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When Two Arent Better Than One: Right-Sizing Religion at the State Department

Experts debate plan to merge religious freedom and religious advocacy offices.

Four years after the Obama administration created the Office of Religion and Global Affairs (RGA), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to shut it down.

The office’s tasks—to advise State Department leaders on religion-related policy matters and to help diplomats navigate religious dynamics overseas—and its million-dollar budget should be moved under the Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF), according to a proposal laid out this fall.

The move is part of a bold attempt to “eliminate redundancies” and “create a more efficient State Department,” wrote Tillerson, who plans to cut the number of US special envoys and representatives from 66 to 30.

Some of the positions—including those for the Colombian peace process and Northern Ireland issues—would be dropped. But the IRF office would expand, absorbing not only the RGA office but also offices for religious minorities in the Middle East and Asia, the representative to Muslim communities, and the special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Those offices would bring 16 staff and $1.8 million to IRF, which has 23 positions and a $20 million budget.

“There’s no question that we always want to make the work as efficient as it can possibly be,” said Melissa Rogers, a scholar who previously led Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “The question is, ‘Has [Tillerson] pursued that aim in the right way?’ ”

Shaun Casey, who launched the RGA office in 2013, sees it as “a disaster.” The religion offices were already streamlined, he said, but the biggest problem is that the two offices do totally different things. Though both have “religion” ...

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Willow Creek Chooses Co-Ed Pastors to Succeed Bill Hybels

Megachurch becomes biggest in America to appoint a female lead pastor.

Since “no one person can replace” Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels, the influential megachurch has named two people: its current executive pastor Heather Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter.

Hybels announced on Saturday that the pair will succeed him as lead pastors when he steps down in October 2018.

The historic transition will make Willow Creek one of the largest churches in America with a woman in the lead pastor position, as well as the only major evangelical megachurch with male-female lead pastors who aren’t married.

“When we saw this shaping up, we had to ask ourselves, ‘Can our congregation have a lead pastor that’s a woman?,’” said Hybels, speaking from Willow Creek’s central campus in South Barrington, Illinois, one of seven locations in the Chicago region that draw a collective total of 25,000 worshippers each weekend. “And because this is a deeply held value in our church, we said, ‘No problem.’”

Larson will be lead pastor, overseeing Willow Creek’s 400-person staff and $77 million budget, and Carter will be lead teaching pastor, continuing to preach most weeks.

The news comes amid Willow Creek’s six-year succession plan for the megachurch, which was founded in 1975 and has grown to rank among the 10 biggest in America. The 65-year-old pastor joins a wave of greying leaders who have opted to go public with their leadership transition, as Hybels first disclosed at the church’s 2012 Global Leadership Summit.

“We know that no one person can replace Bill,” Larson said in an interview on the Unseminary podcast last year. “That has led Willow to talk about moving to more of a team approach ...

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Interview: Stephen Mansfield: Why So Many Conservative Christians Wanted a Pagan Brawler in the White House

And how their choice of Trump has affected the church since last years election.

Election 2016 ended a year ago, but its effects on American culture, including the American church, persist. Many are still asking how Donald Trump became president, and what part evangelical Christians played in making that happen. Stephen Mansfield, author of bestselling books about the religious faith of recent American presidents, believes that faith matters in the story of President Trump as well. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him describes Trump’s remarkable partnership with conservative evangelicals. Blogger Samuel D. James spoke with Mansfield about what the events of last year mean for Christians and how a divided American church can heal.

Is it fair to consider Donald Trump a prosperity-gospel Christian?

He’s definitely drawn to the side of Christianity that preaches personal power, prosperity, and success in this world. Part of that preconditioning comes from his years hearing sermons from Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale privately believed in “born again” Christianity, but Trump fed from the stream in Peale’s thought that was essentially secular motivational philosophy. Trump sees himself as a religious man and sees his own success as the result of living out certain religious principles—just not the ones at the heart of the gospel.

You describe how meeting with religious leaders during the campaign gave Trump something of an “education” he didn’t know he needed. Were his stances on religious liberty, abortion, and socially conservative issues a product of political ambitions?

A good illustration is his approach to the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors from endorsing ...

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