As Billy Graham’s family, friends, and foes are reflecting on his life, many sides of him are being discussed and analyzed. This morning his grandson Boz Tchividjian posted this photo of Graham cutting up in a classroom.
As we begin this week’s formal goodbye to Daddy Bill, I have so many memories of him making us laugh. Someone recently sent me this picture that shows a side of @BillyGraham that enjoyed being funny and making others laugh. Thanks again for making me laugh, Daddy Bill. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/DApjHTiYhA
Just before I saw this tweet, historian and former archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Jim Lutzweiler sent along the same picture with the back story. Jim said the photo came from “the private collection of Randy Miller, Research librarian at Liberty University.” About the scene, he said:
William Bell Riley was a big name in the 1920s–1940s. He was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis whose members included George Pillsbury of the flour family. Riley built a college for training young people. He came to North Carolina in the early 1920s to fight against evolution in the schools, a controversy that preceded the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. By 1947 Riley was dying. he needed a successor. At that time Billy Graham was a rising star in the movement called Youth for Christ. Youth had always been Riley’s passion. In short, Riley picked Billy Graham to succeed him in the presidency of his school. This was two years before Graham’s famous crusade in Los Angeles. Billy only presided over the school for a couple years before it began to fold and he chose full time evangelism. By the way, one of the students at Northwestern in those days was a Roger Peterson. I knew Roger. He told me that in chapel one day Billy told the students Christ would return prior to 1955, as Christ was to come within 7 years of the rebirth of Israel (i.e., 1948).
The fellow at the lectern in the picture is Richard V. Clearwaters. He had hoped to succeed Riley but Riley did not pick him. So he started Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Seminary from both of which schools I graduated.
The first president of Pillsbury College was a fellow named Monroe Parker. Billy Graham had once told Parker that he, Billy, had converted under Parker’s preaching, not under Mordecai Ham. Parker told us this in chapel and he also published it in his autobiography.
So Clearwaters would have been the first Pillsbury Doughboy (sorry).
Thanks to Jim for the context. He added that Graham wasn’t much older than the students and related to them easily. I wonder if he ever ate any goldfish (you’ll get that if you grew up fundamentalist).
Eric Metaxas loves him some Dennis Prager. After Jon Ward’s profile of Metaxas as a Donald Trump supporter came out on Friday, Metaxas heartily recommended Prager’s defense of evangelicals who support Trump on Saturday. In his National Review article, Prager wrote, “this Jew would like to defend Evangelicals and other Christians who support President Donald Trump.”
After chastising never-Trump evangelicals, Prager said that God used prostitute Rahab to help bring the Israelites into the promised land. If God can do that, why can’t evangelicals get over Trump’s moral failings? The punch line of the piece is:
Evangelicals realize that the moral good of defeating the Left is of surpassing importance.
Is that so? Is such a defeat what we are here to accomplish?
A few minutes of reflection bring up several problems with Prager’s summary of evangelical moral good. Who is The Left? At one time, the left was the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was considered the Left by conservatives. Many Christians agreed the races shouldn’t mix or be treated equally. Should this movement have been defeated, Mr. Prager?
To many conservatives, The Left includes people who want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, many evangelicals also favor inclusive policies. Ronald Reagan favored inclusive immigration policies. Was he a part of The Left to be defeated?
On Saturday, Mona Charen was booed when she blasted the Republican party for overlooking the sexual harassment allegations against President Trump. She had to escorted from the event due to concerns for her safety. She also stood against the outrageous presence on the program of Marion Merechal-Le Pen. Le Pen claims to be the political heir of her Nazi and racist grandfather. Yet, CPAC welcomed her with open arms. Trump is aligned with CPAC. Is Mona Charen, a lifelong Buckley conservative, now a member of The Left because she opposes Trumpism?
Thou Shalt Defeat The Left?
Here is another puzzle. Where is it written in the Scripture that Defeating The Left is of surpassing importance? We are supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. We are supposed to teach disciples in all nations. We are supposed to love God and then our neighbor as ourselves. Those without sin can cast a stone but if we have sin, we have to drop them. There is talk of salt and light. Somebody help me find this Defeat The Left passage.
