The Family Feud that Changed the Shape of Christian Higher Education https://t.co/lyVS4wyvjn Barry Hankins via @CTMagazine
Southern Baptists Call Off the Culture War https://t.co/tYKgnnwpQZ @JonathanMerritt @TheAtlantic quotes Barry Hankins #sbc18
Brandon O’Brien on Isaac Backus and Religious Liberty https://t.co/6BxDbf0AfA @RoRcast
To survive our high-speed society, cultivate 'temporal bandwidth' | Alan Jacobs https://t.co/w0rFjoALIk @ayjay @guardian #Baylor
For Linda Livingstone, #Baylor's future is tied to research https://t.co/e10hr5o9hD? @wacotrib
The Inklings and King Arthur https://t.co/NxRioFUy8I Philip Jenkins via @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang
Evangelicalism has had a race, gender and age problem for years. Pence’s appearance before Southern Baptists highli… https://t.co/MSaKgCPAdE
Hundreds of Southern Baptist pastors voted for an amendment to block today's @VP Pence appearance, and replace it w… https://t.co/dh4smgVgEH
Politicians Speaking at the Southern Baptist Annual Meeting: A Brief History https://t.co/NA959l9O8Y Thomas Kidd, @TGC
Church attendance linked with reduced suicide risk, especially for Catholics, study says https://t.co/TNNwGwhA3z @latimes @LATMelissaHealy
hello

Thomas Kidd-“Why Southern Baptists giving Mike Pence a platform is so controversial” – The Washington Post

June 13 at 6:00 AM

When Vice President Pence late Wednesday morning addresses one of the country’s biggest Christian gatherings —
the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting — he’ll be following a decades-long line of White House
Republicans who have come to speak to the right-leaning group.
Which is why experts on conservative Christianity were wowed by the sight Tuesday of multiple Southern Baptist
pastors trying — through the meeting’s formal procedures — to block Pence’s talk, or at least to pass a ban on inviting
politicians to future annual meetings. Video of the Dallas convention hall showed many hundreds of hands holding
yellow ballots go up when a Virginia pastor argued that hosting a Trump administration official hurts Southern Baptists
of color and endangers soul-saving in general.

Vice President Pence waves after speaking at a reception at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on June 4. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

None of the four separate measures passed (a few were referred for consideration in the coming year). But historians
say the effort was the first real controversy in the convention about a GOP speaker since the evangelist Billy Graham
pushed for the invite of President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and reveals the significant upheaval among conservative
evangelicals about President Trump and the mixing of partisan politics and religion.

“For 35 years you could expect the Southern Baptist Convention to be pro-Republican in a nearly unanimous way. But
2016 means the relationship with the Republican Party for the Southern Baptist Convention has become
problematic,” said Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University who has written books about American
evangelicalism.
The convention is a major force in conservative evangelicalism and is the largest Protestant denomination in the
country.
Specifically what this development means, Kidd said, “is hard to say. But it signals that business as usual as far as

[giving a platform to] Republican politicians — there will be pushback against that in a way there wasn’t.”
The question is whether the divide within evangelicalism will lead to different religious affiliation patterns, or different
voting patterns, or something else — or nothing.

“What makes this unique is the amount of turmoil around the present administration, which has heightened all the
fault lines so many of us feel, around racial reconciliation, and clarity about what Christians are about, which is Jesus
and him dying for sinners,” said Garrett Kell, of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.
Kell proposed a measure Tuesday morning that didn’t pass that would have replaced Pence on the agenda with a time
of prayer. No vote count was taken, but many in the convention hall estimated just by looking that 30 to 40 percent of
attendees had voted for Kell’s measure.
Southern Baptists have been happily hosting GOP leaders for deca… https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/…
2

“For many years we have been talking about loving and listening to our minority brothers and sisters. This invitation does nothing to suggest that we are actually listening,” Kell’s measure reads. It also talked about the need for “clarity of the gospel” and for protecting the reputation of Southern Baptists.

“What binds this convention together is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of that, this convention ought to be marked by things we share in common, not things about which faithful Christians can disagree,” he wrote. “We must do all we can to preserve the purity of the Gospel, and this invitation works against it.”

Polls have shown for years that one of the primary reasons young American Christians cite for leaving evangelicalism is because of their perception that the church has become overly politicized — and owned by the GOP. But experts said the scene of as many of a third of Southern Baptist delegates waving yellow voting cards against the vice president has a lot to do with Trump specifically. Pence, who grew up Catholic and later joined nondenominational evangelical churches, would likely not have been controversial on his own, they said.

With most Southern Baptists at the convention in support of Pence’s brief address — which reportedly was initiated by the vice president’s office — no further measures about him were expected to appear this week. However, some said they would skip Pence’s address and instead hold prayer sessions elsewhere in the building.

A fifth pastor Tuesday put forward a measure to replace Pence’s speech with a sermon by black Southern Baptist pastor H.B. Charles Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. That motion was ruled out of order.

The split about Pence, like many splits among conservative evangelicals and in the convention, is pretty generational. It has to do with evangelical concepts of patriotism, America, and therefore high government officials, said Trevin Wax, director of Bibles and reference at LifeWay, the publishing and research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Older Southern Baptists see the U.S. as “Israel,” Wax said, a land with which God has a special relationship. Younger ones see America as “Babylon” — a place of potential corruption, a land where conservative Christians “should expect to be a minority, morally,” he said, and should focus on pastoral strategies and needs for what they see as cultural problems rather than fixating on political attempts to turn back that challenge.

In other words, younger Southern Baptists would see their role as a prophetic minority who can reach out to everyone, not partisan political power players, Wax said.

“It would be overstating it if we were to say there has been a wholesale change in regard to Southern Baptist political views from the older to the younger. What we’re seeing primarily is a change in posture related to our engagement,” he said. “Most of our divides aren’t theological but cultural. The posture is where the story is. That’s where the fault line is.”

Gerald Ford was the first U.S. president to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting, in 1976, said Brian Kaylor, a Baptist pastor with a PhD in political communications who writes books on religion and politics. That was an era before conservatives had taken control of the convention — the country’s largest Protestant group — and the appearance of a Republican president was an effort to provide some political balance. Many of the convention leaders at the time were close to Jimmy Carter — who was a Southern Baptist.

Since then, among the GOP White House officials to speak, Kaylor said, were George H.W. and George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Dan Quayle. Ronald Reagan spoke to a key meeting of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals in 1980, telling them, famously, “I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.”

Ironically the official initiation of partisan speechmaking to the Southern Baptists came from a man many consider above politicking — Billy Graham. But historian Kidd said Graham had pushed to invite Nixon, with whom he was very close, as far back as the 1950s, to speak with Southern Baptists because he felt it was essential for white evangelicals to come to the GOP over the issue of communism. Nixon declined the invite to the convention, Kidd said, because of the controversy about a political speaker.

Kaylor said the convention never heard from White House officials who were Southern Baptist — because they were Democrats, including Carter, Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

Nate Templin, an attendee from Colorado, said he believes the discomfort among some young attendees about Pence’s invitation indicates a desire to move away from a more traditional image of Southern Baptists — older, white, conservative, Republican.

“The younger generation, they’re saying it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you stand on if you love Jesus and you love people,” Templin told The Post.

However, the defeated measure to block Pence reflected that many Southern Baptists were fully supportive of the vice president speaking at the gathering.

“I wanted to tell that guy to shut up,” Lillian Bohannan said after listening to Kell’s motion to have a time of prayer instead of Pence’s speech. Bohannan, 73, was attending her first Southern Baptist Convention meeting.

“Mr. Pence is a good guy. He was invited to speak as a Christian to a Christian group. We’re supposed to respect those in authority over us. That’s one way to do it,” she said.

Others said they believed those opposed to Pence speaking were more concerned about the image of Southern Baptists being tied to the Trump administration, than about the actual invitation to the vice president.

“We live in a culture, we live in a day, where everybody’s hypersensitive about everything,” said Joe Donahue of First Baptist Church in Lavaca, Ark. “I think you would find probably 99.9 percent of people here support the president. Just as we supported Obama: through prayer.”

Washington Post staff writer Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

hello

“In Europe, even occasional prayer is on the way out” – Philip Jenkins in Christian Century

In Europe, even occasional prayer is on the way out

It’s not just disaffection with particular state churches. People’s religious orientation itself is gone.

May 31, 2018

Stephen Bullivant is a highly re­spected British academic who, among other topics, studies the state of religion in contemporary Europe. He has just produced perhaps the single most depressing portrait of the Christian present and future on that continent—and that is not a genre noted for its optimism.

Drawing on the European Social Survey, Bullivant published a concise re­port, Europe’s Young Adults and Reli­gion, to assist the deliberations of the Synod of Catholic Bishops that meets in Rome in October. The report covers the religious outlook of young adults aged 16 through 29. The levels of religious behavior and interest it depicts in most countries are extraordinarily low.

In the Czech Republic, 91 percent of young adults claim no religious affiliation whatever, 8o percent never pray, and 70 percent never attend religious services. That country might be an outlier, but very low levels of religiosity also characterize Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Although Bullivant does not stress this denominational angle, by far the grimmest conditions apply in what for centuries were the heartlands of Protestant Europe. Only 7 percent of English respondents identify as Angli­cans (the state church), compared to 10 percent who identify as Catholics and 6 percent as Muslims.

The “never praying” category is striking, since it shows we are not just dealing with basically religiously oriented people who happen to be disaffected from particular state churches. The nonpraying population includes substantial majorities of young adults in France, Spain, Belgium, and Hungary. Bullivant’s picture is not wholly negative—he shows Christian belief and religious practice thriving in such countries as Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal—but the direction is obvious.

More important than any specific statistic is Bullivant’s general observation that “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good—or at least for the next hundred years. . . . The new default setting is ‘no religion,’ and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide.”

That default concept is powerful. In most of the United States, religion (and specifically Christianity) is still the de­fault, which conditions how people respond to pollster’s questions. In the U.S., it’s mostly only convinced unbelievers who would deny ever resorting to supernatural aid under any circumstances. That assumption about the normality of faith also contributes to Americans’ tendency to overstate their religious practice and church attendance.

In most of Europe, in contrast, that default condition simply no longer applies. Quite apart from whether one belongs to a specific church, religiosity is no longer viewed as normal or natural, and this is a historic shift. The common European response might be framed as: “Of course I don’t pray. Why would you even ask such a thing?”

