Century Marks

Century Marks

New normal?

With declines in church attendance and giving at lows not seen since the Depression, Protestant congregations are increasingly unable to afford a full-time pastor. More pastors are being forced into bivocational ministry, earning at least part of their income from work outside the church. This pattern has been common among small, rural churches. Many of these pastors are not seminary graduates and therefore don’t have the large student debt that many seminary graduates accrue (Atlantic, July 22).

Mistaken identity

Christian tradition has long painted a negative portrait of Ishmael, the son born to Abraham and Hagar when Abraham’s wife Sarah could not conceive. Ishmael is seen as a wild man whose descendants would live at odds with the children of Abraham. But those views are prejudices based on dubious exegesis, according to Christopher Heard. It is especially problematic when Ishmael’s descendants are identified with Arabs or Muslims and used as an explanation for tension in the Middle East. There is little historical proof that Arabs descend from Ishmael. Besides, Ishmael was also blessed by God with the promise of a great nation (Gen. 21:1), just as Abraham’s other descendants were (Interpretation, July).

Sympathetic unbeliever

Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).


Dawn Gikandi, 31, is a rarity in Kenya—a female pastor, a theologian, a social media devotee, and a disabled person in a country that often stigmatizes people who are physically impaired. In April, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa ordained Gikandi and sent her to her first post, Bahati Martyrs’ Church in Nairobi, where she and another pastor care for more than 4,000 congregants. Since then, the news of her ordination has spread and become an inspiration to Kenya’s disabled community (RNS).


In June a mob of hundreds of people brutally attacked a group of Vietnamese Mennonites, including Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and 20 church leaders and Bible college students, who had gathered for a religious retreat. More than 300 plainclothes police and security forces stormed the host church at night under the pretext of conducting an “administrative search.” The pastor, known for defending the rights of Vietnamese minorities, suffered injuries to his head and chest and was left with broken teeth. For years, Vietnamese authorities have been accused of suppressing Protestants and other religious groups. These churches are prohibited from reaching out to children and evangelizing openly (Ecumenical News).