The largest conference of Mennonite congregations in the U.S. has officially split from the Mennonite community over concerns that the wider church is beginning to affirm LGBT lifestyles. The Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC) had voted to leave the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) in 2015, and the decision became effective January 1, 2018. The LMC, comprised of 179 congregations in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, left over the definition of marriage and the sinfulness of homosexuality, according to a report from Religion News Service. A pastor for one of the LMC congregations said that back when the vote to split took place it was actually the MC USA that had departed from Biblical teaching.
“We are in a sense not really leaving,” said Steve Olivieri, pastor of Cornerstone Fellowship of Mill Run in Altoona, Penn. “They are the ones that essentially have left true biblical Christianity in this respect.” “I don’t want to do some of the things the Bible says sometimes, lot of times, but I still have to do it,” Olivieri said. “We understand that whenever a passage says, ‘The following shall not inherit the kingdom of God,’ and it lists homosexuals, we believe that’s a lifestyle choice that you make.” Mennonite teaching says homosexual activity is a sin, and also defines marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.
The U.S. Mennonite Church has reprimanded and fired pastors who have defied the church’s doctrine and conducted “LGBT weddings,” a Daily Caller report said, but individual pastors have advocated for change. This push led the Mennonite U.S.A denomination to implement hiring and other official policies that the LMC saw as affirming LGBT lifestyles, resulting in the split. Donald Krabill, an Elizabethtown College professor who studies the Mennonites and their Protestant counterparts, the Amish, said at the time of the 2015 LMC decision that it usually takes considerable time, longer than just a couple years, to affect social change in a healthy way.
“Typically, when you have social change, it may occur over one or two generations,” Krabill said. “To put it in a fast track and to try to make decisions about it in a matter of two or three years can be very dangerous for the health of a community.” Both the Mennonites and the Amish are Anabaptists – a derivative of Protestantism espousing that baptism is valid only when conferred upon adults. The two denominations share common historical roots and similar beliefs, but differ on how those beliefs are practiced. Mennonites generally embrace technology, higher education and the outside world in contrast to the Amish, along with missionary activities.
A smaller branch of Protestantism, the Mennonite denomination has about 2 million members worldwide. In Canada, similar splintering over doctrine along with dropping membership has led to the formation of regional groups of congregations sharing similar views. And as of 2016, there were roughly 78,000 members of the Mennonite Church USA. That number was down from about 133,000 in the 1990s. The LMC’s exit reduces overall MC USA membership by about a sixth, Christianity Today reports, taking about 14,000 of that total number. Since 2015, 29 congregations have joined the Lancaster conference, the report said.
Roughly half of them came from the nearby Franklin Conference, which had also voted to split from MC USA over the homosexuality issue. LMC moderator L. Keith Weaver told Lancaster Online that 14 Mennonite congregations in the Dominican Republic would soon join the Conference. The MC USA had voted against a proposal to affirm gay marriage, but in 2015 passed a resolution to offer “grace, love, and forbearance toward conferences, congregations, and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”
HOSTILE TRIBES CHIEF DIED BUT RAISED LONG ENOUGH TO TESTIFY ABOUT JESUS
The Kwaio tribe in Malaita island near the Solomon Islands was very resistant to missionaries and outsiders. God’s plan to reach this tribe was through missionaries from Fiji, as told in the book, Look What God is Doing, by Dick Eastman, president of Every Home for Christ (EHC). A team reached the island of Malaita and prayed and fasted for 7 days. Then Jack and Japta joined 10 other workers on a day-long journey into the island. “Jack explained to the surrounding warriors in the Kwaio language that they were bringing the Kwaio people Good News”. They were then led to five village elders. who had gathered in anticipation of the impending death of their chief.
They told them the one true God who created the heavens and the earth, including the Kwaio. sent His only Son to be like us, a man, and to sacrifice His own life willingly on our behalf. “When Jesus Christ came as the Son of God, He came not only to deliver men from their sins, but to heal sick people, too. God is quite capable of healing your chief.” They were permitted to pray for Chief Haribo the next morning. Jack shared with him God’s plan of salvation, explaining that Jesus was the only way to eternal life. The chief responded: “I have waited my entire lifetime to hear this story, How can I receive this Jesus into my life?” Jack and Japta led Chief Haribo in the sinner’s prayer.
A few moments later a profound peace transformed the face of the chief. But two hours later the chief died. But in a surprise in the evening chief Haribo came alive and began to speak! The chief told the elders an amazing story about seeing heaven. “An angel dressed in glorious white had taken him a great distance to the most beautiful place he had ever seen,” Eastman recounted. “A person called Jesus Christ, the Son of God the young men had told him about, was being worshiped by a huge crowd of people. The angel explained to him that this beautiful place was where people who believed in Jesus would go for all eternity to worship Him. So everything the boys said was true.”
Chief Haribo also gave the names of Old Testament prophets he met in heaven. “Then the angel in white showed him another place, a place of great torment where people go who reject the message of Jesus.” Jesus told the chief he had to go back for a short time to tell the elders of the village that the message about Him was true and unique. “Every person, including Chief Haribo’s family of 21 members, received Christ as their Saviour. And soon more than 300 villagers throughout the area had surrendered their lives to Christ.” By 2012, more than 8,000 Kwaios became followers of Jesus, including 1,000 in the most remote areas.
U.S. GOVERNMENT AGENCY TO STOP DISCRIMINATING AGAINST CHURCHES AND SYNAGOGUES
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced a new policy that will end the agency’s discrimination against churches and synagogues in regards to receiving immediate and equal access to federal disaster relief funding. The new policy comes in response to two lawsuits brought by three Texas churches and two Florida synagogues seeking disaster aid. FEMA says the new policy is required by a Supreme Court, which ruled that the First Amendment requires religious groups to receive equal access to widely available public programs. FEMA announced in its new policy that “houses of worship will not be singled out for disfavoured treatment” any longer.
