FaithWorld

Evangelicals debate competing for souls at Beijing Olympics

Cross-like supports for pole valuting at the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open, 22 May 2008/David GrayBesides the usual Olympic sports, another competition seems to be shaping up for the Beijing Games in August — evangelisation. Christian organisations are debating whether they should use the Games as an opportunity to spread the faith among the Chinese during those weeks. China seems determined to control religious activity during the Games and allow only religious services for foreigners attending the Games. But doing covert missionary work in difficult areas — usually Muslim countries — is a challenge some Christian groups relish.

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) discussed this recently with an article entitled “Should Christians Evangelize at the Beijing Olympics?” The prominent U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham angered some fellow evangelicals by saying they should not go to China and preach outside approved channels. But groups such as 4 Winds Christian Athletics disagree. They want athletes competing in Beijing to speak about their faith during interviews. The group’s head, Steve McConkey, said: “Christians should use caution and do as God leads.”

Carl Moeller, head of the Open Doors U.S.A. group defending persecuted Christians worldwide, told Mission Network News: “We’re actually encouraging travellers to the Olympic Games to call Open Doors, to visit Open Doors and to get from us some materials that are specifically designed for evangelism during the Olympic Games. We feel like evangelism during the Olympic Games will be a tremendous opportunity.” At the bottom of the story is a link to the Open Doors U.S.A. website saying: “If you’re traveling to ChMarathon runners pass the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing, 30 April 2008/Jason Leeina for the Olympics and would like helpful tools to share your faith during the games, click here.

China showed how vigilant it can be after the Sichuan earthquake, when it searched Christian aid groups for any signs they might try to proselytise and turned away any suspected covert missionaries.

There are often calls to keep politics out of the Olympics. Does the same hold for religion?

PETA urges Southern Baptists to go vegetarian

PETA members protest in outfits of lettuce leaves in Taipei, 22 May 2008/Pichi ChuangA handful of activists from People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) urged Southern Baptists meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday to try the vegetarian option. “For Christ’s Sake, Go Vegetarian,” read one of their signs outside the convention center in downtown Indianapolis, where the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), America’s largest evangelical denomination, is holding its annual meeting.

“The Bible’s greatest message is compassion,” said PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne, who said she hoped to convince Southern Baptists to adopt a diet that was compassionate to animals by not eating them.

The SBC, like the broader U.S. evangelical movement, is divided about what action to take on “creation care” or environmental issues such as climate change.

Southern Baptists hold meet amid falling baptisms

SBC President Frank Page and President George Bush, 11 Oct 2006/Larry DowningAmerica’s largest evangelical denomination, the 16-million strong Southern Baptist Convention, is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday against the backdrop of a decline in the number of yearly baptisms.

This is serious stuff indeed for a group that places much emphasis on the conversion experience, the acceptance of Jesus as a person’s savior and the rite of passage that goes with this acceptance: a public immersion in water or baptism.

In April the SBC released its latest baptism numbers — figures it tracks closely, underscoring the importance attatched to them.

U.S. religious groups in anti-torture campaign

Torture instruments at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, 2 Dec 2007/Reuters photographerOver 275 congregations from across the faith spectrum and all corners of America will display banners this month condemning torture. The campaign is the brain child of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) which groups over 190 religious groups.

President George W. Bush in March vetoed legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other controversial
interrogation techniques that critics say is torture, making the issue a political as well as moral one in this election year.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain — who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam — has strongly condemned water-boarding and has been the author of previous anti-torture legislation, winning praise from centrist U.S. evangelicals among others. But he did not support the legislation vetoed by Bush on the grounds that it was too sweeping.

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”

U.S. Religious Right reacts to “Evangelical Manifesto”

Tony PerkinsA group of mostly centrist U.S. evangelicals released a lengthy manifesto on Wednesday which called for the movement to pull back from explicit partisan political activity, saying faith was being used to express “political points that have lost touch with biblical truth.”

Leading figures on the conservative Religious Right, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, were pointedly not asked to sign the document — a reflection of some of the divisions emerging in the U.S. evangelical movement, which numbers over 60 million by some estimates.

“I agree that evangelical Christians have become too aligned with the Republican Party which has taken them for granted,” Perkins told Reuters, adding that he saw some good stuff in the manifesto.

Evangelical Church in Germany knocks creationism, ID in school

EKD logoThe Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has just published a booklet for school teachers urging them not to advocate creationism or intelligent design (ID). That’s “evangelical” as in the German evangelisch (meaning Protestant, mostly Lutheran), and not “evangelical” as it’s more commonly used in the United States. Still, it’s interesting to see that the EKD in Germany, where there are few U.S.-style evangelicals and almost no dispute about the theory of evolution, felt it necessary to issue a 22-page booklet about teaching evolution. It’s called “The Origin of the World, the Theory of Evolution and the Belief in Creation in School” (here in German).

EKD Chairman Bishop Wolfgang Huber (pictured below) writes in the introduction that there is “an intense debate” about these issues but that “it is being conducted in Germany in a different way from, for example, the United States of America. Still, a fundamental clarification is of considerable practical importance.” He doesn’t elaborate.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber, 5 Nov 2003//Vincent KesslerThe daily Die Welt gave a bit more background. “This dispute is increasingly spilling over from the USA to us and has already led to political debates. The Hesse state culture minister (and Protestant synod member) Karin Wolff spoke last year of a “surprising agreement” between evolution and the Bible. With that she sparked a dispute within the Church in which the reasonable faction of the EKD found itself confronted with the growing strength of evangelicals loyal to the Bible. This “orientation aid” should now calm the dispute by setting limits towards both sides.”The “orientation aid,” as the booklet is called, criticises Richard Dawkins and other atheists for thinking science can disprove the existence of God. It compares the books of the “new atheists” to the communist textbooks in East Germany: “The new atheism propagated by Dawkins and others today fits seamlessly into this ideological scheme.”

Move over U.S. Religious Right, here’s the evangelical center

Gushee book/Christa CameronMove over Religious Right: you’re getting squeezed by the evangelical center.

That is one of the central points of a new book by David P. Gushee entitled “The Future of Faith in American Politics”.

To Gushee, the evangelical center combines much of the theology of the Religious Right with the social concerns of the left, give it a broad engagement in many of the pressing issues of our day.