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While the DC-area congregation celebrates getting to move forward, critics continue to accuse leadership of a liberal takeover. The year-long legal fight between McLean Bible Church and a faction who accused leaders including David Platt of a “theological takeover” has come to an end.On Friday, a Fairfax, Virginia, court dismissed a lawsuit from a group of current and former members of the Washington DC-area megachurch, who contested a June 2021 elder election for allegedly violating church bylaws. Pastors announced the outcome across its locations on Sunday.“I’m incredibly grateful for the courage of our church in staying together and persevering, in pursuing peace in ways that required numerous steps of faith, and for trusting God all the way through to the actual dismissal of the lawsuit,” said Wade Burnett, a lead pastor at MBC.Earlier this month, the church requested the case be thrown out after redoing the election at the center of the legal challenge. Burnett said the group that filed the suit would not agree to meet for reconciliation or to discuss a dismissal.A lawyer for the plaintiffs had said MBC’s response “fails to be even a pretense of a good-faith offer to resolve the case” and called it “a continuation of the Board of Elders’ determination to avoid transparency and accountability at all costs.”Members of Save McLean Bible Church, a Facebook page for critics of current MBC leadership, have alleged a Southern Baptist takeover of the 60-year-old nondenominational congregation and liberal drift in its teachings, pinned to Platt coming on staff in 2017.They suggested the process for last summer’s elder election—as well as the recent redo—were designed to uphold selections aligned with current leadership. “To no surprise to anyone, the elders put ...Continue reading...
A news report found that less than ten percent of evangelicals want shorter sermons from their pastors and nearly a third want more in-depth teaching.
The singer allegedly groomed students at a Kentucky church through back rubs and unaccompanied sleepovers, according to an investigation by GRACE.Three men reported that Christian musician Chris Rice took advantage of a youth ministry culture that normalized massages and sleepovers to groom them as teenagers more than 20 years ago.An investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) found their stories credible, including an account of “explicitly sexual contact.” The GRACE report, made public this week, focused on Rice’s involvement at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Kentucky during the height of his music career in the late 1990s and early 2000s.“Rice’s role as a worship leader and a spiritual teaching leader at one or more retreats created a mentor, non-threatening role that reduces the defenses of those under that person’s authority,” the investigators wrote.Young men looking for a mentor in the music industry say they found the singer was more interested in touching them than talking about songwriting.Rice first landed on the CCM scene with the Christmas song “Welcome to Our World” and was nominated for six Dove awards for his 1997 debut album Deep Enough to Dream. He was close friends with Brad Waller, a former Tates Creek pastor who was the subject of a 2018–2019 investigation by GRACE.Waller had a habit of massaging students’ feet and admitted there was a sexual element to his behavior. In a statement in 2020, the church said the singer’s friendship with Waller allowed Rice to develop close relationships with several students at Tates Creek. The Waller investigation led a former student to come forward with allegations against Rice, and the church launched another inquiry.The former student described how Rice—who was in his late 30s at the time—would ...Continue reading...
The PCA takes up the case of a church leader who responded to sexual harassment claims with a defamation lawsuit against his accusers. As the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) discusses its response to abuse at its annual General Assembly this week, a case involving a pastor suing former congregants over allegations against him is making its way through civil court and the denomination’s own system.Dan Herron, a PCA pastor—or teaching elder—accused of sexual harassment, says the women making claims against him are lying and has sued them for defamation. Several presbyteries have passed measures requesting the PCA intervene.“For an accused teaching elder to sue his accusers in a civil court—it is ugly,” said Steve Marusich, a pastor in the Central Indiana Presbytery who has been closely involved in the presbytery’s investigation.The country got a glimpse of defamation cases around abuse allegations with the recent Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial, where the actor accused his former spouse of defamation over an op-ed that implied he had abused her.After the ruling awarding Depp $10 million in damages, some legal experts worried that more abusers would use defamation as a strategy to silence victims. The threat of such lawsuits could discourage victims from coming forward.While church disputes don’t usually turn into legal fights, Herron is among several pastors and ministry leaders who have filed defamation suits in recent years. These kinds of cases are costly and often drag out for years, grinding down victims and denominations trying to separately enforce church discipline. Civil proceedings during a church trial mean that witnesses in the church trial might be afraid of testifying for fear of being sued, or of other consequences in the civil trial. Civil cases also require extensive evidence gathering ...Continue reading...
