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Reign of terror must be stopped, Moore says

August 22 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The United States possesses a distinctive duty in Iraq to combat the reign of terror by an Islamist army and needs discernment on how to do so, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist has said.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offered his analysis two days after the beheading of American journalist James Foley. A video of Foley’s execution by an unidentified soldier of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was posted on social media.

America cannot take a hands-off approach, Moore said of terrorist violence and genocide in a country the United States helped liberate from dictator Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago.

“When it comes to the slaughter in Iraq, we cannot show moral indifference,” Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement. “This is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a national security emergency, and nearly everyone agrees that America bears a special responsibility – Iraq War hawks will say it is because we failed to finish the job, and Iraq War doves will say it is because our action plunged the nation into chaos in a misguided war. This is an important debate to have, but not now.

“Instead, what is needed now are neither hawks, nor doves, but owls – with the talons to fight injustice and the wisdom to know when to start, and when to stop,” said Moore, who already had endorsed strong action by the United States to eliminate the ISIS threat.

His comments came as ISIS continued its efforts to establish a militant Islamic state encompassing Iraq and Syria. The terrorists have taken over significant portions of Iraq, where more than 4,400 U.S. service members died between 2003 and 2012. The Sunni Muslim militants that largely make up ISIS have executed or driven from their homes many Christians, Yazidis and others, especially in the northern part of the Middle Eastern country. ISIS also has threatened to attack the United States.


A video posted to social media earlier this week showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS jihadist.

American airstrikes authorized by President Obama against ISIS continued Aug. 20. U.S. jets and drones performed 14 strikes near the Mosul Dam, the Pentagon reported. The toll included six ISIS Humvees and two armed trucks. The United States confirmed Aug. 18 that the Iraqi military had retaken the dam in northern Iraq after its capture by the terrorists. The U.S. has conducted 84 airstrikes since Obama authorized such military action Aug. 7.

The president reacted to Foley’s Aug. 19 beheading by condemning ISIS and promising the United States would do what is necessary to protect its citizens. He described Foley’s killing as a violent act “that shocks the conscience of the entire world.”

Describing ISIS as a “cancer,” Obama said the terrorist group “speaks for no religion.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day,” the president said Aug. 20. ISIS “has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

He added, “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like [ISIS] has no place in the 21st century.”

Foley, 40, was a freelance journalist for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse when he was taken captive nearly two years ago in Syria. ISIS initially demanded a ransom from Foley’s family and GlobalPost of $132.5 million, the online news site reported to The Wall Street Journal.

In the video of Foley’s execution, the ISIS solider showed another American – Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist for Time magazine – and threatened his life. The Journal reported that about 20 journalists, many in the captivity of ISIS, are thought to be missing in Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Associated Press condemned Foley’s execution.

“The murder of a journalist with impunity is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world,” AP President Gary Pruitt said in a written statement.

The United States attempted to rescue Foley and other Americans from ISIS recently, but the hostages were not at the site targeted by the operation, the Department of Defense announced Aug. 20.

“We put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said of the rescue operation in a written release, adding, “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

The State Department has asked the Pentagon to send 300 more military service members to protect Americans in the Baghdad area, the Journal reported. The U.S. has about 900 military personnel already in Iraq for security and planning purposes.

Moore joined others in an open letter released Aug. 11 that called for the destruction of ISIS as a military force. The letter – initiated by Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – urged the United States and the international community to do what is necessary to enable local forces to protect Christians and minorities from the genocidal purge being conducted by ISIS.

“No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table,” George, Moore and others wrote in the letter. “We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in [ISIS’] path. Nothing short of the destruction of [ISIS] as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.”

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

8/22/2014 10:10:16 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ebola missionary points to faith in Christ after release

August 22 2014 by Baptist Press/LifeWay Christian Resources

Both Christian missionaries who contracted the Ebola virus while ministering to patients in Liberia have been released from an Atlanta hospital.

Kent Brantly, 33, was released Thursday (Aug 21). The Samaritan’s Purse doctor said at a news conference, “Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

Nancy Writebol, 59, has not spoken to reporters since being released two days earlier. Media representatives are being told the SIM (Serving in Mission) missionary is spending private time with her family including her two sons, Jeremy and Brian Writebol.

Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Research, interviewed both sons about their mother’s ordeal and how her Christian faith has played a role in her recovery.

Following are excerpts from that interview.


David and Nancy Writebol

Why was your mother in Africa?

Jeremy: Mom and Dad have been career missionaries for the last 15 years in various countries in South America and Africa. About a year ago they joined SIM to go to Liberia to serve the Liberian people through the several ministries. Mom coordinated hospitality for incoming short and long-term missionaries as well as assisted as a nurse’s assistant at the hospital. Mom and Dad have always wanted to use their lives to serve Christ and help those in need in whatever way they could.

What was your reaction when you heard your mother had Ebola?

