State weighs in on Houston’s war on its churches

October 16, 2014

The following letter is being circulated in Texas.  It was allegedly written by the Attorney General of Texas and shed’s more light on the controversy mentioned in yesterday’s blog.

October 15, 2014

Mr. David Feldman

City Attorney

City of Houston

900 Bagby, 4th Floor

Houston, Texas 77002

Dear Mr. Feldman:

Your office has demanded that four Houston pastors hand over to the city government many of their private papers, including their sermons.  Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.  The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.  Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security.  I call on you to withdraw the subpoenas without further delay.

I recognize that the subpoenas arise from litigation related to a petition to repeal an ordinance adopted by the city council.  But the litigation discovery process is not a license for government officials to inquire into religious affairs.  Nor is your office’s desire to vigorously support the ordinance any excuse for these subpoenas.  No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters.  If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers.  Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.

A statement released by the Mayor’s Office claims that the subpoenas were prepared by outside lawyers and that neither you nor Mayor Parker was aware of them before they were issued.  Nevertheless, these lawyers acted in the City’s name, and you are responsible for their actions.  You should immediately instruct your lawyers to withdraw the City’s subpoenas.  Religious institutions and their congregants should never have to worry that a government they disagree with will attempt to interfere in their religious affairs.  Instead of safeguarding that trust, you appear to have given some of the most powerful law firms in Houston free rein to harass and intimidate pastors who oppose City policy.  In good faith, I hope you merely failed to anticipate how inappropriately aggressive your lawyers would be.  Many, however, believe your actions reflect the city government’s hostility to religious beliefs that do not align with city policies.

I urge you to demonstrate the City’s commitment to religious liberty and to true diversity of belief by unilaterally withdrawing these subpoenas immediately.  Your stated intention to wait for further court proceedings falls woefully short of the urgent action needed to reassure the people of Houston that their government respects their freedom of religion and does not punish those who oppose city policies on religious grounds.

Sincerely,

Greg Abbott

Attorney General of Texas


Rand Paul defends Houston pastors under attack

October 15, 2014

“No minister, anywhere, should ever have to submit a sermon to a government censor.” – Senator Rand Paul

Only minutes ago, Senator Rand Paul spoke up for the Houston pastors who have become the latest target in what religious leaders say is the city government’s ongoing war against its own churches.  Messaging on Twitter, Senator Paul declared, “The First Amendment doesn’t exist to keep religion out of government.  It exists to keep government out of religion.”  Said Paul, “I stand with the pastors and churches in Houston against government interference and harassment.”

Houston city attorneys, under the direction of Mayor Annise Parker,  have now subpoenaed sermons preached by selected pastors whom they believe are opposed to the city’s new agenda.

Here is a quick review of the unfolding drama in Houston.

Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly Lesbian mayor of a major city, promoted an ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination in the public and government subsidized venues.  So far so good.  But a controversial part of the ordnance allowed transgender citizens to file discrimination lawsuits if prohibited from a restroom.  Was this a problem?  Where there signs up saying, “No transgenders allowed?”  Some Christian leaders now caught in the middle of the controversy contend that this was an angry politician, purposely poking the bear.

There were all kinds of discussions in the community.  Who was to determine who was transgender and who was not?  A doctor?  A psychiatrist?  Could a man suddenly declare himself a woman and enter a woman’s restroom?  With under age children?

As the proponents of the ordinance hoped, the churches reacted with confusion and panic.  There was a recall effort launched to get the ordinance on the ballot.  The churches gathered more than 50,000 signatures.  It was well over the 17,269 needed.  And then the city poked again.  The Houston city attorney declared that there were insufficient signatures.

The churches sued.

The city attorneys issued subpoenas for their sermons.  And not sermons from the churches who filed the lawsuit.  No, they wanted sermons from other pastors whom critics suspect were specifically targeted because they posed the biggest threat to the city’s agenda.  The subpoena called for “all  speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by delivered by, revised by or approved by you or in your possession.”

