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Christianity Today Magazine



News and analysis from the world's leading Christian magazine.



Last Build Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2017 16:56:28 PST

Copyright: Copyright 2017, Christianity Today
 



My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ

But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.

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I couldn’t believe it when I opened my email.

Inside my inbox was an invitation to the 120th anniversary celebration of a church in Osaka—a church founded by my great-grandfather, a 19th-century Presbyterian missionary. The minister had Googled my great-grandfather’s name, and apparently my own name had popped up, along with the text of a speech I had given in Tokyo a few years earlier just after leaving my job as a top official of an international organization in Paris. The topic was “National Identity and International Pressures: Are they compatible?”

I had given hundreds of speeches during my diplomatic career without mentioning my great-grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Theron Alexander. But the challenge of maintaining a cultural identity in the face of a rapidly shrinking world was something he and his adopted countrymen surely would have understood. My hosts posted the speech online, forever linking my name with my great-grandfather’s in cyberspace.

When I read the email, I felt something pulling me toward Japan and the story of my great-grandfather’s struggles and triumphs there. Before long—and against all odds—his example would help launch my own journey of faith.

Shunning Religion

I was born in the flat lowlands of Texas, in the far southeastern corner near the Gulf Coast and Louisiana. My family moved often, going wherever my father’s career as a chemical engineer took us.

Although not particularly religious, my parents occasionally took my brother and me to church. Both had been raised in the church and felt they should expose their children to the Bible and religion.

I remember sitting with my parents in the sanctuary during the beginning of each service, ...

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Half of Hispanic Christians Worry About Deportation Under Trump

Pew: Latino Protestants most likely to rate Trump a ‘terrible’ president.

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Even before President Donald Trump pledged to double down on policies against undocumented immigrants living in the United States, many Hispanics were already praying for protection.

Half of Latino Christians worry about themselves or someone close to them getting deported, according to Pew Research Center data provided to CT. And more than 4 in 10 have “serious concerns” about their place in America under Trump.

Hispanic Catholics (54%) and Protestants (47%) were more likely than the unaffiliated (38%) to say they worry “a lot” or “some” about the threat of deportation, Pew’s survey of Hispanic adults living in the US found. One in four Protestants worry a lot (25%), while Catholics are significantly most likely to worry a lot (37%).

The Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan to aggressively enforce current immigration laws, which is expected to result in more and quicker deportations for undocumented immigrants. Previous administrations had prioritized undocumented immigrants charged with severe crimes.

The orders from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) include provisions to protect children brought to the United States when their parents entered illegally. About a million of these “Dreamers” have been safeguarded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while Deferred Action for Parents of Americans applies to families of children born in the US.

“I ask the administration to enact and fulfill the promise President Trump made not to harm families and exclusively deport those involved in nefarious activities,” stated Samuel Rodriguez, one of Trump’s evangelical advisers and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership ...

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Black Churches Matter: Research Ties Attendance to Positive Outcomes
African Americans who worship regularly are better able to handle racism and discrimination. One can see the power of faith in black lives in places like Cleveland, where African American churches have remained—sometimes two or three to a block—even as the middle class and many businesses and predominantly white congregations moved away. Now science is providing greater insight. Several new studies build on past research to continue revealing how faith is associated with positive outcomes for black Americans amid the realities of discrimination and economic, political, and social inequality. In one study of black adults, neither education nor income predicted a sense of optimism—a hopeful attitude about the future linked to better physical and mental health and lower mortality rates. What mattered most was belief in a loving, merciful God. “It appears that the sense that one is loved and uplifted by God and the belief that one has received God’s forgiveness work in tandem” to promote hope as a critical and central theme in the faith of African Americans, researchers said in a special issue of the Race and Social Problems journal. The studies in the special issue are among several recent works that generally indicate positive outcomes of religious involvement for black Americans. Among the findings: Having each other’s back: Seven in 10 blacks who attended services at least once a year reported both giving and receiving support from their congregation, according to research analyzing data from the National Survey of American Life. Feeling close to congregation members and having frequent contact with them predicted greater reciprocal support. A separate study also found that church members appear to be “significant sources of informal social support for African Americans.” The most frequent form of assistance was care during illness, followed by meeting transportation needs, financial assistance, and help with chores. Continue reading... [...]



