Diaspora missions conference called ‘catalytic moment’

August 30 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A unique Southern Baptist missions conference encouraged attendees to leverage the historically unprecedented migration of peoples around the world for the sake of sharing the gospel with every tribe, tongue and nationality. The U.S. is one of the most common destinations for migrants, and the circumstances present the American church with a remarkable opportunity for evangelism, according to conference speakers.

Photo by Seth Brown
Conference speaker J.D. Payne said, “The greatest needs for disciple making and church planting are outside of North America, but there is something missionally malignant if we’re willing to risk and take great sacrifices to travel across oceans to share the gospel and we’re not willing to walk across the street to the strangers next door.”

“[God] is the Divine Maestro, orchestrating the movements of the nations,” said J.D. Payne, pastor for church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
He emphasized the importance of churches engaging in diaspora missions, which is the task of evangelizing migrants.
Payne said the “Reaching the Nations in North America” conference at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn., could be a “catalytic moment” for mobilizing American Christians “until the strangers next door are strangers no more.”
The meeting garnered nearly 400 attendees, exceeding expectations and making it the largest conference of its kind.
Speakers at the Aug. 26-27 event included Payne; Frank Page, CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College; and Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief, a refugee resettlement organization. Additional leaders conducted breakout sessions, along with a cultural immersion experience in the Nashville area’s diverse communities.
Boto Joseph, an India-native church planter in New York City, led the group in musical worship, which included songs in multiple languages.
“It is my prayer that the summit launched a discussion in Southern Baptist life whose volume will only grow louder in the days to come​ as Christ-followers from every facet of the Southern Baptist Convention seek to engage our 47 million foreign born neighbors with the gospel of Christ,” said Chuck Register, executive leader of church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Photo by Seth Brown
Boto Joseph, an India-native church planter in New York City, led conference attendees in musical worship, which included songs in multiple languages.

Register helped coordinate and sponsor the event, along with his staff and others from the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC).
Yang spoke to attendees from personal experience and on-the-job expertise. She said, “We have an opportunity to make disciples of every nation without even having to leave our own backyard. It is not an accident that our neighborhoods are transforming. … The diversity of this country means that God wants people to hear the gospel.”
She shared multiple immigrant stories, including her own father’s immigration experience, recounting how he came into contact with the gospel because of his travels.
“Eighty-six percent of the immigrant population in North America are likely to either be Christian or become Christian,” Yang said, citing work by Timothy Tennent, professor of World Christianity and president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
“That’s far above the national average,” she continued. “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America. This group we want to keep out is actually the group that we need most for spiritual transformation.”
A conference attendee, Cody Beasley from Oaks Church in Raleigh, said the statistics were shocking. He and his wife, Aly, want to use what they learned to help them better communicate the gospel to Muslims and other internationals.
“It’s something that I’m passionate about,” said Beasley.
Yang pointed to the Bible as the Christian foundation for ministry to immigrants, while noting that some evangelicals take adverse political stances on the subject.
“Almost every single major biblical character from the Old Testament to the New Testament had some kind of migration experience, and it was through that migration experience that they experienced God,” she said, highlighting the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Ruth and David.
Even Jesus was a migrant, said Yang. “We are followers of a Middle Eastern refugee.”
He was a young, single, male, religious minority from the Middle East, she continued. “My question to all of us is, ‘If Jesus were alive today, would we let him into our country?’”
Stetzer acknowledged the need for just and sustainable border security, mentioning the “build a wall” position of many political conservatives in America.
“We might differ on that,” he said. “But you can’t differ and be a Christian on the call of Jesus to reach all kinds of people from different nations. … Our task is to be about the mission that Jesus has given us.”
Stetzer added, “In the midst of the politics we’re called to be prophetic.”
Breakout sessions of the conference highlighted tools and resources for discovering and engaging internationals, along with mobilization strategies for churches, associations and conventions.
Lewis McMullen, TBC church planting specialist, organized teams for a cultural immersion experience. One group visited the Islamic Center of Tennessee in Nashville, where they met local Muslims and received a guided tour of the facility. Afterward they shopped in a nearby ethnic market. Another team visited a Buddhist temple in the area.
“The greatest needs for disciple making and church planting are outside of North America,” Payne said as he gave the closing talk. “But there is something missionally malignant if we’re willing to risk and take great sacrifices to travel across oceans to share the gospel and we’re not willing to walk across the street to the strangers next door.”

8/30/2016 10:20:42 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Moore: gospel-defined conservatism needed

August 30 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Christians need to make certain what they are seeking to conserve in America is distinguished by the gospel of Jesus Christ, Russell Moore told attendees of a national conference on cultural engagement.

Photo by Rocket Republic
Russell Moore urges Christians to conserve gospel authority and community in his keynote speech at the ERLC National Conference Aug. 26 in Nashville.

