March 6 2014 by
Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press
KIEV, Ukraine – Tensions rose to dangerous levels as Russian forces occupied Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in late February, but Ukrainian Baptists
aren’t slowing down their ministry to a nation battered by months of internal crisis.
In fact, they’re picking up the pace.
The response from the churches has been fantastic,” said International Mission Board (IMB) worker Shannon Ford, who lives in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev, during a March 4 interview. “It really has been a time for prayer – not simply saying we’re going to pray, but actually going and being seen and guiding other people to pray,” even in the far east near the Russian border.
IMB personnel are serving right beside them.
“We’re able to do our ministry,” Ford insisted. “We have a family in [a Crimean city] right where the Russian fleet is parked. I talked to them this morning, and they were telling me all the different ministry things they did last week and what they’re planning this week. So despite all the uneasiness and the frightening pictures from the zoom lens of the media, our personnel and our national brothers and sisters are still doing their job, still having outreach groups, still holding services, still doing the things they do.”
IMB photo by Chris Carter
A Crimean Tatar pauses to pray. The man, who wished to remain unidentified, is a church planter to his own people in Crimea. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is a small peninsula south of the Ukraine in the Black Sea, roughly the size of New Jersey. The Crimean Tatars have inhabited the Crimean peninsula, now a part of Ukraine, for more than seven centuries.
Ford doesn’t downplay the dangers facing Ukraine from both inside and out – or the agony the nation has experienced in recent months as protesters battled police and blood flowed before the government changed hands. He has served there for more than 15 years and feels the pain of Ukrainians more than most foreigners.
“The last couple of weeks in Kiev have been really tense,” he said, reflecting on the violent clashes in Kiev’s Independence Square. “The loss of life was just very hard to accept. The days after that turned into something more like an extended funeral period. I don’t know that I’ve seen a more grieving or sorrowful time in Ukraine.”
But Christians came alongside Ukrainians in the midst of their suffering and struggle, setting up tents in Independence Square to pray for people, provide medical aid, serve food and tea, distribute Bibles and share the gospel. In Ford’s view, it’s an outward sign of the maturing of evangelical work since Ukraine gained independence from the dissolving Soviet Union.
“For us it’s become a wonderful place for ministry because of our excellent partners, the Ukrainian Baptist Union,” he said. “Evangelistic efforts and church planting have borne lots of fruit. We’ve turned a page now from the pioneer work in the early ‘90s to looking toward missionary-sending from this country.”
At the moment, however, the crisis at home demands the full attention of Ukrainian Baptists. One of them is Oleksandr Turchynov
, who was voted interim national president by the Ukrainian Parliament until new elections take place in May. He took office after President Viktor Yanukovych
was removed Feb. 23 and later fled to Russia (Russia’s incursion into Crimea followed within a week).
Turchynov “has been a lay preacher in one of our Baptist churches, and he has brought a demeanor of trust and respect to the acting government,” Ford said. “So it’s really been a great time for the churches to be doing what we ought to be doing. They’ve not hidden. They’ve actually activated and gotten more visible during this time of stress and tension.”
Now, as divisions increase between ethnic Ukrainians in the western part of the country and ethnic Russians in the east, Christians are focusing on bringing people together.
“‘Unity’ is the word that keeps being used,” Ford reported. “The [Baptist] brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine mostly use Russian. Many of them have Russian heritage. But they are the first ones to speak up and say, ‘There’s no tension between us and the Ukrainian speakers.’ Those in western Ukraine, even in a city that is very nationalistic and Ukrainian in language and culture, declared a ‘Russian language only’ day. They actually took to the streets and used Russian to show we’re one country. Language is not the thing that divides us.”
Unless circumstances force a change in plans, Baptists and mission workers anticipate a full schedule of summer camps, evangelistic outreach events and other ministries this year. In fact, Ford hopes Southern Baptist volunteers come to work alongside them.
“It may sound like a fool’s errand, but we still think you can come and serve, because we’re still here and we’d like you to come and join us,” he said. He also challenged Southern Baptists to use the current situation as a way to reach out to ethnic Ukrainians and Russians in American communities.
Ford said he and other IMB workers have been overwhelmed and greatly encouraged by the many emails and social media posts from Southern Baptists expressing concern and promising prayer.
“It’s kind of strange. We’re in a sense of alert, but we’re also very much at ease,” he said. “Our No. 1 prayer is not necessarily for our safety, even though we of course want that for ourselves and for our people. Our No. 1 prayer is that we make use of this opportunity to be purveyors of the gospel light. There’s just a lot of opportunity, and I’d hate for us to miss it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)
3/6/2014 11:42:26 AM
March 6 2014 by
Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
BALTIMORE – “Restoration and revival through prayer
,” is the theme of the Southern Baptist Convention
(SBC) 2014 annual meeting June 10 - 11 in Baltimore, SBC president Fred Luter
“We have not had a theme that focused on prayer and revival for many years,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church
in New Orleans. “I pray that God will send revival across America and particularly among Southern Baptists.”
Psalm 80:18–19 is Luter’s selection as the biblical text to support the theme: “Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call on Your name. Restore us, Yahweh, the God of Hosts; look on us with favor, and we will be saved” (HCSB).
