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Beliefnet News

The headlines are alarming: “Catholic-Owned Company Wins Religious Freedom Court Decision,” “Death Toll Rises to 65 in Boko Haram Attack on Students,” “Little Sisters Catholic Charity Victimized By Obamacare,” “Christians Sought Out, Murdered in the Kenyan Mall Massacre,” “Judicial Watch Seeks Reason Why ‘So Help Me God’ Removed From U.S. Air Force Oath.”

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An Egyptian church burns

But the media seems to yawn in disinterest. Why? Are all these claims of growing discrimination against Christians just so much whining?

“Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening,” writes Kirsten Powers on the liberal internet news site the Daily Beast.

Deployed U.S. servicemen pause in prayer before a mission.

Deployed U.S. servicemen pause in prayer before a mission.

In the United States,“It is clear,” claim the editors of the arch-conservative Religious Freedom Coalition, that the Obama Administration is allowing an “all-out war to be waged against religious liberty within the U.S. armed forces.” Christians are being “threatened with the loss of their careers if they dare speak out” against policies such as the recent removal of the words “so help me God” from the official Air Force oath.

Lt. General William Boykin was forced to retire from his post as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense after a Los Angeles Times reporter recorded him testifying of his Christian faith in churches in Oklahoma and Texas. Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt was forced to resign after he refused to quit praying in the name of Jesus.

General Boykin

General Boykin

A federal judge ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to stop banning prayer and forbidding the use of the word “God” at America’s national cemeteries, according to Houston TV station KHOU. “The legal battle started in Houston when Arleen Ocashio, director of the Houston National Cemetery, told Pastor Scott Rainey that he could no longer pray “in Jesus’ name” at Memorial Day ceremonies. The Christian advocacy group Liberty Institute obtained an emergency restraining order from Judge Lynn Hughes allowing Pastor Rainey to pray. However, the legal battle continues — with American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars volunteers being ordered to drop all references to God in their graveside services.

“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center  is backpedalling after issuing an order banning family members from bringing  Bibles and other religious items to injured soldiers,” reports the British newspaper the Daily Mail.

“In a memo on visitor and patient policy, one section said: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles,  reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during  a visit.” It was issued by Colonel Norvell Coots, the  commander at Walter Reed, who told the press that the directive was meant to “preserve  people’s religious rights.” After being confronted by members of Congress, Coots rescinded the order, saying it was “incorrectly  written.”

Has the Air Force oath, indeed, been altered to not mention God? The liberal Huntington Post says the Air Force is bowing to atheist demands — by making the words “so help me God” optional. Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding Obama administration records “regarding the decision.”

Is there really an attack on faith in America’s military?

Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt

Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt

Klingenschmitt says chaplains have been told they “will be charged with sedition and treason for opposing the Obama administration” by preaching against homosexuality, mandated birth control coverage or the sanctity of life. “Can you believe this?” asks Klingenschmitt. “They are actually  threatening chaplains with court-martial if they dare to preach.”In Egypt, Coptic Christians are facing the worst attacks on the Christian minority since the 14th century and “the bad news for Christians in the region keeps coming,” reports Powers.

A local government official in central Bangladesh backed by a mob of 1,000 Muslims recently halted the construction of a church building, herded the small Christian congregation to city hall and threatened them with exile from their homes unless they renounced Jesus, according to World Watch Monitor.

Construction at “the Tangail Evangelical Holiness Church in Bilbathuagani village was started by a group of about 25 Christians who had been meeting secretly for three years.” However, local Muslim clerics spread word that the Christians had begun work on their church building. Local council chairman Rafiqul Islam Faruk escorted the Christians to his office. More than 1,000 Muslims waited outside, following an announcement at all local mosques to gather at the chairman’s office.

“The chairman and the imams of the mosques interrogated me for accepting Christianity,” Mokrom Ali, 32, told World Watch Monitor. “They asked me why I had become a Christian. It is a great sin to become a Christian from Islam. If I did not accept Islam, they would beat me, burn my house, and evict me from the society. Their threats chilled me to the bone. That is why I pretended to accept Islam, but faith in Christ is the wellspring of my life. Now I am no longer a Muslim; I am a Christian.”

In the city of Peshawar, Pakistan, Taliban suicide bombers recently killed at least 85 worshippers at All Saints’ Church, which has been a local landmark since 1883.

Although the news media downplayed any religious angle, Christians were the target of the vicious attack on a shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed more than 70 people. The Associated Press reported the Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab “confirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated” Christians from other shoppers – and tortured them by gouging out eyes and slicing off fingers before killing them.

Victims of a recent attack

Victims of a recent attack

In war-torn Syria, “Christians are under attack by Islamist rebels and fear extinction,” reports Agence France Presse. “This month, rebels overran the historic Christian town of Maalula, where many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus,” writes Powers. “The AFP reported that a resident of Maalula called her fiancé’s cell and was told by member of the Free Syrian Army that they gave him a chance to convert to Islam and he refused. So they slit his throat.”

Two-thirds of Iraq’s Christians have vanished from the country, reports Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer, in testimony before Congress regarding the fate of Iraqi Christians after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thousands “have either been murdered or fled in fear for their lives,” Shea told Congress.

17“On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad. The archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped and killed. A bus convoy of Christian students was violently assaulted.” Christians “have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes.” “two-thirds of whom have vanished from the country.”

It’s not just Christians, either. Over 850,000 Jews have been expelled from Muslim countries over the last 50 years, writes Lela Gilbert, author of the book Saturday People, Sunday People. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.”

Mourning the victims of a recent attack

Mourning the victims of a recent attack

Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians” and the disinterest of the media.

“It’s no surprise that Jews seem to understand the gravity of the situation the best,” notes Powers in the Daily Beast. “In December 2011, Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, addressed Parliament saying, ‘I have followed the fate of Christians in the Middle East for years, appalled at what is happening, surprised and distressed that it is not more widely known.

“‘It was Martin Luther King who said, In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,’” said Sacks. “That is why I felt I could not be silent today.’”

pakistan_church_bombing_234_E1“The majority of Americans are Christians,” but when they are discriminated in America’s government-funded public schools or by the nation’s politicians, writes John Hawkins on the conservative site Townhall, Christians seldom fight back. That’s a big mistake, he says, because what is happening elsewhere is headed here – unless American Christians push back, he says.

“The habitual wimpiness of so many Christians is particularly grating because when Christians shine a spotlight on these attacks and say, ‘That’s enough,’ more often than not we win.

