A Poet for ‘Bruised Evangelicals’

Malcolm Guite has found himself a sort of tribal elder for younger generations of Christians.

On a cool, drizzly summer day in Vancouver, a few Regent College students trailed after their visiting lecturer into a standard American-fare restaurant. But their 65-year-old professor’s tweed jacket, his shoulder-length white hair and full beard, the tap of his black cane, and the sweet, lingering scent of his pipe tobacco seemed to transport them to a smoky British pub where they were slowly imbibing Guinness and dialoguing about theology and literature.

Malcolm Guite tends to create such worlds. Much like the sonnets he writes, he lives wholly in this world yet transports those around him to an ethereal one.

“The teacher in me, the poet in me, the priest in me who’s administering the liturgy, the pastoral counselor in me, it all turns around words,” Guite told me. His calling, he feels, is “to kindle my own and other people’s imagination for Christ.”

Guite is an anomaly that somehow makes sense: He’s an Anglican priest, poet, academic, and singer-songwriter. He enjoys smoking a pipe and rides his Royal Enfield café racer through the English countryside. He meanders on lengthy daily prayer walks and sings and plays guitar in a blues band called Mystery Train.

His sonnets and theological writings seem to have a particular appeal to evangelicals. Guite headlined Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Christmas tour at Carnegie Hall in December. He also presented at the Gettys’ global Sing! conference in Nashville last fall and has been promoted by Andrew Peterson’s Rabbit Room collective since 2013. He’s currently collaborating on an album with CCM artist Phil Keaggy.

Guite has written seven collections of poetry, many of which accompany the church calendar, such ...

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Let My People Come and Go, Karabakh Christians Tell Azerbaijan

As blockade begets an emerging humanitarian crisis, Artsakh’s Armenians receive groundswell of support.

Armenian Christians have been calling for help. As their ethnic kin in the Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh approach two full months under a near-complete blockade imposed by alleged eco-activists from Azerbaijan, the voices have amplified.

“Everyone knows this is the Aliyev regime,” stated Biayna Sukhudyan, a pediatric neurologist trapped inside the Delaware-sized mountainous region, which Armenians call Artsakh. “There is no time to wait and allow the next genocide, because this is genocide.”

The doctor referred to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, and several investigations have linked the protesters to his government. When the blockade began on December 12, official statements attributed the long-haul demonstration to illegal gold and copper mining on their still-occupied but internationally recognized sovereign territory.

In 2020, Azerbaijan launched a 44-day war to retake a region under three decades of de facto control by ethnic Armenians. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Artsakh declared itself an independent state, and with Armenian military assistance was able to hold Nagorno-Karabakh and additional Azeri territories—pending peace negotiations.

A vastly improved Azerbaijani force, aided by drone technology from Turkey, recaptured three-quarters of the land through bloody combat. Russia mediated a ceasefire, and its peacekeepers guard the Lachin corridor—the one road connecting over 100,000 beleaguered Artsakh residents with Armenia and delivering the 400 tons of daily food and medicine that supply their needs.

Since the end of the war, Sukhudyan has traveled every two months to Nagorno-Karabakh, which lacked specialist doctors. This time, amid acute shortages in ...

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Supernatural Signs Alone Cannot Save

As “The Chosen” reminds us, Jesus performed many miracles—and yet still some failed to believe.

With the third season of The Chosen now airing, many Christians are once again enthralled by the topic of miracles.

In one scene from episode 6, Jesus begins performing miracles in a public square—healing the blind, the mute, and the lame. He is quickly confronted by an angry Pharisee who seems to see his works as malicious tricks rather than divine interventions. This same religious leader almost prevented Jesus from raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead; and despite witnessing the undeniable, he persists in his hatred of Jesus and all Jesus stands for.

My wife, son, and I have been watching the show together, and it’s extraordinary to think about Jesus and his apostles performing signs and wonders for all the world to see. What must it have been like to witness Jesus perform a miracle firsthand? What must it have felt like for the apostles themselves to be granted the same supernatural authority?

