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Annual Church Profile gives churches, SBC ‘report cards’

July 15 2014 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

Pastors and churches should feel “very confident” in the trends Annual Church Profile numbers indicate, Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said.
“When we get together with other statisticians, Southern Baptist participation in the Annual Church Profile (ACP) is the envy of other denominations,” McConnell told SBC LIFE. “Even denominations that have a top-down authority over their churches cannot get the level of cooperation that we, with autonomous churches, get in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The ACP is an annual statistical report churches voluntarily submit to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The reported numbers provide an annual snapshot of the impact Southern Baptists are making through their local churches in penetrating their communities with the gospel.
In 2013, the last year on record, Southern Baptists reported a record number 46,125 churches, with an additional 4,789 church-type missions, for a total of nearly 51,000 congregations. 
“Every SBC congregation has an ID number that is used by the denomination at the local, state and national level so we can all work from a single identifier for a congregation,” McConnell said.

History of the ACP


Early on, associations gathered information from their cooperating churches to measure effectiveness in their local areas of ministry. Efforts began to be made to gather the associational reports at the state and national levels of convention life; but the information gathered by the various associations was not always comparable.
“Pretty early in the process, the effort was made to begin to have a common set of questions,” McConnell said. “One of the challenges is to make sure that as many associations and state conventions as possible are asking exactly the same set of questions with the same definitions each year.
“We try to make sure that it is not a long list of questions,” McConnell said. “Currently, it is just 14 questions that are asked nationally.”

Value to the church

The ACP gives pastors an annual “report card” to give themselves “a clearer picture of where they are,” Frank S. Page, long-time pastor and current president of the SBC Executive Committee, said. “Pastors are well-known for guessing and wondering and, yes, sometimes exaggerating. The ACP gives real, clear information” that helps the local pastor to “make changes in programming, staffing and budgeting that better reflects where they want to go.
“For example, I remember one year, we saw a deep need in our singles ministry and we were able to move financing and staffing and programming to help fill that niche, meet that need,” Page said.
Another year, “I was able to say, ‘Look, we’re baptizing our children. We’re not doing a very good job of reaching the population,’” he said.
The ACP would “help me in evaluating the various programs and ministries in the church.”
McConnell agreed. The ACP provides churches, associations, state conventions and the SBC “a health scorecard,” he said.
“Things tracked in the ACP should be part of the picture that church leaders consider when they are looking at the health of their church,” McConnell said. “They represent disciples, and the church exists to make and teach disciples.”
The ACP also provides the church “an invaluable record” that helps a new pastor and staff get up to speed quickly about the church’s priorities, key moments in the church’s history, as well as some challenges the church might be facing, he said.
In addition, the ACP establishes “annual accountability” and gives independent credibility to financial institutions when the church may need to borrow money for construction, McConnell said. “The bank would much rather see a printout of a time-series report from the ACP than numbers the church might type into a blank spreadsheet and bring into the bank.”
Just the act of submitting the ACP demonstrates cooperation with a broader group, Page said. “It helps churches understand who they are as a family of Baptists. It’s helpful in the local area to say, ‘Do you know this about Baptists, do you know this is happening?’ It gives a lot of validity and affirmation of a local ministry to say we are part of a broader group and here are some statistics about that group,” he said.

Value to the convention

Page brings a unique perspective on the value of the ACP, having served as a pastor, SBC president, vice president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and president of the SBC Executive Committee.
“As president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the ACP helped me in making appointments to various committees,” he said. “I said at the beginning of my tenure as president there were several criteria I would use for appointments. One was, were they soul-winners? Well, the ACP helped me know. ... Are you a Cooperative Program (CP) champion? Well, if they were, I saw it. If they weren’t, I saw it,” he said.
As NAMB’s vice president for evangelization, ACP data helped in developing God’s Plan for Sharing, “a 10-year multi-faceted, flexible ministry of evangelism,” Page said. “It showed us areas of great evangelistic need across the country. We used a lot of mapping information that was based on the ACP to see where we were, where our strengths were and where our weaknesses were,” he said.

“Now in my role as president of the Executive Committee, we live and die by good information,” Page said. “It is extremely important as we deal with our entities that we have good information as we look toward the future, to see the trends, to know the average CP gift from the churches. It shows us where our strategies need to be.
“I love this quote I recently read: ‘If you see a fish go belly up in a lake, you try to find out what’s wrong with the fish. If you see a thousand fish go belly up in a lake, you better take a look at the lake.’ When you get good ACP information, you look at the lake,” he said.

Annual challenges

The ACP requests two types of information, McConnell said. “Some items on the ACP indicate long-term relationships with a church, like membership. We consider that relationship exists until either the church or the individual says the relationship has been broken. So if the church skips reporting in a given year, we will carry forward total membership numbers from the previous year in our totals for the convention,” he said.
“Other questions, though, represent one-time events. Baptisms are things that only happen once. We do not carry forward information from one year to the next because we do not know if a similar number occurred in the next year or if it was higher or lower,” he said.
So the greatest challenge the ACP faces is keeping the response rate as high as possible each year, McConnell said. “A lot of the value individual churches get from doing the ACP really comes from them doing it every year. ... Each year, when we see some churches not reporting, the vast majority of them do report the following year.”
ACP response rates remain very high, McConnell said, and Southern Baptists can be confident of the trends they show and the summaries they represent. “The large response every year frankly makes response rates to any other survey that you see in the newspaper put to shame. This is a very good indicator of what is going on in the convention,” McConnell said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE.)

