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Ark Encounter gets tax incentive up to $18.25M

April 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Kentucky tourism authority has granted the Answers in Genesis (AiG) apologetics ministry a tax incentive that could top $18 million for its Ark Encounter museum opening July 7 in Williamstown.
 
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved the incentive at its April 25th meeting, ending a years-long AiG battle with the state for the incentive that allows developers of certain tourism projects to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over a 10-year span.

 
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This screen capture from an Answers in Genesis video shows the progress of the Ark Encounter’s construction as of April. Opening date is July 7.

The approval followed a Jan. 25 federal appeals court decision requiring the state to grant the incentive that AiG had sued to obtain. The state had argued that AiG would use religion to discriminate in hiring employees, and that the use of tax incentives to advance religion violated state law.
 
Newly elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin chose not to contest the January court ruling. The tourism authority, with four new members appointed by Bevin, approved the incentive 7-0 with two members absent, the Courier-Journal newspaper reported.
 
Through a $62 million bond offering and $33.5 million in donations, AiG has raised $93.2 million of the $95.5 million goal to fund the museum’s construction, said president, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham said, emphasizing the incentive is not being used to fund the project. Instead, businesses must operate for a full year before beginning to receive rebates from the incentive.
 
“A lot of the atheists and some of the secular media were claiming for the last couple of years now, that we’re using tax-payer money … to build the ark,” Ham said. “Well, the tourism tax incentive didn’t even get approved until this past Monday, so it has nothing to do with building the ark. This is a performance-based incentive, and it’s only a rebate on the sales taxes paid within the facility once you open, and it’s up to a certain maximum over 10 years.”
 
AiG has estimated the rebate could amount to as much as $18.25 million, based on attendance projections and the cost of the project’s first phase. Still, the incentive was a contributing factor to AiG’s decision to build the ark in Kentucky.
 
“We commissioned a specialist in real estate to look for properties” in the tri-state area of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, Ham said. “The tourism tax incentive was certainly a ... significant factor in the choosing of the property.”
 
AiG did not apply for the tax incentive for its first project in Kentucky, the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, which AiG said has attracted over 2.5 million guests since opening in 2007.

 
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Answers in Genesis photo
This 2015 photo shows construction underway on the Ark Encounter, Answers in Genesis’ life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamsburg, Ky.

“When we first came out here and looked for a place to build the Creation Museum,” Ham said, “we just did not know about the incentive” that must be applied for before construction begins.
 
The Ark Encounter is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark with 140,000 square feet of exhibit space inside. It is flanked by a 1,500-seat restaurant, a lodge, a small zoo and other amenities.
 
Ham hopes the ark and upcoming phases of the biblical theme park, including a World City, a Tower of Babel and a First Century Village, will spur interest in the Bible and encourage many to accept the gospel.
 
“The secularists have been trying to shut down people talking about the Bible, talking about Christianity,” Ham said. “[AiG wants] to do something that will impact the public with the Christian message, in other words, get them talking about it, and the ark certainly will.
 
“From what our research indicates, up to 2 million people a year could come to this,” he said. “I think it will be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era. I don’t think there’s any other Christian attraction like this ... that would impact that many people.”
 
The Ark Encounter will offer day and night attendance during its first 40 days of operation, evoking the 40 days and nights of rain from which Noah’s ark provided protection. Tickets will allow attendance from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., or 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
 
“While the Ark Encounter will be able to accommodate 16,000 guests per day, our consultant’s research has shown that we could possibly expect more than that during the first few weeks of opening, especially during the summer time frame,” Ham said. “So, to make sure this themed attraction remains an enjoyable experience for everyone, we are adding a nighttime shift for the first 40 days.”
 
Its July 7th opening is also significant.
 
“We are so excited that the construction progress and schedule landed on this 7/7 date,” Ham said in an AiG press release. “Genesis 7:7 states that Noah and his family entered the ark. So it’s fitting we allow the public to enter the life-size Ark on 7/7.”
 
Ham expects construction on the ark itself to be complete by the end of May, with landscaping and construction of amenities continuing up until the opening. The ark is slated to employ 35-40 full time workers and 300–400 seasonal staff.
 
The second phase of the project, a World City, will display life as it would have been in Noah’s house and city, Ham said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

 

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Atheists plan billboards against Ark museum
AiG wins court battle for Kentucky tax incentive

4/29/2016 11:42:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Atheists plan billboards against Ark museum

April 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A small group of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana atheists has launched a campaign to buy billboards mocking the message of the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Ark Encounter museum and its July 7 opening.
 
The 1,500-member Tri-State Freethinkers have raised $10,000 to post negative billboards near the life-sized recreation of Noah’s Ark and to, as their Indiegogo funding page asserts, “drive our billboard around the Ark Encounter every weekend for the entire summer.”
 
Others not specifically identified with Tri-State Freethinkers have attacked the Ark Encounter with posts on Twitter, accusing God of genocide and questioning the plausibility of the Genesis account.
 
Conversely, the AiG apologetics ministry has raised $62 million from a bond offering and $33.5 million in donations to build the museum and other attractions just 40 miles from its museum that has attracted 2.5 million visitors since 2007.

 
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Answers in Genesis photo
An artist’s rendering depicts the Ark Encounter set to open July 7 in Williamstown, Ky.

AiG founder and president Ken Ham continues to defend biblical truth.
 
“This new atheist billboard campaign highlights how intolerant these secularists are of Christians exercising their right to freedom of religion – and also highlights how inconsistent they are in their beliefs,” Ham said in an April 21st blog post. “They don’t want people to be exposed to the truth of God’s Word.”
 
“It’s interesting that atheists, who have no foundation for moral absolutes except their own opinion, are accusing the holy and just God – who as Creator has every right to punish sin – of being immoral,” Ham said. “But how do they define immoral? Well, the only way to do that is to appeal to moral absolutes – which are found in God’s Word.”
 
Tri-State Freethinkers President Jim Helton called the Genesis account of the flood a myth, and describes the Ark Encounter as “immoral and highly inappropriate as family entertainment.” A $500 donation will garner donors a personal image on a billboard, depicting them looking up at the ark as they drown, a predicament Helton termed an “honor.”
 
“We want to raise enough money to put up billboards all over the area to let people be aware of how horrible this story in the Bible actually is. The more money we get, the more billboards we can put up in all different areas,” Helton said in video at Indiegogo. “In addition too, we want to do a counter protest on their opening day, throw a huge party and invite all the free thinkers and atheists to come from all over and show support for reason and logic and not superstition and myths.”
 
Three donors have paid enough to be depicted drowning, according to the Indiegogo page.
 
Among the many Ark Encounter supporters, Commonwealth Policy Center director Richard Nelson said the atheists’ efforts are only providing free advertising for the museum and park.
 
“Atheists exegeting Bible stories are bound to miss major points,” Nelson wrote in the April 8 Lexington Herald-Leader. “Of all the things to protest as immoral in our day, it is wildly off-target to pick on a Bible story meant to teach what happens to people when they become immoral.
 
“It is no less ironic that the Tri-State Atheists are imposing their concept of morality from a worldview that is bereft of moral absolutes,” Nelson said.
 
At least one secular radio host who has supported Tri-State Freethinkers in other actions, Ham noted, is opposed to the billboard campaign.
 
I-Heart Radio’s Scott Sloan, broadcast on Scott Sloan in Demand in Cincinnati, has called the billboard campaign “petty.”
 
The Ark Encounter is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark with 140,000 square feet of exhibit space inside, and flanked by a 1,500-seat restaurant, a lodge, a small zoo and other amenities.
 
AiG endured a five-year court battle to receive a Kentucky performance-based tax incentive rebate that could amount to $18.25 million. The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved April 25th the incentive that allows developers of certain tourism projects to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over a 10-year span, based on sales taxes paid by attendees.
 
Ham hopes the ark and upcoming phases of the biblical theme park, including a World City, a Tower of Babel and a First Century Village, will spur interest in the Bible and encourage many to accept the Gospel.
 
“The secularists have been trying to shut down people talking about the Bible, talking about Christianity,” Ham has said. “[AiG wants] to do something that will impact the public with the Christian message, in other words, get them talking about it, and the ark certainly will.
 
“From what our research indicates, up to 2 million people a year could come to this,” he said. “I think it will be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era. I don’t think there’s any other Christian attraction like this ... that would impact that many people.”
 
Ticket information is available at arkencounter.com/tickets/.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

 

Related Stories:

Ark Encounter gets tax incentive up to $18.25M
AiG wins court battle for Kentucky tax incentive
Ham-on-Nye debate pits atheists, creationists

4/29/2016 11:32:03 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Anglican rift over same-sex marriage widens

April 29 2016 by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service

Conservative Anglicans reiterated their frustration with the U.K.-based Anglican Communion over the growing divide on same-sex marriage.
 
Six primates with the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), an organization representing archbishops and their provinces around the world, met April 18-21 in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the group’s future and its ongoing response to the January meeting of Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England.
 
“We went to Canterbury out of a desire for unity,” the GAFCON primates wrote in a statement issued after the meeting. “In our hearts we desire to see the tear in the fabric of the communion mended. The sanctions passed at that meeting were the mildest possible rebuke to only the worst of the offenders, but they were one step in the right direction. Regrettably, these sanctions have not been upheld. This is disappointing, but sadly not surprising.”
 
During the Canterbury meeting, the Anglican Communion voted to sanction The Episcopal Church for violations of institutional protocol instead of a lapse in scriptural fidelity. The U.S.-based province voted last year to change its canon on marriage to accommodate same-sex unions.
 
The conservative members of the communion wanted to see stronger actions that would bring the U.S. church back to “the plain teaching of scripture” in relation to marriage.
 
“Within hours of the meeting’s end the public responses from many bishops, clergy, and lay people of The Episcopal Church made it clear that they did not desire to share the same journey,” the GAFCON primates wrote. “The biblical call to repentance is a call to make a 180 degree turn. It grieves us that many in The Episcopal Church have again rejected this call. While we desire to walk together, until there is true repentance, the reality is that they are deliberately walking away from the Anglican Communion and the authority of scripture at a distance that continues to increase.”
 
After the Canterbury meeting, Michael Curry, archbishop of The Episcopal Church, offered no apology for his province’s actions, suggesting instead it would lead the Anglican Communion toward a more “welcoming” position on same-sex marriage and sexuality.
 
“And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a church and a communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people,” he said.
 
The rift in the Anglican Communion over sexuality and fidelity to scripture has been growing for years. While more liberal branches of the church, including groups in the United States and Canada, have moved toward embracing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the majority of the denomination, centered in Africa, has remained steadfast in its devotion to biblical orthodoxy. A growing number of conservative U.S. churches have separated from The Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with the African province.
 
In the statement issued after their meeting in Nairobi, the GAFCON primates pledged to continue working toward unity but hinted an official split could be around the corner.
 
“We are of one mind that the future of the Anglican Communion does not lay with manipulations, compromises, legal loopholes, or the presentation of half-truths; the future of our Communion lies in humble obedience to the truth of the Word of God written,” they wrote. “What others have failed to do, GAFCON is doing: enabling global fellowship and godly order, united by biblical faithfulness. This unity has provided us with great energy to continue to work for the renewal of the Anglican Communion.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Leigh Jones writes for World News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

 

Related Story:

Episcopal Church censured for gay marriage stance

4/29/2016 11:23:27 AM by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



International religious freedom list: reactions mixed

April 28 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists’ religious freedom entity and a federal panel welcomed the U.S. State Department’s designation of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty but urged further action.
 
The State Department informed Congress April 14 that Secretary John Kerry had redesignated nine governments as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) and added a new one. Remaining on the CPC list were China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, along with Burma, Eritrea, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. For the first time, the State Department named Tajikistan as a CPC.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), expressed gratitude for the acknowledgment by Kerry and the State Department that there are “a number of places where religious liberty is most threatened.”

 
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“Many of the most concerning countries are familiar names,” Moore said. “My prayer is that these and other countries would feel global pressure to protect religious citizens, and that human dignity and international religious freedom would continue to be a priority for the United States.”
 
The CPC list is required by the International Religious Freedom Act, the 1998 law that calls for the designation of countries that commit or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Most of the CPCs on the latest list have been longtime members. Burma, China, Iran and Sudan have been on the list since the first CPCs were named in 1999. The State Department added North Korea in 2001.
 
The ERLC and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) – which recommends CPCs to the State Department – encouraged better use of the CPC process.
 
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said, “[T]here is much more that needs to be done.
 
“Troublingly, there are a number of countries [USCIRF] has also advised to be included on this list which were passed over, and no presidential action – not even a public condemnation – was issued for four countries on the list,” he said in a written statement. “We urge the administration to prioritize religious liberty and human rights in crafting international policy.”
 
Robert George, USCIRF’s chairman, welcomed the designations but noted Kerry “waived imposing any consequences on Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.”
 
Designating a country as a CPC “brings with it a unique toolbox of policy options to effectively promote religious freedom,” George said in a written statement, “and USCIRF encourages the [Obama administration] to use these tools.”
 
The State Department made its latest CPC designations shortly before USCIRF is expected to release its 2016 report. In its annual report released April 30 last year, USCIRF recommended CPC status for not only the 10 countries eventually designated by Kerry but for seven others: Central African Republic; Egypt; Iraq; Nigeria; Pakistan; Syria; and Vietnam.
 
Under the 1998 law, the president has various means for penalizing countries on the CPC list. In the latest designations, the presidential actions included continuing the existing arms embargoes for Burma and Eritrea, existing export restrictions to China and existing travel restrictions on Iran. Waivers, however, were provided to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan because of the “important national interest of the United States,” an option made available by the law.
 
Announcement of the latest CPCs, which actually were designated by Kerry in late February, came nearly two years after the last designations were released. Before that, it had been almost three years since the State Department had announced CPCs. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations failed to make CPC designations annually over the last decade.
 
The State Department’s most recent report on international religious freedom was released in October 2015.
 
In that report, the State Department said Tajikistan, the newest country on the CPC list, bars people under 18 years of age from taking part in public religious services. The government monitors the registration of religious groups and strictly regulates religious events and publications, according to the report. Also, reports of government harassment of Protestants have been made in the Central Asian country that is more than 90 percent Muslim.
 
USCIRF – which is made up of nine commissioners selected by the president and congressional leaders – tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/28/2016 11:04:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



John Avant announced as Pastors’ Conference nominee

April 28 2016 by Baptist Press

John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tenn., will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference, according to an announcement by fellow Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines.
 
Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., stated in an April 27 announcement to Baptist Press: “I have known John Avant for over 30 years. We were in the Ph.D. program together at Southwestern Seminary in the 1980s. We both served as pastors of Southern Baptist churches in Texas at that same time. He is a man of Christ-like character. He has experienced personal revival as well as revival in his churches. He is a devoted husband and father, a gospel preacher, a loving pastor, a soul winner and a servant leader.

 
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John Avant

“Having served as the president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference myself in 2005,” Gaines said, “I am fully aware of the responsibilities of that position, and I am confident that Dr. Avant will do a wonderful job serving all Southern Baptist pastors.”
 
A former vice president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Avant has pastored seven churches in Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. Gaines said Avant “is known for the revival that broke out in Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas, in 1995, where he was pastor, and spread to colleges and churches across America and beyond.”
 
Gaines added, “Since that time, Avant has been a passionate voice calling for a fresh move of spiritual awakening as the great hope of our convention and our nation.”
 
The Pastors’ Conference, which features messages from key leaders and inspirational music and worship, will be June 12-13 at America’s Center in St. Louis preceding the SBC’s June 14-15 annual meeting there.
 
Phoenix will be the site of next year’s Pastors’ Conference and SBC annual meeting.
 
Avant – who has preached at more than 30 state Baptist convention evangelism conferences, pastors’ conferences and annual meetings – has pastored First Baptist Concord since 2013, leading the congregation in plans to launch a second campus in August.
 
First Baptist Concord is the lead partner church for NAMB’s Send Cleveland effort, committing resources to church planting in the city and recruiting other churches to join the campaign. The congregation supports nine total church plants, two of which began this year, Gaines said. Five global partnerships connect First Baptist Concord with the International Mission Board missionaries.
 
The church projects its total mission expenditures for 2016-17 to be approximately 23 percent of undesignated receipts, with some $42,000 supporting Southern Baptist missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program, Gaines said.
 
Avant earned an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a master of divinity and doctor of philosophy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
 
He and his wife Donna have three children and are expecting their third grandchild.
 
Avant said of a potential opportunity to lead the Pastors’ Conference, “When I was at NAMB, I had the opportunity to work with pastors all across America and Canada. God gave me a deep love for these godly men in every size church. I want to encourage them. I also want to ask God to spark within the heart of every pastor a fresh passion to believe God in an Ephesians 3:20 way – that He can and will ‘do exceedingly more than we can ask and imagine!’ We can turn around the trends in baptisms. We can see revival again. But the pastors are the key. This is my heart.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/28/2016 10:57:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Illinois pastor Doug Munton to be 1st VP nominee

April 28 2016 by Baptist Press

Illinois pastor Doug Munton will be nominated for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Missouri pastor John Marshall announced April 26.
 
Munton has been pastor of the St. Louis-area First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., for 20-plus years. He is a former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA) and a current member of the SBC Committee on Committees.
 
“Doug cares about souls,” Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., said according to a news release from First Baptist. “He has demonstrated a constant passion for winning the lost to Christ. The St. Louis Metroplex is a tough place to do the Lord’s work, but Doug has led his congregation there effectively. He has been a longtime role model for those of us who serve in the Midwest.”

 
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Doug Munton

During Munton’s pastorate, First Baptist has baptized approximately 2,000 people and grown in average worship attendance from 550 to more than 1,600, according to the release. Data from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile indicates an average of 116 baptisms over the past five years for which statistics are available.
 
First Baptist reported giving approximately 8 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program (CP) in 2014-15, a figure confirmed by the Illinois Baptist State Association. For the same period, the church’s Great Commission Giving totaled approximately 11 percent of undesignated receipts, according to reports from the IBSA and First Baptist.
 
Great Commission Giving is a category of giving established by SBC action in 2011 that encompasses giving through CP, Southern Baptists’ unified program of funding state- and SBC-level ministries, as well as direct gifts to SBC entities, associational giving and giving to state convention ministries.
 
Munton said he wants “to be a great encourager to our convention in the areas of missions and evangelism.”
 
“Since my first international mission trip, God has stirred my heart for the nations,” Munton said. “And with a daughter and her family serving as career missionaries with the International Mission Board in Madagascar, the issue is even more personal. But I also want to see us with a passion to see our friends and neighbors and classmates come to know the Lord right here in our own nation.”
 
Munton holds both doctor of philosophy and master of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
 
The author of four books, Munton has taught at multiple institutions of higher education, including Southwestern Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. Before moving to Illinois, he had pastored a church in Texas and served as youth minister at another Texas church.
 
He and his wife Vickie have four children and are expecting their seventh grandchild.
 
Munton is the first announced nominee for first vice president. Announced presidential nominees are Louisiana pastor David Crosby, Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines and North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Recording Secretary John Yeats also will be re-nominated.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from a news release by First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., with additional reporting by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/28/2016 10:31:58 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Avery Association forges partnership with Scottish church

April 28 2016 by Avery Baptist Association staff

The churches of the Avery Baptist Association (ABA) have covenanted with a local congregation in Scotland for a five-year ministry partnership. The Scotland Partnership is an opportunity for the churches of the Avery Association to develop a Kingdom partnership with Buckhaven Community Church (BCC).
 
“Scottish roots run deep in western North Carolina,” said Garland Honeycutt, associational missionary for the ABA. “Many families in our region can trace their heritage back to the land of kilts and bagpipes. The very geography of the High Country closely resembles that of Scotland, which more than likely explains why Scottish immigrants settled in the area, so many years ago.
 
“However, there is a major difference between the hills of Scotland and the mountains of Appalachia – Scotland is largely absent of the presence of the gospel,” he said.

 
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Only about 3 percent of Scots identify as evangelical Christians. The population of Buckhaven in Fife, a small fishing town north of Edinburgh, is 6,000 people; however 98 percent of them have no contact with a local church.
 
“By collaborating with Peter Carr and BCC, our desire for this partnership is to impact Scotland with the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ,” Honeycutt explained.
 
Peter Carr, a native Scot, planted BCC in January 2015. “While the church scene in Scotland has become largely dysfunctional, it’s not all doom and gloom. For many decades our country has been a sending nation, but now we are a receiving nation when it comes to missionaries, he said.
 
Carr went on to say “Scotland, I believe, is now ripe and ready for new expressions of gospel-centered, Kingdom-focused churches.”
 
ABA’s Scotland Partnership focuses on two primary goals: first, strengthening BCC to become a healthy, self-sustaining church and second, assisting BCC in the planting of new, self-sustaining, evangelical churches across Scotland. These goals hope to be reached within the scope of the five year partnership.
 
“We plan to take associational mission trips to Scotland at least once each year. Mission trips will provide ABA churches the opportunity to physically come alongside the ministry of BCC through evangelism and outreach, leadership development, and church planting,” Honeycutt explained. “While the ABA and its churches will be the ‘sponsors’ of the partnership, we heartily extend an invitation to churches and individuals outside of the ABA to join us in this exciting gospel effort!”
 
Support has already been enlisted from churches outside the ABA, including churches from Mitchell County and Carter County, Tennessee.
 
The ABA approved moving forward with the partnership at its associational spring meeting in April. Under the direction of the newly formed Scotland Partnership Committee, a detailed proposal for the partnership will be presented to the churches of the ABA at its annual meeting in October 2016. Once the proposal is approved at the October meeting, the partnership will officially launch in January 2017.
 
Honeycutt and other leaders from ABA will be taking a five day vision trip to Scotland to meet with Peter Carr in mid-May. A full program has been planned, which includes several days of prayer walking through Buckhaven and other villages in the Fife region, as well as attending a pastors’ conference in Kirkcaldy to dialogue with ministry leaders from across the nation.
 
“We are very excited about the opportunities ahead of us,” Honeycutt remarked. “As an associational missionary I believe God’s people are at their best when they work together. Avery Baptists are lifting our eyes beyond our region, to work alongside our sisters and brothers across the pond, by impacting an unbelieving generation of Scots with the transforming message of the gospel.”
 
To receive more information on the partnership or to explore ways to join the effort, go to averybaptists.org/scotland.

4/28/2016 10:27:13 AM by Avery Baptist Association staff | with 1 comments



God & politics: Mohler, Thomas revisit disagreement

April 28 2016 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

Christians should be involved in the political process but remember their ultimate hope lies beyond any office or vote, said evangelical thinkers R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Cal Thomas at the April 25 “God and Politics” event at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
 
Mohler, SBTS president, and Thomas, a political pundit and syndicated columnist, discussed their views regarding the religious beliefs of political candidates before a full Alumni Memorial Chapel in Louisville, Ky.
 
Although the event came about after a public disagreement on this issue, Mohler and Thomas agreed that ironclad biblical promises transcend those of waffling political candidates.
 
“If Christ is King and God is sovereign and our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, then we shouldn’t have our equilibrium thrown off too much by any election,” Mohler said.

 
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SBTS Photo by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr. (left) and Cal Thomas discuss personal faith and politics at a "God and Politics" event at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Thomas said American efforts toward nationwide moral improvement have failed because they misdiagnose the root problem. America does not primarily suffer from failed leadership, Thomas said, but human sinfulness. Christians should then start by recognizing true change is spiritual.
 
“We who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth have been given a greater power than the politics of our country. It is the power of redemption,” Thomas said. “We are not going to redeem America from the outside through political leadership – as important as that may be. The only power that is going to redeem people comes from within.”
 
Thomas argued in a February USA Today column that Republican presidential candidates should “cut the God talk” from their campaigns and instead run on their political qualifications. Mohler disagreed during his February 10 edition of his podcast “The Briefing,” noting that religious beliefs are inherently bound up with a candidate’s policy-shaping worldview.
 
Thomas then contacted Mohler and recommended they discuss the matter publicly, which led to the “God and Politics” event.
 
The evening began with some brief rhetorical sparring between the two thinkers, an extension of their February disagreement through public discourse. Mohler maintained Christians ought to know about each candidate’s religious beliefs because those beliefs shape decisions made in office. Thomas countered by arguing those ostensibly religion-influenced policy decisions are often not as cut-and-dried as they seem.
 
Mohler noted the modern dichotomy between candidates’ political platforms and their personal religious belief systems began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s. Kennedy emphasized the distinction between being a “Catholic candidate” and a “candidate who happened to be Catholic,” Mohler said, rendering his personal faith less decisive in the election.
 
In response to Thomas quoting the late evangelical leader Chuck Colson, who said Jesus won’t return to save his church on Air Force One, Mohler warned Christians might swing from over-zealous patriotism to passive political apathy.
 
“I think Chuck Colson was certainly right when he said national revival was not going to ride in on Air Force One,” Mohler said. “Here’s my concern: I’m afraid that a lot of evangelical Christians are going to decide it now doesn’t matter who rides on Air Force One.”
 
Although Thomas acknowledged the upcoming 2016 presidential election was deeply important, perhaps determining the direction of the United States Supreme Court for the next 40 years, he said, “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Judge.” Quoting at length Abraham Lincoln, who once wrote that America needed to humble itself to its Creator and ask for forgiveness, Thomas said only repentance – not any political candidate – can restore the United States.
 
“That’s the road back, it is the only road back,” Thomas said. “It is not through the Republican or Democratic party, it’s not through the Socialist candidate, it’s not through Washington. It is through the cross.”
 
Audio and video from the “God and Politics” event will soon be available online at sbts.edu/resources.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/28/2016 10:20:27 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments



Rally defends HB 2 against ‘preposterous’ allegations

April 27 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Crowds of people from across North Carolina gathered April 25 on the open lawn outside the state’s legislative offices in Raleigh to show support for House Bill 2 (HB 2), also called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. Speakers at the Halifax Mall rally denounced so-called “preposterous” allegations against the new law, which claim HB 2 is discriminatory, unprecedented, anti-Christian and responsible for economic backlash against the state.
 
The event coincided with the opening day of the legislature’s 2016 short session.
 
With roaring applause, approximately 4,800 demonstrators thanked state leaders who sponsored and voted for HB 2, despite harsh criticism leveled at the bill from pro-LGBT activist groups, corporations, music artists, the White House and United Kingdom.

 
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Photo by K. Allan Blume
Crowds of people from across North Carolina gathered April 25 on the open lawn outside the state’s legislative offices in Raleigh to show support for House Bill 2 (HB 2), also called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill March 23 to preempt a local ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council that would have opened restrooms to people based on the gender identity of their choice. HB 2 overturned that policy by requiring state buildings and public schools to designate bathrooms and changing facilities for use according to the biological sex indicated on a person’s birth certificate.
 
Bill supporters said the Charlotte ordinance could have allowed sexual predators to exploit the non-discrimination policy, endangering women and children, and forced business owners to comply with behaviors contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
 
Rep. Dan Bishop, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said it “restored long-standing customary bathroom policy for government facilities and removed mandates that the city of Charlotte attempted to impose on over 20,000 businesses for a radically new management policy for bathrooms and private facilities.”
 
Bishop rejected the widespread notion that HB 2 is discriminatory, saying that idea comes from “a new form of activism that is virulent and dangerous.” He described backlash against the bill as a “dishonest, media-fueled, ideological carpet bombing.”
 
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, agreed. “Opponents of House Bill 2 have claimed that [it] is ‘the most egregious, sweeping, hate-filled, anti-LGBT legislation in this country’s history,’” he said. “This is absolutely preposterous. … [fueling] a level of hysteria and deception that I have not seen in 25 years of work in the public policy arena.”
 
Rustin continued, “Far from making some radical departure from the national norm, as they claim, this bill simply establishes a common sense statewide bathroom privacy and safety law … the standards set in HB 2 are practically identical to the standards that currently exist in federal law and the standards that exist in a majority of states across the nation.”
 
Some opponents cite religious reasons for overturning the law, according to Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.

 
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Photo by K. Allan Blume
Rep. Dan Bishop rejected the widespread notion that HB 2 is discriminatory, saying that idea comes from “a new form of activism that is virulent and dangerous.”

Creech read aloud an email he received with the subject line, “Sad and outraged,” from a former colleague. The message said, “Under any theological interpretation I fail to see how this becomes the basis on which HB 2 is written, enacted and signed: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’”
 
He responded, “I, too, am sad and outraged – sad and outraged that you would interpret the greatest commandment to mean that women and young girls should be forced to undress or shower in the presence of men, denying their fundamental right to privacy. … I am sad and outraged that you would think that somehow this is neighborly love.”
 
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and U.S. congressional candidate, called down allegations that HB 2 is responsible for the economic backlash against the state from large corporations.
 
Online payment company PayPal announced April 5 that it is withdrawing plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte, allegedly costing the city hundreds of jobs. CEO Dan Schulman said the new law “invalidates protections” of LGBT rights in a statement on the company website.
 
Dozens of other large corporations – including Google, Bank of America and Apple – have openly criticized HB 2 or taken steps to restrict business activity in the state.
 
“When people ask me, ‘What do you think about the economic challenges being faced as a result of this?’” Harris said, “I’m quick to point out, any economic loss for North Carolina due to this issue must be placed squarely at the feet of Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the members of the Charlotte City Council who voted for [the sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance] in the beginning.”
 
Major retail chain Target announced a new bathroom policy April 19 that welcomes “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
 
Multiple rally speakers, including Concerned Women for America CEO and president Penny Young Nance, encouraged attendees to pledge a boycott against the company, sponsored by the American Family Association, which has received more than 750,000 signatures.

“We’re not afraid of transgender people," said Nance. "We’re afraid of the sexual predators who will prey on the weak and defenseless.”
 
Rallies opposing HB 2 took place only blocks away in downtown Raleigh, which ended in 54 arrests after protestors interrupted proceedings in the House chamber. The Human Rights Campaign held a press conference showcasing 26 boxes of petitions against the new law, which they presented to the state Capitol.
 
The governor issued a press release later that evening which said alleged petitions only filled two of the boxes and the overwhelming majority of signatures were from out-of-state.
 
In addition to public outcry against the bill, HB 2 now faces strong opposition in both the judicial and legislative branches of government. A federal lawsuit was filed against the bill only days after it was passed for “singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment.”
 
Democratic House members Darren Jackson, Grier Martin, Graig Meyer and Susi Hamilton introduced legislation (HB 946) that threatens a wholesale repeal of the law just hours before the pro-HB 2 rally in downtown Raleigh.
 
Their efforts contrasted the call issued by rally organizer and president of Return America, Ron Baity, who pleaded with lawmakers, “Stay the course!”
 

Related Stories:

‘Pro-HB 2’ rally thanks lawmakers, McCrory issues exec. order
Businesses fuel economic debate over N.C. bathroom law

4/27/2016 12:24:15 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Target transgender policy: Protests escalate

April 27 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With nearly three-quarters of a million people signing on to boycott Target over the retailer’s transgender restroom policy, evangelical leaders are discussing whether consumer boycotts are an effective means of cultural engagement.
 
Many conservative evangelicals apparently disagree with Target’s policy of allowing customers to use whichever restroom or fitting room corresponds to their perceived “gender identity.” Yet some – like the American Family Association (AFA) and the watchdog group Faith Driven Consumer – have urged a boycott while others – including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity heads R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore – have discussed the limitations of boycotts and asked whether one is appropriate in this instance.
 
The discussion stems from an April 19 news release from Target stating, “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”

 
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The release added that Target “supports the federal Equality Act.” In a separate release, Target stated the proposed federal legislation “would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and ban discrimination in areas including employment, housing, access to credit, public education and accommodations.”
 
In response, the American Family Association launched an online campaign seeking commitments from consumers to boycott Target. As of late afternoon April 26, more than 760,000 people had signed the pledge, which is being promoted with the hashtag #BoycottTarget.
 
“Corporate America must stop bullying people who disagree with the radical left agenda to remake society into their progressive image,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in an April 21 news release. “#BoycottTarget has resonated with Americans. Target’s harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. Predators and voyeurs would take advantage of the policy to prey on those who are vulnerable.
 
“It’s clear now that many customers agree. Target shoppers are leaving their allegiance to the store behind – and by the thousands every hour. No store can withstand that sort of loss,” Wildmon said.
 
Faith Driven Consumer (FDC) launched a campaign urging consumers to shop at 10 alternative stores “offering products in competition with Target,” according to an April 26 news release. The campaign particularly encourages shopping at Walmart and is being promoted with the hashtag #BUYcottWalmart.
 
“There’s a critical business lesson to be learned with Target’s recent decision,” FDC founder Chris Stone said. “When including one group, don’t expressly exclude another. In its statement explaining why it is allowing men in women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, Target pointed out that inclusivity is at its core, and that everyone deserved to be protected equally.
 
“However, hundreds of thousands of consumers around the country are expressing frustration because they specifically feel excluded by Target’s actions and, more importantly, unprotected and unsafe in Target stores,” Stone said.
 
Each of the 10 suggested alternate retailers received a higher score than Target on FDC’s Faith Equality Index, which uses a 100-point scale to evaluate companies’ engagement with faith-driven consumers. The top three retailers on the list are Hobby Lobby (57/100), Walmart (51/100) and Aldi (47/100).
 
Still, Walmart received a 90/100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates companies’ engagement with the homosexual, bisexual and transgender community. HRC credited Walmart with, among other so-called accomplishments, including sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policies and being willing to support an LGBT employee resource group.
 
Such realities led Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to conclude April 26 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “There is no perfect economic stance from which to operate without some complicity in larger moral questions in the economy.”
 
A Target boycott may be an appropriate step, Mohler said, but it should be undertaken with full knowledge “that there is no safe business in which to shop” morally speaking.
 
Mohler explained, “Even if we know the owner of the shop and we know how he or she organizes the business, there is a supply chain behind and a web of relationships beyond” that likely includes some morally questionable business dealings. “That doesn’t mean this isn’t important. It does mean that it is complex, and you can’t reduce faithfulness to something as easy as the question of ‘boycott: yes or no?’
 
“Should Christians boycott Target? That’s a question that I do not believe has an answer. Should you boycott Target? That is a matter of your Christian conscience,” Mohler said.
 
Gene Mims, chairman of the 2005 SBC Resolutions Committee that proposed ending the convention’s eight-year boycott of The Disney Company over some of its products and policies, said it is “always appropriate for anybody to boycott according to their convictions.” It’s also appropriate for evangelical denominations to “consider” more official boycotts with specific aims.
 
But he said it appears premature to declare whether the SBC should call for a Target boycott.
 
“Right now I think what people are feeling [about Target] is not as measured as it should be,” said Mims, pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville. “A denomination like the SBC has a Resolutions Committee that can really grind away on this and get to the purpose” of any potential boycott.
 
The SBC already has spoken to transgenderism in a 2014 resolution on “transgender identity,” Mims said, and positioned itself well to address the topic going forward with or without an official Target boycott.
 
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pointed on Twitter to a 2012 blog post he wrote on a potential Starbucks boycott as applicable to the Target situation. In 2012, the Starbucks board cited support for same-sex marriage as a core value of the company.
 
A Christian boycott, Moore wrote, is not “always evil or wrong.” But with some boycotts, “Christians are tempted ... to fight like the devil to please the Lord” by entering contests with their cultural opponents over “who has more bullying power.”
 
“We don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests,” Moore wrote. “We persuade them by holding fast to the gospel, by explaining our increasingly odd view of marriage, and by serving the world and our neighbors around us, as our Lord does, with a towel and a foot-bucket.
 
“We won’t win this argument by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender,” Moore wrote. “...We’ll engage this argument when we have a more exalted, and more mysterious, view of sexuality than those who see human persons as animals or machines.”
 
The SBC’s resolutions on the Disney boycott and transgender identity are available at sbc.net/resolutions.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/27/2016 12:18:18 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



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