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Churches Hiccup over Trump Election * TSM Appoints New Dean/President * Central NY Bishop’s Ph.D. Questioned * Methodist Theologian Thomas Oden Dies * ACC Secretary General Condemns GAFCON * Evangelist Graham Blasts Clinton as Modern Moses

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” ― Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas

Fruit by the Spirit. The Christian should resemble a fruit-tree, not a Christmas tree! For the gaudy decorations of a Christmas tree are only *tied* on, whereas fruit *grows* on a fruit-tree. In other words, Christian holiness is not an artificial human accretion, but a natural process of fruit-bearing by the power of the Holy Spirit. – John R.W. Stott

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. --- A.W. Tozer

Fruit and fullness. For many years now I have recited to myself every day the ninefold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and have prayed for the fullness of the Spirit. For the chief mark of the fullness of the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. As I meditate every day on these graces, on this fruit of the Spirit, I have noticed recently that the first is love and the last is temperance. Now love is self-giving and temperance is self-control. So holiness concerns what we do with ourselves. It is seen in the mastery of self, and the giving of self. --- John R.W. Stott

The only claim I make is that there is nothing original in these pages. I present no revolutionary new ideas, no easy new way of salvation. The road is still narrow (Matt. 7:14). I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message, of making it seem light or easily borne or quickly assimilated into prevailing modern ideas. --- Thomas Oden

A sign of authenticity. Love is as much a sign of Christian authenticity as is righteousness. --- John R. W. Stott

Dear Brothers and Sisters
www.virtueonline.org
December 16, 2016

Trump Is bringing progressive Protestants back to church, according to an article in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Some mainline congregations have seen a bump in attendance since the election. But the most powerful changes to come may be theological, the article said.

“In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, some conservative Christians have been reckoning with feelings of alienation from their peers, who generally voted for Trump in strong numbers. But at least some progressive Protestant churches are experiencing the opposite effect: People have been returning to the pews,” writes Emma Green in the Dec. 11 issue of the magazine.

“The Sunday after the election was the size of an average Palm Sunday,” wrote Eric Folkerth, the senior pastor at Dallas’s Northaven United Methodist Church, in an email. More than 30 first-time visitors signed in that day, “which is more than double the average [across] three weeks of a typical year,” he added. “I sincerely don’t recall another time when it feels like there has been a sustained desire on people’s part to be together with other progressive Christians.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests other liberal churches from a variety of denominations have been experiencing a similar spike over the past month, with their higher-than-usual levels of attendance staying relatively constant for several weeks. It’s not at all clear that the Trump bump, as the writer Diana Butler Bass termed it, will be sustained beyond the first few months of the new administration. But it suggests that some progressives are searching for a moral vocabulary in grappling with the president-elect—including ways of thinking about community that don’t have to do with electoral politics.

“For progressives who expected Hillary Clinton to win, Trump’s victory was a shock. “I expected that I would be talking about reaching out to the people who lost,” said Debra Haffner, the minister at the non-creedal Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia, in an interview. “My music director and I had talked about playing ‘Girl on Fire’ as our last song. Most of the people in our congregation supported the progressive candidate.” Instead, she said, “people walked in here like they were going to a funeral. They were grieving, they were scared, and they needed hope. They needed community.”

Now that is one side the coin. On the other side have come stories of the death of the religious right. The new moral minority. The Christian case for voting Trump, followed by the Christian case for not voting Trump. Everyone wanted to know what conservative evangelicals, who have long been considered a unified voting bloc, would do during this election. Now, it is clear. They overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump.

The deeper truth is that liberal Christianity is on the ropes, it cannot survive more than 25 years. The old mainline denominations are aging and dying fast and they are not drawing in Millennials or even enough pansexualists to guarantee their future. Nones rule. Mainline churches are emptying out and being sold to whomever, often to evangelical start-up congregations and Muslim groups. Liberal Christians have their backs to the wall and this post-election bump will soon disappear. Americans are fickle about most things, one has only to look at how the stock market reacted when president elect Trump whacked a certain airline manufacturer. The stock immediately dropped for no reason at all and then crawled slowly back up. People who go to liberal churches will soon tire and leave. This is a bump with no future and people responded too, more out of fear, but there is nothing to sustain it for the long haul. No gospel, no future.

