A feud over theology has led to an unusual ecumenical project in the small Arizona town of Fountain Hills. Eight churches-including Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and non-denominational congregations- have teamed up for a campaign aimed at the theology of a nearby Methodist church. The sermon series-“Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?”-was launched with a half-page advertisement in the local newspaper, and promoted with banners at the eight churches involved. One described it as a “landmark series” that “demonstrates in a very real way the unity of the ‘body of Christ’ in Fountain Hills.” Another stated, “Imagine Baptists united with Lutherans working side-by-side with Presbyterians, all while holding the raised hands of charismatics.”
It’s the latest salvo in a months-long war of words over theology in the town of about 23,000. Fountain Hills has approximately 15 Protestant churches. At issue: the topic of “Progressive Christianity,” taught at The Fountains, a United Methodist church. That church’s pastor, David Felten, is known for supporting LGBT rights and progressive theology. Felten’s views-which include rejecting doctrines like the Virgin Birth-and his participation in a visit to a local mosque have become the topic of fierce debate in the local newspaper. Don Lawrence, pastor of Christ’s Church of Fountain Hills, accused Felten of rejecting traditional Christian belief and of being intolerant.
Tony Pierce, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fountain Hills, accused Felten of promoting heresy. “The progressives are at it again, and for a small fee you can join the primary proponent of this apostate religious movement to get answers,” he wrote in a letter to the editor. The new sermon series doesn’t mention The Fountains by name, but does seem aimed at Felten’s congregation. It’s made headlines for the public nature of the dispute between churches. Felten told a local television station that his church offers an alternative to biblical Christianity and is the only progressive church in town. Church leaders noted in a blog post that the publicity around the sermon campaign has helped their cause.
Felton went on “Our strategy is to not be defensive or argumentative, but to articulate the positive attributes of Progressive Christianity and always err on the side of grace.” Bill Good, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, said those who promote a progressive form of Christianity are undermining the Christian faith. “There are some half-truths and untruths coming out that are not helpful to folks trying to find their way to Jesus Christ,” he said. Rick Ponzo, pastor of Calvary Church, wrote on his church blog, “Since the enemy does not have the ability to keep Christians out of heaven, the next best thing is to render them useless on earth, keeping them from sharing the truth with others. Progressive Christianity is one of the tools the enemy uses to achieve that goal.”
Pastors involved in the debate see it as an act of Christian unity to promote the gospel. “Our goal is to illuminate the truth of the gospel and let it do what only it can do,” says a message on the Presbyterian website. United Methodists and other mainline Protestants are split between those who identify as evangelical and those who do not. Some 45% of Methodists describe themselves as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Centre. Some 42% of Presbyterians say they are evangelical, along with a third of Lutherans. By contrast, 75% of Baptists and non-denominational Christians consider themselves evangelicals. Christianity Today notes many mainline Protestant denominations such as Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans are splitting over theology.
BOY SCOUTS IN AMERICA CHANGE POLICY TO ALLOW HOMOSEXUAL LEADERS
The Boy Scouts of America have announced that they are lifting the ban on gay adults as Scout leaders. “The national executive board ratified a resolution removing the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees,” Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates said in a video statement. The move has been in the works for weeks. This month, the organization’s executive committee adopted a resolution that would change the policy. “This resolution will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation, continuing Scouting’s longstanding policy of chartered organizations selecting their leaders,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement.
“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units that best meet the needs of their families. This change would respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own,” it read. Advocacy groups have said the change doesn’t go far enough. “The vote by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual adults to work and volunteer is a welcome step,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. “But including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today’s decision. Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period.”
Some religious groups, say the decision goes too far. The Morman Church said the organization was “re-evaluating” its relationship with the Scouts. “The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation,” the statement read, “However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have been the values of the Boy Scouts.” Gates called for the Scouts to end its ban on gay adults at the organization’s recent national meeting. “The status quo regarding membership standards cannot be sustained,” Gates said. “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and country. The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.”
