Trump, Sanders dominate in N.H.

February 11 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Maverick candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders easily won Feb. 9 in the first primary election to determine the major political parties’ nominees for the White House.
Trump – the brash, billionaire businessman and celebrity – outdistanced the crowded Republican field by nearly 20 points to gain victory in the New Hampshire primary. Sanders, the United States senator from neighboring Vermont who describes himself as a socialist, dominated Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic primary by more than 20 percent.
The Republican presidential candidates take their campaign to South Carolina, which holds its primary Feb. 20. The next Democratic contest is the Nevada caucus the same day.
For the GOP, the move south will bring the evangelical Christian vote more into play. Exit polls in New Hampshire showed only 23 percent of Republican primary voters identified as “white evangelical or white born-again Christians.” Of those voters, 27 percent voted for Trump, 23 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 13 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and 11 percent each for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.


The New Hampshire win after a second-place finish in the Iowa caucus Feb. 1 provides Trump with momentum heading to South Carolina. That state’s primary will provide the first sample of how much backing a candidate with multiple marriages, a past of abortion rights support and a recent history of anti-religious freedom rhetoric can gain from southern evangelicals.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore described Sanders and Trump as “the two most thoroughly secular candidates we have seen in years.”
Their victories came in a state that was recognized Feb. 4 by the Gallup polling organization as the least religious in the country.
“Their ascendancy is one more reminder that evangelical Christianity is a minority viewpoint in 21st Century America,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We have much work to do to persuade our fellow citizens that matters of human dignity and religious liberty are in the common good.
“More importantly, our celebrity-crazed moment should remind us of the mission field to which we have been called,” he said. “The Christian witness will sound all the more distinct in this culture, but the more distinct it is, the more powerful.”
Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Even a few months ago, it would have surprised most Americans to be told that New Hampshire voters would nominate a socialist and a nationalist for the nation’s highest office. But that is indeed what happened” in the primary.
In New Hampshire, Trump received 35.3 percent of the GOP votes, according to The New York Times. Kasich surged to finish second with 15.8 percent, while Cruz – the Iowa winner – took third with 11.7 percent and Bush fourth with 11 percent. Rubio ended up fifth with 10.6 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and famed surgeon Ben Carson gained 7.4, 4.1 and 2.3 percent, respectively.
In the Democratic vote, Sanders won 60.4 percent. Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of State, received 38 percent.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a popular cultural commentator, described the majority vote for “an avowed Democratic socialist” as “a sea change in politics, almost a political revolution, and whoever becomes the eventual Democratic nominee, the Democratic Party – this announces – is marching steadily to the left.”
Meanwhile, the GOP voters’ failure to narrow the race to two or three major candidates, Mohler said on his podcast, “The Briefing,” Feb. 10, means “there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to who will be eventually among the top two or top three vote-getters as the Republican nomination race continues.”
Ashford said, “It appears that the GOP field is in for a long nomination fight that will span many states and cost an enormous amount of money. At this point, the closest contender [to Trump] is Ted Cruz, followed perhaps by Marco Rubio, who, despite his lackluster showing, probably stands the best chance of winning the general election.”
In the delegate count for New Hampshire, Trump won 10 delegates, Kasich four, and Cruz, Bush and Rubio three apiece, The Times reported. Sanders gained 15 delegates and Clinton nine.
Rubio’s fifth-place finish proved a significant setback after his strong third place in Iowa and a week marked by endorsements from former GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and evangelical author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada.
Rubio and Clinton were two candidates who “fared poorly, but not poorly enough to hinder themselves from performing well in upcoming primaries,” Ashford said. “Rubio’s disappointing finish probably owes to his lackluster performance in the ABC debate and his assertion that women should be required to sign up for the draft.”
Though Rubio stood second in the New Hampshire polls before the Feb. 6 debate, his response to attacks from Christie during the debate proved disastrous in the eyes of most observers. When asked in the debate, Rubio joined Christie and Bush in supporting women registering with the Selective Service System.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/11/2016 12:29:59 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baylor’s sexual assault response draws protest

February 11 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Baylor University’s response to reports of campus sexual violence has drawn scores of protesters to the university president’s house and provoked at least two observers to call for the severing of official ties between Baylor and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).
Baylor President Ken Starr responded to critics with two statements, which affirmed the protesters’ “poise and maturity” and stated the university is conducting a thorough review of its response to reports of sexual violence.
A BGCT spokesman told Baptist Press the convention will “celebrate the good and work to resolve the bad” in its “long and storied relationship” with Baylor.
About 200 people participated in a candlelight vigil at Starr’s home Feb. 8 asking Baylor to “handle campus rape cases better,” according to The Dallas Morning News. The protesters then held a prayer service at the university’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.


Baylor University Facebook photo
About 200 Baylor students, faculty/staff, alumni & others gathered peacefully on campus for a student-led candlelight vigil Feb. 8 to support those who have been impacted personally by sexual violence and shine a light on the issue.

The vigil occurred one week following allegations by ESPN’s Outside the Lines that in multiple instances, “school officials [at Baylor] either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence,” including two instances of sexual assault by former members of the university’s football team.
The football players referenced, Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwauchu, both have been convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to prison.
The Dallas Morning News reported at least three women who allege they were assaulted by Elliott say the university mishandled their allegations. During Ukwauchu’s 2015 trial, “it was disclosed that Baylor officials had conducted an internal investigation into the assault complaint and cleared him of any wrongdoing,” ESPN reported.
A day before the vigil, Starr released a letter to the Baylor community explaining that last fall, the university’s board of regents hired the law firm Pepper Hamilton to review its sexual violence policies because the firm has “expertise in the institutional response to all aspects of sexual misconduct.”
Vigil participants said in a statement on the event’s Facebook page, “Baylor University’s Administration repeatedly promises justice to students raped at Baylor and fails to provide it. Ken Starr repeatedly issues emailed platitudes while students still suffer. Policies outlined in Baylor’s Title IX compliance documents are inconsistently followed, and, at times, ignored altogether. Perpetrators are repeatedly allowed to go free due to these shortcomings. This makes our campus unsafe.”
Starr responded to the vigil in a Feb. 9 statement posted on Baylor’s website.
“Last evening, our students came together as a family,” Starr said. “They displayed great poise and maturity during the vigil at Allbritton House [the official name for the Baylor president’s home] and in the prayer service that followed at our beloved Truett Seminary. We hear your voices loud and clear.”
Starr gave his word the university would “continue to improve” and take “definitive, responsible actions” after it receives recommendations from a Philadelphia law firm that is conducting what Starr previously called “a comprehensive external review of the university’s response to previous reports of sexual violence.”
The university has not publicly discussed “specific reports of sexual assault,” Starr said, in an effort to comply with federal student-privacy laws. Baylor will not comment on “policies and procedures” until after the external review is complete.
Under Baylor’s current policy on “sexual harassment, sexual violence and interpersonal violence,” Starr said, “a trained and experienced external professional reviews [each] investigative report, meets with the parties and witnesses and renders an objective and impartial determination as to responsibility. When a student is found to have committed an act of sexual violence, strong disciplinary consequences ensue.”
Bart Barber, a Baylor alumnus and pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, speculated on the SBC Voices blog that Baylor’s quest to achieve top national rankings in athletics and academics may have led the university to “cover up sexual misconduct,” and opined that the university “handled sexual violence on its campus in such a shoddy and disgraceful manner … because it has learned so much from churches.”
“Ambitious people and ambitious organizations,” Barber wrote, “often see allegations of sexual assault as a threat to themselves.”
Churches that “have tried to cover up sexual misconduct” should be disfellowshipped from their local Baptist associations, their state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, Barber wrote, until “they have made amends with the victims and have put in place procedures and safeguards to protect those who report sexual misconduct in the future.”
In the same vein, Barber encouraged the BGCT “to take disciplinary action in its relationship with Baylor University.”
Barber’s call for cessation of the cooperative relationship between the university and the convention echoed a similar call by Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel, who wrote Feb. 2 Baylor should “distance itself” from “the Baptists, or quit messing around with these overly enabled ... football players.”
Engel concluded, “Don’t take my word for it, listen to Jesus Christ when he commanded: ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ If you can’t, just drop the charade with the Baptists.”
BGCT communications director Rand Jenkins said in a statement, “Baylor University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas have a long and storied relationship that dates back to the founding of both entities.” BGCT funding of Baylor “is directed to provide scholarships for students in ministry training. Most of those scholarships are directed to Truett Seminary.
“All individuals and institutions go through difficult times,” Jenkins continued. “We celebrate the good and work to resolve the bad. In the midst of this horrific situation surrounding Baylor and some students, we prayerfully hope for a satisfactory resolution to this matter. Furthermore, we grieve with those who are suffering and prayerfully approach resolution for all involved.”
Currently, the BGCT elects 25 percent of Baylor’s board of regents and planned to send the university $353,124 this year, according to the convention’s 2016 Missions and Ministries Budget.
In his letter, Starr assured friends of Baylor that the university is seeking “to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence” from campus life. “Such despicable violations of our basic humanity contradict every value Baylor lifts up as a caring Christian community,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/11/2016 12:23:12 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

China detains pastor of largest state-sanctioned church

February 11 2016 by June Cheng, WORLD News Service

Chinese officials detained the pastor of the country’s largest state-sanctioned church in late January, likely as a punishment for speaking out against the government’s campaign to demolish church crosses in Zhejiang province. If so, Pastor Gu Yuese of Chongyi church is the latest victim in a nationwide crackdown on dissent that has included human rights lawyers, publishers and pastors.
The Zhejiang branch of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-run Protestant church body, said on Jan. 29 that Gu is under investigation for embezzling funds and other unspecified economic crimes. But Bob Fu of Texas-based China Aid said the detention is absolutely a politically motivated charge. Gu has been outspoken about the government’s crackdown on church crosses, which has resulted in 1,800 cross removals since 2014.


Wikipedia photo
Chongyi Church

Ten days before his arrest, officials sent Gu a notice removing him from his position at Chongyi, a mega church with about 10,000 congregants. Gu and his wife sent a note to the congregation saying they would stay at the church.
There is a rare freezing cold coming soon to Hangzhou, please rely on the Lord’s grace. Chongyi Church is also facing an unprecedented situation, they warned.
The move is surprising because Chongyi Church is a government-sanctioned congregation, meaning Gu trained at an official seminary and the entire church is legally registered under the TPSM. In the past, the government has typically targeted unregistered house churches, which operate outside the law. But since the government began tearing down crosses from atop churches in Zhejiang in 2014, even official churches have been caught in the government’s crosshairs.
Gu is part of China’s national Standing Committee for religious authority, as well as a provincial head of the China Christian Council. But he fell from the government ín good graces after publishing an open letter on his church ís website stating the cross removal policy is likely to cause chaos and religious conflict, while pointing out that the Chinese Constitution promises to respect the traditions and customs of all religions.
On Jan. 27, family and friends were unable to contact Gu and the next day received an official notice he had been placed under residential surveillance in a designated location, which is essentially a jail cell. According to China Aid, his wife also was detained after their house was searched. Guís latest official charge is embezzling funds for 10 million yuan.
On the following Sunday, the turnout at Chongyi was uncharacteristically low, with a Chinese Communist Party spokesman taking to the pulpit. According to China Aid, the front row was filled with people unfamiliar to the regular congregants, who clapped at the speaker ís every word. Officials also forced the church ís other pastors to leave, assigning them to different local congregations.
His arrest marks a major escalation in the crackdown against those who oppose the forced demolition of crosses, Fu said in a statement. He will be the highest-ranking national church leader arrested since the Cultural Revolution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – June Cheng writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

2/11/2016 12:17:27 PM by June Cheng, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Youth curriculum debuts: 6-year free resource

February 11 2016 by Michael Foust, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Richard Ross has spent most of his life leading youth to a deeper relationship with Christ, so he didn’t hesitate when he felt God’s call to develop a small group curriculum for teens and young adults.
But even Ross was surprised at the result: a six-year free curriculum for grades 7-12 encompassing a multi-year journey to learn everything from apologetics and ethics to evangelism and missions.
The online “Disciple6” curriculum, written by 60-plus faculty and students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, includes learner and leader guides spanning core doctrines of the faith to train disciples for Christ.
The resource is available for download at
“Our broken culture, the millions of lost in the U.S, and the unreached people groups globally demand that we develop true disciples,” Ross told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.


Richard Ross

“Yes, we need to offer biblical ministry to every teenager, regardless of spiritual condition or motivation,” Ross said. “But every church absolutely must offer a place where those select teenagers gather to truly become world-changing disciples. That is what we are missing today, and that is what we must begin to do – or all is lost.”
Students who go through the Disciple6 curriculum even can earn a first-semester scholarship to the seminary’s undergraduate school, the College at Southwestern, ranging from a 10 percent discount for someone who completes one year of the curriculum to a 100 percent discount for students who finish all six years.
The curriculum, which includes biblical interpretation, biblical relationships, leadership, spiritual disciplines and worldview, was a complete volunteer effort; writers were not paid fees.
One of the writers, Candi Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies, said the Disciple6 curriculum is desperately needed.
“While many churches are doing a great job of discipleship, the truth is that we are losing the majority of our young people,” Finch told the TEXAN.
Finch quoted research from the Barna Group, which she said found that “one of the most common critiques of the church” by young adults who grew up in church and then left “is that they felt they could not ask their most pressing questions about life and faith in the church or were simply given shallow answers.”
“This curriculum wrestles with each core doctrine of the faith as well as engaging many pressing ethical questions of our day from a Christian worldview perspective,” Finch said. “I believe many of our teenagers are hungering for the meat of God’s Word, and they will certainly get it through each of these lessons.”
Ross, professor of youth ministry and co-founder of the True Love Waits movement for sexual purity, including abstinence until marriage, said the new curriculum grew out of a time when for one year, he asked a number of the top youth pastors one question: “What is your plan for discipling your core teenagers for six years, from grades 7-12?” None of them, though, had a comprehensive plan.
Ross was sitting on the platform at the seminary’s 2015 spring convocation when he felt God stirring him to develop the new curriculum.
“I left that service with my heart racing,” Ross said, “knowing all of us were about to go on a grand adventure,” one that drew the endorsement of Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson.
“Everyone embraced the fact that the curriculum would be offered to every church at no cost,” Ross said. “I remember saying, ‘The two teenagers in a tiny church in the Rio Grande Valley will get the same quality materials as the teenagers at Prestonwood Baptist or FBC Dallas.’”
Finch said she can sum up what she likes about the Disciple6 curriculum in four words: grounded, comprehensive, interactive and free.
“Each lesson is grounded in the Bible, so students are being equipped in knowing how to correctly handle God’s Word and use it to address the most pressing questions of their day,” Finch said. “The six-year curriculum is comprehensive so that the young man or woman who walks through these lessons during their teen years will have wrestled with the core doctrines of the Christian faith in an engaging way. Each lesson is interactive – teenagers and adults are digging into each week’s focal passage together, discussing hard questions and thinking through practical applications of each lesson. Finally, the entire curriculum is free so that any church or youth group can access it.”
Disciple6 is not designed for Sunday School, an hour when lost youth may be present, Ross said, explaining, “This curriculum only can be effective with teenagers who have made a firm decision to be a disciple of Jesus.”
The lessons are designed so they can be led by adults or youth, Ross added.
“The goal is teenage disciples who are fully prepared to disciple others – now and for a lifetime.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is a writer and editor based in Illinois. This article first appeared at the Southern Baptist TEXAN at, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

2/11/2016 12:10:11 PM by Michael Foust, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

LifeWay to close stores at 3 seminaries, including Southeastern

February 10 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – LifeWay Christian Stores are closing at three Southern Baptist seminary campuses, the retail chain confirmed Feb. 10.
The LifeWay Christian Stores chain also confirmed the closure of its longtime downtown Nashville location due to the sale of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity’s 14.5-acre campus last November and the relocation of its offices to a new facility late next year also in the downtown area.


BP file photo
The LifeWay Christian Resources store at headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., has already closed. Three stores on seminary campuses, including the one on Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's campus, are scheduled to close soon.

A change in buying patterns among seminary students was cited as the reason for the closures at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
Cossy Pachares, vice president of the retail division of the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources publishing arm, said in a statement to Baptist Press: “LifeWay created our campus stores to help seminary students acquire the resources necessary for their academic studies. Over the last five years or so, students have been migrating more to digital, rental and online options for many of their textbook and scholarly resource needs. This is not a bad thing. We know these new options are helpful to students, since they can be more cost effective and powerful.
“While we are excited about these new options for seminary students, the changes have unfortunately had a significant impact on our ability to continue to operate these stores.”
LifeWay Christian Stores at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary “have not been as significantly affected,” he said, “because they draw customers from outside their student population. LifeWay will continue to operate these stores at this time.”
LifeWay’s store at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in the San Francisco Bay Area closed last year as the seminary prepares to move to a new campus in Southern California later this year.
LifeWay is part of the move to digital resources, Pachares noted in his statement, reporting that the entity’s WORDsearch software team is in the process of releasing a number of digital textbooks.
Pachares said LifeWay employees at Southwestern, Southeastern and Midwestern “have been encouraged to apply for positions with other LifeWay Stores, and have also been informed of severance benefits as well as incentives to continue their employment until work is completed at each location.”
“The closings are very difficult decisions, and ones we delayed as long as we could. But we have worked with executive leadership at each of the seminaries, and they understand our situation with the stores,” Pachares said.
LifeWay has operated its bookstore at Southwestern since 1930; at Southeastern since 1951; and Midwestern since 1958. The store at Southwestern will close Feb. 29; at Southeastern, April 30; Midwestern, May 31.
Regarding the downtown Nashville location, Martin King, LifeWay director of communications, said Feb. 10, “The downtown Nashville store closed last month as a result of the sale of LifeWay’s downtown campus. We are considering the feasibility of including a LifeWay Christian Store in our new building.”
LifeWay currently operates nearly 180 Christian retail stores in 29 states.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/10/2016 4:32:59 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jerry Johnson’s fight for Christian communicators

February 10 2016 by James A. Smith Sr., SBTS

In radio, silence is not golden. Indeed, “dead air” – a period of unintended silence during a live program – is a broadcaster’s nightmare.
Jerry Johnson’s mission in leading the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is to protect his fellow communicators’ right to exist and prevent the worst kind of dead air – the censorship of evangelical voices on radio, television, the Internet and social media.
Johnson will lead his third annual meeting as president of the association of communicators when “Proclaim 16: International Christian Media Convention” meets Feb. 23-26 in Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
A 2003 graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a doctor of philosophy degree and veteran Southern Baptist leader, Johnson assumed the presidency of NRB in November 2013 with a mission to transform the historic evangelical organization for the modern world of media and prepare its members for the growing opposition they face in the federal government, the commercial world and broader society.


Jerry Johnson speaks at NRB’s 2015 convention.

Johnson was the ideal selection as NRB president because of his experience in radio ministry and his passion to defend evangelical voices in the culture, according to Bill Blount, chairman of the NRB Board of Directors.
“We believe Dr. Jerry Johnson was called by God to direct the National Religious Broadcasters for ‘such a time as this,’“ said Blount, president of Blount Communications Group, a Christian radio network of seven stations throughout New England he and his wife Debbie founded 36 years ago.
“With the onslaught of moral and ethical changes taking place in our country, and internationally, the NRB is uniquely positioned to speak to the issues of our day though the various media platforms represented by our membership,” Blount told Southern Seminary Magazine.
NRB began with 150 radio broadcasters in 1944 in response to industry censorship when the Federal Council of Churches (now known as National Council of Churches) successfully lobbied all three national radio networks to adopt regulations targeting very popular evangelical programs for removal in favor of programming by mainline denominations. In response to the evangelical broadcasters’ efforts, by 1949 the ABC Radio Network reversed the regulations, with other networks later following.
“Today, we’ve come full circle,” said Johnson, citing examples of commercial and industry censorship: the forced removal of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for a donation in support of traditional marriage and the firing of sports broadcaster Craig James for views he expressed while running unsuccessfully for public office.
While industry censorship is a real threat, Johnson said even greater is his concern about the growing prospect of government censorship.
“NRB is going to have to stand up for the First Amendment – the freedom to believe and the freedom of speak in America,” he said.
The first three parts of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution – religious freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of the press – protects NRB members’ ministries, Johnson noted, and NRB must be the front line defenders of those rights.
“I think we’ll be the leading advocate for evangelical communicators, protecting their First Amendment rights,” he said.
Johnson said the challenges Christian communicators face today require the existence of an organization like NRB to defend their rights.
While NRB began in the 1940s as an association of radio ministries, today the network of 1,200 members with a weekly, cumulative listenership/readership of 60 million, covers the full range of communications platforms evangelicals are engaging to proclaim the gospel, Johnson said.
Radio remains a key part of the organization, but members today are also on television, as well as media delivery platforms made possible by the Internet: podcasts, YouTube videos, blogging, social media – and whatever the next advancement in technology will bring.
Further, Johnson believes NRB today is ideally situated to assist and defend local churches, throngs of which are engaged in a wide range of media ministries.
A former pastor in Texas and Colorado, Johnson went to NRB with a vast background in Southern Baptist leadership: as dean of Boyce College, president of Criswell College, seminary administrator and trustee of Southern Seminary. Johnson’s commitment to helping pastors and local congregations can be traced to his own experiences in churches and denominational leadership.
As a trustee of Southern Seminary in the 1980s and early 1990s, Johnson played a key role in reversing the institution’s slide to liberalism. The election of R. Albert Mohler Jr. as the ninth president in 1993 was only possible because of the efforts of Johnson and other conservative trustees.
Johnson, who would go on to serve as chairman of the seminary’s Board of Trustees, later became a doctoral student at Southern. His studies at Southern, which included work at Oxford University, gave him the analytical skills he is using today leading NRB, he said.
When Johnson was installed as NRB president in February 2014, he asked Mohler to offer the keynote address at the ceremony.
“I wanted to send a signal about the kind of leaders we want to be, the kind of leaders we want to follow, and the kind of leaders we want to include in NRB,” Johnson said of his invitation to Mohler, who is also speaking at the convention this year.
Calling him a “dear friend,” Mohler said Johnson “played a vital role on Southern Seminary’s Board of Trustees at a most important moment in its history.”
Noting Johnson’s other positions at the seminary and elsewhere, Mohler said, “In every role, Jerry has shown himself to be an incisive Christian thinker, a courageous Christian leader, and a gifted apologist. His doctoral work in Christian ethics puts him in very rare company.”
As NRB president, “Jerry is one of the most important evangelical leaders of our time,” Mohler said, noting NRB is now an “even more effective and faithful voice” on the “front lines of defending and extending the gospel of Christ.”
Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd echoed Mohler’s assessment of Johnson’s importance to the evangelical world.
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, and longtime NRB member who spoke at the 2015 convention, said Johnson will have “tremendous influence on the future of evangelical Christianity nationally and globally.” He added, “It is a joy to know that we have a great Southern Baptist leader like him in one of the most strategic roles in Christianity today.”
Johnson’s strategic role requires him to contend for biblical truth in a culture increasingly hostile to that message – opposition that may lead to the worst kind of “dead air.”
“We see many forces aligning for censorship against conservative Christianity,” he said. “I feel it’s absolutely essential for the American church to have equal access to radio, television and the Internet. NRB champions this cause.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of Southern Seminary. This article is adapted from the Fall 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.)

Related Story:

Southern Baptists take NRB lead

2/10/2016 11:40:06 AM by James A. Smith Sr., SBTS | with 0 comments

ERLC to court: review ruling on pharmacists’ rights

February 10 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has joined other organizations in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify whether the free exercise of religion protects the conscience rights of pharmacists.
The ERLC and 10 other religious groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief Feb. 8 asking the high court to review a lower court decision that found a Washington state regulation that prohibits conscience-based pharmacy referrals does not violate the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. The brief – along with 13 others filed Feb. 8 – requests the justices to grant review in the 2016 term, which begins in October.
A family owned pharmacy in Olympia, Wash., and two pharmacists who work at other stores challenged a 2007 Washington rule that requires them to provide drugs that potentially can cause abortions. The Stormans family and pharmacists Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler challenged the regulation as a violation of their religious beliefs.
A federal judge ruled in their favor in 2012, saying the rule was not neutral. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned that opinion last year, finding the regulation was neutral and “rationally related” to a legitimate government interest.
ERLC President Russell Moore said the Washington rule “is a clear case of overreach when it comes to religious liberty.”
“The right to follow conscience applies to all Americans, in or out of the public square, or it doesn’t apply to anyone at all,” Moore said. “My prayer is that the Supreme Court will repudiate this assault on religious freedom and uphold the rights of pharmacists to operate within the boundaries of their convictions.”
The Washington regulation allows pharmacists to make referrals for drugs they do not stock or dispense based on secular reasons but not based on religious conscience. The Stormans, who own Ralph’s Thriftway grocery store and its pharmacy, and the two pharmacists will refer patients who seek such drugs as Plan B or “ella” to other pharmacists. More than 30 pharmacies within five miles of Ralph’s Thriftway stock the drugs, the Stormans family says.
Plan B, also known as the “morning-after” pill, possesses a post-fertilization mechanism that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. In a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486, “ella” can act even after implantation to end the life of a child.
Lawyers for two organizations representing the pharmacy and pharmacists decried the rule’s violation of religious freedom.
“No one should be forced to choose between following their deepest religious beliefs and following an unjust, unneeded government mandate that targets only people of faith,” said Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of legal services for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a written statement. “The state of Washington allows referrals for nearly any reason but does not allow referrals motivated by faith.”
In written comments, Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, called it “absurd to force a pharmacy to sell drugs against their conscience” when 30 nearby pharmacies sell the same drugs.
In their brief, the ERLC and others point out that the regulation, if it stands, will force the Stormans to close their store and the pharmacists to leave their profession or the state. If the Ninth Circuit decision is not overruled, it could affect religious freedom more widely, they contend.
The Ninth Circuit ruling “effectively invites other courts to sustain laws and regulations that target religious believers and religious communities for unusual penalties, so long as the law has the appearance of formal neutrality,” according to the ERLC-endorsed brief. The Supreme Court needs to review the appeals court opinion to prevent it “from becoming the model for other courts to deny the First Amendment right to exercise religion,” the brief says.
The Supreme Court should take the case to settle the conflicts among appeals courts and to affirm the views found in the Constitution, history and previous high court decisions that the free exercise of religion is “a fundamental liberty,” the brief says.
The justices also should review the Ninth Circuit decision because of the harm it will cause religious adherents if not overturned, according to the brief signed onto by the ERLC.
If the high court does not grant review, the Ninth Circuit ruling “could pave the way for a legal regime that permits official hostility toward religion – especially toward people of faith with traditional moral views,” the brief says.
In addition to the ERLC, others signing onto the brief were the National Association of Evangelicals, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Anglican Church in North America, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, American Bible Society, Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God and Queens Federation of Churches.
Also among those filing friend-of-the-court briefs Feb. 8 in support of the pharmacy and pharmacists, according to ADF, were the American Pharmacists Association and 37 other national and state pharmacy associations, more than 4,600 health-care professionals, 13 states, 43 members of Congress, nearly 30 religious liberty scholars and five pro-life medical associations.
The case is Stormans v. Wiesman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/10/2016 11:34:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trafficking victim even went to church

February 10 2016 by Raleigh Sadler, Metropolitan New York Baptist Association

NEW YORK – Everyone is looking to be loved. Anna was no exception. While still in her late teens, she met and fell in love with an older man who gave her what she craved. Could he be the one to love and accept me for who I am? she wondered.
This longing for love made her vulnerable to her boyfriend, who had ominous plans for their relationship. Over the ensuing months, she would be subtly manipulated into becoming part of his special “art project.” Unknowingly, she was trafficked into the world of pornography.
Human trafficking occurs when those most vulnerable are exploited for commercial gain. According to the Walk Free movement (, as many as 36 million people are modern-day slaves. With cases reported in all 50 states in the U.S., it is clear that anyone can be affected by this evil, whether they may be the man in India forced to work against his will in a brick mill or the 17-year-old girl in the back pew of a southern church being trafficked for sex by her boyfriend.
As Anna shared her story with me, I couldn’t shake a nagging question: “How did the local church serve you during your exploitation?” Hearing my question, she laughed. “For years,” she replied, “I went to church regularly. No one noticed anything. Everyone thought I was happy, so nothing wrong could be going on.”


Anna Malika

Anna’s story is not uncommon.
Amanda Eckhardt, director of programs at Restore NYC, who works with about 200 sex trafficking survivors a year, says many of their clients have been allowed by their traffickers to attend church services. Many even attend faith communities regularly. Others in the anti-trafficking movement confirm what Eckhardt has observed, that the local church is one of the few places where trafficking victims can go without being stopped by their exploiters.
For Christians, this should be good news, since the church has been called to care for “the least of these.” This phrase comes from what has become known as the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), where Jesus sits as judge at the final judgment, saying to those on His right, the sheep: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Those on His left, the goats, however, are cursed and condemned because their faith had no works of mercy and compassion.
If this is true, why aren’t we hearing more stories like Anna’s?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not attuned to look for vulnerable individuals like Anna – not even in our midst. How can the local church be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ if we aren’t being His eyes and ears? How can we love someone if we don’t even know they exist?
Here are several ways to start:

  • Take another look at the gospel. With Christ, we see the King of Glory coming to a broken world and becoming vulnerable – to the point of death to save the vulnerable. When we had nothing to offer, He lived, died and rose in the place of those who defied Him. As we rest in this truth, we will find ourselves motivated to love others without any guarantee of reciprocity.

  • Pray. The gospel leads us to pray for others, especially those in dire need. As we begin to pray for the vulnerable in the community, our eyes will begin to open. As we repent of not actively caring, we will be given opportunities to care. As we pray for the trafficked, the traffickers and those who purchase sex, we will be moved to action. Our God is a God of justice who loves the “least of these” more than we ever could.

  • Become aware of human trafficking. Learn how to identify and respond to those being exploited. “Recognize the Signs” is a helpful overview posted by the nonprofit Polaris anti-trafficking organization at

  • Respond. A great way to respond is by putting the National Human Trafficking Hotline number in our phones: (888) 373-7888. When you call the hotline, you will be greeted by someone who desires to help you care for those who may be being exploited. They will take the information that you give and pass it along to the proper authorities in your community.

  • Get to know other church members. Fighting human trafficking can begin with an act as simple as listening to someone’s story. As we get to know one another and build deeper relationships within the church, we are better positioned to respond with our hearts and eyes wide open.

Anna found help from Christians whose eyes were open. It was through her time at Mercy Ministries, a Christian residential program working with young women, that she realized her identity did not rest in her exploitation but in Christ, who was for her. Anna has since become a noted advocate in the fight against human trafficking (see her website, and the creator of a fashion line aptly called “Freedom is the New Beautiful.”
As Anna shares her story, she doesn’t refer to herself as a survivor of human trafficking so much as an overcomer. While vulnerable and looking for love, she found that love in the person of Jesus Christ. As those who share in this love, let us notice those who are vulnerable – especially if they may be sitting in the back row of our own congregations and appear as if nothing is wrong.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Raleigh Sadler [] is one of the pastors at the Gallery Church in New York City; director of justice ministries for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association; and leader of the Let My People Go movement to assist churches in NYC and beyond to combat human trafficking.)

2/10/2016 11:29:04 AM by Raleigh Sadler, Metropolitan New York Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Southern Baptists take NRB lead

February 10 2016 by James A. Smith Sr., SBTS

When thousands of evangelical communicators who comprise the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) meet later this month in Nashville for their annual convention, Southern Baptists will be prominently featured.
Southern Baptists’ presence at “Proclaim 16: NRB International Christian Media Convention” is not merely a result of the fact that longtime Southern Baptist leader Jerry Johnson became president two years ago. The nation’s largest Protestant denomination is well represented in the premier organization of evangelical communicators because Southern Baptists are such a key part of the evangelical movement, Johnson said.
“Throughout our history, but especially in recent decades, Southern Baptists have played a key role in our movement,” Johnson said. “And that’s certainly clear for anyone to see in today’s leadership of NRB, as well as the prominent roles Southern Baptists will play in this year’s convention.”
Thousands of Christian media and ministry professionals will gather Feb. 23-26 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville to make strategic connections, acquire new resources, and discover the latest tips, trends and insights in their respective field of work.


“Thousands of Christian communicators come to our annual convention to find the connections, resources and insights that will help them advance their organizations, their careers and their mission,” Johnson said. “If you’re in the business of reaching people for Jesus Christ through media, you have a place here.”
Among the Southern Baptists who will be featured at this year’s convention:

  • Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., will speak at Lunch with Rick Warren, a dinner event, and the evening worship service, Feb. 24;

  • Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of Museum of the Bible, will speak during Dinner with the Greens and the evening worship, Feb. 24;

  • H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., will speak during the opening session, Feb. 23;

  • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will speak during the Pastors’ Track, Feb. 24;

  • Alex and Stephen Kendrick, filmmakers, will speak during the Church Media Summit, Feb. 24;

  • Anne Graham Lotz, president of AnGeL Ministries, will speak during the closing evening session, Feb. 26;

  • Rich Bott will host the Bott Radio Network Breakfast, Feb. 26; and

  • Todd Starnes, Fox News Radio commentator, will host a panel with former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, Feb. 25.

In total, there will be more than 70 speakers at Proclaim 16. In addition to the Southern Baptists noted, other speakers will be ministry leaders such as Kay Arthur; web strategists such as Jeff Bethke and Jon Acuff; thought leaders like Phil Cooke; and entertainment professionals such as Pat Boone, Phil Vischer, Ted Baehr, Kevin Sorbo, Jennifer Garner and Roma Downey. Musical artists appearing will include Michael W. Smith, The Gettys, and Jordan Smith, 2015 winner of “The Voice.”
A new feature at this year’s convention will be the Presidential Candidates Forum that will be held before a live studio audience and broadcast live on radio and television. Moderated by author and radio talk show host Eric Metaxas, confirmed candidates so far include Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. The candidates will be interviewed by panelists seeking their views on issues of importance to the evangelical community.
The convention will also have eight specialized summits and tracks, where attendees will gain insights for their work and ministry. The summits will include the Radio Summit, TV Summit, Church Media Summit, International Summit, Film & Entertainment Summit and Donor Development Summit. The NRB Digital Media Summit, a pre-Convention event, will be held Feb. 22 and feature speakers from organizations such as Facebook, Hubspot and YouVersion. There will also be a special Pastors Track.
Each convention features the Exposition, the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Christian media and ministry professionals seeking to harness the power of electronic media to spread the gospel. Showcasing their products and services will be around 200 companies, ministries and organizations, including broadcasters, nonprofits, educational institutions, publishers, media agencies, and broadcast equipment and software companies. Also on the Expo floor in 2016 will be an interactive exhibit presented by Museum of the Bible, the Platinum Sponsor of Proclaim 16. The exhibit will chronicle the history of the Bible, from its transmission and translation to its impact and controversies. Admission is free for those who register. The Exposition will open Feb. 24, at 10 a.m.
Every year, the convention draws a wide range of participants, including radio and TV station owners and operators, pastors, church media professionals, radio and TV program producers, college educators, students, filmmakers, Web and mobile developers, social media managers, marketing representatives and ministry staff members.
“I hope my fellow Southern Baptists will take advantage of this great opportunity for ministry enrichment and inspiration and attend Proclaim 16,” Johnson said.
Convention details can be found at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

Related Story:

Jerry Johnson's fight for Christian communicators

2/10/2016 11:23:26 AM by James A. Smith Sr., SBTS | with 0 comments

Mohler calls for ‘insurgency’ of countercultural Christians

February 10 2016 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Countercultural Christianity is the necessary result of friendship with Jesus and the destiny for gospel ministers, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his Feb. 2 convocation address.
“We have to go out as an insurgency,” Mohler said. “And we have to go out knowing that we are likely to spend the rest of our lives spending social capital in the world around us and the secular world’s mind in order to share the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in all its saving power.”


SBTS photos by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, installs Ayman S. Ibrahim as Bill and Connie Jenkins assistant professor of Islamic studies at the Feb. 2 convocation.

Preaching from John 15:12-26, Mohler said the ground of friendship with Christ is His choosing and preservation of believers, guaranteeing His followers they can fulfill the countercultural work to which they are called. Mohler illustrated how differently he understood this passage as a teenager when Christianity carried social capital and no one objected to his call to ministry.
“Gone are the days when the aspiration of this institution would be to provide gentlemen ministers for a gentlemanly culture,” Mohler said. “What we’re left with now is preparing ministers of the gospel for a church like is described in the Gospel of John chapter 15 ... understanding that the only basis by which this can possibly happen is because we did not choose him but He chose us.”
Mohler said the cultural revolution has resulted in a “great displacement,” a loss of social capital for evangelical Christianity because of its commitment to biblical authority. But this loss illustrates, said Mohler, that evangelicals in the past identified with the culture at their own peril.
“If you can’t tell the difference between the church and the culture, it isn’t that the church has been victorious over the culture; it’s because the culture has been victorious over the church,” Mohler said.
Allegiance to Christ will prove costly for Christians, Mohler said. In his introductory remarks, Mohler welcomed new students to a “movement” and a “tribe,” reiterating it in his address because of how the cultural majority perceives evangelicalism. Because Southern Seminary students today will lose social capital because of their identification with countercultural Christianity, Mohler said it shows an urgency for “building a different civilization.”


SBTS photos by Emil Handke
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. delivers a Feb. 2 convocation address, “If the World Hates You,” from John 15:12-26.

“It will be to Christ’s glory that his church is understood to be so radically different than the world,” Mohler said. “I read the Book and that’s how it ends. I read the Gospel of John and that’s why Jesus went to the cross.”
Prior to his message, Mohler installed Ayman S. Ibrahim as Bill and Connie Jenkins assistant professor of Islamic studies. Ibrahim has served as the senior fellow of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam since July 2015. He received his doctor of philosophy from Fuller Theological Seminary and is working on a second doctorate at University of Haifa.
“In the year 2016, in order to prepare ministers of the gospel for ministry in this world, and in order to recognize the implications for missions, globalization, ministry and evangelism, a professor of Islamic studies is necessary at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Mohler said after installing Ibrahim in the endowed chair.
Also, Mohler announced the appointment of David “Gunner” Gundersen as assistant professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the seminary. Gundersen received his doctor of philosophy degree from Southern and his master’s degrees from The Master’s Seminary. He has served as director of student life at Boyce since 2011.
Audio and video of Mohler’s convocation address are available online at

2/10/2016 11:08:36 AM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS | with 0 comments

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