Platt: No gospel drawdown despite personnel cuts

August 28 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A reduction of 600-800 International Mission Board (IMB) staff and field personnel should not decrease the board’s gospel impact worldwide, IMB President David Platt told members of the media during an Aug. 27 conference call.
“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year ... we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said. IMB leaders “want to take that cap off” and “consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go” – including business professionals funded by their secular employers, students funded by scholarships to international universities and retirees funded by their savings.
Platt’s press conference, which also included the IMB’s executive vice president, Sebastian Traeger, occurred following a town hall meeting with missionaries and staff at which IMB leaders announced a plan to balance the organization’s budget by the end of 2017. Phase one of the plan will involve offering a voluntary retirement incentive to eligible employees. Phase two will include an opportunity for other employees to “voluntarily transition into work outside the IMB,” Platt said. The issue of potential layoffs will be addressed “when necessary.”
IMB leaders will consider the ramifications of full-time missionary reduction for work among specific people groups around the globe based on the outcome of voluntary retirements and resignations, Platt said.
Personnel reduction is a “difficult” issue “to communicate with our IMB family,” Platt said. “These aren’t just figures. These are faces. These are brothers and sisters who have spent and are spending their lives in various capacities to spread the gospel among those who have never heard it.”
Traeger said no option other than personnel reduction represented a viable method to bring expenses in line with revenue. Suspending or reducing missionary appointments as well as employing alternative funding models are not “feasible” courses of action, he said. Platt noted that personnel expenses account for about 80 percent of the IMB’s budget.
For some departing employees, Platt mentioned the possibility of transitioning to work with the North American Mission Board, but he said leaders of the two mission entities have not discussed it.
“It is encouraging to us as leadership as we think through the difficulties with a step like this, but also the opportunities that are going to open up [for] work among unreached peoples in North America and work in churches in North America,” Platt said. “I trust in all kinds of ways that God will creatively and sovereignly lead and direct 600-800 people in the days to come.
“And because of our ongoing and growing partnership with NAMB, I’m certain there are possibilities that may unfold along those lines, [but] we don’t have a formal plan for integrating certain people into certain positions with NAMB,” Platt said.
Though IMB expenditures have exceeded revenue by $210 million over the past six years, the anticipated spending adjustment “is not in any way a reflection of a lack of accountability or responsibility” among past IMB leaders, Platt said. “Previous leadership put in place a plan to draw down the number of missionaries on the field over time in a way that we have now realized is not getting us to where we need to be as quickly as maybe once thought.”
Traeger said budget shortfalls have been the result of revenue projections that exceeded actual income, including projections related to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Data reported in Baptist Press and Southern Baptist Convention Annuals indicates IMB budgets projected Lottie Moon revenue equivalent to the goal even when the previous year’s Lottie Moon revenue was millions less.
For example, the projected 2015 Lottie Moon income is $180 million despite a 2014 Lottie Moon offering of $153 million. The projected 2014 Lottie Moon revenue was $175 million despite a 2013 offering of $154 million. Since 2007, projected Lottie Moon revenue in IMB budgets has exceeded Lottie Moon receipts by more than $170 million.
Traeger said Lottie Moon receipts have increased by an average of 0.6 percent annually over the past four years.
Until now, the shortfall has been overcome by using reserve funds and selling property, but that plan is no longer feasible, Platt said.
The IMB’s unrestricted net assets, which include contingency reserve funds, went from more than $256 million in 2007 to $98 million in 2014, with a low of $56 million in 2011, according to SBC Annuals.
Platt said he wants to keep disclosure of IMB financial data “as simple as possible but also as transparent as possible.”
In related news, North American Mission Board President Keven Ezell applauded the IMB’s leadership team in a statement to BP.
“David [Platt] and his leadership team are taking steps that will put IMB and Southern Baptists on a strong footing for our missions efforts,” Ezell said. “The right decisions are not always the easy ones but the next generations of missionaries and those they reach will be grateful. It’s time to look forward and move into the future which I believe, with David’s leadership, will be bright and full of God’s blessings.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


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8/28/2015 12:54:47 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘A long journey’: Josh Duggar enters rehab

August 28 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Former family values advocate and reality television star Josh Duggar entered a long-term treatment center days after he confessed marital infidelity as a customer of the Ashley Madison adultery service.
Duggar checked himself into an undisclosed treatment center Aug. 25 for an unspecified amount of time, his mother Michelle Duggar blogged Aug. 26 at
“For him it will be a long journey toward wholeness and recovery,” she wrote. “We pray that in this he comes to complete repentance and sincere change. In the meantime, we will be offering our love, care and devoted support to [Josh’s wife] Anna and our grandchildren as she also receives counsel and help for her own heart and future.”
Josh Duggar has insulted Christianity, his mother wrote.
“As parents we are so deeply grieved by our son’s decisions and actions. His wrong choices have deeply hurt his precious wife and children and have negatively affected so many others. He has also brought great insult to the values and faith we hold dear.”