Even though I believe Prager and by extension evangelicals who think like him are wrong about the surpassing moral importance of defeating the Left, I do think he put into words one of the Great Commandments of Trump Evangelicals.
On Metaxas’ Facebook page, he said he likes Prager so much, he is thinking of proposing marriage. That is legal of course, but it would violate his old religion, but perhaps not his new one. Since Prager is Jewish and Metaxas is Christian, they would be of different faiths. However, now that Metaxas is with his new evangelicalism striving to defeat the left, perhaps such arrangements are just fine.
In a remarkable Yahoo News article, Jon Ward gives the public a look into the thinking of Eric Metaxas as he defends himself against his critics.
Metaxas is the author of books on Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and most recently Martin Luther. Much to the puzzlement of many, Metaxas is also a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump. In his email exchange with Metaxas, reporter Ward sowed sharp questions about Metaxas’ support for Trump and reaped Metaxas’ whirlwind of projection and self-justification. You must read the whole thing at Yahoo and then hop on over to Medium where Jon reproduced the email exchange in full.
I could pick out many aspects of this exchange, but Ward’s piece is so clear that little commentary is needed. I will simply hit one or two high spots and then end with some commentary on Metaxas’ rant about Messiah history professor John Fea.
House of Mirrors
Ward summarized the email exchange:
To read Metaxas’ email was like entering a house of mirrors. It was not Trump who had aroused and played upon xenophobia as a candidate by his endless talk of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and his slur of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his talk of banning all Muslims from entering the country. Rather, “Beltway and Manhattan elites” were engaged in a “new and accepted tribalism and xenophobia” against “white European ‘Christian’ varieties” and in favor of Islam.
Ward really captured the contradiction in Metaxas later in the article:
Metaxas firmly planted himself on the side of the common folk against “elites.” He protested the “patronizing” and “fundamentally un-American” attitudes of media gatekeepers, who he said believe “many Americans are too uneducated or too gullible to properly understand all that confusing news in its raw form.” But when it came to the topic of Trump’s many racially charged comments dismissing or demeaning minority groups, Metaxas didn’t hesitate to take the view of an elite who knew what was better for those communities than they did themselves.
Trump, Metaxas said, “has been perceived as wrong by certain groups, by many groups. We need to take that perception seriously, but just how seriously is the larger question. Are we not living in a time when everyone is far too easily offended, so much so that we are taking our eyes off what actually matters, off actually solving the real problems of people rather than giving politically correct lip service to those problems?”
When you attack Metaxas or Trump, you’re patronizing. When Trump attacks, the other side is too easily offended.
More contradiction comes via Metaxas’ opinion of Hillary Clinton. On one hand, he wrote to Ward:
Christians who think the Church in America might have survived a Hillary Clinton presidency are something like the devout Christian Germans who seriously and prayerfully thought it unChristian to be involved in opposing Hitler because to do so would have dirtied their hands with politics,…
He even once tweeted “Hitlery Clinton” but in the email exchange he told Ward: “Nor do I mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, but the principle at issue is the same nonetheless.” If he didn’t mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, then why bring up Hitler?
John Fea and the Beast of Revelation
Despite his complaints of being pilloried, he did not hesitate to pillory. His response to a question about historian John Fea’s spot-on critique of his book If You Can Keep It is a case in point. Ward asked in part:
The greater point is that Fea thinks you make a common mistake of many evangelicals, that of confusing America with the kingdom of God. This is a complex and nuanced point. A firm rootedness in one’s citizenship in heaven should not produce passivity or fatalism about one’s community or nation here on earth. But the critique of culture warriors often is that they cling too tightly to worldly outcomes because the two categories (kingdom of God and America) have become almost unintelligibly mixed or combined. Do you think you have done this in any way?
Metaxas snorted in response:
Mr. Fea’s critiques have not only not persuaded me, they have helped me see more clearly why what I said in my book If You Can Keep It is necessary to communicate to as many Americans as possible at this time in history. If I could give a copy of that book to every American — or at least to every young American — I would do so. Mr. Fea’s misunderstanding on this central issue — one that particularly seems to plague academics — is at the heart of our problems as a culture and as a church.
