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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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First “Non-Binary Gendered” UMC Deacon Commissioned

(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). This Sunday, June 4, the Northern Illinois Conference commissioned for deacon’s orders someone who was reportedly the “first openly non-binary trans person” for ministry in the United Methodist Church.

And the full inclusion of such persons in ordination could potentially be mandated in every region of our denomination if the United Methodist annual conferences meeting this month vote to adopt Proposed Amendment #2. This amendment would change the UMC Constitution – the narrow section of the UMC Discipline that trumps all other parts of church law – to mandate absolute inclusion at all levels of our denomination’s governance regardless of “gender,” without making clear that this is limited to only male and female.

The individual now using the name “M Barclay” does not personally identify as male or female, and insists on using “singular they pronouns” as Barclay no longer accepts being referred to with such feminine pronouns as “her” or “she.”

Such pronoun preferences can get so confusing that reportedly even leading LGBTQ activists in the denomination could not agree on how to do it. When in my writings, I decline to join Miss Barclay in denying the good, God-given gift of her female identity, it is NOT because of any personal ill will or any desire to hurt anyone’s feelings. But among the things at stake in the language we use in such matters are such fundamental questions as whether or not is such a thing as objective, physical reality about people, or if people actually have the ability redefine their own realities as radically as an XX-chromosomed woman declaring that she is no longer a woman. I understand that a key principle of psychological care that when patients experience unhealthy fantasies of not accepting certain realities, it is actually harmful to “play along” and speak and act as if their fantasies were realities.

Barclay is no stranger to controversy. I have previously reported on her publicity stunt of seeking (ultimately unsuccessfully) to be ordained in the more theologically diverse Southwest Texas Conference, while she was at that time openly cohabiting with her lesbian partner.

While seeking the affirmation of the United Methodist Church, Barclay is not seeking to pastor any of our congregations. United Methodist deacons find their own employment and normally do not work as full-time congregational pastors. Instead, this clergy status gives Barclay a personal sense of affirmation, as well as a sort of validation of her work in full-time LGBTQ activism, as the communications director for the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

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Related articles from Good News:

Two Boards of Ordained Ministry Spurn Judicial Council Rulings

New York Clergy Member Resigns from Board of Ordained Ministry

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Competing Worldviews Influence Today’s Christians

(Research Releases from Barna). We live in a world of competing ideas and worldviews. In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, Christians are more aware of (and influenced by) disparate views than ever. But just how much have other worldviews crept into Christians’ perspectives? Barna’s research shows that only 17 percent of Christians who consider their faith important and attend church regularly actually have a biblical worldview. So, if Christians are open to nonbiblical perspectives, what are they believing?

In partnership with Summit Ministries, Barna conducted a study among practicing Christians in America to gauge how much the tenets of other key worldviews—including new spirituality, secularism, postmodernism and Marxism—have influenced Christians’ beliefs about the way the world is and how it ought to be. Barna’s new research found strong agreement with ideas unique to nonbiblical worldviews among practicing Christians. This widespread influence upon Christian thinking is evident not only among competing worldviews, but even among competing religions; for example, nearly four in 10 (38%) practicing Christians are sympathetic to some Muslim teachings (an aspect of the study Barna will explore elsewhere).

Here are a few notable findings among practicing Christians:

  • 61% agree with ideas rooted in New Spirituality.
  • 54% resonate with postmodernist views.
  • 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism.
  • 29% believe ideas based on secularism.

Before diving into the four worldviews, and as illustrated in the charts below, there are a few key demographic themes that emerge from the data. First, Millennials and Gen-Xers, who came of age in a less Christianized context, are, in some cases, up to eight times more likely to accept these views than Boomers and Elders. The same is true of gender; males are generally more open to these worldviews than women, often at a 2:1 ratio. Another trend is that Americans who live in cities, often melting pots of ideas and cultures, are more accepting of these views than those in either suburban or rural areas. And finally, when looking at ethnicity, Americans of color are, in about half of the cases, more likely than white Americans to embrace these worldviews.

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Listen as Carmen discusses the research on The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge.

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The Remaking of Protestantism

(By Dale M. Coulter, First Things). The last time we saw such a massive shift in Protestantism was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Holiness and Pentecostal movements spawned over ten major denominations. When one adds to this the formation of the Wesleyan Church (1843), the Free Methodist Church (1860), and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870), all of which came out of the old Methodist Episcopal Church, it is easy to see just how large the divisions and realignments were.

It now seems apparent that something similar is occurring in the final decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Not only are there new denominations forming, such as the Association of Vineyard Churches (1982), networks of churches are emerging that are quickly becoming a nucleus for local congregations leaving mainline Protestantism.

The trend of realignment among mainline churches can be seen in the formation of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (2012), the North American Lutheran Church (2010), and the Anglican Church of North America (2009). Both ECO and NALC were formed from networks of ministers and churches that had decided that renewal from within existing Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations was no longer possible. This realignment first began with the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (1973).

A similar move may be occurring within the United Methodist Church. The largest UMC congregation in the Mississippi Conference just finalized its departure.

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Righteous Anger: Egypt’s Christians Respond to ISIS

With 100 massacred in five months, leaving vengeance to the Lord is getting harder for Copts.

(By Jayson Caspter in Cairo, Christianity Today). They couldn’t even wash their dead.

Thirty Coptic Christians were gunned down by ISIS, ambushed in a church bus on a weekend outing to a popular monastery in the Egyptian desert. Their families gathered to receive their loved ones in a local hospital, but were met with a mixture of ill-equipped facilities and overwhelmed staff. They even had to fetch their own water.

As if another reason was necessary, Coptic anger turned the funeral march into a protest.

“With our souls and blood we will redeem you, oh Cross!” they shouted. Some seemed to take aim at Islam. “There is no god but God,” they chanted, before changing the second half of the Muslim creed, “and the Messiah, he is God.”

Other chants took no aim at all, thrashing wildly in anger. “We will avenge them, or die like them.”

Many observers say such anger plays right into the hands of ISIS, which is keen to turn Egypt against itself.

Six weeks earlier, after twin suicide bombings on Palm Sunday, Bishop Boula of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Tanta found himself in a similar situation. Hospitals did not have enough refrigeration units to keep the 25 bodies of those martyred at St. George Church. Crowds were gathering, and anger was surging.

Quickly, he made the decision to bury them together in the church crypt reserved for bishops. Honoring the dead with their leaders of ages past, he then marshaled the youth to provide order and security for the semi-spontaneous funeral service.

“It cooled the fire of all the people,” he later recounted on satellite TV. St. George was renamed to include “the righteous martyrs of Tanta,” with a shrine erected outside the crypt.

It was perhaps the most practical of Coptic efforts to process their anger. Forgiveness is another, as Copts have moved Muslims and wowed the world with their example.

“The normal reaction of normal Middle Easterners in a shame-based society is to retaliate,” said Ramez Atallah, head of the Bible Society of Egypt. “The terrorists want to infuriate the Christians enough that they forget their principles and go out on a rampage.

“What is countercultural is that the leadership of the church has been so insistent that Christians do not retaliate. So by the grace of God, there has not been a reaction.”

This teaching has filtered down to the people. Circulating on social media is a poem Copts have shared to encourage themselves—and to remind themselves of the ideals of their religion. Two of its six stanzas read:

“Your hatred and killing in no way suffices
To stop us from loving and praying for you.
My father’s religion, oh dear Uncle ISIS,
Is not a weapon to pierce you straight through.

My fathers’ religion if you could discern
Offers each wounded the medic of life.
Tomorrow when you will repent and return
You will come to know just who is the Christ.”

But the Minya bus ambush is the fourth massacre in five months, and the poem’s “tomorrow” has not yet come. For many Egyptian believers, the ideals of Christianity are becoming harder to hold.

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Largest Congregation in Mississippi Parts Ways with United Methodist Church

(By Walter Fenton, Good News). The largest local church in the Mississippi Annual Conference in terms of worship attendance and one of the 25 fastest growing churches in the U.S. has now officially exited The United Methodist Church.

According to lead pastor Bryan Collier, The Orchard Church (Tupelo) reached a settlement with conference leaders that made its departure official as of May 19, 2017.

The congregation agreed to pay 100 percent of its 2017 apportionments and to release the annual conference from all financial and legal liabilities. In turn, the conference has released the congregation from the trust clause. Therefore, The Orchard now has complete and unfettered ownership of its property and assets. (Local UM churches hold their property and assets in trust for the annual conference in which they reside, and would normally have to surrender the property and assets if they decided to leave the denomination.)     

“There was just no question among [The Orchard’s] leaders that this was right move for us,” said Collier. “Our departure was not about the homosexuality issue per se, but about the general church’s inability to deal with it. Unfortunately, its failure became an enormous distraction to the kingdom work our congregation is called to do.”

Last fall, the UM Church’s Council of Bishops appointed 35 clergy and laity to serve on the Commission on a Way Forward for the Church. It charged the commission with preparing a proposal it hopes will serve as a basis for resolving the denomination’s long and divisive debate over its sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. And recently, the council announced it will convene an unprecedented, called General Conference in February 2019 in an attempt to settle the dispute that threatens to divide the denomination.

“The Orchard fully embraces, as it does with all people, its need to minister to those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and with their families and friends as well,” said Collier. “But the denomination was not helping us do that. The Judicial Council’s recent, convoluted decision is emblematic of [the UM Church’s] inability to put the disagreement to rest. We didn’t want to let this one issue distract us anymore. We know the arguments on both sides, we’re clear in our hearts and minds where we stand, and we’re prepared to move forward accordingly.”

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Related article: Two Large UM Churches Vote to Leave Denomination

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Religious Liberty: Its True End and Ultimate Goal

(By Jason Duesing, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission). About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25 ESV)

The visit to Macedonia had gone well. Paul and company had arrived in Philippi days before and on the Sabbath had gone out to a place of prayer and met a gathering of women. Among them was Lydia who listened intently to the good news they shared about Jesus Christ and was converted. Then, as they went along they were met by another woman, an enslaved fortune-teller, who followed and badgered them as she was possessed by an evil spirit.

After a few days, Paul commanded the spirit in the name of Jesus to come out of her, and she was freed, though still not from her physical enslavement. Her owners had profited from her fortune-telling, and, with that at an end, they turned on Paul and Silas and brought them to the rulers, charging them with advocating “customs that are not lawful for us.” A crowd attacked as well, and so the rulers had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten and thrown in jail.

Paul and Silas had merely engaged the Roman culture with the gospel, helping those who would listen and healing those oppressed by spiritual warfare. Since this work overturned an idol of financial profit, they were isolated, misrepresented and made to suffer unjustly. Now they were wounded and in prison, surrounded by prisoners. And at this time when they should be sleeping or weeping, they sang. Why did they sing?

The verse informs that they were singing to God, and we can infer that the hymns were songs about God and his work. They sang to remind themselves of present and future truths revealed by God to indicate their trust in God regardless of their circumstances. Their hope was in God, not in their might or their friends. They knew that regardless of how this scrape went, their ultimate future was secure and safe in God. Paul and Silas were able to sing in the face of injustice and the loss of their freedoms because they knew that God was faithful (1 Pet. 4:19) and that in the end God would make things right (Rom. 12:19).

Given the current state of religious liberty in this country, and even more around the world, one might be tempted to despair and question whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of religious liberty. Indeed, the future is hard to predict, and the rise of restrictive trends is not encouraging. Yet, lest we lose hope, I hope, much like Paul and Silas singing, briefly to remind of both religious liberty’s true end and religious liberty’s end goal.

Religious liberty’s true end: Jesus’ return

When we talk of religious liberty in the United States, we acknowledge its present fragility with words like “threatened” and with calls to “defend” it.[1] Should believers find their liberties removed or suppressed in the days ahead, we should recognize that we will not really reach the end of religious liberty until Jesus’ return. On that day, the time of religious freedom will end. Everyone will bow and acknowledge the one true religion and one true God. Until then, in the most important sense, every day is a day of grace and a day of liberty.

Thus, even if the future practice of religious liberty in this country is virtually unrecognizable to the generations of men and women who died to preserve the first freedom, there exists still grace for a time through a certain future truth. This eternal perspective should provide hope, but it should also serve as a sobering call to action for the grace God shows by granting any form of religious liberty on earth is finite.

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5 facts about Memorial Day

(By Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition). Today, Americans observe Memorial Day, a federal holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Here are five facts you should know about this day of remembrance:

1. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military both in wartime or peacetime.

2. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Three years after the Civil War, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 since it was believed flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

3. Until after World War I, Decoration Day was a holiday reserved for the remembrance of the Civil War dead. After the Great War the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

4.  Here are the number of veteran deaths from 19172017:

World War I (1917-1918)
Battle Deaths – 53,402
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater) – 63,114

Korean War (1950-1953)
Battle Deaths – 33,739
Other Deaths (In Theater) – 2,835
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater) – 17,672

Vietnam War (1964-1975)
Battle Deaths – 47,434
Other Deaths (In Theater) – 10,786
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater) – 32,000

Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990- 1991)
Battle Deaths – 148
Other Deaths (In Theater) – 235
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater) – 1,565

Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths – 1,843
Non-Hostile Deaths – 503

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths – 22
Non-Hostile Deaths – 13

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
Hostile Deaths – 3,481
Non-Hostile Deaths – 930

Operation New Dawn (Iraq insurgency)
Hostile Deaths – 38
Non-Hostile Deaths – 35

Operation Inherent Resolve (against ISIS)
Hostile Deaths – 11
Non-Hostile Deaths – 30

(Note: Battle deaths means the death occurred in or near the “theater” of battle while “non-theater” means the deaths occurred outside the combat zone.)

5. In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” which designates 3:00 PM. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance, in “honor of the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.” Public Law 106-579 encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at that time for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

View the article on the Gospel Coalition web site. 

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How to Have an Effective Missionary Encounter with Culture

(By Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition). Early Christians before Constantine were highly persecuted for being too exclusive, narrow, and strange, and yet at the same time they were fast growing, especially in the urban centers. (See, for example, Alan Kreider’s chapter “The Improbable Growth of the Church” in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.) This has been called an effective missionary encounter with Roman society. There was both offense and attraction, confrontation and persuasion.

Christianity didn’t adapt to culture in order to gain more adherents, but neither did it remain a small, withdrawn band. Christianity confronted and critiqued the culture, and believers suffered for it—yet the faith also convinced many, attracting growing numbers of converts daily. 

What Can We Learn?

It’s obvious in Western societies that Christians are again seen as too exclusive and narrow, and that they too may soon be excluded from many government, academic, and corporate jobs, and be socially marginalized in various other ways.

What can we learn from the early church so that we can have our own effective missionary encounter?

First, we must avoid thinking that faithful witness will mean either fast, explosive growth (if we get the ministry formula just right) or long-term dwindling with little fruit or impact. First Peter 2:11–12 gives us a brief summary of the original missionary dynamic when it tells us, in one sentence, that some outside the church accused and persecuted them, while others saw their good deeds and glorified God. 

Second, we must avoid either assimilation or rigidity. There are indeed those who, in order to draw thousands, play down the more offensive and demanding aspects of Christianity. There are also those who insist that any effort at all to adapt our evangelistic presentations to particular cultural mistakes and aspirations is wrong. Yet Gregory of Nyssa, in the prologue to his Great Catechism, insisted that you couldn’t win a polytheist and a Jew by the same arguments. You must frame your exposition of the gospel differently in each case. So must we.

Here are five things our missionary encounter might contain.

1. A public apologetic, both high-level and street-level.

The early church developed effective public apologetics (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, and Augustine). We must not present a purely rational apologetic, but also a cultural one. Augustine developed a “High Theory” critique of pagan culture. He defended the exclusive-looking beliefs of Christians like this: “Our beliefs and lives do not in any way weaken the social fabric—rather they strengthen them. Indeed, you will never have the society you want if you maintain your polytheism.” 

But besides high-level critical theory, there must also be street-level apologetics. We need to show how the main promises secular culture makes regarding meaning, satisfaction, freedom, and identity can’t be fulfilled. We need an explosion of “memoir” apologetics—thoughtful, accessible, and wildly diverse stories of people who encountered Christ and had their lives changed by the gospel.

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