Hello. I’m restarting my blog with this article from Earth Day


Friends ask where they can follow my articles, so I’m reviving my blog. I hope to do a better job of keeping you updated.

Let’s start with an interesting look at how evangelicals were committed to creation care half a century ago. Then they flip-flopped. Today, evangelicals are the least committed to  environmentalism and the most skeptical about climate change.

What caused the great evangelical environmental flip-flop? This story, published on Earth Day, explains this major shift.

Posted in Articles

Evangelicals embraced environmental care, until they didn’t

Happy belated Earth Day!

Today, American evangelicals are the least likely group to see climate change as a problem.

But decades ago, evangelicals embraced environmental stewardship as a biblical value and part of a Christian lifestyle.

What changed? This story explains this shift.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Religion in the News

Christian leaders differ over what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

A warm hello and belated Happy New Year to you!

While I haven’t been a good digital citizen of late, this year I hope to do a better job of keeping you updated on my work in articles and books that may be of interest. Today, I’m letting you know about two interesting articles from last week.

1) January 6

What happened on Jan. 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol? And who set the attack in motion?

Comments from dozens of Christian leaders and institutions show differing opinions and disagreement about the most basic facts, as you can see in this compilation article: “A Look Back: What Evangelical Leaders Said About Jan. 6 Attack.”

2) Colorado fires

Fires that started near Boulder, Colorado on Dec. 30 ravaged 1,000 homes and forced 35,000 people to flee. So far, it looks like the fire may have started on a property owned by Twelve Tribes, a religious group that survives from the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Members live communally, like their role models in the book of Acts. They take Hebrew names, share everything in common, home school their children, and try to keep to themselves. But that may be more difficult now, as you can see in the article, Twelve Tribes Group Denies Starting Devastating Colorado Fire.”





Posted in Articles, Blog

Dr. King’s racial dream on hold?

Racism is resurgent. (Credit: Manchester University)

It’s been a busy time for racial incidents targeting blacks. Some Christian leaders are worried. As one pastor told me:

“Dr. King’s dream of racial equality has always been under assault, but I believe the climate we are under now is more intense than it has been since the earlier days of the civil rights movement.”

See my article, “Revisiting Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream,” here.

Among recent incidents:

  • A white man was just charged with burning down three historically-black Louisiana churches;
  • Politicians and universities admitted putting racist photos and depictions of whites in blackface in student yearbooks.
  • A U.S. congressman from Iowa who has long supported white nationalism was finally rebuked by his colleagues, and lost committee assignments.
  • Schools in Charlottesville, Virginia—home to a 2017 white supremacist rally–recently closed for two days as police investigated a threat of racist violence against non-white students.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism says disturbing incidents are on the rise. Reports of people distributing white supremacist propaganda (fliers, stickers, banners and posters) rose 182 percent, from 421 reports in 2017 to 1,187 reports in 2018. See the ADL report here.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was frustrated with white Christians who said blacks should be patient and wait for justice to arrive. King would likely be frustrated today.

In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

You can read Dr. King’s letter here.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Merry Christmas Tree

Greetings! It has been a while since I posted.

Life is good, and busy! More updates to come.

Meanwhile, I thought you might like to see a recent article about how some volunteer elves are making the holidays better for others: “Christmas Tree Project Brings Joy.”

Posted in Articles

Give Graciously, but Don’t Be a Dumb Donor: You Can Do a Simple Charity Checkup


Ed Anderson, Compassion International's chief financial officer, discusses information systems with ministry workers in Thailand in October. The ministry's field offices in 26 countries work with nearly two million children.

Ed Anderson, Compassion International’s chief financial officer, discusses information systems with ministry workers in Thailand in October. The ministry’s field offices in 26 countries work with nearly two million children.

Americans donated more than $1 billion to religious charities last year. But which charities use donor dollars best? And which evangelical parachurch organizations deliver the most “ministry per dollar”?

That’s what I wanted to find out. I contacted nearly 3 dozen ministries, requesting their audited financial statements so I could “look under the hood” and see how much they actually spend on ministry program. (As opposed to overhead, fundraising and other non-ministry costs).

My efforts were supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and the fruits of my labor were recently published in two articles:

One) a “local” article published in the Colorado Springs Gazette focusing on that city’s 23 largest parachurch organizations.

Two) and a “national” article focusing on 20 widely known national ministries published by Religion News Service.

Charities Vary in Efficiency and Transparency

I found out two important things you should keep in mind as you (along with millions of other donors) make charitable contributions at the end of the year:

First, ministries vary widely in how much of your money they actually devote to ministry. Among the ministries I researched, the most efficient was every home for Christ (88 cents of every dollar go to ministry programs), while the least efficient was Prison Fellowship (only 62 cents of every dollar go to ministry programs).

(See which organizations spend the most and least on program in the chart in the national article.)

Second, ministries differ in how transparent they are about their financial operations. I was surprised to discover that four Colorado Springs-based ministries that belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability violated the council’s transparency standards by declining to provide me with their audited financial statements.

(When I contacted an ECFA representative for a response, ECFA promptly contacted the four ministries, which belatedly saw the light and sent me their documents. No word yet from ECFA on any plans it has to educate its members about transparency, which the ECFA calls both a matter of “moral integrity” and “a condition of continued ECFA accreditation in good standing.” And no word from the four ministries about any plans they have to be more transparent in the future.)

UPDATE from Gary Cantwell, Chief Communications Officer, The Navigators 11/29/16:

Thank you for bringing the ECFA guidelines to our attention. We have since added a link to our most recent audited financial statement to our public website (http://www.navigators.org/About-Us/Financial%20Report).

You can do your own simple charity checkup

Here’s what you need to do to see which charities deliver the most “ministry per dollar.”

-See if the charities use support make their audited financial statements available, either online or by request.

-Use these statements to find out how much of every dollar charities spend on “program” (the good works that are the reason you’re supporting them).

-Check the websites of charity watchdogs like Charity Navigator and Ministry Watch, both of which helped me in my research.

Compassion still gets it right

In the “local” version of the story I showed how Compassion International gets it right when it comes to transparency. The ministry makes more than a dozen financial reports readily available for all to see on its website.

I edited Compassion’s magazine for a few years, back in the day. Every year, President Wally Erickson insisted we add eight pages to the November/December issue so we could include the latest audited financial statement. When I interviewed Compassion’s chief financial officer Ed Anderson for the article, I got the distinct impression that financial integrity remains a core value at this ministry.

Posted in Articles, Blog

The Aliens Are Among Us! Again! (and in at a theater near you in “Arrival”)

Huge alien space pods have landed at a dozen spots around the world.

Will a linguist (Amy Adams) be able to communicate with these beings from another planet, ascertain their intentions, and respond quickly if they are out to get us?


78 years after Orson Welles scared millions with his Halloween broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” bad guys are back in “Arrival,” the latest in a long list of movies and books about aliens among us.

Remember when horror fiction writer Whitley Strieber said aliens abducted him, probed his body, and declared him their “chosen one” in his creepy, allegedly nonfiction bestseller, Communion?

As Dave Bradstreet and I write in our new book, Star Struck:

Most Americans think we’ve got company in the universe, and nearly a third of us believe aliens have visited our planet.

The search for actual aliens (or SETI) has been going on for decades, but so far none have turned up. A growing number of space missions is probing more of our cosmos’s nooks and crannies.

World-famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has even joined the search, as the New York Times reported in July 2015: “Stephen Hawking Joins Russian Entrepreneur’s Search for Alien Life.”

But even if none are ever found, they will survive in our imaginations, our movies, and our sci-fi novels.


Dave and I suggest an answer:

Here’s my theory explaining why most of us seem to believe alien life forms are out there somewhere: pop culture. Our hearts and minds have been shaped by decades’ worth of adorable aliens who’ve visited us on screens small and large most of our lives. I know these celebrity extraterrestrials have informed my imagination about life in space.



Posted in Articles, Blog

Billionaire Space Race and Ending the War Between Science and Faith

I recently wrote about the Billionaire Space Race for the Colorado Springs Gazette. At the same time, Gazette writer Debbie Kelley wrote about me and Star Struck, my new book with astronomer David Bradstreet.