What’s even more astonishing is that such wonders did not bring universal adoration. Romans and Pharisees alike watched Christ heal people by the dozens—and instead of believing him to be the Son of God, they chased him from town to town, criticized him, and ultimately crucified him.

Would it be any different today?

Much of American society believes in miracles, theoretically. According to the most recent Gallup surveys, 81 percent of American adults believe in God (though down from 87 percent a few years ago), and of those, 42 percent (including most Christians) believe God hears prayer and intervenes.

Author Lee Strobel (who wrote a seminal book on the topic) found in his surveys that roughly half of American adults believe the miracles of the Bible happened as described and ...

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In Kenya, Sign Language Choir Helps Churches Embrace Deaf Culture

Over three decades, the Zion Praise Team has put its faith on display and challenged misconceptions around people with disabilities.

On a recent afternoon on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Church, young men and women danced in a semicircle, swinging to the beat of drums. The group’s leader gestured intently as she marched, signing to the dancers, all silent but for a few muted sounds as they rehearsed the hymn “Oh How He Loves Me.”

The group belongs to St. Andrew’s deaf choir, known as the Zion Praise Team. The choir masters hymns and worship songs in American Sign Language, thrilling congregations at worship services in the Presbyterian church and other Christian churches around this East African country.

“The group knows its strength is in the music,” said Judy Kihumba, 32, a hearing disability ministry coordinator at the church. “When practicing on this ground, they find more space to move freely.”

The deaf singers are freed spiritually as well. “When they sing, it’s a soul-edifying activity, its therapy for them and it’s also a way of worship. They feel closer to God through this,” said Kihumba.

Kihumba, who was named to the BBC’s list of 100 top inspiring and influential women in the world last year, is the founder of Talking Hands, Listening Eyes on Postpartum Depression, an organization that helps deaf women navigate motherhood, advocating for their maternal and mental health.

Participation in the choir is also an avenue of religious education for its members. Being deaf, Kihumba explained, “means they don’t interact and understand the Bible at a young age because their family members don’t know sign language.”

It’s also liberating simply having the stage to themselves. “The deaf love singing since it’s the only way they don’t ...

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Wang Yi: The Faithfully Disobedient Chinese Pastor

A new book records the reflections on church and state in China by the imprisoned pastor and other house church leaders.

When I first met Wang Yi, he ushered me into a conference room overlooking a landscape of old and slightly run-down office buildings in central Chengdu, western China’s most important metropolis. It was 2011, and his church was then called Early Rain Reformed Church, later taking the name Early Rain Covenant Church. Like many churches that weren’t registered with the government, it was housed in an office building. This one was fairly old, with one functioning elevator that groaned its way up to the 19th floor. I had taken one look and walked up.

I explained that I was working on a book about the revival of religion in China. I had been to many rural churches in traditional Christian heartlands of China, such as the province of Henan, but felt that big, urban churches like his were becoming more important. Would he let me sit in on his services and talk to congregants?

Pastor Wang immediately agreed on two conditions: First, no photography in the church; and, second, if I wanted to quote anyone, I was welcome to do so but needed their permission. His reasoning was simple: Early Rain had nothing to hide. It was a public institution. All were welcome, and no one should be restricted in what they wrote. So if I wanted to visit his church that was my right. And if I wanted to write something, that was also my right as a free person. His restrictions were simply means to respect the privacy of those who attended, and to keep the service dignified.

At that point I had worked in China off and on since the mid-1980s. I knew that for me to visit his church regularly carried inherent risks. I asked him about the building security guards downstairs and whether they would report to the authorities that a foreigner was regularly ...

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Seeing Color Matters in Black History

This month, white Christians can love their Black siblings in the church by seeing their struggles in context.

When I was a college student, Black History Month came around and my church took the time to celebrate. People dressed in African garb, sermons addressed the struggles Black people everywhere faced, and the congregation took action steps to help marginalized people.

But my Bible college at the time did nothing. There were no school-sponsored events or presentations on this topic, and professors avoided the topic altogether. I sat in class, shifting uneasily between anger and sadness. I could not understand how a topic so important in one culture could be so completely ignored and buried in another.