Related story:

Annual Church Profile – more than the annual report card

7/15/2014 11:09:43 AM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Future of Christian publishing industry remains uncertain

July 15 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Two recent Christian books arguing that not all homosexual acts are sinful have left industry observers wondering whether evangelical publishers – especially those owned by secular corporations – will produce more material outside the bounds of traditional orthodoxy.

“Publishing houses are going to have to wrestle with what their starting point is,” Selma Wilson, vice president of the B&H Publishing Group at LifeWay Christian Resources, told Baptist Press. “If your starting point is to make money or your starting point is to be a New York Times bestseller, you’re going to do different things” than publishers focused on faithfulness to Christ.

In April the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s sister imprint Convergent Books released Matthew VinesGod and the Gay Christian, a book arguing that the Bible permits monogamous same-sex relationships. In October Howard Books is scheduled to release Christian singer Jennifer Knapp’s book Facing the Music, a memoir recounting, among other things, her coming out as a lesbian.

WaterBrook Multnomah and Howard are among the Christian publishing houses owned by secular companies, with WaterBrook Multnomah falling under the Penguin Random House umbrella and Howard under Simon and Schuster. Both the Thomas Nelson Publishing Group and Zondervan are owned by HarperCollins Publishers.

Among the independent Christian publishers are B&H, Moody Publishers, Tyndale House Publishers, Harvest House Publishers and the Baker Publishing Group.


BP photo by Shawn Hendricks
Christian books representing non-traditional theological positions likely will increase in the years to come, publishing industry observers say.

In response to God and the Gay Christian, the National Religious Broadcasters – an association for Christian broadcasters and communicators – confronted WaterBrook Multnomah, resulting in the publisher’s resignation from NRB membership. NRB President Jerry Johnson said it made little difference that the book was published under the Convergent label because “this issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it.”

A ‘marketplace of ideas’

Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, told BP that ECPA will not take action against WaterBrook Multnomah because the Convergent imprint is not an ECPA member and therefore not subject to the organization’s guidelines. He added that he considers arguments for homosexuality a matter of varying biblical interpretation rather than a departure from orthodoxy that should provoke ECPA action.

Kuyper said Christian books representing non-traditional theological positions likely will increase as the culture explores those positions.

ECPA is a trade organization for groups that publish various types of Christian content. All member organizations agree to only publish materials that align with the ECPA statement of faith, which expresses belief in the inspiration of scripture, the Trinity and the bodily resurrection of Christ among other doctrines.

“The publishing community is responding to what’s going on in the culture,” Kuyper said in an interview. “As we address some of these topics that we had not been pressed to address before, you are probably going to see authors and publishers bring those ideas to light. How the Christian community will respond [to new topics raised in the culture] will vary greatly.”

One goal of Christian publishing is to create a “marketplace of ideas,” Kuyper said, and Christian publishers do not expect every book to be profitable – though publishers must make a profit to stay in business. The decision to publish books that depart from the ethical or theological mainstream, he said, generally stems from the publisher’s desire to advance conversation more than the demands of the market.

“When you’re talking about a book that is focused on homosexuality and Christianity, it’s not the same as a Duck Dynasty book,” Kuyper said. “There’s a much broader audience for the Duck Dynasty book than for that kind of a book.” Controversial books “are primarily driven by wanting to be a part of the conversation.”

David Shepherd, a literary agent, formerly vice president of a Christian publishing house, told BP that departing from orthodoxy is not yet a broad trend among Christian publishers. In the future, however, Christian publishers owned by secular corporations may be more likely to publish questionable material than houses that are closely held by evangelical owners.

“As the church more and more reflects the culture ... I think some Christian publishers will begin to also reflect that,” Shepherd said. “The most recent indication of that perhaps is the WaterBrook book. But I don’t know that there will be a huge wave of Christian publishers doing that kind of thing.”

Demand for orthodoxy

Widespread publication of unorthodox material would represent a departure from the heritage of Christian publishing, Shepherd said. Although there have always been some authors “on the edge of orthodoxy,” Christian publishers generally “are aware of who their audience is and have editorial guidelines that will more often than not keep them in the orthodox fold,” he said.

Theologically liberal authors have tended to publish with academic houses that have reputations for airing progressive views or with religious publishers without evangelical faith statements, Shepherd said.

That trend appears to be holding, by and large. For instance, Methodist megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton’s recent book Making Sense of the Bible – which argues that mass killings reported in the Old Testament are inconsistent with God’s character and suggests that biblical condemnations of homosexuality do not apply to monogamous same-sex relationships – was published by HarperOne rather than one of HarperCollins’ Christian imprints. Emerging church leader Rob Bell also has published recent books with HarperOne.

Still, Christian publishers want to produce material that Christian bookstores will buy, Shepherd said. The demand for biblically faithful materials is likely to keep much Christian book publishing within the bounds of orthodoxy, he said.

“Generally speaking I think publishers are going to be sensitive to delivering products to bookstores that bookstores will trust to put on their shelves for their readers,” Shepherd said.

Wilson said Christian authors, like consumers, likely will partner with companies that align with their values. There is no trend yet of conservative authors leaving publishers who produce unorthodox books, she said.

Defying the market

Wilson said publishers like B&H, whose editorial guidelines demand that all books reflect evangelical theology, will be faithful to Christ regardless of what book buyers want.

