Southern Baptist Convention Abuse Scandal

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In May 2018, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson, came under the spotlight for mishandling cases of sexual assault at the seminary.

The Southern Baptist Convention summarily terminated him from his position after investigating his role (Christianity Today, ‘Paige Patterson Fired by Southwestern’, June 2018).

While this action won much acclaim (and shock) from its members, this was only the tip of the iceberg for the world’s largest Baptist denomination in its relation to the #MeToo movement.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), while having origins in the southern US, has nearly fifty thousand congregations all over the country and currently boasts 15 million members. It sends over eight thousand missionaries to save the lost both in the US and across the globe.

As such, the impact is huge when the SBC is subjected to any kind of news report or investigation. According to the Houston Chronicle, ‘roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct’ since 1998 (from ‘Abuse of Faith’, Houston Chronicle, 2/10/2019). In their wake are over 700 victims, many of whom are still waiting for justice.

Debbie Vasquez is one such victim who was molested and left pregnant by her pastor in 1973. In 2008, she travelled to Indianapolis with other victims to speak with leaders of the SBC and begged them to ‘track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers’ (Houston Chronicle, Ibid.).

The Houston Chronicle has done much to aid these victims in the amount of research they conducted in 2007 and the database they built. Their findings are horrifying. The newspaper verified that about 220 people who held official positions within Southern Baptist churches had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals.

Of these 220 people, more than 90 remain in prison and another 100 are still registered sex offenders. According to the Houston Chronicle, ‘some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit’.

As a result of these sexual offences, many families and individuals have suffered horribly and have experienced incredible trauma and even struggle to trust God afterwards. Even with such a wealth of evidence and a cry for reform, little has been done by the SBC’s executive committee.

Since the SBC is congregationalist in polity and each church is largely autonomous, the committee has stated there is little they can do. August Boto, the interim president of the SBC Executive Committee in 2008, expressed ‘sorrow’ about some of the newspaper’s findings but said the convention’s leadership can do only so much to stop sexual abuses.

‘It would be sorrow if it were 200 or 600’ cases, Boto said. ‘Sorrow. What we’re talking about is criminal. The fact that criminal activity occurs in a church context is always the basis of grief. But it’s going to happen. And that statement does not mean that we must be resigned to it.’

Many of these sex offenders have used the SBC’s polity to their advantage to fuel their lustful appetites and are experienced con artists, ‘It’s a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he’s been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister,’ said [Christa] Brown, who lives in Colorado.

‘Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church’ (Houston Chronicle, Ibid.).

The Gospel Coalition summarised this gap in authority thus: ‘Per the SBC Constitution, the SBC “does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organisations, associations, or convention”. The most the SBC can do is to disassociate from abusive churches and consider them out of fellowship’ (TGC, ‘The FAQs: Investigative Report Uncovers Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches’, 2/12/2019).

Many leaders within the denomination have written statements addressing these reports. J. D. Greear, the SBC President, responded: ‘As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to “do better” and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem…

‘It’s time for pervasive change. God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care).’

In the weeks following the Houston Chronicle’s report, the SBC has sought to investigate and address sexual abuse in its churches but with little success or drive. The bylaws committee of the SBC sought to address these cases but did so in injudicious manner. The committee has been accused of hastily issuing a statement saying that ‘no further inquiry was required’ in most of the cases (from Christianity Today, ‘The SBC, Abuse, and the Need for better response’, 2/26/2019).

Abuse is not to be trifled with. Sin, especially sexual sin, rends a hole in one’s relationship with God and with all the lives that touch our own. It destroys families, churches, vocations, and affects us to our core. Victims of sexual abuse may never fully recover and often decline into depression, drug abuse, or even suicide.

Even worse, others falter in their faith and reject God. Sexual offenders deserve the full power of justice as God has ordained. We would do well to heed the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ from Matthew 10: ‘Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’

This was originally published on Evangelical Times, Ltd.. All rights reserved. 

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The Life and Legacy of George H.W. Bush

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George Herbert Walker (H.W.) Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away in his Houston home on November 30, aged 94. During his presidency, Bush Sr. led the United States to prosperity after the fall of the Soviet Union but had been involved in diplomacy and politics long before that.

At his funeral, the watching world mourned this quiet, humble man from Massachusetts who, to his dying day, lived out Proverbs 27:2: ‘Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips’. While many remember his political career, or even the fact that he became a millionaire by the age of 40, few know of the quiet faith of George H.W. Bush and how that impacted his life and work.

Born on June 12, 1924, George Sr. was raised and educated in New England to wealthy Episcopal parents. His father, Prescott Bush, was a Wall Street banker and senator who set quite an example for his son. It was during this time that young George’s faith was kindled. Every morning his parents would read from the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer and would diligently bring him and his siblings to church.

While many of his comrades died brutal deaths at the hands of the Japanese, Bush survived and after thanking the Lord asked, ‘Why had I been spared and what did God have for me?’ (quoted in Christian Post, The Faith of George H.W. Bush, 6-26-17).The truths of Scripture and the values he learned from his parents had a profound impact on his life. When George was 18, he enlisted in the US Navy as an aviator and flew over 52 combat missions over the course of World War II. During that time, his plane was shot down and crashed in the Pacific.

After World War II, Bush married Barbara Pierce and attended Yale University. He soon moved his growing family to Texas where he entered the oil industry and prospered tremendously. After 1964, Bush entered the world of politics and for the next half century held the position of US Representative, Senator, Ambassador to the United Nations, US ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, Vice President and then finally 41st President of the United States. Bush could have easily basked in the limelight but throughout his political duties, he remained humble, gentle, and unobtrusive.

Not without faults, Bush was often criticised for the fact that he left Saddam Hussein alone after the Gulf War or that he was an aristocrat of sorts, a son of wealth and far from the average American. However, Bush’s quiet humility and gentleness was manifested in the manner in which he served his country.

If his typical demeanor or execution of his duties was quiet and humble, his faith can certainly be considered quiet. He was never one to publicly espouse his faith, especially while in office. And yet, he remained to the end of his days, faithful to his Saviour and equally faithful to his beloved wife of 73 years, Barbara.

Doug Wead described Bush adequately in his book, George Bush, Man of Integrity, ‘He was Episcopalian by tradition. His mother was extremely devout, read all the books. And he loved his mother and so he loved the tradition’, (quoted in Washington Post, George H.W. Bush helped lead GOP toward evangelicalism, 12-1-18).

The truths and values he learned when he was a boy shaped his entire attitude toward life. That being said, Bush seemed awkward when asked publicly about his faith. When a reporter asked Bush if he was ‘born again’, Bush replied, ‘I think I would ask for a definition’. (Religion News, The quiet, steely faith of George H.W. Bush, 12-4-18).

Later he clarified his answer, ‘If by “born again” one is asking, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?” then I could answer a clear-cut “Yes.” No hesitancy, no awkwardness’. (Ibid.) Like many who grew up in the church, Bush could never really pinpoint a day in his life when his walk with the Lord began. Wead described this perfectly, ‘He definitely felt that his experience in World War II was a spiritual moment for him’.


However, one of the most trying times in life came when his daughter Robin died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of 3. Bush later stated that his faith sustained him during that difficult time. George W. Bush recounted his father’s faith and love for his daughter in his touching eulogy, ‘We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again’.
Wead said, ‘He definitely had something happen there … and [had] several other experiences through his life. When he would be asked about whether he was born again, he’d say, “I didn’t have one specific moment above all others that I can point to where everything turned around, I had several”. And that rescue in World War II was one of them’. (quoted in Washington PostIbid. 12-1-18).

Throughout his political career, Bush Sr. had a tremendous impact on the Republican party and led the party towards identifying with evangelicalism, for better or for worse. He prayed often, in public and in private, and worked ceaselessly to promote good values. While George H.W. Bush may not have been particularly fluent in discussing doctrine or theology, his quiet faith brought glory to God through his loving actions and constant prayer.