Last spring I was able to hear Amazon founder Jeff Bezos excitedly share his vision for commercial space travel:


“I won the lottery with Amazon,” he said at this spring’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Now his billions fund his “boyhood dream.” In 2000 he founded Blue Origin, an aerospace company that plans to enable “anybody to go into space,” on brief, expensive rides.

My article asks: with all these new private space ventures, can we be “good” in space? And if bad guys take to the heavens, what is anybody going to do about it?

I interviewed experts Steve Eisenhart of the Space Foundation and Ian Christensen of the Secure World Foundation. You can read the article here.

Meanwhile, Debbie Kelley wrote about Star Struck and me in her article, “Colorado Springs theological writer’s latest book puts new spin on age-old clash of Christianity and science.”

“The war between religion and science is over,” said Rabey, who has written 35 books on subjects ranging from Celtic spirituality to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting to Pentecostal revivalism.

“No astronomical finding will diminish your belief in God’s role as Creator and sustainer of the universe,” the authors write.

Debbie has covered religion for decades, and understands that some believers are convinced that science is out to demonize faith. But as Debbie points out, everything I researched while writing Star Struck showed that scientific discovery often results in complex, elegant heavenly processes that engender awe and praise:

In doing research, Rabey said he realized the vastness of God’s creation – “the kind of things that make you stop and go ‘Hmmm’ and look up and marvel and wonder.”



Posted in Articles, Blog

Martians attacked Earth and scared millions 78 years ago

The Sunday evening “news report” interrupted a program of dance music with warnings of explosions on Mars. But it was actually a scripted broadcast of H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel, “The War of the Worlds,” that scared millions that Halloween night.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in New Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.

Soon, eyewitness accounts were describing shocking details. Martian invaders were causing American deaths, scaring millions of listeners out of their wits.  Some called police stations. Others organized prayer groups, or started packing suitcases for an escape . . . before realizing everything had been part of an elaborate Halloween hoax.



When the dust settled, a little known twenty something actor and producer apologized for abusing the public’s airwaves and trust. Three years later, the same young man would release his film masterpiece Citizen Kane, perhaps the best movie ever made.


This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that “The War of the Worlds” has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. . . . We couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night . . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears.

You can hear the broadcast here, and read the transcript here.

Martians Among Us

As Dave Bradstreet write in Star Struck, our new book:

This wasn’t the last time the red planet next door aroused our fascination or phobias. “Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our earthly hopes and fears,” said the late astronomer Carl Sagan.

We Earthlings have long viewed our planetary neighbor through a jumble of fiction and fact. Today, multiple Mars missions are gathering more facts than ever before. We haven’t uncovered any Martians so far, but the scientific research we’re doing fascinates me more than any science fiction.

Fictional Martians had scared Earthlings for centuries, but one sci-fi writer changed all that.

Ray Bradbury did more than any other writer to take science fiction into the cultural mainstream, helping change our negative attitudes with his Martian Chronicles, published in 1950. These aliens looked great, with their “fair, brownish skin” and “yellow coin eyes.” They sounded good too, with their “soft musical voices.”










You can read all about humanity’s fear and affection for Martians in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos (Zondervan, Sept. 2016). You can order your own copy here.

Posted in Articles

Happy Birthday, Everything! Why Archbishop Ussher said God Created the World at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE

There’s a big birthday coming up. Really big! According to 17th century northern Irish Archbishop James Ussher, the universe was created exactly 6,020 years ago this Saturday.


David Bradstreet and I discuss Ussher and explore the age of the cosmos in our new book, Star Struck:

The Bible clearly teaches that God created everything “in the beginning.” But does Scripture also tell us when that beginning began?

This question became an obsession for James Ussher, a seventeenth-century Irish Anglican bishop who spent decades of study and research in his quest to come up with the best answer. His dogged pursuit of the truth sapped his strength, emptied his bank account, and almost blinded him. But he persevered, concluding that the beginning had begun at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE.

But we almost didn’t learn about Ussher’s massive project:

Ussher was in his sixties when he finally finished his research. That’s when tragedy struck. All his notes were blown away by a powerful Irish wind. The loss shocked the bishop, who ascribed the incident to God’s mysterious will:

“He has thought fit to take from me at once, all that I have been gathering together, above these twenty years, and which I intend to publish for the advancement of learning, and the good of the Church.”

Helpful townspeople quickly gathered up most of the bishop’s windblown papers, allowing him to finally publish his magnum opus, The Annals of the World, in 1650.

Ussher’s chronology drew mixed reviews.

While most praised his scholarship, others scoffed. In 1922, H. G. Wells, a skeptic and author of some of the most enduring works of science fiction (The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine), dismissed Ussher’s dating scheme as a “fantastically precise misconception” based on “arbitrary theological assumptions.”

Ussher’s chronology might have disappeared had it not been added to scripture by some publishers:

Ussher died six years after publishing his Annals, but his dating scheme achieved immortality when an enterprising Bible printer began including his chronology in new Bibles. The Church of England incorporated Ussher’s dates in its official version of the Bible in 1701.

(Some Catholics also embraced Ussher’s dating scheme, but Jesuit missionaries encountered problems in China when they tried to preach a young-Earth Creator to people who traced their civilization back thousands of years.)

Over the next two centuries, Ussher’s dates were printed alongside the scriptural text in millions of English-language Bibles, leading generations of Bible readers to think of Ussher’s chronology as the biblical chronology.

This comingling of Scripture and chronological interpretation confused at least one reader. “I declare I had fancied that the date was somehow in the Bible,” said Charles Darwin.


Thankfully, most Bible publishers long ago stopped adding Ussher’s non-scientific chronology to the pages of scripture, but Ussher’s views on the age of the cosmos remain popular with many “young Earth” believers. A 2014 Gallup survey found that Ussher’s views remain popular:

More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades.

Read about efforts by theologians and scientists to determine the age of the cosmos in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).


You can order your own copy here:

Posted in Articles, Blog

Black Holes Burping and Singing: Scientists Say Cause Is “Spaghettification” of Stars

There have been some disturbing reports lately of crude behavior in outer space. Black holes are burping.

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

The black hole Cygnus X-1 (left) is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. The artist’s illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. (NASA)

In the past, astronomers heard black holes singing. Now the sounds are more digestive.

As David Bradstreet and I explain in our new book, Star Struck:

Black holes—so far as we know—are celestial phenomena (possibly the remains of dying stars) that compress vast amounts of matter and energy into a very small space, unleashing gravitational forces so strong that they suck in everything nearby, including light waves, which explains why they’re so black.

Some people describe black holes as giant vacuum clean- ers that travel around sucking up planets and energy like so much space dust. It’s probably more accurate to describe them as big, galactic bathtub drains. Open your bathtub drain and you can see the dirty water swirling around and going down.

It’s similar with black holes, except we never see the drain itself, only space stuff swirling around and disappearing. We can’t tell where everything is going, nor do we know if the standard laws of physics apply within their mysterious boundaries.

The burping was reported by NASA and covered in a recent Forbes article, ” Black Holes Burp Cosmic Radiation After Devouring Stars:”

NASA astronomers have gained new insight into the enormous flares from stars being chewed up by supermassive black holes.

Everyone now knows that black holes belch fire when they chow down on stars, as a number of these rare events have been captured by space telescopes in the last few years.

But TIME disagrees, in this article: “No, Black Holes Can’t ‘Burp.’ But What They Do Instead Is Important.”

They can burp. Sort of. OK, let’s back up.

The TIME article says what sounds like burping may result from “spaghettification” of stars:

… which is just what it sounds like—an annihilation that takes the form of the star being torn into long stands before being swallowed up.

As spaghettification happens, it leads to what the researchers describe as a “sudden injection of gas close to the black hole horizon.” That is an injection toward the hole from the star, not the other way around. The injection leads to brilliant flares of light—still far away enough from the hole that they can escape. The light is then absorbed by dust particles a few trillion miles from the black hole, which re-emit the energy in the infrared.


In 2003, NASA detected massive sound waves speeding away from a supermassive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies. As Dave and I wrote:

Translated into a musical note, these sound waves were the equivalent of a B flat that’s fifty-seven octaves below middle C on the typical seven-octave piano. Humans can’t actually hear these sound waves, which are a billion times lower than the sounds our ears can pick up, but our instruments can detect them, declaring the Perseus song the deepest note ever received from space.