To mix these very separate categories is a great sin indeed, but such sins must be in the eyes of the beholder. I am afraid Mr. Fea has committed the opposite sin in being so enamored of a certain anti-populist and anti-American narrative — which view is so trendy in the Academy that he should be concerned about having accepted it himself — that he falls into the category of those who find any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.
Metaxas did not answer the question. All he did was attack Fea’s character and his patriotism. If Metaxas wants to elevate discourse among Christians, perhaps he should start with himself.
Those new to the criticisms of Metaxas’ historical errors in If You Can Keep It should go back and read the many critical reviews of the book by Christian historians (here, here, here, here, here). These critiques documented the many historical problems in the book. At the time, he doubled down on the errors and aligned with David Barton against the critics.
I believe historians writing about this period of history will find Ward’s article quite helpful as a window into the evangelical split over Trump. Agree or disagree with Metaxas, I think and he and Ward deserve thanks for being willing to put this conversation before the public.
By now, most readers of social media know that Billy Graham passed away today. While he leaves behind many legacies, one seldom noted is his early dedication to financial accountability. In a 2016 Christianity Today article, a story is told of Graham’s conversion to transparency.
In the 1950s, one event solidified Billy Graham’s dedication to financial transparency, according to Grant Wacker, author of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation
In Graham’s early crusades, he accepted “love offerings” made by the throngs who came to hear him speak. But in 1950, an Atlanta newspaper ran two front-page photos that changed Graham’s mind. One photo depicted “three or four gunny sacks stuffed with greenbacks,” said Wacker. Next to it was a photo of Graham wearing a big smile.
“The implication was that Graham was gloating because he’d just gleaned so much money from the crusade,” said Wacker. “It wasn’t true, but it appeared that way.” It was the beginning of what Wacker called “Billy Graham’s long-running effort to avoid the appearance of evil, as well as evil.”
By 1952, Graham required every ministry salary to be regularized and public. The elder Graham was the first to formalize salary transparency, Wacker said. “I don’t know of any other evangelistic organization that preceded his.”
It is a shame that the ministry that uses his name changed IRS status a couple of years ago and no longer files documentation of donations and expenditures. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is now considered a church. Churches don’t have to file such forms. All this does is shield information and reduce accountability, something that is contrary to Graham’s legacy.
However, today, we should remember that Graham’s principle focus in life was the Gospel. He stood in sharp contrast to “evangelists” such as Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn who brag about their wealth with no accountability or transparency.
Today, BGEA is broadcasting Graham’s sermons and crusades continuously.
To hear Focus on the Family’s public policy arm, Family Policy Alliance, talk about it, the opponents of forcing teens to go to sexual orientation change efforts (aka conversion therapy) don’t want kids to go to counseling. Listen to Stephanie Curry use the phrase “basic talk therapy” like it is her job (which in this case it is).
Hi, I’m Stephanie Curry and I’m a public policy manager with Family Policy Alliance. I’m here today to talk to you about a series of bills that we’re seeing across the country that would seek to ban basic talk therapy for our children. Family Policy Alliance cares about this issue because we care about our children and that they’re able to have access to basic talk therapy if they are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. We believe that families and parents know what’s best for their children and they should have the ability to find licensed therapists that support their moral and religious principles.
Some bills we’re seeing that are cause for concern are for example a bill in Massachusetts that said it was child abuse for a family to take their child to a therapist to get therapy for their unwanted same-sex attractions or gender identity issues. We also have seen a bill in Massachusetts that equates this type of basic talk therapy to torture. Now we know that this isn’t true. Because we love our children, we want them to have access to compassionate and ethical basic talk therapy that is open to change. Thank you so much for joining us today.
The Basic Talk Therapy Bill
In fact, the only bill I could find in MA did not refer to therapy as child abuse or torture. The bill does not prohibit basic talk therapy. The 2017 bill — H1190 — specifically forbids interventions which serve sexual reorientation or gender identity change. However, the bill does allow a neutral exploration of sexual and gender identity issues.
Read the the bill below:
SECTION 1. Chapter 112 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official addition, is hereby amended by adding following new section:-
Section 266. (a) Definitions.
For the purposes of this section, “licensed professional” means any licensed medical, mental health, or human service professional licensed under Chapter 112, including any psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, allied mental health and human services professional, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed rehabilitation counselor, licensed mental health counselor, licensed educational psychologist, or any of their respective interns or trainees, or any other person designated or licensed as a mental health or human service professional under Massachusetts law or regulation.
The term “sexual orientation” shall mean having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.
The term “Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” means any practice by a licensed professional that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” does not include practices:
(A)(1) to provide acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; (2) facilitate an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development; or (3) that are sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and
(B) Do not attempt or purport to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
(b) Under no circumstances shall a licensed professional advertise for or engage in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient less than 18 years of age. Any licensed professional violating this prohibition shall be such subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board, which may include suspension or revocation of license.
(c) Whoever violates this section shall be considered to have violated section 2 of chapter 93A. Any such claim brought under this section shall be subject to sections 5A and 7 of chapter 260.
SECTION 2. (a) Subsection (a) of Section 51A of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official addition, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “chapter 233” the following words:-
or (vi) being subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined by section 169 of chapter 112
(b) Section 51A of chapter 119 is further amended in subsection (i) after the word “family.” by adding the following words:-
Any report including licensed professionals engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined under section 169 of chapter 112 shall be filed within 30 days to the appropriate licensing board for review and possible suspension or revocation of license.
Therapists Should Be Neutral
Religious right pundits have been distorting these bills since they first came along. The MA bill clearly allows “basic talk therapy” which “provide[s] acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” and “facilitate[s] an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development” or “that [is] sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.
As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.
What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.
Earlier today, Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone met for a debate moderated by KDKA Pittsburgh. The candidates tackled gun control, abortion, Russian interference, tax cuts and their own qualifications.
Saccone has been endorsed by David Barton and is an unabashed supporter of President Trump. Lamb is a moderate Democrat who is new to elective politics. The latest polls have them within 3 points.
In the debate, there was common ground. Both men felt existing gun laws should be enforced. Both men agree that due process is important in allegations of misconduct.
The candidates disagreed about many other matters including medical marijuana – Saccone voted against legalizing medical marijuana in PA. Lamb sides with medical opinion which favors the use of marijuana. Lamb asserted his concern for the deficit while Saccone touted the GOP tax bill.
“I have never been part of the swamp. I have always been there cleaning up the swamp in Harrisburg. Most of my bills have passed unanimously or nearly unanimously,” Saccone said. “I have a record of doing what I say and my opponent has no record. A candidate can say anything he wants. How many times have you been disappointed by people who say they are going to do something, get into office and don’t do it. I’ve actually done what I said and I have the record to prove it.”
The facts don’t fully support this claim. When Saccone ran for U.S. Senate, he portrayed himself as a swamp cleaner. However, according to a report in the Allentown Morning Call, Saccone didn’t miss many opportunities to cash in on his status as a legislator.
As a state rep, Saccone sponsored a bill which prohibits public officials from accepting anything of value including “hospitality” as a gift from someone who wants to do business with the government. However, he does it all the time. According to the Morning Call, he also brings along his wife for the free meals.
Saccone has also billed PA taxpayers for office space owned by a campaign donor. Over his seven years in office, he has spent over $400,000 of tax dollars on expense accounts according to an Intercept report. In contrast to his claim, he has been involved in filling the swamp.
In a January 31, 2018 Christianity Today article, former gymnast Rachael Denhollander described her experience being the first to make public abuse allegations against Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. Her brave disclosures led to many more from other women which eventually led to Nassar’s conviction and sentencing for criminal sexual contact.
In the CT article, Denhollander confronted the topic of sexual abuse in the church and specifically raised the controversial case of Sovereign Grace Churches. She didn’t feel supported in her struggle against Nassar by her church because that church was sympathetic to what she believes to be a past cover up of abuse within Sovereign Grace Churches. Denhollander said she and her husband didn’t feel welcome in the church after she expressed concerns about SGM.