The PCA has been a part of the NAE since the denomination's founding, but has always fought about it.At its annual meeting on Wednesday, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to leave the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which it has been a part of since the denomination’s founding in 1973.Presbyterian elders voting for the breakup cited the NAE’s increasing political advocacy, which sometimes conflicted with more conservative Presbyterian churches. Elders mentioned the NAE’s advocacy on climate change, immigration, the death penalty, and COVID-19, among other issues.Elders who wanted to remain with the NAE argued the groups had a historical bond and that in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, churches across denominations needed to work together on issues of common cause. The vote to leave was about 60 percent to 40 percent.The NAE represents 39 denominations, from Free Methodist USA to the Foursquare Church, as well as nonprofits, schools, and individual congregations. It was founded in 1942 as a response to the mainline National Council of Churches and the fundamentalist Presbyterian Carl McIntire’s American Council of Christian Churches. In representing evangelicals in various spheres, it issues statements on political issues, files Supreme Court briefs on church-related cases, and generally connects evangelical groups to work together.The head of the NAE since 2020, Walter Kim, is a member of the PCA and a teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. (He is also on CT’s board.)“It is a little awkward,” said David Coffin, a PCA pastor who supported the measure to leave, about Kim leading the NAE. An NAE spokesperson said the group does not comment on denominational decisions.Roy Taylor, ...Continue reading...
The singer allegedly groomed students at a Kentucky church through back rubs and unaccompanied sleepovers, according to an investigation by GRACE.Three men reported that Christian musician Chris Rice took advantage of a youth ministry culture that normalized massages and sleepovers to groom them as teenagers more than 20 years ago.An investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) found their stories credible, including an account of “explicitly sexual contact.” The GRACE report, made public this week, focused on Rice’s involvement at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Kentucky during the height of his music career in the late 1990s and early 2000s.“Rice’s role as a worship leader and a spiritual teaching leader at one or more retreats created a mentor, non-threatening role that reduces the defenses of those under that person’s authority,” the investigators wrote.Young men looking for a mentor in the music industry say they found the singer was more interested in touching them than talking about songwriting.Rice first landed on the CCM scene with the Christmas song “Welcome to Our World” and was nominated for six Dove awards for his 1997 debut album Deep Enough to Dream. He was close friends with Brad Waller, a former Tates Creek pastor who was the subject of a 2018–2019 investigation by GRACE.Waller had a habit of massaging students’ feet and admitted there was a sexual element to his behavior. In a statement in 2020, the church said the singer’s friendship with Waller allowed Rice to develop close relationships with several students at Tates Creek. The Waller investigation led a former student to come forward with allegations against Rice, and the church launched another inquiry.The former student described how Rice—who was in his late 30s at the time—would ...Continue reading...
The greatest gift my parents passed on was a lived-out faith. I want to do the same for my daughter.Before our daughter, Hildegaard, was born, my husband and I discussed the weight of raising a pastor’s kid.We wrestled with the fact that kids who grow up in ministry are often placed under extra scrutiny—and many end up bitter with the church, walking away from the Christian faith altogether.I am a pastor’s kid myself. I know firsthand the privilege it is to be steeped in the truth of the gospel and the rhythms of church life.But I also know the constant, albeit unintended, pressure to look right even when you’re not all right—to feign righteousness instead of being honest about your struggles and flaws. In the background, there was always that verse in 1 Timothy, the one about pastors being able to manage their families. My siblings and I knew that our actions could cost my dad his job.Hilde will inevitably have similar experiences to untangle from growing up in the front row at church.But one thing missing from the current conversation about the need to deconstruct and sort out our church baggage is the good of an evangelical upbringing—the good of being raised in the church, the privilege of having Christian parents, and the beauty of knowing the gospel before we could walk.A few months back, I asked my Christian Twitter followers to share which aspects of their faith they want to repeat with their children. I received over a hundred replies, and many admitted that—although their own relationship with the church may currently be tenuous—they knew they wanted their children to experience Christian community, to have a grasp of Scripture, and to be able to talk honestly about grief, faith, and doubt.What I noticed in their responses was that many ...Continue reading...
