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Mohler to grads: Hope for gospel to ‘speed ahead’

May 25 2016 by Annie Corser, SBTS

Gospel ministers must proclaim God’s Word with the urgency of eternal consequences, said President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in his May 20 commencement address to the 2016 graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
 
During the institution’s 216th commencement exercises on the seminary lawn in Louisville, Ky., 284 master’s and doctoral students from 44 states and 15 countries received their degrees. A week earlier, a record 150 graduates of the seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College, received certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees.
 
In an address from 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 titled “That the Word of the Lord May Speed Ahead,” Mohler said ministers protect and proclaim the good news of Jesus with the hope that it would “speed ahead” in anticipation of the day of the Lord.
 

SBTS Photos by Emil Handke
Master of divinity graduates (left to right) Galin Roquet, David Sackett, S. Craig Sanders, and Jonathan Saunders recite the graduation pledge. 

“Paul’s language underlines his hope that the gospel would spread quickly to the ends of the earth,” Mohler said. “He yearns to see the Word of God, the gospel of Christ, race across the world, knowing that the day of the Lord is coming, when there will be no more days left to preach. Paul’s vision was driven by urgency and eschatology, knowing that the time is short and eternity is at stake.”
 
Mohler emphasized how the Word of the Lord would “speed ahead and be honored” in the ministry of the graduates. Mohler explained that this task is handed down through generations.
 
“You represent the hopes and dreams of Christians down through the ages, from the time of the apostles and martyrs until now … You carry our hopes for the spread of the gospel and the upbuilding of Christ’s church,” Mohler said. “In the church age, ministry is handed from generation to generation. Our humble determination and our heart’s desire must be to receive this charge and to serve faithfully – planting and watering in the fields of ministry and taking care how we build upon the foundation laid before us.”
 
Also at graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian theology and editor of “The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.” Wellum has taught at SBTS since 1999. He is the co-author of “Kingdom Through Covenant” and author of forthcoming works on the doctrine of Christ.
 
The Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was presented to Andrés Vera, a master of divinity graduate from Toronto, Canada. Vera’s wife Courtney received her master of arts degree at the commencement.
 
T. Vaughn Walker, professor of black church studies and WMU professor of Christian ministries, participated in commencement with a reading from the Old Testament. Walker, who was the first African-American professor elected to the faculty at any of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, retired after 30 years of teaching at SBTS.
 
Mohler’s address will be available in audio and video at sbts.edu/resources. A manuscript of the address, “That the Word of the Lord May Speed Ahead,” is available at albertmohler.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Annie Corser is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

5/25/2016 1:17:44 PM by Annie Corser, SBTS | with 0 comments



Prison ministry focus among pastors, churches studied

May 25 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

While most Protestant pastors visit correctional facilities and want to help prisoners and their families, their churches often lack the training or finances to run an effective prison ministry.
 
Those are among the findings of a new phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research.
 
Researchers found widespread support among pastors for the idea of prison ministry. Eighty-three percent of pastors have visited a correctional facility. And nearly all believe churches should help families of those incarcerated (97 percent) and provide care for those getting out of jail (95 percent).
 
However, many pastors have little contact with those who have been incarcerated. Half of pastors say no one from their congregation has been jailed in the past three years. A third have seen one or two people from their church go to jail. One in 6 (17 percent) says three or more attendees have been jailed in that time.
 
About a third of pastors (31 percent) say no former inmates attend their church. Another third (36 percent) have one or two former inmates in their congregation. A third (33 percent) have three or more former inmates in their church.
 
Overall, few pastors have contact with many inmates or former inmates as a normal part of their ministry, said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. So prison ministry isn’t a priority.
 
“When half the pastors haven’t had someone from their church sent to jail, then prison ministry isn’t on their ministry radar,” McConnell said.
 
The report comes at a time when incarceration rates in the United States remain at record levels. More than 2.2 million Americans are held in state and federal prisons or local jails, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. That’s more than in any other nation in the world.
 
More than a third (36 percent) of inmates in state and federal prisons are African-American, according to the Department of Justice.
 
Those statistics have led to concerns about the high number of inmates and charges of racial disparity.
 
LifeWay Research found pastors are split on those two questions.
 
Half of pastors say the racial disparity among inmates is unjust. Four in 10 (39 percent) disagree. One in 10 (11 percent) is not sure.
 
Just under half (46 percent) say the rapid growth of the inmate population is unjust. A similar number (44 percent) disagree. Ten percent are not sure.
 
African-American pastors (78 percent) are most likely to say the rapid growth in the overall number of inmates is unjust. Most Methodist (67 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (72 percent) agree. Fewer Baptist (31 percent), Pentecostal (34 percent), Christian/Church of Christ (39 percent) and Lutheran (45 percent) pastors hold that view.
 
African-American pastors (88 percent) are also most likely to see racial disparities among inmates as unjust. Most Methodist (73 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (75 percent) pastors agree. Fewer Baptist (34 percent), Pentecostal (43 percent), Church of Christ/Christian (40 percent) and Lutheran (56 percent) pastors agree.
 

Faithful volunteers are key

Karen Swanson, director of the Institute for Prison Ministries at Wheaton College, said pastors often don’t know how to start ministering to inmates.
 
Other ministries, like distributing school supplies to kids or volunteering at a food pantry, are relatively easy to start.
 
Ministering to inmates and their families is more difficult, she said, requiring special training and often a long-term commitment from volunteers.
 
About two-thirds of pastors cite a lack of training (62 percent) or volunteers (65 percent) as barriers to their church helping inmates and their families. Forty percent say they do not know where to start. Three in 10 (29 percent) say their church has too many other ministries. One in 5 (21 percent) doesn’t see a need for such ministry.
 
Money is an issue as well. Half of pastors (48 percent) say a lack of finances is a barrier to ministry. A recent report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability found donations to prison ministries declined 6 percent from 2011 to 2014.
 
When churches do have a prison ministry, it is often run on an informal basis.
 
Sixty-one percent of pastors say individual church members minister to families of inmates. Forty-five percent say church members minister in correctional facilities. Fifty-eight percent say church members help those leaving correctional facilities.
 
Swanson hopes more pastors will consider getting their churches involved in prison ministry. They may be surprised, she noted, to find the ministry hits close to home.
 
“The mission field is in your backyard,” she said. “Almost every county has a jail. And almost all prisoners are going to return home.”
 
McConnell said churches will face an uphill challenge to grow their prison ministries.
 
“These are messy, long-term ministries,” he said. “You really have to demonstrate biblical faithfulness to be involved with them. It’s a lot easier to pick a ministry where there are quick rewards, but you would miss out on the opportunity to impact families and communities.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted March 9-24, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size and black Protestant denominations. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 2.5 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
 
The study was sponsored by the Institute for Prison Ministries, Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Wheaton College; Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association, Assemblies of God; and the Crossroad Bible Institute.
 
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

5/25/2016 1:07:30 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Baptists praise Methodist reversal on abortion

May 25 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist leaders hailed the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) reversal of its support for abortion rights at its latest conference – a step taken by the Southern Baptist Convention decades before.
 
Delegates to the UMC’s General Conference, held every four years, voted to remove the denomination’s entities from an abortion rights coalition it had helped found more than four decades earlier and approved the deletion of a 1976 resolution that affirmed the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
 
On another hot-button issue, however, the General Conference – which met May 10-20 in Portland, Ore. – voted to postpone action on homosexuality.
 
The UMC was a founding member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) in 1973, the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on abortion. The proposal, approved May 19 in a 425-268 vote, described RCRC as “a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion.” The interfaith coalition of about 40 organizations supports the right to partial-birth and sex-selection abortions.
 
On May 20, the delegates voted 445-310 to defeat an effort to reaffirm the 1976 resolution, which said abortion may sometimes be advisable and endorsed the Roe ruling. In that decision, the high court legalized in conjunction with a companion opinion the right to an abortion for any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press, “Christians of all denominations should praise God for the United Methodist Church’s historic repudiation of abortion. This is good news for orthodoxy, for the unity of the Body of Christ, and for the vulnerable unborn and their mothers.
 
“There’s a long way to go,” Moore said in written comments, “but we should give thanks for this moment and continue to pray that the church of Jesus Christ would be a stalwart advocate for life and human dignity.”
 
Two Southern Baptist academics recalled the reversal in the SBC when praising the United Methodist decisions.
 
C. Ben Mitchell, provost and professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said, “We gladly affirm the conference’s decision to distance itself from RCRC, and we joyfully celebrate the move towards a more biblically faithful stand on the life issues.
 
“Southern Baptists will remember that we were also on the wrong side of the pro-life divide in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We welcome our brothers and sisters into the fold,” Mitchell told BP in written remarks. “We happily join hands with all people of good will who advocate for the sanctity of human life from womb to tomb.”
 
Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, said in written comments for BP, “Evangelicals should be heartened to see that the United Methodist Church took decisive steps away from its former endorsement of the nation’s abortion culture.
 
“This was a move that the Southern Baptist Convention once had to make, too, demonstrating that these sorts of liberal trends are not irreversible,” Kidd said.
 
The SBC and its ethics entity head were on record in the 1970s in support of the right to abortion in many cases.
 
