Friday, August 16, 2013

African American Baptists headed to Charlotte

A year after all those Democrats came to town, Charlotte is hosting another big convention.

More than 25,000 members of the National Baptist Convention USA will gather Sept. 2-6 at the Charlotte Convention Center for their 133rd annual session. It’s the country’s largest predominantly African-American religious denomination, with 7.5 million members. Based in Nashville and born in the 1880s, it’s also the oldest black Baptist organization in the U.S.

Participants will attend worship services, youth concerts, a golf outing, a presidential education banquet and much more. State Baptist groups will sponsor 32 breakfasts and lunches at 12 Charlotte hotels.

“There will also be great preaching and great singing throughout the day every day,” said the Rev. Marty Tipton, the convention’s media spokesman.

Presiding over the event will be the Rev. Julius Scruggs, convention president since 2009 and pastor at First Missionary Baptist in Huntsville, Ala.

The host church is Friendship Missionary Baptist, 3400 Beatties Ford Road, led by the Rev. Clifford Jones Sr.

Jesus series at MP Baptist

Myers Park Baptist continues its “Jesus the Christ in the 21st Century” series Oct. 11-13 with the Rev. Brian McLaren.

 He’s a nationally renowned leader of the “emerging church,” a mostly evangelical movement. It emphasizes youth and small communities, is frustrated with traditional church structures and wants to make Christianity relevant in a changing 21st century world.

McLaren will speak all three days at the church, 1900 Queens Road, including giving the Sunday sermon. His topic that morning: “What Difference Does the Christian Message Make?” Hint: His answer will be found in the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostle, 16:11-40.

Past speakers in the church’s sometimes provocative, always compelling series have included “The Gnostic Gospels” author Elaine Pagels and retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, a Charlotte native.

Apologetics conference set

Os Guinness, best-selling author of “The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life,” will be among the long list of speakers at the 20th annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics.

Hosted by Southern Evangelical Seminary, it will be Oct. 11-12 at First Baptist Church, 732 Indian Trail-Faiview Rd. in Indian Trail, N.C.

“Apologetics” is a conservative branch of Christianity devoted to the intellectual defense of the faith.

 Conference speakers have included prison minister Charles Colson and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson.

Registration and details here

Friday, August 9, 2013

Explore 'Jerusalem,' see neighbors' faith

Starting next month, you can learn more about Jews, Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem and CLT.

 Discovery Place will begin showing “Jerusalem” – filmed in IMAX – on Sept. 21. Based on the preview at the movie's Web site, it’s a visually stunning exploration of the Holy Land, with the accent on Jerusalem.

The National Geographic film, narrated by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (the contemporary Sherlock Holmes on PBS), will also highlight intersections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

That brings us to what else Discovery Place is doing: Starting Sept. 14, the uptown museum will bring “Families of Abraham” back to Charlotte.

This widely praised photo exhibit spotlights 11 local families – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – during a single year as they celebrate holy days and go about rituals of daily life.

Eleanor Brawley, a Charlotte photographer and TV documentary producer, conceived and directed the exhibit, which debuted in late 2006 at Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South.

Brawley and seven other photographers shot everything from an Indian-American/Muslim wedding to a Passover Seder to a Christmas Mass at Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe). The exhibit, which will fascinate and move you, has traveled to nine other venues – including Duke Chapel in Durham.

There’s also a new hardback book with most of the exhibit’s 204 black-and-white images. “Families of Abraham: A Remarkable Story about the Religious Diversity of the South” is at Park Road Books and the Levine Museum of the New South.

“Families of Abraham” will be at Discovery Place through Jan. 12; “Jerusalem” will be shown through March 30.

Hear ‘Walking the Bible’ author

Keeping with the Jewish-Christian-Muslim theme: Bruce Feiler, whose “Walking the Bible” (the book and documentary) traced the 10,000-mile trek described in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, will speak in Charlotte on Sept. 29.

His topic: “Are we in a Holy War? A way forward for Jews, Christians and Muslims today.”

He’ll speak at 5p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 200 W. Trade St. The evening will include dinner and a panel featuring Feiler and three Charlotte faith leaders: the Rev. Pen Perry of First Presbyterian, Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El and Iman John Yahya Ederer of the Muslim Society of Charlotte.

Cost is $10. Details: Go to the church's Web site or email

Monday, August 5, 2013

Duke theologian: Don't fly U.S. flags in church

Stanley Hauerwas has been called the only pacifist you'd want on your side in a bar fight. That's how provocative this N.C.-based Christian theologian can be.