The PCA has been a part of the NAE since the denomination's founding, but has always fought about it.At its annual meeting on Wednesday, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to leave the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which it has been a part of since the denomination’s founding in 1973.Presbyterian elders voting for the breakup cited the NAE’s increasing political advocacy, which sometimes conflicted with more conservative Presbyterian churches. Elders mentioned the NAE’s advocacy on climate change, immigration, the death penalty, and COVID-19, among other issues.Elders who wanted to remain with the NAE argued the groups had a historical bond and that in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, churches across denominations needed to work together on issues of common cause. The vote to leave was about 60 percent to 40 percent.The NAE represents 39 denominations, from Free Methodist USA to the Foursquare Church, as well as nonprofits, schools, and individual congregations. It was founded in 1942 as a response to the mainline National Council of Churches and the fundamentalist Presbyterian Carl McIntire’s American Council of Christian Churches. In representing evangelicals in various spheres, it issues statements on political issues, files Supreme Court briefs on church-related cases, and generally connects evangelical groups to work together.The head of the NAE since 2020, Walter Kim, is a member of the PCA and a teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. (He is also on CT’s board.)“It is a little awkward,” said David Coffin, a PCA pastor who supported the measure to leave, about Kim leading the NAE. An NAE spokesperson said the group does not comment on denominational decisions.Roy Taylor, ...Continue reading...
Among Ukrainian exiles, I found miraculous perseverance in the absence of deliverance.Six months before I flew to Poland to report on Ukrainian refugees, a truck hit my mother-in-law, killing her instantly. Six weeks before I flew to Poland, I discovered I was 23 weeks pregnant.A lot was on my mind when I boarded the plane to Warsaw. I had just started a new job. My husband’s grief was still raw, and I sometimes heard him crying in his sleep, dreaming vivid memories of his mother. Neither my husband nor I felt ready to become parents in less than three months. And there I was, unborn child tumbling in my belly, his rolls and jabs as turbulent as my thoughts and emotions. I tried to pray then, but all I could muster was: “Oh Lord, how I need you.”In times of war and hardship, we seek stories of extraordinary courage and resilience. As a Christian journalist, I wasn’t sure what to expect in my reporting, but I knew what I hoped to find: powerful testimonies, inspiring images of the gospel at work, quote-worthy statements of faith.I found all of those things in Poland as I visited churches, refugee shelters, train stations, and border crossings. It wasn’t hard to find heartwarming stories of the faithful: One Ukrainian pastor in Zabki, a suburb of Warsaw, invited more than 10 refugees to stay with his family in their tiny home. The day I visited his church shelter, Ukrainian refugee children gathered on the steps to sing a sweet Ukrainian hymn about God’s protection, forgiveness, and mercy.I also saw giant steps of faith. Almost every church in Poland is helping Ukrainian refugees, but most can only offer short-term stays. The Church for the City in Krakow realized they needed a longer-term strategy. At first, the church began praying about hosting 700 refugees for six months. ...Continue reading...
The PCA takes up the case of a church leader who responded to sexual harassment claims with a defamation lawsuit against his accusers. As the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) discusses its response to abuse at its annual General Assembly this week, a case involving a pastor suing former congregants over allegations against him is making its way through civil court and the denomination’s own system.Dan Herron, a PCA pastor—or teaching elder—accused of sexual harassment, says the women making claims against him are lying and has sued them for defamation. Several presbyteries have passed measures requesting the PCA intervene.“For an accused teaching elder to sue his accusers in a civil court—it is ugly,” said Steve Marusich, a pastor in the Central Indiana Presbytery who has been closely involved in the presbytery’s investigation.The country got a glimpse of defamation cases around abuse allegations with the recent Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial, where the actor accused his former spouse of defamation over an op-ed that implied he had abused her.After the ruling awarding Depp $10 million in damages, some legal experts worried that more abusers would use defamation as a strategy to silence victims. The threat of such lawsuits could discourage victims from coming forward.While church disputes don’t usually turn into legal fights, Herron is among several pastors and ministry leaders who have filed defamation suits in recent years. These kinds of cases are costly and often drag out for years, grinding down victims and denominations trying to separately enforce church discipline. Civil proceedings during a church trial mean that witnesses in the church trial might be afraid of testifying for fear of being sued, or of other consequences in the civil trial. Civil cases also require extensive evidence gathering ...Continue reading...
