RECORD: Spring 2016

The 74th summer conference of Evangelicals Concerned is set for June 3 – 5, 2016. Guest speakers will be Tony Campolo and Abigail Santamaria. Campolo, a world-renowned preacher and a bestselling author, is emeritus professor of sociology at Eastern University. Santamaria is a first-time author with Joy, her acclaimed biography of C. S. Lewis’ late-in-life wife, Joy Davidman, published in 2015, the centennial year of Davidman’s birth. EC founder Ralph Blair will also be speaking.

Yet again, since 1980, this summer retreat will be at the beautiful mountaintop site of all our eastern connECtions – Kirkridge Lodge on Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Trail.

Steve Hayner, once the national President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, endorsed a same-sex married housing policy as President of Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church (USA) school in Atlanta. A Hebrew Bible scholar who taught at Fuller, Gordon-Conwell and Trinity Evangelical seminaries as well as at Regent College, Hayner passed away in 2015, a year after being diagnosed with cancer. He was a longtime friend of our EC ministry and he’d hoped to keynote an EC retreat someday.

In conversations with Steve Hayner, “my views on [same-sex married housing] were crystallized”, says John Azumah, CTS professor of World Christianity and Islam, in his comments in First Things. Azumah explains that, “since we cannot discriminate in our enrollment on the basis of sexuality, we cannot discriminate in housing either.”

Azumah, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, goes on to assert that the popular liberal “dismissal of African objections to homosexuality as not indigenous but as ‘echoes of Western missionary positions’ is rather symptomatic of the condescending and patronizing attitudes” he’s encountered and repeatedly rebuked in the rhetoric of “progressive” Protestants. “Africans”, he points out, “have not changed their position and have never needed Americans like [antigay Fundamentalist preacher] Scott Lively to educate them about sexuality.” Says Azumah: “American Evangelicals might have gone to Uganda to campaign for anti-gay legislation, but so did other powerful figures on the gay lobby side, including President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, threatening African governments with the withdrawal of aid if they didn’t conform to the new Western normal.” Azumah concludes: “Until liberal American Christians begin to take interest in African Christian thought and seriously engage with it, dialogue between the two will remain tortuous, if not impossible. As a senior African scholar recently remarked, liberal Christianity is a totally different religion and Christian Africans will have to learn to dialogue with it as we do with Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Brad Harper teaches Bible and theology at evangelical Multnomah University and his eldest son, Drew, is openly gay and has left his Christian faith. Together, they’ve written a book, Space at the Table, about their father-son relation that has gone from the wondrous early years through painfully strained years during Drew’s coming out, and on to a rekindled warmth and respectful disagreement. Enthusiastic about the opportunity to write their book, they both are concerned that their respective communities will label them sellouts. Brad regrets the harm done by the “ex-gay” movement and advises other parents to steer clear of it.   Still, Drew says: “Who am I, if I’m not my father’s son?” and Brad says: “Who are you, if you’re not my son? Of course you are my son. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter whether you agree or disagree with me, rebel against me and my ways, you will never stop being my son.”

“Make no mistake: you should talk to your children about same-sex marriage”, says Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, author of Onward, the book Christianity Today selected as “Book of the Year” for 2015. He warns parents that, “If you don’t teach your children about a Christian way of viewing the challenges to a Christian sexual ethic, the ambient culture – which is now codified in our legal system – will fill in your silence with answers of its own.” Being biblically sloppy and practically naïve, Moore tells all parents “to get across that Jesus calls us to live as husbands and wives.”

Ralph Blair notes that, “Such a warning will no more produce heterosexual children than did the antigay rhetoric, shaming and illegal status of homosexuality in previous generations. But it will further the previous evangelical generations’ unintended discrediting of the Bible and evangelical Christian faith. Screwtape labors on!”

And Blair isn’t the only evangelical in the helping professions who points out that advice like Moore’s will result in making it more difficult for evangelical families to deal with their gay kids in an intelligently loving way and that this failure will result in more loss of faith among their kids.

Moore asks: “Will some high-profile Evangelicals cave on a Christian sexual ethic?” – by which he means: Will they support folks in loving, committed same-sex marriage? He grudgingly admits: “Yes, of course, a few will.” But his belittling “few” overlooks some leading evangelical biblical scholars and theologians of the 20th-century and the first two decades of the 21st-century who already, in Moore’s term, “caved” on this, just as those evangelicals before them “caved” by endorsing abolition, racial civil rights, interracial marriage, women’s rights and other matters once considered by conservative Christians to be contrary to the Bible. (Cf. “Looking Back” at www.ecinc.org for details.)

“How can I, a heterosexual who’s been very happily married for 50 years, tell anyone else they don’t have the right to form a loving, committed, lifelong union and enjoy the fruits of marriage as I have done?” So writes Rowland Croucher, the evangelical founder of John Mark Ministries, a service “to lost shepherds” – burned- out Christian clergy in Australia.

“I stand here today not only as a Christian leader but as a husband, father, and grandfather.” It was with this ironic incongruity and lack of empathy that antigay activist Michael Brown failed to “treat others as he wants to be treated” and voiced his virulent opposition to the LGBT non-discrimination bill before the Charlotte, North Carolina City Council in February. But, over against what Brown said were “more than 250,000 emails, more than 20,000 petition signatures, opposition of more than 200 local business, community, and faith leaders, and strong disapproval by the overwhelming number of the 140 people who testified before the council prior to the vote” – all of it unintended but clear evidence of the need to pass the bill – most members of the Council heeded The Golden Rule and this non-discrimination bill passed by a vote of 7 to 4.

Antigay Christians are upset over the proliferation of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in public high schools. But historically, of course, they exist because the antigay Right pushed for the Equal Access Act back in the Reagan administration and the Supreme Court upheld it. Right-wing backers did this back then so that Bible clubs could legally meet in the public schools after school hours – just as the Gay-Straight Alliance clubs are legally allowed to do nowadays.

Rob Boston explains all of this in a recent blog from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Behind every gospel song, there is a gay man somewhere.” This is the observation of Douglas Harrison, self-described “southern gospel sissy”, in his book, Then Sings My Soul (University of Illinois). He says that, “queer people – particularly gay males – are involved in almost every aspect of the music’s creation, production, performance, and consumption” and, he says, it’s “a widely accepted open secret.” Amidst much antigay prejudice in Southern Gospel circles, Harrison quotes a gay man’s recalling Kirk Talley’s “Always Enough”, a stirring testimony to God’s ever-present mercy and love, as “ministered most to me when I was dealing with my orientation and coming out.”

Similar revelations and insights revolve around gays, i.e., “the children” in Black Gospel music, as Anthony Heilbut reveals in, The Fan Who Knew Too Much (Knopf).

Jim Denison reports that, “Sixty-three percent of pastors surveyed admitted that they struggle with compulsive sexual addictions or desires.” Denison is a Southern Baptist leader whose website identifies him as “a subject matter expert on cultural and contemporary issues”. He blogs that, furthermore, “70 percent of pastors struggle chronically with depression; 77 percent say they do not have a good marriage; 80 percent say pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families; and 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.” He concludes: “Not surprisingly, 80 percent of those who enter the ministry leave it within five years; 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, burnout, or divisiveness in their churches.  Only 23 percent of pastors say they feel happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home.”

Ryan Denison blogs at his dad’s “Denison Forum on Truth and Culture” website. Like his dad, he’s a Southern Baptist trained in theology and church history. In his posting, “Loneliness: A Serious Health Risk”, the younger Denison notes a report in The Washington Post about the under-appreciated health risks of loneliness. He relays recent research that finds “significant links between loneliness and illness [and that] social isolation changes the human genome in profound, long-lasting ways.” The negative effects that “occur on a cellular level, can cause damage similar to that of smoking, diabetes, and obesity while also placing individuals at greater risk of heart attacks, metastatic cancer, and Alzheimer’s among other diseases.” And Denison cites evidence that “loneliness is about far more than just being alone. Some of the loneliest people are those who are constantly surrounded by others but feel that they simply don’t belong.”

Southern Baptist preachers should pay attention to these findings because most of them preach against opportunities for marriage for same-sex couples and many preachers have even urged that those with same-sex-attraction enter into mixed-orientation marriages that, eventually and predictably lead to more loneliness for both spouses, followed by divorce and broken homes in which the children must now grow up.