In response, SGC posted a blog entry challenging Denhollander’s knowledge of the case.
On January 31, 2018, Sovereign Grace Churches became aware of an article published that same day in Christianity Today. The article is an interview with Rachael Denhollander. Rachael was the first to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, and her testimony was instrumental in drawing attention to the horrific crimes he committed. We thank God for Rachael’s courage in confronting Nassar and commend her invaluable work on behalf of other abuse victims. Like so many, we were impressed by her faithful witness to Christ in such difficult circumstances. At the same time, it needs to be said that she is mistaken in her accusations made against Sovereign Grace Churches and C.J. Mahaney. The Christianity Today article publicly mischaracterizes Sovereign Grace and C.J. based on accusations of which Rachael had no involvement and which are not true and have never been true. It’s extremely difficult to respond to false accusations without appearing unsympathetic to victims of abuse. It is our sincere hope that this brief statement has done both by speaking truthfully, respectfully and in a way that honors God.
Then, on February 5, Denhollander posted a response to SGC. In it, she issued a challenged to the organization to allow an independent organization, GRACE, to do an independent investigation of the allegations:
I am asking SGC to support their recent claim that I am making “false accusation”, “mischaracterizing” and communicating things that “are not true and have never been true”, and instead show true care for the victims by finally dealing transparently with these concerns, through taking one specific step:
Allowing GRACE, an Christian organization whose expertise is sexual assault and institutional dynamics, to do a thorough independent investigation of the organization’s historical and current handling of abuse complaints, which will be released to the public.
This evening, Sovereign Grace Churches posted a lengthy and detailed response to Denhollander’s request for an investigation by GRACE. In addition to a denial of the bulk of Denhollander’s allegations, the church organization flatly rejected her request.
Rachael calls for a “fair, independent” investigation into SGC led by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) because of the organization’s supposed neutrality. However, Boz Tchividjian, the leader of GRACE, has on multiple occasions written and spoken publicly in ways that suggest he has already prejudged the case against SGC. He has publicly indicted the motives of SGC as it relates to those allegations, and he has publicly criticized others who have expressed any support for SGC.
The rest of the statement takes on some of the points raised by Denhollander as well as others which she did not raise. It also refers to an independent investigation secured by Covenant Life Church. Covenant Life is no longer affiliated with SGC. However, this report has not been released to the public and remains mysterious. Essentially, the statement from SGM denies a cover up of abuse. Although the church leadership team acknowledges “in hindsight that there were grave errors in judgment, and the abuse should have been reported regardless of the circumstances or a victim’s wishes,” they deny protecting abusers through a policy of not reporting abuse. Furthermore, the organization expressed regret over past mistakes and claimed to have improved their processes for handling allegations in the present.
I reached out to Rachel Denhollander for comment. On her behalf, her husband Jacob said she would respond to this new statement after a careful review. Later, Jacob Denhollander posted this tweet:
We have seen the @SovereignGrace statement, and while it is extremely disappointing, it is not unexpected. I won't be commenting on it for now – it will be better to let the smarter one reply to it first.
Sovereign Grace Church attack Rachel Denhollander and Boz Tchividjian @netgrace_org proving why Mahaney has earned the title of "he whose name must not be spoken." Unbelievable. https://t.co/3hPM5pmQtE
Under oath, it seems that a SG pastor admitted to not alerting authorities about Morales's abuse. How then are these allegations "not true"? @CJMahaney Sovereign Grace Churches Response to Christianity Today Article https://t.co/nLpYJeDer1
I have a genuine question for Sovereign Grace Churches, as a neutral observer who’s eager to see evangelicals handle abuse claims blamelessly. The claim below is in The Washingtonian—a print magazine. Does SGC dispute it? SGC’s statement today didn’t directly address it. Why not? pic.twitter.com/PsQh4rZq7G
Gospel for Asia’s field partner in India is Believers’ Church. K.P. Yohannan is founder and CEO of Gospel for Asia and he is Metropolitan Bishop of Believers’ Church. GFA has sent hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars to India to support Believers’ Church and Believers’ Church has built an impressive array of schools and medical centers in India. GFA tells donors in the U.S. that the donations go to spread the gospel and ease the suffering of the poor and needy in India and throughout Asia.