Three 19th-century scandals led to the protection of women and their unborn children.This article is the first of a four-part series based on the upcoming book by Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas, The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022.Pastors falling into sordid sin and trying to cover it up. That’s a recent news story and a 19th-century one as well. Americans then expected pastors to be trustworthy. When they were not, and even used abortion as a cover-up, newspaper readers groaned and said, “There oughta be a law”—and soon there were. Three clergy-propelled abortions in particular stand out for their legal impact.The first saga, in 1820, starred Ammi Rogers, a middle-aged Yale graduate and Episcopal clergyman in Connecticut. He seduced Asenath Smith, the 21-year-old granddaughter of a dying church member, and then had her drink a potion that would purportedly cause an abortion—but it did not. The next step was his use of a “tool” of some kind, which caused bleeding, intense pain, and then delivery of a dead child. That led to Rogers’s arrest and a trial that displayed, according to The Norwich Courier, the clergyman’s “baseness and cold calculating depravity of heart.”In those days, jury members often proceeded by “common law,” not a specific statute. Everyone knew abortion was wrong, and books by doctors had noticed and attacked the growing threat as more young people moved to cities away from familial supervision. One doctor, John Bums, criticized those who viewed “abortion as different than murder,” and another, Dr. John Beck, those who “stifle the birth in the womb.”Jurors, though, did not have clear evidence for a verdict of murder, which was a hanging offense, so they ...Continue reading...
Survivors sensed a godly shift as messengers approved plans and their new president put sexual predators “on notice.” Southern Baptists sang slow and low, “Lord, have mercy on me,” in the cavernous meeting hall where they apologized for their failure to care for survivors and approved long-awaited measures designed to keep predatory pastors and irresponsible churches out of the convention.Tiffany Thigpen attended the annual meeting in Anaheim, California, with fellow abuse survivors Jules Woodson and Debbie Vasquez­—their names familiar to many Southern Baptist pastors from news coverage, social media, and last month’s abuse report.After her 20 years of fighting and advocating, Thigpen finally saw a shift. She described “God on the move” in the denomination where survivors had been disbelieved, vilified, and ignored over and over.This time, Southern Baptist leaders named them from the stage of the 12,000-person gathering to applause. The hall included a special room for survivors, staffed by a team of trauma-informed counselors.Attendees spoke to them, thanked them from coming, and tucked teal ribbons in their nametags as a sign of support. And, most importantly, the majority voted in favor of abuse reform and in solidarity with survivors every chance they got.Thigpen said when the messengers—delegates from Southern Baptist churches—raised their ballots in the air to approve recommendations resulting from last month’s abuse investigation, it felt like those seated in the rows of chairs around them were looking to them as if to say, “This vote is for you.”“It’s a victory in so many ways, because people’s hearts changed, and that’s something only God can do,” said Thigpen, who was groomed and attacked by her pastor over 30 years ago only to ...Continue reading...
Survivors sensed a godly shift as messengers approved plans and their new president put sexual predators “on notice.” Southern Baptists sang slow and low, “Lord, have mercy on me,” in the cavernous meeting hall where they apologized for their failure to care for survivors and approved long-awaited measures designed to keep predatory pastors and irresponsible churches out of the convention.Tiffany Thigpen attended the annual meeting in Anaheim, California, with fellow abuse survivors Jules Woodson and Debbie Vasquez­—their names familiar to many Southern Baptist pastors from news coverage, social media, and last month’s abuse report.After her 20 years of fighting and advocating, Thigpen finally saw a shift. She described “God on the move” in the denomination where survivors had been disbelieved, vilified, and ignored over and over.This time, Southern Baptist leaders named them from the stage of the 12,000-person gathering to applause. The hall included a special room for survivors, staffed by a team of trauma-informed counselors.Attendees spoke to them, thanked them from coming, and tucked teal ribbons in their nametags as a sign of support. And, most importantly, the majority voted in favor of abuse reform and in solidarity with survivors every chance they got.Thigpen said when the messengers—delegates from Southern Baptist churches—raised their ballots in the air to approve recommendations resulting from last month’s abuse investigation, it felt like those seated in the rows of chairs around them were looking to them as if to say, “This vote is for you.”“It’s a victory in so many ways, because people’s hearts changed, and that’s something only God can do,” said Thigpen, who was groomed and attacked by her pastor over 30 years ago only to ...Continue reading...
