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Houston mayor to drop subpoenas of ministers

October 30 2014 by Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

The subpoenas will be withdrawn, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced Oct. 29.
The word “subpoenas” grabbed national attention after it became known that five Houston ministers were being subpoenaed for sermons and other private correspondence regarding their opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
“I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion,” Parker said in a news conference, according to the Houston Chronicle, “when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack. And by taking this step today we remove that discussion about freedom of religion.” Parker, who is openly gay, championed the ordinance known as HERO among its supporters.
The subpoenas were part of the city’s effort to defend itself against a lawsuit challenging its disqualification of a petition drive to vote on the ordinance, which has added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Houston’s list of protected classifications such as race, religion, sex and disability.
Foes of the ordinance, adopted in a controversial city council vote in May, have voiced concern that it will violate the religious freedom of business owners and others who disagree with the measure’s expanded classifications.
Also, opponents say it will make women and children vulnerable to sexual predators by permitting people to use public restrooms of the gender they identify with rather than those of their natural gender.
Among the subpoenaed pastors: Khanh Huynh, senior pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation.
Parker’s announcement followed meetings she had with pastors on Oct. 28, one with local pastors and one with seven pastors who flew to Houston to speak with the mayor, the Chronicle reported.
Myke Crowder, one of the out-of-town pastors, told the Chronicle, “What we did was to simply respectfully articulate our concerns ... [to] help her to understand a broader picture than what she might have seen before. She honestly listened, she asked hard questions, fair questions, and we gave her fair and honest answers.” Crowder, from Layton, Utah, is pastor of Christian Life Church there.
An “I Stand Sunday” simulcast (http://istandsunday.com) slated for Nov. 2 will go forward, a key organizer told Baptist Press. The rally is being sponsored by the Family Research Council based in Washington, D.C. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is slated to be among the featured speakers, along with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Fox TV host; Ed Young, a former SBC president and longtime pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church; “Duck Dynasty” personality Phil Robertson; and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes.
Floyd, in an Oct. 29 statement to Baptist Press, said he still plans to be there. “We look forward to holding high the necessity of religious liberty in our nation as well as the desperate need for revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America,” Floyd said.
The subpoenas, which broke into the news in mid-October though they were issued in September, have been met with widespread protest and alarm.
Baptist theological conservatives and moderates, for example, joined in an Oct. 16 letter to Parker asking her and the city “to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.”
“This is about more than ‘walking back’ a bad public relations move,” the Baptist leaders, including Russell D. Moore of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in the letter. “This is about something that is fundamental to basic, self-evident rights ... endowed not by government but by nature and nature’s God.”
Floyd, in an Oct. 20 blog as SBC president, wrote, “Regardless of the nature of communications they want from the pastors and churches, this ... is a clear attempt to silence the voice of the Church in Houston, Texas, America, and the world....
“Southern Baptist family, we must rise up together and be clear in Houston and beyond,” Floyd, pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, wrote. “While many in mainline denominations will shy away from this discussion, and some evangelicals may also be silent, as Baptists, we must rise up and be very clear.... God alone is the Lord of the conscience and Government has no right to manipulate or intimidate any of us regarding religious conviction and practice.”
Huckabee, in a commentary about “the heavy-handed” Houston mayor during his Oct. 18 “Huckabee” program on Fox, said, “So, I’ve got an idea – if she wants some sermons, here’s my suggestion. I’d like to ask every pastor in America, not just the ones in Houston, send her your sermons. Obviously, she could use a few. So, if you’re a pastor, send them to her. And here’s another thought, everybody watching the show ought to send her a Bible. That’s right, everybody. I hope she gets thousands and thousands of sermons and Bibles.”
News reports have acknowledged an influx of sermons to Parker’s office through such protests by Huckabee and others.
“Should the government demand that pastors hand over their sermons, sermon notes and even correspondence with their members?” Huckabee asked in his commentary. “Sure, it happens in North Korea, China and Iran, but should churches in America just sit back and shut up when their religious liberty, free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion is directly threatened? Just when you thought someone in government couldn’t display greater disregard for the Constitution after all the things like the Internal Revenue Service scandals, spying on reporters, collecting our emails and phone records, and forcing taxpayers to fund the slaughter of unborn children, we see yet another stunning example of reckless abuse of power.”
In addition to Huynh, the other subpoenaed ministers are Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, and three pastors: Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church, where the I Stand Sunday rally will be hosted; Magda Hermida of Magda Hermida Ministries; and Hernan Castano of Rios de Aceite. The ministers are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city but have been outspoken in their opposition to the ordinance as members of the No UNequal Rights Coalition.
After enactment of the ordinance in May, opponents began a petition drive to place repeal of the ordinance before Houston voters. They submitted about 31,000 signatures – among more than 50,000 collected and nearly 14,000 more than required to qualify for a referendum. City attorney David Feldman, however, disqualified enough of the signatures to prevent a vote on repeal. In response, HERO opponents filed suit, seeking to gain court approval for a referendum. A court hearing is scheduled for January.
The subpoenas had demanded a wide range of communications by the ministers, include not only emails and text messages but: “All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition [for a referendum to overturn the ordinance], Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” The city threatened contempt of court charges – with the possibility of fines and/or jail time – if the pastors did not comply. The word “sermons” later was dropped but failed to quell the outcry.
The I Stand Sunday simulcast is slated to begin at 6 p.m. Central time, originating from Grace Community Church, 14505 Gulf Freeway in Houston.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. With reporting by Bonnie Pritchett of the Southern Baptist TEXAN and Tom Strode, BP’s Washington bureau chief.)

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10/30/2014 12:00:40 PM by Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Former homosexuals: Gospel approach needed

October 30 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Evangelical Christians need to change their approach to the hot-button issues of homosexuality and marriage, thinking with a gospel focus and practicing gospel community, participants in a national conference were told Oct. 28.
Southern Baptist leaders, former practicing homosexuals and others provided guidance to a crowd of about 1,300 registrants on the second day of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) first national conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.” The event at Opryland Retreat and Conference Center concluded Oct. 29.
Evangelicals cannot repeat the “same old mistakes” in which they “slowly adapted to a sexual revolution that is now ravaging our churches and our culture,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the ERLC.
Instead, “we contend for marriage and we contend for family and we contend for holiness, but we do this in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. If evangelicals make the same mistakes, Moore told attendees, “we won’t just lose a marriage culture; we will lose the gospel itself.”
Poet Jackie Hill-Perry, who came to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle, said a church that “is gospel-centered with gospel-centered people” is what has helped her the most in following Jesus. “My greatest growth has been in being connected to a community,” she said.


