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News

Meriam Ibrahim released from death row in Sudan

June 23 2014 by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian doctor sentenced to death for apostasy, has been set free after an appeal court canceled the death sentence, according to the state-run news agency SUNA.
 
Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of two, had been sentenced to hang in April for abandoning her Muslim faith, triggering global outrage and condemnation, including a campaign with more than 1 million signatures.
 
“This clearly shows that the path of martyrdom is still there,” said Agnes Abuom, an Anglican theologian from Kenya who is the moderator of the Geneva-based World Council Churches.
 
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Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahim

“It is a huge, huge testimony of encouragement for the church and Christians in Sudan, who feel they are a minority.”
 
Before the release, Ibrahim had continued to breastfeed her 1-month-old baby in chains at the Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum, while caring for her 20-month-old son, Martin. The latest verdict is a result of an appeal instituted by her legal team on May 22.
 
Many in the Muslim-majority nation held that Ibrahim, who married Daniel Bicensio Wani, an American citizen of South Sudan origin, should never have become a Christian because her father was a Muslim.
 
The couple was arrested in September for adultery, after men claiming to be Ibrahim’s relatives complained to authorities that she had broken Shariah, or Islamic law, by marrying a Christian man. The charges were dropped last year, but an appeal overturned the ruling, bringing in the more serious charge of apostasy.
 
Abuom said international pressure helped bring her release. The churches insisted her sentence contravened the 2005 interim constitution, which allows freedom of religion, she said.
 
“I think Sudan felt it did not have a case against her,” Abuom said. “I think Sudan also feared the case will jeopardize its diplomatic engagements globally.”
 
In Sudan, where Christians and churches are often persecuted through arrests and frequent interrogation of church leaders, clerics had come out boldly to demand her release.
 
“Never in her life did she embrace the Islamic religion nor renounce it,” said the Rev. Mussa Timothy Kacho, vicar general for the Khartoum Roman Catholic Archdiocese, in a statement.
 
Ibrahim and her brother Hassan, according to the cleric, were probably born out of wedlock. Their father, Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, abandoned the late Zahra Tesfai, an Ethiopian from the Orthodox Church, when Meriam Ibrahim was 5 years old.
 
Ibrahim never saw her father, according to the cleric, grew up under the care of her Orthodox Christian mother and was admitted into the Catholic Church before she could marry her husband.
 
“The Catholic Church expresses deep regret over the way the case is being handled in the court in disregard” of Ibrahim’s “moral and religious belief,” said Kacho.
 
For her freedom, the courts had earlier demanded she recant her Christian faith and end the marriage to her Christian husband, but Ibrahim kept her faith and remained married.
 
Ibrahim’s lawyer confirmed her release from jail.
6/23/2014 3:31:52 PM by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Avance Hispano draws 500 in Baltimore

June 23 2014 by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press

Several Hispanic groups, in an example of Southern Baptist cooperation with a Latin twist, joined in meetings, fellowship and worship prior to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. The June 8 event, which began with dinner at 5 p.m., included four workshops and a celebration service that concluded with a concert at 11 p.m.

At least 500 Hispanics from Baltimore-area churches and others from churches and ministries in other states were present for the Avance Hispano gathering, jointly hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB) and GuideStone Financial Resources. Liberty University also was on the program as a guest supporter of the event.

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Photo by Van Payne
David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., speaks June 8 at Avance Hispano, the 2014 National Hispanic Gathering at the Baltimore Convention Center. Sergio Guardia, a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., served as a translator for Platt.

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, was the dinner’s featured speaker.

Platt was introduced by Luis Lopez, director of LifeWay en Español, as “a man deeply committed with Christ and His Word. The first love in the ministry of David Platt is making disciples using the simple biblical model of teaching the Word of God, training disciples and transmitting the faith.”

Platt began his brief talk with humor, recounting times when his inadequacy in Spanish had caused embarrassment during recent trips to Latin America. Platt also told of the work with Hispanics that is part of the local and international ministry of The Church at Brook Hills.

Platt told the gathering that “there is currently a state of confusion with Christian identity. Following Christ is more than just a prayer.” When the Holy Spirit comes into the life of the Christian, that person becomes a radical in his cultural context, he noted.

“[W]e have something better than the American dream,” Platt said. “We have the hope of eternal life in Christ. When [people] see Jesus, they will see the American dream pales in comparison.”

Platt concluded with a passionate plea that “God’s ways may be known on earth and His saving power. God will receive the glory that He alone is due until that day when all of us are gathered around the throne together. We will sing a new song! We will glorify Him as one body! Gloria a Dios!”

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, also addressed the crowd, speaking in Spanish.

Page thanked Hispanic Baptists for their partnership in the gospel, saying he is “well aware of the cultural changes in our culture” and that “we must reach Hispanics for Christ.”