Luter will preach during the June 10 evening session, marking his last presidential address.
No other business will be presented or discussed in the evening session, adhering to last year’s annual meeting format, said David Smith
, chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business
and executive director of the Austin Baptist Association in Texas
“It obviously had such a great response last year that we decided we wanted to do it again,” Smith said of the evening session. “We just think it’s going to bring back something that folks go to Convention for – to hear the Word, to be inspired, and to worship. And we’re looking forward to it.”
Luter, a member of the committee, requested at the September 2013 Executive Committee meeting that the evening worship format continues, Smith said.
“[President Luter] said, ‘I’d really like to recommend that we do the Tuesday night event again.’ And of course our committee wholeheartedly supported that,” Smith said. “On Tuesday night of the convention he’ll be sharing his president’s address and Roger [McGee, pastor of music and worship at First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia] will be leading in the worship time.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff.)
SBC children, student registrations open
3/6/2014 11:31:50 AM
March 6 2014 by
Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press
Baptist Press | with 0 comments
WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department has issued a statement deploring what it calls “continued threats against Christians and other minorities in Syria” from militant Islamists at war with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
and fellow Islamic militants.
According to a March 3 statement from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
, the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant
(ISIL) announced last week in Raqqa it will force Christians in the city to “convert to Islam, remain Christian and pay a tax, or face death.”
“These outrageous conditions violate universal human rights,” Psaki said. “ISIL has demonstrated time and again its disregard for Syrian lives, and it continues to commit atrocities against the Syrian people. Although ISIL claims it is fighting the regime, its oppression of and senseless violence against Syrians, including the moderate Syrian opposition, demonstrates that it is fighting for nothing except the imposition of its own brand of tyranny.”
The State Department’s condemnation of ISIL comes as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the group – a branch of al-Qaida also known as ISIS – had given Christians in Raqqa an ultimatum to accept a “dhimma,” a protection agreement much like those between mafia families and businesses. If the agreement was not signed, the villagers would have to convert to Islam or “face the sword.”
Haaretz reported Christians in the city had signed the agreement, which commits them to a biannual tax of “four gold dinars” – about $500 per person. Those deemed middle class Christians by Islamic clerics are only required to pay half the tax, while those who are poor will be required to pay one quarter of that amount.
The average annual income in Syria is only $4,800 (US), and much less since the civil war began. That means many Christians will be unable to pay the tax and will be forced into conversion or worse.
In addition to being required to practice Christianity behind closed doors, Christians in Raqqa must now follow 11 other conditions in order to keep the agreement with their Muslim overlords. Among those conditions are prohibitions on building new sanctuaries or restoring those damaged in the civil war, aiding any faction or government opposed to ISIL, and discouraging conversions to Islam from within the Christian community, according to the Israeli newspaper.
The dhimma is a type of agreement that has existed in Islam since the mid-7th century. The opportunity to pay the tax or “jizya” for protection was offered to Christians and Jews during the Islamic conquests because Islam’s founder, Muhammad, regarded Christians and Jews as “people of the Book,” partly because Islam claimed Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets and partly because the religion’s founder believed Christians and Jews living among Muslims would seek conversion in order to stop paying the tax.
Under such an agreement, “dhimmis” were and still are considered defeated and humbled foes of Islam.
In the Koran (Surah 9:29), followers of Islam are instructed to “fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and his messenger have declared unlawful – those who do not practice the religion of truth though they were given the Book – until they pay the tribute willingly and have been humbled.”
Muslims, according to Islamic teaching, are required to protect the lives and property of dhimmis, but they can be killed without trial if they violate the agreement.
Psaki said in her statement the dhimma between the ISIL and Christians in Raqqa is a departure from the “long history of tolerance and co-existence” between Muslims and Christians in Syria. But she also said that Christians were not fairing any better under the assault of the Assad regime.
“Both the regime and ISIL are fueling sectarian strife to justify their brutality. We strongly condemn these abuses and urge all parties to protect and respect the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or religion,” Psaki said.
Raqqa, however, is not the first Christian settlement to be subjected to mistreatment by Islamic militants when caught between rebels and the Assad regime. In fact, it is not the first time ISIL has forced Christians to make a decision between faith, property or life.
In March 2013, nearly two years into the Syrian uprising prompted by the so-called “Arab Spring,” the town of Yacoubiyeh, comprised of nearly 2,500 Christian residents, was subjected to the same treatment. The commander of militant Islamist forces there said he would implement Islamic law, forcing Christians into a type of second class citizenry.
The rebel commander, using the pseudonym Hakim, said Christians could practice their freedoms, but in private. “Personal freedom stops where the freedom of others begins,” Hakim told the Associated Press.
The Christians in Yacoubiyeh who could flee fled, and militants moved on to capture the villages of Judeida and Quniya, home to thousands of other Christians. Those who remained met with Islamic clerics and expressed their desire to avoid the status of dhimmi. But the Lebanese Daily Star reported that Muslim clerics noted the absence of a legitimate government as a reason for the “service” provided by Islamic courts practicing Sharia law, to which the Christians would be subject.
