News

Website to aid foster care, adoption in Kentucky

June 29 2016 by Kentucky Today Staff

A new website aims to make it easier for Kentucky parents to navigate the foster care and adoption process.
 
“Every child deserves a loving home,” First Lady Glenna Bevin said in unveiling the adopt.ky.gov website with Kentucky Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson.


Bevin said her office worked closely with the state’s Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) to create a website to clearly show each step in becoming a foster or adoptive parent – at no additional taxpayer expense.
 
The Bevins have nine children, and four are adopted. Bevin has said that her top priority as first lady is child and family advocacy.
 
Glisson said the new website is an important first step toward making the adoption process less stressful and confusing.
 
“For prospective parents wanting to complete their ‘forever families,’ the steps of adopting can seem endless,” Glisson said. “This improved website is meant to make the process understandable from the start by explaining options and providing contacts to ask for help.”
 
According to DCBS, about 8,100 children are in Kentucky foster care, and many of them are awaiting adoption.
 
“Foster care is meant to be a temporary setting until families can be safely reunified,” DCBS Commissioner Adria Johnson said. “But when children cannot return home, we work to find loving, permanent homes for them. This new website has revitalized the entry point for families to learn about opening their hearts and homes to a vulnerable child.”
 
The new site, unveiled June 8, also includes regional contact information and a link to the Special Needs Adoption Program photo search database where families can use criteria like gender, age and siblings to search the listings of children awaiting adoption.
 
“It’s important that families seeking to adopt find the child match who is right for them.” Johnson said. “This initial database search, with guidance from DCBS caseworkers, can help parents find children who are a good fit for their families.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

6/29/2016 8:22:12 AM by Kentucky Today Staff | with 0 comments



Jamaica missionaries’ slaying draws murder charge

June 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Local authorities have charged one man and named another a “person of interest” in the April 30 murders of two American missionaries in Jamaica.
 
Andre Thomas, 25, was charged with murder and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition in connection with the deaths of Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols, the Jamaica Constabulary Force reported June 23 in a news release. Thomas was arrested in early June and also faces unrelated charges under Jamaica’s Sexual Offenses Act, according to the release.

Contributed photo
An arrest has been made in the April 30 murder of missionary Randy Hentzel (back, center) in Jamaica.


Law enforcement officials have designated Dwight Henry, 25, a person of interest and asked him to contact detectives June 24. Anyone with information about Henry’s whereabouts has been asked to contact the authorities.
 
Missionaries with the Pennsylvania-based Teams for Medical Missions, Hentzel, 48, was a member of First Family Church in Ankeny, Iowa, a Southern Baptist congregation, and Nichols, 53, was a member of East Randolph (N.Y.) United Methodist Church.
 
First Family pastor Todd Stiles told Baptist Press, “After reading the report [of Thomas’ arrest], my heart was gladdened that justice appears to be moving in the right direction. ... The family has found their solace in the Lord, and so while I’m confident they’re glad to see the authorities working on their behalf, I know the ultimate peace they have is in their Savior.”
 
Hentzel and Nichols were slain in a remote, rural area of Jamaica. The two men went for a motorcycle ride at approximately 8 a.m., and Hentzel’s body was found hours later beside a motorcycle in some bushes, according to an initial news release from the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Nichols’ body was found the next day in a separate area.
 
A May 3 release from the Jamaica Constabulary Force indicated Hentzel died of a gunshot would while Nichols’ body had a gunshot wound and “chop wounds.”
 
St. Mary parish, where the deaths occurred, is a region known for violence, according to media reports.

6/29/2016 8:16:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mosque-building satirical rumor exposed as lie

June 28 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A rumor promulgated by satirical news-like websites and blogs that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and at least one cooperating state convention are building Islamic mosques is being exposed as a lie.
 
The self-proclaimed “Christian apocalyptic … news satire and parody site” The End Times wrote perhaps the first posting of the false report as early as May 28 when it claimed the SBC had launched a “Mosques Across America” campaign “to build mosques all across the nation in order to help foster religious tolerance and a general sense of niceness towards all.”
 
As the satire gained momentum, The End Times in a June 16 follow-up proclaimed that “Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, who recently changed his name to Muhammad Hussein Warren in order to help advance the Chrislamic cause and promote his new book, The Purpose-Driven Mosque, had nothing but praise for the new SBC mosque-building initiative.”
 
The satirical posts were reposted as fact and subsequently generated questions to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee offices, who are clarifying that the posts are indeed lies.
 
“The Southern Baptist Convention promotes planting and building soul-winning Baptist churches that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the one and only means of salvation,” SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page said in a press statement. “Neither the Convention nor any of its entities promotes building houses of worship for any other religious group.”
 
The satirical posts were likely a parody based on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) and the International Mission Board’s decision to sign an amicus brief in support of the religious liberty rights of a Muslim community to build a mosque in Bernards Township, N.J., Page said.
 
