Ravi Zacharias Business Conference Speaker Fined $44-Million and Barred from Securities Trading by SEC

On December 1-2, Ravi Zacharias Institute will host a Business Leaders Conference in Alpharetta, GA. Participants can pay $1299 for a day and a half of talks by Zacharias, his Institute staff and invited business leaders. One of the speakers, Sungkook “Bill” Hwang runs a firm called Archegos Capital Management. However, before he founded that firm, Hwang was one of billionaire Julian Robertson’s proteges, or “tiger cubs” and founded Tiger Asia, a capital management firm specializing in Asian securities. It was there that Hwang ran afoul of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and agreed to pay $44-million in order to settle charges of insider trading. He was also barred from any involvement in trading or giving investment advice for at least five years, starting 1/22/13. Hwang’s FINRA profile can be viewed at the organization’s BrokerCheck website.
Hwang Finra
According to the SEC press release about the complaint, Hwang

committed insider trading by short selling three Chinese bank stocks based on confidential information they received in private placement offerings. Hwang and his advisory firms then covered the short positions with private placement shares purchased at a significant discount to the stocks’ market price. They separately attempted to manipulate the prices of publicly traded Chinese bank stocks in which Hwang’s hedge funds had substantial short positions by placing losing trades in an attempt to lower the price of the stocks and increase the value of the short positions. This enabled Hwang and Tiger Asia Management to illicitly collect higher management fees from investors.

In addition, criminal charges were settled against the company.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey today announced criminal charges against Tiger Asia Management.
“Hwang today learned the painful lesson that illegal offshore trading is not off-limits from U.S. law enforcement, and tomorrow’s would-be securities law violators would be well-advised to heed this warning,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
Sanjay Wadhwa, Associate Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office and Deputy Chief of the Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, added, “Hwang betrayed his duty of confidentiality by trading ahead of the private placements, and betrayed his fiduciary obligations when he defrauded his investors by collecting fees earned from his attempted manipulation scheme.”

As the result of these actions, Tiger Asia faced opposition to continued operations in Hong Kong and Japan. The transition to Archegos appears to be in response to the demise of Tiger Asia. However, one would not know that by reading Hwang’s bio at Zacharias Institute’s Business Leaders Conference website.

Bill is the founder and Chief Executive Officer at Archegos Capital Management. Bill founded and ran Tiger Asia from 2001 to 2012, before turning the firm into a family office and renaming it Archegos Capital Management in 2013. Bill previously worked as an equity analyst at Tiger Management, as well as an institutional equity salesperson at both Peregrine Securities and Hyundai Securities.

No doubt Mr. Hwang has turned over a new leaf and it isn’t my intention to cast stones. As a significant donor to Ravi Zacharias’ ministry, I can understand why Zacharias would want to feature him at the conference. However, shouldn’t participants who are asked to pay $1299 be informed of this? At a conference on business virtue and integrity, I feel that learning from mistakes could be a valuable session. However, if these things are glossed over, what is the lesson then? By not making this a part of the conference bio, it seems like yet another effort at embellishment which Mr. Zacharias is currently in the middle of trying to explain about his own credentials.

K-LOVE Source: The Pledge Drive Goal Was about $30-Million

Twice a year, Christian radio giant Educational Media Foundation (K-LOVE and Air-One) conducts a pledge drive. For about a week, the on-air KLOVE Carpersonalities beg for pledges to “keep your K-LOVE on the air.” During the most recent pledge drive, I called, wrote, tweeted, and Facebook messaged K-LOVE in order to find out the pledge drive goal. How much money was K-LOVE trying to raise?
Despite my efforts, I never got an answer. K-LOVE’s Facebook contact referred me to CEO Mike Novak who never answered. The customer service representatives said they didn’t know. It is hard for me to believe that donors parted with their money without information about how much K-LOVE needs and why.

It Is a Big Number

After I wrote about the lack of transparency, some sources who are in a position to know contacted me to tell me that the goals for 2017 were in the neighborhood of $30-million per drive, give or take a million.
K-LOVE had a surplus of over $60-million in 2016 on revenues of $170-million. Just before the last pledge drive, the mega-station purchased three stations for $58-million which is about the same amount as was pledged by donors during the 2017 pledge drives. Looks like those $40/month EZ gifts are buying new stations more so than keeping current K-LOVE stations on the air.
K-LOVE purchased several other new stations in 2017. The expansion of the organization is made possible by twice yearly pledge drives where listeners are told that their local station may go away if the listeners don’t become donors. I suppose K-LOVE could yank a station but it wouldn’t be because K-LOVE doesn’t have money. It would be because the listeners in a coverage area fail to meet a quota not disclosed to them. Nasty business, this nonprofit Christian radio business.
New markets mean new listeners, which mean new donors, which mean more money for more stations. Eventually, when all the stations are purchased, they will have to do something else.
I have some ideas.

