Christianity Today Magazine News

He Told Richard Nixon to Confess

Mon, 1 July 2024 06:00:00 CST

Most ministers were silent about Watergate. Why was one evangelical pastor different?

Only one minister spoke up.

There were many clergy in and out of the White House in those years, as Richard Nixon scrambled to cover up the fact that his men had broken into the Democratic Party headquarters and bugged the Watergate office phones to try to give him an unfair advantage in the 1972 presidential election. Various ministers preached to Nixon as the conspiracy unraveled and everything he had done—the casual criminality, disregard for morality, dirt, skullduggery, expletives, compounding lies, secret tapes, and obstruction of justice—came into the light.

But they didn’t address it. They didn’t follow the path of the Old Testament prophet Nathan, who went to King David after David tried to cover up his sin. Nathan spoke in a way that convicted the king—“You are the man!”—and gave him a chance to repent (2 Sam. 12:7).

Nixon also met privately with clergy from a whole array of evangelical churches, plus mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Some were famous. Leaders with authority and prestige, comfortable in the halls of power. Almost to a man, they said nothing.

Except John Huffman.

The evangelical Presbyterian pastor spoke simply and directly about the moral dimensions of the Watergate scandal and spoke with a clarity that Richard Nixon could hear.

Huffman was not well known and still isn’t. Even in the apparently endless writing about evangelicals and politics and all the debates about the proper way to engage in the public square, his name is essentially forgotten.

But I had to know: Why him?

It’s not obvious that Huffman should have had some special dispensation of moral courage. He was the young pastor of a seemingly average church. What gave him the ...

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Praising God Is an Act of Political Defiance

Wed, 24 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

The Book of Psalms reminds us that worship demands our unequivocal devotion and allegiance.

The Psalms capture the full range of human experience. Personal and collective, sorrowful and rejoicing, remembering God’s faithfulness and wondering what has become of it—the biblical book, prayed by generations of believers, invites us to enter God’s presence with piercing honesty.

For those of us weaned on the positivity of American evangelicalism, the psalms of lament can take us aback. The authenticity of their angst pushes the boundaries of what we have witnessed in corporate prayer. It calls us to reject toxic positivity and embrace godly grief. And while this wake-up call to embrace the psalms of lament is still badly needed, I suspect we need a similar reckoning when it comes to the psalms of praise.

The claim of the praise psalms is startlingly unique in its context and powerfully relevant in ours, especially in an election year that is charged with political energy. As candidates vie for our votes, Christians hotly debate which contender best reflects our values and which issues most deserve our attention. On top of this, as Jared Stacy noted in a recent article for CT, we are experiencing a rise in politically motivated violence.

While lament is surely appropriate in times like these, maybe the best thing we can do is engage in audacious praise!

I’ve often felt about the praise psalms the way a mom feels about getting a store-bought Mother’s Day card proclaiming in all caps that she is the “BEST MOM EVER.” We know the company has printed thousands of these cards—and I’m the only mom my children have ever had, so how would they know any better?

But when Israel exclaimed, “Praise the LORD!” they were making far more audacious claims than that of a generic ...

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ERLC Retracts Announcement Firing President Brent Leatherwood

Tue, 23 July 2024 07:00:00 CST

UPDATE: The chair of the board of trustees, Kevin Smith, has resigned.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Monday evening that its president Brent Leatherwood suddenly lost his job—only to retract the statement the next morning.

Trustees stated on Tuesday that the decision had been made without the full involvement of executive committee leadership and that Leatherwood “remains the President of the ERLC and has our support moving forward.”

The chair of the ERLC board of trustees, Kevin Smith, took responsibility for the unilateral move and has resigned.

“There was not an authorized meeting, vote, or action taken by the Executive Committee,” the ERLC’s follow-up statement read. “Kevin Smith has resigned as Chair of the Executive Committee.”

In remarks to Baptist Press on Tuesday, Smith said he believed there was consensus to remove Leatherwood, and “in an effort to deal with it expeditiously, I acted in good faith but without a formal vote of the Executive Committee.”

“This was an error on my part, and I accept full responsibility,” he said.

The initial statement from the ERLC had given no reasoning for Leatherwood’s termination but came a day after he issued remarks applauding President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from the 2024 race.