“This controversy stems from a satirical website that falsely characterized an amicus (friend of the court) brief filed by the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as an endorsement of building mosques,” Page said. “Concerned that infringement of the rights of one will affect the rights of all, ERLC President Russell Moore responded to a messenger’s question at the SBC annual meeting that the ERLC brief seeks to defend the right of all religious groups to construct their own houses of worship, saying that when the religious liberty of one group is assaulted, the religious liberty of all is threatened.”
 
The trumped-up story also generated queries to the Baptist and Reflector, the newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, where Executive Director Randy Davis responded in a June 23 editorial.
 
“Neither the Southern Baptist Convention nor the Tennessee Baptist Convention has ever built a mosque, and will never build a mosque,” Davis wrote. “However, let me emphatically state that my prayer is that the gospel of Jesus Christ would sweep through the Muslim community in Tennessee and around the world and empty every mosque because those dear people have had an encounter with the Living God. Would it be that every mosque would become a house of worship lifting up the name of Isa – Jesus in Arabic.
 
“Brothers and sisters, if Southern Baptists are to be guilty of giving Muslims anything, may we be guilty of freely and frequently giving them the sin-forgiving, life-saving, soul-awaking hope found exclusively in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 

6/28/2016 9:06:06 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Court strikes down abortion provider regulations

June 28 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down June 27 a state legislature’s effort to hold abortion providers responsible for the protection of women who use their services.
 
In a 5-3 opinion, the high court ruled portions of a Texas law that regulate abortion doctors and clinics constitute an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abort her child and are therefore unconstitutional. The high court’s reversal of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans invalidated a requirement an abortion clinic must meet the health and safety standards of other walk-in surgical centers. It also nullified a section mandating an abortion doctor must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in case a woman needs emergency admission.
 
The decision leaves uncertain the future of similar abortion provider regulations in nearly half of the states.
 
Pro-life advocates expressed deep disappointment with the opinion.
 
The ruling “stands on the wrong side of justice, the wrong side of human dignity, and the wrong side of the gospel,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
The opinion “essentially leaves the abortion industry unregulated in a kind of Wild West, laissez faire sort of situation ... that we wouldn’t allow for any other industry,” Moore said. “Keeping abortion providers accountable should not be a political wedge issue.”
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said, “Being pro-life means wanting what is best for women and babies. Because of the decision today, beauty parlors, veterinarian clinics and public pools will be held to higher sanitary and health standards than abortion clinics.
“This is not pro-woman,” she said in a written statement. “Women and babies are the real losers of today’s decision.”
 
Twenty-two states have enacted laws that require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges and/or transfer agreements with hospitals, according to the National Right to Life Committee. The number of states that have requirements for abortion clinics similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers is also 22, the Guttmacher Institute has reported.
 
Steven Aden, senior counsel for the pro-life Alliance Defending Freedom, said the defense of such laws would be fought on a case-by-case basis.
 
“Each case has its own facts. The facts in this case were fairly complicated,” Aden told reporters in a news conference call. “Each case will stand or fall on its own facts, but the bottom line is that the cases where the states can establish that this is done for the purpose of protecting women and there remains what the other side calls ‘access for abortion,’ we’ll succeed.”
 
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided an ominous message regarding state regulations in an opinion concurring with the court’s decision. She said laws such as the Texas measure that target abortion providers and do not protect women’s health “cannot survive judicial inspection.”
 
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote in divisive cases, joined the court’s liberal bloc – Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ginsburg – in the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
 
Had the justices split 4-4, the Fifth Circuit ruling would have been upheld in its jurisdiction, but it would not have established a precedent or been controlling in the rest of the states. The Fifth Circuit consists of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The court has only eight justices because of the February death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
 
In its past abortion decision-making, the high court has permitted states to regulate aspects of abortion practice to protect the lives and health of women. The standard provided by the justices in determining whether a restriction is constitutional is whether a law is an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. The justices adopted that test in their 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion.
 
In the majority opinion, Breyer said neither of the Texas provisions “offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”
 
“Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access,” and each violates the U.S. Constitution, Breyer wrote.
 
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the high court appeared to return to its pre-Casey days in its latest abortion ruling.
 
After its 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the court “exhibited extreme hostility to regulation of abortion as a medical procedure,” Tobias said in a written release. “However, in its 1992 Casey decision, the Court turned a corner, rejecting the idea of it being ‘the country’s ex officio medical board.’ Today, they reversed course and decided that they know better than representatives duly elected by the people of the United States.”
 
Abortion-rights supporters applauded the ruling.
 
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, described it as “a great day for women, for our commitment to our Constitution, and for the values of freedom and dignity that all Americans hold dear. The Supreme Court has powerfully reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about her health, family and future, no matter her zip code.”

After Texas enacted the law in 2013, the number of abortion clinics in the state dropped from about 40 to about 20. It was expected the number would fall to fewer than 10 had the high court upheld the law, which required an abortion doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
 
Breyer wrote, “[I]n the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities.”
 