Page reported on the work of the Hispanic Advisory Council, which was the first council he appointed as Executive Committee president. He thanked Bobby Sena and Daniel Sanchez for serving as the council’s co-chairs. He said he eagerly awaits the report of the council and reported that he had recently added Sena to the EC staff as a part-time national Hispanic consultant.

Jason Carlisle, the IMB’s director of Hispanic mobilization, introduced Juan Carlos Rojas, president of the Western Cuba Baptist Convention, who was the guest preacher for the worship celebration. Carlisle announced a new partnership initiative for church planting involving Cuban Baptists and outreach in North Africa.

North America continues to be a challenging international mission field, Carlisle said, noting that “Dearborn, Mich., has the largest Arab presence outside of North Africa and the Middle East. Hispanic Baptist missionaries are making advances in the Muslim world here and in other countries.”

Carlisle reported that “more than 80 people have accepted Christ in one of the Muslim unreached people groups [UPGs] as a result of Hispanic missionary work.” Another joyful note was that “during the celebration of Enlace 2014 in Richmond, Va., 27 Hispanic pastors and leaders gave $17,000 for missions in the Arab world.”

Much of the work that the IMB’s Hispanic mobilization team and Hispanic IMB missionaries are doing cannot be reported due to the sensitive nature of the outreach, Carlisle said. However, great advances are being reported in many areas of the world and the many UPGs reached by Hispanic Baptists missionaries and Hispanic churches.

On behalf of the IMB Hispanic mobilization, several Hispanic leaders and pastors were recognized for their support of IMB Hispanic mobilization efforts in other countries: Jesus Guillen, Daniel Tuchez, Eliud Reyes, Jose Nater, Ramon Medina and Guillermo Mangieri.

Miguel Perez, Hispanic representative for GuideStone, spoke of how the SBC financial services entity is helping Hispanic pastors deal with their retirement. “GuideStone can be a support for pastors of small churches and even pastors in retirement who never had an opportunity to make any contributions,” Perez said. He shared packets of information in Spanish with those present as well as gifts of several books by O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone’s president, that are in Spanish.

Joshua del Risco, NAMB’s director of Hispanic evangelism, introduced Ramon Osorio as a new NAMB staff member in the area of Hispanic mobilization. Osorio shared his testimony as a church planter, the challenges he sees for America’s Hispanics, and NAMB’s Send North America strategy for reaching key the cities across the continent.

Luis Lopez shared that “God is doing beautiful things in our midst” at the SBC publishing arm. “The Hispanic population is growing faster than the statisticians projected. Today there are 53 million Hispanics in the United States. In response to this rapid growth, LifeWay has produced new materials in Spanish for Sunday School and open groups.”

Lopez noted that according to new research, “Latinos have a high degree of respect for the Bible. At least 87 percent of Hispanics own a Bible but only 8 percent interact with it.” The challenge is to use this knowledge as a platform to start small groups, Lopez said, stating that the new materials in the series Conectandose are designed to be resources for groups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Raul Lema Jr. is associate team strategist for theological education ministries with the Florida Baptist Convention.)
6/23/2014 11:49:05 AM by David Raul Lema Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Students share Christ’s love in Brazil amid World Cup frenzy

June 23 2014 by Alan Brant, Baptist Press

There were no flashbulbs or television cameras, only teammates – mostly children half his size and barefoot – who celebrated and mobbed Dane Van Ryckeghem after he assisted in a goal during the game. The frenzy of World Cup soccer had nothing on the jubilant Brazilian neighborhood kids playing with visitors from the United States on a soggy field on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
 
Van Ryckeghem, a student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, traveled to Brazil with a team of 12 other student volunteers with a mission of sharing the love of Christ against the backdrop of the largest sporting event in the world – the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

“I really wanted to spend my summer doing more than just working at a job and then going back to school,” Van Ryckeghem said. “I wanted to do something that made a difference, and I wanted to see the world.”

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IMB/Wilson Hunter
Dane Van Ryckeghem (center), a student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and some of his teammates share the gospel with Brazilians in a community on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Van Ryckeghem is part of a group of student volunteers who are conducting gospel outreach in Rio during the FIFA World Cup. They are working in partnership with Brazilian Baptists and IMB missionaries.

After hearing about a World Cup-focused trip – one endorsed by the International Mission Board (IMB) – for students during a missions conference, he knew immediately he was going to Brazil.

“I absolutely love soccer and love the idea of spending part of my summer in this setting,” he said. “This is a dream come true to be here.”
 
James Dubuisson, a junior at the University of North Alabama in Florence, took the first airplane ride of his life to travel to Brazil with the group. As a youth minister at First Baptist Church, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., he said a big part of his decision to come to Brazil was to serve as an example and encouragement to his youth group.

“I’ve been talking to my youth about being different and showing people [that believers] are different,” he said. “So often we go to church, but don’t act differently. I feel like this [mission trip] is me living that out – showing the kids ‘this is how to live out the difference of what Christ has done in your life.’”