ERLC photo
Russell Moore talks with Rosaria Butterfield on “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”

Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian and now a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother, said, “One of the first things that we can commit ourselves to doing is being a community of believers who share the gift of repentance unto life in a way that other people can see.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if just this week all of your unsaved neighbors actually knew that church membership was a vital, life-giving gift to you,” she said.
David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, pointed attendees to the missiological implications of marriage and singleness. Both portray the gospel, he said. “The purpose of marriage is for the display of the gospel and a demonstration of the glory of our God,” Platt said.
“Today’s cultural climate provides a huge opportunity for gospel witness,” he said.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, urged the audience to follow the New Testament directives for Christians to love and act kindly toward those who oppose them on the marriage issue.
“If you want to fight the culture, you’re not going to win the culture. You’ve got to persuade the culture,” he said.
“We are soaked in an ocean of His grace, and we don’t want to give a cup to anybody.”
Moore said, “If we are responding to those who disagree with us with vented outrage and shock and horror and condemnation, what we are revealing is a lack of confidence in the gospel, in our mission, in our Christ.”
The Oct. 28 addresses and panel discussions continued a recurring theme in the three-day event of calling Christians to preach and live out faithfulness to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and marriage while also reaching out graciously to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as advocates for same-sex marriage.
Evangelicals did not fare well in the last battle over marriage, which resulted in a divorce culture, Moore said. He pointed to four reasons that happened:

  • “We unintentionally accepted the view of marriage of the culture without ever even knowing that we were doing so.

  • “We were often cowardly and fearful.

  • “The divorce culture happened because it became normal to us.

  • “The reason we adapted to this is because the preaching on this issue was often so genuinely condemnable,” not calling for repentance and not offering reconciliation through Christ.

Of the church’s cowardice, Moore said, “If we are simply standing up and editing the Word of God when it comes to our own sins, if we are willing to preach the gospel except for the very thing that is ravaging our churches at that moment, we are not preaching the gospel at all; we are simply selling indulgences.”
The family values evangelicals assumed the rest of culture shared with them “are no longer there,” Moore told attendees, adding in a reference to John 3. “We cannot go back to the Nicodemus culture of superficial religion.
“Baptizing lost people and teaching them how to vote Republican is not a revival.”
The current upheaval in culture may mean some churches will become unfaithful, while “there are many other congregations that will become authentically counter-cultural communities that stand with the gospel no matter what,” Moore said. “That will mean that we will be uncomfortable with American culture, and we always should have been uncomfortable in American culture.”
Platt drew four missiological conclusions from foundational truths found in Gen. 1-3:

  • “We must flee sexual immorality for the sake of God’s glory in the world.

  • “We must defend and display sexual complementarity in marriage for the spread of God’s gospel in the world.

  • “We must work for justice in the world in order to exalt the judge of the world.

  • “We must spend our singleness and our marriages pursuing peoples still unreached by God’s redeeming love.”

Platt said, “Our bodies have been created not just by God. Our bodies have been created for God.” This culture “screams at every turn, ‘Please your body.’ The Bible shouts at every turn, ‘Please God,’” he said.
In a question-and-answer session with Moore, Butterfield told about God’s salvation of her out of “serially monogamous lesbian relationships” over 10 years. She said of the pastor who, along with his wife, patiently cared for and shared the gospel with her, “I never felt like a project, because Ken Smith always realized that the big sin in my life was unbelief, and everything else would get worked out in the wash.”
The author of the book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert said “People are not different. Original sin is the great leveling playing field. It democratizes everything. “
In addition to the ministry of other Christians, Hill-Perry, who was married earlier this year, cited two other truths that can help Christians struggling with same-sex attraction: (1) Christians are new creations, and (2) Jesus is “not only Savior from sin but in temptation.”
British pastor Sam Allberry, who has acknowledged he deals with same-sex attraction, commented on the charge that Christians who teach the biblical message on homosexuality harm same-sex-attracted young people:
“We’re not the ones saying that sex is everything. And my concern is that a culture that says, ‘You are your sexuality; sexual fulfillment is the key to human fulfillment,’ I want to turn around and say, ‘Actually, I think that is putting more pressure on young minds and lives than anything we’re saying.’”
Christopher Yuan, a former practicing homosexual who now teaches at Moody Bible Institute, counseled parents to love their LGBT children, which is what his father and mother did.
“I think the last thing is to kick them out of the home,” Yuan said.
“There’s a total war going on,” he said. “And if we push or let go, you’re just pushing them into the world, into the arms of an embracing world. We’ve got to show them what real love is like.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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10/30/2014 11:48:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marijuana: Can U.S. ‘Just say no’?