New Expansion Ideas for K-LOVE

K-LOVE Streaming Worship – No need for a musically trained or spiritually prepared worship band. Just stream K-LOVE’s worship sets into your church on Sunday mornings. Put the music videos on the big screen if you want. Your worship team could lip sync for extra fun and even have lip sync competitions in seeker friendly churches. The full package would let you stream the worship set for all services including youth group.
K-LOVE Church – With nearly so many stations already owned by K-LOVE, they need to find something else religious to buy. How about churches?
At my age, I have heard about everything I need to hear in a sermon so it would be good with me if we just sing or listen to music and commentary the whole time. Most other people aren’t listening anyway. K-LOVE could just buy up churches and let the on-air personalities tell heart warming stories and play tunes. It would be much more entertaining and much less convicting. With many church goers/listeners already giving to K-LOVE instead of paying bills or giving to their churches anyway, it seems like a natural move on so many levels.
K-LOVE University – As a college professor, this is especially near to my heart. On-air banter and contemporary Christian music are so deep and rich with theological insights that the airwaves provide a natural delivery system for theological education. Given how Christian leaders already creatively use honorary degrees as if they were actual degree programs, why not give academic credentials for listening to the radio? Think of the size of the student body! K-LOVE University would instantly be the largest university on the planet with millions of students eager to exchange their EZ tuition for EZ credits.
Well, those are my ideas, kids. How about you? Have any suggestions for what K-LOVE can do with their millions?

Was Ravi Zacharias a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University?

The short answer is no.
I am fact checking claims about the academic credentials of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias made by atheist Steve Baughman. Baughman first raised his concerns in 2015 and then again earlier this month. My first post checking into Zacharias’ credentials was yesterday when I examined his improper use of the title “Dr.” Today, I take up Zacharias’ claim about being a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. As far as I can tell, this claim first showed up in Intervarsity promotional material in 1993.
There are some facts mixed in with a misleading statement, so let’s examine the details.
Zacharias said he studied at the University of Cambridge in 1990. In his book, Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows, Zacharias wrote:
Ravi Z Cambridge U East West
He made the claim more succinctly in at least four other books. For instance in his 2004 book, Can Man Live Without God?, he wrote:
RZ Cambridge Can Man

Was Ravi Zacharias a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge?

He very specifically claims in his books that he was invited to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. No other school or institution is mentioned. There is more to this story that he doesn’t say. Read on for the rest of the story.
This description of Zacharias has spread widely. The Colson Center‘s author page says Zacharias was “a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.” Lee Strobel, James Dobson, the people who put on the Worldview Apologetics Conference, the folks at Moody Bible Institute, the Oklahoma Christian University community, the 2015 commencement audience at Oral Roberts University, and many others believe Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University based on his word.
In response to my question to Ravi Zacharias International Ministry about the Cambridge claims, Mark DeMoss offered the following statement:

Regarding his studies at Cambridge, Professor Jeremy Begbie (Senior Member, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge; former Associated Principal, Ridley Hall, Cambridge) has provided the following written statement: “I can confirm that Ravi Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge in 1990, under my supervision. His courses included guided research with Dr. Begbie, lectures from resident and visiting instructors in the Romantic writers, lectures at the University’s Divinity School from Don Cupitt, additional course in quantum physics with Dr. John Polkinghorne, and studies in world religions with Dr. Julious Lipner and others.

I wrote Dr. Begbie, who is now at Duke University and asked if this statement was accurate. He replied:

Yes – my statement is accurate (although Lipner’s name is misspelt – it should be Julius). RZ [Ravi Zacharias] was invited by Ridley Hall, not the University. Ridley Hall is not, and was not then, run by the University. The lower case “visiting scholar” was chosen to make it clear that to my memory he was not given a formal title – but he was exactly what the words say: a visiting scholar. Polkinghorne taught courses in theology and science for many years after relinquishing his University position in physics.

Let’s unpack this.

Zacharias Was Invited to Ridley Hall Not the University of Cambridge

Several colleges and universities exist in Cambridge. As in many large cities, the schools are very close together and have agreements to work together on projects while they maintain their distinctive missions. Ridley Hall is an school in the town of Cambridge which exists to prepare people for ministry, primary in the Church of England. The University of Cambridge is a world class university. Both are located in Cambridge, England. As Dr. Begbie said, Ridley Hall wasn’t then, nor is it now, run by the University of Cambridge. Ridley Hall has a visiting scholar program which Zacharias participated in, but this had nothing to do with the University. When Zacharias said he was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, he wasn’t being truthful. He was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, which is an educational institution in Cambridge, England.
As a consequence of being in Cambridge, Ridley Hall has cultivated relationships with the University of Cambridge. This allows Ridley Hall students to take classes and attend lectures at Cambridge University. As Dr. Begbie told me, Zacharias did that as a part of his sabbatical at Ridley Hall by taking these classes and lectures with people at Cambridge. However, he was never an invited visiting scholar at Cambridge and did his work under the supervision of Dr. Begbie who was at Ridley Hall.
After this was pointed out to Zacharias by Steve Baughman, Zacharias changed his bio to the following verbiage (from his academy bio):

Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (then affiliated with Cambridge University, now more recently allied with Cambridge and affiliated with Durham University) where he studied moralist philosophers and literature of the Romantic era.

