IMB announces voluntary retirement incentive details

September 11 2015 by Anne Harman, IMB Connections

In the first phase of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) plan to address revenue shortfalls, leadership announced details of a voluntary retirement incentive during town hall meetings with personnel Sept. 10.
The goal of the plan, IMB leaders shared, is to offer as generous a voluntary retirement incentive as possible, while honoring the years of service of those eligible and providing smooth transitions for personnel from their current roles.
IMB will offer the voluntary retirement incentive to all eligible staff and active career missionaries age 50 and older with five or more years of service (as of Dec. 31, 2015). For a missionary couple to be eligible for the incentive, only one spouse is required to meet the qualifications.
“Our desire in all of this is to be as generous as possible to as many people as possible,” IMB President David Platt said. “Since we are asking everyone in the organization to pray and discern if the Lord is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission, we know that 50-year-olds, for example, are going to be doing exactly that. And if the Lord leads them to make a transition, we want to provide for them as generously as possible.
“We want this [voluntary retirement incentive] to be a picture of honor for past service in mission, as well as future service in mission,” Platt said. “I am trusting that just as God has mightily used brothers and sisters through the IMB in the past, He has plans to use them mightily beyond the IMB in the future, far beyond what any of us can ask or imagine.”


IMB Photo by Thomas Graham
International Mission Board (IMB) vice president Rodney Freeman (right) fields questions from staff about the voluntary retirement incentive offered by IMB. Also sitting on the Q&A panel are Clyde Meador, David Platt and Sebastian Traeger.


Sebastian Traeger, IMB executive vice president, presented specific details of the plan, which includes a base retirement package, a bonus incentive complete with financial and medical considerations, specific provisions for smooth transition, and additional benefits beyond the scope of a standard retirement package. Personnel who voluntarily elect to accept the incentive will finalize their decisions in early December. Those with greater than 15 years of service will be given “emeritus” status to honor their years of service.
Not all missionaries will choose to transition to the U.S. Some may choose to stay on the field as volunteers, through alternative pathways or through employment options. “If you’re in a scenario where you would like to stay on the field, by all means, we want to help you to do that,” Traeger told missionaries, noting personnel transitioning to volunteer status would be allowed to use their housing and vehicles through the end of January 2016.
IMB will provide a transition team to serve every person who chooses to take the incentive. Missionaries will be given a transition grant to accommodate their adjustment. Also, local churches, seminaries and state conventions have contacted IMB offering to help missionaries transitioning back to the U.S. and committing to pray for IMB during this time of transition.
The retirement incentive information was shared in two segments during the town hall meetings: first to missionary personnel, who mostly attended via electronic communication and then in person and online to staff, who are mostly based in Richmond, Va. The two meeting times allowed leadership to convey specific details that pertain to each group.
The incentive originally was announced during an Aug. 27 town hall meeting when IMB leaders laid out a plan to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization.


Seasoned versus new

Since the Aug. 27 meeting, Platt said, he has repeatedly heard people ask why IMB would ask seasoned missionaries to leave the field instead of freezing (or decreasing) the number of new missionaries to be sent in the next two years. Platt reported, after much prayer and discussion, leadership concluded their current plan was the most viable option amidst a variety of non-ideal options. Specifically, he noted four reasons why IMB is not freezing or further decreasing the number of new missionaries now.
First, “every type of person in the IMB is important,” Platt said, including long-termers and short-termers, staff and missionaries, younger personnel and older personnel, new missionaries and seasoned missionaries. “For this reason, I don’t want any particular type of person in the IMB to step aside from service. That is why I have wanted to call every single person within the IMB to put a blank check on the table and to ask, ‘Is the Lord leading me to a new phase of involvement in mission?’“
Platt reiterated the retirement incentive is only Phase 1 of leadership’s plan to address revenue shortfalls. Part of Phase 2 of the plan is an opportunity for anyone working at IMB to voluntarily indicate that God is leading him or her to a new place of involvement in mission outside the IMB.
Second, IMB leadership stresses they want the initial steps of the plan to be voluntary.
“I want to be crystal clear: we are not asking people to leave the field,” Platt said. “If someone is thriving on the field and senses the Lord leading them to stay on the field, then I trust they will stay on the field. Again, I believe this bears repeating for the sake of clarity: in these initial steps, we are not asking anyone to leave the IMB. Instead, we are asking everyone to pray about whether or not the Lord is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission, and we are providing an avenue for people to voluntarily leave the IMB if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.”
The voluntary nature of the plan also applies to new missionaries the IMB already has committed to send in 2015 and 2016. “We did not want to say to those new missionaries, ‘You don’t have a choice,’“ Platt said. “In light of our commitment to them, we want to give them the same voluntary choice we’re giving everyone else.”
Third, sending people through IMB “is born out of a conviction that new missionaries being sent from churches through the IMB is a foundational, non-negotiable part of who we are and what we do,” Platt said, noting if IMB were to freeze sending new missionaries, within three years IMB would have zero apprentices or journeyman on the field.
“Further, regarding the SBC, the IMB foundationally exists to serve SBC churches by facilitating the sending of missionaries from those churches,” Platt said. “The less people we send, the fewer churches we serve. The fewer churches we serve, the more we forsake one of our primary foundations.”
A decline in sending missionaries historically results in a decline in IMB’s relationship with SBC churches, Platt said. He also noted that of the approximately 300 new missionaries IMB has planned to send in 2015 and 2016, respectively, more than half of that number includes short-term missionaries. Among those 300 missionaries, only 135 of them will be long-term. That number is approximately one-third of the long-term missionaries IMB sent a decade ago.
Fourth, cutting or freezing new missionary sending wouldn’t address IMB’s immediate need to fix its long-term cost structure. IMB must get to a place of short-term financial responsibility and long-term financial sustainability, and simply freezing the number of new missionaries for the next two years will not solve that problem, he said. However, he said, the IMB may need to make adjustments in the number of new missionaries sent in the future.
“I would prefer not to make such adjustments, but this is where I’m reminded that I would prefer not to make any of these adjustments we’re making,” Platt said. “My preference is not to stop sending new missionaries to the field, and my preference is not to see existing missionaries leave the field. As I’ve mentioned at different points, the path we are walking is not ideal in any way, but after much prayer and discussion, other leaders and I believe the path we are walking is the best option we can take in a sea of non-ideal options available to us.”
IMB will continue to post updates, including frequently asked questions and answers, online on
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anne Harman is a writer and editor for IMB.)