Messengers to the 1971 SBC meeting approved a resolution that urged Southern Baptists to promote legislation that would allow abortion “under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
 
Foy Valentine – head of the SBC’s ethics entity, known as the Christian Life Commission (CLC) at the time – backed that resolution and signed onto a 1977 RCRC statement that affirmed the Roe decision and government funding for abortions. Four SBC seminary professors also endorsed the document.
 
Southern Baptists learned increasingly about the CLC’s pro-choice position and became more engaged in the pro-life movement. SBC messengers passed in 1980 the first of several pro-life resolutions, this one urging legislation or a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion except to save the life of the mother. In 1988, the SBC’s ethic entity welcomed its first fully pro-life head.
 
The UMC – with about seven million U.S. members and more than 12 million globally – trails the SBC as the second largest Protestant denomination in the country.
 
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) – which seeks the renewal of mainline Protestant denominations – commended the UMC pro-life actions. John Lomperis, IRD’s United Methodist director, called them “HUGE steps in the right direction.”
 
Regarding homosexuality, the delegates in Portland voted 428 to 405 in support of a recommendation from the UMC’s Council of Bishops to defer votes on “human sexuality” at the conference. Instead, the recommendation, passed May 18, empowered the Council of Bishops to appoint a special commission to study the UMC’s Book of Discipline for possible revision on sexual issues. The council said it may call for a meeting to address the matter prior to the 2020 General Conference.
 
The Book of Discipline – which will remain in effect in the meantime – says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and maintains marriage is only between a man and a woman.
 
The controversy regarding homosexuality threatens to split the UMC. Some UMC pastors have defied the Book of Discipline by performing same-sex weddings, and more than 100 ministers or ministerial candidates in America openly confessed they are gay as the General Conference opened, according to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS). The UMC is more conservative in Africa, and bishops there urged delegates to the meeting to remain faithful to the Book of Discipline.
 
R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast May 23, “This is a denomination that decided, yet again, not to decide. But at the same time, the exhaustion  ...  is clearly very evident, as is the threat of schism, which is very real.
 
“Was this a victory for the more evangelical wing of the church or the more liberal wing of the church? On that score, we’ll simply have to say time will tell. But neither side got what they wanted out of the 2016 General Conference,” Mohler said on “The Briefing.”
 
Kidd told BP, “We should pray that, led by traditionalist African Methodists, the United Methodist Church may also continue to hold the line on the biblical definition and practice of marriage, in spite of the labors of some gay and lesbian activist Methodists in America.”
 
The General Conference rejected efforts to pass divestment proposals seen as anti-Israel. The delegates defeated 559-167 an amendment seeking to divest from illegal settlements on occupied lands, UMNS reported. Earlier at the conference, the Finance and Administration Legislative Committee refused to back an attempt calling for divestment from companies that do business in Israel, according to UMNS.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

5/25/2016 12:59:22 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Missouri appeals court orders Baptist foundation’s return

May 25 2016 by Missouri Baptist Convention & Baptist Press staff

The Missouri Baptist Convention’s governance of the Missouri Baptist Foundation must be restored, the Missouri Court of Appeals – Western District ruled May 24.
 
The decision is among an array of court proceedings stemming from actions by breakaway trustees of the foundation, with $150 million in assets, and four other Missouri Baptist Convention entities in 2000-2001.
 
The appeals court ruling, announced by Chief Judge Alok Ahuja, upholds all facets of an October 2014 judgment by the Circuit Court of Cole County ordering the restoration of foundation governance to MBC-elected trustees.
 
The foundation appealed the trial decision to the Missouri appeals court, which heard arguments in September 2015 and handed down its decision May 24 to end some 15 years of control by a self-appointed, self-perpetuating trustee board. The foundation may appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court – its final option after repeated setbacks in the lower courts.
 
The appeals court, in its ruling, stated that “the Convention has standing to challenge the Foundation’s disregard of provisions of its organizational documents which gave the Convention the right to review and approve any amendments.”
 
The court cited a 1994 charter of the 70-year-old Missouri Baptist Foundation defining it as “a charitable corporation” under Missouri statutes “to support the mission of Missouri Baptists by ‘developing, managing and distributing financial resources … as the trust service agency of the Missouri Baptist Convention.’”
 
Repercussions for the breakaway foundation included Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees voting unanimously in 2003 to remove about $877,000 in funds and re-invest those funds with the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma.
 
“We are so grateful for the court’s decisive ruling,” said John Yeats, the Missouri convention’s executive director. “We are eager to welcome the foundation back into the MBC family, and we look forward to a smooth transition in governance for the benefit of all investors.”
 
