Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Graham makes 'Most Admired' list for 57th time

At 95 years old, evangelist Billy Graham is still one of the 10 men most admired by Americans.

So say the folks at the Gallup Poll, whose latest annual ranking of the "Most Admired" men and women was released this week.

In 2013, the Charlotte-born Graham actually finished in the Top 5, along with President Barack Obama (No. 1, mentioned by 16 percent); former President George W. Bush and Pope Francis (both mentioned by 4 percent); and former President Bill Clinton (like Graham, he was mentioned by 2 percent).

It's the 57th time that Graham has made the list. That is, by far, more times than any other man -- or any woman -- since Gallup began asking Americans the "Most Admired" question in 1948.

The woman with the most Top 10 finishes over the years: Queen Elizabeth II of England, who made the list for the 46th time in 2013.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the woman Americans said they admired most in 2013, according to Gallup. The former first lady and U.S. senator was mentioned by 14 percent of those surveyed.

Clinton, who's a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has now made the list 22 times, and was No. 1 the last 12 years in a row. Obama has been the most admired man every year since 2008, when he was elected the country's 44th president.

The closest runners-up in Gallup's 2013 "Most Admired Women" list: TV host-actress Oprah Winfrey (No. 2, mentioned by 6 percent); and First Lady Michelle Obama and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (both mentioned by 5 percent).

In the poll, taken in early December, former South African president Nelson Mandela was mentioned by 7 percent of those surveyed. That would have landed him in the No. 2 spot among the men most admired by Americans. But Gallup only lists living men and women, so Mandela, who died Dec. 5, was not included in the Top 10 released by the polling organization.

Here is a complete list of the men and women most admired by Americans as 2013 drew to a close.

-- Tim Funk

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Franklin Graham asks prayers for father's recovery

Franklin Graham is asking for prayers that his father, Billy Graham, regain the strength he's lost since his 95th birthday party last month.

In a letter posted Tuesday on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Website, the younger Graham said a recent bout with a respiratory infection has left the Charlotte-born evangelist "extremely weak but his vitals are good. Our family would appreciate your prayers for him that the Lord would strengthen him."

Though Billy Graham spent two days in the hospital late last month, he is now resting in his Montreat home.

Franklin Graham also wrote in his letter that his father was encouraged by the release of his recent book, "The Reason for My Hope -- Salvation," and has already begun work on another one "about a subject that he feels that God has laid on his heart."

Here is the full letter.

-- Tim Funk 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pittenger gives Billy Graham video to reps, senators

Just in time for Christmas, each member of Congress has received a gift from U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.

Namely, a copy of "The Cross," a widely televised video featuring what may well be 95-year-old Billy Graham's final public message.

The 9th District Republican asked the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to send him 535 copies of "The Cross" DVD -- one for every House member and every senator.

Pittenger "more than covered the costs with a generous contribution to the ministry," the BGEA's Ken Barun said in an email.

In the video, much of it filmed at Graham's mountaintop home in Montreat, the Charlotte-born evangelist speaks into a camera. He calls for a spiritual reawakening in America and says that the cross of Jesus Christ "demands . . . a new lifestyle in all of us."

"With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth," the elderly Graham says about God. "He loves you, willing to forgive you of all your sins."

Pittenger was among the guests at Graham's private 95th birthday party last month at Asheville's Omni Grove Park Inn, where the video was shown to the 800 or so guests.

"After watching the video, Congressman Pittenger felt Dr. Graham's timely, powerful message would be helpful and relevant for his colleagues, as well as of interest to many of their constituents," said Pittenger spokesman Jamie Bowers. "Washington is a tough town. Just (recently), a member of Congress (Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla.) was charged with cocaine possession."

Bowers said non-Christian House members and senators got a copy of the video because they, too, have many constituents who may have seen and been talking about Graham in "The Cross." It's been televised on Fox News and on many local TV stations.

The video gift, Bowers said, came with a note from Pittenger to his colleagues that "The Cross" was of interest to many of their constituents, "so I thought you'd like to see it for yourself."

Bowers said Pittenger has already heard "many positive comments and 'Thanks'" from members of Congress.

At Graham's Nov. 7 birthday party, Pittenger told reporters he first met Graham when he was 22 and caddying for the evangelist at the 1971 Byron Nelson Golf Classic. "He was playing with Bob Hope and Arnold Palmer, and there were golf balls flying everywhere," Pittenger said.

Years before embarking on a political career, Pittenger was a Christian activist. After college, he went to work for Campus Crusade for Christ, serving for 10 years as an assistant and advance man for Bill Bright, the group's founder. In that capacity, the young Pittenger also helped launch a ministry for elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill.

He also traveled to several Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, to support persecuted Christians and underground churches.

And over the years, Bowers said, Pittenger has gone on mission trips to Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, India, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Guatemala.

Pittenger was in China on a mission trip in February 2012 when then-U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., announced she would not run that year for a 10th term. Pittenger, who got the news even though he was halfway around the world, was subsequently elected to succeed Myrick.

He has attended Central Church of God, a Pentecostal church in Charlotte, for 17 years. But because of frequent Sunday obligations, Pittenger and his wife now regularly attend Saturday evening services at Forest Hill Church, a non-denominational evangelical church that's also in Charlotte.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lovely prayer collection, but it lacks diversity

Two Charlotte pastors – but no clergy of color – are among 16 religious leaders who have penned prayers for North Carolina in the December edition of Our State magazine.