October 30 2014 by Warren Cole Smith, WNS/Baptist Press

Manitou Springs, a resort town at the foot of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, takes pride in its weirdness and seems to adopt a flippant attitude toward marijuana use. A popular T-shirt plays on the town’s elevation – 6,412 feet above sea level – by suggesting that “the whole town is high.”
But now that Colorado’s Amendment 64 has made recreational marijuana legal in the state, Manitou Springs is wrestling with just how weird and how high it wants to be, since the amendment allows towns to decide for themselves whether to have retail dispensaries.
Like Manitou Springs, many communities are grappling with how to handle marijuana. Since 2012, Washington state also has legalized it for recreational use, and medical marijuana is now legal in 24 states. Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana Nov. 4.
Marijuana possession is prohibited by federal law, but the Obama administration has opted not to prosecute for possession of small amounts in states where pot is legal.
Moral and ethical concerns about pot use are changing. In the 1980s, critics derided the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs and called Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign simplistic, but marijuana use among teens plummeted during that era. By 1990 four of five Americans thought marijuana should be illegal.
Today’s polls, however, show that most Americans favor legalization. In Oklahoma, one of the nation’s reddest states, Democratic state Sen. Constance Johnson is heading an effort to legalize marijuana with, she said, “Genesis 1:29 as the basis of this campaign.” (Genesis 1:29 says, “God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed ... upon the face of all the earth.’”) Johnson, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Oklahoma, hoped to collect 160,000 signatures to put both recreational and medical marijuana on the ballot in November, but she fell short.
Johnson’s debatable use of scripture aside, other questions remain: Is marijuana safe? Do we know what will happen to its price (and therefore its demand) wherever it becomes legal? Is smoking marijuana for relaxation or recreation at home really different from having a glass of wine or, for that matter, cups of coffee that also can have a mind-altering effect?
Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council (FRC) has examined these questions and concluded that marijuana should not be legalized because “marijuana is intrinsically hallucinogenic and is mind-altering in even the smallest doses.” Today’s marijuana has much higher levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient, than did marijuana available in the past, Schwarzwalder notes.
Among the 60-plus active ingredients in marijuana, some of them can have positive health effects in pill form, such as relieving pain or reducing seizures, Schwarzwalder acknowledges. He does not object to the use of medical derivatives of marijuana in carefully created compounds and for specific applications, “but there’s a difference between taking a pill and smoking a joint. ... Medication taken in pill form is not hallucinogenic.”
Schwarzwalder thinks carefully crafted public policy can allow medical uses of marijuana-based drugs while maintaining a firm stand on legalization, which both he and the FRC oppose. “We use opiates as pain relievers, but no one advocates the legalization of opium,” he points out.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, takes a similar stance on marijuana. Legalizing recreational marijuana is ill-advised because it often can be a gateway drug to more dangerous substances. Marijuana also introduces toxic chemicals into the body and leads to crime and poverty, Duke has argued in Baptist Press columns.
Legal prescription drugs containing marijuana’s pain relieving ingredient and taken in capsule form can benefit patients suffering from a range of medical conditions, Duke wrote, but the idea of smoking marijuana for medical purposes is questionable.
“The rush to decriminalization in the name of pain control or mental health cannot be justified,” Duke wrote. “Most people who use marijuana to relieve severe pain combine it with stronger pain relievers because marijuana is not effective enough by itself. Furthermore, marijuana’s pain-relieving ingredient has been available by prescription for years. A person can purchase Marinol – right now – with a doctor’s prescription.”

Marijuana-based drugs

Emergency room doctor Tom Minahan, after walking a long and difficult road with his daughter Mallory, opposes the legalization of marijuana but recognizes its potential medical uses.
Minahan, the father of four, is the medical director for two pro-life pregnancy care centers and is active in a California evangelical church who attests, “We take our Christian faith seriously.” But Minahan and his wife Carrin found themselves in a faith-challenging situation when Mallory, now 11, had her first epileptic seizures at 14 months. “Over the next decade or more, we tried everything,” Mallory says of giving his daughter a dozen drugs, sometimes three at once, to control or eliminate the 30-40 seizures she had each month.
Nothing worked, so the Minahans considered giving their daughter Felbatol, which has such serious side effects – including a significant chance of death – that it is truly a last resort. Minahan hated the idea of giving his daughter a drug that might kill her, and the doctor in him was aware of the Hippocratic Oath he had taken: “First, do no harm.” But, he said, “I was at the end of the line. I remember driving to work one day praying, ‘OK, God. I give up. Either fix her or take her home.’”
Before giving Mallory the drug, Minahan decided to attend a conference on cannabis and epilepsy at New York University where he “was surprised to find only a few tie-dyed people. Most of them were pretty normal.” He learned about a strain of marijuana that is low in the hallucinogenic THC and high in CBD (cannabidiol), a non-hallucenogenic compound. Some people with seizures had success taking an oil made from that strain.
Minahan had concerns about the long-term side effects of the marijuana oil. That’s one of the problems with allowing widespread marijuana use: The research on both health effects and societal effects is minimal. That may seem surprising since marijuana has been used widely for a half-century, and archaeologists have found cannabis seeds in Chinese and other tombs dating back at least 3,000 years, but large-scale and long-term scientific studies that meet rigorous academic standards are rare.
Yet for Minahan, the marijuana oil couldn’t be worse than the seizures and drugs that had taken over Mallory’s life. She had not been in school for three years. The constant worry and stress strained his marriage. So beginning in October 2013 he gave marijuana oil a try and “saw immediate effects.” The frequency of seizures declined and Mallory started needing less of her other drugs. By July of this year, Minahan could say, “Mallory’s had just one seizure in the past five weeks. She’s back in school. We have our daughter back. We have our lives back.”
Despite his experience, Minahan is “not a proponent of marijuana first. ... We don’t need America stoned.” He knows that so-called medical marijuana is often a ruse for recreational use and believes people should first exhaust conventional means before trying marijuana-based drugs.
Even though Minahan opposes recreational marijuana use, he realizes that legalizing marijuana could help him indirectly by causing the price to drop. He currently pays about $2,000 per month for Mallory’s marijuana oil, of which his insurance pays nothing. Legalization or even the less radical step of decriminalization – a fine rather than jail time for possession of small amounts – likely will cause a large drop in the price of marijuana.
But some experts say a drop in price will cost society more than it will benefit families like the Minahans. Among the costs of legalization or decriminalization are increased consumption, states Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know.
For states that opt to legalize marijuana, “it is reasonable to incorporate a sunset provision that makes the laws revert back to what they were before reform ... unless extended by the voters or the legislature,” Kilmer said. He cited as justification for a sunset provision “the enormous uncertainty about the outcomes of policy changes and the strong possibility of unintended consequences.”
Few states are following that advice. Neither Colorado nor Washington has a sunset provision in its legislation, and none of the provisions on the fall ballot has sunset provisions.