“The Perseus sound waves are much more than just an interesting form of black hole acoustics,” said researcher Steve Allen of the Institute of Astronomy in an article on NASA’s Science News website. “These sound waves may be the key in figuring out how galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe, grow.”

You may not be able to hear black holes, but you CAN hear the audio version of Star Struck.




Posted in Articles, Blog

Have You Hugged Your Pastor Today? Pastor Appreciation Day Coming!

People expect a lot from their pastors: theological insights; inspirational preaching; spiritual purity; powerful leadership; and a nice bedside manner when making hospital calls.

As a result, pastors suffer with higher than average rates of depression, obesity and hypertension. A psychologist says pastors are “the single most occupationally frustrated group in America.”

But you can help pastors thrive by celebrating Pastor Appreciation Day (celebrated either this Sunday, Oct. 9, or next Wednesday, Oct. 12, depending on the calendar you use).

Various surveys show how the pressure pastors feel is hurting them and the church:

1,400 pastors leave the ministry every month.

90% of pastors feel they are inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.

75% of pastors say they are stressed and fight depression.

70% of pastors say they have no close friends.

55% of pastors feel lonely and discouraged at times.

33% of pastors say being in ministry is a hazard to their families.

23% of pastors have been forced to resign 62% of terminated pastors were terminated by churches that had forced out other pastors.

Only 16% of pastors say they are “very satisfied” with their prayer life.

As Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote in a recent article for Religion News Service, “Conflict and burnout are among top reasons pastors quit.”

Sometimes a call from God is not enough to keep a pastor in his post.

Many evangelical pastors who quit before retirement age found “another calling” either off the pulpit or out of ministry altogether. But many also say they were driven away by conflict and burnout. So says a new survey of former pastors from four denominations.

Grossman’s article was based on a LifeWay survey of 734 former pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The LifeWay results were sobering:

  • 56 percent said there were clashes over changes they proposed.

  • 54 percent said they experienced a significant personal attack.

  • 48 percent said their training didn’t prepare them to handle the people side of ministry.

What can you do, besides give your pastor a big hug? LifeWay offers some actions you can take to help your pastor be healthier, happier and more effective in “10 Gift Ideas for Pastor Appreciation Month & Pastor Appreciation Day.”

Want to do something awesome for your pastor? Then give a gift retreat at SonScape Retreats.


Founded by a pastoral couple more than 30 years ago, SonScape has helped more than 3,000 pastoral and missionary leaders and couples from around the world experience rest and renewal of their passion for ministry.

Research into SonScape alumni shows:

89% of leaders attending a SonScape retreat have remained in ministry (or have retired in ministry).

96% of couples attending a SonScape retreat are still married.

Want to know more about the SonScape approach? Then read Pastors are People Too (published by David C. Cook), the new book by Larry Magnuson, SonScape’s CEO, and co-author Jimmy Dodd of PastorServe.


A former pastor who has been leading retreats at SonScpae for 14 years, Magnuson says the book tells you what pastors won’t tell you, but it’s what you need to know. In a time when too many pastors are discouraged, depressed, and often ready to throw in the towel on ministry, Pastors are People Too addresses the complex world of the pastor and their family.

Jimmy Dodd, President of PastorServe, and Larry Magnuson, President of SonScape Retreats, have developed a deep friendship, as well as a commitment to encourage and support the men and women called to lead the Church. The two ministries have come alongside thousands of ministry couples listening to their stories and offering help and healing where needed.



The books tells why the state of your pastor should matter to you, and what you can do about it:

  • Your pastor needs a champion
  • Allow your pastor to be a real person
  • Managing expectations
  • The pastor’s spouse and family
  • Conflict: It’s inevitable

At least for a while this month, perhaps we can stop placing inordinate demands on our pastors, and start being someone who supports leaders, instead.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Happy Birthday Sputnik: Little Russian Satellite Inspired U.S. Space Race

sputniknytIt was the “Beep, beep” that changed the world 59 years ago Tuesday.

David Bradstreet and I wrote about it in our book, Star Struck:






            The first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth wasn’t much to look at. With a shiny round body the size of a beach ball and four spindly antennae that resembled skinny legs, the device looked like an undersized barbecue grill.

But this primitive little satellite had a huge global impact. Launched into low Earth orbit in October 1957, Sputnik circled our planet every ninety-six minutes. Millions of people around the globe went outside to see it pass overhead. Amateur radio enthusiasts tuned in to hear its distinctive beep, beep signal.

Now everyone knew the truth. The US had been out-maneuvered by the USSR, its dreaded Cold War foe. The space race was on, and we were playing catch-up. President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to prove itself in a 1961 speech to Congress:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Yes, meeting Kennedy’s challenge was expensive and difficult. And boy, was it impressive.

Kennedy’s audacious goal was dramatically realized eight years later when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and returned safely home, his journey broadcast on live television for all to see.

Science fiction had become science fact. America declared victory in the space race, thanks to the billions of dollars NASA spent developing the cutting-edge technologies needed for dozens of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

NASA celebrated Sputnik’s birthday last year in the article, “Remembering Sputnik – The satellite that began the Space Race.”



Sputnik was the beginning of what we call Space 1.0. Today, Space 2.0 is just around the corner.

Say farewell to space 1.0, the era of government-dominated space exploration. Say hello to space 2.0, when a new billionaire space race is funding dozens of emerging private companies that plan to sell tickets to space tourists, mine asteroids, or create Martian colonies.

Thanks, Sputnik, for getting the whole thing started!

Read all about Sputnik and the space race in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).


You can order your own copy here:


Posted in Articles, Blog

Diversity a Challenge for Evangelical Parachurch Organizations

First-century Christians preached a radical gospel of ethnic and gender diversity. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, “wrote the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28.

But white male leadership remains the norm for dozens of major national and international evangelical parachurch organizations, as I found out in a major research project.

I asked 33 ministries how many women and non-white males were in their executive leadership ranks and on their boards. More than half of these ministries–including the Navigators, a $116–million ministry, declined to answer.

But thanks to funding support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, I spent hours tracking down ministry info from 990 tax forms and their own websites to get the answers:

Only one of 33 major national organizations contacted for this article is led by a woman — Jane Overstreet at Development Associates International. And only three are led by nonwhite males.

“Some groups are talking about greater gender diversity, while others talk about racial diversity,” says Amy Reynolds, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College in Illinois, a leading evangelical institution that recently appointed its first female provost in its 156-year history. “The question is, what are they willing to do to get there?”

My research was published in two recent articles:

A “local” version for the Colorado Springs Gazette focusing on the city’s 23 largest parachurch organizations with over $5 in annual income:

And a “national” version for Religion News Service that incorporates numbers from 10 more well-known ministries located around the U.S.:

White male leadership persists at evangelical ministries

White male leadership persists at evangelical ministries

Inspiration for research

Back when I was the Colorado Springs Gazette’s full time religion editor, I kept close track of the city’s dozens of parachurch organizations. But over the years, most papers have eliminated religion specialists, drastically reducing the reporting on Christian non-profits.

In 2014, Christianity Today published the Women in Leadership National Study. The study, which was based on voluntary responses from ministries, found that nearly a quarter of parachurch organizations have no women on their boards and more than half have no women in top positions. These leadership figures are significantly lower than those in the corporate world and the broader charitable world.

In 2015, I started planning for the articles I would like to tackle in 2016 for the Gazette, where I contribute stories as a monthly religion correspondent. Nobody had done any systematic reporting on Springs parachurch groups in years, but the Gazette’s freelance rates would not support detailed research.

That’s when I decided to send a proposal to the Fund for Investigative Journalism. I’m grateful they gave me a grant to do two parachurch projects:

  • the diversity articles mentioned above,
  • and my next parachurch project, which will look at these ministries’ financial efficiency and their stewardship of donors’ gifts. I hope more ministries respond this time around!

Thanks also to Amy Reynolds, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College in Illinois (a leading evangelical institution that recently appointed its first female provost in its 156-year history). Reynolds worked on the Women in Leadership National Study, and provided significant help as I worked on my two articles.

For the record, here are the ministries that did not reply to my repeated inquiries.

Four organizations never responded:

  • the Navigators,
  • Andrew Wommack Ministries,
  • VisionTrust International,
  • and Family Talk (James Dobson’s post-Focus ministry).