After Dubuisson and the rest of the team arrived in Rio de Janeiro, they spent their first days ministering in an impoverished community. They served alongside members of a Brazilian Baptist church by playing with children, helping with a medical clinic and walking through the neighborhoods sharing the gospel with the help of translators.

“We’re here for the World Cup, but more importantly we’re here to share the love of Jesus with anyone and everyone we can,” Lee Dymond, campus minister at Auburn University at Montgomery (Ala.) and leader of the volunteer team, said.

Jordan O’Donnell, a student volunteer from Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., confessed feeling apprehensive at first about sharing the gospel in neighborhoods. But the nervousness quickly diminished, he said.

“It’s challenging to share through an interpreter, but it got smoother as we went along,” O’Donnell said. “I enjoyed the whole experience. It’s interesting because sharing about Jesus in America usually gets a negative reaction. But here, walking through the community, everyone responded that they wanted to hear about Jesus – even a couple who had never even heard about Jesus before.

“I’m pumped,” O’Donnell said. “I’m ready to get out there and do it again.”

The team of students will continue to share the gospel during their two-week stay in Rio. During some of their outreach, they are partnering with the Brazilian Baptist Home Mission Board in a soccer-themed evangelism strategy to share with fans arriving at Brazil’s national stadium for World Cup matches.

“The World Cup is where the nations come to one place,” Dymond said. “It’s our opportunity to share the gospel and hopefully impact not just Brazil but all the nations that are coming to Brazil for World Cup.”

For his team, Dymond said he hopes as the students share the gospel and see people accept Christ, they will be emboldened with the knowledge that “if they can do it here during the World Cup, it will encourage them to [share their faith] when they go back home.”

For ongoing coverage of the World Cup outreach, see the story package, “The Cross at the Cup,” at commissionstories.com/americas.

To learn about global missions opportunities for students through the International Mission Board, go to imbstudents.org

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alan Brant is a freelance writer and editor in Texas.)
6/23/2014 8:44:22 AM by Alan Brant, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Brewton-Parker to appeal accreditation findings

June 23 2014 by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index/Baptist Press

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Committee on Colleges (SACS COC) handed down a split decision on June 19 on the academic standing of two of Georgia Baptists’ three educational institutions.

The ruling affirmed the academic standing of Shorter University while removing Brewton-Parker College from its membership.

The Rome university’s accreditation was approved by the accrediting agency in December 2012 but required Shorter to demonstrate that its faculty is large enough and properly credentialed. The renewal of its status as a regionally accredited institution is valid for 10 years.
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Brewton-Parker College logo


The question about its staffing arose when the university entered a tumultuous period following its transition to a new president – Donald Dowless – following his appointment in Nov. 2011. Under the direction of its Board of Trustees, Shorter implemented a set of faculty and staff guidelines that drew it closer to a biblical worldview.

The move toward a more conservative stance was not embraced by many staff who resigned in protest. While the school’s accreditation was approved the following December, SACS sought additional information on staffing and credentialing as the university rebuilt its instructional foundation.

Shorter has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best colleges in the Southeast according to nationally known education services company, The Princeton Review.

It enrolled 1,628 students for its fall semester on its main campus, which is its second highest ever for the Rome site.

Brewton-Parker College, however, had its accreditation removed by the governing agency after meeting criteria for nearly 50 years.

The Mount Vernon college has struggled with financial concerns which has pushed it near bankruptcy on several occasions. The appointment of acting president Mike Simoneaux in 2011, and his being named president six months later, is credited with easing much of the college’s financial crisis.

Simoneaux retired from Brewton-Parker in 2013 and the reigns were passed to educator and author Ergun Caner, brother of sister college president Emir Caner at Truett-McConnell.

Caner has worked to restore the South Georgia college’s enrollment, academic, and financial standing but SACS, in its ruling, continued to express concerns about Brewton-Park’s economic viability.

Caner said he and four administrators answered questions from the Committee on Colleges days prior to the decision and said he was very disappointed with the outcome. He said the college will appeal the decision within the 10-day window, which will give it time to operate under probationary status.

Caner said all four SACS recommendations for improvement dealt with financial concerns and he felt the issues had been properly addressed.

“We are operationally in the black, our present budget is balanced, we project finishing this fiscal year in the black, and our Board of Trustees approved a balanced budget for 2014-2015,” he told faculty and staff in announcing the ruling.

In addition to debt being down, and giving to Brewton-Parker being up, Caner noted that “enrollment, both in headcount and full-time equivalency, is up for the third straight year.

“Because we believe we have a strong case for reaffirmation, these necessary legal steps protect our standing as an accredited college until we have a chance to present our case in court.

“SACS leaders will take all of these changes into account and reconsider their ruling in our appeal this August.” He said he remains confident that the appeals process will reverse the ruling “and all parties shall be satisfied with the conclusion.

Caner told the trustees, faculty and staff how important it was for Georgia Baptists and the general public at large to realize that Brewton-Parker College remains accredited albeit on probation during the entire appeal process.

