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Proposed shift in Ind. religion law draws fire

April 6 2015 by Gregory Tomlin & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Indiana legislators have drafted an amendment to the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) specifically stating that no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
The new language would exempt churches and religious organizations from the definition of “provider,” which means churches will not be compelled to use their facilities for same-sex marriages, and pastors will not be compelled to officiate the ceremonies. Christian business owners, however, presumably would be required to provide services if asked.
 
The move comes after days of criticism from businesses, the NCAA, left-leaning politicians and gay rights groups who alleged the RFRA signed by Gov. Mike Pence gave legal sanction to discrimination against homosexuals. Pence said the bill only created a mechanism for the courts to test claims of conscience against state actions that could be seen as imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.
 
Tim Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., said in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) April 2 that a guarantee of protected religious speech was what Christians were looking for in the original bill.

 
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Indiana Supreme Court House

“I think most Americans would agree a pastor like myself should not be compelled by government to use my speech to support someone else’s perspective” regarding religious beliefs, Overton said.
 
“And I think that has parallels to the cake maker. The cake maker is using his or her artistic ability to make a cake, and that cake communicates something. I think that cake is speech and it says, ‘We celebrate this union.’ And to force someone who doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage is correct in the eyes of God – I just don’t think they should be forced or compelled by government to use their speech to support someone else’s perspective.”
 
That is why, Overton said, the RFRA was needed in the first place. As “gay rights is on the ascendancy” the state is going to have to find a way to protect religious liberty, he said.
 
“It is wise for the legislature of a state or the nation – as has already been done – to say if government is going to interfere in religious liberty, they need to have a very good reason to do that. They need to meet the compelling interest test. Then, if they meet it, they need to do it in the least restrictive means necessary.”
 
The audio and transcript of the Overton interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” can be accessed at npr.org/2015/04/02/396976011.
 
Criticism of the proposed amendment mounted during the day April 2, most notably from two of the nation’s leading religious liberty advocacy organizations.
 
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the “proposed ‘fix’ to Indiana’s RFRA” is “unnecessary.”
 
“Our country has had over 20 years of experience with RFRAs and we know what they do: They provide crucial protections to religious minorities,” Rienzi said in a statement.
 
“The key disagreement,” he noted, “is over what should happen in a very small class of cases where individuals are asked to participate in a same-sex wedding in violation of their religious beliefs. In that situation, there are two possibilities: 1) Our government can drive religious people out of business, fine them and possibly even imprison them or 2) our government can say that these religious people deserve a day in court, and that courts should carefully balance religious liberty with other competing values. The original RFRA would give people their day in court; the proposed ‘fix’ would be a green light for driving religious people out of business. Our society should not settle this issue by punishing religious people before they even have their day in court.”
 
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the Indiana measure is “a good law ... Surrendering to deception and economic blackmail never results in good policy.”
 
Indiana’s RFRA “does not pick winners or losers but allows courts to weigh the government’s and people’s interests fairly and directs judges to count the cost carefully when freedom is stake,” Waggoner said in a statement. “The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country.
 
In an early morning press conference April 2, Speaker of the Indiana House Brian Bosma, said changes to the RFRA were necessary because “what was intended as a message of inclusion – inclusion of all religious beliefs – was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT community.”
 
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, said the law was intended to provide a standard of strict scrutiny in cases where there were potential violations of religious liberty. But for many, he said, the timing of the law created a different perception. The revised language being introduced will “unequivocally state that Indiana’s law does not and will not be able to discriminate against anyone, anywhere at any time.”
 
Long also said the “calamity” and subsequent proposed amendment had shown that “religious rights and individual rights can coexist in harmony.”
 
Gay rights advocates, however, have said they will press for more changes to state law because the changes to the RFRA do not officially recognize homosexuals as a “protected class.”
 
According to the Indianapolis Star, any new legislation creating a protected class for homosexuals would be a bridge too far for Republican legislators this term. It also would not be logistically possible. In the press conference, Long said any addition to the state’s civil rights law would be a major policy shift and could not be accomplished this late in the legislative session.
 
Long said, however, that the discussion about adding LGBT as a protected class in the state’s civil rights statute “has begun whether Hoosiers want to have it or not.”
 
In fact, in the legislature’s conference committee later in the morning, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Timothy Lanane, and Rep. Linda Lawson, both argued that the RFRA should be repealed in favor of a law that adds full civil rights protections for a homosexual class. Lawson said the RFRA “is a mess,” as is the proposed amendment to the law.
 
Rep. Dave Frizzell, said he and members of his caucus would not support repeal and would place a new bill on religious liberty within the context of a discussion about homosexuals being made a protected class under Indiana’s civil rights code.
 
