InterVarsity

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Here’s a remarkable book with news potential that no reputable evangelical publisher would have issued, say, five or 10 years ago: “Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity” by Gregory Coles.

Significantly, New Testament scholar D.A. Carson, a staunch conservative, blurbs that the work “needs to be thoughtfully read by straight people, and by gay people, by unbelievers and by Christians” -- and read “with humility.”

The publisher is the book division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, long hassled by many colleges because its student officers are expected to uphold Christian tradition, including the limitation of sex to one-man- one-woman marriage. Last year, IVCF reaffirmed that policy for employees, sparking media coverage. (InterVarsity hires those of  “LGBTQI identity” if they support its orthodox stance on sexual morals.)

Coles is a church musician and active member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in State College, Pa. He’s solidly evangelical, thus takes seriously what the Bible teaches, carefully examined the arguments from liberal revisionists but concluded that scripture opposes same-sex marriages and sexual relationships.

What then? Though he has no idea why, since youth he’s been “unable to conjure even the slightest heterosexual desire,” and this is no “choice.” He prayed earnestly. He cried. He “felt dirty, worthless, irredeemable.” After long struggles he “stopped praying to be straight” and doesn’t see how that could ever occur. Thus, he’s concluded that he is “a thing that wasn’t supposed to exist: a single gay Christian.”    

The book is a heartfelt plea to fellow evangelicals to rethink their approach to this, the most divisive issue to face U.S. Protestantism since slavery.

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Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

A recent Gallup Poll showed 38 percent of Americans agree with what’s known as “young earth creationism,” which believes God created humanity in its present form some 10,000 years ago.  

That percentage, the lowest since Gallup began asking about this in 1982, was a tie with those saying humanity developed over millions of years “but God guided the process,” so-called “theistic evolution.” Meanwhile, 19 percent said God played no part, double the number in 2000.

The long-running dispute over evolution continues to present journalists with a big challenge in providing fair treatment, particularly if they lack expertise in Bible interpretation. Thus the importance for all media professionals of “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?,” a July book from InterVarsity Press, known for quality presentations of conservative Protestant thinking.

This dialogue book presents respectful but vigorous disagreements from two evangelical camps that share belief in God as the Creator and the full authority of the Bible. BioLogos of Grand Rapids, Mich., champions of “evolutionary creation” (it prefers that label to “theistic evolution”), which harmonizes the Bible with Darwinian evolution. Debate partner Reasons to Believe (RTB) of Covina, Calif., advocates “old earth creation” and criticizes standard evolutionary theory on scientific and biblical grounds.  

RTB began in 1986 under leadership of the Rev. Hugh Ross, a pastor with a Ph.D. in astronomy.  BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Francis Collins (.pdf here), director of the Human Genome Project and currently director of the National Institutes of Health. The two groups held 15 meetings that provide the substance of the new book. 

Both BioLogos and RTB support the vastly long timeline that has long been standard among scientists.

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Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

It’s summer time, which means that its camp time for many children and the adults who run zillions of camps around the United States and Canada.

Many such camps are run by Christian denominations and parachurch ministries, not the least of which is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), which has always focused on reaching out to college students.

It turns out that the huge sex debate that has embroiled InterVarsity here in the States has reached up into Canada where IVCF runs a string of summer camps for youth.

Although this piece by CBC Radio-Canada ran two months ago, it pertains to how culture wars on human sexuality are very much being fought this summer.

A group of alumni from one of Ontario's largest Christian summer camps is fighting to end an anti-gay policy that requires staff to condemn "homosexual and lesbian sexual conduct" if a camper asks them about it.
Volunteer and paid staff at Ontario Pioneer Camp in Port Sydney, Ont., must sign a code of conduct that says "homosexual and lesbian sexual conducts are not to be practised" and staff "should not in any way espouse, endorse or imply acceptance" of what the policy says "should be avoided." 

So there are several words that are missing in this news report so far. Can you guess what they might be? 

"This very narrow, firm stance on homosexuality is wrong," argues Michelle Dowling, a former camper and staff member.
She helped start OnePioneer, the group pushing for LGBT inclusion at the camp they otherwise love.
"It really held me back for a number of years in accepting myself," Dowling told CBC Toronto. The 28-year-old was wrestling with her own sexuality the last time she signed the contract in 2011.

It’s 14 paragraphs into the story when we get a quote from an InterVarsity official.

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Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Personally, I was agnostic about climate change until I spent last year in Alaska. Living in Fairbanks and hearing ordinary people talk about the winters getting warmer, how the cold isn’t what it used to be and hearing how “break-up” (the melting of Alaska’s vast rivers) is happening earlier and earlier each spring, made a believer out of me.

The winter I was there (2015), the Iditarod was held in Fairbanks for the second time in its history because Anchorage had no snow. When I visited the Alyeska ski resort to try some downhill just east of Anchorage, we had to schuss in a bowl near the top, as all of the runs at the base were bare.

All the evangelical Christians I met up there accepted climate change as a fact, so it’s intrigued me as to why so many in the Lower 48 are fighting it. Which is why I was attracted to this article in Texas Monthly that explains why one evangelical scholar is for it. It begins:

One clear day last spring, Katharine Hayhoe walked into the limestone chambers of the Austin City Council to brief the members during a special meeting on how prepared the city was to deal with disasters and extreme weather. A respected atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, the 43-year-old had been invited to discuss climate change, and she breezed through her PowerPoint slides, delivering stark news in an upbeat manner: unless carbon emissions were swiftly curbed, in the coming decades Texas would see stronger heat waves, harsher summers, and torrential rainfall separated by longer periods of drought.
“Why do we care about all of this stuff?” Hayhoe asked. “Because it has huge financial impacts.” The number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States had ballooned from one or two per year in the eighties to eight to twelve today, Hayhoe explained as she pulled up a slide with a map of the country. “Texas is in the crosshairs of those events, because we get it all, don’t we? We get the floods and the droughts, the hailstorms and the ice storms, and even the snow and the extreme heat. And we get the tornadoes, the hurricanes, and the sea-level rise. There isn’t much that we don’t get.”

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Rare midweek think piece: Calm J-voice of faith in Mizzou media storms (updated)

Rare midweek think piece: Calm J-voice of faith in Mizzou media storms (updated)

In the circles that I run in, the University of Missouri's School of Journalism is way better known than the school's football team. Many of the large state universities in the Midwest have important journalism programs (I have a master's from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), but when it comes to clout in the world of basic print journalism, Mizzou has long been a unique national and global force.

At the same time, the J-school has a reputation as a place where many of the journalists take religion very seriously (providing a home for the Religion Newswriters Association), while offering a cultural environment in which quite a few believers (including both liberal and conservative Christians) have learned to take journalism very seriously. At one point, I know, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship had a chapter just for students in the J-school.

In a way, think of Missouri has a bridge point between the cultures of the Midwest and the South, a location that offers many strengths and some weaknesses as well.

In recent days, the journalists I know -- especially in academia -- have been following the events on the University of Missouri campus with a combination of horror and fascination. A communications professor calling for "muscle" to prevent a student journalist from photographing protests in a public space? Really? For those fluent in academic politics, it has also become clear that President Tim Wolfe's fall had a lot to do with sins against powerful academic interest groups (think teaching assistants and adjuncts, in particular) as well as his slow, weak responses to growing campus concerns about acts of racism.

I have had several emails from people who know Missouri well asking me to comment on the "religion ghosts" in this story, meaning religious themes that are haunting these events but drawing little coverage. And there's the rub: In this case I haven't seen, in the mainstream coverage, enough material about religion to deserve comment.

Have there been meetings sponsored by religious believers to seek unity and healing? Were campus religious groups involved in the protests or responses to the protests? The president said he prayed about his decision to resign. And there was this, in a Missourian story about hunger striker Jonathan Butler:

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So, is this America’s most unlikely interfaith dialogue?

So, is this America’s most unlikely interfaith dialogue?

With scant media attention, leading U.S. thinkers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. Mormon) and Evangelical Protestantism have been holding regular dialogue meetings the past 15 years. This is a good moment for religion writers to examine where things stand between these two dynamic faiths.

That’s because the talks are pausing temporarily as participants issue a new anthology: “Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation” (InterVarsity Press). The book’s editors, who’ve led the dialogue to date, are top sources for journalists: Robert Millet, former religious education dean at the LDS Brigham Young University, and Richard Mouw, retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary.

The two sides constitute the most unlikely dialogue partners imaginable, despite their concord on moral issues in the socio-political realm. They are past antagonists and current archrivals in evangelism. Participants were sometimes branded sell-outs, especially on the Evangelical side. Defending his participation,  Dennis Okholm of Azusa Pacific University says, “I have learned more about my own orthodox faith and how to articulate it with greater accuracy and sophistication -- and love.”

Adding to the unlikeliness, the two sides insist they teach the one true Christian faith but have remarkable differences. The LDS church, in fact, insists that all authentic Christianity vanished by the 2d Century and God needed to restore the authentic faith and church authority uniquely through American founder Joseph Smith Jr.

The book is disappointing in that participants offer no shared statement to define agreements and disagreements. The anthology might be more useful if it had printed verbatim some key doctrinal papers presented in the talks with responses from the other side.

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'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades? 

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would to experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period. 

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

In all too many weeks, the Saturday “Beliefs” column provides the only coverage of religion in The New York Times. The influential daily’s Nov. 8 item dealt with World, an unusual Christian magazine because it covers mostly general news rather than just parochial topics.  This biweekly for those wanting “Christian worldview reporting that reinforces their core beliefs” has a conservative slant on politics as well as faith.  A recent GetReligion post by our own tmatt, for example, noted his differences with the journalistic philosophy of World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. 

Sadly, investigative reporting has suffered greatly with media downsizing and the Times rightly commends that aspect of World’s work. Religious periodicals generally don’t rake muck, especially about folks sharing their ideology.

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NYTimes notices old doctrine wars over InterVarsity chapters

The debate started out behind closed doors but quickly jumped into the mainstream press. The news hook was that a lesbian student at Tufts University claimed that, under the campus nondiscrimination policy, she had been unfairly denied access to a leadership role in the Tufts Christian Fellowship, which was affiliated with InterVarsity. The campus chapter was banished, at first, but then allowed to re-draft its charter to stress that it was a doctrinally defined religious association, one requiring its leaders to “seek to adhere to biblical standards and belief in all areas of their lives.” The story was already rather old at that time, as I noted in an “On Religion” column.

“We have had more challenges to our basic right to exist in campus settings during the past two years than in the previous 55 combined,” said Steve Hayner, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. “It’s not just us. … This is hitting Catholics and Muslims and others. What we are seeing is a growing challenge to religious free speech — period.” …

InterVarsity created a “Religious Liberties Crisis Team” in response to this dispute and similar cases on five other campuses. Then attorney David French of Cornell Law School and Tufts InterVarsity staff member Curtis Chang produced a sobering handbook for others who will face similar conflicts. French and Chang noted: “In a free country, individuals or groups are permitted to form schools that serve only Christians, or only Jews, or only Muslims, or only gays.” For traditional Christians at private schools, the “sad reality is that there may come a time when you are no longer welcome … and there is nothing that any lawyer can do to change that decision.”

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