When Coffee Isn’t Enough: Reflecting on Relationships & Gospel Witness

The most valuable resource we can offer is the Gospel.

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We all hear those inspiring stories of people who have paid for the meal of the person behind them in the drive-thru lane. Or people who have dropped $20 bills into the buckets of all those they pass by on the street. Or those who have purchased a hot drink for the person standing out in the cold. Our hearts warm as we hear of these and we are inspired to action.

At the risk of offending some, let me be honest: what you think is warm and fuzzy may in fact be the opposite to someone else. I was reminded of this last week when I met Heather. Heather is a homeless woman who just left her abusive boyfriend and is looking for money for a down payment on an apartment so she no longer has to be homeless. She suffers from spinal pain and can’t work, but has income from social security and disability.

The moment I saw Heather standing alone on the street, I made a bee-line for her. We talked and prayed and I told her of the love of God.

And as we talked, a woman came by and handed Heather a cup of coffee and walked away. Heather looked down at it and then eagerly re-engaged our conversation.

Missiologist Donald K. Smith once said that all communication is cross-cultural. David Hesselgrave has also written on the importance of contextualization, worldview, communications, and the like, as have many others. When we seek to serve others, we put their needs before ours. We deliberately work to understand what would best serve them. We seek ways to love and care for them so they feel valued and valuable.

The Golden Rule, for all of its brilliance, is often times a hindrance to true gospel witness and real relationships. Let me share a silly, but powerful proverb to make my point:

The restaurant had a sign that said, "We treat others ...

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'Moonlight' Is a Flawed, But Rewarding Exercise in Christian Empathy
The Oscar favorite's portrayal of black, gay experience is at odds with a biblical sexual ethic—but for some, it might be worth the discomfort. In a few days at the Oscars, we’re likely to see director Barry Jenkins’s acclaimed film Moonlight up for numerous awards, including Best Picture. It will also likely bring home many of those awards. Yet, as Christians, most of us won’t be sure what to do with this film about a young, gay black man, despite the fact that it may just be the best and most needed movie of the year—especially for the church. It’s certainly no easy task to live out the cultural mandate in a Genesis 3 world. Until Christ comes back and makes all things new again, Christians will be seeking to understand what it means to be “in the world but not of the world,” to figure out what is simply “permissible” and what is actually “beneficial.” Sure, we’ll have models and guides to help us along the way—Niebuhrs and Benedict Options—but in this lifetime, we’ll spend our dying days still striving and still failing to faithfully create, sustain, and consume culture in a society plagued by sin. This is especially true for Christians dealing with something as complex as art. And though it doesn’t appear that we’re headed toward hell in a handbasket, as if the Christian story were a cynical story of declinism, every era and movement of culture presents a number of new and unique challenges—and opportunities. Two of those within our current cultural landscape center on the issues of race and sexuality. Moonlight, which brought home Best Drama Motion Picture at the Golden Globes, takes up both of these issues and has garnered significant attention not only for focusing on them but also for doing so in a compelling way. The film functions more as an exploration ...Continue reading... [...]