“If you want to have the discussion about protected status, we can do that, but not in this bill,” Frizzell said. He also said he and the other legislators with Christian convictions would continue to pray and seek guidance because “we all love the Lord and want to do what is right.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas; Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)
 

Related Story:

Indiana bill affirms ‘inclusion’ of religious beliefs

4/6/2015 12:43:44 PM by Gregory Tomlin & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Iran deal unlikely to prompt religious liberty

April 6 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Though Iran and Western nations have agreed on the framework of a nuclear deal, Middle East experts say the final agreement probably will not serve as a catalyst for religious freedom in the Persian nation.
 
“As long as you have Islam and an Islamic regime as the authoritative government and they hold the sword, Christians will be persecuted. Sanctions or no sanctions, Christians in Iran will not have freedom, period,” said Paul Golhashem, a Christian author for Persian World Outreach, a ministry to the 80 million Farsi-speaking people worldwide. Golhashem left Iran in 1995 and now is a U.S. citizen living in Dallas.
 
After weeks of negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, diplomats announced the framework of a nuclear deal April 2 that would limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of European Union and U.S. sanctions as Iran complies with demands, The New York Times reported.
 
Chief Iranian diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif said the deal does not “require closing any of our [nuclear] facilities,” according to The Times. The deal reportedly also reaches President Barack Obama’s goal of keeping Iran more than a year away from producing a nuclear weapon.

 
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Screen capture from CNN.com
The framework nuclear deal between Western nations and Iran is historic, President Obama said April 2 at a White House press conference.

Details of a final agreement have to be negotiated before a June 30 deadline.
 
Meanwhile, Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini has said her husband’s release should be among the conditions of any U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. Preliminary news reports of the framework agreement did not appear to reference Abedini.
 
Though some have suggested the U.S. should demand increased religious freedom in Iran as part of the final agreement, Golhashem said such freedom is unlikely to be granted.
 
Iran’s Shiite Islamic regime will never allow Christians to practice their faith freely, Golhashem said in written comments. Still, Christianity in Iran has grown significantly over the past decade, with between 200,000 and 1 million people coming to faith in Christ, according to reports from Elam House, a United Kingdom-based advocacy group that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in the Iran region.
 
“Persecution of Christians in Iran has a 2,000 year history,” Golhashem said. “From a very early time, Christians in Iran have been killed and persecuted because of their religion. At first, persecution stemmed from Greek and Roman influence. ... After the invasion by Islam, the persecution never stopped.”
 
Golhashem, who has translated books by Charles Spurgeon, John Piper and Charles Swindoll into Farsi, said at least 15 high-profile Christians in Iran have been martyred since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
 
Despite the framework agreement, Iran has a “strong commitment” to obtain nuclear weapons for “two main reasons,” Golhashem said.
 
Iran could use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by Sunni Muslims, “to force them to release [control] over Mecca and other [Muslim] holy shrines,” Golhashem said. Iran could also use nuclear weapons against Israel to “take back the land from them.”
 
Craig Mitchell, associate professor of philosophy, politics and economics at Criswell College in Dallas, said missions must continue in Iran regardless of the outcome of nuclear talks.
 
“There is no direct relationship between international negotiations with Iran and evangelism there, since the negotiations focus on their plans for nuclear weapons. Since Iran is motivated by their desire to maintain their religious exclusivity, pressure caused by sanctions will neither help nor hurt the cause of missions,” Mitchell wrote.
 
“Christians need to be praying for Iran, that the Lord will work on the hearts of those in leadership. At the same time, those who are called as missionaries to the Iranian people must be faithful regardless of how the Iranian government responds,” Mitchell said.
 
The U.S. government, as well as the United Nations, “should be strong advocates of religious liberty” and press Iran to stop persecuting Christians, Mitchell said. He urged Christians to contact their elected officials, “reminding them of their need to intervene.”
 
Mitchell added, “The best situation is one in which Iran does not have nuclear weapons.”
 
Religious freedom advocates have continued to urge the U.S. to make Abedini’s release from Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison a condition of the final nuclear deal. Naghmeh Abedini said her husband’s release will become more unlikely if it is not part of the deal.
 
“I do believe his case is entangled in this nuclear deal issue,” Naghmeh Abedini told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren March 31. “If there is no deal or if there is a deal without [the release of] Saeed, I think it will be very difficult to get Saeed home. ... If there is a deal, I hope Saeed and other Americans are released as a precondition.”
 
Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. diplomats “have mentioned Saeed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks,” Naghmeh Abedini said.
 
Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012. He was sentenced Jan. 27, 2013, to eight years in prison on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July 2012.
 
