For years, Christian filmmakers claimed the potential of faith-based films was a well-kept secret in Hollywood. Well, the secret seems to be out, with an ever-widening array of faith-based film offerings from The Passion of the Christ to Fireproof. The latest comes this month with The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, a story about a friendship between three boys and their 75-year neighbor, Jonathan Sperry, played by veteran actor and longtime Christian Gavin MacLeod. Check back to Charismamag.com for more about the film, which opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 18.
Christians in the western part of Guinea say they are being harassed by predominantly Muslim Indonesia
Despite the success of evangelism efforts in West Papua, the western part of the Island of Guinea, Christians there say they are struggling to survive in a climate of religious and political oppression.
Although they comprise a majority of the region’s 2.5 million people, Christians in West Papua say they are being persecuted by predominantly Muslim Indonesia, which took over in 1963.
“The missionaries should have prepared us for this,” said pastor Lipiyus Biniluk, president of the Evangelical Church in Indonesia, a network with 900,000 members. “They told to us to go to Bible school, but did not encourage us to get any vocational training.
“In consequence we are now completely in the hands of the Muslims. They control everything—our banks, our shopping malls, our hospitals. As Christians we are even afraid to go to the hospital when sick.”
Their fear is grounded in the fact that the Indonesian military killed thousands of civilians after West Papua was formally annexed to Indonesia in 1969.
Formerly a Dutch colony, West Papua was in the 1950s on the verge of becoming a sovereign state, like the other half of the island, known as Papua New Guinea. But it became embroiled in Cold War politics. Under intense international pressure, the Dutch agreed to transfer sovereignty to Indonesia in a deal brokered by the U.S.
The agreement stipulated that West Papuans would vote in a United Nations referendum to determine whether they wanted to remain with Indonesia or become an independent state. But rather than allowing each adult to vote, Indonesian officials chose 1,022 representatives, who voted unanimously to join Indonesia. Many observers still question the legitimacy of the referendum, saying the votes were obtained under duress.
West Papua is still home to some of the world’s most underdeveloped communities. German missionaries began reaching out to the cannibal tribes living in the coastal jungles in the mid-1800s. But as recently as World War II the outside world did not suspect the presence of humans in the inaccessible highlands, where Biniluk’s church was founded.
Wupu Game, a church leader from the Dani tribe now in his 60s, still remembers the day when missionaries first arrived in his community in 1955. “They came with salt,” Wupu recalls of his first contact with the outside world. As the son of an elder, Wupu got to taste this extreme rarity. He also watched as one of the missionaries was killed with a poisoned arrow.
But before long, Game’s parents and their whole tribe embraced the gospel. “What intrigued us was that Jesus had risen from the dead,” Game said. “My tribe used to live in a constant fear of death.
“Older people would hear a certain bird cry during the night and inevitably somebody died on the next day. We were traumatized. Mothers would cut off a finger for every child that died. And the medicine man tried all kind of witchcraft to make the dead come alive again.”
When the tribe decided to put their hope in Jesus, all amulets and other witchcraft devices were burned in big bonfires. Game recalled the relief they felt and how things became so very easy. Tasks that used to keep people busy for months took “no time at all” with the new tools the missionaries brought, such as knives, and axes.
Today life is not easy for the West Papuan Christians. Besides harassment by the Muslim regime, church leaders said another crisis is developing. Diseases such as malaria and HIV are spreading, as well as an “unknown epidemic disease that the government does not even bother to investigate,” Biniluk said.
“I am completely worn out by all the funerals I have been holding lately,” he said. “There is no information given about HIV, and our church members have no money to buy malaria medicine.”
In October, Biniluk joined a delegation of indigenous church leaders who flew to Jakarta, the capital, to plead with the Indonesian government to allow West Papua to implement the special autonomy that was formally granted in 2001. “So far it has been words only, in reality nothing has changed,” he explained.
Addressing the issue of autonomy could be dangerous in a country that does not even allow free press. “But we have to try,” Biniluk concluded, “or our people will not survive.”
Ministers involved in restoring the former pastor questioned whether he was ready to return to the pulpit.
Nov. 21, 2008 -- Prominent Christian leaders expressed concern in November over Ted Haggard’s appearance at an Illinois church, where he repeatedly apologized for the scandal that led to his dismissal from the Colorado megachurch he founded.
