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All need religious liberty, Baptist, others contend

May 26 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Religious leaders with widely diverse views called for freedom for all faith groups, not just their own, in a May 23 panel discussion sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Mormon and Muslim representatives explained to an audience on Capitol Hill why their faith perspectives support universal religious freedom despite the distinctions in their beliefs.
 
“Our differences are too important to be adjudicated by the state or to be applied through pressure,” said Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who explained he thought he could speak for the entire panel in making such an assertion.


Religious freedom, Moore said, is “about having the freedom and the opportunity to be genuinely different, to be able to genuinely respect one another and to be able to have disagreements with one another, including about issues that we believe are of ultimate, ultimate significance, while at the same time saying, ‘These are not matters of coercion, and we do not need a government referee to come and settle those issues.’
 
“A religion that needs cultural or political pressure behind it,” he said, “is a religion that has lost faith in its deity.”
 
The event – titled “Christianity and the Common Good: Religious Liberty and Human Flourishing” – was the latest in the Capitol Conversations series of panel discussions sponsored by the ERLC. It came at a time in American life when evangelical Christians and Catholics are among those receiving government pressure to violate their beliefs to use their services for same-sex weddings and Muslims are sometimes facing hostility in reaction to terrorist acts by Islamic extremists.
 
Each of the panelists explained his faith’s basis for supporting freedom for all religious adherents.
 
“I am a genuine, creedal, evangelical Christian,” said Moore, the ERLC’s president. “I believe that no one goes to heaven except through explicit faith in Jesus Christ.
 

 

Photo from Christian Post
ERLC President Russell Moore speaks at a May 23 discussion on religious liberty in Washington, D.C., while Baltimore Archbishop William Lori listens. 

“That’s the reason why I don’t think that we ought to be harassing our Muslim neighbors or marginalizing our Muslim neighbors,” he told participants. “We can either love our Muslim neighbors and speak to them or we can scream at them. We can’t do both of those two things at the same time.”
 
Hamza Yusuf – president of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts school in Berkeley, Calif. – said the normative Islamic tradition he is a part of teaches: “Every religious tradition is to be treated with human dignity.”
 
Quoting the ancient saying of an imam, Yusuf said, “People are either your brother in faith or your equal in humanity.”
 
Dallin Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said religious freedom always has been a “paramount priority” for Mormons.
 
Citing Jesus’ command to His disciples to love one another, Oaks said Mormons understand “whatever freedom we claim and advocate for ourselves we extend to others.”
 
“We should walk along the path shoulder to shoulder to secure our ability to go our own way when we come to the intersections we have in our doctrine,” he said.
 
William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the ad hoc committee on religious liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his church sees religious freedom “as a universal right because it is also a transcendent endowment given to human nature.”
 
The Catholic Church has a “decidedly international look” at the issue because of the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with countries throughout the world and the church’s dialogue with other religions globally, he said.
 
Catholics try “to use our freedom to serve the common good,” Lori said.
 
Evangelicals and other religious adherents can overcome an appearance they are seeking only their own interests by being aware of infringements of others’ freedom, Moore said.
 
“We need to identify and see where others are receiving pressure and persecution and marginalization, and stand up for one another,” Moore told attendees at the evening event. When a city council in the Bible Belt attempts to bar a mosque, evangelicals need to stand against such government action, he said.
 
In a world with about 1.6 billion Muslims, “a statistically insignificant number” are violent extremists, Yusuf told the audience gathered in a Capitol Hill hotel. “The Muslims in this country are by and large an extremely law-abiding group.”
 
About 80 percent of Muslims in the United States do not even practice Islam, Yusuf said. “They are much more American than they are Muslim.”
 
In an election year in which both of the apparent major party candidates are at least suspect on the issue, advocates for religious freedom face a “massive task” regardless of the election results, Moore said. Religious liberty proponents should “work to build collaborative majorities sometimes issue by issue rather than administration by administration,” he said.
 
Societies that protect religious freedom do best at serving the needy, often through the work of religious groups, and are more likely to protect other liberties, Ryan Anderson said while speaking as part of a second panel that addressed how religious liberty benefits human flourishing.
 
Such states also possess more civic harmony, less strife and greater voluntarism, said Anderson, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
 
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said laws adopted after the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the enforcement of sex discrimination measures are being used “as weapons against the cake baker or the florist” who conscientiously objects to using her talents in support of a same-sex ceremony.
 
ADF is unaware of any case being litigated in the United States in which an individual “has been denied a good or service simply because they identify as gay or lesbian,” Waggoner said. Alternatives are available in each circumstance in which a florist, baker or photographer objected to providing services for a gay wedding.
 
Also speaking on the human flourishing panel was John Inazu, associate professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis.
 
