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B21 panelists ponder challenges facing SBC

June 18 2014 by S. Craig Sanders, Baptist Press

Cultural Christianity is dead, and Southern Baptist churches face a host of challenges as a result, including same-sex marriage, declining baptism rates and church revitalization, panelists at the Baptist21 luncheon said June 10 in Baltimore.

Nearly 1,000 packed the conference room for the sold-out event, with some attendees lining the walls and sitting on the floor at the Baltimore Convention Center. The annual panel, which takes place during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, featured R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources; Matt Chandler, lead pastor at the multi-site Village Church in Texas and president of the Acts 29 Network; David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Alabama; and Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“A generation is coming that was never deceived by cultural Christianity,” said Mohler, describing how previous generations felt a social and professional compulsion to attend church regularly. “Every single new believer is going to be hard won by the old continual task of telling people the gospel story.”


Photo by Adam Covington
Jonathan Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., moderates a Baptist21 lunch panel at the Baltimore Convention Center discussing Southern Baptist Convention issues. The panel was held during the SBC annual meeting June 10.

Akin noted the signs of decline for some churches but praised the efforts of the North American Mission Board and SBC church planters engaging metropolitan areas and seeking out unbelievers.

“The key for us right now,” he said, “is hold the line on biblical truth – we cannot compromise on this – we all see the tides coming on issues related to universalism, inerrancy [of Scripture] and gender understanding. We must speak the truth, but we speak the truth in love.”

Jonathan Akin, co-founder of Baptist21 and moderator of the discussion, asked the panelists to respond to the controversy surrounding New Heart Community Church of La Mirada, Calif., which embraced homosexuality after the pastor affirmed his gay son.

“As a gospel people, we should be thankful for the Bible’s specificity on what sin is,” Mohler said, denying the possibility for Southern Baptists to create a so-called “Third Way” between condemnation and acceptance of homosexuality. “It’s not kindness to throw people into the pits of hell – it’s kindness to know that we’re sinners and ultimate kindness to say, ‘There’s a remedy for that sin, and His name is Jesus.’”

Arguing for a pastoral approach to homosexuality, Chandler urged pastors to recognize that someone in their congregation could be struggling with sexual orientation, and not to dehumanize the issue from the pulpit.

“When you talk condescendingly or ignorantly and lack compassion, you push people who struggle into themselves so they feel unsafe to confess, unsafe to seek out help, unsafe to be honest,” Chandler said. “You create an environment in which the healing of people by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.”

Jonathan Akin also questioned Mohler on the pastoral response to sexual abuse in light of the case involving a youth worker in a church in the Sovereign Grace church network convicted of child molestation that allegedly had gone unreported to authorities.

“If you get any report of any kind sexual abuse, certainly involving a minor, be committed that before you leave that room, you’re going to dial 911,” Mohler said to loud applause. “We’re not in the position of being investigative agents.”

Calling it a “gospel ministry stewardship imperative,” Mohler said churches need to “create a safe place where people can come and report this kind of thing, knowing we’re going to respond in the right way.” While churches in the past didn’t understand the issue, he said “there’s no excuse right now for not knowing what you’re going to do before you have to do it.”

Jonathan Akin set forth his perception to the panelists that the recent success of church planters in North America has led to a lack of interest in young pastors to revitalize established Southern Baptist churches.

Church planting and church revitalization “should not be in conflict with one another, and they certainly shouldn’t be in competition with one another,” Rainer said, emphasizing that church growth and church health are inseparable.

“The reality is we are reaching less people for Christ. There can be no doubt about that,” Rainer said, noting that some churches are either not reporting baptisms or refusing to baptize nominal believers.

“Our theology should drive us, compel us, to share the Good News of Christ,” Rainer said. “There is evangelistic dearth taking place, and less evangelistic health.”

Despite the decline of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, the most rapid growth in baptisms is among children. Mohler noted, “The vast majority of people who have ever been baptized by our churches are our own offspring.”

But Platt cautioned pastors to assess children’s understanding of the gospel message. “We want to always affirm what God is doing in children’s lives,” said Platt, who advocated walking children through the basics of faith before baptizing them.

“Keep encouraging this posture of repentance and faith in a child’s heart and life, but be wise with the public expression.”

Pastors and messengers who registered for the event received more than a dozen free resources, including a DVD of W.A. Criswell’s classic sermons and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Church Planting Survival Guide.

For more information on the Bapist21, including a video recording of the panel, visit www.baptisttwentyone.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – S. Craig Sanders writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)

6/18/2014 11:38:47 AM by S. Craig Sanders, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Associational leaders’ involvement grows

June 18 2014 by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press

After a year of breaking in a new name and structure, the future looks bright for the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL), reports Johnny Rumbough, conference “team leader” and executive director of South Carolina’s Lexington Baptist Association.

“It’s a great day for associations,” said Rumbough, who welcomed more than 150 associational directors of missions, executive directors and missionaries to SBCAL’s annual meeting, June 6-8, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Baltimore. Encouraged by the associational leaders’ highest attendance in recent years, Rumbough said the meeting was characterized by a Holy Spirit-led atmosphere of cooperation and earnest desire to invest in Southern Baptist churches.