He said decisions on the Boy Scouts’ policy could also be dictated by the courts, and it would be better “to seize control of our own future.” However, former Boy Scout leadership team member Jon Langbert said he believes the new policy isn’t a cure-all, since local troops will still be allowed to make the decision on whether to allow gay leaders. “What does that do to folks like me?” asked Langbert, who is openly gay and says he gave up his leadership role when other fathers complained. “If I want to participate with my son, do I now have to start ringing up on the phone and calling around to different troops and saying, ‘Do you guys discriminate, or am I a first-class citizen in your troop and I can join?’ “
Many troops are sponsored by churches and religious organisations, which abide by the guidelines of their affiliation. “It creates a bit of a mess when you don’t have one global policy for the Scouts,” Langbert added, noting that the organization allows gay adults as employees. “When you have one branch of an organization doing one thing and another doing another, it creates a lot of stress for folks like me, and I don’t think it’s sending the right message to the boys, either.” Gay youths have been allowed in the Boy Scouts since 2013. “For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” Gates said. “it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in the community and in the lives of its youth members.”
USA CLASSROOM CURRICULUM WILL TEACH GENDER FLUIDITY AS NORMAL
One of the nation’s largest public school systems is preparing to include gender identity in its classroom curriculum, including the idea that there’s no such thing as 100% boys or 100% girls. Fairfax County Public Schools released a report recommending changes to their family life curriculum for grades 7 through 12. The changes, known as radical gender ideology, are in the process of being formally introduced. “This is really an attack on nature itself-the created order,” said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. “Human beings are created male and female. But the current transgender ideology tells us you can be both genders, or no gender, or whatever gender that you make up for yourself.”
The plan calls for teaching 7th graders about transgenderism and 10th graders about the concept that sexuality is a broader spectrum. Get a load of what the kids are going to be taught in middle school: “Students will be provided definitions for sexual orientation terms heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality; and the gender identity term transgender,” the district’s recommendations state. “Emphasis will be placed on recognizing that everyone is experiencing changes and the role of respectful, inclusive language in promoting an environment free of bias and discrimination.” Eighth graders will be taught that individual identity “occurs over a lifetime and includes the component of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“Individual identity will be described as having four parts-biological gender, gender identity (includes transgender), gender role and sexual orientation (includes heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual).” The district will also introduce young teenagers to the “concept that sexuality is a broader spectrum.” By 10th grade, they will be taught that one’s sexuality “develops throughout a lifetime.” The document goes on to state “Sexual orientation and gender identity terms will be discussed with focus on appreciation for individual differences.” As you might imagine-parents are freaking out. “Parents need to protect their kids from this assault,” said Andrea Lafferty, president of Traditional Values Coalition. “Who could imagine that we are in this place today – but we are.”
The school board has voted to include gender identity in the district’s non-discrimination policy-a decision strongly opposed by parents. Lafferty warned that the district is moving towards the deconstruction of gender. “They are not saying that – but that clearly is the motivation.” School Board spokesman John Torre told the Washington Times the proposed curriculum changes have nothing to do with the decision to allow boys who identify as girls to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. He would have us believe it was purely coincidental. To make matters worse, Lafferty contends parents will not be able to opt their children out of the classes because the lessons will be a part of the mandatory health curriculum.
Lafferty said. “They are not telling people the truth. They are intimidating parents and they are threatening.” I believe God created male and female. My reading of the Bible does not indicate there were dozens of other options. So I asked the school district to provide me with the textbooks and scientific data on which there teaching would be based. Here’s the reply I received from them: “Lessons have not been developed for the proposed objectives,” he stated. “Because of the need to develop lessons, the proposed objectives would not be implemented until late 2016.” In other words-they don’t have a clue. And the Family Research Council’s Sprigg said the reason they don’t have a clue is because it is an ideological concept not a scientific one.
INDIAN CHRISTIANS APPEAL FOR PROTECTION FROM SPATE OF ATTACKS
After a recent rash of attacks on Christians in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Christian leaders have appealed to the federal government for protection from Hindu radicals. According to Christian leaders, more than 20 attacks on Christians have already been recorded in the state this year, sometimes with the complicity of the police, who have filed fake conversion cases against them. Madhya Pradesh was one of the first Indian states to pass the so-called “Freedom of Religion Bills” to prevent people from converting to Christianity, and unauthorized religious conversion is a punishable offense in the state.