Thirteen ministries responded but declined to answer my questions about women and minorities serve in their executive ranks or on their boards:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom,
  • Biblica (formerly International Bible Society),
  • David C Cook,
  • Engineering Ministries International,
  • Every Home for Christ,
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes,
  • International Students, Inc.,
  • Military Community Youth Ministries,
  • One Challenge (formerly OC International),
  • Pioneers USA,
  • Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB),
  • The Salvation Army USA,
  • and Summit Ministries.
Posted in Articles

From Star Trek to Star Struck in 50 Years

Before Star Trek, aliens were portrayed as bad guys. As Dave Bradstreet and I show in our new book, Star Struck:

H. G. Wells’s powerful 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds, described angry, ugly Martians with immense eyes, quivering mouths, and slithering tentacles. “Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance,” wrote Wells, whose novel also served as the basis of a 2005 Steven Spielberg remake starring Tom Cruise.


That was before three writers changed everything: sci-fi pioneer Ray Bradbury; Christian apologist C. S. Lewis; and Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, a TV show that premiered 50 years ago this week. As we show:

Ray Bradbury did more than any other writer to take science fiction into the cultural mainstream, helping change our negative attitudes with his Martian Chronicles, published in 1950. These aliens looked great, with their “fair, brownish skin” and “yellow coin eyes.” They sounded good too, with their “soft musical voices.”

Bradbury’s Martians were intellectually, technologically, and telepathically superior to the lowly Earthlings, who colonized and exploited Mars only after having destroyed their own planet with nuclear bombs. They even took their destructive ways along with them into space, unintentionally wiping out much of the Martian population with chicken pox.

As America embarked upon its space race in the 1960s, Bradbury’s good-aliens approach would influence novels, movies, and TV shows like 1963’s My Favorite Martian, which portrayed interplanetary visitors as average guys who looked and acted just like us. Bradbury’s close friend Gene Roddenberry would enthusiastically celebrate cosmic diversity in his Star Trek series.

Star Trek

The Soul of Star Trek site has a brief article about the Bradbury-Roddenberry connection.

Changing Views

People were also changing their theology about alien life:

Christian writer C. S. Lewis added a theological dimension to the good-Martian/bad-human approach in Out of the Silent Planet, the first installment in his space trilogy. Lewis portrayed Martians as sinless residents of an unfallen planetary Eden.

Dave and I are honored that Star Trek debuted 50 years before our book Star Struck came out. Just as Roddenberry celebrates cosmic diversity, we’re celebrating cosmic discovery and exploration. We’re sending a message that God loves scientists and the fascinating work they do. Perhaps 50 years from now, or less, this approach will have replaced the anti-science stances embraced in some circles.


You can order your copy of Star Struck here:


Posted in Articles

Voyagers Space Probes Still Going, Going, Going…

At a time when Americans hang on to their cars for an average 11.5 years, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, two NASA space probes, are still going strong nearly forty years after liftoff.


And in August 2012, after a journey of thirty-five years and more than 10 billion miles, Voyager 1 earned a cherished place in history, becoming the first human-made object to leave our solar system and cross over into interstellar space.

NASA has praised the Voyager mission as its “most scientifically productive mission ever,” and the agency says the two probes will likely have enough juice to remain fully operational through 2025.

Not the End

In time, power will fail, systems will begin to shut down, and Voyagers 1 and 2 will go quiet and dark, losing their ability to investigate space and relay findings back to scientists on Earth.

But that’s not the end. Unless the two craft are destroyed by space junk, they will spend the next few billion years passing through our own Milky Way galaxy, only one of the many billions of galaxies floating around out there.


As David Brandstreet and I say in our new book, Star Struck:

“The Voyagers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wander the Milky Way,” says NASA.

Some forty thousand years from now, Voyager 1 is expected to draw closer to AC+79 3888, a “nearby” star in the Camelopardalis constellation. A quarter-million years or so later it will pass by Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

President Jimmy Carter dedicated the Voyagers before liftoff, suggesting they could “survive a billion years into our future . . . when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.”

Cosmic Greeting Card

The Voyagers’ closing act may be the most exciting. Even after the two craft cease their labors as scientific probes, they will continue their work as cosmic ambassadors, reaching out to any forms of extraterrestrial life they may encounter during their journeys.

If creatures from one of our Creator’s other planets ever retrieve one of these Voyagers, they will find messages of greeting from us Earthlings, along with an invitation to get to know us better by browsing a multimedia family album featuring iconic sights and sounds from our planet.

Will anyone out there ever play the record and see Earth’s family album? If so, what will alien life-forms make of the varied sights and sounds from our tiny blue planet circa 1977, the year New York City went dark and the first Apple computer went on sale:

  • Greetings in more than fifty languages, from Akkadian, a language spoken in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, to Wu, a Chinese dialect;

  • Compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky; a chant by Navajo Indians; an initiation song sung by pygmy girls in Zaire; songs by Australian aborigines; and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”;

  • Earth sounds, including crickets, frogs, wind, rain, thunder, crashing surf, and exploding volcanoes;

  • And more than one hundred color images, including a map showing our cosmic address; diagrams of the DNA structure and human anatomy; Ansel Adams photographs of California’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Snake River winding through the Grand Tetons; and two contrasting residences, India’s luxurious Taj Mahal and a humbler dwelling in America’s Amish country.


President Jimmy Carter added his own message of greeting on the Golden Records:

“We cast this message into the cosmos,” wrote “This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”


Do you think anyone out there will ever “play” Voyagers’ records?


You can read all about stellar travel in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

You can pre-order your own copy here:

Posted in Articles

A Curious Quest for Character and a Tale of Two Sinners

Once upon a time, evangelicals rallying around family values declared that character was a prerequisite to leadership–especially in the president’s office.

As journalist Jonathan Merritt puts it:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

But things have changed, as Merrit shows in his Atlantic article, “Trump-Loving Christians Owe Bill Clinton an Apology.”

Merritt’s subhead says it all: “Conservative evangelicals were unwilling to offer forgiveness to a Democrat who asked for it. But they have freely offered it to a Republican who doesn’t want it.”


More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”


A Dobsonian Denunciation

Back in Sept. 1998, James Dobson was “shocked,” “dismayed,” and “alarmed” by Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and “the willingness of my fellow citizens to rationalize the president’s behavior.”

“That disregard for morality is profoundly disturbing to me,” wrote Dobson in his monthly letter to supporters of Focus on the Family, the ministry he later left to found Family Talk. “The public has never approved such misconduct.”

Dobson has endorsed Donald Trump, who has his own issues with marriages, extramarital affairs, racism, and sexism. Dobson has not condemned Trump’s sins, claiming he is a “baby Christian” who apparently doesn’t know any better.

The Apostle Paul said “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but Trump gets more grace from Dobson than Clinton ever did:

“I just don’t understand it,” Dobson wrote in 1998.

“Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the president’s behavior? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men?”

It’s all about character, Dobson wrote.

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!

Dobson concluded that Americans would soon face the consequences if they continue to tolerate blatant immorality from their national leader:

We are facing a profound moral crisis not only because one man has disgraced us but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that stage of depravity – judgment is a certainty.

PS: Jonathan Merritt also explored theologian Wayne Grudem’s less-than-compelling efforts to apply different standards to Trump than he applied to an earlier Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary, wrote in 2007 that evangelicals “will lose any moral high ground” if they support Giuliani, “a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights candidate who is on his third marriage and had a messy affair prior to his divorce from his second wife.”



Posted in Articles, Blog

The Day Aliens Reached Out and Said, “Hello!” (Maybe)

It happened 39 years ago today as an astronomer involved in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI for short) picked up a radio signal, possibly from aliens in the constellation of Sagittarius.

Researcher Jerry R. Ehman of Ohio State University was so shocked by the apparent bleep from space that he wrote the word “Wow!” on a computer print out.

wow seti signal

But the excitement generated by the signal has calmed down. Unfortunately, no one was ever able to pick up the signal again, leading to questions about its validity. And in the 39 years since, there have been no additional signals.

SETI has grown cold.


Is Anybody Out There?

That wasn’t the way it was supposed to work out, as David Bradstreet and I show in our new book, Star Struck, out next month:

Jodie Foster (Eleanor Arroway) decides to devote her entire life to pursuing the mysteries of the galaxy that her father opened her eyes to.

In the movie “Contact,” Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) picks up signals from an alien life form.