Concerned Christian leaders insist that this is not a comedy of errors, that it is not a mistake but it is a systematic, purposeful attempt to silence and frighten the churches into changing their doctrines and suborning free speech.  The city attorney’s will use taxpayer’s money to bankrupt the churches and silence their political voices.  Thus the decision to go after the selected churches who were not even involved in the lawsuit with the city.  It was much the same tactic that allowed the gay and lesbian takeover of the Episcopal Church, taking some congregations and using their resources to take over others.   Only this time it is acted out in the public square with public money which will now be used to destroy the churches and silence their voices.

The city has deep pockets.  In fact, the churchgoers, paying their taxes, will ironically finance the city of Houston in its war to destroy their own culture.

The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other Liberal groups expressed alarm at the city’s overreach. Meanwhile, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission expressed sadness at the events and astonishment at the “audacity” of the Houston City government’s attack on its own pastors and congregations.

Coincidentally, the day before the Houston subpoenas, Moore held a private meeting with Senator Rand Paul at the Senator’s office in Washington, D.C.  Part of the conversation was about the war on Christianity unfolding in places around the world.  Who would know what the next volley would be fired by the city government of Houston, Texas?


John Wilkerson: Passing of a Giant

October 10, 2014

john wilkerson

 

 

 

 

 

John M. Wilkerson died last September and I have been neglectful in writing about it.  Rev. Wilkerson was known as a pastor who led congregations in Florida,  the Bahamas, Wisconsin, Minnesota and California.  But he was much more than that.  He was a mentor to some of the greatest leaders in evangelical Christianity.

As a pastor he had an impressive career.  In Kenosha, Wisconsin, he laid the foundation for a new, vibrant, giant congregation that is still dominant.  In Ft. Worth, Texas, he took over an old, tradition bound, Pentecostal church, helping it transition into a new generation.

As a person, John had many gifts that the evangelical Christian world sorely needed.  He was classy, calm and mellow, which was something of a contradiction within the boisterous Afro-Pentecostal culture where he ministered.  And he was kind and soft spoken, something almost out of place among the hard driven, competitive Fundamentalists, who nevertheless appreciated his effective knack at evangelism.

Wilkerson’s legacy is how he inspired young ministers, including many within his own family.  His son, Rich Wilkerson, pastors in Miami.  His nephew, David Wilkerson, was a bestselling author.

When the Assemblies of God jealously rejected their own Loren Cunningham and his Youth With a Mission,  John Wilkerson boldly and openly celebrated what was happening.  Here was an idea that President John Kennedy had lauded.  The Peace Corps had reportedly borrowed many of Cunningham’s ideas.  Why not cheer for our guy?

While some pastors openly attacked the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International, Wilkerson hailed their ideas and encouraged young Christian entrepreneurs who went onto make millions of dollars and support missions worldwide.  Businessmen felt at home, even encouraged, in the churches where he was pastor.

When the Jesus Movement started, Wilkerson took a front row seat.  Stately, with their country club good looks and dressed to the nines, John and Bonnie Wilkerson would welcome the barefoot, dirty, hippies to their churches.

When the Catholic Pentecostal Movement began, they had open arms.

He always kept his sense of humor about people, about life and about God.  Nothing seemed to surprise him or panic him.  Everything provoked a smile.

As one might expect, Wilkerson’s churches always boasted the most innovative youth groups.  In Kenosha, Wisconsin, his youth director, Dick Eastman, ran a thriving program with youth retreats and “Ski Camps.”  It was a teenager’s dream.  But when Dick went onto lead the prestigious evangelical organization Every Home for Christ, Wilkerson was his biggest cheerleader.

Wilkerson did not seem jealous of other ministries.  Rather he enjoyed them, as if they were his own achievements as well.

If John was handsome and polished, his wife, Bonnie was beautiful and witty.  John and Bonnie Wilkerson were an inspiration to a whole generation following behind.  As a young traveling speaker and writer, I spoke for them in many of those churches and was on the receiving end  of  their friendship.  John and Bonnie Wilkerson made you feel that what you were doing was the greatest thing that had ever been done.

Born in Hammond, Indiana, January 16, 1930, John M. Wilkerson died September 12, 2014.  Leaving Bonnie behind.

 

 


Why was James Foley left to die?

