Monthly Archives: July 2016

Megaministry Monday: Speedy Departures, the IRS, and Preacher Gabfests

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    This was a spiritual and moral mistake on my part as I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others.” Perry Noble, Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church.

    It has been a rather sad week for megaministry. Perry Noble, the pastor of America’s eighth largest church, has been asked to step down over concerns about Perry’s “posture toward marriage, increased reliance on alcohol and other behaviors.” Noble’s goofball personality and shoot-from-the-hip exegetical style made him famously popular with his skyrocketing church and famously unpopular with, say, the Southern Baptist Convention. Though the situation is extremely difficult for the NewSpring church family, it is worth mentioning that this is still something of a success story. With so few accountability structures in megaministry, the fact that the church’s executive board was able to create a culture of spiritual obligation deserves a hearty and heartfelt congratulations.

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    Women are either frightened or become victims of manipulation and falsehood … We ask you to protect all who have already suffered, and also potential victims who are under the influence of manipulation and wizardry.A letter of appeal from parishioners against their pastor, Sunday Adelaja, leader of the Europe’s third largest church.

    In stark contrast to Perry Noble’s swift removal, some scandal-plagued leaders continue to be at the helm of their churches. The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations in Ukraine is a massive prosperity megachurch and the third largest church in Europe. Its leader, Pastor Sunday Adelaja, was once the celebrated Nigerian revivalist who built a thriving multiracial Pentecostal church in the heart of the Ukraine. But he has been dogged by allegations for years. Now parishioners have sent a letter of protest that Pastor Sunday has been allowed to remain in leadership after being accused of many wrongs, including sexual misconduct. According to Charisma News, Sunday has now been officially defrocked by the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith. Despite this, Adelaja still seems to be fully in command of his empire.

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    At 52 years old, I am excited that my next phase of life will be as an episcopal leader. I am humbled to the fact that this is historic.” The newly-elected Sharma Lewis, first African American female bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

    In 1988, Leonine Kelly, the then-retired first African American woman ever to be elected bishop in the United Methodist Church, told the Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church (BCWUMC) that she didn’t want to die as the only black female bishop. Because of the historic elections in 2000, where 3 of the 5 UM jurisdictions elected African American female bishops, when Bishop Kelly died in 2012, only Linda Lee remained active.

    Today the stain-glass ceiling she cracked now seems an ornate stairway to ecclesial leadership. This week’s bright spot came with the first election of an African American woman to the United Methodist episcopacy in sixteen years. And not only one, in fact, but four African American women were elected as bishops. You heard me—FOUR talented women. Rev. Sharma Lewis is a former biologist-turned-pastor in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and the first African American woman ever elected there; Rev. Tracy Smith Malone is a life-long Methodist from the North Central Jurisdiction (“You raised me and formed me,” she said in her statement); Rev. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, also married to a UMC pastor, is from the Northeastern Jurisdiction and passionate about being a “bridge-builder” in Baltimore; and, also from the Northeastern Jurisdiction, LaTrelle Miller Easterling has a law degree and a “passion for the marginalized.” Their gifts will be a boon for the aging UMC who, like all mainline churches, are searching for the pulse of today’s pressing issues.

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    I think it’s an idea whose time has come. In the television landscape, especially with Fox, they gave ‘Lucifer’ the nighttime show they gave ‘Preachers’ the daytime show … give us something. John Gray on his new talk show, The Preachers

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    foxThere’s a new daytime talk show in town called The Preachers featuring four (you guessed it) preachers ready to chat about hot topics like open marriage and police brutality. Three of the hosts will be familiar to megaministry world—John Gray, associate pastor at Lakewood Church, Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, and E. Dewey Smith Jr. of The House of Hope in Atlanta. The show is on a three-week test run, but so far it landed Bryant in some hot water for joking that he believed in an open marriage but (yuk yuk) forgot to tell his ex-wife. So there’s that. Much like The Preachers of LA franchise, it’s a puzzler. Highly respected people like Gray have a lot to lose with a slip of the tongue.

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    IRS probe of televangelist Robert Tilton’s church draws court challenge.

    Today’s time warp moment is brought to you by Robert Tilton, who is gaining headlines for the same dramarama that made his name synonymous with “televangelist” and “scandal” in the early 1990s. While the church was still reeling from Jim Bakker’s conviction and Jimmy Swaggart’s tears, televangelist royalty Robert Tilton met a media firestorm when he was accused of dumping prayer requests in the trash after extracting the money to the tune of $80 million a year.

    Now, the Internal Revenue Service is investigating his church and Robert Tilton’s finances are under scrutiny once again. These investigations don’t typically topple ministries, but in this case, it feels like an odd blast from the past. And, speaking of weird nostalgia, Ohio audiences can go see a new play about Tammy Faye Bakker entitled “Tammy Faye’s Final Audition.” It claims to “take her faith and her journey very seriously,” and I hope that’s true.

Goodbye Emory, Hello Duke

Late last year a miracle occurred when Kate was admitted to an experimental trial of an immunotherapy drug at Emory University in Atlanta. Further miracles provided for some out-of-state insurance coverage and air fare for her flights from Durham. There is no doubt that without that treatment Kate’s cancer would have worsened and her fate would have been pretty grim. Her medical team at Emory like Dr. El-Rayes, Melissa, and Meredith, nurses like Meg and volunteers like Cindy, Jane, Floyd, and the Mighty Bereans who offered rides from the airport and home stays were literal life-savers. We will never forget them and their kindness.