“I deeply appreciate everyone who has reached out, especially our trustees who were absolutely bewildered at what took place yesterday and jumped in to set the record straight,” Leatherwood wrote on X on Tuesday. “More to come.”

Leatherwood has been on staff with the ERLC—the public policy and advocacy arm for Southern Baptists—for the past seven years and has been president of the entity ...

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African Bible Colleges Don’t Have Enough Books

Tue, 23 July 2024 06:00:00 CST

In an absence of resources, leaders struggle to train pastors.

When Samuel Ndima was a student at a Bible college in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, he struggled to complete assignments in his theology courses. Though he grasped the material, he had to scramble when it came to anything requiring research.

Ndima’s seminary fees included only a few textbooks, but many papers required research from books, journals, and commentaries. Like most of his classmates, Ndima could barely pay tuition and had no money to buy additional books. The few copies of essential texts were perpetually checked out of the seminary’s small library, and online access required a credit card, which few students possessed. Ndima and his classmates were forced to share books, which often made it difficult to finish assignments on time.

Despite these obstacles, Ndima graduated in 2010 and now pastors a congregation of 200 people in Delft, in the Western Cape. But he remains frustrated that theological training on the entire continent of Africa is too often complicated by a lack of books.

“A lot of Africans want to study, but we can’t afford theological education, we lack knowledge of the Bible, and we need access to books,” said Ndima, who faced a similar situation at a seminary in Cape Town where he earned his honor’s degree in 2013. He would like to return to school to study for advanced degrees but worries about the continuing lack of resources in African seminaries.

With more than 700 million Christians, Africa is home to more believers than any other continent in the world. Yet up to 90 percent of African pastors are not formally trained, and the lack of theological books and resources is undercutting the efforts of seminaries, divinity schools, Bible colleges, and other preparatory ...

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Homelessness Hits Record High, Straining Rescue Missions

Tue, 23 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

It’s not migrants. Christian shelters are seeing more single moms who can’t shoulder the cost of living.

It was 2:45 p.m., and people were lined up around the block in Tribeca, Manhattan, for the 3 p.m. intake at the emergency shelter of the Bowery Mission, a Christian nonprofit that has served New Yorkers since 1879.

“Am I on the list?” one woman called out to Lea Burrell, the Bowery manager. The woman had to get in a standby line. Just inside the doorway, a security guard, new to the job, started to cry when she saw the people lined up—she felt like she could have been in that line too.

Even though the shelter had a standby list, this was a light day. In January, the mission saw a 40 percent surge in people seeking shelter and food. Busloads of migrants were being dropped off on its doorsteps over the winter, and the organization had to pivot quickly.

It found a way to squeeze 16 more beds into its shelter, and now has a total of 148 beds for men and women. It has separate recovery programs and transitional housing. But staff have seen the migrant arrivals level off, while the heightened demand for shelter remains.

Other homeless ministries around the country said the same in interviews with CT: They are seeing big increases in those seeking shelter, but not from migrant arrivals.

“Nationally, what we’re seeing is that the highest area of homelessness is single moms and children,” said Tom De Vries, the CEO of Citygate Network, which represents more than 300 faith-based shelters across the country.

Asylum seekers are not as much of a factor in the increases, he added. He attributes the rise in single moms seeking shelter to inflation—and to a lack of thick community support a mom could lean on when she needs to work more or take care of her kids. He said more missions in the Citygate Network ...

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‘This Is the Day’ for Filipinos to Develop Their Own Worship Music

Mon, 22 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

In a country known for loving Western praise music—Hillsong’s second-biggest market—a grassroots movement is singing new tunes.

Arnel Cadeliña, a pastor and worship leader in Manila, remembers when his parents called their only “born again” relative for help. It was 1983, Cadeliña was 12, and his family was convinced that his teenage sister was possessed by a demon.

“He showed up with two guitars and two singers,” Cadeliña recalled. “Then he said, ‘Let’s not mind her, let’s mind the name above all names,’ and they led us in worship songs.”

Cadeliña remembers singing simple praise choruses like “This Is the Day” and praying. He says he witnessed two miracles that day: the deliverance of his sister and the conversion of his family.

