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Latter-day Saints on LGBT rights called naïve, unhelpful

January 29 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) will support civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) if religious freedom protections also are ensured, its leaders announced Jan. 27.
 
Southern Baptist leaders, however, said the Mormons' approach to the conflict between sexual rights and religious liberty is naive and unhelpful, as well as unacceptable to proponents of LGBT rights.
 
In a Salt Lake City news conference, Mormon leaders described their stance as "fairness for all" – or a "balanced approach between religious and gay rights" that endorses protections in housing, employment and public transportation for LGBT people and, at the same time, safeguards the rights of religious institutions and people.
 
The Mormons' newly announced support for LGBT rights legislation throughout the country followed its endorsement of a similar Salt Lake City ordinance in 2009. Mormon leaders said they were able to support the city measure because it adequately protected religious freedom.
 
This approach does not represent a change in doctrine but a desire "to encourage mutually respectful dialogue in what has become a highly polarized national debate," Mormon leaders said. They included no mention of same-sex marriage in their comments, an apparent indication the Latter-day Saints will maintain their view of marriage as only between a man and a woman.
 
"I think the Latter-day Saints are well-intentioned but naive on where the reality stands today," said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "I do not think, in most instances, sexual orientation ought to matter in housing or employment, but of course the proposals to address these concerns inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty."
 
As he thought, the Mormons' announcement of a revised position "was greeted with hostility from gay rights organizations and disappointment from social conservatives," Moore said.
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his Jan. 28 podcast, "[A]lmost anyone who understands the scope and scale of today's moral revolution will understand why such a proposal might be made. But if you're looking at the landscape of America today, this appears to be a proposal that comes rather too late to be genuinely helpful. And perhaps the response to the proposal yesterday helps to make that point more than anything else."

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R. Albert Mohler Jr.

 

Mohler said, "[A]lmost immediately, it was clear that the leadership of the LGBT movement isn't going to buy this kind of bargain."
 
"[W]hat we're looking at," Mohler said, "is the LDS church basically asking for what almost anyone in the gay-rights movement would have been ready to grant as recently as two to three years ago – certainly five to 10 years ago.
 
"What we are now witnessing is a radical acceleration of the movement to redefine religious liberty so that [it] means almost nothing," Mohler said, according to a transcript of the podcast.
 
Reaction demonstrated how unacceptable the religious freedom protections called for by the Mormons are to LGBT advocacy groups.
 
"The so-called religious exemption is the size of five Mack trucks. It entirely neuters their proposal," said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), according to The Washington Post. HRC is the country's leading LGBT organization.
 
The Mormons are "demanding broad and unnecessary religious exemptions that hurt LGBT people and families," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), in a written statement. "The 'compromise' is that the Mormon Church will support non-discrimination only if it won't have to follow laws that require equal treatment of LGBT people. This is not a 'compromise,' it's a compromising of fairness and basic respect for LGBT people."
 
The Mormons' announcement came as cities, and even smaller municipalities, increasingly are enacting ordinances expanding anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodation, which covers hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The city councils of Houston and Plano, Texas, are among those that approved LGBT ordinances in 2014. At one point, the Houston government even subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who opposed the ordinance as part of a lawsuit before backing down.
 
Some Southern Baptists and other Christians who ascribe to a biblical sexual ethic have opposed the laws, contending they often infringe upon freedom of religion and conscience for individuals, churches and businesses.
 
In a written statement, Moore said, "As Southern Baptists, we believe gay and lesbian persons are created in the image of God and ought to be respected. We also believe that any sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally wrong. And we believe that freedom of conscience for those of us who dissent from the Sexual Revolution ought to be maintained."
 
Mormons have been strong allies with evangelical Christians and other social conservatives on such issues as marriage and religious freedom. Both Moore and Mohler have met with Mormon leaders on these matters.
 
Mohler has spoken at Brigham Young University – a Mormon school in Provo, Utah -- on two occasions, making clear both times "there is a great theological chasm between biblical Christianity and the LDS church," he said on his podcast. "As I said in both of those lectures, I don't believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we're at risk of going to jail together. It's that second concern in some sense that drove the announcement coming from the LDS church yesterday."
 
The Mormons' announcement could be an attempt to aid Mitt Romney in a 2016 presidential campaign, said R. Philip Roberts, former director of the North American Mission Board's interfaith witness department. Romney lost as the Republican nominee for the White House in 2012 and has sent signals he may run again.
 
Citing sources he is familiar with, Roberts said the Mormon approach could be intended "to defuse the center and some of the left against criticizing him for his moral views and soften his approach and increase his appeal to those elements in the political spectrum. ... [T]here's no other reason for them to be doing this at this point in time, unless it is to help Romney."
 
Roberts is director for international theological education with Global Ministries Foundation in suburban Memphis.
 
Though he questions the Latter-day Saints' approach, Moore said he looks forward "to working with Mormons and others on protecting religious liberty for everyone in the years ahead."
 
In the Jan. 27 news conference, Jeffrey Holland cited several examples of the kinds of institutional and individual religious rights for which Mormons are seeking protection. Among these were the freedom of churches and other religious groups to teach, express their views publicly, choose their leaders, hire employees and use their property according to their beliefs. Individuals should have the right to live out their religious convictions, he said. For instance, a Mormon doctor should have the right to refuse to conduct an abortion or perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple and a Catholic pharmacist should not be coerced into providing the "morning-after" pill, said Holland, one of three members of the governing Twelve Apostles who spoke alongside a female leader to reporters.
 
While Mormons are known for their pro-family and socially conservative views, their beliefs contradict Christian teaching on such doctrines as the person and work of God the Son, salvation and the sufficiency and authority of the Bible.
 
The spread of same-sex marriage also has imperiled the religious liberty of Christians and others with conscientious objections. Florists, photographers, bakers and others who provide services for weddings have been especially vulnerable to efforts to force them to contradict their beliefs.
 
Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states – nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal just 18 months ago – and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Supreme Court announced Jan. 16 it would review a lower-court decision on same-sex marriage, signaling it likely will determine by late June whether states can define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/29/2015 10:52:35 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Crime scenes provide ministry opportunity

January 29 2015 by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press

Gun violence in New Orleans’ quiet Gentilly neighborhood once was rare, but after four shootings rocked Gentilly Baptist Church in a year’s time, pastor Ken Taylor decided something had to change.
 
Ken Taylor, News Orleans pastor and missions professor, is visiting nearby local crime scenes as a way of ministering to families whose loved ones have been killed or wounded in gunfire.
 
That “something” turned out to be him; he began visiting crime scenes to care for hurting people, even scenes marked by the faint imprint of Voodoo.
 
Taylor’s commitment came in the wake of a church family grieving the loss of two teenage sons whose deaths occurred mere months apart and after a nearby double-murder took place while one victim’s brother played basketball in the church gym. And a man was shot in front of the church as he left the Sunday worship service to go home.
 
“The shootings certainly brought home to us what we knew the city has been facing for a long time,” Taylor said. “It personalized it for us more.”
 
As crime reports came in, Taylor, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) professor of missions, found himself most often in the nearby 7th Ward where locals often delineate between the “lake side” of St. Claiborne Avenue, a main artery bisecting the region, and the more troubled “river side” where violence is more prominent.

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Ken Taylor, News Orleans pastor and missions professor, is visiting nearby local crime scenes as a way of ministering to families whose loved ones have been killed or wounded in gunfire.

 

Good has come from Taylor’s visiting crime scenes as one man began attending church and is now considering a call to ministry. And in the pulpit, Taylor said he feels a greater sense of urgency and knows he’s speaking to many “who live on the cusp of life or death.”
 
Though quiet has mostly returned to Gentilly, the need remains. Last fall, Taylor was called to a home he knew well to see yet again the all-too-familiar sight of the grandmother mopping up blood on the porch.
 
In that shooting, one woman told Taylor she thought she knew the perpetrator but was too afraid to tell. The woman believed the shooter to be the man who had murdered her own son.
 
“People are scared,” Taylor said.
 
Burdened for the city and for a way to help students connect to its need, Taylor decided to take his Urban Missions class out to prayerwalk in the troubled 7th Ward after a quadruple shooting left one man dead and three injured, including a one-year-old girl.
 
When Taylor and his class of seven students pulled up, they saw a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and flowers marking the house where the shootings had taken place three days earlier.
 
While the students walked the neighborhood in prayer, Taylor stayed at the scene and talked to family members.
 
One NOBTS student, Sarah Clawson, talked to several neighbors, including a group of men outside a neighborhood convenience store who were disturbed by the murder and “the baby who was shot.”
 
The neighbors want real change, Clawson said. “With the exception of only one person, all asked for prayer for their community.”
 