“Our starting point is not to give to the market what the market wants,” Wilson said in a June 3 interview. “We’re a confessional publisher. There are things we believe and believe very strongly. It’s all centered on the gospel. So for me, being an evangelical Christian publisher means that you start with Christ and you end with Christ.”

Meeting all the market’s demands “doesn’t give life to anyone,” Wilson said. “In fact, it brings death. It’s going to destroy lives and destroy families, and that’s why we’re so committed to being the best in our space – because we know what gives life.”

Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson and a popular blogger about the publishing industry, declined BP’s request for an interview. In a 2013 interview with Leadership Journal, he said Christian publishers “face challenges” in the years to come.

Publishers “are going to have to get very clear on the value they bring to authors, especially as compared to the plethora of self-publishing options available today,” Hyatt said. “Beyond that, the biggest challenge will be to find the capital to invest in growth. Overall, their business is stagnant. Their owners (mostly secular) are loathe to make additional investments in an industry segment where there is so little upside potential. Unless they can attract capital, they will have to get by with smaller royalty advances, fewer marketing dollars and less expensive staff. I expect increased consolidation in this part of the industry.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

7/15/2014 10:47:37 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Greater things’ in store for N.C. Baptists’ yearly gathering

July 15 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) is making plans for the 2014 annual meeting, to be held Nov. 10-11 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
The meeting will feature meaningful times of worship, inspiring messages from God’s Word and opportunities to learn how North Carolina Baptists are “Impacting Lostness Through Disciple-Making.”


Greater Things

This year’s annual meeting theme, based on John 14:12, is “Greater Things.” The theme encourages all North Carolina Baptist churches to embrace the truth that God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, wishes to accomplish greater things through His people.
“The Committee on Convention Meetings has worked diligently and prayed over this year’s theme and message,” said Brian Davis, BSC associate executive director-treasurer. “It is our prayer that this theme will challenge North Carolina Baptists to attempt greater things for the Kingdom as we strive together to impact lostness across North Carolina, the United States and around the world.”
Times of theme interpretation will be held throughout the annual meeting to allow messengers time to reflect on how God is calling them to be involved in helping fulfill His Great Commission.



Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) in Lynchburg, Va., will bring the convention sermon. Falwell has served at TRBC since 1995, first under the leadership of his father and founding pastor of TRBC, Jerry Falwell, then as senior pastor beginning in 2007. As senior pastor, he oversees the management of more than 250 staff members, communication with over 20,000 church members and the long-term planning for the church’s ministry and outreach.
Messengers will also hear messages from Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, and C.J. Bordeaux Sr., president of the BSC.
Bordeaux has served as senior pastor of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham since 2008.
North Carolina churches he served previously include West Monroe Baptist Church in Monroe, Antioch Baptist Church in Lumberton, Village Baptist Church in Fayetteville and White Lake Baptist Church in Elizabethtown. Bordeaux has also served as BSC vice president, chairman of the Committee on Committees, on the BSC Board of Directors, and the Giving Plans Study Committee. He received his undergraduate degree from Campbell University and his Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry from Bethany Theological Seminary


Pastors’ Conference

The North Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference will be held Nov. 9-10 at the Koury Convention Center. The event is free and registration is not required.
The theme for the 2014 Pastors’ Conference is “The Pursuit,” based on 1 Timothy 6:11.
Speakers for this year’s conference include Rick Coram, founder and president of Rick Coram Ministries; Greg Heisler, pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Boone, N.C.; Phil Hoskins, former pastor of Higher Ground Baptist Church, Kingsport, Tenn.; Tony Merida, founding pastor of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, N.C.; evangelist Bob Pittman, Muscle Shoals, Ala., Robert Smith Jr., professor of Christian Preaching at Beeson Divinity School; and Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C.
The conference president is Josh Phillips, pastor of Cherry Grove Baptist Church in Cerro Gordo.
“With all of the things competing for the attention of the local pastor today, we must not forget to keep our eyes on the prize,” Phillips said. “Our world views success with much different lenses than Christ. For this reason, Paul would command Timothy to flee from those things that may hinder his ministry and pursue those things that would lead him to a deeper faith.”


Pray Greensboro

N.C. Baptists are invited to participate in “Pray Greensboro,” a time of prayer walking the city of Greensboro prior to the start of the 2014 annual meeting. The BSC Strategic Focus Team is sponsoring the event, which will focus on prayer walks around the highest concentrations of lostness in the Greensboro area as identified in the BSC’s strategy: “Impacting Lostness Through Disciple-Making.” More information about “Pray Greensboro” is available here.


Exhibit hall

The 2014 annual meeting exhibit hall will be in a new location. This year’s exhibits will be located in the Imperial Ballroom, on the first floor of the Koury Convention Center, the same level as the Convention Hall. In addition, the LifeWay bookstore and related booths will also be located on the first floor, in Guilford Ballroom “G.”
The exhibit hall includes nearly 100 exhibits featuring BSC ministry groups, institutions and agencies, as well as exhibits offering various resources to churches such as insurance, church building and planning, and website development.


N.C. Baptist app

Messengers to this year’s annual meeting will be able to view important information about the annual meeting on their mobile devices via the app. The free app will be available for download at the Apple App Store, on Google Play (Android Market) and at the Windows Phone Marketplace by August and can be found by searching for “NC Baptist.”
The app will feature alerts, information about breakout sessions, exhibits, speakers, schedules, and much more. Users will also be able to download the Book of Reports and the Tuesday Morning Update.
Details about business sessions, breakout sessions, music and more will be available in the coming months. Information will continue to be added to ncannualmeeting.org as it becomes available.