Even without a decision on whether to disfellowship Rick Warren's megachurch, Southern Baptists are left wondering about where a denomination of independent churches draws its boundary lines. Retiring megachurch pastor Rick Warren stood up among a crowd of Southern Baptists to address the convention for what could be his last time. The 68-year-old leader referred to his remarks as both a “love letter” to the denomination and his “dying words.”“Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues,” Warren asked, “or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”Last year, some claimed Warren’s Saddleback Church no longer belongs in the convention and proposed ousting the biggest church in the SBC for ordaining female pastors. The popular preacher and author has since named as his successor a leader whose wife holds a teaching pastor position.The credentials committee—the Southern Baptist body tasked with recommending whether to disfellowship a particular church—ended up not making a decision about Warren’s church, whose main campus is just a 30-minute drive from where the denomination gathered in Anaheim this week.But the discussion around Saddleback raised questions that extend beyond the California megachurch and beyond the annual meeting: What is a pastor? And what makes a church Southern Baptist?The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), the statement of faith adopted by the SBC in 2000, addresses gender roles in church leadership: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”But the credentials committee concluded that it wasn’t clear if the statement restricted women from any position doing pastoral work or holding a pastoral title, or if it just applied to the senior pastor, chair Linda Cooper told the 2022 convention.And that ...Continue reading...
Instructions for publishers.Dear Publisher,Each year, Christianity Today honors a set of outstanding books encompassing a variety of subjects and genres. The CT Book Awards will be announced in December at christianitytoday.com. They also will be featured prominently in the January/February 2023 issue of CT and promoted in several CT newsletters. (In addition, publishers will have the opportunity to participate in a marketing promotion organized by CT’s marketing team, complete with site banners and paid Facebook promotion.)Here are this year’s awards categories:1. Apologetics/Evangelism2a. Biblical Studies2b. Bible and Devotional3a. Children3b. Young Adults4. Christian Living/Spiritual Formation5. The Church/Pastoral Leadership6. Culture and the Arts7. Fiction8. History/Biography9. Marriage and Family10. Missions/The Global Church11. Politics and Public Life12a. Theology (popular)12b. Theology (academic)Nominations:To be eligible for nomination, a book must be published between November 1, 2021 and October 31, 2022. We are looking for scholarly and popular-level works, and everything in between. A diverse panel of scholars, pastors, and other informed readers will evaluate the books.Publishers can nominate as many books as they wish, and each nominee can be submitted in multiple categories. There is a $40 entry fee for each title submitted in each category. To enter your nominations, please click on this link and follow the prompts. (Note: You will be directed to upload a PDF of each book you wish to nominate.)Finalist Books:If your book is chosen as one of the four finalists in any category, we will contact you and ask that you send a copy of the book directly to the four judges assigned to that category. We will provide mailing addresses ...Continue reading...
He died in prison serving an 18-year sentence for sexually assaulting four girls.Harry Thomas, who launched the longest-running Christian music festival in the United States and who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting four small girls, died in prison at age 78.There was no public announcement of his passing, nor a funeral or public memorial. According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the man once known as the “grandfather of Christian music festivals” died in April, with 13 years left on his sentence.Thomas did not cofound the first Christian music festival, as his organization sometimes claimed, but Creation was by far the most successful. It attracted tens and hundreds of thousands of teenagers to rural Pennsylvania every year to see the biggest acts in contemporary Christian music and commit themselves or recommit themselves to following Christ.But in 2018, Thomas pleaded guilty to raping one girl who was under the age of 10, touching the genitals of three more, and exposing himself to a fifth. The sexual assaults spanned a 16-year period and only stopped when one of the victims told her mother what had happened to her.A relative of one of the victims called him “a ravenous wolf” and “one of the greatest hypocrites—a child molester masquerading as a pastor.”Another, looking across a New Jersey courtroom at the pastor and one-time Christian radio DJ, said, “Harry Thomas, you will surely rot in hell.”Thomas wept as he was sentenced to 18 years in prison and said he was sorry for the pain he’d caused.“I agree with the Scriptures,” he said. “It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea. That’s what I deserve.”Before his arrest, Thomas was an ordained Baptist ...Continue reading...
