February 13 2014 by
Martha Richards, Baptist Press
JOHANNESBURG – She was just a child, and she trusted him. He was her pastor. Yet he raped her, and no one believed her story.
Years passed, and Lisha* was once again betrayed, this time by a friend who also raped her – again and again.
As a pregnant youth, Lisha was rejected by her cynical, unforgiving mother. Kicked out of her home and abandoned by her family, Lisha had only an abusive “boyfriend” to turn to. Tired of raping her alone, he gave her to his friends for the same purpose. Nothing is free, and because he gave her a place to stay, he said that she owed him. Forcing her into prostitution was the next step, one that enslaved her and provided an income for him.
Gone were her youthful dreams of becoming a social worker. Ahead was a life of danger, illicit sex, physical and emotional abuse, forced slavery and an addiction to drugs.
Lisha was trapped, transferred from one pimp to another, taken to another city, and sexually exploited. Lisha was trafficked.
Human trafficking is the practice of deceiving someone or taking someone against his or her will, then selling or buying and transporting the person into slavery.
Photo by Martha Richards/IMB
Betrayed as a child, teenager and adult, Lisha* was desperate to escape her life of forced prostitution. She was raped, abused, addicted and trapped in a life of slavery..
Currently in South Africa
, it is not illegal to buy and sell humans. Traffickers can only be prosecuted for kidnapping, specific sexual offenses or forcing child labor. Enforcing the law is difficult, however.
According to local pimps, many police officials support legal experts who created proposals to legalize prostitution in South Africa. The proposals indicate police should be freed to focus on serious crime instead of prostitution, which they consider a petty vice.
“It’s horrible what the sex industry actually does to women,” said Charntel Paile
, a Christian outreach worker who ministers among prostitutes in a prominent South African city. “And most of the ladies I work with – I would say 90 percent – are being trafficked.
“By 10 a.m. the ladies are out in the street till the following morning,” Paile said. “They’re really enslaved. The money that they make, they give to their pimps. They just get drugs and food, and they get beaten every day. They get abused by the pimps, they get abused by the police, and they get abused by the clients.
“They have lost hope, and they have lost who they are.”
Lisha was no stranger to the perils around her. One client picked her up, had sex with her, then held a gun to her head and took his money back. He pushed her out of the car with no shoes, no cell phone and no money. At a loss, Lisha hitched a ride from a truck driver who picked her up for the price of free sex.
The next night, a man propositioned her and delivered her to an apartment where two other guys were waiting. They held knives to her throat and head, took turns raping her, then tossed her on the streets bleeding and without payment.
Less than a week later, Lisha got in a man’s car, only to pass out immediately when he touched her. Several hours later, she woke up naked in a bush.
“I just want to leave this life,” Lisha said. “I don’t want to go on. I want to end the ... drugs. I don’t want my child in this life. I don’t want her to see me in this life.”
Lisha tried to run away, but her pimp came after her. He pulled her into a car, pushed her to the floor, took off his belt, and beat her until she thought she would die.
“They just tell you in your face – straight – ‘There’s your house, here’s your wake-up, go to the streets next.’ And you can’t say nothing. You are far from your home. You must go, no matter what, whether you like it or not. It’s by force,” Lisha said. “And if you don’t want to go, they beat you well. And you still have to go out after they beat you.”
One human trafficker told bizcommunity.com
, “We are not criminals, and we have done nothing wrong. On the contrary, we are helping people help themselves and in the process, helping Africa to eradicate poverty and destitution.”
But Lisha did not want this kind of “help.”
“I’m fed up of everything now,” she said to an IMB worker who befriended her. “I can’t handle it. I’ve had enough. It’s time for me to give my child a chance in my life.”
Lisha’s greatest desire was to build a relationship with her daughter, who lived with an acquaintance in Lisha’s home city.
Lisha’s urgency to flee touched Paile’s heart, and Paile and the IMB worker tried to help her. Paile’s desire is to help prostitutes escape from their pimps, take them to a rehabilitation center and ultimately deliver them to a halfway house where they can learn skills and be reintegrated into society.
Paile shared the story of the woman at the well from John 4 in the Bible.
“She was an outcast in the community ... because she had different men,” she said. “But when she had an encounter with Jesus, she changed. She ran to the community, and everyone listened. And these are the very same ladies that we’re working with – the outcasts, the rejected, the ones that have lost being a woman. I know that when they have an encounter with Jesus, their life will never be the same.”
Paile and the IMB worker often shared scriptures with Lisha and prayed for her. Although she heard the gospel, she did not respond.
Once more, Lisha attempted to escape. She was desperate. But another trafficked victim reported her to their pimp. Lisha was severely beaten again. In tears, Lisha pleaded with the IMB worker and Paile, “I just need you guys to help me get out of this. That’s all.”
At age 33, her body riddled with disease and long-term abuse, Lisha’s pimp took her to a remote part of the city, threw her out and left her to die alone.
Lisha’s story and life ended. Efforts to release her from bondage were not successful, but it is not too late to rescue other girls who are trapped in a life of slavery.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – *Name changed. Martha Richards writes for the International Mission Board. To get involved in Paile’s ministry among prostitutes, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
2/13/2014 10:48:41 AM
February 13 2014 by
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press
Martha Richards, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – U.S. Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark
knows some of the trappings that come with athletic success. A four-time Olympian, she has seen those temptations herself.
