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John Perkins: I Wish I Had Done More to Help Poor White People
An excerpt from ‘Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win.’
When my family and a team from our ministry moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1972, we purchased several buildings, including a rundown house in one of the roughest and poorest neighborhoods in town. The old house was very big, and we called it the Samaritan Inn. The idea was for it to be a temporary place to stay for people who were visiting from out of town or didn’t have a place to live or were stuck because their car broke down. It wasn’t so much a shelter as it was a guesthouse.
We figured we would mostly reach out to black folks in the area, and we did. But the first people to come to the Samaritan Inn were a white, dirt-poor couple from out of town whose vehicle had broken down. They had no other place to go.
In New Hebron, Mississippi, I grew up around poor whites who felt they were better than blacks and expected us to move out of their way when they were walking down the street. They experienced all of the advantages of being white. They were oppressors, and common knowledge through the years was that in rural areas, poor whites sought to become sheriffs, cops, or guards in order to have some power over society. So we did not have a great relationship with them. At the time, I didn’t realize these whites had also been damaged and that oppressing blacks gave them a sense of worth—a twisted sense of value, no doubt, but in their eyes, value nonetheless.
When our poor white guests arrived at the Samaritan Inn, I was caught off guard. I wanted to treat them like many people want to treat the poor: I was going to buy and prepare them food and even wash their dishes. Such acts of kindness would have made me feel good but also might have made them feel as if they couldn’t think for themselves. ...
A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician
I felt distant from God until I witnessed a medical miracle.
My eyes darted to the tracing on the cardiac monitor. The gaps between my patient’s heartbeats lengthened. The plodding rhythm meant that blood, oozing from beneath his fractured skull, was crowding out his brain.
He was 22, and someone had bludgeoned him with a baseball bat in his sleep. His wife, lying beside him, died during the assault. His four-year-old son witnessed everything.
I thrived on the urgency of the emergency room—the chaos, the opportunities to reach people in dire moments. Yet as I placed my patient’s central venous line, I struggled to focus. I thought of his four-year-old son in footed pajamas, and the images of brutality he might never forget.
As I wrestled with these thoughts, paramedics rushed in with a 15-year-old boy dying from a gunshot wound. They were performing compressions to force oxygen-rich blood to his brain. In a blur of adrenaline, I grasped a scalpel and surgically explored his chest. I cupped his still heart and searched its borders with trembling fingers. When my hand plunged into a yawning hole, I caught my breath. The bullet had torn open his aorta. We could not save him.
As I fought tears, my trauma pager blared yet again. Another 15-year-old boy. Another gunshot wound. This time, the bullet had struck the boy’s head.
I tried to compose myself. The least I could do, I thought, was to mend his wound, clean him, and give his family a final glimpse of the boy they loved.
Midway through my work, the door opened. I raised my eyes in time to see his mother walk into the room. She froze, howled, and crumpled to the floor. I tugged the bloodied gloves from my hands, rushed from the room, and hid my face as I cried.
Cut Off from God
The next morning, as I finished my shift, ...
Missionaries Dreamed Of This Muslim Moment. Trump’s Travel Ban May End It.
Why American evangelicals see Islam so differently.
While federal judges and lawyers argue over whether President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on travel amounts to a “Muslim ban,” evangelical experts on Muslim missions express concerns over how popular the proposal is in America’s pews.
The Pew Research Center has found that self-identified white evangelicals were twice as likely as Americans overall to support the policy (76% vs. 38%), which temporarily halts the refugee program and restricts entry from several Muslim-majority countries. They are also, according to PRRI, the only religious group in America that has grown more supportive of a “Muslim ban.”
As Muslim migrants flee unstable and violent homelands, the mission field that was once half a world away is making its way to more and more American communities.
Last year, the United States admitted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, a record high.
“This is the best case we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims,” according to David Cashin, intercultural studies professor at Columbia International University and an expert in Muslim-Christian relations.
But survey after survey indicates that white evangelicals are the least excited about their new neighbors. They show the highest levels of support for restrictions on Muslim immigration and the most skepticism toward Muslim Americans.
“Because of these attitudes,” Cashin said, “we could miss the opportunity.”
White evangelicals are also the least likely to know a Muslim, and their views often conflict with how Muslims in the US and abroad describe their beliefs.