The leaders were involved in restoring Haggard after he left New Life Church in 2006 amid accusations that he solicited a male prostitute and purchased methamphetamines. Noting that Haggard had distanced himself from the restoration process, the leaders questioned whether his speaking at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., on Nov. 2 was premature. read more
An HBO documentary that airs next month follows the disgraced evangelical pastor to Arizona, after he was dismissed from his former church in Colorado amid a drug and sex scandal.
Dec. 26, 2008 -- Former pastor Ted Haggard admits in a new HBO documentary titled The Trials of Ted Haggard that he was guilty of sexual immorality in the past, but that he's unhappy with some of the consequences he, his wife, Gayle, and his five children have had to face since he was caught in the scandal two years ago.
"We've been exiled permanently from the state of Colorado," he told filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi in 2007. "We're miserable."
Haggard, who was accused of soliciting a male prostitute and purchasing methamphetamines in November 2006, moved his family back to Colorado Springs earlier this year and is selling life insurance to make a living.
Next month, he will help promote the new HBO documentary.
Before The Trials of Ted Haggard began making publicity, Haggard remained mostly out of the public eye since being dismissed from his former church in 2006.
One notable exception was when he spoke last month in the pulpit of a longtime friend—the pastor of Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill. After that appearance leaders involved in Haggard's original restoration process quickly told Charisma that they strongly disagreed with his decision to speak at the church.
In addition, Haggard's spiritual restoration was deemed "incomplete" earlier this year by leaders from New Life Church, which Haggard founded in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1984.
Brady Boyd, senior pastor of New Life Church, told Charisma the church has freed its former pastor from any further obligation. "We have released Ted and Gayle from their separation agreement with New Life Church," he said. "They are free to move forward with their lives in any way they choose without any legal constraint from the church. We wish Ted, Gayle and their family only the best in the future."
In the film, Haggard acknowledges that he violated church rules and "shouldn't have done that," but questions the wisdom of the church leaders who banished him for being, as Pelosi suggests, "bad for business."
"I think if they would've been chess players instead of checker players they would've realized that I am their business—somebody struggling with sin," Haggard says in the 42-minute documentary, which airs Jan. 29.
Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, befriended Haggard in 2005 when he was still New Life's pastor and head of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals. She gathered footage for a documentary called Friends of God, which focused on evangelicalism's power in Washington politics.
For her latest project, Pelosi interviewed Haggard during the year and a half after the 2006 scandal, filming him selling insurance door-to-door and following him on his first-ever secular job interview—a counseling position at the University of Phoenix. "If they don't google me, I'll get the job," he tells her.
Haggard appears in the documentary at times contrite, at other times as if victimized by the church establishment. He explains to Pelosi that homosexuality is seen as worse than murder in some Christian circles. "If you google me you'd think I'm Adolf Hitler," he says.
He says his homosexual urges stemmed from same-sex sex play in the seventh grade and that "it all blew up" when he turned 50.
More recently, at Open Bible Fellowship last month Haggard said his same-sex temptation might have resulted from a sexual experience he had as a 7-year-old with a male worker employed by his father.
Haggard's wife, Gayle, tells Pelosi that before the scandal broke she considered herself a happy woman, completely unaware of the depth of her husband's internal struggle.
She says she stayed with her husband after the scandal because she loved him and believed their marriage was worth fighting for. "I knew that to restore honor to our children, the best thing I could do was restore honor to him," she says.
In the film, Haggard identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, who "from time to time struggles with same-sex attraction." He denies a comment, widely circulated in the media after the scandal, that he claimed to be "completely hetereosexual."
Haggard says that just because he still struggles with same-sex attraction doesn't mean he's abandoned his traditional views on marriage and family. "I still believe this," Haggard says, "even though I'm a sinner and even though I'm weak, that God's best plan for human beings is for man and woman to unite together." —Paul Steven Ghiringhelli read more
The Bible was absent from President Obama’s second swearing-in on Wednesday, but a U.K.-based ministerial alliance has sent him one for future use.
Jan. 22, 2009 -- President Barack Obama retook the oath of office on Wednesday evening after the first one was flubbed. But because the Bible was noticeably absent from the second swearing-in, a U.K.-based ministerial alliance is sending him one.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the second oath at the White House on Wednesday to dispel confusion created by the first one, which was given out of sequence, and to erase questions about whether Obama was legally president. On Tuesday, Roberts was apparently working without a copy of the oath, CNN reported. (View Tuesday’s swearing-in.)