It is the 27-year-old Duggar’s second time entering a treatment center for sex-related failures. In 2003, His parents checked him into a private home operated as an unlicensed, Christian treatment facility after he admitted to improperly touching five underage girls as a teenager. Four of his sisters were among those molested, it was revealed in May.
Josh Duggar’s actions have led to the cancellation of the once-popular “19 Kids and Counting” reality show on TLC and his resignation as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council family values group.
His parents continue to voice their faith and their gratitude for public support.
“During this time we continue to look to God. He is our rock and comfort. We ask for your continued prayers for our entire family,” his mother said in the latest blogpost. “We are so thankful for the outpouring of love, care and prayers for our family during this most difficult situation with Josh.”
Josh Duggar admitted to marital infidelity in an Aug. 20 post on the family website after a massive Internet hack revealed he was among some 37 million Ashley Madison subscribers. The original blogpost perhaps hours earlier also included a confession to a pornography addiction, it was widely reported, but the mention of porn was removed from the admission the same day.
“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” the revised post reads. “While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife. I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.”
In May, he admitted to news reports he molested five girls when he was 14 and 15 years old.
“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably, for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends,” he said. “I confessed this to my parents, who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities, where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”
Anna Duggar, his wife of seven years and the mother of their four children, the youngest only five weeks old, supported her husband in her last public statement about the ordeal.
Concurrent with Duggar’s May confession, his wife said on the family blog that she knows “who Josh really is – someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended. [He is] someone who had received the help needed to change the direction of his life and do what is right.”
In June, his sisters Jill (Duggar) Dillard and Jessa (Duggar) Seewald identified themselves publicly as two of the girls their brother molested.
His parents are slated to participate in an upcoming TLC documentary on child sexual abuse produced in partnership with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “Breaking the Silence” is set to air Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. Central on TLC.
(EDITORS’ NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

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8/28/2015 12:44:06 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘War Room’ resources now available

August 28 2015 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources

LifeWay Christian Resources has partnered with filmmakers Stephen and Alex Kendrick to provide churches with resources to accompany their latest film, “War Room,” which spotlights prayer, its power and purpose.
The movie, releasing in theaters Aug. 28, tells the story of a prayer warrior grandmother (played by Karen Abercrombie) who mentors a young mom (Priscilla Shirer) facing a troubled relationship with her husband (T.C. Stallings).
The impetus for the movie goes back to 2012, when Alex Kendrick, director and co-writer, said he and his brother felt led by God to “make a movie where we call the body of believers to pray” and to “fight in prayer.”
“If there ever was a time God’s people needed to plead with God for direction and intervention, it’s now,” Alex said. “We must make sure we are right with Him and seeking His involvement in our culture, government, churches and families. We’re eroding too fast on too many levels.”


The film "War Room" is accompanied by several resources from B&H Publishing Group and LifeWay Christian Resources.

The film is accompanied by several resources from B&H Publishing Group and LifeWay including a book by the Kendrick brothers titled The Battle Plan for Prayer, and a book titled Fervent by Shirer, a New York Times best-selling author who plays the lead character in the film.
Prayer Works: Prayer Training and Strategy for Kids and Peter’s Perfect Prayer Place are two children’s books written by the Kendricks.
For churches that want to go deeper in their understanding of prayer, LifeWay is releasing a War Room Bible Study and Church Campaign Kit, which includes the 5-week small group study, sermon outlines and promotional items.
“When I talk to other believers, almost all of them have something of a strategy for their finances, for their health, for their children’s education, for their retirement,” Alex said. “But if you ask them ‘What’s your strategy for prayer?’ they look at you funny. What’s your strategy for praying for your spouse, for your children, for your children’s future spouse, for your church, for the leaders of our country? The Lord, in scripture, tells us to pray for these things.”
The Battle Plan for Prayer will give readers “applications of biblical prayer with a focus on praying strategically in various areas of life,” Alex said.
“You can’t hit what you’re not aiming at,” Stephen, producer and co-writer, added. “When we pray biblically, strategically and specifically, we position ourselves to maximize the impact of our praying and to more readily see God glorified through the answers. Writing The Battle Plan for Prayer has caused me to pray with greater freedom and confidence in the Lord.”
For the Kendricks, prayer is a lifeline to the Father in their spiritual lives.
“Both Stephen and myself have increased our time with the Lord in prayer,” Alex said. “We’re also helping our families to do the same thing. We want to be warriors ready for His orders, not lukewarm believers that spend most of our time on the bench.”
“War Room” is the fifth film for the brother team, who have released a string of box office hits beginning with “Facing the Giants” in 2006.
Their last two movies opened in the Top 5, with “Courageous” hitting No. 1 on the first weekend in per-theater average.
While the Kendricks say they would love for “War Room” to be successful at the box office like their other films, that’s not their most important goal.
“Our hope and desire,” Stephen said, “is God will call our generation back to prayer for our marriages, families, nation, and our world.”
Alex said next up for him and his brother are “a little rest and a lot of prayer. God has another tour of duty for us soon, so we want to be ready.”
For more information about “War Room” resources, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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8/28/2015 12:36:31 PM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Rainer: LifeWay, at ‘hinge moments,’ moving forward