7/15/2014 10:26:02 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

BSC Executive Committee approves 2015 budget

July 15 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) met July 10 to consider the proposed 2015 Cooperative Program (CP) budget and other committee reports. However, few of the committees are meeting during the summer months so reports were limited.
The proposed $29 million budget presented by the Budget Committee reflects a $1 million decrease from the $30 million 2014 Cooperative Program budget approved by messengers during last November’s annual meeting.
Despite the decrease from 2014, Rob Roberts, chairman of the Budget Committee, said great things remain ahead for North Carolina Baptists.
“We are excited about what the Lord is going to do,” Roberts said. “We continue to struggle through some challenging economic times and we are trying to be good stewards of what God has given us during this time.”
The budget does include an additional one-half percent increase in the percentage of CP receipts that are sent to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This is the 10th year in a row that the Budget Committee has proposed the BSC increase this percentage by one-half percent. The proposed allocation to the SBC for 2015 is 37 percent.
The budget also includes a two percent cost of living increase for BSC staff. The Budget Committee felt strongly about providing this increase as salaries were frozen for the 2014 budget.
The EC approved the budget as presented. If the Board of Directors approves the budget during its Sept. 30-Oct. 1 meeting, it will then be presented to messengers for final approval during this year’s annual meeting Nov. 10-11 in Greensboro.
During the meeting, the EC approved a motion authorizing BSC staff to utilize unrealized investment gain to offset anticipated deficits during the 2015 budget year in the GuideStone Church Retirement Plan and protection benefits allocation for N.C. Baptist church staff.
John Butler, BSC executive leader for business services, said the BSC currently has about $3.3 million in unrealized gains in its investment portfolio. He said the projected budget shortfall for the GuideStone Church Retirement Plan and protection benefits for North Carolina Baptist church staff is near $600,000.
The committee also approved a proposed “Challenge Budget” for 2015. This sets aside amounts received over the $29 million budget to be equally divided with one-third going to the CP, one-third to church planting with the final third divided equally between Baptist Children’s Home of North Carolina and the Biblical Recorder.
The EC also approved a motion approving the allocation of $2.1 million for the 2015 North Carolina Missions Offering.
The goal remains unchanged from 2014. Beverly Volz, BSC director of accounting services, reported that CP receipts through June 30 totaled $13,473,029.53, which represents a deficit of 1.2 percent as compared to the same time last year.

7/15/2014 10:07:43 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby reversal sought in Congress

July 14 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Congressional Democrats have set themselves against the Supreme Court in the battle over religious liberty, and the lead Southern Baptist spokesman on the issue is urging legislative leaders not to erode the First Amendment right.

Democrats in the Senate unveiled a bill July 9 to counter the high court’s decision in support of the religious freedom of business owners in the controversial Hobby Lobby case. The Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act would bar any federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), from exempting an employer from abiding by the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. That rule, implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enforce the 2010 healthcare reform law, requires employers to provide for their workers drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called for leaders in both the Senate and House of Representatives to resist efforts to weaken RFRA, which requires the government to have a compelling interest and to use narrow means to burden a person’s religious exercise.

There should not be “a toggle switch” that the government uses to decide “who may and may not exercise religious liberty,” Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press. “And as the Supreme Court rightly affirmed, American citizens do not forfeit their First Amendment rights simply because they engage in commerce.


The Supreme Court

“And yet, now some would jeopardize religious freedom in order to fight their culture war,” he said. “Religious liberty is too important to everyone in this country to see it end up a dead trophy on the wall of the sexual revolutionaries.”

In its June 30 opinion, the 5-4 Supreme Court majority relied on RFRA in ruling for the religious liberty rights of Hobby Lobby and other family owned, for-profit businesses that conscientiously objected to the mandate to pay for abortifacients. RFRA, a 1993 law that was approved nearly unanimously by Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton, protects the religious freedom of people by extending rights to the corporations they own, the court said.

In a letter Thursday (July 10) to congressional leaders, Moore said Southern Baptists “will vigorously oppose any legislative efforts that attempt to ... restrict the free exercise of religion.”

RFRA “defends the religious freedom of all Americans and is a critical safeguard for minority faith communities,” he wrote.

It also “is a means of accountability for governmental officials who must defend any proposed restriction of religious liberty,” Moore said. “Rather than automatically grant any complaint that may be brought forth by protected citizens, RFRA provides a method for courts to weigh religious liberty with governmental interests. Religious liberty is a gift from God, not a grant from government, and a fundamental pillar of the American experiment.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom criticized the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, S. 2578, as “an exceedingly dangerous power grab.”

“No new law should make an HHS bureaucrat more powerful than federal law itself,” ADF senior counsel Casey Mattox said in a written statement. “Senate Bill 2578 should be called the ‘Late-Term Abortion and Assisted Suicide Coercion Act of 2014’ because it allows any whim of HHS to trump any federal law or rule, including those that protect Americans from being forced to provide abortion or assisted suicide coverage as part of a health plan. The bill clearly states that any HHS regulation requiring something in a health plan must be followed regardless of what any other federal law says.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D.-Wash., sponsor of the bill to reverse the Hobby Lobby ruling, said her legislation “will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period.”

The measure has 39 cosponsors, all Democrats. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D.-N.Y., introduced a companion bill in the House. Abortion rights organizations, led by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America, endorsed the legislation, as did such groups as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and People for the American Way.