August 22, 2014

Gretchen Carlson is one of the best of the Fox News anchors and she just nailed it with her comment about the gruesome  murder of James Foley by ISIS thugs.  She quoted a State Department spokesman, who explained why we had not negotiated for the release of the journalist. “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”

“But isn’t that exactly what we did for Bowe Burgdahl?”  Carlson asked.  Burgdahl was the Islamic sympathizer whose parents were feted at the White House by President Barack Obama when his release was announced.

An article in The Hill says the Pentagon clearly broke the law in the Burgdahl case.  The Associated Press just ran a story on the hypocrisy of the difference between the two hostages.

What many will miss is the deep faith of James Foley and how that factored into this story and American policy.

Keep in mind, ISIS is confronting Christians in Iraq with the following option: convert to Islam or die.  And Christians are being executed in other Islamic countries for no other reason than their faith.

Before Barack Obama, every recent president since Reagan has been active worldwide in helping persecuted and martyred Christians.  When I worked in the White House of George H.W. Bush we regularly helped get Christians out of prisons all over Africa and Asia.  These included missionaries and educators but also journalists and relief workers.  Bill Clinton helped establish the International Religious Freedom Act that worked with the United Nations to stop the slaughter.  Unfortunately what we saw happen to James Foley is only a small vignette of killings of Christians worldwide.  Senator Rand Paul has called for withholding foreign aid to nations who execute Christians just because of their faith.  But he has had only two co-sponsors.  And the Obama administration quickly quashed the idea.

The national media, who once winked at communism, hoping to avoid getting on their killing lists when they took over America, now seem to be courting the Islamic extremists.  Leave us alone.  Don’t hurt us or our families when we travel the world and we will not hurt you.  Here, take our Christians.  For years the media blurred the distinctions between Muslims and Christians in wars in Africa leaving most Americans ignorant of how religion was actually driving the crisis.

On all of these issues moderate Muslims are silent.

Meanwhile, being a Christian and being open about it can get you killed in the Islamic world, and left to die by a politically correct American government who will not ransom you.  James Foley, whose Christian faith was no secret, once described to an audience at Marquette how prayer kept him alive during his captivity by Muammar Gaddafi.

As it turned out surviving Barack Obama’s foreign policy takes more than prayer.

 


Roy H. Wead and the history of the Assemblies of God

June 16, 2013

Roy H. Wead, former executive presbyter, Assemblies of God

It’s Fathers’ Day and I remember an extraordinary man, Roy H. Wead, my father.  He was the first District Superintendent for the fledgling Assemblies of God in Indiana.  It was May,1946, the month I was born, and the old Central District was split into two separate organizations, one for Ohio and one for Indiana.  Dad was the youth director and then missions director for the old district so most of the pastors in the state knew him.  He was elected Superintendent on the first ballot at the District Council in Bloomington, Indiana.  He had just turned thirty years old the day before.

Roy Wead served as District Superintendent for 13 years and saw the Indiana District grow to prominence.  According to a story in the Pentecostal Evangel, the District became the fastest growing in the nation, opening a new church, every month, for 13 straight years. (March 15, 1959, Pentecostal Evangel, Triple in Twelve Years, p. 14.)

Throughout the 1950’s three of the top ten A/G churches in the country were from Indiana, South Bend Calvary Temple, Evansville Calvary Tabernacle and Fort Wayne Assembly.  When Pastor Ted Vibbert sparked growth for Abundant Life Tabernacle in Indianapolis there was one astonishing two year period when four of the top ten A/G churches in the nation were in Indiana. (Counselor.)

Dad had to find a campgrounds, which they did on Lake Placid, near Hartford City, Indiana.  And he had to raise the money to buy it and build a dining hall, dorms, cabins, a tabernacle and a baseball diamond.  Paul Davidson, a retired missionary from the Philippines took on the task of maintaining the place and every summer the Wead kids and the Davidson kids would roam the campgrounds.

The first headquarters for the Indiana District was an office in Terre Haute.  In 1952, dad moved the headquarters to the more centrally located Indianapolis.  Out in the suburbs, on 56th street, across from a cornfield, he built the first two parsonages for the Superintendent and the Secretary Treasure.  We moved into one of the limestone houses, Rev. Dale Zink and his family moved into the other. The son, Paul Zink, is now pastor of New Life Church in Jacksonville, Fl. He was my childhood playmate.