Recently a three-member delegation met with federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh to request his assistance in ending what they called “continuous anti-Christian attacks” in the state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The delegation was formed to meet with Singh after a series of attacks on Christians, including the vandalism of three Christian churches and an attack on a hostel for disabled children run by Augustinian nuns. The delegation told Singh that one of the attacks on Christians praying in a church in Indore took place while police looked on. Eyewitnesses claimed that police stood at the gate while the radicals rushed into the church and assaulted Christians, accusing them of conversion activities.
“They kept hitting us, alleging that we were involved in religious conversion and fake healings,” said V Joseph, a Protestant pastor. A Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (national Christian forum) spokesperson, Anita Benjamin, said that “Singh listened to what they had to say and immediately telephoned Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and told him to take action against those involved in the attack.” At the Augustinian home for handicapped children, marauders threw heavy bricks on the roof of the building, which broke through, falling into the inhabited rooms below, yet missing the sisters who were sleeping there. The local bishop, Chacko Thottumarickal, noted that, fortunately, there were no children there at the time of the attack.
Sajan George, head of the Global Council of Indian Christians, condemned the assault, calling it “an attack not only on the sisters but also on disabled children, which aggravates the severity of the act.” George said that the attack was “an affront against religious institutions which offer a tireless and generous service through the care of needy children.” The 2015 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, placed India on the “Tier 2” list of countries where religious freedom violations “are tolerated by the government”. A spokesman for the Government said the report was “nothing but a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.”
KENYA STANDS FIRM AGAINST PRESIDENT OBAMA URGING FOR
President Obama on his recent historic visit to Kenya, made the case for gay rights. However, some pastors in the socially conservative nation, along with the country’s president, voiced their objection to Obama’s remarks. President Obama told Kenya the United States was ready to work more closely in the battle against Somalia’s Islamist group al Shabaab, but chided his host on gay rights and said no African state should discriminate over sexuality. The president also met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta where they focused on Kenya’s gay rights record. “When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode,” Obama said. “And bad things happen.”
CNN reported that any sexual activity between men is illegal under Kenyan law, which is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. While many Kenyan leaders warned Obama not to bring up the issue of gay rights, the president argued that legalized discrimination of gays was similar to racial discrimination in the United States. Kenyatta responded that although the U.S. and Kenya shared many common values and goals, gay rights was not one of them. “The fact of the matter is Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families-these are some things that we share,” Kenyatta said. “But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share. Our culture, our societies don’t accept.”
Kenyatta added “It is very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept,” Kenyatta said. “This is why I repeatedly say, for Kenyans today the gay rights issue is generally a non-issue.” African bishops and other religious leaders also reminded Obama that the Church’s stance against homosexual acts will not change. One of those objectors, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja Diocese in Nigeria. said “Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have become acceptable but because they are acceptable doesn’t mean they are right.” Onaiyekan acknowledged that while public opinion may be trending toward accepting acts of homosexuality, he argued that public opinion and morality are not the same.
The cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among Egyptian girls aged 15-17 years have decreased by 13%. There is also a decline in the number of mothers who support the practice of FGM. While in 2000 still 75% of the mothers supported FGM, this number lowered to 58% in 2014 according to the Demographic Health Survey 2014. “The data analysis, pertaining to girls in the age group (15-17 years), reflects the efforts of media campaigns and grass-root initiatives, following the death of a girl while undergoing an FGM-operation in June 2014, which resulted in a two year jail sentence for the doctor and the reprimanding of the father”, according to the Egyptian Minister of State for Population, Hala Youssef.
Arab Vision is a Christian producer of TV programs in the Arab world, that uses media campaigns in their fight against FGM in Egypt. “We produced several documentaries and short clips advocating for the abolition of FGM. They have been used by grassroots organizations, among other things organizing roundtable discussions with women, men and village elders about the practice of FGM. In some cases this has led to abolishing the practice of FGM in their village entirely. In the Arab country the phenomenon is still widespread, especially in Upper-Egypt”, according to Arab Vision. The decline of FGM is a hopeful signal that years of efforts to increase the awareness about the ill effects of FGM is now reaping its fruits.