A month after groundbreaking report, SBC creates another task force to oversee reform plans: “Without action, there isn't repentance.”With a wave of yellow ballots across a massive meeting hall in Anaheim, thousands of Southern Baptists voted to reform their denomination’s response to abuse, including adopting the database of abusers that survivors had long called for.Two survivors in attendance hugged and cried, and supporters of the measure rose in applause as the move passed at the SBC annual meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The much-anticipated vote came less than a month after the landmark investigative report into the Executive Committee (EC).While the EC kept a secret list of hundreds of abusers, the new “Ministry Check” website will keep a public record of credibly accused abusers who have served in Southern Baptist churches and entities. It will be maintained by an independent firm, which will take and evaluate submissions.A new task force, authorized by Thursday’s vote and to be appointed by the new SBC president, will coordinate the creation of the website as well as evaluating additional reforms over the next year.North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank, the head of the previous task force that oversaw the investigation, spoke forcefully about the need for the convention to act and called the two recommendations that passed “the bare minimum for what could be called reform.”“Without action, there isn’t repentance,” said Frank, who referred to the decision as a “Kairos moment” for the convention. “Today we will choose between humility or hubris ... we will choose between doing the best for the glory of God and the good of people or we will choose again business as usual.”There were a few efforts at limiting or dismissing the calls to reform, including messengers coming to the ...Continue reading...
Texas pastor beats Conservative Baptist Network–endorsed Tom Ascol in a runoff. As Bart Barber, a tall Texas pastor in a suit and tie, walked outside the convention hall in Anaheim, Southern Baptists stopped to congratulate their new president. They shook his hand, patted his back, and took pictures. When Barber put his name in the ring for SBC president, there was similar enthusiasm from friends who texted asking if he was excited to go for the position.But his feelings are heavier than that. He knows the baggage that comes from leadership—his predecessor Ed Litton was attacked by opponents enough that he didn’t seek a second year in office. It was the first time in 40 years that an SBC president didn’t get reelected for another term.“This is not the first difficult season serving Southern Baptists for me. Every way that I have served Southern Baptists has left scars,” said Barber, who fought as a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee to oust Paige Patterson over his response to abuse. His eyes got glassy during a Wednesday press conference, and his speech slowed to deliberate words. “But this family of churches is worth it. It’s worth enduring slings and arrows.”Though Barber doesn’t fit the SBC president mold—he pastors a rural congregation and not a megachurch—he’s active and vocal on Twitter, with nearly 17,000 following his folksy commentary and analysis. There, he told reporters, he’s seen how “the coarseness, the crass discourse that’s out there in the world has come into our family of churches.”He inherits ongoing denominational divides and the monumental task of moving abuse reform forward. His first priority is appointing the task force responsible for recommending next steps and creating ...Continue reading...
How a congregation in Baltimore started caring for an urban forest while another in Grand Rapids started counting dragonflies, damselflies, and white heelsplitter mussels.Calling is a funny thing.When Michael Martin accepted the pastor position at Stillmeadow Community Fellowship, he expected he’d preach, pray, counsel, marry, bury, baptize, and otherwise shepherd the flock at the Evangelical Free Church in Baltimore.He didn’t plan on becoming an urban forest keeper.“It took a minute,” he said, laughing at the evolution of his ministry.Gary Koning knows how that goes. What started as a pretty typical stream clean-up effort has completely altered his congregation at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.“From one thing it has grown to another and another,” said Koning, now an expert on watershed macroinvertebrates.The two men don’t know each other and don’t have any common connections. But in their separate churches, and their separate callings, they both found that being faithful in ministry meant taking care of nature. Christ’s call to “feed my sheep” required tending the patch of earth where their churches were standing. While not every congregation, or every Christian, has a literal garden to tend, Martin and Koning’s ministries offer examples of what the sometimes-abstract concept of “creation care” can look like taken seriously.Amid the pandemic, social upheaval, and generational shifts in church membership, both pastors have seen how the special relationship between God and nature, a communion reflected throughout Scripture, has given new life to their congregations.Martin couldn’t even see the 10 acres of woods next to the Evangelical Free Church when he came to Baltimore. Well, he could see them. But in a more important way, he couldn’t.“It was just ‘da ...Continue reading...
