of churchgoers, yet most had left the building. Another service for adults was scheduled to begin minutes later.
Authorities said it could take weeks to determine why the church’s concrete roof suddenly gave way. In 1999 the church was temporarily shut down because of a termite problem in the rafters, but church leaders said the building was entirely up to code. “It’s premature to start laying blame,” said Ronaldo Marzagao, Sao Paulo’s public security secretary.
Reborn in Christ Church began as a church held in the back of a pizza parlor in 1986 and is now the hub of a worldwide evangelical movement that claims nearly 2 million members, 1,200 satellite churches and several high-profile supporters—including Brazilian soccer star Kaka, who was married in the same building in 2005. The church hasn’t been without controversy, however, as its founders, Estevam and Sonia Hernandes, are currently on probation in Florida after pleading guilty in 2007 to smuggling $56,000 into the United States in their luggage. [AP, 1/19/09; Reuters, 1/19/09]