SACS placed four other colleges on probation – all for financial problems – including three private nonprofit institutions. Among those were Louisiana College, an institution of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Georgia institution Paine College in Augusta.

The other nonprofit was Newberry College in South Carolina; the public institution was South Carolina State University.

SACS COC policy states “An institution must be removed from membership if it has not demonstrated compliance with all the Principles of Accreditation within the two-year monitoring period and has not demonstrated Good Cause as to why it should not be dropped from membership.”

While congratulating Shorter University for its positive report, Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White affirmed Brewton-Parker on its appeal process.

“Brewton-Parker has the love, respect and prayers of Georgia Baptists during these challenging days,” he said. “I would ask that you pray specifically for Dr. Ergun Caner and those who serve with him on the administrative staff and faculty. I would also ask that you pray for Dr. Bucky Kennedy who serves as the chairman of the board of trustees. They need and deserve our prayers and support during these days and I know they will appreciate your prayers on their behalf.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)
6/23/2014 8:38:19 AM by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Panelists: CP reflects Southern Baptists’ values

June 23 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

Panelists at the Cooperative Program (CP) exhibit expressed universal support for CP missions and ministry during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore though it is vital to educate grassroots Southern Baptists about how it works.

Local pastors, church planters, national and state leaders and seminary professors who took part in the CP exhibit’s three days of varied panel discussions often underscored the importance, viability and the future of the SBC’s 89-year-old plan for supporting missions and ministry through state conventions and the SBC.

But describing the Cooperative Program as a way of funding state convention and SBC outreach and witness may miss the point that CP not just about money, panelists said during one of the sessions.

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said the Cooperative Program represents “long-held Southern Baptist values.”

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Photo by Bill Bangham
Jonathan Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., moderates a panel with Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, in the exhibit hall of the Baltimore Convention Center June 9. The panel was held prior to the June 10-11 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the convention center.

It’s time to “change the conversation about CP” and to focus less on method and more on relationship and results, Page said in a Q&A with Ashley Clayton, EC vice president for CP and stewardship development.

Clayton said Page’s vision for “Great Commission Advance,” an initiative to steadily increase churches’ missions involvement, asks Southern Baptists to “do more” to advance the Great Commission without naming specific percentage or dollar amounts.

In a discussion, “Fault Lines Within the SBC,” moderated by Tennessee pastor Jon Akin, Page said many of the things Akin described “young pastors” as valuing – such as church plants, theological education, disaster relief and religious liberty – are not limited to that demographic.

Those issues “really transcend beyond a younger demographic,” Page said. “I am passionate about the Cooperative Program because I am passionate about those things.”

Amid Southern Baptists’ diversity – whether theological, methodological, ethnic or cultural – Page said, “We need to support the Cooperative Program, but we also believe that God calls us to go.

“We are going to celebrate all missions” through CP and other ways Southern Baptists are engaging a lost world, Page said. “It’s not an either/or, but a both/and.”

That view was echoed in a “Sending Church” panel moderated by Ken Winter, the International Mission Board’s vice president for mobilization, when J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said traditionally generous support of the Cooperative Program has fueled efforts to put missionaries on the field – but churches also are exploring and implementing additional ways of resourcing missionaries.

Another panelist, David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., cautioned that social justice issues such as poverty, sex trafficking and hunger, although important, can lead to an either/or mentality when it comes to supporting missions altogether.

With thousands of people groups have no knowledge of Jesus, Platt said, “That is the greatest social injustice.”

The fundamental role of the church, Platt said, is to create a culture in which missions by a congregation is “the very purpose for which they have breath.” Pastors should work to create a “collision between Word and world,” he said, “and when that collision happens, things change.”

Church planters, who often see that redemptive collision as recipients of CP support, shared why CP is important to them. In a discussion led by Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist with the North American Mission Board, one church planter said he would be “scared to death” if there were no Cooperative Program.

“I don’t know if we would have a general direction to go,” the planter said. “I think we would be looking for someone to point us in a healthy direction.”

For the Cooperative Program to remain viable, several seminary professors said in a discussion of “Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century” that ongoing education of CP’s importance is essential. As Edgar Aponte, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., put it, people don’t know how “God has used CP to bless them and bless millions.”

In a panel, “GCR and the State Conventions,” Akin said it was clear Southern Baptists had “returned to the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God,” but that the Great Commission Resurgence was a response to a plateau across the denomination, though he was encouraged by changes at the North American Mission Board heightening church planting.

Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said that due to GCR-related changes in CP funding back through state Baptist conventions, 77 percent of Illinois Baptists indicated in response to questions about how CP budgets are allocated that they would not favor increasing giving to national SBC causes as GCR suggests.

Yet Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins said he is confident Florida is “on track” for a 50/50 allocation of CP receipts between state and national/international SBC causes.