The latest Capitol Conversations event, which was the fifth held in the last 10 months, followed ones on same-sex marriage and religious liberty, Planned Parenthood and the sanctity of human life, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Supreme Court and abortion.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)
5/26/2016 11:53:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Over 100K Kentucky Baptists involved in missions

May 26 2016 by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today

More than 100,000 Kentucky Baptists were personally involved in missions last year, some in other countries and others closer to home.
 
The false notion that only preachers can be missionaries has been cast aside as Christians from all walks of life step out to obey the Bible’s command to go and make disciples, said Eric Allen, missions mobilization leader for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
 
“There are mission opportunities for people with most any skill, talent or gift,” Allen said. “International Mission Board personnel serving overseas have requested help from Kentuckians who had experience coaching, in construction, and, in one case, artificial insemination of dairy cattle. These kinds of life experiences can be effective means of sharing the gospel.”
 
The total number of Kentucky Baptists involved in mission projects reached 105,979 last year, up from 99,622 the previous year, a 6 percent increase, based on data gleaned from the Annual Church Profile, a state-by-state survey of Southern Baptist congregations. The data showed the number of churches involved in mission projects reached 1,080 last year.
 
“That’s something to celebrate,” Allen said.
 
Kentucky Baptists have proven they’re willing to do their part for the cause of Christ. When the Kentucky Baptist Convention spread the word that International Mission Board missionaries needed volunteers with a specialty in artificial insemination in an undisclosed country in Europe, leaders didn’t know what kind of response they’d get, if any. It turned out several people stepped forward to help.
 
“I believe Christians have a greater awareness of the need to be on mission and they want to go,” Allen said. “Churches are helping members understand that there are many different ways to engage in missions using an individual’s gifts, talents and skills. Plus, no longer do we see missions as something that is done only on a summer trip. People are more likely to engage in missions every week in their local communities. And trips out of the state, or the country, now take place many times throughout the year.”
 
The Kentucky Baptist Convention encourages churches to take part in mission projects, and have developed partnerships with Southern Baptists working in other states and countries to make it easier. The KBC also invites Kentucky Baptists to take part in “vision trips” to areas that need help spreading the gospel, hoping to reveal the dire needs that exist in so many places.
 
“We provide training, placement assistance and scholarships for team leaders,” Allen said. “We have hundreds of mission opportunities in Kentucky, North America and internationally listed on our website, kybaptist.org/go.”
 
Allen said lots of churches are finding fulfillment in doing missions, like Indian Fork Baptist Church in Baghdad, Ky.
 
Since it was founded in 1802, Indian Fork had always been a financial supporter of international missionaries, but had never actually sent its own members overseas.
 
That changed last November when four members of the rural church spent a week ministering to orphans in Haiti and sprucing up the orphanage where they live.
 
“No matter what size your congregation is, the command and commission are the same,” said pastor Josh Rucker said. “The only limits are the ones we create.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger Alford is editor of Kentucky Today.)

5/26/2016 11:41:08 AM by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



Publicity surrounding Chibok girl’s escape questioned

May 26 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The escape of a Chibok schoolgirl from Boko Haram is being exploited by the Nigerian government as an accomplishment in efforts to recover more than 200 girls still missing in the 2014 abduction, sources told Baptist Press.
 
The Nigerian government has used the escape of Amina Ali Nkeki to create photo opportunities for good publicity internationally, while skirting the ongoing tragedy that the government has not recovered any of the missing girls, Open Doors USA’s advocacy director Kristin Wright told BP.
 
“It seems to be much more important to the Nigerian government to make good headlines around the world than it is to actually find the Chibok girls,” Wright said.
 
Not only that, but details revealed in publicity after Amina’s escape don’t correlate with the facts of the Chibok kidnapping, Nigerian relations expert Adeniyi Ojutiku told BP, and raise speculation that Amina might not have been among the Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014.
 
“What is happening is the whole Chibok girl thing has been so highly politicized, that it’s difficult to discern the truth from fabrications,” he told BP. “There seems to be so many discrepancies in the story and those discrepancies make a person believe that the whole thing may have been stage managed. That’s my concern.”
 

Open Doors USA photo
Yakubu Nkiki Maina, right, the father of a kidnapped Chibok schoolgirl shows a newspaper photo of the missing girls to Open Doors USA advocacy director Kristin Wright, who met with him in September 2015.

The chief discrepancy is in Amina’s age, 17, and her identity as a student in the first year of senior secondary school (SS1), Ojutiku said. Students abducted in April 2014 were all in the third year (SS3) and had been called back to school from vacation to take a required physics exam. All other classes were away from school on vacation during the raid, he said.
 
“She said she was not of the class level of the people taking the exams. She was in SS1. She could not have been [called] back to take an exam that she was not qualified to take,” Ojutiku said. “At 15 [her age at the time of the kidnapping] the appropriate class level was SS1, and she actually said that she was in SS1. How could she have been among the group of SS3 students? They were recalled from their homes specifically to take a physics exam.”
 