The specter of ill treatment under Sharia law has caused many Christians, at first sympathetic with the rebels, to again support the Assad regime. In fact, several Assadist strongholds are among the ancient Christian communities that have been attacked by jihadists.
In September 2013, for instance, rebels comprised mainly of militant Islamists attacked the ancient town of Maaloula, the last town on earth where ancient Aramaic is the primary language. Jihadist fighters overran a Christian monastery in the town but did not harm the few remaining nuns there. They stated they were looking only to cleanse the town of supporters of the Assad regime.
However, churches in Maaloula were reportedly destroyed and Christian relics smashed in the fighting. Rebels also executed more than 20 people in the town square, many of them reportedly Christians loyal to the Assad regime.
News organizations such as Arutz Sheva, a national Israeli news agency, said the attack on Maaloula was led by the al-Nusra front of al-Qaida. It is this group, taking direction from al-Qaida’s spiritual leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, which is in a battle of its own with ISIL. Al-Nusra has accused ISIL leaders of assassinating some of its leaders to gain greater control over the Islamist revolution.
“The paradoxical result is that the al-Qaida stand-in – Al-Nusra – is now considered a more desirable ally of the rebels than ISIS because it relies largely on Syrian support, while ISIS [ISIL] has recruited many volunteers from Arab and Western countries,” Haaretz reported.
“Al-Nusra has also been ‘kinder’ to civilians. True, the group’s militants decapitated civilians suspected of supporting the Syrian regime, but it also is better at keeping order and maintaining the food supply to the civilians under its control. In addition, Al-Nusra and the Islamic Front – an umbrella organization for several Islamist groups – are currently cooperating in an effort to create a united front against ISIS [ISIL].”
According to Haaretz, al-Zawhiri, who assumed command of al-Qaida after the death of Osama bin Laden, told ISIL to stop resisting al-Qaida’s leadership or it would face “a dreadful battle.”
Fighting between the two groups, which has left Christians with little options in a three-way struggle between Assad, al-Qaida’s al-Nusra and ISIL, reportedly has resulted in 3,000 deaths. The pushback from al-Nusra also reportedly forced ISIL to hold up in Raqqa, where the dhimma agreement was signed.
In December 2013, political leaders in neighboring Lebanon denounced the first attacks on Christian sites in Syria, in particular the Church of the Annunciation and Martyrs in Raqqa.
, who was president of Lebanon during its own civil war from 1982-88 and is now head of the Kataeb Party largely comprised of Maronite Catholics, said the attacks “show the irresponsibility and ignorance of those who committed these crimes.” Gemayel called for militants to respect the freedom of those from other civilizations and religions.
According to CNN, ISIL’s agreement with the Christians of Raqqa has since come under fire from other radical clerics as well. Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition fighting the Assad regime, said the group’s treatment of non-Muslims was “un-Islamic.”
The radical cleric Abu Qatada, who is standing trial in Jordan for terrorism, told CNN the militants could not impose such an agreement on Christians yet – because they were not yet “empowered to govern Syria.” Presumably then, whichever branch of Islamic militants completes its conquest of the nation could then force Christians to submit as dhimmis.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.)
3/6/2014 11:18:32 AM
March 6 2014 by
Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
BALTIMORE – Registration is open for preschool childcare, Children’s Conferences International, Children in Action Missions Camp
and Youth on Mission
in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s
June 10-11 annual meeting in Baltimore.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
childcare volunteers will care for preschoolers, while Children’s Conferences International
and Woman’s Missionary Union
will guide the Children in Action Missions Camp and Youth on Mission curricula and activities.
Preschool childcare and activities for children who have completed grades 1-6 will be housed at the Baltimore Convention Center, the annual meeting site. Youth who have completed grades 7-12 will begin their days at the convention center with worship before going into the community for hands-on missions work.
Pre-registration is required and will be accepted online at www.sbcannualmeeting.net
under the “Children/Youth” tab. All participants should register as soon as possible because of limited space.
Due to space limitations and worker-to-children ratio objectives, onsite registration will not be accepted.
Preschool childcare for newborns through 5-year-olds will be available during the SBC Pastors’ Conference, June 8-9, and the annual meeting, June 10-11. The cost is $25 per child for each of the events. In addition, there is a $10 non-refundable registration fee per child.
Lunch for preschoolers will be available for $6 Monday and $12 total for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Parents should pay all related fees when registering to insure their child’s participation. The SBC will verify registrations with an emailed confirmation packet, including a parents’ handbook.
Children’s Conferences International
Children’s Conferences International will offer the adventure “Christ Who Strengthens Me” for children ages 4-12 during the Pastors’ Conference. The cost for Sunday evening and Monday is $27 or for Monday only is $23. Registration at the door will be $30.
Registration is open at http://www.childrensconferences.com/*!sbc-pastors-conference-2014/c18n4
Children in Action Missions Camp
Children in Action Missions Camp for children who have completed grades 1-6 by May/June will be offered June 10-11.
The camp theme “Gotta Tell It!” is designed to challenge children to tell God’s story to people who need to hear it.