This is still a bit of an embellishment. It appears he really wants people to know he spent a few months attending lectures in Cambridge, England. However, there is no meaningful connection between Ridley Hall and the University of Cambridge which is relevant to a bio.
 
Prior post in this series: Is Dr. Zacharias in the House? Did Ravi Zacharias Claim to Have Doctorates He Doesn’t Have?
 

Fact Checking Claims about Ravi Zacharias' Credentials: Is Dr. Zacharias in the House?

Last week, I posted a link to an article by Steve Baughman at Ordinary Times on Culture and Politics on the academic credentials of ChristianRZIM logo apologist Ravi Zacharias. In his article, Baughman summarized claims he first made two years ago. He said Zacharias falsely used the title “Dr.” and embellished his connections to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Baughman also disclosed that Zacharias had recently brought a lawsuit against a Canadian couple. In that suit, Zacharias accused the couple of extorting money from him after first sending him sexually explicit photos. The couple claimed that Zacharias solicited those photos but Zacharias denied any wrongdoing. On November 9, Zacharias and the couple settled the suit out of court. The settlement is sealed and Zacharias handled the legal costs personally.
In a series of articles, I plan to evaluate the claims of academic fraud. This post takes up how Zacharias used the title “Dr.”

Is Dr. Zacharias in the House?

In a Patheos post from 2015, Baughman and two co-authors wrote:

The “Dr. Zacharias” Claim
Ravi Zacharias refers to himself in his official bio and in the videos released by his ministry as “Dr. Zacharias.” He frequently appears at academic institutions where the title “Dr.” is generally understood as indicating that the subject has completed a doctoral program.
Mr. Zacharias has no doctoral degree.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree and has done no doctoral work.  He has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates by Christian schools.
Prior to receiving a complaint from us, the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, of which Mr. Zacharias is a founding member, claimed at its website that Mr. Zacharias “has been conferred a Doctor of Divinity degree from both Houghton College and Tyndale College and Seminary, Toronto, and a Doctor of Laws degree from Ashbury College (sic), Kentucky.”

Then in his more recent post from earlier this month, Baughman wrote:

Since the early 1980’s, Ravi Zacharias has assertively referred to himself as “Dr. Zacharias” and represented himself as holding multiple doctoral degrees.[vi] His major publishers have been fully on board. HarperCollins lists him as “Ravi Zacharias, PhD”[vii] at the contributor’s page of the 2017 The Jesus Bible, and his author bio at Penguin/Random House says “Zacharias holds three doctorate degrees.”[viii] The Christian publisher Wipf & Stock also refers to him as “Ravi Zacharias, PhD.”[ix]
But Ravi Zacharias has never so much as enrolled in a graduate level academic program, much less completed a doctoral program. He has a Bachelor’s degree and a non-academic Master of Divinity degree, both from obscure religious institutions,[x] and has racked up numerous “honorary doctorate degrees” over the years from supportive Christian schools. That’s it.  Furthermore, Ravi has routinely failed to disclose that his doctorates are merely honorary and has resisted calls to make his official bio clearer in this regard.[xi]

First, Zacharias’ Master of Divinity is a fine degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. TEDS is not an obscure religious institution within the evangelical world. The degree is rigorous and often takes 3 or more years to complete. There is no need to waste any time criticizing his education at TEDS.
However, regarding the use of the title Dr., Baughman is on firmer ground. It cannot be disputed that Zacharias has used and continues to use the title in reference to himself when, in fact, he has not earned a doctorate. To get comment from Zacharias’ ministry, I wrote Ravi Zacharias International Ministry to get a response to Baughman’s criticisms. On behalf of the ministry, Mark DeMoss wrote back with this answer on the doctorate claim:

Neither Ravi nor his ministry has ever claimed he had an earned doctorate—though he has received numerous honorary doctorates. (It’s true that occasional references to Ravi Zacharias in other contexts—such as publishers’ author pages—include “Dr.” in front of his name and Ravi’s staff has been notifying such sources as they become aware of them and asking that they be revised so as not to even give an impression he might have an earned doctorate.)