For decades, scientists hoped SETI would help us find someone out there somewhere, none more enthusiastically than the late Carl Sagan, who wrote the novel that became the popular 1997 movie Contact.

In the film, Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, a scientist who picks up signals from space. Finally, another civilization has reached out with an intelligent radio handshake….

The silence has been particularly deafening for Frank Drake, one of the pioneers in SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and author of the famous Drake Equation, which argues that since there are so many billions of planets in our cosmos, it makes sense that somewhere between one thousand and 100 million of them should be home to technologically advanced alien civilizations.

Now, after decades of work and millions of dollars, many scientists are moving on.

“Things have slowed down, and we are in bad shape in several ways,” a disappointed Drake told science writer Lee Billings in Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life among the Stars. “Most people don’t seem to think there is much benefit to it.”

But the absence of signals from space isn’t stopping Hollywood from creating more movies about alien visitation.

The next film to explore the topic, Arrival, opens November 11. Amy Adams stars as a language specialist trying to decipher the aliens’ statements.

Arrival movie

Do you think there’s life on other planets? Why, or why not?


Posted in Articles

See “Meteor Shower of the Decade” This Week

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The heavens will be putting on a big show as Thursday night becomes Friday morning.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is back, this time twice as powerful as usual, giving us a display that Popular Mechanics described as “the meteor shower of the decade.”

If you find yourself outside during the night Thursday, don’t forget to look up.

On August 11 and 12, the biggest meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be lighting up the night sky, and this year the Perseids promise to be the best shower of the decade.

Getting to Know Meteors

Astronomer David Bradstreet and I explore meteors in our new book, Star Struck:

Meteors are chunks of interplanetary material that typically burn up when they come into contact with our atmosphere.

We call them meteoroids when they’re floating in space. They’re meteorites once they land on the ground, as many thousands do every year. And when Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris field of a comet orbiting near the Sun, we witness a meteor shower.

Popular Mechanics says this year’s show will be twice as big as normal, thanks to some additional guests:

The Perseids typically peak in mid-August every year, when the Earth intersects with the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Debris from the comet impacts the Earth’s atmosphere and streaks across the sky, creating shooting stars….

This year, the Perseids are expected to contain meteors from comet trails laid down in 1862, 1479, and 1079. This means that some of the meteors that will impact Earth’s atmosphere next week broke off from the Comet Swift-Tuttle nearly a thousand years ago.

Viewing Tips

There’s a helpful NASA site that can help you get the most out of this summer’s Perseid shower show.

Unfortunately, not everyone can see meteor showers or other heavenly glories. Some of us who live in big cities are blinded by our own light: we’re unable to see into space because we’ve let there be too much light on Earth.

This  can Dark Site Finder can help you locate the nearest dark spot.

OOPS! The Ones that Sneak Through

Our atmosphere intercepts most asteroids, but every once in a while, a big one gets through, as Dave and I explain:

In 1908, the Tunguska meteor was traveling toward Earth at 40,000 mph when it exploded far above our planet’s surface. The blast’s force knocked down an estimated 80 million trees across some 800 square miles, instantly turning forests of tall timber into trillions of toothpicks.

You can actually visit the remains of one meteor:


A 150-foot-wide meteor struck Arizona some 50,000 years ago, unleashing the explosive force of 20 million tons of TNT….

Mining entrepreneur Daniel Barringer bought the crater in 1903, hoping to get rich mining its awesome ore. But he never found his mother lode.

Where did Barringer’s meteor and all its supposed mineral wealth go? Scientists say that when the meteor collided withg the desert, the meteor vaporized upon impact, spreading tiny specks of molten metal across the desert for miles around.

Today, Barringer’s descendants still own the crater, and the Barringer Crater Company welcomes thousands of paying guests to view exhibits at a nearby visitor’s center and take brief tours along part of the crater rim. During tours, guides show guests where the remains of Barringer’s meteor went, sticking a small magnetic rod into the soil and holding it up for all to see the tiny specks of metal clinging to the magnet.

Look, See

The psalmist David tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Ps. 19:1).

Catch the Perseid meteor shower to see that glory vividly declared and proclaimed!

You can read all about meteors and other mind-blowing cosmic characters in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

You can pre-order your own copy here.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Catching Up with John Michael Talbot

Pioneering Catholic musician John Michael Talbot visited Colorado last week, which was great for the many hundreds who heard him sing and teach, as well as for me!

1) A musical legend


I was able to catch up with John Michael to do an article for the Colorado Springs Gazette. Plus Lois and I were able to join John Michael and Viola for dinner.

The “Musical Legends” article brings together John Michael and another musical legend–Bill Gaither–who is still going strong at 80 years old.

Though different in many ways, Talbot and Gaither have established themselves as musical legends, but not only by their sales figures. They’ve impacted live audiences for decades, and many people sing their songs from hymnals on Sundays. Both artists have also mentored other artists.


2) New JMT album

John Michael sang at an event organized by the local St. Thomas Aquinas society, including both classics and new songs from his upcoming album, The Inner Room, his 55th release, which comes out in September.


The album is based on Jesus’ Sermon on the mount and features top musical collaborators:

JMT is joined by three legendary figures: Multi-Grammy Award winner and Bluegrass Music legend Ricky Skaggs (Mandolin, Fiddle), Multi-Dove Award winning guitarist Phil Keaggy and mixdown consultant Bill Halverson, whose credits include Producer / Engineer for Crosby, Still & Nash, and Eric Clapton among countless others).



3) New cover for St. Francis book


The Lessons of St. Francis, the first book John Michael and I wrote together, is now in its 31st printing. The new version features a new cover.

The cover emphasizes St. Francis’s “smallness” and humility–characteristics that one can also see in Pope Francis, who adopted Francis’s name upon being elected pope.

You can order the book here.



4) Little Portion bakery incites overwhelming desires!

Two years ago, Viola had an idea. “Start a bakery!” Today, the Little Portion Bakery is generating funds for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the community John Michael founded.

I particularly like Viola’s Granola and St. Anthony’s Hermit Bars, named after the founder of Western monasticism, and made with blackstrap molasses, raisins and pecans. “Ten out of ten hermits agree!” says the online catalog

5) Itinerant ministry

John Michael’s appearances in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas are part of his itinerant ministry.

“Like St. Francis, we are going from parish to parish in a time of great need in our culture,” he says, “rebuilding the church one parish at a time, and renewing hearts one life at a time.”

Posted in Articles, Blog

Move Over Tatooine: Two (or Three) Suns Better than One!

Astronomers recently found something very interesting more than 300 light years distant: an Earth-like planet (or exoplanet) that has three suns.


Multiple-star systems made no sense to me a couple of years ago, but that was before I met David Bradstreet, an astronomer whose specialty is binary stars.


Astronomer David Bradstreet of Eastern University.

Here’s how Dave and I explain multiple-star systems in our new book, Star Struck (which releases one month from today)

Remember the dual suns Luke Skywalker saw from his home planet of Tatooine? Star Wars got it right. Multiple-star systems like the binaries that warmed Luke’s skin make up 60 percent of all the stars in our cosmos.

When I study the light curves coming from distant binaries, I can tell if the gravitational bond between them is strong enough to pull them closer together. When the bond is extremely strong, the two move close enough to exchange energy and mass.

Seeing this process play out is like having a front-row seat for the most amazing show ever. I’m witnessing a vast cosmic dance involving celestial bodies whose power and energy stretch over billions of miles.

In this dance of binary stars I see God.

Not literally. God is invisible.

But when I study the heavens, I see God’s character expressed in the order, beauty, complexity, and harmony of the many marvelous worlds he has made.

Thrilled At Discovery

Kevin Wagner, a doctoral student who led the team that found the new star system, told the AP he was thrilled “to have seen such a beautiful part of nature that nobody else has seen.”

You may not know that binary and triple-star systems aren’t cosmic freaks. They’re the astronomical norm, as Dave and I point out:

Today, most scientists agree that 60 percent to 80 percent of all the stars in the cosmos are in multiple-star systems. Our solo Sun is not the norm, but a solitary outlier.

Our Earth takes a year to orbit its single sun. It takes HD 1313388Ab (yes, that’s the “name” of the newly discovered planet) some 550 years to orbit its multiple suns. For part of that orbital period, the planet enjoys multiple sunrises and sunsets every day. The rest of the time it is bathed in constant starlight.

Dave has been studying binaries for decades, and has even developed a software product called Binary Maker 3.0 that helps astronomers analyze the tugs and pulls that binary stars exert on each other.

To learn much more on multiple-star systems and other amazing astronomical discoveries, read Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).


You can pre-order your own copy here.



Posted in Articles

Patriotic Muslims Are Allah’s Ambassadors

You’ve probably seen Khizr Khan, the Pakistani-born Muslim who criticized Donald Trump during the Democratic convention. His short speech has inspired a sales boom in copies of the U.S. Constitution

Trump fired back at Khan in a lengthy interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that was taped here in Colorado Springs.

Khan has been ubiquitous in the media ever since, including this interview with his wife Ghazala on Monday’s PBS News Hour.


His comments and approach remind me of a godly Muslim man I’ve known for 20 years, Arshad Yousufi. I wrote about Arshad last summer, highlighting his patriotism, his public criticism of terrorism, and his love for the Fourth of July.


The questions arise every time a terrorist praises Allah while beheading or bombing innocent women and children.

Where are the moderate Muslims? And why don’t they stand up and say something?

Ever since 9/11, Arshad Yousufi, the spokesman for the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs, has been standing up and speaking to more than 50 church and Bible study classes, community groups and students at local colleges and high schools. He also speaks to reporters and offered sound bites to ABC affiliate KRDO for a recent story on a local motorcycle club’s anti-Muslim barbecue.

“If people knew enough Muslims, this negative image would not be their perception of Muslims,” he says.

For many Americans, Khan’s comments may be the first they’ve ever heard from a devout and fiercely patriotic Muslim American.

But as Arshad Yousufi told me, patriotism comes after faith.

“Of course, I am a Muslim first. I believe if your allegiance to anything other than God comes first, you are an idolater.”

Posted in Articles

Thomas Sutherland’s Captivity Brought Crisis of Faith

Thomas Sutherland, a U.S. professor who taught in Lebanon before being abducted and held captive for six years, died last Friday.

But as he told me when I interviewed him in 1992, he would have been dead much earlier if not for his conflicted faith in God.

“I had prayed so hard, but the more I prayed, the worse things got,” he said.


Free at last! Thomas Sutherland rejoices upon his return to the Ft. Collins/Loveland, Colorado airport. (Photo Rich Abrahamson, Ft. Collins Coloradoan.)

All 77 months that Sutherland spent trapped as a hostage were tough. But during the four darkest months that he was separated from fellow prisoner and journalist Terry Anderson, his thoughts turned to suicide.

“Things were really black, and I had lost faith in God,” he told me, explaining how he put a plastic trash bag over his and tied it around his neck using a sock.

“Two minutes later, my chest began to hurt like crazy, and an image of my wife and three daughters came up in front of me.

“Either I wasn’t desperate enough to go through with it or I didn’t have the courage. I’m not sure which.”

Lessons in Prayer

Reunited again with is roommate, Sutherland learned lessons from Anderson in the finer points of prayer.

“Sutherland, you’re praying the wrong prayer,” Anderson told him. “You can’t try to get out of there. You need to pray for the strength to get through.”

That’s what Sutherland did

“I still believed in God, but I was rather disillusioned with the organized church, which I thought was quite hypocritical organization.”

It was a formal church inside prison walls helped Sutherland reconnect with God and deepen his faith. The small congregation, jokingly called Church of the Locked Door, was organized by fellow prisoner and Catholic priest Martin Junco, who hoarded a daily ration of bread to celebrate mass.

“I saw that if you lack all faith that you’re never going to make it out of there,” Sutherland told me.

“And if you feel that there is no God looking out for you, you’re never going to make it out of there. And I came to the conclusion that the church was a very necessary organization for humankind.”

Finally released in 1991, Sutherland spoke about his experience thousands of times to church and civic groups.

In 2001, the family won a lawsuit against Iran and received more than $20 million payout from frozen Iranian assets. Sutherland donated much of it to charity.

(Photo: Rich Abrahamson)

Posted in Articles

Cures for the Political Blues: Carson & Clinton 2016?

It has been an exciting week at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Democrats are getting ready to take the stage next week in Philadelphia.










But for many, this year’s election cycle has been frustrating. Here’s a remedy for the political blues, in three easy steps.

One) Let book buyers decide

Judith Regan, the publishing superstar who has helped create bestselling books by everyone from O. J. Simpson to Rush Limbaugh, has a simple suggestion:

Think about it. The candidate who sells the most books wins.

So who would win this literary-electoral battle? Here’s a clue. The winner once called the chairperson of the Republican National Committee “Reince Pubis.”

According to Regan’s calculations, Ben Carson would be president, based on sales of nearly 600,000 copies of his two books, One Nation and A More Perfect Union.

Under Regan’s plan, Carson’s vice president would be Hillary Clinton, whose Hard Choices outsold Donald Trump’s Crippled America.

But combining Carson and Clinton on the same ticket may be tricky after Carson suggested that she worships the devil in his Tuesday speech in Cleveland.

“Are we going to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that,” he said, attacking Clinton and fellow “secular progressives.”

“If we continue to allow them to take god out of our lives, god will remove himself from us. We will not be blessed and our nation will go down the tubes. We will be responsible for that,” he said.

Carson’s comments, which involve Clinton and the late activist Saul Alinsky, are complicated. But CNN’s “Reality Check Team” said Carson’s claims– that Alinsky influenced Clinton’s thinking, and that Alinsky acknowledged Lucifer in one of his books–were “mostly true.”

Two) Laugh at the ads

After the conventions come the campaigns and the TV ads. Are you tired of hearing candidates’ ridiculous platitudes or their ridiculous attacks on their opponents?

Then chill out with this “Generic Presidential Campaign Ad” that incorporates many commercial conventions.

Three) Embrace the Apocalypse


If all else fails, sit down, bow your head, and beg the Creator to end it all with a huge extraterrestrial collision.

According to a story by Alabama reporter Leada Gore, polls show that annihilation by meteor is the choice of 27 percent of independents and 22 percent of voters ages 18-29.


Is a meteor or asteroid Armageddon heading in our direction? Statistically speaking, it’s more likely that you will die in an airplane wreck than be killed by an asteroid.

But the dangers are real. That’s why right now, scientists with NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program currently track some six hundred thousand orbiting objects, paying closest attention to the fifteen hundred or so objects that are big enough and close enough to cause real damage

Read all about asteroids and meteors in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

You can pre-order your own copy here:

Posted in Articles

Will the GOP “Lose Its Head” in Cleveland?

The dissection of the Republicans’ 1964 shellacking came out half a century ago, but it’s still generating headlines and debates.

Washington Post writer E. J. Dione quoted it in a May column:


“No modern precedent exists for the revival of a party so badly defeated, so intensely discredited, and so essentially split as the Republican Party is today.”

Thus wrote George Gilder and Bruce Chapman in “The Party that Lost its Head,” after Barry Goldwater’s landslide 1964 defeat. The costs of the debacle were very high: The GOP lost 36 House seats and its Senate contingent was reduced to a corporal’s guard of 32.

Patrick Buchanan fired back, saying the book’s doom and gloom were misplaced, and the authors’ ideas half-baked:

Out of Goldwater’s defeat came the New Majority and Reagan Revolution. And Chapman and Gilder moved rightward to serve with distinction in that revolution.

The prodigal sons were welcomed home, and Gilder would recant:

“The far right – the same men I dismissed as extremists in my youth – turned out to know far more than I did. At least the ‘right-wing extremists,’ as I confidently called them, were right on almost every major policy issue from welfare to Vietnam to Keynesian economics and defense. …”

Revisiting a 50-Year-Old Critique

I tracked down a used copy of this 1966 book so I could see for myself if it sheds any light on the current election cycle. I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but I’ll be watching the GOP convention this week to see if any of the book’s critiques of the Goldwater-era party resonate with the party of Donald Trump.

Here’s The Party That Lost It’s Head critiquing the GOP’s dominance by its “arch conservative” wing:

“We believe that the Republican Party must be regained by the Republican majority from which it was seized during the last few years….In the House the party is more securely under the control of the arch conservatives than before.”

Here’s The Party That Lost It’s Head suggesting that demographic challenges are compounded by other self-inflicted wounds:

“Republican statistical weakness is compounded by intellectual bankruptcy, by ideological banality, and by political illusion.”

Here’s The Party That Lost It’s Head on campaign demagoguery:

“Barry Goldwater’s campaign lacked even a scintilla of intellectual credibility. It was clear to anyone of the most rudimentary intelligence that, as president, Goldwater could not do any of the things he promised….Democrats propose to do something about the sources of the fears which they exploited; Goldwater proposed to do nothing which would have any significant effect at all on the fears he exploited. Goldwater’s demagoguery was devoid of the rationality of cause and effect.”

Here’s The Party That Lost It’s Head critiquing Republicans for being the party of “no”:

Party leaders “oppose foreign trade and immigration because they resent foreigners; they oppose civil rights because they fear Negroes; they oppose welfare programs because they begrudge public charity for the poor; they oppose the Supreme Court’s prior decisions because they are sanctimonious fundamentalists; and oppose international negotiations because they see the Cold War as a test of barroom virility.”

Here’s The Party That Lost It’s Head on GOP infighting:

“The Republican Party is still in Civil War, still cursed with the incubus of extremism and undermined by the incompetence of a timid national headquarters.”

In 1966, Kirkus reviewed The Party That Lost It’s Head, declaring:

The book is an effective indictment of the party’s suicidal instincts and offers the kind of constructive criticism that can only do good for any hopeful prospects the Republicans may entertain.

I’ll be curious to see what kind of party emerges from this week’s convention in Cleveland.

As for Gilder and Chapman, these former rebellious “liberal Republicans” have become loyal party conservatives. And both remain busy.


Gilder is Chairman of George Gilder Fund Management, host of the Gilder Telecosm Forum, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Member of the Board of Advisors for the Independent Institute, and a contributing editor of Forbes magazine. He writes for The Economist, American Spectator, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a recent video of his Independent Institute talk, “The Secret to Restoring the American Dream.”

Posted in Articles

Church’s Lunar Communion Is Out of This World!

Church calendars are seldom exciting, but Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston hosts an annual event that is out of this world. Lunar Communion Sunday–to be celebrated this Sunday, July 17–honors the congregation’s legacy as the “Church of the Astronauts.”

John Glenn, Jerry Carr, Charlie Bassett, and Roger Chaffee were active members of the church, located on NASA Parkway, not far from NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center.

Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a church elder, celebrated communion on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969–the day before he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to walk on the moon. Sitting in the lunar capsule, Aldrin poured a few drops of wine into a small silver chalice, watching the weightless red liquid gracefully curl in the vessel. As he swallowed the wine and chewed a small piece of bread, he read John 15:5, which affirmed his dependence on God:


“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

You can read all about Aldrin and other Christians in the space program in “Bless Thou the Astronauts,” published by Christianity Today’s “The Behemoth” online magazine. The article is an excerpt from Star Struck, my new book with astronomer David Bradstreet.

Quiet Expressions of Faith

The public remained in the dark about Aldrin’s brief lunar liturgy. That’s partly because atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had earlier sued the U.S. government following an earlier demonstration of astronauts’ faith.

Back in December 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon. The Apollo 8 astronauts celebrated by delivering a simple Christmas Eve message for everyone back home, taking turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 from the King James Bible. After hearing taxpayer-supported astronauts reciting the Bible from space, O’Hair claimed they had violated the First Amendment. The case was dismissed, but from now on, Christian astronauts would find quieter ways to express their faith.

Buzz Aldrin’s lunar communion was kept quiet, but he has often spoken and written about it over the years. “It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements,” he said.

A Church that Loves Astronomers, Astronomy

Lunar Communion Sunday is just one of the ways Webster Presbyterian Church’s seeks to honor God and serve members of the scientific community. Its sanctuary is beautifully decorated with astronomical improvisations on the standard church furnishings. Stained glass windows portray nebulae, the gigantic clouds of stellar dust and gas that the Hubble Space Telescope is examining. The cross features slices of a Mexican meteorite that NASA astronauts used while training to handle moon rocks.


Nearly half a century later, Aldrin remains star struck, and he has emerged as a major supporter of exploring Mars. As he wrote in a 2013 New York Times column, “The Call of Mars”:

Fast forward to today. Now I see the Moon in a far different light — not as a destination but more a point of departure, one that places humankind on a trajectory to homestead Mars and become a two-planet species.

It is time to lay the groundwork for effective global human exploration of space.

Read all about Buzz Aldrin, the space race, and the quest to reach Mars in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).


You can pre-order your own copy here:

Posted in Articles, Blog

Jazzed About Jupiter

After a journey of five years and 1.8 billion miles, NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft is getting ready to finally unravel some of the turbulent  planet’s many mysteries.


NASA’s Juno spacecraft will orbit, study and photograph Jupiter for the next 20 months.

How was this huge planet (and our solar system) created?

Does it have a rock core, like Earth?

And what can we learn about the horrendous hurricane that’s causing the planet’s fabled Red Spot? (The spot, about two times the size of Earth, has whirled out of control for centuries and will do so for centuries more.)

New York Times science writer Kenneth Chang explained the mission’s goals for the next 20 months in his article, “NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Will Soon Be in Jupiter’s Grip.”

“One of the primary goals of Juno is to learn the recipe for solar systems,” said Scott Bolton, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio who is the principal investigator for the $1.1 billion mission. “How do you make the solar system? How do you make the planets in our solar system?”

Our Solar System’s Two Neighborhoods

Astronomers divide the solar system’s planets into two groups. The four terrestrial planets closest to the Sun are small, rocky, and solid. The four more distant Jovian planets are large, gaseous, and surrounded by numerous rings and moons.

Jupiter is 11 times the diameter of Earth. It has 121 times the surface area and 317 times the mass of our planet. More than fourteen hundred Earths could squeeze into Jupiter.

JupiterThumbnailSmallThe planet is a turbulent, gaseous giant with no solid surface but plenty of activity. Juno will use scientific devices to see through Jupiter’s clouds and even analyze its core.

Chang explains:

The slight fluctuations in Jupiter’s gravitational pull, measured by shifts in the frequency of Juno’s radio signals, will tell the density of the planet’s interior and whether there is a rocky core within, where pressures might reach half a billion pounds per square inch.

Some of Juno’s tasks will be determined by amateur astronomers. NASA has invited people to join its “JunoCam community” and help determine what photos the spacecraft will take.

When its work is done, Juno will self-destruct, making sure that no human microbes pollute the environment of Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may have deepwater oceans beneath its thick ice crust. Astronomers suspect there may be life in these oceans, and NASA doesn’t want us to mess it up.

Four centuries ago Galileo discovered Jupiter’s four moons. Now, we’re getting ready to see what Juno can find out. You can follow Juno’s real-time progress here.

Read all about Jupiter, our solar system, and missions to understand the heavens in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).


You can pre-order your own copy here:



Posted in Blog

SOS: Save Our Skellig!

Ireland’s Skellig Michael–one of the world’s most stunning ancient spiritual sites, and probably my favorite place in the world–is under threat. Blame Luke Skywalker.


Remote and inaccessible, Skellig Michael was an ideal site for solitude-seeking Celtic monks.

From the sixth to 12th centuries, a small band of intrepid Celtic monks made this remote, rocky island seven miles off the western coast of Ireland’s County Kerry a safe haven for their most important activities: prayer and meditation among the silence and solitude.

“Two-thirds of piety consists in being silent,” states the Rule of Ailbe, one of many monastic rules collected in Uinseann O’Maidin’s excellent book, The Celtic Monk.


The fictional Millennium Falcon zooms toward the ancient island of Skellig Michael.

But the island’s calm quiet hasn’t been quite the same since Luke Skywalker’s Millennium Falcon landed here in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, unprecedented numbers of movie fans are visiting this sacred site, which is often impossible to reach due to big ocean waves and swells.

Ireland tourism officials welcomed the exposure as “a truly unique opportunity” to highlight the region’s charms, but others worry the sacred island– a Unesco World Heritage site–will be trampled.

skellig m beehives copy

Students of Peter Harbison learn about the island’s legacy.

Before The Force Awakens awoke these movie fans, most visitors came here to study and experience the island’s 1,000-year monastic legacy. During one visit, Lois and I stumbled across legendary Irish historian Peter Harbison, who was visiting the island with students.

But according to a report on CBS News, thie new breed of Skellig tourists cares more about seeing the “set” where movie scenes were filmed than they do the island’s rich history.