August 28 2015 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

LifeWay Christian Resources is facing “hinge moments” and decisions that will propel the organization in one direction or another, President Thom S. Rainer told trustees during the board’s Aug. 24-25 meeting.
“We are about to walk through some open doors as these hinge moments are now before us,” Rainer said. “And I think we are about to see some incredible days at LifeWay.”
The hinge moments, Rainer explained, revolve around the sale and relocation of its downtown Nashville headquarters.
Executive Vice President Brad Waggoner gave trustees a comprehensive report on the sale of LifeWay’s current campus and the move to a new location. “The decisions we are making will impact LifeWay for decades to come,” Waggoner said. “Good stewardship is driving these decisions.”


LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer reflects on 'hinge moments' during the Aug. 24-25 trustee meeting in Ridgecrest, N.C.

The sale of the 14-acre campus in downtown Nashville will be the largest real estate transaction in the history of downtown Nashville, Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay’s CFO and vice president of finance, said. Rhyne expects to close the sale in September.
After sale of the building, LifeWay employees will lease back two of the current buildings from the buyer and move all employees into those facilities while a new building is under construction, Waggoner said.
The trustee executive committee, in its June 15 meeting, approved purchase of 1.5 acres at the southwest corner of 1st Avenue South and Korean Veteran’s Boulevard in downtown Nashville for the new headquarters building. At the August meeting, the full board voted to approve the basic concept design and construction of the new office and parking facility. LifeWay expects to close on the new property this fall and move into the new facility in the fall of 2017.
Rainer asked trustees to pray for the Southern Baptist entity during this time of transition. He told trustees he is proud of LifeWay employees and how they are responding to change.
“I’m amazed at the breadth and depth of the work of those who are associated with LifeWay,” Rainer said. “It’s amazing to realize we all have a part in sharing the gospel around the world.”
Rhyne also presented a proposed 2016 LifeWay budget for $482.5 million. Trustees approved the budget, which will begin in October.
Trustees also heard reports from the vice presidents of resources, technology, finance, insights and organizational development divisions during their two-day sessions at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
In other business, the board elected Madeline Harris and José L. Ruiz to fill two trustee vacancies created by the resignations of Sandra Peoples from the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and Jay Swope from the Missouri Baptist Convention. Harris is a member of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia; Ruiz is a member of Fellowship Church in Greenwood, Mo.
Rainer introduced and welcomed eight new trustees to the board: Marie Clark, Overland Park, Kan.; Cheri Dempsay, Peoria, Ariz.; Bill Langley, Elizabethtown, Ky.; Tony McAlexander, Las Vegas; Rebecca McCoy, Hersey, Mich.; Amy Mielock, Cary, N.C.; Katherine Pope, Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Terenda Wyant, Belleville, Ill.
“This is an historic moment,” Rainer said, concluding the meeting. “Let’s not let this moment pass without understanding the magnitude of what has taken place. You have set LifeWay on a path to a great future.
“In this hinge moment, it seems God has given us an open door and it’s time to move through with courage, faith and fortitude.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/28/2015 12:30:35 PM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

USCIRF crucial to religious freedom, Moore says

August 28 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has joined a diverse collection of religious liberty advocates to urge members of Congress to reauthorize an important federal panel on global religious freedom as the deadline for doing so nears.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 85 others signed onto a letter calling for reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) by Sept. 30. The current authority for the panel expires on that date.
USCIRF – a nine-member, bipartisan panel – researches conditions for religious freedom overseas and makes policy recommendations to Congress, the White House and State Department.
In their Aug. 24 letter, Moore and his allies with the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable said USCIRF “has been vital to elevating the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.” The commission “can be counted upon to give an unvarnished view of the state of religious freedom in any given country regardless of the complexities of the bilateral relationship between our respective governments,” according to the letter.
The ERLC’s Moore said, “Religious liberty isn’t an American privilege. It’s a fundamental human right shared by every single being that has a conscience.”