“Children attending the Children in Action Missions Camp will learn that they can know God and have a relationship with Him,” said Cindy Bradley, Michigan WMU executive director and camp coordinator.
“In addition to Bible studies, children will visit with missionaries representing both the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board,” Bradley said. “Children will also participate in worship sessions, games and recreation, crafts and mission projects. These Bible study and missions experiences will show children that they are a part of God’s story and have a place in His story.”
The cost is $40 per child. In addition, there is a $10 non-refundable registration fee per child. Snacks will be provided; lunch will not. Parents will need to pick up their children both days at the conclusion of the morning session.
Youth on Mission
Youth on Mission for students who’ve completed grades 7-12 by May/June will be provided June 10-11.
“Youth on Mission will learn that they can know God and have a relationship with Him. They will be encouraged to be bold in telling His story and by serving others. The youth will serve through hands-on missions projects in Baltimore,” said Kristy Carr, National WMU Ministry Consultant and Youth on Mission coordinator. “Each morning mission studies will be presented by both International Mission Board and North American Mission Board missionaries.”
The cost is $55 per youth. In addition, there is a $10 non-refundable registration fee per youth. Lunch and a snack will be provided both days.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Lynn Richmond of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s office of convention finance.)
Restoration, revival, prayer 2014 meeting focus
3/6/2014 11:04:30 AM
March 5 2014 by
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service
Baptist Press | with 0 comments
American evangelicals are denouncing a new Uganda law that criminalizes homosexuality, reiterating a position that many have held for years but which has nonetheless drawn scrutiny and skepticism from critics.
Since 2009, several American pastors and leaders have condemned legislation in Uganda that in its initial version imposed the death penalty for some offenders. Under the revised law signed recently by President Yoweri Museveni
, the death penalty was removed and replaced with life in prison in some cases.
Now, American evangelicals who insist they never supported either version of the law nonetheless find themselves playing defense, saying their statements against homosexuality at home are being twisted as an endorsement of harsh penalties against gays and lesbians abroad.
Decrying laws in countries such as Uganda and Russia, Russell Moore
, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
, said he knows no evangelicals who would support legislation like Uganda’s.
“We always must balance a fear of Western cultural imperialism with a responsibility to speak to global human rights around the world,” said Moore, who has also denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws because he has adopted sons from Russia.
RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.
Russell Moore at the Washington offices of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Those of us who hold to a Christian sexual ethic don’t want to see those who disagree with us jailed; we want to see them reconciled to God through the gospel.”
The timing of Uganda’s legislation coincided with heated debates in the U.S. over the proposed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed businesses in the state to deny services to people who are gay if they felt that serving them would violate their religious rights.
“The situations in Uganda and Arizona are galaxies apart,” Moore said. “I think that in Arizona and several other states, in an attempt to preserve our religious liberties, regardless of how we agree with how it’s being done, can hardly compare with persecution around the world.”
California megachurch pastor Rick Warren
, too, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday (March 2) denying allegations that he ever supported the Uganda bill. In 2009, Warren posted an “encyclical video” on YouTube saying he opposes the criminalization of homosexuality.
“Last week, the nation of Uganda passed a bad law, which I have publicly opposed for nearly 5 years,” Warren wrote. “I still oppose it, but rumors persist because lies and errors are never removed from the internet.”
Evangelical humanitarian organization World Vision has opposed the bill since 2009, arguing that it could hamper efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS. “More people would be reluctant to seek, receive or even provide care and compassion out of fear of being reported,” the organization said in a statement. “This would also make their families and children even more vulnerable.”
Uganda is not the only country to criminalize same-sex relations. The United Nations
estimates that 78 countries ban homosexuality.
Since the law passed, Uganda has been hit with substantial aid cuts from Western nations; the World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan for the country’s health systems. Secretary of State John Kerry
has likened Uganda’s law to South Africa’s apartheid-era ban on interracial unions. Cardinal Peter Turkson
of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Tuesday that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not receive a sentence of life in prison.
Media reports have connected the bill to a 2009 conference in Uganda, at which three Americans condemned homosexual behavior and promoted therapy for same-sex attraction. One of the men, Scott Lively
, a Massachusetts pastor and head of Abiding Truth Ministries
, said that he is not responsible for the bill.
“It’s a very insulting argument, that somehow an American evangelical pastor is so powerful that I’ve overwhelmed the intelligence of an entire government and turned them out to do my will,” Lively said. “The Ugandans knew what they wanted to hear.”
He said he does not support the bill in its final form.
“I have mixed feelings about the final law,” Lively said. “I support the portions that increase penalties for homosexual abuse among children, intentionally spreading AIDS through sodomy. The penalties in the law for simple homosexuality are still too harsh.”
He said that if he had power to implement legislation in the U.S., he would make laws related to sexuality similar to new marijuana laws, where the government would be prohibited from advocating and promoting it but advocates who practice it would left alone. He said he also would have recommended reparative therapy, the disputed belief that sexual orientation can be changed.
“There are many who are compelled to same-sex behavior, like alcoholism or any other behavioral disorder,” Lively said. “The government should be concerned with helping them overcome their problems and not just punish them for it.”
Initial opposition to the bill was strong among evangelicals, but it gradually faded due to “Uganda fatigue,” said Warren Throckmorton
, a professor of psychology at Grove City College.
“Early on, Rick Warren went out on a big way against the bill, and he still got blamed for it at times. Some of the vigor early on was worn down over time,” Throckmorton said. “The bill came up and then died several times. Just when you thought it was gone and over with, the Ugandan parliament passed it in the middle of the night, so to speak.”
He said he would have expected a more vigorous response from evangelicals who have a stake in Uganda.
“Evangelicals have missionaries there, televangelists have shows on TV there. There is a substantial American Christian presence there,” Throckmorton said. “From the Ugandans’ point of view, the bill was passed as a way to make Uganda a more Christian nation; evangelicals could’ve been more vocal by saying, ‘This is not how it’s done.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
3/5/2014 8:19:08 AM
March 5 2014 by
Tom Strode, Baptist Press
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments
WASHINGTON – A German homeschooling couple and their children who are part of a Southern Baptist church have received notice from the Obama administration they will not be deported only a day after their hopes appeared dashed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Home School Legal Defense Association
(HSLDA) announced Tuesday (March 4) it had been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with news the federal entity would not deport Uwe
and Hannelore Romeike
and their seven children. DHS verbally informed HSLDA, which has represented the family in court, the Romeikes had been granted “indefinite deferred status,” which means they will be able to remain in the United States permanently unless they violate the terms of that status.
The surprising turn of events came only a day after the Supreme Court announced it would not accept an appeal by the Romeikes to review a lower court’s rejection of their request for asylum in this country.
The Romeikes and their seven children had been seeking to stay in the United States and avoid a forced return to Germany, where homeschooling is illegal. The devout Christian couple fled Germany with their five children in 2008 in the face of increasing fines and the risk of losing custody of their children in their home country unless the children attended school. They have had two more children born to them since arriving in the United States.
The Romeike family
The parents and the five older Romeike children are members of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn. Uwe serves as a deacon, as well as the church’s pianist. The Romeikes, who joined First Baptist Church in April 2012, have lived in east Tennessee while in this country.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s leading spokesman on religious freedom issues expressed hopefulness about the Obama administration’s decision.
“I hope and pray that DHS will not deport this family and will stand for our long-held commitment to helping those oppressed for their religious convictions,” said Russell D. Moore
, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Deporting the Romeikes would be “reprehensible,” Moore said. “America has always sought to be a home for the oppressed around the world. Educating one’s children according to one’s religious convictions is a human right.”
Returning the family to Germany would be “the repudiation of a great American heritage,” he said. “This should remind us of how imperiled religious liberty is at home and around the world.”
In announcing the DHS decision, HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris
described it as “an amazing turnaround – in just 24 hours” and “an incredible victory that I can only credit to Almighty God.”
Farris also commended the Americans who spoke out for the Romeikes. “We believe that the public outcry made a huge impact,” he said in a written statement.
Uwe Romeike said his family was glad to receive indefinite deferred status from DHS despite the inability to gain American citizenship soon.
“As long as we can live at peace here, we are happy,” he said in a HSLDA news release. “We have always been ready to go wherever the Lord would lead us – and I know my citizenship isn’t really on earth. This has always been about our children. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Germany if the mistreatment targeted only me – but our whole family was targeted when German authorities would not tolerate our decision to teach our children – that is what brought us here.
“I thank God for his hand of blessing and protection over our family. We thank the American government for allowing us to stay here and to peacefully homeschool our children – it’s all we ever wanted,” said Uwe Romeike, who also expressed gratitude to friends, fellow homeschoolers and HSLDA.
The Supreme Court’s March 3 announcement it would not review the Romeike’s appeal appeared to leave limited hope the family would avoid deportation. The prospect of avoiding deportation seemed to rest with action by Congress or – in what appeared to be an extreme longshot – a reversal of course by President Obama. The Obama administration had opposed asylum for the Romeikes and had rebuffed appeals to grant that status to the family.
After the high court’s order in the case was announced, HSLDA said it had not exhausted its options in trying to deliver the family from deportation.
“While this is the end of the line for normal legal appeals, we are not giving up,” said Farris, who is lead counsel for the Romeikes.
“We will pursue changes to the asylum law in this country to insure that religious freedom is once again vigorously protected in our policy,” Farris said in a written statement. “I am just glad that the Pilgrims did not face this anti-religious policy when they landed at Plymouth Rock.”
While HSLDA hoped for congressional action to prevent the Romeikes’ deportation, a member of Congress who supported the German family’s asylum cause appealed to the president.
“While I am deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision, I call on President Obama to grant the Romeike family asylum,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R.-Ind., a homeschooling father, in a written release. “The President should reject the European belief that children belong to the state and stand instead with families suffering persecution for exercising the basic right to educate their children. Americans have always welcomed those who flee their homelands in pursuit of freedom and President Obama has an opportunity to honor that commitment.”
The Romeikes appealed to the Supreme Court after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld in May another court’s rejection of their asylum request. Immigration judge Lawrence Burman
granted asylum to the Romeikes in 2010 on religious freedom grounds, but the Obama administration appealed his ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The board struck down Burman’s decision, and the Sixth Circuit Court upheld its decision.
In its opinion, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court said the Romeikes did not sufficiently make the case they had a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on being homeschoolers. The judges said the German government has “not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution.”
HSLDA contended, however, the Sixth Circuit and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who refused to grant asylum to the Romeikes, had ignored important evidence, including Germany’s acknowledgment a primary reason for prohibiting home education “is to suppress religious minorities.”
After May’s ruling in the Sixth Circuit, Stutzman and 26 other Republicans in the House of Representatives urged Holder to grant asylum to the Romeike family. In a letter to the attorney general, they affirmed the immigration judge’s ruling, saying Burman found the Romeikes’ case met the legal standard for asylum, which is a “well-founded fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
Court rejects asylum bid for home-schooling family
3/5/2014 8:12:10 AM
March 5 2014 by
Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Nashville – Year-to-date Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program
contributions to the SBC Executive Committee are 0.08 percent below the year-to-date CP budget goal, and 1.33 percent below contributions received during the same time frame last year, SBC Executive Committee president Frank S. Page
The total represents money received by the Executive Committee
by the close of the last business day of February and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2013-14 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, supporting Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries.
The $79,726,685.78 the Executive Committee received from Oct. 1 through Feb. 28 represents 99.92 percent of the $79,791,666.67 year-to-date budget, and is $1,075,143.34 or 1.33 percent less than the $80,801,829.12 received through February 2012.
Designated giving of $92,190,959.26 for the same year-to-date period is 0.36 percent, or $329,310.85, below the $92,520,270.11 received at this point last year. This total includes only gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions
, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions
, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief
(formerly the World Hunger Fund) and other special gifts.
February’s Cooperative Program allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $18,090,900.91. Designated gifts received in February amounted to $55,085,287.88.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.
State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states, and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist 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 SBC allocation budget goal for 2013-2014 is $191,500,000, an increase of 1.86 percent over the $188,000,000 budgeted goal for the previous year, and is distributed as follows: 50.41 percent to support more than 4,800 overseas personnel with IMB, 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through the North American Mission Board
, 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
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 Cooperative Program contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of CP contributions to the Executive Committee.
Cooperative Program allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the SBC, the state convention offices and state Baptist papers, and are posted online at www.cpmissions.net/CPReports
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff.)
3/5/2014 8:07:20 AM
March 5 2014 by
Sara Shelton, NAMB/Baptist Press
Baptist Press | with 0 comments
CAMBRIDGE, Md. – A typical Sunday for Jose Nater
looks anything but typical. As church planter and pastor of not one, not two, but three Spanish-language church plants on the eastern shore of Maryland, Nater and his family spend their Sundays on the road.
The mornings begin early in Cambridge, Md., as Nater, along with his wife, Myra, teaches Sunday School classes, prepares music for praise and worship and leads the morning’s service at First Hispanic Baptist Church of Cambridge
As Sunday services close in Cambridge, the family packs up, grabs a quick lunch and makes the 20-mile drive to the nearby city of Easton, Md., where Nater delivers his second sermon of the day, this one at First Hispanic Baptist Church of Easton, also a Spanish-language church planted by Nater.
After another quick meal, they are on the road again, this time crossing into Delaware where Nater hosts Bible classes before beginning his third church service of the day for the Hispanic community in the city of Seaford. By the time the family makes it back home, Nater and his wife have just enough time to get to bed before Monday morning comes and takes them both back to their full-time jobs—his at a local property management company, hers as the director of an after-school program.
For many, the grind of a full-time job, the needs of a family and the demands of pastoring three church plants in two states might be too much, but for Nater, it’s a calling.
“I have a family, a job and three congregations to pastor—it’s a full plate,” Nater says. “But I know God is the one who has filled my plate with this work, who called me to these communities and these people. And He is the one who sustains me through it.”
Nater is one of six missionaries featured this year in the North American Mission Board
’s (NAMB) 2014 promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®
. The church plants he pastors are part of NAMB’s effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
This hectic life of a bivocational church planter is not what Nater or his family had in mind when they moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in 2002. At the time, he was working for a prominent hotel chain and, with a transfer to Maryland to open a new location, was quickly climbing the corporate ladder. But just months after moving his family and taking the new position, Nater was unexpectedly let go from the company.
“It was such a difficult time,” Nater recalls. “We didn’t see it coming and didn’t know what to do. We considered leaving the area, but something in my heart said, ‘This is where you’re supposed to be.’”
And so the family remained in Maryland despite their unexpected hardships. Soon after losing his job, the family of four lost their home as well, moving into a friend’s basement. Nater took several part-time jobs and worked around the clock to keep his family from completely going under financially.
“We were so unsure of what to do in that season. Looking back now, I see how God provided for us in little ways along the way to reassure us of our decision to stay in Maryland rather than to return home to Puerto Rico. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was all part of His plan for our ministry,” said Nater.
No longer running from ministry
This ministry was something Nater had been running from for years. Having been raised in a devoutly Catholic home, Nater didn’t come to faith in Christ until he was in high school through a local evangelical church in Puerto Rico. It was there he met his wife. The couple married after Nater’s college graduation and quickly set to work building their lives together in Puerto Rico. Though set on climbing the corporate ladder, Nater found himself returning time and again to church work—taking seminary courses, serving with a church plant in Puerto Rico and even preaching and singing occasionally at Sunday services.
“People would often say to me, ‘I believe you could be a pastor,’ but I would always resist,” Nater says. “Still in the back of my mind, I felt like ministry was calling me even if I didn’t want it. It’s funny because all the time I thought I was running from ministry, God was moving me to exactly where He wanted that ministry to begin.”
His ministry finally began six years ago when a local pastor approached Nater about starting a church specifically designed to reach the growing Hispanic population in Cambridge.
“When I was asked about taking on this role of church planter I knew in my heart that this was the time and the place God had been leading me to. I prayed for God to clear the way for us to begin this work, and He did.”
The Naters opened the doors of First Hispanic Baptist Church of Cambridge
in 2006. Three years after planting in Cambridge, Nater and his core team duplicated their work in nearby Easton, starting First Hispanic Baptist Church of Easton
. In 2012 they were at it again, this time starting their third work, the church in Seaford.
“It’s hard to grow a church plant in any area, but I think it’s especially difficult to do in the Northeast and for such a specific people group,” Nater explains. “God truly blessed us and has been faithful in helping us reach the Hispanic population here.”
The need for Hispanic ministry is great along the eastern shore. That’s why, in addition to the churches he has already started, Nater has a vision to multiply into at least 10 campuses over the next three years. Though Nater admits the challenge of adding leadership training and church multiplication to his workload is difficult, he believes this, too, is part of the plan.
“My heart is in church planting, multiplying churches and leading people to Christ. I think if you really want to be in that work, you have to fully adopt that ‘Whatever it takes’ attitude. You work long hours, you drive across state lines, you keep showing up in faith – and let God do the rest.”
Nater says it is the network of support he has found in the Southern Baptist Convention and through the giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering that has helped keep churches growing and multiplying.
“When I started I didn’t know anything about the North American Mission Board or the Easter offering. I am so thankful to have connected to this convention and for their continued support as we seek to keep planting churches.”
To view a video on Jose Nater’s ministry and learn about his work, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
3/5/2014 7:56:55 AM
March 4 2014 by
Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press
Sara Shelton, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – A federal judge’s decision striking down a Texas marriage law could be a sign of the loss of religious liberties for all Americans, according to some legal and religious experts supportive of traditional marriage.
United States District Judge Orlando Garcia
’s ruling on Wednesday (Feb. 26) against Texas’ 2005 marriage amendment ignores fundamental gender distinctions and the constitutional right of the states to define marriage, said supporters of the law.
“It starts on a false premise that the federal government has the right to regulate marriage,” said Fort Worth attorney Shelby Sharpe in his analysis of the ruling. Sharpe defends religious liberty cases across the U.S.
In just two months, federal judges have ruled unconstitutional the marriage laws in six states. Texas became the seventh. Supporters of the constitutional amendment codifying Texas’ definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman are confident the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will overturn Garcia’s ruling but are less optimistic about the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Texas law remains in effect pending appeals.
The case brought by two homosexual couples challenged the law’s two provisions. Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman were married in Massachusetts and filed to have Texas recognize their union. Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss, who share a home in Plano, want to legally marry in their home state.
A decision from the Supreme Court on any of the same-sex marriage cases could nullify Texas’ law as passed by 76 percent of the voters, and elevate homosexuality to a protected minority status, Sharpe said. He argues that the case for minority status should be based, in part, on “factors of non-voluntary conduct” such as skin color, race and ethnicity. Homosexuals are not born into such a group but, by their actions, have developed into one. The Equal Protection Clause
does not protect individuals according to their conduct, he said.
But such a distinction, if made by the Supreme Court, would pit Americans’ religious liberties against civil rights. That is a legal battle Sharpe said Christians will lose.
“You are going to be unable to refuse,” Sharpe said.
Pastors refusing to perform same-sex marriages could be sued. Christian business owners could suffer the same plight. Sharpe said the undefined right (equal protection under the law) will trump the written law of religious liberty as noted in the First Amendment.
Garcia’s decision, building upon recent court rulings, reinforces the premise that homosexuals are a protected minority group. He stated, “Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.”
Although pleased with the decision, reaction from homosexual rights advocates was tempered by Garcia’s stay of the decision, essentially keeping the law intact while under appeal.
“This is a historic day in the heart of the South, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to move quickly until loving couples in all 50 states feel the full reach of this victory for equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of politically powerful Human Rights Campaign
(HRC), in a prepared statement.
Gay, lesbian, and transgender advocacy groups like HRC have long couched their call for homosexual “rights” in the same terms as the Civil Rights movement.
Garcia’s written decision reflected that sentiment. He said, “Plaintiffs allege they have suffered state sanctioned discrimination, stigma, and humiliation as a result of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs claim they are considered inferior and unworthy under Texas law,” he wrote.
Many African Americans like Barry Calhoun and Tony Mathews balk at such rhetoric and admit they are offended by the comparison.
“The civil rights issue was one of ethnicity and not giving the God-given rights to all people, primarily blacks,” said Calhoun, 54, missions director at North Garland Baptist Fellowships and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s director of mobilization and fellowships.
“Basic rights were being withheld based on skin color and not moral character and behavior. No one here is saying that those of same-sex attraction are inferior to those of other ethnicities. This is not an ethnic issue. It is a moral issue,” he said.
Mathews, Calhoun’s pastor, concurred.
“I also think that’s it’s very sad when supporters of same-sex marriage use the dark, tragic history of African Americans to gain special rights for two men or two women who want to marry each other. For me, it is deeply troubling to hear people compare gay rights with civil rights. When the Bible defines something as being incorrect, we cannot declare that act to be socially or legally correct.”
“The whole premise of that argument is fallacious. Every law creates inequality in some fashion,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council
If a state’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman discriminates against same-sex couples it also discriminates against polygamists or other group marriages, Welch said. Other laws regulating marriage could be deemed equally discriminatory.
But, Welch added, the argument for same-sex marriage is about more than state-endorsed institutions. There is an underlying subtext nullifying distinctions between men and women, he said.
Calhoun asked, “Who are we as mortal men and women to tell the God of creation that he has been wrong for thousands of years as it relates to marriage? The created thing is saying to the creator, ‘I know better.’”
Charlie Howard, former Texas state legislator and co-author of House Joint Resolution 6 that became the state marriage amendment, voiced his frustration with the federal government’s imposition into state affairs.
“It was a good law. That’s why we put it up as a constitutional amendment. It gives it more credence,” said Howard from his home is Sugar Land, Texas.
Same-sex marriage was not being pressed so strongly just nine years ago. But, Howard said, “We had the foresight to see what was coming down the pike.”
Regardless of how laws are shaped, the love of Christ is still effective in changing hearts, those the Southern Baptist TEXAN interviewed affirmed.
“As I’ve always said,” Mathews added, “we must never condone the harassment and mistreatment of people based on their sexual orientation. We must, however, be willing to offer the love of Christ to all of humanity who so desperately need the Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
3/4/2014 11:45:57 AM
March 4 2014 by
Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
NASHVILLE – The official website for the film “Noah
” prominently displays the new message that the movie takes artistic license, and that the biblical story can be found in the book of Genesis.
The movie’s maker Paramount Pictures
and international Christian communicators group National Religious Broadcasters
jointly announced the new promotional message Thursday (Feb. 27). They indicated the message would appear on future Noah marketing materials for the film’s March 28 release. It would appear on the soon-to-be released online trailer, on print and radio Noah promotion, and on a percentage of the film’s online and broadcast material.
NRB president Jerry Johnson
, past president of Criswell College
in Dallas, Texas, had lobbied Paramount Pictures to inform moviegoers that the film is not a line-by-line retelling of the true biblical account.
“My intent in reaching out to Paramount with this request was to make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of Scripture, and not literal,” Johnson, a former Baptist pastor and administrator and faculty member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
, said in the press release. “Because of the quality of the production and acting, viewers will enjoy watching main themes from the Noah story depicted in a powerful way on the big screen.”
The official message states, “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
After test screenings late last year, the film drew criticism from many Christians who expressed concern that it strays from the biblical text. Faith Driven Consumers
, the group which supported Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson in the IStandWithPhil.com
campaign, said Paramount’s newly released message shows a respect for the film’s core audience.
“While many Faith Driven Consumers will likely find valid reason to pause on some elements of the film, we are becoming more hopeful that many other areas will resonate and be compatible with the Bible’s core message,” Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone said in a Feb. 28 press release. “We are looking forward to reviewing and further evaluating the film and sharing that information with our community using our Faith-friendly Film Review rating system.”
Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore
, a professing Christian, expressed in the press release appreciation for Johnson’s initiative.
“We are deeply appreciative of Dr. Johnson’s efforts to bring this idea to us,” Moore said. “Our goal has been to take every measure we can to ensure moviegoers have the information they need before deciding to buy a ticket to see the film. We are very proud of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. We think audiences all over the world will enjoy this epic film.” Aronofsky directed and co-wrote the film.
Johnson’s initiative followed the NRB 2014 International Christian Media Convention
in Nashville, where Johnson led a panel discussion on the movie, joined by John Snowden, a biblical consultant for Noah, and Phil Cooke
, a filmmaker and media consultant who is a member of the NRB Board of Directors.
Johnson said in the press release he hopes the disclaimer will hopefully make it clear to Christians that Noah was not intended to be a literal presentation of Scripture.
“We are grateful that Paramount is striving ... to strike a proper balance between artistic creativity, character development, and honoring the sacred Scripture,” Johnson said. “It is a significant and welcome development when a leading Hollywood studio like Paramount makes a major film about a story from the Bible.”
“Many people will go to this film and enjoy it,” Johnson said. “Christians should be ready to engage with them about the main biblical themes that are portrayed in the film, namely sin, judgment, and salvation.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor.)
3/4/2014 11:35:54 AM
Baptist Press | with 0 comments