Confused, I asked one of my white friends to explain why nobody acknowledged Black History Month. His response was like that of his colleagues. “I don’t see color,” he replied, delivering this line as if it were a mic-drop moment.

To him, it was a no-brainer. But what my friend failed to realize is that when Black and brown people hear the words “I don’t see color,” what we really hear is that our color—which makes us who we are—can be easily dismissed. It tells us that the way God created us is somehow invalid and that only without color are we worthy to be recognized and valued.

Every single time a white brother or sister says this to me, it makes me feel the weight of my ancestors’ mistreatment and suffering. Imagine telling people who wake up Black every single day that they live in a society that doesn’t see color—when every experience they have suggests otherwise!

And herein lies the problem. Because many white Christians have not witnessed racial injustice firsthand, they feel no need to discuss the topic.

The dialogue tends to go something ...

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The Struggles of Men Are a Problem for Everyone

From school and work to fatherhood and friendship, we need a vision of manhood that both sexes can celebrate.

Years ago, a friend told me about an awkward conversation with a female coworker. In between meetings, he had mentioned a Wall Street Journal article about declining college enrollment for men across America, a trend so advanced that men now trail women by record levels and colleges are ramping up their efforts to recruit men. Expecting a sympathetic response, he was caught off guard when she declared, in a nonplussed tone, “And now whose fault is that?”

At this point, he remembered that his coworker was a strong advocate for women’s rights. He guessed her harsh response was pinned to a belief that sympathy for men would detract from women’s longstanding struggle for gender equity. Yet he didn’t want to picture these causes as locked in a zero-sum contest. As he put the question to me one afternoon, “Can’t we care both about women’s rights and vulnerable men and boys at the same time?”

It’s a good question.

Richard Reeves’s groundbreaking book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It makes a convincing case that men across the modern world are indeed struggling and need our attention.

Losing ground

Reeves, a Brookings Institution scholar, marshals an array of eye-opening statistics to make his point. For instance, did you know that girls regularly outperform boys in education? Girls are 14 percentage points more likely than boys to be “school ready” at age five, and by high school, girls now account for two-thirds of students ranked in the top 10 percent, according to GPA. The gender gap widens even further in higher education: In the US, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women, ...

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Sometimes, God’s Provision Is Prozac

My battle with postpartum anxiety challenged the limits I’d placed on how God can heal us.

Pregnancy and postpartum hormones make the world go round—they can create lives and sustain them, but they can also make mothers feel like monsters.

Hormones are the guardians of our sanity, and mine went barreling down the black diamond trail after I had both of my daughters. The challenge of raising a newborn is substantial for those who have normal levels of estrogen and progesterone, but it can be far worse when those hormones are out of balance.

My two girls, Elaine and Olivia, are the apples of my eye, but giving birth to them did a number on me. Within 24 hours of each delivery, I became wracked with anxiety and started losing touch with reality. Icy panic shot through my veins on an hourly basis. I felt exiled from a world of banal, peaceful rhythms.

I can’t remember ever once standing over my newborns’ crib to dote while they slept. I was completely preoccupied with my own sleep, or lack thereof. I rolled in the sheets, listening to my husband’s heavy breathing with envy. I felt completely isolated, abandoned. I tried to sleep everywhere, anywhere. Under my desk. On the floor. Far away from the crib. In my tiny sedan outside.

I eked out a few hours here and there, but each night as the sun set, my anxiety would skyrocket as that “what-if” monster straddled my brain: What if I can’t sleep and I fall apart and lash out at my loved ones and fail to care for my newborn and I disappoint everyone? I wondered, hourly, if I would ever see my girls laugh, toss their hair, and run together in the grass.

The first time around, I didn’t understand what was happening to me—I had heard of postpartum depression, but not anxiety. I had a smooth pregnancy and a natural birth resulting ...

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Two Congregations Force LGBT Debate on Evangelical Covenant Church

Can human sexuality be a nonessential issue for a denomination that seeks to “stand in the center”?

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) does not ask its pastors to subscribe to extensive statements of faith. The denomination wants church leaders to unify around six essential doctrines concerning salvation, the Bible, the significance and mission of the church, the role of the Holy Spirit, and freedom in Christ.