Robert George, USCIRF's chairman

USCIRF “plays a crucial role in standing up for soul freedom against tyranny around the world,” he said. “My prayer is that Congress would recognize this and stand on the side of liberty by passing this bill.”
Robert George, USCIRF’s chairman, said the “dire circumstances of religious freedom across the globe” make the commission’s work “more important – and urgent – than ever.”
“It is critical that the commission be reauthorized, and reauthorized on terms that do not weaken its ability to fulfill its mission,” George said.
“I am personally deeply grateful to the member groups of the IRF Roundtable for their strong support for USCIRF’s reauthorization,” said George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. “The Roundtable and its member groups are among our greatest allies in the fight to protect religious freedom and defend victims of persecution on the basis of religion or belief.”
If Congress does not reauthorize USCIRF by Sept. 30, the commission must shut down its operations. Apart from approval of a bill reauthorizing the panel, Congress could extend USCIRF’s ability to function by including it in a continuing resolution, which is a short-term funding measure.
In their letter, the members of the IRF Roundtable called on the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to extend the commission’s authority by working for passage of the USCIRF Reauthorization Act, S. 1798.
The legislation will not only reauthorize USCIRF for six years but strengthen the commission’s “mandate and the tools at its disposal,” according to the IRF Roundtable letter to Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D.-Md. Corker is the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, while Cardin is the lead Democrat on the panel.
The signers encouraged adoption of S. 1798 rather than another reauthorization bill, the Further Independence of Religion for Security and Tolerance Freedom Act, S. 1860. They said S. 1798 “is better suited to advance freedom of religion or belief” because S. 1860 includes refugee-related provisions that are part of a debate that is unlikely to be settled in time for USCIRF’s reauthorization. The signers also said S. 1860 includes measures that “could potentially undermine” USCIRF’s work.
Like the Senate, the House of Representatives has yet to pass reauthorization legislation for the commission.
USCIRF came into existence in 1998 upon the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act by Congress and President Clinton. Evangelicals helped lead the effort to gain passage of the legislation after the widespread persecution of Christians and other religious adherents overseas gained attention in the mid-1990s.
The commission makes an annual report on global religious freedom, as well as periodic reports on particular countries. In its yearly report, USCIRF includes recommendations of governments it believes the State Department should designate as “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.
While conditions have improved in some countries through the efforts of USCIRF and the federal government, religious repression or persecution of Christians and others has continued or mounted in recent years in such countries as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and North Korea. About 77 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high levels of religious restriction, according to the Pew Research Center.
The IRF Roundtable – a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meets regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas – acknowledges its participants do not agree on many theological or political issues. They agree, however, on the significance of religious liberty, including its role as “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon, pre-emptively undermining religious extremism,” according to the Aug. 24 letter.
In addition to Moore, other individuals who signed onto the letter were Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former USCIRF member; Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement; Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign USA; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Lauren Homer, head of Law and Liberty Trust; and Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were Open Doors USA, Family Research Council, Home School Legal Defense Association, Christian Solidarity International, Coptic Solidarity, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, Uyghur American Association, Baha’is of the United States and American Humanist Association.
(EDITORS’ NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/28/2015 12:24:13 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB plans organizational ‘reset’ to ease budget woes

August 27 2015 by Biblical Recorder staff

International Mission Board (IMB) leaders announced in an Aug. 27 press release an organizational restructuring plan that will reduce personnel expenses and balance their budget. IMB’s 2014 fiscal goals fell $21 million short. Deficits totaled more than $210 million in the last six years.
The plan includes two personnel reduction phases that will be enacted through early 2016. The first phase includes a voluntary retirement incentive for qualifying employees through the end of 2015. The second phase will involve a voluntary resignation incentive for all employees along with a possible reduction of IMB personnel in 2016. IMB leaders said in a frequently-asked-questions document also released on Aug. 27, “It is expected that the 600-800 people who step aside from the IMB in the next six months will not be stepping ‘onto the sidelines of mission,’ but instead will be moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.”
IMB President David Platt said in a conference call that previously enacted budget reduction plans – like reducing the number of new missionaries sent through IMB – are “no longer viable in light of present realities. IMB can’t continue to overspend as we have.”
Personnel expenses make up approximately 80 percent of IMB’s budget, according to Platt. The number of IMB missionaries on the field hit a high mark in 2009 at 5,600, he added. To remedy budget shortfalls, previous IMB leadership enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries to 4,200. The number currently stands at 4,800.
Platt emphasized that recent decisions in no way question the decisions of previous IMB leaders. “There are no ideal steps at this point,” he added.
Sebastian Traeger
, IMB executive vice president, estimates the new financial plans will balance the budget by 2017. Platt repeatedly emphasized in the conference call the importance of maximizing IMB’s resources so the greatest number of people across the globe can hear the gospel. IMB’s organizational health is an important aspect of that mission. The changes announced, Platt said, are “for the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability. We want to be in a position where we can operate within our budget, where we are not continuing to deplete reserves.”
The full text of the IMB press release appears below.
International Mission Board (IMB) leaders have outlined a plan to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability.
The plan was presented by senior IMB leadership, including President David Platt, during an Aug. 27 town hall meeting including missionaries and staff, who collectively attended either in person or through digital communication. IMB trustees were informed of the plan during their Aug. 25-26 board meeting in downtown Richmond, Va.
Platt said the urgency of the plan is based in the reality that while Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in recent years, the IMB projects it will fall $21 million short of its current annual budget, marking several consecutive years of budget shortfalls for the 170-year-old organization. Over the past six years, the organization’s expenditures have totaled $210 million more than it has been given each year.
To address revenue shortfalls IMB enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries through normal attrition and limited appointments, while using IMB’s reserves – including global property sales – to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible.
“We praise God for the reserves and property sales that made this possible and for leadership which chose to spend these resources for the spread of the gospel,” Platt said. “But we cannot continue to overspend. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability we must act.”

