Friday, March 22, 2013

John Morehead's Mission

Before becoming a mainstream evangelical Christian, John Morehead was for many years a member of a Mormon offshoot group called  the Reorganized Latter Day Saints (RLDS), which changed its name to "Community of Christ" in 2001. After leaving RLDS/Community of Christ, Morehead became active in the evangelical "anti-cult ministry" movement, that is, in various efforts by mainstream evangelical groups aimed at converting members of "cults", such as Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, and so forth. These "anti-cult" groups also target western Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers and Pagans. Eventually Morehead decided that a new approach was needed by the "anti-cult" missionaries, and he began to advocate for an outwardly more subtle and nuanced style that, for example, ditched the word "cult" in favor of the more politically correct "new religious movement" label. But Morehead has made it unambiguously clear in his own writings that the fundamental nature and end goal of this rebranded "anti-cult" work remains unchanged: the furtherance of the Great Commission, that is, the conversion of humanity to Christianity by way of the eradication of all non-Christian religions.

Below is an updated list of some essential reading for anyone interested in the career mission of John Morehead.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Mission Challenge of New Religious Movements
International Journal of Frontier Missions, 1998
"In 1993 I was privileged to be able to assist Jim Stephens [for more on John Morehead's good friend and mentor Jim Stevens, see "How to Witness to Buddhists"] as he served to prepare a special IJFM edition dealing with mission to Buddhists (IJFM, Vol. 10:3, July 1993). As a former member of a pseudo-Christian sect, and given my work as a Christian researcher and missionary to new religious movements (NRMs) after becoming a Christian, I was eager to someday explore the possibility of approaching a mission periodical about discussing the challenge of new religious movements to Christian missionary efforts. Thankfully, Dr. Hans Weerstra, the editor of IJFM, has provided us with just suchan opportunity."

The Watchman Fellowship: Morehead's former comrades in the spiritual war against "cults". Morehead joined Watchman in 1999, at which time the "discernment ministry" organization headed by Morehead, the "Truthquest Institute", merged with Watchman.

Why Sacred Tribes Journal? 1999
The lead editorial of the first issue of "Sacred Tribes Journal," coauthored by Morehead and Jon Trott, Philip Johnson. "The purpose of this international online journal is to explore ways in which to bridge the gulf between the disciplines of cult apologetics,contextual missiology and religious studies."

Tired of Treading Water: Rediscovering and Reapplying a Missiological Paradigm for 'Countercult' Ministry
paper presented at the annual meeting of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, New Orleans, 2000.

Missiological Paradigms (2002)
Presentation to the annual meeting of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions
“Listening to the concerns of our critics [cults] …making changes in our ministries in light of any valid criticisms they may bring.”

Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality in the Western World ("New Age")
Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 45, 2004
"A provocative way of presenting the gospel in New Spirituality festivals is via tarot cards. John Drane, Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson have developed this approach. Understandably, most Christians will baulk at the idea because tarot cards have occult connections. To properly argue why tarot cards could be used as a device for communicating the gospel would require a lengthy paper .... At the Mind-Body-Spirit festival, Clifford and Johnson have created an innovative and incarnational method of sharing the gospel through the use of tarot cards. They note, 'We always indicate that divination from the cards is clearly contrary to Scripture, but that the classic A. E. Waite deck is full of biblical images.' "

Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach
Irving Hexham, Stephen Rost, John Morehead, published in 2004
excerpt from Introduction:
"Toward the end of the twentieth century, a new climate of opinion concerning new religions began to be expressed by Christian authors writing from different reference points in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Through various books, journals, and periodicals, they began to question the evangelical understanding of many new religious groups and movements, and the effectiveness of the dominant apologetic methodology in reaching their adherents. Many argued that the apologetic refutation of 'cultic' teachings had not translated into effective communication of the gospel to new religionists in understandable terms. They indicated that this impasse might be overcome through an interdisciplinary methodology that would include the integration of contextualized mission principles into the apologist’s task."

Insights from Communications and Missions for New Religions
A 2005 article by John Morehead published at the StandingTogether.Org website.
"The history of missions teaches us that the most effective evangelism takes place within the context of relationships. This may be one of evangelicalism’s greatest challenges as we face our need to move increasingly outside our evangelical subculture in order to develop relationships with our neighbors representing differing religions. We should also remember that these relationships need to be authentic and open, and not merely a means to the end of evangelism. Evangelicals might consider that not only do we have something to offer in relationships with those of other religions, but we can learn things of value from these relationship partners as well."

John Morehead on Ronald Hutton 2005
It turns out that John Morehead is quite a fan of Ronald Hutton. No comment.

John Morehead on Ronald Hutton 2007
Did I mention that Morehead is a Hutton fan?