Marvin Sapp recently took home seven awards during the 24th Annual Stellar Awards, which celebrated the achievements of African-American gospel music artist.
Jan. 22, 2009 -- Marvin Sapp took home seven Stellar Awards during last weekend's award show, garnering trophies in the Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, CD of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year categories.
Capitalizing on the success of his crossover R&B hit “Never Would Have Made It” and album Thirsty, Sapp was recognized during the 24th Annual Stellar Awards, which celebrated the achievements of African-American artists in gospel music at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 17.
Thirsty also generated Stellar trophies for Aaron Lindsey in the Producer of the Year category and Michelle Lukianovich in the Recorded Music Package of the Year category. read more
Christian leaders said the swearing-in of the nation's first African-American president is a sign of racial progress but worried that the battle to end abortion and defend traditional marriage would intensify in the coming months.
[01.21.09] Record-setting crowds braved frigid weather on Tuesday to witness the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. But while many applauded the event as a victory for racial progress, several ministry leaders warned that Christians must remain vigilant in a fight against abortion and same-sex marriage that is likely to intensify.
During his invocation, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren called the swearing-in of the nation’s first African-American president a “hingepoint of history.”
“We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African [man] can rise to the highest level of our leadership,” Warren prayed. “We know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.” read more
Michael Sweet, lead singer of resurrected glam metal band Stryper, says prayer is desperately needed for his wife, who is suffering a two-year battle with stage four ovarian cancer.
[01.20.09] The frontman of a legendary Christian metal band says the pain and discomfort his wife has suffered since being diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in 2007 is “break[ing] my heart into a million pieces.”
In an intimate letter written in a hospital by his ailing wife’s bedside, Michael Sweet, who formed hard rock band Stryper in 1983 with brother, Robert,told fans last weekthat that he and his wife, Kyle, are walking through the darkest time of their lives.
“I constantly wrestle with the reality of this monster that invades [Kyle’s] body and I can tell you that it’s been a tremendous struggle to see my wife so sick,” Sweet wrote in his letter, which he later posted on his Web site. “I have felt so helpless and at times completely hopeless … we covet and cherish every prayer from everyone of you.” read more
The execution-style murder in Mosul has renewed concern about violence against the religious minority ahead of provincial elections on Jan. 31.
[01.20.09] A Christian businessman was killed execution-style in Iraq on Thursday, renewing concern about anti-Christian violence that saw thousands flee the area last fall.
The 36-year-old man, who owned an auto repair shop in Mosul, was shot in the head several times, police told the Associated Press (AP) on Saturday. No one took responsibility for the murder.
Another Christian, a city engineer, was kidnapped in early January but returned four days later when his family paid a $50,000 ransom, according to the AP.
Bassem Balu, an official with the Democratic Assyrian Movement, the largest Christian party in Iraq, said he did not think the violence would slow the return of Christians to northern Iraq, where more than a dozen Christians were killed in October. But he said he hoped the attack did not signal renewed violence against the religious minority, according to the AP. read more
Israel’s prime minister initiated a unilateral ceasefire over the weekend while also addressing the devastation faced by Palestinians in Gaza.
[01.19.09] Israel agreed to a ceasefire Saturday after its three-week operation in Gaza significantly disrupted anti-Israel military operations ran by Hamas, an Islamic militant group and U.S.-classified terrorist organization that violently seized control of Gaza in 2007.
“Conditions have been created [in Gaza] so that our targets, as defined when we launched the operation, have been fully achieved, and more so,” said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Hamas was badly stricken, both in terms of its military capabilities and in the infrastructure of its regime.
“Its leaders are in hiding,” he said. “Many of its members have been killed. The factories in which its missiles were manufactured have been destroyed. The smuggling routes, through dozens of tunnels, have been bombed. The Hamas’s capabilities for conveying weapons within the Gaza Strip have been damaged.” read more
Despite a legal challenge by several atheist organizations, President-elect Barack Obama will repeat the words “so help me God” when he is sworn in as president on Tuesday.
[01.19.09] A U.S. District judge denied a California atheist's request to remove references to God from President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in on Tuesday.
After a two-hour hearing last Thursday, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied plaintiff Michael Newdow’s request to bar Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts from administering the president’s oath with the words “so help me God.”