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IMB plans organizational ‘reset’ to ease budget woes
Platt: No gospel drawdown despite personnel cuts

9/11/2015 1:30:25 PM by Anne Harman, IMB Connections | with 0 comments

Ga. Baptist paper to end printed editions Jan. 1

September 11 2015 by Christian Index/BP Staff

The Christian Index will transition primarily to an online presence Jan. 1, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s newsjournal has announced.
“Bowing to the pressures of an increasingly difficult economic climate with rising production and distribution costs – coupled with declining revenue from circulation and advertising – The Index will produce its final biweekly print edition on Dec. 24,” the paper reported in its Sept. 3 print edition.
“But that doesn’t mean [The Index] will cease publishing,” the paper stated in a front-page news story. “It will simply move to the web with a never-ending news cycle no longer tied to print deadlines and ever-increasing mailing costs. It will also be a free product with no charge for online access.”


“This shift will free up Cooperative Program funds that will be redirected toward evangelism and church planting efforts in Georgia and far beyond its borders,” The Index stated.
The Christian Index describes itself as “the nation’s oldest continuously published Christian newspaper,” dating back to 1822 when famed missions supporter Luther Rice started it as the Columbia Star in Washington, D.C. The paper first became part of the Georgia convention in 1840; the convention sold and repurchased the paper in the following years, acquiring it for the final time in 1919.
J. Gerald Harris, the paper’s editor, noted in an accompanying editorial various factors that made it “increasingly inevitable that The Index would have to become an electronic publication only,” including:

  • The Index “has been losing subscribers and becoming more dependent on the Cooperative Program” during the past seven years.

  • “The cost of newsprint and postage has continued to increase. By going to an online edition only we will save almost $320,000 annually in printing and mailing costs.”

  • “More and more people are reading the news on their smartphones, tablets, and computers.”

In 2000, The Index shifted from a weekly with 12-16 pages to a bi-weekly publication of 16-24 pages. Later financial pressures, including mailing costs that exceeded the printing costs, pared the page count back to 12-16, the paper recounted.
Last year, The Index extended its online presence beyond desktop computers to a variety of platforms such as smartphones and tablets.
Harris, in his editorial, noted the online Index – at – “will allow us to produce more up-to-date news items by posting stories and sharing opinions on events almost as soon as they happen. News alerts featuring political, ethical, and cultural issues can also be posted on The Index website expeditiously.”
The Index website “will automatically resize to fit any computer, laptop or device,” Harris noted. “We believe this change will allow us to substantially increase our number of readers, particularly younger readers. We will be able to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to drive people to our website, thus increasing our readership. We believe this will also make The Index an extremely attractive venue for advertising products and events because of the increased number of readers that will be drawn to the website.”
Harris invited pastors to help increase the paper’s readership “by sending us the email addresses of church members and anyone who may be interested in becoming an online subscriber. We will not share email addresses with anyone outside the Baptist Missions and Ministry Center, and those who do not wish to receive The Christian Index email updates may opt out with a single click.”
In a print context, Harris said The Index will provide a weekly synopsis that churches can download and print for those who prefer a paper copy. “Additionally, to make this transition as smooth and effective as possible, we will still provide a monthly synopsis of The Index to those who specifically request it,” Harris said. “This special offer is being made primarily to our senior adults with a possible minimal cost and will include features most requested by them as determined by a pending survey.”
Overall, Harris said, “The move will enable The Index to remain true to its original calling of providing missions support through stories that encourage, motivate and inspire its readers to greater sacrifice.” Change is never easy, he said, “but the Christian life is all about change. We are to be changing daily – more into the image of Christ and less in the image of the old self.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from reporting by Joe Westbury, managing editor of The Christian Index, and an editorial by J. Gerald Harris, editor of the Index at, the newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston combined the two sources for this article.)

9/11/2015 1:24:56 PM by Christian Index/BP Staff | with 0 comments

Planned Parenthood videos divide House panel

September 11 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Republicans and Democrats remained far apart not only on the abortion issue but on the evidence for the grisly, maybe illegal trafficking practices of the country’s largest abortion provider during the first of a two-part House Judiciary Committee hearing Sept. 9.
Republican leaders scheduled the hearing on whether Planned Parenthood (PPFA) clinics are violating federal laws in providing fetal tissue for research after the release of nine undercover videos since mid-July that have included discussions by Planned Parenthood officials of the sale of organs from aborted children.
The videos, recorded secretly by hidden camera by the Center for Medical Progress, also show Planned Parenthood executives acknowledging their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use. In one video, evidence is provided of a clinic worker cutting into the face of a living child outside the womb to procure a brain.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore expressed gratitude for Congress’ investigation of Planned Parenthood.
“The recent videos have exposed a ghoulish form of human piracy that is at the heart of Planned Parenthood’s daily operations,” Moore said in written comments. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “My prayer is that the visceral truth of what is captured on camera will cut through political rhetoric and unite our lawmakers from both sides in condemning this heinous form of human trafficking.”


Image captured from C-Span video
Abortion survivor Gianna Jessen testifies before the House Judiciary Committee.

Unity across party lines was in short supply during the Sept. 9 hearing, which focused on whether Planned Parenthood is violating bans on the late-term, partial-birth abortion method and the killing of born-alive infants. Republicans decried Planned Parenthood’s practices while Democrats decried the videos and the hearing.
Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., a pro-life leader in Congress, said the videos “irrefutably reveal officers of Planned Parenthood haggling over the price” of body parts. Franks expressed dismay that President Obama and many members of Congress “have not uttered one single syllable against these gut-wrenching atrocities. ... For God’s sake, is this who we truly are?
“The sands of time should blow over this Capitol dome before we ever give Planned Parenthood another dime of taxpayer money,” Franks said.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., told committee members, witnesses and observers, “What I cannot understand is that [those on the other side] cannot say that there is no act that’s too far, there’s no act that’s too brutal, there’s no act that’s not acceptable even for Planned Parenthood.”
Franks and Forbes are both members of Southern Baptist churches.
Among Democrats on the committee, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the committee’s ranking member, claimed that the videos are “deceptively edited.” The videos provide “no credible evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law” and “no evidence that Planned Parenthood has altered methods,” said Conyers, who has been in Congress for 50 years.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D.-Tenn., asserted the videos “have been doctored.” The hearing is “about a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “Planned Parenthood is part of my DNA. It is one of the finest organizations in this country.”
The videos, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D.-N.Y., are “a farce to shame women.” The videos’ producers are “liars in a long line of liars,” he charged.
While Planned Parenthood and its Democratic allies have charged the Center for Medical Progress with fraud, the investigative organization has released not only edited versions of the videos, but it also has posted what it describes as full footage at its website of the conversations between PPFA officials and its undercover individuals acting as representatives of a biologics firm.
Republican members expressed shock at an answer provided by the lone witness in the hearing who supports abortion rights.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., the committee chairman, asked Priscilla Smith if a D and E – or dismemberment – abortion represents a “humane way to die.” The D and E method involves the tearing apart of the unborn child piece by piece until the womb is vacated.
Smith responded, “I believe for a pre-viable fetus, yes, a D and E procedure is a very humane procedure, and it protects the woman and her health and safety more than any other procedure.”
Goodlatte said, “[Y]our view of humanity and mine are different.”
Smith is director of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice.
James Bopp, general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, said it is clear in the videos Planned Parenthood’s practice violates federal and state laws, “ethical and moral principles and their own guidelines and promises to their patients.”
The other two witnesses in a hearing that lasted more than three and a half hours were abortion survivors Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen. Both survived saline abortions at seven months’ gestation or more in 1977 and lived with the aid of nurses. They both were adopted.
During the hearing, GOP committee members pointed to the need for the Senate to approve legislation to prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. The House voted 242-184 for the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act in May but the Senate has yet to hold a vote.
In early August, the Senate fell short in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Senators voted 53-46 to bring to the floor a bill to eliminate federal funds for the organization and its affiliates. While a majority of senators favored consideration of the proposal, the attempt to invoke cloture, as it is known, fell short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation and establish a path to its passage.
House Republicans reportedly are in a battle over strategy to approve defunding legislation. While a stand-alone bill, as in the Senate, is favored by some GOP members, others want to tie it to a must-pass spending bill, which would threaten a government shutdown if Obama is unwilling to sign it into law. As a promoter of Planned Parenthood, the president is highly unlikely to enact such a bill.
While the federal government has failed so far to defund Planned Parenthood, five states have acted to do so. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Utah have eliminated funds for the organization since the video releases began.
The ERLC and other opponents of government funding for Planned Parenthood have tried in previous congressional sessions to cut off money for the organization and other abortion providers but have always fallen short. In 2011, an effort to bring a PPFA defunding bill to the Senate floor received only 42 votes.
In its latest financial report (2013-14), PPFA said it received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements. It performed 327,653 abortions during 2013.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

Related Stories:

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9/11/2015 1:13:53 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Vance Pitman joins NAMB as national mobilizer

September 11 2015 by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB

Pastor Vance Pitman plans to utilize his church planting experience as he begins working with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to engage and mobilize pastors to plant more churches.
Fifteen years ago, Pitman and his family were sent out by First Baptist Woodstock in Georgia as church planting missionaries with NAMB. They moved to Las Vegas and never left. In his new role as NAMB’s national mobilizer, Pitman will continue to pastor the church he planted a decade and a half ago – Hope Church.
“God is alive and at work in that city,” Pitman said of Las Vegas as he spoke during the Send North America Conference, Aug. 3-4 in Nashville.


NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church, Las Vegas, is also serving as a national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board.

“For 15 years, I’ve had an ongoing relationship with the North American Mission Board, but it really intensified a few years ago when Kevin [Ezell] became the president of NAMB,” Pitman said.
So when Ezell asked Pitman about working with NAMB as a national mobilizer, Pitman saw the move as a natural fit.
“When God put us here in Las Vegas, we had a heart not just for Las Vegas but to see churches planted up and down the West Coast in these pioneer areas. Everywhere I’ve ever traveled, everywhere I’ve ever spoken, I’ve always represented multiplying the church in pioneer areas in North America – particularly in the western United States,” Pitman said of his ministry.
“When Kevin talked to me about the possibility of doing that in an official capacity while I stay here in Las Vegas and continue to pastor the church that I planted here, it just made sense. I now have the opportunity to give some time to mobilizing 46,000 Southern Baptist churches to engage in multiplying the church in pioneer areas. It was something I was already doing anyway with so much of my time, and it’s great to have the opportunity to do it in an official capacity and to represent the North American Mission Board doing that.”
Ezell said Pitman’s church planting experience in a challenging spiritual terrain like Las Vegas will give him added credibility in the new role.
“Vance is committed to evangelism and church planting,” Ezell said. “Through his church, he has demonstrated that even the tough to reach places can be productive mission fields. I know his efforts to bring pastors and churches into increasing levels of involvement in North America will result in great things.”
Pitman said he is excited at the prospect and promise of the new position.
“I personally think that this is the greatest time I’ve ever seen to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our global mobilization and the focus the North American Mission Board [is] placing on planting churches in pioneer cities is strong. I believe the great hope for awakening in America is a church planting movement in the pioneer areas of the United States. And so I’m praying that God would let us see churches mobilized to multiply the church in the pioneer areas and bring an awakening to the United States of America,” Pitman said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Faith Morgan is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

9/11/2015 1:04:59 PM by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB | with 0 comments

Angola prison ministry celebrates 20 yrs., new facility

September 11 2015 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS Communications

Celebrating a 20-year partnership that has changed lives and deployed “missionaries,” New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Leavell College (NOBTS) has dedicated a new facility with expanded classroom and library space at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, La.
The Aug. 27 dedication followed a graduation ceremony marking the program’s 278th graduate.
“This has been the most spectacular day we could ever have,” said Burl Cain, warden of the correctional facility. “We have a new seminary building; we doubled our capacity; and, it means less victims of violent crime.”


Photo by Boyd Guy
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Registrar Paul Gregoire talks with degree candidates prior to the commencement ceremony at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La., Aug. 27. The program awards the associate in Christian ministry and the bachelor of arts in Christian ministry degrees.

The Joan Horner Center, an 11,000-square-foot building with a computer lab, two classrooms, an auditorium and library, was named in memory of benefactor Joan Horner, founder of Premier Designs of Dallas, who with husband Andy Horner were longtime supporters of the Angola ministry. An anonymous donor provided funds for the structure.
James LeBlanc, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, echoed Cain’s correlation between the program’s success and a statewide drop in repeat offenders, crediting the work of 35 NOBTS “missionaries,” graduates who asked to transfer to other Louisiana prisons in order to plant new inmate-led churches.
Jimmy Dukes, the NOBTS director of the prison program, said the new facility will help meet a great need.
“Other prisons and even some parish jail sheriffs want to have our missionaries,” Dukes said. “To do that, we need to recruit more students and train more students.”


Photo by Boyd Guy
The new Joan Horner Center at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which houses the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Leavell College prison education program, will help the seminary offer theological and ministry training to more inmates. Construction of the 11,000-square-foot building was funded by an anonymous donor.

The program offers the bachelor of arts in Christian ministry and non-credit certificate degrees. Dukes said the new space can accommodate twice the current enrollment and allows master-level coursework to begin.
Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president, looked back at the program’s beginnings and noted that Cain and others who dreamed with him had the foresight to see its potential.
Cain, a former educator, approached leaders of the Judson Baptist Association, now named the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, and seminary leadership and asked them to provide educational services for the incarcerated.
“They saw what God saw,” Kelley said. “They saw that God could do a mighty work.”
John Hebert, missions and ministry director at the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC), told the graduates that the 1,639 churches of the LBC stand behind them, supporting the program annually through the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering.


Photo by Boyd Guy
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley and wife Rhonda Kelley read about the NOBTS/Leavell College prison program graduates serving as “missionaries” at other penal institutions. The plaque hangs in the new Dr. Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley Jr. Library in the recently dedicated Joan Horner Center at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

The center sits adjacent to the 800-seat Tudy Chapel where Kelley reminded graduates and the packed house that God has experience handling problems bigger than any they face.
“It doesn’t matter what the circumstances, when God looks at you, your past and your troubles, He says, ‘Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt,’” Kelley said.
Kelley told the graduates that when seminary leaders wondered how they would fund the program, “God said, ‘I fed 5,000 with one little boy’s sack lunch.’” And when Hurricane Katrina’s devastation put heavy demand on all available funds, Kelley said God’s response was, “‘This program is too important to stop for a minor little flood. If I can get Noah and his family through, I can handle this.’”
Kelley reminded the graduates that they were on their way to lives of “impact, influence and significance.”
Politicians on “both sides of the aisle” are beginning to recognize that incarceration alone is not the answer and are seeing the impact the program is making, LeBlanc said. “It’s amazing what’s going on here.”


Photo by Boyd Guy
The 20th anniversary of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Leavell College prison education program was marked with graduation in Tudy Chapel at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, La. The 278th graduate of the program was awarded a degree.

NOBTS/Leavell College has active programs also at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel, La.; the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, Miss.; Phillips State Prison, Buford, Ga.; and the Hardee Correctional Institute, Bowling Green, Fla.
William Hall, an inmate who spoke on behalf of the graduating class, told the crowd he knew what Angola prison was like when Cain arrived. The prison was so known for violence that it was often called the “bloodiest prison in America.”
“Warden Cain did something very few men are able to do. He let God in,” Hall said. “Isn’t it amazing what happens when Jesus comes in?”
Miguel Kelley spoke, urging his fellow graduates to stay grounded and maintain an intimate relationship with God. Paroled after serving more than 23 years of a 44-year sentence, Miguel now works as an account executive at a firm in downtown New Orleans.
“Work hard, with an urgency,” Miguel Kelley said. “Seek God with a hunger and thirst.”
Following graduation, guests toured the Joan Horner Center and its new library, the Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley Jr. Library. No one individual can be credited with the program’s impact, Chuck Kelley said. “It’s bigger than that.”
At the dedication, Kelley shared his dreams for the center’s future: $100,000 to begin the master’s level certificate in worship ministry; a $1 million endowment to cover tuition cost for all enrolled in the Louisiana prison programs; and a $5 million endowment to establish the Center for Moral Rehabilitation to provide a voice within the national conversation for how to reduce the prison population and attain genuine rehabilitation.
“Where prison would be seen as a positive influence and a place of healthy preparation for reentering society,” Kelley said of the program’s mission, “it’s not education alone, but a change of heart.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is a writer in New Orleans.)

9/11/2015 12:56:27 PM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Family speaks out about professor’s suicide

September 10 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications

The family of Baptist professor and pastor John Gibson is calling his death a suicide connected to the Ashley Madison website hack.
By openly discussing the circumstances surrounding his death, including a CNN interview that aired Sept. 8, the Gibsons hope to help other families find forgiveness and reconciliation. Gibson served for 17 years as a professor at Leavell College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) undergraduate college. At the time of his death, he also served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearlington, Miss.
Gibson, 56, was discovered at his home on the seminary campus at approximately 5:30 p.m. Aug. 24 by his wife Christi when she arrived home from work. After finding Gibson unresponsive, she immediately notified emergency medical service. EMS workers were unable to revive him, and Gibson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gibson’s son, Trey, spoke of all of his father’s good qualities – his ability to preach, his servant heart and his sense of humor – during a memorial service on the seminary campus Aug. 28. But Trey also spoke of his father’s secret struggles with depression and pornography. Trey acknowledged at the time that his father had taken his own life and boldly encouraged the mourners to seek accountability relationships to guard against secret sin.


John Gibson

“My dad was a great man. He was a great man with struggles. My dad reached a point of such hopelessness and despair that he took his own life,” Trey said.
While the news jolted the campus, the seminary community has rallied around the Gibson family as they opened up about the struggles that led to the death of the beloved professor and minister. Seminary President Chuck Kelley touched on the subject again Sept. 8 during the NOBTS convocation chapel service.
“On the first day of classes, we had the unexpected death of a much loved professor, colleague and friend Dr. John Gibson,” Kelley said. “We learned that he made some very sad and unfortunate choices in his life, and his son shared in his memorial service his death appeared to come at his own hand.”
The family spoke openly about Gibson’s death during a national television interview on CNN. Appearing in the interview with her children, Trey and Callie, Gibson’s wife Christi confirmed the existence of a suicide note in which her husband confessed to his failures and that his name was released in the Ashley Madison website hack. Christi noted her husband also expressed great sorrow for his actions.
In the interview, the family acknowledged they would have been willing to forgive Gibson’s failures and work toward restoration if they had been given a chance.
“I still believe it could have been fixed. It could have been healed,” Christi told CNN.
“There is brokenness in every single one of us. We all have things that we struggle with,” she said. “It wasn’t so bad that we wouldn’t have forgiven it, and so many people have said that to us, but for John, it carried with him such shame.”
Christi also expressed her concern for other families grappling with the fallout from the Ashley Madison scandal. For the millions of families affected, she encouraged love and forgiveness.
“These were real people with real families, real pain and real loss,” Christi said. “Don’t underestimate the power of love. Nothing is worth the loss of a father and a husband and a friend. It just didn’t merit it.”
Kelley asked for continued prayer for the Gibson family and the entire NOBTS community as they struggle with this loss and the circumstances behind it.
A group of students responded to the news of Gibson’s suicide and the events that led to it by organizing a prayer initiative on campus.
Beginning Aug. 31, participants in the student-led prayer time met daily on the steps of Leavell Chapel to pray for the faculty and their families. The first week culminated with a joint student-faculty prayer time. After the Labor Day holiday, the student-led prayer meetings moved to a twice-weekly schedule.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

Related Story:

Seminary community mourns loss of John Gibson

9/10/2015 12:04:26 PM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Boy allowed in girls’ locker room sparks protest

September 10 2015 by Daniel James Devine, WORLD News Service

A Missouri high school is in the national spotlight after a transgender student – born male but identifying as female – requested permission to use the girls’ locker rooms and restrooms this year.
On Aug. 31, about 150 students walked out of classes to protest allowing the student to use female facilities.
“The girls have rights, and they shouldn’t have to share a bathroom with a boy,” one parent, Tammy Sorden, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The transgender student, a 17-year-old senior who goes by the name of Lila Perry, began identifying as female halfway through the last school year. Perry wears wigs and skirts to school and last year was permitted to use a gender-neutral faculty restroom.


But over the summer Perry, who said he has felt like a girl since the age of 13, told administrators and teachers he no longer wanted to use unisex restrooms.
“I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom,” Perry said, according the Post-Dispatch.
Derrick R. Good, a local attorney who graduated from Hillsboro High School, told WORLD News Service the problem started on the first day of school last month, when Perry used the girls’ locker room to change clothes for gym class. Some girls who were using the locker room at the time felt uncomfortable and complained.
Good sought the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group, and co-wrote a letter to the school board. The letter included a suggested policy that would allow transgender students to continue using gender-neutral restrooms, but not facilities designated for the opposite sex.
“Changing clothes or using the restroom are very private activities, and everybody should have that expectation – that they don’t have to do that in front of people that are physically of the opposite sex,” said Good, who has two daughters in Hillsboro schools.
During a school board meeting, so many parents showed up that the meeting had to be moved into the gym.
Good said the students who walked out of classes were opposed to allowing the transgender student in girls’ facilities, while a smaller group of about 30 protested to support Perry.
The school has apparently not yet settled on a permanent policy.
“The board is still taking it under advisement,” said Superintendent Aaron D. Cornman. He added the board was in contact with an attorney and was scheduled to have met Sept. 4.
Some school districts seem to be interpreting legal guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education last year as requiring them to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their preference. The guidance had addressed gender identity in relation to Title IX, a 1972 law meant to prevent sex discrimination in federally funded schools.
But Matt Sharp, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, said public schools are not obligated, because Title IX explicitly permits segregation by sex.
“Its implementing regulations state that schools may provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex,” Sharp said. “Accordingly, no court has ever interpreted Title IX as requiring schools to give students access to opposite-sex restrooms and changing areas.”
Good said the students who protested just wanted their voices heard and that parents want a school policy that protects their children’s privacy.
“The parents that I’m dealing with and talking to, they’re not against a particular student,” Good said. “They want some ground rules set out that respect the rights of all students. … Not just one or two.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel James Devine writes for WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

9/10/2015 11:54:59 AM by Daniel James Devine, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Fayetteville voters approve LGBT anti-discrimination law

September 10 2015 by Caleb Yarbrough, Arkansas Baptist News/Baptist Press

Fayetteville, Ark. citizens voted to ratify the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance – that now protects the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community – by a slim margin Sept. 8.
Originally passed by the city council June 16, the law is a revised version of a law that the council passed in August 2014 and was then repealed by a popular vote last December. The new law is set to take effect Nov. 7 and “prohibits discrimination in employment, housing or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The Democrat-Gazette also reported that the law would create a seven-member Civil Rights Commission, appointed by the Fayetteville City Council, which will review complaints covered by the ordinance.


Protect Fayetteville, a group who opposes the law, filed a lawsuit Aug. 31. They alleged the ordinance should be voided due to procedural issues on behalf of the City Council and because the state’s Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, or Act 137, prohibits municipalities and counties in the state from making laws that create protected classes or prohibit discrimination on a basis other than the criteria contained in the Arkansas constitution.
Ron Lomax, director of missions for the Washington Madison Baptist Association in Fayetteville, cited Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s recent opinion regarding Act 137.
According to KFSM-TV reports, “Rutledge issued an opinion Sept. 1 stating civil rights ordinances passed by any county, municipality or other political subdivision in the state are not enforceable under the Intrastate Commerce [Improvement] Act.”
Lomax said he believed the reason the Fayetteville anti-discrimination law passed was because many individuals who opposed it considered opposition unnecessary due to the legal superiority of Act 137.
Proponents of the Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance dispute the claim that the law is incompatible with Arkansas state law.
“Attorney General Rutledge’s opinion bears no weight as a legal precedent. It is still up to a judge to decide the issue. Her opinion is just that – an opinion of one lawyer,” Danielle Weatherby, assistant professor of law at the University of Arkansas School of Law and executive committee member of For Fayetteville, a group who advocated for the Fayetteville ordinance, told KFSM-TV.
Duncan Campbell, of Protect Fayetteville, believes Rutledge’s opinion reinforces his group’s claims.
“I think it means a lot,” Campbell told KFSM-TV. “The attorney general, the highest attorney in the state, agrees with us. This election is illegal, just like the ordinance is illegal. It never should have happened in the first place.”
Lomax said the news media misled Fayetteville voters by claiming the ordinance was attempting to strengthen and protect its citizens’ civil rights.
“It has nothing to do with civil rights. It is strictly a special entitlement for gay and lesbian groups. It actually discriminates against people of faith,” Lomax said.
“It tells them that they have to agree with these people, which we are not going to do,” he said. “We can love them; we can minister to them as best we can. But the way they are living their life is against what the Scripture teaches, and we are not going to agree with it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caleb Yarbrough is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.)

9/10/2015 11:46:32 AM by Caleb Yarbrough, Arkansas Baptist News/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prepare for temptation, Ezell says on marriage

September 10 2015 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

As Christ-followers seek to uphold their marriage vows in an adultery-ridden culture, a Southern Baptist entity head shared some ways to prepare for temptation.
“Temptation is inevitable. You are going to be tempted,” Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said as he preached earlier this year at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., where he has been serving as interim pastor.
God does not tempt anyone, but everyone encounters temptation, Ezell said, referring to James 1:13-15 in one sermon.
“You’re buying Satan’s lie if you think you’re invincible. When you think it will never happen to you, you’re exactly where he wants you because you’re the most vulnerable,” Ezell said.
Temptation is an individual matter, Ezell said, because no set of circumstances and no allurement is strong enough to force a person to sin. It happens when a person takes the bait.
“God wants your very best, and Satan wants your very worst,” Ezell said. “He wants you to think temporary, not long-term. If he can get you to think temporary, then you’re so focused on the temporary pleasure of something that you’re not thinking about the long-term pain.”

9-10-15marriage.jpgKevin Ezell

Ezell offered some practical ways to overcome temptation. It’s important, he said, to counteract temptation and not just tolerate it.
“We must have the right type of resistance. The Bible makes it very clear what to do. We are to hide His Word in our heart that we might not sin against Him,” Ezell said, adding that the battle is not for the faint of heart.
Believers must remember that the final pain of giving in to temptation will erase any temporary pleasure, he said.
A key to fighting temptation, Ezell said, is for believers to control their thoughts. “Satan knows in a day and age of all the opportunities, mechanisms that we have, ways to penetrate your thought process. And if he can get you to think on things that are wrong ... it’s all a part of the process of baiting you,” he warned.
Overcoming temptation is a daily battle, Ezell said, noting that he has most often seen people fall when they were not expecting it.
“Sometimes when you think about temptation, you’re thinking of the big ones,” he said. “And it may be the banana peel of your daily life that trips you up and causes your fall. It’s so important that you take this seriously.”
There’s a reason why pastors constantly encourage people to spend time in God’s Word every day, Ezell said.
“When you least expect it, expect it,” he said of temptation.
“... It’s not a fair game when it comes to what Satan is trying to do to cause you pain. He wants to devastate your family. He wants to wipe you out,” Ezell said. “But God desires the best and will always provide a way out, and that’s that you simply have to control your thought life and be prepared for a daily battle.”
No one retires from the battle with temptation, Ezell said.
“From the youngest to the oldest, we’re in a lifelong battle with temptation. Be on guard. Be proactive. I really believe that at least half the problems in your life come from saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough,” he said.

Steps for guarding marriage

In another sermon at Long Hollow, Ezell shared some steps couples can take to safeguard their marriages. He advocated what he called a 3-D marriage: dialogue daily, date regularly and depart quarterly.
Dialoguing daily, he said, means to talk deeply every day – not just about kids or work or what was for lunch. Sit down and talk about something important to the spouse, he said, acknowledging that it would be especially challenging for couples with young children.
“You can spend weeks with someone in the same house and never really sit down and talk if you don’t intentionally do that,” Ezell said.
Dating regularly means setting aside a time on the calendar when the couple will go on a legitimate date with each other – preferably at least once a month and preferably not to the McDonald’s drive-thru, he said.
Departing quarterly means getting away for one night or more every few months to be alone and have fun as a couple, Ezell said. One way couples with children can do this, he said, is to trade with another couple, offering to keep their kids while they have a similar getaway.
Ezell also shared a list of guidelines he and his staff lived by when he served as pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., before becoming NAMB’s president.
The guidelines, though designed for a church staff, can be easily adapted to any situation, he said.
Among the guidelines:

  • Don’t visit the opposite sex alone at home. “The purpose of that is to never be alone with the opposite sex,” Ezell said. “We did an intensive study and found out that if you are never alone with the opposite sex, there’s a high probability you will not have an affair.”

  • Don’t counsel the opposite sex alone at the office. Always make sure a third person, preferably a spouse, is present.

  • Don’t counsel the opposite sex more than once without the person’s mate. Most pastors are not trained in counseling; they’re more equipped for triage, he said. “The best help is given when both spouses are a part of it.”

  • Don’t go to lunch with the opposite sex. Ezell acknowledged that some business situations require this, but a lot of times a third person can go along.

  • Don’t show any affection that could be questioned.

  • Be careful when answering cards, letters and emails from the opposite sex. “Anytime I responded as a pastor to a female by email, I always copied my wife,” Ezell said. “It wasn’t that she didn’t trust me, but it sure sent a message that the other woman could never misinterpret what I was trying to say.”

  • Don’t be in an automobile alone with the opposite sex. “To me, that’s a no-brainer,” he said. “The appearance of evil would come into play there, and you’re just setting yourself up for evil.”

Because temptation is inevitable, Ezell said, believers must think about each of these situations and have a plan in place before they happen rather than getting so close to the line that they fall over the cliff.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

9/10/2015 11:36:35 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

North Korea pressured on human rights

September 10 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) adoption of a resolution this summer on “religious persecution and human rights violations in North Korea” has coincided with what the resolution’s originator calls a renewed international challenge to the nation.
North Korea – named by persecution watchdog Open Doors as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians for the past 13 years – has sent thousands of Christians to its political prison camps, estimated at 50,000-70,000 by Open Doors. The SBC resolution, meanwhile, notes that “an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea remain at grave risk of persecution.”
Daniel Aum, a Southern Baptist who submitted the resolution’s initial draft to the SBC Resolutions Committee, said there has been “a tremendous momentum swing” related to North Korea among U.S. and foreign leaders. He said the SBC resolution has been presented to members of Congress as they consider legislation calling for investigation and sanction of North Korea’s human rights violations – the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 757).
“Discussion in the U.S. and around the world was primarily focused on the North Korean nuclear question,” said Aum, an attorney and fellow with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an organization with offices in Washington, New York and Florence, Italy. But a 2014 report on North Korea by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry has “galvanized the U.S. government. It’s galvanized the South Korean government. It’s moved the international community,” Aum said.


Nine areas of human rights abuses, including torture and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention and violations of the right to life, were documented in the Report of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is referenced in the SBC resolution.
The “landmark report,” Aum said, “elevated the North Korean human rights issue to a place where it can no longer be denied” or “discounted.” In its emphasis on human rights, Aum said the report has become “one of the more effective weapons to apply pressure to North Korea.”
North Korea exhibited a “dramatically new approach” following the report’s release by saying it “accepted” some previous U.N. human rights recommendations, according to 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea, which noted the nation’s prior refusal “to accept any of the proffered recommendations for improving human rights ... made by other governments.”
Two Americans accused of anti-state crimes against North Korea – Kenneth Bae, who had been held for two years, and Jeffrey Fowle, who had been held for six months – were freed several months after the U.N. report’s publication.
A report by the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas called the U.N. report “a manifestation of the growing global awareness of the magnitude of human injustice in North Korea.” After decades of regarding human rights discussion as “at best, a distraction, or at worst, a detriment to denuclearization negotiations,” U.S. officials “should consider a Rights Up-Front approach in [their] negotiations with North Korea,” according to the Bush Institute report.
“Pressing on human rights may actually elicit cooperation from the North on the nuclear issue as a way for Pyongyang to deflect pressure,” the Bush Institute said.
SBC messengers, in the resolution adopted during the convention’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, “appeal[ed] to [dictator] Kim Jong Un and the government of North Korea to respect and ensure human rights for all individuals as obligated both by biblical teaching and the international covenants to which it is a State Party.”
The resolution “urge[d] President Barack Obama and both houses of the US Congress to do all they can to pressure the government of North Korea to respect the dignity and religious freedom of all its citizens” and called for prayer “that God will turn the heart of Kim Jong Un to Himself and that President Kim might grant to all the people of North Korea the respect they deserve as God’s creation.”
Aum said North Korea’s torture of political prisoners has included pulling out their fingernails, pouring boiling water down their throats, burning them and forcing pregnant women to have abortions. Repeat offenders can face immediate execution by firing squad, he said.
Charles Armstrong, a professor of Korean history at Columbia University, said in written comments, “Christians seem to be particular targets of oppression, not so much because the regime is anti-religion (although that is part of it) but because Christianity is closely associated with the American ‘enemy.’”
The North Korean constitution “guarantees freedom of religion, believe it or not, but this freedom is secondary to national security – and Christianity almost by definition is a national security risk, from the North Korean government’s point of view,” Armstrong, who was raised in a Southern Baptist church, said in written comments.
“This is especially ironic,” Armstrong continued, “because the founding leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, was raised in a devout Presbyterian household and Pyongyang was once the center of Protestant Christianity in all of Korea.”
Armstrong advocated support of relief organizations that deliver food and medicine to needy North Koreans. But “in the long run,” he said, “only a fundamental change in the political system can resolve the human rights problem.”
Paul Kim, Asian American adviser to the SBC Executive Committee, said he prays that the Christian missions movement can make strategic inroads as it shares the gospel with lost North Korean citizens.
“There is no freedom, and there is persecution” in North Korea, said Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass. “That’s the reality of North Korea and China. There is always persecution. Christians are underground.”
Aum recommends that American believers concerned for North Korea raise awareness within their circles of influence, pray and ask their members of Congress to pressure North Korea to stop violating human rights.
Prayer “often gets lost even inside the faith-based human rights circles,” Aum said. “We spend a lot of time strategizing, planning, implementing. But we often forget that this battle is not merely a battle of flesh and bones but of the Spirit.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/10/2015 11:23:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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