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U.S. distress from God, Evans says at prayer event

May 6 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

God is troubling this country to grab the attention of Americans, Tony Evans told participants May 5 in a National Day of Prayer event in Washington, D.C.
 
Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, was the keynote speaker at the Capitol Hill observance, which was one of tens of thousands of such events across the country. This year’s National Day of Prayer (NDP) was the 65th since the federal government first recognized the occasion.
 
Ronnie Floyd, Southern Baptist Convention president, attended the Washington, D.C., event and cited the importance of prayer in a message. “On this National Day of Prayer, we need to remember, there is no great movement of God that has ever occurred that has not first been preceded by the extraordinary prayer of God’s people,” he posted on Instagram.
 
The United States is experiencing societal distress not unlike that reported in 2 Chronicles 15:6, which says God “troubled them with every kind of distress,” said Evans, this year’s honorary NDP chairman.
 
“[W]hat you and I are seeing in America is what happens when a culture disregards God,” Evans told the audience. “We want God in the vicinity. We want him for invocations; we want him for benedictions, as long as He stays away from the meetings in between.”
 
When God is dismissed, Evans said, “that creates a vacuum for the viruses of evil to proliferate.”
 
“So what God has actually done is to allow America to become distressed,” he said. “Because He’s been pushed to the side, He’s allowed the vacuum of evil to proliferate so that He can get our undivided attention. And when He gets that undivided attention, we will cry out and scream out and declare Him at a level He wants to hear it at.
 
“It’s time now to declare through our prayer and its accompanying action our declaration of dependence.”
 
Evans urged Christians to be “visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ,” saying it is “not a time for secret agent Christianity.”
 
In his National Day of Prayer proclamation issued the day before the observance, President Barack Obama called for Americans to rededicate themselves to the advancement of religious liberty.
 
Acknowledging this country “was founded on the idea of religious freedom,” Obama said the United States “will continue to stand up for those around the world who are subject to fear or violence because of their religion or beliefs.”
 
“As a Nation free to practice our faith as we choose, we must remember those around the world who are not afforded this freedom, and we must recommit to building a society where all can enjoy this liberty and live their lives in peace and dignity,” the president said in his proclamation.
 
At the Washington observance, it was announced Shirley Dobson is stepping down as chairman of the NDP Task Force after 25 years. The wife of author and radio show host James Dobson will become chairman emeritus, and Anne Graham Lotz will succeed her as chairman. Lotz will continue to lead AnGeL Ministries.
 
This year’s NDP theme, established by the task force, was “Wake Up America.” The Bible verse for this year’s observance was Isaiah 58:1a:  “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.
 
National Day of Prayer has been held each year since Congress approved a resolution in 1952 calling on the president to establish such an annual event. President Truman inaugurated the observance the same year, and presidents since then have recognized it with proclamations. In 1988, Congress amended the law to set the first Thursday of May for the observance.
 
The NDP Task Force is a privately funded group that says the observance is for people of all faiths to participate in but the events it organizes are fulfilled “in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs.”
 
In years past, NDP observances have been held in as many as 40,000 or more locations.
 
Obama’s National Day of Prayer proclamation may be accessed online at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/05/04/ presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer-2016.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

5/6/2016 11:55:51 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Missing NOBTS student found in Ala. hospital

May 6 2016 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS

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New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student John Russell, missing since April 22, has been found in an Alabama hospital. He has been in the ICU at D.W. McMillan Hospital in Brewton, Ala., since April 22 following an accident.
 
Hospital officials were unable to identify Russell until May 4. After identifying Russell, who is still in ICU, Alabama authorities notified NOBTS that he had been found. Russell's mother has been notified and is traveling to be with him during his recovery.
 
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley asked for continued prayer for Russell as he recovers.
 
“We rejoice that our student John Russell has been found and is receiving the medical care he needs," Kelley said. "Please join us in praying for his full recovery.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

Related Story:

NOBTS helps police in missing student case

5/6/2016 11:50:27 AM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS | with 0 comments



Millennial church launches with eight baptisms

May 6 2016 by Mark Kelly, NAMB

Some might say Queen Creek, Ariz., is growing fast enough to make a person’s head spin. In just three years, a city of 29,673 southeast of Phoenix has exploded to an estimated 50,000 people.
 
But Trey Van Camp’s head isn’t spinning. His heart is broken.

 
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Photo courtesy Heart Cry Gathering
On his church’s launch day in January 2016, Trey Van Camp (left) baptized eight people at Heart Cry Gathering near Phoenix. Five more were baptized at the young church plant on Easter Sunday.