“I think there is some fear on behalf of a lot of evangelicals,” said Michael Urton, associate director ...Continue reading...
Moral Relativism Is Dead
Why outrage culture is good news for the gospel.
Elvis. Tupac. The ivory-billed woodpecker. Sometimes it’s hard to let go and acknowledge when a celebrity or a species has left us. Christians find it particularly hard to come to terms with the passing of the “moral relativist.” Yes, there is the occasional reported sighting in the local university’s philosophy wing or at the late-night dorm room’s impromptu debate club. But compared to this creature’s former range and numbers, they’re all but extinct in the wild.
Many Christian preachers, apologists, evangelists, and writers have taken heed of the declining numbers, but decades of pitting “Christian worldview” against “moral relativism” left habits that are hard to break. You’ll still hear Christians assume that the reason for so much rampant immorality in our culture is because people reject objective right and wrong. Many still assume that discussions over morals are likely to end with, “Well, that’s your truth, but I have mine.” Make no mistake: Disputes over morality are as strong as they have ever been. But if we view these disputes through the lens of “moral relativism,” it’s not only our understanding of our culture that will suffer. Our evangelistic witness will also be severely blunted.
If anything, today we live in an era of constant moral indignation. This magazine has repeatedly observed and lamented the modern outrage culture, especially in its most performative social media outlets (see “Slow Down, You Hashtag Too Fast”). Recent CT cover stories looked at the American outrage culture’s similarities with global shame cultures (“The Return of Shame,” and its tendency toward ...
They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Drinks
In the Muslim world, Christians have a complicated relationship with alcohol.
The deadliest incident faced by the persecuted church last Christmas wasn’t radical Islamists. It was alcohol.
Liquor mixed with aftershave killed about 50 people at Christmas parties in a Pakistani village, and sickened about 100 more.
In Pakistan, as in many Muslim-majority nations where Shari‘ah law forbids drinking, alcohol is closely identified with Christianity. The nation’s primary alcohol producer, for example, riffs on the Bible in advertisements. Founded in 1860 by the British, Murree Brewery’s slogan, “Eat, drink, and be Murree,” echoes the repeated biblical idiom for short-term pleasures.
Perhaps as surprising as the existence of a Pakistani brewery is the fact that 12 Muslims were among the victims of the fatal Christmas parties. But in 2007, then–Murree CEO Minnoo Bhandara told The Telegraph that 99 percent of his customers are Muslims. And in the Middle East, alcohol sales increased 72 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to market research.
Still, in most Muslim countries only Christians may buy or consume alcohol. But not all do. Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, estimates that about half of Pakistani Christian men drink. Roman Catholics are slightly more inclined; Protestants less so. But the women of both branches of Christianity, he says, are fully opposed.
Chowdhry, an evangelical, believes alcohol is licit for the Christian; but in deference to his wife, he does not drink. Common arguments in Pakistan will feel familiar to Americans: Alcohol will lead you to sin; it alters your consciousness before God; and the wine of the Bible was weaker than today’s.
But the main issue for Chowdhry is poverty. Prohibition is coupled ...Continue reading...
Cover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church
Some visitors claim to be healed. Others claim to receive direct words from God. Is it 'real'--or dangerous?
I have seen a man dance holding a translucent scarf, the fabric billowing around his spinning form like a garment made of stars. I have prayed for strangers’ healing from high-blood pressure and unspecified neurological disorders. I have wept with salt-faced abandon as four women prayed over me; I have walked through a “fire tunnel”; I have seen a woman bob in Hasidic fashion over the Bible app on her smartphone.
I experienced all this at the increasingly famous (and, to some, infamous) Bethel Church, and I did so as an evangelical Christian of Reformed persuasion. My parents named me for the Welsh pastor-theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones. My father is a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Jonathan Edwards is one of my guiding lights, Wheaton College is my alma mater, and I attend a Presbyterian church in Toronto where I have never heard anyone speak or pray in tongues.
Yet Bethel has been on my mind since a friend prayed for my healing at a campground in Wisconsin in 2010. She introduced me to the teachings of Bethel’s senior pastor, Bill Johnson, and gave me a few of his books. As Bethel grows, you might very well hear from a few people in your congregation who have traveled to Redding to find out if Bethel is “real”—and who come back proclaiming that revival is under way.