Introduction of the legislation came six days after the Supreme Court delivered another win for religious liberty to HHS mandate foes, this time to a non-profit institution.

The high court issued an order July 3 preventing enforcement of the HHS mandate against Wheaton College until the appeal process is complete. The legal challenge by Wheaton, an evangelical Christian school in suburban Chicago, is one of 100 lawsuits filed against the mandate, with 51 of those by non-profits, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The justices’ order in support of Wheaton appeared far-reaching. It said the school – and, by likely extension, other objectors – need only inform HHS it is a religious non-profit with “religious objections” to the mandate to avoid enforcement during review by the courts. The college need not fill out the form required by the government, the justices said. The court said the order should not be interpreted as a communication of its opinion on the case’s merits.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a 15-page dissent in which she described the court’s order for Wheaton as “extraordinary and reserved for the rarest of cases.” Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined in the dissent.

Philip Ryken, Wheaton’s president, applauded the order. “We continue to believe that a college community that affirms the sanctity of human life from conception to the grave should not be coerced by the government into facilitating the provision of abortion-inducing drugs,” he said in a written release.

Other non-profits gained relief from the mandate the same day the Supreme Court issued its Hobby Lobby opinion. Two federal appeals courts blocked enforcement of the regulation on the Eternal World Television Network and five Roman Catholic institutions in Wyoming, according to the Becket Fund.

The HHS regulation requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.

HHS provided an exemption to its rule for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies that object. The administration also offered an accommodation for non-church-related religious organizations, but critics said it was inadequate because it still forces such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties.

GuideStone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, and two of the organizations in its health plan have challenged the mandate in court and have asked for a permanent injunction. No decision has been made on the request.

The Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling came in challenges to the mandate by Hobby Lobby and Mardel, both owned by the evangelical Green family of Oklahoma City, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which is operated by the pro-life, Mennonite Hahn family.

Moore’s July 10 letter went to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House John Boehner and others in congressional leadership.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/14/2014 10:59:39 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N. Korean ‘genocide’ warrants ‘red line’

July 14 2014 by RikkiElizabeth Stinnette, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press

Shin Dong-Hyuk spoke in a calm monotone as he recounted how North Korean prison guards dangled him over a fire when he was a teenager. Thinking the guards would reward him, Shin spoke of his mother and older brother’s plans to flee the prison camp.

But instead of granting freedom to Shin, then 14, the guards tortured him and made him watch his two family members’ public execution.

Shin, known as the only person born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped, still bears the scars of his experience.

“These messages of my suffering will never go away until the day I die,” Shin, author of Escape from Camp 14, said through a translator as one of four experts on human rights violations in North Korea testifying before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


The hearing, addressing a bill proposing additional penalties against North Korea, took note of a United Nations (UN) report on human rights abuses in the communist country. A UN commission of inquiry recommended that North Korean government crimes be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation. The report, released in March, recorded the systematic execution of Christians and mixed-race children.

The North Korean situation is “genocide,” said South Korean human rights ambassador Lee Jong-hoon, urging the representatives to hold the rogue country responsible.

“Why can’t there be a red line for human rights,” Lee asked at the June 18 hearing, “as there is for weapons of mass destruction?”

According to a Heritage Foundation paper by Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for northeast Asia, tougher sanctions have been levied against Iran and Burma than North Korea, which has been perpetrating human rights violations for nearly 70 years.

While the hearing’s witnesses agreed the oppression in North Korea should be addressed, not all said UN involvement would provide the answer.

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., who headed the hearing, said he believes the International Criminal Court doesn’t have a great record in addressing crimes against humanity. China has protected North Korea from international intervention, making it difficult for outsiders to make an impact in the closed nation, Smith noted.

“The world has really failed to raise the issue in a complete way,” Smith said in an interview. “It has to get to the highest levels.”

Smith recommended that South Korea create a regional court to address North Korean crimes because it could easily gather information on the regime from North Korean refugees. But South Korea has never addressed North Korea’s human rights issues, since the nation’s liberal faction believes such a move would compromise any negotiations with North Korea.

Andrew Natsios, co-chair for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and former vice president of World Vision, said it will be a long time before people in North Korea regain their rights. The best thing the world can do, he said, is to publicize the nation’s oppression.

“I think we should simply be unrelenting,” Natsios said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com). Used by permission.)

7/14/2014 10:47:58 AM by RikkiElizabeth Stinnette, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Party ties, not religious ones, drive down Obama’s approval rating

July 14 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Most Christians don’t approve of President Obama right now, but he gets high ratings from Muslims and other minority religious groups.
It’s not because of their religion, though.
Obama’s level of popular approval matches Americans’ political party ties, not their religious identity, age or almost any other demographic characteristic, said Jeffrey Jones, managing editor of the Gallup poll.


Image courtesy of Gallup
Obama ranks lowest among Mormons, according to a new Gallup poll. For use with RNS-POLL-OBAMA transmitted July 11, 2014.

The newest Gallup tracking poll shows the president’s approval rating in June averaged 43 percent for Americans overall. However, his ratings sank with Catholics to 44 percent, down from 54 percent in June 2013.
In that time frame, most Protestants’ already low approval for the president slid to 37 percent from 43 percent. And Mormons, never big fans of Obama, gave him the same 18 percent approval rating as last summer.
Even groups historically inclined to approve of Obama registered a dimmer view of him since June 2013:

  • Muslims, down to 72 percent from 78 percent.

  • Jews, down to 55 percent from 64 percent.

  • No religious identity, down to 54 percent from 61 percent.

