United Methodists elect first openly gay bishop

July 28 2016 by Ciera Horton, WORLD News Service

The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Western Jurisdiction unanimously elected the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop on July 15, going against the UMC’s official stance on homosexuality.

The Rev. Karen Oliveto’s election follows long-term disputes within the 12.7 million-member UMC about homosexuality, furthering concerns of an impending church division.
“This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, said after the vote.
Immediately following the Western Jurisdiction’s election, the South Central Jurisdiction in Wichita, Kan., asked for the church’s Judicial Council to review the decision. The leaders asked if electing a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” as a bishop was lawful under UMC doctrine. The election could now prompt review under church law.
The UMC is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States and has yet to change its official statement on sexuality. The UMC Book of Discipline from 2012 states, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Despite the official statement, the church itself is divided on the topic of same-sex marriage and ordination. Some fear a long-brewing church divide.
“If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of the Methodist magazine Good News.
The Western Jurisdiction has a history of disobedience to church rules, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “This is a fundamentally schismatic action of the Western Jurisdiction declaring it no longer wants to live in unity with the rest of our denomination,” wrote John Lomperis, the institute’s UMC action director. “If [Oliveto] is no longer Methodist in belief, she would have more integrity to find another faith community, rather than breaking the promises she chose to make to us.”
United Methodist bishops are elected by five jurisdictional conferences, and any elder in good standing is eligible. Some argue sexual orientation should not disqualify someone from being in “good standing.”
Oliveto is a pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif. In 1964, Glide helped create the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, an organization intended to enlist religious leaders for LGBT advocacy. Oliveto has made headlines before for controversial behavior. In 2015, she made a statement she said was against Islamophobia by holding a sign saying, “We are all Muslims.” She has also supported abortion, publicly criticized the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and long officiated same-sex marriages.
Oliveto also was not the only openly gay minister nominated for a bishop’s post in the UMC this year. Two others, the Rev. David Meredith and the Rev. Frank Wulf, were also nominated in early June in other jurisdictions.
In recent years, many mainline Protestant denominations that once condemned same-sex wedding ceremonies and the ordination of gays have changed stances. The Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have all voted to allow LGBT pastors and same-sex weddings.
Pressure to make the UMC alter its stance on same-sex marriage and ordination has increased since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing gay marriage last summer.
After the Methodist global meeting in May, reports spread that the denomination might ultimately divide; the UMC has discussed separating from more conservative churches in Africa and Asia.
Chris Ritter, pastor at Geneseo First United Methodist Church in Geneseo, Ill., wrote that everyone was to blame for the potential schism: “To frame what is happening as either a conservative takeover or a progressive temper-tantrum would be to both miss the point and wallow in the sort of self-indulgent blame-shifting that is so common in any divorce. … We leaders allowed the church to arrive at this place both by sins of commission and omission. In spite of some notable successes, we have poorly represented Jesus together.”

7/28/2016 8:36:40 AM by Ciera Horton, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

DNC features Planned Parenthood, talk of ‘glass ceiling’

July 28 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Talk of Hillary Clinton’s Methodist roots, an address by Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards and discussion of Clinton’s becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party were among the newsworthy events July 26 at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia.

Screen capture from YouTube
Former President Bill Clinton told DNC delegates Hillary Clinton “got her introduction to social justice” from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech.

On the day delegates officially nominated Clinton, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, delivered a keynote address chronicling their life together and her record of public service, including its religious influences.
“Hillary got her introduction to social justice through her Methodist youth minister, Don Jones,” Bill Clinton said. “He took her downtown to Chicago to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak, and he remained her friend for the rest of his life.”
In the realm of social justice, Bill Clinton said, his wife went on to help strip tax exemptions from segregated private academies in the South, serve children with disabilities, advocate legislation to promote adoption and stand for women’s rights as well as so-called homosexual and transgender rights.


The Democratic Party Platform adopted by delegates July 25 states, “We believe unequivocally ... that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion – regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
Richards, leader of America’s largest abortion provider, was also among Tuesday’s DNC speakers and said Planned Parenthood “trusts Hillary Clinton.”
“She will always stand up for Roe v. Wade,” Richards said, “and the right of every woman to access a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter her economic status.”
In contrast to Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence “say they’ll defund Planned Parenthood,” Richards said.
Trump also has “pledged to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and undo decades of progress,” Richards said.
Bruce Ashford, a cultural commentator and provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press he “can’t comment on Hillary Clinton’s spirituality” because he “can’t see her heart.” But he said of her Methodist affiliation, “I hope that her spirituality will help her recognize that freedom of choice ends where innocent human life begins,” a reference to Clinton’s support of abortion rights.
Ashford objected to Richards’ appearance as a DNC speaker and to the party platform’s statements on abortion. He referenced undercover videos released last year by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of organs from aborted babies.
“After video revelations that [Planned Parenthood] is creatively recycling babies’ body parts after aborting them,” Ashford said, “it adds insult to injury to feature Cecile Richards on the DNC [speakers’] platform. The DNC needs to change their [party] platform so that they welcome unborn babies in life and protect them in law.”

A female president?

Hillary Clinton appeared at the end of the night’s program via live video to the sound of breaking glass and a collage of America’s 43 presidents, all of whom have been male, a reference to the metaphorical glass ceiling said to prevent women from rising to leadership positions in business, politics and other realms.
Although Barack Obama is known as the 44th president, Grover Cleveland is counted twice because he served two non-successive terms.
“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” Clinton said of her nomination. “... If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
First lady Michelle Obama struck a similar note in her address July 25, saying, “because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters – and all our sons and daughters – now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
In response to a potential Hillary Clinton presidency, The Washington Post quoted two Southern Baptist leaders in a July 20 article under the headline “God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say.”
Owen Strachan, immediate past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), told The Post, “A good number of evangelicals would probably prefer to see men lead in the political arena, and I would be one of them. Many evangelicals would say that men need to be the ones who step up and take responsibility, not simply for the home and the church, but also for the community.”
There isn’t a specific Bible passage prohibiting a woman from becoming president, Strachan said, and ultimately, a female president is permissible as long as her role in the executive branch does not cause her to neglect her biblically assigned roles as a wife and mother.
The Post said evangelicals who express uneasiness about a female president cite Bible passages like Eve’s creation as Adam’s helper in Genesis 2 and the implication in Judges 4 that it was less than ideal for Deborah to lead Israel.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told The Post most evangelicals care about candidates’ policies more than their gender. He added, “I think in general terms, there is a good reason why men tend to lead in these positions. I think embedded in creation is a natural tendency” toward male leadership.
Current CBMW President Denny Burk told BP there are differing opinions regarding a female president within the evangelical movement known as complementarianism – a position stipulating the fundamental equality of men and women as well as a distinction between their roles in the church and home.
“The Bible is clear that the differences between male and female are part of the goodness of God’s creation and that those differences have specific applications for leadership in the church and in the home,” Burk said in written comments. “The applications outside of home and church leadership are a little more inferential than explicit in Scripture.
“That is why you have evangelical complementarians on both sides of this question. Complementarians agree with one another at the principle level but then have different views on how the principle should be applied outside the two domains explicitly addressed in Scripture – the church and the home,” Burk said.

7/28/2016 8:36:03 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Islamic State group kills priest in Western church attack

July 28 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Islamic State jihadists slit the throat of an elderly Catholic priest who was celebrating Mass in Normandy, France, early July 26, marking the terrorist group’s first known attack on a church in the West, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Screen capture from Fox News
The murder of 85-year-old Catholic priest Jacques Hamel while he celebrated Mass July 26 in Normandy, France, marks the first time ISIS has attacked a church in the West.

In the knife attack just before 10 a.m. in the rural community of Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray, two men forced 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel to his knees, murdered him and filmed themselves making comments in Arabic while dancing around the altar, a nun who witnessed the attack told AP.
An 86-year-old man was wounded during the Mass attended by one other parishioner and three nuns, the AP reported. The attackers took two hostages as human shields before being killed by police.
Intelligence experts called the attack a major shift for the terrorists who are targeting nations active in a U.S.-led coalition against the group in Iraq and Syria.
Haras Rafiq, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank, said the Islamic State group (also known as IS, ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is speeding a “global jihadist insurgency.”
“What these two people today have done is [shift] the tactical attack to the attack on Rome,” he told AP, “an attack on Christianity. ... This is going into a house of God. This is attacking and killing a priest. ... We’ve been talking about the danger of a global jihadist insurgency. This is what it looks like.”
Daniel Shoenfeld, an analyst with the Soufan Group security intelligence service, called the attack “a shot directly at Western Christianity. It’s this effort by the Islamic State and their supporters to drive a further wedge between broader Western society and Muslims,” Shoenfeld told AP.
French President Francois Hollande called the attack a “profane” act against the Republic of France.
Police identified one of the attackers as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, a local native who had been arrested on preliminary terrorism charges after trying twice to travel to Syria using family members’ identity papers. Kermiche had been under house arrest, but committed the attack when his surveillance bracelet was deactivated, as it was a few hours daily during a surveillance agreement, the AP said.
The other attacker was not identified. Together, the two men had three knives, several fake explosives and a kitchen timer wrapped in aluminum foil. One person, believed to be a 16-year-old minor, was arrested in the investigation related to the crime. The IS group is known to have recruited fighters from the area.
Hamel had served the parish for a decade and was described by diocesan official Philippe Maheut as “always ready to help. His desire was to spread a message for which he consecrated his life,” Maheut told AP. “And he certainly didn’t think that consecrating his life would mean for him to die while celebrating Mass, which is a message of love.”
According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, IS killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in 2014 and more than 20,000 in combat. IS has killed more than 1,200 people outside of Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to a New York Times analysis.
7/28/2016 8:35:28 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

8 Nepalese Christians arrested for proselytizing

July 28 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service

Eight Nepali Christians arrested in June, including one pastor and two teachers, could soon be tried for trying to proselytize children.

International Mission Board photo

The Christians were working in Dolahka District, in northern Nepal, a part of the nation hard hit by the 2015 earthquakes. Authorities arrested them June 8 for distributing religious literature to children in an attempt to convert, a violation of the anti-conversion statute in the 2015 constitution, according to Asia News. Officials tortured the Christians while they were in custody, according to Asia News’ sources.
Prakash Pradhan, principal of Mount Valley Academy, a local private school, denied the group tried to convert anyone. The group only handed out materials to Christian students who requested them, Pradhan said.
Pastor Tanka Subedi said the accusations are based on Article 26, paragraph three of the new constitution. Subedi is the leader of Nepal’s Religious Liberty Forum and co-chairman of the Nepal Christian Society.
“Based on the constitution, the government has decided to ban all projects that have the nature of proselytizing, which will paralyze most Christian activities in Nepal,” Subedi said by email.
Nepal adopted its new constitution on Sept. 20, 2015, outraging Hindu nationalists by remaining an officially secular nation. The nation used to be a Hindu monarchy. But Subedi said the new constitution’s impact “is just becoming visible,” and the Christian minority is living in confusion.
“The constitution in itself created a confusion on whether Nepal is a secular state or Hindu state called secular,” Subedi said.
The arrests don’t bode well for religious freedom in the country, William Stark, International Christian Concern regional manager for South Asia, told Worthy News.
“Last year, many were concerned when Nepal adopted its new constitution that included the controversial Article 26,” he said. “Christians feared that this article would be a weapon used to stop the growth of the Christian community. Today, Nepalese Christians have seen their fears realized.”
In 2015, religious rights groups, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), condemned the constitution’s wording. CSW warned it “fails to allow for choosing and changing one’s faith ... as a matter of individual rights, as required and guaranteed by international treaties.” Muslims, also a minority in Nepal, joined Christians in expressing concern over the new constitution’s conversion ban.
Although the accused Christians don’t have a trial date yet, courts are preparing charges, Asia News reported. Hindu nationalists want the government to impose the harshest sentence possible.
According to UCA News, the country’s new criminal code (which is not yet law) “proposes five years of imprisonment and a penalty of 50,000 rupees for anyone found guilty of converting a person from one religion to another.”
Subedi called the arrests unfair and insisted officials should not pursue charges. A democratic country which is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “should not be charging people for distributing books,” he concluded.
This is the second time this year Nepal’s government has angered Christians. In April, it removed Christmas from the calendar of official national holidays, Barnabas Fund reported. Although officials claimed they were trying to reduce the overall number of holidays, Christians perceived it as an attack on their religious rights.
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7/28/2016 8:34:50 AM by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Bicycle ministry steering lives toward recovery

July 28 2016 by Eric Reed and Morgan Jackson, Illinois Baptist

“Pastor Hurricane! Pastor Hurricane! Me next!” a 9-year-old redhead shouted.

Photo by Eric Reed
Pastor Jeffrey Gee (left) looks on as recently released inmate Gene works on a bike at Hurricane Memorial’s workshop.

“That’s not his name, Dominic! That’s his church,” the boy’s mother chided. “He’s Pastor Gee.”
“Me, me, Pastor Gee!” Dominic chanted. He wanted his turn on the bicycle training path.
On a warm day behind the Herrin House of Hope soup kitchen and thrift shop, pastor Jeffrey Gee of Hurricane Memorial Baptist Church in Herrin, Ill., and several volunteers taught children bike safety, complete with helmets and a course lined with orange traffic cones. The bikes they rode were second-hand, but they had been completely repaired and spruced up in the church’s bike shop. It’s all part of Gee’s plan to keep the kids out of trouble, and at the same time teach former convicts a trade to keep them from returning to prison.
By Gee’s calculations, a fourth of Herrin’s population “has been in jail for at least one day,” said Gee, “many for a year or two.” That’s believable in a state that has 45,000 people in prison right now. This fact led the Hurricane church to start a “re-entry ministry” five years ago. Today their outreach to former prisoners includes a 12-step program, gardens, housing, and their ever-expanding bicycle shop.

World of wheels

The basement under the sanctuary of Hurricane Memorial is packed with bicycles, a hundred or more in rows and rows. Gee buys them at police auction – stolen and broken bikes that can’t be reunited with their owners – and brings them to the workshop. New repairman Gene had one turned upside down on a worktable. In his 50s, Gene is one of four men recently released from prison who live in the church’s former parsonage, and who work on the bikes.
Hurricane Memorial has a big vision for Gene and others like him. The pastor characterizes his congregation as a neighborhood church. With 80 members, “we’re really just a small church,” he noted, “but we do a lot.”

Photo by Eric Reed
Reintegrating into society is difficult for many newly released prisoners. More than half go back to jail. Pastor Jeffrey Gee (second from right) and Hurricane Memorial Baptist Church want to give them a fresh start with job skills, a purpose, and a place in the community.

“When I first encountered what Hurricane Memorial has done under Pastor Gee’s leadership, I was struck at how much ministry to the community they were doing as a small church,” said Stephen Williams, one of Illinois Baptist State Association’s zone consultants for southern Illinois. It doesn’t take a big church to have a big impact.
The parsonage serves as a halfway house, giving the people who stay there time to get re-integrated into society. With the bike shop, as well as an organic garden and greenhouse, there is no shortage of work to be done.
The bike program allows volunteer workers to prove that they can show up for work faithfully. They earn a reference in order to get a paying job. And they can choose and fix their own bicycle, a means of transportation to a future job.

The road to recovery

Keeping these men from returning to prison is a considerable challenge.
In Illinois, 51.7 percent of former inmates are sentenced for later offenses and are back in jail within three years – higher than the national average. A Pew Research study shows if Illinois could cut its recidivism (return) rate by 10 percent, the state would save $40 million. More important, lives would be changed.
Gee and Hurricane Memorial Church are doing their part.
In addition to teaching work skills, the church offers a group meeting to help people stay clean and sober. Their Celebrate Recovery ministry offers a place to find biblical truth and community with those facing similar struggles. The 12-step program geared toward all “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” is based on principles from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a national ministry started by pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church in California with chapters in local churches.

Photo by Eric Reed
Bike shop worker David helps a girl with her helmet at a bike safety class at Hurricane Memorial.

In May, Gee led “Celebrate Recovery Sunday,” conducting the morning service as if it were any other Celebrate Recovery night. The aim was to get the church members on board with the ministry, and to let them see how beneficial it can be for people struggling with addictions. For this small congregation, “Pastor Hurricane” continues stirring up ministry activity.
In just over a year, the bike team has repaired and distributed more than 100 bicycles free of charge. Gee hopes to open another shop in Marion about 12 miles away, making more bicycles available to kids and to adults who need transportation to work. “If you see an adult riding a bike around Herrin or Marion,” Gee said, “it’s probably one of ours.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by editor Eric Reed and intern Morgan Jackson of the Illinois Baptist,, the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)

7/28/2016 8:34:12 AM by Eric Reed and Morgan Jackson, Illinois Baptist | with 0 comments

Felony charges dropped over baby body parts videos

July 27 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

All criminal charges have been dismissed against two investigators who posed as procurers of aborted baby body parts in undercover videos of interactions with Planned Parenthood executives.

Photo by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN
David Daleiden (center), with attorneys Peter Breen (left) and Jared Woodfill, exits the Harris County Courthouse after charges were dropped against the Center for Medical Progress founder in his investigation of Planned Parenthood.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office in Houston dropped charges July 26 against Center for Medical Progress (CMP) founder David Daleiden and his CMP coworker Sandra Merritt, who had sought to show in secretly recorded videos that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from the sale of aborted baby tissue.
Daleiden and Merritt had been charged with tampering with a governmental record by using false identifications to enter Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, based in Houston, and faced up to 20 years in prison for the felony. But prosecutors dropped the charges in advance of a 9 a.m. hearing when attorneys for Daleiden and Merritt had planned to submit a motion to dismiss the accusations.
CMP said on its website today: “The dismissal of the bogus, politically motivated charges ... is a resounding vindication of the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists, and also a clear warning to any of Planned Parenthood’s political cronies who would attack whistleblowers to protect Planned Parenthood from scrutiny.”
Planned Parenthood “tried to collude with public officials to manipulate the legal process to their own benefit, and they failed,” CMP said.
Separate misdemeanor charges of attempting to purchase human organs were dismissed June 14. Daleiden and CMP continue to face federal racketeering lawsuits filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The Harris County charges were filed in January, months after CMP released videos garnered from a 30-month investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program.
The release of the videos resulted in a national outcry and congressional hearings regarding Planned Parenthood’s handling of aborted babies. Federal law prohibits the sale of aborted fetal issue for profit, allowing compensation only for the cost of transporting such tissue to research facilities, according to news reports.
Attorneys for 27-year-old Daleiden and Merritt, 62, said the indictments against the pair were bogus.
Peter Breen, a Thomas More Society attorney who represented Daleiden, told Life Site News that the “meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought. Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”
Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver, Merritt’s attorney, said in a press release, “We celebrate this victory for Sandra Merritt as she did nothing wrong. She exposed the sale of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood and today she has been vindicated.” The indictment “was politically-motivated and should never have been filed in the first place.”
CMP stands by its undercover videos as proof of Planned Parenthood wrongdoing.
“A year after the release of the undercover videos, the ongoing nationwide investigation of Planned Parenthood by the House Select Investigative Panel makes clear that Planned Parenthood is the guilty party in the harvesting and trafficking of baby body parts for profit,” CMP said.
A Harris County grand jury’s investigation led to indictments against Daleiden and Merritt, but Planned Parenthood has not been charged with a crime. Instead, official investigations conducted in more than 10 states, including Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Missouri and Michigan, resulted in no criminal findings against the abortion provider, National Public Radio has reported.

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7/27/2016 8:56:24 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Black pastors attend prayer & listening session

July 27 2016 by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Nearly two dozen black pastors met with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) Executive Director Jim Richards and convention staff for a prayer and listening session on racial reconciliation amid national tensions stemming from black men being killed by police in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn., as well as gunmen killing police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Photo by Keith Collier
Terry Turner, former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, leads a prayer time during a listening session with black pastors at the SBTC building in Grapevine July 19.

Richards invited the SBTC pastors to discuss ways the convention can assist churches of all ethnicities in working together for racial reconciliation in their communities.
“Whether it’s racial justice, whether it’s law and order, whatever the perspective is from [our] churches, we need to help them see what your concerns are, what your heart is, and how we can help our churches minister in the current environment,” Richards said.
Dante Wright, SBTC vice president and pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, opened the session by sharing his views on the Black Lives Matter movement, comparing and contrasting it with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Wright explained that he does not see Black Lives Matter at its core as a group that hates cops or promotes violence but one that seeks to replicate aspects of the Civil Rights movement and voices legitimate concerns about police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system.
At the same time, Wright said, one of the major differences between the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter is that the latter “has eliminated religious leaders, they have eliminated biblical principles.”
Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church and former SBTC president, agreed, noting that Black Lives Matter has a variety of voices, some positive and some negative.
“Society doesn’t know what to believe; everybody’s caught up in whether it’s good or it’s bad. ...  [Black pastors] have to have the voice that overshadows the negative voices,” Turner said.
Prior to leading one of several prayer times throughout the July 19 meeting, Turner thanked the pastors in attendance, noting God’s sovereignty in the midst of chaos.
“We’re caught up in the midst of turmoil and trauma in our society, but it has not caught God unaware,” Turner said, noting that the tragic events and racial tensions have been used by God to provide a forum for discussing solutions.
“It allows us to deal with some of the racial issues that have been swept under the carpet for over 100 years in our society,” Turner said.
Pastors expressed their frustrations and concerns related to racial injustice and inequality that still pervade American culture in sometimes subtle as well as sometimes volatile ways. At the same time, they discussed ways their churches are seeking to engage in racial reconciliation within their communities.
Jack Crane, pastor of Truevine Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, shared how his church held a prayer meeting following the police shootings in Dallas and invited local police officers so they could pray for them.
“If we’re on the same team, then it should be the norm in the church for all of us to come together and say we stand for one cause,” Crane said.
Donald Burgs, pastor of Alief Baptist Church in Katy, said solutions too often are sought reactively instead of proactively. His church has pledged to be a community partner with the Katy police department.
“When you meet with the police chief and mayor in your community, you are not asking for anything; you are sharing what your church membership is going to be as a community partner.”
For Alief Baptist, this has included dialogue with the police department on the value of body cameras and de-escalation training for officers as well as compliance procedures for citizens. Additionally, men in the church have offered to be “boots on the ground,” mentoring young black men who are repeat offenders.
Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship and president of the SBTC African-American Fellowship, challenged pastors to be intentional about creating a multicultural church with staff and leadership of varying ethnicities. Recognizing it’s “easier said than done,” he said this approach ultimately “builds relationships in the congregation” and allows the pastor to de-escalate tensions in the congregation during difficult times.
“It takes a long time to build relationships cross-culturally, and it’s hard work,” Mathews said. “You have to know people and build relationships with people before you get to some of these volatile areas or you’ll end up building barriers instead of bridges.”
Bryant Pearson, founder of Bowtie Boys Mentoring Program in Garland, said churches must get involved in the educational and economic systems because much of racism stems from economic disparity. He said he seeks to get police involved in the lives of young children so mutual respect is built between them.
Wright agreed with Pearson about the cyclical nature of poverty and the criminal justice system, which is why the church he leads has opened up a barber shop, beauty shop and daycare center to provide jobs to those with criminal records.
E.W. McCall, a longtime pastor in California and currently a specialist in African American ministry with SBTC, encouraged fellow pastors to be “system savvy” by using their influence for God’s glory and speaking out against government laws and policies that contribute to inequality and racial tensions. He also challenged pastors to preach the gospel unashamedly as the only hope for reconciliation.
McCall reminded the pastors of the need for them to “show up” at convention meetings and “pay up” through their church’s participation in the cooperative program. “We are the convention,” he said. “It’s the theology of presence – I need to see you guys that’s here today at these statewide meetings.”
Other solutions discussed during the meeting included black pastors building friendships with pastors of other ethnicities in their communities and looking for multiethnic worship opportunities such as swapping pulpits with another pastor. The pastors also asked for the state convention to provide future opportunities for pastors of all ethnicities to dialogue with one another in small-group settings to find solutions for racial reconciliation.
Richards concluded the meeting by promising to fulfill this final request of black and white pastor discussion forums “sooner rather than later.” He issued a challenge for the black pastors present to build relationships with white pastors in their communities and bring them to the meetings.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/27/2016 8:49:18 AM by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

DNC abortion stance provokes pro-life Democrats

July 27 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Despite the Democratic Party’s adoption July 25 of a platform calling, for the first time ever, for direct taxpayer funding of abortion, a pro-life group within in the party is laboring at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to shift Democrats’ stance on sanctity of life issues.

In related news, Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a USA Today op-ed coauthored with a former aide to President Obama, that the Democratic platform’s unprecedented pro-choice stance is “a foreboding sign for American civic life.”
With delegates gathered in Philadelphia amid tension between supporters of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her chief rival Bernie Sanders over leaked emails showing DNC staff attempted to undermine Sanders’ campaign, a group called Democrats for Life of America wants to focus convention-goers on abortion-related issues. This week, the group is manning an exhibit and hosting a reception honoring John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s pro-life Democratic governor.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told Baptist Press (BP) pro-abortion stances and rhetoric are “hurting the party.”
“If we unite, we can take the party back,” Day said. “We can reduce support for abortion. We can support pregnant women. We really need those [pro-life] Democrats to start coming out and having their voices heard and stop hiding.”
Democrats for Life also is sponsoring a billboard along Interstate 95 near the convention site that reads, “One in three Democrats is pro-life. Open the big tent.”

Photo by Kristen Day
Democrats for Life of America hopes to convince delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week to make more room for pro-life views in their party.

Based on the party platform, however, the tent appears decidedly small when it comes to social issues. Among its planks, the platform:

  • calls for appointing judges who “will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”
  • proposes overturning the Hyde Amendment, federal legislation that has prohibited federal funds from being used to directly pay for abortions since 1977.
  • supports repeal of the “global gag rule” – which prevents non-governmental organizations that receive federal funding from promoting elective abortion in foreign countries – and the Helms Amendment – which stipulates that foreign assistance funds may not be used to perform or promote elective abortion.
  • Opposes efforts to withdraw federal funding from Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider.

Day noted that Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was seated next to potential first gentleman and former President Bill Clinton Monday night. Abortion activists like Richards have used their considerable influence to convince party leaders of the erroneous notion that being pro-choice earns votes, Day said.
Richards “has quite a lot of influence, and she’s killing the party,” Day said. “Her mission” of promoting abortion on demand “is hurting the party. It might take some more devastating losses for us to realize it.”
In a July 26 Los Angeles Times op-ed coauthored with Fordham University ethics professor Charles Camosy, Day argued that “radical support for abortion rights has been proven to drive away voters” in presidential swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Abortion advocacy, she told BP, is a major reason Democrats have lost control in 66 of 99 state legislative chambers, including all legislative bodies in the South.
According to a survey this month by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, 51 percent of Americans self-identify as pro-choice, but a full 78 percent “support substantial restrictions on abortion and would limit it to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy,” reported. Sixty-two percent of Americans and 44 percent of Democrats oppose using taxpayer funding for abortions.
By Day’s count, 60 percent more Democrats are pro-life than voted for Sanders in all of the nation’s presidential primaries combined.
“There’s a lot of frustration among Democrats” regarding “how far the party has taken this issue,” Day said of abortion rights. “I did not expect people embracing and welcoming [Democrats for Life] this much” at the DNC, “given the way the platform went.”
Moore’s July 24 USA Today op-ed argued that repealing the Hyde Amendment isn’t “good for Democrats, or for Democracy.”
“For the past 25 years,” Moore and coauthor Michael Wear wrote, “the Democratic Party, at least rhetorically, acknowledged that compelling taxpayers to fund abortions was a step too far in the culture wars. If the call to repeal the Hyde Amendment remains in the Democratic platform, that era is officially over. A party that calls for government funding of abortion does not merely disagree with pro-life Americans, but wants to implicate them through their government of supporting what they believe is a moral evil.”
Among its non-abortion-related planks, the Democratic platform:

  • applauds “last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people – like other Americans – have the right to marry the person they love.”
  • vows to “oppose all state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals, including legislation that restricts the right to access public spaces.” It adds, “We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.”
  • states that Democrats “are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East.” The platform vows to “do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.”
  • supports “removing the Confederate battle flag from public properties, recognizing that it is a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future. We will push for a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.”

Washington post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel explained that “candidates are not bound to the party platform. Yet the platform is important as a measure of where the party assembled stands. For citizen movements, the platform can provide an important measure to challenge Democratic Party candidates and state and local officials.”

7/27/2016 8:45:00 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pokémon Go party draws 6 gamers to Christ

July 27 2016 by Alex Sibley, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

When viewed through the otherworldly lens of “Pokémon Go,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) is home to three “gyms,” or virtual meeting places, and nearly three dozen “Pokéstops,” or landmarks.

SWBTS photo
Pokémon enthusiasts trekked to Southwestern Seminary for a “lure party” at the Texas campus, which is home to three Pokémon “gyms,” or virtual meeting places, and nearly three dozen “Pokéstops,” or landmarks.

Thus, numerous Pokémon “trainers,” or participants – enthusiasts who wouldn’t otherwise trek to a seminary campus – have made their way to SWBTS as they play the game.
Realizing the unique opportunity for outreach, seminary students and faculty hosted a “lure party” at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus July 19.
SWBTS set off 80 Pokémon “lures” over a two-hour period, drawing roughly 200 people from the community, reflecting Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 4:19 that His followers be “fishers of men.” Southwesterners engaged the lost with the gospel and, as a result, six Pokémon players professed faith in Christ.
“Unlike any other time that we have done outreach in either the community or any type of mission trip, this was the rare opportunity where we didn’t have to go find people, but they were coming to us,” said Joshua Clayton, a master of divinity student who organized the event “to seize the moment and strategically utilize the game for evangelism.”

SWBTS photo
M.Div. student Heather Mentz speaks with Angel, a Pokémon enthusiast who made a profession of faith in Christ during Southwestern Seminary’s “lure party” at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

Jonathan Baldwin, SWBTS’s housing coordinator, was among the evangelists, and he personally saw two high school students turn to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“The conversation started about the game, then transitioned into school and future college plans,” Baldwin recounted. “I took this time to share how God had saved me during my senior year of college, and I boasted in the Lord at how amazing this new life with Him is.” For Baldwin, “It is always exciting to see God save people and always refreshing to retell His story.”
A gospel tract produced specifically for the event by Southwestern stated, “Hello, Pokémon trainers! You think hunting for Pokémon is exciting? What if you were to find out that you may have just stumbled upon the greatest treasure ever known?”
With water stations placed at key locations around campus, servers offered passersby not just physical water but “living water” akin to Jesus’ words in John 4.

Photo by Neil Williams, SWBTS
Several Pokémon enthusiasts, called “trainers,” gather in their virtual world during a “lure party” at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

M.Div. student Joy Arulogun had a fruitful discussion with a group of young students at one of the stations that resulted in two professions of faith and one rededication.
At a water station on the opposite side of campus, master’s degree students Heather Mentz in music and Mark Becker in biblical counseling and Ph.D. student Jessica Wan spoke with three young men, Angel, Fransisco and Kevin. Upon hearing the gospel message, Angel prayed to receive the Lord. Though Fransisco did not respond to the invitation, he nevertheless heard the gospel while Kevin, who is already a professing Christian, was encouraged by the evangelists to continue in his faith and find a church home.
The Pokémon tract served as a foundational element in Angel’s salvation. When Mentz learned that Angel and his two friends had already received and read the gospel tract, she discerned a perfect time to engage them in spiritual conversation.
Alongside Angel’s responsiveness, Fransisco listened to everything while “his other friend Kevin [who was already a Christian] was excited to hear someone give a gospel presentation,” Mentz recounted. “He said he had tried before with Angel but always gotten stuck.

Photo by Neil Williams, SWBTS
Two Pokémon enthusiasts at Southwestern Seminary’s “lure party” navigate their cellphone-encased virtual world.

“So not only did one person come to know the Lord [Angel], but another was encouraged to continue in his faith and find a church home [Kevin] and another heard a gospel presentation and experienced the joy and excitement we all had [Fransisco].”
Mentz then enlisted the aid of Becker, since he keeps Bibles in his car to give away. When Becker met up with the group, he brought several Bibles, “which was perfect,” Mentz said, “because it meant that Fransisco and Kevin could have Bibles as well.”
Becker proceeded to begin the early stages of discipleship with Angel as Fransisco and Kevin listened. Becker told them about the parable of the treasure in the field from Matthew 13:44 in which a man sold all he had in order to buy a field containing buried treasure, “because what he was getting was so much better.”
Becker compared it to trading an entire Pokémon deck for a Magikarp – a rare Pokémon – to show that what is lost is nothing compared to what is gained, Mentz said. “He told them that [the apostle] Paul said everything was rubbish compared to knowing Christ, and I think they could tell by our excitement and expressions when talking that we meant everything we were saying.”
Evangelism instructor Brandon Kiesling, who coordinated Southwestern’s evangelism teams, noted, “When there are so many people involved with something like [Pokémon], you can’t miss the opportunity to use it for good in some way especially when the people come to us. Why wouldn’t you [seize that opportunity]?”
Watch a video recap of Southwestern’s Pokémon outreach:


7/27/2016 8:38:12 AM by Alex Sibley, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments

A light in mountains of darkness

July 27 2016 by Chris Turner, Tennessee Baptist Convention

Julissa knelt beside her daddy and urged him to get back on the donkey. He’d collapsed by the side of the road, torso in the bushes, legs and feet stretched out into the dusty mountain road.

