Financial struggle segues to church planting

July 25 2016 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

High Pointe Baptist Church was struggling financially when Juan Sanchez arrived as pastor just over 10 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church
Members of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church, a church plant of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, gather on their launch Sunday, March 6.

Sanchez and High Pointe members decided that if God allowed the church to grow “we would no longer build auditorium space, but instead we would plant churches.”
The Austin church committed to reaching beyond its walls to ensure they were not keeping all the money for themselves and were modeling by faith sacrificial giving, Sanchez told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Their first church planting venture grew out of the handful of Hispanics to whom Sanchez was preaching each Sunday before the morning service. They hired someone to lead the group, and it became an independent Spanish church.
As High Pointe continued to grow, the church realized a large number of members were driving from Elgin, Cedar Park and Leander, all of which were a half-hour’s drive from the church.
“If we had people coming from those distances all the way to High Pointe, then clearly there was a need for gospel churches there,” Sanchez said. “So in order to care for our members well and plant gospel churches where our members felt there wasn’t one they could attend, we just started long-term deciding we need to plant churches where our people are coming from so they don’t have to drive so far.”
The leadership developed a church planting strategy that includes bringing someone on staff in a pastoral assistant role to learn who they are, what they’re about, how they’re structured, how they govern and what their philosophy of ministry is – “just getting to know our DNA,” Sanchez said.
In the second year, the church planting resident develops a core team of members who will agree to help start a new congregation. The team studies what it means to be a church, studies a statement of faith and church covenant, studies how to live together as a church, and studies how to develop a culture of evangelism and discipleship.

Juan Sanchez

“It’s really just equipping them to understand what this might look like and the commitments that are going to be expected of them,” Sanchez said.
In year three, they launch. In 2011, High Pointe launched Covenant Life Fellowship in Elgin, sending 30-35 people on a core team, and that church was self-sustaining by its second year.
For the church members who were driving from northwest Austin – mainly Cedar Park and Leander – High Pointe turned to Ben Wright, who had served on staff for several years as an associate pastor.
“Ben already knew our DNA, so we jumped right to year two, which was developing the core team,” Sanchez said. “The next step was planting the church. They were planted in February (2016), had their first public meetings in early March, and the Lord has really blessed them already.”
Wright, now pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, said the population in that area is growing significantly as people move from around the world to Austin’s technology sector. “Church planting hasn’t even begun to keep up with that need,” he said.
The nations are coming to northwest Austin, Wright told the TEXAN, and “there’s an opportunity to reach people with the gospel who will have ways to spread that gospel back to countries that are very difficult to reach.”
Wright said he is grateful for High Pointe’s leaders “taking the risk of sending out a bunch of solid, faithful people for the sake of the gospel.” High Pointe isn’t “a rich church by any means, and I have tremendous respect for Juan leading his church to act in faith for a cause infinitely bigger than his own church’s interests.”
Sanchez compared church planting to getting married and having children. People want to wait until they’re ready, but they’ll never be ready, he said.
“If you’re waiting until you’re ready to plant a church, you’ll never plant a church,” Sanchez said. “It does require faith. It requires wisdom. You don’t want to do this foolishly. You have to count the cost.”
Part of counting the cost is financial, he said, and another part is letting go of valuable church members to start new growth.
“If we were to wait until we thought we were ready financially and leadership-wise, we would never do it,” Sanchez said. “So we have to pray about it, the church has to come to an agreement, and by faith we have to step out and do the Lord’s work.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer based in Nashville, Tenn. This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/25/2016 8:06:45 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump promises change; Baptists remain divided

July 25 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Donald Trump told Americans he would solve their country’s problems in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president July 21 but appeared unable to bridge the divide over his candidacy among Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians.