To legalize or not

Which comes back to Manitou Springs. On a cold night back in January, more than 200 people attended a heated city council meeting, the largest crowd in anyone’s memory in this town of barely 5,000 people. At issue: Could recreational marijuana be legally sold in the town? Mayor Marc Snyder and others in favor said the tax revenue would be more than $160,000 per year, “very significant” for a town the size of Manitou.
Those opposed said the revenue projections – though required by law – have little basis in experience and will likely prove wildly inaccurate. Besides, opponents said, much of the money would have to pay for the problems pot sales would create. Because surrounding towns – including Manitou’s much larger neighbor Colorado Springs – had banned marijuana sales, opponents said Manitou Springs would become a destination for marijuana tourism, a place people would come to get high. A few argued that smoking pot was just plain wrong.
The final vote of the Manitou Springs city council was 6-1 to allow retail sales, but over the summer enough voters signed a citizen petition that the question will be back before voters in November. Although Amendment 64 passed in 2012 with 68 percent of the vote, when voters have cast ballots on retail sales in their own towns, the pro-pot vote has been much lower. Mayor Snyder thinks the November vote – even in this town that takes pride in its progressive posture – “could be very close.”
In the meantime, Manitou Springs’ single retail store opened in July. About 75 people waited in the rain to get in. Among them: Kevin “Sarge” MacDonald, a Manitou Springs city councilman.
More than one local news report noted that the marijuana dispensary is conveniently located next to a Loaf ‘N Jug, a Colorado-based convenience store chain. It seems unlikely, though, that a case of the munchies will be the only side effect of legalizing recreational marijuana.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Warren Cole Smith is vice president of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) and WORLD News Service. Used by permission. David Roach, Baptist Press chief national correspondent, contributed to this article.)

10/30/2014 11:36:31 AM by Warren Cole Smith, WNS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pope’s evolution claims ‘frustrating’

October 30 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Pope Francis’ comments that evolution and the big bang theory do not conflict with Christian doctrine have drawn varied responses from evangelical commentators, with some saying he has departed from scripture and others claiming he made at least some valid points.
The idea that some species of living creatures evolved into other species over millions of years “is absolutely incompatible with Genesis for several reasons,” Terry Mortenson, a full-time speaker with Answers in Genesis, told Baptist Press. “The order in which God created in Genesis 1 contradicts the order in which creatures supposedly appeared in the evolutionary story at many places.”
Genesis’ claim that earth was created before the sun, moon and stars “flies in the face of the big bang, which is an evolutionary explanation for the origin of the cosmos,” Mortenson said.
Addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Oct. 27, the pope warned against “imagining God was a magician with a magic wand able to do everything,” according to a translation of his remarks by Religion News Service.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
Francis added according to a Reuters report, “The big bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God. On the contrary, it requires it.”
Mortenson countered – contrary to big bang proponents’ claim that the earth is billions of years old – that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and living creatures were created by a direct act of God rather than evolutionary processes.
“Genesis is very emphatic in teaching God supernaturally created the first kinds of plants and animals and the first two human beings,” Mortenson said, “and then the text is very clear in saying that all subsequent plants and animals and people would come through those original supernaturally created creatures by natural procreation.”
Claims that earth is millions rather than thousands of years old are driven by ideology more than science, Mortenson said, because scientific dating procedures assume without empirical justification that certain natural processes – like the decay of radioactive isotopes or the addition of salt to oceans – have always occurred at the same rate.
If the pope’s remarks have been translated accurately in English press reports, they demonstrate “that he doesn’t really understand creationist arguments,” Mortenson said.
But Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, agreed with Francis’ claim that the big bang requires belief in God.
The big bang posits that the universe had a beginning, and everything that begins to exist has a cause, Gordon told Baptist Press in an email interview. So the universe had a cause, according to the big bang.
“Reflection on the nature of this cause reveals that: (1) logically prior to creation it must have been timeless; (2) logically prior to creation it must have been immaterial and (since there was no space) not physically located; and (3) [it must have been] capable of acting so as to bring into a existence a universe of space-time and mass-energy that requires considerable fine-tuning in order to be able to support life,” said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.
“The only viable candidate for a cause of the universe is ... a being with divine attributes and abilities,” he said.
There “could be” a “way of understanding macroevolution [the idea that some species evolved into others] that is consistent with Genesis,” Gordon said. “Yet when the paleontological, molecular biological and genetic evidence is considered, macroevolution is more likely false than true.”
The idea espoused by Darwinists that humans evolved “through a process that was not directed at any level” is “deeply inconsistent with the Genesis account of creation and also deeply inconsistent with what we observe to be biologically possible,” Gordon said.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Francis’ remarks are troubling in at least two ways. First, they seem to contradict the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.”
The pope’s statement that God is not a “magician” with a “magic wand” seems to imply “that God the creator is somehow in His act of creating accountable to laws external to Himself,” Mohler said Oct. 29 on his daily podcast. “The moment you do that, you actually depart from the Christian tradition. You are departing from the very clear statements of scripture.”
Second, Francis – and the two popes preceding him – apparently endorse a version of evolutionary theory that affirms the special creation of humans and the historical existence of Adam and Eve. But “no acceptable theory of evolution held in any major academic setting in the world makes those allowances,” Mohler said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ” and that “because of its common origin the human race forms a unity, for ‘from one ancestor (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.’“
The Catholic Church “publicly says there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical and Christian understanding of creation,” Mohler said. “But they actually redefine at both ends of the equation ... That’s why it becomes so frustrating to evangelicals when we are told that the Roman Catholic Church says there’s no conflict.”
Mohler expressed surprise that there has not been more discussion of the pope’s statement that “God is not a divine being,” according to the Religion News Service translation of his remarks. The statement may be misreported, Mohler said, adding that Francis likely meant God is not an impersonal deity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/30/2014 11:18:53 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marriage crisis predated gay marriage, ERLC speakers say

October 29 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The crisis in marriage preceded the rapid rise of legalized same-sex unions, and the church faces a daunting challenge in addressing it, speakers told 1,300 attendees on the first day of a Southern Baptist conference on the issue.
Southern Baptist and other Christian leaders addressed a gamut of related issues Oct. 27 at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) first national conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.” A capacity crowd gathered at the Opryland Resort and Conference Center in Nashville at a time when court rulings have cleared the way for the legalization of gay marriage in 35 states, the percentage of never-married Americans is at a record high, cohabitation has become the default position of many adults and divorce remains a problem in the culture and church.
The conference continued Oct. 28 and will conclude Oct. 29.
Addressing Christian ministry in a “post-marriage culture,” R. Albert Mohler opened the event by saying the crisis regarding the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as a permanent union of a man and a woman began “with the heterosexual subversion of marriage.”
“The divorce revolution has done far more harm to marriage than same-sex marriage will ever do,” the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told the audience made up primarily of pastors and other young adults. Heterosexuals “showed how to destroy marriage by making it a tentative, hypothetical union for so long as it may last, turning it only into a contract” that produced a “consumer good,” Mohler said.
“By the time the moral revolution on same-sex relations arrived on the scene, most of the moral revolution had already happened,” he said.


ERLC Photo
A group of panelists speak during the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” held Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. Those pictured include Phillip Bethancourt, Albert Mohler, D.A. Horton, Robert Sloan and Russell Moore.


Other speakers pointed to the victory of romantic love over all other forms of love in the American mind as a major reason for the marriage catastrophe.
“I think we as a culture have already redefined marriage to a large extent,” said Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources and a popular blogger. The culture moved away from a “common-good” understanding of marriage to the view of the institution as a romantic, sexual relationship between two consenting adults who want to commit to one another and have the government’s approval, he said.
The romanticized view of love and marriage is “already prevalent in evangelical churches,” Wax said.
During the same panel discussion on millennials and marriage, cultural commentator John Stonestreet said, “Same-sex marriage is not the root of any problems. It’s the fruit of missing what the point of marriage actually is.
“It’s time to rebuild marriage. Stop talking about defending it and start rebuilding,” said Stonestreet, a fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He added, “There’s not much left to defend on a cultural level.”
Sherif Girgis, who cowrote a book arguing for the traditional view of marriage, said cultural indicators demonstrate why the issue is so important.
“Every aspect of the common good depends on a strong marriage. This is Matthew 25 stuff,” Girgis said, referring to Jesus’ words about the “least of these” in His teaching on the final judgment. “It is a matter of social justice. That’s why your congregation should care about it. That’s why we can’t give this up or think that it’s just a matter for the church. We owe it to the least of these to make sure that wherever possible our culture gives them the best shot at being reared by the love of the man and woman who gave them life.”
Western civilization is in the final stage of a moral revolution – one that is “happening at warp speed,” Mohler told attendees. British theologian Theo Hobson has said three things must happen for a moral revolution to occur. Those developments, Mohler said, are:

  • “Something that was nearly universally condemned is now nearly universally celebrated.

  • “That which was celebrated is condemned.

  • “Those who refuse to celebrate are condemned.”

The church is now in a position of being “a moral minority,” Mohler said.
“We are accustomed to ministry from the top side in the culture, not from the underside,” he said. “We are accustomed to speaking from a position of strength and respect and credibility. And now we are going to be facing the reality that we are already, in much of America, speaking from a position of a loss of credibility.”
Responding to this situation, Mohler said, “is going to take an awful lot of Christian thinking. It’s going to take a lot of prayer, a lot of agonizing conversations. . . . the kind of conversations that take place in the middle of an emergency.”
Mohler acknowledged he has been mistaken on a couple of points in writing about the issue of homosexuality for about 30 years. Early in the debate, Mohler said, he denied “anything like sexual orientation” because he thought it necessary to make the gospel clear. “I repent of that,” he said.
He believes a biblical, theological understanding of homosexuality is “far more deeply rooted than just the will,” Mohler said, adding Genesis 3 explains this is “deeply rooted in the biblical story itself and something we need to take far more seriously than we have in the past.”
Other speakers encouraged attendees to think and act biblically toward those with whom they differ on these issues.
“We need to recognize that even though we disagree with the gay rights movement on many things, including sexual morality, including the definition of marriage, there are some human dignity issues involved,” ERLC President Russell D. Moore said. “And we also need to recognize that we have gay and lesbian persons created in the image of God who are treated with indignity and really with evil and wickedness in many places in the world.”
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said during a panel discussion, “The one thing that’s hurt our witness most is the tone” with which it has been conducted. That has “brought on some of the condemnation not on what we’ve said” but how it has been said, he told the audience.
Glenn Stanton, director for global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, urged attendees to develop genuine friendships with people who disagree with them.
“The great divider between us and them – and I hate to use that term ... – is not sexuality,” Stanton said. “The great equalizer is our sin. The great equalizer is our need for repentance and new life in Christ.”
Friendship “is not a means to an end,” he said. “It is an end in itself. And as those relationships develop, then we can share the truth about our life, and it comes up naturally.”
In other comments from speakers Oct. 27:

  • Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian and florist in Washington state who has been sued for declining to do flowers for a same-sex wedding, made a surprise appearance and was greeted by a standing ovation. She said, “Do I not have the right to believe in Christ or follow Him? I can’t leave my relationship at the door of the church. He is my life.” She told attendees, “It’s me today, but it will be you tomorrow. You cannot sit this one out. ... I am but one voice. Let your voice be heard.” Moore prayed for Stutzman after her brief comments.

  • Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said pastors should help their churches by being aware of the issues, taking proactive steps to protect their churches and ministries, and continuing to preach biblical truth.

  • Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said singles “can love and esteem what we don’t have.” Marriage should be viewed as a stewardship by singles, one which is “not about self-validation” but is about “focusing on another,” said Marshall, who has never married. “Both marriage and singleness call us to focus on contentment now.”

  • Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in commenting on Eph. 5:22-33 while addressing sex in marriage, “Basically what the Bible is telling us is we need to be living and speaking the gospel outside the bedroom. And when that takes place, there will be good news, yes, even gospel, inside the bedroom.”

The conference is being live streamed online at http://live.erlc.com/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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10/29/2014 1:14:17 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: heaven, hell & a bit of heresy

October 29 2014 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research/Baptist Press

Most Americans believe in heaven, hell and a few old-fashioned heresies.
Those are among the findings of a new study of American views about Christian theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Americans also disagree about mixing religion and politics and about the Bible. And few pay much heed to their pastor’s sermons or see themselves as sinners, according to the online survey of 3,000 Americans commissioned by Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries.
Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, said the study was intended to “take the temperature of America’s theological health.”
Ligonier founder and chairman R.C. Sproul noted, “What comes screaming through this survey is the pervasive influence of humanism.”
Researchers asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife. They wanted to know how people in the pews – and people on the street – understand theology.
Many Americans get the basics right but are often fuzzy on the details, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines,” Stetzer said. “However, when we asked about harder beliefs – things that the church has [considered] and still considers orthodoxy – the numbers shift.”


Among the study’s findings:

  • Americans say heaven is a real place. But they disagree about who gets in.

 Two thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe heaven is a real place, according to the survey. That includes, following standard demographic categories, 9 in 10 Black Protestants (88 percent) and evangelicals (90 percent), three-fourths of Catholics (75 percent) as well as a third of non-Christians (37 percent).
Just under half of Americans (45 percent) say there are many ways to heaven – which conflicts with traditional views about salvation being linked to faith in Jesus.
Catholics (67 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are most likely to say heaven’s gates are wide open, with many ways in. Evangelicals (19 percent) and Black Protestants (33 percent) are more skeptical.
About half of Americans (53 percent) say salvation is in Christ alone. Four in 10 (41 percent) say people who have never heard of Jesus can still get into heaven. And 3 in 10 (30 percent) say people will have a chance to follow God after they die.

  • Hell is a real place, too. But you have to be really bad to go there.

 About 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say hell is real, according to the survey. Black Protestants (86 percent) and Evangelicals (87 percent) are most likely to say hell is a real place. Catholics (66 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are less convinced.
Overall, Americans don’t seem too worried about sin or being sent to hell. Two-thirds (67 percent) told researchers that most people are basically good, even though everyone sins a little bit – an optimistic view of human nature at odds with traditional teaching about human sin.
Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) say even small sins should lead to damnation, while about half (55 percent) say God has a wrathful side.

  • When it comes to faith, Americans like a do-it-yourself approach.

 Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation, the survey found. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.
That sounds right to many people, Stetzer said, especially in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture. But, he noted, it doesn’t reflect the Christian idea that faith is a response to God’s grace.
Many Americans also don’t mind being disconnected from a local church. About half (52 percent) say worshipping alone or with family is as good as going to church.
About 4 in 5 respondents (82 percent) say their local church has no authority to “declare that I am not a Christian,” according to the survey. More than half (56 percent) believe their pastor’s sermons have no authority in their life, while slightly less than half (45 percent) say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose.

  • Americans believe in the Trinity. But the details don’t reflect traditional views of orthodoxy.

 About 7 in 10 (71 percent) Americans believe in the Trinity. That’s the idea that one God exists as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But few – even those in evangelical denominations – seem to grasp the details of how Christians have historically taught the Trinity. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent), for example, say the Holy Spirit is a force -- not a personal being, according to the survey. Ten percent are not sure, while 31 percent agree the Spirit is a person. Overall, two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force.
More than 1 in 7 Americans (15 percent) say the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. A third (33 percent) believe God the Father is more divine than Jesus. One in 5 (19 percent) say Jesus was the first creature made by God. All of those run counter to Christian doctrine as found in historic creeds of the church.

  • Some Americans like the Bible. Others are skeptical.

 About half of Americans (48 percent) believe the Bible is the Word of God, the survey found. Four in 10 (43 percent) say the Bible is 100 percent accurate, while a similar share of Americans (41 percent) say it’s helpful but not literally true.
Evangelicals (76 percent) and Black Protestants (67 percent) are most likely to say the Bible is accurate. Mainline Protestants (50 percent) and Catholics (49 percent) lean toward the Bible being helpful but not literally true.
The Bible is not the only religious text Americans disagree on. About half (54 percent) disagree when asked if the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God. About 10 percent say the Book of Mormon was revealed by God, while another 36 percent say they are not sure.

  • Americans disagree about sex, God and politics.

 About 4 in 10 (42 percent) Americans – and more than half (55 percent) of non-Christians – say churches should remain silent about politics.
Among Christian groups, Catholics (47 percent) and Mainline Protestants (44 percent) want less politics in church. Black Protestants (31 percent) and Evangelicals (26 percent) are less likely to want their church to skip politics.
Less than half (48 percent) of Americans say sex outside of marriage is a sin. Christian groups are split on the topic, the survey found. Mainline Protestants (44 percent) and Catholics (40 percent) don’t see sex outside of marriage as sinful. Three-fourths of Black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (76 percent) believe it is.
The study’s overall results, Nichols said, show churches have a lot of work to do.
“This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological awareness throughout our nation, in our neighborhoods, and even in the seat next to us at church,” Nichols said.
Methodology: A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults. Three thousand surveys were completed from Feb. 25 – March 5, 2014. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed plus 1.8 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. Slight weights were used to balance religion and gender and remove constant raters.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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10/29/2014 1:04:55 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Russell Moore questions gay therapy

October 29 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore denounced reparative therapy at a conference, saying the controversial treatment that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation has been “severely counterproductive.”
Moore, who serves as president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), spoke to a group of journalists Oct. 28 covering the group’s national conference.
“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told journalists. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”
Moore said evangelicals had an “inadequate view” of what same-sex attraction looks like.
“The Bible doesn’t promise us freedom from temptation,” Moore said. “The Bible promises us the power of the spirit to walk through temptation.”
Moore gave similar remarks to an audience of 1,300 people at the conference. The same morning, the conference featured three speakers who once considered themselves gay or lesbian.
Moore joins a chorus of psychologists and religious leaders who have departed from the once-popular therapy.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution urging mental health professionals to avoid reparative therapy. Since then, California and New Jersey have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and several other states have considered similar measures.
Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics eliminating reparative therapy and encouraging celibacy instead.
John Paulk, who was once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, apologized in 2013 for the reparative therapy he used to promote. Earlier this year, Yvette Schneider, who had formerly worked for groups such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Exodus International, published a “coming out” interview with GLAAD calling for bans on reparative therapy. In addition, nine former ex-gay leaders have denounced conversion therapy.
“There were utopian ideas about reparative therapy that frankly weren’t unique to evangelicalism,” Moore said. “That was something that came along in the 1970s and 1980s about the power of psychotherapy to do all sorts of things that we have a more nuanced views about now.”
Some pastors, like John Piper, a respected Minneapolis preacher and author, still encourage the possibility of change for those who have same-sex attractions.
Exodus International, one of the most prominent ex-gay ministries shut down in 2013. While other ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network still exist, many religious leaders are now encouraging people with same-sex attraction to consider celibacy.
“The idea that one is simply the sum of one’s sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately,” Moore said. “And I think also we have a situation where gay and lesbian people have been treated really, really badly.”
Moore said the ERLC is working with parents of those who are gay and lesbian.
“The response is not shunning, putting them out on the street,” he said. “The answer is loving your child.”
For years, gay evangelicals had three options: leave the faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups such as Exodus became unpopular, a growing number of celibate gay Christians have sought to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.
A newer question among some Christians is whether those with same-sex attraction should self-identify as gay.
In his address Monday, traditional marriage advocate Sherif Girgis plugged the website Spiritual Friendship, intended for Catholics and Protestants who identify as gay and celibate. Some Christians are debating whether identifying as gay or having a same-sex orientation is itself unbiblical.
“It’s not the way I would articulate it because I think it puts on an appendage to a Christian identity,” Moore said. “So I don’t see them as enemies who are trying to be destructive; I just don’t think it’s the best way to approach it.”
Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who rejects the “ex-gay” label and the movement behind it, said Christians should not use “gay” as a descriptive adjective. Moore interviewed Butterfield, whose address at Wheaton College generated protests earlier this year, during Tuesday’s conference.
“There is no shame in repentance because it simply proves that God was right all along,” Butterfield told Moore.
Another conference speaker and Moody Bible Institute professor Christopher Yuan teaches a more traditional message of celibacy for those who, like him, are attracted to the same sex. He shuns labels, but he believes more younger Christians are self-identifying as gay and celibate.
“I’m kind of label-less,” Yuan said before his address. “I think I’m a dying breed, though.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.)

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10/29/2014 12:55:15 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Iranian pastor’s arrest ‘a serious blow’

October 29 2014 by Staff/Morning Star News

ISTANBUL, Turkey – In what was deemed an effort to silence house-church leader Behnam Irani, Iran has sentenced him and two other Christian leaders to six years in prison for their involvement in house churches, human rights groups have learned.
Irani, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Reza Rabbani, all leaders in the Church of Iran, were sentenced Oct. 19 for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system” – what human rights defenders say are catch-all terms the Islamist government uses to suppress Christians and political opponents it perceives as threat.
The sentence was “a serious blow” for the family of Irani, lead pastor of the group, a pastor in direct contact with members of Irani’s family said. When the verdict was handed down, Irani was already serving a prior five-year sentence for his involvement with house churches.
Irani’s wife Kristina is resolute in her faith and in her devotion to her husband but needs prayer, the pastor, who cannot be identified for security reasons, said. Irani won’t be eligible for release until 2023, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).
As part of their sentences, the three Christians will be transferred from their current locations to other prisons in remote areas around the country, according to human rights groups. Ali-Haghnejad and Rabbani were to be transferred within days to Minab Prison on a remote island in the Persian Gulf. Irani was to be transferred to Zabol Prison on the Afghanistan border.
There was some confusion however, as to when Irani would be transferred. Some human rights groups said the transfer would take place within days, but others said he would be transferred sometime in 2017, when his prior sentence is complete.
Charges were leveled against Irani in part because he contacted family members and others by mobile phones that had been snuck into prison, Rob Duncan, a researcher at MEC who specializes in Iran, said. The sentence amounts to a form of exile to put him “out of the way” from any support networks or family, Duncan said.
“He was certainly contacting people, and they basically want to remove him as far away as possible from opportunities for visits,” Duncan said.
Jason Demars, president of Present Truth Ministries, an evangelical group that works in Iran, agreed with Duncan’s assessment.
“Basically they want to silence them – they want to move them away to a place that is tough to get to, for their family to get to,” he said. “With no one on hand to know what is going on, it’s easier to mistreat them.”
Once he is transferred, Irani’s wife will have to take a two-day bus ride to see him.
Demars said there are other concerns about the prison selected for Irani.
“This prison that Behnam is going to be transferred to is on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, so it’s a place that is filled with drug dealers and drug smugglers who are bringing opium into the country over the border of Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s an extremely dangerous place.”
The three converts from Islam had originally been charged with “Mofsed-fel-arz” or “spreading corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty. But those charges were reduced on Oct. 2, according to MEC. Demars said the capital charges were filed and then reduced as part of a ploy by the Iranian government to avoid international scrutiny for the six-year sentences that followed.
“The Iranians are chess players,” Demars said. “They always pride themselves that they play chess, so I believe they were bringing these higher-level crimes in order to make it more digestible that they gave a six-year sentence, and also to test the waters on how the international community would respond to these types of charges.”
All three Christians have experienced longstanding conflict with the Iranian government because of their faith.
Irani, lead pastor of the church in Karaj, was first arrested in 2006 for evangelizing and holding house-church meetings. He was released on bail in January 2007. In February 2008 a court sentenced him to five years in prison but immediately suspended the sentence, essentially giving him five years of probation.
Irani continued his work and was arrested again on April 14, 2010. Authorities charged him with spreading Christianity, attending house-church meetings and committing other crimes against “national security.” He was released on bail in June 2010.
In January 2011, Irani was convicted and ordered to serve a one-year sentence in prison. But on May 31, 2011, when he showed up to start serving his sentence, he was informed that the suspension on the five-year sentence had been revoked.
Iranian officials raided Ali-Haghnejad’s home in Bandar-Anzali on July 5 and arrested him and two other Christians. Authorities also confiscated Christian materials, including Bibles and a computer. Ali-Haghnejad is a leader in the Church of Iran movement in Karaj. The two others arrested at his home are now serving sentences previously ordered in court.
Like Irani, Ali-Haghnejad has a longstanding history of arrests because of his faith dating back to 2006. He has faced numerous charges, including actions against national security, blasphemy and, in 2011, a charge of propaganda against the state for drinking communion wine.
Little is known about Rabbani, an assistant pastor in the Church of Iran group in Karaj. Agents from VEVAK, Iran’s internal security agency, arrested him on May 5. He was then transferred to Gohardasht prison, also known as Rajai Shahr, where he was tortured, human rights activists said.
Activists also reported that three converts, Shahram Ghaedi, Heshmat Shafiei and Emad Haghi, were all arrested on Sept. 27 during a raid on Ghaedi’s home in Isfahan. Ghaedi, an actor, is well known for his depiction of Jesus in the Iranian version of the Jesus Film. According to MEC, all three men have been taken to Dastgerd prison.
Iranian officials recently released three Christians arrested during two days of raids in Ifshan that started on Sept. 1. Moluk Darvishi, Hamidreza Borhani and his wife Zainab Akbari were released in late September, but Mohammad Taslimi, a worship leader, and Parsa Dadkhah remain detained in Dastgerd prison, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The location of Sepideh Morshedi, Moluk Darvishi’s sister, who was also arrested in the raids, remains unknown.
Recently released on bail were two converts, Mehdi Vaziri, 28, a graphic designer, and Amir Kian, 27, a musician. On Aug. 12, security officers arrested the two at a house church in Tehran. They were being held in Ghezal-Hesar prison, in Karaj, according to MEC. The terms of their release are unknown.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)

10/29/2014 12:45:53 PM by Staff/Morning Star News | with 0 comments

Mission:Dignity payouts increase to recipients

October 29 2014 by Judy A. Bates, GuideStone/Baptist Press

Mission:Dignity recipients received a welcome increase in their October assistance payments with the neediest among them seeing their monthly grant amounts grow by 12 percent to $450 for singles and $600 for couples.
Qualified individuals receiving the largest payouts must have at least 25 years of Southern Baptist ministerial service and must meet guidelines for income and assets. Eligible recipients with at least 10 years of full-time, salaried Southern Baptist service receive $225 per month, if single, and couples receive $300.
“Since 1918, GuideStone has been on a mission to help retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows in meeting their basic needs,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “This step helps ensure that these dear soldiers of the cross will have the comfort and dignity they’ve earned in their declining years.”
The increases are possible as more and more Southern Baptist churches and members have embraced and supported the program, GuideStone noted.
Mission:Dignity will now pay out a little more than $7 million annually to more than 1,800 recipients. GuideStone receives no Cooperative Program funding for Mission:Dignity, and no GuideStone Funds underwrite the ministry. All proceeds come from the gifts of individuals, local churches and Sunday school classes; 100 percent of all gifts go directly to the aid of recipients.
Additionally, individuals and churches who purchase either of O.S. Hawkins’ recent books, The Joshua Code: 52 Scripture Verses Every Believer Should Know and The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer, support the ministry. All royalties benefit Mission:Dignity. Both books are available at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and many other bookstores.
John Ambra, director of development for Mission:Dignity, said he invites new and currently participating churches, groups and individuals to grow with Mission:Dignity by increasing their donations to reflect the increased amounts.
“Through the years, many donors have chosen to fully underwrite the support for an individual or a couple by sending a donation each month that matches the payout amount,” Ambra said. “Of course, gifts of any amount are welcome, and 100 percent of contributions still go to those in need with nothing ever used for operating costs.
“Those monthly gifts sustain the ministry throughout the year and are so appreciated. We’re encouraging donors to prayerfully consider updating their budgets for the coming year. By growing with us now, Mission:Dignity will be well-positioned to care for the needs of those on whose legacy we stand today.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Judy A. Bates is department head of Mission:Dignity.)

10/29/2014 12:39:11 PM by Judy A. Bates, GuideStone/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marriage, homosexuality focus of conference

October 28 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity convened a national conference Monday afternoon in Nashville with the goal of helping a capacity crowd of more than 1,300 people bolster marriage within the church and protect marriage outside it.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) kicked off the event – titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” – by considering in the opening address how Christians are to minister in a “post-marriage culture.” The conference, which continues through Oct. 29, comes at a difficult time for the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and a woman:

  • The percentage of American adults who have never married is at an all-time high.

  • Court rulings have set the stage for same-sex marriage to be legal in 35 states.

  • Cohabitation and divorce plague the culture and sometimes the church.

The ERLC’s hope for the conference “is that attendees will be equipped to defend marriage in the culture and strengthen marriage in the church,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the entity’s executive vice president. “We want to motivate them to see marriage as a part of God’s good design that is worth fighting for in a culture that is shifting all around us.”

The speeches and panel discussions will address such topics as:

  • Building healthy marriages.

  • Evangelizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

  • Helping Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction.

  • Resolving the clash between religious liberty and “sexual freedom.”

  • Handling singleness.

Christians will not escape dealing with these issues, said ERLC President Russell D. Moore.
“[I]n reality, every single church, every single family will need to equip the next generation to be able to think through these questions from a framework of the Bible and gospel,” Moore said in a video previewing the conference.
The “strategic conversation” represented by the event “simply needs to take place,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a pre-conference video.
“It’s really important that we gather to think clearly so that we will think faithfully, so that we will minister authentically as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler, who gave the opening address, said.
Many pastors and other Christians clearly agreed about the importance of the conference. After initially booking a venue that would have handled 700 people, the ERLC moved the event to the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in response to the “surge in interest,” Bethancourt told Baptist Press in an email interview. He said the ERLC is “pleasantly surprised by the great turnout.”
The interest is understandable, he said.
“This conference resonates with people because marriage challenges are not an abstract issue,” Bethancourt said. “They are ministering to marriages in crisis in their communities and in their churches all the time. People also want to understand how to apply the gospel to issues related to same-sex marriage.”
In addition to Moore and Mohler, speakers at the conference include David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board; Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Sherif Girgis, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife; Sam Allberry, British pastor and author of Is God Anti-Gay?; Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation; and poet Jackie Hill-Perry.
The conference is being live streamed online at http://live.erlc.com/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

10/28/2014 10:32:17 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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