The appeals court also left standing a lower-court ruling on attorney’s fees and costs for the litigation. The trial court had ordered the foundation to pay the convention’s legal fees and costs, finding intentional misconduct on the part of the trustees of the breakaway board.
 
Church Mutual Insurance paid the MBC $5 million to settle the fee claim in January of this year.
 
In 2001 the board of the foundation broke from the MBC, changing its charter in violation of a charter clause requiring MBC consent. The purported amendments declaring its board self-perpetuating also violated MBC governing documents.
 
After months of seeking private reconciliation and even binding Christian arbitration – all of which the self-perpetuating board rejected – the MBC sought a declaratory judgment for a judge’s interpretation of the law and documents, as a last resort to return the foundation to Missouri Baptists.
 
“Our prayer, and our humble desire before God, is that the foundation’s self-appointed board would graciously acknowledge the court’s ruling and end the prolonged legal battles that have been a distraction to the MBC’s mission of transforming lives and communities with the gospel,” Yeats said.
 
The Missouri Baptist Foundation was one of five MBC subsidiary corporations which broke from the convention in 2000-2001 by changing their charters to create self-perpetuating trustee boards. The other breakaway entities are the 1,300-acre Windermere Baptist Conference Center along the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri Baptist University, The Baptist Home retirement center and Word & Way newsjournal.
 
Although the breakaway Windermere board continues to exist, the conference center deeded about 970 acres to a lender about 10 years ago in lieu of foreclosure, leading to the 2014 recovery by the MBC of 970 acres for $1.6 million, a heavily discounted price.
 
Convention court action continues for recovering Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home retirement center. Both entity’s charters contain a consent clause similar to the foundation’s, so the May 24 appeals court ruling may be vital to the resolution of the other cases.
 
The Word & Way has been replaced by The Pathway newsjournal of the convention.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of the Missouri Baptist Convention and Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.)

5/25/2016 12:55:26 PM by Missouri Baptist Convention & Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Zoo Church Village helps Arkansas women out of addiction

May 25 2016 by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News

As most would agree, life can be a real zoo – full of obstacles, struggles and temptations. But The Zoo Church Village in Dennard is helping women overcome these struggles, specifically those involving addiction.
 
The church is doing so through its new women’s ministry, Zoo Outfitters Operation (ZOO): Outfitting Women to Live Without Addiction, which began in March. The goal of the biblically based program is to help women rid themselves of their addictions to alcohol and drugs.
 
Pastor Rick Montgomery said The Zoo Church Village, a Baptist church located at the site of an old roadside zoo that has been renovated, is located in one of the most notorious locations in Arkansas for making and using methamphetamine, so the ZOO program is needed.
 
The program’s focal verse is Titus 2:12, which speaks about the command to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
 
A desire to start the ministry had been on church members’ hearts for years, he explained. The church’s property was so run down when they acquired it about five years ago that church members didn’t realize its potential, he said. But as they cleaned it up, they realized God had provided them with a location for ministry.
 
“So from the get-go, from about six months in, we planned to do this women’s ministry because it’s so desperately needed,” he said.
 
Several programs are available for men, he said, but not many for women.
 
“It’s really a need, and I think the New Testament Church is supposed to meet those needs, so we’re really excited about it,” he said.
 
“You know, if you can’t find Christ, you’re probably not going to get rid of your addictions,” he said, noting he truly believes “Christ is the answer to the problems.”
 
To participate, women must meet certain criteria, complete a series of interviews as well as a physical and a background check. Each participant must also pay an entry fee and submit to a drug test, though Montgomery clarified that the inability to pay the whole fee or pass the drug test does not necessarily prohibit one from entering the program.
 
Women are encouraged to pay a little each week, and the program also seeks supporters to give monthly amounts in order to keep the program afloat.
 
Additionally, women are required to attend church. In fact, they must attend a church service before being considered as a candidate.
 
Montgomery said the residential program is fashioned after several similar programs, such as Renewal Ranch in Conway.
 
During the six-month program, women work on the property and attend biblical classes “that direct them to live for Christ.”
 
“In the process of learning how to live for Christ, some of them will probably find Christ,” he said.
 
Without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit within a person, he said, “Some of these addictions – especially methamphetamine – I think they are just almost impossible to get over.”
 
In addition, volunteer counselors work with participants weekly.
 
Montgomery hopes that after women complete the program, the church can help them transition to a local motel for another six months so they can monitor the women as they get jobs and transition into normal life.
 
“This is just a passion for us. ... We covet everyone’s prayers,” Montgomery said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, arkansasbaptist.org. Jessica Vanderpool is a former senior assistant editor for the Arkansas Baptist News.