It should be noted that Bullivant’s evidence does not necessarily forecast the replacement of a Christian Europe with an Islamic one. Although Muslims are well represented in the study, it is not likely that their faith will continue as vigorously after another few decades in the very secular atmosphere that now prevails across most of the continent.

Before writing the obituary for faith in Europe, some qualifications are necessary. For one thing, this study covers not the whole population but only young adults, and plenty of evidence shows that adults become more religiously active when they form families.

In forecasting the future of faith, the theme that emerges most strongly is that of immigration. Generally, non-European migrants tend to be far more religious than old-stock Europeans, and a great many of those newcomers are Christian. One reason why the Czech Republic is such a bastion of unbelief is that it has so few non-European migrants. Although its immigrant population is large, the vast majority of those recent arrivals are from other secular and secularizing European states.

Britain, in contrast, has a great many passionately Christian newcomers from the Global South, without whom London would probably appear as radically secular as Prague. Already, one-fifth of Cath­olics in the United Kingdom were not born in the country, and that figure does not take account of second-generation families. In Britain and elsewhere, the foreign and nonnative component in Christian churches will grow steadily in coming years.

Bullivant offers no sweeping agendas for re-Christianization or for a new evangelism. His most important lesson is that the churches can no longer make the slightest assumptions about a Christian core of beliefs and knowledge lingering in European societies. The age of mass Christianity—of de­fault faith—is dead. European churches will survive, but as far smaller and more committed communities. They will have to learn to operate in a society that no longer has much sense of what to make of them and their curiously foreign ways.

Much like in the first Christian centuries, in fact.

This has been reposted from The Christian Century

Philip Jenkins

Philip Jenkins teaches at Baylor University. He is the author of The Great and Holy War and The Many Faces of Christ.

hello

BCCP Director, Stephen Evans Honored as Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year

May 16, 2018

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, 254-710-6275
Follow Lori on Twitter at @LoriBaylorU
Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (May 16, 2018) – C. Stephen Evans, Ph.D., University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, director of the Baylor Center for Christian Philosophy and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, has been named the 2018 Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year.

The award, presented annually during the Academic Honors Convocation, recognizes a Baylor faculty member who makes a superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor in these areas:

  • Teaching, which is judged to be of the highest order of intellectual acumen and pedagogical effectiveness,
  • Research, which is recognized as outstanding by the national and/or international and local community of scholars, and
  • Service, which is regarded as exemplary in building the character of intellectual community at Baylor.

As this year’s recipient, Evans received a commemorative plaque and a $20,000 award. He will present a lecture on a topic of his choosing during the next academic year.

“Dr. Evans’ scholarship and service has represented Baylor in an exemplary way to the local, national, and international community. But at Baylor, as we all know, it is of paramount importance that our faculty contribute to their students’ lives in deep and lasting ways, and it is very clear that he has applied his considerable scholarly prowess to this endeavor,” said James Bennighof, Ph.D., vice provost for academic affairs and policy at Baylor.

A graduate of Wheaton College and Yale University, Evans joined the Baylor faculty in 2001 from Calvin College, where was professor of philosophy and dean for research and scholarship. He helped start Baylor’s doctoral program in philosophy, which has produced more than 50 Christians with Ph.D.’s, almost all of whom are now teaching philosophy in schools around the country and world.

“From the beginning I realized what a wonderful place Baylor is, and what a privilege it was to be part of the Baylor faculty,” Evans said. “That sense has only grown in the 17 years I have been here. I know of no other university or college, at least within the Protestant world, that shares Baylor’s mission to be a first-class university in which Christian faith undergirds and permeates all that we do. That unique mission has attracted a stellar student body, including the great students present here today, and a first-class group of faculty. I have loved my students here, both undergraduates and graduates, and I have had amazing colleagues.”

Evans has authored 18 books, five of which were published by Oxford University Press or Cambridge University Press, and edited or co-edited eight books, as well as three series. He has published more than 100 scholarly and review articles in the philosophy of religion and the human sciences and on Danish philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard. His books have won several awards, including the 2012 C.S. Lewis Book Prize for best book for a general audience in the philosophy of religion or philosophical theology.

Evans has been the recipient of a number of significant fellowships and grants, his most recent a three-year, $2 million research grant from Templeton Religion Trust to study the human virtue of accountability. He also was named Outstanding Teacher for the College of Arts and Sciences at Baylor for 2011-2012 in the tenured faculty category.

Evans has served his profession as a member of multiple editorial boards of journals, book series and other publications; has participated in amicus curiae briefs for the Supreme Court; organized many conferences, seminars and workshops; and served on the boards of several scholarly societies, including as past president of the Society of Christian Philosophers and of the Kierkegaard Society of North America. He also is a member of the American Academy of Religion.

“Care and concern for students”

During the award presentation, Wes Null, Ph.D., vice provost for undergraduate education and institutional effectiveness, read some testimonials students shared in letters about Evans and his teaching:

    “After a discouraging homework session spent trying to make sense of Hegel, I can come to class and know that Dr. Evans’ discussion of the material will immediately help clarify my confusion. But Dr. Evans does not accomplish this by merely lecturing at his students; rather, he engages with his students and encourages them to tackle the difficult task of understanding complex … questions.”
    “[Dr.] Evans not only taught me how to read difficult philosophers like Kierkegaard and Hegel, he also taught me how to teach my own courses on ‘difficult topics’ … For these sorts of courses, content mastery is not sufficient. Instead, the teacher must create a space in which students can grapple with questions and judge the answers for themselves.”
    • “He is such an expert on the things he teaches that he could probably do fine without any preparation at all, but his preparation is more extensive than any other professor of which I am aware. For example, the day he taught Kierkegaard’s

Fear and Trembling

    • , he came to class with dozens of pages of handwritten notes that he had just taken. It came to light that he had read

Fear and Trembling

    at least 50—yes, 50—times before and had written extensively on it. Nevertheless, he read it for a 51st time and took careful notes in order to prepare for the seminar.”
    “From personal experience, I attest that Dr. Evans loves his students.”
    “I have good evidence that [his meticulous preparation] is motivated by love for his students and particularly by love for the God in whose image those students are created.”
    “He is clearly the kind of professor who takes a sincere interest in his students and their well-being.”
    “Dr. Evans consistently demonstrates a great level of care and concern for his students. He is very gracious with his time and is always willing to meet with students—both graduate and undergraduate.”
    “In my time at Baylor University, Dr. Evans has been the single-most influential professor I have had the privilege of studying under. He is the most encouraging and supportive professor and person I have ever known. As I reflect on my undergraduate career, I realize how fortunate I am to have studied under Dr. Evans and to have known him on a more personal level. His impact on not only me but all of his other students is clear and profound. If I can have even half of the career Dr. Evans has had in professional and personal life, it would be a life well lived.”

The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year honor was inaugurated 15 years ago by the Office of the Provost and is named for Cornelia Marschall Smith, Ph.D., a 1918 Baylor biology graduate who earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1925 and her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1928. She was a professor of biology at Baylor from 1940 to 1967, chair of the biology department from 1943 to 1967 and director of Strecker Museum from 1943 to 1967. She retired in 1967 but maintained an office in Armstrong Browning Library to assist charitable causes. In 1980, Baylor honored Smith with an endowed chair known as The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professorship in Biology. She was celebrated among her colleagues, students and alumni for fine teaching, generous mentoring and her many interdisciplinary interests. She was a lively and continuing contributor to the Baylor intellectual community until her death on Aug. 27, 1997, at age 101.

Past recipients of the award are D. Thomas Hanks (2004, English), Robert M. Baird (2005, Philosophy), Kevin Pinney (2006, Chemistry), Ann Rushing (2007, Biology), Wallace L. Daniel (2008, History), William D. Hillis (2009, Biology), Joyce Jones (2010, Music), Robert F. Darden (2011, Journalism), Roger E. Kirk (2012, Psychology and Neuroscience), William H. Bellinger Jr. (2013, Religion), Joseph A. McKinney (2014, Economics), David L. Jeffrey (2015, Great Texts); Johnny L. Henderson (2016, Mathematics); and Alden Smith (2017, Classics).

Nominations for the award come from all faculty, students and alumni, and the recipient of the award is chosen from among the nominees by a committee of four faculty members and Bennighof. This year’s committee included Julie K. DeGraffenreid, Ph.D., associate professor of history; Marcie H. Moehnke, Ph.D., senior lecturer of biology; Rishi Sriram, Ph.D., associate professor, associate chair and graduate program director of educational leadership and faculty steward for Brooks Residential College; and James Stamey, Ph.D., professor and graduate program director of statistical science.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

 

hello

The Pundit Pastor How Robert Jeffress became one of the most influential Trump supporters in Christendom. ISR Fellow Barry Hankins Quoted

By Ruth Graham
May 14, 2018

Robert Jeffress.
Pastor Robert Jeffress.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mandel NganAFP/Getty Images and Thinkstock.

A few minutes before the service officially begins at First Baptist Dallas, the orchestra slowly rises into sight, lifted by a stage elevator that delivers them smoothly into position. The robed choir of some 130 people files into place on risers behind them, and a smaller “worship team” of performers strolls out in front. The lights dim, and the congregation—in this setting, an audience—hushes and waits for the show to begin. One Sunday in December, visitors to the church received a booklet containing a photo of the same choir and orchestra, performing behind President Donald Trump.

First Baptist retains much of the aesthetic conservatism of its stained-glass-in-the-town-square DNA. The unofficial dress code is “Sunday best,” worshippers sit on wooden pews, and no one brings coffee into the sanctuary. But over the years, the congregation has acquired many of the hallmarks of a contemporary megachurch. In its “worship center,” a stadium-style screen spans the proscenium, which throughout the service displays slick promotional videos, close-up shots of the musicians and performers, and the pastor’s Twitter handle: @RobertJeffress.

Until recently, Robert Jeffress was a pastor little known outside his hometown of Dallas. But over the past few years, he’s become one of the most outspoken and influential Trump supporters in Christendom. He prays with the president, stands next to him in photo ops, and defends him on Fox News. On Monday, he is leading a prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. “It’s just one more example of promise made, promise fulfilled,” he told Fox News in one of several appearances over the weekend. His sermons are packaged into a daily radio show and a weekly television show, both titled Pathway to Victory. His official biography says he has made more than 2,000 radio and TV appearances on shows from Fox & Friends to Real Time With Bill Maher. He has been relentless in expanding his reach beyond the walls of the church. Under Jeffress, First Baptist proclaims four missions: callings to worship, equip (which refers to Sunday school classes and other educational efforts), serve, and, notably, “influence.” Cheerleading for Trump “has given [Jeffress] a kind of national stage,” said John Fea, a Trump critic and historian at evangelical Messiah College. “He is a master operator.”

Over the course of two weeks in December and January, I attended three Sunday morning church services at First Baptist. (There are three services every Sunday.) I was drawn by Jeffress’ skyrocketing national profile but also by his unique cultural position as a pastor. Few of the most prominent Christians who support Trump—Fea calls them “court evangelicals”—are pastors of their own churches. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of a college founded by his own father. Franklin Graham, who also borrows credibility from his father, runs an international aid organization. (Billy Graham, a longtime member of First Baptist Dallas, was only briefly a pastor of a church; neither were many of the previous generation of religious right leaders, including Trump supporter James Dobson.) Of the pastors on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, few have both the high profile and institutional standing that Jeffress does. Paula White, for example, heads an independent nondenominational congregation with few outside institutional ties.

Jeffress is different. He is the head of 13,000-member church, one of the oldest and most prominent congregations in the country’s largest Protestant denominations. First Baptist Dallas will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year. Jeffress’ job there is to preach the Gospel every week, to guide the spiritual lives of his flock, and represent Christianity to the wider world. The church’s official materials call Jeffress “a bold leader in a decaying culture.” But what exactly does it mean, I wondered, to be a full-time pro-Trump pundit and a full-time pastor at the same time?

Founded in 1868, when Dallas was a wild but growing frontier hub, First Baptist has a long history of flexing its political muscle. One longtime pastor, George Truett, delivered a still-influential speech on religious liberty on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920. His successor, W.A. Criswell, publicly opposed integration in the 1950s (he changed his mind later) and endorsed Gerald Ford over Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1976. Criswell, with Paige Patterson, was an architect of the eventual takeover of the denomination by theological conservatives starting in the late 1970s. “The Southern Baptist conservative movement,” said Barry Hankins, an historian at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History, “in some ways … comes straight out of First Baptist Dallas.”

The modern megachurch is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the suburbs, where expansion is relatively cheap and easy. And for First Baptist, located squarely downtown in the country’s ninth-biggest city, growth has required some creativity. In 2010, the church imploded four of its own buildings in downtown Dallas to make room for a $130 million renovation that grafted a sprawling glass-and-concrete addition onto the steepled Victorian brick building it had occupied for more than a century. (For a sense of the church’s fundraising power: In 2016, it set a two-year goal of raising $50 million.) Its property now spans six city blocks, with an impressive children’s building, sky bridges, and a multistory granite fountain topped with a cross. In some spots, architects had to put up faux brick to make the vision cohere, and visitors ride an escalator up two floors and then walk down to enter the sanctuary.

Awkward juxtapositions do not seem to bother the members of First Baptist Dallas, which is defined by its enthusiastic blend of piety and patriotism. Last July, Trump spoke at a concert in Washington at which the church’s choir sang an original song titled “Make America Great Again.” A few months later, Jeffress interviewed Sean Hannity about the Fox host’s new movie onstage at the church on Sunday morning. Fox personalities Ainsley Earhardt and Todd Starnes also made Sunday morning appearances last year. When I visited in late December, a guest preacher—Paige Patterson, a lion of the Southern Baptist Convention who has recently made headlines of his own—predicted from the pulpit that Roe v. Wade would be overturned within the next few months, thanks in large part to Jeffress’ efforts. There was no evidence Roe v. Wade was on the brink of being overturned, let alone by springtime. But still the congregation burst into applause.

Jeffress attended First Baptist with his parents during the Criswell years; he has said he remembers walking down the aisle of the church at age 5 to tell Criswell he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. When the family returned home from church on Sunday mornings, little Robert would watch Meet the Press. He has said God told him as a freshman in college that he would someday lead the church; Criswell, in his telling, believed it, too. Jeffress married his high school girlfriend, Amy, and served as the church’s youth pastor in his early 20s. He was named senior pastor in 2007.

The church has long attracted wealthy conservative business leaders and other local elites. When the church celebrated the acceptance of its 20,000th member in 1978, the new member just happened to be the kicker for the Dallas Cowboys. Because of the church’s historical comfort with power, wealth, and publicity, Hankins told me, Jeffress seems to get more leeway than many pastors do to veer into politics.

When I talked to Jeffress by phone after my visit to the church, he quoted Jesus’ command in the book of Matthew that Christians should be “salt and light”—preservative and illumination—in the world. “Many Christians have forgotten that,” he said. “They take the Benedict Option, where you just stand in your holy huddle and hope no one does you harm. … The church is to be on the offensive, not on the defensive.” When a group of Trump-skeptical evangelicals met recently at Wheaton College to discuss the future of their movement, Jeffress dismissed them in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Many of them are sincere,” he said, “but they are having a hard time understanding that they have little impact on evangelicalism.”

There are some ways in which Jeffress seems like an unlikely political operator. His 24 books have focused overwhelmingly on spiritual matters, including the end times, forgiveness, and the afterlife. His latest, which Trump recommended on Twitter, is about the nature of heaven. (When I attended, the church was giving out free copies to every new visitor.) But Jeffress has had a taste for making headlines since before he took the helm at First Baptist. As pastor of a church near the Oklahoma border in 1998, he offered to pay the local public library for its copies of Heather Has Two Mommies and another children’s book about gay parents, in exchange for a promise not to replace them; the City Council backed him up, and eventually the ACLU got involved. In 2011, when Mitt Romney was running for president, Jeffress called Mormonism a “cult” at a conference hosted by the Family Research Council. The church was sufficiently toxic by 2013 that Tim Tebow pulled out of a speaking engagement there. In return, Jeffress preached about men who “wimp out” rather than standing up for the truth. (Can a sermon serve as a subtweet?) The next year he wrote a book about Biblical prophecy that said Obama’s support for gay marriage was paving the way for the Antichrist.

But in the Trump era, Jeffress has truly come into his own as a political voice. He threw his chips in with the candidate early, telling attendees at a Dallas campaign rally in February 2016 that Trump would be a “true friend” to evangelicals. Preaching to Trump at a private service the morning of his inauguration, he compared him to the Old Testament figure of Nehemiah, who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem; “God is not against building walls,” Jeffress told the incoming president. (He has also compared Trump to Winston Churchill.) He is a reliable defender not just of Trump’s overtures to evangelicals but also of the president’s darkest and most dangerous instincts. He defended Trump’s “shithole” remarks in January and characterized Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots last summer as an attempt to “denounce all racism.” In August, he told Bill O’Reilly that Trump had the moral authority to assassinate Kim Jong-un or pre-emptively strike North Korea with a nuclear weapon, going too far even for O’Reilly. Jeffress’ support for Trump has raised his profile, but it has also earned him a torrent of criticism from his peers. The president is liked by the evangelical rank and file, who voted for him overwhelmingly, but he has remarkably few outspoken supporters among their leaders.

A few minutes before the service officially begins at First Baptist Dallas, the orchestra slowly rises into sight, lifted by a stage elevator that delivers them smoothly into position. The robed choir of some 130 people files into place on risers behind them, and a smaller “worship team” of performers strolls out in front. The lights dim, and the congregation—in this setting, an audience—hushes and waits for the show to begin. One Sunday in December, visitors to the church received a booklet containing a photo of the same choir and orchestra, performing behind President Donald Trump.

First Baptist retains much of the aesthetic conservatism of its stained-glass-in-the-town-square DNA. The unofficial dress code is “Sunday best,” worshippers sit on wooden pews, and no one brings coffee into the sanctuary. But over the years, the congregation has acquired many of the hallmarks of a contemporary megachurch. In its “worship center,” a stadium-style screen spans the proscenium, which throughout the service displays slick promotional videos, close-up shots of the musicians and performers, and the pastor’s Twitter handle: @RobertJeffress.

Until recently, Robert Jeffress was a pastor little known outside his hometown of Dallas. But over the past few years, he’s become one of the most outspoken and influential Trump supporters in Christendom. He prays with the president, stands next to him in photo ops, and defends him on Fox News. On Monday, he is leading a prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. “It’s just one more example of promise made, promise fulfilled,” he told Fox News in one of several appearances over the weekend. His sermons are packaged into a daily radio show and a weekly television show, both titled Pathway to Victory. His official biography says he has made more than 2,000 radio and TV appearances on shows from Fox & Friends to Real Time With Bill Maher. He has been relentless in expanding his reach beyond the walls of the church. Under Jeffress, First Baptist proclaims four missions: callings to worship, equip (which refers to Sunday school classes and other educational efforts), serve, and, notably, “influence.” Cheerleading for Trump “has given [Jeffress] a kind of national stage,” said John Fea, a Trump critic and historian at evangelical Messiah College. “He is a master operator.”

Over the course of two weeks in December and January, I attended three Sunday morning church services at First Baptist. (There are three services every Sunday.) I was drawn by Jeffress’ skyrocketing national profile but also by his unique cultural position as a pastor. Few of the most prominent Christians who support Trump—Fea calls them “court evangelicals”—are pastors of their own churches. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of a college founded by his own father. Franklin Graham, who also borrows credibility from his father, runs an international aid organization. (Billy Graham, a longtime member of First Baptist Dallas, was only briefly a pastor of a church; neither were many of the previous generation of religious right leaders, including Trump supporter James Dobson.) Of the pastors on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, few have both the high profile and institutional standing that Jeffress does. Paula White, for example, heads an independent nondenominational congregation with few outside institutional ties.

Jeffress is different. He is the head of 13,000-member church, one of the oldest and most prominent congregations in the country’s largest Protestant denominations. First Baptist Dallas will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year. Jeffress’ job there is to preach the Gospel every week, to guide the spiritual lives of his flock, and represent Christianity to the wider world. The church’s official materials call Jeffress “a bold leader in a decaying culture.” But what exactly does it mean, I wondered, to be a full-time pro-Trump pundit and a full-time pastor at the same time?

 Founded in 1868, when Dallas was a wild but growing frontier hub, First Baptist has a long history of flexing its political muscle. One longtime pastor, George Truett, delivered a still-influential speech on religious liberty on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920. His successor, W.A. Criswell, publicly opposed integration in the 1950s (he changed his mind later) and endorsed Gerald Ford over Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1976. Criswell, with Paige Patterson, was an architect of the eventual takeover of the denomination by theological conservatives starting in the late 1970s. “The Southern Baptist conservative movement,” said Barry Hankins, an historian at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History, “in some ways … comes straight out of First Baptist Dallas.”
The modern megachurch is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the suburbs, where expansion is relatively cheap and easy. And for First Baptist, located squarely downtown in the country’s ninth-biggest city, growth has required some creativity. In 2010, the church imploded four of its own buildings in downtown Dallas to make room for a $130 million renovation that grafted a sprawling glass-and-concrete addition onto the steepled Victorian brick building it had occupied for more than a century. (For a sense of the church’s fundraising power: In 2016, it set a two-year goal of raising $50 million.) Its property now spans six city blocks, with an impressive children’s building, sky bridges, and a multistory granite fountain topped with a cross. In some spots, architects had to put up faux brick to make the vision cohere, and visitors ride an escalator up two floors and then walk down to enter the sanctuary.

Awkward juxtapositions do not seem to bother the members of First Baptist Dallas, which is defined by its enthusiastic blend of piety and patriotism. Last July, Trump spoke at a concert in Washington at which the church’s choir sang an original song titled “Make America Great Again.” A few months later, Jeffress interviewed Sean Hannity about the Fox host’s new movie onstage at the church on Sunday morning. Fox personalities Ainsley Earhardt and Todd Starnes also made Sunday morning appearances last year. When I visited in late December, a guest preacher—Paige Patterson, a lion of the Southern Baptist Convention who has recently made headlines of his own—predicted from the pulpit that Roe v. Wade would be overturned within the next few months, thanks in large part to Jeffress’ efforts. There was no evidence Roe v. Wade was on the brink of being overturned, let alone by springtime. But still the congregation burst into applause.

Jeffress attended First Baptist with his parents during the Criswell years; he has said he remembers walking down the aisle of the church at age 5 to tell Criswell he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. When the family returned home from church on Sunday mornings, little Robert would watch Meet the Press. He has said God told him as a freshman in college that he would someday lead the church; Criswell, in his telling, believed it, too. Jeffress married his high school girlfriend, Amy, and served as the church’s youth pastor in his early 20s. He was named senior pastor in 2007.

The church has long attracted wealthy conservative business leaders and other local elites. When the church celebrated the acceptance of its 20,000th member in 1978, the new member just happened to be the kicker for the Dallas Cowboys. Because of the church’s historical comfort with power, wealth, and publicity, Hankins told me, Jeffress seems to get more leeway than many pastors do to veer into politics.

When I talked to Jeffress by phone after my visit to the church, he quoted Jesus’ command in the book of Matthew that Christians should be “salt and light”—preservative and illumination—in the world. “Many Christians have forgotten that,” he said. “They take the Benedict Option, where you just stand in your holy huddle and hope no one does you harm. … The church is to be on the offensive, not on the defensive.” When a group of Trump-skeptical evangelicals met recently at Wheaton College to discuss the future of their movement, Jeffress dismissed them in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Many of them are sincere,” he said, “but they are having a hard time understanding that they have little impact on evangelicalism.”

There are some ways in which Jeffress seems like an unlikely political operator. His 24 books have focused overwhelmingly on spiritual matters, including the end times, forgiveness, and the afterlife. His latest, which Trump recommended on Twitter, is about the nature of heaven. (When I attended, the church was giving out free copies to every new visitor.) But Jeffress has had a taste for making headlines since before he took the helm at First Baptist. As pastor of a church near the Oklahoma border in 1998, he offered to pay the local public library for its copies of Heather Has Two Mommies and another children’s book about gay parents, in exchange for a promise not to replace them; the City Council backed him up, and eventually the ACLU got involved. In 2011, when Mitt Romney was running for president, Jeffress called Mormonism a “cult” at a conference hosted by the Family Research Council. The church was sufficiently toxic by 2013 that Tim Tebow pulled out of a speaking engagement there. In return, Jeffress preached about men who “wimp out” rather than standing up for the truth. (Can a sermon serve as a subtweet?) The next year he wrote a book about Biblical prophecy that said Obama’s support for gay marriage was paving the way for the Antichrist.

But in the Trump era, Jeffress has truly come into his own as a political voice. He threw his chips in with the candidate early, telling attendees at a Dallas campaign rally in February 2016 that Trump would be a “true friend” to evangelicals. Preaching to Trump at a private service the morning of his inauguration, he compared him to the Old Testament figure of Nehemiah, who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem; “God is not against building walls,” Jeffress told the incoming president. (He has also compared Trump to Winston Churchill.) He is a reliable defender not just of Trump’s overtures to evangelicals but also of the president’s darkest and most dangerous instincts. He defended Trump’s “shithole” remarks in January and characterized Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots last summer as an attempt to “denounce all racism.” In August, he told Bill O’Reilly that Trump had the moral authority to assassinate Kim Jong-un or pre-emptively strike North Korea with a nuclear weapon, going too far even for O’Reilly. Jeffress’ support for Trump has raised his profile, but it has also earned him a torrent of criticism from his peers. The president is liked by the evangelical rank and file, who voted for him overwhelmingly, but he has remarkably few outspoken supporters among their leaders.

Within his own congregation, though, no one seems particularly rankled by the way Jeffress has merged the spiritual and the political. When I visited over two Sundays in late December and early January, the pews were full and the mood was cheerful. One volunteer told me she started attending about a year ago, and the place has changed her life. A church representative said that the church has grown in attendance and financial giving for every year of Jeffress’ leadership and that 2017 saw the highest giving in the church’s 150-year history. “My church is glad that I have an ability to have a little bit of influence in the country,” Jeffress told me. The Hannity interview at First Baptist, for example, was promoted as a chance for members to invite outside guests to church with them—people who might be interested in Hannity but not necessarily in church. And as for the “Make America Great Again” hymn, written by the church’s former music minister and performed at that D.C. concert? It was never meant to be sung in church. (The song has since been added to the top licensed song database for churches planning their worship services.)

A few minutes before the service officially begins at First Baptist Dallas, the orchestra slowly rises into sight, lifted by a stage elevator that delivers them smoothly into position. The robed choir of some 130 people files into place on risers behind them, and a smaller “worship team” of performers strolls out in front. The lights dim, and the congregation—in this setting, an audience—hushes and waits for the show to begin. One Sunday in December, visitors to the church received a booklet containing a photo of the same choir and orchestra, performing behind President Donald Trump.

First Baptist retains much of the aesthetic conservatism of its stained-glass-in-the-town-square DNA. The unofficial dress code is “Sunday best,” worshippers sit on wooden pews, and no one brings coffee into the sanctuary. But over the years, the congregation has acquired many of the hallmarks of a contemporary megachurch. In its “worship center,” a stadium-style screen spans the proscenium, which throughout the service displays slick promotional videos, close-up shots of the musicians and performers, and the pastor’s Twitter handle: @RobertJeffress.

Until recently, Robert Jeffress was a pastor little known outside his hometown of Dallas. But over the past few years, he’s become one of the most outspoken and influential Trump supporters in Christendom. He prays with the president, stands next to him in photo ops, and defends him on Fox News. On Monday, he is leading a prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. “It’s just one more example of promise made, promise fulfilled,” he told Fox News in one of several appearances over the weekend. His sermons are packaged into a daily radio show and a weekly television show, both titled Pathway to Victory. His official biography says he has made more than 2,000 radio and TV appearances on shows from Fox & Friends to Real Time With Bill Maher. He has been relentless in expanding his reach beyond the walls of the church. Under Jeffress, First Baptist proclaims four missions: callings to worship, equip (which refers to Sunday school classes and other educational efforts), serve, and, notably, “influence.” Cheerleading for Trump “has given [Jeffress] a kind of national stage,” said John Fea, a Trump critic and historian at evangelical Messiah College. “He is a master operator.”

Over the course of two weeks in December and January, I attended three Sunday morning church services at First Baptist. (There are three services every Sunday.) I was drawn by Jeffress’ skyrocketing national profile but also by his unique cultural position as a pastor. Few of the most prominent Christians who support Trump—Fea calls them “court evangelicals”—are pastors of their own churches. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of a college founded by his own father. Franklin Graham, who also borrows credibility from his father, runs an international aid organization. (Billy Graham, a longtime member of First Baptist Dallas, was only briefly a pastor of a church; neither were many of the previous generation of religious right leaders, including Trump supporter James Dobson.) Of the pastors on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, few have both the high profile and institutional standing that Jeffress does. Paula White, for example, heads an independent nondenominational congregation with few outside institutional ties.

Jeffress is different. He is the head of 13,000-member church, one of the oldest and most prominent congregations in the country’s largest Protestant denominations. First Baptist Dallas will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year. Jeffress’ job there is to preach the Gospel every week, to guide the spiritual lives of his flock, and represent Christianity to the wider world. The church’s official materials call Jeffress “a bold leader in a decaying culture.” But what exactly does it mean, I wondered, to be a full-time pro-Trump pundit and a full-time pastor at the same time?

Founded in 1868, when Dallas was a wild but growing frontier hub, First Baptist has a long history of flexing its political muscle. One longtime pastor, George Truett, delivered a still-influential speech on religious liberty on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920. His successor, W.A. Criswell, publicly opposed integration in the 1950s (he changed his mind later) and endorsed Gerald Ford over Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1976. Criswell, with Paige Patterson, was an architect of the eventual takeover of the denomination by theological conservatives starting in the late 1970s. “The Southern Baptist conservative movement,” said Barry Hankins, an historian at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History, “in some ways … comes straight out of First Baptist Dallas.”

The modern megachurch is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the suburbs, where expansion is relatively cheap and easy. And for First Baptist, located squarely downtown in the country’s ninth-biggest city, growth has required some creativity. In 2010, the church imploded four of its own buildings in downtown Dallas to make room for a $130 million renovation that grafted a sprawling glass-and-concrete addition onto the steepled Victorian brick building it had occupied for more than a century. (For a sense of the church’s fundraising power: In 2016, it set a two-year goal of raising $50 million.) Its property now spans six city blocks, with an impressive children’s building, sky bridges, and a multistory granite fountain topped with a cross. In some spots, architects had to put up faux brick to make the vision cohere, and visitors ride an escalator up two floors and then walk down to enter the sanctuary.

Awkward juxtapositions do not seem to bother the members of First Baptist Dallas, which is defined by its enthusiastic blend of piety and patriotism. Last July, Trump spoke at a concert in Washington at which the church’s choir sang an original song titled “Make America Great Again.” A few months later, Jeffress interviewed Sean Hannity about the Fox host’s new movie onstage at the church on Sunday morning. Fox personalities Ainsley Earhardt and Todd Starnes also made Sunday morning appearances last year. When I visited in late December, a guest preacher—Paige Patterson, a lion of the Southern Baptist Convention who has recently made headlines of his own—predicted from the pulpit that Roe v. Wade would be overturned within the next few months, thanks in large part to Jeffress’ efforts. There was no evidence Roe v. Wade was on the brink of being overturned, let alone by springtime. But still the congregation burst into applause.

Jeffress attended First Baptist with his parents during the Criswell years; he has said he remembers walking down the aisle of the church at age 5 to tell Criswell he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. When the family returned home from church on Sunday mornings, little Robert would watch Meet the Press. He has said God told him as a freshman in college that he would someday lead the church; Criswell, in his telling, believed it, too. Jeffress married his high school girlfriend, Amy, and served as the church’s youth pastor in his early 20s. He was named senior pastor in 2007.

The church has long attracted wealthy conservative business leaders and other local elites. When the church celebrated the acceptance of its 20,000th member in 1978, the new member just happened to be the kicker for the Dallas Cowboys. Because of the church’s historical comfort with power, wealth, and publicity, Hankins told me, Jeffress seems to get more leeway than many pastors do to veer into politics.

When I talked to Jeffress by phone after my visit to the church, he quoted Jesus’ command in the book of Matthew that Christians should be “salt and light”—preservative and illumination—in the world. “Many Christians have forgotten that,” he said. “They take the Benedict Option, where you just stand in your holy huddle and hope no one does you harm. … The church is to be on the offensive, not on the defensive.” When a group of Trump-skeptical evangelicals met recently at Wheaton College to discuss the future of their movement, Jeffress dismissed them in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Many of them are sincere,” he said, “but they are having a hard time understanding that they have little impact on evangelicalism.”

There are some ways in which Jeffress seems like an unlikely political operator. His 24 books have focused overwhelmingly on spiritual matters, including the end times, forgiveness, and the afterlife. His latest, which Trump recommended on Twitter, is about the nature of heaven. (When I attended, the church was giving out free copies to every new visitor.) But Jeffress has had a taste for making headlines since before he took the helm at First Baptist. As pastor of a church near the Oklahoma border in 1998, he offered to pay the local public library for its copies of Heather Has Two Mommies and another children’s book about gay parents, in exchange for a promise not to replace them; the City Council backed him up, and eventually the ACLU got involved. In 2011, when Mitt Romney was running for president, Jeffress called Mormonism a “cult” at a conference hosted by the Family Research Council. The church was sufficiently toxic by 2013 that Tim Tebow pulled out of a speaking engagement there. In return, Jeffress preached about men who “wimp out” rather than standing up for the truth. (Can a sermon serve as a subtweet?) The next year he wrote a book about Biblical prophecy that said Obama’s support for gay marriage was paving the way for the Antichrist.

But in the Trump era, Jeffress has truly come into his own as a political voice. He threw his chips in with the candidate early, telling attendees at a Dallas campaign rally in February 2016 that Trump would be a “true friend” to evangelicals. Preaching to Trump at a private service the morning of his inauguration, he compared him to the Old Testament figure of Nehemiah, who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem; “God is not against building walls,” Jeffress told the incoming president. (He has also compared Trump to Winston Churchill.) He is a reliable defender not just of Trump’s overtures to evangelicals but also of the president’s darkest and most dangerous instincts. He defended Trump’s “shithole” remarks in January and characterized Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots last summer as an attempt to “denounce all racism.” In August, he told Bill O’Reilly that Trump had the moral authority to assassinate Kim Jong-un or pre-emptively strike North Korea with a nuclear weapon, going too far even for O’Reilly. Jeffress’ support for Trump has raised his profile, but it has also earned him a torrent of criticism from his peers. The president is liked by the evangelical rank and file, who voted for him overwhelmingly, but he has remarkably few outspoken supporters among their leaders.

Within his own congregation, though, no one seems particularly rankled by the way Jeffress has merged the spiritual and the political. When I visited over two Sundays in late December and early January, the pews were full and the mood was cheerful. One volunteer told me she started attending about a year ago, and the place has changed her life. A church representative said that the church has grown in attendance and financial giving for every year of Jeffress’ leadership and that 2017 saw the highest giving in the church’s 150-year history. “My church is glad that I have an ability to have a little bit of influence in the country,” Jeffress told me. The Hannity interview at First Baptist, for example, was promoted as a chance for members to invite outside guests to church with them—people who might be interested in Hannity but not necessarily in church. And as for the “Make America Great Again” hymn, written by the church’s former music minister and performed at that D.C. concert? It was never meant to be sung in church. (The song has since been added to the top licensed song database for churches planning their worship services.)

Jeffress is not an absent figurehead; he preaches at First Baptist almost every week. Paula White, by contrast, told the Washington Post last year that she has relinquished many of her pastoral duties as her star has risen in Washington. Her son said at the time that the majority-black church had lost several hundred members and about $10,000 a week in donations because of Trump’s unpopularity with the black community. First Baptist is mostly white but far from exclusively so. When my toddler and I sat in the section designated for young families, we were seated within one pew of black, East Asian, South Asian, and Hispanic families.

The truth is, other than Patterson’s comment about Roe v. Wade, there was little I heard or saw at First Baptist that would have been out of place at any other theologically conservative church in America. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “Power in the Blood,” and my daughter made a construction-paper crown in the church nursery. Jeffress insisted that he has mentioned Trump’s name from the pulpit perhaps three times in the past two years. He added that he views abortion and religious freedom, unlike health care and tax policy, as “biblical issues”—a handy distinction that carves out quite a bit of room for “nonpolitical” opining. (Jeffress has spoken publicly about both health care policy and tax reform.) Still, the average attendee at First Baptist will experience a worship service not a Trump rally. That’s part of what makes the church so disquieting. It is a thoroughly mainstream evangelical church whose very ordinariness serves as an advertisement for Trump’s own normalcy.

The first week in January, Jeffress opened his sermon in a reflective mode, with an anecdote about the deaths of his parents. He stepped out from behind the large wooden podium, holding his well-worn Bible open in his hands. Jeffress is a small man, and the deep stage and large Bible made him look even smaller. Preaching from a passage in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings about the death of the Prophet Elijah, Jeffress argued for the importance of living one’s entire life with its end in mind. He talked about his habit of wandering into the church’s old sanctuary, now used for the church’s youth-oriented contemporary worship service; it’s the room where he himself was baptized and where he performed his first baptisms as a minister. It’s a good thing, Jeffress told the congregation, to reflect back on one’s own spiritual history and to contemplate the legacy you will leave behind. “In Christian circles, we get caught up in the cult of personality,” he said. We celebrate great believers like Elijah or Moses, and fear their heroism is irreplaceable. That’s a mistake, he said: “God can work through anyone.”

REPOSTED FROM SLATE

hello

Washington Post: Southern Baptist leader’s advice to abused women sends leaders scrambling to respond

May 2, 2018

Controversial comments about women, abuse and divorce made by a highly respected leader in the Southern Baptist Convention have put many of its leaders in a deeply uncomfortable position as some scramble to respond under pressure from Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.

An audio recording recently surfaced on which Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson says that abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce. Those comments, which were made 18 years ago, have set off a wave of criticism within Southern Baptist circles over the message it could send to women.

The backlash has some wondering whether Patterson, who is not known for backing down from controversies about women, will resign from his presidency at Fort Worth-based Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The firestorm comes weeks before the SBC, which has thrived on giving churches autonomy while still claiming a strong network of 15 million members, will have its annual meeting in Dallas. Patterson, who is 75 and once served as president of the convention, is scheduled to give the one sermon at that meeting, which is considered an important honor.

“He has had such stature within the denomination that maybe he’s gotten a pass,” said Barry Hankins, a history professor at Baylor University, which is part of a separate Baptist convention. “The combination of his stature and he’s old, there’s a sense of give him a break. In those days there wasn’t the awareness of abuse [as it is] these days in the whole culture, not just evangelical culture.”

Patterson is seen as a giant within in the SBC, deeply respected for his leadership role in what some call the “conservative resurgence,” a major internal battle that began in the late 1970s involving interpretation of the Bible. Many SBC churches left to form the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which allows women to be ordained as a pastor. Patterson, who was one of those conservative leaders seen as saving the convention from a more liberal direction, has maintained a special status because of his role.

In the 2000 recording, Patterson tells the story of a woman who came to him about abuse, and how he counseled her to pray for God to intervene. The woman, he said, came to him later with two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said ‘Yes … I’m very happy,’ ” because her husband had heard her prayers and come to church for the first time the next day.

Since his comments came out, several Southern Baptist leaders tweeted that they opposed Patterson’s beliefs, but few mentioned his name. That began to change Tuesday night when the president of LifeWay, the publishing division of the SBC, called Patterson out by name and said “there is no type or level of abuse of women that is acceptable.”

Matt Chandler, the Dallas-based pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch, said in an interview that Patterson should have never have made his comments.

“Anyone who would say that a woman has to stay in a violent or abusive relationship because it honors God is wrong,” he said. Chandler said he won’t preach on passages of the Bible that address wives submitting to their husbands without advising women who are experiencing abuse that “this text is not talking about you.”

“We would strongly disagree with one another with how he arrived to that conclusion,” Chandler said. “I think those are texts divorced from the entirety of scripture.” He said it wasn’t his call to decide whether Patterson should deliver a sermon at the convention.

Popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, who attends a Southern Baptist church, on Twitter denounced the ideas behind Patterson’s comments.

In a statement issued Sunday, Patterson said he has advised and helped women to leave abusive husbands, but stood by his commitment to never recommend divorce. In a new statement issued on Tuesday, the trustees did not address Patterson’s comments 18 years ago or the question of whether Patterson will deliver the convention’s sermon or remain president of the seminary.

In a follow-up Baptist Press interview published Monday, Patterson said he doubts “seriously” that a person experiencing physical abuse would be morally obligated to remain in the home with a spouse. However, he said, “minor noninjurious abuse which happens in so many marriages” might spur a woman to “pray [her husband] through this” rather than leave, he said. Baptist Press said the word “minor” was later added “to reflect Patterson’s intent.”

Patterson did not respond to requests for additional comment on Tuesday. The current president of the SBC, Steve Gaines, also did not respond to requests for comment.

In the tape from 2000, Patterson was being interviewed by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical organization that promotes the idea that men and women have different traditional roles. The CBMW, which is led by Southern Baptist Boyce College professor Denny Burk, recently tweeted a statement it adopted in March that said physical, sexual or emotional abuse is “not only a sin but is also a crime … that must not be tolerated in the Christian community.” However, neither Burk nor the council have mentioned Patterson by name since his comments came out on a blog.

Patterson was also supposed to be on a council panel at the annual meeting, but that panel has been pulled given the controversy. Burk, who posted comments on his blog about abuse and divorce on Tuesday, declined an interview.

It is unusual for leaders of Southern Baptist institutions to criticize one another, which is why Patterson’s comments have put other leaders — many of whom disagree with him — in an uncomfortable position. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, said he affirms what the council has said about abuse and referred to the SBC’s upcoming meeting, at which Patterson is slated to speak.

“I stand behind the CBMW statement on abuse and I am sure that the Southern Baptist Convention would also stand behind that statement,” Mohler said in a statement. “I am also certain that Southern Baptists at the convention in June will and must speak clearly and take an unequivocal stand against any abuse of women.”

Patterson’s role as the sole sermon giver at the convention presents Southern Baptists with a question that could drag out until the annual meeting in Dallas in June. The leader who gives that sermon is selected by a committee at the previous year’s convention and then voted on by the entire convention, according to Roger S. Oldham, a spokesman for the SBC’s executive committee. If Patterson doesn’t back down from giving the sermon, and if the question is still on the table, the convention would have to vote on a changed agenda when it meets in June.

“If Paige Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation,” Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist who is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said in a blog post suggesting Patterson retire. “Every news story will point to that moment … and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously. … It’s a message to women that we must not send.”

Most evangelicals would not support Patterson’s suggestion that God can work it out if a woman sticks with her abusive husband, said Thomas Kidd, a historian at Baylor University, but they don’t always agree on whether divorce is appropriate.

“It’s a very particular problem of biblical interpretation,” Kidd said, noting that some pastors believe abuse and abandonment are the same thing. “Most evangelical pastors would certainly concede abuse is a terrible problem, but it’s not specifically stated in scripture that it opens the possibility for divorce.”

Patterson’s critics list a pattern of behavior that goes back decades.

Patterson has been accused of being part of a coverup in a pending lawsuit that alleges another Southern Baptist leader, Paul Pressler, sexually abused a young man for several decades, starting when the alleged victim, a member of his youth group, was 14. The plaintiff alleged that Patterson knew about molestations but failed to report it, according to the Texas Monitor. In separate affidavits filed in April, two men say Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Pressler has said that the court does not need to decide who is telling the truth because the statute of limitations, or window of opportunity for the lawsuit, closed eight years ago. Calls placed to Pressler’s attorney were not returned immediately on Tuesday.

“The courts will run their course on the allegations to see what is true and what isn’t,” Mark Lanier, the attorney representing the seminary, said in an email. “But Dr. Patterson and the seminary never had any reason to suspect any untoward conduct.”

In the late 1980s, when he was president of a Bible college, Patterson helped to promote preacher Darrell Gilyard even after several women confronted Patterson with charges against Gilyard of sexual abuse and misconduct, according to a 1991 Dallas Morning News report. Patterson said at the time the women lacked evidence and witnesses. Gilyard went on to serve in several churches and was arrested in Florida in 2008 for sending lewd messages to underage girls. He was convicted and served three years in prison. Patterson said in 2008 he had had nothing to do with Gilyard since Patterson expelled Gilyard from the school two decades earlier after Gilyard confessed to adultery.

Some questioned whether Patterson’s beliefs on women and divorce extends to how he manages his seminary. Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda claimed she was wrongly dismissed from a tenure-track position at his seminary in 2006 because she is a woman. Klouda filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and fraud, and a federal judge ruled in favor of the seminary. Patterson has stated that the seminary’s policy prohibiting women from teaching theology is drawn from its “desire to model the local church,” according to the Baptist Press.

In an article published in 1997 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Wake Forest University’s plan to open a divinity school, its former dean Bill Leonard said he believes women should be ordained as ministers because he believes the Christian act of baptism “means everybody is free,” including women who want to preach. “I think everybody should own at least one,” Patterson quipped when asked about women, according to the article.

Hankins, the Baylor professor, says Patterson “is a born controversialist” and he and his wife have been champions of a complementarian position that says women and men have different roles.

“He doesn’t begrudgingly accept controversy. He’s willing to take it on,” Hankins said. “He would believe God used his pugnacious personality to lead him to do things he otherwise wouldn’t do.”

As with many seminaries across the country, enrollment at Southwestern seminary has fallen, according to annual reports from the SBC. In the 2015-16 academic year, it had 1,249 students, compared with two decades ago, when it had more than 2,000 students. The seminary is scheduled to open a $2.5 million “Baptist Heritage Library” this summer that will house Patterson’s collections. He and his wife intend to retire there.

THIS HAS BEEN REPOSTED FROM THE WASHINGTON POST- CLICK HERE TO GO THERE

hello

Baylor ISR and BCCP Researchers Receive $2 Million Grant to Study the Human Virtue of ‘Accountability’

Center for Christian Philosophy

April 25, 2018

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, 254-710-6275
Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (April 25, 2018) – Baylor University’s Center for Christian Philosophy (BCCP) and the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) have been awarded a three-year, $2 million research grant from Templeton Religion Trust (TRT), which will allow a multidisciplinary team of scholars to study the virtue of accountability and its relation to other human goods, including conscientiousness, empathy, humility, forgiveness and gratitude. The research project will begin this fall.

“Accountability is a much-discussed topic, but it is usually considered either in terms of when to hold people accountable or when they feel accountable,” said project director C. Stephen Evans, Ph.D., University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, ISR Distinguished Senior Fellow and BCCP director.

The research team will look at accountability as a virtue people can show within a wide variety of social relationships. It’s the trait possessed by people who welcome being accountable to others, providing transparent explanations of their decisions and behavior to those in appropriate roles, and who are willingly accountable for their attitudes, thoughts, emotions and actions, thereby working to improve or correct their responses when appropriate.

“When people welcome being accountable to those in appropriate authority (which may include subordinates and peers), accountability is a benefit to human flourishing,” Evans said. He noted that since humans are held accountable both to each other and to God, this virtue can be manifested both in human relationships and in relation to God.

Along with Evans, Byron R. Johnson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and ISR director, and Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., research professor of criminology at ISR, will serve as project co-directors, while Charlotte Witvliet, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Hope College, will be the principal investigator for a major subaward given to Hope.

“We want to understand how accountability is experienced and embodied as a virtue in relationship to positive psychology, mental health and religion,” Witvliet said.

The multidisciplinary project will be carried out from scholars in many fields, including philosophy, theology, psychology, psychiatry, sociology and criminology. In addition to Evans, Johnson, Jang and Witvliet, the team includes John R. Peteet, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Andrew B. Torrance, Ph.D., lecturer in theology, University of St. Andrews; and Robert C. Roberts, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Baylor.

“The philosophers and theologians will primarily be responsible for the conceptual work, while the psychologist, two social scientists and a psychiatrist will be primarily responsible for the empirical work. However, thanks to a one-year inception grant from TRT, our team of scholars has already realized the enormous benefit of working together as a team,” Evans said.

The Templeton Religion Trust is especially interested in scholarship that is field-changing, Johnson said. In addition to seeking philosophical and theological understanding of the virtue, he said one of the key objectives will be to develop tools to measure the trait empirically, both to gain a clear understanding of its relation to other traits and to discover how the virtue might be developed and strengthened.

Johnson added that “in order to build momentum for this new line of study, our research will be promoted and disseminated widely through a summer workshop, a major public conference on accountability, a series of popular essays, articles in peer-reviewed journals and books.”

Roberts, who specializes in moral psychology and virtue ethics, believes it is possible “to raise awareness of this virtue to influential religious leaders and opinion-shapers representing diverse constituencies,” while Jang said, “We are optimistic our research and its accompanying outputs will be catalytic in opening up a new field of academic inquiry within multiple academic disciplines, as well as applied settings.”

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR STUDIES OF RELIGION

Launched in August 2004, The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support, and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, philosophy, epidemiology, theology, and religious studies. Our mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history. It also embraces the study of religious effects on such things as prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development, and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, our scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.

BAYLOR CENTER FOR CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY

The BCCP aims to bring the sophia of Christ to bear upon fundamental ideas concerning humanity’s place in the cosmos, and, in the light of this divine wisdom, to examine important issues that arise when humans try to live the Gospel in the modern world. As a unique institution with a distinctively Christian mission and a high research output, Baylor has many faculty across the disciplines who are engaged in the integration of faith and scholarship. The BCCP brings key scholars together to collaborate in the BCCP mission and objectives.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

 

hello

Philip Jenkins in The Christian Century: The distinctive faith of South America’s Quechua Catholics Ten million people still speak the language of the Inca empire and identify with its culture. Most of them are Christians.

Accounts of the European en­counter with the New World in the 16th century usually focus on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec kingdom in Mexico. We easily forget that the largest state in the Western hemisphere at this time was the Inca empire based in what is now called Peru, which the Spanish conquered in the 1530s. Along with Mexico City, Lima was the mighty center of Hapsburg imperial rule in the New World.

Although Western conquistadors an­nexed the Inca realm, its peoples were neither destroyed nor scattered, and they continue to flourish today. They also retain many ancient beliefs, in ways that raise questions about the definitions of faith and the limits of Christian orthodoxy.

The Inca empire used the Quechua language, which is still widely spoken in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Many millions in those countries claim some descent from those ancient peoples, but some 10 million identify principally as Quechua and follow its culture. (The re­lated Aymara people are about 2 million strong.) The great majority of these people define themselves as staunchly Catholic, although Pentecostal and evangelical Christianity have made major inroads in recent decades. Catholic be­lievers were delighted when Pope Francis used a Quechua greeting on his 2015 visit to Bolivia.

But aspects of this native Catholicism are controversial. Across Latin America, traces of older religions often survived within the Catholic framework. Old gods reemerged as Christian saints, with the appropriate feast days and ritual calendar, much as occurred in medieval Europe. Such legacies from older An­dean religions are particularly strong among the Quechua. Older deities have conspicuously been repurposed as Chris­tian saints, and traditional animistic beliefs dominate local attitudes to sacred places. As in ancient times, the awe-inspiring Andean mountain peaks are reportedly the homes of powerful spiritual lords or apus. The midsummer Inca festival of the sun, Inti Raymi, continues today as a celebration of Corpus Christi, when saints’ statues are paraded through the streets.

Quechua people highly venerate the Virgin Mary, but in ways that clearly indicate her identity with the mighty Andean mother goddess Pachamama. That identification is clear in Bolivia’s spectacular Festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña, which attracts half a million devotees to Quillacollo for three days each August. Notionally, Urkupiña commemorates a Marian apparition to a Quechua shepherd girl in the 18th century. The site’s name reflects the words that the girl used to declare the presence of the great lady, Ork’hopiña!, or “She’s already on the mountain!” That does make us wonder exactly which “she” was already present, Pacha­mama or Mary. The festival’s rituals, dancing, costumes, and pageantry indicate pre-Christian origins, and the festivity culminates in a procession to a long-sacred mountain. Apart from the public rituals, believers make votive offerings to secure divine blessings and boons for the coming year.

Not only is Quechua religion distinctive, but it retains older ideas and practices in remarkably systematic ways, complete with an underlying philosophy. This is not just a matter of some incidental ideas or costumes persisting after the time of Christian conversion. Quechua belief teaches a whole cosmology, with a complex cycle of ages and worlds, a series of successive worlds and creations. For some observers, the surviving patterns of faith and practice differ so widely from traditional Christian orthodoxies as to require some other religious label altogether. Syncretistic Quechua faith regularly features in discussions of so-called folk Catholicism, alongside the African-derived practices found so widely in Brazil and the Caribbean.

That “folk” label is multiply problematic. As Duke Ellington famously ob­served, “All music is folk music—I never heard a horse sing a song.” By the same token, it is all but impossible to distinguish folk religion from “real” religion, whether Catholic or otherwise. To speak slightingly of folk Catholicism indicates that a practice or ritual can only be seen as authentic when it is approved by institutions and hierarchies. Historically, churches have usually benefited from taking a tolerant and irenic attitude to popular practices and beliefs, especially in newly converted societies, and that has generally been the Catholic attitude in the Andean world.

However the Quechua synthesis is viewed, its future is far from secure. For some decades, vast numbers of rural dwellers have migrated to cities, sometimes under pressure from terrorism and guerrilla violence. That movement has disrupted many traditional Indian communities, who find it all but impossible to follow the old place-specific customs and rituals in a megacity like Lima. In such centers, ordinary people are much more likely to adhere to newer Pentecostal congregations that demand a sharp break with what preachers denounce as paganism and superstition. After resisting so many pressures from the outside world, the Quechua faith may yield—for better or worse—to a new Reformation.

A version of this article appears in the print edition under the title “Quechua and Catholic.”

Philip Jenkins

Philip Jenkins teaches at Baylor University. He is the author of The Great and Holy War and The Many Faces of Christ.

REPOSTED FROM THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY

hello

“Evangelicalism After Billy Graham” by Thomas Kidd – FIRST THINGS – “Will there ever be another Billy Graham?”

As soon as word broke about the death of Billy Graham, the most influential Christian evangelist of the twentieth century, scholars and admirers began asking: “Will there ever be another Billy Graham?” The consensus seems to be “no.”

Scholars note that evangelical Christianity and our dominant media culture are both too diverse for anyone to take on a singular role like Graham’s again. Admirers contend that Graham’s relentless devotion to Christ and to the gospel also made him a unique figure.

Were Billy Graham around to hear this discussion, I am confident he would remind us that God made Graham into the titanic figure he was. Thus, if God chooses to raise up “another Billy Graham,” then there will indeed be another.

But commentators on Graham’s uniqueness are missing another, more mundane point. Some scholars say that our media environment is too diffuse for someone like Graham to capture its attention. But we could turn that argument on its head. Perhaps all we need is another evangelist with Graham’s hard work and savvy for tomorrow’s media, and he or she could become a sensation like Graham, too. Such savvy presumes a forward-looking, entrepreneurial aptitude. We don’t know what a future Billy Graham would look like. Great entrepreneurs are hard to anticipate.

Graham’s success was built in part upon his remarkable endurance and his shrewd use of the latest communication techniques, most notably broadcast television. He also caught the attention of titans such as William Randolph Hearst, who catapulted Graham to fame through secular media outlets, including the top magazines and newspapers of the day.

In his adept use of media, Graham followed in the footsteps of George Whitefield, the Billy Graham of the eighteenth century. Whitefield would surely have reached Graham’s hundreds of millions of people if he had had television, airplanes, and sports arenas at his disposal. As it was, Whitefield became the best-known person in eighteenth-century Britain and America before the American Revolution.

In the 1750s, Whitefield’s primary non-royal competitor for that fame was his longtime friend and printer Ben Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield were not on the same page in terms of personal faith, but they enjoyed a warm friendship and lucrative (for Franklin) business partnership. Franklin had become wealthy in Philadelphia in the 1740s partly through publishing Whitefield’s sermons and journals. Franklin even sold mezzotint imprints of Whitefield’s portrait! When Whitefield died in 1770, devotees assumed there would never be another evangelist like him. But the church goes on, and God provides evangelists as he sees fit.

A future Billy Graham would face more challenges than just a fractured media. He or she would face an English-speaking world that no longer necessarily believes that Christianity is a salutary force. Graham and Whitefield were both products of a culture that assumed Christianity’s established status, either by fact or by law (or both, in Whitefield’s England). Whitefield was a Church of England minister seeking to awaken the culture of Anglo-American Christianity. He could take for granted that his audiences were familiar with the Bible. Even the skeptic Franklin knew the Bible intimately, because of his upbringing in a Puritan household in Boston.

Whitefield could further assume that the people who attended his outdoor assemblies thought religion a good and necessary thing, even if many individuals were not personally devout. Whitefield ministered in a Christian culture, but he rejected the spirit of nominal Christianity that such a culture bred. He told people that it was not enough for them to respect the church. They could not depend on their parents’ faith or their baptism to save them. They needed the “new birth” of salvation, as described in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, and other parts of the New Testament.

This message of the new birth through Christ has been the hallmark of the evangelical movement since at least the time of Whitefield. The term “evangelical” has become confused and diluted in popular usage today. Listening to the media, one could easily get the impression that “evangelical” just means a religious white Republican. Although both Whitefield and Graham had political opinions, no listener would have left their sermons confused about what the “gospel” was. The Son of God offered forgiveness to all who received him as Lord and Savior.

Evangelical-style faith was the de facto established religion of Graham’s native South of the early- and mid-twentieth century. Graham’s travels took him to places such as the Soviet Union, where faith was hardly assumed. And he did reach many people who had little background in faith. But Graham’s greatest impact was naturally on his home turf, in areas of the South and Midwest that already had a pervasive Christian culture.

Graham helped untold millions of Americans who already respected Christianity to come across the threshold of personal faith, and to be born again. President George W. Bush is perhaps the best-known example. Bush, who had struggled for years with alcohol abuse, said that a mid-1980s conversation with Graham about God’s grace led him to “recommit my heart to Jesus Christ.”

A future Billy Graham will not be able to assume as much as Graham or Whitefield could about Americans’ familiarity with the Bible or theology, or about their sympathy for religion. Until recent years, factors such as higher fertility and immigration have kept America from following the starkly secular path of much of Europe. (For debated reasons, high fertility correlates with stronger religious commitment, and recent immigrants in America are among the most likely people to be devout.) But America is setting national records for lowest general fertility and shows a growing inclination to restrict legal and illegal immigration. Should those trends persist, in the long term America’s religious culture may become more like Denmark’s than like that of the Bible Belt of Billy Graham’s youth.

A future Billy Graham will take cues, then, from the Apostle Paul and his outreach to ancient pagan culture. Christian evangelists and apologists will increasingly find themselves, like Paul in Athens, accused of being “a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).

In post-Christian Western culture, the gospel will be odd. It will need to be framed in terms that outsiders can understand, without compromising theological integrity or the sharper edges of Christian doctrine. Christians will also need to manifest loving community and family wholeness, which our broken culture desperately needs in the wake of the sexual revolution. Ordering your life around the Lordship of Christ will increasingly seem an exotic (if salvific) alternative for a select few, rather than a natural step for responsible Americans entering adulthood.

C. S. Lewis offers a modern example of effective apologetics in an unchurched world. To be sure, Lewis spoke to a nation with a legally established church in World War II–era Britain. And he did find a platform on government-run BBC radio for the series of talks that became Mere Christianity. But Lewis did not begin from an assumption that Britons intuitively saw that Christianity was desirable, or that it even mattered. Instead, he persuasively and intelligently argued that Christianity was true, and that it demanded a response. He also used science fiction and children’s stories as literary bridges to explore age-old questions about sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God. Those books surely reached many for whom straightforward Christian apologetics seemed irrelevant.

Of course, historic evangelicals believe that we’ll always need evangelism for both the churched and the unchurched. Billy Graham illustrated how you can do both, and he knew how to modulate his presentation depending on whether he was in Dallas or in Moscow. But one suspects that the days are coming to an end when an evangelist can announce a crusade in an American city and draw tens of thousands of people.

In other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India, healing and prosperity evangelists like Reinhard Bonnke and Benny Hinn do still draw such crowds. Most evangelical leaders are skeptical of such preachers’ theological soundness. When a future Billy Graham does speak before unconverted people, he or she will likely not lead with the exhortation, “You must be born again,” but rather with the question, “Why does Christianity matter?”

So maybe there will be another Billy Graham, but he or she will undoubtedly speak in a different cultural mode, and use different media than Graham did. As Graham would remind us, however, God also has a long track record of using people who rely on Him, who work hard and use entrepreneurial ministry methods, and who stay faithful to the traditional teachings of the church. We need not worry about who will fill his shoes, then. If the Kingdom requires one, God will raise up another Billy Graham.

Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and author of Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father.

Photo by Paul M. Walsh via Creative Commons. Image cropped.
REPOSTED FROM FIRST THINGS

hello

Byron R. Johnson: “The Story Behind Billy Graham’s Prison-Built Casket” — The Gospel Coalition

Thomas Kidd

Today’s post is from Byron R. Johnson, distinguished professor of the social sciences at Baylor University, director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and co-author of the book The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation (2016).

Billy Graham preached to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries. He met with at least a dozen presidents and heads of state. Graham appeared in the top ten of Gallup’s most-admired men in the world 61 times, far more than any other person. Ronald Reagan is his closest competition, making the list 31 times. So why is the celebrated Graham going to be buried in a plywood casket built by prisoners in Louisiana? The answer helps us understand a key facet of the man’s character.

In addition to having an effect on presidents, and millions of everyday people across the world, the Graham family also had a big effect on those the Bible says should not be overlooked: prisoners. The Graham family has been connected to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a.k.a. Angola, a maximum-security prison once known as the bloodiest prison in America. Most of the prisoners at Angola are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole—meaning they will eventually die and be buried in the Angola prison cemetery.

Franklin Graham preached at Angola, and George Beverly Shea sang there. In fact, Shea sang to more than 800 prisoners at Angola in 2009. He was there to perform and to give to the prison an organ he had received from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association earlier that year for his 100th birthday. The Graham family would donate funds to help build a couple of chapels at Angola.

Graham died last Wednesday at 99 years old, and despite his fame and profound global influence, this humble religious leader will be buried in a simple plywood box built by an unlikely person. Richard Liggett, a convicted murderer, led a team of prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary that built caskets for both Graham and his wife, Ruth, who died in June 2007 at age 87.

Liggett meticulously built coffins for many fellow prisoners before dying of cancer in March 2007, nearly 31 years into his sentence. Liggett would tell then-Warden Burl Cain that of everything that ever happened in his life, the most profound thing was to build the coffins for Billy and Ruth Graham. Franklin Graham purchased the coffins after seeing them during a visit to the prison in 2005.

The plain wood coffins are made of plywood and were lined with mattress pads made from Walmart comforters covered by fabric. They are adorned with brass handles and a cross on top and are said to cost $215. According to the former warden of Angola, the Graham family also asked that all of the inmates who worked on the coffins’ construction have their names burned into the wood.

I have a particular interest in Angola, because I led a Baylor University research team in completing a rigorous five-year study of the infamous prison and the Angola Bible College that has attracted so much attention from Christian and correctional leaders over the last the two decades. The Bible College, founded in 1995, and the 29 inmate-led congregations at Angola, have played a critical role in transforming one of the most violent and corrupt prisons in America into one that has become an unlikely model for other states. At least a dozen other states have launched Bible colleges as a result of the Angola experiment.

Graham received many honors during his lifetime, including the Templeton Prize in 1982. At the award ceremony, Sir Geoffrey Howe introduced Graham and stated, “It is with the Bible that he has armed himself above all else. His characteristic refrain, ‘The Bible says . . .’ exposes both the foundation of his preaching and the explanation for his extraordinary combination of humility and authority.” The former British Cabinet member’s observations were spot on. Graham’s Angola casket is a fitting reminder of the evangelist’s connection with some of America’s most forgotten people.

The life and work of Billy Graham will be celebrated in a conference sponsored by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, on November 6 and 7, 2018. It will feature addresses from Ed Stetzer, Grant Wacker, and Anne Blue Wills.

THIS HAS BEEN REPOSTED FROM THE GOSPEL COALITION

hello

Barry Hankins quoted in The Christina Science Monitor- “Graham’s view was that if people wanted to help promote the revivals… then find ways to bridge theological differences”

Billy Graham: a counselor of presidents who eschewed politics

In the pantheon of evangelists from the Apostle Paul to Billy Sunday, no one preached the gospel to more souls than Graham, who used stadiums and mass media as no one before or since.

In 1957, when celebrity evangelist Billy Graham was gearing up for four months of nightly revival meetings at New York’s Madison Square Garden, his fellow conservative Christians warned he was playing with fire – and not in a good way.

Fundamentalists said he was making a mistake by partnering with liberal New York Protestants, who in their view would corrupt the crusade. But Graham didn’t listen. He teamed up with a diverse coalition and preached the gospel to 2.4 million.

“Graham’s view was that if people wanted to help promote the revivals… then find ways to bridge theological differences,” said Barry Hankins, a Baylor University historian and author of “American Evangelicals: A Contemporary History of a Mainstream Religious Movement.” “That became a sort of metaphor for his whole life. He was willing to have an irenic spirit toward people whom he disagreed with. He really wanted to exude the love of Christ more than the theological judgment.”

 With the passing of Billy Graham, the world lost a towering figure in Christianity’s 2,000-year history. In the pantheon of evangelists from the Apostle Paul to Billy Sunday, no one preached the gospel to more souls than Graham, who used stadiums and mass media as no one before or since.

He built on a rare combination of assets, from rugged looks to an earnest manner, a morally upright lifestyle and gift for plainspoken public speaking. Yet it was his willingness to befriend former foes, and irk some former friends in the process, that earned him an unprecedented global stage.

In an era when irascible fundamentalists held to the fringes of public life, Graham rose above his roots in that tradition and became the kinder, gentler face of evangelicalism. He was widely loved. Every year from 1956 to 2006, he ranked in Gallup surveys among the 10 most-admired men in the world. Presidents adored him as much as the general public did. As an adviser to presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, Graham goes down as the Lincoln Bedroom’s most frequent occupant, according to Grant Wacker, a Duke University historian and author of, “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation.”

“Beforehand, conservative Protestants didn’t have anything to do with [liberal] Protestants or Catholics, but Graham was willing to work with them,” said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. “That really served as a lightning rod in a lot of ways because he did get a lot of critique from the theological right and fundamentalist sectors who said, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Admired though he was in many corners, Graham was also scorned, especially in circles that felt he shirked incumbent responsibilities. He disappointed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who said Graham “neglected the social dimensions of the gospel” by avoiding pressing issues of the day. His 1982 visit to the Soviet Union, where he urged nuclear disarmament, led conservative columnist George Will to label him “America’s most embarrassing export.” Fundamentalist Bob Jones once called him the leading threat to Christianity.

But none of that hampered Graham’s rise to extraordinary influence.

 Born in 1918 on a western North Carolina dairy farm, Graham came of age in a time of rigid social stratification. Whites and African-Americans used separate facilities. Fundamentalists dared not mix with people of different faiths. Graham largely reflected the era’s norms. He kept the races separate at revival events into the early 1950s and urged leaders to go slow on civil rights, according to Wacker.

But by his mid-30s, he was showing passion for crossing boundaries for higher purposes, even when authorities frowned. At a Chattanooga revival in 1953, he broke the law by removing ropes erected to keep white and black Americans separate. The following year, he permanently banished the ropes from his events.

Over the next three decades, Graham would lead hundreds of crusade events in foreign countries. He aimed to win converts and promote church attendance, even in non-Christian countries. One secret to his ability to get invited again and again was his refusal to speak ill of other belief systems, a practice that galled fundamentalists back in the United States.

 “He would say, ‘I’m here to talk about Jesus’,” not to cast aspersions upon other belief systems, Wacker said.

Eager for any opportunity to share his message, Graham was the first Evangelist to make broad use of television. After a California revival catapulted him to prominence in 1949, he became player on the evangelical stage. He was instrumental in founding Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where efforts to bridge evangelicalism and the broader culture remain a priority.

Across his remarkable career, Graham’s priority was always evangelism – that is, leading individuals to accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior. When he had regrets, he pointed to moments when other concerns interfered with tearing down barriers and building up a kingdom of born-again believers. Example: having defended President Richard Nixon before he resigned in disgrace, Graham sought to distance himself from politics, even though he continued to play a pastoral role with presidents.

 “You really get the sense that he believed he had been used” by Nixon, Eskridge said. “He begins to pull back from any overt political involvement…. He was never involved in the religious right or the Moral Majority. He had bigger fish to fry, in his mind, and felt that getting involved in politics hurt his attempt to get the message out.”

After taped conversations with then-President Nixon became public, including anti-Semitic remarks from Graham, the Evangelist begged forgiveness from Jews. Having built up much good will over many years, Wacker said, Graham largely received forgiveness from the American Jewish community.

In leading thousands to faith, Graham effectively revived revivalism, an American tradition of using outdoor preaching, music, and other effects to bring about heartfelt conversions. Pioneered by George Whitefield in the 1730s and sustained later by the likes of D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday, revivalism was thought to be fading by the 1920s. But Graham tapped into the tradition and brought it up to date, using everything from radio to stadiums for a higher cause.

After 1981, Graham’s peacemaking demeanor shared the spotlight with a more combative style of evangelicalism, one embodied by such culture warrior broadcasters as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Tendencies toward infighting and suspicion of outsiders – defining elements of conservative Protestantism in Graham’s early days – resurged somewhat in the vacuum created by Graham’s gradual retirement. Even Graham’s son, Franklin, has diverged from his father’s nonjudgmental approach to other faiths, as the younger Graham has called Islam “an evil religion.”

Looking back on Graham’s life and career, scholars now see a rare historical figure who brought together a radical mix of old-time religion and modern sensibilities. Charisma surely helped, as did deep faith in a God whose redemptive work is not yet finished. What’s more, being a breaker of boundaries and friend of the scorned certainly didn’t hurt his stature in the legacy of Christendom.

REPOSTED FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR


Barry Hankins quoted in The Christina Science Monitor- “Graham’s view was that if people wanted to help promote the revivals… then find ways to bridge theological differences”