At the scene, the victim’s sister, the last surviving member of her immediate family, grieved publicly but eventually allowed Taylor to pray with her.
 
While there, Taylor said he was caught up in an emotionally-charged altercation involving the victim’s aunt and a neighbor that ended as police led the neighbor away in handcuffs. The police had arrived to monitor a Second Line – typically a march where participants dance as they follow a brass band – that was pre-arranged in the victim’s honor.
 
Instead, the band played and participants danced in front of the crime scene as the victim’s aunt poured pieces of candy over the memorial and another woman poured beer, a ritual that hints of Voodoo and paying homage to deceased loved ones, Taylor said.
 
Clawson said the non-traditional Second Line began with people having a good time, then switched to loud waling and weeping.
 
“There was a feeling of hopelessness,” she said. “This was all they had left of him.”
 
Taylor pointed to the pervasive influence in the community of the little-publicized Spiritualist Church of New Orleans, a group that researcher and author Claude F. Jacobs has described as a syncretistic mix of Catholic and Protestant orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Voodoo and spiritualism.
 
“We were speechless,” Taylor said. “I could not have arranged a more fitting setting for urban missions. It was quintessential New Orleans.”
 
Another student, Bryan Coble, said the experience in the 7th Ward confirmed his sense of call to urban missions and has emboldened him to share the gospel.
 
“Dr. Taylor genuinely cares for his students,” Coble said. “He wants us to see the real New Orleans and experience what it will take to heal the brokenness of the city.”
 
Finding ways to address violence is a continuing process, Taylor said, noting that the church needs to be at the heart of the solution.
 
“While there is a lot of bleakness and fear, I see God working in individual lives,” Taylor said. “It is through Jesus Christ that lives are changed, and it’s only through changed lives that we can deal with this.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in the Message.)

1/29/2015 10:46:05 AM by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ABS to move headquarters to Philadelphia

January 29 2015 by Baptist Press staff

After nearly 200 years in New York City, the American Bible Society (ABS) has announced a relocation of its headquarters to Philadelphia.
 
Though the ministry will “maintain a presence” in New York, it will open a 10,000-square-foot office in Philadelphia’s historic district this summer, according to an ABS news release.

 
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“For 20 decades, American Bible Society has worked to make the Bible available where needed most so that all may experience its life-changing message,” ABS President and CEO Roy Peterson said. “As we work toward the goal of having 100 million Americans engaging with God’s Word and 100 percent of the world’s languages open for Bible engagement, our new Philadelphia headquarters will become the launching pad for Bible ministry in the U.S. and around the world.”
 
ABS works to distribute scripture across the world and equip Bible translators, according to the organization’s website.
 
ABS leaders selected Philadelphia as the site of their new headquarters because of “strategic collaboration opportunities, affordability and livability” among other considerations, the news release said.
 
In addition to ministry offices, the new ABS facility may include a Bible Discovery Center, a rare scriptures depository and a scholarly working library.
 
“We are thrilled that we will be starting a third century of service headquartered here in Philadelphia,” Peterson said. “Home to America’s first hopes as a new nation, Philadelphia is now home to a very bright future for American Bible Society.”
 
In recent years, ABS has experienced some upheaval, with Peterson taking over as president last February following the firing of Douglas Birdsall after just six months on the job. Prior to his service at ABS, Birdsall served as executive chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and organized the Lausanne Movement’s 2010 congress in Cape Town, South Africa. At the time of Birdsall’s firing, WORLD News Service reported that ABS had operated for at least two years with budget deficits.
 
ABS’s history includes a long relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). During the 20th century, some Southern Baptist churches sent money to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) designated for ABS, and the EC forwarded the funds. Through 1998, ABS reported to messengers at each SBC annual meeting. However, ABS reports were discontinued when the annual meeting was shortened from three days to two. Among the reasons for eliminating the reports was to provide more focus on giving through the Cooperative Program.
 
Between 1846 and 1991, the SBC adopted 48 resolutions affirming ABS’s ministry.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/29/2015 10:36:55 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Ex-IMB missionary gets 2-year sentence

January 29 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Former Southern Baptist missionary Brady Nurse has been sentenced to two years in prison for obtaining nearly $300,000 in mission funds by submitting fraudulent expense reports to the International Mission Board (IMB).
 
Three years of supervised release will follow the sentence, handed down Jan. 21 by U.S. Eastern District Judge James R. Spencer.
 