Screen capture from

Trump closed the GOP convention in Cleveland with a nearly 75-minute speech in which he promised to restore law and order to the United States and to repair the “rigged” political system. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” the New York businessman and reality TV star told Republican delegates and a national viewing audience.
“I am your voice,” Trump told viewers more than once. “I am with you. I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
Trump, however, failed to mention abortion, traditional marriage, freedom of conscience and additional moral, social issues important to Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.
Trump’s omissions came after Republicans adopted a comprehensively pro-life, strongly conservative platform regarding moral and religious freedom issues on the first day of their convention. His speech also came less than a week after he named a social conservative, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as his running mate.
The split among some Southern Baptist leaders on Trump continued to manifest itself before and after his acceptance speech. Some Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him in the general election as an alternative to Clinton.
Others, many using the hashtag #NeverTrump, say they are refusing to vote for either major party candidate. They have declared that their opposition to Trump will continue through the general election because of what they describe as his untrustworthiness on moral and religious liberty issues and offensive rhetoric.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, said on Twitter after the GOP nominee’s speech, “Tonight the world witnessed the @realDonaldTrump I’ve come to know. Strong. Decisive. Compassionate.”
Jeffress expressed optimism about what Southern Baptists and others will do by the November election.
“I believe you are seeing evangelical Christians coalescing around Donald Trump – primarily because of the influence the next president will have on the selection” of Supreme Court justices, Jeffress told Baptist Press in written comments.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech Wednesday in which he refused to endorse Trump but urged voters to follow their conscience “crystalized this binary choice we have in November between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” Jeffress said. “If Christians are going to do what Cruz suggested and ‘not stay home in November’ and also oppose the radical policies of Hillary Clinton, what choice do they have except to vote for Trump?”
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., described Trump as a “true patriot” in a convention speech prior to Trump’s.
A vote for Trump is a vote for “conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” Falwell told delegates. A conservative’s decision either not to vote or to vote for a third-party candidate is “a de facto vote” for socially liberal presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Falwell said.
Other Southern Baptists, however, said after Trump’s speech nothing had changed for them – they still would not vote for the Republican nominee in spite of Clinton’s advocacy for abortion rights and other liberal policies.
“I have heard nothing tonight that would persuade me to change my mind & vote 4 @realDonaldTrump,” Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted. “The saddest political situation in my life.”
Denny Burk, the new president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said #NeverTrump should not be finished.
“The party belongs to him, and the GOP as we have known it is officially dead,” Burk wrote in a blog post July 21.
“If ever the country needed its statesmen to be men of courage, it is right now. ... I ask you not to make your peace with the convention’s outcome. You should actively oppose the candidate through the general election,” Burk wrote.
During his speech, Trump expressed gratitude to the “evangelical and religious community,” saying, “I’ll tell you what, the support they’ve given me – and I’m not sure I totally deserve it – has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight.
“They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits,” he said, referring to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bars churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates.
“I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans,” Trump told the GOP audience.
Describing himself as “the law-and-order candidate,” Trump said things will change when he is sworn in as president Jan. 20. “[S]afety will be restored” and “Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced,” he said.
In contrast to Clinton, he promised “to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
Trump also called for suspension of immigration “from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”
The Republican nominee also promised:

  • To replace the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with “a person of similar views, principles and judicial philosophies.”
  • To repeal “Obamacare,” the 2010 health care law.
  • To rebuild the military.
  • To lift limitations on energy production.
  • The enforcement of all trade violations by other countries.

Another Thursday speaker, PayPal cofounder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, told delegates, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”
Thiel also seemed to minimize the controversy over the Obama administration’s May directive requiring schools to permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex. He said, “Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?”

7/25/2016 7:58:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kaine, a social ‘moderate,’ is Clinton VP choice

July 25 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, whose pro-life stands in state-level offices stand in stark contrast to a socially liberal voting record since being elected to the U.S. Senate, has been selected as the running mate of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Tim Kaine

The former secretary of state and first lady announced her selection July 22 via text message to her supporters, The New York Times reported.
Elected to the Senate in 2012, Kaine served as Virginia’s governor from 2006-2010 and as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009-2011. Previously, he served as Virginia lieutenant governor and mayor of Richmond.
Virginia pastor Rodney Autry, who has advocated for pro-family concerns in the commonwealth for two decades, told Baptist Press (BP) Kaine is “a study in contrasts.”
Kaine is “essentially a good guy with a true moral center” whose public policy unfortunately “does not reflect his personal beliefs and life choices,” said Autry, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hayes, Va., which cooperates with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV).
“The personal positions of former Gov. and now Sen. Tim Kaine are quite agreeable to many evangelical convictions,” said Autry, who served on the 2015-16 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Committee on Nominations and is a former member of the SBC Executive Committee. “However, his public policy and voting record is rather disparate from what would be a satisfying effort on the part of one supported by biblical conservatives.”
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2005, Kaine pledged to reduce the number of abortions in Virginia by promoting adoption and abstinence-focused sex education, Politico reported. During his tenure as governor, Virginia received an F grade from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in 2007. Two years later, he signed a bill authorizing the sale of “Choose Life” license plates.
Since his election to the Senate, however, Kaine has received a perfect rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America three years in a row and opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.
In an interview with NBC News last month, Kaine, a Roman Catholic, said, “Personally, I’m opposed to abortion.”
But he went on to explain, “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics but even a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves, and the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”
When President Obama included Kaine on his short list of potential running mates in 2008, the then-governor’s “personal opposition to abortion generated significant scrutiny,” Politico reported.
Kaine’s policy stances have shifted on so-called homosexual rights as well.
As a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2001, Kaine told the Associated Press he opposed same-sex marriage. Four years later, he opposed granting adoption rights to same-sex couples while running for governor, according to The Washington Post.
However, in 2006 he campaigned against Virginia’s state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Then during his Senate campaign, he supported same-sex adoption when declared by a judge to be in a child’s best interest, The Post reported.
Kaine’s Senate votes have garnered a 90 percent approval rating from the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-homosexual rights lobbying group.
Still, the conservative publication The Federalist referred to him July 22 as “a moderate Democrat who doesn’t scare religious conservatives on sensitive things like the right to life.”
John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, told BP Kaine’s pro-life stands as governor “cost him some votes in the Democratic side of things, but he stood very strong on that issue.”
Upton met with Kaine once a year while he served as governor and said Kaine seemed willing to listen to concerns from the faith community.
“Since I’ve been executive director, he’s been the most accessible to the religious community of any governor we’ve had,” said Upton, who has served in his current position since 2002. Kaine “was very responsive and just very open to listen to our concerns, and he was also very transparent.”
Brandon Pickett, SBCV associate executive director, told BP Kaine is more conservative on economic issues than he is on social issues.
“According to those who know Senator Kaine best and have worked with him while he was governor of Virginia, he is known as an honest and honorable man who stands by his word,” Pickett said in written comments. “They say he leans moderate right on economic issues while leaning left on social issues. That being said, these state leaders say while he may have at one time been pro-life he now believes in upholding Roe v. Wade.”
Kaine is scheduled to formally accept the vice presidential nomination next week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