In their lawsuit filed in early January, Newdow and 11 atheist and humanist organizations also claimed that references to God in the invocation and benediction and the use of a Bible during the swearing-in ceremony violated the Constitution’s ban against respecting an establishment of religion and discriminated against them as nonbelievers. read more
As one of his final acts as president, George W. Bush called on Americans to put aside this Sunday to honor the sanctity of human life.
[01.16.09] One of George W. Bush’s last acts as president this week was declaring Sunday, Jan. 18, the National Sanctity of Human Life Day. “All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection,” Bush said from the White House on Thursday.
“On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.”
The pro-life movement has commemorated the third Sunday in January as a sacred day to reflect on the value of human life ever since former President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first ever National Sanctity of Human Life Day on Sunday, Jan. 22, 1984. Reagan designated the new national observance on the 11-year anniversary date of Roe v. Wade, the federal court case that legalized abortion. read more
Months after the revivalist announced he was divorcing his wife and stepping down from ministry, the board at Fresh Fire Ministries gave their perspectives on Bentley’s current status.
[12.04.08] Leaders of the Canadian ministry evangelist Todd Bentley founded a decade ago say the one-time revivalist is “intent” on divorcing his wife and is yet to begin a restoration process.
In a six-page letter to ministry supporters, the board of Fresh Fire Ministries (FFM) released more details about the circumstances that led to Bentley’s departure in August from the Lakeland, Fla., revival meetings he led for four months.
“Todd Bentley has demonstrated himself unfaithful to his wife by entering into a relationship with another woman while still legally married,” the board said in a statement issued last Friday. “Todd has yet to enter into a clear system of accountability with the leaders he identified that would be involved in such a process.”
The leaders claim Bentley, 32, has no biblical grounds for leaving his wife, Shonnah, and their three children, and that the nature of his relationship with his children’s former nanny is “that of adultery.”
“The legal separation from Shonnah was initiated completely by Todd and he has not seen her or the children since the last week in July,” they stated.
“It also needs to be clarified that Shonnah has in no way initiated this divorce and has no present intention to do so at any time in the future. She is understandably hurt by Todd’s infidelity, but is not asking or pressing for a divorce.”
On Tuesday, Bentley said there had been no sexual immorality between him and the former nanny. He claimed that for two years no “spark or interest” in the former staff member existed, and that the two developed only an emotional relationship several weeks after July 1, when Bentley filed for divorce.
He admitted, however, that the budding relationship was “absolutely” bad timing.
“I would call it an inappropriate relationship, in the sense that it was too soon, too quick, and should’ve never happened the way that it happened,” Bentley said. “Emotionally, she had stepped in to comfort me as a friend would.
“But I never left my wife to be with another woman,” he said. “There was nothing premeditated or inappropriate in my heart. I had never even entertained the idea that I liked this girl. It never went there.”
Claiming to have gone through years of counseling with his wife, Bentley said he is divorcing her over “irreconcilable differences.”
He denied disconnecting from his children and told Charisma he is in constant phone contact with them and plans to see them as soon as he sorts out issues with his visa.
Bentley said FFM let him review the letter before they made it public and that he was unhappy with portions of it. He said he felt the letter implied that the breakup of his marriage could be blamed on his relationship with his former nanny and the pressures of leading daily nonstop revival meetings in Lakeland.
“I have the utmost respect for my team in Canada and we have had a lot of years together,” he said. “[But] I’m not in agreement with my board on this. The point is, [the former nanny] wasn’t the cause. And I don’t want to blame Lakeland. I want to blame a bad marriage.”
Bentley said he is willing to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions and that he readily admits he’s guilty of doing a lot of things wrong over the years. “In a lot of ways, the ministry has been my mistress,” he said. “That did destroy my marriage. That I have to take responsibility for.”
The FFM leaders said they had been on an “emotional rollercoaster” for several months before releasing the statement, seeking to persuade Bentley to abandon his relationship with the former nanny, return to his wife and children, and quickly embrace a process of counseling and accountability.
In the letter, the board thanked leaders of other ministries who have reportedly tried to help implement a process of restoration for Bentley. “But what we have come to realize is that ultimately, the buck stops with the FFM board of directors,” they said. “No one knows Todd better, or has more access to all the facts from both sides than we do.”
MorningStar Ministries’ founder Rick Joyner announced in October that he would be leading a team to help restore Bentley and would be assisted by Revival Alliance member Bill Johnson and Texas pastor Jack Deere, along with pastors John Arnott and Che Ahn serving as advisers.
