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N. Korea tops persecution list for 14th year

January 20 2016 by Baptist Press

As North Korea once again held its spot for the 14th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians, religious persecution on every continent has appeared to increase, according to a new report.
 
Open Doors released its annual World Watch list of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian on Jan 13. According to the list, Islamic extremism “continued to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution, with its rise being the lead generator of persecution for 35 out of the 50 nations on the list.”
 
This year’s top 10 included (1) North Korea; (2) Iraq; (3) Eritrea; (4) Afghanistan; (5) Syria; (6) Pakistan; (7) Somalia; (8) Sudan; (9) Iran; and (10) Libya.

 
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Graphic from Open Doors

The report specifically spotlighted the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, “regions where persecution has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing.”
 
“The levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA in a media release. “Christians, longing to stay in their home countries, are being forced to flee for their lives and for their children’s lives. The 2016 Open Doors World Watch List demonstrates that persecution isn’t just a Christian problem; it’s a global problem.”
 
According to the report, more than 7,000 Christians were killed worldwide for faith-related reasons. The loss of life during that reporting period, Open Doors said, is an increase of nearly 3,000 compared to the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List. “This excludes North Korea, and some of Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist,” the report noted.
 
The report added, “More than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is more than double the number from last year’s list.”
 
In 2015, Open Doors reported, conflict and persecution continued to drive mass displacement in the Middle East, leaving 12.5 million refugees throughout the region.
 
“More than 1 million migrants traveled from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to Europe in hopes of safer and better lives,” the report said. “In what was the largest Christian city in Syria, Aleppo, the Christian population has been reduced from 400,000 to a mere 60,000. Many Syrian refugees have given up hope of ever being able to return to their war-torn homeland.”
 
While North Korea remained at the top of this year’s list, Eritrea and Pakistan rose to No. 3 and No. 6 respectively, the report said. They were the two largest countries to go up the list, Open Doors noted. Libya entered the top 10 for the first time.
 
The report defines Christian persecution “as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. Examples include imprisonment, torture, beheadings, rape and loss of home and assets.”
 
Curry said, “For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List serves as a clarion call to pray, advocate and remember their persecuted fellow Christians.”
 
The list of 50 countries may be viewed online at worldwatchlist.us. Open Doors is an organization that seeks to strengthen the persecuted church overseas.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This report is based on a media release by Open Doors.)

1/20/2016 11:02:07 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Planned Parenthood sues over undercover videos

January 19 2016 by Leigh Jones, World News Service

Planned Parenthood filed suit Jan. 14 in federal court against the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), accusing the group of conducting “a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists.”
 
The abortion giant claims CMP founder David Daleiden and his team broke laws in several states, as well as federal laws, by secretly taping private conversations and trespassing, using fake identities to gain access to Planned Parenthood facilities. Daleiden conducted a three-year, undercover operation, during which he posed as a fetal-tissue buyer and secretly taped Planned Parenthood executives and abortionists talking about the group’s methods of and payments for procuring the bodies of aborted babies for scientific research. CMP began releasing videos from the operation in July.

 
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Facebook photo
David Daleiden

Until now, Planned Parenthood has left legal action against CMP to others.
 
“Today, Planned Parenthood is going on the offense,” Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California said in a call with reporters.
 
Planned Parenthood did not respond to WORLD’s request for access to the press call.
 
The lawsuit is not unexpected, and Daleiden does not seem particularly worried about it.
 
“GAME ON, PLANNED PARENTHOOD!!! I look forward to taking your depositions,” Daleiden said in a CMP Twitter post.
 
In a longer statement, Daleiden noted the CMP videos did their job by getting lawmakers and the American public to think about Planned Parenthood’s public funding sources, which make up about 50 percent of its budget.
 
“Now they are filing a frivolous lawsuit in retaliation for CMP’s First Amendment investigative journalism that has done nothing more than tell the truth about Planned Parenthood’s lawless operations,” Daleiden said. “This last-ditch move of desperation is going to expose all of the sordid dealings of the California Planned Parenthood affiliates to the light of the legal system, and the public will see them for the corrupt abortion and baby body-parts profiteers that they really are.”
 
In its suit, Planned Parenthood claims the videos gave millions of people the false impression of its work by claiming it “violated the law and acted improperly.” But the bigger concern seems to be over a potential loss of funding at the state level. The suit names 10 states that conducted investigations into the abortion giant’s practices and ultimately cleared them of wrongdoing. But efforts to revoke federal funding managed at the state level are ongoing elsewhere and could put a dent in the organization’s revenue.
 
The suit also claims CMP’s actions created an unsafe environment for its staffers and patients, pointing to the shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., in November. In a jailhouse interview with a Colorado television station last night, shooter Robert Dear said the attack wasn’t premeditated but decided on the spur of the moment.
 
Planned Parenthood is asking for as-yet unspecified compensatory, statutory and punitive damages. Its lawyers estimate the case could take up to 18 months to litigate.
 
The suit also names Operation Rescue president Troy Newman and several others involved in the undercover operation as defendants.

1/19/2016 10:49:14 AM by Leigh Jones, World News Service | with 1 comments



Irish pastor acquitted of anti-Muslim hate speech

January 19 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service

A court in Belfast, Ireland, has acquitted an evangelical preacher accused of hate speech in 2014 for calling Islam “satanic.”
 
Dismissing the case against pastor James McConnell of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church on Jan. 5, District Judge Liam McNally said courts must be “careful not to criminalize speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of criminal law to censor offensive utterances.”
 
After the decision, the 78-year-old pastor who faced the possibility of six months imprisonment told UTV he had been “ready” to go to jail for his criticism of Islam.
 
“I did not mean to hurt them. And when I preached that in here, you’ve got to realize this place was packed, and you’re preaching this – I never thought of the Muslim community,” McConnell told UTV. “I was preaching against Islam. But if I’d thought that I had done so much hurt I’d have curbed my words.”

 
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Pastor James McConnell of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church

But he clarified that he would not change his doctrine: “I would still say Islam is evil.”
 
The Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland called the ruling a “victory for common sense and freedom of speech.” The Presbyterian Church in Ireland also supported the decision.
 
The Belfast Islamic Centre disagreed with the verdict.
 
“We Muslims believe in the freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression doesn’t justify offending and insulting others’ faith and beliefs that in its turn leads to unhealthy atmosphere of disunity and mistrust,” the centre said.
 
The controversy began on May 18, 2014, when McConnell preached a sermon from 1 Timothy 2:5 which states, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He also spoke of Christianity as the only true faith.
 
In that live-streamed message, McConnell also criticized Islam.
 
“Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teachings of the holy scriptures,” he said. “Islam is heathen. Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.”
 
McConnell warned that someday in Ireland “Paul’s language” from such Bible passages would not be tolerated.
 
Police investigated the pastor for “hate crime motivation” following complaints about the sermon. The Belfast Islamic Centre called it irresponsible and “inflammatory.” Raied Al-Wazzan, a member of the centre, contacted police and said he would hold McConnell “responsible for any racial attacks on any Muslim in Northern Ireland,” BBC reported.
 
Within weeks of the sermon, McConnell issued an apology for “any distress” he accidentally caused, while maintaining his stance against Islam, Gatestone Institute reported.
 
In June 2015, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Services (PPS) gave McConnell the option of an “informed warning,” which would have avoided prosecution but would have remained on his criminal record for a year.
 
When he refused based on his belief in freedom of speech, PPS charged him with “improper use of a public electronic communications network” and “causing a grossly offensive message to be sent” by such a network, according to the Irish Independent.
 
But many people defended McConnell’s remarks, including Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson.
 
“I think this is an important issue of freedom of speech,” Wilson said. “I believe a prosecution like this introduces a chill factor into society where people feel that if they speak out on something that they believe passionately, they could end up being dragged through the courts.”

1/19/2016 10:45:10 AM by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service | with 0 comments



Gendered locker rooms going extinct in U.S. coastal states

January 19 2016 by Sarah Padbury, World News Service

At the end of 2015, two human rights commissions over 2,800 miles apart enacted new rules that could be precedent-setting for the gender battle across the nation, including giving people the right to use whichever locker rooms and bathrooms they choose.
 
The New York City Commission on Human Rights issued guidelines Dec. 21 to clarify what “constitutes gender identity and gender-expression discrimination” under the city’s 2002 Human Rights Law. The new policy addresses discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation, and housing.
 
The guidelines offer several definitions that categorize people according to their self-defined sexual identity, including transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex. Instead of male or female, the identity of “cisgender” is offered as “an adjective denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex, i.e., someone who is not transgender.”
 
The rules list examples of what the commission considers discriminatory such as repeated failure to use an individual’s preferred name or pronoun. Employers, landlords and businesses serving the public cannot require employees, tenants, or customers to provide legal or medical proof of their gender or name before accommodating their requests.
 
“For example,” the rules state, “a covered entity may not refuse to call a transgender woman her preferred name, Jane, because her identification says that her first name is John.”
 
Employers are also forbidden from requiring different male and female dress codes and grooming standards. Companies with male and female uniforms must allow workers to pick which uniform they wear. In addition, companies’ healthcare benefits must now cover “transgender care” the commission considers “medically necessary” and “life-saving” such as hormone-replacement therapy, voice training and surgery.
 
Finally, because requiring proof of transgender status illegal, the rules effectively authorize anyone to utilize any single-sex program or facility of his or her choice, from battered women’s shelters to public locker rooms. For those who are uncomfortable with such an arrangement, the commission recommends companies provide single-occupancy restrooms and private space for anyone who has privacy concerns.”
 
The commission can impose civil penalties up to $125,000 for violating the law and up to $250,000 for violations it considers “willful, wanton or malicious conduct.”
 
Meanwhile, as of Dec. 26, a new rule created by the Washington State Human Rights Commission requires buildings open to the public to allow transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
 
The Washington commission began considering the new policy in 2012. At that time, officials at Washington’s Evergreen State College declared the state’s non-discrimination policy prevented the school from stopping a transgendered person from exposing male genitalia in the women’s locker room. Local high school students and swim team clubs with children ages 6-18 shared use of the facility with the college, Christian News Network reported.
 
According to a police report filed Sep. 2012, a 17-year-old girl reported a person sitting naked in the women’s sauna with exposed male genitalia. The girl’s swim coach investigated and found Colleen Francis sitting “with her legs open and her male genitalia showing.” Upon being asked to leave, Francis claimed discrimination, and school officials agreed.
 
The college eventually installed curtains in the locker room and announced any girls uncomfortable changing in front of the 45-year-old Francis should change behind them, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. A local district attorney said the state would not enforce Washington’s indecent exposure statute to protect the girls because the law was “very vague in this area,” the police report noted.
 
“[The new rule] arguably creates a conflict with the state’s indecent exposure law, which otherwise prohibits exposing yourself to others while ‘knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.’ Or maybe women no longer have the right to be alarmed at the sight of a naked man in the women’s locker room,” blogged Joseph Backholm, executive director for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.
 
Some organizations in Washington are quickly falling in line with the state’s demands. The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties promised immediate compliance. YMCA of Tacoma announced a plan to spend over $1 million to upgrade its locker rooms to “enhance privacy.”
 
In both Washington and New York City, concerns abound over bathroom safety and privacy in wake of the transgender policies enacted last month by unelected officials.
 
In Washington, lawmakers are already drafting bills to counter the new rules, accusing the state of overstepping its authority when it circumvented the legislature on such a major policy change.
 
“My concern is the safety side,” Republican State Rep. Graham Hunt told The Washington Times. “There are folks who have come forward and reached out to me that have been taken advantage of, put into abusive situations because of somebody who’s been allowed access to private, intimate settings like locker rooms and bathrooms. I don’t really see privacy as a partisan issue.”

1/19/2016 10:41:43 AM by Sarah Padbury, World News Service | with 0 comments



Tony Perkins praises Kim Davis, pro-life lawmakers

January 19 2016 by Evan Wilt, World News Service

Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins delivered his second annual “State of the Family” address Jan. 11, highlighting the many blows to Christian values in 2015 but declaring optimism for the year to come.
 
“Many of our nation’s leading politicians and jurists believe that religion is a toxin to public life,” he said. “In the battle over our basic convictions, we see the sidelines are shrinking.”
 
Perkins noted 2015 began with anxiety over the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of marriage and ended with two Oregon bakers paying more than $130,000 because they refused to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding.

 
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Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis joined Perkins as one of his recognized guests. He called Davis one of America’s heroes for freedom and liberty: “Kim stood strong, to the point of spending time in jail.”
 
Davis faced national scrutiny shortly after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide because she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. After the American Civil Liberties Union sued, a Kentucky judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses. When she continued to refuse, he sent her to jail. Davis spent five days behind bars.
 
“It is a battle; it is a battle for every freedom we possess and for every freedom that we want to keep,” Davis told me. “But I have found that my God is a mighty God, and His grace is sufficient.”
 
Davis still holds her elected position as county clerk. Last month, newly elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin took executive action to aid Davis and other clerks in her position. His order removed county clerks’ names from marriage licenses, avoiding any conflicts with clerks who said they couldn’t in good conscience sanction same-sex marriage. Davis said Bevin’s order was the accommodation she had asked for from the beginning.
 
Before Bevin’s election, Davis’ opponents called for her resignation. She ignored the pressure, seeking to retain her national platform.
 
“A lot of people asked me, ‘Why don’t you quit? Why don’t you just resign?’ If I quit, I lose my voice,” she said.
 
Perkins called Davis’ actions and Bevin’s executive order a major victory for religious liberty and Christian values.
 
The FRC event came one day before President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address. FRC arranged for Davis to attend the speech, along with her attorney, Mat Staver. Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the gay marriage ruling, also will attend – as the president’s guest.
 
Perkins opened his address by rejoicing over the status of America’s pro-life movement. He said in the last five years lawmakers have enacted more than 280 pro-life measures at the state level, a response to America becoming a more pro-life nation.
 
On Jan. 8, Obama vetoed a bill that would have stripped America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, of nearly all its federal funding. Perkins said the president’s decision was disappointing, but he remains confident Planned Parenthood is not out of the woods.
 
“Rest assured, we will not stop until this forced partnership between taxpayers and Planned Parenthood has ended,” Perkins vowed.

1/19/2016 10:37:42 AM by Evan Wilt, World News Service | with 0 comments



Homosexual activist group targets Baptist schools

January 18 2016 by Will Hall, Baptist Message

The homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign has targeted 23 institutions of higher learning with Southern Baptist ties in a report that also names 35 other colleges and universities with distinct Christian identities.
 
Released just before the 2015 Christmas season, the report, “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk,” asks Obama Administration education officials to increase reporting requirements for these 58 schools because each was granted “exemptions of interest” relating to either “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” or both.
 
Unlike President Obama’s 2014 executive order on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, affecting federal employees as well as contractors, which did not allow exemptions for religious organizations, the Title IX law does not apply to an educational institution “controlled by a religious organization” that has “contrary religious tenets.” However, individual schools must apply for specific exemptions and confirm they are either a divinity school or department, or, an educational institution that requires faculty, students and employees to be members of a specific religion, or, a college or university that essentially is an extension of a religious organization.
 
Christian schools have been forced into a position of requesting such exemptions because Title IX provisions – which were drafted in 1972, in general, to shield women from sexual harassment and give them equal access to education and athletic programs – have been expanded under President Obama beyond providing protections on the basis of biological sex (born male or female) to include behavior such as homosexuality and the mental self-concept of gender identity.
 
Now, any school receiving federal money must comply with these expanded rights, or in the case of faith-based organizations, request specific waivers with regard to admissions, housing, facilities, athletics, codes of conduct, employment, counseling, financial assistance and health insurance.
 
Although the HRC acknowledges President Barack Obama’s administration “has little discretion to deny requests by religiously affiliated colleges and universities” regarding Title IX exemptions, and, despite the fact each of these schools seek exemptions because of their well-known Christian beliefs, the activist group nonetheless asks the Department of Education to force each school to publicize:

  • “the number of exemptions” it requested and received

  • “the scope” of each exemption that was granted

  • which Title IX provisions are not exempted

The HRC claims these actions would prevent LGBT students from finding themselves “enrolled at schools that are granted the legal right to discriminate against them partway through their degree program.”
 
According to the HRC report, 23 colleges and universities affiliated with, or otherwise partners of, Southern Baptists, not including seminaries, have requested Title IX exemptions:
 
ALABAMA

  • Judson College

  • University of Mobile

ARKANSAS

  • Williams Baptist College

FLORIDA

  • Baptist College of Florida

KENTUCKY

  • University of the Cumberlands

LOUISIANA

  • Louisiana College

MISSISSIPPI

  • Blue Mountain College

  • Mississippi College

  • William Carey University

MISSOURI

  • Hannibal-LaGrange University

  • Southwest Baptist University

OKLAHOMA

  • Oklahoma Baptist University

SOUTH CAROLINA

  • Anderson University

  • Charleston Southern University

  • North Greenville University

TENNESSEE

  • Carson-Newman University

  • Union University

TEXAS

  • Criswell College

  • East Texas Baptist University

  • Hardin-Simmons University

  • Howard Payne University

  • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

VIRGINIA

  • Liberty University

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Will Hall is editor of the Baptist Message at baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

1/18/2016 12:59:28 PM by Will Hall, Baptist Message | with 0 comments



Adoption picture of salvation, parents say

January 18 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Nathan and Jennifer Washburn rank parenting among their greatest joys, but a desire to have children was not their main motivation in adopting.
 
Instead, the couple who married in 2004 point to spiritual value as their main motivation for their 2010 adoption from Kazakhstan of Kara Victoria Washburn, now 5, and, in 2014 from China, Owen RenLi Washburn, 3.
 
“It was primarily a theological motivation to adopt,” said Nathan Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenbrier, Tenn.. “It’s such a great picture of our spiritual adoption in Christ.”
 
As Southern Baptists mark Jan. 17 as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which was placed on the SBC calendar in 1988, Washburn describes adoption as a practical application of honoring the value God has ordained in all of human life.
 
“Although there are different circumstance in life and different stages of life, there’s not a spectrum to God’s image in people,” Washburn said. “Every person bears His image and bears it in its fullness. There’s really no difference.”

 
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Submitted photo
Nathan and Jennifer Washburn with children Owen RenLi and Kara Victoria.

Christians are called to protect the unborn, the orphan, the physically and mentally challenged, the widow and others equally, he said.
 
“If you’re looking at people the way that God values people, the way that He’s placed His image in people, His image is there,” Washburn said. “And no matter what circumstances are on the surface, no matter what differences there are in life stage, or geography or nationality, or religion or race or anything, there’s only one image of God. And it’s full in every human being. You see all over scripture the image of God in people, regardless of anything really.”
 
First Baptist Church in Greenbrier will mark Sanctity of Human Life Sunday with a special offering and sermon, and will continue its work to protect life through the Open Door pregnancy center in Springfield, Tenn., and educational and motivational programs throughout the year.
 
The Washburns encourage couples undertaking adoption to rely on God to smooth the transition.
 
“It’s one thing to listen to a sermon or a story about the sanctity of human life, and it’s quite another to open up your home and step up and be willing to apply that,” Washburn said, “and step out in faith and adopt or any other number of ways that you can apply what you believe about the sanctity of human life and God’s image in people.”
 
Southern Baptist Convention free resources to help churches celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday are available at erlc.com/life.
 
Southern Baptists are active in a wealth of ministries aimed at protecting human life in its various stages. Working to protect children in particular are 21 Baptist child care agencies with 255 sites in 19 states, according to the 2014 Historian’s Report of the Baptist Coalition for Children and Families. The centers housed 8,959 fatherless children in 2014 and provided various help to 589,323 others, the report said. Services include foster care, adoption, residential housing for expectant mothers and single-parent families, Christian counseling, mobile pregnancy centers, emergency care and other initiatives.
 
In adopting children from overseas, the Washburns used agencies that handled adoptions in their countries of interest, and used a Christian agency, New Beginnings in Tupelo, Miss., for the home studies in both adoptions, they said. The home study is a major part of the adoption process. Adoptions can also be costly, with each of the Washburns’ adoptions costing $35,000 or more in payments spread over a year. God was faithful in meeting their needs, the Washburns said.
 
“When God calls you to adopt, it always looks like a huge mountain that is just insurmountable,” Jennifer Washburn said, noting the costs of paperwork, travel and temporary housing in the adoption countries. “Finances [do] seem to be a hindrance for a lot of people in adoption, and that’s where our hesitation was as well. … But to see God’s faithfulness in that area of our lives was such a faith-building and faith-strengthening time for us. We saw God provide for us in ways we never dreamed. And He used godly, loving people around us to help us.”
 
She compares God’s provision in both adoptions to the story of the destitute widow in the village of Zarephath, whose story is told in 1 Kings 17, who was blessed with an unending supply of flour and oil.
 
“Every time a bill would come up to be paid, the money was just always there; so we laughed because it kind of was like the flour and oil in that story with the widow. The money just never ran out,” Jennifer Washburn said. “God continued to provide, and provide for us along the way, in a kind of unreal way that was just very faith strengthening.”
 
Parents should be prepared for the challenges inherent in parenting children who may have suffered anxieties as orphans, the Washburns said.
 
“Children who have been adopted don’t have an emotional foundation of attachment to a mother and father,” Washburn said. “They’ve seen possibly a multitude of caregivers [or none] and have not attached to anyone.
 
“This can create a very unstable foundation of trust, fear, and a sense of survival mode,” he said. “It takes much patience, unconditional love and a willingness to be unloved and unappreciated in order to stay the course. With the work comes great reward, however, as you build, brick by brick, a foundation of trust in your child who has so far had no reason to have any.”
 
The Washburns count many blessings in their journey as parents.
 
“The simplest blessing is the raising of kids and just having an awesome family that you love more than life itself,” the mother said. “There is nothing like becoming a parent.
 
“I do have the joy of staying home with them. It’s a labor to lose yourself and lay down your life for another, but that is a biblical idea. I think that has been one that God has continued to teach me,” she said. “Just the joy of passing along a love for Christ to the next generation. How awesome, what a privilege that is for us to be able to do, biological or adopted children.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/18/2016 12:52:35 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC names 2016 Leadership Council

January 18 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has unveiled its new Leadership Council.
 
The 43 Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who were announced Jan. 14 will serve as the advisory council for the entity’s Leadership Network in 2016. The ERLC launched the network and its advisory council in 2014. Each January, the entity names a new list of council members, most of whom serve for one year.

 
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Afshin Ziafat

The Leadership Network is open to men and women who seek to identify with the ERLC’s gospel-focused approach to cultural issues in their roles as pastors, leaders or laypeople.
 
Council members – all who are serving or have served in pastoral ministry – will receive equipping from the ERLC staff and give guidance to the network. They also may provide content for the entity’s website.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore said he is “thrilled to welcome this group of gospel-focused, innovative band of pastors and leaders” to the council.
 
“As we come alongside one another, we’ll talk about crucial ethical issues confronting churches and how we can engage with a gospel-focus in the culture and in the public square,” Moore said in a written release. “We’ll think through issues that aren’t yet confronting churches, but will, and how we can best go through the difficulties of life and local church ministry with a joyful warrior kingdom expectancy – marching toward Zion on the triumphant side of history.”
 
Afshin Ziafat – lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, and a returnee to the council – said in the ERLC release announcing the 2016 members, “I love what the ERLC is doing to defend and promote Christian values in the public sphere. I love how the council keeps me informed on the shifting culture that we are ministering in.”
 
Among members of the Leadership Council are:

  • Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md.;

  • David Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans;

  • Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and former Southern Baptist Convention president;

  • Greg Matte, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston;

  • Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis;

  • Bryant Wright, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and former SBC president.

The benefits of belonging to the ERLC’s Leadership Network include receiving unique content, gaining preferred access to commission events and securing discounts for events and materials. There is no charge to register for the network. Members of the network receive regular messages from the ERLC regarding materials and other benefits.
 
While the network is open to all, the ERLC fills the Leadership Council annually on an invitation only basis.
 
Registration for the network, the entire list of council members and other information are available online at erlc.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/18/2016 12:46:56 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Episcopal Church censured for gay marriage stance

January 18 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Archbishops of the Anglican Communion have responded to the Episcopal Church USA’s decision to permit same-sex marriage by suspending the church from full participation in the communion for three years.
 
According to a Jan. 15 communique from Anglican primates, a majority of 39 bishops present during a Jan. 11-15 meeting in Canterbury, England, adopted a series of recommendations concerning same-sex marriage, including one that for three years the Episcopal Church USA “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
 
The Episcopal Church USA’s decision last summer to amend church canons to allow marriage between people of the same gender “represent[s] a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” the recommendations stated.
 
The archbishops acknowledged “deep differences that exist among us concerning the understanding of marriage” but noted, “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”

 
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The communique added that the archbishops “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation.”
 
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is regarded as a “first among equals” among Anglican archbishops by virtue of his office, said at a Jan. 15 press conference the U.S. Episcopal Church is not being sanctioned or punished.
 
The Episcopal Church USA changed a “basic understanding of doctrine, ahead of the rest of the communion and without consultation,” Welby said according to the Anglican publication Church Times. “We are not sanctioning them. We do not have the power to do so. We simply said, if any province, on a major issue of how the church is run or what it believes, is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the life of the communion.”
 
A report by the Belfast Telegraph highlighted Welby’s apology during the press conference for the Anglican Church’s role in persecuting people for their sexuality. He pointed to Africa in particular, where some nations outlaw homosexual behavior.
 
“I don’t have the right to speak for everyone,” Welby said according to the Telegraph. “I wanted to take this opportunity ... to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused.”
 
U.S. Episcopal Church archbishop Michael Curry, who is African American, compared the archbishops’ action to the injustices of slavery and segregation.
 
“I stand before you as your brother,” Curry said according to the Church Times. “I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then, even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said conservative bishops “forced this issue” but “did not get everything they wanted.”
 
Still, Mohler said Jan. 15 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “it is a very significant development that it is the Episcopal Church USA that was singled out by its sister churches in the Anglican Communion as the outlier, as the one that is outside the bounds, the one that has violated the authority of scripture.”
 
A spokesman for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, an organization that seeks to foster renewal in mainline denominations, said the suspension is not a “formal schism” though there will continue to be “broken communion” between “various Anglican provinces and the Episcopal Church.”
 
“This sanction is the ecclesiastical equivalent of being placed in ‘time out,’” Walton wrote in a blog post. “But the goal of ‘time out’ is to change behavior, and the Episcopal Church has clearly spoken that it will not deviate from its chosen trajectory.”
 
The Anglican Communion is comprised of 85 million people worldwide who are part of national or regional churches that call themselves Anglican or Episcopal, according to the Anglican Communion website.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/18/2016 12:41:31 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptists speak about Sanctity of human life

January 15 2016 by BR staff

Churches across the U.S. mark their calendars each year to celebrate the value of human life. Jan. 17 is the date for 2016, and it serves as a reminder of the fateful Jan. 22 Supreme Court decision in 1973 to legalize abortion nationwide. Pastors and other Christian leaders use this Sunday to reinforce the biblical conviction that all life is precious, even life in the womb.
 
The Biblical Recorder asked some North Carolina pastors what the “sanctity of human life” means to them. Here are their responses:
 
Clay Smith, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Matthews – Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” For every murderous act commissioned upon the helpless life of an infant, we too, as the church, should examine our own sinful acts of omission regarding the denunciation of this murderous practice. I say this not as judge and jury, but as one convicted. I believe abortion is murder. I believe every life – no matter the circumstances of his or her conception – is made in the image of God and worthy of the dignity thereof. Yet, my tongue has too often been silent. It is time to speak up. It is time to make a difference.

 
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North Carolina pastors

Steve Scoggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Hendersonville – One of my favorite pro-life verses is found in the Christmas story in Luke 1:41, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb.”
 
Elizabeth was expecting John the Baptist. Mary was expecting Jesus. When John inside Elizabeth came into the presence of Jesus inside Mary, he leapt with joy! Notice the passage didn’t say that a mass of cells attached to the uterus jiggled. Inside Elizabeth was a person rejoicing in the presence of Jesus inside of Mary.
 
If a person is not pro-life when they consider that inside of every mother is a baby, then they must not understand what is happening inside. It could be that someone has tried to deceive them that they are simply getting rid of a problem. But if they see an ultrasound image, if they hear the beating of the little heart within weeks of conception, they will know, it is a baby! Babies need to be cherished and protected. That is the message of the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
 
David Horton, president, Fruitland Baptist Bible College, Hendersonville – The 21st century secular worldview has great difficulty differentiating the value of human life from animal life and plant life. It is not uncommon to see bumper stickers that endorse “A Woman’s Right to Choose,” “Save the Whales,” and “Say ‘No’ to Clear-Cutting: Boycott Georgia Pacific” – all on the same vehicle! Over a century ago, one of Oscar Wilde’s characters, Lord Darlington, quipped about those who “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” In regard to understanding the value of human life, many of our friends and neighbors have bought into a cheap philosophy peddled by anti-God secularists who know little of the value of human life.
 
If we are to make an accurate assessment as to the value of human life, we must start with the inception of human life. In contrast to the creation of plant and animal life, when human life was created, Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 2:7 adds, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The creation of human life was not an accident; it was God’s idea. God elevated the position of human life by creating humans in “His own image” and by breathing “the breath of life” into His human creation. A proper assessment of the value of human life must begin with these distinct truths or an inevitable devaluation will certainly occur.
 
Tony Merida, pastor for preaching and vision, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh – Sanctity of Human Life immediately makes me think of the doctrine of the imago Dei (image of God). This doctrine serves as the basis for the proper treatment of everyone – from the womb to the tomb, from black to white, from the rich to the poor.

Because God made all people, all people matter. They are worthy of dignity, value and love.

  • The massive number of inmates in prison should matter to us – we should visit them and minister to them.

  • The unborn should matter to us – we should defend them and advocate for them.

  • The orphan should matter to us – we should love them, care for them and consider fostering or adopting them.

  • The elderly should matter to us – we should visit them and care for them.

  • Girls being enslaved should matter to us – we should advocate for the voiceless and provide aftercare to the rescued.

  • People of every race should matter to us – we should give all men and women proper respect and equal rights.

  • The poor should matter to us – we should be concerned about their situation and seek to alleviate their need.

Think about this. Why is it that people visit Mount Vernon, Va., all the time? It’s because George Washington’s famous house is located there. We value that home because we value the maker of the home. And we should value people – all people – because we value their Maker. To dishonor any image bearer of God is to dishonor God Himself (Proverbs 14:31).
 
Ed Yount, senior pastor, Woodlawn Baptist Church, Conover – When Mother Teresa spoke at the President’s Prayer Breakfast in 1994 she said, “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murdered by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love but to use violence to get what ever it wants. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
 
I personally believe the Bible is a strong and clear advocate of the sanctity of human life. The word “sanctity” means sacred or holy. Life is sacred to God and therefore should also be sacred to us. David wrote of God carefully and meticulously forming us in our mother’s womb. Life is a miracle of God and is something to be respected, honored, and protected. We must diligently pray for the day when Roe v. Wade will be overturned and America will once again value and cherish that which has been made in the image of God.
 
Matt Capps, senior pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex – Sanctity of life is about the biblical and theological belief that, according to Genesis 1:26-31, God intimately formed humans in His likeness as the crown of creation to reflect His image in the world. This is the basis of human dignity, and the foundation for protecting and nurturing the precious life that God has given to each and every one of us. Implicit in this belief is the conviction that killing, harming or even hating another person is an affront to and an attack upon the living God.

1/15/2016 12:37:09 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



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