7/25/2016 7:48:13 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Egypt’s Copts weather new wave of attacks

July 22 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Islamist assaults against Egypt’s largest minority, Coptic Christians, have claimed the lives of two priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church, a pharmacist who was beheaded and a baker.

IMB photo

World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on Christians facing persecution, chronicled the murders and numerous other assaults on Copts in the past two months along with attacks on churches, homes and businesses in a July 20 article. Much of the violence occurred during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
Also chronicling the attacks against Copts and their Coptic Orthodox Church, which dates back to the first century, are Morning Star News, another news service on the persecuted church, and Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based advocacy organization.
Egypt is “diseased with discrimination,” Coptic Bishop Makarius said in Arabic in an interview with the Copts United website, World Watch Monitor reported.
Among Mararius’ concerns for Egypt’s Copts, who number about 10 million among the nation’s populace of 86 million:

  • “conciliation sessions,” or “reconciliation committees,” between victims and their accused/alleged perpetrators where Christians often face pressure to accept judgments that favor Muslims.
  • numerous attacks “on the village level” where government intervention is ineffectual.
  • the Egyptian constitution’s article on “defamation of religion.” The statute could be acceptable, the bishop said, “were it applied even-handedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians,” Makarius said. “The [Egyptian] constitution contradicts itself. Some articles stress freedom of expression, while expressing a contrary opinion against [Islamic] religion is quickly judged as defamation.”

Egypt is among 16 countries recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “countries of particular concern” as the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty. The State Department, however, currently does not list Egypt among its top-tier designees.

Attacks enumerated

Among the attacks against Copts in recent months according to World Watch Monitor, Morning Star News and Coptic Solidarity:

  • the beheading and multiple stabbings of a pharmacist who had been taken to an apartment by two men who were recorded on security cameras in the vicinity, but no suspects have been arrested.
  • the public assault and humiliation of a Copt grandmother. As recounted by Morning Star News: “... an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.”
  • the murder of a Coptic priest that was claimed by the “Islamic State,” which termed the cleric “an infidel fighter,” World Watch Monitor reported.
  • a knife attack on two women, whose neck wounds left them in critical condition. The assailant reportedly told police he was “following the Islamic State’s instructions,” according to World Watch Monitor.
  • the murder of a baker who was stabbed several times in front of his wife by an assailant who reportedly repeated that he was “doing this in obedience to what Allah has decreed.”
  • The arson of a village church 400 miles south of Cairo; the burning of numerous homes; and mobs that have gathered to intimate Coptic churches, families and individuals.

Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Christian worker in Egypt, told Baptist Press, “These instances demonstrate the real, growing pressure from Muslims influenced by intolerant interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an.
“While Muslims in the West worry about the ‘radicalization’ of individuals in the Islamic heartland, minorities experience much more dire outcomes as mobs and violent groups inflict their will on them,” Edens said.
The attacks are but the latest wave of tumult for Egypt’s Copts, who faced even more severe persecution in 2013 after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the Islamic predecessor to the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Calls for action

El-Sisi has made a number of conciliatory gestures toward the nation’s Copts. But Bishop Makarius, via Twitter on July 17, noted he was “reminding” the president that Copts “are Egyptian citizens.”
Among the actions Coptic Solidarity is seeking by the Egyptian government:

  • “Bring to account and apply the full force of justice against perpetrators of violence, including all local police and government officials whose indifference and complacency have allowed these mob actions and attacks against Copts.”
  • “Abolish the so called ‘reconciliation meetings’ which should not replace bringing perpetrators to justice in the judicial system.”
  • “Pass and implement legislation to guarantee the freedom of building of new churches and repair of existing ones,” especially those that have been destroyed by Islamists.
  • “Pass legislation to combat discrimination, and create an impartial body to monitor its implementation.”
  • “Shut down avenues of religious hate, including from within state-backed religious, media and educational bodies.”
  • “Annul the abusive ‘anti-blasphemy’ code in Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.”
  • “Annul religious identification from official identity cards.”
7/22/2016 11:45:56 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Failed coup leaves Turkey’s Christians on edge

July 22 2016 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

In the aftermath of a failed military coup, Christians in Turkey are likely to face increased scrutiny and more persecution, an international security expert told Baptist Press (BP).

CNN screen capture

An estimated 50,000-60,000 people – soldiers, police, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and teachers – have been fired or detained since the July 15 coup attempt, according to news reports.
The coup is widely seen as move by elements of the military opposed to the increased political influence of Islam in the constitutionally secular country. Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, has declared a three-month state of emergency, allowing him to bypass parliament to enact new laws and restrict or suspend freedoms, the BBC reported.
Some observers have argued that Erdogan himself staged a fake coup to strengthen his grip and accelerate Islamification of the country, although a spokesman for the president labeled the conspiracy theory “nonsensical.” The scope of the post-coup crackdown nevertheless indicates the government is taking advantage of the situation to persecute citizens on its lengthy lists of enemies, observers say.
“This is a brazen move on behalf of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (JDP),” said Scott Brawner, president of Concilium, a Christian nonprofit organization that specializes in security training and analysis.
“The JDP has eroded the personal rights of minority religions, especially Christians. This includes the confiscation of church properties, assaults and attacks on Turkish Christians that go unprosecuted by the state, and real and tangible threats against Muslim-background believers from society and the government,” Brawner said.
Turkey’s Christian community accounts for about 0.2 percent of the country’s total population of about 81 million, according to the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report compiled by the U.S. State Department. Turkey is an ally of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Tensions within the country have been heightened by the influx of more than 2 million refugees fleeing Islamic State terror.
Christian workers living in Istanbul described the coup aftermath as “the worst-case scenario for Christians living in Turkey,” said Sandra Elliot, program coordinator for International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for persecuted Christians.
“When the president addressed the people during the coup, he called on them as ‘Turks’ and as ‘believers in God’ – equating the two,” Elliot said. “The government may very well see [Christians] as a threat due to their lack of adherence to Islam.”
During the attempted coup, two churches were vandalized in cities in eastern Turkey where Christians have been killed in the past, according to the World Watch Monitor news service. In Malatya, unidentified assailants broke glass panels in the door of Malatya Protestant Church. In Trabzon, the windows of Santa Maria Catholic Church were smashed; a group of Muslim neighbors was credited with driving the vandals away.
President Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on Hizmet, a moderate Islamic network that sponsors secular schools, tutoring centers, hospitals and relief work. Hizmet is led by Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who began feuding with the president in 2013 and now lives in exile in the United States. Erdogan has vowed he will purge the “virus” responsible for the plot.
The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, reacted with “serious alarm” to the widespread arrests and called for fair trials and the rule of law, the Reuters news service reported. “In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” al-Hussein said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted earlier this year that the “overall landscape for democracy and human rights in Turkey has deteriorated over the last several years. The government has increased restrictions on social media and cracked down on journalists and individuals or groups that criticize the government, especially President Erdogan.”
The commission lists Turkey as a “Tier 2” country in which “religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level that would mandate a [country of particular concern] designation but require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”
Since the secular state was founded in 1923, Turkey has weathered several military coups and subsequently segued back to civilian governance.
Turkey straddles a peninsula in western Asia and serves as crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia. The country is bordered by Syria and Iraq, as well as Greece, Bulgaria and Georgia, with the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea to the west.
Turkey figures prominently in the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament. Two of the apostle Paul’s letters – Galatians and Ephesians – were written to Christians in what is now Turkey. The Bible also mentions specific places located in Turkey, including Mt. Ararat (Genesis 8:1-5), Haran (Genesis 11:31), the lands of the Hittites (Genesis 15:19-21), Tarsus (Acts 9:11), Iconium (Acts 13-16 and 2 Tim. 3:11) and Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and host of the “God’s Revolution” podcast.)
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7/22/2016 11:40:18 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Sudan’s crisis stirs call to prayer

July 22 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With South Sudan on the brink of renewed civil war, a Southern Baptist-led relief organization and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) remain unrelenting in their ministries there, amid what one aid worker called “a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”

Living Water Community Transformation photo
Amid a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, Living Water Community Transformation feeds hundreds of children daily at its two schools.