“So, if Christians across the country were consistently willing to speak out and take action, you’d be surprised at how quickly our culture would begin to change.”

Food bank told to choose between Jesus and government help

Food bank told to choose between Jesus and government help

For example, he tells how over the past 31 years, a Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Florida. “But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.”  A state agriculture department official “told them they would not be allowed to receive USDA food unless they removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read ‘Jesus is Lord’ and stopping giving Bibles to the needy.

“When the government tells the Christian Service Center it has to give up on Christ or quit using USDA food to help the poor, that’s religious discrimination. But that’s just an isolated instance, right?”

Franklin Graham

Franklin Graham

Not according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Franklin Graham told the liberal magazine Politico that the IRS targeted them – not auditing their books or tax returns – instead, conducting a “review” of their activities. “With the IRS admitting it gave extra scrutiny to conservative political organizations, Graham says he now believes that the review was part of an Obama administration effort of “targeting and attempting to intimidate us,” writes Politico’s Reed J. Epstein. The IRS review came after Graham urged voters to back “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.”

“While these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices,” Franklin Graham told Politico. “This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.”

Coronado being arrested

Coronado being arrested

Meanwhile in California, two Christian street preachers had to fight in court for two years to be allowed to read the Bible aloud outside the Department of Motor Vehicles in Hemet, California.

Mark Mackey and Bret Coronado were arrested and charged with misdemeanor offenses for reading the Bible, but recently Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer found the men “not guilty” of any offenses.

“Interestingly,” writes Hawkins, “the judge also pointed out that the law prosecutors tried to invoke was likely unconstitutional as it gave law enforcement overbroad powers to quash public gatherings in the first place.

“Yes, there were actually Americans arrested for reading the Bible on public property.”

But they fought back – and won.

Is discrimination against Christians in the U.S. a real issue? “More than 25 percent of American workers say that discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against religious minorities,” reports Joyce Dubensky in the Daily Caller, writing about a new survey of over 2,000 American employees.

According to What American Workers Really Think About Religion from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

“In my work combating religious prejudice,” writes Dubensky, “I’ve heard many stories of how companies struggle with these issues. For example, in 2004, a Christian employee was fired for refusing to sign his company’s diversity policy. The policy required him to respect and value everyone’s differences. He explained to his managers that he would respect all of his colleagues regardless of their differences, but that he could not agree to value homosexuality or any religious belief other than Christianity. A judge sided with the fired employee, noting that the company had every right to expect him to behave respectfully at work – but it had no right to tell him what to value.

“Eradicating discrimination should be our vision,” says Dubensky.

From the shop's website

From the shop’s website

But how? In Colorado, reports Hawkins, a husband and wife who own Masterpiece Cake Shop declined to make a cake for a gay wedding because it conflicted with their Christian beliefs.

“They learned that’s now illegal” in Colorado, writes Hawkins. “According to attorney Nicolle Martin, the owners could face a year in prison.”

Nevertheless, “we would close down the bakery before we compromised our beliefs,” one of the owners told the press.

Master Sergeant Monk

Master Sergeant Monk

Taking such a stand may have ended the military career of Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk.

“He found himself at odds with his Lackland Air Force Base commander after he objected to her plans to severely punish an instructor who had expressed religious objections to homosexuality. During the conversation, his commander ordered him to share his personal views on homosexuality.

“‘I was relieved of my position because I don’t agree with my commander’s position on gay marriage,’ Sgt. Monk told Hawkins. “We’ve been told that if you publicly say that homosexuality is wrong, you are in violation of Air Force policy.”

After Monk was relieved of his duties, the Liberty Institute filed a religious discrimination complaint on his behalf.

The accusations against Monk are a court-martial offense in the Air Force – and it’s quite possible that the 19-year veteran with a spotless record could be booted out of the military because of his Christian beliefs. However, he’s fighting back.

Angela McCaskill

Angela McCaskill

That’s what a Gallaudet University official did when she was suspended from her job for signing a petition at church. Angela McCaskill was placed on administrative leave after she signed a petition for a referendum on Maryland’s law that legalized same-sex marriage.

Now her suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the school violated anti-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act.

“She was basically disciplined on the job and demoted based on something she did at church,” her attorney J. Wyndal Gordon told CitizenLink.

According to her lawsuit, McCaskill was demoted when the school eventually reinstated her. Her complaint alleges she went from Deputy to the President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, to just Chief Diversity Officer. It also says she was ordered to no longer report to the Provost.

McCaskill was one of 160,000 Maryland residents who signed the petition, spearheaded by the Maryland Marriage Alliance. Located in the District of Columbia, Gallaudet University specializes in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. McCaskill was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the university. She has worked at the school for 23 years in various capacities.

“The university certainly made the right decision to reinstate her,” David J. Hacker, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, told CitizenLink. “But it’s troubling that a university of this prestige placed her on an administrative leave for participating in constitutionally protected speech.” And, he said, it’s unacceptable that she was demoted.

Craig James

Craig James

It was that same Constitutionally protected speech that got former ESPN Broadcaster and one-time NFL player for the New England Patriots, Craig James, fired. He told Leonardo Blair at the Christian Post that he was “shocked” after Fox Sports Southwest canned him for publicly declaring his Christian views opposing marriage.

“I was shocked that my personal religious beliefs were not only the reason for Fox Sports firing me, but I was completely floored when I read stories quoting Fox Sports representatives essentially saying that people of faith are banned from working at Fox Sports,” James told Breitbart News. “That is not right and surely someone made a terrible mistake.”

“In an announcement on Aug. 30, 2013, that has since been removed,” Blair reported. “Fox Sports Southwest stated that James would be joining its Fox College Saturday studio team rounded out by Erin Hartigan and Ex-NFL quarterback Tony Banks.”

“We’re excited to add Craig to the FOX Sports Southwest team,” executive producer Mike Anastassiou noted in that announcement. “He’s a talented broadcaster who I’ve admired throughout his career. His knowledge of college football and the experience he brings as an analyst will be a tremendous asset to our coverage.”

However, “a day after his first appearance on air,” reported Blair, “Fox Sports Southwest’s general manager Jon Heidtke who had hired him, told James he had been fired. Top officials at Fox Sports, he said, were informed about comments James made about same-sex marriage during his failed bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2012 and were uncomfortable.”

In a televised debate, James answered that be believes homosexuality is a choice and those who violate biblical principles will have to answer to God.

“I think it’s a choice, I do,” said James in response to a question during the debate. “I think that you have to make that choice. But in that case right there, they are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions.”

James’ legal counsel from the Liberty Institute has demanded that he be reinstated or Fox will face legal action.

James is fighting back – as did a church when told it needed a permit to hold baptisms in a national park. Alarmed members contacted Congressman Jason Smith (R-Missouri), who confronted the National Park Service asking what was going on.

It seems that under the Obama administration, “the Park Service recently began a new policy requiring churches that wished to hold baptisms in public waters to apply for a special permit at least 48 hours in advance of the baptism, reports Hawkins. “The Park Service justified this recent demand by saying that the permits were necessary to ‘maintain park natural/cultural resources and quality visitor experiences, specific terms and conditions have been established.’

Ryan Rotela

Ryan Rotela

“Between citizen outrage and Rep. Smith’s threat to bring the matter before the full Congress, the Park Service quickly reversed its new policy,” reports Hawkins. Bureaucrats in the National Park Service wrote to the Congressman that, ‘As of today, the park’s policy has been clarified to state that no permit will be required for baptisms.’”

Fighting back also worked when Florida Atlantic University student Ryan Rotela was told by a professor to write Jesus Christ’s name on a piece of paper and stomp on it.

Rotela defiantly refused and in retaliation, a formal disciplinary action was started against him.

“But, before the system could roll over Rotela, a funny thing happened,” writes Hawkins. “The word about what was happening to him got out, Christians became outraged, and suddenly the university’s tune quickly changed. FAU’s Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Charles Brown, has since issued a groveling formal apology. Next thing you know, the disciplinary action was waved off following a withering public response that included complaints from the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott.”

All of these instances demonstrate that Christians have to push back, says Hawkins.

“Had Christians not risen up, the student who refused to stomp on Jesus would have been the one punished while the professor would have paid no price at all. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that when Christians refuse to back down, we usually win. What that means is if enough Christians stand up for our faith, you’ll be surprised how fast the people in power lose their nerve about going after us.”

In Nigeria — an African nation that is officially 50 percent Christian, 50 percent Muslim, violence against Christians has resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in three northern states. An extremist group called Boko Haram has killed least 10 Christians, including a youth leader in Maiduguri and a medical student, a pastor and his son in Yobe. Their church was burned to the ground. One eye witness of Sunday’s attack in Yobe told Reuters, “They started gathering students into groups outside, and then they opened fire and killed one group and then moved onto the next group and killed them. It was so terrible.”

In South America, Father Bernardo Echeverry, 62, and Father Hector Fabio Cabrera, 35, who ministered in San Sebastian Roman Catholic parish, Roldanillo village, Valle department, Colombia, were found murdered after confronting drug cartel leaders. Neighbors reported to police two men running from the parish shortly before the priests’ bodies were found in the church rectory. In Medellín, disabled priest Luis Javier Sarrázola Úsuga was found dead, stabbed in the chest more than 30 times. He had operated a charity called Educational Foundation for Peace and Social Freedom, which served the poor in Medellín’s Carambolas neighborhood. Open Doors says that in the last year eight priests have been killed.

Praying for God's protection

Praying for God’s protection

So, why doesn’t this make the CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight, NBC’s Today Show or even the Fox News 24-hour news cycle?Americans’ silence about the worldwide persecuted church “is inexplicable,” writes Powers in Politico. “American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention.

The recent bloody attack by terrorists on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya is only a glimpse at the worldwide problem, reports the Religious Freedom Coalition.

“During the four-day hostage stand-off by Somali al-Shabaab terrorists, these monsters raped, tortured, beheaded, dismembered, castrated, gouged out eyes, amputated fingers and hung hostages on hooks from the roof” after finding out that they were Christians.

So, “why aren’t Western Jesus-followers more aware or engaged on this issue?” asks Jonathan Merritt, author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.

Seekiing the Lord

Seekiing the Lord

One reason, he says is that “Christian persecution is under-reported by the media. Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute says that persecution, if you include discrimination, is affecting approximately 600 to 700 million Christians globally.

“According to a 2011 Pew Forum study, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world with followers of the faith being actively harassed in 130 countries.”

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Crying out to the Lord

“If a population of half a billion people is so blatantly oppressed,” asks Merritt. “It’s difficult to understand why it isn’t making much news. The answer, in my opinion, is the location where much of the persecution occurs: the Middle East.

“Many journalists I speak with seem timid to delve too deeply into the topic or to report on it too often for fear of being perceived as Islamaphobes or outright racists.”

“I agree with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg,” writes Merritt, “who remarked in USA Today that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is ‘one of the most undercovered stories in international news.

“People can’t advocate for issues they aren’t aware of,” notes Merritt, “and to borrow from the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:14, “how will they hear if no one tells them?”

Rioters target a Coptic church

Rioters target a Coptic church

But the media is not alone in the guilt of silence. American church leaders seem to want to look the other way, too, says Merritt.

“A 2010 LifeWay Research survey reported that 79 percent of churches said the flailing economy had negatively impacted their congregation,” writes Merritt. “During recessions, churches often turn inward, not outward. When this happens, congregations disconnect from international communities where they previously maintained partnerships and subsequently grow less aware of the problems facing the global church.

“It’s not that they don’t care, but rather that they don’t know or perhaps they do know but are so focused on ‘more important’ initiatives that they can’t muster the energy to address them.”

“Why isn’t the mammoth Christian community of the world’s most influential nation in a tizzy over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and around the world?” asks Merritt. “The answer, it seems, is that many of their attentions have been focused elsewhere.”

A Christian child weeps for his slain family

A Christian child weeps for his slain family

Merritt says it’s no excuse for inaction. “Isn’t it time that American Christians reinvest their energies in addressing the actual persecution of their brothers and sisters happening outside their borders?”

While the American church looks the other way, the five countries that make up Central Asia – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan— “all have recent reports of repressing religious freedom. They do not allow any religious activity unless it has government approval and persecute anyone who violates their laws. Their most popular method is fining people sums that are very difficult to pay and torture victims to prove their power,” reports International Christian Concern.

“Christians in Columbia are facing heavy and violent persecution for their beliefs, regardless of the country’s official position on religious freedom,” reports Open Doors USA. “The National Liberation Army persecutes Christians because their beliefs are not compatible with the rebel cause. Christians are being demanded to leave their homes, and even killed. Many of the attacks involve causing trauma to Christian children, such as kidnapping and murdering parents in front of them.”