RZIM is correct. Using Dr. in front of a name does imply that a person has earned a doctoral level degree. What makes this admission so striking is that Zacharias’ ministry has used Dr. in front of Mr. Zacharias’ name frequently. In fact, the ministry continues to use Dr. in front of Zacharias’ name.
Although I can’t find any unambiguous claims of an earned doctorate, there are numerous uses of Dr. Ravi Zacharias on websites controlled by Zacharias prior to 2015 (see below) and there are also more than a few that I found today. If Ravi’s staff is notifying sources, they need to start with Zacharias’ own organizations in India, Canada, Turkey, YouTube, and his own online academy.
Here is a bio from 2014:
Ravi Z 2014 Dr screen
Note the wording regarding his honorary doctorates. A lay person could read that and assume he had earned those doctorates since he used the title Dr. and since the word “honorary” was not used. Zacharias has since corrected this on one of his current websites but not on others.
However, some of his current websites still refer to him as Dr. For instance, here is the same paragraph from his current bio at the website for his online academy viewed just today.
ravi z academy screen
This bio has not been changed. I am confused by RZIM’s claim that Ravi Zacharias has not given the impression that he has an earned doctorate since this impression was once widespread and continues today on websites owned by the organization. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any effort to correct ongoing impressions with other organizations. For instance, Gateway Church has Zacharias speak every year at the church and he has been consistently referred to as Dr. Zacharias as he is at an upcoming conference in December.
For good measure, let’s look at a tweet by RZIM India from just over a week ago (check out the entire twitter account):


 
Using honorary doctorates in this manner is not considered appropriate. I suspect Ravi Zacharias knows this. I have a follow up set of questions in to the ministry and will report any additional information. It is good that he changed some of the wording in his bio but it is troubling that it was said that he didn’t claim to represent himself as having a doctorate. I do think the ministry should address these issues head on with a unambiguous statement.
UPDATE:
RZIM released a Facebook statement earlier this evening.

I think it is ironic that some of the commenters on this post refer to Zacharias as “Dr. Zacharias.”
ravi z fb dr
I was hoping for a more humble response from Zacharias but we will see where this goes.
Next up: Was Ravi Zacharias a “visiting scholar” at Cambridge?

Just How Divided Is the Republican Party?

Everybody knows how divided the GOP is but these two tweets within inches of each other in my Twitter feed depict the situation.
First, Sen. Jeff Flake:


Then, as if on cue to illustrate Flake’s assertion, enter Dinesh D’Souza:


These are two people who would agree about many things related to policy but are worlds apart on character. All that goes with Trumpism has served to split the GOP in ways the Dems could only hope to do. The witches brew of Christian nationalism and nativism is a political religion which has led so many people to call evil good and good evil. The destruction has come from within.
For GOP readers on the fence due to life issues and tax cuts, let me point you to the reality that the current administration is supporting pro-death policies in Yemen, and the middle class tax cuts become tax hikes after a few years. Big families will be negatively effected more than smaller families (pro-family?). The tax cuts benefit wealthier Americans with minimal relief for most middle class people. About 10% of middle class taxpayers will never see a tax cut due to the way the legislation is structured. Many Trump voters who supported him because he promised relief for the middle class will actually pay more while he gets a big tax cut.
D’Souza wants to stick it to media. At the end of the day, what’s the good of that? He may feel better somehow, but how does that help ordinary working people? Here’s hoping some principled people rise up in positions of power who seek the common good, not just for their tribe.

Another False Credentials Claim: Ravi Zacharias (UPDATED)

Although I just became aware of it last night, Ravi Zachiarias has been fighting off claims of using false credentials since 2015. At one point, heRZIM logo claimed doctorate degrees he doesn’t have and appointments at Oxford and Cambridge he didn’t hold. Given the stature of Zacharias, I was very surprised I had not heard about this. However, I was not surprised that deception about academic credentials did not slow him down in the Christian world. Despite the fact that fraud can end careers in the real world, I haven’t seen fraudulent credentials cause much of a problem for Christian celebrities (e.g., David Barton, Robert Morris, Joyce Meyer).
Steve Baughman, writing at the League of Ordinary Gentleman, updated his 2015 work earlier this month by noting how protective of Zacharias the “Christian Industrial Complex” has been. Patrick Henry College had Zacharias as a commencement speaker even though they knew he had once embellished his credentials. In short, Baughman’s update resonates with what I have found over and over again. When deception among Christian leaders is exposed, the default position is to close ranks and deny there is any problem.
According to Baughman, Zacharias has quietly removed some of the claims since 2015. I did some checking via the Wayback Machine and sure enough before 2015, Zacharias bio referred to him as Dr. Zacharias and included some of the misleading wording. After the publication of facts by Baughman, gradually the bio was cleaned up. However, at least one false claim remains on Zacharias’ author page with Penguin/Random House. According to that page, Zacharias hold three doctorates.
penguin random auth page
In the most recent post, Baughman indicates there are other false claims which have yet to be cleaned up.
While I understand, appreciate and have experienced the Christian virtue of forgiveness (haven’t we all), there is a problem when obvious deliberate fraud is overlooked. When a Christian celebrity looks into the camera and tells a falsehood, we can not trust what is said afterwards. How can we trust the history of a David Barton when he says he has an earned doctorate he knows he doesn’t have? How can we trust the word of Ravi Zacharias about apologetics when he claims academic credentials he knows he doesn’t possess? When Christians self-righteously promote Nashville Statements but overlook these failings, we preach in vain.

Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality

Yesterday, net neutrality became a dominant topic of conversation on social media because FCC Chair and Trump appointee Ajit Pai announcedphoto-1429051883746-afd9d56fbdaf_opt plans for a December 14 vote on Obama-era net neutrality rules. Pai wants to scrap them despite an overwhelming outpouring of public comment against his plan. A majority of commenters to the FCC want to keep the rules in place. Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, wants to change regulations to make the environment more friendly for the large internet service provides (ISPs) like Verizon and ATT.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is a principle codified in federal regulations that prevents your ISP from privileging one content provider over another. For instance, let’s say I use ACME Cable Co. Under net neutrality, if ACME owns a streaming service (let’s call it ACMEFLix), ACME can’t block or slow down Hulu or Netflix to give ACMEFlix a competitive advantage. Similarly, I can’t be charged more to get access to one website over another by ACME Cable. The content providers can and do charge for their content but the ISP is the conduit and has to provide a free and open access to the Internet.

Why Should You Care?

As I understand it, if these rules are eliminated, the big ISPs could start charging for access to certain websites or they could slow down or even block access to their competitors in favor of their own services. The smartest guy I know on all things Internet, Kurtis McCathern, tweeted this scenario:


In other words, the ISPs will be able to create their own version of social media services, incentivize their use, and slow down or block the use of currently free sites. They could make their services free and charge you a premium to allow to get to previously free sites. There is nothing to stop ISPs from rolling out such services now. However, with a change of rules, your ISP can make your participation on your preferred service (assuming it is Twitter or Facebook) an ordeal and more costly. Since many people in rural areas especially have only one or two real options for their ISP, it could make it nearly impossible to have true competition or a truly free and open Internet.
For more on net neutrality, consider the video below:

Is There an Argument Against Net Neutrality?

Trump’s FCC chairman Pai claimed in April that the net neutrality rules discouraged the development of infrastructure (creation of fiber optic networks, expansion of broadband services). He cited a decline in spending on infrastructure of $3.6-billion from 2014 to 2016.
However, ISP investors are getting a contrasting message from company CEOs. ATT’s CEO told investors that the FCC net neutrality rules would not prevent the company from deploying more fiber network.  Generally speaking, ISPs have continued to expand network infrastructure after the implementation of stricter FCC oversight of net neutrality.  Why wouldn’t they? As it is, they all play be the same rules. If they want to reach consumers, they need to expand their potential customer base and advertise the quality of their networks.
In my view, the Internet is of such widespread public importance that government oversight provides a check on the profit motive of business. I have no problem with profit motive but I believe human nature being what it is, a check on greed is needed. While government oversight is an imperfect means to achieve some kind of balance, it is what we have.
As with any area of public policy, I am open to a diversity of views and welcome comments and the submission of alternative points of view. That is especially true in this area since it is not an area of expertise.

Press Release: The Boston Declaration – Challenging the Corruption of Christianity

Today, a group of progressive Christian clergy and scholars released a declaration taking on racism, militarism, homophobia, and just about everyboston declaration logo other ill ailing the church today. I haven’t read through it carefully enough to have a strong opinion yet but I plan to give careful study. At first glance, there is a lot I like. For now, consider this a news event. The press release follows.