5/25/2016 11:57:03 AM by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments



Floyd among evangelicals to meet with Trump

May 24 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd is among perhaps 500 evangelicals and other conservatives planning to meet with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump about his faith and values at a June 21 meeting in New York.
 
Family Research Council President and Southern Baptist Tony Perkins, and United In Purpose leader Bill Dallas who partners with nearly 50 groups to uphold biblical principles in the U.S., recruited Floyd among a small group of leaders to spearhead the meeting as the steering committee.
 
Members of the steering committee will question Trump before the larger meeting, but logistics and details of the gatherings were still being communicated, Floyd told Baptist Press. The meeting is billed as an opportunity to share information, values, principles and beliefs.
 
“We want to talk to Mr. Trump humbly. He doesn’t need to hear us preach. He needs to hear our heart,” Floyd said. “We need to talk to him about what matters to us. The term evangelical is not a voting bloc. The term evangelical is a name tag, a declaration of who we are, about various truths of the Scripture.”

Photo by Matt Miller, Baptist Press
Ronnie Floyd

 

U.S. Supreme Court nomination opportunities, the sanctity of human life, religious liberty and racial reconciliation are topics Floyd hopes to address in the meeting. He expects to be able to invite other Southern Baptists to the meeting, he said, but is awaiting details.
 
Two former SBC presidents Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, are other prominent Southern Baptists already involved in the venture.
 
The meeting is not designed to endorse a particular candidate, and Floyd is not aware that any members of the steering committee have endorsed or taken sides against Trump.
 
Floyd said he doesn’t know where the meeting will lead, but encouraged Southern Baptists to continue to demonstrate love during this political season.
 
“Regardless of how passionate they are about all this, we don’t need to judge one another for where people may be and have various positions. There are many Southern Baptists who have supported Donald Trump and there may be many others who end up supporting Donald Trump, and we don’t need to cast suspicion on people that do,” Floyd said. “And if we speak out, we need to speak out about the issues, and we need to be very careful that we speak out in a spirit of love and we do so in a way that honors God.
 
Trump’s rise to the top of a crowded Republican slate of 17 candidates was unexpected, Floyd said, but evidently indicative of the mood of the nation.
 
“People can say what they want about Mr. Trump, and they can have their personal opinion, but it is unquestionable that he is speaking to the heart of the American public, or else he would have never” surpassed the other candidates, Floyd said. “America is desperate for leadership.
 
“Mr. Trump has a very demonstrative way to lead. He led with extreme boldness along the way, making statements that people thought would never be received, but they have been received, embraced and endorsed by many people, and that’s why they have voted for him so aggressively and generously.”
 
Floyd said he and other Southern Baptists have a responsibility to participate in the political process.
 
“Evangelicals cannot sit this out,” he said. “I think we have a biblical responsibility and I think we have a responsibility as citizens of the United States to participate and be a part of the political processes of this country. Men and women have died on the battle fields all across this world so that I might have that liberty and that privilege, and I will take that privilege always with humility and give honor to our nation, regardless of where our nation is, because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
 
Christians must pray, vote and be willing to treat with respect whomever God chooses as the nation’s next leader, Floyd noted.
 
“Whoever ends up being president, we must support and we must encourage in relationship to praying for them and being engaged in the processes of American life that are afforded to us by the Constitution,” he said. “Southern Baptists need to go to the polls. Southern Baptists need to be leading the way in being a part of this process. We cannot be seen as not interested or so mad we’re not going to be engaged. I just don’t think that’s healthy.”
 
Floyd expressed disappointed that neither political candidate has discussed racial reconciliation, a topic Floyd will address at the SBC’s annual meeting June 14-15 in St. Louis.
 
“We have a conversation that has been totally ignored, and it’s one of the greatest problems in the country today. I would like to ask Mr. Trump, whoever else is left and ends up running … ‘what do you plan on doing about that?’” Floyd said. “But I also want to tell them, you need to call upon the church to be the church, because in my humble opinion government is not going to solve that. The church has got to step up regardless of what the government does.”
 
United In Purpose, responsible for many logistics of the meeting, was not available for comment. The groups describes itself as working “to unite and equip like-minded conservative organizations to increase their reach, impact, and influence through the latest technology, research and marketing strategies for the purpose of bringing about a culture change in America based on Judeo-Christian principles.”
 
Among United In Purpose partners are Americans United for Life, the Iowa Association of Regular Baptist Churches, CatholicVote.org., the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Liberty University, Regent University, Tea Party Express, The Frederick Douglas Foundation, Unity Coalition for Israel and the Kitchen Cabinet.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

5/24/2016 12:08:44 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Children’s pastor arrested for sex trafficking felony

May 24 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

A sex trafficking felony charge against a children’s minister has left a 4,000-member church reeling.
 
Jason Kennedy, 46, who joined Grace Baptist Church’s staff two and a half years ago, was arrested May 19 in Knoxville – one of 30-plus individuals charged in a four-day undercover sting operation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local police.
 
The church posted a statement on its website May 20 that Kennedy had been terminated; that his background check had not shown any issues; that the church will be praying for Kennedy’s family; and that care and information will be provided “as we walk through this painful time together.”
 
Senior pastor Ron Stewart told a local TV station, “It’s sickening. There’s something in his past, evidently, and I’m not a psychologist, but I know from my experience as a pastor that the pain and hurt you had as a child sometimes comes out in strange ways as an adult.”
 
Kennedy, who is married and the father of three children, remained in a Knox County jail Monday, May 23, under $50,500 bail. An initial hearing is slated for May 31. Another minister, from nearby Oak Ridge, also was charged with felony sex trafficking in incidents that occurred within 1,000 feet of an unnamed church.
 

Photo from Knox County Sherriff’s Office
Jason Kennedy

The Knoxville News Sentinel daily newspaper, citing Kennedy’s arrest warrant, reported that he replied by text to an online ad offering sex with two females, one of whom was described as being 15 years of age. Kennedy went to a local motel, placed a $100 fee on a counter, removed his pants and was then arrested.
 
Kennedy’s arrest comes at a time when the church is marking the 100th anniversary of its founding, according to the News Sentinel. Stewart had planned to retire next month but told the church May 22 he now will postpone those plans, according to a reporter with local TV station WLVT.
 
The reporter, who attended Sunday morning worship at Grace Baptist, recounted, “Pastor Stewart discussed the importance of relying on God in the midst of a storm. In his sermon Stewart said the church is hurting and that it feels betrayed. Stewart said he spoke with Kennedy’s wife, Sabrina. He said she just wants to ask Kennedy why he solicited minors for sex.” Stewart drew his message from the Matthew 8:23-26 passage about Jesus calming a storm that had terrified His disciples on the Sea of Galilee.
 
The reporter also recounted, “During the church service one of the church leaders announced that Grace Baptist will begin providing counseling to children and adults who are suffering from Kennedy’s actions.”
 
The full statement by the church follows:
 
“We are deeply saddened by the recent events affecting our church family. The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as a result of his arrest which is in violation of the statement of ethics that he signed and church standards of moral conduct.
 
“The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church, and we have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.
 
“The children’s pastor was hired two-and-a-half years ago. The church’s background check turned up no issues that indicate any previous problem. In fact, the children’s pastor in his application affirmed that he had no issues in his background of a criminal or other nature.
 
“We want to reassure our church family that we are committed to the safety and security of our members, and especially our children. Our security system includes 78 security cameras, electronic check-in, background checks of employees and volunteers, and security officers during gatherings at the church.
 
“We are praying for the children’s pastor’s family and will continue to provide the services of our ministry to them.
 
“We want to assure everyone that we will work to keep the church family together and continue to follow the vision God has given to our church.
 
“Please know that we will be available to care and provide information as we walk through this painful time together. We thank everyone for their faithfulness and extend our love to all of our church family.”
 
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation states on its website:
 
“– In the United States, on average, every two minutes, a child is bought or sold for sex.
 
“– The average age of a child sold for sex is 13 years old.
 
“– Human Trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind Drug Trafficking.”
 
The Southern Baptist Convention has long advocated for the protection of children, adopting resolutions and offering a library of resources to assist churches in ministering to children in a safe environment.
 
Among resources are links to the LifeWay Christian Resources’ background checking service; the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website; tools from GuideStone Financial Resources; and a pastor’s search committee handbook. The SBC website also links to resources offered by the Alabama State Board of Missions, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
 
SBC LIFE, the journal of the SBC Executive Committee, published the special report “Protecting Our Children: Accepting the Responsibility, Embracing the Privilege”, which offers testimonies from the abused and professionals working to protect them, biblical exhortation, statistics and legal help.
 
The SBC, set to hold its annual meeting June 14-15 in St. Louis, has adopted four resolutions pledging to protect children from abuse, most recently the 2013 resolution On Sexual Abuse of Children.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

5/24/2016 11:55:04 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Serve others and point them to Christ, Akin tells grads

May 24 2016 by Harper McKay, SEBTS

Sent to lead? Perhaps. Sent to serve? Absolutely. These words were part of a charge given to the spring 2016 graduates of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, N.C.
 
During the May 20 commencement ceremony, President Danny Akin encouraged the seminary and college graduates to follow Christ’s model of service.

SEBTS photo
Jennifer Barnett receives her Doctor of Education diploma from SEBTS President Danny Akin and Director of Ed.D. Studies Ken Coley at the spring commencement ceremony on May 20. 

 

“The greatest person who ever lived and walked on this earth was a humble servant,” Akin said. “He got down low so that he might lift others up. And now he calls us, those who follow him, to do the same.”
 
Southeastern’s 63rd graduating class included a total of 237 students receiving 42 undergraduate, 172 graduate and 23 doctoral degrees.
 
Drawing inspiration from the life of Scottish missionary John Keith Falconer (1856-1887), Akin asked listeners to consider why a young man would leave everything behind to serve Christ in Yemen and ultimately die at an early age.
 
In quoting Falconer, Akin said, “I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light.”
 
This radical idea, according to Akin, came from none other than Jesus Christ himself. In Mark 10:45, Jesus made a promise that no other ruler or king has or could ever make. “He came to serve,” Akin said. “He came to burn the candle of his life for you and for me.”
 
After encouraging students to have ministries marked by Christ-like service and sacrifice, he turned his attention to guests who have not believed in Christ. Clearly explaining that the gospel is meant for them and forgiveness can be theirs, Akin said, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. The God who is in heaven will forgive you.”
 
Akin then sent graduates out into their ministries with words that have become a motto for every Southeastern student: “Because He came, we must go.”

5/24/2016 11:30:53 AM by Harper McKay, SEBTS | with 0 comments



Same-sex marriage advocates work to oust small-town judge

May 24 2016 by Bonnie Pritchett, World News Service

In what could be the nation’s first religious litmus test for holding a judicial post, the Wyoming Supreme Court is being asked to dismiss a small-town municipal court judge because of her biblical views about marriage. Attorneys for Judge Ruth Neely, along with a growing list of supporters, argue the efforts of an unelected state commission to remove her from office are rooted in religious bias and misinterpretation of the law.
 
In 2014, a judge overturned Wyoming’s marriage statute, allowing same-sex couples to get marriage licenses. A reporter asked Neely, the Pinedale municipal court judge and a part-time circuit court magistrate, if she was excited about performing gay weddings. In the opinion of the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, Neely gave the wrong answer: Her biblical convictions about marriage precluded her from solemnizing such a union.
 
“By adopting this extreme position, the commission has effectively said that no one who holds Judge Neely’s widely shared beliefs about marriage can remain a judge in Wyoming,” attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) wrote in their petition to the state Supreme Court.
 
Legal scholars from prominent universities, retired state Supreme Court and federal court justices, the Christian Legal Society, and Family Research Council stated in an amicus brief, “By its order and ensuing recommendation, the commission has created a de facto religious test for judicial office in Wyoming.”
 
ADF attorneys argue a contrived interpretation of state law led to the investigation. As a municipal court judge, Neely has no authority to officiate at weddings. As a circuit court magistrate, she can preside over weddings at her discretion. Neely has never been asked – and therefore never refused – to perform a same-sex wedding.
 
The judge’s religious beliefs about marriage can be the only “plausible reason” for the commission’s actions her attorneys wrote in their petition. Evidence of bias reared its head during oral arguments when “the commission’s attorney referred to Judge Neely’s church’s beliefs about marriage as ‘repugnant.’”
 
Kevin Rose, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church where Neely has been a member for 38 years, called the statement “an argument of intimidation.”
 
Three times Neely was asked to publically denounce her biblical convictions about marriage in return for dispensation. According to Neely’s testimony, reporter Ned Donovan “offered not to publish a story if she would agree to perform same-sex marriages.”
 
She declined the offer.
 
In 2015, the commission offered to forego its prosecution of Neely if she “would agree to resign both of her judicial positions, never again seek judicial office in Wyoming, admit wrongdoing, and allow the commission to publicly state that she had decided to resign in response to a charge of judicial misconduct,” her lawyers wrote.
 
Again, Neely declined.
 
In February, a week before filing their recommendation to the Supreme Court, the commission again asked Neely to publicly apologize and agree to perform same-sex marriages.
 
For the third time Neely refused.
 
“[They] have clearly targeted Judge Neely for her constitutionally protected religious beliefs and free expression,” Rose said. He was one of a few people aware of Neely’s legal battle before it was publicly disclosed in April. She met with him for counsel and prayer.
 
Pastor Tim Moyer, director of the Wyoming Pastors Network, said representatives from the 100 churches affiliated with the network met with and prayed for the judge, who lawyers said was not available for comment at this time.
 
“If Judge Neely is willing to suffer, we need to suffer with her,” Moyer said.
 
Since the public disclosure of the case, an eclectic band of supporters – from Pinedale’s LGBT residents to the Family Research Council – have rallied to the judge’s defense. 
 
Within a week of ADF’s submitting a petition to the Wyoming Supreme Court, six amicus briefs, representing millions of people, were filed with the court. Each affirmed Neely’s work ethic and Christian conviction while warning the high court of the commission’s threat to free speech.
 
Briefs were submitted by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, representing its 6,150 congregations, including Neely’s church; The National Association of Evangelicals; a dozen African-American and Hispanic ministry and public policy organizations; current and former Wyoming state legislators; the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Pinedale’s mayor and three of the four town council members.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett writes for WORLD News Service, an affiliate of WORLD Magazine, and the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

5/24/2016 11:11:19 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, World News Service | with 0 comments



Hispanic St. Louis community in Crossover plans

May 24 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Already a hub of ethnic outreach, Tower Grove Baptist Church in central St. Louis will extend the gospel to a nearby Hispanic community during Crossover.
 
A yearly evangelistic outreach, Crossover precedes the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in the host city. It will peak on Saturday, June 12, as local Baptists and volunteers from across the country conduct block parties and other community events throughout the metro St. Louis area.

Tower Grove Baptist Church

 
For Tower Grove, its Hispanic initiative will entail:

  • a 10 a.m. Sunday worship service June 12 following six days of house-to-house visits by a contingent of bilingual students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • hosting the National Baptist Hispanic Fellowship’s prayer and fellowship gathering from 2-4 p.m. that Sunday.

Elias Bracamonte, the Hispanic fellowship’s vice president and associate pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., will preach at the Sunday service and lead the afternoon Hispanic gathering.
 
Tower Grove, marking its 125th year in 2016, already is home to Burmese, Swahili and Vietnamese congregations in various parts of its building at 4257 Magnolia Ave.
 
Chris Coury, Tower Grove’s senior pastor, cited the availability of the Spanish-speaking seminarians and Bracamonte in noting that “God has brought this together” toward starting a Hispanic church.
 
“I believe God put us here to reach these ethic groups that are in this area,” Coury said of the initiative toward the nearby heavily Hispanic community called Cherokee.
 
Chad Logan, Tower Grove’s worship and education pastor and a former International Mission Board missionary in Spain and England, will lead the Hispanic service where Bracamonte will be preaching and Malena Towers of Dallas will be the featured singer in the church’s sound-equipped youth room.
 
“We will be having lunch after the service and then opening our building for the community,” Logan said. “We have a skating rink, bowling alley, game room and a gym that we will be opening up. We will have bouncy houses and children’s activities on the grounds as well.
 
“We will also be having organizations to help with the immigration process as well as health and wellness organizations providing free services for those families that need it.”
 
The bilingual seminary contingent will be among 75 Southwestern students taking an evangelism class led by instructor of evangelism Brandon Kiesling.
 

‘Awaken America’

At the subsequent National Baptist Hispanic Fellowship gathering, Bracamonte said attendees will hear from Guillermo Soriano of North Carolina, one of the organizers of the new SBC Hispanic Leaders and Pastors Network, and Ramón Osorio, national church mobilizer with the SBC North American Mission Board.
 
Soriano, consultant for North Carolina Baptists in Hispanic evangelism and discipleship, has described a vision for the network to nurture collaboration and communication among Hispanic pastors, leaders, churches, associations, fellowships, networks and organizations and with SBC entities for the fulfillment of the Great Commission with the Great Commandment.
 
Bracamonte said the Hispanic fellowship’s session in St. Louis will parallel the SBC annual meeting’s theme: “Awaken America, Reach the World” drawn from Acts 4:31.
 
“Everyone is welcome,” Bracamonte said. “We are excited to be part of Awaken America. More than ever, we need to reach out to this lost generation with unity and prayer. The National Baptist Hispanic Fellowship is thankful to be part of the missions effort to promote baptisms and Cooperative Program giving.”
 
Bracamonte added thanks to Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president, for leading Southern Baptists to be “more inclusive to [ethnic Baptists] to participate in ministry within the convention and to work together for Kingdom work.”
 
The National Baptist Hispanic Fellowship, organized in the 1980s, is the oldest Hispanic organization in Southern Baptist life. Bracamonte said its annual meeting will focus on prayer for spiritual awakening, Oct. 27-29 at Iglesia Bautista Casa de Dios in Wichita, Kan.
 
Hispanic involvement in the SBC annual meeting will heighten Sunday and Monday evenings, June 12-13, with two large-scale events:

  • the annual AVANCE dinner and celebration Sunday evening sponsored by the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources and the Executive Committee.
  • an inaugural meeting – with a dinner, TED-styled talks and panel discussion – of the new Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance on Monday evening.
5/24/2016 10:25:13 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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