Jeremy: Devastated. With mortality rates of 65-90 percent of infected patients I knew the statistical odds of her survival were not good. Add to that the way in which a person dies from the virus it can be one of the most terrible ways to die. When we heard mom had the virus I could only imagine the worst.

Does your mom regret going to Africa and fighting the virus?

Brian: No, I don’t sense any regret in going to Liberia or following what they (my parents) are called to do.

Do YOU regret that she went over to Africa to fight Ebola?

Jeremy: No. We know Mom and Dad’s motivation for going was to serve and glorify Christ. There are always costs associated with that call. We’ve read and been familiar with missionary biographies in our house for a very long time. Christians go, they suffer, some die, and that’s part of the call.

Brian: And, we know they have a heart to serve, a heart for Africa, and they were using that Christ-like love in glorifying the Lord.

What do you want to come from this?

Jeremy: The perspective we hope others will gain is that in suffering there is hope, namely Jesus himself. Often we are tempted to think “why me” when suffering comes about, and unless we see it in the larger picture of God’s glory and the unfolding and revealing of his character and nature to the world, we will miss the joy that it is to be part of God’s great story.

Brian: I would like those who look into our lives through this time to see Christ and see He alone is our refuge in trying times. This “strong tower” comes in the form of prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit providing comfort and peace in our hearts in the darkest moments. Through this peace we are able to worship and glorify Him no matter the outcome.

How has this affected her faith?

Brian: In conversations with Mom I’ve picked up a sense that she has a deeper understanding of Christ’s sufficiency in all circumstances. He really is able to give peace and comfort when we have nowhere else to turn.

One national commentator criticized Dr. Brantly for going to Africa instead of ministering in America. How do you respond?

Jeremy: The gospel isn’t just for one nation, or one people group. Jesus called us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). This requires that people leave their own culture and context and cross cultures to go and make disciples. Yes that can be done in the United States, and should be, but it isn’t an either/or command. We are all called to make disciples, some are called to stay within their own culture, some are called to go to faraway places. For my parents and the Brantlys that call was to go to Liberia.

Is there anything you believe your mother would want to convey?

Jeremy: Mom’s statement to me over and over again is that she didn’t want all this attention drawn to herself. She wanted to quietly and anonymously serve Christ in Africa. But in light of all the attention she continues to say to me, “I want Christ to be glorified. I want His name to be made famous.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research.)

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8/22/2014 9:40:23 AM by Baptist Press/LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Mitchell named Union's chief academic officer

August 22 2014 by Baptist Press

C. Ben Mitchell, a leading bioethics expert within the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond, has been named as Union University's provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Union President Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver placed Mitchell in the official capacity Aug. 18 after having selected him in an interim role at the Baptist-affiliated university in Jackson, Tenn., in early June.

Oliver said Mitchell brings a background of scholarship, classroom teaching experience and public policy expertise as Union's new chief academic officer.

Mitchell is "an excellent scholar and teacher who embodies our core values and Christ-centered mission at Union," Oliver said. "His leadership during these past two months has advanced our work tremendously, and I am thrilled that he will be a significant part of shaping our work together in the months and years ahead."

Mitchell joined Union's faculty in 2009. He formerly served as the bioethics consultant for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the mid-1990s, continuing as an ERLC consultant since; associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and director of its Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity; co-director for biotechnology policy as a fellow with the Council for Biotechnology Policy in Washington, D.C.; and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

He will continue as editor of “Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics” and as Union's Graves professor of moral philosophy.

Mitchell holds a doctorate in philosophy with a concentration in medical ethics from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and a bachelor of science degree from Mississippi State University.

As one of the most respected ethicists in evangelical life, Mitchell has been published and quoted in Baptist Press and in such major news media as the Washington Post, Fox News, National Public Radio and MSNBC. He has given testimonies before panels in the U.S. House of Representatives and other policy groups, including 2012 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in opposition to the government's abortifacient mandate in the new health care law.

His most recent book, Ethics & Moral Reasoning: A Student's Guide (Crossway), was released last year and his co-authored volume, Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families (B&H Publishing Group) with D. Joy Riley, MD, is scheduled for release in December. He was the co-author of Does God Need Our Help? Cloning, Assisted Suicide, and Other Challenges in Bioethics, Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality and Biotechnology and the Human Good and of chapters in more than two-dozen other books.

A native of Tampa, Fla., Mitchell also has more than a dozen years of pastoral experience in churches in Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas and Tennessee. He and his wife Nancy have been married for 39 years.

"Union University consists of some extraordinary leaders, including our new president, Dub Oliver," Mitchell said. "I am especially grateful to assist Dr. Oliver as we seek to take Union to the next level of excellence as a Great Commandment and Great Commission institution."

Union also has named Tim Ellsworth as associate vice president for university communications. Ellsworth had served Union for nearly a decade in the university communications office as director of media relations but had recently left that position for a full-time faculty role at the university this fall. Ellsworth now assumes a new leadership role in his former office.

Ellsworth is an Illinois native who previously was associate editor of the Illinois Baptist. He is the author of "God in the Whirlwind," a book that recounts the 2008 tornado that struck the Union campus, and co-author of Pujols: More Than the Game, about Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. Ellsworth has been sports editor for Baptist Press for several years, covering such events as the Olympics and the Super Bowl. He and his wife Sarah have three children.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of Union University.)

8/22/2014 9:32:08 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Flooding, other challenges draw Baptist relief

August 21 2014 by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press

Massive flooding in Michigan affecting tens of thousands of homes and businesses has opened the door for ministry by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.

The three-county area around Warren, Mich., has been described by some as the nation’s largest natural disaster that few people have heard about, largely because of other national and international headlines that have overshadowed it in recent days.

Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams said he expects the relief work to last for weeks. Assessments are ongoing, but more than 450 job requests have already been recorded for homes inundated with water from slow moving rain storms Aug. 11.

“There are 40,000 affected homes in Oakland County alone,” Williams said. “There are another 30,000 to 40,000 damaged homes in Wayne County and then all the work in McComb County. There was as much as 15 feet of water over some of the expressways. Homes have damage from anywhere from a few inches to several feet of floodwater.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has dispatched a mobile command unit to help coordinate the response. Eddie Blackmon, NAMB SBDR coordinator, is assisting Williams in organizing the effort.

“This is the highest number of affected homes I have seen in a single response in the 15 years I have been working with SBDR,” Blackmon said. “We are going to need a lot of help.”


NAMB photo by John Swain
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are responding to massive flooding in Michigan that has affected tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams said he expects the work in response to the flooding to last for weeks. The North American Mission Board has dispatched a mobile command unit to help coordinate the response.  

Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) with NAMB, said the scope of the flooding, and the size of the response needed, have received little media attention so far.

“The spiritual opportunity in Michigan calls for the kind of committed response Southern Baptists are known for in bringing help, healing and hope in the midst of crises,” Wilson said. “God has been orchestrating circumstances in and around Detroit for more than a year. We need to respond to this opportunity to serve.”

And SBDR volunteers are serving in Ferguson, Mo., too. Missouri Baptist Convention SBDR director Dwaine Carter said volunteers have assisted with clean up each day in Ferguson following the riots and racial tension that have erupted there since Aug. 9.

Meanwhile SBDR volunteers are engaged in active responses in Colorado, Hawaii, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, and in rebuild efforts in New York and New Jersey.

Cleanup work continues in response to record wild fires in Washington in the Carlton Complex fire, which claimed more than 350 homes, and two other major fires. Northwest Baptist Convention regional SBDR coordinator Paul Henry reported 52 ash-out projects have already been completed.

“We have volunteers from the Northwest convention, Utah/Idaho and California actively working now,” Henry said. “We are expecting teams from California, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men to arrive soon to continue the work.”

Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention volunteers have been assisting residents in the Keaau area southeast of Hilo. The area suffered heavy wind damage from Hurricane Iselle.

“There are a lot of fallen trees,” Hawaii SBDR coordinator Darrell McCain said. “There are still about 1,000 homes without power in the area. We are expecting a chainsaw team from California this week to help with tree removal.”

Wilson described the immediate response of SBDR volunteers in states like Hawaii and Washington as an impressive display of the growing SBDR network.

“I want to commend the service and great leadership of Darrel and the other leaders,” he said. “Our volunteers are serving where there is great need and great opportunity to share the gospel.”

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or click here. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

8/21/2014 11:11:49 AM by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tilt toward gay marriage hits hiccup

August 21 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist public policy specialists have welcomed a rare court decision out of step with the same-sex marriage juggernaut while reaffirming the need for an ongoing defense of the God-ordained institution.

A Tennessee county judge ruled the state has the authority to limit marriage to a man and a woman, setting forth an exception to more than three dozen rulings in the last 14 months in favor of same-sex marriage. Russell Simmons, circuit court judge in Roane County, ruled Aug. 5 that a Tennessee law barring recognition of gay marriages from other states does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded Simmons’ uncommon opinion.

“Courts around the country seem determined to try to impose a redefinition of marriage, and I’m happy to see one court decision that refuses to try and will into existence constitutional planks by force of its own will,” Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press.

The ruling came as the issue moves forward in the federal court system. Two federal appeals courts already have upheld the invalidation of state laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, and other decisions at the appellate level are forthcoming. Those repudiations of laws in Virginia by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and in Oklahoma and Utah by the 10th Circuit have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could review those opinions or others and issue a ruling in its next term, which begins in October.


Russell Moore

In the Virginia case, the Supreme Court Aug. 20 stayed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, which was scheduled to go into effect Aug. 21. The high court’s stay prevents the issuing of marriage licenses in the state to same-sex couples until the appeals process is completed.

Simmons, in his ruling, wrote that marriage is a “fundamental right” but noted, “The battle is not between whether or not marriage is a fundamental right but what unions are included in the definition of marriage. The Legislative Branch of Tennessee and the voters of Tennessee have said that the definition of marriage should be as it always has been. That man’s best definition of marriage will always be the union of one man and one woman.”

Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, said Simmons was right to conclude “the debate Americans are having on marriage is about marriage’s substance and definition – not whether traditional and biblical understandings of marriage are somehow now exclusionary because of evolving moral norms.”

“That’s what the heart of this debate really is: What is marriage?” Walker said. “Marriage either is something or it isn’t. What Judge Simmons’ ruling allows is for citizens to decide this issue – not courts.”

It remains for Christians to defend God’s definition of marriage, Moore and Walker said.

“We contend for marriage because marriage was not created by a state or a court, and cannot be redefined by a state or court,” Moore said. “God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and His church, and sexual complementarity is essential to marriage.”

Walker told BP, “Marriage may be under threat in the court of public opinion, but Christians must remember that marriage remains timeless and indestructible, for our Lord Jesus said that marriage is ‘from the beginning.’ And in this context, He wasn’t referring to the ‘beginning’ of America or its Constitution, but of the cosmos.”

The tide of judicial opinions in favor of gay marriage began after a June 2013 Supreme Court decision that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion meant same-sex couples gained access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.

In neither of two decisions on same-sex marriage the same day did the justices say states could not limit marriage to a man and a woman. Many defenders of male-female marriage, however, have contended the Supreme Court provided the framework for legalizing gay marriage throughout the country.

Since June 2013, same-sex marriage advocates have won in court 37 times – three in federal appeals court, 21 in federal court and 13 in state court, according to Freedom to Marry, a leading advocate for the legalization of gay marriage. Several of those rulings have been stayed from enforcement while under appeal.

Before Simmons’ ruling in Tennessee, decisions by state judges in Mississippi and Florida were the only ones to conflict with the pro-gay marriage trend, according to SCOTUSblog, which tracks developments at the Supreme Court.

Same-sex marriage is legal already in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Among the states with legalized gay marriage are all those in the Northeast and on the West Coast.

A survey in March showed public opinion on same-sex marriage has essentially flipped in the last decade. That poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent oppose it. In 2004, the same survey showed 38 percent favored legalizing gay marriage and 59 percent opposed it.

Simmons’ ruling came in the case of two men who were married in Iowa in 2010 but wanted a divorce in Roane County, which is in eastern Tennessee. State law, however, not only limits marriage to a man and a woman but refuses to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The Supreme Court, even in invalidating part of DOMA, refused to stipulate that a state must recognize same-sex marriage, Simmons wrote. The high court’s DOMA decision “is concerned with the definition of marriage, only as it applies to federal laws, and does not give an opinion concerning whether one State must accept as valid a same-sex marriage allowed in another State,” he wrote.

Ryan Anderson, who specializes in marriage and religious freedom issues for the Heritage Foundation, commended Simmons’ ruling in an Aug. 12 blog post.

“Our federal Constitution is silent on what marriage is,” Anderson wrote. “Judges should not insert their own policy preferences about marriage and declare them to be required by the Constitution. ... We do not need a court-imposed 50-state solution. The courts should not force states to abandon caution in the face of a social experiment like the redefinition of marriage.”

One federal appeals court also may be prepared to buck the judicial pattern. The Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati heard oral arguments Aug. 6 regarding laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee either restricting marriage to a man and a woman or refusing to recognize gay marriages from other states. Two members of the three-judge panel appeared reticent to strike down the laws, according to reports by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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

8/21/2014 11:02:55 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ukraine’s cry for help & hope stirs U.S. churches to pray, go

August 21 2014 by Ava Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press

When Becky Dorman sees Ukraine in the news – the violence, the bombs, the downed aircraft – she thinks of Marina.

Dorman, a member at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., met the young Ukrainian woman in 2009 when Dorman’s mission team traveled to Ukraine. Marina was a translator for the team.

“I continue to pray for her, especially for her safety,” Dorman said. “Having never been to Ukraine before, she really took my heart.”

A number of churches in the United States have postponed or canceled their plans to do ministry in Ukraine this year because of the unrest. But Christian workers in that region of the world say there is still much that churches “back home” in the United States can do.

Tim Johnson,* an International Mission Board (IMB) representative in Ukraine, said the U.S. church has a “great role” in reaching out to Ukraine during these difficult times by creating awareness, continuing to pray and being a part of outreach efforts.


“Those are great ways for the church to continue to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters,” he said.

“It’s just hard when you know that there’s church-planting efforts going on, there’s desire to see new work take place, but at the same time there’s that cloud of fear that hangs in the air,” he said. “So we pray for that to dissipate and that we could have a chance to move forward with clear skies.”

Marina’s home is in the Luhansk region, a section of eastern Ukraine torn by conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army. Her home couldn’t have been farther away from war – or from Dorman’s radar – a few years ago.

“I remember hearing our pastor say from the pulpit that we needed to have a people group on our heart, and I remember thinking that I didn’t even know what a people group was,” Dorman, who serves as worship ministry administrative assistant at Graceland Baptist Church, said.

Then Dorman’s daughter, a junior in college, announced she was going to Ukraine to serve for a summer.

Suddenly the needs in Ukraine came to life for Dorman.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll have Ukrainians in my heart,” she said.

She did.

Since Dorman’s initial trip to Ukraine in 2009 she has been twice more. The church partners with Joel*, a former worship pastor of Graceland Baptist. He is co-director of the church-planting program at Kiev Theological Seminary. He served 35 years as worship pastor at Graceland Baptist before he and his wife Mary Ellen* began work with the International Mission Board in Ukraine in 2003.

Since then, he’s partnered with Graceland Baptist to link them with the church planters he trains.

Church planters include Sergei, who formed a deep connection with Dorman’s team.

“By being involved directly with the indigenous church planter, we know their vision and can work alongside them,” Dorman said. “Then when we leave, hopefully they don’t feel the Americans just came for a glorified vacation. They can make a stronger impact.”

In 2012, Sergei drove Dorman and her team into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains where they met people with many physical needs and even greater spiritual ones.

She gave food to a hungry family, a hug to a wheelchair-bound girl – and she shared her hope in Christ with all of them.

“Every trip I made was just really impactful,” she said. “I was really brokenhearted we couldn’t go back this year.”

Though Graceland Baptist has been unable to send a team back to Ukraine this year, the crisis has opened new doors of ministry for other churches.

Among those congregations is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. Following up their trip in 2013, the church sent another missions team this year to continue training and equipping ministry leaders in Ukraine.

“Yes, we watched news events and wondered if we should go,” John Herzer, a member of the Johnson Ferry team, said. “But ... we never felt unsafe in any of our travels. If anything, we found people appreciated us even more than in past years when there was no conflict.”

The team continued their equipping ministry, but they also touched the lives of those impacted by war, meeting urgent physical needs.

“This year we added the ministry of food distribution directed toward the poor, widows, handicapped children and refugees who fled from the conflict in Crimea,” Herzer said. He noted they handed out 500 boxes of basic staple foods in villages.

“In some villages they would gather in a group,” he said. “In other villages we would go door to door.”

With each village the method changed, but the team’s impressions of the people didn’t.

“When we visited refugees we realized how little we offered in providing food when they had left everything – their careers, their friends, their possessions,” Herzer said. “Yet they were so grateful that we took the time to care and allow them to share their stories. We truly saw how important the love of Christ is. We were blessed immeasurably.”

And they saw people decide to follow Christ.

One was the alcoholic son of a widow – a man who had never previously been open to the gospel.

“The pastor of the local church had shared Jesus with this man many times but he would not believe and trust in Jesus,” Herzer says. “Yet during our visit he did. ... He was in tears over the joy he experienced the moment he trusted Jesus.”

Herzer’s challenge to other churches: If you can go, go. If you can pray, pray.

“We can all participate,” Herzer said. “The bottom line is they all want to see the love of Christ. Because we went, we saw Jesus at work in the lives of everyone we [met].”

For more information about the crisis in Ukraine and how you can help, visit commissionstories.com/Eurasia.

*Name changed or last name withheld.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is an IMB writer/editor based in Europe.)

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8/21/2014 10:32:24 AM by Ava Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Farm owners fined for saying no to lesbian wedding

August 20 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Christian farm owners in upstate New York who declined a lesbian couple’s request to hold a wedding ceremony on their property have been fined $10,000 and ordered to pay the women $1,500 each. 
Cynthia and Robert Gifford, who own Liberty Ridge Farm near Albany, rent their facilities for birthday parties and about a dozen weddings each year.
When Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, a same-sex couple from Newark, N.J., requested to use the facility for their 2012 wedding, Cynthia Gifford offered the farm for a reception, but not for the wedding ceremony. Weddings typically are conducted on the first floor of the Giffords’ home or in an adjacent field.
“It literally hits close to home,” said the Giffords’ lawyer, James Trainor. He said the farm owners attend a community church and cite their religious belief of marriage between a man and woman for declining to hold a same-sex wedding on their property.


Photo courtesy of Cutler, Trainor & Cutler LLP
Liberty Ridge Farm owners in upstate New York who declined a same-sex couple’s request to hold their wedding at the site have been fined and ordered to pay the couple.

Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares of the Bronx rejected the owners’ argument that the farm, which is also their home, is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York’s Human Rights Law.
The decision said Liberty Ridge qualifies as a public accommodation because it regularly collects fees for space, facilities, services and meals, so it cannot be considered “distinctly private.”
“The fact that the Giffords also reside at Gifford Barn,” the decision says, “does not render it private.”
The farmer owners must pay $13,000 in fines and restitution, the agency ruled. Trainor said the Giffords are considering whether to appeal or pursue further legal action.
“Liberty Ridge Farm … has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” Trainor said. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
McCarthy asked if it was legal for the farm to have a policy not to have ceremonies on the site, and Gifford responded that it was because “we are a private business,” according to the case.
The women, who are now married, filed a complaint with New York’s Division of Human Rights, and the administrative law judge said that Liberty Ridge “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
“All New Yorkers are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but businesses cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation any more than they can based on race or national origin,” said Mariko Hirose of the New York Civil Liberties Union, lead counsel for the couple.
The farm case represents the most recent legal challenge to private businesses that provide services for weddings but refuse service to same-sex couples.
Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a Christian photographer could not refuse to shoot gay wedding ceremonies. Even though at the time the state did not officially recognize gay marriage, the court ruled that declining to photograph a gay wedding was similar to declining to work at an interracial wedding.
Most recently, a Pennsylvania bridal shop owner and a bakery owner turned away separate lesbian couples. Pennsylvania started allowing same-sex marriage in May after a federal judge struck down a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.
Earlier this year, several states, including Kansas and Arizona, considered legislation that would allow people who object to same-sex marriage to cite their religious beliefs as a defense if faced with a discrimination lawsuit. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill in her state; the Kansas bill died in the state Senate.
Public accommodation laws usually don’t apply to private residences, which is why this case is more unusual than previous ones, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It is just another case in the many battles in the fight over public accommodation of same-sex marriages,” Winkler said. “If you want to open yourself up to the public, there’s a cost, which is that you can’t discriminate.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

8/20/2014 10:22:54 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Evangelicals visit Israel to show support

August 20 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A group of Christian leaders, hosted by National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) President Jerry Johnson, will travel to Israel Aug. 17-22 to show support for the Jewish state’s right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas and other adversaries.

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd was invited to participate in the “Christians in Solidarity with Israel” trip, sponsored by NRB and coordinated by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, but had other obligations. Among Christian leaders scheduled to participate are Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and president emeritus of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Anne Graham Lotz, president of AnGeL Ministries; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

“I regret I could not be a part of these meetings in Israel due to previously scheduled engagements,” Floyd told Baptist Press in written comments. “It would have been a joy to add my support and prayers for the nation of Israel. Southern Baptists have a heritage of affirming Israel’s rights to exist as a sovereign state in its ancient homeland, having adopted numerous resolutions opposing anti-Semitism and affirming the nation of Israel at our annual meetings.”

The trip will include visits with leaders and citizens of Israel, along with tours of the land, an NRB release stated.


Ronnie Floyd

Johnson said the visit will aim at “countering rising anti-Semitism in the international press and on the streets.”

“This friendship visit will communicate to Israel and to the Palestinians who stand in opposition to Hamas that we, leaders who represent the Christian community, stand with them,” Johnson said in a statement. “It will also show the world that Christians in general support the Jewish people and their right to security. In addition, this visit should serve as an example to all followers of Jesus Christ, specifically encouraging them to pray for the peace of Jerusalem so that the lives of all those living in this region can be secure.”

For more than a month, Israel has been engaged in a military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas to stop attacks from the Gaza Strip, where approximately 3,000 rockets have been fired into Israel. Palestinian supporters have criticized Israel for striking supposedly civilian targets, but Israel says Hamas has used schools, hospitals and mosques as rocket launch sites and weapons storage facilities, turning them into legitimate military targets. Hamas has also used civilians as human shields, increasing the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, Israel contends.

Among groups to criticize Israel in recent months are the International Committee of the Red Cross, which insinuated that the Jewish state has committed war crimes, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which voted in June to divest church funds from three American companies that do business with the Israeli military.

A global study of anti-Semitic attitudes released earlier this year by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League found that Gaza and the West Bank are the most anti-Semitic places in the world, with 93 percent of the population agreeing with common stereotypes about Jews such as, “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” and “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.” The study deemed a person anti-Semitic if he or she said six or more of 11 Jewish stereotypes were “probably true.” Worldwide, 26 percent of people hold anti-Semitic views, according to the study.

Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, told BP that many Southern Baptists support Israel.

“As the birthplace and homeland of our Messiah, many Southern Baptists view the land of Israel as hallowed ground,” Oldham said. “In addition, many Southern Baptists interpret the Old Testament blessings associated with God’s chosen people, through whom Messiah would come, as grounds for extending our blessing and support to the modern nation of Israel.”

The SBC has adopted numerous resolutions supporting Israel, including a 2008 resolution that expressed “appreciation” for the nation and called it “the birthplace of our Lord and a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.” A 2002 resolution supported “the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state” and affirmed “God’s love for and offer of salvation in Christ to all people, including both Jewish and Palestinian people.”

At least five SBC resolutions have condemned anti-Semitism.

Jim Sibley, former director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, told BP the upcoming NRB trip is important “because Israelis need to understand that evangelical Christians stand with Israel, even in times of greatest difficulty.”

Travelling to Israel involves no significant security risks, Sibley said, noting that “no tourists have even been injured” in the present conflict.

“When many in Europe and in the United Nations have been infected with anti-Semitism and are passionate in their denunciations of Israel, we need to stand with our friends in Israel. They need to know that evangelicals can be counted on,” Sibley, an adjunct professor at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said.

Whether or not they travel to the Middle East, Sibley echoed the need for Christians to support Israel because it produced the Messiah and most of the Bible, maintains the region’s only thriving democracy and has generated some of the world’s “greatest scientific and medical innovations.”

“Christians have every reason in the world to support Israel,” Sibley said.

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

8/20/2014 10:13:16 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Houston ordinance slated for January trial

August 20 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press

A judge has set a Jan. 19 trial date for Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (ERO), continuing suspension of the ordinance due to a disputed petition to put the measure to a citywide vote.

Opponents of the ordinance, including a large number of Houston pastors, gathered thousands of signatures on the petition and submitted them to the city for validation in July. They say city officials acted outside of their charter-defined authority in disqualifying a portion of the signatures. City officials have denied the charge and said petition organizers “came to court with unclean hands.”

At least a dozen attorneys for the city and the lone attorney representing local pastors agreed to the January trial date in the 152nd District Court on Friday (Aug. 15) but not before accusations of wrongdoing were leveled by both sides during questioning by Judge Robert Schaffer.

Schaffer, who heard arguments in the lawsuit against the city by opponents of the ordinance, will preside over the jury trial in January. The lawsuit filed Aug. 5 by representatives of the No Unequal Rights Coalition alleges the city’s petition certification process, which resulted in the disqualification of more than half the petition pages, was unlawful and indiscriminate. They sought an injunction to overturn the city’s invalidation of the petition and to force a citywide vote on the ordinance. Attorneys for the city argued no misconduct occurred on the part of city officials but charged that petition circulators were guilty of wrongdoing.

City officials claim the petition gathering process was fraught with irregularities resulting in the disqualifications.


Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Andy Taylor, the Houston attorney representing local pastors and petition organizers, tells reporters he was satisfied with the suspension of the controversial ordinance pending the outcome of a jury trial in January. Taylor said evidence will reveal the city acted unlawfully in disqualifying thousands of petition pages and the valid signatures on them.

“There are multiple incidences of fraud and non-compliance,” Geoffrey Harrison, an attorney with the Susman Godfrey law firm representing the city, told the judge.

Religious overtones interjected into the proceedings and comments to the media punctuated the battle over the ordinance which gives civil rights protection to individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

City Attorney David Feldman said following the hearing that local law firms were hired to help with the case and that some offered their services pro bono. He justified hiring the additional legal assistance because “we have some pretty powerful opponents.”

“You’re right!” someone shouted from the crowd of plaintiffs’ supporters, most of whom represented churches working to repeal the ordinance.

Feldman quipped, “They’re powerful in terms of their relationship with God.”

Andy Taylor, of Andy Taylor and Associates, was the lone representative arguing for the plaintiffs, while at least 12 attorneys representing the defendants – the city of Houston, Mayor Annise Parker and city secretary Anna Russell – sat across the table from him and two of his clients. Looking toward the opposing counsel, Taylor referenced David meeting Goliath at the start of the hearing.

Before formal proceedings began, Schaffer pressed Taylor to justify an injunction when a trial on the merits of the case was inevitable.

Taylor argued that the plaintiffs represent all Houston residents harmed by the city’s actions. The summary disqualification of petition signatures by the city attorney’s office was not “legally appropriate” and, therefore, stymied the opportunity for Houstonians to vote on the matter, Taylor said.

Taylor accused Parker of thwarting efforts to put the issue to a vote, claiming “her agenda is more important than their right to vote.”

Parker, a lesbian who in January travelled to California with her longtime partner Kathy Hubbard to get married, has said passage of the ordinance was personal because it was about her. LGBT advocates have rallied in support of the mayor and the fight for the ordinance.

Trying the merits of the case is exactly what Taylor told the court he wanted, as it will determine whether city administrators, Parker and Feldman in particular, acted outside the purview of the city charter in disqualifying more than half of the petitions.

“The charter is very specific,” Taylor told Schaffer. “Our legal case is we did all those things, and Anna Russell so found we did.”

Opponents of the ordinance circulated petitions calling for a referendum in June. Within 30 days 55,000 signatures were collected, and 31,000 were pre-verified by petition organizers and submitted to the city secretary July 3.

Before petition pages were expunged from consideration, Russell’s office had validated 17,846 out of 19,177 signatures, a 93 percent validation rate and more than enough to call for a vote on the ordinance. Feldman’s office, however, reviewed all 5,199 petition pages for proper submission criteria and found “irregularities” with 2,750 pages. In so doing, Russell was left roughly 15,000 signatures to inspect for validation, more than 2,000 shy of the required number to call a referendum. In a letter dated Aug. 1 to city council, Russell stated there were not enough valid signatures to certify a referendum.

