Good morning from chilly Chicagoland!


The SBC and women – the tensions:

Emily Snook is the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor. She met her husband, also a pastor, while they attended a Southern Baptist university

Yet the 39-year-old Oklahoma woman now finds herself wondering if it’s time to leave the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in part because of practices and attitudes that limit women’s roles.

“Every day I ask that,” Snook said. “I don’t know what the right answer is.”

She’s not alone. Among the millions of women belonging to churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, there are many who have questioned the faith’s gender-role doctrine and more recently urged a stronger response to disclosures of sexual abuse perpetrated by SBC clergy.

For many SBC women, even those committed to staying, the topic of gender became more volatile this month when popular Bible teacher Beth Moore said she no longer considered herself Southern Baptist. Moore, perhaps the best-known evangelical woman in the world, had drawn the ire of some SBC conservatives for speaking out against Donald Trump in 2016 and suggesting the denomination had problems with sexism.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has belonged to an SBC megachurch and wrote a passionate article in February explaining why she remains Southern Baptist.

The swans of Derbyshire:

Swans that knock on doors and windows in search of food are part of the community, villagers say.

The hungry birds are often seen waddling from house to house in Kirk Hallam, Derbyshire, in pursuit of a meal.

David Cotterill-Drew, who feeds the swans bread and water from his front door, said some of the birds in the village have been chased and even spray-painted, in the past.

But he said the animals were widely liked by residents, despite their cheeky behaviour.

"They're irresistible," he added.

Pastors and their extravagant kicks (sneakers):

From his couch in Dallas, Ben Kirby began asking questions about the lifestyles of the rich and famous pastors when he was watching some worship songs on YouTube on a Sunday morning in 2019. While listening to a song by Elevation Worship, a megachurch based in Charlotte, the evangelical churchgoer noticed the lead singer's Yeezy sneakers were worth nearly the amount of his first rent check.

Kirby posted to his 400 followers on Instagram, "Hey Elevation Worship, how much you paying your musicians that they can afford $800 kicks? Let me get on the payroll!"

Plus, Kirby wondered, how could the church's pastor, Steven Furtick, one of the most popular preachers in the country, afford a new designer outfit nearly every week?

With a friend's encouragement, Kirby started a new Instagram account @PreachersNSneakers posting screenshots of pastors next to price tags and the street value of shoes they were wearing. Within a month, the account had attracted 100,000 followers.

"At the beginning, it was easy for me to make jokes about it," he said. "Some of the outfits are absurd, so it's easy to laugh at some of the designer pieces. The price tags are outlandish."

On his feed, Kirby has showcased Seattle pastor Judah Smith's $3,600 Gucci jacket, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes's $1,250 Louboutin fanny pack and Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado's $2,541 Ricci crocodile belt. And he considers Paula White, former president Donald Trump's most trusted pastoral adviser who is often photographed in designer items, a PreachersNSneakers "content goldmine," posting a photo of her wearing $785 Stella McCartney sneakers.

As the Instagram account grew, Kirby started asking more serious questions about wealth, class and consumerism, including whether it's appropriate to generate massive revenue from selling the gospel of Jesus.

"I began asking, how much is too much?" Kirby said. "Is it okay to get rich off of preaching about Jesus? Is it okay to be making twice as much as the median income of your congregation?"

Is the Neo-Reformed movement dividing? Politics will win.

Is the theologically conservative Reformed wing of evangelicalism going to permanently divide over race and politics?

This month, Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (as well as a popular author and a major figure in the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement) wrote an insightful article for the Gospel Coalition tracing a movement fissure that is in the making. On one side of the divide are Reformed racial progressives who support Black Lives Matter and denounce Donald Trump and Christian nationalism. On the opposite side are Reformed political conservatives who voted for Trump and who believe that Black Lives Matter is anti-Christian. And in the middle are two groups of moderates – one group that leans toward the progressives and probably did not vote for Trump but wants to keep the peace with the conservatives, and the other that leans toward the conservatives but does not want to disfellowship the progressives even while questioning some of their decisions.

DeYoung places himself in this last camp of conservative-moderates. He would like to reunite the coalition, but fears that it already may be too late to bring the progressives and conservatives together again – a situation that he finds lamentable, especially in view of the common theological ground that the two camps share on so many other issues. After all, as DeYoung noted, all groups in this coalition of conservative Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and the like are biblical inerrantists and strong Calvinists, and most are complementarians or at least lean in that general direction. With so much to unite them theologically and even culturally, are issues of race and politics really sufficient to permanently break apart this coalition?

Gun control, will it ever happen in the USA?

On Monday, it happened again: a mass shooting in America. This time, a gunman killed 10 people at a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store.

Already, the shootings have led to demands for action. “Now is the time!” the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence tweeted.

But if this plays out like the aftermath of past mass shootings, from Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 to Las Vegas in 2017, the chances of Congress taking major action on guns is very low.