“I am not wringing my hands,” Scroggins, pastor First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, noted in view of the challenge he faces as a pastor of making sure offerings are used for missions in some way – including reaching children, premarital counseling and multicultural ministries – while Florida Baptists continue their ministries in Haiti and other countries that utilize CP funds.

The Cooperative Program already has established a “very healthy pipeline” to organizations that do tremendous good throughout the world, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, citing key partnerships between SBC entities like the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

“It’s just amazing to see us come together … around a common cause, helping with what we’re passionate about—lostness, human needs, (and) hunger,” Palmer said.

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said CP undergirds a system that helps to educate pastors and missionaries and provides support on the local field.

“When you piecemeal, and direct them towards the one piece, you break the system that as a whole is an incredible Kingdom resource,” Chitwood said.

The Cooperative Program conversations during the SBC annual meeting will be available to view online beginning June 25 at sbc.net/cp.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer and editor based in Houston.)
6/23/2014 8:32:18 AM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBC considers divided ‘third way’ church

June 20 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Los Angeles-area Southern Baptist church that some media reports said adopted a “third way” position regarding homosexuality in reality never voted to adopt any position on the issue and split into two groups in early June amid unresolvable deadlock, an elder at the church has told Baptist Press.

A vice president with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (EC) said EC staff members gathered information on New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., during the week leading up to the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore and were prepared to provide that information to President Fred Luter and the Credentials Committee if any motion was presented concerning the church. However, the one motion presented regarding New Heart was ruled out of order because it directed SBC officers to take action prohibited by Article IV of the SBC Constitution.

“Given the high profile of the story, SBC Executive Committee staff and many SBC messengers fully expected one or more motions at the SBC annual meeting requesting the convention to withdraw fellowship from the church,” Roger S. Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, said. “A motion to withdraw fellowship from the church would have been in order, we believe, and could have been acted upon during the annual meeting or referred to the Executive Committee for consideration at its next meeting.

“... The fact that there was no motion made by a messenger to withdraw fellowship from New Heart Community Church during the SBC annual meeting does not preclude the SBC Executive Committee from addressing this matter, something that could happen at its next meeting, depending on what takes place with the church between now and then. EC staff continues to gather information to prepare a background for its officers and members in preparation for the September meeting,” Oldham said.

Contributing to the complexity of the situation, the EC had been uncertain whether New Heart was an independent church or a church-type mission under the watchcare of a sponsoring church. The SBC’s Annual Church Profile database erroneously listed New Heart as a church-type mission based on data reported years ago. But former New Heart elder Cass Bensberg recently told the EC that the church constituted independently about a decade ago.

Bensberg, an elder at New Heart for 12 years, told BP that on May 18 the church voted on four possible courses of action in light of a February announcement by pastor Danny Cortez that he no longer believes all homosexual acts to be sinful. Before the vote church members stipulated that a two-thirds majority was required to take any action. The church also stipulated that it would separate peacefully into two groups and divide its assets if there was not a two-thirds majority. Because there was no such majority in favor of any option, the church separated as agreed.

The four options presented were:

  • Terminate Cortez as pastor and maintain the traditional Christian view that homosexuality is sinful.
  • Take more time to consider the issue.
  • Establish New Heart as a “third way” church, neither affirming or condemning homosexuality but “agreeing to disagree.”
  • Become a fully gay-affirming church.

On the first round of balloting, 40 percent voted to maintain the traditional position and 56 percent voted for a third way. On the second round of balloting, there was a 60-40 split, with the majority favoring a third way, Bensberg said. The failure to achieve a two-thirds majority led to the previously agreed upon separation.

The faction that went with Cortez retained the name “New Heart Community Church” and the articles of incorporation. That group will meet in two private residences over the summer and plans to rent property in the future. The group includes an estimated 50 people, with some gay-affirming families joining since the split, Bensberg believes.

In a statement emailed to the Executive Committee, Cortez said the congregation “will develop and articulate a clear Third-Way position statement.”

“While New Heart Community Church has received considerable attention recently, much of that attention has resulted from sensationalist media coverage,” Cortez wrote. “We wish to state that as a church we have done nothing officially to affirm, approve of, or endorse homosexual behavior, and so remain in accordance with Article III of the Southern Baptist Convention’s constitution, even as our individual members, including recognized leaders both paid and unpaid, hold to varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage.

“Still, in the midst of our congregation’s peaceful and prayerful disagreements regarding same-sex marriage, we remain unified in our vision to invite LGBT persons into fellowship and communion. Moving forward, members of New Heart will develop and articulate a clear Third-Way position statement,” Cortez wrote.

Oldham made clear that Cortez’s or the church’s opinions that they “remain in accordance with Article III” do not bind the SBC or its Executive Committee, either of which may make a unilateral and binding decision about whether cooperation should continue.

The faction of New Heart that voted to maintain a traditional Christian stance includes about 40 people and is considering whether to constitute as a church or simply disband. The traditional group includes three of New Heart’s four elders – Cortez being the fourth – and continues to meet in the facility New Heart rented from a sister church.

