Egypt’s Copts weather new wave of attacks

July 22 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Islamist assaults against Egypt’s largest minority, Coptic Christians, have claimed the lives of two priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church, a pharmacist who was beheaded and a baker.

IMB photo

World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on Christians facing persecution, chronicled the murders and numerous other assaults on Copts in the past two months along with attacks on churches, homes and businesses in a July 20 article. Much of the violence occurred during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
Also chronicling the attacks against Copts and their Coptic Orthodox Church, which dates back to the first century, are Morning Star News, another news service on the persecuted church, and Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based advocacy organization.
Egypt is “diseased with discrimination,” Coptic Bishop Makarius said in Arabic in an interview with the Copts United website, World Watch Monitor reported.
Among Mararius’ concerns for Egypt’s Copts, who number about 10 million among the nation’s populace of 86 million:

  • “conciliation sessions,” or “reconciliation committees,” between victims and their accused/alleged perpetrators where Christians often face pressure to accept judgments that favor Muslims.
  • numerous attacks “on the village level” where government intervention is ineffectual.
  • the Egyptian constitution’s article on “defamation of religion.” The statute could be acceptable, the bishop said, “were it applied even-handedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians,” Makarius said. “The [Egyptian] constitution contradicts itself. Some articles stress freedom of expression, while expressing a contrary opinion against [Islamic] religion is quickly judged as defamation.”

Egypt is among 16 countries recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “countries of particular concern” as the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty. The State Department, however, currently does not list Egypt among its top-tier designees.

Attacks enumerated

Among the attacks against Copts in recent months according to World Watch Monitor, Morning Star News and Coptic Solidarity:

  • the beheading and multiple stabbings of a pharmacist who had been taken to an apartment by two men who were recorded on security cameras in the vicinity, but no suspects have been arrested.
  • the public assault and humiliation of a Copt grandmother. As recounted by Morning Star News: “... an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.”
  • the murder of a Coptic priest that was claimed by the “Islamic State,” which termed the cleric “an infidel fighter,” World Watch Monitor reported.
  • a knife attack on two women, whose neck wounds left them in critical condition. The assailant reportedly told police he was “following the Islamic State’s instructions,” according to World Watch Monitor.
  • the murder of a baker who was stabbed several times in front of his wife by an assailant who reportedly repeated that he was “doing this in obedience to what Allah has decreed.”
  • The arson of a village church 400 miles south of Cairo; the burning of numerous homes; and mobs that have gathered to intimate Coptic churches, families and individuals.

Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Christian worker in Egypt, told Baptist Press, “These instances demonstrate the real, growing pressure from Muslims influenced by intolerant interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an.
“While Muslims in the West worry about the ‘radicalization’ of individuals in the Islamic heartland, minorities experience much more dire outcomes as mobs and violent groups inflict their will on them,” Edens said.
The attacks are but the latest wave of tumult for Egypt’s Copts, who faced even more severe persecution in 2013 after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the Islamic predecessor to the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Calls for action

El-Sisi has made a number of conciliatory gestures toward the nation’s Copts. But Bishop Makarius, via Twitter on July 17, noted he was “reminding” the president that Copts “are Egyptian citizens.”
Among the actions Coptic Solidarity is seeking by the Egyptian government:

  • “Bring to account and apply the full force of justice against perpetrators of violence, including all local police and government officials whose indifference and complacency have allowed these mob actions and attacks against Copts.”
  • “Abolish the so called ‘reconciliation meetings’ which should not replace bringing perpetrators to justice in the judicial system.”
  • “Pass and implement legislation to guarantee the freedom of building of new churches and repair of existing ones,” especially those that have been destroyed by Islamists.
  • “Pass legislation to combat discrimination, and create an impartial body to monitor its implementation.”
  • “Shut down avenues of religious hate, including from within state-backed religious, media and educational bodies.”
  • “Annul the abusive ‘anti-blasphemy’ code in Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.”
  • “Annul religious identification from official identity cards.”
7/22/2016 11:45:56 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Failed coup leaves Turkey’s Christians on edge

July 22 2016 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

In the aftermath of a failed military coup, Christians in Turkey are likely to face increased scrutiny and more persecution, an international security expert told Baptist Press (BP).

CNN screen capture

An estimated 50,000-60,000 people – soldiers, police, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and teachers – have been fired or detained since the July 15 coup attempt, according to news reports.
The coup is widely seen as move by elements of the military opposed to the increased political influence of Islam in the constitutionally secular country. Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, has declared a three-month state of emergency, allowing him to bypass parliament to enact new laws and restrict or suspend freedoms, the BBC reported.
Some observers have argued that Erdogan himself staged a fake coup to strengthen his grip and accelerate Islamification of the country, although a spokesman for the president labeled the conspiracy theory “nonsensical.” The scope of the post-coup crackdown nevertheless indicates the government is taking advantage of the situation to persecute citizens on its lengthy lists of enemies, observers say.
“This is a brazen move on behalf of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (JDP),” said Scott Brawner, president of Concilium, a Christian nonprofit organization that specializes in security training and analysis.
“The JDP has eroded the personal rights of minority religions, especially Christians. This includes the confiscation of church properties, assaults and attacks on Turkish Christians that go unprosecuted by the state, and real and tangible threats against Muslim-background believers from society and the government,” Brawner said.
Turkey’s Christian community accounts for about 0.2 percent of the country’s total population of about 81 million, according to the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report compiled by the U.S. State Department. Turkey is an ally of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Tensions within the country have been heightened by the influx of more than 2 million refugees fleeing Islamic State terror.
Christian workers living in Istanbul described the coup aftermath as “the worst-case scenario for Christians living in Turkey,” said Sandra Elliot, program coordinator for International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for persecuted Christians.
“When the president addressed the people during the coup, he called on them as ‘Turks’ and as ‘believers in God’ – equating the two,” Elliot said. “The government may very well see [Christians] as a threat due to their lack of adherence to Islam.”
During the attempted coup, two churches were vandalized in cities in eastern Turkey where Christians have been killed in the past, according to the World Watch Monitor news service. In Malatya, unidentified assailants broke glass panels in the door of Malatya Protestant Church. In Trabzon, the windows of Santa Maria Catholic Church were smashed; a group of Muslim neighbors was credited with driving the vandals away.
President Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on Hizmet, a moderate Islamic network that sponsors secular schools, tutoring centers, hospitals and relief work. Hizmet is led by Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who began feuding with the president in 2013 and now lives in exile in the United States. Erdogan has vowed he will purge the “virus” responsible for the plot.
The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, reacted with “serious alarm” to the widespread arrests and called for fair trials and the rule of law, the Reuters news service reported. “In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” al-Hussein said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted earlier this year that the “overall landscape for democracy and human rights in Turkey has deteriorated over the last several years. The government has increased restrictions on social media and cracked down on journalists and individuals or groups that criticize the government, especially President Erdogan.”
The commission lists Turkey as a “Tier 2” country in which “religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level that would mandate a [country of particular concern] designation but require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”
Since the secular state was founded in 1923, Turkey has weathered several military coups and subsequently segued back to civilian governance.
Turkey straddles a peninsula in western Asia and serves as crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia. The country is bordered by Syria and Iraq, as well as Greece, Bulgaria and Georgia, with the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea to the west.
Turkey figures prominently in the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament. Two of the apostle Paul’s letters – Galatians and Ephesians – were written to Christians in what is now Turkey. The Bible also mentions specific places located in Turkey, including Mt. Ararat (Genesis 8:1-5), Haran (Genesis 11:31), the lands of the Hittites (Genesis 15:19-21), Tarsus (Acts 9:11), Iconium (Acts 13-16 and 2 Tim. 3:11) and Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and host of the “God’s Revolution” podcast.)
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7/22/2016 11:40:18 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Sudan’s crisis stirs call to prayer

July 22 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With South Sudan on the brink of renewed civil war, a Southern Baptist-led relief organization and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) remain unrelenting in their ministries there, amid what one aid worker called “a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”

Living Water Community Transformation photo
Amid a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, Living Water Community Transformation feeds hundreds of children daily at its two schools.

“There is no hope [for South Sudan] other than Jesus,” said Ann Rao, founder and president of Living Water Community Transformation, an organization that engages in women’s ministry, church planting, education of children and agribusiness training in the South Sudanese community of Akot. “I don’t even know what else to say. The whole situation is very overwhelming.”
South Sudan, established in 2011 when Christian regions of heavily-Muslim Sudan gained independence, has been embroiled in fighting between warring tribal groups since an attempted coup in 2013, Rao, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa-area Lutz, Fla., told Baptist Press (BP).
The latest round of violence broke out July 7 and escalated the next day when armed clashes erupted between troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his rival, vice president Riek Machar, as the two met in the nation’s state house, according to media reports. The clashes left 273 dead, the BBC reported.
Machar remains in hiding, and a 10-week-old peace arrangement “hangs by a thread,” according to the BBC.
An NPR report cast partial blame for the conflict on the international community because it has not “used economic sanctions to force both leaders to control their fighters.”
At least 36,000 South Sudanese refugees have been displaced from their homes this month, bringing the total number of refugees since December 2013 to approximately 1.6 million, Reuters reported. An additional 743,000 people have fled the country, and 4.8 million are “severely short of food.”
“The lack of food is just horrible,” Rao said. “... Supposedly, it’s a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”
In partnership with Baptist Global Response (BGR), a global relief organization, Living Water feeds hundreds of students each day at its two primary schools and has helped establish a 12-acre farm.
A lack of preparedness for national independence helps fuel the conflict, which has included “massacres” and “a lot of rapes,” Rao said. She lamented that though many South Sudanese profess to be Christians, including some top government leaders, the “hatred from all the killing and revenge killing” will continue to cause national strife.
SEBTS’s ministry to the South Sudanese includes theological education of pastors in partnership with the South Sudan Baptist Convention, with hope of a seminary being established one day in Juba, the capital city.
Many South Sudanese “pastors and congregations have sought safety in refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia,” SEBTS associate vice president for global theological initiatives John Ewart told BP in written comments. “They are starting churches and conducting training and discipleship within those contexts. I continue to get reports of new converts and baptisms taking place in these camps. In addition, many pastors are traveling in and out of South Sudan to continue to minister there as well.”
During a mission trip last year with SEBTS President Daniel Akin to train South Sudanese pastors in Uganda, Ewart wrote about the Christian unity among pastors from warring tribes.
“We have church leaders from both tribes here with us seeking solutions and training,” Ewart wrote in a blog post. “It is a testimony to Christ and His grace to watch them sing and learn and fellowship together after the brutality many of them have suffered at the hands of the other tribe.”
Some pastors living in Uganda and Kenya “travel as circuit riders into South Sudan pastoring as many as seven churches at one time,” he wrote. “They spend hours in travel and days away from their families. Some have seen their churches destroyed or scattered and wait to go back to rebuild. Most of their churches and church plants simply meet under trees.”
BGR executive director Jeff Palmer told BP that South Sudan’s conflict does not seem to provoke “a lot of sympathy” in the West because Americans find it difficult to empathize with “people fighting over tribalism. We don’t understand that in the States.”
Yet Americans – followers of Jesus especially – should care about South Sudan “because of the great need that’s there,” Palmer said.
Rao asked believers to “pray for peace in South Sudan.”
The renewed call to prayer echoes a 40-day prayer emphasis supported by the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) leading up to Sudan’s national referendum on the South’s independence in 2011. Sudan’s then-ambassador to the U.S. Akec Khoc, a Christian, addressed the WMU’s Orlando, Fla., Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in 2010 regarding his nation’s need for prayer.
“We are coming to you for prayer to our heavenly Father to give guidance to the leaders and the people of Sudan because it is only through Him that we can get peace,” Khoc said.
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7/22/2016 11:31:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

North Korea threatens U.S. over new missile defense system

July 22 2016 by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service

North Korea is threatening the United States – again. On July 11 the hermetically sealed nation vowed to sever its only diplomatic communication line and stage “powerful counter-action” over new sanctions on its leader and a planned missile detection system meant to prevent the totalitarian regime’s abuse of nuclear weaponry.
North Korea has been under strict sanctions for years, but the United States last week personally penalized Kim Jong Un for the first time, accusing the 32-year-old dictator and 10 top officials of human rights abuses. It is estimated the country holds up to 120,000 political prisoners.
“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture,” said Adam Szubin, in a Treasury Department report released this month.
Pyongyang claimed the blacklisting equaled a declaration of war – and promised to retaliate.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby urged North Korea to “refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region,” but declined to comment further on the situation.
In response to the North’s penchant for unauthorized weaponry testing, the U.S. and South Korea have collaborated to develop the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD), an elite missile detection system. THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy enemy warheads in the terminal stage of flight, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Today, Seoul officials announced THAAD will be deployed in Seongju, a southeast farming town where most locals grow yellow melons for a living. Afraid the radar’s electromagnetic waves could cause health hazards, Seongju residents reacted with bitter opposition, and a group of local leaders immediately delivered complaint letters, written in blood, to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
But South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Ryu Je Seung stood by the choice of Seongju as a missile-hosting town, claiming the placement would maximize THAAD’s military effectiveness while posing no danger to the environment or locals’ health and safety. Ryu said the system would be in place by the end of next year and would cover up to two-thirds of the nation’s territory from North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Just days after the U.S. announced the impending placement of THAAD, North Korea reacted by threatening to terminate the nation’s single diplomatic contact line. The New-York based channel allows North Korea’s United Nations diplomats to communicate, which could be crucial in the face of ever-deepening animosity over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea isn’t the only nation mad about THAAD. Officials in China and Russia complain the defense system could make it easier for the U.S. to spot their missiles. China’s Foreign Ministry last week expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute objection,” to THAAD.
The North Korean military this week denounced THAAD as “an invasionary tool for U.S. world supremacy,” and promised a “ruthless retaliatory strike [that will turn South Korea] into a sea of fire and a pile of ashes.” North Korea’s claim to reduce its southern counterpart to flaming rubble is a threat well-worn – the totalitarian regime has been using it since 1994.
North Korea’s statement was characteristically belligerent and overblown, but experts say a direct attack from Pyongyang’s impoverished military is unlikely.
“If you follow North Korean media you constantly see bellicose language directed against the U.S. and South Korea. … It’s hard to know what to take seriously,” professor John Delury of Yonsei University in South Korea told the BBC.
North Korea is still holding two American hostages for alleged espionage and subversion, and local officials implied the detainees would be treated under wartime law, which could complicate U.S. efforts to secure their release.

7/22/2016 11:27:30 AM by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Pence makes case for Trump; Cruz steals spotlight

July 22 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence made a social conservative’s case for Donald Trump on the Republican National Convention’s third day, but the GOP runner-up – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – grabbed the spotlight by refusing to endorse his party’s nominee.

Screen capture from YouTube
“This election will define the Supreme Court for the next 40” years, GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said July 20.

Pence, 57, accepted the Republican nomination for vice president July 20 and offered reasons the lightning-rod billionaire should be trusted over presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Indiana governor made his case, however, after a wave of boos ushered Cruz off the stage in a development that assured Pence’s speech would be eclipsed in the convention’s latest news cycle.
Cruz – whom Pence endorsed before his state’s primary in May – urged Republicans to “vote your conscience” in November but mentioned Trump’s name only to congratulate the nominee. Some delegates shouted, “Endorse Trump,” late in Cruz’s speech. Many booed him near the end of or after his remarks, providing the latest evidence of the divisiveness that marked the GOP’s selection process this year.
Admitting his speech would serve as his introduction to the country, Pence repeated to the delegates his common description of himself, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
Pence, a six-term congressman before being elected governor in 2012, did not focus on his pro-life and other socially conservative positions, but they surfaced when he spoke about the significance of the Supreme Court this year.
“As this election approaches, every American should know that while we are filling the presidency for the next four years, this election will define the Supreme Court for the next 40,” Pence said. “We all better think very carefully, very carefully about what this means for our Constitution and limited government. Elect Hillary Clinton, and you better get used to being subject to unelected judges using unaccountable power to take unconstitutional actions.
“For the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of the sanctity of life, for the sake of our Second Amendment and for the sake of all our other God-given liberties, we must ensure that the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump,” Pence said.
The father of three referenced King Solomon’s prayer from 1 Kings 3:9 in promising, if elected, “to pray daily for a wise and discerning heart, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours without it?
Pence, said Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford, “delivered a strong address intended to achieve what he was brought onto the ticket to accomplish: help religious and social conservatives feel comfortable voting for Donald Trump.”
While Trump’s selection of Pence was “a good one,” it can also be interpreted as a warning, said Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Trump chose Pence because Pence is a religious conservative, an establishment guy, and known for his solid stances on abortion and religious liberty,” Ashford told Baptist Press in written comments.
“But it is also a warning sign,” he said. “Trump chose Pence because Trump himself is not a religious conservative or an establishment candidate, and is not known for solid stances on some of the matters most central to evangelical concern.”
In Trump, Pence told delegates, “You have nominated a man for president who never quits, who never backs down – a fighter, a winner.”
The election of Clinton – formerly secretary of State under President Obama, U.S. senator and first lady – would ensure continuation of the flawed domestic and foreign policies of the current White House, Pence said.
“The choice couldn’t be more clear: Americans can elect someone who literally personifies the failed establishment in Washington D.C., or we can choose a leader who will fight every day to make America great again,” he said.

‘Vote your conscience’

Cruz, also a social conservative, urged Americans not to “stay home in November” but spoke only in general terms of the kind of candidates they should support, with a hint that might not include Trump.
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love,” Cruz told delegates. “That is the standard we should expect from everybody.”
Americans who love their country and their children, he said, should “stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
In an appearance before the Texas delegation Thursday morning July 21, Cruz defended his refusal to endorse Trump. He again declined to commit to vote for the GOP nominee but said he would not vote for Clinton, according to The Washington Post. He asked them not to write in his name in November.
When asked why he reneged on his pledge to support the Republican nominee, Cruz said Trump invalidated the promise when the billionaire made personal attacks on his wife and hinted his father played a part in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Pence made at least one significant misstep as Indiana’s governor in the eyes of many religious freedom advocates and social conservatives. He signed into law last year a revised version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that increased protections for pastors, churches and nonprofit religious organizations but not businesses regarding participation in such events as same-sex weddings.

7/22/2016 11:09:20 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Multiethnic church pastor: peacemaker amid violence

July 21 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

With Alton Sterling and three police officers dead amid racial tension in Baton Rouge, La., black pastor Vince Smith counts among his blessings his interracial marriage to Cassie and his pastorate of the multiethnic Circle Church.

Submitted photo
Vince Smith, shown with his wife Cassie, pastors the multiethnic Circle Church in Alexandria, La.

Smith considers himself a peacemaker comforting those who mourn, whether they have lost loved ones at the hands of police or at the hands of civilians.
“The worst thing we can do as a multiethnic church is to dismiss the narrative of people,” said Smith, whose Southern Baptist congregation is 100 miles north of Baton Rouge in Alexandria. “When we raise one narrative as the normative point of view and the next narrative as secondary, then that is also dangerous. We don’t pick sides; we are in the middle being peacemakers.”
While racially charged violence brews in cities across the nation, Baton Rouge is where Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot dead by one of two white police officers who pinned him nearly immobile in a parking lot early July 5 after a 911 caller said Sterling had displayed a gun while selling CDs outside a convenience store.
Protests ensued, with a black man ambushing policemen nearly two weeks later, killing three officers, two white and one black.
Killed were Brad Garafola, 45, of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office; Montrell Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, both of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Police killed the shooter, identified as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Mo.
“Grief and lament are coming from those who have experienced police brutality [and from] families who have grieved [because of] similar situations and outright racism,” Smith told Baptist Press (BP). “Then to another side, [grief is coming] from police officers who are doing their best to do their job to protect and serve, family members that are worried for police safety, and blatant disregard for police.”
Smith does not see silence as an option.
“Peacemakers are not silent; they are in the business of addressing issues, not oversimplifying them to just move along,” Smith said. “It is not our job to decipher whether or not people should be grieving; it’s our job to allow them to grieve and hurt with them.”
When the Baton Rouge police officers were killed, Jerome Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa., had just attended the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C.
Before leading conference attendees in prayer, Coleman shared his perspective as a current black Southern Baptist pastor and former Pennsylvania state parole agent.
Coleman encouraged worshippers to maintain level-headedness amid news of such killings.
“I just want to remind you that a text without context is pretext for proof text. In other words, many times we will just get what the media wants us to get, or to stir up our emotions and things of that nature without having context of what is going on,” Coleman said. “And all I’m saying to you, when cooler heads prevail, we need to wait for the proof to come out.”
Coleman shared an experience from his law enforcement career that placed him in the basement of a home, with his gun drawn, in pursuit of an African American man hiding in the home to avoid arrest.
“Now luckily my training had taught me to keep my finger on the outside of the trigger guard when I’m carrying my gun. Because naturally when this young man popped up I flinched,” Coleman said. “And if my finger was inside the trigger guard, I would have shot an unarmed black man and I would have been on the news for shooting somebody that was unarmed and folks would have been outraged at me.”
For the most part, Coleman said, law enforcement officers and civilians alike are interested in doing their jobs and returning home safely to their families.
He evoked the parable of the Good Samaritan in explaining the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has included multiethnic crowds protesting – most often peacefully – across the country. Many have countered the movement with the mantra, “All lives matter.”
“I get that all lives matter. But if all lives matter, then when there’s a Jew beside the road beat up, Jewish lives matter. If all lives matter, then if I’m on my way down the road and a Samaritan is beat up, Samaritans’ lives matter,” Coleman said. “And if all lives matter and law enforcement is [attacked] … then law enforcement lives matter. And if all lives matter, then when ... black men are being stopped unnecessarily, shot and killed and murdered, then black lives matter as well.”
In Alexandria, Smith has planted a church that is multiethnic by definition – 65 percent white, 33 percent black and 2 percent other ethnicities. A police officer is among the members.
“We have specifically prayed for and laid hands on him and his family during our time of worship in these past two weeks,” Smith said. “We also have constantly communicated with our people to steer clear from polarizing points of view.”
Smith has been intentional in building a multiethnic congregation.
“There are many churches that desire to be multiethnic but their leadership may not reflect it. Also throughout the New Testament we see Paul writing on the issue of table fellowship,” Smith said. “We believe that the most segregated hour in America is not Sunday at 11:00 anymore, but rather Friday at 6:00.
“What we mean by that is people may tolerate differences on Sunday morning but they have a hard time celebrating differences over dinner on Friday night. Pastor Bryan Loritts says, ‘Sanctuaries should reflect dinner tables,’” Smith quoted the pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, Calif., as saying. “The exposure of different people in our lives will allow us to grow in cross-cultural competency for the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Smith is prayerfully navigating Circle Church to engage in intentional conversation about race, class, culture, police and related movements, he said.
Smith and his wife have seen firsthand the fruit of racism within a Christian context. Married in November 2012, their interracial union was poorly received by many, Smith said, and even sparked a deacons’ meeting at a church they attended.
“Some couples may have their first fight over grease stains on a chevron pillow. We faced families and whole churches disliking us,” Smith and his wife wrote in an article he sent to BP from “It kind of forces your faith to mature quickly. Those would have been the times when giving up would have been easy. Suffering comes in different forms. An avenue of suffering that strengthened our faith was not being celebrated everywhere we went.”
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7/21/2016 10:48:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Biblical studies prof Denny Burk elected CBMW president

July 21 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Biblical studies professor Denny Burk has been elected president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), an organization that helps believers understand and apply the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender.

Denny Burk

Burk, whose election was announced July 20, is a faculty member of Boyce College at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and director of the undergraduate school’s Center for Gospel and Culture.
His desire to address gender issues stems in part from his work as an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Burk told Baptist Press (BP).
“I’ve already had church members wondering what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to think about coworkers who are entering into same-sex marriages and who are transitioning to some sort of a transgender identity,” Burk said.
“They’re wondering, one, what do I think about that? What does the Bible teach about that?” he said. “And then number two, how do I be a faithful disciple for Jesus in their lives in light of that? I see these gender and sexuality questions in my own church as profoundly practical questions that believers are wrestling with.”
Burk’s vision for CBMW includes reaffirming the organization’s bedrock belief that men and women are fundamentally equal and have been assigned distinct roles in the church and the home, a belief known as complementarianism and articulated in one of CBMW’s founding documents, the Danvers Statement of 1987.
Burk envisions drafting a new statement concerning “current challenges” like transgenderism and the redefinition of marriage, according to a vision statement posted online.
“Western culture has embarked upon a total revision of sexual and gender norms,” Burk wrote in the statement. “It has evicted the male-female complement from the definition of marriage. Indeed, with the transgender challenge, it has thrown into question the meaning of the sexual binary that God has encoded into every cell in our bodies.
“As a result,” Burk noted, “churches find themselves facing questions about manhood and womanhood that were barely imagined when the Danvers Statement was written.”
In drafting a new statement to complement the 1987 one, CBMW “will not be backing away from or revising Danvers,” Burk wrote.
The process of drafting a new statement, he told BP, will include “as much input on that draft” as possible, likely culminating in a meeting where complementarian leaders can sign it. He will “be surprised” if the process takes less than a year.
In addition to his duties at Boyce, Burk is a popular internet commentator on theology and cultural issues, who ranked 18th last year on Newsmax’s list of the “top 75 religion bloggers” in America.
Burk served previously as dean of Boyce and on the faculty of Criswell College in Dallas. His books include “Transforming Homosexuality,” coauthored with Southern Seminary’s Heath Lambert, and “What Is the Meaning of Sex?”
His election as CBMW president drew praise from Southern Baptist Convention entity presidents R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore, according to a CBMW news release. Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called him “a leading Christian intellectual” while Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he is a “Christlike leader who understands both the Bible and the culture.”
Burk will continue in his role at Boyce in Louisville, where CBMW also is headquartered. He succeeds Owen Strachan, who became CBMW executive director in 2012 and president in 2014.
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7/21/2016 10:43:18 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GOP picks Trump; Lucifer invoked in race

July 21 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee July 19 on a day when the devil was invoked at the GOP convention as part of a reason not to vote for his Democratic opponent.