“Across rural areas of Laos reports are coming in of Christian communities being pressured to give up their new found faith in Christ,” reports Asia Watch. “Those who refuse are threatened with forced eviction from their homes. Animism, or the worship of the natural world, is a traditional belief system for many villages in Laos.”

Why is none of this mentioned in American pulpits? Why is the news media silent?

“Imagine if correspondents in late 1944 had reported the Battle of the Bulge, but without explaining that it was a turning point in the second world war,” writes John L. Allen in the Spectator magazine. “Or what if finance reporters had told the story of the AIG meltdown in 2008 without adding that it raised questions about derivatives and sub-prime mortgages that could augur a vast financial implosion?

Outside a torched Christian-owned business

Outside a torched Christian-owned business

“Most people would say that journalists had failed to provide the proper context to understand the news. Yet that’s routinely what media outlets do when it comes to outbreaks of anti-Christian persecution around the world, which is why the global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.”

In 2011, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, who leads a church with more than its fair share of new martyrs, phrased the same questions more plaintively during a conference in London. He bluntly asked: ‘Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere, comes to our aid?’

 

So, a crazed gunman opens fire and you’re caught in the middle. How can you survive? Heroes come in all sorts of packages. And they wield all sorts of defensive weapons.

Such as guns and Jesus. Sometimes both at the same time.

antoinette-tuff

Antoinette Tuff

When a disturbed young man marched into a Georgia grade school with an AK-47 and about 500 rounds of ammo, the quick thinking and warmth of school secretary Antoinette Tuff helped ensure his surrender before anyone got hurt. She says she prayed the entire time, shared her faith with the disturbed young man, then encouraged him to do the right thing.

At one point, the highly agitated gunman asked Tuff to call a local TV station. According to WSB-TV in Atlanta, the gunman demanded the station send a TV crew to film him killing police.

“Then the gunman began to break down,” reports the Los Angeles Times.  And as he began to waver in the school’s office, Tuff started counseling — and consoling — the young man, who began lamenting that whether he lived or died did not matter.

“No, it does matter!” she told him, as a 911 dispatcher recorded her pleas. “I can let them know you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me or anything – but that doesn’t make any difference, you didn’t hit anybody. … Don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years… Yes you do! I’m sitting here with you and talking to you about it! I got a son that’s multiple-disabled. We’re not going to hate you, baby, it’s a good thing you’re giving up.”

As he wavered, “It’s going to be all right, sweetheart,” she counseled him. “I just want you to know I love you and I’m proud of you,” Tuff told him with 911 listening in on the phone. “That’s a good thing that you’re giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now, I’m still working, and everything is going to be OK.”

“Tuff told a local news station that she was able to stay calm because of what she had been learning from her pastor at church,” reported Nicola Menzie for the Christian Post.

antoinette-tuff-obama-call

Antoionette takes a call from Barack Obama

“My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord,” Tuff told the Post. “I just sat there and started praying. I just remembered the teaching and how he taught us how to consult people when they’re bereaving and all that.”

“I realized at that time that it was bigger than me,” she added. “He was really a hurting young man so I just started praying for him. I just started talking to him and allowing him to know some of my life stories and what was going on with me, and that it was going to be OK and he could just give himself up.”

When asked for her thoughts on why Hill was so compliant, Tuff told a local news station, “I have no idea. That was nobody but God. I can’t even put that on myself. I was praying hard.”

“I give it all to God,” she repeated when a reporter suggested that she was a hero. Tuff insisted that she was no hero, and that it was “through God’s grace and mercy” that she was able to maintain her composure.

Leo

Leo Johnson

God’s intervention was also cited for preventing a bloodbath in Washington, D.C.
Leo Johnson, the operations manager at the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, D.C, confronted a deranged young man who rushed toward him brandishing a gun, intending to commit mass murder. The would-be terrorist told the FBI he selected the FRC as a target after finding it listed as an “anti-gay” group on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center. After reading seeing FRC’s headquarters on the SPLC’s “hate map” on its website, he had determined to kill as many FRC employees as possible.

However, Johnson stopped him, taking a bullet in the arm as he wrestled away the attacker’s gun – preventing him from harming anyone else.

“I would give credit to my faith for everything that has happened,” Johnson said, admitting that after he took the gun, he considering turning it on the struggling would-be terrorist, but “it was God who spoke to me and told me to not take his life, to spare his life. And, you know, I’ve never regretted that decision.”

The attacker has since been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the attack.

colorado

Jeanne Assam

God’s protection was cited again in Colorado Springs when a church volunteer subdued a gunman who had already attacked another church and a Christian training center.

When the gunman rushed into the New Life Church, he started shooting churchgoers. Church volunteer Jeanne Assam ran to the sound of gunshots and says “God guided me and protected me.”

She told the media how the gunman entered the east entrance of the church firing his gun. “There was chaos,” Assam said, as parishioners ran away. “I saw him coming through the doors” and took cover, Assam said. “I came out of cover and identified myself and engaged him and took him down.” She shot him dead.

Assam had several years of experience in law enforcement and is licensed to carry a weapon. “I give credit to God,” Assam said. “God was with me. I didn’t think for a minute to run away.” Fellow churchgoer, and Vietnam veteran Larry Bourbonnais told the Denver Post  it was the bravest thing he’d ever seen.

Bourbonnais was among those shot by the gunman. “She just started walking toward the gunman firing the whole way,” said Bourbonnais, who was shot in the arm. “She was just yelling ‘Surrender,’ walking and shooting the whole time.”

The gunman had already killed four people at another church and then at a missionary training school. New Life Church Pastor Brady Boyd told the media that Assam “probably saved a hundred lives.”

However, at least 81 worshipers and 140 were injured died at All Saints Church in Pakistan two suicide bombers detonated their explosive devices. Around the globe, such attacks are increasingly frequent – particularly in countries where firearms are banned.

pakistan_church_bombing_234_E1

Family members receive terrible news after the bombing

No one was armed at the church except for two Muslim security guards who were killed. Also, the suicide bombers gave no warning before detonating the blasts that killed themselves and the Christian worshipers.

“In this time of tragedy, let us pray not only for healing and comfort, but also that God will continue using it to provide peace and turn sympathies toward Pakistani believers who have faced much persecution in the past,” said K. P. Yohannan, founder and director of Gospel for Asia.

Churchgoers there were completing worship and about to share a covered-dish dinner when the bombs exploded. Among the dead were 34 women and seven children. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying they “will continue to strike wherever we will find an opportunity against non-Muslims.”