That’s one reason she decided four years ago to start the Kelly Clark Foundation
to help others compete in the sport that she loves so much.
“As a competitive athlete, sometimes you’re required to prioritize yourself and think about yourself all the time,” Clark said. “I thought it might be better if I didn’t spend so much time thinking about myself. That’s kind of where my inspiration came from to start the foundation.”
Photo by David G. McIntyre
Kelly Clark competed today (Feb. 12) during the women’s halfpipe qualification in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The results will be aired on NBC.
The foundation’s purpose is to help youth be successful through the avenue of snowboarding. Clark said she looked at the needs in the snowboarding industry and determined that the sport is sometimes cost-prohibitive for potential athletes. So through the foundation, she helps fund high-level competitive athletes and underserved youth who otherwise might not have a chance to participate.
So far, the foundation has donated about $65,000 to about 100 people – such as Kelly Berger
, a high school snowboarder
in Mammoth Lakes, Calif
., where Clark also lives. Berger recently traveled to Pennsylvania for a competition, and the foundation helped pay for her expenses.
“It’s been a tremendous help,” Berger said. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to travel as much.”
Clark’s generosity flows from her Christian faith. As a young snowboarder – but one with an Olympic gold medal to her credit already – Clark knew something in her life wasn’t right. One night in 2004, she sought out a fellow snowboarder in her hotel room.
“My name’s Kelly,” Clark announced. “I think you might be a Christian, and I think you need to tell me about God.”
That was the beginning of Clark’s journey to faith in Christ. Now 10 years later and making her fourth Olympics appearance, Clark has come full circle – she’s now the one that other snowboarders come to for prayer, encouragement and spiritual discussions.
“There is no formula to being a professional snowboarder or to walking with God, for that matter,” Clark said. “I can look back at my Olympic experiences, and I’ve seen how I’ve grown as an individual, how I’ve grown in my faith, how I’ve grown as an athlete. Every four years I get a little snapshot to see how I’m doing.”
When she competed in the ladies’ halfpipe event in Sochi, Russia, today (Feb. 12), she did so with a sense of gratitude for what God has done in her life.
“It’s very easy in the world of competitive sports to be defined by what you do,” Clark said. “I found that God’s really into what’s in your heart. He just wants your heart. It’s been a great privilege to pursue my dreams and pursue God at the same time.”
That sense of gratitude is part of the reason that Clark has chosen to make such a significant investment in the lives of others through her foundation.
“I just want to build something that’s bigger than me,” she said. “I want to build something that’s going to outlast my ability to perform and compete. I want to look back at the sport of snowboarding and know that it’s better because I was a part of it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)
2/13/2014 10:39:41 AM
February 13 2014 by
Aaron Earls, Baptist Press
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
NASHVILLE – After 20 years and millions of pledge cards, has True Love Waits
had a positive impact and does it still matter?
A new documentary by LifeWay Films
examines the history and future of True Love Waits. The international purity movement captured the national conversation in 1994 by covering the National Mall with cards from teenagers promising to remain sexually pure.
The documentary “True Love Waits: The Complicated Struggle for Sexual Purity
,” traces the story from the beginning to the present day relaunch, including the lives of individuals involved. Scott Mills, executive producer of the movie and manager of LifeWay Films, said the documentary unflinchingly deals with the reality of what began as an idea sketched on a napkin and exploded as an international movement.
“Millions of teenagers of the past two decades have made commitments to stay pure,” Mills said. “Many have kept those commitments and at the same time many have struggled.”
“We knew from the beginning we wanted to address the criticisms as well as the successes of the True Love Waits movement,” Travis Hawkins, documentary director, said. “We knew viewers would see through any spin we put on the story. We weren’t afraid to have an honest conversation.”
The documentary, available on DVD Feb
, goes back to the cultural climate before True Love Waits. Many adults in America had given up hope that teenagers could refrain from sex, according to Richard Ross
, a TLW co-founder
“It was as if the big powerful people, the people that are smart, the people that are knowledgeable, are saying teenagers are out of control,” Ross said.
In the midst of this environment, Ross and Jimmy Hester, then director of student ministry at LifeWay, created True Love Waits. Immediately, they saw it take off with students at Ross’ church, Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn.
It began to garner national headlines and amazement from many in the media. “They couldn’t believe students would stand up and make statements about their beliefs about abstinence,” Hester said.
To practically measure the success of TLW, Ross points to an unbroken increase in teenage sexuality from 1973 to 1993, after which it plateaued and declined for 20 years.
Hawkins said, “At the outset, I confess I thought of True Love Waits as dated and kind of irrelevant. I had no idea the kind of impact it did have.”
The film also documents True Love Waits’ impact in nations ravaged with AIDS.
“Before True Love Waits came to Uganda, one out of three adults was dying of AIDS,” Ross said. “After True Love Waits, it’s about one out of 10 or one out of 11, and the statistics are getting better by the day.”
In the U.S., Susan Bohannon
became a teenage spokesperson for the movement, appearing on national television shows and newspapers. At college, she struggled under the pressure of being one of the poster children for teenage virginity.
