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IMB, ERLC support Baptist schools in brief

August 13 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Two Southern Baptist entities have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower-court decision in order to protect the religious freedom of two Baptist universities and a Presbyterian seminary.
 
The International Mission Board (IMB) and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief Aug. 10 that calls for the high court to grant the appeal of a ruling that upheld enforcement of the abortion/contraception mandate on the Christian schools. In the case, Houston Baptist University (HBU), East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) and Westminster Theological Seminary have petitioned the justices regarding a June opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
 
The case is one of more than 50 involving religious non-profit organizations that object to a controversial rule helping implement the 2010 health-care law. The regulation requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries, but the accommodation it offered for other religious institutions failed to satisfy the conscience objections of many of those ministries.

The case involving HBU, ETBU and Westminster is one of six appeals of decisions unfavorable to religious institutions regarding the mandate before the Supreme Court. GuideStone Financial Resources – the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity – and two of the ministries it serves are parties in one of the appeals.

 

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The justices are expected to weigh review of the appeals from the religious institutions in late September or early October, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The high court’s next term will begin in October.
 
In their brief, the IMB and ERLC told the justices the abortion/contraception mandate requires the schools to defy Scripture, Christian doctrine and Southern Baptist belief by authorizing the provision of abortion-causing drugs. The rule burdens the religious institutions’ free exercise of religion by requiring them to violate either their consciences or the government, according to the brief.

 

“It is sad that we have been forced to spend so much of the past six years fighting for the most basic protections of religious conscience,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “Once again, we petition the Supreme Court to stop the Obama administration’s assault on the First Amendment.
 
“This brief makes clear that we will not settle for a halfway right to religious liberty,” he said. “Soul freedom is our God-given inheritance, and we will not surrender it.”
 
The HHS accommodation enables non-profit religious organizations to notify the federal agency in writing of their objections to the abortion/contraception mandate. In response, the federal government will notify the insurer or a third-party administrator it is responsible for providing employees of the non-profit with payments to cover the services.
 
Religious liberty and pro-life advocates find the rule woefully lacking, contending it serves basically as an accounting gimmick that makes a religious organization a channel through which coverage for contraceptives and potentially abortion-causing drugs is provided.
 
In their brief, the IMB and ERLC told the Supreme Court, “In light of the broad scope of the Christian faith and the Southern Baptist theological opposition to abortion, [HBU, ETBU and Westminster] cannot, as a matter of doctrine and conscience, distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices directly or indirectly by authorizing, obligating, or incentivizing a third party – and particularly their own third-party administrators – to provide such drugs and devices to others. Scripture and Southern Baptist belief prohibit not only direct and personal wrongdoing, but also the enabling, authorizing, incentivizing or aiding of another in doing what the Christian believes to be sin.”
 
The mandate “substantially burden[s] the religious exercise of [the schools] by imposing draconian fines on them as a result of their acts that are specifically mandated by Christian doctrine,” according to the brief. It asked the Supreme Court to review “whether centuries-old religious groups may practice their traditional beliefs free from intrusive State regulation.”
 
The controversial regulation, first issued in 2011, requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
 
The Supreme Court has been more receptive than appeals courts to the objections of religious non-profits. The high court has granted temporary relief from appellate rulings five times, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. In two of those orders this year, the high court vacated appeals court rulings and ordered the circuits to reconsider their decisions in light of the justices’ ruling last year in support of the religious freedom of for-profit companies regarding the mandate.
 
In June 2014, the Supreme Court upheld objections against the mandate by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses. The justices ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the nationwide retail chain owned by evangelical Christians, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned by pro-life Mennonites.
 
When HBU, ETBU and Westminster filed their petition with the high court July 8, Houston Baptist President Robert Sloan said in a Becket Fund news release, “We didn’t go looking for this fight. But here we stand and can do no other. We cannot help the government or anyone else provide potentially life-threatening drugs and devices.”
 
In addition to the IMB and ERLC, 16 states were among parties filing friend-of-the-court briefs Aug. 10 in support of HBU, ETBU and Westminster.
 
HBU and ETBU are affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Westminster is located in Philadelphia, Pa.
 
GuideStone, which announced its appeal to the Supreme Court July 23, was joined by Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International in its suit. Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Reaching Souls is an Oklahoma City-based missions organization that trains Africans to reach their continent with the gospel of Christ.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/13/2015 11:47:07 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hiroshima & Nagasaki remembered by Baptists

August 13 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Following atomic bombings that leveled the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago this month, Southern Baptists found themselves thinking about just warfare, possible nuclear annihilation and the providence of God. But a longtime missionary to Japan says they missed an evangelistic opportunity.
 
“We have all heard stories of the great open doors for the gospel of Jesus Christ in certain lands,” wrote W.H. (Dub) Jackson, a longtime pastor, evangelist and missionary in Japan, “but whatever we have heard, there could never have been a country more open to the gospel than was Japan following World War II.” Had Southern Baptists sent more missionaries, “we could be talking about a Christian nation today.”
 
The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, prompting the Japanese to surrender Sept. 2, ending World War II. The only use of nuclear weapons in warfare before or since, the atomic blasts killed some 140,000 people.
 
Jackson, an American fighter pilot during the war, was among the occupying force in Japan immediately following the surrender. In his memoir “Whatever It Takes,” Jackson wrote of sharing the gospel with Japanese people during his free time and discovering overwhelming receptivity to Christ. Current International Mission Board missionary to Japan Tak Oue told Baptist Press the spiritual openness stemmed from Japan’s military defeat.

 
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Photo by Charles Levy ... Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Southern Baptists defended the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki as consistent with just warfare.

“There were so many people eager to hear [the gospel] that they were standing outside of the church buildings listening to the message,” Oue said. “I think it was ... related to the spiritual vacuum among the Japanese people since the emperor declared himself to be man instead of a god and Christianity was the religion of the conquering nation.”
 
Yet Southern Baptists did not send a sufficient number of missionaries to Japan, according to Jackson’s estimate, and the nation is less than one percent Christian today.
 
Modern Japanese citizens continue to remember the atomic bombings, said Oue, whose father was a Japanese soldier killed in World War II. Most Japanese are pacifists in part because of the pain associated with being the first and only nation to experience a nuclear attack.
 
“Japanese people realize that the Japanese military did terrible things to Asian countries,” Oue said. “... I think most people regret what the military did.” Still, “Japanese people have suffered much, and that’s one reason they don’t want to have anything to do with war.”
 

‘Man has lifted the curtain’

When news of the bombings broke in the U.S., Southern Baptists realized they were living in a historic period. The Baptist New Mexican newsjournal editorialized, “Man has lifted the curtain and has peeped into the very creative mind of God. Unless, however, he has in the same action plumbed the living heart of God, he shall bring the universe into ruins at his stumbling feet.”
 
The Alabama Baptist noted, “Speculation and theory extending into the realms of fantasy have been reached in the evaluation of the American developed atomic bomb, which is by all conservative estimates, the greatest force of destruction yet perfected and made practical by men of science.”
 
At least one Southern Baptist denounced the use of nuclear weapons almost immediately. Edwin McNeill Poteat, a former North Carolina pastor who was serving as president of Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in upstate New York, was one of 59 religious and educational leaders to sign a 1945 statement calling the bombings “an atrocity of a new magnitude.”
 
The “reckless and irresponsible employment” of atomic bombs “against an already virtually beaten foe,” Poteat and his colleagues said, “will have to receive judgment before God and the conscience of humankind. It has our unmitigated condemnation.”
 
But denouncing the bombings was not the reaction of most Southern Baptists. State Baptist papers defended America’s use of atomic weapons as consistent with the ethics of just warfare.
 
The Baptist Standard of Texas editorialized, “The American people will never cease to regret that we were forced to use such measures to stop an enemy who deliberately defied every code of common decency in a wild rampage of murderous pillage and plunder of peace loving nations. America did not want to be forced to use the atomic bombs any more than we wanted to be forced into war. Our fighting forces were generous and fair in giving our foe a chance to avoid destruction and by giving warning to the people of Japan in advance of destructive raids upon their cities.”
 
The mention of advance warning may have been a reference to a July 26 warning by Allied leaders that failure to surrender would result in “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.” The U.S. military also dropped leaflets over some cities slated for bombing.

 
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Photo by Hidetsugu Aihara. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Following the deployment of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese people were “open to the gospel,” missionary W.H. (Dub) Jackson said.

The Baptist New Mexican denounced as a “pseudo-Christian” a commentator who said America “had sunk to new depths of immorality.” It was no worse “to use one mighty bomb and destroy a hundred thousand people in one hellish blast” than it would have been “to drag out the agony by dropping a whole series of smaller bombs of a more conventional nature.”
 
The New Mexican added, “Americans might ask if it is ethically worse for our men to undergo the March of Death on Bataan at the hand of maniacal captors than it is for Japanese to die instantly without torture” a reference to a forced march during which thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war were killed by Japanese soldiers.
 
Speaking from a 21st-century perspective, Douglas Carver, former Army chief of chaplains, said “most Southern Baptists” today “would agree that the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was ... within the parameters of just warfare.”
 
“The United States dropped the bombs as a last resort to end World War II,” said Carver, executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board. “The Allied Powers, led by the United States, were a legitimate authority confronting the Japanese Empire whose leadership refused the terms of unconditional surrender. Regarding proportionality, General of the Army George C. Marshall said that the 140,000 civilians killed from the bombs prevented a catastrophic ground war in Japan that could have exceeded one million military and civilian casualties. Unfortunately, and for future consideration, the destructive power of nuclear bombs make it impossible to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.”
 

‘Tremendous possibilities’

In 1945, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ellis Fuller said the possession of such an atomic weapon necessitated the improvement of moral virtue among Americans.
 
“The time has come when men must give more time and thought and energy to moral progress,” Fuller wrote in South Carolina’s Baptist Courier. “Unless we develop character which will make us worthy trustees of such power to assure its right and profitable use, the destruction of Hiroshima will be but the beginning of incalculable tragedies which harnessed atomic power will bring to the human family.”
 
Pennsylvania evangelist Eddie Martin argued in a 1946 sermon that the technology behind atomic bombs could yield enormous good if utilized by righteous individuals.
 
“Little has been written about the tremendous possibilities of using atomic energy for the good of mankind because men know that we have obtained God-like power but that we are not God-like,” Martin said. “However, if man is able to turn this new power into constructive use, we will see advancements made that are wonderful in their nature.”
 
Martin, an inductee into the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ Hall of Faith, speculated that atomic energy could be used to fuel more efficient cars and airplanes, “save labor in the home” and perhaps even cure cancer.
 
Fellow Hall of Faith evangelist Jesse Hendley saw God’s providence in America’s development of atomic bombs. He speculated God may have used the atomic bomb to discipline the Japanese for emperor worship, and he warned Christians not to fear nuclear annihilation.
 
“Don’t let any passing thing, even an atomic bomb, upset a child of God,” Hendley said in a sermon preached Aug. 26, 1946. “God is on the throne. You don’t have to worry about Him. He’s right on time. Only when He gets ready will He set in motion the great machinery of the last days.”
 

‘We must confess’

Hendley and Martin both used the widespread fear of nuclear war as an occasion to call sinners to trust Christ for salvation. As Martin put it, “there is only one way to escape” the eternal “effects of the possible destruction caused by the release of an atomic bomb by an enemy on our country.”
 
“As in Noah’s day there was only one escape it was the ark so today there is one ark. He is Jesus. Get yourself in Him tonight,” Martin said. “Let Him do a work of regeneration, of making new, in your heart tonight.”
 
While Jackson applauded such evangelistic zeal, he wished Southern Baptists had focused it more intently on Japan.
 
“We must confess,” Jackson wrote, “that we failed to accept the challenge God gave us for Japan. We did not give Japan what we could have given, what they requested and what God expected us to give.”
 
As American Christians remember the bombings, Carver asked them to pray for remaining survivors, the families of survivors, members of the U.S. armed forces and U.S. leaders who develop national security policy.
 
“Churches and church leaders must not be ignorant or silent regarding the national debate on the development and/or use of weapons of mass destruction,” Carver said. “Our churches have an influence in shaping national consciousness and individual conscience regarding our national security strategy, the use of WMD, armed conflict and international diplomacy.”
 
Among other Southern Baptist connections to Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

  • Kentucky Baptist Gil Niceley was aboard the Straight Flush, an aircraft that flew ahead of the famed Enola Gay, which dropped the Hiroshima bomb, to survey weather conditions and recommend whether to proceed with the mission.

Niceley, who died in 2005, told Baptist Press in 1995, “I can see Hiroshima below me now. After seeing that weather conditions were suitable for a visual drop, Buck [Major Claude ‘Buck’ Eatherly] gave clearance to the Enola Gay to proceed with bombing. Around 8:16 a.m., we saw a tremendous flash and felt vibrations in the air. The vibrations were not only earth-rattling, they came with extreme heat.”

  • Nagasaki was a secondary target Aug. 9 and was bombed because the primary target, Kokura, was obscured by clouds and smoke. In Kokura, the prominent tower of a Southern Baptist-sponsored school for girls had reportedly been identified as the bomb’s target, according to a history of Southern Baptist missions in Japan by Calvin Parker.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/13/2015 11:34:23 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ferguson tensions show need for SBC’s Crossover

August 12 2015 by Vicki Stamps, Missouri Pathway

More than 200 Baptist pastors and leaders gathered at First Baptist Church in Ferguson, Mo., on the day violence had broken out in the early morning hours during the one-year anniversary weekend of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
 
Baptist leaders from the Missouri and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River met to hear plans for and the challenges of Crossover St. Louis, which will precede the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 2016 annual meeting, June 14-15 in St. Louis.
 
“This has been a city in crisis for more than a year,” SBC President Ronnie Floyd said during the sessions at First Baptist in Ferguson. “When we set up this meeting, we didn’t realize it would be the anniversary of that horrible event. But God did.
 
“The entire metropolitan area needs an awakening,” Floyd continued. “We need to pray for an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. God is getting His people ready and this is our moment to make a difference.”

 
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Photo by John W. Phillips
SBC President Ronnie Floyd addresses Baptist pastors and leaders during a Crossover St. Louis planning meeting at First Baptist Church in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 10, a day of heightened tensions in the troubled city. Floyd urged that churches mobilize for the evangelistic effort preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June 2016.

On Aug. 9 after an estimated 1,000 protesters had marched peacefully in Ferguson, police returned gunfire from a suspect around 11:15 p.m., critically wounding the man. Dozens of protesters were arrested throughout the day on Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, and a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson, located just northwest of St. Louis.
 
The Baptist leaders’ meeting included a panel discussion of the Crossover week of volunteer evangelism and service prior to the SBC annual meeting, and an announcement of the 2016 Pastors’ Conference theme –  “You Will Live This” –  by John Meador, the conference’s president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas.
 
“The challenge is to live as never before,” Meador said. “We’ll deal with the subject of hardship because if you are not experiencing it now, you soon will be.”
 
“These are both critical events,” Floyd said of Crossover and the Pastors’ Conference. “Ninety percent of the people in this area of 2.7 million people are lost, and God wants us to make a difference. God loves the people in this city, and He died for it. We want this to be a life-changing event. …
 
“We must unify around Him and pray that He will empower us to spread the gospel and reach the world,” said Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
 
Jim Breeden, director of missions for the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association (on the Web at http://stlbaptist.org), outlined the focus of Crossover St. Louis in three broad categories.
 
“First,” he said, “we are going to partner with the new church planters throughout the city; next, we are going to work with existing churches; and third, we will bless this city.”
 
Breeden used three local school districts that have lost their accreditation as an example for outreach.
 
“We are going to help those school districts,” he said. “Some of our churches are already working with them and the doors are wide open. We are going to bless those districts. We all know the problems of St. Louis. Now, we want to be on the solution side.”
 
John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and SBC recording secretary, has issued a call to pastors to take up the challenges.
 
“There are so many lost in the area,” Yeats said. “This is a way to work together with the state and national conventions to pray for God’s grace to penetrate the lost pockets of the city and for us to make a concerted effort to make a difference. I challenge all of the pastors in the state to make this a priority like never before in our history.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Vicki Stamps is a contributing writer for The Pathway at www.mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

8/12/2015 11:52:07 AM by Vicki Stamps, Missouri Pathway | with 0 comments



23 nations blacklisted for human trafficking

August 12 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The U.S. State Department has blacklisted 23 countries for failing to even try to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, giving President Obama authority to bar them from U.S. non-humanitarian aid and key trade initiatives.
 
The countries’ failures are summarized in the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). The report ranks 188 countries on their efforts to fight human trafficking, dividing them into four categories used to hold countries accountable for their policies and actions. Rankings range from the most favorable Tier 1, and fall to Tier 2, the Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3, when judged by standards established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).
 
Blacklisted by the State Department are Algeria, Belarus, Belize, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Yemen, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Human rights activists and politicians have criticized the State Department for removing from the blacklist Cuba and Malaysia, two countries with increasing economic ties with the U.S.
 
Cuba and Malaysia are now eligible for participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with Pacific Rim nations. The two countries were elevated to the Tier 2 Watch List, joining 42 other nations that don’t fully comply with minimum TVPA standards to fight human trafficking, but “are making significant efforts” to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

 

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The Obama administration is accused of overlooking human trafficking in Malaysia and Cuba for the sake of trade.
 
While the removal of the two countries is distressing, victory over human trafficking will extend beyond diplomacy, Southern Baptist abolitionist and New York pastor Raleigh Sadler told Baptist Press.
 
“We would be wise to remember that at the end of the day, no one leader will ever possess the power to end human trafficking through geo-political deals alone. Quite frankly, this is impossible because the problem of human trafficking is not a mere political problem; it’s a heart problem,” Sadler said. “Therefore the only leader who can permanently change the situation is the only leader who can take our hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh. As Christians, who are passionate about seeing modern day slavery come to an end, let us not forget that ultimately our faith is in an eternal king not an earthly president.”
 
The report is helpful in fighting human trafficking, Sadler said, as blacklisted countries might find it more economically feasible to deter human trafficking than suffer economically.
 
“Rather than solely addressing each country concerning the morality of exploitation, the TIP report addresses human trafficking from an economic perspective. By rating each country according to a tier,” Sadler said, “the report serves to pressure countries who are failing to meet the minimal standards contained within the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the goal being to motivate each country to actually address the human trafficking occurring within their borders or face economic sanctions.”
 
Estimates of human trafficking victims worldwide range from 21 million by the State Department to 35.8 million by the Walk Free Foundation’s 2014 Global Slavery Index. According to the State Department, 10,051 people were prosecuted worldwide for human trafficking in 2014, leading to 4,443 convictions and involving 44,462 victims. Of the total cases identified, 418 were related to labor trafficking.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defends the report as a key diplomatic tool in the nation’s fight against human trafficking globally.
 
“This year’s report places a special emphasis on human trafficking in the global marketplace. It highlights the hidden risks that workers may encounter when seeking employment and the steps that governments and businesses can take to prevent trafficking, including a demand for transparency in global supply chains,” Kerry said upon the report’s release in July. “The bottom line is that this is no time for complacency. Right now, across the globe, victims of human trafficking are daring to imagine the possibility of escape, the chance for a life without fear, and the opportunity to earn a living wage.”
 
The U.S. is among 31 nations that received the highest ranking, indicating they have met TVPA minimum standards and continue to make progress in fighting human trafficking. Still, the report identifies the U.S. as a source, transit and destination country for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, and made 12 recommendations for improvement.
 
TIP, available at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/, relies on information gathered April 2014 through March 2015, from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, onsite research and information submitted to tipreport@state.gov.
 
Overall, 18 countries moved up in tier rankings, while 18 others moved down. In addition to rankings already enumerated in this article, 89 countries received the Tier 2 ranking, indicating an effort to bring themselves into TVPA compliance. One country, Somalia, was listed as a “special case” for the 13th consecutive year, due in part on an inability to obtain credible data.
 
The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted two measures against human trafficking, including the 2013 resolution on human trafficking and the 2000 resolution condemning sex trafficking, both urging Southern Baptists to pray for victims and work through ministry, legislation, the medical profession and other outreaches to fight human trafficking locally and globally.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)


Related Story:

Sex trafficking victim: Healing came from God

8/12/2015 11:43:08 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



2 retailers to shield Cosmopolitan’s covers

August 12 2015 by Baptist Press staff

A “Cosmo Harms Minors” campaign has prompted Rite Aid and Food Lion to announce they will start placing Cosmopolitan magazine behind blinders to shield its risqué covers and content.
 
The move has been reported by various media, including WORLD News Service (WNS) and The Hill political newspaper and website.
 
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) and Victoria Hearst, granddaughter of Hearst Corporation founder William Randolph Hearst, began the Cosmo Harms Minors campaign in 2013, which also urges retailers not to sell the magazine to minors.
 
“This is a pretty significant victory and a step forward,” Dawn Hawkins, NCSE executive director, told WNS. “With the leadership of Rite Aid and Food Lion, we hope other retailers would follow suit.”

 

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Thirty retailers around the country have been contacted as part of the campaign, including Walmart. The retail chain responded in late July that it has a longstanding policy of covering the magazine, but Hawkins told WNS that a visit to four different Walmarts across the country showed otherwise.

“I expect that Walmart will start enforcing it as well,” Hawkins said. “We just have to show them it’s not enforced.”
 
A Walmart spokesman, Kory Lundberg, told The Hill that the company has supplied covers to its stores for more than 10 years but will be sending a reminder.
 
“We’re making sure the right people know this is available,” Lundberg told The Hill.
 
Cosmopolitan, however, issued a statement to The Hill noting that “Walmart’s approach to Cosmo’s newsstand presence in their stores has been consistent for more than a decade,” so “there is no new information to share.” The statement added, “Any indication otherwise, by the NCSE or other, is simply untrue.”
 
NCSE’s Hawkins, meanwhile, sees more action ahead. “I pray that [retailers] will do the right thing and either stop selling the magazine or obey the Material Harmful To Minors laws in each state, which forbid the sale of magazines like Cosmopolitan to anyone under 18 years old,” she said in a statement to WNS.
 
According to WNS, a nationwide poll by NCSE in April showed more than half of the respondents believe Cosmopolitans’s cover and content are inappropriate for viewers of all ages.
 
Hawkins said letters had been sent to Cosmopolitan on several occasions without any response. So the NCSE changed tactics and went after the retailers.
 
“That seems to be paying off,” Hawkins said.
 
Hearst Corporation created Cosmopolitan in 1886 as a family and home economics publication for women. In the 1960s, the magazine underwent rebranding after the late Helen Gurley Brown became editor.
 
The NCSE, according to The Hill, “links pornography to sex trafficking, violence against women and child abuse.” The organization pinpoints Cosmopolitan on its “Dirty Dozen List” of the top 12 organizations contributing to sexual exploitation.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press.)

8/12/2015 11:32:53 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



GCR after 5 years: ‘satisfied’ but still challenges

August 12 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Five years after the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Great Commission Task Force (GCTF) called for a “Great Commission Resurgence (GCR),” Baptist leaders say the GCTF’s recommendations have contributed to a renewed focus on missions and the reversal of a 30-year decline in Cooperative Program (CP) giving as a percentage of churches’ undesignated receipts.
 
Still, the total dollar amount given through Southern Baptists’ unified program for supporting North American and international missions and ministries has declined, and a Baptist state paper editor has published an analysis suggesting GCR did not shift the convention’s trajectory.
 
Former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who appointed the GCTF in 2009 after being instructed to do so by messengers, is among those who cite the task force’s recommendations as having a positive effect.
 
“To be honest, our task was a little overwhelming,” Hunt, who served as an ex officio member of the GCTF, said. “Therefore, I am more than satisfied with the success. ... The International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) are working together with little barrier to working stateside or among the nations to reach unreached people groups.”
 
Noting an increase in the percentage of CP funds directed to the IMB, Hunt said, “More dollars are going to the nations in percentage than ever. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has had its two largest offerings ever in SBC history.”

 

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BP file photo by Matt Miller
Messengers to the 2010 SBC annual meeting, led by then-President Johnny Hunt, adopted seven recommendations from the Great Commission Task Force.

Hunt also noted an increase in the percentage of NAMB’s expenditures devoted to church planting – from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 48.4 percent in 2013-14, according to information supplied by NAMB. In 2015-16, 53.9 percent of the budget is designated for church planting.
 
“For the record,” Hunt said in written comments, “I personally give almighty God the glory and honor for the privilege of serving Him and His people.”
 
In 2010, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Orlando adopted seven recommendations from the GCTF. The first two dealt with the SBC’s mission and values while the remaining five requested that the convention’s Executive Committee (EC) take specific actions including:

  • Consider recommending the establishment of Great Commission Giving as a category referencing the total dollar amount channeled by a church each year through all causes of the SBC, Baptist state conventions and Baptist associations.

  • Consider revising the NAMB and IMB ministry assignments to facilitate a renewed focus on church planting in North America and IMB work among unreached people groups in North America.

  • Consider working with state convention leaders to develop a coordinated program of CP promotion and stewardship education.

  • Consider recommending an SBC CP Allocation Budget increasing the IMB’s portion of CP funds to 51 percent by decreasing the EC’s allocation by 1 percentage point.

The EC recommended to messengers in 2011 the establishment of Great Commission Giving as well as revisions to the NAMB and IMB ministry assignments and began working with state convention leaders on CP promotion. While not yet reaching a reduction of 1 percent, the EC has incrementally reduced its portion of CP funds from 3.40 percent to 2.99 percent, forwarding the balance to the IMB.
 
The IMB has begun to work among unreached people groups in North America in conjunction with NAMB and, as noted by Hunt, more than 50 percent of NAMB’s budget has been directed toward church planting.
 

‘New level of trust’

Hunt believes the GCTF recommendations have contributed to an increase in CP giving by some local congregations as well as an increase in the percentage of CP receipts forwarded by state conventions to SBC causes. First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., where Hunt is pastor, increased its CP giving between 2009 and 2010 by more than $451,000, according to data from the Annual Church Profile, a 96 percent increase.
 
EC President Frank S. Page, who was a member of the GCTF, credited the task force’s recommendations with sparking an increase in the average percentage of undesignated receipts forwarded through CP by local churches. After a steady decline of almost a quarter percent per year for 30 years, the average church’s CP gift stopped decreasing in 2011 and has risen slightly over the past three budget years.
 
“There is a new level of trust,” Page said during a panel discussion at this year’s SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. “...We’re seeing some reengagement from guys my age.”
 
Page mentioned Hunt and current SBC President Ronnie Floyd as two examples of pastors who led churches to increase their CP giving as a result of the GCTF recommendations.
 
Floyd, GCTF chairman and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, announced this month that Cross Church had forwarded $1 million through CP in 2015. Cross Church increased its CP giving from $32,000 in 2005 to $700,000 in 2013. Its 2014 CP giving topped $800,000 according to ACP data. In both 2005 and 2006, the church gave an additional $189,000 it considered CP to the EC for dispersal according to the CP Allocation Budget distribution formula.
 

‘Be encouraged’

“The Great Commission Resurgence has had a major impact on the direction and future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd said. “... GCR changed the conversation in the SBC because many churches, every state convention and SBC entity began to talk about how we could accelerate our commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is still the conversation and should be. I saw it this summer in the SBC in Columbus and just saw it again with 13,000 people in our Send Conference in Nashville, with the conversation being how to live our lives on mission all for the purpose of reaching the world for Christ. We need to be encouraged.”
 
NAMB’s increased focus on church planting represents a significant fulfillment of the GCTF recommendations, Floyd said, as do the cooperative work between NAMB and the IMB in North America and the IMB’s mobilization of churches to penetrate lostness worldwide. He applauded the sacrifices of state conventions and the EC to send more money to reach the nations for Christ.
 
The establishment of Great Commission giving, while not “a substitute for giving through the CP,” has become a means of “celebrating all our churches are giving through our Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd said.
 

State conventions

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), said the work of the SBC’s GCTF was the “primary factor” that motivated Kentucky Baptists to create their own GCTF in 2009. Spurred by their task force’s leadership, the KBC went from forwarding 38 percent of CP receipts to SBC causes with no shared ministry expenses in 2010-11 to 50 percent in 2014-15 with 7 percent shared expenses.
 
“Kentucky Baptists are a mission-minded people with a passion for taking the Gospel to the nations,” Chitwood said. “They only needed to be challenged and were quick to respond.”
 
That sentiment apparently applied to other state conventions as well. Several endorsed proposals at their 2010 annual meetings to apply the GCTF recommendations, according to Baptist Press reports. At least three conventions – Kentucky, Florida and California – formed task forces like the SBC’s to address structure and budgetary concerns related to advancing the Great Commission.
 
State conventions generally have increased their average percentage of CP receipts forwarded to SBC causes from 36.55 percent in 2008 to about 38 percent each of the past three budget years. Five state conventions – Kentucky, Iowa, Nevada, the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Southern Baptists of Texas – currently forward at least half of their CP receipts to SBC causes, three without deducting shared ministry expenses. The SBTC has forwarded 55 percent to SBC causes since 2008.
 
While applauding the GCTF’s challenge to state conventions, Chitwood expressed one concern.
 
“The Great Commission Resurgence is leading to deeper commitments to the Great Commission all across the SBC,” Chitwood said. “I do have concerns, however, that the role of state conventions is being undervalued by some in the name of the GCR. What I believe Kentucky Baptists realize, however, is that the state conventions have an indispensable role in the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”
 

Decreased overall church giving

Despite the positive trends stemming from GCR, churches have felt the continuing pinch of economic downturn and overall decreased giving from their members. Total giving to Southern Baptist churches declined by more than $911 million between 2008 and 2013. Even with increases in the percentages given through CP by churches and state conventions, the actual dollar amount given through CP has hovered at a 14-year low the past two years, reflecting the overall decline in contributions to churches.
 
Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message and a former vice president for convention news with the SBC Executive Committee who provided extensive analysis of the GCTF recommendations when they were presented in 2010, noted the decreases in giving to SBC causes in a June 30 analysis titled “After 5 Years, Is There a Great Commission Resurgence?”
 
Hall questioned the IMB’s “focus on reaching resistant people groups at the expense of a harvest among receptive populations” and suggested increased focus on mass evangelism as a potential remedy to the SBC’s decrease in baptisms over the past five years. He acknowledged that the decline in international baptisms is attributable at least in part to an IMB decision to “no longer include reports from partner conventions and unions” in baptism reports.
 
Overall, Hall seemed to imply the GCTF’s impact was at best neutral.
 
“The five-year mark,” Hall wrote, “seems a rational point to take a look at how far along the GCR national initiative has moved the Southern Baptist Convention.”
 
Floyd attributed the decline in total gifts to a poor economy and anticipated a turnaround.
 
“For our convention to do as well as we have done through the most challenging economy since the Great Depression is a real testimony to our Lord and His church,” Floyd said. “Soon, if the Lord tarries, we are going to see finances increase.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/12/2015 11:23:03 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sex trafficking victim: Healing came from God

August 12 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

She was an awkward and shy 19-year-old art history major when the handsome charismatic stranger asked her for directions in broad daylight at a New York City railway station.
 
He courted her, charming her by opening doors, holding her hand in public and presenting himself as a perfect gentleman.
 
“Then all of a sudden things started changing. He became very moody, very controlling, name calling, that I’m stupid and I’m dumb. [There were] accusations of cheating, my family was no good, my friends were no good,” said Iryna, now 28. “He was slowly isolating me from everything I knew and loved.”
 
His purpose? “He basically exploited me. He sold me for sex. That’s what he did in a nutshell.”
 
Iryna had come legally from Eastern Europe to the U.S. with her mother and brother six years earlier. She was an A student, continued to live at home and earned a bachelor’s degree during the three-year human trafficking ordeal.

“People don’t realize the psychological and the emotional hold that the abuser has with his victim,” Iryna said. “It’s like he controlled my every move, every single move.”
 
There are more than 21 million victims of human trafficking in the U.S., according to Department of State 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, encompassing sex trafficking of children and adults, forced labor of children and adults, bonded labor or debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude and forced child labor.
 
The church has a vital role in seeking justice and salvation for trafficking victims, said Raleigh Sadler, an abolitionist and a human trafficking awareness advocate based in New York, where he is director of justice ministries for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and a college pastor at the Gallery Church. He has worked with Iryna in helping victims heal.

 

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Raleigh Sadler speaks at a press conference on the steps on New York City Hall to fight human trafficking.

“Iryna is a trophy of grace,” Sadler said. “She and I meet with several young girls that have been trafficked. My role is simple: to provide an example of a man that does not want to buy sex. Iryna seeks to love these girls as others have loved her.”
 
Sadler founded the Let My People Go movement, in which he challenges Christians to see people set free not only physically but also spiritually. He speaks, teaches, mobilizes others and offers a weeklong mission trip for college students.
 
“When Moses went up to Pharaoh he said, ‘Let my people go that they may worship God on the mountain.’ There was always a connection between spiritual freedom and physical freedom,” Sadler said, “and I think when we just focus on one at the expense of the other, there’s a danger, whether it’s just sharing the gospel and proclaiming it and not meeting physical needs, or it’s just meeting physical needs and not proclaiming the gospel. Both need to be present because we’re holistic beings.”
 
Of the many college groups that have taken the mission trip, nearly all have invited Sadler to their campus to speak on the issue of justice, including Louisiana College in Alexandria, La.
 
Shannon Lane, Louisiana College director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, took a seven-member team of students on the mission trip in May. The students prayer walked communities including Chinatown and Manhattan, noted signs of trafficking to report to the FBI human trafficking hotline, distributed hot meals, toiletries and other items to the homeless, and shared the gospel.
 
Lane encourages other Baptist collegiate groups to take the mission trip because it incorporates the gospel with justice, teaching the biblical foundation of justice ministry.
 
“[Sadler] tells us over and over, they’re not rescued until they know Jesus. I think that’s huge in this day and age,” Lane said. “They need to be redeemed spiritually, more than just physically.”
 
Sadler has recruited a multiethnic, interdenominational group of 20 New York pastors committed to the cause. They participate in bi-monthly roundtable discussions, focusing on how to proclaim justice from the pulpit and in small groups, how to educate congregations, and how to collaborate with specialist groups in achieving justice. The gospel is promoted as the motivation of any successful justice ministry.
 
“We’re challenging churches to develop a strategy at the local church level whereby they are seeking to care for those who are most vulnerable,” Sadler said. “Oftentimes traffickers target those that scripture would identify as the widow, orphan and sojourner. By loving those vulnerable to trafficking, the local church not only prevents exploitation but may find themselves intervening.”
 
Benjamin Ing, pastor of New York Chinese Baptist Church (American Baptist USA), has participated in the roundtable discussions since their inception, but had been meeting informally with Sadler for more than a year.
 
“I think this is a good opportunity for my church in particular to be more aware of the needs of our community. We’re in a community where there’s a lot of human trafficking going on, both labor trafficking and sex trafficking,” Ing said. “I would encourage other churches to get involved because I think we need to grow in our understanding of human trafficking across the U.S. and even across the world.”
 
Learning to recognize potential victims is key to securing their freedom, Sadler teaches, pointing out such vulnerable areas as the hospitality, restaurant and service industries, nannies, door-to-door sales and street peddling as prime covers. Signs of trafficking can include bruising, branding, tattoos of other peoples’ names, emotional distress, girls with older boyfriends, limited freedom of movement, and confiscated identification papers. Many might not even realize they’re being trafficked, he notes.
 
Traffickers might allow their victims to attend church regularly, Sadler said, because it offers a stability that may advance the traffickers’ goal of entrapment.
 
“Oftentimes their chains are psychological or emotional. Some think that they have a job with a tough boss when they’re really trafficked for labor,” Sadler said. “Some think that their boyfriend’s just demanding and slightly insecure, when he’s ultimately pushing them to sell their bodies for his gain. Human trafficking happens when there’s an exploitation of vulnerability for commercial gain.”
 
For Iryna, help came after a neighbor saw men coming and leaving the house where the trafficking occurred. She noticed Iryna crying outside the house, and intervened once when the trafficker was yelling at Iryna on the street.
 
“She came out of her house, she brought me into her home. ... And she became my friend,” Iryna said. The neighbor thought Iryna was the victim of domestic violence, until Iryna revealed the truth. “She didn’t laugh at me; she didn’t judge me or criticize me. She said what he’s doing to you is wrong. It was like my lightbulb moment.”
 
The woman told her, “This is not your fault. You didn’t do this; you’re being forced to do this and what’s being done to you is wrong.”
 
“It was a like a paradigm shift in my head,” Iryna said. “It took me almost from August until April of the following year to finally sever all ties with him. There was a lot of going back and forth.”
 
Iryna’s abuser played mind games, professing love for her and manipulating her thoughts, but she saw the neighbor as consistently kind and loving. “She helped me build back my self-esteem to the point where I could stay no more. I didn’t have any kind of police intervention.”
 
Iryna cried every day when she was with her trafficker and after she managed to leave. Suffering from depression, nightmares and claustrophobia, she thought she was losing her mind. A friend invited her to church, and it was there at the nondenominational Brooklyn Tabernacle that she met the Savior of her soul.
 
“I felt like my soul was dirt. Not just my body but my soul, my heart, my mind,” she said. “There was this kind of dirt that I couldn’t wash away. I always felt like I was a second-class citizen and I didn’t deserve anything in this life.”
 
As Iryna walked down the aisle during altar call, she thought she would collapse, she said, but felt God taking over her body, giving her stability to walk in spite of her trembling and tears.
 
“I was having a nervous breakdown, because I was telling God, ‘Oh my God I’m a nobody; what are You going to do about it?’ At that moment I felt the presence of God, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I wasn’t just crying, I felt this presence. And this presence was holding me up. And I knew God not only saw what happened to me, but that He cared. He wasn’t judging me. He wasn’t condemning me. And that’s something as a body of Christ that believers should realize, that people go through things in life.”
 
Today, Iryna works in social services as a case manager with senior citizens, and dreams of earning a master’s degree in social work to become a therapist for survivors. Nearly three years after her salvation, she began speaking publicly of her ordeal. She has forgiven her trafficker and views him as troubled. She reported the case to the police, she said, but had no evidence that would stand in court.
 
“Maybe my case is a little bizarre, but I wonder how many cases like mine never get reported, because the women are so ashamed.... I didn’t start speaking out until well over a year ago,” she said. “I always felt that the Lord has done great things in my life, and it’s because of Him I’m never ashamed to say it.
 
“The healing, the forgiveness, it’s all from Him. And just being able to not feel ashamed, not feel embarrassed. It’s definitely Him.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

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8/12/2015 11:11:20 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Katrina: The Gulfport story

August 11 2015 by K. Allan Blume & Seth Brown, BR staff

Shortly after 10 a.m. on a hot Sunday in August 2005, residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast heard the familiar tone of the National Weather Service’s radio warning.
 
“Devastating damage expected,” the report said. Early the next morning, Aug. 29, Katrina made landfall as a category three hurricane.
 
“The devastation along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina was staggering,” said David Johnson, assistant administrator for the National Weather Service.
 
“The physical destruction and personal suffering surmounted that of any U.S. weather disaster in recent history. The loss of life and extraordinary damage made Katrina the costliest hurricane in U.S. history and one of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever strike the U.S.”
 
Katrina wrecked homes, cars, businesses and churches. But for Chuck Register, executive leader of church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), it affected more than material possessions.
 
“The storm changed my entire philosophy of ministry,” he said.

 
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Photo by Norm Miller, Baptist Press

Weathering the storm

Register was in his sixth year as senior pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Gulfport, Miss., when Katrina struck. “We awakened on Sunday morning to discover [Katrina] had bloomed to a category five storm.”
 
FBC held an abbreviated worship service that morning as a “full evacuation order” went out. Only about 50 people, a fraction of the congregation, attended.
 
Wind gusts sailed past 100 miles per hour, according to reports. The wind was only half the danger for Gulfport residents. Those closest to the beach faced the greater threat of a storm surge.
 
“The elevation of FBC is 19 feet, and we sustained water the equivalent of a 32-foot storm surge,” Register said. The storm devastated four of the church’s seven buildings, and the remaining three structures were unusable. Eighty-five families in the congregation lost everything, he added.
 
Brian Upshaw was senior associate pastor at FBC. His main responsibilities were the administration, discipleship and education ministries. Today he is the disciple-making team leader for BSC.
 
After the brief Aug. 28 Sunday service, Upshaw made the church facility “as secure as we could make it,” he said. He packed up the church’s computer server, and along with his family, evacuated to Georgia to stay with his wife’s family.
 
“The next day Chuck called and told me the facility was gone,” Upshaw said. “Chuck saw it on TV. I had not seen it yet, but about 30 minutes later I saw it on the news. A news anchor was standing in front of what was left of our facility. That was my first sight of it.”
 
Wednesday Upshaw drove back to Gulfport with a load of supplies including generators and fuel. As daylight broke Thursday, the recovery began. With the church directory in hand the staff began mapping the county and went to the homes of church members. “Those early days were very hectic and crazy, trying to determine what was going on,” he added.
 
Insurance companies had to be contacted – for his family and for the church. Working without water and electricity, repairs faced him at every turn. Disaster relief organizations were not able to respond for at least five days. But as the weekend arrived, North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM) and other relief agencies were figuring out how to get into Gulfport.
 
FBC began to implement a series of contingency plans, said Register, “for how we would do church without a facility.” Providentially, at a retreat the previous April, church staff speculated on the question, “How would we do church if we didn’t have a facility?”
 
The April retreat was “the hand of God on us,” Upshaw said. “We did what we thought was an intellectual exercise on doing church without a facility. But much of the plan we were able to implement the first five days was a direct result of having those conversations in April. There is no way we could have predicted Katrina, but just the exercise of the staff working through a problem was really beneficial to us.”
 
The first Sunday after the storm, they joined with two other Gulfport churches for worship. FBC, Crosspoint Church – a church plant from FBC – and First Presbyterian Church met in Crosspoint’s facility. Gulfport High School allowed FBC to use its facilities to worship for the following three years.
 
In the early days the FBC ministers met at Register’s house. “We would divvy up the city in sectors and assign those to a different staff member,” he said. “My wife would have cooked supper for us on the camp stove outside. We would have supper, pray together and the next morning we would take care of those sectors of the city.” They repeated the process daily.
 
“We did our disciple-making through home cell groups throughout the week,” he explained. “For the next 18 months our days were consumed with pastoral care … trying to help people put their lives back together in that environment.”
 
“The body of Christ worked together better than at any moment in my 55-year history,” Register said. “I had several meetings with North American Mission Board personnel and disaster relief teams,” Register said, “to help them understand the need.”
 
“The story of North Carolina Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission)  is the story of our recovery as a city,” Upshaw added. “But the first responder I met was from Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla. They sent some people down on their own. One of their pastors had seen us on the news and said, ‘I need to go.’ They came by themselves and partnered with us, and that became a critical church partnership over the next few months.
 
“Obviously the organized relief work and the mammoth undertaking that NCBM did for Gulfport – I can’t say enough about ... those volunteers who really poured into us and ministered to us,” he emphasized.
 
NCBM were the first feeding unit to arrive. They began what would become a two-and-a-half year ministry on the Gulf Coast that included more than 40,000 volunteers and more than 700 rebuilt homes.
 
Upshaw confessed he learned a lot about ministry fatigue. “The months went on, caring for our own church families’ needs, serving the community, dealing with church administrative issues, trying to find a place to worship, dealing with the nuts and bolts of trying to get an office going, organizing small groups – it’s incredible to think of all that goes into that.”
 
Many of the church’s senior adults were displaced.
 
“They lived in places they thought were safe and secure, but they lost everything. I’m talking about seniors in their 80s having to start over,” he said.
 
No one in the church was killed from the direct action of the storm, but some died from related circumstances – many of them can be attributed to the trauma of Katrina, he added. The church held 26 funerals in the 12 months after Katrina.
 
Upshaw praised Register’s leadership that kept the focus on the priorities. “I can’t say enough about Chuck’s leadership,” Upshaw said. The preaching of the Word of God every Sunday, ... keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus in the midst of circumstances; trying to provide as much stability in church life as he could so that people whose lives were falling apart had something that was stable.”
 

Recovery and regrowth

Before Hurricane Katrina, worship attendance at FBC ranged from 750-800, according to Register. After the storm, the numbers sank to approximately 400.
 
More than 41,000 residents left the Gulfport-Biloxi area in the period between July 2005 and January 2006, according to a report by the Brookings Institution. Many never returned.
 
“The wave of migration out of Gulfport began with young adults,” said Register, because they were the first ones released from jobs. “Then our senior adults began to leave town,” he added. Needing to rebuild their homes, many senior adults decided to relocate near their families in other parts of the state or country.
 
After three years without a permanent facility, the church moved into a 58,000 square-foot building on more than 30 acres of land, according to Register. To make that transition, the church pooled resources from multiple channels.
 
In what Register describes as providential, the insurance committee of the church had reviewed its policies a year before the storm, adding a million dollars to the flood insurance plan.
 
Register also led the church in a capital campaign to raise money for the new facility. “Our folks really had a sense of stewardship, a sense of commitment to the Father and His Kingdom,” he said. “I was very pleased with the way they responded to the Capital Stewardship Campaign at the same time they were trying to rebuild businesses that had been lost, rebuild homes that had been lost, deal with their own set of life crises. … The Father was honored in that.”
 

Change in ministry priorities

As Register reflected on the effects the storm had on his ministry, he said, “My history had been pastoring churches that had grown significantly, had been recognized by the Billy Graham School at [The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] for their growth … so my ministry had become number-centric.” He had also been a professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Register described his ministry outlook: “We had to be larger this Sunday than we were Sunday a year ago.”
 
“What the storm helped me to understand was that for a lot of my ministry I had not been focusing on truly making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I was focused on one half of the Great Commission – the evangelistic side of the coin – but had not focused on the disciple-making side of the coin.”
 
Discipleship became a priority. “If it’s not life-on-life transformation taking place,” said Register, “we’re missing this thing called disciple-making.” The people in his congregation who were significantly involved in discipleship groups “really rose to the occasion following the storm in ministering to fellow believers, and in providing leadership to the body of Christ.”
 
This prompted a significant shift in ministry philosophy for Register. “So many things that I thought were critical in ministry pre-storm,” he said, “seemed to be really insignificant post-storm.”
 
He developed “very little tolerance” for self-serving ministry. Register wanted to see outward focused ministry – among both clergy and congregation – that was directed toward “impacting our culture with the gospel.”
 
A sense of urgency dominated him. Register said, “The storm taught me that whatever you’re going to do for God’s glory and for the kingdom, you better do it now because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold.”
 

Lessons learned

Upshaw learned some valuable lessons from the experience. One is that lay leadership is very valuable in church ministry.
 
The mobilization of people begins with “empowering the people at the closest level to the situation,” he said. “Trust people that are closest to the situation to make the call ... those volunteers, the lineman from the power company or those disaster relief volunteers on the site – those are the people that made a difference by making good decisions based on the circumstances they were in.”
 
Although he already valued the church’s leaders, he said, “I grew in appreciation for the men and women in the church who have an expertise in a certain area – like insurance – and gave that expertise to the church,” he said. “Because of their wisdom we had a good inventory of church property,” and FBC had the insurance coverage they needed to rebuild.
 
However, the greatest lesson God taught him was “God is faithful. We know that. He proved that to us.” He shared the words of the popular Matt Redman song, “Blessed be your name,” that says, “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, blessed be Your name.”
 
“Every time I hear that song I think of Katrina. Because we were placed in a situation where we had to choose to praise the Lord for who He is and not for our circumstances. God is sovereign even in tragedy, we know He has not abandoned us, and He is still worthy of our worship.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Allan Blume is chief editor for the Biblical Recorder, and Seth Brown is content editor.)
 

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Huge disaster a ‘defining moment’

8/11/2015 1:02:52 PM by K. Allan Blume & Seth Brown, BR staff | with 0 comments



Huge disaster a ‘defining moment’

August 11 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

Richard Brunson will tell you every disaster is different.
 
The executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM; also known as Baptists on Mission) remembers Hurricane Katrina as a “defining moment” for NCBM.
 
“It was amazing that that many people would give up so much time … and there were people who made 20-30 trips who drove every time,” he said. “They were taking people with them. It was just amazing … even our on-site coordinators. Some of them quit jobs and went down there and worked.”
 
Before the hurricane even hit land, more than 80 volunteers along with a convoy of supplies gathered in Meridian, Miss., to wait until it was clear to approach the hard-hit areas.
 
Within a week, N.C. volunteers were serving in at least three cities in Mississippi and a town in Alabama. They started with feeding, laundry, water purification and mudout units. Thousands of volunteers poured in from N.C. and from other states.
 
“Because we got there early the town, the citizens, the mayor … trusted us a lot,” said Brunson, who added NCBM was asked to coordinate efforts in Gulfport, Miss. “It was one of those defining moments,” he said. “And I think the Lord allowed us to be at a place where there was great need with some really great volunteers who were on-site coordinators.”

 
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BR file photo
The first wave of North Carolina Baptist volunteers set up in Meridian, Miss., where they began serving hot meals to Hurricane Katrina survivors Aug. 31.

Katrina was the United State’s costliest natural disaster ($108 billion) and was among the five deadliest hurricanes with at least 1,833 people dying in the hurricane and the subsequent flooding.
 
NCBM was given the use of an old armory, which with the addition of several bunk trailers allowed the organization to host 300 people on site. Local schools and churches offered more housing for the influx of volunteers.
 
“That was a great opportunity for a really strong Christian witness and for God to get the glory for compassion, for service and for volunteers investing their time and money and resources,” he said.
 
NCBM maintained three on-site coordinators (couples) in the early days of Katrina.
 
Brunson said those coordinators made “huge sacrifices” to be there.
 
One of the coordinators lost a brother and a grandchild; another lost a son. “They did it out of joy and out of love,” he said.
 
Early on, NCBM sent a medical/dental bus to assess the health of evacuees who had been brought to Raleigh. A medical/dental team also worked with evacuees in Charlotte.
 
The unit based in Meridian moved on to Lafayette, La., on Sept. 26, when Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast, not even a month after Hurricane Katrina left a wide path of devastation.

Initially food, water and building supplies had to be hauled in from out of state. NCBM purchased two tanker units to carry around 5,000 gallons of water. Each night a driver would take a tanker to a military base in Pensacola, Fla., fill up with water and bring it back to Gulfport to assist with food preparation, showers, laundry and to give to residents.
  
“Some of our equipment that we still use we purchased there out of necessity” for Katrina, Brunson said.

 
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BR file photo
From left, Chuck Register, Richard Brunson and Milton A. Hollifield Jr. talk during a weekend of events celebrating N.C. Baptist work in Gulfport, Miss.

Within two-and-a-half years around 30,000 volunteers from all 50 states and six countries had helped with Katrina recovery efforts.
 
The yellow shirts and hats Baptist disaster relief workers wear attracted thanks from people on the street. Physically and spiritually, volunteers made an impact.
 
“If you had on a yellow shirt, people would thank [you],” he said. “People paid for meals at restaurants.”
 

Unique situation

“There was something about Katrina,” Brunson said. “It was on the news so much. There were a lot of heart-breaking stories.”
 
Volunteers would make the trip down to the Gulf Coast and come back telling stories of what they had seen. Then, they would return with other volunteers.
 
The partnership in Gulfport lasted for several years. NCBM helped with more than 700 houses in the Gulfport area.
 
In 2008, NCBM finished its commitment in the Gulfport area.
 
Ceremonies were held Jan. 12-13, 2008, to commemorate N.C. Baptists and their efforts.
 
A Jan. 19, 2008, Biblical Recorder story quoted Brunson from an event held at the armory where thousands of volunteers were based during recovery efforts: “Thank you for making us from North Carolina feel like your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, your sons and daughters.”
 
Volunteers were recognized at Gulfport’s First Baptist Church (FBC) where Chuck Register was pastor. Register is now the executive leader of church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
 
Another service was hosted by the city of Gulfport, also held at FBC. The Gulfport City Council proclaimed Jan. 13 as “North Carolina Baptist Men Appreciation Day.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour announced a similar decree.
 
“Our lives are richer and will never be the same,” Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, said at the time.
 

N.C. expansion

The situation caused NCBM to jumpstart its child care ministry as well as expand its feeding capacity. Sleeper units were new to NCBM for Katrina. Since then, they have been used at other disaster sites.
 
“We learned a lot about being there long term,” including the importance of on-site coordinators, Brunson said. “If you can provide housing, meals, logistics you can make it possible for a lot more people to get involved in missions.”
 
NCBM’s two mission camps – Red Springs and Shelby – came directly out of what the organization learned through Katrina.
 
In fact, Red Springs Mission Camp was the recipient of the kitchen used at the armory in Gulfport as well as beds, mattresses, folding chairs and many of the tools bought or donated during the Katrina recovery efforts. “Every disaster is different,” Brunson said. NCBM leaders realized they could recreate some of the logistics at the camps to offer ongoing opportunities for volunteers.
 
“We realized these people who are driving from North Carolina have big hearts and have all kinds of skills and are making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
 
“If we can get them to continue … let’s provide opportunities any time they want to go to impact people physically and spiritually.”
 
Brunson wishes NCBM could respond to every disaster but knows that is impossible.
 
NCBM offers training opportunities in the spring for various regions so people can get certified for various ministries.
 
Another long-term partnership continues in New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
 
“Sandy wasn’t on the news nearly as much as Katrina,” he said. There is an ongoing need for volunteers there as well as at other sites. Brunson credits Katrina with NCBM’s willingness to commit to more long-term projects like Sandy.
 
NCBM receives funding through the North Carolina Missions Offering (ncmissionsoffering.org), which also supports church planting, associational projects, mission camps and mobilization ministry projects, or directly to the organization at baptistsonmission.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dianna Cagle is production editor for the Biblical Recorder.)
 

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Katrina: 10 years later the Gulfport story

8/11/2015 12:52:11 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



3 states defund Planned Parenthood in wake of videos

August 11 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Three states have acted swiftly to accomplish what the U.S. Senate could not – defund Planned Parenthood.
 
Alabama, Louisiana and New Hampshire all have eliminated funding for the country’s leading abortion provider after the release of videos providing evidence Planned Parenthood trades in baby body parts. Since mid-July, an investigative group has released five undercover videos that show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children for research. It is expected more videos will be released in the next few weeks.
 
Thirteen states have initiated investigations into Planned Parenthood, according to The Christian Science Monitor. After investigations in their states, Florida and Indiana officials have reported they found no evidence of violations by the organization regarding fetal tissue.
 
While some states have canceled contracts with Planned Parenthood, supporters of defunding in the U.S. Senate fell short in their attempt Aug. 3. Senators voted 53-46 to bring to the floor a bill to eliminate federal funds for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. While a majority of senators favored consideration of the proposal, the attempt to invoke cloture, as it is known, fell short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation and establish a path to its passage.
 
The state actions – and the renewed federal effort – have come in response to the latest, but most grisly, revelation about the practices of a network of affiliates that performs more than one-fourth of this country’s abortions each year. A widespread social media campaign to publicize the videos and eliminate government funding of PPFA – often using the hashtag #DefundPP – erupted when the first footage was released July 14.
 
Pro-life leaders continue to call for elimination of government money for Planned Parenthood.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), commended “the moral clarity and conviction of these states that have taken real action to prevent Planned Parenthood from accessing taxpayer funds. It is abundantly clear that what goes on in Planned Parenthood clinics is not reproductive health but a ghoulish form of human piracy.
 
“We mourn the lack of moral leadership that failed to pass legislation in the U.S. Senate, but as these governors and officials have demonstrated, real action and real change is possible,” said Moore. “The ultimate defunding of Planned Parenthood is a human rights issue that is worthy of our endurance.”
 
Casey Mattox, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement, “Not one more penny should go to Planned Parenthood, a billion-dollar abortion dealer caught on camera negotiating the sale of hearts, lungs and livers from aborted babies. Our tax dollars instead should fund local public health clinics, which outnumber Planned Parenthood locations more than 10 to 1 and are not tainted by constant scandals and misdeeds. America doesn’t need Planned Parenthood.”
 
Louisiana made public its defunding decision Aug. 3, and New Hampshire and Alabama quickly followed:

  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced his administration had canceled its Medicaid agreement with Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life,” said Jindal, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. “It has become clear that this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state.”

  • The New Hampshire Executive Council voted Aug. 5 to reject contracts for Planned Parenthood in the state. The vote came along party lines, with the council’s three Republican members in support of defunding.

Chris Sununu, a pro-choice Republican on the council, had supported Planned Parenthood funding in the past but urged the state to find other vendors to provide women’s health services, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. Describing the videos as “horrific and disgusting,” Sununu said, “[Planned Parenthood] has done good work, but I have serious questions about it, especially at the national level.”
 
The members of the New Hampshire council are elected to the executive branch body, which is unique among state governments in the United States.

  • Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, announced in an Aug. 6 letter to Planned Parenthood Southeast his administration was terminating its Medicaid agreement with the affiliate.

“The deplorable practices at Planned Parenthood have been exposed to Americans, and I have decided to stop any association with the organization in Alabama,” Bentley said in a written statement, according to The Birmingham News. “As a doctor and Alabama’s governor, the issue of human life, from conception to birth and beyond, is extremely important. I respect human life and do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not.”
 
The videos, produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), show conversations between PPFA officials and people portraying representatives of a human biologics firm. On the videos, recorded secretly by a hidden camera, Planned Parenthood executives are shown discussing their ability to provide parts of aborted children for research and their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.
 
Planned Parenthood and its allies have charged CMP with fraud in its editing of the videos and have defended the need for Planned Parenthood’s services to women, especially those with lower incomes.
 
“Extremists who oppose Planned Parenthood’s mission and services are making outrageous and completely false claims,” said Dawn Laguens, PPFA’s executive vice president, in an Aug. 4 statement. “These videos are intended to shock and deceive the public.”
 
CMP has released edited versions of the videos, but it also has posted at its website what it describes as full footage of the conversations between PPFA officials and the actors.
 
The proposal that failed in the Senate makes clear it would maintain federal funds for women’s health at the same level but would transfer money no longer available for Planned Parenthood after defunding to other eligible service providers.
 
In other proposals, Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., and Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., have introduced identical bills that would place a one-year moratorium on federal money for Planned Parenthood while Congress investigates the organization.
 
The ERLC and other opponents of government funding of Planned Parenthood have tried in previous congressional sessions to cut off money for the organization and other abortion providers but have always fallen short. In 2011, an effort to bring a PPFA defunding bill to the Senate floor received only 42 votes.
 
In its latest financial report (2013-14), PPFA said it received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements. It performed 327,653 abortions during 2013.
 
In addition to Planned Parenthood’s abortion business, previous investigations have provided various grounds for the effort to defund the organization.
 
In 2011, Americans United for Life – a leading legal advocate in the pro-life movement – issued a report that included the following known or alleged abuses by at least some Planned Parenthood clinics:

  • Misuse of federal health care and family planning funds.

  • Refusal to report criminal sexual abuse of minors.

  • Circumvention of state parental notification and consent laws.

  • Willingness to assist pimps or sex traffickers in the exploitation of women.

  • Offering inaccurate or misleading information about fetal development and the health risks of abortion.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

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Lankford, other Baptists to keep fighting PPFA
Fight to defund PPFA ‘far from over’
First Choice delivers hope for unplanned pregnancies

8/11/2015 12:42:14 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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