The Rev. David Chadwick of Forest Hill Church, one of Charlotte’s multi-campus megachurches, counts among “the goodnesses of the the Lord” North Carolina’s weather, its faith, its schools and its people.

The 6-foot-7 Chadwick, who was once a member of the Tar Heel basketball team (1967-71), also manages to slip in thankful references to former Coach Dean Smith and Carolina blue.

He writes in his prayer that North Carolinians admire Smith for integrating the ACC in the 1960s by adding Charlie Scott, an African-American, to his team.

And Chadwick writes this: “God must love the Tar Heel State, for he made its sky Carolina blue! Lord, you are good!”

A few pages later, the Rev. John Cleghorn of Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian relates the history of his own growing, diverse church to the hope Christians embrace during this season of Advent.

Once the Belk family’s neighborhood church in Elizabeth, Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian had dwindled from a flock of 1,100 in its heyday to about 12 elderly members in 2006.

I’ll let Cleghorn tell the rest of the story, which he does in his prayer: “This sturdy remnant clung to its faith, believing the end for Caldwell Presbyterian Church had yet to arrive. They were right. In the fall of 2006, the old, white, traditional Presbyterians were joined by a group of people who looked very different but shared the same fundamental faith. Caldwell Presbyterian came back to life as a place of hope for others.”

You can read all 16 prayer essays – including one from Charlotte-born Billy Graham here. You can also listen  to Chadwick, Cleghorn and all of the others (except Graham) read their own prayers. And you’ll find some breathtaking pictures of North Carolina.

The Greensboro-based magazine, which was launched in 1933 and publishes 220,000 copies per month, managed geographical diversity in its choice of ministers. The clergy-writers live all over the state.

But the religious diversity isn’t there – within Christianity, yes, there’s Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Quaker, Moravian, Episcopalian and nondenominational evangelical. But other than one Jewish rabbi, there are no non-Christians. No Muslims, no Buddhists, no Hindus.

And shockingly, all 16 of the clergy-writers are white (and only two are women).

Certainly one of the great blessings of North Carolina is its diversity. And its robust faith community includes not only African-American churches, but also an increasing number of Latino and Asian congregations.

Our State editor-in-chief Elizabeth Hudson told me the omission of clergy of color was not intentional. She said she invited 23 people to write prayers, including three African-Americans. She got 16 submissions, none of them from the black ministers.

She also said this in an email: “While the response to the message of our story has been largely positive, I have to say I concur with the criticism about our lack of diversity in this story. We can and will do better in reflecting North Carolina going forward.”

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Furtick gives prayer at Cannon swearing-in

Charlotte politicians and pastors in Charlotte have long had close ties.

When he was Charlotte mayor, Republican Pat McCrory looked to the Rev. David Chadwick of Forest Hill Church as a personal pastor.

Democrats Anthony Foxx and Harvey Gantt, two other former mayors, are prominent members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Its pastor, the Rev. Clifford Jones Sr., has long been a local mover and shaker, and definitely had the mayors' ear.

And now Charlotte has a new mayor, Democrat Patrick Cannon. He's been a longtime member of The Park Church (formerly University Park Baptist), whose pastor, Bishop Claude Alexander, is also connected and once thought of running for mayor himself.

But when Cannon was sworn in this week, the ceremony's closing prayer was given by the Rev. Steven Furtick of rapidly-growing Elevation Church. Cannon's wife and children and sometimes the mayor himself attend the multi-campus Southern Baptist church, which has a multiracial, mostly young congregation.

Monday night's ceremony also included the swearing-in of Charlotte City Council members. And Furtick, a registered Republican, prayed for both the mayor and the council in his three-minute prayer, which can be seen here.

The 33-year-old pastor also spoke a lot about Charlotte itself -- especially its future.

"Lord, we thank you tonight that as you look upon our city, you look upon us and see potential and possibility," he began. "And we thank you that your are for the city of Charlotte. We thank you that you have great plans for the city of Charlotte and that greater things are still to be done in this city."

About Cannon, he prayed: "We thank you for our new mayor, that you will bless him with 10,000 blessings. We pray that when he wakes up in the morning that he will feel and sense a surrounding strength and peace that only you can give."

After the ceremony, Furtick posted this on Instagram:

For me it was a privilege to pray for our new Mayor, Patrick Cannon & our city council tonight. I love the city of Charlotte, I am so thankful God planted us here.

-- Tim Funk

Monday, December 2, 2013

Scholar will speak about Jesus and Judaism

Vanderbilt University professor Amy-Jill Levine, a noted scholar of the New Testament and Jewish Studies, will give two free public lectures in Charlotte this week.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, she will speak on “The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus.” (That's also the name of one of her books). That lecture will begin at 7 p.m. at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, 2501 Oxford Place (just off Providence Road).

On Thursday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., Levine will address “Jesus, Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations” at Unity Place-St. Stephens AME Zion Church, 201 Franklin Blvd., in Gastonia.

Levine, who has appeared on several TV specials focusing on the time of Jesus, is also scheduled to be interviewed Thursday at 9 a.m. on "Charlotte Talks," with Mike Collins on WFAE (90.7 FM).

Levine has described herself as a "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt" (Vanderbilt is in Nashville, Tenn.).

She has edited "The Historical Jesus in Context"; co-edited the Jewish Annotated New Testament; and co-written "The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us."

Temple Emanuel is bringing Levine to the Charlotte area as part of its 100th anniversary in Gastonia. Other sponsors of the lectures: UNC Charlotte, Belmont Abbey, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, First Presbyterian Church of Gastonia and the Glenn Foundation.

-- Tim Funk