“[I]f what we are conserving is not defined by the gospel, defined by a righteousness found in the lived life and shed blood of the resurrected Jesus Christ, a gospel that is seen in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, a gospel seen in the community of the redeemed, a gospel seen in that ministry of reconciliation, then we have nothing worth conserving at all,” the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said Aug. 26.
Moore’s keynote speech came in the final session of the ERLC’s two-day national conference titled, like his address, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.”
Many Christians may be interpreting the great cultural shifts in America wrongly, Moore said.
“We have many Christians who are fearful and panicky because their illusion of a Mayberry-like, Christian America is falling apart,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters, the shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on His church. The shaking of American culture well could be a sign that God is rescuing His church from a captivity we didn’t even know that we were in.”
The dramatic cultural change does not mean this is “a time for fear,” Moore told the audience at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.
“This is good news, because with the changing of the culture around us, what is falling is the almost Christianity of cultural Christianity,” he said. “Mayberry is great unless there’s a hell, unless there’s a judgment day. And if there’s a day of judgment, an almost gospel is worse than no gospel at all. So we must be prepared to be the people who stand and stand fast and, if necessary, to be the people who are willing to stand alone.”
Basing his remarks on Galatians 1:10-2:14, Moore said Christians should be the kind of people who conserve a gospel authority and a gospel community.
If Christians “are not consistently preaching and teaching and holding fast to the word of the Bible, some other authority will fill the void,” he said.
The gospel authority Christians should rely on “ought to feed and fuel a courage,” Moore told the audience. “If I received man’s gospel, then I need to be afraid of men. But if I received God’s gospel, then I need to be fearful of God and in obedience to God.”
Followers of Jesus should see their goal as “the approval of the invisible God more than the approval of the visible people that we admire or that we fear around us,” he said. Christians fear, he said, “because we are seeking to conserve ourselves; we’re seeking to conserve our lives; we’re seeking to conserve our security.”
Speaking of a recent report that a white pastor was fired because he wanted the church’s Vacation Bible School opened to children of other races, Moore said, “A church that would limit the gospel to one ethnicity or one skin color or one group of people is not just a church that is backward. It is a church that is anti-Christ. It is a church that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Through the gospel, God creates the kind of community that “brings us into family as a witness to the outside world of what reconciliation within the body really means,” he said. “The church of Jesus Christ is not a coalition of old, angry, white people who are all outraged about the same stuff.”
One of the biggest challenges for Christians is “to be separated from sin but not separated from sinners,” Moore told attendees. “And what we often want to do is the exact reverse.”
Christians can be guilty of fearing what others “in our tribe” in the church will think if they see them with a Muslim neighbor, atheist neighbor or gay neighbor, he said. “But am I a servant of Jesus Christ, or am I a servant of other people’s expectations?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
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8/30/2016 10:16:34 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. transgender ruling ‘narrow’ but a ‘step back’

August 30 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A federal judge’s ruling suspending enforcement of North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill for three individuals in the University of North Carolina (UNC) system has been classified by a pro-family organization in the state as “very narrow” and of “little effect” practically.
Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled Aug. 26 that UNC must allow three transgender individuals to use restrooms corresponding to their perceived gender identity until their claim challenging North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (H.B. 2) is decided. H.B. 2, among other provisions, requires individuals at public agencies to use restrooms corresponding to the biological sex indicated on their birth certificates.
“Judge Schroeder has made a very narrow ruling by suspending enforcement of H.B. 2’s bathroom provisions only for the three UNC transgender student and faculty plaintiffs,” Tami Fitzgerald, an attorney and executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a statement. “H.B. 2 remains in effect for all others at UNC and across the state. Since UNC has refused to enforce H.B. 2, the ruling has little effect.”
Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee to the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, ruled two transgender students and a transgender employee “are likely to succeed” in their challenge of H.B. 2’s bathroom use provision because that provision violates Title IX of the 1972 federal Education Amendments, as interpreted by the Obama administration.
The relevant precedent in the UNC case, Schroeder wrote in an 83-page opinion, is the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ April ruling that a transgender high school student in Virginia is entitled to use restrooms and other facilities corresponding to her gender identity. The Fourth Circuit ruled, Schroeder stated, that “controlling weight” should be given to the Department of Education’s interpretation of “sex discrimination” in Title IX as including gender identity discrimination.
The 1972 amendment includes no mention of gender identity.
Schroeder hinted he may agree with a dissent to the Fourth Circuit ruling but said accepting North Carolina’s arguments against the appellate court’s reasoning “would violate” his “obligation” to “follow circuit precedent.”
Schroeder’s ruling noted a Texas-based federal judge’s ruling against the Obama administration’s so-called transgender directive to public schools and universities as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of the Fourth Circuit ruling until the case is resolved on appeal. Schroeder argued, however, that the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning “remains the law in this circuit,” which includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Despite their successful argument regarding Title IX, the transgender plaintiffs in the UNC case “have not made a clear showing they are likely to succeed” in their claim H.B. 2 violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Schroeder wrote.
Mark Harris, a North Carolina pastor and former Republican candidate for both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, told Baptist Press “the court appears to be waiting for a higher court’s decision.”
“Ultimately, everyone believes that the Supreme Court will end up ruling on this, particularly when you have the federal judge in Texas putting a stay on all of what the federal government was trying to do through President Obama’s Justice Department’s actions,” said Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.
Despite the narrowness of Schroeder’s ruling and its limited effect, Harris said “any decision like this feels like it takes us one step back. You would like to have every ruling come down in favor of H.B. 2 in terms of stating the issues of privacy and safety that we feel like are impacted here.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press)

8/30/2016 10:13:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wrap-Up: ERLC event addresses culture, gospel

August 30 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Speakers and panelists sought to help Christians understand how they can engage the culture in a gospel-focused manner during the second day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored conference Aug. 26.