“When we conducted our initial interview with her, it was clear to me there was more to her story, but she was reluctant to share it,” Hawkins said. “After a few conversations, Susan agreed to share the rest of her story. It took a lot of bravery on her part. Susan really illustrates how complicated the issue of sexual purity is.”
Succumbing to the peer pressure and mocking of those around her, Bohannon had sex in college. She then felt emotionally numb and distant from God, she said.
“I felt very shameful about even trying to talk to Him or sincerely worshipping because I knew that I was so far away,” she recalled, “but I wasn’t sure how to get back.”
To Clayton King
of the curriculum relaunching True Love Waits
, Bohannon’s story exemplifies the need to return the movement to one focused on the purity found in Christ and how that plays itself out.
“I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn,” King said. “The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace that Jesus offers us.”
That resonated with Bohannon. “The message of True Love Waits is not about being a good person or being good or doing good things,” she said. “The message of True Love Waits is about true love and no one displays true love better than Christ himself.”
Mills hopes viewers of the documentary will be “challenged to talk to their kids about sex.” He also would like to see it “build within students a desire to follow Jesus and recognize purity as a result of that relationship.”
The time is right for the documentary and the message it proclaims, Hawkins said.
“Our students are facing greater challenges to their sexual purity than ever before,” he said. “There’s a lot of guilt and shame involved for those who have ‘messed up.’ It’s an extremely personal issue, but it’s got to be addressed.”
TLW first debuted in 1994 when King was a college student
at Gardner-Webb University
in Boiling Springs.
King said, “I was part of the movement when it began. I spoke at one of the very first TLW/DiscipleNow weekends. I signed the [commitment] card, along with hundreds of thousands of students, and I still meet people today who give testimony to a season in their adolescence when they began to discover God’s design for love and intimacy. … It certainly changed the trajectory of my life as a young man.”
While DVDs are available for pre-orders at LifeWay.com
, customers can download a digital version now. For more information and to view a trailer for the film, visit LifeWay.com/TrueLoveWaitsFilm
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
2/13/2014 10:27:53 AM
February 13 2014 by
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press
Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
JOHANNESBURG – A young child sits on the side of the road in Madagascar crushing rocks with a hammer almost too heavy for him to hold.
Another accidentally slices his hand open with a machete while opening cocoa pods on a plantation in Ghana.
A young teenage girl, trafficked for the sex industry, walks the beaches of Kenya looking for business.
A young boy squats naked in a mineshaft in Burkina Faso, chipping ore and loading it into buckets all day long.
A child soldier in the DR Congo carries an automatic weapon he was forced to use to kill villagers he knew.
The words of a young child in South Africa, originally written as a poem in the Xhosa language, read:
In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of all children ages 5-14, about 48 million children, work for survival.
“How can I live in this world?
“Oh, what can I do?
“It is so dark ahead of me.
“Mother and father do not want us.
“They sell us to thugs.”
Every day millions of children in Africa are at risk of being exploited, resulting in slave-like working conditions. Their childhood is forever lost.
“Forced labor robs children of a childhood, which in turn negatively affects their ability to be constructive members of their communities for the rest of their lives,” said Mark Hatfield
, Africa director of Baptist Global Response
, a Southern Baptist humanitarian aid and relief organization.
“Forced child labor deals a mental blow to the individual child, taking away his ability to dream about a future outside of his present status,” Hatfield said.
According to the International Labour Organization
(ILO), an agency of the United Nations
, Africa has the world’s largest child labor population, with the agriculture and mining sectors among the worst offenders.
Poverty is cited as the primary reason for forced child labor in Africa.
The problem is severe in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 40 percent of all children ages 5-14, about 48 million children, work for survival, according to the ILO. Child trafficking for the purpose of labor is common throughout the continent. Family members often exchange children for money, goods or gifts.
“Children forced to work before they reach a reasonable age limits their future capabilities by taking away their right to a basic education, which can be the springboard out of poverty,” Hatfield said. “Child labor perpetuates the poverty cycle by keeping the child in a low income, subsistence-only status all their lives.”
According to the UN, in expanding economies the demand for labor increases. Unable to cope with high production quotas, industries turn to exploitative child labor. “Children and teenagers enter the risk of being used as cheap labor,” a UN report states. “Most of these children are vulnerable due to poverty. They are unaware of their rights, overworked, can’t resist.”
The report said the children are employed with low or no wages, poor living conditions, hazardous work environments, no healthcare and little to no education opportunities.
, head strategist for the International Mission Board’s
(IMB) work in sub-Saharan Africa, raised the questions, “Why should people care about children in Africa? Does it matter?”
He responded, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me.’ I believe we must find ways to share Jesus’ love with the ‘least of these’ – helping them know the safety and security they can find in Jesus and in Christian community.”
Cearley and his wife Charlotte reach out to young street boys in the neighborhood where they live.
“They hang out one block from our house with their begging cans and seem to be starving under the control of their ‘master’ who lives on our street,” Cearley said. “We try to show them love by giving them real attention in our limited [local language], providing some bread or food and trying to share the Good News.”
Cearley said IMB colleagues give lots of time in building relationships with children in sub-Saharan African cities.