Despite the oppression of Abedini and other Christians, people in Iran are embracing the gospel, with more than 200 Iranians and Afghans baptized in two cities this year, Elam House reported on its website.
 
“The baptisms were joyful day-long occasions, full of worship, prayer, fellowship over meals and the sharing of testimonies. One new believer at one of the ceremonies recalled how finding a New Testament by accident had started him on his journey to Christ. Remarkable stories of the Lord’s providence abounded during both days,” Elam House reported.
 
“Most of the new believers had never seen so many Christians gathered in one place before their baptism day. The gathered crowds were a huge encouragement, especially to many who had spent a number of years feeling isolated as believers in Iran,” Elam House said.
 
In addition to Iran’s persecution of Christians, its leaders are also hostile toward Jews. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumor” to be removed, and in 2006 Iran’s government hosted a conference questioning the historicity of the Holocaust.
 
Iran’s “toxic relationship” with Israel “has intensified” since its nuclear ambitions came to light, a 2012/13 Elam House magazine reported, noting that “Iran can produce weapons grade uranium.” In an email to BP, an Elam House spokesman cited the article as representative of the ministry’s current position.
 
Christians should pray for the spread of the gospel in Iran and for the rise of “righteous rulers,” Elam House said.
 
“The best hope is that Iran’s leaders would promote peace. Christians should pray with faith that Iran will have righteous rulers who serve their people, their region and the world well. This is by no means impossible. Throughout history nations have changed, especially when the gospel impacts the people on a large scale,” according to Elam House.
 
Golhashem, the Iranian believer in Dallas, longs for the day when God will supernaturally change Iran – and he wonders whether the first stirrings of such change are the discontent of many Muslims with Iran’s brutal regime.
 
“The day Iran becomes an open door for religious freedom – mainly open to the gospel – the whole Middle East will change,” Golhashem said. “Why has God not allowed this? All I know is it is not His time yet.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/6/2015 12:28:04 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Church of 50 founded, grounded in CP

April 6 2015 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Darlene Ellingson, a charter member of Cornerstone Community Church in Winona, Minn., recalls a newspaper advertisement in 1968 that led to the church’s founding, and her introduction to the Cooperative Program that has helped the congregation thrive.
 
“Southern Baptists put an ad in the paper, inviting anyone interested in a Southern Baptist church to meet at a restaurant,” she said. The majority of the five families that attended already knew one another, and were impressed with the structure Southern Baptists offer.
 
Hearing about the Cooperative Program – Southern Baptists’ giving channel for missions and ministry – at that first meeting made sense to Ellingson. “It’s counterproductive to have missionaries have to return home to raise money so they can go back to the field,” she said. “That’s why some people come to Southern Baptist churches, because of the efficiency of the Cooperative Program.”

 
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Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Community Church
Al Jarbinen, former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Winona, Minn., conducts a baptism during his pastorate as the new believer’s prayer partner stands nearby.

Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester, which had found its beginnings in the Cooperative Program seven years earlier, helped plant Cornerstone Community Church, also utilizing Cooperative Program funds in the endeavor.
 
“We were very poor to begin with,” Ellingson said of Cornerstone Community. “We were supported for a few years by Texas churches, but we’ve always given to missions through the Cooperative Program. It might have been 7 percent to start with.”
 
Today, the church that gives 16 percent of its undesignated income to the Cooperative Program is in the middle of a rebuilding project that will double the church’s size in a new, prime location in neighboring Goodview, while incurring no debt for the congregation of 50 Sunday worshippers.
 
Ellingson and others describe the funding for the relocation as God’s blessing, realized through the tragic 2007 collapse of the Minneapolis I-35 bridge that killed 13 and injured 145. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s statewide inspection of the bridge system resulted in the construction of a new bridge in Winona that displaced a nearby car dealership.
 
The dealership had other property adjacent to Cornerstone Community Church’s then 3.5 acre-site in Winona. In order for the congregation to relocate, the church decided to sell the dealership their property for an amount equal to the purchase of land in Goodview. The deal with the dealership also included the cost of renovation and new construction at the new site, said building committee chairman Glenn Sanders.
 
The facility in Goodview that the church purchased had been a liquor store, Sanders said, adding with a chuckle, “We decided God wanted a new Spirit there.”
 
When completed by June, the church will consist of five Sunday school classrooms, restrooms with showers for work teams that come to minister in Minnesota or Wisconsin, two offices, a spacious fellowship hall and a worship center that will accommodate 200 people, doubling the capacity of the previous sanctuary built nearly 40 years ago with the help of Texas Baptist’s on Mission.
 