Bentley said he is still involved at an emotional level with his former nanny and soon plans to move to Joyner’s headquarters in Fort Mill, S.C., to “fully embrace a healing and restoration process.”
Joyner confirmed that the process could begin as early as January. He did not confirm if abandoning his relationship with the nanny was a precondition Bentley would need to agree to before entering a healing process led by Joyner.
Joyner did express disappointment with FFM’s recent statement about Bentley and said he tried to persuade them not to send the letter in its current form.
“There is almost always another side to a story, as there is to many of the things they presented in this letter,” Joyner said. “Sometimes the truth is found somewhere between the two sides, but if we're going to ever get to real healing and reconciliation I don't think this kind of thing helps.”
The FFM board said they decided to send the letter to supporters after spending months of silence “in deference to [the] leaders” involved in trying to lead Bentley through a restoration process. “We struggled for a while with the question of how to satisfy two important obligations—that of honoring Todd, while believing for his restoration, and at the same time, our obligation to be completely honest and open with you.”
Although Bentley experienced a moral failing, the FFM leaders said the Lakeland Revival he led was an authentic move of God. “Through the weakness and failure of man, the enemy seeks to defame and discredit what God has done,” they said. “[But] Lakeland was and is an authentic move of God. God poured Himself out in Florida and through the Internet and television around the world.”
FFM is in the process of restructuring its ministries with assistance from Johnson’s church in Redding, Calif., and Joyner’s ministry in South Carolina.
Their letter also stated that Bentley has officially resigned and that the Abbottsford, B.C.-based FFM is searching for another leader. “We love Todd dearly, [and] it is our deep desire that our brother should be restored,” they said.
“Please let us make it clear, that although what Todd has done is inexcusable, it is not unforgiveable. We do not judge him unworthy of a second, third or even fourth chance.” —Paul Steven Ghiringhelli read more
Today there is growing hostility toward belief in a Creator.
Ken Ham says that when talk-show host Bill Maher traveled to the Creation Museum two years ago, the outspoken atheist used devious means to secure an interview.
Maher then used footage of his visit in his 2008 documentary Religulous-which mocks a variety of faiths and takes aim at Ham, founder of the Kentucky-based ministry Answers in Genesis.
The museum, located near Cincinnati, has attracted more than 600,000 people since it opened in 2007. And despite Maher's criticism, Religulous didn't stem the flow of visitors.
Religulous grossed $12 million its first month. But the film generated less attention among Christians than Expelled, the documentary by Ben Stein that questions the truth of evolution.
Yet Ham doesn't expect harassment of his $27 million museum to cease, especially with this year's anniversaries of Charles Darwin's birth and his book The Origin of Species.
There is growing hostility in our culture toward creationism. Secular humanists fought Ham's attempts to acquire property several years ago, and many universities host lectures on how to oppose creationist groups.
"That's the sort of thing we see happening with education groups and museums," Ham said. "As far as the media is concerned, the worst ... is the BBC and the British press. They have a real agenda to mock Christians and denigrate those who believe as we do."
Other creationist organizations have faced legal battles. Two examples:
¥ The Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research is appealing a 2008 decision by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to deny its application to grant masters of science degrees in the state. A lawsuit is possible if the appeal fails.
¥ In December of 2007, professor Nathaniel Abraham filed a federal lawsuit against the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, saying he was fired soon after telling a superior he didn't accept evolution as scientific fact. Though a court dismissed the suit, an appeal is pending.
Still, not all Christians agree with the young-earth views that Ham espouses. One example is British professor Denis Alexander, whose book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? released in the U.S. in January.
The director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund's College in Cambridge, Alexander says creationists hold less sway in England. There, he says, many Christians accept evolution as an explanation of God's creative process.
Although Alexander believes God created the world, the professor argues that early church fathers believed Genesis was written in metaphorical language rather than literal. For example, he points out the word "day" is used in three different contexts in Genesis 1-3.
"I think Genesis 1 is saying that God has carried out creation in an orderly way, and a way that is always good in bringing order out of disorder," Alexander says.
Ham doesn't agree, insisting the Bible is the starting point for explaining the earth's origins. "As soon as you believe in an old earth, you didn't get it from the Bible," Ham says. "An old earth comes from man's interpretation of the evidence."