“I was born and raised here. Queen Creek is one of fastest growing cities in our state,” said the church planter, noting that most of the people who live there do not have a relationship with Christ.
 
The thought of so many souls deprived of the gospel weighed heavily on Trey and his father, Billy, who pastors Heart Cry Cowboy Church in Queen Creek. They decided a new church was needed to reach the flood of young outsiders moving into the city, who weren’t likely to drive out to Horseshoe Park for services targeting Queen Creek’s native cowboys.
 
Throughout 2015, a core team of about 40 people gathered in four different Bible studies, and the new congregation, Heart Cry Gathering, drew 140 people to its January 10 launch at a movie theater in the heart of Queen Creek’s bustling north side. The church plant receives funding from the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
 
Eight people were baptized that first Sunday and, barely two months later, another five were baptized on Easter.
 
“We want as many baptisms as possible. That’s what we’re all about,” Trey said. “It’s crazy how many people are moving in. There just aren’t enough churches being planted to meet the need.”
 
Heart Cry Gathering is connecting with the area’s millennial generation through both ancient and modern approaches, Trey said.

 
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Photo courtesy Heart Cry Gathering
Trey Van Camp, here with his wife Jordan, and their daughter, Faith, launched Heart Cry Gathering outside of Phoenix in January 2016. The church celebrated eight baptisms on its launch day and an additional five on Easter Sunday. Photo courtesy Heart Cry Gathering
Photo courtesy Heart Cry Gathering

“We do communion every week. We recite confessions. We are really rooted in the history of the church,” Trey said. “But we meet in a movie theater and use video technology very well. All our leadership is in their 20s, but at the same time we talk about what we do as Southern Baptists and we are passionate about the Cooperative Program [the Southern Baptist Convention’s giving channel to support missions and ministry].”
 
Heart Cry Gathering tries to get maximum leverage out of its movie theater setting.
 
“We gave away 100 free movie tickets at our launch service,” Trey said. “All our flyers look like movie theater posters, and we use movie clips to illustrate what we are talking about in our services.”
 
But while they are connecting the gospel to people, Heart Cry Gathering also wants to connect people to their community, and the community to the mission of Jesus.
 
“We want to be a church that is missionary right away,” Trey said.
 
“We are really focusing on the ASU Polytechnic campus, which graduates engineers and nurses and teachers. Our passion there is to raise up disciples and send them out as missionaries wherever they get a job offer. We have a mission trip this summer to Alaska, and we send teams to the Rio Vista Center, which is the Southern Baptist homeless outreach in Phoenix. We want to disciple our people to serve others who can never pay them back.”

 
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Photo courtesy Heart Cry Gathering
Trey Van Camp (center in red shirt) stands with the group of eight people who were baptized at the launch of Heart Cry Gathering near Phoenix in January 2016.

The congregation struggles, however, against the apathy that holds many millennial hearts hostage, Trey said.
 
“People my age are apathetic,” he noted. “I have some friends who think what we are doing is cool, but they don’t want anything to do with it. Religion is not a route they want to take.”
 
Not a single person responded to the 5,000 mailers sent out for the launch, so Heart Cry Gathering must take the long view and invest in relationships, Trey said.
 
“Every person who has come was because we have made a relationship with them,” he said. “That’s hard because it takes a long time. But we had one couple come last Sunday who told us they would never ever come to our church. They said, ‘We don’t like Christians. We don’t like Jesus,’ but they came yesterday, so we praise God for that. We have to keep pressing on and keep loving people. It takes a long time, but it’s worth it.”
 
Two of the congregation’s worship leaders are brand-new believers who came to Christ because time was invested in relationships.
 
“I was working out one day, and I met this guy. I invited him over to our house and he brought his wife,” Trey said. “They showed up at my house all of 2015 for the Bible study. We led them to Christ, and I got to officiate their wedding in November. Then they were in the group I baptized on our launch day. Now he is leading music for our worship team.
 
“Our drummer was a one of the ones who said he would never come to church,” Trey added. “But the guy who is now our worship leader was his best friend. He got saved, and now his kids are going to be baptized. It’s amazing to see how Jesus has transformed his life.”
 
“Our team is comprised of former drug addicts, people from broken families, former atheists … and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
 
View a video from Heart Cry Gathering’s opening day baptisms at https://vimeo.com/165172249. Learn more about Heart Cry Gathering at http://www.heartcry.cc/. Explore more about church planting through the North American Mission Board at www.namb.net/SendMe.

 
 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for the North American Mission Board.)

5/6/2016 11:39:50 AM by Mark Kelly, NAMB | with 0 comments



Chinese student becomes leader in campus ministry

May 6 2016 by Scott Barkley, Georgia Christian Index

For a long time, international student Hilary Tong’s personality reflected how she lived her faith. Quiet. Reserved about her relationship with Christ.
 
That may sound odd for a communications major. But there’s a meticulousness in how the Chinese native now is more outward in her witness among international students at her college and throughout Georgia.

 
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Submitted photo
Chinese student Hilary Tong at Wesleyan College in Georgia spends one-on-one time with campus minister Danielle Burdette. Tong is the current president of the BCM as well as Georgia BCM international student leader – the first international elected to the role.

“The thing I appreciate most about Hilary is her willingness to ask God to show her the rough edges of her life and faith, and then ask Him to put her into situations that smooth those out,” said Danielle Burdette, campus minister at Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., where Tong is the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) president.
 
Tong also is the Georgia BCM international student leader – the first international elected to the role.
 
Last summer, Tong ventured into BCM missions on three trips – one to New Jersey to help ongoing rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Sandy; another to assist church planters in the upper Midwest; and a third as a camp staff member ministering to children with developmental disabilities as well as their families.
 
Tong’s position as Wesleyan’s BCM president continues to expand her spiritual growth.
 
“It’s been a chance to learn leadership skills, to learn how to guide a team and mix everyone’s strength, trigger everyone’s energy to serve,” she said. “It’s an encouragement to see how God has led my fellow student leaders and see how their lives grow. The chance to organize events and lead Bible study is valuable to me.

 
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Submitted photo
Hilary Tong (top right in gray sweater), president of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Wesleyan College in Georgia, is intent on deepening her faith through Bible studies, leadership opportunities and personal witness. Leading the Bible study (at top) is campus minister Danielle Burdette.

“The people that I know through BCM are like family, and this relationship is very valuable to me for my days here in the U.S. I enjoy it and am honored to serve as a part of God’s Kingdom.”
 
This year, Tong felt that God was directing her to lead and teach others about prayer and walking in faith. At the beginning, the BCM only had a few students but now the numbers have grown to 10-15 a week, all also involved in a local church. Tong also has experienced leading a fellow student to pray to receive Christ for salvation.
 
“It is so good to be able to see God’s faithfulness in all of this,” Tong said. “He has answered our prayers. … I have learned what it means to be a part of a Christian body and how to work with a group of people for God’s mission together.”
 
How she lives her faith, though still reflecting her personality, has changed somewhat. There’s a time to sit quietly, sure, but there’s a time for action. A time to be a leader.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is web content developer for The Christian Index at christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

5/6/2016 11:33:03 AM by Scott Barkley, Georgia Christian Index | with 0 comments



Donations offer relief for family buried under medical bills

May 6 2016 by N.C. Baptist Hospital/Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

What began as a simple overnight hospital stay for newborn Stella turned into 22 days of complications and fear. Born with Down syndrome, Josh and Gina Grant’s little girl was having trouble keeping food down: she wasn’t thriving. Days turned into weeks as the experts at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Brenner Children’s Hospital ran a battery of tests and procedures. Exploratory stomach surgery was the last resort.
 
“That night, I said good-bye to my daughter,” Josh admits. “I prayed with her and told God he was in control. I didn’t think she was going to make it.”

 
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The four-hour surgery worked: doctors discovered part of Stella’s small intestine was nearly closed. “Prayer works,” Josh enthuses. “She was brand-new!”
 
But, so were the medical bills; new ones arrived every day. The family was overwhelmed. As the bills skyrocketed, they talked about bankruptcy and were looking into refinancing the house for a second mortgage when, one day, the phone rang. And rang.
 
Josh, a magistrate, was at work with a room full of people but, finally, he picked up and got the news that changed everything.
 
“Our bills were paid in full by the Mother’s Day Offering,” he says. “I told the people in front of me that I needed a minute. They left and I just sat there and cried. I was crying so much, Gina could barely understand me but, when she did, she started crying too. Something lifted off of us. It was unbelievable.”
 
Since 1924 North Carolina Baptists have given to the Mother’s Day Offering to “extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, especially to the needy.”
 
The Grants shared the news in church and the whole community that had supported them for so long joined them in gratitude. “It was totally up to God to save Stella,” Josh remarks. “And, apparently, it was totally up to God to take care of us financially.”
 
Today, Stella is a busy two-year-old, adored by her big brothers and a blessing to her parents because she is a symbol of God’s love in action through N.C. Baptists. “We couldn’t have done it without the Mother’s Day Offering,” says Gina. “The people who participated helped save Stella’s life; they healed her. I don’t think thank you does it justice. It’s amazing how much you can love someone you don’t even know.
 
Visit mothersdayoffering.org for more information about the offering.

5/6/2016 11:27:03 AM by N.C. Baptist Hospital/Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center | with 0 comments



HB 2: Feds threaten McCrory with LGBT rights violations

May 5 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The growing mass of opposition to North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law, House Bill 2 (HB 2), now includes the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). According to the federal agency, the state is denying transgender employees of public agencies “full enjoyment” of Title VII rights. In addition, the law puts state universities in danger of violating Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, said the DOJ in a May 4 letter to Gov. Pat McCrory.
 
“Access to sex-segregated restrooms and other workplace facilities consistent with gender identity is a term, condition or privilege of employment,” the letter said.
 
Under current law, non-transgender individuals (often called cisgender) have access to bathrooms and other sex-segregated facilities according to their gender identity. The DOJ said transgender people should have equal access according to gender identity as well.
 
The letter warns the state to halt implementation of the bathroom law by May 9 or risk legal action, including the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school funds.
 
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest denounced the federal warning as agenda-driven and exploitative.
 
“To use our children and their educational futures as pawns to advance an agenda that will ultimately open those same children up to exploitation at the hands of sexual predators is by far,” he said, “the sickest example of the depths the Obama Administration will stoop to ‘fundamentally transform our nation.’”
 
McCrory said the letter signals a broader issue.
 
“The Obama administration has not only staked out its position for North Carolina, but for all states, universities and most employers in the U.S.,” he said. “The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy.”
 
HB 2 passed through the N.C. General Assembly in a special called session to preempt an ordinance put forward by the Charlotte City Council which would have allowed transgender individuals access to the bathrooms and changing facilities of their choice. Bill supporters said the local ordinance would open the door for sexual predators to exploit the policy, potentially endangering women and children.
 
Many large corporations, sports organizations and celebrities have opposed the bathroom law by restricting business activity in N.C. The United Kingdom even issued a travel advisory for LGBT travelers to the state.
 
McCrory said his office is determining their next steps, but he will likely continue to support the bill as it stands. Pro-HB 2 lawmakers have been unwilling to amend the bathroom provisions of the bill thus far.
 
“While the Obama Administration may try to impose its agenda by attempting to redefine what ‘sex’ means under Title VII and Title IX, that is something only Congress can alter,” said Tami Fitzgerald, director of the N.C. Values Coalition. “We commend Gov. McCrory and our elected representatives for their commitment to North Carolinians’ right to privacy.”
 

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5/5/2016 8:47:58 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Trump’s win draws support, concern from evangelicals

May 5 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Donald Trump’s striking victory in Indiana May 3 apparently settled the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but it did little to resolve the divisiveness among conservatives and evangelical Christians over his controversial candidacy.
 
The brash billionaire triumphed easily in the latest primary over both of his rivals for the GOP nomination, leaving him seemingly with no opponents and an open path to the nomination barring a stunningly dramatic development. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced Tuesday night he was suspending his campaign, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich reportedly was to end his effort later May 4.
 
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont upset Hillary Clinton in the Democrats’ Indiana primary but still faces an overwhelming challenge to win his party’s nomination.
 
Trump’s candidacy has produced strong resistance from some conservatives and evangelicals – resistance that apparently will continue in the general election. Using the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter, objectors have made no-vote promises based on his inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on such issues as abortion, religious liberty and immigration; autocratic inclinations; uncivil, insult-laden rhetoric; and a lifestyle marked by adultery.
 
Other evangelicals have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him against the Democratic nominee.

 
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Screen capture from CNN.com before final delegate count

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who has chided Trump’s candidacy but not endorsed a candidate, said, “This is a time for Christians to be sober-minded about where our ultimate citizenship and allegiance are located. No amount of political power can fill the void left by abandoning our Christian convictions, so we must keep praying – both for our country’s political process and for our churches, that we would be faithful embassies of the kingdom.”
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast, “The Briefing,” May 4, “Christians in the United States are now going to face a very excruciating set of decisions. Many of us are going to be facing the reality that if Clinton is the Democratic nominee and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, we will not be able to vote in good conscience for either” candidate.
 
Denny Burk – a cultural commentator and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, said the #NeverTrump effort “is only just getting started.” Burk, a #NeverTrump advocate, said the GOP candidate must be prevented from winning because he is “not merely a flawed candidate but a real threat to our constitutional order.”
 
A prominent Southern Baptist pastor, however, said “all true conservatives” should come together to try to defeat Clinton in November.
 
“Look, people may have their doubts about Donald Trump’s pro-life conversion and his commitment to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court,” said Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. “But as I often say, Hillary Clinton doesn’t even claim a pro-life conversion and there’s absolutely no doubt about what kind of Supreme Court justices she’s going to nominate.”
 
Jeffress, who counts Trump as a personal friend, has not officially endorsed a candidate but told Baptist Press he has been “very supportive of Mr. Trump and [has] said numerous times, including at his rallies, that I believe he would make a terrific president of the United States.”
 
Don Cole – a former Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia and a delegate to the 2012 GOP convention – said the voters took charge of the process and supported, in Trump, a candidate who campaigned as an outsider. “They were tired of being called upon to support candidates who were thrust on them by power brokers in the Republican [P]arty,” he wrote in a blog post after the Indiana results were announced.
 
While he is hopeful, Jeffress said he is uncertain “whether politically the breach can be healed” among conservatives and evangelicals.
 
“But I do think it’s a shame that a lot of Christians have allowed themselves to become embittered over a political race,” Jeffress said. “And I’ve often said that while I believe every Christian has the right to make his own choice regarding president, no Christian has the right to condemn other Christians for the choice they make.”
 
Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Trump’s ascendancy gives evangelicals who oppose his candidacy an opportunity to regain their witness by repositioning themselves “as something other than the religious special interest arm of the Republican Party.”
 
In a May 4 column for Fox News, Ashford said the evangelical effort should include at least three parts:

  • “First, it offers us the opportunity to do something we should have been doing all along: by criticizing both Democratic and Republican front runners, we can show that Christian wisdom often defies traditional social and political categories such as Democratic and Republican.

  • “Second, we now have the opportunity and responsibility to speak with a clear voice on a broader array of policy issues.

  • “Third, we can help provide healing for the unhealthy and even toxic nature of American politics and public life.”

Evidence from the primaries shows some committed evangelicals are supporting Trump.
 
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, pointed to twin realities regarding evangelicals and Trump. “The more you go to church as an evangelical, the less likely you are to vote for Donald Trump,” Stetzer wrote in an April 15 blog post for Christianity Today. Yet, he said, “the most frequently chosen candidate of church-going evangelicals was Donald Trump.”
 
An Indiana exit poll showed 60 percent of respondents identified as “born-again or evangelical” Christians, according to CNN. Of those, 51 percent voted for Trump and 43 percent for Cruz. Of the voters who attend worship services more than once a week, 61 percent voted for Cruz and only 33 for Trump. Those attending once a week supported Trump by 49 percent and Cruz by 40 percent.
 
Cruz, a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, was the nearest competitor to Trump in a Republican race that began with 17 candidates.
 
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said in a statement for Baptist Press, “Senator Cruz can leave the campaign trail with his head held high. He’s an honorable man who ran an honorable campaign.
 
“Cruz also fought the good fight, courageously standing for the sanctity of human life, constitutional conservatism, especially our First Amendment freedom to believe and live our faith,” said Johnson, who endorsed Cruz in his personal capacity. “I am glad he will continue to be a champion for those values in the United States Senate.”
 
Trump won 53 percent of the vote in Indiana, while Cruz trailed with 37 percent and Kasich with 8 percent, according to The New York Times. The Indiana results brought Trump’s estimated delegate total to 1,013, Cruz’s to 546 and Kasich’s to 153. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination on the first ballot at July’s Republican convention.
 
On the Democratic side, Sanders gained 53 percent of the vote in Indiana, while Clinton took 47 percent. Clinton – the former first lady, secretary of State and United States senator from New York – has 2,221 delegates and Sanders 1,450. A first-round winning democratic candidate needs 2,383 delegates.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

5/5/2016 8:46:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Transgenderism is growing ministry focus

May 5 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

John Pouchot has been in the pastorate 16 years. But it was only within the past three years that he first encountered a family dealing with transgenderism.
 
Pouchot, pastor of Petsworth Baptist Church in Gloucester, Va., led a man to Christ, and his extended family began attending the church Pouchot pastored at the time. As Pouchot got to know them, he learned the man’s high school-aged niece didn’t feel at home in her body and wanted to be a boy. Despite his counsel to the girl’s parents, she underwent hormone therapy, changed her name to a traditionally male name and began presenting herself as a boy.
 
The girl continues to live as a male, and the parents remain committed to supporting their daughter’s transition. Pouchot continues to have a relationship with them, and he’s convinced churches must prepare for ministry to transgendered individuals and their families.
 
“When we know an individual or family is dealing with this and comes into the body of Christ,” Pouchot said, “they don’t need to be shunned or talked about. They need to be loved on. That doesn’t mean we’re going to allow them to join the church [without being saved and repenting of their sin]. That doesn’t mean we’re going to embrace the sin. But we must embrace the individual in the same way God embraced us in our sinfulness.”
 
Estimates of the U.S. transgender population vary. The Williams Institute’s estimate that .3 percent of the population identifies as transgender suggests at least 950,000 Americans perceive their gender identity as not matching their biological sex. While public policy challenges surrounding this reality may have drawn more focus, pastors and Christian mental health care professionals feel the transgender population is also a mission field.
 
That call for ministry is in keeping with a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on transgenderism which “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception” and expressed a commitment to “love our transgender neighbors [and] seek their good always.”

 

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is the technical term for the condition of not feeling at home in one’s God-given body in terms of gender. Evangelical pastors and counselors generally agree that sin occurs when people with gender dysphoria act on or fantasize about their urges to identify with the opposite gender and thereby rebel against the gender identity God has given them.
 
Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said that gender dysphoria is analogous to same-sex attraction in that both generally involve unwanted feelings. But he said the two conditions are “more dissimilar than similar” even though they are grouped together in the acronym LGBT, short for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.”
 
“Homosexuality is more about attraction and romance,” Hambrick said. “Transgenderism is about self-perception and identity.” He added that many homosexuals argue, “I was born this way,” while individuals with gender dysphoria tend to argue, “I was born wrong.”
 
Churches and pastors should assume, Hambrick said, that people who are “humble,” “open-handed” and struggling against gender dysphoria are “suffering, not sinning.” While never encouraging a person to embrace a gender identity other than the one God has given, he said, pastors should work with Christian mental health care professionals to help people with gender dysphoria “alleviate the stress of the dysphoria they experience.”
 
Often, simply talking with a struggling person and listening to their story will provide relief, Hambrick said.
 
“Not having an immediate next answer may feel a little frail and helpless to the pastor,” he said. But “that is the kind of [response] that [can lead a struggling person to] say, ‘You get me.’“ People struggling with gender dysphoria tend to think, “If at the end of me talking you had an answer, it would be harder for me to believe that you really understood what I was going through.’“
 
Psychologist and author Mark Yarhouse said that when talking is not enough to relieve gender dysphoria, a Christian minister’s goal should be to help the struggling person avoid sin while managing their dysphoria “in the least invasive way possible.”
 
One of the most invasive options, gender-reassignment surgery, is viewed even by some secular researchers as an ineffective way of relieving gender dysphoria.
 
Psychiatrist Paul McHugh wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 that 70-80 percent of children reporting “transgender feelings” “spontaneously lost those feelings.” A Swedish study cited by McHugh found that a decade following gender-reassignment surgery, “the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties,” including an increase in suicide mortality rate 20 times higher than the comparable non-transgender population.

 

How to repent

In cases where feelings of dysphoria lead to the sin of embracing a transgender identity, repentance of the transgenderism does not necessarily coincide with cessation of the feelings, Yarhouse said in written comments.
 
“For most people who identify as Christian and who believe the gospel and wish to follow Christ, salvation has not meant deliverance from gender dysphoria. For most people for whom the dysphoria has persisted into adulthood, this is an enduring condition, so I don’t think it is helpful to equate salvation or sanctification with the removal of conflict in this area,” said Yarhouse, director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University and author of the book Understanding Gender Dysphoria.
 
Denise Schick, founder or Help 4 Families Ministries in Ashland, Ky., a ministry focused on helping those battling gender dysphoria, noted Christians should never think transformation is impossible for people living a transgender lifestyle. She has seen hundreds of transgender people saved and has walked with many of them through the journey of learning what their faith in Christ requires.
 
God’s grace “is sufficient,” Schick said. “The answer to anybody and everybody, whatever they struggle with, is Jesus Christ.”
 
The first step to biblical restoration is to admit sin and ask God for forgiveness, Schick said. After that, there should be an effort by transgender individuals to transition back to embracing their God-given genders “as much as they possibly can,” including appropriate dress and cessation of hormone therapy.
 
When cost is not prohibitive, some repentant males who have undergone gender-reassignment surgery choose to have some surgical alterations reversed, Schick said. Others attempt to conceal them in non-surgical ways. Females may not have the same medical issues but still need “healing of the root issues.”
 
Hambrick said a person turning from transgenderism should be “as willing to take bold steps in following Christ as they were in taking steps to come to peace with their dysphoria. But if there are not viable options that have a reasonable probability of success, I would not want them to feel compelled to do something that is medically foolish.”
 
Formerly transgendered individuals who have chosen to embrace their birth gender, Hambrick said, should engage in “candid conversations” with their pastors and doctors about medical options to mitigate the effects of gender reassignment surgeries or hormone therapies.
 
Some repentant transgender individuals enter biblical marriages, Schick said, though previous surgical body alternations at times limit the sexual aspect of the marriage. Others who have repented of transgenderism opt not to marry.

 

Hope for healing

Professional counseling may be necessary for some people repenting of transgenderism, but not all, Schick said. She urged believers struggling with gender dysphoria – and all believers in general – to seek accountability and healthy relationships within a local church.
 
Above all, Schick counseled pastors and churches not to give up on evangelism to transgendered people or discipleship to Christians who wrestle with gender dysphoria.
 
Many formerly transgender men and women have experienced “healing in their lives because of their willingness to give up self and come to” Jesus, she said. “Nobody on this earth could tell me there’s no hope and no healing for transgenderism.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Stories:

Pediatricians: Transgender kids need help, not new hormones
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Transgender ministry, gender roles discussed

5/5/2016 8:45:07 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Suicide stats prompt call for ministry

May 5 2016 by Kevin D. Kennedy, Guest column

With the U.S. suicide rate increasing 24 percent over the past 15 years according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, mental health experts have called pastors to prepare for ministry to suicidal individuals.
 
While a pastor need not mention mental health issues every week from the pulpit, “a bit of regular exposure to such human realities has a way of breaking down the walls of shame and secrecy,” said Tony Rose, pastor of LaGrange (Ky.) Baptist Church. Rose also served as chairman of Mental Health Advisory Council, appointed by Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page.
 
Among the suicide-prevention recommendations of Rose and Texas psychologist Matthew Stanford, also a member of the Mental Health Advisory Council, are asking troubled individuals whether they are contemplating suicide and mentioning mental health issues in sermons.

 
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Image: iStock

According to data released in April by the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. suicide rate increased from 10.5 to 13 per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2014. The only age group to record a decline in suicide during that period was 75 and older.
 
Males are more likely to commit suicide than females, but researchers noted a 200 percent increase in suicides among adolescent girls ages 10-14, increasing from .5 suicides per 100,000 girls to 1.5.
 
Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston, said simple conversation can go a long way to preventing suicide.
 
“Actually asking someone if they are contemplating suicide decreases the likelihood that they will commit suicide,” Stanford said. Specifically, pastors should ask individuals threatening suicide “if they have a plan” to carry it out.
 
Someone without a specific plan is not likely to be in immediate danger of attempting suicide, Stanford said, although anyone with suicidal thoughts should be referred to a trusted mental health professional.
 
If, however, the person has a plan to commit suicide, Stanford suggested asking “if they have the means to carry out that plan.” If, for example, the person says he is planning to take an overdose of drugs and that he has been saving up pills for several months to do so, then that person is in immediate danger of suicide and needs immediate intervention from a mental health professional.
 
Pastors should develop relationships with one or more mental health professionals in the event an emergency arises, Stanford said, noting every county and major city in America has people in the police and emergency fields specially trained to deal with suicide.
 
“When people are having suicidal thoughts, this is not a reasoned thought they are having,” Stanford said. “Ninety-plus percent of people who commit suicide are struggling with a mental health problem at the time that they commit suicide.”
 
Rose said church attendees contemplating suicide need to hear about the grace of God and hope in Jesus.
 
He advised pastors ministering to potentially suicidal individuals, “I would look as hard as I could at the gospel – like I would when helping someone face any other problem. I would look for promises and assurances and warnings. Then I would pray for the sensitivity of the author of Hebrews to know when to offer the comforts and assurances, and when (if ever concerning the suicidal person) to offer the warnings.
 
“I would search the scripture to see if there were any persons that came to the point of wanting to die to end their suffering and seek to learn how God dealt with them. One might want to investigate Moses, Elijah and Jonah,” Rose said in written comments.
 
The most common question pastors will face related to suicide, Rose said, is, “If a Christian commits suicide, does he or she go to Hell?” The answer to that question is no, he said. “However, it is rarely wise or necessary to answer that question for the one who is suicidal.”
 
Rose added, “Compassionate patience, prayer and personal presence are the things we must offer such a broken person.”
 
Rex Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said pastors have addressed suicide since the early days of Christianity.
 
While “the early church fathers had little to say about suicide ... as a rule, [when they did speak] they spoke negatively except in extreme situations,” Butler said.
 
By the fourth century, Butler said, Christians reasoned that “since suicide is killing one’s own self, it is a violation of the sixth commandment. Furthermore, the sinner has no opportunity of repentance after death. Augustine would not excuse even women who committed suicide to avoid rape, but others, such as Jerome, Ambrose and Chrysostom, allowed such exceptions.”
 
Rose said studying the history of suicide among Christians can be a helpful ministry tool.
 
“Suicide is certainly not normal, as in all people experience it,” Rose said. “But it is normal in that some have faced the issue of suicide in every age of the church’s long history.”
 
Informed by the past, ministers must be prepared to face suicidal individuals within their congregations today, Stanford said. He noted that people contemplating suicide are far more likely to speak with a pastor than a mental health professional.
 
“Pastors should take suicidal [thinking] seriously,” Stanford said, “because you only have to be wrong once” for the congregation to experience tragedy.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin D. Kennedy is a writer in Louisville, Ky.)
 

Related Story:

Suicide draws focus of study

5/5/2016 8:44:40 AM by Kevin D. Kennedy, Guest column | with 0 comments



Asian-American networks nurtured at A2CP2 conference

May 5 2016 by Eunsun Han, SWBTS

The fostering of nationwide networks among Asian-American church leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) moved forward during an inaugural Asian-American Church Planting & Cooperative Program (A2CP2) Conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).
 
Paul Kim and Daniel Im were two of the featured speakers at the A2CP2 sessions.
 
Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the SBC Executive Committee, a trustee of SWBTS and a former Boston-area pastor; Im is director of church multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources and for NewChurches.com and teaching pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville.
 

Also highlighting the importance of evangelism, discipleship and unity in advancing God’s Kingdom at the April 9 conference at Southwestern’s campus in Fort Worth, Texas, were Paige Patterson, the seminary’s president, and Doug Carver, retired U.S. Army chief of chaplains and now executive director of chaplaincy for the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

 
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SWBTS photo
Paul Kim, Asian-American relations consultant with the SBC Executive Committee, tells “A2CP2” conference attendees, “Although many of our Southern Baptist churches are small, if we work together cooperatively, we can do greater things for the Kingdom of God.”

Kim, in his message to the 40 conference attendees, emphasized the importance of church-driven evangelism and missions.
 
Today’s believers must “get back to God and His Word for His mission. Before the Lord returns, we need to see more church planting, more evangelism and more missions,” Kim said.
 
“Our nation is broken,” he said, “and it needs to be rebuilt by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.”
 
Kim appealed for cooperation among the nearly 2,000 Asian-American churches in the SBC, noting that together they can support larger ministries that cannot be sustained by individual churches.
 
“Although many of our Southern Baptist churches are small, if we work together cooperatively, we can do greater things for the Kingdom of God,” he said. “I want us to think together and work together as a denomination.”
 
Im, in his message, said the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and church unity and community are indispensable for the healthy growth of a church.
 
“What we need to understand is that the power of the Holy Spirit is for ‘us,’“ Im said. “It’s always about a singular Holy Spirit filling up the plural ‘us.’ We receive the Holy Spirit not as an individual superpower, but as part of the body [of Christ].”
 
Patterson spoke on the judgment seat of Christ, explaining that the “bema,” the Greek word for judgment seat, was actually used to describe military reviewing platforms in Greco-Roman cities. He encouraged the audience to live as soldiers who would merit eternal rewards in heaven.
 
“Only what is done for Christ will last,” Patterson said. “We need to spend these days getting ready for the return of Christ, and for the bema, the judgment seat of Christ, where we will appear to give an account for how we lived for Him. And we will receive rewards for that which we have done for Christ.”
 
Carver addressed the topic of spiritual warfare and mobilization, drawing four points for victorious spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6: maintaining a war footing; knowing the strategy of the enemy; staying in spiritual combat uniform; and upholding a persistent warfare mentality.
 
Carver also underscored the importance of cultivating the heart of Jesus for the lost in mobilizing for ministry. “Mobilization is about seeing the need in the crowds and feeling that compassion moving us to do something,” he said. “People are dying and going to hell. They are self-destructive. ... There’s an urgency, but the workers are few. We have to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the field.”
 
At the conference’s conclusion, Kim told the audience that it was just the beginning of Asian-American networking for church planting and cooperation in the SBC.
 
“We are going to continue on to the next journey,” he said. “We are going to pursue and continue to work together in unity together as one body by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
 
A subsequent A2CP2 conference was held April 29-30 in Oklahoma City. The next will be held May 24-27 in Ohio. A2CP2 conferences currently are scheduled next year at four of the SBC’s seminary campuses, Aug. 23 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Sept. 21 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Oct. 3 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.; and Oct. 10 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Kim said an A2CP2 conference also will be scheduled at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eunsun Han writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)

5/5/2016 8:43:48 AM by Eunsun Han, SWBTS | with 0 comments



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