In a new 5-question interview with faith & culture writer Jonathan Merritt, Hauerwas -- a professor at both Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School -- talks in unequivocal terms about the Iraq War, C.S. Lewis, World War II and the difference between patriotism and Christianity.

Hauerwas' Christianity is uncompromising. He's criticized both liberals (for their support of abortion, among other things) and conservatives (for their support of wars, among other things).

Mostly, his chief concern in this short interview is that too many Americans cannot distinguish the church from America. So much so, he says, that they are flirting with the sin of idolatry.

"The deep problem is the Christian identification with America," he says. "It's an understandable confusion given our country's history. But that doesn't make it any less perverted."

He's scandalized by all the American flags waving in and around churches: "I've long said that flags being used in churches on the 4th of July is a form of betrayal. It is so because the flag represents for many a more determinative sacrifice than the sacrifice of Christ."

Here is the full interview and a 4-minute black and white video in which the bearded Hauerwas speaks, punctuated by his signature laugh, about "The System vs. the Kingdom."

-- Tim Funk

Friday, August 2, 2013

A bet that answered a prayer

It all began eight years ago, with a bet between two drum majors at South Mecklenburg High School.

Both would seek out a person they thought least likely to show up in church, then invite him or her to attend the next Sunday. The winner would be the one whose invitee accepted – and then kept going to church.

Anna Hanlin, one of the drum majors, had her eye on Brittany, a freshman in the school’s color guard. “She came from a very broken home,” Anna recalls, “and I felt like she needed a friend.”

To Anna’s surprise, Brittany immediately said yes. “It was kind of like God answered my prayers,” Brittany says of Anna’s invitation to worship with her family at Harrison United Methodist in Pineville.

 As a young child living in New Jersey with her grandmother, Brittany found solace from her family’s poverty and turmoil in a Baptist church. But at 11 she moved to Charlotte with her mother. The churchgoing stopped. The turmoil continued, she and her mother kept their distance, and Brittany felt that God had forgotten her.

Then came Anna’s invitation.

Left to right: Brittany, Maria Hanlin, and Anna Hanlin.

Going to a predominantly white church was a different experience for Brittany. But she enjoyed the Hanlins and their church. And she could feel God’s presence again.

Brittany “started coming to church with us,” Anna says, “then spending the weekends with us, then spending weeks with us. And then, before we knew it, she was family.”

The Hanlins were hesitant at first, not wanting to usurp Brittany’s mother. But she never called looking for her daughter, and it was clear Brittany had a new home.

In 2010, Brittany, then 20, changed her last name to Hanlin. “Sissy” is what she now calls Anna. “Mom” is the Rev. Maria Hanlin, former head of Mecklenburg Ministries.

 Over the past year, as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Chicago, Brittany worked with at-risk girls that reminded her of herself. That experience, followed by a lot of prayer, convinced her that God had a plan for her.

Next week, she’ll start divinity school at Vanderbilt University.

But first, this Sunday morning, Brittany Hanlin will don her adopted mother’s black robe and deliver her first-ever sermon at Charlotte’s Park Road Baptist Church.

Looking on from a front pew, beaming, will be the other Hanlins – including Anna, who clearly won that bet.

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kenyan lawyer wants Jesus' conviction overturned

A Kenyan lawyer wants to go to court to redress an injustice done 2,000 years ago to a Jewish preacher and healer called Jesus of Nazareth.

Dola Indidis, who's Roman Catholic, is petitioning the International Court of Justice in The Hague to overturn and nullify the conviction of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, then the Roman governor of Judea.

As told in the New Testament, that conviction led to Jesus' crucifixion and, in time, to the founding of Christianity -- now the world's largest religion.

According to a report by Religion News Service, Indidis wants to keep the faith that flowed from Jesus' execution. But he accuses the long-dead Pilate of "judicial misconduct, abuse of office, bias and prejudice. . . .The selective and malicious prosecution (of Jesus) violated his human rights."

Indidis first brought the case before Kenya's highest court in Nairobi in 2007. That court, RNS reported, refused to hear it, saying it lacked jurisdiction.

He faces equally long odds as he pursues a hearing before the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court. The court is best known for ruling on territorial disputes between countries.

But the Roman Empire, which sent Pilate to rule over what is now a part of Israel, no longer exists.

RNS called Indidis' quest "quixotic," but he is forging ahead.

He has pointed to the example of Joan of Arc, the 15th century French saint who was burned at the stake after leading her country's soldiers to victories against the English. Her conviction was later overturned by a Vatican court, and she was canonized in 1920.

-- Tim Funk