This post was first published at Evangelical Times, Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Frank Reich; Seminary director to NFL Coach

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In the world of professional sport, it is a rare and joyous thing to hear a Christian share their love for Jesus Christ. When Frank Reich became the head coach for the NFL team Indianapolis Colts, perhaps few knew his amazing story and unique career.

Starting as a backup quarterback in university football, Reich not only went on to become an NFL player but also went on to pursue an MDiv degree at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina and served as its director for a number of years.

This is remarkable, especially if you consider the atmosphere of NFL locker rooms and the players’ lifestyle is often unwholesome and dishonoring to God. It would seem as a shock to us then that there are quite a few Christians who coach and play NFL football, Frank Reich being one.

Frank Reich grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and attended the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship as a backup quarterback. It was during this time that he came to faith through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

After their star quarterback graduated, Reich had his chance to start but after a month into the season, he injured his shoulder, forcing him to return to the bench.

In that moment, Frank doubted God’s providence, ‘God, I thought you and I were good,’…’Why are you doing this to me?’ (‘Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich balances religious beliefs in coaching role’, PennLive, May 4, 2016).

Reich was drafted into the NFL in 1985 and played for the Buffalo Bills for several years, even taking them to a Super Bowl. Known as the ‘comeback kid’, Reich was the one who quarterbacked the most incredible comeback in NFL history when his team was down 35-3 against the Houston Oilers in the 3rd quarter.

His team ended up winning the 1993 playoff game 41-38 in overtime. Prior to the game, Reich had been listening to Michael English’s In Christ Alone.

Someone asked him if God takes sides. Frank responded, ‘Let me use this illustration. As the father of two girls (Lia and Aviry), I love them both very much. When they play a game together, as their father, I am not concerned with who wins and who loses. What is most important is that they learn the lessons they are to be taught from playing the game. … In the same way, God looks at us as His children. He doesn’t care who wins or loses a football game, but only that we learn from each contest and draw closer to Him as a result of what we have learned’ (Frank Reich, thegoal.com).

During a brief stint with the Carolina Panthers in 1995, Reich stumbled across Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and began taking a few classes. Even after he left the Panthers, Reich continued to take classes in the off season until 1998 when he retired from playing football and sought his degree full time.

After several years at RTS, Ric Cannada, the chancellor for RTS, called Reich into his office and asked if he would be willing to be the director of the RTS Charlotte campus. Reich was stunned at this but after praying about it and discussing it with his wife, he decided to accept.

Reich became the director of the RTS campus in Charlotte in 2003 and led the seminary for three years. At an orientation event, Reich carried a football to the podium and used it for an illustration: ‘We also had orientation at football camp every year, and [Mark] Levy would give the same speech each time,’ he said.

‘He said the most important thing you need to know is how to carry the football’…‘In football, they call it carrying the rock,’ …’In the church, that rock is Christ. We are here to equip you with the tools to help you carry the rock’ (The Washington Post, Ibid.).

In an interview with The Gospel Coalition (TGC), admissions director Rod Culbertson described Frank’s directorship, ‘During his tenure as president, Frank Reich was known as a man with a vision not only for the growth and well-being of the RTS Charlotte campus, but also for striving to elevate the strategic importance of each faculty and staff member serving with him’ (From Seminary President to NFL Head Coach, TGC, 1-4-2019).

During his time at RTS, Reich also tried his hand at being an interim pastor but felt that was not his calling. ‘If pastoring isn’t what I’m called to do, and it’s not an accident that God has given me a career in football, then I guess I should make an impact in that arena in whatever way I can,’ he figured. ‘I decided to start coaching at that time’ (TGC, Ibid.).

Since 2006, Reich has worked with several teams, finally becoming head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in February 2018.

Even as a head coach, Reich’s reformed worldview fuels his coaching and view on vocation. Faith ‘really keeps you grounded and centred’ during the wild emotional swings of professional sports, Reich told TGC.

‘It gives you perspective… ‘We don’t always understand the ups and downs of life, but we try to stay steady, loving and serving people and being committed to the process of doing things the right way and making an impact that way’.

While preaching the gospel isn’t encouraged in the locker room, Reich stated ‘I do think there’s a time to be assertive and proclaim what we believe and stand up on the rooftop and shout it out’… ‘But there’s also a time where we need to keep our mouth shut and just live it out and make someone else ask, “Hey, why do act like that? What is it that shapes how you act?” (PennLive, Ibid.)’.

Football and Christ continue to impact Reich in his calling and should encourage us to emulate Christ and to seek to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31.

This post was first published at Evangelical Times, Ltd. All rights reserved. 

US remains polarised after mid-term elections

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When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the nation, and indeed the world was stunned to see such a monumental political upset as Trump won against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The election baffled pundits and populace alike as Trump won the electoral vote whilst losing the popular vote to Clinton. Despite his political incorrectness and explosive personality, his mantra of ‘Make America Great’ won the hearts of the rural and working class population.

Since his election, the country has only become more demarcated, especially in regards to race issues, foreign policy, and immigration.

According to the Pew Research Center, 54 per cent of Americans are unimpressed with how President Trump is executing his presidency with only 31 per cent actually agreeing with most of his policies. That sentiment was certainly borne out in the midterm election results.

The 2018 US midterm elections saw the greatest turnout for a midterm election since 1914 with over 37 million voters. Even early on, enthusiasm was high among voters and election results for the primaries showed the largest percentage yet — 19.7 per cent voted in the primaries as opposed to 13.7 per cent in 2014 (‘Turnout in this year’s U.S. House Primaries rose sharply, especially on the Democratic side’, Pew Research Center, Oct 3, 2018).

This year was especially significant as all 435 seats in the House of Representatives were up for grabs. Additionally, many states held pivotal elections for governor as well as state and local legislatures and several states swung in favour of the Democratic Party in all levels.

With the Senate controlled by the Republican Party and the House of Representatives now controlled by the Democratic Party, political affairs in the US are bound to get interesting.

The US Constitution designates that elections for President occur every four years, House elections every two years, and Senate elections every six years.

It is important to realize that midterm elections, while the turnout may usually be very slim compared to regular elections, are a sort of litmus test for the President’s popularity and approval.

Typically speaking, the President’s party loses ground in the House during the midterm elections, sometimes quite drastically.

Since World War II, the President’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate (‘US Congressional Midterms throughout history’ VOA News, Sept 4, 2018).

Out of the last 39 midterm elections, only a handful have resulted in the President’s party gaining seats in the House (even fewer when his party has won seats in both the House and Senate).

The 2018 midterm elections certainly followed this precedent with Trump losing 27 seats in the House to the Democratic party, well above the 23 seats needed to gain a majority.

In the Senate, the Republican party managed to keep the majority but only by the skin of their teeth with two seats in their favour.

Gubernatorial elections were held in 36 states and these elections too saw dramatic results. The Democrats managed to flip seven states in their favour and many of those elections were heavily contested.

Some elections won by Republicans were only won narrowly, such as in the case of Georgia where Brian Kemp narrowly defeated Stacey Abrams.

Furthermore, election results by gender, race, and ethnicity show a very polarised snapshot of America. While overall, 51 per cent of men voted Republican and 59 per cent of women voted Democrat (40 per cent voted Republican), the large majority of non-white voters voted for the Democratic party (90 per cent Black, 69 per cent Hispanic, and 77 per cent Asian voted for the Democratic party).

Furthermore, young voters favoured the Democratic party. ‘Majorities of voters ages 18 to 29 (67 per cent) and 30 to 44 (58 per cent) favoured the Democratic candidate. Voters ages 45 and older were divided (50 per cent Republican, 49 per cent Democrat),’ according to the Pew Research Center.

For the first time in US history, an openly gay governor, two Muslim women, and two native American women won elections on the state and federal level.