Hogue said the high court’s decision will permit “the remaining clinics in Texas to keep their doors open, and it paves the way for new clinics to open and meet the needs of the millions of women in underserved areas of Texas.”
 
In his dissent, Thomas said the court’s opinion “perpetuates the Court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights – especially the putative right to abortion.”
 
“Whatever scrutiny the majority applies to Texas’ law, it bears little resemblance to the undue-burden test the Court articulated in [Casey] and its successors,” Thomas wrote. “Instead, the majority eviscerates important features of that test to return to a regime like the one that Casey repudiated.”
 
Supporters of the Texas legislation frequently cited the trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell in advocating for the bill in 2013. In mid-May of that year, a jury convicted Gosnell of the first-degree murder of three born-alive babies, as well as 21 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gosnell, 72, received three consecutive life sentences without parole for the murder convictions. State officials found unsafe and horribly unsanitary conditions in his clinic.
 
In his opinion, Breyer acknowledged Gosnell’s behavior “was terribly wrong” but said “there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.”
 
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said, “We have documented page after page of incidents of abuse, negligence and brutality [in abortion clinics] since 2008. This decision means the filth and exploitation will continue unchecked.”

Moore said, “This ruling is further proof how much more work the pro-life movement has to do in the cause of life and human dignity.”
 
The ERLC and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention joined four other groups in a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the justices to affirm the Texas law. The Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention signed onto another brief in support of the requirements.
 

6/28/2016 8:59:53 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Brexit’ vote draws response from Baptist analysts

June 28 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Though the United Kingdom’s vote June 23 to leave the European Union took many political observers by surprise, leaders at GuideStone Financial Resources and the Southern Baptist Foundation say they’ve had the referendum in view for months and have taken steps to protect Southern Baptist investors from the resultant market volatility.
 
Meanwhile, Christian commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have weighed in on the “Brexit” – as Britain’s E.U. exit has been dubbed – with opinions divided and calls for believers to help bring unity to the U.K.
 
Thursday’s referendum yielded a 52-percent majority favoring an E.U. exit, various media outlets reported. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued strongly the U.K. should remain in the E.U., resigned today June 24, saying, “I do not think I can be the captain to take the country to its next destination,” The Telegraph reported. A full exit from the 28-nation coalition could take up to two years.
 
The election results led the world’s stock markets to lose a combined $2 trillion in value Friday, Reuters reported.
 
David Spika, GuideStone Capital Management global investment strategist, told Baptist Press (BP) Southern Baptist retirement investors should not adjust their portfolios in response to the market drops.
 
“Right now the absolute best thing to do is just be patient and let the dust settle,” Spika said. “There are too many things that are unknown. You never want to react to short-term volatility as a result of uncertainty. That’s the worst course of action.”
 
Markets “weakened somewhat” in early June, Spika explained, “on fears that the leave vote would prevail” and Europe’s economy would experience added instability. Earlier this week, markets rallied when polls indicated the remain side had pulled ahead. The unexpected election outcome then led to a drop.
 
Long-term economic results of the Brexit vote are uncertain, Spika said, and diversification of GuideStone’s funds minimizes the effect any long-term downturn would have on retirement accounts.
 
The Brexit “has been something we’ve been discussing,” Spika said. But “there really wasn’t anything that we felt like we needed to do to ‘protect’ our retirement investors because we knew ... the impact on the U.S. economy would likely be negligible.
 
“We assumed there would be some volatility, but we knew that long-term investors [like] our retirement investors – as long as they stayed patient and stayed the course – they would be able to ride through the volatility. In fact, because the U.S. economy remains on solid footing, we see this as a buying opportunity at some point for U.S. investors buying U.S.-denominated asset classes,” Spika said, noting U.S. market downturns likely will reverse in the coming weeks.
 
Spika emphasized, however, that GuideStone “adds value” to retirement accounts primarily by utilizing skilled managers and diverse portfolios, not by “trying to time the market.”
 
Jim Mooney, vice president of investments at the Southern Baptist Foundation (SBF), told BP the U.K.’s impending vote played a role in SBF’s decision to continue a three-year practice of avoiding international stocks. Initially, “weakness in certain E.U. countries” was the key reason for the strategy, but a potential Brexit “has been one of the factors” considered for the past six months.
 
Of the approximately $500 million the Foundation manages in funds from individuals and organizations to benefit Southern Baptist causes, “our international exposure has been less than 1 percent and European exposure is less than one half of one percent,” Mooney said.
 
With estate gifts, Southern Baptist Convention entity endowments, church building funds, state convention agency funds and the like comprising SBF holdings, “we want to tilt on the conservative side to preserve that,” Mooney said, “because we feel like maintaining and not losing on a permanent basis any of that principal ensures that the funds are there to grow, even at a modest rate, to fund whatever cause has been designated.”
 
He added, “We view it as God’s money,” earmarked “for kingdom work.”
 

Evangelical reactions

Among evangelical commentators on the referendum, Daniel Webster, advocacy and media manager at the U.K. Evangelical Alliance, wrote in Christianity Today that believers made arguments on each side of the debate. One survey asked Christians to rate their support of a Brexit on a scale of 0-100 and found they came in at 55 on average, Webster wrote.
 
In the wake of the divisive referendum campaign, “the church must see [its] mission of reconciliation as part of the role it can play,” Webster wrote.
 
In the U.S., National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) President Jerry Johnson told BP “the British have reminded us of the responsibility of self-government and the power of the people, through the ballot box, to change course when needed.” Johnson arrived in London the day of the vote in conjunction with NRB’s Oxford Distinguished Scholars Program.
Stemming the tide of secularism and Islamic sharia law relate to the vote, Johnson said in written comments.
“The E.U. constitution is completely void of any reference to God – it is entirely secular,” Johnson said. “The British government and culture are actually based upon Judeo-Christian principles. We should pray that British Christianity will be truly revived and used by God to bring a spiritual awakening to Great Britain. America needs this kind of awakening, too.”
 
Johnson continued, “Great Britain has been forced by E.U. policy to admit large numbers of migrants from other E.U. countries, which are admitting massive numbers of Muslims. A disturbing number of these immigrants are ‘Sharia’ supremacists or Islamists. At some point, the center does not, and cannot, hold. There is a limit to how much of this kind of mass immigration a country and culture can take before the people say ‘enough is enough.’ This reality is an undercurrent in America now. It is not racism or xenophobia or un-Christian, and U.S. politicians would be wise to take note.”
 
Texas Baptist author and speaker Jim Denison urged Christians to rest in God’s sovereignty amid tumultuous world events like the Brexit.
 
“The impact of the Brexit for the U.K. and the world will unfold across coming months,” Denison wrote in a blog post. “But whatever comes of today’s news, here’s the good news: Our well-being does not depend on being well. Facing his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ Paul testified: ‘I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Jesus predicted a world filled with ‘tribulation,’ but he taught us to ‘take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:30). While ‘the world is passing away along with its desires,’ we are promised that ‘whoever does the will of God abides forever’ (1 John 2:17).
 
“A principle of sports psychology,” Denison wrote, “is to ‘control the controllables.’ I cannot control the global impact of the Brexit, but I can control my decisions and priorities.”
 

6/28/2016 8:53:00 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



West Virginia flooding prompts Southern Baptist response

June 28 2016 by Mike Ebert and Joe Conway, NAMB

Heavy rains on June 23 brought historic flooding to West Virginia, claiming at least 24 lives and 100 homes. Search and rescue continued on June 26, where state and federal officials declared disaster areas.
 
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders and volunteers have been working in the wake of the storm to aid survivors and comfort those facing the loss of family and loved ones. Several state SBDR units were mobilized June 25.

NAMB file photo
The North American Mission Board is deploying a semi-truck, similar to this one used in an earlier response, with bottled water, disinfectant used to treat homes after flooding and other resources needed to support West Virginia flood relief efforts. Flood buckets, filled with basic necessities for immediate flood recovery, are also on board.


“The strength of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is our people,” said David Melber, vice president of Send Relief for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “State SBDR leadership, local volunteers and church members, as they always do, were among the first to respond to the needs of the people in West Virginia.”
 
Sixteen people died in Greenbrier County, at least 15 of them in the town of Rainelle, according to the Associated Press (AP). Greenbrier is the only county where people were believed to still be missing Sunday.
 
NAMB’s SBDR executive director Mickey Caison reported that the coordination of aid and volunteers began before the rain stopped. Long-term recovery will follow the immediate disaster response, Caison said, noting that the incident command center, feeding and flood recovery operations for the response will be located in the Lewisburg, W.Va., area.
 
The command center will be staffed by SBDR volunteers from West Virginia, Kentucky and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). SBDR volunteers are also already responding to flooding in Virginia and Maryland.
 
NAMB is deploying a semi-truck with bottled water, disinfectant used to treat homes after flooding and other resources needed to support the effort. Flood buckets, filled with basic necessities for immediate flood recovery, are also on board.
 
The West Virginia Disaster Relief incident command and feeding unit will be housed at First Baptist Church of Fairlea in Ronceverte, W.Va. The American Red Cross has requested two SBDR mobile feeding kitchens be ready for five-day deployments. An SBCV mobile kitchen will be set up at Heritage Baptist Church in Elkview, W.Va. Teams were in route June 25 to set up the mobile kitchens.

Photo by Sam Owens, courtesy Charleston Gazette-Mail
Debris and mud are strewn around Clendenin, W.Va., after flood waters from the massive storm that hit the area on June 23 receded. The flooding killed at least 24 people across the state. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders and volunteers are already mobilized in response to aid survivors.


Caison said he expects flood recovery teams to be in full response by June 27 or June 28, which will include volunteers from Florida, Missouri, South Carolina and North Carolina. Local conditions will call for flexibility.
 
“Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes burned down, washed off foundations,” Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill, told AP. “Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
 
The disaster declarations provide people in the affected counties with individual assistance for emergency medical support, housing and a number of other immediate needs.
 
Sunday the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began accepting applications for aid from residents in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties, the three hardest hit areas in Southeast West Virginia, AP reported.
 
One of the biggest threats to homeowners after a flood is the dangerous mold that starts growing in the home. Southern Baptists have dozens of “mud-out” trailers loaded with pressure washers, disinfectant, buckets, shovels and other equipment needed to treat a home after it has been flooded. Mud, silt, damaged belongings and other debris must be removed along with any sheet rock damaged by the flooding. The process cannot start until flood waters recede and the drying-out process has begun.
 
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
 
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
 
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

6/28/2016 8:38:13 AM by Mike Ebert and Joe Conway, NAMB | with 0 comments



ERLC 2016 National Conference: Q&A with Russell Moore

June 27 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention is holding its third annual national conference Aug. 25-26 in Nashville, Tenn. The Biblical Recorder interviewed ERLC president Russell Moore by email to get a closer look at the purpose for the event, which is titled “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” The transcript below is lightly edited.
 
Q: The 2016 ERLC national conference bears the same name as your latest book, Onward. Why should Christians attend the conference rather than simply read the book?


A: The book was meant to be a conversation starter. The conference is the next level of the conversation. We’re bringing in a variety of voices of people who have been engaging culture well and in different ways, and so there will be a broad conversation of issues ranging from art and film, to politics, to community questions of dealing with people who disagree with us.
 
There will be rich content from speakers and breakout leaders at the conference and frankly, one of the things I look forward to most at our events are the hallway conversations. What I have found is God tends to do remarkable things with people who are gathering together, talking about some of the ideas they have encountered.
 
Q: “Engaging culture” is a popular topic of discussion, but there’s a wide variety of opinions as to what exactly that phrase means. It’s said to be represented by everyone from the downtown street preacher to the uptown painter to the rural voter registration assistant, and all sorts in between. What do you mean by engaging culture?
 
A: Engaging culture is something that every person does whether Christian or non-Christian. If you are not intentionally and proactively engaging the cultures around you, then those cultures are engaging you. One of the reasons we are hosting this conference is because I really believe that the most dangerous cultural issues we are facing are not the things that are being debated most fiercely on cable news or Facebook. The most dangerous cultural issues we face are the cultural issues we don’t talk about at all – either because we’ve accommodated ourselves to them or because we simply don’t know what’s happening around us, what’s coming down the pike.
 
This conference is not simply about equipping churches to better address the issues they are facing right now, it’s also purposed to serve as a kind of Paul Revere, equipping churches to think about the issues they’re not addressing right now that they will have to in the years to come. For instance, one of the biggest questions I get right now comes from youth ministry and children’s ministry over issues about adolescents who are grappling with gender identity questions. The churches are seeking how to address those very big questions in a culture where the transgender movement has become the new norm. These are the sorts of questions that we weren’t asking or preparing for even just three, four, five years ago.
 
Q: Most people do not wake up in the morning and decide to lose the gospel. Something about it seems more subtle. How can Christians begin to evaluate their beliefs and practices to remain faithful to the gospel as they engage culture?
 
A: Losing the gospel is not something most people choose to do intentionally. But if the gospel is not explicitly the priority, the gospel is eventually lost. And so I think in many cases, we engage the culture from a moral standpoint first or from a political standpoint first, and we want to affix the gospel in as one of the steps to fix the problem. That’s the wrong way to approach this.
 
We start with the understanding of what the gospel is and what it means to be on mission with Jesus Christ in carrying the gospel. So the gospel informs us about what matters and who matters, and is the starting and ending point in all of these conversations. I think the way we typically lose the gospel is to see it as a means to end.
 
That can happen very subtly, where we see the gospel as a way to make bridges stronger, or a way to make children better behaved, or a way to have a better functioning social order. Now all of those things are important and all of those things are good, but the gospel is an end in and of itself.
 
The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and He and He alone reconciles sinners to God through His shed blood and His empty tomb. And so we have to be constantly reminding ourselves of what the gospel is and how to represent that to people, and that means viewing issues through the grid of the gospel.
 
Why do people long for the things they long for? Why are people afraid of the things they are afraid of? Why are some issues really controversial? Well, the gospel explains all of that for us.
 
It explains to us why it is that we, left to ourselves, tend to shrink back from the open proclamation of the truth, and why that open proclamation of the truth is the only way that we ultimately bring about real change. Losing the gospel is something that can happen really subtly and before we know it, as the book of revelation tells us, we have lost our lampstand. In which case we have nothing to say to any culture any longer.
 
Q: Christians believe God has defeated sin, but it often feels like sin prospers in American culture. Take, for example, the crude presidential campaign of Donald Trump that has received support from millions of voters thus far. What should Christians do when they feel like giving up on cultural engagement?
 
A: As Americans we know that the American republic presupposed a certain set of virtues in the American people. When those virtues are eclipsed or challenged, self-government becomes very difficult. As Christians we know that we always live in a fallen and broken world, and we know that the answer to that is always the distinctive message of the gospel. I think that this year, as troubling as it is, might serve as a wake-up call to the church that we cannot simply outsource our witness to institutions and political movements and political parties.
 
Instead, we have to be a prophetic people willing to stand by our convictions and principles – even when those convictions and principles are not seen by others as a means to getting votes. And so I’m deeply disturbed by what we see in American political life. I think the only way that we could get to this point is with a generation habituated by pornography.
 
The coarsening and degradation of American culture is everywhere now apparent. What’s even more alarming is that there are many Christians willing to baptize that degraded pornographic culture as long as it is, “on our side.” I think that we have the opportunity to be a truly distinctive people who are willing to call for repentance across the board and to offer good news across the board.
 

6/27/2016 4:56:53 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Christian flag movement defines patriotism

June 27 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

A Bible-based movement began Sun., July 5, 2015, on the front lawn of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C. The church raised two flags on a single, newly installed flagpole as part of a unique patriotic ceremony after the morning worship service. In a break with tradition, the Christian flag was hoisted above the American flag.
 
Along with the flag-raising ceremony, the church’s senior pastor, Rit Varriale, launched the “God Before Government” (GBG) movement to call attention to the ultimate priority of the Bible – the glory of God.

Contributed photo
West Asheville Baptist Church flies the Christian flag above the American flag at its church.


The national motto of the United States, “In God we trust,” was signed into law in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Varriale said the statement acknowledges that there is a Divine Being to whom we are all accountable.
 
GBG emphasizes that Christians are accountable to God before they are accountable to any human government.
 
“If you stop and think about it, [flag etiquette] is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches us,” Varriale said. “We are first and foremost Christians who are called to serve the living God.”
 
He added, “We certainly want to respect and obey the authorities, but when the authorities start asking you to do things that violate your relationship with God, that’s when the church has to stand up and say respectfully, ‘No. God comes first.’ That’s what we have failed to do as a church.”
 
In the past year Varriale has learned that the GBG principles are consistent with the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and historic documents. The precedent was set in the U.S. Navy where the Christian pennant was to be flown above the American flag during worship services on the ship.
 
In World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the distribution of Bibles to all military personnel. The inside cover included his signature and a drawing of the American flag with the Christian pennant above it. “So here you have the president’s endorsement of putting Bibles into the hands of soldiers, sailors and airmen,” Varriale explained.
 
“In the case of the Navy, he instructed them that the only flag they can honor above the American flag is the flag that represents Christianity. For us as a church, that’s powerful because it speaks to the fact that our whole purpose is about worship. So when we fly the Christian flag above the American flag, we’re following a precedent that was set in our military.”

Contributed photo
A Navy Bible ordered to be given to sailors by President Franklin Roosevelt in World War II depicts the Christian flag above the American flag, and the text indicates this is the proper display during church services.


The GBG movement caught the attention of Stan Welch, senior pastor of West Asheville Baptist Church. Varriale and Welch knew aeach other well through their service on the board of directors of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
 
When Welch learned about Elizabeth Baptist’s flag-raising service, he said it resonated with him.
“It’s not something that is necessarily the popular thing to do,” he said.
 
“It’s not the politically correct thing to do, but I do believe it’s the biblically correct thing to do. Our nation continues to go down the tubes morally, spiritually, ethically, and in every way. If there’s anything that will jar us back, I think this is the type of movement that could gain some traction.”
 
He wanted to lead West Asheville church to join the GBG movement. Considering Varriale’s military background, pastoral leadership and knowledge of America’s historic foundations, Welch invited him to be part of a series of services that featured a different speaker each night.
 
“Rit presented the God Before Government vision and what Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby did with their flags,” said Welch. “Our people were very fired up to do this. I talked to my staff about it and they were unanimous. They said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ So I took it to the deacons to see what they think.”
 
At first a few thought it was “silly and unpatriotic” to put the Christian flag above the American flag, Welch explained. But as the deacons discussed the subject at a retreat and understood the biblical and historical values involved, “the men were unanimous that we should do this. We told the church what the deacons said, and the church applauded it.”
 
West Asheville Baptist installed a flagpole in front of their building and raised the flags on Sat., Oct. 25, 2015. The next morning Welch announced to the church that the flags were flying. “Again, there was thunderous applause,” he said.
 
Knowing that some in the community would not understand, Welch gathered some talking points to help the congregation explain the flags to others. “It’s about education,” he said. “Our people need to know where we’re coming from historically and biblically as a nation. We want to put our people’s attention on the cross, Christ and our Christian heritage.”
 
Welch said the church expected opposition, “especially in Asheville. But it’s been an opportunity to witness, and we’ve been kind to those who disagree. When you do the right thing, you don’t put your finger in the wind to see which way it’s blowing. You bring people’s attention back to the cross and to Christ. We want to continually say that we are one nation under God. When we get to heaven there will not be an American flag there.”
 
A man who opposed flying the Christian flag above the American flag wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen Times, asking if that was against the law. One of the newspaper’s editors explained it is not against the law, and the church has a right to do this. A local television station also produced a feature story that included comments from a veteran who spoke against it.
 
“We have had about four-to-one positive comments from others,” Welch said. “I can’t go a lot of places without somebody saying ‘thank you for what you’re doing.’”
 
One day a lady walked into the church office and said, “I don’t know if you know it, but your flags are reversed.”
 
Welch told her that the order of the flags was intentional. “She was a veteran and after I explained what we were doing, said she understood it. She said, ‘If our nation has a chance it will be because we turned back to God.’”
 
Welch said most veterans favor the movement. “Our veterans get it. They say, ‘As a Christian veteran, I get this.’ They understand that some will not get it, but they have no problem with it whatsoever.”
 
He would like to see more pastors stand with them in the movement. “I hope others will join us as we attempt to be unapologetically Christian first and patriots second.
 
“People do not know our history and they are confused about many things like the meaning of ‘separation of church and state,’” he added.
 
“They don’t know that the phrase was introduced 13 years after the constitution in a letter to Baptists in Danbury, Conn. They just don’t have a clue. They don’t know that the purpose is to keep the government out of the church, not the church out of government. So it is an education process.”
 

6/27/2016 4:42:50 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 2 comments



Leading change in church focus of LifeWay panel

June 27 2016 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

Leading change in a church can be difficult and must be navigated with prayer, love and patience, pastors acknowledged in a panel discussion held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
 
LifeWay Christian Resources hosted more than 800 church leaders for a free breakfast and discussion on “Leading Change in the Church.” LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer unpacked three things most leaders forget to do when leading change: begin with prayer, pray with a guiding coalition, and see crises as opportunities.

Photo by Jenna Wachsmuth
Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay’s Resources Division, moderates a LifeWay pastors’ breakfast panel on “Leading Change in the Church” during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Wednesday, June 15 in St. Louis.


“Change begins with prayer, is infused with prayer, and continues with prayer,” Rainer told leaders gathered June 15. “Many times change fails because the source and strength of power is human-centered instead of God-anointed.”
 
Rainer exhorted leaders to begin to lead change with prayer and fasting and to lead others to pray with them before they begin any changes.
 
He reminded them “every time you have a crisis, you have an opportunity to lead change. Instead of trying to solve the crisis, think about what you can do to make a positive change in the midst of the crisis.”
 
Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay’s Resources Division, moderated a panel discussion of critical issues in effectively navigating change. The panel included pastors Ron Edmondson, Immanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, Ky.; Sam Rainer, West Bradenton Baptist Church, Bradenton, Fla.; Jimmy Scroggins, Family Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Kevin Smith, newly elected executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
 
Each of the pastors shared personal experiences in leading change and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
 
Scroggins said the biggest change his church made was canceling the singing Christmas tree. “It was very well done and I was proud of it, but it had taken over the life or our church so that we were paralyzed to try any new evangelistic initiatives,” he explained. “Making that change allowed us to free up resources, volunteers and emphasis.”
 
Sam Rainer said the first thing a pastor should ask himself before leading change is do I love my church where it is right now and not where I wish it could be in two, three or five years. “If you don’t love your church where she is right now, there is absolutely no way you could lead your church to where your church may need to go.”
 
He also said pastors have to be willing to take the heat of change with grace and to show grace to others.
 
Smith said it’s important for leaders to do research and relationship work to find out the basis for people’s response and the source of any resistance.
 
“All resistance is not based out of carnal sin,” he said. “Sometimes there are other dynamics of discipleship, biblical knowledge and spiritual growth that need nurturing and pastoring to move toward that change.”
 
The panel agreed that resistance is a natural part of change. Scroggins said leaders should respond to resistance with kindness and clarity.
 
“As a pastor, you have to be kind,” Scroggins said. “While you are being kind, you can continue to be clear about the direction you’re going and remind people that change is part of a bigger vision for the church.”
 
Seeing people grow closer to Christ and develop as disciples has to be the initial motivation for change, Edmondson said. “Growth doesn’t come without change,” he said. “If people do the same thing over time, they aren’t going to grow.”
 
“We don’t want to lead change for change’s sake,” Geiger said. “We want to see disciples fully formed into the image of Christ.”
 
He introduced a new resource from LifeWay that bridges leading change and discipleship – Disciples Path: The Journey, a one-year intentional plan for discipleship.
 
Geiger invited leaders to join the launch team for The Journey, which will launch in January and is available to order in August.
 
“We don’t want churches to focus only on changing programming and service times,” he said. “Although those are important, we really are about the hearts of people being transformed by Jesus Christ.”
 

6/27/2016 8:01:54 AM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Pastors & politics considered by 9Marks panel

June 27 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press and Harper McKay, SEBTS

The “moral formation” and unity of the church are two vital considerations for a pastor in guiding God’s people during a disturbing presidential election season, attendees were told at the first of two 9Marks panel discussions held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis.
 
SBC entity heads and a pastor assessed the convention and its proceedings during a second 9Marks discussion the following evening. The sessions were sponsored by 9Marks, a church health ministry based in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission June 13 and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary June 14.

Photo by Chris Carter
Left to right) Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks; H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; and Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, participate in a panel discussion hosted by 9Marks on Tuesday, June 14 in St. Louis.


In the June 13 session, 9Marks President Mark Dever and ERLC President Russell Moore answered questions about pastors and politics. The discussion came during a campaign in which Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have made known their disappointment with both of the presumptive major party presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Some have declared they can vote for neither. Others have said they will support Trump because of Clinton’s liberal positions.
 
His primary concern, Moore said, when a church member asks a pastor how to vote “is going to be for the moral formation of my people.”
 
In this election, Moore said he thinks “there would be a very clear difference between someone who is simply walking into the voting booth and saying, ‘Let me try to decide between these two train wrecks,’ which I know a lot of people are doing, and what is happening in the moral degradation of many people supporting both of these two candidates and in so doing not only excusing clear injustice and immorality but, as Romans 1 would put it, heartily approving of that.
 
“The issue for me is not what happens to those two horrific candidates debating back and forth,” he said. “The issue for me is what happens to us.”
 
As a pastor, Dever said he would be concerned if he has “someone loudly in our church saying, ‘Morally, you cannot do this or that.’”
 
That “feels like Satan’s device to divide the church,” said Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “The way that I’ve heard evangelicals articulate support for a wide variety of political options to attain good ends, I may disagree with all of them that I hear. I may even think some of them involve sin,” but he wouldn’t prevent that person from taking communion.
 
He would try to understand what moral issues a church member can see are at stake in his or her vote, Dever told the audience.
 
During the session, Moore and Dever also addressed such issues as:

  • Mourning as Americans in light of the June 12 shooting deaths in Orlando and ministering to gay people.

  • Fostering unity among white and black members of a church.

  • Responding to the federal government’s transgender directive to public schools, including the development of educational alternatives for Christians unable to afford private schooling. 

On June 14, a panel moderated by Dever commented on the “unprecedented” nature of this year’s SBC presidential election. Even prior to J.D. Greear’s June 15 announcement he would withdraw from the race in favor of Steve Gaines, the presidential election had already become one for the SBC history books.
 
“The presidential election’s convolutions of the past few hours are nearly unprecedented,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He explained a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of all ballots to win, something that did not occur during the election and run-off earlier in the day.
 
“The election today was unprecedented,” echoed Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. “We’ve never had anything like this happen ever in the history of the SBC.”
 
Panelists noted the unique significance of a resolution overwhelmingly approved June 14 that repudiated display of the Confederate battle flag and its implications for racial unity among the body of Christ.
 
H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and an African American, said of the resolution. “The statement about the SBC and the seriousness of the hearts and concerns for racial unity in the body of Christ – I don’t think I have words to express that.”
 
Charles explained how the flag and the debate around it have become stumbling blocks for African Americans. Speaking of comments made by former SBC president James Merritt in support of the resolution and an amendment strengthening it, Charles said, “His statement was huge. It takes away a lot of things that are not true about Southern Baptists that are perceived from afar.”
 
International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt tied Merritt’s speech to the heartbeat of what the SBC is all about. “The whole picture is about getting the gospel to North America and the nations,” Platt said. “That was the sticking point when he talked about all the Confederate flags in the world not being worth one soul. As long as we keep coming back to that centrality, then that’s what drives us.”
 
Platt connected the stewardship in the SBC entity reports to the long history of the IMB. “I think about the number of denominations and mission organizations that have wandered and have fallen totally away from the gospel and evaporated, and 170 years later we’re proclaiming the gospel all around the world. That’s a testimony,” he said.
 
Asked by an audience member about the biggest issues the SBC will face in the next five to 10 years, Akin said, “I think there are three things – the exclusivity of the gospel, gender issues and the inerrancy of Scripture. If you say I am an inerrantist, I’ll know where you’re going to stand on the gender issue, and I’m pretty sure where you’re going to stand on the exclusivity of the gospel.”
 
Mohler added, “The particular challenge for the SBC is the middle word. ... There are a host of issues where we’re going to find out if we’re really Baptist or not.”
 

6/27/2016 7:53:38 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press and Harper McKay, SEBTS | with 0 comments



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