When I set out for Bethel Church—a hub of a global revival movement—I half-expected to discover a rogue organization of hucksters intent on subverting the faith. And I half-expected to discover a community of believers more earnest and devoted to God than anyone I’d ever met. In the end, what I discovered in Redding, California, didn’t fit either narrative neatly.
Bethel Church sits ...Continue reading...
The Real History of the Crusades
Fri, 06 May 2005 13:00:00 PDT
A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.
With the possible exception of Umberto Eco, medieval scholars are not used to getting much media attention. We tend to be a quiet lot (except during the annual bacchanalia we call the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of all places), poring over musty chronicles and writing dull yet meticulous studies that few will read. Imagine, then, my surprise when within days of the September 11 attacks, the Middle Ages suddenly became relevant.
As a Crusade historian, I found the tranquil solitude of the ivory tower shattered by journalists, editors, and talk-show hosts on tight deadlines eager to get the real scoop. What were the Crusades?, they asked. When were they? Just how insensitive was President George W. Bush for using the word crusade in his remarks? With a few of my callers I had the distinct impression that they already knew the answers to their questions, or at least thought they did. What they really wanted was an expert to say it all back to them. For example, I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn't the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades' brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren't the Crusades really to blame?
Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so. In his various video performances, he never fails to describe the American war against terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 ...
'This Is Us' Captures the Drama of Unfolding Redemption
Even in its most tear-jerking moments, the runaway NBC hit affirms our eternal hope.
Caution, many spoilers ahead.
If you haven’t seen NBC’s smash hit show This Is Us, it’s likely that you’ve at least heard about it (and equally likely that the person who told you about it cried a little during the explanation). The emotionally-charged drama has captivated viewers nationwide, many of whom have reverted to the old-fashioned, pre-“binge-watching” habit of anticipating a new episode each week. America has fallen in love with This Is Us.
The show follows Jack Pearson, his wife, Rebecca, and their kids: Kevin, Kate, and adoptee Randall. In each episode, viewers see the beginnings of the Pearson family, learning about Jack and Rebecca’s early marriage and the kids’ childhoods. Simultaneously, viewers discover how the kids are handling life as young adults and what has happened to them and their parents 36 years after their births. The show has many strengths, but this subtle time-hopping element is one of its most charming features.
Last September’s pilot opened with the impending birth of the Pearsons’ triplets—an event that, I imagine, was part novelty, part nostalgia for many audience members. I doubt many viewers gave birth to triplets themselves in 1980, but those details feel irrelevant; if babies represent anything, it’s hope, and tripling the number of infants only raises the stakes of potential.
As Jack declares just before his babies are delivered, “I’m going to need everyone… to believe me when I say that only good things are going to happen today.” Whether or not you’ve brought a baby (or two, or three) into this world, there is a desperate resolve in his voice that rings true for all of us—for ...Continue reading...
Is Suicide Unforgivable?
Question: What is the biblical hope and comfort we can offer a suicide victim's family and friends? —name withheld
People who ask this question seek biblical grounds for giving hope to the kin of believers who take their own lives. The burden of proof, I should think, lies not with those who offer the solace of grace but with those who deny it.
Will Jesus welcome home a believer who died at her own hands? I believe he will, tenderly and lovingly.
My biblical basis? It is the hope-giving promise of Romans 8:32, that neither life nor death can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
How can I trust in this promise and then deny its comfort to people who doubly grieve for brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who in horrible moments of despair decided to end their lives? I believe that Jesus died not only for the sins of us all but for all of our sins, including the forgotten ones, including suicide--if indeed he reckons it always as sin.
The Bible does not seem to condemn suicide. There are, I think, six accounts of suicide in the Bible, the most notorious being those of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5) and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Others are Abimelech (Judges 9:50-54), Samson (Judges 16:23-31), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20). As far as I can tell, none of the six is explicitly condemned for taking his life.
Some say that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person who did it could not have repented of doing it. But all of us commit sins that we are too spiritually cloddish to recognize for the sins they are. And we all die with sins not named and repented of.