“It’s interesting to see that there are differences among the religious groups although they are not affected differently by what he does,” said Jones.
Indeed, the overall order of religious groups’ relative approval rating for Obama has not changed since his first inauguration in 2009, according to Gallup surveys.
“By and large, at this point in his presidency, people know if they like him or not although there can be movement around the margins,” said Jones.
The good feelings from Obama’s re-election year have dissipated in the face of recent serious challenges, the pollster said.
“The perception is that a lot is not getting done on the major problems the country is facing,” said Jones.
Jones said the real driver in approval ratings is not religion; it’s political affiliation. A religious group’s political tilt will shape its views more than Obama’s policies and actions. Mormons, for example, are largely Republican, hence their low approval rate of the president.
The results are drawn from aggregating 88,000 Gallup Daily tracking interviews. The margin of error varies by subgroup.
(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.)

7/14/2014 10:35:53 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Petition pushes vote on Houston ordinance

July 11 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press

A coalition of pastors has delivered a petition with 31,000 signatures to Houston’s city hall to call for a referendum to repeal the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance.

The pastors say the ordinance would infringe on religious liberties and create untenable and potentially dangerous situations for women and children in public restrooms. If the petition signatures are validated by the city, the measure will be put to a vote in November.

Just days before the ordinance’s passage June 4, a number of civic and church leaders added their voice to the opposition, including Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church and former Southern Baptist Convention president; David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church; and Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University.

Pastors and members of African American, Vietnamese, Hispanic and Anglo congregations rallied for weeks against the ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They said Mayor Annise Parker ignored public objections to the ordinance in pursuit of a personal agenda as a lesbian.

Ordinance opponents argued the ordinance could force business owners to choose between compliance with the law or their religious convictions. They say that in opening public bathrooms to men and women presenting themselves as the opposite gender, potential sexual predators could take advantage of would-be victims.

“[W]e simply say, ‘Allow the people to vote on this ordinance,’” Max Miller, president of the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity, said in a July 3 news conference before presenting the signatures to City Secretary Anna Russell. Miller is pastor of Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church.


A group of Houston pastors delivers 31,000 signatures for a referendum on the city’s controversial non-discrimination law that they contend infringes on religious liberties.

Miller, also representing a No UNequal Rights Coalition, said prior to the ordinance’s passage that the coalition’s polling showed 82 percent of Houston’s registered voters opposed the measure. He said 10,000 calls and emails from constituents were received by city council members demanding they vote against the measure.

The mayor cited wide public support as well, saying during a news conference that a host of civic and business leaders back the measure.

“We will have the same outcome that we had around the council table,” Parker said to cheers from supporters gathered around the podium in the city hall rotunda.

Parker called ordinance opponents “obsessive,” accusing them of fixating on only the accommodations for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, especially their access to public bathrooms and locker rooms.

She said it always has been and will continue to be “illegal for a man to go into a women’s bathroom. Period.”

But according to opponents of the homosexual and transgender accommodations, other characteristics such as race, gender and ethnicity already are protected under city, state and federal laws, making Houston’s ordinance redundant and simply a means of adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected characteristics.

Opponents also say the ordinance provides special rights, not civil rights, hence the charge of “unequal rights.”

Parker accused the pastors of lying to promote their campaign, saying, “Houstonians will not be fooled by misinformation, hyperbole. I would use the word ‘lies’ but I’m going to back off from that.”

Parker also assailed the referendum process, calling city charter requirements a “low bar.” In order to call a referendum, 10 percent of Houston’s registered voters must sign the petition. The No UNequal Rights Coalition needed 17,269 signatures and gathered 50,000. Of those, the coalition validated 31,000.

The city secretary’s office has 30 days to cull through the signatures to determine which are valid. Parker complained that the process will cost the city money as employees will have to be paid overtime to meet an Aug. 4 deadline.

With enough validated signatures, the city of Houston’s legal department will craft the wording for the ballot.

“This is going to be another battle,” said local political consultant Ron Jackson who was hired by the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) to direct the No UNequal Rights Coalition.

Jackson, owner of JPBE Consulting, said he expects the Parker administration to draft language putting the ordinance in the best possible light, expunging any references to its controversial tenets regarding homosexuality and transgender accommodations.

Working frequently on civic and political campaigns with Houston’s African American church leadership, Jackson created ties making him privy to the development of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – called HERO by its supporters – prior to its public dissemination. Knowing it would be of concern to them, Jackson shared the information with the pastors.

Along with other ordinance opponents, Jackson has accused Parker of dismissing legitimate concerns and using her office to advance a personal agenda in support of the LGBT community in Houston and the nation. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a powerful international organization lobbying for so-called equal rights ordinances in cities around the country, worked in Houston for the ordinance’s passage. HRC used the same tactics in San Antonio last year in the creation and passage of an almost identical ordinance.

HBU’s Sloan, in a letter to the Greater Houston Partnership, a business consortium that endorsed the measure, wrote, “Ours is not an arbitrarily understood position, nor is it socio-politically neutral; and the proposed ordinance is not ideologically, or theologically, neutral. It attempts to coerce, by legal definition, our adherence to beliefs and practices with which we profoundly disagree.”

Anticipating Parker would press for the ordinance once elected to her third and final term as mayor, HAPC fought to unseat her in the November 2013 election. Even so, Parker defeated eight opponents, winning 57 percent of the vote.

Dave Welch, HAPC executive director, said a variety of dynamics come into play when promoting an individual for public office, including the effectiveness of a candidate’s campaign.

“If they run a terrible campaign, the churches can’t shore that up. But this is an issue, not a person,” Welch said, noting that an idea is more clearly promoted and public opinion is on their side. “We are standing on a clearly biblical, defensible position.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist Texan (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/11/2014 12:48:03 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reflections on South Sudan's third birthday

July 11 2014 by Curt Iles, IMB/Baptist Press

ENTEBBE, Uganda – His name was Independence.

He was a child born on South Sudan’s first day as a new nation. He was the first child born at a Juba hospital shortly after midnight, July 9, 2011. The child, like the country, was full of hope and promise.

His parents gave him the full name Moses Independence. Josephine, the mother, expressed high hopes for both her new son and the new country.

In fact, many South Sudanese refer to their nation as “New Sudan.

Sadly, three years later, fighting has broken out in New Sudan and the future is uncertain.

Baby Independence’s story is even sadder. He died before his first birthday. He became sick and sicker. Doctors and hospitals eventually could no longer help him.


IMB photo by JoAnn Bradberry
A young displaced Dinka girl is photographed at Faith Baptist Church in Nimule, South Sudan. 

Baby Independence will never see his country grow into a true land of freedom and peace. It shouldn’t surprise us in South Sudan. Infant mortality is high. The average life span of a man is slightly over 54.

That’s what war, poverty and famine do to the health of a nation.

In Africa, the stats of those dying in war zones are not limited to mortars and machine guns. Many more die from malnutrition, opportunistic diseases and famine.

Dead is dead – it doesn’t have to be a bullet.

Since the December 2013 fighting broke out between the rebels and government, many have already written the obituary of New Sudan.

I imagine them saying: “If they can’t get along for no more than two years, what hope is there for this country?”

My home country, America, has been called “The Midwife of South Sudan.” Our government and aid organizations worked hard to broker the peace deal that created the world’s newest nation.

The United States has poured millions of dollars into South Sudan.

America the Midwife is now watching its baby on life support. South Sudan is on life support but where there is breath, there is life. Her breathing is shallow and fitful, but she’s alive.

David Deng, the son of a Dinka chief and an American mother, said it well: “If you’re not an optimist, you have no business being in South Sudan.”

But I believe things can change. Things can get better.

It won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy, but progress is seldom easy or free.

I come from the rural South [in the U.S.]. In the latter 19th century, malaria, yellow fever, measles and smallpox still killed people. Infant mortality was high.

This was brought home to me one day at the oldest part of Dry Creek Cemetery as my friend Frank pointed at the weathered headstones.

“Look how every big tombstone is surrounded by small ones,” he said.

He shook his head.

“Most of the old-timers buried at least one child. Some buried many.”

He then directed me to a headstone.

“She died in childbirth,” he said. “That was all too common.”

I thought about Frank’s words when an African researcher said, “In parts of South Sudan, women view pregnancy as a possible terminal condition. They know some will not survive.”

South Sudan has a long list of problems and challenges to overcome. The recent conflict has only put the country further behind.

But there’s still life. And hope. There’s a belief (held by those optimists like our team of IMB missionaries) that things can, and will, get better. I believe it’s through changed hearts and minds that the nation will step beyond despair.

Without apology, I believe that hearts and minds are only changed by the Spirit of God coming into a person. That’s why we forge ahead.

As another tough optimist/jailbird named Paul said, “Forgetting the past and striving for the future...”

I can honestly say that there’s no part of the world I feel that we can make a difference more than in South Sudan.

It won’t be easy. Good things seldom are.

We cannot take our hands off the plow. We will not look back.

Forward. And with God’s help, better.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – International Mission Board missionary Curt Iles serves on a team working within South Sudan, and also on the Ugandan border, where tens of thousands of refugees have fled the violence.)

7/11/2014 12:31:19 PM by Curt Iles, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When Christians killed & why Muslim violence continues

July 10 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Rising death tolls in Iraq and Syria, where Muslim extremists are killing in the name of their faith, represent a stark contrast to the relative lack of religiously motivated killing among modern Christians – a contrast that seminary professors say is attributable to the principle of religious liberty.

Religious violence declines wherever religious liberty “has been preached and practiced,” Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press. He added that Baptists have played a significant role in establishing religious liberty as a tenet of modern Christianity.

Baptists “have asserted from the beginning that the gospel does not need government preference, that the conscience is inalienable and what we really need is a free church in a free state,” Durst said.

The history of Christian violence

Christians used to kill with some frequency over matters of doctrine. There was the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, England’s notorious Bloody Mary, the drowning of Anabaptists, the Crusades and more.

Timothy Paul Jones, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member and author of Christian History Made Easy, told BP “it was the intermingling of church authority and civil authority that made it possible for persons who claimed to be Christians to have the state execute others who also professed Christ.”


BP Photo
Anabaptists of the 16th century were among the Christians killed by fellow believers in an attempt to purify the church of heretics.

Civil and church authority first mixed in the early fourth century when the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and made it the empire’s preferred religion. Perhaps the first case of one Christian executing another occurred in the late fourth century when Emperor Magnus Maximus beheaded an eccentric ascetic named Priscillian.

Donatists – fourth- and fifth-century Christians who held that clergy who renounced their faith under persecution could never administer the sacraments again – claimed that some of their leaders were executed. But no other sources corroborate their account and it may be an embellishment, Jones noted in written comments. Donatists were persecuted and some may have died in prison without being executed.