In a country where only 3 percent are Christians, many Muslims expressed sympathy and outrage at the attack on peaceful worshippers. Government officials condemned the attack. “Such cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists,” said Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Meanwhile, an armed former Royal Marine emerged as a hero when a similar group targeted a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, according to the British newspaper The Daily Mail. The armed, retired Marine was credited with saving up to 100 lives.

kenya_mall_shooting1

Nairobi residents read about the mall attack

Armed with his personal handgun, he moved in and out of the mall many times, each time leading new victims to safety, according to reporter Onan Coca. “The morning of the shooting, the mall massacre hero was sitting in a mall coffee shop enjoying a beverage with some friends. When the shooting began, he escorted his friends from the building, but the brave acts he will be remembered for happened next. The man returned into the besieged building at least a dozen times rescuing somewhere around 100 people. Each reentry into the mall-turned-combat-zone was more dangerous than the previous, as more and more people were led out of harm’s way.”

However, the ex-Marine asked the news media not to release his name for security reasons – particularly since terrorists could target him and his family.

“He risked himself for about 100 people,” writes Coca. “How many families did he protect from heartbreak by his selflessness? Mothers and fathers who will see their children again. Sisters and brothers who won’t know the pain of losing their sibling to mindless violence. There are children who won’t have to experience life as orphans because this hero took a stand.”

In Oregon, two died when a gunman opened fire at the crowded Clackamas Town Center Mall near Portland. Again prayer was cited for saving customer, Jocelyn Lay, who tells of quietly hiding from the shooter and asking God for help.

article-fonseca14n-1213

Fonseca and Lay reunite after the shootings

She says the Almighty sent her make-up clerk Allan Fonseca, works at the Lancome counter at Macy’s department store. He calmly helped her navigate through the store to reach an exit. Then he returned to the danger zone to help guide others scrambling to safety, reported the Daily Mail.

‘The gunfire just kept going off,’ Lay said on Good Morning America. Lay said she started praying and then Fonseca “took me by the hand and took me down the escalator and out to safety.”

Prayer has also been cited when a gunman leveled his pistol at the customers of a Fort Worth, Texas, McDonald’s restaurant — and pulled the trigger repeatedly without result, according to the the  Star-Telegram.

When the gun would not fire, he ran outside and fired a shot in the air. The gun discharged.

He returned back inside and took aim at the terrified customers and employees. Once again, the gun would not fire.

After watching the restaurant’s surveillance video, “I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said police Sgt. Joe Loughman. “It must not have been their time to go.” He said police are baffled.

However, the young gunman’s mother, however, told the newspaper she believes the gun misfired – repeatedly – because “we were praying.”

She recounted how her son had called her, clearly disturbed both mentally and emotionally. When she hung up, she told the newspaper, “I told God to keep Jestin.”

When he went to the McDonald’s, apparently intending to kill strangers and his himself, his gun would not fire — at least five times.

His mother was praying.

And nobody died.

What’s wrong with church today? Are we in danger of turning worship into a flashy concert? Of watering down the message so nobody is offended? Of forgetting the simplicity of the Gospel?

4I grew up with a preacher’s kid. He was a fake following in the footsteps of his flimflamming father who did a great Vegas-style act at the grand piano. Both papa and son could turn on the tears and put on a fantastic show. The boy did a spectacular display of repentance and sorrow each year at our summer camp’s final-night altar call. He craved the spotlight. Moments after his public mea culpas he’d be back to his crass self, wanting to know if I’d scored with my girlfriend, claiming he was going to sneak away with his latest blonde during the baptismal service.

Privately, he and his dad were cynical and profane. But my childhood buddy has gone on to minister to a glittery mega-church much applauded in his denomination, a church distinguished by flash and showmanship and big attendance numbers – very much in the footsteps of his late father.

A few weeks ago, my friend’s son took his own life. It didn’t make the headlines like another mega-church preacher’s son’s suicide out in California. But I wish I had taken time with my friend’s boy. I wondered if he was ever exposed to the true gospel of Christ’s self-denying love.

The_Killers_in_concertAs I sat in a local church with its multiple video screens, kids on guitars silhouetted by stage lights, and overpowering music that defies congregational singalong, I remembered my old hypocritical buddy. Annoyed by all the noise of the day’s service, I pulled out my iPhone and to the consternation of my wife began surfing the Internet. I glanced around and noticed I was not alone. And when I googled “church” and “gimmicks,” I was not surprised to find a number of Christian leaders are just as puzzled as I with church that has turned into spectator entertainment.

rockofages3“We have had gospel rock and praise dancing in worship services,” writes Samuel Koranteng-Pipim on the website Affirm, “gospel puppets, gospel clowns, gospel cafés/discos and gospel theatrics/dramas for our outreach to youth, young adults, and the ‘unchurched.’ Now, it seems, we must have gospel magicians for our church services and weeks of prayer. By resorting to these ‘gospel gimmicks,’ are we in danger?”

“What is the true definition of ‘church’?” asks Stewart Wilkerson. “Big screens? Best logo design? The newest technology? The more I think about church, the more I see how astray church has become. Church isn’t about hymnals. Church isn’t about singing the latest song that has the most hits on iTunes. Church is about Jesus…and Jesus only.”

live-nation“‘World’s Largest Church,’ ‘World’s Fastest Growing Church,’ ‘America’s Fastest Growing Sunday School,’ ‘Fastest Growing Church in the State.’ These are frequently heard and seen slogans in these modern days,”  writes W.F. Bell in The Gimmick Gospel. “But, isn’t it a little silly to brag or boast about numbers? Where in all of God’s Word does it tell us to gimmick people into attending church services or Sunday School?’

“Millennials’ intolerance of hypocrisy necessitates that those of us in leadership do more than preach about values that this demographic holds dear,” writes writes Dorothy Greco in Christianity Today magazine.

Megachurch pastor Ray Kollbocker says today’s young adults “want Christianity to be more than information. They want to see how Christianity actually changes the world, not just talk about the change.”

0116WINTERJAM1mh“Because millennials have such an intense hunger for transparent relationships and truth,” writes Greco, “churches could foster intergenerational mentoring within their communities rather than depending upon the more impersonal leadership classes.”

And they hate fakery. Last week another longtime friend of mine was found dead in his Houston apartment. He was the son of a famous evangelist who was more or less the Rush Limbaugh of the 1960s – a radio preacher whose financial support came from a then-amazing million-name mailing list of “partners” who listened to his warnings on late-night radio.

This televangelist dreamed that his son and namesake would follow him at the microphone and in the pulpit, but the boy was tender and sincere – and refused to preach. At age 4, he was first trotted out at one of this father’s legendary crusades where the little boy sang “Jesus Loves Me” to the adoring crowd – and was hooked.

Although as an adult, he was too honest to fill his father’s pulpit, he was addicted to the love of the audiences. He cut multiple record albums – all sold at his father’s venues – and as an adult pursued a career in opera.

But he was scarred and wounded — a victim of spiritual abuse. In his final days, he confided in me having found peace with his Maker. “I don’t know that I ever was really saved as a kid,” he told me. “But I know I am now.” Even so, he had no desire to share his faith from the pulpit – although his father’s name would have gotten him on national TV and into churches nationwide. He cringed at the very idea – not even wanting to write a book about growing up with his famous dad.

7My friend just wanted to love Jesus quietly. He was tired of the glitter and the gimmicks. And so are so many others.

“Centuries ago,” writes Koranteng-Pipim, “the prophet Jeremiah spoke out against this tendency on the part of God’s people to mimic the gimmicks found in other faiths: ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. . . . Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the River?’ (Jer 2:13, 18 NIV).

6“Unfortunately, some of us pastors and church leaders are sometimes to blame. We appear to put popularity, job security, position, and the illusion of outward success above our duty to the Chief Shepherd. We seem to fear that if we were to take a stand against these forms of worldliness in our churches, we would create enemies and threaten our support among our constituencies.

“If it is true that rock music (disguised as praise music and praise dancing) is the most effective medium to reach young people today, why is it that math teachers and chemistry professors don’t set their classes to heavy-beat and hip-swinging music? Common sense tells us that these entertainment media are not the most credible methods to communicate serious messages.

1“A doctor, meeting an apprehensive patient, does not dress like a clown in order to tell his patient that she has cancer. Jesus did not use the gimmicks of entertainment to proclaim his Sermon on the Mount. On the day of Pentecost, Peter did not set up a drum set or ask Mary to lead out in praise dancing to announce the resurrection of Jesus and His enthronement in heaven.

“And Paul did not persuade people on Mars Hill using gospel magicians.”

“What a perversion of the one true gospel is this modern ‘gimmick gospel.’” writes Bell in The Gimmick Gospel. “Give-aways, gadgets, and games are weekly emphasized to keep the crowds coming. It’s ‘Balloon Sunday’ one week, ‘Ice cream Sunday’ another week, and ‘BoZo-the-Clown Sunday’ the next week. On and on the ‘gimmick gospel’ goes, going so far as to have ‘karate preachers’ performing their stunts, and ‘cut-off-your-tie’ days.

Sommerkonzert“After getting thousands to attend Sunday School, what is taught them after getting them there?” asks Bell. “How tragic that multitudes of blind people are being led by blind leaders, ‘And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch’ (Matt. 15:14).

“Let us rid this country of the ‘gimmick gospel,’ for it is fakery, faulty and foolish. And in the words of Charles Spurgeon: ‘We can do without modern learning, but we cannot do without the ancient gospel. We can do without oratory and eloquence, but we cannot do without Christ crucified. Lord, revive Thy work by giving us the old-fashioned gospel back again in our pulpits.’”

8“The millennial generation’s much-talked-about departure from church might lead those of us over 30 to conclude that they have little interest in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth,” writes Greco in Christianity Today.

Is keeping up with today’s culture a bad thing? Must we shun technology and stagecraft? “The only thing permanent around here is change,” once quipped my friend and pastor, the late Jamie Buckingham, who was a bestselling author and the most popular columnist at a national Christian magazine.

2Jamie’s sermons were designed to draw in the seeker. “People don’t come to church wanting to feel bad,” he once told me when I asked why he didn’t preach hell and damnation. “They come to church wanting to feel better.” As a result, his church embraced technology and change. I remember well when a new music minister introduced new praise choruses. The congregation had been cutting-edge once upon a time, forsaking hymnals for overhead projectors and edgy praise songs. But they’d relaxed into their own new traditions — and this new songleader with his unfamiliar, new songs was irritating, prompting Jamie to have to remind them of their cutting-edge history.

concertWhy introduce the new? Why embrace videos and special effects? Nobody wants to be stuck in a rut — particularly a church trying to be relevant to the next generation.

“Unfortunately,” writes Greco, we’re seeing “many Protestant pastors relying on a consumer business model to grow and sustain their churches. This template for doing church and the millennials’ hunger for authenticity has caused an ideological collision.

“Seeker-sensitive services originally promised to woo post-moderns back into the fold. Out the stained glass window went the somewhat formal 45-minute exegetical sermon, replaced by a shorter, story-based talk to address the ‘felt needs’ of the congregants while reinforcing the premise that following Jesus would dramatically improve their quality of life.

New Orleans Second Line Parade Hits Streets Of New York City“Contemporary worship had already found its way into the mainstream, but their new model nudged the church further toward a rock-concert feel. Finally, programs proliferated, with programs for nearly every demographic, from Mothers of Preschoolers to Red Glove Motorcycle Riders.

“None of these changes were pernicious or even poorly intentioned,” admits Greco. “In the case of my previous church, choosing the seeker model began innocently. The staff endeavored to create a wide on-ramp for folks who might ordinarily bypass the sanctuary in favor of Starbucks. (As an incentive, we provided fair-trade coffee and bagels each week.) Trained not to assume that everyone was on the same page politically or spiritually, we sought to have friendly, nuanced conversations with visitors.

Born_Again_Concert_039“Being aware of those who come through the doors of any organization is a good thing. I have walked out of many services without a single person engaging with me. However, many churches gradually, and perhaps unwittingly, transitioned from being appropriately sensitive to the needs of their congregants to becoming – if you’ll permit some pop-psychologizing – co-dependent with them.

“What does co-dependence look like within a church?” asks Greco. “Avoiding sections of Scripture out of fear that certain power pockets will be offended. Believing that repeat attendance depends primarily upon the staff’s seamless execution of Sunday morning–rather than the manifest presence of God. Eliminating doleful songs from the worship repertoire because they might contradict the through line that ‘following Jesus is all gain.’

Fans_Dancing_at_The_Avett_Brothers_Concert_1-29-11_Peter_Ringenberg“Jesus was neither a co-dependent nor a businessman. He unashamedly loved those on the margins and revealed himself to all who were searching. He seemed quite indifferent about whether or not he disappointed the power brokers. Additionally, Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.