How a congregation in Baltimore started caring for an urban forest while another in Grand Rapids started counting dragonflies, damselflies, and white heelsplitter mussels.Calling is a funny thing.When Michael Martin accepted the pastor position at Stillmeadow Community Fellowship, he expected he’d preach, pray, counsel, marry, bury, baptize, and otherwise shepherd the flock at the Evangelical Free Church in Baltimore.He didn’t plan on becoming an urban forest keeper.“It took a minute,” he said, laughing at the evolution of his ministry.Gary Koning knows how that goes. What started as a pretty typical stream clean-up effort has completely altered his congregation at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.“From one thing it has grown to another and another,” said Koning, now an expert on watershed macroinvertebrates.The two men don’t know each other and don’t have any common connections. But in their separate churches, and their separate callings, they both found that being faithful in ministry meant taking care of nature. Christ’s call to “feed my sheep” required tending the patch of earth where their churches were standing. While not every congregation, or every Christian, has a literal garden to tend, Martin and Koning’s ministries offer examples of what the sometimes-abstract concept of “creation care” can look like taken seriously.Amid the pandemic, social upheaval, and generational shifts in church membership, both pastors have seen how the special relationship between God and nature, a communion reflected throughout Scripture, has given new life to their congregations.Martin couldn’t even see the 10 acres of woods next to the Evangelical Free Church when he came to Baltimore. Well, he could see them. But in a more important way, he couldn’t.“It was just ‘da ...Continue reading...
Search firm Vanderbloemen reviewed texts, emails, and videos but did not talk to former staffer who made accusations against Andy Wood.Leaders at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church say a preliminary investigation has cleared Warren’s recently announced successor, Andy Wood, of allegations of an authoritarian leadership style that demands unquestioning loyalty.Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and one of the most influential voices in evangelical Christianity, is planning to retire in September. He named San Francisco–area pastor Andy Wood as his successor at Saddleback, a Southern California congregation that draws 25,000 people to worship services. Wood, 40, is currently the lead pastor of Echo Church, a multisite congregation based in San Jose.After the public announcement, a former Echo Church staffer made comments about issues with Wood’s leadership on social media.The allegations did not come as a surprise to Saddleback leaders.According to Saddleback’s statement on Sunday night, Wood had told the church’s elders about the former staffer’s claims during his interview process and offered to show them videos of his meetings with the former staffer. The church asked Vanderbloemen Search Group, which did the initial background check on Wood, to do a follow-up review.“Our elders have now received a preliminary second report from The Vanderbloemen Search Group, clearing Pastor Wood from all allegations,” the church said in a letter to the congregation on Sunday, which was also sent to Religion New Service (RNS).The search company was provided video, email, and text records, and interviews that Echo gathered in its review of Wood’s actions. It also conducted one additional interview, according to Saddleback’s letter.“They tried to reach out to the former staff member and have ...Continue reading...
Texas pastor beats Conservative Baptist Network–endorsed Tom Ascol in a runoff. As Bart Barber, a tall Texas pastor in a suit and tie, walked outside the convention hall in Anaheim, Southern Baptists stopped to congratulate their new president. They shook his hand, patted his back, and took pictures. When Barber put his name in the ring for SBC president, there was similar enthusiasm from friends who texted asking if he was excited to go for the position.But his feelings are heavier than that. He knows the baggage that comes from leadership—his predecessor Ed Litton was attacked by opponents enough that he didn’t seek a second year in office. It was the first time in 40 years that an SBC president didn’t get reelected for another term.“This is not the first difficult season serving Southern Baptists for me. Every way that I have served Southern Baptists has left scars,” said Barber, who fought as a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee to oust Paige Patterson over his response to abuse. His eyes got glassy during a Wednesday press conference, and his speech slowed to deliberate words. “But this family of churches is worth it. It’s worth enduring slings and arrows.”Though Barber doesn’t fit the SBC president mold—he pastors a rural congregation and not a megachurch—he’s active and vocal on Twitter, with nearly 17,000 following his folksy commentary and analysis. There, he told reporters, he’s seen how “the coarseness, the crass discourse that’s out there in the world has come into our family of churches.”He inherits ongoing denominational divides and the monumental task of moving abuse reform forward. His first priority is appointing the task force responsible for recommending next steps and creating ...Continue reading...