Courts Split on US Christians Caught Up in Turkey's Crackdown
Deportation of evangelist David Byle blocked, while pastor Andrew Brunson still imprisoned without evidence. As Turkey continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of a failed coup, two longtime American Christian expats are struggling to stay in the Muslim-majority nation they have long served. So far, they have fared quite differently in Turkish courts. Last week, dozens of US lawmakers called for Turkey to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains imprisoned there with limited access to his attorney and few details about the charges against him. “We respectfully ask you to consider Brunson’s case and how the recent treatment of Brunson places significant strain not only on him and his family, but also on the robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” read the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and signed by 78 members of Congress. Brunson’s wife, Norine, is praying the letter comes to the attention of President Donald Trump. After visiting her husband recently in prison—where they have been permitted to communicate through glass—she told supporters, he was “discouraged about the lack (seemingly) of action from the new administration.” Despite attempts to appeal his case and ongoing campaigns calling for his release, Brunson faces an uncertain future in the country where he has pastored for 23 years. Over the past year, Turkey rose from No. 45 to No. 37 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian. The only American Christian detained in the Muslim-majority nation, Brunson lost his initial attempt to appeal unfounded terrorism charges, and advocates aren’t sure if he’ll be able to continue to the appeals process to a higher court. After being denied access to embassy officials ...Continue reading... [...]



All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing

More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.

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More than two years ago, suppliers forgave Family Christian Stores $127 million in debt so that it could remain open. Today, the chain—which bills itself as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”—announced it is closing all of its stores after 85 years in business.

Family Christian, which employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 stores across 36 states, blamed “changing consumer behavior and declining sales.”

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” stated president Chuck Bengochea. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization,” he stated, “and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.”

Tyndale House Publishers chairman and CEO Mark Taylor called the stores “an important outlet for Christian books, gifts, and Bibles for many decades.”

“All of us at Tyndale House Publishers feel a sense of grief over Family Christian’s decision to close the entire chain of stores,” he stated. “Family’s millions of customers now have even fewer options for finding these wonderful, life-giving products. The entire Christian community—indeed the entire nation—will be poorer as a result of this pending closure.

“At the same time that we share our sense of loss, we express our appreciation to Chuck Bengochea and his staff who have worked so hard over the past few years to make the ...

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Give Your Kids the Gift of Absence

Time and attention are not the only ways to bless our children.

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When we first moved to Connecticut five years ago for my husband’s job, I decided that I would go without childcare. Our kids were six, four, and two at the time. I wanted to be their source of stability in the midst of their dad’s new job, a new town, new friends, and a new house.

In the years since then, I’ve learned that time is not the only gift we give our children. In fact, I’ve learned that, while parental presence is certainly crucial to children’s development, so too is parental absence. I used to think my children’s wellbeing depended entirely upon my presence, but now I believe that it is equally important to entrust them to the care of other people.

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I had planned to leave town for a weekend away. The childcare we had in place fell apart at the last minute when my extended family came down with the flu, so I texted a babysitter to see if she could help. “That would be great!” she said. And it was.

That weekend, the babysitter and her mother—who happens to be our kids’ Sunday School teacher—sent me photos of my kids climbing in the nooks of trees near an old train tunnel and one of my daughter Penny (who’s afraid of dogs) sitting with a contented smile next to our babysitter’s dachshund. The next time I saw the mother, she asked if she could “steal our children” again because they’d had so much fun. What began as a source of stress—scrambling for help—turned into an unexpected gift, and in our absence, the kids enjoyed themselves, demonstrated courage and resilience, and became more connected to our community.

Christians talk frequently about the importance of presence, but ...

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As a Special Needs Parent, I Thought I'd Hate ‘Speechless’

Why I was wrong—and what the ABC comedy reveals about conviction and forgiveness.

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When I first saw the trailer for ABC’s Speechless, it was shortly after my son was diagnosed with autism, and I was prepared to self-righteously hate it. It conjured the first and only memory I have of my child being mocked: As my son head-butted the side of a car-shaped grocery cart, an older boy in line behind us did the same. Declan thought he was being included in a game. I knew he was being excluded from one.

This is the sort of tone I feared Speechless might strike—one that generated humor by merely playing at inclusion. The 30-minute sitcom features JJ DiMeo, a 16-year-old boy who is rendered speechless by cerebral palsy, and the other DiMeos as they grapple with life as a special needs family in Newport Beach, California. Its premise reads like it should be a drama a la Parenthood. From the get-go, however, it promised to move against the sentimental current that drives most other shows about kids with special needs.

