When the East German government collapsed, the evangelical minister welcomed Erich Honecker into his home for 10 weeks.
For Uwe Holmer, the question wasn’t simple. But it was clear.
Did he believe what Jesus said?
The East German dictator Erich Honecker was asking for his help. Honecker had long been an enemy of the church, a powerful ideological opponent of Christianity who had worked to suppress and control people of faith in the German Democratic Republic, and he had personally harried and harassed Holmer’s own family for years.
But now the Communist leader had been pushed from power, driven from his home, turned out of a hospital onto the street—and he was asking the Lutheran church to take him in.
Holmer had to decide what he believed.
He knew what the answer was.
“Jesus says to love your enemies,” he explained to his neighbors at the time. “When we pray, Vergib uns unsere Schuld, wie wir vergeben unseren Schuldigern”—forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us—“we must take these commands seriously.”
The evangelical minister accepted the deposed dictator into his home in January 1990 and cared for him and his wife Margot for two and a half months. The action shocked Germans, East and West, as the 40-year division of the country suddenly collapsed. As the Cold War came to a surprising end, the German people didn’t know what was going to happen next or how they should treat those on the other side, now that the political and military barriers were gone.
The until-then unknown pastor offered one bold answer: forgiveness and hospitality. Hate, Holmer said, is “not a good starting point for a new beginning among our people.”
“Uwe Holmer was ...
New position on ordination and titles pushed some “beyond where their convictions would allow them to go.”
Eight congregations have broken away from the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) over the denomination’s decision to ordain women and allow them to carry the title of “pastor.”
The change was approved by a majority of delegates at the Alliance’s general council in June, after several years of discussion. According to an internal study, it is supported by more than 60 percent of the denomination of about 414,000 people.
Women in the Alliance could previously be “consecrated” to ministry and serve as “Consecrated Women of God,” even preaching and teaching in Sunday services, at the discretion of local churches. The Alliance has a history of encouraging women to preach and sending them to plant churches while still placing restrictions on their “ecclesial authority.” The updated polity maintains this distinction and does not allow women to serve as elders or senior pastors in CMA churches. The consecration process will now result in ordination.
“We take a rather unique centrist position in our polity on this issue,” CMA vice president Terry Smith told CT. “For some, this stretched beyond where their convictions would allow them to go.”
The elders at Alliance Bible Fellowship in Boone, North Carolina, voted unanimously to separate in July.
“This decision was not easy. In fact, it grieves us,” senior pastor Scott Andrews said. “Our hearts are grieved to see the direction that we believe the CMA is taking that we just cannot follow.”
Andrews called the change “a significant step toward egalitarianism, which eliminates any gender distinction in the roles of men and women in the church.”
The church is one of the ...
The Christian family says their status has been revoked without warning.
A Christian family who fled Germany to be able to homeschool their seven children say they now face deportation, 15 years after arriving in the United States and fighting for asylum.
The Romeikes celebrated what their supporters called “an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God” in 2014, when they were allowed to remain in the US after years of court appeals. Their lawyer said the decision meant the family could “stay without worries in the future.”
Yet earlier this month, Tennessee residents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike said they learned their deferred action status had been revoked during a check-in with immigration officials. They said their family was directed to obtain German passports and to prepare to self-deport by October 11, with no prior warning or explanation for the change.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an evangelical group that backed the Romeikes when they came to the US, has launched a campaign asking the government to reinstate their deferred action status.
Their four oldest children are now adults, and two have married Americans. The Romeikes continue to homeschool their three youngest, including two daughters born in the US.
“Deportation to Germany will fracture these families, while exposing the Romeikes to renewed persecution in Germany, where homeschooling is still illegal in almost every case,” said HSLDA.
In Bissingen, located outside of Stuttgart, Germany, the Romeikes decided to educate their children at home because they opposed public school curricula (including “sex education, evolution, and fairy tales”) on religious grounds.
Homeschooling is not legal in the country, though enforcement on the ban can vary by ...
Azerbaijani offensive shatters 33-year effort at nation-building, depopulating majority of enclave from fear of genocide. Despite depression, Bible Society leader says, “God will not abandon us.”
Suddenly, more than 80 percent of people in Nagorno-Karabakh have fled.
Last week the unrecognized Armenian republic, called “Artsakh” by its 120,000 residents, suffered an invasion by Azerbaijan, which is recognized internationally as sovereign over the enclave nestled in the Caucasus Mountains.
At least 32 people were killed in the assault that violated a Russian-backed ceasefire, with at least 68 more killed six days later in a suspicious fuel depot explosion.