Nurse, a 38-year-old resident of Bothell, Wash., pled guilty Oct. 21 to obtaining the funds in fabricated expenses from 2008-13 while working as a logistics and business coordinator for the IMB in Portugal. He resigned from the IMB in January 2014. Nurse and his wife Andrea had served as IMB missionaries since March 2006.
 
In pleading guilty, Nurse signed a statement acknowledging that he “routinely altered” amounts on valid documents and invoices submitted on expense reports to increase his reimbursement; “submitted fraudulent, manufactured, and/or duplicated documentation” on expense reports; “falsely represented” quotes and estimates for service from vendors as services actually provided, rather than lower amounts actually charged; altered documentation associated with household shipping charges “to obtain additional benefit from an increase shipping allowance”; and falsely obtained reimbursement for non-reimbursable expenses.
 
After his resignation as a missionary, the statement added, Nurse continued to seek reimbursement for “suspect shipping expenses by false statements submitted to IMB through interstate emails.” He also received nearly $21,000 in additional funds through a clerical error by the board’s benefits department and has yet to return those funds, IMB reported.
 
IMB became aware in January 2014 of “suspicious transactions” by Nurse related to shipping of household items from Portugal to the United States, according to court documents. IMB’s internal audit staff began a full-scale review of Nurse’s reimbursement requests, comparing them with original documents obtained from Portugal. Results of the internal review were reported to the FBI, which began an investigation.
 
“We are deeply grieved that one sent out to proclaim the free gift of the gospel would violate the sacred trust placed in him by Southern Baptists,” IMB general counsel Derek Gaubatz said upon Nurse’s guilty plea in October. “IMB believes it is appropriate that Mr. Nurse face accountability for his actions and fully supports his prosecution under federal law. At the same time, IMB takes no joy in that prosecution. IMB is praying for Mr. Nurse and his family that they would experience the mercy of God in a fresh way.”
 
The mission board “takes its role as a steward over Southern Baptist resources given for missions very seriously,” Gaubatz said. “While both IMB’s external auditors and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability have independently verified that IMB has robust anti-fraud measures in place, IMB will be seeking their input on any additional measures they would recommend.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Story:

Former missionary pleads guilty to wire fraud

1/29/2015 10:31:06 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



NAMB, IMB to partner on Send North America Conf.

January 28 2015 by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press

The Send North America Conference has gained a major partner for the Aug. 3-4 sessions at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
 
North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell has announced that the International Mission Board (IMB) is partnering with NAMB to make the Send North America Conference fully comprehensive in missions scope.
 
At its core, the heart of the two-day Send North America Conference is a gathering of the church in North America to see a movement of people living out the mission of God in their everyday lives. It aims to bring mission leaders at every level from across the continent together for encouragement, vision and action.

 
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Kevin Ezell

The conference holds promise to be one of the largest missions gatherings in North American history. Paid registration has already surpassed 7,300.
 
“Working together on this conference means churches and individuals will truly be able to come away with a complete vision and plan for their church’s mission activity in North America and around the globe,” Ezell said. “This kind of opportunity is unprecedented in Southern Baptist life and I am very excited about the potential.”
 
In addition to providing a comprehensive vision and plan, missions mobilization is a natural partnership for NAMB and IMB.
 
David Platt, IMB president, recounted, “When I first agreed to be a part of the Send North America Tour, culminating in this event in August, I had no idea that I would soon be serving alongside NAMB as president of IMB. I am exhilarated when I think about all the possibilities we have to mobilize Christians and equip churches for mission in North America and the nations together, and this conference is a reflection of that reality. I am eagerly looking forward to NAMB and IMB together hosting thousands of people in one place for God-glorifying, gospel-saturated worship all aimed at sending those people out from local churches on mission all over the world.”
 
The conference will provide many opportunities for networking between its main sessions, worship times and breakout sessions. An abbreviated list of speakers includes Platt, Matt Carter, Louie Giglio, Al Mohler and Eric Mason, among others. Worship sessions will be led by Passion Band, Casting Crowns, David Crowder and Shane and Shane.
 
With the Send North America Conference’s focus on mobilization and next steps, participants will have the opportunity to respond on-site to several missions avenues, from exploration to support to church planting and unreached people group engagement.
 
Organizers hope churches and individuals will be encouraged to live life on mission as a result of participating in the conference. That may mean beginning the conversation about what life on mission looks like, exploring where to plug in with NAMB and IMB, increasing support for missions or becoming personally involved as a church planter or other type of missionary.
 
