Russia’s Anti-Evangelization Law

Pastor Luke mentioned a new law (the “Yarovaya Law”) in Russia that prohibits pretty much any kind of religious activity outside church buildings. Christianity Today has an article that describes the law in some detail:

To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

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Skin in the Game

Here is another very helpful message from this past Sunday that we found online. Andy Stanley had a candid conversation with two African Americans to help bridge the divide between how events like those this past week in Minneapolis, Louisiana, and Dallas are perceived by the black minority and the white majority in our culture. Stay to the end because there’s an application that everyone can do. The message can’t be embedded, so follow this link.

Notes on 1 Corinthians 1, Week 2

In Search of Sanctuary: a lengthy profile of a UCC congregation facing decline. (The Boston Globe) An accompanying Big Picture feature here has some incredible pictures.

But the conflicts continued, exposing a divide between people who had been there for decades and more recent arrivals. In 2005, the church council advised the clergy couple to begin searching for a new church. They were already looking.

After they left, the infighting metastasized. An interim minister and associate minister clashed about how to lead the church forward. The congregation split into factions. Some people stopped speaking to one another, avoided one another’s eyes at coffee hour, even the passing of the peace.

Matt Marino discusses what it means to be “spiritual but not religious” at his blog The Gospel Side.

I recently walked the final leg of the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Before leaving I was in a coffee house having a conversation about the trip. A guy behind me asked, “Why Spain?” My response, “It’s a spiritual thing.” Today a lot of people, particularly millennials, care about “spirituality.” 250,000 people walked The Camino in 2015. More will this year.

…Too often the evangelical church has dropped surrender for wish-fulfillment. Conservative churches have often settled for a message of self-help … diminishing God to one who exists to meet our desires. While the conservative church has lowered God, the progressive church, on the other hand, has tended to elevate humanity … purging our documents of the words of surrender: Father, king, Lord…if a symbol might be deemed “oppressive” or “problematic,” it is not to be understood in its’ redeemed context, but struck from our hymnals, prayer books, and bibles. But God is not known either by shrinking him or elevating us.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagines two demons discussing how to use conflict within the church to their advantage:

I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. … And all the purely indifferent things-candles and clothes and what not-are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials-namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.

Finally, in The Guardian, an article about how (of all things) McDonald’s is “the glue that holds communities together.”

Walk into any McDonald’s in the morning and you will find a group of mostly retired people clustering in a corner, drinking coffee, eating and talking. They are drawn to the McDonald’s because it has inexpensive good coffee, clean bathrooms, space to sprawl. Unlike community centers, it is also free of bureaucracy.

…Most importantly though, McDonald’s provide many with the chance to make real and valuable connections. When faced with the greatest challenges, with a personal loss, wealthier Americans turn to expensive therapists, others without the resources or the availability, turn to each other.

Religion Trends through 2050

I just linked a couple of articles from the Pew Research Center, but I wanted to comment on this one: The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.

Here are some highlights, assuming trends continue to 2050:

The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.

In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.

In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why it costs so much to be poor

From the Acton blog, an article about why it’s so expensive to be poor. For example, one of the reasons is deferred maintenance:

If you’re higher up on the economic ladder you get things fixed, whether tire or teeth, before the repairs become even worse and become more costly. But when you’re poor, even small repairs are more than you can afford. And they lead to catastrophic consequences.

Read the article. If we take seriously what Christ said about helping “the least of these” then part of the solution to poverty — maybe the first part of the answer — is to answer the question: “What can I, as a follower of Christ, and we as a community of faith, do to make life less expensive for the poor?”

The Hobbit Party: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Vision of Freedom

If you’re already tired of the 2016 Presidential Campaign, there’s one person you don’t have to worry about voting for: J.R.R. Tolkien. But would you vote for Aragorn if you could?

Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards, in their book, The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot, argue that Tolkien not only hated tyranny, but was a proponent of small government. (Really? Even in Gondor?)

No Shows

I came across a five-year old article by Lovett Weems in The Christian Century that talks about declining worship attendance. The accompanying graph says a lot, but it’s worth reading the whole article. For example, one explanation for the drop in attendance is aging membership:

Mainline churches have a disproportionate number of members age 65 and older. This proportion will only grow more pronounced as the first of the baby boomers reach 65 in 2011. While it does not appear that death rates are changing dramatically in the mainline churches from year to year, many older members may not be attending as often—for health or other reasons.

The other side of this dilemma is the failure of churches to reach younger persons. This is particularly true for the smaller churches that constitute a large part of mainline denominations.

Church Leaders and Basic Economics

The PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk issued a statement on Labor Day praising the dignity of work and arguing for increasing minimum wages.

I affirm the former and dissent from the latter. (As the Onion recently put it: “Secretary of Labor Assures Nation There Are Plenty of Jobs for Americans Willing to Outwork Robots.”)

One of seemingly countless frustrations I have with the church councils between Anchorage and Louisville that purport to support the ministry of the local congregation is their habit of speaking as if they represent the church, in areas outside their authority, and, sadly, their expertise.

The Acton Institute‘s Peter Johnson discusses these twin problems in a blog at Juicy Ecumenism. First, he addresses the tendency of these speakers to say “we” when they mean “some of us”:

These affirmations are couched in euphemistic rhetoric that obscures the divisiveness of the issues and alienates those in the church with dissenting views. For example, when the PCUSA affirmed “reproductive options” using words like “justice” and “compassion,” it failed to acknowledge that the issue may be contentious for pro-life members.

But beyond that, there’s a reason people disagree about these issues. Some of us aren’t as ignorant as others:

Unfortunately, the superficial understanding of economic realities goes well beyond a federal minimum wage. It is an all-encompassing worldview for [PC(USA) Stated Clerk] Parsons who expounds on the church’s support for misguided economic policies like “public investment” in jobs for minorities, “progressive taxation”, and even anti-austerity for Southern Europe.

The Labor Day message is a prime example of good intentions unmoored from economic realities. At the organization where I now work, the Acton Institute, we have found that religious leaders are a group of cultural influencers who tend to be woefully ignorant of basic economics.