“It takes lots of energy that is supplemented by good partnering U.S. teams,” he said. “Many see Jesus for the first time in acts of kindness and feel His touch in genuine love. In a few cases we see lives transformed as they come to know freedom in Christ.”
Cearley, as well as Hatfield, laments the fact that children are exploited by the very ones who should be providing for them and showing them love and care – the children’s family and friends.
“A reasonable amount of responsibility in the way of daily chores is healthy and expected in most rural and low income African families,” Hatfield said.
But children who must help their families by doing subsistence farming, carrying water, herding cattle, etc., never get the opportunity to go to school, Cearley added.
“A friend in Mozambique was in this category and only learned to read and write her name as an adult,” Cearley said. “Others are brought to larger cities as part of a religious custom to learn humility by begging. But they are often abused by those who are supposed to be teaching them.”
Recently Cearley was impacted by a quote from the book “Not for Sale
” by David Batstone: “There are more slaves today than at any other point in human history. Our mission is to create a world where no one is for sale.”
“This horrible business affects children and teens all over Africa,” Cearley said. “I have heard horror stories from central Mozambique. A South African friend was part of a sting operation that found a house of kids while looking for her missing house worker’s child in 2012. That child had been drawn away from her home by men from her own tribe, who were in league with a Nigerian Mafia gang operating in a nearby city that was selling these kids and shipping them off.”
A call for action now resounds around the globe from government and non-government organizations to nonprofit, charity and Christian groups.
“The Bible teaches us to speak up for the oppressed, help the captive, love the children,” Hatfield said. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is an IMB writer based in Europe.)
2/13/2014 10:13:53 AM
February 12 2014 by
Diana Chandler, Baptist Press
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
ATLANTA – Ethnic and racial tensions still exist in the Southern Baptist Convention
but can heal through transparency, honesty and divine intervention, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page
told the African American Advisory Council
assembled in Atlanta.
To be colorblind is not always the answer because doing so can demean another’s culture, Page told the African American pastors, ministers and denominational leaders he named to the council in 2012 to advise him on ethnically relevant SBC issues.
“But there is still an ethnic and racial fault line running through our convention. Accompanying those pressure points, there’s a lack of trust. There’s a lack of confidence and that is causing continued tension in our convention,” Page told the group that gathered Feb. 6-7, likening the tension to an earthquake fault line. “And I do know, as I have gotten to know so many people ... there is suspicion among many of them, and yes, among some African American leaders that there is still an incipient racism at work.
“I’m trying to understand, even better, what it might be like to be a person of another race. And that’s not easy for me because I’m not another, I mean, I am me,” Page said. “I have over the years, … as hopefully a white man who tries to do that which is right,” tried to be colorblind, he said. “But now I realize that’s not right. To be colorblind is to be insensitive to real issues.”
Members of the Southern Baptist Convention African American Advisory Council, meeting in Atlanta, paused to pray with Emmanuel McCall, seated, who was the first African American professional SBC employee when he began working with the Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board, in 1968. Standing, from left, are K. Marshall Williams, council president; Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement; A.B. Vines, president of the SBC National African American Fellowship, and Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO.
The council, under the chairmanship of K. Marshall Williams
, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church
in Philadelphia, Pa., expressed appreciation to Page for his honesty, openness and sincerity.
In other discussions, the group addressed key ways the SBC can become more relevant to the African American community and become more fruitful in winning souls for Christ. The council plans to submit a final report to Page in June.
Council member Mark Croston
, national director of Black Church Partnerships for LifeWay Christian Resources
and a former pastor, introduced to the group Emmanuel McCall
McCall was the first African American professional staff member of the SBC
when he joined the Home Mission Board (currently North American Mission Board
) in 1968. He recalled his 23-year tenure with the board and presented members with individual, autographed copies of his book, “When All God’s Children Get Together. A Memoir of Race and Baptists,” published in 2007 by Mercer University Press of Macon, Ga.
“In May of ‘68, the headlines across the nation read ‘Southern Baptists elect their first Negro executive.’ That was a new, a glorious experience, and I thank God for every day I served,” McCall told the council. “I saw the people of God who wanted to see change. And while there were those on the outside marching, I was on the inside talking. And there is a difference to stand outside and protest, but to get inside and work with those who love the Lord is a different thing.
“And I discovered so many Southern Baptists that I met loved the Lord deeply and we got together. And it’s been a long pilgrimage, a long story. I thank God for the privilege,” McCall said.
McCall expressed to Baptist Press his appreciation for Page’s leadership, and for the council.
“I met Dr. Frank Page and observed his leadership. The intense interest he showed the members of that [council] was very impressive. His approach was so much like Dr. Arthur Rutledge, the executive director of the Home Mission Board under whom I worked,” McCall said. “A third impression was appreciation for the…people around that table. They represented the best in African American church leadership. They were thoughtful, forward thinking, sincere, well informed and seriously committed.
“A couple of them I had taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
,” he said. “Others I had worked with in other venues. They present bright hope for the future of Christ’s Kingdom.”
A.B. Vines, a pastor, council member and president of the SBC National African American Fellowship, led the council in praying for McCall.