“I have been following after Jesus for more than three decades and the gospel still makes me bristle. Love those who publicly maligned me? Confess my sins to a friend? You’re kidding Jesus, aren’t you? Only he’s not kidding. Both his words and his life clearly demonstrate that to align ourselves with him means that we must be willing to forsake everything so that we might become more like him.

1“Rather than helping congregants in this endeavor, churches that bend into their mercurial whims foster a me-first mentality. This actually plays into one of the potential root sins of this generation: self-absorption. While it’s all too easy for those of us over the age of 30 to poke fun at their selfie antics, I think young Christians actually want the church to help them reign in their narcissism. Writer Aleah Marsden told me, ‘We definitely want to see Jesus at the center because the rest of the world keeps shouting that we’re the center. We don’t need the church to echo the world.’

“As they clamor for a communion supper with the best wine and freshly baked bread, the seeker-sensitive, consumer model has offered them treacly grape juice and dry cracker pieces, leaving them unsatisfied and frustrated.

Born_Again_Concert_039“If the Barna Group statistics are accurate,” notes Greco, “more than 8 million 20-somethings have given up on church or Christianity. Do their actions indicate a need for us to, as David Kinnaman suggests, ‘change our church structure, guided by the unchanging truths of Scripture to nurture their unique gifts and calling?’ Or is their departure an invitation for all of us who consider ourselves Christians to prioritize transformation into the image of Christ?”

It may be time for evangelicals to learn something from the Catholics. At the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, famously called for a window to be opened and challenged his leaders to invite the Holy Spirit back.

9Vast changes were made to the Catholic service. In the years that followed, the mass became much less a liturgical show observed by a silent faithful. Congregational singing was welcomed back. Members of the congregation were invited to the podium to read the day’s text and assist in serving communion.

Today the new pope is taking it further, challenging his leaders to humble themselves, to wash the feet of the poor and take themselves off of pedestals.

As a preacher’s son, I feel the pain of the other pastors’ kids with whom I grew up. So many have quietly shunned the flash and the spotlight. Too many have left the church.

5One of the most remarkable exceptions is a preacher’s son I’ve known since he was eight years old. Now in his 50s, John Andrew Loveall quietly retreated a decade ago to rural Central America where he established a school for Mayan tribal kids whose families’ poverty forces them to work. Eight-year-olds sell tourist trinkets and their 10-year-old brothers shine shoes. None were able to attend school until Loveall established Escuela Integrada Para Ninos Trabajadores – the Integrated School for Working Kids – which now has an enrolment of more than 400 in the tourist town of Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial capital.

loveallThose kids are embracing the simple Gospel as they learn to read, write and do arithmetic. Many have gone on to high school and college. They know the Bible. They know that a loving God hears their prayers and wants to make a difference in their lives – and has a plan for each one of them if they will quietly seek it and listen to Him speaking to their hearts.

They’ve been changed by the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. And by a pastor practicing that simple Gospel.

Ray and Rich Romano at the premiere of The Investigator

What does it take to make a good Christian movie? “Passion,” says Nicole Abisinio, producer of “The Investigator,” based on the true-life story of comedian Ray Romano’s brother Rich.

In the long-running TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond.” the character “Robert” was loosely based on real-life cop Richard.

In real life, Rich, like Robert, is a policeman with a loving but quirky Italian Catholic family and a know-it-all high-profile brother. In the film, Rich’s undercover cop character has to take early retirement after a drug bust goes bad. He finds himself filling in as a baseball coach at a Protestant private school, facing a classroom of disrespectful rich kids and scholarshipped athletes, the latter who have special privileges since their successes bring in donors for the struggling academy.

The skeptical kids challenge their uncomfortable substitute teacher to re-open several high-profile historical cases, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and whether Jesus Christ is a historical or mythical figure. At the same time, he has to transform a mediocre varsity baseball team into winners.

Why did producer Abisinio choose such a project? After all, she started her career in New York City investment management, working in private equity and hedge funds for six years while simultaneously picking up roles as an actress – mostly in forgettable roles. Then she started working as a movie production accountant and eventually as an executive producer in New York City. What she’s known for is finding film funding – bringing in multi-million dollar deals for films with actors including Terence Howard, Jack Black and Samuel L Jackson.

Producer Nicole Abisinio

Producer Nicole Abisinio

She got into horror films – which make a lot of money. However, cranking out axe-murder movies aren’t very fulfilling spiritually.

“I was a very hardened New Yorker,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I was producing action films and horror movies and really nothing that was necessarily positive. It was entertainment and it was, you know, sometimes not very good entertainment.”

She began to get discouraged, feeling that her work was doing little to make the world a better place. She grew increasingly discontent – and says there was a divine plan behind it all.

Ray and Rich’s alter egos in the film

“That’s just the way the Lord works,” she said at the recent premiere of The Investigator. “I began to see that there had to be more. After a couple of years of seeing my life change as I sought Him, I started looking for Christian scripts. I actually got very sick and almost died. It was during that period that Rich’s script came into my inbox when I didn’t think I was going to survive. The story uplifted my spirit, it changed me and it made me want to be a better person.

“I thought ‘Wow! If this script does this for me…’

“It made me want to fight harder to get better and if that did that for me, then how many people going through hard times could have that same experience? What if this script could help them be able to fight another day and fight harder and know that God is with them through it all?”

She jumped into the film with gusto.

Nicole even has a cameo in the film

“As an independent film producer, you know that you are going to spend a full two years – at least – on that film. So it has to be the right one. I knew I had to put together a solid business plan. But when I prayed about it, I knew that for the first time, I couldn’t go knocking on just anyone’s door.

“I didn’t go doing any of what I normally do. God spoke to my heart, ‘Prepare you house,’ so I got everything ready and knew that people were going to come to me.

“And they did. I received a phone call from a guy who I’d worked with on another project and he said ‘Oh, it’s so interesting that you’ve got this project. I’ve got this guy who is an investor …”

She met with him at a restaurant where the investor told her he had a dream of doing a movie about Christian apologetics and baseball. She says she almost fell out of her seat.

Skeptical kids and baseball fill this movie

Skeptical kids and baseball fill this movie

“Our movie was apologetics and baseball,” remembers Nicole. “It was unbelievable. He said ‘I’m going to invest.’ You can’t do anything without that, of course. Then we just went full speed ahead, casting 120 people and hiring our crew, but it was different this time. Everything was done differently than any movie I had done.”

Why?

“Because God was leading the way for it,” says Nicole.

Christian films traditionally struggle in the marketplace. Often they have trouble on a variety of levels.