Photo by Rocket Republic
Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, speaks as a panelist during a breakout session on race and cultural engagement Aug. 26 at the ERLC National Conference.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) 2016 National Conference featured pastors, academics and authors providing guidance to the audience – which consisted of more than 900 registrants – regarding not only what biblically based cultural engagement is but how to avoid being a captive of cultural Christianity.
Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler said the Bible Belt has “churches that are filled with unregenerate [people] in a culture where any type of conservatism is just lumped in to being a Christian.”
In the Bible Belt, pastors will often have to help “really moral church folk understand that they’re non-Christians,” he told attendees.
Many of those who grew up in a church but were converted to Christ as adults in The Village Church, where Chandler is lead teaching pastor, say they have a “long list of behaviors” but “never heard the gospel,” he said. “So we have to in the Bible Belt deconstruct the idea that Jesus is about good people.”
Speaking on the parable of the lost sheep, coin and son in Luke 15, Chandler said, “The mission of God is to seek and save the lost – not moral betterment. That’s what happens when we are saved, right? We are going to be transformed from the inside out.

Photo by Rocket Republic
Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler addresses cultural engagement in the Bible Belt Aug. 26 during the ERLC National Conference.

“Well, the Bible Belt is so twisted around this idea,” he said, adding he has been overwhelmed that “the basic gospel message has been completely lost on a full generation.”
The reality for a Christian that “all of life is repentance” needs to be understood in the church, Chandler said.
“If people in the Bible Belt don’t know that what it means to be a Christian is for the rest of their life they’re to be repentant in their life, then every little struggle they have will be hidden in the darkness because they will believe that they did that when they got saved,” he said. “I just can’t tell you the sheer volume of people I know who are enslaved to sin and feel like they can’t tell anyone about it, because they got saved 15 years ago.”
Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, challenged audience members to consider whether they – and the American church – are “on a quest for control,” particularly of culture, freelance writer Kara Bettis wrote in a report for the ERLC.
Human beings are uniquely given authority – the capacity for meaningful action – and vulnerability – exposure to meaningful risk, but control itself is a testament to true motivations, he said.

Photo by Rocket Republic
Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, talks about culture and leadership Aug. 26 at the ERLC National Conference.

“You know someone is addicted to control [if] when their control begins to slip they become violent,” Crouch said, Bettis reported. “What our culture has perceived of us Christians is they see us losing control of culture and they see the rage with which we react to that loss of control.”
Crouch proposed an alternative approach – true leadership and leaders who “just show up and are honest about their limits, honest about our limits and call us to live a life of risk.”
Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist church in Hendersonville, Tenn., pointed attendees to a two-fold strategy Jesus gave the church to engage the culture – an invitation to follow Him and an investment in others.
“We’re going to change the culture the same way Jesus changed the culture, and that’s with an invitation to follow Him,” Gallaty said. “We will never affect the culture publicly until we have been transformed by the gospel privately.
“Intimacy with God always precedes ministry,” he said. “Who we are in Christ trumps what we will ever do for Christ.”
Greg Thornbury, president of The King’s College in New York City, said he is worried as someone who leads an institution preparing young adults for the world.
“I am concerned that the rightful teaching of grace in our churches may be producing a slacker generation that will damage our witness in culture in coming generations,” he said, acknowledging his comment would be controversial. “We need to recover the work ethic that made the people of God who they were in every cultural situation.”
Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources, said in a panel discussion cultural engagement should be connected to the Great Commission.
If cultural engagement is simply a way for Christians to seek “to show that we’re culturally savvy ... then that is the way to disaster,” he said, adding it should be about having a “Great Commission understanding of people around us so we can effectively present the gospel.”
On the same panel, Jackie Hill Perry, a poet and artist with Humble Beast Records, encouraged young Christians to demonstrate “an intentionality about our lives.”
They should use their “online presence for the gospel, for the glory of God,” she said.
Hill Perry also urged young Christian couples, “Don’t be afraid to have children. If we are not raising disciples now, who will be the ones to carry the torch later?”
The Aug. 26 proceedings included breakout sessions on race, religious liberty, parenting, millennials and sports. An all-female panel also discussed women and cultural engagement.
During the meeting, the ERLC announced its 2017 National Conference, which is scheduled Aug. 24-25 and will again be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Christ-centered parenting will be the theme, and the speakers will include ERLC President Russell Moore, who also spoke Aug. 26 at this year’s conference; Focus on the Family President Jim Daly; and authors Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jen Wilkin.
The ERLC and Southern Baptist Executive Committee cosponsored a Next Generation luncheon Aug. 26 for young SBC pastors and leaders. The gathering with more than 100 registrants included a question-and-answer session with SBC President Steve Gaines, Executive Committee President Frank S. Page, Chandler and Moore.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/30/2016 10:06:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Atheists block city grant to National Baptists

August 30 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Atheists have blocked a $65,000 grant the Kansas City, Mo., government had allocated for use during the National Baptist Convention USA (NBC-USA) annual meeting Sept. 5-9 in the city.

