A convicted-murderer-turned-Pentecostal-preacher is the subject of a
lawsuit aimed at restoring what he believes is his right to preach to
Howard Thompson Jr. was ordained a
Pentecostal minister at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) eight years
ago. He preached weekly worship services at the maximum-security
facility until prison officials issued a blanket ban last year on all
preaching by inmates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU), which filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Thompson on
The NJSP administrator and the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections are both named in the suit.
"Prisoners do not forfeit their fundamental right to religious liberty
at the prison gate," said Daniel Mach, legal director for the ACLU
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The prison's absolute ban
on inmate preaching clearly violates the law and Mr. Thompson's right
to practice his faith."
As a preacher at Sunday services,
a teacher in weekly Bible studies, and the founder of the prison choir,
Thompson's religious activities have reportedly never caused any
security incidents since he was incarcerated in 1986 for robbery and
murder. The prison's chaplaincy staff has supported Thompson's
preaching since the 1990s when he was asked to fill in for a sick
"I have a religious calling to minister to my
fellow inmates, and I've done so honestly, effectively and without
incident for years," Thompson said. "All I want is to have my religious
liberty restored and to be able to continue working with men who want
to renew their lives through the study and practice of their faith."
Last year, an ACLU-backed lawsuit challenging similar restrictions on
prisoner preaching in Rhode Island successfully overturned a statewide
"Ours is a country where people are free to express
their religious viewpoints without having to fear repercussions," said
Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "The New
Jersey State Prison may not deny its prisoners their most basic
constitutional rights." [charismamag.com, 12/5/08] read more
Oxford University Press' latest edition of its Junior Dictionary includes some culturally relevant additions such as MP3 player, blog and biodegradable. But it's the ones these words are replacing that have academics and clergy alike up in arms.
For its new release the British publisher omitted words such as minister, chapel, sin, altar, disciple and devil, as well as dozens of terms it believed were outdated because of their predominantly rural use. By nature of the product, the dictionary is restricted in size (10,000 words), meaning words are regularly being culled and replaced. The latest round of edits, according to Oxford representatives, reflect a modern, multifaith, multicultural society.
"When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance," said Vineeta Gupta, head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press. "That was because many children lived in semirural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don't go to church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as Pentecost or Whitsun would have been in 20 years ago but not now."
Such reasoning isn't working for many in the academic world, who were equally concerned about the loss of British heritage as with the spirituality of future generations. "We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable," said professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. "The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and toward the world that information technology creates for us." [telegraph.co.uk, 12/8/08] read more
Conservative Anglicans living in North America took a first step last
Wednesday toward forming a denomination separate from the Episcopal
Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism that has been teetering on the
verge of a split since it ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.
During a news conference in Wheaton, Ill., leaders of the Common Cause
Partnership (CCP), a conservative group comprised of Anglican
associations worldwide, unveiled a provisional constitution and the
first set of canons for the new Anglican Church in North America
Leaders said the rival denomination represents 700 congregations, or roughly 100,000 people, in the U.S. and Canada.
"The purpose of the province is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and
His transforming love in the United States, Canada and beyond,” said
Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the CCP.
whom Episcopal Church leaders deposed from his position as bishop of
the diocese of Pittsburgh in September, will serve as the interim
leader of the ACNA. His diocese defected from the Episcopal Church in
October to align with Latin America's Southern Cone based in Argentina.
The ACNA's formation poses the biggest threat yet to the unity of the
England-based Anglican Communion, which boasts roughly 77 million
members worldwide. Dozens of conservative congregations have defected
from the Episcopal Church to align with bishops in Latin America and
Africa amid concerns that the American branch of Anglicanism was
breaking with orthodox Christianity by embracing gay bishops and
blessing same-sex unions.
If the global Anglican
Communion were to approve the formation of a new American branch, it
could lead to further defections.