“There is no hope [for South Sudan] other than Jesus,” said Ann Rao, founder and president of Living Water Community Transformation, an organization that engages in women’s ministry, church planting, education of children and agribusiness training in the South Sudanese community of Akot. “I don’t even know what else to say. The whole situation is very overwhelming.”
South Sudan, established in 2011 when Christian regions of heavily-Muslim Sudan gained independence, has been embroiled in fighting between warring tribal groups since an attempted coup in 2013, Rao, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa-area Lutz, Fla., told Baptist Press (BP).
The latest round of violence broke out July 7 and escalated the next day when armed clashes erupted between troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his rival, vice president Riek Machar, as the two met in the nation’s state house, according to media reports. The clashes left 273 dead, the BBC reported.
Machar remains in hiding, and a 10-week-old peace arrangement “hangs by a thread,” according to the BBC.
An NPR report cast partial blame for the conflict on the international community because it has not “used economic sanctions to force both leaders to control their fighters.”
At least 36,000 South Sudanese refugees have been displaced from their homes this month, bringing the total number of refugees since December 2013 to approximately 1.6 million, Reuters reported. An additional 743,000 people have fled the country, and 4.8 million are “severely short of food.”
“The lack of food is just horrible,” Rao said. “... Supposedly, it’s a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”
In partnership with Baptist Global Response (BGR), a global relief organization, Living Water feeds hundreds of students each day at its two primary schools and has helped establish a 12-acre farm.
A lack of preparedness for national independence helps fuel the conflict, which has included “massacres” and “a lot of rapes,” Rao said. She lamented that though many South Sudanese profess to be Christians, including some top government leaders, the “hatred from all the killing and revenge killing” will continue to cause national strife.
SEBTS’s ministry to the South Sudanese includes theological education of pastors in partnership with the South Sudan Baptist Convention, with hope of a seminary being established one day in Juba, the capital city.
Many South Sudanese “pastors and congregations have sought safety in refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia,” SEBTS associate vice president for global theological initiatives John Ewart told BP in written comments. “They are starting churches and conducting training and discipleship within those contexts. I continue to get reports of new converts and baptisms taking place in these camps. In addition, many pastors are traveling in and out of South Sudan to continue to minister there as well.”
During a mission trip last year with SEBTS President Daniel Akin to train South Sudanese pastors in Uganda, Ewart wrote about the Christian unity among pastors from warring tribes.
“We have church leaders from both tribes here with us seeking solutions and training,” Ewart wrote in a blog post. “It is a testimony to Christ and His grace to watch them sing and learn and fellowship together after the brutality many of them have suffered at the hands of the other tribe.”
Some pastors living in Uganda and Kenya “travel as circuit riders into South Sudan pastoring as many as seven churches at one time,” he wrote. “They spend hours in travel and days away from their families. Some have seen their churches destroyed or scattered and wait to go back to rebuild. Most of their churches and church plants simply meet under trees.”
BGR executive director Jeff Palmer told BP that South Sudan’s conflict does not seem to provoke “a lot of sympathy” in the West because Americans find it difficult to empathize with “people fighting over tribalism. We don’t understand that in the States.”
Yet Americans – followers of Jesus especially – should care about South Sudan “because of the great need that’s there,” Palmer said.
Rao asked believers to “pray for peace in South Sudan.”
The renewed call to prayer echoes a 40-day prayer emphasis supported by the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) leading up to Sudan’s national referendum on the South’s independence in 2011. Sudan’s then-ambassador to the U.S. Akec Khoc, a Christian, addressed the WMU’s Orlando, Fla., Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in 2010 regarding his nation’s need for prayer.
“We are coming to you for prayer to our heavenly Father to give guidance to the leaders and the people of Sudan because it is only through Him that we can get peace,” Khoc said.
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7/22/2016 11:31:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

