More Evangelicals Almost Everywhere

In nearly every country of the world, evangelicalism is growing whether or not the overall church is as well. In only 16 nations, total Christian growth outpaced the growth of evangelicalism from 2000 to 2010. And in only six nations, both declined. While evangelicals
remain a small minority in many countries, notes missions researcher Justin Long in crunching Operation World’s latest research, world Christianity is becoming more evangelical.

Zimbabwe: Africa’s bad boy bets on megachurch tourism

Officials in cash-strapped Zimbabwe are tapping a new source of revenue: megachurches. After watching tourists pour into Nigeria to visit pastor T. B. Joshua’s megachurch, Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, has eliminated import taxes on church vehicles, offered incentives to hotels and restaurants that provide services to churches, and declared two churches to be “religious tourism destinations”—including 40,000-seat Zion Christian Church (left). “Basically we are designating temples as tourism centers, and philosophically this was done by King Solomon,” Mzembi told the Zimbabwe Independent. The South African nation has long suffered under President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of rigging elections, wrecking the economy, and attempting to control churches. Mzembi expects religious tourism to raise $1 billion a year—a full 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s total tourism goal.

China: Christian ‘conscience of China’ free at last

Christian attorney and activist Gao Zhisheng was finally released after finishing his eight-year term in a Chinese prison. His family claims that torture left him in poor health, and according to Gao’s wife, police still visit his house daily to inquire about his actions. Meanwhile, authorities arrested a Canadian Christian couple who operated a coffee shop near China’s border with North Korea and led tours to the closed kingdom. The arrests appeared to be part of a larger sweep by the Chinese government to clear the border of Christians who may be helping North Koreans flee. American missionary Kenneth Bae, who led tours before North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor, is now the longest-imprisoned American there since the Korean War.

IRS relaxes rules on starting religious charities

In the wake of a scandal involving stalled applications from tea party groups, the IRS announced that a new three-page form will help ease its 66,000-application backlog of filings for 501(c)(3) status. Far shorter than the standard 26-page form, Form 1023-EZ will be available to groups with less than $50,000 in gross receipts and less than $250,000 in assets. The move will ease the burden of tax-status filing for many religious charities. Groups will not be pre-screened, thus lightening the IRS’s load by about 70 percent.

Article continues below

Europe: Human rights court affirms religious hiring

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has favored the employment rights of religious organizations over individuals. By a 9–8 vote, it upheld the firing of a Catholic priest whose contract teaching religion at a Spanish public high school was not renewed after he joined a rally against clerical celibacy. The decision echoed the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 2012 Hosanna-Tabor ruling, which found that religious organizations are not subject to all federal antidiscrimination laws. But the ECHR’s Russian judge, Dimitry Dedov, provoked discussion with his dissent that celibacy “cannot be justified by any public interest or religious autonomy.” Religious freedom experts worry the narrow split doesn’t bode well for European religious groups being free to follow their own policies.

Suicide of pastor’s kid muzzles ‘watchdog’

After the suicide of Southern Baptist college president Ergun Caner’s teenage son, online Christian “watchdogs” said one of their own had gone too far. Montana pastor and radio host J. D. Hall, a frequent critic of the Brewton-Parker College president, criticized 15-year-old Braxton Caner’s behavior on Twitter.

The Wartburg Watch blog decided Hall had “overstepped the boundaries of decency, love, and good judgment,” while Fox News’s Todd Starnes labeled it “theological thuggery.” Hall announced he would “back away” from “fighting a war” for reform in the Southern Baptist Convention. “In my zeal, there has been a disconnect between my theology and my methodology,” he wrote, regretting he had been “adversarial rather than pastoral.” Prominent Caner critic James White called for a ceasefire “for a meaningful period of time” (it lasted two weeks after the funeral). Brewton-Parker spokesman Peter Lumpkins said, “It’s time to stop social media abuse.”

Article continues below

United Kingdom: Will churches boycott Vicky Beeching’s songs?