Based solely on the trailer, Speechless seemed uncomfortably irreverent to me, siphoning humor from the special needs community. As I’ve continued to watch it, though, I’ve realized this careful irreverence actually enables Speechless not only to depict the challenges of a special needs family holistically but also to raise broader questions about metaphorical voicelessness and privilege. To accomplish this, the show’s creators tap into the vestiges of a fading form of humor—namely, humor as a form of grace. This unexpected tone won me over as a viewer and empowered me to find a similar grace in my own life.

By the time I hate-watched one episode of Speechless, the sticker shock of my son’s diagnosis had worn off. We were still walking through the heavy moments ...

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Pakistan Convicts 42 Christians of Terrorism After Acquitting More Than 100 Muslims
Divergent verdicts on two of Lahore's biggest religious riots undercuts optimism for new law. Two of Pakistan’s biggest religious riots have finally gotten their day in court—with strikingly different results. An anti-terrorism court in Lahore has sentenced 42 Christians for rioting after two churches in Pakistan’s largest Christian neighborhood were bombed in 2015, reports Fides, the news agency of the Vatican. The ruling comes less than a month after the court acquitted more than 100 Muslims for rampaging through another one of Lahore’s major Christian communities in 2013 over one man’s alleged blasphemy. The 42 Christians were roughly half of those accused of murder and terrorism after two Muslim men suspected of bombing Sunday services in Youhanabad were killed. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), an initiative of Pakistan’s Catholic bishops, told Fides that they were disappointed that the church attackers have not been punished. Also left unpunished were the approximately 112 Muslims who were arrested for ransacking, looting, and setting fire to more than 100 homes in Joseph Colony in 2013. The court found them innocent despite eyewitnesses and videos of the attack, reported World Watch Monitor. “The evidence was not enough to prove the crime,” said judge Chaudhry Muhammad Azam. Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the NCJP, told UCA News, a Hong Kong-based outlet focused on Asian Catholics, that the Joseph Colony ruling was “quite upsetting.” “Basically, this means that, despite video footage, documents, and pictures of thousands rampaging through Christian properties, the court has not found anyone guilty,” he said. “So mobs are free to do whatever they want.” The two cases from Lahore, the second-largest city ...Continue reading... [...]



Urban Mix-and-Match Religion Didn't Start with Nick Cannon

Why this 'new spirituality' is really just old-fashioned syncretism.

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After waking up in the middle of the night to the high-pitched cries of my sweet daughter, I rolled out of bed to warm a bottle. With her snuggled closely in my arms, I reached for my iPhone and noticed that I had received a text message from one of the other pastors at my church. It was a link to a recent interview with the rapper, actor, film producer, and social media phenomenon Nick Cannon.

As a pastor in the inner city, I often listen to interviews and podcasts on urban stations so I can stay up to date on some of the prevailing thoughts that influence inner-city culture. With millions of social media followers, Nick Cannon has a cult-like following that adheres to his business advice, wisdom, and insight like a modern day prophet. After placing the baby down, I popped in my headphones and listened to the entrepreneur open up on a wide range of issues including his failed marriage with Mariah Carey, his new NCredible headphones, and even his belief in God.

Cannon, the son of the late televangelist James Cannon, was asked about his eccentric dress and specifically the reason he dons a diamond-studded turban. He mentioned that he wore the garb for religious significance. He'd been studying different religions and cultures, and while he affirmed his Christian roots, he'd become greatly influenced by the teachings of the Nation of Islam, The Moorish Science Temple, and a plethora of other mystical religions.

Cannon goes on to mention that Christianity was his first language but that he is now fluent in a range of different spiritualities as well. As I listened intently, it became clear that his religious worldview was based on a combination of Christian, Islamic, and Moorish thought which frames his unique, personal ...

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