North Korea threatens U.S. over new missile defense system

July 22 2016 by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service

North Korea is threatening the United States – again. On July 11 the hermetically sealed nation vowed to sever its only diplomatic communication line and stage “powerful counter-action” over new sanctions on its leader and a planned missile detection system meant to prevent the totalitarian regime’s abuse of nuclear weaponry.
North Korea has been under strict sanctions for years, but the United States last week personally penalized Kim Jong Un for the first time, accusing the 32-year-old dictator and 10 top officials of human rights abuses. It is estimated the country holds up to 120,000 political prisoners.
“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture,” said Adam Szubin, in a Treasury Department report released this month.
Pyongyang claimed the blacklisting equaled a declaration of war – and promised to retaliate.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby urged North Korea to “refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region,” but declined to comment further on the situation.
In response to the North’s penchant for unauthorized weaponry testing, the U.S. and South Korea have collaborated to develop the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD), an elite missile detection system. THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy enemy warheads in the terminal stage of flight, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Today, Seoul officials announced THAAD will be deployed in Seongju, a southeast farming town where most locals grow yellow melons for a living. Afraid the radar’s electromagnetic waves could cause health hazards, Seongju residents reacted with bitter opposition, and a group of local leaders immediately delivered complaint letters, written in blood, to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
But South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Ryu Je Seung stood by the choice of Seongju as a missile-hosting town, claiming the placement would maximize THAAD’s military effectiveness while posing no danger to the environment or locals’ health and safety. Ryu said the system would be in place by the end of next year and would cover up to two-thirds of the nation’s territory from North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Just days after the U.S. announced the impending placement of THAAD, North Korea reacted by threatening to terminate the nation’s single diplomatic contact line. The New-York based channel allows North Korea’s United Nations diplomats to communicate, which could be crucial in the face of ever-deepening animosity over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea isn’t the only nation mad about THAAD. Officials in China and Russia complain the defense system could make it easier for the U.S. to spot their missiles. China’s Foreign Ministry last week expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute objection,” to THAAD.
The North Korean military this week denounced THAAD as “an invasionary tool for U.S. world supremacy,” and promised a “ruthless retaliatory strike [that will turn South Korea] into a sea of fire and a pile of ashes.” North Korea’s claim to reduce its southern counterpart to flaming rubble is a threat well-worn – the totalitarian regime has been using it since 1994.
North Korea’s statement was characteristically belligerent and overblown, but experts say a direct attack from Pyongyang’s impoverished military is unlikely.
“If you follow North Korean media you constantly see bellicose language directed against the U.S. and South Korea. … It’s hard to know what to take seriously,” professor John Delury of Yonsei University in South Korea told the BBC.
North Korea is still holding two American hostages for alleged espionage and subversion, and local officials implied the detainees would be treated under wartime law, which could complicate U.S. efforts to secure their release.

7/22/2016 11:27:30 AM by Anna K. Poole, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Pence makes case for Trump; Cruz steals spotlight

July 22 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence made a social conservative’s case for Donald Trump on the Republican National Convention’s third day, but the GOP runner-up – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – grabbed the spotlight by refusing to endorse his party’s nominee.

Screen capture from YouTube
“This election will define the Supreme Court for the next 40” years, GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said July 20.

Pence, 57, accepted the Republican nomination for vice president July 20 and offered reasons the lightning-rod billionaire should be trusted over presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Indiana governor made his case, however, after a wave of boos ushered Cruz off the stage in a development that assured Pence’s speech would be eclipsed in the convention’s latest news cycle.
Cruz – whom Pence endorsed before his state’s primary in May – urged Republicans to “vote your conscience” in November but mentioned Trump’s name only to congratulate the nominee. Some delegates shouted, “Endorse Trump,” late in Cruz’s speech. Many booed him near the end of or after his remarks, providing the latest evidence of the divisiveness that marked the GOP’s selection process this year.
Admitting his speech would serve as his introduction to the country, Pence repeated to the delegates his common description of himself, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
Pence, a six-term congressman before being elected governor in 2012, did not focus on his pro-life and other socially conservative positions, but they surfaced when he spoke about the significance of the Supreme Court this year.
“As this election approaches, every American should know that while we are filling the presidency for the next four years, this election will define the Supreme Court for the next 40,” Pence said. “We all better think very carefully, very carefully about what this means for our Constitution and limited government. Elect Hillary Clinton, and you better get used to being subject to unelected judges using unaccountable power to take unconstitutional actions.
“For the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of the sanctity of life, for the sake of our Second Amendment and for the sake of all our other God-given liberties, we must ensure that the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump,” Pence said.
The father of three referenced King Solomon’s prayer from 1 Kings 3:9 in promising, if elected, “to pray daily for a wise and discerning heart, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours without it?
Pence, said Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford, “delivered a strong address intended to achieve what he was brought onto the ticket to accomplish: help religious and social conservatives feel comfortable voting for Donald Trump.”
While Trump’s selection of Pence was “a good one,” it can also be interpreted as a warning, said Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Trump chose Pence because Pence is a religious conservative, an establishment guy, and known for his solid stances on abortion and religious liberty,” Ashford told Baptist Press in written comments.
“But it is also a warning sign,” he said. “Trump chose Pence because Trump himself is not a religious conservative or an establishment candidate, and is not known for solid stances on some of the matters most central to evangelical concern.”
In Trump, Pence told delegates, “You have nominated a man for president who never quits, who never backs down – a fighter, a winner.”
The election of Clinton – formerly secretary of State under President Obama, U.S. senator and first lady – would ensure continuation of the flawed domestic and foreign policies of the current White House, Pence said.
“The choice couldn’t be more clear: Americans can elect someone who literally personifies the failed establishment in Washington D.C., or we can choose a leader who will fight every day to make America great again,” he said.