The regular travel to Atlanta, however, did take its own toll on Kate’s health. Up at 4:00 a.m., she would not usually return until midnight. And with a compromised immune system there are healthier places than a sealed metal tube with 100 other travellers coughing and dropping metal crutches on Kate’s head. If only, we thought, she could get this enormously expensive experimental drug administered to her in Durham. Well, as we have observed, miracles do happen and Kate has just started being treated a short walk from her office at the Duke Cancer Centre. What once took a whole day of travel and stress now takes 2 hours; Kate’s daily life and her health have both been augmented by this delightful change.

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Megaministry Monday : Police Shootings, Noah’s Ark, and How Jim Bakker Wants to Forgive You

Evangelical women celebrities came out strong in support of the recent victims of police shootings with a series of tweets and periscopes. Beth Moore. Serita Jakes. Taffi Dollar.

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    Because I’ve so rarely talked to this, I don’t want you to feel like I’m not aware or that it’s not an issue.” Priscilla Schirer on race in the wake of new police shootings.


    Priscilla Schirer discussed at length the sorrows of raising black sons when racial profiling is rampant. It was a bold move for these women who have everything to lose with white evangelical audiences who don’t always want to hear it. The book Divided by Faith still fairly characterizes the massive difference in perspectives: white evangelicals usually see racism as an individual problem, while black evangelicals see racism as a system of inequality. In the comments section, you can clearly see conversations break down into “One Bad Cop” vs. “Systemic Sin.”

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    We hope they show up two-by-two, seven-by-seven, hundred-by-hundred.” Ken Ham, creator of the ark. The new one, at least.

    Finally when people say something is of “biblical proportions,” they might be right. A 510-foot-long Noah’s Ark is being unveiled in northern Kentucky to the tune of $100 million. Ken Ham, head of the ministry that built the ark (ok, I still can’t get used to saying that), estimates that 2 million visitors will come in the first year to see the attraction that’s “as good or better than Hollywood.” The ministry espouses a young earth creationism, arguing that the earth was made roughly 6,000 years ago, which explains why the museum features model baby dinosaurs in wooden pens waiting to be saved in the ark. Ark Encounter theme park opens this week. Now enjoy this drone footage.

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    I prayed for them every single day. The judge. All the people who put me in prison.” Jim Bakker

    Jim Bakker
    Looking increasingly like a very sweet Colonel Sanders, former televangelism superstar Jim Bakker talked about the hard work it took to forgive those who had imprisoned him in the 1989 scandal that shuttered the Praise the Lord empire. A great message about the importance of forgiveness. Just a little uncomfortable as it implies that his conviction was unjust.

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    Former televangelist Carlton Pearson is getting another lease on life. He will be donating his personal archives to the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. The collection will be a goldmine for all those who want to understand the rise of televangelism, particularly African American contributions, through the rise of this celebrity singer-preacher. He is a remarkable man who cuts a rather tragic figure for his fall from grace, not through any misconduct of his own, but by his turn toward theological universalism. For a fascinating look at his rise and fall, hear his story on NPR’s This American Life.

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    Vonda Kay, Miss America 1965Now, I’ll save one item every week for a throwback. This week pays tribute to a megaministry woman who brought ventriloquism to the mainstream. True story! Miss America 1965 was Vonda Kay Van Dyke whose Christian teen beauty and advice manuals like Ask Vonda Kay sold a million copies. AND she was the first beauty to use a puppet for her talent portion. Watch her charm audiences on a 1965 episode of What’s My Line.

Megaministry Monday: Baby Christians, Bomb Scares and Television Dramarama

It’s Monday, and also America Day. Which means that this Canadian gets her perch at Duke Divinity School all to herself. Free work day! And time to send out the carrier pigeons to give you the first Megaministry Monday Roundup, a scholarly eye on things that shine.

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    Pastor Rick Warren declares 2017 as the “Year of Hope.” It might seem like a long time to wait for hope, but it’s a surprisingly important job–telling spiritual time. Just google any recent year and the phrase “the year of.” Evangelicals and Pentecostals, in particular, might not use the liturgical calendar much, but their megaministers have become modern day heralds of sacred time

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    Last week, James Dobson made news for his announcement that Donald Trump was a “baby Christian.” And then walked it back with a “Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart.” Divine mystery saves the day!

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    Not a peep on the Megaministry Twittersphere about the recent bomb scare at the nation’s only LGBTQ megachurch. Are ministries too much like professors, often clueless about worlds outside their own? Or are theological differences over same-sex relationships turning compassion into silence?

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    Oprah’s new television drama makes a Memphis black megachurch the stage for a soapy swim through the prosperity gospel, big Sunday money, and spiritual dynasties. And, oh yeah, a ton of juicy love triangles and intrigue that make all of our lives look boring.

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    And, lastly, another great think piece on how Donald Trump can find himself politically and spiritually “born again.”

So that’s it for this Monday. See you next week, when I’ve come down off the high of celebrating July 1: Dominion Day. I mean, sorry, it’s newer name: Canada Day. We’re no longer being Dominated. We have Justin Bieber.