Both gay and straight couples can fall for the fallacy and fantasy of so-called “open marriage”. Popularized in the early 1970s by a bestseller from George and Nena O’Neill, “progressives” swallowed what doesn’t work in a culture that expects parity marriage. Five years after Open Marriage, they backtracked some with the 1977 book, The Marriage Premise. The second book did not sell as well. In 2006, The New York Times, in its obit on Nena O’Neill, admitted that Open Marriage – for 40 weeks on the Times’ bestseller list – was more of “a period piece [and] in the shadow of AIDS its bolder suggestions seem not so much daring as painfully naïve”.

In a recent First Things, Westminster Seminary historian Carl Trueman wisely responds to a promotion of the less-than-monogamous nonsense in The Washington Post: “That boredom is presented as justification for remaking the marriage bond speaks of a self-absorbed approach to life where stimulation and personal entertainment are now almost the only ethical criteria (except for the increasingly tenuous principle of consent). Indeed, the unthinking moral solipsism of this present age is on full display here. ‘If it is good for me, it must be good for society’.” “If”, of course, is a very big word. Trueman asks: “Who will pay the interest—financial and social—on this sexual ponzi scheme?”

As honest clinical and sociological data testify, whether same-sex or heterosexual, marriages that thrive, that really do meet the real needs of intimacy, are monogamous.

“My entire life from 12 to 24 was worrying about my going to heaven or hell”. Why? During his youth, James Triplett, now a gay black Pentecostal preacher, was not able to accept and integrate his unasked-for same-sex attraction. “Growing up in the largest African-American Pentecostal organization, the Church of God in Christ, we had something to do every night in church. Prayer and Bible Band, Young People Willing Workers, Sunshine Band, etc. etc.” Trying to become “ex-gay”, he went to countless conferences, “bawling my eyes out, asking God to make me worthy … . I even became agnostic for a time, trying to wash my hands of this impotent God and his useless followers. … My biggest attempt to extinguish my sexuality was my marriage.” Though he’d confessed all before their seven-year marriage, finally “we ended our marriage.”

“Today”, he writes in a post at The Evangelical Network website, “I am being restored to the place that God intended me to be.” He’s launch a WOWChurch in Chicago and oversees City of Promise” ministry throughout the Midwest. His September 16, 2015 encouragement video is at the WOWChurch Facebook page.

There’s a Brazilian Pentecostal denomination that affirms gay men and lesbians. Marcos Gladstone, a young gay man reared as a Roman Catholic, founded this church. Gladstone’s family converted to a Pentecostal faith when he was 14. He came out as gay in his early 20s and broke off a four-year engagement to a woman. He recalls that, “It was a huge scandal within the church.”  He then started what is now the Contemporary Christian Church. It began in a third-floor walk-up and has grown to include some 3,000 members in three cities. He and Inacio are married and have adopted two children.

“I’m gay and I’m a priest, period.” That’s what one of Chicago’s Roman Catholic priests told a Washington Post reporter in an interview published in February. Fr. Michael Shanahan says: “There’s a level of witnessing here that’s important for me to do.” He explains: “The Christian faith has a lot to say about the underdog, about the marginalized or the leper, the blind, the lame, the ostracized woman prostitute, widow, the little one. I’d like to be one of those priests, who, with great respect for the church’s teaching, can say: I’m a human being. I’m a son — one of six — I’m gay and I’m a priest, period.”

Indonesia, with over 200,000,000 Muslims, is undergoing a surge of antigay oppression. Sharia Law now requires 100 lashes for every same-sex act. This Sharia Law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Condemning all expressions of an LGBT agenda, Muhammad Nasir Djamil, Indonesia’s minister of higher education, warns that university students and teachers will be expelled for engaging in even academic study, discussion groups or activism about homosexuality. Indonesia’s National Commission for Child Protection pushes a ban on LGBT content on radio and television and Islamic vigilantes search for evidence of homosexuality in boarding houses. The Speaker of the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly, Zulkifli Hasan, says that homosexuality “should be banned because it does not fit with the culture of Indonesia.”