When I was a child, I heard compassionate people comfort the loved ones of a suicide victim with the assurance that anyone who commits suicide is insane at that moment. So, being mad, a suicide victim would not be held accountable by God, despite ...Continue reading...
What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’
A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.
Most Christians agree that caring for the poor and marginalized is a central tenet of the gospel. And what better passage to reinforce this principle than Matthew 25:40, where Jesus commands us to care for “the least of these.” Many of us readily assume that “the least of these” refers to the poor and marginalized. But are those who Jesus is really talking about?
That question might seem trivial, but its importance can hardly be overstated. After all, Jesus ties our eternal destiny to how we treat “the least of these brothers of mine.” In the broader context of the passage (Matt. 25:31–46), the sheep and goats represent salvation criteria—who is in and who is out. It’s a stark picture, with the only outcomes being salvation or damnation. In a breathtaking scene, the Son of Man sits on a heavenly throne surrounded by angels and renders his verdict: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46). One’s eternal security is tied to caring for “the least of these,” whoever they are.
Not Who You Think
Matthew 25 gives few clues as to who “the least of these” are. They’re described only as hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Building on paucity of information in the text, at least three possibilities have been proposed.
First, the “least of these” could be Jesus’ ethnic kin, the Jews—his “brothers.” This view assumes that “all the nations” (v. 32) are Gentiles who are judged based on their treatment of Jews during the tribulation. A newsletter I once received from a messianic Jewish organization broadened the ...Continue reading...
Directions: You're Divorced—Can You Remarry?
Q: The New Testament seems to support divorce for a narrow range of reasons, but does it support remarriage?
—K.A.Miller, Wheaton, Illinois
A: There are three New Testament passages that bear most directly on the subject of divorce and remarriage. I suggest that when they are carefully considered, they prove to be both more demanding and less restrictive on the question of divorce and remarriage than evangelicals have often acknowledged.
Luke 16:18 is a very bold, straightforward saying that seems to settle the issue quickly: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (all quotations from the NRSV). Both divorce and remarriage are just plain wrong—right?
Almost all New Testament scholars agree that this saying is an abbreviation of a saying of Jesus that appears in its fuller form in Matthew 5:3132 in the Sermon on the Mount. After discussing his views contrasted with those in Judaism, Jesus remarks, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
It is noteworthy that Jesus clearly sees some circumstances that legitimize divorce. A marriage continues to be valid until one party dissolves the marriage through unfaithfulness. This so-called exception clause appears here in Matthew 5 and again in Matthew 19 but does not occur in either Mark or Luke.
In a similar passage in Mark 10:1112, Jesus widens the scope of the teaching to show that such dissolution may apply to the behavior ...
Top Ten Jesus Movies
They've been making films about the Son of God for over a century. Here's one man's list of those that ascend to the top of the cinematic pack.
Of the making of movies about Jesus, there is no end. In the first three months of this year alone: Son of Man, which casts a black man as Christ and sets his life in modern South Africa, got positive reviews at Sundance; the makers of Color of the Cross, which also casts a black man as Christ, established a website with trailers for their work-in-progress; and New Line Cinema announced that Oscar nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) will star as the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in a new movie about the Nativity, to be released in time for Christmas.
Some of this activity can be credited to The Passion of The Christ, which shattered box-office records and sparked interest in religious films when it came out in 2004. But movies about Jesus have always been popular, especially in times of heightened spiritual interest—the countercultural craze of the 1970s, the millennial anxiety of the late 1990s, etc.
No interpretation of the life of Christ can ever tell the full story. That is, indeed, one of the reasons we have four Gospels; each one paints a unique portrait of the Savior and emphasizes a different set of themes. Similarly, no mere movie about Jesus can capture the fullness of his divinity, or the fullness of his humanity, no matter how sincere its makers are; but the better films can help us to see a small part of the bigger picture.
This list is limited to those that focus mainly on Jesus' life story as told in the Gospels; thus, it does not include films about characters who are only peripherally connected to Jesus, such as Ben-Hur (1925, 1959). Also, because each film has its strengths and weaknesses, they are listed in simple chronological ...Continue reading...
Did Jesus Really Descend to Hell?
In the Apostles' Creed, there is a statement about Jesus descending into hell. Did he literally go there?—DEBRA BLACK, Alton, IllinoisEach Sunday, millions of Christians around the world recite the Apostles' Creed, including that statement:
"I believe that Jesus … descended into hell."