In fact, most of the schools and medical centers often charge market rates and don’t cater to the needy. Case in point is this report from the Deccan Chronicle about a man who had to leave Believers’ Church Medical Center in Kerala because his family couldn’t afford the high fees. From the Deccan Chronicle:
Pillai, who had breathing difficulty due to a neurological deficit, was undergoing treatment at the Believers Church hospital at Thiruvalla. However, he was shifted to the Kottayam medical college hospital on Wednesday as the family could not afford the huge expenses. Salini said that the doctor who administered treatment to her father at the Thiruvalla hospital told her that the MCH will have a full- time ventilator facility.
According to the report, the doctor in charge at K.P. Yohannan’s hospital didn’t bother to call the receiving facility to find out if a ventilator was available. Since there was no ventilator, the poor fellow had to wait in the ambulance for over four hours until a ventilator was available.
The excuse given by Believers Church is telling. The spokeswoman said the receiving hospital had made excuses in the past about not having a ventilator. Apparently, Pillai wasn’t the first patient dumped by Believers’ Church Medical Center on the local public facility. How Jesus-like of Believers’ Church.
For those who have forgotten, recall that GFA promised to regain their membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. That promise was made in October 2015 after being kicked out for multiple financial violations. GFA has not regained membership.
GFA’s RICO suit continues on with trial set for 2019.
Many readers, including me, felt the tweet implied that the cause of mental illness is a lack of faith. However, many believers experience emotional distress and many non-believers don’t. The tweet and later effort to put it in the context of a 2007 article fell flat. Adding insult to injury, Desiring God had nothing else to say, leaving the tweet in place and offering no apology. As Phoenix Preacher Michael Newnham wrote, “Being a Christian Celebrity Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry…”
Being a Christian Celebrity Doesn’t Mean You Are an Expert at Everything
Some of them think they are. And their fans often put them in that role. I rather like what Newnham has to say about his approach as a pastor to mental health concerns.
As a pastor my “expertise” is limited and I’m as broken and fallible as you are.
In some ways, maybe more so.
I don’t know how to fix your sex life, raise your kids, manage your finances, or treat your ills.
I’m not even that good at what I’m trained to do.
My job is to help you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, just as I am growing as well.
My job is to be present when you need me, to the best of my ability.
My job is to pray with and for you, that God will give you wisdom about the problems that are beyond my scope of expertise…which are most of them.
Sometimes, my job is to give you a referral to someone I trust can help you.
This is really good. Keep all of the Desiring God ministries and give me men and women like this in community churches everywhere.
The Desiring God tweeter should meet some Christians who found help from psychotherapy. I am the first to acknowledge (and call out) the shoddy and quack therapists, but I also know that therapy can be a lifeline to people when everything else (including the church) has failed them. Read the response of this Christian blogger with who responded to a challenge about therapy.
Last night I read a disturbing sentiment on someone’s blog. In effect, she said she doesn’t support therapy because there is nothing therapy can provide that can’t be provided through a relationship with God. This disturbs me because so many Christians feel this way or similar, and it is essentially a way of saying that all mental illness or emotional issues are a result of a broken relationship with God or a failure of faith. I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this; I lost many friends who made this conclusion out of ignorance or arrogance.
In response, she wrote:
The first thing to be said here is that yes, God can and does have the ability to heal anything. Read this blog if you doubt that. Yes, my hard work and new variations of meds and finding the right (and strange) combination of meds matters, along with many other things like vitamins and diet and sunshine, but that I’m in remission (partial or otherwise) is nothing less than a miracle.
However, I firmly believe that God uses tools to heal. For those with mental illness, one of those tools can be therapy. I don’t know a single therapist (even the really bad ones I’ve had and there were several of those) who have claimed to be a cure for anything just by themselves. Instead, therapy provides support while you do what needs done, just like a cast supports a fractured arm.