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The controversial billionaire easily passed the 1,237 votes needed to secure the nomination during a state-by-state roll call, ending a divisive, even bitter, campaign season among Republicans.
In what was a foregone conclusion, Trump won with 1,725 delegates, easily surpassing other GOP candidates who had suspended their campaigns. The remaining delegates were split among Sen. Ted Cruz (475 delegates), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (120), Sen. Marco Rubio (114), neurosurgeon Ben Carson (7), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (3) and Sen. Rand Paul (2), according to USA Today.
Trump, who has never held public office, will face presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, barring an unforeseen development. Clinton – the former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady – is slated to gain her party’s nomination during its convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia.
Admitting he is not “politically correct,” Carson indirectly linked Clinton to Satan in telling delegates Tuesday night the country would never recover if she were elected.
One of Clinton’s heroes and mentors was community organizer Saul Alinsky, who “affected all of her philosophy,” Carson said. In the front of his book “Rules for Radicals,” Alinsky “acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom,” Carson said.
“So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that,” he said.
The secular, progressive agenda of Clinton and others is antithetical to the principles of America’s founders, Carson said. “And 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, and we will be responsible for that.”
While many Christians would not agree progressives can remove God from Americans’ lives, the official nomination of Trump appears unlikely to end the debate on how Southern Baptists and other evangelicals should respond to a Trump-Clinton race.
Trump’s candidacy has divided Southern Baptists, other evangelicals and conservatives. Some have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him in the general election as an alternative to Clinton; others have declared their opposition will continue through the general election.
Using the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter, objectors to the candidacy of the businessman/reality television star have made no-vote promises based on his inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on such issues as abortion, religious liberty and immigration; insult-laden rhetoric; and a lifestyle marked by adultery.
Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris, who was to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention but stepped aside to be with a “father in the ministry” who has entered hospice care, said he is “cautiously optimistic” Trump will advance a socially conservative agenda.
“I think you have to look at the choice between him and Hillary Clinton, and then I think you have to look at the long view,” Harris told Baptist Press (BP) in a phone interview.
“The president that we choose in November is not just a four-year decision but really a 40-year decision,” said Harris, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. “And I think that’s very important for Southern Baptists. I think that’s very important for all Christians to stop and consider, because really and truly it’s no secret that this next president will have several Supreme Court [nominations].”
Thus, Harris said, “... when I look at that, I think there is no choice but to go with Donald Trump. And I realize that there’s plenty of others who have not come to that same conclusion, but I think some of them may very well come to it between now and November.”
His reasons for being hopeful Trump will govern as a social conservative are the nominee’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a pro-life evangelical, as his running mate; the support of former Southern Baptist pastor and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the nominee; and Trump’s apparent willingness to receive counsel, Harris said.
Harris – who has campaigned as a Republican in races for both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives – supported Huckabee initially for the GOP presidential nomination but became a delegate for Cruz.
Another Southern Baptist running for Congress as a Republican told BP evangelicals don’t really have a candidate from the two major parties.
“[T]he bottom line is that there is not truly a candidate in this race who carries the banner of anything like a Christian conservatism,” said Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a candidate for the GOP’s nomination in the state’s Eighth District.
Clinton “represents advancing, aggressive secularism which threatens a wide variety of Christians and Christian organizations,” Baker said, while Trump “is little more than a wild card who may be better depending on those persons with whom he surrounds himself.”
“Evangelicals have reached an extraordinary point in their political lives,” Baker said in written comments. “After making major contributions to the public agenda in terms of the pro-life movement, the school choice revolution, the defense of marriage, and other areas, they find themselves essentially at sea in the current presidential race.”
The primary in Baker’s race is Aug. 4.
In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky offered the following: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.”
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7/21/2016 10:37:20 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Volunteer returns to site where husband died

July 21 2016 by Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message

Two months had passed since Margie Fulkerson’s husband unexpectedly died from a heart attack at the same Louisiana home site where she was now working as a member of an Illinois Baptist disaster relief team.

Baptist Press photo
Margie Fulkerson along with fellow Illinois Baptist disaster relief workers returned to help rebuild a Louisiana home two months after her husband Don passed away while mudding out the residence.