David Vanzant of Dixon, Mo., has pastored the church since early March on a bivocational basis.
 
“The church is at a point right now with great potential,” Vanzant said. “The atmosphere is charged with high excitement. ... That’s what we’re about, getting the Lord’s name known as much as we can. The Cooperative Program helps with that.”
 
Cornerstone Community Church has displayed a heart for missions through the years.
 
In 1996, the church opened its building to a fledgling Hmong Baptist Mission, which as recently as 2013 gave 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, though the congregation disbanded in 2014 when members left the area.
 
Ten years ago, a Winona charter school had lost its building and was meeting that Fall at picnic tables in a park, Sanders said.
 
“We told them we have a church building we don’t use during the week, that they – like the Hmong congregation – could use rent-free,” Sanders said. “They stayed a couple of years before they were able to buy their own building.”
 
In addition to its financial support of the Pioneer Baptist Association’s director of missions and a dozen other missionaries, Cornerstone Community’s major international missions outreach is the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoebox ministry.
 
“We give [church member shoppers] $500 early in the year for them to buy items as they go on sale, and give them more if they run out,” Sanders said. “Then, in later October, they make up the boxes in an assembly line. Last year we had 576 boxes, and it’s been more than 500 for several years.”
 
Ellingson expressed her appreciation for the church’s missions emphasis.
 
“We’re following God’s instruction,” she said. “The members now have more of a vision than ever before, for the mission field surrounding the new church property,” she continued. “There are several subdivisions that have real good outreach potential.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/6/2015 12:21:04 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Washington florist fined, ordered to create gay wedding arrangements

April 6 2015 by Sarah Padbury, Religion News Service

A Washington state great-grandmother was ordered to pay $1,001 to the state last week for violating its Consumer Protection Act (CPA) when she refused to create a flower arrangement for a long-time customer’s same-sex wedding. The court has yet to impose an award for the gay couple.
 
Barronelle Stutzman, 70, sold flowers to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed for more than nine years, and considered Ingersoll a friend. But when he asked her to create the flower arrangements for the couple’s wedding in 2013, Stutzman said she couldn’t because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She referred them to another business for assistance.

 
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Barronelle Stutzman

The Washington state attorney sued Stutzman for sexual orientation discrimination under CPA. Ingersoll and Freed then filed their own lawsuit against her. A ruling on Feb. 18 settled both suits by summary judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor. The same judge previously ruled both the state and the couple had the right to collect damages not only from Stutzman’s business, but from her personal assets, as well.
 
The next day, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a press release, publicly offering to settle the case if Stutzman would agree to pay a $2,000 fine for violating CPA, a $1 payment for “fees,” promise not to discriminate in the future, and end the litigation.
 
In a letter dated Feb. 20, Stutzman declined the attorney general’s offer, stating it revealed he didn’t understand the true meaning behind the two-year-old battle.
 
“It’s about freedom, not money,” she wrote. “Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.”
 
Stutzman wrote that although she didn’t like the idea of potentially losing her business and home through court fines, her “freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
 
On March 27, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom issued a decree ordering Stutzman to pay a $1,000 “civil penalty” to the state and $1 in attorneys’ fees. The order also issued a permanent injunction against any “disparate treatment” in offering goods or services to customers due to their sexual orientation.
 
 “All goods, merchandise and services offered or sold by defendants to opposite-sex couples shall be offered or sold on the same terms to same-sex couples, including but not limited to goods, merchandise, and services for weddings and commitment ceremonies,” the judge wrote.
 
Ekstrom postponed awarding damages to Ingersoll and Freed until after a ruling is made on Stutzman’s appeal. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the men have asked the court to award them attorneys’ fees, costs, and penalties.
 
“The message sent by the attorney general and the ACLU to the people of Washington is quite clear,” said Alliance Defending Freedom-allied attorney Kristen Waggoner in a statement. “Surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin.”

Updated April 7, 2015:
Baptist Press reported that Stutzman has received over $100,000 in donations as of April 6 through a crowdfunding campaign (gofundme.com) set up by a friend. The funds are designated for potential legal fees.
 

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4/6/2015 12:12:35 PM by Sarah Padbury, Religion News Service | with 1 comments



Televangelist Robert H. Schuller dies

April 2 2015 by Compiled by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Televangelist and founder of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, Robert H. Schuller, died April 2, according to an Associated Press report. Schuller was 88 years old.
 
Doctors diagnosed Schuller in 2013 with esophageal cancer. He stopped taking recommended chemotherapy or radiation treatments after his wife, Arvella Schuller, died in February 2014, according to The Washington Post.

 
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Robert H. Schuller

Family members told Orange County Register that he spent his final days at a nursing home in Artesia, Calif.
 
Donna Schuller, his daughter-in-law, also said that Easter week was a suitable time for his passing. “He always did everything in a grand fashion,” she told the Register.
 
Schuller founded Crystal Cathedral Ministries in 1955 and began the television program “Hour of Power” in 1970, which airs internationally and attracted over 15 million viewers at its peak, according to the Register.
 
A controversial figure, Schuller preached the power of “possibility thinking” and authored books such as, “Positive Prayers for Power-Filled People” and “Self-Love.”
 
The congregation, affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, sold its famous Crystal Cathedral, recorded as the largest glass building in the world, to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011, two years after filing for bankruptcy.
 
Family troubles preceded Crystal Cathedral’s financial difficulties, according a timeline compiled by the Register. A series of leadership transitions began in 1976 that included Schuller’s son, Robert A. Schuller; son-in-law, Jim Coleman; daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman; Bill Bennett; and grandson, Bobby Schuller, who currently serves as the lead pastor of the renamed church, Shepherd’s Grove.

4/2/2015 1:40:34 PM by Compiled by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Glorieta suit dismissed; notice of appeal filed

April 2 2015 by Marty King, LifeWay Christian Resources

The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has dismissed all claims in a lawsuit against LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee, and the Glorieta 2.0 ministry that bought Glorieta Conference Center from LifeWay 18 months ago.
 
Federal Judge James O. Browning issued the rulings in a suit filed by an Arkansas couple, Kirk and Susie Tompkins, who had been leaseholders at the conference center. Within hours of the ruling, the Tompkins filed notice of appeal to the U.S. District Court of Appeal for the Tenth Circuit in Denver.

 
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Browning’s ruling came in five separate orders totaling 71 pages, including an order last September that dismissed several named defendants.
 
One of Browning’s March 31 rulings states: “The Court cannot find any factual allegations from which it can infer that the individual defendants are liable for the misconduct alleged. Indeed, the Tompkins fail to identify an act by any of the defendants to allow for such an inference. They do not state a plausible claim.”
 
The ruling concludes: “... the Court finds the Tompkins have failed to assert claims upon which relief can be granted for lack of factual allegations ... (and) for want of standing.” The case, dismissed with prejudice in legal terminology, cannot be re-filed.
 
LifeWay President and CEO, Thom S. Rainer, said, “This is incredible news. I thank God for His goodness.
 
“This process has been extended, painful and costly. I am so thankful to get this ordeal behind us, leaving no doubt of our integrity throughout this process, and after so many months of baseless attacks on our ministry partners, trustees and executive leadership,” Rainer said.
 
The Tompkins, of Little Rock, filed the lawsuit in September 2013 claiming the 2,400-acre property near Santa Fe was not properly transferred and that LifeWay, Glorieta 2.0 and Executive Committee leadership improperly handled the sale.
 
Last September, federal magistrate Robert Hayes Scott recommended dismissal of all claims in a 79-page document prepared for the federal court in Albuquerque where the lawsuit was filed. Scott wrote that he found no evidence of misconduct in the Glorieta sale.
 
Scott, in his role as a magistrate for the federal court, disagreed with the Tompkins’ contentions in his recommendations to dismiss their lawsuit. “The transfer of Glorieta by LifeWay was not fraudulent,” Scott wrote. “... [A]llegations of fraud and misconduct are baseless and have no foundation in the evidence.”
 
Browning declined in his orders, however, to award LifeWay attorney fees for its defense against the Tompkins’ suit.
 
At the time of the Glorieta sale to the nonprofit Glorieta 2.0 group, 65 churches, institutions and individuals owned structures on year-to-year leased lots at Glorieta. Rainer reported to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that Glorieta 2.0 offered to extend the year-to-year leases or purchase structures built there for up to $100,000, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marty King is director of corporate communications for LifeWay. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this story.)

4/2/2015 12:09:47 PM by Marty King, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 1 comments



Nigerian Christians place hope in Muslim leader

April 2 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christian voters, composing half of Nigeria’s population, ousted Christian candidate and President Goodluck Jonathan in March 28 national elections, giving Muslim and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari a clear victory.
 
Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist from Raleigh, N.C., and expert on Nigerian relations, said Christians were likely discouraged in having placed confidence in Jonathan and the Nigerian and international Christian communities, perceived to have failed them during Boko Haram’s terroristic onslaught that intensified around 2009.
 
“They were disappointed, discouraged and disenchanted. They fell back to their default political leaning, which is to support the northern Muslims that they have always lived with, and they will always continue to live with, since nobody was coming to rescue them,” Ojutiku told said April 1.
 
“It would appear from the result of the election that there was a firm alliance between the southwest and the northern states, meaning the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani North teamed up and supported Buhari,” Ojutiku said, “whereas the east, mainly the Ebos and the major minority tribes, voted certainly for Jonathan. So it was more along ethno-regional lines.”
 
As founder of the grassroots Lift Up Now Christian-based outreach to his homeland, Ojutiku has about 2,000 members in Nigeria. Spokespersons told him Christians there felt “they had no choice” but to support Buhari, a Muslim whose support is entrenched in the North.
 
“They felt that if they partnered with the Muslims in having power returned back to the North, at least maybe they may see some protection. So that to them appeared to be a safer position than to continue to support the supposedly Christian president that was not responding adequately to their needs,” Ojutiku said. “And also the CAN, Christian Association of Nigeria, the apex Christian body that’s supposed to look after the welfare of Christians across the country, completely turned its back on them. So they were very disappointed with the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, especially the leadership. They were disappointed with other Christians in Nigeria and with the Christians globally because they just did not respond in their times of need.”
 
Historically, Buhari has supported the northern Islamic agenda, but claims to have converted to democracy. The 72-year-old retired general last held power for nearly two years after a coup in 1983. He ran for president in 2011 and lost to Jonathan. The election was followed by rioting that left more than 800 people dead.
 
In the 2015 election that many considered peaceful and orderly – the apparent result of a joint, regional military attack against Boko Haram – Buhari took 15.4 million votes to Jonathan’s 13.3 million, Nigeria election officials reported. Jonathan conceded defeat in a phone call to Buhari, marking the first time in Nigeria’s history that an opposition party has democratically taken control of the country from the ruling party.
 
“[Buhari] claims to have had a rebirth in which he now fully embraces democracy. So I think the people, having been fed up with the poor performance of Jonathan, they see a hope in trusting, at least giving him a benefit of doubt and ... giving him an opportunity to prove himself a democrat,” Ojutiku said.
 
Buhari also gained Christian support by choosing Christian vice presidential running mate, Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor, former attorney general of Lagos, and a former Pentecostal pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, by far the largest active denomination in the country.
 
“When we look at his preparedness and pedigree, he’s a very sound person and is a Christian,” Ojutiku said of Osinbajo.
 
Just one day after his victory, Buhari pledged to defeat Boko Haram, Reuters reported today.
 
“Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort,” Reuters quoted Buhari from his first formal speech since winning the election. “In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do.”
 
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 13,000 in northeastern Nigeria since 2009, mostly Christians, and displaced more than 1.5 million, many of them since Jonathan declared an unsuccessful state of emergency in 2013 in key northeastern states.
 
Buhari may have some power in appealing to Boko Haram to retreat, Ojutiku said.
 
“Now that Buhari is the president elect, he has the possibility of an appeal to the insurgents,” Ojutiku said, “and even though all the factions may not agree to put down their war weapons and stem the tide of their terrorist activities, there will be significant stemming of the terrorist attacks; it will not escalate.”
 
A major challenge of the new government will be in helping displaced Christians return to their home territories and rebuild their lives, Ojutiku said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Story:

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4/2/2015 11:45:13 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Northern Iraq: 'opportunity of a generation'

April 2 2015 by Brian Andrews, IMB Communications

The northern Iraq crisis has created a unique opportunity for followers of Christ to meet the physical and spiritual needs of a desperate people.
 
Iraqi security forces, assisted by U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Shiite militias, are advancing in their efforts to recapture the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein. Displaced residents are slowly returning to nearby towns that were overtaken by Islamic State last summer.

 
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Photo by Joseph Rose/IMB
A 20-something soldier arrives back at his family's camp after helping to fight against Islamic State.

The latest Iraqi offensive against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) began in early March. A senior U.S. Central Command official said the long-term aim is to regain control of the northern city of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, before the beginning of Ramadan in mid-June. Removing ISIS from Tikrit could give the Iraqi forces a strong position in retaking control of northern Iraq.
 
Nate,* a longtime medical volunteer, recently returned from a trip to nine refugee camps in northern Iraq. He and his team treated a wide variety of ailments, from missing limbs to the common cold. Nate said most people simply needed comfort in the midst of a terrible situation.
 
“They just wanted some assurance that they were loved and that they were okay,” he said. “The medical part I love, but the spiritual part is truly the opportunity of a generation.”
 
One member of the team, Lester,* visited families in each camp to hear their stories and show them they had not been forgotten. At the end of each visit, he prayed with the families in Jesus’ name and many of them teared up at this simple gesture of kindness. Even his translator, a Muslim, said he felt the words of Lester’s prayer inexplicably resonating within his heart as he heard them.
 
Not only does this crisis provide new openings to share the gospel, but it also creates opportunities to train new and existing believers.
 
“They have no work to do, no job,” Lester said. “They have nothing pressing their time. They’re hungry to learn and to praise God.”
 
This opportunity is not solely for a volunteer team, but for followers of Christ worldwide as well, Nate says.
 
“They really need our prayers and they need our support,” he said. “They need to know that ... God has not forgotten about them.”

 

Pray

Pray refugees will have a chance to learn about the hope there is in Christ and that those who believe will have the opportunity to be discipled.
 
Pray for more volunteers to go and work among refugees. Where doors are closed to many others, health care professionals have unique opportunities to care, share, make disciples and empower the church.
 
For more information on how you can help, email medicalmissions@imb.org.
 
*Name changed for security reasons.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Andrews is a writer for the London Bureau of Baptist Press.)

4/2/2015 11:35:40 AM by Brian Andrews, IMB Communications | with 0 comments



SEBTS hosts discussion on ‘kingdom impact’ through work

April 2 2015 by SEBTS Communications

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted an event called Intersect: The Wisdom Forum to discuss the intersection of faith, work and economics.
 
Southeastern welcomed over 400 pastors, students and members of the local community March 13 for an evening of conversation addressing faithful interaction with today’s cultural issues.
 
The event consisted of a series of brief, compelling presentations from eight speakers who sought to answer the question: how can one impact God’s kingdom through work?
 
David Kim, executive director and pastor of faith and work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, talked about “Why We Can’t Love Our Work” and “Tangible Expressions of Glory.”
 
“The reason we can’t love our work is because our work can’t love us; we want it to do something it’s not designed to do,” he said. “Work was never meant to be our identity but an expression of it. It flows out of who we are as God’s dearly beloved children.”

 
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SEBTS Photo
The Wisdom Forum concluded with a discussion panel moderated by Ken Keathley, involving David Kim, Carolyn McCulley and Jay Richards.

“The product of our hands is an expression of our identity,” he said. “The chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him.”
 
Jay Richards, New York Times bestselling author and assistant research professor at Catholic University of America, gave two talks titled “Why Good Intentions Aren't Good Enough” and “Why Christians Should Support Economic Freedom.”
 
Carolyn McCulley, author, speaker and filmmaker, spoke on “The Story of Work,” and discussed whether or not women should work.
 
“If we don’t know the story of work, can we be sure that we don’t make the error of reading our own modern experience into the scriptures?” she said.  “Paul saw that women’s work was strategic, and it was an important part of the gospel. Paul partnered with women to advance the gospel.” 
 
“Should women work? Yes, they should work very hard and work hard for the glory of God,” she said. “But it takes extra wisdom in a culture that separates productivity from parenting.”
 
Benjamin Quinn, assistant professor of theology and history of ideas at SEBTS, spoke on the need for Christians to see value in their ministry regardless of their job title.
 
Quinn believes there is a “deep divide between the pulpit and the pew that should have never existed to begin with. There is a centrality of those ordained to ministry but not a superiority,” he said. 
 
Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity and instructor of theology at SEBTS, spoke on “Neighbor Love, the Poor, and My Garden.”
 
Strickland explored the questions, “What does it mean to be a Christian and see such need and poverty?” and “How can I utilize what God has given me to love God and then love my neighbor?”
 
He encouraged listeners to seek long-term poverty alleviation through healing relationships in light of the fact that people are created in the image of God.
 
Additional speakers from SEBTS included Bruce Ashford, provost and dean of faculty and associate professor of theology and culture; David Jones, associate professor of Christian ethics; and Heath Thomas, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew.
 
The evening concluded with a panel moderated by Ken Keathley, SEBTS professor of theology and director of the Center for Faith and Culture, involving Kim, McCulley and Richards.
 
The faith, work and economics talks enabled attendees to grasp a deeper understanding of these topics to impact the way they do business.
 
To view The Wisdom Forum talks online and access more of the Intersect Project resources, visit intersectproject.org.

4/2/2015 11:10:46 AM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Lives being changed one sandwich at a time

April 2 2015 by Robert Chapman, SBTS Communications

The restaurant walls are covered with scripture verses. A Bible and calendar with daily devotions sit on each table.
 
The sign outside the building says Barry’s Cheese Steaks – a restaurant in Louisville, Ky. – but the employees and managers leaving their stations to pray with customers indicate that people find more than a steaming hot sandwich at the West End eatery.
 
A middle-aged black man comes from the kitchen with a wide smile, and greets all the customers as he asks them about their food. Barry Washington, 51, introduces himself. He seems like a typical owner, but anyone who knows him understands that few people expected him to reach this point in his life.
 
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., he was adopted by Clyde and Anita Washington when he was two days old. Washington’s biological parents put him up for adoption because they were unable to raise a child. His mother was a 16-year-old prostitute, and his father was a pimp and drug dealer.

 
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SBTS photo
Owner Barry Washington relaxes at his West End restaurant, Barry’s Cheese Steaks.

Washington’s adopted parents raised him to know the Lord, but as he grew up, he rebelled against his parents’ teaching.
 
When he dropped out of school in the eighth grade, Washington began selling drugs and developed cocaine and heroin addictions by age 20. He grew tired of a life of crime, and attempted to improve his life.
 
“I moved up to Ypsilanti, Mich., to turn my life around,” Washington said. “I did good for a while, but then I got back into the same things. In 1986, I was sticking up drug dealers and I got jumped, stabbed 41 times, and left for dead.”
 
Still living a life of crime, Washington spent the next eight years traveling between Pennsylvania and Michigan. He continued to use and sell drugs, and his addictions worsened.
 
It was a week before Christmas 1995, when two men approached Washington.
 
“These two Nigerian men were witnessing to me and gave me $2 to get something to eat,” Washington said. “I went back and thanked them and they invited me to their fellowship, and that night I got saved. Then it was like the Lord literally walked me right up out of the drug addiction.”
 
Even though Washington became a Christian, he still struggled because the streets were the only world he knew. Washington also felt the call to return to Michigan, but did not want to go.
 
“I battled in my mind with the Lord, thinking that’s where I almost got killed – why would I go back?” Washington asked. “But the Holy Spirit kept pressing that that’s where I was going.” So on Jan. 1, 1996, he moved back to Michigan.
 

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SBTS photo
Bible verses and other inspirational thoughts decorate the walls of Barry’s Cheese Steaks.

While in Michigan, Washington began to learn how to read again and take his new faith seriously. He began to cook in restaurants and started attending the Tyndale Bible Institute, where he met Ron Horton and Ronald Author, both of whom became his mentors.
 
It was through this mentorship that Washington first heard about Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Author encouraged Washington to go to Boyce, despite his lack of education and age.
 
“The Lord blessed me to get my GED in 90 days,” Washington said. “So I came to Louisville and the highest grade I had completed was the eighth grade, and I probably had the reading level of a fifth grader. But the Lord has been good to me, and I learned things quick.”
 
Washington graduated from Boyce with an associate degree in 2000 before earning his bachelor’s in 2011. In 2004, Washington planted Redeemed Christian Church in Louisville’s West End, where he now pastors.
 
It was through the ministry of his church that Barry’s Cheese Steaks began as a way to keep kids from his community off the streets.
 
“We opened this place to give some of these young ones a chance to learn how to do something for themselves,” Washington said. “People think that everyone who comes from the West End is acting crazy, but we are going to show people that that’s not us.”
 
Even though the restaurant is a business, which Washington eventually wants to franchise, it is ultimately a ministry that strives to impact people through God’s Word. Washington trains the staff to be sensitive and willing to pray with people, and teaches the staff to serve God through serving other people. Other ministry opportunities come through the scripture verses that decorates the restaurant.
 
“We had a mother from Nigeria come in with five children who weren’t baptized and they were wanting to find out about baptism, and they ended up joining my church,” Washington said. “The scriptures and devotions posted all over the restaurant opens the door for people to ask questions and many end up going to my church or other churches.”
 
The ministry also impacts the employees as well. Wayne Blakely Jr. met Washington when he was 11 years old and began attending his youth group.
 
“I started to go to Barry’s church when my dad began to work on Sundays,” Blakely said. “Then he opened a summer camp, and I worked there. I began as volunteer janitor and worked my way up to staff leader.”
 
Blakely said Washington did not just give him a job, but saved him from a life of crime.
 
“Barry changed my life because if he had not come around I would still be in the gangs,” Blakely said.
 
“We are in the West End and all I had seen growing up was killings and drug deals. So I was going to be out there as a drug dealer trying to get some easy money.”
 
Washington has seen the Lord bring him and his ministry through many hardships and provide during the darkest of circumstances. Now he is praying that this growth will continue to allow him to impact the West End, and all of Louisville with the gospel.
 
“The Lord has been good and faithful in providing an increase and seeing things grow,” Washington said. “But we have a strong desire to cross zip codes. We must lose this West End mentality, and show people that there are Christian businesses all over Louisville.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robert Chapman is a writer for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/2/2015 11:09:43 AM by Robert Chapman, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments



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