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War of the Boards

In late October an atheist group in London responded to a Christian evangelism conference’s bus ads by blitzing the city with anti-God billboard ads. This Christmas season in the United States, Christians and atheists across the country are primed to stage a similar billboard war of beliefs. The American Humanist Association is sponsoring ads across the country—predominantly in major cities—throughout the holiday season that ask, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The organization hopes to install similar billboards in 46 states as part of its “Godless Holiday Campaign.” And starting this week in at least two Colorado cities, a network of atheist, humanist and “freethinking” organizations is running billboards that read: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

“We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you,” said Fred Edwords, spokesman for the American Humanist Association. “Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”
In response, various Christian organizations have vowed to reply with billboards of their own. [AP, 11/12/08; gazette.com, 11/12/08]

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A Church Divided ... Beyond the Polls

Although last week’s historic election of Barack Obama as the United States’ next president obviously shattered racial barriers, many Christian leaders say it also highlighted a still-prevalent racial divide among churches and believers.

Associated Press exit polls showed that 74 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidate John McCain, while 94 percent of African-American believers voted for Obama. Yet according to many leaders, the underlying differences—and problems—emerged long before a single vote was cast.

“I think in the eagerness to protect the right to life issues, there were some things said … that were not always fair and that were insensitive that need to be rethought,” said T.D. Jakes, founding pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas. “I would love to see black and white Christians find common ground, and a deeper understanding of each other’s needs.”

Other black leaders voiced a stronger objection to the pre-election rhetoric, particularly from the white-dominated Christian right: “What they did is insult our biblical understanding,” said Derrick W. Hutchins, a leader in the predominantly black Church of God in Christ. “The white religious right-wing determined that if you didn’t vote for McCain, you were not meeting a standard of the Bible.”

Taking a more historical viewpoint, Shirley Caesar-Williams, pastor of Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, N.C., told her congregation that “God has vindicated the black folk. Too long we’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole, but He has vindicated us—hallelujah! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nothing to put my head down for, praise God. Because when I look toward Washington, D.C., we got a new family coming in. … And you know what? They look like us.” [AP, 11/7/08, 11/10/08]

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Not What You'll Hear in Mainstream Media

QUOTE: “Two very different subcultures could either collide and explode, or create an opportunity for racial healing and real change. The only glue that can possibly heal our current social breach is a working unity among Bible-believing Christians of all races. … The evangelical movement is building bridges and alliances with people and organizations that some might find surprising. But this story won’t be on the cable channels or the evening news. In truth, many black churches do not embrace the perspectives of Rev. Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. The new black church is led by an exciting new breed of gifted leaders who are up to the task of leading in the 21st century.” —Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition [townhall.com, 11/10/08]

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A New Face, A New Day

QUOTE: “The black church, which is the spiritual face of the black community, can really take pride in this new America, in this new day that Barack symbolizes for all of us.” —Noel Erskine, associate professor of theology at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology [ajc.com, 11/5/08]

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Happy Birthday, Billy!

Renowned evangelist Billy Graham turned 90 last Friday, celebrating amid family near his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C. Although he’ll attend a larger celebration party with family and friends later this month, the appreciation for “America’s Pastor” began circulating long before. Since son Franklin Graham invited Christians worldwide who have been impacted by his father to send a message, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has gathered tens of thousands of greetings. A few weeks ago, Billy: The Early Years released in theaters across the nation to commemorate the special occasion—albeit without the BGEA’s endorsement. “[Billy Graham] enacted America’s idealized self,” commented Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “He’s modeling the kind of person people wish they were.” Another religion professor, William Long of Reed College in Portland, Ore., said one of Graham’s outstanding traits was his ability to transcend religious divisions with a simple yet pointed message. “He burnished off the fine points—the notion that you needed a certain kind of baptism or doctrine. He went straight for the essential gospel message: Jesus Christ died for you. … People date the beginnings of their relationships with God to their encounters with Graham—the most continuing symbol of religious vitality in American life.” [usatoday.com, 11/6/08; christianpost.com, 10/7/08, 11/7/08]

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Without Walls Not Without More Controversy

It continues to be a tough year for Randy White, pastor of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla. After divorcing ex-wife Paula White, losing his daughter to brain cancer and watching his church go from one of the fastest-growing congregations in the country to losing almost half its membership, White is now facing more public controversy—this time regarding his church’s property.

Last Tuesday, the Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU), which holds the church’s mortgage, began foreclosure proceedings after what ECCU spokesman Jac La Tour says was months of negotiating a loan agreement. Although an agreement was made, White refused to sign the modified version under the advice of lawyers, who said the changes gave all property, furnishings and intellectual rights to the bank. ECCU stated in court documents that the church was in default on a $1 million line of credit due in August and demanded immediate repayment on both that and the $12 million mortgage on Without Walls’ Tampa property. White, however, says church leaders had already been negotiating with ECCU for months—including two trips to the credit union’s headquarters in California—and had shown ECCU a signed contract from the sale of another property proving it could more than pay off its line of credit.

“In my opinion, it’s nothing more than greed from a Christian bank who’s supposed to be working with Christians,” White said. “I think it’s because they’re drowning, they’re pulling so many people in with them. They’re scrambling.”

On Sunday, an impassioned White told his congregation, “This church has never been late in seven and a half years. In fact, we gave them more money than any client they had.” In his hour-and-a-half message, he addressed both the current financial case and a series of unflattering stories in the Tampa Tribune that White says has resulted in a 30 percent decline in attendance. (White plans to sue the newspaper.) “We’re not going under and we’re not going away,” he assured Without Walls members. “I promise you this: I will handcuff myself to that column right there because right is right and wrong is wrong. We are a great church, and the devil has tried to take us out every single way that he can.” [tampabay.com, 11/6/08, 11/10/08; tbo.com, 11/10/08; tampabays10.com, 11/10/08]

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