After British songwriter turned TV pundit Vicky Beeching told interviewers, “I feel I have given myself permission” to pursue a lesbian relationship, she said American churches told her they would boycott “Glory to God Forever” and her other worship songs. The week she identified in press reports as gay, her 2010 album, Eternity Invades, hit No. 10 on the UK’s Official Christian and Gospel Albums Chart; her 2007 album came in at No. 35.

The 35-year-old Anglican, who left Nashville’s CCM scene to comment on church news for the BBC, said she still makes much of her living from church royalties. “Why take a chance of a worshiper stumbling over any evident disparity [between] a song’s message and its writer?” World’s Warren Cole Smith told CT. But Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore noted that he still sings the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory” even though its writer, Harry Emerson Fosdick, denied core Christian doctrines.

Singapore: Pastor spent church funds on wife’s pop music career

More details have emerged in a court case deciding whether a prominent Singapore megachurch engaged in innovative evangelism or fraud. Prosecutors allege that City Harvest Church pastor Kong Hee was the “invisible” manager of his wife Ho Yeow Sun’s pop music career. They claim he diverted more than $50 million of church money to fund her albums and then cover his tracks when her career went bust. Kong asked church members to buy copies of Ho’s albums to boost ratings before her American debut, and the church itself purchased $500,000 in unsold albums. Since the church had voted to fund Ho as part of the church’s Crossover Project, aimed at reaching unchurched youth through Ho’s made-for-MTV songs, no harm was done, Kong’s attorney argued.

Christian college cuts ties after denomination investigates

The Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) ended its investigation of claims that Campbellsville University had fired a theology professor for “being too conservative,” concluding that conservative theology was welcome among faculty. Nevertheless, the school decided to remove itself from denominational oversight of trustees and phase out KBC funding ($1 million of its $57 million budget). In response, KBC president Chip Hutcheson accused Campbellsville of acting like a “husband who wants to divorce his wife but still offers to live with her.” The funding has ended, but the groups will work on a new partnership.

Article continues below

Lilly church claims Chase mismanaged millions

Christ Church Cathedral, the religious home of philanthropist Eli Lilly, has sued JPMorgan Chase, alleging the church lost $13 million due to the bank’s big fees and bad investments. Chase, which the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating for oversteering clients to the bank’s own products, headed two trusts that Lilly posthumously left for the Indianapolis church. The lawsuit claims Chase decided “to purchase over 177 different investment products, mostly from itself, using church funds because they produced the highest revenues to [Chase].” The Lilly Endowment, which seeks to strengthen American churches (and is unconnected to the dispute with Chase), has given more than $108 million to enable 2,421 pastors to take sabbaticals.* (Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the figures in the clergy renewal program.)

China: Churches support crackdown on cult

China sentenced 25 cult members to up to 8 years in prison after 5 members bludgeoned a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant for resisting their efforts to recruit her. The Chinese government is pointing to the widely publicized trial, and nearly 1,000 arrests since June, as evidence of its crackdown on Eastern Lightning—formally known as the Church of Almighty God. The cult believes Jesus was reincarnated in the form of a Chinese woman named Deng. Working to protect new Christians from such cults, house church leaders have cautiously partnered with government efforts and have increased efforts to teach solid theology and church history.

Philippines: Christian town wants out of new Muslim province

After 17 years of peace talks seeking to end decades of violence, the Philippines agreed this spring to let Islamist rebels create a local government based on Muslim principles. But inside the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s new autonomous region of Bangsamoro is Wao, the region’s only Christian-majority town (pop. 50,000). The town, on the archipelago’s southern island of Mindanao, wants out and has asked to be placed under the direct control of the Philippines central government. “We prefer to stay out of Bangsamoro, although we support the right to self-determination of local Muslims,“ Wao mayor Elvino Balicao told AsiaNews. “I hope Manila will listen to us before there are problems.”

Split Seekers

The New York Times analyzed a decade’s worth of Google searches in America’s hardest and easiest counties to live in. Among the top terms most correlated with poverty: the end times. With wealth: digital cameras.

Hid In (Half) Our Hearts

48% Self-identified Bible readers who memorized any verses in the last year.

64% Congregations that held Bible memorization events for children in the last year.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.