The cost of the conference is $129. The event’s website – sendconference.com – provides information on registration, lodging and other important details.
 
Leading up to this year’s conference, dozens of Southern Baptist churches in about 30 cities throughout North America will have hosted tour stops for NAMB-sponsored Send North America Experiences.
 
This will be NAMB’s third Send North America Conference to encourage, equip and mobilize leaders in local congregations to penetrate lostness in North America. Nearly 2,000 people attended the 2012 Send North America Conference at First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga. The attendance more than doubled in 2013 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

1/28/2015 12:22:38 PM by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Winter storm underscores disaster preparedness

January 28 2015 by Meredith Yackel, NAMB/Baptist Press

Winter storm Juno hit areas of the Northeast Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 26-27) and continues to bring moderate to heavy snow in some areas. Although its impact is less than originally predicted, by noon Tuesday Juno had left parts of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island with one to two or more feet of snow.
 
Wind gusts reached 30 mph Tuesday night in Boston and topped 70 mph in eastern Massachusetts. Coastal flooding has forced roads in some areas to close completely, and several states either closed roads or imposed a limited travel ban. An estimated 36,000 customers are without power in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
 
Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), warned that “it is easy to take an attitude of complacency and not take preparedness with seriousness” since New York and other areas weren’t hit as hard as initially feared.
 
While trained SBDR volunteers could be deployed for such a natural disaster if needed, Wilson said blizzards are an example of the kind of event individuals and churches can prepare for in advance.
 
“Our Ready Church initiative is about being prepared for all disasters. The reason for churches and Christians to be prepared is that when we are prepared, we can better cope with the situation and minister to our neighbors,” Wilson said. Churches can connect with a local SBDR director to learn more about how to be prepared when a storm, or any kind of disaster, hits close to home.
 
SBDR leaders want to enable churches to prepare, connect and respond within their local context while, through the disaster relief network nationally and internationally, Southern Baptists are able to respond with full support to crises of all sizes. Ready Church empowers people to best connect with their community in these times of need to spread the Gospel.
 
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
 
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
 
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Yackel writes for the North American Mission Board.)

1/28/2015 12:15:06 PM by Meredith Yackel, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC, Focus unveil 2016 Evangelicals for Life

January 28 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists’ ethics entity and a leading pro-family organization took a public, first step Jan. 22 in mobilizing extensive evangelical Christian involvement in the annual March for Life.
 
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family introduced Evangelicals for Life – a major evangelical, pro-life conference in conjunction with the 2016 March for Life – at an event by the same name that preceded this year’s march. At the morning session, the ERLC and Focus on the Family announced they will sponsor with other organizations the first-of-its-kind event next Jan. 21-22 in Washington, D.C.
 
The ERLC and Focus are planning in 2016 “to really initiate a massive movement of evangelicals present at the March for Life,” ERLC President Russell Moore told those gathered Jan. 22 in a Washington hotel meeting room.
 
The March for Life, a signature event of the pro-life movement, began in 1974, a year after the Jan. 22 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide. Held on or near Jan. 22, it brings together many tens of thousands of pro-lifers – or a few hundred thousand, depending on estimates – to rally on the National Mall in Washington, then march up Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill. Leaders from the diverse groups that make up the pro-life movement typically gather for the march and surrounding events.
 
While many religious groups are involved, Roman Catholics dominate attendance at the march. Catholic parishes and schools from numerous states send busloads to Washington for the event, and many other Catholics travel by train and vehicle. The Catholic Church also sponsors events in Washington preceding the march.
 
Evangelicals are deeply involved in a variety of pro-life efforts in the United States, but they have been significantly underrepresented at the March for Life. That needs to change, Moore said.

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Photo by Chad Bartlett
ERLC President Russell Moore prays to close the Evangelicals for Life event Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. Joining him in prayer are (from left) Kelly Rosati of Focus on the Family, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Phillip Bethancourt of the ERLC.

 

“I don’t want to see any fewer rosary beads at the March for Life, but I want to see more evangelicals here also at the March for Life,” he told the Jan. 22 ERLC-Focus gathering that included a sizable number of evangelical, pro-life leaders. “[O]ur absence is a shame. And so we don’t need any less ‘Ave Maria,’ but we need some more ‘Amazing Grace’ in the mix as well.”
 
Of the 2016 conference, Moore said, “You’re going to see a gathering of evangelicals saying, ‘This is our issue too.’
 
“[W]e’re wanting to cultivate a new generation of born-again men and women who care about the unborn, who care about their mothers and who care about consciences that are torn apart by the culture of death,” he said.
 
Moore and Focus President Jim Daly are the only conference speakers named so far.
 
Kelly Rosati, Focus’ vice president of community outreach, told the audience of about 70 pro-lifers, “We really believe that God is doing something in the evangelical community to encourage and strengthen those of you who have been on the front lines for so long.... We are going to turn this around, and we are never, never going to stop speaking out for unborn kids.”
 
Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, appeared at the evangelical event to commend participants and the plans for the 2016 conference.
 
“On behalf of the March for Life and personally, I just can’t thank you enough,” she said.
 
The ERLC and Focus supported the march later in the day. At least 10 ERLC staff members and five Focus staffers participated in the rally and march. Moore appeared on the rally stage among pro-life leaders, and he gave the benediction at the March for Life-sponsored Rose Dinner in the evening.
 
In a panel discussion during the Jan. 22 Evangelicals for Life event, Moore, Rosati and Samuel Rodriguez said they are encouraged by evangelical involvement on the life issue.
 
He especially is encouraged considering where evangelicals were in the years after Roe v. Wade, Moore said.
 
At the beginning, evangelicals thought it was “a Catholic issue” and didn’t say much except for “a few prophetic voices,” he told the gathering. Then people assumed young evangelicals would surrender the abortion issue and become pro-choice, he said.
 
“That is not true at all,” Moore said. “It is almost impossible for me to find a pro-choice, young evangelical. And it is almost impossible for me to find a young evangelical who isn’t passionately concerned about the lives of the unborn and about their mothers.”
 
He also is encouraged “because the life issue is connected to so many other things,” he said. “When we deal with the question of the vulnerable and the unborn, then we’re spending time concentrating on that issue of the dignity of humanity, on that issue of love for neighbor, on that issue ... of pleading for the innocent.”
 
That drives evangelicals to care about others, including orphans and the poor, he said.
 
Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the next generation is committed to justice and sees “the pro-life commitment as part of the justice motif.”
 
“That pro-life platform serves as the impetus behind many of the civil rights issues that Christians are now advocating for in the 21st century,” he said.
 
Focus is excited at what it describes as “a renaissance in the evangelical pro-life movement,” Rosati told the audience.
 
Young evangelicals’ “comprehensive commitment to pro-life causes ... is going to enhance our work on behalf of the preborn,” she said. “I believe that with all my heart. And I think that’s one of the trends we’re going to see” continue in the future.
 
A thread runs through both the life and race issues, Rodriguez said. The “abortion industry is targeting the ethnic community like no other,” placing its clinics in Latino and African-American neighborhoods, he said. “So if you are in favor of bringing about racial reconciliation, it behooves you to address abortion.”
 
For pro-life evangelicals, Moore said, “the most important weapon we have in our arsenal is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most important pro-life chapter in the Bible is not Psalm 139 but Romans 3, that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
 
He added, “God is just. He hears the cries of the unborn. And, Paul tells us in Romans 3, God is the justifier – so that in the cross we have the justice of God and the mercy of God.”
 
Evangelicals “need to be the sort of people who are addressing this issue in our churches, talking to the conscience,” he said. “But you don’t leave it there, because you also say, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation,’ which means that woman who has had the abortion or that man who has paid for the abortion who is in Christ, God does not see that person as the one who had the abortion. God sees that person exactly as He sees Jesus Christ: ‘You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.’”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

1/28/2015 12:02:40 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘I will try,’ Obama pledges to Abedinis

January 28 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Seeking the release of Saeed Abedini remains a “top priority,” President Barack Obama told Naghmeh Abedini during a private 10-minute meeting with her and her children Jan. 21 at Boise State University. Obama pledged to seek his release with renewed energy.
 
“He was holding my hand the whole time. I could see that he cared in his eyes and he kept getting that across, that he cares, and he’s doing what he can [to gain Saeed’s release],” she said during a radio interview with American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) executive director Jordan Sekulow. “My son asked him to bring him back, bring daddy back for his birthday, which is in March, and he looked up and he looked at my son and he said, ‘I will try Jacob, I will try.’”

She credited God for arranging the meeting to allow her to seek her husband’s release and to proclaim God’s love and power.
 
“God had me in that room, not only to go before the king as Esther did and plead for a cause, but also to touch his heart,” Naghmeh Abedini said in an interview with CBN, referencing Queen Esther of the Old Testament. “I know I was sent as God’s ambassador to touch the president’s heart with God’s love, the love of Jesus, and those were accomplished; so I have hope for the next steps because God is in control.”
 
“He will show me,” she said of God. “He will take me through the next steps. I know there [are] great things to come and I can’t wait to have Saeed home with our family.”
 
Naghmeh Abedini has been advocating more than two years for the release of her husband Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison, where he has been held since Sept. 26, 2012 because of his Christian faith. He was sentenced Jan. 27, 2013, to eight years in prison on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July, 2012.
 
She met with Obama on the two-year anniversary of the opening day of Abedini’s trial.
 
“I just looked at [Obama] and said the kids and I love you and we pray for you,” she said on CBN. “And as soon as I said that, the wall all came down, and he just grabbed my hand and I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s a professional thing to say or not.’ And he smiled and he said, ‘Yes, I need your prayers.’ It was very personal, and I just felt like sharing God’s love with him.”
 
Obama arranged a telephone interview between Naghmeh Abedini and the State Department staff after the meeting. Secretary of State John Kerry has advocated for Saeed’s release during past visits to Iran.
 
“For me, that meant we’re on the same team, let’s take the next step necessary to get Saeed home,” she said of Obama arranging the interview with State Department staff. “Especially when Jacob asked to have daddy for his birthday.”
 
Naghmeh Abedini asked Christians to continue praying for her husband’s release.
 
“More than anything, I’ve been motivated to even pray more, and to ask the body of Christ to join me in praying more,” she said on CBN. “I’m thankful for everyone who is praying, the churches that are praying that are really supporting and standing with us. We couldn’t have done it without you. We’re going to bring Saeed home. We continue to pray.”
 
The meeting heightens the fight for Saeed Abedini’s release, ACLJ’s Sekulow said.
 
“It personalizes it for the president [and his staff.] But on top of that, it changes the staff’s perspective – the people who are doing the day-to-day on this at the White House and the State Department,” Sekulow said, “because the president has made it a priority and he’s also elevated this nationally by not only doing this meeting, but doing it right after the State of the Union address.”
 
More than 206,000 have signed a two-month-old ACLJ petition urging Obama not to make any diplomatic deals with Iran unless Saeed is released.
 
Naghmeh Abedini’s father-in-law visited Saeed in prison on the same day she met with Obama, and reported that Saeed is still suffering.
 
“He still has a lot of pain of course he’s in one of the worst prisons in the world,” she said. “The nutrition is horrible. The conditions are horrible.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

1/28/2015 11:50:31 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Fabricated: 'I did not go to heaven'

January 28 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

LifeWay Christian Resources’ decision to stop selling a discredited book about a 6-year-old’s supposed vision of heaven is being cited as a reminder that followers of Jesus should rely on the Bible rather than subjective experience for their knowledge of the afterlife.
 
“Anytime you step away from the clear, revelatory, propositional statements of scripture into your own experience, then you open yourself to every kind of weird existential idea out there,” Chris Osborne, a Texas pastor who believes books like Malarkey’s are unbiblical, told Baptist Press. “We want people bound to truth, not to what they feel or what they think they saw or what they experience.”

LifeWay decided Jan. 15 that it would stop selling The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by the father-son team of Kevin and Alex Malarkey after Alex, now 16, said in a statement that he fabricated the supposed vision of heaven on which the bestselling book is based.
 
“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex Malarkey wrote in an open letter to LifeWay and other book retailers.
 
“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible,” Malarkey wrote.
 
LifeWay spokesman Marty King said in a statement released to BP, “LifeWay was informed last week that Alex Malarkey retracted his testimony about visiting heaven as told in the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. Therefore, we returned to the publisher the few copies we had in our stores. LifeWay is committed to becoming even more proactive the next few months in evaluating the resources we carry.”
 
In 2004, Malarkey spent two months in a coma and was paralyzed from the neck down following a car accident. When he awoke, Malarkey reported experiencing a vision of heaven that included being guided by angels and meeting Jesus.
 
Kevin Malarkey said he “felt no urge” to share his son’s story for five years, but he retained an agent and secured a book deal with Tyndale House Publishers in 2009, British newspaper The Guardian reported. Though Alex is listed as a coauthor, Kevin Malarkey is the sole owner of the copyright, according to information posted in the United States Copyright Office’s public catalog. Kevin Malarkey also owns the copyright for a “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” film and a Spanish version of the book.
 