PRESS RELEASE – THE BOSTON DECLARATION
THE BOSTON DECLARATION
A Prophetic Appeal to Christians of the United States
PRESS RELEASE November 20, 2017
CONTACT: Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Spokesperson, 773-641-4992
Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, Spokesperson, 646-279-6690
Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, Spokesperson, 773-343-5951
Ann Craig, Media Consultant, 917-280-2968
Theologians Challenge the Corruption of US Christianity
Faith leaders put on sackcloth and ashes, to dramatize their grief over Christians who make excuses for racial hatred and sexual abuse rather than fighting oppression.
Christian theologians will put on sackcloth and ashes to dramatically grieve over the corruption of US Christianity and to call the country into a time of reflection and action to end oppression. Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, the group of leaders will launch the BOSTON DECLARATION at the Old South Church at 12:30 pm on Monday, November 20, 2017.
Over 100 theologians, bishops, and leaders in Christian seminaries and denominations are signatories the BOSTON DECLARATION to protest the demise of core values when favored politicians are exposed as racists and sexual predators.
The statement is modeled on the Barmen Declaration of 1934 when Christian theologians like Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the German subjugation of all churches under Adolf Hitler.
“Today, too many Christians are placing party politics over the foundational teachings of Jesus. They make excuses for racial hatred and sexual abuse, and some have even said that it would be better to vote for a pedophile than a Democrat,” said the Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology. “This is the basest kind of tribalism that feeds hatred. It is the opposite of love, the opposite of Jesus’ teaching of love and mercy.”
“Far too many Evangelical Christians have embraced the politics of exclusion, exploitation, and hatred, such that the Good News of Jesus has become a cover for a social and economic order that can only be understood as bad news for far too many. Responding to Jesus’ courageous call to love “the least of these” (Matt 25), we need put our prayers into action with revolutionary love. We pray for the conversion of the converted,” said the Rev. Dr. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, New York Theological Seminary.
Declaration excerpts:
As followers of Jesus … we are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression.
Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. And yet, we live in a moment when death and evil seem to reign supreme in the United States… we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.
Acknowledging our own failures and embracing an appropriate sense of humility should not, however, silence us. While we do not have ready-made answers for all the problems we face, we know something about the pathway we must follow if we are to find those answers, and this is the pathway of Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we take action when our government seeks to continuously harm life made in God’s image by cutting social safety-nets and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us to spiral into an abyss of desperation.
We reject the false ideology of empire building and the myth of racial laziness and substance abuse that harms the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the US territories.
We reject the patriarchal and misogynistic legacies that subject women to continual violence, violation, and exclusion. We stand strongly against sexual abuse and harassment in the highest offices of power.
We reject economic policies that are grounded in an illusion of extreme individualism and favor the accumulation of wealth for a few to the detriment of the many.
We reject Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.
We stand in solidarity against antisemitism and the use of any language and actions that threaten the lives of our Jewish sisters and brothers.
We reject homophobia and transphobia and all violence against the LGBTQ community.
…. May we embrace a future where the legacies of white supremacy are dismantled. We refuse to dehumanize any individual, reducing their identity to singular markers and possibilities. May we work towards a radical openness for every individual as we fight together for a better today and tomorrow.
May we build not to kill but to enliven. Let us garner all of our economic power to fight desperately for one another’s health, for full stomachs, for equal access to buildings and teachers where we might discover the fullness of our gifts and skills. May our power not be oriented towards empire but towards building a better tomorrow together.
The American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature is the largest annual gathering of religious scholars and leaders in the US. The signers of the BOSTON DECLARATION will strategize throughout the United States to interrogate both Democratic and Republican 2018 candidates on their commitment to the concerns addressed in the pronouncement.

Robert Morris Announces The Table Church Plant in Austin

In September, I first disclosed that Gateway Church founding pastor Robert Morris’ son Josh was going to plant a church in Austin, TX. This news represented a sea change at Gateway because the plan had always been for Josh to take over Gateway when Robert retired. This past weekend, the elder Morris made it official and announced to the Gateway congregation that the plant in Austin was happening.
The church, to be called The Table Church, is slated in early 2019 to open in the second wealthiest area of Austin: the Lakeway/Bee Cave area.  Morris will be assisted by Chad Sykes and Cole Novak. Morris disclosed this change and others this weekend and posted his announcement on the church Facebook page earlier today:

(Transcript at the end of the post)
It will interesting to see how this happens over time. Planting a church requires financial commitments and this means that Gateway is apparently going to expand just after a significant and painful staff downsizing.
Morris then outlined the new lineup of campus pastors.
GW pastors
Looks like there are already several good churches in the neighborhood. I wonder why Morris targeted this one?
 
Transcript:

I want to let you know, some changes, that are coming up, before I go into the message. And that is, that, um, we’re making some transitions with some campus pastors, so I’m gonna introduce to you all the campus pastors in a moment, just by at least showing you their pictures.  Most of them are not able to be here.  They’re at the campus. But we’re also making a transition here at the uh, Southlake campus with our campus pastor.
Pastor Josh Morris has been serving as the campus pastor of the Southlake Campus uh, but I wanna get you the, give ya a little behind the scenes, um, information on this.  Uh, about 3 to 4 years ago, um, I started feeling like that Pastor Josh might be, in 10 to 12 years, my successor and to take the church here.  And so I talked to the Elders about it. And we began preparing him for that. Putting him in, in different departments. We have two succession plans in essence.  One for when I’m 63-65, which is like 30 years from now, ya know, so.
But, ha, but the other uh emergency plan, ya know, if an airplane went down or something like that and um.  And it’s like life insurance. Ya hope ya never have to use it but ya oughta be wise and have it in place. So, uh, we were preparing him for that. And in August he came and met with me and said, ‘Dad, I just um, I just don’t have peace about, uh, taking the church at, just,  I feel stress when I think about it. And, um, I’ve been talking with Hannah and Hannah asked me, ‘would you ever want to plant a church.’ And he said, I actually said, ‘No. I don’t think I want to do that’. And he said but it’s been kind of going off in me and now the Lord’s actually put a city on my heart. And, but I need to talk to you and see what God is saying. Ya know, through you.
And I said, ‘Well, I think then since God is stirring this, then that’s the way we need to go. Um, God will take care of whoever is to uh,  take my place when it’s time. Uh, we’ll get back on a succession plan, for whoever God says.  Uh, but he’s praying about it.  I felt strongly as well, that this is what God is speaking to the Elders, all the Elders prayed.  We felt the word from the Lord.  So, next summer, they’re goin- Josh and Hannah, will move to Austin, Texas and plant a church in our state capital.
So, also Chad Sykes will be an Associate Pastor there and then Cole Novak is going to go to be the worship pastor, Cole wrote the song Open the Heavens that we sing, that’s all over now. I was actually listening on uh, the uh Christian radio station that’s on the XM Satellite and I thought, I know that song.  And I know that kid too, ya know, so uh, so, I just, I know these people. So, ah. Um, so anyway.  So we’re beginning to start making that transition. It won’t be called Gateway Church because there’s already a Gateway Church in Austin and it might be confusing, we felt like. Um and like  we pra- planted Preston, and we, we called that Gateway Church. But we planted Tim Ross in Irving and called it Embassy Church. So It’s going to be called Table Church.  Uh, ya know Pastor Josh has something in his heart about coming to the table and the Lord’s table.  And then just fellowship around the table.
So it’ll actually be Table dot Church. So if you know of someone in Austin, the church will probably start around the first of 2019, but there are a lot of moving parts to that. But they’ll move this next summer to get started and build the Lead Team and things like that. So, I’m, I’m excited about it. I really am.
We still have an emergency succession plan in place, just so ya know, if something did happen to me. Um, a guy with a little bit of experience, Pastor Jimmy Evans, would actually step in. And take the church as the interim pastor and then, we’d find ya know, what God is saying.  So but.  Nothing’s going to happened ahem, so.  I’ll be around.  So.
Uh, but I wanted to let you know who then will be stepping in as the Southlake campus pastor. And so, you just stand up there, Pastor Mark Jobe, is gonna be the new Southlake campus pastor. So, uh. And I, uh, I prayed about it and I’ve known Pastor Mark for many years and of course Pastor Mark and Sandy and then you probably very familiar with Kari Jobe, his daughter and one of th-our worship pastors that travels and ministers and now lives in Nashville so she can travel more and do what God has called her to do with her husband.
And so, anyway. Um, uh, but, so I just wanted you to know all the campus pastors cuz there’s been some switching some around.  So if we can put that up. Where you an kind of see. So uh, the Dallas Campus, of course, is Pastor Tom Lane.  Uh, at the Frisco Campus, Jelaini Lewis, NOW at the Grand Prairie Campus there’s Pastor Steve Thompson stepping in for Pastor Mark Jobe. At the North Ft Worth Campus Pastor Mondoe Davis. Uhm, and then at the North Richland Hills, Pastor Stokes Collins and just to comment at North Ft Worth it was Pastor Marcus Brecheen.  He’s helping us now in the church network that we’re starting to help other churches. And then Pastor Stokes it was Pastor Byron Copeland. Pastor Byron is now overseeing all of the campus, campuses and campus pastors. You have to have someone in that spot to be able to oversee all of them. And then Mark Jobe at the Southlake campus.  So, I just wanted to make you aware of what was going on.
And then just put Josh and Hannah on your radar. I think, uh, you know, umm, I don’t mean to say this wrong. Lemme say this the right way.  The Enemy targets state capitals. (nods head) Would you agree with that? So, why not a church, let’s target it for the Kingdom of God. And um, see what we can make a difference there. So.
And the church is actually gonna be west.  Kind of west of Austin. But take in that whole west Austin portion Bee Cave Lakeway, if you’ve ever been down there it’s just a huge grow- growing area so. Awright.

Mixed Orientation Couples and The Nashville Statement: What Would I Do?

Last week, I wrote about advice given by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield to a heterosexually married woman who fell in love with acounseling image 2 woman. In addition, this woman had come to dislike her husband greatly and had not been intimate with him for over a year. Butterfield’s answer to the intimacy problem was for the woman to submit to sex often, even though she said she couldn’t bear it. My strong criticism of this generated intense discussion and questions about what I would do in such a situation. This post addresses those questions.
I don’t have to speculate since I have encountered scores of these counseling situations over the years with both straight and mixed orientation couples. Let’s review Butterfield’s scenario:

Sitting across from me at the kitchen table this afternoon, you poured out your heart. When you married your high school sweetheart at 19, you never once suspected you would be in this place. Now, at 39, after twenty years of marriage, you call yourself gay.
In tears, you tell me that you have “come out,” and that you’re not looking back. You haven’t had an affair. Yet. But there is this woman you met at the gym. You work out with her every morning, and you text with her throughout the day.
Even though you are a covenant member of a faithful church, sit under solid preaching, and put up a good front for the children, you have been inwardly despising your husband for some time now. Hearing him read the Bible makes you cringe. You haven’t been intimate with him for over a year now. You tell me you can’t bear it.

