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Race relations panelists: Learn ‘each other’s story’

December 22 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

Four decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, a diverse group of pastors gathered at the historic Lorraine Hotel – now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum – to discuss the state of race relations in America.
 
Called “A Time to Speak,” the Dec. 15 discussion was inspired by the national debate over race relations, sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York.
 
Evangelicals have been largely missing from that conversation, said Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis, a multiethnic congregation.
 
“Where are the conservative evangelical voices?” Loritts asked in his opening remarks to an audience of about 100 people in person and more than 6,000 viewing a webcast at live.kainos.is.
 
Loritts invited two diverse panels of conservative pastors and writers to Memphis for straightforward and sometimes pointed conversation about race and the church.

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Screen capture
Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research (right) moderates the "Time to Speak" race relations panel discussion at the National Civil Rights Museum.

 

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, served as moderator. He began by presenting new research about Americans’ views on race.
 
A survey of 1,000 Americans found many (75 percent) say the country has come a long way on race relations, Stetzer said. But more than 8 in 10 (81 percent) agree with the statement “We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.”
 
African Americans in particular feel strongly about the need for change. Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) strongly agree that relations have a long way to go. That drops to less than half (39 percent) for whites.
 
Loritts said whites and African Americans remain largely disconnected in churches and society, so they can’t hear one another’s stories.
 
“At the end of the day, we don’t know each other,” Loritts said. “We don’t know each other’s story.”
 
Many relationships between whites and minorities are unequal, the panelists said. People from diverse backgrounds often don’t talk to each other except when they need something. Minorities are often in a position of need, Loritts noted. Such a position distorts their relationships.
 
Speaking to white Christians, Lorritts said, “You need relationships with minorities who don’t need you.”
 
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, a multisite church in Texas, said his views on race have changed because of his friendships with African American Christians. He blogged earlier this year about white privilege, a post that sparked controversy online.
 
Chandler has become concerned about racial injustice because of those friendships. When injustice happens to his friends, he said, “I want to fight.”
 
John Piper of Desiring God ministries encouraged pastors of all ethnicities to “start from the Bible, end with the Bible” to confirm multiethnic relationships.
 
“The gospel mandates reconciliation, in terms of when two people are brought to Jesus, they’re brought to each other, period,” Piper said. “That is the most important relationship on the planet ... more important than any of their blood relationships.”
 
Perhaps the most pointed moments of the discussion focused on systematic injustice, white privilege and the death of Michael Brown, stemming from a controversial piece Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, had written in late November saying Brown reaped what he had sown.
 
During the start from the Bible, end with the Bible discussion, Baucham talked about growing up in Los Angeles during the height of the war on drugs, when tensions between police and gangs ran high. He said older women in the community pointed to gang members who were killed as a harsh warning on how not to live.
 
Baucham said he was told, “That’s why you don’t live like that” – and those warnings kept him from being caught up in gang violence. He voiced concern for those who “lionize” Brown. And he argued the idea of “white privilege” is an insult to African Americans who have overcome racism.
 
“I come from a proud people who have gotten there in spite of [prejudice],” he said.
 
Thabiti Anyabwile, a blogger and assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that many African Americans have overcome adversity. But he also said churches have to face the reality of systematic injustice.
 
Anyabwile described growing up in difficult circumstances and said he had been involved in criminal behavior as a young man. But God’s grace changed his life.
 
“What I want for the Mike Browns is for them to survive their teenage years,” said Anyabwile, who wore a shirt bearing the names of Emmitt Till and other young black men who died violently at the hands of white men.
 
Christians can play a role in creating a just society for everyone of every race, Anyabwile said. “I want us to work really hard to live up to our best ideals,” he said. “I want us to work really hard to figure out and pursue justice, equality, love for neighbor.”
 
Several panelists said change has to happen on a personal level as well as a societal and church level.
 
Trillia Newbell, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, said she had been surprised by friends who reacted angrily when she talked about the racial tension in the country.
 
Reconciliation and conversations about race take place better out of the spotlight and away from social media, she said, recounting that someone had left a comment on her blog saying that Michael Brown “deserved” to die.
 
Newbell took exception to that comment. His death was still tragic, because all lives matter to God.
 
“He’s a person. Aren’t we supposed to mourn?” she asked.
 
The video feed from A Time to Speak was recorded and will remain available for viewing online at live.kainos.is in a partnership with LifeWay’s Ministry Grid service.
 
Other sponsors of Tuesday’s event included the Kainos Conference – which is organized by Loritts – and The Gospel Coalition. The conversation continues on Twitter with the hashtag #ATimeToSpeak.
 
More information about LifeWay Research’s recent report on race relations is available at LifeWayResearch.com.
 
Loritts said he was pleased by Tuesday’s conversation and hopes it continues.
 
“The world heard us speak,” he said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine [FactsandTrends.net].)

12/22/2014 10:21:11 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gift of ultrasounds reaps life-saving benefits

December 22 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

An Arizona woman's unambiguous response to the first view of her baby offers only one of many life-saving reasons for the existence of the Psalm 139 Project.
 
The client of New Life Pregnancy Center in Tempe, Ariz., was non-committal at best when she received a positive pregnancy test, Debbie Gillmore, the center's director, told Baptist Press. The woman declined the center's gift of a baby hat, saying, “No. I'm not so sure I want to go through with this,” Gillmore recalled.
 
Though she scheduled an ultrasound appointment, the center's attempts to contact her with a reminder failed. Yet, the woman, acknowledging her anxiety, arrived on time for her appointment.
 
The ultrasound technician displayed on the monitor her unborn child, arms and legs moving. When the beating heart appeared on the monitor, the woman blurted out, “There it is,” Gillmore reported in a written account. The technician gave the pregnant woman a model of an unborn baby about the developmental age of hers that she had just observed. Holding the fetal model, the woman looked at the face and paused before telling the technician, “Well, I guess I'd better start thinking about a name.”
 
Gillmore said of the woman's experience, “Being able to see life on an ultrasound monitor was the decision point for this client.”

 
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Photo from Arizona Baptist Children's Services
The Arizona Baptist Children's Services mobile unit travels to pregnancy resource centers in the Phoenix metro area to offer exams with an ultrasound machine provided by the Psalm 139 Project.

That decision was made possible through gifts to the Psalm 139 Project, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The project provides ultrasound machines to pro-life pregnancy resource centers throughout the country, including the one used to show the Arizona woman her child's image. This year, the Psalm 139 Project reached its 10th anniversary of supporting centers that not only seek to help women and to save babies but to share the gospel of Jesus.
 
The anxious woman in Arizona is only one of many across the United States who have benefited from an ultrasound machine placed through Psalm 139, which gets its name from the well-known chapter in the Bible in which David testifies to God's sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. David wrote in verse 13 of that psalm, “You knit me together in my mother's womb.”
 
Quantifying how many decisions for life have been made through viewing images on the Psalm 139-donated machines is difficult. Earlier this year, the eight centers that have such machines, or have had such machines in the past, reported nearly 650 choices for life by mothers while the Psalm 139 machines were in use. Three centers reported decisions for life by abortion-minded women, while others reported the total number of babies born to clients while the Psalm 139 machines were being used. Some said it is difficult to track the decisions made by their clients.
 
The ERLC has provided ultrasound equipment through Psalm 139 to centers based in San Marcos, Texas; New Albany, Ind.; Denver; Corinth, Miss.; Lakeland, Fla.; Phoenix; Louisiana and Houston. It announced in June its next gift of a machine would be to a center in Woodbridge, Va.
 
All the centers strongly affirmed in written interviews with BP the importance of ultrasound technology to their work.
 
“Having ultrasound capabilities has made all the difference in saving lives,” Martha Jobe, executive director of the Oasis Medical Center in Corinth, Miss, said. “The Holy Spirit and ultrasound are a powerful combination.”
 
The ultrasound machine “is the 'window to the womb,’” said Cheri Martin, executive director of Central Texas Life Care in San Marcos. “The opportunity for a mother to see her baby and hear the baby's heartbeat has made a tremendous impact on our mothers to choose life.”
 
Rose Condra, director of Choices for Women Resource Center in New Albany, Ind., said, “Ultrasound makes all the difference for many women and their families.” It is not only the pregnant woman but “the others in the room who fall in love with the beating heart on the screen,” she said. “This may mean that a young woman who could have been swayed (or pressured) into aborting may now be supported in a choice for life. Although women in this day and age could Google ultrasound images to see fetal development, when that child is growing inside you, it makes the image more impactful.”
 
Dennis Flierl oversees the work of Riverside Pregnancy Center in his role as director of community ministries for Riverside Baptist Church in Denver. Providing ultrasounds “allows us to minister to clients who would never set foot” in the church, he said. “When we do get an abortion-minded client, it makes a huge difference when they see the heartbeat and the baby move.”
 
Karen Snuffer, whose Care Net center in Northern Virginia was granted a machine this year through Psalm 139, said, “Aside from the gospel, ultrasound is the most effective tool pregnancy resource centers have to reveal the precious life in the womb.”
 
Estimates on how many women reject abortion after seeing ultrasound images of unborn children vary. Care Net – a nationwide network of Christian pregnancy resource centers – reports statistics indicate abortion-minded women are 50 percent more likely to give birth after viewing images of their unborn babies on an ultrasound monitor. Others estimate the success rate is about 80 percent.
 
Some centers report even more dramatic results.
 
Mary Lou Hendry, sanctity of human life director for the Florida Baptist Children's Home, said every woman who has agreed to an ultrasound exam in its mobile unit and has viewed an image of her child has chosen life. Cheri Martin said the success rate of ultrasound at the San Marcos, Texas, center is 95 percent.
 
Many pregnancy resource centers still are operating without the advantage of ultrasound technology. About 60 percent of Care Net's 1,100 affiliated centers do not have sonogram machines, said Vincent DiCaro, its chief outreach officer.
 
The Psalm 139 Project – like similar efforts within the pro-life movement – seeks to reduce the number of centers operating at a handicap.
 
“Psalm 139 is our attempt to help these centers acquire ultrasound technology so young mothers can see an image of their unborn baby and make an informed decision,” Daniel Darling, the ERLC's vice president for communications, said.
 
“Pregnancy resource centers are in the trenches of the pro-life movement, applying the gospel to the everyday realities in communities around the country,” Darling told BP. “Most of them operate on a shoe-string budget, reliant on donations for support. And yet the work they do is remarkable. Studies have shown that their presence in a community drops the abortion rate significantly.
 
“What's more,” he said, “a pro-life center is not partisan. You find loving volunteers who care for the young pregnant girls and their unborn children in a way that's redemptive and full of grace.”
 
The centers that receive ultrasound machines through Psalm 139 report not only infant lives saved but women saved by grace through faith in Christ.
 
A single mother with two children, a painful past and apparent bitterness toward “hypocritical churchgoers” visited the Oasis Medical Center, reported Julia Taylor in an article for the March 2013 newsletter of the Corinth, Miss., ministry. Taylor is a registered nurse with Oasis.
 
When her pregnancy test proved positive, the mother said she did not know what she would do about “it,” Taylor said. But when she viewed an image of her child on the ultrasound monitor, she asked, “Is that my baby?” And when her baby's heartbeat filled the room, tears poured down her face.
 
Taylor then shared the gospel with her, helping her understand she did not need to “first clean herself up.” After a few minutes, the mother prayed to receive Christ. “The bitter lines of defeat disappear from her countenance, and are replaced with smiles of joy and hope,” Taylor wrote.
 
The mobile unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children's Home parked next to a Planned Parenthood abortion center in Orlando on Mother's Day weekend this year in a partnership outreach with a pregnancy center.
 
A woman arrived at Planned Parenthood intending to abort her baby, but a counselor persuaded her to enter the mobile unit for an ultrasound exam and additional information, Mary Lou Hendry told BP.
 
“It was a battle for life and death,” Hendry said. “When she saw the baby in her womb, she chose life that day for her unborn child. The most important decision she made that day was to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.”
 
In the last five years, the ERLC has provided ultrasound machines to centers near the location of the SBC's annual meeting and donated them not only for typical centers but for mobile units in Florida, Arizona and Louisiana. The mobile units meet a variety of needs:

  • The unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children's Home has been used to combat the outreach of abortion clinics during natural disasters as part of the state convention's disaster relief outreach. The children's home also partners with the pregnancy center of the First Baptist Church in Orlando in “going-out” events to reach pregnant women, Mary Lou Hendry said.
  • The van used by the Arizona Baptist Children's Services serves five to seven pregnancy resource centers in the metro Phoenix area, reported Mona McDonald, statewide director of pregnancy care for ABCS.
  • The mobile unit for the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home goes throughout the state, providing its services at such events as parish fairs, health fairs, state park festivals and block parties, said Cindy Kouf, director of nursing for the LBCH's Mobile Pregnancy Care Center. The center also sets up at such locations as church and business parking lots, colleges and universities, and pregnancy resource centers without ultrasound machines.

The ERLC increasingly has worked over the past decade with Baptist state conventions – as well as associations and churches, when possible – to place machines, maintain support and help with accountability, said Bobby Reed, the entity's vice president for business and finance.
 
Pregnancy resource centers from throughout the country contact the ERLC with hopes of receiving machines, but the entity is unable to help all of them, Reed told BP.
 
“We are hopeful that in the future we will be able to increase the number of machines we place,” Reed said, “branching beyond the cities/states where they are holding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting with the dream of having one placed in every state convention, maybe one in every SEND city that has been identified by the North American Mission Board [as the 50 cities in which its work will be prioritized], as well as other areas we can identify as those with the greatest need and opportunity for ministry.”
 
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchase, delivery and installation of ultrasound machines, as well as training for staff members, since the ERLC's administrative costs are covered by the SBC's Cooperative Program.
 
Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to give toward providing ultrasound machines through the ministry is available at http://psalm139project.com/.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

12/22/2014 10:07:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southern Baptist grads reminded to proclaim the gospel

December 22 2014 by Compiled by BR Staff

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary

“God is sending you into a difficult world,” Jeff Iorg explained to the 75 graduates at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s (GGBTS) winter commencement ceremony. He continued, “But don’t be dismayed, because He did the same thing to Jesus.”
 
During his charge, Iorg preached from the second chapter of Luke. “When the president of the country arrives in a city, the airport is closed, the roads are shut down, and the hotels are secured and prepared,” Iorg said during the Dec. 12 ceremony held at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif. “Jesus did not enter our world with a reception like that.”
 
The world Jesus entered was one of political turmoil, confused priorities and spiritual indifference. “Herod ordered the murder of infants. There was no space at an inn for a woman about to give birth. A number of Old Testament prophecies pointed to Christ’s birth and only a small number of people were able to recognize it,” Iorg said.
 
“The world God is sending you into is similar in many ways,” Iorg said. “The world you are entering is full of political turmoil, represented by ISIS, South American dictatorships, and the actions of Russia’s government in Ukraine. A world in which athletes and entertainers make millions of dollars and even churches have descended into materialism is a confused world. We very well may have gone beyond spiritual indifference in our world to spiritual opposition.
 
“God didn’t make a mistake in sending Jesus into the world, and He isn’t making a mistake by sending you into this broken world.”
 
Iorg’s instructions to the graduates were to apply the gospel in their own lives, in their communities, and in their churches. “True transformation requires people who live as if God is real,” Iorg said. He continued, “I receive emails from time to time from a graduate who pastors a church in a small town in central California. He told me he was sure of one thing in ministry: sharing the gospel in the community is very important. Today, nearly a hundred students walk across the street from the local high school every Wednesday night for a meal and a gospel presentation. Lives are being transformed.”
 
Iorg also shared a story about the church he planted in Oregon. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. “This church started with 4 families and is now up to 900 members. It has grown because the members are committed to living out the Gospel in the community.”
 
Iorg ended his message by telling the graduates to “do these things and make a change in the world. It will be challenging, but it needs you desperately.”
 
Pastor Jae Myung Shin was awarded the William O. Crews Leadership award, the Seminary’s highest honor for students. to Jesus.”
 

 
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and Leavell College, the school’s undergraduate program, celebrated as 250 students earned degrees.
 
Seven of the graduates were recipients of a full scholarship from the Caskey Center for Church Excellence, launched by NOBTS earlier in 2014.

 
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NOBTS Photo
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professors Adam Harwood, left, and Dennis Phelps enjoy a few laughs following the commencement service Dec. 13.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley began his Dec. 13 commencement address to the graduates with a story from his days as an undergraduate student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
 
“When I first got to college, I learned what being homesick meant. I didn’t know a soul on campus,” Kelley said. “I went home every other weekend. It was a tough first semester.”
 
By his second semester, Kelley had forged some new friendships and even met Rhonda Harrington, whom he would later marry.
 
“I just didn’t go home quite as much,” Kelley recalled of his second semester.
 
He spent the following summer involved in a camp and arrived back on campus the following fall semester as an official ‘Joe College,’” Kelley said.
 
“I never went home,” he said. “I had dates and went to football games. I had a great semester. I was so rooted in college life.”
 
Kelley recalled getting a late start to the Christmas break that semester, thanks to an English professor who “believed in going by the book” and not giving his class its exam early. The exam was set for Dec. 23.
 
“I stayed up all night studying. I went in to take that test and left the motor running in my car,” he said. “I was so ready to be home.”
 
With Waco in his rearview mirror, Kelley set off for Beaumont, only to break down somewhere en route. What was usually a four hour trip actually took eight hours.
 
“I will never forget turning the corner onto Infinity Lane and there was our house, driveway filled with cars because everybody was home already. I was the last one,” Kelley said. “In the driveway, my mom had made sure there was one space left for the ‘only boy’ to park, because he was coming home.”
 
Kelley said he sat in the driveway, watching the sparkle of Christmas lights inside, knowing that his family would be excited to see him and that there would be a plate waiting for him.
 
“It was the first time in my life that I understood what being home meant,” he recalled. “There in that car in that driveway, ‘Joe College’ melted and that sense of home became a part of who I am.”
 
Kelley said that experience helped bring new significance to the imagery and concept in the Bible of “coming home,” and the relationship to God that “coming home” language conveys. Kelley read Psalm 139, which begins, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! ... Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? ... For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
 
“The Bible says God is the creator of us all. That he knows your name,” Kelley said. “He knows the color of your eyes. Ladies, he knows the real color of your hair. Guys, he knows how many hairs you used to have.”
 
And it is entering into a relationship with that God who knows each person so intimately that carries with it that ultimate sense of coming home, he said.
 
“And whenever we bring someone to a connection with God, we are bringing them home to a heavenly father who created them,” Kelley said. “That is what we do here. We bring people home.”
 
Kelley said he sometimes envisions a time in heaven for each person when God will usher in everyone who is there due, in part, to the witness of that person.
 
Kelley imagined the line of people saying, “You came and found me when I wasn’t even looking, and you brought me [home]” or “When I told you don’t ever bring up the name of Jesus again, you kept gently bringing Him into our conversations until I came to Him.”
 
Kelley said St. Augustine described in “Confessions” each person’s search for God this way: “You have made us for yourself. Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in thee.”
 
“That’s what we know about everybody. Whoever you are and whatever you do. Whatever you’re like. Whatever your interests or hobbies. Whatever your religious background or lack of religious background. However much you ignore, hate, love or cherish God and His ways, we know this about you: He loves and cherishes you,” Kelley said.
 
“I want you to remember that you have one very simple responsibility. You’re to spend the rest of your life doing all you’re able to do to bring them home to the Father,” Kelley said, calling that challenge each graduate’s ultimate job description. “The job description is nothing more or nothing less than this: Bring them home.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tyler Sanders is coordinator of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Frank Michael McCormack is assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/22/2014 9:55:05 AM by Compiled by BR Staff | with 0 comments



Midwestern, filmmaker partner for Spurgeon documentary

December 19 2014 by T. Patrick Hudson, SWBTS/Baptist Press

A new documentary on the life and legacy of 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, was released Dec. 18, prominently features two Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary leaders and the Kansas City-based school’s Charles H. Spurgeon Library.
 
The film entitled, “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon,” was directed and produced by Canadian filmmaker, Stephen McCaskell. He said the goal of the documentary is to introduce a new generation to Spurgeon in the hopes that their relationship with God will be challenged and deepened as they learn more about “The Prince of Preachers,” who was radically transformed by the gospel.

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A new documentary – “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon" – on the life and legacy of 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, is set for release Dec. 18.

 
Midwestern Seminary president, Jason Allen, and curator of the Spurgeon Library, Christian George, were interviewed at-length by McCaskell’s film team in October, offering insight into the life of Charles Spurgeon, who is considered among the greatest gospel preachers of the English language.
 
“Charles Spurgeon may be in full bloom right now in the Baptist and broader evangelical world,” Allen said. “Through his writings, he lives now more than ever, and this documentary will bring greater exposure to Charles Spurgeon, a greater exposure the church desperately needs.”
 
Allen added that because of the school’s 6,000-volume Spurgeon Library and recently announced Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, Midwestern Seminary was the natural partner for this Spurgeon documentary.
 
“In God’s kind providence, the timing of this new, groundbreaking documentary could not be better,” Allen said. “It coalesces perfectly with Midwestern Seminary’s current construction project to build the Spurgeon Library and the recent launch of the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching. As an institution, we are grateful to have been asked by Mr. McCaskell and proud of our participation in Through the Eyes of Spurgeon.”
 
On October 21, Allen announced the launching of the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, which will include a $2.5 million construction project to house the Spurgeon Library; an initiative called The Spurgeon Scholars, which offers a limited number of scholarships to exceptional, full-time residential students called to pastoral ministry; online digitized portions of Spurgeon’s library, correspondences, annotations, handwritten pulpit notes, and sermon galley revisions; and hosting the annual Charles Spurgeon Lectures on Biblical Preaching.
 
George, who has devoted his life to studying Spurgeon and who has seen many of the other available films about the great preacher, noted that Through the Eyes of Spurgeon is highly worthy of its subject.
 
“This documentary is unmatched in caliber and will offer visitors to the Spurgeon Center a glimpse into the life of this great preacher,” George said. “At Midwestern Seminary, we are interested in allowing the past to inform the present about the future, and this documentary is a reminder that God has done great things in the past and still has great things to do in the future.
 
“Out of all the Spurgeon documentaries that have been produced, Stephen has managed to create the most professional one on the market,” George said. “His quest to create a film of excellence launched him on a pilgrimage throughout Britain and continental Europe. Very few people have been able to accomplish this. Stephen and his crew have achieved a masterpiece that is worthy of the subject on which it centers.”
 
McCaskell, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada, grew up as a pastor’s son and accepted Christ as his Savior at age 17. He said Spurgeon’s book, All of Grace, impacted him in many different ways and led him to read more of Spurgeon’s books and sermons.
 
Finding that he couldn’t help but share the things he learned with family and friends, he compiled his first book, Through the Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon, a collection of quotes sorted by different topics. This same thought process motivated his decision to produce the documentary.
 
“My desire to create a film about Spurgeon really stemmed out of the same desire I had to share his quotes with others,” McCaskell said. “My goal in all of this is to continue spreading the words of a man who lived and was powered by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
The early planning for the film took place in October 2013, with all filming being completed this past September. McCaskell’s teams traveled to England, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Kansas City, Mo., to shoot footage. All of the locations in Europe were places Spurgeon had been.
 
“For example,” McCaskell said, “We were able to visit Artillery Street Chapel, where Spurgeon was converted. The pews you see in the film are the original ones from Spurgeon’s day.”
 
After obtaining all the information about Spurgeon’s life through multiple readings of his autobiography and other helpful resources, McCaskell contacted churches with Spurgeon ties and made filming arrangements. While in Europe, the team also shot segments involving the documentary’s narrator, Jeremy Walker, who pastors Maidenbower Baptist Church in England. Additionally, McCaskell interviewed one of Charles Spurgeon’s descendants, Richard Spurgeon, in Ireland, calling it among the project’s most special moments.
 
McCaskell said his primary desire for the film is that as people watch it, they will come to know Spurgeon at a more personal and human level.
 
“I say ‘human’ because it’s so easy for us to think that these giants of the faith didn’t wrestle with the same things we do,” McCaskell said. “In showing Spurgeon’s human side, I hope that the gospel he proclaimed is shouted even louder. And that’s really what this documentary is about. It’s about a man who lived and died in light of the gospel.”
 
George, who also serves as assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Seminary, echoed McCaskell’s sentiments about Spurgeon.
 
“Charles Spurgeon struggled with the same temptations, dilemmas, and challenges as we do,” he said. “Even though he exchanged this world for the next in 1892, God is still using Spurgeon’s life to bring encouragement to Christians around the world. He teaches us of the importance of following hard after God, reading and loving his Word, living faithfully even under persecution, and making much of the Name that is above every name.”
 
Of his interaction with Allen, George, and the Midwestern Seminary community, McCaskell expressed gratitude and a sense of God’s moving in a great way.
 
“I think God is doing great things at Midwestern Seminary,” McCaskell said. “With the recent addition of new faculty and staff, and the announcement of the Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, it’s exciting to see how God will use that school to equip and train the next generation of church leaders.
 
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to associate with the institution that houses the Spurgeon Library, and I think it lends credibility to the film,” he noted. “Additionally, I hope it causes people who watch the film to learn more about what Midwestern Seminary is doing with the Spurgeon Center and to visit it when it opens.”
 
George said, “This documentary will be a continuing reminder of the clear vision that Midwestern aims for. It is a documentary about the church and for the church – a visible legacy that equips us, encourages us, and holds us accountable to the standard of Christ-like excellence.”
 
Through the Eyes of Spurgeon is available for online streaming at www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com. There is no cost to view it. McCaskell’s desires for the film’s future include having the documentary available on Netflix and other widely-used public services for anyone who would like to own a personal copy of it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– T. Patrick Hudson is the executive assistant to the President at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
12/19/2014 9:34:26 AM by T. Patrick Hudson, SWBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Akin tells grads of 'Win-Win Scenario'

December 19 2014 by Ali Dixon, SEBTS/Baptist Press

Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, spoke on "The Ultimate Win-Win Scenario" in his commencement address.
 
"The Lord is now sending you out to serve across North America and around the world to take the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need to hear it," Akin said. "We are very proud of you and thankful for you."
 
Akin drew from the apostle Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 for his charge to the graduates: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," which he said has been one of his life verses throughout his Christian life.
 
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SEBTS photo by Maria Estes
Soon-to-be graduates from The College at Southeastern gather outside Binkley Chapel before graduation exercises begin.

He placed the verse in the context of four Iraqi children who recently had been beheaded for refusing to deny their faith in Jesus.
 
"Either we believe [Philippians 1:21] or we don't," he said. "Evidently these four children did."
 
Paul was in prison because of his faith when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. "Released or executed, for those who follow Jesus, we indeed are in the ultimate win-win scenario," Akin stated.
 
"If any words of scripture could accompany you wherever God sends you and in whatever it is God wants to do through you … it would be these," he said.
 
Akin's hope for the graduates is that "you indeed would be able to grasp with great faith 'for me to live' is all about Christ … and to die is simply more of Jesus."
 
Highlighting two facets of the passage, he noted that "there is a life worth living" and "a death worth dying."
 
The Christian life is deeply personal, practical, purposeful and powerful, Akin said. "Other things no longer dominate my life," he said. "I live to serve Christ. There is no aspect of my life that is off limits to Him."
 
Speaking about the inevitability of death, Akin said, "There is nobody that is going to cheat death." It comes "whether you are ready or not. For the Christian you can be ready."
 
Akin quoted a letter from Karen Watson, a Southeastern graduate from California, who died on the mission field in Iraq in 2004. He said she was "a sister who really did believe that to live is Christ and was equally confident that to die is gain."
 
Watson left a letter with her pastor to be read at her funeral if she were to die on the mission field. "To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory was my reward, His glory is my reward," she wrote. "There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him."
 
Akin concluded, "It may indeed be God's design and His plan that your life will be a short one, that your life will end by the world's perspective prematurely, perhaps even unjustly and no doubt some would even say unwisely.
 
"Why were they in that dangerous place?" some might ask. "There is only one answer.... Jesus is worth the risk … the sacrifice … everything," Akin said. "As you leave here, it is my prayer that everything will be on the table for Jesus."
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ali Dixon is the news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
12/19/2014 9:21:53 AM by Ali Dixon, SEBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



U.S.-Cuba diplomacy sparks hope & wariness

December 19 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

President Barack Obama’s opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba may fuel an already-vibrant evangelistic movement there, or it may fuel a repressive regime, Southern Baptist leaders and pastors said in voicing divergent opinions to Baptist Press (BP).
 
“Our prayer is that the Cuban church planting movement continue to expand. The Cuban people are very receptive to the gospel,” Kurt Urbanek, International Mission Board (IMB) strategist for Cuba, said in a statement to BP.
 
“We praise the Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual awakening in Cuba which has seen over 500,000 Cubans come to saving faith in Baptist churches during the past 13 years,” Urbanek noted. “Our focus as missionaries is evangelism, discipleship, church planting and leadership development. We look to political developments only as they impact the growth of the Kingdom of God.”
 
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A thriving house church in Cuba is among 6,400-plus counted in missions statistics as of 2013. “Our prayer is that the Cuban church planting movement continue to expand,” an International Mission Board strategist said after President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Baptist congregations in Cuba included more than 977 traditional churches and more than 6,454 house churches in 2013, according to IMB statistics, an increase from only 210 traditional churches and an unknown number of house churches in the country’s early days of communism in 1960.
 
President Obama said from the White House Dec. 17 the United States will end “an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.”
 
The U.S. intends “to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas,” Obama said, pledging to reverse 50 years of U.S. policies that have isolated the country that is only 90 miles from Florida.
 
“Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else,” the president said. “And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.”
 
Obama said the U.S. will re-establish an embassy in Havana; cooperatively work with Cuba to advance mutual interests on many issues including migration; take steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba; and review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
 
Terry Lassiter, who oversees Southern Baptist missionaries to Cuba as strategy leader for the IMB’s American peoples affinity group, joined Urbanek in expressing optimism after Obama’s announcement.
 
“We are very hopeful and happy to hear of this new era of relations between Cuba and the USA. We pray that this will further strengthen the partnership between Cuban Baptists and Southern Baptists in the U.S.,” Lassiter said. “We have much to learn from each other to see the advance of the gospel and this new relationship makes this more possible.”
 
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, recounted in a statement to Baptist Press, “Having recently traveled to Cuba, I can speak to the deep commitment of our Baptist brothers and sisters there. I was sad to see the deprivation among the people of Cuba and I’m deeply concerned for them. However, the government there must take responsibility for its policies” that have led to its isolation.
 
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, from a religious freedom perspective, said, “I disagree with President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. I tend to think engagement and trade is better than disengagement, but Cuba is a special case, a terrorist-sponsoring, human rights-violating dictatorship located just miles away from our border. I don’t trust the Castro regime to keep the promises they are making.”
 
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, added, however, “I can only hope now that God will use the open markets in Cuba toward a more open door to the gospel. Regardless of where we stand on the politics of this, we should all pray for a free Cuba, including complete freedom of religion, to come about in 2015.”
 
Óscar J. Fernández, who holds political asylum from Cuba, expressed pessimism that the changes will help Cubans. Fernández directs Ministerio Hispano, a ministry of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn., and formerly was a Hispanic editor for LifeWay Christian Resources for nearly 20 years.
 
“This is a real tragedy for the people in Cuba, and for the families of the thousands of martyrs and political prisoners in the island,” Fernandez, a columnist for BP en Español, said. “This change is not going to help the Cuban people [under] a communist government in power for more than 50 years. I will applaud if Cuba makes any concessions, but they are not [likely to do so].”
 
David R. Lema Jr., meanwhile, then a 7-year-old son of a Cuban Baptist pastor who left Cuba with his family for Spain, said he believes “any normalization of political ties between Cuba and the U.S., regardless of political implications or results, should prove beneficial for Christian work.”
 
“Travel for Americans going to Cuba would flow smoother and with less inconvenience – anyone that has gone to Cuba knows what I am talking about here,” said Lema, director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for the Americas in Miami. “Churches and individuals will have more freedom to help the churches directly without having to worry about U.S. embargo violations.”
 
Other Cuban Baptists ministering in the U.S. who commented on Obama’s move expressed a mix of guarded optimism and caution.
 
Felipe Rodríguez, pastor of historic Iglesia Bautista Getsemaní in Miami, told the Florida Baptist Witness, “My hope is that this will be of benefit to the churches in Cuba. … If this allows us to bring resources and help the churches in Cuba then it’s a good thing.” Otherwise, he said, it is “just purely political.
 
Rodríguez recounted that Getsemaní has experienced diplomatic restrictions in helping a church in the small town of Congoja rebuild its building after it was destroyed by a storm. Rodríguez, who pastored the Congoja church in the 1980s, has been in the U.S. for 16 years.
 
Natanael Vicens, director of Hispanic ministries in the Miami Baptist Association, said his church has wanted to engage in missions trips to Cuba but the prices and the restrictions on travel had made it difficult.
 
“Having embassies will make missionary trips to Cuba much easier because, as of now, the process to travel there is long and costly.” Vicens told the Florida Baptist Witness. “If it’s true that the Cuban government will do what it says it will do, glory to God, hallelujah. But under the current government everything remains to be seen.”
 
“We have to wait and see what happens,” Alberto Ocaña, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Northside in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, told the Witness. “If there is no genuine change [by the Cuban regime], it will be like a person that claims to be a Christian but there has been no real change in his heart; it is purely cosmetic.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)
12/19/2014 9:16:59 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Day of Service: NAMB gives back to community

December 18 2014 by Baptist Press staff

The phrase “Whatever it takes” is one of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) operating values. Staff members are reminded that the mission agency exists to serve Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches. Giving back to the community in service was a tangible demonstration of this value as staff participated Dec. 12 in the annual NAMB Day of Service.
 
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NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
NAMB staff member Samuel Romero delivers food to a car of a visitor at Peace Baptist Church's Peace on the Move food distribution Dec. 12. Romero was one of more than 100 NAMB staff that participated in an annual day of service, which saw ministry take place at three metro Atlanta locations.

Staff from the NAMB’s Alpharetta, Ga., office joined local ministries in a variety of service activities at Peace Baptist Church of Decatur, Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston and No Longer Bound of Cumming.
 
Nearly 300 cars pulled into the parking lot at Peace Baptist Church, some as many as four hours early, to receive food from the Peace on the Move ministry. But as they were waiting in line, it became apparent to some of the volunteers that many of those gathered had much greater needs than just a meal.
 
“As I was talking to the families, I could see looks of hopelessness on their faces,” said Lebron Pinkerton, NAMB’s wellness consultant, who volunteered as a greeter. “But as I stood and watched them leave the church, their whole demeanor changed. They looked hopeful again.”
 
Justin Woelk, an events consultant at NAMB, also served with Peace on the Move and helped distribute food to the families that drove to the church.
 
“I think the biggest thing I took away from the day of service is that God is always present … whether it is in a warm house, a filled church or a parking lot on a freezing Friday morning,” Woelk said. “I was reminded on Friday that we weren’t taking Jesus to Decatur, but we were getting involved with what He is already doing in Decatur.”
 
Scott Blair, a videographer with NAMB, who served with staff at the addiction recovery ministry, No Longer Bound, said the service project cast light on the needs that exist in the community.
 
“It was an eye-opening experience – in part because many of the clients were really young,” Blair said. “I was blessed to not face the kinds of challenges some of these young men and women face with life issues and drug addiction. It was a good experience to meet them and see the priceless opportunity they have, not only from the recovery standpoint, but to have the ability to receive job skill training to help them find meaningful work. Another thing that surprised me is that many of the clients are there by choice. More than one made the point to say they were not there because of some court order, but because they chose to be.”
 
Cathy Palmer, director of the Refugee Sewing Society, was overwhelmed by the transformation of the sewing rooms and retail store housed at Clarkston International Bible Church. NAMB staff replaced lighting units, ceiling tiles, painted and sorted buttons and other sewing supplies.
 
“It may not seem like a big thing,” said Palmer, a NAMB missionary, “but it makes a huge difference in what our women can accomplish because they will be able to see their work. It will make a difference in our store where people will be able to better see the crafts our women make. It was wonderful to feel the presence and support of the staff and to make connections with people who will volunteer to help us meet other needs. It was awesome.”
 
Palmer said the women and staff were so impressed with the change that they planned a picnic lunch in the sewing room on Monday to celebrate.
 
NAMB president Kevin Ezell said, “As we help churches conduct mercy ministries, experiences like this are very valuable. We want our staff to get out of the building and onto the ministry field – especially at this time of year.” NAMB writer Kristen Camp contributed to this article.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – NAMB writer Kristen Camp contributed to this article.)
12/18/2014 9:17:59 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Discipleship for boys strengthens witness

December 18 2014 by Kate Gregory, IMB/Baptist Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – When Carlos Llambes was about 7 or 8 years old, he heard a sound he had never heard coming from a church before – laughter. Churches had always seemed so formal and structured to the Cuban boy. Plus, times in the Caribbean island 90 miles south of Miami were somber and uncertain in the late 1960s in the years after the Cuban missile crisis.
 
So when Carlos walked by Primera Iglesia Bautista (First Baptist Church) in his hometown of San Cristobal, Cuba, on a Wednesday night and heard laughter, the curious youngster peeked inside the doors. Members of the congregation were singing a joyful song and smiling.
 
“They seemed happy, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Carlos recalled. So he sat down in one of the pews to watch.
 
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IMB photo by Wilson Hunter
Carlos Llambes looks out over the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where he served for more than 10 years as a Southern Baptist missionary. He set into motion a church-planter training institute as part of the Dominican Baptist Convention that has resulted in 100 new churches in seven years. He attributes his missionary outlook to the missions education and inspiration he received as a Royal Ambassador (RA). His home church in Cuba, First Baptist Church in San Cristobal, taught all ages about missions, including Carlos through RAs, the Southern Baptist missions discipleship organization for boys.

A couple noticed the boy and invited him to a group of Royal Ambassadors (RAs) – a Southern Baptist missions discipleship organization for boys – the man led near the church during the week. The group had to begin meeting in secret because at that time, Christian leaders were subject to imprisonment or being put in reeducation camps. Rumors spread that walls had ears and conversations were monitored.
 
“Our little group of RAs, of eight or nine boys, we met secretly in a little room, and we spoke quietly,” Carlos recalled. “I brought a little Bible with me that was falling to pieces, but it became precious to me as did those times with that little RA group.”
 
“The best memories I have of Cuba are at my little church as an RA,” Carlos Llambes, now a Southern Baptist missionary, said. “We used to fellowship with other churches and play baseball and ping pong.”
 
Those seemingly carefree times were even more precious to the youngster because he was constantly saying goodbye to those he knew. First, his father lost his lucrative business, separated from his mother and left the country. Then, amid the political turmoil of the times, neighbors and friends decided to leave the country. His mother struggled to provide for him on her own, so she, too, decided to make plans to leave the country.
 
She had sewn him a new outfit to wear during their travels, but it took nearly five years for the paperwork to come through to relocate, so the pants had become several inches too short on him.
 
But needing something suitable to wear to the RA meetings, Carlos began to wear the outfit – made of wool because his mother thought that any place farther north from the Caribbean would have cold temperatures.
 
“So there I was, a little boy wearing short wool pants in the tropics,” Carlos laughed.
 
When he arrived in Miami at age 12, he lost touch with those he had known in Cuba.
 
But years later when Carlos was an adult with a child of his own, history seemed to repeat itself. When the Llambes began attending Iglesia Bautista Estrella de Belen in Hialeah, Fla., Carlos saw a familiar face – his RA leader.
 
Despite the passage of time, Pablo Lavina and Carlos recognized each other.
 
Pablo went home and told his wife, Juana, “You’ll never guess who I saw today. It was Carlito (little Carlos),” recalled Juana.
 
“It’s so wonderful to know that we’ve helped a child to find his way to what God had in store for him,” Juana said. She had served as a Sunday School teacher at the Cuba church as a young adult. Now in their 60s, she and her husband are active in the Hialeah congregation, with Juana serving as its custodian.
 
The couple has given Carlos some photos they had brought with them from Cuba of the RA group. Carlos keeps the photos as a reminder of the impact missions and a couple dedicated to missions can make.
 
“They really took care of us in a very difficult time when Christians weren’t looked at very kindly,” Carlos recalled. “RAs was such a missions seed that was planted in me. It didn’t come to fruition until years later, but it was there, growing inside of me.”
 
Though he didn’t become a Christian until he was an adult, Carlos points to the missions teachings of RAs as having the biggest influence on his eventually becoming a missionary and focusing on planting churches.
 
“I learned at a young age, when I was a boy in Cuba, through First Baptist Church, San Cristobal, the love and the difference that a little local church can make. It’s transformational. It makes a difference in communities,” he said.
 
Today, Carlos is an International Mission Board missionary who served 10 years in the Dominican Republic, starting a church planting institute there with the Dominican Baptist Convention. He and his wife Lilly recently transferred to Mexico City to participate in church planting efforts in the megacity.
 
“People might think, why bother with a little church?” Carlos said of how he encourages new Christians to form home Bible studies among their family and friends. “You watch what God can do with a little church. I am a product of that. Just give it time.”
 
Of his RA group of eight or nine boys, he became a missionary and two others grew up to be pastors, says Carlos, adding that’s an impressive ratio that underlines the life-long impact of churches teaching missions to all ages.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kate Gregory writes for IMB.)
12/18/2014 9:13:55 AM by Kate Gregory, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



McDonald’s, Starbucks resist porn-free WiFi campaign

December 18 2014 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

Despite nearly 25,000 supporters, a public campaign asking McDonald’s and Starbucks to install anti-pornography filters on their in-store free WiFi networks has so far been unsuccessful.
 
The “Porn Free WiFi” campaign, organized by the Internet safety group Enough is Enough (EIE), is urging the fast-food and coffee giants to implement Internet filters in their U.S. stores to stop customers from accessing or distributing child pornography and graphic adult pornography via their free Internet connections.
 
EIE cites news stories chronicling instances of open WiFi hotspots becoming hideaways for criminals trafficking child pornography or sexually soliciting children. “The “Porn-free WiFi” campaign is not just about protecting our children from viewing hard-core pornography using public hotspots – it’s also about limiting the safe-haven that open WiFi creates for sexual predators,” Donna Rice Hughes, EIE’s CEO, said.
 
EIE sent letters to McDonald’s and Starbucks in April, applauding both businesses for pro-actively implementing Internet filters in their U.K. stores. McDonald’s U.K. website claims it was the first company to join a family-friendly WiFi filtering initiative called Mumsnet. Earlier this year, Starbucks joined an industry-wide public WiFi filtering effort called “Friendly WiFi.” Colorful banners are displayed in restaurants offering free Internet that is filtered for explicit content. In 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron introduced nationwide policies to protect children from exploitive and graphic material online, including a default setting of “opt-out” for all Internet service providers.
 
In the letters, Hughes urged the two U.S.-based companies to implement the same filters in their stores at home, noting other major chains, like Chick-fil-A and Panera, already filter their free Internet access voluntarily.
 
“We appreciate your concern and are looking into options for effective filtering in the U.S.,” McDonald’s said in a written response to Hughes. The fast-food chain has continued a dialogue with EIE, Hughes said, but in the seven months since the letter exchange neither McDonald”s nor Starbucks has added filters to their combined 25,000 U.S. stores.
 
Hughes believes the campaign “strikes a nerve with Americans.” People expect corporations that project a family-friendly image to have family-friendly corporate polices, she said. And support for the “Porn Free WiFi” campaign is growing. In the last few weeks, three more partner organizations – Concerned Women for America, Morality in Media and the National Homeschoolers Association – have joined EIE’s efforts.
 
The group’s next step is to approach McDonald’s and Starbucks again, this time also including the petition signatures it has collected. Hughes is confident the two major stores will soon implement filters, setting an example for other free WiFi providers.
 
“This is something that any family and any parent can get behind,” Hughes said. “This is not a controversial request we are making. This has nothing to do with censorship or First Amendment rights. It has nothing to do with anything but these corporations doing the right thing.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland is a writer for WORLD News Service.)
12/18/2014 9:10:41 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Survey: Race relations better, long way to go

December 17 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

Race relations in America are better than they used to be. And most Americans see diversity as a good thing, a new LifeWay Research study shows.
 
But there’s still a long way to go, according to two new surveys from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
 
Researchers asked 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Protestant pastors about their views on race relations. They found many Americans have mixed feelings about the state of racial diversity in the United States.
 
Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, says Americans are still adapting to the nation’s demographic shifts.
 
In 1960, 89 percent of Americans were white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, America is much more diverse. Fewer than two-thirds of Americans – and just over half of schoolchildren – are Non-Hispanic whites. By 2050, no one group will be a majority.
 
That’s a big change that Americans are still trying to sort through, McConnell says. The fallout from the deaths of Mike Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York has increased tension about racial relations.
 
“Recent high profile cases highlight the lack of understanding, respect, and trust that remains between races,” he said.
 

Among the research findings:

Eight in 10 Americans (82 percent) say racial diversity is good for the country. One in 7 (14 percent) disagree.

Survey12-17-14-1.jpg
 

Three quarters of Americans (74 percent) agree with the statement, “We have come so far on racial relations.” About a quarter disagree (23 percent).
 
But few are satisfied with the state of race relations. Eight in 10 (81 percent) agree with the statement, “We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.” One in 6 (16 percent) disagree.
 
LifeWay Research found support across ethnic groups for the statement, “We’ve come so far on racial relations.” Three quarters of whites (74 percent), African-Americans (74 percent) and Hispanic-Americans (73 percent) all agree.
 
However, McConnell says, some Africans-Americans take issue with that statement. One in 6 (17 percent) strongly disagree, compared to 11 percent of whites and 5 percent of Hispanics.
 
There are similar differences in intensity of responses to the statement, “We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.”
 
Fifty-seven percent of African-Americans strongly agree. That drops to 39 percent of whites and 42 percent of Hispanics.
 
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said, “On the surface, most Americans agree that racial reconciliation matters. But we’re divided about how important this issue is. For many white Americans, progress on issues of race is a good thing but not urgent. For many African-Americans, it’s front and center.”
 
Younger Americans – those 18 to 24 – are the most optimistic about race relations. Almost 9 in 10 (88 percent) say diversity is good for the country. And most (84 percent) agree with the statement, “We’ve come so far on racial relations.”
 
Older Americans are a bit more skeptical. About three quarters (76 percent) of those over 65 say diversity is good for the country. Seven out of 10 (71 percent) of those 45 to 54 say the nation has come far on racial relations.
 
Whites (85 percent) are more likely to agree that diversity is good for the country than African-Americans (75 percent) or Hispanic-Americans (74 percent). Christians (80 percent) are less likely than the Nones (89 percent) to see diversity as a good thing.
 
As other polls have shown, LifeWay Research found few Americans believe race relations have improved since the election of President Barack Obama. About half (49 percent) say race relations have stayed the same. Three in 10 (29 percent) believe relations are more strained. About 1 of 7 (15 percent) say things have improved.
 
About a quarter of African Americans (23 percent) say relations have improved since Obama’s election. That drops to 1 in 7 (14 percent) for whites.
 

Faith still matters in race relations

Christian pastors and other religious leaders took a leading role during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Many Americans say those leaders still fill an important role today.
 
“Christian leaders have the opportunity to influence millions of Americans to value each and every person no matter their race,” McConnell said.
 
Two-thirds (65 percent) of U.S. adults say religious leaders play a positive role in race relations in the United States. About 3 in 10 (30 percent) disagree, while 5 percent are not sure.
 
Evangelicals (74 percent) and Christians (71 percent) are most likely to say religious leaders have a positive role in race relations. Those of other faiths (56 percent) and the Nones (46 percent) are more skeptical.
 
Hispanic-Americans (57 percent) are less likely to agree than whites (67 percent) or African-Americans (72 percent).
 
For their part, Protestant senior pastors see a close connection between diversity and the central message of Christianity.
 
Nine of out 10 pastors (90 percent) agree with the statement: “Racial reconciliation is mandated by the gospel.” Only six percent disagree.
 
LifeWay Research found this connection between the gospel and racial reconciliation has widespread support among pastors.
 
Most evangelical (90 percent) and Mainline (93 percent) pastors agree. Pastors of smaller churches (83 percent) and those from larger congregations (95 percent) also agree. About 3 out of 4 (76 percent) African American pastors and 9 in 10 (91 percent) white pastors say racial reconciliation is mandated by the gospel.
 
Many pastors have hands-on experience working on diversity. About 3 out of 4 (72 percent) say their church is “personally involved at the local level in addressing racial reconciliation.” A quarter disagree (23 percent). Four percent are not sure.
 
Pastors of larger congregations – those with more than 250 attendees – are more likely to agree (79 percent) than pastors whose churches have less than 50 in attendance (66 percent).
 
African American pastors (93 percent) are more likely to agree their church is involved in racial reconciliation than white pastors (71 percent).
 
Previous LifeWay Research studies found most pastors say their congregations should reflect the racial makeup of their community. But few have diverse flocks.
 
More than 8 in 10 (86 percent) say their congregation is made up of one predominant racial or ethnic group, according to a LifeWay Research study released in January 2014. The latest wave of the National Congregations Study found similar results.
 
“If pastors want to lead a movement of racial reconciliation, they need to make sure their members are following,” McConnell said. “If church members are not inviting and welcoming people of other ethnic groups, their reconciliation efforts are not taking root.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19-28, 2014. The calling utilized Random Digit Dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity, and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups
 
Those labeled evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian.” Those labeled Christian include those whose religious preference is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Non-denominational Christian. Nones are those whose religious preference is Atheist, Agnostic, or No Preference.
 
The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine, FactsandTrends.net.)

12/17/2014 1:59:18 PM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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