Overcoming revenue shortfall

Sebastian Traeger, IMB’s executive vice president, explained that senior leadership considered several options to overcome the revenue shortfall. 
“The challenge is that we’re looking at both large revenue shortfalls and low cash reserves – so any action needs to include a plan to address both simultaneously,” Traeger said. “We considered multiple options – such as further reducing missionary appointments or liquidating additional property – but none of them bring about a balanced budget fast enough, or they are not feasible to implement in the short term. Our goal is to align our cost structure with the amount of money given to us each year.”
Leadership determined the only option that is both feasible and has significant financial impact is to reduce the number of personnel it supports, since the vast majority of the IMB expenses are personnel related.
“If we are going to balance our budget, we must reduce approximately 600 to 800 of our staff and field personnel,” Platt said, indicating that number represents up to 15 percent of IMB’s total employees. 
IMB leadership has decided the best way to reduce staff is to begin with a voluntary retirement incentive that will be offered to all eligible employees, including both missionaries and staff. While the parameters defining who is eligible are still being finalized, details of the incentive will be announced Sept. 10, 2015, and those eligible will be notified in the days following the announcement.
“Whether to accept the incentive is a voluntary decision completely up to the discretion of eligible individuals,” Platt said. “This offers personnel who may already be considering a transition in their lives an opportunity to make that transition.
“We want to be as generous as possible, and we want to honor every brother or sister for his or her service. We know that taking a voluntary retirement incentive does not mean stepping onto the sidelines of mission, but moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.”
IMB is sending approximately 300 new missionaries in 2015 and expects to send a comparable number in 2016.
As phase one of the plan (the voluntary retirement incentive) is being implemented, phase two of the plan will focus on concluding a reset of the organization. Platt said that phase would include consolidating support services, recalibrating mobilization, assessing global engagement and re-envisioning training.
He noted the organization must humbly and openly ask God, “What are you leading us to do?” and individual employees must ask God, “What are you leading me to do?”
 “We must get to a healthy place in the present in order to be in a healthy position for the future,” Platt said. “We want to move forward with innovative vision, wise stewardship, and high accountability to the churches we serve, the peoples we reach, and the God we worship.”

8/27/2015 1:30:54 PM by Biblical Recorder staff | with 0 comments

Baptist leaders respond to Ashley Madison news

August 27 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With the potential affairs of millions exposed by a hack of the adultery-facilitating Ashley Madison website, Southern Baptist leaders have offered counsel to affected families, churches and individuals.
“We are already hearing stories of families torn apart, of children terrified about what is happening to their dad, and of the tragedy of suicide,” LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer wrote in an Aug. 26 blog post. “Church leaders cannot respond in their own power. God, however, can provide them all they need to respond in such a time of tragedy and hurt.”
The Ashley Madison website was launched in 2001 as a matchmaking site for people in committed relationships seeking to have affairs. The site’s slogan was “Life is short. Have an affair.” In July, hackers stole the personal data of more than 30 million of the site’s users and released it online in August, according to media reports.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, responded to news of the site in a written statement, “The Bible states in Romans 8:5 that those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.


“Scripture encourages us to keep our focus and minds upon that which makes us more like Christ. Oh, may every follower of Christ so live that we serve our Lord with a whole heart – a heart that is devoted totally in its focus upon Christ,” he noted. “This is the great antidote to the allures of the flesh.
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted Aug. 25, “Seeing one family after another torn apart by the Ashley Madison scandal. Another one tonight. Awful and wrenching.”
Though “adultery is not new in the Christian world,” Rainer wrote, “it seemed to be more problematic” surrounding the Ashley Madison data breach. “Those who committed adultery had their names on the Internet for all to see.” He suggested several “ways church leaders and members can deal with the Ashley Madison scandal if it comes to your church.”
Pastors “must lead” by acknowledging the scandal of publicized adultery and addressing it with grace, Rainer wrote.
“To be grace-filled does not mean we minimize the sins of adultery, lying, and betrayal,” he wrote. “But it is incredibly sad and tragic when Christians on the list have more to fear and less hope than non-believers on the list. I fear that some Christians will retreat into a mode of legalism and judgment when grace should be pervasive.”
The goal of ministry to those who have committed adultery is restoration to the church body, Rainer wrote, acknowledging church discipline as a potential path to restoration.
Leaders “must understand the extensive nature” of damage done by extramarital affairs to both families and entire congregations, Rainer wrote. “It will take months, even years, for healing to take place fully. Pastors and other church leaders must be prepared to deal with this for the long haul.”
Rainer concluded, “You church leaders who are dealing with this tragedy have my prayers. You families impacted by this tragedy have my prayers. And you who are on the list have my prayers as well. Now is the time for the body of Christ to be one of grace, healing, and restoration.”
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, wrote in an Aug. 26 blog post that someone told him in conversation, “I’m on the Ashley Madison list” and then asked, “Now what?” Stetzer’s first admonition to anyone asking that question was not to commit suicide.
“No matter how large the offense looms before you, suicide is not the way to confront your failure,” Stetzer wrote. “Let’s be blunt: your actions at Ashley Madison hurt the people you love. Don’t hurt them again – and more.”
Stetzer’s other counsel included:

  • “Get right with God.”

  • “Cast everything on Him.”

  • “Confess to your spouse,” even if you signed up with Ashley Madison but did not have a physical affair.

  • “Confess to someone else.”

To pastors who signed up with the adultery site, Stetzer advised, “Confess to your church.”
“If you’ve committed adultery, you are now disqualified [from] ministry,” he wrote to pastors. “If you signed up for Ashley Madison (or any similar site), but never had a physical affair, you should still confess. Registering and paying a membership fee for the opportunity to commit adultery is steps beyond a lustful glance on the sidewalk.
“If your church considers the membership alone egregious enough to disqualify your ministry, or at least calls for an extended break for counseling (which I’d strongly recommend), trust God, and love your church,” Stetzer wrote.
Stetzer concluded with a reminder that God’s care extends even to pastors who commit adultery.
“You’ve caused pain, you’ll suffer pain, but God remains the Great Physician,” Stetzer wrote. “He can heal your soul and the souls of those around you.
“You may feel desperate, but do not despair,” Stetzer continued. “Weep instead. Grieve for what you have done, but look to God and come clean. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead can lift you. And, He will.”
In an Aug. 25 blog post, Stetzer said the rampant adultery evidenced by the Ashley Madison data leak is the fruit of the sexual revolution.
“Many are reaping what they have sown individually,” he wrote, “but we are also reaping what we have sown culturally.”
Stetzer noted, “As the Ashley Madison leak moves from a big data file and glaring headlines on a computer, to strained conversations or screaming matches around the kitchen table, maybe it’s worth asking, ‘Is this really what we wanted as a society?’”
Ashley Madison is correct in its assertion that earthly “life is short,” Stetzer wrote. But the appropriate response to that reality includes faithfulness in marriage and repentance when we sin.
“If you are on the list, or know someone who is, a key word is repentance, and there is a word that comes after that – forgiveness. That will not free us from consequences, but it does point us to Jesus. He is able to lead us past the pain and lies of Ashley Madison and into the grace and truth He provides,” Stetzer wrote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/27/2015 1:06:38 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC entities back GuideStone at high court

August 27 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Three Southern Baptist entities have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling against the convention’s health and financial benefits organization in a crucial religious freedom case.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Aug. 24, GuideStone Financial Resources received support from other Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities in its challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. The International Mission Board (IMB), Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – as well as Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – called in the brief for the high court to grant the appeal by GuideStone and other ministries.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver declined in July to grant an injunction blocking enforcement of the rule, rejecting arguments by GuideStone and a host of other religious non-profit organizations that the controversial mandate and its accommodation for such entities violate their religious freedom. The regulation requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions.
GuideStone, along with two of the ministries that participate in its health plans, joined the Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations in appealing the 10th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court. The case is one of seven appeals before the high court of mandate rulings unfavorable to religious institutions. The justices are expected to consider review of the appeals from the religious institutions in late September or early October. The high court will open its next term Oct. 5, the first day for oral arguments.
In their brief, the SBC entities and Mohler say Christian and Southern Baptist doctrine teach it is a sin to support directly or indirectly the killing of an unborn child through abortion. “[A] statute or regulation requiring a Southern Baptist individual or ministry to be complicit in conduct the Christian faith teaches is morally wrong forces that person or ministry into an impossible choice – to either violate conscience or violate the law – and imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” the brief says.
“We need to stand in every way with those seeking to protect the rights of religious conscience over against the tyranny of the state,” Mohler said. “In this case, we have the Obama administration telling Christian institutions when Christian conviction should and should not apply. That is simply not the role of the United States government, and that’s why this case is so important.”
ERLC President Russell Moore described the case as crucial for “the preservation of religious liberty.”
“A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere,” Moore said. “My prayer is that the Supreme Court will once again intervene in this administration’s cavalier disregard for soul freedom and uphold God-given rights of conscience, not just of religious Americans but of all Americans.”
GuideStone welcomed the support from its fellow Southern Baptists, as well as the 20 states and various other organizations that filed briefs Aug. 24.
“This support is affirming, and we hope and pray that the Supreme Court will decide to hear the arguments in this case,” GuideStone General Counsel Harold R. Loftin Jr. said in a news release.
In spite of its July ruling, the 10th Circuit announced Aug. 21 it would maintain the preliminary injunction provided GuideStone by a federal judge nearly two years ago while the appeal to the Supreme Court proceeds.
The IMB and the ERLC also filed a friend-of-the-court brief Aug. 10 in support of another mandate appeal to the high court by Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary.
The cases are two of 56 involving religious non-profit organizations that object to the rule issued in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help implement the health-care law enacted the previous year, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. HHS provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations that object. It issued an accommodation for religious non-profits, but many of those ministries or institutions have found it unacceptable.
In its latest version announced in July, HSS finalized a rule that enables non-profit religious organizations to notify HHS in writing of their religious objections. In response, the federal government will notify the insurer or a third-party administrator it is responsible for providing employees of the non-profit with payments to cover the services.
Religious liberty and pro-life advocates find the rule woefully lacking, contending it is basically an accounting gimmick that makes the religious organizations channels through which coverage for contraceptives and potentially abortion-causing drugs is provided.
In their brief, the SBC entities and Mohler tell the Supreme Court, “In light of the broad scope of the Christian faith and the Southern Baptist theological opposition to abortion, [the organizations appealing to the justices] cannot, as a matter of doctrine and conscience, distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices directly or indirectly by authorizing, obligating, or incentivizing a third party – and particularly their own third-party administrators – to use Petitioners’ health plans to provide such drugs and devices to others. Scripture and Southern Baptist belief prohibit not only direct and personal wrongdoing, but also complicity in doing what the Christian believes to be sin.”
The brief filed by the IMB, ERLC, Southern Seminary and Mohler points to the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith, and a series of pro-life resolutions adopted by messengers at annual meetings for more than three decades. Southern Baptists “have a firm and well-known theological opposition to abortion, and the Southern Baptist Convention has repeatedly expressed its opposition to abortion in the strongest terms,” according to the brief.
The mandate “substantially burdens the religious exercise of Petitioners’ Christian ministries by imposing draconian fines for acts specifically mandated by Christian doctrine,” the brief says. It asks the Supreme Court to review “whether centuries-old religious groups may practice their historic beliefs free from intrusive regulation.”
The abortion/contraception mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to the brief. RFRA requires the government to have a compelling interest and to use the least narrow means to burden a person’s religious exercise.
GuideStone is exempt from the mandate and accompanying fines, but it serves ministries that face hefty penalties for failure to abide by the rule. Two of those – Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International – joined GuideStone in the suit. Truett-McConnell College is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, and Reaching Souls is a missions organization that trains Africans to reach their continent with the Gospel of Christ.
Little Sisters of the Poor – which joined GuideStone in appealing to the Supreme Court – is a Roman Catholic order of nuns that serves the needy in Denver.
The HHS mandate requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.
Among other organizations filing briefs Aug. 24 in support of GuideStone and its allies were the Christian Legal Society, American Center for Law and Justice, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related Stories:

Court rules against religious groups in contraception case
GuideStone appeals to SCOTUS over abortion mandate
Supreme Court: lower court’s mandate decision lacking

8/27/2015 12:58:16 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ISIS rapes captives as ‘worship,’ experts say

August 27 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Revelation that the Islamic State of Islam and Syria (ISIS) caliph repeatedly raped American hostage Kayla Mueller before her murder has brought to light the terrorists’ revival of an ancient practice of raping women captives as a form of religious “worship,” experts say.
Ayman S. Ibrahim, senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the gruesome practice dates to a biographical text about Muslim prophet Muhammad, who is recorded to have taken a captive as his wife after killing her husband during a seventh century conflict with the Jewish tribe of Bani Qurayza. The practice was supposedly continued after Muhammad’s death by Muslim leader Khalid ibn al-Walid, who beheaded a notable man, named Malik, and fornicated with his widow, Ibrahim said.
“The evil deeds of ISIS and its commanders will continue, supported by what they claim to be sacred – ancient holy texts. The voice of these texts is louder than contemporary reasoning,” Ibrahim blogged on the First Things journal of religion and public life. “If the Muslim community itself does not counter the claims offered by militant Muslim groups, there can be no hope in overcoming the use of violence under the banner of religion.”