John Morehead interviews Irving Hexham 2007
"Irving, it is a pleasure to be able to talk with you and to learn a few important lessons about religion in our global culture. Let's start with a little of your background. How did you come to the Christian faith, and where did you pursue your academic studies?"

☆ John Morehead interviews Karla Poewe 2007
"In your book you mention certain forms of Neo-Paganism played a part in the National Socialism of Germany. Of course, National Socialism and racist ideologies are still to be found in Europe and the West today, and there also seems to be an increase of interest in certain expressions of Neo-Paganism with emphases on racial and ethnic emphases. How are some forms of Paganism connected to the New Right today?"

Burning Man Festival as Life-Enhancing, Post-Christendom 'Middle Way'
An interview with John Morehead from 2007
"Perhaps our careful theological and missiological reflection on these aspects of Burning Man might be used by the Spirit to provide the seeds for the church's revitalization and renewed credibility in the post-Christendom West."

The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies (WIIS) (founded 2008)
"In the past I worked through an organization called Neighboring Faiths Project, but various circumstances have come together to result in a transformation of this organization into something new ... WIIS represents an expansion and revision of the work begun several years ago under the previous organization that have been transferred over to the new ministry. For some time now it has been my desire to help evangelicals and mainline Protestant Christians come to a new way of understanding the new re movements in America and the Western world, one that shifts from viewing many of them as 'cults' to a broader framework that understands them as religious or spiritual cultures or subcultures. Within this context I have been pursuing a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the new religions, and have also been reflecting on the history of Christian missions and cross-cultural missiology as sources that can inform how the story of Jesus might more appropriately be shared with those pursuing alternative spiritual pathways." [from the Morehead's Musings blog]

New Religions, Subjective Life Spiritualities, and the Challenge to Missions in the Post-Christian West
By John Morehead (July 2008)
"One of the greatest challenges the Church faces in the modern Western context is the general turn away from interest in and involvement with institutionalized forms of religion, such as Christianity, and the corresponding move toward an inward and subjective expression of spirituality."

JOHN MOREHEAD and Friends: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing?
by Carol Guffey February 28, 2008
This is a very interesting attack on Morehead by an evangelical who thinks Morehead is too cozy with teh Pagunz. That, of course, is perfectly predictable, and if that's all there was to it, this kind of attack would only serve to highlight Morehead's role as the "soft-cop" to the more typical evangelical "hard-cop". But what's interesting is the background the piece gives on Morehead's biography, and especially his trajectory from splinter group Mormon (Community of Christ, née RLDS), to ex-Mormon counter-cult activist, to the "more sensitive and holistic approach" of Moreheads current missionary efforts.

John Morehead on Ronald Hutton 2009
Did I mention that I have no comment on the fact that John Morehead is a fan or Ronald Hutton?

John Morehead on Ronald Hutton 2010

Lausanne Issue Group on Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality Set to Meet in Hong Kong (May 2012)
"This strategic group continues to address the often-neglected missional challenge of new religious movements, alternative religions and emerging spiritualities in the Western world. After the 2004 gathering the group completed a substantial document on this topic in the form of Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 45 that was published in book form in addition to the electronic file on the Lausanne website. The issue group has also created a website in preparation for a mini-consultation in Hong Kong at the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre 30 September to 6 October 2006."

Parallelling the Enemy?: A Consideration of the Pagan Countercult   August 08, 2012
In which John Morehead insists "I am not a stealth evangelist."

A Biblical Foundation for Interreligious Engagement
By John W. Morehead, November 11, 2012
"Years ago I was on staff with a major apologetics ministry that provided seminars for churches on various 'cult' groups. They used an approach to Scripture that is commonly found among Evangelicals as they encounter both "cult" groups (or new religious movements) like Mormonism, as well as world religions such as Islam. This involves a confrontational method of citing various biblical passages on important Evangelical doctrines in contrast with the teachings of a competing religious group. There are a select number of Bible verses that are appealed to as a foundation for this approach, and these include Jesus and his stern rebuke of Jewish leaders, New Testament texts warning about false teaching in the church, as well as Old Testament passages warning about false prophets, and the example of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal.

"As I studied these passages and considered the broader framework of biblical teaching, I came to the conclusion that this understanding was flawed. Later, as part of the 2004 Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization's issue group that explored Evangelical responses to "cults," I became part of an international group of missions practitioners and scholars who had come to the same conclusions as I. It resulted in one of the more significant papers to come out of that Lausanne gathering."

Related posts from this blog: 
[The most recent posts are at the bottom. Most of the latest posts (marked with a "") are specifically concerned with Morehead and his immediate circle, while other posts cover a wide range of topics related to Christian missionaries in general.]

Also of possible interest: back in the 90s, Morehead was something of a "specialist" in Anthroposophy: