News

Big changes projected for world religions this century

April 7 2015 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

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Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen

 

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth.
 
All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new projections, released April 2, that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050.
 
The report says nothing about the transcendent message of any religion. It makes no claims about believers’ level of devotion or practice.
 
Instead, it’s a story of nitty-gritty statistics: Which group is having babies (lots of babies or just a few)? Which ones have many young people, and which are slowly graying out? Whose followers are on the move – from one nation to another, or switching religions?
 
“Demographics are an underappreciated force that is shifting the contours of faith,” said Conrad Hackett, the Pew demographer who led the six-year study. Hackett analyzed projected changes for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religions, other minority religions and the unaffiliated.

 
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Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen

Those contours matter. The Pew Research Center doesn’t delve into political forecasting, but readers of the report’s projections from 2010 to 2050 might feel a thumb press down on many sore spots and raise questions beyond the scope of Pew’s data:

  • Will prejudice against Muslims rise as the percentage of people in Europe who are Muslim climbs to 10.2 percent, up from today’s 5.9 percent?  “The projected growth rate is only about 1 percentage point a decade,” said Hackett. “But it’s a very visible change: More people wearing veils, more behaving in culturally distinct ways.”

  • Who will assume the minority voice in the U.S. public square as Muslims outpace Jews as the country’s third-largest group, after Christians and the unaffiliated?

  • Will religious tensions flare as India becomes the world’s most populous Muslim nation, supplanting Indonesia? “The quality of interfaith relations in such a country (about to pass China as the world’s most populous) will be of global importance,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.

  • How will more secular regions such as Europe and the U.S. relate to deeply religious regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, divided among Christians and Muslims?

“The question is: ‘How will we understand each other?’” said Cooperman. “Sub-Saharan Africa is 12 percent of the world population now, and it will be 20 percent by 2050. That’s huge growth for people to get their heads around.”

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Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen

 

The report, sponsored by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, offers many more head-spinning numbers and a religion-by-religion, region-by-region analysis of data from 198 countries and territories, representing nearly all the world’s population.
 
“No one has done anything like this before, so we had no idea about the big picture,” said Hackett.
 
Among the major findings:

  • “As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

  • While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events – war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more – Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070.

  • Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent. Christians, Muslims and Hindus live in areas with “bulging youth populations,” high birthrates and falling levels of infant mortality, the report said. Even the global tally for Jews is expected to rise, based on the high birthrate of Orthodox Jews in Israel. Meanwhile, the unaffiliated are “heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan,” the report said.

  • Nearly two-thirds of all the unaffiliated worldwide live in China, the research found. “If Chinese authorities allow greater freedom of religion, the share of unaffiliated in the world population could shrink even more dramatically than the report predicts,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, who consulted on the project.

  • While religious switching has a significant impact in North America and Europe, in many countries, changing one’s religion is difficult – if not illegal. There’s no data on religious switching among China’s 1.3 billion people, with nearly 50 percent of them in the unaffiliated ranks, for example. But in the 70 countries where survey data was available, the report found that Buddhists and Jews are the primary losers on the switch-in/switch-out balance sheet, Hackett said. “In the USA, there are famous converts like Richard Gere, but there’s a lot of disaffiliation among those who grew up Buddhist.”

  • In the U.S., Christians will decline, from more than three-quarters of the population (78.3 percent) in 2010 to two-thirds (66.4 percent) in 2050. Religious “churn” – people leaving their childhood faith for a different faith or none at all – is the primary driver of change.

  • The Muslim share of the U.S. population is projected to climb to 2.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent today. Jews will fall from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent.

  • In 2010, there were 159 countries with a Christian majority, but that will fall by eight countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.  By 2050, Muslims will hold the majority in 51 countries, up by two from 2010, including Nigeria, which just elected a Muslim president, and the Republic of Macedonia.

“In many ways the value of projects like this is not to say what the world will look like in 2050. The world could change,” said Cooperman. “But they tell us about the world today and the recent path. Peering into the future greatly illuminates what is happening today and its consequences.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

4/7/2015 3:13:46 PM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Moldova partnership is relationships, not events

April 7 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Lake Norman Baptist Church (LNBC) in Huntersville has a growing understanding of international missions because of a four-year partnership with a small country in Eastern Europe. “Moldova has helped us cast our eyes beyond ourselves,” said Bobby Blanton, the church’s senior pastor. “We have really stepped up our missions emphasis over the last couple of years, and Moldova has been a big part of that.”
 
The church has participated in mission projects in Cuba, Honduras, Panama and Haiti, but Blanton said this new partnership has given the church a much needed, sustained missions focus. And the breadth of the project has offered a variety of ministry opportunities for members with different skills.
 
The partnership has included medical clinics, children’s Vacation Bible School ministry, church demolition and construction, pastoral training, youth camp ministry, orphan hosting and adoption, nutritional outreach and vocational training. Blanton has been to Moldova three times and plans to return this year to train pastors. Almost all national pastors are bi-vocational and have no formal training in ministry. “The pastor training has been a great blessing to me,” he said. “My heart is with those pastors ... I can’t say enough about the work ethic of the people in Moldova. It’s amazing. The pastors work in the fields during the day and preach in the churches on the weekend. God bless them.”

LNBC prays for and supports 12 pastors, providing $1,000 annually for each pastor’s ministry.
 

Food ministry

Last September LNBC held a massive food-packing event that yielded 70,000 dehydrated meals in sealed packets. The church shipped 40,000 meals to Moldova and 30,000 to Haiti.
 
The pack-a-thon was organized in part by Feed the Hunger (feedthehunger.org), a ministry based in Burlington that works with N.C. Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) and many Baptist churches.
 
Ron Hoppe, a volunteer missions coordinator, manages the Moldova partnership for LNBC. He said a church member worked with FedEx to arrange delivery of the four large pallets of food. “FedEx donated the complete cost of air freight to get the pallets to Moldova. They arrived on schedule, undamaged and nothing had been compromised,” he said.

 
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Contributed photo
From left, Pastor Ivan Nedeoglo, Ron Hoppe, missions coordinator from Lake Norman Baptist Church and Victor Mirza, pastor of Agape Church in Chisinau are working together to meet physical and spiritual needs in Moldova.

The food arrived in late October and is stored for weekly distribution throughout the year. Each meal meets the daily nutritional needs of four adults or six children. The packets include beans, rice, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin powder.
 
“It’s not gourmet dining,” Hoppe said, “but in locations where food is a major issue, this will be a very powerful tool that pastors can use to get out into the communities and expand ministry opportunities.
 
“We’re excited to see what the potential of those meal packets might be to help the pastors in Moldova spread the gospel,” he added.
 
Victor Mirza, pastor of Agape Church in the capital city of Chisinau, Moldova, said the meals help small churches as they work with children and families in the villages. “Most of the villages have a children’s ministry where they depend on these meals,” he said. “After school, the kids come to church for a meal and a Bible lesson. This is a great resource for these local churches to reach children.”
 
Some of the food is distributed in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, orphanages and to the poor. Mirza said a large portion of the meals went to neighboring Ukraine, a nation that has recently experienced much social and political unrest.
 
Hoppe said the value of Moldova’s currency has declined significantly, making food more expensive. “So the meal packets are more valuable now than when they were packed and shipped,” he added. “Victor and the other pastors are using those meals in ways that are innovative and effective to reach their communities.”
 
An older Moldovan pastor and wife who live on $150 monthly, still found a way to feed 20 children in their village twice each week, Hoppe said. “So, stepping in and providing them with some of these meal packages made a great difference in their ability to serve their community.”
 
Some LNBC volunteers enjoy manual labor, so they responded to the needs of a small church in the town of Leova. An old, unsafe building was demolished, and a new church is being constructed on the same site. In 2012 Hoppe learned about a home for disabled and developmentally challenged adults that had a very inadequate kitchen. “A man in our church who is an architect made a trip over to evaluate the needs, then he drew up plans,” said Hoppe. “A team from LNBC demolished the kitchen and took a lead role to rebuild a commercial kitchen. It was a very significant project, and it certainly improved the quality of the food service provided in the home.”
 

Orphan ministry

Moldova’s sustained poverty and high unemployment has created a large number of orphans. When an orphan reaches 18 years of age, they are forced to leave government-run orphanages. Jobs are scarce; crime and human trafficking lure many children into hopeless traps. LNBC is trying to respond to that need, also.
 
Hoppe said LNBC is asking some hard questions. “How can we engage these 17 to 19 year old orphans in a productive way from a vocational or occupational perspective, so they have some legitimate means of supporting themselves?”
 
He found a family who runs a group home. “They take in 5-6 young men who have to leave the orphanage system with no place to go,” Hoppe said. “The husband of the family is a mechanic. Since the government offers some trade school training for aspiring mechanics, we asked him, ‘What would it take to set up a small auto repair business where some of these young men could be gainfully employed?’ So, we are in the exploratory phase to see what it would take to set up that small business as a ministry.”
 
Another vocational ministry idea surfaced when they met a man who leads an addictions ministry. Hoppe said, “This man has professionally made boots in the past. We had an opportunity to see the footwear, and it was quite impressive. So we are looking at the opportunity to gainfully employ some young men to help produce work boots, if we have an outlet to sell those boots.”
 
LNBC’s missions leaders are exploring ways to export the boots. “They were producing what looked to me to be a good quality men’s, fur-lined work boot for under $25.00,” Hoppe said. “I think we can generate funds for that ministry without any difficulty whatsoever.” 
 
Hoppe is trying to launch a project similar to one that is working in Ukraine. It will train orphans in computer programing skills, and work with businesses in the U.S. to contract with the graduates to program remotely. He said, “This is a fairly ambitious undertaking, but we believe this is something that has potential to succeed.”
 

Hosting and adopting

The Lake Norman church is no stranger to the ministry of adoption. “Our church family has established quite a record of orphan child hosting and adoption,” Hoppe explained. They have worked with several adoption agencies, but most recently with New Horizons for Children.
 
Last Mother’s Day the church announced the establishment of a scholarship fund that provides financial assistance to families interested in hosting and those making a commitment to adoption. Church members have connected with orphans in Latvia and Ukraine, but not Moldova. On Hoppe’s trip to Moldova in March some representatives from New Horizons for Children met him in Moldova, along with the government’s secretary of social services and the secretary of family services. They hope to see some results from the meeting by the end of the year with short term hosting relationships. Some of those could turn into adoptions.
 
“What is exciting to me is that this is another point of contact where our church family can be part of an ongoing dynamic relationship,” he said. “If we can get some of these kids there integrated into our church families over time, I think that will bode very well for the relationship between us and Moldova, and ultimately for the gospel.
 
“We want to show these children the love of a Christian family, that there is more to life than what they have seen, and there is hope. These kids need hope.”
 

Relationships vs. events

Both Hoppe and Blanton want the Moldova partnership to focus on long-term relationships, not short term mission events. Hoppe said, “It’s easy to go on a mission trip, have an event in the country and never hear about it again. In our activities, we are trying to enter into relationships and also see how those relationships interact.
 
“If they need a new church building, fine, but there’s far more to it than that. If we are ministering to those kids in the orphanage, we ask ‘What can we do with and for those kids when they get out of the orphanage?’”
 
The partnership has something for everyone. Hoppe said, “Somebody is interested in construction, somebody has a heart for children, somebody has a heart for hunger, somebody has a heart for medical needs, somebody has a heart for Bibles – if we can present opportunities to engage as many of those constituencies within our church family as possible, I believe we will succeed.”
 

History of Moldova partnerships

When the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina began a partnership with Moldova in November 2011, two separate channels of ministry were established. One was a partnership with the Baptist Union of Moldova. This is a “convention” of 490 Baptist churches and mission points in this small Eastern European nation.
 
A second partnership was launched with a small network of churches labeled the Agape Network, named after the Agape Baptist Church in Chisinau and a fellowship of churches that were not comfortable with some of the theological positions of the union. Many N.C. Baptist churches were already working with the Agape network and with individual churches across Moldova. Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville has taken the lead role in this second partnership.
 
The Biblical Recorder reported on the partnership with the Baptist Union in a story about Hephzibah Baptist Church in Knightdale in the Feb. 28 print issue. Read the story here.

4/7/2015 2:50:07 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Raleigh campus ministry ‘high-leverage’

April 7 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

“Give me the right lever, and I shall move the world,” said David Ethridge, paraphrasing the Greek thinker Archimedes. “Collegiate ministry is the right lever to move the world.”
 
Ethridge is the minister to young adults at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh and a board member of the Raleigh Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM). He believes that, along with the various collegiate ministries at university campuses across North Carolina, the Raleigh BCM has a lot of potential.
 
“It’s such a high-leverage ministry,” Ethridge said. “These are businessmen, engineers, journalists, artists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, teachers. ... They are going to be leading this country 20 years from now; and they are going to be leading their churches 20 years from now.
 
“There are 77 different languages spoken just at N.C. State. In the American university, you find the nations. … They are typically the best, brightest and the most affluent from their countries … They are a force, if they get saved.”

 
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David Ethridge

Ethridge added that many of these students, if they become Christians, either go back to their home countries where they can take the gospel to their own cultures, or they stay in the U.S. where they can help local churches reach their increasingly globalized culture.
 
The Raleigh BCM began in 2014 as a handful of area churches felt the call to create a “viable, vibrant, evangelistic, biblically sound, Baptist presence in Raleigh that students can be involved in.” They pooled money, energy and leaders to create a non-profit organization that could connect students to local churches, involve local churches in collegiate ministry and allow them all to engage thousands of students on Raleigh-area college campuses.
 
The Recorder previously reported on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) shift in emphasis from direct convention involvement in collegiate ministry to local church involvement.
 
Evan Blackerby, central region consultant to the BSC collegiate partnerships team, told the Recorder in 2014, “We have a tendency to get our hands in the church’s ministry, but we’re here to serve the churches. We want to wash their feet. For us to do anything that the churches could do on their own would be taking something out of their hands that God intends for them to have.”
 
There are numerous ways for churches to engage in collegiate ministry with the help of the BSC. The Raleigh BCM is one particular way for them to do collegiate ministry, and they believe local churches are the key.
 
In a time when North Carolina Baptists are thinking about impacting lostness through disciple-making, Ethridge believes collegiate ministry is a great way for local churches to do that. “You want to make disciples of the nations? Go to a college campus.”
 
Local churches should feel strongly about serving college students, according to Ethridge. Most young people that are involved in church stop attending after high school, and they don’t usually come back until they’re married and have children. Most people make the most important decisions of their lives during those years – vocation, marriage, children – and they do so disconnected from a local body of believers.
 
The Raleigh BCM tries to prevent that from happening, funneling freshman students into discipleship relationships with churches and older students. “We’re trying to create and produce after two years a junior that is equipped,” said Ethridge.

 
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Contributed photo
T.J. Cople is campus director for the Raleigh BCM, which meets at the Baptist Student Center next to North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh.

T.J. Cople, campus director for the Raleigh BCM, said the ministry is not designed to take the place of a local church. The guiding question, he said, is “How can we serve the local church, as well as serve students and engage students?”
 
The campus ministry doesn’t host small groups or large Bible studies so that students will join those types of groups at their local church. They do, however, provide teaching that equips students to engage their peers on campus.
 
They teach on an eight block plan – two sessions in the Fall and two in Spring for two years. Each block is dedicated to a topic like “What is the local church?” “How to study the Bible” or “Holiness.”
 
During each block, they host a mission outreach project and a panel discussion related to the current topic. Mission projects and panel discussions rely on church involvement, since the projects are often suggested by churches and the discussion panels are filled by church members and leaders.
 
“That’s our sweet spot,” said Cople. “That allows us to be a specialization of the church rather than a replacement of the church.” He explained that the goal is not to steal students away from local churches, but to help local churches.
 
“It’s better for the local church to be doing the discipling,” Ethridge said, “because you get a more of a well-rounded, intergenerational thing going.”
 
Cople illustrated, “They’re the general practitioner; we’re the cardiologist.”
 
Ethridge lamented that many churches try to avoid college students, saying “some churches shy away from college students because they’re broke.” Ethridge believes that’s a mistake since students can contribute in other ways. “They can’t always give money, but they can give energy, creativity and time,” he said.
 
Ethridge said they can provide manpower for mission or outreach projects that local churches are doing.
Even if college students couldn’t make a significant contribution to the ministry of a local church, Ethridge believes the sacrifice would be worth it. “If you only help those who can help you, what benefit is that? … There is a blessing in helping those who can’t repay you,” said Ethridge.
 
In response to a question about how churches can become involved in the Raleigh BCM, Ethridge said, “There’s almost no area where we don’t need help, and wouldn’t take help.”
 
They welcome churches, according to Ethridge, to provide meals for students, help with tutoring or moving, and lead discipleship groups.
 
They also welcome churches to invite students to come for corporate worship on Sundays.
 
“We need churches to be involved,” Cople said, “because there’s a huge mission field at these college campuses, and they’re sending students there every day. And we’re able to stay with those students and give them the tools they need.”
 
Currently Raleigh BCM receives funds from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and four area churches. A total of seven churches are involved in the ministry of the Raleigh BCM.
 
The Raleigh BCM is located near several campuses – Meredith College, Peace College, Shaw University and North Carolina State University. They also reach out to students at Wake Tech and The College at Southeastern.
 
North Carolina has more than 200 colleges and universities, home to almost 600,000 students.

4/7/2015 2:05:57 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Speaker says wives of pastors yield sacred influence

April 7 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

Whether welcome or not, ministers’ wives wield tremendous influence over their husbands.
 
Referring to the sacred influence wives have over their husbands, Kathy Litton, national consultant for the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Flourish ministry (Flourish.me) for ministers’ wives, said the ladies’ “husbands work in a unique industry … an industry of eternity. Our influence on them has an eternal significance.”
 
With that thought, Litton says, comes much weight.
 
“We have the potential to fan the flames in our husband’s life and advance the gospel,” she said.
Pastors live in a “thumbs-up, thumbs-down world all the time,” Litton said, also referring to it as a “glamour shot, mug shot” world, which makes pastors vulnerable.

 

Litton was part of “Equipping Day for Ministry Wives” March 28 hosted by Embrace, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s women’s ministry, and NAMB’s Flourish. Joining Litton was Lori Frank (lorifrank.org), wife of Biltmore Baptist Church’s pastor, Bruce Frank. Biltmore is a multi-site church based in Arden. Cindy Johnson (cindyjohnson.org) served as the day’s worship leader. She is a member of Old Town Baptist Church, where the event was held.
 

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BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Ladies participate in a song with motions during Equipping Day for ministers’ wives March 28 at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.

Litton discussed the need for Southern Baptists to have a strong theology of suffering, especially for ministers’ wives. Litton is a two-time pastor’s wife. She was married to Rick Ferguson for more than 20 years before he died in a car accident in 2002. In 2009, she married Ed Litton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, asked her to come on board to help minister to the wives of pastors, church planters and missionaries.
 
Litton stressed the importance of words.
 
“Men are big and strong … but they can’t absorb the words when she cuts him down,” she said. “God has entrusted you with this … influence. You and I get an opportunity to be stewards.”
 
Litton referred to Genesis 3, 2 Samuel and Proverbs 31 when talking about the powerful influence women have.
 
“Far more than you can possibly realize, your husband longs for your affirmation,” she said. “Do not underestimate your power.”
 
She shared five things to create positive influence: vibrant, spiritual passion; godly character; a healthy biblical love; shared vision; and godly wisdom.
 
Litton considers character as Christlikeness, truthfulness, kindness and generous, as well as being responsible, unwavering and hardworking.
 

 

“Partner with him on the highs and lows,” she said. “When he knows you’re on his team, that brings him great security and great support.
 
“Do you realize how many times a week your husband has to make decisions that require godly wisdom? Ministry is always very murky. There are a lot of voices that speak into his life.
 

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“Men do not thrive in an atmosphere of negativity,” Litton said. “They will shut down and withdraw.”
Litton also tackled the topic of sex.
 
“Our whole society is broken about sex,” Litton said. “You’re not going to hear those realities from the culture about what sex is intended to be.”
 
She stressed the importance of holding high what God meant marriage to be: between one woman and one man. She stressed the need for communication between husband and wife in this area.

 
Battling burnout

Frank tackled the topics of burnout and parenting.
 
In her “Battling Burnout” session, Frank stressed that burnout remains the number one “threat to your husband’s legacy” while pastor’s wives’ face washout.
 
“We burn out when we serve in the flesh,” Frank said. “If you’re spending yourself for the Kingdom of God but you’re spending the finite part of you, you will become exhausted.”
 
But ladies will wash out when they withdraw. “Sometimes ministry is grubby,” she said.
“Sometimes people say things that hurt you … we build hedges around our lives; we’re afraid to be vulnerable; we’re afraid to be authentic.”
 
Other mistakes include failing to sow, sowing in poor soil or disconnecting from your calling.
She encouraged the ladies to take a healing Sabbath by being present, restored and renewed.
“You need a Sabbath,” said Frank as she encouraged the ladies to make their priority “the glory of His name and the sake of the gospel. Everything else is just fluff.”
 
Frank shared that the women did not owe anyone transparency but they do “owe everybody authenticity.”
She stressed that the legacy of someone’s life is built for the long haul. Women need to partner with their husbands to set boundaries within ministry.
 

Fearless parenting

Frank admits a fear of raising “bratty” preacher’s kids.
 
“I didn’t want to mess my kids up,” she said. “Whether our children are in our home or out on their own, we can trust God fearlessly with their welfare spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. Parenting is a stewardship of love for the glory of God.”
 
Frank encouraged the women to not “let the devil get to you with that ‘mommy guilt.’ You’re going to find something to feel bad about. We just really need to support each other.”
 
Women should look for evidence of God’s power, take God at His Word and step into action, Frank said.
“Your family is a picture of the gospel in human form,” she said. “A marriage is a gospel presentation. Everyone in your neighborhood is watching.”
 
Embrace also has events planned in the fall, including a mission trip to Boston (deadline to apply is May 1), discipleship training and a women’s retreat.
 
Visit embracenc.org for more information; click on “Events.”

4/7/2015 1:22:30 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



Baptist Sandy rebuild continues after two years

April 7 2015 by Laura Sikes, North American Mission Board

Two and a half years after Superstorm Sandy struck, Jim and Ena Clark, of Long Beach, N.Y., are working to get into their new home with the help of Southern Baptist volunteers.
 
Sandy’s storm surge lifted and shifted their home of 35 years off its foundation.
 
The couple watched as the ocean water rushed up their street and evacuated their home to spend the night on higher ground at a neighbor’s house. The water quickly receded but the whole beach community was flooded.
 
“In just a few minutes, all the damage was done,” Clark said.
 
The home was condemned and demolished and the couple decided to build a new home but exhausted their funds and insurance before finishing mostly just interior construction.

 
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NAMB photo by Laura Sikes
Makayla Campbell (left), crew chief Robert Puttoff (center) and Amber Wilcox put in insulation under Jim Clark’s Long Beach, N. Y., home. Puttoff, a member of First Christian Church of Frankfort, Ky., worked with the Eastern Kentucky University BCM students as part of the Sandy Rebuild initiative in New York during the last week of March 2015.

In March, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) collegiate teams and other volunteers from Tennessee, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York and Ohio worked to put in insulation and hang sheetrock.
 
Clark said he is impressed with the way the volunteers work and finds them to be “a real God send. They are some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. They come in and they go to work.”
 
Students have also served during the response phase working from Staten Island in December of 2012 and during their winter breaks in 2013 and 2014 in the recovery and rebuild phase.
 
“This is the third spring break that students have come to New York to serve families affected by Sandy,” said Fritz Wilson, executive director for Disaster Relief at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “It is amazing to see the passion college students have for serving families with physical help as well as sharing the hope of the gospel two and a half years after Sandy impacted Long Island,” Wilson said.
 
“The collegiates are dedicated and focused and many have returned to work two and three times. They closed out 11 jobs in March,” said Sandy Rebuild Project Coordinator Bill Johnson.
 
The initiative is a partnership that includes NAMB and North Carolina Baptists on Mission working in cooperation with the Baptist Convention of New York, Metro New York Baptist Association, New Jersey Net and local churches throughout North America to repair and help restore communities physically and spiritually.
 
While Johnson says the project has been blessed with the number of volunteers so far, he emphasizes the current need as the work has progressed for volunteers with construction and home repair skills, such as drywall, insulation, sheetrock finishing and light carpentry skills.
 
“The primary need is for skilled construction crew leaders for volunteers who are committed for the rest of spring and into August when the work will wind down,” he said.
 
In March, 305 college students served giving 10,696 volunteer hours. They came from 16 states including: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
 
Johnson said people still are requesting help with most coming from referrals from outside caseworkers. Most of them in need are elderly, widows or widowers, who are living alone in deteriorated homes. They did not seek help early on through various programs and fell through the cracks, he said.
 
Johnson and his wife, Donna, have served with SBDR since the day after Sandy struck with its storm surge bringing up to eight feet of water in some areas which damaged thousands of homes along the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The couple, who are members of Liberty Missionary Baptist Church in Cannonsburg, Ky., first served with Incident Command in New York and now work out of New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip, New York. The college has housed SBDR volunteers in its dormitories since January 2014.
 
The college and The American Red Cross helped make resources available for the work to continue through August 2015. Community leaders upon learning that SBDR was planning to leave at the end of 2014 requested the team to stay on, said Wilson.
 
“It’s an affirmation that we are an effective organization in doing this kind of work,” said Wilson.
 
“This has been an amazing experience. We’re trying to thank them for all that they are doing, and they’re thanking us for letting them come in and help. We’ve actually had volunteers cry when they leave because the work is not finished,” said Clark.
 
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.
 
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. To learn more about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit baptistrelief.org.)


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4/7/2015 11:41:17 AM by Laura Sikes, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments



Going global: LifeWay gains momentum overseas

April 7 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources

“LifeWay is the largest provider of Christian content in the world,” Craig Featherstone says. “Yet the majority of everything we produce stays in the United States.”
 
That’s something Featherstone is working to change as director of LifeWay Global Resources.
 
With the church’s growth in places like India, China and Brazil, Featherstone believes evangelicals worldwide could benefit from resources that LifeWay can provide.
 
LifeWay has had an overseas presence for decades, but that work has increased in recent years. Currently LifeWay resources are available in 76 countries and more than 40 languages.
 

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That will jump to 155 countries in the next few months through expanded digital content, with churches and customers able to buy LifeWay resources at a local price, using local currency.
 
In India via digital format, customers will be able to buy any product of B&H Publishers, LifeWay’s trade books division, from online retailer Flipkart.com. Churches in South Africa, meanwhile, can utilize Amazon to order products.
 
Other growth will take place the old-fashioned way – by building close ties to local churches and Christian leaders.
 
In China, for example, LifeWay works with a Christian company called ZDL to distribute Christian resources. Some of the content has been translated from English and some was originally written in Chinese.
 
LifeWay also has started a new company to work in China known as Zhen Dao – “the true way” – to distribute materials such as a book on marriage that a Chinese pastor could write.
 
Finding a sustainable ministry and financial model remains is one of the key challenges in working globally.
 
People, no matter where they live, need biblical solutions, said Brad Waggoner, executive vice president of the parent company LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The key is making sure those resources fit the local context and the local churches’ needs and that they are sustainable.
 
Still, Waggoner said, LifeWay is committed to finding models that work.
 
Globalization and the digital revolution make it easier for LifeWay to carry out its mission. It’s an opportunity to live out the Great Commission, he said.
 
“You can’t say you’re a good steward of the opportunity – and only be concerned about North America,” Waggoner said. “Working overseas to strengthen churches is part of LifeWay’s mission.”
 
Developing close ties with local churches and in-country distributors is one way to build a sustainable model. LifeWay staff members have led training events for overseas distributors on how to develop ties with pastors and church leaders, and they’ve gone to pastors’ conferences overseas to help put those lessons into practice.
 
And there are plans to move some production overseas, closer to the markets where international customers live.
 
“A major part of our strategy will be working with in-country providers in places where the Gospel is exploding,” Featherstone said. “We want to help churches in those countries get the content and resources they need. We can’t just export an American model.”
 
LifeWay Global Resources also will develop new content from international authors.
 
“We have acquired authors from Latin America, and we are starting to acquire authors in India – we think God is raising up voices around the world,” Featherstone said.
 
Luis Lopez, director of LifeWay Espanol church resources, noted that LifeWay Global Resources is a channel by which “God is doing something very special around the world, raising disciples in all nations. It is exciting to join Him in serving His church globally.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana, a former writer with LifeWay Christian Resources, is now senior news editor for Christianity Today. Carol Pipes is LifeWay Communications’ manager of editorial services at LifeWay Christian Resources. This article first appeared in LifeWay’s employee magazine LifeLines.)
 

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4/7/2015 11:33:08 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Southeastern hosts Sabbath Rest and Flourishing Conference

April 7 2015 by SEBTS Communications

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted the Sabbath Rest and Flourishing conference on March 23-24 in partnership with Blessed Earth, an organization dedicated to serving God and caring for his creation.
 
Matthew Sleeth, executive director of Blessed Earth, was the keynote speaker at the event, which consisted of five learning sessions, musical worship and periodic discussion time.
 
Sleeth opened his address by giving his testimony. He came to faith in his late 40’s after years of “practicing the American religion, which is to have a good life; be successful; live in a good neighborhood; pay your bills; get more.”

 
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SEBTS Photo
At the Sabbath Rest and Flourishing Conference at SEBTS a discussion was moderated by (from left) Daniel Akin that included Matthew Sleeth, Mark Liederback and Larry Trotter.

Not long after he became a Christian, Sleeth’s family became believers. “My children began to come to church with me to humor me,” Sleeth said. “Eventually all my family became followers of the Lord.”
 
As he read through the Bible, Sleeth began to see the importance of the Sabbath day, and shortly after that, the Sleeth family began keeping a Sabbath.
 
Sleeth explained that remembering the Sabbath is not only one of the Ten Commandments, but it is deeply connected to many of the others as well.
 
When Christians go to church, they are acknowledging God’s lordship and praising his name. When families share a meal and spend time together, they are honoring their father and mother and protecting their marriage against adultery.
 
“A great thing about Sabbath that can’t be explained but can only be experienced, is that by keeping it the Lord grows stronger in me,” Sleeth said. “That is a great thing.”
 
Sleeth then touched on the church’s cultural shift away from Sabbath-keeping during his lifetime.
 
“Somebody wants to take this away from us,” he said. “Somebody wants to take families and naps and marriages that function away, and it’s the devil. That’s what we’re fighting here.”
 
Participants also watched videos from the 24/6 curriculum developed by Sleeth to encourage Christians to find rest in a 24/7 world.
 
Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS, moderated a Monday night panel discussion featuring Sleeth, Mark Liederbach, dean of students and professor of theology, ethics and culture at SEBTS and Larry Trotter, pastor of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, N.C.
 
The participants discussed what Sabbath-keeping means to them, the dangerous ways Christians often think about the Sabbath and whether Sabbath-keeping is a requirement or a recommendation.
 
“There’s a sense in which it’s the wrong question to ask if a commandment is a requirement or a recommendation,” Liederbach said. “In God’s greatness we should understand that when he gives commands he’s doing it not to keep us from something, but to do something for us, to provide for us, to protect us and to shape our character.”
 
Trotter emphasized the American church’s tendency to miss the spirit of Sabbath-keeping.
 
“It’s not like you can take a Sabbath day and then live six like the kingdom of God depends upon you,” Trotter said. “So one of the things we do on Sabbath is to trust God with unfinished work. Then to learn to live a pace of life that is an expression of that trust the other six days.”
 
Akin built on this idea, drawing from Matthew 11:28 where Jesus calls the weary to rest.
 
“From beginning to end, the call to follow Christ is a call to rest in Him” Akin said. “To rest in his perfect work; to rest in his power; to rest in his strength; to rest in his forgiveness. We’re going to work hard, but we’re not going to burn out if we’re doing it in his strength.”

4/7/2015 11:27:55 AM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



GuideStone honored with Lipper Fund awards

April 7 2015 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

Lipper Fund Awards has honored GuideStone Financial Resources for the fourth consecutive year, recognizing the Southern Baptist entity’s Extended-Duration Bond Fund in two categories of excellence.
 
During the March 31 awards ceremony, hosted by The Wall Street Journal and Investment News, GuideStone Funds was recognized for the second consecutive year as the Best Fund Over 3 Years and the Best Fund Over 5 Years in the Corporate Debt A-Rated Funds category. This marks the fifth and sixth Lipper trophies for GuideStone Funds in the past four years.

 
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In 2012, GuideStone Funds was honored as the Best Overall Small Fund Family in the U.S., ranking No. 1 out of 182 fund families with up to $40 billion in assets. In 2013, the MyDestination 2025 Fund was ranked No. 1 out of 92 Mixed-Asset Target Date 2025 funds.
 
GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins said the Lipper recognition is well-timed as GuideStone seeks to meet the increasing demand for investment products that align with Christian principles.
 
“We are honored, once again, with this national Lipper recognition, distinguishing GuideStone from all of its peers,” Hawkins said.
 
“As we developed our investment products, we wanted to ensure they always reflected the values of the pastors and other church and ministry workers we served, while not sacrificing performance. As these industry recognitions have drawn new interest from other investors, we believe we have demonstrated success to that vision of performance and values, to God’s glory and for the benefit of our participants.”
 
John R. Jones, who serves as president of GuideStone Funds and chief operating officer of GuideStone Financial Resources, said “engineering a repeat performance is difficult.” He noted, “To have the Extended-Duration Bond Fund recognized by Lipper two years in a row is a fitting testament to our investment approach and the outstanding team that puts it into practice.”
 
Ron Dugan, chief strategic investment officer at GuideStone Financial Resources, said the award “bears testimony to the diligent work of the GuideStone Funds team and the investment sub-advisors who work on behalf of our investors and participants.”
 
“We are humbled by the award and see it as reflective of the work we undertake each and every day on behalf of our participants,” he said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head for denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on GuideStone Funds, visit guidestone.org.)

4/7/2015 11:18:50 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments



LifeWay global reach fuels former rock star wannabe

April 7 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources

As a college student in the early 1980s, Craig Featherstone dreamt of becoming a rock star. His band Chezwick – named for a character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – played gigs across the Southeast, from small town bars to Atlanta’s Fox Theater.
 
Among their favorites to play were songs by Aerosmith, Bad Company and the Led Zeppelin, particular the latter’s classic, “Stairway to Heaven.”
 
“We just crushed it,” Featherstone said. “I wanted to be the new Robert Plant.”
 
But his musical ambitions were derailed by a summer spent selling Bibles door-to-door in Mississippi.
 
A friend convinced him to give it a try, though Featherstone – now director of LifeWay Global Resources – didn’t have much interest in matters of faith at the time. He’d grown up Catholic but never had any personal discipleship.

 
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Craig Featherstone finds time for family – in this case, grandson Hudson – amid his work as director of LifeWay Global Resources, which is gaining momentum in making discipleship resources available in India, China and other overseas markets.

Still, he thought he could make a few dollars selling Bibles with his friend. As it turned out, the experience changed his life.
 
During training with the Varsity Company, then part of Thomas Nelson, Featherstone learned sales techniques and some details about the Bibles he’d be selling. But he was also introduced to the gospel.
 
The head of the program talked about his own faith during the training, which intrigued Featherstone, then a student at Auburn University in Alabama.
 
“He talked a lot about what real success in life was about,” Featherstone said of the message that stuck with him as he sold Bibles over the summer.
 
He’d been plopped down in Columbia, Miss., with a faux-leather case of Bible and resources to knock on at least 50 doors a day. The job was commission-based; the first week, he worked 92 hours and made $140.
 
“You figure in how much money I spent on gas and food and rent, and I lost money my first week,” he said.
 
But Featherstone had a knack for selling. Many of the people he talked with wanted a Bible for their own personal study or to pass on to a family member. Some wanted to buy an abridged encyclopedia that Varsity also sold to help their kids in school.
 
“I learned to attach sales to things that people needed,” Featherstone said.
 
What struck him, however, was the hospitality and kindness of some of the people he met. Many invited him to have something to eat or to visit their church. One of them was the pastor of a small Pentecostal church who invited Featherstone to sing at a revival meeting even though he wasn’t a believer.
 
“There I was, in this tiny Pentecostal church, singing ‘Sail On’ by the Imperials,” he recounted. “They had to teach it to me before the service.”
 
By the end of the summer, Featherstone had become one of the program’s most successful salesmen. And he was ready to accept Christ.
 
Back at Auburn, he joined the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ. The Navigators taught him to love the Bible while Campus Crusade taught him the importance of evangelism. Those two themes, along with the skills he learned selling Bibles door-to-door, shaped his career.
 
Featherstone worked at an ad agency in Atlanta, serving Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola and Christian ministries like Focus on the Family. That led to a marketing job at Thomas Nelson.
 
While at Nelson, he worked on a project called Voices of the Faithful, a series of daily devotions written by International Mission Board missionaries and edited by Beth Moore. That project opened his eyes to the work of the church overseas. Before then, Featherstone hadn’t cared much about missions.
 
“The Lord used that to soften my heart,” he said.
 
About 10 years ago, Featherstone came to LifeWay to work with its B&H Publishers trade books division. One of his hopes was to help expand LifeWay’s international presence.
 
His experience selling Bibles door-to-door is still paying off. In those early days, he talked with Christians of all kinds, from Presbyterians to Pentecostals, which he credits for preparing him to serve Christians around the world.
 
“Most Christians in the world are neither Southern nor Baptists,” Featherstone said, but they still need the biblical resources LifeWay provides.
 
Featherstone, who is 53, didn’t give up music completely after leaving Chezwick. He continued to lead worship for years and still enjoys singing. But he’s happy in his work and in spending time with his family. He and his wife Kathy, who’ve been married 29 years, have three grown children and a pair of grandsons.
 
“At our house, we say we’re living the dream.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana, a former writer with LifeWay Christian Resources, is now senior news editor for Christianity Today. This article first appeared in LifeLines, the employee magazine for the SBC entity.)
 

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4/7/2015 11:09:37 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Proposed shift in Ind. religion law draws fire

April 6 2015 by Gregory Tomlin & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Indiana legislators have drafted an amendment to the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) specifically stating that no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
The new language would exempt churches and religious organizations from the definition of “provider,” which means churches will not be compelled to use their facilities for same-sex marriages, and pastors will not be compelled to officiate the ceremonies. Christian business owners, however, presumably would be required to provide services if asked.
 
The move comes after days of criticism from businesses, the NCAA, left-leaning politicians and gay rights groups who alleged the RFRA signed by Gov. Mike Pence gave legal sanction to discrimination against homosexuals. Pence said the bill only created a mechanism for the courts to test claims of conscience against state actions that could be seen as imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.
 
Tim Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., said in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) April 2 that a guarantee of protected religious speech was what Christians were looking for in the original bill.

 
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Indiana Supreme Court House

“I think most Americans would agree a pastor like myself should not be compelled by government to use my speech to support someone else’s perspective” regarding religious beliefs, Overton said.
 
“And I think that has parallels to the cake maker. The cake maker is using his or her artistic ability to make a cake, and that cake communicates something. I think that cake is speech and it says, ‘We celebrate this union.’ And to force someone who doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage is correct in the eyes of God – I just don’t think they should be forced or compelled by government to use their speech to support someone else’s perspective.”
 
That is why, Overton said, the RFRA was needed in the first place. As “gay rights is on the ascendancy” the state is going to have to find a way to protect religious liberty, he said.
 
“It is wise for the legislature of a state or the nation – as has already been done – to say if government is going to interfere in religious liberty, they need to have a very good reason to do that. They need to meet the compelling interest test. Then, if they meet it, they need to do it in the least restrictive means necessary.”
 
The audio and transcript of the Overton interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” can be accessed at npr.org/2015/04/02/396976011.
 
Criticism of the proposed amendment mounted during the day April 2, most notably from two of the nation’s leading religious liberty advocacy organizations.
 
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the “proposed ‘fix’ to Indiana’s RFRA” is “unnecessary.”
 
“Our country has had over 20 years of experience with RFRAs and we know what they do: They provide crucial protections to religious minorities,” Rienzi said in a statement.
 
“The key disagreement,” he noted, “is over what should happen in a very small class of cases where individuals are asked to participate in a same-sex wedding in violation of their religious beliefs. In that situation, there are two possibilities: 1) Our government can drive religious people out of business, fine them and possibly even imprison them or 2) our government can say that these religious people deserve a day in court, and that courts should carefully balance religious liberty with other competing values. The original RFRA would give people their day in court; the proposed ‘fix’ would be a green light for driving religious people out of business. Our society should not settle this issue by punishing religious people before they even have their day in court.”
 
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the Indiana measure is “a good law ... Surrendering to deception and economic blackmail never results in good policy.”
 
Indiana’s RFRA “does not pick winners or losers but allows courts to weigh the government’s and people’s interests fairly and directs judges to count the cost carefully when freedom is stake,” Waggoner said in a statement. “The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country.
 
In an early morning press conference April 2, Speaker of the Indiana House Brian Bosma, said changes to the RFRA were necessary because “what was intended as a message of inclusion – inclusion of all religious beliefs – was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT community.”
 
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, said the law was intended to provide a standard of strict scrutiny in cases where there were potential violations of religious liberty. But for many, he said, the timing of the law created a different perception. The revised language being introduced will “unequivocally state that Indiana’s law does not and will not be able to discriminate against anyone, anywhere at any time.”
 
Long also said the “calamity” and subsequent proposed amendment had shown that “religious rights and individual rights can coexist in harmony.”
 
Gay rights advocates, however, have said they will press for more changes to state law because the changes to the RFRA do not officially recognize homosexuals as a “protected class.”
 
According to the Indianapolis Star, any new legislation creating a protected class for homosexuals would be a bridge too far for Republican legislators this term. It also would not be logistically possible. In the press conference, Long said any addition to the state’s civil rights law would be a major policy shift and could not be accomplished this late in the legislative session.
 
Long said, however, that the discussion about adding LGBT as a protected class in the state’s civil rights statute “has begun whether Hoosiers want to have it or not.”
 
In fact, in the legislature’s conference committee later in the morning, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Timothy Lanane, and Rep. Linda Lawson, both argued that the RFRA should be repealed in favor of a law that adds full civil rights protections for a homosexual class. Lawson said the RFRA “is a mess,” as is the proposed amendment to the law.
 
Rep. Dave Frizzell, said he and members of his caucus would not support repeal and would place a new bill on religious liberty within the context of a discussion about homosexuals being made a protected class under Indiana’s civil rights code.
 
“If you want to have the discussion about protected status, we can do that, but not in this bill,” Frizzell said. He also said he and the other legislators with Christian convictions would continue to pray and seek guidance because “we all love the Lord and want to do what is right.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas; Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)
 

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4/6/2015 12:43:44 PM by Gregory Tomlin & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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