The new ACNA
denomination already includes the breakaway dioceses of Pittsburgh,
Forth Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and San Joaquin, Calif.—which each
represent dozens of churches. Conservative Anglicans who left the
Episcopal Church in the 1970s following changes to the Book of Common
Prayer and the ordination of women are also among the new
The Rev. Charles Robertson,
canon for the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop, Katherine Jefferts
Schiori, told the New York Times on Wednesday that there is room for
diverse perspectives within the church. "We regret that some have felt
the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ,” he
Robertson added that the Episcopal Church, the
Anglican Church of Canada and La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico are "the
official, recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North
But Duncan said Anglicanism is experiencing a
sort of revolution. "We're going through Reformation times, and in
Reformation times things aren't neat and clean,” he told the Times. "In
Reformation times, new structures are emerging.”
leaders expect seven Anglican primates to approve the new denomination.
Many of those leaders, including the archbishops of Nigeria, Uganda,
Rwanda and the Southern Cone, participated in a first-ever Global
Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in July, where the
primates signed a declaration proclaiming a new era for global
On Friday, several of the GAFCON leaders
met to present the provision constitution of the North American branch
to the Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. A spokesperson
for Williams said on Thursday that the conservative American leaders
had not begun to create a new church, Agence France-Presse reported.
"There are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative
Council Reports ... detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of
existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces,”
the spokesperson said.
"Once begun, any of these
processes will take years to complete. In relation to the recent
announcement from the meeting of the Common Cause Partnership in
Chicago, the process has not yet begun.”
Rev. Peter Frank said the new denomination would proceed with or
without the approval of the archbishop or the Anglican Consultative
Council. Duncan spokesman the Rev. Peter Frank said the new
denomination would proceed with or without the approval of the
archbishop or the Anglican Consultative Council, the group responsible
for sanctioning new jurisdictions.
leaders of the largest Anglican provinces are a great place to start,
and they're on board with this,” Frank told Charisma. "We also know
that we're past the point where some committee in England is going to
be able to unilaterally decide who's Anglican and who's not. So that's
where we're starting, with the support and the encouragement given to
us by Anglican leaders around the world.”
Howell, executive director of CCP-affiliated Forward in Faith North
America, said many conservative Anglicans had been praying for the
formation of a new church for decades. "Instead of focusing on things
that divide us, we as orthodox Anglicans are focusing on the things
that unite us,” he said.
Cynthia Brust, communications
director for the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is also part
of the CCP, said that Wednesday marked "the beginning of the healing of
the Anglican Communion.”
"The main component to me is the mission focus,” Brust said. "We will be driven by mission, not structure.”
The CCP links eight conservative Anglican organizations across the
globe, including the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Coalition
in Canada, the Anglican Communion Network, the Anglican Mission in the
Americas, the Anglican Network in Canada, the Convocation of Anglicans
in North America, Forward in Faith North America and the Reformed
Episcopal Church, as well as the bishops and congregations linked with
dioceses in Kenya, Uganda and the Southern Cone.
Despite their shared theological conservatism, the groups hold
divergent views on significant issues such as liturgical practices and
the ordination of women. Frank said the new denomination will encourage
mutual submission while "doing all we can to give each other freedom to
follow our convictions.”
The ACNA plans to hold an
assembly next summer in Texas, where congregations that choose to align
with the denomination will ratify the provisional constitution.
[charismamag.com, 12/5/08] read more
Leaders of the Canadian ministry evangelist Todd Bentley founded a
decade ago say the one-time revivalist is "intent" on divorcing his
wife and is yet to begin a restoration process.
six-page letter to ministry supporters, the board of Fresh Fire
Ministries (FFM) released more details about the circumstances that led
to Bentley’s departure in August from the Lakeland, Fla., revival
meetings he led for four months.
"Todd Bentley has
demonstrated himself unfaithful to his wife by entering into a
relationship with another woman while still legally married," the board
said in its statement. "Todd has yet to enter into a clear system of
accountability with the leaders he identified that would be involved in
such a process."
The leaders claim Bentley, 32, has no
biblical grounds for leaving his wife, Shonnah, and their three
children, and that the nature of his relationship with his children’s
former nanny is "that of adultery."
separation from Shonnah was initiated completely by Todd and he has not
seen her or the children since the last week in July," they stated.
"It also needs to be clarified that Shonnah has in no way initiated
this divorce and has no present intention to do so at any time in the
future. She is understandably hurt by Todd’s infidelity, but is not
asking or pressing for a divorce."