Yet a few years back at one Christian college, a series of chapel messages on the Apostles' Creed had to omit this item, because none of the 12 professors of Bible and theology believed it. Actually the statement is not found in the earliest form of the Apostles' Creed. It echoes Acts 2:31, and seems to be there simply to make the point that Jesus' death was real and complete. Jesus went to hades, which in the Greek signifies the world of the departed—paradise for some, pain for others. When the Apostles' Creed took its English form in the sixteenth century, "hell" meant hades as such, rather than the final state of the lost (which Jesus called gehenna), as it always is today. So, should those who accept the Bible as their supreme authority for belief hold to the Creed's doctrine on this point?
Scripture tells us very little about Jesus' state between his death and resurrection. The most commonly cited biblical passages are Acts 2:31 ; Ephesians 4:8-10 ; 1 Peter 4:6; and, most importantly, 1 Peter 3:18-20. Ephesians 4 is likely a reference to the Incarnation, and 1 Peter 4:6 could apply to any preaching of the gospel. But numerous interpretations of 1 Peter 3:18-20 exist. Some say the 1 Peter 3 passage should not be taken literally—that it is symbolic, conveying in graphic form the idea that redemption is universal in its extent. This, however, involves a more spiritualized hermeneutic than usually practiced by evangelicals.
Others contend that ...Continue reading...
Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon
The leading Christian scholar on gender dysphoria defines the terms—and gives the church a way forward.
I still recall one of my first meetings with Sara. Sara is a Christian who was born male and named Sawyer by her parents. As an adult, Sawyer transitioned to female.
Sara would say transitioning—adopting a cross-gender identity—took 25 years. It began with facing the conflict she experienced between her biology and anatomy as male, and her inward experience as female. While still Sawyer, she would grow her hair out, wear light makeup, and dress in feminine attire from time to time. She also met with what seemed like countless mental-health professionals as well as several pastors. For Sawyer, now Sara, transitioning eventually meant using hormones and undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
Sara would say she knew at a young age—around 5—that she was really a girl. Her parents didn’t know what to do. They hoped their son was just different from most other boys. Then they hoped it was a phase Sawyer would get through. Later, two pastors told them that their son’s gender identity conflicts were a sign of willful disobedience. They tried to discipline their son, to no avail.
Sara opened our first meeting by saying, “I may have sinned in the decisions I made; I’m not sure I did the right thing. At the time, I felt excruciating distress. I thought I would take my life. What would you have me do?” The exchange was disarming.
I have worked with people like Sara for more than 16 years. Although most of my published research and clinical practice is in the area of sexual identity, I regularly receive referrals to meet with people who experience conflicts like Sara’s. The research institute I direct, housed at Regent University in Virginia, published the first study ...Continue reading...
The Most Astonishing Easter Miracle
It’s not that Jesus rose bodily from the grave.
When I visit a church, I notice things. The number of blacks, Asians, and Latinos in relation to whites. Whether women are on the platform. How people are dressed. The quality of the cars in the parking lot. I notice whether the congregation is old or young, and assume that if it’s young, it’s vibrant. As an Anglican, I notice the order of worship and naturally look down my nose at all that is liturgically incorrect. I also notice how much paper is wasted in thick worship bulletins, how much empty air is being heated needlessly above the worshipers, and other signs of environmental friendliness.
I do this because I’ve been catechized to notice all these big and little differences. I’ve been catechized not by one group but by many different groups, each with its own identity and mission. It’s a phenomenon we might call identity churchmanship.
This is a Christian version of identity politics, which has come under severe criticism as of late. But before we join the chorus of critics, we are wise to remember the value of identity politics. Groups that feel oppressed or simply misunderstood find comfort and strength in banding together around their common identity. Many scholars consider the black identity politics of the 1960s as the beginning of this wave, and it was key to the success of the civil rights movement. Black identity politics gave African Americans the courage to work together for their rights. Since that time, we’ve seen identity politics play out in terms of gender, sexual orientation, generations, disability, and many other identities.
My late brother, Steven, for example, was blind from birth. Sometime in the ’90s he joined what was a blind identity politics group, with ...Continue reading...