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Baptist institutions stand, wait on mandate solution

August 11 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist-affiliated institutions are maintaining their stand against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate while they continue to wait for a satisfactory legal resolution.
 
GuideStone Financial Resources and four Baptist universities – East Texas Baptist, Houston Baptist, Oklahoma Baptist and Truett McConnell – are among 92 nonprofit religious organizations awaiting what they hope will be an agreement with the federal government that protects their freedom of conscience.
 
As they have for years, the Southern Baptist-affiliated institutions object to a rule implementing the 2010 health-care law that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. They filed suit in opposition to what they consider to be the administration’s unsatisfactory accommodation of that objection.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court gave hope to the religious objectors in mid-May when it nullified multiple, unfavorable federal appeals court decisions and blocked the administration from imposing fines on the institutions. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”
 
Initial discussions have occurred between the administration and the religious objectors, but there are no developments to report, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Oklahoma Baptist University and other institutions.
 
“[I]t’s too soon to tell” whether to be hopeful about the negotiations, ADF Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor told Baptist Press (BP).
 
The religious institutions cited in briefs filed with the high court before its May order some various ways the objectionable drugs and devices could be provided without violating their consciences, but the central question is whether the administration will back away from its position before the justices “that the current way was the only way that was acceptable” to it, Baylor said.
 
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – which represents the other Southern Baptist-affiliated institutions – was encouraged by the Supreme Court’s actions in response to a mandate that from the start intruded on the religious organizations’ desire to fulfill their mission “in accordance with their faith,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel.
 
The rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “put them into this impossible situation where basically as a condition of helping the poor or providing people with a Christian education like East Texas Baptist University or Houston Baptist University or providing health-care services like GuideStone, ... they were going to have do something that they thought was sinful,” Rassbach told BP. “So ultimately they’re trying not to sin.”
 
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said the federal government is making an “audacious claim” with its mandate – “that these ministries misunderstand their own faith and that they can deliver these drugs without disobeying God.”
 
“But part of the reason why Southern Baptists have always stood for religious liberty is precisely because it is not the government’s job to give us a lesson in theology,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
“I, for one, do not believe that the federal government understands what it means to be Baptist better than GuideStone and our Baptist colleges,” he said in written comments for BP. “A state that can intrude on the beliefs of some can intrude on the beliefs of all, and this mandate should be recognized for the unlawful overreach that it is.”
 
Their commitment to religious freedom and the sanctity of human life is at the heart of why their institutions are willing to resist the federal government’s intrusion despite the threats of millions of dollars in fines, said representatives of the Baptist universities and GuideStone, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity.
 
“For us it is a matter of conscience,” East Texas Baptist President Blair Blackburn said in an email interview. “ETBU believes in freedom of belief for all religions. That includes everybody, but it ought to include Baptists too. Our mission is to provide excellent Christ-centered education to our students, and that means being able to follow our beliefs in everything we do.”
 
Emir Caner, president of Truett McConnell, told BP by email the mandate “goes against our values based in the sufficiency of Scripture. As such, we will continue to stand on our principles, fight for life and liberty, and rely on our Lord for the consequences.”
 
Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist, said the school has “a strong commitment to life.”
 
“That’s a sincerely held religious belief. We think that’s right at the heart of our historic identity,” Sloan said in a phone interview. “We should not be forced to conform to the government’s ideological views about life.”
 
HHS provided an exemption to the mandate for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object – such as the Baptist colleges. The latest of nearly 10 accommodations proposed by HHS requires the nonprofits to provide written notification they meet the requirements for an accommodation, which forces the nonprofit’s insurer or a third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage.
 
For the Baptist objectors, the accommodation remains unsatisfactory.
 
The accommodation was “a mere administrative sleight of hand that still forced GuideStone to violate our religious convictions,” said Harold R. Loftin, the entity’s chief legal officer.
 
“Under the so-called accommodation, the government was empowered to take control of our medical plan, to have access to the names and addresses of those enrolled in our plan, and to direct the administrator of our medical plan to provide all 20 contraceptive drugs and devices to those in our plan,” Loftin told BP in email comments.
 
The federal government has “innumerable ways” to provide potentially abortion-inducing drugs and devices “without commandeering our medical plan and forcing us to provide services that violate our religious convictions,” he said.
 
Oklahoma Baptist told BP by email the accommodation “was really no accommodation at all. It simply required us to comply with the mandate in another way.”
 
All representatives of the Baptist entities told BP they were encouraged by the Supreme Court’s May order, and they all acknowledged there are reasons for Southern Baptists to pray as the parties seek resolution.
 
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins asked the “Southern Baptist family to pray for favor with the regulators in the case, that our legal team continues to have clarity of mind as they petition on our behalf and that we will continue to represent the ministries with integrity and skill.”
 
Caner said, “We continue to pray for boldness and, if God wills, deliverance. If the next generation is to enjoy religious liberty, this generation must stand for these liberties against the popular view of America’s declining culture.”
 
Oklahoma Baptist requested prayer for the lawyers representing objectors to the mandate and “for our Christian universities to remain strong and faithful to our convictions and for our continuing freedom to peacefully operate according to our beliefs without fear of penalties by the government.”
 
Blackburn asked for prayer that those in the administration and courts “will find a way to honor the Supreme Court’s command to find a way to protect our conscience and the consciences of the other religious institutions.”
 
For Sloan, prayers should be offered that Southern Baptists and their churches “will teach the Scriptures, and we will be clear with ourselves and our children what we actually believe, because these kinds of decisions by the courts actually reflect culture at least as much as they influence culture.”
 
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, I think,” Sloan said. “We have to have a greater dependence upon Scripture. We have to have serious Bible study and teaching. We have to depend on the work of the Scripture and the Spirit. We need to support solid, seriously scripturally faithful institutions in education.”
 
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
 
GuideStone is exempt from the HHS rule, but it serves ministries that are required to obey the mandate, including Truett McConnell.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related articles:
GuideStone appeals to SCOTUS over abortion mandate
Court ponders religious liberty in HHS mandate
 

8/11/2016 9:34:05 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC-led coalition urges defeat of California bill

August 10 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A Southern Baptist-led, multi-faith coalition has urged California legislators to abandon a bill it says would violate religious freedom in higher education.
 
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) issued a statement Aug. 9 calling for members of the State Assembly to oppose Senate Bill 1146. The appeal – signed by more than 140 religious, academic, legal, policy and media leaders – says the legislation would especially harm low-income, minority students who seek to attend religious universities and colleges. The measure also would seriously limit the capability of schools to establish standards consistent with their religious beliefs, the endorsers say.
 
In the statement, the signers – including Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims –- acknowledge they do not all agree on religious issues but they “all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity.”
 
The California proposal has drawn increasing attention and opposition, especially after the Senate passed the bill in late May. The legislation would limit a religious exemption in nondiscrimination law to seminaries and other schools that train students for pastoral ministry, theological teaching or another religious vocation. The Assembly reportedly could vote on the proposal by Aug. 19.
 
One effect of the measure, opponents say, would be to deny Cal Grants – which provide funds for low-income students, three-fourths of whom are minorities – to those who decide to attend religiously affiliated, non-profit universities or colleges in the state.
 
SB 1146, foes contend, also would effectively bar Christian and other religious schools from enforcing such requirements as a profession of faith by their students and faculty, standards of sexual conduct, restroom and locker room policies based on biology instead of gender identity and the integration of faith in curriculum.
 
While Sen. Ricardo Lara, the bill’s Democratic sponsor, says his goal is to protect gay and transgender students from discrimination at private schools, SB 1146 “results in its own form of discrimination by stigmatizing and coercively punishing religious beliefs that disagree on contested matters related to human sexuality,” the ERLC-initiated statement says.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore said the primary difficulty with the bill is “it seeks to suppress and undermine dissent, harming students along the way.”
 
“Applying legal or political pressure on institutions that disagree with the cultural majority of the moment is not merely unwise or unfair – it is un-American,” Moore said in a news release that accompanied the release of the statement. “A healthy American culture is one in which ideas can freely be discussed and debated, in good faith, among people who, though they disagree, would defend the right of the other to participate.”
 
While many of the statement’s signers disagree theologically and some disagree about sexuality and gender identity, “we all agree that our country is better when dissenters are protected, not prosecuted,” Moore said. “We stand opposed to legislation that attacks these institutions’ right to self-definition and free exercise.”
 
The signers call in the statement for Assembly members not only to pull their support of SB 1146 but to “disavow similar intrusions in the future.”
 
“Opposition to this bill is not grounded in the protection of religious liberty only, nor for the special pleading of one religion in particular, but for the protection of American society and American democracy,” they say.
 
Among Southern Baptist leaders signing the statement were Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, and the six theological seminary presidents – Southern’s R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southwestern’s Paige Patterson, New Orleans’ Charles Kelley, Gateway’s Jeff Iorg, Southeastern’s Daniel Akin and Midwestern’s Jason Allen.
 
From the state, the Southern Baptist signers include Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California; Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention; Ronald Ellis, president of California Baptist University; Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield; and A.B. Vines, bishop of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley.
 
Several presidents of universities and professors at seminaries and universities were among other Southern Baptists to sign.
 
Other signers include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World magazine; Robert George, Princeton University professor; Douglas Laycock, University of Virginia law professor; Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center; Barry Corey, president of Biola University in La Mirada; and Hamza Yusuf Hanson, president of Zaytuna College, a Muslim, liberal arts school in Berkeley.
 
Though SB 1146 – which reportedly would impact more than 40 universities and colleges in California – would not explicitly prohibit faith-based policies, it would leave institutions exposed to lawsuits for alleged discrimination. It also would require schools to disclose to current and prospective students, faculty and employees their reasons for claiming a religious exemption under the state’s higher education law.
 
Representatives of California’s religious universities and colleges have met with Lara, the bill’s sponsor, and his staff to propose amendments to safeguard the current religious exemption while protecting gay and transgender students, but their efforts have yet to succeed.
 
The statement and current list of signers is available at erlc.com/resource-library/statements/protecting-the-future-of-religious-higher-education.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related articles:
California Christian colleges must drop view of sexuality
Moore defends religious freedom for Muslims
New sonogram machine for St. Louis pregnancy center
Marriage, race among top issues for ERLC in 2015
Pro-lifers protest requiring churches to cover abortions
 

8/10/2016 9:13:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Olympics: Diving duo wins silver, gives credit to Christ

August 10 2016 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

U.S. divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson have known each other for 10 years, since a teenaged Boudia drove the 10-year-old Johnson to practice every day.
 
On Aug. 9, Boudia teamed up with that “little giggly kid in the back seat,” as he remembered Johnson, to win a silver medal in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform event.

Photo by Tim Ellsworth
Steele Johnson (left) and David Boudia talk to the media after winning a silver medal in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform event.


“It was a successful day for both of us,” Boudia said. “Going into it and throughout the competition, I’ve never felt so content and so calm, and you’re at the Olympic Games with millions of people watching you. So it’s a pretty good feeling, and we know … that peace comes from God.”
 
Boudia and Johnson held second place after each of their six dives. The Chinese pair of Aisen Chen and Yue Lin dominated the event, posting a final score of 496.98 that easily outpaced the U.S. team’s 457.11 points.
 
British divers Tom Daley and Daniel Goodfellow won the bronze.
 
The silver gives Boudia the third Olympic medal of his career after he won gold in the men’s 10-meter platform and bronze in the same synchronized event in London in 2012. This event was Johnson’s Olympic debut, and he credits Boudia with aiding in his development.
 
“He is the embodiment of the word ‘mentor’ to me,” Johnson said. “He’s been a solid rock for me in my walk through this Olympic journey and my walk through life outside of the pool. He’s gone above and beyond to help me become a man of integrity.”
 
Boudia, likewise, gives Johnson credit for helping him rediscover his passion and love for the sport during times over the past four years when he lost interest in diving.
 
“He’s been a special guy and a true brother in my life,” Boudia said.
 
In an interview with NBC after their competition, both Boudia and Johnson talked about how their faith prepared them to compete.
 
“When my mind is on this and thinking that I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy,” Boudia said. “But we do have to know that our identity’s in Christ. We’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and for the United States. It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.”
 
Johnson echoed Boudia’s statement about the importance of remembering that his identity is in Christ and not in the result of a competition.
 
“It just gave me peace,” Johnson said. “It gave me ease, and it let me enjoy the contest.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)
 
Related articles:
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Olympians, volunteers to face Rio’s challenges
Team USA flag bearer Phelps’ rehab ‘Purpose-Driven’
Olympics: Nightly prayers keep skeet shooter’s focus on God
Olympics: U.S. volleyball player seeks God amid trials
Olympics: Wrestler Helen Maroulis content with God’s plan

8/10/2016 9:09:02 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Roy Moore to stand trial for gay marriage order

August 10 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore set to stand trial next month on charges he defied federal court rulings on same-sex marriage, a legal adviser to Alabama Baptists’ public policy auxiliary has called the allegations against him unmerited.

Photo by Mary Pope
A yard sign near Prattville, Ala., reflects what an attorney for the Alabama Citizens Action Program characterized as broad support for Chief Justice Roy Moore’s views on same-sex marriage.


At issue in Moore’s case is a Jan. 6 administrative order in which he stated Alabama’s 68 probate judges had “a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses contrary to” the state’s ban on same-sex marriage until the Alabama Supreme Court clarified the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
 
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) alleges in a 293-page complaint that Moore “failed to respect and comply with the law,” citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling among other cases.
 
The JIC seeks to have Moore, a Southern Baptist, removed from office.
 
Aug. 8, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, a state panel that disciplines judges, denied both a motion from the JIC to remove Moore from office immediately and a motion by Moore to dismiss the complaint. A trial is set for Sept. 28, when a nine-judge panel will decide whether Moore violated judicial ethics and, if so, what penalty to impose.
 
Eric Johnston, an attorney who advises the Alabama Citizens Action Program, an auxiliary of the Alabama Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press, “By and large, most people in Alabama would agree with Moore on his position. I think it’s real clear that the marriage issue and his stand on it is what brought this [complaint] on. It’s almost like it’s vengeance by those that won the marriage issue in Alabama.”
 
If Moore is removed from office, it will be his second time to face that penalty.
 
After being elected chief justice for the first time in 2000, he was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was elected chief justice for a second time in 2012 but, according to a state constitutional provision, is serving an automatic suspension from the bench pending the outcome of his case.
 
The current complaint against Moore has drawn involvement from organizations on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

BP file photo by Morris Abernathy
Roy Moore addresses a 2003 rally in support of his placement of a Ten Commandments monument at the Alabama Judicial Building.


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit legal group that defends so-called homosexual rights among other causes, filed the initial complaint against Moore earlier this year. The JIC then hired John Carroll, a former SPLC legal director, as co-prosecutor of the case.
 
Carroll also is professor of law at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention.
 
During an Aug. 8 hearing before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, Carroll said Moore has engaged in “repeated refusal to follow the law,” the Associated Press (AP) reported. The chief justice abused his power in service of a personal agenda that opposes same-sex marriage, Carroll said.
 
Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal group that defends religious liberty, is representing Moore. At yesterday’s hearing, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver argued Moore’s administrative order merely provided clarification to probate judges, AP reported.
 
The order did not tell probate judges to violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Liberty Counsel argued in a news release. The order explicitly stated, “I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of that Alabama Supreme Court.”
 
Staver stated according to the release, “The Judicial Inquiry Commission abused its authority when it filed charges against Chief Justice Roy Moore. The charges should never have been filed and must be dismissed. The JIC knows that it has no case and refuses to face the reality of the four-page administrative order, which any plain reading reveals did not direct the probate judges to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court. The JIC’s charges are full of colorful adjectives and lacking in substance.”
 
Johnston, adviser to the Alabama Citizens Action Program, which receives the bulk of its funding through the Cooperative Program, said the legal merits of the 2003 complaint against Moore may cause casual observers wrongly to conclude he has violated the law again.
 
“I’ve looked at the law and so forth, and I believe that he was doing what he, as a judge, would probably normally be doing” by issuing the administrative order, Johnston said. “He violated no court orders. He violated no ethics. And that’s not something you would remove a judge from office for.”
 
Even if Moore, 69, remains in office, he will be ineligible for reelection in 2018 because of a state law precluding the election of circuit, appellate and Supreme Court judges over age 70.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related articles:
Renewed gay marriage ban in Ala. debated
 

8/10/2016 9:02:30 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



9/11 prayer outreach spotlights ‘critical’ year

August 10 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

On the 15th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, Southern Baptists are being urged to join hundreds of thousands of Christians from many denominations and ethnicities in praying for a Christian awakening in the nation.


The Sept. 11 Cry Out America prayer outreach of the Awakening America Alliance and Center for Spiritual Renewal, an 8-year-old cooperative initiative encompassing more than 150,000 churches, ministries and parachurches in North America, is increasingly popular this year as more Christians recognize the nation’s deep spiritual need, Awakening America executive director Kay Horner told Baptist Press.
 
“I think that the nation is beginning to wake up and recognize the desperation that we are going to have to have for God to hear from heaven and heal our land. There’s just this increasing recognition that we’re desperate for God,” Horner said. “This is also such a critical year with the election and all of the security issues, the need for racial reconciliation. We anticipate a much larger increase in the churches involved, because of it being on a Sunday.”
 
Immediate past Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd is among leaders issuing a 9/11 prayer call this year. Most recently, Floyd issued the call during a July 17th sermon and in an Aug. 5th blogpost, asking churches to denote at least 11 minutes and up to an hour to prayer in Sept. 11 worship services.
 
“With great conviction, I want to ask each pastor and church in America to allocate the day to praying for our nation,” Floyd said of 9/11. “The churches of America need to pray for our country in our worship services. Not just mention it, not just pray, but pray extraordinarily.”
 
The stakes are especially high this year, Floyd blogged.
 
“Prayer brings the walls down! Prayer crosses over the perceived barriers of ethnicity, race, and generations, bringing down the walls that divide us. Let the walls fall down!” Floyd wrote. “Our sinful choices have built these walls, but Jesus’ work on the cross has brought them all down.”
 
He asked churches to decide for themselves how much time to give to prayer on the anniversary, encouraging between 11 minutes and an hour of prayer.
 
Horner expressed pleasure at Floyd’s emphasis on 9/11 prayer, part of the Cry Out America movement that began in 2008 on the steps of courthouses in the nation’s 3,143 counties and has spread to include schools, churches, and parachurch and marketplace ministries, with a presence in all 50 states.
 
“We like to use the terminology of Christ awakening, because you can have spiritual awakening through a number of things. But we really are encouraging people to pray for a Christ awakening and for revival in the nation,” Horner said. “Cry Out America has always involved people from different denominations and races and cultures and government, education. It’s been a unified effort. It’s much like the fall version of National Day of Prayer, that people put aside their tribes, their logos and their egos and they come together to just seek God.”
 
Horner included a link to Floyd’s sermon in a letter to 150,000 pastors encouraging participation in the emphasis. The letter included an exhortation from Jeff Farmer, president of the near 30,000-church strong Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA), asking churches to pray at least 11 minutes.
 
“This challenge issued by PCCNA President Dr. Jeff Farmer echoes the plea of Dr. Ronnie Floyd and other denominational leaders in the nation,” Horner wrote. “It should stir all of us to consider the importance of engaging in fervent, united prayer and action.
 
“History reveals that Great Awakenings are only birthed through extraordinary prayer. Although committing an entire morning worship service to prayer is not unusual for some congregations, for others eleven minutes of prayer would be extraordinary.”
 
Among those receiving the letter were the 40,000 pastors in the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference led by Samuel Rodriguez, who has broad appeal as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in The World” in 2013, and Awakening America cabinet member Mark Dance, associate vice president, LifeWay Pastors at LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tenn.
 
In addition to Farmer and Dance, Awakening America’s cabinet includes Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission of Camarillo, Calif.; Robert O. Bakke, senior teaching pastor of Hillside Church in Bloomington, Minn.; O.E. Battaglia, founder and president of Renaissance Communications, Wyckoff, N.J.; Sterling Brackett, co-chair, vice president of corporate affairs and COO of The Foursquare Church, Los Angeles; Billye Brim, founder of Billye Brim Ministries, Kirbyville, Mo.; Dave Butts, chairman of the National Prayer Committee and president of Harvest Prayer Ministries, Terre Haute, Ind.; Paul Cedar, chairman and CEO of Mission America Coalition, Palm Desert, Calif.;
 
David Ferguson, co-chair of the Great Commandment Network of Intimate Life Ministries in Austin, Texas; Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church, La Mesa, Calif.; Harry Jackson Jr., chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, Beltsville, Md.; Michael Obi, director of the African Strategic Leadership Prayer Network, Cleveland, Tenn.; Tom Phillips, vice president of The Billy Graham Library, Charlotte, N.C.; Doug Stringer, founder and president of Somebody Cares, Houston; and Jeremy Story, co-founder and president of Campus Renewal Ministries, Austin.
 
Free Sept. 11 prayer resources and promotional materials are available at awakeningamerica.us/cry-out-america-resources/.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

8/10/2016 8:55:54 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Widow’s trust in the Lord shown in Mission:Dignity

August 10 2016 by John Ambra, GuideStone Financial Resources

Sandra McGill never dreamed she’d be a pastor’s wife. When she and Joe married in 1954, he hadn’t told her about his call to preach while operating a plow on his family’s farm. His revelation several years later would be the beginning of more than three decades cultivating fields of a different kind.

GuideStone photo
Sandra McGill served “quite a few churches in four different states” with her husband Joe, a Baptist pastor, “and all but a couple were little country churches that were barely scraping by.” When Joe died in 2005, Mission:Dignity began helping Sandra make ends meet.


Joe and Sandra’s journey took them from their native South Carolina to New Orleans where Joe enrolled in seminary. While there, he pastored a small church on the west bank of the Mississippi River. It was a very poor section of town and primarily Roman Catholic. The local people called him “Father Joe” or “The Baptist Priest.”
 
A family who lived across the street from the McGills had a little boy named Pat who was a couple of years younger than their sons but liked coming over to play. Eventually, Pat was saved at the church’s Vacation Bible School and would go to church with the McGills. However, his family never had an interest in the gospel. When the McGills were about to move away, little Pat asked Sandra to take him with them.
 
Years later, when the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting was held in New Orleans, the church hosted a dinner for all the pastors who had served there. Joe and Sandra met Pat’s older brother, who had since been saved and was serving in the church. He told them Pat was now married, had two children and was a deacon in a church across the river.
 
“Everywhere we’ve been, there have been people that said they would never go to church,” Sandra recalled, “but they got saved. We were real thrilled over that.”
 
That is just one of many memories Sandra cherishes since Joe died in March 2005. After his passing, she has been helped by the Mission:Dignity ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

GuideStone photo
Sandra McGill


“We had an interesting life together,” Sandra said. “We pastored quite a few churches, in four different states, and all but a couple were little country churches that were barely scraping by.
 
“At one particular church, we made $200 a week and paid $200 a month for house rent. We had one child still at home. One Sunday night during a business meeting, this man got up and said, ‘I think we need to cut the pastor’s salary.’ Of course it didn’t go. We had barely enough to live on, much less to put something into any kind of savings or annuity.
 
“We just depended on the Lord.”
 
Even today, with just a small widow’s benefit from GuideStone and a modest Social Security check, Sandra continues to depend on the Lord for everyday needs and has experienced the generosity and kindness of her Southern Baptist family through Mission:Dignity.
 
“After Joe died, I got a letter saying Mission:Dignity would supply me with $200 a month if I needed it,” Sandra recounted. “There were several times that I would have this bill and wouldn’t know how to pay it. The Lord just blessed. He multiplies things. If it hadn’t been for that extra money, I would not have been able to have dental work done. There are times that I had to use it for car repair. Sometimes an extra unexpected emergency would come up.”
 
Mission:Dignity assists nearly 1,800 retired ministers, church workers or their widows, distributing about $7 million annually, with most of the funding coming from direct gifts of individuals, Sunday School classes and churches. One hundred percent of gifts are used for the well-deserved monthly grants, with operating expenses provided by GuideStone.
 
Undated resources to inform churches about Mission:Dignity – available at Mission:Dignity Sunday – include free bulletin inserts, promotional posters and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by the ministry, including Sandra McGill.
 
GuideStone estimates that a record-high 8,274 Southern Baptist congregations participated in this year’s Mission:Dignity Sunday, slated in June each year on the SBC calendar, though the resources can be used at any time.
 
“The Lord has just provided for me so much,” McGill said. “I just ask Him to bless the people that make Mission:Dignity possible, that He will give them special blessings and continue to bless them as they bless me.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Ambra is director of development for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

8/10/2016 8:45:59 AM by John Ambra, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



Health screening ministry meets physical and spiritual needs

August 9 2016 by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications

When Crystal Horton accepted the position of coordinator of N.C. Baptist Men’s (NCBM) health screening ministry, she felt that it was an answer to prayer.

Submitted photo


A former nurse at Duke University Hospital, Horton had spent years praying for an opportunity to serve God outside the walls of a hospital. Then, He opened the door for her to serve Him on a bus. This bus, also known as the wellness mobile unit, houses the health-screening ministry, serving uninsured and underserved populations throughout North Carolina by conducting screenings for cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and heart disease.
 
It was a new addition to NCBM’s already existing medical and dental mobile units in 2015. On this bus, medical professionals work to meet the physical needs of patients, but they also share the healing power of Jesus through the gospel.
 
To Horton, this ability to share the gospel is the most important part of the ministry – and the reason why she felt called to serve on the wellness bus.
 
“You are many times limited as to how much you can openly share within an institutional setting,” she said. “But I wanted to be able to share Christ with everyone I came into contact with.”
 
The bus typically offers clinics at community events and churches in underserved neighborhoods. Since the unit’s first outing in July 2015, there have been 33 clinics held on the wellness unit.
 
The goal of this ministry, Horton said, is to identify potential health issues and offer referral appointments from local health clinicians – all while sharing the love of Christ.
 
“It’s an awesome opportunity as a health care provider to go out and share Christ with people I don’t know,” Horton said.
 
“We know that we can’t fix all their physical problems, but we can certainly fix their spiritual problems.”
 
This ministry is possible because of the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO). Forty-one percent of the funds received in the offering go toward NCBM, which is funded almost entirely by the NCMO. Its mission is to share God’s love with hurting people through word and deed. The 2016 NCMO goal is $2.1 million.
 
Horton said providing health screening free of cost meets a very deep need in many communities. “Many uninsured and underserved populations lack appropriate health care,” she said. “When you have to choose between going to the doctor for expensive screening tests or feeding your family, the choice will always be food.”
 
However, screening is only one part of this ministry – referring patients to clinicians is also a vital part of the work on the wellness bus. Horton said that after completing screenings, she has been able to immediately send patients to the hospital based on the assumption of heart attack or undiagnosed diabetes.
 
In addition, local health departments and clinicians are often on site to make appointments with the patients, which Horton said is the most effective way of getting patients post-clinic care.
 
“It serves no purpose to tell someone that they probably have diabetes and not provide a means for them to get treatment and education regarding their disease process,” she said.
 
Throughout the screening and referral process, Horton and the team maintain an emphasis on ministering to the spiritual needs of the patients. In addition to medical professionals, pastors and lay people also serve on the bus to offer prayer and encouragement to patients.
 
Since the wellness unit’s first clinical outing, 14 people have come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
 
Each patient on the bus hears the good news of the gospel – that Jesus transforms lives and that He is the great physician.
 
“Many people don’t understand what we are doing when we drive the brightly covered RV into their community,” Horton said.
 
“We just want them to know that we love them, and Jesus loves them.”

 


(EDITOR’S NOTE – Go inside the health screening bus with Crystal Horton and learn how N.C. Baptists are preparing the way for Jesus through this ministry. Watch the video at vimeo.com/channels/ncmo. To learn more about NCMO and ministries it supports, visit ncmissionsoffering.org.)
 

8/9/2016 8:09:06 AM by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications | with 2 comments



North Carolina legislative wrap-up for 2016

August 9 2016 by Christian Action League

Ask most anyone to name a law passed in North Carolina this year and you’ll hear about House Bill 2 (HB2). The high-profile battle between the North Carolina General Assembly, the governor and the Charlotte City Council over who should be allowed in which bathroom thrust the state into the national spotlight and saw faith-based organizations on the front lines supporting beleaguered lawmakers who dared to stand up for safety and religious liberty.
 
Though the issue was front and center in the short session, it wasn’t the only thing on the minds of lawmakers or on the Christian Action League’s (CAL) radar. As it has for more than half a century, the conservative evangelical public policy organization worked to promote good bills and lay bare bad provisions on a range of topics.
 
Nonetheless, the HB2 battle set the tone for the short session as it was already underway when lawmakers convened – thanks, in part, to a March 21 press conference that featured CAL, as well as other groups, calling for quick action to negate Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance before it could take effect April 1.
 
The state’s largest city had adopted regulations that would not only require businesses to allow anyone claiming to be transgender to use the restroom, shower or locker room of his or her preference, but would have also forced businesses to participate in events that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
 
After the General Assembly responded by passing HB2 in a March 23 special session, CAL spearheaded two rallies and worked with others to thank lawmakers for their stand and urge them to stay the course.

Despite unjust criticisms and relentless pressures from the media, gay rights groups and corporate entities, some of which threatened to pull their business out of the state, lawmakers remained resolute on the matter.
 
“These attacks were as hypocritical as they were harsh, with many of the companies that were making economic threats having significant investments in countries where homosexuals are beheaded or otherwise punished,” said Mark Creech, CAL executive director. “By drawing thousands of people to rallies and providing knowledgeable and passionate speakers on this issue, our coalition of groups let both the public and those inside the legislature know that the majority of North Carolinians appreciate their efforts to keep men out of the ladies restrooms, showers, and locker rooms. We appreciate this legislation that prevents the government from punishing people for their peacefully held beliefs.”
 
Controversy continued over the common-sense law even as lawmakers moved on to pass other legislation, including a $22.3 billion budget that cut personal income taxes and raised salaries for teachers and state employees.
 
The following is an update of the current status of HB2 as well as a number of other bills that garnered the attention of the Christian Action League this session:
 

Public safety, religious liberty

  • House Bill 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act: This bill that requires people to use the restroom matching their biological gender and prevents the kind of government overreach that singles out and punishes businesses and churches on the basis of their peacefully expressed beliefs, remained largely intact when lawmakers left Raleigh.

Draft legislation circulated near the end of the short session that would have amended the legislation in 4 ways:

  1. It would have allowed people who have had sex-reassignment surgeries in jurisdictions that do not provide for birth certificate changes to receive a “certificate of sex reassignment,” from the state registrar.
  2. It would have increased punishment for certain crimes committed in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
  3. It would have restored workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.
  4. It would have created an anti-discrimination task force.

The draft legislation was rumored to be the result of negotiations between the governor’s office, the legislature and the National Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA announced in July it is moving the 2017 All-Star Game that was scheduled in Charlotte, but is planning a 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte.
By session’s end, lawmakers decided to make one of the changes, which was to restore workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.
 

Alcohol control/substance abuse

  • House Bill 884 – Amend ABC Township Elections: When this bill initially passed the House, it had nothing to do with alcohol. But in the Senate, it was rewritten as a proposal to allow the Wittenburg Township in Alexander County to hold its own ABC referendum, despite the fact that Alexander County voters defeated county-wide alcohol sales in 2013.

The CAL opposed the bill primarily because of its unconstitutionality. Because North Carolina’s Constitution prohibits local legislation regulating trade, and alcohol is considered a trade in this state, any alcohol legislation must be applied statewide. It cannot have a local application only, which was the case with HB 884.
 
Furthermore, CAL has always held that a bill of this nature should be fully vetted by the House ABC Committee, which was not a possibility since it came to the House for a concurrence vote only. Also, numerous Alexander County citizens had urged CAL to oppose  HB 884 on their behalf. The House voted not to concur with the Senate’s version of the bill by an overwhelming margin, but later revived the measure just to withdraw it from the calendar to be re-referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, where it was left to die.

  • House Bill 169 – Regulatory Reduction Act: This bill contained two ill-conceived alcohol provisions.

First, it would have allowed distilleries in North Carolina to increase the number of liquor products that could be sold on site at the distillery.
 
Current law allows distilleries to sell only one commemorative bottle of liquor to each customer who takes a tour. But HB 169 would have allowed distilleries to expand that one bottle per year, per customer, to one of each brand the distillery manufactures.
 
This provision was removed from the bill before it was voted on by the full Senate.
 
The second provision, which remained in the bill, passed the Senate and carried over to the House, was one that would have allowed distilleries to ship their products out of state. Though its proponents argued that it was simply a good business move, it would have also opened up the state to the possibility of being forced to allow distilleries in other states to ship their products here.
 
The Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in, Granholm v. Heald, essentially declares that if a state can ship liquor to individuals outside of its jurisdiction, that state must also open up its borders for products from distilleries in other states.
 
“The House did not concur with the measure and it’s a good thing. This would have posed serious negative consequences, undercutting liquor sales from North Carolina ABC stores, weakening our ABC system, but also hurting our state’s control efforts,” said Creech.
 
He said CAL has always been concerned about Internet purchases, the easy access underage drinkers have to fake identification, and the delivery of alcohol products via the Internet and in the mail to their homes, college dormitories, fraternities or sorority houses.
 
Because the bill had a number of other provisions upon which House and Senate conferees could not agree, the bill was stripped of its language and converted into the vehicle for tweaking HB2. Thus, HB 169-Regulatory Reduction Act became HB 169-Restore State Claim for Wrongful Discharge, the measure that restored workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.

  • House Bill 747 – Youth Access to Kratom/Study Abuse OTC Subs.:  This bill was concerned about the growing use of derivatives from a plant called mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom.

Lawmakers wrote this measure as a study bill to determine if there was medicinal value to the substance. The proposal would have limited the sale of the popular study aid and pain killer to those 18 and under. It would have also called for a study of whippets, the use of nitrous oxide as an inhalant.
 
Although the bill was approved by the Senate, upon its arrival in the House it was sent to the Rules Committee and was never taken up.
 

Gambling

Although not a separate lottery bill, a provision in an early version of the state budget passed by the Senate would have doubled the amount of money spent on lottery advertising, increasing it from 1 percent to 2 percent, or $19 million per year to roughly $40.8 million.
 
Lottery officials argued the added revenue was necessary to expand digital and online advertising and to run more short ads informing residents about jackpot amounts in multistate Powerball and Mega Millions games. The proposal was abandoned during budget negotiations between the House and Senate.
 
Visit christianactionleague.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This post originally appeared at ChristianActionLeague.org.
Used with permission.)
 
 

8/9/2016 8:02:49 AM by Christian Action League | with 2 comments



Resource teaches disciple-making as Jesus did

August 9 2016 by Ashley Allen, BSC

Over the past several years, every time Jodie visited her hairdresser, she looked for opportunities to begin a gospel conversation. Through conversation and leaving materials for the woman to ponder, Jodie was able to answer her friend’s questions.


However, recent controversial national events led the woman to question why Christians weren’t responding, so Jodie invited her friend to her home for dinner and conversation. The new friend, who was also an artist, began to read through Genesis 1 and 2, looking at God as Creator and seeing His creation. Jodie’s friends have been praying for her and have reminded Jodie to pray for her hairdresser as well.
Jodie followed the pattern for disciple-making that Jesus outlined for His followers. In John 1:43, Jesus told Philip, “Follow Me.” Over the next three years of His ministry, Jesus showed Philip and the other disciples a method for making disciples. Jesus’ disciples then modeled this pattern for others throughout the life of the early church.
 
In an effort to equip N.C. Baptists to be disciple-makers, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina developed Patterned, a 10-week resource for pastors and church members focused on disciple-making.
 
The material includes five lessons for each week centered on the elements of disciple-making. These elements include praying for the lost, defining evangelism and discipleship, studying the Bible, telling one’s story, engaging in gospel conversations, living in biblical community, reaching unreached people groups and living as sent people, among other topics. Contributors include North Carolina pastors, ministers, lay leaders, missionaries and seminary professors. Additionally, each week’s material is accompanied by two short videos by the contributor to further expound on the topic.
 
This resource is ideal for use in a small group or Sunday School setting, allowing students to learn from one another as they share what God is teaching them in His Word and as they encourage one another in their growth as disciple-makers.
 
Currently, a bound copy of Patterned is available to N.C. Baptist churches free of charge. Each church is able to order a maximum of 15 copies and one DVD of the resource using this order form (https://ncbaptist.wufoo.com/forms/patterned/). More information about this resource can be found at PatternedNC.org.
 
As for Jodie’s friend, she has not yet prayed to receive Christ, but Jodie remains hopeful. “Genuine relationships begin with conversation – too often we talk rather than listen,” she said. “By listening to my friend’s deep concerns about brokenness and pointing to the artistry of God, we were able to connect on a deeper level of friendship that easily led to sharing the gospel.”
 
 

8/9/2016 7:57:20 AM by Ashley Allen, BSC | with 0 comments



Myanmar refugees make journey of faith

August 9 2016 by Amy B. McCraw, Special to the Recorder

The group of young men and women who sat in the chapel at Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Edneyville one recent hot July day appeared to be typical college students taking summer classes.

Hendersonville Times-News photo by Patrick Sullivan
Fruitland Baptist Bible College students from Myanmar include (front, left to right) Eh Ta Moo, Yushe Ya, Shamo Ayela, (back, left to right) Shar Tway, Ro Day, Theh Mar Htoo and Mary Win. Some of the students plan to return to their native country to spread the message of Christianity.


Some held school books in their laps, some carried backpacks on their shoulders and some had that groggy look that only comes from staying up too late finishing a term paper due the next day.
But after meeting these students, it quickly became clear they were anything but typical.
 
These students came to the United States with their parents five to seven years ago after their families fled political unrest in their homeland of Myanmar, a country in Southeastern Asia also known as Burma.
 
“When I first came, I felt overwhelmed and shy because of the language,” 20-year-old student Theh Mar Htoo said. “God helped me. I believe we will get through to the end no matter what. We hope and pray.”
 
Htoo is one of seven students studying at Fruitland who are from Myanmar’s Karenni culture. A long civil war in the Myanmar led hundreds of thousands of people in the country’s ethnic groups, including the Karenni, to flee the country. The students attending Fruitland made their way from Myanmar to refugee camps in neighboring countries before finding their way to the United States.
 
School officials affectionately call them their Karenni students.
 
Some of the young men and women were born in Myanmar, some were born in refugee camps outside the country, and one student simply said he was born in the jungle.
 
Five of the students enrolled at Fruitland almost one year ago after living for a time with their parents in Winston-Salem, while two others came to the school from Minnesota only a few months ago.
 
The students, who learned the Karenni language as children, speak English as a second language. They admit writing and completing verbal assignments in English at the college level has been a challenge.
But like Mar Htoo, 19-year-old Shar Tway said she keeps faith that God will guide their studies.
 
“If God carried me this far, he can carry us all to the end,” she said.
 
Fruitland President David Horton described the students as hardworking and excellent learners.
 
“They are not only passing classes, they are doing so with good grades,” he said. “Seeing their hard work and diligence, they are just an inspiration. It’s a tremendous experience having them in the classroom.”
Horton said one of the students in a class he taught delivered a sermon that excelled in both content and his use of English.
 
“I was amazed at how well he did,” Horton said.
 
Eh Ta Moo, a 23-year-old Karenni student at the school, said he wants to return to Myanmar as a preacher one day.
 
“I want to go back and fellowship with people who don’t believe in Jesus,” he said. “I want to preach. I want to give my testimony of Jesus.”
 
While Fruitland is best known as a college that trains Baptist preachers, the school also provides instruction to students in other areas of ministry, including missionary work.
 
Some of the Karenni students said they intend to return to Myanmar as missionaries after they finish their studies.
 
Htoo and Tway said they want to pursue medical training, possibly as physician assistants, after they leave Fruitland. They said they too want to one day return to Myanmar to help the people in their homeland.
 
“Many have limited access to medical care,” Tway said. “Many have passed away because of simple illnesses.”
 
In addition to spending their summer studying at Fruitland and working part-time jobs in the community, some of the students also traveled to Asheboro this summer to help with a summer camp for Karenni teenagers from across the country.
 
The “Karenni Summer Camp” at Camp Caraway drew 122 Karenni teens from as far away as Colorado and Arizona. The students from Fruitland helped camp leaders by working with small groups of students and by participating in worship each day.
 
In an email message to Horton after the camp ended, Tim Cross, an organizer of the camp, praised the work of the Fruitland students.
 
“By the end of the week, it was like a revival had broken out,” Cross wrote. “On our last morning, we had 14 young people who had accepted Christ and followed the Lord in baptism in the lake. We are so proud of these kids. God is using them in a big way and we know He has huge plans for them in the future.”
 
For now, Fruitland’s Karenni students said they are happy to be where they are and learning all they can.
 
“To get an education is a blessing to us,” Tway said. “Our parents did not have an opportunity to get an education as they pleased.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy B. McCraw is a correspondent for the Hendersonville Times-News. This story is used with permission.)
 

8/9/2016 7:52:42 AM by Amy B. McCraw, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments



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