The sister church, which Bensberg believes is not Southern Baptist, granted New Heart time to make a decision regarding homosexuality but said it would not allow teachers in its facility who refused to denounce all homosexual acts as sin following the decision, Bensberg said.

“The entire process was very painful and is probably the most bizarre experience I have experienced in my Christian life,” Bensberg wrote in an email to the EC. “We parted peacefully on June 8th although there are many who are still processing all that occurred.”

Bensberg told BP that if the traditional group forms a new church, it will align doctrinally with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

Several factors contributed to the division and chaos at New Heart, Bensberg said. Among them:

  • Cortez studied “homoerotic” literature secretly for two and a half years before revealing his extensive reading to either the elders or his wife. Only one man loosely associated with the church knew that Cortez was in the process of changing his mind on homosexuality.

In a Feb. 9 sermon posted on YouTube, Cortez said he also spent significant time in traditionally homosexual venues like gay bars during his study and “saw the presence of God there.”

  • New Heart did not have a formal membership process and did not vote as a congregation on whether to receive new members. Anyone was regarded as a member who was presumed to be a follower of Jesus, was involved in church ministries and contributed financially to the church.
  • All “members” 12 and older voted on whether to affirm homosexuality. Some children and youth voted for a third way even though their parents voted to maintain the orthodox position, Bensberg said. He attributed the youth vote in part to the young people’s friendship with Cortez’s son, who, according to Cortez in his Feb. 9 sermon, recently announced that he is homosexual.
  • Approximately 12 people who hold an orthodox view of sexuality left the church in the months leading up to the final vote. Their presence likely would have resulted in a 50-50 split, Bensberg said.
  • New Heart had a significant degree of biblical illiteracy among its members, Bensberg said. When the orthodox group began meeting separately, they launched a study of basic doctrines like the inerrancy of scripture and the Trinity only to discover that many people didn’t know foundational Christian theology.

The California Southern Baptist Convention, with which New Heart cooperates, said it is attempting to gather information and decide what, if any, action to take.

Fermín Whittaker, CSBC executive director, told the California Southern Baptist newsjournal, “I am burdened when Christians, and especially churches, make decisions that are not compatible with scripture. It seems too easy to be lured into unbiblical positions of belief by the power of today’s culture. Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is sin and is not harmonious with teachings and traditions of a New Testament congregation.

“My office is attempting to discover firsthand the truth of what Danny Cortez and the members of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada believe regarding homosexuality in the life of their church. At the same time, CSBC is attempting to determine processes and procedures for addressing this situation. Once these are known, CSBC leadership will make decisions of how to proceed regarding its relationship with New Heart Community Church.”

New Heart also cooperates with the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association, but Bensberg estimated that the church has not had contact with associational leadership in a decade.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related stories:

Pastor’s shift on sexuality confronts SBC

6/20/2014 10:37:57 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Presbyterians vote to allow gay marriage

June 20 2014 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Thursday (June 19) to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian denominations to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage.
 
By a 76-24 percent vote, the General Assembly of the 1.8 million-member PCUSA voted to allow pastors to perform gay marriages in states where they are legal. Delegates, meeting in Detroit this week, also approved new language about marriage in the church’s Book of Order, or constitution, altering references to “a man and woman” to “two persons.”
 
This change will not become church law until a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries vote to ratify the new language. But given the lopsided 3-1 ratio of the vote, approval is expected.
 
Gay rights activists within the church rejoiced at their victory, which was remarkable for its margin of victory after multiple years of razor-thin defeats.

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RNS photo courtesy Danny Bolin via PC(USA)
Commissioners and advisory delegates broke out into small groups to discuss marriage and Middle East issues during the 221st Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Detroit, Mich., on June 19. In a 76-24 percent vote, the assembly moved to allow its clergy to perform same-sex unions in states where gay marriage is legal.

 
“This vote is an answer to many prayers for the church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a group that has led the fight for gay marriage within the church.
 
The vote came after an emotional but polite debate in which opponents of the motion said it conflicted with Scripture and would cause Presbyterian churches abroad to break relations with the PCUSA.
 
The Presbyterian Lay Committee, which opposes gay marriage, urged congregations to launch a financial boycott out of protest.
 
“The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them,” the group said in a statement. “ … You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions.”
 
“God will not be mocked,” the statement continued, “and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”
 
Under the new rules, pastors who do not want to preside over gay weddings are not obligated to, and the change applies only in the 19 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex civil marriage is legal.
 
The church has long grappled with the issue, which came to a head at the last General Assembly, in 2012, when a similar resolution allowing for gay marriage lost 338-308. Since then, the church’s decades-long decline in membership  – it has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992 – has continued. These losses have been led by conservative-leaning congregations that defected over what they lamented as the church’s embrace of more liberal values.
 