ISIS flag

The rape of Mueller, a 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker whom ISIS captured in August 2013 in Turkey along with her Syrian boyfriend, was revealed months after her February murder. U.S. intelligence officials confirmed in June Mueller’s sexual enslavement by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, her parents told the Associated Press.
“They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” the Associated Press quoted her father Carl Mueller. “Kayla did not marry this man,” her mother Marsha Mueller added. “He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”
Mueller was among perhaps thousands of women and girls captured and systematically tortured and repeatedly raped by ISIS, according to numbers released in March by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) based its report in part on the interviews with 11 women and nine girls who managed to escape ISIS in northern Iraq between September 2014 and January 2015, as well as medical service providers, community leaders and activists serving victims.
“The women and girls who spoke to Human Rights Watch described repeated rape, sexual violence, and other abuse in ISIS captivity,” HRW reported. “Jalila (all survivors’ names have been changed for their security), age 12, said that Arab men whom she recognized from her village north of Sinjar accosted her and seven family members on August 3, 2014, as they were trying to flee ISIS. … Jalila said that during her captivity, seven ISIS fighters ‘owned’ her, and four raped her on multiple occasions: ‘Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift.”
Joe Carter, a communications specialist with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, writes that ISIS “considers rape of sex slaves to be a form of worship,” referencing a New York Times article in which a 15-year-old Yazidi girl describes the actions of a 20-year-old ISIS soldier who raped her.
“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said the girl identified only as F, the first letter of her name. “He kept telling me this is ibadah (an Islamic term meaning worship).”
Carter also referenced the October 2014 issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq, which included an article on the “revival of slavery before the (judgment) hour,” which stated a religious justification for sex slavery; and an ISIS pamphlet which promoted the rape of even prepubescent girls.
ISIS currently has an estimated 3,000 girls and women enslaved, most of them Yazidi, HRW reported. Amnesty International has also chronicled the abuse.
Freedom for those enslaved lies in the hands of Muslims themselves, Ibrahim blogged.
“The solution is not to keep debating whether ISIS is or is not Islamic, as the driving texts are clear and loud,” Ibrahim wrote. “An end to rape cannot be obtained by downplaying any Islamic-related role in such terror. Neither can the solution stem from a politically-correct discourse out to avoid causing offense. … Non-Muslims cannot refute evidence offered by Muslims and embedded in Muslim sacred texts.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

8/27/2015 12:52:05 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Seminary community mourns loss of John Gibson

August 27 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS

The first day of a new semester was marred by sadness as New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Leavell College students learned of the death of John Gibson, professor of communication.
Gibson, 56, died Aug. 24.
A memorial service for Gibson, known for his acts of kindness within the seminary community, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, in Leavell Chapel on the seminary campus in a joint service with First Baptist Church in New Orleans where Gibson’s wife Christi has served as minister of discipleship and missions.


John Gibson

Gibson was discovered at his home on the seminary campus at approximately 5:30 p.m. Aug. 24 by his wife when she arrived home from work. After finding Gibson unresponsive, she immediately notified emergency medical services. EMS workers were unable to revive Gibson, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death is still undetermined.
Gibson was elected to the faculty of Leavell College (called the College of Undergraduate Studies at the time) in 1998. Before joining the faculty, Gibson led the seminary’s student enlistment department and served as director of alumni relations and church minister relations.
“John was a popular member of our Leavell College faculty,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “He was particularly known for his acts of kindness to the seminary family. John was the quintessential good neighbor.”
Gibson worked tirelessly in his spare time providing free car repair for countless seminary students. Often, Kelley said, Gibson purchased parts out of his own pocket and refused to receive repayment from students.
Thomas Strong, dean of Leavell College, said, “As a colleague, he was known as one to express care and compassion in a tangible way both to our students and to our faculty. John was loved by the students because of his love for the ministry and for them; he was always a favorite. Our hearts are saddened as we miss greatly a significant part of our Leavell College family – a colleague – a friend. We are better because of John and the way God used him in our lives.”
Born in Louisiana to a long line of Baptist ministers, Gibson spent many of his formative years in Mississippi where his father served in pastoral ministry. He earned master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees at NOBTS and an undergraduate degree from Mississippi College.
Gibson served as youth minister and senior pastor at numerous churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. At the time of his death, he was pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Pearlington, Miss., a community located on the banks of the Pearl River. The town of Pearlington was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and Gibson worked tirelessly with recovery efforts there and in New Orleans where he lived.
Leavell College students were notified of Gibson’s death during the first class period Aug. 25. Morning classes were dismissed and students were encouraged to gather in the Hardin Student Center with friends, professors, area pastors and members of the local collegiate ministry staff as they processed the news. The seminary’s Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center set aside a special time for members of the seminary family to receive counseling services beginning Aug. 25.
The impact Gibson made on the seminary campus was evident by the outpouring of appreciation, grief and shock that appeared on social media following the announcement of his death. Students, alumni, faculty and staff posted numerous, poignant statements about the professor on Facebook and Twitter. Many shared stories of a timely car repair by Gibson while others shared lessons learned under his teaching.
Kelley asked for prayer for the Gibson family and the entire NOBTS community in this time of loss. In addition to his wife Christi, he is survived by two adult children: Callie, a doctoral student at the University of Alabama, and Trey, an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be made to the John Gibson Servant Leadership Fund established at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, c/o Institutional Advancement, 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126 or online at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

8/27/2015 12:45:46 PM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS | with 0 comments

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