But more than the death count, fear of genocide is driving people to flee—more than 100,000 as of Saturday evening, according to Armenian officials and the UN [updated Sept. 29]. Though the enclave is home to around 400 holy sites now at risk of erasure, one official stated that 99.9 percent of Artsakh’s Armenians will cross the border to Armenia, the world’s first Christian nation.
The same crossing had been blocked by Azerbaijan since December 2022.
Near-starvation conditions ensued, with humanitarian aid allowed entry one day prior to the Azerbaijani offensive. The Artsakh government issued a decree to dissolve itself as of January 1, ceding control of a territory it declared independent after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Armenians controlled Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994, after a three-year war resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people, displacing an additional 100,000 in mutual exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Peace talks faltered since then, as they continued to fail after 2020, when a 44-day war resulted in Azerbaijan reclaiming much of the enclave. A further 7,000 were killed before the Russian ceasefire.
Azerbaijan has promised that Armenians in the territory will be integrated as full citizens with equal rights, joining ...
From Istanbul to Marrakesh, disaster relief can help Muslim-background believers legitimize their faith. But first, say Turks, the church must be united.
Help for Morocco is coming from Turkey. While humble in scope, the biggest impact may be on the church.
First Hope Association (FHA), a Turkish Christian disaster relief agency that provided aid after the massive earthquake that struck southeast Turkey in February, was granted permission to assist in Morocco after its own devastating quake. A four-person team arrived in Marrakesh last week.
Consistent with its Turkish policy, FHA serves all victims without discrimination, in cooperation with the local church. Connecting with a house church network in southern Morocco, the Turkish believers have distributed $30,000 worth of clothes, blankets, and hygiene kits in four mountain villages not yet reached by other aid.
“Our country has gone through the same hardships and difficulties, so we came to help and support,” said Demokan Kileci, FHA board chairman. “This is an amazing opportunity for God’s church here to show his compassion and love.”
In many ways, the parallels are striking.
Morocco and Turkey are both Muslim-majority nations, and they both have small Protestant communities that largely emerged from an Islamic background. The churches in both nations suffered in their respective earthquakes but also rallied support to aid in overall relief. And while enduring varying degrees of ostracism, the believers’ solidarity with fellow citizens has begun to win each a slowly increasing level of social respect.
“Their expression of love was immediate, without any thought of self,” said Tim Ligon, pastor of Marrakesh International Protestant Church, of the local believers he has partnered with in relief. “They counted no cost but responded with everything they had.”
Still, fewer persecuted Christians have been able to flee to the US.
Fewer Christians fleeing persecution in their native countries have found a safe harbor in the United States in the past half decade, according to a new report from a pair of Christian nonprofits, which cites the effects of the pandemic and the dismantling of US refugee resettlement programs during the Trump administration.
The report, titled “Closed Doors,” found the number of Christians coming to the US from countries named on a prominent persecution watchlist dropped from 32,248 in 2016 to 9,528 in 2022—a decline of 70 percent.
The number of Christian refugees from Myanmar dropped from 7,634 in 2016 to 587 in 2022, while the number of Christian refugees from Iran dropped from 2,086 in 2016 to 112 in 2022. Christian refugees from Eritrea dropped from 1,639 in 2016 to 252 in 2022, while refugees from Iraq dropped from 1,524 to 93 during the same timeframe.
All four countries are among the 50 nations on the annual World Watch List published by Open Doors, an international Christian charity that tracks persecution. The new report was written by Open Doors and World Relief, an evangelical charity that resettles refugees.
“The tragic reality is that many areas of the world simply aren’t safe for Christians, and Christians fleeing persecution need a safe haven in the United States,” according to the report.
The decline in Christian refugees comes at a time when the persecution against Christians is on the rise, said Ryan Brown, CEO of Open Doors.
According to the Watch List released earlier this year, some 360 million Christians face what Open Doors calls “high levels of discrimination and persecution.” That’s up from 260 million reported in a 2020 edition of the “Closed ...
New research shows disagreement over COVID-19 policies drove changes in attendance, but “a lot of it is a mystery.”
After a few hard pandemic years, Paul Seay is happy to see more people coming to the two Methodist churches he pastors in Abingdon, Virginia.
Still, he can’t help but wonder, What happened to the people who never returned?
“Some had been very involved—and they’re just gone,” said Seay, who leads Charles Wesley United Methodist Church, a historically Black congregation, and Abingdon United Methodist Church, a large red brick church down the road.
At a low point, Charles Wesley had about six people in attendance. Things didn’t get quite that dire at Abingdon UMC, which had about 180 before the pandemic. But it also really struggled with the impact of COVID-19.
They weren’t alone. According to a new study on the impact of COVID-19 on the American church from ChurchSalary, a sister publication of Christianity Today, more than one in three churches saw attendance decline between 2020 and 2022. And while many, like Seay’s congregations, have seen growth since the darkest days, they still seem to be missing people.