John Modest Miles of Modest Miles Ministries had counted on the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund grant to help cover ground transportation costs for delegates at the 31,000-church NBC-USA meeting, saying the funds would support tourism. But after American Atheists Inc. and two of its Kansas City members contended in a lawsuit that the public funds would support religion, the city withheld the grant pending additional documentation from Miles, the Kansas City Star reported.
As Miles works to recoup the money through other sources, including private funding, a GoFundMe page set up Aug. 26 by the Black Health Care Coalition had raised about $1,500, with all funds designated for the NBC-USA Kansas City meeting.
“Let’s join together to honor the social service agenda of the National Baptist Convention,” the GoFundMe appeal reads, noting criminal justice, disaster relief, hunger relief, employment advocacy, housing and health among the NBC-USA’s concerns. “We need this. Service saves lives.”
Miles was not available for comment Aug. 29, but he told the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer days earlier he had been troubled over the loss of funding.
“All of us are in tears,” said Miles, who also pastors the NBC-USA congregation Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. “I’m up at night praying. That’s all I know to do.”
NBC-USA President Jerry Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., spoke during the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis in connection with his joint promotion of racial reconciliation with immediate past SBC President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
An estimated 20,000 delegates and family members are slated to attend the convention, occupying 8,200 hotel rooms and yielding a $7.9 million economic impact, VisitKC, the city’s convention and tourism agency, told the News & Observer.
Miles continues to meet with city officials to find another source of funds. City Manager Troy Schulte told the News & Observer that private funding is Miles’ only option, and said the city would assist Miles in finding such support.
“At this time, we will not be using public money,” Schulte said. The American Atheists’ lawsuit has not been heard in court, and the atheists had sought to resolve the problem in meetings before the lawsuit was filed.
“The National Baptist Convention is inherently religious – and it is clear under Missouri law and the First Amendment that Missouri taxpayers should not be paying for it,” Amanda Knief, American Atheists National Legal Director, said in a press release on the group’s website.
City tourism funds were also allocated to Miles’ ministry when he served as chairman of the host committee for NBC USA national conventions in 1998, 2003 and 2010, Miles told the Kansas City Star, but the paper said in a July 26 report that it was unable to verify the allocations because the city’s database records only go back five years. According to American Atheists Inc., the grants amounted to $100,000 in 1998, $142,000 in 2003 and $77,585 in 2010.
Young told the Kansas City Star that the convention is strictly a business meeting, with some sessions open to the public.
“I would hope that those who are part of the atheist movement would not take the position that the money used by the city to market the city and to bring economic development and enhancement … ought to apply to everybody but Christians,” Young told the Star. “When you spend money to bring 20,000 people to your city, you’re not spending that money to promote the cause. You’re spending that money because it just makes sense.”
The convention will continue as planned, Young said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
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8/30/2016 10:02:12 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC event: gospel applies to race, politics, art

August 29 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Speakers at a Southern Baptist-sponsored conference on cultural engagement provided guidance Aug. 25 on how the gospel of Jesus addresses issues from race relations to politics to the arts.

Rocket Republic photo
Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California’s Silicon Valley, addresses “evangelical passivity” on race during the opening keynote speech of the ERLC’s National Conference Aug. 25.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) 2016 national conference attracted more than 900 attendees for the first of two days of considering how Christians can engage the culture while remaining faithful to the gospel. The conference continued Aug. 26 with a full schedule of plenary and breakout sessions.
In the opening session, ERLC President Russell Moore said he wants attendees to approach culture with confidence in the gospel’s proclamation, as well as with kindness and gentleness.
Fear among American Christians is “a very real problem,” and those fears sometimes “actually contradict the gospel itself,” Moore said.
Hip-hop artist and pastor Trip Lee told the audience engaging culture does not require “some grand scheme.”
“If you want to engage culture, be faithful in public,” he said. “When I say in public, I mean in our daily lives in front of other people.”
To engage culture, Christians don’t need “a massive understanding of culture,” Lee said. “You’ve just got to follow Jesus in public.”

Rocket Republic photo
D.A. Horton, a church planter in Los Angeles County, calls for the church to be a “snapshot of heaven” Aug. 25 at the ERLC’s National Conference.

“Hip-hop is not exactly known for its moral uprightness and robust theology,” he said. “As a rapper then, I get the opportunity to try to show off Jesus when it’s not expected. Any time you see faithfulness to Jesus, it feels unexpected and refreshing.”
Minority pastors Bryan Loritts and D.A. Horton urged evangelicals to embrace gospel-based racial reconciliation.
“[E]vangelical passivity when it comes to matters of race” is prevalent, and it exists among minority as well as white Christians, said Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California’s Silicon Valley.
“We’re different, and those differences are not to be ignored. Nor are they to be idolized,” he said in the opening keynote address.
Loritts called for three traits to initiate a “redemptive impatience” that is integral to multiethnic, cultural diversity:

  • Commitment to “a holistic, robust gospel;”
  • “[R]elational intentionality;”
  • Incarnational “discomfort.”

“If the gospel does not come to bear on your social relationships, you have not truly embraced the gospel,” Loritts said.
Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in Los Angeles County, said of race relations in America, “I see tension. I see conflict. I’m not seeing resolution.”
While the church is positionally a “snapshot of heaven,” practical segregation is still being practiced, he told attendees. He called for more:

  • “[I]ntellectual equipping;
  • “[I]nterpersonal engagement;
  • “[I]nterdependent endurance.”

“[M]any of our conversations about multi-ethnic issues are not multi-ethnic themselves because we lack multi-ethnic leadership. ... It’s one thing to have a multi-ethnic church, it’s another thing to have multi-ethnic leadership,” Horton said.
He urged both white and black evangelicals not to abandon each other when conflict arises. “Conflict is nothing more than the litmus test of our relationships.”

Rocket Republic photo
ERLC President Russell Moore and Atlanta mega-church pastor Andy Stanley discuss their divergent views on preaching Aug. 25 at the ERLC’s National Conference.