McCall, who retired from the mission board in 1991 and is currently interim pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, an American Baptist Convention church in Atlanta, told Baptist Press of his continued good wishes for the SBC.
“I live with the hope that the SBC continues to realize its unique opportunity to change the worldview of what being ‘in Christ’ can mean,” he said. “Such a worldview is absolutely necessary for heartfelt evangelism. That momentum could greatly empower the Baptist witness beyond all current denominational divides.”
Page pledged to continue work to unite the SBC across racial and ethnic divisions.
“While I have discouraging days as I look at these fault lines…I am not ready to give up. So I’m going to continue doing what God has called me to do,” Page told the council, “build relationships, to encourage trust, to encourage people working together, to respect each other, to seek the involvement of men and women of every ethnic group, of African American and other ethnic groups, at every level of Convention ministry and involvement.”
In addition to Croston, Vines and Page, in attendance were council members:
K. Marshall Williams, chairman, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.; Roscoe Belton, senior pastor/teacher, Middlebelt Baptist Church, Inkster, Mich.; Leroy Fountain, church health strategist, New Orleans Baptist Association, New Orleans; Mark Hammond, director of missions, Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association; Kim Hardy, speaker, author and wife of church planter and pastor Dexter Hardy, Marietta, Ga.; Keith Jefferson, African American mobilization strategist, International Mission Board; Marvin Parker, senior pastor, Broadview Missionary Baptist Church, Broadview, Ill.; Bucas Sterling III, pastor, Kettering Baptist Church, Upper Marlboro, Md.; Terry Turner, senior pastor, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, Mesquite, Texas; president, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention African American Fellowship; Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement, SBC Executive Committee, and Frank Williams, assistant pastor, Bronx Baptist Church and interim pastor, Wake Eden Community Baptist Church, both in Bronx, N.Y.; director, Black Church Leadership Network of New York.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor.)
2/12/2014 12:23:59 PM
February 12 2014 by
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
WASHINGTON – In a case that could reverberate for decades, Hobby Lobby
filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court
Monday (Feb. 10) asking the court to protect the religious liberty of the craft chain’s owners in regard to the Health and Human Services
“Our argument at the Supreme Court is simple and straightforward: The plain terms of federal law protect religious exercise wherever it occurs -- in the home, in a church, in a charity or in a family business,” said Kyle Duncan
, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
, which represents the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby. “There’s no loophole in the First Amendment that excludes people who run a business.”
The high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case March 25.
Hobby Lobby’s brief explains that the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws protect citizens from being forced to comply with the HHS mandate, a federal regulation that would make them provide health coverage for contraceptives that can cause abortions.
“The Greens do not object to covering 16 out of 20 FDA-approved contraceptives,” Duncan said in a press conference after the brief was filed. “In fact, their company’s generous health plan covers all mandated services for women with the exception of only four contraceptive methods that can terminate human life in the womb.
“Yet if the Greens do not comply with the mandate, they’ll expose their businesses to severe fines and other damaging consequences.”
Hobby Lobby estimates that it would face fines of $1.3 million per day if it does not comply with the mandate. Steve Green, the company’s president, told Fox News it would be cheaper for the company to discontinue health insurance benefits and pay the fine for noncompliance, which is just $2,000 per employee compared to $36,500 per employee for refusing to supply the four controversial contraceptives.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor last July, recognizing that people do not forfeit their consciences simply because they run a business. That court also recognized that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
, signed by President Clinton in 1993 with bipartisan support, guaranteed Hobby Lobby an exemption from the mandate by preserving the free exercise of faith.
Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court brief calls the HHS mandate “one of the most straightforward violations” of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act the court is likely to see.
Friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed with the Supreme Court 2-1 on Hobby Lobby’s behalf, including one by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Our laws have long protected people of conscience from having to betray their consciences,” Duncan said, “whether it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses who cannot bear arms, Quakers who cannot swear oaths, Orthodox Jews who cannot sell non-Kosher foods or Christians who cannot participate in the death penalty. The same principle protects people who run a business from being forced to betray their deepest convictions about human life.”
The question in the case, Duncan said, is “whether profits and religion can never mix.”
“That is a strange idea, and nothing in the law supports it. Maybe some business owners pay attention to only the bottom line, but not the Greens, who’ve always put their faith before profits, which is why they close all of their Hobby Lobby stores on Sundays,” Duncan said.
Last week when CVS drug stores announced they would no longer sell tobacco products, the federal government hailed the decision as one that could save lives, Duncan said.
“So it appears to be common sense: The corporations and the people who run them can and should have many purposes besides pursuing the almighty dollar,” Duncan said. “The Greens are simply saying that their religious faith can be one of those purposes.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Duncan said, specifically recognizes that many combinations of individuals and associations can exercise religion.
“There’s absolutely nothing in RFRA, nothing in its legislative history and nothing in any decision ever interpreting it that suggests that a for-profit corporation is somehow arbitrarily excluded,” Duncan said.
Religious liberty experts who were intimately involved in crafting RFRA have explained that everyone understood the law would protect, for example, a Kosher businessman who wishes to operate his business, even if it’s a corporation, in accordance with his Jewish faith, Duncan said.
“What it really comes down to is the plain terms of this law protect the Greens and Hobby Lobby, and in that sense it’s a very simple, straightforward case,” Duncan said.
More than 90 lawsuits have been brought against the mandate by hundreds of plaintiffs including individuals, universities, charities, health care providers and businesses. About half of those are related to nonprofit institutions. A victory at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case “would go a long way toward helping the nonprofit religious organizations make their case too,” Duncan said.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued the contraception mandate on behalf of the Obama administration
as part of implementing the Affordable Care Act. In addition to contraceptives, the mandate requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B
and other “morning-after” pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella
,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486
– can act after implantation to end the life of the child.
HHS provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies that object. Some conscientious objectors oppose underwriting all contraceptives, while others – such as Hobby Lobby – protest paying for abortion-causing drugs. The administration also offered an accommodation for non-church-related religious organizations, but critics said it was inadequate because it still forces such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby
before the end of its term in late June or early July.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/12/2014 12:06:36 PM
February 12 2014 by
Tom Strode, Baptist Press
Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department’s new, wide-ranging policies supporting same-sex marriages even in states where such unions are illegal came as no shock but will hamper states’ efforts to govern on the issue, says a Southern Baptist public policy expert.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s Monday (Feb. 10) memorandum officially announcing the changes marked the latest in a series of actions by the Obama administration to extend federal benefits to people in legally recognized same-sex marriages. The policy shifts followed the Supreme Court’s June invalidation of a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The court ruling enabled same-sex couples to gain access to benefits previously limited to heterosexual, married couples.
In a first, the new memorandum formally notified Justice Department employees “to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law,” Holder said in a Feb. 8 speech revealing his intentions.
“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice (DOJ) stands on behalf of the United States – they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law.”
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the DOJ’s action “did not come as a surprise.”
The Obama administration, he said, “was emboldened to take this step” by the high court’s June opinion. The justices’ decision, however, refused to say states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.
“Despite the Supreme Court’s assertions that marriage is an issue best dealt with by the states, the Department of Justice has made it harder for the states to independently regulate marriage within their borders,” Duke told Baptist Press Tuesday (Feb. 11). “The DOJ decision is going to increase the determination of activists to force states to adopt unbiblical views of marriage.”
He pointed to the ongoing responsibility of churches in the current situation. “Churches must be vigilant in teaching a biblical view of marriage to their members and helping their communities understand why God’s design for marriage matters to children and society,” Duke said.
Holder’s directive means the DOJ will recognize gay marriages in cases of marital privilege and federal prison policies, even in states that do not allow same-sex unions. Same-sex partners married in states where their unions are legal, but living in states where they are not, will have the right under the DOJ memorandum to invoke the marital privilege of refusing to testify against a spouse. Same-sex spouses of federal prisoners will have the same rights of visitation and “next-of-kin notification” as heterosexual spouses.
The memorandum gives people in same-sex marriages the same rights as heterosexual spouses in bankruptcy cases and in carrying on the licensed firearms or explosives businesses of dead spouses. It also grants equivalent rights to same-sex marriages under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, wrote in a Feb. 10 blog post, “There’s been a lot of talk from the Obama administration about what homosexuals are ‘entitled’ to – but not what voters are entitled to…like having their voices and ballots count. As an attorney (and America’s most prominent one at that), Eric Holder should understand better than anyone what the U.S. Supreme Court meant when it ruled that the federal government must respect ‘state sovereign choices about who may be married’ and criticized any attempt to ‘put a thumb on the scales and influence a state’s decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws.’ With this announcement, Holder isn’t just putting a thumb on the scales – he’s putting the weight of the entire government on them!”
Before the Feb. 10 memorandum, the Obama administration had acted on the Supreme Court’s ruling by announcing same-sex married couples would be treated the same as heterosexual married couples for purposes of all federal taxes, Medicare coverage in nursing homes, health insurance and other benefits for federal employees, immigration and the military. In January, the DOJ also recognized nearly 1,000 same-sex marriages that were entered into in Utah during the 17 days a federal court decision legalizing the unions was in effect. The Supreme Court stayed that ruling, however, leaving the legality of those unions in question.
In unveiling his planned memorandum Feb. 8, Holder said at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in New York City, “All of these steps forward are worth celebrating. But I also want to make one thing very clear: for my colleagues, for me – and I know for all of you – they are only the beginning.”
The country’s first African-American attorney general said his “commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep” as his commitment to fighting racial discrimination.
HRC is the country’s largest organization working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
Same-sex marriage has gained legalization in 19 states, although challenges to court rulings permitting gay marriage are pending in some cases.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
2/12/2014 11:55:04 AM
February 12 2014 by
Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board
Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
For four years between 2005 to 2009 Iranian house church pastor Ara Torosian
faced sporadic yet consistent physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his government.
Caught trying to smuggle Bibles into the country, Torosian was constantly being pressured to reveal the identities of other Christian leaders.
“They tried to kill my spirit,” said Torosian, now a North American Mission Board
(NAMB) church planter in Southern California. “And they are good at it. We decided to leave Iran because of family security and freedom.”
Yet, Torosian says, the isolation he and his young wife faced during those four years of house arrest and constant surveillance in Iran were by far the worst part. So when Los Angeles pastor Robby Pitt told him he had been praying for him on their first meeting in Southern California in 2009, Torosian was overwhelmed with gratitude. The International Mission Board
had encouraged Southern Baptists
throughout North America to pray for Torosian during his time of house arrest.
“I realized then that Southern Baptists knew me even before I arrived here,” said Torosian, whose American mentor in Iran had been Southern Baptist. “That makes me feel so strong. I found out that Southern Baptists are a big family that cares for each other. It’s been a real blessing. I realized I’m not alone.”
NAMB photo by Greg Schneider
North American Mission Board missionary Ara Torosian, center, leads a prayer during a Bible study, part of the outreach of his church plant, the Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank. Torosian is a missionary for NAMB and is being featured during the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® Week of Prayer promotion. See videos here and here.
Torosian is one of six missionaries featured this year by the North American Mission Board as part of its 2014 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®
promotion. L.A., where Torosian serves, is one of 32 Send North America cities NAMB is bringing special emphasis and resources to in its effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
Four years after arriving in Southern California, Torosian’s Southern Baptist family has been a key partner in multiple church planting and ministry efforts. In 2010 Torosian started what may be the first Armenian-language Southern Baptist church in the United States.
The growing congregation draws Armenian speakers from a variety of countries and backgrounds–including Armenia, Iran and Russia. Most Armenians consider themselves Armenian Orthodox Christians. Historically, Armenia was the first government in the world to make Christianity its official religion.
But, Torosian says, the official language of the Orthodox Church is ancient and nearly obsolete. Most Armenians know little about the gospel.
“They talked in a language I didn’t understand,” said Masis, Torosian’s brother-in-law, who came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank.
“I didn’t know anything about Jesus or His story.”
Masis and his wife both gave their lives to Christ in the last several years after Torosian had been sharing the gospel with them for more than 15 years. The couple finally made a decision for Christ after Torosian challenged them to pray for their long-standing desire for children. When God answered that prayer, they started attending the Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank, heard the gospel and responded affirmatively to it.
Torosian himself understands the challenge of coming to faith in Christ from an Armenian background. After a high-school injury put a promising soccer career on hold, the teenager began to soul-search – looking at a variety of religious traditions, including Islam, Hinduism and finally biblical Christianity. After committing his life to Christ, he got involved in the house church movement in Iran, eventually starting his own house church.
On the way back to Iran from Turkey in 2005, Torosian and some friends were caught trying to smuggle Farsi Bibles into Iran. After three days of extreme physical and emotional cruelty, the government released him but he spent the next two years under house arrest and another two years under constant surveillance. During those four years, he says, every conversation was carefully monitored–making witnessing and fellowship with others in the house church movement nearly impossible.
“I told my wife, ‘This isn’t what God called us to do,’” Torosian said. “I’m making a lot of money. I’m giving to the church. But I can’t attend church, and I can’t get involved in ministry. We can’t do anything here.” So in 2009, Torosian gave up a profitable job in Iran to be a refugee in the United States.
Not long after Torosian arrived in the United States he started Armenian Fellowship of Burbank with the help of Southern Baptists. But his ministry doesn’t stop with the church he started. Torosian feels particularly called to reach out to Muslims, which has led to a second Farsi-language church plant in Southern California.
“I know that there are freedoms here – freedom to talk, freedom of religion,” Torosian said. “I want to take this opportunity – each sacred moment – to preach the gospel.”
Torosian believes he is able to do much of what he does only because of the support of Southern Baptists through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Cooperative Program.
“In my experience from Iran, I know being alone can kill your spirit,” Torosian said. “I know how loneliness can make life very hard. Now in this situation that we have in the U.S., the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and prayers make me so strong.
“Anytime I wake up and I start to work, or preach or share the good news, I say to myself, ‘Now lots of people, they are behind me, praying for me, praying for the ministry, giving generously to missionaries through Annie Armstrong and other ministries around the world.’”
Though Torosian understands first hand the lives of persecuted Christians globally, he believes living as a Christian in the United States may be even more difficult. Unlike places where legal persecution exists like Iran, the U.S. culture today includes pervasive attacks on Christian morality and other forms of persecution.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” Torosian said. “Don’t say ‘poor Ara.’ You are paying a price for Christ, to go to church every week, to go to your cell groups. Your life is a big witness, how you survive in this world. So keep trusting Him. I’m not the hero. You are the hero.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
2/12/2014 11:45:09 AM
February 12 2014 by
William Bagsby, Baptist Press
Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments
SOCHI – In the basement of a church hung a forgotten American flag, and when John Christensen
laid eyes on it, he knew it was the flag he’d been praying for to take to the Sochi Olympics.
“I have a flag at home, but I just thought, ‘Lord, show me a flag. I want to have a symbol to take.’ And the very first time I walked into that church,” Christensen recalls, “I saw that flag hanging there and I told our pastor, ‘I’m taking this flag to Russia.’”
Christensen, a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer
, is passionate about sharing Jesus with the world. As the world convenes for the Olympics, he has come prepared to share Jesus using whatever tools he has, including Engage Sochi
trading pins, highway patrol officer patches and a flag.
John Christensen poses with a Russian police officer after sharing patrol patches with him. John serves as an officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“I have the calling every other believer has,” Christensen, who is a member of Strong Tower Baptist Church
in St. Joseph, says. “We’re to be salt and light, we’re to go into the world and make disciples in other nations. I was really fortunate to come here, and my prayer is that many people will come to know Jesus Christ.”
Christensen says wearing the flag as a cape might sometimes be seen as arrogant, but the Olympics has provided a unique way of getting to know people from Sochi and all over the world through doing so – and as he meets people, he shares Jesus.
“I have even had a few opportunities to speak with a few [Russian] police officers and give them a patch and a pin,” Christensen says.
He is encouraged by each encounter he has, as well as by seeing other Christians sharing Jesus. As Christensen continues to make friends from around the world, he shares his faith whenever possible.
“The Lord [is using] this flag to open doors for Him and for the gospel to be shared,” Christensen says, “for people to meet Americans and allow us to visit with them, make a connection with them, put Olympic pins in their hands and spread the Gospel.”
Christensen’s charisma and a minimal American presence in Sochi have gained him numerous interviews with worldwide television networks, celebration dances with fans from other countries and innumerable shout-outs to America.
“When we get back [to America], we are going to become nobodies again,” Christensen jested to another flag bearer who has gained attention from several news stations around the world.
As Christensen continues to share about Jesus with new friends, in conversations initiated because of a flag draped over his shoulder, he grins and declares, “I will never look at an American flag the same again.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – William Bagsby is an IMB writer based in London.)
2/12/2014 11:30:39 AM
February 11 2014 by
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press
William Bagsby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
JACKSON, Tenn. – Union University
trustees selected Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver
as Union’s 16th president in a Feb. 10 vote. Oliver comes to the post from the presidency of East Texas Baptist University
Oliver succeeds David S. Dockery
, who has served as Union’s president for the past 18 years.
“Dr. Oliver is a man of strong Christian conviction who is theologically informed, passionate about students and highly respectful of the work of faculty members,” said Norman Hill, chairman of Union’s trustees and chairman of the search committee that selected Oliver. “His skills as an administrator and educator build on Union’s already established reputation for academic excellence, and we are honored and thrilled by this appointment.”
“We are deeply humbled by this call to serve at Union University,” Oliver said. “I am hopeful and enthusiastic about working with the board of trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university to extend, enhance and enlarge all that Union is – for the glory of God and for the good of humankind.”
Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver
Oliver said the list of things that attracted him to Union included Dockery.
“David has been a great leader for Union and for Christian higher education,” Oliver said. “His encouraging spirit has meant a lot to me over the last few years, and he is committed to ensuring that the transition ahead is seamless.”
Oliver also cited his appreciation of Union’s mission and core values.
“The integration of faith, learning and living has had a transformative effect on my life,” he said, “and as I seek to live out my calling as an educator I believe that Christian higher education is where we can most influence and shape young people so that the Kingdom of God may be enlarged.”
Oliver will spend some time at Union’s campus in Jackson, Tenn., throughout the spring semester and will begin fulltime on June 1.
A native of San Antonio
, Oliver has been the ETBU president since 2009. The university in Marshall, Texas, enrolls about 1,250 students and employs about 300 faculty and staff.
Prior to the ETBU presidency, Oliver served his alma mater, Baylor University
, in several roles, including director of student activities (1992-99), associate dean for campus life (1999-2001), dean for student development (2001-05) and vice president for student life (2005-09).
While at Baylor, Oliver also served as a visiting professor in the Hankamer School of Business, an adjunct professor in the school of education and interim university chaplain. He served in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1980s at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas.
Oliver holds a doctor of philosophy in educational administration and a master of science degree in educational psychology, both from Texas A&M, and a bachelor of science degree in education from Baylor.
Before entering graduate school, he was a third grade teacher in the Fort Worth Independent School District. He also is a licensed and ordained Baptist minister, serving as pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Crawford, Texas, from 2003-09.
Oliver and his wife Susie Combs Oliver will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary later this year. Susie is a native of Hazard, Ky., and a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. They have a daughter Callie who is a senior at Baylor.
“I have had the privilege of knowing Dub Oliver for several years, both in his role at Baylor and at East Texas Baptist University,” Dockery said. “During this time I have come to recognize Dr. Oliver’s genuine commitment to students and his approachable, kind and caring manner as a leader.
“I will look forward to opportunities in the days ahead to help welcome him to Union University and to introduce him to the wonderful people who are a part of the Union University community.”
Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, described Oliver as “a person of great integrity, faith, strong theological commitments grounded in Scripture and a love for students.”
“He has served in Christian higher education for many years, and his proven experience will be a strong factor in his ongoing success and leadership at Union University,” Sloan said.
The trustee vote affirms a recommendation from the search committee appointed one year ago this month to select a new president. The committee conducted a national search, considering more than 130 nominations prior to bringing their recommendation to elect Oliver.
“The search process was composed of prayer, people and procedures,” Hill said. “We are confident that the Union community quickly will see the consistent patterns of service and commitment that led us to Dr. Oliver.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of media relations for Union University.)
2/11/2014 12:44:50 PM
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments