Thinking Out Loud

December 30, 2020

Their Personal Brand was Damaged in 2020

It wasn’t a good year for some people. Whether due to political allegiances, marital collapses or financial improprieties, the year was filled with missteps that damaged the brand of many key authors, pastors and leaders. The election and the pandemic proved to be catalysts for revealing some people’s true character. And we didn’t even consider the implications of the discussions that arose in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

Also, an apology to readers outside the U.S. that this is so America-centric. But then again, what happened in the States was often the lead news item on nightly roundups in Canada, the UK and Europe. If they didn’t know already, reporters in every country had to learn overnight how to report on the U.S. political system and election system. These are names you probably recognize anyway. There were many others not included.

Here’s my recap:

Ravi Zacharias – The real tragedy here is that so much has come to light since his passing, leaving him no opportunity to respond or to repent. The legacy of his namesake ministry has been damaged in the process. It was more than just the exaggeration of academic credentials. It was about serious sexual misconduct. RZIM needs to do what they haven’t done so far: Act quickly. Rename the ministry in Canada and the U.S. as well as in Europe where it’s known as Zacharias Trust. Second, replace Ravi as the “voice” of the Let My People Think radio feature with some of the many gifted apologists currently on its speaker roster.

Eric Metaxas – An Australian blogger wrote, “Reading Metaxas’ tweets is like watching a man slowly drive his career as a public intellectual over a cliff.” In 2020, the author and talk show host did what so many did, suspending all reason and logic for an unqualified backing of Donald J. Trump. His “losing it” seemed to have no limits toward the end of the year, with the alleged sucker punch of a protester outside a RNC event, and his theft of Pentatonix’ audio track for his “Biden Did You Know?” video which YouTube appropriately removed a day later.

John Ortberg – Following an investigation into the popular author and pastor’s knowledge concerning a volunteer at Menlo Church which some argued should not have been permitted to be involved in children’s ministry there due to a possible attraction to minors, Ortberg was reinstated in March only to be outed in June by a family member who said that the pastor and author was actually protecting the identity of a different family member. That was all it took to pave the way for a final farewell.

Dave Ramsay – The self-proclaimed Christian financial guru’s complete disregard for health guidance dealing with the pandemic opened up a broader discussion and revealed what might be considered a somewhat toxic workplace.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. – Again, another person whose credibility was destroyed by unwavering support for Trump, which then opened up further investigation resulting in revelations of Falwell and his wife participating in what were, at the very least, some unusually close relationships involving other people. Current students and alumni are fighting to see his name distanced from Liberty University in order to preserve the value of the education they received. Falwell brought some of this on himself however, posting some pictures one might have wanted to keep private, which in itself showed a complete lack of discernment and wisdom.

Jim Bakker – Long before the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, Bakker had the cure for Coronavirus and was willing to sell it to you. Too bad it took the NIH (in the US) or NHS (in the UK) so many months to catch up to what Bakker already knew. His actions also cast a shadow on everyone who has ever been a guest on The Jim Bakker Show.

John MacArthur – Defying California state law, MacArthur’s Grace Church packed in unmasked worshipers during Covid-19’s second wave, insisting that God requires us to worship together and be assembled together. In many respects, this is an incomplete theological understanding of what it means to be united and what it means to be the church. Should MacArthur be on this list, or were his actions in 2020 simply a continuation of what he’s always been?

Franklin Graham – Another Trump election casualty, Graham’s situation collecting salaries from both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse was thrust back into the spotlight. Being a Graham, expectations of character standards are always high and some are suggesting that Franklin doesn’t even come remotely close.

Jay Sekulow and Family – By December it’s easy to forget stories that were circulating in January, but in that month Ministry Watch reported on the salaries paid to execs of ministry organizations and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) turned up repeatedly in the list. Jay Sekulow was #3 on the list at $1,421,188, while “spokesperson” Kim Sekulow was #5 with $1,053,432, and Gary Sekulow, CEO/COO was #7 at $985,847. (For some ministries the most recent year listed was several years old.) The money paid to some ministry leaders is an absolute atrocity.

Focus on the Family – Another story from earlier in the year, this popular organization declared that they were actually a church and as such not required to do any public reporting of their income or executive salaries. See our January article for all the ridiculous defenses given for this action.