“I wonder how little of the Gospel [Injil] is left” to alleged Christians who conduct homosexual marriages.” Al Azhar University’s grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, engaged in this hypocritical fault-finding as he compared what he called “radicalization” of Christianity to what he called “distortion” of Islam by ISIS. In doing so, he attempted to sweep away centuries of Islamic violence against “infidels”.

Muslim bakers, too, refuse to make gay wedding cakes. “Louder with Crowder” comedian Steven Crowder has posted his undercover videos of several Muslim-owned bakeries in Dearborn, Michigan. The Christian conservative actor posed as a man who planned to marry his boyfriend and wanted a wedding cake made. He says, “A few bakeries were willing to create the gay wedding cake, but many of them weren’t.” Crowder calls out mainstream media for focusing all its attention on Christians when Muslims were more likely to refuse. Crowder points out that, in Muslim-run countries, gay people face much more than discrimination over a wedding cake.

Todd Ferrell, president of a pro-LGBT group, The Evangelical Network, writes: “A few years ago I sat in a room with thousands of LGBT business owners and asked the president of a large insurance corporation about their outreach to LGBT non-profits and causes. I shared my concern that while many large corporations give to the major non-profits, they do not give to an organization like The Evangelical Network – a network of LGBT & Straight Christians who fight against bullying in our schools and churches, who do the hard face-to-face work with mainline churches who still struggle to understand the LGBT community, who save lives every day by rescuing people out from under misleading and destructive ex-gay ministries, and who help people find peace with God and themselves again. I asked him, ‘Why are there never any funds available to help us?’  He paused and looked at me and in front of those thousands of people said, ‘You are right. We have a policy to not give to any faith-based organizations.’ And with that he quickly moved on to the next question.”

Ralph Blair has pointed out that, since Christian conservatives lead the opposition against gays and lesbians, the refusal to fund same-sex affirming evangelical groups (e.g., The Evangelical Network, The Gay Christian Network, Evangelicals Concerned) that are the most capable of speaking the opponents’ theological language, raises questions about pragmatics and prejudice within these outspokenly LGBT-supporting corporations.

Veteran gay rights activist is shunned for favoring free expression. What the Left finds unforgivable is Peter Tatchell’s choosing to think and speak for himself. Following recent bullying from his critics within the LGBT and the media establishment, Tatchell replies: “I oppose all prejudice and discrimination. Bad ideas are best and most effectively defeated by good ideas, rather than by bans and censorship.”

Addressing this recent example of intolerance, British Conservative MEP Dan Hannan recounts Tatchell’s many years of LGBT activism and concludes that even all of that is not enough to counter transgression of PC agendas. Hannan writes: “It’s hard to think of anyone who has pursued the cause of gay rights so single-mindedly. But because Tatchell happens to believe that Christian bakers shouldn’t have to produce cakes for gay weddings, his years of activism count for nothing.”

“I have gotten more flak for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans.” This was Caitlyn Jenner’s believable response to a questioner in packed Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania this winter. The questioner was wondering out loud why Jenner wasn’t a Democrat, given “the transgender issue”. Typically, those on the Left have been upsetting themselves over conservative political opinions that Jenner expresses.

Log Cabin Republicans director Gregory T. Angelo notes that, “There’s a sentiment among much of the media and the left — and especially the gay left — that if you are part of the LGBT community, that you are required to be a Democrat.” Obviously, those who happen to be part of that amalgam actually represent a wide-ranging diversity of opinions, beliefs and lifestyles.

A Lutheran pastor has resigned after congregational pushback for his not doing same-sex weddings. Steve Berntson of Messiah Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Fargo, leaves after their many months of turmoil since the Supreme Court marriage ruling. The congregation has around a thousand worshippers.

Berntson says there’s been a cultural change in his church and he’s in the minority: “It does strike me sometimes how little tolerance in certain circles there are for people [who have what he termed] biblical views.”

Pine Belt Baptist Association of Hattiesburg, Mississippi has kicked out University Baptist Church for not disassociating itself from a website’s note that it “does not view homosexuality in and of itself as a sin”. UBC, within the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and World Baptist Alliance, refused to change its welcoming policy to suit the Pine Belt Baptists.

In 1970, Greg Laurie, now a megachurch preacher, was brought to Christ by the witness of a young “Jesus People” preacher, Lonnie Frisbee.   Frisbee was a vital founder of Chuck Smith Sr.’s Calvary Church movement. In meeting the hippie Frisbee, Smith recalled: “I was not at all prepared for the love that this young man would radiate.” When Smith and cohorts found out that Frisbee was a practicing gay Christian, the church leaders who’d been using his gifts ostracized him. In 1993, he died of AIDS.

In spite of having been led to Christian faith by Frisbee, Laurie is a vehement antigay preacher, misleadingly claiming against all the evidence from the failed “ex-gay” movement and Frisbee’s life-witness, that “God can change anyone!”

The Republican National Committee has removed all anti-gay planks from its 2016 platform. Of course, the lead attorney, who won the California and U. S. Supreme Court cases that declared bans on same-sex marriages unconstitutional – even before Obergfell – was Ted Olson, George W. Bush’s conservative and evangelical Solicitor General who won the fight against California’s antigay Prop 8. The falsely maligned Koch Brothers signed amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court in support of gay marriage in the Obergfell case. Over 300 other influential conservative Republicans, former cabinet members and senior staffers to GOP senators and U.S. representatives also did so, along with those serving powerful Republican state legislators, as Time reported. GOP Governors Rick Snyder (Michigan) and Chris Christie (New Jersey) dropped their opposition to gay marriage.  Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman supports legal same-sex marriage. Tennessee Gov. and Chair of the Republican Governors Association Bill Haslam now supports marriage for us and so does Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. Sen. Rand Paul has advocated for estate rights for gay couples. Tammy Bruce, an avowed lesbian and top ranked conservative talk show host for Los Angeles KABC-AM, is also the deputy editor of the conservative Washington Times, as well as a regular panel host for women of the televised Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). No GOP Congress has ever cut AIDS funding. Florida Gov. Rick Scott selected an openly gay man as his chief economic development adviser. Mr. Scott also appointed the president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Miami to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. And Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner joined New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in banning conversion therapy.

Cal Thomas opposes the idea that a U. S. government agency be set up to promote “Judeo-Christian values”. Says this former Moral Majority leader: “Conservatives are supposed to be against big government and opposed to the left’s belief that problems can and should be solved by Washington.” This rebuttal of a proposal from John Kasich was published in the Rightwing World and the Washington Times.

Richmond, Virginia’s Catholic Diocese has fired a 63 year-old executive director for fundraising at a Catholic assisted-living home. The reason: he’s married to another man, 65, with whom he’s shared life for almost 30 years. According to a Diocese statement, the Church expects “employees of the Diocese and its ministries to uphold and embody the consistent values and truths of the Catholic faith”.

Brian S. Brown of the antigay National Organization for Marriage accuses the couple of wanting to “undermine the Church’s ability to live according to its faith”. Supporters of the couple note the Church’s refusal to live according to the Golden Rule of its faith.

“Abortion is a blessing!” is an offensive chant to many people. But it’s not been offensive to students and faculty at Episcopal Divinity School. It’s been a favorite slogan of lesbian Episcopal priest Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, the EDS president. She insists that abortionists are “saints”. However, the storms of her tenure were not over her view of abortion. They were about her high-handed habits in administration and they finally led to a faculty vote of no confidence. Ragsdale resigned.

AND FINALLY

The antigay Religious Right’s World magazine regularly runs full-page ads for “The Great Courses”, a popular secular service of audio and visual classes that the company dubs, “The World’s Greatest Professors at Your Fingertips”.

What most Fundamentalist and evangelical readers of World probably don’t realize, at least at first, is that The Great Courses’ New Testament classes are taught by Bart Ehrman, certainly no evangelical scholar. He long ago rebelled against his Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College educations and adopted an extremely dismissive posture to the New Testament’s textual reliability. Eminent evangelical New Testament scholars have been warning for years that Ehrman presents his own high critical position against the biblical texts without offering the counterarguments of other biblical scholars. They point out that this poorly serves the needs of his students – and especially lay students who are not versed in these controversies.

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