Alex’s mother Beth Malarkey – who Christianity Today reported is separated from Kevin – has been writing on her blog since at least 2011 that the book contains inaccuracies, according to the Guardian. Beth Malarkey said she and Alex have not received any proceeds from the book’s sale, CT reported.
 
Tyndale announced in a Jan. 14 statement that it would “immediately put the book and all ancillary products into out-of-print status” and allow retailers to return their remaining inventory.
 
Last June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a resolution that touted “the sufficiency of scripture regarding the afterlife” and warned Christians not to allow “the numerous books and movies purporting to explain or describe the afterlife experience” to “become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife.”
 
Though the resolution did not list specific book or movie titles, it seemed to describe works like The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo along with its companion movie released last year by Sony Pictures.
 
The resolution affirmed “the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”
 
Osborne, who was a member of the SBC Resolutions Committee that proposed the resolution to the convention, believes the apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 12:4 that he heard things during a vision of “paradise” which “a man is not allowed to speak” precludes anyone from describing a vision of heaven not in the Bible.
 
Although scripture says much about where believers will live following Christ’s second coming, it contains far less information about what occurs between the time a follower of Jesus dies and the Lord’s second coming, Osborne, pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, said. Still, God has given humans all the information they need about what happens after death, he added.
 
Theologians refer to the condition of believers between their deaths and Christ’s return as “the intermediate state.”
 
“There are several things I know about the intermediate state,” Osborne said, citing John 14:2-4. “Number one, Jesus comes and gets me and takes me there.... There’s obviously a place that He’s built for me there and [I will go there] immediately upon my death.”
 
Osborne speculated that the lack of information in scripture about the intermediate state may be one factor driving well-meaning believers to study books about near-death experiences for clues.
 
“The lack of explanation in the scripture causes people to create things that are not true,” Osborne said.
 
Matthew Arbo, another member of the Resolutions Committee that proposed the statement on books about heaven, told BP Christians should not worry about what will happen to them during the intermediate state even though it is “kind of a mystery.”
 
“We have the word from Jesus on the cross, ‘This day you will be with me in paradise,’” Arbo, assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at Oklahoma Baptist University, said. “We should just lay hold of that truth and trust that as God worked all things together for our good in our salvation and in our calling, so also He will do the same thing in our death.”
 
Jesus’ promise that the thief on the cross would be in paradise the day of his death (Luke 23:43) and Paul’s statement that “to be out of the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) demonstrate that Christians’ souls will go to heaven immediately when they die, Arbo said. Believers’ bodies will remain in the grave until they are raised, perfected and reunited with their souls at Christ’s second coming, he noted.
 
The lack of detail in scripture regarding the intermediate state should not drive believers to depend on fanciful portrayals in either secular or Christian media for information, Arbo said.
 
Books like Malarkey’s are “kind of an interesting juxtaposition to pop culture portrayals of death – vampire series, An American Horror Story – that are kind of morbid and nihilistic. They’re really bleak. And then you get these hits that aren’t quite so reductive and so defeating. It’s kind of understandable why somebody might fix onto that. There’s so very little that’s hopeful in pop culture today.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

1/28/2015 11:39:36 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ministers’ tax guide released by GuideStone

January 28 2015 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

GuideStone Financial Resources has released its Ministers’ Tax Guide for 2014 Returns.
 
The annual handbook provides step-by-step instructions for both active and retired ministers, sample forms and detailed help in understanding the latest tax laws. Additionally, church treasurers and other church leaders will find a valuable resource in the guide’s special section about important federal requirements for churches.

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GuideStone participants can receive the free guide by visiting www.GuideStone.org/TaxGuide or can request a free printed copy by calling 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).
 
The guide was written again this year by Richard Hammar, a noted CPA, attorney and widely published author who specializes in legal and tax issues for ministers.
 
Additionally, the material is edited by GuideStone’s compliance staff to ensure that it addresses tax issues in detail directly affecting Southern Baptist pastors.
 
“Each year, federal tax law can change, and ministers have come to trust in the Ministers’ Tax Guide as they prepare their taxes or work with their preparer,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “It is a joy to hear from so many pastors who tell us how thankful they are for this guide and how much it helps them navigate the unique ministerial tax laws. We are blessed to be able to help them with the important task of ensuring that their income tax returns are correct.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/28/2015 11:14:17 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments



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