“They have fabricated their entire case on a house of cards that has already fallen,” Harrison said of the petition gathering process.

Plaintiffs argued Feldman did not have the authority to dismiss the pages and that Russell’s initial validation of signatures should stand. Taylor told the judge he had evidence showing the criteria Feldman used to dismiss some pages were not drawn from the city charter and were inconsistently applied. He cited one petition page signed and circulated by Houston city councilman Oliver Pennington that had been dismissed because the councilman had used his common name, Oliver, and his legal name, Olin, on the same page.

Taylor also argued the charter article requiring all petition circulators be city of Houston registered voters is unconstitutional, citing U.S. Supreme Court and circuit court rulings.

Repeal of that mandate alone would clear thousands of signatures for validation and “catapult us beyond the required number,” Taylor said.

Among the plaintiffs are pastors, para-church leaders and citizens who have opposed the Equal Rights Ordinance since its introduction by Parker in April. The ERO, passed by city council in May, provides civil rights protections to individuals already covered by city, state and federal law and adds sexual orientation and sexual identity to the list of protected qualities.

As Taylor began presenting evidence for his case, Schaffer asked opposing counsel to meet him in his chambers. Following the brief recess, Schaffer declared both sides agreed to a trial on the merits of the case. The ordinance, which was suspended with the submission of the petitions, will remain suspended pending the outcome of the trial.

“We got everything we wanted,” Taylor told reporters following the hearing.

A win for the plaintiffs in January would put the matter before the city council which could then repeal the ordinance or call for a vote during the next general election in November 2015.

Parker, who was out of town, did not release a statement on the hearing, but Janice Evans, chief policy officer and director of communications for the mayor, said in an email to the Southern Baptist TEXAN, “The petition validation process was fair and legal. The plaintiffs simply didn’t meet the City Charter and Texas Election Code requirements for a voter referendum. From the beginning, we have been confident that the city’s process would be upheld by the courts. Today’s decisions in two courtrooms are further affirmation of that belief.”

In case of an unfavorable ruling by Schaffer, Taylor had also filed suit in the 14th State Court of Appeals asking the court require the city secretary to present her initial validation certification to city council. Justices William Boyce, Tracy Christopher and Martha Jamison remanded the case back to the 152nd District Court.

A press release from the Houston Area Pastors Council, an organization representing more than 300 area churches and an opponent of the ordinance, hinted there may be additional legal action to come that could place the ordinance on the November 2014 ballot.

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

8/20/2014 9:57:44 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

91-year-old longs for next mission trip

August 19 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Dorothy Lockett would like to take a second mission trip to Kenya, but at 91, her daughter won’t allow it.

Lockett’s first mission trip was to Kenya at age 83. She joined fellow members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., on a weeklong trip to Nairobi.

“I had my birthday over there. I was 83 when we went … and 84 when I came back,” she said. “I knew they were going on a mission and someone asked me, ‘Would you like to go?’ And I said yes … so, I went.”


Photo courtesy of Dorothy Lockett
Dorothy Lockett, a member of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., took her first mission trip at 83 to Nairobi, Kenya. She is now 91 and lives in Sterling, Va.  

“They were talking about going back on a trip this year and I was telling my daughter. I said, ‘I want to go back to Africa,’ and she said, ‘You’re not going;’ because I’m 90 years old, I take medication, so she says I don’t need to go,” Lockett told Baptist Press before her latest birthday. “But if I had the chance, I’d go back again.”

During Lockett’s young adulthood in Meridian, Miss., she was a member of First Union Baptist Church. The church was occupied with the turbulent civil rights struggle at the time, she said, and not focused on international missions. Lockett moved to Sterling, Va., 17 years ago to live with her daughter Eldna Smith.

“But I think now if I were able, that’s what I would like to do, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t have done more,” she said.

Lockett said she enjoyed her missions work in Kenya. The group stayed in a hotel and had a driver for local transportation.

“There was a revival, we attended it and we went out … to minister in other churches there. They split us up and different ones went to different churches,” she said. “We worshipped with them. We worshipped with a church full of women one time. It was just like being in church at home. They were listening and participating. The music was just wonderful.”

Lockett doesn’t recall the trip being rugged, but she said a stranger helped her down a steep hill.

“We supply wells for them over there. And we went to this one place where there was a well and we had to go down a steep hill. But there was a woman that came to me … and she helped me down the hill and up the hill. She stayed with me the whole time I was there,” Lockett said. “And you know, we just kind of bonded. And … I bonded with [the driver]; his name was Peter. He was very sweet to me; he’d just take care of me.”

It’s important to take mission trips, she said, “to share Christ, just to carry the Word.”

“I just believe I am led by God to do things,” Lockett said. “Everyone is shocked that I get around as well as I do. But I do good for my age.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

8/19/2014 11:04:46 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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