Photo by Chris Turner
“It is easy to understand their suspicion considering that to a large degree we look like their conquerors,” said Lynn Frankland, Wrightsboro Baptist Church’s field strategy coordinator. “They’ve heard a lot of myths about us over the years. Another issue is that evangelicals have a history of showing up, creating changes, disappearing and never coming back. That’s what they expect. Part of building trust is showing them that we are committed to them.”

“C’mon Papi. We need to go home.”
But he was barely conscious and unable to move, a stupor brought on from a morning of heavy drinking.
Julissa’s plight is not that uncommon from many other children living in the isolated Andean Mountains of Peru where there is a high level of alcoholism among men. Much of the bacchanalia centers around the veneration of Catholic saints, such as Saint Ursula, who is the patron saint of the town of Viraco (vee-RAH-co), are located in the shadows of the dormant volcano, Coropuna.
Saint Ursula is uniquely recognizable. Most female Catholic saints have crowns atop their heads. Not Ursula. She wears a cowgirl hat. Legend has it that Ursula appeared to the Inca people here in the 1500s to warn them of an impending Spanish ambush. The people rallied and defeated the Spanish, solidifying Ursula’s significance in perpetuity.
Far from being a protector, however, she is a slave owner, the visual representation of the spiritual bondage that shackles these Inca descendants who are scattered like lost sheep among the massively imposing mountains. Eventually, the Spanish conquered their ancestors and imposed Catholicism as an alternative to death. Most took the deal, but more than five centuries later, if you scratch the surface of this brand of Catholicism, you find a commitment to the animistic worship of the sun, earth, moon, and stars. The Inca religion is alive and well and creates an odd mix with Catholic traditionalism that often manifests itself in these drunken celebrations that invite vast numbers from across the countryside.
“The prevailing attitude is fear,” said Greg Danford, a volunteer stateside strategy coordinator from Wrightsboro Baptist Church, working to spread the gospel in this region. Wrightsboro is one church of a small partnership of churches that have adopted this area and these people. There is currently a weak evangelical presence at best, and the few Christians here face persecution and crave discipleship.
“The fear comes from the control the priests hold over the people and from the superstition related to the mix of religions,” Danford said. “Christians who don’t participate in the rituals and celebrations face reprisals such as the irrigation water to their crops being cut off.”
Danford was part of a five-man hiking team trekking to about 10 remote villages seeking to better understand the spiritual and physical needs of the people. It’s a grueling exercise to get to these isolated locations connected by rugged trails and elevation changes of several thousand feet. Given the vastness, Danford’s team looked like a band of marching ants against the backdrop of imposing mountains.

Photo by Chris Turner
“The prevailing attitude is fear,” said Greg Danford, a volunteer stateside strategy coordinator from Wrightsboro Baptist Church, working to spread the gospel in this region. Wrightsboro is one church of a small partnership of churches that have adopted this area and these people.

But beyond the isolation, another challenge of working here is overcoming the suspicion people have of outsiders, especially Caucasians.
“It is easy to understand their suspicion considering that to a large degree we look like their conquerors,” said Lynn Frankland, Wrightsboro’s field strategy coordinator. “They’ve heard a lot of myths about us over the years. Another issue is that evangelicals have a history of showing up, creating changes, disappearing and never coming back. That’s what they expect. Part of building trust is showing them that we are committed to them.”
Information gathered on the trip will be used to develop a strategy for enhancing that commitment. The number of people professing Christ in these scattered little villages is miniscule by comparison to non-Christians. Both Danford and Frankland said that it is important to find “people of peace” who can be a foundation for both growing as disciples and becoming missionaries advancing the gospel to places and in ways stateside volunteers couldn’t.
The good news is that despite the spiritual darkness that blankets this region, there are some rays of gospel light. For instance, there is a family living in a remote area that is a bit of a crossroads between the market town of Viraco and distant villages.
All the members of the family are believers, are interested in growing in faith through discipleship training, and are interested in their home being a center for gospel advance.
And then there is Lucila Huamani (wah-MAHN-ee), a widow whose husband was the pastor of a small evangelical church in the village of Machahuay (mah-CHAH-why).
He died eight years ago but she prepares the church every week, places fresh flowers at the altar, and opens the doors for any who will come. She straightens the benches, prays, reads her Bible, and sings hymns. Many weeks Lucila is the only person present.
“I pray that God will send someone to lead the church,” she said. “And that this church will become a place that shares the truth of Jesus Christ in this entire area.”
Danford said the road ahead will be difficult because of the challenges but he also felt confident that the people were hungry to hear the gospel. It will take a consistent presence and a focused strategy, he said, and that if anyone was interested in knowing more about the needs in this area or about participating with Wrightsboro he can be contacted at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Turner is director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention and a former International Mission Board missionary served on the five-member team in Peru.)

7/27/2016 8:32:09 AM by Chris Turner, Tennessee Baptist Convention | with 0 comments

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