“We thought it would be fun to come out here and pretend that I was Luke Skywalker,” said one dad, while his daughter pretended to be Rey, a new female character (see: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Rey).

Only 180 people a day are able to visit the island during its May-to-September season, and thanks to Star Wars all 2016 slots are spoken for.

Far Out!

Here’s how Lois and I described the island in our Irish travel guide, Celtic Journeys:

Tradition tells us Skellig Michael (the name combining the Irish word for rock with the name of the archangel believed to bless high places) was founded by St. Finan sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries, and when this single-minded monk chose a site for his monastery, he selected one of the most inaccessible, most inhospitable, most amazing sites the world has ever known: a steep, rocky island eight miles out in the Atlantic off County Kerry’s southwestern tip.

Then as now, wind and waves can render the island totally inaccessible for weeks at a time. This can be frustrating for the modern-day tourist. We’ve had many of our attempts to reach the island foiled when locals like Des Lavelle, who is the acknowledged living expert on the island’s history, folklore and wildlife, refuse to offer boat trips to the site out of deep respect for the huge ocean swells which make landing on the island impossible. One other time, we did manage make it to the island, but the journey was nauseating, the landing was treacherous, and the wind and rain–which caused droplets to speed horizontally so they hit us in the face like tiny bullets–made it impossible to fully appreciate the island’s beauty, although it did increase our respect for the place’s hardy former inhabitants.

These monks wanted to be alone and otherworldly, which was becoming increasingly difficult at some of the mainland Irish monasteries, many of which were evolving into hubs for bustling monastic cities. Priority number one was settling in a spot where their meditations on God wouldn’t be interrupted, either by curious visitors or by the trappings of the world.

A World Apart

Skellig Michael sits where the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream approaches the rocky coast of Ireland, and is wracked by winds, and battered by waves that have gathered strength during their 2,000 mile journey from the shores of Newfoundland. But the very conditions that can frustrate today’s visitor gave security to the Celtic monks whose quest for silence and solitude took them to a place writer George Bernard Shaw said possesses a “magic that takes you out, far out, of this time and this world.”

The site features half a dozen drystone “beehive” huts, all of which were originally constructed without mortar by the monks, who spent years selecting and delicately placing the stones. Inside each hut two monks would have lived, slept, studied, and prayed. These “soul friends” also confessed their sins to each other

The monks’ amazing monastic complex is located some 550 feet above sea level. Reaching the complex requires climbing 600 rocky steps. Two Americans have fallen from the island to their death.

Skellig2Unexpected Visitors

The island’s ruggedness and inaccessibility have helped preserve its ancient remains, making Skellig Michael one of the world’s best preserved example of early Christian architecture. The remote site has long attracted visitors.

Beginning in the 820s, Viking raiders sacked the island, and they would continue to do so on and off for much of the next three centuries. More recently, Loreena McKennitt included a song entitled “Skellig” on her bestselling 1997 recording, The Book of Secrets.

Centuries after Ireland’s Celtic monasteries were founded, the monks’ search for stillness of soul and calmness of surroundings speaks volumes to us about our own noisy lives.

Skellig Michael has survived for centuries. Let’s hope it survives its sudden fame.

Posted in Articles

“Future Shock” Still Shocking Us

They say one thing that doesn’t change is change itself, but pioneering futurist Alvin Toffler, who died this week, said the pace of change is picking up velocity, causing a disruptive condition he called “future shock.” Here’s how he described the symptoms:
“…the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

The world’s most famous futurist published Future Shock in 1970. “This is a book about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change,” he wrote.

“Change,” Toffler wrote, “is the process by which the future invades our lives.” And he warned that many people would struggle to adapt to the increasing pace of change. “Unless man quickly learns to control the rate of change in his personal affairs as well as in society at large, we are doomed to a massive adaptational break down.”

Toffler issued predictions, correctly foreseeing the demise of the nuclear family. But he missed the boat on cities, incorrectly suggesting that they would shrink as work was distributed.



The BBC’s article, “Alvin Toffler: What he got right – and wrong,” does a good job of assessing his hits and misses. But his central point about the disruptiveness of rapid change remains prophetic. He gave a memorable name to a new malady that is “a real sickness from which increasingly large numbers already suffer.”

Change Continues to Disrupt
I believe Future Shock is one of the sources of the chaos in this presidential election cycle. Voters reacting to globalization and rapid social change are recoiling, demanding that leaders do something to reverse the “new normal.”

But yesterday’s version of normal is unlikely to return, says futurist Thomas Frey of Colorado’s DaVinci Institute. I interviewed Frey for the article, “Future Shock, Revisited,” for The Gazette.

Frey is more optimistic than Toffler. “Some things we are adapting to quite quickly,” he said, “but there are some things we still have a hard time getting our minds around.”

“Look at the adoption speed of new business models. After the invention of radio, it took 38 years for the technology to reach five million users. TV took only 13 years to reach that number. The Internet reached that level in four years, while Twitter took only nine months, and the Angry Birds game reached five million in 35 days.

“We’re at point the point where a new start up business can come out of woodwork and reach 50 million users in less than week. Everything moving exponentially.”

The present becomes the future every second. Toffler and other futurists show that this process can be destabilizing when we feel it’s moving too quickly to destabilize the cultural traditions we embrace.

What can we do to better adapt to the pace of change?

Posted in Articles, Blog

A Toast to St. Arnold: Patron Saint of Beer

BBasStAThe 7th century abbot of a French monastery is the inspiration for a Colorado event and a nationwide movement of Christian beer drinkers.

This article the Colorado Springs Gazette focuses on local event organizer Brian Bennett, who dresses up as St. Arnold to greet his hundreds of guests.

Posted in Articles, Blog
A to Z

Steve's articles have appeared in these publications and outlets:

Akron Beacon Journal
Albany (NY) Times Union
The American Spectator
Ann Arbor News
Arizona Republic
Atlanta Journal/Constitution
Associated Press
Birmingham (AL) News
Bookstore Journal
Boulder Camera
Catholic Digest
CCM Update
Charlotte Observer
Christian Examiner
Christian Herald
Christian History
Christian Management Report
Christian Post
Christian Reader
Christian Research Journal
Christian Retailing
Christian Single (Southern Baptist Convention)
Christianity Today (since 1982, EPA Award)
Church Bookstore
Columbus Citizen-Journal (Sunday magazine features)
Columbus Dispatch
Compassion Update (Compassion International, editor)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Sunday magazine features)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Current Thoughts & Trends
Daily Guardian, Wright State University, Dayton, OH (editor)
Dallas Morning News
Dayton (Ohio city magazine)
Dayton Business Journal (editor)
Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald (news, features, stringer)
Devo'Zine (United Methodist)
The Disciple (Disciples of Christ)
Discipleship Journal
East Asia’s Millions (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English)
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Freedom Wire
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO: Religion Editor, news, features)
Grand Rapids (MI) Press
Herald of Holiness (Nazarene)
HIS (InterVarsity)
Home Life (Southern Baptist Convention)
Houston Chronicle
Huntsville (AL) Times
Indianapolis Star
Kansas City Star
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
Leadership Journal
Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader
Life@Work (EPA Award)
The Living Church (Anglican)
Los Angeles Times
The Lutheran (ELCA)
The Lutheran Witness (Missouri Synod)
The Magazine for Christian Youth! (United Methodist)
Media Update
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Missions Today
Mobile (AL) Register
National and International Religion Report
New Age
New Orleans Times-Picayune
New Sound
New York Times (Religion Journal, news, stringer)
New York Times Syndication Sales Corp.
Newark Star-Ledger
Omaha World-Herald
Orange County Register
Parents of Teenagers
Pastor's Family
Policy Review (Heritage Foundation)
Publishers Weekly
Pueblo Chieftain
Pulpit Helps
PW Religion Bookline
Re:generation Quarterly
Religion News Service (news and features)
Religious Broadcasting
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
San Diego Union-Tribune
Shepherdess International (Seventh-day Adventist)
Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard
Tallahassee Democrat
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (Assemblies of God)
Twin Circle Catholic Weekly
Vue (Wesleyan)
Washington Post
The Wittenburg Door
World Pulse
Worship Leader
Young Salvationist (Salvation Army)
Youthworker Journal (writer, columnist, editor)
Youthworker Update


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