On Tuesday, Bentley
said there had been no sexual immorality between him and the former
nanny. He claimed that for two years no "spark or interest" in the
former staff member existed, and that the two developed only an
emotional relationship several weeks after July 1, when Bentley filed
He admitted, however, that the budding relationship was "absolutely" bad timing.
"I would call it an inappropriate relationship, in the sense that it
was too soon, too quick, and should’ve never happened the way that it
happened," Bentley said. "Emotionally, she had stepped in to comfort me
as a friend would.
"But I never left my wife to be with
another woman," he said. "There was nothing premeditated or
inappropriate in my heart. I had never even entertained the idea that I
liked this girl. It never went there."
Claiming to have
gone through years of counseling with his wife, Bentley said he is
divorcing her over "irreconcilable differences."
denied disconnecting from his children and told Charisma he is in
constant phone contact with them and plans to see them as soon as he
sorts out issues with his visa.
Bentley said FFM let him
review the letter before they made it public and that he was unhappy
with portions of it. He said he felt the letter implied that the
breakup of his marriage could be blamed on his relationship with his
former nanny and the pressures of leading daily nonstop revival
meetings in Lakeland.
"I have the utmost respect for my
team in Canada and we have had a lot of years together," he said.
"[But] I’m not in agreement with my board on this. The point is, [the
former nanny] wasn’t the cause. And I don’t want to blame Lakeland. I
want to blame a bad marriage."
Bentley said he is willing
to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions and that he readily
admits he’s guilty of doing a lot of things wrong over the years. "In a
lot of ways, the ministry has been my mistress," he said. "That did
destroy my marriage. That I have to take responsibility for."
The FFM leaders said they had been on an "emotional rollercoaster" for
several months before releasing the statement, seeking to persuade
Bentley to abandon his relationship with the former nanny, return to
his wife and children, and quickly embrace a process of counseling and
In the letter, the board thanked leaders
of other ministries who have reportedly tried to help implement a
process of restoration for Bentley. "But what we have come to realize
is that ultimately, the buck stops with the FFM board of directors,"
they said. "No one knows Todd better, or has more access to all the
facts from both sides than we do."
Ministries’ founder Rick Joyner announced in October that he would be
leading a team to help restore Bentley and would be assisted by Revival
Alliance member Bill Johnson and Texas pastor Jack Deere, along with
pastors John Arnott and Ché Ahn serving as advisers.
Bentley said he is still involved at an emotional level with his former
nanny and soon plans to move to Joyner’s headquarters in Fort Mill,
S.C., to "fully embrace a healing and restoration process."
Joyner confirmed that the process could begin as early as January. He
did not confirm if abandoning his relationship with the nanny was a
precondition Bentley would need to agree to before entering a healing
process led by Joyner.
Joyner did express disappointment
with FFM’s recent statement about Bentley and said he tried to persuade
them not to send the letter in its current form.
is almost always another side to a story, as there is to many of the
things they presented in this letter," Joyner said. "Sometimes the
truth is found somewhere between the two sides, but if we’re going to
ever get to real healing and reconciliation I don’t think this kind of
The FFM board said they decided to send
the letter to supporters after spending months of silence "in deference
to [the] leaders" involved in trying to lead Bentley through a
restoration process. "We struggled for a while with the question of how
to satisfy two important obligations—that of honoring Todd, while
believing for his restoration, and at the same time, our obligation to
be completely honest and open with you."
experienced a moral failing, the FFM leaders said the Lakeland Revival
he led was an authentic move of God. "Through the weakness and failure
of man, the enemy seeks to defame and discredit what God has done,"
they said. "[But] Lakeland was and is an authentic move of God. God
poured Himself out in Florida and through the Internet and television
around the world."
FFM is in the process of restructuring
its ministries with assistance from Johnson’s church in Redding,
Calif., and Joyner’s ministry in South Carolina.
letter also stated that Bentley has officially resigned and that the
Abbottsford, British Columbia-based FFM is searching for another
leader. "We love Todd dearly, [and] it is our deep desire that our
brother should be restored," they said.
us make it clear, that although what Todd has done is inexcusable, it
is not unforgiveable. We do not judge him unworthy of a second, third
or even fourth chance." [charismamag.com, 12/4/08] read more
of hearing about the tumbling economy? Regardless of how inundated
you've been with stories about the current economic woes, if you're a
pastor, you won't want to miss the latest Barna Research survey regarding the economy's effect on churches and nonprofits.
According to a random sampling of more than 1,200 adult respondents
across the country, one of every five households has decreased its
giving to churches or religious organizations in recent months.
Nonprofits have been hit the hardest, with almost one-third of all
adults (31 percent) donating less to such groups. Among individuals
cutting back on their giving, almost one in five reduced it by as much
as 20 percent. Seventeen percent slashed their giving in half, while 11
percent decreased what they gave away by more than half. Worse still, a
whopping 22 percent have stopped giving altogether.
Not surprisingly, those hit hardest by the economic downturn—and
subsequently giving less to churches—are households making less than
$20,000, as well as the 43 percent of families struggling with "serious
Among those surveyed who attend church, more than one-third said their
church had specifically addressed the economic turmoil. A larger
percentage of churches (39 percent among Protestant churches) had
offered financial counseling to those struggling, while about half (52
percent) had created opportunities for congregants to receive such
material assistance as food or clothing.
"Most nonprofits and churches count on the fourth quarter of the year
to produce at least one-third of their annual income," said researcher
George Barna. "[But] the giving patterns we're witnessing suggest that
churches, alone, will receive some $3 billion to $5 billion dollars
less than expected during this fourth quarter. The average church can
expect to see its revenues dip about 4 to 6 percent lower than would
have been expected without the economic turmoil. We anticipate that
other nonprofit organizations will be hit even harder."
What are churches to do with such a bleak outlook? Beyond the obvious
answers of prayer and a greater reliance on God, Barna suggested a
shift in financial projections and planning. "With a large share of
congregants expecting the nation's economic woes to drag on for several
years, it would be wise for churches and nonprofits to reconfigure
their financial models and plan to spend more cautiously over the
coming two or three quarters," he explained. "Even if a congregation
continues to grow numerically, this is not a good time to use dated
financial projections and models. People's attitudes about generosity
have been altered, as shown by their immediate donation behavior. We
anticipate that a greater percentage of churchgoers will decrease both
their giving levels and frequency over the next year or so. This is a
time for church leaders to demonstrate restraint and wisdom in their
financial decisions." [barna.org, 12/1/08] read more
to nonprofits may be down significantly, but one of the world's largest
Bible translation organizations recently became an exception to the
rule after a $50 million anonymous donation. Wycliffe Bible Translators
received the generous gift only two weeks before unveiling a new
initiative called the "Last Languages Campaign" that outlines ambitious
plans to translate God's Word into the more than 2,200 remaining
languages by the year 2025 using a new translation technology.
Though the massive initiative is estimated to cost Wycliffe nearly $1
billion over the next 10 years, the recent unexpected donation, which
was earmarked specifically for the campaign, could give the project the
kind of kick-start it needs for setting out to achieve its goal.
"People without a written language need one," wrote the anonymous
donor. "Literacy is a key to helping people work their way out of
poverty and to resist oppression by others. Children who first learn to
read in their own language are more likely to become literate and to
stay in school than those who first learn in a different language."
Bob Creson, president of Orlando, Fla.-headquartered Wycliffe USA,
praised the generous donor for taking what he said was "a bold step of
faith" that would help the organization reach "more than 200 million
people in Bibleless language communities with the life-changing message
of the gospel."
Wycliffe works with thousands worldwide in translating what
professionals call "the world's most effective missionary"—the Bible.
Aside from learning to speak, write and eventually translate the native
tongues of remote villagers worldwide, Bible translators stress the
important communal side effects of maintaining a Bible-translation
program, such as literacy, water-purifying systems, and AIDS and human
rights education. [charismamag.com, 11/26/08]
how far has the gay agenda expanded in the last decade? The Vatican
released a pamphlet last week warning Roman Catholic priests not to use
any language in their parishes that might be deemed offensive to gays
and lesbians. The brochure, created by bishops and given to those
priests under them, instructs priests to no longer assume every
parishioner is heterosexual and therefore to refrain from using
"heterosexist" language: "Remember that homophobic jokes and asides can
be cruel and hurtful—a careless word can mean another experience of
rejection and pain." Adding insult to injury, priests have also been
told to put up posters promoting various "support services" for
homosexuals attending church.
"It is things like this that are enfeebling the Church at the
moment—the concentration on things that don't matter and missing the
things that do," commented Catholic author and activist Lynette
Burrows. "What is pitiful as well as demeaning is that the Church is
running after homosexual opinion but nothing is going to make
homosexuals like the Catholic Church. This is because the Catholic
Church teaches that homosexuality is a disorder and whatever the
bishops say will not change that." [dailymail.co.uk, 11/29/08; UPI,
M. Docherty, the Washington, D.C., pastor credited with helping to
insert the phrase "under God" in the United States' Pledge of
Allegiance, died of a heart ailment Thanksgiving day at the age of 97.
Originally from Scotland, Docherty served for 26 years as pastor of New
York Avenue Presbyterian Church, the historic downtown church attended
by Abraham Lincoln and many other presidents.
In 1952, Docherty heard his 7-year-old son recite the pledge—which he
was unfamiliar with at the time—and decided to preach a sermon urging
that the pledge to the flag be amended. "To omit the words 'under God'
in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the
American way of life," he said, adding that the Godless pledge was just
as applicable to the then-communist Soviet Union. "I could hear little
Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with
His original sermon did little to change things. But on Feb. 7, 1954,
with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in attendance, Docherty repeated
his message—only this time with near-instant results. Congress
introduced a bill that same week, and Eisenhower signed the "under God"
act four months later.
In his later years, Docherty addressed those who criticized the
inclusion of God's name in the pledge as a violation of
church-and-state separation. He believed the phrase "under God" was
broad enough to include "the great Jewish community and the people of
the Muslim faith," yet he pulled no punches when it came to atheists.
"An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms," Docherty said in
his sermon. "If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the
American ideal of life." [washingtonpost.com, 11/30/08; AP, 11/31/08]
"'Under God' didn't enter the pledge until after World War II, after
the oft-called Greatest Generation had proved its values. These men and
women who fought overseas and sacrificed on the home front all grew up
with a passion for their country but none pledged to God every morning
facing the flag when they were school children. It wasn't essential to
the formation of their character, evidently. When I read about civic
battles today to add the name of God or a Ten Commandments to every
public event or venue, I wonder: What is the desired effect to
adding—or blocking—this? Do you have to say 'God' everywhere to know
God? To develop good values?" —USA Today's "Faith & Reason" blogger
Cathy Lynn Grossman [usatoday.com, 12/1/08] read more
the last month, archaeologists in the Middle East have unearthed a trio
of biblical-times finds that offer important glimpses into both ancient
Holy Land culture and the early Christian church.
month, an Israeli archaeologist digging amid ruins of an ancient town
outside Jerusalem discovered a pottery shard containing the oldest
Hebrew inscription ever found. Penned almost 3,000 years ago, the five
lines of text on the ceramic piece use proto-Canaanite characters, a
precursor of the Hebrew alphabet. Artifacts found around the shard were
carbon-dated to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., which corresponds with the
time King David ruled in Jerusalem. Although the writing has not been
completely translated, Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University
archaeologist in charge of the dig, believes it already indicates that
a powerful Israeli kingdom existed at the time of King David.
week another Israeli archaeologist digging outside Jerusalem found what
he believes are the 2,000-year-old remains of two tombs that once held
a wife and daughter-in-law of King Herod—the same Herod that the Gospel
of Matthew says conducted a mass slaughter of male infants around the
time of Jesus’ birth. Along with the tomb artifacts, additional relics
found by Ehud Netzer, who is a Herodian excavation expert from
Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, seem to further his case for discovering
Herod’s tomb last year. “I would eat my hat if it were someone else’s
tomb,” Netzer said.
300 miles down the road in Syria, a Syrian-Polish archaeological team
unearthed the remains of an eighth-century church. Although the church
is the fourth found in the ancient city of Palmyra, which is almost 150
miles northeast of Damascus, it is the largest such discovery to date.
Walid al-Assaad, head of the Palmyra Antiquities and Museums
Department, said that besides an amphitheater used for gatherings and
services, the church contains at least “two rooms that are believed to
have been used for baptisms, religious ceremonies, prayers and other
rituals.” [AP, 10/31/08; AP, 11/17/08; Reuters, 11/19/08] read more