The details of her road to freedom, whether she actually escaped on her own or was aided by the government, also vary, Ojutiku said.
 
“People have speculated that the government may have created a story around her to appear that they are really doing something to rescue the girls,” Ojutiku said. “When you fabricate a lie there are always things that you overlook that will eventually point people to the fact that it’s a lie. But the truth is just something that stands always, by itself.”
 
Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls from the boarding school in the mostly Christian town of Chibok during a raid in the early morning hours of April 14, 2014, but as many as 60 of the girls escaped during the journey into the Sambisa Forest. An estimated 219 remained missing.
 
Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in Raleigh, N.C., leading the Lift Up Now grassroots outreach to his Nigerian homeland, was on a 10-day business trip to southern Nigeria when Amina was discovered, but he did not travel to northeastern Nigeria during his visit.
 
Wright, based in Washington, met with some of the fathers of the Chibok girls during a September 2015 visit to Jos in the country’s middle belt. Amina’s father, now deceased, was not among that group, but is among at least 18 parents who have died since the kidnapping, Wright said.
 
“Two years have gone by and these girls are still missing and their families are dealing with that loss, that agony of not knowing every single day,” Wright said. “Visiting with the fathers was just deeply emotional. One man told me he wakes up every morning wondering where his daughter is at.”
 
Open Doors USA welcomes the news of Amina’s wellbeing, but is advocating for the safe return of those still missing.
 
“It is great news for this girl and for her family, but when you think of this unconscionable outrage that for more than two years these girls, over 200 of them have been held, there’s really not a cause for celebration,” she said. “This is a time for us to soberly step back and think about the fact, these girls have been missing for over two years. What are you going to do to bring them home?”
 
Open Doors USA has launched a petition to encourage U.S. President Obama to visit Nigeria and issue a statement advocating for the girls’ release. Thousands have signed the petition that will be available a few more months, Wright said.
 
“There are many captives of Boko Haram and the government is actively seeking to rescue captives, whenever they are able, but the reality is that none of the Chibok girls, until Amina, have been rescued,” she said. “And that’s something that the world wants to hear about. The world is waiting to know what will happen to the Chibok girls, and we’ve had one escape.”
 
Wright was encouraged by the faith expressed by the girls’ fathers, who are hopeful for their daughters’ safe return.
 
“A lot of men told me that they do have hope that they’ll see their daughters again and that they’ll be reunited,” Wright said. “And that’s one reason why I do feel incredibly grateful and optimistic about Amini Ali’s escape. And the fact that she was able to make it home and be reunited with her family is incredible.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

5/26/2016 11:29:42 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘The forgotten’ mark young couple’s ministry

May 26 2016 by Kathie Chute, GGBTS

As soon as Eric Gibbs stepped onto the Tohono O’odham Nation, one of the largest Native American reservations in the country, he felt a love for the people there.
 
“After seeing the needs of that community, I knew my time in Arizona would be more than just a week,” Gibbs said of the short-term mission trip he took as a college student, a trip he didn’t think much about beforehand.
 
Gibbs returned home to finish his degree and continue his service as a youth minister. But he and his wife Brittany began to pray about relocating to Arizona for long-term ministry.
 
Brittany said she and Eric “always thought that we would take mission trips with our churches and lead mission trips with youth but never thought much about being ‘missionaries.’ Over and over again, [God] has made it known that this is His will.”
 

Contributed photo
Eric Gibbs (left) baptizes a new member of Cockleburr Ethne Church, a church plant on the Tohono O'odham Nation reservation in Arizona.

After graduation from college, Eric and Brittany were accepted as church planters through the Mission Service Corps of the North American Mission Board. In 2010, the young couple moved with their two children to Sacaton, Ariz., a town of about 1,500, and settled into a reservation near the Gila River to begin a ministry among Native Americans.
 
“I feel called to pastor forgotten people groups,” Gibbs said. “This kind of calling often leads to planting churches in places that can be rather closed off.”
 
Gibbs is pastor of First Pima Baptist Church in the Gila River Reservation and also works with two church plants on local reservations, including one in the Tohono O’odham Nation, which saw 16 baptisms last year. In addition, Gibbs serves as regional director for Ethné Global Services, a nonprofit organization initiated by Alan Karr, a professor of church planting at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, to work with African refugees in Phoenix, many of whom are from the Congo.
 
The Gibbs’ calling has dramatically changed the family. In addition to the two children they brought to Arizona, Eric and Brittany have adopted a daughter from the Repubic of Congo, adopted two Native American sons and brought in foster children from local reservations. They are certified foster parents by Tribal Social Services, one of the few local couples with that distinction. The children have allowed the family to build relationships with both the African and the Indian communities.
 
Gibbs said they are simply “living on purpose” as they continue to seek God’s will for their lives.
 
“We are an ordinary family that God has called to carry out an extraordinary mission,” he said. “We are missionaries called to live and serve among the Native American tribes in Arizona. God has also called our family to adopt.”
 
Another significant step was to enroll for classes at the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Seminary.
 
“I knew Golden Gate had a campus in Arizona when I moved out here, but I didn’t think it would be possible for me to attend,” Gibbs said. “But I was connected with scholarships that allowed me to study without a financial burden and to finish without taking any breaks.”
 
He completed the master of missiology degree in 2015 and was awarded the Golden Gate Church Planting Award.
 
“I feel like I am a better leader, pastor, husband, father because of my time at Golden Gate,” Gibbs said.
 
“I didn’t know how much I didn’t know,” he said of how his studies strengthened his calling “to relate to and minister to other cultures.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

5/26/2016 11:07:57 AM by Kathie Chute, GGBTS | with 0 comments



Mohler to grads: Hope for gospel to ‘speed ahead’

May 25 2016 by Annie Corser, SBTS

Gospel ministers must proclaim God’s Word with the urgency of eternal consequences, said President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in his May 20 commencement address to the 2016 graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
 
During the institution’s 216th commencement exercises on the seminary lawn in Louisville, Ky., 284 master’s and doctoral students from 44 states and 15 countries received their degrees. A week earlier, a record 150 graduates of the seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College, received certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees.
 
In an address from 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 titled “That the Word of the Lord May Speed Ahead,” Mohler said ministers protect and proclaim the good news of Jesus with the hope that it would “speed ahead” in anticipation of the day of the Lord.
 

SBTS Photos by Emil Handke
Master of divinity graduates (left to right) Galin Roquet, David Sackett, S. Craig Sanders, and Jonathan Saunders recite the graduation pledge. 

“Paul’s language underlines his hope that the gospel would spread quickly to the ends of the earth,” Mohler said. “He yearns to see the Word of God, the gospel of Christ, race across the world, knowing that the day of the Lord is coming, when there will be no more days left to preach. Paul’s vision was driven by urgency and eschatology, knowing that the time is short and eternity is at stake.”
 
Mohler emphasized how the Word of the Lord would “speed ahead and be honored” in the ministry of the graduates. Mohler explained that this task is handed down through generations.
 
“You represent the hopes and dreams of Christians down through the ages, from the time of the apostles and martyrs until now … You carry our hopes for the spread of the gospel and the upbuilding of Christ’s church,” Mohler said. “In the church age, ministry is handed from generation to generation. Our humble determination and our heart’s desire must be to receive this charge and to serve faithfully – planting and watering in the fields of ministry and taking care how we build upon the foundation laid before us.”
 
Also at graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian theology and editor of “The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.” Wellum has taught at SBTS since 1999. He is the co-author of “Kingdom Through Covenant” and author of forthcoming works on the doctrine of Christ.
 
The Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was presented to Andrés Vera, a master of divinity graduate from Toronto, Canada. Vera’s wife Courtney received her master of arts degree at the commencement.
 
T. Vaughn Walker, professor of black church studies and WMU professor of Christian ministries, participated in commencement with a reading from the Old Testament. Walker, who was the first African-American professor elected to the faculty at any of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, retired after 30 years of teaching at SBTS.
 
Mohler’s address will be available in audio and video at sbts.edu/resources. A manuscript of the address, “That the Word of the Lord May Speed Ahead,” is available at albertmohler.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Annie Corser is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

5/25/2016 1:17:44 PM by Annie Corser, SBTS | with 0 comments



Prison ministry focus among pastors, churches studied

May 25 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

While most Protestant pastors visit correctional facilities and want to help prisoners and their families, their churches often lack the training or finances to run an effective prison ministry.
 
Those are among the findings of a new phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research.
 
Researchers found widespread support among pastors for the idea of prison ministry. Eighty-three percent of pastors have visited a correctional facility. And nearly all believe churches should help families of those incarcerated (97 percent) and provide care for those getting out of jail (95 percent).
 
However, many pastors have little contact with those who have been incarcerated. Half of pastors say no one from their congregation has been jailed in the past three years. A third have seen one or two people from their church go to jail. One in 6 (17 percent) says three or more attendees have been jailed in that time.
 
About a third of pastors (31 percent) say no former inmates attend their church. Another third (36 percent) have one or two former inmates in their congregation. A third (33 percent) have three or more former inmates in their church.
 
Overall, few pastors have contact with many inmates or former inmates as a normal part of their ministry, said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. So prison ministry isn’t a priority.
 
“When half the pastors haven’t had someone from their church sent to jail, then prison ministry isn’t on their ministry radar,” McConnell said.
 
The report comes at a time when incarceration rates in the United States remain at record levels. More than 2.2 million Americans are held in state and federal prisons or local jails, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. That’s more than in any other nation in the world.
 
More than a third (36 percent) of inmates in state and federal prisons are African-American, according to the Department of Justice.
 
Those statistics have led to concerns about the high number of inmates and charges of racial disparity.
 
LifeWay Research found pastors are split on those two questions.
 
Half of pastors say the racial disparity among inmates is unjust. Four in 10 (39 percent) disagree. One in 10 (11 percent) is not sure.
 
Just under half (46 percent) say the rapid growth of the inmate population is unjust. A similar number (44 percent) disagree. Ten percent are not sure.
 
African-American pastors (78 percent) are most likely to say the rapid growth in the overall number of inmates is unjust. Most Methodist (67 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (72 percent) agree. Fewer Baptist (31 percent), Pentecostal (34 percent), Christian/Church of Christ (39 percent) and Lutheran (45 percent) pastors hold that view.
 
African-American pastors (88 percent) are also most likely to see racial disparities among inmates as unjust. Most Methodist (73 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (75 percent) pastors agree. Fewer Baptist (34 percent), Pentecostal (43 percent), Church of Christ/Christian (40 percent) and Lutheran (56 percent) pastors agree.
 

Faithful volunteers are key

Karen Swanson, director of the Institute for Prison Ministries at Wheaton College, said pastors often don’t know how to start ministering to inmates.
 
Other ministries, like distributing school supplies to kids or volunteering at a food pantry, are relatively easy to start.
 
Ministering to inmates and their families is more difficult, she said, requiring special training and often a long-term commitment from volunteers.
 
About two-thirds of pastors cite a lack of training (62 percent) or volunteers (65 percent) as barriers to their church helping inmates and their families. Forty percent say they do not know where to start. Three in 10 (29 percent) say their church has too many other ministries. One in 5 (21 percent) doesn’t see a need for such ministry.
 
Money is an issue as well. Half of pastors (48 percent) say a lack of finances is a barrier to ministry. A recent report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability found donations to prison ministries declined 6 percent from 2011 to 2014.
 
When churches do have a prison ministry, it is often run on an informal basis.
 
Sixty-one percent of pastors say individual church members minister to families of inmates. Forty-five percent say church members minister in correctional facilities. Fifty-eight percent say church members help those leaving correctional facilities.
 
Swanson hopes more pastors will consider getting their churches involved in prison ministry. They may be surprised, she noted, to find the ministry hits close to home.
 
“The mission field is in your backyard,” she said. “Almost every county has a jail. And almost all prisoners are going to return home.”
 
McConnell said churches will face an uphill challenge to grow their prison ministries.
 
“These are messy, long-term ministries,” he said. “You really have to demonstrate biblical faithfulness to be involved with them. It’s a lot easier to pick a ministry where there are quick rewards, but you would miss out on the opportunity to impact families and communities.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted March 9-24, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size and black Protestant denominations. 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 2.5 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
 
The study was sponsored by the Institute for Prison Ministries, Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Wheaton College; Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association, Assemblies of God; and the Crossroad Bible Institute.
 
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

5/25/2016 1:07:30 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Baptists praise Methodist reversal on abortion

May 25 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist leaders hailed the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) reversal of its support for abortion rights at its latest conference – a step taken by the Southern Baptist Convention decades before.
 
Delegates to the UMC’s General Conference, held every four years, voted to remove the denomination’s entities from an abortion rights coalition it had helped found more than four decades earlier and approved the deletion of a 1976 resolution that affirmed the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
 
On another hot-button issue, however, the General Conference – which met May 10-20 in Portland, Ore. – voted to postpone action on homosexuality.
 
The UMC was a founding member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) in 1973, the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on abortion. The proposal, approved May 19 in a 425-268 vote, described RCRC as “a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion.” The interfaith coalition of about 40 organizations supports the right to partial-birth and sex-selection abortions.
 
On May 20, the delegates voted 445-310 to defeat an effort to reaffirm the 1976 resolution, which said abortion may sometimes be advisable and endorsed the Roe ruling. In that decision, the high court legalized in conjunction with a companion opinion the right to an abortion for any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press, “Christians of all denominations should praise God for the United Methodist Church’s historic repudiation of abortion. This is good news for orthodoxy, for the unity of the Body of Christ, and for the vulnerable unborn and their mothers.
 
“There’s a long way to go,” Moore said in written comments, “but we should give thanks for this moment and continue to pray that the church of Jesus Christ would be a stalwart advocate for life and human dignity.”
 
Two Southern Baptist academics recalled the reversal in the SBC when praising the United Methodist decisions.
 
C. Ben Mitchell, provost and professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said, “We gladly affirm the conference’s decision to distance itself from RCRC, and we joyfully celebrate the move towards a more biblically faithful stand on the life issues.
 
“Southern Baptists will remember that we were also on the wrong side of the pro-life divide in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We welcome our brothers and sisters into the fold,” Mitchell told BP in written remarks. “We happily join hands with all people of good will who advocate for the sanctity of human life from womb to tomb.”
 
Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, said in written comments for BP, “Evangelicals should be heartened to see that the United Methodist Church took decisive steps away from its former endorsement of the nation’s abortion culture.
 
“This was a move that the Southern Baptist Convention once had to make, too, demonstrating that these sorts of liberal trends are not irreversible,” Kidd said.
 
The SBC and its ethics entity head were on record in the 1970s in support of the right to abortion in many cases.
 
Messengers to the 1971 SBC meeting approved a resolution that urged Southern Baptists to promote legislation that would allow abortion “under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
 
Foy Valentine – head of the SBC’s ethics entity, known as the Christian Life Commission (CLC) at the time – backed that resolution and signed onto a 1977 RCRC statement that affirmed the Roe decision and government funding for abortions. Four SBC seminary professors also endorsed the document.
 
Southern Baptists learned increasingly about the CLC’s pro-choice position and became more engaged in the pro-life movement. SBC messengers passed in 1980 the first of several pro-life resolutions, this one urging legislation or a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion except to save the life of the mother. In 1988, the SBC’s ethic entity welcomed its first fully pro-life head.
 
The UMC – with about seven million U.S. members and more than 12 million globally – trails the SBC as the second largest Protestant denomination in the country.
 
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) – which seeks the renewal of mainline Protestant denominations – commended the UMC pro-life actions. John Lomperis, IRD’s United Methodist director, called them “HUGE steps in the right direction.”
 
Regarding homosexuality, the delegates in Portland voted 428 to 405 in support of a recommendation from the UMC’s Council of Bishops to defer votes on “human sexuality” at the conference. Instead, the recommendation, passed May 18, empowered the Council of Bishops to appoint a special commission to study the UMC’s Book of Discipline for possible revision on sexual issues. The council said it may call for a meeting to address the matter prior to the 2020 General Conference.
 
The Book of Discipline – which will remain in effect in the meantime – says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and maintains marriage is only between a man and a woman.
 
The controversy regarding homosexuality threatens to split the UMC. Some UMC pastors have defied the Book of Discipline by performing same-sex weddings, and more than 100 ministers or ministerial candidates in America openly confessed they are gay as the General Conference opened, according to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS). The UMC is more conservative in Africa, and bishops there urged delegates to the meeting to remain faithful to the Book of Discipline.
 
R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast May 23, “This is a denomination that decided, yet again, not to decide. But at the same time, the exhaustion  ...  is clearly very evident, as is the threat of schism, which is very real.
 
“Was this a victory for the more evangelical wing of the church or the more liberal wing of the church? On that score, we’ll simply have to say time will tell. But neither side got what they wanted out of the 2016 General Conference,” Mohler said on “The Briefing.”
 
Kidd told BP, “We should pray that, led by traditionalist African Methodists, the United Methodist Church may also continue to hold the line on the biblical definition and practice of marriage, in spite of the labors of some gay and lesbian activist Methodists in America.”
 
The General Conference rejected efforts to pass divestment proposals seen as anti-Israel. The delegates defeated 559-167 an amendment seeking to divest from illegal settlements on occupied lands, UMNS reported. Earlier at the conference, the Finance and Administration Legislative Committee refused to back an attempt calling for divestment from companies that do business in Israel, according to UMNS.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

5/25/2016 12:59:22 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Missouri appeals court orders Baptist foundation’s return

May 25 2016 by Missouri Baptist Convention & Baptist Press staff

The Missouri Baptist Convention’s governance of the Missouri Baptist Foundation must be restored, the Missouri Court of Appeals – Western District ruled May 24.
 
The decision is among an array of court proceedings stemming from actions by breakaway trustees of the foundation, with $150 million in assets, and four other Missouri Baptist Convention entities in 2000-2001.
 
The appeals court ruling, announced by Chief Judge Alok Ahuja, upholds all facets of an October 2014 judgment by the Circuit Court of Cole County ordering the restoration of foundation governance to MBC-elected trustees.
 
The foundation appealed the trial decision to the Missouri appeals court, which heard arguments in September 2015 and handed down its decision May 24 to end some 15 years of control by a self-appointed, self-perpetuating trustee board. The foundation may appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court – its final option after repeated setbacks in the lower courts.
 
The appeals court, in its ruling, stated that “the Convention has standing to challenge the Foundation’s disregard of provisions of its organizational documents which gave the Convention the right to review and approve any amendments.”
 
The court cited a 1994 charter of the 70-year-old Missouri Baptist Foundation defining it as “a charitable corporation” under Missouri statutes “to support the mission of Missouri Baptists by ‘developing, managing and distributing financial resources … as the trust service agency of the Missouri Baptist Convention.’”
 
Repercussions for the breakaway foundation included Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees voting unanimously in 2003 to remove about $877,000 in funds and re-invest those funds with the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma.
 
“We are so grateful for the court’s decisive ruling,” said John Yeats, the Missouri convention’s executive director. “We are eager to welcome the foundation back into the MBC family, and we look forward to a smooth transition in governance for the benefit of all investors.”
 
The appeals court also left standing a lower-court ruling on attorney’s fees and costs for the litigation. The trial court had ordered the foundation to pay the convention’s legal fees and costs, finding intentional misconduct on the part of the trustees of the breakaway board.
 
Church Mutual Insurance paid the MBC $5 million to settle the fee claim in January of this year.
 
In 2001 the board of the foundation broke from the MBC, changing its charter in violation of a charter clause requiring MBC consent. The purported amendments declaring its board self-perpetuating also violated MBC governing documents.
 
After months of seeking private reconciliation and even binding Christian arbitration – all of which the self-perpetuating board rejected – the MBC sought a declaratory judgment for a judge’s interpretation of the law and documents, as a last resort to return the foundation to Missouri Baptists.
 
“Our prayer, and our humble desire before God, is that the foundation’s self-appointed board would graciously acknowledge the court’s ruling and end the prolonged legal battles that have been a distraction to the MBC’s mission of transforming lives and communities with the gospel,” Yeats said.
 
The Missouri Baptist Foundation was one of five MBC subsidiary corporations which broke from the convention in 2000-2001 by changing their charters to create self-perpetuating trustee boards. The other breakaway entities are the 1,300-acre Windermere Baptist Conference Center along the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri Baptist University, The Baptist Home retirement center and Word & Way newsjournal.
 
Although the breakaway Windermere board continues to exist, the conference center deeded about 970 acres to a lender about 10 years ago in lieu of foreclosure, leading to the 2014 recovery by the MBC of 970 acres for $1.6 million, a heavily discounted price.
 
Convention court action continues for recovering Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home retirement center. Both entity’s charters contain a consent clause similar to the foundation’s, so the May 24 appeals court ruling may be vital to the resolution of the other cases.
 
The Word & Way has been replaced by The Pathway newsjournal of the convention.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of the Missouri Baptist Convention and Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.)

5/25/2016 12:55:26 PM by Missouri Baptist Convention & Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Zoo Church Village helps Arkansas women out of addiction

May 25 2016 by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News

As most would agree, life can be a real zoo – full of obstacles, struggles and temptations. But The Zoo Church Village in Dennard is helping women overcome these struggles, specifically those involving addiction.
 
The church is doing so through its new women’s ministry, Zoo Outfitters Operation (ZOO): Outfitting Women to Live Without Addiction, which began in March. The goal of the biblically based program is to help women rid themselves of their addictions to alcohol and drugs.
 
Pastor Rick Montgomery said The Zoo Church Village, a Baptist church located at the site of an old roadside zoo that has been renovated, is located in one of the most notorious locations in Arkansas for making and using methamphetamine, so the ZOO program is needed.
 
The program’s focal verse is Titus 2:12, which speaks about the command to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
 
A desire to start the ministry had been on church members’ hearts for years, he explained. The church’s property was so run down when they acquired it about five years ago that church members didn’t realize its potential, he said. But as they cleaned it up, they realized God had provided them with a location for ministry.
 
“So from the get-go, from about six months in, we planned to do this women’s ministry because it’s so desperately needed,” he said.
 
Several programs are available for men, he said, but not many for women.
 
“It’s really a need, and I think the New Testament Church is supposed to meet those needs, so we’re really excited about it,” he said.
 
“You know, if you can’t find Christ, you’re probably not going to get rid of your addictions,” he said, noting he truly believes “Christ is the answer to the problems.”
 
To participate, women must meet certain criteria, complete a series of interviews as well as a physical and a background check. Each participant must also pay an entry fee and submit to a drug test, though Montgomery clarified that the inability to pay the whole fee or pass the drug test does not necessarily prohibit one from entering the program.
 
Women are encouraged to pay a little each week, and the program also seeks supporters to give monthly amounts in order to keep the program afloat.
 
Additionally, women are required to attend church. In fact, they must attend a church service before being considered as a candidate.
 
Montgomery said the residential program is fashioned after several similar programs, such as Renewal Ranch in Conway.
 
During the six-month program, women work on the property and attend biblical classes “that direct them to live for Christ.”
 
“In the process of learning how to live for Christ, some of them will probably find Christ,” he said.
 
Without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit within a person, he said, “Some of these addictions – especially methamphetamine – I think they are just almost impossible to get over.”
 
In addition, volunteer counselors work with participants weekly.
 
Montgomery hopes that after women complete the program, the church can help them transition to a local motel for another six months so they can monitor the women as they get jobs and transition into normal life.
 
“This is just a passion for us. ... We covet everyone’s prayers,” Montgomery said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, arkansasbaptist.org. Jessica Vanderpool is a former senior assistant editor for the Arkansas Baptist News.

5/25/2016 11:57:03 AM by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments



Floyd among evangelicals to meet with Trump

May 24 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd is among perhaps 500 evangelicals and other conservatives planning to meet with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump about his faith and values at a June 21 meeting in New York.
 
Family Research Council President and Southern Baptist Tony Perkins, and United In Purpose leader Bill Dallas who partners with nearly 50 groups to uphold biblical principles in the U.S., recruited Floyd among a small group of leaders to spearhead the meeting as the steering committee.
 
Members of the steering committee will question Trump before the larger meeting, but logistics and details of the gatherings were still being communicated, Floyd told Baptist Press. The meeting is billed as an opportunity to share information, values, principles and beliefs.
 
“We want to talk to Mr. Trump humbly. He doesn’t need to hear us preach. He needs to hear our heart,” Floyd said. “We need to talk to him about what matters to us. The term evangelical is not a voting bloc. The term evangelical is a name tag, a declaration of who we are, about various truths of the Scripture.”

Photo by Matt Miller, Baptist Press
Ronnie Floyd

 

U.S. Supreme Court nomination opportunities, the sanctity of human life, religious liberty and racial reconciliation are topics Floyd hopes to address in the meeting. He expects to be able to invite other Southern Baptists to the meeting, he said, but is awaiting details.
 
Two former SBC presidents Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, are other prominent Southern Baptists already involved in the venture.
 
The meeting is not designed to endorse a particular candidate, and Floyd is not aware that any members of the steering committee have endorsed or taken sides against Trump.
 
Floyd said he doesn’t know where the meeting will lead, but encouraged Southern Baptists to continue to demonstrate love during this political season.
 
“Regardless of how passionate they are about all this, we don’t need to judge one another for where people may be and have various positions. There are many Southern Baptists who have supported Donald Trump and there may be many others who end up supporting Donald Trump, and we don’t need to cast suspicion on people that do,” Floyd said. “And if we speak out, we need to speak out about the issues, and we need to be very careful that we speak out in a spirit of love and we do so in a way that honors God.
 
Trump’s rise to the top of a crowded Republican slate of 17 candidates was unexpected, Floyd said, but evidently indicative of the mood of the nation.
 
“People can say what they want about Mr. Trump, and they can have their personal opinion, but it is unquestionable that he is speaking to the heart of the American public, or else he would have never” surpassed the other candidates, Floyd said. “America is desperate for leadership.
 
“Mr. Trump has a very demonstrative way to lead. He led with extreme boldness along the way, making statements that people thought would never be received, but they have been received, embraced and endorsed by many people, and that’s why they have voted for him so aggressively and generously.”
 
Floyd said he and other Southern Baptists have a responsibility to participate in the political process.
 
“Evangelicals cannot sit this out,” he said. “I think we have a biblical responsibility and I think we have a responsibility as citizens of the United States to participate and be a part of the political processes of this country. Men and women have died on the battle fields all across this world so that I might have that liberty and that privilege, and I will take that privilege always with humility and give honor to our nation, regardless of where our nation is, because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
 
Christians must pray, vote and be willing to treat with respect whomever God chooses as the nation’s next leader, Floyd noted.
 
“Whoever ends up being president, we must support and we must encourage in relationship to praying for them and being engaged in the processes of American life that are afforded to us by the Constitution,” he said. “Southern Baptists need to go to the polls. Southern Baptists need to be leading the way in being a part of this process. We cannot be seen as not interested or so mad we’re not going to be engaged. I just don’t think that’s healthy.”
 
Floyd expressed disappointed that neither political candidate has discussed racial reconciliation, a topic Floyd will address at the SBC’s annual meeting June 14-15 in St. Louis.
 
“We have a conversation that has been totally ignored, and it’s one of the greatest problems in the country today. I would like to ask Mr. Trump, whoever else is left and ends up running … ‘what do you plan on doing about that?’” Floyd said. “But I also want to tell them, you need to call upon the church to be the church, because in my humble opinion government is not going to solve that. The church has got to step up regardless of what the government does.”
 
United In Purpose, responsible for many logistics of the meeting, was not available for comment. The groups describes itself as working “to unite and equip like-minded conservative organizations to increase their reach, impact, and influence through the latest technology, research and marketing strategies for the purpose of bringing about a culture change in America based on Judeo-Christian principles.”
 
Among United In Purpose partners are Americans United for Life, the Iowa Association of Regular Baptist Churches, CatholicVote.org., the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Liberty University, Regent University, Tea Party Express, The Frederick Douglas Foundation, Unity Coalition for Israel and the Kitchen Cabinet.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

5/24/2016 12:08:44 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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