Apparently, according to Butterfield, the kitchen table woman is considering an exit from the marriage to be with the gym woman. Butterfield denies that the woman is gay since, in her mind, sexual orientation isn’t a category of existence. She cautions the woman against destroying the family, urges her to repent, submit to her husband’s leadership, and have sex often. It is the last bit of advice that I called the worst advice ever. Butterfield said:

Second, embrace the calling that God has given to you to be your husband’s wife. Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it in his perfect providence. And God’s providence is your protection.
Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Based on my experience, I think Butterfield’s advice, if followed by the woman in her current emotional state, would hasten the demise of that marriage.

What is a Better Approach?

The first thing I would do in this case is to determine who the client is. Is it the woman or the marriage? If she came in to see me alone then I would work with her to pursue her goals in accord with the sexual identity therapy framework I developed along with Mark Yarhouse. We work within the value framework of the client after a vigorous process of clarifying values and beliefs.* This might mean the marriage might never be the focus.
Even though I would focus on her values and beliefs initially, I would certainly ask if she had any interest in saving the marriage. If she did, I would recommend that the husband come in as well. If he agreed, then the couple and relationship would become the focus.  For the sake of discussion, I will assume she has some interest in saving the marriage.
Intimacy is always a focus on marriage counseling but can never be forced. Especially in the church, there is a power differential between men and women. Counselors must be sensitive to this and treat each member of the couple with dignity and equal respect. No one is to be shamed for sexual desires nor should anyone be shamed for lack of sexual desire. The partner who is more interested in sex must understand that intimacy cannot be forced or coerced from the partner less interested in it. This truth applies to so many situations in marriage, not just the one in the Butterfield scenario.
Full personal histories and a history of their relationship would need to be fleshed out with all of the triumphs and failures. Circumstances surrounding courtship, marriage and births are critical to the development of their story. We want to figure out how the current crisis fits into the ongoing narrative. This is standard counseling work but it sets the stage for making intelligent recommendations tailored to the couple in the room.
I have worked with dozens of Christian couples who have implemented some form of Butterfield’s advice prior to seeing me. When women have done this against their will, the results have been resentment and anger. The marriage deteriorated to the point that counseling was a last resort before seeing the lawyer. I recall one case in particular where the a woman not only left her husband but left her church and lost her faith. Her husband had required her to see the elders on more than one occasion because sexual frequency wasn’t to his liking. Even after he realized how degrading the whole thing was, it was too late. She had enough.
Another woman complained of pain in intercourse but was forbidden by her husband of seeing a gynecologist. After she went anyway, it turned out she had a medical reason why intercourse was painful. When this information was shared with her husband and the pastor, it didn’t matter. She was still required to fulfill her wifely duty because it couldn’t be that bad. She had children after all. That was it, the marriage was over. There are too many more stories.
In the context of mixed orientation marriages, some marriages have stayed together and some haven’t. Some women are bisexual, decide that the family is irreplaceable and worth more than another relationship. Other women determine that they lied at the beginning, were never straight and feel horrible about it. The couples decide it would be best to end the relationship for everybody concerned. Some gay people (I call them spousosexual) have sufficient fluidity in their orientation that they fall in love with one member of the opposite sex without losing their general attraction to the same sex.  Although I don’t think it is common, some of those marriages survive.  The point is that the one-size-fits-all advice offered by Butterfield to woman who have resentment against their husbands would almost never fit anyone and should be removed from the web. I can only see pain and destruction coming from it in the context it was offered.

What About I Corinthans 7?

Let me close by saying a word about those who protest by appealing to I Corinthians 7. Here is the passage:

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

First, Paul said that he wrote this as “a concession, not as a command.” Now, I am not a theologian, I am not from Nashville, nor have I ever been a theologian in Nashville signing important documents, but it seems like it is important to note that this instruction isn’t a command. Those are not my words, but Paul’s.
As an aside, Paul said he wished everyone could be single. Does that mean God’s design is singleness? He said everyone has their own gift. What does that say about the person who never has had an opposite sex attraction?
Back to the passage, I recognize that this sounds like marriage is a kind of a transaction, each person has a duty. There is a sense in which this is true in a normal marriage. When people are basically happy with each other and want to have sex, then Paul said they should not deprive each other. Paul started off the instruction by saying he didn’t think it was good for a man to touch a woman (is that God’s design?), so he had to make it clear that for those who are married and want to have sex, he would make a concession and say it was fine for this occur. In the face of some killjoy saying “no sex,” Butterfield’s advice is great.
However, a little later in the passage, Paul gets to the situation Butterfield encounters in her article.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

Butterfield’s kitchen table lady might leave her husband according to Paul but she shouldn’t remarry, nor should he remarry. I know mixed orientation couples who have an uneasy separation along these lines because living together was too confusing and painful. Of course, that result is not ideal, but it appears to be one envisioned even by a literal reading of I Corinthians.
In short, I don’t think Butterfield’s advice is a proper application of I Corinthians 7 to a marriage where both partners are not invested in the marriage.
 
*For more on sexual identity therapy, see these articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal as well as the SIT website.