Durst, who believes Donatists were executed, agreed that the mingling of church and civil government helped turn Christians from a persecuted sect into a power group prone to persecute.

If a state prefers one religion, “you can invoke the state to enforce [the preferred] religion, to actually attempt to force the conscience,” Durst said.

An early form of the Inquisition – a Roman Catholic movement that attempted to purge heretics from the church, at times by execution – began in the 1100s. In the mid-1200s, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas said heretics “deserved not only to be separated from the church but eliminated from the world.”

Jones noted that “in most instances, the church did not actually execute anyone. Instead, church officials declared someone to be a heretic. Then they handed over the offender to civil authorities to be executed.”

While condemning all killing over religious doctrine, Jones wrote that Christians “rarely, if ever, perceived themselves as killing fellow Christians.”

“Whether rightly or wrongly, they saw themselves as killing heretics who had rejected some essential aspect of the church’s faith,” said Jones, who is Southern Seminary’s Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry. “Many of those who did the killing as well as those they killed may not actually have been believers in Jesus Christ.”

Still, the Inquisition persisted in various forms for centuries and faithful believers were among those executed. Sixteenth-century Reformers also executed those seen as doctrinally deviant. That included the Anabaptists (European Christians who baptized by immersion) and Michael Servetus (a rival of Calvin who denied the Trinity).

Beginning of change

An initial hint of religious liberty came from Martin Luther, Jones said.

“In 1517 in the Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther wrote that ‘the burning of heretics is contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit,’” Jones said. “Later, Luther distinguished between mere heretics and heretics who were publicly blasphemous or caused public unrest. The latter were to be executed by the state, according to Luther, and he saw the Anabaptists as part of that latter category.”

In Luther’s wake, several key factors helped end theologically motivated killing, Jones said. Among them:

  • In the 1600s, British writers like John Milton argued for liberty to speak and act “according to conscience.” But they only applied that liberty to vying Protestant sects and not to Roman Catholics or non-Christians. The Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who was England’s head of state during the years when there was no monarchy, went a step further, saying he would rather “Mahometanism [Islam] be permitted amongst us than that one of God’s children should be persecuted.” After the monarchy was restored in 1689, Nonconformists, like Baptists and Congregationalists, were granted freedom of worship.

  • In continental Europe, a conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the 1600s known as the Thirty Years War took 10 million lives and involved “senseless pillaging,” Jones said. The conflict “seems to have pressed many Europeans toward a positive perspective on tolerance of persons with differing religious beliefs.”

  • In America, Maryland passed a law in 1649 allowing anyone who believed in the Trinity to practice their religion freely. Roger Williams, a theologian who “became a Baptist but then quickly became an ex-Baptist,” founded Rhode Island as a colony with religious freedom, “requiring nothing more than a belief in one God,” Jones said.

“Religious toleration emerged in post-Reformation Europe as a practical measure when governments were no longer able to enforce religious conformity. When early forms of religious toleration first emerged, it was more a temporary concession for the sake of peace than a permanent solution for the sake of freedom. But this concession eventually developed into an ideal,” Jones said.

Rex Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, cited 1648 as a key date for the end of doctrinally motivated Christian killing. That was when a series of treaties known as the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War. He noted England’s civil war and France’s ongoing religious conflict in the 18th century as factors that led Europeans to seek an end to religious violence.

“In the aftermath of these religious conflicts, religious and philosophical thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries began to look for different ways to approach religion,” Butler wrote in comments to BP. “As Justo González, author of The Story of Christianity, posed the question: ‘Was there not a more tolerant, more profound, and even more Christian way to serve God ...?’

“The answers varied from the rationalism of the philosophical Age of Enlightenment to the heart Christianity of the Pietists and Revivalists and the separation of church and state in America. Ultimately, over the past three centuries, the modern secular state developed in Europe and America and brought with it another series of challenges for the church and the state,” he said.

Butler added that conflicts between Christians did not totally end in the 1700s. For example, the Spanish Inquisition “was not completely ended until 1834,” and Catholics and Protestants fought in Northern Ireland well into the modern era. “Since the 18th century, however, Christian wars of religion have declined,” he said.

Durst credited 16th-century Anabaptists with pioneering the idea of a free church in a free state. Baptists carried on that idea and brought it to the New World, where they helped codify it in America’s founding documents.

A great contrast

One reason Muslims persist in theologically motivated killing, including conflicts in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shiites, is that Islam does not embrace the separation of church and state, Durst said.

“Islam has always historically embraced ‘sword evangelism,’ that state and mosque are one,” Durst said.

Another contrast between Christianity and Islam is that Christians have apologized for the medieval Crusades, in which Christian armies warred against Muslims, but Muslims largely have not apologized for their religiously motivated killings, Durst said.

Durst cautioned against skeptics’ overblown portrayals of religiously motivated killings. He said non-religious governments like China and the Soviet Union “are millions and millions of violent deaths ahead of anything religion has ever done.”

The brutality of some atheist and Islamic nations should remind believers that religious liberty emerges from Christian theology, Durst said. If America loses its Judeo-Christian foundation, its citizens could lose the freedom to practice their religion, he said.

“The flower of religious liberty blooms out of the hearts of Baptist and Quaker congregations in America,” Durst said. “However, when you take that concept and ... put it into governmental documents like the Constitution and the amendments, then that concept is a bit like a cut flower. It’s been cut off from the roots but established as a principle of government. How long do cut flowers stay fresh? That’s what concerns me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

7/10/2014 11:46:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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