To affirm my point, a new study of 22 mainline Protestant congregations in southern Ontario revealed the common factor in those experiencing growth is their emphasis on youth programs and adherence to traditional Christian beliefs in Jesus’ Resurrection, the uniqueness of His message, and the presence of the supernatural in everyday life. Without exception, the growing churches all had conservative theology, the declining churches all had liberal theology. You can take that study and replicate it in the U.S. and you would get the same result.

*****

In a statement that is bound to raise eyebrows if not outright hackles in the Global South, the head of the Anglican Communion Office in London blasted Anglican provinces in Africa as the cause of “disagreement even hatred” between fellow Anglicans and conceded that there was no hope or possibility of the Anglican Church ever agreeing on human sexuality.

Josiah Idowu-Fearon, a Nigerian archbishop who is also secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, said [provinces] must live together or splinter into groups and that will not glorify the Lord,” Dr. Idowu-Fearon told this to Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette in a radio interview.

He confessed that he took the job because he felt called to do something to address the "disagreement and even hatred" between fellow Anglicans. He said much of the hatred came from the Southern Hemisphere. Asked what he thought of Australian Archbishop Peter Jensen who is playing a lead role in GAFCON, Fearon said, “unfortunately for me I know all these characters…we were good friends. He invited me to Sydney. He asked me what I thought of GAFCON and I said I am sorry but it is not a movement of the Holy Spirit because it is divisive.”

While the Anglican leader said his commitment to reconciliation remained firm, he conceded that on the root of the disagreements, human sexuality, he said there was "no way" of finding agreement. "It's not possible," he said. The alternative to finding a way to live together was to allow separate "splinter groups". You can read the full story in today’s digest.

*****

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, this week, a bill designed to “advance religious freedom globally,” following approval by the Senate last week and is now headed to the president’s desk for his signature.

The bipartisan bill, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), aims to “advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide.”

The legislation requires that the secretary of state “establish and maintain a list of foreign individuals to whom a consular post has denied a visa on the grounds of particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “who are subject to financial sanctions or other measures for particularly severe violations of freedom religion.”

It also would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) requiring that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “make publicly available, to the extent practicable, online and in official publications, lists of persons it determines are imprisoned or detained, have disappeared, been placed under house arrest, been tortured, or subjected to forced renunciations of faith for their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy by the government of a foreign country that the Commission recommends for designation as a country of particular concern for religious freedom.”

*****

The Board of Trustees of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, unanimously appointed The Rev. Dr. Henry L. Thompson (Laurie) as the seventh Dean/President of the Seminary, effective immediately. Last May, Dr. Thompson was appointed as the Interim Dean/President. This action of the board makes the appointment permanent. Plans are underway for Dr. Thompson to be installed as Dean/President in early February. The Dean/President is the senior administrator and chief academic officer of the seminary and is responsible for all of the daily operations and fundraising efforts.

Trinity began a search for a new Dean/President when the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry, Trinity’s sixth Dean/President, announced his plan to return to England. An international search identified a number of impressive candidates, but the Board concluded that none of them was the right leader for this season.

Thompson first came to Trinity in 1997 after spending 19 years in parish ministry. He has led the Doctor of Ministry program since 2001 and has also served as the Dean of Administration and most recently as the Dean of Advancement where he played an important role in the “Reach for the Harvest” campaign which raised $15.4 million for various strategic initiatives. He is married to Mary W. Thompson and they have three adult children and 9 grandchildren.

Trinity School for Ministry (www.tsm.edu) is an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition. Begun in 1976, the seminary has trained more than 1,200 graduates and many others who serve in ministries all over the world. As a global center for Christian formation, Trinity continues to produce outstanding leaders who can plant, renew, and grow churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.

VOL interviewed Dr. Thompson and we will post it to VOL’s website as soon as it becomes available.

*****

Does she really have a Ph.D. from Oxford University? The new bishop of the Diocese of Central New York, DeDe Duncan-Probe, says she does. A news release from ENS says, “she holds a doctorate from Oxford University and two master’s degrees from Pepperdine University and from General Theological Seminary.”

Oxford University does not grant Ph.D.’s, only a D.Phil, so what exactly has she got? Well, it’s from the Graduate Theological Foundation/Oxford University, which is not the same thing.

The GTF web pages are very cleverly written to suggest that its degrees are Oxford University degrees, with time spent studying in Oxford, but ultimately, buried in the text, is the admission that GTF is the degree awarding authority, and not any other university or institution.

A source in England told VOL, that GTF does not say by what authority it purports to award degrees. If it was UK government accredited, it would say so. In truth, it is one of many internet- based degree factories offering awards which lack accreditation as universities.

Yep, another phony female bishop with exaggerated credentials. Think Jefferts Schori.

*****

Historic congregations in America's urban centers contribute around $1.7 million to their local economy each year, according to new research on the economic impact of sacred places, the DESERET NEWS reports.

By frequenting nearby businesses, hiring local workers and operating schools, faith groups strengthen their community's social safety net and economy, researchers noted. Their report "suggests that the secular world has a significant stake in the health and vitality of congregations and sacred places," said A. Robert Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, a nonprofit focused on supporting older religious buildings.

"Eighty-seven percent of the beneficiaries of the community programs and events housed in sacred places are not members of the religious congregation," according to the new study, which was released Nov. 29.

Jaeger's organization produced the "The Economic Halo Effect of Historic Sacred Places" report in partnership with Ram Cnaan, director of the program for religion and social policy research at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice. Results were based on a study of 90 historic congregations, located in Philadelphia, Fort Worth, Texas, and Chicago.

*****

To no one’s surprise the College of Bishops of the Church of England met at Lambeth Palace on last Monday to talk about sexuality and issued a non-statement.

Discussions on issues of sexuality took place as part of a process of episcopal discernment which began in September and continued at the meeting of the House of Bishops in November.

The college discussed the reflections of the House from their November meeting and also received an update from the Chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality.

As with the meeting of the College of Bishops in September and the meeting of the House of Bishops in November, the discussions took place in private and participants have agreed not to comment on the contents of the meetings beyond their own views.

The Bishops agreed to consult the General Synod in February as well as updating Synod as to where their discussions had reached. More information will be available when those consultative materials have been prepared in January, 2017.

A full and diverse agenda included substantial discussions on safeguarding, discussions on Renewal and Reform activity - including lay discipleship, simplification legislation and resourcing - and ecumenical issues as well as considerations of work with student groups.

As predicted - nothing concrete.

*****

Methodist Theologian Thomas Oden (1931-2016) died this week. Liberal Episcopalians and orthodox Anglicans could learn from his life.

His memoir, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir, recounts his 80-year journey from small town, Depression-era, Oklahoma Methodist piety, to swimming in the confident, but cresting high tide of social gospel mainline Protestantism, to his spiritual and intellectual encounter with Christian orthodoxy through the church fathers. Oden devoted himself almost exclusively to atoning for his years of theological malpractice by committing his next 40 years to rigorous scholarship, teaching and organizing for creedal Christianity.

Having previously—like much of Methodism and mainline Protestantism—sought relevance through an endless stream of urgent political causes, theological fads, and parapsychologies, Oden later committed himself to stewardship of ancient church teachings. In the preface to one volume of a systematic theology, he declared:

“The only claim I make is that there is nothing original in these pages. I present no revolutionary new ideas, no easy new way of salvation. The road is still narrow (Matt. 7:14). I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message, of making it seem light or easily borne or quickly assimilated into prevailing modern ideas.” I doubt TEC will learn from him, certainly ACNA can learn much.

*****

Two Canadian Anglican clergy persons protested outside immigration detention center recently. The reverends Andrea Budgey and Maggie Helwig protested Canada’s detention of “hundreds of migrants”. Neither Budgey nor Helwig were arrested.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, a wheelchair-bound woman was gang raped by six asylum seekers, none of whom were being detained at the time.

And in California, an ACNA priest spent time praying outside an abortion mill, hoping to save the lives of some of the babies entering the snuff clinic. He was arrested.

Does anyone else see anything lopsided in all this? [Source Samizdat]

*****

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham has condemned TIME magazine for comparing Hillary Clinton to Moses. Time says that Clinton was, like Moses, an imperfect prophet who led her people only to the edge of the Promised Land.

In a Facebook post, Graham writes: "Hillary Clinton an American Moses??

"Today TIME magazine named Donald J. Trump as their person of the year. And, oddly enough, they also called Hillary Clinton an 'American Moses'.

"Maybe TIME should check their Bible. I find that a very interesting parallel. Moses led the children of Israel to wander around in the wilderness for 40 years. I wonder if TIME was saying that if Hillary Clinton were elected, she would have led us into the wilderness?"