A month after groundbreaking report, SBC creates another task force to oversee reform plans: “Without action, there isn't repentance.”With a wave of yellow ballots across a massive meeting hall in Anaheim, thousands of Southern Baptists voted to reform their denomination’s response to abuse, including adopting the database of abusers that survivors had long called for.Two survivors in attendance hugged and cried, and supporters of the measure rose in applause as the move passed at the SBC annual meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The much-anticipated vote came less than a month after the landmark investigative report into the Executive Committee (EC).While the EC kept a secret list of hundreds of abusers, the new “Ministry Check” website will keep a public record of credibly accused abusers who have served in Southern Baptist churches and entities. It will be maintained by an independent firm, which will take and evaluate submissions.A new task force, authorized by Thursday’s vote and to be appointed by the new SBC president, will coordinate the creation of the website as well as evaluating additional reforms over the next year.North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank, the head of the previous task force that oversaw the investigation, spoke forcefully about the need for the convention to act and called the two recommendations that passed “the bare minimum for what could be called reform.”“Without action, there isn’t repentance,” said Frank, who referred to the decision as a “Kairos moment” for the convention. “Today we will choose between humility or hubris ... we will choose between doing the best for the glory of God and the good of people or we will choose again business as usual.”There were a few efforts at limiting or dismissing the calls to reform, including messengers coming to the ...Continue reading...
Even without a decision on whether to disfellowship Rick Warren's megachurch, Southern Baptists are left wondering about where a denomination of independent churches draws its boundary lines. Retiring megachurch pastor Rick Warren stood up among a crowd of Southern Baptists to address the convention for what could be his last time. The 68-year-old leader referred to his remarks as both a “love letter” to the denomination and his “dying words.”“Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues,” Warren asked, “or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”Last year, some claimed Warren’s Saddleback Church no longer belongs in the convention and proposed ousting the biggest church in the SBC for ordaining female pastors. The popular preacher and author has since named as his successor a leader whose wife holds a teaching pastor position.The credentials committee—the Southern Baptist body tasked with recommending whether to disfellowship a particular church—ended up not making a decision about Warren’s church, whose main campus is just a 30-minute drive from where the denomination gathered in Anaheim this week.But the discussion around Saddleback raised questions that extend beyond the California megachurch and beyond the annual meeting: What is a pastor? And what makes a church Southern Baptist?The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), the statement of faith adopted by the SBC in 2000, addresses gender roles in church leadership: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”But the credentials committee concluded that it wasn’t clear if the statement restricted women from any position doing pastoral work or holding a pastoral title, or if it just applied to the senior pastor, chair Linda Cooper told the 2022 convention.And that ...Continue reading...
He died in prison serving an 18-year sentence for sexually assaulting four girls.Harry Thomas, who launched the longest-running Christian music festival in the United States and who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting four small girls, died in prison at age 78.There was no public announcement of his passing, nor a funeral or public memorial. According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the man once known as the “grandfather of Christian music festivals” died in April, with 13 years left on his sentence.Thomas did not cofound the first Christian music festival, as his organization sometimes claimed, but Creation was by far the most successful. It attracted tens and hundreds of thousands of teenagers to rural Pennsylvania every year to see the biggest acts in contemporary Christian music and commit themselves or recommit themselves to following Christ.But in 2018, Thomas pleaded guilty to raping one girl who was under the age of 10, touching the genitals of three more, and exposing himself to a fifth. The sexual assaults spanned a 16-year period and only stopped when one of the victims told her mother what had happened to her.A relative of one of the victims called him “a ravenous wolf” and “one of the greatest hypocrites—a child molester masquerading as a pastor.”Another, looking across a New Jersey courtroom at the pastor and one-time Christian radio DJ, said, “Harry Thomas, you will surely rot in hell.”Thomas wept as he was sentenced to 18 years in prison and said he was sorry for the pain he’d caused.“I agree with the Scriptures,” he said. “It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea. That’s what I deserve.”Before his arrest, Thomas was an ordained Baptist ...Continue reading...

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