Those defections – many to smaller and more conservative Presbyterian denominations – made it more likely that the General Assembly would approve a gay marriage resolution this year.
 
Some who voted in favor of the gay marriage resolution said they hoped it would draw people to the church.
 
“I fear that our church brand is in jeopardy,” said church member and public relations professional Margaret Blankers to the General Assembly. “Some question the relevance of a church they see is not living up to its reputation for fairness. Do we really want to be known for not accepting and embracing our LGBT brothers and sisters?”
 
The General Assembly’s vote reflects change in the nation, where in rapid succession during the past year, judges have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. And a steady stream of opinion polls shows Americans’ approval of gay marriage has risen dramatically in the past few years, to around 55 percent today.
 
But even against this backdrop, the General Assembly’s vote stands out as a church adapting its policy to fit a rapidly shifting culture even as most other Christian denominations have resisted.
 
The nation’s largest churches – Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Mormon, United Methodist and most evangelical churches – recognize marriage only as between a man and a woman, though many Methodists are pushing for a change. The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ all allow same-sex marriage.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011. She previously was Washington correspondent for The State [Columbia, S.C.].)

6/20/2014 10:12:27 AM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



GuideStone enrollment guidelines announced

June 20 2014 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone/Baptist Press

GuideStone Financial Resources has announced new enrollment guidelines in which churches and ministries eligible to offer GuideStone’s medical Personal Plans will be able to add new employees and their families within 60 days of employment, effective July 1.

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For the first half of 2014, due to the uncertainties in the health care market as a result of the Affordable Care Act, GuideStone imposed temporary guidelines that limited enrollment to participants experiencing federally-defined HIPAA special enrollment events such as marriage, birth, adoption or loss of coverage.

Under the new guidelines, new employees of an eligible Personal Plan church or ministry can enter the health plan within 60 days of employment or HIPAA special enrollment event. Also, church employees who began their employment between Jan. 1 and July 1, 2014, may enroll themselves and eligible family members through Aug. 1.

“The Affordable Care Act has created unprecedented changes and challenges for all health plans, including church health plans,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “GuideStone has been diligently seeking legislative, regulatory and judicial recognition of the unique nature and needs of church plans, with the continued goal of keeping the plan strong and stable. At the same time, GuideStone continues to explore ways of providing coverage to new enrollees in a manner consistent with that goal. GuideStone has determined that this change will enable us to balance ministry objectives with good stewardship.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/20/2014 9:59:37 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Politics, gay marriage & embryo adoption focus of ethics panel

June 20 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Ethicist Russell D. Moore and pastor Matt Chandler addressed issues ranging from preaching on political topics to relating to homosexual friends to adopting embryos during a question-and-answer session held in conjunction with the 2014 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the convention’s moral issues and public policy entity, sponsored “Questions & Ethics Live” June 10 at the Baltimore Hilton. Moore, the ERLC’s president, and Chandler, lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, responded to issues raised by an audience of more than 200 people.

Chandler, who has been at The Village Church nearly 12 years, said he has preached on such issues as abortion and homosexuality but doesn’t recall he has “ever explicitly tried to be political in regards to the things I’m addressing.”


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Photo by Paul W. Lee
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas Metroplex, addresses an issue during the ERLC's "Questions & Ethics Live" session June 10 in Baltimore in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. ERLC President Russell D. Moore (left) also participated in the discussion.

“At the end of the day, I feel like if I make it like a full-on, political, party issue, then what ends up happening is I start to lose people in the crowd whom I think I can persuade with the Word of God,” Chandler told Phillip Bethancourt, moderator and the ERLC’s executive vice president.

Chandler said if he teaches on what the Bible says about an issue, “then I think I’m addressing political things and cultural issues without making it a Democratic Party issue or a Republican Party issue. And so I have found that by doing that I don’t lose my Democrats, that they’ll listen and they’ll hear. And they might not necessarily land where I land, but at least now we’re talking about the Bible and not partisan.”

The key to not being labeled “culture warriors” is “to talk about people,” not just a topic, he said.

“[I]f you are going to talk about homosexuality, you had better talk about homosexuality in light of the reality that there are ... more than likely people in your congregation that struggle themselves or love people that struggle or have a neighbor who walks in that lifestyle,” Chandler said. “And if you ignorantly paint this issue, you are going to jam up the people you have been meant to lead; you are going to push people who are struggling into silence and quiet and not towards confession and the seeking of help.”

One participant asked how Christians “communicate with conviction without being known as the people who are against everything.”

Moore said, “To some degree, it doesn’t matter what you do and say, you are going to be known as the people who are against things if you are against the things that people like. So, when you’re talking about following Christ, there are always going to be those idols that people are going to hold to. And if you start messing with those idols, they are going to find a reason to say the problem is with you.”

He said, “You need to just make sure that if people are getting angry at you, they’re getting angry at you because they clearly understand what you are saying and that you don’t stop there with the anger and you don’t return evil for evil but you keep moving toward gospel presentation and reconciliation, and that means not giving up on people.”