Today, although arguably in decline, the Assemblies of God, is one of the nation’s larger Protestant denominations but it was a different animal in those days, more of a dynamic fellowship and less an official organization.  Almost all of the pastors had come out of mainstream denominations, many were Methodist.  They had been persecuted for their Pentecostal beliefs and practices.  Some had been pastors who found their churches padlocked by superiors while they were thrown out on the street without salary or housing.  A “fellowship” was about all they could take.  There was a clear anti-denominational streak and anti-education streak as well.  The universities were the fountainhead of all of the new “modernist” doctrines that were undermining the faith.

Somehow, Roy Wead, had to organize a District out of chaos.  There were hundreds of independent Pentecostal churches with pastors twice his age.  Dad took his cue from them.  Thomas “Pop” Paino, Glenn Horst, William “Fletcher” Duncan, Roscoe Russell and young men like Gordon Matheny, William Van Winkle, Cecil Enochs, Vern Stoops, Bill Thornton, Wilson Shabaz and Lester Sumrall.  For years, Leroy Sanders was the Assistant Superintendent, followed by Paul Paino and then Paul Evans.  All of them would have distinguished careers as pastors and leaders in the greater evangelical world.

There were reasons for unity.  Without an official denomination their numbers would not be recognized by the federal government and there would be no army chaplains to help their young men in arms.  They experienced power when they were together and inspiration from their exchange of ideas.  So dad tread very carefully and respectfully and eventually succeeded because he genuinely agreed with the idea that decentralized power would bring more success and growth.  He was an anti-denominationalist, building a denomination.   Participating Churches could be official members or just “in fellowship” with the right to withdraw.  It worked and Indiana became a mecca for young A/G graduates.  It was growing and it was open to new ideas.

There were sometimes conflicts.  Some national denominational leaders saw Indiana as a rogue district that was too tolerant.  Healing evangelists that were banned elsewhere were welcome in Indiana.  But so too were neo-Pentecostal intellectuals.  Ward Williams, who married my aunt, became the first A/G ordained minister to earn a doctorate, as well as her first military chaplain.  He was a favorite camp teacher.  J. Robert Ashcroft, president of Evangel College and father of Attorney General John Ashcroft, was invited almost every year.

This “openness” characterized the spirit of the A/G at that time, at least in Indiana.  Dad didn’t like the idea of kicking someone out of the “fellowship” over a doctrinal or policy dispute.  He said, “If you keep kicking everybody out, you will eventually be kicking them in and YOU will be out.”  When the A/G, threatened by the new Oral Roberts University, decided to pull the papers from any minister or teacher involved, dad defended them.  He hosted Oral Roberts events in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend.

In 1959 he resigned and became pastor of South Bend, Calvary Temple.  For many years it was the largest church in the A/G and the first to have its own daily television program. All of the Christian musicians and evangelists came through, anxious to get some television experience and videotapes of themselves.

The great Catholic Pentecostal movement saw some of its beginnings in our church when a layman, Ray Bullard, hosted a prayer meeting for Kevin Ranaghan and others from Notre Dame.  When a group of the Catholic students wanted to take the movement to Ann Arbor and Michigan University, our church provided the start up money to make it happen.  Dad was called a traitor.  When Ranaghan journeyed to Springfield, Missouri to meet with the General Superintendent of the A/G he was turned away.

Roy Wead, suffering from heart disease, and in retirement, returned to his roots in North Dakota, planning to finish out his days as president of a small college.  But when the the North Dakota State University closed its campus in Ellendale and offered the multimillion facility to the organization who could come up with the best plan, dad awakened.  His plan won the day and Trinity was awarded the Ellendale University campus for a dollar bill.

The denomination must have had a love-hate relationship with my dad.  In spite of his independence and resistance to centralization and a domineering, controlling leadership, or maybe because of it, they voted him in bi-annually as an Executive Presbyter were he served for a generation on their governing board.  So I was a bit surprised when I attended the A/G General Council in Indianapolis in 2007 and the program featured a “history of the Indiana District of the Assemblies of God.”  My dad was not mentioned.

“If you do good things,” he often said, “people will challenge your motives.  If you do great things, they will challenge your methods.  But don’t let that stop you from doing good things or great things.”


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