“My husband is a movie junkie and a film geek,” writes blogger Nicole Cottrell. “By osmosis, I too ,have become somewhat of a movie nerd. Jonathan and I often sit and discuss the films we love. We talk cinematography, direction, screenplay, and of course, acting.

“We see all kinds of movies, from comedies, to dramas, independent films, to cult classics. But one type of film we avoid at all costs is the dreaded Christian film. [Twilight Zone music here…followed by a woman’s scream]. In decades of cinema history, maybe three or four films rate as a quality Christian film. ‘Chariots of Fire’ would be one. ‘The Passion of Christ’ another.”

Baseball also offers the film's best comic moments.

Baseball also offers the film’s best comic moments.

“The Passion of the Christ,” of course, did phenomenally at the box office — $370 million. Then there’s the “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which pulled in $291 million. So, yes, Christian movies can be money-makers.

The Narnia sequels, “Prince Caspian” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” did well — $141 million and $104 million respectively. Then there are the Sherwood Studios films – Courageous, Fireproof and Facing the Giants – which improve with each release, both in quality and in box office sales. Other well-done Christian films that have done well recently include “The Nativity Story,” “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” and “End of the Spear.”

7

Ray and Rich Romano

And there are those blockbusters that aren’t “religious” but have strong Christian worldviews, such as “The Blind Side,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. What makes a movie “Christian,” anyway?

“Created with a Christian sensibility, a movie should be haunted by the invisible world,” writes scriptwriting mentor Barbara Nicolosi in an article with Spencer Lewerenz. “For believers, everything that we see is a sign of a reality that we cannot see. Paraphrasing St. Paul, all of creation points to the Presence and Nature of the Creator.

“A movie made with this conviction will leave viewers with the sense that beyond all the chaos and craziness in the world is a Loving Mind that comprehends it all, and is over it all. This broader vision–encompassing what is seen with the heart as well as with the eyes–has as much to do with good writing as with pastoral urgency.

“A Christian film should be imbued with the certainty that we are not alone. We were conceived of, worked out, prepared for, and assigned a place in the plan. We are connected to one another and to the One who yearns for us as the apple of his eye.

“Humans are meant to be merciful to one another,” writes Nicolosi. “Talents are given to us to speed us corporately on our way home to God. We should treat human beings the way we would treat any unique and precious treasure that belongs to someone else. “

4“I don’t want to knock any film that anyone is doing in any other Christian films,” says Abisinio, “because they have paved the way for us. The thing that has been said the most about this film and anyone that has seen it is ‘Wow! This film isn’t cheesy.’ This film is high quality, it’s got great acting and it’s real.

“That word just needs to spread. The more people that see it and tell everybody what they think of it, it will just go from there and explode.”

Wade Williams portrays the lead character -- Ray Romano's real-life policeman brother

Wade Williams portrays the lead character — Ray Romano’s real-life policeman brother

One of the film’s greatest barriers, she says, are skeptical Christians.  “It’s the Christians who are like ‘Well we don’t want to watch a Christian movie because it’s going to be bad. It’s going to be a church movie. It’s going to be on a video camera and you know, not have a story or be cheesy,’” says Abisinio.

As soon as they see the movie, she says, “it’s like, ‘Oh well, if we knew it was going to be this good, we would have done this or that to help you get the word out.’ It’s pulling teeth to get them to come see it in the first place, but as soon as they do, then they’ll do anything for us.”

For example, “The Passion of the Christ” opened in 3,408 theaters nationwide. “The Investigator” openned in 11 – but Abisinio says those 11 markets were carefully chosen. In each city, churches and youth groups went to see the film together. Pastors recommended their congregations see the film.

Then, when the DVD comes out in 2014, says Abisinio, so will a Christian study guide that examines the evidence that the film’s main character covers in his classroom – the proofs that Jesus Christ actually did everything that Christianity says He did. That’s certainly going to help with the bottom line – and, yes, even Christian films have to make a profit if their producers are going to have a shot at another film.

This is a perfect movie to show to a youth group on a weekend retreat. Nobody hops into bed. No blasphemous language. Lots of youth angst and teenage conflict. The baseball team’s arch-rivals are wretched enough that you want to throw popcorn at the screen.

Some of the editing is confusing – superfluous scenes could have been axed, but were obviously dear to the screenwriter and to Abisinio. The baseball scenes are fun – and here is where the film’s comedic element shines. Occasionally the character development is confusing as opponents become supporters too quickly – a little more suspense would be more satisfying. But it is inspirational to see the arrogant young football quarterback quietly ask Coach if he can have a shot at baseball.

8

Coach runs into skepticism on the field as well as in the classroom

Filmed in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa area, lots of local extras were used – and at the premiere, all seemed thrilled with the result and had brought friends and family to see their moment of fame.

It’s done well with reviewers: “This intriguing investigation takes place as we also follow the teams rise to the championship game,” writes Dove family reviewers who gave it a coveted rating of 5 Doves. “Will Sergeant Buanacore recover his faith? Will the team come together and play disciplined ball? You will have to watch this inspirational film to find out. You will also be surprised to find out that this moving drama is adapted from real events and we are pleased to award it our Dove ‘Family-Approved’ Seal for ages 12 and over.”

“I didn’t think they made this kind of film anymore,” wrote Pastor Bob Coy, Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale. “Redemptive message, high quality, good acting, a keep you glued story, educational, inspirational, and for the whole family! It’s more than just a movie, it has the power to change your life!”

”A candid and encouraging look at wrestling with faith and doubt through hard times,” wrote the American Family Association Journal.

”A moving and thought-provoking film about one man’s journey to investigate his faith and return to Christ.” Wrote the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

”The Investigator is a Christ-centered, heart-warming story about discovering grace and truth,” according to Movieguide.

”This gripping tale is one of redemption and finding God’s grace in the most unlikely of places. As a ministry that promotes films that promote a culture of life and love we could not be more thrilled,” wrote Jason Jones of Movie to Movement.

9”For those who are like the doubting apostle Thomas, you will explore a way to investigate the resurrection of Jesus through the character of Police Sergeant James Buanacore, a twenty-year veteran investigator. Overall this is a heartwarming story, of personal transformation that will touch adults as well as adolescents,” wrote Dr. Caroline Cerveny of Interactive.

“This is a special film,” says Abisinio. “Everywhere we’ve gone, we are seeing it literally changing people’s lives. They are wanting to come to God. it’s amazing. I’ve never seen people literally affected to that extent.

“I think it is because it’s real and we don’t hold back.”