Regarding relating to gays and lesbians, Moore and Chandler agreed Christians should welcome them into their homes. They have welcomed several homosexual people into their home for dinner, Chandler said.

Christians should not attend a same-sex marriage ceremony, however, “because of what a wedding actually is,” Moore said.

“A wedding is about the people who are there who are the witnesses to this vow. So the couple there, they are making vows and the people who are gathered there are saying we are here to hold you to your vows,” he said.

“[T]he people who are gathered are witnesses to the vow; they are actually participating in the event,” Moore said. “So, if I had a gay or lesbian couple, friends of mine that I am witnessing to who said, ‘Would you come to our wedding? Would you come to our civil union?’ ... I would say, ‘You know what? I love you. Be happy to have you over to the house and do those sorts of things. I can’t come to that and here’s the reason why. Because I would be involved in something that is against my conscience and I wouldn’t be able to do that.’”

He would encourage couples to adopt embryos or “Snowflake babies,” as they are sometimes known, Moore said.

“[S]ometimes people will say, ‘A Snowflake adoption is the wrong thing to do because of the ethical problems with in vitro fertilization.’ That is not the case, because what is happening with Snowflake adoption is not the creation of new people through in vitro fertilization,” he said. “This is actually rescuing already conceived persons who are locked away in cryogenic storage units. So adopting an embryo is the exact same thing morally and ethically as adopting a child in any other way.”

Among other topics discussed were how to deal with pornography and how to talk to children about same-sex marriage.

“Questions & Ethics” is an ERLC-produced podcast in which Moore replies to questions asked about ethics and culture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/20/2014 9:39:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Golden Gate gives awards and discusses relocation

June 20 2014 by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press

An upcoming campus relocation was a main topic at a June 11 alumni and friends luncheon hosted by Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (GGBTS) at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Baltimore.

GGBTS President Jeff Iorg presented Distinguished Alumni awards to Col. Frank Rice and Henry Webb at the seminary’s alumni and friends luncheon.

“When I think about these two men who are being honored tonight, the word that comes to my mind is ‘distinction,’” Iorg said. “Both of these men have worked long and hard for the gospel and have done it with distinction.”


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Rice is a native of Baton Rouge, La., and received both the bachelor of divinity and master of theology from Golden Gate. Rice joined the Air Force after two years at Louisiana State University, serving with the WWII European occupation forces and during the Korean War. He graduated from Louisiana Baptist College in 1954 and moved west to attend Golden Gate.

Rice also served as a pastor in California and worked in rescue missions in San Francisco during his seminary years. He then reentered the Air Force as a chaplain and served in the United States, Germany, Japan and Thailand. His last active duty assignment was as the command chaplain of the Air Force Communications Command, providing for the spiritual welfare of over 55,000 men and women around the world. He retired in 1985. He and his wife Margarete live in Charlottesville, Va.

Webb was born in Portland, Ore., grew up in Oklahoma and graduated from Golden Gate with the master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees. In accepting the award, Webb said he enrolled at GGBTS after a series of “delays and detours” that hindsight has revealed to be God’s precise orchestration. The first delay involved a transfer from West Texas State University to Oklahoma University, where he met his wife Patti and received his call to ministry. The second delay put seminary off for a year, which led to campus ministry at Colorado State University and the University of Hawaii.

After arriving in Hawaii, Webb transferred again, but this time to Golden Gate to complete his master of divinity. At GGBTS, Webb felt a shift in his calling from campus ministry to pastoral ministry, and began to pastor Kalihi Baptist Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. While at Kalihi Baptist, he completed his Doctor of Ministry and helped found Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services.

Webb served 28 years at LifeWay in a variety of roles including director of pastoral ministries. He was on the team that developed the LifeWay Transitional Pastor Ministry and was a transitional pastor trainer for 13 years.

During the luncheon, Iorg reported on the seminary’s sale and relocation, focusing on most-frequently-asked questions.

“We have spent a considerable sum of money and time trying to develop our Mill Valley property. Despite these efforts, we have been stymied,” Iorg said, explaining the reasons for the move. “Recently, we have come to the conclusion that these barriers were not obstacles to overcome, but rather as signposts telling us to move in a new direction.”

The new campus will be on a smaller footprint in support of the school’s core mission, Iorg said.

“We will design our campus with the needs of tomorrow’s students in mind. In short, our campus will reflect our mission,” Iorg said. The seminary’s primary campus will be in Southern California, where population demographic projections indicate great growth over the next 40 years; while the Northern California campus will continue to serve the Bay Area as a commuter campus.

The relocation will not drain the seminary’s endowment, Iorg said.

“Golden Gate’s future is bright,” he said. “We are strategically, geographically, and financially ready to impact the United States and world like never before.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from report by Tyler Sanders of Golden Gate Seminary.)

6/20/2014 9:25:15 AM by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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