One thousand two hundred participants gathered for an unusual conference on global religious freedom, one organized and led by private sector entities instead of governments. Representatives from both Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate and from both the Trump and Biden administrations made this event about as bipartisan as possible. Various participants highlighted the plight of Uyghur Muslims, Nigerian Christians, and Ahmadi Muslims. Melissa Rogers, representing the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives announced that President Biden is close to naming a person to be at large ambassador for International Religious Freedom.
Washington and Minneapolis
Two prominent white Evangelical congregations are in turmoil arising from a change in pastoral leadership. Outside of Washington DC, the McLean Bible Church, once led by Lon Solomon but now under the leadership of former Southern Baptist David Platt, is in a dispute headed to civil court. It revolves around the supposed “wokeness” of the pastor and the effort to elect new elders. In Minneapolis, the congregation once headed by influential Reformed pastor John Piper is likewise in a mess. His successor, Jason Meyer, resigned last week, the latest in a series of staff and pastoral departures much of it fueled by charges of a leadership culture of bullying, domination, and inappropriate behavior. The church has struggled to respond to the cultural winds that are blowing, especially Black Lives Matter and the local death of George Floyd.
Pope Francis has renewed restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, discouraging networks of conservatives around the world and in the United States. The Latin language for the Catholic mass, used universally around the world, was replaced by the local language of the people, a decision of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. Catholics who pushed back against the modernizing reforms of the Council have gravitated to the Latin mass as a means of protest. Two previous Popes, John Paul and Benedict, allowed the Latin language, but Francis has now prohibited it, claiming it is being used to divide the Church. Permission to use Latin must be secured from either the Vatican or a local Bishop.
The heavy metal band Iron Maiden released an animated video drawn from two powerful biblical images: the story in the book Daniel in the Hebrew Bible of the handwriting on the wall, and the story in the Revelation in the Christian Bible of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The seven minute plus video is called “The Handwriting on the Wall” and is their first release in six years. A verse echoes biblical themes: “A tide of change is coming and that is what you fear. The earthquake is a coming, but you don’t want to hear.” The chorus runs like this: “Have you seen the writing on the wall? Have you seen that writing? Can you see the riders on the storm? Can you see them riding? Can you see them riding, riding next to you?”
Hendersonville and Owensboro
These are not big stories, except to the local congregations involved…and to me. Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville, where I currently serve as Sunday preacher, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this coming Sunday. Lead preacher for the day is founding pastor Gail Coulter. The following Sunday I will be the Sunday preacher at Third Baptist Church of Owensboro, Kentucky. I served as pastor there from 1991 to 1997. During that time, I helped celebrate their centennial. Now, it is 125 years, and I will be back in that pulpit to give voice to their mission and ministry. Congratulations to both congregations.