Fallout from scandals at two Chicago area megachurches (Harvest and Willow Creek) continues to grab the attention of the religious world. Most recently, noted minister and scholar Gilbert Bilezikian, who served as mentor and partner to Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels, was found to have a string of “inappropriate and unprofessional misconduct” with women, both at the church and also at Wheaton College where he taught for years. The college last week formally rescinded the title of Professor Emeritus which they had bestowed upon Bilezikian when he retired. Some women involved contend they reported this behavior to the college more than 20 years ago.
Powerful and influential lay leader in the Church of Christ, Silena Moore Holman (1850-1915) will be honored by the Women of Lincoln County Committee (Fayetteville, Tennessee) as a champion of women’s rights in the church and society (including women’s suffrage). She was a member of Washington Street Church of Christ and one-time president (for 15 years) of the Tennessee Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The ceremony will include the unveiling and hanging of her portrait; it is promoted as part of Women’s History Month. (Along that same line—and to illustrate we are still debating the same issues—I note the recent tweet by popular Bible teacher Beth Moore: “A few thoughts about Christlike manhood. It is fierce enough to fight for women. Bold enough to want a woman in Bible class. Safe enough to be alone with a woman. Muscular enough to scatter a crowd of men ready to stone a sinful woman. Brazen enough to send a woman with good news.”)
More than 270 Shiite Muslims gathered last week at Harvard University for the first ever Ma’rifa Conference. Ma’rifa is an Arabic word that, in Islam, means the knowledge of God. The event is sponsored by the Harvard Islamic Society and is designed to foster discussions about spirituality, sectarianism, geopolitics, and faith-based activism. Harvard University is not a sponsor of the event (although the conference is being held on the university campus); neither does the university have a Shiite Muslim chaplain (as do nearby MIT and Northeastern University). The school does have several Shiite professors who teach Islamic studies; the university also is home to the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs. Shi’ite Islam is the smaller of the two main traditions of Islam, the other being Sunni Islam. The division dates back to the very beginnings of Islam in the seventh century.
Crossroads Church in Cincinnati announced this week that they had raised enough money to pay off the medical debt of more than 45,000 families. The majority of the beneficiaries live in Ohio with some in the neighboring states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. The church, led by pastor Brian Tome, began the collection last November, working with New York non-profit RIP Medical Debt. It is the largest such action processed through the organization which collaborates nation-wide with churches and organizations that wish to assist people burdened with medical debt. The pay-off equation, generally with independent companies which have bought the debt from medical facilities, is a $100 donation pays off $10,000 in debt. While not yet a movement or a trend, Crossroads is one of several churches and religious organizations recently that have taken up the cause of debt relief (something the Bible addresses in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments).
The American-Israeli Political Action Committee convened their annual meeting in the nation’s capital just as Israeli voters were giving the conservative Likud party of Benyamin Netanyahu a clear victory in national elections, the third in a year in a country severely divided over how to relate to the Palestinians. But Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said, “Settlement, occupation, and apartheid have won the election.” In the United States, Democrats Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden and Republican Vice President Mike Pence were among those who addressed the AIPAC in the middle of an election year. Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew and often critical of Israel in its treatment of Palestinians, did not attend.
Glynn County, Georgia
And right here in Glynn County, Georgia, three things of note: George Ingram returned to the organ bench at First United Methodist Church in Brunswick, after a three-year ministry elsewhere; Rabbi Rachael Bregman of Temple Beth Tefilloh begins a six-week workshop entitled “Writing a Spiritual Manifesto” on March 17; and The Meetinghouse launches a weekly radio show on Rejoice Radio 94.7 and 97.5 FM.