Panelists discussing evangelical political engagement agreed the recent cultural upheaval and the disconcerting presidential election campaign is not without some positive effects.
“This election cycle has been a nearly unmitigated disaster,” said Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “I say ‘nearly unmitigated’ because I think that it has taken something of this magnitude maybe to awaken many or most of us to the fact that we should not be beholden to any narrative, not the Fox News narrative or the MSNBC narrative or the Republican narrative or the Democratic narrative or any modern political ideology.
“As I see it, every modern political ideology has idols lurking underneath it,” he told attendees. “And I think this election has been unsettling enough that we might once again realize the gospel transcends and calls into question all of those things, and we might regain our witness and the clarity of our voice.”
In a conversation on preaching and engaging culture, Moore and mega-church pastor Andy Stanley demonstrated divergent approaches to sermons.
Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, said he thinks of a sermon series as a 3 1/2–hour sermon that he stretches across about six weeks. He may not even have a biblical text during the first Sunday or two of the series.
He does not lack confidence in biblical authority, but he takes this approach with non-Christians attending his church’s gathering “based on culture and some cultural assumptions,” Stanley said. To remove obstacles, he does not say, “The Bible says,” but refers to the authors and Jesus, attempting to “weave every single sermon” back to Christ and His resurrection, he said.
Stanley told Moore he has never preached a sermon on abortion, believing it is better to address the issue and those involved in a small group setting.
Moore responded by saying it is important that what we “are approaching people with is an encounter with the risen Christ who speaks through His Word.”
“In a worship experience, what you are doing is communicating to your people, I think, and to the people who are watching what is the basis for our authority as a congregation and as a church,” he told Stanley.
One of the reasons he preaches about abortion, Moore said, is to offer “mercy and reconciliation” to those who have participated in an abortion.
In a panel discussion on the gospel and the arts, Steven Bush – lead storyteller at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas – said artists in the church are encouraged to create art not only “for the church” but “from the church.”
He reminds the other artists and himself, “Our identity is not in the art we create but in King Jesus who gives us the ability to create that art.”
Jimmy Scroggins – lead pastor of the multi-generational, multi-ethnic Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. – said as part of a panel on pastoral ministry he thinks about cultural engagement “every single day.”
“Honestly, I don’t see how you can possibly be pastoring in today’s environment without thinking about it every single time,” he said.
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8/29/2016 11:52:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Disaster Relief volunteers witness power of community

August 29 2016 by Carmen K. Sisson, NAMB

Jerry Ritter’s Tuesday began at 4 a.m., but he was still brimming with enthusiasm as the sun slipped low, closing another day of flood relief in Baton Rouge, La.

Photo by Carmen K. Sisson, NAMB
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team member Jerry Ritter, a member of Blackgum First Baptist Church in Vian, Okla., hands two hot meals to flood survivor Pat Thomas, a member of Healing Place Church of Baton Rouge. The SBDR kitchen where Ritter is serving began preparing an average of 14,000 meals per day to aid survivors of flooding in south Louisiana in mid-August.

Ritter, a member of Blackgum First Baptist Church in Vian, Okla., arrived in Louisiana last week with other members of a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) kitchen crew. Though his body was tired, he considered the hard day’s work to be a blessing. He gazed across the parking lot of Istrouma Baptist Church, watching as each trained volunteer fulfilled a vital role in getting supper – hamburgers and baked beans – to those in need. He had another mission for the evening – accompanying the American Red Cross (ARC) on meal delivery.
The Oklahoma kitchen crew is one of four deployed to Louisiana following mid August’s torrential rains, which killed 13 people and left 20 parishes underwater. When the rain stopped, the numbers were staggering. Some areas received more than 31 inches of rain, flooding more than 60,000 homes and 76 Baptist churches. More than 115,000 people have applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Ritter and his fellow volunteers are currently preparing 14,000 meals a day in their mobile kitchen, and, because the need is so great, there is no immediate end in sight.
The SBDR response now includes volunteers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. At three locations, multi-state teams are serving.
It can be overwhelming, Ritter said, but working in disaster relief has taught him to trust the process and – most of all – trust God. Ritter joined SBDR in 2000. He vividly recalls one of his early Disaster Relief (DR) trips to a Houston flood.

Photo by Carmen K. Sisson/NAMB
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team member Jerry Wallace, a member of Cross Brand Cowboy Church in Waurika, Okla., carries a cambro food transport crate Aug. 23 in Baton Rouge, La., with Ed Patz, of Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Wallace, along with other SBDR volunteers from Oklahoma, is volunteering in one of SBDR’s kitchens while responding to severe flooding that occurred in Louisiana earlier in August.

“Everything people owned was out there on the curbs, and I couldn’t see how we could get anything done,” he said. “I thought, ‘It’s so massive. What can I do?’ I learned there’s not much I can do but stand back and watch God get things done.”
Trip after trip, he finds his faith renewed. Once he finishes his kitchen duties, he tries to find time to go out into the community to meet people.
While Ritter waited for his ride with the ARC, Ken Braddock tackled a sea of red cambros – food transport crates. Braddock, a member of Meadowood Baptist Church in Midwest City, Okla., washed each crate thoroughly so it could be disinfected and filled again with the evening meal. Instead of focusing on the labor, he concentrates on the spiritual needs being met.
A few days ago, two women approached the kitchen. One pointed to the other.
“She needs a hug,” the woman told Braddock.
Braddock gave her the hug, then asked if they were hungry. The women left with four meals and another hug.
That spirit is what moved new SBDR volunteer Lesley Lowman to sign up Aug. 20. Lowman, who attends Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, felt fortunate the flood spared her home, but she wanted to help her neighbors. So she joined SBDR. At age 39, she is one of the younger volunteers, but that doesn’t faze her.
“You learn as you go,” Lowman said, stirring a vat of beans with a long paddle. “The need is so great, and it’s right in my backyard.”
Driving the streets of Baton Rouge, the need is apparent. Life is slowly getting back to normal in some places, but deep pain remains in a majority of neighborhoods. In these areas, SBDR volunteers are greeted with smiles, tears and heartfelt gratitude.
Baton Rouge resident Pat Thomas, a member of Healing Place Church, was among several people who came to the curb when the ARC truck arrived with Ritter aboard. The truck’s intercom chattered, fighting for attention against whining saws and staccato hammers. “This is the American Red Cross! We have hot food!”
When the waters began to rise, Thomas fled with her children to shelter in Prairiville, La. She did not know that they, too, would soon be surrounded by water.
Cell service was sporadic, but the little news she heard did not sound good. Her neighbors were rescued by boat. Almost everyone she knew had lost almost everything they owned.
She thought about her neatly manicured lawn and her cozy house. It had been a place of refuge and healing for her and her children. Now she wondered if there was a place of refuge left in Baton Rouge.
When she finally made it back to her house, she made a startling discovery – out of 80 homes in her neighborhood, seven had survived. Hers was one of them. The water had lapped the threshold but gone no farther.
Immediately, she turned her attention to her neighbors, taking in those who had been displaced. Most of her houseguests have now found other arrangements, but one remains. He is working by day and trying to repair his mother’s house at night.
Thomas took two meals from Ritter – one for her guest and one for his mother – and thanked him, then called out to a quiet woman shuffling toward the ARC truck. They typically have a neighborhood gathering each month, and the woman was to be this month’s host.
“This month isn’t good,” the woman said. “My house is … a mess.”
She was not one of the fortunate ones.
Thomas nodded.
“Why don’t we do it at my house, and you can come over?”
The woman looked tired. Dazed.
“Go on, honey, go get you some hot food now,” Thomas said, urging her toward Ritter’s waiting hands. “And make sure you get a salad. They’ve got cold salad.”
Thomas watched as the woman walked away. Some people are angry and some still cry every day, Thomas said, clutching the food containers to her chest. But she sees something else, too – community spirit.
“I believe everything is going to be okay,” she said. “There were workers out here praying before they started their day.”
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the ARC and The Salvation Army.
Watch a local Baton Rouge news station’s package on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work in the area:

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carmen K. Sisson is a freelance writer reporting for the North American Mission Board.)
Related articles:
Baptist relief ramping up flood response in South Louisiana
Amid Louisiana flooding, social media conveys hope
SBDR deploying 4 kitchens to south Louisiana
Flood relief to extend ‘as far as the eye can see’
Volunteers continue to aid Louisiana flood survivors
Chaplains relay ‘glimpses of hope’ amid flood crisis

8/29/2016 11:38:41 AM by Carmen K. Sisson, NAMB | with 0 comments

Sturgis bike rally remains fertile soil for evangelism

August 29 2016 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

Josh Mueller wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting into when he drove to the annual Sturgis bike rally.

Dakota Baptist Convention photo
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally visitors pass by Dakota Baptists’ bike giveaway venue where “catchers” invited them to register for a 2016 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softtail Classic by first listening to a three-minute testimony. The evangelism initiative yielded 242 professions of faith.

His brother Jeff is his pastor at Restore Church in their hometown of Yankton, S.D. Jeff had recruited Josh to volunteer at the Dakota Baptist Convention’s Sturgis Bike Giveaway evangelism initiative.
During their first shift at the evangelism venue, Josh was too nervous to share his faith with anyone, much less a stranger. Like many Christians, Josh was nervous about personal evangelism. Unlike many Christians, Josh develops a stutter when he’s nervous.
That night he observed and prayed for the team.
The next night Josh was a different person, Jeff said.
“It was definitely divine circumstances and by God’s grace that he was able to share his testimony and faith in Jesus,” Jeff said.
On that shift, Jeff was in front of the venue working as a “catcher,” interacting with Sturgis attendees and inviting them to register for the free Harley-Davidson motorcycle drawing at the end of the rally. First, they would need to listen to a three-minute testimony from someone like Josh, who was a “sharer.”
The brothers had a signal. If Josh was too nervous to speak to the prospects Jeff brought in, he would nod. As Jeff approached with the first two guests, there was no nod. Josh shared his story with two young men who had life stories similar to Josh, and they both made professions of faith in Christ.
“We were on cloud nine that whole night,” Jeff said. The rest of the week, Josh was a “witnessing machine.”

Dakota Baptist Convention photo
At the Dakota Baptist Convention’s 2016 bike giveaway, “sharers” meet with Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees as they presented their three-minute testimony.