Margie Fulkerson along with fellow Illinois Baptist disaster relief workers returned to help rebuild a Louisiana home two months after her husband Don passed away while mudding out the residence.
Holding a bottled water to quench her thirst in the 90-degree heat, Fulkerson fought back tears as she remembered when her husband Don passed away in late March while helping mud-out a home in Evans, La., damaged by several feet of flooding.
Gone are the days when the Illinois couple served together as members of the team from First Baptist Church in Galatia. The Fulkersons, who would have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary in April, had served on 15 disaster relief trips together since their first assignment in 2012.
As emotionally difficult as the decision was to return to work on the same house where her husband passed away, Fulkerson said returning to finish the job is what Don would have wanted.
“He loved this kind of work and always wanted me to come with him,” she said. “I wanted to finish this for him.”
Fulkerson returned with seven other members of the team from Illinois, installing insulation and sheetrock and painting rooms from May 20-27.
Cathy Dudley was on the Illinois team who worked with the Fulkersons on an initial first disaster relief trip to Louisiana several years after Hurricane Katrina.
The hours and days following Don Fulkerson’s death were difficult, Dudley said, but what God did afterward made the situation a bright one for the future.
Dudley recounted that Margie decided during their return trip to Illinois, with the advice of others, for money to be given to First Baptist Galatia’s disaster relief fund in lieu of flowers. The team encountered a Vietnam War veteran during a break while traveling; upon learning what happened in Louisiana, he handed them $100.
That was the beginning of what would be a donation fund that will go toward future relief efforts, Dudley said, as well as help pay half the cost of defibrillators now used by Illinois disaster relief teams for life-threatening emergencies such as the heart attack the 77-year-old Fulkerson suffered.
“When something good comes out of a tragedy, it makes you smile,” Dudley said. “It makes your heart feel good knowing people are helping and keeping his memory alive.”
But the goodwill gesture did not stop there.
Others found out about the team’s return to Evans and donated a trailer full of items for the homeowners such as chairs and various appliances.
Jeremy Blocker, pastor of Simpson (La.) Baptist Church, which sent 12 volunteers to assist the Illinois team in the cleanup effort, was moved by the team’s return to help the homeowners.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Blocker said. “And it’s enlightening to see them wanting to come do this in memory of their Christian brother.”
The Louisiana Baptist Convention offered to pay for embalming services and flying Fulkerson’s body back to Illinois. However, Illinois Baptists had insurance to cover the expenses, so the Louisiana convention is using the same amount of money to assist in the rebuild of the home that the Illinois team was working to complete.
Margie Fulkerson, who has received encouraging cards from Louisiana Baptists, a sheriff and students from an area school, expressed gratitude for the support she has received.
“Thank you people from Louisiana for all the wonderful prayers and cards,” she said. “I can’t believe all the people who have remembered me and Don. I’m gonna keep doing what he loved for as long as I can and help those in need through this important ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell writes for the Baptist Message,, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

7/21/2016 10:31:15 AM by Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message | with 0 comments

Hospitals weigh California assisted suicide law

July 21 2016 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Some California hospitals are opting out of the state’s new assisted suicide law allowing qualifying adults with a terminal illness to request a lethal drug from their doctor.
The End of Life Option Act, signed in October and effective since June 9, made California the fourth state – along with Oregon (1997), Vermont (2013) and Washington (2008) – to legalize some form of assisted suicide.
Euthanasia advocates applauded the bill while critics warned it might encourage physicians and family members to pressure patients to end their own lives.
Caught in the middle, some hospitals with moral qualms about assisted suicide, or that don’t have the resources to cater to it, are opting out of the lethal network.
Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif., is one of several hospitals choosing not to offer assisted suicide because the facility is not equipped to help someone make the decision to end his or her life.
“Enloe believes that the personal choice to end life, as well as the complexity of the process, often do not involve a stay in the hospital and are best and most appropriately made in a personal setting, in consultation with a family physician and trusted friends and family,” hospital administrators told WORLD News Service in a prepared statement.
Hospital staff will not be allowed to evaluate someone seeking assisted suicide or prescribe lethal drugs. Instead, Enloe will continue offering pain relief and hospice care “to enhance the quality of remaining life.”
Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calif., affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, opted out based on “a respect for all human life,” administrators told the Chico Enterprise-Record.
Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., a top-rated hospital in Los Angeles County, is still evaluating whether to provide the lethal drugs.
“This is a complicated issue and we understand our community is invested in this decision, so we are being thoughtful and deliberate in our process,” administrators wrote in an email. “We continue to assess whether our inpatient facility is the right setting for aid-in-dying procedures.”
Doctors at Huntington voted “behind closed doors” to opt out, the Los Angeles Times reported in early May. But the final decision rests with the board of directors, which hasn’t made a move either way.
“Until such time, Huntington Hospital will fully comply with the act regarding its patients and will ensure patients are made aware, as appropriate, of the full range of end-of-life and palliative care options available to them, both from our hospital and from other providers,” the statement said.
Other major hospitals have opted in, including Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The California Department of Public Health has refused to say how many hospitals have opted out of the law. The agency won’t have to release the numbers until it issues its annual report in July 2017.
California’s law was based on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, the nation’s first assisted suicide law. Last year, 132 people in Oregon took their lives with legal drugs, according to a 2015 report. The number of Oregonians opting for assisted suicide has steadily increased from 16 in 1998 and now totals 1,545 persons.
While California’s hospitals grapple with whether to provide lethal drugs, doctors must make their own decision. Individual doctors can always opt out, even if the hospital where they work has embraced the law. The California Medical Association, after opposing a similar bill in 2007, withdrew its opposition to the current law shortly before it passed. But the American Medical Association still opposes assisted suicide, calling it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”
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7/21/2016 10:26:33 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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