The Way We Give Now

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) recently passed the 2,000-member mark. This makes its annual assessment of members’ finances an even better snapshot of how US evangelicals are donating their dollars beyond the local church. Since CT last examined ECFA’s State of Giving data (through 2011), medical missions has seen the biggest surge in support, almost doubling, while prison ministry has seen the largest drop. Only two giving categories saw declines from 2011 to 2014, compared to five that declined from 2007 to 2011.

Bible translator leaves alliance

A long-running debate over how to convey the Trinity to Muslims has led Wycliffe Associates (WA) to withdraw from the Wycliffe Global Alliance, a partnership of more than 100 translation agencies. WA, which is separate from Wycliffe Bible Translators, objected to the way some translators soften the Bible’s “Son of God” language in order to stem confusion and anger among Muslims who believe this means that God engaged in sexual relations with Mary. WA stated that it also left over the chilly reaction among other ministries to both its controversial plan to provide copyright-free Bibles and its speedy MAST translation process [see CT June 2015].

ECFA boots Gothard group

Bill Gothard’s former institute has lost its stamp of approval from the leading group that sets the standards for evangelical ministries. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) terminated the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) for “failure to comply” with its governance standard. While ECFA didn’t specify IBLP’s failures, the standard requires a board of at least five (mostly independent) people who pray, chart long-range strategy, and identify conflicts of interest. IBLP has drawn more than 2.5 million people to its seminars, but over the past four years ran a deficit of $15.8 million. Gothard and IBLP are also facing a lawsuit from 18 people alleging sexual harassment and abuse by Gothard and others at the ministry. IBLP welcomes the court process, stating, “Scripture reminds us that the first person to state his cause seems right, but a matter must be searched out to determine the truth.”

United Kingdom: Barnabas defends founder

Two months after Patrick Sookhdeo resigned for the third time, Barnabas Aid International’s board of trustees issued a 36-page pamphlet defending the founder of parent charity Barnabas Fund and accusing other evangelical organizations of working against it. Sookhdeo first resigned in 2014 after he was arrested for assault and again in February 2015 after his conviction. The board reinstated him both times. In November, after he was picked up for an indecent touching incident that took place in 1977, Sookhdeo resigned once again. “Barnabas Fund has now lost the leadership of its farsighted, visionary, and uniquely gifted international director, who was also its most effective fundraiser,” wrote the trustees. They accused Open Doors, the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK), and Christian Solidarity Worldwide of excluding Barnabas Fund from joint initiatives, saying it left the EAUK for being marginalized. The Christian groups denied the charges. The EAUK said the Barnabas Fund left “of their own accord,” and that it was “surprised and saddened by [the] comments.”

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Malaysia: Muslim man can legally convert to Christianity

This spring, Christians in Malaysia got good and bad news from their highest court. The good: the National Religious Department must allow a man to change his name and religion from Muslim to Christian. Rooney Rebit’s Christian family had converted to Islam when he was eight. The Federal Court of Malaysia ruled his childhood conversion “was not of his own volition,” so since Rebit never officially professed Islam as an adult, he did not need permission from lower Shari‘ah courts to convert to Christianity. The bad news: Christian attorney Victoria Martin lost her bid to represent clients like Rebit, who wish to change their religion but have to do so in a Shari‘ah court that allows only Muslim attorneys. The Federal Court ruled that the Muslims-only rule does not violate the constitution.

Turkey: Government must pay martyrs’ families

The Turkish government failed to protect three Christian men who were tortured and killed in 2007, a court ruled. The Malatya Administrative Court ordered the government to pay close to $334,000 in damages to the families of the martyrs. It ruled that the Turkish interior ministry and Malatya governor’s office ignored reliable intelligence that nationalists had been targeting the men. Though the five suspects were arrested immediately after the murders and face criminal charges, many factors let the case grind on with no end in sight: no-show witnesses, changing judges and prosecutors, and attempts to connect the suspects with a clandestine group suspected of plotting against the government. The suspects have threatened the victims’ family members; they are out on bail but monitored.

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Pay-to-pray scammer must refund money

For four years, anyone with a prayer request could pay the Christian Prayer Center—a website with nearly 1.3 million Facebook fans—between $9 and $35 to intercede for them. From 2011 to 2015, more than 125,000 people did pay, netting site creator Benjamin Rogovy more than $7 million. But the site was a scam: the prayer team was nonexistent, and the testimonials from satisfied customers who claimed healthy babies, winning lottery tickets, and clean cancer scans were made up. The Seattle man’s other for-profit scam, the Christian National Church, was an online church run by a fake pastor who offered ordination certificates for $139. Rogovy violated the Consumer Protection Act and the Charitable Solicitations Act, the Washington State attorney general’s office stated. Customers who want their money back must apply for a refund by June 12.

Oral Roberts requires Fitbits

As part of its rigorous fitness requirements for students, Oral Roberts University (ORU) made its 900 freshmen don Fitbits this fall. The $150 digital wristband sends each student’s heart rate and number of steps to a school computer. Students are required to log an average of 10,000 steps a day and 150 minutes of elevated heart rates in intense exercise each week. The Fitbit replaces ORU’s paper-and-pencil system to track their activity. The physical fitness requirements constitute 20 percent of the students’ grades in their physical fitness classes, and fit with the Oklahoma school’s mission of holistic education.

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