This has become an American routine: After every mass shooting, the debate over guns and gun violence starts up once again. Maybe some bills get introduced. Critics respond with concerns that the government is trying to take away their guns. The debate stalls. So even as America continues to experience levels of gun violence unrivaled in the rest of the developed world, nothing happens — no laws are passed by Congress, nothing significant is done to try to prevent the next horror.

So why is it that for all the outrage and mourning with every mass shooting, nothing seems to change? To understand that, it’s important to grasp not just the stunning statistics about gun ownership and gun violence in the United States, but also America’s unique relationship with guns — unlike that of any other developed country — and how it plays out in our politics to ensure, seemingly against all odds, that our culture and laws continue to drive the routine gun violence that marks American life.

Nijay on what we can do for our fellow Asians:

The first incidence of racism I remember experiencing was when my family went on holiday in Europe when I was in middle school. My dad sprung for a fancy room in a nice hotel, but when we arrived I remember hearing him arguing with the front desk (we had lots of bags with us because were going to go on to India after Europe). Next thing I knew, we were leaving because they “lost” our reservation. That was it, no hotel. Odd, because that literally never happened to us in America. Ever.

The first time I experienced racism was in high school. We took a Latin club trip (yes, I was in the Latin club) to Italy. In Rome, some of the food vendors would not serve me because I looked like a gypsy (they said). This happened to me later on when I was doing missionary work in Eastern Europe. I was with a group of Americans (almost all white). We would order at a restaurant. Everyone else’s food would show up. My food would not. At first I thought it was a coincidence. Then the “coincidence” kept happening. So eventually I gave up and had one of my white friends order themselves two meals.

I could go on and on. There are no quick solutions to these problems. One person can’t make this go away. But if we all make an effort to do the right thing, we can make it better.

Here are some off-the-cuff advice, take it or leave it, from my experience.

What can my neighbors and friends do to support the Asian Americans around them?

“Dear Black Girl, you are IT!”

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- A Chicago Heights teenager has already published her first book and is holding self-esteem workshops online, at just 18 years old.

Tamera Trimuel is a senior at Marian Catholic High School. She attended a four-day Disney Dreamers' Academy mentoring session in Florida right before the pandemic.

"So when I came home, I sat down with my parents and I said, 'I can't sit on all this information, this encouragement it gave me. I have to put something out to inspire girls who looks like me. To feel how I feel about myself,'" she said.

The result is "Dear Black Girl, You Are IT," a self-help guide and workbook.

"I really just honestly want to change the lives of Black girls who feel like they are inferior, feel that they are not worth it," Trimuel said. "That they don't love themselves. I want to show them that you can do anything you put your mind to, no matter your age."

Now she's sharing that message in all kinds of ways, lessons which first began at home.

"Once they have a dream they pray about it, go after it. To be relentless. That's my word to them: to be relentless and intentional<" said Marlene Trimuel, mother.

"Without purpose, there's nothing. So when you live life with purpose, that motivates you and inspires you to do things for others that will help elevate everyone around you," said Terrence Trimuel, father.

And Trimuel is not short on aspirations for her own future, too.

We found the hobbits:

Anthropologists know of at least two ancient species of tiny humans that lived on the islands of southeast Asia over 50,000 years ago. The origin of these extinct humans is unknown, but new research suggests they’re more closely related to Denisovans and Neanderthals—and, by consequence, modern humans—than previously thought.

New research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has found no evidence of interbreeding between modern humans (Homo sapiens) and two extinct species of short-statured humans, Homo floresiensis (commonly known as the Flores Island “hobbits”) and Homo luzonensis (found in the Philippines). Fossil evidence of these two species, described in 2004 and 2019 respectively, suggests these island-dwelling humans stood no taller than around 3 feet and 7 inches (109 centimeters), a possible consequence of insular dwarfism—an evolutionary process in which the body size of a species shrinks over time as a consequence of limited access to resources.

At the same time, the new paper, led by João Teixeira from the University of Adelaide, provides further confirmation of interbreeding between the Denisovans and modern humans, specifically modern humans living in Island Southeast Asia, an area that encompasses tropical islands between east Asia, Australia, and New Guinea. Denisovans—a sister group of Neanderthals—reached the area some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, but archaeologists have yet to uncover a shred of fossil evidence related to these so-called “southern Denisovans.” That’s obviously weird, given the overwhelming genetic evidence that they lived in this part of the world, but it means there are important archaeological discoveries still waiting to be found. At least in theory.

So, the new paper, co-authored by anthropologist Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London, suggests modern humans interbred with Denisovans but not H. floresiensis or H. luzonensis. That’s an important result, because it could help to explain the presence of the diminutive humans, who died out around 50,000 years ago, in this part of the world. Excitingly, it could mean that these “super-archaics,” in the parlance of the researchers, “are not super-archaic after all, and are more closely related to [modern] humans than previously thought,” explained Teixeira, a population geneticist, in an email.

In other words, H. floresiensis or H. luzonensis might actually be the elusive southern Denisovans.