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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.)
 

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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:

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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



Pray, vote, engage, Franklin Graham urges

May 4 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christians cannot restore America by rallying behind political parties, but must pray, vote and engage in politics to uphold biblical principles, evangelist Franklin Graham told a crowd of about 8,600 gathered at noon May 3 in front of the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville.

 
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Photo by Shawn Hendricks
The estimated 8,600 people gathered at the May 3 Nashville stop of the Decision America Tour 2016 with Franklin Graham was believed to be the largest crowd to date.

It was the largest crowd to date in his Decision America Tour 2016 with Franklin Graham – a series of sermons and prayer rallies at each capitol in the nation that began Jan. 5 in Des Moines, Iowa – and is scheduled to end Oct. 13 in Raleigh, N.C.
 
“Some may ask, ‘Franklin, what would your father have done?’ Well, I can tell you right now if my father were my age, and had the strength, he’d be doing exactly the same thing I believe,” said Billy Graham’s son. “My father said in 1952, I think it’s the duty of every individual Christian at election time to study the issues and the candidates and then go to the polls and vote.”
 
Franklin Graham, the eldest son of Billy and Ruth Graham and the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), evoked the words of his father as still pertinent today.
 
“Listen up church, he said, if I were a pastor of a church, I believe I would explain to my people where each candidate stood morally, spiritually and in relationship to the church,” Graham quoted his father. “He said I feel that we’re going to have to meet our political obligations as Christians and make our voice known if America is to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage which has given us the liberty and freedom we now enjoy.
 
“For unless,” said Graham, quoting his father, “America turns back to God, repents of its sin and experiences spiritual revival, we will fail as a nation. And I believe God honors leaders in high places who honor Him.”

 
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Photo by Diana Chandler
Franklin Graham’s sermon in front of the Nashville Capitol today (May 3) at noon was one of 50 stops on his Decision America Tour 2016 with Franklin Graham.

Graham led the crowd in targeted prayers of repentance for personal sins, the sins of the nation and the sins of our forefathers, and offered salvation to the lost.
 
He encouraged Christians to take back the country by running for public office, encouraging them to run and support Christian candidates.
 
“Ladies and gentlemen we need leaders in high places, we need leaders in public office who are not afraid or scared to honor almighty God,” Graham said. “America is being stripped of its biblical heritage and its God given foundations.”
 
Too many leaders, Graham said, are more concerned with political correctness than biblical truth, and should be willing to stand on God’s Word in the marketplace.
 
“It’s time for Christians to take a stand and if they want to sue, bring it on, come on, sue us. But we’re not going to shut up, we’re not going to back up, because Jesus said if they did that to me, they’re going to do that to you,” Graham said. “So He’s already warned us, so let’s just go ahead and take a bullet, right? I’m just saying we take a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, for what He taught.”
 
He encouraged Christians to vote not only in the presidential election, but also in local and state races.
 
“Take your communities back. The devil’s got them, let’s get them back. And it could be done by the Christians, because they’re more of us than there is of them. We just cannot afford to be silent anymore,” he said. “We may not have another opportunity as a nation like this again. So you’ve got to vote.”
 
Graham did not endorse a candidate nor promote a political party.
 
The tour is scheduled to end Oct. 13 in Raleigh, N.C. Prior to Nashville, the March 31 Sacramento, Calif., stop had attracted the largest crowd, according to the BGEA, with an estimated 7,500 gathered there.

 
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Photo by Diana Chandler
On the May 3rd Nashville stop of the Decision America Tour 2016 with Franklin Graham, the evangelist led the crowd in targeted prayer for America and its people.

The tour’s mission, as stated on the tour website, holds that “because Jesus Christ is the only hope for America (1 Corinthians 3:11), we call our nation to God and pray for His forgiveness and blessing (2 Chronicles 7:14) and for the liberty and freedom to continue to proclaim His Name until He returns (2 Corinthians 4:5). Will you stand with us in fervent prayer for our nation?”
 
Americans are asked to sign a statement at decisionamericatour.com/pledge/, pledging to honor God at home, in public and with their vote, “supporting, where possible, candidates who will uphold biblical principles, including the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage.”
 
The pledge also makes a promise “to pray fervently and faithfully for America,” it said, “to be registered and to vote in every election – local, state, and federal – supporting, where possible, candidates who uphold biblical principles,” and “to engage in my community with God’s truth and prayerfully consider running for office.”
 
The tour site offers an opportunity at decisionamericatour.com/prayer-team/ to join prayer teams in individual states and organize community prayer teams.
 
“This is a powerful way you can take meaningful action, praying with passion and persistence for our pastors, our churches, our cities and state, and especially our nation – all from home, on your schedule, as God leads,” the site encourages. “You’ll receive periodic email updates and have access to your state’s prayer group on Facebook.”
 
The tour continues May 4 in Frankfort, Ky., May 5 in Charleston, W.Va., and May 17 in Jefferson City, Mo.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

5/4/2016 12:14:05 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Student expelled for views on homosexuality

May 4 2016 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Former Missouri State University student Andrew Cash is suing the college for expelling him from the school’s counseling program based on his opposition to same-sex relationships.
 
Cash, who began his master’s in counseling in 2007, was expelled from the program in 2014 for expressing his views on counseling homosexual couples on relationship issues.
 
“He never said he wouldn’t counsel a gay person,” Jason Craddock, a lawyer with the Thomas More Society, which filed the suit earlier this week, told WORLD News Service.
 
Cash told administrators he would counsel homosexuals suffering from depression and anxiety, but not couples and not regarding their homosexual relationships. Instead, he would refer them to another counselor who did not share his views.

 
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“That still wasn’t good enough for the university,” Craddock said.
 
Cash’s clash with the university began in the spring of 2011, after he started an internship with Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI). For a counseling degree, the university requires 600 hours of clinical internship, with 240 hours face-to-face with clients.
 
At least one other student had completed an internship through the Christian counseling agency, and the university’s internship coordinator, Kristi Perryman, approved Cash’s internship with the group in the fall of 2010.
 
As part of the program, students were required to arrange a class presentation on a counseling topic. Cash chose Christian counseling, and invited members of SMFI to speak. During the presentation on April 11, 2011, a fellow student asked if SMFI counseled gay couples.
 
W.K. Boyce, SMFI’s executive director, said he would counsel gay people individually but not as couples. His Christian beliefs compelled him to refer homosexual couples to someone else, he said.
 
The next Monday in class, Boyce’s response became a hot topic of discussion. That night, Cash got an email from Perryman “directing him to meet with her ‘in person as soon as possible’ regarding his internship at SMFI,” the lawsuit states.
 
Perryman asked Cash about his religious beliefs on homosexuality and told him he had violated the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which states counselors must “refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”
 
She also told him he would not be allowed to continue his internship at SMFI, and the agency was then removed from the university’s approved internship list.
 
Cash had to write a paper on working with gay couples and seek a new internship. He also had to show that he “had learned from this experience,” an email from Perryman said.
 
In 2012, Cash submitted an application for a new internship, but also counted the 51 hours of clinical time he’d already spent at SMFI. He also claimed “there was nothing wrong” with his internship at SMFI, according to the lawsuit.
 
Perryman met with fellow department heads, who agreed Cash must leave the program or go through a “remediation plan.” The plan included 10 counseling sessions and re-taking classes he had already passed with “A’s.”
 
Cash appealed the decision to another professor, to a committee, to the Dean of the College of Education, and to the Provost, but was denied each time.
 
“The more he stood his ground, the more they started saying they had concerns about him ethically,” Craddock said.
 
In November 2014, Cash had a 3.81 GPA, a clean record, and only a few milestones to go before graduation when school officials expelled him from the counseling program.
 
It’s not the first time a counseling student has faced challenges for holding Christian views. In 2010, Jennifer Keeton was kicked out of her master’s in counseling program at Georgia’s Augusta State University for holding that homosexuality is a sinful life choice, not a biological imperative. Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom sued the school on Keeton’s behalf but ultimately lost the case.
 
Julea Ward, initially expelled from her counseling program at Eastern Michigan University for trying to refer a client seeking advice on a homosexual relationship, had more success in the courts. The school eventually settled with Ward in 2012, paying her $75,000.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for World News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

5/4/2016 12:02:47 PM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Missionary slain in Jamaica was Iowa Southern Baptist

May 4 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An Iowa Southern Baptist was among two American missionaries killed in Jamaica April 30 in what appeared to be a violent attack.
 
Randy Hentzel, 48, a member of First Family Church in Ankeny, Iowa, was serving with the Pennsylvania-based Teams for Medical Missions when he was slain in a remote, rural area of Jamaica along with fellow missionary Harold Nichols, 53. The two men went for a motorcycle ride at approximately 8 a.m., and Hentzel’s body was found hours later beside a motorcycle in some bushes, according to a news release from the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Nichols’ body was found the next day in a separate area.
 
St. Mary parish, where the deaths occurred, is a region known for violence, according to media reports.
 
Nichols was a member of East Randolph (N.Y.) United Methodist Church.

 
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Photo courtesy of First Family Church
Missionary Randy Hentzel (back, center) was killed April 30 in Jamaica along with colleague Harold Nichols.

John Heater, executive director of Teams for Medical Missions, told the Des Moines Register, “We do not know who would do this or what their motivation was. These men greatly loved the people of Jamaica and were greatly loved in return.”
 
The Jamaican Constabulary Force said in a May 2 release it is “doing everything possible to identify the criminals responsible for these brutal acts.” A motive “has not yet been established,” the release continued, “but we can assure you we will bring the perpetrators to justice for these tragic and heinous acts.”
 
The release added, “We are profoundly saddened by this senseless act of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these victims who tirelessly devoted their lives to assisting those in need here in Jamaica.”
 
Todd Stiles, pastor of First Family, said the congregation commissioned Hentzel and his wife Sara as fulltime missionaries to Jamaica in 2011 and supported them financially on an ongoing basis. Hentzel was a founding member of First Family in 2004 and served part-time as the church’s first small groups pastor.
 
“We are praying for right biblical justice,” Stiles said, “but we’re also praying for gospel expansion ... Randy paid with his life in the country he loved and was trying to help them train up pastors and plant churches. We’re praying that God will use his blood as a seed for the gospel to go even to greater lengths in that country.”
 
Sara Hentzel was in Iowa at the time of her husband’s death. The couple had been on furlough since November, Stiles said. Randy Hentzel returned to Jamaica for three weeks to prepare for the short-term trip of a U.S. team and check on a local Bible training center, Teams for Medical Missions said, noting the short-term trip has been canceled.
 
The Hentzels have five children, the youngest of whom is in ninth grade, Stiles said. First Family is helping the family financially, providing meals and assisting with coordination of a memorial service scheduled for May 9.
 
Stiles said Randy Hentzel “would do anything to see the gospel spread and people get saved.”
 
If Hentzel were still living, Stiles said, “he would say, ‘If giving my life would be a way to further God’s Kingdom [with] more churches, more souls saved ... then count me in.’ He wouldn’t worry about the risk. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
 
As the investigation in Jamaica continues, Stiles said he hopes “appropriate and righteous pressure on the Jamaican government” will encourage officials “to work at this in a God-given manner to bring those who do evil to justice.”
 
A U.S. State Department official said in written comments, “We can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols in Jamaica. We extend our deepest condolences to their loved ones. The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is providing consular assistance, and Ambassador [Luis] Moreno has contacted the highest levels of the Jamaican security establishment regarding the case. For questions about the circumstances of their deaths and the investigation, we refer you to Jamaican authorities. Out of respect for Mr. Hentzel’s and Mr. Nichols’ families during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

5/4/2016 11:54:30 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



USCIRF: Religious liberty continues to decline

May 4 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Religious liberty continued to worsen globally in the last year, according to the annual report of a bipartisan, federal watchdog.
 
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported May 2 governments around the world and non-government forces in locations such as Nigeria, Iraq and Syria were guilty of a “serious and sustained assault” on freedom of belief. The commission cited the rampant imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, the startling increase in refugees and the ongoing bigotry toward Jews and Muslims in Europe as examples of attacks on religious adherents.
 
“At best, at best, in most of the countries that we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve in any serious or demonstrable way. At worst, they’ve spiraled downward,” USCIRF Chairman Robert George told reporters in a telephone news conference.
 
The USCIRF report, said Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore, “details yet again how many millions of people around the world are daily deprived of the most fundamental human right.”

 
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Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), urged the federal government and followers of Christ to act on behalf of the suffering.
 
“Soul freedom is everyone’s issue, for religious and non-religious people alike,” Moore said. “The United States must continue to take the lead in global advocacy for religious liberty, and Christians everywhere must continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.”
 
George called for the United States and other countries to include religious liberty in discussions of security, humanitarian and other issues on the international scene.
 
“[T]he right to religious freedom deserves a prominent seat at the table. It’s our hope that this seat will be provided in the coming years,” George said. “Religious freedom is far from the problem. The cause of advancing religious freedom is the solution.”
 
In its report, USCIRF again encouraged the State Department to designate more “countries of particular concern” (CPC), a label reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty. Its recommendations came barely two weeks after the State Department announced its latest CPC list, which failed to include seven of the governments recommended in last year’s USCIRF report for the designation.
 
The commission again advised CPC designation for the seven – Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam – in this year’s report. USCIRF also urged CPC redesignation in its latest report for nine longstanding offenders: Burma; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan.
 
The State Department informed Congress April 14 that Secretary John Kerry had redesignated those nine governments for CPC status and had added a new one, Tajikistan. USCIRF had endorsed Tajikistan as a CPC last year, a recommendation it repeated in its new report.
 
Also May 2, USCIRF placed 10 countries on Tier 2, once known as its “watch list.” Tier 2 countries, which are on the threshold of recommendation for CPC or Tier 1 designation, are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey. Those same countries inhabited Tier 2 last year as well.
 
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said the Southern Baptist entity is “sobered by the USCIRF report this year, which shows that conditions for religious minorities continue to deteriorate in many places around the world.” He also commended George and USCIRF for their work “to shine a spotlight on religious freedom” but expressed concerns in a May 2 blog post about the U.S. government’s commitment to religious liberty.
 
The State Department’s designation of CPCs – nearly two years after the most recent list – is “an important step,” but the United States “can be doing more,” Wussow wrote.
 
While persuasion and engagement are helpful, “inducement – another tool in the statecraft toolbox – is not being used in a meaningful way to advance religious liberty,” he said. “We urge the State Department to make the violation of religious liberty – a fact that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world every day – a key priority in American foreign policy.”
 
The president has various means for inducing countries on the CPC list to change, including sanctions such as export and travel restrictions. In the State Department’s latest CPC designations, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan received waivers from penalties because of the “important national interest of the United States.”
 
USCIRF’s new report urged the federal government not only to designate all its recommended countries as CPCs, but it also included calls for:

  • Waivers for CPCs to be limited to a definite time period and be subject to review before being renewed.

  • Support of a referral to the International Criminal Court to probe violations by the terroristic Islamic State against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria – acts the State Department classified in March as “genocide.”

  • A commitment to seeking to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees in America after “proper vetting and a prioritization based on vulnerability.”

  • Efforts to bring about the freedom of prisoners of conscience.

Most of USCIRF’s 17 CPC-recommended regimes and 10 Tier 2 countries “continue to jail people, at least sometimes, based on their religion or belief,” George told reporters.
 
Among religious freedom violations cited by USCIRF in its report:

  • Iran increasingly has imprisoned religious minority adherents – especially Christians, Sunni Muslims and Baha’is – since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, despite releasing Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini and others in the last year.

  • Russia has convicted, fined and detained many Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses especially under a religious extremism law.

  • The Islamic State’s murderous campaign has produced three million internally displaced people in Iraq and 7.5 million in Syria, as well as four million refugees from that Middle Eastern country, while more than one million Nigerians have abandoned their homes in the face of Boko Haram’s terrorist spree.

  • “Societal intolerance” of Jews and Muslims, including discriminatory policies and sometimes violence, has mounted in Western Europe.

USCIRF – which is made up of nine commissioners selected by the president and congressional leaders – tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department. George is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.
 
The commission’s 2016 report, which is nearly 270 pages in length, covered the 13 months between Feb. 1, 2015, and Feb. 29 of this year. The report is available online at http://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF%202016%20Annual%20Report.pdf.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Stories:

International religious freedom list: reactions mixed
USCIRF crucial to religious freedom, Moore says

5/4/2016 11:45:46 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP 6.45% ahead of budget projection

May 4 2016 by Baptist Press Staff

Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) national and international missions and ministries received by the SBC Executive Committee are 6.45 percent above the year-to-date budgeted projection, and 4.15 percent above contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page. The total includes receipts from state conventions and fellowships, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2015-16 SBC Cooperative Program (CP) Allocation Budget.
 
As of April 30, gifts received by the Executive Committee for distribution through the CP Allocation Budget through the first seven months of the SBC’s fiscal year totaled $115,806,604.28. The total is $7,014,937.61 above the $108,791,666.67 year-to-date budgeted to support Southern Baptist Convention ministries globally and across North America and $4,618,397.25 above the $111,188,207.03 received through the end of April 2015.
 
Designated giving of $143,831,820.80 for the same year-to-date period is 8.68 percent, or $11,489,149.53, above gifts of $132,342,671.27 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.
 
April’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $16,490,768.19. Designated gifts received last month, meanwhile, amounted to $14,709,022.63.
 
The convention-adopted budget is distributed 50.41 percent to international missions through the International Missoin Board (IMB), 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16 percent to theological education through the SBC’s six seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget, and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources are self-sustaining and do not receive CP funding.
 
According to the budget adopted by the SBC at its June 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, if the convention exceeds its annual budget goal of $186.5 million dollars, IMB’s share will go to 51 percent of any overage in CP allocation budget receipts. Other ministry entities of the SBC will receive their adopted percentage amounts and the SBC operating budget’s portion will be reduced to 2.4 percent of any overage.
 
The CP is a channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the various ministries of its state or regional Baptist convention and to the various missions and ministries of the SBC with a single contribution. State and regional Baptist conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the CP to support work in their respective areas and forward a percentage to SBC national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget. The totals in this release reflect only the SBC portion of CP receipts.
 
CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state offices, to the denominational papers and are posted online at cpmissions.net/CPReports.
 
The end-of-month total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of each month. Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions and the timing of when state conventions forward the national portion of their CP contributions to the Executive Committee.

5/4/2016 11:38:12 AM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments



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