‘Vote your conscience’

Cruz, also a social conservative, urged Americans not to “stay home in November” but spoke only in general terms of the kind of candidates they should support, with a hint that might not include Trump.
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love,” Cruz told delegates. “That is the standard we should expect from everybody.”
Americans who love their country and their children, he said, should “stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
In an appearance before the Texas delegation Thursday morning July 21, Cruz defended his refusal to endorse Trump. He again declined to commit to vote for the GOP nominee but said he would not vote for Clinton, according to The Washington Post. He asked them not to write in his name in November.
When asked why he reneged on his pledge to support the Republican nominee, Cruz said Trump invalidated the promise when the billionaire made personal attacks on his wife and hinted his father played a part in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Pence made at least one significant misstep as Indiana’s governor in the eyes of many religious freedom advocates and social conservatives. He signed into law last year a revised version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that increased protections for pastors, churches and nonprofit religious organizations but not businesses regarding participation in such events as same-sex weddings.

7/22/2016 11:09:20 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Multiethnic church pastor: peacemaker amid violence

July 21 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

With Alton Sterling and three police officers dead amid racial tension in Baton Rouge, La., black pastor Vince Smith counts among his blessings his interracial marriage to Cassie and his pastorate of the multiethnic Circle Church.

Submitted photo
Vince Smith, shown with his wife Cassie, pastors the multiethnic Circle Church in Alexandria, La.

Smith considers himself a peacemaker comforting those who mourn, whether they have lost loved ones at the hands of police or at the hands of civilians.
“The worst thing we can do as a multiethnic church is to dismiss the narrative of people,” said Smith, whose Southern Baptist congregation is 100 miles north of Baton Rouge in Alexandria. “When we raise one narrative as the normative point of view and the next narrative as secondary, then that is also dangerous. We don’t pick sides; we are in the middle being peacemakers.”
While racially charged violence brews in cities across the nation, Baton Rouge is where Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot dead by one of two white police officers who pinned him nearly immobile in a parking lot early July 5 after a 911 caller said Sterling had displayed a gun while selling CDs outside a convenience store.
Protests ensued, with a black man ambushing policemen nearly two weeks later, killing three officers, two white and one black.
Killed were Brad Garafola, 45, of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office; Montrell Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, both of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Police killed the shooter, identified as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Mo.
“Grief and lament are coming from those who have experienced police brutality [and from] families who have grieved [because of] similar situations and outright racism,” Smith told Baptist Press (BP). “Then to another side, [grief is coming] from police officers who are doing their best to do their job to protect and serve, family members that are worried for police safety, and blatant disregard for police.”
Smith does not see silence as an option.
“Peacemakers are not silent; they are in the business of addressing issues, not oversimplifying them to just move along,” Smith said. “It is not our job to decipher whether or not people should be grieving; it’s our job to allow them to grieve and hurt with them.”
When the Baton Rouge police officers were killed, Jerome Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa., had just attended the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C.
Before leading conference attendees in prayer, Coleman shared his perspective as a current black Southern Baptist pastor and former Pennsylvania state parole agent.
Coleman encouraged worshippers to maintain level-headedness amid news of such killings.
“I just want to remind you that a text without context is pretext for proof text. In other words, many times we will just get what the media wants us to get, or to stir up our emotions and things of that nature without having context of what is going on,” Coleman said. “And all I’m saying to you, when cooler heads prevail, we need to wait for the proof to come out.”
Coleman shared an experience from his law enforcement career that placed him in the basement of a home, with his gun drawn, in pursuit of an African American man hiding in the home to avoid arrest.
“Now luckily my training had taught me to keep my finger on the outside of the trigger guard when I’m carrying my gun. Because naturally when this young man popped up I flinched,” Coleman said. “And if my finger was inside the trigger guard, I would have shot an unarmed black man and I would have been on the news for shooting somebody that was unarmed and folks would have been outraged at me.”
For the most part, Coleman said, law enforcement officers and civilians alike are interested in doing their jobs and returning home safely to their families.
He evoked the parable of the Good Samaritan in explaining the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has included multiethnic crowds protesting – most often peacefully – across the country. Many have countered the movement with the mantra, “All lives matter.”
“I get that all lives matter. But if all lives matter, then when there’s a Jew beside the road beat up, Jewish lives matter. If all lives matter, then if I’m on my way down the road and a Samaritan is beat up, Samaritans’ lives matter,” Coleman said. “And if all lives matter and law enforcement is [attacked] … then law enforcement lives matter. And if all lives matter, then when ... black men are being stopped unnecessarily, shot and killed and murdered, then black lives matter as well.”
In Alexandria, Smith has planted a church that is multiethnic by definition – 65 percent white, 33 percent black and 2 percent other ethnicities. A police officer is among the members.
“We have specifically prayed for and laid hands on him and his family during our time of worship in these past two weeks,” Smith said. “We also have constantly communicated with our people to steer clear from polarizing points of view.”
Smith has been intentional in building a multiethnic congregation.
“There are many churches that desire to be multiethnic but their leadership may not reflect it. Also throughout the New Testament we see Paul writing on the issue of table fellowship,” Smith said. “We believe that the most segregated hour in America is not Sunday at 11:00 anymore, but rather Friday at 6:00.
“What we mean by that is people may tolerate differences on Sunday morning but they have a hard time celebrating differences over dinner on Friday night. Pastor Bryan Loritts says, ‘Sanctuaries should reflect dinner tables,’” Smith quoted the pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, Calif., as saying. “The exposure of different people in our lives will allow us to grow in cross-cultural competency for the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Smith is prayerfully navigating Circle Church to engage in intentional conversation about race, class, culture, police and related movements, he said.
Smith and his wife have seen firsthand the fruit of racism within a Christian context. Married in November 2012, their interracial union was poorly received by many, Smith said, and even sparked a deacons’ meeting at a church they attended.
“Some couples may have their first fight over grease stains on a chevron pillow. We faced families and whole churches disliking us,” Smith and his wife wrote in an article he sent to BP from “It kind of forces your faith to mature quickly. Those would have been the times when giving up would have been easy. Suffering comes in different forms. An avenue of suffering that strengthened our faith was not being celebrated everywhere we went.”
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7/21/2016 10:48:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Biblical studies prof Denny Burk elected CBMW president