Josh and other volunteers made 3,085 gospel presentations that yielded 242 decisions at the Sturgis rally. Visitors came not just from across America but also from England, New Zealand, Australia and Slovakia.
Not every decision to follow Christ was immediate. A couple from Arizona visited during a 7-10 p.m. shift, and the woman told a volunteer sharer from Georgia that she was a Wiccan. After leaving the event venue, the woman felt deeply troubled and decided to go back and find those “church people.”
It was after midnight, and the venue had closed. But someone directed the couple to a recreational vehicle behind the storefront venue in an alley where Buck Hill, director of missions for the Dakota Baptist Convention, and Bob Clardy, a volunteer from Whitefield Baptist Church in Belton, S.C., were staying.
“I need something, and I need it now,” the woman said through tears.
Hill shared God’s plan of salvation, and the woman prayed to receive Christ. Afterward, Hill congratulated her on her new spiritual birthday.
“Does that mean I’m worth something now?” the woman asked.
The next day when the couple revisited the venue, Clardy didn’t recognize the woman. Her countenance had changed from darkness to light.
“Only God can do what only God can do,” Hill said.
This year’s Sturgis attendance, estimated at 300,000 from Aug. 8-14, was down significantly from the rally’s 75th anniversary last year. Still, the spiritual conversations with visitors were deeper and more intense, Hill said of the interaction.
Garvon Golden, the Dakota convention’s executive director, said the success of the annual Sturgis Bike Giveaway has been their prayer emphasis. Each of the 128 volunteers received a guide called “Thirty Days of Prayer for Sturgis” to prepare spiritually to share their three-minute testimony.
The giveaway’s prize was a 2016 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softtail Classic, which maintains historic characteristics of original Harley-Davidson motorcycles, other than minor tweaks through the years.
The 2016 Sturgis Bike Giveaway – the 11th occasion for the evangelism outreach – entails a partnership between the Dakota Baptist Convention, North American Mission Board, Georgia Baptist Mission Board and donations from individuals and businesses. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., supports the event by bringing students for an evangelism practicum in a course led by administrative staff member David Sundean.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist living in Atlanta. For more information about the Dakota Baptist Convention’s annual ministry at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, visit
Related articles:
Sturgis bike rally volunteers move into ‘devil’s playground’
Impacting lostness among bikers at Sturgis
Sturgis volunteers ready for more miracles of faith
At Sturgis, Alaskan grocer finds divine appointment

8/29/2016 11:31:17 AM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC board honors O.S. Hawkins, Barrett Duke

August 29 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) honored two fellow Southern Baptists Aug. 25 with their annual awards for religious freedom advocacy and Christian service.

Rocket Republic photo
Barrett Duke, center, accepts the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award from the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at the entity’s board meeting Aug. 25. The award is conferred on a person displaying excellent service to God’s kingdom.

In its annual meeting in Nashville, the ERLC board unanimously approved GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins for the John Leland Religious Liberty Award, which goes yearly to a person exhibiting a deep commitment to religious freedom.
On Aug. 24, the trustees had unanimously approved ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke for the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award, which is conferred on a person displaying excellent service to God’s Kingdom. ERLC President Russell Moore presented the award to Duke during the Aug. 25 meeting.
The actions came during the Aug. 24-25 meeting at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in which the trustees approved a slight budget increase, elected new officers and received reports on the commission’s activities and communications growth in the last year. The board meeting concluded on the day the ERLC’s national conference began at the same site.
In recent years, Hawkins has led GuideStone in its legal challenge of the Obama administration’s abortion-contraception mandate, the rule implementing the 2010 health-care law that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for drugs or devices with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. The Supreme Court has instructed the administration and the plaintiffs to seek to reach a resolution that satisfies the conscientious objections of GuideStone and other religious nonprofit organizations to an unsatisfactory accommodation to the rule.

Rocket Republic photo
Ethics & Religious Liberty president Russell Moore, at podium, addresses the entity’s trustees at their meeting in Nashville Aug. 25. Among other business, the trustees honored two fellow Southern Baptists with their annual awards for religious freedom advocacy and Christian service.

Hawkins has shown “incredible courage,” Moore told trustees, “[O]ne of the easiest things [Hawkins] could have done as someone who is leading an annuity and health-care organization is to simply be quiet and go with the stream.”
GuideStone “invested immense institutional resources, time and energy in going forward through the court system, saying it cannot be that the government would impose a requirement that entities, organizations pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate their conscience,” Moore said.
Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, received the distinguished service award for his 20 years of ministry with the entity.
He “has done many things, but one of the things that I’m grateful for is that he has always been a prophetic voice speaking up for the least of these that others are forgetting,” Moore said in presenting the award to Duke. Citing unborn children, immigrants, widows, orphans and prisoners, Moore said Duke “has consistently not only spoken up but lived out a commitment to the image of God in the least of these.”
In receiving the award, Duke said, “It’s been a blessing to be a part of what God is doing on the front lines of culture, and that’s where the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is.”
The Montana Southern Baptist Convention’s executive board is to vote Sept. 8 on its search team’s unanimous recommendation of Duke to be the next executive director of the convention.
In his written report to the trustees, Moore said the “surreal events in American culture and politics” have made the last year, in many ways, “unprecedented.”
“The cultural and political tumult we see right now may be unique to America, but it’s not unique to the church,” he wrote. “From the very beginning, the church has been forced to defend its right to exist in the public square.”
During the last year, the ERLC has issued “a call to soul freedom on the one hand, and a gospel invitation on the other,” Moore said. “These are challenging times. We’re facing questions we’ve never faced before, and the stakes are high. But we’re not fearful people or panicky people: we’re gospel people.”
In comments during the meeting, Ken Barbic, board chairman, thanked Moore and the rest of the staff for “showing a willingness to not shrink from gospel clarity even when it may be unpopular in our culture, it may be unpopular from many of those around us.”
In other actions during the meeting, the ERLC trustees unanimously approved:

  • A 2016-17 operating budget of $4.099 million, compared to a $4.080 million budget in 2015-16.
  • Barbic and secretary Barry Creamer to second terms in their offices. They also elected Trevor Atwood, pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as vice chairman. Barbic is a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the produce industry, and Creamer is president of Criswell College in Dallas.
  • A response to a motion at the 2016 SBC meeting from Tennessee messenger Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, asking SBC entities to consider opening all meetings to news reporters. The trustees’ response explained the ERLC’s standing policy for news media is for plenary sessions of the board to be open and on the record and for committee meetings to be open on a background basis.