For the first time since the late 1980s, the Democratic party has control of the House and the Republican party has control of the Senate. This will have several political ramifications that could very well pose a political threat to Trump’s policies.

Historically speaking, when the two chambers of Congress are held by opposite parties, partisan legislation has a more difficult time being passed by Congress.

Per the Constitution, ‘All Bills for raising REVENUE shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills. (Article I, section 7)’.

The bills would go back and forth within the two houses until the compromising bill would finally pass. This would mean any bills on gun control, healthcare, or immigration will have trouble seeing the light of day.

This also means that any bills regarding the building of a border wall — one of Trump’s campaign promises — may never see the light of day as well. Any stalemates in regard to the federal budget could also cause a government shutdown.

The Democratic party had hoped to take control of the Senate as well. The Senate has been given power by the Constitution to give consent to presidential appointees of judges, cabinet members, and ambassadors.

With the Republican party in the majority, more of Trump’s appointees could be voted in, especially more Supreme Court Justices. This is especially critical for the Democratic party given the recent debacle with the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh.

What is more interesting is the fact that the House of Representatives also has the constitutional power to impeach. With the House now in the hands of the Democratic party, perhaps the Democratic party will seek to impeach the president.

In an interview with The Washington Post Rep. Gerry Connolly (D. Va) stated the following objective for his party, ‘Obviously the country gave us a mandate to provide some check and balance on the executive that has been sorely missing these last two years… And that involves rigorous oversight and accountability. …This is not a time for holding back or being less than vigorous’. (‘Democrats take House, breaking up GOP’s total control of government’, The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2018).

Doubtless the Democrats will begin making their investigations into Trump’s ascendency and possible collusion in 2016.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi gave a victory speech on Nov 6 stating the party’s intentions: ‘Tomorrow will be a new day in America… It’s about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration. It’s about stopping the GOP and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s assaults on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the health care of 130 million Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions.’ (‘Democrats take House, breaking up GOP’s total control of government’, The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2018).

We live in a time where people could not be more divided as to what values they hold dear. Those who favour a particular party run the risk of being labelled as ‘progressive Communist’ or ‘bigoted xenophobe’.

During this election, a vast majority of participants voted based on party lines rather than what policies they valued. Many of them voted in pure opposition to the President. The Pew Research Center published a report which described some of the key voting factors of this year’s midterm elections.

It stated, ‘Partisan loyalty and dislike of the opposing party and its candidates were major factors for voters’ choices in this month’s midterm elections, with far fewer citing policies as the main reason why they voted for Democratic or Republican candidates’ (‘In midterm voting decisions, policies took a back seat to partisanship’, Pew Research Center, Nov 29, 2018).

This political divide could not be more vivid in regard to religious affiliation. Of those that identify as white evangelicals, 75 per cent voted Republican this year while only 22 per cent in the same group voted Democrat. Among Protestants, 42 per cent voted Democrat and 56 per cent voted Republican.

Among those in other faiths, 73 per cent voted Democrat. An overwhelming percentage of those that consider themselves ‘religious nones’ voted for the Democratic Party (70 per cent).

Considering this in regard to the article from the Pew Research Center concerning why people voted, makes this a disturbing bit of news. The fact that fewer people voted based on real principles and policies means that not only are we becoming less of an educated, thinking populace but we are also tied to party lines rather than whether or not our actions or policies are loving to other people.

Let us pray that the Lord would reform our minds and our hearts to seek his glory, not the glory of the Democratic or Republican party, and that subsequently He would guide us to love our neighbours with our voting.

 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in January 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

A joyful church union

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In recent days, the providence of God has brought about an extraordinary union between two churches in Columbia, South Carolina.

The rate of church decline in the United States is staggering. Over the course of the coming year nearly 10,000 churches will close their doors. However, in spite of this, two declining congregations, both desperate for the spread of God’s Word and kingdom, have joined as one: Christ Church of the Carolinas and Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA).

Just as in the case of a human marriage, the two congregations are joining under a new name: Christ Covenant Church (PCA). Their story is one of the providence of God.

In recent days, the providence of God has brought about an extraordinary union between two churches in Columbia, South Carolina.

The rate of church decline in the United States is staggering. Over the course of the coming year nearly 10,000 churches will close their doors. However, in spite of this, two declining congregations, both desperate for the spread of God’s Word and kingdom, have joined as one: Christ Church of the Carolinas and Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA).

Just as in the case of a human marriage, the two congregations are joining under a new name: Christ Covenant Church (PCA). Their story is one of the providence of God.

Covenant Presbyterian

In late January 2018, Rev. Jim Wilkerson was working in his study when he received a call from an unknown source. The voice on the other end of the line was Bob Allen, an elder at Covenant Presbyterian. Mr Allen had been a member of Covenant as well as a ruling elder for many years.

During their call, Allen explained to Mr Wilkerson that they had been without a pastor for over two years and the church was in rapid decline. He explained that they had been working with their presbytery for a solution, but nothing concrete was happening. He asked if Jim would be interested in meeting to hear more of the story and think through a possible solution.

Covenant Presbyterian was instituted on 4 March 1951, in a small building three miles from the centre of the city of Columbia, as a part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA). Later, they built a larger sanctuary on the property, as well as several other buildings to support its ministry.

The church grew tremendously in those early years, with nearly 1,400 members at one time. In 1973 the congregation voted to leave the PCUSA and join the newly constituted Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a much more conservative and Reformed denomination.

The church also founded a school, Covenant Classical Christian School, which still convenes on the premises to this day. After many fruitful years, the most recent pastor, Rev. Eric Dye, retired and the pastorate was left empty.

Due to this change and other circumstances, a majority of the members left for other churches in the area and those who remained were mostly elderly. Since Mr Dye’s retirement, the congregation was desperate not only for a pastor but also for a young and growing congregation with families. They realised that if they could not find a pastor or another congregation to revitalise them, the church would probably be gone in just a few years.

Christ Church of the Carolinas

Christ Church of the Carolinas was in hardly better straits in the winter of 2017. Started by Rev. Det Bowers in 2000, it had a similar beginning to Covenant, with large numbers gathering to hear the preached Word.

Although the church started in a small building in Irmo, the church leaders decided to move the congregation closer to downtown Columbia and renovated a large warehouse. Situated in the heart of Columbia, the church had hundreds flocking to its pews and many were saved through its ministry. However, in 2011, one of the church leaders left, taking a large portion of the members.

When Mr Bowers decided to retire from the ministry in 2013, the elders sought someone to take his place in the pulpit. Through old connections, Rev. Jim Wilkerson, a church planter and teaching elder in the PCA, was called to the pastorate in Easter 2013.

Pastoring this large church was not easy and over the next five years Jim saw little growth at Christ Church, as members continued to leave. However, faithful in season and out of season, Jim Wilkerson and the elders continued to teach and seek the Lord’s will in the life, worship and ministry of the congregation. Their vision for the surrounding area was also crippled by a large debt that had been placed on the church.

Knowing that future ministry opportunities were hindered by the debt and feeling the call to become a connectional church in a community needing gospel ministry, the elders approached the congregation in January 2018 about selling their property and joining a Presbyterian and Reformed denomination.

This was received warmly by the Christ Church congregation and the members were encouraged to pray toward that end. During an encouraging worship conference at the end of that same month, both guest speakers — Dr Mark Ross of First Presbyterian Church and Rev. Nicholas Batzig of New Covenant Presbyterian Church, Richmond Hill, GA — spoke to those connected with Covenant Presbyterian about Christ Church’s current predicament and alerted them of their desire to join a Presbyterian denomination.

Ideal match

Covenant needed a pastor and a fresh, younger congregation that would bring life and ministry to their ageing congregation; Christ Church needed a bought-and-paid-for building centred in a prime area for ministry. It seemed like a match made in heaven!

Over the course of the next six months, both congregations spent much time praying and talking about the possible merger. As one member recounts, it was exhilarating to see God’s providence unfolding, to see church elders excited about this union, and to even see that excitement spread among the children. One could sense the Holy Spirit working in the midst of the preparations as members from both congregations met to pray and plan.

The date for the vote was set as 24 June. Covenant only needed a majority vote in favour of the motion, while Christ Church needed 88 per cent vote in favour. The odds seemed too great. But as the votes were counted, the motion passed by 94 per cent at Christ Church and 100 per cent at Covenant Presbyterian!

Tears of joy were shed by many. On 19 August Christ Covenant Church was officially commissioned as a congregation in the PCA, and there was much rejoicing by those both near and far as they witnessed the marriage of two congregations.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in November 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

LETTER FROM AMERICA: The relationship between the US and Korea

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On June 12, 2018, the President of the United States, Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a special summit meeting in Singapore to discuss foreign relations between the two countries.

While the United States has often sought to come to a peaceful agreement with DPRK in regard to nuclear weapons, a meeting of this calibre is unprecedented: never have the two leaders of the countries met in person before. At the close of the summit, both men signed a joint agreement which in part stated,

‘Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.’

(Full text of statement on CNBC website, 12/06/18)

 

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President Donald Trump and President Moon Jae-in Republic of Korea at United Nations General Assembly

Whether North Korea will uphold its promise, only time will tell. Perhaps this move towards peace on the Korean peninsula will usher in new opportunities for the gospel to be spread in North Korea. This historic event as well as unique events that took place at the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly brought to my attention the impact and history of the Korean American church. Though it is perhaps not as prevalent in the region in which I live, the Korean American church is a substantial body of believers with a very unique history and situation.

Introduction to the Korean church

When Korea opened its borders to the Western world in the late 19th century, Presbyterian missionaries such as Horace Allen and Horace Underwood found the mission fields white with harvest. Korea had been closed off to the world and had been under the shroud of Confucian thought and teaching throughout much of its history, earning it the epithet ‘The Hermit Kingdom’.

However, as the Confucian system began to fail and Korea felt threatened by neighboring Japan, they began to open to the West for help. ‘Progressive Koreans sought to modernize the country and pressed for the entry of foreign missionaries to help with medicine and education. Some saw Christianity as the religious or ideological basis of Western society, believing the nation would benefit from a spiritual renewal of the people’ (Christianity Today, ‘Who Brought the Gospel to Korea? Koreans did.’ Kirsteen Kim and Hoon Ko, February 2018).

Although the number of missionaries during this time were few, the growth of the Korean church from that time onward was unlike anything else seen on the Asian continent. Part of this was due to the ‘Nevius plan of missions’ adopted by the missionaries in Korea.  This vision for missions ‘emphasized the self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing goals of the newly evangelized church.’ (Reflections of a Korean-American Presbyterian, Julius Kim, Westminster Seminary California, 7-26-10).

President-Joel-Kim

This would not only have lasting impacts on the church in Korea but on Korean immigrants who brought their faith to other parts of the world. Through the providence of God, the church in Korea has blossomed through intense persecution to become one of the largest strongholds of the church. Over a third of the population professes to be Protestant and out of that 15 million or so, 9 to 10 million are Presbyterian (Chris Meehan, Touched by Devotion in South Korea, October 4, 2010).

Not only are Koreans passionate about Christ and his church being established in Korea but they are enthusiastic to spread God’s kingdom across the globe as well. In 2004, South Korea sent over 12,000 missionaries to over 160 countries, many of them in the 10/40 window (South Korea Becomes Second Largest Missionary Source, Lillian Kwon, 11-05-2004). With that being said, one of the largest concentrations of Korean Christians is actually in the United States.

Issues faced by Korean American Christians

According to the Pew Research Forum, ‘the share of Christians in South Korea (29%) is much smaller than the share of Christians among Korean Americans living in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans (71%) say they are Christian, including 61% who are Protestant and 10% who are Catholic’. (6 facts about South Korea’s growing Christian population, Pew Research Center, Philip Connor, August 12, 2014). Of that 61%, two-thirds would describe themselves as evangelical (cf. christiantoday.us via fb, based on data from koreanchurchyp.com).

In 2014, there were 4,233 Korean churches in the US, with 1,358 of those churches in California alone (cf. christiantoday.us via fb, based on data from koreanchurchyp.com). Though you don’t often hear about them, Korean churches are by and large conservative churches which are scattered throughout the United States, largely focused in major cities along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboard. There are many interesting characteristics of Korean American churches which make them quite unique as a church body.

When Koreans immigrated to a particular area, they would either find a Korean-speaking church like the Korean American Presbyterian Church or assess which US denomination was similar to what they knew back home in Korea. For those that join an American denomination, they typically plant Korean-speaking churches that run independently of the main governing body. Within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), nearly 12 per cent of the churches are Korean-speaking with nearly 700 ministers (14 per cent of the number of teaching elders in the PCA).

Case in point, Rev. Joel Kim, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America and President of Westminster Seminary California, was raised as the son of a Presbyterian minister in South Korea but when his family moved to the US in 1982, they joined the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). ‘[W]hen we moved over in 1982, [my father] had to make a decision. He had to make a decision as to which denomination he would join. And at that time, the PCA was relatively unknown to Korean Americans. The churches that were options for them were like a Korean speaking denomination in the states called the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC) or churches like the CRC which is a Dutch Reformed denomination. He joined the CRC and he retired as a CRC minister a while back. All that to say, within the CRC currently there are about a hundred Korean American churches and I grew up in one of those churches.’

Assimilation is difficult for Korean Christians

Like the Dutch, the Koreans established Korean speaking churches wherever they settled and those churches became not only centres of preaching and teaching but also social and cultural centres and havens as well. Worship services and church business/presbytery sessions are all done in Korean and bear the marks of Korean culture as well. Yet unlike the Dutch, because of their Korean ethnicity and language, they are not able to assimilate into church society as easily.

Those who make up the Korean American church typically fall into three categories: 1st generation immigrants, 1.5 generation immigrants, and 2nd generation immigrants. Rev. Kim explains it Thus: ‘there are Korean Americans, who are what they call first generation Korean Americans who are born and raised and educated in Korea. So they usually immigrate to the States [during] high school, post-high school, college and graduate school. And then you have what they call second generation Koreans. Alex [Jun] is a second generation Korean, meaning that he was born here in the States; he was born and raised and educated in the States. So that’s the counterpart to the first generation Korean Americans. I’m what they call an “in-betweener” so they usually refer to me as a 1.5 generation. What that means is I was born in Korea but came here at a relatively young age and educated in both Korea and in the States’ (interview with Rev. Joel Kim, President of Westminster Seminary California).

With these three groups congregating together in Korean churches, this poses several challenges. As Korean immigrants were not allowed to come over to the United States until the 1960s and 1970s, there are still a large number of first generation Koreans here in the States and that explains why most Korean American churches are still mono-lingual. Since services are largely conducted in Korean, this often causes a disjoint between the first and second generation Koreans.

Alex Jun, the Moderator of the 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and ruling elder in a Korean PCA church, was born and raised and educated in the US and his first language was in fact English. Becoming born again in college, Jun was discipled by Korean Americans and then learned Korean in the church. It was only until the 1990s when English ministries began to be offered by Korean American churches. It was then that the Lord used the ‘in-betweeners’ as cultural bridges between the first and second generations.

Within the PCA, there are currently nine Korean- speaking presbyteries making up 221 of its 1,545 churches and 700 of its 4,882 teaching elders (http://www.pcaac.org/resources/korean/).

While that may seem really small, the Korean presbyteries have grown the fastest compared to the English speaking presbyteries in the PCA (How the Second Generation of Korean-American Presbyterians Are Bridging the Gap, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, The Gospel Coalition, 7/3/17). During this year’s General Assembly (GA), presbyters from the Korean presbyteries met for an historic ‘pre-conference’ meeting just before the regular General Assembly convened. They were also invited to attend the GA and made up 10 per cent of those gathered. It was the largest participation of Korean pastors and elders ever to a GA.

While assimilating Korean-speaking churches into the PCA has been on the table since the 1990s, there are still large hurdles especially in regard to language and cultural barriers. Parliamentary procedure at GA is a shock to many, even if English is your native tongue.

Generational issues related to church growth

As with any church, there are other generational issues relating to church growth. Korean American churches do undergo growth issues where young people are leaving the church, albeit for different reasons at times. Often referred to as the ‘silent exodus’, covenant children in Korean churches are leaving in unbelievable numbers. ‘Estimates of second generation Koreans leaving the church vary from 55% to 90%, depending on whether you count those who leave Korean-language churches but join Anglo or multi-ethnic churches, those who still call themselves Christian but don’t act on it, or those who completely leave church and faith behind.’ (Joan Huyser-Honig, July 2005).

These three reasons highlight the difficulty in providing accurate statistics. Rev. Kim believes that many Korean Americans who leave early on, do end up coming back to the Korean American church though not always to the one they grew up in. This typically happens when they reach their 30s and 40s and have children (interview with Joel Kim).

Korean churches also face leadership transition struggles. Rev. Kim notes that there are over 4,300 churches in the United States that are Korean speaking. Out of that number, 15 per cent have over 100 members while the rest have less than 100 members. That poses great challenges for the future of these smaller churches as they get older and the number of Korean first-language speakers ages out. Even though many churches might have the financial viability to continue, there are still gaps in the leadership as most of the leaders are first generation Korean speakers. ‘Where will the future generation of leadership for those churches come from?’, asked Rev. Kim. ‘Is it from Korea? Are there even enough Korean-speaking pastors in the States? Is this going to transition like the Dutch church did? No one is certain how that transition will take place’ (interview with Joel Kim). This a crucial issue for the Korean American church and one we need to be praying for.

Outlook on the gospel reaching North Korea

Another interesting dynamic with the Korean American church is their outlook on the gospel going to North Korea, compared with the view shared by their brothers and sisters in Christ in South Korea. Alex Jun, in his address before the start of the 46th PCA General Assembly spoke of the hopeful prayers and desires of his fellow Korean Americans in regard to the unification and independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He said that growing up in the United States, ‘ethnic Koreans who maybe never lived in the Korean peninsula [have] a deep sense of connection with our ethnic bloodline. So we only think of North Korea and South Korea as being of the same blood and not being caught up with nationalism. Australian Koreans, Canadian Koreans, and American Koreans all seem to hold that same thought. We have the same desire to share the gospel with North Korea.’ (Interview with Alex Jun).

This is contrasted with the view that many South Koreans have, where they view any possible liberation of North Korea as being a possible threat to national and economic security and stability. Much of this is based on a regular education or propaganda movement in South Korea that fears the communists. There is much doubt and fear of whether the economy would be decimated by opening the border with North Korea. Since Korean Americans were not brought up with that education, their desire for the gospel to go to North Korea is unbridled. That being said, Americans are not without our own nationalist fears, even among Christians, towards other ethnic groups that might come to the US and ‘take our jobs’.

We certainly need to pray for the gospel to go forth into all the world, especially those places where it is so dark and opposed to it. We need to pray that the Lord would give us gospel eyes to let go of our national pride so that we may see that we are all citizens of a heavenly kingdom, whether we are American, British or ethnically Korean. It is encouraging to note the growth of the immigrant church within the United States. The church during the days of the apostles was not much different, scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in September 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

The life and legacy of William Cameron Townsend

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‘The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner’ (William Cameron Townsend).

Since the days of the early church, scholars and pastors have sought to provide updated translations of the Holy Scriptures for the common man. What began as the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament epistles slowly became one book, encompassing the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

In its early days the Bible remained in Greek, until Jerome translated it into Latin for the Western church. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures’, he said, ‘is ignorance of Christ’. A few centuries later his wise words had been forgotten, with the Bible only understood by priests and scholars. While there were some early exceptions, it was not understood in vernacular tongues until the 14th century.

Those exceptions included men like John Wycliffe and John Huss, who translated the Scriptures into English and Czech, respectively. John Wycliffe wrote: ‘The laity ought to understand the faith, and, since the doctrines of our faith are in the Scriptures, believers should have the Scriptures in a language familiar to the people, and to this end the Holy Ghost endued them with knowledge of all tongues’.

This was the vision that inspired William Cameron Townsend nearly 500 years later to pursue translating the Scriptures into native languages, and to found the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Language (SIL) in pursuit of that goal.

Translation

William Cameron Townsend was born into a humble farming family in California on 9 July 1896 and grew up in the Presbyterian Church. While not much is known of his origins, he attended Occidental College from 1914 to 1917.

During that time, he became involved with the Student Volunteer Movement and became deeply interested in mission work after hearing sermons on that subject. After graduating from the college, he and a friend visited Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles to the locals.

To their surprise, they found that most of the local people spoke other minority languages. One man even rebuked him when Cameron tried to sell him a Spanish Bible, ‘Why, if your God is so smart, hasn’t he learned our language?’ (Brummel Allen, William Cameron Townsend: father of Wycliffe Bible translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 3/1/2011).

This so impressed Townsend that he soon began working to learn and translate the Bible into the Cakchiquel language. During the early days of trying to transliterate this Latin American tongue into a written form, he met with an archaeologist who suggested he stop trying to impress a ‘Latin mold’ on the language and instead look for a pattern within the language.

This helped Cameron tremendously and he was soon able to make progress translating the Scriptures into Cakchiquel. This became the standard method Townsend taught other translators for the rest of his life and the model for Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL.

SIL

Cameron joined the Central American Mission (CAM) to continue his work translating the Scriptures. After he completed the New Testament in Cakchiquel, CAM urged him to stay and pastor the Cakchiquel Indians in the faith.

However, Cameron had a greater urge to translate the Scriptures than pastor a church, so he left CAM in 1934 and founded Camp Wycliffe, located in Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, at Breezy Point.
Students learned phonetics and how to transcribe difficult sounds into an orthography. It was during this time that Townsend’s ‘psychophonemic method of teaching reading was formalised. A sympathetic understanding of minority peoples and cultures was stressed’ (SIL.org).Townsend worked with L. L. Letgers and developed a curriculum for linguistics. He also used the nearby woods to train his first students in ‘wilderness living’. Although he only started out with three students and one Cakchiquel native speaker, the school gradually gained more students and was in session from 1934 to 1941, when Cameron Townsend renamed it Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), which it remains to this day.

After his second year of teaching (1935), Townsend returned to Latin America (Mexico, specifically), where he worked with local governments to promote literacy and linguistic study in the minority languages. Even the president of Mexico, General Lázaro Cárdenas, visited the Townsends to see the marvellous work they were doing in the Náhuatl language.

Other skills

Not only were the Townsends teaching linguistics students how to teach and translate, but were also teaching local native speakers of Náhuatl how to read their own language. They taught them other valuable skills, such as planting orange trees and teaching women’s sewing classes.

This became a lifelong vision of Townsend, not only to translate and teach literacy, but to teach the ethnic tribes marketable skills. Today, SIL is an organisation that serves to train professionals in linguistics, whether involved in business, government work, or mission work, and to work in harmony with local governments and education boards.

When his first wife Elvira died in 1944, Cameron returned from the US to Mexico to continue translation work. After marrying his second wife, Elaine, in 1946, Townsend entered Peru to begin translating there, along with 20 other SIL students.

Due to the impenetrable rainforest, transporting supplies into the remote area of Yarinacocha was nigh impossible. However, friends donated a Catalina flying boat to Townsend and the work proceeded.

In 1947, Cameron was involved in a serious accident. Cameron, his wife and six-month-old son were in a plane heading for Mexico, when the inexperienced pilot crashed the plane in a tree. Cameron became convinced that he needed trained pilots for SIL. The following year, Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) was born and has served to train pilots and supply transportation and training in remote areas.

Seventy years on, JAARS works with Wycliffe to build airstrips in remote mountain jungles, that help speed translation and the spread of the gospel in native languages.

Wycliffe Bible Translators

As the work of Townsend and SIL was growing in the 1940s, others wanted to start an organisation totally involved with Bible translation. In 1943, Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT) was begun in the garage apartment of Bill Nyman.

Over the next several years, Wycliffe served as a sending agency for Bible translators trained at SIL, to translate languages into the Scriptures the world over. As SIL began teaching linguistics courses in various countries, by the start of the 1950s interest in Bible translation grew and national Wycliffe offices sprang up in the UK, Australia and Canada.

Over the next 40 years the number of translations grew as more countries opened up. By the 1990s, many Asian and central European countries were open and primed for the translation of the gospel in their mother tongue.

While SIL and Wycliffe remained historically close and often shared the same board, today they are two separate entities, working together to train people in linguistics.

People groups

Throughout his life, Cameron devoted himself to teaching linguistics and pursuing the translation of Scriptures into every language on earth. Early on, he was a pioneer in the idea of treating missions in an ethno-linguistic fashion.

By understanding the Great Commission as it related to people groups, he had the vision of reaching every people group — not just every nation — with the gospel. Today, out of over 7,000 living languages, WBT have translated portions of Scripture into over 3,300 languages.

As his work with SIL grew into other countries, Cameron Townsend was a busy man. He continued to teach linguistics and translate the Scriptures throughout Latin America, until 1968 when he moved to his home in Waxhaws, North Carolina (the home of JAARS). From there, he would often visit the former USSR to pursue the translation of the Scriptures.

Hundreds of languages were translated into the Scriptures during his lifetime. What a tremendous legacy! Cameron was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize shortly before his death from leukemia in 1982.

His other great legacies are the three institutions he founded or helped start: Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics and Jungle Aviation and Radio Service. Let us pray that more labourers will be raised up to translate the Scriptures and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all unreached people groups.

 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in August 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

The US Military Chaplaincy

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070408-N-7415V-005As Christians live hemmed in on every side by the world and its cultural agendas, we know we are in a battle. Paul stated that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12).

There are, however, those in the military who face both cosmic spiritual powers and ‘flesh and blood’ enemies. By God’s providence, chaplains have served the American military since the onset of the Revolutionary War and are currently serving our armed forces, counselling and pastoring them as they defend our nation.

While this chaplaincy has been there since the nation’s inception, it has over recent decades borne the brunt of many debates in court. I hope here to explain briefly its history and some of its current difficulties.

History

While the practice of having priests or ministers present with an army has existed since the days of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land, the practice of chaplains serving with the US military is as old as the United States itself.

The US Chaplain Corps dates back to 29 July 1775, when the Continental Congress authorised one chaplain per regiment. It instructed army and navy commanders to give ministers and chaplains great freedom in shepherding the soldiers.

George Washington wrote to Benedict Arnold: ‘[As] far as lays in your power, you are to protect and support the free exercise of the religion of the country and the undisturbed enjoyment of the rights of conscience in religious matters, with your utmost influence and authority’ (‘Why does the US military have chaplains’, Hans Zieger, Pepperdine School of Public Policy website). General Washington furthermore delegated that 16 May 1776 be designated a day of rest and worship (Ibid.).

This continued through subsequent American wars. James Madison, during his term in Congress, voted in favour of chaplains in 1791, 1794 and 1797, and authorised the maintenance of chaplains in the army during his presidency, in 1814.

During the American Civil War, the office of chaplain was further defined and the numbers serving the armed forces grew considerably. Both the Confederate and Union Congresses authorised chaplains in their armies and there was significant growth in their influence.

Revivals

During the Civil War, over 2,300 men served as chaplain to the Union army and at least 1,300 to the Confederates. While Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis served, most of the chaplains were Protestant.

It is worth noting that significant revivals occurred in both armies and their Protestant chaplains were kept incredibly busy. It is estimated that over 150,000 men were baptised in the Confederate army and nearly 100,000 in the Union army.

After the Civil War, chaplains have continued to serve sacrificially for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of fellow soldiers. In World War I, a chaplain named Francis P. Duffy served with distinction during the heavy fighting in France. He was often seen in the thick of battle, caring for the wounded as they were carried out on stretchers. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Chaplains in World War II too, were noted for their ministry. There were four aboard the USS Dorchester who comforted and evacuated many men after a U-boat torpedo hit and sank their vessel. They died in the midst of the evacuation.

Chaplaincy service to the armed services won respect from both World Wars’ leaders. General Pershing said, during World War I: ‘Their usefulness in the maintenance of morale, through religious counsel and example, has now become a matter of history’ (Ibid.). General MacArthur, during World War II, stated: ‘Moral leadership devolves, in large measure, upon the corps of chaplains working in close understanding and cooperation with all unit commanders’ (Ibid.).

Chaplains continued to serve with great bravery and love throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the latter, they also began to counsel troops on drug abuse.

Difficulties

But the role of the chaplaincy within the US armed services has not been without political and moral struggle. Even as early as 1818 the chaplaincy’s constitutionality was questioned.

On 11 December 1818 there was an appeal from the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association for the ‘repeal of all laws authorising the appointment of chaplains to Congress, the army, navy, and other public stations’ (Ibid.). The remarkable thing was that Congress didn’t even consider the appeal.

There have been other appeals by lawyers over the years questioning the chaplaincy’s constitutionality. The reason behind these challenges often derive from a literal reading of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

In 1985, the Second Circuit Court defended the chaplaincy, stating that the Free Exercise Clause ‘obligates Congress, upon creating an army, to make religion available to soldiers who have been moved to areas of the world where religion of their own denominations is not available to them’.

But with that liberty comes certain moral dilemmas. In direct response to the Free Exercise Clause, there are all sorts of chaplains within the US military. While, over the years, there have always been a large number of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish chaplains in the military, you will also find Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu chaplains.

There are even ‘religious groups’ that focus on exercising atheism. According to a Military Times poll in 2012, 60 per cent of the military affirmed being Christian, but 20 per cent of the remainder were either non-religious or atheistic.

DADT policy

While evangelism is not prohibited in the military, speaking up for one’s particular views is not looked on favourably. This was especially the case in relation to the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy.

Issued in 1993, DADT policy prohibited military personnel from harassing or discriminating against homosexuals, and also prohibited anyone openly homosexual from serving in the military.

The policy was repealed in 2011 and there has since been quite a media stir as homosexual military personnel married in quick succession and even participated in uniform in gay pride parades. While public opinion (according to the Pew Research Centre) was largely in favour of allowing homosexuals to enlist in the military, chaplains’ feelings were mixed on the matter.

The Southern Baptist Convention considered removing their chaplains from service since speaking openly against same-sex attraction and marriage was prohibited. The Roman Catholic Church was concerned, but has not pulled any of its priests from service. Other denominations, especially liberal ones, have stated that the repeal of DADT is not an issue.

Some chaplains were discharged for speaking out about this issue. Such was the case for Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a naval officer and chaplain who was initially removed from his office and given a ‘detachment for cause’, when a junior officer brought two Equal Opportunity representatives and complained that Modder had a ‘behavioural pattern of being anti-discriminatory of same-sex orientation’ (Fox News, ‘Former SEALs chaplain could be kicked out of Navy for Christian beliefs’, 9 March 2015).

However, Chaplain Modder was reinstated in September 2015, after several attorneys from the Liberty Institute defended him. The Naval Personnel Command (NPC) cleared him of all charges and he was able to retire upon his 21st year of service. The NPC stated that there was not enough substantial evidence to issue the detachment for cause.

Conclusion

Chaplains in the US military certainly carry a heavy responsibility, as they seek to love and pastor soldiers under their care while treading a thin line in regard to the pluralistic policies of the military.

They have served and are continuing to serve with distinction, offering solace, counsel and teaching to those who are in the front line. They have been close to the battle, tending the wounded, serving the Lord’s Supper, and standing as beacons for the gospel, in the midst of one of the greatest difficulties a man can endure on this earth — the hardship of war.

Let us continue to pray for them, that they may be strong and courageous, and that above all they may have a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they can communicate effectively to the many soldiers under their care.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in July 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Billy Graham and the American Presidents

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Reagans_with_Billy_GrahamOften regarded as ‘America’s pastor’, Rev. Billy Graham was vastly influential in the United States and around the world as a minister and evangelist. Ever a simple and humble man, he was close friends with nearly every US president since Truman.

Born in 1918, he was alive from the presidency of Woodrow Wilson to that of Donald Trump. Graham treated each president with transparency and grace. His goal was ‘to bring out the best in people, even presidents, because that tended to be all that he saw in them. Whatever faults they had, he would not be the one sitting in judgment’ (Time, 21 Feb. 2018). Over the course of befriending nearly 12 presidents, his interactions with them had both positive and negative aspects.

Truman

In July 1950, Billy Graham met President Harry S. Truman. The Korean War had just started and Graham entered the White House as the president’s guest. They met for only 15 minutes, after which Graham placed his arm around the president and asked if he could pray. Later, Graham went outside and recounted his visit to the press, including many details of their conversation.

President Truman was indignant, angry that Graham would share details of their private conversation. Many years after, Graham sought Truman’s forgiveness in the matter. He recalled, ‘It was a terrible mistake on my part’.

Graham wrote later, adding that ‘national coverage of our visit was definitely not to our advantage. The president was offended that I had quoted him without authorisation … I knew that you didn’t quote famous people’ (St Louis Post-Dispatch, 28 Feb. 2018).

Eisenhower

But Billy Graham became a close friend and mentor of the next president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to a poll by The Washington Post, during this era ‘church membership rose from 49 per cent in 1940 to 69 per cent in 1960’ (28 Feb. 2018). Something like a religious awakening was sweeping across America. Everywhere, there was an aura of religious fervour.

During this time, which was also in the midst of the Cold War, a humble Mennonite general from Kansas became the 34th president of the United States. It was during Ike’s term that the motto ‘In God we trust’ and the National Prayer Breakfast became American icons. Eisenhower soon made fast friends with Graham.

Although their friendship had begun earlier in 1952, Eisenhower confided in Graham during his presidency and invited Graham to preach on 6 March 1955. Graham’s counsel was most sought by Eisenhower at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Eisenhower asked Graham whether Southern churches might help with racial reconciliation. Graham didn’t give a definite answer, but said he would talk to church leaders. Though he had been supportive of efforts to bring racial reconciliation, he urged Eisenhower to stay ‘out of this bitter racial situation that is developing’ (Washington PostIbid.). Both men thought the African American advocates of civil rights wanted to move things too quickly, and that delay would lead to heart change — a better way forward.

He remained friends with Eisenhower after his presidency and was present at Ike’s deathbed, speaking the truth of the gospel and giving him comfort in his last hours.

Graham, a long-standing Democrat, was first invited to meet with John F. Kennedy during the president’s visit to Palm Beach, Florida, and played a round of golf with him. Graham was not as close to Kennedy due to his Catholicism, though their conversations helped allay some differences between American Catholics and Protestants.

Kennedy and LBJ

Graham became very close to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was with Johnson shortly after Kennedy’s assassination and prayed with him before he took the oath of office. From 1963, Graham would visit the White House at the president’s behest to give spiritual counsel. He would pray at Johnson’s bedside and stay at the White House during his visits.

He even discussed political matters with him. As reported in the Charlotte Observer, the president and Graham were looking at a list of potential running mates, at dinner in the White House in 1964. ‘At that, Ruth Graham kicked her husband under the table, an assault the president noticed and asked about. “Billy ought to limit his advice to you to religious and spiritual matters”, she said. They dropped the topic.

‘Until “Lady Bird” Johnson and Ruth left the room, that is. Then the president asked again. “Hubert Humphrey”, Graham replied. That November, the Democratic Johnson-Humphrey ticket won by a landslide’ (Charlotte Observer, 21 Feb. 2018).

While their friendship was observed by all, there were benefits that both acknowledged. Texas Monthly says: ‘If Billy Graham was the president’s friend, then millions of Americans would conclude that the president must be a good man, a decent man, a noble man, perhaps even a Christian man.

‘And if he possessed those qualities, then his causes — his war on poverty, his Civil Rights Act, his effort to preserve freedom and democracy in Southeast Asia — must also be good, decent, noble, perhaps even Christian, and therefore precisely the causes Christian folk ought to support. For his part, Graham understood that he served to legitimate Johnson to an evangelical constituency, particularly in the South and Southwest’ (Texas Monthly, ‘Billy and Lyndon’).

Nixon
As Johnson neared the end of his term, he worried who would carry on his ideals regarding the Vietnam War. Billy Graham was drawn into the political manoeuvering when persuaded to carry a message from Richard Nixon to Johnson. Nixon promised, via Billy Graham, that should Johnson win the Vietnam War, Nixon would give Johnson ‘a major share of the credit’ for a settlement and would ‘do everything to make you … a place in history’ (Politico, 21 Feb. 2018).

When Richard Nixon became the next president of the United States, he moved rapidly to secure the friendship and popular appeal that Graham possessed. Both were united by their zeal to end Communism, and Nixon saw Graham as a means of securing voting districts and electoral support. Trouble seemed sure to come of this alliance, and it began in 1972, when President Nixon was perceived to have anti-Semitic views.

Graham didn’t rebuff the president, but said, ‘A lot of Jews are great friends of mine … They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they really don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them’. Nixon replied, ‘You must not let them know’ (Quoted in PoliticoIbid.). It is worth noting that Graham repented of this comment later in life.

By the time of the Watergate debacle, Billy Graham was fast friends with Nixon and a prominent, if unofficial, advisor to the president. However, Graham was dumbfounded by Watergate. A Washington Post article describes that when Graham read the recorded exchanges between Nixon and his operatives, ‘he became physically, retchingly sick — a nausea that clung in his vitals through the rest of that afternoon’ (21 Feb. 2018).

Afterward, Graham never condoned Nixon’s actions, but tended to excuse them, blaming his advisors and even his sleeping pills. At Nixon’s funeral he stated the president’s faith was unshakable and always growing. He continued: ‘For the person who has turned from sin and has received Christ as Lord and Saviour, death is not the end … For the believer, there’s hope beyond the grave’ (Ibid.).

Later presidents
After Nixon, Graham was never as close to, or so politically involved, with US presidents. As Newsweek said: ‘Graham befriended and even loved the presidents and their families — the Reagans, the Bushes, the Clintons — but he never again flew so close to the flame’ (5 March 2018).

He had known Reagan long before he became president and remained a close friend even as Reagan battled with Alzheimer’s. Reagan was said to have told his family to wait to pray until Billy Graham could arrive.

Graham continued to meet with presidents until his death. He defended Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky debacle and was later criticised for that. He was a friend to the Bush family, and President George W. Bush credited Graham with turning his personal life around (Citizen Times, 8 March 2018).

The time Graham spent with Presidents Obama and Trump were fleeting, but he met them on a few occasions. In all, he was a pastoral friend, mentor and confidant to twelve US presidents. But, at Nixon’s downfall, Graham learned the hard truths of political power and never again sought to be at its centre.

Pastoral care
Over the years, Billy Graham visited and stayed with presidents at the White House, prayed with them, preached to them, and enjoyed recreation with them. He was often at their bedside and called upon to console the families of dying presidents, from Eisenhower onwards. George Bush Jr. was the first president whose inauguration he missed, due to hip surgery. Over 60 years, he loved, prayed for and encouraged them.

It must be acknowledged that there was, at times, a ‘babe-in-the-woods’ innocence and naivety in his relationship with political power, which tarnished his reputation during the 1960s and 1970s.

His desire to influence his country’s leadership and his nation for the cause of Jesus Christ and the gospel indeed caused him to fly too close to the flame and his ministry suffered as a result. But Rev. Billy Graham will be remembered as the pastor to US presidents, as well as the preacher to millions.

 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in May 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Christian Zionism in America

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Early in December 2017 President Trump announced that the United States would recognize that Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel, and not Tel Aviv.

He said: ‘Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital … This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done’ (New York Times, 6/12/17). He also stated he would move the US embassy to the Holy City.

This pivotal and heavily analysed statement dramatically changes United States’ foreign policy towards Israel and has drawn much criticism from Western and Arab nations.

Since Israel’s founding as a nation in 1948, no other nation has declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, due to the delicate political, ethnic and religious situation in Palestine. It is a move that may yet bring violence to the city.

Jerusalem has been contested for millennia and there are many — Jews, as well as Christians — who want Jerusalem, as well as the entire territory of Israel and Palestine, to belong to Israel.

 

This has given birth to the Zionist movement, with a large following in the world, and especially the United States and United Kingdom. Christian Zionism has greatly influenced the past 70 years of American-Israeli relations.

Puritans

While Zionism has many different strains and ideologies, these were united by a central purpose: to restore the Jewish homeland and bring Jewish exiles there, free of persecution. The impetus for many Christians has been the dispensational belief that the Jews’ return to Israel is a prerequisite for Jesus’ Second Coming.

Christian sympathy toward the restoration of Israel did not begin in earnest until the seventeenth century among Protestants in England. The Reformation brought a renewed vigour for the literal interpretation of Scripture, which led the Reformers to understand many passages concerning Israel’s restoration as a physical restoration to her homeland.

Many notable theologians argued for this. One was John Owen, who, in his commentary on Hebrews, stated: ‘Moreover, it is granted that there shall be a time and season, during the continuance of the kingdom of the Messiah in this world, wherein the generality of the nation of the Jews, all the world over, shall be called and effectually brought unto the knowledge of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ; with which mercy they shall also receive deliverance from their captivity, restoration unto their own land, with a blessed, flourishing, and happy condition therein’.

Others, such as Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Draxe, Joseph Mede, and Henry Finch predicted the return of the Jews, the defeat of the Ottomans, and the Jews coming to faith in Christ. This conviction spread in the American colonies under the teaching of Cotton and Increase Mather, and, most notably, Jonathan Edwards.

Gerald R. McDermott in his article, ‘The Reformed tradition on Israel is diverse’ (this ET, page 19) says that Increase Mather ‘wrote in his The mystery of Israel’s salvation (1669) that the future conversion of “the Jewish nation” was “a truth of late [that] hath gained ground much throughout the world”. This widespread acceptance was a sign that the times of the end were near, a time when “the Israelites shall again possess . . . the land promised unto their Father Abraham”.’

Jonathan Edwards taught that, though God had ‘abandoned’ literal Israel for a time after the resurrection, there would be a second outpouring of grace just after the millennium. ‘Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in the 11th chapter of Romans’ (Ibid.).

Dispensationalists

This concept was soon espoused by more than preachers. John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote in a letter to Mordecai M. Noah, a Jewish American leader, in 1819: ‘I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites indeed as well disciplined as a French army, and marching with them into Judea, and making a conquest of that country, and restoring your nation to the dominion of it … For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation’. The son of Puritan parents, Adams knew the Scriptures, but sadly became a Unitarian.

Christian Zionism gained a larger following during the nineteenth century, due to the influence of dispensationalism and the Scofield Bible. Dispensationalism began in the United Kingdom through the teaching of John Nelson Darby and spread to the United States during Darby’s tours beginning in 1862.

Darby taught a variant of premillennialism, that can be summed up as: ‘We believe that the world will not be converted during the present dispensation, but is fast ripening for judgment, while there will be a fearful apostasy in the professing Christian body.

‘And hence that the Lord Jesus will come in person to introduce the millennial age, when Israel shall be restored to their own land, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; and that this personal and premillennial advent is the blessed hope set before us in the gospel for which we should be constantly looking’ (Ernest R. Sandeen, The roots of fundamentalism, British and American millenarianism, 1800-1930).

While Darby’s Brethren church practices did not catch on in the US, his dispensationalism did. He spoke at numerous conferences, including the Niagara Bible Conference of 1878. Evangelicals William Eugene Blackstone, Charles Erdman and C. I. Scofield were influential, and nothing influenced the American church like the Scofield Bible.

First published in 1909, this contained annotations by Scofield, teaching premillennialism and dispensationalism. Among other things, Scofield taught that God has two different peoples whom he loves — Jews and the Christian church — and that he has two separate plans for them. His notes on Revelation teach premillennial eschatology and the restoration of the Jewish people to their own land.

Not long after, Israel was declared an independent nation (1948) and many believed Scofield had been right in his predictions. By the end of World War II, over two million copies of the Scofield Bible had been sold. Today there are many denominations in America that espouse a dispensational view and have Zionist tendencies.

Politicians

William Eugene Blackstone was also inspired by the Niagara Conference and influential in turning the mind of the American church towards Zionism. He firmly believed that the Jews would be restored to their homeland and would not need to come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

He hosted a conference in Chicago in 1890, where several prominent leaders of the church met to discuss the restoration of the Jews. Finding this did little to garner real support, he wrote what became known as the Blackstone Memorial: a document signed by 413 prominent leaders that petitioned American president Benjamin Harrison to intervene in restoring Russian Jews to Palestine.

While his first petition did not gain the result he desired, his second was warmly received and wholeheartedly supported by Woodrow Wilson, some 25 years later. Louis D. Brandeis, a Jewish lawyer from Boston and friend of Blackstone, was a pivotal leader among American Zionists and influential in securing the president’s support for the Memorial, as well as the president’s consent to the Balfour Declaration. Blackstone died in 1935, just 13 years shy of Israel becoming a nation.

American involvement with the Jews goes back to the beginning of the nation. George Washington supported religious freedom for a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 and John Adams advocated a Jewish return to their Holy Land.

Zionist political support from the US government was little heard of during the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth there was no shortage of it. Beginning with President Wilson’s support of the Blackstone Memorial and Balfour Declaration, it continued through Harry Truman’s and Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidencies.

In 1942, Zionist leaders met at the Biltmore Conference and called for the ‘fulfilment of the original purpose of the Balfour Declaration’, with the unfettered immigration of persecuted Jews into Palestine.

Truman, affected by the horrors of the Holocaust during WWII and his own dispensational convictions, was pivotal in the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. When Marx Jacobsen quipped, ‘This is the man who helped create the State of Israel’, Truman responded, ‘What do you mean “helped” create? I am Cyrus; I am Cyrus!’ (Quoted in Moshe Davis, America and the Holy Land, Greenwood, 1995).

Problems

From 1979 onwards, American political and financial support for Israel continued, especially in view of the ‘Palestinian problem’ and the hostility of Arab Middle Eastern nations to Israel.

While earlier American support for Israel stemmed from religious convictions, today things are largely viewed from a different perspective. According to Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, ‘the US’s alliance with Israel owes to two key factors — intelligence-sharing and ideological unity’ (Business Insider, 18/2/17). Koplow asserts that Israel is unrivalled in its knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and has collaborated with the US on many occasions; both share a passion for democracy, in the midst of a region dominated by Islam.

The political problems involving Israel and Palestine today are very complex, but Christians must pray for peace in that region, and for salvation in Christ for Jews, Muslims and atheists throughout that troubled region.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in April 2018 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.