Bipolar illness damages my relationship with God. I am not good at connecting with anyone and I need help to do so. That’s one place therapy comes into play. I also need help with things that should be basic. Reading the Bible and understanding it is one of them. I can’t follow a “real” Bible. I use a children’s version when I can, but truthfully that’s not a lot. I just have a lot of emotions surrounding the inability to handle the real Bible that make it hard to stomach my watered down one. Maybe a better person wouldn’t struggle with the anger that I can’t be an adult in all things, but I do. It’s a side effect of an illness that took away so much of what I wanted in life.
This person didn’t get sick by staring in a mirror, nor was the remission due to looking away from it. The Desiring God-style advice yielded frustration and as she said, condemnation from Christians. I urge pastors to put aside fear and reach out to local experts in mental health for referrals when someone in your congregation needs help. Not all encounters will go well but begin seeking referral sources now as you would sources for other medical and health specialties.
A Christian organization which may provide assistance is Christian Association for Psychological Studies.
The organizers are hoping for an April revival in Virginia.
This follows Twitter rumblings for several months and an open letter to Liberty University last November for a peaceful debate after Jonathan Martin was disinvited to speak at the school. That letter is below:
Dear Jerry Falwell, Jr.,
We know you did not intend to make national news this week by sending armed officers to escort the Rev. Jonathan Martin off of Liberty University’s campus. You have been clear about your support for President Trump. Rev. Martin has made clear his opposition. But this fundamental disagreement, you insist, is not why Martin was barred. “The University cannot be concerned with whether its actions provide additional oxygen to either side of a debate,” your official statement said. Your only concern, you insist, is the “safety and security” of your campus.
Despite the fact that Liberty University could not exist without federal loans and grants, it is a private institution. You have the legal authority to use its police force to stifle dissent. But you say this is not your intent: “Members of the Liberty community are always welcome to engage in peaceful debate,” you wrote. Though you might prefer to asphyxiate a prophetic Christianity that criticizes your personal political positions, you understand it is not in your interest to do so.
We write, then, to ask you to make good on your promise. If you are not opposed to a debate, then host one.
As fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we disagree with your celebration of Donald Trump as a “dream President” for evangelicals. Along with a majority of Americans, we experience his administration as more of a nightmare. But our disagreement is not about personality; rather, we see the stark divergence in our discernment about politics as a reflection of fundamental differences in how we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. From Isaiah 58 to Luke 4 and Matthew 25, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ speaks prophetically against false religion that props up injustice.
This divide is not new. It is as old as the many denominations that split over the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. As Frederick Douglass wrote in the midst of those divisions, “Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ I see the widest possible difference.” In the 19th century, this basic divide led people like Angelina Grimke and William Lloyd Garrison to part ways with slaveholding religion in order to keep their faith. In the 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel argued that we forfeit the right to worship God if we do not stand with the marginalized and oppressed. We contend that the greatest threat to Christianity in the 21st century is that our Lord’s gospel would be confused with the religion of white supremacy. In our estimation, you and others who see the Trump administration as a Redemption movement are contributing to just such a conflation.
And yet, we know from the scriptures and from our own experience that the truth of the gospel is greater than our individual and corporate sins. For this reason, we are willing to pay our own way to come to Liberty University and engage in the debate which you have said is welcome. Because we believe that a diversity of voices is essential in these matters, we write together as male and female, black and white, gay and straight ministers of the gospel. We are prepared to present witnesses in equal number to those whom you would choose to represent your perspective. We only ask that we be allowed to mutually agree on a moderator and set of questions beforehand and that we have access to livestream the debate via a production company that was started by one of your alumni. You can contact us via the office of Repairers of the Breach.
We write this open letter in hope that you will be true to the promise of your public statement about why Rev. Martin was removed this week and in greater hope that America might experience a moral revival as we face the truth about how the gospel has been compromised and receive the good news that another way is possible.
That letter was signed by many people also involved in the Red Letter Revival.
I hope this doesn’t turn into a commercialized event with books and CDs for sale. Inasmuch as the event focuses on separating church and state, I wish them well.