Earlier this year, Graham spoke warmly about the election of Donald Trump. In an interview with Christian Today, he predicted Trump would put together the best team in Washington that America has seen for many years and said there was "no question" that God had a hand in the election result.

TIME chose Trump as its "Person of the Year".

The magazine wrote that Trump had "magnified the divisions of the present, inspiring new levels of anger and fear within his country."

And, by seeking to condemn the dark side of politics, Clinton's campaign may have accidentally validated it.

"By believing in the myth that Obama's election represented a permanent shift for the nation, they proved it was ephemeral. In the end, Trump reveled in these denunciations, which helped him market to his core supporters his determination to smash the existing elite."

On Clinton, TIME said: "In her 1969 commencement address to her class at Wellesley College, Clinton called politics 'the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.' In this, she has succeeded. Like an American Moses, she was an imperfect prophet, leading women to the edge of the Promised Land. Now it's up to another woman to enter it."

Fox News comments that TIME admits Trump was the real change-maker of 2016, but also rags him as a "huckster" and "demagogue" while reserving its most glowing praise for Clinton.

Fox says the article on Clinton is "worlds away from the fulminating darkness that permeates the Trump piece."

*****

The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued a letter this week to President-elect Donald J. Trump expressing their dismay at his choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment. We respect the facts of science. We support the laws and policies that address the reality of climate change,” the bishops say in their letter.

Weakening and dismantling the EPA’s protections of the natural world threaten the common good and compromise national security, the bishops write.

“We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal ‘protection’ to the environment should be entrusted with leading such an agency,” the bishops say.

“As citizens of this beloved country, we intend to write our members of Congress, urging them to block the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. We will pray for a better choice,” the bishops conclude, with an assurance to the president-elect of their continued prayers as he assumes “this office of tremendous responsibility for the good of all.”

*****

Hotel nightstands across the U.S. are starting to empty out. According to a new study by hospitality analytics group STR, the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms has dropped by almost half in the last decade-- from 95 percent of in 2006 to just 48 percent this year.

“It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” Marriott spokeswoman Felicia Farrar McLemore told the Los Angeles Times when speaking about two brand property openings in Los Angeles this year.

Marriot International recently decided against supplying religious materials at its Moxy and Edition hotel brands, which are geared toward millennials.

But the decision to shy away from supplying the religious texts is multi-faceted.

According to some industry experts, hotels are trying to appeal to younger American travelers who tend to be less religious than their parents. The casual Bible placement has also declined to avoid offending guests of other faiths, say industry experts.

And there’s a pragmatic issue at play. Many newer hotel brands install shelves rather than nightstands with drawers next to the bed, displacing the religious materials' previously discreet home.

*****

In Ottawa, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) signed a declaration of dialogue and partnership between the two organizations.

The declaration notes that, although “Evangelicals and Jews have distinct theological perspectives, our communities share many foundational values, interests and concerns that afford an opportunity for joint advocacy initiatives.”

It specifically commits the two organizations to discuss issues of common cause, including palliative care, affordable housing, religious freedom in Canada, peace and security in the Middle East and support for persecuted minorities in the region.

Through biennial dialogue sessions between representatives of the EFC and CIJA, this partnership aims to “strengthen mutual understanding and identify joint advocacy opportunities in the above policy areas."

*****

Two similar arsons happened recently, but CBS news covered only one of them. The difference? One fire occurred at abortion giant Planned Parenthood, the other targeted a pro-life pregnancy center.

The day before Thanksgiving, an unidentified perpetrator committed arson at Project Defending Life, a Catholic pregnancy center located in New Mexico.

According to local news outlets, the arsonist started two fires: one in the center’s chapel, beneath an Our Lady of Fatima statue, and another in the pews. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher pointed to hate crime as a possible motivation.

As the Project Defending Life client services director, Dominique Davis also speculated intentions. “They might have thought because we’re pro-life we shame women and want to take away rights,” she told the Albuquerque Journal.

While the center currently assists 15 women with housing, job placement and parenting support, no one was hurt.

“That’s what makes me the most sad about it,” Davis added. “No matter where you stand on the issue (of abortion) we’re just trying to help families, and we’ve helped lots of families with housing, getting jobs and getting established.”

*****

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