And since 2015, it has also asked ECC ministers to refrain from participating in same-sex weddings.

That last detail has become a sticking point for some ECC pastors who have changed their position on whether or not faithful Christians can be in same-sex relationships—and whether or not that should be a litmus test for fellowship.

“We agree on 99.9 percent of things,” said Micah Witham, an LGBT-affirming pastor at Awaken Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. “This one matter … I would contend is a nonessential.”

This summer the denomination’s pastors will vote on whether or not to expel Awaken and Quest Church, in Seattle, for their positions on LGBT issues. The Covenant Executive Board voted in October 2022 to remove both from the roster of ECC churches after pastors from the Washington State and Minnesota congregations participated in same-sex weddings.

This isn’t a new fight for the ECC. In 2018, the denomination suspended a North Park University chaplain who officiated a wedding for two men. The following year, First Covenant Church, a prominent and historic Minneapolis congregation, was expelled after church leaders said they would affirm LGBT members, host same-sex weddings, and ordain married gay people.

Some hoped the decisive action would settle the issue. But Dan Collison, pastor of First Covenant, said at the time he didn’t think the conversation was over.

“Ultimately, ...

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Pro-Life Protestor Acquitted in Federal Case

The case of Mark Houck was one of more than two dozen the DOJ has pursued against pro-life protestors since “Dobbs.”

Update (January 30, 2023): On Monday, a jury acquitted pro-life protestor Mark Houck of federal charges related to pushing an abortion clinic escort.

Houck’s federal case, where he faced up to 11 years in prison, was one of more than two dozen filed against pro-life protestors in the months after the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.

The charges fell under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, which makes it a crime to impede access to clinics. In Houck’s federal trial in Pennsylvania last week, the judge had asked whether the FACE Act was “stretched a little thin here,” according to Catholic News Agency.

A Catholic, Houck had been volunteering alongside his 12-year-old son in 2021 with 40 Days for Life, a Christian group that organizes prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, when he got into an altercation with a 72-year-old clinic escort. Forty Days for Life said the clinic escort began to “verbally abuse” Houck’s son, and the indictment said Houck pushed the escort. The escort testified in the trial that he skinned his elbow and bruised his palm, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The case drew particular attention–including a night of prayer before the trial began last week–because of its handling by federal officials. After local prosecutors declined to file charges, federal prosecutors took the unusual approach of treating Houck as a flight risk and arrested him with a team of FBI agents a year after the clinic incident.

In a statement following the verdict, Houck’s attorney Peter Breen called the case “harassment from day one.”

Some pro-lifers have complained that the DOJ has not pursued cases against ...

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Report: Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Hid ‘Mystical-Sexual’ Sect for Decades

An independent commission concluded that dozens of women were violated by Vanier and his mentor under exploitative spiritual disciplines.

Two years after abuse allegations against L’Arche’s late founder Jean Vanier were made public, an investigation shows the secret was “carefully maintained for decades.”

From the famous Christian community he developed in Trosly-Breuil, France, the Catholic theologian and leader perpetuated a hidden “mystical-sexual” sect. Over a nearly 70-year period, Vanier violated at least 25 women—all of them adults without disabilities—during prayer and spiritual devotion.

The results of the two-year investigation, commissioned by L’Arche in 2020, were released in an 868-page report on Monday. A half dozen of Vanier’s victims spoke up for the first time following his death in 2019 at age 90.

An interdisciplinary team of scholars consulted 1,400 private letters of Vanier’s, including hundreds from a secret folder. They interviewed 89 people, including eight of Vanier’s victims.

L’Arche became well-known and spread around the world as an organization bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities. While the ministry brought dignity and fellowship to the vulnerable over the decades, the report suggests that Vanier founded L’Arche as a cover to reunite a group who practiced contemplation and spiritual direction with nudity and sexual touch.

“The courage of the women and Vanier’s death in 2019 led to archival research that revealed … that Vanier was part of a small sectarian group that subscribed to … predatory and deviant doctrine and practices,” wrote Tina Bovermann, executive director of L’Arche USA. “L’Arche’s members, partners and friends were lied to and deceived by Vanier.” ...

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