“It was not uncommon in discussions with pastors,” the researchers found, “to hear stories of ‘a third’ or ‘half’ or ‘20%’ of a congregation not coming back once the doors reopened.”
Charles Wesley now has about 20 people on a good Sunday, and Abingdon UMC has grown to around 200. But Seay still notices the people who aren’t in the pews anymore.
“The pandemic,” he told CT, “really zapped the congregation.”
There doesn’t seem to be a single clear explanation for this. The survey of 1,164 Protestant pastors, followed by 17 focus groups and nine in-person case studies, found varied and ...
New research shows how Black churches suffered during the pandemic. But these congregations also found unity where others were torn apart.
Pastor Lorenzo Neal had the first panic attack of his life on a hot summer night during the pandemic. He imagined it was what a heart attack would feel like. His neighbors called 911.
As the pastor of New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi, he was carrying a lot of burdens through the pandemic.
He has pastored New Bethel for 14 years, and said his 130-member church lost several key members to the virus, including a mother and son who died within two weeks of each other. Neal himself contracted the virus early on and was sick for more than a month. On top of that, he was initially shouldering the entirety of virtual worship himself.
“I was doing too much,” he said. “I was already seeing a therapist for some other things, but once that came to light, we were able to explore some areas that needed to be addressed.” He asked his congregation for prayer without specifying what he was experiencing in his own mental health, which he said is common in Black faith communities. His anxiety has since calmed.
COVID-19 hit Black congregations harder physically and brought a heavier mental health burden to Black or African American pastors, according to a new study on the impact of COVID-19 on the American church from Arbor Research Group and ChurchSalary, a sister publication of Christianity Today. But the study showed Black churches also had more unity about pandemic health measures and lower closure rates.
In interviews with CT, a number of Black pastors affirmed the study’s findings. The pastors dealt with a disproportionate amount of sickness and death while carrying the additional burden of ministering in their communities after the murder of George Floyd. ...
With a record number of congregations predicted to close their doors by 2025, multiuse developments may be the future for shrinking congregations and empty buildings.
The future looked bleak for St. Peter’s United Church of Christ (UCC) in Louisville, Kentucky. The congregation had dwindled to a dozen elderly German Americans in a poor, predominantly Black neighborhood. Their building was falling apart.
Despite its façade of stained glass and majestic steeples, all the building systems were failing, including plumbing, electrical, and heating. Plaster was falling off the walls and ceiling. The city eventually closed the building due to its dangerous lead paint.
But thanks to the vision of pastor Jamesetta Ferguson and a partnership with the UCC’s Church Building and Loan Fund, the church’s property now houses a thriving multiuse development known as The Village at West Jefferson. It has injected life into the local economy—and the formerly dying church.
With funding from multiple mainline denominations, private investors, the city of Louisville, and the federal government, St. Peter’s erected a complex that includes a coffee shop, a credit union, a daycare center, health care services, and more. Hundreds use it weekly. Plus, the congregation is up to 160, with a “multi-cultural, multi-generation” membership.
“The community has really been renewed in many ways,” said Patrick Duggan, executive director of the Church Building and Loan Fund. St. Peter’s “is doing the work of serving the poor. In the meantime, it has created about 100 jobs. This is not just talking the talk. It’s actually walking the walk.”
Similar multiuse developments are popping up across North America on the properties of formerly dying churches—most of them in mainline Protestant denominations.
A Montreal Anglican church shares space ...
Believers weigh what the latest postcolonial name change discussion would mean for religious freedom and pluralism in the Hindu-majority nation.
This month’s G20 summit in New Delhi gave rise to a controversy about a possible name change for the host nation, after the Indian government denoted the country as “Bharat” instead of the usual “India” on official guest invitations.
This was a clear departure from political convention, and the ensuing debate focused on the need for a name change as well as the possible cost. The constitution of India, meanwhile, contains both names and uses them interchangeably.
While the opposition criticized the administration of prime minister Narendra Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the presumptive move, with some declaring the name change as necessary to “come out of the colonial mindset,” saying that those opposing it “are free to leave the country.”
The possible adoption of the term Bharat over India closely aligns with the inclinations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother organization of Modi’s BJP. Founders of both the RSS and BJP advocated for a stringent, Hindu-centric vision of India (which they called “Hindusthan,” land of Hindus), wherein religious minority groups, particularly Muslims and Christians, must live “wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.”
“Our country is Bharat, and we will have to stop using the word India and start using Bharat in all practical fields—only then will change happen,” stated RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on September 1.
Christianity Today spoke to Indian Christian leaders on the likelihood of the name change and their reactions. While some ...