Pastor Charles Stoker of Hi-Way Tabernacle received the news while distributing meals at the church to about 200 local recipients. “We’re delighted that FEMA will start treating us like other charitable groups, and we look forward to continuing to help our neighbours as they recover from Harvey.” Houses of worship were among the first to respond in the aftermath of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and they continue to provide aid to help their communities recover. Yet FEMA’s policy discriminated against them, while at the same time using them for its own relief efforts.
After being denied aid for months, the three Texas churches asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. for emergency relief. Justice Alito asked FEMA to respond to the churches’ request, and FEMA published its new policy before its deadline to respond to the Supreme Court. “Better late than never,” said Daniel Blomberg, counsel for the non-profit religious liberty law firm that represents the Texas churches and the Florida synagogues. “By finally following the Constitution, FEMA is getting rid of second-class status for churches. We will watch carefully to make sure that FEMA’s new policy is implemented to provide equal treatment for churches and synagogues alongside other charities.”
CHINESE LAWYERS INVESTIGATED FOR DEFENDING CHRISTIANS
A group of lawyers in China may lose their qualifications after defending 40 Christians who have been unfairly swept up in a province-wide crackdown on a cult, and now their lawyers’ qualifications have come under government review. 200 people have been arrested across Yunnan Province for supposed involvement in a religious organisation called Three Grades of Servant’s. The Chinese Communist Party has deemed the group a cult and 40 Christians have been accused of being part of it. Lawyer Li Guisheng said a group of his clients have been “accused of being cult leaders, gathering secretly in different regions of Yunnan, doing missionary work, recruiting new members, spreading apocalypse rumours, rebuilding Three Grades of Servant’s buildings, accommodating secret gatherings, and fostering new religious leaders”.
All of the accused Christians maintained that they only believed in Jesus. China Aid said that the Christians falsely accused of belonging to a cult “had only done good work according to Biblical principles and preached how humans can be saved, never harming anyone”. Just recently, local officials have accused their lawyers of defending them illegally, even though ten Christians have yet to be tried and every Chinese person has the right to a lawyer. Additionally, 13 Christians tried in late November have yet to hear their verdict. “One of the lawyers, Xiao Yunyang, said he and his colleagues intend to continue defending their clients and are coming up with a contingency plan.
Gideons International is being stopped from distributing free Bibles at a school in the US following concern the practise is unconstitutional. The organisation has been banned for handing out scripture to pupils at the state-funded Herington Elementary School in Kansas after humanists threatened legal action. The American Humanist Association (AHA) claimed the annual initiative violated the constitutional separation of church and state. AHA lawyer, Monica L Miller said: “The district’s actions in assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to students represents a clear breach of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and we hereby demand assurances that this practice will discontinue immediately.”
The school’s superintendent Ron Wilson said he took action when a parent complained after a Gideons Bible giveaway. Mr Wilson was quoted by the Kansas City Star as saying: “Our district respects all religious beliefs and the constitutional rights of every student. We will no longer allow distribution of religious materials.” Jeff Jackson, a law expert at Washburn University in Topeka, told the newspaper that other elementary schools have refused similar activities, following court rules that “elementary students are especially open to coercion”. Founded in 1899, Gideons has distributed more than two billion Bibles and New Testaments in schools, hotel rooms and other locations around the world.
HALF OF BRITS SAY THEY PRAY INCLUDING 20% WITH NO FAITH AFFILIATION
A new survey has found that 51% of adults in the UK say they pray, and 20% of them are not affiliated with a religion. Christian charity Tearfund, which commissioned the survey, said the results of the nationwide poll were an encouraging reminder that people still recognise the importance of prayer. Rev Virginia Luckett, Tearfund’s UK churches team director, said: “I found that really encouraging because it shows God is on the move whether people recognise Him themselves personally or not.” Among those who pray but are not religious, 55 per cent say they pray in times of personal crisis or tragedy, 32 per cent say they pray on the off chance that something could change and 24 per cent say they pray as a last resort.
The poll revealed women are more likely to pray than men and while half of UK adults pray, far fewer attend church regularly. Only 9% do so at least once per month. For those who pray, family is ranked the number one topic, followed by thanking God, healing and friends. Worldwide issues, such as praying for global poverty or natural disasters, rank seventh on the list, which Tearfund said highlights a challenge for the charity. Rev Luckett told Premier: “Prayer is absolutely essential to our work. We don’t believe we could tackle global poverty without prayer. We understand the root cause of poverty is broken relationships, and we know it’s only Jesus Christ that can truly change people’s hearts and minds.”
NEW RESEARCH SHOWS MUSLIM POPULATION IN U.S.IS GROWING RAPIDLY
The Muslim-American population in the United States continues to grow “rapidly,” according to a new Pew Research Centre study. But there were still only about 3.45 million Muslims living in the U.S. in 2017, or about 1.1% of the total U.S. population. The Pew Study says some metro areas, such as Washington, DC, have large Muslim communities. And New Jersey has two or three times as many Muslim adults per capita as the national average. By 2040, the report estimates Muslims will replace Jews as the nation’s second-largest religious group after Christians.
Pew attributes the rise in numbers to higher fertility rates among Muslim Americans as well as the continued migration of Muslims to the U.S. The report says religious conversions haven’t had a large impact on the size of the U.S. Muslim population, largely because about as many Americans convert to Islam as leave the faith.