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‘Heroes and Heroines of Our Faith’

(By Jeffrey Walton, Juicy Ecumenism). More than 250 million Christians are suffering persecution of some kind around the world today, according to Baroness Caroline Cox of the U.K.-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). Many live under the oppression of Communism, fundamentalist Hinduism, political Buddhism and, above all, militant Islam.

Cox spoke June 30 before 1,400 clergy, bishops and lay delegates at the Anglican Church in North America Provincial Assembly held on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois.

Cox said Christians to have an obligation, quoting Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “When one part of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.”

“We do have a mandate to be alongside those brothers and sisters,” Cox declared “If not necessarily in person, then certainly in spirit and prayer.”

Cox is a cross-bench member of the British House of Lords, where she served as a Deputy Speaker from 1985 to 2005. Created a Life Peer in 1982, Cox describes herself as a Baroness by “astonishment”, and a servant by faith.

Speaking of Christians under pressure in Armenia, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Syria, Cox quoted St. Francis of Assisi, that “Pity weeps and turns away – compassion weeps and puts out a hand to help.”

Speaking of a woman whose child is dying of starvation in Sudan, Cox relayed her words: “I could go to a government-held area, get some food and medicine, and save my little boy, but I am a Christian. I’m not going to convert to Islam. We will live and die as Christians.”

“To sacrifice yourself must be tough,” Cox assessed. “To sacrifice your child – I am blessed with 10 grandchildren – I can hardly imagine sacrificing a child for my faith. That is the price of faith for so many of our brothers and sisters.”

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The American Church Has a Better Reputation Than Higher Ed or the Media

Institutional trust continues to decline in surveys, but religious organizations still rank high.
(By Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today). While Americans’ confidence in various institutions dips, the church remains in relatively high regard—especially among Christians and Republicans.

According to Pew Research Center, Americans view the impact of religious institutions more positively than colleges, labor unions, banks, or the media, and their reputation has changed little during the political shifts over the past few years.

Amid growing skepticism over the benefits of college among Republicans and a widening political divide over the media, a majority of the country—59 percent—continue to see the church as having a positive impact, while 26 percent see it having a negative impact.

The church’s positivity ratings are more than twice as high as the lowest-rated institution, the media, which 28 percent of Americans view positively and 63 percent negatively.

The Pew report, released Monday, follows a trend of America’s shifting perspectives toward major institutions.

Last year, Gallup found the church ranked among the most-trusted institutions in the country (beat only by military and police), even though it dropped to a record-low 41 percent confidence rating.

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Faithful United Methodists Can No Longer Support a Dysfunctional Institution

(By Walter Fenton, Good News). Writing to churches and clergy in the Iowa Annual Conference about financial challenges the conference faces, new Bishop Laurie Haller wrote, “Some of our clergy and congregations are making the decision to withhold apportionment payments to protest those who advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church. This intentional action weakens our mutual covenant to be in ministry together here and around the world despite our differences.”

Bishop Haller is woefully misinformed if she thinks churches and clergy are withholding apportionments “to protest those who advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church.”

Those who support the church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards have never contested the right of LGBTQ+ people and their allies to “advocate” for changing the church’s teachings. They are not naïve; they understand people in a large denomination will not always see eye-to-eye on every matter. They know we have a polity, an orderly way of going about discerning God’s will, and they have willingly engaged in that process for decades. If this were not the case many would have started withholding apportionments long ago, perhaps as far back as the early 1980s.

Here, for Haller and other church leaders who are now learning about the crisis within our denomination, are just some of the actual reasons why some clergy and laity are withholding apportionments, particularly in annual conferences like Iowa. 

  • After the 2012 General Conference some LGBTQ+ people and their allies adopted a strategy of ecclesial disobedience. They disregarded the will of General Conference and our Book of Discipline by presiding at same sex weddings, and in a few cases UM clergy openly acknowledged they were in same-sex partnerships. But these acts only led a few congregations to withhold apportionments. 
  • In October of 2013 retired Bishop Melvin Talbert joined a growing list of clergy to preside at a same-sex marriage. His defiance gained national attention, and forced clergy to respond to perplexed and sometimes angry laity who could not understand how a bishop could preside at a same-sex wedding when the church explicitly said clergy are prohibited from doing so. This provocation led other congregations to withhold apportionments. 
  • In tense executive sessions at the Council of Bishops’ November 2013 gathering it instructed its president to file a complaint against Bishop Talbert. It took four months before the complaint was filed, and then another nine before the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops quietly reported on the late afternoon of December 30, 2014 that a “just resolution” had been reached in the matter. The resolution was widely regarded as a sham since Talbert was in no way held accountable for his breach of church law. This mockery of the Discipline led still other congregations to withhold apportionments.

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UMC Judicial Council Rejects Liberal Plea to Reverse Ruling against Lesbian “Bishop”

(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). [On Friday, July 7, 2017] I and others received official notification that our denomination’s [the United Methodist Church] supreme court, the Judicial Council, had unanimously decided to reject the request from the Western Jurisdiction bishops to reverse their April ruling against the attempt by this increasingly schismatic, numerically tiny region of the United Methodist Church to elevate an openly partnered lesbian activist to be bishop.

We have earlier reported on how the Judicial Council’s complex ruling ultimately took away any foundation in UMC church law for Dr. Karen Oliveto of San Francisco to indefinitely remain a bishop in good standing, and how more broadly, this ruling fundamentally reshaped our church law to remove what had previously been major barriers to defrocking clergy unwilling to abide by our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control.

I also posted online the “friend of the court” legal briefs I submitted to the Judicial Council ahead of their ruling on this case.

Dr. Oliveto is on-record as embracing a bizarrely non-Christian worldview that draws on New Age inspiration and includes directly rebuking Jesus Christ’s own red-letter teachings while defending the supposed benefits of being possessed by demons. Her choice to not immediately resign has significantly hurt congregations in her assigned area and the regional headquarters, with one of her own conference offices publicly declaring a “FINANCIAL CRISIS.” In her short time acting as a “bishop,” Oliveto has used her office to launch a totalitarian intimidation tour of seeking out and taking names of any remaining orthodox congregations in the Mountain Sky Area of UMC and subsequently denouncing those she actually called “the bad churches.”

Yet none of this appears to matter to the bishops and other leaders of the Western Jurisdiction or to anyone of whom I am aware in liberal-caucus circles. It seems they are absolutely determined to stand behind their efforts to elevate Oliveto no matter how deeply and widely she and they hurt the church, because her being a partnered lesbian evidently trumps every other consideration.

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Why America’s ‘Nones’ Left Religion Behind

(By Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center). Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “ nones ” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.

As part of a new survey connected to our broader Religious Landscape Study, we asked these people to explain, in their own words, why they no longer identify with a religious group. This resulted in hundreds of different responses (after all, everyone’s religious experience is a bit different), but many of them shared one of a few common themes.

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God. 

But there are other reasons people give for leaving behind their childhood religion. One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.

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Turkey’s President Seizes Control of 50 More Churches

(By Veronica Neffinger, ChristianHeadlines.com). In Turkey, the president and his government continue to target Christians. In his latest effort to subjugate Turkey’s Christian population to the government, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seized control of 50 Syriac churches.

According to CBN News’ Chief International Reporter Gary Lane, Erdogan and his government are intentionally targeting Christian churches in their quest to bring Sharia Law to Turkey.

The most recent confiscation of churches took place via the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). Among the churches taken over by the government is the 1,600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery–one of the world’s oldest places of worship.

This is not the first time Erdogan has seized control of churches in Turkey. In 2016, he took over six churches, one of which was another ancient place of worship.

“The government didn’t take over these pieces of property in order to protect them,” Ahmet Guvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, said after the first church seizure. “They did so to acquire them.”

According to Lane, Turkey has a long history of being hostile toward Christians, despite the fact that Christianity’s roots in the country go back to ancient times.

Lane also discussed American pastor Andrew Brunson who was charged with being a part of Turkey’s coup last summer while he was in the country doing missionary work. Brunson has been imprisoned since October and has called on President Trump to intervene to secure his release.

View original article here.

Watch CBN International Correspondents George Thomas and Gary Lane discuss the events in Turkey and American Pastor Andrew Brunson.

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Leaning Centrists in the UMC

(By Walter Fenton, Good News). A resolution recently presented to the clergy session of the West Ohio Annual Conference speaks volumes about the self-declared “United Methodist Centrist Movement.”

The resolution made four requests of conference pastors and the two at the top of the list are telling: “Refrain from making complaints against colleagues in matters of sexual orientation,” and “Delay decisions regarding congregational departure from the United Methodist Church until after General Conference 2019.” (The final two requests were innocuous – we trust: “choose faithfulness and discretion,” and support the UM Church’s mission statement.)

If the resolution was authentically centrist it would have included an item calling on clergy to, “Refrain from presiding at or being a party to same-sex weddings.” After all, there would be no need to ask clergy to refrain from filing complaints if others refrained from violating the Book of Discipline in the first place. And local churches would not contemplate leaving if bishops maintained good order and accountability. But lacking such a request, the resolution puts the onus on pastors who actually support and defend the Discipline. One would think a movement that claims to represent the so-called “center,” and therefore the majority of the church, would want to see its polity protected.

But that’s not actually the case. While the UM Centrist Movement styles itself as centrist, it appears to lean progressive. And these centrists live in a theoretical world where hopefully the truly hard questions can be finessed: Is the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching or not? Is marriage, as the church defines it, between one man and one woman? And finally, is the church correct in its decision not to ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals?

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The Reconnector: Equipping You to Bring God Into Every Conversation

Why The Reconnector?

We talk with people, to people, about people and over people. From social media to 24/7 news, we live in a noisy world. Where do Christ followers fit in this picture, and how do we make a difference?

This new resource is for YOU—to equip and inform you to speak into conversations with the Truth in ways that glorify God. Every story, every photo, every conversation starter is meant for YOU to use in daily interactions: in the grocery store, during your commute, at home during mealtimes, at the office, at church. Anywhere you are, we hope you will remember to put God back in His place, where He belongs, right in the middle of every conversation. Join us in the pursuit of Truth and refreshing conversations!

Read the first issue of The Reconnector by clicking here.

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The One Thing All Christian Persecution Has in Common

(By Brian Orme, Open Doors). There’s one thing I often forget when it comes to Christian persecution. One thing that can easily slip my mind when I read about the senseless violence on Palm Sunday in Egypt, the calculated murder of Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the kidnapping of Pastor Koh in Malaysia, or the plan of radical Hindus in India to wipe out Christianity by 2021.

What is it that I forget?

Sometimes in the midst of the news and world events related to the violence or the marginalization against Christians, I forget that any and every act of persecution toward believers is really an attack on one person: Jesus Christ.

It’s easy for me to shift my focus to the tangible violence and oppression and forget that this is a deeply spiritual battle. Satan’s desire is to devour Christians and wipe out any and every representation of the King of Kings in our world.

When Jesus confronts Saul in Acts 9, He didn’t say, “Saul, why are you hurting these innocent people?” or “Saul, don’t you care about human rights?” No, when Jesus confronted one of the greatest persecutors of Christians at that time, He simply said, “Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

It all goes back to Jesus. We are His Body—the largest expression of the Son on earth. We’re attacked, ostracized, falsely accused, imprisoned—and even killed—by proxy of the name of Jesus.

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UMC Bishops Petition Judicial Council to Overturn Lesbian Bishop Ruling

(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). The bishops of the United Methodist Church’s theologically radicalized, numerically tiny Western Jurisdiction recently submitted a formal petition to our denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council. These bishops are requesting that the Council reconsider and reverse its recent April decision against the Western Jurisdiction’s attempt to elect openly partnered lesbian activist Dr. Karen Oliveto (who otherwise would not have been remotely qualified for the office) to be a UMC bishop.

That highly watched ruling found that someone found to be openly homosexually partnered, as Oliveto publicly admits to being, does not meet the minimum standards for being bishop, due to the UMC’s official affirmation of biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that this is the only appropriate context for sexual relations. In the narrow situation of Oliveto, the Judicial Council’s Decision #1341 basically removed any legal legs she would have had to stand on to indefinitely continue as a United Methodist bishop, pending only the completion of a review process to determine if the way Oliveto publicly describes herself is true. I wrote some analysis here about the much broader implications of this case, for how it applied the plain meaning of the words in the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline to close alleged loopholes a few bishops (particularly in the Western Jurisdiction) have dishonestly used to avoid enforcing our rules against “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy.

It is these broader implications for more effectively forbidding “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy that the Western Jurisdiction bishops have targeted in their request, dated today. These bishops’ request adamantly protests the legal core of the Judicial Council’s ruling, claiming that it “cannot be allowed to stand.”

The request, dated today, was submitted by Richard A. Marsh and Llewelyn G. Pritchard, Chancellors for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific-Northwest Annual Conferences.

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