Moore announced he is expanding the role of Daniel Patterson to be not only chief of staff, a position he has held the last three years, but vice president for operations. As chief of staff, Patterson will continue to direct staff and day-to-day operations in the office of the president. In his new, vice presidential role, he will direct public relations, coordinate board operations, and drive strategy and execution for initiatives across departments.
The ERLC staff reported on the continuing growth in communications, including:

  • An expected doubling of page views of the ERLC’s websites to six million by the time the year ends Sept. 30.
  • An increase from about 80,000 followers to more than 120,000 combined for the Twitter accounts of the ERLC, Moore, and Canon and Culture, the entity’s Christian thought podcast and blog channel.
  • A 1,000 percent growth to more than 340,000 downloads of the ERLC’s four podcasts.

During the last year, the ERLC’s events and initiatives included:

  • The first Evangelicals for Life conference in January in Washington, D.C., cosponsored with Focus on the Family.
  • The publication with B&H Publishing of the first three books – addressing same-sex marriage, racial reconciliation and religious freedom – in The Gospel for Life series.
  • Four Capitol Conversations events in Washington, D.C., that addressed in order the sanctity of human life, refugees, abortion and the Supreme Court, and religious freedom.
  • Joining in eight friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court and two more with lower courts.
  • The placement of ultrasound machines with ministries in Knoxville, Tenn., and St. Louis through the Psalm 139 Project.

Four trustees were recognized upon completion of their service to the ERLC: Vice Chairman James Reamer of Nevada, Dennis Schmierer of California, at-large trustee Reed Johnston of Virginia and Lee Bright of South Carolina.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
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8/29/2016 11:22:06 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Malnourished children doubling amid Boko Haram

August 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The number of malnourished children in and around northeastern Nigeria will more than double by the end of 2016 under Boko Haram terrorism, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said in its latest report released Aug. 25.

UNICEF/Esiebo photo
Children line up to receive food at a camp for internally displaced persons in Borno on Aug. 12.

By year’s end, more than 475,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the Lake Chad Basin comprising parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, up from 175,000 at the beginning of the year, UNICEF said. About 3.8 million people of all age groups are facing severe food shortages across the area.
“The Lake Chad crisis is a children’s crisis that should rank high on the global migration and displacement agenda. It is one of the world’s most neglected crises, and the children’s voices must be heard,” UNICEF said. “Given the magnitude of the crisis, there is an urgent need to scale up humanitarian assistance. New areas previously unreachable in northeast Nigeria are becoming accessible; the extent of the humanitarian needs is becoming more apparent and will likely grow.”
Boko Haram, a terrorism group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, has killed an estimated 25,000 and displaced 2.6 million people since 2009 in a quest to establish strict Sharia law across Nigeria, with many of the fatalities and displacements occurring since 2013.

UNICEF/Esiebo photo
In this Aug. 10 photo, a widow whose husband was killed by Boko Haram feeds their 6-year-old daughter a bag of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from UNICEF at a camp for internally displaced persons.

“Communities in the Lake Chad Basin are among the poorest in the world, and the conflict has exacerbated the situation,” UNICEF said. “The situation might be even worse: as some of the areas previously under the control of Boko Haram insurgents become accessible, it is becoming evident that many more children are in desperate need of food and therapeutic treatment.”
UNICEF estimates 2.2 million people, over half of them children, might be trapped in remote, inaccessible areas under the control of Boko Haram.
Among the 244,000 children affected in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state alone, an estimated 49,000 could die this year without treatment for their malnutrition, UNICEF said in its report titled “Children on the move, children left behind. Uprooted or trapped by Boko Haram.” In Borno, 60 percent of health facilities are partially or completely destroyed, and 75 percent of water and sanitation facilities need to be repaired, the report said.
Boko Haram has also murdered children by using them as suicide bombers, using 38 of them as bombers through June of this year, compared to 44 in all of 2015, and four the previous year, UNICEF said. Children are believed to have comprised 24 percent of suicide bombers over the three years.

UNICEF/Esiebo photo
Mariam Muhammed, 30, brings her daughter Fanne Saleh to receive treatment for severe acute malnutrition at a health center in a camp for internally displaced persons in Borno, Nigeria on Aug. 10. The 1-year-old child weighed 13.4 pounds.

UNICEF released its report in advance of the UN General Assembly High Level Plenary Meeting on Large Scale Movements of Refugees and Migrants, set for Sept. 19 among the UN’s 193 member states. President Barack Obama is scheduled to host a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees the following day.
“As world leaders discuss the plight of refugees and migrants, they need to pay attention to this major displacement crisis and its profound impact on children,” the report said. “The international community needs to act urgently to scale up humanitarian assistance in the Lake Chad Basin.”
Although the region typically deals with malnutrition amid epidemics, droughts and floods, residents are helping internally displaced persons, the report said, with eight of 10 of them sheltered in host communities instead of camps.
“The vast majority are hosted by relatives, friends or neighbors who, in many cases, have themselves faced multiple crises, such as droughts and floods,” the report said. “Maiduguri, a city in northeast Nigeria with a population of 1 million, has already received more than 700,000 displaced people. In Cameroon’s Far North region, more than 190,000 displaced people are living in host communities, while Niger’s Diffa region has welcomed one displaced person for every two of its residents since the start of the crisis.”
The complete report is downloadable at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

Related articles:
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Chibok girls shown in Aug. 14 Boko Haram video
Censoring Islamic sermons new anti-jihad tactic

8/29/2016 11:03:24 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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