“We didn’t know the Bible, we didn’t understand God, but he showed up in the power of our music, in the power of our worship.”

Contemporary praise and worship music from the United States, Australia, and the UK has been a part of Cadeliña’s faith journey since its beginning.

Like many Protestant Christians in the Philippines, he grew as a believer while singing songs from direct-to-consumer cassette tapes by Integrity’s Hosanna! Music in the ’80s and ’90s, passed along by missionaries and within grassroots networks of churches. (“This is the Day,” the song Cadeliña remembers singing, was administered and distributed by Integrity.)

With the influence of Western worship music, Filipino leaders like Cadeliña are trying to balance local music with popular hits coming from the US-dominated worship music industry.

Cadeliña now leads FIJ (Faith in Jesus) City Church in Manila with his wife, Jessica, the church’s worship leader. The church is an ...

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Canadian Christian Colleges Hit Hard by New Immigration Restrictions

Mon, 22 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

International undergraduates were part of many schools’ plans for sustainability. A new government rule changes that.

It seemed like a door had opened.

Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Manitoba started an associate’s degree program that could be marketed to international students. To president Kenton Anderson’s delight, the two-year degree attracted a significant number of applicants eager to study in Canada. Several hundred students enrolled.

For the private evangelical school, that generated significant revenue and helped further fulfill the mission of spreading the gospel around the world.

Providence made plans to grow the program—could they attract 500 international students? 600? 700?—and bought an apartment building in nearby Winnipeg to provide increased student housing.

Then, a single government decision closed that door.

Canada’s federal government announced new restrictions on undergraduate international students in January 2024. When the rules take effect this fall, the total number will be reduced by about 35 percent.

Providence was anticipating several hundred new international students. Now, when the semester starts the first week of September, the school will only greet about 20.

“It’s many millions of dollars of revenue just gone,” Anderson told CT. “And, of course, as a private tuition-funded Christian school, it’s not like we have a lot of that money lying around.”

According to the Canadian government, there are several reasons to reduce the number of international students at Canadian colleges and universities. Officials said they were concerned that lax admissions were diminishing the quality of the country’s education.

“We want to ensure that international students are successful and to tackle the issues that make students ...

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Historic First Baptist Dallas Sanctuary Burns in Four-Alarm Fire

Fri, 19 July 2024 23:30:00 CST

The 134-year-old landmark, now a nearby secondary meeting space for the church, went up in flames in downtown Dallas.

The historic sanctuary at First Baptist Church Dallas burned Friday evening, July 19. The cause of the blaze is not yet known. The Victorian-style, red brick sanctuary building was erected 1890 and is a recognized Texas Historic Landmark.

According to media reports, Dallas Fire and Rescue received a call at 6:05 p.m., Friday evening regarding a building on fire in downtown Dallas.

Firefighters responded and within 15 minutes of the first call, a second alarm was requested. Then around 7:30 p.m., the scene was upgraded to a three-alarm fire. A fourth alarm was called in around 8:15 p.m. The Dallas Morning News reported that “more than 60 units were dispatched to respond to the structure fire.”

The church released a statement on X at 9:34 p.m. saying the primary fire was extinguished but firefighters were still working at the scene.

First Baptist Church Dallas has an indelible history within the Southern Baptist Convention having been pastored by former SBC presidents George W. Truett and W. A. Criswell. Currently led by Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Dallas reported a membership of nearly 16,000 in 2023.

The church currently worships in a state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 2013, adjacent to the historic sanctuary.

Jeffress posted on X Friday night asking for prayers for the church, saying, “We have experienced a fire in the Historic Sanctuary. To our knowledge, no one is hurt or injured, and we thank God for His protection. He is sovereign even in the most difficult times.”

The historic sanctuary was home to First Baptist Dallas’s contemporary service each week, called the Band-Led Service. There was a special VBS service scheduled for this Sunday, June 21. The church hosted its annual Vacation ...

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In Pennsylvania, Locals Remember Corey Comperatore’s ‘Greater Love’

Fri, 19 July 2024 08:08:00 CST

Communities surrounding Trump’s rally site feel the shock of the tragic shooting.

Corey Comperatore loved reading Romans.

His pastor at Cabot Methodist Church, Jonathan Fehl, recalled how much Comperatore drew strength from the book. It was the first thing he’d recommend to new believers.

But it may be that Comperatore is remembered by another portion of Scripture, John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Comperatore was the kind of church member who showed up every Sunday, took part in small groups, became a member of the congregation’s board of trustees, and helped with building projects. He was an Army veteran, volunteer firefighter, and proud “girl dad”—a guy who did everything with “a heart of service to the Lord,” Fehl wrote.

His final act of love and sacrifice came on Saturday, when he yelled, “Get down!” before diving in front of his wife and daughters to protect them from a bullet intended for former president Donald Trump.

The 50-year-old died on the scene from a gunshot wound to the head.

Comperatore was thrust into national news, the single fatality of a shooting that has left his community in Western Pennsylvania in grief, shock, and trauma.

“There’s just a lot of sadness,” Brandon Lenhart, senior pastor at North Main Street Church of God in Butler, told CT. “That somebody lost their life in the event, that that happened in the small town of Butler. It’s not a way we wanted to be put on the map, quite frankly.”

His church is on the other side of town from the Butler Farm Show, where Trump’s rally was held. It’s a conservative area—“you see pro-Trump signs everywhere,” Lenhart said—and ...

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Is God Calling Me to Obscurity or Influence?

Fri, 19 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

I want to write to build up the body of Christ, but platform building takes time away from my local congregation.

I recently spoke with a pastor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His congregation is small—150 or so members—and his routine is busy, with duties extending far beyond the walls of the church building.

The pastor’s typical week is a testament to his dedication to his parishioners. Most of his time is devoted to visitation, prayer, and pastoral care, often in nursing homes and hospitals. He reserves Saturdays for sermon prep and tries to keep Fridays for time with his family.

Sometimes, the pastor receives invitations to go further afield: to speak at conferences, contribute to Christian media outlets, or even write books—all alluring opportunities and a sign of his intellectual prowess and extensive network in ministry circles. However, he typically declines when considering how much that work and absence would affect his flock’s spiritual growth. Instead of building a platform, he is nurturing a community. Or, in the words of author Jen Pollock Michel, he is leading a life instead of leaving a story.

I have struggled with that choice for myself. After graduating from seminary, I started writing and teaching at my local church. Because I didn’t need to make money from my writing, I’ve had the luxury of flexibility, and soon, looking for places to be published became a job in itself. It was gratifying and humbling to be invited to be a member of a writers’ guild and have others promote my work. But I also started to see that regularly writing for public consumption was complicated, hard, and unsustainable if I wanted to remain invested in my congregation.

I want to write to serve the church, but writing increasingly takes time away from my actual church. Suppose ...

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Pakistan’s Presbyterians Have United. Reconciling Will Take Time.

Fri, 19 July 2024 05:00:00 CST

After 60 years of division, leaders hope that coming together will strengthen the church's witness.

On March 25 of this year, a group of Pakistani Presbyterian church leaders gathered in one of their homes. There, the 20 or so people decided to bring their factions together after years of contentious division. Later, they gathered for tea and seviyan, a sweet vermicelli dessert cooked in sugar and milk or oil, at Gujranwala Theological Seminary.

There were no contracts or legal documents to mark this momentous decision. “We just talked and trusted each other,” said Reuben Qamar, the leader, or moderator, of one faction.

The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) has a long history in the country, where Christians comprise less than 2 percent of the population. The Presbyterian mission was founded in the 1860s, and its missionaries led mass conversion movements and set up schools and hospitals in the region. In 1961, it was declared an autonomous body and local leadership began stewarding it.

This was when the divisions started: first between the ’60s and ’70s, then in the ’90s, and more recently in 2018 and 2021, says Qamar, noting that the splits mainly occurred not because of doctrinal differences but because of power and corruption.

One major conflict arose when there was a dispute on whether a moderator could extend their term from three to five years. Some supported this change, while others did not.

By the end of 2023, the church was split into three factions: One led by Qamar, and two others by moderators Arif Siraj and Javed Gill, respectively. Each claimed to be the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.

The root of the problem was discipline, says Majeed Abel, the executive secretary in Siraj’s former faction. Whenever conflicts arose, people took “refuge” in splitting and creating ...

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