July 21 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Biblical studies professor Denny Burk has been elected president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), an organization that helps believers understand and apply the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender.

Denny Burk

Burk, whose election was announced July 20, is a faculty member of Boyce College at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and director of the undergraduate school’s Center for Gospel and Culture.
His desire to address gender issues stems in part from his work as an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Burk told Baptist Press (BP).
“I’ve already had church members wondering what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to think about coworkers who are entering into same-sex marriages and who are transitioning to some sort of a transgender identity,” Burk said.
“They’re wondering, one, what do I think about that? What does the Bible teach about that?” he said. “And then number two, how do I be a faithful disciple for Jesus in their lives in light of that? I see these gender and sexuality questions in my own church as profoundly practical questions that believers are wrestling with.”
Burk’s vision for CBMW includes reaffirming the organization’s bedrock belief that men and women are fundamentally equal and have been assigned distinct roles in the church and the home, a belief known as complementarianism and articulated in one of CBMW’s founding documents, the Danvers Statement of 1987.
Burk envisions drafting a new statement concerning “current challenges” like transgenderism and the redefinition of marriage, according to a vision statement posted online.
“Western culture has embarked upon a total revision of sexual and gender norms,” Burk wrote in the statement. “It has evicted the male-female complement from the definition of marriage. Indeed, with the transgender challenge, it has thrown into question the meaning of the sexual binary that God has encoded into every cell in our bodies.
“As a result,” Burk noted, “churches find themselves facing questions about manhood and womanhood that were barely imagined when the Danvers Statement was written.”
In drafting a new statement to complement the 1987 one, CBMW “will not be backing away from or revising Danvers,” Burk wrote.
The process of drafting a new statement, he told BP, will include “as much input on that draft” as possible, likely culminating in a meeting where complementarian leaders can sign it. He will “be surprised” if the process takes less than a year.
In addition to his duties at Boyce, Burk is a popular internet commentator on theology and cultural issues, who ranked 18th last year on Newsmax’s list of the “top 75 religion bloggers” in America.
Burk served previously as dean of Boyce and on the faculty of Criswell College in Dallas. His books include “Transforming Homosexuality,” coauthored with Southern Seminary’s Heath Lambert, and “What Is the Meaning of Sex?”
His election as CBMW president drew praise from Southern Baptist Convention entity presidents R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore, according to a CBMW news release. Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called him “a leading Christian intellectual” while Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he is a “Christlike leader who understands both the Bible and the culture.”
Burk will continue in his role at Boyce in Louisville, where CBMW also is headquartered. He succeeds Owen Strachan, who became CBMW executive director in 2012 and president in 2014.
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7/21/2016 10:43:18 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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