“There’s more collaboration going on today than I’ve ever seen among DOMs and associations because we realize that we’re in this together,” Rumbough said, “when it comes to helping churches make disciples.”

The DOMs organization formerly was known as the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter speaks June 7 at the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders at the Baltimore Inner Harbor Holiday Inn. The meeting preceded the SBC annual meeting, scheduled for June 10-11 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“For those who think our name is long now, well – they don’t remember the other one,” Rumbough said with a smile. The change wasn’t cosmetic but strategic, aimed at expanding the reach of those being equipped beyond DOMs, he noted. Internal structural changes were designed to broaden leadership within SBCAL, moving from a few top-tier posts to 20 leaders, including representation from SBC entities.

“We have great partners – NAMB, IMB, WMU, LifeWay and GuideStone,” Rumbough said. “And as we think about helping the churches get ready for the harvest, the collaboration we’re experiencing is exactly what we need. … The table is now round, so everybody’s at the table.”

After working through some of the challenges of the transition, Rumbough said SBCAL is now poised for a banner year. Associational leaders were introduced to SBCAL’s 2015 missions emphasis – “Ready churches, ready harvest” – which Rumbough hopes will give associational leaders some of the tools they need to make a significant impact on churches in their associations.

Ed Stetzer told SBCAL that associations that have a future are associations that understand they need tools in their box to be able to help churches know what to do. And they’re going to need to coach churches on how to use those tools,” Rumbough said of Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and one of this year’s featured speakers.

SBCAL began its meeting with a banquet June 6 followed by two days of breakout sessions covering a broad range of topics, from association funding and biblical conflict resolution to equipping disciple-makers. They also heard from leaders across the convention, including International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, outgoing SBC President Fred Luter, GuideStone chief executive O.S. Hawkins and Blackaby Ministries’ Rick Fisher.

Fisher spoke to associational leaders about the “love relationship” God desires with every believer.

“Our role as leaders of influence is to be a living display of what’s on God’s heart and what’s on God’s mind,” Fisher said. “I believe the most significant and profound way that God wants to shape spiritual leaders is through the love relationship that we have with Him, and that relationship is best expressed as we pray.”

Fisher also cautioned SBCAL members of the dangers of working outside that prayer-based love relationship.

“It occurs to me that there any many times in my life where I have sent myself out,” he admitted, often with very limited success. “We live in a culture where it’s much easier to do things for God than to spend time with God.”

Hawkins briefed SBCAL on the health of GuideStone’s various ministries and asked for their help with “Mission:Dignity,” which provides financial assistance for retired Southern Baptist ministers and their spouses living at or near the poverty line.

“Associational leaders are key to identifying those who are in need,” Hawkins said. “In last 16-plus years, we’ve been able to mail out over $100 million to these pastors and their widows. Not one dime came from any GuideStone funds. We don’t get any Cooperative Program funds. Every bit of that money was raised from individuals and churches.”

Hawkins asked associational leaders to promote GuideStone’s upcoming Mission:Dignity Sunday, June 22.

“Not even the stamp that goes on the envelope that sends the check to those people is taken out of a gift that anyone gives,” Hawkins said. “What a privilege it is to be Christ’s hand extended to these precious, godly men and women.”

Buoyed by the success of this year’s conference, Rumbough said he’s already making plans for the 2015 SBCAL in Columbus, Ohio. Based on feedback gleaned from participants, he wants more breakout sessions and more time for networking.

“These guys love talking to each other, they love learning from each other,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had as many expressions of appreciation for the conference and for the leadership and all that’s taken place – a lot of affirmation.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham writes for the International Mission Board.)

6/18/2014 11:29:10 AM by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor’s shift on sexuality confronts SBC

June 18 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Los Angeles-area Southern Baptist pastor has said he believes homosexual acts are not always sinful, leading to a split in his church and leaving some Southern Baptists wondering whether the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will withdraw fellowship from the congregation.

“I recently revealed to the elders that I have changed my stance on homosexuality,” Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church said in a Feb. 9 sermon posted on YouTube that gained national attention through a blog post at patheos.com on May 29 and one by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. on June 2.

Cortez acknowledged that his endorsement of homosexuality “is a radical shift from the longstanding belief of our church. This is a radical shift from our statement of faith, aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Article III of the SBC Constitution states, “Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The SBC Executive Committee (EC) is monitoring developments in the New Heart situation and could consider the matter during its September or February meetings. Depending on how the facts unfold, the EC could also make a recommendation regarding New Heart to the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

One complicating factor in a potential withdrawal of fellowship is that New Heart is classified as a “mission” rather than as an independent church in Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile database. But that classification was apparently reported years ago, making it difficult to ascertain whether New Heart ever formally constituted as a church. Even if it turns out that New Heart is still a mission, Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention told Religion News Service that “the parent church had no knowledge of the changes happening.”

New Heart did not respond to Baptist Press’ request for comments.

Some New Heart members believed Cortez’s position is unbiblical and thought he should be terminated, a letter from Cortez posted at patheos.com said. According to Cortez, the congregation voted May 18 not to dismiss him. Instead it opted to become a “Third Way” church that will “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another,” Cortez wrote.

Earlier this month, a group of church members who believe homosexuality is unbiblical reportedly separated from New Heart.

In his sermon, Cortez argued that Romans 1 does not condemn all homosexual acts but only those committed in a spirit of violence or unbridled lust. He said modern homosexual relationships are different from the grotesque forms of homosexuality Paul was referencing. Cortez said he learned about ancient homosexuality by immersing himself in “homoerotic literature.”

Cortez also explained that his son is gay and said his own change of mind led to the “most meaningful moment” he has ever had with his son.

At the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, New Heart was mentioned twice. On one occasion, messenger Wiley Drake of Buena Park, Calif., moved that the SBC’s newly elected officers lead the convention to discipline Cortez and New Heart. The motion was ruled out of order because it directed officers to act outside the scope of their duties as established by the Article IV of the SBC constitution, which says, “While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.”

During the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary report, Drake asked President Daniel Akin how the SBC can discipline New Heart. Akin replied that local churches are responsible for their own discipline.

Though the SBC cannot discipline a church, it can withdraw fellowship from a congregation and has done so on three occasions – all in response to churches’ affirmations of homosexuality.

  • In 1992 the convention withdrew fellowship from two North Carolina churches: Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, which voted to bless the “union” of two homosexual men, and Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, which licensed a homosexual to the ministry.

  • In 2009, the convention ceased its relationship with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, which had five openly homosexual members at the time, including some serving on church committees.

The process by which the SBC can “withdraw fellowship” from a church (an action tantamount to removing a church from participation in the SBC’s annual meeting, terminating receipt of benefits that come from inclusion, and prohibiting further identification with the convention) can take various paths.

The starting points for those paths include motions on the floor of the convention, complaints reported or actions taken by cooperating state conventions or local Baptist associations and even notice of press accounts. Consideration of those reports or motions by appropriate committees including the SBC’s Credentials Committee and/or the Executive Committee happens along the way, with final determination usually made by the messengers of the convention, frequently in a vote to approve a recommendation after a study of the facts and an opportunity for both sides of the issue to be presented.

The California Southern Baptist Convention would presumably follow its own process for withdrawing fellowship from a church, but Whittaker did not respond before press time to BP’s request for comments.

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

6/18/2014 11:19:11 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Priscilla Shirer: ‘God is able’ and sovereign

June 18 2014 by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press

An overflow crowd of more than 1,200 women examined God’s sovereignty during the 60th annual Southern Baptist Convention Ministers’ Wives Luncheon, held June 10 during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Baltimore.

The luncheon featured speaker Priscilla Shirer, author of several books, including One in a Million, The Resolution for Women and most recently God is Able.

Shirer is the daughter of Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas. Evans grew up in a row home just 10 minutes away from the Baltimore Hilton, where the luncheon took place.

In her message, Shirer shared a familiar passage about the fisherman and future apostle, Simon Peter, as detailed in Luke 5. Peter had just invested his time and energy into fishing all night but was coming up empty, Shirer said.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Priscilla Shirer, author, national speaker and founder of Going Beyond Ministries, speaks at the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon June 10 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Hundreds of ministers’ wives attended the annual event during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10-11.

“A large number of you know how it feels to invest your time, ... yourself ... into a ministry, a marriage, ... and you feel quite discouraged because you are coming up empty,” said Shirer, of Going Beyond Ministries in Cedar Hill, Texas.

And yet, even though Peter was frustrated, tired and irritated, Jesus saw him, Shirer said.

“Your God sees you,” she said. “He knows all about your fishing trip” and sees all “your tears,” “every bead of sweat,” and “every moment awake at night.”

Rather than giving up, Peter cleaned his nets, “which implies he had the intention to use them again,” Shirer said. “There is no rebuke for you to step aside and ‘wash your net.’”

But she cautioned against doing it alone. This passage talks about fishermen, plural, rather than fisherman, singular, she stressed.

In the biblical story, Jesus, pressed by the crowds, went to Peter’s boat and got in – an obvious contrast to Peter, who wanted to get out of the boat.

“The very thing that Peter was discouraged about was the perfect thing for Jesus to get involved in. He will use the part of your life that seems the most useless ... it has not been a waste. Our greatest mess will be our greatest message,” she said, noting, “God makes useful what seems useless.”

Shirer went on to say the sovereignty of God means “He’s got it in His hands.” In other words, He is able. He’s got it.

She applied the concept of God’s sovereignty to the Luke 5 passage. “Peter was getting more and more discouraged ... but Jesus was not,” she said. He knew he needed “a place to stand” in the water where His voice would be amplified for the pressing crowds who came to hear Him.

“God allowed the empty [boat] so there would be margin for Him,” she said, pointing out that He wouldn’t be able to use a boat “full of flipping, flopping fish.”

“God will put you in such a scenario on purpose ... so you can see what it’s like to see Him plant His feet into the situation.”

Such was true for Peter, whom witnessed an overflowing amount of fish “after he went to the deep place with Jesus.” He was blown away by God’s goodness and provision, Shirer concluded, saying, “He wants you to go deep, too” – to show He is able.

Donna Avant, president of this year’s luncheon and wife of John Avant, senior pastor of First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tenn., said she had picked the theme long before she learned the name of Shirer’s latest book.

“As we were praying through the theme, Priscilla’s book was already at the printers!” she said. Each attendee at the conference received a copy of the book.

Officers for the 2015 luncheon in Columbus, Ohio, with the theme “Radiant,” are Mary Cox, of Lawrenceville, Ga., president; Charlotte Barbo of Columbus, Ohio, vice president; Audrey Davidson of Alexandria, Va., as recording secretary-treasurer; and Joanie Buster of Plano, Texas, correspondence secretary.

Next year’s featured speaker at the June 9 luncheon will be Angie Smith, the wife of Todd Smith, lead singer of Dove Award winning group Selah. He also is the author of Mended, I Will Carry You and What Women Fear.

The SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon dates back to 1955 when two Georgia pastors’ wives realized the importance of that state’s ministers’ wives’ conference and decided that the national convention would benefit from such an organization. They made plans for a tea at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City during the 1956 convention and were overwhelmed by the response.

Always held on Tuesday during the SBC annual meeting, the luncheon is open to wives of all ministers, including pastors, staff members, chaplains, missionaries and denominational workers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)

6/18/2014 11:06:29 AM by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Google restricts porn in ads, apps

June 18 2014 by Kiley Crossland, World News Service/Baptist Press

Google is cracking down on sexually graphic content with two recent policy changes, one implemented in March and one that started in June. The new rules take steps to eliminate explicit material in Google's advertisements and apps.

Google will no longer accept advertisements through Google AdWords that promote graphic depictions of sexual acts, according to an email the company sent to advertising accounts in early June. Morality in Media, a national organization opposing pornography, published the letter. The new policy will restrict ads containing or linking to explicit content.

The policy revision came after a May meeting in Washington, D.C., between Google and anti-pornography advocates including Morality in Media, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.

"We are grateful that they are realizing that their profits from porn are not worth the devastation to children and families," Morality in Media said in a statement. The group said other organizations like Facebook and Comcast also have taken steps to clean up explicit content on the Internet.

Google's advertising approval process includes three status labels: approved; approved (non-family); and approved (adult). Non-family and adult ads don't appear if someone has the Google SafeSearch filter activated. Under Google's new policies, more ads will be given a non-family or adult label or be disapproved. Google says the change will affect all countries.

In March, Google beefed up its policies for apps sold through Google Play, prohibiting those containing or promoting sexually explicit or erotic content, icons, titles or descriptions. Since the announcement, Google has taken down several apps that violate the new policies.

Anti-pornography activists still encourage Google to eliminate graphic content from Google Search, Google Images and YouTube.

PornHarms.com, an offshoot of Morality in Media, named Google one of its 2013 and 2014 Dirty Dozen organizations for contributing to sexual exploitation in the nation. When the site announced the 2014 list prior to Google's recent policy changes, Morality in Media said, "Google's empire thrives on porn. ... We encourage Google to improve their efforts to protect children and all who wish to be porn-free."

Other organizations on the 2014 Dirty Dozen list include Verizon, Barnes & Noble and Cosmopolitan magazine.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland is a writer for WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

6/18/2014 11:00:13 AM by Kiley Crossland, World News Service/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone reports on progress, health care

June 17 2014 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone

Citing good news across all ministry areas within GuideStone Financial Resources, President O.S. Hawkins delivered the organization's 96th annual report to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Baltimore.

GuideStone provides retirement plans, life and health products, ancillary insurance products, property and casualty coverage and mutual funds to Southern Baptist and evangelical churches. Beginning earlier this year, GuideStone made its award-winning mutual funds available to Southern Baptist and evangelical church members.


Turning first to investments, Hawkins announced during the June 10-11 SBC annual meeting that GuideStone was recognized by various reporting agencies that monitor mutual fund companies.

In 2014, the annual Lipper Fund Awards once again recognized GuideStone for outstanding fund performance, this time recognizing the GuideStone Extended-Duration Bond Fund as the Best Fund Over 3 Years and the Best Fund Over 5 Years in the Corporate Debt A-Rated Funds category. In each category, which ended Nov. 30, 2013, the Extended-Duration Bond Fund beat out more than 50 eligible funds.

This is the third consecutive year the Lipper Fund Awards has recognized GuideStone Funds. In 2012, the entire GuideStone Funds family was ranked No. 1 out of 182 eligible fund families with up to $40 billion in assets and was honored with Lipper's Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S. over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2011. In 2013, the MyDestination 2025 Fund was ranked No. 1 out of 92 similar funds for its performance over the three-year period ending Nov. 30, 2012.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
GuideStone Financial Resources president O.S. Hawkins presents a report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10 at the Baltimore Convention Center. He said his entity is fighting to protect religious liberty against the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate. "We're in a battle on the healthcare front in America," Hawkins said, and GuideStone is fighting through litigation and legislation.

During the economic trough in 2008-09, which included the market's eventual low point on March 9, 2009, Hawkins said GuideStone encouraged participants to "stay the course" in investments that were appropriate for their time horizon. Today the S&P 500 Index, which most consider a broad measure of the overall market, is up 217.8 percent between March 9, 2009 and May 31, 2014, revealing that an account of $50,000 on March 9, 2009 would have $159,000 today, excluding contributions.

"Retirement is a marathon; it's a long-term race," Hawkins said, encouraging messengers to make use of GuideStone resources to determine an appropriate asset allocation consistent with their risk tolerance and time horizon.

Health care

GuideStone is very competitive in its medical plans, Hawkins said. Renewal rates in GuideStone's group health plans topped 98 percent going into 2014, while renewal rates among other insurance products topped 99 percent, Hawkins said. The plans are strong, Hawkins said, and are growing.

As the convention started, GuideStone announced expanded enrollment opportunities for its medical Personal Plans that take effect July 1, 2014.

"We're in a battle for health care in America, as many of you know," Hawkins said. "We're fighting this on multiple fronts," including through prayer and then advocacy in courts and in Congress.

While discussing health care, Hawkins turned his report to the issues of litigation over the contraceptive mandate which requires the coverage of certain abortion-causing drugs. Recently, some 200 ministries and organizations filed amicus briefs in support of GuideStone's position, Hawkins said.

GuideStone's litigation is alongside Oklahoma-based Reaching Souls International and Georgia's Truett-McConnell College to challenge the mandate. While a narrowly carved exemption exists for churches and other closely held ministries, many other ministries are subject to the controversial mandate. An Oklahoma federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in December that currently protects GuideStone and the ministries it serves from the mandate's penalties. GuideStone is seeking a permanent injunction to provide protection while the case is heard. No trial date has been set.

"Our own government is trying to force us to choose between long-held biblical convictions and health coverage," Hawkins said. "These are religious liberty issues that are at stake and we are determined to not allow this administration, or any, to tell us that we have to provide abortifacients to any people, and for free on top of that."

Property and casualty

GuideStone is in its third year of a partnership with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company to provide churches and ministries with property and casualty coverage. Hawkins cited a 99 percent renewal rate as evidence of the service and competitive rates GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual offer.

"We're thankful for the relationship we have with Brotherhood Mutual and the ability to provide property and casualty and risk management for your churches, ministries and associations," Hawkins said.


GuideStone's ministry to retired pastors and their widows who live near the poverty line, Mission:Dignity, continues to expand, Hawkins said.

"One of the joys of my life is to be able to tell you that in the 17 years that we've held stewardship in the ministry we call GuideStone we've been able to send out over $100 million to pastors and widows who are in need," Hawkins said.

Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program support; all donations come from individuals, churches and Sunday school classes. One hundred percent of gifts to Mission:Dignity go to help someone in need; all administrative costs are funded through a separate endowment.

Hawkins highlighted two of his books, The Joshua Code: 52 Scripture Verses Every Believer Should Know and The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer. Author proceeds and royalties from the sale of these two books benefit Mission:Dignity.

After presenting GuideStone's newest Mission:Dignity video, Hawkins reiterated his concern to pastors that they need not worry what will happen to their wives if the pastor should die first.

"If you're sitting here with a wife that has stood with you and wept with you and ministered with you and worked with you; I want you to rest in the fact that if the Lord takes you first, and you wonder what would happen to her, GuideStone will be here to be Christ's hand, and your hand, extended to her until she gets to Heaven with you," Hawkins said.

Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 22 throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. Churches can receive free, undated bulletin inserts by contacting Mission:Dignity at www.MissionDignitySBC.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/17/2014 11:59:29 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone | with 0 comments

BCH launches multi-million dollar capital campaign

June 17 2014 by BCH Communications

Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) is taking steps to make sure North Carolina children and families can depend on the 128-year-old statewide organization well into the future. BCH publicly launched a multi-million dollar capital campaign during a kick-off event held June 10 at its oldest campus, Mills Home in Thomasville.
Dubbed “Sharing Hope … Changing Lives,” the initiative is BCH’s first capital campaign since 1997. The funds will provide much-needed support for the nonprofit’s locations in 19 North Carolina communities including Broyhill Home in Clyde.
“We intentionally named the campaign after our organizational vision statement,” said BCH president Michael C. Blackwell. The campaign is the third in his 31-year tenure. “In only four words, this statement shares the powerful heartbeat of the campaign as well as the ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes itself.”
Baptist Children’s Homes is the largest child care organization in the southeast. The nonprofit provides residential homes to North Carolina children who come from a variety of challenging circumstances ranging from family dysfunction to abuse, neglect and abandonment. BCH also offers services for adults with developmental disabilities, senior adults and single mothers.


The financial goal for “Sharing Hope…Changing Lives,” which ends in January 2016, is $21.3 million. The funding will allow BCH to meet a variety of immediate needs while strengthening its foundation for the future.
“Longevity is an integral part of the BCH legacy – a legacy that began in 1885 when Mills Home first opened its doors,” Blackwell said. “It’s the highest honor, and greatest responsibility, to ensure that the ministry will continue to be a haven of hope for children and families who turn to us now – and in generations to come.”
Blackwell’s campaign leadership team includes BCH’s executive vice president, development and communications, Brenda Gray and Cargill Associates senior vice president Paul Blevins. Blevins was a part of BCH’s two previous capital campaigns. BCH trustee Jerry Jordan and his wife Evon from Oakboro are campaign co-chairs. Paul Broyhill, Chairman of the Broyhill Family Foundation in Lenoir, serves as honorary chair. The family founded Broyhill Furniture and provided the funding to establish BCH’s Broyhill Home in Clyde.
“The Broyhill Family Foundation gives to many wonderful causes, but BCH is a favorite and primary interest,” Broyhill said. “There are children in situations so difficult they are almost impossible for us to realize.”
The campaign is focused on raising funds in three specific areas: renovations at BCH’s statewide locations, ongoing operational support and building the organization’s endowment. According to Gray, the campaign is vital to the nonprofit’s future and the services it offers.
“Without this campaign, children will go unserved,” Gray said. “We must sustain this ministry for the children of today and of tomorrow.”
The silent phase of “Sharing Hope…Changing Lives” started in June 2013 with the approval of BCH’s Board of Trustees. Nine divisions comprise the campaign. The state is sectioned into six geographical divisions. The final three include BCH alumni, staff members and trustees.
The staff and trustee campaigns were launched at the start of the silent phase. Other gifts were also solicited privately from corporations, foundations and other statewide supporters in preparation for the public launch.
“I’m excited to report that 100 percent of BCH’s trustees have given to the campaign, and they have exceeded their $4 million goal,” Gray said. “Also, BCH staff members have more than doubled their $100,000 goal by giving $212,000.”
Co-chair Jerry Jordan said the goal was to raise 60 percent of the total funds prior to the public phase. “We have raised 62 percent of our goal for a total of $13,288,333.00,” Jordan shared. “We can’t believe we’re at this point. We are so blessed. We’re off to a good start.”
Blackwell is energized by the initial swell of support, but recognizes that the hardest work lies ahead.
“The remainder of the campaign will take effort and participation from all our statewide supporters,” Blackwell said. “Not only are we charged with caring for the daily needs of our residents, but we have to maintain the homes we provide for them. As with any home, roofs need replacing and heating and air units must be repaired.
“We must be able to provide for our children, and by the grace of God we will.”

6/17/2014 11:46:17 AM by BCH Communications | with 0 comments

Southeastern gives, receives at Baltimore

June 17 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

During the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Baltimore, the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching sponsored a breakfast June 10 for pastors and church leaders.
The Spurgeon Center, located at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, equips and encourages pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches, and represents an intentional bridge between the seminary and local churches.
John H. Ewart, director of the Spurgeon Center and associate vice president for global theological initiatives, said, “Our goal is to see Southeastern as both the Great Commission seminary … and also as the pastor seminary.”
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, spoke on the topic of the pastor and the spiritual life.
He said, “If you put everything into your stock or weight or value or charisma or smile, then we don’t have much. That’s why I believe deeply in my heart that the greatest need in our lives as Southern Baptists is to move into a major season of extraordinary prayer.”


BR photo by Michael McEwen
Daniel Akin, center, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, receives the Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service June 11 from Oklahoma Baptist University President David Whitlock, right, and Stan Norman, left, provost and executive vice president for campus life.

Floyd reminded pastors that no one else could determine whether they are going after God.
“I want to extend His glory to the nations of the world,” he said, “and I hope you will give your best to Him. God can do more in a moment than you can do in a lifetime.”
Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) presented Southeastern seminary president Danny Akin with its Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service June 11 at the Southeastern alumni luncheon.
Hobbs was one of the SBC’s leading theologians and the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla.
In 2013, former Union University president, David Dockery, received the award.
The luncheon featured a panel consisting of Akin; Bruce Ashford, provost of SEBTS; Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at SEBTS; Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources; and Trillia Newbell, blogger and author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research Division, moderated the event.
J.D. Greear, a Southeastern alumnus and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, announced The Summit will be giving $500,000 to the seminary over the next five years.
Director of financial development at SEBTS, Daniel Palmer said, “I think the tears … in Dr. Akin’s eyes said it all. This gift is huge.
“We don’t raise money for the sake of raising money; we do it to graduate well-prepared champions for Christ who are financially free to go serve wherever God calls them. Every gift to Southeastern is multiplied through the future ministries of thousands of students. This historic gift from the generous people of The Summit Church will help us keep world-class preparation affordable for students until Christ returns.”
Nearing the end of the SBC annual meeting June 11, Akin presented the seminary report to convention messengers.
He said the school has experienced many blessings, and if the numbers hold SEBTS will jump to a six-year record enrollment. The seminary also recently endowed the sixth and seventh chairs where individuals gave at least a million dollars to those endowed chairs.
“This year on my 10th anniversary, our seminary family gave me a gift,” Akin said. “In one night, they collected and presented a gift of almost $300,000 for scholarships to be given to those who are coming from ethnic minorities so that we might enable them to be well-trained to build strong, vibrant churches across our convention.”
One of the things that excited Akin about the SBC was the “growing heart and passion to have churches that look like the church in heaven from every tribe, every tongue, every people and every nation. It is my prayer that God might be so kind in my lifetime that we would not see just an increase of ethnic minorities in our convention and churches, I am looking forward … to the day when … [minorities] are at the head of the table and giving us direction and to guide us in leadership.”
Southeastern has seven degrees completely online. Akin said that we have to recognize the technological age in which we live. He said SEBTS has been “proactive in taking theological education to where you are, and we are seeing this more and more with great success without compromising one whit of quality of the education we’re delivering but by simply making it more accessible to more Southern Baptist across America and around the world.”
Akin closed, “The students you are sending to our six seminaries inspire me and encourage me. I’ve never been more positive and more optimistic than what I believe the future holds for Southern Baptists and Bible-believing Christians; because our God’s kingdom is marching on. He is going to accomplish His saving purpose, and isn’t it amazing that He gives you and me the opportunity to be a part of what He is doing?”

6/17/2014 11:37:26 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Christians flee as violence spreads to northern Iraqi cities

June 17 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

Iraqi Christians came under fire again as the bloody campaign of Islamic militants spilled over from Syria into Iraq’s northern cities last week.

An estimated 10,000 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant), also known as ISIS and ISIL, advanced rapidly on Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, such as Tikrit and Kirkuk, leaving a wave of destruction in their path and sending the Iraqi army reeling in panic. By June 15, ISIS terrorists had begun to approach Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers, policemen and government officials captured by ISIS have been summarily executed, as have some Chaldean Catholics, according to reports from sources inside the besieged region. Those same sources claim nearly all of the remaining Catholics have fled Mosul.

“All the faithful have left the city,” Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told the Catholic World Report. “Who knows whether they will ever be able to return.”

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly 1 million Christians have left the country. An estimated 500,000 remained in the northern portion of the country among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 2,000 years. Nona said there were “35,000 faithful living in Mosul” in 2003.

“Three thousand were still there in early 2014,” Nona said. “Now, probably no one is left there and that is tragic.”

Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of Kirkuk Evangelical Church, confirmed the report.

“Ninety nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” Jazrawi told World Magazine June 10.


The region’s Catholics have been under pressure for some time, according to Catholic News Service. The agency quoted an Iraqi Catholic identifying himself only as “Danny,” who said Christians “have been the objects of kidnapping, torture and killing by extremists, hoping to extort money from us or to force us to convert to Islam, for several months.”

Father Khalil Jaar, who is responsible for aiding Christian refugees who have reached Amman, Jordan, told Catholic News Service that ISIS forces have killed many Christians, but also Muslims who oppose their efforts to impose strict Sharia law.

“All the people are suffering. But as we are a minority – minority Christians – it is normal to suffer more than others. But even the Muslims are suffering from these fanatic people,” Jaar told CNS. “They don’t have mercy on anyone, Christian or Muslim. The only answer they have is to kill them.”

According to the newspaper La Stampa, whose Vatican Insider project reports daily on Catholics around the world, at least one church under construction in Mosul has been demolished and the fourth-century monastery of Mar Benham is in the hands of ISIS militants. Vatican sources published the e-mail correspondence of a Dominican friar in the area, who told his superior the situation was “critical and apocalyptic.”

“They murdered adults and children. Hundreds of bodies have been left in the streets and in the homes, without any mercy,” the Dominican friar wrote in his e-mail.

If not killed for their faith, Christians who remain in occupied Mosul will likely see the imposition of a “dhimma” by ISIS if the group holds onto the city, just as Syrian Christians experienced when the Islamists took control of the ancient Christian city of Raqqa in March.

Under a dhimma, a protection agreement much like those between mafia families and businesses, Islamists agree to offer “protection” to religious minorities in exchange for money. If the agreement is not signed, subjects are faced with the choice of converting to Islam or facing the sword.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in March that Christians in Raqqa, Syria, had signed the agreement, which committed them to a biannual tax of “four gold dinars” – about $500 per person.

In addition to being required to practice Christianity behind closed doors, Christians in Raqqa were told to follow 11 other directives in order to keep the agreement with their Muslim overlords. Among those directives, Christians were prohibited from building new sanctuaries or restoring ones damaged in the civil war there, and they were forbidden from aiding any faction or government opposed to ISIS, Haaretz reported.

The U.S. State Department condemned the agreement in Raqqa as a violation of “universal human rights.”

Nina Shea, writing in National Review Online, said the situation in northern Iraq shows “the religious cleansing of Christians from Iraq is entering the end game.”

“President Maliki is vowing that Iraq’s army will regain control, but this may take time. ISIS has controlled parts of Ramadi, the capital of Sunni Muslim Anbar province, and much of Fallujah for the past six months. When the army does eventually succeed in reversing jihadi control in Mosul, it may be too late for the Christians. Once Middle Eastern Christians flee to the West, they don’t return,” Shea wrote.

“This is a profound development for the Christian church, of course, which has had a two-thousand-year-old presence there. But it will have long-term national-security implications for the West. American political leaders have so far failed to distinguish the religious cleansing from its surrounding context of terror and conflict. They overlook the fact that religious pluralism and diversity are among today’s casualties.”

ISIS disavows any notion of freedom of religion. The group, which began as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has morphed into a sect deemed too violent even by Al-Qaeda’s spiritual leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was second in command to Osama bin Laden. Zawahiri has supported a group in Syria called Al-Nusra, which – though it has committed atrocities of its own – has been more protective of civilians.

According to Haaretz, al-Zawahiri told ISIS to operate within the guidelines established by Al-Qaeda or it would face “a dreadful battle.” But ISIS is not listening. The group is now under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who until 2009 was in U.S. custody at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a direct descendant of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, has surpassed al-Zawahiri in popularity and prestige among Sunni Islamists, according to a Washington Post report. A senior U.S. intelligence official told the paper he is “more violent, more virulent, more anti-American” than other potential successors to bin Laden.

His radical hatred of Jews, Christians and Americans in general is believed to be accompanied by his hatred of two other types of Muslims – Sunnis who do not believe in establishing an Islamic caliphate over the whole of the Middle East, and Shiite Muslims, with whom Sunnis have argued over the succession of Islamic imams (spiritual leaders) for nearly 1,500 years.

Al-Baghdadi’s brand of extremist Islam also puts him at odds with the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government, Iran and clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr, who encouraged Shiite Muslims to attack American troops in Fallujah during the Iraq war.

Al-Sadr issued a statement through FARS, an official Iranian news agency, saying he would cooperate with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to “form peace units to defend the holy places” of both Muslims and Christians. What will likely follow is a larger religious war with any remaining Christians in Iraq caught in the middle of sectarian strife.

Elijah Abraham, born under a different name to a Shiite family in Baghdad, is now a Christian evangelist who travels to the Middle East often to train Christian pastors.

Abraham told Baptist Press the administration of President Barack Obama originally viewed ISIS as an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and gave the group money and arms to aid its effort to overthrow Assad. Abraham said the move was a serious miscalculation that has brought harm to Christians.

“ISIS is an extension of Al-Qaeda. With American funds, now ISIS is killing Iraqis and planning to go for Baghdad and Iraqi Shiite shrines to settle an old score,” Abraham wrote in an e-mail. “Since 2009 with President Obama’s policies in the Middle East, there has also been a systematic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.”

If ISIS gains the upper hand in the battle, Abraham said the world can expect to see more of what it saw June 15, when ISIS militants released a video reportedly showing the mass execution of captured Shiite Muslim military recruits.

“Christians will be slaughtered in this battle,” Abraham said.

Barnabas Fund, an aid agency that supports minority Christians in Islamic countries, issued a statement saying the recent attacks on Christians in Mosul are “a clear statement from ISIS that they are no longer welcome.”

“It is feared that this latest exodus could be the final death knell for the Christians of Iraq,” the group’s international director, Patrick Sookdheo, told CNS News.

“Having previously sought refuge in Syria, this is no longer an option, and as ISIS violence threatens the stability of the wider region, Christians have very few places of safety to which to run.”

The northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, with its population of 200,000, also fell to ISIS militants June 15.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/17/2014 11:14:23 AM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Court backs pro-life ads as free speech

June 17 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A national pro-life organization has gained a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in its challenge to a state law it says restricts free speech.

The justices unanimously ruled June 16 the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) had demonstrated that an Ohio prohibition on “false statement[s]” during an election campaign injured the pro-life organization. The SBA List and another organization thereby can go forward with their lawsuit, they said. The high court returned the combined case to a federal judge for a ruling in keeping with its opinion.

The SBA List ran ads during the 2010 election campaign asserting Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat, voted for “taxpayer-funded abortion” when he supported the health-care reform law enacted earlier in the year. It also sought to rent billboards in his Ohio district to communicate that message. Driehaus, who described himself as pro-life, denied the measure funded abortions and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Before the November election, the panel found probable cause that the SBA List had violated the “false statement[s]” prohibition.

The SBA List and the country’s other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed with Driehaus, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. The National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops undergirded their positions in detailed documents.

Driehaus dropped his complaint after he lost his race for re-election, but the SBA List continued with a suit it had filed before the election. The pro-life organization alleged its free speech had been chilled and it faced the likelihood that its rights to free speech and association would again be “chilled and burdened.” A federal court combined the challenge with one brought by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes but dismissed the suits, ruling neither offered a “sufficiently concrete injury for purposes of standing or ripeness.” The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed the decision.

The SBA List welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling in its favor as a “step toward victory for the freedom of speech.”

“The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement.

“It is beyond dispute that Obamacare contains multiple abortion-funding provisions,” she said, adding SBA List “is now one step closer in its quest to unleash the First Amendment from the constraints imposed by Ohio’s unconstitutional false speech statute.”

David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written release, “The First Amendment forbids government from acting as a ‘truth commission’ on matters of public debate. The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully upheld the freedom of Americans to speak in accordance with their views by allowing them to challenge laws that silence them. The Susan B. Anthony List’s warnings about abortion funding in Obamacare were objectively true. If that fact was part of what cost this congressman his job, that’s because his constituents, like most Americans, reject taxpayer-funded abortion.”

Writing for the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said the Ohio commission’s proceedings were burdensome for the SBA List with the “additional threat of criminal prosecution.”

“As long as the petitioners continue to engage in comparable electoral speech regarding support for the [Affordable Care Act], that speech will remain arguably proscribed by Ohio’s false statement statute,” Thomas wrote.

The SBA List’s “insistence that the allegations in its press release were true did not prevent the Commission panel from finding probable cause to believe that SBA had violated the law the first time around,” he wrote. “And, there is every reason to think that similar speech in the future will result in similar proceedings, notwithstanding SBA’s belief in the truth of its allegations.”

The case is SBA List v. Driehaus.

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

6/17/2014 11:04:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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