Even in Canada, Conservative Churches Are Growing

Mainline churches with evangelical leanings outpace their liberal counterparts, study says.

(By Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today). Amid the decades-long decline in mainline Protestantism in North America, researchers in Canada recently found an “elusive sample” of congregations whose growth has bucked the trend.
The key characteristic these exceptional Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United churches had in common? Evangelical theology.

With fewer evangelicals and more secular surroundings than their brethren in the United States, Canada’s mainline denominations collectively lost half of their members over the past 50 years. Last year, a team of sociologists suggested that conservative theological beliefs—including emphasis on Scripture as the “actual word of God” and belief in the power of prayer—may be the saving grace keeping attendance up at 9 of 22 Ontario churches studied.

“Most people, especially academics, are hesitant to say one type of belief system is better than another,” said David Millard Haskell, the study’s lead author. “But if we are talking solely about which belief system is more likely to lead to numerical growth among Protestant churches, the evidence suggests conservative Protestant theology is the clear winner.”

The mainline congregations that kept growing by at least 2 percent a year emphasized markers typically associated with evangelical beliefs. For example, such churches described evangelism as the main mission of their church, were more committed to personal spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, and saw Scripture as a singular authority.

Haskell’s study was one of the most popular papers published in the Review of Religious Research last year. His findings among Canadian churches echo trends that researchers in the US have been tracking for decades.

“Clearer theology leads to clearer practice. You know what you’re hanging on to,” said Jennifer McKinney, a Seattle Pacific University sociologist who studied mainline renewal. “Conservative churches are the ones that grow, and that’s still happening in the US.”

The new research, conducted by a team out of Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario, indicated that among growing mainline churches, 93 percent of pastors and 83 percent of attendees agreed that “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body, leaving behind an empty tomb,” compared with only 56 percent of pastors and 67 percent of attendees in struggling ones.

The thriving congregations were also more likely to affirm that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers” than were congregations in decline (pastors: 100% vs. 44%; attendees: 90% vs. 80%). Across survey measures, pastors of churches with declining attendance were the least conservative.

Rodney Stark, codirector of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, noted similar findings in the US. His data shows that “there are pastors who are conservative, and their congregations are growing while their denominations decline,” the sociologist said.

Conservative theology fosters greater commitment, which leads to a greater sense of personal happiness and stronger bonds between church members, the Canadian researchers concluded.


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Evangelical Campus Ministry (InterVarsityUSA) Decides Employees Should Hold Evangelical Beliefs on Marriage

By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.

InterVarsity is an Evangelical Christian organization, and people who work at InterVarsity are, not surprisingly, expected to hold evangelical beliefs.

Or, you could state it as Elisabeth Dias of TIME Magazine did:

One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members that will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says that it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which holds that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.

In other words, InterVarsity now has the same policy of most evangelical churches.

Furthermore, InferVarsity provided a statement explaining:

The Time article buries the most relevant info, which is that this was a four-year process that was telegraphed and communicated to staff. No one was caught flat-footed or surprised. Recognizing that some staff felt this was theologically contested ground, we opened up a time of 18 months for them to research and discern their convictions on this issue, as well as learn about our convictions. The goal was to clarify our position while also providing ample time for those whose convictions differed to seek out better-fitting ministry opportunities.
Parts of this process were hard and painful, but it was not abrupt, or a shock.

So, why is this news? Well, the Internet is abuzz with outrage and now stories are hitting the mainstream media.

But why is it news that Evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?

It’s becuase there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many.

The New Orthdoxy

The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it.

But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainsteam evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.

And, ultimately, every organization with the beliefs of old orthodoxy will face a moment like this.


Related link: InterVarsity’s Fidelity to Orthodoxy Deserves our Appreciation

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Evangelical Left responds to Planned Parenthood videos


by Jeffrey Walton, the IRD @JeffreyHWalton

Evangelical Left figures have begun responding to an unfolding scandal involving Planned Parenthood and the alleged sale of organs from aborted children for profit. The authors and columnists join officials from the Southern Baptist Convention, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others in expressing concern about the allegations.

Controversy erupted last week when an anti-abortion organization, the California-based Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released an undercover video showing Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola discussing the sale of organs from aborted fetuses. A second video released this week shows Dr. Mary Gatter, president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council, negotiating payment for the sale of baby body parts. Both videos have gone viral, with over 2.5 million views of the first, and the hashtag #DefundPP trending on Twitter. CMP has indicated that the videos are merely the first of a series of recorded conversations exposing alleged wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

“We confess to being at a complete loss of what to say in the face of humanity’s brokenness,” wrote Sojourners President Jim Wallis and Sojourners Web Editor Sandi Villarreal July 23 on the web site of the progressive Christian magazine. “Beyond the ethical questions of how an organization receives payment for tissue or the debates around the potential benefits of the patients’ donations of fetal tissue, the videos are an in-your-face reminder of our culture’s blatant disrespect for life.”

Donation of fetal tissue is permitted under U.S. law with the express permission of the mother, but not for profit. Nine states and the U.S. House of Representatives Committees on Energy and Commerce and the Judiciary have launched investigations to determine if officials with Planned Parenthood broke the law. Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million a year in support from federal, state and local governments. The organization’s total annual revenue is $1.3 billion.

The column by Wallis and Villarreal follows a July 22 article by Jonathan Merritt, in which the Religion News Service columnist takes the New York Times editorial board to task for leaving the issue unaddressed for a week and then defending the abortion provider.

“We have enough information—and not just in these two videos—to conclude that Planned Parenthood is neither worthy of the public’s trust nor many of the millions our government grants them each year,” Merritt writes. “American tax dollars should be spent in the most ethical way possible, and we must reject the false notion that Planned Parenthood is the only option for providing the reproductive services to women.”

Fellow RNS columnist and Christian Ethicist David Gushee noted on July 22 that “The video seems pretty disastrous for her [Nucatola] and for Planned Parenthood” but observed that the alleged wrongdoing did not occur in a vacuum.

“People who help women end their unwanted pregnancies believe in the moral rightness of the work, so they get used to the less savory part of it. And then the products of their procedures turn out to have value to others. That value must be preserved. And we can talk about it over lunch,” Gushee interprets of the cavalier tone of conversation in the video. “Yucky. But we created the beast itself. We chose to create a society in which the trade-off between our sexual practices and fetal life is won by our sexual practices.”

The Mercer University professor does not address efforts to end government funding for Planned Parenthood, instead criticizing Republicans, asking “For all your pro-life rhetoric, would you really pull the trigger on rolling back abortion access in any serious way? Would you really want to face the political consequences of making abortion largely illegal, in this libertine country?”

According to the New York Times, Republican-led state legislatures have passed over 200 laws restricting abortion since 2011.

Gushee also questions Democrats, asking “Where’s your energy for seriously driving down abortion rates — and being willing to talk about why such a goal would reflect your party’s values of concern for the vulnerable and powerless?”

USA Today Columnist Kirsten Powers also wrote about the unfolding scandal on July 22, pronouncing the content of the videos as “stomach-turning stuff.”

“But the problem here is not one of tone,” Powers charges. “It’s the crushing. It’s the organ harvesting of fetuses that abortion-rights activists want us to believe have no more moral value than a fingernail. It’s the lie that these are not human beings worthy of protection.”

Powers quotes former Obama White House staffer Michael Wear who tweeted, “It should bother us as a society that we have use for aborted human organs, but not the baby that provides them.”

Powers column has been shared nearly 80,000 times on Facebook, and was widely distributed over various other forms of social media.

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What do Americans look for in churches?

By Amy Jacobs, Christian Daily.

searching-for-a-new-churchEvangelical leaders believe Americans pick a church based on how friendly it is and how the children’s programs are.

That’s what 19 percent of U.S. evangelical leaders said in a survey that asked them to list three criteria that Americans prioritize when choosing a church.

Rounding out the top three criteria was worship music, 16 percent of evangelical leaders believe.

Greg Johnson, president of Standing Together, recognized that people are consumers, “like it or not.”

“Without a friendly, attractive and energetic first impression, they will usually not return for a second impression,” he said in the survey.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee would like to think that people would select a church based on how preachers interpret Scriptures, spiritual vitality, authenticity and missional passion.

But, she admitted, “that is not the world I currently observe.”


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Factchecker: Are all Christian denominations in decline?

By Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition

declinearrowIn a recent interview in which she announced she had joined the Episcopal Church, Rachel Held Evans said,

Just about every denomination in the American church— including many evangelical denominations — is seeing a decline in numbers, so if it’s a competition, then we’re all losing, just at different rates.

Many Americans, both within and outside the church, share Evans perception of the decline of denominations. But is it true? Are most denominations truly seeing a decline in numbers?

Before we answer the question, we should clarify what is meant by “decline.” We could, for instance, say that Protestantism has been on the decline since the 1970s. That would be true. We could also say there are now more Protestants today than there were in the 1970s. That too would be true.

The fact is that the percentage of people identifying as Protestant has declined since the 1970s while the total number of Protestants has increased (62 percent of Americans identified as Protestant in 1972 and only 51 percent did so in 2010). Yet because of the population increase in the U.S., there were 28 million more Protestants in 2010 than in 1972.

So did Protestantism in America decline since the 1970s? Yes (percentwise) and no (total numbers).


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Is evangelical morality still acceptable in America?

moralBy Alan Noble

Is evangelical Christian morality still viable in American public life? This is the question lurking in recent debates over religious-liberty issues, from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to the Christian bakers who object to baking cakes for gay weddings. In discussions of these cases, objections to same-sex marriage and contraception are described as a retreat from “secular society.” And in some cases, evangelicals actually have retreated: Since the Boy Scouts of America decided to allow openly gay Scouts to participate, a “Christian” alternative has been created, giving Christian parents a “safe” space where they can send their kids. But these incidences of retreat have actually been rare. Ultimately, the idea that evangelical Christian morality is incompatible with modern life isn’t sustainable.

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch argued that if the evangelical church is to last long into the twenty-first century, certain parts of its moral codes have to change—American society is progressing, and if the church won’t progress with her, then it will be abandoned.

This is based on a popular conception about evangelicals: that they’re toxic. The refusal to serve gay weddings is called bigotry. Laws written to protect businesses that refuse to provide such services are compared to Jim Crow laws. Hobby Lobby’s unwillingness to pay for certain contraceptives is derided as misogynistic.


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World Vision, recovering from gay policy shift, tries to shore up its evangelical base

worldBy Sarah Pulliam Bailey

(RNS) World Vision tested evangelical boundaries three months ago when it announced it would allow its employees to be in same-sex marriages. The policy was short-lived; the relief group reversed it within 48 hours after supporters threatened to pull donations.

In the past, World Vision has requested that it be known as a Christian humanitarian organization, not necessarily an evangelical one, because many on staff are not from an evangelical background. But now, in the wake of the controversy, the board of the $1 billion relief group appears to be steering the ship in a more evangelical direction in an attempt to shore up the base of its support.

Most telling: World Vision is asking board members to formally affirm a statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. And new appointments to the World Vision board include big names from the evangelical community.

Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving at Google, and John Park, another Google employee, left the board after the dust-up. Three other board members rotated off due to term limits. Rich Stearns remains as president, despite some initial chatter that he could be fired for the controversy.


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Spanish Christian Church, destroyed in Harlem blast, was ‘a little church that had an amazing impact’

sccBy Ryan Sit and Rich Schapiro

Heaven help this church.

The pastor of the destroyed Spanish Christian Church, which lost at least five parishioners in the Harlem blast, struggled for words after surveying the scorched site.

“I have no words to explain how I feel, but I know that everything is in God’s hands,” said a visibly shaken Rev. Thomas Perez, standing in the shadow of the rubble at 1644 Park Ave. “I can’t explain it. I’m the pastor and they were my children . . . We’re praying now just for the Lord to keep us together.”

The tiny evangelical church has been playing an outsized role in the largely Hispanic community for the past 80 years. The 60-member house of worship was seen as a beacon of hope for the sick, elderly and needy.

Throughout the 1990s, the church provided food for AIDS patients, legal advice for new immigrants and temporary housing for the homeless. To this day, many of the people who lived in the roughly half-dozen church-owned apartments upstairs were parishioners who moved in years ago in need of a helping hand.

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NYC explosion leaves one-third of Spanish Christian Church homeless

A Google Street view image shows a before picture of the scene of a building collapse in Upper ManhattanBy Jeremy Weber

One of two buildings destroyed by an explosion today northeast of Manhattan’s Central Park not only housed a longstanding Hispanic evangelical church—it also reportedly housed one-third of the congregation.

So reports The Huffington Post as more details emerge behind the natural gas accident in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood that has killed three people, injured dozens, and left 9 missing, reports The New York Times (NYT) amid a sea of coverage.

The six apartments at 1644 Park Avenue housed approximately 20 of Spanish Christian Church’s 60 members, the church’s financial secretary, Carmen Vargas-Rosa, told HuffPo in a widely circulated report.

Vargas-Rosa earlier told CBS-2 during a morning interview that the church’s building had six tenants, and four people were missing at that time. The NYT later reported that “most of the tenants of 1644 Park were parishioners of the church, or affiliated with it in some way.”

One of the fatalities is a 67-year-old member of the church, reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The NYT report reveals more details about the church’s tenants, two of which are still missing.

“God is getting me through this,” church pastor Thomas Perez told the NYT.


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Should I stay or should I go now? Why we should choose church anyway

church1By Ed Stetzer

Donald Miller, perhaps best known for writing the book Blue Like Jazz, has stirred up the Evangelical internet this week with a blog post detailing why he rarely goes to church.

Let me say, I appreciate his honesty and enjoy his thinking, which is often out loud and causes worthwhile discussions. He provokes—and that’s what good writers do.

Miller writes that hearing sermons and singing songs is not how he connects with God. He says this causes church services to be difficult for him. He doesn’t go often because, he says, “It’s not how I learn.”

So how does Miller find intimacy with God? He continues:

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow.

A few years ago, I was at a similar place. I had been the interim pastor at a church of 9,000 members. I loved the church, the people were great, but I just showed up on Sunday and preached. I lacked community with them.


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