Mark Dever – The ecclesiology in general and church governance — and Covenant Membership in particular — of the 9 Marks church group caused one watchdog blogger to write, “…they appear to be in danger of redefining what constitutes the church. They have invented a system that is full of rules and regulations, many of which are conjecture. Yes, they quote Scripture but they often interpret Scripture through their own peculiar lens.” Just another example of the Calvinist/Reformed movement slowly parting ways with mainstream Christianity.

Carl Lentz – Not sure that the greater damage resulting from Lentz’ confessed affair is to him or to the leadership of Hillsong. Especially Hillsong’s North American expansion efforts. Maybe I should have listed Brian and Bobbie Houston instead. What did they know and when did they know it? Still, give it a year or two and I would expect to see Lentz surface heading another church somewhere.

Paula White – As a post-Charismatic, I have no objective problem with speaking in tongues, but feel that Trump’s “Spiritual Advisor” chose neither the right time or the right place. And what happened to the “angels from Africa?” Are they still on their way? What were they doing there in the first place? The public needs to know. Whatever damage Graham, Falwell and Metaxas did to Evangelicals, White did the same to her fellow Charismatics and Pentecostals.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker – In some respects, I feel bad isolating this one ministry couple, so allow them to serve as stand-ins for all those Christian pastors whose marriages didn’t make it to the finish line.

Rachel and Dave Hollis – Ditto. Rachel is author of the huge publishing success, Girl Wash Your Face which only saw mediocre sales through some Christian channels despite being a national bestseller. Again, on this list as a stand-in for other Christian authors with a similar 2020 separation story.

Robert Jeffress – Another of the “court Evangelicals,” this SBC megachurch pastor and frequent guest on FOX-TV was a reminder of why churches and pastors should stay away from politics. It will take years for the damage done to the capital “C” Church to recover, and some say the name Evangelical is tarnished permanently.Meanwhile the SBC continues to report declines in baptisms and membership, which impacts its Broadman & Holman and LifeWay publishing empire.

The Episcopal Church – In a rather strange irony, the denomination which so greatly values the Communion sacrament as most central to their weekend worship found themselves preventing parishioners from improvising at home, which other bodies both permitted and encouraged during the lockdown. This resulted in the creation of the term “Eucharistic fast” to describe abstaining from The Lord’s Supper. Anglicans can only receive the bread and wine if the elements have been consecrated by an Anglican officiant. Eventually some churches got creative in finding ways to get the necessary items to congregants, but I can’t help but think they painted themselves into a corner by so greatly limiting access to the table. 

Chris Rice – In October an investigation was launched concerning sexual assault claims against the Christian musician dating to when Rice was a guest artist at youth retreats for a Kentucky Church, reports the pastor found to be “credible.”

K. P. Yohannan – The financial oddities (or as I just accidentally typed it, auditees) of Gospel for Asia keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.” This isn’t a 2020 story, nor is it limited to the U.S., but an ongoing saga which simply doesn’t go away.

Sean Feucht – Similar to the Trump-related stories above, with an extra conspiracy theory or two thrown into the mix; instead of running for public office, this guy should have stuck to playing music and leading worship; though now I’m not even 100% sure about that.

Kirk Cameron – Like Feucht above, Cameron staged a mass event which totally disregarded health advisories. We’re supposed to spread the gospel, not super-spread Covid-19.

John Crist – After stepping back from touring and creating video content following sexual misconduct allegations in 2019, the comedian resurfaced in 2020, but to some, the humor just wasn’t working; it was too soon. Crist would do well to simply abandon the Christian market altogether and rebuild his brand as a mainstream stand-up comic where this sort of thing happens with greater regularity and with nobody batting an eye.

Kenneth Copeland – The faith healer and prosperity teacher was another Trump casualty, but his laughing at the thought of a Biden victory was somewhat eerie if not somewhat demonic; and in Copeland’s camp, they know a thing or two about demonic. 

Willow Creek Leadership – A year ago Bill Hybels might have appeared on a similar list to this, but for the past twelve months, the leadership at Willow has in equal amounts both launched and stepped back from new initiatives, seeming like a small boy wandering the aisles of a department store in search of his parents.

Matthew Paul Turner – The author of Christian books for both children and adults came out as gay and announced his divorce. The latter has wider acceptance in the Church these days, and in some sectors the former is heading in that direction. His admission probably burned some bridges but it’s hard not to respect his transparency.

Albert Mohler, Jr. – I was once a fan, but in 2020 he became another SBC leader who got sucked into the Trump vortex.

James MacDonald – The disgraced former pastor popped up a few times in 2020 to make sure he was getting everything he had coming to him from Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in the Word. The man who once used Easter Sunday to kick off a series on personal finances has revealed what is most near and dear to his heart. The NASDAQ is risen. It is risen indeed.

…That’s probably enough of this for one day. Or one year. This gives me no pleasure, but compiling this over the past several hours has been eye-opening. There was also one person I deliberately chose to exclude, and another I held back because of conflicted feelings about what I was seeing for myself and what others were reporting. Time will tell. It always does.

2021 can only be a better year, right? Let’s pray for that to be true.

September 11, 2017

Two Communities Converge to Rescue Each Other

Sometime after lunch yesterday, I carried the book out to the backyard with the intention of reading, at best, three chapters. By late last night I had devoured all 192 pages in just two sittings.

All Saints: The Surprising True Story of How Refugees From Burma Brought Life to a Dying Church by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle (Bethany House) is not my usual read. But reading a friend’s review and remembering I had been sent a copy spurred me to take another look.

The publisher, Bethany House, is home to some of the best Christian fiction available, and to read the first two paragraphs of their description is to imagine you’re reading about someone’s fictional story. Things like this just don’t usually happen. But if God places the right Episcopal priest in the right parish at the right time, anything is possible. It is the stuff movies are made of.

And a movie was. All Saints (the movie) released at the end of August, and in something you don’t see every day, the original contact with the movie producer is included in the story.

A Karen family wedding at All Saints (from the website of Over My Shoulder Foundation; click image to link)

The books subtitle (above) has conveyed much of what you need to know: Life changes for a young man in his first pastorate — a financially crippled parish which has just endured a painful church split — when three “scouts” from among a group of Burmese refugees living in Tennessee show up only because the church is the same denomination as what they experienced in their homeland, copies of their translation of the Book of Common Prayer in hand; there to check out the orthodoxy of the church. As the story progresses, the groups go through the growing pains of integrating, and then the pastor gets a vision of turning the church’s acreage into a farm. 

The story unfolds switching back and forth between the story of Pastor Michael Spurlock and his wife Aimee in the U.S. and the story of Ye Win (and others) among the Karen [kah-REHN] dealing with a less comfortable life in what is now Myanmar. The manner in which Ye Win’s little band of refugees converge with this Tennessee church is certainly the stuff of fiction, not real life. But remarkably, it happens.

This is a textbook case study on the assimilation of minority groups and refugees into North American churches. Not every story will read as this one, but it’s an excellent example of a pastor, a bishop, and a small group of parishioners being open to the possibility that God is doing something among them. Something worth writing about. Or making a movie.

Read more: Washington Post movie review.


A copy of the book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

All Saints Episcopal Church of Smyrna, Tennessee (image from Over My Shoulder Foundation, click to link)

 

 

May 30, 2012

Wednesday Link List

They didn’t talk about this at seminary: A Russian Orthodox priest blesses the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft on the launch pad at the Russian leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket is set to head to the International Space Station on December 15, with US, Italian and Russian astronauts on board.

  • I don’t spend a lot of time tracking Roman Catholic theology or books, but I was intrigued the other day to see this title: 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura. Here’s how they introduce the subject.
  • Members of an Anglican Church in Virginia are paying a high price their convictions about same-sex marriage, but 90% of them decided they had to take a stand.
  • Meanwhile, in Canada, a group of breakaway Anglicans are launching their own college.
  • And speaking of higher education; if you flunked Biblical Greek in Bible College and failed Biblical Hebrew in seminary, you get one more chance: Two villages in Israel are trying to revive the Aramaic language, with help from a TV station in Sweden.
  • Be among the first to watch this 2.5 minute preview of the movie Hanged on A Twisted Cross, The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Missionary is coming home from the field. “Aww;” my wife said, “Now what will she be the worst at?” Here’s her husband’s version of it, and here’s Jamie’s.
  • BDBO posts an announcement from Benny Hinn about the restoration of the relationship with his former wife; along with a link to an article suggesting some news may be premature.
  • A disturbing news story about a high school girl who couldn’t attend a state leadership event because the non-denominational service provided wasn’t up to the standard of her Roman Catholic mass, gets dissected at Get Religion by a Lutheran who admits her denomination would react the same way — all this on a blog that was established to confront bias in religious reporting. Sorry, but exclusivity is one of the primary marks of a cult.
  • One of the pastors at Cross Point gave an amazing sermon on Sunday, comparing listening to and obeying God with listening to your guide when you’re river rafting. Hope it’s available online soon.
  • John Dyer looks at the three major issues arising from the use of “Bible apps” on smartphones during worship services.
  • LGBT Discussion Link of the Week: A pastor shares a Twitter conversation with someone who wants to diminish his church’s orthodoxy on the basis of this one issue.
  • Monday night I watched an amazing lecture by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Later that night, I discovered that the program I watched, Only One Race, is available at the ministry’s video on demand page.
  • Police in Indiana arrested a 55-year old Christian Reformed pastor who had placed cameras in the women’s restroom.
  • Meanwhile, a California pastor and his associates are facing a range of charges including assault, child abuse, kidnapping  and torture following a disciplinary action involving a 13-year old at a Bible study.
  • After a bad review from Tim Challies, Ann Voskamp takes the high road, leading TC to admit he sometimes lacks sensitivity, but One Thousand Gifts fails to earn the Challies seal of approval.
  • Just ’cause you’re talking about an individual, doesn’t mean it’s bad: Floyd and Sally McClung want encourage positive gossip.
  • 99.99% of everything at Lark News is fiction, but the story of the pastor whose Tweets destroyed his reputation is so totally believable.
  • if you want to avoid having your blog posts copied to other blogs, just have a blog where you write everything in lower case. most of us will keep our distance, except for a few type a people who will go through and capitalize where needed. mark oestreicher, this means you.
  • Okay, so if you’re part of ‘prayer cloth’ culture, today’s closing picture is a bit irreverent — and a bit dated — but…

June 22, 2011

Wednesday Link List

To link or not to link, that is the question…

  • This is a real masterpiece, and if I could, I would steal the whole thing and post it here.  Perry Noble has written a list of ten things he desires for each and every person who calls NewSpring Church home.  Follow the link to the first one, watch any related video, and then click the arrows for each of the other nine.  Sample: ” #6 – I want every owner of NewSpring Church to know how to lead someone to Christ and feel the calling/responsibility to do so.”
  • TBN refused to air an episode of Jack Van Impe‘s weekly rant because it slammed Robert Schuller and Rick Warren, so Van Impe has decided to take his ball and his bat and go home, and has pulled his programs from the TBN schedule. “Although I understand, and actually agree with, your position that you ‘will not allow anyone to tell me what I can and cannot preach,’ I trust you understand that TBN takes the same position with its broadcast air time as well,” TBN President Paul Crouch wrote in a letter to Van Impe. More on this here tomorrow from a different perspective…
  • Here’s a great article for this time of year published a month ago at Leadership Journal, for people involved in ministry to young people who are leaving the local (church) area to go on to college.  Love what this Texas pastor says, “Our job doesn’t end at graduation, we call that ‘Day One.’  Each graduate leaving for college receives a $10 Starbucks gift card with the following instructions: go find a spiritual mentor on campus to take out for coffee.”
  • “Something good is going to happen to you.”  Remember that phrase?  I found this tucked away in a remote corner of the net, and even though it’s a full year old, someone here might like to have a look.  Randy R. Potts is now in his mid-thirties, he’s the grandson of Oral and Evelyn Roberts and he’s gay and estranged from the church.  If you’ve got 8-10 minutes take a look at life from his perspective.
  • The whole Xtra Normal text-to-animation method of making a point is awesome.  My son made one for a school presentation that he did, and here’s one I found on How to Be Really Terrible at Interpreting the Bible, aka “How To Show”  part two.
  • Two Perry Noble posts in one link list?  This is a must for singles; some of you may want to cut/paste and send this out as a FWD.  Check out Ten Reasons I Should Not Be Dating Him/Her.
  • On the one hand, I can’t believe Pete Wilson posted this video of a mother/daughter discussion on heaven and hell and religion in general; on the other hand, it’s probably more true to life than we realize.
  • On the weekend’s U.S. Open golf tournament, NBC-TV ran a video of a somewhat edited U.S. Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “under God” edited out.  Twice.  What were thinking?  Apparently they are ready to admit they weren’t. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has decided not to hear another appeal to delete the clause from the pledge.
  • Canadian Anglicans in four churches that split from the apostate Anglican Church of Canada have decided to give up the fight to keep their buildings.  They will revert to the denomination which in fact is one of the largest holders of real estate in the country.  Legally legit I suppose, but morally wrong.
  • And speaking of Canadians, here’s a cold and snowy edition of one of the classic “religious” Peanuts comic strip — featuring Linus, of course — which actually isn’t the first time we’ve included Peanuts here in a Wednesday Link List.

September 8, 2010

Wednesday Link List

The long hot summer is just about over, and the kids are back in school.    Time for a look at the pages that grabbed my attention this week, with a little help from our friend (at right) the links lynx.

  • First of all, there’s a live event online tomorrow (Thursday September 9th) night:  A Night of Worship, streaming live from North Point Community Church at 7:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 PM Central.   To watch at home you need enough bandwidth to capture the live feed, and this website.
  • When Chad Holtz isn’t busy pastoring a rural Methodist church, he’s busy confronting evil at the local Islamic Center.  Sort of.
  • Greg at the blog, Lost in the Clouds posts an edgy response to the Christianity Today cover story Hipster Christianity by Brent McCracken based on his book of the same name.   Greg says “I’m sorry, but all of this is adding up to a sorry picture of our tour guide through the world of Hipster Christianity…”   I think he struck a nerve.
  • Students at Belmont University are being handed cash to make a difference.    Donald Miller explains the $20 giveaway; but I wonder what they’d do if — after the manner of Matthew 25 — one of the students simply handed back $40?
  • Carlos Whitaker doesn’t want attendees at the Catalyst Conference to be singing the songs he chooses, so he asks his readers to report the song titles they are connecting with at their churches.   So far, over 125 replies.
  • Frank Turk, who probably doesn’t write a lot of music reviews, joins a number of bloggers who are noticing what can only be termed a “modern hymnwriter,” Matthew Smith.
  • Andrew Jones lists five major game changers that revolutionized who he is today.  People in ministry, don’t miss this one.
  • Thom Turner knows that baptism can be a divisive subject, but suggests there’s room for diversity even within denominations and possibly within local churches as well.
  • If you missed the blog tour — actually it was more like a progressive dinner — for Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson), you can still catch all seven excerpts by following the links, starting here.  Anne’s honesty will resonate with anyone dealing with various types of pain.
  • Brian, a regular reader of this blog, invites you to join him and others in a week of prayer for Beja people — nomadic camel herders — of Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea.   Read more here.
  • Our video link this week is a worship song you may not know by Willow Creek’s Aaron Niequist, simply titled Changed.
  • U.S. Fundamentalist nutcase Terry Jones is determined to burn copies of the Quran on September 11th — I doubt even the U.S. President could stop this guy — so as of Tuesday night officials announced plans to quell access to his property through an identification checkpoint, so fewer people can see him do it.
  • John Stackhouse has no problem with street preaching, but that’s usually in commercial areas, right?  What happens when the preachers invade a residential street?  That, he says, is going too far.
  • Anglicans in Nova Scotia, not content with the annual “blessing of the pets” service, are having a “blessing of the techs” service for laptops, cellphones and mobile devices.
  • This may be your church, or at least your church sign:  Grace Methodist Episcopal in New York, circa 1922; from Shorpy.com; a classic photograph site.  Middle picture is from the Gospel Mission in Georgetown, circa 1920; final picture is a storefront church from the “Black Belt” of Chicago in 1941 and where deciding where you’re going to eat after church isn’t an issue with the lunch wagon next door.   Click through any of the pictures to see the images in super-giant size.


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May 17, 2010

Religious News All About Sex and Gender

What makes a religious news story these days?   According to a quick look at the religion page of USAToday on Sunday, it’s all about GLBT issues and sex scandals.   Four out of the five “top news” items fall into that category, as do four of the remaining ten stories, and the featured story about the rally at the Vatican to support the Pope’s handling of the abuse scandal.

You can check the page for yourself anytime, here. Hopefully, in the days to come, you’ll find a “good news” story or something about doctrine or theology.   Right now, editorially, it’s becoming increasingly about a single issue.  In the meantime, please note that Christ followers have many more concerns and activities taking place than what you’re seeing reported.

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